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How money controls the Cricket World Cup

March 11th, 2011 by Linus Xavier 2 comments »

The title of this article may sound controversial, but that’s the reality. As everyone knows, BCCI (India) is the financial power-house among the cricketing nations. Subcontinental countries – India, Pakistan, Srilanka & Bangladesh have the most passionate fan following, TV viewership of the matches, and hence the revenue – with India holding the lion’s share.

First, look at the structure of the World Cup. Two Groups – A & B. Two minnows in each group, and at the end of league games the top four teams would proceed to the so called “quarter finals”. The truth is there are only 8 teams worth competing in the World Cup. The world cup should ideally start with these 8 teams. Now, why did ICC do this? ICC has learnt it the hard-way from the previous world-cups. In 2007 World Cup, when India & Pakistan exited early from the World Cup the overall interest came down. The objective is to ensure that the teams stay long in the world-cup. Would you watch a Bangladesh vs England match, if India is already out of the world cup? So, for most part of the world cup meaningless league matches are held where the test playing nations make their fans happy by thrashing the minnows. While I don’t deny the fact that the minnows have played well in patches, clearly they seem to be a league away from the main teams.

Second, look at the schedule. India’s first four matches were against – Bangladesh, England, Ireland & Netherlands. Why not South Africa, West Indies & England first? You may say that it was by lot – I wouldn’t believe that. Once again, the objective was to ensure that the viewership was maintained at high levels by making India play against easier teams first. If India had first two games against South Africa, West Indies, and the third one against England. And suppose, if India had lost the first two games & tied the third one (as it happened) you wouldn’t really follow the other games.

Third, the media gave the Indian cricket team the “favorites” tag to win the world-cup. Why? Money again. Wouldn’t more of us follow the matches if “they” say that India is a favorite, knowing that the team’s bowling is weak & it has been that way for ages. “Experts” like Viv Richards, Wasim Akram etc wouldn’t hesitate to say that India are favorites – Saying so would get them some super publicity in Indian Media & chances in TV Talk Shows. Boils down to money!

Finally, all that India (or any other team) has to do is win one serious game (quarter finals), to enter the semi finals & keep their fans interested. And, win 2 serious games to enter the final, and make their fans crazy. If India reaches the final, maximum money would be made!

The cricket world cup, is an excellent case-study in the making to maximize revenue, using the law of probabilities!

10 Forces of Online Marketing

January 29th, 2011 by Linus Xavier 1 comment »

In this post, I’ve summarized a list 10 forces that influence the buy/no-buy decision of your consumers, especially in B2C commerce. These forces may be applied through your marketing communications or even the product design. If these forces are applied in right proportions, they can increase your returns many-fold!

1. Force of Requital

If someone helps you or gives something, you’ll feel obliged to return the favor. That’s human tendency, that’s how we’re brought up! Let’s use this in business. Give your customers a free lunch. If you were selling T-Shirts, give away some free t-shirts to potential long term customers. Sometimes the cost of such a campaign would be lower than the cost of acquiring customers through regular PPC. In addition you end up building the Requital force.

If you are into Web Hosting business, give free hosting for a reasonable span: say 3 months. If you are into SEO business, offer a free SEO report. The tricks to this sort of approach are :

a. Identifying the right potential customer base. (Else you’ll end up giving away free stuff to those who’ll never pay for your stuff)
b. Don’t explicity market your products / services. Keep it implicit. For eg, don’t send an SEO report and tell the customer that you’ll improve the numbers for $xxx. (You don’t help someone & ask for a return, do you?)


2. Force of Pricing

Pricing is a very potent force. However, right price is the key here rather than low price. Customers perceive the price as a function of product quality.

So, for them a low priced product could translate into a low quality product. However, if there’s little differentiation in terms of the product or service offered (as perceived by the customers) then low price can help you establish a customer base, especially when you’re new to the business.

On a long term, it may be necessary to stay close to competitors in terms of price, but do not use this as your main force to compete. Because, lower price also means lower margins!

