Blog, podcast and RSS advertising are the fastest growing segments of the alternative media industry, as combined spending surged 198.4 percent to $20.4 million in 2005, according to a new report by custom media researcher PQ Media. Aggregate spending on the three alternative media segments is projected to grow another 144.9 percent to $49.8 million in 2006, the report found.
But while blog advertising accounted for $16.6 million, or 81.4 percent of total spending on user-generated online media in 2005, podcast advertising is expected to be a larger market by 2010, according to Blog, Podcast and RSS Advertising Outlook, the first of five installments in PQ Media's Alternative Media Research series. The culmination of more than six months of primary research, this series is the first source to define, size and forecast the burgeoning alternative media sector.
Podcast advertising is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 154.4 percent to $327 million in 2010, while blog ad spending will rise 78.4 percent to $300.4 million in the same time frame. Key factors driving the growth of podcast over blog advertising are the medium's audio and visual components, as well as the reluctance of some marketers to advertise near non-favorable content. Meanwhile, RSS advertising, non-existent until mid-2005, generated $650,000 in 2005 and is projected to grow to $129.6 million in 2010.
"Blog, podcast and RSS advertising are being driven by some of the same factors boosting the growth of the overall alternative media sector: continued audience fragmentation, the perceived ineffectiveness of traditional advertising, and the elusive but coveted 18- to 34-year-old demographic," says Patrick Quinn, president of PQ Media. "Blog, podcast and RSS advertising have demonstrated an ability to reach younger demographics as well as influentials, and the media tend to be highly engaging. These are attractive trends to brand marketers that are focused on return on investment."
Technology, auto and media brands are the most active in user-generated media advertising, accounting for more than half of total advertising spending in 2005, the report stated, with the food and beverage and apparel categories rounding out the top five. Technology, auto and media categories will continue to generate more than half of all advertising in 2010, PQ Media says.
The relatively small size of these markets is an indication of the newness of the media, the lack of standard metrics and various technology issues, says Quinn. "As advertising networks become more effective, user engagement escalates, and the industry works through its technology and measurement issues, we expect user-generated media to grow at triple-digit rates over the next five years," he adds.
Total spending on user-generated online media is forecast to grow at a compound annual rate of 106.1 percent from 2005 to 2010, reaching $757.0 million in 2010, according to the report. By comparison, the overall alternative media industry, including branded entertainment, digital out-of-home advertising, and mobile marketing, among others, is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 14.8 percent in the five-year period to $253.7 billion in 2010.
PQ Media's Alternative Media Research Series will also include reports covering all 22 segments of the alternative advertising and marketing industry, such as the first report to size and forecast the global market for branded entertainment in June. These publications are available through PQ Media’s website.
An executive summary of Blog, Podcast and RSS Advertising Outlook is available online.
PQ Media is a provider of alternative advertising and marketing research. The firm also delivers exclusive data and information on traditional media, including advertising, marketing services, consumer and business media and media usage. Founded in 2002, PQ Media has two major practice areas through which it provides custom and syndicated research to major marketers, agencies, media companies and financial institutions.
Becoming subject matter experts on such a wide array of topics, platforms and software applications has significantly raised the bar of aggressive SEO campaigns. Clients are looking to SEO departments to drive traffic to their sites from a variety of search engines as well as referral domains while continuing to increase and maintain their search engine ranking. However, the two go hand in hand because generating traffic from a number of sources will aid rankings through link-building, which will in turn stimulate traffic.
This new SEO focus is more aligned with the way search engines want to rank websites. For them, if you have a great site with impressive content, users will visit it, search for it and talk about it. While not perfect, this is one step closer to truly organic search engine optimization.
This growing scope also means that the way to gauge the success of an SEO campaign will change. It is no longer only about rankings and search engine referrals. Brand exposure, increased branded search queries and referrals from search marketing targeted domains are possible key indicators of how well an organic media campaign fares.
I would like to caution that this all-encompassing SEO strategy is not suitable for every client. Expanding beyond "traditional SEO" -- if there is such a thing -- to this progressive, pervasive organic medium should be executed after clients have solid SEO fundamentals in place. Once rankings are solidified and clients are ready to do more, they can begin to look at their SEO efforts through a broader lens. As with any SEO campaign, it is hard to guarantee results, but if successful, the rankings are definitely invaluable.
Another point worth mentioning is that clients should be prepared for failure with this kind of organic campaign. Since there are no standard metrics yet established, if an organic campaign fails to materialize, clients will have little insight into what went wrong. It is not right for everyone, but there is an increasing need for organic media campaigns.
