Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Gord Hotchkiss writes on the SEM industry growing up. Great stuff.
SEO/SEM firms must get out there and differentiate... or die.
Monday, August 30, 2004
A recent nationwide phone survey reveals that searching is the #2 most popular online activity. In #1 spot is email, or what I like to call "deleting spam."
Sunday, August 29, 2004
By Andrew Goodman
An up-close view of the first ever Search Engine Strategies date in Canada, May 11-12, 2004.
Friday, August 27, 2004
Hey, we're not freaks or rabble-rousers or nothing... but IE is so scary, we use Opera and Firefox...
Browse happy, and have a better day.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Naseem Javed weighs in on the importance of a good name for the next big, hypothetical search engine challenger to Google. He seems to favor "serious and sober" corporate names because he thinks that's what the financial markets want to see.
Javed may be good at selling his naming services. The success of clever, well-chosen brand names like Clinique proves that a name can matter a lot. Given the challenges of finding a unique one, it's probably worth paying for a good one too, if you've got enough cash in the bank.
But substantively in this case he seems to be taking an overcautious line. It's possible that the lack of a flexible "skateboardy" image actually hurts a modern technology company in its efforts to recruit employees and win loyal customers.
And at the end of the day, you've got to have the goods and a business model that works. Inktomi is a superb name. But they made poor strategic choices. Accompany.com changed their name to MobShop using the services of a naming consultant. The marketplace wasn't interested in either.
If Google had listened to Javed, they'd be called SearchBot.com or Lookentium or Profundium or Umlauture.
I also notice that Yahoo! isn't doing too badly as a publicly-traded entity.
Compare and contrast a Traffick article on a similar subject: Differentiation Can be Brutal in the Web Search Business. Evidently the name is only a small aspect of the pursuit of industry leadership.
So what do you think would be a good name for the next big search engine challenger? I think Inktomi would be great. It could happen.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
This article on Kottke.org delves further into rumors and speculation about a potential Mozilla-Google alliance that might lead to a Google-branded browser. Count me as one of those Google watchers who is confident that a Google browser is an inevitability.
Google would be foolish not to challenge Microsoft's territory, as they clearly know that Microsoft is gunning for their turf. And I'm sure it's not lost on Google that now is the time to strike.
The next Microsoft operating system -- code-named Longhorn -- is still a year away, and although Microsoft recently made news by reviving its IE development unit, we likely won't see IE 7.0 for a year or two.
So, in regard to a Google Browser, I say: Bring it on!
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Adam Eisner reviews the Dummies book by Brad Hill and finds it pretty darn good, even for a non-dummy!
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Hurray! Users of Google's new Gmail web-based mail service can now get new e-mail alerts with the Gmail Notifier. This small Windows application sits in the Windows system tray and pops up an unobtrusive message (a la MSN Messenger) that displays the message sender and message subject. Clicking the icon will take you straight to your Gmail inbox.
Google may be taking its time rolling out ancillary features for Gmail, but that's fine with me. Their notifier is much better than those offered by other portals.
For instance, the only way to get new e-mail alerts from Yahoo is to use the somewhat annoying Yahoo instant messenger. Most people just want an e-mail notifier, not all kinds of other crap, and Google gets that.
Why is this small gesture by Google so exciting? Well, the fact that users must manually check their e-mail is one of web mail's main weakenesses, and now Google solves this problem two different ways: by automatically checking your mail for you through automatic inbox refreshing and now with the Notifier, which alerts you to new mail even if you aren't logged in.
What will they think of next?
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Official corporate blogs haven't captured the public imagination so far. While sober advocates of "blogging for business" expound the merits of exploring new modes of corporate communications, others wonder whether it's even possible for a company to get beyond careful, bland corp-speak.
One exec worries, for good reason, that he needs to think twice about what he blogs. As the CEO of a Nasdaq-traded company, there are things he can't and shouldn't say. That makes it harder to strike the right balance.
The analysts over at JupiterMedia are trying to find a voice on their weblogs, but as "analysts," they need to be wary of being seen as "chatty," since after all, don't analysts buckle down and "analyze" for relatively princely sums? On these blogs we see a mix of terse bullet-point analysis and the use of adjectives like "crappy." Interesting, though far from the streams of profanity we used to get over at EGR.
Maybe a rule of thumb for blogging should be: check out EGR, see how that's done, and then pull it back a couple of notches.
