Marktplaats data; eBay’s entry into classifieds

Back in 2004, while working for eBay in The Netherlands, I was able to work on an interesting project. The project was code named Manhattan, and resulted in the acquisition of the largest classifieds site in The Netherlands, Marktplaats.nl, and eBay's entry into the classifieds business. Just last week, eBay bought another classifieds site, in Belgium. The classifieds business has become an important source of revenue for eBay Inc. an important school for learnings and a breeding ground for top talent who would migrate to other countries while working for eBay.

The decision to buy Marktplaats for $300 million in 2004 was not a fast and easy decision. The team in The Netherlands conducted a lot of research on the Marktplaats customers, the business model, and the sites ability to grow traffic and monetization to grow revenue. One of the research questions the team tried to answer was the affinity of the Dutch consumers to use the classifieds site over the eBay auction model. It turned out from part of our research, that the Dutch consumer would be willing to drive from one end of the country to the other end just to save a couple of Euro's. And with the country of The Netherlands being rather small, you can drive from the upper Northern part to the most Southern tip in a couple of hours, no seller is to far to quickly pick up your new DVD or piece of clothing.

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That was 2004, now 9 years later, more data has become available through Marktplaats itself in a cbs publication. (CBS is the official state bureau for statistics in The Netherlands. The study is in Dutch) I stumbled on this data through the Facebook postings of some of my old colleagues.
The research shows some interesting maps and how the population of The Netherlands is using Marktplaats.nl to buy and sell stuff.

There is one map which shows exactly more in depth results of the research we did in the run to the acquisition of Marktplaats; how far are buyers prepared to travel to pick up the item for sale, and maybe even hackle over the price to save a little. Check out the map below, which shows the distance between buyer and seller for all ads placed on Marktplaats in 2010.
Distance between buyer and seller in The Netherlands on Marktplaats.nl, the largest classifieds siteThe table below shows the distance between buyer and seller for each of the items in the different categories, where it shows that the distance becomes smaller the more expensive or heavier the item is. Makes sense, as some of the smaller items, which also do not cost that much, might be mailed to the buyer after the successful bargaining.

distance between buyer and seller per category on Marktplaats

Marktplaats turned out to be a very successful acquisition for eBay, not only for the direct revenue growth, but more for the learnings on the business model and its ability to grow into new verticals and grow revenue. The research we as a team conducted proved to be on the mark, where years later the market still shows the winning business model for The Netherlands is classifieds rather than the eBay classic auction model.

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eBay’s Paid Search Study Alternatives Motives for Publishing Ineffectiveness

I couldn't hide from all the chatter around the white paper about eBay's paid search campaigns today. All kinds of people with little knowledge on internal optimization within eBay are jumping on this story to give their perspective. The overall message they are so loudly shouting into the world is how bad eBay really is in PPC advertising, trying to win a little bit more authority on the subject themselves in the hope to win new clients.

I won't go into the details of the article, as I've never worked on eBay's paid search campaigns. Reading the research white paper eBay published is interesting though, and I know that some of it holds up, other parts not so much.

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Skeptical on the eBay Report

I'm somewhat skeptical on the actual outcomes of the research in the eBay report.

First of all, every site is different. So what would work for eBay, might not work for anybody else!

Second, you could use Paid Search campaigns in so many other ways, cross channel objectives, which has not been taken into account in this study.

Third, although the study looks at conversion to sales ratio's of the campaigns, the real ROI is hardly discussed.

Fourth,You should look at the fully loaded ROI to understand the complete impact on eBay's eco-system. This does not only incorporates the eBay fees, but should also include the Paypal fees when an item is being paid through Paypal and advertising revenue. And with Paypal penetration rates at a high double number, and advertising on almost every pageview, the campaigns ROI is highly influenced by multiple revenue streams.

Fifth, if the research holds true, can somebody explain me what happened end of Q3, beginning of Q4 last year, where SEO traffic for eBay tanked, and suddenly Paid grew out of the normal trend:

eBay SEO visibility tanking end of Oct 2012

Where Paid Search Campaigns for eBay are ramping up immediately

These graphs are made with Searchmetrics

Sixth; conducting a test on non-branded keywords, like Cell-Phone might be giving interesting outcomes, if you keep the way Google looks at sites from a SEO perspective into account. Keyword Cell-Phone is a head term for electronics, where eBay is not represented well in SEO. From the human rater documents which leaked from Google, there might be more obvious reasons why eBay is not ranking well:

How to rate eBay landing pages?

