4 Ways to Drive Engagement With Facebook Ads (via mashable)

Victoria Ransom is founder and CEO of Wildfire, a global leader in social media marketing software. She is also a sought-after expert on social marketing trends and was recently named a 2012 TechFellow by the Founders Fund, NEA, and TechCrunch. For more on social advertising, register here for Wildfire’s free on-demand webinar.

In the run up to Facebook’s fast-approaching IPO, the company is making extensive and ongoing improvements to its advertising platform. The most recent updates, which are not yet live, will allow marketers to optimize their ads for any Facebook action (not just likes). These new capabilities will also give advertisers a much greater understanding of their consumers, allowing them to segment marketing messages based on certain user groups. All of this goes to support the general belief that Facebook wants to turn their ad platform into the main driver of a brand’s reach. To be successful in this space, brands will have to be very authentic. The first big move towards making ads into more organic-feeling messages came when Facebook introduced the updated Premium ad format, in which Premium ads could only be created from real content posted to a brand’s page.

It continued with the recently announced extended feature set for the ads manager, which includes the ability to set different metrics and goals for different campaigns. This capability allows you, for example, to set up one campaign and optimize it to be shown to users most likely to post comments; and set up a different campaign for users most likely to spend their Facebook credits on an in-app purchase. With this tool, marketers will be able to more efficiently use Facebook advertising to capture the attention of very different kinds of Facebook users.

This means that now, more than ever, the challenge to create organic-feeling and genuine ads is on! Here are four ways to drive more engagement with the new Facebook ad units, along with tips for how to enhance performance once the new action-driven optimization capabilities are live.

1. Create Versatile Video Content

When viewing a premium ad with video, users can watch the clip in its entirety straight from the ad, or click through to the page to learn more. The variety of options means more interactions are possible, which is great news for an ad because it can be doubly effective!

Above, McDonald’s and Tide turn video posts into premium ad units. McDonald’s adds in a second user interaction: a hyperlink to the local farmer campaign on an outside domain. In this way, users can land in one of two different places: the outside website or the fan page itself. They can also just watch the video without leaving their news feed at all.

Tip: When Facebook makes the new action-oriented optimization features ready, you’ll be able to optimize your budget by the action you value most. Those actions can include targeting users who are more likely to watch the video, targeting users who are more likely to share the video, or targeting users who are more likely to post a comment on your video.

2. Use Promotions to Track ROI and Ad Performance

Soon, Facebook advertisers will be able to segment the demographic coverage of their varied ad campaigns by propensity to buy, click, or share (or any other activity). For the time being, however, brands like Starbucks and Schick can track the ROI of their premium advertising placements by tracking mention of the $2 Petites deal in Starbucks stores, and by tracking entry rates to the XTreme3 Eco remake contest by using custom referral links for the promotion.

Tip: Once you’re able to target your ads based on action-specific metrics, ROI will become easier to track. For example, if your product can be purchased from the Facebook page either with credits or through a custom application, the Facebook ads manager should be able to optimize the reach of your ad to those users more apt to make purchases ahead of those who take longer to buy.

3. Showcase New Product Lines

Since Premium ads make use of the content a brand posts to its own page, it can be challenging to think of posts that will both organically attract user attention but also serve as compelling advertisements. Consider showcasing individual items by pointing to their trendiness, or showing off a unique set of products from a new product line. These are both good ways for users to view your ad from their fan page.

Incase and Rugby Ralph Lauren demonstrate two ways to advertise products without crossing that delicate line into inauthenticity. The photo of the new Andy Warhol iPhone case collection reveals an interesting and limited edition collection. Rugby Ralph Lauren’s post about spring-ready classic oxfords and blazers offers helpful advice, while linking directly to a ready-for-purchase catalogue item. In line with all the “typical” posts to Rugby Ralph Lauren’s Timeline, nothing about the post looks out of place, or forced.

Tip: When you endorse page posts by turning them into sponsored ads, and you optimize those ads for certain engagement activities (i.e. comments or likes), your ads will be served first to the users most likely to perform those actions. Since your page post is receiving the benefit of being served to more “engaged” users, once those users interact with the ad, your brand benefits from the boost in EdgeRank and subsequent posts enjoy an increased reach.

4. Post Interactive Content

Posting content that specifically instructs users to take action, and pairing that call-to-action with an example image, is a great way to influence engagement. Iams is a good example of this.

Tip: The Facebook ads manager will be able to optimize for photo tags, which is one of many new metrics a brand can set a campaign around. An example of how a brand might use this can be illustrated with the Iams ad. The Iams fan page administrator will be able to track the viral effect of requests in their ads if, say, a user posted a photo to the Iams page even a week after the ad ran (in response to the call to action). Before, Iams wouldn’t know if the success resulting from asking their fans to post their own photos to the page was because visitors saw the ad or the Timeline.

Which in-network actions do you anticipate optimizing most of your campaigns for? In-app purchases? Shares? Share in the comments!

