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Alfidi Capital Checks Out SMX West 2015

I attended SMX West 2015 this week, aka Search Marketing Expo.  I got a free Expo Plus pass, which means I got to attend all of the major sponsored talks and score free snacks throughout the day.  I am all over free deals, folks.  My original genius is in bold text because that is how I add value after these conferences.


Yahoo's Ad Lab kept me occupied on the first morning.  The Yahoo presenters and staffers all wore some purple clothing item and the free pens they handed out had purple ink.  Yahoo is all about purple.  I use Yahoo Finance a lot and their top menu bar is purple.  Maybe these people wear purple underwear too.  Yahoo no longer has a personals section but I used it briefly in 2004, and I don't recall seeing any purple people there.  Anyway, the common theme among the Yahoo presentations was the importance of storytelling in advertising.  The channels in online marketing are obvious; everyone differentiates between native and search.

Yahoo's research revealed some curious things.  Using trademark designations for a brand enhances an ad's click-through rate (CTR).  Some people must like the simplest possible stimuli.  Constructing a "power of three" language rhythm means telling a story of how "this, this, and then THIS" describes a brand.  I saw that rhythm when I worked at UBS a decade ago, when their internal communications people put out some really confusing nonsense about the corporate logo.  The people at UBS were stupid in 2005-06.

People remember ads that connect emotionally.  Yahoo advocates connecting in three realms:  consumer, product, and copy.  Connecting with the consumer means placing the brand logo in the upper right corner of an online ad's image.  There's more to it than that, but that was a big take-away.  Using less than 20% text overlay in an image is how the ad copy connects without distracting from the image.

I have never worked in marketing so I will oversimplify the obvious winning formula for an effective ad campaign.  The marketing pros first need to tie CTR to conversion rates to see whether their ads are driving behavior.  The ad campaign's spend divided by the number of unique conversions is the customer acquisition cost (CAC).  Comparing the CAC to the net income generated from the observed conversions reveals whether the campaign was worthwhile.  See folks, this marketing stuff is really simple.

I caught a couple of expo theater talks before the afternoon's headliners.  Disguised pitches are sometimes a chore but usually fun.  Presenters don't always grok that their talk should be mostly actionable practices and only just enough brand mention to establish a value proposition.  The few tips I picked up on the first day are coming at you right now.  Google's advanced search can reveal reading comprehension levels, and one presenter claimed the insurance industry is required to write documents with reading levels no higher than 10th grade.  I have not found confirmation of that anywhere, so naturally I am skeptical.  Online ads are mainly images and short text phrases, so writing something for the Gunning fog index or Flesch-Kincaid test would just be a waste of time.

Another theater talk mentioned the "digital marketing funnel" concept.  Link building is a marketing tactic now in decline but one presenter mentioned it as a brand awareness tactic at the top of the funnel.  Content generation, tactics, formats, channels, and metrics are different for each level of the funnel.  You can satisfy all of your funnel urges with the Content Marketing Institute's articles.

Google's constant algorithm changes have not deterred dedicated link builders from pitching their services.  I don't think it's dawned on many link builders that they can use Help A Reporter Out (HARO) to pitch journalists.  Doing media outreach the old-fashioned way takes a lot more time and gets more rejections than a response to a HARO query.  I asked these link builders afterwards about the effectiveness of link building by making comments on blogs and forums.  The lead dude said moderators have gotten a lot savvier in the last three years about deleting blatant link promoters and enabling a no-follow for web domain links.  He said it still works if the comment and link posted are relevant to the blog or forum.  I'm pretty sure link building as a third-party marketing service has almost reached the end of its useful life in the digital economy.

Another presenter had tips about building content that would resonate with search results.  There's an audience out there for everything and keywords show us want they want.  Experts in every vertical watch content their peers distribute.  Think through high-traffic keywords that work well as anchor text so potential back-linkers will like it.  Any amount of ad spend will drive some traffic but only quality content will make people stick around.  I am not a fan of any paid social media presence because it has the potential for abuse if marketers pay for artificial likes and follows.  The major social media channels now encourage marketers to think hard about spending on pay par click (PPC) campaigns after listening to complaints about its shortcomings.

The first day's cocktail reception is one of those conference traditions that has survived into the digital age.  The cocktail with soda, Hennessy cognac, and Grand Marnier cognac liqueur fueled my survey of the hot babes wandering around the expo floor.  Some of these gals had amazing hips, thighs, and calves, so they must get lots of exercise taking the stairs wherever they work.  The #WeaselPecker photo meme was also working its way around the expo floor but I did not let it distract me from my search for hot babes.  The concentration of woman in digital media seems to be higher than in other tech fields.  We need stats to confirm this phenomenon.

I attended all of Google's sponsored talks the next day.  Their big glass enclosure had all kinds of free candy and notepads.  I swear I should have started my career with tech startups in Silicon Valley.  The tech culture does free stuff right.  The Google people showed us how return on ad spend (ROAS) measures "lift."  Pure content people like bloggers may be able to ignore ROAS in favor of eCPC if their business model does not rely upon conversions, unless of course they have proof that ad spending to publicize a blog will drive their own ad revenue.  I practice what I just preached by not spending a penny on ads.  Google had plenty of cool things to say that I don't need to repeat because Google Best Practices has it all.  They even figured out multiscreen optimization.  Once you Learn With Google, you are welcome to Think With Google.  I would rather eat and drink with Google, which is precisely what I did at the reception they hosted for those of us who attended their talks.  All of the Google team leads who presented looked like they're in their late 20s or early 30s.  It's no company for older people.

I had little time for the second day's theater talks.  One of them really turned me off by playing very loud introductory music and disregarding the published topic.  Dude, if you're going to pull a half-dozen stunts in twenty minutes while dressed in a running outfit, please go find another job.  I couldn't find the dude on the expo floor to complain even after he said he would be in his booth.  Good riddance.

The disparities between the search engines sponsoring most of these talks are growing.  I think Yahoo and Bing will have trouble creating analytics suites to match Google no matter how good they make their algos.  Google simply has way more data to aggregate because it dominate search.  Mobile is turning into the same story.  App aggregation captures more traffic than search on mobile.  The dominant app stores will have the data for analytics.  Apple and Google lead the app store presence.  They will own the in-app advertising channels forever.  The network effects are simply too large to overcome.

Bill Tancer gave the keynote talk recapping his research from several books on consumer behavior.  I like the guy's "1/9/90 rule," where 1% of an online population generates content, another 9% interact with it, and the final 90% passively consume it.  Like everything else in human history, a tiny fraction of a population drives civilization forward and everyone else is just along for the rude.  I am going to try out the "People Hate Us On Yelp" meme and use negativity to drive more Web traffic to Alfidi Capital.  Bill predicts a disruptive entrepreneurial opportunity in searches for "perspective" on consumer review sites because different age groups and demographics will perceive the same service quality differently.  IMHO solving this opportunity simply means review sites can sort review listings by preferences for speed, cost, and quality.  The DevOps people at the biggest sites can solve it within a few weeks.

I have never purchased advertising so I can't use some of material at this conference.  Google Analytics and other services increasingly cater to ad agencies and other large media buyers who can generate multiple sales packages.  SMX was still worth my time for the many free tips I got on SEO sources.