Monday, January 25, 2010

The Great Firewall of China

Last week, I was in Shanghai to do search marketing training and exercises to help improve our search marketing efforts in China and the Asia Pacific region. It was pretty interesting timing given the whole Google-China debacle going on right now.

What I found most interesting was hearing some local perspective on the issue. The small group of people I spoke with (probably about 20 or so) all agreed that Google moving out of China would be a bad thing - they believed (and hoped) that it wouldn't happen, and that a truse would eventually be made with the Chinese Government. I guess time will tell.

So going in, I was aware of the censorship issues in China, but I guess I didn't appreciate the extent of it - particularly where social media is concerned - and how disconnected I felt. Literally, it was like losing a limb. Here's an example of five popular social tools I tried out:

Facebook is blocked. I remember being in China less than two years ago and was able to access Facebook just fine. But when I think about it, the social media scene has come a long way in just two years.

Twitter is blocked and I was unable to access it through TweetDeck or any other desktop application. In Brizzly, you are able to log in, but the feed doesn't show up, making it about as useful as not being able to log in in the first place.

Blogspot should be re-named Blockspot. At least last week I had a good excuse for not posting to my blog since I couldn't access it! However, I am told that blogs (just not those on Blogspot, I guess) are quite popular amongst the Chinese audience.

Foursquare is not blocked. I can see how the government could find Foursquare useful, but I suspect that it's availability may be due to the uptake not being as high as tools like Twitter and Facebook (yet). If you "Check In" or do a "Shout Out" on Foursquare it does feed through to your Twitter account, so everyone on Twitter can see it (just not you!).

YouTube is blocked, of course, and didn't appear in any of the search results.

The interesting thing is that despite many of these popular tools being blocked, China is still quite active in the social space (as an example, check out Forrester's Social Technographics Profiling Tool). They are active, just not in the same channels as we may use in the west.

So what do the people of China use? An important question for a company's global social media strategy.
  • There are a number of local Twitter equivalents going around, though I can't yet comment as to how popular these are, or the profile of the users.

  • Sina is a very popular website destination for local news and information, with about 10 million active users. On the site, they host a Forum where people can post and discuss issues.

  • In addition to Forums, Blogs (of the non-Blogspot variety) are also popular.
  • Probably the most noticeable (and closest to real-time) tool I saw being used was MSN messenger (or equivalent). It kind of takes me back to the early 2000's, but nonetheless this seems to be a very popular social tool. Whilst sitting in meetings, almost everyone had messenger constantly running with messages popping up every few seconds, accompanied by cute "Manga-style" avatars.

So that was my first-hand experience of going cold-turkey in China (Note: These were results based on going through "normal" channels that most people would use. I'm sure there are clever ways to bypass the firewall).

Whilst researching for my trip I also found that there was not a whole lot of information about how to optimize pages for the biggest search engine in China - Baidu. So in my next post, I'm going to share what I did manage to find out.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What Happens When Your PPC Budget is Cut in Half?

It's the moment any marketer dreads; budget cuts.

This happened a lot to me last year, and I know I'm not the only one. 2009 was a truly horrible year for a lot of folk. But this story does have a silver lining, thanks to the proof in numbers that search marketing can provide.

So getting back to the story; what exactly happened when half of my PPC budget was taken away?

Month 1 – Continue running campaigns as before, at the reduced budget
The first month was the "control" month (aka the "oh shit" month). Nothing was changed in terms of campaigns, adgroups and keywords that were running. The only change was the amount that was spent. This is what happened:
  • Clicks through to the web site: Down 53%
  • Key actions indicating an intent to purchase: Down 25%
  • Online conversions: Down 46%
  • Revenue lost (est): 9.5x more than the budget cut

Month 2 – Use the reduced budget to fund top keywords only
To be fair, if your salary was cut in half, you wouldn’t continue to splurge on things. You would take a look at your expenses, downsize, and cut out certain luxuries to try and live within your means.

So in the second month, I focused campaigns back down to basics. The budget was used to fund only the top-performing keywords – those which drove the most traffic and highest quality. As a result, many longtail words went unfunded. This is what happened:

  • Clicks through to the web site: Down 61%
  • Key actions indicating an intent to purchase: Down 12%
  • Online conversions: Down 25%
  • Revenue lost (est.): 5.3x more than the budget cut

Month 2 showed some interesting results. When comparing the different approaches it seems that you drive less volume (clicks) when you limit yourself to “head” keywords (this makes sense as you are casting a much smaller net), but as a result you drive better quality results compared to just spreading the budget thinly (as in Month 1).

As a side note, I believe that the Month 2 approach is not a sustainable long-term solution for the reasons highlighted in a previous post: Understanding the Importance of Assist Keywords.

So comparing the two months, Month 2 was better than Month 1. However, that’s not to say that it was good in its own right – especially when the result was still 5x less revenue than the budget that was cut (and we're talking big numbers here).

Month 3 – I got my budget back, plus a bit more
After two months, I was fighting the budget bearers off with sticks. Looking back I like to see this exercise as more of an experiment, even if it was a forced one.

The results proved a point and served as a reminder of how kick-ass search marketing can be when it comes to metrics and accountability. So if you find yourself in this situation, make sure you keep on top of the numbers, and share it with the people who hold the purse strings.

Monday, January 4, 2010

My Top Three Reads for 2010

First of all, a very happy New Year to everyone. The Christmas/New Year weeks have been filled with lots of eating and resting and it's been great to be able to recharge the old batteries. Over the past couple of weeks I've continued to keep in touch with search and social developments through Twitter, and have read many predictions of what different people think will happen in 2010, as well as some interesting reviews looking back at whose 2009 predictions came true.

I'm not going to jump on the Mystic Meg bandwagon. Rather, I wanted to share with you my top three reads that I will be book worming through in the new year. My reading list resolution, I guess.

1. Web Analytics 2.0 (Avinash Kaushik)
Now usually when I see anything with the words "2.0" in it, I will run a mile with my fingers down my throat gagging. But for Avinash I make an exception, since the man is brilliant.

I've already read about a quarter of the way through this one. I love Avinash's unique approach that makes smart analytics understandable and fun. My favourite part from the book so far:

"At my first analytics job... I asked a lot of questions about the use of data and the 200 Webtrends reports that were being produced. At the end of two weeks, I turned off Webtrends. For three weeks, not a single human being called about their missing 200 reports. 200! In a multi-billion-dollar company!".

My key take-away so far is that people investment in "Analysis Ninjas", rather than simply tool investment, is what is needed to yield results that make a difference to the bottom line. Although Avinash is Mr. Google, he presents different software options along the way, often playing down Google solutions (maybe even too much).

2. The Art of SEO (Erik Enge, Stephan Spencer, Rand Fishkin, Jessie Stricchiola)
SEO is going to be a much bigger focus for me in 2010. Although this is still on my "to get" list, I've seen some great reviews for this book, and with the impressive list of author names on this one, you can't really go wrong; for example, Rand is the co-founder of the excellent SEOmoz.

3. Rich Dad, Poor Dad (Robert Kiyosaki, Sharon Lechter)
I've really been enjoying reading Paul Harrison's Urban Survival Blog. Paul recommended this book in his latest post, "Getting off my Hamster Wheel...". Although this book is not about search or social media per se, it serves as a good sanity check, I believe, for anyone who spends half their life in an office. This book is about two conflicting ways of thinking about working and business.

I'll let you know how I get on. If anyone has already read any of these, please feel free to post your thoughts on them.