Archive for the ‘ The Internet ’ Category

Facebook’s Prohibition: Lessons Learned from Boardwalk Empire

In HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a cast of prohibition era gangsters manipulate the sale of alcohol to maximize their profits. Distribution channels get squeezed, partners are cut off, prices rise, and businessmen scramble to maintain their livelihood.

Boardwalk Empire - Nucky ThompsonSince spring, Facebook page administrators that closely monitor their analytics have noticed a significant shift in how their posts are displayed in their follower’s newsfeeds. Dangerous Minds wrote a great article discussing how they are being impacted under the subhead ‘The Biggest ‘Bait N’ Switch’ in History?’

When we first noticed the problem, our blog had about 29,000 Facebook “likes.” Our traffic was growing 20% month over month, but our Facebook fans grew at a far faster pace. We were getting hundreds of new ‘likes” every day. Still do. As I write this, our Facebook fans now number over 53,000, not quite double what it was then, but give it another month or so and it will be.

53,000 is a more than respectable number of Facebook fans for a blog that’s only been around for a little over three years. So why is it that our pageviews—our actual inventory, what we sell to advertisers—coming from Facebook shares are off by half to two thirds when the number of new “likes” has risen so dramatically during this same time period?!?!

Simply put, it appears that Facebook is throttling back the reach on page posts in an effort to encourage advertisers to pay to reach their full audience. And on the other side, people who intentionally ‘liked’ a page to subscribe to its posts are now seeing them less often in their feeds. The New York Observer suggested pages now reach, on average, only 15% of their likes. Read more

CTR: One Piece of a Larger Puzzle

MediaMind and the IAB recently released a great report outlining regional and vertical benchmarks for online performance metrics. It’s a quick way to answer questions around what kind of performance to expect from a campaign, but it’s still important to qualify those expectations by noting that performance will depend on creative, media placements and other factors.

Puzzle Piece PhotoWhen analyzing a display campaign’s success, one statistic many advertisers focus on is click-through rate. Many of of them were ‘raised’ to depend on CTR as digital marketers guided them into the online space. They propped up CTR as the one-stop target for campaign success.

But in the last few years, there’s been a lot of attention on why CTR is overrated. We know only a small percentage of users will intentionally click banner ads, and there are several reasons why. In Canada, we are even more unlikely to click. We don’t even click polite banners. We know online works, and we know that there is a stronger correlation with conversions coming from seeing ads than clicking ads. And now the challenge is to change the discussion to more meaningful statistics. Read more

Paint By Numbers: Distorting the Digital Landscape

Yesterday I helped a client review a proposal they received by email to advertise on a small Canadian coupon website. Everything looked great. Advertise for free, pay no commission, create any offer you wish, be promoted socially, get a full business listing and link to your website, and be seen by their over 9-million unique visitors per month.

Wait, what? So this niche Canadian site claims to reach 1 in 4 people in the country, with roughly 6 times as much traffic as Groupon? And I’ve never heard of them before? And they aren’t listed in comScore? Where do I sign up?

Dr Evil Photo

“9 million unique visitors”

Oh, that’s on the page that talks about how to pay the annual membership fee to qualify for “free” advertising. Maybe the publisher wasn’t intentionally misleading, but simply didn’t understand the statistics they were providing. I emailed the site’s Toronto-based co-founder for clarification, but received no response.

Of course, this is just one of many instances of companies distorting or straight-up lying about online statistics to attract potential clients. It’s not an issue exclusive to online — publishers have fudged circulation and numbers in other industries — but it can be less intimidating to run the sniff test knowing that you’ve never seen a certain magazine in a display rack, than to call someone out using online jargon.

The more time invested educating our clients about how online advertising works and the different ways we can measure it, the harder we make it for Nigerian Canadian coupon princes to target their inexperience.

Facebook is not declining in Canada

A rather dubious report has been circling the internet today, and since it’s been picked up by several large news providers, I thought it merited commenting on.

