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Mason Pelt

Why Push ROI Doesn’t Just Build Websites

By Design No Comments

In the late 90’s to early 2000’s very few people had any idea how to get a website up and online. A lot of web developers popped up and they charged a lot for building websites. As a friend once put it, he was tripping over $10,000 checks to cash $20,000 checks. It was a boom.

Around 2008 when I started freelancing a huge amount of my projects were building websites. But lately as an agency, we don’t really build websites as a standalone service. The reason is most people don’t need an agency to have a great website.

Building a website in 2019 is fairly easy. A lot of drag and drop site builders exist (fair warning some are really bad) but… Between the good site builders and open source CMS’s, like WordPress, Ghost, Jekyll and Drupal most people can have fast and reliable websites without breaking the bank. And with many thousands of well made themes that website will look nice, be mobile friendly and can be customised to the point it’s unique.

While I think many of the site builders are overpriced when compared with using WordPress on cloud hosting, they are (most of the time) cheaper than hiring anyone to build your website. If you’re really frugal you could build a static site and host it free on Github or GitLab. My point is a lot of roads lead to a good website.

We still build websites frequently, last year the team launched at least 30 websites and many hundreds of landing pages. But unless the project was something requiring extensive custom code or other knowhow, like a large ecommerce or membership site these were almost always part of other work. We often end up rebuilding websites when we are doing SEO, PPC or an other marketing service.

Of the few times in the last 18 months when our main contract was for building a website, what we were really doing was branding, foundational SEO, and content writing. Web development still has a big seat at the marketing table, but no one should be without a good website because some agency quoted them an obscenely high price.

Header Image: “WHY?” by annnna_ 

Mason Pelt is the founder of Push ROI, and helps brands with video production and YouTube management strategy.

Video Production Has Changed, Let’s Record With Our Phones?!

By Video Production No Comments

I started in video production during the DSLR revolution. In 2009 a lot of production companies were still pushing Sony XD cameras, and saying “little still cameras” were a gimmick. I remember the looks of shock when I used a Canon 60D and a $99 50mm lens as a second camera along with, a much more expensive, and far lower quality “pro” camera.

By the time I was editing that video, the DSLR was the primary camera. And now about 10 years later, no one thinks it looks silly showing up to a video shoot with a DSLR.

In 2010, when the iPhone 4 came out, it was the first commercially successful smartphone with a video camera and processor that was capable of doing much. No one would shoot a real video on an iPhone, certainly they wouldn’t edit on a phone… But, while it was a gimmick, some people did.

“Apple of My Eye” was a short film, more of a camera test, directed by Michael Koerbel. It was shot entirely on the iPhone 4, and edited entirely with the iMovie App, all in 48 hours. The film is only 90 seconds or so, and honestly even if directed by Stanley Kubrick 90 seconds is not likely to change the movie industry forever. But the film was solid, and it also looked very good. Not just good for a phone.

The 2012 Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man shows a few scenes shot on an iPhone. This was out of necessity when director, Malik Bendjelloul ran out of money ran out of money.

Phone camera tech kept getting better, and in 2014, Bentley shot an ad using an iPhone 5s and an iPad air. Was it a gimmick? Yes, I say this because, unlike with DSLR’s the producers could have used many cameras, that would have taken far less effort, and even been a better final product. But camera phones were capable of doing really good work.

Last year, in 2018, phones being used for hollywood and commercial videos, outside of found footage and quick, rare interviews or shooting in the most cramped of cramped spaces was still a gimmick. But undeniably, the phone cameras were good.

To promote the Google Pixel 3 Eminem “Venom” got a special music video recorded, on the Empire State Building, broadcast on Jimmy Kimmel, and largely shot using the Google Pixel 3. The Entire behind the scenes video used the Pixel 3 camera.

This brings me to the point were I now tell people, they can shoot videos with a phone camera. Will it look as good as any of the videos I used as examples? Maybe, probably not, but most people don’t need that quality.

Should every brand film with a phone? Heck no! But if you are someone looking to just get started you can get by with a phone. You may have to get creative, and learn to be technical. But many classic TV shows still being broadcast today, used cameras with lower quality and inferior workflows than the phone in your pocket.

Header Image: Jimmy Kimmel Live Behind the Scenes

Mason Pelt is the founder of Push ROI, and helps brands with video production and YouTube management strategy.

