Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Can “You” Damage Your Company’s Reputation?

Can “You” Damage Your Company’s Reputation?
By Steve Plunkett

While it’s true that a large portion of the population still gets the bulk of its news from traditional media outlets like the television news and newspapers, there are other members of the population that have expanded the scope of where they get their news. They were the “You” of TIME Magazine’s famed “Person of the Year” for 2006. By choosing “You,” the magazine was talking about people that ingest, filter and re-supply hundreds, if not thousands, of bits of information via a variety of news sources in a sort of new electronic version of word of mouth. The term du jour is “citizen journalist,” and it’s important to know what makes these influencers tick – because, while they sometimes say good things about your company, there’s an awful lot of negative information being posted on the Web by these people. Your company needs to be aware of what’s going on so you can protect yourself from “You.”
To demonstrate the power of citizen journalism and its influence, consider the following example: Last year, I was unhappy about my treatment at a particular auto dealership so I blogged about it. To this day, if you put the name of the automobile dealership into a search engine, one of the first results that comes up is my blog entry, which recounts my experience from a factual perspective. While I won’t go into great detail here, let’s just say that all of the potential customers that click on my blog before clicking the auto dealer’s website link may think twice before heading over to that dealership.
It’s important to remember that “You” can work fast to report on a product or service. How fast? Well, all it takes for “You” to be an instant media outlet is Internet access and a camera phone, which are both plentiful these days. If your company releases a product, “You” can be the first to purchase it then publish a video and review of it on a blog and/or YouTube within minutes. If the original blog has a downstream blog feed enabled, that blog post shows up on someone else’s blog (or several blogs). By sending out a MySpace bulletin or posting a comment with a link, “You” can touch even more people. “You” may then stop over at CNet and drop some comments about the original blog entry. Reuters and the Washington Post have blogs that allow users to leave comments, too. Oops, I almost forgot to mention that hundreds of TV stations, radio stations, newspapers and magazines have blogs that will allow users to post comments.
Within minutes, that original review of your company’s product will be linked to on websites and posted in the comments sections of blogs all over the Web. Before long, it will begin creeping its way toward the top of the search engine results. That means that when someone types in the name of your product in a search engine, that original blog post may come up as one of the top results. You may be thinking, “Wow! That’s great free publicity!” But what if the original blog post is a slam of your new product, or what if that customer bought a defective unit or is using your product ineffectively or improperly and, for millions of people, the first impression of your product is a negative one?
How can your company avoid this? Work with a knowledgeable Search Engine Optimization (SEO) provider. It’s a simple solution that can help to make sure your company website comes up first – ahead of “non-official” websites – in the search engine results for searches on your company’s name and product. That way, people get your official company information instead of what “You” had to say.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cracking the code of teens' IM slang

Cracking the code of teens' IM slang CNET News.com: "For parents of teens, three-letter acronyms like PAW, MOS and CD9 might be more disturbing than the old four-letter words.
Call it a sign of the times. Most teens are like a duck to water when it comes to instant messaging and mobile text messaging, where acronyms and slang can be used to keep outsiders guessing. But for parents who likely aren't as comfortable with IM slang: PAW means 'parents are watching'; MOS is 'mom over shoulder'; and CD9 means 'Code 9' for when parents are around. Research shows that one in four kids use such lingo daily to warn their chat friends of prying eyes."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Pontiac Dealers Dallas-Ft.Worth

Google This.
by Steve Plunkett

In June of this year Google was added to the Oxford English Dictionary as a verb, then to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary in July. Here is the definition:

“to search for information on the Internet, esp. using the Google search engine”

Before this, General Motors ran a commercial during the Super Bowl for its Pontiac brand. The TV spot showed the letters p-o-n-t-i-a-c being typed into a Google search field instead of giving the Web address www.Pontiac.com. The voiceover said, "Don't take our word for it. Google ‘Pontiac’ to find out!"

You might think “Gee, that’s clever and hip!” Well, someone else obviously did – and sold the idea to Pontiac. It may be clever and hip, but Pontiac is sending people to a place where it has no control over the content.

