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Friday, July 29, 2005

Dreaming of Peace, Diving for Cheese


Is it mere coincidence that the morning after finishing Stanley Bing's Sun Tzu Was a Sissy, a hilarious take on corporate warfare that ends in an incongruous call for peaceful international relations, that I wake up to read that the IRA is laying down arms? I don't think so, but that's probably because I'm guilty of innumeracy.

Now this guy knows how to create a great story. He dumps ten tons of his cheese into the freezing cold waters of a fjord in northern Quebec, claiming that putting cheese under pressure will make it ripen better. Now he's sending divers down for the cheese, and that brought TV cameras. First time around, they didn't come up with it, which now makes it elusive, scarce cheese. And a government agency is taking issue at the method, which makes it the elusive, scarce cheese they didn't want you to have. Points for style... it beats bribing grocery conglomerate executives.

Speaking of artificially constructed scarcity: what's the deal on the idea that the Gillette Mach III, and only the Gillette Mach III (turbo and non-turbo editions), is so likely to be shoplifted that they need to keep it behind a counter, or worse, construct some elaborate security shelving to prevent it being thieved? Am I the only one who thinks that Gillette must be paying drugstores and grocery stores to continue erecting these ludicrous barriers to purchase by way of defending the ever-mounting price of Gillette's best? As if these are the only items in a drugstore anyone would think of shoplifting. What's next, Gillette Mach III Rx Edition -- Ask Your Pharmacist?

I suspect that in the great rock-paper-scissors game of marketing, a great story more often than not trumps usability. Sometimes, they go hand in hand, but not always. Hard to get sometimes works.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Things I Don't Understand, Part 4,331: Widgets

Demir Barlas points out that Yahoo's acquisition of Konfabulator signals their intent to continue competing for control of the desktop. Currently, some of the cool tools offered by this company include desktop RSS aggregation, a desktop tool that will let you check GMail, and more.

Barlas notes astutely that "Yahoo and Google penetrate businesses, particularly small businesses, from below, since their tools are typically adopted by individual users who retain Yahoo- and Google-based habits and preferences and carry them to work."

Do you suppose the acquisition means they'll put the kibosh on that GMail-checking tool?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Importance of CTR in Google AdWords: Has it Changed?

Andrew takes a look at some advanced Google AdWords strategies in his latest article on Traffick.com:

Recently, Google introduced what they’re calling "simplified keyword states" and "quality-based minimums" as a way of injecting more flexibility into its AdWords online advertising platform. Advertisers will no longer have to grapple with the former clickthrough rate (CTR) "cutoff" of "0.5% normalized for ad position." Now, there is no cutoff, and low CTR’s will not cause a campaign to be slowed. However, for low-CTR keywords, advertisers may be forced to bid higher than the current minimum bid of .05 in order to keep their keywords active.

Read Article

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Local Search Getting More Granular

In doing a quick search for the San Jose Hilton, I noticed there was a fair bit of info available through Google Local, like how many rooms, whether pets are accepted, parking situation, etc.

It's not clear, though, that the hotel has gone into Google Local Business Center to enter this info. It looks like Google has pulled info from Superpages and MobilTravelGuide.com. Obviously, doing this is easier when there are existing info sources, as is the case in the travel industry.

So the "file" on this hotel through Google Local is getting more extensive, including rates, basic hotel information, and a cross-section of reviews (Google continues to pursue the path of "meta-reviews," pointing users to reviews from other sites like Yahoo and wcities.) That's exactly what users are going to want.

But many other types of businesses will need to be more proactive, since Google wouldn't know where to pull info from, if any is indeed available.

The big gap right now is simply in businesses taking advantage of the opportunity and posting their information. Without it, results are messy and hard to find, even for major businesses. (For example, within 80 miles of Toronto, there are about ten La-Z-Boy furniture galleries. The parent site does a good job of giving you product info, and you can look up physical addresses of dealers. But to find out anything about the hours of operation of the local outlets, you need to call. Argh.)

