Monday, November 17, 2008

Internet Marketing Links

My favorite websites for Internet Marketing advice

These guys are all about sales. They are especially good with copy. They sometimes distract onto esoteric things, but they are smart and know what they are doing selling online. and particularly this article about copy or this one with links to free web resources or go to and search for "top 10 online retailers by conversion rate" to get articles with monthly listings as well as some benchmarks.

Ralph Wilson (the owner, author and very good guy) gives very practical tips. Not overly sophisticated, but good advice and very practical because of that.

Jared Spool gives pretty good stuff out though mostly usability focused and not online Marketing per se

Jakob Nielson is the father of web usability. He has a lot of studies and things that are useful. He's a geek and his info is pretty good.

Another usability character involved with early Apple days has this list of bugs I like.

Random, some articles are good and some are less important, but there are a broad list of topics

This blog gives as good perspective of affiliate programs from a publishers perspective and I try to use it as my proxy to keep in tune with what publishers REALLY are thinking (I already know and accept that they are just using me, but it is mutual so I don't mind).

The classic Search site started by Danny Sullivan (but later sold I think)

Classic association of online marketers. The DMA for online.

Another search site from Jill Whalen who has been in the search space for a long time. PR, stories, etc

Coupon Codes is the new site has been very fortunate to get a lot of free press about clipping coupons and printable coupons. Here are some of my favorite links to various articles. Few people know that we are also behind Coupon Suzy as well as Safeway coupons and Kroger coupons. Regardless, here are some of my favorite stories about Coupons and

A recent press round started big in the San Jose Mercury News is in the Wall Street Journal

And the NY Times

Heather Dougherty from Hitwise did a tight mention at the e-metrics optimization conference

Brandcaster in the San Jose Mercury News too

Steven declares a recession on :p

The big one, Steven on the Today show

Here's a new one citing Internet Coupon Usage up 83% and listing some good statistics and demographics on general coupon usage in the US

This is my favorite so far. Some poor frustrated newspaper guy from Pennsylvania (right near where I used to live actually), rips on Steven after his Today Show appearance, saying that Steven "doesn't look much older than my golf shoes." Hahahahahaha. Oh bummer, I don't think this is a good link any more.

I like this simple article running through different coupon websites. Nothing earth shattering, but original work from a local, which is cool to see.

MSNBC television show with mention

There are a ton more, but many derive from these in some form. These are my faves for now I guess :-)

It's funny that a prevalent theme is that the online coupon traffic increase is a sign the economy is sucking. But if the economy was broadly sucking, wouldn't coupon usage be up 83% in other channels as well? Hitwise gets the closest to seeing what's up by at least noticing that growth is a LOT of the growth for this sector online, but they don't go so far as to notice that many of the other sites experiencing growth are partners "powered by" like Coupon Suzy, the television face of and the others in the space are perhaps in the wake ???

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Internet Marketing Channels - Display

I am devoting one blog entry to each major Internet Marketing Channel, this one is for Display advertising. People often ask what kind of internet Marketing I work with and I always say everything. Here's a list of what I consider most of everything followed by some definitions, color commentary, and general rule of thumb values for display advertising to help those that have not worked in the space much.

Internet Marketing Channels
- Display: CPM, CPC, CPA/Revenue/Profit Share
- Search: SEO, SEM
- Email: Paid, List Rental, Newsletters
- Affiliate: Internal and External programs
- Ad Networks

Display: Display mostly refers to purchasing banner ad space on third party internet sites. The site paying for the ad and resulting traffic is usually called the advertiser, and the site showing the ad to their visitors is the publisher. My rules of thumb are that well designed banners with compelling offers to reasonably qualified traffic should get about a 0.1% click-through rate (CTR). And well designed eCommerce sites with solid traffic (not junk) and a well-designed and optimized web site can see about a 5-10% conversion rate, with anything over 10% representing a pretty solid site and pretty solid traffic targeting. To me, there are three primary types of contract terms talked about for display deals. My diatribe on each follows with some commentary from both a publisher and advertiser perspective.

1) CPM - Cost per mil. This means an advertiser is paying a fixed amount for every 1,000 impressions of the ad on the publisher's site. Typical price ranges are from $1 to $10 but it varies widely depending on the demographics and intent of traffic. A wealthy demographic looking for information about helicopter tours in Hawaii might demand a very high CPM, but social media traffic that is not paying much attention to banners and is instead looking for ways to interact with their friends right now might demand a very low CPM. A $10 CPM or $10 effective CPM eCPM is considered pretty good, and anything higher than $10 is solid monetization. Realize that a $10 CPM is 1,000 cents / 1,000 impressions, so effectively that is a penny per impression.

Publishers on CPM deals: Normally, the ad impressions are recorded by both sides, on the publisher side they redirect the ad request so they can count requests and the advertisers count requests for the ad and track the referring url for the requests. Unfortuantely, unscrupulous advertisers take advantage of the ability to track visitors to publisher websites upon serving ads to them and they use the visit itself as behavioral targeting data which they then resell to other advertisers (acting as a publisher or simply a traffic data provider). If a deal sounds to good to be true, it probably is. Aside from behavioral retargeting, Publishers typically love CPM terms because it gives them guaranteed income regardless of the advertiser's capability to generate good banner ads or convert traffic. Also with CPM deals, publishers often have the flexibility to mix and match up their inventory as they can best sell it to reduce the amount of remnant or unused inventory they have and maximize the monetization of their traffic.

