Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Recently, we bade farewell to a search engine marketing institution of sorts, the I-Search Digest discussion list. I-Search was founded by Marshall Simmonds, who remains active as one of the top search engine marketing experts on the planet. Unsurprisingly, Danny Sullivan was one of Marshall's early mentors. Four years ago, Traffick wrote a profile on Marshall's interesting work with About.com.
Detlev Johnson took the moderation reins from Marshall and tirelessly moderated to rave reviews from members until September 2003.
Over the years, members produced mountains of actionable, current search engine marketing intelligence. The archives alone were always a useful resource to me. I frequently found answers in them, although (ahem) they should have been more easily searchable.
Over the years, various owners (most recently, Andy Bourland) tried to make I-Search, I-Sales, and their sister lists into a viable paid-subscription business, but that proved difficult. It also proved difficult to maintain discussion in an increasingly fragmented marketplace with a format that seemed increasingly inadequate and inconvenient, as Detlev was finding out last summer before he passed the torch to me in September. And as Andy and I (along with other I-Moderators) found this spring. Both the "business" and the "community" seemed on their last legs, so ... well, they shoot horses, don't they?
Now that I-Search is closed, it's a perfect opportunity to start a new group for intermediate to advanced search marketers that will offer the advantage of building a solid community of knowledge while leaving behind some of the mistakes and inconveniences of the old group. I've christened "I-Search II" with a new name, SEM 2.0, and membership is by invitation only.
The group does not cost anything to join, and has no business model. It's hosted on Google Groups 2 Beta. (If the archives of this one aren't easily searchable, we've got a problem!)
If you were sad to see I-Search go, or simply want to find a search engine marketing discussion community that offers a more professional, low-key approach than some of the more public forums out there, SEM 2.0 may be for you. (Signup below: membership is moderated.)
|Subscribe to SEM 2.0
Sunday, June 27, 2004
Chance are you've heard of RSS, which is a "push" technology that is completely opt-in and that is very similar to e-mail -- but without the headaches of spam and false-positive spam filters.
Marketers are understandably scrambling to figure out how to tap into this powerful yet simple web technology because of the above reasons. I've experimented with RSS but haven't found the best way to read RSS feeds. The module offered by My Yahoo is a good first step, but even though I like it, it still feels a bit cumbersome. I'm convinced a better way exists.
Perhaps that better way is NewsGator, which offers a plug-in newsreader for Microsoft Outlook. NewsGator isn't related to Claria (nee Gator Corporation), thank god. It's been garnering lots of positive press coverage lately. It even received venture capital funding last week (gasp!), which would make only the second known RSS reader, according to PaidContent.
So, keep an eye on RSS, and if you're a bit adventurous, try it out. RSS just might be the replacement for e-mail publishing. Oh, and don't forget that you can get Traffick.com in your RSS reader, too, by saving this URL:
Friday, June 25, 2004
The first four readers to post a comment along with their e-mail addresses will get free invitations to try out Gmail from me. There's no way to know how many people have Gmail accounts, so I have no idea if there are four people who still want Gmail accounts, but I have the four invitations, and didn't want 'em to go to waste!
And speaking of Gmail, I just learned of a nifty tool called Mark Lyon's Gmail Loader (GML), which will import your other e-mail into Gmail so you can centralize all your e-mail in your Gmail account. You sort of need to be technically inclined to make it work, it seems.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
AOL has acquired online ad broker Advertising.com for $435 million. Whatever the rationale for this particular deal, it underscores the trend towards large publishers taking the ad brokerage business in-house, as with Yahoo buying Overture, and the trend will likely continue. It also means that AOL may be directly competing with Yahoo (via Overture) and Google in the business of serving ads on so-called "contextual inventory."
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Hotmail, following Yahoo's lead, is going to offer two gigabytes of storage to paying customers. They'll also be jettisoning graphical advertisements for paying users, substituting text ads in their place.
That leaves us wondering: what text ads? Presumably, advertisers who are accustomed to the pay-per-click ad network space, currently dominated by two players (Overture and Google AdWords), will have to get up to speed on a new Microsoft-centric PPC offering.
So the web-based email race is locked in a three-way stalemate. Many users will decide based on inertia; some will still gravitate to Google out of loyalty to the company. Finally, many who haven't used web-based inboxes in the past could begin doing so as the feature sets overcome many of the shortcomings of traditional email clients. There should be plenty of room for innovation here. There is little reason to believe Google's pace of innovation won't be faster than Microsoft's: after all, Microsoft bought Hotmail, it didn't develop it. And it's been sitting on that goldmine, refusing to upgrade it significantly until competition forced their hand.