This is one of those "get ahead of your competitors" opportunities that small businesses should take advantage of now. In two years, everyone will have done it, and the playing field will be more level.

It still looks to me as if there will be two kinds of local listings players here: those who act as feeders of raw information to the portals, and the portals themselves, who will get the lion's share of the visits from users who will not tolerate hunting around various directories to get the info they need. Google and Yahoo are still positioned as premier info aggregators, and as such, they profit disproportionately from information they don't directly gather or own (though they can also gather and own content in their own right).

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, July 22, 2005

Image Search Knows No Country


Think about it. If you're a search buff, how often would you stumble across a site in a completely different language?

Latin to the rescue. Everyone (and no one) uses Latin.

Image search works by leveraging user tagging or by inferring the content of images based on whatever words the publisher assigns to them (or nearby text or tags). It would probably improve if a multilingual component were added (seamless to the user).

Anyway, I typed a search for "acer palmatum blog" and then tried Google Image Search for the same term. Using this latin name was unwittingly a way of getting results that seem to come from an international community of users. I stumbled on this amazing French gardener's blog (if you go to the home page instead of the "lien permanent" to this one particular post, it takes about 10 minutes to load but is quite amazing).

Search innovators should be thinking about this kind of thing. How to show relevant results (or images) even across languages and cultures?

World peace could depend on it.

Either that, or the south of France is invaded by several thousand Canadians fed up with shivering in the dark.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Deja Vu

Another 10th anniversary: this time, Lycos celebrating ten years of Tripod. Also, sister site Angelfire is "number one with teens and tweens." Who were mostly in diapers when Tripod launched!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Why I Hope People Will Read Seth's Book: "We Refrain from Hyperbole and Make No False Claims"

There are certain business books out there that you really worry about, because they do such a good job of unlocking certain secrets that you know your business might suffer if others get ahold of it (notwithstanding C.B. Macpherson's, Tim Sanders', and Herbert Marcuse's hopes that we'll all adopt "abundance thinking," reject the standard view of "modernity/liberalism as trade-offs," and turn into libidinally rational "lovecats"). There have been a couple I purposely haven't reviewed on this site because they are handbooks that explain how to build a certain type of business. Why tell people how to compete with you?

Then there is other powerful knowledge that you wish everyone knew about, like all the sensible work being done today on usability and web standards. I guess it's just a bit over the top to be so competitive that you hope your competitors' sites will continue to suck. The powerful idea of a positive user interface experience overwhelms any selfish view that somehow your company will out-UI the others over the long haul. Sure, get a couple years' lead on your competitors. But expect that they'll eventually iron out their foolishness by investing in that side of the biz.

Godin's new book, All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World, is knowledge anyone in my business hopes will percolate out to at least our immediate environment: companies trying to do a better job of inspiring customers to buy. "Liars" is a bit of a misnomer. Godin actually shows that the best companies tell a great story. The most successful people, period, have always told a great story. The backdrop of an evocative narrative is like the set for a feature film or Broadway comedy. I guess in showbiz they call this "production values." Without the backdrop, you're just a bunch of crazy kids doing improv. That won't work, unless that in itself is the story.

Many online marketers still don't understand that they need to tell any kind of story, let alone a great one. Godin marvels at the power of the story behind Kiehl's, which sells lotions and cosmetic products with insanely high markups. This is one of a few central examples in the book. For fun, while preparing to work with one of their competitors (to boost their online sales), I wandered over to kiehls.com. Now that site tells a story. Sure, you might be saying, but do their product pages convert? Sure, you'd want to understand how to make these pages compelling and usable, but it wouldn't be enough on its own. 38 bucks for sunscreen. If consumers are just shopping for a good deal, you have no hope of converting them. So it's that backdrop, that story, that conversion environment, that lays the foundation for a long-term business success.

