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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

...and then, pass the Advil

I defy Google AdSense to match the content on this page with their exclusive ad-serving technology. Well, bless 'em for trying, anyway.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




This "Do Not Call" Thing May Not Fly

I just got a call from the 902 area code (which includes scenic Nova Scotia, Canada). Hoping it was Register.com calling me to apologize profusely (they list a 902 number on their site for callers from outside North America who can't access the 877 number), I did the naive thing and actually answered my phone.

Unfortunately it was just a telemarketer (no doubt sitting a couple of rows down from the Register.com phone support folks in the same call center) trying to push a credit card on me.

This got me to thinking about the current legal skirmishes around "do not call" legislation. It's likely that telemarketing companies in the US are already plotting ways of getting around any legislation that comes out. This might include moving operations offshore, or at least to Canada.

Sure, the underlying companies who hire the telemarketers are no doubt still liable, but I imagine they'll be trying to shade every gray area to the max, and working on any loophole they can, even if it means setting up foreign subsidiaries or... ok, I'm getting ahead of myself, maybe... but I'm sure they'll think of something.

One way or another, telemarketers are going to be about as easy to stop as the tobacco companies. Maybe the bigger ones would let themselves get bought out by huge telcos, then let the telco lobbyists do their thing, if the courts don't overrule the legislation, that is. Too many gray areas, too much of a restriction on free speech. If the suit salesman, stockbroker, or insurance rep you deal with doesn't ask for your permission to "phone you occasionally" in just the right way, are their companies liable? It creates a huge quagmire.

Guess that means you shouldn't get rid of your call display just yet. Eventually, we'll have special "no call numbers" that we'll be able to buy for a premium, that will be listed but off limits to telemarketers. Advantage, phone company (again).

Posted by Andrew Goodman




One of the Most Egregious Opt-Outs of All Time

A pox on Register.com.

I got an email from them today, inviting me to renew my domain names, and indicating that if I didn't take specific action, not to worry, I was included in their SafeRenew service that would renew those domain names for one year using my existing credit card info.

That's funny. I don't keep my domains registered with Register.com. I use NameBargain.com.

Now that's not to say I didn't know that NameBargain is owned by Register.com. I'm aware of the connection. But I had assumed that one would stay distinct from the other when it came to the issue of renewals. That's a fairly important point, especially if you own, say, 20 domain names. NameBargain's $8.88 a year. Register.com soaks you for $35. That's a difference of $234/yr. just for some silly addresses, which are, of course a commodity. That doesn't come with storage space or anything else, including integrity, apparently. I sure as heck didn't sign up with NameBargain for the cute name, or for my health. I signed up with them, because, like the rest of you, it will be a cold day in hell before I hand $35 to Verisign or Register.com for a domain.

So anyway, there's a link in Register.com's email to opt out of the SafeRenew service. Unfortunately, when you click it, the website tells you that the request can't be processed at this time. That means you have to phone customer service.

That's one weird opt-in, I'll tell you. I register domains with one service, and now find that their parent company is going to use the credit card information I trustingly provided to automatically renew me in a different service class costing nearly four times as much!

Even if NameBargain had opted me into the SafeRenew thing without my permission, it would have been wrong. But to opt me into it and have me leap over the fence to a whole new premium pricing scheme is just outrageous. There ought to be a law. Hopefully there is.

It's a bit like your Toyota dealer dropping you a line (by email) telling you that when it comes time to trade in your Corolla, you'll be opted into a nice new Lexus, and "by the way, you'll be billed for it." For shame. I might just as well have had my credit card stolen by some joy-riding street thug.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, September 29, 2003

"Me-tooism" Causes Amazon to Jump into Search Fray

Here we go again. Why is it that every Tom, Dick and Harry must go where the money is? Probably because that's where the money is.

Last week, Amazon.com announced plans for a new company called A9.com. The premise of the new company is intriguing, but the details are sketchy. It seems to be a shot across the bow of Google's new Froogle shopping search engine, and a serious threat to DealTime's relaunch as Shopping.com, and Yahoo's recently unveiled plans for a comparison shopping engine.

"A9.com is a new, separately branded and operated company to create the best e-commerce search technology available to Amazon and third-party Web sites," said Alison Diboll, an A9 spokeswoman who would not provide any specifics on the services.

