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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

More Meaningless Metrics?

The numbers reported by comScore Media Metrix's "new" search traffic measurement service (qSearch) seem to be the meeting with healthy scepticism from some observers (and, of course, comScore's competitors).

My issue with the numbers is that they seem to be bending over backwards to give Yahoo a favorable rating. I will leave you to speculate as to why they might do this. The claim that "Yahoo’s domestic leadership is driven primarily by the strength of its channel offerings, such as Yahoo! Finance and Yahoo! Yellow Pages" raises a red flag. Who told comScore to go and include those channels in their methodology? Is it 100% clear what is being measured? Is Yahoo actually getting too much credit as a search property for the normal activity that might be associated with content channels within a busy "portal"? Did comScore measure activity on Google's other channels, like Google Groups, Google News, Froogle, etc.? Perhaps even more importantly, to what extent are users willing to continue using Yahoo Search because it is powered by, well, Google?

Some other metrics seem contrived, as well. Before April 28, I had never heard of the "visitor-to-searcher conversion ratio." Sounds impressive, right? It puts Infospace's Dogpile and Metacrawler properties in a nice position of well-deserved leadership. And no doubt it is a stab at MSN, which enjoys a lot of visits from confused Internet Explorer users. But the fact of "converting" a visitor to a search engine site to a visitor who actually performs at least one keyword search is like calculating the ratio of high school students attending at least one class to students who enter the school on a given day. More meaningful info in that context would be whether the learning converts to high test scores. And in the e-commerce arena, at least from the search engine marketer's standpoint, anything short of knowing how many of those searchers convert to sales constitutes inconclusive data.

Oddly, then, small boutique "marketing laboratory" consultancies such as MarketingExperiments.com and Drilling Down seem to do a much better job of studying metrics with "teeth" than the established metrics agencies do.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, April 28, 2003

Search Engine Blog's PPC Series Comes to a Close

Part 5 of 5 has been posted. Hats off to Peter at SearchEngineBlog.com for an excellent roundtable discussion with several PPC industry experts, including our very own Editor, Andrew Goodman.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo Unite to Crush Spam

After letting the problem fester for years unfettered, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo announced a coalition to liberate the people of the world from the tyranny of "e-mail of mass distraction."

It's about time, too, especially since a large part of the problem had been caused by AOL Mail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail and the ease with which spammers are able to abuse those mail systems.

Alas, I doubt much will come of it, but I must remain hopeful. When you're dealing with hundreds and hundreds of mass e-mail sent every day by unscrupulous losers with plenty of ingenuity and zero morals, it's difficult to do much to slow them down. They'll undoubtedly devise some clever way around the new practices.

Still, this development is promising. It looks like these companies are going to make it harder for people to register anonymously and send mass e-mail to others. There are several other interesting parts to this alignment, and it's worth looking into. So, if you're a spam sufferer like me, be sure to read up on it!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Wall Street Gets Nailed Over Internet Stock Fraud

From CNNMoney:

"An investigation into wrongdoing on Wall Street climaxed Monday when 10 securities firms agreed to pay $1.4 billion and change the way they conduct business by separating stock market research from investment banking....

Two analysts who followed boom-and-bust sectors of the late 1990s were named. Henry Blodget, who covered Internet stocks for Merrill Lynch, and Jack Grubman, a telecom analyst at Salomon Smith Barney, have been barred from the business. Blodget will pay $4 million to settle the charges against him; Grubman is handing over $15 million."

Wow. Good things do happen to bad people!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Sunday, April 27, 2003

The Keyword Sandbox: A Quick Way to Get Keyword Suggestions for AdWords

You may already know about Overture's free Search Term Suggestion tool, which you can access at a direct URL without having to log in and type in that 4-digit code. But did ya know that Google has one, too? I just stumbled upon the Keyword Sandbox, and it certainly helps with the brainstorming when I'm too darn lazy to log in!

WordTracker's got more features and works wonders and all, but when you want to get quick ideas, these tools are pretty handy.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Saturday, April 26, 2003

"Push Technology" Gone Wild

Ever drop by your favorite weblog only to be disappointed to find no new posts? Well, suffer no longer you lazy buffoon! You don't have to check your favorite weblogs every day, especially the ones that post on an irregular schedule.

Simply register freely at TrackEngine and be notified when your selected sites post new content. So give those Favorites a rest and make TrackEngine fetch the good stuff! I'm starting to use it for lots of sites, not just weblogs, so I can have the content "pushed" to me. There are other services like this, but several of them charge a fee. TrackEngine is free -- for now -- and it actually sends you the entire page you want tracked and highlights the changed portions!

All this wacky push technology reminds me of a song...

In the year 5555
Your arms are hanging limp at your sides
Your legs not nothing to do
Some machine is doing that for you


Ah, if only I could live that long. Arms are overrated anyhow...

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Friday, April 25, 2003

SARS Leaving Emotional Scars

A gas main explosion, caused by a late night backhoe miscalculation on a construction site, killed at least six at a strip mall in west end Toronto last night. So far, 19 have died of SARS, most of whom have contracted the virus in hospital settings. While SARS is clearly a public health issue, we're all feeling a bit misunderstood here in Pariah Town. Facts are being ignored. Standard and Poor's just downgraded the credit rating of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority, citing SARS as a reason. Trips are being cancelled. Asian-owned businesses are seeing business drop 60% or worse.

My civic duty, therefore, has compelled me to deviate from the usual topic of this weblog to say: please come and visit us here in Toronto. The flowers are blooming, the air is clean, and you might even get a discount in one of our fine hotels. You're more likely to die in a gas main explosion or auto accident than you are to come down with a case of SARS.

Need I remind you of all of the great things Toronto has given to the world?

I guess I can actually muster up an Internet marketing angle to this story. A certain "Internet Marketing Conference" which shall remain nameless has a pop-up ad on its web site stating, in part:

"No SARS in Montreal - Travelers, please note: while several SARS cases have been reported in Toronto, as well as other major North American cities, there are no reported cases of SARS in Montreal."

Just when we needed a lifeline and a dose of compassion, our pals from the other end of Highway 401 give us an oar to the face. Probably just resentful that the feds have promised some SARS-economic-fallout-relief monies to Toronto, money which might have otherwise gone to buy votes from Montrealers. All kidding aside, though, that pop-up was a pretty cynical way of trying to sell a few conference registrations. If this is someone's idea of marketing, perhaps this is one marketing conference you don't need or want to attend.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Schmidt Talks (2)

The Google CEO muses about weblogs, evil, and free speech.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, April 24, 2003

"I'm Not Dead... Yet"

"Yes, you are. You'll be stone dead in a moment."

