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That Was Fast: TellApart Implements A Searchblog Suggestion

By - September 02, 2010

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Earlier this week I mused out loud about retargeting, suggesting that perhaps it’s time for marketers to not just chase folks around the web in hopes they might irritate us into submission, but rather offer us the chance to politely say “Not right now, thanks.”

One of Searchblog’s readers turned out to be Josh McFarland, CEO of remarketing startup TellApart. He marshalled his team and within 24 hours had a working prototype integrated into his service. Here’s how it works, in his words:

Hi John –

As promised, here’s our v1.0 of the functionality you described. If a user mouses over the [X], it will highlight in red:

diapers.com_TellApart_X_ad.jpg

Clicking on that [X] will disable remarketed ads from that advertiser, reloading the ad with a message that further allows the consumer to opt-out of TellApart targeting altogether (industry best-practice functionality):


TellApart_remktg_disabled.jpg

This is now live for all TellApart Diapers.com ads, with the exception of 10% of the users which we use as a control baseline (to measure effects on CTR, conversion rates, etc.)


I applaude McFarland’s ability to quickly iterate and act on what he judges to be good input.

And he acknowledges, this is just version 1.0 of the functionality, executed within 24 hours of my original post. McFarland says he plans to add a lot more features. I think that’s needed, for both marketers as well as consumers – conversation is not just yes/no or off/on, and McFarland gets that.

From a follow up email exchange:

Here’s what we’re working on next, and we’re right in line with your thoughts:


1) Option of pausing the ad for the remainder of the time we predicted the user to be in-market for that retailer — instead of a straight, permanent opt-out.

We named our display ads application “Transactional Retargeting” in a nod to the fact that someone is in market for an item (our clients currently are pure-play e-tailers) for a limited window (5-12 days depending on the retailer’s avg consideration cycle), and most people leave a site without buying and never return during that window. Our job is to present those otherwise lost users with compelling ads (and sometimes offers) to get them to click back and transact… Transactional Retargeting drives higher conversion rates and incremental sales. This also means we only show users ads during those same 5-12 days. This modified “pause” functionality will allow users to stop ads for now but gives the merchant the ability to reconnect in the future.


2) Allowing more feedback as to why the user didn’t like the ad (a la Facebook)

3) A link to a much more informative page (about remarketing, TellApart, etc.) – which we are designing now.

One thing we have to balance, however, is the need to have the consumer rapidly choose one of three paths with the display ad: click through, ignore, or decline. Whereas other providers get paid for building overly complex ad widgets (with tabs, text content, tiny scrollbars, even purchase completion within ad), our goal is to definitively drive the user back to the retailer’s full site where they can re-engage with and complete their purchase.


Our business model couldn’t be simpler: we get paid a percentage of revenue for sales that result from a click through on a TellApart ad. That is the only way we make money. No sham view throughs or cost-per-ad-engagement; we drive clicks that convert. As ex-Googlers, it’s our DNA to start with a very hardcore DR approach, because when we can prove our system works under even the most brutal scrutiny (e-retailers managing ROI down to the penny), it will work for everyone (audience buying, brand campaigns, seasonal promotions, etc.)

Impressive. Expect more from TellApart soon, follow the company’s moves here.

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Google and AOL Renew Pact

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One of the best cards in AOL’s difficult hand has been its search deal with Google, which was up for renewal this year. This morning the two companies announced (ahead of a December deadline) that they were staying together, though I can only imagine the folks at Bing didn’t make it easy. At the moment, only three parties know what Google paid – Google, AOL, and Microsoft, which knows at least what Google must have topped to win the deal.

Here’s the official release. Financial details are not disclosed, yet, but more will probably be available in future SEC filings.

Ping: "Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes" Except…

By - September 01, 2010

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…as far as I can tell, they in fact don’t ever meet. You can’t leverage your networks on Facebook and Twitter in Ping. It’s another closed Apple system, another Apple universe in a gilded gift box.

