Posts tagged ‘online advertising’


Online publishing: how the players we dealt with changed in 2016

12.01.2017


Above: Brave Bison’s predecessor, Rightster, left much to be desired in how it dealt with publishers, while investment commentators had concerns, too.

Twenty-sixteen had some strange developments on the publishing front.
   First, we noticed Alexa rankings for a lot of sites changed. Facebook itself went from second to third, where it has stayed. Our own sites dropped as well, across the board, even though our own stats showed that traffic was pretty much where it was. In Autocade’s case, it was rising quickly.
   We checked, and Alexa had announced that it had increased its panel again in 2016. There was an announcement about this in 2014, but things improved even more greatly during the last Gregorian calendar year, specifically in April. (April 2016, it seems, was a huge month of change: read on.) This means Alexa began sampling more people to get a more accurate picture. Given that Facebook fell as well as us, then we drew the conclusion that the new panel must include audiences in China and other non-Anglophone places. It makes sense: Alexa is a global service and should take global data points. Never mind that we’ve suffered as a result, we actually agree with this approach. And we’re taking steps in 2017 to look at capturing extra traffic with our content.
   Alexa, when we approached them, said it could not comment about the origins of the panellists. Again, fair enough. We’ve made an educated guess and will work accordingly.
   Secondly, there were two ad networks whose advertising disappeared off our sites. The first, Gorilla Nation, started dropping off long before 2016. In 2015, we asked why and were asked to fill out some form relating to Google ads. Anyone who’s followed this blog will know why that was unpalatable to us—and we want to make sure our readers don’t fall victim to Google’s snooping, either. I’m not saying that Google ads don’t appear at all—it’s the largest advertising network in the world, and its tentacles are everywhere—but if I can avoid opening our properties up to Google willingly, then I’ll do so.
   It’s a shame because we’ve worked exceedingly well with Gorilla Nation and found them very professional.
   We have, sadly, entered an era where—as found by my friend and colleague Bill Shepherd—online advertising is controlled by a duopoly. In The New York Times, April 18, 2016 (italics added): ‘Advertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst.’ I don’t think this is fair, as they’re not the ones generating the content. Google has also managed to game services like Adblock Plus: they’ve paid for their ads not to be blocked. (Better has more information on why certain ad blockers are ineffective.) It’s not difficult to see why native advertising has increased, and this is generally more favourable to the publisher. In 2017, it’s time to build up the advertising side again: two years ago we already saw quarters where online overtook print in terms of ad revenue.
   Burst Media’s ads also disappeared, and we had been working with them since 1998. Now called Rhythm One, they responded, ‘We recently migrated to a new platform and your account was flagged by an automated process as part of that. All that being said—we can absolutely get you live again.’ That was April. I added one of their team to Skype, as requested, but we never connected—the helpful staff member wasn’t around when I called in. Again, a bit of a shame. As I wrote this blog post, I sent another message just to see if we could deal with the matter via email rather than real-time on Skype.
   At least this wasn’t a unilateral cessation of a business arrangement, which Rightster sprung on us without notice in April. Rightster’s Christos Constantinou wrote, ‘It is with regret that we inform you that from yesterday we ceased providing video content services to your account.’ This wasn’t the first change Rightster sprung on us—its code had changed in the past, leaving big gaps in our online layouts—and soon after, everyone there clammed up, despite an initial email from another Rightster staffer that feigned surprise at what had happened. Mr Constantinou never picked up phone calls made since that point, and we couldn’t get an answer out of them. No breaches of their terms and conditions were ever made by us.
   We were only interested in a small handful of their video sources anyway, all of whom exist on other platforms, so one would have thought that it was to Rightster’s advantage to continue working with a well respected brand (Lucire). A bit of digging discovered that the firm was not in good shape: a pre-tax loss in the first half of 2015 of £11·5 million, with shares trading in October of that year at 10·50p per share, down from its float price of 60p. That year, it was forecast by Share Prophets that things would only get worse for the firm, and they were proved right within months. Not long after ceasing to work with us (and presumably others), Rightster became Brave Bison Group, restructured, and became a ‘social video broadcaster’, but it was still burning cash (to the tune of £1·3 million, according to the same website in July 2016).
   Gorilla Nation and Burst’s slots have largely been replaced by other networks as well as ads secured in-house, while Rightster effectively did us a favour, though its opaqueness didn’t help. In fact, when they didn’t answer questions, it was only natural to surf online to investigate what was going on. Initially, there was some negative stuff about Burst, though my concerns were put to rest when they emailed me back. With Rightster, there was no such solace: finding all the news about the firm being a lemon confirmed to me that we were actually very lucky to have them farewell us.
   We revived an old player that we used, through Springboard, itself linked to Gorilla Nation, so we’re still serving advertising from them, just in a different form. Video content has not vanished from the Lucire sites, for those who are interested in it.
   How a company behaves can be linked to how well it ultimately performs, and what it’s worth. Given our treatment by Rightster, it wasn’t that surprising to learn that something was rotten in Denmark (or London). Maybe that first staff member was genuinely surprised, with employees not being told about their company running out of money. And unless things have truly changed within, it could well continue to function dysfunctionally, which will give those AIM columnists more ammunition.