The agency representing Mazda, on the other hand, knew a little bit more about search engines. It bought ads on Google because Mazda had information that compared its models to Pontiac models. When car shoppers Googled “Pontiac,” like the Pontiac commercial told them to do, the search results included a webpage that sold Mazda as a better choice than Pontiac. In essence, Mazda used Pontiac’s investment to “piggyback” some of its own advertising. Pretty shrewd move by Mazda. And Pontiac didn’t learn anything from the experience.

Which brings me to, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.” Pontiac now runs similar spots in local markets. While watching television the other night, I saw a Pontiac ad that said, “Just Google ‘Pontiac dealers dallas-ft.worth,’” so I did. The results were pay-per-click ads for a few local Pontiac dealers. Problem is, studies show that quite a few people never click on pay-per-click ads. (Think about it; do you?) So, out of the predictably tiny percentage of viewers who actually did go to their computers and Google “Pontiac dealers dallas-ft.worth,” perhaps a fraction actually clicked the pay-per-click links to learn more. What a waste.

And for Pontiac, the story gets even worse.

When publishers announced that they would include the verb “Google” in their dictionaries, I blogged about the story. And because I used the phrase “Just Google Pontiac” in my post, guess what came up first in Google’s search results for “Pontiac dealers dallas-ft.worth.” Yep, my blog beat out the actual Pontiac website and the local Pontiac dealers’ websites.

Being the SEO specialist that I am, I decided to experiment and try some of my Internet magic. Today, when you Google “Pontiac dealers dallas-ft.worth,” the first result will be the article you’re reading right now. Still not Pontiac or Pontiac dealer websites. I can’t tell you how I did it. It’s a trade secret. But go ahead and try it.

The point is Pontiac has given up entirely too much control over its own advertising. A competitor or a prankster with the right Internet skills could hijack all of the company’s hard work, actually using Pontiac’s investment to take business away from Pontiac.

Pontiac spent millions producing TV spots, buying airtime and reserving pay-per-click ads. To put it mildly, someone is spending a lot of money poorly.

Pontiac should have hired an organic SEO specialist simply to optimize the websites for individual dealers and, in place of pay-per-click ads, the website of the North Texas Pontiac Dealers. If they had done that, the company would’ve saved itself a lot of money – and they’d be number one in Google instead of me, an SEO specialist with a blog.

At a time when GM needs a happier ending, “the rest of the story” could’ve been far more profitable.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

August PowerLunch:Secrets of Internet Marketing with Steve Plunkett

August PowerLunch:Secrets of Internet Marketingwith Steve Plunkett
Thursday, August 3 Harrah’s Reno11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
He’s been at the front edge of web-marketing for more than a decade.
He was involved with the search engines Yahoo! and WebCrawler in their “early days” serving as a beta tester.
He was an early editor for both Yahoo! Directory and Netscape’s Open Directory Project in 1998.
Today, he offers clients a wide array of results-oriented services including web site development, strategy and planning, and pay-per-click advertising in addition to organic search engine optimization (SEO).
Join us Thursday, August 3 at 11:30 a.m. for lunch and insights from Steve Plunkett, M/C/C’s Director of Internet Marketing, a pioneer and present day guru of web-marketing.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Compensating Click Fraud's Victims

