Unloving the #SearchLove cookie monster

If there is one aspect that really surprised me this week at the SearchLove Distilled event in London this week, it certainly was not the:

  • quality of the speakers' insights, or the
  • diversity of online marketing subjects related to SEO, or the
  • high level of skill among the audience, or
  • the general excellence of the event

Infact I don't pretend here to offer comprehensive coverage of SearchLove like Samuel Crocker magically served up moments after each talk ended.

And I cannot compete with the superhuman Human Level's Fernando Macía's prolific tweet rate, or fellow visiting spanish speakers such as the charming Aleyda or the affable Gian Luca, aka the Moz Oracle, or indeed the succint actionable roundup blog posts of Koozai's Mike Essex.

The speakers' discourse was peppered with fashionable references to Bamboo and ingenious ways to combat Pandalization, leaving a vocabulalry legacy of bewliderement to possibly many a marketeer who does not breathe the daily nuances of the Search industry. Hey, every vertical has it's own lexicon, right?

I certainly found myself nodding and quietly yaying in awe of Wil Reynolds nail on the hammer delivery and admiring the pragmatic link-building competitive success of Branded3's Patrick Altoft.

And yes whilst I applaud and signed Martin MacDonald's keyword transparency initiative (he continues to bask in the afterglow of tweet chit-chat with MCHammer), I still cannot but help think it's somewhat crying over spilt milk.

new era of freemiunsation of search...

Distilled did indeed accommodate the audience's interest in hearing a panel discuss the freshly vexed issue of Google's defacto keyword search query removal. This effectively is regarded by the industry as Google's thin edge of the wedge of a new era of freemiumisation of search data.

If you're interested in the background of this, Go Google Paloma Gaos for a litigation lowdown.

All that said, the real elephant in the room this time, was neither, the oh so last year's issue of hat colour and SEO ethics, nor was it the effects of Google's latest iteration of a search quality algorithms affectionaly labelled as Panda by the search community, or indeed the ritual announcement of the deathknell (or not) of the efficacy of exact match domains.

No, that looming metaphorical elephant in the room, at least for me, was the cookie monster - yes, the wider issue of the implications of the impending EU privacy legislation that without intending to sound dramatic, threatens the very existence of the internet economy.

As Ciarán Norris explained in his introduction to his deck: "if you don't pay for the service you are using on the internet, you are effectively the product"

Ciarán cogently argued how our collective usage of the services effectively surrenders our privacy so the mega sites can monetise them for advertisers prepared to pay for audience access. He also exemplified interactive gesture controlled TV services that personalise the viewing experience and ultimately how compelling this is for the end user and advertiser alike. He's touched on this before.

And the reliance on cookies, perma-logged in social services, javascript tracking and more, are the essential ingredients in the mega internet economy and the real enablers of for the personalisation bandwagon to roll on.

site owners are stymied to monetize...

However, if site owners are compelled to display landing page explicit opt in notices interstital nuisance style, then as Ciarán rightly argued, they may as well thereafter display a blank screen to users who decline to opt in to data collection, because without consent, site owners are effectively stymied to monetize and it's Game Over for everyone.

Ever wondered how some services recoup the massive effort it takes to offer a global service?

For example, the AddThis button, installed on some 1 billion domains and 9 million users?

Ever mused for a moment how they make money, without charging you; the widget installer who happily benefits from the enhanced site functionality it offers?

Well, AddThis happily drop you a cookie which allows adverts to be displayed to you, on other sites you visit thereafter. You get the widget, they get you targeted, advertisers sell more stuff, no one gets hurt and it's a good deal allround right?

Except some people don't like it or just don't get it and lobbying of the legislators is where the real battles are being fought right now.

Fast forward to a time if/when such EU cookie legislation comes into force in 2012 and such services would not work so silently: your user experience might become a journey through optin hell, with endless repeat questions each time you opened a tab and so much as looked at anything interactive.

Don't even think of cookie cleaning, you'll probably make it even worse for yourself ultimately. Oh and want to casually Like something? Well before you do, step this way, let me read you your rights and confirm you might want to like something before you Like something. Go figure.

So when the SearchLove audience was polled for a show of hands about their awareness or action taken on this issue, the reaction seemed to be one of nonchalance at best and resigned ignorance at worst.

what surprised me was how unbothered people seem to feel..

OK, so maybe I got the wrong end of the mood stick, please correct me if so, but the impression I got was as if SEOers were instead itchily awaiting some golden insider nugget of ...ok, so now do this neat little tweak and you'll get page one rankings in 3 days...

