Check-in Spam

August 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Perhaps it’s the big storm rolling through, but I’m in the mood for a good rant!

Email spam has always been my biggest problem with the Internet, but to be honest, I’m finding check-in spam to be even more annoying.

Social media apps like 4Square, Gowalla etc. all provide the option to post your check-ins to your Facebook and Twitter feeds, which some have taken to extremes. Both of these apps allow followers, so if I want to know where you are, I’ll follow you there – no need to spam my Twitter feed with the same information.

Many people cite services like Twitterfeed as ruining the experience of Twitter, with essentially ‘fake’ automated posts being credited to the feed owner. I don’t see that as a fair complaint, since it may be information I am not getting elsewhere, and is not necessarily just a repeat from another app. Automated posts from check-in apps are not the same, and are far more annoying.

To make things even worse, we now have an app like GetGlue, which allows virtual check-ins for activities like reading a book, or watching a TV show – even THINKING about something! At least with location based check-in apps, they verify the check-in is legit, GetGlue is a joke. Some users are checking in tens of thousands of times, having ‘read’ thousands of books … right! I would hate to follow some of these liars on Facebook or Twitter, since of course the app allows cross-posting.

I thought XBox Achievement Whores (see previous blog) were sad and somewhat pathetic souls, but at least they work for their achievements. With search engines trying to include more social date in search results, I can only imagine how these useless automated posts are taxing search databases, much like email spam taxes mail servers, and ruins email for legitimate online marketers.

Hopefully common sense will prevail with these spammers, but that hasn’t been the case on the Internet so far!

Google Adwords Editor

August 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Since I left my most recent position, I’ve consulted with a few individuals and companies who manage their own Adwords campaigns. I have to say, I’m shocked that not one of them is using the (Free) Google Adwords Editor software.

Let’s face it, the web interface for Google Adwords isn’t the greatest, and it doesn’t provide great, or user-friendly, tools for modifying or adding campaigns, ads, and keywords. There are certainly commercial search management solutions available, so in this world of cloud computing and SaaS, what does the desktop client bring to the table?

Work offline, then upload your changes any time

You can make all your changes offline, even checking them to see if there are any problems, then when you are happy – just fire and forget. The software does the rest. In addition to this, the Adwords Editor allows you to make backups, so if you are making significant changes, you can back up the original configuration for your campaign and restore it just as easily should there be any issues.

You can also download any changes that may have been made by others, reviewing and accepting or rejecting the changes. The editor tracks all the conflicts, and lets you resolve them how you see fit.

Make bulk changes (such as updating bids or adding keywords) in just a few steps

Yes, bulk changes are possible through the web, but it is so much easier with the Adwords Editor – and safer!

Copy or move items between ad groups and campaigns

Simple cut-and-paste functionality makes creating new campaigns a breeze, or copy specific ads between campaigns or even accounts.

Navigate through your account quickly and easily

If you use the Adwords MCC to manage multiple accounts, you will appreciate just how simple Adwords Editor makes it to switch between accounts, or move between campaigns within your account.

Export campaigns for import into Bing and Yahoo

Those backups aren’t just for safety either, you can take exported campaigns and import them into Yahoo! or Bing, copying your campaigns between the engines much more easily than you probably are now. A few tweaks once imported and you are good to go!

Price

FREE. If you are currently managing your campaigns manually, chances are you are on a smaller budget, at a smaller company, or are just a glutton for punishment! In any case, the Adwords Editor will make your life much easier.

Download Google Adwords Editor

Improving PPC ROI – Tip #614

August 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Okay, perhaps there aren’t quite 614 tips, but if you ask around, you likely won’t be far short of it!

If you are using a commercial product to manage your PPC campaigns, such as Search Manager or Channel Advisor, you will have a lot of help available within the tool, but even if you are doing it all manually with Google Adwords, don’t despair.

One of the most overlooked pieces of advice that Google Adwords offers is the impression share report (buried under ‘Dimensions’ on the ‘Campaigns’ tab – you may have to make this tab visible in your settings). Impression share is essentially how often your ads have appeared as a percentage of all ads in the ‘market’ you are targeting. More pointedly, how often your ads show relative to your competitors. You will also see what percentage of ad impressions you have lost due to budgetary constraints (“Lost IS budget”), and impression share lost due to your ad rank (“Lost IS rank”). Lost impressions due to budget is fairly obvious.

The real gem of information here is not share percentage per se, or ads lost due to budget, it is share you can gain by making your search terms “exact match”. This will impact your “rank”, and help gain you those “Lost IS rank” impressions back.

