Churbuck on the Art of the Make-Good

David Churbuck has an excellent piece on his blog today about the art of the make-good. In publishing, when you make an error on an ad, you end up having to “make-good” and that generally comes as free advertising. The ad agencies spend a lot of time looking for make-good fodder.

Churbuck:

What inspires this post? Can’t say, only to note that I had a fire in my inbox at 6 am involving an online ad appearing next to unclad women thanks to a screw up in an ad network which shall go unnamed. The make good was an additional 4 million impressions which is like offering another serving of mussels to the guy who just claimed the restaurant nearly killed him with food poisoning.

When positioning goes wrong, it goes horribly wrong. The newspaper system people have spent a lot of time over the years providing a means for the newspapers to catch this stuff. Back in the old days, the editorial side of the house couldn’t see the ads, because the ad and editorial system were almost completely separate. All the editors would see was a big Xed out spot where an ad was placed. Now modern systems use an ad stack import system so the paginators actually can see the finished product.

Of course, such notions of parsing ad copy against editorial copy aren’t often considered in the online world. I guess you could set the ad system to avoid certain keywords, but in truth, keyword entry for online publications is often either lacking entirely, or lacking enough accuracy for it to be reliable. Where keywords are available, they’re generally good enough to target for a campaign, but not good enough to ensure “make-good opportunities” won’t be a problem.

Several years ago, one of my associates, Jay Cody, did a series of presentations to some big Madison Ave. firms on behalf of a publication for whom we were developing a new and revolutionary advertising system. One major component of that system was designed to allow agencies to place and manage their own ads, be they print, radio, online or whatever. His demos went very well, but at the end of the meeting they all said virtually the same thing.

“Nice system. We will never, ever use it.”

He’d look quizzically back at them and say “Why?”

The group would look around at each other, laugh, then say “No more make-goods. If we place our own ads, we’ll be responsible for the make-goods. The make-good on a full page ad in the (paper name witheld) is worth close to a million dollars.”

BostonHerald.com – New Tableless CSS Design

Just caught the new version of the BostonHerald.com and I’m thrilled. They’ve got a nice, clean new version of their site up…and it’s using tableless CSS layout! (Read more about tableless css here)

Tableless CSS has become the standard for web designers over the past few years, but has lagged behind in newspaper web sites due to their concern that CSS might not make their site accessible to people using pre-IE 5.5 browsers, as well as a raft of other (generally inconsequential) issues. Note that IE 5.5 was released in July of 2000, over 7 years ago. I don’t see a lot of pre-5.5 in my analytics reports, and my view is that if you’re using IE <+ 5, you are most certainly used to having problems when browsing.

So let me show you a little trick to tell how good your web designer is. Go to any of his/her recent sites. Right click on the screen, then click “view source” – if you see a bunch of “<TD>” and “<TR>” tags all over the place, the design is out of date (unless it’s something that should be using a table like sports scores or stock market results). You should be seeing “<div” and “<span>” tags. Even better, go to http://validator.w3.org and plug in the url. See how many validation errors it throws (and most sites will throw some, including ones I’ve designed…).

If you don’t believe me that the newspapers have been slow to adopt tableless css, go to Boston.com – the site of the Boston Globe, owned by the NY Times (strangely, the Times site does go tableless), and then right click, view source. Then go back and look at the clean, crisp code that their tabloid competitors at the Herald are using

So why use tableless CSS?

  • It’s easier for Google/search engines to read.
  • You have better control of design.
  • It’s easier to work with the code – that means it’s easier to maintain.
  • Easier cross-browser and cross-platform (mobile) transition
  • You won’t be ridiculed by web wonks like me…

Other general notes on the design:

  • They have greatly simplified their navigation – long overdue.
  • The move to a horizonal navigation gives them more “above the fold” content space.
  • Much better use of the main image. They had been using very small (100 px wide) images with the lead story. Now the lead gets a nice graphical presentation.
  • Comments now are listed on the homepage below the story. A nice touch…
  • Daily picture gallery – “News and Opinion in Photos” – right on the homepage.
  • No more digging to find my favorite columnists…they’re right there on the homepage, or no more than one link down.
  • Usability – this site is much easier to read and much easier to use.

