Day 3 and 4 in Ghana – Pencils of Promise Field Trip, SPI TV Episodes 21 and 22

Welcome to Day 3 and 4 in Ghana, combined into one post so that you can experience my last days in Ghana with the Pencils of Promise Team.

On Day 3 in Ghana, we spent most of our day on one particular site, but we didn’t just go to observe, we went to participate. Upon arrival, I saw that nearly 100 people were already working together to continue construction on a brand new school that was being built, and it was time to get our hands a little dirty and pitch in too.

It was amazing to see the entire community – men, women, young and old pitching in to build this school. They make it look easy, but it definitely was not!

On the 4th and final day of our trip, we visited two schools that are experimenting with brand new programs meant to give even more to these students beyond just the schools that were built. You’ll see an e-reader program, as well as something called the WASH program, which teaches hygiene and healthy hand washing habits.

This was an incredible, life-changing trip for me, and I’m so glad I was able to capture it on video for my family, and you too. I appreciate all of the support from the SPI Community, especially those who had donated to this campaign back in December of 2014.

I can’t wait to continue to work with Pencils of Promise in the future as a member of their board of advisors, as well as continue to do other things to help those in need around the world, and hopefully be a great example for my kids, and everyone else out there watching me, that it feels great to give.

Here’s to giving, and the start of even more…

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What Brands Need to Know Before Hijacking a Hashtag

Since the beginning of the advertising and marketing age, brands have always wanted to be part of our lives—from leisure and social activities to family time.

As new media like radio and television emerged, strategies for becoming an integral part of our lives began to develop. These mediums inspired new techniques like sponsored programs, brought to listeners and viewers by a specific sponsor.

One of the most famous radio plays of all time, which still remains relevant today in terms of the “gotcha” moment that often occurs with well orchestrated real-time marketing, is Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio play, which was so life-like that it sent citizens running from their homes fearing the end of the world. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), that broadcast had no sponsor.

Communications and technology have come a long way since then. We can do research on the Internet and scrutinize what we discover; we can discuss what we think on social media and analyze the actions of brands down to the most minute detail.

This represents a huge opportunity for brands to become more genuinely integrated with our lives. At Hootsuite, we often hear from customers who want to understand what’s trending in real time, so they can create content that is relevant and timely to benefit from a trend or live event.

One of the ways brands have tried to achieve this is by “trendjacking” or “hashtag-hijacking,” which is the act of using a hashtag that is currently trending on its own to promote their brand or product.

When trendjacking goes wrong

Trendjacking often has negative consequences for brands, especially when they either blindly or blatantly use trends about tragedies to peddle their wares. Examples of this include a major clothing company promoting their “Aurora” dress when they saw the word trending after the Colorado tragedy without checking to see why the word was getting attention, and a major retailer using #Sandy to sell clothing and housewares during while Hurricane Sandy battered the east coast of the United States.

Trendjacking should be avoided because:

  • It doesn’t feel natural (because it isn’t).
  • It has the potential to do more harm than good.
  • It isn’t sensitive to the realities of the trend.
  • It tries to directly sell on platforms that are meant for social interactions.

Why real-time marketing is better than trendjacking

A better strategy than blatant trendjacking is a more thoughtful form of real-time marketing, best personified by the famous Oreo image and Tweet from the 2013 Super Bowl, posted in real time when a blackout occurred during the game. Be ready during a big event and jump into the conversation in a fun, relevant, and (most importantly) non-offensive way. Direct selling is also frowned upon.

Another example involved a certain British royal living it up in Las Vegas, which spread throughout the world media. In response, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority posted a “royal decree” of their own using the hashtag #knowthecode, a reference to the tagline “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

Everyone is keen to be part of the larger conversations that occur throughout social networks. Real-time marketing still represents a risk, but it differs from trendjacking in that:

  • It is trend-conscious.
  • It is relevant.
  • It doesn’t directly sell.
  • It seeks to build on an existing conversation.
  • It steers into the wind and goes with the flow.
  • It works most of the time.

Even real-time marketing can suffer from the same pitfalls as trendjacking and the line between the two can blur significantly as shown in this insightful collection of branded attempts.

Opinions differ greatly—and often—about which real-time marketing examples are good and which cross the line. This is the greatest challenge for brands, and why it’s best to have things thoroughly reviewed in the context of recent events.

Budweiser’s recent label change campaign created an incredible maelstrom of negative feedback. In the context of recent events and general sentiment it would have been apparent to those reviewing the campaign that it was not going to be well-received.

Real-time marketing is now also being seen in widespread social movements that revolve around a viral trend or meme, like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. This is sensitive territory and can have major implications for brands. The Budweiser example really touched a nerve with a very top-of-mind subject (consent and sexual assault) with its reference to removing the word “no” from your vocabulary. This is the result of a social movement and conversation that either wasn’t considered by the team or was overlooked prior to printing what was likely millions of labels.

