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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Furor Over Google AutoLink Overblown

It's one thing for Microsoft to do it in typical Microsoft fashion, but it's another thing entirely for Google to do it, Google-style. I'm talking, of course, about Google's AutoLink feature, introduced recently in the beta version 3.0 of the Google Toolbar.

Several leading bloggers are fanning the flames this time against Google, one of the rare instances where pundits have actually protested something the big G has done. The free ride for the golden boys with the the lava lamps couldn't last forever, I guess.

Now, I hate to think that I love everything that Google does so much that I'm incapable of rendering an impartial judgement with Page and Brin, but... I have to say that this "controversy" over AutoLink is much ado about nuttin', IMHO.

Think about it. We're talking about an optional, minor feature of an optional toolbar that actually gives you a choice of which mapping service to use! How is this a feature that jeopardizes anything anyone could put on a web page? Anyone who uses this feature has to seek it out and know how to turn it on. If it benefits users, and if Google doesn't play monkey business with it, what's the harm?

This could be something that actually moves innovation forward, and I'd like to give Google a chance to see what they can do with it. I think Google, unlike Microsoft, has honestly earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Who knows, maybe one day they'll open it up and allow third-party developers to tap into this capability. Would that make AutoLink more palatable? If not, then what would?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Saturday, February 26, 2005

Monster Chiller Click Fraud Horror Theater

The click fraud legend grows, and my clients couldn't be happier.

All of a sudden, our competitors are paying closer attention to the traffic they're bidding on. Some are being deterred from participating in the auction at all. Lo and behold, the relentless increase in PPC costs begins to reverse itself, and once "impossible" campaigns become profitable.

No question about it. This job is a headache a day. Junky clicks are the scourge of the PPC game. But I don't know of any marketing venue today that hands you guaranteed ROI on a platter. Google AdWords isn't a nice safe Volvo. If you roll down a hill in it, you may not walk out of there unscathed. It's more like a modified Pinto hurtling down an icy road. Only skilled operators need apply.

Worst-case scenario for Google: the 50% of advertisers who are not currently placing enough importance on ROI tracking begin to do so, and Google's revenue growth is impacted to the point where their stock is cut in half. That would put it back to the IPO price.

Unfortunately, we'll probably still be having this conversation a year from now because of how dependent Google has become on its AdSense (content targeting) program. Reporters (and no-nonsense marketing specialists like Godin) know when they are onto a real story. I can't see that story getting any quieter until Google acknowledges that they built the content program too quickly, and takes steps to pare it back. Trust me, if the only publishers who are participating in the program are owned by media companies of decent size, there will be no equity for any proverbial or real "armies of Indian clickers."

Unscrupulous small publishers in jurisdictions with extradition treaties to the US might want to consider this disincentive to defrauding Google and their advertisers, too: how about jail?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Teoma Founder Speaks... at Length

Run, don't walk, to check out Mike Grehan's interview with Apostolos Gerasoulis, the chief scientist for Ask Jeeves (and founder of Teoma, the search engine company acquired by Jeeves), and Jim Lanzone, Senior VP, Search Properties.

The biggest highlight may have been Lanzone proferring a generous invitation to Mike to join them at White Castle. But a close second is Dr. Gerasoulis stirring up some minor controversy speculating on the extent to which Google results are an actual implementation of PageRank (not much, or at all).

If you read closely you'll catch the part where the savvy scientist completely sidesteps a question about Microsoft's entry into the market. He does so by flattering Mike and the community of search engine optimisation professionals. (Works on me every time, too.)

For the industry veteran, there are a whole bunch of other substantive comments from all three participants, including a reasoned rejection of the type of XML-feed paid inclusion that Yahoo currently offers.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Other Stuff is that Bad, Huh?

Jeremy Zawodny and seventeen others are now cheering for Google to release a calendar function. (You read vague speculation on that topic here way back last May.)

A couple of things I noticed:

- These folks really care about calendars!

- Life is so different nowadays. I wonder what Norm from Cheers would have done with a really good calendar. Every day the entry would have been "5 p.m., leave work for Cheers." This could have been a shared entry just in case others wanted to know where they could find him. Woody could have whipped out his PDA as Norm entered following a brief stop for donuts, and quipped: "I see you're ten minutes late, Mr. Peterson." "The usual, Woody." Then Woody would have queried Mr. Peterson's file on his PDA to discover that Mr. Peterson prefers draft beer.

