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Monday, May 30, 2005

Welcome to the Society for Unintended Consequences

This site now ranks #5 on Google for the query "the the."

The band "The The" is still nowhere in sight.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, May 28, 2005

Yahoo's Slider Makes Commercial vs. Informational Dichotomy Overt

Playing to "the algo," as we've argued here for some time, may soon be a thing of the past.

Yahoo's "Mindset" beta offers searchers the ability to customize their search as to commercial intent. Searching for commercial results? Slide the slider closer to the commercial side. Doing a more research-oriented search? Slider over to the right.

Google was the first to introduce sliders of this type. We felt that the significance of this wasn't so much the personalization experiment per se (users would tick off subject interests to "orient" themselves to the engine), but the whole experience of watching results bubble up and down depending on where one set the slider. For the average user, but maybe more importantly, as an educational tool for children learning to search, this could take the whole search experience to the next level.

The other important implication of a world where searchers see vastly different results depending on their own personalized algorithmic recipes, of course, is that search engine optimizers and especially hard-core search engine spammers can't reverse-engineer "the algo". It becomes harder to make generalized claims about "what search engines like." That would mean search marketing would really begin to be about deep marketing strategy, not just B.S. game-playing. A few really good cloakers might clean up, though. More likely, SEO's would claim that the best strategy would be to create multiple site types and multiple page types in order to do their job properly.

Amateur site optimizers and classic "white hat SEO's" might even be harder hit than the hard core optimizers under this scenario. Insofar as they tend to believe in a certain model for a well-optimized site -- one that might sit just to the right of the center of the commercial vs. research slider on the user's interface -- they'd be losing out on more of the traffic that came from eager buyers who slid the control all the way over to the "commercial" side. Few would use that as their default setting, but in those cases where folks really were looking for a commercial page, a "white hat" edict to "create plenty of useful content" might actually backfire, giving a site or page a profile that didn't match the user's commercial intent in making the query, thus pushing such listings well down the list of SERP's.

Currently, such "white hat" pages do very well in Google results. Arguably, that has been the whole purpose of Google's ongoing search quality initiatives leading up to, and especially after, the "Florida" index update of November 2003.

MSN Search was next to introduce "sliders," under the "results ranking" link in search preferences, but like Google's, it was experimental and didn't necessarily create any major useful dichotomies for searchers to sink their teeth into. Popularity and freshness are among the variables. You can play with it to see different results, which I sometimes do when I'm having trouble finding stuff.

Yahoo's Mindset initiative is a stunning and important contribution to a potentially exciting user experience for searchers. Top marks to Yahoo. We'll be watching for further development by all the top engines.

In playing around with the slider I notice that one friend's site, a well-known e-commerce site in its small niche, hits its high-water mark (a #1 ranking on his core term) when the slider is just one tick over towards the "research" side. Evidently, at least for now, Yahoo's technology interprets his site or its home page to be a slightly-white-hat type of thing. When I slide it farther over towards "research," he disappears off the first page, and others (including some commercial pages -- the machine learning should eventually take care of that) rise. When I slide the setting all the way towards "commercial," my friend's (highly commercial) site also drops off the list. I guess his site just isn't quite crassly commercial enough. Drat that blog!

The precariousness of first-page rankings with only minor user-driven adjustments on one parameter just underscores the silliness of client expectations (often fueled in the past by consultants overzealously selling SEO) of top-five results on core terms. Major companies feel they "should be" #1 or no worse than #3 on core terms. Niche leaders get jealous when a competitor at about the same level gets ranked one or two spots higher. Clients of SEO firms get disgruntled if the SEO firm "doesn't get them from #7 to #4" or worse, "allowed us to drop from #2 to #38." It's my sincere hope that down the road, there really will be no #2 or #38. There will be "#2 for Jim, #34 for Sheila, #95 for Naveen, and #10 for Ed." If Jim is your best potential customer anyway, then it's no great loss that your ranking for Sheila might bounce around in the 20's and 30's.