3. Force of Urgency

Customers often take days, if not weeks to make a choice. Let’s say that a customer visits your online store, to buy a wireless speaker, finds what he wants

for $100. He then visits Amazon, PriceGrabber.com to see if he gets a better deal. Then he visits a local store to check the product. A friend who called him two days later, bought similar speakers but is not using them now. Hence he might share the speakers. Or, someone might tell him that wireless speakers don’t produce good sound.

Long-story short – The longer the time span you give your customers to make decision the higher the chances that the customer will not end up buying.

Woot.com gives 1-day deals. So does Amazon.com – they have several deals which are time-bound. Often, the force of urgency does well in tandem with pricing (deals). When you introduce force of urgency, the customer pays a cost for delaying his decision : he misses the deal (which he wouldn’t want to).

4. Force of Scarcity

Using this force requires that you either have : product exclusivity or price advantage. That is, you should either have a product no one else has, or should be able to sell for the product for real low price (force of price again)!.

We see this force in action at Ebay auctions & even Amazon deals. Amazon limits the daily deals by number of units of the item sold. Another example is the Gmail launch. The initial registrations were only through invites, and this created scarcity. In fact, Gmail invites were sold on Ebay for several dollars.

Black-Friday mad-rushes at various sites are also examples of this force. However, to use this force the potential customers should believe (and be sure) that there’s value in what you’re offering.

5. Force of Immediacy

Customers tend to perceive the value in a product delivered tomorrow higher than that of the same product delivered the day after! “Sameday Shipping” can convert atleast 25% better than “Shipping in 3-4 days”. How often do we see this : “Make Payment & Download the Ebook Immediately”. This one is a lot different from “Make Payment & the Ebook will be delivered within 24 hours”. If implementing Immediacy doesn’t cost a lot, it is a force to use to your advantage as it can definitely improve your competitive advantage.

6. Force of Expert Opinion

Expert / Authority opinions can be powerful forces, especially in certain verticals: technology, health etc. People do make their buy/no-buy decisions based on Cnet Editor reviews. New book authors often send out free copies of their books to big names to get expert opinion – which can help with the sales. You can give a free copy of your product or service & ask for a honest review from people believed to be experts in the vertical. May be even a blog post by the expert could help!

7. Force of Social Opinion

We all read product reviews by customers on Amazon before buying a product. This could be an extremely powerful force, specifically if the opinions are negative they could spell doom for the business. A customer needs to read atleast 5-6 good reviews to make a “buy” decision, but it takes only 1 bad review to make a “no-buy” decision! To top that, the ones with bad experiences are more likely to write reviews. The extreme potential of this force has given rise to the practice of ORM (Online Reputation Management). I’ve had some interesting experiences with companies handling this social opinion force very carefully. I’ll share them in one of my later posts.

You can proactively ask your customers to write reviews. Often dis-satisfied customers reply to such review requests with their problem. If you fix them, you’ll get some super-good reviews! You can also incentivize your customers to write honest reviews of your product. Without an incentive, two types of customers write reviews by themselves: The dis-satisfied ones, and the over-satisfied ones. It’d take a bit of effort to over-satisfy your customers!

8. Force of Fitting the Frame

This force is the one that marketing guru Seth Godin, discusses in his book “All Marketers are liars”. Customers see the the world from a certain frame or beliefs. This frame is based on the way they were brought up, and the environment in which they’ve been. So, as marketers you need to tell them what they would believe based on their current beliefs. ie., Extrapolate their current beliefs, such that it helps you sell. The better the fit of your extrapolation, the better it is for your sales!

For example, you would have heard of SEO Hosting. We all are with the frame (belief) that links from different C-Class IP addresses would help with our SEO efforts. Businesses have used this belief to come up with SEO Hosting giving multiple C-Class IP addresses per account. If I start a simple webhosting service, without multiple C-Class IP addresses I shouldn’t be targetting the SEO savvy guys. I should be rather targetting the normal webmasters, because they don’t believe in SEO Hosting (or probably not aware of it).

