As an entrepreneur from West Michigan, I share my thoughts about entrepreneurship, startups, technology, and marketing.

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Google & Facebook Re-marketing: A Minority Report Future
Nov 7, 2013  |   Advertising  |   No Comments

Google & Facebook Re-marketing: A Minority Report Future

Remember the scene in Minority Report when we see Tom Cruise’s character walk into a mall and see digital ads talking to him by name? Well, if you’re visiting the right websites, you’ve probably experienced something similar because of a web tracking technology called “re-marketing.”

I’ve been spending a bulk of my time this past month focused on our re-marketing efforts for ProCPR. If you’re not familiar with the term “re-marketing,” you probably have at least experienced it in your own browsing of the web. The basic gist of re-marketing is building ads that are targeted to a group of people who have somehow interacted with your website or brand in the past. So, when someone visits the ProCPR homepage, Google stores a cookie on their computer, which places that person in a “ProCPR homepage” list in our Google Analytics account for the next 60 days. We can then build ProCPR ads that show up on other websites and are targeted to people in this re-marketing list. The thought is that they may still be in buying mode and it’s in our best interests to stay in front of them.

Well, that’s the most basic form of re-marketing that we have been doing for a couple of years now. But lately, I’ve been experimenting with other forms of higher engagement re-marketing with varying levels of success. One ad format that I’m especially excited about is YouTube TrueView ads. Using our existing Google Analytics re-marketing lists, we are now showing a video ad to people before they watch videos on YouTube and other partner sites. People have the opportunity to skip the ad and we are not charged if they do this within 30 seconds. This means our brand is staying in front of people who visited our site recently but didn’t buy from us. And we already know that most of the world watches YouTube! We’ve been experimenting with these ads for about a month now, and I am starting to see a decent number of conversions from the campaign. Next, we need to build several more video ads and segment our re-marketing lists into groups of people who show a higher intent to purchase. I think the potential here is just huge since we know the people who are seeing our video ads are already familiar with our brand and are in the market to purchase. And video can be much more emotionally gripping than your typical AdWords text ad. It’s definitely more work to implement though!

We also recently signed up for an account with AdRoll. They are a re-marketing platform that allows you to access inventory on Facebook, Google, Yahoo, AOL, and others. I signed up mostly for the access to Facebook. Now, you might wonder why I don’t just advertise directly on Facebook. I do this too, actually, but Facebook doesn’t allow you to do re-marketing directly through their platform. You need to go through a reseller, such as AdRoll, that has access to the Facebook Exchange. This means I install AdRoll’s JavaScript snippet to build my re-marketing list, much like I would do with Google Analytics. Then, I can define specific segments with RegEx and target them with Facebook newsfeed stream ads and right-hand side ads. In my experiments, the newsfeed ads tend to have much higher impressions, clicks, conversions, and engagement than the right-hand side ads. It has been fascinating to see the comments and questions pouring in from people who visited our homepage or landing pages, abandoned the site, and then saw the Facebook newsfeed ad. It has given us insight into why people leave our site and the questions we are leaving unanswered. It also gives us the opportunity to reach back out to these people and have a conversation with them. Although some of the comments are going to be negative, I see the transparency as a good thing as long as I am quick to respond in a professional manner. Overall, our AdRoll experience has been well worth the money we’ve spent on it.

The last form of re-marketing to mention isn’t really traditional re-marketing, but more of a hack to re-engage with our customers. Our CPR certificates expire after two years, at which point (or just before) we do what we can to reach our customers and let them know it’s time to renew. The primary way we do this is over email. However, emails often bounce, go to spam, or just get missed/ignored. A new strategy I’ve employed to reach out to users is through Facebook audiences. By querying our database and exporting a list of email addresses of users who expire in the upcoming month, I am able to build an audience and craft an ad that is extremely relevant and often more likely to be noticed than an email in the person’s inbox. Sure, it costs some money, but it has increased our renewal rates enough to easily pay for itself. It has also generated a large number of comments, likes, and shares. That’s the truly amazing thing about advertising on social media — you’re not just advertising to an individual like you do in AdWords SEM ads, you’re advertising to that person and potentially the rest of their network.

It doesn’t look like re-marketing is going away any time soon. Google, Facebook, and others are continually getting more sophisticated in their implementations of re-marketing and are pushing one another to innovate. With the upcoming move to Universal Analytics with Google, cross device tracking, etc., I can see the potential for highly targeted digital advertising to become even more prevalent and sophisticated. This will hopefully benefit both the advertiser, who wants to reach the right person, and the consumer, who wants to see more relevant ads. However, privacy is becoming an ever growing concern as ads continue to get more and more personalized. Still, Internet marketers need to stay educated if they hope to keep up.

