Tag Archives: online marketing

BoostCTR offers innovative approach to SEM Ad Copy Optimization

** global update many years later: BoostCTR is now known as Boost Media

Of the 4 or so principal elements of SEM campaigns — keyword selection, bidding strategy, landing page optimization and ad copy development, it’s the latter that probably receives the least amount of rigorous attention and testing by advertisers. Yet ad copy optimization is a critical factor in the quality, cost, efficiency, and ultimately the profitability of your SEM campaigns.

No marketer would argue that it’s generally a good thing to have clear, persuasive, creative, benefit-oriented ad copy that uniquely explains your business in a way customers can understand. So, uh, yeah — do more of that.

But when it comes to Search Engine Marketing, there are more tangible & immediately-quantifiable advantages to improving and optimizing your ad copy.

That’s because Google calculates a Quality Score that impacts the placement where your search ad is shown and how much you’ll end up paying for it. Q.S. is a factor of several measures, but the ad’s click through rate is one of the most important. So besides the fact that a higher CTR obviously gives you greater volume for a given number of impressions, the higher CTR can also lead to lower costs per click.

Which brings us to the money chart, from ClickEquations:

What a change in quality score (vs. reference of 7) can save or cost you

(note that the chart above implies that quality score is an integer. Although Google displays it this way, it’s actually not; you’re more likely to have a Q.S. of 6.34 or 5.78 than 6.0.  But the directional take-away is the same: a better relative quality score saves you money and a lower quality score will cost you.)

Ok, so your ad’s cost is a factor of quality score, and quality score is a factor of click through rate, and click through rate is a factor of ad copy effectiveness. So what’s an efficient way to generate better ad copy in order to lower your ad’s costs?

For the last few months I’ve been a beta client (on behalf of Hunch’s SEM campaign) for an impressive early-stage startup called BoostCTR, working directly with its CEO, David Greenbaum.

BoostCTR acts as an automated exchange between vetted, skilled ad copywriters and SEM marketers who want to optimize their ad copy.  Think of it as self-service, micro-outsourcing to a broad pool of talented writers.

BoostCTR’s model allows copywriters to review your existing ad groups and submit new ad recommendations that you then approve, reject, or edit. At that point, a controlled test begins to determine whether the submitted “challenger” ad can beat your defending champion.

The advertiser pays only once a submitted ad becomes a proven winner (with statistical significance); pricing is currently a fixed cost of $60-$90 per winning ad, depending on how many ad groups you commit to running.  Writers who submit winning ads are paid a fixed price for their efforts.

The ‘defending champion’ ad (which I wrote) on the left was beaten by the challenger on the right, which was written by someone in BoostCTR’s copywriter network

SEM marketers who have never rigorously tested or optimized their ads are likely to see massive, immediate improvements; BoostCTR says that CTR improvements of 50% are typical.

If you’re starting from a stronger position and you’ve done some testing and optimization (this was the case with Hunch’s ad groups), you may see more gradual improvements, and writers may not nail it on the first round. But since you only pay once there’s a winner, and writers keep submitting new ideas (and learning from what didn’t work) that you can approve, you’re still likely to get some significant benefits over time. I have.

BoostCTR’s website is surprisingly intuitive and full-featured for a company in such an early stage.  It recently raised a first round of funding (disclosure: Founder Collective participated, and I’m an investor in the fund), and Greenbaum says that near-term priorities include sprucing up the site, adding the capability to do simultaneous copy testing within one ad group, optimizing for deeper metrics like CPA, and the hiring of a senior writer to vet & coach the company’s free-lance pool of copywriters.

The ‘dashboard’, showing summary of campaigns and contests

BoostCTR’s approach provides an easy, scalable, efficient way to improve the efficiency of your SEM campaigns through better ad copy.  I’d encourage any SEM marketer to give them a look.

A simple design trick guaranteed to infuriate your paying subscribers

Update: See Oct 12, 2010 update below

There’s not a lot of content that I pay for online, but there is some, such as the WSJ and Zagat.

Despite valuing its online content enough to pay for it, I end up irritated with WSJ.com every time I have to interact with it and re-sign in (typically, after clearing cookies or changing computers).