If you were selling sunglasses & lenses, and if the customers coming to your store probably believe that wearing sunglasses makes them cool. So, tell them how the sunglasses you sell makes them extra cool, rather than trying to sell them colored contact-lenses claiming that sun-glasses aren’t as cool! That would be a very bad idea.

9. Force of Consistency

Customers try to be consistent with what they say. So, the trick is to map your product or service with what the customers would be consistent with. This method is used by sales-people across the globe, and is also widely used in sale copy-writing.  This force should have its place in your site’s sales copy. For eg, ask them “Isn’t your site getting enough traffic?”,

“Are your SEO efforts not giving enough results?”. The customers would say “Yes” for each of those questions, within their minds. A series of these “Yes” creates a positive disposition. Now, finally propose your solution!

10. Force of Safety

Customers are often worried before making the payment – What if this thing doesn’t work? What if this purchase makes me regret? This is probably the last barrier to the “buy” decision. Assure them that they would never have to regret. Businesses offer warranty on electronic goods. We see money-back guarantee on several software packages too.  When you offer your customers safety, ensure that the same isn’t abused.

15 SEO mistakes to avoid

January 23rd, 2011 by Linus Xavier 7 comments »

Linking Strategies

While Google does credit your website for incoming links, it doesn’t hesitate to penalize you for bad link building & SEO practices. Some of these methods might give you a short-term boost in SERPs, however – the chances of getting penalized is pretty high.

1. Strictly avoid Xrumer blasts – spamming on Forums & Blogs. If your spam links do end up appearing as blog comments or forum posts, they should be among the hundreds of viagra / pills related links. So easy to find & as easy to penalize.

2. Link Wheels. Would Google expect proper well connected link wheels for sites like Reuters, MSN etc? When you build link wheels, you are telling Google “I’m trying to fool you”. If your link wheel has a pattern simple enough for us to understand, Google can decode it easily as well.

3. Reciprocal Linking / Three-way linking. These don’t work. Google is smarter!

4. Directory Spammission. Avoid directory submission using services like 1000 directory submission for $9.95, or automated tools.

5. Avoid sitewide / irrelevant links. It sounds good to get links from PR5 pages. However it contributes little to nothing if the links aren’t relevant. For eg., a site-wide link for a travel portal from a health blog makes little sense!

6. Avoid buying links from Made-for-PayU2Blog type blogs. While generating links from guest posts on blogs is a good idea, sites like Payu2Blog have given rise to a new segment of “bloggers”. People buy dropping high PR domains, install WordPress & start making paid blog posts.

7. Don’t generate too many low quality links in one go. Space out & schedule your link-bulding. Specifically, if you’re in a competitive niche your site might get sand-boxed / penalized.

8. Don’t try to generate links / word of mouth through negative reviews (AKA Decormyeyes case)!

On-Page SEO

9. Avoid Keywords Stuffing - Stuffing keywords with text matching background color, small font, within CSS etc. Easy for the big G to catch!

10. Avoid Stuffing Keywords on Title – Stuffing keywords on the title would reduce the CTR, which would eventually bring down your traffic as well as SERP position!

11. Don’t stuff the Meta Description with keywords.

12. Avoid trying to create a page for each keyword you’re targeting (mis-spells, notations etc). Google understands the context of a page for a set of keywords.

General SEO

13. Never try to use keywords you “think” as right, or may be your competitors are using. Always research keywords, before starting your link-building activity.

14. Don’t build links before having decent content. Content & Site Structure is the king. Many webmasters focus on link-building before having good content. The order is : Keyword Research – Content & Site Structure – Link Building

15. Don’t waste money on : “Submission to 150 Search Engines for $3.95″ kind of services.

DecorMyEyes, Google & Reverse SEO

December 30th, 2010 by Linus Xavier 1 comment »

Bad BusinessThis post is with reference to the DecorMyEyes case where the business owner deliberately generated negative publicity and hence achieved better search engine rankings for his website. In the next few days, Google announced on its blog, that it had revised its algorithms so that such practices aren’t fruitful. However, Google has also mentioned that the tweaks to the algorithm have been kept as a secret as they don’t want people to start exploiting them.
On paper it sounds like a fine story. But, do you think that Google didn’t expect such things to happen? Google has, in the past identified harmful sites, sites that spread virus / malware and have either blocked those sites (or at least warned users). Well, identifying such sites is simple. Google simply needs to scan the sites for malware, and then tag them red.