My Friend Kelby, Why Online Bots Aren’t So Simple To Spot

By Social Media No Comments

Kelby is a real person, one I have known for years, but online she barely seems to exist. She is one of the vast majority of people, to have never had a personal website, tried to be YouTube famous, published a press release, or even a blog post. Her Facebook Account is set to mostly friends only, and otherwise she has, basically no online footprint.

She is on Twitter, using just her first name on an account with about 10 followers. Her account tweets very few things that are personally identifiable. Honestly, she seemingly exist to retweet Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson. Outside of a couple of photos of her child, Kelby looks indistinguishable from the common idea of a bot. While tools like Botometer do label Kelby a human, many people wouldn’t instantly assume her humanity.

Fake Accounts Are Hard To Spot

By most metrics people look for, like having only a partial photo of her face for a profile pic, having a disproportionately high number of retweets to original tweets, few followers and interactions with just a small handful of accounts, she looks fake. She’s not. She’s part of, if not the majority on twitter, at least a healthy normal subset of users. I’ve been shocked by the number of times I’ve had real conversations with accounts that set off the same “this is a bot” alarm bells as Kelby.

Another friend of mine, Gary Leland has been on the internet since there was an internet. Leland started an ecommerce site back in ’96. If it wasn’t the first online store, it was one of them. Since that time he’s published thousands of hours of video and audio, published at least 15 e-books, and thousands of blog posts on hundreds of websites.

Leland has largely avoided the kind of mainstream media circles that social networks try to use as benchmarks for influence and impersonation risk. He has no shortage of mentions including some of the earliest books about Podcasting. He has the kind of online footprint that really cannot be faked.

Fake Accounts Hurt The Platforms

I have huge sympathy for the teams at social networks who must try to accommodate for both the Kelbys (last name withheld) and the Lelands. Earlier today I wrote about Twitter removing 10,112 state-backed accounts spreading propaganda. It feels important that Twitter remove these accounts, but they may be harder to spot than you think.

While I haven’t sifted through the terabyte and a half of data Twitter shared. One Chinese controlled account had over 300,000 followers. It looked real, at least enough to pass the sniff test. What that account was sharing, how it was accessed, and how other accounts were coordinating with it are likely the connective thread that tipped off the team at Twitter, to it’s being used maliciously.

So Expand Verification

Yesterday, before the Twitter announcement about the removal of over 10k accounts, YouTube changed its rules for verification. The new YouTube rules will seemingly unverify a lot of accounts. I argued that this was a mistake. But not for the reason that many YouTubers were angry about on Twitter.

I don’t care that verification is viewed as a sort of creators reward. I think YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Tinder, and Yo moma (I couldn’t help myself) should all let as many people be verified as want to submit to some kind of process. Last year I wrote that for Twitter expanding verification could slow the spread of fake news.

The connective thread between Kelby and Gary Leland is that they are both real. I’ve met them both, but what’s more you don’t need to take my word for it. They can both prove they are real, and they can do so without showing a list of mainstream media mentions. When I got verified on Twitter, I had to show my ID, and a photo of myself. Twitter used this, and a few other things for identity verification.

Stop Making “Verification” An Endorsement

Unfortunately most of these social sites insist on turning verification into a form of endorsement, by subjectively determining notoriety. I get it, Twitter was, before closing the verification requests, flooded with people wanting the badge. But couldn’t Twitter or any other social network handle verification in a way similar to EV SSL certificates? EV SSL certificates (unlike DV certs) confirm the identity of the website owner, and SSL providers like Comodo process a huge number of these requests each year.

It’s true that government propaganda groups would be able to create accounts the platforms would go on to verify. When you can create government issued IDs, it would be easy to game the system. But that account verification would mean less, because more people would have it. Also, despite government groups being able to fabricate “real” people, trolls, hackers, and non-state propagandist would have a much more challenging time exploiting the platform.

Header Image: “Twitter” by chriscorneschi

Mason Pelt is the Founder and a Managing Director of Push ROI. 
 Follow him on his blog.

Google Is Pushing Cookies Harder Than A Dealer On Sesame Street

By Advertising No Comments

So far this August Google has made two major public statements concerning cookies, the packets of data websites often place on someone’s web browser for ads tracking and feature customisation. First announcing, plans for a “Privacy Sandbox” a magical privet world, that for some reason must involve cookies. And also releasing a report stating that “blocking cookies materially reduces publisher revenue. Both of these claims by Google appear somewhat reasonable on their surface, but become a bit suspicious with any real scrutiny.