Are there problems? Sure, but most of them existed before or are minor things that will be shaken out soon. Things like slashes showing up in odd places, which is a simple coding fix (slashes are used to tell the database that things like apostrophes are characters, not code…you see apostrophes can mean things in code…). Oh, and their center column runs much longer than either the right or left. But their site has *always* had that issue…

Kudos to the Herald crew. Great job!

(Update: 9/6/07 – this is apparently a rolling go live – they’ve added a tabbed lead section for the lead story/graphic that puts the lead story, lead news, lead sports and lead entertainment at your fingertip a click away.  Very nice presentation and one I expect to see more in online news.  I’ve been looking at it for a couple site designs myself…)

Alan Mutter on Google News Ap and the Death of the Banner Ad

An absolute tour-de-force post, from a guy who’s been hitting them out of the park all season long…Alan D. Mutter at Reflections of a Newsosaur.

Alan takes a look at the Google News licensing of wire service content, and extrapolates that it’s a death knell for the already terminally ill banner ad. You see, newspapers, after they had gotten over their original reticence about Google News, have now come to rely on the added traffic and page views they get from being linked by Google. That traffic hits the bottom line as page views, which in turn becomes banner ad revenue, even if it is at an absurdly low rate.

As Alan notes, many of the newspapers have cut original content over the past few years in an attempt to shore up their absurdly high profit margins (very few industries expect the profit margins that newspapers expect – somewhere in the 25% range annually, well, maybe loan sharking).

Now Google won’t be showing the duplicate results, hence they won’t be sending in traffic to AP or Reuters stories that are running on newspapers sites. That means the newspapers are back to eating what they kill, they’ll only get linked for their original content. That is exactly the stuff they’ve been cutting back on producing.

Meanwhile, Mutter shows that the rates for banner ads have dropped to next to nothing. Marketers know that banner ads are a lousy medium, for many reasons I’ve expressed over the past year here.

His suggestion for the future:

The solution for publishers is to get beyond selling passive advertising by the bellybutton in an ancient, brute-force numbers game they can no longer hope to win. Instead, publishers need to start developing individualized, transaction-oriented products that will deliver targeted, qualified leads to advertisers who will pay handsomely to reach live prospects poised to make a purchase.

And guess who will be poised to ride in on their digital white stallion to save the day? The same folks who are now cutting them out of the wire service loop, Google. This is where Google’s quiet move into Cost Per Action ads vs. Cost Per Click or Cost Per Mille is going to put them ahead. They’ve already got the mechanism the newspapers will need. The question is, will the newspapers, already burned once, hop back into bed? I am betting the will, and the inevitable second burn will be worse.

You see, as Alan writes:

Publishers have to get busy to get this right. Online traffic already is showing signs of flat-lining, as discussed previously here. Ignoring the gathering threat to the banner-ad business will lead at some point to a gut-wrenching decline in online revenues similar to the one now afflicting the print side of the business.

That’s right. Newspapers have been looking to Online as the one great point of light in an otherwise dim world. However the signs are there that all isn’t bright there. Readership numbers appear to be leveling out as Mutter notes here.

So why is that? My seat of the pants answer is that the newspaper sites have failed to inspire us. While they’re perfectly poised to take advantage of the Web 2.0 social networking stuff, the problem is that they’ve been unable to create anything other than passively engaged readers. My suspicion is that the newspaper sites are too broad in scope to create a real sense of community. Hence they don’t create the passion needed in their readers that makes niche communities work.

Whatever it is, there is a lot to consider here.

(update: 9/6/07 – Tim McGuire, former Editor and Senior VP at the Minneapolis Star Tribune posts on this subject here.)

AjaxMetrics.com – Worth a look for your Web 2.0 Site

I’ve been saying (along with the rest of the web world) that Ajax and Flash are breaking our metrics model. Now there’s AjaxMetrics.com which is providing a lightweight app that out to help us (read: it’s probably not going to handle your traffic, New York Times). It’s brought to us by the same guy who brought us CocktaiBuilder.com – a very cool little web 2.0 site in it’s own right.

I’m looking forward to giving it a try soon.  If you get there first, let us know how it works!

Google News to index Wire Stories

This is a fundamental change in the way Google News works.  They will now be posting wire stories from the Associated Press and others directly, under a licensing agreement.

