Is Privacy dead, or just too hard?

Lorrie Faith Cranor and Aleecia McDonald from Carnegie Mellon conducted a study recently which repositioned the lack of online privacy as a time issue.

They reported “To read every [online] privacy policy you encountered in a single year would take 76 work days……”

So we all want our time online to be a more private affair, but find it impossible to wade through the policies and figure out what’s what? Further, even if you had the time to read them, would anyone but a Privacy Specialist understand them, and worse, be willing to forgo the benefits brought by Facebook and Google in an effort to maintain some sort of online anonymity? I suspect not in each case.

It’s hard to see how to solve this issue.

At a minimum it would seem appropriate to provide a simplified privacy policy, which would at least encourage consumers to become familiar with the terms they are signing up to. Controlling what your cookies are used for may also be key, Personalisation, yes, targeted advertising, no.

Over time I worry that the role of government will be to reign in on the issue if left unsolved, which would be a bad outcome for all.

Google Analytics – Top 3 Features for Ecommerce; A Digest

This post was written by Boris Gefter – freelance Acquisition Guru and consultant to 57 Signals.

Google analytics (GA) is rubbished more often than not by Omniture diehards and hardcore data analysts. They bleat persistently about their inability to feed GA with non-standard data (outside the scope of what the javascript captures) and readily extract the data (in the way you can with a data cube). But these guys are locked in time, probably still awaiting the arrival of the iPhone 3!GA has evolved in a fantastic way over the past 3 years! In its evolution it has made available rich data to those that care to harness it. But what is more impressive, is how easy and intuitive it is to use the interface and find answers to questions a sophisticated online store owner may ask. But, let me curb my Google appraisals for the time being, lest this blog post be censored by the powers that be. 😉

Jumping right in, here are my three favourite GA features (and there are many!)

1. Google URL Builder.

A humble servant of GA’s ability to capture and store url parameters. It is surprising how many people do not know that this functionality exists! The standard user will be used to viewing the “Traffic Sources Overview” report, but when you want to know what campaign, keyword, ad or placement on which network and partner has resulted in a sale, coding your own unique URLs could not be easier. Then, when it comes to retrieving this information, you can rely on your friend ‘Custom Reporting’….

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2. Custom Reporting:

The humble tab that sits atop the interface is the key to unlocking analytics glory. For those that know and love pivot tables and data cubes, GA has a gift for you. For those that are new to looking at dimensions and metrics, they key is not to be intimidated by the blank canvas. Start playing around, adding metrics (things that are measurable) such as time on page or conversion rate (if you have ecommerce tracking enabled) is really easy. Dimensions (what describes the data) can be configured to retrieve information that you coded into the Google URL builder in step two, by adding “Source” and “medium” alongside the metrics you are interested in.

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As an example, say you wanted to find out how successful your google adwords campaigns are (which you had already coded with the url tool, as seen above), you can simply add source as one of your dimensions and the relevant metrics such as visits and number of transactions as shown in this example. Then, you can filter by the source code which you coded in your URL tool.

The key, is figuring out what question you want to answer first, and then what sort of information will help you answer that question, then validating any data using common sense!

3. Conversion Segments/The Repunzel Report:

What if I told you that you were potentially losing out on more than 50% of your revenue by under-investing in a particular form of advertising. Wouldn’t that be valuable? This is where the “Conversion Segments” or “The Repunzel Report” as I have dubbed it (due to the fact that it is hidden in the top left corner of the analytics tower) becomes extremely valuable.

First let me assist the budding princes willing to use this report. You need to have ecommerce tracking enabled and implemented correctly on your site, then you can make your way into the conversions tab>multi-channel funnels>top conversion paths, then navigate to the top left section of the page to find conversion segments. Simple, right?

Now that you have found it, you can filter the potential traffic sources by first and last interaction. Whilst, the philosophy of attribution can be a prickly one, I like to refer to reports such as these to understand where advertising money is going and how much impact it is having.

What you can see from the example below is that paid advertising on a “last touch” basis, is reporting $140k+ worth of revenue, whereas on a “first touch” basis (where the value of the transaction is attributed to the first channel that brought the customer to the site in a default 30 day window) there is over $220K+ worth of revenue to be had. Now imagine that you are only spending $100K on advertising, thinking that it is only bringing in $140K, when, if you look at your conversions through the “first touch” lens, you can see that there is potentially more value to be had from your advertising dollar!

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I often like using first touch attribution to model the efficacy of acquisition channels because it is simple, and usually rather effective. This model can become complicated by things like remarketing and more diverse marketing channel portfolios. But, hopefully, this report will, at the very least get you thinking about the complexity of multichannel advertising interactions and spark a discussion about what is the right approach for your company in modelling and tracking conversions.

