Wednesday 27 February 2008

Hypnotism or Truth???

I was sitting in my office, alone, as others had gone out for lunch. I didn't want to as wasn't feeling hungry enough and also - everybody going out together meant shutters to be brought down. So - I was holding the fort till others came in.

In a moment I saw two sardarji's just coming in - they looked like the ones who move around collecting 'chanda'. I shrugged and told them that I had nothing to give and thought to myself that the sooner I can get rid of them - the better.

It didn't take long for one of them to start talking about me (yes, about me and not to me)...he rattled out a few of my characteristics (which could have been pure fluke) and then - from thin air he plucks out an incident of my past that not many would know!!!

I was shocked, amazed, confused, impressed...all of it leading me to offering them a seat, which they gladly accepted. Now, this guruji (as referred to by his companion) was on a roll...but all this while he didn't touch my past again. Told me sugar-coated things about my future - gave me a date as well, which shall be significant for me.

I did hear all, to be honest I was truly listening. All this despite my self-proclaimed logical brain telling me not to pay attention, not to take it any forward, not to allow them to sit there and be in office anymore...but I was ignoring my own conscience, I was not being myself!!! In the end, not only did I pay them Rs. 201 but also gave them a promise of Rs. 1100 on the birth of my son (which I am to be blessed with according to this guruji).

When all of this was over, my colleagues had also come in by now, I thought all over it and felt pathetic for having fallen for something like this. I didn't know why I went with the flow and ended up with two hundred rupees less in my anyway poor wallet. There were different views floating in my office regarding this incident...some said I was duped, some said these were tantriks and I was partially hypnotised to follow their instructions being conscious all the time...there was another view, all that they said could be true as well.

I don't know what it was, I don't even know whether I am happy or sad about it. Probably I am a little scared to know that there is a possibility of partial / complete hypnotism. What I know is that their mind power was stronger than mine. Well - thankfully this experience was not anymore expensive than a movie and snacks at in the end - was a good one!

Friday 22 February 2008

Internet start-ups and E-commerce

For sometime now I have been associated with internet, professionally. From selling broadband connections to now being a part of an internet start-up. Had it not been the latter, I would have remained one of those who felt that internet = entertainment.

Things are different now, having put in a year in an internet start-up, I have been a part of many projects including website build, maintenance, rebuild (improvents to previous versions), photography sessions and marketing. All this has given me an exposure towards internet that I had never imagined!

From just regular once-in-a-while logging on, I am online almost through the day...from just checking my e-mails and chatting, I have subscribed to various RSS feeds...from downloading porn to purchasing lingerie for my wife! With this new found love for internet - I have also started respecting it more and it is becoming a part of life!

In this post - I would like to talk about an interesting question that I had come across nearly couple of months back. The question was: there are many start-ups in this field, but not many are e-commerce models. There is a huge number that is going towards social networking, job-sites, information - but how many are truly selling products (not services) online? Not many...but why? This question, though asked by someone I didn't know then - but I realised it is something that I have been thinking about for sometime myself. I want to discuss this with you as well...

First, let me give you some numbers (that I have read in recent past) - IRCTC does nearly 50,000 transactions daily, about 80% airline tickets are bought online, movie tickets along with tickets for concerts are picking up in online sales...but how many plain white shirts sold on the internet or how many mobiles were sold online - well these are relatively small in numbers or not known in public.

What it tells me is - we Indians are not averse to using credit cards and are becoming more confident of security of credit card details when used online. This is evident from soaring business that Travel companies are doing. Then the question becomes - what stops consumers to go online and purchase other products? And is this question the reason why there are not many e-commerce start-ups selling products in India.

Is touch and feel such a big deterrent that when it comes to products that can be seen, held, felt - they have literally no or few takers online? Or can we say that India has not become so busy that shopping is still an activity for which we want to get out of our homes and convenience is really not an advantage? I somehow am not convinced that Indian are still averse to using credit cards online!

Do give your feedback and comments - I will appreciate it deeply. Thanks.

Pay per Click - my understanding till date!

PPC Campaigns and their Utility:

Pay Per Click (PPC) is a promotional tool, a form of advertising that is different in its approach, in its promise and the way it delivers that promise.

In regular media advertising one can ensure where their ads appear (page / position on a page or channel / serial on a channel). Also frequency of inserts or spots can be pre-decided. This kind of specification comes at a cost. The good part is if you pay the cost then you can be assured of both, where your ad appears and how many times it appears. Things are more specific in this scenario. But, there is another view to all of it – which brings in huge amount of uncertainty and just near-accurate assumptions. And the element that brings in uncertainty is – what is the true OTS (opportunity to see) and the response generated for any campaign?

As compared to regular media advertising, PPC is a new media promotional tool. Search Engines, like Google, Yahoo and MSN – all have started this as revenue generation feature. These advertisements appear along with search results. Search Engines allow geographic targeting as well and this lets you be specific in showing your ad to those localities / towns / countries that your target audience comes from. With these features PPC has become popular with various online merchants because it allows them to ensure a link to their web shop and that too at a preferred position – for people searching on particular keywords. This is not just a link into the web shop, but a link to a preferred part of it.

