Microsoft PubCenter Omen?

PubCenter for Content
The illusive PubCenter for Content!
It is true that there are a few web publishers that have the ability to put Microsoft’s PubCenter ads on their websites. We have seen the interface ourselves, and have come to learn a bit about it.

For the last few years Microsoft has not allowed new users to access this function and rumor has been that it is for a lack of ad inventory. A few folks that got in early have enjoyed some reasonable payouts on par with Google AdSense, and recently sometimes on par with the glory days of YPN (Yahoo Publisher Network). However, the interface was chintzy to say the least. Plagued with odd bugs and dysfunction. If Microsoft’s acquisition of Yahoo included a review of YPN it would undoubtedly have been chosen as the most ready-to-ship interface.

Accounts have remained available for integrating with Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 applications. However, the web is full of laments about low payouts. Our clients tend to focus on Droid or iPhone, and neither are supported by Microsoft’s PubCenter. Whether short sighted, or strategic, it is what it is.

So now for the omen, at the end of last month we were contacted by a client that had noticed a drastic drop in ad revenue. As we mentioned before, the interface is bug ridden, not just a little bit. Our alpha demos typically have fewer bugs. If you click in the wrong place your browser may well go into a seizure of recursive reloading. Use any browser but IE and you’ll be lucky to get any results at all. QA has clearly been procrastinated. However, working with a group like a possibly rouge and obscure advertising team within a big organization like Microsoft requires some street smarts. If you so much as change your email address in a fragile system like this revenues could collapse to never recover. It’s a degree of paranoia that is necessary. Once you’ve got things balanced, don’t touch ’em! Don’t even comment in a forum about them — more less write a whole article — just leave them alone!

However, our client had carefully heeded our warning. Even resisting the urge to view reports too often for utter fear that the balance would collapse. It’s only weird if it doesn’t work right? Yet earnings were dropping, very quickly. Earnings that had remained stable for several years, offering nice bonuses on occasion, but never such a dive. We were confounded. Their traffic demographic was exactly the same. Other ad programs were actually earning more, not less. Coverage (the percent of pages that showed ads) was identical to prior months at 99%. Yet PubCenter has flat-lined.

On a call, we had to ask again, are you sure you didn’t change anything? They hesitated, and then finally admitted that they had attempted to submit a new W9 to the site. We lamented, first that they hadn’t explained this sooner, but secondly that this may be irreversible. Like an episode of House M.D., after a strained admission on the patient’s part, we had diagnosed the cause and we’re pretty certain that it is terminal.

So in delusional hope we offer other possibilities, this could be somehow related to the end of the year. Though that seems unlikely since their “publisher traffic quality score” steadily dropped from 10 (for over a year straight) to 1.5 within 6 weeks. The only other thought is that M$FT may be giving up on content ads altogether. It would be nice to hear from any of the endangered species of organization that may be running content ads via PubCenter. However unlikely as it may be, since those individuals have quickly learned to keep their heads down and not rock the boat.

We are now more like divers exploring a ship wreck than developers coding to standards. In the secretive world of online advertising, be it Google, or Microsoft, or even obscure 3rd parties, we are left with vague TOS documents that may or may not contain any clue as to why Zeus chose to frown on our client today. Instead we try a half dozen different things in hopes one will work. This client is lucky, they have an AdSense account already. That is until Google’s Zeus is unhappy with his breakfast and decides to take it out on the minions.

Holiday Tech

I’m probably the worst choice for writing this article, but my raving at the office about my kid’s new Xbox 360 landed me the task.

First let me say that Happy Action Theater for the Kinect is just plain fun for all ages. That is what I have raved about, is the fantastic sense of humor and imagination the makers at Double Fine demonstrate in this whimsical entertainment masterpiece. My kids love it, and I’ll admit floating around on a rock taking pot shots at them with my own fireball shooting hands is pretty entertaining too. As a bonus it appears that they are offering a free game until December 31st. I’ll be back in a minute.

Ok, so now that I got my anecdote off my chest, let’s move on to the future tech, as there are some neat developments. Firstly, let’s talk about phones, I will skip the iPhone for once, and jump right to Androids. Why? We’ve told you before, iPhones rarely offer anything to talk about. They are usually a quarter to a full 6 mos behind the other devices out there. Sure, they make some polished devices, but they don’t believe in “bleeding” edge, and probably could not even be called “cutting” edge. They rest safe and sound on the established tech, and for many this is a great thing.

For those of you who are “bleeders” here’s the scoop. 1920×1080 on a PHONE!! No joke, it’s for real. I remember when the first laptops came out that could do that resolution. They were monsters. Mac users remember when the Macs supported that, in fact I think it’s still maximum on the iMacs… but a phone!?!! Yes, the HTC DNA boasts 1920×1080, that’s FULL HD. Of course with a special cable you can plug this right into your HD TV via HDMI. That takes first place in my book, but be warned. There are rumors that many graphically demanding games perform poorly on this device because of the high resolution. I’ve seen figures as low as 25% of the frame rate. They call this bleeding edge for a reason.

