Julian Grainger

Head of SEO at Unique

When CPA is silly

On the advertising side of the business we were recently asked whether we would allow an advertiser on under a cost per acquisition basis. This means we get a fee if we source a sale for them but we don’t get paid for the space they take up with their advert. Fair enough you’d think except not with our audience. So we gracefully declined having a leading travel brand advertise on the website.

Much has been written about the engaged, digitally savvy consumer to know which demographics will buy online and which will not. It can be extremely profitable for both advertiser and publisher with the right demographics to operate CPA . However, if you have the type of demographic that doesn’t like to buy online then CPA becomes stupidity for both publisher and advertiser.

The current trend of one NZ advertising agency, Zed Digital, is to try and force publishers of targeted websites to accept placements based on a CPA fee. This, in the instance of one client, House of Travel seems less than smart. Zed ignore the brand benefits of being on a targeted websites. Yes, most campaigns are for sales lead generation and heavily targeted websites should deliver this. But it cannot be ignored that you are exposing the brand to the very group of customers the advertiser is trying to reach.

Every campaign has a lot of work behind deciding the placement in terms of demographic and behavioural targeting. The creative has very strict management of how that brand is displayed. As a result, the business placing the advert will receive some long term brand benefit from that placement.

CPA further ruins opportunity by only optimising future placements based on the online acquisition. This ignores the fact that most businesses still have a much more significant offline customer base. In the case of a travel brand it is easy to establish that older clientelle and business clientelle will be more profitable to the brand than the digitally savvy, younger audiences. However, business people rarely book their travel by themselves. They’ll hunt the deal but a busy CEO has staff to do the detailed bits of work. Older travellers will view deals on the net but behaviour clearly shows a preference to go to the travel agency in person to book the trip. So optimising a campaign purely for its online acquisition ignores these highly profitable segments. And online opportunities are going begging that the competitors are mopping up.

Part of the issue is the belief in many advertising agencies that you cannot build a brand online. Ipso facto, you can only promote for sales lead generation. If this is correct then what about 42 Below, Trademe, Ebay, Zillow, Amazon – need I go on. The real issue is that many agency creatives still have difficulty in dealing with digital. They lack the skills and control because they have to deal with programmers to get things done. Another part of the issue is that digital will also find a creatives limits. You have to distract before you can engage a user online whereas TV always has passive viewing. So you have to be up to your game to make an advert work otherwise it will not be seen and a brand story will not be told. These two factors mean there is very little done online in a true branding sense.

I think part of the problem is also ‘the latest expert’. I’ve met many in the 12 years since my first exposure to online advertising. Many have only notional experience of whether their theories work. Others are pushing an agenda, whilst others are having a hard time convincing clients to go online because they really have little understanding of it themselves. It builds a lack of credibility as a media option for brand campaigns.

So the latest big thing, CPA, is a very good illustration of that lack of understanding of online as an advertising channel. The expectation that every demographic will convert online and then the optimisation away from potentially profitable segments that only convert offline, does nothing to grow it as an advertising option. In reality, it has the potential to reduce real opportunities for the business while it completely ignores every placement being a long term investment in the brand.

Google as a brand measure

One of the biggest mistakes by marketers new to Google is handing over Google Adwords and Search to an advertising agency. I include SEO practitioners as agencies within that context.

The real value of Google is not in the lead generation, which is important tactical execution, but in critical bits of information about brand and consumer behaviour. Specifically:

  1. what are people searching and how they are looking for your product
  2. the recognition and pull of your brand.

These are strategically important and form part of the knowledge in developing your marketing program and how you talk to your customers. For any website, not just an ecommerce site, in fact any business, the information you can get for free on Google can save you thousands in research and brand measurement as well as provide valuable insight into your customers motivations. This post is about the brand.

Googling your brand measurement

Over time knowing how often someone searches for your brand, if at all, tells you whether your advertising is providing long term value.

Below is a graph of the number of searches for Direct Broking on Google Trends since 2004.  Up until November 2007, on my arrival, the website had done no real advertising. Just PR and a brand pull strategy. Unfortunately brand pull doesn’t work without an initial concerted push. So no one looked for Direct Broking. We did some optimisation, Google Adwords and PR straight away and a brand campaign throughout February before we really pushed hard in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2008.

Searches for Direct Broking since 2004

Searches for “direct broking” since 2004

What this graph shows is a very real recall of the brand name since we started investing in awareness, first with some spikes at the start and then as we campaign. Best of all there is some real consistency coming through in between later activity where people are still searching our name.  So our acquisition based internet advertising program is delivering for the brand. Who says you can’t brand on the internet?

The second cool bit of brand knowledge is how often you are searched compared to your competitors.  This shows your mind share against your competitors. With the Google keyword tool I compared us to our previously better known and better marketed, bigger budget competitor.

I typed in our brand name and theirs (asb securities) for New Zealand based searches (our stomping ground) and what I got was a lot more variations of our brand name and bigger volumes of people searching. Our volumes are about 20% higher which is not bad for an internet advertising strategy versus a very powerful, consistent, television sponsorship (yes I am a bit jealous). This was also the other way around a year ago so we’ve gained and overtaken on brand recall through Google. This will be indicative for the rest of the population.