Now, identifying and penalizing the sites/businesses with bad business practices or customer ratings could be tricky. Well, I don’t question Google’s ability to do a “sentiment”-analysis looking reviews & feedback of a certain portal. The question is – how easy it to fake such sentiments: AKA Reverse SEO. And I’d certainly doubt Google’s ability to sort out “fake” sentiments.

For starters, Reverse SEO is the practice of bringing down the ranking of competitor websites (and hence improving ours), by building links from bad neighborhoods, negative reviews on portals etc. From my own experience and what I’ve heard from people, Reverse SEO has been working to some extent – well before Google announced changes to its algorithm claiming to penalize “bad” sites. So, Google was already penalizing the bad boys. However, the problem is identifying the bad boys with confidence and penalizing them appropriately.

Let us the compare this situation with that of social bookmarking sites, which have been doing well through community efforts. Social Bookmarking sites like Digg, Del.icio.us etc have survived despite the onslaught of SEO guys because they have the reputation system. These sites have regular users who follow other users, comment & digg good links. One cannot digg random links with no quality content, and still be a reputed member. It is not easy (though not impossible) to replicate such a system by individual SEO guys. However, in case of negative reviews – which happens through review / complaint portals it is difficult to maintain such a reputation system. You don’t regularly follow negative reviews & complaints. And you don’t keep posting reviews every week!  You tend to buy different products (read it as “random”), and hence can post reviews on random products / services – Something that can be easily emulated by SEO guys.

Hence as Google subtly mentioned in their blogpost, their system isn’t still accurate to weed out the bad boys based on negative reviews. But if Google is increasing its focus on using negative reviews to weed out junk, it gives enough license for the “Reverse SEO” guys to go out and start attacking their competitors with negative links. The purpose of this blog post isn’t to encourage reverse SEO, but to show how Reverse SEO can harm your business. The negative reviews needn’t necessarily be posted by your customers – but by your competitors, for they now have more reasons to do the same. This is something Google wants to avoid – battle of negative reviews!

IRCTC & Marketing Strategies

August 22nd, 2010 by Linus Xavier No comments »

IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) is a subsidiary of Indian Railways that manages catering, tourism – and importantly online booking for trains running under Indian Railways.

Some of the schemes, promotions and marketing activities sound pretty weird to me. Now – how does online reservation work in India? You can’t travel in most Indian trains without booking in advance, as the unreserved coaches are a few and often over-crowded. Well, IRCTC lets you book in advance online. Plus, there are various sites (agents) who can sell tickets too: like Cleartrip, Makemytrip, Yatra etc. Now, in order to prevent abuse of Tatkal tickets (tickets that can be booked just 2 days before the date of travel) IRCTC opens the booking of these tickets at 8 AM at its own site, while agents have access to these tickets only at 9 AM. Mostly, the tatkal tickets are gone before 9 AM. Fine.

No problems with all that. But look at this rule: You can book only max 10 bookings per month on IRCTC! Apparently this is an “effort” to crop agent bookings! Ridiculous. What do people do? They book normal tickets on agent sites, and visit IRCTC just for Tatkal bookings. Is IRCTC indirectly encouraging middle-men this way?

Second.. Frequent Traveller program. You get upto 10% cash back in the form on points, on 2-Tier AC/ FC AC or AC Executive CC tickets. The points can be redeemed against future bookings. Well, this sounds like a ploy to capture people who would otherwise travel by flight. However, is this segment so price-sensitive? Flight fares are usually twice the First Class AC fares – and would this segment really bother about the 10% cash backs? Also, in this case the actual target segment would be inter-city travellers: essentially nearby cities like Chennai-Bangalore, Mumbai-Pune, Mumbai-Ahmedabad etc. In these routes its hard to get tickets on the mentioned classes in the first place! Those coaches fill-out even before the other classes do, as the trains have very few coaches belonging to these classes. On top of this, IRCTC allows only 10 bookings per month! And why a “frequent” traveller program with such a limitation?

