Intelligent Alerts

I love Google Alerts and I get 50-100 per day on my blackberry.

But what I really want is an intelligent alerts system that cuts across all media types (including TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, blogs, business conferences, and podcasts) and prioritizes all of this media based on a profile that I build.

For example, I would set up a list of topics, people and companies that I am interested in. And I would create some rules about the kinds of content that I consider most authoritative: perhaps listing my favorite types of content, or publishers that I consider most credible.

Then, my intelligent agents would look in all media for matches. And all the matches would be added to my personal knowledge base (currently, I store all my alerts in gmail) so I could retrieve them at will.

But my daily diet of media content would be delivered to me based on pre-defined rules. So if there is an SEC filing or a free analyst report on a company I am tracking, that would be a top priority. Any MarketingSherpa case study on a topic or company of interest would be ranked high, because that content is invaluable. A Bambi Francisco column would come ahead of any other columnist. And blog posts by my favorite thinkers that match my topics would also come up first.

So if I’m going to maximize the use of my media time, I really need an agent to prioritize what I will be viewing, reading, or listening to in the hours that I devote to media.

But all this doesn’t take into account one of the most important things I’ve learned in the last 10 years — that the best use of my media time is in books. In Love is the Killer App, Tim Sanders argues that 80% of our learning time should be spent in books, since there is such a high concentration of lasting knowledge there.

So how does my intelligent agent handle books? Well, I suppose that with Amazon’s search within a book and Google Print, that my agent will start looking for keyword matches in lots of books — but I don’t want them all delivered at once — I somehow need these important matches to be turned into a steady daily stream.

But not all books are created equal. Some books become obsolete; others remain classics. Some new authors waste our time; but news appear on the scene with amazing new ideas.

Since I started using Tim Sander’s approach to marking up books (where on the inside back pages I write the page number and the “big idea” that I find on any page), that one of the best uses of my time is to review all my notes on books that I’ve already read and loved.

So my intelligent agent needs to realize how forgetful I am, and that I often need to have the very best content I’ve ever encountered to be recirculated into my daily intake somehow.

I am reminded that Alan Kay said that the best way to predict the future is by inventing it; and I probably won’t get the intelligent agent system that I really want unless I design it myself.

I hope I can make time to help design this kind of a personal knowledge management system.

In the end, for me, something like this would become even more valuable than Google’s index of everything, because all content is not of equal worth, I can only take in so much, and I want to be able to take in the best content and be reminded continually of the great content I’ve already taken in but that I’m not utilizing effectively in practice.

Once I have internalized what I have learned, and I have incorporated it into training or curriculum for my employees or in systems that my employees use, then I don’t need to be reminded of that stuff anymore.

John Battelle (author of “The Search”) talks about “search to discover” and “search to recover.” Of course we need both.

But perhaps in the future when there are literally trillions of web pages accessible to anyone on planet earth we will need something else even more. Maybe we should call it “search to cover.” Or maybe “unsearch.”

We’ll need to filter out the 99.99% of content that is worthless to us and expose only the content that can help us find worthwhile relationships, useful knowledge, and ultimately satifisfaction, peace, and happiness in life.

One of the greatest scholars I’ve ever known (Hugh Nibley) once said that the role of a teacher is to save time by telling students what not to read.

Dallin H. Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court Justice and current Mormon religious leader, said:

We have thousands of times more available information than Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. Yet which of us would think ourselves a thousand times more educated or more serviceable to our fellowmen than they? The sublime quality of what these two men gave to us—including the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address—was not attributable to their great resources of information, for their libraries were comparatively small by our standards. Theirs was the wise and inspired use of a limited amount of information.

Available information wisely used is far more valuable than multiplied information allowed to lie fallow. I had to learn this obvious lesson as a law student.

Over 45 years ago, I was introduced to a law library with hundreds of thousands of law books. (Today such a library would include millions of additional pages available by electronic data retrieval.) When I began to prepare an assigned paper, I spent many days searching in hundreds of books for the needed material. I soon learned the obvious truth (already familiar to experienced researchers) that I could never complete my assigned task within the available time unless I focused my research in the beginning and stopped that research soon enough to have time to analyze my findings and compose my conclusions.

(Source: “Focus and Priorities”, April 2001)

What an interesting challenge lies ahead. With the digitization of everything we run the risk of “ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)

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BYU Internet Marketing Student Projects

My 44 BusM 457 students gave class reports today on the 18 pay-per-click campaigns that they ran this semester for businesses. I was very impressed.

Almost all the student teams had prepared effective powerpoint slides which included how they approached their projects, how they brainstormed and chose keywords, and how they started running ads, using analytics, and then optimizing the campaigns.

Many of them showed actual click through rates and even conversion rates, since they had worked with the business webmasters to put tracking codes on the sites.

Here are a few take-aways from today’s reports:

1. Google AdWords is still quite ineffective for local campaigns; even with local targeting, there’s not enough query volume for some types of businesses to make this a good source of customers.
2. Google banned one company from using its online advertising tools. No one knew why. Google also temporarily took down other campaigns because they were “being reviewed.” Google wields a lot of power over commerce and is usually not transparent or communicative. This causes lots of frustration. There seems to be a growing anti-Google sentiment among some of the student teams. More than one switched to Yahoo Search Marketing because they couldn’t run their campaign on Google.
3. Online businesses using pay-per-click need to focus on conversion rate (and getting analytics set up properly) before spending a lot of money on clicks. One student team saw a huge increase in collecting email addresses when they started promising free shipping for early registrants.
4. Use the right marketing tactic for the job. One company found that a single email campaign to 2,700 people on a qualified list brought 30 people to an event, whereas keyword marketing brought only a few clicks.
5. For one company, Google Site Targeted Ads generated 23 times as much traffic as buying keywords. You have to test many things to know what will work best for you.
6. One student team started by bidding on tons of keywords–basically everything the company sold. They spent $105 before getting their first sale. Since it wasn’t their money, they were pretty panicked. By focusing on the company’s best-selling products, and by creating new Ad Groups around each cluster of keywords, and by testing new ads, the student team ended up with 85 sales in the first month and a cost-per-conversion of under $6. The company made an $800 profit in the first month! The team did so well that one of the students was offered a job.
7. The teams that learned how to use the Google {Keyword:default term} syntax ended up with generally higher click rates than those who did not. This makes it easy to have the keywords people are searching on actually show up in the title or text of your advertisement, which almost always results in higher click throughs. You can do it by hand, of course, by it takes forever when you are dealing with hundreds of keywords.
8. Programmers can always do more than non-programmers. One student described his system that looks at keywords that bring people to his site and then he automatically creates an SEO optimized page around that keyword, plus, using Google’s API, he adds that keyword to his PPC campaign. So every day he is automatically generating more pages and more keywords to bid on, with almost no work. I have said for years that the most powerful internet marketing tactics that I know of require developers to build them.

I am very glad that the student teams all got hands-on experience with pay-per-click marketing. They have all been blogging this semester, too, and have been recruiting links and trying to build traffic to their blogs. (Some of my BYU student blogs are listed here.) But I wish I could have given them all hands on experience with email marketing, affiliate marketing, and conversion rate marketing. There’s only so much you can cover in 16 weeks.

But I hope the students caught the internet marketing fever and the entrepreneurial bug. We had some awesome guest speakers this semester who inspired and taught us how to succeed online, including John Bresee (Backcountry.com), Dave Bateman (Property Solutions), Erika Wilde (Stopdirt.com), Robert Stevens (WriteExpress.com), Wendy Hudman (10x Media), John Jonas, Phil Windley, Dan Oaks (DVO.com), Jim Ericson (LDSAudio.com), and the guys who launched KatrinaHousing.org.

It’s been a great semester.

I’m looking forward to the final.

Every student has been assigned to analyze and grade the internet marketing strategy for a different online business. They will analyze how well they are doing with keyword marketing, search engine optimization, email marketing, affiliate marketing, conversion rate, overall traffic, etc.

I’ll blog next week about how they do.

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Friends Reunited, Genes Reunited sold

British broadcaster ITV is acquiring UK-based Friends Reunited for up to $305 million (including a possible payment in 2009 based on performance). While the company has several web sites, Charles Allen, ITV CEO, says that the genealogy site is “the real engine for growth” for the company.

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Online Advertising Forecast for 2010

Piper Jaffray estimates that the total online advertising market will reach $55 billion in 2010. That’s a 27% CAGR from 2005 levels.

SG Cowen says companies will spend $17.3 billion in paid search and $12.4 billion in other forms of online advertising.

So this is a huge growth industry.

A professor of entrepreneurship once told me that while most start-up companies go out of business in the first five years, he claimed that 80% of businesses started in an industry whose growth rate exceeded 10% annually would be in business after five years.

If that is true, it is more important to start a company in a growth industry than almost anything else. If you are in a growth industry, the rising tide tends to lift all boats, including yours.

If search engine spending keeps rising at 27% per year, a lot of companies will make a lot of money in this industry. Agencies who manage PPC campaigns, SEO firms, analytics companies, web site publishers with high traffic — all can do very well in the coming years.

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2 Billion Cell Phones in Use

Check out this article from Reuters: Cell phone makers aim to get production costs to $20 per handset by 2007 and to $15 by 2008. Approximately 810 million mobile phones will be sold this year up from 680 million last year. 3.5 billion people live in areas with coverage who cannot afford their own handset, so lower prices means more market penetration.

From 1990-1997 I rode the CD ROM wave (Infobases); from 1996-2004 the internet wave (Ancestry.com, MyFamily.com, 10x Marketing); for the last 2 years I’ve been on the mp3 audio wave (LDSAudio.com, mp3books.com); and I’m determined to find a way to be involved in mobile phones (through content, community, search, audio, video, GPS and maybe even gaming) so that I don’t miss out on what is the biggest worldwide consumer technology wave so far.

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When 2.0

Phil Burns, aka Phil801, COO of Provo Labs (which will be announced soon), flew to San Jose last night to attend Esther Dyson’s When 2.0 seminar at Stanford University.

Sometimes you look at the list of speakers and attendees at a conference and you think it would be worth any price and any sacrifice to be there. In this case you’ve got Ray Ozzie (running Microsoft’s strategy for Windows Live and Office Live), Mitch Kapor, and key people from Technorati and Riya among others.

Today’s I’m lecturing at BYU to Phil Windley’s class and my students are all doing their team project reports this afternoon, so I had to forgo the When 2.0 event on time and timing.

I’m hoping someone at When 2.0 figures out how to do real-world time shifting, so, Tivo-like, we can attend more than one event at a time.

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Small Business Loans

Many entrepreneurs don’t know this, but Provo City has a revolving loan fund that typically makes $10,000 to $100,000 loans to companies that are having trouble getting financing. The Provo web site seems to be down right now, but here is a link to a short description of the Provo BDC.

I am serving on the BDC committee. We meet every month or two to consider companies that qualify for these small loans. Roger Andrus works for Provo City and helps companies prepare for their presentations to us.

I wonder how many cities in the country have small business development funds that most entrepreneurs don’t know about.

Does anyone know of an online directory of business development loan funds?

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