Google Launches Full-Scale Shopping in Search (via RWW)

Google is not selling products the way Amazon does. Rather, it's giving merchants who use its commercial ad model the opportunity to sell to you from the Google search results page. The ads aren't simply text. They include images and descriptions and current prices, and they only show items that are in stock. Google's shopping ads come with an API that lets merchants keep their listings accurate.

Google and merchants "have shared incentives to make sure this information is accurate," says Sameer Samat, Google's VP of product management for Google Shopping. These are ads, certainly, but they're also search results, and Google has to provide the most informative and accurate results here or else shoppers will head straight to Amazon. "It's about the reliability of the data. Consumer expectations have risen over the years, and this information needs to be accurate."

So instead of a mixture of small ads along the top, text ads on the side and shopping links inside search results, a large box will present Google Shopping ads within product-related searches. Google is testing a few layouts, but basically it will either be a row of products right above the organic results or in a big box on the right side.

Sponsored listings will be clearly marked as ads, but they'll also be much more attractive than ordinary search results. In some of the experimental designs, they'll resemble the info boxes for the recently launched Google Knowledge Graph, except that shopping results will be marked "Sponsored."

Old Google product results:

New Google Shopping results:

Google's New Kind of "Paid Inclusion"

Google has long shown shopping results in Universal Search. "Universal" refers to organic Google results that are more than simple links to webpages, such as images, news stories, hotel rooms and flights. Those aren't ads, they're just different kinds of data than pure webpages, so Google gives them a different presentation.

But as Google has added more shopping opportunities to Universal Search, it has started to move toward paid inclusion. MarketingLand reported yesterday that this seems to violate principles Google laid out explicitly in the past. Google didn't do so-called "paid inclusion" before. Results floated to the top of search because their reputation on the Web was the best.

But with all these new Universal sections, Google has begun to sell the opportunity to be listed. It has to keep these results up-to-date and accurate, and the only way to do it is to charge the providers as ad partners. It hasn't compromised organic search, but it has created these big, attractive boxes - labeled "sponsored" for clarity - in which merchants can pay to play.

Merchants will now bid on the opportunity to be listed in Google Shopping results, and organic search results for other products will be less enticing. But this isn't a clear-cut case to point and laugh at Google's unfortunate "Don't be evil" mantra again. Google Shopping results will provide people who are searching for products with the information needed to make a purchase, and if they're just doing research, the organic search results will be there below.

If Google is going to make money off of searches for products, it's not just a matter of running text ads. Google has to make search results into a storefront. If it can pull off the presentation and convince merchants to pay and participate, Google could break people of the habit of going to sites like Amazon to shop.

The experiments start on Google.com today, and merchants can participate by setting up Product Listing Ads campaigns. There will be a transition period this summer as shopping results move away from free, Universal Search results toward paid listings. Google plans to complete the transition by this fall.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Facebook Finally Lets Page Admins Schedule Posts, Have Different Roles (via mashable)

Third-party apps like HootSuite just got a little less relevant with an update from Facebook that lets Page admins schedule posts. A new help center page from Facebook also outlines how brand pages can now dole out specific duties to multiple page admins, each with varying degrees of permissions.

The chart below outlines the new roles of manager, content creator, moderator, advertiser and insights analyst.

A separate help center page from Facebook also provides an answer to one question many Facebook Page admins have been asking for some time: How do I schedule a post to appear later? The answer:

Posts can be scheduled up to six months in advance at 15-minute intervals.

SEE ALSO: 5 ways these new scheduling feature falls short

Facebook Page admins, are these features you’ve been waiting for? How does this change your Facebook marketing strategy?

Eight Key Lessons on Running a Top-Notch A/B Testing Program (via MarketingProfs)

Many marketing gurus talk about conversion rate optimization (CRO), which includes anything from A/B tests (most obvious) to design and usability changes. You probably agree that testing is a great thing to do. You might have even run a few experiments. But did you get the results you had hoped for?

Since testing requires resources, how can you conduct it for the maximum benefit to your organization?

After running dozens of A/B tests on AmsterdamPrinting.com over the last two years, I've gathered eight of the most important lessons about conducting a successful A/B testing program.

1. Get Your Buy-Ins Before Starting to Test

A/B testing might seem like a no-brainer, but switching from gut-feeling decisions to data-driven decisions might be harder than you think. The ultimate goal of CRO—to gain a "culture of testing" within a company—is a big leap; you need a step-by-step approach.

Setting up tests requires additional work and resources, and you ought to have support from the top. Involve your testing team in all of the big decisions about your website, so your team can evaluate great candidates for the tests.

2. Involve More People Once You Have Management Buy-in

To have a successful testing program, you'll need to involve key players. Having a designer and a developer on your team would ensure timely implementation of tests.

Involve the rest of the organization by sharing test results, asking for feedback, or even taking votes on the winning test recipes. When we ran a call to action test (and got a testing award), we had seven versions of the button text, all suggested by our co-workers. As a fun twist, we ran an internal contest to predict the Top 3 versions of the test, rewarding the winner with an Amazon gift card. Naturally, more people participated and were excited to check the results.

3. Define Hypotheses and Success Metrics Before Starting Each Test

When launching a new test, you can easily be biased in its favor. Often, you'll believe that the new version is better. To avoid that self-fulfilling prophecy, define your hypotheses and success metrics before running the test.

