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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Think You're Original?

Googlewhacking is the game where you try to find "that elusive query (two words - no quote marks) with a single, solitary result!"

Playing a variation on the game, I asked Carolyn how many results would come up under the query "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that bling," using the quote marks. She guessed one. I guessed two.

The answer: 698. Including sales copy from a cubic zirconia rock available at Dealtime.com.

I feel hackneyed for even playing.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Et Tu, Lord Black of Crossharbour?

While there's still time! Check it out! I'm still a Lord to Amazon UK! Anglophiles, do tell: will this increase or decrease sales?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Amazon Turning Ten

If Amazon.com is ten years old, that brings up a bit of search engine marketing trivia. It must meant that linking campaigns, once thought to be the quintessential form of Internet PR, are now more than ten years old! Eric Ward famously helped Amazon get linked all over the web, which was a big part of its early success.

Linking campaigns got a further boost when Google rose to the forefront. "PR" in this sense meant PageRank, and it allegedly got a boost if you went out and got the right kinds of links to your site.

All of that is still important in online marketing, but as with any tactic, it's been overdone and faked to the point where it begins to lose effectiveness. You need a real pro (like, ahem, Eric Ward) if you expect to get it right.

Speaking of Amazon, did I mention you can pre-order my new book there?

Speaking of Internet trivia, I wonder if anyone's tried to pinpoint the first instance of "search engine optimization" or "search engine marketing" efforts. Given the evolution of the search business, of course, it was all seen as a technological playground because paid search didn't really show up in earnest until 2000 or so. Search engine "marketing" came late, when clever optimizers finally adjusted to the emerging reality that "optimization" is just a subset of broader fields of interest to the companies who pay for services: marketing and web development based on usability standards. Eric Ward's savvy was evident from Day One; he always recognized that linking campaigns were a subset of public relations, and he always taught us to focus on the intrinsic benefits of getting good links, rather than seeing them as a mere means to the end of getting Google to rejiggle its index in your favor.

So to try to bring this rambling post full circle: Amazon's evolution, too, has been truly amazing. From a narrow model of selling books from an online catalog, the company has become a full-fledged modern corporation, pioneering new approaches to logistics and e-commerce and setting a standard of usability that most other e-tailers can only dream of matching. They expanded into music and other product lines, and then became a middleman working with retailers in nearly every field. They've pioneered new search technologies -- search inside the book, cross-indexing, prodigious internal site search technologies, personalization/recommendations, and much more. So what's next for Amazon? Possibly a knock-down, drag-out fight with companies like Google who try to move in on a core service, the delivery of digital content?

You've come along way, Amazon. And so have the rest of us!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, June 26, 2005

Some Folks Like Spyware... Really!

You'll have trouble winning an argument with Eric Goldman, because like any good lawyer, he seizes on logical inconsistencies and factual shortcomings in arguments, and uses them to get spurious charges thrown out of court.

And he blogs (in this case, on the spyware issue) like I imagine he speaks in court!

Perhaps this reporter found the only crackpots in the world who affirmatively, intentionally and voluntarily chose to install spyware/adware on their systems [see update below], but I don't think so. In fact, I think there's a pretty large group of people who went through the exact same thought process.

As a result, the foundational assumption of most anti-spyware zealots--that "spyware" is, by definition, unwanted--is false. In turn, all arguments predicated on this inaccurate assumption are tainted.

Is your head spinning yet?

A bit of background: formerly legal counsel for Epinions.com and now a law professor and author, Goldman has defended so-called spyware purveyors, like WhenU.com, in court. He has published and spoken widely about law and Internet marketing. A recent lengthy article he wrote for the Emory Law Journal, "Deregulating Relevancy in Internet Trade Law," went over the entire history of search advertising and offered a strong defense of Google's and Yahoo's right to show ads triggered by searches containing so-called trademarked keywords.

