ad:tech BLOG

Thanks to Steve Hall at Adrants and Tig Tillinghast at MarketingVOX I was able to write for the official ad:tech conference blog for a few years as well. I was an official press pass carrying blogger for ad:tech San Francisco in 2005 through 2008, as well as for one of their 1MPACT one day conferences in 2006. Here are as many posts as I could gather from the archives…

ad:tech SF – New Ad Tracking: Project Project Apollo and AdLab Updates

Posted by Brad Waller on 25 Apr 2005

Perhaps it was because it was later in the day, but the session was moderately attended, with the room less than half full. Then again it could be that this session covers a topic that very few of the attendees deal with – TV and multimedia advertising. This session was really two sessions in one. The first half featured Pat Dunbar of AdLab and DiMA Group shwoing their project that looks at consumer response to new models of advertising for Video on Demand and DVRs. The second half had John Bosarge of VNU talking about Project Apollo, which could just as easily have been about the technology behind the world in Minority Report or the results of an Orwellian fantasy.

Pat Dunbar spoke about the evolution of the personalization of media and how the consumer is now an on-demand consumer. The growth of DVRs and Video on Demand, along with the computer and Web developments of the last ten years changed the way consumers act and react. Consumers are now in control, don’t like interruptions (commercials), want relevance, and rely on communities for new ideas. This goes back to my position that DVRs change us from appointment TV to watching what you want, when you want. Some interesting stats revealed that consumers watch 32 billion hours of TV through DVRs and 3 billion through video on demand (VOD).

The ad industry has ideas on how to deal with VOD, and it is just barely getting started with DVR based advertising. The new reality for advertisers is that they will have to improve the quality of advertising, work towards an opt-in model and come up with standardized ad units and measurements. The latter seemed to resonate with the audience based on questions asked after the session. For more on the program, as well as samples and a poll, see IdeaProgram.com

Project Apollo is truly fascinating, but you also have to wonder if it could ever come to pass if given mass publicity. Imagine a service that tracks every ad you are exposed to all day long, for years. It is a marketers dream, but a privacy nightmare. Evidently there are a large number of consumers out there who don’t mind and have already been scanning every purchase they make for years. The extension of this is that they will have a Portable People Meter that will have the ability to know what ads they have seen, when, and how many times. This is not just for TV. The device is worn like a pager (do people still wear pagers?) and it detects inaudible signals that will be imbedded in advertising and other media. It will know when you hear an ad on the radio, but it can also be put into the Muzak soundtrack at the Gap or your local grocery store, in the Cinema, over rich media ads online, in video games, and more so they know every place you have been and all the ads you have been exposed to.

It is then a great way to track buyer behavior over the long term and determine what advertising campaigns are working and where they should be spending their media buys. Their vision is to bridge the divide between media use and purchase behavior to be able to answer the question of did this one ad drive the consumer to the GM dealer. Since these questions can only be measured by following real people that are well known in their brand preferences and behavior, they will have a panel of perhaps 69,000 people. Examples were shown where the knowledge gained could make for large gains in campaign buys and increased efficiency within a given inventory.

This is all a plan (in fact it is the 19th initiative to build a single source panel), so it is not known if industry will buy in and do all that is necessary to pull this off. I also wonder about an idea that will require changes in creatives and broadcasts to 100% of the population in order to gather data from 69,000 panelists. If they do follow the plan, it will be interesting to see if anyone else finds a use for this inaudible signal since it will be out there in every store, home, and car.


ad:tech SF – The Contextual Marketing Opportunity

Posted by Brad Waller on 25 Apr 2005

Contextual marketing grew out of the search space and had graduated into an industry in itself. Instead of paying top bids for a term on a search engine, now there are providers who can scan a page in milliseconds and combine this with appropriate advertising. ROI can be higher because click prices are lower, click rates are often lower, and conversions are higher because the readers are in the right frame of mind. A lot of contextual marketing gets into why a customer is reading a certain page and where they are in the purchase stage. Moderator Dave Evans (GSD&M;) and panelists Barry Briggs (CNET), Andy Jacobson (ContextWeb), Erik Matlick (Industry Brains), and Dave Ellett (Powered) spoke to a packed house.

Andy Jacobsen explained how real-time targeting to reach the audience and making text ads look like content greatly improved the CTR on ads. I can see this, but I also wonder if there are issues when you fool your readers into thinking that advertising is content. There are issues of journalistic integrity and site reputation at stake when you make the advertising indistinguishable (or at least very close to) your actual content.

Eric Matlick noted that contextual advertising is nothing new, and that it was a $2B industry in 2003. He also commented on a comScore study that showed that buyers searched two or more weeks in advance of purchase, and only 18%-28% used brand names in their searches. This shows that there are many opportunities to influence buying behavior during the consideration phase of the buying cycle. Eric also stressed that real time contextual ads work best with targeted, special interest sites.

Dave Ellet explained their Educational Marketing Platform. Their idea is that an educated consumer buys more. Instead of providing all the information up front or on a Web site for the buyers to read through, they provide a sequential course sent to the user over a course of weeks to educate and market to them as they go. Most surprising, the education does not have to stop at the purchase phase. After the purchase, education on how to use and what accessories are helpful can drive additional purchases.

Barry Briggs had the view of the publisher and his comment was that it is the users experience with the brand. “Do it wrong, and they don’t come back” was his warning. They take into account what they know – or don’t know – about the user to tailor the message. Unknown users may get a broad range of information, contextual ads, similar products, reviews, etc. to expose them to as much as possible. Known users can be marketed to based on user intent and in some cases through clustering based on participation in multiple areas of a site or network of sites.

When asked to look at the future, Barry mentioned the need for research into tools and metrics. Also mentioned was the potential from behavioral networks, RSS, and email newsletters. As they get to know users more, there is more to have to figure out. The challenge will be how to make the information scalable to be useful.


ad:tech SF – Booth Babes and Other Attractions

Posted by Brad Waller on 25 Apr 2005

This year the number of wacky attractions and booth babes seems to be quite low. In addition to the usual flashing LEDs, funky tchotchkes, logo wear, and free t-shirts, I found only a few truly noticeable gimmicks. In my first walk through the exhibit hall I saw booth babes at Search Engine Optimization, Inc. (booth 221, if you must). They’re wearing t-shirts reading “Wanna Be On Top?” as captured here by a picture from Steve Hall. Also present were strolling babes for Partner Weekly, a beer tap at Adknowledge (Booth 115 if you are thirsty), and Alyssa the contortionist at FindWhat, right inside the door to the exhibit hall doors. I’m sure I’ll see more as I explore further.


ad:tech SF – Jim Sterne Gives Back After Assault

Posted by Brad Waller on 26 Apr 2005

Jim Sterne used 20 years of marketing experience and 13 years online service to create a list of the 20 most important tips (“silver bullets”) to optimize your website. After spending the previous hour ripping apart three sites, Jim gave out his top techniques that could have prevented the embarrassment. While this list is not rocket science, and you should not be surprised by anything on it, you would be surprised to review your own site with his list in mind. The first half of the 20 silver bullets pertain to corporate and site design basics while the last ten are all related to optimization.

The most important (and possibly oldest advice I can remember about online) is to test, measure, test, measure, test, measure, test, measure, and continue this for all time. You are never done, and all sites should practice continuously measurable improvement initiatives.

Some points are amazingly basic, but underused at many sites. Does the home page answer the most basic of questions: What are you trying to accomplish? Point #1 is to have goals. After all, if you don’t understand why you have a website and what you want from customers, then how can you design one for your users and expect them to take the right action? For example, most people look at their site as a selling process, but your customer goes through a buyingprocess, bringing us to point #2: Focus on the Buying Process.

Bullet #7 stresses making the site functional. Some of this is obvious, such as forbidding flash animation, limiting picture bulk, and having useful 404 pages. Others were three simple ways to minimize user confusion: the mother-in-law test; the 5 random guy test; and the pop-up survey. The first two have people who know nothing about your industry checking out your site and attempting to complete a task while you watch. Jim’s example of the world’s best survey was three questions long. First, ask the customer what they were after, then ask them if they were able to do it, and finally ask them if not, why not. Do this as an exit pop and you can raise your customer satisfaction scores greatly.