Someday, finally, everyone will look only at real campaign metrics within their web analytics reports: search referrals, paid search referrals, conversions to various actions, and so on. Month to month benchmarks of key metrics (including something as raw and un-search-ish as a simple chart of new customers acquired, on a simple bar graph for each month... doesn't that put it all in perspective) are far more important than "search rankings," of course. Just as in real life, "meals fed to family" is a better metric to look at than "red lights beaten." The two probably don't show a positive correlation, and depending on how aggressively you're trying to beat red lights, they could show a markedly inverse relationship.

Financial advisers have been facing pressures to "create results" for many years. But as we know, markets, like organic search rankings, will fluctuate. Depending on the investor, the best adviser might be the one who educates you, encourages diversification, insists that a certain percentage of your porftolio be in unfashionable value plays, and above all, protects your capital.

It will take years more of education before it's more widely understood that search marketing is about deep marketing strategy, and that search works for users in ways that defy control by marketers. You can steer intelligently to move things in the right direction, and spend a bit more to create better ROI on a search campaign. You can gain amazingly targeted customers at a rapid rate if you do it right. But search engines, as always, are working on ways to serve users, not just advertisers. That means that a first-page organic result is still a low-probability thing. Increasingly, any claims that there is a set methodology for achieving such results consistently should be met with scepticism.

For users, experiments like Mindset are all good.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Head of the Tail

I first started seriously expounding on that whole long tail thing a little over three years ago, when I urged AdWords advertisers to "avoid insider thinking" in their selection of keywords.

Search engine optimizers have done this for much longer, since they've always looked at ways of ranking well on secondary phrases in industries where the top phrases are too competitive. A great way to continue to get lots of diverse search referrals to your site is still pretty basic: have a lot of great content. The diversity of words on those pages will act as a net that should capture odd, unexpected searches -- the phrases that only get typed in once or twice by anyone, ever.

So should we all start getting worried that more people are discovering the tail (props to Seth for the reference)? Nope. If you live by the tail today, or benefit from it, you're safe. The tail, like every other good idea in business, is safe from those who get into it only because it's a fad. Marketers who understand the tail and its benefits will watch as the fadsters come and go, because fadsters always misapply, misunderstand, and generally make mincemeat of any good idea.

In short, for the next little while, the tail becomes the head, as folks obsess about it, raise VC funds on the strength of it, and generally go ga-ga for it.

I mean, really. Take any general trend or fad, like say ASP-based productivity tools. Some like to call this "on demand business." Wall Street champions like to call Salesforce.com (a company never shy about promoting its stock) the "poster child for on demand" or something to that effect. Then again, I remember when Priceline.com had invented a new way of counting, or something.

I'm sure that when Google's stock tops $300, the last few bullish analysts will start beating the drum for Google's impressive and still-untapped mastery of the tail.

And some new e-commerce or auction-based services clearinghouse startup that will get squashed when eBay or a better competitor stomps on it will use the tail metaphor to hoodwink a few investors.

The tail has always been there. Big companies like Apple are studying it and figuring out how to design products using idiosyncratic advocates out in the field to look at unusual forms of emerging and highly differentiated consumer demand. It's a frightening and enormously cool thing that so many new businesses can benefit from it, and that so many customers can make so many more specific demands on business. It can't be ignored.

But unless your grasp of the tail fits in with a savvy business sense and customers you've been cultivating for awhile, be careful you aren't really grabbing for the head. You could get bitten.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Advertising 2.0? Old News.

Guess Gary's never read my AdWords Handbook? Those of us who do this for a living have been talking about the wide-ranging potential of AdWords-style auctions for years. Companies like VerticalNet and other vertical auction pioneers were exciting to analysts in their first wave because they offered opportunities for inventory to be sold at whatever price point made sense. When that principle carried over into search advertising, companies like Google and Yahoo went from marginal to highly profitable. That trend may continue as the principle plays out in various ad formats.

As the head of a competing contextual ad service (Quigo) recently told me, Doubleclick failed at this because they were only good at selling the inventory that was easy to sell. They did a terrible job of monetizing remnant inventory for their publisher partners. Not so for Google. Google is doing a fantastic job of it. So much so that a huge number of minor websites are using the system to generate mostly low-CPC ad revenues, and not a few larger publishers are doing the same.

