Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Role of Search Engines

I’ve learned quite a bit in this course over the last nine weeks however the topic that probably has made the biggest impact on me is the one we explored during this last week and that is search engines. I knew of search engines prior to this course and had a general understanding that the first links in a search engine are usually paid for by companies wanting prime placement on a result page. This class opened my eyes to the different types of paid search engine advertising and the impact it can make on a company’s marketing efforts. Competition for search engine placement is fierce to say the least.

Search engines are becoming the modern day phone book plus so much more. Search engines just don’t provide contact information they provide access to a brand and everything it can offer. Search engines are somewhat like the ultimate index of anything you need to know about.

Marketing professionals need to understand how search engines work in order to maximize their web marketing efforts and their overall marketing program. Some companies spend a lot of money on improving their web site but relatively little on their search engine placement. A great web site isn’t much good if people can’t find it and access it.

The biggest eye opener for me was the difference between paid inclusion and paid placement. As Lesson 9 states “The difference between paid placement and paid inclusion is that with paid inclusion, the fee only guarantees a Web site’s listing within a search engine’s full index of possible results. In other words, if I’m Apple and I only purchase a paid inclusion from Google, while the site will definitely appear on the search list, there is no guarantee that it will rank at, or even near, the top of the list” (Lesson 9). Paid placement on the other hand guarantees prime placement in search results toward the top of the page. It is important for marketers to understand the difference because as many of my classmates pointed out in class this week; most web users don’t go past the first couple of pages of search results.

This puts small businesses in an interesting position because they can’t compete with larger competitors on media buys however they may be able to utilize search engine marketing to their advantage if they work smarter than their competitors. Some people feel that search engine marketing puts the small business at a disadvantage however I feel that search engines are the best thing for a small business because it gives them an opportunity to compete with large businesses on strategy and not just on money.

There are some ethical issues linked with search engine marketing which we learned about this past week. The first issue is that many customers don’t realize that companies are paying to be place first on search engine results. As Wouters states “WebWatch began reporting on the relationship between advertising and search engine results in 2002, when it released the results of a comprehensive national poll of 1,500 U.S. adult internet users. The survey “A Matter of Trust: What Users Want From Web Site,” showed more than 60 percent of respondents were unaware search engines accept payment to list certain sites more prominently than others in search results, a practice commonly known as paid placement” (Wouters).

This brings up an interesting dilemma of how much or how little should consumers understand about paid placement. My suggestion would be to put all paid placement sites all the way to the right hand side of the page listed vertically in order to differentiate the site from the main list of results. Google currently does a pretty good job of doing this but some sites do not and it can mislead consumers.

Search engine marketing is a very strategic part of marketing that I think is often overlooked by many small to mid-size marketers who may be able to benefit greatly from it.

- Patrick

Wouters, J. (2005, June 9). Still in search of disclosure: Re-evaluating how search engines explain the presence of advertising in search results. Consumer WebWatch. Retrieved January 11, 2008 from

Lesson 9. IMC 619. (2008). West Virginia University.

The Online Advertorial

As more and more offline methods of marketing transition to an online format, it brings some of the same and new ethical issues for some tactics. One of these controversial media tactics is the online advertorial. As Lesson 9 states “An Advertorial is an ad designed to deliver the experience of reading an article. The use of advertorials is a somewhat troubling trend, especially because it seems that advertorial content is increasingly being designed to make readers think that the content isn’t paid for and, thus, has the value of real news coverage” (Lesson 9, IMC 619).

Spizziri gives a good example of an online advertorial that is not ethical when she states “A good example of advertorial is the Feature by Sony campaign launched a few years ago. It consisted of articles written by freelancers who presented themselves as average citizens writing about how they used technology. The articles were commissioned and paid for by Sony. They often didn't even mention Sony except in sidebars, which made them especially hard to distinguish from normal site content. But what really drew criticism was that the labeling to distinguish the articles as advertising was often in very small type, and sometimes the word "advertising" was not even used” (Spizziri).

This situation poses a few interesting questions for marketers:

1. Regardless of ethics are online advertorials an effective marketing communication tool?

I would say it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. I believe advertorials are a good form of marketing communication to help educate customers on complex issues in order to help them make a purchase decision or to open the customer’s eyes to a new industry or new use of an existing product. They also help position a brand as a resource in the mind of the customer.

2. Should online advertorials be labeled as paid media?

Yes, it’s important to label the advertorial as a paid form of communication just as a traditional advertorial would be labeled as a paid advertisement. Just because the advertorial is online doesn’t mean that it should have any less disclosures affiliated with it. As Lesson 9 indicates by using paid advertising labels, a third party disclaimer and utilizing different fonts this will help clearly differentiate the advertorial. I think online advertorials should also pop up in a separate window for further separation from the main content of a site.

