Blogs, micro-blogs and whales.

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According to recent data from comScore, Twitter recently added more than 5 million subscribers just from February 2009. It seems like everyone and his or her mother is tweeting on the twitter. But it’s not just humans. Believe it or not, you can now add killer whales to the list. I know whales are thought to be intelligent, but how the heck to they manage their blackberries in such wet environments? And how do they tweet on their keypads with slippery fins? I came across this whale of a tale on Reuters and I couldn’t help but cringe just a little bit. I was an early adopter of twitter and I thought it was the hottest thing on the Internet the first three months I used it. But lately I’m noticing more and more companies getting on the bandwagon. When I mention Twitter around anyone involved in marketing they begin to salivate and get a weird frenzied look in their eyes. In my opinion, this makes twitter a little less cool. I get that there is a need for regular Joes to interact with brands, I really do. And I think there’s a place for that. But come on, not all mammals are created equal. Twitter should be for real people, in my humble opinion. But maybe I’m just not in the target audience. You may be, and you may think that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’m sure that killer whales everywhere are just loving it right now.

Enzo F. Cesario

Rich snippets, Search Monkeys and clicks… oh my!

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On May 12, Google announced a few changes at their Searchology event. Some think these changes will transform the way we search forever and the skies will soon part, while others think it’s just another expected day of innovation coming from the best minds at Google. For those of you who aren’t in the know, Searchology is an annual event where Google lifts up its skirt with the purpose of giving reporters a sneak-peak at all the shiny new stuff being delivered. Soon after the announcement, the tweets, posts and feeds were working up such a frenzy I swear I could feel extra throbbing heat coming from my Mactop screen. For a nice breakdown and good commentary on the event, visit this blog post by SEOmoz’s CEO.

One of the things I found interesting was the announcement of “Rich Snippets”. “Rich Snippets” is similar to Yahoo’s SearchMonkey in that Webmasters can deliver information to search engines that can display the meaning of a search result in a brief, semantic way. If you want a better definition, you can see an official explanation and pretty pictures of it in action here. What perked my eyes up was that Google will allow webmasters, yes, real live humans with flesh and everything, to add markup formats in the code that Google will recognize and display as a rich snippet beneath the search result, making the search experience for Joe common a more fruitful one. The only kicker (OK, there may be lots of kickers, but this is the only one I could think of) is that from my experiences, a lot of webmasters out there can’t even add proper Meta-tags to their sites, so to rely on webmasters to deliver a richer experience may take some learning on their part. Or, it may take the fact that those who don’t adapt will not survive because with Rich Snippets, you can drive more qualified traffic to your site. And who doesn’t want that?

Enzo F. Cesario

What is Brandcasting?

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The idea behind broadcasting, or at least the visual metaphor, is the act of throwing out a big net with the intention of catching a lot of fish. The net that is cast for marketers usually comes in the form of a television commercial during a primetime show or, if you want to catch a lot of fish, during a big event like the Super Bowl.  So if broadcasting is capturing a large audience with a really big net, what is “brandcasting?” Brandcasting is the distribution of engaging online content that raises brand awareness as well as  “findability” on the web (see Brandsplat at brandsplat.com).

While broadcasting is more like a one shot deal (or at least a short term deal) that costs large sums of money, brandcasting works in a more cost-effective and cumulative way; the longer you brandcast with good content, the greater the results.  The strategy embraces all the metrics of an ROI (Return On Investment) approach.  However, unlike other bottom-line methods, brandcasting content can be a valuable and informative resource for potential customers.   And, at the same time, it distributes a company’s brand and establishes its expertise.  Branding is, after all, just another way of telling a company’s story and, with brandcasting,  that story itakes the form of engaging articles, quality blog writing, and even online video.  It provides potential customers with worthwhile information and engages them with the company brand.

Pay Per Click (PPC) models, commercials, banners and pop-ups all have their place and can be quite effective.  But they work like a hammer, banging away at the viewer.  Brandcasting is a more positive and organic way to get the word out.  Search engines like Google and Yahoo now give more weight to brands.  According to a recent blog post by UK digital marketing consultant Tom Simpson, “Google has recently updated it’s algorithm to give more weight to strong online brands in the organic search results” . He goes on to say, “Brands are a safe bet in terms of relevant results for a given keyword, and that’s great in terms of usability.”

When asked about this change on a recent YouTube Moderated video, Matt Cutts, a well-respected Google software engineer, explained the change in terms of putting more weight on things like trust, authority, reputation, page rank, and high quality.

Mr. Cutts and Mr. Simpson are saying the same thing. Solid brands do a good job building on those attributes that Mr. Cutts says Google recognizes”“ trust, authority, reputation, etc.  It’s intrinsic to building a brand. So naturally the better established brands will be given more weight in search results. That’s very good news for companies that engage in brandcasting.

Enzo F. Cesario

For more traffic, sprinkle on the green fairy dust.

