Protecting Consumer Privacy

Legislators, online marketers and consumer privacy groups still struggle over the creation of mutually acceptable online privacy laws – although all see the need for some level of protection. A coalition of 10 consumer advocates and privacy groups called on Congress to limit companies’ ability to track Web users and serve them targeted ads. Two key proposals under debate are to establish a Do-Not-Track registry similar to the Do-Not-Call registry, and imposing a 24-hour limit to holding consumer data. While the proposals are likely to draw protests from online marketers, the fact that privacy groups are allowing behavioral targeting for any period of time – even just 24 hours – represents a departure from the staunch standpoint that tracking and targeting always requires opt-in consent. The coalition’s proposals also aim to protect American consumers in online and mobile channels by bringing consumer data collection under the authority of the Federal Trade Commission. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) is expected to introduce new privacy legislation late this year.


Microsoft Adds Ad Preview

Microsoft’s adCenter has added a new tool that lets you preview your ads while avoiding accidental clicks and unnecessary impressions. The Ad Preview Tool helps ad- Center advertisers confirrm that their search ad is appearing. While managing campaigns, users can access the Ad Preview Tool directly in adCenter and preview their ads as they would appear on


Opting Out on Ads

AOL has agreed to notify all subscribers about how to opt out of email footer advertisements. The change in course comes after the filing of two class-action lawsuits, one of which alleged the ads in email messages violated a federal privacy law. AOL began inserting ads in email footers more than three years ago. However, in April 2008, the company quietly allowed paying subscribers to opt out of the ads. Now, after settling the lawsuits with a $110,000 donation to charity, AOL has agreed to proactively inform users on how to opt out of the ads. Tricia Primrose, AOL’s executive vice president for corporate communications, said the decision to allow all users to avoid the ads reflects the new management team’s commitment to offering users a good experience.


No-Keyword Search

Imagine paid search without keywords. Nick Fox, Google’s business product management director for AdWords, speculated during a keynote address at the San Jose Search Engine Strategies show that no-keyword search could become a reality within the next five to 10 years. Increased user sophistication in searches, longer query length and unique search terms are just a few reasons why keywords may no longer be essential. According to Google, 20 to 25 percent of search queries in the last six months were new queries. Additionally, a Hitwise study reveals that the number of five-plus word search queries increased by 10 percent in the past year, while two-word search queries decreased by 5 percent. The changing landscape has many advertisers asking whether their skills should be measured based on painstaking attention to long query keyword detail. However, a no-keyword search could spell out advantages for advertisers. Advertisers would have an opportunity to better connect with searchers on natural language queries, and could better connect with consumers to capitalize on all relevant advertising opportunities. PPC advertising campaigns could also be much more efficient without a keyword research component. We’ll see how Google tries to make it work.


Face Time on Facebook

Social networking sites now account for one out of every five ads people view online, according to a recent comScore study. MySpace and Facebook were the top online display ad publishers, delivering more than 80 percent of ads among sites in the social networking category. It’s no wonder. The rise in popularity of social networking sites means Internet users are spending a large portion of their time on these sites. Meanwhile, affiliates are still figuring out the best ways to use low-cost ads to optimize access to highly targeted audiences. “As social networking sites innovate on their existing ad offerings, the category should continue to grow in ad volume, while CPMs could also increase if the sites can demonstrate a high campaign ROI,” said comScore senior vice president Jeff Hackett.


Tighter Tracking Restrictions

Online businesses may have to be even more careful about tracking and consumer privacy. In a case closely observed by privacy advocates and behavioral targeting executives, the Federal Trade Commission gave final approval to a settlement with Sears Holdings Management Corp. about tracking software. The settlement requires Sears destroy all data it collected from online users who downloaded tracking software it distributed between April 2007 and January 2008. While Sears didn’t admit to wrongdoing or agree to pay any monetary damages, it promised to “clearly and prominently” notify Web users about any tracking applications in the future. In the company’s market research program, users were paid $10 to download tracking software that would monitor their Web activity. While many in the marketing community insist the opt-in email solicitation is commonplace and legally valid, the FTC censured Sears, alleging it did not adequately convey that the program would “monitor nearly all of the Internet behavior that occurs on consumers’ computers.” The FTC crackdown on potential online privacy violations will keep behavioral targeters on their toes and could set a new disclosure standard.




With an estimated 71 percent of teens now owning mobile phones and using browsing functions more than adults, it’s no surprise that teen retailers like American Eagle Outfitters are scurrying to create mobile commerce divisions. While still in its nascent stages, mcommerce should give a significant boost to companies who build a mobile strategy that effectively interacts with their customer base. However, it may be too soon to tell. According to Forrester Research, while about 52 percent of Web buyers (consumers who’ve made purchases online) have cell phones with Webenabled features, only about 14 percent have ever used their phones to make a purchase without speaking to anyone. Most of those purchases are for online content for the phone, such as games or ringtones. Only 5 percent purchased clothing.