The last ten optimization bullets are all ideas that that make incremental improvements as opposed to fixing the big mistakes that he blasted Tribe.net, cogbox.com, and Qqesttime.com for in the previous session. You can optimize everything piece by piece. Optimize the source of your prospects to make sure you spend the efforts and money in the places which will give you the customers who convert. Use A/B testing on landing pages (the best sites might actually test four separate areas of the page) to let technology tell you the answer instead of arguing over possible solutions. One example showed that Intercontinental Hotels saw a $20 million increase with a change in site copy.

It all boils down to some really simple concepts. Think like a customer. Boring is better. Work hard. Test and Measure.


ad:tech SF – Affiliate Marketing: Step by Step Overview

Posted by Brad Waller on 26 Apr 2005

Affiliate marketing has been around for years and has been evolving more rapidly than many other areas of advertising. Affiliate programs run the gamut from niche based boutique programs to massive programs going after as many people as possible. The answer is that there is no one answer and each company and brand will have their own needs and solutions. Just as the answer to the question asking the panelists to rank the solution providers was unanswerable, each of the three panelists had very different programs and philosophies. But, even with an industry that is mature, there are still some who are making mistakes, including some of the panelists.

The three panelists have varying experience and perspectives. Shawn Collins of Shawn Collins Consulting has the most experience and is now an independent program manager working with five merchants. Carolyn Tang is the manager for Orbitz and CheapTickets, inheriting a program with 150,000 affiliates – unfortunately only 2,000 of them are active. Then there was Ryan Erwin from Oakley, a company that has serious brand issues and is very discerning with any partnership they make – affiliate or otherwise. Oakley is a latecomer to this area, starting their program just last fall.

One of the new trends in Affiliate marketing is the “lean and mean” program where the manager is very selective in who they accept into the program. The advantage of this is that the program is easier to manage and you can more easily track affiliates and there is less risk of having rogue affiliates cause problems. The problem I see is that these programs are self limiting.

Oakley has 200 affiliates and they think this is a good number. They don’t want thousands of affiliates because it could be too much work to police and train. If they do not want to have more affiliates, how can they grow their program and increase sales? You can’t expect affiliates to grow sales by themselves and have a program that can continue to be supported by management. If 200 affiliates can produce a good program that accounts for about 50% of the online sales, then why not look for the next 200 affiliates? Why not come up with a plan on how you can manage 2,000 affiliates? Unless your niche is so small that you can’t find that many quality sites, then you should be able to find thousands of great affiliates for any program.

Another issue with the Oakley program is their choice of service provider. Exclusive programs have their place, but why pay 30% for the “network” CJ offers if you don’t even want 99.9% of the people there? Oakley would be better served with an in-house or third party program that does not charge a premium for their Network. CJ is a great choice for mass market merchants and those who want to get a lot of affiliates quickly. Since this is the opposite of their desires, the choice seems odd.

While Oakley is very stringent, approving only 7% of applicants, they do agree with the others that the best affiliates are those who provide great content. Original content was one theme mentioned by each of the panelists when describing a top affiliate.

Trademark bidding was one place where the panelists did not agree. Shawn Collins prohibits all bidding on trademarked terms, Orbitz allows limited bidding, and Oakley lets affiliates “bottom feed” on terms. Orbitz allows certain terms that they do not have experience in, such as their recent foray into bookings from Mexico and their lack of experience bidding on Spanish Language terms.

Each panelist had valid reason why they use outsourced or in-house managers, but I felt that Carolyn’s reasoning for having the manager be an employee showed a full understanding of the issue. She commented that by being in the same office every day the affiliate program is better integrated with the rest of the company. The side benefit is that she has also been immersed in the travel industry and has gained insights that she would not be possible if the program was outsourced to a solution provider or outside manager.

What does the panel see for the future? Shawn Collins sees a new frontier in RSS, with affiliates using it to place targeted ads into their site. Carolyn Tang sees a bright future in affiliates using other channels such as phones or WiFi. And Ryan Erwin sees affiliates producing meaningful content.

Audience questions lasted quite a while – longer than any other session I attended – and they were generally probing. The audience was most interested in the pros and cons of using a networked provider (the answer is that it depends), multiple providers (they can be a pain because you have to remove duplicate orders), and keyword bidding.


ad:tech SF – Best or Worst Promotion?

Posted by Brad Waller  · Tuesday April 26, 2005

Omniture wins the award for best scheme for getting hundreds of show attendees to wear their bright green t-shirts everywhere during the show. The idea was that if the roving Omniture crew saw you wearing the shirt you could win from $100 to $5,000. Every once in a while, you would hear a ruckus and look over to see three people in green shirts making a lot of noise as they approached the lucky winner and then loudly counted out their cash.

From a promotional view, it was a coup to get so much visibility. You could not look down an aisle and not see someone wearing an Omniture shirt. But, there is a flip side to relying on avarice for your publicity. What control do you lose over your brand when you get everyone and their mother (literally!) wearing your brand all over the show?


ad:tech SF – Blogvertising: Opportunity (and Risk)

Posted by Brad Waller on 27 Apr 2005

It appears as if there are two types of divergent ideas of blogs out there. In one camp are the passionate bloggers who do this because they love it and want to be doing it. Sites represented by BlogAds typify this passionate group. On the other side are capitalists who are using blogs as a source of revenue. Weblogs Inc., for example, has a network of sites that fit the more traditional publishing mold, as does MarketingVOX. Tony Conrad of Blacksmith Capital led a panel comprised of Henry Copland (Blogads.com), Shawn Gold (Weblogs, Inc.), and Beth Kirsch (Audible, Inc.) where they spoke to a packed house (amazing since this was the last panel on the last day) about the best ideas and opportunities, and a few risks.

After a quick history lesson, each panelist was able to give their take on what a blog is. Henry Copland is as passionate about blogs as is his idea of bloggers – passionate individuals expressing themselves. Beth Kirsch agrees, extending this description to that of a new form of journalism, particularly something not seen in the mass media. While Shawn Gold agreed, his view is more in line with that of a publisher of an alternative newspaper. Blogs are a layer on top of traditional media, a digest for the attention deficit disorder generation.

Henry’s vision of the blogosphere is that of a hive mind from a group of individuals, and what makes them special is that they are the influencers who can be far more valuable than the average consumer. What makes an influencer so special is that they don’t just buy; they evangelize and can create many future actions through their position. This very fact can give blog advertising a much greater ROI (although perhaps harder to measure directly) than traditional CPM or CPC advertising.

As an advertiser, Beth has seen that the style of advertising is much different when placing ads into blogs. She advises advertisers to put content in front of the people instead of usurping the conversation. Blog ads can be far more edgy, and can have their own personality. Find a way to enter the conversation and tailor your campaign to the readers. In fact, some ads include links to other parts of the blogosphere that is part of the discussion. Find a way to get bloggers to talk about your ad campaign and you can really expend the lifetime and reach of a campaign. “Influentials do not do what you tell them to,” adds in Copland. “Do it right and they evangelize for you.”

While successful blog ads are exceedingly different, you have to be careful. You don’t want to offend your audience. You want to reflect the self-image of the readers. You can also bomb by adding in too much text or missing the connection with the reader. A basic banner with no explanation of the content is just there to be seen. The best ads discuss content.

In discussing brand risks and the negative feedback that can come with blog ads and even corporate blogs, the panelists mentioned that it can turn into a positive. If you put a human face on your own corporate blog, it can break down the wall and allow you to talk to your audience. Copeland advises that it is best to choose your enemies wisely, and that an attack by the right person can work to your advantage if you have a quality product and company. Beth Kirsch says that she uses a few trusted people to verify that the ads are not too far out. And if they are, she concludes “time heals any mistake.”


1MPACT LA – Introduction

Posted by Brad Waller on 8 Mar 2006

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What do you get when you take the educational sessions from ad:tech and compress them into a one day traveling road show? 1MPACT.

This was a great one day conglomeration of the best sessions with a little networking thrown in. You get a jam packed schedule that broke out into three tracks: Online Advertisng Analytics and Optimization; Web Site Design and Optimization; and Analyzing Your Marketing ROI. Since this is ad:tech, you also get to witness the Hot Seat in the Connect Live! session at the end of the show. No hats or costumes this time, just a “throne” for the lucky ones being grilled.

What is different here is that this really is a road show. They packed up after one day and move on to the next city. Los Angeles (actually Torrance – just a few miles east of my office) was the third location of this ten city tour. I’m not quite sure if some of the speakers and exhibitors will see their home for the next month as there are two shows a week in different cities. If you review the sessions closely, you will see a large number of speakers listed. This is to allow speakers to make as many of these cities as they can, as the actual speakers at each event will be a subset of this list. This makes sense as most of these people are high level executives who can’t tale the road for five weeks just for this show.