If you haven't checked out his site, I'd recommend it highly. Apparently there is a shortage of legal expertise in the fast-moving world of Internet business. One of his many published articles is "Do Internet Companies Overuse Nondisclosure Agreements?" Not a tough one to answer.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, June 25, 2005

Google Payment System Deals with Micropayments, says Lee

(via PaidContent) Bambi Francisco's recent column on Marketwatch, essentially an interview with Kevin Lee, discusses what Kevin thinks about Google's mysterious payment system:
As Lee sees it, the true potential power that Google would have, if the world's biggest search engine were to offer an electronic wallet of its own, is to be the facilitator of digital media swapped back and forth on the Web.

The "real killer application potential of Google payments [is] pay-per-view content," Lee said in an e-mail.

If Kevin's prediction is true, and I'm starting to think he may be right, this will have huge implications for online content. Maybe at last a true micropyament system will emerge, one that will not only be viable, but endorsed by a major player like Google.

If it happens, you can probably kiss AdSense goodbye. Who will need to run contextual ads (which are crap, in my opinion) when you can charge pennies for an article and make the same amount with no advertising?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Ad Revenues & Ulterior Motives

Contrary to what many assume, there remains a lot of useful online ad inventory out there. Those who own good chunks of that inventory are holding tight to it, consolidating it, and trying to grab more of it.

Consider the photo sharing service Flickr, recently acquired by Yahoo. As with search several years ago, it's all the cool aspects of the service itself that catch our attention. The ads that appear on the site are almost an afterthought. Consider, though, how much ad inventory this potentially represents. With upwards of tens of thousands of user-tagged pages that aggregate photos on every conceivable theme, you're talking about a highly targeted ad opportunity that is sizeable enough that it makes a financial difference to the owner of the site.

Up to now, Flickr has been experimenting with both Google AdSense and Yahoo Publisher Network ads. They look similar, and both offerings are evidently struggling to serve relevant ads on these pages. Sometimes they have to fall back on generic photo or blog related ads -- not necessarily a bad thing. Other times, geographic and other markers allow them to show more targeted ads.

What do you think the odds are, now that Flickr is owned by Yahoo, that they'll drop the AdSense ads and go exclusively with the Y! ads? I'd say close to 100%. This just goes to prove that in the runup to an acquisition by one of these two hot competitors, it's not always just about the technology or the strategic value of the team being acquired: you have to factor in the race to own as much targeted ad inventory as possible. That 100% revenue share is tough to ignore, especially considering the fact that revenues are often shared very generously with publisher partners.


Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Person-to-Person, Stored-Value System?

OK, so CEO Eric Schmidt says that Google is not building a PayPal competitor after all. In fact, it's apparently much more -- or perhaps much less -- than that:
"Although he declined to provide any details about the project, Schmidt made it clear it won't trespass on PayPal's turf.

"We do not intend to offer a person-to-person, stored-value payments system," Schmidt said during an interview with The Associated Press."

He also said:
"The payment services we are working on are a natural evolution of Google's existing online products and advertising programs which today connect millions of consumers and advertisers," Schmidt said. He declined to elaborate."

I think what he's saying is that what Google has planned is "way cooler than PayPal, dude. Like, oh yeah."

Read more

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Monday, June 20, 2005

Will Google Destroy eBay and Amazon?

Batelle again points us to an ever more prescient article (looking forward, looking back) about how "Google beat Amazon and eBay to the Semantic Web" in the year 2009, so I think that automatically means that the rest of us search bloggers are obliged to pick up on it.

Well, consider it picked up on. I think the revolution is under way, in light of Google's e-payment revelation late Friday night.

Every time Google announces another foray into some new area, this futuristic article looks all the more likely. It's hard to distill the article down into a quote, but it talks about four intriguing concepts that the author thinks Google will naturally evolve toward: Google Marketplace Search, Google Personal Agent, Google Verification Manager, and Google Marketplace Manager.

If you want to know what the future of Google looks like, look no further. Can Google Matrix be far off?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Saturday, June 18, 2005

Bringing New Meaning to the Phrase "Google Cash"

Loose lips have leaked the rumor that Google is planning to offer an online payment service. I guess when you're planning something as big as taking PayPal on, word tends to get out.