You may also recall that Amazon earlier this year hinted at a new, quasi-search engine that would look through all the books in its extensive catalog. I'm more jazzed about that service than yet another shopping search engine, probably because I never feel the need to comparison shop for products online. I guess I'm just not interested in being a smart shopper!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Sunday, September 28, 2003

ASPs Off Life Support!

This isn't new news, but it's still a positive message worth sharing: It appears that application service providers (ASPs) are not only surviving, but thriving, to boot.

Isn't it nice to hear refreshing stories about Internet-based companies instead of the same old rehashed junk about dot-com doom and gloom? It's amazing how reporters relentlessly hammered away on the same message that the dot-com boom was a temporary moment in time whose golden age has passed? It's as if they were trying to atone for their "irrational exuberance" over the boom. Today, however, most analysts finally agree that it's a matter of when, not if, Internet-based companies start showing huge profits thanks to their inherent advantages over shrink-wrapped software providers. Salesforce.com, the poster child of healthy ASPs, might even go public next year! How '90s of them.

And when Google finally IPOs, the lid will undoubtedly come off of this burgeoning retro trend. You can just feel it, can't you? Let's hope this time, however, investors and analysts are a bit more restrained in their proclamations of the next big thing.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Friday, September 26, 2003

As Promised: Why Sympatico Dumped Google

Canada's largest ISP has a lot going for it; a large, relatively stable, captive user base, for one thing. Timing doesn't seem to be one of their strengths, however.

Recall that Sympatico had forged an unusual content partnership with Lycos, rendering the name of the Sympatico.ca portal "Sympatico-Lycos." Realizing the mistake, they bided their time and eventually bought back Lycos's share for a reasonable price.

Next step was an ambitious deal with Microsoft to combine elements of MSN.ca with Sympatico.ca to form a power-portal, a deal I confess I still don't fully understand.

That seems to be why -- at least according to the best guess of spurned Google Canada people -- Sympatico decided it simply must sign Overture to be its pay-per-click and algorithmic search provider. MSN has deals with Overture, therefore there is a partnership there, and thus Sympatico by extension suddenly doesn't want to step on anyone's toes, and therefore doesn't want to have anything to do with Google. Pretty weak reasoning, since Overture was never all that close to MSN, just a partner, but there it is.

But as the wheels turned towards dumping Google, they were also turning simultaneously towards making Overture a part of Yahoo!, one of MSN's biggest competitors. Overture is an MSN partner for now, but how long might that last given that they're now a division of MSN's portal enemy?

So what will happen in a year or two when Sympatico-MSN decide they really don't want to send money over to Yahoo? Either MSN has its whiz-bang in-house search tech finished, or LookSmart gets the contract (but not Inktomi, since they're owned by Yahoo), or Sympatico reps nudge Google in the side and say, "pssst, hope there are no hard feelings, but we kind of need some search infrastructure over here..."

To save face, the likely solution will be that Sympatico-MSN maintain the Overture partnership for as long as it takes MSN to roll out its own search product.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, September 25, 2003

Bastions of SEO Integrity... Currently Hiding Under a Rock Somewhere

Yikes. (Is no one embarrassed by this?)

I like the claim that "The WebSeed.com website has a higher Google link popularity score than all other SEO companies combined." Compare and contrast with the present reality: the WebSeed.com site is gone, and all WebSeed member sites combined have an average PageRank of "site is not ranked by Google."

To all the reputable SEM firms out there: even today, in 2003, you're still competing for attention against scammers (like Webseed) who continue to create link farms and call them "quality content networks," and who might be out to steal your natural traffic.

These are people who call spam a "butterfly" and a link farm a "wonderful day in the country," and hope naive clients won't notice the difference. Arrgh. There should be a very simple rule. Never hire any firm that cold-calls you or spams you, even if they claim their uncle works at Google and they "did some work for P & G last month."

I've got a specific company in mind, since a former client wanted to hire them... and I should really mention their name... but ... aaaahh, it's not worth it. But rest assured, those kinds of rats are still out there and still doing a riproaring business.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Love, Google Style

Rumors are flying that Google will acquire Friendster, the fast-growing "online dating service with a difference." Friendster is maybe a little more like real life, at least to some people, offering a way to network one's way into social activities which may or may not include dating.

Friendster CEO Jonathan Abrams has been a minor celebrity of late, with his company getting the kind of attention in the mainstream press that he could only dream of with his previous venture, HotLinks, an online bookmarking service that was bankrolled by CMGI (it eventually petered out for lack of profitability in spite of late efforts at moving into business services).