Of course, that is the downside to this as well. If you were hoping to meet a certain speaker at the show when it comes to town, they may not have chosen to come out to your fair city.

There is a small exhibit hall and a minimum of Tchochkes, but thankfully no booth babes either. The day is so packed with interesting sessions that even the breaks are not long enough to talk to all of the vendors.


1MPACT LA – Analytics and Optimization Track

Posted by Brad Waller on 8 Mar 2006

With one person and three tracks, as well as keynotes and vendors with some interesting services, I could only cover so much of the show. I was able to make a few sessions in this track. Each session in this track was standing room only with over 50 chairs set up in the room.

I was quite impressed with Young-Bean Song and his in depth understanding and analysis. He had some great data on frequency with some insights that many might overlook. When looking at the average frequency of impressions for a campaign, the results can be skewed by the super active people who see the ad 20, 30, or even 50 times. Frequency capping only works per ad serving solution, and most large campaigns are spread around with more than one server, so you will likely get readers seeing your ad more than your cap amount. Even so, capping does help as it limits the overexposure, as conversion rate goes down as impressions increase.

In addition, he has see that daypart targeting along with frequency caps increase CPA by 10%-30%. All campaigns are different, and you need to compare your own lift against the increase costs for setting caps and dayparts into the ad serving solutions. Song also noted that most capping is not accurate after 24 hours.

The best thing I got out of this however was an observation about delayed conversions. Because we can analyze everything now, everyone always compares each creative and campaign to the previous one as soon as possible. They often find that the new one is not performing as well as the one that has been around for a few weeks, even though it tested well and should be doing better. The reason is that they are getting delayed conversions sparked by the previous campaign. Users set bookmarks, do some research, procrastinate, or whatever and then go ahead and pull the trigger and take action days and sometimes weeks later. This can make the new campaigns that do not have any history appear to be worse than they may actually be.

The next talk that had some great new information was from the Consumer-Generated Media talk. When Petco added consumer reviews (powered by Bazaarvoice) to their site (good and bad), they were able to increase sales and conversions. The idea it to align marketing priority with the customer voice. Thus, they were able to find the “hidden gems” that consumers really loved so they could highlight and promote those products. They could use reviews for highly rated products in email campaigns. What they found in an A/B test was that the people who followed the “ratings” path had a 35% higher conversion rate and 40% increase in sales per visitor than this using the traditional product navigation path.


1MPACT LA – Sponsor Presentations

Posted by Brad Waller on 8 Mar 2006

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There were five sponsor presentations mid-day. Brent Hieggelke of WebTrends spoke of many things, but the one area that hit home for me was segmentation. A 5% conversion rate means 95% non-conversion, so who are those 95%? Maybe 40% were just completely uninterested, but that means that 55% of your traffic is still in the buy cycle and you can reach them with the right message. Some will have price concerns, some need more detailed information, others will have some specific concerns. If you have ways to determine what message to send to these people, you can greatly improve your results. After all, sending a 20% off coupon to someone who is ready to buy but just wanted to know if they could get it in blue will only reduce your margin if you could have send them an email telling them the product is available in sixteen colors, including three blue hues.

Scott Nelson of TrueEffect wanted us to take home just four things to control hidden media costs:

  • Measure Yourself (processes, time, reports)
  • Educate the Client (might be internal CFO, admin, IT)
  • Retain Expertise (prevent sniping talent)
  • Technology Your Way (don’t let it control you)

He showed data from an IDC study that revealed that half of information worker time is wasted in non-productive efforts caused by poor processes that allow data and information to be lost. Workers then have to recreate content, reformat campaigns, search for old creatives, etc. By measuring yourself you can see what can be fixed and standardized to reduce waste. Know your talent inventory and have redundancy in place in case you do lose a valued employee. Find technology that works and does not take up extra resources. Don’t choose a low-cost solution without knowing if it will take a huge toll in labor to install and maintain the software.

Joel Book of ExactTarget talked about using email to drive sales and brand, while Rick Bruner of DoubleClick had a $100 challenge for the audience. His cash is likely safe unless someone else leaks the answer ahead to the next show. He did have a great insight that related to Young-Bean’s talk. When you want to build audience cume, portals and email sites are acutely not the best. Because they are so popular and users go there every day if not more often, you run the risk of showing your ad too many times to some users while the campaign is running. You can be better off with a campaign on a site in the real estate, automotive, or hobby area because the audience does not build up and you can better distribute your ads over time.

Larry Freed of ForeSee had some great data showing that user satisfaction not only helps sales, but can be an indicator of overall financial performance and risk. Measuring customer satisfaction more scientifically, accurately, and precisely will help you project the impact on customer behavior. There is some cool stuff coming out of the U of M.


1MPACT LA – SEM Is Not Sexy

Posted by Brad Waller on 8 Mar 2006

I think the most lively session I attended was Barbara Coll and Fionn Downhill’s session on Search Engines. As experts in the field, they presented and then answered many questions on SEM, SEO, and PPC search. The title of this post refers to a comment Barbara made in reference to the fact that the search engines are pretty much text driven. They show natural and paid text results, with not fancy creatives to have fun with.

One hot topic is always the issue of results for your trademark and brand. Both agreed that you should not allow anyone else to own your brand or category. Fionn had lots of examples of companies doing it wrong, where they had great campaigns set up, but they forgot to include the organic search and/or PPC visibility into the mix. Ways to own the top ten natural results include organic SEO, press releases, affiliates, and articles.

They also volunteered to offer thoughts on what might happen over the next six months or so. MSN AdCenter (just launched this week) has great promise because they can do extensive demographic targeting that Google is unable to do. They see a big future in local/city based classifieds, personalization, community based search, and vertical (travel, book, etc.) search.

For larger sites and those with complex navigation (or SE unfriendly), they stressed the importance of site maps. These are simple text based ways for the search engines to index your site. Google and Yahoo both have tools to help the engines index your site, and the these tools also gives you feedback on your site, what is indexed, links, and more. This is something that is a required effort if you want to maximize your SE indexing and performance.

Two tools mentioned in the session were OptiLink for reviewing link quality and GSiteCrawler for creating Google Sitemap files.


ad:tech SF – Sold Out! Ad Networks, Practical Usage Advice

Posted by Brad Waller on 26 Apr 2006

I tried my best to make this session, but arriving just a few minutes before it started I ran into a line that was not moving. The security guard was not letting anyone in because the room was full! From conversations around me, I heard that this was the second session in a row in this room (one of the bigger ones) that filled up and had to turn away attendees. The room was packed, with many people standing two deep around the edges. There were murmurs of “refund” going around from the five or ten people who could not get in again, but we almost had an alternative session with representatives from Yahoo! and ValueClick among those barred from entry.


ad:tech SF – Ad:Tech Grows Up

Posted by Brad Waller · Wednesday, April 26, 2006

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What a change! The show is huge, the exhibit hall is bright and airy, and the booths are just about all professional. After spending an hour walking the exhibit hall floor and seeing every booth, my first impression was: Professional. There were no booth babes this time, and only a small handful of gimmicks at the booths. Attractions were upscale and varied, with a few massages, hot chocolate, coffee and snacks, and of course the usual assortment of tchochkes.

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The standout “attractions” that I recall were a few people roving the floor in Segways to attract your attention so that they can get you to enter their giveaway for a Segway; a gentleman in an outlandish and garishly colored suit; a “truth booth” where they will record what people say and then mash them up in a podcast from the show; and one booth with a worker in a jail suit.


ad:tech SF – Playing with the Blogosphere

Posted by Brad Waller on 27 Apr 2006

With my first choice of sessions overfull, I decided to see what was new with the blogosphere. Henry Copeland of Blogads moderated a panel of B.L. Ochman of What’s Next Online and Sebastian Paaw from the Netherlands Board of Tourism talking about case studies from a blog based campaign each had created.

B.L. did a campaign for Budget that was a 16-city, 4 week treasure hunt for cash prizes. The idea was branding, specifically to make Budget a bit more “hip.” They had a goal of bringing one million visitors to the Blog based site that they created for this promotion, and a total budget of $25,000 that was spent buying ads on 177 blogs. That was the total advertising budget. The rest of the advertising came from people in the game and articles about the game. They reached their goal of one million uniques in a month, and created a great interactive experience. They even allowed some “hunters” to become bloggers because user created content is one of the keys to making it real.

