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Saturday, May 10, 2003

Wanted: Famous Canadians

Actually, a few retailers from Canada who want to be more web-famous this year. Every day, 2.3 million Canadians search for something on Google. But are they finding you?

Google still has a few more seats available for an upcoming breakfast seminar including case studies from retailers and experts, and strategies for improving ROI on search engine advertising.

If you're in the Toronto area, consider taking advantage (one lucky attendee will win an iPod). The seminar is 8-9:30 a.m., Thursday May 15 at the Sutton Place Hotel. Wendy Muller, Head of Google Ad Sales Canada, will be your host. I'll be the guy in the back row clutching a double espresso.

To attend, just RSVP here (and disregard the deadline date): http://services.google.com/events/canada_rsvp

Posted by Andrew
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Friday, May 09, 2003

Jim Wilson

Some sad news today. Jim Wilson, the founder of Search Engine Forums and creator of several other high-profile websites and pioneering web initiatives, has died after a long battle with heart disease and stroke.

Jim had many followers and some detractors. But what was most important was the large impact he made on the whole field of website promotion, especially relating to the search and paid search fields in which so many of us make our living.

Search Engine Forums spawned many imitators, but it was the original. It's Jim and his moderators that we have to thank for this pioneering work. I hope the forum comes back stronger than ever with the help of John Cokos and other champions of JimWorld.

A memorial website has been posted at http://memorial.jimworld.com.

Posted by Andrew
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Thursday, May 08, 2003

Search Engine Optimization Got You Stumped?

If you're one of those people who has been planning to learn more about the search engine optimization game, but you just can't seem to find the time, you should consider attending Jill Whalen's "Search Engine Optimization half-day seminar" in Atlanta (Colony Square Hotel, Friday May 16).

I read Jill's newsletter, High Rankings Advisor, every week, and always learn something new. Here's a chance to answer that burning question "just who is this Jill Whalen anyway?" - and to get up to speed in record time. It would probably be a good idea to pick Jill's brain (and the brains of fellow attendees) at the networking lunch, as well.

You *could* fly to London or wait for August in San Jose to see Jill speak at Search Engine Strategies... but if you need answers sooner or closer than that, this seminar could be the ticket.

Posted by Andrew
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Wednesday, May 07, 2003

The trouble with LookSmart: flat click pricing

In the latest quarterly report, we learned that LookSmart is still hovering around break-even and projecting a so-so year. A number of theories have been put forward to explain its weakness, ranging from lack of moral fiber to its dependency on MSN. There may be some truth to those charges, but I'm surprised that no one has put their finger on what may be the fundamental reason that LookSmart's progress has stalled after it saved its bacon with a shift into the pay-per-click model: its failure to adopt the same market principle that has driven the growth of competitors Overture, Google Adwords, and Findwhat.

When LookSmart shifted from "pay for inclusion once" to a "pay for inclusion and then pay for clicks" model, it priced clicks at a flat 15 cents. Sound reasonable? It isn't.

Keywords and click-throughs all look sort of the same on paper, but the difference between getting exposure on the words "soy milk" and the words "mortgage refinancing" could be as different as getting exposure on a bus stop bench in a lightly-traveled road in a heavy-industry district and getting exposure on national television. It could be as different as dropping leaflets on a large city of illiterates and handing out free Blackberry pagers to Fortune 500 CEO's. You can't put a flat price on this stuff.

Because pay-per-click advertisers now track everything, they are aware of metrics like cost-per-customer-acquired, cost-per-order, cost-per-lead, etc. The price of the clicks is virtually irrelevant, except that for costs per lead to be in line with profitable targets and industry averages, some businesses need really cheap clicks (10 cents might be too high), and others will be willing to pay $1.50 per click to get exposure ahead of their competition who also track their results and are willing to bid as high as $1.45 a click.

What is probably happening right now, given the likelihood that LookSmart-generated traffic doesn't, on average, convert as well as Overture or Google traffic, is that a certain percentage of LookSmart advertisers have seen their conversion data and now know that fifteen cents is no bargain. So they suspend, or at least, fail to increase, their LookSmart budgets. The remaining advertisers - those who do turn a profit at fifteen cents - might be willing to outduel one another and bid prices up to 40 and 50 cents or more. But LookSmart is content to give it to them at fifteen cents, thus permanently limiting their upside.