Alternative Motives for eBay to Publish Paid Search effectiveness Study

What most people commenting fail to take notice off, what are the real motives of eBay to publish such research? You really think a large, for profit company would make their direct competition smarter just to get some feathers stuck somewhere..? Below here I describe possible motives for eBay to publish this paper. These are all hypothetical, and not based on what really happened as I don;t have the internal information what has happened. Read these more as thin foil hypothesis for my enjoyment, and for you to think further than just the optimization of Paid Search campaigns.

Large Companies F*** each other over

eBay has had a long history of working with Google on a Frenemies status of their relationship. eBay gets a tremendous amount of traffic through SEO, and have worked with Google on several fronts to make the Internet a better place. However, there are well documented instances which shows the underlying relationship, which is one of stiff competition.

  • Google Dark; Back in 007, eBay shut down all Paid Search at Google to run a test. The black out period gave some interesting insights in the effectiveness of Paid Search at Google.
  • eBay sued Google over the launch of Google Wallet and trade secrets

For obvious reasons, I can hardly go into too much detail here, but imagine the drop in eBay spend over 2012, while Google is ramping up their efforts in the payments industry AND making Google Shopping pay-for-play, after killing off the shopping comparison vertical completely!

Internal Politics Kill Real optimization

In a company like eBay, there is a power struggle at the top on a continuous basis. The one with the bigger budgets control their own destiny, and can become very successful empire builders. With a change in C-suit players, the power struggle can become more aggressive, where studies to proof ineffectiveness of campaigns could destroy the power base of the existing rulers.

You've got Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics...

It has happened that one group proofed with analytic proof, that the advertising on eBay was cannibalizing the  conversion rate of items on the site, and had an impact on site speed. 4 months later, the VP of the group moved to the business side, became responsible for the P&L, and with 3 weeks into the quarter and a $20 million hole in the budget, made the executive decision to move the ads back on the site. Just make a check on the eBay site, it's full with ads right now, even on the View Item page which had always been a sacred page for sellers!

This Paid Search campaign effectiveness study could very well be a power play from inside groups to take control of the advertising budgets. Objective: proofing incompetence to replace and take control

False Information for Competitors

What happens to the overall marketplace if the research is adopted by more large advertisers? Right, less demand for the impressions out there will bring CPC's down in the marketplace.

By spreading this information, under the umbrella of statistical research, could very well have an effect on the ROI of existing eBay campaigns.

Be Careful What You Wish For

So when I read an article like this, where the writer is challenging the CEO of eBay to give him a chance to proof what he could do for eBay with Paid Search, I cannot help myself to think: "Be careful what you wish for" as the truth of the matter might not be as cookie cutter clear as you think, and you might find yourself in a situation you are not set up to succeed in the first place, even if you are the best Paid Search consultant in the world, there might be forces out there which want you to fail at it! (furthermore I don't think the writer did himself a service to build his arguments on 6 year old screenshots...)

The people who have managed the eBay paid search campaigns are good friends of mine, which is why I won't go deep into the criticism if the campaigns have been working for eBay or not, just to stay objective here. What I can say, is that the majority of the people commenting on the quality of the creatives, the supposedly fail to optimize these campaigns on a ROI positive manner, might not be so right at all. They probably have never managed a budget of the size of the eBay Paid Search budget, while optimizing for 170 million keywords, while landing the budget within 1% of the amount, each and every quarter and showing incremental ROI improvements time and time again. The teams who manage these campaigns are very smart and creative in doing new tests, which you can hardly judge upon as an outsider!

Disclaimer: I worked for eBay for 9.5 years in different positions, last 6 years of my tenure focused on Global SEO for all eBay sites cross the world. I cannot disclose all information I have, and do not claim to be an expert in Paid Search! These view do not represent the views of my current employer, nor eBay's!

Christmas Sweaters Hit The Big Times

For two years, I've been following the Ugly Christmas Sweater craze, as it was growing in popularity to throw an Ugly Christmas Sweater party. I just got a message on Twitter that News cable shows are now "discovering" the Ugly Christmas Sweater craze as an item for their morning show: see that NW Cable News sweater event? When a "style" makes it to the pacific NW, it's hit the big time.