Why? The site makes it nearly impossible to find a ‘log in’ link so that current subscribers can continue reading teaser content.  (go ahead: see if you can find it below in 5 seconds or less)  Instead, they plaster ‘subscribe now’ in at least 6 places on the page, including at the most logical place to also include ‘sign in’: where they cut off the teaser content.

It’s a usability flaw that never ceases to irritate me, even though I now know where the microscopic log in link is located.  Is this really how the WSJ wants to engage its existing subscribers?


Go ahead: try to find the 'log in' link so you can finish reading the article that you've paid to access as a subscriber


Site designers and UX planners should never lose sight of the fact that even as they’re trying to entice new users to their properties, they should create a great experience for their existing users — particularly paying ones.

Update: Oct 12, 2010

To the WSJ’s credit (and to my astonishment), they:

* Graciously acknowledged my tweet/gripe about the above issue, via a Tweet reply within 10 minutes. Here’s the exchange:

* Sometime between then and now, they updated their teaser content landing page as shown below.  It now includes 2 additional login links where you’d logically expect those links to be: before the paid content begins and after the teaser cut-off.

The above has now gone from an example of a design gripe to an example of turning a suggestion around so that the griper becomes an evangelist (which is what I’m doing with this updated blog post and new Tweet). At the same time, the WSJ’s social media folks listened to a valid suggestion, got it to the right department, and that department made an improvement which now benefits all their subscribers.

Great example of social media in action and done well. Marketers: take notes.

Smart move by Yahoo to partner with Gannett for local sales

I’ve written before about the challenges of selling local online advertising and the difficulty of delivering a good local experience for end users.  (and don’t even get me started about that most dreaded of all local advertising vehicles, phone books)  So I was glad to see today’s announcement that Yahoo! will be partnering with Gannett’s sales force to peddle Y!’s inventory to local businesses.  It’s also interesting that Yahoo will be offering ‘interest targeting’ as part of the inventory. That’s something that’s going to be more and more critical for publishers to provide to sophisticated ad planners/media buyers.

Whatever the economics of the agreed-upon Yahoo-Gannett deal, you can bet the numbers are a boatload better than if Yahoo had to put their own feet on the street to cater to local businesses.  I recall my experience at AOL over a decade ago when their local sales force was integrated, separated, and re-integrated with the national sales team every 6 months or so. It was a complete mess.

Local businesses are by definition “people people” based on who their customers are.  And in my experience, newspaper salespeople are also great relationship builders.  Some might call them old school, old media, or some other uppity term, but the fact is that they know how to engage customers, brush off rejection, and ultimately close deals.

Yahoo! could use every boost it can get these days.  Executed carefully, this partnership should provide one.

Search techniques in action: the big head, long tail, broad match, phrase match, and exact match

One of my blog entries which has received significant traffic involves 19th St. Gym, a local entity which abruptly shut down for several months before recently being bought by a new owner.  This post isn’t about the gym itself but rather the search terms which led people to find my post about it.  I’ll also discuss the missed opportunities of local gyms to use this as a marketing vehicle.

My blogging platform, WordPress, indicates that a total of 24 different search phrases led people to the blog post about the gym.  Just 2 of these phrases accounted for about 50% of search traffic: 19th street gym (where my post ranks about #5 on Google’s SERP) and 19th street gym closed, where I rank in roughly position #3.  These are the proverbial “big head” terms.

The first observation I’ll make is that Google’s organic ranking algorithm worked pretty much the way you’d hope in this case.  The blog entry contained a relatively large amount of unique content related to one specific topic; the content was dynamic (because I kept adding updates and readers added relevant comments); several relevant/fitness-related forums linked to the post, adding to its credibility.  As a result of these factors, Google ranked the post well for the term ’19th street gym’ and related phrases.

My second observation is that local gyms are missing an opportunity to bid on the term “19th Street Gym” to offer alternatives (more on that in a minute).  The only gym showing an ad is Anytime Fitness, a Minnesota-based outfit whose nearest gym to Manhattan is 18 miles away in West Caldwell, NJ.  Exactly 0% of New Yorkers clicking on that ad are going to end up joining Anytime Fitness.

Here are all the variations of search terms which people used to reach my blog post:

The 24 search phrases people used to find my blog entry about 19th Street Gym

On the one hand, you could argue that all these terms are variations of “19th street gym”.  On the other hand, if we examine all the variations, this provides a pretty good example of how search behavior tends to work in general.

