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It was always believed that “word-to-mouth” is the best form of advertising. Before buying certain product, one would generally consult with those who already bought it, asking their opinion as well as the observed pros and cons. Advertising could make the product recognizable, but it were always the reviews that could make it a really popular hit.

With the introduction and development of the internet and the so-called “global village”, the importance of the reviews has escalated even further. When considering certain product, most of us would check what the others said about it, reasonably assuming that an unbiased opinion of the real user is more valuable than the presented specs and even professional opinions. Reading reviews before buying a product has become a mandatory (and quite easy) stage of the research.

Recently, another step in promoting this “what-do-the-users-say-about-it” way of buying has been made. A new site has been launched, called “SearchReviews”. The idea is simple – it is an Search Index (or as we call it “search engine”) that gathers reviews of various products form different online retailers (amazon, ebay etc.) and presents them as the answer to user query. The search can be a very specific (such as Nokia N95 8g) as well as fairy general (apple iPad). Currently, reviews only exist for products, but in the future owners plan to include services as well, integrating local reviews into the index.

It has only been several months since Google had announced and completed the “New Adsense” – a redesign of the familiar GUI, adding several features to impress the users. And here it is – they are already adding more attributes to the popular money-making feature.

According to recent report, there will be now more things you could do in your Google Adsense account, such as creating and editing channels in Adsense for Games and Adsense for Video, blocking specific products by names and view the reports by page, and not only by unit.

There have also been some “renames” – the HTML is now “rich media” and Dynamic Images are called “Animated Images”. All those (as well as text, image and Flash) are included in the performance reports as “Ad types”. In addition, “Ad Requests” is the term that is now used instead of “Unit Impressions”, counting each time the request to show the ad is sent by the website towards Google service.

Google hopes these updates will be beneficial to Adsense users, making the popular “monetize you website” option preferable over Affiliate marketing, specific client banners and other

Twitter has been here for quite a while, but it has really grown in the recent two years. And lately, with the people tweet to share their ideas and opinions as well as notify their friends (aka followers) about the current news, almost every business is using Twitter constantly for promotion offers and other valuable information.

The competition in the online world is pretty severe, and Twitter is no exception. The users need to become more and more creative to make you follow them. Another important task is preserving the follower’s base. And one the ways to achieve that is to let them share an opinion with the “big brother” – the brand. That’s what Twitter Chat is about – allow followers (aka customers) to ask questions and offer personal opinions. Although it is doubtful that any of these ideas will be actually heard in the company HQ (although some certainly might), the “round-table” definitely present a certain level of satisfaction for the clients.

Additionally, this emphasizes a very important thing in the internet era – there are actual people behind the brand. @username is not a tweeting robot; it is a living human being that can chat with you from time to time.

The marketing has always been about customer’s psychology – learning the specific needs of a potential client and trying to satisfy them. Google has demonstrated once again that targeting certain audience is mandatory. And if you are into SEO, you should be aware of it.

According to one recently published study, Google Search results on a smartphone will vary by over 80% from those produced by a desktop computer query. If you think about it – this is actually quite logical to have a slightly different search algorithm for smartphones. For example, smartphone users like downloading various applications. Thus the mobile Google Search presents many results that include the word “app” or “download”. Brand filters and store filters cannot be applied to mobile Google search and it is even more biased towards “local” domains, with Google places usually appearing higher in the vertical results list.

With the smartphone market growing quickly, it seems as only a matter of time when “SEO for mobile” will become a separate branch in the industry.

It’s no big news that Chinese market is growing with an impressive speed and more and more businesses turn eastwards – both for production and marketing. Over a billion people live inside the Far East giant borders – a healthy reason to address the region in order to increase sales as well as exposure.

The news is, however, that the internet content is now also part of the trend. China has reportedly surpassed USA in the number of internet users in mid-2009, and although English is still the primary internet language (42 percent of almost two billion of online “population” worldwide), Chinese is in solid second place, with about 32 percent. And since China is still less technologically advanced than the Western Countries, the number of potential Chinese speakers, who will soon be joining the online world is far greater than that of the English language carriers.

And with the Chinese government now requiring all English content in China-based websites to be accompanied with local Mandarin translation, the number of webpages in Chinese is about to increase immensely. And, restating the above thought about more and more companies regarding China as a prospective market, it seems that the near future of online marketing can easily shift toward Chinese content.