Jan 24, 2011  |   Gadgets  |   No Comments

Top 15 Best Free Android Apps I Use Frequently

There are so many great free Android apps out there, but here are some of my personal favorites. I decided not include games for this post. For your convenience, I have included QR codes for quick downloading to your phone for most of the apps. Just get a QR code reader (such as Google Goggles, Barcode Scanner, ShopSavvy, etc.) and point it at the QR code.

#15 – Secrets

I know I have way too many username and password variations to remember for the countless web-based services, online bank accounts, etc., that I use. Hmmm… this password needs 5-7 characters, one uppercase, one special character… ugh. This Google-authored app has a master password that unlocks your list of usernames, passwords, and other custom data. All your secrets are encrypted and can be backed up to the memory card and restored if you wipe your phone or get a new one.

#14 – GTasks

I have tried a number of task management apps for my phone and web-based apps on my desktop. However, I’ve found that I am most likely to use a task system that is just naturally part of my normal routine. Since I already spend a lot of my time in GMail, the Google tasks widget has been my task system of choice. And the GTasks app for Android syncs pretty seamlessly with Google Tasks. It has task categories for separating work, personal, next things, someday tasks, etc. While it may not be as fully featured as apps like Astrid, Remember the Milk, or Things for Mac/iPhone, it works fine for me.

#13 – ConnectBot

For anyone who administers Linux servers for their websites, databases, etc., this app is a must. You’re out to dinner and get a call that the web server just ran out of storage space? No need to rush to the office, just pull out your phone and fix the problem before the food arrives. And yes, something like this has happened to me before 😉

#12 – BeyondPod

My favorite app I’ve found for subscribing to, downloading, and streaming podcasts. This app has been a lifesaver during some long car rides when I had forgotten to sync my iPod beforehand. Listening to the latest episode of This Week in Startups is a great way to make the ride fly by!

#11 – FlightView Free

Keep track of your flight numbers and times and even get notified of delays and terminal changes while you’re at the airport.

#10 – Amazon Kindle

I love reading on my Kindle. My Android phone is certainly no replacement, but it is convenient to pull my phone out of my pocket (the Kindle doesn’t fit very well in my khakis) while I’m waiting in line somewhere and pick up right where I left off on my Kindle at home.

#9 – Pandora

Free streaming music that is catered to your likes. I love this app!

#8 – WordPress

Great for checking up on my blog and moderating comments while I’m away from the computer.

#7 – Yelp

Yelp is great for finding a place to eat when I am exploring a new town. It uses the phone’s GPS receiver to locate places nearby and provides ratings and reviews for each suggestion.

#6 – Twitter

What a great way to kill time reading tweets while you’re away from the computer.

#5 – Facebook

Contact synchronization and messaging capabilities are what I tend to use the Android app version of Facebook for the most. It is also great for looking at photo albums.

#4 – Google Shopper

Compare prices in the store with prices online by scanning the barcode or just taking a picture of the object. It did feel a little weird to scan the barcode of an Epson ink cartridge inside the store at Best Buy and complete my purchase at Buy.com while I walked down the store’s blu-ray aisle, but I saved over $20!

#3 – Mint.com

Mint does an outstanding job of pulling in all your various bank accounts, loans, investment accounts, and credit cards, and giving you a summary view of where your money is going. It breaks things down by expense type, details out your total assets, liabilities, and net worth, and even alerts you of things like ATM fees you may not have been expecting. The Android app is very well built, just like the website.

#2 – Chase

If you haven’t already seen the commercials on TV and Pandora, this will blow you away (at least it did me). You can deposit your checks from your phone. Really, right from your phone, no need to go the ATM at all. Just snap a photo of the front and back of the check with your built-in camera, verify some account and routing numbers, and you’re done. Plus do things like check balances, sign up for alerts, etc. This app is a major time saver!

#1 – Evernote

Evernote’s tagline is “remember everything.” What I love about Evernote is that it is available for pretty much every platform imaginable — Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, web-based, Palm Pre, Windows Mobile. If used extensively, it can become your external memory by allowing you to take pictures with your camera phone, record voice memos, write text memos, take photos with you MacBook’s webcam, clip web pages, etc. It works seamlessly across devices, everything is stored in the cloud, and everything is automatically OCR’d and geo-tagged (if you want) so it can easily be retrieved later. One of my resolutions for this year is to integrate Evernote into more of my life.

This list only scratches the surface of useful apps for Android. Please comment on this story with other Android apps you can’t live without.

