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Friday, October 31, 2003

Yeeha! Google Roundup

Microsoft wants to marry Google.
This marriage just might be worse for the world than Corey Rudl's pending nuptials to an imaginary female named Tracy. Please, please, please Big G, don't pull an Anakin Skywalker and align yourself with the dark side! I believe you when you say that you care about "good and evil," and it doesn't get much more evil (eviler?) than to consolidate so much power in the hands of one company.

Google does not need Microsoft to be a successful company, whether public or private, although going public could make it very hard for Google to "be good." When you have to choose between the interests of your shareholders and your stakeholders, someone is bound to lose, and one party will feel spurned. Let's hope Brin and Page are successful in retaining their corporate culture that has had such a profound effect on so many people and companies. I think many people underestimate how much of a positive effect that ethos has had on the growth of the Internet. Depending on how you look at it, Google (along with Overture) may have saved the commercial Internet from self-destruction, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.

The Google Toolbar is Cool
When the New York Times writes about something, you know it's big time. This piece isn't necessarily remarkable and certainly is old news to Web veterans. But, it is interesting in the sense that Google is now the seeming king of pop-up ad killers, thanks to the new feature in version 2.0 of the toolbar. So, see? Google is still "good"! Oh, and R.I.P. X10.

Google Wants You (To be a Better Bidder)
Leslie Walker of the Washington Post has written an excellent summary of what makes Google's AdWords program so interesting, and that's the feature that rewards ads that get more clicks by charging the advertiser less and displaying his ad more frequently. Of course, readers of Andrew's Google AdWords report already know all about this :)

Leslie also shares some success stories of webmasters who use AdSense, the syndicated AdWords program. Although clickthrough rates are lower for these ads, some webmasters report that the conversion rates are about the same as normal AdWords ads displayed on Google, AOL, etc. In any case, thousands of websites are able to make ad revenue by doing very little labor, allowing them to focus on producing content (refer back to "Google is good" comment above!).

Finally, she concludes by presenting some of the challenges that Google faces (advertisers trying to sneak in "ad mismatches and Google's impending clashes with Microsoft and Amazon.com), as well as briefly mentioning Google's recent acquisition of Sprinks. Anyway, I've prattled enough. If you want a good synopsis of Google's world today, read the full article.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Incomparables

Welcome to the bizarro-world of business reporting. I have no doubt that valuations being bandied about for Google's much-too-eagerly-anticipated IPO sound rich. But comparing the company with Verity is just whacked.

They both have some pretty good search technology. Both do serve the enterprise. But Google's revenues are coming from a massive global user base (an audience). More specifically, the lion's share of those revenues come from advertising, NOT corporate IT contracts.

Open Text is like Verity. Autonomy is like Verity. Google is more like Yahoo... or maybe it's just in a class by itself. It goes without saying that (if you conveniently forget that they remain takeover targets for behemoths like News Corp. and Disney) companies like Yahoo are overvalued right now. Valuations are also rich on Open Text, Autonomy, and Verity -- especially Autonomy -- so what? Eventually this silly mini-bubble will correct itself, possibly when "Crazy Al" Greenspan comes to his senses and raises rates.

Meanwhile, rumors are flying that Microsoft approached Google, possibly even to discuss a merger. I guess there's a story behind every story. Sometimes, "unreal" valuations are all too real.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Down the Aisle and Straight to...

Back by popular demand, an update on how our old friend Corey Rudl's doing.

Got a chirpy email from him today. An excerpt:

Hi Albert,

I am sending this e-mail because I need to vent...

[snip]

At first I did not think much of this pop-up killing software until a couple of months ago when I checked the stats on my pop-ups... the subscribers and sales had literally dropped in half!

Have you checked your stats recently? Have you seen similar drops in your subscribers and sales directly from your pop-ups?

Anyway, when I noticed this I was soooo angry... So after about 2 hours straight of ranting about this to my fiancee Tracy, she told me to just shut up and do something about it. So I did.

Although it cost me over $22,000 and took a couple months to fix, the pay-off has been huge and I want to show you how I did it!

If you want to see how the special technology I just developed allowed me to defeat the pop-up killers...


Careful readers will notice that "girlfriend Tracy" has now been upgraded to "fiancee Tracy." It seems you just can't stop progress.