As much as I love diving into data and exploring new features of GA, I am always weary of tempering my enthusiasm to extract findings with solid statistics, common sense and other analytics tools (where possible). Having noted this, it is very easy to become intimidated with analytics tools and software. Which is why, often there is no substitute for simply getting your hands dirty with what tools like GA have to offer. I hope this post helps to make some of the less accessible features of GA more manageable.

Does Microsoft’s Surface announcement mean the Courier is still possible?

courier

As a design study the Courier was a tremendous success back in 2010, but as a PR exercise it was something far more sinister.

I heard when I was visiting Microsoft HQ in Redmond that Microsoft had made the Courier concept public to demonstrate what could be built on the Windows platform and had provided the build specs to at least one OEM, however the Courier quickly turned from an innovative design exercise into an unfortunate metaphor for their inability to compete with Apple.

It made no real sense to me at the time that Microsoft was actually going to build the Courier, however with the announcement of their Surface Tablet, I clearly don’t know shit.

Regardless that Microsoft obsesses about competing with Apple (And Google for that matter) the fact is Microsoft doesn’t compete head to head with Apple, their OEM partners do, such as DELL, Sony and HP. Those same OEMs are are on the Android bandwaggon as a fashonable and low cost alternative to Windows. Faced with flagging consumer relevance and an uncomfortable 3-way with Google, Microsoft clearly had two options, try to woo the channel and win them back from Google, or go head to head, Google style!

Google led the way in Partner-shafting when they formed the Open Handset Alliance to build Andriod powered phones whilst building its own Nexus device to compete with it! But then, Google always seem to struggle with the notion of boundaries. Microsoft, on the other hand, seemed to take a Partner-first approach.

Microsoft is in a sticky spot for sure. I mentioned before that Microsoft could hold its breath for a long time, meaning that it could afford to make short term sacrifices for the long term good, but those old lungs are not what they used to be, which, combined with an astonishing run for Apple, has clearly led to new thinking in Redmond. I can’t see how this is winning.

Small Businesses beware, Google is poaching your customers!

While pondering the implications of the Contextual Ads in Gmail I put myself in the position of an unsuspecting small business owner, and was amazed to learn just how focused Google was on introducing my customers to my competitors!

The Google ad platform does an incredible job of identifying an email’s context and finding the highest paying, or most clickable ad to match that context. In a setting like Gmail that means digitally reading the email from the Subject Line to the Body of the email to the Sender’s Signature, using that collected data to identify the email’s context and then finding the most suitable set of advertisers to display when the Gmail-using recipient is reading the email.

Here’s an example, check out the ads on the right (Also note that clicking on “More about…” will open a page with multiple Landscaping ads):

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Gmail’s advertising engine is devastatingly effective here having served ads that are not only relevant to the subject of the email, but also to the geography of the recipient, making the ads a very potent way for those advertisers to “poach” the sender’s customers. But where does that leave poor Grassy Bass Landscaping? By sending a quote to a potential customer I have inadvertently surfaced a number of competitors, hardly seems fair! One way to minimise the impact of Google’s poaching prowess is to avoid building context through the subject line or body of the email, right now it doesn’t look like attachments are read so use the attachment to describe the work instead. That’s not ideal, but it may just avoid Gmail surfacing your most aggressive competitors right next to your mail.

Any small business that thinks Gmail is just another harmless, free webmail product should think again, it’s your competitors’ dream ticket to finding your customers after you have done all the hard work, adopt it as your own email provider at your peril.

UPDATE : In the Virtual Revolution, broadcast in the UK on the 15th February, the presenter raises these same concerns about Google’s approach to Privacy and Advertising Everywhere, some interesting perspectives here – Gmail is discussed at 1:44sec. [Note that this link will be broken if this video has not been authorised by the publisher]

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Microsoft Socl, nice try, but not quite right.

SOCL

I still have a soft spot for the Bellevue Behemoth, I enjoy a Windows Phone 7 after all! Yet I can’t hide my disappointment with their new G+/Pinterest competitor So.cl having logged in for the first time today.

There was a time only a few years back when a Consumer Preview or Beta could be rough-as-guts bad – and early adopters would still evangelise the intent even though they had to cut the execution some slack!

However I think the world has moved on. Looking at innovation through a Lean Startup lens it feels appropriate to cut features in favour of capability when time to market is important. Yet what Microsoft have done with So.cl is enabled 100% of the product features at the expense of capability, in fact, I get errors at pretty much every turn!

In such a competitive market, when trial, adoption and subsequent user engagement/feedback is so critical, I think Microsoft are about the blow the advocacy available from that first wave of geek-adopters as a result of their surprisingly poor execution, a potentially fatal blow for a Network-effects dependent platform.