No one is confirming this yet.

The timing of this is interesting in light of a possible short-term drop in (or at least slowing of) the revenues Google reaps from the content targeting side of its ad program. I've been convinced for some time that Google would eventually pick an opportune moment to atone for its flawed implementation of the AdSense program, by severely cutting back on the revenues paid to low-quality publisher partners. A revenue hit wouldn't be welcome on Wall Street. And for all of their IPO bravado to the effect that they wouldn't pay attention to short-term market fluctuations, Google management have no doubt come to understand the value of inflated or at least steady stock valuations when they're playing for keeps against fewer, larger, competitors -- primarily Microsoft and Yahoo, but also eBay and Amazon. Pulling the plug on AdSense revenues would be too drastic.

So Google at some point decided to change their approach to how AdSense worked. From a certain angle it looks like a series of incremental steps: "smart pricing," better policing of low-quality partners, a beta test of a publisher exclude feature, etc.

Now, however, with the release of Site Targeting, Google has a whole new approach to content targeting, one that will, at least for awhile, run concurrently with the old approach. The old approach limited control by advertisers over the locations of their ads, but the benefit was relevancy and paying only when someone clicked. The drawback was that clicks were often low-quality or fraudulent.

The new program is CPM-based and allows publishers and advertisers to make a marketplace. From the advertiser standpoint, if you play with the interface, you'll be allowed to pore over big lists of potential sites to show your ads on. I'm sure more than a few long-suffering advertisers are experiencing a perverse glee at seeing lists of their "old friends" -- all those terrible sites that didn't convert -- mixed with lists of high-quality sites they would love to show up on. I predict that a large number of advertisers will vote with their mouse clicks, and really put a dent in those unrecognizable, contentless sites' pocketbooks.

Once the program seems to work, I doubt Google will keep the old one around for too long.

Danny Sullivan and others have long argued that search and content are different, so there is no need or logical sense to having them priced the same or run from the same interface. I tend to agree. Clients who want broader media buying are looking for different things than those who just want search. Those who want both can hire a qualified agency to manage each side appropriately.

Other than trying not to antagonize webmasters who have been making a living off AdSense, I can't think of very many reasons for Google keeping the old version of content targeting around. I think that very soon it will become evident that the old content program is merely being grandfathered for a set amount of time so as not to confuse or upset publishers and advertisers. Phasing out the old program will perhaps lead to a slackening of revenues, as with any painful economic transition. In this case, the transition can be boiled down to moving advertisers dollars from bad publishers to good ones. In the long run, that should strengthen the fundamentals of online advertising and attract more advertisers to the party.

By way of keeping the markets interested in Google's growth story, and eventually finding a potentially huge revenue vein to reinvigorate growth as advertising revenue growth slows, this Google payment processing initiative comes at an opportune time indeed.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, June 17, 2005

AdWords Site Targeting Goes Live

After a beta test period proved successful, all Google AdWords advertisers can now access a "site targeting" feature for content-targeted ads, so they can control what partner sites their ads appear on. Placement will be auction-based, with CPM rates starting at $2.

Now that's smart.

As argued before in this space, this could get pricey. One way that some advertisers might choose to approach this is to narrowly experiment with just appearing on some prime Internet real estate, even if the cost is a bit steep. If you're going to burn cash for visibility, at least you want to do so in such a way that you and your company's management control the delivery of the message. If you aren't fussy about appearing all the time, you could still bid $2 CPM and be seen regularly by your target audience, building awareness over time.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




But Will it Play in Prince George?

You might want to disregard everything I said about there being a market for "smart" in sport.

Some sports fans debate Stimpmeter readings, marvel at triple lutzes, and argue about whether the formula for the quarterback rating should be changed.

Others pay good money to watch goons smack each other in the mouth. Hey, bring the kids. Even though face shields have been mandatory equipment for minor hockey players right up to major junior for the past 20 years... slugfests are hockey, aren't they?

