Archive for the ‘marketing’ category


Pirate sites, content mills and splogs exist because of Google

25.06.2022

In chatting to Alexandra Wolfe on Mastodon about the previous post, I had to draw a sombre conclusion. If it weren’t for Google, there’d be no incentive to do content mills or splogs.

I replied: ‘People really are that stupid, and itʼs all thanks to Google. Google doesn’t care about ad fraud, and anyone can be a Google publisher. So scammers set up fake sites, they have a script trawling Google News for stories, and they have another script that rewrites the stories, replacing words with synonyms. Google then pays them [for the ads they have on their sites]. Every now and then they get someone like me who tries to look after our crew.’

Google is the biggest ad tech operator out there. And over the years, I’ve seen them include splogs in Google News, which once was reserved only for legitimate news websites. And when we were hacked in 2013, the injected code looked to me like Google Adsense code. You could just see this develop in the 2000s with Blogger, and it’s only worsened.

Have a read of this piece, which quotes extensively from Bob Hoffman, and tell me that Google doesn’t know this is happening.

Google is part of the problem but as long as they keep getting rich off it, what motive do they have to change?

Speaking of ad fraud, Bob Hoffman’s last couple of newsletters mentions the Association of National Advertisers, who reported that ad fraud would cost advertisers $120 milliard this year. Conveniently enough for the industry, the ANA’s newsletter has since disappeared.
 
I still haven’t got into programmatic or header bidding or all the new buzzwords in online advertising, because I don’t understand them. And as it’s so murky, and there’s already so much fraud out there, why join in? Better buying simple ads directly with websites the old-fashioned way, since (again from Hoffman, in the link above):

Buying directly from quality publishers increases the productivity of display advertising by at least seven times and perhaps as much as 27 times compared to buying through a programmatic exchange.

Everyone wins.

And:

Ad tech drives money to the worst online publishers. Ad tech’s value proposition is this: we will find you the highest quality eyeballs at the cheapest possible locations. Ad tech can do this because your web browser and mobile platform are vulnerable to a problem called ‘data leakage’ where your activity on a trusted site is revealed to other companies … If you’re a quality online publisher, ad tech is stealing money from you by following your valuable audience to the crappiest website they can be found on, and serving them ads there instead of on your site.

In other words, Google et al have an incentive to give ads to sploggers, who are getting rich off the backs of legitimate, quality publishers. And as to the intermediaries, I give you Bob Hoffman again, here.


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Send out warmth, get it back

14.06.2022

I’ve had a nice resolution after reaching out to FashioNZ over their Instagram tagline and a claim made on their website. There was a delay in their response due to the site being sold to its fifth owners (I must be out of touch, as I never knew who the second and third were!), but they addressed all my points, saying that they cared about journalistic integrity, and wrote to me in as friendly a way as I did to them. The tagline has already been changed, and I understand that they’ll get on to the rest.

To be extra-careful, I had two colleagues in Auckland who knew the (outgoing) publisher read through my email to make sure I was being as collegial as possible, and they gave me the all-clear.

I contrast this to an email I received last year, from a US designer who shall remain nameless.

They had asked for an article to be removed from Lucire but did not explain why. I said I would if we had written something factually wrong, or misrepresented them.

No, it wasn’t that: after some probing, they revealed that they just didn’t like our photo of the designer’s work appearing so high up in Google Images. Reading between the lines, they wanted to dominate the search results and were irritated that we were messing it up.

I noted that we were contacted by their firm’s PR people (and before I made that claim, I looked back through my email archives from the 2000s to confirm this—it was a PR firm in their own state, and yes, it was an item published that long ago), to which they countered that they had never heard of us prior to this and would not have issued us the press release. Folks, I have the email.

The whole thing was combative from the get-go, and after they suggested I was a liar, they earned their whole company a block on our email system.

What a strange way for their marketing person to try to get something they wanted, to call the person you’re asking a favour of a liar. I submit that they don’t know much about marketing. And in this country, we have such a thing as freedom of the press.

They have one of our editors’ phone numbers so they can talk to her if they wish—though I had suggested their boss talk directly to me since I wasn’t going to deal with rude underlings. The boss never called.

I won’t name these folks since I consider the dialogue confidential, but sometimes it’s tempting to say, ‘**** may be a famous designer, but they have really shit people working for them.’