Such was the mentality of all kinds of Monty Python-esque business "analysts" who didn't -- and still don't -- grasp the absolutely revolutionary nature of the Internet. Sure, most of the over-funded/under-developed "Internet companies" bombed, but as J. William Gurley of News.com observes, it wasn't necessarily because their business models were bad, it's mostly because there was too much money available to too many companies, period, whether good or not.

Now that Amazon, eBay, Yahoo and Google are all the rage, we may just see the Internet come back stronger than ever; which is just what I knew would happen, even as deadbeats like Boo.com, Pets.com and marchFirst were dropping like flies. Doesn't it feel good?

We'll know that we're truly out of the woods if Philip Kaplan, the nincompoop behind F'd Company, who profited and reveled gleefully in the demise of many of the most innovative companies to ever be created, starts covering the resurgence of these companies he's mocked for so long.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Schmidt Talks

This Always-On interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt (Part 1) is packed with so much insight, it's a must-read.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Overture Warns

In today's earnings call, Overture Services warned that while revenues would continue to be strong in 2003, profit would be significantly below expectations for the next few quarters. International expansion costs, acquisitions, and rising "traffic acquisition costs" (revenue shares to syndication partners like Yahoo) are to blame. Also being blamed is the slower-than-expected pace of increase in the average price per click.

This rough patch could be a blessing in disguise for Overture. It has been leaning too heavily on bidding wars and rising costs per click on a narrow band of keywords. Because of its inflexible keyword matching options, Overture monetizes a relatively small percentage of the overall keyword inventory. I've never been clear on the reasons behind Overture pursuing this type of strategy, or why they have been so slow in offering features like broad matching. But now's the time for action. Keyword advertisers want additional flexibility and control over the massive keyword inventory that is available.

Overture's warning is also said to anticipate potential losses of partnerships, but just because a company warns something might happen, doesn't mean it has happened or will happen. If Overture simultaneously broadens its keyword base and renews key partnerships, the warnings may turn out to have been overly conservative.

I'm sure you can dig up the relevant news accounts on your own. For fun though, have a look at this trader's comments on the Overture board at Yahoo Finance. The joie-de-vivre and admirable lack of partisanship ("Thank you God! I love America! I love G Bush and B Clinton"!) will surely take this individual a long way in his trading pursuits.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Google Finds Meaning

In a recent Traffick article, and a recent lengthy weblog posting, we praised Applied Semantics' CIRCA technology and suggested that it could fill a significant gap in Google's search technology, and also contribute to more accurate content-targeted advertising:
Today, Google acquired Applied Semantics.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Follow the Moving Target

AltaVista, too, has a new privacy policy, effective today. The philosophy appears to be: when a privacy policy becomes inconvenient, just rewrite it.

In other news, today I received a Yahoo! Direct email in my Yahoo! Mail box, even though I'd long ago opted out of that crapola and even though I'm shelling out an annual for a "premium" ad-laden, spam-friendly inbox. I went and looked at my "marketing preferences," and found that magically, my settings were set to "yes, please annoy the hell out of me" for all fourteen (count 'em) special offer categories. I know I didn't opt in to all this stuff. In fact, when I was unceremoniously opted into it initially, I immediately opted out again. Here we go again.

Not only that, but there are little checkboxes beside my home address and my home phone number that say "please don't contact me at this address" and "please don't phone me at this number." And they're (you guessed right).... unchecked! I wonder how that happened?

As long as this sort of thing continues, I really have to question the warm, fuzzy feelings I once had about Yahoo. Unfortunately, the alternatives don't look much better, and spartan interfaces like MyWay.com don't warm the soul.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Want to Win? Don't Compete

It's been nagging at me that there's something not quite right with the underlying message in "how to create a winning company" books such as Trout's Differentiate or Die or Godin's Purple Cow. They get it half right, but in a way, they fail to recognize the radical message behind their wise counsel.

Late last night on the local cable access channel, I caught a lecture by Alfie Kohn, an educational psychologist and author of numerous books including No Contest: The Case Against Competition, and a light came on. The perpetual need to careen from victory to victory is like an addictive drug for many in our society, and it's built into the way we're schooled. Many of the most powerful and wealthiest members of society feel the most inadequate. It's a vicious circle. But it's a cultural habit, not a fundamental characteristic of human nature. Given my early programming, it's not a habit I personally expect to break easily.

So anyway, it hit me that Godin's message in Purple Cow actually lays bare the oversimplifications of his previous book, Survival is Not Enough. In particular, he alludes to Darwinian imagery to prove various points about the need for companies to adapt to better "compete," or else die - "survival of the fittest," if you will. But as we now know, the "survival of the fittest" talk is more Spencerian (the late sociologist Herbert Spencer, who actually used the phrase) than Darwinian, and more ideologically loaded than scientific. Darwin was adamant that adaptation was a fundamental aspect of evolution, but didn't take a narrow view of what kinds of adaptations were best.

Trout's Differentiate or Die carries similar baggage with it. Yet the real point of the book, like Godin's latest, is that the best adaptations are those which rescue companies from the need to compete at all. The concept of differentiation in business shows us one kind of adaptation that leads to success. But our list of non-competitive forms of adaptation should go beyond differentiation: it should also extend to forms of cooperation. Obviously there are countless examples of businesses which succeed through "coopetition" - and they succeed not based merely on exchange relationships (I give you something, you give me something), but because this helps avoid the destructive impacts of unnecessary competition.

(Want more proof? Do a Google search on phrases like cooperation and rationality, robert axelrod, altruism and human nature, game theory, experimental economics, facial expressions, etc. The universities are full of interdisciplinary work on these matters.)

The overcrowded ranks of tenured scholars likely have special access to this type of insight. An Alfie Kohn can't rise above the din, necessarily, by going head to head against radical education theorists like Ivan Illitch and Bowles and Gintis. Instead, he creates a slightly different lexicon, a slightly different persona, and presto. An original. (It probably helps if your name is Alfie.) And tenure is no doubt a great way of shielding the less competitive, but still highly productive, members of learned society from the Glengarry-Glen-Ross-esque imperative to be a "top quintile producer." At a certain point, though, people in certain professions really do have to produce more, and win more often. Management has the prerogative to negotiate "win-win" partnerships, but rank and file salespeople must make their quotas. At a certain point, for certain people, ivory tower theories spawned from computer game theories and anthropological accounts of the communicative benefits of trustworthy facial expressions and gestures amongst gorillas break down.