After so many clients requested to increase SEO efforts and diversify their scope of referral sites, at Geary, we reorganized our search marketing department to better distinguish between organic and paid media. Previously, there was a media department and search marketing department that executed both paid and organic search campaigns. Now, under the umbrella of a "Reach Department," Geary's organic and paid media teams work for the combined goal of increasing the reach of our clients' brand and content on the internet.
The change is to better align the thought processes and reporting of our search and media departments. Our paid media team (pay-per-click, banner ads, sponsorships, etc.) report and track the number of impressions, clicks and conversions; whereas our organic media team tracks rankings, ratings and brand exposure along with conversions. Research and data from paid media helps the organic team plan their online campaigns, but there is no direct correlation between paid efforts and SEO rankings. So with this change, all service offerings that produce SEO benefits are in the same sub-department.
This way, we are better able to define and distribute organic budgets across a broader spectrum of platforms, which will ultimately generate traction on search engines. The organic media team will also be able to create high-quality content on multiple referral domains to allow for maximum visibility of the content.
We are not steering away from standard search engine optimization by any means, but we are trying to position ourselves to service the changing needs of our clients. Things are always changing around here, and the best way to put is that organic media is the new SEO.
Google Analytics (GA)
From Wikipedia: Google Analytics "is a free service offered by Google that generates detailed statistics about the visitors to a website. The product is aimed at marketers as opposed to webmasters and technologists from which the industry of web analytics originally grew. It is the most widely used website statistics service, currently in use at around 57 percent of the 10,000 most popular websites. Another market share analysis claims that Google Analytics is used at around 49.95 percent of the top 1,000,000 websites (as currently ranked by Alexa)."
Wow! That's amazing penetration for any tool, even if it is free.
- Visitor data: new versus returning visitors, what geolocation the visit is originating from, to what language the users' browsers are set, how long in time and how many pages are viewed in each visit, etc.
- Traffic data: from what sites users are coming, and what search engines, keywords, marketing campaigns, etc., are directing them to your site
- Goal data: what desirable actions users are taking on the site, such as orders (and revenue), what lead generation forms they're filling out, what videos they're watching, etc.
Out of the box, Google Analytics rivals even the most robust analytics tools, but the ceiling limitations are certainly felt if you really try to push the envelope; thus, larger websites usually require enterprise level (i.e., paid) solutions. However, for many small and mid-sized websites, GA represents a very crucial piece of the puzzle. To understand what kinds of users are visiting your site, what actions they're taking on the site, and what's influencing them to convert is incredibly valuable in driving optimization and content decisions. The interface is very intuitive, and even a novice user won't have trouble learning how to quickly garner deep insights. Google also supports the tool with a stellar learning center and certification program.
The question remains on what Google is actually doing with all of this data. GA was built upon the Urchin platform, which the company acquired in 2005 for a tidy sum (you can upgrade to a more-robust paid version of Urchin still), and certainly the development and bandwidth costs must be justified somehow within the organization. At the very least, Google is probably using the data aggregately and anonymously to better understand how web behavior is trending. Of course, wherever there's mystery, a minority of cynics wonders whether the data is being used for more nefarious purposes. For this reason, some site owners refuse to take advantage of this amazing free system -- but certainly many others don't have similar issues based on GA's impressive adoption rate. In my experience, I've seen website after website optimize its marketing ROI based on the data provided by this tool, and I feel it's a major competitive advantage for those using it.
In February 2010, Quantcast ranked third on Fast Company's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies on the Web list, behind Facebook and Google respectively. For the last several years, Quantcast has provided websites the opportunity to become "Quantified" (i.e., participate in a free aggregate site tagging program, using a propriety pixel, in order to gain more insight about the visitors to their sites). For site publishers, this allows them to understand the makeup of their site users in order to develop content and advertising solutions against a highly relevant target. Marketers also find value in this data, as they are able to find sites that match the demographic profiles of users they're trying to reach with advertising. In fact, Quantcast has branched out with a paid program that allows advertisers to tap into online display targeting based on this demographic data.
However, you don't have to implement the company's code on your site in order to take advantage of this tool. By simply typing any URL into Quantcast's search engine, you can immediately have access to very rich data on any site in its tagged network. Here's an example of what I found by searching on Hulu.com:
Some of the types of info you can get about a site from Quantcast, over a variety of date ranges, include:
- Traffic: visits, page views, unique visitors, etc.
- Demographic: gender, age, race, children in home, income level, education level, etc.
