Posts Tagged Google

The Dark Arts of Search Engine Optimization

Sunday’s edition of The New York Times featured a great story on search engine optimization.

The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, by David Segal, looks at an interesting phenomenon: J.C. Penney’s unusually high ranking on Google for words that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with it. Of course, J.C. Penney sells bedding, and dresses, and furniture, but it is not considered an industry leader in any of those fields. So why was it the highest ranking search result for all of those words and many others?

Image courtesy of The New York Times

Using a dicey strategy (that they haven’t owned up to–yet), there are links to J.C. Penney from all over the web. Links to your website from others increases your search results as Google interprets that as high relevance/influence, and as Segal noted, “there are links to JCPenney.com’s dresses page on sites about diseases, cameras, cars, dogs, aluminum sheets, travel, snoring, diamond drills, bathroom tiles, hotel furniture, online games, commodities, fishing, Adobe Flash, glass shower doors, jokes and dentists — and the list goes on.”

But J.C. Penney has not received the ultimate online “death penalty:” complete removal from search results. Instead, Google promised “corrective action,” which Segal documented:

At 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, J. C. Penney was still the No. 1 result for “Samsonite carry on luggage.”

Two hours later, it was at No. 71.

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Penney was No. 1 in searches for “living room furniture.”

By 9 p.m., it had sunk to No. 68.

In other words, one moment Penney was the most visible online destination for living room furniture in the country.

The next it was essentially buried.

Was it worth it, for J.C. Penney? Probably. Though this tarnished their reputation among those who care to understand SEO, or read the Times cover to cover, they like reaped great rewards using this strategy. Segal’s article notes that “A study last May by Daniel Ruby of Chitika, an online advertising network of 100,000 sites, found that, on average, 34 percent of Google’s traffic went to the No. 1 result, about twice the percentage that went to No. 2.”

Check out the article for a more in-depth look at the dark underbelly of SEO.

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Getting Creative With Online Ads

One thing was loud and clear in this week’s readings.  Money is not the determinant of success when it comes to online ad campaigns.  Creativity is.  The Marsden campaigndedicated just 4% of its budget to an online ad spend, while the Public Sector Blognoted that Bush and Kerry spent just 1% on online ads in 2004, and Scott Brown’s 10% spend was a record high.

Using the “long tail” idea, campaigners are able to take advantage of the Internet’s extremely fractured audiences and tailor messages to specific nanotargets.  For example, a candidate can reach females 65+ in Virginia who are searching for information about their Medicare benefits.  This approach is more labor intensive than traditional advertising methods, yet it makes much more sense the target audience is so specific.  Why bother paying to advertise in the Richmond Times Dispatch when for much less, you could be sure to reach that target audience – AND track the results?

Josh Koster insists that “the trick it to be everywhere, with tightly targeted messages.” This makes sense, but how can a campaign achieve that?  What these examples show is that creativity is key.

Koster points out another benefit – these targeted ads are so inexpensive, quick, and easy to set up (especially if they are simply text ads with no creative), that they can easily be tested out and tweaked accordingly.  This is a benefit that traditional advertising definitely does not offer.  In addition, success is much more measurable when clicks, email opens, and site visits can be quantified.  By contrast, direct mail pieces are essentially untraceable once sent out, and other ads can offer impression numbers, but not much else.

What I found most interesting about this week’s reading was the targeting of the media outlined in Nanotargeted Pressure.  Koster and Davis point out that “using paid media to drive earned media is not new,” but using digital paid media to do so is certainly a newer frontier.  I have a unique interest in using social media to target the media, but had never considered something like Google or Facebook ads to reach media.  Facebook’s “workplace targeting” feature is especially interesting- and I can think of some creative ways for jobseekers to target employers using this feature.  To see such a huge achievement with only $1750 invested truly speaks to the power of targeted digital advertising.

Other examples of creativity were abound in this week’s readings.  Rather than complain about the media’s (lack of) coverage of Iran’s election, Koster actually did something— crashed Iran’s propaganda/news site.  For those people who think that Twitter is about people sharing what they eat for lunch, this is concrete evidence to the contrary.  For those well-versed in digital advertising, perhaps they’d like to trylinking to a website other than their own?  Not only does this disassociate the ad with the campaign that placed the ad, it directs the audience to a source that they (likely) view as credible and non-partisan.

And for the truly innovative, CNN covered Koster’s realization that anyone standing in line on election day Googling for political info is probably determining who to vote for— so why not leverage Google ads on election day to reach those individuals?

While I knew that online advertising allowed further segmentation of audiences, I didn’t realize its true potential until reading this week’s articles. It will be interesting to see how online platforms continue to leverage their assets (in this case, demographic information about their users) in order to gain advertisers on large and small scales.

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