New SEO Strategy: Turn Your Customers Into Enemies

Most marketers would say that good strategy requires you to treat your customers well — turn them into raving fans and they will recommend you to friends and family. In the online world, good reviews and links from grateful customers will contribute to good search-engine optimization (SEO), that much-sought collection of factors that results in high rankings in search engines.

But according to a Nov. 26, 2010, article by David Segal in the New York Times, one online entrepreneur has turned conventional wisdom on its head. His solution: Generate good SEO by creating enemies instead of fans. Enraged customers that you have ripped off and abused will fill Internet consumer web sites with negative reviews that will actually increase your ranking in Google searches. (See “A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web” for the full astonishing story.)

I would hate to contribute to the success of the retailer profiled in Segal’s article, so I’m not going to name him or his site. This SEO contrarian runs an e-commerce business selling designer eyeglasses. Segal interviewed one of his customers who says that when she complained and tried to get her money back after paying for fake designer frames, she received threats of sexual violence, phony legal documents, harassing phone calls, and a threatening email with a photo of the building where she lives and an “I am watching you” message.

Evidently, though, the marketer in question uses this kind of customer abuse as an SEO strategy. When he received many complaints on one consumer site, he posted this message in response:

Hello, My name is ********* with *********.com I just wanted to let you know that the more replies you people post the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement Its a new proven to work strategy when you post all kinds of negative it always turns positive. I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven.. Thanks so very much for your continued effort. I really appreciate it.

This retailers’s create-enemies strategy is carefully crafted. It has to be, or he would lose his credit card merchant accounts. Segal, who interviewed the retailer, relates:

The only real limit on his antics is imposed by Visa and MasterCard. If too many customers successfully dispute charges in a given month, he can be tossed out of their networks, he says. Precisely how many of these charge-backs is too many is one of the few business subjects that Mr. ********* deems off the record, but suffice it to say he tracks that figure carefully and dials down the animus if he’s nearing his limit. Until the next month arrives, when he dials it back up again.

Has this retailer’s recent notoriety reduced his Google rankings? Evidently not. A search today on “lafont designer eyeglasses” reveals the following rankings:

Google search on 'lafont designer eyeglasses'

 

The listing for the master of dysfunctional customer relations is third in organic search results.

Building a business by enraging your customers is exhausting work, Segal learned from his interview with the retailer:

Mr. ********* typically works from about 10 a.m. until 5 the next morning, spending much of that time feuding with unhappy customers. He describes this grueling regimen of confrontation with a heaviness that is enough to make you want to give him a hug.

“I’m sure this is taking a toll on my health,” he complains. “I probably won’t live as long as you.”

One can only hope.

— AB, 27 Nov. 2010

‘Quriosity’ Is Dead – Long Live ‘A Thinking Person’

Readers of Quriosity.com will be interested to learn that I have sold that domain (someone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse). As a result, I have transferred all Quriosity content to the new domain and blog AThinkingPerson.com.

You’ll be glad to know that A Thinking Person will continue to publish the same brilliant commentary you have come to expect from Quriosity.

The new RSS feed address for A Thinking Person is https://athinkingperson.com/feed/ .

AB — 14 September 2010

One Reason Youtube Is a Great Resource: Khan Academy’s 1,200 Educational Videos

Many people think of YouTube as a big time-waster with nothing but videos of animals dancing and guys getting whacked in their privates.

But as time goes on, I become more and more conscious YouTube as a great resource in many respects. For example, in my work as a writer and analyst, I’ve been making good use of corporate videos on YouTube, where it’s possible now to access in-depth presentations by company executives, scientists, and other experts.

Thanks to a mention yesterday in Boing Boing, I’ve learned about Khan Academy, which now has over 1,200 educational videos on YouTube. Using a very simple “chalk talk” format, Salman Khan, an engineer and manager, provides 10-20-minute video presentations on a huge variety of topics, including science, history, math, finance, economics, and more.

These videos would be useful as quick reviews or knowledge fill-ins for students, both adult and child, or for parents who are trying to help their kids with their studies. I also find them useful as a writer who needs to be able to get up-to-speed quickly on economics and finance topics.