Now Tracy, I'm talking directly to you. It was bad enough when your man shamelessly flogged a gizmo that could submit a website to "all 150,000 search engines." But now with a popup-blocker-beater?

I'll admit... your man is a strong swimmer. But against the tide is against the tide. Do you really fancy fishing him out of the ocean three years from now?

What if the best possible outcome occurs and Corey is crowned the "Popup King"? Do you know what that will make you? (Tick, tick, I can hear you doing the computations...) Unwelcome at the Googleplex, for starters.

Tracy, while it may be too late for your future husband, it's not too late for you. Save yourself while you still can.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, October 28, 2003

So-Called "White Collar Spam" Getting Attention

Email is fast becoming a difficult way to reach out and touch your customers. This week I received another "win a contest" type email from my cell provider, Bell Mobility. Instead of letting out a scream, I quietly deleted it, a beaten man. When "real" companies are purveyors of the nasty unwanted email, it seems there is nothing we can do, especially when no one who works there seems particularly accountable (that's probably on purpose) for privacy policies.

Today's article by Saul Hansell of the New York Times provides a good overview of the problem.

In this space, we've previously agonized over numerous examples of this type of thing. Conglomerates like Lycos and Yahoo and many others have had little hiccups in their privacy policies leading to unwanted email, and bankruptcy proceedings at companies like Excite@Home often seem to lead to little accidents with databases being sold and shared.

The fact that "spam" isn't restricted to black-hatted "spammers" (along the lines of "Chinese spam gangs from Toronto" infamously referenced in the musings of one European regulatory body) is finally getting through.

It leads one to think that outside of communications that take extraordinary measures to get "whitelisted," and uncommonly useful publications, the whole concept of email "permission" marketing has been ruined, and not just by evil spammers, but by overzealous emailers in general.

Spam filters? Please. I've had my emails to a friend marked as spam because they contained the word "young" plus a double exclamation point (in different places).

Challenge-response isn't a viable avenue for many of us, either. In part, the problem with challenge-response is that it too can find itself in a bulk folder, or may be interpreted by the recipient as spam and deleted without opening, leading to a loss of business. No filter is perfect, needless to say.

And then, there's RSS, but this blog was supposed to be brief, so let's not go there.

If you know how to create pretty marketing materials in hard copy, and are willing to scrawl your handwritten signature & affix real stamps to them in order to get away from the crowds of other marketers doing the so-called "permission" thing... well get scrawlin', as low-tech and high-touch are back in vogue.

Also, consider upping your travel and lunch budgets for 2004.

One of the many spam blockers out there is called SpamArrest. Speaking of arrests, I have an idea. While we're tossing white-collar criminals in jail for accounting fraud, why not make a few examples of folks who shaded the line and sent out email pitches to customers who didn't ask for them? Hmm, then again, that might mean a pretty overloaded penal system.

I have no answers today, but do have a moral of the story. Don't be fooled by those who finger-point at "spammers," then turn around and send questionable email under the guise of "permission." There simply isn't any excuse for the behavior. Unlike TV, we can't mute it, we can't turn the channel, we can't Tivo it, we can't get away from it at work. We need our email addresses to function. Those who rationalize their excessive emailing with corporate doublespeak are actually cutting into gross economic output. There. Now we can arrest them for treason, or something.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Looking for that Easy Alternative to Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail?

There are a lot of different ways to get email. You could spend forever comparing schemes and features and offers.

Basically though, if you're like me, your situation is this: you already own a bunch of domains, and some of them might be useful as "alternative" email addresses. Wouldn't it be good to just get email service by paying for it - without needing to goof around with hosting? Why of course!

Yahoo offers a strange domain-registration-with-email cobrand, and I've used that in conjunction with one of my domains. But you know what? The box was soon getting bulk mail and moreover, Yahoo Mail is just plain full of ads and annoying.

So I tried a different tack: when I registered a domain with registrar NameBargain, I was able to sign up for a web-based email service for $14.95 that offers up to ten email addresses based on my domain (which I would have owned anyway). $14.95 isn't going to break anyone. Most importantly, the service gives me an inbox that is for now spam-free, with a cool name of my choice (no "parabola4851@yahoo.com" nonsense), and a quick login method. Most of all, no ads popping up all over the place a la Yahoo. Sort of how web-based email used to be in the old days.

