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Saturday, August 30, 2003

Dirt-Cheap Clicks: You Have 36 Hours

I know, it's not a good time. Let's just hope there's a one or two day grace period lest you be on vacation or just returning.

Some time ago, FindWhat (arguably the #3 pay-per-click advertising service - and in our opinion, often as good a value as the top two) announced that their minimum cost per click will be going up to five cents at the end of August.

The nice thing is, existing bids between .01 and .04 will be "grandfathered." If you have an account with a few keywords, add more now (I do mean now!) and you may get approved soon enough to qualify for the lower CPC's. You can also open a new account and do the same thing.

In most competitive industries, you'll have to bid higher than that for your keywords. However, those elusive penny clicks can sometimes offer a good ROI. Sadly, they're going the way of the dodo!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, August 29, 2003

AdWords Conversion Tracking to be... Free?!

As one of a "select number" of AdWords advertisers, I was invited to participate in a survey about possible enhancements to Google AdWords. One of the many questions that caught my attention was this little number:

"Google is considering offering a free conversion tracking feature to AdWords to help you figure out the value of the clicks you're getting from AdWords. This feature would allow you to track the activity of visitors who click through from your AdWords ads. You would add a snippet of HTML code that Google would provide to the pages you want to track. The code would include a small image which displays the Google name. Your AdWords reports would track the number of visitors from AdWords ads that landed on the pages on which you include the image. You could also use an optional feature that would calculate the value of your clicks based on a dollar amount you assign to the conversion."

(By the way, the image displayed would say: Found with Google AdWords)

So, once again, if this does actually come to pass, Google will have done something the right way, instead of charging members 50 bucks a month for this feature (ahem, Overture!).

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Wednesday, August 27, 2003

New AdWords Interface Goes Live

Thanks be unto Google for finally switching over to the new AdWords interface, which is similar to Overture's DirecTraffic Center and is, IMO, much easier to use and manage.

And, speaking of that, don't you just think the label "DirecTraffic Center" is a bit, well, goofy? It sounds like some kind of highway transportation think tank. It always seemed sort of needlessly grandiose, but it's probably just me.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Viruses and Worms and Firewalls, Oh My!

In case you're one of those lazy types who hasn't taken measures to protect against the disastrous Blaster worm, here are some tips for how I've coped. As someone who normally receives large volumes of e-mail, I've had to devise ways to adapt to the onslaught of the Blaster worm e-mail messages, of which I'm receiving several thousand per day. Here's what I've learned:

1. Set up an Outlook message rule to send any message with "wicked screensaver," "that movie," "thank you!", etc. straight to the Deleted Items.

2. Never, ever open an attachment from someone you don't know.

3. If you run Microsoft XP, turn on the built-in firewall, or download a free firewall program like ZoneAlarm.

4. If you run Windows 2000 or earlier, install the Windows Update program, which can automatically download and install updates so you don't get caught with un-patched OS when a worm comes knockin'. If you run XP, it's already installed, but be sure to enable downloading and installing of automatic updates if you have a broadband connection.

5. Buy Norton AntiVirus, McAfee VirusScan, or any other credible anti-virus software now! And be sure to enable automatic updates of virus definitions.

Now, get out there and impersonate a virus by "infecting" all your friends and colleagues with this vital information.

So, in conclusion:

1. Microsoft is a dangerously careless company that we entrust with our national security, and that has an operating system monopoly and almost zero motivation to make its products secure.

2. The anti-virus software industry is making a killing off this mayhem.

Which leads me to believe that:

1. Microsoft is in cahoots with Symantec and McAfee.

2. Consumers are getting screwed big time.

That's my "fair and balanced" take. Now it's up to you to decide who's right.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Monday, August 25, 2003

ET Phones Yahoo

Much like Amazon.com running the outsourced e-tail sites for big companies like Target and Toys 'R Us, Yahoo is beginning to flex its outsourcing muscles by taking Entertainment Tonight's site in house, according to this article.