As an innovator the formula to success seems straightforward, annoy fewer customers than you delight and your advocacy will grow.

Sadly, Microsoft are engaging on a very dangerous battlefield with So.cl, I imagine their their enemies are moving in for the kill already. Another Wave anyone?

Google, a lot like a corrupt SatNav!

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Google commands tens of millions of dollars each year (probably hundreds) through knowingly selling brand terms through AdWords (such as “cudo” for our business). Yet, users are increasingly using Google for everyday web navigation, so they knew where they wanted to go, they just wanted Google to help them get there.

This is a lot like punching a restaurant’s address into your satnav, but being taken to the highest bidding restaurant instead!

And as businesses grow their sophistication in SEO and they establish their listing at the top of the Organic pile for free. Allowing competitors to purchase a business’s brand term means the target business also has to buy their own
brand term else there is a fair chance an unsuspecting user will click on the competitor’s link, commanding unnecessary dollars from at least two businesses! This has lead to a Mexican Standoff between Group Buying sites, including the seven or so competitors currently spending their dollars on the term “Cudo” today.

In itself this is not necessarily evil of Google, it is opportunistic though.

However, once a business has been granted a trade mark they can then protect their brand from being bought on Google by law, yet Google seems to be oddly slow at applying any kind of block to AdWords, milking yet more dollars from a potentially struggling business over the 3 to 6 months it takes to limit the term in AdWords (Google may not block the term altogether!).

Why is it so hard to protect my mark on the world’s most sophisticated Search platform? Yahoo! and Bing seem to behave much less like a Corrupt SatNav with a clear policy on Trade Marks.

At Cudo we are spending over $50k each month buying our brand term on Google, that’s one expensive Mexican Standoff!

See below for an excerpt from a Trademark Case Study, found here

“Trademark Case Study

A Google Adwords client, who is a leader in the very competitive Network Marketing field, recently noticed a surge of infringements against their trademark which was being used in competitor ad copy on the Google Network.  Competition within the Network Marketing industry is extremely competitive and aggressive. The client became aware that their competitors were bidding on their trademarked search terms. This caused the cost to secure top positions for their ads to skyrocket from an initial $2.00 per click to $15.00 per click. Monthly expenditures increased from $1,200 to nearly $30,000. The estimated budget increased to $500,000+ for the year. Control of the top ad space in Google was their primary objective in order to dominate the ad-space for their branded trademarked term.

Given the level of aggression by the competitors and the extortionate cost been borne by the client, there was only one solution and that was to stop all advertisers from bidding on the terms.  Is it right that a business owner has to spend $500,000+ to buy their own branded name – a name that has already cost them millions of dollars to build?  This is $500,000+ the trademark owner has to spend because of a policy that disavows elementary business ethics.  Yahoo and MSN have recognized the injustice of such a slippery-slope policy and have taken steps to change it.  We filed trademark infringements with all three search egnines.  Yahoo and MSN results were clear within days.”

Google still thinking about search, apparently!

English: The relationship and evolution in Int...
English: The relationship and evolution in Internet Search Business (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was struck by how seldom I hear of Google’s search endeavours when I read about the recent release of their updated Search Algorithm, codenamed Caffeine. Given Paid Search accounts for 96% of G’s revenues you’d think it would be the focus of most of their efforts? It doesn’t look that way. Can Google’s solitary cash cow really be getting too little focus from the Mountain View Mafia?

The Caffeine Algo promises significantly fresher results as well as an adapted architecture etc etc – but it’s primary focus has to be on maintaining revenue momentum when the vast majority of effort seems to be focused elsewhere. More than ever, Google has to defend its position in search, not only is Microsoft is about to land its much vaunted Yahoo! partnership providing the first real chance of competing with Google, but there is the problem of a wholesale shift away from Web Search as the primary navigation tool in favour of Social tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

The cracks are already showing, Google’s Q1 Revenues were $6.77bn, up 23% from last year of which 96% relates to search. Clearly Google’s revenues will be hard to improve on through share gain, given their already dominant position, leaving only the increase in Internet Population, Searches per User and Revenue per Search as the growth levers. Google’s numbers show only a 7% YoY uplift in Cost per Click and a 15% YoY uplift in Paid Clicks, so that leaves only the Growth in Internet Population and the number of searches conducted by each to fuel growth – each under threat for the reasons listed above.

Taking a very long  term perspective, Apple and Microsoft were incorporated 25 and 35 years ago respectively, it looks like Google’s Cash Cow will dry up long before they find an alternative source of revenues and never at the yields offered by Search. The fan boys won’t be pleased.