Thursday, September 30, 2004
Microsoft just swears that it hasn't given up on Internet Explorer and that it's really, really important to the future of Microsoft, to the next version of Windows, etc., etc. Oh, I'm sorry... that sound was my lie detector exploding.
Here's the takeaway from News.com's lengthy piece about one possible future for IE's rickety web browser:
If only that were true. It's easy to overlook this fact, but the web browser -- specifically IE -- is one of the most important parts of the "Internet economy," and it's flabbergasting that Microsoft has done so much to undermine the browser's development with its crass disregard for updating IE. The entire Web is built around IE technology, and Microsoft has deliberately dragged its feet on browser development. Why? Who can say, but I'd wager that it goes back to Microsoft's insistence that IE is not a standalone product, but an integral part of Windows. Not to mention that it's a well-known fact that Microsoft sees web-based applications as a threat to its core business -- Microsoft Office.
Microsoft is facing growing criticism over its glaring neglect of Internet Explorer, but browser technology remains key to the future of Windows.
Microsoft plans to unveil dramatic new features in future versions of its operating system that aim to take Web browsing to an entirely new level--in many ways stepping beyond the browser completely.
Will we actually see revolutionary browsing technologies? Perhaps, but given Microsoft's history of vaporware, don't hold your breath.
As reported in ClickZ, a rich media vendor named PointRoll is introducing some pretty clever features to its advertising platform:
The new features, collectively packaged under the moniker PointRoll Reminder, extend PointRoll's essential theme of doing more with the banner space by allowing rollover, clicking and typing actions within an ad's borders.
This is one of those things that seem so simple and obviously beneficial, that it's a wonder why it's never been done before. As the interactive advertising medium continues to mature, it's clear that it offers so many advantages over the offline ad world, or TV-industrial complex, as Godin puts it.
The toolset consists of three basic features. An e-mail reminder lets users opt in to receive a note about the advertised product or service within a designated time frame. A bookmark feature allows an ad recipient to add the product to his or her favorites. And a calendar download gizmo enables the importing of an event directly to Outlook's calendar. All the tools allow interaction without requiring a click-through.
If this toolset is widely adopted -- and I suspect it will -- we'll soon have even more measurable ways (as with PPC ads) to prove that interactive advertising is the superior advertising vehicle.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
It's a tale of two companies.
A commenter on my previous post -- since he left himself anonymous, we'll call him Officer Krupke -- about this company suggested that I might "have something against" WebSideStory, even though I suggested the IPO "made perfect sense." No, there's no grudge, just puzzlement. I did think it was a bit strange that so many of the company's executive team arrived so recently, well after the company's "first phase." (I stand corrected in stating that the early product was a logfile analyzer. It was and is bug-based tracking.)
An Associated Press story about the company's IPO (it started trading today) confirms certain facts. For most of its history, leading up to the first time it tried to IPO in 2000, WebSideStory was profitable. But those profits (90% of them in 1998) were mostly from pornography advertising.
Nothing wrong with that. Online pornographers have sometimes led the pack in adoption of certain marketing technologies. But now the question is, can WebSideStory turn a long-term profit from its 500 or so enterprise-class clients, and what are its growth prospects? As the AP story points out, WebSideStory has mostly lost money catering to the enterprise, though this is beginning to turn around.
Make no mistake, the field of so-called on-demand analytics is crowded. The small business sector that WebSideStory left behind may turn out to be the more fertile and profitable ground for analytics software and services. Personally, from the standpoint of risk and leverage, I'd rather have 50,000 small-to-midsized customers than 500 supersized ones. Enterprise clients are pretty good at pitting one vendor against another, unless a single "category killer" emerges.
Time will tell.
Monday, September 27, 2004
The long-awaited upgrade to My Yahoo is finally underway. Users of the personalized Yahoo service now see a link near the top of their page exhorting members to try the new My Yahoo Beta. Ever the intrepid adopter of new features, I had to check it out.
The early buzz: this is very good. Those annoying Times New Roman fonts were driving me insane, as were the lame color and content choices. This new approach seems fairly radical, while retaining the elements of personalization that make My Yahoo the industry leading personalized portal experience.
For more info on what the changes entail, go here.
One thing that really jumps out at you -- and it's no surprise, really -- is a dominant search box similar to that on the main Yahoo.com home page. Unlike other portal elements, it doesn't seem possible to turn off that "module." And it's small wonder, considering that this little (OK, large) box is what will finance this overhaul, thanks to the PPC ads that greet you on the other side.
WebSideStory, a small web analytics firm that received a surprising amount of venture capital a few years ago, is set to go public, offering 4.4 million shares at $8-9 million per share.