6 best practices for real-time marketing

To ensure your brand avoids any potential negative impact of real-time marketing while reaping the benefits of its possibilities, follow these best practices:

  1. Don’t try to sell—avoid showing your product.

  2. Be sensitive to the social cause and the core audiences involved.

  3. Don’t try to change the narrative—use the voice of the people.

  4. Let the cause take center stage and let your brand stand back. Way back.

  5. Don’t reuse old assets. Be conscious of the history the assets being used.

  6. If you are apprehensive in anyway wait for the dust to settle.

There are many more great stories and examples to share on the risks and rewards of brands getting involved with social causes and real-time marketing. With your help, I’ll be presenting these stories and sharing more insights this year at SXSW 2016. Vote now for my talk “Brands and Social Causes: Risks and Rewards” and share stories and your thoughts with me on Twitter: @KempEdmonds.

4 Social Media Trends that Change the Game for eCommerce Websites

We all know by now the importance of an effective social media strategy, and I’d bet at least 300 jelly beans that if you operate an eCommerce shop, you already have a social plan in place. If you don’t, now is the time to create one! While the holidays may still seem far away, September is “go” time for your social media strategy if you’re hoping to boost your holiday sales this winter. Check out Hootsuite and Volusion’s collaborative webinar, “Jumpstart Holiday Sales with Social Media” on Tuesday, September 1, to learn expert steps for getting started in the right direction.

Do you already have your social media strategy nailed down? That’s great, but allow me to throw a wrench in your plans (while peppering you with hardware metaphors). Although a concrete social media strategy is important, it doesn’t leave much room for adapting to the onslaught of ever-shifting trends in the social sphere that can build your marketing strategy into a shiny new house or dismantle it into a lumber pile.

But how do you know that you’re devoting time and resources to the right trends, instead of responding to every internet whim? Did you have any Facebook friends earlier this year who proudly declared, “Find me on Ello!” only to sheepishly return to Facebook three weeks later? How can you make sure you’re not about to commit the marketing equivalent of moving to Ello—dumping time, money and jelly beans (my chosen currency) into the ‘Next Big Social Disrupter’ only to hit a dead-end?

As an SEO Specialist and Social Media Strategist at Volusion, I work with eCommerce merchants, many of whom are small businesses, favoring tight-knit, targeted communities over mass-scale social dominance. My goal is to choose the right social media mix to fit my clients while measuring the short-term and long-term results.

Over time, patterns have emerged, leaving my online marketing team with a gold mine (or “jelly bean mine,” if you will) of social media trends that have proven themselves as nearly-universal fits for our eCommerce stores. Below are the winners:

1. Photo Apps & Visual Platforms

A quick survey of my team revealed that we are all professionally and personally obsessed with beautiful, visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. eCommerce stores, by their nature, are visual mediums; because prospective customers can’t test, try on, taste or feel the product, they’re going to have to rely solely on their ocular senses to make their decisions (until somebody invents Google Smell, that is! Hey Google, call me). That means it’s of the utmost importance for eCommerce stores to take high-quality, enticing photos of their products, and in doing so, they’ve already fought half the battle. Then they get to take their product photos to the spaces where the visual creatures hang out. Here are the trends you should know about regarding two of our favorite visual platforms:

  • Pinterest: In the past year and a half, Pinterest has pulled off the impressive feat of operating much more like a traditional search engine than I would have thought possible. Our most successful clients have taken advantage of this by intuiting how the search feature works and “optimizing” their pins accordingly. This means every pin and board needs to include rich, searchable, and natural keywords. The right descriptions help product pins rank for important search terms and can become a boon for revenue. You can use Pinterest’s “autocomplete” feature to guide your choices. For example, when I search for “red dress,” Pinterest will suggest “red dresses for a wedding,” “red dresses prom,” and “red dresses short.” A product that fits the bill for one of these more specific searches would do well to use the more targeted words.

  • Instagram: The trend that has launched many of our clients’ success is Instagram’s ability to serve as a home for “brand ambassadors.” One of my clients, upon checkout, has a message that reads, “Share your find on Instagram with #ClientHashtag.” They use the hashtag on their own Instagram posts while allowing their customers to do the same. Even though they don’t use their own hashtag on every post, the client now has over 5,600 tags on Instagram from happy customers.

It is also worth noting that Instagram switched their API for advertising last week and we’re already seeing some promising results from the new ad medium.

2. Polyvore

On the subject of visual platforms, Polyvore is such an exciting one that it deserves its own recognition. Many of my long-term clients who sell clothing or home décor consider Polyvore a cornerstone of their social media strategy. Polyvore is a platform that focuses primarily on fashion, beauty and interior design, and it’s a major hangout for tastemakers and lovers of the aesthetic – about 20 million monthly unique users, at last count. Yahoo was so confident in Polyvore’s outlook that just last month, it bought the platform for an alleged $60 million.