For example, if you're testing three call to action buttons (including a control version), define the following:

Your Hypotheses

  • Why might the second and third versions of the button be better than a control?
  • If version two or version three wins, what would you attribute it to?

Your Success Metrics

What event (e.g., click, download, purchase) or metric (number of seconds spent, bounce rate, or average order value) will be compared against the control?

A single success metric is what will ultimately define whether your test is successful.

Be careful with your assumptions: More clicks do not mean more purchases, just like more purchases might not mean higher sales totals (what if the average order value dropped?).

Align your success metrics with your business goals.

4. Get Enough Conversions for Statistical Significance

So, you've launched a test and... no traffic. The great candidates for testing are pages with a lot of traffic that are closer to the bottom of the conversion funnel. (You can usually make a greater impact testing something toward the end of a transaction, such as a product details page or the checkout process.)

The rule of thumb is to test for at least two full weeks and receive 100 conversions (success metrics) per each recipe in the test.

5. Segment Your Traffic

Segments are really important, because different types of visitors might react differently to the versions you're testing. Loyal customers (direct or "branded" traffic) will behave differently than those who landed on your site for the first time.

Other segments could include the following:

  • Visitor types (customers, prospects, new, returning)
  • Browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari)
  • Operating systems (Mac, Windows, Linux)
  • Screen resolutions (what visitors will likely see above the fold)
  • Traffic sources (direct, search engines, and campaigns, such as email, PPC, display, remarketing, etc.)
  • Landing pages: Was the test page the first page the person saw when she landed?

Creating lots of segments can improve the conclusiveness of your A/B tests. Again, you should line up with your business goals (will a 4% drop in conversion of current customers be offset by a 7% increase in conversion of new visitors?). Evaluate different success metrics for different segments, too!

6. Unsuccessful Tests Don't Exist

Even if your test is inconclusive (producing no statistically significant lift or drop), it is still valuable. Don't let results like those disappoint you. You did learn, for example, that the particular element you tested is not that important and does not affect your success metrics.

(Note: Brian Massey wrote a piece for Search Engine Land titled "Four Things You Can Do With Inconclusive Split Tests." It's worth checking out.)

Remember, keeping detailed records of all your tests, conclusive or not, will help with future decisions to test or change your website.

7. Big Changes Equals Big Impact

We've all heard success stories about a small change that resulted in a big positive impact. In reality, though, that is rarely the case. Big changes, which usually have a high-perceived "risk" within the company, result in big impact—good or bad. Even if the impact is negative, look back at item No. 6. You've learned that the tested element really matters!

8. Beware of the hidden variables (confounds) affecting the test

Even with the perfect setup, your testing tool will not account for the "hidden" variables. Beware of them, and minimize risk by doing the following:

  • Do not run simultaneous tests that target the same group of visitors.
  • Run a test for a longer timeframe (3-4 weeks), because seasonal traffic changes can affect the outcome (e.g., a direct mail catalog drop will bring in qualified traffic, skewing your test results).
  • Test one thing at a time. If you're testing a landing page, do not have different versions that mix and match layout changes, design changes, and calls to action. Approach that kind of test with a few phases, starting with the layout test, then the design, and only then the call to action. Even though multivariate tests (MVT) are great alternatives, they will take a long time to complete unless you have tens of thousands of visitors.

The Long Process

Following the lessons in this article will make your conversion rate optimization activities more effective. Our goal here, again, is to introduce your company to the culture of testing. As you have more winning A/B tests, you can start questioning the "foundational" elements of your site (e.g., navigation, layout, features, even design).

Joanna Lord, director of acquisition at SEOmoz, calls these elements the "all truths" and says they are the hardest ones to push through. But improving/testing the "all truths" can potentially make the biggest impact across the entire site.

As you perform more testing and learn how your audience reacts to the changes, communicate your positive results and, more important, put the results in perspective for the next year. For example, a 4% conversion-rate lift? That's $236,000 in additional revenue per year. Doing so will help to get your executives to pay attention to A/B testing and conversion rate optimization!

New Ideas and Sharing

To get the ideas flowing, frequently check sites such as WhichTestWon.com or ABtests.com. You'll get a look at what others are testing and a chance to guess which version had a higher lift. Both sites accept great tests, so feel free to share your successes while bringing attention to your brand.

Good luck to you and your CRO team!

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Education theme)

Facebook Offers: How and Why They Work (via The Next Web)

In the past 24 hours, coverage has spread across the Internet of the launch of a new feature by Facebook, one that allows businesses and brands to utilise an ‘Offers’ feature that delivers daily deals to a brand’s Page and a user’s News Feed.

The new service is a twist on the traditional Daily Deals market, particularly because it allows Facebook users to remain in direct control over the offers they see. Instead of functioning as a dedicated website like Groupon, LivingSocial and AmazonOffers, Facebook has the ability to drop targeted deals into a user’s News Feed in line with status updates, photo posts, location checkins and other more social features.

