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As We Head Toward A More Conversational Interface, Can AdWords Keep Up?

By - May 15, 2009

Gian Fulgoni, Executive Chair of Comscore, has an interesting analysis of what’s happening in paid search lately. It’s germane to my earlier posts about paid search share sliding and Google’s decision to allow trademark ad bidding.

In his post, Gian notes that overall search queries are up dramatically (68% over two years) but:

if one looks at the number of paid clicks, the growth rate is a lower 18%, which raises the question: why have paid clicks grown 3x slower than the total number of queries?

Gian answers:

The reason appears to be that the ad coverage (i.e. the percent of search results pages with a paid ad) has dropped from 64% to 51% of searches.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Why has ad coverage dropped? Gian has two hypotheses. First, search engines are getting better to reduce less relevant advertisers from the mix. But the second reason points to a more important potential breakdown in the AdWords model:

comScoreWords-per-SearchUS.gifAn analysis of comScore data shows that search queries are actually getting longer and that as searchers become more experienced they are using more words per search query. And this apparently reduces the likelihood that an advertiser has bid to have his/her ad included in the results page from these longer queries, due to paid search advertising strategies that limit ad coverage, such as Exact Match, Negative Match, and bid management software campaign optimization.

In short, our queries are getting closer to real conversation, real natural language, and Google’s algorithms are having a harder time keeping up – matching advertiser demand to our increasingly complex queries.

As Gian said, fascinating.

Also worth noting, my pal Chas’s analysis of what the decline in paid search means for brand advertising.

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New SMB Post: Cultivate That Garden

By - April 10, 2009

Over at the HP SMB marketing site, my second post is up. Now, for most of you, this stuff will not be particularly new, but it’s good to recall that just 42% of all SMBs have websites, and most of those are not particularly social in nature. From my post:

Most small business websites are not very good. That means you have a chance to really stand out. And that’s a huge competitive advantage.

At this point you’re probably rolling your eyes and saying “Yeah, right. Now I have to spend thousands of dollars making something that’s just going to break in a few months, and then I’ll have to pay another grand to fix it.”

Not true. With small business and the web, the best way to start is to start small, and start social. Your business is a network of relationships – between vendors, clients, colleagues, and co workers. So instead of worrying about boiling your website ocean, trying simmering the social seas instead.

The Conversational Interface

By - March 25, 2009

I have been thinking about this a lot. How we are finally taking technology and making it serve our evolution, the two major breakthroughs of being human – our fingers – finely tuned gesticulation as a reflection of our minds – and our voices – again, finally tuned expression of our minds.

Pattie is on to something here.

This post is really a bookmark of sorts, for more thinking that I’ve been doing about how this relates to search, real time search, and interface.
Props to Jeff Kravitz (among others) who reminded me how important this is. Jeff is a wonderful photographer, check out his work here.

New York CM Summit Lineup Posted, Registration Open

By - March 24, 2009

cmsny2009_colorlogolarge.jpgOur annual event in New York, The Conversational Marketing Summit, has just announced its initial lineup. It’s going to be very, very good. I host this event each year in New York and this year we are focusing on answering a simple question: What Works?  

Speakers include:

Fred Wilson, who I can’t wait to talk to about his investments in Twitter, Comscore, Tacoda, Boxee, Clickable, Etsy, Tumblr, and tons of other really intersting CM companies.

Bonnie Fuller, the world’s most successful women’s interest editor, who is striking out on her own, a la Arianna Huffington.

Speaking of which, Betsy Morgan, CEO of HuffPo, will also be on hand to discuss that property’s extraordinary growth.

Representing the majors will be Mike Hoefflinger, who left Intel (where he ran $1 billion of partner marketing programs) to head up product marketing at Facebook, and Eileen Naugton, who directs brand initiatives across Google.

Magid Abraham, CEO of Comscore, will give us insight on measurement, and we’ve got a pride of senior agency and media folks: Sean Finnegan, President and Chief Digital Officer of Starcom, Marc Ruxin, EVP and Chief Innovation Officer of McCaan, Richard Kang, EVP at MTV Networks.