Google, a company that likes to push the envelope in a lot of ways, felt compelled to start its own blog, in part because they own Blogger (the service that's helping me publish this). During an SEC-imposed quiet period, though, you'd expect to see the world's worst example of blogging. Their Google Blog isn't too bad so far, though. Slightly lame, perhaps, but given the company's penchant for fun and creative thought, it's only a matter of time before it picks up. It sure has better photos than the junk you're reading right now. I suspect you'll wait a long time before you see shots of Page Zero Media types at the starting line of a 10k "fun run" with investment bankers, but tell you what, I'll bring the digital camera to the bar tonight and see what I can do.
Anyway, lately, Google's outreach has been most innovative in their forum participation at WebMasterWorld and Search Engine Watch Forum. Anonymous reps like "GoogleGuy" and "AdWordsRep" really engage with members, listen to the surfeit of intelligent feedback that's available in these places, and share valuable tips and clarifications. It's not complicated, and it's a bit of a risk. But it works.
So can the corporate blog live up to the high hopes expressed by people like Cluetrain Manifesto co-author (and author of an even more extreme version of the corporate-outreach argument, Gonzo Marketing) Chris Locke?
Yahoo hopes so. Their attractive new entry kicks off with some heartfelt analysis by SVP Yahoo! Search andMarketplace, Jeff Weiner (if you recall, he's so important in the biz that he made Meredith Roth's "ten worst dressed in search" list -- she said his wardrobe is bland). If this means of communication can help search enthusiasts and industry watchers get into the heads of the people at Yahoo! as they ponder new features and even the cultural significance of what they're doing, then it'll be a real help. Of course, the technorati will be on guard for the moment when the keyword density of corporate-speak terms like "best-of-breed," and "proprietary" gets too high. Not to mention faux-edgy but self-congratulatory words like "kickass." I hereby declare a moratorium on anyone at Yahoo! declaring that their search tech is "kickass." (But we will set our tolerances on "high" for personal anecdotes by engineers and those "man bites dog" type anecdotes.)
Weiner has already made one important point in his introductory blog -- about the importance of making money (and lots of it) as a search technology company. That's a simple point, but it's huge. As these companies grow, they get more money to buy the scientific talent, and by extension influence, to gain a solid foothold in the consumers' lives. While some believe that Microsoft can pull the rug out at any time, it's getting less credible to think this when so many of the best people work at Google and Yahoo!, and so many customers both love and respect these companies (whereas they merely respect Microsoft).
In short, if smaller tech companies like Infoseek were once easy to push around, then these new search behemoths with market caps north of $20 billion, who actually generate cash on their own rather than needing to go out cap in hand seeking it from investors, are able to stand their ground push back with considerable force. This recognition that a search company can leave real ripples in its own wake as opposed to being tossed around by the elements is, well, a sea change in the Internet business. Direct bonds with users who rely heavily on these online services are driving real growth. It's not just "cool stuff" anymore; not just the latest gimmick that might sound good to investors. It's got roots, and legs.
Companies today, goes the argument, can raise their profit margins if they score high on both the love and respect scales. It is only possible to love something you can see, I would claim, so the added visibility provided by blogs and other modern ways of reaching out to the community is something any savvy company needs to pay attention to. Especially if your company actually operates stuff like Yahoo Groups, ICQ, and Blogger! Striking the right balance is not easy, but it's clear that blogging isn't just some crazy fad. If what you sell is to a great extent invisible, you must create visibility somehow. Blog on.
Latest word on the Street is that the auction winners will receive their Google shares at the low end of the revised range: $85.
I beat the bushes and surveyed the landscape to find out what the search industry junkies thought of this price point, and where they thought Google might be a "buy." I mostly got answers like "No way, Jose," and numbers between $25 and $45. Liberally sprinkled into the mix were some "don't quote me, I am the world's worst when it comes to the stock market."
But Raging Bull founder Bill Martin, who along with Matt Ragas runs FindProfit.com, a market advisory letter, stepped up to the plate. "At $85, I'd probably buy it for a trade," says Bill. "If it opened even lower than that, I'd definitely scale into it for a trade."
When market close comes around, millions of eyes will turn away from the toils of August to check out the closing price on GOOG. Having digested the info, they'll go back to whatever they were doing, be it preparing a lesson plan, writing code, or extolling the merits of the Belgian shot put team.
As one fearless leader once famously stated: "we'll stop at nothing until those crazy Google kids are given their comeuppance. Now watch this drive."
The pre-IPO hand-wringing and speculation are over. Hopefully now Google, and the rest of us, can get on with things.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
In a recent ClickZ article covering Sergey Brin's and Larry Page's recent Playboy interview, the Google co-founders discuss why "some ads are evil, some ads are OK." This has been a thorn in the side of many an AdWords advertiser for a while now, and it still vexes even intelligent marketers.