This kind of deal makes sense, as Yahoo tries to buddy up to the influential entertainment industry, helped no doubt by CEO Terry Semel's Hollywood connections. I would expect more deals like this to be hatched in the future. The portals have the infrastructure, the engineering expertise and marketing power, so it's a logical fit for these players to take over website operations of large media companies.

In fact, according to the same article above, MSN took over the web presence for Access Hollywood, and traffic to that site soared.

Search engines may have the spotlight right now, but portals may yet have the last laugh...

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Saturday, August 23, 2003

Paid Listings Continue to Mystify "Slow" Searchers

Apparently, even experienced web searchers are still a bit slow on the uptake that some search results are actually paid listings, according to this article, which describes a recent study by Consumer WebWatch.

On a related note, one fellow at the SES conference last week in San Jose was shocked -- just shocked! -- that there was such a thing as paid search engine results, which he instantly understood to mean "tainted."

"Wait until the government does something about this," he basically told host Danny Sullivan.

"That already happened," Sullivan returned, "two YEARS ago" when the FTC issued paid listing guidelines, and search engines have already complied with the guidelines.

"Well, when the public finds out about this, it will be a major scandal!" the conferencegoer exclaimed. "You just watch!" Danny just sort of shook his head and moved on with the discussion.

In the aforementioned article, Sullivan also points out that newspapers have balanced paid ads and content for over a hundred years, and no one complains about that. So true, but apparently even experienced searchers still can't tell the difference between "organic" search results, and those labeled "paid" or even "sponsored."

Gee, it seems to me that even most imbeciles know what those words mean. In any case, Consumer WebWatch said it would release paid listing guidelines for search engines really, really soon. And just in time, too!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Friday, August 22, 2003

Yahoo! Update: Goodbye Google, Hello Inktomi?

It appears Google could be making an exit from Yahoo’s search results sooner than later.

Yahoo! Australia has been testing Inktomi search results alongside several other engines in an effort to see if results provided a “viable alternative” to Google, and more trials are apparently underway in Brazil and the United States. Overall, the tests make up approximately two percent of search volumes in those areas.

While Yahoo!’s purchase of Inktomi earlier this year basically sealed Google’s fate as a provider of search results for the portal, the speed at which Yahoo! appears to be moving to replace Google may come as a little bit of a surprise. After all, given its recent purchases, Yahoo! is going to have a heck of a time figuring out how to maximize all the technology it has picked up – though you gotta start somewhere.

Posted by Adam




WSGD?

The people speak, and Godin compiles. (Click the above link for a PDF about "What Google Should Do.")

Posted by Andrew Goodman




SES Wrapup: No Masters of Minutiae Here!

As the search technology and search-based marketing industries continue to gain momentum, a conference like this week's well-attended Search Engine Strategies in San Jose seems to generate a fair bit of attention. Perhaps due to the breakneck pace of acquisitions and feature upgrades over the past six months, the conference was by and large not used by companies as a major platform for announcements. In general, though, the business is booming - and the formation of SEMPO, a "marketing board" of sorts that will aim to educate the corporate sector of the benefits of SEM - may be proof that SEM is maturing, as well. As you can tell from the SEMPO site, it already has the backing of leaders in the industry, and (not unlike the napkins at the bar that hosted last-night's post-LookSmart-reception karaoke) has already attracted sponsorship from the likes of Overture.

So anyway, here's Traffick's take on the important, the unimportant, and the merely odd bits of news at this week's SES:

Biggest party: Google Dance 2003

Best karaoke effort by a newlywed: Marshall Simmonds' wonderful Prince stylings

Eeriest symbolism: Danny Sullivan's fireside chat with Sergey Brin. As Brin opined that the whole Internet search business has gotten "a little bit crazy" (especially around acquisitions and interest by the press) in the past little while, the flames from the virtual fireplace behind him seemed to be licking at the side of his face. Possibly a sign that as much as Brin might like to wish for a return to the days of relative anonymity and nascent coolness, things have heated up and there is no looking back. Brin didn't reveal too much in the talk, but was nimble on his feet when Sullivan jokingly asked about the timeline for them someday acquiring a company "such as Microsoft." Brin didn't miss a beat, observing that "in the end, no one ever really acquires anyone else, it's all about ratios." Ratios indeed.