So why haven’t more people heard of Polyvore? Because it’s still considered a niche platform. And yet, herein lies its success with my relevant clients: despite the impressive numbers, Polyvore is a comparatively unsaturated space. This means brands that use it have a good shot at competing with much larger entities.

Polyvore users build their own “Sets,” designing outfits, seasonal wardrobes, or living rooms by cherry-picking their favorite items from stores across the web. Our most successful clients build their own sets, piggybacking on the buzz surrounding popular styles and items and adding their own products to the mix. It’s a great way to gain visibility via searches that are not tied directly to your products, allowing you to cast a wider net for your audience.

Here’s the thing to remember about Polyvore: it appeals to a fashion-obsessed, trend-savvy user base, which means the most successful stores are the ones that sell trendy products – the average order value for eCommerce traffic from Polyvore is significantly higher than that of any other platform. However, having fashionable taste is not the same as having expensive taste (and apparently vice versa, if awards show “Don’t” lists are any indication), so don’t rule out your apparel or home décor store just because your products have a low price point. As long as you can design appealing sets and people can see how your products integrate into their lifestyle, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of Polyvore.

3. Video Optimization

YouTube: not just for cats! Videos are an essential and overlooked cornerstone of a comprehensive marketing strategy. The billion-user strong video search engine generates millions of dollars in revenue each year for eCommerce sites that know how to use it. Consider, too, that Google owns YouTube and has a history of weighing social signals from its own platforms heavily in its SEO algorithms. And yet, just like Polyvore – but perhaps even more shockingly – YouTube optimization is a relatively unsaturated field, particularly for the sort of niche videos eCommerce merchants specialize in. When we designed a set of YouTube SEO best practices and tested them earlier this year, the results were staggering:

  • One client, after hosting videos for three years on YouTube, experienced a 150 percent increase in the view counts of his videos in the first two weeks alone

  • All clients tested experienced a statistically significant increase in views, most within the range of 75 to 200 percent, within two months

Clearly, there’s a massive opportunity when it comes to optimizing videos for searchability both on YouTube and on other video platforms like Vimeo and Facebook. Think you don’t have what it takes to produce great videos? Most of our clients use simple equipment like GoPros or even iPhones to discuss how-to’s, feature products, or share trends. Today’s market isn’t necessarily looking for videos with high production value, and this is especially true in the eCommerce space, where product knowledge and an authentic voice trump showiness.

4. Take Advantage of Facebook’s New Features

Facebook is the little ol’ social media engine that won’t quit. Back in my day, only a few people were on Facebook, there weren’t any photographs besides a tiny profile picture, and Homo Sapiens had just invented fire. Today, Facebook is a behemoth that continues to roll out new upgrades and features that make both users and brands happy. And despite the fact that ominous “Is Facebook Going Away?” blog posts roll out seemingly every week, the hard data from client returns shows that Facebook’s little staycation in our hearts isn’t ending any time soon. Facebook’s success lies in its ability to roll with the punches of the fickle social media landscape, altering their interface in a way that is brand-friendly without alienating its independent user base. Here are two recent ways in which it has done so for our clients:

  • Calls to Action: Every brand page now has the opportunity to create an extremely visible, interactive call to action that will take users directly to a sign-up, shopping or scheduling page. This simple but massively effective button will take users directly to the step in your conversion funnel where they’re most likely to commit – thus increasing conversion across the board. If you haven’t added your own call to action, log into your brand’s Facebook page and do it now. Or finish this post first, because it’s almost done.

  • The Mobile Product Ad Carousel: This format allows you to add multiple images and calls to action to a single Facebook ad, allowing you to showcase more of your best products and increasing the odds of your prospective customer finding exactly what they’re looking for. Our eCommerce clients have seen significant revenue increases via the ad carousel.

And there you have it! The next time you’re revamping your social media strategy, add these trends into the mix for some serious staying power with proven results. And if you need a more comprehensive round-up of expert advice, don’t forget to tune into the webinar this Tuesday for more. If you’d like to thank me later, I’ll be accepting jelly beans.

7 Instagram Mistakes Social Media Managers Should Avoid

Instagram has quickly gone from new shoes and new friends to include new products and new businesses. With over 300 million users, it’s not surprising that companies are flocking in droves to the visual platform. Although mostly welcome on Instagram, nobody wants a feed clogged with corporate images and obnoxious advertisements. To maintain and grow Instagram’s value, brands have to make sure they’re not ruining it for the rest of us by making careless blunders or missing the mark with their images and practices. There’s nothing worse than coming off as clueless when your potential audience is heavily composed of 16–24 year olds.