Next up, 4G. There are three main flavors of this: lte, HSPA+, and Wi-Max. Of course, Apple again missed the boat, their iPhone 4 was NOT 4G at all. By the time the iPhone 5 was finally getting 5Mbits/s on LTE Androids were pushing 40Mbits/s. Even here in Podunk, 16Mbits/s is not rare, unless you own the newest iPhone. Sure it’s faster than 3G but as usual, slower than the new Droids, and more expensive too. Solution? Almost any new droid, HTC DNA above, if you don’t want to “bleed” quite so much, then try the Motorola Razr HD. Respectable at 720p.

Finally, if you are a conservative techie try anything old now. iPhone 5s are dirt cheap now. $127 at Walmart, now that is a reasonable price for old tech. Remember old tech, is tried and true. You are bound to have less trouble when the technology has been tested. Gen 3 iPads at $400 we could never recommend though. You can get a fully functional laptop for that price. Or for < $250 you could get a Chromebook. These represent a new way to think about computing, and “the Cloud” (despite its 70s hippy connotations) has some real promise for average users that just want don’t want to worry about the safety of their data. If you’re a power user you probably already caught Wozniak’s predictions that the cloud trend will reverse itself for power users. That NAND (solid state) technology is taking data centers by storm. If you haven’t have a look: Wozniak on Forbes.

So there you have it. Rumor has it that the XBox 720 is on the horizon, but Microsoft has claimed that the 360 is only half way through its life-cycle. Whatever the truth of that is the Xbox + Kinect bundle has been popping up dirt cheap. A colleague told me to chip in his 2 cents, and remind readers that the PS3 (Sony’s console) can play blu-ray discs (which XBox cannot) as well as offers a free online services whereas Microsoft charges for XBox live. As an XBox user there is no way I’ll be paying them for XBox live, which saves me on two levels. Of course the monthly fee, but also the temptation to purchase any multi-player title that requires said subscription.

4G, HD smart phones, and amazing deals on respectable last-generation technology like the iPhone 5 are all things to keep in mind. While I wouldn’t be too interested in a Chromebook myself, it does seem like it should be intriguing to non-power users looking for simplicity.

Have funny, and Happy 2013!

What’s with these companies that don’t show you the price until you check out?

Newegg.com has taken up an experimental deceptive practice of hiding product prices until you are on the very last page of the online shopping process. They are not the first, but we have had several clients experiment with such tactics and based on those results we strongly suggest NEVER doing this, and here is why. With permission we can only show you statistics on two clients who attempted this and while their volume probably does not compare to Newegg, the risk is readily apparent.

Case 1 Garments and luggage: Prior to this experiment they were running a very respectable abandonment rate of 65%. We consider anything less than 70% to be pretty good based on our experience. However, this client was disappointed by overall volume and decided to hide prices on certain items. Only about 10% of the inventory had hidden prices, yet the abandonment rate immediately shot up to 77% and here’s the big rub. Upon pulling the plug on this 2 week social experiment their volume had fallen 20% and it took nearly 3 months to recover! In hindsight, and again, with permission, we pulled statistics on abandonment rate of just the carts that contained these “surprise price” items, and it was more than 85%! Interestingly the other carts were still at 70+% which seemed to say customers did not appreciate the game, even when they didn’t shop for those specific items.

Case 2: We only have permission to mention a few vague details here. Abandonment rate for this client was admittedly higher than we prefer, however upon attempting the “bait and shock” strategy (as we now call it) it increased by nearly 10%. Again it took several months to recover, and volume suffered severely.

So experiment at your own peril. We have determined that customers are offended by such tactics, and among an admittedly small sample, voted that this violates the trust necessary for a customer to trust us with their billing information. Of course our clients are boss, but we offer dire warnings for free. Don’t do it!

It’s the least we can do for our clients. Experience is an important part of our value. Many of our customers are coming here only after being burned by salesmanship from other shops. A common violation of our customer trust we’ve seen is making wild claims about capabilities and possibilities. Unless our client is Newegg talking in “millions” is irrational. A million is a huge number, even in web terms, and while it sounds nice and persuasive it’s unrealistic. For many small shops you might as well talk billions as millions. Be happy with a thousand, or even a few hundred active accounts. We manage a few sites that exceed a million hits a month, but even that does not translate into a million sales a month. Even a 1% ratio of hits to orders is doing pretty good. If your web developer is talking nonsense, like “millions”, it does call their credibility and experience into serious doubt.

Google no longer a porn site!

It has been a busy quarter around here. Overwhelmed with projects, especially the pet kind. One pet project we’ve been working on for over a year is convincing Wikipedia to stop being a porn site (from within the editor community). While we cannot take credit for the changes that seem to have finally gone live today at Google, we are glad they happened.

So here’s the gist of the change. On 12/12/2012 Google rolled out a modification to its “strict” search function that makes it always either on or off. Even with the filter turned off, Google has removed most of the pornography that it has hosted for years. Sadly, Bing’s control is identical to Google’s old one. So next up, Bing and Yahoo, should stop hosting pornography.

We’ll see if this change holds, but if it does 3 cheers for Google! Now let’s see if Wikipedia finally follows suit, as it promised us so many years ago.

Wikipedia Still Hosts Porn