To some, it may be puzzling as to why it has been reported that Facebook launched Offers over the past couple of days. The truth is, it didn’t. The company actually announced and rolled out the feature on February 29:

Offers are a free new way for businesses to share discounts and promotions directly from a Facebook Page. They can be distributed through the News Feed or promoted as Sponsored Stories. People can redeem Offers via email or on a mobile device.

The launch was somewhat understated, maybe because Facebook’s previous attempt at brand promotion ‘Facebook Deals’ didn’t gain much traction when it launched. However, we’ve already seen a select number of businesses have already been dropping offers into Page subscriber’s feeds.

One company is UK-based online supermarket delivery service Ocado, which offered free hot cross buns to its customers:

Screen Shot 2012 04 14 at 07.44.01 520x162 Facebook Offers: Why you could soon be buying from your favorite brands in your News Feed

Ocado’s deal hit on March 20, offering the traditional baked Easter treat to people who had ‘Liked’ its page. To claim it, Facebook user’s simply had to hit ‘Claim Offer’ next to the advert (whilst it was live) and a small box would pop up, stating that details of the deal would be emailed to the user’s email inbox.

In this case, those who redeemed the offer were emailed a promotion code, which could then be entered into the company’s checkout page, ensuring they would remain free.

In operation, it works almost exactly the same as Groupon and LivingSocial, placing the responsibility on the advertiser or the brand to facilitate the remainder of the deal process. Facebook serves as the delivery medium, a large one with 850 million users, driving pageviews and interest to a brand’s promotion.

What makes it different from Groupon et al?

Whilst the redemption process is similar to that of more established daily deals websites, Facebook’s ace card is that Offers are already delivered in such a way that makes it easier for them to spread virally.

Let’s look at Groupon’s deal pages and sharing platform:

Screen Shot 2012 04 14 at 07.56.34 520x451 Facebook Offers: Why you could soon be buying from your favorite brands in your News Feed

Groupon hopes that if a user signs up to its daily emails or subscribes via the application, they will be directed to the deal, allowing them to ‘Buy it Now’ and, in this case, save 77% or £60 on their day out.

However, take a look at  Groupon’s recommendation system (bottom left of the image). There are three options to share the deal with friends, one is a Facebook sharing widget with the other two consisting of Twitter and Email. No doubt people will click on these buttons and share the deal with their Facebook and Twitter friends, but it’s another step in what could be an already lengthy redemption and sharing process.

Screen Shot 2012 04 14 at 08.07.56 520x285 Facebook Offers: Why you could soon be buying from your favorite brands in your News Feed

On Facebook, you don’t need to visit an additional website. In fact, deals will be delivered in such a way that they will appear in between your existing News Feed updates. If a particular deal resonates with you, you hit ‘Get Offer’ and details of how to redeem your Offer are sent automatically to your email address.

Facebook’s sharing tools are seeing increased usage — we also use Facebook sharing widgets to help share articles — because no matter where you go across the web, more often than not there is an option to share a post or a webpage. The same can be said of Facebook’s own posts (which includes Offers); each post has a Share link which can be clicked to allow the quick sharing to a user’s own Timeline:

More interestingly, when a user claims an offer, a story about it will be added to their timeline. By default, the story is visible to that person’s friends, but they can change the audience of the story before they post it.

The bigger the brand, the wider the Offer can potentially spread.

296358407100167 1046094376 520x400 Facebook Offers: Why you could soon be buying from your favorite brands in your News Feed

Won’t it pollute the News Feed?

Facebook is a business, a company that has already successfully built a targeted advertising platform. When a service is free, users often have to expect that its owner will monetize its users or incorporate tools and services to boost its revenue streams.

Currently, Facebook Offers are only available to a select number of advertisers and they can be run at no charge to companies that are able to place them. You may argue that this could pollute the News Feed, turning you off your favourite brand.

Facebook has been clever to implement an ‘all or nothing’ scenario when it comes to viewing Offers.

The company notes:

You can hide a particular offer and all posts from a specific Page from your news feed, but there isn’t a setting that allows you to hide all offers from your news feed.

To hide an offer from your news feed, hover over the top-right corner, click the drop-down menu and choose what you’d like to hide:

  • Hide story will remove the offer you’re looking at
  • Hide all by will remove the offer you’re looking at, as well as all future stories from that Page

This could alarm users, because it means they have no way to mute promotions, other than to hide them individually. But what it does do is put the onus on the brand to market itself effectively and not spam its users, because if it goes all-out and posts a large number of deals in a short amount of time, fans of its Page are likely to unsubscribe and effectively drop support for that company.

Facebook isn’t only going to show Offers in the browser, they will also come to your mobile, giving it another edge over its rivals. The company has looked to make the process as simple as possible; all you do is hit the ‘Get Offer’ link and the details of the deal are sent to you via email. No lengthy terms, no bold advertising, it just merges with existing content.

Why aren’t I seeing Offers and when will I be able to redeem them?

Facebook’s official line on Offer availability is as follows:

Offers are available in beta to a limited number of local business Pages. We plan to launch offers more broadly soon.

That means that only a small number of companies are currently able to create an Offer on their official Facebook Page, at least until the company rolls the feature out to all accounts. Businesses are able to connect with their advertising managers at Facebook to request access, but the process has been intentionally limited for now.

