How much is BP really paying for those “oil spill” PPC ads?

The piece quoted Maureen Mackey, a writer on the Fiscal Times as saying: “What it effectively does is that it bumps down other legitimate news and opinion pieces that are addressing the spill… and [BP are] paying big money for that.”
Er, not quite.
First, BP are buying PPC ads – so they are hardly bumping natural search results anywhere. Second, there is an assumption that BP must be paying “big money” for these PPC ads.
Let’s take the phrase “oil spill”. Sure enough, plug it into Google and BP’s ad is there at the top – in fact, it is the only PPC ad on the page (at least when I did it).
So how much would BP have to pay for this? Using Google’s free Traffic Estimator tool, it would seem they would pay a maximum of $1.38 per click. And
Google estimates the number of click throughs that BP would get as between 29 and 45 per day. In other words, a cost of around $70 per day – maximum.
Now BP may well be bidding on lots of other “oil spill” related terms – but I’d hazard a guess that their total PPC budget for achieving these top ad positions is not nearly as much as some people assume (ironically, The Times article has probably done more to encourage people to search for the term “oil spill” and for people to click the ad in curiosity).
If you look at historical bidding patterns on the term “oil spill” you’ll see that nobody has really bothered much about it. In fact, in March in the UK (pre-BP crisis) not a single company was bidding on the term. In April, a lot more companies started bidding on the term both in the US and UK. Curiously, everyone seemed to stop bidding on it in May. And BP are probably the only one of a handful of companies bidding on the term right now. Coupled with a relevant landing page, that probably translates into a relatively low PPC cost.
Of course, the big question many people are asking is – are BP right to be buying PPC ads around these terms?  The moral issue aside, the notion that BP are bleeding money on this exercise is probably wide of the mark.

Exclusive! Daily Mail actively using “prying” technology to influence reader behaviour

Visitors to the Daily Mail website are having personal information about themselves captured for the purpose of influencing their behaviour to purchase goods and services, we can exclusively reveal. The Mail also admits that it will use information gathered on individuals to “deal with” comments made on the site.
Extensive research carried out by a crack escherman web team can reveal that the Daily Mail deploys an array of sophisticated web analytics and tracking technologies including Omniture, Sophus3, Google Analytics and ComScore.
According to Andrew Smith at escherman: “It took us all of 15 seconds to identify the full scale of the Daily Mail’s arsenal of monitoring technology. Some of these tools can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and clearly demonstrates how seriously the Daily Mail is prepared to invest in prying into the online behaviour of its readers.”
The sales literature for Sophus3, for example, makes no attempt to obscure its true purpose:
“Sophus3 has the capability to identify visitors who come from online campaigns, how they behave on your website and whether they turn into a lead or buy after that. With our analysis tools we can determine the effect of online advertising on consumer interest.”
In addition, the Daily Mail’s so called Privacy Policy brazenly asserts that it will use visitor information to: “Deal with, and respond to you about, a comment you have submitted for or on our message boards, blogs and other such user generated content facilities.”
Concludes Smith: “The amount of information that the Mail is gathering about its online readers is immense – everything from the kind of browser they are using down to their IP address. There can be no doubt that they are openly using this information to try and personalise their readers experience – or worse – co-erce them into buying third party products and services. We can only hope that their own journalists will apply the same rigorous approach as they’ve used with other organisations to write a follow up story to expose their own colleagues questionable behaviour and flagrant disregard for privacy.”

185 million reasons for UK car dealers to be worried?

According to Google, UK internet users searched for the term “cars” on Google 185 million times in October. The historical 12 month average has been 226 million – so there has been an 18pc decline in search term usage.

And as we know, new car sales in the UK slumped 21pc in September.

Should we draw any connections between these statements? Before I have any Freakonomics fans on my case, the answer is – not necessarily.

For a start, I’m still trying to get my brain around the figure of 185 million. If we accept that the UK internet population is around 35.6 million, that would mean we online Britons searched on the term “cars” over 5 times each last month. Clearly not every UK internet user is interested in cars, so that suggests that there are some people who are searching on the same search term in an almost obsessive fashion. And why would you do that? Perhaps people check multiple times because they believe they will get different results – which will almost certainly be true in terms of ads served – and even natural rankings.

