Online Advertising Has Plenty of Room to Grow – Mobile, Social and Branded Content

In the wake of the explosive LinkedIn IPO, which saw a 109% first day gain that valued the nine-year old company with over 100 million users at $8.9 billion, an intense spotlight has been focused on the new wave of Web-based companies that have taken venture capitalists and private and secondary markets by storm. The highly anticipated and inevitable IPOs of Web titans Facebook and Groupon have – rightly or wrongly – brought up fears of a “bubble” reminiscent of the dot-com bust that wiped away the fortunes of millions and oversaw the collapse of hundreds of “companies” that rushed to go public without revenues, not to mention profits.

(My take? We’re not in a bubble. Not yet. The lessons from a decade ago are fresh enough in the minds of VCs and investors, and the simple fact that we are being cautious and asking questions proves we are eons away from the insanity of 2000.)

The promise of the new media era is dependent on a new era of advertising, one that is integrated across many platforms, channels and formats. The booming success of Google and others dependent on online advertising may lead some to think that the market is saturated, leaving little opportunity for new entrants or growth for existing players. However, the data paints a dramatically different picture. The IAB projects double-digit growth in global online advertising spending for each of the next four years, reaching nearly $100 billion by 2014, or 17.4% of combined global ad spending.

Online Ad Spend Totals

There is a significant trend that one doesn’t need to dive through troves of data to recognize: people across the world are spending more time online. The time spent online on computers, tablets and smartphones is dramatically increasing year over year, but even these markets are relatively under-served. Just 82 million of more than 330 million Americans access the Internet on their mobile phones, and just 31% of wireless subscribers own a smartphone. Even with the billions of dollars in profits enjoyed by Apple, Google, Nokia and Microsoft in the mobile sector, the market is just getting started. More users with more Web-enabled smartphones means more ad dollars flowing to Web companies from the world’s biggest spenders.

So does this mean the tens of billions of dollars spent on television advertising will magically flow online? No. New value is created by reaching consumers online, and that means new dollars will be spent. Television advertising offers benefits that the hottest social media and branded content companies could never provide, and vice versa. It is the value of connecting and conversing with consumers in the new media era that will entice advertisers to direct new dollars from their ad budgets toward online campaigns.

eHow Style Site Takeover

The power to connect brands and consumers where the conversations are happening (social) and at the point of intent (branded content, action-oriented content) provides the opportunity for companies that offer these services to capitalize on the significant upside potential in the online advertising market. Online advertising isn’t just text links and banner ads. The new formats enabled by tablet and mobile technology and revolutionary business models ensure Silicon Valley’s best executors will reap the rewards of a booming online advertising market in the coming years.

Hat Tip: AdWeek – The Changing Scope of Online Advertising 

IAB Report: 2010 Internet Advertising Reveneus Increase 15% to $26 Billion, A New Record

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How Demand Media Creates High-Quality Content at Scale [INFOGRAPHIC]

On the heels of a widely successful IPO and a strong first earnings report as a public company, Demand Media has delivered another positive sign for investors seeking continued momentum for 2011 and beyond.

Today, the Santa Monica, CA-based content and social media company announced 48% growth in revenues and a 121% increase in adjusted net income year over year. (A full review of Demand Media’s Q1 2011 financial results can be viewed here.) Well-received redesigns of flagship Demand Media properties like eHow, LIVESTRONG.com and Cracked and high-profile celebrity partnerships with Rachael Ray for eHow Food and Tyra Banks for typeF.com are driving continued growth in content and media revenues (77% increase YoY.)

The increased scrutiny that comes with being a public company has manifested in investor worries about the impact of Google’s “Panda” algorithm tweak, but Demand Media has fought hard to reaffirm its continued commitment to producing high quality content. As a writer for Demand Media Studios and a member of the Demand Media Blog Distribution Network, I can attest to the validity of these assertions, and I am continuously impressed by the quality of content being produced by my fellow freelancers.

My team and I created an infographic that presents the detailed content creation process of Demand Media using text, graphics and images repurposed from OnlineMBA and Demand Media’s Content Matters. (Click on the infographic to view the full-size version.)