And that's what keep this big ol' ball we call Earth spinnin'.

Bonus audio coverage: Bobby Clobber weighs in on the NHL Strike.


Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, June 14, 2005

VOIP: Advantage, Yahoo

Yahoo buys VOIP technology provider DialPad.

In the future, will you use something like Yahoo Voice or Google Phone instead of the old ways of calling people? It sure seems likely. I guess you'll probably use whatever seems easiest, cheapest, and coolest.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




The Market for Smart: Does Hockey Need Some PhD's?

In the seemingly-off-topic-but-not-really dept.:

I've come across a rarity: an online reference to "hockey and sabermetrics."

Hockey's woes are so severe today that few Americans will care once the sport resumes play in the fall, if it does.

Why is it that such a deep, unshakeable market has grown up around the other major sports, but not hockey? I don't buy that it's Canada's game. The old six-team NHL inspired a ton of loyalty in Boston, New York, Detroit, Chicago. The Philadelphia Flyers ruled the 1970's (that would be part of the problem, likely). And who can forget the glory days of the old Buffalo Sabres.

Baseball, in spite of the many body blows it's taken, continues to hold viewer interest. Football fans are rabid, and armchair analysts (in the annual office pool) are becoming more rabid all the time.

Could it be that when you're not playing something, you'd better feel like you're involved in some way? Even your average joe likes to swap stats. And since Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball, people even talk about changing approaches to interpreting stats. Viewers are looking at a game that has stood the test of time for well over a century, and asking themselves: is the steal overvalued? Why is our stupid leadoff hitter still swinging at first pitches? Did Player X - the one with the .385 batting average - almost not get drafted just because he was short and ugly?

The beauty of sabermetrics (and baseball, and football too, in all of its complexity) is that it makes a great "date sport." The "man" can impress his date with his superior analytical mind, and she can pretend to be impressed. If she should surprise him with her grasp of the complexities, he just might fall in love. That'll sell a bunch of tickets, at least for a few seasons.

Football, for all its mayhem, has complicated coverages, and stats galore.

Hockey? It's never really been like that. In spite of a few wonderful ambassadors like Gretzky, Lemieux, and Bossy, the culture of the sport has generally been kept at the troglodyte level. The "old coaches" love to govern with fear and superstition -- much like the semi-literate "old scouts" described by Lewis in Moneyball. The ones who are slowly being replaced by number-crunchers.

Unlike football and baseball, hockey is a flow game. If the ice were widened and whistles minimized, it would actually be the best game going. The analysis of stats wouldn't be as extensive, and they'd be different kinds of stats. But it's what a modern game needs to make the office pools worth playing, to provide the kind of white-collar, armchair-expert discourse that keeps people talking. "Real guys" can also argue about cheap shot artists and acceptable hockey hair length if they want.

The state of statistical analysis in hockey is utterly maddening. Think about the key statistic in baseball: the batting average. Did you ever hear a ballplayer being judged by the absolute number of hits he gets (unless it's a lot)? Yet in hockey, a player who plays seven minutes a game is routinely described by his "15 goal season" or "he only has six goals in the first half." Some supposed superstars are on the ice 30 minutes a game. Shouldn't we be looking at "points per minute played"?

In general, hockey needs to smarten up a bit and get a bit of an image makeover. The old hockey men need to change their stripes. A bean counter like Gary Bettman can't motivate such changes. The sport needs gracious leaders and revolutionary thinkers -- the kinds of guys who played the game, and probably attracted their fair share of beatings for using big words, until the other guys found out they could defend themselves. Ken Dryden has left for parliament, and speaks too slowly. I dunno, maybe they should put that quipster Brett Hull in charge, and the first thing he should do is hire some marketing consultants and a few number-crunchers with PhD's. Such a good game, gone so wrong. It's because there is less of a market for "stupid" than people think, even in a fast, violent game.

They called boxing "the sweet science," didn't they?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




TV Ads Suck, AOL Decides

...so they plowed a big budget into search to attract people to their new portal.