In the wake of GOOG's sector-defining IPO, it makes perfect sense. As online advertising goes, so goes web analytics. As small as WebSideStory is, its minor liquidity event is no doubt roughly proportional to its importance in the grand scheme of things, riding the current wave.
Certainly, established players in the space, such as publicly-traded NetIQ (owner of WebTrends), have been in acquisition mode, snapping up useful tools and trying to reach a position of relative dominance. Whether current improving conditions bode well for a turnaround in the fortunes of companies like this remains to be seen. Impressive client lists and awards don't change the fact that many in the sector have been very good at burning through investors' cash with little to show for it.
One does wonder why WebSideStory has been treading water / going sideways for so many years and why it continues to show unimpressive financials even in a hot market for its products. It's a long time since this company was just a maker of small-time logfile analysis software (including the famous free one that required users to put HitBox graphics on the site). Since the new company looks nothing at all like the old one, it's likely that the trajectory of WebSideStory was funding-driven, not market-driven. Not being overly familiar with the company, it's nonetheless evident from reading bios of company executives that many arrived on the scene very recently. One has previous tenure at Keylime Software and NetIQ; the CEO and some others have been brought in from unrelated software concerns. The CTO has been with the company since 1998, however. Here's hoping he owns plenty of shares.
WebSideStory would probably be well-advised to use their stock as currency to snap up related companies which have strong products and financials that are sounder than, well, WebSideStory's. Maybe a reverse-takeover-style acquisition of hard-charging Omniture might do the trick.
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Remember when lava lamps were all the rage? Yes, I do too. It was only four years ago, back when Google was still an upstart.
A fascinating San Francisco Chronicle article from August, 2000, reveals the following tidbits:
- "Google faces strong competition from the likes of AltaVista Co., the Palo Alto Web portal, and Inktomi Corp., the Foster City firm that licenses search technology to Web sites such as Lycos and America Online."
- "Both companies dwarf Google in size and experience, but still feel threatened." (You don't say!)
- The company had 120 employees, indexed 560 million web pages, and processed 14 million searches per day on its own website (partners accounting for another 26 million).
Ah, 2000. Back when Martha Stewart was an innocent flower. When 911 was something you dialed on your phone. And Google didn't even have news, let alone a browser. They recently registered GBrowser.com. They allow publishers to display simple graphical banners in their advertising program, the one called "AdSense." We're not in Kansas anymore.
- "One thing Google's executives say they will not do is transform their company into a Web portal. While the firm may add capabilities such as online image and music searches, according to its co-founders, it will stay away from calenders, news and chat." (Now they have news, of course. And email, which is one step away from calendars. And with Groups, blogs, and orkut, they're getting closer and closer to the world o' chat. Things change.)
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Catching up on this one: ResearchBuzz recently celebrated its 300th issue. As online search hype has ebbed and flowed, Tara Calishain has been like a rock, if you'll excuse the Seger-sellout lyric. Moreover, she is one online research expert who has managed to stay out of the clutches of Search Engine Watch. (ha!) To coincide with this date she released a book, Web Search Garage. ("Prentice-Hall? Those bastards?") This is a woman who has evidently taught Tom Peters to search for stuff! And as we all know, when smart people start getting smarter about searching for stuff... look out!! In a somewhat unrelated vein, have you ever noticed how often her name is seen in the same place as Metallica? 17 times, to be exact.
In other news, Ask Jeeves PR kicks into overdrive (I received a postmark with a big question mark on it) to hype the launch of their new personalization suite ("save your search history" a la A9). News search service Topix.net is part of the fun, scoring their first-ever portal partnership.
As quoted in the Reuters UK story, Gary Stein's analysis of Jeeves' particular take on search personalization, though blunt, strikes me as right on the mark. People might be too lazy to try it. "Slightly better than bookmarks" isn't going to blow anyone's mind.
Monday, September 20, 2004
Overture is finally opening a separate office in Canada, along with Brazil, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. (We presume this means Yahoo! will now renew its sometimes-wavering commitment to the Toronto presence.)
But as ever, the devil will be in the details. It will be interesting to see whether advertisers will continue to need separate accounts if they wish to run international campaigns. With Google AdWords, country settings (and for the bold, regional targeting) are consolidated in a single account.
The exact ad distribution pattern of, say, a Canadian Overture campaign will be interesting to see, as well. Many Canadian users who search on Yahoo would actually be using Yahoo.com, not Yahoo.ca. Presumably Overture plans to use an IP-targeting technology similar to the stuff Google uses?
