What’s in a Game? For Marketers, Emotion Tracking.

Marketers, Game On

Call it the new ROE (return on emotion). If you’re a gamer (or an up-to-speed technophile) you may have already heard of Sony’s new hands-free, emotion tracking game controller called ICU, which stands for Interactive Communication Unit, released this November at the Vision 2009 trade fair in Germany. While the controller raises the bar in the ultra competitive hands-free gaming space, it does so with a twist: this controller tracks emotion.

According to NewScientist:

ICU ‘reads’ facial expressions using a pattern-matching algorithm that has been trained on pictures of people expressing different emotions. Using cues such as the position and shape of the lips, ICU spots five basic states: happiness, anger, surprise, sadness and neutral.

More than Meets the Eye

Way back in March of ’07, we wrote about a new type of eye tracking that allowed for greater understanding of emotions: Eye Tracking for Ads: Going from Heat to Emotion. It was clear then that using eye movement analysis for emotion identification was an early foray into the nascent world of emotion tracking. Sony’s technology not only uses eye movement analysis (through partnership with Atracsys, but it goes a step further by expanding the data source to include movements of the entire face, or simply – our facial expressions.

Google’s 2008 Eye Tracking Data – Limited, at Best

It will be interesting to see what the search industry does (ahem, is doing), with such forms of technology, which expand dynamically beyond pure eye scan path tracking. In the detailed 2008 research study undertaken by Google’s own Laura Grank: Eye Tracking and Online Search: Lessons Learned and Challenges Ahead”, three separate eye tracking studies are outlined, and analyzed.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the structure of these studies and subsequent modes of data analysis are geared towards “clicks.” In other words, who clicks, when do they click, where do they click, and what affects those behaviors? It would make sense for a search engine that generates 96% of its revenue from paid clicks to focus on this. For Google, a click is a conversion.

Some quick “click” takeaways from the Google paper:

– For 96% of the queries, participants looked only at the first SERP

– Participants clicked on results one and two 42% and 8% of the time, respectively, despite spending equal amounts of time reading those result listings, or “abstracts.”

– Males clicked on the second result only 7% of the time, and females selected it 14.5% of the time

However, it is more interesting for us to consider that for the vast majority of web sites a click is only an invitation to a conversion. There is much, much more that happens after an initial click – and the user information that one can glean from software such as Sony’s regarding a user’s emotional experience throughout an entire click stream presents much, much more insight into how to identify emotion, understand its implications and immediate associations with site content and usability, and maximize a site’s overall return on emotion.

As far as we can tell, there aren’t any eye tracking technology providers out there that are offering facial expression analysis. While some firms, such as UserVision/iMotions use emotion incorporation via emotional response questionnaires in addition to highly advanced eye tracking analysis, there isn’t any facial expression analysis.

The Eyes Still Have It – For Now

So yes, as far as emotion tracking technology goes, it seems to be true. But we think that Sony’s technology, in fact, makes a damned good argument for getting in your face.

RTS and SEO: A Marriage Made in… Vegas?

Well, maybe not quite. I’ve been thinking lately about the sexy, wily, real time search and the old-fashioned, chivalrous land of SEO, and how the two will eventually find a healthy, functional, and enduring relationship.

Real Time Search Still Hasn’t Found Herself

RTS is all a flutter with all of the attention she is getting – from everyone. And everyone else.

We are already seeing the incredibly powerful applications – and implications – of RTS in every aspect of our lives – private and public, social and commercial (but the line has even blurred here, hasn’t it?). If RTS is querying real time publishing and you agree with Danny that real time publishing is microblogging (the world the Twitter currently rules) – then real time search has barely scratched the surface of declaring herself as an accessible, reliable, and (gasp) indexable web resource. In other words, as a hot twenty-something. Right now she’s just legal.

SEO is The Man

Yep, I said it. SEO is The Man. And I do mean this in the weight lifting, football watching, beer drinking, beef eating, keep your hands off my daughter kind of way. After all, where do people turn when they are being bullied by the big bad PPC spend? Who does everyone run to, even in a terrible economy, for protection? I think that somewhere down the road, we will begin to see an integration, a real relationship emerge – one in which real time search is much more strongly (narrowly?) defined, having figured out what she wants in life (potentially with another big real time publishing player in the mix to challenge Twitter) – and where SEO the stud in fact loosens up, and his identity becomes a bit more broadly defined to include an entirely new “search” engine optimization set of tasks, tools, outlets, and capabilities. SEO as we know him will find some new parts of himself he previously was afraid to acknowledge. He gets a bit new-agey, if he wants her hand. Maybe a new subset of SEO, called RTSO, could evolve – but given the overwhelm of acronyms in our industry we may just resist that temptation despite our proclivity for things shorter, faster, cooler. Despite our proclivity for niches within a niche.

As Bruce Clay’s blog suggests, RTS right now is, for the most part, figuring out who she is, strutting all over the world yet seemingly limited to social media aggregators. SEO, with his many years on miss RTS, is admittedly a bit gun-shy, still pumping his iron (and did I mention the beer?). He’s got to get to a yoga class before he’s going to have a chance of finding a meaningful connection with her. First he’s got to know where to find her, even.

Vegas and Beyond

So, for now these lovers are flirting, heavily. They just might get married in Vegas, but their true relationship will take time to reveal itself.

But when they eventually do come together, they will likely make each other much, much, much better individuals, and together, well – they might be a power couple in the making.