The graph of the cumulative search volume is a classical example of the “big head”, “long tail” phenomena you hear so much about.  (My graph is flipped vs the way this is often shown, but the logic is the same).  Roughly 8 phrases (33% of all phrases) account for about 80% of total search volume.  The lowest volume 11 terms (46% of all terms) have only a combined 10% of total search volume.

"Big Head" and "Long Tail" search terms leading to 19th St. Gym blog post

It’s interesting to note some of the minor variations in the search phrases:

  • 3 terms (representing 6% of search volume) contain a question mark.  This suggests opportunities for creative search marketers to structure their ad copy (and landing pages) in a way that answers a specific question as opposed to just shouting general benefits or features.
  • Only 5 terms (13% of search volume) include a geographical reference to either NYC or Manhattan, suggesting most searchers may take it for granted that Google will figure out the context of where a search applies.  Google deals with this well but not perfectly; it’s something for website owners and search marketers to consider.  Note that as of December 2009, Google actually allows sites to tag themselves for geographic relevance (at the country level) to make this more clear in organic results on the SERP.
  • Even though these terms are all variations of “19th Street Gym”, the subtle variations in the phrases could still create opportunities for you if you were bidding on them for paid search.  For example, by bidding specifically on ’19th Street Gym closed’, a competing gym might create specific search copy (and a corresponding landing page) referencing that they’ll give a special deal for former 19th St. members:

Broad, phrase, exact, negative match?

Let’s say you were a competing gym and wanted to use AdWords to reach 19th St. members. Depending on how you structure your keyword, your ad could show for a few, most, or all of the 24 different search phrases.  There are pros and cons to each method.

1) Broad match terms entered in AdWords as standard text, ie 19th Street Gym

Using the default ‘broad match’ keyword phrase of 19th Street Gym would have likely picked up every one of the 24 terms above.  But this has a disadvantage: some of the terms would have probably generated the wrong type of traffic for your ad.  For example, people searching for “19th St. Gym bond” were interested in finding out if the gym was in compliance with its NY State bond requirement (it wasn’t), and people searching for “19th St. Gym Kelly” were clearly looking for my specific blog post.

2) Exact match terms entered in brackets, ie [19th Street Gym Closed]

Bidding on exact match terms gives you the opportunity to target specific ad copy and potentially have a lower cost per click for the specific phrase than you would have paid with phrase match or broad match.  But the specificity means that volume will typically be much lower, and you’ll need to create many more specific search phrases for your account, which takes time and effort.

3) Phrase match terms entered in quotes, ie “19th Street Gym”

This would have triggered your ad for any search phrase which contained “19th Street Gym”, which was most of the variations.  In this example it doesn’t provide a lot of benefit vs. broad match, but in general, phrase matching is a good compromise between the low targeting of broad match and the low volume of exact match.

4) Negative matches preceded by a minus, ie -bond

Negative match terms can be used in conjunction with broad terms to eliminate specific phrases you want to avoid, while still generating strong volume.  As an example, adding -bond to the broad match phrase 19th Street Gym, would prevent the phrase 19th Street Gym Bond from triggering your ad.

Tony Soric wrote a good primer explaining match types in an Oct 2009 Search Engine Land article.

Summing up the info and examples above:

  • Unique, changing, compelling content that others link to should eventually receive good organic search ranking.  (this is, of course, every website’s dream)
  • Keep in mind the large number of variations in search phrases, even when they contain common elements.  Consider ad copy and landing pages which address specific cases.
  • Use match types to find the right balance for your business between targeted leads and volume.

What NYC apartment numbers and buzzers can teach us about website design

New York City apartments generally have a very simple numbering/naming convention: floor number followed by a letter.  Usually the letters are alphabetical, but occasionally for buildings with only a handful of units on each floor they’ll use a N,S,E,W convention or R,F (for rear, front).  But the bottom line is that 90% of the time you’ll end up with something like 1R, 22D, or 16E.

Woe is you (in fact, woe is me) if happenstance requires you to deviate from these expected norms.

My apartment has two levels (street and below ground) and shares an entrance foyer with an adjacent 4 story brownstone. Because of the split level and the way it’s physically situated, the apartment is a bit of an “odd man out.”  When I moved in, the sign on my door, the sticker on my mailbox, and the corresponding outside buzzer for my unit all simply said “Duplex”.  And that’s when the trouble began.

