Track your links with

Short URLs are a really valuable tool for social media, and anyone who’s been tweeting for more than a few months is already a devotee of services like tinyURL or But there’s a good argument to be made for the great big new kid on the block:

If you hadn’t already heard of it, I’m sure you’ve guessed that it’s an URL shortening service from Google. And sure enough, if you point your browser to you can quickly get a short URL suitable for emailing or tweeting.

URL shortening screen at

Shorten an URL or check click totals for links you've already shared

But things get really magical once you log in with your Google account. You are already registered at Google, right?

Creating an url while logged in adds it to a list of all the shortened URLs Google has created for you. And it gives you data on how many clicks each one received, from what continent and what operating system and browser. So whether it’s a tweet, an email or even a Facebook post, you can see exactly how effective each of your shared links is.

You even get a QR code as an image. Save that to your phone and you can share your link on the go with anyone who has a QR-equipped smartphone.

Previously, using shortened URLs handicapped your Facebook links because it wouldn’t always get a picture and summary from the page you are sharing. But Facebook now follows links through to grab that data and make your links look pretty.

You still get a description and thumbnail when sharing.

You can get link tracking from or HootSuite as well, but I’m a big fan of the service. I’m already logged into Google all the time to manage ads and view analytics, so it’s one less account I need to juggle. And the features are pretty powerful for a service that’s completely free.

Where do you use shortened URLs? And what service do you prefer? Please share your experience in the comments.

I love content partnerships

I’m happy to be adding a new feature to

Zacks worked out a deal with dynamic chart-maker Ycharts to supply a widget for, and it looked perfect for inclusion on Stock Research Wiki. A few emails later, I have a short snippet of code to give my developers, and it’s an instant, significant update to the site.

Here’s an example:
yChart for AAPL

Partnerships like this are quickly becoming the lifeblood of our business. Zacks content is featured on Seeking Alpha, MSN Money, TD Ameritrade and a growing list of others. It gets the word out about the quality of our research much more powerfully than an email or ad. If people find our data useful on their favorite sites, they’re much more likely to follow our link and find out more about the products we offer.

At the same time, it allows the syndicating partner to provide added value to their visitors for almost no investment of development time. It would take me months to get my own javascript charts built into the Stock Research Wiki. I’m getting a powerful new feature for my users by inserting a few lines of code.

And for the user, it means a lot more features and data all in one place, and fresh avenues to discover useful resources to help them make better decisions.

Everybody wins.

Facebook Turns “Fans” into “Likes”

Facebook will soon move the familiar “Like” function to fan pages, removing the existing “Become a Fan” call to action, according to a post by Inside Facebook. Facebook announced the change in confidential emails sent to ad agencies (and leaked to ClickZ and MediaMemo).

Given the audience for their email, Facebook was obviously upbeat on the benefits to businesses who put up fan pages (and buy ads to drive traffic to them). According to their internal data, users click “Like” links twice as often as “Fan” links. Using “like” makes it easier for someone to express their interest in a brand when “fan” may overstate their level of engagement. That sounds like a big opportunity to get a whole lot more fans.

It also sounds to me like an opportunity to breed ill will, especially if users are slow to realize the weaker wording doesn’t change the fact that they’re still giving the company permission to post updates to their news feed. Facebook optimistically projects that “users will understand the distinction through explicit social context, messaging and asthetic differences.”

Likable Facebook adsI’m not so sure. Particularly when you look at the examples they give of the “Like” function in practice. It’s not a matter of just changing the link at the top of a fan page. There’s also a big change to Facebook ads. It’s now possible to “Like” an ad, which automatically enrolls you as a fan (in the old parlance) of the advertiser.

I’m all for friendlier wording. And I’d love to have more people receiving updates from the fan pages I administer. But I think it’s important to be transparent and honest. I’d prefer a term more like “follow.” It removes the “fan” label but still makes it clear what the result will be when you click that link.

The greatest strength of social media is inviting users to interact with you and share their experience with their friends. Replacing the old broadcasting model of shoving your message down the consumer’s throat is what’s so new, interesting and effective about it. Anything that seems disingenuous or makes the user feel tricked is destined to backfire.

Test and Retest Your Online and Mobile Campaigns

It’s a cardinal rule in Internet Marketing. Whatever communications you create have to be tested again and again, on every possible platform and configuration. Even a simple website has to be reviewed repeatedly in different browsers, different browser versions, different operating systems, to make sure your message is properly formatted and reperesents your brand favorably no matter where it’s seen. If there are multiple steps from first touch to final purchase, the list of testing scenarios grows quickly.

