Effective Online Advertising

eMarketer A friend recently asked, “What’s the best way to get people to my new web store?” Like many small business owners, he’s web savvy enough to start a web store, but doesn’t spend a lot of time following the online marketing industry.

“I hate spam like everyone else,” he continued, “but I’ve heard that it can be cost-effective. Should I purchase an email list somewhere?”

After I gagged, I pulled up an article from eMarketer.com entitled, “What Works, and What Doesn’t, in Online Marketing” (subscription required). If you’re a professional marketer, some of this will be obvious to you, hopefully.

The top most effective online marketing techniques are:

  1. Search engine marketing (paying for ads on search engines)
  2. Opt-in email lists (having customers choose to get email from you)
  3. Search engine optimization (making your site appear in relevant search results)
  4. Behavioral targeting (buying ads on sites that can target you towards potentially interested customers)

And what were the least effective techniques?

  1. Rented email lists (spam)
  2. Pop-up/under ads

ROI was used as the metric for effectiveness.

Most online marketers know this already. But we haven’t reached the point where this is common knowledge. Every once in a while, another small business builds a web store and believes the myth that spam, while vile & evil, is a cost-effective marketing solution. Shudder. Don’t believe the hype!

The Value of Search Traffic

GoogleThis just in from Techmeme.com: Topix.net Buys .Com Domain For $1 Million; Worries On Google Juice After Move. This article was written by Rafat Ali for paidContent.org. One item in the story caught my attention (emphasis theirs):

The company thinks Google should have a better way to help sites/companies manage domain change and the search results that get affected as a result. To which Google says that sites shouldn’t become overly reliant on traffic from searches and should find other ways to get visitors, such as by setting up user forums.

Does Google (GOOG) really believe this? I hope not. It’s pretty short-sighted and ignorant if they do. For most web sites – maybe all but the top twenty – search engines are the primary way they’re discovered. Just watch an average web surfer for a few minutes to see for yourself. One of the first things they do is fire up a search engine. How in the world is setting up user forums supposed to replace this?

I haven’t been able to verify that actually Google said this. A related article, as noted on Techmeme.com (“How Search-Engine Rules Cause Sites to Go Missing“), goes into depth about Topix.net’s struggle with this domain change and their search results listings. It makes no mention of Google’s above statement.

Anyone know if Ali reported this correctly, or just made an assumption based on incomplete details?

Conversations and Dialogue

You know how ideas sometimes seem to appear in two different places at the same time?

I noticed a case of parallel spontaneous idea creation today when my RSS reader included an entries from John Battelle and Seth Godin.

Battelle is doing a form of liveblogging (or web-enhanced writing as he calls it), where he’s adding to the entry throughout the day as a way to watch him think out loud. Today, he posted the third part of a series on Conversational Media & Conversational Marketing (part 1, part 2, part 3). This third post adds a new term: The Conversational Economy. To summarize:

There are two major forms of media these days. There is Packaged Goods Media, in which “content” is produced and packaged, then sent through traditional distribution channels like cable, newsstand, mail, and even the Internet.

The second major form of media, is far newer, and far less established. I’ve come to call it Conversational Media, though I also like to call it Performance Media. This is the kind of media that has been labeled, somewhat hastily and often derisively, as “User Generated Content,” “Social Media,” or “Consumer Content.”

Godin, on the other hand, posted a short but eerily similar thought:

Tony pointed out a neat idea to me. Some organizations are good at listening. Some are good at talking. A few are even good at both.

But having a dialogue is different. It’s about engaging in (sometimes) uncomfortable conversations that enable both sides to grow and change.

Two marketing minds having the same idea in two different places at the same time. Parallel spontaneous idea creation rocks!

The Battle of Buzzwords

Last month, Brian Clark over at Copyblogger, questioned the value of the term “linkbait“. Linkbait started out as a marketing term to describe “any content or feature within a website that somehow baits viewers to place links to it from other websites.” The benefit of getting links from other websites is to increase your website’s rank in search engines.

