The Prof G Show – Episode #40

I appeared on this week’s episode of Scott Galloway’s The Prof G Show with an Office Hours question about Facebook’s antitrust woes:

With all this antitrust pressure facing Facebook at the moment, do you think there’s any chance that – if they are forced to divest one or more of their assets – Mark Zuckerberg could choose to get rid of Facebook, the ‘Big Blue app’ itself, rather than, for example, Instagram?

Some estimates say that, by next year, Instagram could account for up to 40% of the parent company’s advertising revenue, and this has been increasing significantly every year since Instagram started really generating revenue back in 2015. And with some other beefed-up revenue-generating features like shopping also gaining traction on Instagram lately, it’s maybe not crazy to think that, in the next couple of years, Instagram could end up bringing in more “cabbage” than Facebook itself. With all the controversy around fake news and content moderation on the Facebook platform, it might be starting to seem like more trouble than it’s worth.

So, what do you think – could Mark Zuckerberg ever give up his baby for a potentially greater shot at better future revenue?

Check it out at about the 45:35 mark below to see what Scott had to say.

As a follow-up, I posed the same question to long-time Facebook observer, WIRED Editor at Large, and author of ‘Facebook: An Inside Story‘, Steven Levy, and this is what he had to say.

Posted by Rob in Facebook

Serendipity is TikTok’s secret weapon

I originally wrote this article for the Autumn 2020 issue of WIRED Middle East magazine

In the 2001 rom-com Serendipity, a love-struck John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale engage in a cosmic test to measure their compatibility. Instead of simply swapping phone numbers, one of them writes their number on the back of a $5 bill, the other on the inside of a book cover, and they send them off out into the world. If they are meant to be together, fate will dictate that their paths will cross again. Spoiler alert: they are, it does, and they do. While it’s no Citizen Kane, the message is clear: some things in life are best left to chance. A bit schmaltzy, sure. But there’s some truth in there too.

In today’s world where the shows we watch, the things we read, and the products we buy are increasingly influenced by algorithms, these moments of serendipity are becoming rarer than ever. Platforms like Facebook, Amazon and Netflix know so much about us, yet their view of us can be surprisingly narrow. Or at least that’s how it seems when you look at how they act on this information, primarily showing us recommendations based on things that they know we already like. Oh, you liked the Facebook page of a certain politician? Here’s a bunch of Facebook pages for affiliated political groups. Watched a horror movie on Netflix lately? Here’s a hundred other horror movies. Searched for a smartphone on Amazon? Feast your eyes on a thousand similar smartphones that follow you around the web waving at you from every page you visit. Just like the way you might find yourself in an online filter bubble surrounded by like-minded people because of the content you interact with, you can also end up in a loop of the same type of stuff being recommended to you again and again. But we are not as one dimensional as the algorithms might wish we were. Sometimes all we really need is something a bit different. TikTok is one of the few platforms that seems to understand this.

Read the full article on page 30 of WIRED Middle East‘s Autumn 2020 issue.

Posted by Rob in Social Media, Tik Tok, Wired Middle East

Reem Al Marzouqi Interview for WIRED Middle East

I originally wrote this article for the Autumn 2020 issue of WIRED Middle East magazine

Thomas Edison was a busy guy. The renowned American inventor was responsible for such innovations as the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb and one of the earliest motion picture cameras. In total, Edison was granted over 1,000 patents in his lifetime – a figure that is regularly used to illustrate his status as a pioneer. And it’s this symbol of the patent that’s such a powerful representation of innovation and originality – a way of quantifying humanity adapting to an ever-changing world. In a typical year, over 300,000 patents are granted in the United States of America alone, and since 1836, 10 million of them have been issued to inventors from all over the world. But until 2013, none of these came from the UAE. All that changed when 23 year-old Emirati engineering student, Reem Al Marzouqi, was awarded a US patent for designing a car for people with special needs that can be driven without using their hands.

Read the full article on page 79 of WIRED Middle East‘s Autumn 2020 issue.

Posted by Rob in Wired Middle East

Google says that user experience will soon affect your search ranking

I originally wrote this article for Campaign Middle East magazine

Cast your mind back to 2015. It might seem like a lifetime ago for a lot of reasons, but it was also an inflection point of sorts for digital media – social media had finally revealed itself as a pay-to-play platform for advertisers, Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) brands had really started to take off, and mobile internet traffic had started to overtake desktop traffic. By 2015, pretty much everyone had finally gotten themselves a smartphone. But not every brand had updated their website to be responsive. We all remember having to wait forever for pages to load and pinch our screens to zoom-in in order to read tiny text because some websites hadn’t bothered updating to a mobile-friendly design. This was not a good experience. For a platform like Google that made a living by sending people to the right websites this was a problem. If you keep sending users to sites that frustrate them, eventually people will stop using your service. That’s why, with an April 2015 algorithm update, Google finally started punishing websites that still refused to provide a good mobile experience by giving priority to websites that displayed well on smartphones when users made a search on their mobile devices. Websites with large text, easy-to-click links, and displays that resized to fit the user’s screen were given a search ranking boost. And this makes sense. Google wants users to have the best experience they possibly can. For both Google and the end-user this was a win-win. On the flip side, this move effectively deprioritised millions of sites around the world that had yet to optimise for mobile meaning that, finally, brands had to sit up and take mobile seriously. Mobile had ‘arrived’. Something similar is now happening with user experience.

