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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Domain Name that Nearly Got Away

If I can't be original, at least I can be helpful. Seth wrote about spring cleaning on his blog. I'll keep this one short. Just three little pick-me-ups to get you rolling into the best time of year (in this hemisphere anyway). #2 might have to wait until next spring, though, depending on how ambitious you get.
  • Penelope Trunk is right. Clean your desk. Today, with that big pile of scary-looking clutter all around you, every day you come into your office mortified and sweaty, feeling like there is so much to catch up on. Clean it all up and you realize the truth, you're an effective, busy, competent person who can begin and end their day, rather than feeling like the day needs to follow you around all night and haunt you.
  • Take a stand against an established monopoly. Yep, I know, you probably have enough money to afford that cellphone plan, and inertia rules. That ain't the point. Check out some upstart like Virgin Mobile who doesn't appear to be trying to screw you over. When Apple or Google come out with a newfangled phone thingy complete with a new kind of wireless network, buy that. Yeah, I know these are all big companies too, but we take what we can get. In the meantime, work on small victories. In my local grocery store, Melitta sells coffee filters 40 to a pack for an outrageous price that works out to 6 cents per unit. The bagged private-label bulk filter 150-packs that are sitting right near these: 75% less at 1.5 cents per unit. Why would anyone buy Melitta's? I can feel my eyes glazing over already with this one, so let's hope that AppaGoogaGigaCoolPhone device comes out soon so I have something more interesting to talk about than discount paper goods.
  • Keep track of your domain names!!! You won't necessarily get the renewal notice. Go into your registrar's interface now, and if there are any valuable ones in there, renew them for 5 or 10 years. I thought I was on top of my stable of names until I remembered one that I paid several thousand dollars for. Not on the list! It had expired in November and I had not received the renewal notices. This is common, as the registrar pointed out: "Our renewal notice might have been blocked as spam." Great. (Luckily, I got it back.) Spring is the time for renewal. Do this now. (You might also want to take steps to lock your names to prevent some unscrupulous thief from moving your domain by submitting a false transfer request.) To domain registrars: a value-added service might be to offer a snail-mail renewal notice (you know, the kind Network Solutions used to send out) for anyone paying for premium service, for say an extra fee of $5/yr.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Google Changes Rules of Analytics Game; Acquires Urchin

A day after WebTrends was bought from its publicly-traded parent, NetIQ, for $94 million by a private equity firm, Google has acquired web analytics provider Urchin. Urchin seems a good fit with Google, as it has always seemed to have "geek appeal" and good approval ratings from webmasters. I've been doing a bit of digging into this sector recently, and it seems that Urchin's wide footprint has come largely on the strength of partnerships with web hosting companies. Sounds a lot like the way WebTrends came to be something of an industry standard long ago!

A couple or three observations:

(1) I don't think this signals the end of Google's acquisition of third-party tools and aids in the analytics, shopping cart, bid management, or similar areas. However, I also believe the ecosystem of third-party services will grow healthy, as Google now seems committed to allowing these vendors to interface with its systems;

(2) This acquisition will obviously lead to some further integrated analytics tools "by Google," building on their current free conversion tracking product. From the marketing manager's standpoint this is healthy. We need to be able to look not only at logfile type data or at conversion data, but at integrated data. A simple view of conversion stats is important to us one day, but deeper behavioral analysis or forensic investigation of low-quality traffic is important on a different day. BUT -- it's not purely about better tracking. It's also about Google continuing the trend it started with the launch of its conversion tracker: having direct access to post-click behavioral information. With the ability to see into Urchin/Google reports, Google will know a lot more about the value of a click. It can also do more to combat click fraud without relying on hearsay and inexperienced site owners to attempt to piece together behavioral patterns. There is an upside and a downside to all of this. I continue to think the lack of privacy (the downside) still outweighs the upside, since additional efficiency (the upside) is something that experienced analysts can achieve anyway. But what I think isn't going to change the fact that Google absolutely needs to get its grimy mitts on post-click data, because Microsoft and Yahoo will also be going hard after it;