Google’s apparent goal of the so called privacy sandbox is to develop standards to at least partly restrict fingerprinting, but still keep cookies around, because, well.. ads targeting. A blog post by Google’s Justin Schuh says:

“Technology that publishers and advertisers use to make advertising even more relevant to people is now being used far beyond its original design intent – to a point where some data practices don’t match up to user expectations for privacy.” This is fair, but the post goes on to say that “large scale blocking of cookies undermine people’s privacy by encouraging opaque techniques such as fingerprinting.” saying that “With fingerprinting, developers have found ways to use tiny bits of information that vary between users, such as what device they have or what fonts they have installed to generate a unique identifier which can then be used to match a user across websites. Unlike cookies, users cannot clear their fingerprint, and therefore cannot control how their information is collected. We think this subverts user choice and is wrong.”

While it is true that fingerprinting isn’t well understood by average web users, it’s laughably farcical to say that cookies improve users privacy. Writing for Freedom To Tinker security researchers Jonathan Mayer and Arvind Narayanan highlight just how disingenuous the arguments put forth by Google are. If the researchers seem less trustworthy than Google, maybe NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s belief that ad blockers do enhance your privacy will resonate with you.

It’s true as Google points out advertisers want to know that advertising leads to more business. Having managed many millions of dollars in digital advertising specifically on Google it’s really nice to show a report with conversion data. Due to tracking, digital ads reporting is far less labor intensive than radio, tv, and print where you have to examine sales lift in a region, and use a mix of offer codes, and tracking numbers to show success.

However, Google’s claim is that without the benefits of cookies publishers, not just advertisers are harmed. Saying that revenue for publishers from users without cookies enabled on the browser is decreased by 52% on average. This is contested by another study that reports revenues for publishers are hardly impacted by the presence of user cookies.

The methodologies of the studies aren’t clear enough for me to do a head to head comparison, but Google desperately needs cookies for it’s ad tech. I may sound bitter when I say Google has increasingly been using technolagy to remove the job of ads managers. Nearly every update in features for Google Ads makes the automated campaign optimization better while removing some of the ability to manually optimize advertising. The result, like a camera manufacturer who removes manual settings, but improves auto focus is a better average, but fewer outlying top performers.

I do understand the concerns around fingerprinting, but cookies are a part of a digital fingerprint. I also understand the business need for ads to show results, my company is Push ROI. but my perception of Google’s claims is that they are pushing cookies harder than a dealer on Sesame Street. I have to assume the reason Google has taken a substantially different stance about what leads to privacy online is because that is what benefits Google the most at this time.

Mason Pelt is the Founder and a Managing Director of Push ROI. 
 Follow him on his blog.

Shameless Self Promotion Turns You into The Emperor With “New Clothes”

By Social Media, Writing & Publishing No Comments

People work, buy, gimmick, and game their way to perceived authority. Buying bot engagement online, or fitness stars using fake weights on Instagram; Are not so different from hiring mourners: or the fake strongman acts that were a staple of old carnivals. A magician’s twist on the strongman gimmick suppressed a revolt in Algeria for the Second French Empire. People can, and sometimes want, to be fooled.

Social media “stars” of today tricking the public aren’t the same as Robert-Houdin tricking the Marabouts out of a revolution. But both distort reality to gain influence over others. On performers deceiving audiences, Penn Jillette put it this way.

“My friend, David Blaine, seems to feel that the audience is supposed to leave a magic performance thinking that they’ve witnessed something supernatural and not just a trick. Penn & Teller proudly do tricks; David might want the audience to think he’s really magic.”

Oh, some fools, oh, they fool themselves

Professionally, not just for performing artist or celebrities, people try to gain influence. For example, naming trade association memberships and awards to land a client. I do it; Push ROI has client testimonials and logos on our home page.

There is nothing wrong with framing one’s work in the best possible way. However, it is easy to join an “everyone accepted” trade association, or win some “for sale to the highest bidder” awards and pretend these are credible. After all, most won’t know the difference and those who do likely want to keep the illusion going. If few people believe something, but a majority pretend a devout faith; is that truth by consensus?

In the pursuit of influencing others, we sometimes distort reality. An A+ rating from the BBB or a chamber of commerce award are not bad things; just not the level of honor the recipients often pretend or even believe them to be.