Weirdest sign-of-the-times application of the new technology: Guy in my plane on runway in San Jose whips out his wireless phone, calls his secretary, asks her to bring up Google and look up "Johansen Electronics San Jose," and then asks her to tell him if they have a special offer for a GS-385BA-90 on the home page. He then calls Johansen Electronics and orders the GS-385BA-90. There have been several wild phone-search related ideas tested out in the past few years, so no doubt Phone Google will be coming someday, unless Jeeves beats them to it.

More heat than light The prickly debate amongst the panel debating the effectiveness of "contextual" ads. A provocative and factual presentation by Sausalito-based consultant Brad Byrd showed that Google's content-based ads performed very poorly for a large pharmaceutical company (on a "cost per registration" basis) in comparison with Google AdWords. All three industry panelists (from Overture, Google, and Sprinks) responded defensively, but Sprinks' Lance Podell seemed to direct frustration not only in Byrd's direction, but also towards his competitors, whose recent move towards contextual advertising does not offer the kinds of channel control painstakingly developed by Sprinks. But Podell's own presentation wasn't entirely convincing. Although some aspects of Sprinks are undoubtedly strong from an interface-and-control standpoint, this doesn't matter if the average advertiser sees their account drained quickly with few sales to show for it. Podell made several leaps in logic which couldn't have been overlooked by some unlucky advertisers in the crowd. Podell argued (in point form) that Sprinks "must" show a strong ROI because there has been an increase in the number of advertisers, and later asked rhetorically "it's a free market, isn't it? If advertisers aren't seeing a good return, they will presumably leave." The Sprinks presentation focused mostly on the benefits to publishers like CBS Marketwatch who seek to squeeze more revenue out of each page view. Ultimately, Podell is dead right. If advertisers don't see a strong return, they'll leave. Unless, of course, the publishers and intermediaries are lucky enough to team with agencies who can convince larger advertisers to spend heavily without fully understand what they're getting. Ultimately, it's early days for the push into contextual ads. We'll have much more to say about it in this space, but for now, ponder this: maybe they *aren't* really a "fundamentally different" kind of advertising from search advertising as everyone is now saying. Maybe there is a continuum whereby some contextual ads are more tied to browsing that is "quasi-navigational" in nature. For example, is a context-based ad showing up on epinions, Alexa, site search, a Yahoo! Autos or weather page, etc., entirely "intrusive" as with the usual banner approach, or is it a little bit like search marketing, because in some way, the user is still "searching" in these venues?

Not only does he stand near the registration area looking like a proud poppa, but he also writes! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Alan Meckler. Rumor has it that it was Mr. Meckler's idea to bring Search Engine Strategies to Toronto next May, to be hosted by Chris Sherman. I'm told this decision isn't final yet, so I want all you Canadian marketers and search junkies to put your hands together and MAKE SOME NOISE! As you can imagine, I think this is a great idea. Canada is one of those countries whose broadband adoption was early and swift, and there is an established "larger company" media and advertising industry culture in Toronto and a thriving tech sector. At the same time, my experience has been that marketers and advertisers, and especially small to medium-sized businesses, have been slow to properly budget for search engine optimization and pay-per-click lead generation campaigns, at a time when customer acquisition costs in this medium are tantalizingly low.

Unimportant-but-widely-reported-news-because-it's-Google: Google rolls out two new sizes of contextual ad creative. I mean, I'd blog this, but why are there 38 news stories on this? Google's Mike Mayzel must have a really easy job these days :-)

Better leave it at that, since it's been a long week. But undoubtedly an excellent week for search marketers. Kind of made you proud to be a "searchie."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, August 21, 2003

Overture's Conversion Counter -- Too Good To Be True?