However, given that the company recently posted the following video to its official Facebook account, it may signify that the company is ready to push ahead with its new promotional tool and roll it out to more accounts:

To ensure you see Offers from the brands you follow, you need to make sure that you are a fan of their Facebook Page. Facebook says this is the best way for you to keep updated on such deals, regardless of their plans.

Will it work?

This is the million-dollar question. Facebook users are generally somewhat resistant to change, but Offers display as normal updates and don’t appear unless the user has decided they want to follow that brand or business.

With the user in control over what he/she sees, Offers has huge potential to drive interaction between consumers and the brands they like, it’s not like Groupon which is forced to advertise any deal that is placed with it on that particular day.

If you love Nike, you can ‘Like’ the sports brand and maybe in time Offers will appear in your Timeline, giving you the chance to jump on a money-saving deal. If not, the company will still continue to post updates to its Page, driving interaction via different means.

Lots of businesses have taken to the Daily Deal market to increase sales, many have failed. Groupon is struggling to maintain its success but Facebook’s ability to display Offers in amongst existing updates means potentially millions of people will be able to see new promotions the minute they hit, spreading them wider when people redeem them.

How to Monitor Your Facebook Network (via RWW)

Your Facebook friends, like your real-life friends, are a reflection of you. Facebook users should proceed with caution, especially as the defriending trend continues. Not to mention the fact that potential employers are asking job candidates for their Facebook passwords; the House GOP shot down a bill to prevent this from happening, essentially making it possible for employers to get away with super-stalking their potential employees. What are users to do aside from either shutting down their Facebook profiles completely, or cleaning them up significantly?

Monitoring service Secure.me seeks to help users gain more control over their Facebook information. It initially only seemed useful for parents who wanted to monitor their children's activities on Facebook. In light of the ever-changing Facebook privacy concerns, however, it has become clear that users need to monitor their own profiles as well.

Secure.me is free and easy to sign up for. I decided to test it out using my Facebook profile as the guinea pig. The Summary overview gives users three main analyses: privacy, profile and network.


The privacy analysis scoured my Facebook profile and returned information that already seemed obvious: The fact that I chose to share my hometown, location, education, work, bio, some family members and political views, could compromise the way people choose to view me. Listing family members seems like the riskiest thing to do: This exposes your biological family to Facebook and your social network. Yet this is exactly the type of information that Facebook encourages users to share. After all, it is the information that most easily groups and identifies us, and helps us connect with other users.

The profile analysis discovered that the words "art," "pelvis" and "tattoo" were cause for concern. Overall, the language that Secure.me identified on my profile was "positive," which is perhaps a better indicator of overall profile fitness than individual posts. The third option, network analysis, brought up nearly 100 questionable posts, all of which either had to do with politics or keywords like "idiot," "porn" (as in, food porn), or other types of profanity - which is not necessarily a bad thing, according to Secure.me.

On the whole, the service says that the mood of my friend network is positive. Every user knows their Facebook community, and what to expect from them. I don't care if my friends use profanity, so long as its tasteful. The most useful information gained from this analysis of nearly 10,000 posts was the fact that one of my Facebook friends has been posting a harmful link; it's from a virus that's posting spammy status updates that say "View today's photo of the day!" along with a link to a harmful app.

The Facebook Photo Paparazzi Effect

The most useful aspect of Secure.me is the biometric face-recognition tool. Google made this useful feature optional to users months ago. No such tool exists on Facebook. It does tell you if you've been tagged in a Facebook photo by a friend, and it gives you the option to approve tags manually before the images appear on your wall. But Facebook does not notify you if photos of you are uploaded by people who are not your Facebook friends. The good news is that if someone with which you are not Facebook friends uploads a photo of you, they won't be able to tag you - though they can write your name into the photo caption. Still, that image of you can float around Facebook, unbeknownst to you - and if you leave your house (as in, have a life), chances are people will recognize you in that photo.

I like to call this the Facebook Paparazzi Effect. Think about it: Are real-life celebrities notified when a trashy tabloid takes their photo? Of course not. And then the glossy hits the newsstands with incriminating text alongside a random photo of the celeb. Admit it: You've gazed at and even purchased these magazines. We love our celebrity gossip. In the social-networked era when everyone gets their 15 minutes of social media fame, we're all mini celebs in the eyes of our Facebook friends.


One thing I found odd about this: Secure.me only takes into account photos of you that are actually of your face. There's a culture on Facebook of tagging people in photos to let them know about something, to invite them out to dinner, to send a shoutout, or just to acknowledge them. When I tested out the biometric face-recognition tool, I also discovered a few photos in which I'd been tagged as inanimate objects: a pink flower, a printer, a lawn ornament.

Oftentimes it is the personality quirks and the language of Facebook subcultures that reveal more about a user's personality than the more obvious photos, activities and information shared. In the meantime, be selective about whom you befriend, and what types of slang you use within your Facebook subcultures. Your friends are a reflection of you.

Images via Shutterstock and Flickr user mtsofan.