Advertisers on CPM deals: Advertisers typically dislike these terms because they feel like they can get burned if they are not paying attention. For instance, maybe other advertisers that paid higher CPM's get all of the good impressions from people likely to convert and you get stuck with the ones that are unlikely to ever convert like mobile phones, international traffic, traffic brought to the publisher site under false pretenses, unix or other useragents (browser and operating system types) which can not easily facilitate monetary transactions, or spiders, crawlers and bots which are not going to follow an ad tag link. Accordingly, advertisers will want to closely monitor the conversion of these ads, and have the ability to shut them off quickly before they have spent too much money if they are not performing well from an effective Cost per Action (eCPA) perspective. They may also want contracts that specify what times of day, exact site locations, browser types, etc the publishers can run impressions on. Brand advertisers whose products can not be easily purchased on the web (like frozen foods or pizza that one typically buys at the grocery store) may be less concerned about click through and conversion and happier with CPM deals than other types of advertisers.

2) CPC - cost per click. Each time a site visitor clicks on an ad, the advertiser must pay the publisher for the click. Becoming a de-facto standard as a compromise position for publishers and advertisers, largely due to google using CPC as their only method for search engine marketing and others following suit. Typical CPC costs are in the range of $0.25-$1.00, depending on the expected conversion rate and value of the conversion. Publishers willmontior effective CPM (eCPM) and advertisers will monitor effective CPA (eCPA) for CPC deals.

Publishers on CPC deals: Normally, the clicks are recorded by both sides using a redirect on the publisher side and referring url on the advertiser side. This is a compromise between CPM and CPA deals for all sides involved. The publisher needs to provide quality traffic for the ad impressions to get click-throughs, but it is incumbent on the advertiser to convert traffic directed to them. Publishers will monitor their eCPM (CPC price * average clicks per thousand impressions) for CPC deals because they want to ensure that they are monetizing their traffic as effectively as possible.

Advertisers on CPC deals: Advertisers are very concerned with conversion of CPC traffic. When the traffic arrives at their site, they have already paid for it, so any lost conversion is lost opportunity and turns the lead generation cost into sunk cost. Conversion should be carefully monitored from every source so that sources which convert well receive greater advertising expenditure while sources which do not convert at a profitable level are shut off. Unscrupulous publishers will try to find advertisers that do not carefully segment and measure conversion and marginal profitability so they can pile junk traffic to those sites. Advertisers also worry about click-fraud initiated both by the publisher and their agents and by the advertiser's competitors. There are many many well documented cases of people in low labor cost countries paid to erase all cookies then click on ads so that a publisher can bill for the clicks. Also, bots/http servers have been used plenty of times, even masking useragent values to make it difficult to tell it is a bot and increase CPC charges to advertisers. Finally, and especially for high cost high margin deals like helicopter tours in Hawaii and mortgages (historically) there are many cases documented where competitors click on your banner ads so that you incur the CPC charges but don't get any sales. There is further motivation to do this in SEM, but more on that later.

3) CPA/Revenue/Profit Share - Cost per Action. A publisher gets paid when they send traffic to an advertiser's site and that traffic performs some action on the advertiser's site, ie converts in some way. Variants include full revenue share where the publisher receives 10-90% of all the revenue received by the advertiser or similarly profit share. The publisher versus advertiser profit share rates depend on the margin of the product being sold by the advertiser and the leverage in the market of both the publisher and the advertiser. For eCommerce, CPA typically means purchasing something, and the action is recorded on the checkout page, often with the value of the transaction noted for revenue sharing calculations. But the 'A' can also be registering for a newsletter, installing software, and in the malware industry it can even mean installing a virus successfully on a machine and verifying that by having the virus phone home and demostrate control of the host machine. The CPA may be a fixed amount or it is frequently a percentage of the purchase amount on the other site. Typical CPA's are in the $2-$20 range, and vary widely depending on the value of the action to the advertiser and the conversion of traffic sent by the publisher. Viruses which turn host computers into zombies as parrt of bot networks garner about a $0.50 per machine payout.

Publishers on CPA deals: Publishers typically measure CPA by placing a cookie on a visitor's machine while they are on the publisher's site, then on the page on the advertiser's site after the action is complete, the Advertiser will place a call for a gif from the publisher's domain in the page so that the Publisher can read their domain cookie again and match it up to the referral. The gif is typically a 1x1 transparent pixel so the typical visitor does not even know that the publisher is monitoring their use of the site they were referred to. Typical CPA deals say that as long as the action is consummated within 7-30 days of the referral, the publisher will get their commission, so publishers get paid even if the action happens shortly after the initial click-through to the advertiser site. There are issues because this only works when cookies are accepted and able to persist. Historically this has been 95% of the time, but this is dropping as Firefox use is becoming more widespread, as Firefox has some nifty privacy plugins that allow cookies while you are on a site but erase them once you leave. Also, publishers will monitor their eCPM (average CPA payout * click-through rate * CPA conversion) for CPA deals because they want to ensure that they are monetizing their traffic as effectively as possible.

Advertisers on CPA deals: Advertisers generally like CPA deals as they can ensure that their advertising deals are marginally profitable and cash flow positive. The downsides are usually that publishers want to put a pixel on the conversion page of your site, and advertisers do not neccesarily want to share their conversion volume with every publisher whose site they run ads with. Also, since publishers may be paid up to as many as 30 days after the inital click-through to an advertiser site, it is possible that multiple publishers may try to claim a CPA fee for the same single conversion. Finally, the fact that someone converted on your site is behavioral data which third parties may use to try to target other offers at your site's traffic. Many of these problems can be avoided by building a 3rd party tracking system as I describe elsewhere on this blog, but most advertisers are either unaware or unwilling to pursue this option.