While we previously explored common Facebook mistakes, Instagram provides its own set of unique features to master. If you’re feeling perplexed by the idea of filters, hashtags, captions, and followers, or are simply looking for ways to boost your current presence, the following list of common mistakes being made by social media managers can help your Insta-efforts reach their full potential, while keeping your credibility up amongst your followers.

Your profile’s bio is the only place where you can add a clickable link to your website, making it extremely valuable real estate on Instagram. Unfortunately, many companies are still neglecting to do so, missing huge opportunities to build awareness and their customer base.

When people are visiting your Instagram feed and admiring all of the valuable products or services you are showing off, one of the first questions they’ll be asking is “Where can I get this?” Adding a link in your bio is the easiest way to make sure your audience is able to quickly and effortlessly find your website. If you need any further tips on creating your Instagram bio, this guide can help you out.

Doing it right: Still Life includes their website link and info clearly in their bio

As with most other social media platforms, Instagram is not a “set it and forget it” type of deal. In order to get the most out of the tool, you must follow other relevant users (find these through hashtag searches, the Discover page, or seeing who your followers are following/liking) and engage with them. Don’t go on liking sprees, but definitely comment on their photos when appropriate.

Likewise, if somebody leaves a comment on one of your photos, take the time to respond. Marketing and branding are all about building relationships, so it makes sense to actually take part in conversations with your Instagram community.

With 91 percent of Instagram posts containing between one and seven hashtags, it’s obvious that they’re powerful. However, like most things in life, this power can easily be used for evil. Hashtag misuse can come in many forms, including but not limited to, overusing hashtags, underusing hashtags, and using irrelevant hashtags. The main function of hashtags are enabling discovery–allowing others to find topics and users of interest thanks to the use of relevant keywords. If you are spamming your posts with too many or irrelevant hashtags, you are devaluing your account and are at the risk of losing credibility.  #Just #Don’t #Do #It.

Alternatively, if you have quality content but are failing to include any hashtags at all, you are doing yourself a great disservice and missing out on a solid opportunity to be discovered and engaged. For more on hashtag use and abuse, see here.

Doing it right: Oak and Fort use an appropriate amount of easily discoverable hashtags

Just as with any other kind of promotional tool, constantly shoving your business in people’s faces on Instagram is off-putting and a surefire way to quickly alienate your audience. If all that you are posting are images of your own product or logo, your followers are surely going to lose interest. Instead, take a softer approach and try to visually portray the values that your brand or product represent as a whole.

For example, Vancouver consignment shop Hunter and Hare have a beautifully curated Instagram account that features images of local nature shots, the shop owners themselves, and other lifestyle images alongside posts featuring outfits or the products they are selling. With this, they are building a visual representation of their brand’s tone and are able to show how their products happen to fit into and enhance a particular kind of (appealing) lifestyle.

Doing it right: Hunter and Hare’s professionally balanced feed

There is an acquired skill in knowing just the right amount of photos to post to Instagram on a daily or weekly basis. While finding this number will depend on your audience, it’s safe to say that either over-posting or under-posting is something to be aware of. As with being overly promotional, posting too often will make your followers feel like they are being spammed and constantly sold to, which isn’t a great way to make friends.

However, when you aren’t posting enough, followers will either think you are lazy and neglecting your account, or, more likely, forget about you. Some tips to make this easier:

  • Aim to post on a consistent basis, as it’s obvious when you try to balance a week of no posts with a day featuring ten in a row. Using Hootsuite’s Instagram integration for scheduling posts, you can keep track of your posting calendar more easily and ensure you’re posting consistently

  • Pay attention to how often the popular (quality) accounts you follow are posting to Instagram, and try to follow their lead.

  • Take interesting “evergreen” photos – images that are not time-sensitive – that you can keep on hand to post if you foresee a gap in your content cycle

In keeping with these guidelines, you can ensure that you are being noticed without being obnoxious – a crucial principle of social media overall.

Instagram is a visual tool, so posting unattractive or boring photos won’t do. As Instagram is also primarily a mobile tool, it’s understood that the majority of photos will be taken and uploaded with a cell phone. However, some simple photography principles and the countless editing applications available mean there’s no excuse for lackluster images. Some basic cell phone camera principles to help raise that Insta-game:

  • Take numerous good photos of the same subject (which means shooting outside of the Instagram app) in order to get one excellent shot. Some camera alternatives for shooting include VSCO Cam and Afterlight.

  • Follow the light and always aim to take photos in indirect natural daylight if possible, or during the “Golden/Blue hours”. Additionally, be aware of shadows and unintentional reflections that can appear in your images (such as those from your phone) as they distract from your main subject and discount image quality.