Adwords offers three different match types, consider your keyword of “large red widgets”

  1. General Match – where your ad may show if keywords match any word in a search query (a search for ‘blue widgets’, or just ‘widgets’ will trigger your ad)
  2. Phrase Match – where your whole keyword must appear as you entered it, but it will also match if it is part of a longer query (‘very large red widgets’ will trigger your ad, but not ‘large widgets in red’)
  3. Exact Match – the query must match your keyword exactly, no extra words, no parts of it.

A good rule of thumb is have your single work keywords as general, two word keywords as phrase, and three or more words as exact match (although you will know best if a three word series will work in your industry for a phrase match). Don’t confuse this with long-tail keywords. I have seen many campaigns that have great long-tail keyword terms, but they were just thrown in as ‘general match’, and were producing tons of useless impressions, and clicks, costing money and reducing ROI!

Why will the impression share rise? Google uses “the relevance of the keyword and the matched ad to the search query” as part of its formula for quality score. An exact match on your keyword term will, over time, improve how Google rates your ad – better than if those same terms were just broadly matched. A broad match is considered less relevant.

As a result of changing your match type, your keywords should generate fewer impressions, and you may see a small drop in clicks initially, but give it time, they will come back. What you are doing is making sure that your keywords are only showing to the right people, you are targeting them better, and eliminating wasted impressions – those that show to people who weren’t looking specifically for your product or service.

You should see your impression share steadily rise, and higher ad position, higher click-through rate (CTR), higher conversion rates and, consequently, better ROI. You may even see your CPC rates drop slightly, improving ROI even more.

Camping 2.0

August 12, 2010 2 comments

I just got back a few days ago after a full week camping (at Point Farms Provincial Park, on Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada – great site if you are interested).

camping 2010

It was more fun than this, really!

For me, camping is all about a tent, the odd tarp, and having to scrub the smell of wood smoke off you when you eventually get home. I don’t buy into using trailers, small or otherwise, if you’re not at least somewhat exposed to the elements, why bother? The main appeal is that it’s just you and the family, no TV, internet, or other distractions. A good chair or hammock, and a good book is also recommended – I got through 2000 pages last week, loved it! I read “Order In Chaos” (book 3 of the Templar Trilogy from Jack Whyte), and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (by Stieg Larsson), and highly recommend them both. Cards and board games by lantern, sitting around the camp fire, and days on the beach (well, beach for the women folk in the family, I just burn, so avoid beaches!)

camping 2010 camping 2010

Did I mention the S'Mores? Or the Beautiful Lake Huron sunsets - free with each site!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Les Stroud (Survivorman), or Bear Grylls either, but I do like my camping reasonably authentic. That’s why I read with some consternation recently, that Ontario Provincial Parks are looking to introduce WiFi to the campsites. In fact they are trialling it at The Pinery, near Grand Bend, not far from where I was in fact.

My wife works remotely now, so has her laptop and Blackberry, and she is on both constantly. I’m also on my iPhone ALL THE TIME. This was a week where we could not worry about those devices and really get away, with no temptation to go online, since there was no signal – neither her Blackberry (on Telus) or my iPhone (Rogers) got even a single bar 🙂 I’m a Twitterholic, and a big gamer, but I didn’t miss my Wii, Xbox, or PS3 for the week. The kids are big online addicts too, especially my older daughter, yet I don’t recall seeing her laid in the fetal position, twitching, with withdrawal from Facebook… I don’t think she even mentioned it. If your kids are bored while you are camping, you are doing it wrong!

The Provincial Parks are citing a loss of customers to private camp sites that offer free wireless service, specifically mentioning the KOA ones. Every time I see a KOA site they look like a bed episode of Top gear, with trailers parked in some field somewhere right next to each other – waiting for Richard Hammond to set them on fire! The Provincial Parks on Lake Huron are great, with spacious lots, many of them quite private, and easy access to fantastic beaches. Why do people need wireless?

camping 2010 camping 2010 camping 2010 camping 2010 camping 2010 camping 2010

A few more camping pics

Commodore Amiga Turns 25 … what about the Atari ST ???

July 27, 2010 2 comments

Granted, today is my birthday, but that hasn’t made me feel half as old as the realization that the Commodore Amiga and my (formerly) beloved Atari ST are now 25 years old!  How to feel really old in one step.

I just caught an article yesterday about the Amiga turning 25, and wondered how I missed the anniversary of the Atari ST, since it was introduced a couple of months prior to the Amiga launch. Anyone from that era will recall how bitter the wrangling was between Atari and Commodore, with insults, slurs, technology, lawsuits, and many workers going back and forth between the two companies. The relationship between Atari and Commodore back in the mid-80’s makes Adobe vs Apple look like a hippie love-in! There are plenty of blogs, articles, and probably books, on this era, so I’m not going to rehash it here – I was more struck with just how long ago that was, and how nostalgic it made me feel.