With the right approach to myth-making (this doesn't rule out authenticity and basing your story on solid facts, as Godin stresses; in fact, he counsels talented myth-makers to use their power wisely), everything else falls into place more easily. Smaller companies can build on "little stories," like being in business for six years, or a physical location... anything is better than nothing. The power of telling authentic stories, for example, will be one of the things that really drives the growth of local search in the coming years. Very small companies will have ample opportunity to capitalize on their "touchability factor."

Certain master storytellers (liars in the good sense, because customers are complicit in wanting to believe there is something larger behind that pair of $200 jeans) can really clean up.

The challenge of doing this well is so great -- historically, the world has been divided into successful leaders and businesspeople who can tell great stories, and the failed ones who can't -- there is no risk in broad dissemination of Godin's powerful teaching. The more businesses work to create these value-enhancing stories, the easier it becomes for those assigned to specific marketing tasks to hit their targets. Why? Because your customers aren't rational (thank God).

Then there is always the counter-view that says that we're all immoral bullshitters who will likely burn in hell. A full review of Godin's book and some related works is forthcoming in this space (unless I'm lying).

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Internet Archiving Illegal?

A number of friends have been talking about the kerfuffle about the Canadian bill that would protect the copyright of web publishers against the archiving activities of search engines. Many have been forwarding the link to the CNET article and blogging about it. Most are outraged at this crazy Canadian attempt to make "search engines illegal."

Internet law expert Eric Goldman, though, suggests the article is misguided, because archiving activities might already be violating US law.

The article's sloppy title, "Cache a page, go to jail" is part of the problem. Search engines might coyly refer to "caching" pages when they are actually "archiving" them, as Goldman points out.

Caching is done on local machines or on ISP's servers in order to (for example) improve the speed of browsing. But such caching does not seem to break with basic browsing and copyright conventions.

Come to think of it, this makes intuitive sense. By allowing my site to be spidered by search engines, I give those indexes the right to point to my site, not to take and publish pages from that site. Google archives such pages, which is a great help when a page gets taken down, but there really is some question as to its legality. We all love the Wayback Machine, but do companies consent to having their content published by someone else? No. I realize that the content liberators of the world will say that this view is shortsighted, but I'm not talking about vision (and neither is Goldman), I'm wondering about what the law actually says.

It appears that Canada's proposed law is not so out of place with what is already on the books elsewhere.

Linking and archiving are two very different animals. One is directing people to content; the other is snatching up that content and making it available for your own potential business gain.

At the end of the day, though, it may prove difficult to prohibit archiving, since theoretically you could find many ways around it, like taking photos of every single web page in existence, and archiving those. Your Googles of the world are already out there taking photos of lots of stuff and figuring out new ways to "organize the world's information." Somewhere, there has to be a line between organizing information and violating copyright, though. Likely, the onus will be placed on copyright holders to put their content behind a protected wall, as if it were subscriber- or buyer-only material, if they want to avoid having it archived.

There are many gray areas in this realm, like with Amazon's "Search Inside the Book," and Google Video Search. I'm glad I'm not a copyright lawyer right now.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google Typo, or Getting Ready to Drop the Price?

When you go into the interface for Google's new Site Targeting, you see a message that says:

Want more control?

You can set an individual CPM for any of these sites.

Example: site.com**1.25

--

However, if you try this, you'll get an error message telling you the minimum is $2.00. At the very least this is a glaring usability issue. But maybe they're preparing to drop the minimum to $1.00.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, July 18, 2005

Again with the New Bottles... and Only $580 Mil!

Teen hangout MySpace.com kinda reminds me of Angelpod and Trifire circa 1998, which must make News Corp. into Lycos circa about-the-same-time... at least with regard to this purchase. Good background from Bambi Francisco, including mention of RagingBull.com founder Bill Martin's involvement in the growth path of this company.

