Responsive Web and Advertising clash

In a recent Digiday article about how the New York magazine online edition is moving towards responsive web design, they describe some of the challenges faced by this school of thought.

As some of you know Responsive Web design is a school of thought that says you should design your web pages in a flexible layout that allows devices with various screen sizes access your site in a somewhat similar fashion.

For instance, you want your website to be usable to the person using a 4 inch iPhone and to the person using a 30 inch desktop monitor. One person would be using their thumb to navigate and the other is using a mouse and keyboard. In the past you would have had to design two different websites but these days you can’t accomodate for every screen size with a custom site, you need to make your layout flexible via the CSS.

I think the majority of online advertisers have no idea what is about to happen to their ads. So let me give you a bit of preview.

  • Currently most ad units are standardized sizes, the IAB standard units of 728 x 90, 300 x 250,  468 x 60 and 160 x 600 etc.
  • These ad units are quite rigid meaning that if the screen is bigger the ads dont get bigger, and if the screen is smaller they don’t really scale down well. The buttons may be too small for a thumb to press or the text might be too hard to read for an average user. They are really optimized for desktop viewing.
  • In recent years mobile advertisers have introduced mobile specific ad units but these too are quite rigid in their design.
  • From a reporting perspective, if your ad unit shows on a small screen but is unreadable, it still counts as an impression. This is a waste of your ad budget.
  • Right now most publishers don’t use ad tags that have operating system detection or device detection. Using a tag like this would help determine what ad unit can be seen given the screen size.
  • Your beloved retargeting campaigns may not work. As more ad networks are allowing cross device pixeling, you are not guaranteed your retargeted ad unit will look correct on the smaller screen.

Some publishers are taking steps to make their websites respond well to the large variations in device size but they need to take steps to monetize this inventory in a comparable manner to their desktop viewers.

As more and more people access the web via their phone or tablet, it will be increasingly important to create responsive ads that scale well and are easy to click on with a thumb or mouse.

Some tips to help make your ads perform better on mobile:

  • Ask your ad network you use, what happens to my ad when a mobile user sees it? Is it possible to show them a different creative size?
  • Test your ad unit on multiple devices. Make sure it is easy to click and make sure the landing page is easy to use regardless of the device.
  • If you don’t have ad units that scale down well, ask the ad network to block those impressions from your campaign. This may cut into your campaign quite a bit but at least you know the user experience is consistent.
  • Ask them if they offer click to call services based on the device. For instance if you are a hotel and a person sees your ad on a smart phone, why not just ask the person to call instead of going to a web page?
  • Use more text based ads which tend to scale a bit better.
  • Do not use Flash ad units. iOS devices do not support flash at all and it renders inconsistently on other mobile devices.
  • Check your analytics data to see what type of devices are accessing your ad specific URLs to get a better idea of the screen sizes
  • Talk with your ad designer to see what they know about responsive web.
  • Check with your webmaster to ensure you are collecting analytics data on your visitors.

Trusting EDU Lead Gen Again

In 2010 the EDU market essentially ran out of gas and has been forced to come up with more sustainable fuels to keep the system going.

The EDU lead gen market went from a booming industry to an industry that had two parties, vendors and buyers who didn’t trust each other anymore. Suddenly there were “ad police” in the market sending you screenshots of what was wrong and not kosher according to the new DOE standards.  When the police arrived, a community based group called the Education Marketing Council put forth self imposed regulations and standards.

All of this lead to a massive decline in the publicly traded EDU stocks, a drop in overall lead flow and layoffs at various organizations.

Why did all of this happen?

It happened mainly because very few if any lead buyers knew where their leads were coming from. If they knew where they were coming from, they were not 100% sure if those leads were fresh.  Think of it like if you went into Whole Foods and bought a really expensive steak which looked fresh but you really had no idea how long it had been there, where it had come from, if it was organic, if it was grass fed, etc… You mainly relied on the fact that it was sold by Whole Foods, a historically  reputable company.

The effects of buying bad leads from a high quality provider caused a massive sense of distrust in the industry which spread like wildfire. It seized the lead gen engine that had run so smoothly for the last 10 years.

In a so called performance marketing system on boarding vendors costs on average $20-60k (conservative test buy of 500 leads a month for 3 months at a CPL of $25)  before you know if the leads are viable or not. I am not sure if that is “performance marketing,” anymore.

Leads are Commodities…or are they?

