It's amazing to those of us who ply our trade in this biz that so many search engine optimization myths are still going strong -- Jill Whalen's Q&A dispels them beyond a shadow of a doubt.
It's official: Google has released an API for AdWords. There is a lot to think about there, but it's safe to say the most obvious impact will be a proliferation of campaign management apps, particularly customized and piecemeal ones developed in-house. A key here is that the more you spend on AdWords (either as a single firm or as a manager of multiple accounts), the more free access you get to the system. No doubt there will be a lot of speculation as to what impact that might have on the marketplace for tools and such. For now, the bottom line seems to be that (once your tool is built) the ability to (for example) change bids throughout the day is tied to what you've got at stake as an advertiser. The key word here is "appropriateness." It's highly inappropriate to overmanage a $30/day account with high-powered tools when you could do it just as easily by hand. By contrast, a $1,000/day spend needs much more interaction and frequent checking. It makes sense to automate some of this if it's done intelligently.
Advertisers will definitely face a lot more interesting build-or-buy questions when it comes to custom account management tools. Many probably won't rule out "build." AdWords is that important to so many marketing budgets today.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
This one looks better in print.
Paul Lima's "case" study in the Globe and Mail Report on Business today covers a local Toronto bottled beverage delivery service called Mr. Case. In 1995 when the company started a website, online sales accounted for only 1% of the company's revenue. Today, this is 25%.
A lot of the 12-person firm's growth has come about by simply buying targeted pay-per-click ads to rapidly improve search engine driven referrals. It costs them about $1,000 per month, and for that low, low, price, the company has enjoyed recent rapid growth. "Mr. Case launched an AdWords campaign last November, and [owner Marc Levin] says website traffic has grown almost tenfold."
The story (in the print edition) should appeal to many small business readers because the big photo of workers loading cases into bright orange trucks is very tangible.
Keep in mind that Paul Lima is an independent technology journalist who has been producing pieces on all kinds of computer technology for the past fifteen years. It's one thing if the search engines publish these case studies on their sites; quite another when the independent analysts come in, spend a couple of weeks kicking tires, checking numbers and doing due diligence, and come out with the thumbs-up.
A couple of years ago, people started "Googling" each other. (Insert wisecrack here. No, not there... here!)
Anyway, I'm sure we're all painfully aware of the limitations of searching on a person's name. Problem #1 is that Google will return a jumble of results on different people with the same name. If there are a couple hundred "gary goodmans" of note, you have no way of grouping the results for just one of these individuals. Overall, the data is quite unstructured. A second problem is the negativity issue. Some observers think that Google's PageRank tends to bring negative mentions to the fore.
Enter Business.com's new people search. While not perfect, it's an interesting little hack. Searching for a couple of example colleagues, I notice how the tool managed to extract correct title and educational background from the various sources on the web. The sources accessed also seem to be more restrictive, and from a B2B perspective, that leads to a more professional overview. Web indices today are clogged with junk.
Maybe I just liked it because on the list of Andrew Goodmans, I appeared at the top. A bit further down, I was also listed, as the "owner" of Topica. Apparently that was a glitch, as I owned a public discussion list hosted by Topica a couple of years ago. So, there are glitches. But as an effort in taking public, unstructured data, and using it to create personal profiles, it's cool.
A potentially important development is the opportunity for "that gary goodman" to see his own profile, and click on a link to submit an updated profile. Colleagues can also send an email to the recipient to ask them to update it. Obviously the question is always "will anyone do this" or "will this catch on" - but it's interesting in theory.
Getting "business.com'd" might not be as snappy-sounding as getting Googled, but it'll probably show you in a better light.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
If you're a Gmail user and would like to learn more about Google's eponymous webmail service, check out this Gmail Tips site. In addition to some general web resources, you'll find almost 40 handy bits of info to help you maximize the usefulness of Gmail.
I particulary liked tip 38 about the Google Gmail Minibrowser!
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
They call it the Firefox Explosion. Who are we to argue? Choice quote:
"Bill Gates' troops must now turn back to IE and battle the ghost of Netscape."
Further to my earlier rant about the decline of AdSense, Danny blogs about Google testing a "related ads" feature for AdSense in which visitors are able to toggle between a new set of ads generated by related topics identified by the big G. It's hard to describe. Just check it out.
I think this is a good start at making AdSense less predictable and more diverse, which will of course help not only the publisher, but also Google and content-targeting advertisers. John Batelle thinks more positive changes are on the way, too, and sooner rather than later.
Yeah, yeah, I know it doesn't mean that Google is developing a web browser... but, wait, no! I'm not so sure it doesn't mean that.