The term has since taken on an almost derogatory connotation, in some people’s eyes. At the same time, a whole niche market as arisen to service this desire.

So Clark asked:

Link attraction is crucial. But is “linkbaiting” bad branding for an important skill? I prefer to call what I do viral copywriting, but linkbaiting goes well beyond the written word and can include blog themes, widgets and web applications.

It may be too late to change the tide, but let’s take a vote anyway. Let the people speak.

Leave a comment to this post with either:

  • Yes, I think the term linkbaiting is OK; or
  • No, I think the term linkbaiting is bad.

I saw this as a battle of semantics and buzzwords. The negative connotations of linkbaiting is certainly bad for copywriters and SEO specialists. It’s like being known as a “spammer” instead of an “email marketer.”

But as a buzzword to help describe it to people outside of the industry? It’s potentially good that way. I wrote as much in Copyblogger’s comments:

While buzzwords can be annoying, I think they actually can be a helpful semantic platform for describing concepts to people not familiar with the industry.

For example, I was a web developer and have been using a technique called remote scripting since 2001. Then the term “Ajax” was coined, which basically meant the same thing.

Scores of web developers were endlessly annoyed at the popularity of this buzz term. Everyone seemed to be using the term “Ajax” – and many times, inappropriately too.

But then I became an engineering manager and began working with product managers, marketers, and designers who were unfamiliar with this technology. And suddenly, “Ajax” became a useful term. I would correct inappropriate uses and wield it as a tool to help them understand how we could build better web products.

So I think linkbait, while annoying, is a useful buzz word. (But for professionals in the industry, “viral copywriting” is a much better term – just like “remote scripting” is a better term than “Ajax” in the web development industry.)

However, after reading Clark’s conclusions, I’ve changed my mind. Especially for a copywriter or SEO specialist. Or, as Clark phrased it, a social media marketer.

The disadvantages of having a negative connotation outweigh the advantages of having a buzzword that many people loosely understand. Since the majority aren’t familiar with, or may misuse the term, why keep it? Why not replace it with a more descriptive and positive term? It’s fortunate that this market is still relatively young; such changes in the lexicon hopefully won’t be that painful.

Linkbaiter vs social media marketer? Hmmm. Spammer vs email marketer? No contest there. Down with derogatory buzzwords!

Browser Wars II

Browser Wars II Yahoo! (YHOO) and Sillicon Valley Web Builder hosted a really cool event tonight: Browser Wars: Episode II The Attack of the DOMs. The speakers were:

After an awkward introduction, Douglas set the stage by explaining how complex the web development industry was: software bugs that live in one version of a browser don’t get erased by the next version. People may use those older versions for months or years to come. Newer versions also surface new bugs. What we get are essentially compound bugs. Know how compound interest is a great & powerful thing? Well, compound bugs are equally powerful, but very, very bad.

Then Chris and Mike spoke. (Håkon, who was flying in all the way from Oslo, Norway, was running late due to a flight delay.) They were surprisingly cordial and professional. Some members of the audience seemed disappointed by this; they expected blood. Instead, what they got was a lot of mutual respect & admiration between the two. I found this very positive, especially if it’s an indication of a stronger collaboration between IE and Firefox in the future.

When Håkon arrived, that’s when the jabs began. He discussed the Acid2 test and how poorly IE7 supports it. Again, they were professional, yet playful. All three are hillarious speakers. It was like three college buddies vying for the same girl – none wanted to totally trash his friends, but still wanted to make himself look better.

Håkon also added this piece of news: future versions of Opera will include a native <video> element and support the Ogg video file format because it’s a patent-free open standard. This means there will be no need for plugins to view video on Opera in the future. There may be a similar element for audio files as well.

Noticeably absent was a representative from Apple’s (AAPL) Safari team, even though they were invited. When asked about this, the official excuse given was that the Safari team was too busy to attend. “Two busy to take two hours out of your day?” asked Douglas. “Håkon flew twenty hours from Oslo to be here. They’re less than an hour away from our office.”