There’s a right way and a wrong way to correspond, and I’m glad that a misspent youth, reading some of my father’s Pitman guides, put me on a better track.


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Bing Webmaster Tools: how to make sure you vanish from a search engine completely

03.06.2022

With my personal site and company site—both once numbers one and two for a search for my name—having disappeared from Bing and others since we switched to HTTPS, I decided I would relent and sign up to Bing Webmaster Tools. Surely, like Google Webmaster Tools, this would make sure that a site was spidered and we’d see some stats?

Once again, the opposite to conventional internet wisdom occurred. Both sites disappeared from Bing altogether.

I even went and shortened the titles in the meta tags, so that this site is now a boring (and a bit tossy) ‘Jack Yan—official site’, and the business is just ‘Jack Yan & Associates, Creating Harmony’.

Just as well hardly anyone uses Bing then.

Things have improved at Google after two months, with this personal site at number two, after Wikipedia (still disappointing, I must say) and the business at 15th (very disappointing, given that it’s been at that domain since 1995).

Surely my personal and work sites are what people are really looking for when they feed in my name?

The wisdom still seems to be to not adopt HTTPS if you want to retain your positions in the search engines. Do the opposite to what technologists tell you.
 
Meanwhile, Vivaldi seems to have overcome its bug where it shuts down the moment you click inside a form field. Version 5.3 has been quite stable so far, after a day, so I’ve relegated Opera GX to back-up again. I prefer Vivaldi’s screenshot process, and the fact it lets me choose from the correct directory (the last used) when I want to upload a file. Tiny, practical things.

Big thanks to the developers at Opera for a very robust browser, though it should be noted that both have problems accessing links at Paypal (below).

We’ll see how long I last back on Vivaldi, but good on them for listening to the community and getting rid of that serious bug.
 


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More evidence that contextual advertising is better than creepy, programmatic behavioural ads

01.06.2022

Cory Doctorow posted a link to his collection of links at Pluralistic for August 5, 2020. The first one’s heading piqued my interest: ‘Contextual ads can save media’.

It’s worth having a read, especially about the BS behind behavioural advertising (i.e. surveillance advertising) and the ‘real-time bidding’ that so many ad networks have been trying to sell to me but which none of them can explain.

If it smells like BS, it probably is.

I tell each one: we sell ads, give us some banner code, and we’ll stick it up. They perform well, we increase their share. They perform badly, we decrease them.

They usually go on about the superiority of their systems but if I don’t understand them, then I’m not going to make the switch.

I won’t cite what Cory says on that as the real gems are later in the entry.

Here’s the one, which agrees fully with something I’ve been saying, though my experience is anecdotal and not backed up by proper, quantitative research: ‘Contextual advertising converts at very nearly the same rate as behavioral advertising, and just as well as behavioral ads for some categories of goods and services’.

He then gives this link.

He notes that in 2019, The New York Times ‘ditched most of its programmatic behavioral ads’ and that the Dutch public broadcaster, NPO, has followed suit, ‘ditching Google Ad Manager for a new custom contextual ad system it commissioned’.

‘They’ve since experimented with major advertisers like Amex and found little to no difference between context ads and behavioral ads when it comes to conversions.’

There’s also greater reach because of GDPR requiring that people opt in to behavioural ads.

My emphasis here: ‘And they’re keeping that money, rather than giving a 50% vig to useless, creepy, spying ad-tech middlemen.’

I knew there was a reason I kept rejecting those people.


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Musings for today: back on Facebook, untracked ads, Autocade rankings

16.05.2022

It’d be unfair if I didn’t note that I managed to see a ‘Create post’ button today on Lucire’s Facebook page for the first time in weeks. I went crazy manually linking everything that was missed between April 25 and today.

Maybe I got it back as it would look even worse for Facebook, which still live-streams massacres as a matter of course in spite of its “promises” after March 15, 2019, if white supremacist murderers had more functions available to them on the site than honest business people.

The upshot still remains: get your supporters going to your website as much as possible, and wind down whatever presence you have on Facebook. You shouldn’t depend on it, because you never know when your page might disappear or when you lose access. Both are very real possibilities.
 
Bob Hoffman’s newsletter was gold this week. It usually is, especially as he touches on similar topics to me, but at a far higher level.