Demand Media Content Creation Process

This infographic portrays how Demand Media utilizes a network of proven professional writers and copy editors, with every piece of content run through a rigorous quality control and review process. Articles that do not meet the strict Demand Media content quality standards are rejected and never published.

The continued efforts of Demand Media to improve content quality and focus on the creation of compelling, actionable content on its growing platform of top-rated properties are delivering strong financial results and positive user responses, and are a strong sign for scrutinizing investors.

Related: Learn more about how Demand Media offers advertisers a unique opportunity to reach action-ready consumers through intent targeting.

Is Google Offers Too Late to Compete? [Update]

[UPDATE: 4/21/11] In the four months since Google’s failed $6 billion Groupon acquisition bid, the company has faced increasingly vocal criticism on everything from lack of innovation to weak leadership. Today Google launched sign-up pages for its very own Groupon clone, Google Offers.

Following the company’s release of Google +1, this release will do little to calm the fears that Google is resorting to a “copy-cat” strategy as it falls further behind in social and perhaps is even losing its dominance in search. Further hampering Google’s progress is Groupon’s poaching of Google VP of Sales Operations Margo Georgiadis to fill the role of COO. With virtually zero differentiation in the company’s plunge into local deals, what makes Google believe it can compete with established heavyweights like Groupon and LivingSocial?

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More than a month after Groupon spurned a $6 billion acquisition offer from Google, the worldwide search engine leader is preparing to announce its own local deals service, Google Offers. According to Mashable, “Google will pay out 80% of a business’ revenue share three days after its deal runs. Google will hold the remaining 20% for 60 days to cover refunds before sending the rest.”

Groupon holds a dominant share of the local deals market, with LivingSocial trailing in a distant second and dozens of clones controlling minuscule shares. Reports of a similar service from Facebook have surfaced recently, and with Groupon supposedly preparing for a $15 billion IPO, questions are arising whether the market is saturated and if it can sustain another large competitor this late in the cycle.

The local deals market is by no means mature, and traditional marketing laws call for a strong number one versus number two competition over the long run, but the rules of Silicon Valley reward the first market entrants above all else. So with an established leader in Groupon controlling a heavy share and runner-up LivingSocial fresh off their blowout Amazon deal (which garnered over one million downloads), is Google Offers too late?

With little room for differentiation in the basic deals platform, Google’s opportunity to steal share from Groupon lies in its ability to integrate search, social, maps and location, and capitalize on the power of its online reach under the rejiggered executive management team led by some familiar faces. Pre-loaded mobile applications on its Android platforms and packaged search and local deals are likely components of Google’s strategic plan. It will take time to build these features out, but perhaps more than any time in the company’s history since its IPO, this is a critical inflection point for Google.

Google Offers

Google’s official response to a Mashable inquiry reveals the early development efforts of Offers:

“Google is communicating with small businesses to enlist their support and participation in a test of a pre-paid offers/vouchers program. This initiative is part of an ongoing effort at Google to make new products, such as the recent Offer Ads beta, that connect businesses with customers in new ways. We do not have more details to share at this time, but will keep you posted.”

The potential viability of Offers is a snapshot into the current environment at the still highly regarded online behemoth. It is widely known that more than 90% of Google’s revenues come from search engine advertising, and a recent string of disappointing product failures has some industry insiders questioning the company’s ability to create new and sustainable innovations.

After announcing a record-breaking quarter, with profits jumping to $2.5 billion, Google is hardly faltering. Google’s efforts in display advertising and mobile are paying off, and search is as powerful as ever. But with news that Eric Schmidt will step down on April 4th and co-founder Larry Page will take over as CEO, investors and insiders will be keeping a close eye on Google over the next year. As one blogger questioned, will Page’s return to the helm be similar to Steve Jobs’ triumphant reclamation of the Apple throne in 1997, or more like Jerry Yang’s short-lived return to Yahoo! in 2007?

Image Credit: Mashable

As Bing Sees Big Gains, Is Microsoft Cool Again?

Under the tutelage of Bill Gates, Microsoft exploded into one of the world’s largest and most valuable companies, generating billions of dollars in profits annually for shareholders. The dot-com boom made many employees and investors millionaires, and the company appeared unstoppable.