"Junk" ad inventory is easier to sell when you have a platform that facilitates this. And high-priced inventory isn't compromised either, due to the auction system. This principle is now emanating out into the content space, and more are finally taking note of it now that Google is allowing publishers and advertisers to communicate more directly (buying and selling space at a site level).

Here's the odd paradox, though. From Day One, Google did such a good job of helping publishers get paid for their remnant inventory, they did a poor job of forging relations with larger publishers and with big advertisers who want specific media buys in prestige locations and are willing to pay more for it. The recent changes to the content targeting program are a belated recognition of the high-CPM ad market that needs to be treated with more care. Quigo, a key competitor of Google's and Yahoo's in the contextual ad-serving space, built a platform that does a better job of this. In some sectors, such as automotive, Quigo has also done a better job of convincing publishers and advertisers that prestige content needs its own auction. More on the exciting Quigo story soon.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




MSN Paid Search Solution to Embrace the Black Box Approach?

(Hat-tip to Andy Beal)

It sounds like MSN Adcenter will toss factors like user interest (CTR) broken down by target demographic into the mix of ranking factors for paid search ads.

So it will be "more like Google's than Yahoo's" solution, but taking the complexity an additional step forward.

This will make it difficult for the advertiser to fully control their ad delivery or fully understand why an ad is placed in a certain spot (similar to Google's black box algo approach).

Two implications of this: (1) your head will hurt, so you'll hire me, and my head will hurt -- your pain is my pain; (2) it makes very little sense to dabble with the proprietary analytics solutions of a particular analytics vendor, given the importance of having impartial parties assess your campaign results. Third-party analytics vendors are going to be around for a long time, no matter how much sophisticated product the traffic vendors develop under their own umbrellae.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, May 21, 2005

Really, Really, Not an Unportal (For Sure Now)

Danny sums up industry reaction to Google's homepage 'fusion' initiative. He neglected to add "... and Andrew Goodman took off early for the Victoria Day long weekend." Since I don't blog and drive, or blog and golf, my reaction is still in beta.

Probably, though, the appropriate reaction to the opportunity to spend a sunny Saturday setting up a personalized home page to replace a perfectly-functioning My Yahoo page, when I could be planting the garden with Mom & Dad, would be to focus on the plants.

A micro-comment might be that Google's unique approach to RSS (within GMail but presumably also in the fusion environment as well) will add yet another way that people can read content via feeds, thus speeding adoption. Choosing an RSS reader is getting to be a full-time job. For some reason, I now have several on the go, including the Firefox browser. But ultimately I expect to just use My Yahoo.

That in itself is a topic and a trend that is worthy of a separate full-length treatment. RSS is great, but could it be heading for the same disastrous clutter-fest as email, where advertisers and spammers crowd out what was once a good thing?

I'm also working hard on some updates on the contextual advertising game and the web analytics space. Or is it hardly working?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, May 19, 2005

Go Bryan: Call to Action Now at #40 on Amazon

It's a sign of the times. Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg's new book, Call to Action, is showing at #40 on Amazon under "books," and rising.

I recently read the book and found it so fresh and useful, I managed to slip a bit of its advice into my chapter on increasing conversion rates just before my own book went to press. Call to Action is loaded with insights such as "shopping cart abandonment isn't the real problem."

More than anything they've written previously, this book lays out the foundations of the Eisenbergs' approach to persuasion scenarios. These are original, agenda-setting ideas that put the online marketing challenge in perspective, not just a pile of loosely-organized facts and figures.

Those of us who seek credible and actionable information on web metrics have few guides to look to. The Eisenbergs are part of a rare and very small group of analytics pioneers. (That list includes Jim Sterne.)

Beginners will find it a bit dense, but for anyone who bills themselves as a "web marketing professional," Call to Action is a must.

The last time I was this excited was when Google Hacks made it onto a bestseller list. ;)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, May 18, 2005

VP of BizDev in Some Fact-Free Parallel Universe

via SearchEngineGuide, I notice the following pro-Ballmer commentary snipped from a poster on WebmasterWorld:

Let's not forget that Microsoft also has the budget to severley [sic] damage Google in the advertising realm. They will take a loss for years to kill a company like Google. Don't be surprised if they go in and offer companies like AOL and Ask Jeeves to use their PPC products and provide them rates that Google couldn't fathom. They can go out and offer publishers ridiculous rates to steal them from Google.

