Think Twice Before Buying Digital Content

Digital Content Locked Down

I wish there were a more natural way to say this, but buying digital content sucks, and for the last couple of months I’ve been getting regular email reminders as to just how bad the situation has gotten. For me, I started realizing the dream of a digital content library was nothing more than the fantasy of overly optimistic movie enthusiast when I lost access to three, Seven Samurai episodes that I purchased on Xbox Live. Then, over a year later, I could no longer access SimCity Deluxe and GoNinja HD because of a lack of iOS 10 support from their developers. And now, I get email reminders that Ultraviolet is shutting down, leaving me scrambling to retain the content that I “bought.” I hate digital content.

The Promise of Digital Lockers

I didn’t ever consider buying digital content until I began witnessing major corporations deploy digital lockers. For those of you aren’t familiar with the concept of a digital locker, it is something mainstream video distributors stumbled upon during their many efforts to stop online piracy. In the world of torrents and peer-to-peer sharing, digital lockers pose a unique threat to enforcing copyright laws by placing the shared files behind a landing page that requires a username and password. This login page approach is in contrast to the usual tactic of search-based, sharing sites that only need users to set up a profile before they start downloading files.

HackerEnforcement on search-based sites is pretty easy to execute. Officers enter bogus profile information, then begin uploading bait files that are tracked throughout the website, flagging those that download the tainted content. The addition of a credentials page made this tactic harder to deploy, as it became challenging for enforcers to acquire usernames and passwords without identifying themselves, locking them out of some of the largest media sharing libraries. While digital lockers largely remain a copyright enforcement nightmare, operating in the gray area where file sharing exists, the idea was co-opted by digital content distributors as their own content management tactic and deployed by services like Ultraviolet.

Ultraviolet is was the video industry’s major attempt at creating a digital locker, and also the first time I put my trust in a digital media management system that I thought would be around forever. From the outset, Ultraviolet had all the pedigree of a prize racehorse, major studio and retailer backing, high rate of consumer adoption, and for a brief moment, it looked as if the digital locker was moving to the forefront of legal ways to manage a content library. Everything was great.

The Perfect Management Solution

In an ideal world, these digital media companies would have merely fortified and scaled the digital locker concept they found in the depths of copyright oblivion, adding features like enterprise level encryption and single sign-on, and based on the marketing material, it seemed like that was the plan. Instead, companies produced a final product that was vastly different than its original concept, focusing on Digital Rights Management (DRM) and not content sharing. By concentrating on DRM, these systems became viewed as a way to restrict the movement of multimedia, and not a way to promote the secure, legal sharing of our favorite content.

For example, when Microsoft announced Xbox One, they dedicated a whole segment to how the system would only use digital media and immediately drew the ire of gamers who didn’t understand how they would let friends borrow games if there were no discs. Sony jokingly responded to Microsofts poorly presented value proposition with a video (see video) to capitalize on the backlash, which is super ironic considering they are the defacto kings of overly strict DRM systems and proprietary formats (I’m looking at you MiniDisc, Memory Stick, Betamax, and Universal Media Disc).

Regardless, it doesn’t seem to matter what messaging an organization deploys related to DRM systems, the value proposition never translates to consumer benefits, but instead reignites the fear of corporations adding one more aspect of segmentation to our already fractured digital existence.  Maybe that’s the part of purchasing digital content we get, that they don’t.

Segmentation

The over-application of DRM seems to be the icing on the crap cake that we call owning digital media. It’s sitting on top of layers of operating system and hardware variations, processor incompatibilities, screen size variances, and proprietary connections. All-in-all, the reason the digital experience is so horrible for the average consumer can be boiled down to one word – segmentation.

By dividing up the content and features we need among a variety of services, organizations are causing the demise of a system that could have easily benefited everyone, leaving customers to have to choose where to spend the limited about of disposable income they possess. And with customers so thinly spread between a variety of services, none of the services can reach a profitability level that can cover the cost of developing all these exclusive features and content.

The reason I chose to purchase the aforementioned digital content from Microsoft, Apple, and Ultraviolet, respectively, was because it seemed like I would be able to avoid the problems haunting the digital media purchase process by going with well-established players. I was wrong. Developers and companies still give up on platforms, licensing for content expires, and companies go under. If I can’t make digital content purchases work with companies of this size, I’m afraid the whole industry has no hope.

Feel free to let us know how you feel about the situation, or better yet, tell us your own horror story about purchasing digital media.

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Top Ten Tips: SEO Edition #6

SEO Tip 6

Good things come to those that wait, a great Heinz slogan for ketchup, but a horrible mantra for SEO. While patience is a virtue, if you’re employing it in relation to SEO rankings, you might want to re-think your course of action. Google, Yahoo, and Bing regularly crawl the entire internet looking for more content, and most website owners seem content with waiting their turn, but there is a faster way to get your website noticed then a periodic site crawl. It’s time to introduce you to webmaster tools.

