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Thursday, October 03, 2002

Don't Get Me Wrong: Some of My Best Friends Read Slashdot

Two of my closest pals - who happen to be a bit obsessed with certain technical matters - both told me that Slashdot is actually much more readable than most similar forums because the customizable noise filter encourages the better posts to filter to the top. (I think I read it before the filtering had happened.)

Anyway, obviously it's people like those prolific Slashdot posters that make all this stuff tick. When I say "all this stuff," I mean the hardware and software and graphics that make what you're doing today possible. Time to give some random credit to two developer types who just helped my day go a lot better today.

A programmer named Andy McFadden, on his own time, has given the world this incredible Usenet FAQ about rewritable CD's. Truly helpful.

And I can't help but mention this handy new HTML editor I came across. I've been a user of Allaire Homesite for some time, but I don't really need all of its features, since I am truly a "lite" coder generally operating within the confines of a CMS of some sort. The creator of Homesite, Nick Bradbury now has his own independent product called TopStyle. The trial version offers 25 uses. And they even have a "lite" version that is always free. I've been through numerous lite HTML editors on this quest, and haven't liked any of them very much. I'm glad I found this one. Those of us in the intermediate-web-page-creation camp who need a great web page creation tool, who don't want something that holds their hand too much or has way too many features, shouldn't have to use Notepad!!

It should be mentioned that Bradbury is advertising TopStyle using Google AdWords Select - and I probably would have been less likely to find him if he hadn't been. Who says people don't click on these ads?

Posted by Andrew
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Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Just Shoot Me: I've Been Cited on Slashdot

You really don't want one of your articles to be cited on Slashdot.

My editorial "An End to Metatags" - which, incidentally, received a favorable note from SE guru Danny Sullivan in this month's Search Engine Report - was the subject of the usual interminable Slashdot discussion.

I'm grateful to the 5% of posters who actually gave me some credit for having half a brain and actually reading my articles. The rest, however, chose to ignore what I wrote. One developer said that metatags are still useful for purposes like refreshes. Yes, to be sure, and because I was specifically referring to keyword and description metatags, I concluded my second article with: "Metatags as we know them today - I refer specifically to the meta keyword and meta description tags inserted into the head of an HTML document - don't factor into this future." Did I say anything about freakin' meta refresh tags?

I also made the point that metadata is useful in closed, less-spoofable environments, and for the purposes of site search and corporate intranet info retrieval. Didn't matter, Slashdot's resident geniuses felt compelled to explain all of that to me as well. You have to laugh! The only other place you can go to have your work so wildly mistreated is to an academic conference. Unlike Slashdotters, though, academics have read more than a paragraph of something or other, even if not the work they're currently criticizing.

I hereby sentence Slashdotters to present their latest beta to an unreceptive crowd at the next annual meeting of the Society for Postmodern Dog Semiotics.

Posted by Andrew
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Google's Canadian Sales Office Makes the (Google) News

Today Google announced the appointment of Wendy Mueller as Head of Canadian Advertising and Sales. It's a big day for Google in Canada, with VP of Advertising Tim Armstrong slated to give the keynote address to the Canadian Marketing Association conference in Toronto.

Mike Mayzel of Google was nice enough to introduce me to Wendy Mueller this morning. One of the first things she asked me was what I thought of the new Google News Search. This reminded me that I really should have a closer look at this. Many industry oldtimers, me included, probably have mixed feelings on the new offering, since pioneers like Moreover have contributed so much on this front ... will Google take over everything? But the bottom line of course is performance. Does this tool do the trick? And just as important, will it catch on with the mainstream of well-educated users?

The answer is without a doubt yes on both counts. Like FAST and Moreover, Google News scans thousands of topical sources and brings up recent relevant headlines. I don't know if I'm qualified to to a head-to-head comparison. All three work very well and have similar features.

I tried a search of "Google Canada" to see if today's "Toronto PR day" was already showing up in the results. So far, only one story introducing Ms. Mueller as head of the Canadian sales operation. By tomorrow, Google hopes, items from the National Post, Globe and Mail, and marketing industry publications will also show up here.