Although there aren't many advertisers who would limit their campaigns to Canada, there are certainly enough to bother with. One we worked with -- a Botox-related treatment that you can currently hear on Toronto radio spots -- wanted to know how they could show up in those "Yahoo sponsored listings," but only in Canada. We couldn't do it for them because turning Overture on meant turning it on for all of North America, a cost increase of 10X at least. So having the ability to deploy Overture campaigns for Canada only -- and even for specific metro areas in future -- is a welcome development that will attract plenty of new advertisers to the fray.
Until Canadian Tire opens up stores south of the border, for example, they'd probably find it annoying to run an Overture campaign. The same goes for Tim Horton's (who should, I still maintain, absolutely OWN the PPC listings for donut, bagel, and, well, "Tim Horton"), the Rotman School of Business, Sheila Copps, The Loose Moose, and various other usual suspects. With the hockey lockout leaving local execs with more spare time, there's no longer any excuse. It's time to get off the collective national duff and get onto understanding how to target those search listings.
When it comes to easy targeting by country and region, Google's already there, of course. This was amply demonstrated in a slide shown by Google's Wendy Muller at SES Toronto last May -- with a sample regional-targeting "ad radius" that stretched around the 416 and 905 area codes.
It'll be interesting to see average costs per click for local businesses -- especially the lucrative ones like plastic surgery, fine furniture, donuts, business degrees, election-buying, nightclub-hopping, and so on -- creep up as the most entrepreneurial advertisers realize they can target highly captive audiences, paying only when the viewers live nearby and are actively searching for their products. Although some realize this today, it's still pretty wide open. In a normal market that "got it," advertisers in any given city would think nothing of throwing a buck or two per click at such a micro-targeted customer. But they still don't get it, by and large, so there are plenty of bargains to be had.
Thus endeth today's seminar on "trends in local search." And I didn't even once use the example "pizza place in Palo Alto."
The "what to do with local offices" type of problem used to beset LookSmart, which had some local offices (and "local submit" options) that seemingly languished when it came to giving any kind of compelling service to local advertisers. Many just dealt with US-based LookSmart.
There's enough money in the game that the two major PPC players can afford to plunge into new markets with both feet. With search advertising now representing 40% of online advertising spending, it's time to go big (and go abroad), or go home. Wherever "home" is.
Sunday, September 19, 2004
There is considerable current chatter on the blogs of Microsoft employees and their friends about the likelihood of Google soaking up the hottest programming talent, including some who formerly plied their trade in the browser department at Microsoft. (Should there be much doubt now that Google plans to get into the browser business in some form?)
Some have referred to Google as the 'new hotness.'
I've always looked at public companies (or any corporation) as structural entities first and foremost. As boxes, if you will, into which you can put things. Public companies can acquire other companies. They can attract additional investment. They can attract quality people. All due to their structure.
The fact that Google is constantly shifting its priorities as it becomes a major force in global technology is no surprise. As that momentum grows, its structure (including stock options and the other trappings) allows it to attract new people who are attracted by the opportunity.
As something of a black hole for programming talent, it may well be that the attractive environment and the people themselves drive Google's growth as much as any management strategy could. If you make cool things, and keep people around to look after their growth, some of these things stand a chance of uprooting the tired old things that the marketplace no longer wants.
Into the black hole goes the programming talent. We now wait to see where it all leads.
Friday, September 17, 2004
If you want to find out about the trends that are going to shape online business for this holiday season and next, don't go to business school. Don't even try to read up on them by browsing for articles on Amazon's business model. All of this stuff is unfolding before our eyes while the pundits and lecturers are still finishing that long sentence about Amazon being a "failed dot bomb."
You see, Amazon now sells everything.
I can prove it. Want to buy that loved one a pair of Serengetis?
This holiday season, a lot of people are going to be doing this.
E-commerce in general was pretty anemic in the years leading up to its breakout year (1999). I wonder if this year will see another such quantum leap forward.
Now we enter the next phase. Call it extreme consolidation, if you will. This will put the squeeze on many small retailers (even Amazon's own merchant partners), unless they adapt. It might lead to another leap in e-commerce sales. It should lead to increased customer satisfaction, on average.
One thing's for sure. I'd never bet against a company that became so far-reaching that they became simply "the store" -- the place you go when you want to go online and buy stuff.
So is Amazon a portal in the classic sense of an entry point to a much wider universe of functionality? Yes, in spades.
Forget A9 and the other red herrings. Top-flight search engine technology is part of what makes Amazon's technology so conducive to high conversion rates on site visits. (Do you ever have very much trouble finding what you need there? Do you ever lack for recommendations of related items?) Amazon is all about what it sells. Which is everything.
