Predictably Irrational Web Marketing Strategies

Sep 9th
posted in

I'm reading a book called "Predictably Irrational", by Don Ariely. It's about the hidden, irrational forces that shape our decisions, and it's a great read.

There are a few interesting case studies in this book that can be applied to web marketing. I'd like to look at two aspects which might help those of you involved in e-commerce.

Relative Pricing Structures

The first experiment looks at relative pricing structures. How do you structure your prices in order to achieve higher returns? Often, it can be a simple case of making an offer no one in their right mind will accept.

Huh?

Here is an example.

The Economist presented readers with the following subscription offer:

1. Internet only subscription for $59
2. Print only subscription for $125
3. Print and Internet subscription for $125

Notice something odd about option 2 and 3? Why would anyone take up option 2?

They wouldn't. And that's the point.

It turns out humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We work out how much things are worth based on what other things are worth and compare them. In the above example, the "Print and Internet" offer is better that just the print offer. The "Internet Only" offer might be better than both, however there is no point of relative comparison for that offer. The relative comparison is made between offers 2 and 3, which makes option 2 look poor, and option 3 look like a steal. Ariely ran real tests to measure take-up, and sure enough, most people took option three.

To illustrate how powerful this pricing method is, let's remove option 2.

1. Internet only subscription for $59
2. Print and Internet subscription for $125

In this example, people are faced only with a cheap option and an expensive option. The point of comparison is largely about price. You can guess what option most people chose. They selected the cheapest option, as price becomes the key differentiator.

So, try splitting your offers. Create offers that are valuable compared to other - deliberately substandard - offers.

The Effect Of Expectations

In another chapter entitled "The Effect of Expectations", Ariely asks why the mind gets what it expects, and not necessarily the reality of a situation.

For example, Ariely conducts an experiment whereby researchers offer students a free cup of coffee, along with some rather unusual condiments, such as cloves, nutmeg, orange peel, anise and sweet paprika. Not the sort of thing you'd likely put in your cup of coffee! The students were asked to rate the taste of the coffee, and specify the maximum price they were prepared to pay for a brew.

From time to time, the researchers made one subtle change. They placed the condiments in a range of containers, from rough styrofoam cups, through to beautiful glass-and-metal containers. The condiments were never actually used, however the mere appearance of the serving bowls had a curious effect. When the condiments were placed in luxury containers, the coffee drinkers were more likely to say they liked the coffee, and whats-more, they were prepared to pay a lot more for it.

If people thought the coffee was upmarket, they convinced themselves the coffee was upmarket. The reality was that the coffee never changed. The coffee was of the same quality throughout the experiment.

Self-evident, right? So, can this theory be directly applied to web marketing?

Essentially, we're talking about branding. There is the logical first step of using upmarket web design in order to help convince people your product or service is more desirable. There is a trap, however, and this is the reason I think this case study needs to be adapted for the web environment. When it comes to e-commerce, upmarket, glossy sites do not necessarily result in higher sales. There are various reasons for this, but I think mainly it has to do with the level of trust. A slick website can sometimes feel impersonal, and people crave a personal feel on the web.

Trust, not slick graphical design, is the equivalent of the elaborate serving bowls.

In order to raise expectations, consider raising the level of design, but only if you do so without losing trust. Achieving a fine balance between excellent usability, trust metrics and excellent graphic design is a great target to aim for.

Consider the converse. Have you bought from sites that are unusable? Plastered with over-the-top Adsense? Such sites are less desirable as expectations are set low, primarily because of the low level of branding. The buyer is expecting "cheap". That's probably the only reason people buy from such a site.

Such sites are the web equivalent of broken styrofoam cups, compared to the elegant serving bowls.

Have your say

What do you think? Have you got any "irrational strategies" to share?

IE8 Beta Review: A Game Changer, Or More Of The Same?

Sep 9th
posted in

I've been trying out Google's Chrome browser. I like it. I really do.

I like Chrome mainly because it is fast. Faster than Firefox, anyway. However, I'll be alternating between the two browsers, because Firefox has a plethora of useful plug-ins that Chrome lacks.

Like many Firefox converts, I haven't looked at Internet Explorer for some time now.

Microsoft have recently released IE8, so I thought I'd evaluate it in terms of search, and contrast it with the functionality and positioning of Chrome. Many in the internet community have speculated that Chrome is going to eat Microsoft's lunch, and not just in the browser space, but with the ushering in of cloud computing. Is this plausible?

Let's take a look.

Internet Explorer 8

You can download IE8 Beta from here. As usual, you'll have to sign your soul, and those of your yet unborn children, etc, etc over to Microsoft, and then reboot.

Goodbye Google Toolbar

You run through the inevitable setup screens. The first search-related issue I noticed was that Google's toolbar wasn't compatible with IE8 beta, and asks me if I want to disable it. Is a bug, feature, or a market position? ;)

Next up, IE8 asks you if you want to use "Express Settings", which means that the search provider will default to your existing default, and just about everything else defaults to Microsoft products or services. Internet Explorer also wants to become your default browser. At this point, you can opt for Custom Settings, and modify each setting individually.

