Almost immediately after reading that, I came across an article, 10 Things I Hate About Digital Marketing by Jerry Daykin, also pointing out many of the pitfalls of digital. What do you think?
“Digital is all around us and there’s never been a more exciting time in marketing, but there’s also never been an easier time to completely waste your advertising budgets. Digital transformation is creating huge new opportunities to reach consumers and drive business objectives but if you blindly believe everything you read in a marketing headline, or see presented on an event stage, you can easily be led astray.
The digital industry is sadly still full of misinformation, misguided gurus, false perceptions and perhaps even a few deliberate crooks. With so much constant change it’s hard for anyone to keep up, but in general the traditional rules of marketing all still apply…”
Although this isn’t about digital marketing, we all play in the same sandbox and Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute, has a few thoughts about how we can make the internet a better place for everyone.
The internet is broken. Starting from scratch, here’s how I’d fix it
My big idea is that we have to fix the internet. After forty years, it has begun to corrode, both itself and us. It is still a marvelous and miraculous invention, but now there are bugs in the foundation, bats in the belfry, and trolls in the basement.
I do not mean this to be one of those technophobic rants dissing the Internet for rewiring our brains to give us the twitchy attention span of Donald Trump on Twitter or pontificating about how we have to log off and smell the flowers. Those qualms about new technologies have existed ever since Plato fretted that the technology of writing would threaten memorization and oratory. I love the internet and all of its digital offshoots. What I bemoan is its decline.
There is a bug in its original design that at first seemed like a feature but has gradually, and now rapidly, been exploited by hackers and trolls and malevolent actors: its packets are encoded with the address of their destination but not of their authentic origin. With a circuit-switched network, you can track or trace back the origins of the information, but that’s not true with the packet-switched design of the internet.
As many of you already know, SimilarWeb is a fantastic tool to get an idea of how other websites are doing, giving a quick traffic overview and snapshot of any website’s referrals, search, social, display, content, audience, similar sites and mobile apps.
Now, thanks to a heads-up from Lindsey over at Meltwater, here’s another great tool to discover potential impressions/reach on a site. It’s called Hypestat – just plug in the website and it pulls the daily/monthly breakdown of Unique visitors, pageviews, Alexa ratings and the value of the site in ad revenue dollars.
Pro tip: For a quick average of impressions you might get by placing an ad or other content on the site, simply take the number of unique visitors and multiply by 30.
As you start out the new year and put together content plans, here is some very helpful advice from Entrepreneur for those outsourcing their content.
Richard Branson knows something that propels not only his passenger jets but also his businesses to rapid and ever-increasing success — he embraces letting go and outsourcing.
And with the rise of the Internet and the need to create consistent content, outsourcing has become incredibly common. In fact, Patricio Robles cites research that shows 79 percent of companies are embracing content marketing, while Statistica recently reported that the global market size of outsourced services in 2014 was $104.6 billion dollars.
Being at the top of your game with content is essential, as the value of great content drives leads and results in more sales. But before you go jumping into the deep end of outsourcing content creation, there are a few things you’ll want to consider, so that you can not only approach it the right way but also protect you and your business from any negative repercussions down the road.
Identifying the specific types of content needed may not appear to be a legal step. However, at the outset, these are incredibly important things to consider, all of which will enable you to outline both your job advertisement and various aspects of your contractual agreement.
2. Assign copyright.
It’s also important that you consider protection against indemnification for images or content that may be the property of others. At the end of the day, you will be responsible if the content published on your site or in your materials is found to breach copyright law.
For text-based copy, using a service such as Copyscape is standard practice. But with image attribution, this is particularly difficult, since there’s no good way to test the copyright short of either buying the rights or waiting for an angry digital millennium copyright act notice from the infringed-upon owner.
Be as specific as possible when outlining requirements so that freelancers know your expectations, including benchmarking and measuring success or failure. You may also want to include a Service Level Agreement that clearly outlines performance details and standards. Licensed attorney Ruth Carter provides this list of questions to consider, some of which touch on things I’ll cover later on in this article.
4. Consider legal liabilities in your content.
You may need to take further precautions if the content you’ll be outsourcing is subject to any regulatory requirements. For instance, if you’re publishing medical content or financial advice, you may need to include relevant disclaimers or ensure materials produced meet certain standards to protect yourself legally.
If the content you publish on your website is something you could be held legally liable for, be sure your outsourced creators are able to meet any necessary requirements.
5. Preparing in advance for termination.
Ideally, you’ll find in a freelancer a long-term partnership for your content creation needs. But since turnover is inevitable, it’s far better to protect yourself up front. As Sion King of Rider University says: “Your termination clause is hugely important, as it sets forth the conditions under which the customer may exit the outsourcing relationship.”
The termination clause needs to outline the common reasons that give rights to you and your company to exit the clause along with the rights of the contractor. It’s also wise to include both party’s respective rights upon termination with regards to ongoing privacy and protection here as well.