Taking user experience seriously

Last month, Google announced that it will be expanding the set of user experience metrics that are taken into account as factors for ranking search results, so the better your user experience, the better chance you have of Google sending traffic to your site. Google already takes page speed and mobile responsiveness into account when it comes to ranking pages, but these new criteria focus on how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page – how quickly the main page elements load, how they perform when the user first tries to interact with them, and the stability of content as it loads (so you don’t accidentally tap that button when it shifts under your finger!). Like trying to move brands away from having unresponsive websites on mobile, Google is now trying to weed out the little things that make the user experience that bit more annoying. These are real and tangible things that your users notice when they come into contact with your site that ruin the experience, like trying to shop at a supermarket with sticky floors, a confusing store layout and long queues at the checkout counter. You’re shooting yourself in the foot by not giving these areas the attention that they deserve.

Having a great user experience should be table stakes for any ambitious brand in 2020. Customers these days have high expectations, and plenty of companies have perfected the art of giving them what they want fast, sometimes anticipating what they want before they even ask for it. This is the standard that you have to meet in today’s consumer landscape. User experience has well and truly ‘arrived’.

Food for thought

Google stressed that these criteria will not affect rankings until next year, but once they do, they will become a significant factor in where you show up in search. Back when the mobile-first algorithm update came into place, content marketing company BrightEdge tracked over 20,000 URLs and saw a 21% decrease in non mobile-friendly sites on the first three pages of search results. If something similar happens with this user experience update, you do not want to be in the 21% of sites that fall off the edge.

Having a fast-loading, easy-to-use website that shows your visitors relevant content and generally gives them a more personalised experience will improve your key site metrics – time spent, pages views and even conversion. And soon it will directly affect your search ranking too. At Horizontal, we believe in the mantra of CX4CA (Customer Experience for Competitive Advantage), and the conviction that brands can build loyalty and increase conversion by removing friction and improving the user experience. Google echoes this belief, and the message from them is loud and clear – if you want to rank highly in search results you better make sure that you have an easy-to-use and intuitive website. If you don’t, your competitor will. Is your site ready?

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine, Google, Mobile, SEO
The power of first-party data in a cookie-less world

The power of first-party data in a cookie-less world

I originally wrote this article for the May 31st 2020 issue of Campaign Middle East magazine

The humble web browser cookie doesn’t get much love these days. Despite being part of the fabric of the internet since web browsers took off in the mid-nineties, cookies still get a bad rap. While they may have been integral to the way digital advertising and e-commerce has worked for over twenty years, things are about to change with Google revealing plans to block third-party cookies on its Chrome browser from 2022 onwards. Not all cookies are the same however and it’s important to know the difference. First-party cookies can be helpful, enabling websites that you visit to remember who you are when you go back to them, keeping users logged into their accounts and remembering website preferences or shopping carts etc. Third-party cookies on the other hand can track user activity as you move from site to site across the web, letting advertisers record information about your web browsing history and behavior over an extended period of time. This type of cookie provides the foundation for programmatic advertising, ad targeting and retargeting – an essential element in the effort to serve relevant ads to each user. The digital ad ecosystem we see today would not exist in its current form without them. But change is coming. With third-party cookies being blocked, it will be harder to get people to your site in the first place, and also harder to get them to come back once they have already visited. Basically, it’s about to get a whole lot harder to create effective digital ad campaigns, which means that it’s even more important for brands to capitalize on every visitor that comes to their site in the first place.

Making the most of each visit to your website

While third-party cookies are about to go the way of the dodo, first-party cookies will remain alive and well. Indeed their value will increase, giving any brand that collects and truly utilizes their first-party data a big advantage in this new environment. Knowing who your website visitors are, where they are from and whether they have interacted with any of your campaigns or website elements before can be incredibly valuable, but it’s what you actually do with that information that is key. Too many brands today rely on retargeting as a safety net for not making a sale or conversion at the first time of asking rather than putting a system in place to take what they know about their users and using it to make the experience better and increase conversions. The onus is on you to make the most of the data that you have. And there is a whole lot that you can do with that data.

Offer a Personalised experience

  • Offering a more personalised experience to your website visitors will reduce the chance that they will bounce, letting you make the most of their initial visit and removing the need to retarget them with a message to revisit your site at a later time. To personalise your website, you can adapt elements like images, copy and calls-to-action based on what you know about your user, e.g. who they are, where they live and whether they reached your site from a campaign-specific source.

Nudge visitors along the Customer Journey

  • As visitors engage with your site, you can adapt the content based on their behaviour. For example, on the first page a user sees on your website you could use a designated element to showcase a brand video. If the visitor watches the video, the same module can update to feature a newsletter sign-up form, then a call-to-action to download an ebook or white paper and, after that, communicate a product offer. Showing sequential content lets you warm up a prospect with educational material before trying to close the sale.

Build a user profile based on behaviour over time

  • Offering a more personalised experience and nudging visitors through the Customer Journey will increase the chances of making a sale there-and-then. But it will also make it more likely that your visitors will return to your site of their own accord once they leave. And when they do, you can use the data you collect to build an ever-evolving user profile to help you better cater to them over time. You can track page views and interactions with site elements and calls-to-action etc. and use this to segment your website visitors into Personas and show them more relevant content based on their Persona over time. Having a full 360° view of your customer that includes email marketing and purchase history etc. will give you even more power to show them relevant stuff over time.

Future-proofing your business

In a cookie-less world, brands will be forced to rethink the way they communicate and interact with customers on digital channels. The tides are turning and brands that don’t adapt will be left behind. The good news is that there’s time to adjust. Data is power, but measuring and acting on it can be a challenge. If your CMS is not capable of any of the above it might be time to rethink your web platform. What are you waiting for?

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine, Tech