It’s not that Apple hates the web, it’s just that Apple is better than the web. Apple doesn’t need it. It seems Apple has it all figured out.

I am sure Ping will get traction because it’ll be fun, and if it truly helps folks discover more music, so much the better for all (especially iTunes sales). But I’ve a sneaking suspicion that Ping will soon be about more than discovering music – it will also be about discovering Apps and other media like movies and TV. And while paid media is a sanitized and bounded universe, it’s my fervent hope that Apps, over time, will not be – that they will be far more promiscuous. Breathless predictions aside, I simply can’t imagine you will want your Apps to be recommended to you only by your Ping “friends.” Likewise, when you find something cool, you’ll want to share it on Twitter, and post it to Facebook (and maybe even other places too, places that are outside AppleLand.)

You’ve invested in your Facebook and Twitter relationships, why can’t you use those to find and share good stuff inside AppleLand?

I hope Apple agrees, and will open Ping to the rest of the world. But I’m not going to predict it. I can predict this: If Apple doesn’t open it up, Ping will never crack more than 10% of social networking share. But my, will that share be profitable! And for Apple, that’s certainly seems to be enough.

UPDATE: Peter in the comments notes that Ping does have a “very limited” Facebook Connect integration. So good on them, but if it’s just to find friends to feed your Ping network, I’ll stand by my comments above.

blekko Explains Itself: Exclusive Video (Update: Exclusive Invite)

By - August 31, 2010

blekko: how to slash the web from blekko on Vimeo.

Blekko is a new search engine that fundamentally changes a few key assumptions about how search works. It’s not for lazywebbers – you have to pretty much be a motivated search geek to really leverage blekko’s power. But then again, there are literally hundreds of thousands of such folks – the entire SEO/SEM industry, for example. I’ve been watching blekko, and the team behind it, since before launch. They are search veterans, not to be trifled with, and they are exposing data that Google would never dream of doing (yes, they do pretty much a full crawl of the web that matters). In a way, blekko has opened up the kimono of search data, and I expect the service, once it leaves private beta, will become a favorite of power searchers (and developers) everywhere.

The cool thing is, using blekko’s data and (I hope) robust APIs, one can imagine all sorts of new services popping up. I for one wish blekko well. It’s about time.

And in case you are wondering what the big deal is, besides all the data you can mine, to my mind, it’s the ability to cull the web – to “slash” the stuff you don’t care about out of your search results. Now, not many of us actually will do that. But will services take that and run? I certainly hope so.

For a quick overview of blekko’s core feature – “slashtags” – check out the new video, above. And to bone up on the various merits of the service, here are a few key links:

Blekko: A Search Engine Which Is Also A Killer SEO Tool (SEL)

TechCrunch Review: The Blekko Search Engine Prepares To Launch (TC)

A new search engine Blekko search: first impressions (Economist)

Blekko’s Tools Give Search Marketers Google Alternative (MediaPost)


Update: First 500 readers get a beta invite! Email battelle@blekko.com to get in on it!

On Retargeting: Fix The Conversation

By - August 30, 2010

The New York Times published a story on the practice of retargeting today, entitled “Retargeting Ads Follow Surfers to Other Sites.” While not nearly as presumptively negative as the WSJ series on marketing and data, it’s telling that the story is slugged with “adstalk” in the URL. Journalists and editors generally dislike and mistrust advertisers – I know, because I am both an editor and a journalist, I’ve worked at places like the Times, and only after studying the business of media for several years (and starting a few companies to boot) have I come around to a more nuanced point of view. We can’t expect every editor to do the same.

But maybe I have an idea that can help.

As the Time piece admits, retargeting is not new. What seems new, the article concludes, is how much the practice has increased, to the point where people feel like they are being “stalked” around the web, often in a fashion that “just feels creepy.”

Well, as I’ve said a million times, marketing is a conversation. And retargeted ads are part of that conversation. I’d like to suggest that retargeted ads acknowledge, with a simple graphic in a consistent place, that they are in fact a retargeted ad, and offer the consumer a chance to tell the advertiser “Thanks, but for now I’m not interested.” Then the ad goes away, and a new one would show up.

