Thursday, April 28, 2005
Eatin' bugs and blogging... what a great life.
But poor Walter is going to have to put aside his life of leisure for the rest of the day, I'm afraid. I've become so busy, and my Page Zero Advisor newsletter is so overdue, I've hired him to write the next issue. As there have been so many developments with Google paid search lately, I have plenty to update you on. I've fully briefed my feline friend (some of the stories I told caused him to make growling noises and shed huge chunks of fur, but all and all he seemed unperturbed), and he intends to write it all up in the next 48 hours. Beats a thousand monkeys.
Subscribers already know that the only way to gain access to a subscription is to purchase the Google AdWords Handbook here.
Walter has also nagged me to offer a price break for the next 48 hours. So when you go to make the purchase, you'll get the Handbook and subscription for $55, not $69.
Yahoo, unsurprisingly, is taking steps towards being a banner ad-serving company via its network of content publisher partners. Google recently announced their own progress in this area, which included allowing animated banners, and a new CPM-based pricing system.
Great, but is it search? No, but it is advertising. If "search companies" can take away so much ad-serving market share from companies who were supposedly expert in that, what does that say about how good those companies were at what they did? Or does it just speak more to timing (profit and loss at different points in this turbulent economy) and brand (Yahoo and Google leveraging their mystique to sign up advertisers and publishers)?
At a conference today I was chatting in line with a marketer with a large retailer. Like many, he had completely missed the generational shift wherein companies like Doubleclick had been surpassed in the online ad serving game by Yahoo and Google. (The combined market valuations of these two companies is $100 billion, which puts the recent buyout of Doubleclick for $1.2 billion into perspective.)
Doubleclick isn't a "small" company. But your Yahoos and your Googles are a lot bigger than many people realize, and doing a lot more things than many realize.
Another thing that few at the conference knew about was local search, and Google's and Yahoo's rapid strides in that area. I showed a slide of how it actually looks when you type "outdoor furniture" and "erie, pa" into Google Local. Only about 3% of the crowd had ever visited Yahoo Local or Google Local, which is probably right around the national average. :) (A wider definition of local search would possibly have generated more hands in the air.) Now that is search, and it remains an enormous potential growth area for search, if only because those outside the biggest urban centers and outside of net-savvy circles still have no clue what it is as users, let alone knowing how to approach it as businesspeople seeking targeted exposure. One thing is for sure. Big chains like Target will get this local search thing figured out to a 'T'. If you're smaller than them, you're courting big trouble if you wait two or three years to get up to speed.
As the luminaries of the online advertising industry convene to talk amongst themselves about advanced targeting methods, it might be a good time to reflect on the need to continue reminding early-stage online marketers (and they exist, even in larger companies) of the basics. The learning curve, and the growth curve, are at an earlier stage than you might think.
Monday, April 25, 2005
In the coming weeks, Google will be rolling out a significant change to the content targeting side of its AdWords program. These changes do not affect "search" ads on Google and other search network partners.
The first major change: pricing is on a CPM (cost-per-thousand-impressions) basis, not cost per click.
Apparent rationale: (1) big companies and agencies understand CPM better; (2) fraud is a bit easier to police with CPM, though of course no system is bulletproof.
The second major change: a clever device to allow advertisers to target specific sites. This is what we've been asking for since the day AdSense rolled out. Many of Google's critics adopted a sort of fatalistic attitude towards the prospects of improvement in the AdSense program, since this upgrade took so long to arrive. I was a bit more optimistic that they would do something about it, but the release of such a comprehensive new offering now catches me a bit off guard. (They would have had us believe they were going to do it piecemeal.) Looking closely at various ways they could have designed the "publisher specify" feature, it always struck me that it could get incredibly data-intensive depending on the degree of control and reporting given to hundreds of thousands of advertisers interacting with tens of thousands of publishers.
Sure, a few smaller PPC's offer what amount to prototypes of similar functionality, but the pricing is prohibitive, the volume is low, etc. Google's real-world solution understandably took longer to build.
Is it a tacit admission that the content program wasn't working? Sure. It's tough to stack up the lip-service pro-AdSense statements of dozens of Google product managers and execs over the past year with the reality that they knew full well they were designing a complete overhaul. As so often happens, their pretend-clumsy schtick (akin to having a chef present in a quarterly earnings conference call) was really just sandbagging to throw competitors off the scent. My favorite one, overheard as recently as March, is "we don't think it's best to think of targeting at the site level - we think it's better to think at the page level." This of course because that was the kind of technology Google acquired and developed. "We think the status quo is best," is what that essentially said. They had to say it louder after they acquired Sprinks and then got rid of its people and site-targeting capabilities. In any case, they must no longer think any of this, since they're completely changing that assumption in the new version of the program.