Khan creates his videos on a tablet computer with pen input. Here’s an example of a video explaining the basics of banking:

AB — 8 June 2010

Classic e-Book on Internet Marketing – Now Available in Free Archive

Some readers might recall that in 1995 I released one of the first e-books published and sold online, The Smart (aka Small) Business Guide to Internet Marketing. Publishing this e-book was a great adventure and was a good experiment in online marketing itself — I didn’t get rich from it, but it did pay the groceries for the Bredenberg family for a few years.

So if you’re interested in finding out what the state-of-the-art thinking was about online marketing in the mid-1990s, the whole thing is now archived on my Optimization Marketing site at: The Smart Business Guide to Internet Marketing.

AB — 25 May 2010

Developing the Internet of Things and a Smarter Planet

A conversation earlier today with some of the innovation folks at IBM about their Smarter Planet initiative has got me revisiting some research we’ve done at the ILO Institute on a concept know as the “Internet of Things.” The essential idea is that objects in the physical environment around us are increasingly being embedded with networked technology, interacting with the larger network, and creating data. In fact, a video by IBM (shown below) suggests that there already might be more objects connected to the Internet than people.

I first encountered the Internet of Things concept in 2006 working on a report on the future of RFID (radio-frequency identification). RFID is a technology used to embed miniature wireless communications in objects of all kinds, such as packaging, boxes, equipment — even humans and animals. At that time I was in touch with some people working on the Internet of Things concept at MIT.

Charles Murray of MIT’s Auto-ID Center had written in Design News that “RFID will be the backbone” of this Internet of Things, “in which almost everything, large and small, is connected via the Web.”

In our 2006 report we wrote:

On a product level, says Murray, each item would be tagged by “a sort of Web page for each item” coded in HTML. “Thus, all products could be identified anywhere, instantly.” Plans include migrating from sticky tags to RFID devices embedded in cardboard cartons during the manufacturing process.

Murray speaks of this emerging Internet of Things in terms of the supply chain. However, the eventual possibilities go far beyond keeping track of products for supply chain management. If miniature Web pages and servers could be embedded in building materials, components of vehicles and aircraft, furniture, appliances, apparel, and other places, this could have huge implications for marketing, communication, and provision of services, not to mention changing the very nature of the world around us.

Wanting some further insights, I had a phone conversation with MIT’s Sanjay Sarma, an RFID expert at MIT. Sarma stressed the impact the Internet of Things will have on business:

MIT’s Sanjay Sarma tells ILO researchers that this Internet of Things is “going to have a huge impact,” and that RFID is one of the key enabling technologies. He points out that RFID creates a greatly increased connection between the physical world and the world of information by connecting more data to physical things and transferring it at much greater speeds in much greater volumes. “We used to connect data to the physical world through keyboards, but there’s only so much data you can get in through the keyboard. But with RFID it’s automatic and it’s happening all the time.”

Sarma says that the Internet of Things will allow you to “have control in your enterprise in a way that is completely unprecedented.” Sarma calls this control “high-resolution management—management with eyes everywhere, as opposed to management by gut reactions and guesswork.”

Earlier this year, we completed a report on how the Smart Grid is likely to affect the shape of the electric utility business in the future. If the smart grid initiative rolls out as anticipated (and utilities are working on this very aggressively right now), the electric grid in the U.S. will be transformed from the traditional century-old dumb one-way transmission utility into what Thomas Friedman has called an “Energy Internet” (see his book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, chapter 12, “The Energy Internet: When IT Meets ET”).

Under the Energy Internet paradigm, networked technologies will be embedded all through the electricity delivery system — in control facilities and substations, in smart meters at homes and businesses, in home appliances that will shut on and off in response to grid conditions, in electric vehicles and their charging systems, in home-based generating systems that will sell electricity back to the grid, and much more that we probably can’t imagine.

