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Vanessa’s Variety for the Week of March 7th 2008

Posted on March 7, 2008 by Vanessa

I don’t know about you guys but I am definitely not ready to change my clock for Daylight Savings Time this weekend.  Given that we are going to lose an hour this weekend the links I have provided in this week’s variety should at least help catch you up on eCommerce!

  • Happy Birthday eCommerce!  According the E-Commerce Times, the industry celebrated its 25th birthday this week.
  • Want to stretch your SEO budget?  Try diversifying your link building strategy.
  • Gigaom interviewed Gail Ennis, Omniture’s Chief Marketing Officer, after the Omniture Summit last weekend.  She gives insights into the show and to up and coming enhancements of their product… for those of us who did not attend.
  • Ask.com to become the ladies man of search?
  • Retail-eCommerce.com started a series this week on improving conversion rates, today’s post focuses on improving landing pages.


That's Freaking Spam-tastic: PizzaHut.com Requires Customers to Opt-In to Advertising When Ordering Online

Posted on March 6, 2008 by Tim

At the end of my senior year of high school I was awarded "Scholar Athlete", which came with a certificate published on an ink jet printer and something like $500 bucks.  Now, even though this was pre-steroid scandal, the award is pretty deceiving.  I'm way more scholar than I am athlete.  All the real jocks were, how do I put this lightly, academically challenged.  I think the athletics department just picked the student with the highest GPA, as long as he or she played any sport.  I played on the golf and tennis teams.  Well, actually, I "used" the golf team.  If you joined the golf team, you got to play at all the great local courses, for free, as often as you liked and use the driving range, for free, until they shut off the lights.  I didn't care as much about our team, which wasn't that great anyway, as I did about free golf.

Hang with me, eCommerce-ville just ahead.

The scholar athlete award is so deceiving that heading to college, I couldn't have cared less about sports.  However, once I stepped foot on USC's campus and started mainlining the Koolaid, my metamorphosis into a college football feen went full throttle.  Long story short, now I'm a massive USC football fan.  This addiction has led me to become a huge college football fan.  Being a college football fan means I hang out with people who like pro football; which means I end up watching the Super Bowl.  Inevitably, I annually find myself inhaling a carb-infused feast known as pizza.  It's a natural downward spiral.

Hooray, entering eCommerce-ville!  Population: Many hungry sports fans.

Integrating Offline Advertising with Search Engine Marketing

Following the Super Bowl earlier this month, there's been some interesting chit chat in the blogoshphere discussing how well companies integrated their Super Bowl television commercials with their online presence.  With cost estimates for 30 second spots swirling up to $3 million, it seems critical for advertisers to take full advantage of their commercial exposure by intimately assimilating their online arenas.  After the game, Reprise Media published their 4th annual Search Marketing Scorecard (SMS) which ranks companies who buy Super Bowl commercials by their ability to integrate those commercials with their online presence in order to metric how prepared each company is to capitalize on online interest.  A healthy portion of the conversation has been centered around how the Super Bowl advertisers fared from a website visibility perspective.  More specifically, this conversation has analyzed URL visibility in the commercials, mentioning the URL, displaying or calling out the URL prominently, showing website screenshots and the advertiser's ability to drive traffic to their website.  Another notable portion of the conversation has centered around a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) perspective.  The SEO conversation has analyzed whether advertiser's sites appear in search engine results for branded and non branded phrases associated with the campaign.  For anyone that did not catch the Super Bowl advertisements, Fox created a MySpace page housing all of the advertisements.  Although Fox and MySpace are siblings, both parented by News Corp., the general consensus seems to be that a more strategic SEO move would have been for Fox to host the commercial content on their own domain.  MySpace seems to be doing just fine on the traffic front.

Wait, isn't this post supposed to be about Pizza Hut and email advertising?  Why are we still talking about the Super Bowl?  Hold your horses!  eCommerce-ville has needs.  You can't just rush in.  Where's the foreplay?

Order Online: A Call to Action

All this "Which Super Bowl advertisers ruled and which ones sucked?" conversation reminded me why I'm glad that I'm a college football fan.  Not only do I think college football is superior (trigger flood of hate mail), but, in general, many of the sponsors' advertising campaigns are better as well.  Case in point: Papa John's.  Papa John's sponsored the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, aptly titled the 2007 PapaJohns.com Bowl.  Not only did Papa John's plaster their URL (not just their name) on just about every single piece of marketing that made reference to the game, from the BCS' website to the banner across the televised broadcast, but plenty of the marketing included the call-to-action "Order Online" underneath the Bowl's title.  Even the giant Papa John's logos all over the field were stamped with the instruction to "Order Online".

