Category Archives: Intellectually Challenged Marketing

Is the bad economy creating Cowardly Marketers?

I do think the bad economy (yes, its bad and not some scare tactic by Obama) and the fear of loosing their jobs that are causing some marketers to hide their heads in the sand and allow grossly under performing campaigns and programs continue to run.

Until recently I had rarely encountered a marketer who actually admitted they were “afraid” to tell management of problems or poor performance in a marketing campaign. In most of my experiences companies wanted to know so they could fix it or not repeat it. As long as they learned from it they can and should improve it. It seems now that I encounter this fear of even knowing they have problem almost 50% of the time. At a time when we should be trying new things or wringing every dollar possible from our campaigns too many cowardly marketers don’t even want to know how poorly they are doing .

I recently did a pilot of my tool for a couple of companies that showed significant problems with their search programs. While they loved the insight and the identification of a lot of problems – two of the companies decided not to continue the pilots since they were afraid that it would showcase “too many opportunities.” I always thought it was silly when companies referred to “Challenges” and “Problems” as “opportunities” just to make themselves feel better. But to not want to know you have problems or let management know at this frequency is pretty amazing.

In one of these cases, we pulled in all of their PPC keywords and found that over 27,000 words had a negative Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)- meaning the media cost was more than the revenue generated. Not always a bad thing, but the amount of the loss in this case was just over $155,000. The company was in total disbelief that they had that many under performing keywords. Just looking at a few of the words we found significantly opportunity for changes that would improve the campaigns. Ironically, this loss for a single month was 3x their annual SEO budget which was doing nearly 50x the returns of the paid program

In another case, we found nearly 300 keywords with over $100 in organic revenue that were not in their paid program. We also found that 16 of their top 20 most expensive words were not in any sort of SEO monitoring or optimization program. If your willing to pay a premium for keywords in PPC they should also be as important to the SEO team.

While I can understand the concern letting it continue only makes it worse. I had my first “don’t tell management” experience many years ago when working in a similar “fear-based” management culture. My first job out of the Marine Corps was for a Not-For-Profit company doing medical records review for the federal government. They were part of the government but privatization sounded to the government agency good so they merged 10+ offices into one the year before I started working there. This meant there was a lot of office furniture that belonged to the government and no one knew what to do with it so they put it in storage and forgot about it but were paying nearly $15k a month in storage fees. Apparently everyone in corporate accounting thought this was medical records storage (even though there was a separate line item for records storage) and not old furniture storage. The silly part is any excess government property it can be turned into the re-utilization center at no cost. We were lucky that we had one not afar away on the Marine Corps base and even better one of my Marine buddies worked in that division.

Being the go-getter, I got the appropriate forms from my buddy, wrote database application for the inventory management so that we could quickly process the paperwork. I called a local moving company to get a quote to load and deliver the furniture to Orange County from Los Angles. Total cost out the door was about $16k given we would need to do 4 semi truck loads and half-dozen temps to load them. My budget request was “denied” due to not having the money budgeted. Ironic we could not spend $16k to save $180,000 in annual storage costs for furniture and equipment we would never use. Even worse, the local management team told me to “forget about this” because if senior management had heard that they did not dispose of the furniture and were burning that much money to store it it would be hard to explain. In the end, a financial audit found it and these incompetent managers were fired over hiding this from management.

I hope this trend does not continue and maybe when the economy gets better it is easy to piss away a lot of money but when times are tough we should encouraging our teams to dig deep into the data and find nuggets of savings and performance improvement.

Flight to Africa Rant #2 – Virgin Atlantic Missed Opportunity

In my previous post I mentioned I was researching flights. I had a buddy tell me he had flown Virgin Atlantic to the continent previously and suggested I check them out. So I went to “The Google” and entered “Virgin Atlantic to Nairobi” seemed like as simple and informative enough query. The results are horrific – rant below the image.