With an idea like this, and now, venture capital friends like Tim Koogle and other prominent players, it seems that Abrams' new venture can't miss. It's an eon ago now since the days of CMGI and unprofitable ventures like HotLinks. When I talked with him back then, Abrams spoke about how the investors' money got spent in the initial hurry to popularize and develop the product. In addition to hiring staff and buying furniture, Abrams enthused about running out and buying a retro 1980's video game, Galaga, for the office (one I confess to having had a weakness for myself). A Toronto boy who plays Galaga? He can't be all bad.

Now, we wait and wonder if Google will have to squeeze in another addition to their game room. Remember, guys, Galaga, not Galaxian.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




150,000 Advertisers? You Gotta Be Kidding

Today, Google sent out a press release announcing the official launch of their Spanish advertising office in Madrid, and news that their total number of advertisers globally is 150,000, eclipsing competitor Overture.

But what does this mean in terms of average prices per click and prohibitive bidding wars, issues that matter to most advertisers?

Word on the ground, at least judging by discussions had over lunch at my nngroup seminar on Search Engine Visibility yesterday, is that for competitive terms in industries like financial services and travel, the entrenched advertiser base at Overture has pushed their cost-per-click bids significantly higher than they are on Google AdWords.

There are probably a number of reasons for this. Since Google was a relatively recent (February 2002) entrant into the PPC market, Google's advertisers were the "second wave," which means that they're covering a broader range of industries and keywords (in part due to the fact that Google allowed flexible phrase matching options which Overture only rolled out recently) without pushing bids as high in the core of highly-competitive industries.

In other words, more advertisers does not translate over to higher costs if you are one of the smart ones taking advantage of interesting features of AdWords, including the way it rewards superior relevancy in its formula. But if the trend continues, prices will inevitably go higher as more advertisers join the party.

Google's global strengths also likely translate into a higher total advertiser base. It's easier to go multinational and multilingual with Google.

It's an eye-opening announcement in some ways, since it proves that advertising dollars continue to stampede to online marketing and specifically keyword advertising. But then again, to you, maybe it's not such a big deal.

Let's hope Google has something more interesting to tell us about soon.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, September 22, 2003

Google Takes the Initiative in Local Search

Google is offering a new take on search: the ability to find local businesses by typing your search term along with a zip code. It's in the rudimentary phases, and certainly doesn't seem as good as a strong metadata protocol might be for the same thing, but check out what they say in their press release:

For this experiment, we've done something new by analyzing the entire content of a page
to extract hints or what we call "signals," about the geographic nature of a page.


Well, all I can say is "keep at it, Google." I tried the requisite example query from the master list of colorful example queries provided to me by a prominant search guru who shall remain nameless. "women's shoe store" and "90210" turned up a bunch of listings for the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce. Hmm, maybe it's time for the shoe stores to start optimizing for that zip code thing? Brick and mortar can be dumb sometimes...

You can perform your own experiment at labs.google.com.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Overture's Wins

Interesting little note buried unobtrusively in this month's Overture advertiser newsletter. It seems that Overture has ousted Google as the provider of pay-per-click results for Sympatico, Canada's biggest portal & ISP. As part of the deal, Sympatico is also dropping Google for algorithmic search because Overture was able to offer them this as well -- remember, they acquired FAST Search's web search index as well as AltaVista.

This is a fairly significant development as it does show that Overture's acquisitions of search engine properties were rooted in real disadvantages it faced when going head-to-head against Google in negotiations where the latter could offer both search and pay-per-click.

Possibly more importantly, it proves the point that portals are continuing to play the search and paid search providers off against one another, using their control of traffic as leverage. Various reasons may be given for dropping a paid search provider and signing a new one -- surely we'll be able to suss a few pretexts out of Google Canada and/or Sympatico management at some point -- but the underlying economic reality is that the portals are moving to take a bigger share of the pie away from third-party vendors.

In Google's case, as long as the searching is being done on Google, they're happy if you call them a "portal" if that means they get 100% of the ad revenue. MSN, we know, is developing solutions in-house. And Yahoo! acquired Overture so it could take 100% control of its paid search revenue (along with revenues emanating from its forthcoming Inktomi-powered index, which it also owns).

The only major portal that isn't touting its own search stuff (but rather, proudly touting "powered by Google" in TV ads) is AOL (if I'm still allowed to call them that).