In any case, the "business differentiation" theorists teach us important lessons - but what they don't teach us (in fact, quite the opposite) is that there is a perpetual need for good people and good companies to destroy one another for their own good and for the general good. Even Microsoft knows this. It doesn't kill all of its competitors. It cripples them, then takes an equity stake to give them a perch to ensure that they remain "cooperative." :)

So, if you're still clinging to that adolescent infatuation with Ayn Rand, move on. Keep it up, and you're likely to die broke and lonely.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, April 21, 2003

Our friend the hyphen

Cam Balzer's defense of dashy domains left me sceptical at first. I didn't quite see his point, to be honest. But then I received a friendly email from someone at a company called Custom UK - or "customuk.com." Hard to deny that in situations where you're babbling gutturally and mangling company names, hyphens would probably come in handy. For the foreseeable future, in fact, long hyphenated domain names may be one of our only defenses against the capriciously-designed Internet naming system. What's more readable: weallandcullen.com, or weall-and-cullen.com? Yep, Cam's got a point. Without hyphens, you don't know where the words are.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Lycos Joins the Slippery-Slope-to-Spam Club

It was bad enough that I recently found myself on the receiving end of spammy special offers from Bell Mobility and Bell Canada, respectively, by dint of happening to have a mobile phone subscription and, well, a regular phone. "As a person with a, er, um, phone, we thought you'd be delighted to receive this email from the phone company about some stupid contest." Gaah. Thus the captains of Fortune 500 industry creep ever closer to the tactics employed by Nigerian conmen.

Lycos has now discovered a new technique. The two-year-delay-stealth-opt-out ploy.

Today I received a special offer from Quote.com (remember them?), a stock advisory service that was acquired by Lycos back when they thought there was some good reason for this acquisition. I received this offer because about two years ago, I posted something on the Raging Bull forum under the alias "searchenginepundit." (I also posted from time to time under the alias "beccaweinberg," a revelation which may lead some to ply me with Freudian analysis... anyway, that's another story.) Two years later, Lycos decides: "hey, we've got all those email addresses from a bunch of folks who never agreed to receive anything, so let's send 'em stuff anyway!"

Looks like Lycos isn't shy about "leveraging" any email address of any person who has ever used any Lycos service in the past. Now I'm sure to some pundit from the advertising industry, and to the folks in marketing operations at Lycos, the act of rounding up email addresses associated with registrations for various services - no matter what type of permission was granted at the time of signing up - and then sending them "special offers," seems perfectly normal, sane, and logical. Or at the very least, a minor faux pas that nonetheless ought to be indulged by anyone "who lives in the real world."

But is it that simple? Isn't two years of radio silence from the hoarder of user data a pretty good indication that there is no longer any kind of implied relationship? When you register for one thing and give your email only for the purpose of customer care (such as receiving your lost password), are you automatically agreeing to receive special offers from other divisions of the company? Well, of course not!

A quick look at Lycos' verbose "privacy policy" statement confirms that the policy contains enough booby-traps to catch even careful users. But in other cases, there really aren't any loopholes if you opt out correctly; in such cases, the policy is simply being violated. In sum, the disturbing trend with corporate abuse of the opt-in principle can be summed up as follows: "We have a detailed privacy policy, and where it isn't quite complicated enough to induce users to accidentally opt in, we're prepared to move to Plan B: ignore the policy altogether."

The new Lycos policy statement tells users that they may opt out of any and all mailings by revisiting their membership information page and unchecking appropriate boxes. Or, by leaving them unchecked at "first collection." So I went to the page. It appears that my email subscription list contains "none" out of 40 or so possible items I could have opted into. And yet, they sent me stuff anyway. Is the "disclosure" of these privacy policies to independent nonprofit Trust.e worth the paper it's printed on? Evidently not.

They do have a sense of humor, though. The "privacy policy" gives a few tips on safe Internet surfing, such as this for example:

"10. What you can do to better protect yourself on the Internet?

"Know the risks.

"Meeting new people in an online community (chat room, forum, newsgroup, message board, Web page, etc.) is one of the best things about the Internet, but you should always be careful about disclosing personal information such as an actual name, member name, email address, and so on. This information may be collected and used by others within the online community to send unsolicited email messages from other parties, outside the Lycos Network. Some of the messages you receive may be useful to you, but some may not."

Thanks for the heads-up. I'll be sure to be careful.

Now, Lycos, do you understand why I usually register with aliases like Becca Weinberg, with a fake phone number, outdated home address, and dormant email address? Imagine what might happen to me if I let myself begin to trust, even just once!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, April 20, 2003

New Traffick Article Posted: "In Defense of Dashy Domains"

In Defense of Dashy Domains
Dashed domains offer a big target for proponents of a purer web marketing. But beyond any real or perceived benefits, dashed domains are worth pondering for what they can reveal about marketing via search.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Saturday, April 19, 2003

And now... Deep Thoughts with Kevin Lee

Unlike Jack Handy's classic vignettes on Saturday Night Live, Kevin Lee's articles on ClickZ are insightful and tremendously useful. His skill at Internet marketing is unmatched by most of the other so-called experts, and I enjoyed hearing him speak at the 2002 Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose with Traffick Editor Andrew Goodman.

Kevin's latest column, "Ready for Its Future?" explores in-depth the new Yahoo Search. Even though Yahoo still pulls Google results, he explains, there are some important changes that smart businesses should pay attention to, especially those relating to XML feeds.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Did You Know? Buy Portal and Search Engine Gear

If you want to flaunt your coolness by sporting gear emblazoned with your favorite search engine or portal's logo, you can buy cool Google stuff and Yahoo gear and AOL and MSN goodies and... wait a minute. No you can't buy AOL or MSN gear, after all, because...

They aren't cool, and no one would be caught dead wearing a hat with the AOL triangle logo on it!

I think it's a testament to the brand power and user loyalty of Google and Yahoo that shoppers willingly seek out and purchase stuff with those brands prominently featured on them. If you're a marketer who wants to create a brand or make your current brand cool, look at these two as shining examples of what to copy.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Friday, April 18, 2003

Spammers Adapt by Keeping Pace with the Times

You may have thought e-mail spammers had reached the end of their creative rope by peddling the same old breast/penis enhancement, Nigerian cash, Viagra, mortgage and get-rich-quick schemes ad nauseam. Well, think again.

Spammers are now more "topical" than ever. In the past five minutes alone, I've gotten spammed about the most-wanted Iraqi card deck (Get the Iraqi 'Most-Wanted' Deck of Playing Cards Only $5.95 a Set!) and a Columbia space shuttle coin. It just goes to show that persistent spammers will hawk whatever they can to as many people as they can in hopes that even one percent of their targets will actually buy into their schemes.

If you've fallen victim to curiosity to any of these schemes (and you're way too smart to do a stupid thing like that), I hope you don't expect to actually receive one of those "thousands" of Iraqi decks. I began seeing spam about these cards just two days or so after the U.S. military announced them. So, unless the military are in cahoots with the spammers, I wouldn't expect spammers to have these cards. Unless...