May 5, 2010  |   SEO  |   2 Comments

Black Hat SEO Technique Works On Google & Yahoo, Encouraged by Bing

My company, ProCPR.org, provides online CPR training and certification. We have been in business since 2003 and have grown over the years to offer toll free customer support, an accredited hands-on option for our customers, and a compliance department dedicated to working with employers, hospitals, and state agencies to seek approval for our program. We have been a paid advertiser with Google, Yahoo, and MSN/Bing since the early days of our business. Over the years, the competition has become fierce. This is understandable and anticipated. Something that is not anticipated or acceptable is when the search engines sit back and refuse to intervene when a competitor website employs black hat tactics to artificially boost their website rankings.

A few days ago, I was working with a colleague on search engine optimization and marketing when we discovered that one of our competitors was ranking on virtually every CPR related keyword, across every search engine, with a different domain name for each keyword. This immediately smelled like foul play to me, so I began investigating. Here is what I found.

The American Academy of CPR and First Aid, Inc., is employing mirroring techniques to artificially boost their rank by purchasing 40+ keyword-rich domains. They then cross link all these sites, dynamically replacing a few keywords, title, and meta description on the homepage to trick the search engine into treating the content as different, and host each domain on a unique IP address so it appears to be a different site. They stuff keywords for the corresponding domain at the bottom of the page within the paragraph to make that version of the site more relevant to the search keyword.

This tactic is getting great results for their network of domains. Here are some examples for each of the top three search engines.

Google

Perform a Google search on “free online cpr” you will see them listed #2 as www.cprrecertification.net, #4 as www.freeonlinecpr.com, #19 as www.cprrenewal.org, #23 as www.healthcareprovidercpr.org, and #24 as www.cprcertificate.org. Now search for “cpr recertification” and you will see them listed #1 as www.cprrecertification.net and #9 as www.freeonlinecpr.com. For a more extreme example of all the variations this site has been indexed under within Google, Search for “online cpr $14.99” and you will see that every search engine result belongs to the same website.

Yahoo

The Yahoo example is the most extreme and disturbing. Simply search for “online cpr recertification” and you will see that the first page of results contains organic search results for this company in 6 of the top 10 listings. Their website occupies positions 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, and 9 for this search term.

Bing

If you perform a Bing search on “free online cpr” you will see them listed #2 as www.freeonlinecpr.com. Now search for “cpr recertification” and you will see them listed #2 as www.cprrecertification.net. Now search “adult cpr” and you will see them listed #4 as www.adultcpr.org. Now search for “first aid certification” and you will see them listed #1 as www.firstaidcertification.org.

So, what kind of response did I receive from the top three search engines when I reported this alarming abuse? Allow me to share.

Google is still investigating the issue, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

Yahoo wrote a very nice response back to me, but the problem persists in their search results.

Hello Scott,

Thank you for writing to Yahoo! Search.

Thank you for submitting this abuse report. We have investigated the
report and taken the appropriate action.

Please understand that Yahoo! is unable to disclose specific actions
taken with a third party. We are not able to make exceptions to this
rule.

Thank you again for taking the time to bring this issue to our
attention.

Thank you again for contacting Yahoo! Search.

Regards,

Lars

Yahoo! Customer Care

71261606

Bing’s response was probably the most upsetting. I will share what I originally got back from them by submitting the web form on Bing.com to report abuse. I later wrote this blog article and then messaged @bing on Twitter. This resulted in the Bing team taking my report seriously and escalating it internally to work on getting the problem fixed. So, this just shows that Twitter is your best bet to reach the best people at a given company.

=======================================
Initial Response:
=======================================
Hello Scott,

Thank you for writing to Bing Technical Support. My name is Julius and I am writing in response to your report against Academy of CPR and FirstAid, Inc. for using spam techniques to their favor. I know how important it is to resolve your issue.

Scott, I will now be escalating your email to our product specialists for further investigation. They will directly take action on your request and will be contacting you with an update soon. Thank you for providing all the details required.

We appreciate your continued support as we strive to provide you with the highest quality service available. Thank you for using Bing.

Sincerely,
Julius
Bing Technical Support

=======================================
Second Response
=======================================
Hello,

Thank you for contacting Bing technical support.

We do not automatically remove documents from our database because they offend someone. The database is a reflection of the content of the Internet and is built from billions of documents on millions of web sites around the world. Some of those documents will be personally, politically, or morally objectionable to some people, but others may find those same documents interesting and useful. We want the search database to represent the content of the web in as accurate and usable a form as possible.

Bing.com does not control the content of these websites, nor does bing.com have any ability to remove the allegedly improper material from these sites.