Amazingly, this puts AOL ahead of the curve!

I don't hear the clatter of thousands of dominoes falling just yet, but the migration of dollars from broadcast to online advertising should accelerate as stories like this get around.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, June 13, 2005

BS'ers, Take Note

A note from 39,392 feet, or memories thereof:

Have you ever noticed how "search" (and information technology in general) seems to undermine BS with, well, facts?

Some airlines have little TV's in the backs of seats, and one of the channels is the plane's location, speed, and altitude.

On my WestJet flight home from Vancouver I often referred back to the "map channel," just to compare the lakes in real life with the lakes on the map, and of course to see how fast the plane was going, and how high it was.

Nodding off near sunset, I noticed a plane motoring in the opposite direction, off in the distance. A minute later, another plane flew by, much closer. Non-frequent-flyer, two rows up, called the flight attendant over to get some clarification on whether we were almost killed by some strange event. That's when the conversation took off in the direction of BS-land. "This plane is going about 750 miles per hour," stated the genial flight attendant, as I looked at the reading indicating we were doing about 580. It got worse. He said that usually the planes pass at least 1,000 feet apart, even though it looks closer. Then he came out with: "that's like 2 or 3 miles."

Anyway, the quasi-facts had the appropriate hypnotic effect.

The odd thing is, only a minority of us seem to want to (or be capable of) using basic 17th-century facts to measure up against what some yahoo may be rambling on about. Will the availability of facts at our fingertips, brought about by the Googles and Mapquests of the world, change this? One can dream.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Five Questions

Pluggity-plug-plug. Ask a question, get an answer.

I'm on One Degree today.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Fj*ked No More... Or Once More?

Harkening back to the boom-bust days is a useful way to gauge the seriousness of current plays that appear bubble-ish. To wit: art.com. They recently closed a $30 million round of VC funding before being bought out by AllPosters.com, for those scoring at home.

The official history on the company website notes that by 2000, it was one of a very rare breed of online retailers which were "cash flow positive." Perhaps this promise was what excited Getty Images so much when they bought them out for $200 million in cash and stock in 1999.

Clearly, the potential was overblown. Pud's crew danced a merry dance on the apparent grave of art.com in 2001 when the company hit a speedbump. Apparently it wasn't going so well. Art.com was dragging down its parent company.

It gets hazy after that, but all we know from the recent glowing reports from VC-land is that it was a heckuva good idea for the art.com people to "build a successful company for five years" and then get the $30 million, rather than "taking $10 million for a startup." This overlooks the fact that the founders probably had to raise cash (about $500,000) for the domain name when they launched the company (which they apparently did, in the initial round of VC), and the fact that Getty overpaid for the company shortly after it got going. So much for the slow build theory.

Anyway, art.com is either a growing powerhouse, or an example of VC neo-bubble thinking that hopes to sell the company to a greater fool for a greater valuation. Either way, you can buy posters of dogs playing poker there. Hmm, come to think of it, that's some pretty cool art. I think this one's gonna do OK after all.

Edit: they're using my IP address to show the purchase price in $Cdn. Shut up! I'm liking these dogs more all the time.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, June 12, 2005

Coming Soon to a Drab Cubicle Near You

"Nothing you could say could tear me away from..." iGuy?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, June 10, 2005

Skype Buyout: It'll Happen

Someone rumors that Yahoo is in talks to buy Skype. Om Malik picks up the story and suggests pros and cons. Russell Shaw argues that it definitely isn't going to happen, because the price tag will probably be too hefty and SBC "wouldn't tolerate Yahoo getting within four parsecs of Skype."

Does SBC really tell Yahoo what to do? Do "stable - if not prestigious" (in Shaw's words) pre-existing relationships determine long-term corporate strategy for companies like Yahoo? I don't see why they'd accept having that millstone around their neck when they're a company of similar size and clout, with a healthy stock price (which incidentally can be used as currency in buyouts of seemingly "overvalued" companies -- if your own stock is overvalued, that'll negate the "overvaluation" problem).