And that's what surprised me: just how unbothered people seem to feel about the cookie monster.

Joanna Lord from SEOMoz also presented a fascinating look at how retargeting worked for SEOMoz at SearchLove. It's a whole marketing discipline that the cookie monster issue threatens omniously.

I raised the issue in person with @JoannaLord during the Mozcation in Barcelona and she confessed that at worst it would manifest itself at the browser vendor level, if at all.

So if SEO community truly want to earn the respect of the wider marketing community, it's time to collectively articulate the cookie monster concerns, query and challenge thought leaders on the subject, and support efforts to lobby for a functioning internet economy that benefits everyone.

And people, this is more important than your Klout score. Really.

If only we saw that same passion that was applied by SearchLovers to engaging MC Hammer, gently goading him to attend London or NYC SearchLove, now applied to this critical cookie issue, then it's the best chance over the coming months that we have to influence the outcome.

The message to send to policy makers is, mess with the internet economy at your political peril.

put another way, this is the internet, you can't touch this.

In New York? You should go to NYC SearchLove. Check out the #searchlove vibe or Follow the London searchlovers on this unofficial Twitter list: http://mmkt.in/searchlovers

Postscript: Econsultancy have published an in depth article about the EU cookie directive. Monday, 31st October.

The six and ⅔% more interesting Trey Pennington

I never met Trey Pennington. I wish I had.

Many people close to him have written moving tributes to him in the last few days.

Others have tried to rationalise Trey's passing, the illness he suffered from and the helplessness of social media in his death.

I won't go there. Trey touched many people's lives. He struck a chord with me.

Of the many people highly active in social media, he always struck me as someone who was naturally at ease with the true human socialising that his profession brought him, those moments where he would get together with other Like Minds without the barriers of technology inbetween human relationships.

Sure he would like to document so many of these moments incessantly with any sort of cam, but you really got the impression the guy relished true interactions with people.

Like many people I did wonder how the one hundred thousand plus followers made any sense and how his prolific and relentless output was possible.

Maybe I'm mistaken but Trey would have met you all in person given the chance.

When people have queried me what social media really meant in terms of a mindset, I would often cite him and express a sentiment along the lines of  "look you have to be totally selfless in a karmic kind of way if you're prepared to do this..."

I feel as if that came naturally to Trey.

People's affection towards him seems heartfelt. In the British parlance, the man was surely a great bloke if any person stood up to that description.

He made a massive contribution to social media and I trust a celebration of his life today and in the future will recognise that.

I contend there's enough wisdom in his archive to merit a Trey Day.

However if there is one video, one tip, one piece of sound heartfelt advice that would most resonate about him and his thinking it may well be this video with Zig Ziglar.

Would less have been more?

Trey's thoughts, podcasts, blogs, published material, tweets and interactions made for compelling content in the last few years although recent months his output did change.

I don't do Facebook so I don't pretend to know all of facets of his life, but some time ago I did think, what if he could produce more.

More?

What if his tweets were more repeatable by shortening his Twitter id. Could he produce more Trey Pennington content by allowing more content to fit in his tweets?

So about a year ago I had this email exchange with Trey.

The gist of it was this: Trey, go shorten your Twitter name, it's possible here you could have this username.

After all Trey, you are one of the biggest names in social media, literally. You are 10% of every tweet!

After these emails followed a series of Direct Messages on Twitter (which unfortunately I can no longer access or reproduce) and @ replies that have forever withered away.

About this time on Twitter it was possible to recuperate dormant accounts of usernames, I had done it before and Trey could have owned @treyp had he so wished.

I opened a support ticket on Twitter, sometimes exchanged cryptic @ replies with him and sent him DM's along the lines of :

Trey, lose the ennington and get yourself a five letter Twitter name, you can do it - you'll become six and two thirds per cent more interesting.

Trey did ponder it, perhaps he may have been minded to do it had we met at the Like Minds event in the UK in 2010 but alas I wasn't able to make it in time despite being in London at another marketing event.

Perhaps not.

Perhaps he would have remained Trey Pennington.

RIP

Response to the OFT Debt Management Guidance

The OFT (Office of Fair Trading) has invited responses from interested parties to the document, Debt management (and credit repair services) guidance of June 2011 consultation ending September  5th.

