Feb. 22, 2011 | by Neil Campbell Bing – baby or toddler?

A month after the launch of Bing I made a quick analysis of its transition from its previous incarnation as Live Search to its rebranding as Bing in this blog post. The initial reaction was generally positive with retail clients benefitting from an improved conversion rate despite the higher cost-per-click.

Since then Bing has had a year and a half to prove its worth and, with the  ‘Search Alliance’ on its way to the UK this year, now seems a good time to revisit  the stats and ponder whether Bing can make the next step up and seriously position itself as an alternative if not a threat to Google.

This time I’ll compare MSN PPC data for a whole year before the Bing launch with the 18 months following Bing’s launch in June 2009. Add to this some help from our industry peers and trusted partners and we are able to draw some interesting conclusions.

(I should first acknowledge that product lines, strategies, competitiveness, inflation, the economy and other factors all change over time so this should not be considered as gospel, more of a guide)

Looking first at the retail sector –

  • We have noticed a sizeable increase in CPC, up to 61% more depending on the product with only one area experiencing a drop – of 11%.
  • This leads us to cost per order (CPO) which is up on the whole, due to the higher CPC and a similar conversion rate.

Now to travel  –
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Feb. 17, 2011 | by Tamsin Hemingray Two-minute summary: Google One Pass (and Apple)

Google announced their new content subscription service One Pass yesterday. The timing was interesting – it came the day after Apple announced new rules for publishers selling subscriptions on its iOS platform. Essentially, the Google approach looks more attractive to publishers because Google will only take 10% off the top, while Apple will take 30%. And if you’re using the Apple iOS platform for your content then you now have to offer access to users via iTunes – this wasn’t compulsory before.

Commentary is generally running along the lines that Google’s offering is a more open, fairer and more flexible system than Apple’s.

The Guardian sum this attitude up, saying “Google’s One Pass […] allows more freedom to publishers than Apple’s subscription model. Newspapers including the Financial Times, the Economist and New York Times have said they are presently unclear how Apple’s new model affects their iPhone and iPad charging strategy.”

Rhapsody, who offer a subscription based music service in the US came out with a critical appraisal of Apple’s changes, saying “an Apple-imposed arrangement that requires us to pay 30 percent of our revenue to Apple, in addition to content fees that we pay to the music labels, publishers and artists, is economically untenable” according to a report in Engadget. And PaidContent report that LastFM’s co-founder Richard Jones went much further arguing that: “Apple just f****d over online music subs for the iPhone.”

Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple’s action “could draw anti-trust scrutiny according to law professors”.

PaidContent also point out that the Google announcement came alongside news that two US newspaper chains have announced “plans to use One Pass to charge users who access [the] 180,000-plus circulation Richmond Times Dispatch, while midwest newspaper chain Rust Communications will soon charge some users at three of its newspaper sites.” And rumours are growing louder that both the Telegraph and Daily Mail are now seriously exploring subscription models here in the UK and will be charging online users by the end of the year.

Brad McCarthy has done a quick summary of the pros and cons of the two new systems in the Next Web and concludes: “So who wins? […] From how we’re reading the information available, One Pass is a highly viable alternative to hosting your own system or relying solely on Apple’s greedy cut.”

Feb. 11, 2011 | by jo-ann.fortune Google Boutiques launches trend insight tool

As well as launching Designer Analytics for their retail partners last week, Google’s has introduced Trend Analytics, offering fashion-lovers insight into site-wide trends.

Aggregate data from the public Trend Analytics reveals the preferences users set to personalise their shopping search results via the Stylyzer Quiz.

While insight into the colours, patterns and shapes shoppers ‘love’ and ‘hate’ over the last 30 days failed to reveal any particularly insightful trends( for example 46% said that they ‘loved’ black, whilst 44% that they ‘hated’ it), the most popular brands and styles uncovered some interesting findings.