Why is it big?  In the past,  Google posted wire services stories only when the were indexed through a newspaper site or one of the other news sites.  Now they will be getting the content first hand, in real time.  That means they won’t be redirecting readers through a newspaper as well.

This will be the first time that Google will host full news stories, as it has always linked to other sites for news.

This will also allow Google to remove duplicate copies of articles,

But the feature will benefit all types of news outlets, not just wire services. For example, if a New York Times story gets syndicated, Google News will know that it originally came from this newspaper.

For such outlets that have their own public Web sites, “duplicate detection” will simply let users click over to their sites, which is the traditional Google News model.

New Media Paradigm – Aspen Institute

I happened by CSPAN 2 this morning while sipping my first cup of coffee and was treated to one of the best discussions on the New Media Paradigm I’ve heard recently.  The discussion came from their recent conference “FOCAS 2007: Media and Values” which was held on Aug 13-15 and is billed as “Media industry leaders and experts address issues critical to today’s changing digital landscape.” You can view the videos of this in 5 segments here.

The panel (for the discussion I saw) includes:

  • Michael Eisner– The Tornante Company, former Disney CEO
  • Arianna HuffingtonThe Huffington Post
  • Lynda Resnick– Roll International Corporation
  • Jon Diamond– ArtistDirect

Michael Eisner: “My interest is proving, continuing to prove,  that the new media and the  old media  are one media.  That the troglodites, wheelchair bound old studio executives, may in fact be the light, not the dark. That content will still define distribution going forward, in Web 3.0, Web 5.0”

Moderator: “Michael, in the new product of film, television, video content, how much will they be listening to the audience going forward?”

ME: “Like everything, a lot of it is good, a lot of it is not good.  I like the idea of listening.  It’s destructive in a lot of areas as you describe, and in certain ways, and I know this is the opposite point of view, it can be dangerous to creativity.  Research is good and bad.  If you have something that is completed and you show it to an audience and they don’t like it, it’s honest.  If you haven’t produced anything in any form, and you ask the audience what they want, they want yesterday’s success.  If the world is dictated by popular vote, the unique voice of the that individual genetic accident that is out there, either in music, literature, theater, or in movies, whatever, can be overrun and stifled.  There is a cultural I know this is not popular in Web 2.0, there is a cultural anarchy on the horizon.  Is it better to have user generated, uninformed and as we learned before, the audience may not care about the source of the information.  Is Wikipedia better than the New York Times or the Encyclopedia Brittannica?  Is misinformation in the end of the day, where we want the culture to go? Is the distributor making the money and the writers not being paid by Arianna, is that fair?  Should to Todd Freeman, who is at the top probably of all journalists, should he provide Arianna with free blogs about his opinion?  Will a kid in Minnesota want to be the next great journalist, if everything he does, he does in his spare time because the rest of the time he’s on an assembly line, because he can’t get paid for the use of his mind?”

About mid-way through that little bit, I spewed coffee out my nose.  But the sting of hot acidic fluid was nothing like the sting of the realization that Mr. Eisner “gets” the  challenges in front of big media today, and the all out assault on original creativity.  And while I won’t take the time to transcribe Arianna Huffington’s response, which was well reasoned and well made (it’s in the 3rd video, here).

There are so many good points in there worthy of discussion.  For now, let’s think on the issue of the danger to creativity posed by user generated content in media, and by extension, the results of relying overly on customer comment in product marketing (to tie this to the larger audience).

In my years at Atex, as a part of product delivery methodology, we would go through a functional specification process for each system delivery.  These were big newspaper systems, be they advertising or editorial.  Inevitably, we’d come down to the required workflow that the customer wanted.  In that, there were almost without exception, steps were being built in not due to the need of our system, or of the needs of the product, but because “that’s the way we’ve always worked.”  In many cases, it would come down to recreating steps that were part of the way they worked due to the inflexibility of their current system.

For advertising systems, there were the advertising rate cards, and the thousands of rate codes that would be used to calculate how much an ad was worth.  It often seemed as though they simply created a new rate for each customer.  The end product to the paper was needless complexity, both in their process for figuring out a cost, and in the systems which managed their ads, billing, etc.  And that is complexity that costs them daily throughout their organizations…

On some levels, listening too much can actually lead you straight down the rat hole.  Sometimes we need to say “the emperor has no clothes” but such words are often in as short supply as is the desire on the part of organizations to truly change.

