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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Gonzo Blogging at Y! Search

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.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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We Have a Buyer!

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.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

AdWords: Wine Still OK, Wild Turkey Still Bad

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.

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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Done, and Done

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.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Monday, August 16, 2004

$1.35 Billion (So Far)

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.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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