Well I do not have any idea on the exact strategies behind these schemes, and whether they’re working as intended. But these are just my views, as an outside from whatever information is available to me!

So, who sells Fridges to Eskimos?

July 2nd, 2010 by Linus Xavier 3 comments »

I keep getting visitors to my blog, looking for “who sells fridges to eskimos”. Sorry – I dont. And, search engines with their LSI based search results point to my blog. See, how easy it is to fool LSI!

Anyway, selling fridges to eskimos is no big deal. Eskimos do need fridges to keep their food from freezing. For example, in Savoonga (Alaska) literally every home has a fridge. In fact, some houses have more than one.  But yeah, in case you were an Eskimo & looking for where to actually get a fridge – I seriously don’t know!

SEO without Keyword Research?

May 27th, 2010 by Linus Xavier No comments »

Many webmasters start off their SEO campaigns with link building, acquiring links from directories, article directories, and other websites. The flaw with this approach is – it is like building walls and floors without a proper foundation.
For starters, “Keyword Research” is the process of identifying the keywords for which one should optimize the website. A vast majority of the marketers go by instinct, or choose relevant keywords at random.  Now what’s wrong with this?

Keyword Research

1.    First mistake is with the number of keywords chosen. Choose a limited number of keywords to promote your webpage.  The smaller your keyword list is, the more focused (and hence stronger) will be your SEO efforts. A lot of marketers choose a big list of keywords – like 15+ keywords for a page which is bound to fail in most cases. It is advisable to keep the number of keywords to about 5 – 10.

2.    Choose the keywords than can bring in traffic. What is the point in optimizing your site for keywords that can’t bring in traffic? For example, let us assume that you optimize your site for keyword “cancer treatment” for a website on which you provide information on cancer. However, your customers actually search for “cancer therapy”, then you probably don’t get visitors!

Again, choosing highly competitive keywords won’t help. For example, there are hundreds of websites including big players like Amazon, NewEgg etc trying to sell iPhones online and they’re competing for the keyword “buy iphone”. Well competing with the big-shots would be expensive and wouldn’t yield much fruit. It is wiser to go for moderately competitive keywords. Here, I’d like to bring a term I discussed in my earlier post : KEI – Keyword Effectiveness Index. KEI is a measure of the attractiveness of a keyword. Higher the KEI, more attractive is the keyword to optimize. KEI is essentially the ratio of number of searches on the keyword per month to the number of search results on Google (assumed to be the competition).

KEI’s effectiveness in measuring the effectiveness of a keyword is debatable – I’ll discuss that in one of my later posts.

3.    Finally, the selling potential of the keywords. If your goal is to simply drive traffic to your website, then this isn’t applicable. But if you’re trying to sell something, or get registrations this is an important factor. Let us assume that you’re trying to sell iPhones. But if you promote using keywords like “free iphone” you will get traffic (visitors) but the visitors wouldn’t really buy on your website – because they’re looking for a free iPhone! This case is pretty obvious, but may not be the same always. Tracking CPC (cost per conversion) is essential.

Whether you put your efforts on link building & other aspects of SEO or not – Keyword Research must be done!

Getting the SEO & SEM Strategies right

April 25th, 2010 by Linus Xavier 2 comments »

Different people use different definitions for SEM. Some think, SEO is a branch of SEM while others believe that SEO & SEM are exclusive. According to this definition, SEO is aimed at organic search results while SEM is about paid search results. But yeah, whats in the name.. For this discussion we’ll assume that SEO & SEM are exclusive so that we don’t mix them up.

SEO & SEM strategies are very much dependent on each other. Some might claim that “Google says organic & paid results are totally independent”. Ofcourse, I agree. But when you talk about strategy they need to go together.

