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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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