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Friday, February 27, 2004

Jobs, Schmobs

Reporting on some recent eye-opening departures at MSN Search in his monthly Search Engine Report, Danny Sullivan segues into mentions of the rapid hiring being done by Yahoo and Google. It seems people are leaving hot Internet jobs faster than good applicants are filling them.

Sullivan writes:

"And Yahoo has 255 spots open at the moment,
http://nl.internet.com/ct.html?rtr=on&s=1,qyu,1,je2s,1u3p,7cw1,g940
including one job to be a directory editor/surfer for Yahoo Canada."

Hmm... think you can get rid of me that easily, eh, Danny?

In all seriousness, it's soooo comforting to know that we small consulting firms are competing with $multibillion brand names for hot Internet talent. Maybe a name change to Zero!! (two exclamation points are better than one, right?) is in order...

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, February 26, 2004

Go, Terry! Yahoo Chief Muses About Ad-Free Services

The world is full of people who will pay not to look at ads, a fact that Yahoo is (amazingly, belatedly) starting to "get," if Terry Semel's recent comments are any indication.

The first place to start should be email, something we've been ranting and blogging about for the better part of the past three years. To show such enormous ads to people paying a substantial fee for the largest premium Yahoo inbox is just insulting to a group who should be considered your most valued clients and evangelists.

For a substantial number of users, especially at work, time is scarcer than money. Please keep thinking about this, Yahoo.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, February 22, 2004

Could Transparency Give Yahoo the Edge?

The concept of transparency in business -- the idea that companies should be as open as possible while still maintaining their competitive advantage -- is a hot topic this days as the media and authors focus on ways to overcome corporate scandals and thrive in the age of instant information.

"Transparent" is hardly the word one would use to describe Google's search-indexing technology. Webmasters and unscrupulous marketers are always trying to game Google thanks to high rankings often being worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in free advertising dollars. Naturally, Google wants to protect its efforts to ward off spammers and scammers.

But, as a frustrated search engine marketer myself, I know there has to be a way for Google to protect its secret sauce yet reveal some of the recipe so that searchers and business owners know the rules better.

These thoughts came to me while reading a New York Times article about Yahoo's recent replacing of Google as its search technology provider with its own in-house engine. I keep thinking how Yahoo can also hope to replace Google as the leading search engine. I think it's a tall task despite all the media reports that are already predicting Google's decline in relevancy.

In the post before this one, Andrew wisely points out that it's very likely that Yahoo won't devote the energy necessary to create and maintain a top-quality index. As Google has proved, it's a lot harder than it looks. The New York Times article says that in interviews with top Yahoo execs, they've strongly asserted that search is a priority, not just another feature in a big portal.

Still, if that's true, Yahoo will have to do more to wrest the search crown from Google. But, neither FAST nor Teoma could do that, and they all three have indexes of similar quality. Sure, those two don't have the marketing muscle and budgets of Yahoo, but if it were that easy to dethrone Google, surely they could have done it. Instead, Google is only stronger, thanks to its star brand power.

So, what could Yahoo do, then? How about being more transparent? Why not offer a subscription service where search engine marketers who participate in the new paid-inclusion program could be advised of changes to the Yahoo search algorithm and make necessary changes before they're implemented? It seems a bit useless to pay for inclusion on an annual basis per URL and then just guess at the factors that could make your site appear nearer the top rankings.

Yahoo wouldn't have to give away the store to give helpful advice to marketers who desperately crave basic guidance on which search engine optimization techniques are acceptable practices and which are not. Google is so utterly non-transparent (opaque?) that it forces marketers to spend hundreds of hours per year trying to deconstruct monthly changes to try to keep up with the times.

The issue of relevance with free listings is one thing, but when you have to pay for pay-per-click ads and to be indexed, marketers deserve more. With all those smart people on their payroll, I'm sure someone can devise a plan that would strike a balance between relevancy and fairness to customers whose fortunes rise and fall by search engine rankings.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Saturday, February 21, 2004

The New! Yahoo! Search! -- It Seems Like a Natural

Yahoo's prolonged planning process has finally culminated in the release of their new Yahoo Search. Truth be told, this isn't the most earth-shattering announcement in the history of the Internet business, or even of Yahoo. But it signals an important new phase in the contemporary (dare I use this phrase once more) Search Wars.

There will be many (too many) posts on this development at various forums around the web. Here's our early take, anyway.

The first key is that Yahoo is renewing a commitment to an idea they themselves popularized: helping users find what's out there on the web. It always seemed a strange thing that Yahoo, a company that was once synonymous with search, kept auditioning new "search vendors" to provide its index results. Actually, Yahoo's failure to recognize the thirst for great-quality search in their own customer base -- their gradual loss of focus -- is why some folks think that Google kicked their tail in the first place. Given that the announcement was made on Thursday by Jeff Weiner, Senior Vice President, "Search and Marketplace," one wonders if the all-things-to-all-people fuzziness problem is likely to persist at Yahoo.

The product itself? Most early reviews are good, but it's very early days yet. Yahoo's allowing webmasters to submit to a free URL submit page if they want, and it's got its own crawler. They'll also mix in liberal doses of Inktomi paid inclusion results. The mix of paid to nonpaid results is far from clear, but it looks from here like Yahoo Search is setting themselves up for the same wild ride Inktomi itself went on. Anytime you've got an openly-accessible Add URL page, either you don't really use it, or you leave yourself pretty wide open to spam. It's far too early, then, to tell much about search quality, and thus, the fallout in terms of user response.

Legitimate marketers who want to appear in Yahoo results will no doubt begin to, as the saying goes, discuss amongst themselves and get up to speed on the latest tactics as quickly as possible.