Christmas Sweater Tweet I responded that my traffic on this blog for Ugly Christmas Sweaters is going through the roof. The season for the Tacky Christmas Jumper has never been this big! See the daily traffic for the last year on this site for posts with Christmas in the title (which are only a few, majority around the Ugly Christmas Sweater parties).

Sweater traffic

Here is the item on the NWCN News website:

It Proofs that there is business in buying these Sweaters in the second hand stores, and selling these on eBay for a profit! Or make these yourself off course!

Ugly Christmas sweater vest Ugly Christmas sweater vest Paypal 0 Bid US $14.99 1h 7m

All my other posts about the Christmas Sweater crazy:

Couch Commerce – Why eBay Should Have Bought IntoNow

Back in April, Yahoo made one great move. Yahoo bought IntoNow for around $30 million. The start-up was just 12 weeks old! Last week Yahoo/IntoNow launched the iPad application that makes use of the IntoNow technology.  eBay should have bought it back in April for several reasons. Now they should request access to an API from Yahoo to make use of its technology. I will explain below.

IntoNow, The Shazam for TV

Intonow logo by YahooOne of my favorite applications on my iPhone is Shazam. Where Shazam lets you discover new music if you hear a tune somewhere by just letting the application listen for 30 second to the music, Intonow can recognize which TV program you are watching.

From the Crunchbase description of IntoNow:

IntoNow is a consumer tech company that aims to enhance the way people engage with each other around the shows they love. … Based on the SoundPrint platform, IntoNow gives users the ability to almost instantly recognize TV content and then helps them share and discuss those shows with friends, both within the product and through other social streams such as Facebook and Twitter.

Background; The start-up that never will see the Light

Twitter conversation Eight months ago, while I was in Sydney Australia for SMX Sydney (great overview of this conference here), I was catching up with the MD of eBay.com.au. She and I have known each other since eBay marketing college back in November 2004. She always said I should talk to her husband, as we are alike in our love for new technology, always on the edge of the next big thing, and really understands how the Internet works (at least, we think for ourselves).

Joshua (fertile) gave some great pointers on the ideas I presented to him, and we ranted on for a good half hour about start-up ideas, technology and other concepts.

Ever since I read the article on Techcrunch about Yahoo buying IntoNow, I couldn’t help thinking about creative ways to use the technology from IntoNow for a shopping related iPad application. Let’s face it; the two screen TV watching is becoming reality very fast. Checking Facebook, chatting on Twitter or shopping while you watch your favorite series is taking over. This is what eBay calls Couch Commerce.

So my start-up idea was born

Building an iPad shopping application using IntoNow technology, either through an open API or through a licensing deal with Yahoo, which would allow you to get direct shopping deals for products making an appearance in the TV-show you are watching.

To be able to make this concept reality, I started to do research. A couple of uncertainties and time constraints made me delay the project, which probably today will be canceled after all. These include:

  • Uncertain if IntoNow allows you to license the technology, or will launch an API
  • How large is the market for product placements? Would I be in a position to get a list of product placements in all TV shows, movies, quiz-shows etc.?
  • How would you handle older TV shows in rerun? Their product placements might be out of date, and worse even; out of stock!
  • Would the networks hand over this list of product placements without sharing any of the revenue the company would be able to make? These Networks do not seem very favorable towards web start-ups eating their lunch!

Back in the US after my travels to Australia, I posted two questions on Quora:

  1. Where can you find a list of product placements in past & upcoming TV shows? Large brands are sponsoring or placing their products more and more in TV shows. Is there a list somewhere you can see which products are actively placed within TV shows? (Question on Quora link)
  2. How large is the market for product Placements in TV & Film? This report from 2005 talks a $1B market for Product Placements. Fast froward to 2011, how large is this market today...? (Question on Quora link)

Having too much on my plate, not being able to break free for some coding tutorials and a short holiday in The Netherlands, brought me to the end of the summer starting a new job at Geeknet Inc. The start-up idea was still in the back of my head, however, I chose to pursue other, more promising ideas for concepts. The ones that made it pass the drawing board, but not launched yet! There is much more good stuff where this idea came from :)

eBay should have bought IntoNow

Today eBay launched a new iPad shopping application that lets you shop while you watch TV. Double screening is taking over the living room, a term which is called couch commerce by eBay and PayPal.

