Blockchain in the Adtech Ecosystem

Advertisers have (seemingly) always been trying to analyze the effectiveness of their advertising dollars.  The old adage “I know that 50% of my advertising is working – I just don’t know which 50%” has never been more true.  While technology has provided advertisers with tremendous insights into their ad campaigns and audiences, the more advertisers learn, the more questions they have – especially as we move to a multi-channel ad environment where countless ad impressions across several channels (display, mobile, TV, email, etc.) impact a single consumer decision.

Blockchain is being seen as the latest tool to solve this problem.  Advertisers hope that by utilizing Blockchain’s unique open ledger structure, they can share ad transaction data anonymously (even amongst competitors) which will help them better understand path to purchase, media spend accuracy, and ultimately the true impact of the campaign.

There are a few challenges with utilizing Blockchain in digital advertising:

  1. Speed.  Blockchain can only process a limited number of transactions per second.  While the number has improved from 2016, when it was 6 transactions per second, it hasn’t caught up with programmatic advertising which is millions of transactions per second.

    The solution may lie in hybrid Blockchain solutions, which eliminate the time intensive elements of Blockchain but keep the key anonymous accounting functions.  For example, minimizing the historical look-back window to cut down on the transaction time to generate a new block.

  2. Quality.  Blockchain is truly a “garbage in, garbage out” solution.  Providers have to be vetted and trusted to transparently supply accurate data, which if they were truly doing in the first place there wouldn’t be a need for a Blockchain solution .  Blockchain is a “trust but verify” solution as it pertains to the data providers.  And Blockchain still can’t (currently) connect the offline component, where a consumer sees a digital ad but makes a purchase offline.
  3. Reach.  In order for Blockchain to be an effective tool for advertising, it will need to process substantial advertising transaction data points across the entire ecosystem from publisher to advertiser.  The more data inputs, the more valuable the network is … and conversely the fewer inputs the less valuable it is.  Publishers, DSPs, advertisers, etc. all have to adopt the same Blockchain solution to enable accurate tracking.

Fortunately these hurdles are not insurmountable.  Blockchain technology will most certainly improve transparency in advertising ecosystem; it just won’t happen overnight.  It’ll take influential advertisers leading large publishers and other adtech companies to create a more transparent (and consequently efficent) advertising environment.

Social Media and Elections – A Reflection

It’s been a little more than 6 months since news broke that (allegedly) Russian backed online hacktivists targeted US voters across several social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube.  [You can read the comprehensive timeline here, which traces these types of activities back to a Ukrainian election in 2014.]  By current accounts, the total budget spent on these ads equaled less than $500K over the course of approximately a year and a half.

Now that everyone else has weighed in on this topic, I thought that I’d share some of my thoughts on the matter.

  1. This Isn’t A Surprise.  Fake accounts, “fake news”, and online social engineering are not new activities – they’ve been going on long before the 2014 Ukrainian election referenced in the previously linked Mashable article above.  Foreign powers trying to influence elections isn’t new either.  And if we look closely (especially at “arms length” 501 c 3s), we’d likely find these same practices being conducted domestically, even between same party candidates in primary elections.  Sadly, these practices also span beyond elections; deceptive practices in marketing have been going on for decades if not centuries.
  2. The Influence in the Election of 2016 is Questionable.   Even with hyper targeting, a $500K media budget spent over more than a year isn’t that big.  Having run large campaigns before, I question the ultimate reach and the potential influence these campaigns had … especially during an election season when ad rates are inflated based upon increased demand.Political campaigns are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on online advertising.  If an election could be won with less than $500K in spend, publishers have bigger issues to worry about.

    This doesn’t make election tampering right, by any means.  Interference at any level is abhorrent, whether it is had the desired outcome or not.

  3. This Could Have Been Easily Prevented.  Dunn & Bradstreet, Experian, TransUnion (among others) have business databases which could have been used to verify the legitimacy of these ad accounts.  This first line of defense could have further been strengthened through a more stringent ad review policy.  With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this is an issue that can easily be managed through industry wide self policing.

