Attention Citizens of Punxsutawney: Google AdWords Beefs Up Regional Targeting Capabilities
Today Google announced an improved regional targeting option for its advertisers, making it possible for locally-focused companies in eight countries to show ads only to Internet users in their region.
The countries now included are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, the UK, and the US, which already had access to the program.
Advertisers may choose to show ads to any number of metropolitan areas (according to anonymous Google spokesman "AdWords Advisor," the limit of five per campaign has now been dropped). But a new wrinkle is the "latitude and longitude" feature. An advertiser can set up a "shape" by setting various points of latitude and longitude, and advertise to everyone within that area. So if you're partial to the rhombus, you're golden.
Although the IP-based targeting is far from perfectly accurate, as this technology evolves it achieves an efficiency bordering on elegance. Imagine the shape of an advertiser's target area expanding and contracting in different economic conditions. Want to advertise a concert or restaurant to the surrounding area within an hour's driving distance? Having trouble filling seats? Double the radius.
In the future, could you show your ad only to a tony neighborhood, or decrease your bids for areas that don't suit your target demographic? The possibilities are endless.
Direct mail marketers have enjoyed some of these advantages for many years. But the difference is: with search, the user may be actively looking for you and prepared to transact on the spot.
Man of Many Hats
Red Hat founder Robert Young has purchased his hometown football team, the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Kevin Marron got the lead paragraph exactly correct: "Oskee Wee Wee. Linux, eat 'em raw." (Although he forgot the Oskee Waa Waa.)
Other wealthy high-tech sports team owners have often been destructive meddlers. But I have a good feeling that under the low-key Young, things are going to be different. Whoops, something's coming in over the wire...
Top Ten Ideas of New Hamilton Ti-Cats Owner Robert Young...
Well, that's only seven. The suggestion box is open.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Ready, Fire, Aim
Senator Liz Figueroa comes out shooting from the hip, comparing contextual ads in GMail to "having a giant billboard inside your home." I completely agree that we should stop at nothing to remove anything that resembles a giant billboard inside the home. That's why I'm drafting legislation that will abolish television!
Actually, what these are is tiny, inobtrusive text-based ads that are considerably less annoying than... oh well, you know what I think. I believe it would be a good idea to allow an opt-out for users who want to pay an annual fee to use GMail, but the fee would likely be steep. Google management seems to be considering this option now.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Google to Unblock Trademarked Terms
In a wonderfully comprehensive article on the latest developments in the search advertising trademark controversy, Stefanie Olsen of News.com reports that Google will no longer be setting itself up as a paralegal arbitrator enforcing trademark holders' complaints. Rather, it seems that pretty much any allegedly trademarked term will be fair game for the AdWords program until a court says otherwise.
Told you so. And bravo, Google. The reasoning cited by Google, according to the article, is that "it carefully evaluated the legal landscape before making its decision and is betting on a long-held tenet of trademark law that holds there is no infringement in the use of a registered mark unless there is a likelihood of consumer confusion." This makes eminent sense.
I've been following this issue since the inception of AdWords Select two years ago, and fielding plenty of criticism for repeatedly advocating the position that Google is now officially taking. Lengthy sections in various interim updates of my "21 Ways to Maximize Results on Google AdWords" report argued this point. In Page Zero Advisor (my premium newsletter), Traffick Occasional, and as moderator of I-Search Digest, I maintained that stance. I hoped, at best, that I was providing a devil's advocate perspective to encourage advertisers not to fetter themselves willy-nilly. But I really never dreamt that Google would take this particular position at this early stage. Maybe they're in a fightin' mood on account of the hockey playoffs.
At Search Engine Strategies New York recently, there was an enlightening session called "Leggo My Trademark," in which representatives of both sides of the debate made good points, but in which the advertiser's and Google's side was finally taken by a more eloquent expert than previously. On March 3, 2004, I commented on this in Traffick Occasional, a comment which is worth reprinting now for the benefit of non-subscribers (see below). (The issue was titled "The Best thing Since Wrestling.")
The one unanswered question, discussed with fellow conference attendees at the time, is whether Google would ever "unblock" the existing blocked trademarks if there were ever any definitive legal decisions or policy changes on this issue. In other words, would we as advertisers ever get access to trademarked terms that had previously been blocked, or would these policy decisions be "grandfathered"? From Olsen's article, it appears at this stage that the answer could be "yes." Welcome news for guerrilla advertisers and a potential thorn in the side to arrogant trademark holders everywhere. Evidently, though, the change hasn't yet come into effect. I already had a new keyword blocked today quite quickly after entering it ("elance"); evidently this term was on Google's stock list of disallowed trademarks. Will it come off the list? Will eBay come off the list? Will there even be a list? This will be interesting to watch.
[Excerpt from Traffick Occasional #6, March 3, 2004]
Speaking of that legal issues session... (whoops I feel a song coming on)....
