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Apples iBooks2 impact on online education

Apple announced on January 18th that the are introducing iBooks2 for the iPad.

This announcement albeit small in nature has massive impacts for several reasons.

1) It attacks a traditional industry – book publishing head on. People have been reading books on e-readers for a while now but the content has just been migrated from paper. Very few books have taken advantage of the processor features which can play video, sound, and be interactive. The only books which have really taken advantage of this are children’s books and they have been massively successful as learning tools.

The impact on the publishing industry is going to be swift. You may see publishers go out of business within 2-5 years and some will try to refocus on other types of content. For the authors, I fear that their profits may suffer short term, but long term if books are cheaper, people should buy more of them, unless piracy comes into play.

2) The lines between “app” and web are starting to be blurred through the use of HTML5. I am excited to see how the use of iBooks will actually boost the usage of HTML5 on the web and make content faster, more interactive and easier to build. Once this starts bleeding over into the TV realm, you are going to see some amazingly interactive TV shows with a much higher level of stickiness. Overall, this should increase ad rates long term.

3) A new audience for learning will be opened up. iPads and tablets have a certain magic about them with older adults and young kids. They are easy to approach and use. As tablet sales go up, you will see more and more seniors online and more baby boomers come online.  This new audience will open up a whole new realm of teachers and learners for both the traditional schools and for profit universities.  In reality everyone loves to learn things they are passionate about. I can see millions of life long learners coming online and sharing their learnings with other learners via the iPad or any tablet for that matter.  Think of it like a socially interactive Wikipedia or the laymens version of a MOOC.

From a marketing perspective, this new platform will be a massive lead generation environment. Imagine a user reading a book about psychology and all of a sudden, you have the ability to show them that there are 2 schools teaching this exact book within 25 miles and 1 school teaching this book online. If I were the reader, I would be pretty interested in finding out if I should make my interest a real degree.

However, as much as I would like to see this as a marketing platform, there is reason to believe that people will have voracious appetites for free content but stay away from environments that require testing or loans. Time will tell…

4) Keep an eye out for the mad rush to create books – even if they are 5 pages long, as teasers.

5) Now this iBooks platform may have a negative impact on online schools in the short term. Even though most of the schools offer a curriculum that is designed to be taken on a computer, few have optimized their learning for iPads and the on-the-go lifestyle of many folks. I would love to see schools start to create tablet based learning environments and use that as a marketing tool. EG – Learn Psychology on your iPad and get a degree from X school. That would have an awesome Click Through Rate.

If I had to make a recommendation to folks reading this, I would say do the following:

a) Try a children’s iBook to understand the potential of this platform.  Give it to a kid and see how effortlessly they adapt and interact with it. Then give the same kid a newspaper and see what happens. Key thing to measure is how much time they interact with each and the amount they retain from each.

b) Learn more about HTML5! It is tremendously important! Just knowing what it is capable of helps you understand how vast this platform can be.

c) Take a look at your own content – what can be made into an iBook? Remember, books are not books anymore. They are full on 3 sense experiences. Seeing, hearing, touching.

Google+ Your World + Online Advertising

If you are in the online advertising industry you will want to read this.

And when I say online advertising, I mean if you have any work involving SEO, SEM, SMM, YouTube, Facebook, Bing etc… The recent change by Google really impacts alot of us.

If you want to skip the examples and find out what you should do as an advertiser click here.

If you want to skip to the summary click here.

What did Google just change?

Google integrated social results from their Google+ network into regular search results on for people signed in. This is not your usual algorithm update. This doesn’t really change how they rank you but what else they might show before an old school SEO ranking.

What did this change really do?

If you are signed in, it has changed the whole meaning of SEO. Google’s concept of a ultra deep index is quickly being destroyed. They are trying to give you one page which has versions based on who you are associated with. Here is a quick example of Google + world in action.  As you can see in the video – the results from Google+ are not well organized at all. I think I would be frustrated by the random organization for certain searches. I could see this working well for seeing what videos your friends are watching. Eg – That Rebecca Black video…

Here is what has changed from what I can observe. Note Google is rolling out the features over the next few days, so things may continue to change.

Top things that changed:

1) Ads on branded terms have been reduced in many instances. Many product ads now showcase pictures. If you search for Ipod. you will get a graphic like this in your search results.