OK, let's take the search referral market share numbers from the previous post and add AOL's + Ask's numbers (total, about 3.5%) to MSN's.

The new numbers would be:

Google 50%
Yahoo 22%
MSN 13.5%

Somebody's crystal ball is cracked.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Search Referral Data for this Here Site

Here at Traffick we've been using ClickTracks Optimizer to analyze our site traffic. It's a pleasing, intuitive experience to use ClickTracks. (If you're scoring at home, ClickTracks Optimizer is the mid-priced product. If you're shopping for analytics, take care to get the version that's right for your needs. Buying Pro when you really need Analyzer might be a bit like taking home a cute little kitten and finding out you owned a panther. Or vice-versa.)

The various metrics services have been giving us regular search referral market share updates lately, and I've been offering regular updates. Some say Yahoo is coming on strong; others (like Netratings) have them well back of Google.

Anyway, the rough count of "percentage of search queries referred" for this site in April -- taking into account that there may be a few ways of interpreting some referrals -- is as follows:

Google 50%
Yahoo 22%
MSN 10%
AOL, Ask Jeeves: both under 2%
A bunch of others: between 0.2% and 1.0%.

We rarely pay for any kind of sponsored links referring traffic to this particular site, so those numbers are for organic search only.

People keep telling me they're keeping a close eye on MSN, because "Microsoft doesn't like to lose." I'm still awaiting the evidence. As we can see from the above, another apparent behemoth -- AOL -- lost badly. It's fallen off a cliff.

One interesting trend is the increase in what we believe might be regular readership via RSS feeds. I suspect the analytics services need to buckle down and offer a better breakdown of those kinds of visitors. What if someone has syndicated this blog on their Firefox browser? Would that show up merely as a direct navigation similar to visiting via a bookmark? Probably.

Your mileage may vary.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, May 16, 2005

Sorry, No Free Prize Inside

Seth points to some mind-boggling mastery of minutiae over at eBay, on why they redesigned the eBay Stores logo.

The closest thing I can recall along these lines was Ask Jeeves' press release on an upcoming advertising strategy that included the heart-wrenching decision to "downplay the butler imagery." Presumably reporters would talk about this, and people would think they were a more serious search engine company. (When I asked questions about search in that interview, I was referred to the talking points in the release, the ones about the exciting new strategy developed by the ad agency.)

Seth is relatively lucky, in that he can say these things without directly offending clients (readers and other colleagues, maybe, but not clients, since he doesn't apparently do consulting).

Once you've got the hang of observing this type of "insider, Beltway mentality" inside the cosy confines of companies, it can be fascinating to watch.

My good friends at Client X (they appear to account for about 40% of the traffic to this blog, so hey guys, if you recognize yourselves, it's nothing personal!) have a diverse range of indispensable products, plenty of energy and new ideas, and a profitable growing business in a tough industry sector. If they fall victim to groupthink, think how many less-spunky companies must be susceptible. The example I'm thinking of is the last six times I've called or visited someone from the company, religiously they each asked if I "knew division X was now upstairs?"

Upstairs, downstairs, hanging from your ankles... at a certain point, everyone's got desks and chairs and computers and customers. Internal corporate chatter just ain't that interesting to outsiders and particularly customers. We can't remind ourselves often enough of this. After all, it could be a symptom of something bigger, like completely misreading your market because the engineering department developed something cool that everyone "should want."

I'm guilty, too. My company has finally got the keys to our new office at 119 Spadina Ave. I've been telling anyone within earshot about this, but if it reaches the point of them becoming visibly nauseous on hearing this yet again, I'll stop.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, May 12, 2005

Goodbye, Rate Card: Boston Globe Pilots Print Ad Auctioning

(via ADBUMB): The Boston Globe is going to be selling an offline ad through an online auction process. Formerly $39,500, this ad spot will begin at $15,000 and go up in $500 increments, through an "eBay-style" auction at its site BostonWorks.com.