Which one?
Which of the above methods are used predominantly seems to swing with economic conditions. When times are good and advertising budgets are flowing, publishers can hold out for CPM deals, but when times are tight and advertising budgets are scarce and highly accounted for, the few advertisers out there with budgets still flowing can demand CPA deals. There are exceptions, of course, for highly valuable traffic and sites that convert exceptionally well, but generally the ebb and flow goes with the economic times.

At some point, I need to do a post on ad servers, which is the tool typically used for all of these display advertising methods and more. These high volume servers are typically built for speed and very high availability, and include all of the tracking that one desires for any of the methods listed above and more.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Forms - What I learned about optimizing them

I was reading a Grok blog that hit on the very important topic of form optimization and realized I had not shared my experience here yet.

Over the past decade, I have tested hundreds of different forms while working for US banks, and rule number 2 in the Grok post, "look at every question," is huge.

One of my colleagues, Rick Starbuck, once said, "the war is lost one little soldier at a time" as we argued with legal staff at a top ten bank to try to eliminate yet another low value input field on a new account opening form (not personally antagonistic, just legal arguing, I think legal peeps are great). We used to keep a scorecard of how many input fields we had, and how many each of our competitors had on their online application, with the goal always being to have the most streamlined application possible. A scorecard for arguments with legal might have also been useful too come to think of it. As a result of attention to these details, the sites I have been working with have almost always had the best conversion of any banking sites.

There is a LOT of upside in everything in forms. My checklist would include the following at least:

- Basic layout: How easy to follow can you make it? How clean? I have found that it is better to have one medium length page with vertical scrolling (only) rather than 2 short pages with a submit button between. But there is a limit. If legal is forcing inline terms accept and your one page is 10 pages of scrolling, don't mix that in with form fields.

- Call to action button position and design: This one is big. The best designs I saw after testing hundreds on a credit card app incorporated high contrast call to action color (red against white and maybe black edging), diagonal edges (think arrowhead), and bullseye patterns. Sounds obnoxious? You bet, but it works too. The challenge for me was getting a design that was not too personally embarrassing for me but still converted well.

- Which form fields are present, absent, required and optional: win the war one soldier at a time. Benchmark your competition. Be analytical about this. Get rid or Mr./Mrs./Ms., it is usually not legal and rarely adds enough value to justify it's existence. You want gender id, use a database match on first name or behavioral profiling.

- Terms acceptance methods: In page text vs pop-up, vs radio button, vs scroll boxes in page, default checked or blank, etc all have different conversion in different situations. My favorite terms accept is to put the terms in a pop-up box, and actually track to ensure that the box was opened with an image or some other html tag at the end of the terms text that can not fire unless the text was really presented. You need to do something with this solution to catch pop-up blockers and provide tips or a workaround as appropriate too. Sound overly sophisticated. Well, maybe, but if you have decent volume it is well worth it for the conversion gains.

- Form field labels: Do you call it Address 1/Address 2, Or Street Address/Line 2, SSN, Social Security Number, mobile phone/cell phone, etc. Test to get the right answer with your audience.

- Order that you present form fields in: Generally the questions should get more sensitive as you go lower on the page. This matches Marketing commitment principal. The only time you break this is when logical grouping require, but even then, put the group with the most sensitive stuff at the end (rank groups by their most sensitive field) in my experience.

- Instructional copy: What does it say at the top of the page? DO THIS! Why? You need one headline that reinforces the navigation or how someone got to this page, then some very short instructional text motivating form completion. You can tell them it is easy, you can tell them how great the payoff is, you can tell them there is no risk, you can tell them everyone is doing it, just test whatever you tell them and optimize it. Text is a great spot for segmentation too, by the way, because it is so easy to implement and so effective (great discrimination based on traffic source).

- Help availability and identification: How do you give your help? Old school was redirect to FAQ's but that takes a visitor off the buying page! Horrors! Solutions include pop-ups, javascript fold-outs, chat, and 800 numbers. My personal favorite is what I hope is an emerging standard. Use a dashed blue underline to note words and items on the page which have help text associated with them. Then dashed-underline items get hover text so the visitor knows where hover text is available when they want it, but it does not take them off the page or impede progress. In page foldout and hover help via javascript is also popular right now and probably better than many alternatives too.

- Offer reinforcement: good practice to remember what brought them to your site and reinforce it all the way through. Did they come on a $10 cash back deal? Can you include a small reminder letting them know that you remember? Don't worry or stress, you will get your $10?

- Testimonials: test including testimonials so folks feel like others have trusted you and been happy about that decision. Trust in general is a broad topic with a lot of potential for you to play around with on any form. One rule of thumb that an 800 number on any shopping site prominently displayed at check-out will increase conversion even if no one ever calls the number (even if the number does not work, or is really for some unrealted entity like the US post office customer service ;-)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Internet Marketing Channels - Search; SEO

I am devoting one blog entry to each major Internet Marketing Channel, this one is for Search, specifically Search Engine Optimization advertising. People often ask what kind of internet Marketing I work with and I always say everything. Here's a list of what I consider most of everything followed by some definitions, color commentary, and general rules for Search Engine Optimization to help those that have not worked in the space much.

