August 31, 2015

Having a Clear Call to Action Can Drive Real Results

As a member of the Google Analytics team, I regularly field questions at events or on our social channels about how online and offline activity can drive results, and what metrics have value. As no two businesses are the same, it's critical to determine the status of your company and find if your activity can bring impact to results that matter, be they clicks, leads, registrations, opportunities or real revenue. When the goals are determined, and you have stakeholder buyin, then you can start your work. (See: Measure What Matters Most)

Among the most common questions I see are those around driving visitors to a specific call to action. Most websites have many different routes for visitors to take, and the many choices can be overwhelming. But in some other cases, only one outcome is required, and all efforts should be taken to get the user there.

Nearly 15 years ago, I held a role with the inconspicuous title of eMarketing Manager at a company whose product line was in stealth mode. As we approached the launch date, our small marketing team debated how we were going to handle the first version of our website, and just what our calls to action were going to be.

Most Sites Have Many Calls to Action, Which Distracts Visitors

We knew our product would have a long sales cycle of more than six months, and the average sales price would be north of a hundred thousand dollars per unit. We didn't yet have any customer success stories, and our target markets were an educated guess, based on how we thought the product would perform, and colleagues' experience selling competitive products. We didn't even really have photos of the hardware we expected to sell, as that too was a work in progress.

But what we did have was a launch date, to coincide with the announcement of our product and corresponding news coverage. We had to ship a site with our new company name, and it had to give just enough information to keep people interested, even if we couldn't deliver all the details.

The BlueArc product page in February of 2001 (via

After some debate, we decided to make the website a massive demand generation tool, with every page driving us to a single call to action: Sign up for our newsletter. Every page had a button on the sidebar encouraging new signups, and where data was scarce, we had links to the newsletter. Even before we'd sent out a single issue, we had thousands of registered emails, ready to be updated.

Our Solution: A Single Call to Action from All Pages

Our monthly newsletter, which shipped with my name as the sender for more than eight years, gave us a consistent customer database to talk to for years, and was responsible, in the long run, for prospects, ongoing communication to soft leads, and updating the press and analysts.

This result was from keeping our mission simple. Instead of trying to dazzle visitors with things to download, an array of phone numbers to call, or videos to watch, we just took the casual visitor coming from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and gave them the chance to hear from us again, so that when our message was ready for them, we would have that channel in place.

When you know what to measure, driving toward a goal becomes easier. And if you don't, not only are you confused, but so are your users. This is a lesson I learned firsthand a decade and a half ago.

Disclosures: I work at Google on Google Analytics, and worked at BlueArc from 2001-2009.

July 30, 2015

Tech Company Shifts Position Sunnyvale as Major Hub for Next Decade

In Silicon Valley, some of the most prosperous cities and most sought after zip codes to live, raise a family and send kids to school, are directly dependent on the proximity to corporate headquarters of the leading technology companies. As some of the biggest companies are running out of room in their headquarter cities, the resulting demand for continued growth is putting pressure on neighboring communities. Sunnyvale looks like ground zero for this next wave.

Cupertino, home to Apple, the most valuable company on the planet, has a median home price north of $1.7 million dollars, up 15% year over year. Mountain View, home to Google, has a median home price above $1.3 million, up 20% year over year. And these high marks significantly trail the more upscale suburban locales such as Palo Alto ($2.44 million average) and Los Altos ($2.65 million average). Quietly sitting wedged between Mountain View and Cupertino, in a state of tug of war between Apple, Google and more companies, like Yahoo!, LinkedIn and NetApp, is Sunnyvale ($1.28 million average). Sunnyvale has not only seen the fastest increase in average home prices over the last 12 months, but is set up to see even more demand as jobs flow to the city. As a biased Sunnyvale homeowner and area employee, this is very interesting to watch.

Bay Area Housing Prices: High and Increasing

As the total land available to new workers entering the area or existing employees looking to leave apartments and find a home near their office stays static, the old rules of supply and demand are taking hold. Sunnyvale home prices are up 23% year over year, at a pace slightly above the surrounding neighborhoods, higher than the aforementioned Cupertino, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos, but even quicker than Facebook's home, Menlo Park (up 17% y/y), or San Francisco, home to Twitter and many others (up 13% y/y).

