Monday, August 29, 2011

A few links relating to the Google+ real names policy

Google+'s real name policy can bite you and get you kicked off Google+. While that might not seem so bad, it also impacts other services. If you're going to use Google+ you have to accommodate it. So, here are a few links relating to things you need to be careful of when indicating your name on Google+:

  • The actual policy itself. Note that it takes 10 paragraphs, one of them outlining an appeals process, that you have to follow in order for your name to be considered acceptable. Fortunately, most people will be fine just using the name they use when interacting socially, like they do in every day life.
  • Danah Boyd's critique of Google+'s real name policy.
  • Eric Schmidt's indication that Google is going to stick to its guns on the policy.

In my intro to search marketing class, we're going to use Google+, in part to step right into the middle of this controversy. I am going to recommend to students that they use an alternative gmail account, as that seems only prudent should one run afoul of the policy.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My most successful student to date

I recently had a student who graduated our undergrad program in April get a job at Apple in California as a senior front-end software engineer. The curious can see the salary range here. I won't reveal the figure here. If you're from the midwest, in particular Michigan, where we've had a 10 year recession with median income dropping by $10,000 during that period, you'll be astonished. It's easy for a person in my student's current career to earn 4X to 5X the Michigan median income.

Was he a typical student? No,

  • he started a company (that didn't succeed) while he was at school;
  • he was remarkably inquisitive and constantly pushing;
  • he took my spring/summer web marketing practicum course;
  • he went to California on speculation that he could get a job in a startup; not for a job but on speculation he could find one.

That said, the job search strategies he used are available to anyone and consisted of networking. Here's the particular approach he used:

  • He created his portfolio and published it on his own branded web site, which you can find here. A key feature of the site is that it is targeted at his potential employers, stating exactly what it is he wanted to do and showing what he could bring to the table.
  • He covered the waterfront. He sent his resume to all companies that were his target market; then heard nothing.
  • However, one person did respond on the basis of the web portfolio, and my student met with him individually, and showed him something he had built. Every successful student I've had has been so because they showed a relevant work product with results either from one of my class projects or from something they did on the side. As this student puts it,

so out of mild desperation I took the source code from an application I had developed, and retrofitted my portfolio with it  and I met with this guy, and instead of having a formal interview about the job I had applied  I told him "Let me show you something I've built".

  • He used all of his background but put it in the context of the jobs he was applying for. For instance, his search marketing coursework was discussed in the context of building a new search marketing platform at one company.
  • From there, it exploded. Ultimately, he had companies competing for him.

In sum, the key here is that the student created a strong story and then communicated it. That obviously took first creating the story, but he also had to know how to communicate it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Defining Personas for Search Marketing

Search marketing is such a dynamic field because it deals with the full customer recruitment cycle from advertising to converting visits into sales. As a result, search marketing combines both marketing (segment) and human computer interaction (usability persona) views of the customer. In search marketing, a persona is a personification of a class of people with the same purchase intent and who are going to use your website in the same way.

It's basically a way of trying to understand your web customers as people who are going through a selling process on your website and empathizing with the task they face so that you can improve it, making it easier for them to buy. As you might imagine, one of my search marketing students faced with such a task might find it daunting. There's a lot to put together.

I'm happy to report that our student groups are starting to get it though. Here's a presentation by the group working on Liberty at Home, an organization that provides services to senior citizens:

I particularly liked how they summarized the person in one slide with a name, photo, web behavior, and ways to measure success in getting her to buy. They'll need to continue to refine and verify this persona by talking with their non-profit and looking at the data, but it's a good start.

The group working with Dance Marathon at University of Michigan also made a good start at a detailed persona. You can see their work here. I would have liked more refinement on how to measure sales success with this persona, but I think they nailed the concerns a person responding to this site's campaign on autism might have.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dave Collins v. Linda Girard (aka search v. social)

I read two interesting articles today. The first was by Linda Girard of Pure Visibility. She discussed how Google was going to start charging advertisers when people clicked on the directions link in the paid search results, and she noted how this was similar to Google's click to call for mobile. Both are ways of catching and monetizing the flow of searchers who are close to making a purchase.