2) Mentions of terms by friends in your Google Circles can change page 1 results completely. Google+/Circle results now show like a news feed.

3) It looks like the right column is now widened significantly. You will now see maps on the right and youtube links.

4) Generic terms like “insurance” “online education” don’t seem to be affected just yet. This is partially because many lead gen players have not created Google+ pages with their brand name or key terms.

5) The Google mobile search results are different too since most mobile users are signed in. (Screenshots on

6) Twitter results are no longer part of the index.

7) The number of search ads shown when you are signed in may be greatly reduced due to all the new types of content being shown in the search results.

8) CTRs of text based search ads may drop since there are so many images / different types of content on a search page now. Text ads easily get lost.

9) Search ads can be interactive now. See the REI example on This looks like a feature isolated to products that can be reviewed on Google Products.

10) Being on Page 2 of Google now is completely useless.

I did a few sample searches signed in on Google. Here are the videos:

H&M – considered to be one of the largest brand pages on Google+. This is a good example of a brand that is interacting with people on Google+ but doesn’t offer them a way to purchase anything.

Ford – Another large brand on Google+ now has its organic results greatly modified. Ads are pushed down on the page and a Map/Google+ pages are more prominent.

Here is a quick example of how the new Google+ results show up on an Android phone. As you can see there are still some bugs to be worked out with Google+ and how they have constructed their URLs. This is for the same search term “ford.”

Next up is an example of a local school listing for Grand Canyon University Phoenix. They have registered a place location, listed a phone number and have reviews. It seems like they do not have a Google+ page yet though.  Key takeaway from this video is to list an inbound lead gen phone number on your Google Places page along with a regular phone number if possible. Keep in mind not everyone wants to be sold something if they are calling a school…


What should I do if I am advertising online?

1) Set up a Google+ Brand page – Tutorial is here 
Official business sign up for Google+ is here 
key with building a Brand page is to make your profile as complete as possible. Pictures, Videos, Tags, Descriptions, Locations etc. All must be filled in.

Note – Vanity URLs in Google do not exist yet.

Consider this page on Google “social insurance” just in case Google + starts taking off and people start using both Facebook and Google+ regularly.

2) Ask people to +1 your page or posts. Make sure you +1 your own content when it is published.

3) Audit your search accounts. You may need to implement a more aggressive search strategy to stay in the top 3 spots. Also check impression volume over the next week or so.

4) Start using Google+ regularly to get familiar with the interface.

5) Talk to your Google rep. Ask them to be part of any beta product they offer.

6) Physical campuses should be listed in Google Places and rated if possible. EG – Search for your school brand in your city or where a campus might be. Examples on

7) Find universal connectors to help distribute your brand. Celebrities are a great way to do this. They have massive followings. You want to be friends with the popular kid. Welcome back to 8th grade….

8) Make sure all of your ALT tags on images and videos are updated with brand oriented keywords.

9) Fact remains – Facebook dominates the social space. Take the Google+ talk with a grain of salt. I suspect that people still spend more time on Facebook than they do on Google. From a cost benefit point of view, Facebook is still a better use of resources. However, plan for the future, especially mobile since Android is growing rapidly.

10) Create content that is truly shareable and high quality. Make sure to ask people to share the content at the end of each article/video/form etc.

11) Stay tuned, I am sure as the weeks go by there will be more info on how this change affects all of us.

12) Last but not least – always include a link or CTA in each post. Check out this example from H&M.


I think Google has made a good attempt at changing what search means. The reality is that the old model didn’t make sense anymore. People don’t want 2 billion results. They want to know what their friends are doing and know what the general public thinks of a topic first.

However, I think this change blocks out key data from sites like Facebook, Twitter, and other “authority” sites which heavily skews the results which you see. If none of your friends are on Google+ this has virtually no effect on you. You are not getting any of the benefits.  This does not give you a realistic view on what the world thinks since not everyone is on Google+.

If you are a company running paid search campaigns, your CTRs will start change simply because your ads are not as prominent and may not be verified by a friend in your circle.

The other downside of this change is that if the search ads are so heavily compressed or moved down on the page, Google’s revenues will start to move in the wrong direction. I suspect that this change will not go away but it will be iterated upon. There will be new ad units and new cost per click models based on the results presented.