- Geographic: visitor makeup from countries, cities, states, DMAs
- Lifestyle: other sites the audience visits, what types of topical categories are of interest (for Hulu.com, the top three: music, humor, and fashion)
But as great as this free tool is, Quantcast's data has sometimes been scrutinized for accuracy, although the same can be said for even the biggest (paid) demographic tools in our industry. Additionally, Quantcast has come under some fire by privacy groups for "covert surveillance" with regards to persistent Flash cookies; but once again, it's not the only site to be targeted by these special interest groups.
Ultimately, Quantcast has done a great job providing data that had before been pretty much in the hands of paid (and sometimes very expensive) tools.
From 4Q's own FAQ: "4Q Free is a simple and 100 percent free product for companies of all sizes to reach out to their website visitors, capture their feedback, and use their insights to plan for success. The 4Q survey consists of four of the most important questions you can ask, each worded in a way to elicit the most statistically valid feedback possible."
Those four questions are:
1. Based on today's visit, how would you rate your site experience overall?
2. What was the primary purpose of your visit?
3. Were you able to complete the purpose of your visit today?
4.1. (If no) Please tell us why you were not able to fully complete the purpose of your visit today.
4.2. (If yes) What do you value most about the [company] website?
The survey invite is served up via a pop-up looking delivery. The site does allow some slight customization of the survey form, including the ability to add a few more (pre-loaded questions), but the format is fairly strict. Here's an example of what a user would see if he or she agreed to participate in the survey:
Why would a company want this data? As web analytics has evolved, the awareness of the importance of voice-of-the-customer (VOC) data has been raised. Historically, web analytics teams and tools do a great job of capturing traffic and visitor data. But without user input, it's hard to put this information into proper context. For example, a common strategy online is to try to increase visitor time spent on a website. But if users become annoyed at the various tactics used to keep them on the page longer, increasing time spent could actually have a negative effect. By gathering VOC data, sites can tap directly into feedback from real visitors in order to improve the overall user experience.
You're probably wondering, "Who even fills out these surveys?" Well, the response rates have traditionally been very low, but a site that has even just a few thousand visitors a month would be able to gather enough survey data over time to really provide some valuable information to its development teams. Larger, more visited sites would even have more finished surveys from which to pull these insights.
Compete.com is the brainchild of e-business guru Bill Gross, one of the main pioneers of the paid search industry that now brings in tens of billions annually around the globe. His company, Goto, eventually became Overture and was later purchased by Yahoo. It went on to become one of the biggest money-earning ventures in web history. In 2000, Gross created Compete.com to "organize the clicks we all make on the web. The vision was simple: If we all share our clicks, then each of us gets smarter by knowing what's happening across the web."
Compete.com has a PRO version with access to all of its data, but the free information is still pretty good. Here's one example of a 90-day search report for the term "iPad":
This is just scratching the surface of the kinds of data you can pull from the platform. Compete.com's free, self-service tools include:
- Compete Site Profile: site traffic history and competitive analytics
- Compete Search Analytics: discover keywords proven to drive engagement, analyze paid and natural search breakouts at the keyword level
- Compete Referral Analytics: learn where visitors go when they leave your site and identify new competitive threats
- Compete Ranked Lists: lists of the most popular sites across the internet, ranked by any metric available on Compete.com
Where do they get this data? According to Compete.com: "Compete's data comes from a statistically representative cross-section of 2 million consumers across the United States who have given permission to have their internet clickstream behaviors and opt-in survey responses analyzed anonymously as a new source of marketing research."
The one drawback I would point out is that Compete (almost annoyingly) urges you all over the site to upgrade to the PRO level (full disclosure, I am a client). In almost every free report, empty columns of scintillating blocked data will mock you. However, the free data is still worth checking out.
Google external keyword tool and Google Insights for Search
Of course, Google's going to shine when it comes to search analytics tools. Being one of the internet's data heavyweights and owning two of the world's top three search engines (Google.com and, yes, YouTube.com) put the company in a unique position to provide some of the most valuable search data on the planet.
The Google external keyword tool is a great way to find relevant keywords for your business as well as search volume and competition on those terms. You can start with a keyword (such as "iPad" in the example below) or input a website URL to let Google extract term ideas. There are category filters and other tools to help you slice and dice your results.
Google Insights for Search compares search volume patterns across specific regions, categories, time frames, and properties. Although Google doesn't give you the whole picture by offering actual data numbers, the trend lines and patterns are more than helpful enough to create some very interesting data insights. The example below, "Top 10 Celebrities in New York," shows an example on how you can sift through the information. If you're signed in to a Google AdWords account, you can get more real numbers.
Other ways to utilize Google Insights for Search include:
- Seasonality: Anticipate demand for your business so you can budget and plan accordingly. Examples: hotel in 2008, 2007, and apple in 2006 vs. 2007.
