It’s Statistical Analysis, Not Jesus Appearing In Toast

Jesus Wept
Caring about stupid stats like impressions makes Jesus cry. Stop it.

Before my new boyfriend Nate Silver was forecasting elections, he created a baseball stats system called PECOTA that used advanced statistical methods to predict future player performance.  This was before Brad Pitt starred in Moneyball, so his fancy new stats were widely derided.  But he has at least one new fan, Sports Illustrated writer Phil Taylor:

I have surrendered to the numbers. I will make no assessment, athletic or otherwise, without rigorous statistical analysis…. I reject your anecdotal evidence, your hunches, your wishes disguised as predictions.  I will keep my gut instincts away from my brain and suggest you do as well.

And what has brought this swoon over Phil?  My new boyfriend Nate Silver’s election-night success.

Silver not only forecast President Obama’s reelection, he did it with uncanny precision, calling which candidate would win each of the 50 states despite weeks of heckling from more than a few pundits… That’s like hitting every jumper in a three-point-shooting contest while opponents rain trash talk on your head.

Well, actually, no it isn’t.  I’m not running down MNB Nate Silver’s skill or anything, because he’s my boyfriend and I support him unconditionally, but his miraculous achievement was the result of looking at polls that asked people which of several well-known choices they might make in a short time period coming up, and then believing the answer.  There weren’t a lot of unpredictable factors.  To be amazed by this is like asking people on your wedding invite if they want chicken or fish and then being impressed when the same number of chicken and fish dinners are ordered on the big day.

It’s really a very different creature than sabermetrics, aka nerdly analysis of baseball stats, where you’re doing a more straight-forward regressive analysis, trying to comb through figures to find ones that might be predictive of future performance.  “His baseball predictions weren’t as spot-on as his election projections,” notes Taylor.  Right!  Because making a prediction of what people are going to do based on what they said they were going to do and making one based purely on past performance are two entirely different creatures.  To paraphrase Pulp Fiction, “it ain’t the same ballpark, it ain’t the same league, it ain’t even the same sport.”

People who don’t necessarily understand numbers tend to think that one is pretty much as good as the other.  This is the kind of thinking that leads to getting excited over the number of impressions a banner ad got, or the number of clicks a search term got, even if neither of those leads to revenue.  But with any analysis it’s important to figure out which ones matter and which ones don’t.  Then getting good results might not seem like such a miracle.

Picture by piratetuba

Infomercial Stupidity: A Love Story In GIFs

indestructible snack tray

Whenever people ask me my guilty pleasure I usually say I don’t have one.  Not because I lead a virtuous and abstemious life– on the contrary, it’s because my basic organs of self-regard are so worn down that I feel no guilt no matter what kind of low-brow crap I’m indulging in.  However, I will admit the slightest bit of shame as I tell you this: I love infomercials.  When Ted goes out to exercise on weekend mornings and I am left alone, ostensibly to “be productive?”  That’s MY TIME, baby.  There are whole channels that show nothing but informercials on weekend mornings, and I just can’t get enough.  Yes, Cindy Crawford, I would like to know how I can look nicely tucked merely by rubbing grapefruit extracts on my face!  Indeed, Shaun T, your abs are quite impressive and do seem to the be result of some Insane working out!

One of the things I love so much about them, besides that they are so cheesy, is that they each tend to be a master-class on audience manipulation.  Having my roots in direct response, I love that stuff.  Deadline for ordering?  Classic!  Wait, now you’re doubling the value of the offer?  Good one!  “You could pay $200 for this in stores.” Oh, yeah, baby, way to frame that price high!  And one of my favorite parts is the bit at the beginning that shows The Bad Old Days, back before the soon-to-be-revealed Wonder Product was available, when we sat under boring plain blankets and chopped onions with a knife.  Man, life was so hard back then!

