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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 | | | Permalink

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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 ša 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 | | | Permalink

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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 | | | Permalink

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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 | | | Permalink

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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 | | | Permalink

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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 | | | Permalink

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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 | | | Permalink

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