How To Internet Market: YouTube, Santa, and Canadian Airspace

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!

There are a lot of ways to associate your product with a holiday, and if you can successfully do that, the holiday can drive huge amounts of sales. Examples include Elf on a Shelf, eating KFC on Christmas (in Japan, it’s a widespread tradition to eat KFC fried chicken on Christmas), and the Disney parade on Christmas.

But my favorite example of Internet marketing over Christmas is NORAD Tracks Santa, located at NORAD stands for North American Aerospace Defense Command – it’s a joint military command between American and Canadian militaries to protect the skies over both countries. Every year, the website above tracks Santa as he goes around the world delivering presents.

Now you may say: wait a minute, NORAD isn’t selling a product or service, this isn’t an example of marketing. Marketing is far more than just selling a product or service; it also includes burnishing a brand, or building greater awareness of an organization. In this case, I’m using marketing in the context of how NORAD uses NORAD Tracks Santa to build greater public awareness of its mission, and to burnish its reputation. That last part – burnishing reputation – can be helpful for government agencies, especially when asking for funding from Congress.

The NORAD Tracks Santa website is really neat – if you look at it Christmas Eve night, you see an animation of Santa flying over a world map (the world map is provided by Microsoft Bing). Here’s an example screenshot:

A screenshot of the NORAD Tracks Santa page on Christmas Eve.

The reason I love NORAD Tracks Santa as a great example of Internet marketing is how it seamlessly blends marketing, education, and the holidays in one package. For instance, look at this video from the NORAD Tracks Santa page:

A screenshot from one of the Santa-tracking videos on NORAD Tracks Santa. The video embedded on the page is hosted by YouTube. Click on the picture to go to the full video.

The YouTube video embedded on the page goes to here: – go ahead and watch it. Pay close attention to what it says and more importantly, what it does not say.

Here’s a transcript of the video’s narrator if you can’t watch the video:

NORAD is receiving reports that Santa’s sleigh is moving north toward Canadian airspace from the Mid-Atlantic. CF-18 Hornets from the Royal Canadian Air Force are escorting Santa through Canadian airspace. As part of Operation Noble Eagle – NORAD’s mission to safeguard North American skies – CF-18s maintain a constant state of alert, ready to respond immediately to potential threats to the homelands. Santa and his reindeer certainly pose no threat but he can rest easy knowing that the NORAD team has the watch ensuring safe travels across North America.

NORAD Tracks Santa, NTS Santa CAM – Canadian Air Force

Consider how well the marketing is done here. There’s a education element at play (explaining Operation Noble Eagle), a marketing element (associating NORAD with the holidays, which is a positive association) and the entertainment element of watching Santa be escorted by fighter jets.

But also consider what is not said in the video and merely implied. The viewer sees the fighter jets smoothly move into an escort position, implying experience and professionalism in regards to the fighter pilots and the NORAD organization as a whole. The viewer sees the fighters soar across mountainous and ice-covered lands, implying the hard and difficult job of the organization.

Let’s try another example – here is a video of NORAD tracking Santa through Massachusetts:

A screenshot of NORAD Tracks Santa. The video is embedded from YouTube and covers how NORAD tracks Santa through the Massachusetts area. Click the picture to see the full video on YouTube. The red dot at the center of the yellow beam is not a tracking target; it’s Rudolph the Reindeer’s lighted red nose.

The above screenshot embeds the following video, which tracks Santa as he passes over the Cape Cod Air Force Station: . I recommend watching it, but here’s a transcript if you can’t:

NORAD was notified by Air Force Space Command that their PAVE phased-array warning system – early warning radar known as PAVE PAWS at Cape Cod Air Force Station Massachusetts – is tracking Santa on his way from the US to South America. This radar is not only capable of detecting ballistic missile attacks and conducting general Space Surveillance and satellite tracking, but at this time of year the PAVE PAWS station keeps an eye on Santa as he flies over the Atlantic toward the Western Hemisphere.

NTS Santa Cam English Ground Station at Cape Cod

Again, note the educational aspects of the video (what PAVE PAWS stands for and what it does), the marketing aspects of the video (associating NORAD and the Air Force with the holiday season) and the entertainment element of watching Santa.

But again consider what is not said. The video implies professionalism (someone is manning the station at night on a holiday) and security (someone is on the watch for possible threats).

The Takeaway

NORAD Tracks Santa is a masterpiece of marketing done right. Consider adding similar elements to your online marketing strategy, such as a simple game, amusing videos, and educational content discussing your organization’s mission.

Finance, Google, and Plex

I remarked in a previous blog post about how Google is diversifying their income by moving into financial products. Today sees the launch of Plex, a way to manage bank accounts, offers, and (soon) to open bank accounts.

Google launching waitlist for Plex, its new banking app.