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2011/06/are-people-using-facebook-less-growth-slowing-u-s-canada.html

http://news.yahoo.com/s/digitaltrends/20110613/tc_digitaltrends/facebooktrafficplummetsintheus

Facebook is not failing in Canada, despite what these misleading stats would have you believe.

The articles use stats without enough context and leave out key information to sensationalize a story. Aside from general seasonal fluctuations that have been commented on by others already, the numbers they are using are misleading or flat out wrong.

The numbers being quoted are from Facebook’s self-serve advertising interface, and represent total active users within the last 30 days; it is not a accurate list of membership. These numbers are estimate at best, as when you apply targeting parameters such as geographic areas, the reach in a given area will often exceed the actual population. This number represents all active profiles, included multiple profiles, and doesn’t differentiate between inactive users and deleted profiles.

In Canada, ComScore is the primary measurement tool for measuring online activity and it has reported growth in Facebook’s reach in Canada every single month since May 2009 (as far back as I have info on file). Their numbers actually exceed Facebook’s profile count, as they estimated a reach of 21.1 million users in May (84% of the estimated online population). The extra traffic would be non-registered users that still end up viewing Facebook pages (fan pages, pictures linked from other sites etc.)

The most glaring problem I have with this article is that  they are using a slow down in new user growth as an indicator that the site is losing steam. As mentioned, Facebook already reaches 84% of Canadians, growth has to slow as a market reaches total saturation. Countries with high penetration simply don’t have any population left to add to the numbers. Look at Reddit.com in comparison: in Canada the estimate reach of Reddit increased by over 450% since March 2010 (noting that the traffic does swing wildly month to month), in the same period Facebook grew by only about 4%. Yet Facebook’s actual number increase was 937,000, compared to reddit’s increase of 345,000. Yes, Facebook’s percentage growth is small, but the actual increase in traffic is huge.

There are also glaring omissions from the source article when reported by newspapers:

“Bugs in the Facebook advertising tool that we draw this information from, seasonal changes like college graduations, and other short-term factors, can influence numbers month to month and obscure what’s really happening.”

…and this bit, covered by the LA Times, but ignored by Yahoo:

“Still, by the time Facebook reaches around 50% of the total population in a given country (plus or minus, depending on internet access rates in that country), growth generally slows to a halt, as we’ve noted before.”

That million user drop in Canada?

“Canada also fell significantly, by 1.52 million down to 16.6 million, although it has been fluctuating around that number for the past year.”

Facebook is an easy target and has generated a lot of backlash on privacy and security issues in the past; news sources know it makes a great headline. However, these articles are entirely based on a single report based on numbers generated by a self-serve advertising platform that is known to be a broad estimate at best. The source article admits these numbers are prone to fluctuation and even opens their article with the following quote, omitted by the newspapers:

As we note below, we’ll need to wait to see what the long-term trends really are before knowing if Facebook is continuing to grow in the US and other countries.”

That omission speaks volumes about the quality of this content.

As a parting item, the poster of the original report has a follow up article today: http://www.insidefacebook.com/2011/06/13/available-data-shows-facebook-user-numbers-growing-quickly-or-slowly-or-falling/ This article indicates that other reporting source cannot corroborate the initial findings, and ComScore number in the US match the trends I’ve mentioned for Canada.

Why Your Facebook Contest Probably Breaks The Rules

There is a good chance that the Facebook contest you’ve recently entered, started or were thinking about running may be in violation of Facebook’s terms. You know the ones. Like this photo and be entered in our contest to win a free weekend stay with Charlie Sheen.

Facebook LogoThey are a great way to engage an audience as the trickledown effect of each “Like” weaves through the social network and your brand appears in new streams. And they were a particularly strong solution for small businesses operating on small budgets, as the only cost was time and whatever the prize was, most often a service or small product.

But unless the business is using a third party application, such as Wildfire or Strutta, they risk the potential of their page being taken down by the Zuckerberg army. Simply put, Facebook is separating themselves from any liability of having their service associated with the contest. That means entering through Facebook and even contacting winners through the messaging system. This policy change actually goes back to 2009, with some tweaks in 2010, but it’s been widely ignored or missed altogether.