There must be 100 ways to deal with spam, organize one's email, and get away from ads. I use multiple methods, as there seems to be no one easy solution. Sometimes low-tech works best.

I kind of like this particular approach, though. If you're one of those people who is getting too much electronic attention and whose email just "vants to be alone," head to NameBargain.com or another registrar that offers the service, and check it out. I guarantee you the experience of sending and receiving mails from this interface (you just surf to http://mail.Whatever-URL.xxx and log in with your password) will be like going back in time!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, October 25, 2003

Google IPO Noise Grows Louder

The Financial Times published a story late Thursday reporting that Google was thinking of going public early next year and holding an online auction of shares. FT was so proud of their story that they even published a press release about it.

According to the article, the plan is to more or less circumvent investment bankers by allowing investors to bid for Google shares directly. During the typical IPO process, investment banks get to decide on the price of the shares and who gets them. By auctioning the shares, Google apparently hopes to avoid the financial scandals that emerged with the bursting of the dot-com bubble. Google shares through eBay? Count me in!

Posted by Adam




Friday, October 24, 2003

Google Acquires Sprinks: Gains Access to Advertiser Base and Ad Placement on About.com and Primedia Online Publications

Sprinks, an innovator in the pay-per-click keyword-targeted ad space, is no more, following an acquisition by category leader Google, Inc.

Sprinks ads currently show up on 450 topic-specific About.com Guide Sites as well as 127 magazine-related websites targeting readers of major Primedia publications.

As part of the deal, Google has signed a four-year revenue-sharing agreement to show ads on these sites.

In the area of so-called contextual pay-per-click ads (ads near relevant content, not triggered by search results), Sprinks had been a recent thorn in the side of the industry leaders, Google, Overture, and Findwhat. Its ContentSprinks offering gave advertisers superior "channel control" than the often unpredictable contextual ads shown by its competitors. It's not clear if the acquisition will lead Google to rethink how it shows some of its contextual ads.

According to Marshall Simmonds, Director of Search for Primedia and About.com, the two parties have set a 45-day integration schedule to integrate Sprinks staff into Google and after which Google AdWords ads will begin showing on Sprinks' former network.

As for how the integration might affect Google's approach to contextual advertising, Simmonds says: "It's difficult to speculate. The main thing is that Google will now have access to our large network of topically-relevant sites."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google First to Roll Out "True" Regional Targeting

Google has launched a beta version of regional targeting for Google AdWords advertisers. Geotargeting has been one of the most-talked-about developments at search marketing conferences this year, and now it appears the future has arrived.

Google's competitor, Overture, is experimenting with local targeting options, but they don't offer this degree of convenience for advertisers.

Before this, advertisers could set their campaigns to show only in specific countries. This technology was triggered by the searcher's IP address and Google claimed it was 99+% accurate.

Local targeting won't be quite as accurate but uses a similar method.

Previously, advertisers used imperfect methods like bidding only on phrases like "buffalo ny personal injury firm," but this would depend on the user typing in the geographic designation as part of their regionally-focused query, something they might not always do. Now, firms in (for example) the Buffalo area can simply bid on the generic term (such as "personal injury lawyer") while targeting only their local area, paying only for the clicks that truly target their intended audience and having to jump through fewer hoops to achieve the targeting effect (much like placing spots on local TV stations).

How will this affect advertisers and per-click bid prices? It's likely that in some areas, bid prices could actually go down slightly as advertisers have a chance to turn their ads off for inappropriate locations. On the other hand, advertisers who target a specific area will now likely want to raise their bids, taking the savings from the improved targeting and applying them to increased visibility in their target region.

Another thing to note is that this ability to target ads to regional buyers may make the advertising even more attractive to users than the main web index results. Clickthrough rates on ads could see a slight boost as a result.

On the whole, it's a powerful step forward towards reducing friction between buyers and sellers online. Some advertisers will be able to reduce their overall ad spends while actually gaining more customers. In the meantime, Google should look forward to the entry of a whole new class of advertisers: local businesses who, thus far, found it too expensive or too cumbersome to pay for ads online.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, October 23, 2003

Amazon Users can now "Search Inside the Book"

The previously announced feature that allows full-text searching on any book in Amazon's inventory has arrived, according to a gigantic GIF image announcement plastered on Amazon's home page. It's called "Search Inside the Book."