This Verge article goes more in depth about Plex; the part I find most interesting is this sentence:

But Google is also ramping up other ways to pay with this app. Underneath People and Businesses are a couple of new buttons: “Get gas” and “Order food.” The food option ties into Google’s existing food ordering system that is compatible with enough systems for the company to claim it works with over 100,000 restaurants. You’ll also be able to pay for gas or parking directly in the app…

Extracted from

What I find interesting about Google Plex is that it’s a huge expansion of Google’s business: it moves Google more into the consumer realm such as into financial management and payments (competing with Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, Mint), into food ordering (competing with GrubHub) and gas (competing with many loyalty programs). If Plex succeeds, it could mean a many multi-billion dollar business, even larger than the Google Cloud Platform business unit.

Fun With Google Trends: AP CS Edition

I was amused at this recent Slashdot posting: Google Searches For ‘Java’ Spiked During Friday’s Online AP CS Exam. Slashdot includes this interesting chart, showing traffic trends for Java searches peaking around the time of the AP CS test:

Credit: Slashdot

Apparently the first AP CS question was about java.util.ArrayList, and the Google Trends chart for ArrayList shows the same bump on Friday (this chart shows the search interest for ArrayList over the last 3 months):

Credit: Google Trends

It’s always fun to see how Google’s search volume changes depending on external events. Try looking at Google Trends whenever a major event occurs and watch the keywords people use.

Tinkering With WP-CLI, Google Cloud, and BlueHost

I’ve been spending the last few days wrapping the WP-CLI application – a command line program to automate the administration of WordPress installations – inside a Java app so I can automate some WordPress work. One of the major bottlenecks was fixing up the correct SSH string to connect to the various WordPress providers.

Initially I was having a bit of difficulty because I misread the wp-cli documentation and I thought the –user argument was the SSH username. When I got that fixed, it turns out that some WordPress hosting services, such as BlueHost, require you to contact their support to activate SSH. I had to connect my application to multiple WordPress hosting services, but in this post I’ll use BlueHost as an example since they’re fairly representative of the work I had to go through.

In BlueHost’s case, having support activate SSH support was a surprisingly painless process – it only took a quick 5 minute text chat where I verified my email address. To build out the proper SSH command, I also needed to look at details provided by cPanel:

Click to expand.

All the information you need to build the SSH string is in the General Information section in the above screenshot. Your SSH string should look like this:

php wp-cli.phar plugin list --ssh=<CURRENT_USER>@<SHARED_IP_ADDRESS>:2222/<HOME_DIRECTORY>/public_html --debug

The BlueHost account I’m using as an example is a shared WordPress account, so it listed a shared IP. Make sure to double check the port number (2222 in the above code sample) – the usual SSH port is 22, but BlueHost uses 2222 for shared accounts. Note that I’ve listed an additional folder under the user home directory; the home directory path only takes you to the user’s home directory, but wp-cli needs the path to the WordPress installation, which is usually under another folder (in this case /public_html/ ).

Why You Need To Buy Google Ads – GrubHub Edition

An incredibly thought-provoking article showed up today, written by a current restaurant owner – but one that has experience in technology circles. I strongly recommend reading it: .

Obviously the top-line theme is how GrubHub and DoorDash take a large proportion of the monies from online orders. But there is a lesser theme that I want to emphasize which is easy to lose in the outrage. Quoted from the article:

DoorDash pays Google an advertising fee to steal customers that are searching for our restaurant name “Saddleback BBQ” and they are redirecting them to their own page. From there a customer can purchase from any BBQ restaurant in Lansing…


Here’s the takeaway: While SEO is important, it’s not the end of the line. You could be the top result for your keywords, for your own business name (which was the case for this BBQ restaurant), and competitors will still take business away from you by running ads on your own name. This shows the power of a Google ad, especially an ad within Google’s Knowledge Panel (the side panel that provides contextual information).

That’s why it’s so critical to buy Google Ads on even searches you’re the top result in: to get rid of competitor ads that are trying to redirect business that should be yours. It might sound like a lot of extra money to spend, but as long as you provide a interesting landing page for the user the additional cost should not be too much.

One of the recurring themes I like to touch on with this site is how important ads revenue is to Google. As Google optimizes their search to show more local and “hyperlocal” content, more space will open up to show ads. Businesses will have a choice: buy up those ad slots, or their competitors will.

That’s why you need to be buying Google ads.

Acquisition Thoughts

Lately we’ve seen some aggressive moves by Microsoft to pick up developer mind-share. The purchase of GitHub was the opening salvo, but Microsoft made a number of smaller moves recently as well: private repositories available for free on GitHub (previously you needed a student or paid account to have private repos), the acquisition of NPM (Javascript package manager and registrar), and GitHub Actions: a way to automate developer workflows – similar to a developer focused version of IFTTT/Zapier. Part of the new GitHub Actions makes it easier and faster to deploy code on Microsoft Azure.

Recently GitHub announced a huge drop of new features, the most important of which is Codespaces (an online IDE) and Discussions (a place to host community discussions). It’s clear to everyone that Microsoft is playing the long game in its war against Amazon Web Services: Microsoft is buying up developer mindshare, making it easier and faster to discuss, manage, and deploy applications on Microsoft services.