That's not LookSmart's only problem, but clearly, adoption of the market principle is something that LookSmart must consider if they are to realize the same success with the pay-per-click model that others have. Clicks are worth vastly different amounts to different businesses targeting different consumers. Does a local television station charge $50,000 for a 30-second spot at 2 a.m.? More to the point, can you get a 30-second Super Bowl spot for $200?

The MSN dependency is a serious issue too. No matter how hard LookSmart works on its product quality, customer service, etc. - the fact is that when you begin charging by the click, you are now a little less like search and a little more like an advertising network. An advertising network must find places to put its ads. LookSmart currently is short on distribution partners.

Boxed into this tight spot, LookSmart could deke its way out of danger by merging with similarly-valued FindWhat. FindWhat could advise them on how best to implement the market principle in their product offering, and, of course, deliver a sizeable number of distribution partners to LookSmart. Lately, LookSmart has been acting like a company with $400 million in the bank, making "high-minded" acquisitions of little search companies and cool "projects." Time for a reality check.

Posted by Andrew
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Not to be outdone, Overture plays shell game with its advertisers

In an "anything sneaky Google can do, Overture can do much sneakier" development (boy am I glad I did all this research tonight):

In poring over log files, I found it curious to find a lot of people finding my consulting web site with the phrase "famous Canadians" typed into Yahoo Search. Then it hit me. I remembered using a jokey ad title "World Famous Consultant (From Toronto)" in one of my Overture ads. And the copy below the title included the words "Canadian business owner." Overture sponsored links, of course, appear at the top of Yahoo Search results. Sure enough, that was what was happening... but it shouldn't have been!

I am *not* advertising on the word "famous" or the phrase "famous Canadians." Overture's evidently "yet again enhanced" matching software (it's called Match DriverTM, but can we come up with a more derogatory name for it please? how about Pocket PickerTM?) now grabs keywords right out of the ad title I've written! Nice of them to fully disclose this little enhancement. Here's a little refresher course for Overture on how pay-per-click keyword advertising works: the advertiser toils on something called a "keyword list" of words relevant to their business. Their ads come up whenever someone types in those designated keywords, depending on how much the advertiser bids. The advertiser also writes ads using any words they feel might attract or interest or prequalify their visitors. The ad copy is *not* used as the basis for determining whether an ad appears on a given keyword or not. When my ad that is only supposed to appear on a term like "marketing toronto" comes up under "famous Canadians," I'm not getting the level of control I bargained for. I can tell you that 101% of advertisers feel the same way. Ask around.

I tell ya what, it's pretty neat seeing my ad up at the top of the page when some poor sap types in "famous Canadians." Now Overture, can you please smarten up and let Jim Carrey, John A. Macdonald, and Jane Siberry have their page back?

I'll bet the fly fishing camp appearing below me in the #2 sponsor slot is equally thrilled at the unexpected exposure.

Posted by Andrew
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Xtreme Advertizing 2 Kidz: Kiss Your $$$ Goodbye

Google advertising, formerly admired because the target prospects are often intelligent people typing words into a search engine, now also appears on "content partner" sites, sometimes through direct partnerships, and sometimes via ad brokers such as Burst Media (always friendly to the small impecunious webmaster).

I just noticed one of my own ads appearing on a site called aimfilez.com (typical entry: how to make your partner's a:/ drive whir from within AOL Instant Messenger; contact info on site: first names only). A typical rule of thumb for me when choosing a place to put my B2B ads (as if I have any choice in this case) is: steer clear of any sites focusing on "filez," "warez," "kidz," etc. I don't want these punks clicking on my ads and draining my account. I'm sure a lot of advertisers feel the same way.

