Category Archives: Rants

Accepting that Not Everyone Wants or Needs Change

Yesterday I posted in Facebook a quote that I received twice in the same morning from two different people and once previously last week.  All three people were interested in DataPrizm but wanted to adapt features of it for their existing offline workflow. They essentially told me “we want exactly what we have now but online.”  I was specifically referencing the earlier call but the other two thought I was mocking them. Maybe indirectly I was, but I did not mean to – so I am sorry!

The post and the response from friends and the prospects made me realize that not everyone needs or wants me to fix their process.  I further realized this this morning when I had a discussion with the client where I was getting frustrated that they did not want to focus on something they should.   It did not seem important to them and I was struggling to convince them otherwise despite extensive data, logic and near crayon drawings.  In the end, I accepted that I can only advise and it is up to them to implement or not.   I always do better on projects when I remember to just do what I am paid for and not provide any additional commentary.

The post yesterday came from similar frustration that has bubbled up the past few weeks from the inefficiencies of keyword management and the keyword research process and most importantly the people who perpetuate  it.  I have invested a lot of time, energy, presentations, training and money into creating a  process, as well as a tool set, that makes that data intensive process more efferent.   These efforts, couple with manually doing data mining thousands of times and now using automation and dynamic process I cringe whenever I see people doing things, in my opinion, in a less than optimal manner.

People that have worked with and for me know that I am a process fanatic. I try to force every position to have a “book of knowledge” that allows that role to be replicated by anyone who has the ability to read.   Anyone that has had any extensive conversations knows that my brain works in a multidimensional manner and I often get frustrated when I see a less than optimal decision or process. It is similar to playing 3 dimensional chess since it is working out various angles, pros and cons and risk and reward.  You may recognize this as classic “overthinking it.”  I know it is frustrating for people, especially my wife, and can be exhausting for me. Unfortunately that is how I am wired and I do my best to now make it a burden on others. It is more acute in areas where I am passionate and fluent in the topic.  For as long as I can remember, I always have been drawn to opportunities to make activities repeatable and take out human error that often comes from frustration with redundancy and attention to detail.

When I was 13 I worked for my father over the summer at a trucking company.   One of the days we went to a remote warehouse site where the company was the delivery, storage and bagging operation for a large chemical fertilizer company. For most of the day there was nothing for me to do but watch the chaos of this process.  Being bored and severe ADD kicking in, I sketched out a more “efficient process” and tried to show it to the site manager. He blew me off as the pesky kid I was. The next day I went to different stations and talked to the people at the stations suggesting slight changes and they also blew me off.

I was going crazy watching the routing of the trucks to empty their load and the backup that resulted from the inefficiency.  It was all gummed up due to the mouth of the conveyor belt that moved the fertilizer into the storage warehouse being too small.  As a result, they had to back the trucks up onto a small incline to tile them to force the material out of a smaller area of the back gate of the trailer. Pretty ingenious how they made it work but took a lot of time to get the trucks in place.

I asked the foreman they did not use a larger hopper. He told me they did not have one nor the budget for one and this was working just fine.  To him there was no problem.  The trucks were getting unloaded and the fertilizer was getting into the warehouse.  However at any given time, there as many as 10 trucks sitting idle not moving product.   Since I was bored I walked around the job site and found a broken hopper in the weeds in the back are of the property.   Borrowing my father’s welder I repaired and modified it so it would feed directly onto the belt. My father moved the hopper into place and wanting to make sure it was used correctly and to change the flow of trucks, I set up cones in the morning to redirect the flow of traffic.

Of course the foreman and workers all freaked out with the change but the site manager suggested they try it. It worked perfectly and cut the time to offload by 3/4.   This then created a new problem.   The two guys standing around monitoring the unloading were no longer necessary and they were the first to complain at the “new problem” of too much being offloaded into the warehouse and not able to shift it to the bagging area.  I had suggested changes to the bagging process as well that made it more efficient. Increasing the volume bagged and available for delivery enabled earlier billing.  By the end of the week my father was almost fired and told never to bring me with him in the future. That being said, senior management wanted to know why the site manager or foremen had not tried to solve this problem.  The site manger’s response was perfect – they never thought they had a problem, which is why it did not need solving. This resulted in the site manager being demoted and sent to a smaller site in Cleveland.

This was one of my first big life lessons. I learned that actions might be inefficient for a reason. In some cases they may know it is inefficient but continue with it to preserve jobs, protect egos, or to save money.   In other cases, like this one, the process is flawed but not to them because they don’t know any different or even have a need or responsibility to evaluate other approaches.   The other big catch all, “this is the way we have always done it” which I head daily in the Marine Corps.

