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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Yahoo Mail Search Improvements

Now that folks are stuffing all kinds of photos, attachments and e-mails into their bulging Yahoo Mail accounts, it's getting a bit tough to find particular messages. In response, Yahoo has upgraded the Yahoo Mail search engine to offer: attachment search, dynamic search refinements, a photo view, and an attachment view.

Can't say I've tried the new search options, but they do look nice. What I really want to know is when the Yahoo version of Oddpost will arrive!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Hurricane Katrina

It's off topic, but please consider donating to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They're going to need it, and then some. The news out of Louisiana and Mississippi is looking grim.

Donate now

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Geez, the Search Guys Really Don't Talk to the Ad Guys, Do They?

Anyone in the SEO game is by now reading Matt Cutts' blog, and well they should. The "real insider Googleplex scoop" is so often what emanates from Matt - and for those of us who don't get to "that part" of the conferences, it's really illuminating reading.

I did scratch my head at Matt's helpful post about how to write queries. "At Google," he writes, "we use [ and ] to mark the beginning and end of queries."

Those of us over here in paid search world, of course, think [ and ] refer to an exact match in the AdWords interface.

So let's say you wanted to discuss the example of how I inserted the phrase algonquin park blueberries into Ad Group #7 - Blueberry Locales. Since in this case I put it as an exact match, I would want people to see the brackets. But adding Matt's brackets would make this [[algonquin park blueberries]]. Ha ha, OK, maybe it wouldn't. But I think it illustrates how we all get pretty tunnel-focused in our vision. People on the algorithmic side talk about underscores and hyphens in filenames, people in the paid search world talk about negative keywords and expanded broad matching [(what again?)] like they're discussing the weather.

Anyway those formatting questions come up a lot more than you'd expect. People who work in publishing realize this, fortunately, and are always around with handy suggestions. "Over here at McGraw-Hill, we decided to use bold to denote any user query or phrase in an AdWords account." :) Even that's not perfect because

"algonquin park blueberries" (a phrase match in my AdWords account)

would look exactly the same as

"algonquin park blueberries" (a phrase typed by a user if the user had included the quotation marks).

But at least these would not be confused with [algonquin park blueberries].

I think.

Maybe I'd better get back to Algonquin Park to reflect more on this. Have a good week.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, August 26, 2005

Gmail Opens Up in More Ways Than One

Yay to Google for opening up Gmail to external POP3 e-mail accounts. Sort of. Without fanfare, Google recently rolled out the ability to customize the "from:" address when sending mail through Gmail.

In other words, now you can send an e-mail from you@yourname.com instead of you@gmail.com, if you want. Why is this a big deal to me? Well, for one, that was the only feature stopping me from switching away from Yahoo Mail for good. Now I no longer have that excuse.

The new feature doesn't allow you to check POP3 mail through Gmail, but you can hack it by setting up a redirect from your POP3 account to your Gmail account. With a simple rule, you can automatically label mail from that account accordingly and reply as if you were managing that POP3 account.

Learn how to enable this functionality on Gmail's help page.

Once again, count on Google to offer a functional and simple solution that Microsoft would have spent two years trying to solve.

Oh, and Gmail is now open to everyone, too. The only catch is, if you want an account, you'll have to send a text message to Google requesting your account. Seems kinda weird to me, but I'm sure the big G has an ulterior motive relating to its upcoming mobile phone ambitions. Definitely stay tuned to that one.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Friday, August 19, 2005

Push Comes to Shove

MarketingSherpa has a study that newsletter open rates have dropped 10% in the past year, but I almost didn't get the message because I hardly ever read those emails anymore... which sort of explains why my company didn't make it into this year's SEM Buyer's Guide (Paid Search Version), in case you're wondering why Page Zero Media doesn't show up in Sherpa's guide to paid search management firms. I didn't get the emails, and no one bothered to call to remind me to apply for inclusion. I was told I could get into next year's guide. Meanwhile I still receive bulk emails from their affiliate manager asking me to promote the guide we're not in, so that my readers can buy consulting services from a competitor. Sounds like a great deal, doesn't it?

I'm starting to think that the root of all evil may be impersonal emails when a phone call would be preferable. (Mea culpa on this front, too, no question there!)

One thought: mailers who send 7 or 8 different newsletters to their customers are a huge part of the problem. With Sherpa, which publishes many newsletters, it's totally voluntary to join so many different ones, but as a recipient, it is pretty much a case of biting off more than you can chew. At signup time, it seems that your eyes can be bigger than your stomach. One solution: the publisher who recognizes this problem could focus a bit more on fewer newsletters.

I noticed something similar with MediaPost's stable of at least a half-dozen daily newsletters. Only in that case, by registering once, I got in for all six of these things. Six emails every couple of days from a single content outfit? Not in this day and age! I've unsubscribed from half, and am rarely reading the rest. Stuff like this just makes it harder for everyone else to get their email read.