Of course, with third party applications come additional costs. Depending on the goal, another solution for many budgets may be a Facebook ad campaign. Facebook’s click through rates are typically outperformed by other media, but there can be good branding value in the high number of impressions that are served on a cost per click campaign. They also bring some great targeting capabilities.

For more details on Facebook promotions, have a look at Mari Smith’s excellent post on the topic.

Does The Early Bird Get The Group Buy?

I like routines. I set the alarm on my phone before bed. It goes off. I hit snooze. I hit snooze again. And then, on the third prompt, I turn off the alarm, sit up in bed, and thumb through the morning’s email on my phone.

Alarm ClockIf you subscribe to as many group buying services as I do, you’ll probably find an inbox full of daily deals. Every morning, most services deliver their email at a scheduled time, which is hours before I’m awake. And in my early morning fog, I skim the lump of deals and usually forget about them within minutes as I move on to my next task.

But every day, one service gets my full attention, simply because they aren’t on a set schedule. Sometimes their email comes late morning, other times early afternoon, but always after the early morning rush. Do they do it intentionally?

It’s a common marketing strategy to schedule emails and tweets around 9am to hit the rush of office workers during their morning routine. Since most of my group emails arrive between 6-7am, I started to wonder if it was just a case of eastern-based companies not paying attention to western time zones.

As a test, I signed up for a few of these services with Toronto as my location, and I found that the emails were adjusted for time zone, coming a few hours earlier, around 3-4am my time or still 6-7am local. So it appears to be a strategic attempt to appeal to our inner early bird to catch the deal worm, or simply let the early risers generate momentum and ‘tip’ the deal as soon as possible to maximize the buying window.

But in a saturated market, it’s not surprising that some are choosing to stand out with a more unpredictable approach. They may risk getting missed on a hectic day, but the staggered delivery has definitely demanded more of my attention.

Mobile Year in Review

Earlier this week, comScore’s annual review of the mobile market in 2010 arrived and contained some unique insight into this growing medium. The report primarily contrasted the markets in the US, Japan and Europe, which was represented by the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

A decade ago, text messaging was already culturally embedded in much of Europe while many North Americans still thought T9 was a strain of Tylenol. Fast forward to December 2010, and it’s interesting to see the US has leapfrogged Europe in some areas of mobile technology and leads them in mobile media consumption.

Motorola's Xoom TabletIn the US, the number of mobile media users rose 7.6% to nearly half of all subscribers. Europe saw growth here, too, but still trailed the US with only 34% of subscribers using mobile media. A big reason for that is the US’s implementation of 3G (and 4g) technology and that they have nearly four times as many people on unlimited plans as Europe, which only has 8%. Japan still led the way with 75% of their subscribers connected to mobile media.

Stateside, there were more than 1000 products advertised by mobile content by Q3 of 2010, an increase of nearly 150% over the previous two years. With the mobile industry in constant evolution, and new devices, such as tablets, and mobile-specific publications being released, 2011 promises another big leap in mobile advertising.

So what does it all mean for Canada? Well, it’s reasonable to suggest we’ve seen similar growth in the mobile arena, but with important carrier and data package differences from the US, a better exploration is needed. We’ll dive deeper in a follow-up post.

Google Update Promotes Original Content

While preparing an SEO review for a client, I stumbled upon notice of some revisions to the Google Algorithm. In an attempt to cut down spam and promote original content, the update filters down auto-blog software and websites that simply copy and paste other people’s content onto their own site. Imagine the frustration of pounding out your electronic Iliad on, say, the connection between Stephanie Meyer books and increased divorce rates in Canada, and then seeing other sites poach your content (without adding any value) and outrank you on search results.

Google LogoFor some, the race is now on to find ways to exploit this latest change, but, as has been said ad nauseam, content is king. Establishing and following best practices remains important for SEO results, but it’s refreshing that Google has made it easier for writers to focus more on message and less on bending their words around shifting SEO targets.