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Friday, August 01, 2003

Pay-Per-Click in all its Forms

AOL Time Warner looks to be promoting a new self-serve banner advertising system for small businesses, allowing them to advertise on major AOL Time Warner online properties using a self-serve system provided by a third-party vendor called AdVariant. The cost, says my confirmation email, is "as low as 55 cents per click."

Sound expensive for banners? It isn't, particularly. A major AOL portal competitor recently cold-called a client of mine (based on the keywords he was advertising on with Google Adwords... this would be known as "poaching") with an offer for a CPM-based banner buy in the $15-20 range on a popular keyword. Unfortunately for Yahoo, um, I mean AOL's "major portal competitor," we had a fair bit of data on what a profitable cost per click is, and tried to project the number of clicks we'd receive from this CPM-based buy. The best case scenario looked to be $1.25 per click, with the worst case being as nasty as $10+ per click. My client already knows his cost per click of 20 cents (on average) on Adwords gives him a steady but unspectacular profit, so we said no to that particular offer.

The point: it's clear that with AOL, MSN, Lycos, and Yahoo gunning directly for advertisers, the gloves are off and even seemingly-bulletproof Google looks to be in for a rough ride.

Now that the portals are aggressively pursuing the small-business, self-service advertising market, as expected they're going after direct access to the advertisers and cutting out costly middlemen.

So maybe it wasn't so bad after all that Google became a "portal," or major destination site. "Portal power" rules. Those who own the traffic will seek to monetize that traffic without giving away too much to intermediaries. It's basic economics.

Does this move signal that AOL really will consider alternatives when it comes time to renew its search and advertising partnership with Google / Google AdWords?

Posted by Andrew
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You Are the Company You Keep

I must admit I was a little taken aback by this month's Overture advertiser newsletter. They ran an article that made much of the fact that "Overture's alltheweb.com" (i.e. FAST Search) was preferred to Google (at least in some respects) by expert Dr. Elwyn Jenkins, publisher of Microdoc News [pagerank=5]. Jenkins is certainly an interesting commentator, but his offhand comments certainly don't seem like much to crow about, especially given that his site was formerly (in an obvious SEO ploy aimed at currying favor with Google's algo) called Google Village.

Even more surprising was the fact that Overture is promoting Cory Rudl's Internet Marketing Course. I suppose this is supposed to "help" their advertisers, but when you read through Rudl's sales copy, isn't there anything on there that makes you go hmm....? Like the bit about "how I FOOLED directories and search engines into making me $15,000 a month!!!" (remember Overture, you own that alltheweb.com thing which is supposed to give users good results?) And the magical secret of how Rudl sold his legendary automotive info product for $69 instead of $39 and actually INCREASED sales.

Rudl's got a right to sell people his course, of course, which is no better or no worse than a lot of the other hyped-up marketing info out there. But as for Overture endorsing it... well... it seems like curious behavior. Surely many of Overture's customers are beyond the training-wheel stage... they'd have to be, paying an average of 40 cents per click, and often much more than that.

Posted by Andrew
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Keep Media is a Good Idea Whose Time Has Come

Louis Borders, the founder of the successful book retail chain Borders and the not-so-successful online grocer Webvan, has just launched a promising web-based venture that just might have legs. It's called KeepMedia, and it offers current and archived issues of popular U.S. magazines online.

Borders's newest venture is only a few days old, but already has more than 140 newspapers and magazines on board. If this takes off, I could see a brand new industry sprouting that could bode very well for content producers. It's about time all that great content come available online.

Now if we could just get major search engines in on the act, we'd really have something. Think about it: Digital content + search engines = a good thing. Borders observes that there are millions of pages of rich content stuck inside the pages of old magazines, and there's no reason that these pages shouldn't be generating revenue for the publishers who worked so hard to publish it.

On a related note, as we mentioned a few weeks ago, Amazon.com is already mulling the creation of a searchable, digital repository of thousands of books sold online. Do a search, find a match, buy the book. It makes sense, and it works for everyone.

I hope KeepMedia can do the same for magazines. Content producers deserve to make money, and it's time they cashed in.

Posted by Cory
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Speaking of Hard-to-Understand Metasearch Labeling

You might want to ask Infospace staff what a "MetaCatalog Pick" is.

Hint: it's served by the world's leading search engine. But it isn't a search result.

Posted by Andrew
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Thursday, July 31, 2003

Several Changes in the Works at Altavista

There have some adjustments at Altavista, including the dropping of Moreover as a news source in favor of AV technology.

While I tend to use Google News, AV's news search certainly has its merits: it boasts a vast news archive that dates back to mid-2001 and contains close to 10 million pages. That's very helpful when you're hunting for news beyond Google’s 30-day limit.

Several other changes are underway, according to both Gary Price and Tara Calishain. AV is now using the Open Directory Project as its directory source, and AllTheWeb and AV will apparently begin using an integrated search database in the fall.