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Facebook pages are broken

08.12.2013

While my personal Facebook page and profile continue to have good reach and engagement, the Lucire Facebook is down, especially compared with this time last year.
   We’ve increased fans and, on our site, readership, but it’s becoming more and more evident that traffic isn’t coming via the Facebook fan page.
   It makes you wonder, then, whether Facebook pages remain a useful marketing tool.
   Today is one of the high-traffic days of the year, one where had incredibly high Facebook engagement a year ago. We recorded a reach of 3,169 on the principal article posted that day, on Miss France 2013. Today’s figure for the 2014 competition: 45. (I’d give you a 2011 figure, but Facebook doesn’t allow me to scroll down that far on that page.)
   If we post something without an external link, then Facebook will share that with more of our fans, and these will be in the hundreds.
   This is probably the best example we have at Lucire for the declining effectiveness of Facebook, with two very comparable posts.

   Since the company introduced paid updates, fan page administrators saw an immediate decline in engagement numbers. These seem to have worsened even more in 2013. Facebook denied it then, even objected to the suggestion:

At the time, Facebook contended that algorithmic changes had been made to weed out spammy, non-engaging content, but that the median reach of pages hadn’t budged. It particularly objected to the inference that the changes had been made to spur marketers to spend more on ads to make up for lost reach.

However, now comes an admission of sorts in a sales’ deck sent to its partners, revealed by Advertising Age. Folks called BS then, and they were right.
   So while 2012 had research showing a 38 per cent year-on-year drop, we’ve seen that 2013 has seen the figure plunge in order for the Californian social network to make more money.
   Back to Advertising Age:

In the document, titled “Generating business results on Facebook,” the paragraph in which the impending drop-off in organic reach is revealed concludes with an ad pitch; marketers are told they should consider paid distribution “to maximize delivery of your message in news feed.” …
   In other words, the main reason to acquire fans isn’t to build a free distribution channel for content; it’s to make future Facebook ads work better.

   When I posted that Facebook was dying, I had plenty of people object—on Facebook, of course—because the network had become so ingrained. But, I thought, once upon a time it was habitual to check your Altavista or Excite home page. Once people find a better way to keep in touch, something that mirrors real-life interaction more, they’ll go.
   Facebook fatigue could well come from the lack of stimulation that the website represents today. While Timeline was rolled out to much fanfare in September 2011, and other nip–tucks had taken place regularly before then, Facebook has not innovated on such a grand scale since. However, like an operating system, or like some software, there’s little visual delight in Facebook in 2013 for me. The personal motive is far less than it was. And if there’s such a substantial drop-off in reach on fan pages—we are talking nearly 99 per cent—then there’s no supporting work reason to be there, either. Sure you could innovate and run competitions, but if the reach is this pathetic, does it give businesses much confidence to take the plunge? I don’t think so, not for the majority of small businesses.
   Facebook seemed like a recessionary tool: one where people could spend time to forget how bad the economy is. When things improve, we might just want to get out there and do stuff.
   All this potentially plays into Google’s hands, and that’s not something I’ll admit to lightly. Google News was Lucire’s friend today. We need reach to get engagement, and we’ll go where we can get it. The search is on.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, New Zealand, publishing, USA | 3 Comments »


Using Super Start on Firefox, after I got pop-ups while using Speed Dial

20.12.2011

PS.: I got two pop-ups today (December 21) of the same nature, this time while using Facebook. I think we can rule out Speed Dial as the reason.—JY

For the Firefox boffins out there, I began using Super Start, after having trialled Speed Dial and Fast Dial over the past year or so.
   These replicate what Opera users are used to with their Speed Dial, and what Google Toolbar users have with their menus. Your most accessed websites are shown to you in thumbnail format when you open a new tab.
   Super Start is probably the best of them all so far. It’s compact, doesn’t seem to drain the resources, and you can program more than the eight that it comes with (I presently have 12).
   I only began seeking an alternative to Speed Dial because OpenX ad pop-ups began appearing. I don’t know what was causing them, but since I work with only a small handful of sites, it seemed odd that these were appearing each time I opened a new tab, usually to begin searching with Duck Duck Go. I was reasonably sure they were not coming with the search engine, Facebook or our own company sites. They were quite hard to get rid of, with a script that had a new window open up if you closed the first.
   I have no proof that these were connected to Speed Dial, and they could have come from any website that I visited. Maybe there was a delay from another website (not uncommon). However, it’s equally odd that they have ceased to appear after I deleted Speed Dial and replaced it with Super Start. To my knowledge, Speed Dial sent me no notification of a recent update that might have brought with it these pop-ups. At best, Speed Dial was the victim of unfortunate timing.
   Again, I’m blogging this in case other computer users have had the same issue creep up recently. Maybe we can narrow down the cause of these sudden pop-ups.