Sunnyvale's Average Increase Highest Over the Last 12 Months

So why is this? And who cares? As somebody who has been working in the Valley since the rise and fall of the first dotcom boom in the late 1990s, I've seen ebbs and flows in the economy impact hiring, funding, area traffic and housing prices. Big names that once were major land owners and employers, like Sun Microsystems and SGI, can virtually disappear. But when large companies present stability and prosperity, they can be a magnet for skilled workers. And in the last two years, you have seen major announcements from Valley leaders, like Google, Apple and LinkedIn, announcing new campuses or building into Sunnyvale, as offices in neighboring Mountain View and Cupertino become saturated.

While much press has been spilt over Apple's amazing spaceship campus under construction in Cupertino, what few note is that this work, taking over an older Hewlett Packard lot, is snugly cornered on the border of Sunnyvale city limits, and the company has been snapping up buildings all over the city to manage growth. LinkedIn has been building sparkling new buildings in downtown Sunnyvale and looks poised to move thousands of workers there soon. Google has made headlines as they've taken over buildings from Juniper Networks and even took over nearby Moffet Field.

This expanded pressure from Cupertino on the South border, and Mountain View to the West and North, is pushing Sunnyvale costs and demand upward, much like new mountain ranges are formed under pressure from moving tectonic plates. And this isn't to say that Sunnyvale doesn't already have significant employment hubs of their own. The city's largest employers include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Synopsys, Broadcom, Infinera, Nokia, and and many of those I've already mentioned, like NetApp, Juniper and Yahoo!. But the new occupants in the city come armed with significant war chests and momentum, almost certainly strong enough to ward off any turndown in the hot tech economy or an eventual recession.

The stats are Sunnyvale are fairly pedestrian as Bay Area cities go. The last census reported just shy of 150,000 residents, and a workforce of nearly 120,000. The city has adapted to economic shifts, from agriculture to defense to microprocessing through Silicon Valley's first wave, and now, the Internet. With Google bordered to the East by water and marshlands, and Apple by rolling hills of past Highway 280, the growth point is aiming straight at Sunnyvale. Watch this space.

Disclosures: I work at Google, and live in Sunnyvale.

May 14, 2015

Preaching to Our Choirs and Setting Up Blinders for All Else

Just about four years ago, Eli Pariser raised some very real flags about the "filter bubble", concerned that many of us on the Web were limiting our viewpoints by following those people and companies with whom we were most aligned. Our personal positions on politics, sports, and yes, even technology, have us in a constant state of affirmation seeking, and the desire to be part of a group of like-minded people, to reinforce our position and strengthen our decided upon beliefs, that we just might be right. And should somebody in our streams disagree with us, or launch into an off topic rant, we can easily unfollow them, and "clean up" the channel.

At the time, thanks to tools like my6sense, where I was an advisor, and later VP of marketing, I said the filter bubble was "not bad" as options were always there to see new voices. While my6sense may not have been a massive consumer success, it was amazingly smart tool that solved the problem for me. But in the ensuing time, it's become even more clear that people, through constant following and unfollowing on our many social networks, are growingly subscribed to homogenous streams, and the content creators, be they bloggers, Tweeters, photographers or anything else, are limiting the subjects they discuss, to continue feeding the faithful.

As someone who gained a following talking about tech, new tools and communities, I've staked my position on the Web as an early adopter, a cloud proponent, a measurement advocate, and engaged social media participant. I have a pretty good idea of what topics will resonate with my audiences on the various streams, and what won't. I know that my discussing items outside of my bubble are seen as noise to those who have chosen to follow me, and they vote with their engagement, or lack of it.

More than nine years ago, shockingly, I saw this coming, when I talked about a Web divided, where people who espoused a certain view would flock toward an extreme community and not be interested in the opposite view. But it goes beyond picking a side in a discussion. What's happened is that people set up blinders to avoid discussion of anything else - including the content creators themselves.

There's a lesser-used feature in TweetDeck, which enables you to view a Twitter stream through the eyes of another user, surfacing public tweets from accounts they follow. During the Baltimore riots, while a huge portion of Twitter's audience was living through the accounts through the news media, or sharing their experiences about race and police, the Silicon Valley tech bubble largely stayed silent, as if there were two different worlds that didn't connect. I could log in to TweetDeck and pick any prominent voice in tech and see that, in their streams, there was no talk of Baltimore. Or race. Or Ferguson. While people marched in the streets, and dodged rocks or tear gas, the digerati continued to talk about who was raising money, the quality of pitch decks, or complaints about housing prices in San Francisco.