From the Techcrunch article (markings mine):

A new “Watch with eBay” tab has been added to the e-commerce giant’s iPad app that allows users to shop a selection of items on the marketplace related to what they are currently watching on TV.

Users tap “Watch with eBay” and type in their zip code, cable provider, channel and the program they are currently watching; and using show and event-specific key word searches, the app will surface relevant merchandise from the more than 200 million listings available on the eBay marketplace.

eBay says this is just the beginning. The company plans to partner with networks, stations, cable providers and studio to identify products featured in each scene of a movie or show.

In my opinion, the tab with the Watch With eBay is a brilliant innovation in the eBay App. However, the solution for matching TV show you are watching with merchandise on eBay, could have been much simpler. Instead of a costumer needing to type in all the information about location, channels etc, the IntoNow application SoundPrint platform can be used. The application could just listen which program you are watching, and serve relevant merchandising up based on the products featured in those TV shows. You can even sell advertising on the side which matches the Advertisement blocks on TV. This way the consumer will get roadblocked!

And with regards to the large TV networks, eBay would have the cloud to make such deals happen. Much more chance to make that happen than a little start-up from some crazy Dutch!

Conclusion

Since I’m still long in eBay stock, I will send this post to my buddies who work in the eBay mobile team. This team is amazing, and is cranking out new innovations very fast.

I got a lesson in start-up ideas again! A good idea is not good without execution!

So will you excuse me for a moment, I’m going to read through 4 chapters of Python coding…

 

PS> Full disclosure, I've worked at eBay for 9.5 years (see my bio page), until the end of July 2011. I have never been exposed to the mobile strategy of eBay. The idea I've described above here has never been shared with the eBay mobile team by me. I guess the saying "Great Minds Think Alike" can be applied here.

PSS> If you try to claim couch commerce as a verb to be used with your brand, at least claim the URL.. couchcommerce.com

Buy It New Buy It Now Hijacking

Now that we have Halloween just behind us, the shopping season is just around the next corner. eBay has just launched their new branding campaign, which includes TV-commercials. This is the first brand campaign since 2-3 years, which is showing the team feels confident they are ready for a big shopping season this year. And I hope so, full disclosure: I'm still long in eBay stock!

Here is one of the TV-spots airing at the moment:

Buy It New Buy It Now!

The tagline of the new campaign is: Buy it new, Buy it Now!

eBay brand campaign 2011 Buy it New, Buy it Now!
The new eBay brand campaign was highlighted 3 times in the last earnings call, and several questions from analysts were geared towards the brand campaign: Buy it New, Buy it Now.

Tagline Hijacking

For a couple of years I've been testing out a technique to gain extra traffic to my Dutch blog: Thenextcorner.com. When I spotted a flashy brand campaign on Dutch websites, where the banner was linking to a website in all flash, I would try to hijack the brand traffic. Most of these flash sites would not have decent ability to rank, where SEO and flash don't go well together. By writing a simple post with the tagline in the title, I would be able to rank my page and hijack the traffic for all the brand searches.

Doing a simple search on Buy it New, Buy it Now, you can see potential here as well... But I'm not the only one who thought of that!

Google SERP Buy it New, Buy it Now!

The marketing team of Aliexpress, a site run by Alibaba.com is marketing with the very same tagline as the large brand ad campaign of eBay. And as you can see in the above screenshot, only a couple of eBay help pages are ranking for it. I feel all my work in training teams on integrated marketing campaigns with SEO from the last couple of years have not fully paid off

In the mean time, AliExpress is making sure the message is clear; you can Buy it New, Buy it Now on AliExpress.

AliExpress trying to Hijack eBay Brand tagline

To Be Copied a True Form of Flattery?

A pretty low way of marketing your own brand if you ask me, but it seems to be working for AliExpress. At least eBay is able to take down the Halloween decorations on the site in time, where AliExpress is still showing ghosts and Jack O'Lanterns. For me, AliExpress will always be remembered as the brand that could not do it on their own, but needed to lean on the marketing campaign and hijack the traffic.

In China they say that getting copied is the truest form of flattery.