Sebastian told us about the Bloggers In Amsterdam promotion where they sought applications from 25 bloggers whom they would give free trips to Amsterdam in exchange for 3 things: 1) an interview for the Dutch Tourism Board; 2) one month premium ad space for Holland.com; and 3) put the Bloggers in Amsterdam logo in their nav bar for a year. No blogging was required – and not a lot was actually done. But the blogs were not why this was done. They did record 75,000 visits to the site, which had 3,000 blog comments, and somewhere on the order of 900 pictures on flickr.

The idea was to generate interest in travel to Holland. While not measured, it was expected that those who read about the deal, read the posts, saw the pictures, or otherwise found out about this might consider a trip to Holland in the near future. Some bloggers get cameras or books to review to build awareness of the item. But this is travel. As Sebastian commented, “you can’t send Amsterdam to the bloggers, it would be illegal in many cases!”, so they instead sent the bloggers to Amsterdam.

All panelists felt that the community was one of the most important parts, and that even the bloggers role may change. Sebastian noted that not everyone can blog, so taking just anyone and having the blog was not as effective as taking well known bloggers with popular sites and letting them write about it. B.L. said that she was starting to get “sick of the pontification in blogs – including me” and that blogging would have to change.


ad:tech SF – How to Grow a Profitable Affiliate Channel

Posted by Brad Waller on 27 Apr 2006

This panel was well moderated Declan Dunn and had panelists with very little overlap in their area of expertise and focus. Beth Kirsch of LowerMyBills represented the more traditional Affiliate side, Amanda Watlington of Searching for Profit represented the search based affiliates, Peter Figueredo (that’s pronounced fig-your-a-dough, Declan) of NETexponent was there to talk about cooperative marketing, and Marissa Levinson of SixApart explained how blogs can complement an affiliated program.

Beth talked a bit on the basics of affiliates, breaking them into four groups: coupons/loyalty sites, CPA networks, search affiliates, and traditional affiliates. Even with this diverse group, each with different needs and methods, she boiled it down to a very simple statement. She said “If you think that this business is about anything other than making money, get over it.” This may sound harsh, but the bottom line for an affilate really is money. There may be a few that are in it for glory or self importance, but the rest (and the ones you as a merchant should really care about) are in it to make money and further their business. Make sure you can do this for them, and you can succeed. Beth likes to think of affilates as “the biz dev farm team with the goal of developing deeper partnerships.”

Amanda noted that although the overall Internet audience is not growing very fast any more, there is massive growth in search. SEM spending was $5.75 billion in 2005, with an expected spend of $7.2 billion in 2006. Much of this is from affiliates who are leveraging organic and paid search to drive users to their sites and merchant sites. Referring to search’s Golden Triangle, Amanda emphasized that it is all about real estate and that “the more real estate you own on the page, the more you drive results. It is all about coverage, all about real estate.” The way to do this is with the help of you affiliates, who are as Amanda said, “wonderful search marketers.” You need to be able to drive your competition off the page, and you need affiliates to help you with this. With “appropriate agreements and arrangements” (with regard to trademarks) with select affiliates, you can dominate the golden triangle, and possibly the whole page.

Peter talked about something rarely done in the affiliate area, cooperative marketing. This is where you barter with your partner instead of just offering them monetary compensation. One example of this was the New York Times Store and The History Channel, who exchanged inventory and did a cooperative email exchange. Each included offers from the other, and there was no monetary compensation. Other times you do have to pay for performance, such as another NYT Store deal that had Art.com selling NYT prints on the Art.com site. The imporatnt thing is to think about synergistic opportunities and expand you potential partners to deal with. If you can create a win-win situation that has a simple contract and no payments, then you can open new markets and increase sales.

Marissa opened with a graph illustrating the exponential growth of blogging. It has been doubling every six months, and currently there are 34.5 million blogs. She explained that blogs are often (but not always) smaller, but very niche. You have a passionate and dedicated audience who have trust in the blogger. This makes them an “influential” who can be a powerful promoter of affiliate deals. Since blogs are the epitome of contextual content, conversion rates can be quite a bit higher than normal. Another reason to target blogs is that “blogs are the darlings of search” right now, with blogs often rising faster and ranking higher than the merchant’s own site. For this reason she recommended separating the blog from the main site, going as far as suggesting that hosting them on different class C addresses was very advantageous. She concluded by recommending that affiliate programs should be managed through a blog. With SEO advantages added to the effective communication enabled by a blog, you can bypass email and it’s issues. Add in an RSS feed for the blog and even for affiliate links, and you might have a killer solution that the bloggers and non-bloggers would love.


ad:tech SF – Linking & Optimization for Better Rankings & More Traffic

Posted by Brad Waller on 27 Apr 2006

Mike Grehan of MarketSmart Interactive, one of the fathers of SEM, promised to talk about linking and debunk some myths of search. If you have been reading MIke’s articleslately, perhaps you would not need quite so much debunking.

Mike went back to the beginning and asked the audience a few questions. “Why should your pages be at the top of the search engines? Who else thinks you are the best?” These are some of the key questions that you need to be able to answer or else you will not be able to rise in the search results.

You need to prepare and think like an end user. After all, describing your site is not what a user will type into the search engine. You need to be able to describe who you are, what you do, what you are known for, and what your message is. You need to understand what the end user thinks, and to do this you need to talk to people outside your organization.

So how important are all the on-page optimization techniques such as H1 tags, meta tags, Page Rank, etc.? Mike played an audio file from an interview with Matt Cutts where he asked him about this. When asked if people obsess over all these things, Matt said, “Yes, there are over 100 factors involved.” They are important, but they are not the be all and end all. They are not the facet that matters most: content.

Linking was the last category that Mike covered. This seems to be one of the most controversial topics out there, with experts on both sides vehemently explaining how they are right and the other side is wrong. Mike makes a lot of sense when he talks about Google’s basic principals where he said “the best links are editorially chosen” and that you should avoid link schemes that are created just for the purpose of linking for SEO. You don’t know who you will be associated with you, and rapid jumps in links can raise major red flags. It is fine to buy links for traffic – as long as you use the “nofollow” tag. When pressed further in the Q&A; session, he talked about how buying links is not natural, but he did imply (although left unsad) that getting links (paid or free) from people in your community can be beneficial.

After all, content is still king.


ad:tech SF – Friction Does Not Make Me Hot

Posted by Brad Waller on 28 Apr 2006

This panel was for the hardcore advertising operations managers and workers, something I really know nothing about – or so I thought. Moderated by R. Michael Leo, CEO and President, Operative along with panelists from different sides of the buying process they were to talk about some of the issues facing them today. As technology has made things easier, the people side of Operations is becoming a larger piece of the pie. Combine this with a large percentage of profits coming from advertising and you get a leveraging point where process and system fixes can mean big increases on real profit.

Mai-Wah Cheung, CTO/VP of Technology, Univision Online, Inc. had some great points when she was asked what is wrong today. She noted that expectations are different. TV and radio are easy to geo and demo target, but online has uncertainty and variables. IP location data is only 70% to 80% accurate, cookies get cleaned, people are behind corporate firewalls, etc. WIth TV, the buyers understand what they are buying. But online they see promised numbers and targets and expect 100% of the target. They get better targeting online than with mass media, but they seem to expect perfection. Since we can measure so much online, they know more about what they are not getting.

One of the issues that has been written about lately is what to do about late creative. Publishers want to fine the agencies, but the agencies point to outside forces that are sometimes out of their control and don’t always want to pay a fine just because the creative was delivered late. The publishers perspective is that their inventory is fleeting, and if they reserve a space for someone and the creative is not ready, they lose money. You just can’t get the time back. Bowen Dwelle, Founder and CEO, AdMonsters said that there is a real cost and the publisher has every right to push back. Alyson Hyder, Director of Media Strategy and Development, DRIVEpm, the only agency person on the panel said that penalties gives responsibility back to the agency and that they need to look at how their client is paying them.

When asked if ad serving is a commodity, the answer was a conditional no. Mai-Wah said no, but then said that anyone can serve ads. But with changing technology the only publishers that can keep up are those with their own ad server. She noted that “DoubleClick could not keep up.” Michael B. Stoeckel III, VP, Advertising Innovations and Operations, Fox Interactive Media narrowed the answer to say that an “ad decision maker” component is a commodity, but what you build around it is not.

