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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!

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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

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.

‘Noughty’ & Newsworthy – Part 4: Video Gaming

December 30, 2009 1 comment

The past decade has really been a great one for video games.

PC Gaming

Over the decade I have gone from a staunch PC gamer to a totally cross-platform lunatic. I finally got my dream rig this year – an Alienware PC – just in time to finally accept that gaming has moved to the consoles. So I now have a 360, PS3, and a Wii. Most big cross-platform titles are still available on PC as well, but you have to wonder for how long. World of Warcraft (WOW) still keeps over 10M subscribers glued to their PCs every month, but role playing titles, often only found on PC, have been showing up on the consoles too. Even a game like Civilization came to the consoles – with a very solid port, and garnering many positive reviews.

I’m not sure if PCs can compete on the big titles anymore, but as long as games like WOW keep updating and providing new DLC, gaming rigs will still survive. I’m afraid I have turned to the dark side though, I just can’t justify the constant upgrading to keep up with the latest games when I know they will all run flawlessly on my consoles.

The Xbox 360

A console is only as good as the games available for it, and that simply makes the 360 the best around. It still boasts the biggest library of titles available, many top exclusive titles (none bigger than the Halo and Gears of War franchises), and a great library of DLC from Xbox Live Marketplace. Couple all that with fast load times, quick updates, and the addition of social networking, and it’s a tough act to follow. 2 Million users logged into Facebook through Xbox live in the first week of its introduction alone.

Microsoft also had a VERY strong E3 this year, with a couple of Beatles, some great game announcements, and, of course, Project Natal details. Things look good for the console for the foreseeable future. Online is still where the Xbox kicks some serious ass, and the Xbox Live community is staggeringly big. Halo 2 kicked it off in 2004, passing 7M users in 2007, 10M users in 2008, and now standing at somewhere in the region of 20M users! Now, you have to balance those numbers with the recent banning of up to 1M users from Live for using modded consoles – but that still leaves on hell of a lot of people looking to kick your ass online!

One of the most overlooked pluses of the Xbox is gamer points. I’m not one that desperately hunts achievements, usually preferring to get them as they come. but it’s hard to pass up going after that achievement when it comes close. I’ve been playing lots of Left 4 Dead 2 recently (see my Raptr.com profile for proof!) and I found myself seeking out clowns, swampy mudmen, incendiary ammo, and I swore to beat that damn Moustachio! It’s hard not to get caught up in getting those in-game achievements … and that means more gametime, and more attraction for the console. PS3 trophies just don’t have the same appeal yet, and I’m not sure if they ever will.

The PS3

We got a great deal on our PS3 – my wife works for Dell, and it was open box. Without that deal I would not have owned one – and I would have missed out BIG time. I am now officially a Sony fan-boy. What a great piece of hardware the PS3 is… and there’s the problem. It’s a great bit of kit, but until recently it was only being used for Blu-ray movies and as a media server, streaming content from my PC to the TV. The PS3 kicks the 360’s ass in terms of a media server by the way. the TVersity software and the (built in) wireless capability of the PS3 is a great media server combination.

For me, though, I still played most games on my PC, or the 360. Then Uncharted came into my life, and Little Big Planet. I started paying more attention to the PS3 for games. This year alone Killzone 2, InFamous, and my game of the year, Uncharted 2 all made being a PS3 owner a wonderful experience. Add the (rather useless IMO) exclusive content for Batman:Arkham Asylum, and it was a big year for PS3 exclusives.

Sony also had a good E3, and then to finish the year, Sony finally tore down the last barrier to PS3 ownership, dropping the console price with the introduction of the new slimmer (and cheaper looking/feeling) console. There is now no reason not to get a PS3. So go get one!

The Wii

Nintendo really did something amazing in the ‘noughties’, bringing a whole new generation of people to gaming – your grandparents! Okay, so the Wii isn’t just for kids and grandparents, but Nintendo really made a fantastic family-friendly product, and there is nothing funnier than seeing your grandma kick someones butt at Wii bowling! The Wii made gaming accessible to everyone, bringing casual gamers to the console more, and making millions of others into casual gamers. Anything that gets your butt off the couch can’t be all bad.

The Wii also heralded a new direction in the console wars with its innovative control system. This year at E3 it was notable that a lot of time was devoted to showing off the Sony motion control and Microsoft’s Project Natal. The Wii balance board also took things in a new direction, with Wii Fit trying to not just get you active, but coaching you toward fitness goals. I got one, it pretty much just sits there now, mocking me … which is a lot nicer than when it rudely told me I was fat.

Portable Gaming

Games on the go have become big business, with the DSi and PSP Go being the most recent hardware to allow you to play great games virtually anywhere. The evolution of portable hardware is too complicated to go into in detail here, but new hardware now offers great graphics and gameplay, and game publishers are making sure that top titles find their way onto these smaller screens, in one form or another.