1. The paid listing to the right is total crap. I gave you a destination – why can’t you message to it. Maybe I would have free movies on my flight to Nairobi – well at least the London leg. This is why paid search fails so often.

2. The highest organic listing has a horrible snippet – I bet they got a gold star for ranking #1 with that. That is why you need to check the snippet. I click anyways and encounter another of my pet peeves – I am on the Nairobi page, from a Nairobi query – why would I want a flight from London to New York. Just a bit of coding would make life easier.

3. The #2 listing is a 404 error. Hello wasted opportunity.

4. The #3 listing is yet another 404 error – do I need to comment?

5. The #4 listing – wow – a special offer – but damn I am 2.5 years too late – why can’t it roll over to a new offer or a generic page – if anything should 404 it should be that page.

Are you following up 100% of the time?

For a better part of this week I have been working on the lead generation and follow up management workflow for OC4.   One of the big lessons in my years of business is that you have to effectively manage your leads effectively or you will not fill your pipeline.   If that does not do it for you then common courtesy dictates you should follow up with people who took the time to reach out to you.

At the IMS conference today the lunch keynote said that less that 10% of all leads are actually followed up by the sales team.  He talked about the “Rule of 45” – stats show that when you follow up 45% of people who inquire about your products will by something from you within in 12 months with 12 to 15% buying in the next 3 to 4 months.

This got me thinking of a recent conversation I had with my wife after seeing a full-page ad and their cable TV ad promoting the upcoming home show.  My wife loves this show since it helps me find the people who can do all the work that I don’t have the time and skills to do on my “honey do” list.  I told her why bother, last year when we talked to and registered with a number of vendors and NONE of them contacted us.  We told them we wanted a quote or something specific from them, gave our contact details and again none of them followed up.  I guess I need to dress better next time so they think I can pay for their service – wonder with the economy if they are still fat and happy and need work.

Why would you spend money to exhibit, have people complete a form, a log asked me for my business card if you don’t call them.  Go back after the event then follow up with them.  While you can use an expensive CRM system or even the free version from Zoho to manage them – no matter how much data you collect and triggers you set – the best CRM system is the one that you actually use.

An interesting experience I had concerning profiling and lead follow up was at SES Chicago a few years ago.  My friend who managed Digital Marketing at Motorola at the time and I walked the show floor.   Peter, tired of being dogged by all the sales people at conferences who see the Motorola name and can’t let him pass in peace, started registering with the name of his blog.

Peter stopped by one both of a large Search Marketing tool company.  He was interested in learning more and asked them if they had a flyer.  The sales person told them they were running short and only giving them out to qualified companies – Peter looked at him and asked if he was for real.  Thanked him and walked away.  He took a few steps then came back and told the guy that he was actually the global manager of Search Marketing for Motorola.  The sales person went pale and quickly tried to give him the flyer but Peter just walked away.   I am sure the person learned a valuable lesson.  While we all understand the idea of profiling and giving away flyers and trinkets there is no reason that you can’t at least take the card and give the illusion you care.   As in this case since you are running low you can take a card and email or mail them more information after the event.

While it can be a pain to manage leads just be careful when you are qualifying them to make sure you did not exclude someone who could be a customer in the future or could be an influencer for your products later.

Give a Little to Get a lot!

I was helping a friend in China research Danube river cruise options for his upcoming trip to Europe.   I have wanted to do a similar cruise so I too was curious of the options so I spent some time researching the options.

As you would expect from a savvy search marketer, I did a search in trusty Google.  The #1 organic listing for “Danube river cruise” was the site European River Cruises (shown below) – they are also the top paid search listing.
I clicked the link and landed on following page. Slightly over optimized (multiple phrases in the title tag and choppy body copy) but it told me a bit about cruising on the Danube.


I clicked the highlighted text to learn more about the options and prices and was stopped cold by a form asking me to register to get the information. This is a little too old school for me.


I did not see the need to register and hit the back button twice to return to my Google results page. I looked at the next few sites in the listing and since I was curious, visited the rest of the top 10 sites. ALL of the remaining 9 sites within the top 10 offered me detailed information about the various cruise options, dates, schedules and pricing without having to register.