In the world of online content, I am continually shocked by how often I hear from potential customers with active content sites that they’re still looking for a way to make the money they know their site should be producing.  “There’s got to be a way to monetize 2 (or 3 or 4) million eyeballs a month.”  But generally they’re lucky to do much more than pay the server bills, domain fees, etc.  I’d love to  tell them there’s a magic bullet out there, but my experience on the web is that the money on a content site will come in small increments from numerous different sources.  It’s the sum total that will make the difference.

Take the time to listen to the entire conference – I won’t even claim to have scratched the surface…

Five Mistakes Businesses Make Online

In some ways, working for so long as a Webmaster and marketing guy has ruined the web for me. Where most users see websites from a utilitarian point of view, I have trouble not being critical. My experience becomes so much “inside baseball” that it’s sometimes hard to realize what the web is really meant to be.

A sea of problems, errors and out right omissions, is what I see. Often that’s part and parcel of doing redesign work: if it wasn’t broken, they wouldn’t need me.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common problems and how to avoid them.

  1. The Mediocre, the Bland and the Ugly – design is important. An ugly design will send people scurrying off the to competition before they even take the time to find out about your company. Mediocre design, by the same suit, tells the reader “We’re Number 2,” again a message we don’t want to send. Bland design can be even worse, because it doesn’t give the reader a message at all. It fails to deliver substance, and fails to to motivate the user to do anything other than go somewhere else.
  2. The IBM Effect – have you ever tried to find information on the IBM website about a specific product? Wes Craven must be their webmaster, as the experience is a *total nightmare*. That’s not because the information isn’t there, it most certainly is. The problem isn’t lack of information, it’s the sheer over abundance of information, which can (and in my case, has) taken days to sift through. We need to make our information easy to find via search, and in cases where we really do have vast libraries, we ought to have both a highly developed search function and perhaps the ability to contact someone to help us navigate the seas of text. I dare you to find the installation documentation for Websphere 6.2 on their site…it’s there, but you’ll find more documentation than NASA has for the Space Shuttle…
  3. Construction Zone – If it isn’t ready, don’t launch it. Nothing is worse than a site that tells customers you never finish what you start
  4. The Time Capsule – Set it and forget it may work for Ron Popiel and chickens, but it’s death on the web. If you’ve got a press release from 2005 on your homepage, you need to rethink what you’re doing.
  5. My Way or the Highway – Potential customer love it when you make them jump through hoops. Make them register to get whitepapers, force them to watch a splash page, and you’re sure to sent them running for the hills.

Facebook Vs. Linked In – My Take

I’ve been on LinkedIn for several years now, and in the past couple weeks I put up a Facebook page. While the two services are somewhat similar, the implementation makes the entire experience different. Here’s my take:

  • LinkedIn asks me to impose on my circle of friends for introductions to other people, something I will never do, and something which is an obvious limiting factor to growth.
  • Facebook’s networking seems a little limiting to me.  There’s a presumption that you’ve either worked together, gone to school together, or share a geographic bond.  In the case of many people I would think are in my network, none of those bonds exists.  While I can’t put my finger on it, I feel like a square peg which is being pounded into a round hole.
  • LinkedIn isn’t better at the networking thing.  Coworkers get to send you invites, all others have to be referred.  Since I work with tons of people at different companies, this used to be a real problem.  It does seem like they’ve made it easier for people to connect, as I notice I’ve got some requests that didn’t come via third party of late.
  • Facebook puts more “Self” into the site.  The pages are customizable (but thank God they have saved us from the MySpace Customization lunacy) and offer interesting widgets to allow us to make more out of our profile.
  • LinkedIn is basically an online resume.  A giant rollodex…

So yes, I like Facebook better. Since joining, I’ve reconnected with one old college friend, Jim Louderback, and generally have had a great experience.  Will any work come from it?  Who knows, but for now, I generally like it and am having conversations with people that would not have happened via email or any other network…

Apparently LinkedIn is feeling the heat – Mashable.com notes that they are preparing to offer more Facebook like service by opening their APIs – that should happen within the next 9 months – a lifetime in the fast moving world of Web 2.o.