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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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