Archive for the 'strategy' Category

Simple Product, Flat Fee, Proven Performance

Simple product, flat fee, proven performance – those are the ingredients for a successful local advertising offering to small and medium sized businesses.  Google’s new Local Listing Ads seem to have the right ingredients.  There are lessons here for all local advertisers.

Simple Product

Small business owners are busy running their business.  They don’t have the time or inclination to figure out complex products.

In Google’s case the offering is simple to set-up and easy to understand.  To set-up up local listing ads, you just have to:

  1. Claim and verify your Google listing (a good idea any way).
  2. Select your landing page – which defaults to a very functional Place Page provided by Google (so you can almost ignore this step).
  3. Select the categories where you want the ad to appear.

Google then creates your ad automatically (based on the information in your listing) and presents it based on the category  a user is searching, the location where they are searching and the location of your business.  All optimization is performed by Google.  There are no controls to tweak and monitor.  The ads automatically include a tracking number (more on this below)

Flat Fee

The business owner pays a flat monthly fee which is apparently based on their location and the categories they’ve targeted.  There is no bidding – it’s no haggle-free pricing.

Oh – and the first month is free.

Proven Performance

Google provides detailed information through Local Business Center that includes:

  1. How many people saw your ad.
  2. How many clicked on it.
  3. How many got directions to your business.
  4. How many people called your business.

And – whenever you receive a call you get a whisper telling you ‘this call brought to you by Google’.

The service is fully transparent.  At the end of the first Free month a business owner will easily be able to assess whether or not the service is providing value to them for the fee they are paying.

Applying the Recipe

All providers of local advertising can follow the same recipe:

Simple Product – This has always been a strength of traditional media like the print yellow pages.  People understand how the product works.  Someone visits you in person to set the product up!  But many digital offerings fall short by failing to ensure a functional landing page is used.  Google has addressed this with their Place Pages which are designed for optimization.  A landing page is an integral part of a complete digital solution – without one there are a lot of wasted clicks.

Flat Fee – I’ve said this many times.  Small businesses want simple pricing – combined with proven, transparent performance.  People too often link the idea of performance driven advertising with variable, performance driven pricing.  This just scares a lot of small business people.

Proven Performance – This is the most important part: you have to deliver the leads to the merchants and PROVE that you’ve delivered those leads.  Google’s service is fully transparent.  As a merchant you don’t control where and when you ad get’s placed, but you do know how well it’s performing and can choose to carry on or not.  As I’ve written before, all forms of advertising should be tracked – including print media.  Imagine a small business owner hearing ‘this call brought to you by the print yellow pages’ every time someone called a number from the book.  That would prove value in the media to them.

More on Local Listing Ads from Mike Blumenthal and Greg Sterling.

Want a review of your local advertising product  strategy?   Contact me at eric AT predictabuy.com.

Google’s Place Pages are Designed for Optimization

Google’s new Place Pages are designed for optimization which potentially makes them great landing pages.  Is Google positioning itself to simplify advertising for local businesses?

The downfall of most SEM offers to local merchants is that they deliver lots of clicks but few conversions.  That’s because too often nobody is optimizing the landing page (or has even defined what a conversion is).  Google has now put themselves in a position to address that by allowing the landing page to be optimized.  They could even have merchants use Google Voice if they want to optimize to receive calls.

What Does Designed for Optimization Mean

Recently I wrote in Picking Winners about the use of controlled experiments and A/B testing to optimize website performance.  Perhaps the most widely known application of this principle is the optimization of website landing pages using tools like Google Website Optimizer.

The basic idea in landing page optimization is to empirically test the performance of several different design options against some specified conversion goal.  For example, if your goal is to get people to ‘sign-up’ for something you’d test different page designs and see which one performed best.

If you want to do this easily – and especially if you want to do it using some automated process – you need to adopt a web page design that is amenable to such an approach.  Andrew Chen has written a great post on keeping the design consistent during A/B testing.  He says that the secret is to create an open design – and gives Amazon’s home page as a classic example.

Well, it turns out that Google’s Place Pages are another excellent example of open design that allows automated optimization.  Have a look at one of the example pages Google highlighted:

Google Place Page Showing Block Structure

Google Place Page Showing Block Structure

As shown above, the page is broken in to two columns and the content is organized in to various blocks.  This makes it easy for an automated process to vary both the placement and size of each of the blocks and the content shown within each block.  What’s more, you can select and optimize the look of the page based on where the traffic is coming from – varying the look and feel of the page based on how the user got there.  So, if you arrived at this page as a result of a search for ‘Tartine Bakery reviews’ the ‘review block’ might be much more prominently displayed.

The fact the pages are well suited for optimization doesn’t necessarily mean all that much.  Google is well known for being an A/B testing fanatic.  So, this may just reflect a desire to be able to more easily optimize how information is presented to users.

But it could also be a first step towards something more…

Could Google Try to Close The Optimization Gap?

Optimizing landing pages is a fairly well understood process.  Unfortunately, it’s a process that few smaller businesses have the time and expertise to perform.  So, it doesn’t get done.  And the end result is that small businesses don’t see the expected results from clicks and become discouraged.

But now Google has designed a landing page that it’s possible for a machine to optimize.

Imagine a tool that allows a local business to set up an Adwords campaign that automatically creates and tests landing pages.  The tool might suggest appropriate keyword alternatives along with appropriate landing pages and then start running the alternatives and select the combinations that deliver the best ROI.  All with minimal involvement from the business owner.  Google certainly has the scale and machine learning expertise to accomplish something like this.