So it's starting to happen. Media buying is being revolutionized. This technique should soon spread like wildfire. The distinction between online and offline media will begin to blur a bit...

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Zawodny's Vantage Point

Jeremy Zawodny keeps us on our toes and reminds us of twenty things worth thinking about that don't involve Google ("the Starbucks of the Internet," or as Danny once wrote, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia").

If I had to pick one point as the best, it would be that you can build a PBX for $85 with the help of a simple wireless router. Yes, o great telco's and cableco's, this is why we yawn at your mergers & acquisitions based on old communications paradigms.

Honorable mention: Jakob Nielsen, Mental Models for Search Are Getting Firmer

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Looking for a browser download? Want a date?

Google officials have been known to say: "we believe that contextual ad matching is best done at the page level, not the site level." Of course, believing it doesn't always make it true.

I am sure this popular download site would soon grow weary trying to generate all the "negative site out" entries in their Adsense account so that they wouldn't have racy dating ads showing to folks who just want to pick up the latest version of Opera.

A problem which hopefully will be solved when relevant high-tech advertisers come along and start bidding to specifically appear on a run-of-site basis throughout the www.tucows.com site, as made possible through Google's new CPM-based, enhanced-control version of content targeting.


Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, May 08, 2005

Onward Goes the Nonrevolution

Is blogging a business? Sorta.

Blogging laid bare, in today's New York Times piece about the casual yet orderly Gawker Media.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, May 06, 2005

Yahoo Yahoo Is Is The The Most Most Relevant Relevant

Jeremy Zawodny's post today, about the importance of anchor text, got me to thinking. Mainly, about what other time-wasting games I could play with major search engines.

"The The" is the name of a band. Not just any band, but the creator of one of the top 100 albums of all time (at least) - Soul Mining (1983). But I figured that even if you typed the query "the the" in quotes, you'd be hard pressed to find this band's site listed on the first page of search results. I tried it on Google, MSN Search, and Yahoo Search. Google failed, even when I added the word band after "the the." MSN failed too. But Yahoo nailed it! They listed The The's site right in the top organic search position (notwithstanding the top news result about "keeping toe fungus on the run").

The The's poor showing in major search engine results pages is not the saddest or oddest thing, though. I leave that distinction to the fact that their haunting hit This is the Day is now the theme song in a water-resistant Dockers commercial. Muted outrage is spreading sedately through the blogosphere.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tales from SES North, Vol. 1: Shop to It Stands on Guard for the True North Strong and Free

Over the next few days I'll try to catch up on a few tidbits from the action packed Search Engine Strategies Toronto show that just concluded.

--

"We won't rest... until everyone has the best to offer in shopping at their fingertips! We're the first Canadian shopping engine and we're adding hundreds of products daily," says the homepage copy at ShopToIt.ca, a Canadian shopping search engine that just launched in beta.

This simple, and true(!) value proposition cuts through the clutter of previous half-baked attempts to improve the Canadian online shopping experience.

ShopToIt's only current serious competition, really, is Amazon.ca. There, you can buy books and music with ease (as with Amazon.com), with most of the excellent shipping options you've come to expect. Unfortunately, the product list is significantly smaller than on Amazon.com, so you still need to bring some items across the border and face delays and charges. There are few Canadian "merchant partners," unlike Amazon.com, where you can buy everything from power tools to yoga DVD's.

ShopToIt.ca president Clark Johannson gave a pithy presentation at the SES conference yesterday. With some solid venture backing behind it, the engine itself seems full-featured, and similar to Shopping.com, Pricegrabber, and others that are garnering so much attention in the United States. What is interesting about Calgary-based ShopToIt is that they've studied the space and they vow to make it even easier for users and merchants to deal with the system. Of particular interest were two interesting add-ons they're working on: (1) friendliness to agencies and consultants who may advise many clients on how to get their products listed; and (2) a recognition that Canada's urban populations are in fact unusually concentrated mostly along the U.S. border, resulting in a propensity to enjoy brick-and-mortar experiences, and to physically inspect and/or pick up items. There is talk of a "pick-up service," which sounds similar to what some of the online book retailers are planning to get into. ShopToIt is trying to get ahead of the curve even in a country which may be a year or so behind the curve, which may require patience... but in my opinion the openness to innovation augurs well for them finding a solid niche and staying there.