Lesson learned:

Always make sure you own the search results for your own branding message.Use the tagline as the page title for your homepage, Set up a mini-site, where you feature the video's, claim the twitter account, or build a Facebook page. There are multiple cheap ways to dominate the first page for your message.

Although the eBay branding for this year is pretty generic, the least thing you should make sure of is rank for your own marketing tagline. That whenever people type in the message into a search engine you put into your TV commercials, you get the traffic, not your competitor.

 

eBay SEO and Page Titles; it’s Complicated @tamebay

As it has only been one months since I left eBay for Geeknet, i’m still keeping track of the news on eBay through my social media, RSS reader and stock alerts. Today, two news items drew my attention. First of all the news eBay has hired a new president for Marketplaces, Devin Wenig, who will have big shoes to fill as he is following up Lorrie Norrington. Second, my eye fell on this article on TameBay: 80 Character titles now live on eBay.

eBay SEO & Item Titles

The title and the item description on eBay are written by the seller of the item, which makes eBay one of the largest User Generated Content (UGC) Sites in the world. It would be a huge task to optimize the page titles for all items live on the site, which is why these are being handled by a template editor, in which the template is the item title.I know my buddy Hugo Guzman would not approve would advice against optimizing page titles like this, but at a scale of 100 million items live on the site, it's just too much to optimize the titles separately. (read here Hugo's great post: Newsflash the mainstream still doesn't understand SEO).

The change eBay has rolled out to the Item Title field for sellers, going from 55 characters to 80 characters, might have a large impact on the SEO and Social Sharing for eBay. Let me explain:

SERP Snippets

Most SEO's can explain to you why Page Titles are important. These are not only important because these sit in the head section of the page, which can help to get the page a topical focus by optimizing the page title for your main keyword. The page titles are also used as the link in the SERP snippets, which allows any site owner to take control of how you communicate with your potential customer in the search engines.

However, the SERP snippet is only displaying a maximum number of characters in the link. This maximum is between 65-70, depending on the word around the 65e character. You can see in the image below here what happens when you go over the maximum number or have a long word around the 65e characters.

eBay SnippetThe former maximum number of characters actually were perfect from an SEO perspective. The 55 characters forced the seller to write short, to the point titles, and allowed the template to include the brand at the end of the title. Template:

[Item Title] | eBay

This way, a search snippet would still showcase the brand in the link:

eBay snippet

We will see how sellers are going to use the extra 15 characters in the item titles. My recommendation to all the sellers would be:

  • Keep the title short and to the point, so it fits in the SERP snippet
  • Where you put the most important keyword, usually the product name and brand, at the beginning of your item title

Social Media Sharing

eBay has Social media sharing buttons implemented on the item pages. This makes it really easy to share any item through eMail, Facebook or Twitter. However the number of Characters for Twitter are obviously limited to just 140! With 80 characters already in the title, and a short url spanning 25 characters (including the space) there is hardly any room for anybody to retweet the message without changing it.

 eBay tweet

Especially with targeted campaigns at subject matter experts, you would like to add your own message to the tweet, where the title of the item should speak for itself. For example, when I tweeted about a Canon 5200mm F14 DSLR Lens to Darren Rowse from Digital Photography School, I made sure I had enough space for him to easily retweet the message. (Below slide is taken out of my SEO for Bloggers presentation I did on EVO)

Short titles and Viral spreading through social media

Short titles and Viral spreading through social media

As you can see, I got a number of retweets because Darren spread the message through his DPS Twitter account. This can be powerful stuff to get more site traffic from Social, and get more links to your site just by getting the content in front of more people.

I believe I only got so many people to retweet this message because a) the message was targeted b) it was super easy to share and retweet

Conclusion

Although the expansion of the number of characters in item title on eBay seems like a great service to sellers, I can imagine some sellers will be confused or annoyed their titles are not being used by the search engines or the people on Twitter as they had crafted the title. So far, I doubt it that many sellers already have updated their listing templates or current live listings, so it will be hard to get evidence of a better or worse result on these items.

We will see, only the future knows and time will tell...

What I had encouraged to build, was a meta tag CMS for the sellers in the SYI (Sell Your Item) flow, similar to what Joost de Valk has built for his SEO for WordPress plugin. In this solution, the page title and meta description would need to be managed separately from the item title or item description, with a default fall back solution.Something like this:

Meta tag CMS

This way, the seller can take fully advantage over how the item will be marketed to their customers in search, while the actual item title can be longer and take up more space with the extra added characters.