“I drove by them on my way here,” added Chris. See what I mean by hillarious speakers? Still, the absense of Apple was disappointing.

After their brief presentations, the speakers took questions from the audience, some of which included (all paraphrased):

Q: What are they doing to improve JavaScript performance?
A: All have made improvements to JavaScript’s garbage collection mechanisms, but admit there’s still much to be done.

Q: Will they support more interactivity with the operating system?
A: Not necessarily, since there are security issues to worry about. But there’s already some level of support, like Firefox’s extensions and Microsoft’s ActiveX.

Q: In light of new technologies like Adobe’s Apollo and Microsoft’s Windows Presentation Platform (WPF), should we abandon Ajax?
A: Heck no!

Q: Will they support SVG?
A: No, because it’s not that easy to support; an SVG browser would mean a whole new kind of web browser.

Q: What are their strategies with mobile devices?
A: Opera leads in this area; Microsoft is continuing to improve their mobile IE browser; Mozilla admits it’s an important space but didn’t say anything concrete about entering it or not.

Q: What are their personal opinions on how they should innovate?
A: All agree that they’ll continue to strengthen their support for web standards, browser security, and other improvements for developers and end users. Mike added that standards organizations (like the W3C) are great for deciding how to propose flexible, interoperable solutions to common problems, but not for innovations.

There were other great insights & one-liners from the speakers. I hope someone else was able to capture them (anyone liveblog the event?). I’ll include them in this entry as I find them.

Fantastic event! Props to Chris, Mike, Håkon, Douglas, and all the organizers for putting this together!

UPDATED 3/5/2007: Here’s more coverage of this event.

Thinking About RSS

RSS icon Emily Chang will be speaking on a panel entitled, “Using RSS for Marketing” at this upcoming SXSW Interactive Conference. On her blog, she asks for feedback on insights & topics related to RSS.

This got me thinking (which, I know, is dangerous). Fundamentally, what is RSS?

Fundamentally, RSS is an XML-based stream of data. Or, as Wikipedia defines it:

A family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated digital content, such as blogs, news feeds or podcasts.

Okay, that’s not helpful at all.

Conceptually, RSS is a free way to share real-time information with the world. Cool, okay, now it sounds more like radio waves or television broadcasts. Analogies are good.

How can RSS be used?

Currently, RSS is most commonly used to distribute updates from websites like blogs, vlogs, and podcasts. This information is time-sensitive and archives can be just as important as updates. Other real-time information that can be distributed are weather, traffic, and stock prices reports. These are also time-sensitive, though archives are not very important.

Conceivably, RSS could also share non real-time information, like dictionaries and encyclopedias. Or non-textual information like maps and technical diagrams.

RSS readers are currently built to display chronological information, so this would not be a standard way to use RSS. Arguably, it’s not an effective way either. There are other ways to retrieve static information, such as using web services. But possibly, the RSS format could also be used as a web service?

So what is RSS and how can it be used?

RSS is a way to share information, with some kinds of information being better than others:

  • Real-time information = blogs, vlogs, podcasts, news, weather, traffic & stock prices
  • Static information = dictionary info, encyclopedia info, maps & technical diagrams (maybe?)
  • Archivable information = blogs, vlogs, podcasts & news
  • Non-archivable information = weather, traffic & stock prices
  • Textual information = blogs, news, weather, traffic & stock prices
  • Graphical/video/audio information = photos, video, audio, maps & technical diagrams

As a marketer, are any of these information formats useful to your business? Or rather, would your customers find any of these information formats useful?

Perhaps. In my opinion, RSS isn’t just for blogs, vlogs, and podcasts though. With some thinking, perhaps you’ll find more uses for it too.

Will Blog for Cash

What are all the ways to make money off your blog? When Darren Rowse of ProBlogger.net recently published his top income streams, it got me thinking.

My aim isn’t to make a living off my blog. I already have a job I love (it’s like getting paid for a hobby). But I’ll admit I’ve fantasized about making a side income from my blogs. And c’mon, what blogger hasn’t?

So far, there are three five main sources of income for blogs. All are essentially advertising vehicles for businesses, but with some differences.