And major brands will be well represented: Lou Paskalis, VP Global Media at American Express, Jen Walsh, Global Director of Digital Media for GE, Lucas Watson, Global Team Leader for Digital at P&G, and many many more.

And of course you know I love innovative companies, so joining us will be Max Ventilla, CEO of Aardvark, Oren Michels, CEO of Mashery, and Seth Goldstein, CEO of Social Media.

And that’s just a taste. Join me in New York, to kick off Internet Week, June 1-2. Register here !

P&G Digital Hack Night – Moving the Conversation

By - March 12, 2009


I could not make the event, but FM had two participants. Chas summed it up this way: “the format is like a reality TV show: A contest among groups of digital marketing experts, Apprentice-style, in an effort to tap social media tools to sell Tide t-shirts for charity.”

It was a fun night, from what I’ve heard, and $100,000 was raised for charity, which is really cool.

But I really liked what Peter Kim said about how it was an important event not just for charity and team building, but also for P&G as a company, learning to become more social. Just like with Comcast, here’s another example of a massive company learning new tricks. From Peter’s post:

At the end of the evening, P&G’s CMO Marc Pritchard remarked that in the future, all employees should get involved in activating connections similar to what had just been witnessed.

The significance of that idea is staggeringly huge. This is a company with 138,000 employees starting to realize the value from having all of its constituents connected and activated. They’re also learning about new tools to change the process of engagement. Events like “Digital Night” help recalibrate the company’s mindset.

P&G is taking steps to make social business a reality.

Sure, it also meant a massive promotion for Tide. I don’t have any problem with that. I got shirts for all of FM’s staff. And it felt good to do it.

Can Google Find Its Voice?

By - March 11, 2009


This is going to be a very big deal. Or forgettable.

I am not sure which.

I had a conversation with a NYT reporter about this today. (Story here, but I was not quoted). It made me think. First off, this product was not launched by Eric, Sergey, or Larry. So who knows if this is a Big Deal Inside Google, or Pasta Against the Walls?

You all know how much I love the idea of the Conversation Economy. It’s where my nose is taking me these days. So the concept of Google boiling the vast Oceania Vox is very, very compelling.

But then again….I find it hard to trust Google is really serious about this market.

For example, how many real live customer service reps does the company plan to have tasked to this product? That, to me, is a Very Important Question.

It’s the essential human question that drives Google. I bring it up all the time. Community. Media. People. How do you make people scale?! How does Google, a company driven by algorithms and scale, find its Voice?

It can’t be all algorithms. Things that Work Perfectly Because You Get How To Make It Work Even If Your Non Technical Pals Can’t don’t scale. Things that Really Do Work Without Customer Service can (this is Google search, or Amazon, or….etc.).

I just wonder if Google Voice is one of those disruptors. If it’s effortless, if it works without having to call someone to help me make it work, well, it’s a huge, huge hit. But this is telecommunications. I have a hunch it’s harder than that.

I for one very much want it to work. I love the idea of Google Voice.

I just wonder about the execution.

(By the way, compare Google search to Twitter search for “Google Voice.” Innaresting.)

Another Conversational Economy Milestone

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Found in this Wired piece on Comcast:

Thanks to Famous Frank (here’s Searchblog’s interview), Comcast began thinking about going even further. The weekend that the company published its response to the FCC—outlining how it managed its network and how it planned to change—one of Roberts’ lieutenants suggested something even more radical: having ordinary company engineers go on message boards to answer questions. It was the kind of proposal that violated every tenet of the old cable code of business, and the matter could be settled only at an executive board meeting on the 52nd floor.

Roberts, sitting with his back to the window, listened to both sides. Then he declared it was time to be a bit more transparent. He finally got it. He was turning a page. “I think we should do this, but we all have to have thick skins,” he said. “People are going to vent. But that’s all right.”