UK shopping market maybe smaller than the US one, but Google wants to make an impact on it as well, introducing Google Nearby Shops UK. Now, when you query for certain product via UK Google Product Search, you will have the shops selling it appearing map-style below your search, to help you locate the closest item to your location.

Of course, if you are a merchant and want to take advantage of this feature, becoming listed in those results, you need to have your shop’s URL linked to both Google Places and Google Merchant Center.

For both buyers and sellers, this combination of Google Maps and Google Products can be very useful in this Holiday season.

Google has recently announced that Google Instant Mobile is now available “globally”. This means that the tool is released for all countries that have Google Mobile access (there are several dozens of those) and supports almost thirty languages.

The product, similarly to Google Instant Mobile, is integrated into search features for any Android browser (built-in for Android OS 2.2 and up) , and features various algorithms that allow faster dynamic search results.

Although this release was expected (shortly after releasing Google Instant Mobile in English, the company had announced that international support is on its way) – nobody anticipated that this would happen so quickly. The roll-out took Google slightly over one month time – an incredible figure, considering the complexity of the product. Of course, this simply means that Google had been working on globalization of Google Instant Mobile simultaneously with the product itself. That is no wonder – Google had always emphasized the importance of international marketing and global support.

Not too long ago, Wired magazine ran an article by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff entitled “The Web is Dead, Long Live the Internet.” In the introduction to that article the authors write, “Two decades after its birth, the World Wide Web is in decline, as simpler, sleeker services – think apps – are less about the searching and more about the getting.”

If this is true, finding your way to the top of the search engines won’t be quite so crucial, in terms of business success. The authors note that people may spend their entire day on the Internet and never really search the Web. Specific apps for email, social sites, news and business resources make it unnecessary to type and search.

Anderson and Wolff urge the skeptics among us not to toss this off as “a trivial distinction.” They call the new model “semi-closed platforms” that use the Internet as a transportation device. But there is no basic need for a browser to display pages. The bottom line is it’s “a world Google can’t crawl.”

What does it mean to rank #1 on the major search engines in 2010 and beyond? Is it as important as being the “big dog” a few years ago? Or, as some believe, is it not quite as important as in the past?

Off to the Races?

page speedThe year 2010 may be remembered as the period of time when use of the Web and Internet changed significantly. What change, you may well ask? It seems obvious that if the majority of people are starting to fine-tune their Web use to the point of using only a handful of specific apps, the key factor is going to be speed.

Several industry observers have started to focus on page-load speed as one of two or three major factors for Web site success. For example, professionals in this field are urging Web designers and administrators to offer thumbnails of images so that the visitor doesn’t have to wait for a full-size image to load. Give the viewer the option to select the larger image. It’s a simple step.

In keeping with this trend toward almost-instant gratification, Google has come forward to emphasize page speed as a key factor. After all, for Google to be successful millions of Web users around the world must continue to search. One of the primary “enemies” of the old search pattern is the mobile device.

As cell phones and other devices take on tasks formerly completed only on a powerful desk computer, the need to search will be in decline. Sites will be developed for mobile devices and for the specific applications that work best on the mobile device.

Take the Local

google local searchAs we discuss this major change in Web use we should also consider this thing called the local search. In simple terms, being #1 worldwide will mean less if a viewer limits the search (and use) to fewer sites. For example, businesses of all types may start to limit their marketing to sectors such as Google Places or to Hotpot (interesting name). This last item is a ratings tool as well as a recommendation engine for Google Places. It’s designed to focus on local service, based on visits and recommendations from friends and other users.

Will search-engine optimization maintain its place as a key to Web site success? The answer could be “yes” and “no” together. Relevant, reliable content that is useful on a consistent basis will still put sites near the top of the priority list. One good example for incorporating the speed idea into the mix is using WebP images that will load faster than bulky JPEGs.

Here are some reasons why we should start using WebP:

  • Faster user experience
  • Reduced bandwidth and hosting cost
  • Overall improvement of the World Wide Web

Perhaps one of the most important ideas Webmasters, developers and marketers can take from this discussion comes from Anderson and Wolff, authors of the Wired article. “The fact that it’s easier for companies to make money on these platforms only cements the trend. Producers and consumers agree: The Web is not the culmination of the digital revolution.”

A Few More Thoughts

Listing the key items for WebP use and including the emphasis on making money makes the argument for page speed quite strong. However, WebP won’t be an industry-wide standard immediately. Most people will continue to use JPEG or another popular format in the near future. But designers and administrators should give serious thought to using thumbnails to reduce load time.

