Tag Archives: online marketing

Converting .ods files to .xls or .xlsx: Try Zamzar.com

I’m happy to have abandoned Windows for the oh-so-stable Mac OSX , and I’m increasingly using Google docs for basic spreadsheets and word processing.  But there’s one Microsoft application I just can’t live without for more complicated spreadsheets, and that’s Excel.

I recently changed my iMac hardware and didn’t have MS Office installed on the new machine, so as a stopgap I started creating .ods spreadsheets using NeoOffice.  Since then I’ve installed Office on the new machine, and so I wanted to convert my .ods spreadsheets to an Excel-readable .xls or .xlsx format.  Not so easy.

NeoOffice provides a .xls ‘save as’ option, but inexplicably then drops formula content and exports the document as values only.  Copying a NeoOffice spreadsheet to the clipboard and pasting to Excel causes the same problem.

Online conversion sites can help, though.  I used Zamzar.com to convert the .ods file to a fully-functioning .xls file and it worked great.  The site is aggressive in its pop-ups but otherwise gets a clean bill of health from SiteAdvisor (my previous startup).  Simply upload the original file to Zamzar.com and they’ll email back the converted file in one of several formats.  The free version of the service has file size limits and takes a good 30 minutes for the conversion, but paid versions of the software reduce these restrictions and speed conversion time.

The advantage to online conversion sites is that you don’t have to download/install software (good for locked-down corporate systems) but the disadvantage is that you’re uploading your data to a 3rd party.  So clearly you shouldn’t be sending anything that’s highly sensitive.  It’s also important to check the reputation of the conversion site because a nefarious site could in theory return the document with a malicious payload (embedded in a macro or visual basic script, for example) that could do all kinds of nasty things to your system.  SiteAdvisor is a good place to start to check the sites’s reputation.

Side note: Prior to trying Zamzar I also tried Media-Convert.com but only got file errors when I uploaded my source file.

Bottom line: it’s not seamless to move streadsheets between NeoOffice and Microsoft Office, but Zamzar.com can help by easily converting .ods files to Office’s .xls or .xlsx formats.

Beware Best Buy affiliates…are you really getting credit for the qualified traffic you drive to BestBuy.com?

Hunch’s business model is very straightforward: when Hunch proposes a result to a user trying to make a decision, the result page may include a link to an external retailer offering the product or service for sale. Hunch would share in any resulting sales via affiliate marketing relationships.  We’ve been testing a variety of affiliates in these spots lately, but one we’ve decided to drop is Best Buy.  I’ll explain why.

Hunch users who end up on a result page represent highly qualified traffic; someone landing on a Hunch page for a Nikon camera is there precisely because they just answered a handful of questions designed to help them find the right camera for them.  So we tend to see solid post-click conversion when users click through to an external site to browse for product availability or detailed product information.

We signed up to the Best Buy affiliate program through Commission Junction, and tested Best Buy links in several topics for which we already had a history of strong post-click conversions.  While CJ’s reporting platform showed nearly the same ad impressions and affiliate clicks for BestBuy as we tracked internally, CJ reported not just a lower post-click conversion rate than we had historically seen, but actually zero.  Several more days went by, clicks were still flowing to Best Buy, but they reported zero resulting sales.

We decided to test this by buying some merchandise ourselves.  Two of our employees, on two different days, followed Hunch affiliate links to Best Buy and then bought something.  CJ still showed no sales activity.  Houston, we have a problem.

I emailed the Best Buy affiliate team on Aug 29th to report this, attaching receipts for our sales, and inquiring about all the other qualified clicks we had sent them.  They replied on Sept 1st that they’d look into it and that we should “alllow two weeks to do so.”  On Sept 10th they emailed back to say they had determined that both orders were, in fact, valid, and that we should allow “up to two days” for them to show up in CJ reports.  No explanation about what happened or why, nor any reference to the real issues about what happened to all the other qualified clicks we had sent them.  (side note: irritatingly, they sign their emails not from a person, but anonymously as “BestBuy.com Affiliate Team”)   I wrote back to ask them to provide a further explanation.

On Sept 15th they wrote back to say our links were formatted correctly and they didn’t have further info, but we could contact their technical support staff if we wanted.

An inadequate explanation from Best Buy

An inadequate explanation from Best Buy

As of today, 19 days after I originally wrote them, we still haven’t received credit for the items we bought (not our greatest concern, but hardly confidence-inspiring), nor have we received any explanation for what happened to all the other qualified clicks that seemed to have gone into some type of Best Buy black hole.  I’m not interested in dealing with their technical team (that should be the role of their affiliate team, as an intermediary), and as a result we’ve discontinued our relationship with them.