- There has been a flurry of posts on the subject because someone's calendar-oriented site was getting hammered by a bot from Google. This led him to believe that Google's up to something calendar-related. But elsewhere, there have been recent "I wish Google had a calendar" posts completely unrelated to the 'bot story. Perhaps this truly means it's an idea whose time has come. Personally, in keeping with the comment we made last May in this space, I wouldn't look at this piecemeal, as "what will Google do for their next trick." Likely there really is an integrated plan at Google -- call it the portal plan if you will. So of course they will need to have a calendar eventually to go along with the email. This is just a matter of time.

- Some posters are concerned that Google's history so far with groupware has been weak. Indeed it has. Google Groups is out there but being upgraded very slowly. The concern with a Google calendar -- as vital as this is to one's work life -- is that it would be in beta for the new "Larry Page approved" maximum beta period of five years. So then you'd have to decide when it was safe to go in the water, since beta doesn't really mean beta. Maybe after a year or so?

- Meanwhile, the release of Mitch Kapor's "Chandler," an "open-source PIM," has been postponed until 2006.

- Is there some reason Zawodny won't even entertain the idea that Yahoo's calendar could satisfy his needs? Or is he sandbagging? Is Yahoo just hoping to goad Google into rushing a bad product to market? :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, February 22, 2005

101 Reasons Why Firefox > IE

Some nice gent named Neil from XULPlanet.com does yeoman's work and provides a list of "101 things that the Mozilla browser can do that IE cannot."

After IE 7.0 is released this summer, the feature set discrepancy will certainly tighten up between the two browsers. But in the end, I wager that we'll still have a list of "88 things" that Firefox can do that IE cannot!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Monday, February 21, 2005

Web Analytics Association Was Way Overdue

From the "what took them so long" department, leading makers of web analytics software have joined together to form the Web Analytics Association, a group dedicated to standardizing and promoting this utterly important and often overlooked aspect of internet marketing.
"One of the main goals of the association is to go ahead and bring what is a small and fragmented industry to more awareness of the value of Web analytics and measurement," said Bryan Eisenberg, co-founder of consulting firm Future Now, who is the WAA's first chairman.
As I wrote over two years ago, this is something that has been needed for a long time. We're still in the dark ages when it comes to understanding what really happens on our websites.

Smart companies like ClickTracks are helping pave the way to analytics enlightenment, but we have a long way to go. As is always the case when competitors agree on standards, a rising tide will surely lift all boats.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Saturday, February 19, 2005

Great or Ho-Hum? A Wish List for NYT's About.com

In the wake of the Times acquiring About.com, I thought it might be nice to imagine a reinvented About.com under new management. Let's face it: About.com operates far below its potential and despite a lot of isolated instances of excellent content, it has not built a consistent image of quality.

TO: THE VENERABLE NEW YORK TIMES

FROM: ANDREW@TRAFFICK.COM

RE: WISH LIST FOR THE "NEW" ABOUT.COM


1. Reduce clutter. Too many ads and ads of the wrong type. Less is more.

1A. Redesign page templates to be cleaner and to convey reputability.

2. Quality control. Fire poor quality Guides. Implement an editorial
oversight board with an ongoing mandate to nurture good Guides and to
insist that quality does not slip. Have consistent policies on self-promotion.

3. Overhaul publishing platform, provide more support for Guides.
Quality writers/guides need a modern, easy-to-use publishing platform.

4. Raise perception of quality another notch by introducing NYT
columnists to the opportunity to run their own Guide Sites for
additional compensation + bonus... or just the opportunity for further
notoriety.

4A. Enlist B-list celebs or their lackeys to run Guide Sites. Eg. have
interns from the Jon Stewart show run one.

4B. Postmodern self-referential Guide Sites with cooperation of producers
of culture. Example: Insider's Guide to The Simpsons.

5. Allow "lite guide" sites to be more like blogs to reduce the burden
on Guides and to encourage the participation of quality writers (eg.
Times columnists) who would rather be producing content than jumping
through hoops.

6. Encourage RSS subscriptions. Study how Guides can maintain steady
contact with readers but not through email.

6A. Satellite radio channel. Put 50 Guides in their own time slots and produce
actual radio for profit.

