Archive for September 30, 2011
Do you sense the unnatural chill in the air? Can you feel the weight of the hunter’s gaze on your neck? Is the number for your local exorcist now on your speed dial? Congratulations, planeswalker: You’re ready for Innistrad, the latest expansion to the world’s favorite CCG, Magic: the Gathering. Innistrad invites players to ‘ascend into darkness’ and command bloodthirsty vampires, brutal werewolves, unstoppable zombies, and other horrors in a battle for the fate of a haunted world. The new set introduces an entirely new type of card–double-faced–that can transform from one of its two faces to the other under certain conditions. Thus, the researcher staring you down from across the table may transform into a flying insectoid horror and swarm over your ground defenses, or the human lord you summoned might turn out to be the leader of the local werewolf pack.
Along with these treacherous transformers, Innistrad brings a bunch of new keywords and features, including Morbid cards that have an additional effect when cast after something dies and Curses that can enchant players with harmful effects. Flashback returns from the grave for some new shenanigans, and a new keyword, fight, allows your creatures to engage the enemy army without attacking players directly. There’s a lot to experience in the world of Innistrad, and it’s now yours for the taking: The set releases today, so you can play with Innistrad cards at your local Friday Night Magic event. Before you head off to conquer your enemies, check out my own personal list of ten Innistrad cards you’re sure to love. These ten cards may not be the most viable cards for tournament play–I’m not a super competitive M:tG player; most of my favorite cards are more notable for their flavor or art than for their actual effect. Still, I guarantee that these ten cards will steal your heart–by force, if necessary. That’s life in Innistrad.
Curse of Death’s Hold
This is probably my favorite of the new Curses. Every Innistrad curse has a ton of flavor behind it, but Death’s Hold seems like the most useful (for you) and the most annoying (for your opponent). Sure, by the time you can actually play it, you probably won’t be locking down your opponent’s early-game creatures–but this does negate some of the nastier 1-toughness creatures, and it’ll blunt the assault from more dangerous beasties. To me, Curse of Death’s Hold feels like a great force multiplier, and you can’t help but smile when you get the chance to say to your Magic opponent: “Hey, everything you’re trying to do? Yeah, it’s gonna be harder now.” It’ll be especially hilarious if you can get more than one on the field. Commence evil laughter!
You gotta love a Magic card with such a basic, clear-cut name. It’s a doll; it’s creepy; don’t mess with it. Five mana is probably a little expensive, given that you have to throw Creepy Doll at something in order to kill it, and even then you only have a 50% chance that the deathtouch effect will proc. Still, with the ability to make creatures fight, Creepy Doll might be slightly better than it looks. And come on, people–it’s a creepy. doll.
Combine it with some hand viewing (Gitaxian Probe, anyone?) for some serious trollin’. The name is great, the art is lovely, the effect is beautifully simple. You can probably shut down a couple of combo decks right here, right now with Nevermore. Go ahead and make your best Edgar Trollan Poe face.
Again with the clever names! Think Twice offers you card advantage if you manage to play it twice, and you can even get something out of it should it end up in your graveyard without seeing play. You gotta love those blue card-drawing instants.
Great flavor text, super versatile. Take that, Gideon Jura! Artifacts, enchantments… Bramblecrush takes care of everything. You gotta respect a card like that.
Past In Flames
OK, I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for Mythic Rares. My Timmy is showing, I know, but you can’t argue with Past in Flames. How cool is this: You can cast anything you’ve already cast, again. Then, later, you can do the whole thing over, thanks to flashback. Plus the art is somebody toasting a burning building. Badass.
Mentor of the Meek
Basically, I’m building my deck around this guy. Card advantage potential is pretty much insane, plus the art is astoundingly cool and the flavor is perfect. This is exactly the kind of M:tG card I love to have in my decks. #MeekShallInherit
Could I get through a list of awesome Innistrad cards without mentioning Snapcaster Mage? This card promises to help out existing archetypes while introducing a slew of new possibilities. The buzz is, it appears, entirely legit. Chase one down and get ready for some truly silly plays.
I know it’s sort of silly, but I can’t help but dig this card. Put it in your Magic 2012 Core Set illusion deck for extra flavory goodness!