This is a clever idea that should greatly assist so many people find the information they need, and buy the book that has the information, to boot. Amazon's motive is obviously to make money, but in doing so they have also done the world a great public service, and should be applauded for doing so. Now, perhaps search engines will take a "page" from Amazon and do something similar.

I've long thought that Google, a partner of Amazon's, should work with major content providers and retailers to allow searching of premium content as a way to drive sales and subscriptions of premium content. Lord knows that content providers deserve all the help they can get.

There's a lot of information in the world that simply isn't available on the Internet, but it should be accessible online whether free of charge or "fee of charge," and Amazon's move is a great step in the right direction.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




PR 8 = Big $$$?

Today's SitePoint newsletter says that you, too, can sell your site's Google PageRank and make top dollar:

Depending on your Google PageRank, you can easily charge $250-$750/month per link. Restrict the length of the link to 30 characters or three words, sell 12 spots, and you'll have a very nice revenue stream.

Well, what are you waiting for? Get out there and alienate your user base and piss off Google at the same time... all for a few hundred extra bucks a month!

Hmm, we've got a PR of 7 at Traffick.com, so that's gotta be worth something, too. Maybe we should sell our PageRank! Or better yet, auction it off on eBay!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Scumware, I'd Like You to Meet My Friend, Stalker-Cam

A couple of killer comments by Tig Tillinghast today on the Gator and X10 phenomena, both involved in some messy dealings.

As for Gator, in my recent travels I've been telling audiences that, how shall I put it, it's a technology I disagree with because it bothers many users, and companies that partner with them are, how can I put this, making an ill-informed decision.

Someone who might speak more colloquially would probably say that Gator is "bad," and that the companies who partner with them are "also bad."

However, someone who spoke so frankly might find themselves defending their choice of words in court against the litigious purveyor of this festering-pustule-ware, so discretion is the better part of valor here.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Sentenced to Be Everybody's Butler, at Least Once in a While

I'd be the first one to cheer at the prospect of another viable, profitable search engine company in a space so dominated by Google -- and Google doesn't even mind, since they serve ads there anyway -- but can someone explain to me why Ask Jeeves continues to post such strong user numbers that it's actually doing the unheard-of: adding to its cash reserves?

Is it:

(1) A lot of people still think there is a magic butler inside, ready to answer whatever question they type in?

(2) Savvy users know that Teoma is under the hood, and they go to ask.com when they've had a bit too much Google?

(3) The new ad campaign is really paying off?

(4) Some other reason that escapes me?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, October 21, 2003

More on Yahoo Mail Upgrade

Computer Weekly published an article today that details Yahoo Mail's recent upgrades in more detail.

One thing I hadn't noticed yet was something called AddressGuard, a unique feature that allows you to "create and manage disposable email addresses to defend your primary address against spam." I don't think I've seen something like this before. Mail Plus users can now create aliases for the main Yahoo address that are destroyed whenever you choose to delete them.

I'm sure these measures won't totally eradicate spam for Yahoo Mail users, but pretty soon, it'll be darn near impossible to spam people @yahoo.com.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Monday, October 20, 2003

Yahoo Quietly Unveils New Mail Tools

With no fanfare, Yahoo on Monday released an upgraded Yahoo Mail interface and advanced spam protection tools. Now, when marking a message as "spam," Yahoo automatically reports the message as spam, deletes it, and trains its new spam filters to learn what you consider to be spam. This seems to be a step up from the previous version, which didn't ever seem to catch those messages from karen@yahoo.com about the "New Online Seminar" that I still receive a few times a week, despite reporting Karen's butt to Yahoo ad nauseum.

It's unclear whether the "SpamGuard Plus" spam filters will also work on external POP3 mail checked through Yahoo Mail Plus, but I sure hope so. I had to shut down my main Traffick.com e-mail address due to an avalanche of spam, as did Andrew, and it would be nice to see this extra touch.

Also new is a more streamlined message status box labeled "Mark" with a down arrow indicating further options, which is where Yahoo now hides the options to mark messages as read, unread, flag for follow up and to clear message flags. I'm not sure if this existed before today, but you also have viewing options, where you can view all unread messages, flagged messages or all messages.

Finally, when viewing messages, Yahoo also pulled the "hide the options" trick for replying and forwarding, probably as a way to conserve screen real estate. I'm not sure that was a very big problem, but they must have had some good reason to do so.