SEO Book Updates…

Hi folks,

There hasn’t been much blog activity in recent months because most of the focus has been on writing The Art of SEO book with Rand, Stephan, and Eric, for O’Reilly Media. It has been quite an adventure, and actually a really brilliant professional exercise.

The process of writing The Art of SEO began back in August of 2007, after my first Foo Camp, when I signed with O’Reilly to author the book and we announced the project during my session at O’Reilly’s October 2007 Web 2.0 Expo.

As the months passed and the book organically (pun very intentional) grew into a bigger and bigger undertaking, we realized we would get the book to print sooner if we brought in additional authors to share the heavy lifting – and so we asked, and landed some of my brightest and most talented SEO colleagues in the industry – Rand Fishkin, Stephan Spencer, and Eric Enge. Rand and Stephan had already been in the process of writing a separate SEO book and Eric was fortunately able to clear space in his busy dance card for the project, and so the book had birthed its quartet.

After a little over a year working together, we have nearly completed this fun, challenging, and exciting project – so you will begin to see more posts coming back up to the blog in the weeks and months to come.

Welcome back!

Even Google Pays Attention to Their Word Count

Marissa Mayer made some nice commentary on the history – and importance of – the word count of the Google home page and the weight given to the words on a page in her Google Blog post yesterday:

“What Comes Next in This Series?”

A snippet:

“How does privacy relate to homepage word count? Larry and Sergey told me we could only add this to the homepage if we took a word away – keeping the “weight” of the homepage unchanged at 28. Given that the new Privacy link fit best with legal disclaimers on the page, I looked to the copyright line. There, we dropped the word “Google” (realizing it was implied, obviously) and added the new privacy link alongside it.”

Matt Cutts On The Hot Seat

About Matt Cutts

A personal interview of Google’s Matt Cutts from PubCon 2007 in Las Vegas. Instead of the usual shadow boxing — asking tricky SEO questions hoping Matt will slip up and offer some clues about the Google Secret Sauce — we decide to ask question he never hears and learn about Matt Cutts as a human being.

How does he feel about the annual NCAA conflict: Red State v. Blue State?

What it’s like to be the official taste tester for Ham versus Spam in the Google index?

Hanging with the enemy, does Spam become personal?

Wonder what life’s like after the Google IPO?

What motivates him to get out of bed every day?

Take 11 minutes and get personal with your favorite Google Spokes Model.

Search Spend Laps Display Advertising

Two studies tracking this race conclude that search marketing is lapping the alternatives.

Despite all the hype about display advertising and the block buster ad network deals of 2007, search continues to be the high performance engine that is driving online marketing spend. According to GroupM, search will make up 65-70% of the measured online advertising in 2008, up from 50% in 2005. For the mathematically challenged, that means search has gone from about even to 2 times the display spend. It also means most of the revenue growth has been from search. Nothing But Net, a new study by JPMorgan, meanwhile, puts the global search spend in 2008 at $30.5 billion.*

GroupM goes on to note that online advertising in Sweden is expected to exceed spending on any other channel, with the UK and Denmark likely to follow suit by 2009. Given that search is only getting about 10% of the dollars going to television in the U.S., we have a long way to go to catch up with our friends in Europe (and perhaps European companies need to wake up to the superior ROI of investing in SEO instead of relying on paid search)

Another interesting note from the study is that the 2008 U.S. election cycle is expected to contribute $2 Billion in local and national television advertising. No data is available at the moment, but it seems unlikely that search is getting 10% of that pie and it is clear at the moment that few of the campaigns are spending anything for SEO.

*We rarely call out a company’s SEO issues by name, but JPMorgan needs a lot of help. We wanted to link directly to the report, since we believe in citing source material whenever possible. Despite the fact that this study has been widely quoted, it is impossible to find any links to the study on JPMorgan.com. In fact, searching for study by name, JPMorgan + Nothing But Net, “JPMorgan “Nothing But Net” failed to find a press release, abstract or the study in the top 10. We went on to search for “site:jpmorgan.com nothing but net” and still couldn’t find the source.

JPMorgan Executives, if you’re listening, call us. 🙂

Rand, Foo Camp, Word Camp, SciFoo, And… Are you Busy?

We are. It’s a summer thing. It’s an SEO thing. It’s a SEARCH thing. Ain’t it grand?

Much love to Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz for the kind words after our oh-so-sunny lunch in San Francisco. We dined at Zazie, the best brunch restaurant in San Francisco. It’s one of the rare ones with a sunny, earthy, very French patio.

We also just had WordCamp here in SF, more on that soon…

What is happening right now? O’Reilly’s SciFoo (Science Foo Camp) is about to kick off at the Googleplex in Mountain View. After attending my first Foo Camp back in June, I was blown away by the brilliance and inspiration all around me… and found each night in my tent (nestled in the O’Reilly apple orchard) filled with so much intrigue that I found it difficult to sleep.

More more more will come – we promise.

Privacy Solution, Step 2– Opt Out

Imagine for a moment that we live in the hypothetical world where the search engines allow you to control your own privacy. Imagine we live in a world you are allowed to access search engines using SSL. A world where the search engines allowed you to prevent third party intermediaries from intercepting the content of our thoughts with the same minimum diligence used to protect our credit card numbers during an online transaction.

In such a Utopian society, search engines would go the next step and not log your search request if you accessed through their sites through that secure connection (unless they were already subject to a government SEARCH WARRANT to spy on you). Of course, to protect themselves and their advertisers against click fraud and address other legitimate concerns, the engines could still associate data for paid links that you clicked, for example, without saving the actual query or the organic clicks.

These steps are not the complete solution, but they are a small start to swinging the pendulum in the other direction.