    In addition to validating the advertiser, publishers need be transparent about the source of the ad, and the details of the advertisement.

  4. This Won’t Be The Last Time.  Some bad actors, foreign and domestic, will use every tool at their disposal to impact elections.  So unfortunately, while the tactics may change, the target will likely not.  And ultimately (as with all political marketing material) it is up to the voter to actively question all information so that they can cast an informed vote.

Everyone deserves a fair and transparent election process, free of interference both domestically and internationally.  And hopefully the outcome of this controversy is a more fair and transparent election process.


Net Neutrality – Why Should You Care?

What is Net Neutrality? 

In short, it’s the FCCs rules which require companies, in particular Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Verizon, Cox, etc. , to treat all content equally.  These rules (note that they are rules, not laws) prohibit ISPs from blocking or discriminating against lawful Internet content.

In a world where ISPs are playing multiple roles (content creator and content distributor, to name a few), the Net Neutrality rules are designed to protect the consumer.  For example, Verizon (who now owns AOL and Yahoo) cannot slow down content from Facebook and Google.  Cox Communciations cannot slow down content from Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu (or even worse, block Netflix altogether), in an effort to curb the trend of cord cutting.  ISPs cannot “throttle down” startups developing competing online services.  Nor can these ISPs charge more for content from one company versus another.

In short, Net Neutrality recognizes that unique position that ISPs have in delivering what is arguably a public service built initially with public funding, and imposes rules to ensure that they maintain a level playing field for all Internet providers.

Why Is Everyone Talking About Net Neutrality?

Consumer protections under Net Neutrality changed yesterday.  Claiming that Net Neutrality rules are not necessary in the protection of consumer choice and freedom of speak, the FCC voted 3-2 to eliminate the key consumer protections afforded in Net Neutrality.  This means that ISPs are no longer limited in how they prioritize content delivery via the Internet.

What’s Being Done Now To Protect Net Neutrality?

Several state Attorney Generals have moved challenge the FCC ruling.  Others are using existing state subsidies as a carrot to force ISPs to maintain Net Neutrality rules.  In either case, we’ve moved from a unified nationwide system to a state by state system … which hardly seems efficient.

What Can You Do?

At this point, the best thing you can do is contact your legislators.  Congress can enact a law that would offer the same protections as the FCC rules.  This is a topic that impacts Internet companies and consumers alike.


Minimum Viable Audiences

In product development we use the term Minimum Viable Product (or MVP) quite often.  Techopedia defines Minimum Viable Product as “a development technique in which a new product or website is developed with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters.”  In other words, the Minimum Viable Product is quite literally the minimum product features that can be implemented while still allowing the product to be viable.  The goal is to launch a product which does a few things extremely well, and is applicable to a broad base of customers, rather than developing and launching a product which has countless half-baked features of interest to only one or two customers.

After years of leading Go-To-Market turnaround strategies for several startups, I can tell you that most product launch failures can be traced back to a deviation from the MVP mindset.  Scope / feature creep driven by large marquee clients is the kiss of death for a product launch. A laser focused product launch which utilizes feedback from a finite trusted audience to prioritize current and future feature development is the core of a Minimum Viable Product launch – and most importantly, it works!  Which brings us to the topic of Minimum Viable Audience (or MVA).

A Minimum Viable Audience is similar to a Minimum Viable Product, but the focus is on the person (or the audience) instead of the product.  Where with a MVP your goal is build a lean and focused product, with the MVA your goal is to build a lean and focused audience.

Following the adage “you can’t be everything to everyone”, the MVA approach starts with achieving relevance with one (or more) small focused groups of current or potential customers.  Before you begin to build the product, you build the audience.  And then, working closely with the audience, you build the product using a Minimum Viable Product approach.  The audience provides guidance on product demand, features, and in some cases even pre-launch funding.  While they are not the perfect example of an MVA, crowd funding sites like KickStarter and Indigogo as examples of pre-launches funded by audiences.

