Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Smart Matching Tech Developed In-House, Says FindWhat
Both Google AdWords and Overture now show their advertisers' ads on variations of the keywords in their accounts. Google calls its matching technology "expanded matching." Overture, which was first to the punch in this game, calls its version Match Driver. At first, Overture was content to match on simple variations like plurals and obvious misspellings. But both Overture and Google have been experimenting with more adventurous expanded matching functionality for some time now.
Not to be outdone, FindWhat.com today announced a similar feature called Intellimap.
I wanted to know where Intellimap came from. Did FindWhat contract this out to a third party or acquire a technology firm some time back to accelerate development in this area, as Google had done with its acquisition of Applied Semantics (or Overture with its use of technology from a company called Quigo)?
Jason Williams, a VP of Strategic Planning for FindWhat.com and an expert on the new Intellimap functionality, took some time out today to fill me in.
According to Williams, the feature was developed in-house by a "cross-functional product team" over the "last handful of quarters." Importantly, it wasn't a purely technical exercise. It took into account the needs of advertisers. The bottom line is that it was developed to help FindWhat advertisers' campaigns to perform "more effectively" and to generate "more relevant traffic in greater quantities" while taking less time to manage.
Sceptics will argue that such expanded matching features, especially when they don't come with the opportunity to opt out, can be inflationary, driving more irrelevant traffic to an advertiser's website. On the other hand, with so many advertisers tracking their results, it wouldn't be in FindWhat's interest to come out with a subpar product.
The upshot is, advertisers wanting to cover a wider swath of essentially similar variations on keywords (when the user types an ampersand instead of the word "and," for example) will be able to do so without generating large keyword lists themselves. The functionality does go beyond simple variations, though, Williams seems to concede, not ruling out the inclusion of "some synonyms" in some industry areas, or things like "compound words."
In short, it sounds very similar to the offerings provided by Google and Overture. With Google, you can opt out of the feature by ensuring you set your phrase matching options to "phrase match" or [exact match] instead of broad match. This doesn't appear to be the case with FindWhat, which doesn't, in any case, offer the phrase matching options that Google and Overture do.
Because any technology of this nature can create wonky-looking matches -- showing ads in weird places they shouldn't be -- Williams stresses that an editorial team is reviewing popular queries manually just to ensure that no major glitches are occurring. The Intellimap functionality kicks in for FindWhat advertisers beginning on January 10.
Sunday, December 28, 2003
I-Search Finds Andrew
Traffick's very own Andrew Goodman is the new moderator of the I-Search discussion list, the resource for search engine marketers since 1998 with a loyal readership of over 17,000 professionals. If you aren't already a subscriber, now is your opportunity to get in on some of the hottest search marketing discussion anywhere.
Learn more or subscribe now.
Friday, December 26, 2003
Google AdSense Ads to Appear in E-Mail Soon?
Kevin Lee of did-it.com publishes a monthly search engine marketing newsletter under the auspices of a site called BriefMe.com. A recent issue of the HTML-format ezine contained Google AdSense ads. Not only that, but in the margin, there was a headline link titled "Google Launches AdSense Beta for Newsletters." One was hoping to click on this and find out more about the program from Kevin.
Unfortunately the link is mislabeled and if the item ever appeared on the website, it's been pulled. I can't find any info by searching the web or any of the news services such as Google News or MSN Newsbot. This is unsurprising since Google doesn't like to comment on or release information on new features until they've been formally announced.
This won't be big news to many when it does come out, in any case, since sufficient readers will have seen Lee's newsletter to conclude that Google is testing AdSense-in-Email with some habitual beta testers such as did-it.
In addition, although I have seen no formal announcement, some larger advertisers and agencies have already discovered that Overture is running sponsored links in email. According to one agency source, some are expressing dismay that this is being done with limited consultation, and worry that the traffic quality will be poor if more is not done to monitor the quality of the publishers and to provide better channel control for advertisers (in contrast with Overture's habitual "all or nothing, take it or leave it" philosophy).