As the company matured, growth stabilized and new tech darlings like Google stole the spotlight. Delayed product launches of centerpiece operating systems, failed products and advertising campaigns, broken acquisition deals and an apparent lack of internal innovation gave Microsoft a reputation as a “has been” that had passed its prime, and current CEO Steve Ballmer lost the confidence of many investors.

Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld Microsoft Ad

However, new data is showing that Microsoft may be experiencing a reversal of fortunes, as the company’s investments in search are beginning to pay off. The brutally competitive search engine market has had one dominant player for the last decade – Google – which has held as much as 80 percent of the United States search market.

In October 2010, the U.S. search marketshare breakdown was as follows: Google (72.15%); Yahoo + Bing (23.64%). The most recent Hitwise data shows Bing has made substantial gains at the expense of Google and Yahoo. Bing-powered search now controls 30.01% of the U.S. search market, while Google’s share has fallen to 64.42%. (See below: Image courtesy of Mashable.)

Bing vs. Google

These gains may be the result of a major multi-platform ad push by Microsoft for Bing, but the trend is a positive sign for investors and spectators that have remained loyal to the company.

Strong performance in search, high expectations for tablet and PC versions of the upcoming Windows 8 platform, new developer confidence in the Windows Phone platform following the recent Nokia partnership announcement, the smashing success of Kinect and Xbox 360 and widespread adoption of Microsoft’s iPhone and iPad apps are powerful indicators of a possible Microsoft mindshare and marketshare resurgence.

Bing iPad App

Less than a decade after Wall Street and Silicon Valley critics alike pronounced the death of Apple as a legitimate player in the lucrative personal computer market, the world has witnessed the resurgence of the Cupertino-based company as the dominant force in the rapidly-growing world of consumer electronics. Could we be seeing the beginning of an Apple-esque Microsoft turnaround? Critics will call it wishful thinking, but with Google in the process of a massive leadership change, Yahoo! undergoing a drawn-out transition phase and the tenure of Apple CEO Steve Jobs uncertain, the competitive landscape is changing and Microsoft has substantial opportunities in search, PCs and mobile.

Create Custom Text Clouds with Wordle

Free utility software is one of the great perks of the Web, with generous tinkerers sharing their creations with the world at no cost. One of my favorite tools, Wordle, comes from Johnathan Feinberg and partial source code owner IBM.

Wordle is a clever tag cloud tool that automatically creates a custom text cloud from a slate of creative templates. Users can enter text manually, copy/paste text blocks, or allow the program to crawl any website and Wordle will create a custom word cloud with the given text. Users can then edit word orientation, edit text colors, alter color variation and access a host of other customizations.

Demand Media Infographic - Wordle

(Click to enlarge.)

To create your own custom text cloud for free, visit www.Wordle.net.

What are your favorite free tools from around the Web? Share with a comment below.

Yahoo! Search Direct Provides Richer, Faster Results

Today Yahoo! announced a new search product, Search Direct, that integrates richer content and instant results to the search experience.

Could this be the product & morale boost Yahoo! needs? It just may be. After months of public hits and high-profile executive departures, Yahoo! has taken a significant step forward in reversing the company’s downward trend. Competition from Google, Facebook, Twitter and others have put pressure on Yahoo! to release an innovative, revolutionary product to capitalize on the company’s massive Web audience.

Yahoo! Direct Search

Search Direct is clearly an effort to make Yahoo! Search more of a destination and less a sea of links. Search is about content and information discovery, and reducing the number of steps it takes to get a user from query to information is vital.

View and test Search Direct here.

Google Instant was a start – it brought links to users faster. Yahoo! Direct Search takes it one step further, providing a richer experience and faster, more comprehensive access to answers, not just links to answers. It’s early and the product is still being refined, but it has big potential.

Yahoo! Direct Search

Here is the press release from Yahoo! announcing Search Direct:

Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO), the premier digital media company, today announced Search Direct, which delivers answers and direct access to websites before you complete a query, hit the search button, or go to a search results page. This search innovation supports Yahoo!’s strategy to fundamentally shift the way people experience the Web – by providing the richest, most integrated content faster and more efficiently.This new feature, currently in beta, taps into Yahoo!’s unique opportunity to combine content and structured data and to provide a rich search experience. Search Direct predicts search results as fast as a person types, character by character, and presents those results dynamically, generating a fast, simple search experience that goes beyond a list of blue links.  Search Direct rolls out in a public beta to Yahoo! users across the U.S. today, and will be available in other Yahoo! products and markets later this year.