The technology and processes required to do such a simple task are already in place. Most third party services which provide retargeting services already use the “i” logo in the creative, which when clicked tells consumers “why am I getting this ad.” Why not extend that to include a “not right now” button, one that allows the consumer to tell the ad he or she is not quite ready for this offer?

Screen shot 2010-08-30 at 8.04.52 AM.pngFacebook is already training us all toward this end with the “X” in the upper right hand corner of every ad on the site (see image at left). Why not modify this practice to mean “No thanks, not right now.” It’s the equivalent of telling a salesperson at a retail outlet “I don’t need your help right now, thanks.”

I’m far more likely to be open to a marketer who offers me a platform to politely say “no thanks for now” that one who pushes a retargeted ad on me to the point of irritation.

And when a consumer says “no thanks,” as any good salesperson knows, that’s an opportunity to learn. No rarely means no forever. Marketing is a conversation, one with more than one exchange. Just because the first one isn’t a sale, doesn’t mean the next one (or the one after that) can’t be. Especially if you have the good graces to know when to pull back into the wings for a while.

Just a thought.

Web 2 Summit Points of Control: The Map

By - August 29, 2010

(Cross posted from the Web 2 Summit Blog…)summit_map_8-17-10-01.png

As themes for conferences go, Points of Control is one of our favorites. Our industry over the past year has been driven by increasingly direct conflicts between its major players: Apple has emerged as a major force in mobile and advertising platforms; Google is fighting off Microsoft in search, Apple in mobile and Facebook in social; and Facebook itself finds itself on the defensive against Twitter and scores of location startups like Foursquare.

Nor are the Internet’s biggest players the only ones in the game – the rise of tablet computing has revived nearly every major hardware and handset manufacturer, and the inevitable march of online payment and commerce has roused the financial services giants as well. You know we’re in interesting times when American Express is considered an insurgent in its own industry.

The narrative is so rich, it struck us that it lends itself to a visualization – a map outlining these points of control, replete with incumbents and insurgents – those companies who hold great swaths of strategic territory, and those who are attempting to gain ground, whether they be startups or large companies moving into new ground. Inspired in part by board games like Riskor Stratego, and in part by the fantastic and fictional lands of authors like Tolkien and Swift, we set out to create at least an approximation of our industry’s vibrant economy. (And yes, we give a hat tip to the many maps out there in our own industry, like this one for social networks.)

*Ed note, I am also indebted to the late night jam session I had with a bunch of pals in my garage…you know who you are…*

The result of our initial efforts is pictured above, you can go to the complete map here. We very much consider this to be “for your consideration,” an initial sketch of sorts, a conversation piece that we hope will garner a bit of your cognitive surplus. In other words, we designed the map so you can give it input and make it better. Over time, we plan to revise the visualization, adding various layers of companies and trends.

(click here for the map, here for the rest of the narrative …)

Gnar Gnar Epic Apple #FAIL

By - August 27, 2010

Droid on iPad.PNG

…that was the subject of an email sent to my by my Apple-loving son when the image above showed up on the family iPad (yes, we have an iPad, my wife insisted. It’s really hers, but that’s another story).

The story goes like this. My son had a question about the new Droid X I got, one I couldn’t answer because I didn’t have the device with me (we were at the beach, if I recall correctly). My wife had brought her iPad, however, so my son Googled the question and, not surprisingly, the Droid site was the first link. He clicked it. This is what we saw.

Classic. While it’s clear that this is due to Flash, it’s natural to read more into it, given the Android/iPhone battle. At least, that’s what my son thought, instantly: Apple is blocking any information about Droid from coming into its sanitized world. My son, who has loved Apple from the moment he could compute, now thinks Apple is “kinda like China, right Dad?”