I'm sure conspiracy theorists will have fun with this one!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Thursday, April 17, 2003

A Plethora of Interesting Articles Today

News.com: Microsoft Research seeks better search
I doubt Microsoft will be true innovator behind this movement, but with the overwhelming proof thanks to Google that keyword searching is a natural and effective method of retrieving data, it's only a matter of time before search boxes pop up everywhere. This is why I applaud sites like CNN.com that feature a Google search box prominently. Search functionality should be available practically anywhere on the Net.

News.com: Final day of the four-part retrospective of the browser's 10th birthday
'Nuff said about this already. This has been such a great series that I plan to print out the PDF of the four-part series, which is, by the way, a clever strategy to encourage visitor retention and of promoting the brand.

Forbes: AOL's Wobbly World Wide Wow
Columnist David Simons thinks AOL's restructuring strategy is underwhelming at best. Adding a bunch of premium services on top of a cruddy online service that is already the industry's most expensive is weak. Simons points out that Yahoo has 20 premium services now (!), and even though they don't yet offer a discount for purchasing multiple premium services (hey, why not!), they have a much better handle on how to effectively roll out, to brand and to increase adoption of premium services. Wow, AOL is sooo destined for the trash heap.

Wired News: Building a Bigger Search Engine
Getting Grubby with Looksmart's new toy that promises to make web search real time every day by using distributed computing to index billions of URLs every day. I'm still not sure what to think about this. If they can pull it off and actually index every web page every day, that would have profound implications for web search, but it is a daunting task, and I question whether Looksmart has the resources to make this thing fly.

And finally... PC Magazine: The Great Nigerian Scam
All you ever wanted to know about the funniest and lamest e-mail scam ever!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Minimum Bid Increase Buried in Flurry of Positive Announcements from FindWhat

Findwhat.com, a leading pay-per-click keyword advertising service which boasts partnerships with Infospace and Lycos, has made several important strides in the past several weeks. It has released new tools like AdAnalyzer, a post-click analytical tool, and a new autobid feature, joining a select few pay-per-click engines which offer bid gap management to save advertisers the trouble of "babysitting" their bids.

Importantly, the publicly-traded company also announced that it has moved (effective today) from the NASDAQ Small Cap market to the NASDAQ National Market. This may not mean a whole lot to some, but this move does offer proof that Findwhat is growing and has been able to meet more stringent stock exchange requirements. Findwhat announces its quarterly results on April 30.

The announcement that will be less welcome to advertisers is the imminent demise of one cent bids. Effective September 1, 2003, its minimum bid price will increase from $0.01 to $0.05. As has been the custom in the industry, Findwhat has made provisions for a grandfather clause for existing advertisers. In today's press release it states:

"FindWhat.com’s minimum bid price increase in September will not affect current FindWhat.com advertisers who take advantage of a grandfather clause. Advertisers can lock in $0.01 to $0.04 bids before September 1, and will be permitted to maintain those bids so long as they do not change those bid amounts after September 1. Advertisers will, however, be able to change the text in their titles, descriptions, and URLs after September 1, without affecting the grandfathered status of their sub-$0.05 keyword bids."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, April 16, 2003

On the Third Day, CNET Looked at Browser Upstarts

Day three of CNET's coverage of the tenth anniversary of the web browser.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




New Traffick Article Posted

Who is Sarah Williams of TrafficMagnet?
Guest writer Ed Kohler uncovers the truth behind one of the Web's most annoying SEO scams.

Posted in the Internet Marketing category.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




"Seriously, Your Honor, We Didn't Take Advantage of Our OS Monopoly to Kill Off Netscape!"

Day 2 of News.com's excellent retrospective on the ten-year anniversary of the indispensable web browser.

Wow, this is really a great special report by the always great News.com reporters. Hats off! They have lots of juicy browser demographics, quotes from the past, interactive timelines and such. Don't miss it!

It's such a shame what became of Netscape. Once, it was a revolutionary powerhouse that changed the world; and now it's a neglected subsidiary of the Ronco of Internet service providers, AOL.... *sigh*

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Taking Disambiguation Seriously

Today's search engines do a lot of things well, but one thing they don't do well - as astutely noted by erudite literary critic and National Post columnist Robert Fulford - is understand the precise meaning of the words you type. (Fulford's a crafty one. He was using Dogpile as early as 1997, and like any other sensible person wanting specific answers about search, he visits Search Engine Watch.)

I've been listening to the "disambiguation technology" story since 1999 when fledgling semantic technology companies like Oingo (now Applied Semantics) and Simpli (acquired by Netzero and then sold to pay-per-click keyword advertising service Search123) were launched. The examples are easy to grasp. A user types in "genesis," and it could mean dozens of things including a rock band, a biblical book, or a product. Java can mean coffee or a programming language.

I'm no linguist, but it's clear enough that there is a part of our brain where we file all these different meanings, storing them as, for all intents and purposes, different words. Insofar as a search engine is too stupid to help me disambiguate my query about "storage," for example, (I am searching for shelves, but a lot of the search results give me info about esoteric RAID computer disk storage), they do a poor job of putting the right kind of information in front of the user. They might even do a poor job putting the right ads in front of users, which could ultimately cost them money and frustrate advertisers. It makes little sense, for example, to subject sellers of low-margin shelving products to the higher prices that may be paid by advertisers wanting to advertise fancy RAID memory storage. But there is no way around it as long as the search engine does only "dumb" keyword matching. As far as our brains are concerned it's relatively inconsequential that the word storage is used to describe a shelf, and the same sequence of letters describes a system for filing terabytes of data. We don't see them as the same thing, although they might be related. What would be needed, in the ideal world, would be a unique code (or "word") for every substantially different concept and sub-concept. So the storage relating to data might be called "storbage" or something.

Well that might be impractical, but scientists *can* lend support to efforts to link researchers more closely with the concepts they're seeking. The old-fashioned way, the way that information science has done it for centuries, is to hard-wire an ontology (or classification system) and make everyone conform to it. Another approach, the more contemporary one, is to work with conceptual "meaning maps" to help classify information.

To be sure, end users can disambiguate their own queries to a certain extent. But should they be required to do all the heavy lifting of weeding out all the wrong meanings of words like java, storage, genesis, etc.? And will such efforts sometimes exclude pages because the phrases typed aren't matched on otherwise high-quality pages about the topic?

Given how diligently I've been trying to puzzle through all these issues, then, perhaps it isn't unfair or one-sided of me to reprint excerpts from a recent commentary by Applied Semantics - applied in this case as a critique of Google's much-ballyhooed Content Targeted Advertising.

"Google enters the contextual targeting advertising arena... Yahoo! upgrades its search technologies... Overture claims to have similar technology... So, what does all this mean?