7. Partner with educators; produce child-friendly guide sites.

8. While building up quality, operate at break-even or a slight
loss for three years, to build the brand equity of NYT & About.com.

9. To reduce fiscal risk, score banner ad deals with pricey
advertisers who currently advertise in the newspaper. Leverage
existing sales relationships.

10. Longer term, build online classifieds for each Guide site (in-house
listings, not just farming out monetization to Google). Some readers
will actually seek commercial listings, so while limiting clutter, increase
focus on targeted listings that people may actually seek.

11. Consider integrating some Guide sites with Google Answers.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, February 18, 2005

Standard Naming Convention Would Speed RSS Adoption

Recently there was some chatter from Dave Winer, founder of RSS, about the difficulty of RSS in penetrating the public's attention. He wondered if it wouldn't make sense for a central syndication source. Others retorted that, no, that idea runs contrary to the spirit of RSS, which is decentralized by nature.

Regardless of how that debate plays out, one thing is for sure. Many people probably don't understand RSS for the simple reason that plagues the English language -- too many synonyms (aka TMS).

Words that describe syndication technologies include RDF, RSS, XML and Atom (which itself is the name of an independent film website and a provider of internal site search engines and e-commerce technology!).

The acronym RSS itself stands for at least two different phrases: rich site summary and really simple syndication. Most articles that give an overview of RSS usually point out that the proper acronym depends on "who you ask."

Then there are the generic phrases used to describe this technology: syndication, subscription, news feeds, RSS feeds and XML feeds!

Not surprisingly, the software used to read RSS feeds is alternately called: news readers, feed reader and RSS aggegators.

There's little doubt that RSS will lead to a signifcant change in how content is published, distributed and conusmed online. And there's also little doubt that it will benefit (almost) everyone.

But, due to the confusion in naming conventions and the lack of agreement among the major RSS players, as evidenced by Blogger endorsing Atom over RSS, that process will be slowed considerably.

Can't we all just get along and agree on naming standards?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Thursday, February 17, 2005

Enhance and Jeeves: No Partnership

Enhance's email announcing a "partnership" with Ask Jeeves was a goof by overzealous sales staff, according to the company. Andy has the lowdown.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




And Meet Our Legal Counsel, My Cousin Vinny

Some headlines are too juicy to resist. Motley Fooler Rick Aristotle Munarriz has probably been waiting for months to pull this one out: Throw Mamma From the Train.

This after the company's independent auditor, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, refused to back financial results. On Tuesday, shares had surged on takeover rumors, before gapping down Wednesday morning, being halted, then plunging 32% on yesterday's news. The reason for the auditor's reluctance appears to be related to the company's past connection with a well-known stock promoter who had a history of pushing penny stocks in a boiler-room type operation. To be fair, the company is no longer associated with the individual and there is no reason to doubt that the financials will be approved after a delay. The jury's out for now.

This shouldn't come as a huge shock to anyone who had watched this as a potential investment back when Mamma was just one division of a publicly-traded holding company called Intasys. The fact that other parts of Intasys were shed to make Mamma.com into a pure play in the hot paid search sector speaks volumes. Prior to the reorganization it was difficult to follow INTA's financials, but in at least a couple of instances, the company took pains to make the claim that its Mamma division, at least, was profitable. The claim was unverifiable then. We'll see if another auditor is at least willing to back the 2004 financial statements.

More insight: TheStreet.com.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Enhance Keeps Foot in the Door

[via Search Engine Lowdown] Ask Jeeves has made a deal with Enhance Interactive to serve featured keyword-triggered listings in a premium position above Google AdWords results. Time will tell whether the two can coexist happily on the page. Jeeves is probably just trying to keep Google honest for any future revenue share negotiations.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, February 12, 2005

Dim Sum in Markham?

It seems now that Microsoft's entered the search fray, the stock "pizza palo alto" example the other guys always used to give examples of local searches has been replaced by the equally eye-glazing sample query "pizza redmond."

Apparently, if you want to look for something that interests you, rather than the search engine folks, you'll have to use your own imagination. They're clearly more interested in filling their own stomachs.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, February 10, 2005

AdBumble

At the risk of being taken down by a posse of sloshed media buyers next time I'm in New York...

What is it with AdBUMB lately? No newsletters forever, then I start getting one every other day.