Internet Marketing Channels
- Display: CPM, CPC, CPA/Revenue/Profit Share
- Search: SEO, SEM
- Email: Paid, List Rental, Newsletters
- Affiliate: Internal and External programs
- Ad Networks

Search traffic goes to a search engine or uses a search box on some website syndicating search, types what they seek into a search box, and back comes a response from the search engine. In classic Marketing style, Google would be the largest search engine with the 60% market share, Yahoo second with the 30% piece, and Microsoft third with the 8%. These numbers are not exact and they change year to year, but they follow the model. Search traffic is special because search traffic represents surfers with an explicitly stated intent, which is very valuable to an advertiser selling a product or service online. What comes back in the search results are generally two types of links, which google created as a standard and termed results and sponsored links. The internet Marketing world refers to these two areas respectively as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Natural Search, and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) or paid search. Both are dynamic and vibrant fields. This article is about SEO, I will have to do another about SEM because each area is pretty big and pretty distinct except for quality score.

SEO is my number one question area. SEO is distinct from SEM (Search Engine Marketing) in that you don't have to pay for SEO. SEO is the the links that show up when you type words into google, yahoo, msn, or any other search engine. Not the paid links or "sponsored results", but the regular old search results. The spiders from various search engines will crawl your site, index it, and determine keywords for which you will show search results. There are a lot of details. I will give a quick high level, then you are on your own! I don't know everything, and everything I know is not here, but I will expand this post as I get time in the future.

For the rest of this article I will focus primarily on Google as my subject matter. Most folks in the industry will try to focus on Google search results due to the greater traffic volume, and usually if you are the number one search result in Google, you will be number one or at least very high up in the other search results for the same keyword(s).

First some definitions:
  • Keywords - the word(s) you type into the search engine. Presumably the sites that come back have subject matter related to those keywords.
  • Spider or crawler - the server and software at google that reads every page on the web that it can get to and determines what the important content of that page is as well as what that page links to and what links to that page. The spider feeds the program that builds the index. Normally the spider will go to a web page, digest the content of that page, then follows links on that page that it has not visited previously to discover new pages on the internet. Spiders also have scheduled checks they do to the same web sites to see if the content of the site has been updated. For sites that it finds frequently updated like blogs and newspapers, the spiders will return more frequently, while sites that are not as frequently updated will be visited less frequently.
  • Index - like the index of a book, except for it points to addresses on the entire world wide web instead of just a page number. Google has built an index that knows all the content that it has seen and cross references keywords requested by a searcher to web addresses it has seen that contain those words.
  • Spider trap - Some folks would like the spiders to think that they have millions of pages with content about everything in the world so their site always comes up first no matter what the search term. So they build things like dynamic urls that always link back only within their site, and dynamic content to make the spiders think they are seeing links to pages which they have never seen before and crawl them. This prevents the spiders from finding things on other people's web sites, so they are commonly called spider traps. The search engines try to avoid spider traps.
  • PageRank - a metric named after Larry Page, one of the Google founders. THe higher the PageRank, the more authoritative the site is supposed to be. All else being equal, a site with a larger PageRank (like 9) will appear above another site with a lower PageRank (like 4). A PageRank of 0-2 is not uncommon for sites without much presence, many links, much traffic, etc. A PageRank of 5-6 is respectable and typical for medium to large companies with modest web programs. And anything aboove 7 is typically a larger company or someone with a very solid online Marketing and SEO program.
Overview: To be successful in SEO, you need a few things. First and foremost, you need content on your site related to search terms that people will use. Most commonly, you want to come up first in search results for something you are selling on your site, and you will focus on keywords that indicate someone's intent to buy products like the ones you have for sale. So you need content around those keywords as a first step. Second, you need links to your web site. If a crawler finds two websites with identical content (perhaps selling the same thing in our example), and one has a hundred external links to their site while the other has a thousand, the one with a thousand will rank above the one with a hundred. Finally, you want to engage your audience and focus on converting folks that visit from search results. If google sees that people that ckick on your address in search results are quickly returning to try a differeent site or type in refined keywords, google will assume that you are not what they are looking for with respect to those keywords, and will downgrade you in favor of a site that people stay at longer. Let's break these pieces down.

Keyword and Competitor Research: If you really want to work SEO, do some homework before you build out your homepage and site. To find the best keywords, use Google Adwords Keywords. This will give you an idea of both the search volume and the amount of competition out there for each of the search terms. Then go do a search for each of the terms you are interested in optimizing. Visit the top results for each term set and look at the Page rank for those top results. Look at the number of words they have on their page, the keyword density, the titles, urls and url structure, etc to see if you can do better than them on page design. Go to and use their search analysis to see what the main keywords are that are sending traffic to your competitors. See how concentrated they are on a few keywords vs a larger number of keywords sending traffic to get an idea of how sophisticated thir search program is. Perhaps install a google toolbar or Firefox seo add-on with the Page rank options turned on to see how sophisticated they are as well. If you are seeing Page Ranks that are 6 or better, and you are a small business trying to do this on your own, you are going to have a tough road ahead. Then monitor your site with the free Google Webmaster Tool Kit. Look for errors and flags, and make sure that google is indexing all that you hope they will.

Links to your site: For the keywords you are interested in, do a search for each high ranking results' url and see how many links (from an indexed page) there are to each of them, or use the seoBook Backlink Organizer. Can you get more links to you than the top results? Remember the first result gets the most traffic, positions 2-5 on the search restuls do ok, 6-10 get a little bit of traffic and by 11, which is on page 2 for most searchers, there is not much traffic left. Given that, do you want to target the most popular keywords which might have the most competition, or would you rather be the big fish in a smaller pond. This is an active decision to make and pursue. You can change it later but not quickly. You need to win on both page design and quantity of links to your site if you can.