Following up on recent reports about Overture's integration of the Keylime ROI tracking, I spoke with Todd Daum of Overture after his session at Search Engine Strategies on Tuesday, and asked him for an update.

He said the rollout would happen in three stages, with the newly announced Conversion Counter feature up first. Conversion Counter allows you to track conversions of five types of actions after users click on your paid listings:

1. Sales
2. Newsletter sign-ups
3. Subscriptions
4. Sales leads
5. Other

All you have to do is stick a small piece of JavaScript code on the appropriate landing page, and Overture does the tracking. Pretty cool, eh? Yes, except, here's a big detail that no one mentioned in San Jose, straight from the info page about Conversion Counter:

"Track your conversions for FREE for a limited-time."

Hmm, that's a bit of a shock to me. Like many others, I was under the impression that this would be a free feature that would differentiate Overture from Google and other PPC players, but I guess I was being a bit naive. Sure, Overture has no obligation to make this valuable feature free of charge, but it seems misleading to not ever point out that it would be free for a limited time. Nope you gotta read the fine print to learn that. And once again, the fine print ruins the party...

UPDATE:

After deciding to try out the new Conversion Counter feature, I came upon the Terms of Service page, which I paid very close attention to, noting that this is where they will try to get you on the "limited free time" thing. And, I was right:

"4. PAYMENT: Upon 30 days written notice by Overture, you agree to pay Overture a service fee in United States dollars in an amount not to exceed $49.95 per month (“Service Fee”) in connection with your web site(s), pursuant to the terms of the Payment Plan you selected (as such payment plan may be amended or modified by Overture from time to time), including, if any, all applicable taxes, in accordance with the billing terms in effect at the time the Service Fee becomes payable. "

So, there you have it, folks. It'll run you 50 bucks a month to use this feature, which seems to be a higher cost than similar services like ConversionRuler, which offer more functionality for less money.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Kicking the Gator Habit, Redux

One of the newer features of the Google Toolbar is the ability to "fill in one forms with one click." Along with the more well-known password-remembering feature, that's one of the features that made many users install the Gator software when if first came out. Perhaps when Google adds a few more features to the toolbar, such as a password remembering tool, the toolbar will become a multi-faceted force for good. The Toolbar is already helping users block at least some popups. Perhaps it will help others kick the Gator habit for good.

Related Traffick item: Kicking the Gator Software Habit

P.S. In spite of Cory's great advice, I still use Gator on one of my computers, because I found a way to shut off the popup ads using a certain vendor's personal firewall. I know, I know, I'm dancing with the devil. But that might be a short-term fix for you, too, while you investigate alternatives.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




"What Not to Wear, Unless of Course You Can Get Away with It, Which these People Obviously Can," Part I

In case anyone had forgotten, a look back at some pics from Google Dance 2002.

Our crack research team will have a link to photos of this year's bash to you just as soon as they become available.

People shouldn't look this good in t-shirts. They just shouldn't. How do they do it?

Tara, if you can crack that code, you'll sell a million copies of the next Google Hacks book.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Overture Finally Rolls Out Matching Options

The lack of broad matches with Overture (a feature which, along with phrase matching, exact matching, and negative keyword filtering, was introduced by Google when they rolled out their AdWords program last year) has long meant that the best way of tackling the business of setting up an Overture account is to "dump" massive lists of phrases into the system to provide the widest possible coverage of potential user queries.

As Overture now admits, in spite of the yeoman effort on the part of some advertisers to stuff their accounts full of every conceivable phrase, the lack of broad matching left a huge proportion of user searches "unmonetized," i.e. with no ads showing on these terms.

