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Search THIS: Bright Lights, Search City

Search THIS: Bright Lights, Search City Kevin Ryan

Flashing lights, hordes of people, tangible energy and industry personalities fluttering about in a frenzy. Oscar party? No. Political fundraiser? Not quite. It was a search engine marketing (SEM) trade show. Last week, Search Engine Strategies arrived in New York in a 4-day, multi-tiered session format with unprecedented attendance. Even organizer Danny Sullivan found the response a bit overwhelming. So did yours truly.

Search Engine Strategies (SES) has long been heralded as the granddaddy of search marketing shows. But I have to be candid here; I have never seen anything like this. The usual SES small- to medium-enterprise audience interlaced with big brands like Procter & Gamble. Agency-world legend Saatchi and Saatchi sounding off about search. Two floors of exhibit hall space at one of the largest hotel venues in the city.

Can search get any hotter?

With four days and more than 50 sessions, it seemed no search marketing stone was left unturned. Packed sessions included morning keynotes, detailed perspectives on the future of search, going local, brand ownership and a little thing called paid inclusion. Despite having a comprehensive session architecture, the demanding audience seemed to steer panel discussion toward hot topics du jour. Here are the highlights.

Brand Litigation

Everyone with legal representation and a dream is suing Google. Who holds sway over your brand’s keywords in search? You do. With several lawsuits pending and Google asking the Federal courts for a little guidance, it is anyone’s game. Topics included best practices for policing affiliate keyword use -- if you aren’t bidding, let them -- and how to avoid confusion for consumers searching for your brand.

In the short term, it seems the best way to help avoid consumer dismay lies in discussion with search providers in the vein of keeping search results relevant.  For the long term, further case law will have the final say.

Geographic Proximity Relevance

Lat week, comScore announced the launch qSearch Local, which they describe as “the first service to measure localized Web search behavior” along with a hot stat -- over 200 million local searches are conducted each month. Verizon and FindWhat jumped into the sack together to form the first IYP pay-for-performance hybrid. Overture continues to test local search options while Yahoo is integrating local information into its search platform. Switchboard rocked the local search world with an easy-to-use, intuitive learning algorithm.

After sessions on local search, attendees still had more questions than answers. What is the difference between searching locally to purchase and searching for information in geography? How will pay-per-click (PPC) providers get their hands on good information?

Answer: users want relevant, accurate local information, so we better figure it out soon. Can you hear me now?

Inclusion, the FTC and Not Necessarily News

Yahoo/Overture announced changes to their inclusion system.  Proponents of inclusion say it is a really great way to increase relevant search content while bringing some desperately needed organization to the new Yahoo/Overture/Inktomi family. Opponents now include the likes of FTC-types suggesting paid ads still need to be labeled as “sponsored” (inclusion listings are not labeled as such), and small business owners who say the program will squash their ability to get listed.

Worst Practices

Deceitful doorway pages, captious cloaking practices and precariously persnickety fees were all a buzz at the show. Comments ranged from, “back in the day, some of these evil tricks were not a problem, because no one thought they were evil,” to, “why on earth would one want to trick a search engine?” It’s about rankings, or the lack thereof.

Word of advice to the evil doers: obey the rules or pay the price with a permanent listing penalty.  

Agencies in SEM?

The battle for SEM ownership came home as agency representatives from Carat, Saatchi, Outrider, SiteLab, and yours truly, profiled not only the trials and tribulations facing search agencies, but the differences that exist between search optimizers and agencies. Popular buzz has long placed the traditional interactive agency in the back seat of search marketing since a specialized need set is required to implement an effective search marketing program. Research presented by our moderator, Jupiter Research senior analyst Gary Stein provided scope for the upcoming battle between SEM’s and agencies in Jupiter survey results profiling the importance and magnitude of search needs.

Key takeaway: get ready for an all out SEM land grab.

Best of Show

The overall winner at search engine strategies had to be the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO). In a few short months, this organization has seen tremendous growth in awareness, membership and fundraising. In one of my sessions, I polled the audience as to how many people have heard of SEMPO. Nearly everyone raised their hands. I ran into SEMPO president and founder Barbara Cole near the exhibit hall. She was pleased with the new Google sponsorship and indicated new sponsors are coming in at high frequency.  It seems this organization’s clout and power are growing like mad. The question is, what do you intend to do with it?

