Show me the Reviews

Customer reviews are becoming more important for online marketing. Consumers rely heavily on reviews from peers when evaluating various products and services. Businesses that showcase reviews on their web sites reap the benefits of displaying honest consumer commentary, and honesty is often a preeminent criterion in brand choice and loyalty. Bazaarvoice has built a business around customer reviews and their customer content software continues to see increasing demand.

Bazaarvoice will soon be extending its product line into advertising. More specifically, Bazaarvoice will allow clients to advertise on its extensive list of client websites, using particular customer reviews as the ad itself. In a similar fashion to Facebook Stories, using peoples’ likes and comments in ads, Bazaarvoice will display actual customer reviews about a specific business’s product as an advertisement. This is a brilliant way to extend the value of compelling, honest, and genuine consumer feedback into paid testimony for businesses.

This innovation underscores the surging importance of social commentary and interaction in the online marketplace. Just as consumers depend on word of mouth when shopping, consumer reviews are a pertinent factor in the online purchase decision. Essentially, Bazaarvoice is creating its own advertising display network, similar to the millions of Yahoo and Google partner sites that make up their respective display networks. Search engines already take social mentions and reviews into account when ranking organic results, and I expect this Bazzarvoice-esque reviews for ads experimentation to spread into paid search in the near future.

Stuck In the Web

How much of your day do you spend online? Honestly, how many hours? The proportion of time online to offline in my typical week day is shocking. There is the roughly seven hours online while in the office, then probably another combined hour of home surfing and mobile browsing. So I’ll assume I’m online for approximately eight hours of the day. Also I will assume that I get a full eight hours of sleep; a wishful assumption but appropriate for this example. That leaves another eight hours of the day that I am conscious; doing whatever else it is that I do. Alas, on a typical week day I spend as much time online as I do offline or sleeping. What did people do before the internet, anyways?

I would expect my proportion is similar, or probably becoming similar, to the majority of professionals in America. So it makes sense that traditional media is on a moribund slope while online media is on a burgeoning incline, right? Well then, why is the primary online guerilla starting to run good old fashioned television ads? That’s right, Google, the search engine company, is touting the benefits of Chrome, the web browser, by means of television advertising spots. Check out the “The web is what you make of it” spots, It Gets Better and Dear Sophie. The commercials are poignant, using emotional appeal to encourage viewers to form a relationship with the speedy web browser Chrome. Though Google is using traditional methods to promote new media technologies, I believe that this underscores, not enervates, the inevitable demise of traditional media.

The reason is that Google recognizes that the majority of people still paying attention to or even watching commercials at all are those that have not fully migrated to the online world yet. Google is reaching out to these laggards in an attempt to plant the Chrome seed before alternative browsers are actively discovered. As the New York Times states, “the more people use the Web, the more they use Google.” If users start off using Chrome, they are pretty much guaranteed to use other Google products as well, which is the ultimate goal. More or less, Google is utilizing a dying medium to promote the very thing that is killing it.

– Kenneth Hurta

Google Business Photos – Like Google Street View, but inside

Do you have a brick and mortar location in one of the following areas:

  • Orange County, CA
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Bay Area, CA
  • San Antonio, TX
  • St. Petersburg, FL?

If so – this interesting opportunity from Google is just right for you.  Business Photos from Google allows businesses to showcase the interior of their establishment to all interested searchers.  Google Business Photos stand to revolutionize the way you search via a map the same way Google’s Street View did a few years ago. Interestingly enough this concept was released back in late October 2010, but most people didn’t pick up on how cool it was until blogged about recently on both the Google Lat Long Blog and the Google Retail blog.

While I think this is another great move by Google to get people to become 100% dependent on the search giant – I do wonder about the following:

  • How will all of the retail merchandisers of the world react when their online merchandising photos do not match the correct season? I.E. Your Google Business Photo shows a bunch of mohair sweaters, but you really are selling tons of swim-wear just right for the hot summer weather.
  • Is Google Business Photos going to do the same thing for local businesses that some thought Foursquare did for the criminal world?  I’m thinking of you – http://robmenow.com
  • How soon will Google Business Photos become a paid feature from Google?
  • Will Google Business Photos soon be upgraded to allow people to surf and eventually purchase your businesses products via your brick and mortar store from the comfort of their own home?
  • Will retail businesses notice a down-tick in ‘window-shoppers’ because the ‘window shoppers’ have become ‘web-shoppers’ and they have already done that at home?
  • Will restaurants allow the Google Business cameras behind the kitchen door?

To top it off Google sends a FREE photographer to your location!  All in all, I think this will be a great opportunity for online searchers and businesses alike.  Congrats if you are in one of the target cities and get in on this opportunity.  This really seems like a great idea!