When asked why they are still using Excel and why they still have not been able to get everything to interface between buyers, agencies, and publishers, the panel agreed that this was a problem. Bowen said that he “wishes a vendor would come up with a solution that magically ties it all together.” Here is where I realized I actually did know something about this part of the industry. There was a vendor at the Ad:Tech 1MPACT LA show who I spoke with that had what they all needed and none of them knew about this. Instead of creating something completely new, they decided to leverage the fact that everyone was already using Excel. Their tool merges planning, executing, and analyzing your advertising all in Excel. The session ended without any more audience participation, so I had to tell the panel about this afterward. Maybe I did some good matchmaking today.


ad:tech SF – TV 2.0 Overview – Convergence at Last

Posted by Brad Waller on 29 Apr 2006

What in the heck is TV 2.0? I just got Web 2.0 all figured out last year and now we have TV 2.0!?! While this was slated as an overview, and Susan Bratton told us earlier that today’s sessions would be walking us through the Big Picture with top level views, moderator Andrew Moskowitz did not introduce the subject or give that explanation. In fact, he did little else other than read from cards (perhaps for the first time?) to introduce our two panelists. Luckily the session improved once the panelists got started.

The first topic, covered by Peter Storck of Points North Group was Viewer Habits, taken from surveys of Internet Users. He opened by telling us that habits are changing, and the interest in convergence is getting there. Learning from the mistakes of the music industry, the TV industry is ahead of the consumer. While penetration of digital TV is getting there, hand held capability and interest is much lower that you would think based on all the recent media coverage. Only 16% of all Internet users even have the capability of accessing TV on their mobile devices, and even less are using it. When asked why they don’t want it, 35% cited the small screen size, yet those who are already using it are not complaining about the size of their screens.

That data fits well with other answers given by DVR users. While a quarter of non-DVR users think that they would want one because it is easy to record shows, almost 60% of current users say this is what makes them great. Similarly, 35% of DVR users want them for pausing live TV, only 6% of those without think that pausing live TV would be something they would want. What you find when you start using a leading edge technology is that what was once something that sounded just OK turned into something you could not live without. Just because I may not think I want video on my Treo, I may just change my mind once I try it. If DVRs went away today, I might just stop watching TV altogether!

When looking at the usage of video content online, of all the top responses, watching movie previews (#2 on the list with 31% of users doing it frequently or occasionally) was the only one that was advertising content. The rest of the top five were were news video (32%), music videos (23%), sports highlights (16%), and TV highlights (15%).

Peter also had survey data that (unsurprisingly) showed that only a small minority (17%) or respondents were willing to pay $2 to watch a downloaded show instead of having one with ads. He said, “the pay model will have a place in the mix, but advertising will be the biggest.”

Daisy Whitney, a writer for such publications as TV Week, Advertising Age, and Media Magazine were there to talk about the transformation of Television. Daisy opened by agreeing that the DVR use slide was a good transition for her. When consumers are not interested you can have a “game changer where once you start using it, you can’t live without it.” She said that TV has already moved way beyond broadcast, with VOD and downloadable shows for PCs, portables, and mobile devices. Shows are already everywhere after (and in some cases before) the broadcast. Cable companies have VOD, shows can be found on iTunes, Google Video, YouTube, ABC, DirecTV, Fox, and more. Some (DirecTV/Fox) are even available in advance for a fee.

There are difference for this type of content. Daisy noted that short is best. She said “snack sized content” such as 45 second clips on SOAPNETIC and 3 minute versions of 30 minute TV shows are what the users would prefer.

Advertising is changing too. New tools enhance targeting and accountability such as dynamic ad insertions and interactive ads. Ads will eventually be delivered to the viewer based on information known about them, not to a broad group based on the shows demographic. As Peter said, “media is changing and advertising will too.”

There were a few final thoughts they wanted the audience There were a few final thoughts they wanted the audience to take away from the session:

  • The industry is ahead of consumers. It was important for them to learn from the music industry, and they see the situation today akin to the wild west.
  • The blurring is here. We have convergence at last. The industry is finally living up to the hype of the ’90s.
  • Experiment.
  • Be everywhere. As Daisy said, “you need to protect yourself from the inevitable fallout” as users go from TV to DVRs, PCs, mobile devices, webisodes, mobisodes, vidcasts, and whatever else will be coming along.

ad:tech SF – Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble?

Posted by Brad Waller on 24 Apr 2007

RogerMcNamee did a top notch job moderating a panel of experts, keeping them on topic and calling them out when they got too self promotional. Unlike most panels where the moderator is a secondary part of the panel, there to ask questions and make introductions, Roger really took an active part in the discussions. The panel even asked questions of him. The point of the session was to tell the audience about where the opportunities await for new and existing businesses looking for VC money or acquisition. Each panelist had a chance to introduce themselves through their answer to a question about what they are looking for and see as the next opportunity.

Safa Rashtchy of Piper Jaffray noted that much of the foucs today is on the young, but spending is done by older “big wallets” instead. Alex Gove, a VC from Walden Venture Capital, had to be reigned in by Roger as he moved into a bit of a pitch for what his firm is doing but did emphasize that early stage technology is where they are looking. He could not get specific, other than saying that like pornography, “you know it when you see it.” The other VC on the panel, Neil Garfinkel of Francisco Partners told the audience that they are not short sighted and the opportunities they look for are long term trends that might be four to six years out. William Park is an Entrepreneur fresh off the sale of Digital Impact to Acxiom. While he does not know what is next for him, he said that “people differentiate” the business and that the employees are as much value as the technology.

The panel talked a bit about the recent IAB shot across the bow of the panel based audience measurement firms. Safa commented that he was surprised how little has been done and asked why it is so difficult to know how many visitors a site gets. Roger commented that this would be a great opportunity for someone in the audience to figure this out and get it right. I’m not sure if I agree with this, as the question is not so much of knowledge, as in the issue of methodology and auditing. Other than making every person a member of their panel, there is no real solution to the limitations of panel based measurement. Add in privacy concerns and you run into hurdles for systems that might be able to validate this kind of information – or even get into the business themselves – right DoubleGoo?

Roger asked that if one of the important lessons is to sell to rich people, “why are all these 22 year-olds selling to 22 year-olds?” Adding that Facebook should be really valuable in 20 years! Safa commented on this, lamenting that although he gives MyYahoo a ton of information, he still gets ads for Wal-Mart. In fact, much of the commentary was on the lack of targeting because it not only improves the user experience, but it also is where the money is.

The panel talked a bit about international business and globalization. There were even a few audience questions relating to this area. There were some companies asking about foreign companies looking for funding, and about companies looking to expand to markets outside the USA. Roger noted the “Sequoia Rule” which evidently says that you only invest in companies within an hour of the office (in the Valley), which basically means that it is much more difficult for businesses who do not have local offices. Safa said that local companies have an advantage, but both Neil and Roger added that many firms have offices in other countries and that these are the ones to target.

The general tone of the panel is that the current upswing in the market is not a bubble ready to burst. The IPO market may not be hot, but investing is up and strong and the VC community is looking for great people and technology. Things are growing based on real business founded on valid business models with owners who have time and even their own money invested.


ad:tech SF – Naked Bloggers in the Trenches

Posted by Brad Waller on 26 Apr 2007

Tuesday’s panel by top bloggers started with some early references to nudity, which for them unfortunately was not a pleasant thought. Mentions of working from bed – mostly naked – and “open kimonos” aside, the panel did make a great point that to create a strong personal brand is openness. The panel consisted of four experienced bloggers and a tag-along moderator. Perhaps I was expecting too much after my previous experience. You had Steve Hall of AdRants (and the official ad:tech blog) fame, Karl Long of Nokia’s N-Gage Web/Social Media area, co-creator of AskANinja.com Kent Nichols, and Jeremiah Owyang from Podtech who streamed the panel live and followed the online chat from those watching remotely.

When asked where their brand identity came from, Steve said that it basically came from who he was. From his experience in the industry he could see through the cracks and read through the BS of a press release. While he may be a bit snarky online, many have observed that he is much nicer in person than the publisher of Adrants. Karl also tried out a podcast and noted that the intimacy of having your voice go into someone’s head made him more approachable than the typed word. Kent said that when they started AskANinja they did not have a plan. It all evolved through a dialog with the audience, but once you do figure it out, you have to know your brand better than they do. He said that it is like the Simpsons. If you go back and watch the first season, the characters are one dimensional, badly drawn, and the voices are not quite right. 