3. Are online advertorials more effective than traditional advertorials in print?

This I’m not sure about and I struggled to find any research on the topic however online advertorials do have a longer shelf life in terms of being able to be searched for and re-read numerous times after the initial launch. I would expect that more marketers will begin to utilize the online advertorial more than a traditional advertorial. Also look out for online advertorials to start blurring the line with online infomercials.

- Patrick


Lesson 9. IMC 619. (2008). West Virginia University.

Spizziri, Martha. Retrieved on December 17, 2008 from

Monday, December 15, 2008

Web Design - Who are the experts?

Prior to taking this class, I simply believed that there are people who know everything about how to design a web site and those that don’t. After our studies this week, I’m not so sure I believe there is such thing as a “web design expert”. Ultimately your customers determine what is a good web site design, not your company, not your boss and not a marketing agency.

The key is to test the site. As Uborne states “In a business environment where marketers demand an accountable performance from every web page, it’s time to put aside the assumed expertise of design and copy gurus. The way forward is to test, and let our readers show us which designs work best, and which copy works best” (Usborne).

Here are few things that you should ask any potential outside vendor that is trying to give you help with your web site.

1. Do you design the home page first or the internal pages first?

Now I would have automatically thought the home page would be the obvious answer however check out what Powazek thinks about this approach “When I set out to design a website, I do it backwards. I start with the design of the smallest, deepest element: the story page or search results. Then I work backwards to design their containers: section pages, indexes. Then, lastly, I work on the home page. I do this because each container needs to adequately set expectations for what it contains. If the home page says one thing, but the internal pages say another, that’s going to lead to a user-experience failure” (Powazek). This makes a lot of sense check out the rest of the article for other good pointers at

2. What have been the results of your previous projects for your clients?

If the vendor can’t give you some hard numbers then you should probably move onto another one. Web site effectiveness is very quantifiable therefore you shouldn’t settle for “We made a site look better.” Says who? Make them prove it.

3. What do you think are the strong points and weak points of our current site?

If they don’t have some real substantial opinions immediately then move onto the next vendor. Don’t settle for “We haven’t had time to look yet since you are not our customer yet.” Chances are if they haven’t put forth the effort prior to meeting with you to at least give your site a general review then they are simply looking for a sale and not a partnership with you. I really believe that not only in web design but marketing in general that the best vendors are those that do their homework first and go out on a limb and make recommendations early in the process rather than waiting for you to basically tell them what to do.

If you have any of your own good questions to ask (and expected answers), feel free to respond to this post.

- Patrick


Powazek. Retrieved on December 15, 2008 from

Usborne. Retrieved on December 15, 2008 from

Good & Bad Web Sites – The Difference is Small

We spent this week in class focusing on web design and the various factors that go into it. What I thought was a relatively easy task of creating a good looking web site, actually requires quite a bit of thought and much attention to detail.

I’ve also learned that the difference between a good web site and a bad web site may not be that much and sometimes is just a minor detail. If a detail is off in the eyes of an audience, it can significantly effect the overall performance of a web site and even lead to less sales. If you want to see an example of how a small difference in design can lead to a dramatic difference in results check out the article by Nick Usborne titled “Design Choices Can Cripple a Web Site”. The article shows how a test between two different designs for the same web page generated a 15% increase in sales for one version and a 53% decrease in sales for another version of the same page.

This is amazing considering the biggest difference between the pages is going from a one column format to a two column format. As Usborne states “However compelling the message, however great the copy, however strong the sales argument… the way a page is designed will have a dramatic impact on conversion rates, for better or for worse” (Usborne). Check out the entire article at

Another tip that we learned this week was to make sure a product web page answers four key questions. As Kissane states “Most product pages need to answer these questions:

1. Who is the product for?
2. What is the product?
3. What does the product do for its target user?
4. Why is the product better than the available alternatives?

Stupidly simple, right? But the lack of answers to these questions is what leads to thousands upon thousands of wasted hours (and more money than I want to think about) spent writing, serving, and reading meaningless dreck that doesn’t inform users, promote products, or help anyone” (Kissane).

Think about any of your favorite product web pages and chances are they answer the four questions above. These questions are not only good questions for writing web copy but good questions for writing any type of copy for marketing communications. Sometimes as marketers we over-think and over-communicate therefore unintentionally omit the information the consumer really wants. Mastering this skill will be a key for marketers utilizing the web in the future as more and more companies are relying on the web more for their brand image campaigns and overall sales strategies.