As for the idea of making money on the Web, we might go back to the old real estate mantra “location, location, location.” Make sure your Web content is placed properly and the page-to-page connections are efficient. Add the local ingredient to your Web marketing to secure your place in a defined area.

Here’s a sobering thought for the doubters out there. The Wired article points out that a 1997 cover story in that magazine was already urging readers to “kiss your browser goodbye.” The emphasis for the future, according to this theory, was going to be on applications for specific purposes and a Web that was getting closer to “out of control.”

Walled gardens in which users were controlled by the provider certainly didn’t prove to be the success model. Google seemed to have “it!” But now it seems that even this game-changing business model wasn’t the final answer. Stay tuned.

So many creative people step into the online world expecting great things from their Web site, their product or their service. But there is really only one way to find success in this field and that’s through conversion. If you can move a solid percentage of your visitors into leads (then into customers) you are on the right track. Keys to this process are quality content, good design and the right call to action. Then it’s time to test and measure user data with such tools as heat maps.

online conversionsWhen it comes to the idea of “conversions” and “converting” in online business we’re not talking about changing a PDF document to Word or a JPET image to GIF. With the technology available today there are online sites that will perform this service for you. But that’s not the conversion you should be interested in at this point.

We’re interested in is converting Web site visitors to leads that may mean a true increase in business. People have invested money in the pursuit of increased traffic to their Web sites but sometimes don’t go one step further and generate quality leads. This is the major step you need to take to have an effective Web site and to measure site effectiveness.

How It’s Done

While the correct use of keywords, phrases, links and referrals can make a lot of difference in Web success the journey actually begins when you create quality content. Sure, a few junk sites might get good numbers because of the “tricks” of the trade. But long-term success will come with content that offers something valuable and captures the visitor to the extent that the individual wants to engage in a meaningful “conversation” with you.

In addition to quality content your online presence requires above-average design. One key element of good design is simplicity. But this doesn’t mean empty and boring. It means being user friendly, focused and understandable. Great design presents an overall picture that is just what you want your visitor to experience.

If you have interesting and useful content combined with the correct design for your effort you are almost there. What more do you need to do, you may well ask? The third factor is sort of like asking for the order. In this case it’s a call to action. Ask the visitor (potential customer) to take the next step by contacting you in some way. Always provide the “yes” button – an email address, phone number or both. Use a call to action and get the customers you desire.

Ask Them to Act

As you may have guessed, it is common to design a Web site with a wonderful appearance that is easy to use and has useful, interesting content but still fail to capture a solid percentage of visitors. In many cases this happens because the site doesn’t include a call to action in the proper place and at sufficient frequency. A call to action should be a highlight of your Web site.

Your call to action should also be presented in the right form. Does your visitor have the opportunity to request a sample or demonstration? Can he or she ask for a free trial or a no-cost consultation? This type of call to action should garner you more leads than simply asking the visitor to provide contact information. Give them something in exchange. After all, they are giving you themselves.

Make sure your call to action step takes the visitor to a landing page that is easy to use and understand. It is essential that you don’t put roadblocks in the process, especially at the point when a cold visitor is about to become a lead. Deciding at what level to qualify your leads will depend on the industry, product or service. Some qualification is fine as a way to filter out leads that will only waste your time.

How Do You Know?

If you have taken care of the proper steps in the conversion process, as described above, how will you know that your system is working? Of course, monetization of your business should show a positive bottom line. If you’re making money you must be doing something right. But how do you really know that your design and efforts are giving you the best results possible?

The simple answer is: You need to know your Web site’s conversion rate. The information must be a current, accurate report on such ratios as visitor-to-lead, lead-to-sale and visitor-to-client. Some successful online businesses consider this last ratio the most important because it tracks the cold-call visitor through the process and shows which of these visitors become long-term customers.

Visitors become leads when they provide basic contact information that puts them in your system. Depending on your service or product you might expect to get lead information from 5 percent or 10 percent of your visitors. Some of the hottest sites might get a percentage as high as 25 percent. If you have a very specialized product or service that is attractive to only a small niche market you might be satisfied with 5 percent.

To wrap up this brief discussion of a complex subject we should at least consider the use of heat maps as a way to test your content, design and call to action. Using this tool might mean the difference between knowing who your customers really are and not understanding your market.