Recent legal decisions seem to favor invasive spyware and adware technologies from WhenU and Claria (formerly Gator). Business Week's Ben Elgin explores recent developments.
The article pulls no punches on Yahoo's role in propping up the purveyors of unsightly-boil-ware:
Few companies have done more to prop up the adware industry than Yahoo. A deal with Claria enables Yahoo to push its search-related ads to millions of users -- even when they're typing key words into a rival's search engine.
Why is Yahoo willing to risk bad press? Perhaps profits. SEC documents indicate that Yahoo's Overture division claimed 36% of revenue from such ventures at the time of the Claria deal early last year. That would bring in $24 million in revenue if the partnership matches last year's performance. At the 90% margins analysts estimate, this would yield profits of $22 million, representing 5% of Yahoo's projected $446 million in 2004 earnings. A Yahoo spokesperson has no comment on the numbers, but defends the partnership with Claria, saying the company takes the necessary steps to inform users of what they're getting.
Promoters of intrusive ad technologies (seen your inbox lately?) don't care what might happen to the medium itself, as long as they can say they're playing just barely to the legal side of the divide that separates advertiser from otherworldly, misanthropic alien. But companies who eagerly rush in to adopt the most interruptive of interruption marketing methods make it hard on anyone else trying to reach targeted customers. So, the clutter grows, and the latecomers won't find many crumbs left on the ground if they try to dine at this dubious banquet.
Thursday, June 17, 2004
In keeping with the onset of summer, be warned that some of our blogs may be more like "Traffick Lite" than "Yahoo Serious."
It's never wise to underestimate the fun one can have with the network effect as it intersects with searchability. Interesting people read my uninteresting comments from time to time, which can be shocking until you realize that there is a lot of ego surfing and corporate intelligence surfing going on.
So awhile back I made some harmless and no doubt inaccurate offhand remark that Daimler Chrysler might soon hit a spurt of growth before the competition knew what hit them. My reasoning was more convoluted than you might think, but it obviously involved the meshing of two big corporate cultures (and car cultures) and the potential to convince more Americans than ever to buy Mercedes at various price points by calling them Chryslers.
(I immediately began second-guessing that as I decided that the new Chrysler Crossfire was a bit of an awkward "Homer-mobile" - and pretty much hate every other car Chrysler's coming out with these days.)
Bewildered by my bullishness, someone very close to the action at the automaker emailed me to ask me where I was getting this stuff, because as far as they knew, sales were weak and there was a fairly long list of reasons they'd continue to be weak. I gulped and admitted that it was pretty much an offhand opinion that I no longer even hold.
But maybe the wacky-looking Crossfire was just a false start. Perhaps it's the Chrysler ME Four-Twelve that signals a new era of excitement in the post-merger automaking world. Designing a car that every boy would want has to be a better idea, at least from an image standpoint, than hiring Celine Dion as your pitchman in an attempt to sell the same old declining stuff.
Or to put it another way -- traditional megabuck marketing doesn't work anymore. And although most folks aren't in the market for a twelve-cylinder race car, a good way to get their attention is to prove you can make better products. At a top speed of 248 mph, and a power-to-weight ratio unparalleled outside the insect world, this car poses a serious threat to the short-hop airline business.
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
A couple of years ago, I wrote that Yahoo was "no longer good," in part because they showed too many ads that were too intrusive given the loyalty of the users they were showing them to:
"As I scroll through Yahoo message board posts, I must wait as enormous ads are served on every page. When I try to use my mailbox, I'm hammered again with huge rectangles of low-CPM disrespect. Some days it seems as if parts of Yahoo are entirely taken over by creepy ads for hidden cameras."
I've regularly blogged about my disgust with the fact that Yahoo continued showing ads to Yahoo Mail users even after they paid $40 or $50 for the premium inbox.
The fact that the largest premium inbox at 100 MB was still too small was made even more obvious when Google rolled out GMail proposing to give users 1GB of storage... for free.
Today, that's all changed. Premium users of Yahoo Mail (the customers who pay for a bigger inbox and more features) no longer see any ads at all! The increase in speed and the decrease in distraction are going to be significant. And the inbox is 2GB, twice what GMail offers.