(3) This once again disrupts the economics of web analytics. I (and numerous colleagues) have been talking up the idea of late that the current "middle" of the analytics space makes no sense because it deprives the buyer of high-end functionality while still being quite expensive. I've been saying that within a year, the current pricing will shift radically so that a $50,000 upper-end analytics offering would become available for one-third of that price, and a middle-tier "Cadillac log analyzer" like ClickTracks' new Optimizer product ($1,195 and up) will have to offer many more features or be completely left behind by the marketplace. I believe we are on track for that radical shift to occur within a year, and it appears that Google has precipitated the shift starting now;

(4) The Achilles heel of data analysis companies from the bottom end through the middle right up to top-drawer companies like WebTrends and Omniture must surely be data capacity. The higher-end outfits can handle all the enterprise data you can throw at them without choking on it, which is why they can command $100k/yr. and up for their services. I was rhetorically asking colleagues like Matt van Wagner of Find Me Faster: if this is all about data, and one of the reasons for high prices is the high price of computing and storage, isn't Google the king when it comes to cutting prices on storage, and expediting computing times? After all, isn't that what Rich Skrenta wrote about on his blog when he referred to Google as a global brain whose raw computing power is its hidden advantage? It appears that this is coming to pass now as Google literally moves into the analytics field, in part with an eye on cutting prices down to size. For those of us who need these kinds of data at a reasonable price, it's a welcome development. I still think a number of niche third-party providers will flourish. But they will be judged on how well they understand customers' needs, and on the service they provide. The folks who just bought Webtrends have to be a bit nervous now. Google seems likely to commodify certain aspects of the analytics game.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, March 25, 2005

Web Credibility 101: Execs Shouldn't Hide Their Identities...

...and call center employees shouldn't supervise ad campaigns.

Since this company just contacted me by accident trying to reach either Google or Overture, now I get to trash their website. In the interests of self-preservation I'll keep it anonymous, though.

I should begin by mentioning that the entire site, including the flat text, is in flash. Apparently, if you leave the site running and go downstairs for a muffin, when you return, you'll have traveled back in time! (Cryptic reference to the line of business this company's in.)

How's this for an "About Us" page?

"_____ Advisors was founded by industry experts to protect the interests of [well-heeled clients]. We have implemented a comprehensive collection of services to... " Hang on a minute! Who the @#%$! is "we"? If you're going to be helping other execs manage their multimillion dollar expense, it really would be nice to know who you are. The contact us page is, no surprise, a pop-up form that discloses nothing.

And oh, the testimonials. "I saved thousands in commissions, with a simple phone call." - D.B., Palm Beach, FL. Well, if D.B. says so...

So other than the fact that the site lacks usability, credibility, and search engine indexability, and that employees call third-party consultants when they're trying to reach Google, it's plain that ____ Advisors is really maximizing its web marketing resources.

If I were a prospective customer, I'd probably want to look for one of their competitors. Which would be sad if ____ Advisors is really a great company. You just wouldn't know it from their website.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, March 24, 2005

When Did This Happen? Yahoo Knows Where Koreatown Is...

...in Toronto.

As usually happens a search for restaurants leads to a wild goose chase and exercise in evaluating the latest options in local search. I came across some interesting finds when this search led me to the Yahoo Travel > Toronto > Restaurants zone.

Yahoo is really coming along in this area as it gains a critical mass of user reviews. I do find it strange that the main restaurants everyone seems to talk about are the absolute top-dollar establishments that exist in the middle band of the city from downtown up through Rosedale. It suggests to me that the Yahoo Travel view of a city is indeed the "for out-of-towners" version. The top-recommended Rosedale Supper Club isn't my usual type of haunt for those late-night hunger pangs.

But some further exploration shows that Yahoo not only understands cities and streets, they get neighborhoods now. Yahoo knows about High Park, Baldwin Street, The Fashion District, Koreatown, Leslieville, Queen West, Parkdale, and Leaside? Surely you jest.

As it turns out, it isn't Yahoo who knows this stuff. Yahoo Travel has partnered with a service called wcities to organize some of this material.