AdSense was ill-conceived from the start, but the fact is (as you know from reading Google's latest quarterly report), it helped Google grow quickly and surpass rivals. (For cautious advertisers, there was also measurable ROI from the program, in spite of its drawbacks.) Now Google can afford to design a better program. It's a happy day for advertisers and reputable publishers alike.
And a happy day for me, since I no longer have to give that same old presentation on contextual ads. Something new to talk about for SES San Jose! :)
What stays the same? You need to look at measures of ROI to gauge the effectiveness of your campaign. You should take a professional approach to determining the effectiveness of your campaign with web analytics that make sense for your company, or you should hire a pro to do so. Brand lift, latent and offline purchases aside, in most cases there is simply no longer a need to "guess" whether your campaign is working. Don't guess. Measure, test, and measure some more.
Friday, April 22, 2005
Apparently the Google quarterly results left Wall Street stunned.
However, we were not stunned.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Quick one-feature comparison of Yahoo Mail vs. GMail:
Yahoo Mail: Rich text compose functionality not available in Firefox
GMail: Newly-released rich text compose functionality works fine in Firefox
Time to catch up, Yahoo!
Do you get the feeling this page on Webmonkey, about tracking for e-business, might be a bit outdated?
A quick look at Yahoo Finance indicates that to this point, Google has exceeded analyst earnings estimates by an average of 22%. You really have to wonder about the consensus estimates. Am I reading right or do the analysts estimate that Google will bring in less revenue this year than they did last year?
Anyway, the average estimate for the current quarter is that Google will bring in $729.8 million in revenues and earn 92 cents a share. Applying the "22% formula" to both, they should come in at $890.35 million and earn 1.12 a share.
This still seems low, at least on the revenue side. For the simple reason that "you're not going to be a Fortune 100 company at this rate unless you pick up the pace," my guess is $1.15 billion in revenues and earnings of $1.08 per share.
If you want to play the home game, you know where the comment button is!
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
The early version of the Google Advertising Professionals program was a start towards recognizing third party consultants, but it was pretty limited.
Tonight across the wires comes an announcement of an enhanced version of the program. Some of the new benefits to those who become qualified in the program includes advertising credits to offer to clients.
To me, the biggest step forward is Google recognizing not just "individual professionals," but those entities called "companies," aka "firms," aka agencies (be they large or tiny). There are new provisions for collectively qualifying staff under the agency banner for firms employing five qualified Google Advertising Professionals or more. This is the beginning -- and I stress beginning -- of the possibility of cementing more consistent relationships in this corner of the online advertising business. For now, company status in the program is only available in the U.S. Kinda sucks for me and my company -- 80%+ of our clients are located in the U.S. but we are duly incorporated in the province of Ontario. But what are you gonna do. It'll be another few months before we get to put the pretty logo on our site.
It is interesting to watch how far Google has evolved since they released AdWords (version 2) in 2002, full of hope of near-total automation. Since then they have learned that running a $5 billion / year ad operation requires massive amounts of people power and the care and feeding of the company's global army of heretofore-unpaid evangelists. More and more, you get the feeling Google is comparing its own evolution to that of Microsoft, and realizing that certain strategies are necessary for long-term survival.
Yahoo's Susan Decker talks to TheStreet.com about the robustness of the search advertising market. Probably the most important trend she notes is the confidence gained as advertisers do a more careful job of measuring their returns. On the supposed dropoff in keyword pricing, she said:
"It's really hard to make conclusions by going out and sampling prices and keywords, which is something that happened last quarter. There was a bit of an intraquarter discussion and a little controversy over whether pricing was falling off or not."
Monday, April 18, 2005
Although I haven't yet tried Skype, I believe in it. There's something about "the world's big, free Internet telephony company" that sort of makes you sit up and take notice. As so many already have, Skyping happily away and avoiding silly roaming charges. Sunday's mention by James Fallows is another boost for the company.
As far as I can tell, there are a few possible reasons why none of RIM, Yahoo, Google, Apple, major phone companies, Palm, or Microsoft have acquired Skype. Pick yours.