Webmaster Tools

Every major search engine company provides a set of tools to assist owners in managing the performance of their websites. Of course, Google’s is the most robust because they offer more tools than any other provider, but there are others out there that are worth your time. You can find these tools with a quick online search, or you can click the link in this sentence to navigate to Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Yandex’s respective pages.

To be honest, when you get there it probably won’t be what you’re at all expecting. All of the SEO tips (#10,#9,#8,#7) leading up to this point have been reasonably achievable for novices, but webmaster tools are usually the ”make or break” mark for the do-it-yourself crowd. That’s okay because the page is genuinely designed for developers. Even signing into webmaster tools requires a developer account, so you know you’re officially moving up to the next level when you get to this step.

Google Search Console

Once you’re logged in, there will be lots of menus and options available. If you’ve made it this far, don’t get distracted, find the area of the tools that enable you to request a crawling of your website. In Google’s Webmaster Tools (Google Search Console), which I’m sure is the one most readers are concerned about, that would be the ”URL Inspection” tool, but requesting a search engine crawl a website is only one-third of the process of correctly indexing your site.

So What’s Next?

Before clicking around and instructing Google’s crawler to its job, like it’s a college student amid their first internship, you’ll want to have a robot.txt and sitemap file ready for upload. By now, you’re probably starting to notice the amount of work required to manage your site’s SEO is beginning to add up to a lot of hours. And this is as good of a time as any to think about reaching out to a professional for help because, spoiler alert, things are about to get a bit trickier.

Next Exit

Let’s start with the sitemap, a file with a function precisely as it reads, providing a text version of the site layout, so search engines know what to expect when they visit. Developers often create these files because they require some text encoding to assure the proper format. After crawling a site, the search engine reconciles what the sitemap said should be there, versus what it found.

The robots.txt file is complimentary to the sitemap mentioned above. This file provides a set of instructions to the search engine, telling it what it can, or can’t, crawl. This file is especially important for those using WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, and other site building applications because there are a lot of menu pages that are a part of the interface, but aren’t relevant to search engines. In some cases, it may even be a security risk for those pages to appear in results.

Last Chance to Tap Out

If you’re still reading this, and more importantly, awaiting our next post in the series, it means you’re all in. You’re also halfway home, as there are only five more posts left before you’ve completed all ten tips.  If you’re just waiting for the link to contact us, so we can do the heavy lifting for you, it’s right here.

RTR Digital’s has expertise in advanced SEO and digital solutions, and everyone is entitled to a complimentary SEO evaluation after they’ve filled out the contact form.

If you have any questions or comments related to this post, feel free to leave them in the appropriate section of this page.

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The Gig Economy’s Death Cross

Financial Charts

Financial markets have some predetermined signals that are supposed to alert investors that the bottom is getting ready to fall out of the market. One of the more popular indicators is the “Death Cross,” which happens when the short term average value (usually 50 days) of a stock falls below the long term average value (usually 200 days). Some financial advisors argue this means a stock has peaked and you can expect a long term downward trend to begin, and we’ll theorize a similar indicator exists for the gig economy.

Market Share Over Profitability

Burning Money

The gig economy is Silicon Valley’s most extreme version of the Software as a Service (SaaS) business model. A business model that, as noted in a previous post, we think offers no long term value to the economy or the consumers that are using it. We’ve concluded this based on the fact the those who participate in this type of business model are offering services well below fair market value to gain market share, without concern over how the business will eventually reach profitability.

Because these businesses are offering services at an unprofitable level, they are easily identifiable by their high cash burn rates and the fact their operations are usually subsidized through private investment capital or early-stage Initial Public Offerings (IPOs). The list of notable companies we consider to be a part of this group is Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash, MoviePass, etc., and a variety of scandals have emerged over how some of these companies are paying their “contractors.”

Each one of these companies facilitates a connection between an end-user and service provider with the hopes of receiving a piece of the action – the very definition of a middle man. The problem is a middle man can’t earn any money in a non-profitable endeavor, and the results are beginning to show, something that should worry anyone associated with these companies.

It Can’t be that Bad

Borrowing Money

Take Uber for example, which has a well-publicized issue with driver wages falling below, or being just above minimum wage. With labor rates so low (a goal of so many organizations), many would imagine Uber must be a highly profitable business, but according to self-reported earnings, Uber’s losses are widening, and growth is slowing. These reports are leaving some early investors wondering if they will ever see a return on their investment, with the only possible fix to the situation being a significant increase in service rates.

In other news, MoviePass’s recent spiral has also been high-publicized as it continues to restructure pricing and access for its users to shave their massive losses. The most recent changes resulting in a lower number of users on the platform and higher prices for those customers that remain, although the only metric anyone cares about is the 126 million dollars in losses.

Even Lyft, which seems to attract fewer negative public relations mentions than the previous companies, has been forced to make some changes. Since Lyft also doesn’t have a profitable structure, recent changes in minimum wage laws have forced them to raise their rates to guarantee their drivers earn a living wage.