Skype appears to be one of those viral Hotmail-like growth stories that could (repeat, could) really take off. When you start getting international clients asking you if you'd rather chat by Skype, it's worth paying attention. This thing could catch on. For Google and Yahoo, in particular, leadership in this category could be a major strategic advantage.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, June 09, 2005

Power Users Not the Secret to Alternative Browser Adoption

Mozilla product release manager Asa Dotzler argues that the real takeoff of Mozilla happened when Firefox came along and made it easy for "non-technical" users to switch away from IE. (Hat tip to Jeremy Zawodny for the reference.)

Racing ahead Firefox is, indeed. Market share seems to still be rising.

Although this does not apply across the board, I was looking at some recent client site stats. This client gets a steady stream of search referral traffic as well as existing client traffic, paid search traffic, and direct navigation. They are in a technical business, but the audience coming in through the search referrals is still "mainstream," since many aren't customers and never will be. For this group, in the past month, market share of "other browsers than IE" coming to the site is 40%! Most of that is Firefox, but Opera is in the mix, too. It's a fairly large sample size.

Basically, then, we are seeing pockets of the world where IE is on the way to 50% market share.

Ironically, the client told me that to use the analytics package, I'd be better off logging in using IE.

Both techies and ordinary people seem eager to switch away from IE. Where will this growth pattern level off? At 20% market share for Firefox? Or 50%?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, June 06, 2005

FindWhat Gets Pretty New Logo, Ticker Symbol

Findwhat, Espotting, and Comet Systems, disparate properties which have been brought together through acquisition, will now come together under the Miva brand, the e-commerce storefront company that had also been part of the group. For online businesses, there is a lot of heavy lifting to be done in the effort to gain new customers. Miva sounds like a nice quiet brand for that effort. Putting Comet cursors with shopping carts with PPC is definitely messy, but then, so is business consulting in general. As it's no longer a benefit to be seen in the financial markets as a big-ass "pure search play," the timing of this change to a steady-growth player in a variety of niches seems apt. The only difficulty there will be in getting press coverage, since writers won't know what to talk about. But FindWhat had its 15 minutes, so quieter organic growth makes perfect sense.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, June 05, 2005

A Shout Out to Backpack

You can't read many blogs lately -- especially those relating to the ubiquitous getting things done (GTD) meme -- without stumbling across a glowing review of Backpack.

Backpack is a new web-based information management service created by 37Signals, the creator of a popular project management system called Basecamp. With Backpack, you can create pages to track every little thing in your life. I use it for personal stuff and work stuff, and I am finding it to be more and more useful every day.

Before Backpack, I would store my notes in a confusing mess of Word documents, Notepad notes, e-mails and so on. But, nothing seemed to have the perfect balance of robustness and accessibility, until Backpack.

If you need to get things done, you should give Backpack a try. The basic version is free. I tried it for one day and decided to upgrade to one of the premium plans. It isn't every day that I actually pay a monthly subscription for something that is mostly for personal notes, but that just shows how clever of a tool it is! :)

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Saturday, June 04, 2005

Does This Make Om Malik the Pat O'Brien of VOIP?

Om Malik likens VOIP to the "It Girl" Lindsay Lohan, saying it gets a disproportionate amount of ink for no apparent reason. Of course he's just kidding. Obviously he knows it's important given how frequently he enlightens readers about it.

I've been getting into the bloggings of subject experts on VOIP and related technologies. There's nothing like a far-reaching technology that is on the cusp of being really useful, trying to fight its way through the entrenched interests and outdated assumptions of powerful old companies and baffled regulators, to get the blood flowing.

