Blogging for dollars. Readers would be good too.

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The greatest fear for any blogger is that nobody is listening. Extensive blog entries have recently given way to snackable information like tweets, making blogging a less sexy and a more time consuming endeavor. Bloggers have many reasons to go to the digital well and pour their hearts out on a blog. Mostly the reasons fall into two categories:  fame and fortune. You will achieve neither if you don’t create interesting, fresh content that attracts a readership who want to hear what you have to say. In a recent New York Times article, Richard Jalichandra, chief executive of Technorati, said, “that at any given time there are 7 million to 10 million active blogs on the Internet, but “it’s probably between 50,000 and 100,000 blogs that are generating most of the page views.” That’s a pretty competitive marketplace. So what’s a blogger to do? For one thing, be original. A blog that doesn’t offer a unique perspective will eventually be lost in the din. Another important thing to do is post often. Being a blogger means creating content. If you aren’t posting consistently, then you probably won’t consistently attract readers. I had a writing mentor in college who said if you want to be a writer, you have to write. It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how difficult it is to actually get your butt in a chair and put your thoughts down.  So why do I blog? Strictly for fortune. Yeah, right. Fame and fortune are always at the back of my mind, but I’m not counting on it. I blog because I believe my background in the traditional advertising agency industry gives me a unique perspective in the world of digital marketing, online branding and content distribution on the internet. In other words, a unique perspective. Anyone out there?

Journalism ain’t dead. At least that’s the slant.

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Walt Mossberg, personal technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal reports on a new kind of online venture that attempts to blend journalism, advertising, entrepreneurship and social networking all into one big ball of digital wax. The company is called True/Slant and is being helmed by Lewis DVorkin, who previously held the senior VP of programming title at AOL. True slant is home to over 100 contributors, or “Knowledge Experts” who are given a plot of digital real estate where they can plant their best reportings, posts and opinions. But that”™s not all. Each “Knowledge Expert” has the authority to manage and promote their own page and are even expected to interact with and manage their own readers and advertisers alike, hopefully forging bonds with a large crowds of hungry fans which will in turn attract advertisers who are willing to shell out the dough for ad space on the site. These “Knowledge Experts” become in effect mini-publishers who have a real stake in shaping their online property. The contributors get paid to write stories, but also share in ad revenues generated on their page and if they”™re good enough, may even get equity shares. Not a bad business model.  But is it a good idea to mix advertising and journalism? Some think it raises ethical questions. I think it pushes the envelope and may give newspapers some ideas on how to actually get paid for what they do. It”™s a fresh and new approach to journalism, and what better time to try something that”™s never been done before.

This is your brain on twitter.

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In a traditional ad like a billboard or television commercial, you are limited to the medium; 60 seconds of airtime for a commercial and the number of poster sheets that fit on the billboard. But the internet offer a landscape that stretches boundaries farther than the eye can see. In traditional advertising, these boundaries limit what you can communicate to your audience. More often times than not you’ll notice that the majority of traditional ads spend their efforts on telling you about their product or service. But on the web, everything is flipped around. Instead of telling you about a product or service, you are shown the product or service in action. Take a recent New York Times article where Methodist University Hospital in Memphis released a live video webcast of a patient’s craniotomy while the patient remained awake. No billboard or print ad necessary touting the expertise of Methodist University Hospital. You can see it for your own eyes. Social networking, webcasting and online video are a wonderful thing for marketers in that they allow them to “show” their audience rather than “tell” . But mediums that happen in real-time, like a video casting, can be a double-edged sword. In Real-time information scenarios, you don’t really have control of the outcome versus scenarios (print ads for example) where the creator has control of what is released. In this way, marketers carry a greater risk if things don’t go well during the web cast or video cast, but also a greater reward if it turns out to be positive. I’m not saying one is better than the other, however. I believe smart marketers will use a combination of showing and telling across traditional and non-traditional mediums. Finding the right media mix is a lot easier if you can utilize the power of what the internet has to offer. After all, it’s not brain surgery. Or is it?

Enzo F. Cesario

Clicks up, paid clicks not so much.

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According to a blog post at comScore, the rate at which search queries are growing is not as favorable as the rate of paid clicks; 68% versus an 18% increase. Why is this? There are a couple of reasons, but one major factor is that people are searching smarter with longer syntactic strings. I rarely do a search with one word. Most of my searches are a string of words that help me target what I’m looking for so that I don’t have to wade through a mountain of results that just aren’t relevant. I think another big reason is that people, me included, are just bypassing the sponsored search links and even may go as far as skipping the first three entries knowing that those are probably there because they paid to be listed there. Regardless, the number of quieries continues to grow at a faster clip than the number of people who click on paid search results because people are changing the way they search. But just when you think you’ve got it all figured out as a master searcher, the bright minds at Yahoo and Google will figure out a way to make money and make people who search happy. And if they don’t, you can bet someone at some other company will be waiting in the wings to do just that.

Enzo F. Cesario

The yellow shine of PPC.

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yellowpageslogoThere’s a lot of discussion out there on the difference and effectiveness of PPC versus good SEM strategies that rely more on organic tactics. For a decent explanation on the differences between the two, read this article. When companies plop down the greenbacks to rank higher on Google or Yahoo, you can bet they’re expecting more click-through traffic as well as buy-through traffic. There’s lots of data out there that points to the effectiveness of PPC and having a good PPC strategy is smart. But in my opinion, it’s just another tool in the marketing toolbox and should not be used willy-nilly. What I wonder about is the effect on a brand image when relying too heavily on PPC for a long period of time. Does it harm a brand? Does it look too much like a hard sell? Does it turn would-be brand evangelists off? I haven’t been able to find any data on this, but my gut instinct tells me it can deteriorate a brand image if PPC is used with a heavy hand.

Gather around children, grandpappy wants to tell you a little story. In my younger days working in the advertising industry, I remember freelancing at one very large ad agency where an entire floor was devoted to media planning and buying for telephone book directories. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe they employed all those people for yellow page advertising. A gentle-mannered ad exec explained to me that yellow page advertising was highly effective and clients got a great return on their investment. The exec went on to explain that yellow page ads didn’t cost much to produce and they were highly targeted.

As you can imagine, that same floor today is now filled with young segway riding e-marketers who are supplying their clients with the latest and greatest digital offerings; and not a yellow page in sight. Later that day I walked around on the other floors and I noticed a flurry of activity not devoted to phone books. In fact, there were a bunch of other floors in the building devoted to many other facets of getting the word out for their clients.  There were people working on television commercials, print ads, radio commercials, P.R., product placement and even a think-tank like group helping the client engineer and design new product offerings. The point here is that the telephone directory advertising was just one (very profitable) facet of reaching their audience. Just like how PPC should only be a facet, not the whole kit and kaboodle, of an online strategy. Right now PPC is in its heyday and remains a bright and shiny object for online marketers. Which is all good and well. I just hope they don’t let the shine blind them.

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