The right kind of mapping and visual reporting can give you a clear picture of your visitors’ clicks, scrolls and other moves. Think about how valuable a visual image of your visitors’ action could be. Get the real who, how and what when you study conversion by using behavior reports and heat maps that work.

One of the key factors in business success is leverage. Microsoft Advertising Intelligence allows you to leverage true history and forecast data. This means your keyword efforts are based on actual customer activity. You get key performance indicators (KPI) to track performance.

Microsoft Ad Intelligence

The full name of this tool is Microsoft Advertising Intelligence. It is designed as a research and optimization tool that works with Microsoft Office Excel 2007, providing keyword expansion, pricing, KPI data and research. What this means for the business person is that you can make the most of your marketing investment. You’ll need to uninstall the earlier versions of adCenter Add-in for Excel. Of course, you should have Microsoft Office Excel 2007 installed. Be sure Excel is closed when you go through the Ad Intelligence install process.

With Ad Intelligence you can work with lists of suggested keywords, and develop your strategy for keywords using MSN and Bing query information. The details include volume, relevance, demographic and geographic tracking as well as cost history. This data helps you fine tune your bid strategy because you use actual pricing information and data that is specific to keywords. You get information on clicks, impressions, cost-per-click and position.

As product information for Ad Intelligence states, “Search activity reflects real time consumer behavior which helps determine the best planning approach for your online and offline campaigns. This ensures you are talking to your consumers with the right message, at the right time in the right place, to build truly integrated campaigns.”

Planning for Success

It’s tempting to get into the online marketing business because it seems the “hot” thing to do. But if you want to increase the chances of success you should devote some time to planning first. Microsoft Advertising Intelligence is designed to assist you in that planning process. For example, your working campaigns will be constructed on reliable information, data that allows you to make good decisions.

Ad Intelligence means using keyword search tools built into the Excel program as well as developing keyword lists based on actual behavior and trends. Data you can use includes relevant rankings that will help you understand how this will add value to the effort. You will be able to use your business budget on campaigns that actually work!

Features that will help your efforts succeed include a keyword wizard that lets you pull keywords out of an Excel list or from a specific URL. You can then expand your keyword list based on bidding association, similarity of categories or keyword phrases that contain the single keyword. You can move a detailed report containing estimated search volume, ad position, click-through, click cost for a specific range of dates etc.

Search buzz focuses on top-category keywords, with almost two dozen core categories available. There are dozens upon dozens of subcategories. If you are familiar with the usefulness of “spiky” numbers you’ll find that Ad Intelligence uses the above-mentioned categories but focuses on spiky keywords. Features include spike start and end dates as well as spiky index. One of the key features allows you to set your information to all verticals so you can uncover the leading spiky keywords or top search queries.

There’s More!

Microsoft Ad Intelligence keyword toolMicrosoft Advertising Intelligence offers keyword-focused tools such as extraction that is based on input URL. You will be able to set the maximum number of keywords up to 100. It even allows you to establish a minimum relevancy so you can tailor your confidence level. If you are not sure of the efficiency of a certain keyword the tool has keyword suggestion to help you. Suggestions are based on such details as long-tail keywords containing the core keyword and on advertiser behavior.

Other features include:

  • Keyword categorization that helps you organize keywords
  • Data on monthly traffic including forecasts for up to three months.
  • Geographic details
  • Demographic details
  • Monetization so you can study ad clicks, click-through rate and more

One of the nice tools available in Ad Intelligence is keyword normalization. This means that the software will find and flag duplicates in an advertising group. The feature might select a keyword if it has extraneous characters or if capitalization is a bit different. This process takes place automatically and will save the use a lot of time. You don’t have to manually manage variations of the same keyword.

Extraneous characters might be quotation marks, hyphens, asterisks, parentheses, brackets and many other common symbols. Extraneous words such as “a” and “an” may trigger normalization as well.

The advertiser can remove duplicates or remove the original. With the automatic task in Ad Intelligence and some careful editing by the advertiser this feature will mean more search queries match chosen keywords. Advertising return should be increased with this fine-tuning process.

This group of tools is designed to help advertisers improve their online advertising results through accurate modeling. Business owners will be able to more correctly predict intent of the user because of the specific data based on keyword and phrase selection. This can be an awesome tool in the online commercial world. Why? Because the way people search is determined by geography, demographics, age, gender and other factors.

Keyword and search characteristics provide a nice overview of the target audience. An advertiser use Ad Intelligence is able to learn more about a user’s intent and discover a doorway into a social network that this user is part of.