Going forward, I will try to listen more and not to solve everyone’s problems for them. If they simply want and export and are willing to pay for it, I will gladly make it happen and take their money without much care of what they do with it once they have it.

Turning 2015’s Frustrations Into 2016 Opportunities

2015 was a tough year for me in terms of my love/hate relationship in my career as a Search Marketing Consultant. At least once a month I was so frustrated with either a client or our industry that I wanted to move on to something more rewarding. That being said, it was also an amazing year. I received both the Search Consultant of the Year as well as a Lifetime Achievement award which was a tremendous honor. It is also the reason I plan to start writing again and try to give back to the industry that has allowed me to have a great living over the past 20 years.

Over the holiday break I had time to relax and to think about those things that really pissed me off and what I planned to do about fixing them, avoiding them and more importantly, making money from them.  I also found nearly 100 articles in various degrees of completion that I will try to finish and get posted.

In a typical year, I work on 2 or 3 large scale projects and another 2 to 3 “crisis” projects where I am called to solve problems that are either large scale or unique.  It gives me insight into a number of areas from agency relations, best practices, workflow etc.

#1 Frustration – Lack of Appreciation for Keywords and Keyword Modeling

For the past 5 years I have been working on various tools to aggregate and model keywords and mine them for opportunities.   My tool, which I now call DataPrizm, allows you to store and mine keywords any numbers of ways.   I have had a lot of success using it in my consulting practice but have not had much adoption from companies and especially not agencies.

Ironically, every test and pilot of the tool has resulted in some amazing findings and incremental opportunities.

Unfortunately, this also scared the crap out of a lot of people.  I had a couple that actually told me using the tool would cost them their job.  The vast majority told me that they either did not have time to use it or it did not match their workflow.   For all the talk about content marketing and data mining I am amazed at how few people actually look at the gold mine they have.  I have written a number of articles on this and have a few clients that use the tool to maximize opportunities but the few are even willing to try.

Most people store words in Excel or some small internal database of in their SEO tool like Bright Edge or Conductor. Few actually mine the data and even fewer look at paid and organic together.

Up until this year I just got frustrated and did not push the issues but in 2016 I will be much more vocal on this wasted opportunity and do more to showcase some of the amazing findings we have had in the tools.

#2 Frustration – “Dynamic and Hip Websites and Content Marketing Mumbo Jumbo”

2015 was the year of the Content Marketing hype and move to infinite scroll and other non-functional web designs. Based on cook frameworks like AngularJS.   They make the developers life easier but without prior thought are deadly to your SEO performance.

One of the frustrating things I encounter a lot from creative agencies is building sites because they were “cool” and “hip and modern” or another is :it s like AirBNB” and a s far from search friendly as you can get. Once I get called in to do the review before launch I point out simple things like robots.txt blocking the site, no titles tags or a single page infinite scroll with no workaround for search.   When we bring it up to the agency the first answer is “SEO Friendly was not in scope” or “Getting the site launched was critical” or other bullshit.

I had one project that was going to be the poster child of SEO integrated design. The agency met 98% of the criteria for SEO. However, the Friday before launch, the compliant site was swapped out for one the creative director thought was “more cool and hip” that was a single page inflate scroll.   The brand team accepted it. Within a week 100% of the rankings and organic traffic disappeared. A month later we went back to the original design trying to recover traffic.

I am dealing with a case now where a top tier creative agency with a large search agency build the client a new online store and built it in AngularJS. The store launched and everyone was telling them it would take time for Google to reindex the site. There were no provisions for redirects, resubmission or monitoring indexing just a simple statement – it will take time. A few months passed and no traffic from SEO, only 10 pages indexed and millions in lost revenue. Since the site was built in AngularJS it was 100% invisible to search engines. Ironic that this framework was developed at Google! Once I explained the problem to them they did not want to double the overhead using a rendering service as it would “double the server load” and are now rolling back the previous build of the site.

First, I have added to my review of potential clients their willingness to comply with SEO best practices.   In addition, I hope to prevent this in 2016 by rolling out a set of comprehensive SEO rebuild/relaunch requirements that I developed for one company.   These requirements must be accepted by the development team or agency during the pitch briefing process, in the final contract, during the kick off meetings and then again as part of the final site acceptance testing checklist. While we have had a bit of success for this client, there are still a few agencies developing sites for the portfolio that were far from search friendly.

#3 Frustration – SEO is Critical for Traffic but….

This frustration drives me insane. Following the ecommerce store and AngularJS fiasco, companies that live primarily off of search traffic need to have better controls.