Always ask yourself: What would Hugo Guzman do...?

Moving on, Leaving eBay

I wrote this post last Saturday, but as the financial results for Q2 for Geeknet were only announced today, I decided to wait with public posting until after these were announced.

Restless sleep, early wake ups and nervous moments. The last week was a tough one! Last Friday, after 9+ years, was my last day at eBay. Leaving a company where you worked for so long, feel like ending a long term relationship. And when the job was your first one fresh out of university, it feels like loosing your very first love…. But yes, it was my last day, and when I walked out of the office at Hamilton Ave in San Jose at 5.30pm, I felt empty and exhausted. When I got home, I crashed and slept from 8pm until 8am, 12 hours straight. I guess I had some recovery sleep to do after the 3 hours nights of the last couple of days!

The years I’ve spent at eBay have formed me in the way I work. Obviously my parents had more influence on my character, but 9 years with the same company will have a profound impact on your ways of working. I’ve been blessed to spent my first decade in the workforce with a great company like eBay. The internal values and behaviors the founder, Pierre Omidyar has set up in the early beginning make for a good work ethos. I will carry these values with me for the rest of my life.

I love eBay! The decision to leave such a great company, efficient business model, talented colleagues, endless amount of data and cutting edge technology was a hard one. But sometimes you have to cut the cord to move forward and grow into the new stages in life you have set out for yourself. But there is no doubt that I will miss every part of my former job!

My favorite highlights…

There are so many highlights, too many to list. Here are some of my favorite highlights of my 9 years at eBay

-          All in one year: meeting Fiona, moving from Amsterdam to San Francisco for a new job within eBay, getting married AND having my daughter, Bo-Jools born. Lesson learned: Moving fast will make for a SMART business model, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relative & Timely

-          Marketing college in San Jose, meeting David Knight, who brought me over to the US one year later. Lesson learned: Network! David is still a close friend of mine!

-          Organizing the ever growing IM summits in Tallinn Estonia (75 attendees), Dublin Ireland (150 attendees) and Prague Czech Republic (250 attendees), without any casualties or missing persons. Lesson learned: Don’t leave a man on the field, you leave the bar last if you’re responsible!

-          eBay Live in Las Vegas, Boston & Chicago. Lesson learned: the real value of eBay is in its community of buyers & sellers

-          Working on the Pietersberg Strategy, “How to beat Marktplaats”, which resulted in the acquisition of the leading Dutch classifieds site for $300M. Lesson learned: if you can’t beat them, buy them. Marktplaats is currently the biggest and most successful classifieds site in eBay's portfolio.

-          Bringing SEO back on the radar with Executive team and the whole company, after falling off. Lesson learned: read the book, The Dip, when to quit and when to stick

-          Representing eBay at 7 SEO conferences, eBay DevCon & Paypal X as a speaker. Lesson learned: Building your external brand accelerates your market value.

-          Hosting the Dutch Ambassador at the eBay campus with a welcome from John Donahue Lesson learned: don’t get intimidated

-          Submitting my first patent: “Method for Automatic Document generation based on Referral”. Lesson learned: you don’t have to be work in technology to file patents.

-             Traveling to 14 countries, on 5 continents. Lesson learned: pack light so you take all as carry on luggage

  • France, Germany, Belgium, UK, Sweden, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Estonia, China, Brazil, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic
  • Europe, North- & South America, Asia & Australia

-          The Usual… For those in the known, there is a lesson here as well…

Picture below is the team I worked with: eBay SEO team 2011

Where I’m going

In my search for a next challenge and opportunity, I decided to be on the look out for a smaller company with a large opportunity.  After 9 years at a large company, with all the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with it, I want to experience a different working environment, different challenges and new opportunities to grow and stretch myself. I found this in a 17 year old company, listed on the Nasdaq: Geeknet Inc.

Although not a startup, the company has big potential and advantages. Balance sheet very healthy, no debt and cash in the bank, a couple of old, focused internet brands, brand new executive team with big plans, and reasonable stock price, where the company did a reverse stock split last year.

As of August 1st, I will be joining Geeknet Inc. as Vice President of Internet Marketing Media. The Media group at Geeknet manages the websites Slashdot, Sourceforge and Freshmeat.