There are some fundamental differences that PPC comes with – biggest of them all is that this form of advertising charges for the response generated and gives an account of each and every click (along with more reliable OTS data). Now, operationally, it is a bidding-based position game. Highest bidder on any particular keyword, for per-click charge, is the highest ranked advertisement. But this rank can change in a matter of seconds, when a competitor decides to out-bid the previous highest bid. Bids start as low as 15pence per click and then can go up to anything, as long as there are bidders ready to spend. Advertising through this is more dynamic and can be redefined as we can change our ads, the bids, the keywords – all this while the ad is live.

There are a few important statistics to follow for analysing PPC campaigns (all are over a period of time chosen by you):

Clicks: this is the number of people who have clicked on your advertisement. This number of visitors came into your web shop through the PPC route.
Impressions: this is the number of times keywords selected are searched on and your ad has appeared. The rank or placement is irrespective for impressions. Whether browsers see your ad or not is also irrelevant here. In other words, this is OTS.
Click through Rate (CTR): this is a percentage of clicks to impressions, i.e. how many people clicked on your ad versus how many had the chance to see your ad. Higher the CTR better is your conversion at getting people to enter your web shop.
Avg. Position: This shows what is the average rank or position that your ad has had. Again, the higher your ad’s Avg. Position the better as this can significantly improve CTR for your ad.
Cost per Click (CPC): this is the average cost of each click that you are being charged.

These statistics have to be combined with data that you can get from one of the analytics, some of the important ones are:

Visits: this number tells you how many people came to your shop (should ideally be more than or equal to Clicks on your ad)
Bounce Rate: this is a percentage of people who did come in but for what ever reason just went away, without clicking anywhere else. They just saw one page, the landing page. The lower is this percentage the better is stickiness on your site.
Pages per Visit: this is the number of pages that are being viewed by a visitor as an average. The higher this number more the chances that those many of your products are being viewed.
% New Visits: this is the number that tells you how many new visitors have come into your shop. Conversely – you can find out how many repeat visitors have come, a figure important to check visitor loyalty (also whether your site has what it takes to get someone to come back).
Some must do’s for a PPC campaign:

It is very important to create a budget for this exercise. Budget can be at three levels – the overall campaign’s time span, a daily budget and bid on keywords. Campaign level budget is to ensure you don’t over spend than what you would want to, daily budget can help you space out total campaign budget over a period of time. Bid for keywords have a dual purpose, one – to get your ad a preferred rank / position and second – it also ensures your daily budget does not get eaten up by fewer visitors than what you could have got.

Get your target audience well defined. This helps you in not only geo-targeting but also in selecting the right keywords. If you want to sell a Chronograph watch and your target audience is “men, 25-40 with interest in sports” then apart from bidding on Chronograph Watch, you could select Sports Watch as a keyword. But if you were to select ‘Watch’ as a keyword – you would begin to get a lot of clicks, but most of it would have little significance for you. Thus, wasting your effort and money.

Much like any campaign, this too needs to have a purpose / a target. Whether that be getting sales or getting traffic into the shop or making an announcement. The purpose shall help you in choosing the right keywords, the right slot to advertise in and most importantly will help you decide the budgets.
Once the campaign has started, close monitoring is a must. This is important to check how your bid against that of your competitors is, for your chosen / preferred position (it is not always important to be ranked number one). Also, regular monitoring shall raise an alarm immediately if there are changes to be made, whether in your bid or text of the ad or even the landing page.

Landing page plays a crucial role in the success of your campaign. If it is the text of your ad that will get traffic in, then it the landing page that ensures people who came in are now interested and browse through your shop / products. If you observe that Bounce Rate is very high, check the relationship between keyword chosen and the landing page. If the keyword is candles and you are making people come to door-handles then be rest assured that traffic coming in = traffic bouncing off. To sum it up, it is important to plan which page is to be made the landing page for which campaign / ad / keyword, as this page decides the eventual success (or lack of it)!
Well, this is what I have undestood this far. I am sure that all of written is not a complete to demystify PPC. It is just what I have gethered in last few months and wanted to share it in open. I would appreciate if you can contribute to it and / or correct me. Thanks!

Saturday 16 February 2008

Happiness - does it come from within?

Happiness - something that has been chased by all, but means different things to different people. Way to achieve happiness and being happy have different meaning for different people.

My question is - does 'happiness' come from within and not from outside? Can you be unhappy when everything around you is supposedly good or vice-versa? If yes, does it mean that it is just another state of mind, which could actually be in our control!

I wouldn't make this post too long, nor would it sound like a preacher's session. I am just interested in throwing open this view point for a debate - why can't we decide to be happier than we are, even if our circumstances / environment / people around us / boss / salary...nothing changes. Is our happiness really at the mercy of others, are we truly so dependant? Well this is it from me...I know I am happy. I wish the same for you all. Take care and keep smiling!