Overture has just announced that it now offers the full range of matching options. This will significantly affect current Overture advertisers' accounts, and it's probably not a stretch to say that a lot of accounts will improve their ROI as they find themselves able to get broader coverage on their keyword universe. Let's hope some of the bids drop down a bit to compensate for the increased traffic.

At the same time, Overture also made advertisers aware of improvements in the reporting interface, including more emphasis on their Keylime ROI tracking.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, August 17, 2003

Overture Bolsters Content Match Technology

Overture is beefing up the technology behind its Content Match advertising program through a licensing agreement with Quigo Technologies, a developer of contextual search solutions.

Quigo’s AdSonar advertising system will be used in conjunction with Overture’s own in-house contextual technology. AdSonar apparently gives publishers the option of a “human editorial setup” that allows them to define relevancy parameters and ‘teaches’ Quigo's “learning algorithms” which parts of each page – such as titles, categories, and sub-categories – should used to gather relevancy data.

The company has several interesting people on its management and executive teams, including a CEO with experience in developing AltaVista’s trusted feed program.

While contextual advertising is still a relatively new concept, it’s quickly gaining in popularity. This deal will bolster Overture’s ad serving technology and entice new advertisers at the same time – an important one-two punch as the company dukes it out with Google for more advertisers and affiliate sites.

Posted by Adam




Saturday, August 16, 2003

See you at SES!

The Traffick Team won't be blogging much, if at all, the week of Aug. 18 due to the big shindig known as Search Engine Strategies in San Jose, CA. If you're coming, feel free to stop by the Traffick booth and say "hi" (the Traffick booth being wherever Andrew and I are standing at that particular moment). If you're not coming, I have nothing more to say to you.

Andrew's session titled "Writing Search Engine Ads" will be on Tuesday from 2 to 3:30 p.m. So come on by, and hear Dr. AdWords tell 'em how it's done!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Yahoo "Might" Continue AltaVista

Here's one of those semi-interesting articles that says something "might" happen. This time it's from ComputerWeekly, and they claim that Yahoo might not pull AV off life support, because:

"We believe that the AltaVista brand is still very strong, and has come to attract a particular type of user, and it is entirely possible that we may keep the AltaVista site to serve a particular niche of users," said Yahoo senior vice president for engineering Phu Hoang.

Hmm, just who is this "particular niche" of users, I wonder? Could it be, people who are insane and have never heard of Google or Teoma? Or, maybe it's just webmasters who still check their rankings in AV on the off chance that some old computer geek die-hard fan of the original "good" search engine might be searching?

Hoang does slightly clarify the point about keeping AV around for a while, but this point was made already back when the Yahoo deal was announced:

"I think that there may be opportunity for us to try new search features and new capabilities that are a little bit on the edge, that we are not yet ready to show up in the mainstream."

So, basically, an admission that no one uses AV anymore, so why not knock yourself out?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




MSN Search "Tests" Could Impact LookSmart's Bottom Line, Company Admits

Dow Jones Business News reports that LookSmart shares plunged 20% Friday in light of the company's second-quarter report, which admitted that changes at MSN Search could affect LookSmart's revenues from the current search partnership, and might also affect MSN's decision to renew its contract with LookSmart in the future.

Amongst other things, LookSmart said:

"Based on our discussions with Microsoft, it is likely that the licensing portion of the agreement will be renewed, but that it will result in less licensing revenue than under the current agreement."

A recent contract with Lycos to become the featured search partner would soften the blow of any loss in Microsoft revenue, but only slightly. MSN referrals account for more than half of LookSmart's revenue.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, August 14, 2003

Google + Math Functions = Hint of Bigger Things to Come?

When I first heard about Google following AlltheWeb's footsteps by integrating math functions into its search box, I was nonplussed. But, after thinking about it a bit more, I think this is a development worthy of highlighting.

When you read through the list of available tools offered by Google's simple, little search box, you begin to see a bigger picture developing, one in which you can save enormous amounts of time by utilizing a central place to find ALL kinds of information, whatever the context.