6. Put it all in a contract.
Now that you’ve covered all your legal bases, document them in a formal written contract that both you and your freelancers will sign. In most cases, it’s a good idea to consult with an actual lawyer to do this. However, you can get started by finding sample contract agreements to work from. William Engelke provides some great tips and points to consider when outlining your outsourcing contract over here.
7. Take out an insurance policy.
Last, but not least — and let’s keep it short and sweet — it’s definitely worth investing in an insurance policy when it comes to protecting your legal rights as a content creator and purchaser. At the end of the day, you need to be prepared for any legal ramifications that could occur from the content you publish — or, at the very least, be fully aware of who’s liable for anything that may occur.
Though the Internet has blurred the rules and lines of outsourcing somewhat, it’s best to stick to guidelines and follow the rules to protect yourself. If you have any doubts, consult a lawyer.
What have you done to manage your outsourcing in terms of legal requirements? Share your thoughts and insights in the comments below.
Setting up a new digital ad campaign or hiring an agency/someone to do it? Read this Harvard Business Review article on some techniques of which to be aware and that can often overstate performance for a given tactic.
Imagine you run a retail store and hire a leafleteer to distribute handbills to attract new customers. You might assess her effectiveness by counting the number of customers who arrived carrying her handbill and, perhaps, presenting it for a discount. But suppose you realized the leafleteer was standing just outside your store’s front door, giving handbills to everyone on their way in. The measured “effectiveness” would be a ruse, merely counting customers who would have come in anyway. You’d be furious and would fire her in an instant. Fortunately, that wouldn’t actually be needed: anticipating being found out, few leafleteers would attempt such a scheme.
In online advertising, a variety of equally brazen ruses drain advertisers’ budgets — but usually it’s more difficult for advertisers to notice them. I’ve been writing about this problem since 2004, and doing my best to help advertisers avoid it.
Overstating the Effectiveness of Sponsored Search Campaigns
A first manifestation of the problem arises in sponsored search. Suppose a user goes to Google and searches for eBay. Historically, the top-most link to eBay would be a paid advertisement, requiring eBay to pay Google each time the ad was clicked. These eBay ads had excellent measured performance in that many users clicked such an ad, then went on to bid or buy with high probability. But step back a bit. A user has already searched for “eBay.” That user is likely to buy from eBay whether or not eBay advertises with Google. In a remarkable experiment, economist Steve Tadelis and coauthors turned off eBay’s trademark-triggered advertising in about half the cities in the U.S. They found that sales in those regions stayed the same even as eBay’s advertising expenditure dropped. eBay’s measure of ad effectiveness was totally off-base and had led to millions of dollars of overspending.
Now, eBay is unusual in its dominance of U.S. consumer auctions. Your company is probably less fortunate in the markets it serves, and if you don’t buy your trademark as a keyword to show your search ads, Google will try to sell your trademark to your competitors, a tactic which some courts have allowed. But if a user searches for Dell, an ad for a competitor like Lenovo tends to underperform. Some users may be willing to consider an alternative at Google’s suggestion, and others may be tricked or not realize the difference, but at least a portion will recognize that Lenovo is something else entirely.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Chicago generalizes these methods and shows that buying your own trademark tends not to be as good an investment as standard measurement tools suggest. Tempting as it may be to increase spending on these (supposedly) “top-performing” keywords, I’d advise the opposite: Cut them, perhaps all the way to zero.
Overtargeting Display Ads
Another problem arises with “retargeting,” which recognizes consumers who didn’t make purchases. The logic: if you went to Expedia and looked at a hotel but didn’t make a reservation, Expedia will arrange for its ad to be shown as you browse the web in the coming days. The banners can be eerily precise, often promoting the specific properties you considered. This approach makes it easy to click back to where you were and complete the purchase.
Here too, standard metrics indicate that the campaign works. No doubt the folks who browsed at Expedia are good candidates for buying from Expedia. Showing banners may remind them to do so. But how many of them would have made a purchase anyway? Certainly not zero. (Consider the traveler who was waiting to finalize his itinerary, perhaps awaiting confirmation from a friend or a business associate.) Yet most measures of ad effectiveness will give full credit to the retargeting vendor — asserting, falsely, that had it not been for the retargeting banner, the user would not have purchased. This hasty analysis leads advertisers to run retargeting campaigns that appear to yield profitable purchases more than sufficient to cover retargeting costs. But if an advertiser considers that some of the sales would have happened anyway, the appeal of retargeting campaigns necessarily diminishes.
It turns out that even demographic targeting of banner ads (without retargeting) is also at risk. Suppose your company is fortunate enough to enjoy popularity with a given demographic group — say, 40% market share among men aged 18 to 25. You might target banner ads to that same group, hoping to reach the 60% of customers in this group that you don’t yet serve. But remember that you’ll also be addressing the many customers that already use your offering. You might falsely attribute “success” to a campaign that prompted purchases from the customers who were going to buy from you regardless.