Comcast is joining the conversation, and that is a major, major shift for Big Business. It won’t be an easy shift, it’ll be way easier to go back to old habits. But it’s encouraging to see Really Big Companies making the transition to the Conversation Economy.

(Hat tip, @TheJames)

Pizza Joint Employs Conversational Jujitsu

By - March 07, 2009

This is priceless: (via Boing Boing)

At San Francisco’s Pizzeria Delfina, they know how to own their pain. Rather than wringing their hands over Internet sourpusses who give them one-star Yelp ratings, they’ve printed up tees with excerpts from the most scathing reviews (“This place sucks”) and given them to the staff to wear.

I call this practice “conversational jujitsu” – take the negative force of complaints, embrace them, and use them to your advantage. Just wait until really large companies start to do this. Then we’ll see remarkable change in this economy.

More as … I write the book.

The Conversation Is Shifting

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Search, and Google in particular, was the first true language of the Web. But I’ve often called it a toddler’s language – intentional, but not fully voiced. This past few weeks folks are noticing an important trend – the share of traffic referred to their sites is shifting. Facebook (and for some, like this site, Twitter) is becoming a primary source of traffic.

Why? Well, two big reasons. One, Facebook has metastasized to a size that rivals Google. And two, Facebook Connect has come into its own. People are sharing what they are reading, where they are going, and what they are doing, and the amplification of all that social intention is spreading across the web.

This is all part of the shift from static to real time search. Social is the fundamental element of that shift. What are YOU doing? What is on YOUR mind? Who do YOU want to SHARE it with?

Social search has been predicted (and funded) for years. It’s finally happening. The conversation is evolving, from short bursts of declared intent inside a query bar, to ongoing, ambient declaration of social actions. Both will continue, but it’s increasingly clear why Google’s obsessed with Facebook (and Facebook with Twitter). And they are not alone.

Get Horizontal

By - March 05, 2009


As I think through the major themes of the book I hope to write over the next year, the word “horizontal” keeps coming up, over and over and over.

It comes up in nearly every conversation I have with marketers. More often than not, when you get to the heart of an innovative marketing program, you find a block that can be summed up thusly: “That’s not what we do.”

In other words, “We’re the marketing group. That’s a great idea, John, but it requires we work with the (customer service, IT, business development, human relations, public affairs, product development, legal) department. And while we’d love to do that, well, we’ve (have never done that, have tried it before and it didn’t work, don’t like those guys, been told not to do it, don’t have budgets that cross departments, etc. etc. etc.).”

But marketing is, in its essence, a horizontal practice. (I wrote more about this on the American Express Open Forum site.) Every customer interaction is marketing. Every partnership is marketing. Every employee is a marketer.

And all your data, well, that’s marketing too.

Case in point: Mashery. I had a good conversation today with Mashery’s CEO Oren Michels. Mashery has a smart (and very Web 2) model: It provides API infrastructure for enterprises looking to turn their businesses into platforms. In other words, business who are smart enough to realize they need to join the conversation economy.

But joining the conversation economy means more than skinning your corporate website with Twitter search results (though I commend Skittles for doing it). It means taking your core assets – the data that drives value and knowledge inside your enterprise – and offering it as fuel for the collective intelligence of all your partners – your channel, your vendors, and, ultimately, your customers.

What does that look like? Well, Mashery has plenty of examples, including the New York Times and Best Buy. It’s late and I wish I could write a lot more, but let me sum it up this way: Companies that create platforms which enable customers to leverage internal data with collective intelligence will win. Those that don’t, will lose.

Oren had a very telling insight, one that plays to the issue of “horizontal versus vertical.” Most enterprises see his services as “IT”, and push him to “talk to the CTO.” But most CTOs don’t care about creating new channels of distribution, new business rules, and opening new markets. They see their job as servicing that which already exists. That’s a recipe for epic fail.

Mashery is not an IT play, it’s a business development play. Smart companies understand that.

More on this soon.