When I’d call for food delivery and was asked for my address, the word “Duplex” was met by confusion, frustration, and sometimes complete bewilderment by the order taker.  I’d say it slowly; I’d spell it; I’d even use it in a sentence. But this simply wasn’t a word that was familiar to many of them.  As a result, delivery people would show up and have to call me from outside because they didn’t know what buzzer to press.  I’d look at the order ticket and see things written like: “doop x”, “Apt X”, and “dipriks”.

Then Paul and I had a revelation.  We decided to undertake an apartment rebranding effort.  In fact, a co-branding campaign!  We didn’t want to completely lose “Duplex” since that’s how our mail came and how some delivery people knew us, but we recognized that we needed a conventional nomenclature for the majority of our deliveries.  “1-A” was our solution.  The co-branded name would be “1-A / Duplex”.  We put up new stickers on the door and by the outside buzzer and were confident our problems would be solved.

The good news?  The “1-A” was perfectly understood by order takers on the phone.  “Ah, 1-A as in ‘apple!'” they’d always say.  Yes!

But when the delivery people arrived, the buzzer for 1-A wasn’t where they’d expect.  They could see 1-R and 1-F at the top of the set of buzzers, but doggone it, no 1-A.  Forget that we had put a gigantic “1-A/Duplex” sticker on white tape just a few buzzers (about an inch) down.  Because the buzzer wasn’t in the exact spot where people expected to see it, it may as well have not been there at all.

So still, about 30% of the time, we’d receive a phone call from a frustrated delivery person who was outside staring at the buzzers and unable to find our button. (The other likely culprit is the fact that since the white tape with black lettering is so very different from the typography adjacent to the other buzzers, the mind simply rules this area out completely, thinking “this is too different to be relevant to the scan I’m trying to make.”)

Who would think this could be such a source of endless confusion?

Unfortunately we can’t just move the location of our buzzer since this is real world hardware and not just a web page.  But what we’ve started to do is say “1-A: it’s the BOTTOM BUZZER” to the order taker.  And that has worked pretty well.

How does all this relate to website design?  I’m sure you figured it out already:

1) Speak in familiar language that your audience understands.  Don’t make up words or expect them to adapt to your internal naming standards.  Switching from the unfamiliar ‘Duplex’ to the extremely familiar ‘1-A’ nomenclature solved about half of our problem.

2) If a button, text, or call to action is not almost exactly where someone expects it to logically be, you’re likely to have a significant amount of your audience just give up. I’m lucky in that my frustrated “audience” of delivery people are generally owed $20 or so for laundry or a pizza, so they clearly have an incentive to call me.  But for a random passive visitor to your site, if they face that level of frustration, more likely than not, poof – they are gone for good.

3) Be careful about designing one element in a series in a different way from its peers.  You may think you’re calling more attention to it, but you may be ruling it out completely for some people who consciously or subconsciously tend to exclude the one thing that’s not like the others.

4) If technical or design constraints absolutely require you to place something on your site in a non-optimal location, consider providing clues or navigation tips on the previous page and the page itself in order to help your audience find what they need.  Saying ‘Bottom buzzer’ to the order taker worked for us.  We could probably also have put an arrow to our buzzer on the building’s buzzer controls (although our neighbors probably wouldn’t be too thrilled with that).

But the most important lesson for me is that in addition to checking square footage, noise level, amount of sunlight and quality of the interior of my next apartment, I’ll be sure that it has one of the most important features of all: a single number followed by a letter.


Know how your email will look with images suppressed

I like Compete.  I use their free analytics services and don’t mind receiving their marketing emails about their premium offerings.

Here’s an email I received from them today, though.  Doh!

Screen shot 2009-10-27 at 3.48.19 PM

I don't think this is the core message which Compete wants to convey

The problem, of course, is that gmail (like many email platforms) suppressed Compete’s embedded images by default.  It was only after I clicked to enable images in the email that Compete’s intended message appeared:

Screen shot 2009-10-27 at 3.50.53 PM

That's more like it

The lesson of course is that you should prepare for this and know in advance how your email will look with the images suppressed.  It’s sort of like those classic Mad Magazine “fold-in” puzzles.