Did someone say "portals matter"?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, September 21, 2003

Sleezy Company Suing Sleezy Company over Sleezy Practice

A company you've probably never head of -- Popular Enterprises -- has filed suit over Verisign's new SiteFinder program, which redirects all requests for unassigned .com and .net domain names to one of those "coming soon" pages (yeah, as if asdf123abc.com were actually coming soon!). You know, the ones with all those directory listings that "might" be what you're looking for? Those are usually sponsored links, by the way.

Popular Enterprises (irony, anyone?) apparently offers one of those nutty toolbars that unwitting schmucks download through dubious means, and says it offers the same functionality as SiteFinder through its toolbar. Verisign's sleezy practice apparently usurps Popular's toolbar, rendering its selling point unsellable to advertisers. Boo hoo.

To see SiteFinder in action, simply visit:

http://www.if-only-you-could-spell.com

(Now don't you go registering that one!)

Frankly, I hope they put the kibosh on both of these "services." Or, maybe, maybe, instead of Verisign making a profit from something they don't own, maybe they should be forced to put up links to charities like the American Red Cross or Salvation Army, as Google does when its AdSense software cannot determine the context of a page.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Friday, September 19, 2003

Pre-Post-Merger Hangover for FindWhat-Espotting

Espotting's financials weren't what they seemed on the surface, say FindWhat officials, forcing them to restate earnings guidance for this fiscal year and causing them to reopen negotations around the merger, which has yet to be finalized.

As of this writing FindWhat (FWHT) shares are down about 20% at $21.75. Putting this in perspective, the shares traded at $10 as recently as early May, so the prospect of a potential unravelling of the merger is by no means catastrophic.

Espotting didn't look like a company that would be easy or quick to integrate with FindWhat, so it stands to reason that much of the decision to merge, and the valuation placed on Espotting, had to be related to the latter's ability to add incremental revenue and profit to the picture regardless of near-term synergies. In light of FindWhat management's claim that Espotting is not, in fact, profitable, it is entirely possible that the merger will be nixed and that FindWhat will carry on on its own.

At the very least, FindWhat management will renegotiate the valuation placed on Espotting. One would expect very little cash and less equity going to Espotting's principals in the new deal, if there is a deal at all.

Either way, FindWhat should carry on relatively unscathed. All indications are that advertisers continue to discover the service, likely pushing average costs-per-click prices up. Some believe that Google and Overture are enjoying faster price-per-click inflation, but nonetheless, if FindWhat can hold onto its #3 position, it's still in a solid uptrend.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, September 18, 2003

Erasing a Bad Memory: Time Warner Drops AOL from Name

The decision is final: reflecting internal power struggles at the world's largest media company, AOL Time Warner is changing its name to Time Warner, and its ticker symbol to TWX.

This sets the table nicely should they decide to merge with another overvalued Internet company. Yahoo! Time! Warner!, anybody? It's not so far-fetched. Yahoo's market capitalization, at $24 billion, is fully one-third of Time Warner's. A couple of good quarters for Yahoo, and a couple of bad quarters for TW, and they'll meet in the middle at $50 million. Just think of the synergies.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Dear Schmuck: This Stuff Writes Itself

Corey Rudl sent me another exercise-in-self-parody email today. An excerpt in case you didn't have your daily belly laugh yet:

Hi Albert,

I don't know if I am writing this e-mail out of frustration or relief... I mean, search engines are still the most effective online marketing tools that are free.

But trying to decipher all of the BS information that the so-called search engine "experts" are peddling was driving me crazy (Though my girlfriend, Tracy, insists that I was crazy way before this :-).

I'm sure you know the “so-called experts” I'm referring to… we all get spammed by them.

And I have looked everywhere for a piece of software that could actually deliver what it promised and get my customers (and me!) ranked well in the search engines... not just the top five, but in the top 150 engines.


Tracy, I hope for your sake you're enjoying Corey's company and living for the moment with lots of fun rides in a fancy convertible. But trust us, he's not crazy. That would be a nice excuse, but alas! No, he's so sane, he just blew my mind! Luckily, his email was addressed to a guy named Albert, so I chose not to buy the crap he's peddling.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




More Insight into Microsoft's Web Search Decisions

According to this Reuters piece, via Yahoo News, analysts believe Microsoft decided to build, rather than to buy, its own algorithmic search engine for a few reasons.