Page coding: Now that you have done your keyword research and developed a lot of content to target the keywords you think you have a shot at, it is time to code your pages so that spiders can easily digest your superior keyword focused content.
  • Remember that search engines (the spiders/crawlers really) like plain html with simple url's more than they like query strings, frames, javascript, pdf's, ajax, or flash. Query strings make spiders think they are crawling into a trap, and they do not like to crawl into traps.
  • Search engines look for bold letters near the top of the page and assume those keywords are titles, so make your page titles h1 headers big and bold, and use your search terms you are trying to optimize.
  • Search engines like H1 headers near the beginning of the html load on your page.
  • Search engines like good keyword density without spamming. Rule of thumb for me is roughly 300-400 words on the page with about a 20:1 keyword density.
  • Search engines can not read text in images, so don't use it, put clear text on top of a background image.
  • Tags: always put keyword dense alt tags on every image that you use, and of course use your search terms in the page titles, bookmark titles, and requisite meta tags, etc.
  • Make sure your page titles are distinct throughout your site as well, so the search engine can discriminate between your pages.
  • Realize that your home page will get the highest google Page rank, so you should optimize it especially if possible. If not possible, then optimize something that is linked to from your home page with no query strings before you optimize something that is two links or more away from your home page. Proximity counts for the algorithms. I have been told that each level away from the homepage drops your PageRank by 1.

URL's count big: As far as I can tell, if you want to rank well and you can swing it, have a domain with your search term in it. If you can, separate words with an underscore to make it easy as pie for a spider to digest your search terms. Even if you cant make this work in a domain, perhaps a subdomain, and at very least a directory and page name following this convention.

External Links: After you have completed your search engine optimization, go out there and get as many links as you can pointing to your site. Some suggest that you should link from related content sites, blogs, etc, and use text related to your search terms when you link to it. I say you might as well if you can, but an out of context link is better than no link at all unless it is on a porn site or a bad news spam site. Shamelessly add your link to every blog you have, every blog reply you can get published to so long as it does not have nofollow tags on links in replies (especially on related topics where it makes sense and you take the time to get a thoughtful reply to a relevant thread), your yelp, myspace, linkedin, facebook, spock, and any other page that is indexed by the spiders. After that, register with each of the search engines and to any other indexes that you can find a registration for. Then sit back and wait. Remember that search engine spiders may only crawl once every couple months, so you can't change things quickly, and you don't want to bring them for the first time until you are in a good place.

There are link share programs available which can get you a lot of links quickly. One of my friends owns and they have a pretty decent priced program which is pretty effective too.

If you want more search engine tips, check out real experts on the subject; (take the free trial here to do some basic keyword research)

My favorite free tracking sites to check out your competition's traffic;

Internet Marketing Site Design Tips

Biggest site tips. I am often asked "what are the most important web site design considerations?" So I put together this quick list of high level things which cover the basic high level mistakes I see frequently when reviewing sites.

Main Navigation: For a website, stick with a simple navigation scheme that is transparent. A top tab or side navigation menu, period. Try to have about 5 main tabs, but definitely do not go higher than 7. Remember always that users are not looking for a certain term, they are reading EVERYTHING you put in front of them and ruling out all except the one they think fits best, so you need your navigation to be very concise. Make sure that wherever the person is on the site the main nav tab they have selected is highlighted so they can remain oriented (bread-crumbing). Remember that navigation is not content. It should be like wallpaper once someone has seen it and understands how to use it, which should take them half-a-second. Don't make your nav so loud it takes focus and attention away from the important content on your page.

Other navigation: Make sure that your logo is in the upper left and that clicking on it takes you to the home page. Try to have a search box in the upper right of each page balancing the logo graphically if you can swing it. Right next to the search box, a help or contact link will help user confidence immensely. Provide a utility tab on the footer with corporate information, site terms, privacy policy, and a site map at least.

Colors: Try to balance your colors with a 60/30/10 rule (roughly). Pick three main colors to hit and use the main content color for roughly 60% of your stuff (often this is blue to "match" plain text hyperlink standards, but it can also be black or dark grey). Use the accent 30% color to organize the main content, think borders, background highlights, navigation highlights, etc. Save 10% for your action cue. Save it for the things on the page that you want the user to do (BUY!). Don't draw their eye to something just because you think it is cool, draw their eye to the action button or link and make sure that compelling sales copy is nearby. If you can, use a consistent call to action button, same shape, size, and position on the page. It will train your users to stay on the happy path you have defined. Make sure your call to action has diagonal lines in it as they catch the eye. Often you see the greater than character, >, used, but you could also use a button with an arrow on the edge. Bullseye patterns also draw the eye and you may be able to mimmick one by putting a mostly white picture or icon inside a circle that is your call to action color or vice versa. Oh and it goes without saying to have a white background, right? And if you are going to do a different background, definitely not black or some other dark color with white text!!! It is fatiguing on the eyes and will drive traffic away. Looks pretty, works horribly. People won't even know why they are leaving, they will just leave.

Test: Make sure you test your site! Use google's free site tester if you have to (see my note about using google too much in my other post), but do some testing or your site will be grossly underperforming relative to its potential and its competitors, and ultimately, doesn't have a chance and doing anything too big.

Page design guidance; (Nielsen wrote the bible on web usability)

Why Flash is Mostly Bad:

Tracking for an E-Commerce site

It is amazing how many sites do not track well. Nearly ever tracking model I have walked into has problems, but the "right" tracking model is actually pretty simple. Avoid a lot of problems, and build it right from the start.