Media conglomerate acquisitions of growing online communities have ranged from the modest (in 1998, Tripod was reportedly acquired by Lycos for a mere $58 million) to the stupendous (Geocities bought out by Yahoo for $3 billion, give or take a billion). The ones at the high end must be awfully encouraging to the ones at the "low" end.

It feels like we're in the middle of a VC-fueled cycle right now, one that's friendly to these kinds of growth plays. This is made more plausible when a real buyer like News Corp. shows up to validate these lofty valuations.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, July 14, 2005

But Will They Come?

There's a new directory on the block, Zenome. Duly noted. Promising, insofar as it's supported by a university, which is the type of institution that can run a search project on a nonprofit basis. But too early to call. If it there was any talk of innovating in the space, and if the university in question was a well-known high-tech hub, the chances of success would be higher. Stranger things have happened, but this looks like a longshot unless it gets major backing. Building a nice deck on the back of your house, with a couple of friends, is one thing. But a major "whole web" directory -- if that is even still a viable idea -- is more like planning a major subdivision.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




The History of Search Engine Strategies

For those who want to get more insight into these popular conferences, Danny Sullivan has just launched the Search Engine Strategies Blog. It includes a post outlining some history on Search Engine Strategies.

I attended my first show in March, 2001. Having exchanged notes through email with Chris and Danny, it was a thrill to meet them at the cocktail reception (Overture, I'm sure :) ) on the first day. They were then, as now, very approachable. I recall Chris was sleepy because he'd just about finished a book (The Invisible Web, with Gary Price). Plus ça change...

I've nearly lost count, but since then, I've had the opportunity to speak at a dozen SES shows, including two in Toronto, a relatively new addition to the lineup. It's amazing to see how busy the shows have become, especially since Dallas was moved to Chicago, and the Boston date was moved to New York. That Dallas show still stands out in my mind as one of the better ones, because you could meet nearly everyone in the room at breakfast. That event came nine months after I released the first ever ebook about how to succeed on Google AdWords (titled "21 Ways to Maximize ROI on Google AdWords.") One of the people I met at lunch, the head of a hard-charging, scrappy, heavy-spending travel site who depended heavily on paid search, expressed disbelief that I was the same guy who had written the document he'd been reading. "It's you? Go on! You're that guy?" And then he alternated between staring at me across the table and continuing to express disbelief that "it was really the same guy."

And then there was the San Jose show where Traffick.com co-founder, Cory, and I, got "recruited." The deal was, we sounded so smart over potato salad and microbrew, these fellas wanted us to drop everything we were doing and go to work full-time on web marketing for a small, one-location electronics store in Florida. Moral of the story: when eating potato salad, try to sound as stupid as possible. Works at family picnics!

Next stop: San Jose, August 8-11 (I'm speaking in the very first session, on new developments in contextual advertising). There's a load of new content programmed into this one, I see. By now, Google must be gearing up for its fourth Google Dance. Who woulda thunk. Can they top last year's t-shirts?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, July 13, 2005

TIME's 50 Coolest Sites

I'm belatedly coming up to speed on a well-researched feature Time recently did on the 50 Coolest Sites of 2005. They've got them broken up into categories, like News & Search, Entertainment, etc. Sure enough, the chosen sites really are some of the coolest and most significant sites around.

The selection of best blogs is pretty well chosen, if you're a zeitgeist-chaser and general time-waster.

They also do an interesting thing and put AOL, MSN, Google, and Yahoo in a "class by themselves." (We would, too.) There really do remain four top portals -- those four -- and the also rans, Lycos, IAC, are not worth the same ink. Right so far.

Then they give a rundown of the coolest stuff going on with those companies.

Uncannily, they list a number of Google projects in an order not dissimilar to the order I'd put them in, in terms of coolest or most significant or some combination of the two: Desktop Search, GMail, Picasa, Labs, Maps...

Case in point, Desktop Search. I'm still getting used to the ability to find any document on my system in under a second, even by entering a snippet of text you think is embedded in one of a few dozen possible documents. Desktop Search gives you a list of relevant results in a snap. It truly is a lifesaver.