The second was by Dave Collins of Software Promotions. Dave described his experience advertising on Facebook. Unlike Google search advertising, where advertisers must interpret user's intent, Facebook offers rich demographic targeting. I can select my audience based on occupation, age, sex, location, etc. The thing I can't do is only advertise to people looking to make a purchase now. Unlike Google, Facebook has now way of capturing that intent. Dave did not see much in the way of sales over the time frame in which he ran his Facebook advertising experiment.

Well, I have a couple of thoughts:

  • The two articles illustrate what a gigantic transition it is switching between the two platforms. In particular, advertisers like Dave want a clear case for ROI which is easier to make on Google than on Facebook because you can target people closer to the point of purchase on Google.
  • I'm not that familiar with Dave's products, but based on his post, they're clearly high commitment, suggesting a longer lead time between first awareness and purchase.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Best of the first week of search marketing practicum posts

This will be a periodic series this spring and summer on the best of the search marketing practicum student presentations. Students present their progress each week in optimizing their non-profit clients' conversion process. The analysis is far reaching and may range from audience selection to landing page redesign.

A few key facts:

  • Students are working with non-profits with online ad spends sometimes on the order of $10k per month.
  • Up to this point, the ad campaigns have typically been optimized for click-through-rate, not conversion.
  • The landing pages are often in no way optimized for conversion.
  • The students are green. They've taken a hands-on class in pay-per-click advertising, but they are brand new to conversion optimization and Google Analytics.

With that aside out of the way. This week's top presentation was produced by Adam DeVergilio and David Hardcastle. I should point out that Adam and David created the presentation just one week into reading one of our course books, Conversion Optimization, and meeting the non-profit, Liberty at Home, virtually for the first time.

So, without further ado:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Takeaways from Distilled's ProSEO Conference

It's sort of serendipity that I wound up at this conference. I happened to start reading SEOMoz at the start of the year and liked it. Then suddenly, about a month ago, they announced they were going to start doing this conference with Distilled, a UK consultancy I had never heard of. Given the content of SEOMoz, it seemed like the conference would be meaty and a good place to get a nuts and bolts perspective on SEO.

The conference did not disappoint, and I came away with a fantastic appreciation for Distilled and SEOMoz as well as the other contributors they brought together. You can find a summary of the conference proceedings with links to resources here.

Rather than attempt to give a detailed blow-by-blow of the sessions, it seems more worthwhile to list some major takeaways now that the conference has been done for two days:

  • SEO (search engine optimization) can be thought of as high tech PR (public relations). Basically, you're trying to find highly influential people and convince them to mention (link to) you on their website. All of the standard PR skills apply here. It's just that the context is highly technical.
  • The end result of SEO is better placement on search engines for search queries that are relevant to your website. Essentially, search engines rank websites based on how much influence people attribute to the sites. A big part of this calculation is mentions (links) from other influential sites (see first bullet), but there are a host of other factors which change constantly as the web evolves. This is what keeps SEOs in business.
  • The economic driver for all of this is the explosive growth of the web as a marketing and distribution channel. All considered purchases involve online research using search engines, and search engine queries provide strong indicators of consumer intent. Net net, good placement on search engines may result in a strong flow of well-qualified leads.
  • In the past decade, social media have come to play an increasingly important role in driving commerce. Social media are a source of information and recommendations. However, and perhaps most importantly, social media sites are increasingly a source of recreation and thus a way for businesses to drive engagement with their customers.
  • Since major brands have a lot of money to spend on social media, a lot of thought has been put into how people interact with brands as though they were social objects. The level of abstraction in this last sentence should be an indicator that these ideas are still very much in an incubation stage. What does seem to clearly work is social media as a personal marketing effort. For instance: local bands marketing to their fan base, or club style businesses engaging with their membership.
  • So where does pay per click advertising (paying for placement in the paid area on search engine results pages) come into play in all of this? There are two answers:
    • It's a shortcut when you don't have time to go through the long link building process required to achieve relevancy using SEO.
    • It's an unmatched source of market research data regarding keywords and the appeals that work for attracting people who use those keywords.

Another discovery I made at this conference is that there a number of university courses, frequently offered under the heading of continuing education, on SEO or search engine marketing. I'll have more to say on those in next week's post.