The great unanswered question will revolve around the mix of paid to unpaid results, and secondary questions may be asked about the potential for some paid advertisers to be given a de facto boost in rank above other, small-fry paid-inclusion advertisers depending on which PFI program they've used to get into the index.

Although such shenanigans and classes of inclusion will no doubt seem to many to pervert the whole concept of "search," it's not all that different from what Google seems to be doing: making one set of rules for queries that are deemed likely to be 'commercial' terms, and another for 'informational' queries. The new Yahoo Search seems to have plunged right into this type of parsing, even changing the way it displays results by offering a heavier-than-usual dose of sponsored links on utterly-commercial terms like 'Gummi Bears.'

It's a delicate balancing act. Ultimately, the user will vote with their clicks and their wallets as they always do. With their strong brand and a huge investment in acquiring smart search companies like Inktomi to drive this latest innovation, Yahoo's chances of success are strong.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Yahoo Mail Offers AutoComplete

Yahoo Mail continues to beef up its web-based e-mail toolset to make it even more like desktop e-mail clients. The latest gadget is a quick download that offers "auto complete" functionality when typing a recipient e-mail address.

Users of Outlook and Outlook Express (and possibly other mail programs) have been accustomed to this convenience for years. Until now, with Yahoo Mail you either had to create a nickname for a user and type that, or rely on Internet Explorer's built in auto complete form feature. Now, however, you just type a letter, and the To: field becomes a drop-down menu from which you can select a recipient.

Sure, it isn't revolutionary, but it is evolutionary, and Yahoo has taken one more step toward making e-mail a true hosted application that's just as robust as desktop programs like Outlook. Can the Yahoo Office suite be far behind?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Saturday, February 14, 2004

Cupid Takes over Google Toolbar

I usually post here when I see something truly remarkable, but don't expect many insightful observations in this one. Did anyone else besides me notice that Google now customizes their toolbar, in addition to their home page, on special days (like Valentine's Day)? I fired up my laptop today to check e-mail, and lo and behold, there was something different about my trusty Google toolbar. Cupid wuz there! It had hearts on the Google logo, search box and search button (a paricularly special touch, with an arrow through a purty red heart).

It's pretty refreshing when a big company devotes their time -- and therefore money -- for no other purpose than to celebrate a special day. Google may not be receiving anything tangible in return for their thoughtful thought, but they sure do engender brand loyalty. Could you imagine Microsoft doing anything like this, ever?

Yahoo has customized their Companion toolbar with special promotions relating to holidays before, but this one appears to serve no commercial purpose at all, and that's fun. Well, Google, just for that, you can be my Valentine for today! We'll talk about this Royal Carribean censorship issue when the afterglow wears off...

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Thursday, February 12, 2004

It's the Product, Stupid: Lycos Decline Accelerates

Lycos' descent into irrelevance has reached another level with the announcement this week that it intends to become a massive 'social network,' an online fad recently hacked-into by a Google engineer with his left hand while playing squash with the right.

From e-mail to free web space, Lycos was never anywhere near the best at what it does, so why should anyone be expected to care until it proves it can do something remarkably well?

Case in point: the long-forgotten 'Geocities-like' site-builder category. Lycos has its Angelfire and Tripod, and they lingered on and on and on as seemingly key pieces of the Lycos puzzle. But recall a little startup called Xoom -- came along, built something far better, even went public and got acquired by NBC Internet, all in the blink of an eye. That's a more sensible life cycle in dot-com land: if something can be done better, do it quickly, and if it proves to be pretty much useless (like all of NBC Internet turned out to be), then kill it.

Or at the very least, Lycos could sell its remaining users to Yahoo and be done with it.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Sullivan Piques -- and Holds -- Our Interest in "Miserable Failure" Story

So-called "Google bombing" seems like innocuous fun. But for those who believe a popular research tool shouldn't be so easy to manipulate, it's no joke. Danny Sullivan has been one of Google's harshest critics when it comes to this vulnerability. Last month, he opined that the fact that George W. Bush's presidential bio comes up #1 on a search for the phrase "miserable failure" might mean that it is "Google itself," and not W., that is the "real miserable failure".

Our ears perked up. Hello? Did Danny just seem really perturbed by a bit of harmless fun, or...? What deep-seated agenda lurks behind that mild-mannered demeanor?

Before long, though, icons of the left began appearing on the same SERP: Hillary, Michael Moore, and poor Howard Dean. Now that conservatives had caught onto the trick, the liberals had begun out-failing Bush!

Updating the story, Sullivan discovered that AOL (which uses Google's feed to display search results) had come to Bush's rescue. They'd expunged the reference to W. in the SERP for "miserable failure." Slight problem: now Michael Moore, also the victim of the Google Bomb tactic, now appears in the #1 position on that page. Hillary's up to #2. As Sullivan now points out, "for links to these liberal figureheads to remain while Bush is protected opens a entire new chapter in this story."

No one should care, of course, since all that's really happened is that a bit of equal-opportunity pranksterism has been altered slightly to please the powers that be. Censorship? You bet. But then again, "miserable failure" is not a term anyone would typically type in unless they were researching the Google bomb angle.

Since many will be, however -- in this self-referential world, there will always be searches about searching -- it seems AOL may have shot itself in the foot, because it makes itself look obviously partisan and weak-willed to boot. Not good for a company with crumbling subscriber numbers and embarrassing financials.

Anyway, if you're feeling immature, you'd best play the Google Bomb game while you still can. Another search tech pundit (I won't say who) implored a few fellow pranksters not to dare linking to him using the phrase "Geraldo Rivera of Search." Phew, I just barely restrained myself...

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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