First, they think the only way to beat Google is to build a new search engine from scratch. Apparently, they don't believe any other existing engine has the goods to trump Google. Fair, enough.

Secondly, Microsoft plans to integrate this neo-search tech into the Windows operating system:

"Any time Microsoft builds something into the operating system, they don't want to get that from anyone else," said analyst Matt Rosoff of Directions on Microsoft, an independent research group based in Kirkland, Washington.

I suppose the message here is that it's easier to break the law with your own software than to try to use someone else's to do so!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Towards a Semi-Literate Society: Courtesy Amazon.com

Frequent Amazon customers know it has many cool features, including the ability for civilians to offer book reviews and for these same individuals to create annotated, thematic reading "guides."

Where would the state of intellectual debate be without engaged, self-taught, non-accredited, non-tenured, but entirely opinionated people like Scott Belhorn?

Because Belhorn seems to have put together about a zillion reading lists with comments on each book on the list (sometimes numbering thirty or more books), the first thing that comes to mind is "what kind of a job does he have that lets you read so many books?" As it turns out, Belhorn had been an inner-city social worker, then worked in payment processing for a large Internet company, and currently attends law school hoping to set up a solo practice. Not only do we need more people like Belhorn, we probably need more lawyers like him.

One of the more interesting lists is his "people I really despise" guide. Belhorn's an equal-opportunity hater, lambasting Bill Maher, Bill O'Reilly, Geraldo Rivera, G. Gordon Liddy, Oliver North, Michel Foucault, and William Kunstler in equal doses. He's no fan of Malcolm X, either, nor of Thomas Jefferson: "Yes, that's right. The author of the Declaration was a miserable human being -- slaveholder, extravagent spender, Jacobin radical, states-rights southerner, proud atheist, hypocrite, and double-dealer. In short, a wretch."

His "people I really admire" guide could use work. It's much shorter, and includes two presidents and a pope.

Another guide, one that held considerable promise, also needs fleshing out, perhaps in the form of an article (looks like it would be a long article, like the long ones in Atlantic Monthly you can't get through), is Belhorn's "Tired of Baby-Boomer Self-Righteousness?"

His "Movies for People Age 20-39" also held promise, but dude, putting White Men Can't Jump in the same list as sex, lies, and videotape, Tuff Turf, and Heathers is a little bit strange.

Anyway, back to the question of "what kind of a job do you have to have..." ... is it possible that one could actually make a decent supplementary income just creating these guides and generating referral income from Amazon book sales? Now that would be a strange job indeed, but not unlike what a lot of online opportunists are up to these days.

And now back to, um, work.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, September 16, 2003

When, precisely, did Yahoo! become evil? And how could it become good again?

Maybe a smart reader can help me pinpoint the day that Yahoo! crossed over to the dark side. Who knows, maybe it was the day they went public. But lately it seems increasingly evident that they don't "get," and don't want to "get," that intangible web sensibility we like to call "it."

They don't get it.

Like countless others, I often use Yahoo! Mail. Feature-wise, it's very good. It often solves a lot of problems for me. I expect a little advertising to come with this service, I honestly do. I just don't expect it to be so ridiculously intrusive. Not when I'm paying 50 bucks a year for the premium mailbox.

In the middle of a message that I don't want to send, I hit "cancel." Instead of taking me to a screen like the message list or the previous message (which would have advertising anyway), I'm served ANOTHER ad on a separate, useless page that says nothing but "your message has not been sent." And the ad, as all the ads in Yahoo Mail, is really, really big, and gives me a headache. I realize that there might be a good reason to tell me that my message wasn't sent... but with all this advertising on a service I paid for, I'm beyond caring.

Now I thought Yahoo was making the transition to fee-based revenue. If so, then why annoy willing fee-payers with ads of this nature? So far, the premium "StatTracker" for the fantasy football (only $10) isn't littered with ads - hey, I paid for it, right? But how long will it be before they figure out that this, too, is another source not only of incremental "upsell" revenue but also a nice place to plaster intrusive advertising that slows down the user experience?

The only thing users care about as much as email is, of course, search. If industry rumblings are any indication, Yahoo! plans to serve up a foul brew of paid inclusion, paid directory, and sponsored listings to replace what was a perfectly good Google index. For their sake, let's hope they've taken an accurate reading on the average user's sophistication level. I know the average reader of this site won't be thrilled with the latest incarnation of Yahoo Search.

