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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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