Google Moves the Goalposts – this time for the better

If your organization ranks well on Google, when visitors search on terms relent to what you do, congratulations. But not for too long. Google periodically tweaks its algorithm. Overnight, your high ranking page can be sent back to the Minors.

A sudden demotion in search rankings frustrates and angers some site owners. Sometimes Google’s ranking changes may appear arcane or arbitrary. Its latest change on April 21st makes sense.

In essence it says that if someone searches from a mobile phone, pages in search results, which do not render well on a mobile device, will be penalized with a lower rank.

Not rendering well includes a multitude of issues from a page requiring lateral scrolling to menus spilling off the screen. In the parlance of web design, such pages are said to be unresponsive. Unresponsiveness reduces the effectiveness of a page. Now it also reduces its search rank.

As a start, try viewing the pages on your site from your own iOS or Android phone or tablet. You might be unpleasantly surprised by what you see. Even if the site works OK on your particular device, there may still be problems with some of the scores of gadgets your clients are using.

A convenient way to check is with Google’s “Mobile-friendly” test page.  You just enter the URL of a page you want to test. If the page, such as the one you’re reading now or, say, on a well know site such as intel.com, pass, the test responds with a reassuring
Awesome! This page is mobile-friendly in go-ahead green type. If not, you’ll see a curt Not mobile-friendly in red, a list of errors, and suggestions for designing a more responsive site.

Firms, which ought to know better, such dell.com, had problems on the mobile-friendly test. Firms, with really busy pages, Home Depot comes to mind, nonetheless passed.

Thus Google gives yet another reason for your site to have a responsive, mobile-friendly or even mobile-first design. In southern Africa, where I’m writing this, mobile is the dominant mode of online access. As a recent Pew study reports – mobile is a growing and for some segments the dominant mode of Internet access in the U.S. See graphic below.

 

7% of Americans Rely Heavily on a Smartphone for Online Access

In both B2B and B2C mobile is where your customers are. Have you checked the mobile-friendliness of your site lately?

Say It Ain’t So

CLIO is an organization of advertisers, by advertisers, and for advertisers to give awards to advertisers promoting advertising. This is much more efficient than independent bodies debating whom should be honored, such as the Nobel Prize Committee

Clio awards honor many categories of ads in many media. This year it gave a “general” award to comedian and sometime ad pitchman Jerry Seinfeld.

In his mocumental acceptance speech, Seinfeld praised advertising because he “likes lying.” He goes to summarize the classic criticisms of marketing and advertising – deception, vulgarity, crass materialism, and value distortion. If you’re a marketer,  you know the rest. As marketers, it probably helps, if we say it first. In an ad driven world, where the purest of politicians competes first on fund raising, what’s a little lying?

Beyond Like

Micro-payment mechanisms, such as Bitcoin, have gotten a lot of media attention recently. In practice it is still relatively expensive and cumbersome to receive small sums. Processors typically charge both a percentage of the payment amount and base charge, such as $0.30 per transaction. iTunes, with its huge volume, can make good money on transactions of $.99  or even less – you can’t.

Why might you want small payments? Many content creators, bloggers, givers of advise, sketch artists, want-to-be app developers, not to mention candidates, causes and charities, don’t get enough $10, $25 or even $5 checks. They may get more, or at least something, by asking  less  if there were a convenient way to gather small payments.

If your browse-by visitors think your minimum contribution is too high and so contribute nothing, what can you do? You could still ask for a Facebook Like. A Like is better than nothing, but it doesn’t tell you much or pay for a beer to cry in. Suppose, however, visitors who do not open their wallets, could at least open their spare change purses and give a few cents or a small amount they set themselves. This would not only provide some marginal revenue, while you’re refining your offering or business model, but also valuable feed back on relative preferences and price points.

An intriguing new service promises to make it easier to “show a little loving.” It’s called appropriately douluvit (www.douluv.it). Users of the service can embed “lüv” icons Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 8.13.42 PM by any item on their site. When visitors click on the icon, they see a range of options specified by the site owner. For example, the campaign could request contributions of say 2¢, 10¢, 25¢, or  whatever the visitor wished, if she found an article helpful.

At this point in the campaign, any responses are non-binding pledges. Once a given visitor has accumulated $10 in pledges, she is required to make an actual payment by credit card. After a site has accrued enough paid donations, douluvit pays them less a 10% commission.

In effect, Douluvit aggregates mini and micro payments such that they can be made efficiently. This free service deserves more than a Facebook Like. It deserves a look.

A Legend in Its Own Mind

Apple (née Apple Computer) has been doing some high priced promotion to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of its Macintosh computer. Double page ads with pictures of original and contemporary Macs recently ran on successive days in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe and many other vehicles. The commemoration took over Apple’s home page. Apple acolytes can watch an infomercial featuring almost famous-like types, whose lives were made richer, fuller, deeper, and more transcendent when they got a Mac.

The promotion has all the trappings of a major new product launch, but without the new product. Reruns of greatest hits do not equal great marketing. Taking a trip in the Way Back Machine to 1984, was the original trans-luggable Mac such a success that it should be celebrated today?