Mark Evans (a technology reporter for the National Post), has been pointing out that VOIP seems to get disproportionate ink north of the border, as well. (Disproportionate only because, due to the current state of regulation, there is not much incentive for the bigger telcos to move on it, and not enough room for the upstarts to push forward.... though presumably this will sort itself in a year or two. I see proof on the Bell Canada website, which promises a new VOIP service "coming soon, in Summer 2005." What do you want to bet that gets delayed until December, which really means February if you're talking about corporations making any major switchover decisions?) I join Mark in saluting Telus CEO Darren Entwhistle for slamming the CRTC over its failure to encourage VOIP adoption through regulation. As every Canadian knows, the leading communications firms, Bell and Rogers, love to drag their feet on new ideas... because they can. Soviet-Union-length waits for new installs of business phone lines, at ridiculous prices? Sure. Because they don't have to care.

Bottom line: if you're a small business in Canada, to get VOIP in your office, you need an Internet connection. To get a high-speed connection, you're probably going to wind up going with one of the top two providers, either the cable co, or Bell for DSL. So you can't bypass them entirely. And somewhere along the line, some vested interest in your office building or in the food chain at some point is going to see to it that you are somehow inconvenienced for attempting to circumvent the big guys. It's a regulatory issue, but also a cultural one.

This will someday be mercifully a thing of the past, when truly entrepreneurial companies like Google, Apple, (and yes even) Microsoft, and Skype, have rolled out unique communications solutions. Assuming they have regulatory permission to do so.

Mark Evans, quite possibly, is the Ben Mulroney of Canadian tech reporting. More about that later. But first, an update on Elton John's hair.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, June 03, 2005

Google Rolls Out Standardized Sitemap Protocol

Definitely didn't see this one coming.

Google's new SiteMaps offering (not to be confused with the Google Site Map or Google Maps) should be a healthy step towards helping sites communicate the whereabouts of important pages to Googlebot to ensure proper indexing. It strikes me as a sensible standard to adopt. Hopefully there will be not too much confusion out there as to the impact this will have on rankings or traffic. It should just eliminate some of the confusion around hard-to-index sites and pages, whether a site map might help, etc.

I wish this had been around years ago. When they had to ask themselves questions about their hard-to-index sites, three or four years ago the conversation in companies of any size was often about how to completely revamp the website to improve indexability, and which technology or service vendor was the best one for that. It might take six months to come to a decision. (Sure, someone could have just fixed it, but all companies don't work that way.)

Now, with a clear and easy-to-follow site map protocol, the questions are simpler: "who is really in charge of the website at this company anyway?" and "when are they going to deal with the site map issue?" Even these questions will not be answered at all companies. Buck-passers, take note. This stuff needs to be taken care of.

Let's not presume that this means great rankings and traffic for catalog-centric sites. We know that screen real estate in Google results is being taken up by Froogle results as well as Google AdWords ads. And getting your page on the first page depends on how well Google likes your page compared to all of the other relevant pages on the web. Insofar as Google Search has an "information" bias, if you're selling stuff you can't expect great huge bumps in traffic just because you participate in SiteMap. But you're bound to see some improvement. More importantly, since everyone else will be participating, you can't afford not to.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, June 02, 2005

Cookie rejection: who's right?

Webtrends, in response to a growing controversy about cookie rejection affecting online marketers' ability to track user sessions, recently released some statistics of its own based on a sample size of five billion user sessions. The company notes that cookie rejection has increased fourfold in the past sixteen months, to 12.4% across all industries. This is significantly below what a previous Jupiter Research study had shown, but is still cause for concern. It's also below the number cited in the latest study to be released. This one, by Burst Media, says that 30% of users "claim to" delete cookies.

First of all, as Webtrends Director of Product Marketing Jeff Seacrist told me last week, it's important to distinguish between cookie deletion and cookie rejection. In reality, few users wipe cookies off their systems as often as they say they do. And eliminating cookies from one's computer periodically isn't disastrous for ecommerce tracking.

Cookie rejection is actually quite common, given the proliferation of anti-spyware software that is set on high alert to reject all third-party cookies. Amazingly, some browser versions, such as IE XP SP2, default to rejecting third-party cookies.