So imagine my delight to find this treasury of GIFs that captures all those moments of sheer infomercial stupidity.  Behold:

woman battles chair

You know, there’s a handy product for people who are frustrated by trying to open up folding chairs.  It’s called a regular chair.

kids can't pour milk

Hey, Mom, might be time to take the kids to the eye doctor.  Last time anyone saw aim that bad, Dick Cheney sent someone to the hospital.

attack of the killer spices

What’s that, Mom?  You’re too busy being attacked by…. um… pill bottles?  Spices?  Old film canisters?  I really have no idea what is raining down in this woman’s face, but she is not taking it in stride.

is it really that hard to open milk?

Ah, this poor dope can’t even get the milk open.  Kids, come help him out.

and the cheetos go flying

Not sure if the Wonder Product here is going to be a better snack bowl, a cordless phone, or an AbRoller for when he finally works his way through that torso-sized bowl of Cheetos.

         

Pans: explain them to me again?

Has this ever happened to you?  If so, you need The Amazing Napkin!  That’s right, The Amazing Napkin!  Order today and we’ll throw in one additional Napkin COMPLETELY FREE!

Uuuuugh, right?  Closing the washer lid is like SO HARD!!!

I don’t know how this woman envisioned her acting career playing out, but I bet in her ideal scenario it didn’t involve getting sprayed with chocolate milk while pretending to plunge a toilet.  I hope they got it in one take.

There’s more, so much more.  Click over if you want to get a small taste for how truly horrific life would be without the treats that infomercials provide.  Would you want to live in that filthy, disorganized hellscape?  I thought not.

Revenge Of The Nerds: Election Validates The Quants

538 Electoral College Prediction

Wow, has it really been so long since I posted?  I REALLY need to get this hangnail situation under control.  Seriously, I need some body butter or some really rich cuticle cream.  Something with olive oil.

So, one of the big stories in the aftermath of the recent presidential election, besides the minor sideshow of someone was re-elected, was the utter triumph of Cold Hard Numbers over Gut FeelingsNate Silver became a veritable It Boy as his blog FiveThirtyEight correctly predicted the totals of the electoral college, including the always-kooky Florida (official state breakfast: the waffle).  Other pundits who did a good job of predicting the outcome included Sam Wang of Princeton Election Consortium and Markos Moulitsas of The Daily Kos.  And how did they manage this feat? Through the wild method of looking at the polling data.  I know, that’s crazy, right?  Ask people what they’re going to do and then listen when they tell you.

Now obviously there was a little more to it than that—there was a wealth of polling data available at both the national and state level, and each of these pundits created their own proprietary models that included how reliable they felt the polls were, adjustments for likely turnout, etc.  But in general, the models amounted to looking at the data and seeing where it lead.  Contrast this with methodology of former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan:

All the vibrations are right… there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.

Is it possible this whole thing is playing out before our eyes and we’re not really noticing because we’re too busy looking at data on paper instead of what’s in front of us?

Turns out this was not possible.

Now, we in California love our vibrations, but in this case the data on paper was the result of calling people and asking them which of a few well-known choices they might make in a week or two.  As far as surveys go, it’s pretty damn predictive.  And yet a broad swathe of people who didn’t like what the survey results were telling them did whatever they could to instead find an answer they liked better.  Dean Chambers created a whole site, UnSkewed Polls, dedicated to the idea that all the polls oversampled Democrats and thus were unrepresentative.  He suggested that Nate Silver wasn’t to be trusted because he is “a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice.”  Peggy made her prediction based on vibrations and yard-sign anecdotes.  Newt Gingrich was probably just fluffing up the person signing his paychecks.

I get where this comes from.  I love numbers, and one of the hardest things to do is to listen to the numbers when they are telling you something you don’t want to hear.  This is probably even harder at startups, because the idea of starting a new company is fairly irrational to begin with.  So to jump from the mindset of irrationally hoping, working, and striving to rationally assessing a dashboard of numbers, that can be tough.

But if you don’t?  Well, you can find yourself putting a lot of time, money and effort into heading the wrong direction.

Creating a Week Label in Excel

I just love Excel.  I remember when I was introduced to pivot tables—it was like the clouds of data ignorance had parted to reveal golden-robed angels singing of cross-tabbed insights.  And I wasn’t even drunk!  Except on the beauty of Excel, of course.