Almost Forgot How Good It Feels

Throughout my life, I have in one way or another been involved with volunteering and community service.

Whether it was in my early teens visiting retirement communities with my church youth group, Saturday morning clean up with the Key Club in high school after a Friday night football game, serving as a Big Brother in college, maintaining hiking trails with the local chapter of the Sierra Club, taking the kids at the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls out for a “funtertaining” event, facilitating a warm meal and place to stay overnight for the homeless at the Carpenter’s Shelter, volunteering and working to help Gallery 5 Arts in Jackson Ward (Richmond, VA), helping 2nd graders improve their reading skills through a Reading Star Program, or playing in a golf tournament to help raise funds for a young child needing brain surgery, I’ve been giving back.

However, since I’ve moved to Austin recently, I now feel it’s time to give back more than I have been giving around here, and I am acting upon it with full conviction of this purpose.

One of my latest community service outings was working in the warehouse for the Central Virginia Food Bank.  Our task was to sort and filter the various types of food donated from a common bin, organize, and place the items in a bin designated for them. For example, tomato soup has its own bin, as does chicken noodle soup, and green beans, and corn, and beets, and potatoes, spaghetti, peanut butter, etc. While I was working away, a feeling came to me that had been missing for some time. It was a feeling of accomplishment in serving a greater good for my fellow man and community. And just as the feeling came to me, I said to the other volunteers around me “I almost forgot how good this feels. I could do this every day.”

I am neither a saint nor a savior.  I am merely a humble servant in this world with my flaws and imperfections, but I do find great comfort and peace within that I now choose to serve more.  And as I write this message and share with you all, I hope that you too will want to serve more because our world needs it.

My reaffirmation to serve did not come from myself alone.  It also manifested through the example of other friends such as Deona volunteering with Meals on Wheels, Mark and Shelli working with the kids at Mind Games, Wayne feeding the homeless in Monroe Park every Sunday, Tom and Amanda providing a place to transcend artistic boundaries in the Richmond community, and Stan going to Guatemala on a mission to help improve living conditions for families there.

These are just a handful of volunteer and community service examples I have witnessed and encountered recently.  I know there are many more, so I encourage you to share with me and others reading, your stories of serving and giving back to the community.

In closing, I believe the quote below compliments my note rather appropriately.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” – Albert Schweitzer

Here’s to you all who have lit, and will continue to light the flame in me and others.  Spark on!

Help Your Agency Help You

I’ve been in the marketing and advertising business nearly 20 years, and during that time, have been on both sides of the client / agency fence. In my experience, I’ve found that the strongest, most productive relationships result from teamwork in which both parties are pitching in and constructively working together. There are some really good examples out there on why teaming up to produce the highest-quality product is more effective than handing over full control to an agency. Remember Groupon’s Super Bowl ads? The ad agency didn’t necessarily do anything wrong but without any direction from Groupon, TV advertisements were run that weren’t entirely in line with Groupon’s brand and messaging—ads that ultimately caused a social media frenzy and a fallout between client and agency.

While it’s critical to have a trusted relationship established with your agency and to respect them as the industry “experts,” you shouldn’t see them as a vendor carrying out a service on behalf of your business. A client/agency team requires collaboration for any type of marketing campaign to progress and be successful. Agencies can only drive so much of the marketing and advertising efforts on their own without client input and approvals along the way. In order to fully help clients achieve and exceed their marketing goals and objectives, the agency and client must build a trusted relationship and come together as partners working toward a common goal.

As clients, I really encourage you to collaborate to help your agency help you. If you find that you are unhappy with your agency’s work or campaign performance, consider whether you have done your part to fully participate in the process with your agency. For those clients who currently have close working relationships with your agencies, hopefully you’ve seen proof that the most fruitful combination results from teaming up with each other and engaging as needed.

A great example here is when your agency recommends new SEM landing pages. Many clients do not allow their SEM/PPC/SEO agencies to directly implement changes to their webpages. Instead, they typically have an in-house webmaster handle it, so when a PPC or SEO team recommends changes to a webpage in order to improve performance, like conversions and sales, both parties are at the mercy of the webmaster. If it’s not completed or executed correctly based on the agency’s recommendations, then a client won’t get a chance to see any results or even begin to measure performance improvements.

A strong, productive client/agency relationship starts with both parties creating shared goals, taking ownership, accepting responsibility, and being passionate about the work they produce together.

Follow up quickly with your web generated leads!

We have  said it once and today we will say it again (a third time actually)– following up with web generated leads as soon as possible is a good idea.  A  2008 study by MIT and InsideSales.com, should help to  increase your businesses sales, if you take this research to heart and create a process that ensures web-generated leads are followed up with quickly!