CJ reports that Best Buy’s 3 month epc (or “revenue paid by the advertiser to the website publisher per hundred clicks, over a 3 month period”) is just $6.85.  That’s just 7 cents per click – far below what Best Buy would be able to purchase qualified clicks for from one of the major search engines.  Now you could argue that I should have seen that metric in advance (I did) and stayed away (I didn’t)…I thought, as I suspect many other sites do, that our traffic is so highly qualified that we should expect much higher conversions than Best Buy’s historical average.  Note that AJMadison, another respected electronics and appliance retailer, has an epc that’s three times that of Best Buy’s, at $19.10.

Over time, based both on these average metrics and each affiliate’s actual experience, you’d expect affiliates to increasingly migrate away from low conversion partners like Best Buy and towards higher conversion alternates.  But my gut tells me that with such a strong brand name, Best Buy can afford high affiliate churn because they likely have such strong interest with new potential affiliates joining the program.  I don’t know whether in Best Buy’s case this problem is a deliberate strategy or just negligence and poor execution, but either way it doesn’t inspire confidence in affiliate marketing systems.

Bottom line: for cpa-driven affiliate relationships to work, there has to be trust and reliability in the system for accurate post-click reporting and payments.  So it’s disheartening when even a big brand like Best Buy can have such a complete failure in their affiliate model, as we experienced above.

One implication of all this: I would gladly pay a 3rd party to conduct “real transaction” audits on the sites with whom I have an affiliate relationship.  I’m not talking about click matching, but actually buying a low-priced physical good from time to time (and perhaps then returning it later for a refund).  This approach couldn’t be efficiently scaled to take representative frequent samples for a given affiliate, but still, at low volume it could potentially identify the most egregious offenders.  Because as we found out with Best Buy, where there was smoke, there was fire.  Anyone know of any companies that do that kind of affiliate auditing?

Low Google Quality Score? Consider “buying your way” into the party.

Quality Score is that somewhat mysterious but very powerful measure Google uses to determine if, how, and when your paid search ads show up on Google and its content network.  As Google explains it, a high Quality Score generally means that your keyword will trigger ads in a higher position and at a lower cost-per-click (CPC).

The Quality Score is affected by historical click through rate, quality of the landing page, relevance of the keyword to the ad group, and loads of other factors.  Knowing Google, there are probably dozens of factors that change and are re-weighted all the time.

I’m not going to go into recommendations for sites to improve their base Quality Score (but for a nice primer, see Dave Davis’ discussion of this in Search Engine Journal – a few years old but still very relevant. There are also of course lots of great resources on Search Engine Land on this topic). What I do want to point out is that the Quality Score needs time to reach equilibrium, and that Google’s initial guess is often very different than what it ultimately learns.  So if you’re convinced you have a great user flow from your AdWords ad through to your site, but Google just doesn’t seem to get it yet, consider biting the bullet and “buying your way in to the country club.”

I’ve often come across cases where Google’s “on-the-fly” Quality Score assessment for a new campaign or ad group was very low, resulting in a cpc that was significantly higher than I wanted to pay, let’s say $1.00.  Now, I knew that was way more than I was willing to pay an on ongoing basis based on my ROI expectations, but it would have been a mistake to throw in the towel at that point.  If I didn’t overpay and buy my way in for at least a little while, how would Google ever realize the strength of my campaign and the great user experience I had in store for its searchers?

Once I ran my campaign at the $1.00 cpc bid for just a few hours, the quality score improved.  In addition to gaining some CTR history, I suspect Google was also realizing that the types of pages I linked to on Hunch had a very low bounce rate, in other words it was a great user experience.  The Quality Score shot up and I was able to gradually reduce my bid while still maintaining decent placement.  Over a few days’ time, my bid was down by 70% from where I started.  (incidentally, bounce rate isn’t something I’ve seen Google talk much about explicitly, but in my recent experience – and from what I’ve heard from some former insiders – having a low bounce rate is a big deal.)

The whole process is akin to talking your way into a club once with the doorman, but then counting on the charm of your personality to get yourself invited back for free.  Same with Google.  And while I’d rather have the Quality Score be right to begin with, this pricing mechanism is actually pretty efficient.  Google is essentially saying, “We don’t see it yet, but if you’re so sure, put your money on the table.  Then we’ll talk again.”

So if you’re convinced you have a great user experience, but Google’s Quality Score doesn’t yet reflect it, don’t just go home with your tail between your legs.  Temporarily buy your way in until Google realizes that you deserve to be in this party after all.