I’m very excited to start working with these websites. Especially Slashdot, as this is one of the old phenomenon websites out of the dotcom bubble age. Who doesn’t know the Slashdot effect…? If you don’t, you probably are not Geeky enough.. J. Before there was Digg, before there was Techmeme, there was, and still is: Slashdot; News for Nerds, Stuff that matters!

But also starting to understand, appreciate and use open source software in my own projects, makes this opportunity super exciting for me. I feel this is a new chapter in my life, in which I will learn so much new stuff. Over the last 2 years, with the TFNS Strategy and platform development and working on my own websites, my interest has grown into the field of open source software and application development.

In this position, I will be using the skills and learning’s from my tenure at eBay. I will focus on SEO, Social Media and email as free traffic drivers for the three sites, and I will conduct paid advertising as Paid search ads or deep partner relationships with other relevant websites.

Thank you!

I’m very thankful for what I’ve learned, the opportunities I’ve been given and more importantly, the people I’ve had the pleasure working with. You ALL ROCK!I'm sure I will miss a lot of eBay, but most I will miss is working with the great colleagues and friends I've made over the years!


Bottle of Chandon autographed by Meg Whitman

Buy Your Ugly Christmas Sweater on eBay!

Back in 2009 I wrote a post on the phenomenon Ugly Christmas Sweater on eBay. Around the holiday season, there are so many Ugly Christmas Sweater parties, that people flock to eBay to buy one. (if you want to buy an Ugly Christmas Sweater for the cheap, buy it off season, buy it now!)

I made it my mission back in 2009 to improve the rankings for eBay on Ugly Christmas Sweater, as there is a lot of money to be made selling these sweaters. Off course there might be more lucrative products to promote, but sometimes I just like to focus on one particular keyword or product to push the boundaries.

Ugly Christmas Sweater Campaign

During the year, I presented my findings, data and insights on industry conferences. When the Christmas season of 2010 was approaching, I started to pitch the story to the eBay PR team. At first, they had no interest, as the Ugly Christmas Sweater is not a really sexy product to talk about with main stream publications. However, when I showed the increase in number of searches on the site over the days running up to Christmas, suddenly we had a story.

Ugly Christmas Sweater banner

There were two main drivers in the campaign:

  1. We worked on a story: “How to sell your Ugly Holiday Sweater on eBay” which was posted by Fattwallet.
  2. We worked on a story around the internal eBay data. Search volume, number of sold sweaters and the value of these Ugly Christmas Sweaters. This story was pitched to mainstream journalist.

Story Pick-Up

The campaign was reasonable successful, as we got good pick up from a number of people who heard me speak about the yearly trend, and linked to the search page on eBay for Ugly Christmas Sweater. The blog post on Fattwallet had a clean link to this same search page, which obviously helped in the success.

The PR push was less successful. The Wall Street Journal ran a story regarding the Ugly Christmas Sweater parties and the rise in the demand for Ugly Sweaters. This sounds great, however, the WSJ linked within their story to their own eBay Tag page, showing how Black Hole SEO is done*! (I purposely don’t link to the WSJ here!). Instead, after providing the Christmas Sweater story, data and insights to the journalist, they ran with it, while linking to some mom- and pop site, but not to eBay.

Selling more Ugly Christmas Sweaters than ever

Christmas 2010 season, the Ugly Christmas Sweater was one hot item on eBay! Although the search volume on the site for the keyword: “Ugly Christmas Sweater” was lower than the year before (see graph below), there were actually more sweaters sold than ever!

Ugly Christmas Sweater searches on eBay

Moving up in Rankings

Months later, I just casually checked the rankings for Ugly Christmas Sweater, and guess what… our campaign has helped the eBay page to move up in rankings. On my SERP, the page was positioned at #2 :)

SERP for Ugly Christmas Sweater, eBay ranks #2

The red box shows the organic ranking for eBay page, the green boxes give the Google Product search and the Paid Product Ad listings for Ugly Christmas Sweaters on eBay.

Christmas 2011 Season

For the next Christmas Sweater season, organize a Sweater party yourself and remember, go to eBay to buy your Ugly Christmas Sweater!

* I wrote a post on how Engadget is doing black hole SEO as well…

Dune Buggy for Sale with Sexy Model

How do you sell a Volkswagen Dune Buggy? Right, you place a model in a short skirt in the pictures of the Buggy!