As per the scope of the consultation the document represents the OFT's draft guidance for all licensees engaged in the licensable activities of debt counselling and debt adjusting (where the debts arise under consumer credit or hire agreements).....It focuses on unfair and improper business practices for the purposes of section 25(2A)(e) of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 which, if engaged in, would call into question a person's fitness to retain or be granted a standard consumer credit licence or to operate under cover of a group licence. In addition, it provides a basis against which the OFT can undertake assessments of whether businesses have appropriate skills, knowledge, experience, business practices and procedures, to be licensed by the OFT to operate an ancillary credit business providing debt counselling, debt adjusting or credit information services.

Page 5 of the document available on the OFT website here, expands further: This consultation is aimed at all those with an interest in, or involved in, the provision of regulated debt counselling, debt adjusting and credit information services (including credit repair). This includes debt management companies, not-for-profit advice organisations, creditors and some lead generation and claims management companies......The consultation may also be of interest to trade associations, professional bodies, regulators, enforcement agencies, consumer organisations and credit reference agencies. 

In accordance with the consultation, I as Paul Gailey, in the capacity as a contracted marketing consultant to ClearDebt Ltd, a Consumer Credit License holder nº565479, hereby offer my formal response to the guidance as itemised below.

3.6 f. Examples of unfair or improper business practices with regards to lead generation and direct marketing include: claims or statements regarding 'status'. For example, operating websites which look like and/or are designed to look like the web-site of a charity or a government body.

I note the guidance cites the 2009 OFT press release about this subject. http://www.oft.gov.uk/news-and-updates/press/2009/26-09

The prevalence of decieving websites, false claims and incomplete debt management information has regretfully continued since 2009 and today still exists. Detection of existence of these sites is a simple exercise in conducting an internet search for popular debt management related terms. Attached is an image of a website, BBCdebts.com which I regard as in violation of the guidance contained in chapter 3 as a minimum.
I broadly welcome the guidance contained in chapter 3, especially with regards to lead generation activities and I am strongly supportive of the guidance sections 3.3, 3.4 and 3.6b.

Advertising and other communications
All marketing, advertising and promotion and other oral or written representations should be clear, accurate and truthful and should not mislead, either expressly or by implication or omission.
This guidance applies to all forms of marketing, advertising and promotion across all media 
types. This includes online marketing such as paid for/sponsored listings and advertisements on 
internet search engines, contextual advertising (targeted advertisements based on the content of 
websites on which the adverts appear) and all marketing content on paid-for and non-paid-for 
online space including new media such as social networking websites, forums and blogs.

I disagree with the statement in the guidance or omission in relation to all forms of marketing, in particular paid for listings, contextual advertisements and non-paid for online space.

I agree that representations should be clear, accurate and truthful and should not mislead however I disagree with the statement in relation to omission because not all forms of accepted marketing permit a full explanation of all the positive and negative aspects of offered debt resolutions.

For example, the display of advertising messages, particularly in online media is in some instances severely limited to short messages or limited display of characters and it is unworkable to expect licensee holders to convey extensive information in all paid and non paid spaces. I do believe licensee holders can abide by the guidance to avoid misleading consumers by explicitly displaying the providence of their advertisement and or displayed message with a further link and/or citation of company details.

By this I refer to the common practise of displaying either a profile link, company website link, company name, terms, contact details of the licensee holder in the communication. 

3.12 Examples of unfair or improper business practices include....
...b. falsely claiming or implying that help and debt advice is provided on a free, impartial or independent basis, where the provider has a profit-seeking incentive

I disagree with the guidance in terms of its definition of help and debt advice and usage of the term free whereby a commercial debt resolution company and licensee holder publishes considerable volumes of debt information for consumers that is free to access, as in no purchase or indeed contract is necessary to consult the information and that this information can be of help to the consumer.

Furthermore, usage of online tools - that contain and display caveats of accuracy - which capture user information and compute debt scenarios and financial options are a valid form of marketing communication.

3.12 f. I agree with the guidance and am strongly supportive that the guidance applies to both the private commercial and creditor funded organisations (i.e charity), whereby particularly in the case of the fees for an IVA (Individual Voluntary Agreement) to be arranged and implemented, that the fees are clearly stipulated and explained how the organisation receives it's fees.

3.13 Licensees who advertise or sell online or by email must comply with the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002. Before using internet based and social media  marketing, licensees should consider whether they can exercise adequate control over its content, whether it is an appropriate medium and whether the required information, warnings and caveats, can be included sufficiently prominently. The 
OFT considers that search engine sponsored links and online messaging forums which limit the number of characters are unlikely to be an appropriate means of providing consumers with sufficiently balanced 
and adequate information. 