Furthermore, we will suppress pages from the search result if it contains illegal contents, presence of court-orders or similar legal proceedings, or direct request from the site owners.

Accordingly, your complaints should be directed to the owners of these websites or web hosts who may have the ability to remove the allegedly improper content.

Thank you and have a great day.

Best regards,

Carlo
Microsoft Global Escalations

=======================================
My Response
=======================================
Dear Carlo and Julius,

Julius read my email and understands that I am not asking you to change the content on this website, nor am I stating that the content offends me. Carlo, it appears that you did not read my original email. I implore you to please read my email rather than sending me a cookie-cutter response.

This website is using mirroring hacks to trick the Bing search engine database into improperly indexing their website, giving them an unfair advantage against everyone else in your database. They are in violation of your terms of service which state that a prohibited use is a website that “attempts to manipulate the services, including ranking and reputation systems in the services, by violating any of the provisions of this Code of Conduct, colluding with others on voting or using multiple profiles.”

They have 40+ keyword-filled domain names that all point to the same website with minor modifications to keywords on the page in order to artificially improve the site’s SEO. All their mirror domains cross-link among each other in order to artificially improve the page rank of each site. Additionally, the company has purchased a separate IP address for each of these mirror sites so they will appear to Bing as a unique website. This is not allowable and degrades the usability of your search engine.

By ignoring my complaint, you are insinuating that this behavior is acceptable and encouraging me to employ the same black-hat SEO tactics. Please respond ASAP to let me know what action you are pursuing against this company.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
Sincerely,

Scott Andersen

=======================================
Third Response
=======================================
Hi Scott,

This is Steve from the Microsoft Global Escalations Team

We are not ignoring your complaint. We have checked the sites and understand that each URL renders to a very similar website. Please understand that Microsoft does not remove sites/domains from the Bing search results page under this type of alleged allegation. Microsoft is not in a position to determine whether content posted on a website is truthful or accurate. We would encourage you to seek resolution of this matter directly with site/domain owners.

I’m afraid that there is no action that we can do for this issue.

Sincerely,

Steve
Microsoft Global Escalations Team

So, what am I to take away from this experience? Yahoo does not care about search quality and continues to foster a culture of ignoring its customers. I have seen this over and over with my search advertising account at Yahoo as I am assigned an account manager, that account manager is transfered to a new department, and I am left on my own again.

Domain Names and IP Addresses owned by American Academy of CPR and First Aid:

www.aacfa.net 174.143.161.198

www.freeonlinecpr.com               174.143.197.62

www.cprrenewal.org                   174.143.197.158

www.onlinecprcourse.org             174.143.197.159

www.adultcpr.org                     174.143.197.160

www.cprcertificate.org               174.143.197.161

www.cprrecertification.net           174.143.197.162

www.firstaidcertification.org       174.143.197.163

www.onlinecprcertification.net       174.143.197.164

www.onlinecprrecertification.net     174.143.197.165

www.blshealthcareprovider.org 174.143.197.180

www.blscpr.org                       174.143.197.242

www.blsforhealthcareproviders.com   174.143.197.243

www.onlinefirstaidcertification.com 67.192.240.192

www.blsrecertification.info         67.192.240.196

www.cprcertification.us             67.192.240.203

www.cprfirstaid.org                 67.192.240.205

www.cprtraining.biz 67.192.240.206

www.firstaidclass.us 67.192.240.207

www.firstaidcprcertification.org     67.192.240.208

www.firstaidcprtraining.org         67.192.240.209

www.firstaidtrainingcourses.org     67.192.240.210

www.freecprtraining.org             67.192.240.211

www.freefirstaidtraining.com         67.192.240.212

www.freeonlinecprtraining.com       67.192.240.213

www.healthcareprovidercpr.org       67.192.240.214

www.onlineblscertification.com       67.192.240.215

www.onlineblsrecertification.org     67.192.240.216

www.onlinecprandfirstaid.com         67.192.240.217

www.onlinecprcertificate.com         67.192.240.218

www.onlinecprclasses.net             67.192.240.219

www.onlinecpr.info                   67.192.240.220

www.onlinefirstaidcourse.com         67.192.240.221

www.onlinefirstaidtraining.org       67.192.240.222

www.onlinefirstaid.us               67.192.240.223

www.bloodbornepathogenstraining.info 67.192.240.236

www.cprrenewalonline.com 67.192.240.238

www.blscertification.com 98.129.228.178

www.firstaidcourse.us 98.129.250.36

www.bloodbornepathogens.info 67.192.240.201

www.childcpr.info 67.192.240.202