The other part of this equation is that in the next few years, people will be doing more voice searches via technologies like Siri. This move towards voice will also require a massive change in terms of UI for Google. I think Google is moving much faster with their new leadership but without the critical mass in Google+ alot of this new strategy could work against them.

Keep an eye on the following in the next 6 months:

1) Voice search

2) TV search

3) Facebook potentially revamping their search engine.

4) True growth of the Google+ user base.

5) Ipad 3 & Apple TV.

All have major implications on Google.



TV Just Got Better

Today at CES – Nuance announced Dragon TV which allows you to voice control your TV.

What does this mean?

It means essentially the end of a TV remote. A device which is usually very poorly designed to begin with. It also eliminates the fact that most people have more than remote in their house today.

Now the more important issue under this is that various OEMs can integrate this into their TV sets. This is going to be huge.

As some of you may know Nuance is the backbone of Siri from Apple. It is very interesting that Apple would allow Nuance to make such an announcement before their highly anticipated iTV platform is to come out. It is pretty easy to see that the new TV set from Apple will be a full on TV set not just a box you attach. It will have native iTunes and potentially iPhone integration. Imagine setting your DVR by telling Siri to record the Bachelor at 8 pm on my living room TV.

During commercials – you would potentially tell your TV – check the weather or check the scores on X game.

TV advertising just got a lot harder since people will be inclined to switch around all the time since they can just say something.

Inherent in this new platform, there are many issues that need to be tested in a real world setting. For instance if you watch TV with your family, can you block your teenage daughter from changing the channel back to the Bieber special?  Who is the “master” voice when there is a group?

Also TV is loud, how does Dragon or Apple distinguish what is being said in the show/movie versus what you are saying? Can it hear you if you have your THX system turned all the way up?

Interesting stuff overall. I could potentially see Apple purchasing Nuance outright in the near future or Apple cutting ties with them completely. It is very unlike Apple to use a technology/user interface that everyone else has access to…

Official Press Release from Nuance below:


TV, Device and Set-Top Box OEMs and Service Operators Will Transform the Digital Living Room with Nuance’s Voice, Natural Language Understanding and Touch Innovations for Content Discovery and Social Media Engagement

Las Vegas and Burlington, Mass. – January 9, 2012 – Nuance Communications Inc. today unveiled Dragon TV, a unique voice and natural language understanding platform for TV, device and set-top box OEMs and service operators. Dragon TV makes finding and accessing shows, movies and content in today’s digital living room easy and fun for consumers. Leveraging Nuance’s renowned voice and natural language understanding capabilities, Dragon TV creates the “lean-back experience” consumers demand, with the ability to easily find content by speaking channel numbers, station names, show and movie names. People can even search for content by actor and genre – and stay connected via Twitter, Facebook and Skype.

An estimated 1.6 billion TVs will be connected by 2014 according to Strategy Analytics – and the broad spectrum of channels and media options available today are already nearly impossible to navigate with traditional TV remotes. Consumers have more options and media than they’re even aware of, and still can’t find “what’s on.” Dragon TV changes all of that, giving OEMs and service operators the ability to deliver TVs, set top boxes and applications that let consumers find and experience content with Nuance’s leading voice technologies. Further, Nuance’s renowned natural language understanding technologies allow consumers to say virtually anything to quickly and easily discover shows, movies and more. For instance, people can say:

“Go to PBS”
“What’s on Bravo at 9 p.m. tonight?”
“When is Ellen on?”
“Watch Dexter on DVR”
“Find comedies with Vince Vaughn”
“Play David Guetta on Music Choice”

Dragon TV also makes it even easier to stay connected from the couch leveraging the unique messaging and social media capabilities that today’s digital TV OEMs and operators offer, such as email, messaging, Twitter, Facebook and Skype. For instance, people can say:

“Send message to Julie, ‘Old School is on TBS again this weekend – super excited'”
“Send update to Facebook, ‘Anyone else looking forward to Celebrity Wife Swap?’
“Call John via Skype” and be talking in no time

Dragon TV is incredibly flexible, and can be integrated across embedded, connected and hybrid modes, allowing TV, device and set-top box OEMs, and service operators to take advantage of the content available on the device and in the cloud. Dragon TV features include:

Seamless Application Control: Digital home devices are now integrating applications for e-mail, social networking and interactive communication. Dragon TV offers a straightforward and simple method of input to drive adoption.
Discovering: A wealth of information is now available over TV, including program guide listings, personal media and web content. Dragon TV delivers a seamless, universal search solution allowing users to access this content with ease.
Messaging: From social networking to e-mail, the availability of messaging applications on TV continues to grow. With Dragon TV users are empowered to interact and communicate via an integrated text and speech solution.
Accessibility: Governments and standards bodies are now mandating accessible solutions for TV. Leveraging Nuance’s core speech technologies and natural language understanding, Dragon TV makes TV accessible to everyone.
Complex Acoustics: With Nuance’s Far-Talk technology, Dragon TV is able to break through the interferences of multiple acoustic sources and focus on what’s important for interpreting commands – the users voice.

“Traditional search on televisions is tedious and amazingly outdated,” said Mike Thompson, senior vice president and general manager, Nuance Mobile. “Dragon TV brings an amazing voice experience, similar to what people do everyday on their phones and in their cars, directly to the living room.”


Dragon TV is currently available for TV, device OEMs, operators and developers, supporting all major TV, set-top box, remote control and application platforms, including Linux, Android and iOS.


SkillShare – Why Brands clutter the value prop

SkillShare was named one of 6 startups to watch in 2012 by Mashable. Mashable is notorious for making lists but one site on there interested me quite a bit.

SkillShare is like a mashup of KhanAcademy and It intends to help teach people a variety of skills in local live settings by “experts.”  The interesting thing is that the experts are not vetted in any way, but I could see this model becoming huge. People are hungry to learn, especially things they are passionate about.

But what happens if you needed to learn something for your job like advanced excel functions. Lets say there is a course on SkillShare in your city. You take the course, learn the material and master it. Now how do you prove this to your employer or potential employer?

Skillshare will spread like wildfire since it has a large social component which I think will mimic Spotify. EG – it is always posting to your Facebook profile saying what courses are following, subscribed to and will allow you to invite friends.

The manifesto on the skillshare site takes direct aim at the higher education market saying it is broken because it costs too much and just gives them a piece of paper.  They never seem to answer how skillshare can help you get a job in a more efficient manner than a college degree.

I am digressing from my main point, people love these simple models of learning. The value of learning a tangible and/or passionately oriented skill is apparently more valuable than getting a formal degree to many. Maybe I should revise that statement. I don’t think anyone would discount the value of a Harvard degree, but people may not see as much value in a for profit education degree. Why is that?

I think it is partially due to the fact that people falsely associate an image to a brand which they have no experience with. Their brand impressions are usually derived from popular media and friend circles. How many of us have actually compared a course at Harvard versus a course at a school like University of Phoenix? We have no basis for our judgement. However, when we get something that is unbranded and immediately delivered like a SkillShare course we find satisfaction much quicker.

In the case of SkillShare the lack of a brand teaching you something apparently helps the people choose courses just based on convenience and level of interest. I can see in the near future people opening “channels” on SkillShare and trying to develop a brand. This might be the wrong way to go. Keeping things generic allows people to judge quality just based on the content, not the teacher, not the tests, not the alumni network. And most importantly the judgement comes from personal experience.

It will be interesting to see how SkillShare evolves, but let this be a reminder that providing high quality services and products is more important than any social strategy or branding statement.

Rebecca Black spells the end of Google Search

Google Zeitgeist recently announced the most searched terms for 2011. In the past this list has such celebrities like Brittany Spears and so called Hollywood talent.

This year Rebecca Black, the singer of the Friday song, which has been repeatedly named one of the worst songs of all time. As you all know the video blew up on and became one of the largest viral videos of all time. The video was also noted for the number of dislikes on it. It is probably one of the most hated videos of all time also.

How does all of this relate back to Google? It shows a clear social phenomena that people are viewing things that their friends recommend to them and not actively search for new music online. The rate and speed of which this video grew is a clear indicator that people use technology to “share” things which are interesting. As more and more people share curated pieces of content on sites like Pinterest and Facebook, the world will see a much lower dependence on sites like Google.  I would love to see how many people shared the Rebecca Black video on Facebook versus searched for it in 2011. That would really show the velocity and power behind the social sphere versus the search sphere. Facebook has in some ways taken your real life conversations and put them online and allowed you to share important pieces of content while you are having a real conversation. Google is a system you use after you get home or back to your desk to check out what your friend was just talking about. It is not longer instant.