Just recently I was looking at some daily performance data, and I decided I wanted to group it by week.  To start I just applied the WEEKNUM formula:

=WEEKNUM(date)

which renders “6/22/11”, for example, into “26”.

This worked fine for grouping, but “26” doesn’t really mean anything intuitively to me.  When I wanted to figure out why the numbers jumped in a particular week, I had to go back to the daily sheet, find the week number in question, and see what the associated dates were—then I could say, “Oh, yes, 9/2, that’s when we had a piece run in the Wall Street Journal.”

So instead I decided to create a label that would display the first and last days of the week in question.  After a bit of tinkering I hit on using the WEEKDAY function, which delivers a number for the day of the week a date falls on.  I figured I could use that number to calculate how far from the beginning or end of the week the date is, then subtract or add the right number of days to deliver the two numbers. I used TEXT to make them labels:

=TEXT(date-(WEEKDAY(date)-1),”MM/DD”)&”-“&TEXT(date+(7-WEEKDAY(date)),”MM/DD”)

This yielded an output like this:

Date Week
6/22 06/19-06/25
6/23 06/19-06/25
6/24 06/19-06/25
6/25 06/19-06/25
6/26 06/26-07/02
6/27 06/26-07/02
6/28 06/26-07/02
6/29 06/26-07/02
6/30 06/26-07/02
7/1 06/26-07/02
7/2 06/26-07/02
7/3 07/03-07/09

I formatted the labels to include the “0” in front of single-digit numbers because otherwise they don’t sort properly—October (10) comes before February (2).

Did I mention that I did all this on a Saturday morning?  And in fact considered it to be a bit of a treat to myself for doing some other work?  Yep, I party hard.

People Are Funny Things

My blog, of course, reaches a pretty wide audience, numbering some days all the way into the very lowest reaches of the double digits.  With that broad of a readership of course I keep my eye on the stats so I can make sure I’m serving people well and providing them the information they want.  And based on the top searches that people are using to get to my blog, what they appear to want is for me to be a MILF.

Yes, the MILF Beth Morgan is still a pretty common way for people to get to my blog, and I honestly do not get this.  I just did a search for “beth morgan milf” myself, and indeed my blog does show up in the first page of results– under the enticing heading “Beth Morgan’s Blog O’ Marketing” and after an entire page with of listings promising hot pics of MILF Beth, personal conversations with MILF Beth, and seriously far more enticing-looking options.  I just can’t understand how someone genuinely interested in the topic of hot mamas could ever be tempted to click on a listing that says right there on the results page, “Sadly I have nothing for you.”  Maybe they think someone who has a career as a nontraditional erotic model might also have a side-business in marketing consulting and they want to see the other side of her (eww)?

And the sad thing is that having now written a post with “MILF Beth” in it 15 times, it will probably only serve to move me up in the search results.  Google’s a funny thing, too.

Who Will Be The Next Google?

You know, sometimes my own powers of prediction are truly amazing.  Back in 1998, for example, I thought, “Why would you want to work at a search engine?  They are so boring.  Email, that’s where the excitement is!”  It’s that kind of effortless market acumen that’s kept my family in ramen and envy through the years.

So I had to giggle when I re-read this old 2008 post of mine about how the iPhone was changing the mobile search market:

“To me it appears the writing is on the wall in terms of the direction mobile search is going, and it is away from the separate ecosystem of mobile-only ads and landing pages. This very fact will only increase the iPhone’s dominance as sites stop investing in mobile-only design.”

So, okay.  I guess if I’m to be generous to myself I got that maybe 50% correct: it’s true that the need for mobile-specific search ads and accompanying WAP-compatible landing pages has all but disappeared.  And of course, the iPhone was anything but a flash in the pan, and even if Android is coming on strong I’d still say that the iPhone was the driver of current smartphone design.  But the idea that people would just use their phones to interact with web pages they way that they were without any need for dedicated mobile sites—bzzzzt.  Wrong and wronger—although they aren’t calling them “mobile sites” but rather “apps”, the end result is that marketers must create mobile versions of their content—and on multiple platforms, too.  The market has actually become more fragmented and the effort has increased along with the opportunity.