In any case, Yahoo is doing a fantastic job of aggregating restaurant, hotel, and other vital information for tourists. The functionality of this portal continues to improve. And... neighborhoods, eh? Man, they really get it.

Now if only Toronto restauranteurs would not grumble so much when we straggle in at 10:30 p.m., life would be grand. Off to the gym now, and if I'm lucky, something will be open late when I'm through. Greektown here we come...

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Newspapers Continue to Beef Up Online Presence

Today, the top three newspaper companies in the U.S. took a 75% equity stake in news search startup Topix.net. The same group owns 75% of Careerbuilder.com.

This continues a trend of traditional news organizations hedging their bets by acquiring strategic online properties -- Reuters investing in Moreover, NYT buying About.com, etc.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, March 21, 2005

IAC Gets a Search Box, Acquires Jeeves

Once again, the Law of Noise has proven itself. Ask Jeeves certainly had the promotional volume turned up to "11" in recent months -- and that's loud when you have 4% market share. When that happens, I always suspect that either someone's selling stock, or someone's thinking of buying the whole company.

I wondered if that someone was AOL. Nope.

Today, Barry Diller's Interactive Corp. announced they're acquring Ask Jeeves for about $1.85 billion.

Along with tapping into the growth of search advertising, IAC thinks it can increase traffic to the Jeeves site by putting a search box on all of its other properties. Maybe so.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, March 18, 2005

Memo to ING Direct Canada

Saw your AdWords ad on Google. Simple, to the point. Excellent.

Your landing page? Way better than I would have expected. It's a three step process explaining "how to open an account." Not messing around! I love it.

Unfortunately you might want to tell the agency that set it up that they're taking us all to the French-language landing page. Minor detail, but probably only 1% of the people who see your English ad want a French landing page.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, March 17, 2005

This Can't be What American Airlines Had in Mind...

... when they decided to run those flights from Toronto to Chicago, Toronto to Miami, Toronto to Charlotte, Toronto to Dallas, Toronto to New York...

If white-collar business types are going to be treated like common criminals, then maybe you should just ground the damn planes! We'll drive down, and just tell Customs we're going for a plate of wings.

Blogging expert Eric Wright isn't the only one who has been interrogated by US Customs in the little room at Pearson Airport.

Happened to me shortly before a one-hour flight to Chicago to speak at Nielsen Norman User Experience. I got the guy right out of a movie, screaming at me that he didn't like the way I was answering the questions.

Now apparently, under NAFTA, there are strict rules if you're going to the U.S. to any kind of paid speaking gig. Unless you are uniquely qualified to do so. By uniquely qualified, this means you must have written a book or something. Or, you must have a signed letter from the conference organizers. Or... you must have appropriate professional qualifications. When you read over the chart, it appears that to give a speech on marketing, "appropriate professional qualifications" are a Bachelor's degree in... any subject. Hooray, I'm actually overqualified!

To prove this, under the strict letter of the law, you need to bring a photocopy of your transcripts to the airport. (I'm not making this up!) Has anyone ever done this? I strongly doubt it.

Unlike Wright, I eventually got handed a NAFTA pamphlet and was allowed to board my one-hour flight to Chicago.

At one point, I thought I had it licked. U.S. customs agents like eye contact. Don't like mumbling. They like it when you smile a bit. So, don't look down, smile like a movie star, and be confident. Also, lie and say you're not being compensated for speaking. Last month, this methodology worked perfectly. Not that it needed to, since I'm a law-abiding citizen. I marched happily forward after getting the nod from the agent. Then got pulled aside for a random suitcase search!

As for Wright, maybe the agent wasn't as dumb as he seemed. I'm guessing Wright's mother phoned ahead. I mean, she's right. The agent's right. Wright's wrong. You can't make a living from blogging. You must be lying.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Um, it's about that deranged butterfly-man in my kitchen...

MSN Search will reportedly fold behavioral targeting into the mix of its new sponsored listings program, based on personal information provided by, for example, users of Hotmail. Because this is a slippery slope with no clear demarcation between the evil side and the good side (after all, the information is kept "confidential," right?) I suspect that Yahoo and Google will soon follow suit in some way. They didn't collect all that personalized information for nothing. The Ad:Tech crowd will be thrilled.