  • According to the MIT study, “the odds of contacting a lead if called within 5 minutes versus 30 minutes drops 100 times.”  Statistics for qualifying leads are equally as surprising – “the odds of qualifying a lead in 5 minutes versus 30 minutes drops 21 times.” Since the qualification stage is where we find out the purchasing potential of the web generated lead we should pay close attention and strive to follow up with all leads within 5 minutes.
  • What’s interesting about this study is that it only takes into account leads that were called upon at least one time.  Many studies exist that show between 30-80% of web generated leads are never followed up on.  If your business has any leads that fit this category, maybe it is time to add additional sales staff or other tools that can help your sales team quickly follow up on web generated leads.
  • The best times of the day to make contact is between 4 to 6 pm. 7-8 AM and 11-12 were some of the worst times to call during the day. The study seems to suggest that calling leads around breakfast and lunch time is not the prime time for contacting or qualifying leads.  The study still leads the reader to believe that regardless of the time called – calling within 5 minutes is the most ideal follow up time.
  • The study also found that Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days to call in order to contact web-generated leads. Tuesday is the worst day to make contact with a lead, with Thursday being a 49.7% better day to call.  Now, we wouldn’t suggest that everyone takes off Tuesdays for the rest of the year, but maybe Tuesdays should be earmarked for learning sessions and quarterly off site meetings for your sales teams.

If you don’t already have a way of making sure your web generated leads are being followed-up with quickly – you should set a process in place right away.

Google +1 Recommendation Feature: What Effect Will It Have on Advertiser Results?

This week, Google launched the +1 Recommendation feature to its AdWords advertising platform. The feature allows users to “like” ads or products that appear in the search results. Is this the future of online advertising or an attempt to snub competitors? It is possible Google is attempting to create a genuine way to connect advertisers to the consumer in a more personal manner. Customer testimonials in marketing are huge these days, spurred by social media marketing strategies.

Here’s Google’s official statement:

”Now, fans of your business can recommend what you offer, for all their friends and contacts to see. By helping searchers see more personal, relevant ads, We believes you’ll see more qualified traffic.  The +1 button will automatically be added to your ads over the next few weeks for English searches on Google.com.  Soon you’ll also be able to add +1 buttons to your web pages to make it even easier for customers to +1 your content (making this Google’s answer to the Facebook Like button – author).”

What does this mean for paid search advertisers and the future of AdWords?

Kenneth Hurta,  a member of the Leverage Strategy & Development Team, had this to say: “This is a very interesting new feature, and the first tangible evidence of social relevancy merging into search results. Google says these will not affect how ad relevance and quality scores are determined, but how long until it considers ads with more +1s to be more useful for searchers?”  Whether or not this feature becomes a successful or relevant feature of AdWords remains to be seen. At this time no reporting is available yet, but Google assures us it’s coming soon.

How The Google +1 Button Works

Here are some of the most common questions that advertisers are having, along with the official answers as provided to Google Partner Agencies and some advertisers from Google:

Will the +1 button affect my clickthrough or conversion rates?

Each campaign performs differently, so we can’t predict how your clickthrough rate (CTR) will change for individual campaigns. However, we believe that including the +1 button on ads will increase the overall CTR of campaigns as personalized annotations increase user engagement.

Will the +1 button impact how you determine quality score?

No, this does not change how we determine your ad’s relevance of quality. As always, we look at your ad’s performance relative to that of other ads for the same query, position, and UI treatment.

Should I change my ads or landing pages?

No, there is no need to change the copy or landing pages of your campaigns. We’re adding +1 buttons to ads and search results on Google.com in English. Simple, compelling ads directing to a relevant landing page will continue to perform best.

Where can I see how many +1s my ads are receiving?

Currently reporting is not available. However, soon you will be able to see how many +1s your search campaigns are getting on the Dimensions tab in AdWords.

Why can I not see +1 buttons on my ads?

Only signed-in Google users will see +1 buttons on ads and organic search results on Google.com in English. Also, +1 buttons are not available on Internet Explorer 7 and earlier versions of Internet Explorer.

The +1 Recommendation feature may be a play pegged on recent efforts by Bing to integrate social sharing in it search results. You can now roll over Bing search results and share web pages via Facebook, Twitter & Email. Social & Web 2.0 has fragmented the way we reach consumers and with the addition of mobile, this fragmentation will only increase in time.

More than ever the consumer is in control, how long before they will be deciding which Ads they are shown?

Testing Two Targeting Tactics

Facebook and Google are taking targeting to a whole new level with advertising that’s based on real-time and weather forecasting, respectively. With these advancements in conversation and location-based targeting, advertisements are either going to become more like editorial content that’s of interest to consumers or customized ads will just become really creepy, depending on who you ask.