How to get your cold pitch noticed: treat it like a handshake

A few weeks ago I blogged about one of many ways to ensure that your cold pitch doesn’t get noticed.  Today I’ll include a couple of examples of just the opposite.

  • Keep the pitch simple, keep it short, keep it humble, and make a reference to show that you’ve taken at least 30 seconds to look at the site or business of the company you’re pitching.  (a little bit of flattery doesn’t hurt, either.)  This person did all those things, and I’ve kept her pitch on file:
Screen shot 2009-10-27 at 11.02.51 AM

Short and to the point

  • Reference in the first sentence or two why you should be relevant to the company you’re pitching.  This firm did it right:
Screen shot 2009-10-27 at 11.19.18 AM

Quickly get to the point about why you're relevant

The objective in a cold pitch should be similar to that of a handshake: you’re establishing rapport, conveying interest in the other person while expressing confidence in yourself, and ultimately hoping to get the other person to be interested in you as well.  What you shouldn’t be doing right out of the gate is telling your whole life’s story or making references to what great babies you and the other person would make.

By pretty much following the handshake principal, the pitches above were short, effective, and persuasive.

Verizon phone books: the shameful waste

If you read no further, just consider the picture below.  It says it all.

This picture is worth the next 1,100 words.  Get it?

This picture is worth the next 1,100 words. Get it?

Let me be clear about 3 things right off the bat:

1) As a marketer, I understand the need to promote goods & services
2) Having previously marketed media, I also understand the need to maximize reported distribution/coverage of a marketing vehicle so that it’s appealing to potential advertisers
3) I’m not one of those internet snobs that thinks nobody should be using phone books.  Any consumer who finds them useful should get one, and any advertiser who finds them effective should benefit from this marketing vehicle.

Those things said, the distribution of Verizon phone books in Manhattan is an environmental waste, a burden on consumers who don’t want them, and a gross misrepresentation for the book’s advertisers.

Let me start with an analysis from my own small apartment building in lower Manhattan.  There are 7 apartment units in this building, which is clear from the 7 buzzers & name labels by the building’s front door.  Yet we’ve had a stack of 12 Verizon Yellow Pages books and 12 “Business to Business” directories by our front door for the last 4 days.

Fuzzy math: 7 apartments (and buzzers), but 24 phone books dumped on our building

Fuzzy math: 7 apartments (and buzzers), but 24 phone books dumped on our building

Forgetting that nobody in my building has taken a single one of these in 4 days, let’s consider that even if *everybody* in the building took one of each of the two directories, there would *still* be a 42% waste factor.

And, why was a *single* B2B directory delivered on our 100% residential block?  B2B, as explained on the directory’s cover, means “Business to Business.”

While walking to work yesterday, I took these pictures of stacks of directories in front of other buildings on my block.  This was 3 days after they were distributed.

Day 3 after the phone book drop.  See a pattern here?

Day 3 after the phone book drop. See a pattern here?

So who’s to blame for all this?  Surprise: it’s not really Verizon.  In a nod to the migration to internet searching for phone numbers (not to mention the need to fund its heavy investment in FIOS infrastructure), Verizon spun off its phone book business in 2006 to Idearc.

Since the spin-off, Idearc’s revenue has fallen about 8% (but at $3B, this is still big business). The problem?  Print directory advertising, representing 90% of Idearc’s total revenue, declined 10%.  Its internet advertising, while growing quickly, is still too small of a base to make up the difference.  Does this sound familiar?  It’s exactly what’s happening (or happened) to other print vehicles like magazines and newspapers.

But the real problem was the crushing debt of $9B that Verizon dumped on Idearc, ultimately causing Idearc to file for Chapter 11 Bankupty earlier this year after it broke its debt covenants with creditors.

Now in restructuring, Idearc must be under incredible pressure to fix things fast and book as much Yellow Pages advertising as humanly possible. Think of the pressure on their ad salespeople.

Small business advertisers, the core of Yellow Pages revenue, are likely attracted by a couple of things that a decent Idearc ad salesperson would try to convey: 1) a promise of mass distribution of their message, and 2) the tangible ability to see that message themselves.