- Patrick


Kissane. Retrieved on December 15, 2008 from

Usborne. Retrieved on December 15, 2008 from

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Advergames - The Controversy

Our assignment this week focused on the ethical issues of marketing to children online. Through this assignment I learned a lot about advergames. Growing up in the 80’s I was exposed to home-based Coleco video games such as Q-Bert and Donkey Kong but that’s all they were –games not advertisements. Apparently things have changed and online video games are now one of the biggest marketing tools when targeting children. Little did I know that video games now a days a much more than just trying to have the coolest graphics – it’s about influencing children to engage with a brand outside of the home as well. Advergames are particularly used for children’s cereal brands. Basically advergames are a video game that somehow incorporates the brand’s product, logo, slogan or mascot/character into the game. Some games require children to enter in secret passcodes that can be only obtained by buying the products themselves.

As Lelchuk states “To assess how big these "advergames" are, researchers looked at the 77 Web sites of top food companies such as Kellogg's and Wrigley's. They found that between June and November of 2005, these sites had more than 12.2 million visits by children” (Lelchuk).

To show just how sophisticated advergames have become check out these statistics from Kaiser Family Foundation Study:
- Many of the advergames included various features to encourage repeat playing.
- 25 percent of the sites offered a membership opportunity for children age 12 or under, such as registering or joining a club to get access to special activities or secret games.
- 13 percent of the sites include polls or quizzes, often used to ask opinions about products.
- Nearly half the sites include a movie or TV tie-in.
- 38 percent of the sites offer incentives to get the user to buy more food so he or she can collect points, which can then be exchanged for new games, brand-related clothes or other products. (Lelchuk).

Advergames have done a great job of blending in customer engagement, sales promotion, branding and database marketing. The ethical debate comes about when advergames unfairly take advantage of the innocence of children in order to influence them to buy unhealthy products. My take on the subject is that if the advergame is simply just a game that features the product or company mascot then fine. On the other hand though, I think it is unethical for companies to link access to playing the advergame with information that can only be obtained by buying more of the product. I think this is unethical because then the child is encouraged to ask their parents to buy a product that they may really not care for the product itself but are more interested in just playing the game.
The balance of using advergames in an ethical manner will continue to be a challenge for marketers who are trying to target a youth audience that is very fickle and easily influenced by the internet.

- Patrick

Lelchuk, Ilene. Retrieved from

Opportunity: Minority Targeted Social Networking Sites

Our class this week focused on multicultural audiences and emerging media. The reading from this week makes me think that there could be an opportunity for minority targeted social networking sites. As our Lesson 7 states “Thanks to the huge popularity of MySpace and Facebook, social networking is a cultural phenomenon. In 2006, marketers spent over $280 million on advertising and marketing on social network sites in the U.S., and an additional $70 million in international markets – mostly to create profile pages and sponsored promotions (emarketer, 2006/Lesson 7 IMC 619).

Sites such as MySpace and Facebook are aimed at the masses and basically for anybody and everybody. But what about social networking sites for minorities? I think this could be successful. Black Entertainment Television (BET) has found its niche on cable TV so why not a minority targeted social networking site? I’m not just talking about a site for African-Americans but Hispanic and Asian-Americans as well. We learned this week that use of online tools is increasing among all three of these minority groups therefore this could be a great opportunity for marketers. Lesson 7 states “According to the Census Bureau, the growth of ethnic groups in the U.S. is booming; in fact, the non-European population will increase from 24 percent in 1990 to a predicted 37 percent by 2020, led by the rapid growth of the Hispanic population. Furthermore, as access to the internet becomes easier and less costly this will drive adoption of the internet even higher among all ethnic groups. For example Lesson 7 states “The most recent studies show that nearly 60 percent of all adult Hispanics who speak English are online, making Hispanics the fastest growing segment of online consumers. Seven in ten Hispanics have a PC at home. (AOL Latino Cyber Study, 2005/Lesson 7, IMC 619).

Here are some ideas for social networking sites for minorities that may have potential in the future:

Job site – Similar to, a site could be set up for minority based employers and minority candidates. A specific ethnic job site could be set up for a specific ethnic group. LinkedIn is a popular career networking site that could be adapted for a specific minority audience.

Dating Site – Online dating has taken off this decade and a dating web site specific to a targeted ethnic audience would probably be welcomed by many minorities who wish to only date within their own ethnic group.

Health Site – Think WebMD for a specific ethnic group. The site could have expert advice from minority doctors on minority health issues. UnitedHealtcare has made some strides in this area by having a special section targeted to the health needs of African-Americans.

Keep an eye out in the future for minority-targeted social networking sites as marketers look to be more efficient with their messages and their advertising dollars.

- Patrick


Lesson 7. IMC 619. West Virginia University.