I had one client that gets 88% of all traffic from organic search and yet the Web Development team and Creative Agency do everything humanly possible to prevent organic search traffic. The SEO Manager tried to get another resource and was told there was no budget.   They came back from vacation to be introduced to 15 new social media team members. Social Media contributes less than 1% of the traffic and zero direct revenue. I was asked to help build a business case to justify the cost for a single headcount for SEO team.

I has another project I turned down from a global company wanting help setting up redirects from some of their campaigns sites to Facebook.  They were going to do a major effort there and wanted the current web traffic to go to Facebook as well.  I tried to explain that it was the web content that was bringing the traffic and if that moved to Facebook that would all go away.  They were convinced by their agency that the paid media they would get from Facebook would outweigh that loss.

#4 Frustration – Paid Search Waste

I will say it again, Paid Search is the single greatest advertising tactic available to brands today. There is nothing that matches the laser precision it offers to target consumers at the very moment of interest.   However the way many of these programs are managed is criminal.

I often get access to paid campaign when I import the data into my DataPrizm Keyword Management tool. As I have written before, the paid search teams are the #1 reason companies do not adopt my tool.

In the past year I have not seen a single paid search campaign that was remotely managed to its potential.   These range from budgets of $5,000 to over $100 million and a gamete of agencies and they are all horribly wasteful and no one really cares.

In mid-November I was asked to review a couple of holiday or year end paid search projects for one of the brands where we had a strong repository of historical information. I was asked to give my recommendations on how they were structured and confirm all the information shared was leveraged by the new agency. Nearly all were set to broad match, one or two pieces of creative and one with 10,000 words had only 5 ad groups. When challenged the agency said they would optimize over time. I am all for test and learn approach but when you have 4 years of historical data and best practices from the 6 previous agencies test and learn there are some things you don’t need to test.

Some of the worst findings are campaigns that are not updated. I had one F100 company that was spending upwards of $50 million with a large agency. I looked at the campaign history and they had not made a single change for 5 months. They tried to convince the client that their bid management tool did all the changes and based on their “financial model based algorithms” did not require human intervention. They had changed a single creative or added any negatives. They were fired that week. Unfortunately the new agency is not much better.

The opportunity for 2016 is to refine my audit program and expand my agency scorecards but find a way to get clients to actually use them! Also, to further expand the use of negative and underperforming word detection in DataPrizm to help flag these words quicker.

#5 Frustration – Clients Demanding to Rank for Something Not Relevant

Following up on my recent rant about the silliness around content marketing and especially those clients that want to leverage lifestyle marketing for traffic. One brand wanted to rank #1 for Coachella. They only have 2 articles on the topic that are a year old. As one of the event sponsors, they assumed that that would get them top rankings.

Just like companies wanting to rank for something they should not, I have others that only want to perform for branded phases.   In September I turned down a six figure-consulting project for a large luxury brand company. The brief sounded like a dream project. – to mine keyword opportunities and help them find niche content targets and mine search data for incremental gains. A former client suggested me to them that I had completed a similar project last year. Soon after sending my initial questions to the client the agency lead told me that all future questions would be to them and that I would not have any direct access to the client.

They went on to tell me that while there was a scope of work I was only participating due to the client’s mandate.     Most of the brief was smoke and mirrors. Apparently the plan was to only have them perform for the brand + product category words.   It was such a wasted opportunity.

#6 Frustration – Celebrity SEO Said….

I could go on for days about this one. I attend a lot of conferences and hear a lot of search experts speak. There are a number that I call “Celebrity SEO’s as they have a huge base of followers that follow every word they utter and their job is to write and drive awareness of themselves or their agency.   People follow them blindly no matter what they say even if it is wrong, or misinterpreted.  I have to spend more time than I want debunking some of their nonsense to clients.

One of the big ones was a person in their keynote told the audience that the H1 tag is dead. They referenced various “ranking factors studies” that showed it was no longer working. We had a web team in India that removed the H1 from the pages.  First, if is not “being scored” there is no reason you would be penalized so why remove it until a future build? The developers assumed since it is not working it should not be in the page. Within a few weeks rankings tanked they had lost nearly $15 million in revenue. Below I describe how we found the problem but we immediately rolled back the change, got the rankings back and recovered the loss revenue.  Just because it was said at a conference or maybe works on small sites does not mean you should implement without discussing with your own team or testing it on a sample.

Another keynote recently told the audience that keywords were dead. That you need to focus on content marketing and create content people want. Ironically in every case where he used examples of content marketing he used a keyword phrase to trigger the content. When challenged about his statement of keywords being dead he implied that individual words are dead and we need to think of clusters of words. Not to split hairs but are “clusters of words” a list of related phrases? I guess it did not sound as cool and I had 2 prospects for my tool decide not to use it since the “keynote” said it was no longer important.