- Geographic distribution: Know where to find your customers. See how search volume is distributed across regions and cities. Examples: tickets in different US metro areas and pizza in Italy vs. the USA.
- Properties: See search patterns in other Google properties. Examples: New York Christmas shopping - 2008 and Home video technologies (shopping).
TubeMogul's initial concept was to provide a single tool that would allow video makers to upload their videos to all of the major sharing sites. This seemed like a no-brainer way to get in front of many more eyeballs rather than just uploading to YouTube. In addition, the company provided aggregate reporting to show how many views occur across all sites.
The folks over at TubeMogul must have gotten it right because their platform (and overall business vision) has grown since inception. Now, with the OneLoad video distribution service, video makers can view information on their uploads, as well as viewed minutes, second-by-second engagement, geographic tracking, embeds, and much more. Along with the analytics, the free service provides numerous content management tools that are an amazingly sweet deal.
TubeMogul has evolved itself into a fully fledged media buying and ad serving/optimization company (somewhat resembling -- but not exactly -- an ad network) that offers unique targeting based on its video analytics data and expertise. As well, the company offers a publisher-side tool that brings the analytics layer to on-site video players.
Mobile: AdMob Analytics (beta)
Tracking mobile sites with traditionally fixed web tools can sometimes get tricky due to the nuances of the mobile web. In 2008, a year before becoming part of the Google family tree, leading mobile ad network AdMob released AdMob Analytics. With the undeniable adoption power of Google Analytics, it's not a far stretch to think that AdMob Analytics might end up being its mobile cousin. After all, the trends point to the fact that, in the very near future, the mobile internet will eclipse the fixed web as the most common way to access the web. That's a lot of data up for grabs.
The system in still technically in beta right now and actually feels like a beta tool (i.e., it seems a little light). Sure, all of the standard metrics you would hope would be there are there, but there's still a ways to go until it becomes a truly powerful platform. However, even as I finish this column, AdMob's site promotes that real-time ticking number of 154,998,789 pages analyzed daily. Not bad.
The interface is slick and looks great. Here's a screenshot:
The paid services from competitors Bango and Amethon Mobile Analytics might arguably have more robust systems, but they're not totally free like this one. AdMob clearly states in its blog post introducing the product that its three objectives are to be completely and unconditionally free, easy to use, and accurate and actionable. I think the company has more than succeeded. If you want to take your mobile site's analytics to the next level for free before investing in a paid service, you might find that AdMob Analytics is the right tool -- and maybe you'll find it can do even better than that.
Social analytics: Social Mention
A light tool with a big punch, Social Mention bills itself as real-time social media search and analysis. Simply enter in a keyword set into its search engine, and you'll be transported to a nice little dashboard with results from all over the social sphere. Sources include blogs, microblogs, bookmarks, comments, events, images, news, video, audio, Q&A, and networks. It's not a robust buzz-tracking system such as a tool like Radian6, but it's pretty decent for a free data pull.
You'll not only see blog posts on the topic, but also a stab at sentiment, passion, reach, average minutes between mentions, etc. Check out this results page from a search on "Sheen dumped":
For a quick check on your competitors, your own brand, or other topics, Social Mention is a handy resource to keep in your digital toolbox.
Website testing: Google Website Optimizer (GWO)
This is Google's fourth appearance on this list, but for good reason. The company builds really smart and effective tools, and the GWO is one of its better creations. Using the Google Website Optimizer, site owners can test which pages of content are the best for their users -- meaning which ones drive the most conversations whether it's sales, leads, or any other desirable action.
How does it work? Instead of uploading a page of content to your site, your web developer uploads a blank page with the GWO code on it. From the user interface, your team can upload multiple pages that are then served randomly (you can control the weighting) to users who reach that page. The desired site conversion event is also tracked by the system so that once the test has run its course, you'll know which page version converted at the highest rate. From there, you can take the "winning" page and use those insights to develop new pages and then test those. Ultimately, if you do that over and over for all of your key pages, you will create a conversion-generating machine. This web analytics best practice is called A/B testing, GWO allows you to run many tests on your site for free.
Below is an example screenshot. As you can see, Combinations 5 and 7 each showed a 16 percent improvement over the original page while Combinations 15, 9, and 12 actually tested below the original.
It's not hard to see how this tool could be a useful addition to your technology stack.
Ultimately, from the beginning, the digital marketing industry has had a huge analytics component to it. As our industry has matured, the tools have matured. This featured list of free analytics tools are many times more powerful than some of the leading products on the market from just a decade ago. Eventually, you might find the need to upgrade to paid versions that have more robust features and dedicated support, but in the interim, build your web practice with confidence using these smart tools whose only cost is your time spent using them.