The most important thing to recognize about MVAs is that you need to start building your audience well before you start product development.  The audience(s) can be made up of brand loyalists, customers, or even sourced from other influencers.  Once you’ve built the audience, then your focus is facilitating a dynamic conversion which allows you to glean data from the audience.  Email, Online Surveys, Video Conference, and Webinars are all good avenues to engage with your audience.

Remember, its never too early to start building your Minimum Viable Audience.





Why Click Fraud Should Concern You (Even If You’re Not Paying “Per Click”!)

Click Fraud, the process whereby “bad actors” claim traffic that is being sent to a website, has been an industry problem for years.  It can impact you, even if you’re not doing Pay Per Click advertising.

Many advertising teams measure digital advertising performance using a “Last Click” method. The Last Click method gives credit of the conversion to the publisher which served the last ad that drove the consumer to the website. This means that when performing campaign analysis, media budgets will be weighted artificially towards the wrong publishers (and the ad networks that support them).

Operationally, Click Fraud is accomplished by utilizing automated software programs (bots) and malicious code which make it appear that website traffic is coming from another source.

Business Insider, via a legal declaration from Elyse Burns of Vista Print, recently exposed how Click Fraud can occur:

Burns navigated to the VistaPrint site via search and left the browser on overnight. The declaration states she discovered that, without taking any action, the browser had reloaded the webpage on its own. As a result, the visit no longer had tracking code reflecting that she had reached the site by search, but instead reflected the visit occurred as the result of [another advertising network’s] ad, according to the declaration.”

There are several ways to minimize the impact of Click Fraud (if not eliminate it all together):

  1. Don’t count click traffic coming from self-proclaimed bots. Admittedly, true bad actors will mask their bots as human traffic … but discounting bot traffic from your attribution is such an easy process that there is no reason not to do it.
  2. Watch click behavior. While all humans don’t “click alike”, they all have certain similar limitations and behaviors. For example, they likely don’t click on 30 ads an hour. Similar to the first suggestion, this is not a silver bullet. Savvy bad actors can program their bots to mimic human behavior. But it is an important characteristic to watch for.
  3. Stop doing Last Click attribution. It is, quite candidly, a lazy way to measure campaign performance. A proper measurement and attribution program will take into consideration the multiple cross channel touch points a consumer has – both internally and externally – on the path to their ultimate conversion. And ideally that conversion isn’t a click, but something more tangible like an email newsletter sign up or a purchase.

Much like all technological fraud, Click Fraud is made up of a race between good marketers looking to accurately measure campaign performance, and bad actors actively looking to take advantages of technology loopholes.

The best that you can do is pay close attention to the website traffic which is driving your conversions, and watch for irregularities which could indicate fraud. Your website log traffic can provide vital clues as to the source and timing of each web visitor; a valuable tool for all of your campaigns (even email!).

The Future Of Big Data

What Is Big Data?

Big Data defined:  Extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions.

Quite simply, Big Data is the collection of all of the little things we do as humans.  For marketers, this means the small actions consumers take and the influences they encounter as they move through the traditional marketing funnel.  That marketing funnel in its most basic form is the journey a consumer takes – moving from awareness to interest to consideration to intent, evaluation, and purchase.

Big Data was once only available to select organizations with the resources to collect and analyze it.  Big Data is now accessible to everyone, thanks in large part to technological advancements.  These technological advancements have made collecting data from disparate online and offline sources, pinning that data to persistent universal IDs, and analyzing that data to better understand consumer behavior, easier than ever.

Why is Big Data Important?

Marketers are ever consumed with efficiently finding the right consumer, at the right time, and delivering the right message.  The old adage in advertising used to be “I know that 50% of my advertising is working … I just don’t know which 50%”.  Now, knowing which 50% isn’t good enough.  Marketers need to know individual level data, such as “Who is the right consumer?”, “When is the right time to reach them?”, and “Which message will best influence them to convert?”.

Up until recently, collecting and analyzing the data necessary to answer those questions has been difficult and expensive.  Now, thanks in large part to the ubiquity of Software As A Service providers specializing in data management and execution, it is easy to not only accurately collect greater amounts of consumer data from disparate sources (eg: social, mobile, display, email, direct mail, etc.), but also put that data to use.