Atari OS

Atari OS

Looking back, the 520ST had its faults, but it was an amazing piece of kit for the time. The mouse, for instance, was like a doorstop, and felt like it weighed about 5 lbs. I eventually upgraded to a 1040STE, which featured an internal floppy disk drive … luxury! I remember picking up a copy of Sim City while I was on vacation in the UK. When I returned to Canada, I had to drive 3 hours to find the LAST double-sided external floppy drive in Ontario, just so I could run the game from that ultra-spacious 720k storage – my original ST came with a single-sided, single density drive with 360k of storage, and I recall the sales guy telling me that I would never fill even one disk. I got home with that drive and started playing (the original) Sim City… 16 hours later I looked up and realized it was about 6am. Sim City led to games like Lemmings, and finally to Civilization – my ultimate gaming addiction. To this day, if my wife ever met Sid Meier, there would be blood spilled.

I bought that original ST my first year at University, in 1986, and used it for papers, games, programming, you name it. It was like being in the tech elite! I was never really a fan-boy, though, and don’t recall getting into the debates with the Amiga types. I was just happy to have my ST. My ST, and later the 1040STE (with the COLOUR monitor … OMG!), saw me all the way through University, and into Grad School. I even used it for my thesis. I wrote a data collection program in QBasic, and used the STE to record data while my rats round a radial maze. It was pretty crude programming, but I also wrote a computer simulation of rat behaviour on the maze, to complement the actual data, and support the hypothesis I had.

The biggest WTF moment in my Atari ST/STE history was when I purchased my first HD for the machine. Up to that point, everything was floppy-based, but I saved my pennies and finally had enough money to buy a whopping FIFTY MEG external hard drive … yes, that is 50M, not Gig. I paid the princely sum of $800 for that 50M of storage, and don’t recall thinking that was in any way unreasonable – it wasn’t back then. Looking back just 20 years to that purchase it seems insane, but what was even more amazing was that I then partitioned the drive into SEVEN, with apps, games, data, utilities etc. each having their own partition! The best word processor at the time, for ST/E, was a French program called Redacteur, which easily fit on one of those 7Meg partitions, with plenty of room to spare. I still think that it was better than any version of MS Word since.

Atari 520ST

Atari 520ST

As the 90’s progressed, Atari developed higher end computers, with the TT and the amazing Falcon, neither of which I could afford. In 1993 they stopped production of ST computers to focus on the Jaguar game console, and the rest is history, or at least Atari was. Neither the Amiga or the ST, and its predecessors, could compete with the burgeoning PC market running Windows 3.x, and even I abandoned my old friend for a sterile, boring “PC”. I kept the ST and STE for many years, but they just gathered dust in the basement, and finally got thrown out about 5 years ago.

That original ST ignited my love of tech, computers, gaming, and programming, and probably contributed more to who I am today, and where I am in my career, than anything else. I am a geek today only because of that original 520ST, and to think that it just turned 25 is unbelievable to me. That 25 years, from 1985 to today, has probably seen more technical innovation than any period in history, and I think the ST (and yes, the Amiga), deserve their place alongside the MAC in the history of computing.

I miss my ST.

Web 2.0 – Technology & Social Media

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Technology almost sounds counter to the principles of simplicity discussed in the last blog, but it often takes a lot of work to look like you’re coasting. At its heart, Web 2.0 is about giving the user control, about making it easier for them to interact and engage with your site, or with data online. The result of this is, hopefully, seen in the metrics you use to measure success – whether that is sales, downloads, page views, comments, productivity, lower costs, whatever!

Something as simple as not forcing your page to have to reload all the time can have a great impact on user interaction. Having as much content as possible client-side is great, but can make the initial download of your page slower. Asynchronous calls to your web server, or the use of the iFrame, only replace portions of your page on the fly, and mean a much improved user experience. Ajax is probably the most recognizable ‘technology’, but it is just a group of underlying technologies that act together to provide a framework for the communication and display of asynchronous information to your visitors. If you are familiar with JavaScript and HTML, you’ll have no issues with Ajax.

One of the most effective ways to disseminate information these days is through RSS (currently referred to as Really Simple Syndication). With RSS, your visitors don’t even have to physically visit your site to get new updates, they simply subscribe to a data feed that lets them know when new content is available. They can read the content in an RSS browser, or link to your site and read it directly – either way, pushing information to them like this means more interaction, and a more consistent level of interaction.

It’s not just individuals benefiting from the simple interactivity provided by Web 2.0 technology though. Many businesses are utilizing online software services instead of installing and maintaining expensive software packages. Google Apps are one such example of this ‘cloud computing’, where a simple interface is all that is required – the data, and the software required to manipulate and present it, are maintained online. While some may question trusting your most vital business information to a 3rd party, the cost savings can make a compelling argument.

