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Saturday, August 06, 2005

My Favorite Rhyming E-Names

JotSpot
MobShop
ShopShop.ca
Hotbot
Lexis Nexis
RackShack
(What's your favorite?)

You were expecting a better post? It's Saturday!

P.S. This usability expert notes how difficult it is to rhyme "Jakob Nielsen."

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Yahoo Publisher Network: A One-Way Street?

Some great posts around the web following up on Yahoo's decision to extend their content matching ad program to smaller publishers, a la Google AdSense.

But few analysts appear to be looking at this from the advertiser's point of view. As things stand, content match option on Yahoo has the dubious honor of being "even worse than Google AdWords content targeting". If it continues to operate in its present fashion, it'll just be helping even more dubious publishers cash in on a few ignorant advertisers who don't track. Even if 75% of advertisers know what they're doing, the remaining 25% are still very good at over-rewarding weak publishers with wildly overpriced clicks.

Many times, I've heard advertisers tell me they've shut their entire Yahoo campaign down because it just ran out of gas, and was too difficult to manage. They usually say they'll try to get it back up when they have more time. The problem lies squarely at the product level. The YSM interface is just too inflexible and too unusable from an advertiser standpoint, as this recent salvo from a moderator at SEM Forums explains.

Yes, content sometimes works, as I intend to show this coming Monday in my presentation at Search Engine Strategies. But if your only management options are basically "on or off," you have little control over pricing or delivery. Some advertisers don't understand that, but a lot are staying away from content after nightmare encounters with it.

Google of course responded to this by releasing a CPM-based "site targeting" option. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of this program. It basically depends on the quality of available sites in the network as a whole.

The interesting thing is that Google's small step towards upgrading the quality of their content network indicates just how far they have left to go before they can deliver a satisfying media buy to advertisers in many verticals. At least, though, the direction they seem to be moving is towards higher quality and away from the "no-advertiser-control" regime. Yahoo dives into the smallpublisher ad serving market just as Google seems to be ever so subtly, but quite deliberately, backing off.

Short term, it means a revenue boost for Yahoo, and probably a leveling off of Google's AdSense revenue. But if either company is thinking about their long-term health, they will begin to hack off the diseased parts of the "long ad tail." Advertisers are watching and not necessarily liking what they see.

From the publisher side? Oh, sure, we'll give it a whirl. AdSense doesn't pay enough. Can't wait to sign up!

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Should Keyword Arbitrage Be Called "Click Pimping"?

I have a friend who calls keyword arbitrage - the practice of buying cheap clicks on one PPC engine and then collecting a higher CPC based on ads served (and clicked often enough) on a content-oriented site - "click pimping."

I take it this term is at the level of oral folklore only at this stage, and hasn't found its way into general usage (only two instances of it in the Google index, so if I've actually mentioned it here before, well sorry... I need Google's index to act as my memory bank...).

Well, good. I'm glad this silly term never caught on. (Sorry, Mike... really just needed something keyword-rich to post about today... and keyword arbitrage was it... hope you understand.)

Some points:

1. It's nothing new to buy advertising ultimately to sell advertising. There is nothing inherently wrong with a publication using search marketing for customer acquisition. That's not arbitrage, it's targeting.

2. In the case of sites that don't add much genuine value, the question becomes one of traffic quality. Specifically, how can these sites turn a profit if they are buying clicks and only a small percentage of visitors actually click on something? Unless their conversion rate of click to click is really high, they'd need to be getting $1 per click in revenue for every dime spent on clicks, you would think. Not really. Some of these publishers do have totally legit conversion rates of click to click of 50% or higher, because some of their readers might click on five or six different paid links, bringing up the average. However, a small minority of these sites are committing systematic click fraud. It will take more than sticks and stones namecalling or a slap on the wrist to stop these bad apples. They need to be prosecuted.

Click pimping? No. Call it what it is. It's either a perfectly legitimate targeting strategy, or in some rare cases, it's a cover for out-and-out click fraud. Calling it click pimping gives it a dangerous, nebulous middle-ground cachet that would serve to needlessly attract certain louts, and needlessly dissuade quality publications from buying ads low, to sell them high.

Pimp on!

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Monday, August 01, 2005

Behavioral Analysis: Is Claria Building the Next Great Search Engine?

[Hat tip to SE Watch for the story, reminder sent in SE Report #105. :) ]

Claria's RelevancyRank, a search technology under development, challenges Google, Yahoo, and MSN with a comparison of where they would rank the sites that RelevancyRank (based on behavioral indicators that Claria gathers by following users around with its adware) would rank in the top ten for the phrase "cheap tickets."

The demonstration shows that MSN, Yahoo, and Google don't rank a lot of highly relevant sites (as far as Claria and its advertisers are concerned) in the top ten. For those scoring at home, Yahoo "won" on the sample query, by a score of 50 to 40 (Google) to 18 (MSN). Not too surprising given the strong business relationship between Yahoo and Claria!

Maybe the "failure" of search engines to rank behaviorally-compelling sites as high as Claria does isn't the point, though. On one hand, site quality can definitely be measured by some recipe of indicators based on fuller analytics, such as time spent on site, etc. On the other, certain metrics (such as commerce-related ones) might not be the best ranking criteria.

Probably, a fair comparison would also point to which paid ads are ranking high on the top three search destinations, also, since part of the point of organic search is to show users sites that are deemed to be "about something" and not just "about buying."

Still, it is a promising salvo by Claria, especially if most of the indicators are based simply on metrics like repeat visits, click rates, and time spent.

Back when Direct Hit came out, that was the sort of thing it intended to measure, and some of us thought it could vie for supremacy or at least wind up in the top four or so search engines. Unfortunately it had no good way of doing what it set out to do, and after being acquired by Ask Jeeves, its methodology got folded into the overall search mix.

Because all the search engines intend to deepen their use of behavioral analysis, Claria's take on search may not be as novel as it first appears. Google can follow user behavior in several ways: through the toolbar, through AdSense code, and through Google Conversion Tracker and Urchin installations. Finally, it now has personalized search with search history, and the idea of Google "accounts," meaning as long as you're logged into some element of the Google network, they can gather info about your search habits and what you click on for certain queries. If you wind up on sites that also contain Google code, or if you have the toolbar installed, they can gather considerable behavioral data, in theory.

Google, though, doesn't gear its whole algorithm to these behavioral indicators, as Claria proposes to do. This leaves a hole in search as far as Google's concerned. For users who would rather see sites that conform to Claria's idea of quality, there is no way to isolate on that element of the Google algo to allow those "behavioral quality indicators" to gain more weight. The one-algo-fits-all system (in spite of mild personalization initiatives to date) is potentially going to feel quite constraining to power users, and eventually, to mainstream searchers.

What that confirms for me is that a "bake your own algorithm" search engine will someday do very well, and this will be spurred on by various competing takes on search such as Claria's, Yahoo's My Web, and other upstarts who will potentially remind the public that there is more than one view of what counts as "relevancy." The idea that every so often, a Dance is done to create a new centralized edict about what constitutes the best formula for ranking pages on a given keyword query, is beginning to feel stale.

I think Google's days as the Pope of Search are numbered, if the innovations coming down the pike from elsewhere -- be they behaviorally-driven, peer-to-peer, or something else entirely -- are anything to go on. Big G will have to adapt.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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