This week’s highlights: ‘Blogweasel calculations indicate that adtech-based targeting adds at least 100% to the cost of an online ad. In order for it to be more efficient it has to be more than twice as effective. I’m slightly skeptical.

An article in AppleInsider this week reported that, “Apple has revealed to advertisers that App Store search ads served in a non-targeted fashion are just as effective as those relying on targeting via first-party data.”’

Indeed, ads that might use the page content to inform their contents (contextual advertising) work even better. Why? The publisher might actually get paid for them.

I’ve seen so many ads not display at all, including on our own sites. Now, our firm doesn’t use trackers, but we know the ad networks we use do. And for whatever daft reason, there are ad networks that won’t show content if you block trackers. (Stuff is even worse: their home and contents’ pages don’t even display if you block certain cookies.)

If we went back to how things were before tracking got this bad, the ads would be less creepy, and I bet more of them would display—and that helps us publishers pay the bills. If you don’t like them, there are still ad blockers, but out of my own interests, I would prefer you didn’t.
 
I came across Drew Magarry’s 2021 article, ‘There’s No Middle Class of Cars Anymore’, in Road & Track’s online edition.

‘You’re either driving a really nice new car, a deeply unsatisfying new car, or a very old used car.’ Drew notes that there are nasty base models, and also fully loaded ones, and the former ‘treat you like absolute shit, and everyone on the road knows it.’

It seems what’s happening is that the middle—the “GLs” of this world, as opposed to the Ls and GLSs—is getting squeezed out.

It says something about our society and its inequality.

Interestingly, it’s not as bad here with base models, and that might reflect our society. But look at the US, as Drew does, or the European top 10, where cheap cars like the Dacia Sandero do exceptionally well.

This goes back many years, and I’ve seen plenty of base models in US rental fleets that would make a New Zealand entry-level car seem sumptuous.
 
Finally, the legacy pages are reasserting themselves on Autocade. When the latest version was installed on the server and the stats were reset, the top 20 included all the models that appeared on the home page, as Mediawiki recommenced its count. Search-engine spiders were visiting the site and hitting those the most.

Fast forward two months and the top 20 are exclusively older pages, as visits from regular people coming via search engines outnumber spiders.

Until last week, the most visited page since the March reset was the Renault Mégane II. It seems the Ford Taunus 80 has overtaken the Mégane II. Peugeot’s 206+ (207 in some markets) follows, then the Ford Fiesta Mk VII and Renault Mégane III.

Before the reset, the Ford Fiesta Mk VII was the top model page, followed by the Taunus 80, then the Mégane II, Opel Astra J, and Nissan Sunny (B14).

Probably no one cares, but as it’s my blog, here’s the old, just before the switchover:
 

 
And here’s where we are as of tonight:
 

 
You can see the ranking for yourself, as the stats are public, here.


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Switch to HTTPS, lose your number one and two search-engine ranking

08.05.2022

One annoying thing about switching the majority of our sites to HTTPS is losing our positions in the search engines.

We were always told that HTTPS would lead to rises in search-engine ranking, and that being a mere HTTP would lead to Google downgrading you.

The reality, as I’ve witnessed since we completed our server migration, is the opposite.

Take a search for my name. Since the 1990s, Jack Yan & Associates will wind up being first or second, and when this website came online in the early 2000s, it tended to be first. Stands to reason: my name, followed by dot com, is most likely what a searcher is looking for. Both sites were regular HTTP.

We’ve lost first and second places. For my searches, Google puts this site at eighth, and Duck Duck Go doesn’t even have it in the top 10 (it’s 15th), info box aside. The company falls on the third page in Google and a shocking fifth in Duck Duck Go.

I was told that eventually the search engines will sort things out but it’s been two months, so you wonder just how slowly they act. If at all.

The business site has plenty of inbound links, and I imagine this site has a fair share.

I’ve fixed up some internal references to http:// after advice from some friends, but that hasn’t done the trick.

I find it pretty disheartening to find that, once again, in practice, the exact opposite to conventional wisdom happens. You would think this was a routine matter, and that search engines were programmed to accept such changes, understanding that, content-wise, the secure site is the same as the formerly insecure site. After decades of search engine development, it looks like, at least to this layman, that hasn’t happened. You have to start afresh even when you have the most relevant site to the search.


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The end of Facebook pages?

01.05.2022

Some of the articles in Lucire are still manually designed in Dreamweaver, and those need to be added to the social networks in a similar way. There we use Zoho Social to update things.