I would like to see either Google or Moreover make a stronger contribution to My Yahoo! since that's the tool I use for daily news. My Yahoo! offers a range of news sources, but compared with the state of the art, it seems like a bit of a fossil.

Posted by Andrew
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Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Paid Inclusion Murk, Continued

Stefanie Olsen, CNET, tells the AltaVista story better than I can.

Posted by Andrew
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AltaVista: Trusted Feed Does NOT Guarantee Higher Rankings

AltaVista got back to me yesterday to clarify their position. Their PR rep, Joanne Sperans Hartzell, issued a statement, part of which read:

AltaVista does not promise preferential placement nor guarantee higher inclusion in the index to participants in either its Express Inclusion or Trusted Feed programs. As is the case with other search engine inclusion programs, participation in AltaVista's inclusion programs simply guarantees frequent spidering and inclusion in the index -- not position.

Inclusion participants' sites may be spidered more frequently in order toensure that they are included in the global index, but this does not ensure higher placements. Any claims to the contrary are erroneous. AltaVista regrets any miscommunications made about its policies, and is taking action to ensure that no such future claims are made on the company's behalf. We greatly appreciate your notifying us of your experience so that we can address the matter. We have determined the source of this misinformation and are taking appropriate action to ensure that no such misrepresentation be repeated. The person who contacted you was new to selling this service, and apparently misunderstood the weighting process used to rank data sources where there are no links from other sites (one of the factors in our relevancy algorithm).

AltaVista has done the right thing and made their policy crystal clear. But one is still left to wonder what might have transpired if this double message had not been challenged. It's easy enough to toggle between a formal policy and a wink-wink actual policy, depending on who you're talking to. As one industry watcher had to say:

"AV can clarify all they want, but someone is lying to someone. Wouldn't surprise me if trusted feed DID actually get a boost.

"I can picture this:

"3 people in the room...AV sales rep, trusted feed potential customer, reporter.

"AV rep says to reporter, 'oh no, there's no boost in the rankings!'

"Reporter turns his/her head for a moment, and AV rep winks to the potential client and nods head up and down as if to say, 'yes, there really is, but you know we have to keep those reporters at bay.'

"I'm sure that's the TRUE story."

Paid inclusion is inherently ambiguous. On one hand, those offering it never formally guarantee higher rankings. On the other hand, corporate clients are more likely to pay for inclusion if they read between the lines and think that they're going to get a boost in rankings. How many companies truly feel it's worth paying fo "regular respidering"? Regular respidering and 1.65 will get you a tall Kenya blend at Starbucks. Paying advertisers generally need quantifiable streams of qualified traffic, not vague stuff like "inclusion." So if someone in the sales force comes up with the bright idea of *implying* that you get higher rankings for participating in the Trusted Feed program... well you can see how tempting it might be to just look the other way.

Anyway, AltaVista, good job on 'fessing up.

Danny Sullivan offers his quick take here at Search Engine Watch.

Posted by Andrew
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Monday, September 30, 2002

LookSmart: Fact or Fiction, or "Should I Eat that Crispy Chicken?"

When it comes to LookSmart, one of the top three directories on the web and still the best way to get high placement on MSN Search, the most pressing questions on webmasters’ minds seem to be: (i) will they stay in business? and (ii) should I do business with them?

Many small businesses and industry consultants have already made up their mind on (ii). Since LookSmart changed their pricing model to "pay, pay more, and pay yet again some more" from the former paid inclusion (one-time-only) model, many have stated they'll refuse to do business with LookSmart, and will warn their clients against it as well. At fifteen cents per click for targeted traffic, this means a lot of businesses are consciously making a decision to pass something up that might be advantageous to them or their clients in order to show their displeasure with LookSmart’s recent policy changes.

But is this de facto LookSmart boycott all it’s cracked up to be? This wouldn't be the first time a boycott has failed….

[The full version of this article appears in the current (Oct. 2) issue of the quarterly Page Zero Advisor, my new subscriber-only newsletter. To become a three-year charter subscriber, visit the following link and pay $49 for my special report on Google Adwords: Crispy chicken not included. Cole slaw sold separately.]

Posted by Andrew
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