In addition, the platform is multilingual. About 50% of the listings are currently bilingual, with the goal to reach full bilingualism soon.

ShopToIt will have some competition: that's inevitable. Google's Wendy Muller made it public at SES Toronto that Froogle Canada will be rolling out in beta "in about a month." Since the Froogle.ca domain is owned by someone other than Google, it will be interesting to see how they handle that little hurdle! Will they take the legal or ICANN tribunal route, or buy the domain, or launch under a subdirectory of Froogle.com in an attempt to beat down the price of the domain? Since the cash isn't the main problem for Google, one assumes they may go the tribunal route on principle. The downside there is that they might be rebuffed if they don't have proper trademark protection. The current owner of the domain, 'The Froogle Gourmet,' is bizarrely enough making a few pennies displaying Google AdSense ads. The Froogle.ca homepage is currently written in basic HTML and contains misspellings like "recipe's."

That aside, Froogle Canada looks set to roll out. Google's sales force in Canada already works with larger retailers, and will have relatively little trouble adding them to the Froogle platform. It may take some time, however, for many smaller retailers to cotton onto the value of using shopping search engines to drive traffic. A wide selection -- not just repackaging a few top retailers' offerings -- is what makes shopping search a valuable experience for users.

There is room for more than one player in the Canadian shopping portal space. It'll be up to users to decide, ultimately, whether using ShopToIt gives them a better experience than they can find elsewhere.

ShopToIt.ca goes out of beta and into full launch on July 1. The company says it'll be "giving Canada a birthday present" by launching on Canada Day. Heretofore-beleaguered Canadian online shoppers may consider buying themselves a present to celebrate... sans pesky customs duties.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Future of Online Content is So Bright, It's Gotta Wear Shades

Could it be that in the future, only poor people will read magazines? Don't laugh. It will happen.

Visit any newsstand and your eyes will be assaulted by a patchwork of colorful, glossy covers featuring beautiful celebrities, sleek automobiles and business executives.

Most of those magazines will end up being shredded because the vendor only sold two of their ten copies of Lucky, the new magazine about shopping (ugh). More magazines debut each and every month, and more cease publication as well. There's all this content that is never read because few people know it's there.

Meanwhile, the future is bright for online content, thanks to rapidly increasing readership, advances in contextual advertising and the maturation of community-created content. Then there are other promising things on the horizon like micropayments, ever faster Internet connections and richer media. Oh, and let's not forget DVRs and all that digital convergence hoo-hah.

Yes, times are good for online content.

Things are looking so good, in fact, that Jesse Kornbluth writes in Media Bistro of "the dwindling life expectancy of print-only media." Recent news that the online edition of the Wall Street Journal is more profitable than the print version is at last concrete evidence of what I've believed since I learned what WWW stood for.

I was a copy editor at a small-town newspaper in 1996, and the Internet was just getting mainstream media attention. I followed any and all developments very closely and became convinced in a very short time that my publication was suddenly obsolete.

I knew one day that the logistics of printing tens of thousands of newspapers every single day would be overtaken by the enormous efficiences of online content delivery. The old morning delivery schedule was also obsolete because now the news could be presented in real time, and not only that, but any one could create it.

You can bet that Jesse's article will be one of those prescient works that Batelle and Godin seem to crank out every few weeks. It's a window into a future world now.

It's tough to say what the content landscape will really look like in ten years, but my guess is that only the poor will be toting around glossy dead trees. The rest of us will have tablet PCs or laptops armed with the content of a thousand digital magazines. And as Jesse says, the magazines will be promotional devices for the magazines' websites.

Subscriptions will be rare. Most content will be free or paid for with micropayments. Scale will ensure profitability. Oh, and contextual advertising. There will be lots of that.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Worse than Bad

(via Battelle's Searchblog):

Am I to assume that Dana is not a "Google person"?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google Drops Urchin Price

We predicted that Google's acquisition of Urchin would put downward pressure on the pricing for full-featured web analytics. We just didn't know it would happen so soon.

