Zach’s Best Of 2013

I read 35 books
Best Books
Countdown City
World War Z
The Power of the Dog
Best Nonfiction: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Turning Pro

Watched 88 movies
Best Movies
Silver Linings Playbook
Gone Baby Gone
About Time
The Impossible
It’s A Disaster
Side Effects
Blood Simple
Liberal Arts
Safety Not Guaranteed
Side By Side
Kings Of Summer
Movies that messed with my head for days: Capturing The Friedmans, Compliance
Worst Movies: Upstream Color, A Serious Man

Watched 216 episodes of TV
Best TV
Breaking Bad season 6
Newsroom seasons 1 & 2
Arrested Development was mostly a disappointment
Couldn’t get into House Of Cards or Game Of Thrones like everyone else

Best Albums
Swingin’ Utters – Poorly Formed
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Off With Their Heads – Home
Plow United – Marching Band
Telekinesis – Dormarion

Biggest Purchase: 2005 Toyota Sienna

BIggest Holy Crap! Moment: Discovering the elusive buzzing sound in the house that lasted for weeks was a woodpecker pecking on a pipe on my roof

Most Satisfying Moment: Seeing my first short story published on Amazon

Best Purchase: Acer H5370BD Home Theater Projector

Most Embarrassing: Falling over at a stop light on bike while towing both my kids

Scariest Moment : Seeing my kid choke on asthma induced frothy, white sputum
Runner Up: Driving a rental car in downtown Sevilla, Spain

Saddest Moment: Watching Boulder flood

Biggest investment in time, smallest return: the delusion of making passive income from advertising on a niche content site –

Firsts: played poker, sold a car on Craigslist, used an ear candle, ran out of gas on motorcycle at a stoplight, our backyard chickens laid their first eggs

Biggest Bonehead Move: Packing too much wood in van from Home Depot causing windshield to break when stopping at a light

Best Vacation: Trip to Spain & Germany

Most Frustration Inducing Project: Building a pergola in my backyard

Biggest Bummer: Hundreds of shirts for Minimalist Tees misprinted and ruined by incompetent screen printers

Biggest Point Of Pride: My appearance on this video at the Andrew WK Concert in Denver at the 1:29 mark

Best Moment: Becoming a foster parent to an awesome little boy

Diluting Facebook Newsfeed

I measure the value of any website by the quality of information that I get from it (Snapchat is by definition made up of trivial content, stuff not worth keeping around, therefor I have no interest in the medium). Facebook has also dwindled in value for me. I think there are three main trends for the decrease of quality content on Facebook:

1. The assumption that what gets clicked is high quality. Facebook’s algorithm EdgeRank filters what will be at the top of my newsfeed based on multiple factors. One of them is what my friends are clicking, Liking or commenting on the most. Just because my friends read something doesn’t mean it’s good. It could be that the piece of content has been refined and tested to the point of becoming irresistible click bait. It’s just like how I continue to eat Oreos until the package is empty while wishing for something more nutritious to save me from my own compulsions.

2. What gets shared is for the value of the author, not the reader. Most of Facebook is made up of image crafting – where the author’s sole motivation is to affect the way people think of them. This content is insufferable because it holds no value for me, the reader.  Friends who publicize their consumption of content that they think reflects well on them isn’t content I want to consume.

3. Content from pages you “Like” won’t show up in your feed if the page admins don’t pay to boost it. So even if I want to use Facebook as a way to deliberately stay updated by specific brands or business I like, it won’t let me. EdgeRank has tweaked posts from pages to have decreased organic reach in an obvious move to make more money.

I’ve been a hardcore RSS fan for years because it keeps me from being at the mercy of a blended, algorithmic deluge of incoming news. I like to pick what I’ll see and when, and not rely on luck and the self interested filtering of a social network.

Inverted U Curve Of Online Marketing Attribution

Inverted U Curve Of Attribution Analysis
I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants where he discusses the concept of the inverted U curve which explains how having more of something can be counterproductive. I think attribution analysis in online marketing applies to the same curve.

In my graph you can see that more information from attribution modeling does in fact produce better investment returns. But each additional piece of information yields less marginal utility – known as the law of diminishing returns – and, at some point, additional information begins to have the opposite effect.

Count of visits before purchase is increasing. Amount of sites visited before purchase is increasing. Time spent researching before purchase is increasing. Amount of devices used to access the internet is increasing. Amount of sales offline influenced by online research is increasing. Amount of time spent online generally is increasing. All these factors combined turn attribution analysis into a brutal rabbit hole.

Eventually, assigning specific value to any individual interaction is an exercise in futility. Gone too far and it will begin to take away value. I think the online marketing manager of the future will employ a kind of marketing mix strategy rather than a channel ROAS strategy.