In practice, we only do Twitter, as IFTTT then takes care of reposting our updates to Facebook. Today, I noticed that IFTTT has failed to take any of our Tweets to Facebook since April 25, for no reason I can work out.
 

 

We also cannot use Zoho Social to make Facebook page updates, so the fault does not lie with these individual services, but Facebook itself.

First Zoho Social said I needed permission from the page admin to add images, but I am the page admin; then it said I could not post at all.
 


 

I went to Facebook for the first time in goodness knows how long to discover there is no way to enter a post manually there, either!
 

 

I tried using the Meta Business Tools, but I can’t be authenticated, since they require you use an “app” (none of which I have heard of), a physical security key (strange to me as I have no idea what one looks like or where it goes), or a cellphone (yeah right, like I’m going to give Facebook that very personal detail for them to sell).
 

 

It looks like another massively stupid decision on Facebook’s part, so odds are we’ll cease to update any of our Facebook pages going forward. It will take too much effort to figure out how to fix this. Even if we could type into Facebook, we don’t want to be feeding in every headline and link manually.

I ceased to have any respect for Facebook many years ago, but kept things going there for the sake of our readers. But if they are shutting down the pages—certainly all their functionality is disappearing—then we will have no choice but to end our updates there.
 
PS.: If any of you are wondering, I am definitely the admin, but I can’t do any of the things Facebook says I can:
 

 

If I access the options under ‘Page Owner’, apparently I can report ourselves, but nothing more!
 

 

Looks I still can post to a page where I’m not the owner but a contributor, but I can’t post to one where I’m the owner and admin:
 

 

Remember how a page settings’ page usually looks?
 

 
Here’s Lucire’s:
 

 
The only options I have as admin are:
 

 

And before you ask, there are no page ‘violations’ other than one post from years ago, because US sites can’t handle artistic nudity where you can’t see anything inappropriate. Genocide and misinformation are fine, though.

I think what Facebook does is let you work on pages that aren’t yours(!)—it wouldn’t be the first time—but not your own! It really is this daft there.


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Stefan Engeseth gives away his book, One, in the interests of peace

13.04.2022

I always thought One: a Consumer Revolution for Business was one of Stefan Engeseth’s best books, if not the best.

He recently posted on Linkedin: ‘readers have told me that the book can lead to a better understanding of people and society (which can end wars).’ In the interests of peace, he thought he’d give away his book for free, as a PDF, subtly retitled One: a Consumer Revolution for Peace.

‘I originally wrote the book to start a consumer revolution,’ he says. ‘And today it is consumers, through social media, who are demanding nations to end wars. I have thought about updating the book, but now I realize that the content could be the DNA for change and to build a better future on.’

Here’s his original Linkedin post, and you can grab your copy of this excellent book here.


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A dodgy 2000s’ UK spam list is still doing the rounds in 2022, pretending to be legit

07.04.2022


 
During February, I received spam from Novuna in the UK, the finance company that’s a subsidiary of Mitsubishi. It wasn’t personally addressed, it was just a general message. I complained via their complaints’ email, only to have the message bounce back as it wasn’t working. However, they did respond on Twitter, unlike less caring companies such as Afterpay, followed up via my company feedback form by their senior marketing manager, Rob Walton.

Rob asked me to send them the spam for their investigation, and, after about seven attempts, they received it (ironically, their own server blocked the message on the grounds of it being spam). I confirmed that although I do have British nationality, I had never resided in the UK or had had any contact with Novuna.

He was as good as his word, and after a few days, came back to me to say Experian, a credit reference agency, had supplied my address to them. He also included a web address so I could get make a ‘subject access request’ from the provider, made sure I was off their email lists, and apologized.

From there, ESB Connect Ltd. also took things seriously. The request came back, and ESB’s CEO, Suz Chaplin, took the time to write a personal email. It turns out that ESB had acquired the details from another company, Datatonomy, who falsely claimed that I had signed up via two websites: Idealo and Great British Offers.

Here’s the real kicker: it claimed that my name was ‘Mrs Jayne Moore’ of Liverpool.

Rewind back over 15 years (maybe closer to 20!) and a dodgy spam list doing the rounds in the 2000s saw a lot of messages sent to my email calling me ‘Mrs Jayne Moore’. I even have a filter for it in Eudora that’s been there since the ’00s.