They’re not fooling me

Many agencies, including ours, are Google Partners. It’s a good thing. Partners must pass several tests, manage a minimum amount of ad spend and get a reasonable performance benchmark in AdWords. Being a partner helps a little in our jobs; we have someone at Google we can contact when AdWords related problems arise, and that is nice.

Still, it sounds better than it is, and I’ve seen agencies exaggerate Google Partnership. Most agencies in the program are competent. However, the badge does not guarantee rockstar performance, and not having partner status isn’t a sign of incompetence. Still, some agencies imply that the partner badge means they can walk on water, or even that being a Google Partner has something to do with SEO (it categorically doesn’t).

You can fool others, but It’s easy to fool yourself too; I can think of four honors, awards or titles I achieved because I felt they were so amazing as to be life and career changing. Sadly, none of these were more than a small resume bullet point, and pretending otherwise won’t help me in the long term. Still, it is often tempting to try to inflate the value of an honor.

And I know it isn’t true

A few friends and I talked about starting our own society for geniuses working to change the world. It would be Triple Nine Society meets Rotary Club. We called our plan, “the Lucille Ball growth hack” because it was overly complicated, but entertaining for a half hour. Using the address of friends employer’s we’d register a domain name, and toss up a splash page, implying that a fortune 100 tech company may be behind this new organization.

We’d print very nice looking invitations and send them to well known, academics, entrepreneurs, journalists, etc. Our, oh so fancy invites would say the recipient was being “considered for membership in a new, blah, blah…” you get the idea. We’d send out 1,000 invitations in one day and see the response. We joked about even asking for CV’s and IQ test results from respondents.

Once we had the first few hundred members, we’d send out press releases for the organization and have a members forum. Obviously, we’d list each member publicly on the site. Eventually, adding ourselves as members: Giving us a credible genius society and a network.

It was only a dinner conversation, we never tried any of it. But I like thinking about what could have happened. Would we end up making a real thing or just distort a lot of people’s reality? Maybe no one would fall for it? I think we could have fooled many people, because they would have an emotional blind spot, wanting this secretive honor to be real. Much like the way some people believe a magician has supernatural powers or some of your friends believe crazy conspiracy theories.

Oh, I know it isn’t true

In this case, even members who figured out we were bogus may not want to say anything. Undoubtedly many of them would have bragged to family, friends, and colleagues if they’d ever been fooled, even a little. The social pressure would make them want to keep up the illusion.

All the complex emotions I outlined in my thought experiment are seen in real life when a photographer creates fake photography contests or some major publication adopts a pay to play model. People do believe, or at least pretend to believe the myth is a reality. The fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes is a story about the distortion of reality, locked down by social pressure; As explained by Steven Pinker, (The entire video is embedded below this post).

“When the little boy said the emperor was naked, he wasn’t telling anyone anything that they didn’t already know. They could see the Emperor naked and on display, but he was changing the state of their knowledge nonetheless; because at that point everyone knew that everyone else knew, that everyone else knew, that everyone else knew, the emperor was naked. That changed their relationship with the Emperor allowing them to challenge him with their laughter.”

Some people fall for metaphorical signs flashing “scam”. People buy training classes after they see a video of a man with 14 cars in which it’s fun to drive his books around. Variations of the Nigerian prince scam still work, and people join cults. But for the most part, when you by into a lie or try to warp other people’s reality, you open yourself up to be mocked when someone points out the obvious.

Header Image – YouTube Screenshot Of Embedded Video

Mason Pelt is the Founder and a Managing Director of Push ROI. Follow him on his blog.

What Milton Friedman Taught Me About Guest Blogging

By Writing & Publishing No Comments

Since I was young I’ve been a bit of an economics nerd, and despite Milton Friedman’s evil creation (income tax withholdings) I’ve forgiven him and learned from his writings. Strangely, Friedman taught me more about guest blogging than any marketing guru I’ve met.

Years ago I came across an interview of Friedman on C-SPAN Booknotes talking about F.A. Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” the pertinent quote is

 “They’ve [The New York Times] turned down many an op-ed piece from me which I’ve subsequently published in The Wall Street Journal or someplace else.”

You’ve read that right. Nobel Laureate, National Medal of Science & Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Milton Friedman had op-eds rejected. It wasn’t because his writing was bad or because he lacked the credibility. So when rejected, he submitted elsewhere.