Ben Goodger, the lead engineer of Firefox, has taken an unspecified job with Google, but will remain involved in the Mozilla project to some extent. He says:
As of January 10, 2005, my source of income changed from The Mozilla Foundation to Google, Inc. of Mountain View, California. My role with Firefox and the Mozilla project will remain largely unchanged, I will continue doing much the same work as I have described above - with the new goal of successful 1.1, 1.5 and 2.0 releases. I remain devoted full-time to the advancement of Firefox, the Mozilla platform and web browsing in general. I'm sure you have many questions. While I will be spending more time at Google, I will work out of the Mozilla Foundation offices regularly as the need arises. For all questions regarding Google, I ask that you contact Google directly, rather than myself.Hmm, Mr. Goodger seems a bit cagey. What could he be hiding! :)
I've long suspected that Google was working on a browser, and I think there have been many signs pointing in that direction over the past year that are hard to ignore (like the registration of gbrowser.com). It makes sense for Google to deny the rumors. Anyone would expect that.
It also makes sense for Google to develop a browser, either from scratch or a clone of Firefox. Further to Andrew's speculation about Google's interest in "dark fiber," a browser gives them further control over the internet user. Why wouldn't they grab that chance now, while there's still time to beat Microsoft?
In other Firefox news: Firefox 1.0 hits 20 million downloads; one of the Firefox designers talks about his browser design philosophy; and Firefox continues to steal marketshare from IE...
Monday, January 24, 2005
(via Techdirt) Much like replacing a hard surface with clay courts in a tennis match, the search advertising trademark issue takes on a different spin when moved to France. A court has ruled that Google can't allow ads to be triggered by searches that include trademarked terms.
Wrong, silly, and illogical.
This week I found myself on a brief holiday. In spite of the fact that I was staying at one hotel, proprietors of the other hotels were doing everything they could to induce me to try them next time around. While strolling in an underground mall, employees of one establishment called us over to invite us to a promotional seminar. On the beach, timeshare hawkers did their best to divert us from our quiet walk. And would you believe this one: these rival hotels actually occupy ground that is RIGHT NEXT TO the hotel I stayed at, and they have BIG LOGOS. Drivers of airport shuttles call out the names of the various hotels as they drive by them. How is a poor trademark holder supposed to handle all this competition?
A page of search results is no different. A bunch of links is displayed in a way that a search engine (and its advertisers) deem relevant to the user. Link X is near Link Y. That doesn't mean an advertiser is "buying trademarked keywords" or that Google is selling them... any more than the presence of a Wyndham next to a Radisson, or the publisher of a guide to all the hotels in the area, means that the Wyndham is "buying the Radisson's land."
The Wyndham is on the Wyndham's ground. The Radisson is on the Radisson's ground. And search engine results pages and the ad space they sell belong to Google. Surely the French courts don't believe that search engines should just be handed over to large companies to do with as they please?
The sad irony is that the Google ads are the opposite of the bothersome timeshare salesman on the beach. If I click on the ad, I may be exposed to any number of consequences. But until I do, that ad just sits there quietly minding its own business. The mere presence of the ad does not in and of itself constitute a violation of trademark law. At least that's what the California court said. Looks like we're going to see a few more of these cases before we're through.
AOL is releasing a revamped search interface and is evidently auditioning a few new vendors of search technology, including Vivisimo and FAST.
We've seen this pattern before. Yahoo and MSN have been inveterate tire-kickers when it comes to third-party search technology. In both cases, it finally resulted in taking the project in-house for good. Does this mean that AOL's experimentation is likely to spell the end of its partnership with Google Search and Google AdWords? Hard to say. Given everyone else's need to take Google down a peg in the earnings department, AOL has some good reasons to follow suit. But the changes might be gradual.
The hard part at this stage is to determine whether the process of "getting serious about search" that AOL is belatedly following is more akin to a Rostowian economic takeoff (on the cusp of "breakout") or a stale sitcom getting ready to jump the shark. Yahoo and MSN appear to have done well by redoubling their focus on search, but it's early days yet. What makes it harder for AOL is that all this auditioning of vendors and tweaking of features is being done for a steadily-declining user base. Its search market share, according to recent comScore reports, puts it firmly in fourth place, and falling. Once that share drops below 10%, you can enhance it with magic mushrooms if you like -- it won't be that interesting a story.
We're old-school enough here to still believe there are portal wars, and to still believe that "fourth portals" are on the bubble. Lycos was once a "fourth portal." Google rocketed out of nowhere to its current destination status; Yahoo and more recently MSN have fought to maintain their position.
An interesting question -- although less so in light of AOL's #4 standing -- is whether Ask Jeeves is one of the vendors AOL might be auditioning. (Note the wording of the spokesman's comments -- '“Users are searching because they want answers. The new AOL Search will get users to better answers, faster,” he said.' And the reporter repeats it: '"Part of its strategy is to develop a service focused on providing more detailed and tailored answers to users' questions. It is expected to be a key feature in the relaunch of the AOL.com portal later this year."')
Teoma and other Ask Jeeves technology would no doubt be fine as replacements for the "Google-enhanced" web index currently employed by AOL. If AOL were to acquire FindWhat.com, it would have a head start on running its own pay-per-click ad auction, too. Of course all of this strategy might be a little hot and heavy if users have decided to simply use Yahoo or Google instead. It's not easy being fourth.