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Is the importance of page ranking ranking lower than it used to? Yes, according to Google’s Matt Cutts. The holy grail of search marketing used to be figuring out which phrases ranked highest so that you garnered the most clicks with the least effort. But times have changed. In a recent interview, Mr. Cutts reported, the challenge is not to pay so much attention to ranking, pay attention to traffic, pay attention to conversions and keep building good content and don’t worry about ‘can I show people that I rank number one for my trophy phrase.”

That’s not to say that page ranking isn’t an important factor. It still is. But just because someone clicks over to your site doesn’t mean diddlysquat. Is that visitor converting? Is a sale happening? In the non-pixilated world, putting a “sale” sign on a retail storefront is enough to get people to take a peak. But that doesn’t mean the gawkers are going to buy whatever it is you’re hawking. Other factors come into play; the quality of what you’re selling, the price, the way it’s displayed, etc. The list of factors goes on and on. And so it is in the wonderful world of online retailing too.

“Paying attention to the content on your site, building good stuff, those are the things that will help. Not “can I get my PageRank higher with one more sprinkle of green fairy dust?”, says Mr. Cutts. But then again, there’s no real data on the effectiveness of green fairy dust. Or maybe there is; Matt’s just keeping it to himself.

Enzo F. Cesario

Wolfram Apha howls.

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Have you heard about the latest Next Big Thing? It’s called Wolfram Alpha and it is the new darling among digital geeks and the digerati. It’s unlike Google, Wikipedia or any other search engine in that it’s not a search engine at all; it’s a computational knowledge engine. At least that’s what its founder, Stephen Wolfram, a well respected computer scientist and the founder of Wolfram Research is calling it. So how does it work? Wolfram Alpha takes a question you type into a query box and gives you back a computational answer from reliable resources found throughout the web. What’s really cool is that it computes the answer on the fly and spits back charts, graphs, diagrams and links to other related questions and sources in the blink of an eye.

According to www.seobook.com (May 03), The major difference between Wolfram Alpha and existing search services is that it answers questions, as opposed to returning a list of pages. You mean it actually answers questions? How novel. So this is different from Google, in that Google shows you a list of websites based on your keywords, whereas Wolfram answers specific questions and also provides the data to back it’s “answers” up. If I squint real hard I can almost see HAL 9000. Although according to a blog post by the notable computer scientist Nova Spivak, “Wolfram Alpha is not HAL 9000, and it wasn’t intended to be. It doesn’t have a sense of self or opinions or feelings” . Darn, I was hoping Wolfram Alpha could share its feelings with me whilst I searched for the the latest information on Search Enging Optimization. Mr. Spivak goes on to say, “there is no risk of Wolfram Alpha becoming too smart, or taking over the world. It’s good at answering factual questions; it’s a computing machine, a tool — not a mind.

So far, the Wolf hasn’t even been released to the public yet, although the launch is being announced sometime this May. You can get a taste and see how it works by clicking here. Will Wolfram Alpha be just another wolf in the pack, or if will it dominate the herd. I can’t wait to find out.

Enzo F. Cesario

Belts tighten – just not online.

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As Americans curb their spending in the brick and mortar world, on the Internet they’re opening up their wallets like it’s 1980 again.  O.K., maybe not like the 80’s, but the online marketplace is where more and more greenbacks are finding their way. In an article in Internet Retailer, 22% more consumers say they plan to buy more on the Internet. Reasons for this are many: ease of locating items, better discounts, time savings and convenience just to name a few. That’s good news for retailers who plan to support their online presence in 2009. According to a survey conducted by The E-Tailing Group 70% of U.S. retailers plan to invest the same or somewhat more in e-commerce than they did last year because it is the fastest-growing part of their business.

But that doesn’t mean online retailers are willing to increase spending on big-ticket items like platform upgrades or new up-and-coming technologies. Those kinds of changes take big investments and often involve some kind of risk. According to Lauren Freedman, president of the E-tailing Group, 2009 will be remembered for refinement of navigation, site search and site tweaks. Tight economies beget a sharper focus on ROI and being accountable for how money is being spent. In better times, companies were willing to dedicate more dollars for untried strategies in hopes of one or two of those strategies hitting the mark to increase web traffic. But in an economic environment where companies are burning the furniture just to keep warm, there’s no room for risk. According to Ravi Belani, associate at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a renown venture capital firm in Menlo Park, California, there is a movement among advertisers away from cross-site media buys towards adoption of targeting and performance-based advertising as key to the trend driving recent investments in the sector.

Evidence of this trend can be seen in recent investments in ad networks and ad tech firms including Collective Media, Glam Media, Rubicon, Pubmatic, and ScanScout (which have all received tens of millions of dollars in investment funding in recent weeks). There may be a recession going on in the real world, but online, you almost feel like it’s the 80’s all over again. Minus the feathered mullets, of course.

Enzo F. Cesario