To recap Webtrends' breakdown of cookie rejection as it affects marketers in key verticals:

  • Retail: 16.9%
  • Telecommunications: 15.4%
  • Healthcare: 14.7%
  • Manufacturing: 13.3%
  • Transportation: 13.0%
  • Media/entertainment: 12.0%
Five billion user sessions don't lie. In terms of who seems to have the most accurate stats about cookie rejection rates, I'm going with Webtrends' numbers.

More controversial, perhaps, is the needed response to this trend as Webtrends sees it. Webtrends is promoting its ability to help its clients install first-party-cookie based tracking. Good idea, but Webtrends doesn't have a monopoly on it.

Seacrist makes a number of compelling points, though. Analytics solutions vary in their ability to employ "backup sessionization methods" to analyze user behavior. Again, here, Webtrends seems to be doing a great job of that, but some vendors of low-cost analytics solutions also work on this. Kent Davidson, CEO of ConversionRuler, mentioned to me that this is part of his product's mix but it isn't touted, probably because it would confuse many customers who assume that tracking is tracking. And there are other analytics solutions which do not need to set a cookie to work. These range from advanced logfile analyzers to "rogue" methods such as installing tiny flash graphics files on a site. Seacrist points out that unusual methods such as the latter pose a danger insofar as they seem roguish enough to attract the attention of anti-spyware software. The clear message is that analytics are so important to web marketers, if there is any doubt about the accuracy of the stats, it can lead to paralysis. It makes sense to go with established analytics vendors who have a long history of working through measurement issues.

Bryan Eisenberg of Future Now Inc. and author of Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results, seemed to agree with the general thrust of the Webtrends news release. One key point he reminded me of is that simple tracking solutions provided by companies like Google (Google's free Conversion Tracker for AdWords advertisers) are susceptible to cookie rejection because they place a third-party cookie.

All in all, marketers should expect some inaccuracy in their conversion data. However, if they adopt a reasonably good analytics solution that includes backup sessionization methods, the distortion should not be severe in most cases. But for those who take their numbers very seriously, it's worth taking a second look at the top-tier vendors with the deepest expertise in the field. "If people start believing their site stats aren't accurate, that becomes the biggest barrier to adoption [of analytics solutions in the enterprise]," says Seacrist.

He might have added: "Just because a lot of people say they delete cookies, doesn't mean your site stats are necessarily inaccurate."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




eBay Diversification Continues

eBay has announced that is acquiring Shopping.com in an all-cash transaction. Only five months ago, in the wake of one analyst initiating coverage on the company with a "sell," we opined that Shopping.com was basically built to be acquired. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Rationale: in spite of the success of shopping search as a category, and its advantages for retailers, consumers need to decide to use the engine in the first place. A similar rationale, I suppose, to the battle that was faced by nascent pay-per-click search engine GoTo.com a few years ago. Great idea for advertisers, but no one was really using the engine. That changed when they made deals with Microsoft bCentral, Netscape, and finally, AOL and MSN, before allowing themselves to be acquired by Yahoo.

A certain number of people use shopping engines. The category had good initial growth. But it's safe to say it was getting to be an uphill battle competing against eBay, Amazon, Yahoo, and Google's Froogle threat.

That being said, unique third-party shopping review sites (those remaining, and those yet to be invented) play an important role. And portals like Yahoo and Google can play an important role too, if they aggregate third-party results and reviews instead of simply directing users to their own shopping sites.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Portal-Ization of My Inbox?

In Yahoo Mail today I notice a module for "top stories," a list of today's headlines. Why?

At least it's not as bad as the diabolical Bell 390 phone here on my desk. Somewhere along the line someone at Bell Canada decided that it would be OK to run ads on the screen of the $200 phone you paid for (not to mention the phone service you're paying for). "Are you a lotto 6/49 millionaire?" And it has horoscopes, too. Talk about a bizarre concept from some legacy "Internet services menu" plan from about ten years ago. I wouldn't say it's interrupting me, exactly, but I do have a hankering to smash the screen with a large rock. Except I find the call display handy for screening out telemarketers.

GMail also has introduced headlines, in a couple of different ways, not to mention ads.

When is enough enough?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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