In 2016 the opportunity will be to try to debunk some of these statements and try to be more vocal on some of the basics of search and data mining.

#7 Frustration – Still Optimizing Pages and Not Templates

It is now 2016 yet some SEO’s still do audits and optimization by the page or phrase.   I just had a friend ask me if $10k was a fair price for an audit of 50 of there words and pages. I was shocked that people still pitched it that way. I asked him how many page templates he had – did not know but we identified 5 core templates. The goal would be to optimize a template then all word types for that template would perform better. Yes, you may need to look at links etc. for specific words and pages but to many companies give me the same list of problems 20 times.

As I mentioned above with the loss due to removing the H1. We found this problem because we focus on templates. We looked at all the words that dropped in rank. We then pulled a PLP report from DataPrizm for those words and loaded them into Screaming Frog and looked for the template ID.   We found 2 pages – category page and the product page were 100% of the pages that had words drop in rankings. We reviewed the page and the only thing that changed was the removal of the H1. We rolled the pages back and in less than 10 days the rank was back as was the traffic.   It took less than 30 minutes to identify the core problem.

I see this problem a lot globally where agencies audit all the different country versions we end up with 10 to 20 of the exact same report.   For 2016 I will try to detail and global site audit process that will help reduce this waste.

I will try to rant less and put out some quality content so that I don’t piss off the readers.  Let me know what you would like to write about and I will try to dust off some of the half completed articles and get them posted.

Loyalty and Mileage Awards Have a Higher Cost than Expected

First I have to admit, and most people who know me I am a mileage whore. Everyone who has traveled with me is always amazed at the ways I can find to accumulate miles. At my peak I was flying 300k plus miles a year and 150 nights in hotels so I was typically United Global Service, British Airways Gold and top level in Starwood, Hilton and sometimes Hyatt.

As a mileage whore, I check my account. I did this week and found that United has not been counting a number of my flights. Still looking for a good app but my expenses reports and “bonus” file help a lot. Given the current state of affairs with upgrades and award flights you need all the miles you can get and I find most of these that give them are giving less and less and taking more and more from us “loyal travelers.” nearly every program I belong to have been harassing me to vote fot them in the annual Freddie Awards for loyalty, perks etc. A few that I have been loyal to over the years did not get my vote this year.

Flight Credits

I looked n my account to make sure a partner flight was credited as noted below. Then I noticed that some of my recent domestic flights were not being posted especially between months and quarterly statements. For example, I flew to St. Thomas for a dive trip and got credit for the flight from Newark to St Thomas and back to Hartford but not to Newark from St. Thomas. Granted that was only 500 miles but why not? That is the day they changed months for statement purposes but it was not on the previous statement. United told me it was a “system error” and they credited the 500 miles. I have found similar problems – to be fair, once I catch them and submit the request they do credit me but how many people are not looking at their statements.

International Partner Credit

A few other of these missed credits were international partners like Austrian, SAS and Air China. These Ironically, they counted one of the legs but not all of them which made it even more stupid.

Austrian Airlines Mileage Credit

I was flying roundtrip Stockholm to Minsk. Yes, I could have taken a direct flight on Belevaia Airlines which is the national airline of Belarus. Since it was direct the cost was a bit more than the round about flight. But, being the mileage whore (an a family that loves Austrian chocolate) I took a flight on Austrian Airlines, a Star Alliance United Airlines partner. What I did not notice was that one of the legs was classified a “K” class and this is a level where they would not give mileage credit. So apparently since 1 leg was K (although another was Discounted Business Class) they declined credit for all legs based on an email that I just got from United Mileage Plus Customer Service.

OS318 – Stockholm to Vienna – Class = M (Economy with 100% base mile and 100% Premier qualifying miles)

OS687 Vienna to Minsk – Class=M (Economy with 100% base mile and 100% Premier qualifying miles)

OS690 – Minsk to Vienna – Class =K (no mileage credit given)

OS311 – Vienna to Stockholm – Class =Z (Discount Business with 150% base miles and 15% Premier qualifying miles)

While I am still fighting the credit (on 5th email) the moral of the story is to check the United Mileage Partner’s Site to make sure that you can get credit for the different classes of tickets. I had no idea there was a class of service in the itinerary that would not get me credit. I guess it is my fault for not checking but in 20 years and well over 2 million miles of flying United I never found it necessary. In the end I should have flown the direct flight and saved time – again – cracks in the loyalty foundation.

Price of Flights

We are planning on taking a trip over to New Zealand after SMX Sydney this year to see the new Hobbit Town.