Today, Google is announcing that the price for Urchin on Demand has been reduced to $199 per month from $495.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, May 02, 2005

Longhorn Wants You to Organize, Not Search

Apparently Microsoft has decided to take a different approach for finding stuff on your desktop in Longhorn, the next Windows operating system, due in 2006. Instead of utilizing a search motif as previously planned, Longhorn will offer better organization of files so that you don't have to search. It will also rely more on RSS and XML to help you get information.

If it's true, that's an odd decision because, as Danny points out, people don't know what they want. There's no stopping the search mentality because it's so natural to human existence. When we don't know where something is, we search for it.

It almost sounds like Microsoft is planning some sort of tagging system, and if so, that would be interesting, but I'm willing to bet that Microsoft is primarily taking this approach as a way to pull the rug from under Google.

If MS can wean people from the need to search, they have a better chance of undermining Google's bread and butter -- fast and easy information retrieval.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Firefox Hits 50 Million

The browser that came out of nowhere has been downloaded 50 million times! If you aren't using Firefox, what are you waiting for? Ten percent of all internet users can't be wrong! Or is that four out of five dentists?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Consumer Behavior to Drive Local Search

The massive shift of local search is coming, and faster than most people think, says Stefanie Olsen. As with most developments in business, consumers will simply force local businesses to get on the "Internets."

Until recently, local search was one of those cool, futuristic things that are coming any day now, just not anytime soon. Andrew probably knows all about this sector, but I have no clients for whom local search is necessary, so it's still a bit of a mystery to me.

With the rash of developments in local search tech such as maps, mobile search and so on, the groundwork is quietly being laid all around us. Could it be that we'll never see another 50 pound yellow book on our doorsteps again? Could we be so lucky?

Smart marketing consultants would do well to get on the bandwagon now, before the space gets crowded. SEM agencies stand to make a lot of money from the latest example of the internet rendering more dead tree media obsolete.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Sunday, May 01, 2005

Think Bigger than That?

Yahoo gives away $1,600!

Doesn't sound very impressive, does it? That's like 50 shares of YHOO. Or a shade below 8 shares of GOOG.

What am I talking about? Well, I can tell you that one of my clients generated 10 million impressions through Google AdWords content targeting in April, and paid about $1,600 in total. (The average CPC was about 10 cents. The CTR was obviously very low.) So, it's possible to garner that many "impressions" for $1,600. I guess that means the effective CPM on this particular part of the AdWords campaign was a rock-bottom $0.16!

Yahoo is holding a contest, giving away 10 million ad impressions to the small businessperson who thinks big, as judged by Sir Richard Branson. When I heard that, I thought: wow! Yahoo is giving away a whole $1,600! Probably not fair, though. These ads could be worth as much as $10,000.

I hope the winner is required to track and quantify the ROI on those ads.

You've got to hand it to Sir Richard. He's still doing his own PR, and a wonderful job he does.

I thought this post was over, but it made something occur to me. Let's circle back... to the third paragraph.

There are advertisers right now getting effective CPM rates on AdWords content targeting ads for as low as $0.16. If people stop clicking, and advertisers keep dropping bids on content, Google could be looking at average effective CPM's across the board well below $1.00 on this program. If a new pricing paradigm weren't instituted, that $0.16 could start looking more like the norm than a crazy bargain. Google and its publisher partners would be making peanuts from content, and the program would go into crisis... if the click fraud issue didn't put it there first.

So what does Google do? They change the pricing mechanism on some of the content. For some large advertisers who can be convinced that millions of impressions can offer competitive advantage or brand lift when purchased en masse, on demand, at certain times of the year, Google is hoping or betting that its new *minimum* bid price of $2.00 CPM on parts of the content program will be attractive. Certainly, if they can create a few bidding wars here and there, they could maintain an average CPM for one side of the program of something like $5.00. If the other side (the CPC side) wound up having an effective CPM of less than $1.00, that $5.00 on the new CPM-based program would really pull up the average. Thus Google has evidently done some serious thinking, not just about how they can extend or improve content targeting or come up with a fairer pricing model, but about how they can squeeze significant additional cash out of their existing content network. Like maybe twice as much in 2006 as they make in 2005. That all depends on advertiser and publisher uptake of the new program. Growth should be slow at first, but like everything Google does, it has a shot of hockey-sticking up after a period of initial reticence by advertisers.