In the past two weeks, AdBUMB has:

  • Brained me with unseemly newsletter frequency (dare we call it spam)
  • Written to me personally to demand that I stop running a Google AdWords ad on a certain keyphrase
  • Written aggressive articles with titles like "read the contract, stupid"
  • Included huge graphical ads within their newsletters for outfits that didn't exist six weeks ago
  • Run job ads for the kinds of interactive media buying positions that didn't exist six months ago
  • Written to me to ask if I wanted to run an ad in their publication, a day after the threatening email about my AdWords campaign
Hey, enough already. You guys ever heard of RSS? If I like your stuff, I'll consider subscribing.

I think Cory's right... the 90's are back!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Are the Roaring Nineties Back?

With money once again flowing into internet startups, and M&A activity in overdrive, it's starting to seem like the good old 1990s again.

I can't remember the last time so much activity was happening in the web space. Every day there seems to be another new startup touting a new twist on RSS, blogs or search technology that promises to (once again!) revolutionize the web. Every other day an established company is buying out a young stud while expanding their empire.

About once week a major portal introduces a cool new feature like Google's unbelievable map service this week. Every quarter or so, an internet-based company releases startling record revenues.

Search engine marketing is maturing. Best practices are being established in all aspects of e-business, which will help bring more companies into the fold, furthering the network effect of adoption. A majority of internet users now connect through high-speed connections that promise to fulfill the potential of voice over IP, online video and many other long-awaited technologies.

So, in honor of the internet's resurgence, here's a proud middle finger to the chumps at F'd Company and all the business mags who said it would never happen.

The internet is now the center of the business and entertainment world. Get used to it!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Google Maps a Smooth Experience

Google Maps is another step towards local search dominance for Google.

I've always been a fan of Yahoo! Maps and Mapquest. So the high praise for Google's new offering seems particularly significant coming from Yahoo's Jeremy Zawodny.

The experience of using Google Maps just feels that much smoother and faster. To move your point of view west, for example, you'd need to wait for the page to reload if you were using Yahoo Maps. On Google Maps, you just slide smoothly over.

And yes, they do Canada. My first search was for "1266 Queen Street West, Toronto." I ascertained that this location is a five-minute drive from my home. Walking down to the streetcar and riding it across Queen... well, that might be more like 20 mins. Interesting to ponder why these mapping programs have an "automotive" bias even within big cities... as if I'm not biased enough that way as it is! Here's hoping Google has someone working on the Top Ten Ways to Promote Alternative Fuels and Public Transit on Google Maps.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google's Innocuous Domain Registrar Foray

Some discussion on WebmasterWorld (spurred by Bob Tedeschi's article in the New York Times) speculates on what Google's really up to in becoming a domain registrar.

Here's an idea: when they say they're doing it to improve search results, why not just take them at their word?

Roughly, I would argue that this is probably the type of thing that is a continuation of the ongoing post-Florida attempt to improve search quality (and pump up ad revenues) by (a) privileging "informational" resources over commercial pages; (b) on highly commercial queries, attempting to distinguish, in various ways, "reputable commercial" from "spammy commercial."

One obvious way to check up is to attempt to match physical domain name addresses with physical addresses listed on a website. Google could also look at the length of tenure of a domain.

On the other hand, its DomainSense operation (assuming there still is such an operation within Google, after Google acquired Applied Semantics) could benefit from an effort to begin registering expired domains to serve PPC links on them. (This kind of "junk revenue seeking" got a bit of ink recently when Marchex acquired a large domain name bank.)

It definitely does seem like there are a half-dozen reasons Google might want to become a domain registrar other than actually selling domain names.

Eventually, of course, they could also set their sights on Yahoo and begin selling domain names to complement GMail, Blogger, etc. But I tend to agree with GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons -- domain registration and web hosting companies have nothing to fear in the near term.

Tedeschi's article will not impress savvy Google watchers in one respect: it asserts Google has no phone support at all! Not only is there live support for advertisers at a well-known 866 number, but now advertisers (even small ones) have been assigned specific contact persons, to whom they're automatically directed if they phone the number and enter their account number. That being said, surely Google is too smart to deworseify from the high-margin biz they're in now into the thin-margin hosting game.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, February 07, 2005

What's a Click Worth to You? Maybe You Should Keep it a Secret

There has been some muted discussion of the drawbacks of choosing Overture's or Gooogle's own conversion tracking software to track paid search campaigns as opposed to using a third-party tracker. Some can't imagine that there could be any disadvantage to letting the engines see your ROI data. After all, don't they have privacy policies?