I disagree with part of the statement above of 3.13. Exercising adequate control over its content. Marketing materials that are shared by consumers can rapidly gain a high number of advertising impacts when the sharing is viralized whereby the original producer of the content may no longer be able to exercise adequate control of it if the message is copied or modified by consumers.

I disagree with the guidance regarding whether it is an appropriate medium whereby social media marketing channels are an accepted mainstream form of communication. 
Recent information published by the Office for National Statistics, in the annual British Internet Habits shows that
  • in 2011, 57% of over-16s in the UK are using the internet for social networking, as opposed to 43% in 2010
  • Internet access from mobile devices is increasing substantially – 45% of UK adults accessing the Internet from mobile devices, up from 31% in 2010
  • 91% of 16-24 year olds use social media. Usage is high for the 25-34 year old (76%) and 35-44 year olds (58%)
I regard social media as a legitimate channel to communicate with users seeking information from debt management organisations.

With regards to the statement: and whether the required information, warnings and caveats, can be included sufficiently prominently I refer to my earlier statement that I agree debt management organisations can abide by the guidance to avoid misleading consumers by explicitly displaying the providence of their advertisement and/or displayed message with a further link and/or citation of company details. In the case of social media, this can be done typically via a biography or profile description, where a link to the company website can be clearly displayed.

With regards to providing consumers with sufficiently balanced and adequate information I believe social media channels can satisfy the need for balance and adequate information because the ability of the licensee holder to send a link in a short message, a tweet or an update to Facebook is possible.

I strongly agree with the guidance 3.14a and 3.14d

Whilst I agree with 3.14b however in exceptional circumstances whereby the licensee may still act in compliance with search engine guidelines to keyword bid in contextual advertising using another organisation's name, respecting trademark law, the licensee - without misleading the consumer - may require to do so. I would like to take this opportunity to stress that I believe it is inadvisable to keyword bid in contextual advertising with another organisations name as a routine matter.

--ends

The above consultation response was also sent by email to dmguidance-consult@oft.gsi.gov.uk as agreed with OFT officer Aaron Berry of the Debt Management Team on September 5th.

The views expressed here are my personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of ClearDebt Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of ClearDebt Group plc.

Paul Gailey is supplying this guidance consultation reponse in his capacity as a contracted consultant to ClearDebt Ltd, a debt management company of qualified debt advisors and licensed insolvency practitioners for individuals in debt principally seeking an IVA (Individual Voluntary Arrangement) or a debt management plan.

Don't know how to plan an Internet Marketing Strategy?

Yes you do.

But maybe not yet.

That's because the trouble with the internet, is you can never finish reading it.

If like me, you spend your working hours devising an internet marketing strategy for clients and executing it, then such a report from the likes of Econsultancy makes compelling reading.
This document - which is untypically free to download on Econsultancy - outlines some of the latest thinking, case studies and best practices in:
  • User experience
  • Customer experience management
  • Voice of the customer
  • Mobile app vs. mobile web
  • Mobile as the ‘glue’ connecting channels
  • Mobile commerce
  • Measuring the value of social media
  • Social CRM
  • Attribution management
  • Social for search engine optimization
  • Social commerce
  • Social media management
  • From bought media to earned media
  • From impression to expression
  • Enriched content: video, games, apps, metadata etc.
Note that all important etc. at the end - that's the sign of a infovore in EC1,  just like me.

We all learn by knowledge gained ultimately through sharing which is why so many fellow marketers welcome the opportunity to participate in social networks and mix professional with recreational updates.

I have a voracious appetite for information and an perhaps an increasing intolerance for those that don't. 

This manifests itself usually by about 2pm each day when the amount of tabs I simultaneously have open crush all the favicons together whereby they vanish.

On a good day this might not happen till 3pm.

But that really depends how define good. On a bad day this can happen as early as 11pm.

Swap good for bad or vice-versa.

When I say intolerance for those that don't, I refer to the infinite availability of information, yes and even insight that we have at our disposal.

So if you can't Google it successfully, you can ask someone you know, or someone they know, or someone who may know someone who may know...and so on.

And no I don't expect everyone to know everything of course, as I say the trouble with the internet is you can't ever finish it.

However when I hear a "I don't know" professionally uttered as a first reaction to a challenge, I wince just a little and I think a yes you can attitude is called for.

It's all out there, all the time awaiting your investigation and participation.

So next time you are faced with planning your internet marketing strategy don't say you don't know.

Please.