Not taking the opportunity to do this type of thing, though -- looking at an opportunity and rejecting it out of concern for the user's privacy -- would offer Google a great way of further distinguishing themselves from Microsoft. If they were smart, they'd sit tight on this trend.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Businesses' New Relationship with Google Local

Today Google has announced the launch of the Google Local Business Center. It provides local businesses with the opportunity to update information like hours, wi-fi availability, etc.

In savvy circles, interest in local search has been percolating for some time, but for the most part, analysts have been sceptical. Google casually mentioned that Local is already one of their biggest draws. All it took was to put a tab for it on the home page. This was greeted by a yawning press.

Allowing businesses to directly work with Google on their local listings has major implications.

(1) The gloves are off, as predicted in an issue of Page Zero Advisor not so long ago. Partnerships with yellow pages listings companies will eventually be phased out as Google forges direct listing relationships by the heapful. I believe now as I have believed for some time now that the supposed advantages of traditional directories -- big sales forces -- are minor in the face of business' desire to have a direct listing (and billing) relationship with the top search engine.

(2) This is really Directory 2.0, isn't it? Yahoo invented the darn thing, then began charging for it, but it made sense to some businesses, and not to others. It was decontextualized and not that useful to users. It definitely had limited appeal to "offline" businesses. Anyway, the more useful it becomes, the more critical mass this will develop. Businesses will clamor to list because users are making heavy use of the directory.

(3) We'll be interested to watch how listings are ranked, and how Google phases in new enhanced listing options.

(4) This is the reintroduction of metadata into the web listings game. Will businesses lie? How will they be supervised? Will "GLO" firms pop up? (Google Local Optimization.) Will they all be "ethical"?

Local search is racing ahead - at Google, and in other places. Most consumers are unaware just yet as to how useful this is all going to be... but they're finding out fast. As my research colleague Mark Shawera and I argued in the first draft of a white paper we didn't have time to release because the space keeps moving so fast... savvy information aggregators like Google and Yahoo are going direct to businesses and are going to have no trouble taking a big chunk of business away from the crusty old yellow pages companies. Traditional directory companies are in big, big trouble.

To get started with Google Local Business Center, go here. Currently this is available only in the U.S.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Not So Fast, Butterfly

Goldman Sachs makes a good point: if and when MSN comes out with its own paid search advertising program to repatriate revenues on sponsored listings near search results, it might not be an auction lest it infringe Overture's patents. Google's penalty for infringing (or should I say being accused of infringing, since the settlement is not an admission of guilt), in the form of a settlement which handed IPO shares to Yahoo!, was several hundred million dollars. Microsoft probably wouldn't get off that lightly. Then again, isn't FindWhat still running an auction?

Back to flat-rate CPM search ads? Won't that be fun.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, March 12, 2005

eBay the Latest to "Get" Local Search Potential

At first I wasn't sure about eBay's new Kijiji service, essentially an international answer to Craigslist. Would this new brand gain traction? Why not use a different brand, like eBay Local, or indeed Craigslist, to accomplish the same goal?

But it's probably the case that Craigslist wouldn't resonate or translate well to other places, so the new approach -- intended to facilitate transactions amongst locals who are buying and selling items that are cumbersome to ship -- may be the best one. I was curious as to why you would need Kijiji in a city like Toronto, where Craigslist has already started to grow. But I see Kijiji is currently only being piloted in Montreal and Quebec City, places where Craigslist may not resonate as well.

eBay definitely has something interesting up their sleeve, even if they say the launch won't materially impact this year's revenues.

Not long ago, Jeff Bezos made an interesting point -- that "local search needs are most acute." But maybe put in plainer language, local transactions are just different. Why would you want to go through the trouble of having that leftover slab of marble or rare photograph shipped to you when you could not only view it but tote it back to your place after purchase? With Kijiji, a text ad for "Schnauzers on sale now," will no longer just be a joke about dynamic keyword insertion.

eBay, of course, has a 25% stake in Craigslist, and has no plans to launch Kijiji in the United States.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Clueless Emailing Rages On

Seth points to an ironic mixup by the producers of Spamalot. (And I thought it was ironic when I heard that one of the Jupitermedia brass was heading out to see the show with a Yahoo notable.)