“With today’s launch, direct answers – not the search results page – is the primary focus. We are redefining the search process and prominently displaying direct answers where search decisions are being made,” said Shashi Seth, senior vice president, Yahoo! Search and Marketplaces. “Search Direct is evidence of Yahoo! continuing to lead innovation in search, enabling people to take action faster, find what is most important, and sample what is possible with the next stage of search technology.”

With Search Direct, Yahoo! content is combined with information from the Web to provide rich answers, not just links, and to give people the option to immediately engage or continue to a traditional search results page. In this beta release, coverage includes top trending searches, movies, TV, sports teams and players, weather, local, travel, stocks, and shopping categories now available at search.yahoo.com.

·         Trending Searches – The moment the cursor hits the search box, top search trends appear and are updated every 10 minutes to display the latest and greatest search trends.

·         Search Previews – Search Direct predicts the search term as you type, providing the 10 most likely searches. You can then easily scan each option to see the related top results and find the best match for your needs.

·         Direct Answers – For many common searches, Search Direct provides instant answers before you click the Search button. Find an address or phone number, a three-day weather forecast, financial stock performance, the top trending stories at Yahoo! News, or when and where a movie is playing – all without going to a results page.

·         Direct Results – When you scan the search options and find the site you need, Search Direct provides exactly that – direct access to the site. No more overwhelming pages of links.

·         Rich Content – For all top searches about sports, top news stories, and finance, Search Direct displays rich content that only the world’s largest digital media company can provide. For example, type “n” to get the Yahoo! News display, which always shows the top two trending stories.

Yahoo! will continue to enhance and update Search Direct with new content, such as popular music and local listings.  For more information and a demo video of Search Direct from Yahoo!, visit search.yahoo.com and our company blog, Yodel Anecdotal.

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz

For more insight, check out the live blogs and analyses from Business Insider and All Things D.

From Avatar to the iPad 2 – We’re in an Experience Driven Economy

You know the feeling. Being so profoundly overtaken by awe, laughter, incredulity or amazement. Experiences like these tap into the deepest and purest of human emotions, and serve as powerful motivators. We are in a new economic era; an era in which savvy businesses craft their product and service strategies with the specific and overarching goal of creating compelling consumer experiences.

Hollywood was among the first industries to recognize that even the best stories need great packaging to become the mega-hits that bring swarms of people to theaters in costumes and tents, waiting for hours to experience the story. Avatar was not a multi-billion dollar smash hit because the story was particularly exceptional or because audiences were deeply committed to the film’s message of environmentalism. The film attracted an enormous and diverse audience of moviegoers craving to immerse themselves in the engrossing experience James Cameron expertly crafted. The impressive 3D effects, captivating majesty of Pandora and exceptionally-directed audio throughout the film catapulted audiences into a foreign world, allowing them to experience the story in a way that simply was not possible even twenty years ago. James Cameron isn’t just selling movie tickets. He is selling an experience. Entertainment locations like Universal’s Harry Potter theme park and Disneyworld don’t sell roller coaster tickets and concessions. They sell an experience. Starbucks isn’t selling coffee and pastries. It is selling an experience.

Avatar Movie Wallpaper

The entertainment industry was a pioneer, but new players are encouraged by the success they’ve seen and are increasing their efforts to weave the overall consumer or experience into every decision they make.

The resurgence of Apple as a beloved consumer and cultural icon can be directly linked to its insistence on providing unique and powerfully positive experiences to its customers. One only needs to step inside an Apple retail store to understand how well this strategy has caught on. Flocks of current and would-be customers seem suspended in a perpetual state of bliss and fascination as they explore and tinker with the latest iPhones, iPads and MacBooks. Even months after a product is released, Apple stores are bustling with activity and energy. Why? Because Apple created a hands-on experience and instills a sense of ownership in its customers.