Pay-per-click keyword ad providers will need to be careful about how they move into the email space, but if it's done correctly and carefully, this can be another important channel for many online advertisers, especially smaller ones -- a channel which they've often found too confusing or risky to embrace in the past. Committing a small budget to the email channel through an interface that one is already using, such as Google AdWords, FindWhat, or Overture, would be a convenient and highly quantifiable method of dipping a toe into the email waters. And the process of weeding out the hucksters who publish low quality information or who pump up their impression numbers would be accelerated by the usual quasi-Darwinian feedback mechanisms inherent to so many online campaigns today. Tangible rewards would then accrue to quality, targeted publications as advertisers outbid one another for targeted slots. A far cry from online advertising circa 1999.
This depends, however, on the willingness of companies like Google and Overture to come up with ways of allowing their advertisers to highlight or block certain publications in their choices of where to show or not show their ads. If it's just a mysterious matching technology working in tandem with a small editorial quality control staff, the process of weeding out the free-riding publishers becomes much slower. It could be a couple of years before the IT departments of some larger companies have the appropriate meetings with their marketing departments to determine that an AdSense ad showing up in a certain publisher's emails doesn't convert well to sales. And if the leaders continue to thwart advertisers' wishes for enhanced control over ad placement, this leaves an opening for their competition.
It's not just the usual suspects (second-tier PPC's and existing online ad brokers) who may be vying for this business. Many months ago I talked to a freshly-funded software company which was planning an "AdSense-like" program (prior to Google's AdSense rollout) for larger publishers who wanted to run their own PPC auction. The company doesn't seem to have succeeded thus far; part of the problem was a business model that charged a hefty licensing fee for the software as opposed to working on a revenue sharing plan. One upside, however, was the fact that the publisher -- not the middleman -- would "own" their own advertiser list. (No doubt similar thinking is what led Yahoo to acquire Overture.) The concept could easily be expanded to email. The savings realized in larger companies by cutting back on the staff whose job it is to buy and sell ads each month would likely pay for the software.
The point is, there remain plenty of openings in the targeted online advertising space. There will be room for innovators to enter and gain market share.
With their growing clout and hefty marketing budgets, the top five or six PPC ad brokers -- and maybe some upstarts you've never heard of -- stand to take more business from email marketing firms in '04. This will likely mean continued ferment in the online advertising game, with merger & acquisition activity and hard choices to be made for some firms which have made their living, or part of it, brokering email ads.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
New Traffick Article:
E-commerce Uptake Boosts Shopping.com
By Adam Eisner - 12/24/2003
At first glance, Shopping.com is what one would expect in a major shopping portal. Visitors can compare the prices of retail goods, make purchases, research product reviews written by consumers, and more. What’s not as apparent is that behind the scenes, all of this is being facilitated by a pay-per-click search engine.
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Search.com Gets a Face Lift, but Will Anyone Want to Look at It?
It looks like CNET Networks, the owner of a valuable domain name called search.com, has finally begun to pay attention to this nice piece of virtual real estate. Search.com has gotten a face lift and a number of new features. But don't call it a comeback...
Search.com has been around for several years. It began life as a metasearch engine known as SavvySearch.com, which CNET purchased in the late '90s. At some point thereafter, CNET came into possession of Search.com, before the latest search-engine craze that was started by Google.
However, CNET didn't really do much with Search.com. It was barely promoted within CNET's vast network of tech-related sites, and it's user base probably consisted of early adopters and tech geeks who didn't use Google, for whatever reason.
But, now that paid search engine listings are proving highly profitable, CNET is finally throwing its hat into the search engine arena big time with a relaunched web site that is nearly as spartan as Google's, but not as cluttered as other metasearch engines like Metacrawler or Dogpile. Search.com now searches "Google, Ask Jeeves, LookSmart and dozens of other leading search engines to bring you the best results," according to the Search.com home page.
Whether anyone really uses Search.com is anyone's guess. I still don't quite get why anyone uses metasearch engines, since experts generally agree that Google's results are the best, but pretty much equivalent to AlltheWeb or Teoma. So why not simply use one of them and not all of them at the same time?