10 Reasons to Use Foursquare Explore for Personalized Local Searches (via Search Engine Watch)

Personalized Local Search Foursquare Search PlacesFoursquare recently announced "Explore", their new web-based tool that takes geosocial and local search to a new level. Check out these enticing perks that come along with the new features.

Beyond mobile check-ins for badges and mayorship battles, Foursquare Explore now leverages this data in a useful fashion as a web-based personalized search engine.

Consider for a moment that you're looking for a local place to visit for shopping, dining, nightlife, or recreation... What thoughts come to mind?

  • Where have or haven't I been before?
  • What places are popular?
  • What places would my friends or colleagues suggest?
  • What places have deals or specials?
  • What does the place look like? 
  • What should I try when I get there?

Regardless of if we're searching online, we all contemplate some of these questions. Channeling this thought process into a tool seems to be a brilliant idea. Behold, Foursquare Explore is here!

The process is simple:

  1. Login or create an account at Foursquare.com
  2. If you just created an account, add friends from Twitter, Gmail, Facebook, or Yahoo Mail.
  3. Click Explore to begin your local search:

Foursquare Explore web search prompt

Foursquare Explore search result

Results can be filtered by related check-in data and the interactive map allows you to easily zoom and drag the map accordingly. The iconography for location types helps to visually spot places you may be seeking.

Top 10 Reasons to Check Out "Foursquare Explore"

  1. Flexibility - From your smartphone, tablet, or web browser, searching can easily be done by keyword or category and then be filtered to personalize results by location.
  2. Specificity - Specific searches for things like "tiramisu" and "wine list", adjectives like "romantic" and "delicious", or time-significant keywords like "Friday" or "summer" work great because tips and lists are indexed.
  3. Retained Privacy - Even if you don't personally like to do mobile check-ins, you can benefit from your friends' check-ins, tips, and lists along with 1.5 billion more from the Foursquare community.
  4. Outing Ideas - Easily "save" places to visit later if you come across enticing tips or specials, and mark them "done" to remove them from your list.
  5. Money Savings - Current local "coupons" and deals are easy to find! Just filter results by places that "have Foursquare specials."
  6. Popularity - Displayed check-in counts help to identify hot spot destinations you'll likely enjoy. If there's a high number of unique check-ins by friends, that could also indicate a higher chance of bumping into a friend at the destination.
  7. Travel Tips - Search for places proximate to any worldwide location, and Foursquare will suggest personalized "top picks" based on check-ins in your home town.
  8. Adventures - Confidently find and try out new places that you "haven't been to yet" by scanning tips from places your "friends have been to" or by using Browse Categories > Top Picks for popular results.
  9. Recovered Memories - Perhaps you checked into a place you visited outside of town two years ago, but you can't remember the name. If you roughly remember the location, you can search by places you "have been to" and easily be able to find it again.
  10. Friendships - Grow relationships by learning what places you may unexpectedly have in common with your Foursquare acquaintances and friends.

Geosocial SEO Action List

If you have a public location you want users visit, consider planning a strategy to acquire visits from Foursquare Explore.

  1. Create or claim your Foursquare location if you haven't already. 
  2. Regularly review check-in comments and tips to see what users are saying. (Scan for sentiments, adjectives, or long-tail specific query opportunities.) 
  3. Define a strategy to get more check-ins, photos and tips. 
  • Use a QR code at entries for check-ins or exits for encouraging tip submission. (Be sure to follow QR conversion best practices.) 
  • Identify photo opportunity areas and promote them with Foursquare ads. (i.e. menus, check-out counters, waiting areas, etc.) 
  • Mention being featured in cool Foursquare lists as social proof and inspiration for others to list you. 
  • Include sentiments, adjectives, and other targeted Foursquare SEO keywords with your ads, especially on-site! (Quality check-in comments can work great as testimonials.)

What Do You Think?

A local search tool that includes personalized tips from friends, visit history for you and your friends, and current coupons/specials definitely presents more value than merely earning a badge or mayorship.

Although Foursquare has been known for their mobile app, do you think this new utility will help evolve them into a mainstream application? Please share your thoughts in the comments. If you're tempted to check out Foursquare Explore be sure to share this post!

Register now for SES London 2012, the Leading Search & Social Marketing Event, taking place 20-24 February, 2012. SES Conference & Expo features presentations and panel discussions that cover all aspects of search engine-related promotion. Hurry, early bird rate expires February 3!

The Overnight Success Of A Social Media Cynic (via Social Media Explorer)

Bob Hoffman is one of those guys you love and hate all in the same breath. At least he is for me. Longtime author of the amazingly thought-provoking blog The Ad Contrarian, Hoffman bemoans bad advertising, berates ad industry idiosyncrasies, but also spends an awful lot of time bashing social media.

I had the honor (though at times I’ve questioned that label) of serving on a panel discussion with Bob once. It was at an advertising conference a few years back. I recall him trying to call bullshit on social media as a whole and me throwing it back at him as best I could coming from a relative neophyte in the marketing world.

(Bob is old. He’s run his own ad agency for 20 years. He’s so old he only has one job listed on his LinkedIn profile. We’re not sure if it’s because he never held one or that he forgot what came before he owned his own agency.)