Posted by Adam
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Microsoft.com to Searchers: Get Lost

No matter how you slice it, Microsoft.com's internal search engine blows chunks. Just try searching for something, and you'll see what I mean. Which makes it amusing that Stefanie Olsen of News.com reports that Microsoft is trumpeting their new, new internal search engine as the easiest ever. Not so, says I.

It's pretty sad when Google does a better job of searching Microsoft's corporate site than MS's own search engine. What's funny, though, is when a MS rep even admits it:

"Searching Microsoft.com was a real problem; using Google would sometimes get you better results," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

As they say, the truth hurts.

Posted by Cory
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HotBot Changes Names to Protect the... Useless?

You know it's a slow news day when HotBot gets a full-length article about how they changed the names of the search engines they draw their metasearch index from:

"We have continued to do usability testing to refine the product and one of the things that keeps coming back is that users don't know Inktomi, FAST, and Teoma," said Tom Wilde, general manager of search services for Lycos and HotBot. "But when tested against the brands HotBot, Lycos, and Ask Jeeves, almost all users recognize the names."

To Mr. Wilde's credit, that's probably a true statement. But doesn't it just seem, um, wrong to say you're providing one thing, when you're really giving something else? I mean, Inktomi is not HotBot, FAST is not Lycos, and even though Ask Jeeves does own Teoma, they're not the same thing.

Speaking of Jeeves, I had the displeasure of searching the butler's engine today to do some client research, and I nearly went blind after seeing Jeeves' jumbled mess of text that they call search results. I mean, if you're gonna be a second-tier search engine, the least you can do is make it easy to read your darn search results, right?

Posted by Cory
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Tuesday, July 29, 2003

An Even More Vapid Thought

Well Cory...I don't think that sounds like such a bad idea for a column. Gwyneth can visit my Googleplex anytime.

But seriously, as you were talking about the new interface (the reporting features could add some much-needed detail and flexibility to post-facto ROI analysis), that was one of about a dozen topics covered at today's second-ever Google "for advertisers" seminar in Toronto. Not only did several members of the Google Canada team give presentations on how to maximize ad campaigns, several others from Google offices in Mountain View, Atlanta, and New York pitched in.

Max Erdstein, Global Manager of Google's Creative Maximizers (MAXimizers... get it), gave an interesting overview which opened with a cute example ad: "TORONTO: You'll never get sick of this fabulous city!"

I'm pretty sure... hmm, actually very sure... they didn't all come up just to see the Stones concert. Nice job, gang.

Reading Kanellos' column, OK, maybe a little, um...

"Ultimately, most technology products--especially upgrades--are luxuries.

"Luxury, however, can have an incredible pull. Venice, Italy, became a world power through the spice trade. DeBeers built a vast fortune on promoting diamonds. Frank Epperson, meanwhile, achieved immortality by inventing the Fudgsicle."

... did someone say vapid? Then let me be the second. Did I mention that Venice is in Italy?

Posted by Andrew
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Vapid Thoughts About Google

I guess all those paid columnists have to write about something, so one might as well write pointless drivel about Gwyneth Paltrow visiting the Googleplex. If you enjoy rambling articles with little point and no original thoughts about the most fascinating search technology company in history, you might or might not enjoy this column by Michael Kanellos of ZDNet/CNET/News.com.

Posted by Cory
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AdWords Gets a Face Lift

The fine folks at Google (who actually take suggestions from actual people) have unveiled a new look for the AdWords administration interface.

It's not enabled by default, so you'll have to choose to turn on the new interface. I haven't tested it out much so far, but it looks much more streamlined with smaller fonts that enable you to see more data without having to scroll quite as much.

Nicely done!

Posted by Cory
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Monday, July 28, 2003

I Blame Yahoo!

Well, it's still happening.

The news functionality of my personalized My Yahoo! page continues to disappoint. Having added the "Golf" module several months ago I noticed that although the headlines at the actual partner site that serves the news (Golfserv) are generally up to date, the headlines that appear on my custom My Yahoo! page are still usually days and days out of date.

Case in point: today's top headline says "Unknown Mason Takes Halfway Lead at Sr. British Open." As the world has been fully aware for the past 24 hours at least, Mason double-bogeyed the last hole in the final round on Sunday to finish tied for first, and was bested in a playoff by old favorite Tom Watson.

And no headline at all about wacky fellow-pro-impersonator Peter Jacobsen winning a bona fide PGA tour stop, the Greater Hartford Open, at age 49. (Well, maybe not 100% bona fide. A club pro named Suzie Whaley shot 75 in the first round on the course, and it was tough not to notice Jacobsen hitting sand wedge into the green for his second shot on 17, and 9-iron for his second shot out of the rough after a bad drive on 18. But hey, 49!)

Can something so simple as a "new headline ticker" not be made to work properly?

[Note to those of you who are saying "golf is like soooo lame": well you obviously haven't been to one of Fuzzy Zoeller's wild parties. I have. So don't talk to me.]