My significant other down the hall reports that her Yahoo Mail box now offers 1GB, absolutely free, although it does continue to harbor ads, as one might expect.
Hey, don't misunderstand me. I'm not one of these deficit-budgeting schnooks who wants to get more than he pays for. It's not gimme, gimme, gimme, just "give me choices." I'm going on record as saying I'll pay up to $100 a year for the premium Yahoo Mail, just as long as they continue to respect me.
With the competition emanating from the Googleplex, that seems like a probable outcome.
Having gotten so used to Yahoo Mail, and finding it suddenly so in tune with my needs, something suddenly occurs to me: is there now any reason to switch to GMail now that Yahoo Mail runs faster, has a huge storage capacity, and doesn't distract me with big banners? I'm at a loss!
The little voice down the hall just called out: "GMail is still cooler." Perhaps, but one senses that Yahoo has adroitly played this one to a stalemate.
Yahoo's promised summer upgrade to Yahoo Mail has already come to fruition. Members of Mail Plus now have a stupefying 2 gigabytes of storage now, and free mail users have 100 megabytes.
Of course, this comes on the heels of the 1 gigabyte of storage and bevy of improvements on webmail features introduced by Google's Gmail, which has essentially left its beta period. Tens of thousands of AdWords customers are now receiving invitations to sign up. That should increase the number of Gmail users to 100,000 in a matter of weeks.
Other improvements for Mail Plus users include the purging of all graphical ads. Andrew should be pleased by this one, having argued convincingly for years that it's ridiculous to force paying subscribers to view those annoying giant Flash ads. Well, problem solved, Andrew!
Yahoo also polished up a new interface for Yahoo Mail. But, it appears to mainly consist of slightly improved tweaks to the Yahoo Mail stylesheet, and a nicer color palette. The interface update is probably the most underwhelming aspect of these welcomed changes.
I think these changes are great, and I have no doubt they will make my e-mail experience more enjoyable. But, I don't think the 2 GB of storage will make that big of a difference to most Yahoo members who want to try Gmail. After all, Gmail's 1 GB of storage is free, compared to Yahoo's comparatively skimpy 100 MB.
Both Google and Yahoo are winners in this battle. But, as with most competition in business, it's the consumer who really wins, and that's good.
Monday, June 14, 2004
By Andrew Goodman
For the past year I've been trying hard to hammer home the point that Google's lead in terms of search referrals is greater than it ever was, and greater than you might think. Never argue with the marketplace.
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
Old McThrifty had a site,
And on that site he had some links,
He'd hired someone to help him get something free,
Can't you seeee the ironyyyyyyyy...
So with those links he joined a scheme -
here a link, there a link, everywhere a quack-quack...
[6 months later]
And then, one day, the Google Gods zapped Old McThrifty with a nasty penalty. Rankings lost! Reputation tanking! And worst of all, much time and money wasted by being cheap, instead of strategic.
As Sherpa Anne Holland so aptly put it, it's not just about ethics, it's about business risk! Or to put it another way... grow up! (She wrote this a few months ago, but I noticed it today due to a glitch in the ol' Moreover news feeds...)
And across from Old McThrifty, the beautiful green pastures of Old McSmarty's site... what a contrast! Old McSmarty did things the right way, the Traffic Without Trying way, and has kept basically the same search engine rankings for years. Not only that, but with the money and time Old McSmarty saved, he has plenty of time for hang gliding, going to the opera, eating fried Mars bars with fine wine, rebuilding his vintage Corvette, and playing with his kids.
And that's the moral of the story!
Teleseminar, that is. How's your calendar looking for Wednesday June 23 at 2:00 p.m ET?
That's when, in conjunction with MarketingSherpa, I'm holding a free teleseminar on the latest tips & tactics for Google Adwords campaigns. Last year's version of this was well-received and cost $129 per ticket. This time around, it's offered free with the purchase of any MarketingSherpa product -- even one of the $9 case studies!
A lot has changed in the past few months, so now is the perfect time for a refresher course on this all-important online marketing channel.
With your registration you'll also get a handy companion PDF, a 12-pager called "Top 7 Google Adwords Pain Points: Tips & Tactics." Check it out!
Saturday, June 05, 2004
Google has quite a few editorial guidelines for advertisers using its AdWords program. The introduction of image ads for the AdSense (content targeting) part of that program appears to have fostered a whole new layer of "good vs. evil"-determining bureaucracy.