Verizon’s Yellow Pages plays into both of these needs.  Idearc claims they have a distribution of 884,000 directories in Manhattan alone.  If you’re a small business in Manhattan, that seems like an awful lot, right?  And unlike internet ads or search advertising that may run “sometimes but not always”, it’s easy to verify your listing in the phone directory: just open the book, and there it is in black and yellow.

But if the experience on my block is any indication, Idearc is over-estimating the true distribution of their directories by a factor of perhaps 80-90%.  That’s bad news for advertisers and even more unfortunate for the environment: in the best case, the unwanted directories will immediately go in the recycling bin.  In reality though, many probably go straight into the garbage.

Ok, but there must be a way for consumers to say, “No thanks” to directory distribution, right? After all, we can opt out of email, as stipulated by federal CAN-SPAM laws.  Well, yes and no.

Here’s a resource to find the printed directory distributors in your area, so you can call them to opt-out in the future. Idearc’s number is 800-888-8448 (select Option 2).  I called them to opt-out and was connected in 15 seconds to a real person who promised to help.

Here’s the thing, though: there’s no way he could.

Did you notice anything in common with all the pictures of directories above?  They are all shrink-wrapped in lots of 12.  So even if 6 of the 7 apartments in my building had opted out of receiving the book, presumably we *still* would have had at least 12 dumped on us. (conversely, if they had broken open a pack to leave just one, it would have been soaked by this week’s rain)

It gets worse.  Yesterday I came across the people who were distributing directories on the next block.  It looked like a hard-working husband and wife team who were really hustling. To their credit, at one point I saw them debate among themselves whether to leave a stack in front of a brownstown that was clearly being gut-renovated, with only rafters showing and workers everywhere.  At least there was some thought to that (they ultimately decided to skip the house).

The root of the problem: no way to truly opt out.

The root of the problem: no way to truly opt out.

I approached these folks and politely asked them if they had a way to know who didn’t want to receive these directories.  They explained that “we don’t leave one if someone says they don’t want it.” But when I asked if they received any kind of list in advance for people who didn’t want them, they said, “oh no, nothing like that.”

Bottom line: opting out does nothing because the actual distributors dump packs of 12 books on each doorstep, and they have no list of who might have opted out, anyway.

I guess the whole thing would be a big joke if it weren’t so wasteful for the environment, frustrating for consumers, and misleading for advertisers.

Here’s a funny video showing one creative way to return your unrequested phone book.

Some parting thoughts & resources:

Hi Idearc:

I would like to permanently opt-out of receiving any of your printed directories.  The other 7 tenants in my Manhattan residential apartment building would like to do the same.

How do we proceed, please?

Thanks in advance,
Kelly Ford

New York, NY  10011

(email sent 10/15/09)

Update: Dec 26, 2009:

Idearc Media dropped white pages last week on my block.  Despite this blog post, despite my phone call to Idearc, despite Lisa Vilfordi’s comment here and subsequent direct emails between Lisa and me, despite Lisa’s personal assurances this would not happen again, they still screwed it up.

On the plus side, Idearc’s distributor dropped only the number of books which corresponded to the number of units/buzzers in my building: 7.  But they didn’t honor my multiple opt-out requests.  Assuming nobody else in my building had opted out, there should have been only 6 books dropped.  So, assuming that all other 6 tenants in my building wanted, took, and used the books (which is a laughable set of assumptions), we’re still talking a 1/7 = 14+% waste factor.

Idearc continues to ignore opt-out requests

I went on a trip out of town and came back 6 days later, and surprise: all 6 books were still there, now waterlogged.  They all ended up in the garbage.  Waste factor: 100%.

I sent an email to Lisa Vilfordi of Idearc to ask for her comment, but she didn’t reply.

The sordid love affair between restaurant websites and flash: would you two kids knock it off, already?

Agencies all over the world must be making a fortune designing overly fancy websites for restaurants, and I wish they’d knock it off.

I’ve never been in the restaurant business.  I also don’t know much about it, other than to have an appreciation for how difficult it must be: demanding hours, fickle customers, staffing challenges, perishable inventory, health inspections.  Given all those other challenges, you’d think that restaurants would want to do whatever they could to help visitors to their website quickly and painlessly find what they need to be convinced to make a booking. But this is so often just not the case, and is a reason restaurants are accelerating site disintermediation to places like MenuPages and OpenTable.