About the author: iMedia search columnist Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. If these bios actually said anything important about people, wouldn’t it go something like this? Kevin Ryan is really nice guy with a big heart. He loves his mom, his country, dogs and helps old ladies across the street whenever possible. If Kevin suddenly found out he had a short time to live, he would devote his remaining days to righting as many wrongs as he could in the world.

Meet Kevin Ryan at Ad:Tech May 24-26th, 2004 and the iMedia Learning Search Tour.

For help with finding Search Engine Marketing help, please visit
iMedia's Search Engine Connection

"Nothing" happens more often than you might realize. While there is no official count of unused applications, stagnating Facebook pages, or inactive communities, the social media landscape is burdened with dead weight. These types of failures tend to slip away quietly with little fanfare. They don't ignite passion -- they don't really accomplish anything, except perhaps waste time, money, and space.

To illustrate, let's look at social media efforts from Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, competitors in the weight loss category.

Readily identified social media initiatives include forums, blogs, Facebook pages, applications, and so forth. And while there have been clear efforts, minimal activity can be observed across the board. Jenny Craig's blogs featuring its spokespersons have no real interaction between the brand and its customers. Jenny Craig's Facebook page, for the most part, is a health tracker application, which appears to have launched May 2008 with a few members and almost no interaction or posts from the brand. Jenny Craig's Wikipedia page is also not current.

Weight Watchers' Twitter page contains all of three tweets, all posted Feb. 22. It has been silent ever since, although it has 1,167 followers. Rather than interact with these existing followers and build its following, it directs folks to its Facebook page.

This page appears to have recently launched; therefore, it's too early to tell how active it will be or how this launch will potentially reflect lessons learned from its other earlier initiatives or from its customers' initiatives, which include a highly active, populated Facebook page targeted at college students.

Lesson learned
Have a clear goal in mind for social media programs, and focus efforts on achieving it. Know your audience. Create something of mutual value. Observe and listen to what your customers are already doing and saying. Recognize that certain aspects of social media require an ongoing commitment. If you discover that you miscalculated your resources or a path you chose was not ideal or suited to your objectives, then regroup to move positively forward. Create your own definition of success against the available opportunities and align your programs, resources, and expectations accordingly. 

Backlash is not necessarily a sign of failure. Backlash can be valuable feedback and an opportunity to have a meaningful exchange with key influencers in your market. And sometimes it is best to just ignore it. It is important to consider the source when you experience a backlash, understand the potential ramifications, and have a response plan in place -- before it happens. We must know when and how to communicate. The real failure is not being prepared to respond.

Many may recall the response to Johnson & Johnson's Motrin ad featuring a mom complaining that, while wearing your baby is "in fashion," it can cause back and neck pain. This put Twitter moms into a tizzy. In response to the backlash, the brand pulled the ad, issued an apology, and sent personal apologies to select bloggers. Did you know that according to a Lightspeed Research survey, almost 90 percent of women had never even seen the ad? Of those who did, around 45 percent actually liked it, 41 percent had no feelings about it, and only about 15 percent didn't like it. Most notably, even fewer (8 percent) said it had a negative impact on their feelings about the brand, and 32 percent said it made them like the brand more!

More than likely, the folks at Motrin were not prepared for the backlash they experienced. Sometimes we can't anticipate a backlash no matter how well we think we understand our consumer and no matter how much research or testing we do. The company's failure was that it did not anticipate a potential negative response and prepare for it. It is difficult to second guess, but if the company had a response plan in place up front, would it have reacted differently?

Lesson learned
Understand your audience before engaging with it. Anticipate any and all potential backlash. Experienced PR folks know this all too well. Have a response plan in place. Avoid a knee-jerk reaction. Even if the plan you have ready doesn't fit the specific situation, having gone through the thinking will make you better prepared to act quickly and effectively, and to adjust as needed.