Yeah, I guess so, kinda. Of course, one could argue that this is Google’s problem, they chose Flash, knowing full well it meant those inside Steve’s firewall would not be able to see into the Droid world.

I don’t like where this is all going.

(Don’t ask me what “Gnar Gnar” means. It’s a 14-year old’s phrase – I get it, but I can’t explain it. UD can.)

The Week In Signal

By - August 26, 2010

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Here you go, all you 188K or so RSS readers. I know you really count on this round up, so you know what I’m doing each night around ten PM….

Friday Signal: A Pre-Weekend Potpurri

Thursday Signal: Google’s About FaceBook

Weds. Signal: Valuable Point of View, Well Stated, Is the Foundation…

Tuesday Signal: A Latesummer’s Night Stream

Monday Signal: FM Makes a Move

Thanks for reading!

Is Google Objective?

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I was struck by this headline from TechCrunch: Has Google Purged Places Of Yelp? All Signs Point To Yes.

The story is rather pedestrian – yet another dispute between a content and community service with the all powerful Google. Sure, it’s Yelp, but at the end of the day, it’s another company who has run afoul of the distribution giant, and is a bit confused by how things seem to be playing out. It’s like Google isn’t playing by the rules that, well, that created Google.

I think the question, which I’ve raised before a number of times (it was a chapter in my book), must be raised again, if only to force clarity on how we think about the role Google now plays in our ecosystem. And that question is simply this:

Is Google objective?

Before I wax for too long with an answer, I’d love your thoughts.

Ok, maybe I’ll wax just a bit.

Back in the day, Google was seen, as it is now, as a black box, but at least it was a fair black box. No matter who you were, your content or service was subject to the same rules as any other content or service. Entire industries sprung up attempting to charm Google’s algorithms into favoring a particular page, or content class, or service.

The premise was simple: Google may be all powerful, but at least it doesn’t favor any one partner over any other one.

I predicted, many times over, that this could not stand. Once Google started buying content assets like YouTube, or building its own favored “owned & operated” properties like Google Finance or Places, there was no way that it would happily and objectively cede its own distribution power to its competitors (competitors who, before Google expanded into content, were partners in a happy ecosystem of search).

It has always been so, in a way. Google is a platform, and at some point, platforms always build out that which most benefits the platform, for any number of reasons. Twas so for Windows, for Facebook, for Twitter.

But Google, many of us thought, was different. The holy sacrament of search is fairness to all that which might be available on the web.

So I ask you. Is that sacrament dead?

Seems to me, it pretty much is, no?

Finding a Yogurt Shop A Mile Away: I'm Not Feeling Lucky.

By - August 19, 2010

I don’t know about you guys, but I see way too much of this when I search Google lately.

Tonight I was looking for a particular frozen yogurt shop in Edgartown, which is a town on the island where my family has spent portions of the summer for the past 100 or so years. This was a relatively new shop, but not that new.

Anyway, we forgot the name, so I Googled “yogurt edgartown.”

Here’s what I got:

Screen shot 2010-08-19 at 8.48.05 PM.png

OK, none of the local results are even on the island, much less in Edgartown. So strike one.

I’m familiar with the first result below the map, but that’s not the place I mean. Strike two.

The third result is clearly some kind of aggregator, but maybe they have an up to date directory I can look at. It’s called “American Towns.” I’ve never heard of it. Do I trust it? I dunno, maybe. So I click.

I get this:

Screen shot 2010-08-19 at 8.52.45 PM.png

Look at that for a minute. There’s exactly ONE “organic” result on that page, and by the way, it’s not what I’m looking for. The rest are ads that in no way help me.

This is not an unusual result for me lately. How about you? When it comes to finding places via Google, I’m not really feeling lucky anymore. Any suggestions as to what I should have done to find that yogurt shop?

Wait, I have an idea. What if Foursquare or Facebook had Places search? Man, that’d be great! I could search for yogurt shops in Edgartown, and I bet, without a doubt, I could find what I’m looking for. Do they? Nope. Should they? Yep.

Just saying.