"It means that there is an increasing demand and need for an innovative, durable contextual targeting solution for online advertisers. Major players like Google, Yahoo! and Overture are raising the stakes by entering the space. Online publishers and advertisers have to realize that a company's popularity, size and name recognition is not always indicative of its solution. In fact, many of these mega-company's contextual targeting applications are not effectively and efficiently getting the job done.

"Amongst these huge players is a small giant, packing the punch with the best contextual targeting product in the marketplace - AdSense. AdSense extracts the meaning of a web page and dynamically generates ads comprised of P4P (pay-for-placement) search terms and results on the fly. What makes AdSense technology different from the competition is its filtering capabilities, technology approach and partnership structure.

"In a head-to-head comparison between AdSense and Google's content targeting product, we found that AdSense has superior technology and obvious advantages in many categories:

  • "AdSense technology processes actual content of web page, whereas Google technology is only based on URL/web log statistics
  • "AdSense uses its CIRCA(tm) ontology to understand and extract key themes of a page, whereas Google relies solely upon user trends and patterns which are often inconsistent
  • "AdSense aims to balance relevancy with CPC value to maximize effective CPM; Google has less effective CPM maximization
  • "Ability to discern ambiguous terms - AdSense disambiguates, unlike Google who has no disambiguation capability
  • "AdSense returns granular, precise keyword results; Google offers inconsistent results based on user search data; performs best on broad/general topics
  • "AdSense provides advanced filtering technology; Google has no objectionable or competitive filtering mechanisms
  • "AdSense offers customized ad designs tailored to customer preferences; Google has no ad design customization capabilities
  • "AdSense offers a revenue share model, ensuring that we all share in the upside and are committed to developing the optimal implementation to ensure the highest user satisfaction."

    If Google's advertising program lacks semantic technology, then this hole must exist in its search technology as well.

    Whether it's brought about by a new era of robust metadata protocols, or technology such as Applied Semantics' CIRCA, it will be a pleasure to be able to type in the phrase "green jacket" and only receive results relating to the Masters golf tournament, or alternatively, only results NOT related to golf but rather to green jackets in general, according to my preference.

    And advertisers will be pleased the day that they can reach customers who are really interested in disk storage, for example, rather than having their ad show up on all kinds of pages relating to storage cabinets, just because some keywords happen to match.

    Disclaimer: Applied Semantics' comments about Google are mostly speculative.

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    Canadian Golf Hero Trails Legendary Psycho in Buzz Index

    You can sure have a lot of pointless fun checking in with search trend trackers like the Yahoo! Buzz Index. Today, the #2 "mover," surging ahead over 500%, is Masters champ Mike Weir, narrowly beating out the #3 contender, Happy Gilmore (no guff). This is inexplicable. Much as I love Mike (another Canadian lefty golfer who signs autographs with his right hand, and grew up in Sarnia, where my sister was born), I like Adam Sandler's Gilmore character better. Who else would drop his imaginary gloves and cold-cock the overtanned Bob Barker while waiting to tee off? Almost makes up for the 12 Adam Sandler stinkers we've had to sit through.

    Even more inexplicable, though, is the fact that Weir was surpassed by Charles Manson. Don't tell me why. I don't want to know.

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    Monday, April 14, 2003

    Everything You Wanted to Know about Black Holes

    On launching the latest phase of its Google Adwords advertising service, Google allowed that its new "content targeted advertising" might generate "slightly lower" clickthrough rates than search keyword advertising. Slightly? Holy guacamole, that might just win the next Search Engine Watch Award for Biggest Understatement of 2003.

    In more than a few cases, the CTR's for content targeted ads are so abysmally low as to be scarcely measurable. I just peeked in on a friend's long-running ad group that had a modest, but respectable, CTR of 0.8%, and which therefore generated a healthy number of daily clicks (around 60 per day at about 0.18 per click). The content targeted ads for the same group had a CTR of 0.0125%. That is, one in 8,000 viewers of the ad clicked on it. In all, three people clicked on the content-targeted ad today, generating a total of 0.15 in revenue for Google. Whoa, back up the dumptruck.

    Did Google fail to take adequate account of the very different dynamic of content-targeted advertising when they ran a limited pilot program last fall? Could it be... could it be!?!!?... that small text-based ads work well when people are in search mode, but very poorly in skyscraper creative next to content, to the extent that those AWFUL, INTRUSIVE, BLINKING ANNOYING GIANT CREATIVES we love to hate are actually more effective than Google's inobtrusive little text ads (the ones my clients know and love because search engine users actually click on them about 1% of the time, on average)?

    Hey, Google, these things are showing up on someone else's web site, not yours. Why not make the ads flash and stuff? Or generate some nice popunders? What's it to you if they lose a few readers? Just kidding, I know you'd never do this. Next thing they know people would be calling you a "media company." Bad enough that you already stand accused of being a portal.

    I'd expect Google to make quiet, restrained efforts to paper over these embarrassing stats by expanding the content targeting program to places where higher CTR's may be expected, such as, perhaps, email newsletters. Time will tell. If worst comes to worst, they can indoctrinate all of the users of the free version of Blogger into a new "product placement" scheme where they work Adwords ads "naturally" into their posts.

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    Sunday, April 13, 2003

    Opera "Got Better," But Does it Matter?

    There are lots of new features in the latest version, 7.10, of Norway's pride and joy, Opera. But, it's much ado about nothing for me.

    I've tried it, but don't care much for it, and because not many browser extensions are supported, there is little incentive to use it. If you're looking for a better browser, go for Netcaptor. It does cost 30 bucks, but its handy features are worth every penny. Also, it's based on the IE engine, so you get all the benefits of IE with tons of additional features that you'll actually use! Lifetime upgrades and free, personal tech support are included.

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Happy Tenth to the Browser

    An interesting article from the print edition of Newsweek ran on MSNBC.com about the 10-year anniversary of Mosaic, the first graphical web browser. Why was the web browser so important? Well, if you ever tried surfing the Internet with Gopher or any other text browsers, you would know instantly.

    Ah, I remember first using Gopher at the computer labs of the University of Missouri while a wee English student. Then, the labs deployed Mosaic, and I could suddenly surf the Web in vivid e-Technicolor. It was one small "click" for man, one giant "hit" for mankind.

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Zeitgeist, Lies, and Videotape

    For a certain segment of marketers, the Lycos 50 and the like provide interesting info on hot trends.

    But for the vast majority of businesspeople, such as those attending my recent Nielsen Norman seminar, when you tell them that they can find out about the top 50 most popular keywords that week, they just shake their heads and say "what good is that"?

    So then I painted them a scenario - what if a major search engine would sell you detailed information about search patterns on as many topics as you want info on - say for $5,000 for a really detailed, real time report showing spikes in interest? They just echoed back to me what I'd already taught them in the morning session - why not just spend $100 piloting a Google Adwords or Overture campaign (or both), and get all the search frequency data you need for any term in your industry that you want to test?