Then again, there may be other possible explanations:

1. Google’s numbers are rubbish

2. There are automated searches on the term “cars” which is hugely inflating numbers (though of course this contravenes Google’s Terms of Service).

3. The term “cars” is not just related to automobiles, but covers other things such as the Pixar film, etc.

Leaving this aside for the moment, if we drill down into some more specific terms such as “new cars” and “used cars”, we get something that seems a bit more realistic.

New cars 368,000 (Oct 08)

Used cars 1,500,000 (Oct 08)

(NB: Google Trends shows that people seem to search on term “used cars” most often on Sundays – which is worth knowing if you are looking to sell a used car).

If Google is to be believed, then these search volumes are the same as the historical 12 month trend. Which might offer cheerier news for car dealers. Then again, they may want to keep monitoring Google Trends carefully to see whether this holds up.

So what does this all mean? As a nation of Internet users, are we attempting to ignore the credit crunch by searching for “cars” all day? (Then again, we apparently searched on the term “shoes” 101 million times last month as well).

I still stand by my view that SEO Keyword Tools can be very helpful in helping to formulate a PR or marketing content strategy. However, like any tool, you need to be aware of its limitations – and how to use it properly. And have some confidence in the underlying data.

Leaders are losers on the FTSE 100

Quite something when the FTSE 100 leader board consists of the companies that have lost the least value. Would appear there are no gainers in the market at the moment….

Why Mike Hancock MP might not think Cuil is “cool” (then again, perhaps he might)

I wasn’t planning to add more to the general hype around Cuil. However, Mr Robert Schifreen has pointed out in another place that the new kid on the search block may have some work do.

Specifically, he is referring to the search term Mike Hancock MP. (WARNING: the results for this term in Cuil may offend some people and could be considered non-office safe).

Perhaps Mike may prefer the results he gets on Google. Then again, according to, he has voted moderately in favour of equal gay rights. So who knows.

Do the public think PRs are liars?

Roy Greenslade at The Guardian has picked up on a new survey that looks at public attitudes to PR:

According to a study by Ciao Surveys, 60.3% of people in Britain believe that PR officers often lie, while only 3.3% are convinced of the opposite. Additionally, only 17.9% of the respondents think public relations have a positive effect on society, against 26.5% who disagree.

Despite these findings, the survey shows that nearly a third of Britons believe the PR industry is a necessary one at 32.7%, as opposed to only 21.1% who believe it to be unnecessary.

Respondents evidently showed a good understanding of the industry because, when asked about their impression of a PR officer’s main job function, they stated it is strongly related to: media relations (49.6%), event planning (18.2%), advertising (9.5%) and word of mouth marketing (7.9%).

According to Ciao, 55.1% of respondents seem to be aware of the symbiotic relationship between the PR industry and the media, as they declared that the two are biased by each other.

Some people recognise that the media are the main vehicles for the PR industry’s messages, with 13.8% believing that up to half of the content in daily newspapers is initiated by public relations, and a sizeable group think up to 80% of the content in consumer magazines is PR-related.

I’m curious to know how the word “lie” is being defined in this context. Do they mean outright untruths or lying by omission? If PRs were uttering outright porkers to the extent the public appears to believe from this survey, I think we’d know about it. I suspect it is more an unspoken distrust of PRs (apparent) attempt to influence by careful selection (and omission) of facts. I think there is a qualitative difference between simply wanting to put your best case forward and deliberately trying to bamboozle your audience – the latter, surely, an ultimately doomed strategy – the truth will always out.

What 10 Downing Street told me via Twitter

I wanted to know what whether PM Gordon Brown was going to talk about Zimbabwe with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week. So I asked the question via Twitter.

I got a reply back very swiftly. “He stands solidly behind human rights in Zimbabwe.”