There are risks from opening yourself up, but Kent emphasized that you should not try to control the process, and definitely don’t Astroturf. Karl used the Dell Hell example of how Dell used this to change how they operated and encouraged interaction with customers. Jeremiah added that real employees can connect with customers and even create better products through real-time feedback, and that customers will actually support other customers.

Something that most in the audience wanted to learn was how to become as popular as the panelists. Kent said that consistency and quality were paramount. No one specific feature, link, or article will do it. They key is that you deliver the next time, the time after that, and the time after that. It has to be good – eventually. Jeremiah likened it to anti-marketing marketing, advising to be a resource. He noted that one of the keys for him was actually including links to the competition. This gave him not only praise, but built trust with the community. Karl likened posts to micro-content and said that all of this is linkable, building equity and a long tail. Steve agreed, saying that blogging is the easiest and cheapest way to do search engine marketing.

The panel was asked to provide examples of who got it right, and who got it wrong. They ignored the second half and all gave their examples of the former. Steve liked GM’s Fastlane, saying that when it came out a few years ago it was a surprise to see posts from high level executives in such a big corporation. Karl liked the Nikon Blogger AmbassadorProgram noting that Nikon found a great way to get product in the hand of bloggers the right way. The terms of the deal called for complete transparency about how they got it. Kent really liked Prom Queen TV because it has a sensible ad model. He called it a hybrid between old Hollywood and new media. Jeremiah thought that John Edwards was “everywhere.”

There were a few audience questions, and even one from the online chat room. The best question asked was about how to approach a blogger. The answers varied about press releases, but in general email seemed to be a pretty favorable way to get in touch with them – but you better know what the blog is about when you write. Jeremiah got total agreement when he said that if you have a blog, write about them and link to them. Most likely a Google Alert will catch it and they will notice you!


ad:tech SF – It’s a Branded New World

Posted by Brad Waller on 26 Apr 2007

Branding online seems to be the antithesis of what everyone has been promoting about advertising online. The promise of tracking and accountability has long been the Holy Grail, but most of the money being spent is by the large brands more interested in different metrics. As the audience was told, brand equity convinces people to “buy 30 gallon tubs of Hellman’s mayonnaise at Costco.” The panel spoke about breaking through the clutter online to get the brand message out to the consumer and drive brand preference.

Frank Vial, a branding expert from Vial Associates opened by explaining that his consultancy is using an online strategy of shifting to stories people tell about the brand, and less of a billboard style of branding. Kalie Kimball-Malone continued by saying that her digital agency, Worktank, helps clients tell stories online. Ed Kim of Slim-Fast, Unilever continued the theme by saying that they ask “how do we engage with consumers so that they become brand loyals?”

Moderator Kenneth Kassar of Nielsen//NetRatings asked the panel to comment on the skepticism that an Internet ad is not able to impact as effectively or emotionally as television. Frank disagreed wholeheartedly, pointing out that the potential of the internet is more dimensional than the “black box” of TV, noting that engagement comes from interaction which is one of the strengths of the Internet. Kalie added that the “rich, deep involvement” with customers is what makes the Internet useful. Ed said that TV is the start of the conversation, and that he is blown away by the work done online compared to anything done on TV. Catherine Smith from Second Life’s Linden Labs talked about community. The Internet does something that can’t be done through television – bring people together around common interests.

There was some good back and forth on the topic of interaction and control by consumers and user generated content. Frank said that consumers are shaping the message. Ed countered that he was concerned that users have control, saying that consumers do not shape the message. Brands should listen and use the feedback, but they must maintain the brand message. Kenneth commented that historically the marketer has had a degree of control, where Ed responded that while we have the ability of individual communication the control has not gone away and is still with the brand marketer. Catherine said that you can give consumers control, but the advertisers have to be “brave enough to write the first half of the story and let consumers take over” in constant feedback loop.

Talking about agency-client relationships, Ed likened them to a marriage “except one of the partners gets paid” and when the relationship gets rocky they should take a step back and “stick with each other.” His biggest frustration was when an agency does not understand the brand.

Kenneth felt compelled to ask a measurement question. He wanted to know if cheap and quick surveys are a good thing? Is it dangerous to such immediate information? Frank jumped in saying that building brand equity is a long term proposition. Catherine added that one should not put real world metrics to Second Life brand experiments. Frank said that measuring the impact of trust and value is in the early days, and Kalie countered by asking how you can track value. She said that tracking wikis, forums, and blog posts are some great ways to see what the consumers are saying about your brand. Ed finished up this question by saying that marketing did not change in 1994 with the advent of the Web. Marketers still want to recruit and retain loyal customers.

An audience question centered on social networking on a brand’s site. Ed warned not to “get hung up on the buzzwords of today” as they have had “user generated content” on their site for seven years – success stories sent in by customers.

When asked by an audience member about the big bucks being spent, but not much online, they asked if this was because they could not get such a big reach online, saying with TV “you can millions cry”, but online you may only get 10,000. Kalie answered that those thousands have chosen to be there, asking back “why randomly talk to one million when they are not expecting it instead of having them come to you?” The original questioner reiterated that only 6% of the ad spend is online, whereupon Ed said that will change. He projected thatg in 5 years Joost will be the #1 TV network and AppleTV the #2. He said that the consumer will not see the difference between networks, TV and digital soon enough as it will all be on the same screen, just delivered differently. Kenneth added in that the reach of the Internet is not as small as many think. there are campaigns getting 120 million impressions per day on one site – not an immaterial reach.


ad:tech SF – Advanced SEO: Use Common Sense

Posted by Brad Waller on 26 Apr 2007

Before I got to ad:tech I was really looking forward to hearing truly advanced techniques here. But after sitting though a few panels with experts who were not as expert as billed, my expectations were tempered. Add in that this session was to be mostly audience Q&A; and that the audience was not advanced power users, and you get basic search engine optimization advice. Let me first give away the biggest secret of SEO: build your site for the users and the search engines will like it. Anything done for the sole purpose of the search spider is likely to either make no difference or hurt. I’ve known this for years and I’m not a certified expert.

Last year I covered Mike Grehan and this year I had the pleasure to see another luminary in the SEO field, Bruce Clay along with Aaron D’Souza of Google and Sandor Marik of the large publisher CondeNet answer questions on SEO. Bruce set the session up with a few areas to cover before they got into the audience portion, which is good because these were hot topics and important to talk about for many in the audience.

Bruce talked about linking strategies, saying that links can be divided into three groups: similar sites, internal links, and exterior (experts linking to experts) links. Aaron revealed his tech roots by comparing links to signals, saying that the signal varies over time. If it gets corrupted, the signal strength diminishes. He did not talk about signal to noise ratios, but I bet they are part of the algorithm. Sandor gave the example of CondeNet where they have links at the bottom of all their pages to their other sites. This helps with branding and to help users find out about their other sites. Note that he said nothing about doing this for the search engines.

Next they talked about search Spam. Bruce said that most issues come from people learning how to optimize their site from others, likening it to the Telephone Game where one webmaster learns from a Spam site, and the next learns from the copied site, and so on. People end up implementing techniques not knowing that it is considered Spam. Aaron said there can be a fine line between Spam and badly written code comparing Spam to Porn, saying that “when you see it you know it is evil.” Examples he gave were white text on white backgrounds and JavaScript redirects. He noted that poorly done sites would be demoted in the rankings. One great piece of news is that Google is starting to communicate with Webmasters better, saying that information and even emails will be showing up in the Webmaster tools area.

Bruce asked how many in the audience think it is a good thing that Wikipedia outranks them in the results. After nobody raised their hand, Bruce said that it would only be a matter of time before search engines learn behavioral actions and adjust results accordingly. Aaron gave some history by explaining that Yahoo! Directory solved the reputation problem, but could not handle the reach. Page Rank combined reputation with reach and content, but the 3rd piece of the puzzle is satisfied users. Social sites show explicit signals of what users consider important and relevant.

Next came questions from the floor. When asked about multiple sites with duplicate content and the risk of penalties, Aaron said that it was not the way it worked. If the same content is on more than one site, Google would choose which one site was the authority and leave that in the results, saying they “do not penalize people for duplicate content” or else your competitor would just duplicate your site until you were banned from the results.

A question was asked about building a page around a keyword to get ranking for it. Bruce commented that you an do this for many keywords on many pages. He gave the example of one page where he focused on 17 keywords, and not all of them are in the title. Aaron then said almost the same thing Mike Grehan said a year ago. “Look at the results and justify why your site should be above the ones that are there.”