Moving onto Yahoo, though, the picture looks different. Is it just me, or does Yahoo's list look weak? Music, MyWeb, News, and Briefcase. Briefcase?

Yahoo News has always set the industry standard, so fair enough. On the music front, Time's folks admit that if you have an iPod, "stick with iTunes." Faint praise. MyWeb is the coolest of the bunch, and has generated controversy about new search trends, never a bad thing as we come out of a period of relative apathy towards search innovation.

MSN only gets one entry in the Kewl File, and that's Virtual Earth, "which looks like it might top them all." This review takes Microsoft vaporware claims at face value (it's based on features that are promised) and studiously ignores all the things Google will do to top them, once Microsoft "tops them all." If that's the cool list for Microsoft, then they really must be grasping at straws.

Over at AOL, its, uh, portal gets a rave review. The company unlocks the gated garden, to many yawns (at least from our side of the fence). Also mentioned is AIM Mail (we've got 2 gigs, too!), and AOL Explorer, which is an AOL-ified browser that's supposed to make IE suck less. But anything that introduces tabbed browsing and spyware protection to the masses has gotta be good, no? I guess. :) On a short list of 50 sites that somehow makes room for the "Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calculator," they can't muster a mention of Firefox? Hmm.

Even bending over backwards to be balanced, is it any contest really, to determine which of the four biggies has the most cool stuff going on in 2005? If this keeps up, we'll have to stop talking about AOL and Microsoft entirely.

Over to you, Zawodny.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




That Giant Scraping Sound: Li on Job Search

Forrester's Charlene Li offers an in-depth analysis of Yahoo Hotjobs' new free job listings component, and the job search field in general. (Bonus for reading: Dave McClure of Simply Hired weighs in with a comment.)

It still looks like early days for job search. The vertical players are innovating like crazy, and it will take years before user behavior shifts to take advantage of all that is out there.

In the meantime there is also the question of the "rise and fall" of certain online career- development-related fads, such as the Free Agent Nation sites that arose when everyone and his brother was "going solo," seemingly for the first time in history. We'll see a revival of some of the online communities that rose and fell.

Li makes the excellent point that there needs to be some reassurance for job seekers that the results they're seeing are viable job ads that might generate a response, and for this reason, praises the potential for formally marrying social networking with job seeking, as with a relatively unknown startup called Jobster.

But on that front -- gaining user adoption of social networking -- there is a snag, too. There are probably five or six leading social networking sites, and there is really only enough mindshare to support two or three. If your experience is like mine, you've tried a few (Ryze, Soflow, LinkedIn, Orkut, etc. -- am I missing any? maybe another dozen or so? :) ), but one of them seems to have all the momentum: LinkedIn. Indeed, after combing through a bevy of LinkedIn profiles last night, it struck me that the sole reason for many folks being part of LinkedIn is to expand their professional networks for ongoing career improvment. The most common situation for heavy networkers appears to be those with solid credentials who are currently underemployed or taking a semi-sabbatical to focus on child-rearing between successful gigs.

(All of which reminds me of a story. A project manager at a niche interactive agency contacted me several times in my role as search marketer par excellence to learn a little bit about how we manage search campaigns, so they could have us partner with them on some client projects. Nothing out of the ordinary. And I am not naive enough to be oblivious to the fact that sometimes, the process of sharing that info gives the other agency the idea that they can handle the project themselves. Unbeknownst to me, though, she wasn't really seeking services to improve the bottom line for the clients of the company she was working (part-time) at: she was in the middle of interviews for jobs related to search marketing, about which she knew nothing! Several weeks after our last talk, I was included in a bulk email to all of her friends inviting us out for drinks to celebrate (a) her birthday and (b) her great new job heading up search marketing for a well known company! The moral of the story? Maybe there isn't one. Or maybe it's that there is karma in social networks, and if you "use" your "network" solely for the purposes of self-advancement, without returning the favor, the celebration might not last long. If you believe in karma and stuff coming back to bite you in the ass, that is.)