What Yahoo should do, of course, is to resurrect Inktomi (with help from scientists at AltaVista and FAST, who also now work for Yahoo through Overture) as an unpaid index and genuinely compete with Google on the search quality front. The index could be syndicated to other portals or search destinations in a package deal with Overture listings. The Yahoo site's revenues wouldn't suffer too much, because high-quality search would be accompanied by banner ads and Overture listings.

Nah, I guess that just makes too much sense for Yahoo. We expect them to make a mess instead, plodding along with a paid-inclusion index that isn't really search. And hope that they prove us wrong.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, September 15, 2003

That Same Old SEO Soft Shoe?

Fredrick Marckini, a well known author and entrepreneur in the search engine optimization business, is a recent addition to ClickZ's author lineup.

Unfortunately, Marckini's first two columns are little more than a transparent attempt to sell his company's services. Though not universal, self-promotion is a growing trend at ClickZ which many have noted in the past year. I suppose I'd do the same put in Marckini's position, but that probably underlines a key point about editorial integrity. Someone at ClickZ has got to start taking a tougher stance (although that would probably require them to pay writers).

No one's saying that natural search traffic is a bad thing, so Marckini and others seem to be arguing against straw figures when they extol its benefits. But on the "SEO vs. PPC" debate, we'd like to see a little more objectivity. When readers write to me to ask for studies or resources to help them in their marketing presentation to the boss, I'm often at a loss, because most of the studies and stats in this area are produced by companies with an ax to grind. LookSmart is fond of pointing out that "organic listings" get a higher percentage of clicks overall than the advertising listings (I should hope so!), but they naturally fail to question just how organic a search listing is if the listee, er, advertiser, er, website, is paying LookSmart and MSN for every click.

Today's column by Marckini trots out numbers: big numbers of visitors to websites from organic search. Oh, yes, visitors, remember them? The metric favored most by bubble companies at the height of the dot-com madness. Again, it's little surprise that search engines refer a lot of traffic; people love search engines! But isn't it a little outdated to discuss "visitors" without discussing the revenues or on-site actions those visitors might produce? Are we supposed to go on faith? No doubt in the third instalment of Marckini's trilogy he'll address the need to convert visitors (a key phase in what Marckini dubs "inquiry marketing" with nary a tip of the cap to Godin and permission or to Nielsen and "request marketing"). But to some extent, the damage has already been done. We're back to fixating on big visitor numbers, with a promise that you, too, can get it all for free.

Moreover, is it not the case that ultimately, the search engine (and the external community) determine which websites are relevant and deserving of visitors? Is it also not the case that they might well tweak their algorithms to favor resources and publications of general interest so that commercial sites and their product pages ultimately don't rank as well? Companies like Google stake their future on making money on commercial listings and on retailers listing in shopping engines like Froogle.

Even for those merchants who do rank well in the organic results, it's often the case that these rankings are little influenced by an optimization strategy. That's as it should be.

Marckini's columns, unsurprisingly, gloss over a couple of tough issues that face the search engine marketer. In particular, it needs to be admitted that algorithmic search scientists do have something of an adversarial relationship with product marketers, especially when the algo designers are embedded in search companies whose revenues depend on ad revenues from such marketers. (In the immortal words of the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau: "Why should I sell your wheat?") It's also clear that many optimization companies (and those who simply observe what optimizers have traditionally done) know this.

In Marckini's previous column, Forrester analyst Charlene Li was quoted as saying that you have to shape your optimization strategy for different search engines... that a "Google searcher is not the same as a Yahoo searcher." The fact that there are different demographic profiles on different search destination sites is no secret, but how does one respond to this fact? Does this mean we're still designing websites with an eye to reverse-engineering their search methods, to "crack" each one separately? Does that mean cloaking and doorway pages? If not, then what? (Making rational choices about how to allocate paid advertising, perhaps?)

Natural search traffic is great for any business. But it's time to stop cloaking it in mystique.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, September 12, 2003

New Traffick article: Everything I Know About Marketing, I Learned from Seinfeld

"Chicken salad, on rye, untoasted ... and a cup of tea." From the annals of Seinfeld reruns come timeless truths and contemporary observations on how business really works. There's no telling what can happen from this.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, September 11, 2003

Raise Your Hand if You've Ever Checked Your E-mail by Phone

I really don't understand the portals' fascination with offering services to check your e-mail by phone. AOL is now touting its AOLbyPhone package, as reported by News.com.