I mean, when Google can tell you what you really want to know when you search on "half a cup in teaspoons," that's impressive. This type of near-artificial intelligence opens new doors of possibility that I think only hint at what's to come in the search engine space.

If search technology continues to improve, and if the Internet does become as ubiquitous as it seems to be doing, then search engines will not only slay the yellow pages, but they will become, IMHO, the most important sources of technology in history. No kidding!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Wednesday, August 13, 2003

T-Online Bombshell Shows the Portal Wars Rage On Globally

CNET's Stefanie Olsen reports that T-Online, Germany's leading Internet Service Provider and largest web property, has abruptly ended its sponsored listings contract with Overture Services, opting to sign a long-term agreement with Google for search and sponsored listings instead.

My first reaction to this announcement was to wonder whether the change was prompted by the fact that FAST Search, which currently powers web index listings for T-Online, is no longer perceived to be "European" since its acquisition by Pasadena-based Overture.

But the real story is Yahoo's takeover of Overture (and thus FAST Search as well). T-Online makes no bones about it. "We see Yahoo as one of our main competitors in several fields, so we've drawn on our change-of-control clause to terminate the contract," says a spokesman.

This type of situation is likely to continue to crop up in Europe, where strong indigenous ISP's and portals like T-Online and Wanadoo are in a tight race for market share against "global" (read: US) portals MSN, Yahoo, and AOL.

Much has been made of the fact that Google is losing contracts because it's seen as a competitor to some of the companies that it wants to partner with. But now that Yahoo controls Google's main competition, the same logic applies... perhaps even more so, since Yahoo competes in a number of channels whereas Google (in spite of its influence) is still, at the end of the day, a search engine.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




"C'mon, Ted, it'll be fun. We're young, profitable, and best of all, you're allowed to run around the halls screaming 'Yahoo!'"

Michael Liedtke of the Associated Press duly notes (Yahoo! stalked Overture for over a year) that Overture CEO Ted Meisel will get a "raise" on his $290,000 Overture salary - to about $375,000 - when he becomes a VP at Yahoo.

The same public filings that Liedtke used to garner this info show that Meisel was compensated a bit better than that: he cashed in close to $10 million worth of Overture stock in 2002. Six figure salary? Ho hum.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, August 12, 2003

I also tried to test the effectiveness of my car's air bags by removing them and then driving into a brick wall...

Check out this poor fellow. He stopped all online advertising for three months because he thought that would be the easiest way to test its effectiveness.

http://www.internetretailer.com/dailyNews.asp?id=9923

Well anyway, he found out retroactively that his online ads had been pretty darn effective, as without them, online sales plunged 45%.

All for the lack of some verrry basic tracking technology costing all of $20-100 per month.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, August 11, 2003

Google Bans eBay Keywords

eBay has asked Google to stop using its “trademarked terms” as keywords, and Google has complied. This means advertisers can no longer make any use of eBay-related terms in their ads or keywords.

While this has sparked some debate over what “reasonable” rights to trademark use are, it’s amazing that more companies haven’t made the same request of Google and other sponsored listing providers. Lots of sites are bidding on company names, and many of their ads aren’t exactly complimentary.

Posted by Adam




Jeeves, What's the Point of All This?

So Ask Jeeves is coming out with a new offline ad campaign under the direction of its "agency of record," Chiat/Day, and in the process, tried to garner a little free PR by shopping the story to journalists last week.

The point of this, we're told, is to emphasize the quality of the Teoma-powered search at Ask.com, and, well, to explain that this is about finding what you need, as opposed to asking questions and getting answers. According to Jeeves' marketing people, the goal is to get the site's total search market share of 3% a little closer to Jeeves' 11% reach figure. In other words, 11% of searchers are using Ask Jeeves at least once a month... but it isn't their engine of choice and they don't search there frequently.