Liliana of the Veil
She’s baaaaack! Liliana is the twisted, shriveled heart of the set–the lore of Innistrad revolves around her dread schemes, and her image dominates the promo material. Now in human form once more, Liliana is ready to achieve her dark ambitions by any means necessary. A perfect fit for the set’s grim tone and a nice throwback to Magic ages past, Liliana is sure to enthrall players by the thousands with Innistrad‘s ascent.
Let me know what your favorite/top/best cards from Innistrad are in the comments and report your FNM experiences with the set once you get back from your local gaming store! And don’t forget–there’s extra loot in it for you (in the form of an alternate-art Devil’s Play) if you’re among the first to buy a box of Innistrad!
Want to connect with other M:tG Ologists? Continue the conversation on My.Ology!
Follow Josh Harrison on Twitter: @geekologized.
Autobidders. Every SEM management tool has one. The promise is powerful: simply input the performance you’re trying to achieve and sit back, have a sody-pop, and smile as the little robots make your job easy.
Ha! If it was only that easy!
Most of you reading this post have used one in the past. Have they worked well for you? Listen to any paid search veteran and you’ll hear stories of autobidders gone wild and delivering varying results.
I know that in the past, I’ve recommended in this column to just use auto optimization technology on your tail terms and manually optimize the important head terms of your account.
They’re good for managing low-impact keywords at scale but be careful not to just set and forget them. You may come back a week later and find that your pacing has slowed tremendously as the autobidder has paused every keyword except the handful that can meet your CPA goal.
Certainly, autobidders are not simple software. To build them right, you need to take into account dozens (if not hundreds) of variables and be able to slice and dice the data in order to decision upon bids inside paid search platforms.
To learn more about these tools, I spoke with Dr. Rob Cooley, Chief Technology Officer for OptiMine Software, a smart-cookie who has spent countless hours thinking about autobidders and trying to improve on them.
After speaking with him for more than an hour on this subject, I was wowed by the depth of what goes into cracking the autobidder puzzle.
Q: So, Rob, why do you love working on this complex issue?
Rob: My passion has always been creating data driven analytic applications and I tend to get bored if things are too easy. When I started working on my PhD in the mid 90’s there was this new thing called e-commerce that wasn’t very well understood from an analytics perspective. I dove in and found so many fun hard problems that needed to be solved in the space that it ended up being the subject of my thesis. Fifteen years later, I still haven’t run out of hard problems to work on.
Q: What has been your professional experience in this field?
Rob: I started consulting for e-commerce companies in the late 90’s while finishing my PhD, mainly working on things like shopping cart abandonment. In 2000 I joined a Xerox PARC spin-off that was focused on personalized search and acquired fairly quickly by Google in 2001.
Then, for the next eight years, I ran the technical operations for a data mining tool vendor. That gave me the opportunity to lead over 300 engagements where I had my hands on data to help solve a wide variety of marketing and advertising problems. The issue of pricing for online advertising kept popping up with customers, so in 2008, I decided to start OptiMine.
Q: Before we begin, let’s define for the readers what an autobidder is.
Rob: My definition of an autobidder is a software application that automatically sets online advertising bids for every biddable entity (e.g. the “keyword” for paid search) in order to improve some performance metric.
Q: What are autobidders good for and what don’t they do well?
Rob: If done right, an autobidder improves performance while meeting critical business constraints, such as increasing profit while providing some minimum order volume, or increasing revenue while maintaining a minimum return on ad spend.
While they can provide some time savings, what they don’t do well is operate in a lights out environment without any human intervention. Someone with domain knowledge and an understanding of the business has to drive.
This is a common mis-perception about autobidders that I think comes from some early solutions in the market-place that were very black box in nature. In my opinion if you can’t steer the application, it wasn’t done right.
Q: Just how hard it is it to build a good autobidder? What are the variables or limitations that you have to consider?
Rob: It turns out that it’s incredibly hard to build a good autobidder. To do it right, you need to predict the future cost and value for each and every keyword. However, the vast majority of keywords have very little or no history of clicks or even impressions.