In any case, as a heavy user of Yahoo Mail, I love every little improvement they make, however small!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Sunday, October 19, 2003

French Trademark Ruling Could Have Far-Reaching Effects

Longtime Google AdWords advertisers know this is nothing new: Google allows advertisers to advertise on "competitor words" on a "wait and see" basis. Most of the time, these words slip through. Google typically disables them when a larger trademark holder complains.

As I've been arguing for over a year now, this is a gray area in the law. (A more extensive discussion is contained in my report on Google AdWords.)

The upshot is that Google probably wishes that the courts would understand that both web search and advertising that appears near search results (and now content) can be designed so that its primary sorting mechanism is not keywords, but rather a "universe of meaning." Presumably, trademark holders can't own a universe of meaning, of which a certain phrase may be merely a subset. Indeed, an ad appearing in the right-hand margin of Google Search when one types a certain phrase doesn't prove that the advertiser has that phrase in their account -- it may simply mean that the advertiser has a RELATED word or phrase in their account. And since advertisers' accounts should be a private matter, who's to know exactly how or why an ad happened to pop up near a phrase which happens to be in a certain universe of meaning that appealed to an advertiser?

Thus a case can be made that the trademark holder's rights simply should not override Google's rights nor the advertiser's rights. Is this (a results page on Google Search) Google's property, or the trademark holder's? Advertisers are generally making no claim that they *are* the trademark holder, they're just assuming that their message might be of interest to a user typing a query within a given universe of meaning. Isn't that so? I tend to think so.

Now does it become clear why Google has rushed so quickly to include "expanded matching" in its offering, which shows ads not only on keywords advertisers specify, but on related keywords based on a matching score generated by their semantic matching technology (a technology which is constantly being developed)?

Google is appealing the French court decision and won't comment on the case at this time. If one goes on recent history, French courts may not be trusted to rule in Google's favor no matter how compelling a case they might make. But it's a vitally important issue and when it inevitably arises in the US, Google will no doubt be gearing up for a more serious legal battle to protect the integrity of their turf, their technology, and the free speech rights of Google's scientists and AdWords advertisers.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, October 16, 2003

Yahoo Integrates Product Search into New Search Tab

Perform a search on Yahoo now, and you'll see a new "Products" tab, which compares product prices if your search relates to something that can be bought or sold (you can tell it's new, because there's a tag hanging off the tab that says "new!", see?)

For example, search on "dvd" and you'll see normal search results; but, clicking on the Products tab will bring back shopping-related results, and allow you to customize your price comparison criteria. Nicely done, Yahoo!

I don't know how often I'll use this feature, but it's smart to make these kinds of "searchable" activities accessible from the main search page, a tactic that Google pioneered and needs to continue to develop or it could find itself eclipsed by Yahoo.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




AOL Awakens from Years of Slumber

America Online has gone from super lethargic to super aggressive this week. CNET reports that AOL is set to relaunch the Netscape brand in early 2004 as a discount ISP charging in the neighborhood of 10 bucks a month, with fewer features, as compared to AOL's $23.90 monthly fee for premium content and ads out the wazoo.

This is a smart move, and way overdue. You'd think they would have done something to stanch the bleeding of their core dial-up subscriber base a long time ago, but no. AOL has also launched a media blitz to promote their new 9.0 online service, which has a host of new features that are probably mere iterations of previous features (a common practice with software providers these days; it's all about how well you market small changes to existing features, isn't it?). That little yellow IM guy they use in their ads is cute, but I'm still not ditching my cable modem for the wonders of the AOL Gated Community!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Wednesday, October 15, 2003

New Traffick Article: Google Alert Shows the Power of Google's Web API Program

One of the first applications of Google's Web API with universal appeal was Google Alert, which tracks searches automatically and e-mails you when Google's search results change for those terms. That's a great timesaver and a new way of researching information on the Web.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Sunday, October 12, 2003

Approach to Ad-Tracking Sets Google Apart

Not only is Google's AdWords program superior to Overture's in many ways, but Google's new conversion tracker unveiled last week puts them on an even higher plane.

Once again, Overture "got there first," but they fumbled the ball by charging for their Conversion Counter. That caught many observers, including yours truly, by surprise. You'd think that Overture would want to make this feature available to as many advertisers as possible, with the theory being that once advertisers know where their bucks are coming from, they're more likely to spend more bucks on PPC ads.