Maybe this is the problem. There are a lot of alternative telephony companies right now, slicing and dicing bandwidth, offering forwarding, extra numbers, calling features, and an array of better deals than last year's better deals. But nothing that just seems to go "Yeah, Baby!"
- They're working on their own, better version
- They are planning to become road kill
- They're hoping the other guys will do it, to help them time their "second mover" strategy
- They're too busy working on annoying commercials
If Google or Apple haven't bought Skype yet, it's probably because they think that Google Phone or Apple Connect or what have you will need to be another notch or two better than Skype, and they're working on it now.
Fine. But isn't it high time a company like RIM diversified?
We, the humble screwed phone company victims, anxiously await the coming fireworks.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Lisa Baertlein of AP weighs in with another story about the growing interest in paid search ads. The piece seems balanced and accurate. Not so for all recent coverage of paid search, some of which has focused nearly exclusively on click fraud.
Now the little "good Gazoo" is floating over my shoulder, saying "control yourself," since I have enormous respect for most of the analysts and consultants who are close enough to this action to be able to write or speak about it. I consider them all friends.
"Bad Gazoo" as usual wants me to write a few paragraphs more. And promote my new book. I think Bad Gazoo just won.
David Vise's most recent piece in the Washington Post, quoting Jessie Stricchiola extensively on the issue of click fraud, seemed to me to be a bit too much tilted towards "scandal"... is it merely representative of what we can expect from the print media when it reports on new media companies? As far as some newspaper publishers are concerned, everything in the new media is a suspect, a scandal. I suppose Google's honeymoon had to end, since it went public and lost its innocence.
But I'm a bit surprised that a reporter of David Vise's caliber is feeding into the "new economy porn" level coverage that we see so often. Jessie's and the others' comments on the click fraud problem are sensible for the most part. I like the fact that David exposes the actions of actual fraud perpetrators and points out that Google is suing them. No one with a shred of common sense (as the product from manager from Yahoo points out) would minimize the fraud problem. OK, so why do Vise and Stricchiola turn around and accuse Google of this, while exonerating Overture? So the issue I take is not with Jessie's admirable holding of Google and Overture to account on click fraud and other issues of importance to clients. I take issue with the specific quotes "sometimes Google does not even look at the data" and "Yahoo tends to be more proactive." That's true. But it would also be true if you wrote it this way: "sometimes Yahoo does not even look at the data" and "Google tends to be more proactive."
Nothing at these companies is static, but if you look at how the two (behind the scenes) have innovated and tried new things to help advertisers better manage their accounts, Google wins. Both mix good traffic in with the bad stuff. But you'll pay more per click for content clicks on Overture, and ... well... the list of quirks of both programs would be long, and I'd rather save it for a staff meeting. That's where we swap stories about this stuff all the time. Unfortunately, the public just reads the story in the Post and remembers "Google bad."
It may well be that Jessie has experienced better service from Overture than from Google, but I'm here to tell you that both companies have been responsive some of the time on click fraud issues, but in other cases -- *particularly* with Overture -- complaints have been met with a shrug. I've conveyed at least one of my experiences to John Battelle, a frequent writer on this topic, in hopes that he'll write it up soon (hopefully in a balanced way). I have been contacted less and less by reporters on the click fraud issue, probably because I'm not willing to help them fill up column inches with salacious anecdotes designed to make Google look bad. In case anyone hasn't noticed, the slander isn't hurting them. Their stock is still up there and the financials still look good, probably because advertisers love and need Google.
This brings us to the next point. Well known speakers like Jessie and myself may not have an accurate picture when it comes to the level of service offered on certain glaring click fraud issues. I had one client receive a sizeable refund based on our careful analysis of the case (some nonconverting content traffic), but then again, I presented some details of that case publicly. Not exactly a fair test. And I'm sure Overture people know Jessie and want to ensure that her clients are treated well.
That may actually be one of the emerging secrets to Overture, and to a lesser extent Google. On click fraud refunds, your powers of negotiation may come into play. These are *not* directly proportional to your ad spend, necessarily. I've seen advertisers who qualify for Overture's "Diamond Service" receiving Dumpster Service. Google salespeople work in mysterious and inconsistent ways. Depending on the day, it might actually be better that Google has an engineering culture at the back end, since a well-presented fraud case based on good data will be taken very seriously. It shouldn't be about backslapping (at least not entirely).
