Google is reading your mail

gmail eyesScores of people use Gmail as their free web-based email provider, myself included. But I’m not sure how many people actually realize that Google is scanning your email content (not just subject lines) to serve up relevant ads in the form of Sponsored Links.

Go ahead and check it out. If you look down the right hand side of your emails and you’ll see ads pertaining to the content of your email.

How do you feel about that? Do you care?

For me, it’s ironic, because I use my work email for work-related communications only, but use a web-based email provider for personal communications (like, to complain about work), because I’m assuming it’s private.

But it isn’t. Someone is watching.

To make us feel better, Google says that no humans will read the content of your email in order to target such advertisements or related information. It’s all an automated process.

But isn’t Google in the information gathering business? And doesn’t Google become more valuable the more it learns? It may seem pretty benign now, but who’s to say a few years from now, every email you send won’t be dropped into a giant database all about you and your online activity, which helps Google know more about you, and therefore assist advertisers in targeting you more accurately.

Does it now make you think twice about sending that off-color joke to a friend, or that topless picture of the celeb-du-jour to your pals? Or do you care?

I wonder what it’s like to apply for a job at Google. Do they call references, or do they just pull your IP address and the Sponsored Link history for your Gmail account? If that’s the case, I think I’m going back to snail mail.

Anyone know where I can buy some stamps?

3 not-so-simple ways to improve online display advertising

doubleclickIn its battle for display ad supremacy against the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft, Google has just launched its DoubleClick ad exchange, which industry experts are touting as the ‘best advertising base’.

According to a Business Week article, Google hopes to diversify its revenue because it still relies on 95% of its revenue from search ads. Neal Mohan, Google’s vice-president for product management was quoted as saying that “Display advertising is still not living up to its full potential.”

I don’t claim to be an online ad expert, but I get the sense that search ads do very well for certain reasons, and that to ‘live up to their potential’ and level the revenue playing field at Google, display ads will have to adopt the same model as search:

1. Let everyone play
Here’s my beef with ad networks. Generally speaking, they require a minimum spend in order to get your ads served. That can eliminate participation of a good portion of small businesses (under 10 employees) in the US, which make up about 67% of employer firms. So it’s not that small business doesn’t want to get online, it’s that it can be cost prohibitive. The reason why search ads work so well is that there is no minimum spend. If the new ad exchange works this way, then everyone can participate.

2. Eliminate the acronym ‘CPM’
Search ads work incredibly well because you only pay if someone clicks on your text ad. Cost Per Click (CPC) is also a great way to measure ad effectiveness. So why is it that so many display ad networks insist on keeping the CPM model around? It’s basically transferring old world thinking (see: Mass Media) and its metric of ‘impressions’ to Online Media. If Online Media is really so persuasive at converting consumers, then the payment model of display ads should be CPC (or PPC). An effective solve for these ad networks could be a blend of CPM and CPC, which would expire ads after a certain amount of impressions or clicks. This could eliminate types of fraud, or lousy display ads that no one wants to click on.

3. Let us tell you where our ads are going
Many ad networks won’t reveal which sites your display ads are appearing. This shroud of secrecy has to go. Letting advertisers choose where their ads go in terms of sites and geography would be a welcome change, and allow advertisers to use their knowledge of relevant interests/sites for their products. It also allows advertisers to ensure their company stays on brand. Of course for those advertisers who don’t know how to place their ads, offering a behavioral model for a higher CPC could be a suitable option.

Like I said, I’m no expert, but I believe that display ads can do much better by increasing their appeal to advertisers, large and small, if they adopt the previous steps. Display ads will never quite be as effective as search because of their push model, but any online media buyer would tell you that a blend of search and display is critical for campaign success. Here’s hoping this new ad exchange lives up to expectations. If it does, we’ll see Google grab even more of the online spend, and maybe even revolutionize online advertising in the process.

How to blow off customers – by Kleenex®

kleenexI was doing some industry reading today and came across a Kleenex® campaign that isn’t necessarily about selling more tissues, but about protecting their brand trademark. The banner ad and subsequent microsite actually tell (or scold) us that when using the word Kleenex, we need to use the Copyright ® after it.

The copy reads:

You don’t need a Social Security number to get your identity stolen.

When you spend nearly a century building a name that people know and trust, the last thing you want is people calling any old tissue a Kleenex® Tissue. Simply put, ‘Kleenex’ is a brand name and should always be followed by an ® and the word ‘Tissue.’ Please help us keep our identity ours.

I’m a little confused by this campaign, and what’s more, I don’t really like being lectured to by a brand. I guess products with this kind of ubiquity need to be careful what they wish for. By being so top of mind, they risk having consumers call their competition by their name. And this is a bad thing? I don’t think it has hurt products like Band Aid, Xerox or Google. Maybe Kleenex should just focus on being the best tissue on the market and keep their legal team out of the marketing department.

Bing! Google’s done?

bing-logoEver since the launch of Bing, Microsoft’s new search engine, I’ve heard nothing but reports that Google is on its way down and is worried about Microsoft’s increasing penetration (from 13.8% of search volume in the US to 16.7% – pre Bing to present). Marketingvox even went so far as to claim that Sergey Brin is ‘rattled’ at Google.

