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Thursday, December 04, 2003

Google Results Now Start with Relevant Category

I'm not sure if this is new, but I use Google every single day, and just noticed it this morning. Do a search for anything on Google now, and you'll see a category related to your search phrase just before the results begin.

For example, search on "buy wine," and you'll see this link to the Google Directory (which is a rebranded version of the Open Directory Project, aka the ODP, aka DMOZ):

Shopping > Food > Beverages > Wine

It appears that this somewhat confirms Andrew's speculation that Google is trying to discern the type of search you are doing in order to display the most relevant results based on what it thinks you're seeking. I've performed several searches, and it seems to be pretty good at showing the proper category for my search.

This step seems to make the ODP even more important than it was before in Google's estimation, which is a paradox in a way. I've never been able to understand why Google "trusts" the ODP so much to decide which category a site belongs in. The ODP is by far the worst commercial web directory on the Web! Google's reliance on such an outdated, bloated and poorly categorized collection of links undermines their supposedly sacrosanct regard for relevancy.

The entire Google/ODP relationship is a kind of bias toward older sites that have been listed in the directory for years. I think it's unfair to newer sites that are just as relevant, and perhaps even more so because newer sites tend to have fresher content. Many of these ODP listings that enjoy great PageRank numbers are nothing but rotting links, stinking up the joint. Just try to get a new site listed in the ODP. Bet you can't!

So, while I like the category idea, if Google wants to remain the search engine with the most relevant results, it's going to have to do better than the ODP.

Posted by Cory
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Wednesday, December 03, 2003

FindWhat and Verizon

FindWhat's latest deal with Verizon to distribute paid listings is further evidence that the third-place PPC player is holding its own.

Over the past few days, I've talked with reps from a couple of other pay-per-click services who are forging ahead with new distribution agreements and seeing further growth in their advertiser base. Even with Sprinks now out of the picture, it's shaping up to be a fun 2004 for those who are tired of the two leaders in the space hogging all the attention.

Posted by Andrew
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.ppt: just say no

Speaking of Norvig, I got a kick out of his argument against the use of PowerPoint. It's funny how a little thing like that can make you world-famous, when it looks pretty insignificant on a resume full of really impressive stuff.

Anyway, with my not-nearly-so-impressive but semi-professorial background, I find myself in agreement of all those who say: I teach best in the traditional way, speaking/lecturing about the topic, perhaps speaking from a simple outline, and occasionally wandering over to the chalkboard or whiteboard to write down an important number. (Then again, "teaching" at the postsecondary level also makes the assumption that people will have done "the readings" prior to attending class, something that seemingly doesn't apply at many business conferences, trade shows, etc.)

So, although I do my best to be Captain Clip Art and Bobby Bullet Point, like many, I pretty much don't like PowerPoint.

And to see how much I don't like it, ladies and gentlemen, catch my act on Dec. 10 at the Laugh Factory in Chicago, or the following night at Ha-Ha's in Dayton.

Posted by Andrew
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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

"We're Always Trying to Improve the Index for the User": Google

The problem with rampant speculation is that it's usually at least as damaging as the behind-the-scenes shenanigans you're trying to speculate on. Recent armchair attempts to explain the master plan behind Google's recent index update, mine included, are no exception.

So, lest I be accused of being the Oliver Stone of search, after talking with Peter Norvig, Google's Director of Quality, I'd like to clarify a few things.

I've always known and believed that there was no relationship between Google's advertising program and its index results, absolutely none. After working so closely with so many advertisers, it would have been pretty obvious if we'd been getting some sort of positive "spillover" effect. Many of us weren't suggesting this sort of relationship, but it *wasn't* out of line to make the point that a significant reshuffle at this time of year does make many non-advertisers aware of the fact that they might have become too dependent on free listings. Google doesn't have to foster or maintain a relationship between the right and left-hand sides of the search results page to benefit from the fact that both sides are in constant flux.

[Disclaimer, if that's even the right word: my company benefits, too, since we help people figure out how to make their dollars go farther on the right-hand side of said page.]

Google's not unaware of this. A closing comment from spokesperson Nate Tyler seemed to contain something of a pointed message in this regard: "People need to be aware that the Google index was not designed to be a predictable way for companies to get traffic, although, of course, if you type Amazon, you're pretty sure to see up at the top, since that's clearly the most relevant result." Unsurprisingly, Google would rather have you as an advertiser than not, and if the threat of unstable, unpredictable index rankings for private-sector actors is enough to convince more of them to finally invest dollars in AdWords, then so be it.

One area that I did exaggerate a bit in my article, but again, not without some good reason, is the fact that Google can certainly collect information about the financial value, to Google, of certain search queries as those queries are monetized through the ad program. I might have mis-guessed as to how such data might be used -- and I certainly wouldn't want to suggest any kind of systematic relationship between ads and index -- but it's certainly the case that Google is at least *in possession of* information telling them which queries are commercial, and which aren't.

But that's neither here nor there.

According to Norvig, Google is "always making changes to its index, and it measures the quality of results before and after." One explanation for the current hue and cry, in Norvig's view, is simply that "Google went for a period of several months with no major changes, and some webmasters got complacent about their search rankings to the point where they felt deserving of them."

One point to make is that changes to the index don't always affect all queries equally. In rolling out product improvements like showing results with "stems" and "plurals," some queries are affected and others aren't.

The most recent enhancement, says Norvig, can be boiled down to "attempts to give the correct value to a page." This is what caused problems for so many sites who had managed to climb high in the results -- higher than their sites warranted -- by exploiting search optimization tactics. In short, in large part, this was in part your run-of-the-mill anti-spam re-ranking, but also, Google may have begun down the path of incorporating new cues to a site's quality or relevance to make the results that much more useful to the public.

"We used to look at just links and keywords, but now we're incorporating a lot of other stuff... looking for more and more signals and types of information on a page that attempts to determine or read a 'real meaning' or what a page is trying to provide," continued Norvig.

He acknowledged that some of my speculation, the part where I suggested that Google was making more effort to discern the "type" of information on a page (resource/discussion/information, store/affiliate, company, etc.) "was heading down the right path." Norvig even went so far as to agree that the type of thing Google "might" do would be to look for information such as "how long a company has been established, what kind of information is it showing to the site visitor, etc." It's safe to say in such a context that those traditional bastions of SEO, the hastily-assembled "microsite," would have trouble cracking a top ten listing under this type of formula. But wasn't PageRank supposed to be immune to that junk anyway? Is Google quietly admitting that they've got to layer more and more tests of quality into their algorithm because they're powerless to stop the growth of link farms and superfluous reciprocal linking?

And although I'm satisfied with Google's ongoing efforts to achieve higher quality, at this point, it looks as if the quality of listings is more predictable on non-commercial queries.

Because, after listening carefully to every possible factor that Google might take into account in judging quality and relevancy, when I type "fruit basket" into the search box, I'm still confused.

This is the top-ranked site on that query:

The #2 site is no work of art, either:

The #4 result for "fruit basket companies" is a bit of spam that should be caught easily:

One thing is clear. This won't be the last Google Dance. The next one can't come too soon for many webmasters.

Posted by Andrew
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Monday, December 01, 2003

New Traffick Article:
Prepare to be Monetized, Punk: Google Plays Sherriff with Commercially-Oriented Search Listings

By Andrew Goodman - 12/1/2003

Google recently made far-reaching changes to the way it ranks search results, and the search marketing community has been abuzz with tales of woe ever since.

Posted by Cory
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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 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 would be dangerous to the pocketbook!

Posted by Cory
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