Ad ContrarianWhether or not I won him over that day, I’ve read almost every word he’s written on his blog since. The guy is flat brilliant. And he calls a spade a spade. I guess we’re cut from similar cloth. (Though unlike his, mine was probably produced using machines that ran on electricity rather than burrows.)

As he is apt to do, Bob made a most important point about social media recently with his post, “My Overnight Success In Social Media.” In it, he explained how he produced the 2nd best-selling advertising eBook on Amazon in a span of just 18 hours. I wanted to share with you how he became such an “overnight success” to help illustrate a point, but also to let you know you should probably buy the book. I’ve read it. It’s awesome.

Here’s how he did it, quoting from the list he blogged that day:

  1. First I wrote and published a book called The Ad Contrarian. This took a couple of years.
  2. Next I started a blog called The Ad Contrarian.
  3. Then I spent virtually every Saturday morning for five years roughing out ideas for Ad Contrarian blog posts.
  4. For almost five years I spent at least two hours a day — usually between 3 and 5 am — writing my blog.
  5. I also spent at least an hour every day scouring online and offline sources for blog post ideas.
  6. I wrote several articles for trade publications sticking assiduously to my “Ad Contrarian” POV.
  7. As a result, I developed a nice body of subscribers for my blog. I try to keep it fresh, entertaining, and controversial to attract non-subscribers every day.
  8. Although I have several thousand Twitter followers, I act to maintain credibility by only tweeting about the blog when there is something I believe is unusually interesting in it.
  9. To develop credibility among my readers, I have never used my blog to promote my agency.
  10. In order to advance The Ad Contrarian I have traveled frequently to do speaking engagements and never accepted money.

Every person or company that has achieved some case study of success in social media has a similar story. If they don’t, then they’ve done something unscrupulous to invent their success that we probably wouldn’t recommend.

Not a single person I’ve talked to about social media marketing in the last five years isn’t looking for an easy button. The problem is that there’s not one. You will have to work at it. You will have to build an audience. You will have to hone your craft of communicating through these channels. You will have to rinse and repeat. And it still may not be the astounding success you were hoping for.

But not a bit of that isn’t true for other communications channels. Sure, you can throw a lot of money at television advertisements (or other channels, too) and drive numbers in the short term. But you’re never going to achieve the kind of success that grabs people, sinks your brand into their consciences and gives you long-term stability without putting in the hours, doing the dance and getting the work done.

Stop looking for the easy button. That and other flashes of brilliance can be found in 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising by Bob Hoffman. You should buy it (it’s $0.99 for chrissakes). While you’re at it, go subscribe to his blog, too. For you social media enthusiasts, it’ll piss you off more often than not, but it will make you think and, frankly, that’s a good thing.

And if you want something a bit more direct about building a social media strategy, there’s a book for that, too.

NOTE: None of the links here are affiliate links.


They Did It: Google Personalizes Search & It Is Not Evil (via rww)

Google has "shipped the Google part" of Google+, and everything went better than expected. Today, Google launches Personal Results, Profiles in Search, and People and Pages, new features of its core search product that mark the real beginning of Google's social search era. Google search now has two modes: global and personalized. Personal search results show content from your Google+ network, and global search results appear as though you're logged out of Google+.

If you're like me, you've dreaded this day. Just last week, I wrote that Google+ was going to mess up the Internet by turning Web search into a popularity contest. But the new Google unveiled today leaves the user in control. "Search, plus Your World," Google has called it. It's two kinds of search, and they're separate. If you don't want Google+-flavored results, just switch to global mode. You can even turn off personalized search altogether.

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Personal Results

When you're in personal mode, you can now see your own stuff and stuff shared with you on Google+, even if it's not a public post. This includes photos, Google+ posts and shared links. Personal mode still shows global Web results, but it mixes those in with the social results Google thinks are most relevant. Personalized results are marked with a blue person icon.

At the top, where you're used to seeing the number of search results, you'll now see how many personal results and overall results turned up from your query. If you click the number of personal results, it will show you personal results only, taking out the global results. Flipping between personalized and global results takes one click. Both modes are available in Web search and image search.


Even when you search in personal mode, Google wants to show you the most relevant result at the top, even if its not from Google+. Prior to today's update, this wasn't happening reliably. The source of my concerns about Google+ was the prominence of Google+ results in search when outside Web results were more relevant. In the example slide Google showed to me, a search for "49ers" produced 49ers.com as the top result in personal mode, followed by Google+ posts.

The San Francisco 49ers do not have a Google+ page. I asked Google Fellow Ben Gomes whether that would be the top result if they did. He said the global result would be more relevant, and if the administrator of the Google+ page linked it with the website, that would be even more accurate. "It's an algorithm," Gomes reminded me. "It's not perfect, but we're tuning it to provide the most relevant results for our users."

If you don't buy it, or if a particular search doesn't personalize the way you'd like, just click the little Earth icon, and you get normal, global search results.

Of course, this mode will still privilege content posted to Google+ ahead of other social networks. Your friends' Google+ photos will take precedence here over their Instagram photos. But now that we can turn off personalization completely, it doesn't feel like Google is foisting Google+ content on us as much anymore.

