Searching Beyond the Paid

Friday, February 24, 2012

Better Blogging in Less Time

If you're friends with me on Facebook, or if you follow me on Twitter, you're probably aware that I saw Van Halen in concert in Detroit on Monday - in the front row! I've been a fan of theirs since the early days, and this was my first front row experience. It was amazing. My husband took this picture, along with about 100 other awesome photos, at the show.

The big deal about this tour is that it's following the band's first album with David Lee Roth in over 28 years. As part of their new foray into social media, the previously closed-mouthed band has published several video tidbits that are really cool and fun for the fans.

Some of my favorite tidbits are the interviews with the 3 founding band members. In one, the guys discuss how the process of making an album has changed over the years.

(What does this have to do with blogging? I'm getting there - stay with me!)

One thing that's different now is that instead of cutting the vocal track by singing the entire song all the way through, the vocalist will sing one phrase at a time, over and over. Then the producer chooses the best take from the 20 or so takes of that phrase.

In the video clip, the guys make the observation that the first 3 takes are almost always the best. David Lee Roth says these takes are the most spontaneous, "before you think yourself past genius."

That quote spoke to me. It's the same with blogging. I've had a lot of people over the years say to me, "I don't have time to blog. I can't think of anything to write, and then it takes too long to write it."

I tell them to sit down at their computer, think of a topic (any topic), set a timer for 15 minutes, and write. If you can't get at least a draft of a post in that time, it's not blog-worthy. Beyond 15 minutes, you've thought yourself past genius.

This goes for anything creative: blogging, photography, music, speaking at conferences, ad copy writing.... The list goes on. The first take is probably going to be your best one. So if you've always wanted to blog but thought you didn't have time, start writing now - before you think yourself past genius.

And if you're interested, here's the whole VH interview clip; the genius quote is almost at the end, around 12:00.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Personalized Coupons and the Science of Demand

As marketers gather more information about their customers, direct marketing gets more interesting. The amount of customer purchase data available nowadays is staggering.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the personalized coupons that print out along with your receipt at the grocery store. And many of you have probably received personalized coupons in the mail, as well. I know I do – I’ve started to get coupons in the mail from Meijer, where I buy most of my groceries.

On the one hand, this is really cool – no more clipping coupons from the newspaper inserts! Personalized coupons for stuff I actually buy – how awesome is that?

But there’s a problem. The coupons are clearly based on past purchase behavior.

Why is this a problem, you ask? After all, don’t you WANT coupons for stuff you’ve bought before?

Yes and no. Here’s an example. A few weeks ago, I bought a new laundry basket for my son. I’d guess most of us buy laundry baskets only once every few years. But what shows up in my mailbox last week? A coupon for $2 off a laundry basket – and the coupon expires in 30 days, no less. Nice try, but no dice.

I’ve gotten tons of coupons like this. Coupons for cereal I just bought – and I have to buy 4 boxes to get the savings. Even with teenagers in the house, we don’t eat THAT much cereal. Coupons for zip-top bags that I just bought by the hundreds. You get the picture. I don't have enough storage space for all the stuff these retailers expect me to stock up on.

So what does this rant have to do with search? One of the things I love best about search is that it fulfills customer demand at the right time. No one searches for laundry baskets AFTER they just bought one – they search BEFORE they get ready to buy. THAT’S when I want the coupon. I want it before, not after!

It seems to me that it wouldn’t be that hard to do. I know Meijer has years of purchase history on me, because I’ve shopped there forever. And honestly, as big brother-ish as it seems, I’d rather they review my purchase history, figure out the patterns, and send me coupons at just the right time. How hard can that possibly be? Until retailers figure this out, we search marketers have it made.

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Friday, February 03, 2012

Local Paid Inclusion, aka SEM Industry Histrionics

For whatever reason, the SEO and SEM community loves a good scandal. 7-8 years ago, when I was relatively new in the industry, it seemed as though there was a scandal every week: black hat SEO, cloaking, forum catfights.... it was crazy.

As the industry has matured, the kids have settled down. The daily shouting matches between SEOs have been reduced to a couple times a year.

This is one of those times.

A couple weeks ago, Bruce Clay, an industry stalwart and well-known white hatter, announced a new service called Local Paid Inclusion. In a very brief nutshell, this was going to be a service that, in partnership with Google, Yahoo, Bing, and major directories, would offer advertisers guaranteed paid placement at the top of local search listings.

Seriously? Who, in this day and age, would fall for this?

Anybody remember the old Real Keywords scam? Where advertisers could supposedly pay this shyster company thousands of dollars per year for "guaranteed #1 listings on up to 30 keywords," when in reality the Real Keywords scamsters were just buying PPC ads?

No respectable SEM fell for that back in the day, and I'm honestly beyond shocked that Bruce Clay fell for something like that today. I've met Bruce several times over the years, and he has always been the pinnacle of reason, intelligence, ethics, and professionalism - almost a paragon that others could only hope to imitate.

Why, then, did he let himself and his company get involved in this huge kerfuffle???

And the bigger question, at least in my mind: Why are SEOs so dramatic? When's the last time anyone in the PPC industry caused this kind of stir? Can you even think of one time where a PPC industry luminary got involved in something so shady that it caused all their peers to start hanging them out to dry on Twitter?

Don't get me wrong - I still have a lot of respect for Bruce and the things he's done for SEO and SEM. I have a lot of respect for the work most SEOs do. And it sounds like there may have been some substance to Bruce's announcement. But clearly he jumped the gun, which is shocking given his experience and business acumen.

The way the SEO industry reacts to stuff like this never ceases to amaze me. What do you think about all this? Share in the comments!

For another interesting take on this issue, check out this Wordstream Blog post.