Now, it doesn't take a marketing research guru to figure out that Papa John's may have had a spike in sales during the Papa John's Bowl due to their sponsorship.  However, the higher level long term branding initiatives are a much more interesting discussion.  It's well known that using a strong call-to-action in Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaigns is an optimization strategy that, in general, improves the quality and performance of advertising campaigns, without raising costs.  Not only is Papa John's use of a call-to-action capitalizing on this strategy, their implementation in an offline channel generates online traffic while lowering overhead conversion costs.  The costs associated with executing an online transaction are likely markedly less than transactions performed over the phone.  Moreover, every order placed online provides an opportunity for Papa John's to build their email marketing list, up sell and cross sell in an automated fashion, and generate increased loyalty with those who have a positive customer experience.  As such, the "Order Online" mantra may be less about customer acquisition and more about customer retention and market share growth.

Their SEO efforts seem to be in tune as well.  For the searches order pizza online and pizza order online, Papa John's ranks first.  Along with the bowl game sponsorship,  Papa John's created an entire site, papajohnsbowl.com, dedicated to the game and chock full of content.

Eureka!  Our destination!  A conversation about Pizza Hut!  The title of this post does apply!!!

No Opt-In, No Pizza For You

Don't you hate it when you're creating an account on a website so that you can place an order and right before you check "I Agree" to the Terms of Use, you have to UNCHECK, "I Agree" for you to send me a bunch of crap.  Well, Pizza Hut took that annoyance to a whole new level.

The week before the super bowl, my wife mentioned that we had a couple unused Pizza Hut gift cards that had been magneted to our refrigerator for over a year.  She was under the impression that the card's value begins to depreciate one year after purchase (If true, don't even get me started on this issue!).  Perfect!  We had a super bowl party to attend, so we decided to donate to the cause.  Since Super Bowl Sunday is like the biggest pizza ordering day, I dropped the gift cards off at my friends house the night before the game so we could get our order in before the frenzy.  We grab the mac book, find the codes on the gift cards, and head to pizzahut.com.  After spending time starring at the coupons, figuring out the promotions, figuring out how many bodies we need to feed and filling up our shopping cart, we end up at that account creation page.  After filling out a bunch of data, we get to the bottom of the form and see this:

 

PizzHut.com customer sign up page

 

WHAT?!?!  Are you serious?  Really Pizza Hut?  Really?  You can't be.  This can't be right.  I really can't buy your product online unless I agree to receive your junk mail?  There's no check to opt-in, LET ALONE AN UNCHECK TO OPT-OUT?

Let me get this right.  In order to order pizza online from pizzahut.com I MUST "agree to receive information about Pizza Hut®/WingStreet® coupons, promotions, announcements, events and specials".  Are you freaking kidding me?  Refresh!  This must be a mistake.  No, even better, they must have been hacked by a competitor.  Dominoes... you sneaky, sneaky, guys (KIDDING, no calls from lawyers).  I was absolutely floored.  Now, I have no idea how easy it is to opt-out of the "information", once the "coupons, promotions, announcements, events and specials" start flooding in since my buddy refused to create an account.  I'm imagining the subject of an email right now: "WingStreet Wings: So Damn Good, You'll Never Unsubscribe, So Why Give You the Option?".

In scanning the policies, I couldn't quite figure out how they were going to advertise to me.  Is it email, snail mail, text, pizza delivery boy stopping by, blimp, tattoo?  Also, I don't know why there is a "Pizza Hut Terms of Use and Privacy Policy" and a "WingStreet® Terms of Use and Privacy Policy".  Both of the Terms of Use links land on the same page (http://www.pizzahut.com/TermsOfUse.aspx) and both of the Privacy Policy links land on the same page (http://www.pizzahut.com/PrivacyPolicy.aspx).  Neither of the documents make it clear whether they are the "Pizza Hut" docs or the "WingStreet" docs.  The account creation form requires several pieces of information, including: email address, street address and phone number.  Other types of information are optional, like a cell phone number.  While I was wondering what channels and mediums this "information" would come via, I came across some great content in the Privacy Policy.  My favorite part of the policy is reproduced below:

 

PizzaHut.com Policies

Hilarious!  I love it.  They say "For those who initially opted-in to receive future offers or promotional materials or to allow the sharing of Personal Information with third parties may subsequently opt-out as follows".  Ummm, by "For those who" do you mean "everyone who bought online" since it's impossible to not "initially" opt-in?  Underneath that, the policy provides instructions on how to opt-out of email and text message communications, which implies they advertise via both of these mediums assuming you cough up your cell phone number.  I'm guessing they advertise to the street address as well.  For perspective, it looks like Papa John's let's you opt-out of both email advertising (by unchecking) and text message advertising (by not checking).