  • Edit your chosen photo tastefully, and try not to overdo it with the filters. Some favourite apps such as VSCO Cam, Snapseed, Priime, and Afterlight all feature vast editing options that can mean the difference between an amateur and professional result.

  • Find an visual style and stick to it. Consistency in your images allows for an overall cohesion when your feed is viewed as a whole, something that lends you credibility while also being visually pleasing.

Doing it right: Pinecone Camp clearly portrays her overall aesthetic and high photo quality

Once you have an established account, it can be tempting to just continue posting blindly. However, to use Instagram to it’s full potential, it’s necessary to pay attention to the numbers. Using some trial and error, you can experiment to find out what days and times provide the best response and engagement (AKA numbers of likes, comments, and new followers). According to this Kissmetrics infographic, the best time on average to post for optimal engagement is Wednesday, but this could be different for your specific audience.

To easily track these numbers, monitor your Instagram activity, and find your optimal posting times, tools such as Iconosquare provide simple to read metrics and statistics. You will be able to see stats on your followers’ engagement with you, as well as your own activity. Also handy are the features such as Optimization Overview which shows you your most used hashtags alongside ones that are popular across Instagram as a whole. It also shows you when your audience is most active, which is valuable information as it shows you what your followers want and when they want it.

Iconosquare Optimization view

While numbers and statistics aren’t the only way to measure your Instagram success, they can definitely help provide an indication of what you are doing right (or wrong) at any given time.

When done right, Instagram is an incredible way to share your brand’s vision with the world. With these Instagram mistakes in mind, it’s time to turn that Insta-regret into Insta-success.

AdWords Dynamic Structured Snippets Are Here and the Results Are Mixed

Many of us have been waiting to see what AdWords had in store after an announcement Google made earlier this year around dynamic structured snippets. These snippets would automate text that’s generated through AdWords, and place it into our PPC ads.

We don’t have to wait any longer. Dynamic structured snippets have been rearing their ugly heads across many of the retail PPC campaigns we’re running, and so far, the results are confusing. If you read my last article on this feature, you’ll see I tried to uncover how these snippets would be generated. Google, of course, gave a beautiful account of how it might play out in its original announcement:

Whether it’s a list of shoe brands or the number of nonstop flights to New York City, this automated extension gives your customers a better sense of what to expect on your website before they click on your ad.

Here’s the image Google left us with that shows how they imagined dynamic structured snippets to look:

dynamic-structured-snippet1

Not bad. But here’s what it looks like in the real world:

dynamic-structured-snippet-example

And:

dynamic-structured-snippet-example-2

Basically, all dynamic structured snippets are doing here is pulling navigational elements in the site into the ad. OK, so Google did say in its help files that the “information that appears for your ad’s snippets reflects categories of content found on your site.” AdWords went ahead and made good on that promise, but we’re really struggling with how that information improves the ad.

Ugliness aside, it’s not important what we think, or like the important question is whether or not dynamic structured snippets are helping the ads improve ROI. We dove into our reports to try to find out. In your AdWords dashboard under Campaigns > Ad Extensions, you can view data on how your automated extensions are doing in general. There, you can see how the dynamic structured snippets are performing, as well.

However, you can’t you see what those snippets say. The closest you’ll get to that information is to do a search yourself and try to make your ads pop up in the search results. What we do know about looking at the data below is that with this particular account, ads with the dynamic structured snippets show a cost-per-conversion at about $83, while the overall cost-per-conversion in this particular campaign is $68. Hmmm.

structured-snippets-account-example

On another campaign, we see something a little different, where the cost-per-conversion at the campaign level is the same as those ads with dynamic structured snippets, both converting at about $19.

structured-snippets-account-example-2

In my opinion, there’s not enough data to form a conclusion about whether or not the dynamic structured snippets are worth keeping. While my first instinct is always to opt out of features like this, we must constantly remind ourselves that certain features, like extensions, play into Ad Rank, which is not something we want to take chances with.

As a side note, Google recently revamped AdWords Dynamic Search Ads. Some are speculating that the move, along with dynamic structured snippets, could be an indication that Google is moving further into the development of features which allow advertisers to automate more and more. While this makes sense for some advertisers with massive campaigns, we’d still like the power to customize as we see fit.

This particular feature is falling short for us and we’d love it if instead, Google gave us control over what additional text we want to see in our ads. We’re always happy to add more relevant messaging to make our ads even better, right?

What about you? Have you seen these snippets in your ads? Tell me about it in the comments.

6 Quick Tips to Prevent SEO Annotations From Becoming a Chore

It’s an issue that plagues many SEOs and digital marketers everywhere. We get so tied up coming up with strategies, implementing tactics, and measuring results that we forget to create simple notes and reminders of events both small and large, which could impact our campaigns.