So this is the wild card in the new world of job searching: not a discrete event where you start to search through listings from scratch, but a combination of search and a pre-existing social network that can help you not only in your search for what's available, but which might help you get a word-of-mouth referral to get an interview. For those fairly well-established in careers, who have some consulting or advising gigs to keep them going, the networking method is a more natural way of initiating research towards that comfortable fit. Even the names of two of the three major job boards sound creepy and impersonal to me -- "monster" job board? "hot" jobs?

There are only going to be so many online social networks that people use for this type of networking. From here, it looks like LinkedIn is gaining momentum, which makes Simply Hired's decision to partner with them seem all the more sensible. It would make sense if that partnership were strengthened.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, July 12, 2005

WTF Watch, Cont'd

Jeremy is ticked because Search Engine Journal just quotes people and doesn't link.

Hey, we do, especially to content we enjoy. Thanks for the etiquette reminder, sir.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, July 11, 2005

Craigslist, Meet...

...Judy's Book. May you live happily ever after.

This isn't your great-grandfather's Yellow Pages! (But maybe your great aunt's...)

What a cool time to be in local search.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Portal Threat to Verticals (and how to beat it)

There are a lot of exciting developments in specialized search these days. Shopping search, job search, social bookmarking, classifieds, local search, and more. Quite a few startups have gained enough momentum to attract funding and followings of loyal early adopters.

The threat to these players comes mainly from the dominant portals, Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Verticals hit a wall at a certain point in terms of their enthusiast communities. To cross the chasm into more general acceptance (as a company like Paypal or indeed Google did), they need continued exposure from the main channels where people look for stuff, or they'll simply get bought out by one of those main channels, and get their exposure from within. Paypal got taken out by eBay. Google was truly launched into the stratosphere by Yahoo generously allowing it to be Yahoo's search results provider for a protracted period.

So the reliance of verticals (job search engines like Indeed.com and Simply Hired, for example), can reach a point of overreliance on portal exposure. If a portal player is interested in acquiring them, they can "play God" with the amount of exposure those vertical players get via organic search referrals month to month, as a reminder of who calls the shots.

After all, they can tweak results pages to send more traffic to their own internal properties, as Yahoo now does with Hotjobs (formerly an independent in its own right, acquired by Yahoo). And they can ape the innovators, as Hotjobs has just done in releasing a new "job engine" that resembles models pursued by the upstarts. Even if you want to pay for placement, Yahoo might throw up roadblocks -- they can exert editorial control over which keywords are even for sale.

Local search players like RedToronto.com face a similar challenge. Last week I talked with Roger Abbiss, Red Media's CEO. To his way of thinking, the need to buy exposure through competitors such as Google is not a barrier so much as a predictable and controllable cost of doing business. Still, it does feel like it's always a struggle to "get the word out" to potential users and advertisers for a vertical search property. What RedToronto.com does to get the word out, in part, is to call local businesses and ask them for their business, much as the Yellow Pages companies have always done. And they maintain that close personal contact and savvy understanding of those local businesses' needs. This approach is unorthodox in its use of time-honored sales orthodoxy. This proximity to advertisers "on the ground" may turn out to be the quiet "tortoise-vs.-hare" advantage that keeps listings services like RedToronto in business long after similar dot-com-style models have run aground due to a lack of advertiser interest and overreliance on portal traffic that can suddenly dry up or increase in cost.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, July 08, 2005

Want Your Page to be Popular? Just Add Water. (Or, 1997 Wine, New Bottles)

Danny offers a detailed explanation of how search marketers are probably going to try to exploit Yahoo's My Web 2.0. OK, I admit it, I'm a bit confused. Luckily, Danny sums it up by suggesting that what Yahoo appears to have (for all intents and purposes) accomplished is to create a newer-generation "FFA" (free for all) pages system... where a page gets to be deemed popular for awhile until other stuff pushes it down.