After Bruce refuted a postulation that search results were corrupt in some cases, they fielded questions about link text and linking to a site’s most popular pages (the text should be good for the user, and if those pages are popular, then this is good for users), they talked a bit about internal linking. Aaron gave the obvious advice to make it easy for the users and the crawlers would follow the same links. Bruce advised structuring internal links based on related keywords. Saying that you should take a specific area and focus on it because this is an “opportunity for you to vote on these pages’ importance.” He also added that “home” is not the best word to use to describe the top page for your site, and to choose a keyword or phrase instead.

There was actually disagreement on the subject of Meta tags. Aaron said that there was no point other than the Title and Description tags, but Bruce countered that there is more out there than the top engines and some use the tags. While they can be used for Spam, why not spend some time to make them the best that they can be. After all, the worst case is that they will be ignored.

The final question was one I have seen debated a lot lately. The panel was asked how important W3C valid code is to the search engines. Aaron at first implied that it really does not mater by saying that the bots were created to be very robust interpreters of code. While he said that it might help, browsers and crawlers were written to figure it out. Bruce interjected that he make every page of his site compliant, and Aaron followed up with an example of a blind engineer at Google. Aaron said that unless the code is standards compliant you may be restricting your pages from some users and that valid and clean code should be used. Not having accessible content restricts your site as a product. My take on this is that small errors should not be a big deal, but larger errors can cause demotions. Also, if not now, at some point in the future the engines might look at two similarly ranked pages and they will choose the one with compliant code as the better page to offer in the results.


ad:tech SF – Exhibit Hall Quirks and Catches

Posted by Brad Waller on 28 Apr 2007

While not a rigorous or scientific treatise, I noted that unsurprisingly the most popular word to begin your company name with is “ad.” In the exhibit hall, no less than 25 companies included “ad” in their name (14 started with it). Other words popular with exhibitors were click (15) and Web (11), with some of the old standbys such as lead, live, and revenue. I would have to give the award for the unique name of the show to the Paris based Daooda (ad oo ad backwards?), with an honorable mention to Goolara. There were a a few other odd names there with companies called Sendori, Connexus (not connexus.com, connex.us, but the union of Vendare and NetBlue), Etology, eZanga, Hot Banana, and probably others that would have been just as odd if I had not known about them from before.

In a show full of search solutions (optimization, bid management, etc.), CPA networks, ad networks, ad exchanges, contextual networks, and media agencies, it was refreshing to find something new and unique at the show. There was only one click fraud company (Click Forensics) whose services might be badly needed by those who attended the PPC panel, although it is also worth noting that Think Partnership had a booth and they own ValidClick.

I spoke with the co-owners of LeadQual who claimed to be the only ones at the show (and I can’t disagree) offering a service that follows up on leads with telephone lead closing. With something like half of Internet leads not even being followed up on, they add an extra layer to catch and qualify leads to get every possible person into your sales channel.

I was also grabbed by an enthusiastic rep from LiveHive Systems who had a service they called NanoGaming that links the Internet and TV, allowing users to interact, play trivia, and even bet if Barry Bonds will get a homer at his next at bat to win points and prizes.


ad:tech SF – Power Panel – The Money Will Stay Online

Posted by Brad Waller on 15 Apr 2008

The thesis of this panel is that strategic media planning and buying is as challenging as it has ever been. I’m not really sure if they achieved this as much as they said that things are getting better. Moderator Jon Fine of BusinessWeek opened by putting on his traditional media idiot hat and asking if it is possible to build brand online. Unsurprisingly, the panel weighed in that the answer was yes, that would be an idiotic question.

The panel did foresee the continuation of the money moving online, even with the slowing economy. Scott Symonds of AKQA looks to the efficacy of the medium to create incremental effectiveness as the basis for an increase from the present 6%-7% of ad spend to 10%-12% over the next few years. He points to his recent experience of watching a 22 minute TV show on Hulu that was high quality on a full screen that went with no hiccups as an example of the future of digital media. Andrea Kerr-Redniss of Optimedia said that the line between TV and digital is blurring. She sees the industry as being at a tipping point, and that “with this economy people are looking for accountability and metrics.”

But where is the money going to go? Will it stay with the premium sites? Scott see the higher CPM going to the content that fits the advertising, not the biggest sites with the most reach. In fact, he says that “tier one inventory is artificially high.” Scott sees a truer marketplace in the networks and that because only 10% of spend online is brand focused, there is a larger growth area there. Greg Smith of Ogilvy chimed in that “there is what the market defines as CPM, and then there is what we’ll pay.” Mohan Reganathan of MediaVest added that looking at ROI analysis will dictate where the highest CPM will go.

Can you do digital only? Mohan said that you need to align tactics to your objectives to be able to do this and not to judge solely by clickthrough rates. Scott said that “online is not a tiny universe – there are still 200 million people online.” He sees aggregated audiences as the new reach through networks. Greg added that “you can’t always buy big audience with one property.”

When asked if the networks will move to the Web, Greg said that “we are still using models developed in the last century.” He thinks that “One future is that most of the money spent in a bid management world.” He sees algorithms, business rules, arbitrage, and performance marketing all being mixed together – even for branding. He sees the future as “non-stop, not as hand -crafted.


ad:tech SF – Creative Is Not Hard, Finding Talent Is

Posted by Brad Waller on 16 Apr 2008

I was a bit apprehensive as the Exchange Series I: New Creative, New Tools session began. Billed as an interactive workshop, it began with a presentation on the big screen telling us about the creative process. Describing the process from the perspective of the large agency with large clients, Tim Smith from Applied Design Group talked about how creative is often an afterthought, “putting lipstick on the pig” or “decorating the spec.” Instead, shops need to use small groups empowered to make decisions and “steer the creative ideation” using agile development.

I don’t know if eyes glazed over in the audience or not, but this was not the workshop I expected. Luckily, this was the end of the presentation, and the beginning of a great interactive session. The crowd of close to 200 broke up into four groups moderated by Tim and his crew of leaders Andrew Peters (UE Architect, Inc.), Jason Wilson (Applied Design Group), and Joel Hladecek (Innovation, PHD). I sat in on Tim’s group.


They had a plan to fill out a detailed scorecard of problems and implementations for the attendees that will be summarized later, but I think there was a bit too much detail for the hour session planned. We made it through half the planned card, but I still think that was perfect. If they need to talk about the remainder, they have an idea for a second session for the next ad:tech.

Because this was interactive, with the groups all adding to the discussion there were thing brought out that would not have come up if the session was led by one person with one perspective. For example, Tim sees a dearth of talent of creative types. He says that they are all heading off the Silicon Valley to work startups and they need to figure out how to retain the talented creative types. But the attendees from LA and Denver had the opposite problem. They could not find enough talented technical staff and were struggling to get programmers who could deal with CSS, AJAX, Open Source code, and even Flash. As one person put it, “just getting someone to put a click tag into flash is hard.” Maybe there needs to be an exchange program between the Bay area and the rest of the country to distribute the talent pool.

Corporate structure was seen as a barrier to implementing many of the best practices. Too many from large corporations complained that they wanted to try small teams and use new ideas, but the corporate ladder was resistant to change. There were requirements for people from other areas of the company to be involved in every step and general structure impeding change. If this sounds like you, change or get ready to watch your smaller competition blow you away.

CSS was a big issue of discussion as well. Everyone says they use CSS, but there is a difference between using a few styles and having a detailed external stylesheet (or multiple sheets) to control the look and layout of the page. Dynamic sites with multiple possible styles are possible and not difficult, but it seems that a number of companies out there have not embraced this fully.

Open source was another area where Tim felt that people needed to pay attention and use what is out there, Yahoo was specifically mentioned as a great source of open source resources for their user interface library.

The session wrapped up with a summation from each of the four groups. Our group agreed that the number one issue facing them was talent. Technology is outstripping our ability to implement new things, but agencies are finding it hard to get the talented people to to get it done. Jason’s group found that they were still struggling with technology and figuring out what yo use and how to measure it. Joel said that his group agreed that a technology plan was important, but nobody has implemented one. They also had the same issues of structure interfering with the ability to create small teams. Andrew’s group came to the conclusion that they need to make sure they do what works, and not implement the latest technology that the customer happens to read about in the WSJ.