Posted by Andrew
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Defending the Rights of Algorithm Designers, or "If You Don't Like it, Start Your Own Search Engine"

Sean Carton makes a good point in today's ClickZ column, a series of predictions about how the Internet landscape will unfold in the near future. He suggests that search engines are going to be overwhelmed with bureaucracy and regulation because they're becoming such an important public access point for information.

"At some point, someone's going to file a class action suit, or some legislator whose business got lousy rankings is going to say, "Hey! This isn't fair!" I don't know how attempts at regulation will pan out, but it's inevitable the government will try to get involved."

Sadly, he's right.

Shades of arguments we had with the likes of Gary Mosher, who no longer seems quite as wacky as we might have thought.

But the specter of legislators infringing on the editorial rights of the publishers of website rankings is too grim, ultimately, for us to even imagine taking something like this lying down. It's a real 1984 scenario. I know, I know, some are going to say it's Google, and not this hypothetical government agency, that has too much control over information. Maybe so, but so do the New York Times and Rupert Murdoch. Government regulates all media... to a point.

Ultimately, one supposes, it must come down to a question of what the law actually allows a publisher of listings or directories to do, and how many fetters can be placed on that. "Hard questions" (often completely uninformed questions) are being asked of search engines now, because they're the hot topic. But how often do you hear similar questions being raised about other listing formats, like yellow page directories? Like, is it really fair to list businesses in alphabetical order? What about the white pages? Is it fair that a single company or large public organization can list hundreds of numbers, taking up several pages? Of course no one asks these questions because the practicalities of helping users find what they need outweigh such nitpicking.

So at the end of the day, Carton (or at least his imagined litigators) are going to be proven quite wrong. Savvy users understand the implied pact here, which is "rankings of pages in Google are Google's opinion (driven by a proprietary ranking technology) of which pages are most relevant to the average user's query." A lot of people think Google's opinion is very often helpful to them, hence they continue to use the Google search tool. No one's holding a gun to their head. It's supply and demand.

Oddly, when you work through the logic of hypothetical "search rankings sour grapes litigators," the new advertising programs available on search engines like Google serve to head off the complaint that public access is being blocked by a quirk in a research tool designed by a herd of diabolical nerds. If you bid high enough, provided you meet editorial requirements and clickthrough rate thresholds, you can appear on the page for pretty much any keyword you choose. Yes, you appear as advertising, not a search result, but the point is, you're not completely shut out. You can pay for exposure without forcing Google to mess with their algorithm - parallel worlds appearing on the same page in front of the same user. The market at work, more or less. (What, hypothetical lawsuit-monger, you think the editorial process and the CTR cutoff are biased, too? Doesn't someone want to stand up and defend the right of the user to see something relevant? Someone other than 100 million actual users, that is?)

Sadly, Google may well have to chew up a bit of its IPO cash (now we start to see why a war chest is needed) in defending such principles. Imagine paying all those lawyers to duke it out only to come to the simple conclusion: "Hey, if you don't like it, study computer science at Stanford, Brown, or MIT, and start your own search engine. That's what we did."

Posted by Andrew
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Microsoft Has a Big Week

Last week was a big week for Mr. Gates and company. As News.com so nicely summarizes on one page, there were many developments in Windowsland:

* MSN is pushing broadband in the fall. If they get "there" before AOL, there's a good chance MSN will be able to steal away even more subscribers from the sagging #1 ISP. AOL seems to be trying hard to promote its own broadband efforts, and even attempting to get existing broadband subscribers to pony up $10 a month to access AOL's content services. That would have been a joke until recently, when most of Time Warner's content assets were moved behind the "firewall," so to speak.

* Microsoft is also pursuing a digital music store. Gee, if you can't own 'em, beat 'em. Is there anything remotely related to computing that Microsoft doesn't have a hand in? The success of Apple's iTunes store has the greedy Mr. Gates seeing dollar signs again. I simply can't believe that time and time again, Microsoft feels the need to dominate every single segment of the industry. Thankfully, some consumers are smart and don't want a homogenized single way of accessing computing services. You'd think Gates would take a lesson from the reversal of fortune plaguing AOL and realize that one-size-fits-all really means one-size-fits-none. I suspect this is another vaporware announcement, as MS really has no way of making its own music store. Which means that since they can't beat 'em, they probably will own 'em.

* Longhorn will rope everything together. Everything related to Microsoft products, that is. Which is pretty much everything relating to computers. Prediction: Microsoft will finally be broken up after Longhorn hits, possibly in 2006. Microsoft is finding a way to do everything it wasn't supposed to do after the settlement with the Justice Department. They're just doing it very subtly. Sure it's good when apps play well together, but tying them together so tightly will not sit well with the Feds. It might take a Democratic White House to actually do the deed, but Microsoft seems to be on a collision course with the U.S. government. If Longhorn is all that it is hyped up to being, I don't see how it's not another case of illegally using its OS monopoly to promote other products. It's early in the game, though.

* There were lots of other less important but equally interesting articles, so go check them out.

Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. As if.

Posted by Cory
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