These solutions have become so ubiquitous that even mid-sized companies can afford to collect and store vast amounts of consumer data, analyze that data to create more predictive consumer models, index those models against individual cross channel consumer identities to create audiences, execute those models in the form of targeted cross channel audiences, and then measure the results – both within and outside the click stream.

Does that sound complicated?  It is!  But now thanks to technology advances in advertising, almost any company can do it.  Where companies had to rely on third parties and data collectives to generate data, they’re now able to collect and digest consumer data economically, at scale.  The critical component has moved from data collection and storage to data analysis.

This isn’t a fully automated process.  It still requires teams of “smart people” to implement.  (Data Scientists have reached near celebrity status, commanding larger salaries and greater influence in the corporate structure.)  Though those teams are smaller than there were before, and they have greater resources to make more informed decisions.

What Does The Future Hold?

As the accessibility of Big Data (and the solutions that support them) continues to grow, we’ll see several things:

  1. Brands will collect greater amounts of data, as devices become more inter-connected and data storage costs continue to drop.
  2. Brands will demand more access to their data.   We’re seeing this now, as Consumer Product Goods (CPG) companies are demanding access to the supermarket shopping data of consumers who purchase their products using loyalty cards, and also access to person level measurement / attribution data from walled garden publishers like Facebook and Google.
  3. As more first party data becomes available, certain third party data attributes will become more commoditized. Brands will realize the value of their consumer data in the open marketplace, and take steps to monetize it.  We’re already seeing several adtech companies launch platforms to easily enable Brands to monetize their data.
  4. A continued focus on accurate Identity.  Pinning consumers to universal persistent IDs (at the individual and household level) across online and offline channels.  This goes hand-in-hand with an increased effort towards identifying and tracking consumers at all stage of the marketing funnel (aka purchase lifecycle).
  5. Leveraging Big Data to reduce the cost of customer acquisition. This is the ultimate goal of marketers … sell more for less.  And as Big Data enables us to learn more about consumer behavior, we can expect the traditional marketing funnel to adapt as well.



SEO 3.0 – How to Optimize Your Website For Search Engines

While the importance of ranking highly in relevant search engine queries hasn’t changed in the past 10 years, the process of Search Engine Optimization (aka SEO) has changed dramatically.

One of the foremost authorities on SEO,, has published a beginners guide to SEO. This 58 page guide is ideal for business owners who are looking to understand the basics of SEO.

I think that it is one of the most comprehensive guides for SEO beginners that I’ve read in a while, and I highly encourage anyone who utters the word “SEO” in a conversation to read it.

Knowing that we’re all busy, and in the spirit of respecting your time, I’ve created a “cliff notes” version of the Search Engine Optimization for Beginners guide (with my notes and comments, having optimized search engines for several years now). This is by no means a substitute for the full guide, which should only take you an hour or so to read. This summary will hopefully make digesting the full guide easier.

Throughout the guide you’ll notice a common theme, which I’ll paraphrase as “don’t try to cheat the system”.  Your goal should be to execute a comprehensive digital marketing campaign that makes it easy for search engines to crawl your site and refer visitors to pages on your site that relate to their immediate query.  While there are things that you can do to expedite this process, by no means does it happen overnight.

Chapter 1:

Search engines “crawl” your website from page to page, following links. So make sure that the search engines can easily go from page to page by making the link structure simple. They cannot follow search fields, so make sure that you provide links (ideally text links) that they can follow.

Search engines cannot interpret video, flash, nor images (yet!), so make sure that your webpages have lots of text, and use natural language.

Google recomends the following: “Google recommends the following to get better rankings in their search engine: Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, a practice commonly referred to as “cloaking.” Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content. Make sure that your <title> elements and ALT attributes are descriptive and accurate. Use keywords to create descriptive, human-friendly URLs. Provide one version of a URL to reach a document, using 301 redirects or the rel=”canonical” attribute to address duplicate content.”

