Sunday, November 30, 2003
Even eBay Has a Toolbar
What's the world coming to? It seems that everybody and their brother has a toolbar these days. While bidding on some Mark Twain memorabilia, I noticed a tiny link to the eBay Toolbar. How neat. It does exactly what you might think it would do:
Get notifications right on your desktop just before an auction ends -- this could be the difference between winning and losing!
Simple (yet powerful) Search
Whether you want to do a simple title search or a more extensive title & description search within a particular category, eBay Toolbar lets you do it with a single click.
Watch, Bid and Win
Track items you're watching, those you've bid on, and those you've won, all in one place."
This goofy toolbar craze is pretty fun to watch. It all started, I believe, when Yahoo released its Companion, which had shortcuts to all of Yahoo's services, and was customizable so that you could see only the buttons you wanted. Then, Google made everyone take notice of toolbars when it debuted its own add-on to Internet Explorer that allowed you to tap into Google's massive and massively popular search engine.
Since then, just about every search engine launched toolbars of their own, but the toolbar mania isn't just for search engines and portals, as evidenced by eBay's bar.
Hmm, it's the holidays, and I'm addicted to Amazon.com. I wonder if they have one? :) I sure hope not. I spend enough money there, and I'm afraid that anything that makes it even easier to shop Amazon.com would be dangerous to the pocketbook!
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Recent Google Update Giving Critics Ammunition
If you're involved with search engine marketing and haven't heard about the uproar after the latest Google update, you must have been fighting "terrorists" in Iraq or hiding under a rock. Or both.
Sometime around November 15, the new, monthly "Google Dance" was begun. It took several days to coalesce their search index, but I think it's pretty stable at this point. The result of the new index for competitive keyword phrases has been horrific for webmasters and marketers. Thousands of sites that once enjoyed plum rankings have found themselves completely off the radar for those terms. Some lucky sites have seen no ranking changes at all.
As one can imagine, the causes and long-term effects of this new algorithm are being hotly debated on the search engine forums. I try not to bother with that kind of speculation and rumor-mongering, but as a marketer who has seen several client sites vanish from once-cherished positions in Google's rankings, I know this is a problem -- a big problem.
Given all the hand-wringing about Google being too powerful, too commercial, too "whatever," I'm not so sure that this was a smart move by Google. While their goals were probably noble (making the search results as relevant as possible and minimizing the manipulation of its index by overzealous marketers), the fallout of this action could be far-reaching. Many Google critics are just waiting for them to flub up so they can prove they were right in their critiques. I think those people are a bit loopy, myself, but I do agree that the new index is bad for business, both for Google and for the webmasters and marketers who depend on Google for their livelihoods.
Who knows how this will all shake out, but Google should be cognizant of the fact that search marketers are beginning to wield tangible power over the industry, and if they're miffed enough, they could always start a Google boycott with staying power and encourage Web searchers and clients to start using other search engines that are just as good.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
But Who's Back Taking Care of the House?
Jeeves' CEO has an impressive resume, and the company has done well this year. But surely, being applauded by a white-gloved cartoon character at a ceremonial stock market opening is some kind of a sell signal.
Monday, November 24, 2003
Can Google Grow Up?
Based on my previous entries, it would appear that I am on a real Google kick - but I can't help myself. Fortune is running an interesting article on the state of Google, as an IPO becomes more certain. Among the highlights: an interesting look at Eric Schmidt's role in helping the company actually generate revenues, speculation that Yahoo! could be only "weeks away" from dropping Google as a results provider, and a look at how the company may be outgrowing its unique corporate culture. Who cares if 12-hour work days are the norm if you've got beanbag chairs!
Friday, November 21, 2003
Linking Brouhaha New to Times, Old Hat to SEO's, and Chewing Up MarketingWonk Bandwidth
I hate to be Nellie Nitpicker, but come on Lisa Guernsey of the New York Times, could you please spell Sergey Brin correctly in a story about the growth of manipulative interlinking schemes designed to improve Google rankings for small retailers?
Speaking of the whole link farm, link scheme, perfectly legitimate recommending of related content or perfectly-acceptable multi-branding, or whatever you want to call it, and a moo moo here, and a cluck cluck there, here a link, there a link, issue, we're currently having a spiffing debate on this over at I-Search, the resource for professional search engine marketers. Join us!
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
AOL Has Acquired SingingFish
I enjoy experimenting with multimedia searches at SingingFish, and always enjoyed hearing about their plans to evolve a business model that would make this technology pay for itself. I must admit, I never quite understood the business model... in some ways the critical mass just wasn't there yet. Regardless of the current revenue picture, the future does look bright for multimedia search, so it's probably a very logical purchase for AOL.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Gay.com: Cause or Effect?