What's up with these services that promise a "swarm" of traffic to your website? This is just what I want when I'm running a business... a cloud of angry, mentally-impaired hornets descending on me all at once. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!
Do people still fall for this kind of hype?
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Fair and balanced take on trademark by Deborah Wilcox. Although she advises advertisers to take a conservative approach (because her firm wants clients on both sides, particularly the litigious ones), she's well aware that the facts of particular cases may indeed support the advertiser, as she adroitly argued in the Moot Court session at SES San Jose.
A fairly busy news day today (FindWhat announces pay-per-call and so on), and I had some potential riffs about "wikis" and A9 (a.k.a. Google Labs 2) to share, but when it comes to spending an hour constructing the ultimate blog (actually, I did spend too long writing about A9 only to have Blogger die on me)... after spending a day working at the desk on a July-like day in September... as a famous man once said, "it's too sunny for that."
It's a good thing I don't live in California.
In silly news, metasearch engine Dogpile is now going to be called "Webfetch" across the ocean. Apparently, the name "Dogpile" conjures up ghastly images of what the search engine's mascot, Arfie, might leave on the "sod." Whoops, did I make another faux pas? I meant turf.
Hmm, I feel like I should sell you something today. OK, maybe we'll just give something away. Like other GMail users I now seem to have more GMail invites than I can give away. If you still lack GMail, post a comment on any of today's search engine news, leave your email address, and I will send one of the 12 invites I've got saved up.
Monday, September 13, 2004
It's often said that volume is the secret to making a living as a freelance writer. However, when the topic is business, readers don't need volume, they need quality. The straight goods.
Recently, the Globe and Mail published this timely and relevant article about optimizing your site for search engines.
"Timely," writes trusted colleague Shane Wagg in an email correspondence, "if it was 1999." Continued Wagg: "Do you think they could have released this in time for Search Engine Strategies [Toronto, back in May]?"
The author of the piece, Paul Lima, has been showing up as a feature writer in technology sections of Toronto newspapers for more than fifteen years, telling folks how to get the most out of their SOHO experience. Here though, in his latest incarnation as a writer and speaker on SEO, he's still at the level of rank amateur. The experts he quotes don't appear to be much farther along on the learning curve.
Search marketing is a challenging field. It's not just a question of breaking down the technical tasks required, but thinking strategically and keeping up with the zeitgeist at companies like Google. Without even a whiff of a sense of the impact of developments like "Florida," the importance of post-click analytics, trends in search engine user behavior, or the need to consider a mix of paid search options, companies listening to the likes of Lima are going to be getting off on the wrong foot.
What's with this advice, for example? "Once your site is optimized, submit it to the major Search Engines, such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, AltaVista, Mamma, Lycos, AskJeeves, Excite, HotBot and Go." That's wrong on so many levels. Where to begin?
This isn't 1999.
Thumbs down to the quality of recent articles in Globetechnology.com.
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
In a few months, speakers will be invited to Search Engine Strategies Toronto 2005. And the process of understanding why "Canadians don't buy" will begin again.
Here's why. We cannot "buy."
I live a ten-minute drive from one of your finer malls, called Sherway Gardens. Anything you might want is there. So why go online? But you know, if I could, I would. I enjoy shopping online. It saves time.
Even though the Sporting Life in the mall carries everything from Nike tube socks to Prada dog collars... I would shop online, if I could.
Even though I was able to converse with a salesman at the Sony Store to determine just which camera is for me... I might have shopped online for a similar product, if it made any sense.
Even though this mall has wonderful couches, plant life, people-watching opportunities, ample parking, 26 shoe stores, places where you can buy grapefruit hand soap, and a Guess! Store directly below the Famous Wok and Jimmy the Greek... I would shop online, if I could.
Yesterday, Gateway CDI informed me that my recent order from the Google Store ($54 total) would come to $206 if I wanted it shipped to Vancouver, BC. Culprits: Customs duty, $32. "Service charge": $25. Shipping (I'm pretty sure this includes more customs duty): $93.
Sure, there are some things you can buy online here. Amazon.ca carries about half the books, and about half the merchandise, that you can get on Amazon.com. Not bad. Not good, either, if they don't have what you want. They don't have the apparel or food that you can now search for on Amazon.com. Let's hope they roll it out soon.
But the problem is, online is for when you want to go and get anything, I mean anything, on a whim. Like that Guess henley or hoodie that came up when I happened to type henley and hoodie into Amazon.com, just to see what Amazon's store looks like these days. Cool lion logo on the henley: I want it now! Nah, on second thought... they won't give it to me.
If you're outside the US, I defy you to buy, say, this designer hoodie online without incurring monstrous shipping, customs, and other assorted charges. Your pampered teen will be so disappointed.