I know a lot of solutions use page tags (also known as web bugs or 1x1 transparent gif images or sometimes horrendously they are javascript calls), and that is fine and they mostly work (so long as cookies are required), but I actually favor a simple db write by the web server each time it serves a page. Web bugs add weight to a page, unnecessary traffic to the net, and there is overhead associated with the weight as well as the request /response time, and I am a purist. Also, do you really want google(for the free urchin based solution) knowing everything about every web site? Particularly if google is a potential acquirer of your startup you might want to think twice before showing them all your data. Also, it just annoys me to call someone else's site for anything within my domain. Oh I do it all the time in order to make deals happen, but it still annoys me. If you are going to drop a page tag (LOATH), put it at the end of your content so it loads last on the page after the used has their content, and you might even consider putting it in an iFrame if you or someone else is measuring your response time and you can beat the penalty by putting it inside the iFrame.

- Creative, Placement, Offer: An important concept related to advertising tracking. Every promotion that you use should be tagged with three id's, creative, placement, and offer, and these three variables should be recorded for every visit to your site. You will not need more than that, and if you use less, your tracking, segmentation, and optimization will become necessarily convoluted in order to accomplish your goals. Examples: creative = ABCD123 = 160x600 wide sky with the smiley face on it, placement = EFGH567EFGH = yahoo mail message sent page, offer = IJKL987 = buy 1 today and get one at 50% off.

- Visit table: For each visitor to your site, assign a session id that is absolutely unique and persistent through the visit. Attach all the standard http header info that you can stand to swallow with the session id as the primary key. I usually hold server timestamp, ip address, referring url, inbound url, and useragent at an absolute minimum, and it is nice to hold things like does the user accept cookies, what time zone are they in, what is their screen size, do they accept javascript, do they accept flash, quicktime, etc.

- Cookies: If the visitor does accept cookies, and has a cookie from you from something prior, attach the cookie number to the visit. This is where it is really nice to serve your own ads so that you can cookie on adserve and really track the marketing lifetime cost of a user. Some people like to put data in the cookie, some just like to drop a cookie number and do a db lookup for all the profile information, etc. I favor the latter but it doesn't really make too much difference and the latter can be more systems intensive.

- Userid: If the user logs in, grab that userid of course. You can use this to stitch together cookie erasers too by seeing a different cookie upon each visit. Presumably you can hold an obfuscated userid in a cookie. Make sure you differentiate in data between an authenticated userid and a cookied/remembered userid.

- Serial number: If you have something else that is stickier than a cookie on a site like a piece of installed software with a serial number, grab that too of course, and you can tie things together even better than with Cookie or userid potentially. For instance, you can re-populate the same cookie id and/or cookie data on subsequent visits if you have cookie information stored in your database (at least the most important cookie information like testing markers and userids. ou can use this same method to join different cookie ids together later using things like shipping address, payment information, etc.

- Page requests: Each time the user requests a page on the site, write the session id and timestamp of the request. You can also add super important things like log in state, userid, field entry data, as you see fit. Also, it is nice to be able to differentiate which link someone used to get to a page if there are multiple paths (eg, the home page link in page text vs the logo in the upper left corner). Among many other things, you can use this table to ssee which products people viewed but did not put in their shopping cart. This can help organize yourr site to convert best.

- Transactional tables: Almost don't need to mention this, but you will hold things like shopping cart data, shipping address, etc as needed to make your site work. Just make sure that you tie a session id to each of these and you will be able to trace everything that happens on the site back to creative, placement, and offer that brought you the transactions. Normally, hold a cart id for each shopping session that starts to build a cart, all the product in the cart, then if they check out you can join the cart to a payment table, shipping table, etc.

- Test tags: if you are doing random testing, somewhere you need to store which user experience a visitor to your site received and enforce persistence.

Sounds simple, but no one ever does this out of the box, and you need it to Market effectively.

3rd Party Marketing Tracking Systems (Web Bugs, ick)

A smart developer I once worked with, Andres, called this a web bug system. When he built it back in 2000 (I think?), it was the first one that I had ever heard about, though likely others were also built around that time. Since that job, I have either had a similar system built or wished I had a web bug serving system at every company I worked for.

Here's the deal: web bugs, transparent gifs, 1x1 tracking pixels, whatever, are nasty as far as I am concerned. If you haven't worked with them before, here's how it goes. Let's say that ABC advertising is sending traffic to my site, but I only have to pay them when a customer purchases something on the site. I could just look in my database and tell them how many people purchased from the ones they referred to me, I could even ping them in real time or send data to an API they built for that purpose. But laziness is much more prevalent than trust, so web bugs are used most of the time instead. I put an image on my checkout/confirmation page with ABC advertising's domain, and then when my customer's browser calls that image, they can count the purchase. They can also look for their cookie on the customer's machine, and tie each conversion to a specific referral. To make things even juicier, they could see and demand payment for any purchaser that they sent in the last 7 days or the last 30 days because they introduced the customer to your site making it more likely they were going to use your services. They could even see customers that they never referred and infer something about those customers based on the fact that they are using your site (just bought a camera? maybe I should market memory sticks to you).

More recently, some of these tracking pixels were being blocked by browser plugins and privacy schemes, so many of these tags have been getting switched from image tags to java script calls. Since the privacy plugins do not know if the java script is there for tracking or actual page functionality, it would be a little riskier for them to block a java script call automatically. Also java script can suck a lot more information out and do a lot more than a simple image call. For instance, some ad networks get the java script call and drop a whole bunch of image tags on the page automatically. By the time you get dozens of different advertisers and networks and some of them piggy-backing dozens of tags onto one java script call, you can end up with a lot of tags calling all over the place, and you can also end up with more than one advertiser claiming responsibility and demanding payment for your referral if you are not careful.