Should they? Sure they should. Teoma is comparable to Google in many ways. But it strikes me that trying to get consumers to think of Ask Jeeves as a really good search engine, as opposed to a place to ask questions, is an insurmountable task. Most people by now are pretty well focused on Google as the #1 brand in search. If you ask them about Jeeves, they're likely to respond... "oh, yes, isn't that the one with the butler, the one that gives you answers to questions?" You could probably spend $100 million on ads without making a dent in that basic assumption around Jeeves' positioning.

So why are they burning their cash in this manner? What is it about some Internet companies that they seem to dislike having too much cash in the bank?

One supposes that Jeeves, rather than being positioned for a new place in consumers' hearts and minds, is actually being positioned for acquisition on favorable terms. That's the norm in the search business (and many other technologies as well), it seems. For all but the leading players, profitable quarters are assumed to be a temporary aberration, and management teams have frequent nightmares of being trapped in maze-like cubicle farms from which escape is impossible, and where all the walls have handwriting on them.

Related Traffick article: Differentiation Can Be Brutal in the Web Search Business

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, August 10, 2003

3-2-1 Contact

There had been a database problem affecting our web-based contact form for the past few weeks, but the issue has finally been solved! So, if you tried to reach us lately but couldn't, please accept our apologies. But, it's back in action now, so feel free to contact us about... whatever!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Friday, August 08, 2003

AdSense Rolls Back One of the New Features

In response to swift publisher feedback, Google has taken down the "related searches" feature in AdSense ads, and informs us that it's now working on ways to allow publishers to customize this aspect.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Metrics: Best Left to Third (or Fourth) Parties?

Kevin Lee has just published an important column about Overture's move into the metrics/analytics business. This becomes even more important now that the Keylime Software group becomes part of Yahoo, who recently acquired Overture. Lee rightly points to the history of ad serving services like Doubleclick increasingly being responsible for the tracking of ad performance. Over the years there have been grumbles on all sides of online advertising transactions, and it doesn't seem to help if one of the parties is perceived to be loading the dice.

If the publisher is the "first party," and the advertiser is the "second party," then Doubleclick was the "third party," right? Perhaps, but here, third-party is still not independent, as the middleman is helping to sell ads and may well be doubly biased: wanting to charge advertisers as much as possible while paying publishers and affiliates based on a conservative assessment of performance.

I'm not throwing out any particular accusation here, and nor, certainly, is Lee.

But we've heard good arguments in the past that a "fourth party" is really needed to properly track ad results, or to audit the company that is providing the traffic. Unfortunately, on the audit front, there doesn't seem to be a huge market demand for services of this nature (which might have been effectively provided by an outfit like ABC Interactive, the online division of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, but some time ago the online division was "folded back into" the parent company, which implies its work was being de-emphasized).

But the good news is, advertisers by and large want to install their own tracking solutions from third (or fourth?) party vendors, and are actively investigating ways of effectively and accurately tracking the performance of their ads. Ultimately, self-interest is strong enough in this sector that firms will simply arm themselves with their own defenses against potential bias in analytics.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, August 07, 2003

And plus, if it doesn't work, you can always ask the Yahoo Customer Support person out

Interesting Newsfactor item today: Yahoo is using a third-party analytics tool to sense when subscribers are losing interest in their Personals service, and then phoning them to see if there is anything they can do to help.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




AdSense Upgrade, Continued

Good spy, eagle eye Cory. AdSense publishers are supposed to be getting that memo this morning. In addition to "related searches," other upgrades include the ability to customize the ads' look and feel to a site, including the ability to have ads in several different colors to test the impact on CTR's; a feedback form so users can critique particular ads if they aren't relevant; and some reporting upgrades in the AdSense publisher interface.

One reason that Google is adding "related searches" to the mix is to have something to put on pages whose content doesn't lend itself well to any advertiser keywords - currently, we're seeing a lot of American Red Cross and other public service announcements. The other reason for re-emphasizing the search and navigation aspect inside this advertising space, says Google's Susan Wojcicki, is to "train users to see that space as relevant and useful." A third reason, not mentioned by Google, is to enlist AdSense publishers in the effort to send more traffic to the Google search engine. Possibly a fair tradeoff for the generous revenue share Google allots to these publishers.