Media Consumption on the Rise

Americans are consuming more media than ever with huge jumps seen in mobile and online video viewing, according to data from The Nielsen Company’s “Three Screen Report.” Mobile video viewing increased by 70 percent over last year with over 15 million Americans saying they watched mobile video in the second quarter of 2009. Online video consumption also continues to rise with a 46 percent increase in viewership compared to last year. At 83 percent, shortform video (like YouTube clips) still makes up the biggest share of online video viewing. Namebrand TV network content comprises the majority of mobile video viewing. Adults 18 to 24 lead the pack, watching more than 5 hours of online video each month. But the surge in online and mobile media consumption hasn’t been at the cost of TV viewership. Nielson data shows 57 percent of consumers with Internet access at home watch TV and go online simultaneously at least once a month. Given the convergence taking place, those who look at content holistically and disseminate their brand message across the three screens will have the greatest advantage. That will require high quality content that can traverse online, mobile and TV screens.


Impulse Buys

Smartphone users are open to receiving targeted advertising on their mobile devices, with certain types of ads working better than others. According to Compete’s quarterly “Smartphone Intelligence” survey, nearly one third of all smartphone owners are comfortable or very comfortable receiving targeted marketing on their device. Of these, nearly half are receptive to location based ad offers at restaurants and 45 percent of respondents said they would use mobile grocery coupons. If cell phone users find your ads useful, you will have an opportunity to target consumers the moment they are making purchasing decisions. Conversely, if your ads are not helpful they could be quickly tuned out as a nuisance.



Google on Display


So, Google has joined the display ad game. In a bid to duplicate its search-advertising success in the display ad market, Google launched its much-anticipated automated ad exchange in September. Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange works much like a stock market. It offers a real-time, automated auction system where ad networks and publishers can post their ad inventory to auction while other networks and publishers can bid on and buy specific kinds of inventory.

Ad Exchange is a rebuild of DoubleClick’s old exchange using Google technology. According to Google executives, the new system will greatly simplify the process of buying and selling display advertising space, allowing many more publishers and advertisers to enter the display ad market. “The objective from the outset is to grow the display advertising pie for everybody,” said Neal Mohan, Google’s vice president for product management. In fact, the new system will automatically allow hundreds of thousands of advertisers and publishers who now use Google’s AdWords and AdSense systems to run their ads and ad space through the exchange.

But Google’s entrance into the business could shake up the market. Up to now, Yahoo’s Right Media has led the online display-ad world; Google’s Ad Exchange could come to dominate the market over time. Some industry executives assert that the DoubleClick exchange will give advertisers more flexibility than Yahoo’s, helping marketers to more precisely target the audience their ads are shown to and monitor the results. While Google says ad inventory available in the system will reach 76 percent of U.S. audiences and 73 percent of international audiences, time will tell how effective Google’s display ads will be.



New CEO in SEO

Search engine marketing firm and SEO 2.0 pioneer Relevant Searches picked Maury Domengeaux for the CEO’s chair. In addition to his career in search marketing, Domengeaux has more than 20 years of experience in venture capital, executive management, high-technology development and marketing. Domengeaux has held executive management positions in both private and public companies that include Rivio, Hewlett-Packard, Iomega Corporation and Quantum.




Germany Joins the Google War

First, Google Books came under fire from three U.S.-based companies. They warned Google’s plan to digitize millions of books and post them online could give the company an exclusive license to profit from millions of texts. Now, Germany has taken up the fight. In a U.S. court filing, the German government said Google’s plan would violate the country’s copyright law while having an international impact on user privacy protections and the rights of German authors. While some believe the digitization of books would offer more content to an increasing number of consumers, others argue Google is going too far. For its part, Google says it will allow rivals to sell access to the digi-books, but that’s done little to appease critics. Critics fear the deal would give Google the unchecked ability to set prices for libraries once books are scanned and online. Time will tell whether Germany’s ongoing efforts will thwart a Google book deal with the European Union.




Solar Marketing Power

With all the talk about going solar, there’s not much to show for it. While solar technology is expected to play a major role in the U.S. renewable energy program, investment and installations are proceeding at a snail’s pace. According to a study by Clean Energy Group, improved marketing initiatives will be fundamental to expanding consumer interest in solar energy. Educational websites, partnerships with local builders and working with celebrities are some of the marketing tactics solar companies intend to employ. The group is encouraging solar marketers to connect with consumers by using marketing messages that emphasize the value and financial benefi ts of the alternative technology. Nearly half of consumers cite initial out-of-pocket costs as the main barrier to installing solar energy systems in their homes. The findings have fueled solar energy companies to transform their marketing campaigns.