But what makes Apple such a unique and powerful example of experience-driven strategy is its array of products designed to wow the users’ senses. The touch, audio and visual interactions that characterize the company’s most successful products have taken a company that was once a quarter or two away from a low-ball acquisition and made it a beloved symbol of quality, innovation and excellence. (Author’s note: I give high praise to Apple, but I’m no ‘fanboy’ – I have happily used a PC for 15 years and will critique Apple if/when necessary.)

Apple iPad 2 Customers in Store

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and others are carefully crafting new and addictive user experiences that have led to astounding engagement and interaction metrics. The genuinely positive experience of interacting with your social connections and having the ability to share your own story is an experience we – as humans – crave.

From luxury car dealerships and IMAX theaters to retail stores and theme parks, business are trending toward products and services driven by a foundation of selling experiences. These experiences are powerful, and as technology advances even further, the experiences will become deeper, more interactive and more compelling. An incredible, truly wowing experience with a product or service is rare, but if businesses can deliver one, they are poised for transformative success.

NOTE: Visit www.letschatbusiness.net on your iPad for a unique, Flipboard-esque experience driven by Onswipe and WordPress.

Fighting History – Fragmentation and the Social Web

“History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” -John F. Kennedy

For nearly a century, technology has purportedly brought together the fragments of society. With universal access to common information, previously disconnected groups can unite. History has proven, however, that this initial period of universality eventually trends back toward fragmentation. Can the social Web fight history and survive the seemingly inevitable re-fragmentation?

After Dark Ages, the explosion of printing and publishing in the 15th century led to a significant spread of knowledge and the rebirth of intellectual curiosity. Knowledge was no longer exclusively based on hearsay, and people sought information from trusted academic and historical resources. Outside academic circles, media sources like newspapers and general information magazines boomed in popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries. For the first time in generations, people could discuss common events and share their opinions on similar topics. Previously fragmented societies were unified. The world’s longest running magazine, the general information-focused Saturday Evening Post, lasted 148 years. Over time, however, general interest publications died out as public interest waned, and niche publications that catered to unique, specialized interests became the only sustainable media outlets. (There are nearly 7,000 special interest magazines in publication today.)

FDR

Radio, commercialized by RCA’s David Sarnoff after World War I, removed some of the adoption barriers that characterized print media. The famous voices of Edward R. Murrow and Franklin D. Roosevelt – for the first time in history – were broadcast to millions of people at a time across the airwaves. Radio was a national phenomenon, and the medium had a powerful unifying impact on society. Millions of people shared common listening experiences and had access to the same information. For twenty years, the country was bound together by radio until a new medium came along: television. Television forced radio programming to cater to niche audiences, and the medium that once unified society fragmented it once again. (See also: How the Internet is Transforming Television.)

Mark Zuckerberg at Web 2.0

Starting to notice a pattern? The Internet is a unique medium, allowing virtually anyone, anywhere to become a source of content. More than any other medium, the Internet has created fragmented user experiences. The social Web is, of course, founded on the platform of unifying users based on their social connections to create a more personal Web experience. So can it buck the historical trend that has re-fragmented user bases in previous media?

Absolutely.

Social media is the product of constantly evolving, improving and competing technology, and is heavily integrated in a range of Web content. Social products improve user experiences by taking into account a plethora of data and using this data to provide increasingly relevant content and people to share it with. Social media has exploded in popularity over the last five years, but it is easy to argue the market is still in its relative infancy. Mobile social products like Instagram, Foursquare and Twitter are connecting people across the globe in new ways, and social media has initiated a new Web paradigm. The transformational nature of new media technologies has united societies and re-fragmented them again and again, but social media has the opportunity to transcend the biting force of history and remain a powerful connecting force for many years to come.

Amazon Launches Instant Streaming, Netflix Faces Precarious Partnership

After weeks of speculation, Amazon officially announced the launch of an on-demand streaming video service, free of charge for Amazon Prime members. Subscribers (who pay $79 per year for unlimited two-day shipping) will now have instant access to more than 5,000 movies and television shows. But can Amazon – a company that has recently branched out into new businesses – make any significant impact in a streaming video market dominated by Netflix?