Profiles In Search

Searching the Web for people is hard, especially for common names. Today's update pulls Google+ profiles into personal search along with content from around the Web associated with that person. This way, Google can use your social signals to figure out which Ben Smith is the one you know.


My top concern for this feature was that Google+ pages would always appear ahead of personal websites. If that happened, users would no longer be able to control what came up when others Googled them. Here's how Google talked me down: First of all, just switch to global mode and boom. No more social stuff.

But furthermore, these Google+ profile results aren't totally walled off to Google+ content. The link for the person is to Google+, but the snippet displays the most important content from that person below, whether it's on Google+ or not. This is what the links and authorship section of the Google+ profile are for. If you want your Twitter feed or your blog to be highlighted in Google searches for you, just add them to your Google+ profile, and they'll show up prominently.

People And Pages

googleplusgood5.jpgThe third feature of today's update is the most Google+-focused and least exciting, and you'll definitely notice it. On the right sidebar of some searches, there will be a "People and Pages on Google+" box. The example Google shows is a search for "music," which displays the Google+ pages for Britney Spears, Alicia Keys and Snoop Dogg in the right sidebar.

Presumably, some of the placements in this sidebar will be natural suggestions, like the 'Suggestions' box on Google+ itself. (Update: Google spokespeople have written in to clarify that it's currently all natural, algorithmic suggestions) But it's also ripe for paid promotions. This feels more like a potential ad spot than a user feature, but that's Google's business, after all. As long as Britney Spears can't pay to appear in my main search results, I'll tolerate sidebar ads as I always do on free Web services.

Security, Transparency and Control

"This is your data," Ben Gomes says. The new features bring an unprecedented amount of personal information in to Google search (when you're in personal mode), so today's update comes with new controls to set users' minds at ease. Signed-in users now get SSL search by default, as was announced in October. You also can block or un-circle unwanted Google+ users right from search.

But most importantly, for those who don't want any part of this social search business, users can turn it off temporarily and even opt out entirely. On every search, this toggle lets you switch between personalized and global results. There's no more inconvenient need to log out to see more objective search results.


And just as it has in the past with other conspicuous search features like Instant Search, Google allows users to deactivate social search entirely from search settings.


So, Is Google+ Still Going To Mess Up The Internet?

After my rant last week, I bet you're expecting me to quickly disable social search and breathe a sigh of relief. But I'm not. The toggle feature is something I did not expect. I thought Google was going to force us to use Google+ by making it a part of every search, as it was until today. But now, since it's so easy to flip back and forth, I can test to see which mode is more useful. I expect that social search will be better in some cases and worse in others. It's great to have the option.

I don't think Google is out of the woods. The instructions teaching users about these features are pretty clear, but people get set in their ways on the Web, and it's hard to change them. Some users freak out when Google changes even little, teeny things about search, and some Google+ overhauls of existing services have caused major backlashes.

But today's "Search, plus Your World" update actually softens the impact of Google+ on search. Google+ content is better integrated with outside stuff now, and, of course, it's optional, even for logged-in users. There are still problems with the state of Google search, but none of them are as dire as they were a week ago.

Now that Google users have control over the level of personalization, I don't think Google+ will mess up the Internet anymore. Social SEO will not take over, because natural search results still matter. My fear last week was that anyone who wanted to use Google would be forced to use Google+. Today's update shows good faith. Google has given its users control.

iPad App Lets Kids Publish Physical Books (via mashable)

Scribble Press has three brick-and-mortar stores where more than 30,000 children have created their own books. Now, with the help of the iPad, it’s gearing up to become a global business.

The company has launched a free iPad app that digitizes the coloring and writing process usually completed in its marker-lined studios. Within the next week, Scribble will begin publishing board books — the kind with cardboard covers thick enough to chew on — created with the app.

“Most kids draw well before they write well,” says Scribble Press co-founder Anna Barber. “The iPad is a good medium for that, but the computer isn’t…The minute [the iPad] came out, I thought it was the perfect channel for what we were trying to do.”

There are plenty of websites that will publish a book you create, but dragging a mouse lacks the freedom of coloring, and scanning pages is a bother for mom and dad. Before the iPad, there wasn’t a good way to take Scribble Press’s “Build-A-Bear for books” experience outside of its stores.

Using the app, kids can draw and write freely. They can also choose from templates such as “I Love My Mom” or “My Babysitter is a Zombie” that give them a head start, and eventually, the company hopes to add themed worlds that kids can use in their books for an added cost.

The app itself not that different from many other apps that let kids create ebooks, but Barber says the potential physical publication of the book helps define the experience.

“I still believe as much as everything is going digital, there is still value in physical artifacts,” she says.

In addition to ordering a professional-quality print of their book, young authors — whether writing from a store or their iPads — can increase their statuses as published authors by adding their creations to Scribble Press’s public ebook library. A 6 year old who wrote about his hearing implant, for instance, has had his book viewed 7,500 times.

Printed books ordered through the Scribble Press iPad app will cost $9.95 plus shipping.