Searching on the topic, I turned up a post from last month on Reprise Media's weblog. Josh, Peter, et al. note that Shopping.com was seemingly able to glean the worth of different classes of clicks from advertisers who had chosen to use Shopping.com's own ROI tracking tool. Lo and behold, they came along and imposed new minimum bids in the areas that they've deemed more lucrative (thus replacing real market demand with "oughta be" market demand). For the advertisers who were enjoying the healthy ROI in some of the overlooked areas, it must have caused an immediate financial hit.

The word from Reprise is unequivocal: Wake Up, People.

There are plenty of ways to track your conversions. Install a tool that doesn't send your back-end data back to the same guys who are selling you the traffic.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bloglines and the Future of Blogs, RSS and Search

News broke over the weekend that Ask.com has purchased Bloglines for an undisclosed amount. Most Traffick readers probably have never heard of Bloglines, an online RSS newsfeed aggregator, but it is said to be the most popular service of the sort.

Because of the relative anonymity surrounding Bloglines and the meteoric rise of blogging, it isn't clear yet what it means for search engines and blogging. I think it's way too early to speculate on the deal's direct implications, but here are some pretty safe assumptions about the this intersection of search engines, blogs and RSS technology, which are making for an interesting 2005.

1. Search engines are getting off the bench and taking charge. For years, blogging was a neat little hobby for geeks that formed its own clique of niche players. Then Google bought Blogger in 2003, and blogging gained more credibility.

The business model has yet to be proved for sure, but blogs offer what search engines like: content and lots of fresh content. Everyone knows Google bought Blogger in 2003 for its direct conduit to online publishing, as well as the vast real estate offered by blogs, which is perfect for content-targeted text ads. Microsoft in late 2004 launched its own blog platform called MSN Spaces. Yahoo is said to have an interest in TypePad, another leading blog platform. Some people say Google will buy Technorati, Daypop and Feedster. And now Ask buys an aggregator.

2. We ain't seen nothin' yet. The "Ask-iquisition" of Bloglines will accelerate search engine interest in blogs and RSS. More big deals like this will follow. The pace of acquisitions will be driven equally by real opportunities and synergies between blog companies and search companies, and by good old-fashioned me-tooism. In fact, the Bloglines deal may indicate pre-emptive me-tooism by Ask.com. Or, maybe we're seeing the first of many aggressive moves by Ask to dominate the blogosphere.

3. RSS search feeds are coming fast. MSN is leading the way in the integration of RSS search results feeds, and Google is sure to follow, provided they can live with the constant pinging of its servers by RSS readers. MSN isn't heavily promoting RSS search feeds yet, probably for this reason.

4. Internet marketing splinters even more. By this time next year, RSS marketing and blog marketing will be two of the hottest trends, right up there with search engine marketing. In fact all of this will meld together. We're seeing the next-generation online content platform forming before our eyes.

As always, stay tuned for more!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Friday, February 04, 2005

Go, Municipal Wi-Fi, Go ... Sing it With Me

(via B.L. Ochman's blog)

Cory Doctorow reports that an "independent" study slammed the idea of municipal Wi-Fi. Then it was revealed the study was backed by major phone companies. Municipal Wi-Fi not feasible? Depends on who you ask.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Ask Ray About Advertising -- Or Calla Lily Bulbs

My buddy Ray Allen is at it again, quoted in the New York Times article "Web Search Sites See Clicks Add Up to Big Dollars." Early February, with the Masters just a few weeks away. Not a bad time for a little publicity!

Ask Ray Allen, a former ad agency executive who is now the president of American Meadows, a wildflower seed supplier in Williston, Vt. "I used to spend millions of dollars of other people's money on TV, radio and newspapers," Mr. Allen said. He now spends about $300 a day to buy search terms like "wildflower seeds" and "hummingbird garden" from Google and Overture to advertise his own company, reaching a national audience of potential customers. "Never in the history of media," he said, "has a small business been able to have that much reach."