This was eye opening because as someone with dyslexia I never thought of myself much of a writer. When my posts weren’t accepted, I’d assumed it was because my writing was bad. Many, perhaps most guest posts meet rejection because the quality is lacking. This isn’t always the case as Friedman clearly proves.

Like it or not, publications often have a narrative, and they don’t always want content that’s far outside of that purview. As Friedman put it

“They [The New York Times] have not been very favorable to these ideas [Austrian Economics] in the past.”

Since this isn’t a post about journalistic ethics, let’s just agree editors have the right to turn down any content for any reason. And let’s celebrate having more than one news source.

Quality aside, a surplus of content is another reason a publication will reject guest submissions. How many long-form in-depth reporting pieces on the same story does a news magazine need?

Applying Friedman’s philosophy to guest blogging

About a year ago I set out to write a post with a single goal; publish in TechCrunch. I spent 5 hours writing a base post that contained all my primary points, resources and some of the tone of voice and styling I wanted. Next, I read several posts with similar or the same topic on TechCrunch and adapted my style to match the format to fit the publication better. I had several people proofread and review the post.

After all that, I submitted to TechCrunch via a web form. A few days later, I got an email saying my submission was accepted. You can read my post 3 nearly free growth hacks now. I’d done it, on my First try! No direct contact with anyone at TechCrunch and I was published. I thought the next time would be easy too.

A few months later I wrote a post about user testing following the same process. I got expert feedback and had several people edit my ‘lysdexic blurn typos’ before I submitted. Two weeks later I got a rejection.

Keep trying after rejection

Even with the rejection, I felt the post was good; It wasn’t perfect. I used passive voice (As did George Orwell even when warning people not to use passive voice in the Politics and the English Language essay) and lacked a solid conclusion, but it was a strong starting point, and I didn’t know what to change. So I followed Friedman’s lead and submitted to another publication I love; VentureBeat. I got an email a few days later from the Op-ed editor Mo Marshall (who is a rockstar BTW).

She sent feedback; I tried to make the changes she asked for, and… turned what I felt was a good article into a piece of pretentious garbage. I’d completely lost my voice and because Marshall is a great editor; She went back to the first version and sent me half a dozen changes (including removal of my beloved passive voice), and the post ran as Stop overthinking UX and try the coffee shop test.

The changes weren’t major, but they were significant. And the rejection from TechCrunch resulted in another of my favorite industry news outlets running my article. Thank you, Milton!

A method to write & pitch guest posts

Because I’m dyslexic, writing is time-consuming and a bit painful. If no one is paying me and I’m not very passionate about a topic, it’s unlikely I’ll write an article. Currently, I don’t have any publications paying me regularly for content, so I write as the spirit moves about things I feel strongly. Yes, I often have the marketing goal of building authority, but that’s not the main reason I write.

When I care enough to write, I’ll create what I call a base post as described above. The base post contains my primary points, any solid one-liners I can think of, resource links as needed and when beneficial quotes from experts I know or someone from HARO.

Make a list of publications

If I don’t have an outlet in mind for what I’ve written, I research using Google News to find media outlets that may want my content. I then see if 1. They have a preferred contact method for unsolicited manuscripts or 2. If I know someone who can introduce me to an editor.

Once I have a list of three publications that could run my article; I determine where I’d most like to submit. I base preference on distribution, quality of editorial, email lists and social presence, if they pay writers, how much contact I can have with the editors if I like the website and too many subjective reasons to name.

Edit the article to the publication’s style

With the first target in mind, I edit the post to the publication’s style and tone of voice (if they have one). Some outlets are edgier than others. I also try to add links to other posts on that website within my submission.

Semi-final draft complete, I ask other humans for feedback. Spelling and grammar, story flow and sometimes significant changes for accuracy. Once I have an article I think is worth publishing. I’ll send a message to the publication using their preferred format for a pitch.

If I’m accepted, or an editor wants to work with me, fantastic! If not, I re-edit and submit to the Wall Street Je…err whatever my version would be in this context.

All I can do is write to the best of my ability and submit in the most relevant way possible. Not everything I write is worth publishing, but this method of writing, editing, and pitching is one that’s worked for me, a renowned economist and maybe you.

Header Image – appears to be creative commons

Mason Pelt is the Founder and a Managing Director of Push ROI.  Follow him on his blog.  Feel free to checkout the services offered by Push ROI, inc. Including YouTube Channel Management