What would have helped me understand this brave new world a little better would have been some additional context comparing Yahoo's new product with some of the failed "P2P search" experiments such as OpenCola... or the shared bookmarking services (like Jonathan Abrams' HotLinks) that had the potential to make a real contribution to search in general, by offering a mechanism for those sharing similar interests to highlight and share useful content.

One thing's for sure, social networking and search already do overlap and can work in harmony. But the characteristics of the social networks themselves are going to be paramount in determining how well it all works.

If we're going to be following users around and basing "you might also be interested in" search results on what content some users seem to find useful, I think there is still something to be said for the idea for creating a slight departure from the quasi-democratic culture of the web, & enrol/enlist celebrities and topic experts (columnists, authors, etc.) to somehow participate as "more equal than others" content taggers. As some experts have long argued, metadata schemes are only as good, as trustworthy, or as coherent as the operators entering the categorizations and recommendations.

Either way (friends & citizens, vs. experts & celebs), featuring user-recommended content can work. You might go to a restaurant because a friend recommended it, or because a critic raved about it. On the other hand, you don't care what a friend of a friend of a friend thinks. Nor do you care what some random person thinks just because a machine identified them as a person with similar interests as yours.

Amazon's recommendation system, incidentally, is much less gameable... the notion that "people who bought this book also bought...." rests on purchase behavior, which cannot be cheaply faked.

Because friends' recommendations or habits can be helpful guides to helping users find useful content, it is tempting just to make the peer recommendation system stronger, to prevent glitches and gaming. However, the incentive to screw around with results is high, and with an expert-driven system, it would be more accountable and less open to manipulation. As often as not, what you get with "democratically-driven" search suggestions is bias under the guise of science. But isn't that what the search engine industry has been all about since 1995? Creating a system to "calculate" what results should be seen by the user... that's science. Expert recommendations are interesting... but they're not science and they don't justify multibillion dollar valuations.

The need for search to be grounded in "science" and complex calculations is a good story, so I wouldn't expect the SE companies to deviate from it anytime soon.

Yahoo's experiment should be hailed for what it is: an experiment that, while flawed, will help search get to the next level (whatever that is).

Back in the real world, though, we're just hoping we can convince the local bike shop to put their address on their website, and get rid of those frames.

And I hope this doesn't make me sound too clueless, but while we're racing ahead talking about the semantic web and peer networking and all, what are we actually accomplishing here for the serious business user, say, who is looking for new and important content to help them do their jobs? We cannot all play "search junkie" and "community enthusiast" for a living. So wouldn't it make sense to talk about latest-generation "clipping services" such as the corporate services side of companies like Moreover, etc.? Is the cool factor of file sharing (in the musical sense) beginning to trivialize the task of helping the average working person discover relevant content, do research, etc.? Those who are most likely to benefit from advanced systems to discover material on highly specific topics seem least likely to play around with the latest dot-com experiment.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Channel-Based Wholesale PPC Still on a Roll

A number of companies have been vying to help publishers run their own PPC auctions. MyGeek and Quigo have been a couple leaders in this area. This was largely pioneered by Sprinks content match, which operated on a "channel" basis allowing advertisers to place ads, mostly on About.com. (We can't call that one "wholesale," since Sprinks was owned outright by About.)

Some of these players have eschewed keyword bidding entirely, helping publishers sell ads to advertisers who simply want their targeted ads to show up in certain channels.

In Canada, Bell Virtual Marketplace is promoting a PPC program for advertisers wanting to appear on channels at the portal sympatico.MSN.ca. After signing up for an account, I discovered the campaign management interface is operated by BidClix, so count BidClix as another important player in this quiet little field. They aren't making as much noise as Quigo, and probably don't have the same technology, but it goes to show there are a lot of diverse online advertising deals out there, and a bit of room for companies like BidClix to do some solid business behind the scenes.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, July 07, 2005

Google in Your Walls

Google, Goldman Sachs, and Hearst Media have invested in Current Communications Group, which provides access to the Internet over power lines.