Well, I guess that theory was wrong, because although Conversion Counter is free for a limited time, you'll have to pony up 50 bucks a month to keep using it after the grace period ends. Hmm, that's 600 bucks a year for something that really should be a free, value-added service. But no.

And, once again, Google "got it right" by offering their conversion tracking feature free. I'm sure there was a mad rush of advertisers logging in to get their hands dirty with this delightful data. I sure did. Of course, it will takes some time to actually see the results of conversion tracking; but after enough data is accumulated, thousands of advertisers will finally learn which ads are generating the best clicks.

I've thought quite a lot about this information the past few days, and have ruminated on what this information will mean for the PPC engines. Yes, it will show us which keywords are generating the conversions and enable users to spend money more wisely. But, from the PPC engines' standpoint, will these features actually encourage advertisers to spend more money? I'm not so sure.

As it is now, most advertisers are blindly throwing money at any and all related search phrases. But, when advertisers know exactly which terms generate the clicks, will they scale back all others and focus instead on those that generate the most clicks? Only time will tell, of course, and it will be interesting to see what the PPC community decides.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Google Rolls Out New ROI Tracker for AdWords Clients

Google is releasing a new service which will help its advertisers track the performance of their ads, following the lead of competitors Overture and FindWhat.

Key points about the new service:

- It's free

- The reporting is set up to easily track four types of on-site action: sales, subscriptions, leads, and clickpaths

- You won't be able to track other kinds of ads (non-Google) with the tool

- Google will require participating advertisers to place a small Google graphic on their site, which will link to further information for the user concerned about privacy issues

- A custom version allows site owners to send values back to Google indicating dollar amounts for sales of different products, allowing ROI to be calculated on a per-click basis

It looks like the new tool is reasonably full-featured and handy, offering the ability to monitor conversion behavior within the Adwords interface. But it won't be the right solution for everyone, especially those who don't want a(nother?) instance of Google branding on their website, and those who track multiple types of online advertising. Like their competition, Google's tracking initiative looks more like a goodwill gesture to say "go ahead and track -- we want you to maximize your advertising performance," and not a full-scale entry into the metrics business.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, October 07, 2003

LookSmart Looks toward an Uncertain Future

Well, shoot. Just as I was starting to figure out how to get ranked highly in MSN using LookSmart, Microsoft goes and pulls the plug on LookSmart as of Jan. 15, 2004.

This move is disastrous for LookSmart, no matter how positive of a spin its CEO, Jason Kellerman, puts on it. If they don't land another big deal soon, they will likely have massive layoffs, or will have to be bought out by another portal or search engine. But, it's unclear who would want to merge with them, due to the recent consolidation in the search engine business.

Many SEO experts had wished nothing but ill will toward LookSmart when they abandoned their directory model last year for a hybrid PPC one, including me. But, for some reason I have a soft spot for LookSmart, and hope they're able to weather the storm and somehow survive. This kind of puts a damper on their enthusiastic announcement about their new, new PPC model, eh?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Monday, October 06, 2003

Google Has Fun; Alarmists Sound Alarms

Google has revealed that it is tracking the number of searches performed by a subset of users, and displaying the number on the Google home page.

Predictably, alarmists think this is Big Brother at it again. But, I hardly think of Google as Big Brother. If Google is doing this, you can bet it's for some good reason. In the New York Times article linked above, Marissa Mayer explains that this is an experiment to show people how often they use Google.

No doubt Google is doing this to gauge reaction for some other purpose, like, maybe power users are asked to pay a small fee to use Google, or something of that nature, in exchange for more advanced features. But, no one knows what their goal is yet, and they're not divulging anything at this point. Still, many searchers are eager to see further innovation by search engines, and perhaps this is a precursor to some cool new feature. Even if it's just for fun, you can bet that Google isn't doing this as part of some Patriot Act regulation!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Frustrated Web Developer in Search of Industrial-Strength Bookmark Manager

I don't know about you, but the built-in bookmark manager offered by Internet Explorer is absolutely horrid. It's nearly impossible to rearrange favorites, add new favorites and edit categories due to its inherent limitations. It's very disappointing that Microsoft seems to be signaling the end of new development on IE, beyond minor updates or bug fixes.