My tweets about Baltimore arresting police offers or links to why the situation exploded in the first place went unnoticed - while the streams continued to debate the future of wearables or the latest entrant into Unicorn status as a billion dollar startup. It was more than an echo chamber. It was a wind tunnel. And my daily journey into Feedly seemed to be no different than any other time. The same articles were written by the same people, about the same things. The same headlines begging you to click were thrown out there, only to be reshared and retweeted in a rush for page views.

Oh. I see you're tweeting about something that's not tech.

Maybe we've grown fatigued of outrage. Maybe there have been enough dramas and disasters and disappointments that we just don't react publicly. But I think there's more to it. We have been taught, thanks to our constant focus on engagement and numbers, that we have to speak to a niche. VCs talk to VCs. Engineers talk to Engineers. Startups talk about being a startup. We're becoming afraid of expressing a position that may cause a debate. We're refusing to talk about things that are uncomfortable, and we're closing our eyes to people who don't always care about the things we do. And I think that's dangerous. It sets us up to further carve out our cliques and become closed minded.

I mildly apologize for the irregular posts here of late. But part of the reason, beyond being busy, or focused on other things, is I don't want to be more of the same. The world is a vibrant tapestry, not monochrome, and I don't want to be the thirty-second person to talk about the same things everyone else is. We should embrace a world focused on curiosity, not compliance.

March 09, 2015

FriendFeed's Closure Another Painful Loss from a Vibrant Era of Social Media

Amidst all the Apple watch hoopla today, FriendFeed's blog announced the long-ignored social networking pioneer was finally going to be taken out back behind Facebook's brilliant new campus and be put down for good. With the network's acquisition five years behind us in the rear view mirror, and user statistics consistently down, mothballing the once unique and vibrant community seemed only a matter of time, and the time has come.

The closure will be by no means without pain. For the many people who made the site their center for capturing their updates around the Web, from the simplest status and debates to photos, there have been no hints at data migration or export. The hilarious threads with friends around the world are going to disappear. The instantaneous celebrations we had when my children were born, and the despair we felt when friends passed away and were mourned will be deleted.

While the Web may have moved on, those of us most loyal to the service remember its pioneering excellence, with near-instant aggregation and publishing, near-perfect uptime, still completely unmatched advanced search capabilities, the introduction of the now universal Like button, topical "Rooms" much like the Groups or Communities of today's networks, and ability to act as a hub for your lifestream, sending the right updates to the right places immediately.

Facebook's 2009 announcement of acquiring FriendFeed clearly spelled good news for the small and elite team working at the company, but pretty much spelled bad news for those who preferred it to what have clearly been the eventual winners in Facebook and Twitter. Some elements of FriendFeed made their way into Facebook, but there really hasn't been anything like it since. (Google Buzz came close, but that's a different story)

A Discussion Last Month on FriendFeed Still Got Tons of Discussion

The Social Web's picture in 2008 and 2009 was dramatically different than it is today. Twitter was as known for its uptime issues as for its core functionality. Facebook was obviously on a fast ramp to going public, Google Reader was the starting point for reading the Web's updates via RSS, and we were all looking for smart aggregation sites to discuss the Web's happenings with friends.

Flash forward, and Google Reader (RIP) and FriendFeed are in the bin, aggregation is no longer a thing, and the hottest discussions are around good looking filter apps or private networks with disappearing content. It makes one feel a little gutted to have invested in networks that felt a little bit smarter and were designed for smart consumption and discussion, rather than a flight toward the lowest common denominator.

Any ranting on my part to rescue my photos and posts and content from FriendFeed is a guaranteed moot point, and will fall on deaf ears, no doubt. While Google led the way with the Data Liberation project, and even Facebook and Twitter have archives you can download and take with you, FriendFeed has never made that step, and I'd be stunned if they would surprise us now. And while we're saying goodbye to conversations that used to spawn hundreds of comments and likes in the matter of minutes, it's almost as if we should feel lucky we squeezed out a few more years of engagement after the acquisition, when so many other products disappear immediately after getting bought.


If you were part of the active community that made FriendFeed special in those wide-eyed years, you experienced something I've never seen with any community since (with occasional flashes on Google+ and Twitter being exceptions). If you missed it, then you missed out on seeing one of the most talented teams ever assembled working on something that was both fun and smart. And that story's final chapter is coming without us ever getting the happy ending we were hoping for. I'm not mad, just wistful at what might have been.

Long live FriendFeed.