Categorizing Keyword Targets Into Campaigns

Keyword Categories

There are four main categories to think about when you categorize your keywords into campaigns: retailer, manufacturer, product and category. And then there are the multiple inter combinations of those four.

Prioritizing which category you should focus on depends on which category your business falls into. If you’re a brand manufacturer than the Manufacturer bucket will give you the best return and you wouldn’t worry about the retailer category. If you’re a retailer without your own brand than you need to worry about all four categories. Generally ROAS and volume looks something like this (varies depending on industry):

ROAS and Volume paid keyword categories

Quantifying The Necessity To Do Display Remarketing Ads

In Google Analytics under Audience > Behavior > Frequency & Recency you can find the count of visits report. Add the Built-In segment Visits with Transactions. This way you can see how many visits it takes for people to purchase. Compare year over year count of visits for purchasers. There is a good chance the amount of visits it takes for people to convert has gone up year over year.

Count Of Visits

A few thoughts on this:

  • As the internet becomes more ingrained in our daily routines we all browse more. A visit to an ecommerce site is no longer a signal of high purchase intent like it used to be.
  • Retargeting is more important. Visitors are taking more time comparing prices and sites. While they’re weighing their options it’s worth it to remind them of your offering with display ads.
  • Do you offer discounts so often that visitors waiting for your products to go on sale?

Product Listing Ads Targeting Strategies

Product Listing Ads Targeting Strategies

  • Targeting at the Product ID level is the most granular but depending on how many products you have it can be unscaleable.
  • The next best option is to use category combinations. For example: combine the brand target of Fender and the adwords_label you’ve made for acoustic guitars so that you can place a specific bid of Fender acoustic guitars.
  • Targeting categories is like bidding on broad match keywords. The more labels you can make the better.
  • All Products is your catch-all that should still stay active after any other segments have been created. It can also give you ideas on new categories to make by looking at the search query reports.

Combine Site Engagement With Remarketing Lists For Search Ads

Modifying a bid for someone who not only has been to your site before but you also have an idea of their activity on your site is powerful.

So a site that sells guitars can create a remarketing list for a certain brand of guitar by making a list based on any URL that contains that brand keyword. There are lots of cool things you can do with this.

To take this a step further you can create audience lists based on cart, product detail page, and category page. Then make a custom combination so that your bid increases a little if they have been to your site before, or increase it more if the person has not only been to your site before but has been to a product detail page or added something to cart before.

To go a step further still, you can use import remarketing lists made of audience segments from Google Analytics. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make a list consisting of visits with 10+ page views or a count of visits greater than 2 so you can bid highest for visitors who have shown a high level of purchase intent
  • Visitors who came through your adwords brand keyword campaign initially can be served an ad that will take them to a page other than the homepage
  • Exclude visitors who bounced. If they didn’t show interest the first time don’t serve them an ad again
  • Use local ad text referring the city or state they live in using the city and metro data in Google Analytics
  • Use Days Since Last Visit to bid up on those visitors who have lapsed
  • Show different adtext to new visitors vs returning visitors using the visitor type segment
  • Exclude return visitors from seeing your ads if they search on your brand terms. If they already know about you don’t bother paying for a click to have them when they return

Really, there are an infinite amount of ways to make your paid search campaigns efficient by combining audience lists to search ads.

Would We Be Better Off If We Could Measure Less?

The day is coming where users online will be tracked via their phone’s geo location so that a click on an ad will be tracked all the way to the in store visit. Revenue from the store visit will be attributed to paid search ads and ROAS will plummet. Investment in paid search will go up but only to a point.

I think more surety that every sale is being attributed to sales accurately will give more false confidence that the amount being invested is exactly the right amount. Marketers will be convinced further and will become more entrenched in treating paid search solely as a direct response medium – you put X amount of money in and you get Y out, both online and instore. Budgets will be under an even bigger microscope because there won’t be any question of how many people are being driven in store and online.

The full effect of advertising is unmeasurable. The intention, motivation and inception of attribution for the majority of traffic is is utterly unknowable. More tracking can give a false sense of understanding.

Advertising drives sales but it also has a less appreciated side effect. Bob Hoffman explains in this post that it also buys business insurance. This is the reason why Apple, even with no new offerings and lackluster advertising is still producing incredible returns. He explains, “the prevailing attitude among marketers that everything is immediately measurable completely ignores the insurance value. One of the reasons people continued to spend their money to purchase Apple products was not likely the result of advertising that they ran in that quarter. It was because of the advertising that Apple had run the previous 25 years. It bought them insurance.”

The long term effects from advertising don’t show up in the paid search report that you are running. More data won’t help. In fact, more data might lead some to believe that if it’s not in the data, it doesn’t exist.

“Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” T. S. Eliot

Four Quadrants For A Fulfilling Life

4 Qudrents For A Fulfilling LIfe

This is my latest strategy for having a balanced and fulfilling life. I think it requires living in all four of the quadrants above. It comes down to how often, why, for whom and how much you create. I believe creation is a fundamental human need. The more you create the happier you are. What is not listed above are those things that are neither inner imperatives nor do they make you money. These are the things that should be avoided – channel surfing, Facebook, relentless entertainment. Some entertainment is inspiring but most isn’t. Unfortunately most people devote a large portion of their lives to being entertained instead of creating.

I espouse to Hugh McLeod’s Sex and Cash Theory where he explains that a person can balance the need to make a good living while still maintaining one’s credibility. You do this by having a day job that allows you to pursue other interests when you’re not at work. Diving head first into a your own start up is not necessary to feeling fulfilled, and might make you less so.

I think maintaining a day job is a great idea. You may not be having the time of your life, but I think that’s okay for four reasons.
First, everyday at work builds your employability equity. Experience is an asset you’ll never regret having.
Second, if you’re living in all four quadrants, your life won’t be solely based on your job.  I think it’s short sighted to assume your life’s purpose can be found solely from a company whose purpose is to make a profit. No matter how great your full time job is, it has proven time and again that financial incentives have a negative effect of performance and fulfillment. In the book Drive by Dan Pink, he says that punishment and reward based systems destroy creativity and that the secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments, but intrinsic drive. The drive to do things for their own sake. A place that pays you to be there will always take away that intrinsic drive, so don’t rely on it so much for your well being.
Third, keep in mind what Cal Newport explains in his great book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You – that passion in a career is more likely to happen after you become expert.
Fourth, even though our culture might make you feel otherwise, I think it’s okay to take an undemanding job to afford you more time to pursue other interests and activities in the quadrants three and four.

Hopefully time spent at work can also be devoted to being an intrapreneur – quadrant 3. Doing the things in quadrant 3 will build more employability equity and makes the 40 hours a week more fun and engaging. I think the leading cause of job dissatisfaction is when people devote their whole life to quadrant 1 but can’t get traction with quadrant 3 initiatives. As strange as it sounds, many people want to give more than the company they work for will allow. So instead of feeling burnt out, invest that energy into inner imperatives.

Inner imperatives provide the fuel for everything else. Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes, said in a commencement speech, “We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery-it recharges by running.” Social media, nightly news and reality shows all take more than they give. To be fulfilled you need to learn how to relax through creating via quadrants 2 and 4. Ken Robinson, in his book The Element, explains that the most rejuvenated, inspired and excited states of being happen when we are experiencing Flow, or The Zone. It’s the magical place where your intrinsic talent is paired with the explosive power of passion – a much better place to be than rotting in front of the TV.

What I like about this framework is that when you live in all four quadrants you create what Steven Johnson, in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, calles the “personal intellectual environment”. This is where you have lots of different ideas, different backgrounds, different interests, jostling and bouncing off each other to create an environment that leads to innovation. Each quadrant supplies skills, ideas, insight, opportunity and motivation to the other quadrants. You’re balanced and motivated.

The Day TV And The Internet Are One

Pontificating on what it will be like when TVs and the Internet are one in the same:

  • In the end TVs will just be a higher fidelity outlet for all your existing content. All content will live online and you’ll choose when, where and one which device to watch it. Pick up where you left off on your phone on the way to work where you left off last night on TV.
  • The antiquated way Nielson tracks viewership will finally be called out. Real time viewership stats of shows will be available for all to see. Sort all live content by most viewers.
  • Clickable credits. If you’re going to show me who made the show then make their name a link to other stuff they’ve made for me to discover.
  • Product placement will be a lot bigger source of advertising in shows. A character walks into the scene wearing a leather jacket and a subtle alert invites you to pause and buy that jacket from an online retailer.
  • Algorithmically generated content suggestions based on past shows viewed, what friends are viewing, what’s trending, etc., spread out across all content: YouTube, tv shows past and present, movies, paid content, etc.
  • What starts playing after the show is over? On TV it just keeps going while online the show stops. I think after a show ends it will keep running and you’ll be able to tell it what to show next: something from your queue, what’s trending, ect.
  • TV shows will host forums, ratings, commentary, and discussion around each episode after it airs. You can subscribe to commentary from writers about the shows you watch.
  • Real time RottenTomatoes-like meter of each show’s rating while it’s airing
  • You can sync your calendar with your content so that it can filter for content that fits your time frame. If you’ve got 10 minutes until the bus arrives your phone will automatically suggest all the relevant content that is under 10 minutes
  • TV shows created from data, not from pilots. Instead of studios shelling out tons of money to create a bunch of pilots where only a fraction will make it, shows will be created based on the big data of viewer trends
  • With so much content available individuals will be able to make money selling subscriptions to their curated content. What is a network but a curator of content?
  • More…