So build yourself a web bug system like that works like this:

- Query string tagging: Tie inbound query string parameters and their values to firing a web bug. For instance, tell Yahoo to use the link when they send traffic to your site. tid is short for tracking id, and it tells the web bug system which web bug to fire. So Yahoo will get a RightMedia web bug for any traffic they refer, but their web bug or javascript will not fire when someone else comes to the site with a tid=54321 query string in there.

- General regular expression matching: Ideally, your system should not only accept tidd, but be able to look for any query string parameter/value pair that you put into a regular expression matcher of sorts. This is because occasionally you will get publishers that are picky about the URLs they are sending traffic to you with. It may also allow you to minimize the number of query strings on the inbound url, which is more consumer friendly.

- Trigger events: Create a set of actions that can trigger firing the web bugs. So in my example above, I talked about the checkout page having a web bug on it. You might also want one for user registration, email newsletter sign up, whatever you are going to pay marketers for. Some marketers and partners may want one on the landing page so they can count total referrals, and some may want a tag on all of your pages so they can monitor their referral's use of your site (yuck!!!! but it does happen). In the end, you may end up with 3 or 4 events, which combined with a query string parameter/value pair on the inbound, cause you to fire a web bug.

- Persistence: If you want to get advanced, use your own cookie to look for and credit prior referrals. This will make publishers that want to get paid for all conversions in the next 30 days happy. So here's how it goes, assign a web bug stickiness when referral shows up the first time. For example, all hotmail referrals get a web bug on checkout page from this time through the next X days. Maybe Yahoo referrals are sticky for 30 days and Google referrals are only sticky for 7 days. Regardless, if the cookie with the sticky visit shows up again, you would still fire the web bug for them, so you have to start looking at the cookie id on the way in for this as well as checking the query string. Not too bad really.

- Precedence: Complication arises if you want to avoid throwing multiple tags for the same person. What if someone came from Yahoo 24 days ago and Google 2 days ago. Do you fire both? Well, it depends. If you really want to get this right, you would fire any tag which is used for tracking but not payment. But if you are using the tag for payment, you would only fire the tag for the one that sent you a referral most recently, regardless of deadline. You can get really convoluted with precedence rules if you want, but what I just listed is quite enough really.

- Cache busting: one last thing, when the web bug fires, many people want a random non-repeating number thrown into the URL somewhere. Sometimes as a query string, sometimes in the directory structure, sometimes more than once in a single URL. They are trying to make sure the browser does not grab a cached image so the browser actually calls the remote server for the image again. So you should have a cache buster variable you can substitute into the web bug call URL or query string at will.

Tags: webbug, tracking, pixel, publisher, referral, gif, transparent
Wednesday June 18, 2008 - 05:25pm (PDT) Permanent Link | 0 Comments

Sharon Baker from Shortcuts, tips on viral Marketing

These are pretty basic but interesting nonetheless.

> Tip #1. Leverage existing online communities

Try those online communities – we don't mean Facebook.

Seeding agencies
Baker and her team used agencies to help plant their viral seed. Companies like BzzAgent and SheSpeaks organize consumers who like to try new products and services. If they like a product, they are encouraged (but not required) to spread the word about it. These communities are predisposed to word-of-mouth, Baker says.

"I'm a participant in [similar] viral communities. You do talk about them naturally to say, 'Hey, I'm a part of this community and you get to try these great products.' "
Local shopping tips
Baker is leveraging services that offer local shopping tips in the regions Shortcuts services. For example, DailyCandy sends free shopping-tip emails in a range of metropolitan areas and has mentioned Shortcuts. These sites are frequented by frugal mavens – people who love sharing shopping tips with friends.

> Tip #2. Offer an incentive

Consumers appreciate a good service – especially when it's free. But they like additional incentives even more. Baker and her team give registrants a $2 credit on their next grocery bill in addition to the coupon savings. The credit is an incentive to try the service and mention it to friends.

> Tip #3. Reach community experts

Experts populate every field. Most have a website. Baker reached out to The Coupon Mom, Stephanie Nelson, a regular media source. Baker does not solicit coverage from experts (though she's not averse to doing so in the future). Instead, she makes sure the experts are aware of Shortcuts and its mission.

> Tip #4. Talk to customers at the point of sale

Shortcuts favors in-store promotions, reaching customers while they buy groceries. Customers can find brochures and trained clerks donning Shortcuts pins at the checkout. They also host in-store registration events, where customers can learn more about the service, sign up and receive the $2 credit.

"It resonates with consumers to be at the place where they're actually doing their shopping," she says.

> Tip #5. Talk to customers in real-world social groups

Baker works with promotion agencies that target local grassroots organizations. She gets Shortcuts brochures distributed to groups like the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) in regions with participating stores. The meetings are social events, prime ground for viral buzz, and are usually dominated by Shortcuts' core demographic: coupon moms.

> Tip #6: Get on the news

Shortcuts is newsworthy because the technology could replace an American staple – clipping coupons. It can be discussed also in the context of the slowing economy – a daily news topic.

Also, local community news is a great conversation starter. Baker and her team work to become part of the news. They said they have scored a lot of local print, TV and radio coverage through standard story pitching and press releases.