Since we thought this was a terrible policy, didn't want to end up on their advertising lists, didn't want to have to figure out opting out later and didn't want to deal with a bunch of junk mail until we could get off their lists, we closed our browser and called our order in over the phone.  We would have gone to a competitor if we didn't already have the gift cards.


This experience raises at least two serious concerns.  First, it completely eliminated all of the value mentioned above that could have been created by an online order.  Since we called in, conversion costs increased, Pizza Hut will never have the opportunity to add our email address to their marketing lists (via a check or a non-uncheck), they will never have the chance to up sell or cross sell to us in an automated fashion, they have completely obliterated any loyalty we had and they provided an utterly terrible customer experience.  Moreover, their customer retention and market share numbers just dwindled by a body count of two (my friend and I).  Second, the strategy that Pizza Hut is utilizing makes me wonder if most users don't notice what they're getting themselves into and if this is what Pizza Hut is shooting for.  Well known practice in eCommerce is to force a customer to agree to a sites general terms of use in order to transact on that site.  Sometimes, at the same time a user is agreeing to the Terms of Use, a second, optional, opportunity is provided that allows the the customer to opt-in to advertising.  If only one option is given, it is by and large a Terms of Use agreement.  Therefore, if a customer only sees one option, and doesn't read the details, they assume that they are agreeing to a sites Terms of Use, and that no option to opt-in to advertising exists, let alone that they are opting in if they agree to the Terms of Use.

By the way, in the past, I've been a big fan of Pizza Hut's crust.  This time, we went for the Pizza Mia's.  I have to say, I was definitely disappointed.  Icing on the cake...

Well, so long for today eCommerce-ville.  The sun is setting on you once again.  It's been a good visit.  A long one, but a good one.  Next fall during football season (college or pro) when I order pizza online, it's Papa John's all the way.

 

 

 

Michael Gray Topless at SMX? Live from Search Marketing Expo West, Matt Cutts Offers Michael Gray Cash to Strip on Stage, Andy Beal Vehemently Objects!

Posted on February 27, 2008 by josh

Tomorrow I'll be speaking at Search Marketing Expo West in Santa Clara. I will be discussing PlumberSurplus.com's development and implementation of HackerSafe along with our utilization of the HackerSafe trustmark in our comparison shopping engine feeds. My speech is during lunch in the exhibit hall, which, according to Katie Gausepohl, Third Door Media's Director of Finance, is a first for the circuit, so I hope I can provide some value to what I expect to be a semi-captive, and very hungry, lunching audience.

I've been meaning to put together some posts discussing the conference, but keep finding myself buried in prepping my speech, attending sessions, hobnobbing with Google over drinks and appetizers at
Sino Restaurant & Lounge, desperately trying to keep up on email and touching base with my super team back at home. However, sometimes a morsel of content so incredibly entertaining comes along, that a real time insta-post is absolutely required.

This afternoon I attended the
SEO & Blogging session on the Wonder Twins track. At the beginning of the Q & A, Matt Cutts, sitting against the back wall of the room, offered Michael Gray $100 to take off his shirt and dance on the table during the session. The audience erupted in laughter as Matt Cutt's was pulling out wads of cash. While the entire audience was rooting for Michael to get up and groove, Andy Beal counter offered $200 if Michael wouldn't end up half naked. Panelist antics such as these are what can make conferences extra enjoyable. The networking and learning opportunity is enormous, but a bit of levity woven through the event make fast paced cram sessions bearable. Also, it's interesting to see how loose, and apparently close, all of the Bloggers were in this particular session.

Here's a photo just after the mayhem ensued.  From left to right: Vanessa Fox of Ignition Partners (the moderator), Aaron Wall of SEO Book, Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim, Michael Gray of Graywolf's SEO Blog.

SMX West 2008 Panel

After the session, Aaron and Andy were nice enough to discuss this blog and our strategy in general. I also had a chance to catch up with Matt. A few months back, we outed a competitor for black hat spamming with hidden links. During an interview with Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting, Matt addressed the issue and offered some perspective. I thanked Matt for mentioning the issue during the interview and Matt was glad to contribute, as always.

Though I sometimes get worn out sitting in these sessions by the end of the second day of a conference, it's experiences like this that remind me of why I love eCommerce. The people are great and the opportunity to take home some nuggets of knowledge are equally matched by nuggets of fun. I'll post more about my experiences at the conference soon.

 

Google Search Engine Results Pages Illustrated

Posted on February 22, 2008 by Zach

I have been asked several times over the past few months what the different parts of a Google search engine results page are and how everything is put together by Google. While the whole process of using Google is pretty straight forward, there are certain things to look for, and an understanding of where the data comes from that can lead to improved searching and overall use of a search engine. I have put together a quick screen shot of a Google search engine results page to explain its main parts and where Google is getting that data.