In addition to selling seeds and bulbs, Ray has a wonderful blog, This Week in Wildflowers. This is a guy who gets it.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, February 03, 2005

More on the AdWords API

One way to look at Google releasing an API for AdWords is that now they've come up to where Overture already was. But hang on a second. I just got off the phone with John Marshall, CEO of right-brained web analytics company ClickTracks. In his view, the AdWords API puts Google in a "strong competitive position" because "everyone can use it."

This just isn't so for the Overture API. The process of partnering with Overture in this regard is reportedly cumbersome and restrictive.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Local Search: Advantage, Google

Starting today, Google has begun making all Google Search users aware of the Google Local offering by putting a link to it on the Google Search homepage, with a red "new" notation. This will lead, in my view, to rapid user uptake of local search; perhaps more rapid than many of us expected.

In the November issue of Page Zero Advisor, I published a jokey "Hypothetical Tell-All Q&A" with an imaginary Googler. Although the tone was lighthearted, the intent was serious. One of the topics I covered with this pretend person was local search. I've reproduced the excerpt below.

(In real life, Google's Sukhinder Singh has been kind enough to discuss the future of Google Local with me, though of course leaving out many specifics. Like a number of other Google execs, she quietly occupies one of the most influential positions in any business of any type.)

--

Q. Google Local. That's going to be a go-slow thing like Froogle, isn't it?

A. Incorrect. Google Local is a top priority for 2005. In fact, you can already see how good it's getting. Check it out at http://local.google.com - or http://local.google.ca for Canada.

Q. But how can I make money with it?

A. Let's say you run a beauty salon in Minneapolis. The first thing you could be doing is targeting by IP (using AdWords, bidding on terms like "hair salon," and enabling those ads only for surfers who are near Minneapolis). Not many local businesses have figured this one out yet, but all you need is to use a regular AdWords account and to go into the settings to set up a campaign as a regional one. But more importantly, if you do a search for "hair salons" in "Minneapolis, MN" at Google Local proper (at http://local.google.com), you'll see quite an interesting thing taking place there... listings of local salons. Notice the handy maps to local establishments.

Q. Riiighht... but how do I pay to get on there?

A. Good question. Right now you can see that we are showing AdSense-style matching ads on the local search results pages (let us be the first to coin these: LSRP's - catchy huh?), and some "main" listings that are not costing the listed businesses a dime. We're using an algorithm to rank businesses in terms of relevance to the query, but we'll continue to test the manner in which we do that. As you can see, right now, one of the top sites listed on your example query "hair salon" for "Minneapolis, MN" is VIP Hair and Nail Salon. (This may jockey around.) Notice below the listing is "references:" -- it shows that the site is recommended on a site called afrohair.com. Clearly, we are sticking by the premise behind PageRank, that links matter, but we may be testing a lot of advanced ways of making this work to the best advantage of the searcher. Another thing which you may or may not see on that page of -- we just love to type this -- LSRP's, is a breakdown that says "show only: barbers / salons." You may not see this, and it isn't working perfectly. But rest assured we don't want the search tool to be stupid. It won't be just dumb keyword matching. You might be given category choices and so forth.

So as for additional ways to pay for better exposure, we certainly respect the effort those crusty old yellow pages companies have put in over the years in terms of giving advertisers the opportunity for enhanced listings. We'll be testing various formats. We left some room over on the right-hand side of the page for more ads. Frankly it would really help us out if people would upgrade to 21" monitors.

Q. So does Google plan to crush all comers in the Local Search arena, or will you coexist politely with others?

A. Bingo! We're only human here at Google, and we want to see healthy competition as much as Bill Gates likes Apple to be around making the world a nicer place. We think some of our competitors are as cute and cuddly as Apple, we really do. But sadly, it's market trends that will crush some of our competitors. We just build cool products and hope people use them. We cannot help it if certain companies, like crusty old yellow pages companies, have about 100 years too much experience in this business, which makes them incapable of putting together cool online applications that people love. To be sure, we may partner with certain local listings companies in order to get a head start on this stuff in various international markets, but similar to Microsoft, it's probably along the lines of a "study, embrace, extend, take 20% stake in, study some more, then crush" type strategy. So if you meet us at certain trade shows over coffee, we're not about to say "we really think our competitors suck," but that's what we're thinking. We're pretty sure that they disagree. They think they don't suck. Vive la différence. Roughly translated, that means "see you at the next Kelsey Group conference, old chum!"