Google unfortunately is an antiquated way of finding something. It doesn’t recommend anything based on your current activity on the web, nor does it effectively create a way for your friends to share the content they like.

Google+ makes a decent attempt at being real time and merging the conversation with the actual reference media but it also shows you that Google knows it’s search business is under attack. In the coming years, traditional home computer based search on Google will die. People just don’t need it anymore.  Mobile will be replace a lot of the traditional type in search but the monetization of Google AdWords there may be substantially lower.

Google really needs Google+ to work or they need to start integrating their search technology into other devices such as cars to help continue their growth curve.


Conversation Driven Companies

I was watching a video on Pepsi’s “mission control” system which helps monitor the entire ecosystem of people talking about Pepsi products, especially Gatorade.

Their head of Global had some important insights into how they monitored the data and what they did with the data. The one insight that really stood out to me was that he was trying to re-invent the way the company thought about the consumer and integrate it into every division of the company. He is essentially injecting a new corporate culture into the system.

Also this week there was a prominent article about how the CEO of Atos is trying to become a zero email company by 2013.

Both of these large companies are ushering in a new phase of how we do business. In many cases it is just returning to good old business where you have real conversations with your customer one on one. It comes down to delivering a quality product, focusing on the relationship and not focusing on building archaic processes for the sake of documentation.

In the long run I think this will hopefully make business not only move faster but also enhance our basic people relationship skills.

Most companies will not be able to implement anything near what Pepsi has done in terms of monitoring the thousands of conversations that are happening at any point in time. Most companies won’t be able to get off their dependency of email.

Reality is that you don’t need to shift everything at once, but it makes sense to start integrating the consumer into your daily life at work.

Question yourself, does this process, task or product directly benefit the consumer? Is it really what they want? If you don’t know the answer to those questions, go ask the consumer directly. All of us are eager to give our opinions…

Responsive Web Design for Lead Generation

If you have reviewed your Google Analytics account lately you will notice that a large portion of your users are now accessing your campaigns via mobile devices such as phones and tablets.

If you have been in the lead generation industry for a while, your pages are most likely not coded correctly to render well on these devices.  Imagine if 30-40% of your visitors are not seeing your webpages the way they were originally designed.

What would that do to your conversion rate?

You know your media prices are going up, your compliance costs are going up, and all of a sudden your conversion rates are dropping. Margin is being crushed because he overall market is changing how they consume data.

Time to invest some time in learning Responsive Web Design.

Responsive web is essentially a CSS sheet on steroids. It plans for a variety of devices and platforms so your actual site renders in a very user friendly way every time.

Do you need to consider all browsers and devices? No. Start by looking at your Google Analytics data to see how your current users are coming in. Prioritize those first.

Some good examples of responsive web design can be found here. 

As you can see from these examples, this is for basic web information. It alters placement of navigation, sizes of images etc. However, in many lead generation situations this is not optimal.

Being in online marketing we need to do more testing with actual consumers about how a resized form may convert.

For instance – take a look at this form – 

The form on the left is a screenshot from a 13 inch laptop screen using Safari and the pic on the right is the same page on an Android phone using Chome.

The page resizes to the phone screen but all the text resizes at the same rate. Much of it is too small to read without zooming.

In a better case scenario, the drop down menu would be much larger on the phone screen, text larger and the call to action button larger. I would also recommend testing the page on an actual Android device for both right and left hand users. The placement of the button for a right thumb could help conversion dramatically.

I would also get rid of the orange bar and potentially rework how the large number “1” is displayed. The goal is to make the page as light weight as possible so it loads fast on a slower mobile connection.

Lastly I would rework the BBB and Verisign logos to be more influential on the mobile page. With such little copy and virtually no branding you want to assure the user their info is safe.

Key takeaways –

1) Look at your visitor data for each campaign to see what type of devices your users most commonly using.

2) Test pages on real devices to see how they look and feel. Optimize for the thumb as the main input, not a mouse.

3) Augment your CSS to detect and serve pages according to the device or OS.