Facebook’s testing a real-time advertising tool that will match highly-targeted ads to users based on up-to-the-minute status updates and wall posts. Were I to post an update saying, “Beautiful weather in Austin today. Wish I was reading a book in the park,” within minutes, I would begin seeing ads from say Barnes & Noble, or a local independent bookstore, like Book People, or maybe even an author, promoting their most recent release. While Facebook’s real-time advertising has the most potential for advertisers in my opinion, I don’t necessarily think it will contribute to Likes on B&N’s Facebook page or to brand engagement. I think this targeting technique is an opportunity for advertising to lead to eventual sales if advertisers can capitalize on this real-time tool by  offering a deal, coupon, or other incentive for me to purchase that book I wanted to read in the park.

Google is developing a weather-forecasting tool that will display ads based on where people are located and what the current weather is like. This will enable advertisers, such as Australian boot maker UGG, to target potential consumers that are in chilly, icy, and snowy climates. This type of advertising will work in much the same way that product placements do in grocery stores–if it’s raining, the store moves the umbrella display up to the front door or near the cash registers. While I do think this weather-based targeting tool has a lot of potential, I don’t know that it has much purpose outside of when a region is experiencing unseasonable weather. There’s enough data available to UGG to know what time of year certain locations are experiencing frigid weather and when and where to target their ads.

It’s almost too bad that Google and Facebook can’t harmoniously, and profitably, merge advertising efforts because the real promise in these targeting advancements would be in Google using Facebook’s status updates to target and display ads to users who can then click, and in one single step, complete a purchase transaction. At some point, probably in the very near future, we’ll see real conversations turn into sales conversions.

What a Deal!

People will buy anything if you tell them it’s 75% off. No offense; I am guilty of it too. I bought a tool kit the other day because it said it was 60% off – I don’t even know how to build things. It’s as if consumer desire to react to what is seemingly a great deal outweighs normal buyer evaluation, in which opportunity costs are identified and pros and cons are weighed out. This is why limited time deals are so cunningly effective, forcing us to satiate our craving for cheap stuff before the deadline hits. Groupon and LivingSocial have made a living off coupons, so to speak, and are taking advantage of the public’s penchant for steals by being the biggest innovators in the daily deal marketplace.

These online coupon providers are having such astounding success, and are moving into new venues accordingly. LivingSocial just launched a test for its new venture Instant Deals – a mobile feature that allows consumers to discover deals within a half-mile radius. These offers will compound the local search aspect with a much more limited deadline, encouraging immediate in-store traffic to businesses. Other companies, such as AT&T withShopAlert, are getting involved with mobile location-based special offerings (quite the mouth full) as well.

These new services underscore the rising importance of both location based and mobile marketing. They are constantly ranked the most promising new areas for the future, and adding the limited time deal facet intensifies the formula. Google rolled out mobile coupons a couple of years ago; a tool that is probably underutilized. The quality, one-deal-at-a-time nature of these specialized coupon providers creates a sort of aura that consumers can’t get enough of. It looks like they are successfully assisting in opening up a very promising market that has yet to be fully conquered.

-Kenneth Hurta

Tips for your Mobile Strategy

Smartphones are predicted to be in the hands of half of all Americans by the end of 2011, according to GigaOM. The growth of smartphones is impacting how we stay connected through social media, how we discover new restaurants via local search, and even the way in which we donate to charities after natural disasters, like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. With the onset of QR codes, phone applications, and other mobile advancements, users expect businesses to, at the very least, have optimized websites for mobile use.

Many CMS platforms, like WordPress and Drupal, have a mobile plugin, making it super easy to adapt your website content to be mobile friendly. For website owners not managing their own websites, it’s time to consult your IT departments on developing a mobile-specific site.

Here are some best practices for creating and optimizing a website for mobile devices.

  • Consider your mobile strategy, which should be centered around one main goal, such as increasing sales conversions, sign-ups, phone calls, etc. Then make this call to action very visible on each page of content with a well-sized button or tab.
  • More is less on mobile because users don’t spend lengthy periods of time reading through pages of content on their cell phones the way they do on desktops. Use Google Analytics to help determine what the big draws are on the current site so that you can transition only the most popular or highly-searched content over to the mobile site.
  • Test the website on multiple handheld devices to make sure the site design looks good and performs well across all devices.
  • Mobile users don’t have the patience to wait for your page to load or to navigate through pages of scrolling content to find what they are looking for. Be brief and avoid all Flash.
  • Submit a mobile sitemap to Googlebot-Mobile to make sure the content is indexed correctly, and thus, easy to find in general search queries. This will also help Google identify when a user is performing an Internet search on a mobile device versus a computer and will then redirect the user to the most appropriate version of your website.
Once you have a mobile-compatible website, you can start thinking about your mobile marketing strategy and how to use SEO and SEM tactics to drive traffic to your sparkly new mobile site.
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