"Cruise Critic is owned by Expedia, the giant, billion-dollar airfare search engine. Expedia also owns Trip Advisor. Did you know that? So Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor, far from being small entities run by idealistic travel commentators, are both parts of an immense, faceless, profit-making corporate entity... "

This was written by legendary travel writer Arthur Frommer in response to a social media effort by Royal Caribbean. Royal Caribbean sought out and rewarded people who posted positive comments about its cruises on boards like Cruise Critic, a move that was met with public outcry.

In addition to the negative buzz, searches on Royal Caribbean returned results such as these:

Public Relations: Royal Caribbean Caught Infiltrating Review Sites ...
Mar 8, 2009 ... Meet the "Royal Caribbean Champions," a group of fifty prolific posters to popular online communities that Royal Caribbean rewards with ...
consumerist.com/5166291/royal-caribbean-caught-infiltrating-review-sites-with-viral-marketing-team - Similar pages

Frommer Weighs In On Royal Caribbean Champions - Jeanne Leblanc ...
Mar 19, 2009 ... Arthur Frommer has joined those who are questioning the value of user reviews and user-generated content in the wake of the Royal Caribbean ...
blogs.courant.com/travel_columnists_leblanc/2009/03/frommer-weighs-in-on-royal-car.html - 30k -

Recently we have also seen "ghost bloggers," those who blog or tweet on behalf of others, outed as well. This happens more with regard to celebrities than brands.

The Britney Spears Twitter stream has actually become a model of transparency. At one time, it appeared that the tweets were all written by Britney personally. However, more recently it has been made clear that others are tweeting. Some are signed Britney, but others by her manager or her social media director.

And Guy Kawasaki, chief executive of alltop.com, who has more than 113,000 followers on Twitter, acknowledges that his staff tweets for him. 

Lesson learned
In this case, believe what you read. Transparency is crucial to social media success and establishing trust and credibility. If you are going to reward, incite, invite, and schmooze bloggers, be upfront about it -- and ask the bloggers to be transparent as well. If you are blogging or tweeting on behalf of someone else, be upfront about that as well.

Brands develop social media platforms to establish dialogue and connect with consumers, but it can sometimes end up as a platform for abuse or negativity. While it may be painful to see negative feedback about your brand, it can also be highly instructional, informative, and valuable. However, if negativity encroaches outside of the brand, it can deflect from the objectives of the effort and project negatively on your brand.

Skittles recently launched a site integrating multiple social applications including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia, in a gesture to allow consumers to define the brand. Users started posting racial slurs, profanity, and other inappropriate comments. Skittles apparently decided to allow the community to manage itself (or not) as illustrated in the comment below from "Summerstar1227."

I think people are blowing this out of proportion. Skittles is a candy… usually marketed towards kids. Why do adults feel the need to go on a website mostly directed towards children and swear and say rude things? Grow up already! More like freedom of ignorance, not speech.

Nevertheless, many pundits were quick to condemn it as a social media "failure." Skittles' seeming decision not to filter or respond directly is not necessarily a failure, but it does illustrate to brands the importance of monitoring these platforms and being prepared to respond in a way that aligns with a brand's image and objectives.

Lesson learned
What one might consider a failure may be a success to someone else, depending on the desired outcome. Decisions about how to respond (or not), filter, participate, or moderate should be made based on consideration of how each approach would reflect the brand persona and objectives of the effort. 

The degrees of success or failure will also differ as viewed by distinctly different stakeholders and constituents. It is impossible to determine failure without clearly defined criteria for success. The failure occurs when you don't know your options, consider your constituents, and plan upfront accordingly.

In social media, particularly if you are a big brand or make a bold move, everyone is watching. Opinions -- good and bad -- will be held and expressed, but in the end, your success will depend on how well you have prepared and how well you have established your unique set of success standards.

There are plenty of highly visible, epic so-called "failures" that folks are quick to point out in social media -- and many more small, quiet ones. However, in most cases there are elements of success that can be launch pads for future successes and lessons learned. 

Thanks are due to the aforementioned brands for being among those that took a risk to benefit all of us. These examples may well be a snapshot in time and not fully representative of their current and future successes -- or that of any other brand.

The overall lesson here? Plan for success, prepare for failure.