I’ll explain how. SEM is a blessing in disguise for SEO efforts. It takes SEO, weeks if not months to deliver results. Generally, a SEO campaign is started by figuring out the keywords to target, based on the KEI (Keyword Effectiveness Index). KEI is a rough measure of competition for a keyword. Higher the competition, lower is the KEI. For a keyword like “newyork flowers” the KEI would be low since the competition is pretty high. Now, what this means is – targetting such a keyword isn’t good as it is difficult to get on top of the competition.

Now, the good thing about KEI is that it can be calculated instantly. The bad part is, KEI is a very bad indicator of the commercial effectivess of a keyword. For example, a keyword like “free hosting” may not lead to too many sales though it might have a high KEI. So, eventually you want to sell stuff online – not simply get “window-shoppers”! In this case it is obvious that someone searching for “free hosting” has less probability of buying webspace. It may not be so obvious in most cases. For example if you’re selling SEO services, someone searching for “easy SEO” or “SEO software” may not be too much interested in your services.

So, here the $-value of keywords gain importance than the KEI figures. the dollar-value is a measure of the selling capacity of a keyword. A keyword like “buy persian carpet” would have a higher $-value than “persian carpet”, as the user has explicitly has mentioned his desire to buy one. We’re just talking about probabilities here, and these needn’t be strictly true. One good thing about $-value of keywords is that it can be obtained quickly from SEM campaigns, as with high spends the numbers stabilize fast. The most effective SEO strategy would be to target those keywords with good KEI as well as $-value. Obviously keywords with high $-value would have high competition and hence low KEIs. Here lies the challenge in front of the marketer – finding the right keywords that balance both KEIs & $-values!

Wikinomics and its impact on Marketing

March 13th, 2010 by Linus Xavier No comments »

Wikinomics, a term coined by Don Tapsott refers to the mass collaboration model to build products. Be it web based or otherwise. While at first stance it might appear that mass collaboration is practical only for certain “kind” of products, we must realise that we build products suiting the requirements of the customers.  We are already taking the consumer inputs, however to a very less extent. Mass collaboration takes it to the next level. Now, how does this affect us – the marketers?

Traditional advertising, even on internet was out-bound  – placing obtrusive banners & pop-ups interrupting with the usage of websites. The big-fishes with deep-pockets can still afford big campaigns & reach targets better.  However, Social Networks have enabled even the smallest marketer with innovative ideas spread the word virally, with the lowest marketing budgets.
Marketing should focus on turning businesses into thought leaders, rather than promoting  products directly.  For example, Apple positions itself as a thought leader in Innovation. They should provide platforms for potential customers to get credible & authentic information on related technology. This is the way to build a stable customer base & hence become a thought leader.

Customers are becoming a part of Product development – hence Prosumers. Apple’s plug-in base, Firefox plug-ins etc were all built by users. Businesses should be willing to accept customers in the product development process  & leverage it.

Now, we see a totally new relationship between Marketers & Customers
a.    Customers are no longer just customers, they become part of the product development – Prosumers.
b.    Marketers & Consumers become partners in creating value

Isn’t that fantastic!

“Arrogant” Branding

November 17th, 2009 by Linus Xavier 3 comments »

With businesses trying to position themselves differently to attract specific segments, certain products and services require clients to recognize you as an expert in what you do. For example, if you are offering a service which is not easy for the client to handle themselves then your clients are looking for experts, not someone who can simply do the job. A typical example – web hosting. The client knows the importance of uninterrupted hosting, and importance of data security. However, usually he doesn’t have the technical expertise to handle the server. So, what does he look for : an expert. Not someone “who also” runs a webhosting service.

Now, what has this got to with the subject of this post ? Well showing arrogance in branding a product, is one effective way of showing your expertise. Revlon’s founder Charles Revson once said “I don’t meet competition. I crush it”. In other words, he says “My business & product are much superior than anyone else”.

Web Hosting giant Hostgator.com’s tagline is ‘We eat up the competition’. They’re positioning themselves as experts in hosting, confident about their business. Hundreds of “cheap” hosting providers entered the market, with “over-selling” as their business model, when a big chunk of clients were actually looking at cheap hosting options. However, most of them have been wiped off the map.

So, there you go. “Arrogance” in branding isn’t a bad idea at all!