> Tip #7. Balance with other efforts

Viral marketing is not the only strategy Baker says she uses. Word-of-mouth is a part of a larger marketing campaign that involves:

Search engine marketing
Online banner advertising
Emailing AOL's members

Still, viral marketing is important, Baker says: "Twenty-five percent of our existing users have come from hearing about [Shortcuts] from somebody else, a viral source, as opposed to a targeted marketing effort through paid media."

> Tip #8. Watch what works

Baker's team scans the Web constantly looking for Shortcuts mentions. You can track your mentions through Google Alerts – a free service that sends immediate updates when Google's spiders encounter your keywords.

A Shortcuts blog or news mention usually means an uptick in registrations, sometimes as much as 30% to 40% higher than the previous week, Baker says.

Sharon Baker of AOL Shortcuts will speak at the ad:tech Chicago conference August 5-6. For information on it and other upcoming conferences, go to
Tags: "aolshortcuts",, "viralmarketing", "viralonlinemarketing"
Wednesday July 16, 2008 - 02:02pm (PDT) Permanent Link | 0 Comments

Good Internet Marketing Book Reccomendations

I should really sign up as an Amazon affiliate before I put book titles in here, but lately the blog list has been so screwy no one will find this stuff anyway. Here are some of my favorite internet marketing books. Not all of them are about the internet per se, but I have found them all extremely applicable to the internet.

Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini: Excellent book about why we buy at a core Psychology level. Heavily refers to automobile sales techniques as well as prisoner of war techniques, but many others in there as well. I had a hard time putting this book down.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing - Violate Them at Your Own Risk! by Al Ries, Jack Trout: Good general Marketing book and a quick read. Especially well focused on branding and to develop branding strategy. A very quick read too.

Designing Web Usability, by Jakob Nielson: This classic web usability book should be read by everyone in this business to see a nice, disciplined way of approaching and thinking about things.

Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to We Usability, by Steve Krug: This book has some good basic usability points and then has some good tips for guerrilla usability testing on a shoestring budget. A very quick read too.

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large Scale Web Sites, by Paul Rosenfeld and Peter Morville: Good basics of group structure and how and why we approach problems a particular way in web world. A classic book.

Why We Buy, by Paco Underhill: This was really written more as a visual retail book or perhaps a brick usability book, but there is still a lot of good things in here to get you inside the head of shoppers. The internet section is antiquated :-)

Web resources: Need to move my link list over here too, but for now I want to hold this one for posterity.

Cool Internet Customer Support Concepts - web 2.0 style

Customer and Community support is a great thing. It can help generate buzz and fanatics for your site. It can answer people's questions. Here are some of the online resources and places I like for customer support. - a site where customers can help other customers answer questions. Essentially community supported faq's for your site. Cool huh?

4q - I have to admit, I would probably build this rather than share the data with a third party, but I have done this concept before and it works great. A simple survey for your site visitors can tell you a lot about customer perception and site health.

jing - free screen cap recording software, including full motion video so you can record an expert user on your site for others to watch.

Reviews - I know of two pretty cool review sites you can incorporate. Buzzilions and Bazaarvoice - Buzzillions is even free I believe (funded by referral fees).

Monday, September 8, 2008

Website measurement for Optimization - it's more than conversion

I see a lot of people A-B testing to try to optimize "conversion". I don't mind using conversion as a short-hand metaphor, but I hope everyone knows that there is a lot more to life than the top end conversion number. Ultimately, a website should be optimizing strategic performance. And while a major element of strategic success is normally profitability which can be correlated to conversion, there is more to it than that, and even top end conversion is too high a level to optimize to if you have significant traffic volume.

Examples of strategic goals which are not exactly top-end conversion:

  • Traffic - if you are going to sell your company at some point, the number of unique visitors can ultimately be worth a lot. Also, there may be economies of scale that come with being first in a market segment. And there may be long term strategic value in running competitors out of the market space by taking all of the traffic away at slim to no margin in the short run.
  • Return rates - it is possible to maximize conversion on a per visitor basis but hurt return rates. Since repeat traffic is often free vs spending to get traffic to your site, you may be hurting your long term profitability. If you are in a cash crunch, fine, but you should at least be aware of what you are doing here and do it deliberately.
  • Micro-conversion rates - the top-end conversion might get hurt, but some conversions within your funnel might improve. There may be things to learn and adjust by looking at small local conversions.
  • Segmentation - just because your overall conversion rate did not change does not mean that conversion in some segments did not go way up or down.
  • Long term profitability - When optimizing profitability, you really want to optimize the long term value of each visitor to your site so you can maximize returns. The only trouble is that it takes a while to get a good vintage analysis of long term value for everyone, and you can measure upfront conversion right away. Take care not to move too fast and sacrifice long term returns for the quick 10% increase in conversion. Make sure you look back after a while and see what the long term impact of a change is. And make sure you have the ability to measure it. It is typically one of the more challenging things to measure.

Of course, measure conversion too!

If you measure and use segments that your web server is aware of, you can show different behavior on your site to different visitors and optimize conversion for each little segment. Examples of things your web server can be aware of include:

  • Referral source - the url email link vs search vs display vs the red banner vs the green banner, etc
  • behavior on your site - visitors that looked at digital cameras, people that registered for your newsletter, folks that have previously visited, previously purchased, logged in currently, etc. There are even third parties that will tell you information about your traffic for a fee based on cookies which they have dropped around the web. I don't like using these for privacy reasons, but they are out there.

Well, this is a start on a measurement and optimization metrics list. I will edit and improve this list over time. Do you have example metrics besides conversion critical for your strategic success that you would like to share to help me improve this post?