What’s Missing

For one, Google would need local merchant’s to define some sort of ‘conversion event’.  This is conceptually as easy as defining a new ‘block type’ that will appear on the landing page and be optimized.  For example, a restaurant might view a phone call or an Open Table registration as a conversion event.  If it’s a phone call, I imagine the merchant could be encouraged to use Google Voice to provide a closed loop analysis of the conversion event.

Perhaps more likely than having individual merchants doing this (at least in all cases) would be a small army of SEO and SEM experts doing it on the businesses behalf – but within a closed looped system managed by Google.  Google could potentially create a whole new eco-system.

Updated (September 28, 2009): Lots of concern around a core issue of whether these pages are being indexed.  In fact, Google representatives have weighed in the comments on posts by Erin Schonfeld at Techcrunch, Greg Sterling and Mike Blumenthal.   Google is confirming that these new pages won’t be indexed directly, but they may be indexed if they are referred to by other sites.

They probably didn’t want to muddy the issue, but I couldn’t help but notice that they did NOT comment on my thesis about using these pages as landing pages!

Why I Like Adobe’s Purchase of Omniture

Ok, I know the folks at Adobe (yeah the Photoshop people) and Omniture (web analytics and optimization geeks) have been waiting for me to pronounce on their deal.  After mulling it over a bit, I’ve decided that it is good.

Judging from the twitter chatter, some found it perplexing.  And apparently the market didn’t much like it either.

I like it because it recognizes that the creation of web content should be done hand in hand with activities like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and the tools used to the analyze and measure the effectiveness of a web-site.  In today’s world, there are those who create websites and those who do SEO and SEM – and they are often blissfully unaware of each other.  That’s unfortunate given that the whole point of a website is to engage people and accomplish some commercial goal.

For a long time, the technical hurdles associated with the mechanics of creating a website have dominated the equation.  But that continues to get easier – as it should.  So rather than focus on the mechanics, you can naturally expect people to start thinking more about how to use a website as a truly effective tool.  Which should lead you to think about how you are going to structure and evaluate the content.

So, I can see Adobe creating entire new classes of tools where the very way you think about and create web pages becomes much more oriented towards optimizing and measuring the content.  For example, you might have a tool where the first thing you do for a new page is define the ‘objective’ for it (i.e. this page is intended to get people to register for the site).   From this objective you would then have tools that would advise you on ‘best practices’ for achieving it.  You would design the page from the get go to evaluate several alternatives.  The code needed to manage this would just disappear in to the woodwork.  The tools required to manage the revision of various content elements are part of the tool-set.

And there is potentially a very nice network effect.  The more people use your tools to create pages and analyze them the more data you (can potentially) collect on what works and what doesn’t.  This means you can do a better job of pro-actively advising people on what they should and shouldn’t do.  This allows the creative people to spend more time exploring new things that might work rather than wasting their time on things that are pretty unlikely to work.

Think of it as ‘objective driven design’.  I’m gonna let Adobe use that phrase if they like.

Of course, all that’s easy when you say it fast.  And difficult to execute in practice.  And I’ve glossed over at least one really important point.  What one means by an ‘effective’ web-site is a moving target.  Changes like social media and real-time media – not to mention changes in what people expect or want – mean that the very definition of ‘well designed’ is always shifting.

But that just makes it an interesting problem worth tackling.  Time will tell.

Apple: Purveyor of Remote Controls for Our Lives

Last week Apple marched on announcing price reductions across the iPod line and various new features.  The highlight was the addition of a camera and FM radio to the iPod Nano.  They high-lighted the importance of the iPod Touch (an iPhone without the phone) as a gaming platform.  The technocrati responded with a collective yawn — since there wasn’t anything sensational announced.

overview_hero1_20090909

To me it seemed like a well executed release of incremental products as part of a clear long-term strategy: Apple wants to the the dominant supplier of the remote controls for our lives.

Mobile devices allow us to interact with the virtual world while simultaneously interacting in the real world.  In fact, with the coming explosion of Augmented Reality applications – the line between the real world and the virtual one is becoming increasingly blurred.  Mobile devices allow us to consume media, produce media and communicate with people.

In Apple’s case, the original iPod focused on the consumption side of the equation – allowing us to consume first music, then videos.  The ability to further consume media has been expanded to include games and the internet.  What’s more, many applications are creating brand new categories of things for us to consume – like specialized maps and services such as navigation.

Of course, the iPhone also supports the creation of media and communication in many different ways.  Some of these – such as voice and text – are traditional mobile features – while others are again enabled by the App eco-system – think Facebook and Skype.

The iPhone is the all-singing, all-dancing remote for our lives, followed closely by the iPod touch.  But these devices are expensive — so Apple has to provide less capable devices at other price points – at least for the time being.  The thing about technology is that it’s only a matter of time before iPhone capabilities become available at truly mainstream prices.

So, the significance of the new iPod Nano is simply that Apple has expanded this mass market device into one that is now capable of capturing and sharing media as well as consuming it.  In some ways, this can be seen as a pragmatic interim step.  One which extends Apple’s reach as the purveyor of remote controls while holding firm on a well understood price point.

I sometimes wonder why Apple doesn’t introduce more of an ‘entry-level’ iPhone.  I think perhaps the answer is that they don’t have to — they simply have to wait for the economics of silicon to get there instead.  When the time comes, people will gladly ditch their cell phones for a shiny new remote control for their lives.  In the mean time, they can satisfy themselves with Apple’s partial remotes.


Twitter Updates

Archives

June 2017
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930