These search companies have plenty of money. In a lot of ways, Google couldn't give a hoot about money as long as there are four or five good blue chip advertisers available to bid up the top spots. So, at this stage, this business is about relationships. Which makes it harder and harder to get unbiased information. Those who have some kind of relationship with Google or Overture may have special insight, but also bias. Those who work in traditional news organizations may be shut out to some extent, so they may have less bias, but no insight.
In any case, some of those being quoted on these issues begin to be pigeonholed (or at least suspected of being) "Google people" or "Yahoo people" etc. I think that's a real danger.
We know David Vise isn't a "Google person," so we'll be prepared when his book The Google Story comes out in the fall.
As for whether operators of consultancies are pro Google or pro Overture, etc., I don't think any of us can afford to be unduly either pro or against them if we're to be effective for our clients. We can't alienate them or point fingers unfairly, but we must advocate for our clients first and foremost. As these firms grow in size, this balance becomes more apparent. Kevin Lee has written many columns for ClickZ and although at times in the early days he might have seemed "pro" at least one vendor, the evolution of the business means he works closely with both companies, and it shows in his writing.
When my book, Winning Results with Google AdWords, comes out in a few weeks, I urge you to read it and decide for yourself. Am I pro-Google? Anti-Google? Or just pro-advertiser? At least one other how-to of this nature has come out by now, but these are sometimes done in close cooperation with the vendors themselves. This can lead to a rather "canned" experience. My publisher, McGraw-Hill, decided it would be best if my material was written independently, and I'm very happy with that decision. I work closely with Google in my day-to-day job, but did no book research with them, and received no official sanction or advice. In other words, we just called it as we saw it. If you read the book, you'll see that I'm critical of Google in some places, but I don't think unduly so.
Balance is possible, even when evildoers are out there clicking on our ads.
More than balance, though. Writing the book excited me because search excites me. Each individual chapter posed a different challenge, and the final one, an opportunity to think about the future of online targeting, reminded me of how far we've come and how many new targeting opportunities advertisers will need to experiment with in the next five years. So if being a little fired up makes me "unbalanced," guilty as charged.
Saturday, April 16, 2005
Logging into GMail today, I see it says "log into GMail with your Google Account." Guess it's official, then. Google is trying to be the New Yahoo. Who knew?
Friday, April 15, 2005
Yesterday I was on Google Video looking for some Simpsons quotes and found something new: a feature whereby Google encourages any producers of video content to upload their material! Apparently, they actually "announced" this development. I thought they were just going to wait and see if anyone discovered it. :)
Interesting tidbits: similar to photo sharing services like Flickr, the plan is to have publishers include metadata with their images so searchers can better find what they're looking for. Also, Google will let you charge for your video. It takes a revenue share for providing the service and connecting you with buyers.
Some believe that this means Google now "competes with TV." Does it?
Thursday, April 14, 2005
One thing about Yahoo's new template website offering (free and connected to a listing in Yahoo Local) is that, from the standpoint of basic utility, these "simple" sites will often outdo the overly elaborate but stupid sites small businesses sometimes invest in.
Generally speaking, I think a template site is not good enough. But it's better than the site I tried to use yesterday, for example. A chain of four animal hospitals in Toronto has a pretty-looking website. That's nice. But it doesn't have phone numbers anywhere. When you click "contact us," you get a form. So it takes a couple more searches and clicks to find a listing (on some other site) that actually has the phone number, and a little while longer confirming that the place you really want is the place that's listed. It makes my head hurt sometimes.
Anyway, go Yahoo. Who said the era of "the Internet with training wheels" was over?
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Today, debates about metadata protocols seem to move glacially. But the need for much more labeling of business objects (like products) is getting more pressing as the search metaphor leaks into everyday life, and as we get more used to finding what we need, assessing suitability of products, etc., on demand.
There has been a little debate at Search Engine Watch Forums ("Can Tagging Help Search?") about participant-driven tagging, such as the tags users of Flickr, the photo-sharing service, arbitrarily put on their photos to help like-minded people who might be searching for certain images.
Online, we have these opportunities some of the time. Offline, not so much. That will change.
When I buy a bottle of wine at WineryToHome.ca, I'm a relative genius. Product descriptions and reviews by well-known experts are available. It's a superior shopping experience. I nearly never wind up "stuck" with some random bottle I didn't really want.