Tina and Me - the love story

This post is for the most important to me - my oldest friend, my only girl-friend, my wife!

Her name is Tina for me, she is also known as Sanyukta (by her colleagues), Payal (by her granny), Giggles (by her dad & uncle)...but to me she has always been Tina - so that's what I will refer to her as.

I first met Tina in 1989 in Kanpur and must not have even registered much about her then. I was ten and she was eight...her dad got transfered to Kanpur and within a month of that, my dad got transfered out. Leaving no time for us to even know each other. But - one or two meetings back then are good enough for me to claim that I first met Tina in 1989.

We met next in 1995, in Bareilly Air Force Station. Yet again, our dad's were posted there together. This time I was in Delhi (with mum and sis), staying back for academic reasons and Tina was with her parents.

During summer vacations, I went to Bareilly to spend the vacations with dad. There I had no friends (as I was a visitor) and found one in Tina. Apparently, she had also just moved there and didn't mind spending her time with me. This time, our time spent together had more meaning than that in 1989. We had more to talk to, we had more to express. We would go out on long 'evening-walks', talk for hours and not get tired...I think this is the foundation that holds us together still.

Tina and I met many times during that month-long stay and post that we became pen-friends. I had recently been bitten by writing-bug and she responded letter-to-letter. We have never really counted how many letters did we exchange - but we have kept each one written by the other till date. The first one is dated Nov 1995, don't remember who wrote the last and when though!

The next phase of our friendship came in 1997, when dad was posted in Allahabad and she was still in Bareilly with her folks. I finished XII boards - ran to A'bad and stayed there for a month. Since A'bad and B'ly are in the same Command (CAC) and dad was heading communications for this command - I had the priviledge of free communication between these towns. Which only meant that when dad was working, I was on the phone with Tina. During one such conversation, the idea of her coming to Delhi and joining AFBBS's girls hostel came up. The only question was - who would be her Local Gaurdian in Delhi. For the smart ones - this wouldn't be difficult to imagine who it turned out to be.

Tina joined AFBBS, with my folks as her LGs and I had the responsibility to bring her home every once a month on a weekend and drop her back. I should also mention here that Tina came to Delhi conquering the X boards, scoring 90% plus, topping in her school (I think she stood 3rd in Bareilly). Coming back to the weekends, Tina and I would talk for hours, talk through the night and still be left with topics for the next time we met.

I was in college and had got my driving license. Dad had handed over his faithful Bajaj Super to me, but bought me the sexiest head-gear - a Ninja helmet! So here I was, riding a 1988 model Bajaj, with a 1998 model helmet with my would be sweet-heart as my pillion. I am still thankful to her that she never refused being my companion for a ride on my oldie scooter.

It took me a few months and a trip to Bareilly (Dec 1997) to seal the fact that I wanted to propose to her. I was eighteen and she was sixteen then. This would be the first time for me and didn't know what to do or even how to approach her. What I knew was she was indeed my best friend and that I really did want her as a 'girl-friend' not just a friend.

I resorted to my biggest strength then - letter-writing. I wrote my feelings in a letter, wrote a long letter (which was not new for me). Wrote that I knew we were too young, or that this probably was not required...but I could justify this as an experiment. I didn't know how far would we go, couldn't promise a lifetime of togetherness at that age. What I knew was that if I didn't propose to her now - I might never!

Tina got that letter around 9th Feb 1998, came over to our house on the weekend, 13th Feb and after a lot of explaining, cajoling, pleading...she said yes at mid-night! Giving me my first Valentine's Card. I held her in my arms for the first time that night.

This was exactly a decade ago...we celebrated 10th anniversary of our togetherness this year. I could not have been happier with the way things have turned out. I could not have asked for a better shape for that one experiment. I could not have asked for a better life-partner.

Tina - you are my life-line, you hold my life together. I love you loads my sugarpie!

First Attempt

This is my very first attempt at starting a blog, but not my first in writing about my thoughts. The last time I did that was in the year 2000-01, when I had to study for exams. Since I hated doing that (hated the results than the exams really), I sat down with study material and prayed to God - "help me please! let me pass this exam - next one I will study for...I PROMISE!!!" Having said this little prayer and all my previous exams' experience telling me (that God does help in clearing, a.k.a. passing, these exams) I would get to writing.

It was not only writing that I did, to make my concerned parents think that I was studying. I did all sorts of things, played book cricket, wrote letters (yes, I had pen friends and also had a long distance relationship), wrote about me - that was just for my eyes...Now, amongst all this the actual act of using pen and paper - the effort of putting words to thoughts is key.

I have always been of the opinion that I can write, i.e. write in a manner that is more than writing exams. This came to me in XI-XII std, in school when I started writing for the school magazine and it also got published (some achievement for me). School was the first and the last for me to write and see it in print.

Now, I think it is worth a try to get back to writing a little. And with that - here is my blog!