Denise Zimmerman is president and chief strategy officer of NetPlus Marketing Inc. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dzimmerman.

Without question, Facebook should be home to your fan community. While some might argue that it's important from a branding standpoint to provide an outlet for discussion, the sheer volume of Facebook users is enough to drive marketers to select Facebook in this case. For instance, on the Coca-Cola Facebook page, there is a constant flow of new topics of discussion and declarations of fandom all day, every day. This is very good for the brand. Facebook and its viral functionality make it easy for Coke fans to share and connect.

Although Facebook pages are not as branding-friendly as most marketers would like, the Coke page offers an experience similar to what one would expect from a traditional web presence. It has a "home" section, a section with photos and videos of Coke, links to contests, and additional Coke social media channels like Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. With the new addition of Facebook tagging for brand pages, there are also more opportunities for Facebook users to serve as advocates for the brand. And of course we are seeing that peer endorsements are more influential among users than commercials or celebrity endorsements.

Major League Baseball offers another example of an active fan community on Facebook. The San Francisco Giants, for example (in case you're wondering, yes, there is a hometown bias here), offer users the ability to interact with other fans and engage in discussions on everything from tips for an Australian fan attending his first Giants game to player sightings to weather updates before you head out to the stadium.

At this point, the same photos and videos found on your brand's website should be hosted on Facebook as well. By hosting this content on the Facebook hub, you're inviting users to engage with your collateral in a more meaningful way than if you were to simply throw them up on the web and never look at them again.

For instance, before viewing photos and videos of the next installment of the popular EA Sports gaming franchise Madden, Facebook users must "like" the game's page. Upon doing so, they will be greeted with a wealth of content, such as a behind-the-scenes look at the photo shoot for the game's cover. These photos and videos garner hundreds, if not thousands, of "likes" from users. While the number isn't astronomical, it's still far more engagement than one would get from a traditional website.

More brands are beginning to allow users to manage their subscriptions to rewards cards or other special offer programs through Facebook. One such company is Starbucks. Using Facebook, users can check the status of their Starbucks Card at any time. This makes perfect sense for an audience that is already on Facebook each day.

In May, Facebook reintroduced Facebook Questions, reviving the service as a means of polling users on certain issues. As you might expect, brands are already leveraging this functionality to drive more engagement among users. Once such brand is the NHL, which took advantage of the polling service to acquire viewers for the Stanley Cup. As you see in the screenshot, it was able to garner 25,822 votes in less than a day.

Although it's still a relatively new addition to Facebook, look for more brands and companies to leverage the polls section to serve as an informal means of determining consumer sentiment. While it's obviously not as targeted as a focus group, it can be a potent tool for any brand marketing on the platform.

While some companies are testing the waters with Facebook and seeing what works and what is ineffective for their brand, other companies are going all out and fully integrating their products into the platform. Take, for instance, the popular clothing company Express, which has added its entire catalog of clothing to its Facebook page. In addition to purchasing clothes from the Facebook page, users can also share their favorite items or suggest gift ideas to their friends via the share button.

It's not for everyone -- yet
As it stands, not every brand should move its entire consumer-facing web presence to Facebook. Although Facebook has proven to be a powerful tool for engaging consumers, there are still some aspects of web development that are ahead of Facebook in terms of user experience. But companies with forward-thinking marketers should move aspects of their web presence to Facebook and carefully monitor the increase or decrease in engagement among consumers.

It's not for everyone just yet, but we might one day live in a world where it's not just five things that should live on Facebook, but perhaps your brand's entire online identity. But not yet.

Adam Boyden is president of Conduit.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Social activity is a different way of looking at what happens in the social realm -- not the medium itself, but what people are doing on it. Social activity is the quiz app I'm using on my iPhone, it's the social game I'm playing, it's me checking in to let my friends know where I am, and it's me talking about the things I care about in an online community of people who care about the same thing.

From an advertising perspective, trying to target an audience engaged in social activity by only focusing on the "social media" where the activity is taking place would be a major mistake. I think it's about time to build upon everything we've learned about digital in the last decade and write a new playbook based on social activity.