It's becoming increasingly evident that Google will need some leverage in the telecommunications sphere if it isn't to be out-gamed by more established competitors, such as Microsoft, who have strategic investments around the globe.

With a pipeline like that, could Google become your new phone company? Why not?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, July 05, 2005

More on Click Fraud Lawsuits

Eric Goldman takes the position that "click fraud should and will be solved through business dealings rather than in a court of law."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, July 03, 2005

Yahoo Paid Inclusion: Is this Story Authentic?

One reason many in the SEM business have been skeptics when it comes to paid inclusion is that it was that the claims made for it lacked credibility. Has anything changed?

I just saw the Yahoo Search Marketing (formerly Overture) newsletter, and the lead article talks about your "click shortfall." They ask: "Not getting the traffic you're expecting from standard web listings?" And then proceed to sell you Yahoo Paid inclusion, as if that will be the answer to getting more organic traffic. I would say "more organic free traffic," but of course, if it's paid, it isn't free. So scratch that benefit.

Yahoo lists features and benefits of the offering. Allow me to provide a reality check as well. As usual this is not me talking but the collective voices of generations of hardened SEM professionals and sceptical search engine lovers everywhere.

Benefit: "Fast and easy submission into the database that powers search results for popular search sites such as Yahoo!, AltaVista, AlltheWeb and others."

Reality: Yahoo also owns AltaVista and AlltheWeb and "others." [But no one searches on them.] And if you have to submit to it to be found, it isn't a quality search engine. They should discover you. In fact, Yahoo regularly states that its goal is to discover as much valuable web content as possible for inclusion in the index, submission or no submission.

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Benefit: Regular refreshes ensure that advertisers' most current pages are reflected in the database.

Reality: Any search engine that fails to keep its index fresh will lose market share. But should index freshness initiatives be funded out of your pocket?

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Benefit: "Quality review of submitted URLs ensures quality search experience for users and more targeted customer sales leads."

Reality: Ambiguity in policy created by potential ranking boost for paid submissions could land Yahoo in hot water with FTC.

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Benefit: CPC model provides high ROI.

Reality: Not as high as it would if the traffic were free. Yahoo's CPC pricing is arbitrarily set, meaning some companies will do wonderfully, and others poorly.

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Benefit: Larger companies spending $5,000 or more per month on paid inclusion get their own account manager.

Reality: We've already suggested that paid inclusion likely provides a ranking boost to participants as compared with non-participants, all else being equal. Now, preferred status with an account manager likely provides a further ranking boost and special advice on how to crowd out competitors, all else being equal, meaning that paying a little helps a little, and paying a lot helps more than a little. This doesn't sound like it dovetails very well with the purpose of organic rankings, especially given Yahoo's weak disclosure of the paid nature of results. On the other hand, if paying for inclusion doesn't improve rankings, then what was the point of it from the marketer's standpoint?

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There must be something good to say about paid inclusion, though, one hopes? Yes, to a degree, it actually seems to improve search quality, as Inktomi found when they went to the model in a move that basically admitted they couldn't weed out spam without this paid filter. As long as the commitment is strong to boost public-interest content such as relevant government pages or public radio transcripts on a query like "colorado housing," search quality isn't harmed by paid inclusion. In fact, paid inclusion helps Yahoo to pay for the cost of reviewing commercial sites and public-interest sites alike, keeping the really junky material out of the user's face most of the time.

At the end of the day, then, the user experience might be boosted by the adoption of a paid inclusion scheme. The only problem is, as a marketer, you probably won't get much out of it unless you're one of the big guys who can pull a few strings. What you're basically doing is helping Yahoo fund the human review effort that will lead to increased search quality, which means Yahoo's reported profit margins go up and their stock value stays high. Sound familiar? And doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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