As one who manages search engine marketing for Vino.com, a wine and liquor consumer portal and online store, I learned first-hand of Sergey's and Larry's distaste for hard liquor. At least, when it comes to advertising it through AdWords. I have no idea if the duo downs Jim Beam or not, but I'm guessing not, since they consider liquor ads to be "evil."
I learned this fact last year when Vino.com began offering liquor products in its wine store. What happened? Well, like others before me, I fought the Google editors, and the Google editors won.
Now, I understand that Google wants to retain editorial control over these listings. Should they ban political ads? Probably, or it could open a can of worms that would lead to issues of fairness. Should they ban "attack" ads of any sort? Probably, for the same reasons.
But, should they ban legitimate ads for legitimate products? I'm thinking: Probably not. Of course, what constitutes a legitimate product? When you allow wine and beer ads, but not liquor, how can you justify it? Oh, because whiskey has 40% alcohol by volume, it's now "bad"? And at what point does an alcoholic beverage turn evil? 20%? 30%? Nah, it's 40%! Yeah, that sounds good.
I'll concede that it's Google's game, and they can play it any way they like it. But, I won't be truly pacified until I get a personal e-mail from Sergey or Larry explaining in point-by-point detail why liquor ads are evil.
Or, a few thousand shares. That would be good, too.
Wall Street's favorite new palindrome, GOOG, could be trading as early as Thursday morning now that the SEC has declared Google's registration statement effective.
So was it a fascinating exercise in democracy, or the same old Wall Street? You be the judge.
And you -- yes, you there in the corner cubicle -- quit watching the ticker! That's so 1998.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Sure, things have gotten a bit messy. Playboy interviews have been stapled, along with notes from Larry and Sergey's legal guardians and formal corrections of outdated comments (such as "Google has only about 1,000 employees"), to SEC filings. A big charge (read: loss) is anticipated for next quarter as Google issues more stock to Yahoo to cover the settlement in the patent dispute. Not the clean debut one might have hoped for. New shareholders will have to look forward to working through a huge overhang of stock that youthful millionaires will be only too happy to blow out as soon as possible. But just look at the numbers and try not to be impressed in spite of all that.
On the eve of Google's IPO (GOOG is expected to begin trading as early as Wednesday), its 10-Q filing is available. It shows revenues of $1.35 billion for the first six months of 2004. That's up over 100% from the same period a year ago.
Since folks began speculating on Google's income and on its growth curve, the company has been routinely underestimated. You'll certainly read more newspaper stories about the risks facing the company, or predictions of the growth tailing off, than you will hear reminders that this AdWords phenomenon continues to blow the doors off expectations. Why does Google keep raking it in? The answer's still very simple. Search advertising works, and it's easy to prove as much. Some of Google's recent growth is in international markets. I'm not sure when the pundits are going to predict that tail-off, but given that many of these markets have barely dipped a toe into the water, we're looking at 100% annual growth in some of them for the foreseeable future.
In any case, when even the harshest critics have dampened down their "tail-off" predictions to something like "growth may be as low as 30% by 2009," you know you've done pretty well. For the non-jaded among us, Google's ability to rack up $700 million in revenues in a quarter makes the ol' eyeballs pop out of the ol' head. Prediction: Q4 will make the ol' head spin.
As a non-US person, I can't buy shares in the IPO. Since so much of the hype is so negative right now, though, I'm almost glad of that fact. I'd love to see smart investors pick up some GOOG at bargain-basement prices if it goes through any rough patches in the next 12 months. Sometimes the best way to deal with hype -- be it positive or negative -- is to stick with your convictions. And keep the facts handy.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Stamps.com is making it possible for your personal digital photos to be used as legal postage.
Strict editorial controls will mean no vulgarity and no political candidates on stamps. So which will be the first nation that actually allows vulgar stamps? Hmmm.... they have sports books in Antigua... so....
Monday, August 09, 2004
Pay-per-click pioneer Overture, now owned by Yahoo, has long contended that other pay-per-click services including Google AdWords infringe its patents. Rather than allow the legal dispute to drag out any longer, the two parties have come to a settlement whereby Google has arranged to license technology from Yahoo in exchange for granting Yahoo additional shares of Google stock.
While they may appear to be fierce competitors on the surface, since both Yahoo and Google own a considerable share of their own traffic, they are bound to be co-leaders in the online advertising space for some time to come. Along with that equilibrium, and the fact that Yahoo owns shares in Google, the two companies' interests are intertwined to a fair degree. There are common goals and "coopetition" in this space as in other technology niches; it's not necessarily all-out competition.
The settlement may now put pressure on other PPC providers such as LookSmart and Findwhat to pay a licensing fee to Yahoo. If Google wasn't interested in fighting this in court, it seems likely that the latter two might be forced to settle as well, and that could be costly.