So are we back to the days when the ad brokers laundered money for crap content sites with no value to advertisers (search for "eFront fiasco" and you'll get a refresher)? It appears we may be heading that way. Advertisers can, and probably should, "just say no" to Content Targeting until they're sure that it's going to pay off for them. But the whole problem would be solved by offering advertisers (let's say, good customers who spend x amount per year) even more choice - choosing which partner sites or ad networks to opt out of.

Google: your partnerships ultimately reflect on you. You're splitting ad revenues with script kiddies now?

Posted by Andrew
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Tuesday, May 06, 2003

A Premium Content Search Engine?

This man has a good point. Why isn't there a search engine specifically for premium content, such as that offered by Salon, the Wall Street Journal, etc.? The author of this article suggests the creation of a new meta tag that indicates a particular page contains premium content, but we all know that would never work.

His idea of a search engine that indexes portions of the page, but not the page itself would likely give premium sites a huge shot in the arm. Perhaps something more along the lines of Froogle would be more workable.

With Froogle, Google's shopping search engine, online retailers must manually submit an XML product feed to the Froogle database, and must keep it current, too, or it will be purged. Premium content providers could do the same thing and begin receiving search engine referrals that they cannot do as much with current search technology.

Posted by Cory
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Look out, LookSmart

Things had been looking up for LookSmart in the past year, as reluctant Net marketers began to slowly buck up for the web directory-turned-pay-per-click provider's new direction. It is, after all, one of the few ways to appear highly in paid listings for MSN, one of the top 3 search properties, so it's important to many companies to be in LookSmart.

However, due to cutthroat competition in the PPC space, LookSmart's profits are way below expectations. I would expect the squeeze to continue to be on LookSmart, as the only real feather in its cap is the MSN relationship. If that falls, so falls LookSmart. Look out below!

Posted by Cory
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New Traffick Article Posted: "History of Search Engines and Public Relations"

History of Search Engines and Public Relations
The irresistible force of search engine optimization has hit the immovable object of public relations. The result is both a threat and an opportunity.

Posted by Cory
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Lace and sunshine and hammers and nails

Speaking of The Carpenters, a terrible thing happens when you type "The Carpenters" into Google - you see ads for contractors and lumber stores. Help, Applied Semantics, heeeellllllppppp!!!!!!

Posted by Andrew
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Stupid or not, though, keywords matter to your business in the here and now

Informative interview with Tim Armstrong, Google's VP of Advertising.

Posted by Andrew
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You know, search engines really are pretty stupid

I've been commenting quite a bit lately on the fact that search engines treat keywords with too much reverence, when they need to be better understanding the meanings users intend. Just because three words appear on a page doesn't mean the page is about those three words, if you get what I mean. (Sure, a user can type the query in with quotes to ensure that the exact phrase becomes the query, but this approach has problems of its own).

I just performed a Google search for "corporate law Canada" and a really strange result was sitting in the #24 spot: the home page of FAST Search (one of Google's competitors, one of the top three or four web spiders in the world).

To quote Bush the Elder, "this will not stand." Or to quote a slightly more mellow poet, "we've only just begun."

Posted by Andrew
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It's Not Easy Being Purple

Seth Godin's noodling around in the lead-up to the launch of 99 Cows, the companion e-book to Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable.

Incidentally, I'm the submitter of Cow #48: "The World's (Okay, Canada's) Donut Expert." Interested? You'll have to buy Godin's e-book (all proceeds to charity) when it comes out next week.

I also happen to be the contributor of Google Hack #99. We're on a roll. Looks like it's time to update the resume.

Posted by Andrew
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A Glimpse of Yahoo's Anti-Spam Efforts

This morning, while simply replying to an e-mail, I saw something new on Yahoo Mail. After clicking the Send button to whisk the e-missive on its merry little way, I didn't see a screen that said something to the effect of "message sent."

Instead, I saw behind the curtain of Yahoo's anti-spam initiative, announced recently as a coalition with Microsoft and AOL. This interim page summarized the message I was sending at the top, and at the bottom, there was a message that read:

"Compose - Verify
To compose a message, please enter the word as it is shown in the box below:"

There was a "scrambled word" GIF image similar to Overture's login screen (which forces you to enter four letters "hidden" in a series of GIF images). In this case, the word was "poison." And, I had to type it in before I was allowed to send the message. To the right, there was a box that read:

"Why do I have to do this?
This step helps Yahoo! prevent abusers and spammers from using Yahoo! Mail. "

Ask a simple question, get a simple answer!