It begins with knowing the audience you're trying to reach: You need to figure out what they're doing online. This takes a lot of work and experience, but is critical in today's social world. We've found that Mom, for example, loves to share pictures, swap recipes, ask other moms for parenting advice, and play social games. In fact, Mom does these things at much higher levels than anyone else on the web. Here's how you can think about reaching her:

  • Perform activity: Mom performs an activity such as joining a recipe-swapping community online

  • Social ad: You deliver Mom a premium, rich-media ad in the stream of the activity itself. If it is relevant to the activity performed, it becomes part of the activity she has engaged in. Maybe it's a special Stouffer's recipe with a coupon for ingredients.

  • Engage: Mom engages the ad through a number of social calls-to-action. This should be determined by the objectives of the campaign. Maybe she clicks through to the brand site or Facebook page, shares the recipe on her news feed, downloads a coupon, registers for more information, or clicks to earn virtual currency or rewards.

Why will social activity become the anchor of online advertising? Because you're reaching people where they're most active -- in communities, on their mobile devices, and in their social games -- and delivering high-impact message at scale. It's already possible to reach hundreds of millions of people performing billions of social activities each month, and that number is only going to grow.

Today, millions of people post photos, create statuses, play games, check in, send virtual goods, and take polls. This is activity -- and focusing on activity means focusing on people. It means trying to understand what people are doing and why they're doing it. Let's think about this for a second. When was the last time an advertiser asked people what they were doing or a sales executive sold you on why people engage in some sort of action?

Instead, the conversation has been focused on how big a site is, how many impressions it has, and how many unique visitors it gets according to Nielsen or comScore. Do we really think these are the right questions to ask when it comes to leveraging social activity for a brand?

Just remember that just as video, behavioral targeting, and search have shaped the digital landscape over the last few years, social activity will shape 2011 and beyond in a big way. It will become part of media planners' recommendations, it will get large chunks of budget, and it will be a must-buy for advertisers. We are, quite literally, going through our own great advertising migration toward social activity. The question now is will we see any wildebeests take a different turn. When they do, I hope that others follow.

Chris Cunningham is co-founder and CEO of appssavvy.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Too many clicks isn't a big deal

Many of us have been religiously trained not to bury the content our users seek. Even now, the retort of "it's too many clicks" is frequently the death-knell at a creative review. With large monitors and small mice, this was a valid concern. But in the mobile space, it's not a one-size-fits-all philosophy for a few reasons.

On smaller form factors, it's easy to find buttons and other affordances without thumb gymnastics. Check out Sony's responsive navigation for an example of how deeper structures can be navigated easily.

Source: Thanks to Brad Frost for his great article, in which he went to the trouble of making .gif movies for us to view.

For a tablet, the same goes. However, designers must consider how the user will be holding the device and how much information needs to be displayed. Mashable's iOS tablet UI can make it easier to browse through smaller numbers of high-level categories and leave room for rich content. This is particularly nice for laptop computing and sitting down.

Additionally, numerous clicks can be a benefit if a user is trying to digest complex content. Long, overwhelming pages of data can be frustrating to internalize on a big screen, never mind the smaller ones. For example, in a study done by Jakob Nielsen, it was determined that users retained 18.93 percent of the data they were shown on a smartphone versus 39.18 percent on a monitor.

Maximizing data for the sake of minimizing clicks can, at times, not only frustrate your user, but it can also impair task completion. For this reason, it is better to give users small, digestible chunks of data and let them parse through. This is really a function of the content being displayed, however, and how it's intended to be consumed. Data-rich tables are great for data retention, but a reading experience constantly interrupted by page loads is not.

Affordances can be minimized

One of the old design mantras was to make sure that anything interactive on the page was completely obvious. When engaging content with a keyboard and mouse, this makes perfect sense. Keyboards add a layer of abstraction to the content when compared to touch. Dragging a mouse is harder than swiping a finger and requires a greater cognitive load. For example, pointing and swiping is easier to do than clicking, holding, and dragging. Because it's easier and more natural, it encourages play and exploration.