Chapter 2: likes to say “Build for users, not for search engines”. I couldn’t agree with this more. You need to build an online marketing strategy that is natural, and as a bi-product is search engine friendly. Trying to engineer to only support search engines will only lead to your website being de-listed for SEO Fraud.

A search engine’s only goal is to deliver the most relevant answer to the person searching.

You should focus your content on answering questions. Searches fall into three categories: “Do” (I want to do something), “Know” (I want to know something), or Go (“I want to go somewhere – either an event or a webpage).

Search engines still drives a LOT of traffic to websites, and a majority of that traffic goes to the top listings in a search engine query … so it is worthwhile to spend the time / resources to ensure that your website ranks high in search engines.

Chapter 3:

Things that get in the way of search engines include online forms, duplicate content, and other items previously mentioned. Use common terms, make sure that your language is region specific (the Brits are known for spelling words with an S intead of a Z), and make sure that the language aligns with your primary target audience.

Remember that SEO is always evolving, which is another reason that you want to follow “white hat” (aka honest) approaches. You can check how a search engine reads your website by using or Or you can look at Google’s text cache of the page.

The text in the link (eg: <a href = “”>seo advice</a>) is important for SEO.

Use specific, and relevant, keywords. But don’t over abuse them. Make sure that the language is natural.

Chapter 4: recommends for keyword(s) / key phrases:

  • Use the keyword(s) in the title tag. Use them at least once. You can use them more than once, but remember to keep the language natural.
  • Use the keyword(s) / key phrases once prominently near the top of the page. For example, as the bolded header at the top of the page. Remember that search engines cannot read images, so make sure that it is “pure text”.
  • Several times (with different variations) throughout the rest of the webpage.
  • As part of the alt tag of an image.
  • Once in the URL of the webpage.
  • And as part of the Meta Description for the page. Search engines will pull from the Meta Description when creating the “sneak peak” which shows beneath the listing for your site in the query. Not only should the Meta Description include the keyword, but it should be written as a compelling call to action that drives the reader to go to the website!

Chapter 5:

Choosing the right keyword / key phrase is an artform. You need to choose keywords which are not only relevant to the search, but also aren’t so general that you won’t rank highly in the search query. There is an old saying “The riches are in the niches”, and you should think about keyword the same way.’s Keyword Analysis tool can help you understand the competition for a specific keyword or key phrase, and consequently how difficult it will be to rank highly for them.

Chapter 6:

As mentioned earlier, search engines are trying to give searchers the best possible results for their query. Generally, search engines like websites that are:

  1. Easy to navigate and understand.
  2. Provide clear information relevant to the query.
  3. Designed for modern browsers, across numerous platforms (mobile, desktop, etc. ).
  4. Deliver high quality, credible, and unique content.

Chapter 7:

Who links to you, and how they link to you, is important.

  • Trusted sites like Wikipedia (where there are a lot of communal editors who ensure the quality and accuracy of the content and links) carry a lot of value. Also .gov, .edu, etc. sites.
  • Related sites (sites that discuss a similar topic) carry value as well.
  • The Anchor Text is important.
  • The freshness and frequency of linking is important. This is not a “set it and forget it” activity.
  • And more recently social sharing is important.

The guide also discusses techniques you can use to build a strong, legitimate linking strategy.

Chapter 8:

This chapter discusses behind the scenes tools like Robots.txt and SiteMaps. These are things your webmaster should setup for your site to make it easier for search engines to crawl the site.

Chapter 9:

Chapter 9 discusses the “black hat” techniques that are likely to negatively impact your listing, like keyword stuffing, etc.

Chapter 10:

Chapter 10 covers the tools you should use to measure the success of your SEO activity. They include:

  • The search engine share of referring visitors (how many visitors are finding your site via search engines)
  • The terms and phrases that consumers use when finding your website.
  • The ultimate conversion ratio of search engine traffic, by keyword or key phrase.
  • And how many pages benefit from search engine referred traffic.

The chapter also covers which tools you can use to measure these benchmarks, and how to use the tools.