I first got a full sense for the depth of market demand, and the social momentum behind, the concept of allowing homosexuals to be legally married last Sunday when I found myself on the New York Times marriage announcements page. (This doesn't sound as tough as saying that I caught it on "NFL Countdown," but it's true.) Three of the marriages were gay marriages, all Manhattanites who had traveled to Canada to have the ceremony performed, two in Toronto, one in Ottawa.
Canada's high court only ruled in favor of legalizing gay marriage recently, and a subsequent legislative motion to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman was defeated only narrowly, with many members of the ruling Liberal Party voting in favor.
The momentum continues today south of the border. The vertical portal Gay.com is taking the opportunity today to announce reaching 2.5 million personals profiles on the same day that the highest court in Massachusetts ruled that gays have the right to marry under the state constitution.
Gays and lesbians have no political party, and social movements are getting harder to organize, it seems, especially with some activists in the gay community explicitly arguing against same in the folly of 1990's pomo politics. Enter the 'net. A vertical portal with a huge user base becomes, whether it wants to or not, a cohesive market force and a potentially potent influence in public affairs. We're here, we buy stuff, and we have email, or something to that effect.
Gay.com may be merely reflective of its population, and some might say that issuing press releases on the day of a historic legal decision is mere market opportunism. But one suspects that we'll be seeing more of this in the future: the quiet but firm influence of a large, relatively interconnected vertical portal "user base" in reminding decision-makers of their responsibilities to uphold constitutional principles and to think about the needs of all of their constituents.
It's been a fast start to the news week. Don't be surprised tomorrow if Rush Limbaugh comes out.
Finally, a Cure for the Mobile E-mail Relay Blues
So, I'm on the road with a laptop for the first time, and I try to send an e-mail from Outlook. Uh-uh, not gonna do it, says Outlook. Hmm, it seems that my outgoing (SMTP) mail server won't let me send e-mail when I'm not in the friendly confines of their network. I guess if you could do that, spammers would wreak even more havoc than they already do. Fair enough.
But, what to do? So, I go searching for a solution to the problem, and I find SMTP.com thanks to a Google AdWords ad. In all of the research I did in organic search results, I never found them. But thanks to the wonders of paid search ads, I got what I needed. Problem solved!
SMTP.com isn't free, but it is worth every single penny of the $49.95 annual fee for e-mail roadies like I have become. Yeah, you could use Yahoo Mail or Hotmail on the road, but if you want to look professional, that wouldn't be too smart.
Monday, November 17, 2003
Gates Scoffs; Onion Bites Man
Microsoft chief Bill Gates makes short work of the rumor that his company approached Google for talks related to "any acquisition thing." Apparently, you can't believe everything you read in the New York Times. Or is it you can't believe everything Bill Gates says? At this point, it's their word against his.
One can't help but enjoy the irony: the ads beneath that USA Today story quoting Gates are served by Google AdWords (anti-spam ads triggered by Gates' mention of a new anti-bulk-mail product being developed by Microsoft). Below and above all that, there's the usual hectoring attempt to sell us on the South Beach Diet. What kind of amazing targeting technology might be behind this one? All I know is that Gates' unflattering photo is runs within the article.
Moving onto a more credible journalistic source, The Onion produces a delicious send-up of a 30-year-old man whose mother discovers his weblog. To invoke technical-type terminology known to bloggers of all ages, "that's some funny shit."
Friday, November 14, 2003
A World Free of Advertrocities?
In this interview (brought to my attention by MarketingWonk's Tig Tillinghast), Bob Garfield is so lucid, I just ordered his book!
Cool quote (Bob Garfield says...):
"Itís not about whoís the funniest, who can come up with the best jaw-dropping digital effect, or who can come up with the best celebrity; itís about selling shit to folks. And my definition of creativity, is figuring out, is marshalling your imagination resources to sell shit to folks, without making them go elsewhere with their remote control or whatever.
"And one of the reasons Iím so charged up about the Internet is because I believe itís going to force people in the business to entirely rethink what constitutes creativity. Itís not that Iím not dubious of their ability to discard their old values, and their worst habits, and their worst impulses. Iím not particularly sanguine about that, but I think when they encounter failure using the old paradigm, theyíll understand that a gigantic opportunity awaits if theyíll only start thinking straight."