Taking the time to notate our observances can seem like a misuse of valuable time when compared to actually implementing tactics. But the fact is, the better we annotate in the moment, the more efficient we will be when we report on the successes and learnings of a strategy or tactic. Here are six quick ways for you to make annotating part of your weekly SEO and digital marketing habits, rather than treating it like a chore:

1. Determine What Warrants an Annotation

You first need to come up with or re-evaluate your own definition of what warrants an annotation or an event. You can define this by the type of event – content marketing campaign launch, email blast, technical site change. Or define it by the potential impact of an event be it traffic change, keyword ranking change, major year-over-year change in traffic, or ranking or revenue. How you prefer to define an event is up to you and the needs for your business, but it’s important to establish a baseline for what you should be tracking.

2. If You Think It, Write It

Just because you don’t have the time to properly record a note in the tool or spreadsheet you use to keep track of a new page going live or a canonical tag being implemented, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t record it at all. Keep a notepad at your desk specifically for these “think it, write it” moments where you can quickly jot down the date or detail of a certain change that needs to be recorded, but you don’t have time to properly annotate right that second.

3. Make Time to Properly Annotate

If you let it pile up, this “tip” may not be so quick to execute. However, if you set aside 15 minutes – I like every Friday morning – to add the notes you’ve made throughout the week to your formal annotation tool, you’re less likely to fall behind or find yourself asking three months from now, “What caused this three-day traffic spike?” A quick note would tell you that the spike was caused by an email marketing campaign.

google-analytics-annotations

4. Enlist Help

You may not be working on a one-man team, which means some things worth annotating may occur without your direct knowledge. By setting up a system with your counterparts, you can ensure nothing falls through the cracks. This means establishing a means of communication for these types of scenarios that is easy for both you and the rest of your team. Create a specific email template or shared document to help get these updates communicated quickly and easily. If you use an email template, ask your team to send you a brief note that includes the date and type of event, as well as major notes or takeaways.

5. Decide What to Measure

If the roadblock that’s keeping you from annotating properly is the fact that it’s not the best use of your time in the moment, make annotating about how it will help you when the next reporting cycle roles around. In your notes, include a short list of items that you should be measuring or looking back on to compare YoY to fully understand the impact of the event you’re annotating.

6. Evaluate Your Process

About once a quarter, it’s ideal for you to review the annotations you’ve made throughout the past three months. By doing this you can determine a few things:

  1. Did you fall short on your annotations? If you only have a couple of notes about major events or updates that occurred, then you probably aren’t notating as much as you should.
  2. Are your notes concise and helpful? If you include information like dates, major takeaways, and follow up steps for reporting, then you likely have enough valuable information to make it useful in the months ahead.
  3. Are you over-annotating? If you have notes that are superfluous or too detailed, you’ll be less likely to use your annotations as a point of reference. Make sure you’re recording the medium to big rocks so that you’re encouraged to use your annotation notes as a resource. By over-annotating, you are likely to never look back on your notes or fall into the “this isn’t the best use of my time” trap.

I like to set up my annotations so I can easily sort and filter by time periods or types of changes that need to be noted. You can also notate directly within a tool like Google Analytics. Your record keeping system doesn’t have to be fancy to be useful.

annotations-spreadsheet

What are your secrets for keeping annotating easy and useful?

Facebook Forks Out S**tloads to Disrupt Digital Assistants

Facebook debuted M yesterday, its answer to Google Now, Siri, and Cortana. Will M, which is being tested among select users in the Bay Area, become the definitive digital assistant, further boosting Facebook into a bigger Google rival – or is the company out of its depth?

Built on top of Facebook Messenger, M differs from the other digital assistants because it’s powered and supervised by humans. A crazily expensive waste of money you may ask? Yes, we thought that too but M addresses a big pain point with the others, as Jimmy Kimmel exemplifed last year by lampooning Siri’s infamous tendency to mishear questions. This also gives M the ability to answer more open-ended questions such as, “Can you make me dinner reservations?”

Like its competition, M has artificial intelligence that works to understand and answer your question. However, rather than reply, the technology sends its answer to people behind-the-scenes at Facebook who decide whether additional information is needed. If you ask M to tell you a joke, it will get one from an Internet joke API and a person at Facebook would determine whether or not it was funny. If you ask M to make you a dinner reservation, a person at Facebook will call the restaurant.

facebook-m

This pits Facebook against Google in yet another area. During a mock job interview, CNN Money hired Google Now, deeming it superior to Siri, Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa.

“At this early stage, this feels like Facebook is pouring millions into solving a first-world problem that doesn’t need any more attention. ‘I’m in Chicago next week – I’m looking for a great burger.’ Why not try TripAdvisor or Google?” says Tom Ollerton, marketing director at We Are Social.

Encouraging people to not try Google may be the core of M. Ollerton wonders whether the social media giant may be too ambitious, though he points out that M’s success would make Facebook a bigger player in several areas: data collection, mobile and voice search, as well as the increasingly competitive messaging app space.

