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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
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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
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WSGD?

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

Posted by Andrew
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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
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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
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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
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"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
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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
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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
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