Google Boutiques colour, pattern and silhouette trends

ASOS ranked third most popular brand
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Feb. 09, 2011 | by Rob Green Google’s ad formats – getting better, or worse?

Two of the most recent changes to Google’s ad formats are making us ask questions about their value to users. Google built Adwords on the back of their goal to provide the highest quality, and most relevant ads to searchers – but recently, we are not sure about some of the new changes.

Lower Case Domain Names

On the premise that ads with the domain name written all in lower case generally have a better CTR, and to standardize the appearance of all ads, Google now force all display URLs to show in this way. We have always generally found the opposite, especially if your domain name has more than one word.

Look at the SERP below. I think it’s really hard to read that domain name – it took me a couple of tries to say it out loud. Surely that doesn’t help users? If it read something like I think it would be a lot easier.

Google SERP

Perhaps there is some benefit gained in the way the file extension is capitalised and highlighted. This could add relevance to ads and increased the importance of optimised display URLs.
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Feb. 08, 2011 | by Mark Higginson Two-minute summary: AOL buys the Huffington Post

AOL has paid $315 million for the Huffington Post

According to Tim Armstrong, AOL CEO, the acquisition demonstrates:

“We believe in brands, quality journalism, and the positive role of communities in the world… (this) has the potential to make AOL the most influential company in the content space.”

Armstrong’s Internal Memo To AOLers About The HuffPo Deal (TechCrunch, 6th February 2011)

Earlier this month Business Insider was able to get a copy of ‘The AOL Way’ which lays out a number of ambitious targets:

“By April, he (Tim Armstrong) wants AOL editorial to increase its stories per month from 33,000 to 55,000. He wants pageviews per story to jump from 1,500 to 7,000. He wants video stories to go from being 4% of all stories produced to 70%. He wants the percentage of stories optimized for search engines to reach 95%.”

LEAKED: AOL’s Master Plan (Business Insider, 1st February 2011)

I was most interested by the break-even points of different content types, e.g. a ‘premium article’ costs $250 and ‘needs’ 40,000 pageviews.

Nick Denton, of Gawker Media, was typically acerbic:

“I’m disappointed in the Huffington Post. I thought Arianna Huffington and Kenny Lerer were reinventing news, rather than simply flipping to a flailing conglomerate. AOL has gathered so many of our rivals— Huffington Post, Engadget, Techcrunch—in one place. The question: Is this a fearsome Internet conglomerate or simply a roach motel for once lively websites?”
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Feb. 03, 2011 | by tbrandon Content quality vs. quantity

There’s been a debate raging recently about quality vs. quantity of content. In the red corner, we have “quality” content, produced by journalists or experts who are paid market rates. In the blue corner are so-called “content farms”, such as Demand Media and AOL’s Seed that pay writers $15-$20 for articles that act primarily as a context for search-terms that will make it findable in Google.

So it’s in this context that I’ve found AOL’s leaked Content Strategy a fascinating read. The digital behemoth has been quietly re-defining itself, streamlining and building up a relevant staff.

According to the document, one of AOL’s primary goals is to scale up content production (from 31,000 pieces in January to 40,000 in March). Most of this growth is through what they call “scaled production” from Seed or other high volume/low cost methods. AOL’s ad-based model is, after all, all about page views and this model has been successful for Demand Media too. Their recent IPO valued it higher than the New York Times.

But AOL isn’t turning its back on high quality content either. They’re still producing original, top quality content, but in a more focused, strategic way. They commission this content out to “notable freelancers”, who have an established following, plus they estimate expected page views and revenue potential before commissioning it. Sounds like a solid content strategy.

While AOL’s business model may not be relevant to many of our clients, we do have conversations on a regular basis that are similar, such as:
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Feb. 02, 2011 | by ross.clark Two-minute summary: Facebook’s commenting system getting an update?

The big news is that Facebook is moving in on Disqus with a revision of the way site owners can implement comments in situ across their content.