Impressions may be worth $0.16 per thousand, or they may be worth $5.00. The fortunate thing about the AdWords bidding platform is that pricing probably will vary according to demand - by subject matter and publisher. In spite of that, if you look hard at current trends, that $2.00 minimum CPM is still pretty high compared to the effective CPM's on many content campaigns currently running. And we're not even into a bidding war up to $7 and $8 CPM yet.

In fact, if you used that $2.00 as the benchmark for what an impression is worth, Yahoo would in fact be giving away $20,000 in their contest! Sweeet.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




More on the Search Landscape

Which search engine has the biggest share of monthly searches? That was the sort of question panelists from web measurement agencies attempted to shed light on in the Search Landscape Panel at Search Engine Strategies New York, as I reported in a recent guest article for SearchDay.

(A similar panel with Canadian stats will be happening this week at Search Engine Strategies Toronto.)

Another -- slightly different -- question is: which search engine refers the most traffic to business websites? Studies deriving from referral logs are the best way of answering this question. Web metrics companies like WebSideStory release periodic news releases with stats of this nature -- basically aggregated stats from all of their clients' site stats, as opposed to panel-based measurements of online user behavior. These can help to provide an extra data point when considering the extent of Google's dominance.

Dan Shapero of Net Applications recently passed along March numbers from his company's Hitslink stats application. It provides aggregated statistics from 40,000+ URL's on things like browser usage and search referrals.

The numbers are a bit unusually presented. Global stats are included but are a small percentage of the total, so for example "Google UK" doesn't make the top six just because Net Applications doesn't have a huge global customer base, and those customers are generating relatively little traffic. In addition, the stats don't distinguish between paid and unpaid referrals. But "content targeting" referrals are not included, just search.

All that being said, this set of numbers confirms the "Google Domination Factor":

Google 44.5%
Yahoo 17.0%
MSN 10.9%
AOL 3.2%
Dogpile 0.8%
Ask Jeeves 0.9%

Remember, there could be dozens of others on the list all around 0.5% or less, many of them being global Google, MSN, AOL, and Yahoo sites as well as a couple hundred additional tiny niche referrers. So this doesn't mean Ask Jeeves' US-based market share is 0.9%, but it does seem to mean that in the U.S., Google refers 45X more traffic to web pages that matter than Ask Jeeves does.

Another thing this could mean is that Yahoo refers a lot of traffic to larger companies who are participating in its pay-per-click or paid inclusion programs, but these same companies are not Hitslink clients. Intuitively I feel this is the case. I have no proof that Hitslink skews towards the smaller marketer, but I get the feeling it does at least exclude most of the Fortune 1000 companies who may be seeing higher CTR's from Yahoo by virtue of taking advantage of paid inclusion and PPC. That doesn't mean this is bad data -- it may mean that it's very realistic data for SME's to look at. I believe many assume Yahoo "typically" refers about as much traffic as Google. Of course many companies are atypical, but the most typical SME pattern is in fact to see the Google - Yahoo split in terms of search referrals as somewhere around 65-35. For the facts as they relate to your company, all you need to do is to look at referral logfile data over the past 12 months to see if there is a pattern. Obviously that pattern will depend heavily on how much you are spending on paid traffic.

There were few changes in the Hitslink data from February to March, but Google did gain a bit of ground at MSN's expense, which runs counter to some of the panel-based behavioral studies which have suggested MSN Search growing a bit lately at AOL's expense. Maybe so, if you watch a panel go about its daily business, but not so if you look at traffic that's actually clicking through to client sites in any tangible way.

The breakdown of Hitslink clients is as follows:

Commerce sites: 43%
Corporate sites: 18%
Content sites: 10%
Other (gov, org, SEM companies, and more): 29%

76% of Hitslink's customers use pay-per-click programs to drive traffic.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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