In addition, there is a lot of volatility even for the keywords that do get daily clicks and impressions. In technical terms, this is known as sparse noisy data.
Q: You mention there are different types of models out there, what are they and what are their pros/cons?
Rob: OK, here goes the deep dive…
To answer this, first there are some background terms you need to know.
Models versus Rules
A model based system uses past performance data to train statistical models to predict future performance. For example a model based system could predict the bids necessary to achieve a 200% ROAS. A rule-based system is typically a pre-defined set of reactions to certain situations. For example “if ROAS is less than 200% then lower bids by 10%”. In general model-based systems are predictive and rule-based systems are reactive.
Keyword versus Cluster models
Within model-based solutions there are some that have different models for each keyword and some that group keywords together into clusters. The purpose of the clustering is to get around the sparse data problem by adding data from several keywords.
Global versus Local optimization
This is a really important distinction. Everyone throws around the term “optimize” or “optimal”, but there is a technical distinction between global and local optimization.
A local optimization simply bids each keyword or cluster separately from the other keywords or clusters. So if the goal is to maximize revenue with a minimum ROAS of 200%, every keyword is bid to obtain a ROAS of at least 200%. A local solution won’t tradeoff low ROAS from one keyword with high ROAS from another.
A global optimization (referred to as a portfolio approach by some vendors) considers all of the keywords at once, assigning bids so on average the group as a whole maximizes a goal while meeting some constraints. It may turn out that one keyword can drive a ton of revenue at a ROAS of 180% and another at a ROAS of 220%, as long as the average ROAS is 200% the global solution will declare success.
You can spot a global solution by the looking at the available settings. If the words “maximize” or “minimize” are available as settings, then it’s a global solution. You generally can’t ask a local solution to “maximize revenue” or “minimize CPA” while meeting an additional set of constraints, you can only give it targets such as “provide a $15 CPA”.
Okay, now that you understand the ground work, I can answer your initial question. The following are the four approaches on the market in terms of autobidding technology.
This is the gold standard or holy grail of bid management. The pros are performance and explainability. The cons are that it’s really hard to figure out since you need to predict behavior across a range of bids for each keyword and then solve a fairly nasty global constraint-based optimization.
In effect this is the approach advocated by Hal Varian. Bid each keyword separately based on the predicted value. The main pro is simplicity since you don’t need to predict behavior across a range of bids, just bid a percent of the predicted value. The main cons are limited settings and lower performance when there are constraints.
In a lot of cases, a local solution leaves money on the table. You can set a target but you can’t layer on multiple constraints. And while it may be achieving a ROAS of 200% you don’t know if it was actually possible to hit 250% that day because it is simply trying to hit the target, not maximize a metric.
Here, you still have a global optimization but models based on clusters of keywords are used to handle the sparse data problem. Some vendors are actually a hybrid of this plus the keyword-level global. e.g. they use keyword-level for head terms and clusters for the tail.
In either case, the pro to using clusters is model stability, meaning the results are repeatable. The cons are performance and lack of automation. The performance drop associated with clusters comes from the fact that each keyword is unique, and the value of extra data is outweighed by the loss of uniqueness. The other issue is clustering typically needs statisticians to manually tune the models, so cluster-based solutions are rarely pure software applications.
This is probably the most common solution available. In theory, the pros are simplicity and understandability. I’ve found that’s often not the case since if you layer a set of 25 rules on top of each other it is very difficult to wrap your head around exactly what will happen to the bids. The main con is performance. Because of the reactive nature of rules, they can be very good at what I call profit protection, but they rarely lead to optimal results.
Q: There are seemingly thousands of these technologies out there, whether inside licensable tools or in some home-grown, proprietary platforms. Where do you think many of them stand in terms of effectiveness and why?
Rob: I think my opinion of the effectiveness of the various solutions out there is best summed up by the fact that I chose to quit my job and found a company at the height of the financial crisis because I was confident I could create a better solution.
In terms of why, I have a strong opinion that you need a solid academic foundation in data mining optimization techniques, strong domain experience with online advertising, and a lot of field experience with actual data mining and analytic applications to put together a viable solution. From what I can see, a lot of creators of bidding solutions are missing one or more of those three key points.
