Mark Higginson

The web is a social artifact.

This short manifesto covers what I hold to be self-evident about modern marketing practices, particularly related to online activity.

This piece about how people's attention flows on the web highlights the fundamental misunderstanding that causes almost all online marketing to be ineffective.

The blog that follows consists of a series of short posts that support my arguments.


21 December 2014

The company, like most brands venturing into content marketing, also struggled to articulate where a publication like SugarString fit in with the company’s overall marketing goals.

Brand lessons from Verizon’s failed publishing venture

Back in October I tweeted this:

Not. A. Clue. Another doomed corporate web publishing venture — this one from Verizon. They just don’t learn:

— Mark Higginson (@markhgn) October 29, 2014

I didn’t expect it to fold so quickly. What is amusing is the assessment of why this happened by those with an interest in selling this idea to ‘brands’:

“If you’re a media company, you’re making a long-term commitment to build an audience, that’s the difference between branded content and a content brand. They should have stuck with it.”

That quote is from Joe Pulizzi of the inappropriately named ‘Content Marketing Institute’. Of course he’s going to suggest this type of work should be a long-term commitment. In actual fact the real question is why, given the number of popular tech news sites that are already in existence, run by media companies, a censored corporate version from a telecommunications business could hope to attract a readership.

“Verizon put the corporate agenda ahead of the journalism agenda, when that happens, it gets out, discredits and ultimately kills the publication.”

So said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at Altimeter Group. This is incorrect. Sugarstring had zero credibility to begin with and was never going to gain any.

The same goes for Dell’s Tech Page One. Given the many other ostensibly independent choices available no one wants to visit a corporate clone. If no one is clicking then no one is reading or sharing and there is no likelihood of any contribution to sales. This is a waste of resources.

The quoted article mentions American Express’ Open Forum as a long running example of a similar effort; this is a site I’ve previously mentioned as being one I’m highly doubtful of having a significant readership.

Back over at the Content Marketing Institute they have decided they know what Verizon should have done. In the comments on that piece someone has said:

“Comcast Business is building a growing business community of content sharing.”

A cursory review of the Comcast Business Community site in Open Site Explorer reveals double-digit shares on posts and almost no incoming links. There is nothing going on here. Almost all of the posts have no comments.

Yet again content marketers are recommending activity that is provably ineffective.

Let me know what you think on Twitter


19 December 2014

An incredible 56.1% of ads on the internet are not seen by humans.

56% of Digital Ads Served Are Never Seen, Says Google

Despite all of this advertising spending online continues to grow. The reason is that those ads which are seen generate a perceived return, based on the measurement criteria being used to evaluate performance.

“Bot fraud, digital advertising’s albatross, will suck $6.3 billion from the industry next year.”

Nearly 25% of Video Ad Views Are Fraudulent, and 6 Other Alarming Stats

“The total percentage of bot-related web traffic is actually down this year from what it was in 2013. Back then it accounted for 60 percent of the traffic, 4 percent more than today.”

Bots Now Outnumber Humans on the Web

The Google research referenced in the headline quote can be found here.

Let me know what you think on Twitter


27 October 2014

Working in coordination with Ad Block Plus, AdNauseam quietly clicks every blocked ad, registering a visit on the ad networks’ databases.

Clicking ads so you don’t have to

While this extension does “obfuscate browsing data” I wonder if this is both a benefit to the user and a benefit to the ad networks. Given the industry suffers from widespread problems with click-fraud it doesn’t seem that the quality of the data is the issue provided advertisers are still willing to throw money into display. More clicks across more areas of interest generating more data for ‘targeting’ is superficially good news. The accuracy is not something the networks are likely to shout about.

Given this extension requires AdBlock Plus and adblocking has gone mainstream if reporting consists of showing a chart that goes up it’s in no one’s interests within the marketing industry to look too closely.

This is incredible. Furthermore, in Europe anywhere up to 1-in-3 users are utilising adblockers with 15% of UK internet users availing themselves of this technology – especially among the more technically able where users who download and install an alternative browser are five times more likely to also use an adblocker.

The response from a marketer is predictably delusional:

“… successful ad campaigns for producers that are viewed as neither intrusive nor annoying by consumers… must involve such tactics as improving ad targeting, increasing the variability of ad content, and diversification across ad forms.”

People’s motivation is simple: they don’t like advertising. Once an adblocker is installed they aren’t coming back.

Let me know what you think on Twitter


27 September 2014

Keeping an eye on which universities use which web trackers tells me a lot about the sector as a whole and about what individual institutions are up to. I keep a complete list and track changes.

Every university apart from Bristol uses Google Analytics.

Total trackers in use by 126 institutions rose from 202 back in March to 471 by September.

This rise was due in large part to the increased use of advertising trackers. 58 universities were using 146 trackers related to online advertising in its various guises.

The most popular tracker related to advertising was Doubleclick, used by 38 institutions.

It remains to be seen if this was related to Clearing specifically and whether many of these trackers will be removed. Alternatively it may represent nearly half the sector making budget available to sustain ongoing advertising.

Advertising tracker use is related to league table position. The median value for tracker use occurs at the 87th position in the table.

Amazingly nearly a quarter of UK universities run no other trackers besides Google Analytics. Nothing to assist with usability testing or any kind of conversion optimisation.

Let me know what you think on Twitter


05 September 2014

A majority of articles never make it onto Twitter or Facebook.

86% of News Articles Not Shared Within 72 Hours

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on this topic you’ll know that I believe the majority of the marketing industry present an at best overly optimistic and at worst completely false picture of how useful it is to engage in large-scale web publishing efforts.

The above is yet another piece to add to the canon:

“From a sample of 612,212 articles published over 72 hours in April, we measured the total sharing activity for each. We found that 527,793, or 86% of the articles, never saw any engagement on Facebook or Twitter. It’s a long, long tail.”

Furthermore only 0.02% achieved 10,000 to 100,000 interactions.

0.0005% achieved over 100,000 interactions. Five ten-thousandths of a percent!

Marketing is about delivering a relevant message. Easy to do for those who show intent or have indicated prior interest, but to achieve greater awareness you need to have massive reach in order to stand any chance of being seen. The implication here is that relying on social sharing to deliver that at scale is a terrifically difficult proposition.

This is what I have said repeatedly, all along.

However, the same site also carries posts such as this: People Are Sharing More News Than Ever On Facebook. From this it is easy to look at the numbers and commit the logical fallacy that this means that your stories stand a greater chance of receiving a slice of this attention. In actual fact you already have to be one of the ‘winners’ in as much if you aren’t already a major hub the chances of your content being shared is approaching zero. Even if you’re a major publisher you’ll still be subject to the brutal effect of the long tail.

This is why ‘brand’ content destinations are a terrible idea.

Let me know what you think on Twitter