In a way it feels like 1998 all over—just as beautiful, functional sites back then were vastly outnumbered by brochureware and sites that broke all aesthetic and taste boundaries, so the current crop of mobile apps contains a few gems along with a lot that are clunky, lame, or derivative.  It is now de rigeur for a major web property to have its mobile apps, and independent apps abound, too; the iPhone App store now has something like 300,000 offerings.  And as in 1998, the available systems for cataloging, presenting, and discovering apps leave something to be desired.  On top of that, a lot of search done on mobile is local, and while Google is moving hard to own that space through its Places pages (and of course through its squelched attempt to purchase Groupon), there is still room for new players to emerge.

Basically, these are exciting times.  There is a lot of value being created right now and The Next Google is still out there.  If you want some ideas in advance of who the winners in this new market might be, let me know.  I’ll tell you what companies I think are lame, and you can send your resume to them immediately, get in early, and then enjoy a good laugh when you drive by me in your Tesla five years from now.

 

You Know Who Loves Google’s Ad Buy? eHow.

Oh my gosh.  I can’t believe I haven’t posted in so long.  The hangnail situation from last time?  Well, it got even more out of hand and it’s really been taking all my time.  The good news is I have some new people in place and things are looking really squared away now– nice trim cuticles, shiny nails, smooth skin.  I’m kind of starting to get veiny old lady hands like Madonna, but that just comes with the territory of impending middle age.  My overall plan for all things related to aging has been to try to redefine beauty standards so that age spots are desirable.  We’ll see how that goes.

So!  Some men in tiny pants played a game on Sunday to great acclaim and huge audience (I say that all casually as if I wasn’t down on my knees the entire 3 hours praying to the gods of jambalaya, voodoo, and whoever else would listen for a Saints win).  In fact, preliminary results say that the broadcast became the most-watched program in US history, with 106 million viewers.  And, being the marketing geek that I am, I of course looked up from my prayers at each break to check out the ads.  This won’t be a “Best and Word Ads” post, although suffice it to say that I’m certainly never purchasing a Dodge Charger nor doing any business with GoDaddy any time soon.  But my heart did an embarrassing pitter-patter when I saw the Google logo and realized they had done a Superbowl ad buy.

Because Google, of course, does not do ad buys.  Seeing a Google ad is like seeing J.D. Salinger out at the grocery store (and I’m keeping that in the present tense on purpose, because Salinger lives 4eva).  I was also intrigued to see that it was an ad for what most would assume they do not need to advertise at all, their core search product.  I’ve seen their billboards for other products, which make sense as they try to extend their tentacles across your entire online experience.  But core search product is what they pushed, which tickled my special geek place even more.  I yelled out to my husband to draw his attention to the ad, which was completely unnecessary as he was sitting right beside me.  The excitement could not be held back.

It also helped that the ad itself was excellent, telling the story of a Parisian romance in about one minute, all through search terms from “impress a french girl” to “how to assemble a crib”.  It stayed true to Google’s clean and simple aesthetic while quickly showcasing a variety of capabilities from translation to mapping to flight tracking.  It also packed real emotional impact into a tiny space, reminding me of what I always love about doing keyword research, which is thinking about the real people and real stories behind the queries.  I’m a romantic, dammit, and the ad made my eye glisten a little.

So today when I hopped onto eHow to do a little research, the top tip of the day really stood out to me:

ehow post on crib assembly

Look!  There it is!  How to assemble a crib!  Aww.

Now, there’s nothing that indicates why this is a “top tip”– it is very likely that the clever editors of eHow just took advantage of the Google ad buy to boost traffic.  But they wouldn’t be doing that if they weren’t getting some good traffic on the article, I would think, and the eHow listing does come up tops when you put that phrase into Google.   This is another listing on the home page:

ehow how to date french girls

Which is also a top Google search result if you enter “impress a French Girl” into Google.