Q: So what’s the autobidder at OptiMine? Why do you think you have something special over there? Does it have a cool name like “Conan the Keyword Destroyer” or “Bidder Bidder Chicken Dinner”?
Rob: Sorry, no cool name. It’s just OptiMine Bid Management. It uses a Global Keyword-Level approach per my answer above. The reason we think we have something special is that we regularly improve performance (profit, revenue, ROAS, etc) by 25% or more in controlled tests against other technologies. We haven’t lost a competitive test.
Q: Can you share some results on how you’ve compared to competing platforms?
Rob: Here’s an example for each of the three competing types described above.
OptiMine vs Global Cluster-Level
The goal was to drive as many new accounts a possible at a fixed CPA. Against a competing global cluster-level solution, OptiMine drove 216% more new accounts at the same CPA. The key issue here was the age of the clusters. In this case they hadn’t refreshed their clusters and the keyword grouping was simply obsolete. There were a handful of good keywords hidden in clusters of bad keywords. The act of separating those out and bidding them up was what led to the volume increase.
OptiMine vs Local Keyword-Level
The goal was to drive as much profit as possible while maintaining a minimum amount of revenue. Against a competing local keyword-level solution OptiMine drove 37% more profit. The key issue here was seasonality. The local solution had much simpler models that just didn’t pick up a declining seasonality as fast as OptiMine.
OptiMine vs Rules-Based
The goal was to drive as much revenue as possible at a fixed cost of sale (inverse of ROAS). Against a rules-based approach OptiMine drove 30% more revenue at the same cost of sale. The key issue here was tail terms. The rules put in place were simply too conservative for the tail terms. OptiMine drove 159% more revenue out of the tail which led to the overall 30% increase in revenue.
Q: So, I saw the announcement that Adobe is using OptiMine’s technology in SearchCenter? Sounds exciting…can you talk more about this relationship and how it will work?
Rob: Yes, the next release of SearchCenter will allow their customers to use the OptiMine bid management technology. Essentially, it’s Adobe’s version of our interface. The back-end number crunching is still done by OptiMine, but instead of the OptiMine UI the features and functions will be seamlessly integrated into the SearchCenter UI.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.
Related Topics: In The Trenches
4.9/5.0 (13 votes total)
by Brian Easter
September 30, 2011
About Brian Easter
Brian Easter is one of Nebo Agency’s founders and is driven by two things: a love of interactive marketing and a duty to bring home the bacon-flavored tofu (AKA dog food) for his two dogs. While he does enjoy the simple pleasures in life, such as driving his car as fast as possible on the interstate while his passengers cower in the backseat, his true passion is helping clients make the most of the web.
Article Contributors included:
Kevin Howarth, Director of Content Marketing @ Nebo Agency
Kimm Lincoln, Director of Search Engine Marketing @ Nebo Agency
Emily McClendon, Director of Search Engine Optimization @ Nebo Agency
Laura Rabushka, Digital PR Strategist @ Nebo Agency
has written 41 articles for PromotionWorld.
View all articles by Brian Easter…
I love SEO, don’t get me wrong. When compared to other mediums, SEO consistently brings the most cost efficient website traffic time and time again. However, too many SEO people tend to view SEO as the business and/or brand strategy, not a medium or marketing campaign that supports the business. They think the tail wags the dog so to speak.
It’s easy to view SEO campaigns through the lens of links, link value, keyword density, etc. Someone says something like, “We need an infographic!” And when you ask, “To communicate what message or thought?” they tend to say, “I don’t know, but infographics are really a good way to get links.” Really?! Great content gets links. Great content creates buzz. Great content gets shared. Bad content, which proliferates on the web, doesn’t; regardless of its form. It’s the equivalent of spam. It’s pointless, and can hurt a brand more than help it.
Regardless of your SEO strategy, and the tactics that stem from it, it’s important to craft your approach to stand the test of time. Below we explore 5 strategies that should serve as your philosophical foundation for SEO.
Be a Marketer First
SEO is simply a tactic. Period. Too many SEO firms and businesses have looked past this simple fact. The goal isn’t SEO, it’s marketing. SEO is just one of the tools in the toolbox (albeit an effective one).