Sometimes you wonder where some people have been hiding for the past ten years. I just received a press release from the communications director of a well-meaning nonprofit -- it went to 500 Canadian journalists (why I'm on that list is another question mark; in a separate incident, I have been hearing in painful detail what Tennis Canada is up to lately), all of whose email addresses were neatly exposed, not just in the cc: field, but in the To: field!

Public relations 101: don't spam, don't reveal hundreds of email addresses. Although I am grateful that I now know how to contact a couple of my favorite people at the Weather Channel and the light rock station.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, March 07, 2005

AOL Lances Boil on User Experience

Last year, AOL's Advertising.com ad-serving subsidiary quietly stopped doing business with spyware makers Claria, WhenU, and 180Solutions, according to Online Media Daily.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, March 06, 2005

For this Weather Nut, Google Uprade is Welcome

Carrying on with its widening use of "invisible tabs," Google offers up a capsule five-day weather forecast when you type something like "tampa weather" into the search box. For added specificity it's probably best to type the state abbreviation.

Of course the weather info is only good as the underlying source, which appears to be Weather Underground.

Looks like it's chilly in Myrtle Beach. I feel sorry for you people.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, March 05, 2005

Traffic Without Trying

It seems that the growing consensus at places like Webmaster World much resembles the "Traffic Without Trying" approach advocated within these pages oh so long ago.

So why does everyone still rush the stage when Matt Cutts speaks?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, March 04, 2005

ReviewCrawler

Greg Linden makes the excellent point that in Google's newly-beefed up local search offering, restaurant reviews are listed if available from extant sources. This seems to be an example of "fair play," whereby Google happily sends traffic off to other places without trying to monetize every click. It adds to the credibility of Google Local as a clearinghouse for available information rather than being solely a paid directory. (It is worth noting that on the example I clicked on, a Frommer's review of Susur Lee's restaurant in Toronto, the site is an AdSense publisher, so Google isn't hurting for monetization even when it sends users away.)

Players like Yahoo and CitySearch also offer restaurant reviews. With these, users can directly add reviews.

Both approaches seem sensible, but Google's approach seems to lean more towards traditional editorial sources, whereas the others are untrained (but very genuine) impressions from real diners. I don't know exactly which approach works for me. I tend to find that some direct posts are quite misleading. Either way, the added context is going to make the local search experience richer and more usable than ever, because it will mean less "hunting around."

Just another great example of how metasearch can and will evolve to delight users.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, March 02, 2005

SES, or Hell?

Great conference, as usual. From hearing Danny interview Jerry Yang, to learning new things from the panelists on the Compelling Ads and Landing Pages session, to Mike Grehan's VIP dinner, to chuckling at The Gates, which are supposed to be down but aren't yet, to getting my picture taken with William Hung at the Ask Jeeves party.

Right now, though, it's about the radio in the next room. The Lionel Ritchie was bad enough when it started three hours ago. But now... Dan Hill? Dan freakin' Hill.

Nothing for it but to put in a little more work on a presentation (presenting tomorrow, once again on contextual ads) and hope it stops soon.

If you're into search and didn't make it to New York, come to SES Toronto, May 4-5. It's guaranteed to be informative and fun. No special appearances by Dan Hill, I promise.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




The Pop-Up that Worked

Do pop-ups work? This one got my attention:

"Stop paying 99 cents per song."

I know Napster is old news (and reinvented) but now that everyone's got an iPod, this is an amazingly effective ad. I'm one of those dumb people who has actually paid 99 cents for a song. :)

And without any segue, happy birthday, Yahoo. Where do I start? What more can be said? The amazing thing is, you're ONLY ten years old. Overture and Google are ONLY seven. Google AdWords, PPC version -- only three. GMail -- just a baby.

The next ten should be fun!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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