Microsoft’s Engagement Mapping … a quantum leap … in BS?

Initially I read the Microsoft engagement mapping announcement thinking this would be a remarkable innovation. They are claiming that EM will track a consumers interaction with advertising all the way to the point of sale which if done accurately would be a watershed in advertising accountability.

We’ve noted in many posts before how poorly advertisers track offline and even online advertising effectiveness, usually resorting to opportunisic reporting and explanations by their advertising agencies or reporting firms that stay in business because they support the agency advertising spends using questionable metrics.

Enter Engagement Mapping. Microsoft says:

The ‘last ad clicked’ is an outdated and flawed approach because it essentially ignores all prior interactions the consumer has with a marketer’s message,” said Brian McAndrews, senior vice president of the Advertiser & Publisher Solutions (APS) Division at Microsoft. “Our Engagement Mapping approach conveys how each ad exposure whether display, rich media or search, seen multiple times on multiple sites and across many channels influenced an eventual purchase. We believe it represents a quantum leap for advertisers and publishers who are seeking to maximize their online spends.” (bolding mine)

Read the bolded sentence again. Although I’ll have to see the methodology before rejecting it as bogus, that last line does not really suggest objectivity here. Rather it appears this is yet another way for a metric to support a course of action (increase online ad spending) rather than measure the effectiveness of that action.

This is standard fare for ad agencies who feed their kids by exaggerating the effectiveness of their campaigns so I guess it’s no surprise that Microsoft is going to help them do that for the online spends, which benefit…..wait for it ….. GOOGLE! And Microsoft too. But given Google’s approximately 50% share of all online spends I think Eric Schmidt should send Steve Ballmer a really nice gift. Maybe a even a Lazy Boy CHAIR?

Google economist on Google’s success: Huh?

Hal Varian is an economist at Google, and I’m sure he’s a good one.   However his Freakonomics and Google blog analysis of why Google has done so well in search leaves a lot to be desired.    After knocking down a few straw man items that obviously have nothing to do with Google’s search   monopoly   dominance, he goes on to conclude that Google is just better than the competition because they have been doing search for so long.

Hal – Excuse me but you call that economics?    I doubt this would be your internal Google explanation (assuming you want to keep your economics job, let alone your degree).  In fact it was so thin and almost bogusly “cheerleading” that it raises for me the ongoing questions about Google’s questionable mantras about doing no evil and transparency:   Transparency in all things except those that might affect our bottom line!

As I’ve noted ad nauseum I do NOT think Google has more than a modest obligation to be more transparent, but I’m tired of how often Google *witholds information* to protect Google and then pretends this is in the interest of users.  Google screws users and webmasters regularly – this is common knowledge in the search community.   The most glaring challenge is with ranking errors, mistakes, penalties, and rules.   In this area literally tens of thousands of mom and pop websites, and sometimes larger enterprises, are indexed in questionable ways by Google leading to serious economic challenges.   Unlike almost any other business however Google has only a tiny team of specialists who generally can only offer vague and often useless canned information, even when the problems are fairly obvious to an experienced search person.   

But I digress into ranting….!  

My working hypothesis about Google’s success is simple and I think would hold up far better than Hal’s silliness:  Humans are creatures of habit, and Google was the best search at the time when most formed their internet search habits.   Yahoo, LIVE, and even Ask are only marginally inferior to Google search now, but there were dramatically inferior a few years ago when the online ranks swelled with people looking for information.   Google provided (and still provides) high quality, fast, simple results. 

This hypothesis helps explain the following facts:
Google is not the search of China where traffic is dwarfed by
Even as Yahoo improved search quality they did not improve their search market share. 
Quality differences are slight, yet Google search share in USA is very large.

Another indirect factor in the Google success equation is that Google’s monetization remains superior to the competition by a factor of more than 2  (per Mike Arrington .09 vs .04 per search at Yahoo).   In this monetizing sense Hal’s “we are better from experience” would ring very true, and if he had written about *economics* he would have noted that Google’s brilliancies in monetization are a lot more notable than in other areas, and are more of a key focus area at Google than is generally talked about.    In fact such a focus area that they are downright opportunisic in the effort to monetize the heck out of the searches.  My favorite examples are when Google violates their own guidelines to bring users …. non-information from advertisers.   I ran into this last week with the following search for airline tickets.   

Google Query: “Xiamen to Beijing”

The top result on the left side, which is supposed to be reserved for non-commercial results, at first seems helpful, giving you the ability to order tickets from several places:

Flights from Xiamen, China to Beijing, China

Departing:   Returning: 


Unfortunately though, you can’t order the tickets because at least some of those clicks lead to commercial websites that do not offer that route.  

No big deal?  I guess not, but this is a clear violation of the Google Guidelines which call for clicks to a page where you can really get the thing advertised.  Also it would be refreshing for me if Google stepped down at least half way from the high horse of claiming they never put money ahead of users, and more importantly used some of the enormous profits to bring more transparency and helpful information into the mix.

In summary I want to be clear:  Google has the right to make big money online.   They also have the right to be very aggressive in making money.   However with their success goes an obligation for quality communication and transparency.   They are failing in that obligation and perhaps as importantly are not even recognizing that they are failing.   Google is a great company.  But they can do much better by users whose habits have made Google the most successful company of this generation.

Adobe Air – offline to online is good

Adobe is launching an application that will allow people to work offline on forms and other content which will then automatically be posted to websites when they go back online.   This is an excellent “transitional” application because many users still have to “log on” to the internet via slow modems or other cumbersome connections, and this will help them participate more actively in the online ecosystem.

That said, I’m increasingly convinced that the explosion of user content is to some extent…over.   Certainly we’ll continue to see huge volumes of content pour online, but at least in terms of the USA it is fair to say that internet access and publishing are is now so easy and cheap it seems unlikely there are millions waiting in the wings to jump online.    Some studies are suggesting that “most” internet users have little interest in blogging or commenting or participating actively – rather they want to read and socialize but not produce much content.     Another interesting factor is that young women appear to be the top content producers in many social networking environments rather than geeky boys who are more likely to spend online time playing games.   It’s going to be very interesting to watch the new media trends shake out in the coming years.  

WSJ reports