HTML 5 and the effects on Apps

For the past 3 years our tech economy has been smitten with the concept of monetized apps being distributed via the Apple AppStore and the Android MarketPlace.

Some people have monetized the apps on the front end with a purchase to download and some have monetized in the app via banner ads.

However for the user, our smart phones have become cluttered messes with apps being closed off experiences. Arguably many apps should not be apps at all.  In many cases the app version of the data does not offer any additional functionality or any functionality that is optimized for the device screen or input interface.

There are some apps like games which are unique experiences and really leverage a closed off experience.

With the rise of HTML 5, there is potential that the idea of an App may soon disappear. HTML5 has the ability to detect device type, OS, screen size etc and deliver a new experience based on that information.

In other words you get all the functionality of a app on a regular website through HTML 5. This may also allow for greater revenue generation by the publisher and potentially lower cost to get the site/app to market.

In a recent report by VisionMobile they stated that the average app costs between $10-50k to develop. However, there are major benefits being associated with an App market place like the App Store – such as marketing time is reduced and overall cash flow is faster.

The great thing about HTML 5 is that it is a universal standard that all phones can use. For developers this means they don’t have to build two versions of the application for iOS and Android. This means less maintenance, faster time to market and a more uniform experience for consumers.

I personally hope that HTML 5 evolves fast and allows for developers to stop building applications within silos. It will be exciting to see the next generation of technology come out, the age old battle of Mac vs. PC or iOS vs. Android will cease to exist since we will all be working on the same standard.


Why Won’t TV Die?

A certain group of people have been making the move to cut off their cable TV subscriptions since they feel they can get all their relevant content online.

This may be true in some cases.

However, if you think of how the interent is structured and created, one very important thing has not really taken root yet.

Group Creativity.

We have social, we have communication up the wazoo but we don’t have a really good way of creating high quality entertainment together. TV which has been around for decades is the result of high quality programming which is put together but a professional team. It involves scores of people from writers, sound editors, camera crew, producers etc.

All of those resources are available online but being virtually connected has not really allowed us to work on a project with a unified vision together.

One of the reasons this hasn’t happened is because the internet doesn’t really have a hierarchy or titles. People are all the same and no one is able to take a lead and direct others. There is no producer nor director.

Something like #Occupy Wall Street will continue to be a nuisance untile a leader with a unified message appears. That will focus the attention, creativity and power of that group in one place. Call it laser theory. Once the energy is concentrated it can be used to impact others. Without the concentration the energy is still there but it has less of an impact and essentially goes wasted in the system.

I am looking forward to the day when an online platform helps establish a real team, with real deadlines, a singular mission, and a high quality end product. That is when we will see the internet kill of TV. Until then, I think TV is around for the long haul. The quality is just unsurpassed by anything else online at the moment.

Imagine if there was a Google of only original content? Soon hopefully.

Being off the Grid – Still Important

Today’s little bit of news is not really related to advertising but it is more related to how technology works as a whole.

Today’s technology relies on us to interact with it and create data of what we are are doing, where we are, how we are, who we are with and potentially give clues as to why we are doing it.  The good old 5 Ws.

A recent piece of news caught my attention – the attempted assassination of President Obama by a Idaho man. 

This man, Oscar, was essentially “off the grid.” He didn’t have a technical footprint which allowed him to get close to the White House and fire several rounds from a fully automatic AK-47.

The underlying point here is that larger terror organizations tend to do flourish when they are under the radar but as soon as they need more communication they get intercepted by various technical wire taps etc. This helps us and other countries avoid serious harm.

Where our technology comes up short is actually identifying people acting alone. When there is no need to communicate, there is virtually nothing to track.

A lone person from Idaho, if successful could have changed the course of the world if he had been successful.

Eventually technology will be able to “predict” our behavior even when we are not on the grid, but the greater question is how can people report others to the authorities?

Oscar from Idaho probably needed some mental counseling and I think this is where society has let us down. The people he interacted with didn’t make the effort to protect their country.

Getting in touch with the FBI and CIA is too hard. Why don’t they have a version of 911?

Being part of sites like Facebook and Twitter are actually keeping our country safer. We can now effectively track people that may go a bit crazy and offer them help. I hope that all of you reading this offer help to your neighbors if you feel that they are not stable. It is in the best interest of our society.