Gee willickers, you can pay an extra four bucks a month and be able to hear spam on the other line. Ain't technology grand?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Spam Fighters, Rejoice!

The number of resources devoted to fighting spam is increasing every day, which is both good and bad. It's bad because we shouldn't have to waste time on this junk, but it's good because people are starting to arm themselves with knowledge. And together we can win the war!

PCWorld has launched Spam Watch, a portal page for spam-fighting information, downloads and other resources. Most of the time, these "topic centers" offered by computing magazines are lame and end up stagnating after a few months. Still, I'm hopeful that PCWorld will actually maintain and nurture this spam portal for many years to come.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Overture and Homestore

The race for distribution of contextually-placed keyword-targeted text ads continues as Overture inks a deal with Homestore.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Snowball Your Traffic... or Burn for All Eternity?

I got a nice little email from Cory Rudl tonight. Luckily, it didn't catch me with my defenses down, since it was addressed to "Albert." When I sign up for these kinds of things with a name like "Albert," or "schmuck," it reminds me later on that the email really isn't personalized and that the correspondent isn't really my friend. To say the least.

There's been a resurgence of lying liars lying about search engine traffic lately. I hear the phone lines crackling with hope as SEM newbies (often experienced in many other facets of business) tell me about so-and-so and his world-class Google-foolin' tool. Sigh. The fact that so-and-so made half a million bucks selling the tool is supposed to be all the validation the tool needs, and the cycle of ignorance and time-wasting continues.

Rudl's communique included this little gem of a come-on:

"So you can finally submit your web site to 150 search engines and directories automatically, and...

"Snowball your traffic and sales with top-ranking positions in search engine "Giants" -- like Yahoo!, Google, and AltaVista!"

It doesn't take a day-long seminar to show how wrong this all is - two minutes is all it would take. Let's just start with the obvious: AltaVista is not a "giant," it's a once-mighty fallen giant currently resembling a drunken fruit fly, and rarely shows up in your server logs, no matter what you do, because users don't use AltaVista anymore. Might be nice if they did, but wishing don't make it so.

In fact, there are fewer than five, and for my money, really one or two, non-paid web indexes of note today. For most businesses, Google is it. (I happen to love Teoma too, and its parent company Ask Jeeves has 3% or more of total search market share, so they're definitely worth a mention.) Both Google and Teoma do a good job of making life hard on optimizers. Type "the real thing" into Teoma and in the resources list on the right hand side, you get some surprising stuff: a critique of Coca-Cola from a labor perspective. Aren't search engines cool? They sure are, but they have to be pretty smart to be this useful, lest they be overrun by spam. So you're never going to see 150 or even 20 viable unpaid search indexes. It's hard to run a search engine. That seems pretty obvious given that arguably the #2 pure non-paid search index in the world (yes Teoma offers a paid guaranteed inclusion option but it seems worth ignoring this) has at best 3% market share.

The mighty portals, controllers of considerable search traffic, run either Google results, paid inclusion indexes, or pay-per-click (generally a mix of all three). So again, the old submission tool will do diddly to get you "into" AOL, MSN, and Yahoo. Repeat after me: there is no free lunch.

So to all the bamboozlers out there still trying to shovel those useless search engine submission tools out the door, remember Elaine's evocative words: "The worst place in the world! With devils and those caves and the ragged clothing! And the heat! My god, the heat!"

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Overture Gets Local

Overture Research, the recently announced experimental technology division of Overture, is toying with local advertising, according to News.com. The premise is to display pay-per-click ads for local businesses when performing a general search for "shoes," as an example.

Instead of being forced to wade through ads that may not represent companies local to your area, you would see ads for companies just down the street, which would be very helpful when doing research for products and then seeking local merchants that carry such products. This is a segment of PPC advertising that has yet to be tapped, and would be another good way for businesses to find and attract local consumers.

Overture's local search demo, while promising, leaves much to be desired. For example, in addition to entering their desired keywords, testers must also specify a zip code or city and state. Obviously, the benefit of the local angle is only realized if the search is transparent and elegant, not one that requires too much input from the user. This demo is more akin to a yellow pages search. My guess is that once this is rolled out, the algorithm behind it will detect your IP address or some other way for you to tell the search engine where you are, and it will do the rest. But, that's not happening yet.