OK. So I’m not getting a direct answer from the PM. And the response is hardly earth-shattering. Nevertheless, the person behind the Downing Street Twitter account is clearly close to the PM. And has the authority to respond to questions. And will clearly need to have some level of knowledge of policy to be able to respond.

And let’s not get carried away. As The Guardian points out this morning, there were only 1.383 people following the Downing Street Twitter feed yesterday. Hardly a national cross section. And imagine if hundreds of thousands of people started asking questions via Twitter. You’d need an army of people to manage responses. But perhaps as this evolves, you’ll have different Downing Street Twitter accounts based on government departments. Or areas of policy. Which might make it marginally more manageable.

So. Just a digital gimmick – or a taste of how political dialogue might be conducted in the future?

BTW – as I write this, DowningStreet at Twitter hasn’t said anything for 12 hours – so I’ve given them a “nudge” – via Twitter. We need to know what our PM is up to. Like, is he still surviving on coffee and muffins?

“The digital revolution is over”: Nicholas Negroponte in 1998

Douglas Adams once described Nicholas Negroponte as someone who: “writes about the future with the authority of someone who has spent a great deal of time there.”

After re-reading his 1995 classic Being Digital and collected Wired magazine columns, I think that is a very valid description.

Being Digital is best remembered for his distinction between bits and atoms – but second time around it made me appreciate how uncannily prescient he was on a whole host of things: mash ups (commingling), the current travails of the music and media industries and the rise of Chindia for example).

But it also made me realise there were lots of other gems he uncovered. One was regarding MIT faculty member Mike Hawley who had looked at the challenge of cramming more music on to a normal CD. As Negroponte described it, the music industry was tacking the problem in a very incremental manner: “by changing the laser from red to blue.” Hawley looked at recording a piano piece as an example – and noticed that the gestural data density, the measurement of finger movement, was very low. In other words, by storing this on the CD and using a MIDI interface, you could get around 5000 hours of music on a single CD.

According to Negroponte: “By looking for the structure in the signals, how they were generated, we go beyond the surface appearance of bits and discover the building blocks out of which the image, sound, or text came. This is one of the most important facts of digital life.”

PR and marketing is still very much about signals (messages) – though as Negroponte stresses: “interaction is implicit.”

Or consider his Dec 1998 Wired column in which he pronounced: “The technology is already beginning to be taken for granted and its connotation will become tomorrow’s commercial and cultural compost for new ideas. Like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence.”

A trip through Negroponte’s past writings thus still holds valuable guidance for today and the future.

Tony Blair’s Information Diet

Looks like Tony Blair was an early adherent of Tim “4-Hour Work Week” Ferriss’ Information Diet – at least if this PR Week story is to be believed.

According to David Hill, Blair’s former communications director from 2003 to 2007 (and now a director at Bell Pottinger)”

‘His attitude was always that he had people working for him whose job it was to keep in constant touch with stories and he was not going to allow a story to deflect him from his strategic approach unless absolutely necessary. So, he did not listen to a single edition of the Today programme from 1998 until he stood down last June – and I’d bet my bottom dollar he still doesn’t. As far as I am aware, he never watched a TV news bulletin – or listened to a radio bulletin – during the four years I was at Number 10.’

A shocking revelation? Or simply sensible time/resource allocation?

Explaining the financial crisis: words versus video

The debate over video versus text continues to rage – both in journalism and PR. Some argue that TV news can’t provide the depth of analysis of a lengthy editorial. And should PR be exploiting new web video technologies more fully?

To me, it is a bit of a red herring. The real issue is the amount of time you have to convey the necessary information and how well you use each respective medium – the so-called ‘attention economy.”

Here is a case in point.

I read Charles Goodhart’s lengthy article (sub required for full feature) in Prospect magazine last week which went into the background of the current financial crisis. I then watched the following Bird and Fortune sketch on YouTube.

I came away feeling that Bird and Fortune pretty much captured the key points of Goodhart’s piece and delivered it in a more impactful way. On this occasion, video 1, text 0. But the video versus text argument remains, generally, a waste of energy.

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