Posted by Cory
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Monday, May 05, 2003

Overture Updates Account Interface

In case you haven't peeked in on your Overture ads lately, you'll see some changes next time you log in. The account center was down for 18 hours last weekend while engineers made many upgrades and improvements.

I spoke with an Overture rep last week, and she said fixing bugs was the main reason behind the system maintenance. Specifically, the Manage Listings page was ultra sluggish for accounts with quite a few keywords. Also, when your session timed out and you tried to log in again, you'd get a login error even using the proper login info. That problem persisted for months. It's about time they fixed it.

As far as enhancements go, it looks like they've added some navigation improvements. On the main menu page, the Account Status has been moved to the right-hand side of the page. In addition to the normal summarization of account balance, daily click charges and estimated account depletion, you now see how many listings you have, how many listings are in the "low Click Index range," and recently removed listings.

The Click Index rating, which relates to the relevancy and clickthrough rate of the ad, has been around for a while, but until now, there wasn't really a way to find out which listings were in danger (until you got an e-mail from Overture warning you about a listing). However, terms that never get clickthroughs were obviously potential victims. Now, you'll see it bright and clear on the Manage Listings page. Basically, it's the same thing on AdWords where, if your ad ain't cutting the mustard, you need to fix it, or they'll mothball it.

All in all, these are good changes. Especially the speed enhancements. And, the process of adding listings sure has changed! It is considerably easier than it used to be. You can now use one ad title, description and URL for multiple keywords, a la AdWords, and that's a huge time saver! Be careful about doing this if you want to track results by keyword, though.

Posted by Cory
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San Jose Newspaper Enthuses about Local Search Engine

When the world's most brand-recognized company is located just a few miles away, you'd think a local newspaper would have said all there is to say about Google, nestled in Mountain View, just a few miles from San Jose. (The only reason I know this is because I attended last August's Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose, and received a guided tour of the Googleplex with Traffick Editor Andrew Goodman).

So, I'm sure any read of the San Jose Mercury News (online as SiliconValley.com) could have written this article. Maybe this was originally published on The Onion?

To be fair, I guess this was an online-only article, but still... This me-tooism with regard to covering Google is getting old. Imagine if you're Sergey or Larry. "OK, can you tell us one more time, gentlemen, how Google got its start?" Groan...

Posted by Cory
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Cuckoo, Cuckoo!

At long last! Learn why the eponymous Google Village morphed into the much-better named Microdoc News:

"Rather than Google Inc., being a dominating and powerful media baron forcing us in the global village to act in particular ways, I now see Google Inc., as rather much more an inventor, architect, engineer, and publisher, making it possible for the little guys like myself to become heard."

Nothing like a 180-degree reversal to increase your street cred. Well, at least another Google conspiracy theorist has abandoned the cause and realized Google is Just a Darn Search Engine, not a Matrix-like computer system bent on taking over the world and using humans as batteries!

Posted by Cory
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Sunday, May 04, 2003

Yahoo, eBay Leading the eWay Back to Net Stock Dreamland

Here's another article on the resurgence of Net companies, especially focusing on the boost their stocks are getting thanks to some rosy earnings reports. The AP, via, CNN writes that eBay now has a market capitalization bigger than that of General Motors (again?). How silly. It's truly amazing how dumb Wall Street is sometimes. But... perhaps the "discredited" idea of the "virtuality" of Net companies creating incredible profits is finally coming true, like many predicted in the late '90s (read: the New Economy concept).

Once again, it's refreshing to read yet another positive reminder that many Internet companies are poised to come back and remain fixtures for a long time to come. Of course, not all of the fallen stars will come back to life, but there have been enough success stories to make one believe that this time, Net cos. are finally going to capitalize on the frictionless environment of the Net and do things never before dreamt.

Posted by Cory
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