Welcome To Internet Explorer 8

Pretty flexible, really. If you want to opt out of Microsoft services, you can do so easily.

The Search Wars

My main reason for looking at IE8 is in terms of search. What functionalities do you get, and how is this browser positioned against Google?

Search Suggestion

One feature, called Search Suggestions, offers, naturally enough, search suggestions. Like the equivalent Google feature, IE8 will try to guess what keyword you are search for a prompt you with suggestions as you type. This feature works with many different search providers (Google, Yahoo!, Live) and large ecommerce and content sites (Amazon.com, eBay, Wikipedia), which makes the search box a nice keyword research tool, but nothing new to most of us, I'm sure.

Note that this type-ahead feature, like on all browsers offering type-ahead suggestions, will send your search queries to your search provider, even if you don't hit send. Matt Cutts, perhaps sensitive to the privacy concerns aimed at Google, makes the point in this comment he posted on GoogleBlogoscoped that " if "Suggested Sites" is on, "your web browsing history is sent to Microsoft, .... the addresses of websites you visit are sent to Microsoft, together with some standard information from your computer such as IP address, browser type, regional and language settings.....".

Internet Explorer 8 Search Bar

How Will This Affect SEO?

An aspect SEOs need to consider is how the widespread implementation of search suggest is going to affect SEO. In this post, Aaron talks about how search suggest is likely to force a consolidation around the most popular terms. This has implications for those going after the long tail, but also provides new SEO opportunities, especially if you have a brand that incorporates popular search terms.

Explorer also allows search suggestion from any provider, which can be a useful SEO tool, in itself.

Visual Search

IE8 also offer Visual Search, which provides pictures to help you select a result. This didn't seem to work for me, but I did notice that a search on "Seattle Weather", the search term suggested by Microsoft, did bring up a page featuring advertisements for Australian outdoor sportswear suppliers. Reminds me how far other providers have to go in this text ad space in order to catch up with Google. It wasn't until I dug around a bit further that I discovered that you need to install search providers. Even then, it wasn't playing well, giving me a string of error messages.

Still, problems are to be expected in a beta release.

Other improvements include search history matching, a useful "Find On Page" button added to the instant search box, and the ability to drag the search box in order to change the width. A few nice touches.

Forced Search Provider?

On the Microsoft global-domination conspiracy front, far from locking you in, Microsoft have made it rather easy to configure IE8 to incorporate your choice of search provider. It wants to default to Live Search, but you can easily select Google, or other services. The pull-down search box provides options to add more. So, good marks in terms of flexibility.

There are various other features, including InPrivate browsing, which supposedly blocks ads and prevents people tracking you across the web. As it isn't search related, I won't review it, other than to say it is good that the user has to jump through a few hoops to enable it. Love 'em or hate 'em, web ads enable the production of a lot of "free" web content. If ads were turned off by default, many sites would simply cease to exist, or start charging for content. Full marks to Microsoft for leaving this option to the power users.

IE8 Vs Chrome

Now, contrast these features with Google's Chrome.

Did you find Chrome noticeably faster than your existing browser, be it Firefox or IE?

I did.

Speed was the deciding factor for me. On the internet, speed is (nearly) everything. IE8 didn't strike me as being any faster than Firefox, and certainly a lot slower than Chrome.

In this respect, IE8 feels like an update to an existing product, as opposed to a game changer. Chrome feels like a game-changer, even though, when pushed, I can't put my finger on exactly why this is. I think it may come down to the usability gains of extra speed, especially if your day to day use orients a search function. IE8 is adding functions, desktop application-stylee, while Google is busy taking features out in order to simplify and minimize.

If cloud computing is to take off, then the browser is going to need to need the speed of an application, and it is going to need to be simple and transparent in order for people to bother migrating.

Application-Centric Vs Web Centric

Chrome explains itself better. The Google information pages tell a cohesive story, whilst Microsoft's story appears scattered and a little confused. I'd liken Chrome to an Ipod. It lacks features some users might demand, but it works right out of the box for most people. Microsoft IE8 is, well....Microsoft. It feels more application centric.

Perhaps that says something about the web strategy of the respective companies. Google wants to pull users out of their existing habits, and into the Google web, whilst Microsoft needs to integrate existing application users with the web.

A subtle difference, but there nonetheless.

Have Your Say

What are your thoughts? Have you tried both new browsers?

Google Chrome: Germany Not Impressed?

Sep 8th
posted in

Chrome, Google's new web browser, has made a huge splash everywhere this past week. User response has generally been favorable, however GoogleBlogoscoped is reporting that the German "Federal Office Of Information Security" may not be particularly happy with it:

"The Federal Office for Information Security warned internet users of the new browser Chrome. The application by the company Google should not be used for surfing the internet, as a spokesperson for the office told the Berliner Zeitung. It was said to be problematic that Chrome was distributed as an unfinished advance version. Furthermore it was said to be risky that user data is hoarded with a single vendor. With its search engine, email program and the new browser, Google now covers all important areas on the internet."