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
"Eddie" the Googlebot Lands on IRC
According to this article, a Googlebot named "Eddie" has recently been spending some time on Internet Relay Chat (IRC).
The bot's precise attraction to IRC is unknown. Maybe it's the compelling chatter of file swappers, or perhaps the romance that blossoms between lonely users. Regardless, Google says the bot is no big deal. According to the company, Eddie is simply "an experiment aimed at improving Google's search quality." I'm not sure how hours of text conversations will help Google improve its search, but then again, I'm not an engineer. I'm definitely curious, though.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
New Traffick Article:
Partner Traffic from PPC Affiliate Programs: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
By Andrew Goodman
If you're interested to see just how a company slated for a massive IPO has chosen to conduct itself lately, read carefully. I don't really like to dump on Google considering how far they've taken so many aspects of online search and advertising. But ... well ... read on. It wouldn't be right to simply put a lid on it.
Monday, November 10, 2003
IE Add-On Enables Digital Rights Management
Why is it that this recently released "rights-management" add-on for Internet Explorer makes me queasy? Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is a hot growth area for content distribution, and in theory is a good thing because it protects digital content from piracy, illegal duplication and so forth.
Yet, somehow, when Microsoft gets involved, it's gotta make you wonder what they're really up to. With their operating system monopoly, they have in the powerful position of being able to control a vital component of the global economy and society.
Industry observers already know that MS is trying to woo Hollywood and become the standard online media format, complete with their vision of DRM. But, if it were up to me, I'd be very suspicious of Microsoft's intentions. Why not throw Apple a bone for its Quicktime format, Hollywood, and keep the computer industry more diverse?
Sheesh, don't you just get tired of Microsoft trying to be the master and commander of everything that's built with zeroes and ones?
Sunday, November 09, 2003
Fox News Directs Users to Paid Search Ads
While browsing FoxNews.com for "fair and balanced" news, I noticed that their news articles now have built-in links to search results about designated keywords. See this article, "Internet Tax Ban Stalled in Senate," for a look-see.
Notice in the third paragraph, there is a reference to "electronic commerce," which links to this search results page, which is a page powered by Webcrawler. It's no surprise, then, that these "search" results are led off by paid ads syndicated by Overture. Looks like their idea is to "encourage" pre-built searching, and in the process achieve a sort of contextual advertising with more relevance. Very clever, Fox News.
Webcrawler, that long dead search engine that is essentially riding its own coattails thanks to some semblance of brand recognition, left the search engine business years ago, and is now owned by Infospace. They are now mainly a purveyor of metasearch engines that lean heavily toward paid links to make their money. I can't say I blame them for trying to make greenbacks, but I don't find such metasearch engines particularly useful (why not just go straight to Google or Yahoo?).
As far as I can tell, this is the first time a major news site has found a way to legitimately direct visitors to paid search listings, but I think it is very smart, and shows that, due to the lucrative nature of paid search ads, this practice will only increase. It probably won't be long until other major news sites start doing the same.
Friday, November 07, 2003
Google Gently Encroaches on Microsoft's Turf with Desktop Search Bar
Very clever, Google: announcing a way for users to search without using a browser. That's one step ahead, even, of the Google Toolbar, a time-saver packed with features (like a pop-up killer) that many mainstream users remain unaware of.
So what's next? A Google Browser? How about a Google PDA? A Google OS?
Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Recall previous brave attempts to hit Microsoft where it lives. Corel Corp. has been one of the most famous. Not only did they make the mistake of trying to unseat Microsoft Office, but later, for spite, they teamed up with anyone else who was aiming to take away Microsoft's OS-based advantage (Sun, Linux). Remember the office suite written all in Java? How about the Corel Linux box?
Presumably, Google will compete vigorously with Microsoft, since the latter have clearly thrown down the gauntlet by entering web search in a bigger way, but Google is unlikely to make indiscriminate counterattacks in the near future. Sleeping dogs and all that. It's worth remembering the lessons learned from Corel and the enthusiasms of its mercurial CEO, Michael Cowpland.
Monday, November 03, 2003
MS-Google Talk Likely Overblown, But Then Again...
Kevin Lee is justifiably astounded at the media frenzy around some ill-defined communications between Google and Microsoft. The Simpsons episode where Gates instructs his henchmen to "buy him out, boys," and they march into Homer's office and bust up his desk and snap his pencils may be as close to factual reporting at the widely-cited New York Times story Microsoft and Google: Partners or Rivals?
My first clue that this wasn't first-rate journalism was the paragraph that alluded to Google "wheedling [sic] down a long list of investment banks." Where is that legendary New York Times quality control?