Friedman maintains that the smart grid will enable “a great energy transformation.” On page 286 of his book, he outlines what this could mean for utilities companies:

Utilities, instead of limiting their vision from the power plant to your home electricity meter, would be wholly transformed. Their universe would stretch from the generation of clean power on one end right into your home appliances, your car battery, and even the solar panels on your roof. Rather than just being a seller of dumb and dirty electrons, it would be an enabler of this whole smart grid-Energy Internet system. And it would make money from optimizing this system.

In effect, Friedman maintains, smart grid will bring utilities, businesses, and consumers together into an interactive energy market. Taking the reader forward in time, he projects how such a market might function (pages 277-278):

[N]ow that we’ve moved to the Energy Internet – the smart grid – utilities can run your refrigerator or adjust your thermostat in line with when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. It can match the supply with the demand. Therefore, it can use more of these renewable power sources at much lower cost. When clouds block out the sun or the wind dies down, the utility’s smart grid lowers demand by raising prices (so your SBB [Smart Black Box] decides not to do the laundry then) or by adjusting your home temperature settings. And when the sun is shining brightly and the wind is howling, the utility runs your dryer at the lowest price. So there is now a direct correlation between how smart your grid is, how much energy efficiency it can generate, and how much renewable power it can use.

…. When the smart grid extended into a smart home all the way to a smart car, it created a whole new energy market on the other side of your electric meter. In the old days, there was no market beyond the raw dumb electrons that came into your house. Everything stopped at the meter, and you just paid the price calculated at the end of the month. But once your appliances became smart, and a Smart Black Box was introduced into your house, a market was also created beyond your meter and throughout your home, and, more broadly, inside every factory and business around the country.

How will the Internet of Things, a Smarter Planet, transform the world? My guess would be that what eventually emerges will surprise us all. As humans, our predictions tend to be vastly oversimplified. In our smart-grid report, we wrote,

It is good to remember that 20 years ago, experts were referring to the Internet as an “information superhighway” – not wrong in itself, but a vast oversimplification. How many pundits at that time could have foreseen today’s massive World Wide Web and e-commerce activity – not to mention Google or Facebook?

The implication, then, is that utility companies need to become generators not just of power but of innovation – watching for potential new ventures and business models that will surely arise out of such areas as smart-metering, electric vehicles, and renewables. Utilities need to start now building the organizational capabilities necessary to exploit the opportunities that will emerge in this networked energy marketplace – which means expanding R&D and internal venture funding, establishing entrepreneurial units and innovation teams, and building a new culture of innovation.

For some insights into the Internet of Things concept, I invite you to watch this thought-provoking video from IBM:

AB — 20 May 2010

Google Noticeboard: Net-based communications for “have-nots”?

In a recent article on his Content Nation site, John Blossom of Shore Communications discussed the possibilities for the new Google Noticeboard application as an Internet and computing tool for the world’s 5 billion people who are too poor to have Internet access.

Blossom is a respected expert in the content industry, and his new book, Content Nation: Surviving and Thriving as Social Media Changes Our Work, Our Lives and Our Future, explores the future of society in light of social media.

In the recent article, “The Other Five Billion: Google Focuses on Truly Universal Publishing for Content Nation,” I learned of Blossom’s interest in the Hole in the Wall project, in which, Blossom writes:

… in the back alleys of New Delhi poor children with no previous exposure to computers were given access to the Web via a PC embedded in the wall of a building. Almost immediately they became what an adult would consider “computer literate” and started teaching one another how to publish and how to collaborate on content.

The Hole in the Wall has also has also attracted my attention for its lessons on human-computer interaction. For more on the Hole in the Wall, see my blog entry “The Hole in the Wall: Computing for India’s Impoverished.”

The Google Noticeboard application Blossom discusses allows people to use publicly-shared computers to send text or voice messages through public Noticeboards. The application is designed such that it can be used by people with no computer experience, or even people who are illiterate.

The following series of images gives an idea of the interaction design:

AB — 1 April 2009

The Hole in the Wall: Computing for India’s Impoverished

Below is a blog entry I posted a few years ago when I was working for TMCnet. I wanted to refer to it in an upcoming post, but it has disappeared from the TMCnet web site.