So the FCC won't let me be
Or let me be me so let me see
They tried to shut me down on MTV
But it feels so empty without me
...legal counsel for American Blind, the outfit that's suing Google for allowing competitors to advertise on American's trademark, got a little overheated today in his rhetoric (although all the panelists including him were great, and measured in their comments, which shows we've come a long way in the past six months... formerly it seemed like the world was ready to crucify Google AdWords in the name of trademark protection, placing much higher standards on them than would seem justified by legal history as explained by excellent panelist and author Douglas J. Wood)... calling Google "like a drug dealer" and saying pointlessly that they are allowing this "traffic in keywords" and that they are "trafficking in something-or-other" etc. Well, I never!
Somehow I always suspected it would come down to this. But while the controversyyyy creates billable hours for lawyers and pundits, it is all going to turn out to be much less interesting than people think. It's going to be shown that most of the advertising that appears near search results will be seen as TOTALLY LEGAL because it couldn't be construed to be reasonably causing consumer confusion. People who look at the ads based on the keywords they type aren't "directed to" a competitor's website as some scaremongers would have it. Far from it. They might not even look at the ads all that closely, and if they do, surely it was by choice. And, ahem, the ads are labeled "sponsored links." How much more disclosure is warranted?
So then what? When all this stuff is actually legal as we advertisers thought it would be...? And then we discover that Google and some of their competitors like Overture have a long list of trademark holders for whom they rolled over, and blocked other advertisers from using those terms? Will Google unblock 'em? Everyone knows Ebay advertises on every term on the sun, because you really can buy brand-name products on Ebay so arguably that's fair use. Problem, though: it doesn't work both ways. You can't advertise on the term Ebay, even *if* a court of law might someday find that it's fair use. Google has blocked it.
At some point, when the law gets itself sorted out, we'll need Google to stop playing paralegal and remove all those blocks. Those have been a point of annoyance for my friend, a local lawyer, who has argued vociferously on this point for some time because he's not only a lawyer, he's an AdWords junkie. Finally, as the Douglas J. Woods of the world (who understand the legal history of advertising) get more traction in the debate, more people are seeing the light. A trademark violation in this context means something that is likely to legitimately cause consumer confusion. Some rulings in the past few years have indicated little more than judge confusion as they simply haven't understood the technology. Metatags and keyword suggestion tools are the devil, helping seedy criminals steal business from Home Depot and Playboy, right? Not! As Mr. Wood pointed out, what some may call trademark infringement is good old-fashioned competition, a principle we hold dear, a principle which, among other things, lowers prices, provides choice, and drives innovation in our society.
The one-sidedness of the trademark holders' increasingly-frequent threats finally caused Google to finally stand up and say, you know what, we're going to fight this American Blind thing as a test case. We're no longer going to allow legal arguments which have yet to be tested in the courts determine our policies. American Blind will be doing Google a big favor if they keep moving ahead with this one, and a disservice to Google and the advertising community if they give up on it. We can only hope that the lengthy process sheds light on the legalities. And if that's a controversial viewpoint, well... (sing it with me)...
Now this looks like a job for me
So everybody just follow me
'Cos we need a little controversy
'Cos it feels so empty without me
Hum dee dai la la hum dei dei la la la la la
Hum dee dai la la hum dei dei la la la la la
Another Patented Traffick.com "Call for Jail Time"
Today I received one of those PayPal "account problem scam" spams. It looks like it's really from PayPal because the "from line" is ostensibly from "service at paypal.com." You're then asked to click on a link which looks like it's really from PayPal.com. Of course, if you check the full header, the email is really coming from the domain "hugeupdateinfo.com" (not really, though, as this appears to have been spoofed), as I quickly found out:
Received: from 184.108.40.206 (EHLO mail2.interkey.net) (220.127.116.11) by mta246.mail.scd.yahoo.com with SMTP; Mon, 12 Apr 2004 23:35:30 -0700
Received: from hugeupdateinfo.com (mail.interkey.net [18.104.22.168]) by mail2.interkey.net (8.11.6/8.11.6) with ESMTP id i3D5jfL14237; Tue, 13 Apr 2004 01:45:41 -0400
Received: from Sender [22.214.171.124] by hugeupdateinfo.com with ESMTP (SMTPD32-8.05) id A9D786B40078; Tue, 13 Apr 2004 02:33:59 -0400
And the link is really not to a PayPal address. When you mouse over the anchor text (which is made to look like a URL), the real site you're taken to is "updateaccount.info." From there presumably someone is going to try to get your personal information. Not that I'd ever click on something like this!