The EDU Lead Gen market is a commodity market. Everyone is just selling information. However, this market is unique in that the leads can be graded by the following factors:

  • Freshness – how long it took to get to the buyer. And how many middlemen it passed through to get to that buyer.
  • Source – What was that lead fed in terms of a marketing message. Was the message filled with false statements etc.
  • Certification – Did the lead go through a system like Targus Info to validate that it is in fact a real phone number and contactable?  Also does that phone number match the name on the lead?
  • Modeled – Based on the buyer’s historical success rate, does this lead look like it has a stronger chance of becoming a paying student?

After 2010, several EDU companies invested heavily into differentiating their leads and spent thousands on travel visiting their clients assuring them that they were going to be transparent moving forward.

But for some reason, this didn’t really resolve the trust issue in the industry. Media buyers still were skeptical of on-boarding unknown vendors. Mainly because if the bigger guys played by the rules, the little guys had a lot of incentives to play in the grey area and test the limits.  The other reason is that the majority of actionable metrics were retro-active. You had to wait until you got enough info to determine if the lead was bad and kill the source. This took time and a lot of money.

Enter LeadID

In 2011 a company called LeadID entered the market. It is headed up by Ross Shanken, an old TargusInfo guy. He set up a simple system which essentially gives a lead a stamp of origination. This stamp essentially stays with the lead no matter where it goes in the market. If a buyer buys a lead with this stamp they can see how many hops it took to get to them. It also shows how long it took to get to them.  All of a sudden the EDU market has a way of showing a buyer that they are actually delivering what they are promising.

Huge.

It is easy to compare this system to something like a CarFax. It is a report of what happened to X car. The main differences are that you can get around a CarFax and not report information and a CarFax is somewhat retroactive. LeadID is in real time and once implemented you can not get around it.

I won’t go into the tech too much but here is a quick video explaining the concept behind LeadID.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjyXQpc2QKA

 

As a media buyer what does this mean for you?

If you have ever bought a used car you have been trained to “ask for the car fax” through various commercials and friends recommending the system.

As a media buyer imagine how much time you can save by just asking “Show me that you have LeadID implemented.” If not, simply say we are not testing new vendors without this.

This one question has the potential to save you that initial media testing cost and save you tons of time listening to the exact same sales pitch.

This strategy has a lot of potential benefits for media buyers in the EDU industry and the system as a whole.

  • It creates trust and honor in the system. If you stamp your product with a seal, you better be delivering what was promised. The buyer now has real time insight into if you are delivering it and can call you out at any time. This is also a metric that doesn’t require a ton of Excel time to find. It is in a simple actionable dashboard within LeadID.
  • You can finally start to pay more for the good stuff while the media source still exists. A major issue with media buying today is that the inventory itself changes so fast. If you want to replicate a Facebook buy from 3 months ago, that is virtually impossible. There are new users, new ad units, and much higher prices. Being able to reward vendors now versus 3 months from now is big.
  • As a media buyer you can spend more time talking about strategy with your vendor versus interrogating them about their “transparency.” Once again going back to building a solid relationship and partnership.
  • You have one more point to negotiate prices be it positive or negative.
  • You can cut outliers in the data quickly. Cut anytime during the month if they are not delivering what they originally promised.
  • There is no real implementation time on the buyer side. It is a web based interface.

Is this all good?

No, of course there are issues with any new technology. To really make this work, it needs to be a standard and used by the majority of people in the industry.

Since it is technology, it may be possible to break it. The inherent mentality of a vendor is that they will always be testing/hacking to find the highest level of performance.

It also won’t erase the mass mis-trust in the industry right away. It will take some time for both buyers and vendors to realize the true value and get back to the more important conversations.  This may require some re-training in the industry to show that new vendors can be given the benefit of the doubt.

What should be my next steps?

As a media buyer, vendor or C Level exec – the easiest thing to do is evaluate the technology for yourself. You can find Ross and his team at the upcoming Insights Summit in Las Vegas. I believe they will be presenting a case study with a current publicly traded client. You can also email Ross directly at ross@leadid.com.

Before your meeting with the LeadID team, I would encourage you to ask yourself and your organization a few questions:

1) When you hear from new vendors – are you hesitant to reply to their emails knowing that you can’t test them or just don’t want to deal with the boring sales pitch?

2) Are you rewarding higher performing vendors? Are you able to cut bad vendors fast enough?

3) What is the average cost of your test buy? How many enrollments does that usually provide?

4) When is the last time you had a call with a vendor to talk about corporate plans 6 months out and actually have the vendor execute on a plan?

5) If your financial projections for 2012 and 2013 are flat, what are other ways you can save money in your media buy?

 

 

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 Google.com 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.

http://gaineyhomeinspection.com/blog/page/2/ 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 AbsoluteVariety.com)

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 AbsoluteVariety.com. 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 AbsoluteVariety.com.

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.

Summary

 
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.