Apple’s iPhone also deserves special mention here. The iPhone has now come of age as a true gaming platform, but more than that, the App Store has allowed small developers to get some great games into our hands. The future is bright for the little guy with a big idea if he is willing to go the iPhone route.

Gaming Comes of Age

On the back of the success of consoles, gaming has gone from the realm of nerds and geeks to being seriously mainstream. Video game revenue now surpasses movies (and has since 2007), and gaming was one of the sectors to see the least shrinkage during the recent economic meltdown. The line where gaming and mainstream media meet is becoming seriously blurred. Uncharted 2 plays like a blockbuster move, which was the intention, and Left 4 Dead was conceived along similar lines. Movie stars now routinely voice game characters, and story is seen as just as important as game play. Games are becoming a media experience, not just a diversion.

The only problem I see is that since games have become such big business, it is virtually impossible for a small software house to invest the time and money required to produce a top game. You NEED to be aligned with a big publisher, and small shops have been absorbed into bigger ones, or disappeared altogether. The iPhone may become the last bastion of truly innovative, wacky games – as big software houses can’t take the risk on something that may not go big. It almost sounds like the way movie industry went.

I won’t bore you with my list of ‘games of the decade’, as there are already hundreds of lists out there – suffice to say that as a gamer this has been a wonderful decade, and I eagerly await the next one. Who knows, perhaps Project Natal won’t be lame, and Alan Wake will really get released this time.

‘Noughty’ & Newsworthy – Part 2: Blood

December 24, 2009 2 comments

You might have sensed a bit of a theme so far in this ‘noughty list’, i’d love to say it was intentional and I had some grand plan to guide you through the decade as I see fit – I don’t. Just bear with me for a few more posts.

BLOOD

A couple of themes I’d like to address under this trend. Obviously Blood follows on from the Vampire thread too, but one of the biggest literature titles of the decade took Blood in a whole new direction. The Da Vinci Code went from being a great summer page-turner to becoming a media sensation, but not without several controversies on the way.

Dan Brown weaved a seemingly plausible thread through his book, positing that Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene, and have fathered a child. The whole crux of the story being that this bloodline might exist to this day – with this fact being covered up by the Catholic Church – and that the Holy Grail of legend was not a cup, but the literal Blood of Christ passed down through the generations. The book was heavily criticised by scholars and theologians, but it didn’t stop it becoming a huge success, spawning Da Vinci Tours, documentaries, and a very mediocre film. Brown was even accused of stealing the idea for his book from other sources, without anything really coming of the claims. The Da Vinci Code was without doubt one of the media stories of the decade.

Hollywood is really missing a trick here though. What if a Vampire bit one of the descendants of Christ – you could really get some mileage from a Vampire Messiah movie!

As well as Vampires and Da Vinci, blood came to the fore again in the debate over violence in video games. Blood and gore in games has certainly been ramped up this decade, with many titles falling foul of ratings boards. Australia seems to get a lot of press regarding ratings, with Left 4 Dead 2 (L4D2), the great zombie shooter, one of the recent games to come up against the fact that Australia has no game rating for 18+ titles. I play L4D2 with my kids (who are 11 & 13) – so perhaps I’m not the best person to pass judgement on this – but it’s my blog, so who else is going to? L4D2 features some pretty graphic decapitations, gushing blood, and spatters of blood on your ‘screen’ – using a chain saw on a group of zombies will actually leave you barely able to see as your vision is blocked by so much blood.

Photoshop'd Ralph Lauren Model

Photoshop'd Ralph Lauren Model

Personally, I don’t see this stylised violence as a serious threat. I grew up watching Wile E. Coyote getting abused in ever more creative ways, and it did not make me run out and drop an anvil on a neighborhood dog – but perhaps that’s too simplistic a view. I am more concerned about moral ambiguity in games than violence. I will gladly play L4D2 with my kids, but wouldn’t dream of playing GTA4 in front of them. Perhaps that says more about my moral compass, or lack thereof, than anything else. The recent controversy of the Modern Warfare 2 ‘airport sequence’ is of more interest to me than blood spattering my screen. I find the way woman are portrayed in games like GTA4 far more disturbing than taking an axe to a zombie … in fact, as the father of two daughters, I think the Ralph Lauren picture shown here has far more chance of screwing up kids than computer game violence!

See another horrific RL ad, and other ridiculous uses of Photoshop here – http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/2009s-top-25-most-ridiculous-uses-of-photoshop

I’m pretty sure my kids are smart enough to figure out that killing zombies with a molotov cocktail is not something that should be imitated in real life. Ads such as this, however, filter into the subconscious, and can have a far greater effect. I have yet to be convinced that playing violent video games inures kids to real world violence, or encourages them to be more violent. In my opinion, the evidence is simply not there. Will ads like this lead to body issues in young girls? It’s far more likely.

You can find Part #1 of this year end blogging extravaganza here

Merry Christmas all!