In 1984, Ronald Regan was in the White House, but computers were not in the houses or offices of most people. Personal computers, even “portables,” were heavy and expensive. They made up for this by doing relatively little. Out of the box they did nothing but show a blinking cursor on dark screen of a CRT monitor. If you wanted apps with that, an extra $500 or so would get you a spreadsheet or a word-processing program. For some hundreds more, you could get a dot-matrix printer to make an ugly printout of an ugly screen. In other words, the bar for a superior product was none too high.

Even compared with this modest baseline, the early Macs were works in progress. Their implementation of graphical computing ideas borrowed from Xerox PARC was slow. Drag the mouse, and wait for the system to catch up. The original Mac was underpowered, overpriced, and not positioned toward a market, which valued its potential enough to pay a premium for it.

Apple had the graphical computing field essentially to itself at least until mid-1990 and the release of Microsoft Windows 3. With the Microsoft two button mouse, Windows became the first viable mass-market graphical computer system. By then the Mac was a more robust product, but could not sell enough in either the home or business markets to avoid losses. The company suffered near death experience in the mid-1990s, when it fired Steve Jobs.

Apple rallied and survived, yet its later dominance was based on its consumer electronics – music players, tablets, and phones – not computers. This is not to say that Apple isn’t doing well in computers. Gartner estimates that Apple achieved a share of 13.7% of US PC shipments, though in a shrinking market.

In its most recent quarter, Apple derived more than five times the revenue from phones as from computers. This shift has been happening for some time such that in 2007, the company formally changed its name from “Apple Computer” to just “Apple.”

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

The contemporary Mac is a good, if rather expensive, computer. I’m writing this post on one. Moreover, Apple’s OS X software is arguably superior in a number of ways, such as less prone to crashes and viruses. Yet this is old news. Over the last, say, half dozen or more years Macs have not improved significantly, though they have gone through a number of cosmetic changes – all in silver, a bit lighter and thinner, and slightly sharper graphics.

Rather than celebrating a thirty year old footnote, Apple might better use its resources to reinforce what they have done for us lately – even if that means actually doing something for us lately.

What’s Your Model?

A key question any organization, including non-profits, will have to (eventually) answer is what is What Is Your Business Model? How will you fund your operations to stay in the game, let alone prosper? The question is easy to ask. The answer – not always.

You don’t necessarily start with a Biz Model. Disappearing message phenomenon Snapchat has millions of customers and a rumored valuation of $3 to $4 billion yet no revenue at all. Whatever else it may be, no revenue is not a business model.

Similarly, Twitter, after seven years and tens of billions of tweets has yet to approach profitability. Its recent successful IPO gives it space to continue to optimize its business model.

Another increasingly popular phenomenon is online instruction. From rather crude beginnings, such as MIT’s open courseware  – at first not much more than an online syllabus and lecture notes – the online learning platforms have improved and the number of courses increases substantially. These have become complete courses, not just someone giving a lecture on YouTube.

Commentators some times call these online courses by the ungainly acronym, MOOC, as in Massively Open Online Course. MOOCs are created by individual universities but commonly syndicated to students through portals such as Coursera, Udacity, and EdX, which offer courses from many schools. For an overview of the range of online courses see mooc-list.

The courses are generally free. This begs the question – what is the business model? What pays for the software, services, video production, and staff let alone a return on investment? Visitors to MOOCs generally don’t see embedded ads or even offers to buy logo wear or tsatskes similar to what traditional colleges offer. Advertising and merchandising would detract from the platform, without providing enough revenue. A few MOOCs have tried explicitly charging up to a few hundred dollars per course, but the abundance of free alternatives just a click away has so far thwarted a direct pay to learn approach.

Looking at the latest crop of online courses, providers seem to have been thinking about other ways to increase revenue and been evolving from a free to freemium model. Freemium is common with services from online gaming, e.g. Zynga, to web based storage, e.g. Dropbox. Typically, there is no charge to start and you can continue to use a modest amount of the service at no charge. Use more or avail yourself of advanced features and you have to pay.

In the case of online education, refinement of the business model also entails changing the value proposition and the essence of the product. Instead of requiring students to pay for the instruction, MOOCs ask them to pay for verification that they took the course. That is, students pay for some form of an e-certificate of completion. As in the brick and mortarboard world, the product is not so much education as certification.

For example, visit Coursera and the heading on the home page proclaims – Take the world’s best courses, online, for free. However, select a course from the extensive course list at and you’re presented with a choice – “Learn for Free” or “Earn a Verified Certificate.” The certificate costs $49.

Verified certification is but a part of Udacity’s upsell. For about $100 a month, it offers “Udacity Coach.” Students get guidance with course projects and help with assignments. Students, who do not upgrade to Coach, can only ask questions to an online forum, with no guarantee of a satisfactory answer or indeed any answer at all.

EdX, the third major MOOC, seems ambivalent about selling addons. It does offer “Verified Certificates of Achievement,” for variable fees starting at $25 but suggesting that the student pay more. Yet it virtually apologies for doing so with a plaintive:

As a not-for-profit, edX uses your contribution to support our mission to provide quality education to everyone around the world, and to improve learning through research. While we have established a minimum fee, many learners contribute more than the minimum to help support our mission. The funds go towards class creation and improving EdX.

For any of these programs, would friends, relatives, or prospective employers be impressed with a stack of such certificates? How impressed would you be to see not a diploma on the wall, but a tablet with the image of a certificate?

MOOCs might try many other possible business models. What’s encouraging is that they are actively experimenting. When is the last time your organization examined its business model?