For better or for worse, I live in a city so large it has nowhere to put its garbage, and John Kerry's making political mileage out of pledging to stop us from shipping it to Michigan (I don't blame him). But I'm still stuck driving to the mall. Baskin-Robbins and Famous Wok are the clear winners here.
As for that Google beach towel, maybe next year. Summer's over anyway.
SES Toronto 2005 isn't until May, but it isn't too early for the e-commerce experts at the shopping engines (etc.) to begin pondering this simple problem. People can't buy stuff if nobody will ship it to them. And if customs duty bumps the price up another 30%. What is needed is more distribution from this side of the border, as Amazon.ca is doing. More of that! More of that!
Now I'll step off that crate of grapefruit hand soap.
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
Google's six. So they enter their seventh year as a publicly-traded company and aiming to become the "#1 portal" of the four main contenders, in spite of only recently admitting (or failing to deny) that they've become rather portal-like. Life-changing and desktop-dominating? Maybe soon. For now, Yahoo and MSN are still "bigger" in various ways, though smaller in search. AOL sees the handwriting on the wall.
This reminds me that just a few days ago, Traffick.com turned five. Cory Kleinschmidt had founded a tutorial site called PortalHub.com early in 1999, and by August, we were just a few (mostly virtual) pals discussing future world domination in an "intranet" we set up using Excite Communities. Early "beta" articles went up in August 1999. The first "official articles" were posted in September 1999. It's creepy to think that a review by non-aligned journalists on the web back then could help a company get another round of funding, or a merger get done.
Make no mistake, they were crazy times. One day, we were comparing online greeting card players as if it were a kind of "cool site of the day" type exercise. Before you knew it, one of those companies was swallowed up for something like $1 billion in stock. 'Twas irrationally exuberant.
For awhile there, many of our reviews and articles were posted in the online press areas of the reviewed companies. One of our friends in the biz (CEO of a vertical search company years ago) went to pitch his tech to a major media company in New York, and he told me that printed copies of my review were sitting in front of everyone at the boardroom table. I said "yeah, sure they were." He said "you've got to learn to take a compliment." Flattering but a bit scary! And always a privilege to be able to explain little-understood technologies and trends to anyone who might be listening, in spite of the complete lack of prestige outside our little corner of the world.
That corner of the world got bigger, and everyone got a bit older and wiser. Clearly, it wasn't all nonsense. Blue Mountain Arts wasn't worth $1 billion. Yahoo! overpaid significantly for Broadcast.com, Geocities, and more. The advertising market collapsed on them and the other portals. But in spite of it all, mostly due to the rebound in advertising (and most of the profits from that coming from search engine advertising), YHOO's now healthy as a horse, and valued at $40 billion. I can't help but be amazed by this.
We now do fewer articles, and focus more on earning a paycheck, but the blogging is still a blast. To longtime readers, your feedback, savvy, and wit has been more than we ever bargained for. We just wish we heard more from you, but we understand you have kids to put to bed and a mortgage to pay, too.
The portal play just won't die, much like those joke candles you can't blow out. See you tomorrow, GOOG and YHOO. You fought. You thought. You won.
Friday, September 03, 2004
Google's now allowing its AdSense publishers to place up to three ad units on a page. (Since any given Google AdSense ad unit can contain multiple ads, you're looking at up to twelve AdWords advertisers on any given page of content.)
For advertisers using content targeting, this means they'll need to monitor their spend on this advertising more carefully than ever. Those who have suffered with lower click volume than they'd like will see a welcome increase. This is also going to be welcomed by agencies, who have been having difficulty justifying their helping presence at lower spend levels.
For Google, the impact is fairly straightforward. Critics will say that this kind of advertising "isn't search." Analysts will want to consider the strong possibility that this continued rapid growth will mean Google's cash flow will be nothing short of rampant in Q4. Critics and analysts... all in a day's work for the Mountain View Megacorp.
The type of incentive structure and economic impact of this change on publishers would be the subject of a separate, longer study. Probably the answer isn't simple or straightforward. Ultimately it depends on how well Google "pays out." They continue to compete with Overture and others for quality publisher partners. Because some publishers have difficulty qualifying for inclusion in these networks, it won't necessarily place much downward pressure on Google's and Overture's revenue shares.
The move to allow three creatives on a page, above all, is likely an attempt to prevent leakage of smaller publishers who would experiment with a second-tier ad network if Google's conditions continued to be restrictive.
And finally, because so many of the pages that are serving AdSense creative are pages that rank well in the Google index, Google has managed to maximize revenue from clicks on its non-paid index results. In short, they get you coming and going.
View Posts by Category