Netflix boasts more than 20 million subscribers in North America and enjoys some of the highest customer satisfaction ratings in the country. CEO Reed Hastings has led Netflix to the height of corporate and consumer dominance, and in spite of the recent pullback in the company’s stock, the widespread growth is expected to continue. Netflix offers a massive media library of licensed content more than four times the size of Amazon’s, and with a growing number of instant streaming companies launching, the ability to host the most (and best) content is a key determining factor in the battle for customers. On the heels of the Amazon launch, Netflix announced a two-year, non-exclusive partnership with CBS that will bolster Netflix’s current content offerings.

NetflixLivingRoom

Many agree that while Amazon’s new streaming service will be a valuable deal-sweetener on top of the unlimited shipping, Netflix isn’t currently facing a significant threat from the market newcomer. Perhaps more intriguing is the precarious partnership that exists between Netflix and Amazon’s cloud infrastructure, Amazon Web Services (AWS).

In early 2010, Netflix transferred a significant portion of its Web technology to AWS, a move that brought the streaming giant from massive data centers to Amazon’s massive cloud service. The transition freed Netflix from the massive financial costs and resource allocation demanded by the Oracle and IBM data centers it had previously used. Amazon’s cloud service allows Netflix to focus its engineering resources on customer-facing innovations and more importantly, allows the company to scale more efficiently. AWS offers a pay-as-you-go model that allows Netflix to add and subtract capacity as needed, eliminating contract commitments and resource-devouring depreciation costs.

In light of Amazon’s push into the instant streaming market, the two companies now face an intriguing competitive partnership. For Amazon Prime subscribers, the new perk will serve as an additional fringe benefit, but Netflix subscribers aren’t likely to abandon the company they so passionately enjoy and support. Neither the content offering nor the price point from Amazon are currently compelling enough to initiate the switch. Can Amazon leverage its impressive distribution channels and massive network of users to lure consumers to the company’s new video service? Will Netflix look to Rackspace or Microsoft for its cloud computing needs as competition from Amazon strengthens?

The ties between the two company are significant and will undoubtedly play a role in the future of the video streaming market, but the extent to which these two industry titans will co-exist or compete remains to be seen.

Twitter Microsites Offer Networks Real-Time Engagement

In a television era dominated by DVRs and Netflix, network executives are facing incessant pressure from advertising partners to increase the number of eyeballs that are watching programs in real-time. Traditional media has often been lambasted for fighting change, but the recent trend toward connected television and the ubiquitous popularity of social media has forced many media giants to embrace these technologies.

Twitter, the micro-blogging site that easily connects users across the globes with one-click follows and hashtags, has become a valuable real-time thermometer for networks to gauge viewer feedback during programs. What began as networks monitoring chatter on the main site feeds has evolved into the launch of enhanced microsites developed and powered by Twitter, and several major brands have already come on board. Visa and the NFL partnered with Twitter to launch a microsite covering the Super Bowl XLV. Women’s Wear Daily, Bobbi Brown and Bergdorfs sponsored a microsite for New York Fashion Week. HBO created a Twitter microsite for True Blood fanatics.

NYFW MicrositeThese microsites provide encompassing coverage of live events with real-time tweets, pictures and aggregated news. Brands can deliver real-time updates and become a destination for consumers to share knowledge and engage in active conversations on a particular topic with like-minded individuals. Most importantly, these microsites are a platform for branded content alongside user-generated content, integrating two incredibly powerful forces in Web 2.0 marketing. Brands can subsidize the costs of developing these sites by partnering with sponsors (i.e. “New York Fashion Week: Presented by American Express”) that obtain prime real estate alongside highly relevant content and engaged audiences.

For networks, these microsites encourage and facilitate real-time conversations that cannot occur on a comparable scale outside of the live program time slots. Networks can use these microsites to provide advertisers with more in-depth viewer metrics (i.e. 250,000 unique tweets, 50,000 hashtag mentions, etc.) that can command premium ad rates.

These microsites have significant potential beyond enhancing live, lean forward television viewing experiences. Imagine brands like Apple and conventions like CES implementing these sites for major product launches and events. It’s more important than ever to go where your customers and users are, and microsites offer networks and brands the opportunity to drive engagement and become a central online conversation destination.

Will more Twitter microsites pop up in 2011 and beyond? Would you use a microsite to tweet on your connected TV?