    Never before has so much real time info about consumer behavior been available to so many businesses of all shapes and sizes. It's only a matter of time before people start gathering and selling this kind of data, or otherwise trying to capitalize on it. Oh wait, they already are: I received spam today that made its case for the usual member-expanding potions by trotting out the fact that "according to a major search engine, 15,000 people searched for the term penis enlargement last month, and 5,800 searched for the term sexual performance. Don't kid yourself bucko, she is more obsessed about it than you think!"... or something to that effect.

    Sudden bulges in consumer attention on hot topics might be interesting to track for mass marketers, or media looking for hot stories. These things have a lot of uses, obviously, but for those that can't use them, they're pretty much a distraction from the real business of reaching targeted customers.

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    Saturday, April 12, 2003

    NY Times is Last Major U.S. Publication to Write About Google and Paid Search Listings

    This just in... there's a search engine so well known that its name is also a verb, and it makes lots of money, say sources at The New York Times!

    Yes, the editors at the Times have finally discovered that Google is a really great company that makes lots of money, is very well-liked by Internet users and its employees Have Lots of Fun All the While.

    All kidding aside, it's always good to hear what influential pubs say about the big G, so go read it already!

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Lycos 50 Not the Only Search Engine Spy in Town

    The other day, Chris Sherman of Search Day took a look at the Lycos 50, the list of the 50-most-searched phrases on Lycos for the week, and explained how marketers and other curious types might use the information to predict trends. It was a good piece, but neglected to mention that Lycos has company in this space. Yahoo has a similar feature called Yahoo Buzz, and Google has its Zeitgeist.

    Yahoo one-ups Lycos by updating their list every day, so the information is a bit more real time. Plus Yahoo presents their buzz scores by category, such as Music, Sports and Television, but also tracks the overall buzz scores for all categories combined.

    It's interesting to see what people are searching about, but in general, if you follow the news, it's rather obvious what's on people's minds!

    Google calls their feature "Google Zeitgeist - Search patterns, trends, and surprises according to Google." I'd say that theirs represents a great deal more searches than Lycos' and Yahoo's, since Google is used by so many more people. But in general, if you want to know what people want to know about, any one of these will do the trick.

    For marketers, this information is pure gold. It's like having a focus group, but with all the focus and none of the group!

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Chandler's Winning Friends Already

    World-famous developer of Lotus 1-2-3, Mitch Kapor, has been heading up a project to create an open source PIM that would rival Microsoft Outlook, and serve the much-neglected small-to-mid-sized enterprise.

    An 'Alpha' release is due out this month.

    In a recent interview Kapor revealed the following interesting tidbit: in thinking about how to tailor the software to real user behavior, he has been "heavily influenced by Google," in particular the fact that the user simply types a few words in a box and receives a list of meaningful results in return. We can only hope. A full release of Chandler probably won't be available until early 2004.

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    Friday, April 11, 2003

    Search Engine Watch Enters the 21st Century

    Search Engine Watch, the original resource about search engines and portals (we're, like, the second or third or something), has finally shed its original skin and been redesigned! What next? Cats and dogs living together?

    As a web designer, I'm not crazy about the sea of splashy teal, but it sure beats the old 1996 model (remember the paper cutout sidebar?). But, the marginal color choice is nothing compared to the gigantic panel of ads that blink and flash at you like some animated GIF clip art site. What's up with that?

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Thursday, April 10, 2003

    Yahoo Search Syntax

    Courtesy Tara Calishain and Jill Whalen, we now know about some little tricks to make navigating Yahoo a bit easier.

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    Wednesday, April 09, 2003

    Putting the End of Overture's Penny-Bid Grandfathering in Perspective

    After a long grace period, Overture's one-cent minimum bids were finally discontinued. All advertisers are forced to pay at least the minimum of .05 on all their keywords. New keywords are now going for a minimum of ten cents.

    Inevitably, a few site owners complain that they could "turn a profit at a penny but not at five cents," so why doesn't Overture just take their money as they are happy to pay it?

    Hmm. Turning a profit on penny traffic isn't so far away from turning a profit on free traffic. Those who actually refer the traffic through their search engines (Yahoo, AOL, MSN, Google, etc.) decided some time ago to repatriate a larger share of that free traffic. Because in an environment where traffic is free or nearly free, there is every incentive to load up on as much of the free or nearly free commodity as possible, and then figure out what to do with it after the fact.

    I mean, if you had no particular use for 1,000 barrels of oil, but could get them for half price, wouldn't you go ahead and find a buyer for the oil, then sell it to them, and pay the guy selling the oil? That's why the guys who control the oil don't put the oil on for half price if they can help it. They do what they can to avoid discounting the commodity too much.

    This is approximately what many of the "penny-dependent" sites have been doing: engaging in "traffic arbitrage." Some of these sites actually act like mini-Yahoos or mini-Overtures, charging for listings or even per click. Some "PPC traffic brokers" buy penny clicks and then resell them to customers for 10 cents. What happens when those clicks actually cost 10 cents? Suddenly, the advertiser sees more incentive to deal directly with Overture or Google Adwords or Espotting as opposed to having the broker "just take care of it."

    If some online businesses' status as mini-Yahoos or mini-Overtures depends on getting Yahoo (through Overture) to send them traffic nearly for free, their days are numbered. Because the Yahoos and the Overtures of the world are not in business to help mini-replicas of themselves turn a profit - although they certainly hope that retailers and B2B advertisers who don't actually "sell traffic," but rather sell a real product or service, can enjoy a strong ROI from pay-per-click.

    So you see, penny-bidders, you really haven't been giving money to Overture and Yahoo all this time. You've been taking from them what they feel is rightly theirs, and reselling it for a higher price to someone else who values the traffic more. Traffic arbitrage. Well, no more. Overture, Espotting, and Google have minimums of five and ten cents or pence, or more. Problem solved.

    As more serious advertisers enter all keyword areas, bids are on their way up anyway, minimums or not. A process of natural selection is endemic to a keyword auction. Some business models will be able to sustain high bids; others will either have to change their model or find another type of advertising (or get a day job).

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    Et tu, j2? (Don't You Hate Ads on Stuff You Actually Pay For?)

    It's always really irked me that paying $50/yr. for a bigger Yahoo! Mail inbox doesn't buy you the added courtesy of an ad-free environment.

    Here's one to add to the list. I pay an annual fee for j2 (formerly Jfax) Premier Connect (which gives me a dedicated fax line which then forwards faxes to me by email). It's a good deal, since it's cheaper and easier than putting in an extra phone line.

    But now they're starting to show ads on the j2 Messenger software, the program that allows me to read faxes, send faxes, listen to voice messages, etc. I used to accept this when I was using a free eFax number, but shouldn't "premier" clients be given some respite from the commercial onslaught? Cease and desist, SVP, j2.