Of course, Overture must struggle with how to determine when a user is searching for a local business and when a non-local source is sought, and that's an important detail.

This was a hot topic at SES in San Jose last month, and I wouldn't quarrel with estimates that this will be a $1 billion segment within five years. Advertisers should reap the benefits of lower competition for these local ads, and therefore, a lower cost-per-click. Should be fun to watch!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Sunday, September 07, 2003

I Saw a Deadhead Sticker on an iMac

This study about the news consumption patterns of the "younger tech elite" (18 to 29) vs. the "older tech elite" (42 to 62) is presented the same way in this online story as it was in the televised news report I saw.

Notice anyone missing?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, September 05, 2003

Sign of the Times?

Fortune Small Business lists something called the "Ultimate Resource Guide" for small and growing businesses on their website. There are eight categories, and one of them is Sales and Marketing. Of a mere six resources listed in this category, one of them is Search Engine Watch. Isn't that something?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, September 04, 2003

Good News for SpamNet Beta Users

This might be old news, but users of the Cloudmark SpamNet beta needn't worry about paying the monthly subscription costs that many users felt blindsided by when Cloudmark announced a subscription model to coincide with the debut of SpamNet 1.0.

I certainly don't blame Cloudmark for trying to bring in the revenue to support their very effective spam filtering software, but so many of us beta users thought the Outlook plug-in would always be free, and that the company would make their money from their enterprise spam filtering software.

I suppose I should go ahead and start paying for the service, as I would be in serious trouble without it. Pricing for beta users is only $1.99 per month for the first year, and after that, I'm guessing that the price will jump up to their standard fee of $4.99 a month.

That monthly pricing structure is kind of odd, because taken over a year, that amounts to $60. It seems that Cloudmark is trying to lessen the "sticker shock" by offering the subscription service on a monthly fee, but the way it's positioned, it also makes it more convenient to cancel at any time if it's unsatisfactory. Then you're not out the bucks up front.

Anyway, with all the spam going around, SpamNet is worth the money, despite the initial controversy over its pricing model.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Wednesday, September 03, 2003

FindWhat Diversifies

FindWhat has just acquired Miva Software, a company that provides sophisticated online shopping cart functionality. It's not clear what the strategy is here, although FindWhat's claim that it plans to "introduce Miva Merchant to its 25,000 advertisers" certainly has some merit as there is considerable overlap there.

More broadly it appears that FindWhat management has a plan to diversify its operations, perhaps realizing that its generous market valuation can't last forever, and that the third rung on the pay-per-click advertising ladder could prove shaky long term.

FindWhat's acquisition of European pay-per-click leader Espotting took us by surprise as well. But it won't surprise us in future if FindWhat gobbles up a few more low-priced private companies in the e-commerce field, perhaps even some with large customer lists that can be persuaded to become FindWhat advertisers (where the real money is).

A cynical view of the acquisitions might suggest that the Street likes them because they'll boost top line revenue next year, ensuring that FindWhat's rich valuation continues to seem plausible. For the next several quarters, the company should also continue to be profitable enough to maintain that plausibility with investors.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Court Says T-Online Must Remain With Overture

A German court has ruled that T-Online, which operates portals in several European countries, must honor its contract with Overture after originally dumping it for Google.

T-Online ditched Overture last month after Yahoo purchased the firm, claiming that Yahoo was a direct competitor but Google was not.

Look for this to become a recurring theme as portals re-think their strategies in light of recent search-related mergers and acquisitions. Yahoo, for example, has its own partner-related problems to worry about.

Posted by Adam




New Traffick Article: Online Advertisers Say "Good Riddance" to August from Hell

If correspondence from Traffick readers, clients, and colleagues is any indication, paid search advertisers are happy to see the end of August.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Monday, September 01, 2003

Pay-Per-Click Ads on eBay. Who Knew?

With the market for PPC advertising going supernova on the Web, it should come as no surprise that eBay would enter the fray with the plainly named Keywords on eBay program, powered by adMarketplace. I'm still learning how their program works, but it's title is blatantly misleading.

You do not actually purchase PPC text ads; you buy "keyword-based banner ads." Hmm, isn't that how most banner ad systems work? So, what you really have here is... the ability to purchase banner advertising that only appears under your desired user search terms.

That may not be such a bad thing, but it seems to defeat the purpose of PPC advertising and what makes it successful (hint: it's the text!)

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




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