That scam's been making the rounds lately, and no doubt catching a certain percentage of recipients who aren't savvy enough to investigate. Usually, the scammers don't leave a lot of tracks, making sure everything they do is overseas. In this case they're probably using an overseas hosting company, but the Whois info on updateaccount.info, registered no earlier than April 8 (that's a fresh scam indeed!), seems pretty detailed:
Created On:08-Apr-2004 17:21:59 UTC
Expiration Date:08-Apr-2005 17:21:59 UTC
Registrant Name:Gennarina Pirrone
Registrant Street1:8205 14 Avenue
Registrant Postal Code:11228
Admin Name:Hostmaster Funktionen
Admin Organization:B-One ApS
Admin Street1:Esromgade 15, opg 1, 4 sal
Admin Postal Code:2200
Billing Name:Hostmaster Funktionen
Billing Organization:B-One ApS
Billing Street1:Esromgade 15, opg 1, 4 sal
Billing Postal Code:2200
Tech Name:Hostmaster Funktionen
Tech Organization:B-One ApS
Tech Street1:Esromgade 15, opg 1, 4 sal
Tech Postal Code:2200
It would be nice to think that somehow the domain registration system would allow us to track down perpetrators of fraud by looking at this info, but at the very least, the Brooklyn phone number given appears to be fake. It almost seems too easy, doesn't it? These people are collecting hundreds or thousands of credit card numbers and other aspects of people's personal identities with only a small chance of getting caught. At the very least, a hosting company that would allow spammers like this to send out large volumes of email needs to be looked at closely by their local authorities. By allowing it, by failing to put stricter controls over the sending of mass emails with obvious spam-filter-triggering content, aren't they really condoning the activity? Shouldn't they be held to account, too?
Monday, April 12, 2004
I know I'm not supposed to say anything if I can't say anything nice, but then wouldn't these be mighty blank pages?
At Cory's urging, I launched the Flash promo for Yahoo! the "Life Engine." I started out with Michelle, who uses Yahoo!'s "mail engine." I have to admit I laughed out loud at that one. I laughed and laughed. Real belly laughs.
The heartfelt mirth was triggered by two things. First, the explanation about the benefits of email, even web-based email, comes 5-10 years too late. It's just too basic. Do most of your 60-something and 70-something relatives use email -- Hotmail or Yahoo Mail even? They get it! And poor Michelle, in the 25-to-34 demographic, just catching onto the benefits of email. It helps her to "manage the pace of her life." Michelle, from the rest of us to you: welcome to email.
The second fantastic statement is that she likes to use IM to chat with her ex-boyfriend. "It's good to keep in touch."
Hey, Michelle, it would be bad enough if you had a weakness for exchanging too many ill-advised emails with your exes -- at least then, you would be managing the pace of your life. But IM? Is this wise? Also, look behind you. Your boss is over your shoulder. And your current boyfriend is coming up in the elevator. Abort that chat now! What's a grown woman doing spending all her time chatting, anyway?
Gator, I Mean Claria, To Go Public
There's a saying that Madison Avenue always gets its way. Actually, there's no such saying, but that's presumably the only explanation for the massive ongoing effort to shape your browsing experience to suit someone's "media buying" model. Big companies can't be bothered with asking your permission or waiting around for you to search for stuff. Apparently they can't even respect your decision to visit sites on which other legitimate advertisers have paid for banner space. So when Gator calls 'em up and says you can pop up all over the place -- even when your prospects are surfing your competitor's site!! -- they say "how much can we buy?"
Usually, big companies like to make a big fuss out of copyright, trademark, and other property-rights issues. Like the right of a publisher not to have its pages overwritten and popped-over by another publisher. So to pull off this hyper-aggressive media buy thing, they'll need someone to sanitize everything. A company with a nice, clean-sounding name. Not Clarica; that's the name of a large insurance and financial services company that used to be called Manulife. This one's Claria. It sounds nice and clean, but it isn't. It'll help to have some ad agencies involved, too. And Overture, who make up as much as 30% of Claria's revenues. Owned by good old Yahoo. Yahoo, profiting from pop-ups and scumware? You bet!
It seems that some of the deep-pocketed advertisers who had previously availed themselves of Gator's services have decided they don't like it when they get "Gatored" on their own websites. I'm not exactly sure how this one played out, but it was probably something like this:
Hertz Germany boss: "What the @@#$^%!? I went to our website like I do every day to think of something to bother our IT dept. with, and this big ad for Avis popped up on my screen! Let's sue their asses!"
Helpful Assistant: "But sir, that ad is served by scumware named Gator, and we just invested $86 billion in those same ads so we could show up on our competitors' sites!"
HGB: "I thought the company we dealt with was called Clarina, or Caribou, or something. Used to make apple pies and air fresheners before going into the advertising business? They called it 'behavioral marketing.' Surely there can't be anything wrong with that?"
HA: "If we sue them, we'll look like idiots."
HGB: "OK, then, let's pretend to be idiots. That way we can sue them."
HA: "Good timing, sir. They're going public shortly. Lots of investor cash in the bank. Plus, your cousin Helmut can always use the billings."
HGB: "You read my mind."
So, to capitalize on hot markets and the prospect of being made even hotter in investors' minds by all this negative PR, Claria's preparing for a whopper of an IPO. But it will always be Gator to us.