Despite not having worked directly in this business, I’m going to go on a crazy limb and predict what 95% of restaurant website visitors are looking for, probably even in this order:

1) the restaurant’s current menu
2) contact & general information: phone, location, hours of operation
3) a few photos to get a sense of the interior vibe and design of the place

Instead of making some or all of the above available front and center on the homepage, I’ve seen way too many restaurant websites with the following sequence of events:

1) a ‘loading’ bar as some huge animation sequence is served. Mind you, this is on fast broadband connections. I can only imagine what it must be like when connecting at slower speeds (and yes, plenty of people still do)
2) music begins
3) some big story appears about the chef’s philosophy and inspiration for the establishment
4) menus are 3 clicks deep and require a pdf download

The pdf thing alone is going to alienate a lot of customers. (they either won’t download the menu or won’t find it after they do)

Check out these sample offenders.  (it took me about 2 minutes to put together this list on the fly).  Keep in mind that these are all restaurants I actually like.  I’m just frustrated with their websites: Almond, Spice, Tao,Paris Commune, Singe Vert.  Here are some more examples from Matthew Stibbe, who shares my frustration.

On the other hand, Crispo, one of my neighborhood favorites, does it very well: a blazing-fast homepage that conveys basic information & the core of the restaurant’s vibe, on-screen menus a click away, and photo galleries and virtual tours on a separate tab.

Crispo's homepage is clean, fast, and helpful

Crispo's homepage is clean, fast, and helpful

There are a lot of compelling situations when fancy animation on the web adds value: virtual real estate tours, high end hotels, showcasing the interior of a car, demonstrating a complicated software product, maybe showing off a cruise line.  But the homepage of a restaurant site is not the right place & not the right time.  If restaurants feel their interiors are absolutely so compelling that they deserve an animated tour, put it one click deep on another page.

Back to one point: should restaurants really care if their potential customers prefer to turn to MenuPages or OpenTable rather than the restaurant’s own site?  Yes.  MenuPages, while incredibly helpful from a menu perspective, doesn’t convey the other elements & atmosphere of the restaurant that help define it as an experience.  (and yes, those elements CAN be expressed without resorting to flash on the homepage).  And OpenTable (which I absolutely love) is great for customers, but may end up costing the restaurant for a reservation that would have been free had the customer called the restaurant after visiting the restaurant’s own site.

For all the many restaurants out there that I love, please: keep your websites fast, straightforward, helpful, and free of homepage animation. By doing so you can save on agency fees, give your customers what they want, and avoid driving customers to 3rd party sites that either don’t convey your full brand experience or make you pay for bookings.

How not to get a response to your cold pitch (part 1 of many)

Cold pitching is a tough job.  I’m terrible at it myself, and I respect people who can do it well.  I acknowledge that sales people have to start somewhere, and I don’t mind receiving well-thought-out, inbound pitches (via email) from time to time.

I receive many inbound pitches for all kinds of marketing services.  It’s rare that I’m in immediate need of the exact service somebody’s pitching me when I’m first contacted.  But if it’s a well-conceived proposition for a service I could imagine using someday, I file the pitch and often come back to it. I’ve ended up striking very large media deals with companies that initiated contact with me this way.

On occasion I’ll send a quick email back to acknowledge a cold pitch, but more often than not I don’t.  Some people consider that bad business etiquette; I had a boss once who said that “even if the guy on the phone is selling vacuum cleaners, you should hear them out and only then politely decline.”  But I don’t buy the philosophy that every uninvited pitch deserves a personal response (especially when the email was sent to a general “marketing@” or “press@” email address.)  And apparently, that just pushes some sales people to completely lose it.

In browsing through my archived emails tagged ‘pitches’ the other day, I was struck by some common elements that made many of them either very strong or incredibly weak.  I’ll blog about some of these from time to time to make my point.

Here’s the first one.  How likely do you think it is that I would ever contact this sales person to discuss advertising opportunities based on the content and tone of this email?

This is not how to win friends and influence people

This is not how to win friends and influence people

Side note: he had emailed us exactly one other time, 2 weeks ago, and as far as I’m aware we’ve never received a phone call from this person.

To his question of when a good time would be to speak with me about advertising on the site he represents, I can direct him here.

Next in this series: I’ll highlight some effective techniques that I’ve seen good salespeople use in their cold pitches.