You can already use Facebook Connect to allow users of your site to login and comment with their real name and profile photo.

“The Comments Box easily enables your users to comment on your site’s content — whether it’s for a web page, article, photo, or other piece of content. Then the user can share the comment on Facebook on their Wall and in their friends’ streams.”

If you only have a couple of minutes here’s what you need to know about the coming changes:

“The new commenting product is a significantly deeper expansion of this, according to sources. Facebook will be able to power the entire commenting system–handling the log-in and publishing, cross-promoting comments on individuals’ Facebook walls, and possibly even promoting them as well on media outlets’ own “fan” pages. Undoubtedly, the Facebook “like” button will be deeply integrated as well.”

CNET: Facebook’s next big move: Comments

“Back in October of last year, news started to trickle out that Facebook was completely revamping their commenting system plugin. The very thought had to send a chill down the spine of commenting startups like Disqus, Echo, and Livefyre. In a statement to us at the time, Facebook confirmed the upgrades, and vaguely said, “we’ll have more to share in the coming weeks.” Well, weeks turned to months — nothing. But that may be about to change.”

Techcrunch: Facebook Has Been Refining Their Troll-Slaying Comment System For Months; Finally Ready To Roll?

See the existing set up in action over on

If you have any questions about this then you should email me or call me on +44 (1273) 827 784 and I’d be happy to discuss this further.

Jan. 26, 2011 | by Tamsin Hemingray What next for content?
Monkey looking through telescope

The content monkey, out from behind the typewriter, looks to the future

We’re putting together an event for Social Media Week 2011, which we’re calling What next for content?

It’s on 10 February in London, and we’ll be chewing over the future for content, in the context of digital marketing specifically and online communication in general.

There’s a lot we could talk about, but I want to focus on the key trends.  So, I’m going to use Connect as a public notebook to jot down my thoughts – and see if I can get the conversation started ahead of time. Here goes…

Content strategy as a discipline will be recognised for the critical part it plays in effective digital communication

Let’s start with an easy one! In case you haven’t heard, Content Strategy is the new Social Media (or something) which means that in 2011 just about everyone and their dog is going to be wanting a piece.

It’s already an established discipline with recognised processes and outputs in the US and this year we’re going to see more hard examples of how organisations and brands have put it to use to improve traffic, deepen engagement on-site (lighter bounce rates, more page views per visit and increased time on-site) and get the right content at the right time in the right shape to the right people.

My fellow content strategists Charlie Peverett, Trisha Brandon and I saw an example of this at the Content Strategy Applied conference a couple of weeks ago, when eBay’s Nikki Tiedtke shared the impressive results her team have achieved by using content strategy methods to improve the satisfaction of their critically important European Business Seller users.

Just as you can’t imagine building a website without considering UX or SEO now (right?), soon you won’t go near a major web project without a content strategist on the team.
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Jan. 17, 2011 | by Sam Fenton-Elstone What makes a good Paid Search professional?

Do you go in for New Year resolutions? Is it going to be a new healthier you? Are you going to take up a new hobby? Or perhaps look for a new job? January sees many people reevaluate their lives and look to make changes. It’s no coincidence that we see job applications peak following the festive break.

I have worked in PPC for just over 4 years and have enjoyed every minute. No day is the same and the benefit of working at a company such as iCrossing allows me to work with some fantastic brands and individuals. We are always on the look out for talented individuals to join our growing paid search team so I thought I would highlight some skills that I feel are essential if you want to get ahead in PPC. This is what we look for in a Paid Search Analyst:

You must be Eagle Eyed.
The role of Paid Search Analyst (PSA) is probably the most important in the company. An analyst holds the responsibility of generating maximum ROI for our clients investment. Exemplary attention to detail is the basis for every successful PSA. You are in charge of the budget. You are responsible for the results. You need to be in control. That’s what makes it so exciting…
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