Thursday, August 05, 2004
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Tuesday, August 03, 2004
In this burgeoning field of search, it becomes increasingly difficult for a working-stiff-cum-roving reporter to review every product or write about every issue. Blogging to the rescue. Here, in lieu of the feature articles which some of these things no doubt deserve, a few random observations.
In general: JupiterMedia says this is the largest show yet, and that's a credible claim. The conference is being held at a new convention center in downtown San Jose... and fortunately the spacious venue is doing a good job of containing the conference's business, though not its pleasures, as no shortage of four sponsored parties broke out yesterday in nearby bars and restaurants. The new venue for the show is much preferable to last year's Doubletree near the airport. Conference attendees have packed the brand-new, nicely-appointed Marriott and overflow went into the nearby Hilton. Speaking of packed, Danny Sullivan's keynote address packed Ballroom A today, with standing room only. And no small room, either.
Best party: I only went to two of 'em, and tonight's Google Dance and Yahoo's Next Big Thing party have yet to take place. But unanimous feedback so far suggests we might as well declare the election over now: LookSmart (remember them?) has outdone themselves again with a lively do featuring a live Latin band. The company has a new CEO, Damian Smith. It will be interesting to see what they do in the coming year to climb back on the horse.
Most surprising trend: The number of cash-rich companies, venture capitalists, and private investors openly scouting the show for service and software companies to acquire or invest in; Wall Street analysts and investment journalists, too.
Announcements of note: The exhibit floor looked to be the largest ever, also. The usual three rows format is now a mazelike entity of many rows of mostly-pretty-integral companies getting the word out. Two of the exhibitors who are releasing important new products are WebTrends/Webposition and Topix.net. Webtrends, the "industry standard" analytics technology owned by publicly-traded NetIQ, recently purchased SEM-tool standby Webposition Gold. It has also developed a working partnership with another popular tool vendor, Wordtracker. Now, these three technologies have been integrated to help marketers to do a better job of analyzing the return on investment from all types of search marketing campaigns, paid or unpaid. Webtrends' isn't the only solution out there, but the integrated package will be welcomed by agencies seeking high-powered, full-featured campaign analysis. Smaller shops who might have used Webposition in the past (following Google's advice, I don't personally touch it with a ten-foot pole) are being encouraged to upgrade to a fuller-featured platinum version. Topix is a news search engine aiming to be the category-killer by focusing on -- get this -- making a better product. This week they announced a host of new features. I'm a believer in its effectiveness -- I already use Topix for news search fairly regularly, although it's still easier to use Google News if you're already on the Google site.
Coming soon: ClickTracks plans to add bid management to its offering (announcement coming in September), strengthening its already strong hand in the analytics space.
Gender gap: A male member of the audience in one session (Creating Compelling Ads and Landing Pages, which had a 50-50 gender split if you include me, the moderator) made the important point that most panels are male-dominated and that the female presence at shows like this tends to be restricted to sessions dealing with writing. (Perhaps not entirely true, but that was one attendee's perception.) The audience and the panel couldn't have agreed more! What seems to happen is that small to midsized startups are (more often than not) created by groups of young men who have an idea and drive, but little capital. Limited capital and high risk require high trust -- in many cases that need for trust equates to what the pop psychologists used to call "male bonding." It takes a long time, sometimes, for the hiring process to reflect more diversity. The search marketing industry has happily reached the point where -- although at any given time there might be more men than women at a given lunch table -- it is not particularly male-dominated. As our postsecondary institutions are now graduating more qualified women than men, it would be bad indeed if this business were to have evolved into an anachronistic male enclave, but fortunately, it doesn't seem that it has. That's not to say that companies like Google -- which evidently has a diverse makeup in the middle and lower ranks -- aren't dominated by men at the level of ownership and control... but if the proportion of successful female search execs, and owners of and partners in search-related software and service companies, increases every year, we'll be getting somewhere.
Monday, August 02, 2004
Apparently, some defenders of Google in the trademark infringement lawsuit launched by GEICO don't believe that the holding of a trademark equates to carte blanche to restrict fair commercial speech. Like me, some such defenders believe that Google and Overture have the right to display targeted ads near search results using matching technology.
It's a shame, therefore, that Google is still (although with less gusto than in the past) buckling to pressure from some large trademark holders and unilaterally deciding to disable those keywords in advertiser accounts.
I advertise on a few search-industry related keywords to drive readers to this site. (Bidding only a few pennies on certain keywords to display an ad that refers to "search industry news.") In connection with that ad group, Google recently disabled the keyword "MSN." Bok-bok-bok-bok. You're not afraid of a little company called Microsoft, are you, Google?
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