How to Create a Death Cross

In case you haven’t noticed the trend, time vets all business models, and the fix for all of these businesses is the same – they have to raise prices. The problem is most of their users have been acquired based on the price point of the service, not on its quality; therefore, the inevitable result of raising prices is a decrease in users.

It’s quite simple when you boil it down to most simple mathematical elements. On the hand, you have the price of the service, and on the other, you have the number of user on the platform. As the price goes up, the number of users comes down, and at some point, these two lines will overlap creating the “Gig Economy Death Cross.”

Death Cross

The Gig Economy Death Cross represents a sobering reality for these business models. At its core, it’s the maximum rate they can charge for their service before the user loss becomes unreasonable, and the resulting evaluation will determine if the company is dead on arrival.

Take the dollar amount at the point of intersection, multiply it by the number of users to estimate the revenue earned, and then subtract the company’s expenses. If the resulting number is in the red, I suggest you start polishing up that resume.

It’s always convenient for believers in these businesses to argue that an evaluation of this kind is too simplistic, we would counter by illustrating most of the business community’s longest standing principles are along these lines. Beliefs like, supply and demand, or word-of-mouth is the best advertising, have long stood the test of time, so it’s hard for us to comprehend how something like needing to generate more money than you spend could have slipped through the cracks.

Please leave any comments or questions about this post in the section below.

 

 

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Top Ten Tips: SEO Edition #7

SEO Tip 7

I often find it a bit depressing that opportunities in life are often dictated by who you know, and it didn’t make me feel any better when I learned that SEO is beholden to the same standard. To say that SEO Tip #8 and this one are entangled would be an understatement, as SEO Tip #8, if only for a brief moment, foreshadowed what was to come when it mentioned “link building” as a part of a successful SEO strategy. But a short paragraph won’t suffice for how important this aspect of SEO is, so this post is the full follow-up to that mention.

Link Building in Layman’s Terms

Chain Links

The easiest way to understand link building is by framing it as a metaphor for a letter of recommendation. When you’re searching for a new job or generally trying to build your resume, a letter of recommendation from a well-established individual, who holds higher prestige in your field goes a long way towards validating your claims of qualification for a particular position. Link building revolves around this concept.

At its core, a link from another website is a letter of recommendation from that site. Link building is about collecting as many letters of recommendations and referrals from other websites, whose influence and prowess are already established, as possible. The higher the ranking of the site providing the referral link, the more “equity” it carries to your site, which is why it’s important not to waste it with poor SEO strategies.

What makes link building so hard for the DIY, SEO crowd is the amount of footwork involved in obtaining these links. Did you really think it was going to be easy to convince a significant online player to post a link to your website? I bet you did because most people think it’s generally straightforward to accomplish, but in reality, it takes a massive amount of convincing, as established websites are well-aware they are putting their reputation on the line through the affiliation that link provides. So before you ask Google to link back to your website, maybe you should start with a list of easier targets.

Adding Links in Directories

SEO

The easiest way accomplish building your first set of links is by making sure you’re accurately listing your business in all of the relevant directories. Online directories are the digital equivalent of phonebooks (look it up Millennials), and registering your company in them is an easy way to establish some website links while also leveraging the existing online traffic of those sites.

While the links may be easy to obtain, this process will also be an introduction to the amount of legwork it takes to be a successful link builder. There are about ten directories you absolutely have to be in, and each one requires the business owner to complete a sign-up process, list out the company’s geographical information, upload a logo and pictures, write a description, etc. Here’s the list of the directories we find to be the most useful:

  1. Yelp
  2. Angie’s List (when applicable)
  3. YP (Yellow Pages)
  4. Manta
  5. Better Business Bureau
  6. City Squares
  7. USDirectory.com
  8. Local.com
  9. Merchant Circle
  10. EZlocal.com

 

Listing your business in most of the previously mentioned directories is free, but some require payment, and others have a premium tier of listing available. If you manage to get yourself through all ten and are somehow still in the mood for more tedious work to increase your online presence, you can acquire even more links through premium listings and industry-specific directories for your particular business category.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Services

I’ll be honest; most people aren’t up to the task of managing all of these directory listings. The number of usernames and logins alone is enough to drive a sane person mad. There are some subscription services available that manage these listings on your behalf, but it seems like a bit of a ripoff to pay a monthly fee for something that you should only need to do once, and then update annually. If you’re interested, the most popular service is probably Yext, but if you’re going to pay someone for search engine marketing, you might as well get a full package to make it worth your while.

Link building is only one aspect of SEM, and RTR Digital offers it as a part of a larger package that also includes more advanced webmaster techniques, like Google My Business and Bing/Yahoo Listings. When combined with social media management services, RTR Digital provides one of the most well rounded SEO/SEM packages available. If you’re interested in our SEO offerings and would like to start by taking advantage for of our free SEO evaluation offer you can contact us here.

Also, if you would like a full list of our SEO tips before they are released on our blog, you can find them here.

Feel free to leave any questions or comments regarding this post in the comments section, and start a meaningful conversation that could help your company breakthrough in the search engine results pages.

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