“[Facebook] has tried to take on search in the past – for example, with Graph Search – but has had limited success,” Ollerton says. “I’m not convinced M will be the silver bullet Facebook is after, but it is another example of Facebook’s constant innovation in its bid to rule the Web.”

Last week, traffic analytics firm Parse.ly analyzed referral traffic to news sites and found that Facebook pulled ahead of Google last quarter. The company’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Andrew Montalenti, referred to “Facebook executing Google’s playbook,” something he also thinks applies to M.

Montalenti recalls that in 2010, Google acquired the social search engine Aardvark, which connected people asking questions with those who could answer them. Aardvark was discontinued the following year, but Montalenti points out that you can see its roots in M.

“What strikes me is that there’s a lot of effort being placed in trying to own the daily habits of users. Both Google and Facebook are fighting it out to see who gets to be the homepage for getting news updates on the Internet,” Montalenti says, adding that the other habit is rooted in instant gratification of wanting answers and solutions now. “Microsoft, Google, Facebook all realize this is an important habit to tap into. It isn’t surprising to me that the personal assistant space is of interest to all of them.”

While Facebook may be nipping at its heels in other areas, Montalenti points out that M highlights the company’s biggest struggle to compete with Google: its lack of owned platforms and products. That lack of ownership also translates to the user experience. M requires users to boot up an app, whereas those using Siri on their iPhones simply have to hold down the home button.

“Google and Apple both benefit from actually being installed at the core of these smartphone devices, which gives them so many deeper product-level integrations and makes it easier for their products to be an effortless part of people’s daily work flow,” he says. “I think Facebook put AI into Messenger because it realized that perhaps IMing through Messenger was the closest thing it had to a platform that people are running that’s associated with Facebook.”

Google Denies EU Antitrust Charges as Legal Battle Looms

Google has finally responded to the European Commission’s (EC) antitrust charges, denying that its search shopping service is anti-competitive and setting up the prospect of a major legal showdown with the EU.

Google is accused of unfairly using its search power to favor its own shopping service results at the expense of rivals’, and the EC issued a Statement of Objections (SO) against the company in April. However, a blog post by Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel for Google, confirmed that the company has now formally responded to the accusations and does not agree with the EC’s charges.

“We believe that the SO’s preliminary conclusions are wrong as a matter of fact, law and economics,” he wrote. “Our response provides evidence and data to show why the SO’s concerns are unfounded.”

Walker continued by pointing out apparent flaws in the claims made by the EC over the way in which Google operates its search service.

“The SO says that Google’s displays of paid ads from merchants (and, previously, of specialized groups of organic search results) ‘diverted’ traffic away from shopping services,” he wrote. “But the SO doesn’t back up that claim, doesn’t counter the significant benefits to consumers and advertisers, and doesn’t provide a clear legal theory to connect its claims with its proposed remedy.”

Walker then said that Google believes the way it displays shopping results, based on its own search data about the most popular sites in its index, is the most logical way to present information people are looking for.

“We don’t think this format is anti-competitive. On the contrary, showing ads based on structured data provided by merchants demonstrably improves ad quality and makes it easier for consumers to find what they’re looking for,” he wrote. “We show these ad groups where we’ve always shown ads – to the right and at the top of organic results – and we use specialized algorithms to maximize their relevance for users. Data from users and advertisers confirms they like these formats. That’s not ‘favoring.’ That’s giving our customers and advertisers what they find most useful.”

Walker also took issue with the remedies set out for how the EU wants Google to address its concerns.

“The SO also seeks a peculiar and problematic remedy, requiring that Google show ads sourced and ranked by other companies within our advertising space. We show in our response that this would harm the quality and relevance of our results,” he said.

EC spokesman Ricardo Cardoso confirmed that the EC has received the submission and will now review it.

“We will carefully consider Google’s response before taking any decision on how to proceed and do not want to prejudge the final outcome of the investigation,” he said.

Google’s refusal to accept the EC’s complaint could set the two on a collision course for a costly and long-running legal battle, akin to the Microsoft browser ballot case in the mid to late-2000s.

Google’s CTR Dominance Is a Double-Edged Sword

Everyone knows that Google is the biggest, most profitable search engine. But new research from search marketing intelligence company AdGooroo shows its stronghold slipping, especially in click-through rate (CTR). What’s behind this dip in dominance?

Google delivered 138 more impressions than the Yahoo Bing network in all six categories – shopping and classifieds, financial services, travel, education, automotive and business – as analyzed by AdGooroo in its latest paid search metrics performance report. For individual categories, the disparity in dominance ranged from 16 (business) to 195 percent (shopping and classified). The search giant also offers advertisers a 126 percent higher CTR than its competitors, particularly in the business and education sectors.