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The big and the small of it

29.11.2010

Spotted on the Lucire website today, an advertisement for Consumer magazine.
   It’s a Flash animation, suggesting that not all car insurance policies are perfect. The opening frame shows a car with oversized coins for wheels, and the wheels shrink to a more standard size at the end of the animation.
   The copy reads, ‘Car insurance / Get the cover that fits’.
   All I could think of was:

Consumer ad

Ford Kuga

Consumer ad

Ford Fiesta.

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Posted in business, cars, humour, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing | No Comments »


Explaining to Lucire readers about my political ads

23.09.2010

Basin Reserve billboard[Cross-posted at Lucire] New Zealand readers will be seeing a few advertisements around this site relating to the local body election in Wellington. And perhaps, thanks to programming not always being precise, a few more readers outside New Zealand will notice them, too, although we have targeted them for this country alone. I think it’s time to explain them to you.
   Long-time Lucire readers will know that I’ve put my name forward to be the next Mayor of Wellington. (We have not turned away any advertising from my opponents, incidentally.) Our publications will continue (in fact, we have additional editions to announce) and I will maintain a supervisory role, but the majority of my own time, if elected, will be dedicated to the people of Wellington and to give them the same opportunities that I was given as I grew my businesses here.
   This is an important move because those of us under 45 have not had a mayor in this city who understands the importance of the role for quite some time. Turnout among younger voters is traditionally low, except for one time: when a 39-year-old, Mark Blumsky, ran, he managed to inspire more younger voters to get out. (I am 38.) He got there through citizen engagement, and people could see that here was a potential mayor who would continue being connected.
   In 2010, I have no excuse to not be connected. I’ve made a big deal of staying in touch with everyone through Twitter and Facebook all year—as we reach the first anniversary of this campaign on the 25th. And I’ve pledged at several meetings to continue doing so after I am elected in to office. All the Tweets are mine, uncensored—sometimes uncensored to the point of being politically incorrect. …
   We’ll keep our events because Wellington does better with our creative talent, and we’ll grow our economy because Wellington punches well above its weight with our technological prowess.
   But the one thing that I keep hearing, more so in the last weeks of the campaign, is the lack of transparency and the failure of politicians to engage early with people. Decisions are almost brought to Wellingtonians as faits accomplis, with citizens feeling disengaged.
   This was the theme at several sessions of Residents 2010, a conference for residents’ associations earlier this year. Coverage of the event was to have been my op–ed for an earlier New Zealand print edition of Lucire, which had to have been delayed this year due to a decline in advertising. Ironical, then, that we seem to be continuing abroad—thank goodness for export markets, so we can keep companies going here. It’s a lesson to learn.
   Beginning with a video from John Ralston Saul, of whose writings I am a huge fan, the theme was set. Cities might have lovely facilities now—if you can afford them. And somehow there is a tax shortage despite there being so much money. Saul blamed the specialization of management, because decisions were given to specialists, who failed to engage with citizens; and that he had little time for what he called ‘the efficiency dogma’.
   Whenever I hear the word efficiency, I immediately think of Slater Walker and any argument made by various corporate raiders of the 1960s through to the 1980s; but besides that, Saul is right. There is insufficient engagement in this city and in others with citizens, and politics is the one area where there hasn’t been enough democratization.
   Session after session, the same theme emerged. Attendees argued that engagement would not open the floodgates to making a city less efficient. That politicians feared losing power through engagement. That the Local Government Act does not empower local representatives to represent local people. That electronic media should be used for continued engagement, as an ongoing process to the exchange of ideas between Wellingtonians and our City Council.
   We’ve seen democratization in business. Multi-million-dollar ad campaigns can become nothing if someone makes a viral video refuting their messages. And politics needs it, because the tools are there: the web is a great way to engage; and people do indeed have their say when bad decisions are made. How about engaging so early that we don’t make those mistakes, not just with pressure groups, but with all citizens? I don’t care if it’s Facebook, Twitter or some other service—if we can do it in publishing, by talking with you through this website, then why can’t a city?
   No mayor is an island, especially when (s)he must be an advocate and a representative.
   And that, in a very long-winded way, is the reason for these ads: a reminder that you can come to me with your concerns—early. So you know where to go to if you want to see what is being discussed in your next council. So there can be early engagement, in this case, prior to my potentially taking office on October 10, 2010.
   Everything I have done in life has been as a change agent. This publication only exists because I wanted to make fashion more accessible and its coverage fairer. The print editions only exist because I wanted to prove a point: that you could go global and be based in Wellington, New Zealand. And politics now needs a change agent: Wellington can be a globally competitive city while engaging with its weakest citizens—to make sure we are all included as the 2010s take shape.—Jack Yan