Q. So does Yahoo suck, and will you crush them?

A. Nah... they're OK. In some ways they're way ahead of us. We do chuckle at how Yahoo sold all those Google shares about $40 ago, though. Psyched themselves out!

Q. But will users use Google Local? How will you get them to take the initiative to find it?

A. Do chickens cluck? Does Tony Soprano say "fugeddaboudit?" Do users use Google? Fugeddaboutit! We figure the alternative is hunting around the house for the phone book, so we're not too worried. But we will continue to make people aware of it by incorporating some local results into regular Google Search Results Pages (GSRP's) where appropriate. In this way, people will be reminded that Google Local exists. Longer term, the Google experience will be personalized -- more like a portal -- so those local results will be popping up a lot because we'll know who you are. Hmm, now you've really got us worried about Yahoo. That's pretty much what they want to do, too. Which is why -- let's get back to our main point above -- "Google Local is a top priority for 2005." Maybe Goodman's right. Maybe we should start designing the logo for that blimp.

Q. ClickZ says that Jupiter analysts say that national advertisers will dominate local search for the next year or two, while mom and pop local businesses will be very slow to adopt or reap any sort of benefit. True or false?

A. That's because Mom and Pop - hey, even a profitable chain of dental clinics - don't pay Jupiter analysts. Jupiter analysts' comments are directed at their big clients, and should be taken for what they're worth. Fugeddaboutit. We will concede, however, that larger trends threaten some local businesses. But they always have. Search may indeed accelerate the demise of some local businesses, while improving the lot of others.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Google's $4 billion afterthought

Google's quarterly reports continue to amaze. The company brought in $1.03 billion in revenues in the fourth quarter; net income was $204 million.

The pay-per-click version of Adwords will be three years old this month. In the humble beginning, the CPM-based version of AdWords received only lukewarm reception and did not earn much. Until relatively recently it was assumed that Google would maybe earn 25% of its revenues from ads; that it would seek out revenues in enterprise search, or some other clever techie stuff that folks would pay for. You got the sense in the early days (2000-2001) that Google figured they could buy time and pay for a few servers and staff with the ad revenue, and that's about it. Maybe they even dreamt of an IPO that would "get them out of that mess" eventually, if (let's say) licensing revenue dropped off. Lo and behold though, turned out those ads (served on the foundation of a favorite search destination) built a real company that didn't need Yahoo's largesse or an IPO to "bail it out"!

As every Wall Street analyst and business reporter now knows, PPC ads have proved so amazingly successful that Google continues to earn 97+% of its revenues from advertising.

Imagine what a powerhouse they'll be if they can take over two or three other lucrative lines of business. I always wondered when we'd stop hearing about Microsoft's big "war chest" and start hearing the business world taking Google seriously. Not just as a clever search engine or a neat little cash cow, but as an elephant that will rock the world, one with virtually limitless cash flow to fund its grand experiments. Is that day today? With the rising fortunes of the likes of Google, Firefox, and Apple, it's hard not to see a few serious cracks in the Microsoft armor.

Now that I'm finished patting Google on the back, though... I wonder if they'd consider some new ways to thank their advertisers. For starters, they might say "thanks, advertisers."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




MSN Portal Update Doesn't Cut the Mustard

Microsoft has finally released their homegrown search engine to all users of MSN today. It appears to be the very same thing that's been in beta for months. In addition, we also get a revamped MSN.com portal that does away with MSN's traditional focus on links, links and more links.

There's even a corny letter from "Bill Gates" prominently featured on the home page in which Bill introduces you to the new MSN. He even signed it! Wow, he must really care!

Predictably, MSN's new focus is on search. The keyword box with obligatory search tabs is now emblazoned across the top of MSN now in a space that occupies much of the top of the page. While I applaud Microsoft for focusing on search and kicking their bad habit of link assault, I find the new MSN interface to be lacking. Last week I reviewed the new MSN search and found that while it too was better than its previous iteration, it still lacked the oomph needed to steal my loyalty from Yahoo and Google.

MSN seems to change its spots so often as to be untrustworthy in my book. Compare that to Yahoo's steady user-friendliness and Google's ardent focus on the user's needs, and the new MSN just comes out flat.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




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