Social Media has become synonymous with services like Facebook and Twitter, but social media is really just a catch-all phrase to describe any web-based technology that allows social interaction between individuals online. Services like Facebook, which recently surpassed 500 million users, are so prevalent now, that the internet is truly accessible to just about anyone. If you can think it, you can publish it – via blog, YouTube video, podcast, tweet, or Facebook update… however you choose!  Web 2.0 isn’t just about making data on the internet more accessible, it is about enabling users to become contributors. We aren’t just providing our own content either, but are validating existing content from others through retweets, diggs, and other social markers. In essence, we are now determining what is important on the web, not being told what is important.

Businesses have also begun to embrace social media, and realised that it is an effective way to interact with, and influence their users. Social media can become an effective viral delivery mechanism for your message – it can spread exponentially. How many tweets or Facebook posts did you see recently about the Old Spice campaign? Don’t fret if you are a small company either, social media tools level the playing field somewhat, and provide you the same tools and opportunity that the big guys have.

Web 2.0 isn’t a technology per se, it is a philosophy that has driven a whole new generation of tools and technologies. We are only about 5 years into the Web 2.0 shift, yet it has already heralded a fundamental change in the way we use the web, access data online, and how we interact with each other. Exciting times are surely ahead as well.

Web 2.0 Design – Keep It Simple, Stupid!

July 20, 2010 4 comments

Following on from my previous blog, discussing Web 2.0 philosophy and the paradigm shift in internet use, today’s effort will address what Web 2.0 means to web site design, layout, navigation, and interactivity.

When surfing the web, you probably come across sites that make you wonder what the designer was thinking, and not in a good way! It seemed that for a long time, web designers and developers were simply making sites for themselves, showcasing their skills, or trying new scripts and effects for the sake of it. While that might be okay for your personal site, those “effect of the week” styles spread like wildfire through business sites too. Web 2.0 design isn’t about the underlying technology, or what’s cool this week, it’s about providing the simplest, cleanest, and most effective interface for the end user, your customer.

Design Considerations

Consider the following site, for the Twitter software MarketMeTweet. There are very few extraneous elements here. Strong, bold colours delineate sections, and walk you through the story being told. Fonts are large, easily read, and are hard to ignore. The call to actions are clear and simple. Design elements double as navigation tools and visual guides. The layout is central, scales well to all resolutions, and works in all browsers. The whole layout is visually accessible, and means little effort is needed by the user to find what they want.

MarketMeTweet.com

MarketMeTweet.com

Another excellent example comes from, PetProtect.co.uk – a pet insurance provider. Again, bold colour choices make the site look great, but they are not just for effect, also providing a visual aid, separating the various elements. A strong, persistent header means the user won’t easily lose their way, and provides  a consistent visual anchor for the user. All the activity happens below the header, but it’s all seamless to the user.

PetProtect.co.uk

PetProtect.co.uk

Unfortunately, this site wasn’t tested in all browsers – the two red buttons don’t display side by side in Chrome, like they should, and do in IE. It takes a lot of effort to make something look simple and work well. Don’t get complacent.

PetProtect.co.uk

PetProtect.co.uk

Web 2.0 design is about getting back to simplicity, focusing on the message, and always keeping the end user in mind. Back at the outset of the world wide web, web pages had to be simple, we didn’t have the tools to make them interactive, or do much of anything! Gradually, as the tools became available, the focus was lost – the message was lost.

So what can you do to make your site more “Web 2.0” ?

Focus on simplicity of design. It’s like the old story of how to sculpt an elephant – you just chip away anything that doesn’t look like an elephant! During the design process, keep asking yourself if elements serve a purpose, and whether that purpose serves you, or the end user. Make every pixel count. Strip away any elements that don’t make your site more visually accessible or easily navigable. Give the user the least possible choices to reach the most information.

Use technology wisely. Whether you are coding from scratch, or using libraries and code snippets, what’s under the hood of your site can make a big difference to the user experience. As with the design and layout, ask yourself if that few hundred lines of Javascript or new CSS3 element is adding something useful, or is it just cool? The technology should be invisible to the user wherever possible.

Be a user advocate. Try and see your site from your user’s perspective, and make sure you analyze your web traffic to identify patterns of behaviour that might reflect a problem with the layout or navigation of the site. What path are users taking through the site? What pages are seeing the highest abandon rates, and why? Is there anything you can do to make your site react to your users itself? Buying patterns can alter the choices presented to users, perhaps showing them what others bought at this stage, or in conjunction with specific items. Find out what the user wants and needs, them give them it. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy.

In the next blog, I’ll be discussing some of the tools and technologies that have contributed to the rise of Web 2.0 – and how Social Media has influenced the internet landscape.