I picked two or three to send to my friend in China who ultimately booked with one of them. I will most likely book with one of those finalists as well.  That was a 2 for 1 opportunity that this site totally missed. 

What I would suggest to the team at European River Cruises is that they look at their bounce rates, especially with paid search. If nearly everyone is completing the form then that is great and that would mean I am just the odd ball. My guess is they are not completing the form.  That means all of their hard work to achieve that coveted #1 position has been squandered by the perceived need to capture email addresses.

Now, I agree with the attempt to capture email address and for that maybe offer tips or something special.  In their paid search they are offering 50% off bookings.  Have some call to action like – “ask us how you can save 50%” or something to have them engage.

The moral of the story is we often have to give a little to receive a lot. Who knows if these guys had killer cruises to choose from – I did not take the time to look.

SEO creates more problems than it fixes

Just before I left on vacation I had an executive make that comment to me after explaining some of the issues that we found on the site.   This is actually more common of a response than you think.

SEO, unlike many other forms of marketing requires you to look at many facets of the web site and ask what can turn out to be hard questions and choices for many companies.
The reality is most web sites suck and are not built with consumers in mind but to showcase business units, egos or products.  Many of the people who create them have no idea of how to sell anything.  We can’t blame the developers since they are only laying the code that enables the features and functions identified by the information architects, web strategists and marketing teams.  These are the people who believe they need to boast about how good they are while not bothering to think about how a consumer might actually want to interact with their content.
Here are some other issues I have recently faced:

Hierarchical Navigation

Most sites are built around the assumption that a visitor would only come to the home page.  We commonly have this conversation with large brands.  We are told If someone wants a “big red widget” they know we are the leader so they will come to and start interacting with us.
When we look at their analytics we can often see a significant decrease in traffic t the home page but overall site visitors are the same or increasing.  When we look at most common point of entries it is often a popular product or category of product with anywhere from 10 to 60% of the entire site traffic going to a set of internal pages from search engines.
When this is explained to the client they get frustrated and simply state they don’t have the time or resources to fix the content and navigation at the lower levers and put not on the wish list for the next update.

Template Changes

I have been preaching for years about the economies of scale that can be realized if we can make some of the most fundamental changes to we page templates. I have publicly presented examples from IBM where a single template update in the US which was implemented in 100 countries resulted in the local market page for that keyword phrase ranking in the top three position in over 50 countries with a month resulting in a exponential increase in traffic.
When we present these and the supporting content as well as the business case we are presented with anger and a myriad of excuses that you would not believe.   The most common after “our standards won’t allow that change” is “our developers are too busy adding new bells and whistles that they can’t make the template changes” and on goes the battle.
So why are we plagued by this lack of support for change in both thinking like a consumer as well as developing sites that will generate exponential traffic at a cost significantly lower than any other form of marketing?

The most common reasons I have identified are:

Lack of Understanding:
This lack of understanding ranges from fundamentals of consumer behavior, ecommerce best practices to the basics of search optimization.  Developers often build segments of the site independent of each other to specifications and requirements  – more of this is happening with rapid prototyping and agile computing techniques.
Organizations must start integrating the development process with key QA check points to ensure that the site is developed with the original goals in mind.

Lack of Concept Police:

Another example, a few years back I was brought in as a web marketing consultant on an information hub site.  The primary revenue streams were to be banners followed by selling and up selling publications and additional information along 40+ topical interest areas.  As the large agency was presenting the first set of pages for the site everyone was oohing and ahhing over how beautiful the site looked and how fast it was loading.  Since it was the first meeting I was in and they were not ready for me I was quietly squirming in my char.  The CEO of the company noticed my obvious displeasure and asked me if something was wrong.   I simply asked “where will the banners go?” and the room was dead silent –  the creative director quickly responded “Well there is obviously no room on the page” and I, somewhat stunned, responded “but that is how they plan to make money”.  More silence followed by frustration by the developers.