    And don't get me started on the McAfee Virus Protection "startup screen" that tells you every time that the virus checker is installed, but spam killer, personal firewall, etc. are not. I don't mind you trying to upsell me, McAfee, but to the tune of a 15-second delay every time I boot up my computer?

    I suppose none of this should surprise me. Newspapers and magazines are packed with ads, yet we pay for the privilege of viewing them.

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    Tuesday, April 08, 2003

    Macromedia Central Looks a lot Like Macromedia Portal

    Unless you're a hardcore web developer you probably haven't heard about an interesting new product from software developer Macromedia. It's called Macromedia Central, and it's a paradigm-shifting, out-of-the-box-thinking, revolutionary, platform-neutral environment, that will... um, oh, sorry about that. I fell into "corny buzzword" mode there for a second.

    Ahem! It's a new product based on Macromedia's omnipresent Flash technology, and seems to offer a new way to think about Internet applications, a way that seems very much like a web portal. Take a look-see at the screenshot and notice how this early snapshot of the app looks an awful lot like the classic portal interface, with customizable modules that provide various functionality arranged in panels.

    Macromedia Central is due to be released this summer, so it remains to be seen how this will all play out. But, if they're going in the direction I think they're going, then desktop applications and Internet-enabled applications will converge like never before, and we really will experience a dramatic shift in how people interact with web sites and traditional applications.

    As a Macromedia developer myself, I can hardly contain my enthusiasm!

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    The State of the Search Engine

    Danny Sullivan has written an excellent summary on ClickZ of the life and times of search engines and portals. It's hard to believe that search engines -- and the commercial Internet in general -- are almost 10 years old! If you are new to the scene -- or just want to reminisce -- you'll find out how we got to where we are today with Danny's roundup.

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Me Fail English? That's Unpossible!

    In theory, an open source encyclopedia might lead us down alternative roads to enlightenment. In practice, it's probably going to be the same old usual suspects helping your kids to achieve failing grades. It's like that recurring nightmare where you've paid $40,000 to gain admission to that prestigious Graduate School of Business, Biochemistry, and Astrophysics... and the professor at the front of the hall is Jimmy Kimmel, and he's spending your tuition money on cheap drugs.

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    Monday, April 07, 2003

    Upgrade? Why Not Downgrade?

    Joe Wilcox of CNET reports on some interesting changes in the Microsoft Office family relating to corporate portals. MS is aligning SharePoint -- the corporate portal and "employee information sharing" tool (ahh, don't you love jargon?) -- with its flagship Office 2003 suite. They also recently rebranded Office into the Office System to emphasize the platform idea behind all these related technologies tied together with XML. (Huh?!)

    Anyhoo, the reasoning is that almost everyone who uses or wants Office already has it, and there is almost no compelling reason to upgrade when new versions are released. Heck, I'm still using Office 2000! And who wants to adopt Office XP, and its product activation hooha? I mean, "Office sharing" is one of the business world's favorite pastimes?

    So, with SharePoint now part of the Office System, Redmond's logic goes, big companies will be more motivated to upgrade to Office 2003. Hmm, makes sense.

    Here's an idea, Microsoft: How about instead of constantly hounding us with relentless upgrades, how about do everyone a favor and give us a downgrade?

    I'd wager that most people are tired of applications growing more complex and more "tied together with XML." Why not start offering simpler versions of Office and Windows that aren't bloated with all kinds of features that most people don't need? I suppose there's the Microsoft Works suite, but it doesn't include Outlook, which is arguably the most used Office app.

    Surely, there's money to made in making things simpler. Hey, Google does it. Yahoo is now doing it. Why shouldn't MS do it?

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Yeah, But it's Still Yahoogle!

    Several of my virtual colleagues, including our esteemed Traffick editor Andrew Goodman, point out that the "new" Yahoo Search is still basically the same infrastructure with a new, simpler exterior. So, the Yahoo-Google divorce has not officially begun, yet. That probably won't happen for some time. I doubt Yahoo will be able to integrate Inktomi's search tech for several more months, perhaps a year. And, Yahoo still has a few years left on their contract with Google. So, they'll probably take their time with the transition.

    In any case, the ground will definitely shift instantly when it happens, as all of those consistent rankings provided by Google across its search distribution network (Yahoo, AOL, Netscape, etc.) get broken up. Search marketers better get ready for some big changes.

    Ahh, looks like it will soon be back to the "bad old" days again, back when you had to optimize for multiple search engines (remember when Alta Vista was the crem de la crem?!). Still, Google will likely hold sway for several years at least. But, when the real, new Yahoo Search launches, and when Overture/Fast/AltaVista coalesce, the game will be radically different than it is today! And let's not forget what Billy G. has up his billionaire sleeves!

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Do Not Adjust Your Set...

    You may have noticed that our navigation scheme has changed a bit. This is a space-saving measure that I think will improve our site's navigability and make it easier to get anywhere from anywhere.

    You may find some broken links over the next few days, or other kinds of weirdness only found on complicated web sites, so please excuse the mess!

    Let us know what you think about the navigation menus. Many people like 'em, many people hate 'em. Which one are you?

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Yahoo Goes for the Google

    After much speculation about Yahoo's intentions after purchasing search provider Inktomi for $235 million recently, Yahoo has quickly launched a simple, revamped search engine in the vein at Google aimed at stealing searchers away from the top search engine. Yahoo -- and all other portals, for that matter -- had been losing searchers for years while Google quietly built the world's greatest search engine.

    Now, like Microsoft -- who says it also intends to beat Google by "being more relevant" (how in Hades can you do that?!) -- Yahoo is building out its search capabilities on multiple fronts, largely thanks to the rise and rise of paid search listings pioneered by Overture.

    Want to read more? Here are some quick links to see what the hubbub is all about:

    Yahoo: Try Yahoo Search now
    Yahoo: Take a tour of the new Yahoo Search
    CNET: Yahoo alights on new search site

    Now, let the SEO sharks and PPC analysts launch into a grand debate about what it all means...

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Pay-Per-Click Makes Strange Bedfellows

    In what seems to be a seedy, underhanded approach to distributing paid listings, Overture has signed a deal to provide paid listings on pop-under ads served by the widely maligned advertising company Gator. This move might further dilute the quality of leads from Overture's syndication network (much of which it likes to keep under the rug).

    Maybe it's time Overture came totally clean about their syndication network. It would seem to be the honest thing to do, anyway. But, by partnering with Gator, essentially, one has to wonder about the wisdom informing Overture's business moves lately.

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Saturday, April 05, 2003

    Only You Can Save Smiley

    Yahoo has crafted a pretty clever way to market its Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition. Saying that many companies have banned IM due to security concerns, a Yahoo ad exhorts ex-corporate IMers to submit the company name, and Yahoo will "contact" the appropriate IT folks at the company (anonymously of course) to explain the benefits of the new Enterprise Edition.