The fact that touch encourages this free-form interaction allows designers more latitude in how they display content. By using movement to hint at information or creating finger-friendly experiences that encourage touching, more functionality can be incorporated with less clutter on the page. For example, the interaction design of Paper by FiftyThree's sketchbook app enables users to swipe to turn from page to page. Not only does this promote the "sketchbook" feel of the app, but it also frees the screen from obstruction.

Source http://support.fiftythree.com/fiftythree/topics/colour_palette

When designing an application, interface designers should examine whether there are obvious metaphors or areas that the finger will travel. Interaction on a smaller screen is more likely to be found, and it trains users to continue exploring. Another example of relying on exploration versus explicit placement of information is Facebook's mobile interface. Swiping sideways at the top of the iOS app exposes the navigation.

Source http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=274858025896557

So don't be afraid to downplay some interactions on the page; there is a good chance that users will find them. That said, don't bury anything critical. And unless you are very sure of your user base, always offer simple and straightforward paths to content. So long as fundamental interactions are obvious to new users, per Jakob Nielsen, then hidden shortcuts will only benefit experts.

Navigation can move

It used to be that there was only one digital channel: the desktop world wide web. In the realm of the web, hiding navigation was tantamount to suicide; if anything, the trend was to expose more and more information. From the emergence of the DHTML expanding navigation in the late '90s to its evolution into the type of big box navigation seen on ESPN, information architects worked to ensure users could quickly and easily learn what was where on a website.

Source http://espn.go.com/

Nowadays, on smaller form factors, other options need to be considered. Navigation needs to be included and must be easy to understand and learn, but designers no longer have the luxury of elevating everything.

The responsive build of the Boston Globe is an excellent example of how large navigation can be minimized for smaller form factors. Responsive design, the concept of building one interface that can be redrawn depending on a user agent's screen size, takes one treatment of navigation and shows it in multiple different ways. To see this, open BostonGlobe.com on your desktop and then resize the window. Note how the screen keeps redrawing.

At the largest level, we see everything exposed. However, as we drill into the tablet and smartphone sizes, navigation becomes smaller and more concealed. At the smallest form factor, the navigation is hidden under a tap, and even once exposed, it is prioritized with other options available under a second click.

Horizontal scrolling is no longer forbidden

With the exception of more artistic or edgy sites, horizontal scrolling was considered to be a terrible design decision. Users did not want the hassle of pointing their mouse at the bottom of the screen, and scrolling away from the navigation was considered death to decent usability. However, with the advent of smaller touch screens, as well as minimized navigation schemas, it's safe to use the horizontal scroll on mobile devices. In fact, some information treatments rely on it to create a compelling and informative experience. Check out Pulse, for example, where users can scroll and view news stories.

Finally, it was always considered bad practice to have different user interfaces for different platforms. It made sense from a long-term cost of ownership perspective, but constraints imposed by browsers like IE6 could really limit a team's creativity. However, now that everything is so fragmented, businesses are sometimes better off picking their main channels and focusing on them. Additionally, because of the multitude of form factors and interfaces, there is room for engaging and innovative differentiation. For example, were one to Google the local weather on a desktop, the interface would be very different from the tappable screens on the iPad.

There is no question that the way content is designed for the mobile web is changing drastically as more and more devices come to market. The common sense rules that governed information presentation and great desktop design no longer apply, and it's crucial that brand managers and design strategists reconsider what makes a great design.

Where before information hierarchies were flat and fewer clicks was a laudable end goal, now designers can combine smart button placement and encourage tapping. Tappable areas don't always need to be immediately apparent; instead, advanced users can discover the interactions through exploration. Navigation links can be hidden on smaller form factors, where before it was considered insane not to have them immediately available. Scrolling, once the bane of good information design, is now an integral part of a solid mobile look and feel.

As teams consider how they will build out their web designs to apply across multiple form factors, it's crucial that they throw away the old rulebook, spend some time exploring, and boldly venture into the new world -- with new rules and new opportunities.

Evan Gerber is VP of mobile user experience at Fidelity Investments.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"An illustration of a fist" image and "education concept" image via Shutterstock.

Kevin Ryan founded the strategic consulting firm Motivity Marketing in April 2007. Ryan is known throughout the world as an interactive marketing thought leader, particularly in the search marketing arena. Today's Motivity is a group of...

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