Transferred over on 31 March 2009 from Al Bredenberg’s VOIP & CRM Blog (linking here to the Wayback Machine’s archived version):

VoIP for the Developing World

Rich Tehrani wrote a fascinating blog entry today about the potential connection between MIT’s $100-laptop program and the future possibilities for VoIP in developing countries. See his essay at:

VoIP Helps the Needy

In part, Rich writes:

… imagine if there was a way to get computers into the hands of more children. What would this do for the world’s developing nations and how would it help children? Imagine they would now be able to compute inexpensively and have access to the Internet and also speak for free with others.

This is a huge deal because in many parts of the world there aren’t telephones or even telephone lines. Many children don’t even understand the concept of the telephone. What if we could get them to access the web, allow them to compose documents, blog and talk for free? What an amazing world that would be. What an exciting place to live. What a more interconnected planet we would live on.

This reminds me of the fascinating story of “The Hole in the Wall,” which I heard about a couple of years ago.

Sugata Mitra, a computer scientist in India, decided to place a computer with a high-speed Internet connection in a hole in the wall that separated the high-tech company he worked for from the slum next door. He found that the kids from the neighborhood, who had never seen a computer, very quickly figured out how to use it and how to perform complexe tasks over the Internet. The last I heard, he was institutinga program making public-access computers available in poor neighborhoods in many areas of India.

One of the incidents I recall from the story was that a reporter asked one of the kids how he learned to use a computer so well, and the kid answered, ‘What’s a computer?’

AB — 10/3/05

SixthSense prototype portends “The Internet of Things”

Today I learned about SixthSense, a wearable gestural computer interface developed at MIT’s Fluid Interfaces Group, a research group devoted to the design of interfaces that are “more immersive, more intelligent, and more interactive.”

Here’s how the group describes the interface:

The SixthSense prototype is comprised of a pocket projector, a mirror and a camera. The hardware components are coupled in a pendant like mobile wearable device. Both the projector and the camera are connected to the mobile computing device in the user’s pocket. The projector projects visual information enabling surfaces, walls and physical objects around us to be used as interfaces; while the camera recognizes and tracks user’s hand gestures and physical objects using computer-vision based techniques.

These images give you an idea how the prototype works and the kind of functionality it presages:

  

Here’s a link to a video that shows some great demos of SixthSense.

Fluid Interface Group’s work makes me think of one of the best film portrayals of a futuristic computer interface: the one Tom Cruise uses in the film Minority Report. In the movie, Cruise’s character uses virtual-reality gloves to manipulate a large interface virtual interface in front of him — very exciting to see.

This work of the Fluid Interface Group touches on the “Internet of Things,” an idea I first heard put forward by the Auto-ID Labs, a group working in the area of networked RFID. One of our ILO Institute reports on new directions for RFID discussed some of the possibilities for this Internet of Things:

If miniature Web pages and servers could be embedded in building materials, components of vehicles and aircraft, furniture, appliances, apparel, and other places, this could have huge implications for marketing, communication, and provision of services, not to mention changing the very nature of the world around us.

MIT’s Sanjay Sarma tells ILO researchers that this Internet of Things is “going to have a huge impact,” and that RFID is one of the key enabling technologies. He points out that RFID creates a greatly increased connection between the physical world and the world of information by connecting more data to physical things and transferring it at much greater speeds in much greater volumes. “We used to connect data to the physical world through keyboards, but there’s only so much data you can get in through the keyboard. But with RFID it’s automatic and it’s happening all the time.”

Sarma says that the Internet of Things will allow you to “have control in your enterprise in a way that is completely unprecedented.” Sarma calls this control “high-resolution management—management with eyes everywhere, as opposed to management by gut reactions and guesswork.”

The high volume and extreme complexity of this Internet of Things presents unique opportunities and challenges for the technology provider. “If you are in this market,” says Sarma, “you should be looking more and more at distributed computation, and you should be looking at embedded computations, at areas related to distributed software, at software related to data acquisition, and at software related to process change. They’ll all be changing in the next ten years.”

(“Directions for New RFID Initiatives,” ILO Institute, Aug. 23, 2006)

AB — 17 March 2009