To stand the test of time, all SEO efforts should be viewed through the lens of good marketing. That means understanding your brand and your customers. Analyze your competitors, and what they are doing with SEO. Articulate the overall message you’d like to communicate with a specific target market or markets. Consider what your target market cares about. What are their behavioral motivations? And ultimately, determine what actions you would like your target audience to take once they find you.
Don’t skip over strategic thinking and jump right into SEO. Tactics that work today may not work tomorrow, but good marketing endures. Don’t chase the proverbial winds of the Google algorithm, but rather keep in mind Google’s ultimate goal – relevance. If your SEO efforts are well thought out and designed to support your content and brand, your campaign will generate reliable results. If not, your rankings will fluctuate and you will ultimately pay the price.
Focus on Crawlability
If the search engines can’t crawl your site, then you won’t rank. You may have good content, a perfectly implemented long-tail strategy, and super social media integration. That’s great, but all are irrelevant if your site can’t be effectively crawled.
To maximize crawlability, you should constantly and consistently manage every aspect of your web presence. A well developed content strategy plus search engine savoir-faire combined with some good, old-fashioned common sense equals the perfect equation for crawlability.
- Pay close attention to your site navigation strategy.
- Create a SEO-friendly site map that does not overwhelm the user.
- Create an internal and external linking and crosslinking strategy.
- Build on a solid information architecture.
- Optimize your content distribution.
- Perform quality keyword research and implementation.
- Utilize analytics to assess and make improvements.
Optimize Your Entire Digital Footprint
It’s easy to focus so much on your keyword footprint that you fail to heed your more important digital footprint. Many activities can be overlooked if you’re only focused on playing with analytics every day. That means paying attention to your presence on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.), engaging in conversations with other bloggers and content producers, and optimizing all news, press releases, video, social media, and images.
Achieving the goal of expanding and optimizing your digital footprint requires building your online presence off-page. Look for social signals that go beyond link building. Examine the quality of social mentions, relationship building (blog comments, gradual increase in Twitter followers, Facebook fans, etc.), and real human interactions with people on sites where their recommendations (via a link, reference, or publication of your content) will truly elevate you in the eyes of Google and those searching for you online. Think big picture.
Create Great Content
Don’t use the word viral – ever. I’m personally against the death penalty, but I’m fairly sure I’d euthanize the next person who says they want to create viral content. However, you can create compelling, useful content for your audience that may have a tendency to be read and shared.
Creating great content is even more important after Google’s Panda update earlier this year. Before this update, you could get away with low-quantity content that was friendly to search engine queries. No more.
As long as you can answer these three questions, you’re on the road to creating great content that search engines will love.
- Who is your audience? If your content doesn’t connect with your audience, it’s worthless.
- What content does your audience desire? By understanding your audience, you will also understand what content best serves their needs.
- What mediums will you utilize to present your content? Don’t shoot out content like buckshot. Make sure to position your articles, blog posts, and other content in the best context.
Engage and Add Value
Years ago, the idea of engaging your market and adding value seemed rather touchy-feely and something that was nice-to-have. Not anymore. Marketing is a two-way conversation, not a one-way broadcast. Engagement creates visibility and helps spreads your brand online.
If you’re still relying on traditional marketing practices without thinking about engagement, you’re missing a critical opportunity to reach your target market. If you want to get nowhere with your SEO efforts, rely on brochure-like websites without interactivity, press releases without social media optimization, or cold calling and pitching online publications without a personal or social media relationship. In the meantime, your competition will be winning new business and prospects by engaging their prospects online with interactive websites, distributing press releases and other content that get many comments and “likes,” and having online conversations with peers, media, and industry thought leaders. Be a human first and foremost, provide value by becoming a resource to others, and always think long-term.
Conversions aren’t everything. Sure, SEO strengthens digital presence, which attracts users and builds brand, generates sales, and ultimately makes you money. But, if you want to be more than mediocre, you can’t think in terms of short-term success. Never rely on one quickie tactic (Twitter could be obsolete in five years) – but if you remember to always be a marketer first, think long-term, add value, create good content and be on-top of digital strategies, you will be an unstoppable force.