We moved on to the database team which showed the schema.  Once they presented I guess I winced a few times during the presentation prompting the CEO to ask me, sort of sarcastically, if I also had problem with the database structure.  I asked the database agency where were the 40 fields to capture topical interest as well as the dynamic triggers to map to new content to interests which could generate a list of names to ping to tell them there was new content in their area if interest.  I explained to the database developers that upselling known interested prospects was the second form of revenue.
The moral of the story, where was no one on any of the teams who was ensuring the site matched the original objectives for making money.  In the end, they lost months working with people who only wanted to create something pretty rather than functional that helped achieve the business goals.

Organizations must be brutal in their enforcement of the business of objectives of the site.  If you do not you will end up with millions of pages which don’t work hard to achieve the goals set forth to justify its existence.

Lack of Integration:

Quite often all of the representative teams and disciplines are separate and none of them work together making it impossible to ensure a synchronized message.  Often the search team comes in at the end to “fix” the site to rank well rather than in the beginning to ensure what is developed will be friendly with search engines. This is the true money savings and force multiplier companies need.  Integrating search into the workflow as well as analytics will increase the effectiveness of sites exponentially.

We have worked with large companies like Samsung to integrate content, analytics and visitor flow into the development process which not only yields benefits in the main market like the US but to any market where the end result is deployed regardless of language.

Unwillingness to Change Process or Precedent:

This is a wide segment ranging from a simple unwillingness to change  – lets just keep Frankensteining the site until it looks like Jed Clampet’s old shack in the woods without any thought to how the precedent or process is negatively impacting the site.  Too few people will speak of about things they know are wrong especially in today’s climate.
At least a dozen times a week I am told about some rule or regulation that prevents a change on the site yet no one can produce the documentation or who make the rule.  In the majority of the cases when the reason there is an issue is articulated to the approving authority the change gets made.   At IBM about four years ago the Web Effectiveness team and I reviewed the Style Guide and identified well over 100 changes to the styles and writing rules to make them more search friendly. In the end, of the 100 recommended changes, only a handful needed more justification and for those we could not give enough justification for they were granting exceptions to those BU’s who believe it was the right thing to do.  Once we had definitive proof from the test we make the case and got even the most rigid rules changed.


A few years back I had a heated debate about the most logical pathway of visitors to the site and what their intentions were.  The lead Information Architect actually told me to shut up and leave the meeting.  As I looked rather stunned he went on to explain to me that he had a PhD in consumer behaviors and Usability and knew what was best for the site.  About six months later the site was updated to take out those lab proven best practices and replaced with good ole common sense and pathway analysis proven navigation and content.

The net is that we need to all stop and take a deep breath.  All web owners should adopt one of David Ogilvy’s mandated in his agency “We sell or else” – and I believe much of the crap and stupidly that goes into web sites an optimization programs will be eliminated since job one will be moving product and how to do that the most effective way possible.

Hyperlinking for Intellectually Challenged Businesses

Recently I needed to resolve a problem with my Health Savings Account. This is a cool program that deducts money from your pre-tax dollars and holds it for you. You are given a Visa debit card to pay for your medical supplies and doctors payments that are not covered by insurance. What I did not know is I needed to send in my receipts since the IRS does not want me to use these previous non-taxable dollars on anything but healthcare – unfortunately I did not get that memo so I needed to get the form from their site via my account to submit the invoice to get it approved.

When I clicked on the link to get the needed form I encountered something that I personally can’t comprehend. The link to the form pops up a PDF and in the PDF is a note telling me the form has been moved to another location. For the life of me I cannot understand why they would not just change the link to the form or even easier put the pdf form in that location. My only rational is that someone did not understand how to do it and it was just easier to upload a new PDF with the same name – again I am perplexed why that PDF could not be the form rather than a note the form has been moved.

Maybe someday I will understand how the web teams in large companies think.