Internet Explorer 6.0 is at least two years old now, and the overall feature set of Microsoft's browser technology hasn't changed much since version 4.0, which came out four years ago! I want a new IE, and I want real innovation. Microsoft seems to think there is no innovation left in browser technology. But that's baloney. Just look at the new features offered in recent versions of Netscape (another dead browser now) and Opera. Features like cookie managers, password-filling, more robust navigation, advanced settings and such are examples of innovations that IE doesn't offer. Why is this?!

I would actually pay -- yes pay! -- for a new version of IE. As a web developer, when more than 90% of users browse with IE, I don't have any other choice but to use what they use. Plus the one feature that IE has that others don't -- the ability to remember what you typed in online forms -- is invaluable from a development standpoint. Just imagine trying to test and debug a gigantic online form without a quick way to populate text fields! This ability is provided by online form managers like RoboForm, but it's not quite the same. Google's new Toolbar also provides similar functionality, but it's very limited when compared to RoboForm.

I don't actually use IE, however. I have adopted NetCaptor as my browser of choice. NetCaptor is one of those multi-browser apps that uses the IE shell but give it a much better interface and feature set, such as a built-in pop-up killer, ad blocker, quick search and more. But, the favorites manager is the same as that of IE. Sigh.

So, if I can't have a new IE, I'll just have to keep searching for utilities that can do the job. Which is probably for the best anyway. I'd rather give my money to someone who needs it than to simply fill the coffers of the world's largest corporation. Spread the wealth, baby.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Sunday, October 05, 2003

SEO Gone Wild

Got this when searching Google for "antique roll-top desks in st. louis": Free Incest Pictures.

I don't know what this company is doing, but it's working quite well... in a very bad way. C'mon, Google, isn't it time to purge the triple-dash domains?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Saturday, October 04, 2003

R.I.P. PageRank?

A lot of noise has been made recently about the state of Google’s PageRank technology. PageRank is dated, critics say. PageRank is useless. PageRank is dead.

There are obviously flaws in the technology, and yes, I have a bone or ten to pick with Google about the way a page’s PR is calculated – particularly in recent months (but hey, that’s a different story). PageRank is a key component of Google’s search technology (actually, Google refers to it as the “heart” of their software), and to remove it completely would obviously be difficult and silly.

One easy way to silence PageRank’s critics would be to remove the PR display function from the Google Toolbar. This would remove a significant chunk of the webmasters who judge their site’s success in Google strictly by PR – a very bad habit to develop. PageRank is important, but is it everything? No. Regardless, the topic of PR has become a much hotter one ever since Google started providing ranking information via its Toolbar.

Of course, it would also be silly for Google to sit on PageRank at it exists today and believe they will be safe from competition for the next few years. Web searchers and webmasters are a fickle bunch, which is obviously the reason Google became so popular in the first place.

Posted by Adam




Ye Gods: Finally got that Darn Site Submitted to the ODP

I've complained in this space many times before about how much the Open Directory Project stinks. But, for webmasters and marketers, it's a necessary evil because Google uses it as the basis for the Google Directory. And, a listing in dmoz.org seems to aid in achieving higher rankings in Google, thus submitting to the ODP is an essential part of search engine marketing.

So, for the past two months, I've been trying to submit a client site called MDSearch.com, a free physician job board, with absolutely no success. I couldn't even get the "submit URL" page to open. And when I did, I would get a server error message every single time. Needless to say, the client wasn't happy, and I sure as hell wasn't.

Half the time, I couldn't even get dmoz.org to work at all! I'd try to bring up the home page... timeout. Searching the directory and... "The Open Directory is under a heavy load right now." Yeah right.

Surely the time has come when Google should drop the notoriously unreliable ODP from its Directory? Couldn't Google build a much better directory anyway? Since Google's in the start-up-acquiring mode rignt now, why not snap up another directory provider like GoGuides or someone like that?

I can't believe AOL has done nothing with the ODP since it acquired it along with Netscape, and I can't believe they're letting it die such a slow, painful death. It really coulda been somebody.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Thursday, October 02, 2003

LookSmart Bets the Company (Again)

If it were a biz school case study, I'm sure LookSmart would look like roadkill. What else could you say about a company that kept changing its core product to something different, and when it wasn't doing that, it was changing its pricing scheme in ways that confused current clients?