UPDATED 12/16/2007: The lists below have been revised as I’ve gotten new info from advertisering providers.

  1. Ads
  2. Affiliate programs
  3. Job boards
  4. Paid reviews
  5. Video


There’s a wide variety of ad types from which to choose. First, there’s the UI of the ad: text, image, video, or RSS. Then there’s the payment method: CPC (cost per click), CPA (cost per action), or CPM (cost per 1000 impressions). Finally, there’s the ad selection: automatically matching your content, explicitly setting the criteria (category, location, keywords, etc), or a hybrid of both. Each will vary in revenue potential, depending on your blog’s content, audience, and popularity.

Affiliate Programs

Affiliate programs basically offer what look like ads for your blog, except they focus on the product or service sold by the parent business. Most offer CPA programs where bloggers get paid for qualified leads. A qualified lead is when a click from the blog leads to a sale. Bloggers get a share of this revenue.

Shopping comparison engines are an exception. They offer CPC affiliate programs because they earn their revenue not from sales, but from clicks from their site to their merchants. Bloggers get a share of this click revenue.

There are too many affiliate programs to list. They can range from direct providers (e.g. retail stores, mortgage providers, insurance companies, etc) to affiliate networks (third-party companies that have set up affiliate programs for others). What I have here are some of the more popular ones, including several affiliate program directories.

Direct Providers

Affiliate Networks

Shopping Comparison Engines

Lists of Affiliate Programs

Job Boards

Job boards are the newest offering on the block. They basically offer businesses a way to advertise their job listings on blogs – and bloggers get to set the price for hosting these job listings. Prices can range from $10 – $500, though bloggers aren’t paid until the job is “closed,” meaning the business hired someone that came through that blog. Essentially, this is a CPA model. One job board, HiddenNetwork, offers a CPM model instead.

This trend seems to be just the tip of something larger: CPA classified listings of any kind of product or service. Anyone, from large businesses to your neighbor down the street, could be creating these listings and advertising them on blogs soon.

Paid reviews

Paid reviews are a new and somewhat controversial form of word-of-mouth marketing using blogs. Business pay anywhere from $5 – $500 for each blog post written to review their product or service. A recent FTC ruling has made it necessary for bloggers to disclose that they’re getting paid for the posts too.


As embeded videos become more widespread on blogs, some companies are finding ways to monetize them through CPC video ads. Placed at the end of the videos, bloggers get a share of the revenue earned each time a video ad is clicked. The creator of the videos also get a share.

Good luck getting rich! And don’t forget the little people who helped you along the way!

What’s In Your Pipe?

Yahoo! Pipes You’ve probably heard by now. Yahoo! (YHOO) just released a new service called Pipes.

Pipes is an interactive feed aggregator and manipulator. Using Pipes, you can create feeds that are more powerful, useful and relevant.

I described it to a non-technical friend as: “A way to create mash-ups of RSS feeds through a WYSIWYG UI.” My friend said, “Wha?” then bonked me on the head. So I punched him.

After he regained consciousness, I tried again: “It’s a way to make a new web site from a bunch of other web sites.” “Oh! Cool!” he answered as he rubbed his head. He’s not too bright, you see.

He’s probably not the target market for this tool anyways. But I am. And here’s how:

I’m currently looking for an apartment in San Francisco, CA, that has a garage. Sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, Craigslist doesn’t have advanced search options that allow me to really pick out the listings with a garage.

So I created this Pipe. All it does is filter out a bunch of text like “street parking only” and “no garage”, making it a heck of a lot easier to find an apartment with a garage.

This is just one really simple use for this tool. Apparently, there are more profitable ways to use it too. Rok Hrastnik from site-reference.com has written a lengthy piece entitled: “How Marketers Can Use Yahoo! Pipes to Increase Their Online Sales” to show just how.

If you understand RSS and technical concepts like filtering and aggregation, give Pipes a try. Maybe it can improve your online sales. And if you know of a good apartment in San Francisco with a garage, let me know!