Protecting Your Home From Wildfires and Floods – A Public Service Announcement

Growing up in Southern California, my family has experienced its fair share of floods and fires.  My grandfather and great-grandfather first build their beach-side summer home in the 1920’s.  During WWII this home burned down, and when my grandfather moved back in the 70’s to rebuild a retirement home, he did so with the intent that this property would be protected from natural disasters.   His efforts were tested several times over the 30+ years when we owned the property, the home surviving numerous floods and wildfires – one of which literally went over the house.   You can read an LA Times article about his successful efforts here.

As the article suggests, much of my grandfather’s knowledge came from Dr. Klaus Radtke.  He met Dr. Radtke at a wildfire seminar in 1978, and they would become lifelong friends.

Dr. Radtke has written an informative e-book entitled “A Homeowner’s Guide to Fire and Watershed Management At the Chaparral / Urban Interface“.   A shorter title might be: “Protect Your Home From Floods and Wildfires.”

I know first handle the value of the knowledge in this book – and if you live in any area susceptible to natural disasters I highly encourage you to download it and read it.


New Jersey Uses An Algorithm To Eliminate Bias In Criminal Bail System

Faced with jail overcrowding at a near epidemic proportion, earlier this year New Jersey recently overhauled how it determines bail eligibility for persons awaiting trial.  Now, using an algorithm that weighs the risk of a person to “skip bail”, New Jersey has reformed their system bail system – removing cash from the equation.  A person is either eligible to be let out of jail as they await trial, or they are not.

And apparently, this system is working very well. This algorithm, which was designed transparently by prosecutors, public defenders, and judges, measures simple historical factors such as the crime they are accused of, their criminal history, and their history of reporting for court.

Other areas are looking at replicating this system.  It keeps low risk offenders out of jail and (hopefully) productive members of society, reducing costs of incarceration.

Just enough example of data for good.

Succeeding Through The Success Of Others

I recently learned from a friend who works at Google that a key performance metric for managers at Google is the progress of their reports.  I know first hand how this management style can bring value to a company.  Having worked at both “lean startups” as well as established Fortune 100 companies, I can tell you that (not surprisingly) this is a management technique that you’d more likely find in the former not the latter.

I also believe that this is a critical contributor to the rapid growth of many startups, as it enables companies to maximize the ability for all team members to contribute, and ensures that the team stays motivated and engaged.

Quite simply, the key to accelerated growth is to hire the most qualified candidate, then strip away everything that gets in the way of their success.  This includes office politics!

We often hear about the challenges with pivoting.  Whether its as an owner of a start-up (the innovator’s dilemma) that’s experiencing dramatic growth, or as an employee moving from an individual contributor role to that of a manager, making the transition can be challenging.

Early in my career, I made a common mistake of first time managers …  I micromanaged everything.  We were in a situation where we needed revenue immediately, and couldn’t afford any delays nor mistakes.

I quickly learned that an environment where every decision requires my input is not scalable.  I was spending more time doing the employees job, rather than ensuring that they had the resources necessary to do their job. While my attentive actions ensured our immediate success, they weren’t setting my team up for future success.

As a manager, my job is to empower (not enable) my reports to achieve their very best, by identifying areas of concern for the organization, and then providing my team with objectives so clearly defined that I can step aside and let them develop and implement the solution.  My primary day to day role is to make sure that the objectives are clearly understood by all team members, to keep the team focused on those goals, to assist in removing roadblocks, to answer questions, and to ensure that the team gets the recognition they deserve for the work that they perform.

And most importantly, I’m there to ensure that my team is able to achieve their own personal goals.  It’s naive to think that all employees want to stay in their position forever.   Many have aspirations for growth beyond their current role, and that needs to be encouraged and fostered.  With my teams, I meet with each of them at least twice a year to discuss their personal goals.  Then together we blend those goals with their day to day tasks, ensuring that they have an ascension plan and are still able to do their job. Some may want to work in our European division.  Some may want to become managers themselves.  Others may just want to stay where they are.  Whatever their goal, part of my role is to ensure that the opportunity exists for them to achieve it.

When I look back at my career, the managers who took this approach had the most impact on my career – and for that I am grateful.