All that being said, if you ask me what I think of LookSmart's announcement that it's moving into "sponsored listings," I have to give it an unequivocal thumbs-up. Without knowing about their plans, I concluded that this is exactly what they should do when I sat down to write a review of their service recently. (Unfortunately, that review will now have to be rewritten!)

Their paid inclusion offering as currently structured is just too confusing and offers too little control. Ultimately it doesn't treat advertisers as advertisers, even though they wind up paying by the click. It's a hybrid that made apples-to-apples comparisons difficult (is LookSmart as good as another pay-per-click provider, or should we even compare them?) and didn't allow the keyword auction market to set prices (flat pricing of fifteen cents, and later, tiered pricing which charged up to 75 cents for some keywords).

So the move to offer a "pure" pay-per-click sponsored listing service that competes directly with Google AdWords and Overture will be welcomed by many advertisers. LookSmart will maintain its paid inclusion LookListings program, for now, and indeed it is not going to be showing sponsored listings on MSN Search, since MSN is still using Overture for these. It's fair to say, though, that LookSmart's product development was largely driven by a need to please MSN in case MSN chose to terminate its search listings partnership with LookSmart.

For the time being, then, LookSmart Sponsored Listings will have modest distribution in spite of what looks like a solid product. It's easy to get set up with in a minute or two, and the pricing scheme is easy to understand. The big task now, as they told the press today, is to convince large portal partners that they are the new Switzerland in the space now that Overture is owned by Yahoo and now that Google is seen as a dangerous frontrunner.

LookSmart's shown great tenacity in the face of much adversity in the search and directory (and now, paid search) business, and they will offer credible competition to the industry leaders in pay-per-click. It's not out of line to imagine them powering MSN's sponsored listings in Overture's place. They'll also be serenading AOL Search to see if they can't dislodge Google, but that will be a tougher sell.

For seasoned PPC advertisers, a couple of features are notable. First, the minimum bid is fifteen cents, three times what Google charges. This won't be appreciated by smaller advertisers, but since the trend in average costs per click is upwards, it may not be a huge issue in the near future. (We would prefer that everyone go down to one cent, but I guess that isn't in the cards.)

But the really intriguing thing is that they've emulated Google in factoring clickthrough rates along with bid amounts into the formula that determines how prominently one's ad is displayed in the listings. This makes economic sense for the publisher, when you really think about it. Imagine a cost-per-click banner ad deal that kept running forever with very few people clicking on that particular ad. The publisher gets no money, yet the advertiser gets to clog up the space with their message.

The trend of factoring CTR's into the formula for CPC auctions, and indeed into all CPC advertising deals, is likely to continue. Competitors like Overture and FindWhat may need to sharpen their attention to this issue.

Moving into sponsored listings could be a rude awakening for LookSmart in some ways. After all, it's no fun dealing with click fraud and editorial policy issues. But then again, LookSmart has some of the deepest experience in the business when it comes to editorial control. They are at least as likely to succeed in this field as anyone else, and frankly, it's high time they stopped taking a back seat to their competitors by clinging to a convoluted product mix and awkward pricing scheme.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Advanced SM (Search Marketing) Technique,"Shoehorning"

[MarketingWonk via MarketingProfs:]

Writing for search engines is a delicate task, say some battle-hardened optimizers. (Personally, I just don't do it for this site -- write for search engines, that is -- and our rankings haven't suffered, so take away from that what you will. I'm sure I'm doing it unconsciously from time to time, but unless you're being paid to shoehorn good keywords into, say, a lingerie retailer's site, it can make Jack a dull writer. Too much "shoehorning" will reduce the creativity and variety of writing, so if your writing is judged on its quality and spark, shoving popular search words in there constantly is going to make a discerning reader go "yeccch.")

The most interesting example of shoehorning I've come across was some time ago in the writing of two well-known search marketing experts, who started to sneakily shoehorn "sex words" like "tied up" (and worse) into their weekly column. I'm sure a select few SEO slaves were quietly aware of the naked truth lurking beneath otherwise mild-mannered marketing tips, but few were bold enough to make note of the tactic.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Back from the Dead and Better than Ever

Our humble web site was offline for most of the past 24 hours due to a server glitch at web host Interland, which has proved to be somewhat unreliable. We apologize for the down time. But don't blame us, blame Interland!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




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