Pictured is a search using Google for the term "Access Doors". With this search engine results page or SERP, I will illustrate the different pieces of this page and how it’s put together.

 



SERPS are typically made up of three core elements: (1) the search box, (2) paid results and (3) organic results.

1. The Search Box

The search box is where users enter their keyword(s) for what they are searching for in order to find related websites. Make no mistake though; the search box is a powerful tool in helping find the data and or websites you are looking for. Here are a few tips when using the search box: more general words or terms will typically always yield more results while more specific or particular words or terms will typically yield less results. This strategy of keyword choice and number of keywords can help refine or broaden a search. Most search engines also allow the use of modifiers or have an advanced search form, which can better define or change what data is returned for the keywords. In this Better Searches, Better Results document from Google they explain some of the modifiers which can be used in the Google search box to refine searches and get better results. Always remember though that the search box holds the power, what is put into the search box drives all of the results that will show up on the page below.

2. Paid Results

Paid results are advertisements from advertisers that typically pay Google on a per click basis (pay per click / PPC) to show ads for a particular or related keyword based upon what was searched. All of the information in the listing is supplied by the advertiser to Google and the rank of the listing (where it will show on the SERP page) is based upon several factors including how much the advertiser is willing to pay relative to what other advertisers are paying for the same keyword (if you are willing to pay the most, your ad will show up at the top of the page such as ours and the rest of the advertisers are displayed accordingly). Paid results are made up of the following data, ad title (dark blue text), display URL (green text), ad copy (black text), landing page (where the user is taken to when the ad is clicked) and any badges such as the Google Checkout badge.  The Google Checkout badge shows because we offer Google Checkout as a payment option. All of this is sometimes referred to as the creative of the ppc ad.

3. Organic Results

Organic results are a set of results put together by Google based upon the keyword(s) searched and their algorithm which ranks sites based upon relevancy, website importance or popularity along with numerous other criterion (their goal is to give you the best set of websites as related to the keyword(s) searched that they possibly can). This listing is made of the following components: the blue text is the title of the page which is typically defined by the webmaster or website owner via the Title Tag. The Black text is a description of that web page which can also be specified by the webmaster or website owner via Meta Tags but can also be pulled from other sources such as the Open Directory Project or put together by Google based from the content that resides on the page. The green text is the website URL or the page on the website which you will be taken if you click on the listing. The Cached link in gray will take users to a snapshot of that web page which Google saved the last time they crawled that web page. And lastly, the Similar pages link in gray will execute a search for web page URL the with the related: modifier (exp related:www.plumbersurplus.com/Cat/Access-Doors/606) which will use that modifier in the search box which shows other web pages that are related to that particular listing.

Optimizing Searching

These three main elements make up the Google SERP page and while there are many more features and ways to search for websites, these three elements make up most of that experience. The Google SERP page is also similar to other search engines results pages so when using another search engine look for these elements, which can help lead to better searching and overall use of a search engine.

 

Vanessa’s Variety for the Week of February 1st 2008

Posted on February 1, 2008 by Vanessa

We may not be able to cover every ecommerce and entrepreneurship topic out there so here are some interesting selections that made it in to this week’s “Variety”.

  • Congratulations to Frank Adante of the Rubicon Project for raising $21 million in funding

  • If you sell on eBay make sure to register for their webinar regarding their new pricing changes that go in to effect on February 20, 2008

  • For those of you who may not know how the changes eBay made will affect you check out Scot Wingo’s forum on eBay Strategies

  • The February 2008 edition of Wired Magazine has an article written by Frank Rose called “The Secret Life of a Blog Post” the article is interesting, if you don’t subscribe to the magazine you can view the image at this blog 

 

Google Creates Webmaster Tools Quick Start Guide

Posted on January 31, 2008 by Zach

Google recently created the Google Webmaster Tools Quick Start Guide which covers the main features of Google Webmaster Tools and will help you to get started right away. If you are new or unfamiliar with Google Webmaster Tools this is a great resource. Each of the main areas of Google Webmaster Tools is outlined with information on key functionalities.  Google Webmaster Tools is a great resource for viewing which of your pages are included in Google's index, see any errors encountered while crawling your site, find search queries that list your site as a result, find out which sites link to yours and more.  As an e-commerce site we consistently use Google Webmaster Tools to make sure that our sitemaps are working correctly, Google is indexing our site effectively, we are up to date on terms that we are ranking for, and so forth.  For those that want to collect this information the quick start guide is a good place to get started.