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Deciphering geo-targeting on OpenX; and why Mediaplex is a cheeky sod

21.07.2010

Between a few of us here and my friend Pete in the UK, we’ve spent nearly two weeks trying to get OpenX to work. We’re finally getting ad-serving technology put in in-house, after years of relying on the US ad networks we primarily work with. It’s also walking the talk: since I have advocated that Wellington moves to open source if I am elected mayor, then it makes sense that our Linux servers are running ads off an open-source ad-management program.
   The first problem might have been caused by me personally: OpenX wouldn’t install. Pete re-uploaded the files, we chmoded the directories, and away we went.
   Autocade has been the first domain to host the ads that we are sending along, and it’s been so far, so good.
   However, today we decided to give the home page of the Lucire web edition a go, and encountered a problem.
   All was well for the first few hours, but then I noticed something strange: two different computers at this office were behaving differently with the geo-targeting.
   We had fed in banners from two of our US networks. Let’s call them network A and network B. They were set, for New Zealand, to display at these percentages (roughly):

Network A: 98 per cent
Network B: 2 per cent

On computer one running Windows XP, the above was working.
   On computer two running Windows Vista:

Network A: 0 per cent
Network B: 100 per cent

   I’ve a fair idea of how geo-targeting works and two computers on the same network going through the same router with the same (outward) IP address do not, in theory, behave differently.
   But, as Homer Simpson once retorted, ‘In theory, communism works.’
   I hope the boffins can explain this one, because usually I have gone against expert advice to get computer hardware working. (The network was hooked up many years ago by yours truly, doing the exact opposite of what the instructions said—after, I might add, the instructions failed. My personal laptop and its Bluetooth connection were hooked up by finding the most illogical method possible.)
   Surfing to the OpenX forums (Pete had been on the chat earlier, but no one was around), I tried to log in. Unfortunately, this proved impossible and errors followed:

OpenX forum bug

No one was there at all, presumably due to the database error shown at the bottom of the page:

OpenX forum bug

   So, if any OpenX experts are out there and can answer our geo-targeting question, please give us a shout in the comments.

Despite fiddling around with all these online ads, there’s one company I know I will never deal with. And it’s not as though the online ad industry has come to us with clean hands, either, so this sullies them further.
   After surfing on July 10, I found I could no longer get on to Facebook. Every time I typed www.facebook.com, I got the screen below (excerpted):

Mediaplex redirection

Which led me to here:

Mediaplex redirection

   Somewhere along the line, I must have got to a web page that hijacked my web browser. It didn’t alter the hosts’ file, and I was eventually able to correct this by deleting all cookies and clearing the browser cache, but it left me with one clear message: I will never deal with Mediaplex.
   Based on the above, this conduct is highly unethical and is nearly as bad as planting a trojan or a virus on to a user’s computer. And Googling the incident, I found that many others had encountered the same, sometimes when typing in other sites.
   I was saddened to find out that Mediaplex is part of Valueclick, a company I dealt with for years. We eventually ended our contract with Valueclick. I don’t recall the reason exactly, but I suspect it was down to the low advertising rates the company delivered. There were no concerns over its behaviour.
   When I was on the Mediaplex site, I noticed that Commission Junction was part of the same group. We have been asked to join CJ many times during the 1990s and 2000s but always read the terms and conditions. It had something similar to this clause (which is in its current agreement):

Dormant Accounts. If Publisher’s Account has not been credited with a valid, compensable Transaction that has not been Charged-back during any rolling, six consecutive calendar month period (“Dormant Account”), a dormant account fee at CJ’s then-current rate shall be applied to Publisher’s Account each calendar month that Publisher’s Account remains an open yet Dormant Account or until Your Account balance reaches a zero balance, at which time the Account shall become deactivated. Transactions will not be counted if the Transaction subsequently becomes a Charge-back.

In English: if you don’t make a sale over six months, they have the right to charge you. When you pay it all back, they kill off your account.
   There’s nothing illegal about that, but considering every other affiliate programme we have seen does not do that, then I bet a few people who were less careful about reading their agreements would have been taken by surprise. I found it questionable, and refused to deal with the company. (It seems, if you believe some of the links on Google, that we got off lucky.)
   This latest stunt tarnishes the entire group: Commission Junction, Mediaplex and Valueclick. Caveat proponor.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, publishing | 11 Comments »