    Their tagline: "Save Smiley" (referring to the classic IM icon of a smiling face)

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Friday, April 04, 2003

    Yahoo Ready to Make a Move?

    It's nice to see that they listened to those who said (albeit two whole years ago) "hey Yahoo, why not go for the gusto and raise some money with a bond issue while interest rates are at historic lows"?

    Yahoo has just floated a $750 million bond issue. What next, a merger with Time Warner? Or just Earthlink?

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    Thursday, April 03, 2003

    Part Three of Search Engine Blog's PPC Roundtable

    The finale of a fine three-part series of interviews with pay-per-click industry experts -- including our Andrew Goodman -- can be found here.

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Google Ads to Show Up on Amazon.com

    Nearly three years ago, I wrote an article about GoTo.com's progress, wondering whether publishers were beginning to partner with GoTo's paid search in order to "shore up weak balance sheets."

    Maybe that's not the most delicate way of putting it, but in any case, Amazon's new deal with Google has the potential to add a nice jolt of incremental ad revenue to Amazon.com's very busy site. Who knows, this might even be enough to keep Amazon profitable amidst an increasingly stubborn recession.

    The economics of paid search are compelling, as has been borne out by Yahoo's fiscal resurgence in the past year. Amazon is in a low-margin, high volume business, which has prevented it from breaking away from break-even territory. Ebay, by contrast, is a low-touch business that takes a piece of commercial transactions but doesn't actually have any inventory. Low costs, fat profits.

    Advertising revenues generated by keyword-based advertising are an extremely high-margin proposition for Amazon. You take all those page views that are already happening on a daily basis, and monetize them... with no need to ship anything or incur any cost whatsoever (other than sending Google its revenue share).

    For Amazon, it's a no-brainer. 99.5% of the time, consumers may not find any of the text ads relevant to their needs. But so long as they click every so often, Google and Amazon collect dollars from advertisers.

    Is this the most significant example to come along of an e-commerce company trying to supplement its own sales with an advertising model? I'd be interested to hear what others think. The only other (failed) example that I can recall was Buy.com. Remember their splashy IPO, and their bold differentiator - the claim that they would "lose money on every sale" but still turn a profit because they'd be selling so much banner space on the site? That failed, obviously... but then again, Buy.com is no Amazon.com, and banners were never as effective as small keyword-targeted text ads seem to be.

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    Why Gator Ain't Dying Anytime Soon

    Forbes has paid writers who can tell you why...

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Wednesday, April 02, 2003

    Permission Not Granted

    To the corporate spamming weasels at Bell Mobility, my mobile phone service: please go back and read Permission Marketing. Very slowly.

    For some reason, they decided that I could be opted into a regular mailing of "exclusive Internet offers." In other words, to the same scamming weasels who once charged me $541 in one month (early generation "mobile browser" that wouldn't shut off properly) and refused to send me a refund feel that it's perfectly OK to send me spam under the guise of "exclusive online offers:"


    "Dear ANDREW GOODMAN," [wow... I'm impressed... that all-caps greeting felt so... right somehow. They must really care!]

    "Thank you for being a Bell Mobility valued customer." [You'd better bloody value me. Your roaming charges are atrocious!]

    "We appreciate your business and would like to offer you exclusive online offers!" [Now that's logical. You love me so you're spamming me?]

    "Chance to win a Beetle when you purchase Bell Mobility cellphone accessories online!" [That's nice. I'm still waiting for my refund. Now get out of my inbox before I switch over to Telus.]

    "Hurry, these exclusive offers are available for a limited time only!" [Say... that's the line I used on Tori Amos when I proposed marriage back in '97. I'm still waiting to hear back.]

    "To unsubscribe, please click here." [Done. Why do I get the feeling I haven't heard the last of this? I've unsubscribed from the BellZinc small business newsletter six times, and it just keeps coming.]

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    More on MSN's Search Space Incursion

    CNET: Report: Microsoft eyes paid search
    Vaporware, I say, simply vaporware...

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Specter of Microsoft expansion looms over web search space

    Overture's stock took another hit today as Wall Street caught wind of MSN Search's plan to triple its staff and increase the pace of research and product development. This news was widely known internally; Traffick caught wind of it last week from a source close to MSN.

    Investors are betting that Microsoft's initiative might foreshadow an end to their partnership with Overture to serve sponsored search results. Even if this isn't the case, this certainly reduces Overture's negotiating power over future revenue shares.

    Other possible implications of an expanded presence for MSN Search:

    • Reduced likelihood that MSN will renew with Inktomi after the current contract is up;
    • A possible shift in MSN's relationship with LookSmart;
    • On the other hand, MSN could easily acquire LookSmart for their technology, customer list, and editorial staff;
    • For a change, a fairly serious competitive threat to Google;
    • This may be a strong indicator of Microsoft's resolve to defeat AOL in the mainstream consumer ISP market;
    • As with any Microsoft initiative, concerns will no doubt be raised in future about privacy issues, anticompetitive practices, etc.

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




    Good Recap of Google's Recent Ad Adds

    MediaPost: Content Targeting Google-Style

    One thing that I think many people overestimate is the value of Google -- and Overture for that matter -- signing these exclusive deals with content sites like CBS SportsLine. I'd be interested in finding out how many people use these sites to search the general Web for information. I'm guessing it's not a high percentage.

    Which reminds me of the superiority of AdWords: You can "turn off" your ads so they won't appear on their partner sites. Say you're targeting a techie audience... well, you certainly wouldn't want to display your text ads on AOL!

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Tuesday, April 01, 2003

    AOL in Dire Straits

    AOL is scrambling to keep the ship from sinking. They may have to restate $400 million in earnings from 2002, their subscriber base actually declined last year, and now they're rushing to try to keep subscribers who are demanding broadband access from jumping ship.

    CNET: AOL touts new broadband pacts

    I'll give them some credit, though. I think it was a wise decision to move some of AOL Time Warner's print mags behind the AOL "firewall" as a way to protect and capitalize on their content assets. To me, it seems very silly for any print publisher to give away the entire contents of their magazines free online. I'm glad that some of them do (Fast Company, Wired, St. Louis Post-Dispatch), but I sure don't get the reasoning behind it

    If nothing else, they should charge a nominal access fee to read the content online as a way to recoup their costs. It take a surprising amount of money to run a content site (so start donating to the Traffick.com charitable fund today by visiting our sponsors down the left side of the page! :)

    Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




    Other than the war in Iraq, SARS, and this snow, it's shaping up to be a great day

    With all this going on, perhaps we can forgive Google for not updating this page.

    Posted by Andrew Goodman




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