Not so when I walk into my local LCBO bricks-and-mortar store. Half the time, I get sucked into something just because it's on the shelf and the description on the bottle looks interesting. But there might have been something else even more interesting nearby. Because I can't perform a search, I'm wasting money on second-rate products without the benefit of a review or rich descriptions of the product. Let's say I was Niles Crane and I knew exactly what kind of red wine would go well with that garlic-infused lamb shank Daphne had in the oven. I knew that I wanted a bottle between $20 and $30, from California, with certain other characteristics, one of them being "syrupy" and the other being something like "cloves" thrown in just for the heck of it. If every bottle came loaded up with a rich set of metadata put together by the vendor in concert with an approved scheme of "telling the truth in winemaking" standards (rogue vendors who didn't accurately describe accurately would not be 'certified' for that particular search), I could run down a list of ten options and be reasonably certain I'd made the right decision.
Wouldn't that be empowering? Would the average consumer spend more, or less, if armed with such knowledge? It would be interesting to find out.
In our next instalment, Andrew tries to find a certain type of rake in a large home improvement store without asking anyone for help. :)
Sunday, April 10, 2005
A bit off topic, I know.
For a good collection of Mitchisms, see Mitch Hedberg - American comedian.
Probably my favorite line is:
"My friend says 'You know what I like?Potato salad.' I say 'dude, you didn't give me time to guess. If you're going to quiz me, you've got to insert a pause.'"
Friday, April 08, 2005
There's a growing curiosity about local search and how the average local business can effectively jump on the opportunity. The amazing thing about search engines, as we all know, is that you can enjoy fast growth in a niche if you understand your market and speak to them directly.
An entrepreneur named John Jantsch, based in Kansas City, invited 200 of his closest friends to a teleseminar to explore the issues. And then invited me to help answer questions. If this area interests you, then let's explore it together. Signup is free here.
I'll be speaking at another upcoming event in Erie, PA - at the ebizITPA, April 27. This is one of those fantastic initiatives that helps businesses apply e-business processes and practices to boost regional economic productivity. We could use more of them.
And don't forget Search Engine Strategies Toronto, back for a repeat performance after a strong inaugural showing last year. Chris Sherman has put together a first-rate program. If you miss this one, you'll have to wait until August for another North American SES date!
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
The Huh, Corp. hilarity continues to make the rounds (that web consultancy parody with the slogan We Do Stuff).
The scary part is that the AdSense ads on the site often match the parody drivel sales copy so well that it looks like Google's technology has not only matched the ad to the page based on meaning, but also for inane style!
Check out these examples from the AdSense ads on the site:
Value-driven web consultants who deliver robust, scalable solutions.
A webcentric branding consultancy; strategy, design & marketing
You gotta have it! Professional tools, templates, & techniques.
Fact-based strategy consulting for businesses and public sector.
A practical toolkit of creative techniques for rapid innovation
Boutique Consultancy with CIS focus MBA staffed, wide service offering
Yep, while the Huhcorp.com site was phony, those were real ads by real companies.
Google has upped the ante again in the white-hot local search area, integrating Keyhole satellite mapping into Google Maps. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. The coverage is already extensive... and best of all, free.
As with all things search, it promises to shine a bright light on things that were once the province of obsfuscators and smooth talkers. The truth cuts both ways. Is it really going to be possible for that real estate agent to tell you it's only "steps" to shopping when your map shows clearly that it's 38,052 steps? With the satellite maps, not only will you be able to verify whether that home you're considering is "steps" from a park, you can see clearly whether it's a "parkette" or a big-ass oasis from urban life. You'll be able to distinguish between properties that "back onto a golf course" or "back onto a golf course but are also right near that major underpass."
Mapping for the masses is an interesting concept. The particular group I've always noticed getting into aerial maps has been cottagers. Many will have the aerial map of the lakes and forests in their region, and they burst with pride when they point to where their little piece of land is. Now, no matter where you live, you can do the same thing. The fun never stops!
Friday, April 01, 2005
What's this? Two April Fool's jokes this year? Logging out of GMail I noticed a cute little joke about Google offering "infinity +1" storage. Come to think of it, neither joke approaches the hilarity of PigeonRank (Google's most memorable April goof), so perhaps they're going on the quantity theory of comedy.
Anyway there is some substance to Google's GMail announcement today, in addition to the laffs. They've upped storage to 2GB and will continue to increase that size "as we are able." Meaning, "we will not be outgigged by Yahoo!!" They also just rolled out colored text & other HTML formatting. Still waiting on smileys though.
Can it be true that GMail is only one year old? Whew.
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