Being loyal to United I thought I would try to combine the trips and for a 3 hour flight from Sydney to Auckland United wanted over $3,000. No, it is not their typical fly me back tot eh US then to Auckland – it is in fact the Air New Zealand code share for 3 hours that is only $300 on Air New Zealand. Obviously I booked them separately. I am finding this happens a lot especially with United’s system.

Upgrade Points and Pay

For a flight to London where the client will only pay economy I had planned to book a upgradeable economy and use my miles. The upgradeable flight was $868 for ROUND TRIP and the screen showed it would only be 40,000 miles each way but that I would have to pay $550 per leg for the upgrade. This made the price to round trip upgrade more than the flight itself. Granted a business class flight is nearly $4,000 it was a good prices. Problem is I can fly from Boston to London on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class for $3,000 or in their Premier Economy which is the same as United Business on the 757’s they have been flying for $1,475.00. I have shifted to Virgin Atlantic and Iceland Air for most of my Europe and Scandinavia flights since they are cheaper and far more comfortable than United.

Capitalism, Good Business or Greed?

Here is another case where I have to question is this pure capitalism, good business practices or greed praying on those who are struggling?

Progressive Insurance

My son in Boston has progressive auto insurance.  He got an email notification that his car insurance was coming due.  It was interesting the various payment options available for the six month policy. I love how they thank him for being a loyal customer then reach deeper into his pocket to extract crazy fees.

Options:

Option 1 Pay in Full – For $696.00 – this is the best “deal” for everyone. It gets my son the best price for coverage and Progressive the money up front. This does mean he is “prepaying” for his insurance. If he wants to shift it is harder to do and takes about 30 days to get a refund.

Option 2 – Automatic Deductions:  $864.00 this is a 19% premium over the base price.  At this rate, you are paying about the same as most credit card interest for people without great credit so not a bad option if you can’t pay the full amount up front. It is easy, you don’t do anything except make sure money is in your checking account. Progressive does have to wait for their money since most of these are paid even if you don’t have the money and if you don’t you get hit with overdraft. It is automatic for Progressive and the $1.00 cost for the digital transaction is still profitable. I don’t understand the reason for a 19% premium other than they can.

Option 3 – Monthly Installments:  $1,009.00 – this is a 41% premium. This should be against the law. I would call this a “broke and/or dumb person penalty” since this person is broke and can’t pay and needs to call the day of the payment and pay them OR does not have a credit card where teh interest would be lower to just pay it and then pay the credit card each month.

Both of the periodic payment options represents the risk of the customer not paying and the loss of a customer but more importantly the time value of that prepaid interest revenue.
The capitalist in me finds nothing wrong with this since you are paying for a service where you have a choice in who you do business with.   But then again, this is prepayment of the insurance which you have not consumed. We don’t really do this with anything else?  These preapyments only seem to happen on insurance other than expensive medical insurance.

The emotional human side of me thinks this is wrong to prey on people that can’t pay for the full six months. You were laid off, had a emergency payment for a doctor or a large home repair and have to pay in installments – is a 41% for “installment fees” appropriate?  If they don’t pay in that month then they get cancelled so it is not like they could actually rip off the insurance company.

Fortunately, our son is doing well and learned when he was in high school that he needed to budget and save money ahead of these large expenses so that he can pay them in full which in this case he did.

Stupid Systems or Greedy Airlines?

A few months ago I was looking to book a flight for my wife and I go to from Sydney to Auckland New Zealand while we are in the area for a conference.  Being a “very” loyal United customer I went there first to check on flights.   I was going to one big trip – into Sydney – the hop to Auckland then back to the US from Auckland.  That was a problem so I tried to just add a simple leg to Auckland.

Now I have written about some crazy routs by United but this is a simple 3 hour flight in Economy that they thought a fair price for was over $3,000. Interestingly it would be on a code share partner Air New Zealand.

united_wtf

So like any good price conscience shopper I went ti Air New Zealand to see what they would charge to fly the exact same seat on the exact same airplane and it was starting at less than 10% of what United wanted. At the 10% rate I would get a better seat and a meal unlike what I would get with United.

air_new_zealand

You would think the systems would flag this type of thing but I guess if someone was willing to pay the yield on that route would be amazing. In my case I booked it with Air New Zealand.

Ineffeciency or Effeciency of US Postal Service

I mailed my taxes recently and sent them with delivery confirmation. I went online to get the confirmation and found that the one I sent to Hartford which is 2 towns or about 8 miles from my house took nearly twice as long as the same first class envelop going to Oregon.

Note that the Oregon letter actually beat the expectation of the postal service.