Indeed, 10 days prior to Suz getting back to me, I said to Rob: ‘I do remember one UK-based spam list from the 2000s that had my email address listed against the name “Mrs Jayne Moore” and those still come. It will be interesting to discover if this is the same source.’

Imagine my surprise to find that a common and badly compiled spam list (obviously my details were erroneously married up with Mrs Moore’s name, address and date of birth) is still being sold by dodgy parties in the UK, making false claims about sign-ups!

I wrote to Suz: ‘It seems you may have unwittingly and innocently purchased a common spammers’ list where such details were mixed up (after all, these people have no qualms) or that you have been duped about the veracity of the opt-ins detailed in your document.’ And cheekily, I suggested she should get her money back from Datatonomy.

Suz says she will look into this further as her company prides itself on data integrity. I thanked her, and true to both her and Rob’s promises, I haven’t received anything like the Novuna spam since. Nor have I seen that many purporting to be from British companies.

I don’t know if Datatonomy bought its list from somewhere else, though as I said to Suz, they haven’t had great reviews, and it’s suggested online that they purchase from questionable parties. But after a decade and a half, thanks to Rob and Suz, we might have stopped some of the ‘Mrs Jayne Moore’ spams.


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Where democratizing technology got the better of us

13.02.2022

From the start, I’ve been a supporter of the democratization of design. Everyone has the right to access it, because fundamentally good design is something that makes the world a better place. A lot of websites are founded on this, such as Shopify, which has enough flexibility to give most of the stores we visit a unique look. Wordpress’s templates are generally good lookers that take into account the latest trends. There’s an entire industry out there making templates and skins. And, it has to be said, most social media have reasonably good looking interfaces, so people can feel a sense of pride after they’ve posted that they’ve shared text or a photo that has been presented well.

It’s quite perplexing when you confront some other facts. People will judge the credibility of a website by how good it looks (among other criteria). People can also become addicted to social media, and they’re designed to be addictive. And as design democratizes, it’s only natural that the less educated (and I don’t necessarily mean in a formal sense), those who are not trained to discern fact from fiction, will have access to the same technology and present their work as capably and as attractively as anyone else.

It would be wrong to deny this, just as it would be wrong to deny access to technology or good design because we disagreed with someone’s political views or their beliefs, even ones we might find distasteful. The key must be to bring social awareness and education up to a point that there’s no appeal to engage in behaviour that’s harmful to society at large. By all means, be individual, and question. We should have ways in which this can be done meaningfully—one might argue this is done in the corridors of power, as anyone in a good, functioning democracy can stand for office. But in countries with low trust in institutions, or those infected by forces that want to send nations into corporatist fascism, there has to be something that balances the wild west of the online world, one that has marched so far one way without the structures to support it. We have, in effect, let the technology get the better of us. There is no agreed forum online where tempers can be abated, and because we have encouraged such individualist expression, it is doubtful whether some egos can take it. We have fooled ourselves into thinking our own selfies on social media have the same value as a photo taken by the press for a publication. As such, fewer can lead, because no one wants to play second fiddle.

These are confusing times, though the key must be education. It is often the answer. Keeping education up with the technology so our young people can see and understand the forces at play. Give them a sense of which corporations are wielding too much influence. Teach them how to discern a legitimate story from a fictionalized one. Teach them how the economy really works—not just the theory but how the theory has been hijacked.

This can’t wait till university: it has to be taught as early as possible. If today’s kids are bringing their devices to school, then it’s never too early to make them aware of how some online content is questionable. Tell them just why social media are addictive and why they can’t open accounts on the big sites till they’re 13. In fact, tell them how the social media companies’ bosses actually don’t let their own kids use the services, because deep down they know they’re bad for them.

If they know from a young age why some things are harmful—in the same way we were told that cigarettes were, or to say no to drugs—then hopefully they can steer clear of calls on social networks funded by parties who seek to divide us for their own gain.
 
There’ll be a delay in having a gallery on this blog this month as a dear friend is helping me migrate our sites off an old AWS instance. He doesn’t wish to be named. But I am deeply thankful to him.

The data have already been shifted off this server. At this rate I will have to repost this on the new box once the domain is set up. Reposting a gallery might just be a bit tricky, so there mightn’t be one for February 2022, depending on when my friend can get to this domain.


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