Objections to Google's $90 million click fraud settlement spark debate over the best way to make good to companies harmed by the practice
Click fraud has become an all-too-common risk of doing business on the Net. Even companies that say the practice isn't widespread nevertheless concede it happens. They agree that advertisers should be compensated when their ads are clicked on by scam artists hoping to make a quick buck, rather than by genuine Web surfers looking for information on a product or service.
But exactly how to compensate—and protect—those companies is a matter of heated debate. The question takes center stage in an Arkansas court, where a judge will decide as soon as July 25 whether $90 million sufficiently compensates tech titan Google's (GOOG ) advertisers and their lawyers for "click fraud."
It's clear there are flaws in the current system, whereby companies pay fees based on the number of times an ad gets a click. Malicious computer users can exploit the so-called pay-per-click arrangement favored by Google and Yahoo! (YHOO ) by repeatedly clicking on ads solely for the purpose of driving up advertising costs (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/27/06, "Click Fraud Gets Smarter").
COST OF BUSINESS? And, despite search-engine outfits' assurances that they are aggressively evaluating the validity of advertising hits, millions worth of fraudulent clicks are still making it onto advertisers' bills. Click Forensics, a San Antonio (Tex.)-based consulting service, estimates that 14.1% of advertising clicks were fraudulent in the second quarter. Other consultants, such as Burlingame (Calif.)-based Outsell, put the number closer to 15%, or roughly $800 million a year (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/07/06, "Counting Up Click Fraud's Toll"). "It is hard to find any other legitimate business where there is an accepted rate of 15% fraud," says Chuck Richard, Outsell's vice-president and lead analyst. "People won't accept that as the cost of doing business."
Least of all, the advertisers that have brought click fraud suits against all the major search engines, including Google, Miva (MIVA ), Looksmart, and Time Warner's (TWX ) AOL. In late June, Yahoo reached a settlement allowing advertisers who incurred click fraud costs since January, 2004, to file claims for cash rebates and credits. The company also set aside $4.95 million for attorney's fees.
Yahoo's decision to dole out rebates and credits on a case-by-case basis is one of four main models of coping with click fraud to emerge in recent months. Other methods: automatically issuing credits worth a portion of alleged fraudulent costs, establishing an independent board to evaluate Internet traffic and set advertising rates, and abolishing pay-per-click altogether, in favor of what's known as pay-per-action ads.
"FRACTION OF A CENT." The credit model is the one favored by Google, which set aside $60 million in advertising credits for aggrieved clients and $30 million to pay associated legal fees. But many advertisers object to that method, some of them preferring the settlement approach taken by Yahoo. In all, 51 objections were filed.
Darren Kaplan, an attorney with Atlanta-based Chitwood Harley Harnes, represents two objectors. He says Google's settlement is unfair, particularly in light of Yahoo's offer. "For every dollar of claimed click fraud the [plaintiffs] will receive a fraction of a cent," he says. "I've never seen a class action where the class received less than a cent in benefit. This is not a low watermark, this is where you go down to the shore and begin digging into the sand."
Google contends its solution is fairer to advertisers than Yahoo's. Google says it will not evaluate claims individually but will issue credits based on the amount of fraud claimed by companies that fill out the appropriate paperwork. In court filings, Google says "while that objection is meritless in its own right, it rings particularly hollow after the announcement of the California plaintiffs' settlement with Yahoo. As a result of that settlement, Yahoo itself will decide how many credits (or in a small number of cases, refunds) it will award to the subgroup of class members who are permitted to request reimbursement, and in which the remaining class members will receive no compensation at all." Google's lawyers, in court documents, also dispute the math used by attorneys like Kaplan.
SEEKING MONITORS. Other observers say neither approach is the right one. Consultants Click Forensics and Outsell argue that the Internet advertising industry needs a third-party service, similar to television ratings service Nielsen Media Research, that can independently evaluate how many clicks are legitimate and what advertisers should be charged. "We are advocating a third-party monitoring system similar to what Nielsen does for television," says Click Forensics spokeswoman Heidi Johnson. "We can actually use technology to monitor the clicks."
Outsell's Richard says the lawsuits are unlikely to go away without some uninterested third-party monitoring system. However, he thinks it is unlikely any such system will arise out of the debate over Google's settlement. "I opt for transparency, but I see no signs that [Google] is buying into that at all."
What Google is buying into: pay-per-action ads, which charge according to whether a computer user performs some verifiable action—such as providing an e-mail address on a registration form—after clicking on an ad. Other Web companies such as AOL and Snap.com are focusing on this kind of advertising.
But, many advertisers can't afford to set up extensive Web sites with action items, says Johnson. As a result, she thinks pay-per-click is here to stay. And chances are, until the industry picks a reimbursement model companies can live with, so are the lawsuits.