Brand measurement on Google isn’t exact science, nor is it as good as a traditional, surveyed brand monitor. But, if like me, you want to spend money on pointy activities, it’s good guidance on whether you’re doing the right thing.

Next time consumer behaviour.

SEO Account Director / SEO Account Manager


We have some new and exciting roles available.

Have a look at the SEO AD role.


  • Provide senior client account ownership and strategic oversight
  • Manage a multi-lingual SEO client team
  • Lead implementation and management of appropriate SEO tools and analytics tools
  • Define, document, and implement best practices for SEO analysis and reporting, and provide guidance and monitor for ethical standards of SEO
  • Stay up-to-date with changes in the Online marketing and search landscape, including tool recommendations, strategies, industry news, etc

Account managers and execs should get their CVs through as well to jobs@uniquedigital.co.uk

Happy birthday www

It’s 20 years old last Friday 6th August!

After the internet celebrated it’s 40th in 2009, Berners Lee’s www experiment is the next to shout.

I remember this as in late 1991 we too could jump on bulletin boards at Massey University in NZ via the Waikato Uni gateway (or was it ’92!).

Ever since that first fateful send and waiting for a reply that took 10 minutes from Stanford, I’ve been hooked.

In fact I’ve made a career from it.

From selling online yellow pages ads (outsold at the time by Quicktips voice recorded consumer info) to running an SEO unit after websites and web services in between.

SEO didn’t even exist as a term until about ’96ish. I know because the keywords we put in the online yellow pages posts had to work with the crawlers cataloging the web. Yikes who thought that would take off.

So thank you Sir Tim Berbers-Lee. You’re a champ. Because of you I’ve had so much fun and got paid at the same time.

And I love it you started it with a girlie pic as one of your first posts. ;)

Postscript: And how could I forget the colour of Amazon reviews that followed http://www.amazon.com/Looking-Best-David-Hasselhoff/dp/B0000070S1

F Commerce – the fight for online advocates

No it’s not an expletive. F-Commerce is the brand many now apply to the those situations when you’re ‘doing business on Facebook’. I’ve come across an interesting white paper about F-Commerce today.

(READ: It was sent to me by our sister agencies marketing types).

There is a very good overview of everything about commerce in Facebook. I particularly like the diagram and explanation showing the social media perception gap from IBM. Essentially the gap between how consumers perceive the value of interacting with a brand (I want a discount) and what the brand thinks (they want to learn about me) is vast.

The key learning from the paper is that consumer brands can build advocacy using Facebook stores, creating valuable experiences and having those with good experiences advocate for the brand. The key vector then isn’t a fan but those who actively promote new product lines to their friends.

It fits very well with what we have learned with social and SEO.  The influencers are the key tangent to increasing rank, ensuring your content is seen and monetising social through search.

This means that whatever channel is being influenced by social, or for social itself, the fight will be for advocates. This paper outlines some very good techniques in winning that battle.

Most valuable BRIC brands

There are some v cool infographics coming out of BrandZ right now. Heres a very good BRIC one.

It shows the world is now being taken over by fast growing businesses most of us have never heard of. The world is changing. You will be able to learn alot of things about the SEO and the online marketing by visiting their website and by checking what documents they have available online for their visitors. Brands and other business entities are using several ways for keeping their products and services valid in todays highly competitive world. So, just go and check what we have found for you!

Earned SEO

I recently talked at a Figaro Digital event about the work we have been doing on Social SEO.

It discusses the premise that much of the data Google, Bing et al are using to rank websites, have little do with things  SEOs can manipulate. Social signals are rewarded to a website for with for involvement, participation and interaction.

Or by just having great stuff that people like and share. Its earned.

Seth Godin has an interesting view on this as well from the media POV. Invest in doing great stuff and you will be rewarded.

SEO in 2011

Reading some interesting opinions on the future ranking signals got me thinking.

My team is running some interesting experiments on Google Places at the moment and we have also been running some seeding campaign lately.

Based on the effects these have had and the recent announcements from Google Ive come up with some predictions.

For me it all points to a movement toward ranking a brands digital assets based on qualitative and quantitative factors.

Quantitative like link volume, word frequency and click stream.

Qualitative like earned media, sentiment, owned media and digital assets.

We will see if I am right!

hyundai i40 reveal

The latest reveal from Hyundai is v cool.

I’ve just signed up to the Facebook app from the Hyundai i40 website to control the cameras around the car. It plays it back in a nice light show and has become very addictive.

HiRes have also put together an behind the scenes video of the warehouse. Check it out

Social SEO

My discovery of social ranking signals earlier this year is finally becoming clearer. Though I still don’t believe the full story has been told.

Last night Google announced a form of negative sentiment algorithm to penalize those with poor online reputations.

Additionally, searchengineland has unpicked ratings and interviewed Google and Bing and gotten some straight answers on human authority. A great summary is here.

The question now is how do you deal with this. At Unique Digital we have a great blog post on why you should listen and use social SEO strategies.

The take out is that … “key influencer opinions are factored into the search rankings, making their comments on your brand even more valuable”.

So monitor and protect your online reputation and engage by targeting key influencers in social media platforms.