Are there millions of new hits coming to eHow because of Google’s ad buy?  Doubtful.  But increased traffic is increased traffic, and it’s even better when someone else paid for it.

Man, I gotta figure out how to get on that plan.

Powerset: Worthy Of The Hype?

Whew, I haven’t posted in months.  Sorry, I was doing my nails, and I had a tricky hangnail situation so it just took ages.

So, Google.  You’ve heard of them, right?  Apparently they make a dollar or two here and there by selling ads alongside search results.  And anything that makes a dollar or two is going to spawn a host of other businesses looking to carve off a little pie for themselves.  The past couple of years have seen a brave army of search engines trying to capture just a little bit of that Googly magic for themselves; here, for example, is a list of over 40 social search engines.  There are image search engines, people search engines, and capturing a lot of late-breaking buzz, natural language search engines.  In particular, tech reporters across the country have been getting a tingly feeling in their special places over the premier of Powerset, a search engine that promises to truly understand what a web page is about and thus to find answers to queries quicker.  The site they have just premiered indexes Wikipedia only as a way to showcase their user experience; more in-depth indexing is to follow.

So is this the company that will lure the searching public away from Google and spawn the next set of millionaires?  That all depends on if it truly offers a different and better result.  As you’ll see from the link above, lots of people have tried Powerset out and reported back.  I personally like to test new engines with questions that Google has either performed really well or really poorly on in the past, so I gave it a try on a few phrases of my own, comparing Powerset, Google, and a site search of Wikipedia:

1) Which god gets his liver eaten out each night?

Powerset returns a reference to the correct answer in one below-the-fold result.  Google returns a correct answer in 3 of the top 5 results.  Wikipedia nails it in the second result, meaning that for some reason Powerset wasn’t able to correctly grok the results of the only data source it looked at.  Google was the winner here.

2) My friends and I were trying to recall if there was an earthquake in Manhattan around the time of 9/11.  So which search method does best on “New York City Earthquake”?

Neither Wikipedia nor Powerset had anything helpful at all to offer here.  Google nailed it in both its first and second results.  So once again, Google was the winner.

3) On a cross country road trip you start to see the same names over and over.  Search engines, can you reveal the “most popular town name in america”?

Wikipedia offered nothing at all for that search term.  Powerset offered nothing useful.  Google’s #5 listing points to an article on, interestingly, Wikipedia, called “list of the most common US place names”.  Google, you clever bandit!  You win again!  (It’s Franklin, which pleases me, as he has always been my favorite Founding Father.)

So my own experience with Powerset does not have me excited yet.  It wasn’t as effective as Google in returning the information I wanted, even when that info was actually on Wikipedia.  Wiki’s own site search didn’t do as well either.  So for now I’m going to stick with Google when Very Important Questions such as these arise.

Google + Performics = Conflict Of Interest

Tech Crunch notes in this story about Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick that “many have missed one part of the deal that may raise eyebrows: Google now owns SEO firm Performics.” Welp, as an employee of another firm that offers SEO and SEM services, I can say we sure didn’t miss that element. I’ve already felt that Google’s aggressive promotion of its free paid search strategy services offered enough of a conflict of interest, but as Danny Sullivan points out at length, they will now be accepting payment from firms wishing to rank well in their own natural search results. Google has long touted that they don’t have any connections to SEO firms…well, now they do. I’m sure they will pull out their “Don’t Be Evil” flag and wave it around, as if merely saying that that is their motto means they can do anything they want and it’s still okay. But selling SEO strategy is a clear conflict of interest and I agree with Danny that they should divest themselves of Performics as soon as they can.

Microsoft To Shun Last-Click Attribution. Searching Public To Shun Microsoft.

Microsoft, oh Microsoft. So full of clever search marketing ideas you are. Your keyword research tools are actually much richer than others on the market. And your newly announced idea to distribute conversion to all the clicks that contributed (search and not)— we likey, we likey. Now if only you had the volume to make it worthwhile. Continue reading “Microsoft To Shun Last-Click Attribution. Searching Public To Shun Microsoft.”

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