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However, that gap has narrowed considerably since 2012, when AdGooroo started these annual analyses. While Google’s CTR is 65 percent higher than it was three years ago, that of Yahoo Bing improved by 175 percent. Google had a 227 percent higher CTR for shopping and classifieds than Yahoo Bing in 2012. The gap has since shrunk to 76 percent. Similarly, Google’s advantage went down by 221 percent in financial services and 159 percent in travel.

“There’s no question that Google has superior CTR across all six categories we studied. However there were significant percentages of advertisers in certain categories with a better CTR on Bing,” says Richard Stokes, chief executive of AdGooroo.

The advertisers with better CTR away from Google include Macy’s, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Southwest Airlines, Jeep, and Lexus. Over the last few weeks, Microsoft has partnered with AOL, rolled out Convert Product Ads to help advertisers transition from shopping campaigns to product ads, and beat Google to the punch with its in-app search product, Snapshots. But none of these recent happenings would have affected anything over the last year. According to Stokes, the shifting numbers are a result of Google being so exceedingly competitive.

“The reason for these higher CTRs is better positioning on the SERP. They were able to show their ads higher up on the page for Yahoo Bing Network sites than on Google due to less competition and a more favorable bidding environment,” he says.

Google has double to triple the number of advertisers than the Yahoo Bing Network and that dominance is something of a double-edged sword. While the search giant generates significantly more revenue – 769 percent – more advertisers are increasing focus on Bing because it’s easier to stand out and ultimately rank. Also clicks are significantly cheaper.

ctr-adgooroo

On average, Yahoo Bing’s CPC cost is 42 percent less. Clicks are 49 percent cheaper in shopping and classifieds, 35 percent cheaper in financial services, and 38 percent cheaper in travel.

“Analyzing the statistics from the report, I found an advertiser who is only on Google today, on average, can generate about 24 percent more clicks by adding Bing to their portfolio. Additionally, they can lower their average CPC across both engines by about 10 percent,” Stokes says. “The old saying is, ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch,’ but this is a free lunch for anyone who wants it.”

Google’s CTR Dominance Is a Double-Edged Sword

Everyone knows that Google is the biggest, most profitable search engine. But new research from search marketing intelligence company AdGooroo shows its stronghold slipping, especially in click-through rate (CTR). What’s behind this dip in dominance?

Google delivered 138 more impressions than the Yahoo Bing network in all six categories – shopping and classifieds, financial services, travel, education, automotive and business – as analyzed by AdGooroo in its latest paid search metrics performance report. For individual categories, the disparity in dominance ranged from 16 (business) to 195 percent (shopping and classified). The search giant also offers advertisers a 126 percent higher CTR than its competitors, particularly in the business and education sectors.

cpc-adgoorooo

However, that gap has narrowed considerably since 2012, when AdGooroo started these annual analyses. While Google’s CTR is 65 percent higher than it was three years ago, that of Yahoo Bing improved by 175 percent. Google had a 227 percent higher CTR for shopping and classifieds than Yahoo Bing in 2012. The gap has since shrunk to 76 percent. Similarly, Google’s advantage went down by 221 percent in financial services and 159 percent in travel.

“There’s no question that Google has superior CTR across all six categories we studied. However there were significant percentages of advertisers in certain categories with a better CTR on Bing,” says Richard Stokes, chief executive of AdGooroo.

The advertisers with better CTR away from Google include Macy’s, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Southwest Airlines, Jeep, and Lexus. Over the last few weeks, Microsoft has partnered with AOL, rolled out Convert Product Ads to help advertisers transition from shopping campaigns to product ads, and beat Google to the punch with its in-app search product, Snapshots. But none of these recent happenings would have affected anything over the last year. According to Stokes, the shifting numbers are a result of Google being so exceedingly competitive.

“The reason for these higher CTRs is better positioning on the SERP. They were able to show their ads higher up on the page for Yahoo Bing Network sites than on Google due to less competition and a more favorable bidding environment,” he says.

Google has double to triple the number of advertisers than the Yahoo Bing Network and that dominance is something of a double-edged sword. While the search giant generates significantly more revenue – 769 percent – more advertisers are increasing focus on Bing because it’s easier to stand out and ultimately rank. Also clicks are significantly cheaper.

ctr-adgooroo

On average, Yahoo Bing’s CPC cost is 42 percent less. Clicks are 49 percent cheaper in shopping and classifieds, 35 percent cheaper in financial services, and 38 percent cheaper in travel.

“Analyzing the statistics from the report, I found an advertiser who is only on Google today, on average, can generate about 24 percent more clicks by adding Bing to their portfolio. Additionally, they can lower their average CPC across both engines by about 10 percent,” Stokes says. “The old saying is, ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch,’ but this is a free lunch for anyone who wants it.”