Elliptical Trainer at the Airport? Personal Ruminations on 10 “Firsts” in 2013


It’s been an amazing year. Most companies involved in Anything Digital are going to break new ground in any given year; that’s a given. At Page Zero, our work is somewhat client-driven. And while we’ve pioneered some things and love to work diligently behind the scenes on “soft innovation,” we’re not always bleeding edge. Few agencies are. (For a possible explanation see my thoughts here: The Agency Mosaic: Follow the Shifting Tiles.)

We, like many of our clients, often feel more comfortable building incrementally on proven wins. The “20-mile march” concept from Jim Collins’ Great by Choice seems to mesh well with what most businesses should be striving for: pushing themselves to find growth possibilities instead of just coasting along, but not trying to shoot all the lights out in any given quarter or year. “Lights out” growth (unless you’re Google or LinkedIn) is often purchased at the expense of sustainability and reputation.

Remarkable success stories (such as some of our most successful clients’ growth paths) come from individual quarterly performances that wind up being just a bit better than expected. Once in awhile, all the diligent work and testing on many fronts leads to an opportunity for a larger surge. Or as Collins puts it, “bullet, bullet, bullet, calibrated cannonball.”

In light of this, I was surprised to note just how many firsts we were able to achieve this year. Here’s a sampler of ten of them, interspersed with way too many random personal firsts that may sound mundanely familiar to you, if your life is remotely like mine:

  1. Page Zero was responsible for a total rebrand of a client’s core, revenue-producing web presence. This included a new name, domain name, complete website rebuild, content strategy, social strategy… you get the idea. We’ve overseen pieces of these kinds of puzzles in the past, but we’ve never gone so far into talking the client into the need for a complete refresh, right down to the painful name change decision, and taking on virtually 100% of the work. (So far, so good, by the way; engagement numbers are way better, and we expect that the total SEM revenue numbers will be much improved next year, especially on the organic search referral front.) Some “sexy” and commercially valuable domains can cost mid six figures and up. In this case, our client got a steal of a deal on a “definitive sounding” .com domain plus one key variation on it: $4,000. Many business owners wrongly believe that they can achieve their goals by sifting through available domains and “cheaping out” on a $12 buy. They might also wrongly think it will take forever to pay back a $5,000 or $10,000 domain investment. That’s far from the truth! We have a client who has pretty good proof that a $500,000+ domain name investment paid off multiple times over for them. Whether it’s at the $5,000 or $500,000 level, the ROI on such efforts, if done right, can be incredible. Bonus tip: from the standpoint of shareability and screen space for ads on small devices: shorter names are better. Whenever possible, due to user experience and “make it stick” mnemonics, companies should strongly consider shortening long, clunky, “keyword-rich” domain names.
  2. Instead of waiting for the BlackBerry Q10 to keep on tappin’ away old-style on a physical QWERTY keyboard, I decided to get swipey with it and go for a Z10. Sadly, this was during a time when the image of BlackBerry, and its sales, were in freefall. But it’s really been a fantastic device. The performance is solid and I really love the ease of use of the navigation from one task to another (the BlackBerry Hub). My wife, an iPhone devotee, repeatedly states that the Blackberry is a better device. It’s not because they’re making bad phones that BlackBerry’s running into trouble. I don’t exactly know what the solution is. When you’re up against Google and Apple, sometimes stuff happens. 🙁 As for my typing ability, that’s gone way south with the new device. I don’t type out long emails anymore, and I take a bit longer to text and tweet. But overall, the functionality is improved — if that makes any sense. In this day & age, should I really be typing out epic emails on my phone? Which brings me to…
  3. I got my first tablet, a Microsoft Surface. Yeah, I know, tablets have been around awhile; I’m not actually a huge device guy, though I have gone through a lot of desktops and laptops over the years. Really love the build quality all around. The brushed metal is sleek and solid, the kickstand is handy, the weight is less than expected, and it has intuitive physical controls. It never gets hot to the touch. I haven’t really found much use for the wafer-thin click-in keyboard add-on, as I don’t want to do too much serious work on this device. Most common uses for me are passive, like watching videos, reading news, playing chess, and other leisure type stuff. And if for some reason my phone isn’t near enough, I can use it to snap photos. I’m also not hating the OS, though not loving it either (I prefer BlackBerry’s in some ways). Oddly enough, the one interface I’ve been able to master on the tablet is AdWords! I wouldn’t want to do a lot of work on it, but if you’re in a pinch or watching TV, it’s nicer than having to lug around a laptop. I’m not big on the way that Microsoft makes it hard to use “foreign” apps, browsers, etc., nor the need for the universal Microsoft login. But it’s “tit for tat,” right? So speaking of tablets: hey, Google, ahem: since sometimes tablet ecommerce performance is way worse (even though the aggregate data may be OK), can we get that tablet bidding control we used to have for AdWords? You know, the control we used to have?
  4. I got rid of our efax line (J2 line to be exact). Scan and email, please. The fax is dead! (At least I’m hoping it is.) So note to North Korea: don’t use that methodology for sending threatening notes to me. I’ve informed the local Kinko’s to discard your messages, as well.
  5. We wrote our first tweets on behalf of clients. In the file of “things we used to think companies should probably do for themselves,” tweeting is part of a long list. That being said, we began to see a couple of years ago that companies are stretched, and that agencies don’t need to do much persuading when it comes to clients wishing to outsource more activities around content, social presence, etc. Under Cory Kleinschmidt, we’re building out our Findability (formerly SEO) division, and we still have a long way to go. And that’s a good thing. (If it didn’t lead to more firsts, we’d all get bored, right?)
  6. I spoke at a conference in Italy for the first time ever. Fantastic experience, and the market for digital marketing information is quite strong here now, possibly even slightly ahead of where you might think as a proportion of the ecommerce spend, or other benchmarks.
  7. As a direct consequence of this, for the first time ever, I did not speak at SES Chicago. In fact, taking SES Chicago off for a trip to Europe ended my unbroken string of speaking at SES at every North American event since summer 2002 (I think that’s around 48 events; I was hoping to hit 50). Word to the wise, BTW: SES’s last event ever will be in London, after which this conference series will be rebranded to ClickZ Live, with the first in the series ready to go in New York 2014.
  8. I invested $40,000 in a startup. I won’t disclose the details, but I’ve never done such a thing before. In the past, I have earned some sweat equity in a couple of firms, but never ponied up cold hard cash. (No solicitations, please. I’m not running PZ-Combinator over here.)
  9. As a superior way of killing time and maybe grabbing a shower during a long layover, I went to the gym at the airport (the new GoodLife Fitness at Pearson International Airport in Toronto). What’s even weirder was that a couple of months later, I went there again, even though I wasn’t flying. I missed going to the gym on Boxing Day, and with most of the locations closing early due to holiday hours, I called up Goodlife Fitness Pearson Airport, and the guy said they were open “until 11:30 p.m., 365 days a year.” I was pretty much the last one to leave, around 9:15 p.m. Extend the hours a bit more and put a big casino in there, and we’ll be into full-blown insanity! Seriously, there was a lot of chocolate and stuffing to burn off, and maybe just a little bit of steam spending so much time with family in the dead of winter :).
  10. I made my first PPC bid on a segment called “Barnstaple.” And another one on “Markham.” This is the first year we’ve ever seriously delved into detailed geo data for PPC bidding purposes, thanks to the AdWords Enhanced Campaigns architecture. I’ve been playing around with different segments and slowly new information has come to light. For example, bidding by region (state) may be far less important than highlighting the most anomalous city locations. Also, if you overdo the effort on the whole (too many geo segments to bid), you will tend to chase a lot of random numbers. Better to set yourself an “importance threshold” and only zero in on larger anomalies. An added bonus? I’m learning loads about how users behave around the world (for a client that sells travel globally), and also about behavior inside the UK. Based on the practical possibilities, in the past I’d never given much thought to how Edinburgh or Cambridge might behave from an ecommerce standpoint. Now that we can actually collect this data and conveniently act on it… well, let’s face it, I’m basically drunk on data! Yes, it’s been a good year.

To your health!

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