My advice: try a randomized experiment. Take a portion of the users who would have seen a retargeting campaign or a demographically-targeted campaign. Rather than showing them your ad, decline to advertise to them, and track how many of them buy anyway. If 20% of them still make a purchase, your ads are actually 20% less effective than basic measurements would suggest.
Paying for Affiliate Sales That Would Have Happened Anyway
Affiliate marketing is supposed to align incentives perfectly, paying only for success — like a 10% commission if a user actually buys a given product, but zero for impressions and clicks. Is fraud “impossible,” as some have claimed? Not at all.
Consider a sneaky affiliate who “stuffs” a cookie on every user’s computer as the user browses an unrelated web site. With a moderately popular site (or a banner or widget on someone else’s site), this “cookie-stuffer” might claim to have referred millions of users to a given merchant. Some of those users are bound to make purchases, and the merchant will pay the affiliate a commission as if it truly caused the user’s sale. Worse, the merchant is unlikely to suspect the problem; with real sales, merchants are often slow to realize that some customers’ decisions are uninfluenced by any affiliate marketing activity.
Mere speculation, you worry? Not so. In 2008 indictments in San Francisco, Shawn Hogan and Brian Dunning were charged with wire fraud for using these methods to claim more than $20 million from eBay. They were, for a time, eBay’s largest two affiliates, and they report that eBay wooed them with dedicated account managers, chartered jets, and more. Only years later did eBay realize it was being swindled. (Disclosure: I advise eBay on certain aspects of affiliate marketing fraud, and litigation records indicate that I uncovered Hogan and Dunning’s activities.)
The take-away: if you run an affiliate marketing program, you shouldn’t assume it’s fraud-free. A good start is to know your affiliates — browse their sites to examine their offers and approach. Some affiliates try to keep their sites secret, claiming that merchants might copy their proprietary methods. I can understand their worry, but if they want to get paid, they should expect reasonable oversight. If an affiliate’s site doesn’t look quite right — too ragged for the volume it reports, too hasty, or otherwise not quite right — you should push for specifics and check third-party sources like affiliate network staff, server logs, and online discussion forums to try to confirm your suspicions.
Measuring Success When Adware Intervenes
When users’ computers are infected with advertising software like adware and malware, advertisers are at still greater risk of being separated from their money with little to show for it. I’ve tracked adware that covers advertisers’ sites with their own pay-per-click ads, so that a user browsing (say) rcn.com sees paid links for RCN rather than (or on top of) the genuine RCN site, prompting unnecessary clicks. I’ve found banner injectors that insert ads into other companies’ web pages without permission from those pages, and certainly without paying those pages’ publishers. Remarkably, some injectors insert an advertiser’s banner ad into its own web site — a particularly outrageous scam against the advertiser, which then pays to retain a user it already serves. (An example is Revizer adware and ad network Criteo charging Zappos for users already on Zappos.com.) Adware can also monitor a user’s browsing, then invoke the affiliate link to the site a user is about to buy from.
Adware tends to be particularly tricky to uncover since testing is so difficult. Advertisers are rarely willing to set up testing labs to see adware in action first-hand. As a stopgap, consider insisting on higher standards from responsible networks. Revise contracts to allow for clawback of any payments later shown to result from adware. While you’re at it, you might look for one-sided terms throughout an ad network’s contract; ad network defaults tend to protect their interests only, disclaiming every possible warranty or guarantee to leave advertisers vulnerable if anything goes wrong.
The Way Forward: Aligning Incentives for Marketing Managers
It’s probably no surprise that advertising networks offer services that aren’t in advertisers’ best interests. An ad network is an advertiser’s vendor — fundamentally, not a genuine partner or ally, but a supplier whose direct interest is charging more for doing less. Savvy advertisers should view the relationship accordingly.
How about ad agencies and advertising buyers? Advertisers often pressure agencies and buyers to deliver near-impossible results. They often face tough demands — “20% more customers for 10% less money” and so forth — and cutting corners can feel almost unavoidable. I understand advertisers’ insistence on results, and I share it. But when measurement is imperfect, an excessive focus on measured results invites vendors to game the system with tactics that advance measured indicators without genuine results.
I’ve even seen instances in which a company’s in-house staff become complicit, knowing that vendors are up to no good, but afraid to call them out on it. Companies almost invite this behavior through bonuses and performance objectives — “$10k extra if you increase ROI by 10%” — yielding temptations too enticing for some to resist.
Advertising is hard work. Short of the rare product that practically sells itself, advertisers and their vendors should expect to hustle to find scalable and cost-effective methods. When you see a new tactic delivering outsized results, you might ask yourself whether it’s too good to be true. Sadly, often it is.