Still, I think Search.com has a pretty good chance of gaining traction in the search business, thanks to its great name and branding potential as well as CNET's vast network of tech sites.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Kanoodle Moves Closer to the Big League
Second-tier pay-per-click search service Kanoodle.com has closed a round of VC funding while welcoming new execs to its ranks, notably Lance Podell, former general manager of Primedia-owned Sprinks (recently acquired by Google).
Podell's contacts and experience, along with the funding and the decision to open a new office in New York, seem likely to open new doors for Kanoodle. Sprinks has had strong New-York-based agency advocates who have, in the past, introduced some larger publishers and advertisers to the benefits of a second-tier pay-per-click service (as long as that service suits their needs and offers a strong ROI). It seems likely that this scenario will play out again, and that some new advertisers and new publisher partners may be convinced to sign on with Kanoodle. For this to happen, Kanoodle, as with others in the second tier, will need to redouble its efforts to police the quality of its publisher partners, and do more to assist advertisers with understanding process of post-click tracking.
And we can only hope that something is done about that name. With an infusion of talent from the likes of "Sprinks," though, and with the industry leader being called "Google," we're not holding our breath.
Monday, December 15, 2003
New Traffick Article:
ClickTracks: Powerful Data Without the Mess
By Adam Eisner - 12/15/2003
Most marketers rely on popular log analysis programs like WebTrends. But while these programs are powerful, the individuals behind ClickTracks, a Web analytics suite, felt there was room for improvement – particularly in the areas of usability and license flexibility. The result is a powerful tool that is easy to understand and simple to use.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Former Go2Net CEO Aims to Go Public Again
Marchex, Inc., a holding company controlled by former Go2Net CEO Russell Horowitz, has filed for an initial public offering, aiming to raise up to $35 million, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Also this week, Provo, Utah-based pay-per-click keyword advertising service ah-ha, now wholly owned by Marchex, announced that it has changed its name to Enhance Interactive.
Few details about either company are being disclosed in the lead-up to the IPO.
Thursday, December 11, 2003
Sometimes it's Better Just to Google?
Searching for "rosetta stone mousepad," I had trouble finding such an item at Shopping.com. Sure enough, typing the same query into Google yields some exactly perfect organic results pages, including this one from the British Museum.
The fact that you don't always find what you're looking for may not creep into the aggregate stats we hear for e-commerce every holiday season. The same problem exists with site search on so many e-commerce sites once you arrive there... the hard-to-find item never gets found because the site search is wonky.
The responsibility for making things easier to find doesn't like primarily with the searcher, methinks. It's a joint effort between the shopping bots and the retailers themselves. It's probably just a matter of months before a great deal more retailers join with the Shopping.com's and Froogles of this world to do a better job of getting their "whole" catalog with full descriptions properly indexed.
Let's face it, if a product exists "out there," a shopping engine should be able to find it. Pricegrabber and Shopping.com didn't find this one for me.
And upon double checking the same query at Froogle gives you at least a couple of relevant stores selling this product, along with a photo of it. Click, buy, done!
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
Blizzard Sparks Online Shopping
Shopping.com made an interesting announcement today: the company said it saw a “dramatic rise” in traffic from the northeastern United States during last weekend’s blizzard. The announcement said the following Monday broke all previous one-day records for traffic, lead referral and revenue, attracting more two million shoppers, which equates to 35 shoppers per second. The company also said demand for snow throwers skyrocketed.
All in all, the company said it has served a record number of holiday shoppers since the “official start” of the holiday shopping season following the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday on November 28th. Among the items in hot demand this holiday season are MP3 players, engagement rings, New Balance athletic products and electric guitars – all of which aren’t exactly priced at the CD or book level. Could consumers finally be getting the hang of this “e-commerce” thing?
Sunday, December 07, 2003
New Traffick Article:
Just Say No to Google Algorithm Chasing
By Jill Whalen - 12/8/2003
I don't chase algorithms, and neither should you. I know, I know, you all want to get the best rankings possible and have an advantage over your competitors, the easiest and cheapest way possible, but look what that did for you -- now your site is missing and your traffic is gone.
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.
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.
.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.
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 Amazon.com 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.
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.
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