Maybe they're trying to compete with the New York Post, which has been known to run items by noted dot-com-rumor-purveyor Ben Silverman. Rumors aren't always so far off, though. Silverman was wrong when he said Yahoo! wanted Espotting (it wound up being FindWhat-Espotting and Yahoo-Overture), but the Overture-Yahoo deal was relentlessly rumored for months on the Yahoo Finance message board.
Yahoo Winding Down Enterprise Software Division (Finally)
Yahoo! is giving up on the idea of selling portal technologies to the enterprise, writes Jim Hu of CNET News.com. It's now backing away from this money-losing concept to focus on its core consumer-oriented strengths.
Traffick parsed Yahoo's potential scenarios more than two years ago, and then, we didn't think much of Yahoo's potential to become a serious, sober provider of technology to the corporate sector:
Yahoo can't credibly exit the dot com world by hunkering down as an IT provider. As one industry CEO commented to me, a foray into the enterprise space will be difficult because Yahoo doesn't understand, as companies like Microsoft do, how to build Cost of Switching into their products. As my correspondent wrote, "this gives Yahoo the staying power of the latest summer blockbuster."
So where is the "out" for Yahoo? Instead of torturing itself with a low-risk, low-reward process of buckling down, Yahoo will probably try to escape "upwards" (as AOL did) through a portal to potential greatness in the high-stakes game of Big Media.
What really took the world by surprise, though, was that Google came to the same conclusions about its own business -- only it did so much more quickly after seeing the divergence in revenues from the two branches of its business. Even six months into its massively successful foray into advertising, many rank-and-file techies believed that Google's main revenue source would be something to do with corporate licensing. I'll admit that the concept of a big box with smart Google stuff inside is pretty cool. But if they had relied on the long sales cycles and rational decision-making processes of corporate IT, Google would still be bleeding cash instead of printing the stuff.
And don't forget the publicity that Ask Jeeves used to put out about its own enterprise products and services. They seemed like good products, but at the end of the day, they found it difficult to penetrate the IT market, and the whole division was sold off for next to nothing. Meanwhile, with only 3% or less of the search market today, Jeeves finds itself sitting on positive cash flow and a bloated market valuation (based, perhaps, on a 10% probability that Microsoft will acquire Ask Jeeves to accelerate its search product development).
It's funny how the real world always confounds the expectations of "analysts." It's cool how responding to the needs of markets eventually trumps the image-conscious impulse to conduct "serious business with serious companies." Too many analysts were too eager to throw out the baby with the bubbly dot-com bathwater. Some still haven't stopped using "B2C" like it's a bad word.
Related Traffick article: Into the Enterprise We Go: Web Search Technology Companies Seek Stable Revenues in the Corporate Sector (May 28, 2001)
Sunday, November 02, 2003
Putting the "eeek!" in Unique
It's holiday time, and the pay-per-click bidding is competitive.
Selling a product online and think it would be a unique gift idea? Well, for a bid of about 40 cents per click, your Google AdWord can show up, on average, in about 60th ad position on the broad match for the term "unique gift idea." (60th position is approximately equivalent to "nowhere." It would be like taking out a special invisible classified ad.) That's not what Google's projections will tell you - they might say 15th, or 26th, or 30th, spot. But that's precisely the average ad position enjoyed when one advertiser actually ran an ad on that phrase with a max bid of 40 cents (in spite of being warned that this phrase wouldn't be a winner). Projections, unfortunately, can be way off when it comes to the complex Google keyword auction.
It's even harder to predict actual buyer behavior when it's being played out in a new medium where many companies are trying e-commerce experiments in earnest for the very first time... attempting to tap into a navigation process that we have only a rudimentary understanding of. You never fully grasp this until you see something like a big order for Lego coming through that originated from a keyword search done on Weather.com (fictitious example, but not completely fictitious).
In any case, well, of course you're unique. But apparently, being unique and wanting people to buy your product as a gift puts you in some pretty crowded territory. It's time to think harder about what makes your company really unique. And if there isn't much to speak of, it's high time you invented or reinvented it.
I'd tell you where your ad would show up for a bid of only five cents, but Hallowe'en is over so I don't want to frighten you!
Saturday, November 01, 2003
The Twilight Zone?
Upon visiting the Windows Family Home Page on Microsoft's web site, visitors today are greeted by none other than a giant image of the new Napster 2.0 logo, in which Microsoft exhorts you to download the reborn music service, now powered by Windows Media Player 9 Series.
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo...
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