However, there appears to be no formal warning published on the Federal Office for Information Security's website. As various commentators point out, such an announcement would be odd, given that there has been no reported announcement about the IE8 Beta, which has also been released in a "unfinished advanced version".

Meanwhile, Matt Cutts is busy fighting "conspiracy theorists" regarding Google Chromes Terms Of Service. Some people were less than happy with the wording, which appeared to imply Google may assert rights to any content you submit, post or display on or through "the Services". Check out all the updates Matt makes as Google struggles to find the right words.

Google subsequently changed their Terms Of Service to read:

"11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services."

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We love our customers, but more importantly

Our customers love us!

SEO For Regional Domains

Sep 8th

Webmasters are often faced with the problem of how to approach SEO on websites which have a country-specific focus. As you may have noticed, the search engine results pages on Google's geo-targeted search services frequently display different rankings than those you experience on Google.com. 

If you run a few queries on, say, Google.com.au, you'll soon notice distinct regionalization patterns. In order to make search results more relevant to local audiences, Google uses different sorting methodologies than those used on Google.com.

Here is a guide to optimizing sites for the different regional flavors of Google.

Country Specific Local SEO Tips

  1. Get a local domain extension:  Google places a lot of weight on the domain name, so it is important to get the appropriate country-code domain extension. If you compare results across the different geo-targeted flavors of Google, you'll notice the weight given to the local TLDs. There are exceptions, but the local TLD tends to trump .com when it comes to local result sets. Different countries have different registration criteria for domain resitration. It is fairly easy to register a co.uk or a .co.nz, whilst a .com.au can involve setting up a business entity in Australia. 
  2. Specify your country association in Google Webmaster ToolsGoogle Webmaster Tools offers a facility whereby you can specify a country association for your content. You can do this on a domain, sub-domain and directory level. More detailed instructions can be found on Google's Webmaster Tools Blog.
  3. Include local contact information: Specify a local address, business name, and local contact phone numbers. Whilst not critical in terms of ranking, every little bit helps, and by including local information, the site becomes more credible to a local audience. 
  4. Local hosting: Depending on who you ask, you'll get different answers as to whether the geographic location of the web host makes a difference in terms of ranking. I have .com.au, .co.nz, and .co.uk sites, hosted on US servers, and they rank well on the appropriate local versions of Google. Other people feel that location-based hosting is a must. Still others say the location of the name server is most important! It's fair to say that if you have a choice between hosting locally and hosting offshore, then it might pay to host locally. It certainly can't hurt, and there might be additional benefits, such as increased download speed. If you go this route, one thing to check is the servers physical location. Often, web hosts have a local office, but their servers are located in a different country. Use an IP lookup tool to determine the exact location of a server. 
  5. Spelling & Language: Ensure you use the appropriate spelling for your chosen region. There is a difference between "optimization" and "optimisation". Keep in mind that searchers will use the local vernacular. For example, if you are optimizing a travel site in the US, you might use the term "vacation". However, searchers in Australia, the UK and New Zealand, amongst others, tend to use the term "holiday". 
  6. Tone: Copy that works well in one geographic location may not work in another.  For example, the sales language used in the US is usually more direct than that typically used in the UK, Australia or New Zealand. Familiarize yourself with local approaches to marketing, or engage local copywriters.     
  7. Inbound links: Seek out local links. All links are good, but inbound links from local TLDs are even better. Approach your local chamber of commerce, friends, suppliers, government agencies, business partners, and local industry groups and ask them for links.
  8. Local directories: Get your site listed in local directories. Local directories still feature well in geo-targeted search results as the depth of content, in terms of sheer volume, isn't as great in the local TLD space as that published on .com. Obviously, you stand to gain from the local traffic that the directories send your way, and any local link juice the directory may pass on.  Here are some top local directories:
  • The local Yellow Pages i.e. Yellow Pages Australia, Yellow Pages New Zealand, and Yell (UK). Keep in mind that some of these directories may not pass link juice, however you can weigh this factor against their value in terms of local reach. You could also seek listings in the regional sections of the following global directories: DMOZ, Yahoo, and BestOfTheWeb.
  • Recommended regional directories:

  • Scoot.co.uk is a prominent UK business directory.
  • Webwombat.com.au is a comprehensive Australian directory.
  • Te Puna is a government run New Zealand directory.
  • Press releases: Try to come up with a local angle for your press releases, and submit them to local news and information channels. Small, local news outlets are highly likely to run local interest stories, which in turn may help your brand exposure and get you more local links. 
  • Avoid Duplicate content: If you market is in one country, then it makes sense to use the country-code TLD for that country. However, if you target multiple countries, consider creating different content on each domain. Placing the same content on multiple domains may risk duplicate content penalties. 
  • Off-line marketing: Don't forget to get your name out locally. If people search by you by your brand or business name, you'll always be well positioned in the serps. 
  • Have Your Say

    If you have some additional ideas that have worked well for you, please feel free to add them to the comments.

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