The AdSense upgrade looks like incremental progress. Though not earth-shattering by any means, the changes suggest that Google is doing more than just dabbling in content-targeted advertising.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google Tweaking AdSense Format

Quick! Look to your left, and you'll see Google AdSense ads in action. Now, look at the bottom of these content-targeted AdWords ads, and you'll see a new little box that reads "Related Searches." Click on whatever link is displayed, and you'll -- guess what -- be searching on Google.

Pretty sneaky sis! I don't remember being notified by Google about this, but maybe I missed the memo.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Google News: Good; Google News Alerts: Not so Good

Google has made some noise in the past day or so about their free news alert service, which notifies you by e-mail whenever a particular topic you want monitored is mentioned in a news article. It's a fine concept, to be sure, but considering that Yahoo and MSN already offer such features in a more robust fashion, Google's service isn't too appealing -- yet.

The method by which you set up and manage news alerts is odd, in that you don't actually set up an account where you can log in and manage news alerts. Google's FAQ about the service does say that you can delete the alerts, but it all seems very convoluted, whereas Yahoo's service, for instance, is much more streamlined and powerful.

To be fair, Google's disclaimer admits this is a beta application, and it's an obvious fact, due to the limited functionality offered. However, once they work out the kinks and fine tune this feature, I suspect that with Google's superior indexing technology and commitment to quality, I'll be using it before too long.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Did Someone Say Infinite Regression?

As always, this month's Search Engine Report is chock full of gems.

One of the interesting items: a heads-up on a new watchdog-watchdog site called Google Watch Watch at www.google-watch-watch.org. One article doesn't a website make, but anything that acts as a counterweight to Daniel Brandt's one-sided rants (which masquerade under the guise of public interest) is fine by me.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Finally, a Trustworthy Search Engine Optimization Forum

SEO expert Jill Whalen, she of the former RankWrite Roundtable newsletter and current High Rankings publication, has taken it upon herself to launch her very own SEO forum. It is professionally moderated, and seems to have a very low ratio of self-promotion and a high level of free professional advice.

It's a good place where experts and novices alike can share tips and not worry about spam, abuse, talk of cloaking and other nasty things. Register today. Tell 'er Traffick sent ya!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Sunday, August 03, 2003

Keylime Acquisition a Key Part of Overture's Strategy

Overture finally announced plans that many in the Internet marketing community had been anticipating after its buyout earlier this year of web analytics company Keylime Software, as reported by News.com.

Keylime's products "provide real-time customer intelligence solutions enterprises need to optimize their Web visitor and customer interactions," according to its web site. While Keylime offers several varying products to track web activity, the recent announcement, as reported by Stefanie Olsen, sheds light on why Overture really wanted the company:

The latest Keylime software is built to help marketers manage and track bids for their sponsored search campaigns. The updated tool promises to connect the dots for advertisers by showing them how pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns relate to online sales, or return on investment.

I'll give Overture credit for anticipating the need for PPC advertisers to track the return on investment of paid listings. Given the enormous profits being generated by PPC ads, I'm surprised that it took as long as it did for the big PPC ad providers to offer these services, but now that they're coming, advertisers will surely rejoice when they can finally see the results of their hard-won and hard-spent advertising dollars.

Of course, Keylime wasn't the first and certainly isn't the only provider of ROI tracking software for PPC ads. ConversionRuler is an up-and-coming outfit that provides a reasonably priced, yet powerful solution.

But, with the big dogs starting to offer these services inside the friendly and convenient confines where advertisers manage their paid listings, it will be tough for the third-party services to compete. Still, with all the opportunity that lies ahead, there will undoubtedly be room for lots of players.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




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 Goodman




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 Goodman




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 Kleinschmidt




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 Goodman




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