This leaves Google’s cloud platform in a difficult bind: how to compete against all these offerings? AWS is by far the market leader in the cloud game, with Microsoft in a strong 2nd place position and having strong Enterprise-size deployment credentials, plus increasing ownership of the development process. We’re beginning to see Google’s counter moves: recently they announced the release of a code editor within Cloud Shell. Here’s a screenshot as of today:

Screenshot of Google Cloud Shell’s code editor. Admittedly it’s a bit boring – it’s not as fully featured as AWS’s Cloud9 online IDE.

The bottom line is, Google Cloud needs to start opening up its checkbook if they want to compete with the options Microsoft and Amazon are developing/purchasing. Here’s a couple of companies I think Google should seriously consider purchasing:

  1. GitLab – GitLab is the perfect counter to Microsoft’s purchase of GitHub; GitLab includes the social coding aspect of GitHub, plus automated integration tools to compete with GitHub Actions
  2. An online IDE – There are a number of online IDEs available. I’ve been trying out a number of them and personally, I quite like GitPod.
  3. AI Services – Google needs something to differentiate its cloud platform compared to Microsoft Azure and AWS. An interesting play would be to lead the burgeoning AI industry. There are a number of players in this space, but a good starting acquisition would be Diffbot – it supplies APIs for structured extraction of text from a webpage and understanding context.

Some other acquisitions that I think make sense, especially in light of the current economic troubles driving down valuations:

  1. A note service to enhance GSuite. Google Keep exists, but it’s not as advanced as Evernote.

    With a $1 billion valuation, Evernote may be too expensive to purchase, but there are a number of smaller competitors that still provide a great note-taking experience. A good example would be Notion.
  2. AirTable. I’m surprised that nobody has acquired AirTable yet – it’s a marvelous new take on how spreadsheets and databases can be visualized.
  3. Automation tooling. Services such as IFTTT, Zapier, Integromat, are the “glue” that can connect disparate services together. For instance, you can configure a new WordPress post to be saved to Google Drive/Dropbox – or any of hundreds of different web services.

    A purchase of IFTTT or similar service immediately buys integration into many different web services, plus allows a deeper integration into Google products. Imagine making it easier to share your favorite YouTube clip to any social media you have.

Googlebot Cannot Scroll; Infinite Scroll Doesn’t Help SEO

I saw a fascinating article in today’s Search Engine Journal: Google’s Martin Splitt Explains Why Infinite Scroll Causes SEO Problems. Read it for some background information, but the bottom line is that Googlebot (the Google web crawler/indexer) does not scroll web pages, which means that any content exposed via infinite scroll is not indexed.

Infinite scroll can also cause other problems: some screenshot browser addons and services have difficulties rendering infinite scroll web pages. It’s easy to love infinite scroll as a user since it gives the illusion of infinite content, but it can be a nightmare for automated services.

The fix: Make sure that all content on a web site can be accessed without using the infinite scroll function. Also, send Google a sitemap so it knows where all the valid URLs are: .

A Google Credit Card?

TechCrunch is covering an upcoming Google product, a debit card under the umbrella of Google Pay. `

Branded credit cards bring in a surprising amount of money – the Apple credit card is projected to earn Apple $1 billion annually with very little risk. I think it’s notable that this is a debit card and not a credit card – a debit card charges purchases against a checking account (in other words, money is there before you make your purchase) while credit card purchases are essentially a short term loan. By making it a debit card, Google reduces their risk by requiring that consumers already have money in their checking accounts to charge against. Additionally, Google and its partner bank earn interest on that checking account’s balance.

This is another way of diversifying Google’s income stream away from Ads; I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the Google credit link to benefits on other Google properties – for example, free or discounted YouTube premium, discounted Google Home devices, etc.

RSS: YouTube Channel Feeds

I’ve remarked before about how I love Newsblur as a replacement for Google Reader. But Newsblur can also watch for new YouTube videos via YouTube RSS feeds!

RSS support is not always clearly advertised on YouTube, but it’s simple to access. In NewsBlur, right click a folder and select Add A Site To This Folder:

Newsblur screenshot: add a new site to this folder.

Then just insert the YouTube channel URL, and NewsBlur should load the newest YouTube videos!

Add a New Site option in NewsBlur

This is a quick and easy way for me to monitor a lot of YouTube channels at once.

Time Magazine: Google Maps Memory Lane

Quite a few articles are making the rounds this weekend about people finding their deceased loved ones on Google Maps. Here’s one from Time Magazine: Viral Story Is Leading People Down the Sweetest Google Maps Memory Lane. Similar stories are available on CNN and Buzzfeed.

I love these types of articles – finding unexpected uses of technology to connect closer with family and friends. What I think really sells this application of Google Maps is that these are pictures of people in the middle of their everyday lives – they’re not posed, or idealized.