This is the most tedious part of the business. And unlike many tedious tasks, it can’t really be delegated to the lowest levels of the organization. Someone who doesn’t have a full grasp of your communication goals can’t tell you if they’re being met. Fortunately, at Zacks, we’re able to divide the workload so each team member is responsible for two or three browser/OS configurations. Even so, a good chunk of time can be easily eaten up with creating test email accounts, logging in and out, deleting cookies and starting over again. When product or promotion launch deadlines are looming, it takes real discipline not to cut corners and actually go through all the steps.

Apparently, even the biggest companies with the largest marketing budgets have a struggle in this area. And mobile marketing opens a whole new frontier of possible platforms and formats. I was surprised recently to see the glaring neglect of testing in a mobile campaign for Coke Zero.

Checking scores in the excellent iPhone app SportsTap, I saw an ad headline that read "Join Facial Profiler." So far so good. It’s a mobile ad, so maybe this "Facial Profiler" does something cool using my phone’s camera. It got my attention and made me curious enough to tap the ad. Mobile Marketing Ad
The landing page looks nice, and is obviously formatted for the iPhone. The imagery and typography are attractive and easy to read. Now I see that it’s a Coke Zero project. So now I think there’s an even better chance that it’s something cool, since they certainly have the budget to create something entertaining or engaging. Landing Page
Scrolling down the page, there’s a video thumbnail. Whoever designed the campaign seems to have understood that I’m not going to keep reading forever, so here’s a video file to explain the promotion. Brilliant. Video Thumbnail

But that’s where the whole thing breaks. Somehow, they encoded or embedded the video in a way the iPhone didn’t like. This video is the only means I have to find out how the program works, so when it fails, the entire experience becomes a dead end.

So now, whatever Coke spent on this campaign has been 100% wasted. Even worse, this experience lowers my opinion of the brand, so they’ve actually put their marketing budget to work in a way that damages their brand image.

Video FAIL

It’s an excellent example of what can happen when you don’t commit to testing your entire campaign. And there are no shortcuts. Even when you duplicate an existing process and apply it to a new product or promotion, unforseen details almost always become obvious during testing.

If it can happen to a marketing powerhouse like Coca-Cola, on a closed platform like the iPhone, it can certainly happen to your email campaign or banner ad landing page. All the time, effort and money you spend promoting your product will be wasted if an overlooked error gets between your customer and the sale.

Update: Cheryl Gledhill at molt:n took the Facial Profiler application for a test drive and found that the actual feature was just as unsatisfying and poorly executed as the mobile campaign.

Amazon’s iPhone Kindle Strategy, Take 2

Here’s an update to my earlier post about Amazon’s strategic decision to release a free iPhone application to read e-books published for its Kindle device.

Email from AmazonOf course, it’s undeniably brilliant to cultivate an audience for reading books on a handheld device, reaching people who have a history of buying expensive electronics. But as you’d expect from Amazon, their followup is also first rate.

Knowing that I’d downloaded the iPhone app, they sent me an email this morning announcing that their Kindle device is now on sale. At Zacks, we’re always looking for opportunities to target our email campaigns like this. There’s no better way to reach your customer than demonstrating that you’ve paid attention to his interaction with you. When you can credibly make the claim that you’re sending this message specifically because he might find it useful, you’ve greatly increased the chances that your customer will click through to the action page.

Actually, the Kindle app has made me a believer when it comes to reading text on my iPhone. Except the Kindle app isn’t my platform of choice. Instead, I’ve been using the much more versatile Stanza. Where the Kindle app concentrates on titles available from Amazon, Stanza and its companion (Mac or Windows) desktop application make it unbelievably easy to put any text on your phone in ebook form. Just open text files, word docs, pdfs or html pages in the desktop app and load them over wi-fi onto your iPhone.

Now any time I stumble upon a long but interesting blog post or article, I’ll load the URL in Stanza and take it with me to read whenever I find a spare minute on the go. The very legible and customizable display makes it much easier and more enjoyable to read than if I’d copied the bookmark and navigated there in the mobile browser. And the text is loaded on the phone itself, so I don’t have to worry about the availability or speed of my connection.

Of course, the retail giant took notice of how well Stanza works. In April, Amazon bought Stanza’s development company Lexcycle. So far, though, they have not disabled the Stanza app itself. Presumably, they’re working with the Lexcycle developers to morph all the extra features of Stanza into the next generation Kindle reader.