Before we stick a fork in Google, let’s not forget that Microsoft is running a widespread international mass media campaign for Bing, which may account for the 3% rise. Let’s give it six months, post-campaign, and see what happens then. You’ll probably be able to Google the results.

How to get your name in search results in 10 days

googleGetting your name into search engines can be extremely beneficial. It’s how employers do more research in potential employees. It’s even a way some people check out people they’re dating.

When I talk to folks outside of the marketing community, the question of personal brand or reputation comes up frequently. They tell me that they’ve Googled their names to see what comes up. Most of the time, nothing does, or very limited/obscure stuff. If you’re concerned about what’s coming up in search (or not coming up) this post is entirely about getting your name out there, in a positive way.

Here’s what to do:

1. Buy the URL of your name.

This is really easy to do, and it will cost you about $10 a year. Unless you’ve got a popular name, it should still be available. Even if you do have a common name, you can still buy URLs with alternate extensions, like .net or .ca. Here are a list of sites that allow you to search for your URL and buy it:

Netfirms
Network Solutions
Go Daddy
Register.com

2. Create a website

Whether you got your URL or not, you can still get your name up in search rankings if you start a website. Sounds daunting, but it really isn’t. In fact, it’s really easy to do, it’s free and doesn’t require any technical ability whatsoever. Here are a list of free website/hosting sites out there that are extremely useful.

Weebly
Webs
Wix
Jimdo
Synthasite

Once you’ve gotten to one of these sites, you’re probably wondering what the hell to post. All you really need to do, if you want to do the bare minimum, is post one page. If you want your ranking to reflect your career aspirations, then make sure the copy you write sounds like to first paragraph of your resume. If you want it to be personal, then write some copy that’s more personal. It’s also good to write in the third person. It sounds more authoritative in a search result.

3. Get Linkedin

When you Google my name, the first result is my Linkedin profile. If you haven’t heard of Linkedin, it’s the Facebook of the business world. It’s free. It’s also easy to build a profile and, if you want it to, it will automatically search your address book for people you know and can link to.

4. Start a Blog

This is asking for a bit of a commitment, because blogs are time consuming. But really all you need to do is post something once a week. Is that too much to ask for – 200 words a week? Blogs are terrific because they are indexed by both regular search engines and blog search engines. I’d recommend that you register a blog under your name and focus on areas that you know something about. Remember, go back to what you want your search results to say about you. If you want to be seen as an incredible chemical engineer, then probably best to stick that topic instead of why pancakes beat french toast. Here are a list of great, free blog sites:

WordPress
Blogger
Blog
Shoutpost
Typepad

5. Make some comments

Another easy way to get your name out there is to comment on articles and blog posts. Probably the top 25 out of 50 search results that come up for my name are comments I made. For many sites you have to register to leave a comment. Make sure you enter your name for your username, and be smart about your comment. Just because it’s easy to comment doesn’t mean you should be flippant. Whatever your comment is, it will live in search results for a while. And the simple rule is, the more famous the article, the better your comment will do in search rankings.

6. Be a critic

I started a profile on Amazon a while back and made wrote a review on a book called Made to Stick. I’m amazed that the review appears so high in search results. So if you’ve read a book or two, bought a TV, played a game or traveled anywhere, write a review about it on a popular site (Amazon, Best Buy, Tripadvisor, etc.). It will get indexed for search.

7. Be shameless

By now I am sure you’ve heard of Twitter, the microblogging tool that’s taking the geek world by storm. What you’ll notice is that the folks who are really good at getting followers always post helpful links. Do the same. But every once in a while, post a link that goes to your website or blog. If you’ve got something interesting for people to read or see, they’ll follow you. You can also post your blog or web URL when you make comments. If it’s too long, just go to Tinyurl to shorten it. You will also want to ping search engines when you have a new post to your blog. Here are some popular tools:

Feedburner
Pingomatic
Technorati

8. Be consistent

Building your online brand isn’t tough, but it takes consistency to make sure it stays where you want it to be. If you follow all of the previous steps and drop them all a month later, rest assured your search rankings will fall into obscurity. Also, everything is time/date stamped by the search engines. If someone does a search on you and the most recent thing is from 5 years ago, what does that say about you, other than you’ve been living in a unibomber shack in the woods.

Some of these steps will index quicker than others, but rest assured, you’ll see your results change in about 10 days.

6 quick ways to improve your online brand

Our agency just presented to a group of business students at one of our local universities on the power of personal brand. While putting together the presentation it was a great reminder of how susceptible we all are to information that can damage our reputation, if we’re not careful. Seth Godin just wrote a great article on this topic, citing a specific example of a friend who disqualified prospective housekeepers because of a simple Google search. If you’ve got some bad search results, here are a few things you can do to improve your online brand.

1. Either ramp up all the privacy settings on your social media sites or delete your accounts.
2. Untag all photos of yourself on social media sites.
3. Create a profile on Linkedin and link to some people you know.
4. Buy the URL of your name.
5. Start commenting intelligently on people’s blogs/articles. The higher the profile, the better.
6. Start your own web site on Weebly and redirect your name URL to it.

Keep in mind that Google indexes for search every so often, so it may take a week to a month for some search rankings to start to change. So, the sooner you get on this, the better. And just remember this simple tip, just because it’s easy to put something online, it doesn’t mean you should. After all, you could live forever in infamy.