The board of ad:tech made a great decision by adding these Exchange style sessions to the show. Attendees seemed to agree that this was a terrific way to get ideas across and learn. I know that this session was one of the best I’ve been to in the last few years.


ad:tech SF – Welcome to the Vortex of (Metrics) Hell

Posted by Brad Waller on 16 Apr 2008

Josh Chasin of comScore opened the panel by defining “maelstrom” for the audience. I’ll let you go off and look up your favorite definition, but suffice it to say that Josh welcomed us all to the Vortex of Hell. It was a great mix for the panel with representatives from Panel based companies (Josh from comScore and Jon Gibs, VP, Media Analytics, Nielsen Online) along with top industry analyst Young-Bean Song VP of Analytics & Atlas Institute and veteran Beth Uyenco, Global Research Director, Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions. Josh opened by defining a few questions for the panel to discuss and each panelist had a few minutes to talk to the audience.

While it’s nice for the panelists to get to present an introduction, I really don’t care for a set of charts to start a panel. That said, it was refreshing to hear Jon, the panel measurement representative come out and admit that panel data alone is not enough. He said that an integrated approach is best, taking the best of the panel data and server side data. In fact, his stated goal is to “move all measurement to integrated on next five years.”


Young-Bean gave a very silly but pointed example of a patron at a bar walking past a neon sign for Corona at a bar and ordering a Corona. An observer in the rafters could look at this and say that he ordered the Corona because he walked past the sign. This is no different than today’s logic of giving 100% of the credit of a sale to the last click. He noted that “when you go upstream you realize people are being reached over many channels. The question for now is how to take all other touch-points and use them in media planning and buying. We’re only using 5%-8% of touch-points now. The other 90%+ is being ignored.”

Beth wanted to let the audience know that she does not think that there is a need for a single “currency” of measurement. Based on her many years experience with brands and media she said that the “truth is that there are a variety of channels that all happen to be digital. They behave like offline, but we don’t have a single currency for all those others. Why have one for all kinds of digital? Different channels have different objectives.”

It does seem that there is a lot of baggage. Beth said that “we need to let go of established practices we’ve had for the last 15 years.” With so many options there are new ways of analyzing and collecting data to draw insights where we were hampered before by more limited tools. She talked about using data to understand where the behavioral trends are, but also cautioned that “we can’t continually slaughter lambs and virgins for every campaign we have to analyze.”

With TV, radio, and print, it is easy to “measure” because you have a single way to look at the data and there is not much to dig into. The Web is infinitely measurable which is why it is so great, and why it is such a pain to deal with. When you have so much data, there are many ways to interpret it. And when the bottom line is that a planner and agency will sit down and look at a report to make a decision you need to give them something to help them determine what to buy more of and where to buy less.

Young-Bean had an example of measuring the difference between search clickers who had been exposed to display ads and those who had not. There was a 22% lift for those who had beed exposed to display. But that is not actionable. There were 12 different advertisers that saw a range of increases. In fact, one had zero lift and another 65%. He said that “you need to get down to the placement and site level” to really have something actionable.

One of the more interesting question from the audiencerelated to past failures of the industry to actually set up an integrated approach to measurement, specifically pointing to Project Apollo, which I actually reported on in 2005, as the most recent failure. The panel seemed to agree that Apollo was not supposed to be a holistic approach that would give a common currency, and that it instead was a test lab. Apollo was one approach to a fusion of data, but perhaps too extreme, trying to collect all information possible from a group of the same people. Not that the other extreme of getting all the shopping related data without looking at media exposure is any more useful. This is where fusion of multiple data streams can work to give results that are actionable and more relevant than we have now,


ad:tech SF – Back to the Future: Marketing with Downloadable Media

Posted by Brad Waller on 18 Apr 2008

Not so much a panel discussion, the session was more of a group presentation. The moderator and panelists each had about ten minutes of charts that sometimes reached into fifteen. Not that the material was not interesting, but I was hoping for more back and forth between the panel and a moderator who guided the discussion. They did a good job of following the description for the panel, which means the audience got the fill of definitions, case studies, best practices, and more for both the marketers and the people who might want to try their hand at creating a podcast or vidcast.

Chris MacDonald, Executive VP of LibSynPRO started off with some data from Edison Media and history of the Association for Downloadable Media (ADM), which was only just formed in 2007. Jim Louderback, CEO of Revision3 talked about the standards that are out there. Instead of the Wild West that we had in the early days of the Web, the ADM has standards for how long the ads should be, the technology formats that will be used, and even the maximum frequency that ads should be inserted in the casts. It’s two per five minutes, in case you wanted to know that one. In describing the optimal types of ads, he took us back to the first days of television where the shows were sponsored and even the hosts would do the promotion. Think of the original “soap” operas, Ed Sullivan, Mutual of Omaha, and even this gem from Bonanza (link).

Jim talked how effective the model is to underwrite shows, have scripted endorsements, advertorial, product placement, and even special episodes. He showed an example of a dream sequence in a Diggnation vidcast where they had a clear separation between the actual show and the advertisement, but made the sequence entertaining enough to retain the viewers and integrate three sponsors products with memorable use and mentions. You wouldn’t think BBQ smeared faces would mix with lingerie, but they pulled it off.

With standards, it is effective and easy to buy ads on downloadable media. Impressions can be measured as well. While not the same as we are used to with the Web, streams can be measured through server logs, flash players tell you how much of a show was seen, and even iTunes will stop automatically downloading shows if they are not watched after a time. Key metrics allow consistent measurement. As Jim put it, “ultimately it is about whether the ad was seen.” www.downloadablemedia.org

Kin Robles, President of National Podcasting System gave a quick primer on how to roll your own show. Basically, you need to 1) commit in the pre-pre-production phase, 2) set up your road map in pre-production, 3) have the best production value possible for your budget, 4) use editing and graphics in post production to make a product, and 5) Make the delivery rock solid.

Mark McCrery, CEO of Podtrac had a few charts on case studies and statistics. He noted that 75% of the audience comes through iTunes, and the top 100 shows get 100K to 200K downloads each. Clip Web sites (such as YouTube) are often outlets for episodic content like French Maid TV or Ask the Ninja, which see 100K to 3 million views per episode. Finally, the actual show Web site might see thousand to millions of uniques per month where the audience is more involved through interactivity available on the site. His case studies included Netflix, where they got the hosts of six shows to talk about lists of movies (top 5 John Cusack films) that they would rent from Netflix. The research shows that unaided recall of brands from ads in podcasts and online shows is much higher – 68% compared to 10% for TV and 21% for traditional online video.

Roxanne Darling, host of the video show “Beach Walks with Rox” had the misfortune of being the last one to have a chance to talk. She had to rush through as the session time had expired before she had the chance to even start. She said that “the gem of podcasting is that it comes from the heart. At the end of the day, people love to buy but hate to be sold.” She talked about how the host is creating a show on a subject they are passionate about and people will come because they want authentic content. She used Gary Vaynerchick as an example, saying “Gary has already built your audience for you.”


ad:tech SF – Where Is My Local Interactive Marketing Association?

Posted by Brad Waller on 18 Apr 2008

20 odd people showed up for the panel “How Interactive Marketing Associations are Driving Growth One Market at a Time” and I think most of them were friends of those on the panel. I hate to say this, but I’m not really sure if there was anything to learn from this panel – other than that there is an association in my home city of Los Angeles that I’ve never heard of. 

Moderator Brian Monahan, co-founder of SFBIG (San Francisco Bay Area Interactive Group) and panelists Jon Kaiser, also of SFBIG, Whitney Tipton representing thinkLA Interactive, Ryan Polley of the NWIAG (Northwest Interactive Advertising Group), and Jason Kleckner of MIMA (Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association:) each talked about the formation and history of their associations, as well as their activities and focus.

Suffice it to say that most associations are relatively new, some formed from the ashes of previous groups that flamed out along with the industry back in the early part of the decade. There are maybe 20 associations around the country, most very hard to find because they seem to spread through word of mouth. I had actually heard of MIMA, SFBIG, and a few of the other regional associations before this session. Most are social and networking oriented, with the MIMA being in the minority with lots of education and outreach.

It seems that nobody has compiled a list of local associations, so here are the ones I know about: CIMA (Chicago), BIMA (Boston), SFIMA (South Florida), AiMA (Atlanta), TIMA(North Carolina), DFWIMA (Dallas), and more. Just use this Google search as a start, or type in your city and “IMA” into the search box.

In general it will cost you $125 to join your local association, assuming you can find them.