Volkswagen Dune Buggy

Very creative, but if you really would like to sell this Dune Buggy Safari Trail style, they might just lower the price and I consider buying it!

Some sellers get so creative…and Sex seems to sell, even with a Dune Buggy


Labor day 15 Years Ago, Who is Working

Labor day 2010. I would really like to spend some time off, but I like to stay ahead and finish some red hot stuff on my to do list. Too bad I will have to watch the kids for a couple of hours, but after that, it’s all free game! Labor day, for the majority of people a free day, where they sit back and sip on a drink, while the grill is made ready for all the meat you can eat. For some, Labor Day is just another day to get things done, and while you are cranking out stuff in an empty office, where the air conditioner is not working because it’s a freak’n bank holiday, you can just imagine how much work you can get done.

I just had one meeting planned, and emptied the majority of my email inbox which was overflowing. Now that everybody just went to bed, I can really focus on getting things done, transferring 2 domain names to my account, doing some advanced keyword research, forecasting for Q4, the shopping season, and for 2011. most importantly, I will need to plan my next two weeks, as I’m travelling as of next Friday, back to visit Shanghai again :)

While I was at it this afternoon, I could not resist to send out a tweet:

if it's labor day, so why isn't everybody working like me...? Have a meeting in Mountain View this afternoon!

And apparently I was not the only one working at Labor Day, as I have seen some interesting reads popping into my feed reader and some folks actually took the opportunity to let me know on Twitter I was not the only one, thanks Vanessa & John.

@TheNextCorner - you and me both! (tweet)

@TheNextCorner started early over here, too. And going late. (tweet)

At least I’m in good company, as Greg Boser is:

Working my ass off on Labor Day. WTF? (tweet)

15 Years Ago, Something Magical Started in the Mind of a Programmer

On Labor Day 1995 eBay was started from the living room of a computer programmer. Pierre Omidyar had a vision that the Internet could give ordinary people the tools to trade on a level playing field. eBay was his brain child, where everybody can trade, and inefficient markets are made efficient. So much, people are running their business off eBay, and turning a profit by selling iPads from  the US to all over the world.

From the eBay corporate website:

On Labor Day weekend in 1995, computer programmer Pierre Omidyar wrote the code for what he called an "experiment": What would happen if everyone in the world had equal access to a single global marketplace?

Pierre tested his new auction website by posting a broken laser pointer, which he was about to throw away. And to his surprise, a collector bought it for $14.83. The sale of a broken laser pointer was the beginning of a radical transformation in commerce.

eBay is a remarkably efficient market created by connecting individuals who wouldn't otherwise be connected. It was the world's first example of online social networking. While skeptics questioned whether people would trust doing business with strangers online, Pierre firmly believed that people are basically good, and that any issues would work themselves out by the community.

Since then, eBay has grown to have a presence in 39 markets (including partnerships and investments) with more than 90 million eBay.com users worldwide, trading more than $1,900 worth of goods each second.

For all my professional life I’ve been working at eBay, which is now 8.5 years and counting. The company has been extremely good for me, giving me opportunities to learn, travel, grow and educate. I’ve worked in The Netherlands office first, while after 3.5 years I moved to the US. Now I work in a global role, having a big impact on a web phenomenon which is called eBay.

Pictures below of celebrating 15 years of eBay last week at the San Jose campus. I can’t wait for the pictures from the Amsterdam office, which most probably won’t be shared online… for good reasons!

eBay 15 years old celebrationeBay 15 years, happy birthday here are some cupcakesWhatever it is, you can find IT on eBay

Labor Day; A Day to get Busy and get Ahead

So if you take Aaron Wall’s words, Pierre took full advantage of the fact a lot of people are actually celebrating Labor Day workers on a day in September by doing nothing; from Aaron:

When you think of labor day what comes to mind? For me it is these 2 thoughts

  • lower earnings because few people are online today
  • since almost nobody is online, any hours worked today are me getting ahead of the market ;)

So the questions are:

  • What did you do today?
  • Did you focus to get ahead?
  • Who of your competitors were working?
  • And what did they get done, while you were grilling hot dogs?

Great question to ask yourself: Why do you work? Or you can ask yourself, why work…???