One type of banner that is not permitted: banners that look like system warnings or drop-down option menus. Any banner creative that is even mildly deceptive and designed to look like part of the site's or the browser's navigation can be banned.
So to those critics who've been saying stuff like "what's next? pop-ups? or those banners that ask you to click the monkey to win a prize?," we can safely say relax. If these static image banners are so strictly regulated, it's unlikely that any monkeys will ever be harmed in the making of an AdSense campaign.
Thursday, June 03, 2004
Two years ago, Mike Musgrove of the Washington Post noted that the number of free services in Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail were being cut back as MSN and Yahoo shifted their emphasis to focus on fees for premium services.
It's already a bit quaint to see $20 buying you all of 10 megs of storage. And more than a little silly to hear all the squawking today about GMail's ads, which, as we continue to point out, would pay for a FREE service that offers 100X as much storage as Hotmail's $20 fee bought you two years ago.
Unsurprisingly, in the intervening two years, consumer interest in these services has only strengthened due to their power and portability. Free web-based email only appeared to be "waning" because the feature set wasn't worth the price. Now that the tradeoff is getting more favorable (thanks in part to declining costs for storage space), the ubiquity of web-based mail seems assured.
Tuesday, June 01, 2004
The Associated Press, via MSNBC, highlights the fact the most web users practice poor password protection. Mostly, this means that, despite knowing better, plenty of people still choose online passwords like "password" or other such nonsense.
e-Smokey (if there were such a thing) would be very disappointed in you. So, all you naughty netizes march straight to your online user accounts, and change your passwords to an alphanumeric combination that no one could guess or easily hack into using automated hacking programs.
The least you could do is change your password to something tongue-twisting like... password2! Oh, and if you need another good reason: Don't let the terrorists win by stealing your Amazon.com account and ordering all kinds of White House handbooks!
Ask Jeeves' stock valuation has risen more than tenfold over the past two years. Froth? Bubble? How does a company that was unprofitable and struggling two short years ago make it to a $2 billion market valuation?
It's obviously a bit more than hype at work here. Jeeves' market strength has been sustained enough to suggest that where there's smoke, there must be fire. Investors are accumulating the stock, possibly because someone else might be interested in acquiring Ask Jeeves. But why? Here are some conjectures:
- It didn't die. There's no arguing with consumers actually using a search engine. For whatever reason, unlike many other declining search engine properties, Jeeves has maintained considerable customer loyalty even though its underlying search technology (Teoma's) has little to do with answering questions. The butler, and the idea of typing a question, is still memorable enough to a lot of users that Jeeves remains one of the few search engines other than Google that the average person might consider using.
- Pay-per-click. The ads are making the company profitable. While the current P/E ratio of 80 is high, it's not so outlandish for a solidly profitable web property that might command a premium to be acquired. There is some question as to how the current profitability can be sustained given that Google AdWords gives away too-large a percentage to Jeeves in their current distribution partnership, but the underlying principle is now clear: if you own lots of user search traffic, it is now possible to monetize it effectively. This wasn't always the case.
- Search for dummies? Is it possible that many of Ask Jeeves' users are unsophisticated, and that's the reason for the continued profitability of the company, built on search engine results pages that sometimes display up to ten sponsored links at the top of the page, dominating the entire real estate of a user's screen?
- A great concept could be reinvigorated. Natural-language search caught our attention when Ask Jeeves first launched, but they never delivered on it. That's a cool concept that could still resonate with consumers with no need for any change in the Jeeves brand.
Which major media company will rekindle its interest in search and portal activity enough to grab control of this $2 billion property? Will it be AOL, Interactive Corp., or (wouldn't it just be logical) Disney? Isn't it obvious that a cuddly, smart butler that could answer questions in your hotel room or car is still something that could give the Yahoo and Google brands a run for their money? And don't major media conglomerates like Disney, IAC, etc. have a pretty good "in" in negotiations with other corps. that might help them weave search deeper into the fabric of how we work and play?
If none of that is going to happen, what does Jeeves plan to do with itself? The cuddly butler may still have some life left, but eventually, even the dum-dums are going to catch on that this thing doesn't really answer questions. In addition to a known brand, Jeeves needs a compelling natural-language search product that sets it apart, something it's never really had in spite of acquiring some fairly pleasing me-too search technology. When will this be developed? Doesn't the public demand better than it's now getting... pages of SERP's often prefaced by up to ten sponsored AdWords results?
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