In any case, the Sherpa study seems to be onto something: it's a case study of a marketer who stopped sending out emails "on schedule" to his customer base, and now only sends them out when he has something to say.

Let's go back to the Godin-coined principles of permission-based messaging: the communications must be anticipated, personal, and relevant. Frankly, even semi-anticipated and relevant will work. In the past three days, of all the unwanted emails I received, one permission-based one I actually read was a wine review column by Natalie McLean (Nat Decants). It's not only semi-anticipated and relevant, it's timely. It tells you when new "Vintages" releases will be available in the government-owned liquor stores (this Saturday in this case), and lists some great deals and provides tasting notes on releases that probably won't be around long. I actually paid attention to that one. Not only is this semi-anticipated and relevant, but it's personal in the sense that it's related to a hobby -- it's fun.

In the business world, there are just so many emails that we "should" or "must" (rather than want to) read, we just leave them sitting in the pile.

Most emailers have lost all sense of what permission-based marketing is supposed to do. Excite and delight.

On another note: too many blogs to read? I've got the answer! For the next week at least, posting will be nonexistent as I take time out to focus on long-term strategy and duck-watching.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, August 18, 2005

Google Builds War Chest for Proliferation of Non-Evil

What do you do when things are good? Roll out a secondary offering, of course. :)

Wow, GOOG shares are taking a real pounding as the market hears about this impending dilution. The company is now valued at "only" $77.5 billion.;)

At a ratio to earnings, that's not out of line. Looking at revenues, this valuation is rich any way you'd care to measure it.

I guess the big question is: by raising so much new cash, is Google signaling an intention to embark on a truly grand-scale initiative in one of the areas they've been studying? Will they make an acquisition that really makes people sit up and take notice? Or is this just prudent hedging, ensuring long-term stability, without actually knowing in advance what situations might crop up that might require it to choose between cash or stock in a given merger or acquisition scenario?

The latter is perfectly plausible, but aren't we overdue for a really big, bold announcement that will shake up the technology world?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I'm Surprised: No Mention of the Miva Contortionist

Harrison Magun takes notice of offline conversions, umlauts, and booth babes, in a light review of SES that seems perfect for a perfect day in August.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google Didn't Lose Google vs. Geico

As far as Judge Brinkema was and is concerned, using trademarked keywords in an ad serving system to trigger relevant, non-deceptive ads is perfectly legal. Google won that case. But as MediaPost reports, the Geico spin machine has tried to paint things differently, emphasizing the minor aspect of the case, keywords which actually appear in the ads. Google accepts that trademarked keywords don't generally belong in competitors' ads, and has systems in place to facilitate review of such violations.

At some point along the line, someone at a conference or luncheon is going to tell you that Geico won that case. It isn't so.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Google's New Keyword States Now Live


That wasn't so bad, was it?

Fear of the unknown now gives way to fear of the... known!

Sampling a few of the inactive keywords in one account: the first one I noticed said "increase quality or bid $0.30 to activate." That wasn't so bad, since I was already bidding $0.25.

The worst one I found, though, gave me a minimum bid of $5.00 to activate, on a keyword I was bidding ten cents on! I guess not! Now that must have been one heckuva bad quality score to merit a minimum bid of $5.00.

Now if only we could figure out exactly what went into determining the quality score.

In any case, the vast majority of keywords in this particular account -- in this case, probably around 98% -- are unaffected and have kept their active status.

By giving advertisers more flexibility and choice, Google has ironically created another "learning opportunity" that will be spurned by many advertisers. Since the new minimum bid system is new, I predict it's going to generate some yelling and screaming. I'd rather see Google tinkering in an attempt to improve the ad system, and endure the growing pains, than sticking their head in the sand and just sitting on a so-so status quo.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Quality Matters


Danny's fed up with the search engine index size wars, and proposes that the biggies duke it out on a more important front: relevancy (or relevance as we like to call it over here).

He proposes that they all agree on some sort of standard test and to have an independent institute or consortium run the tests.

I don't entirely agree on the idea of a common definition of relevance. Search personalization, for example, can take on a variety of forms. In theory, every user would have a personalized set of results sitting in front of them.

Language itself shifts over time. Definitions of what is true often depend on what scientific camp you're in.

But yes, in an enlightened world, scientists do need to accept at least basic overlapping truths.

So it should be possible to start with baby steps. SE's probably won't agree to anything, internally or amongst themselves, that highlights things like SE index spam.

But it would be pretty easy to (a) take a broad basket of keywords and (b) some commonly-agreed benchmarks for what counts as a "spammy page" (even a scoring system); and have assessments done by (c) qualified reviewers to come up with a determination of how contaminated the major SE's are with spam, on a diverse basket of keywords, in the top 20 listings.

RustyBrick over on Search Engine Watch Forums tried something like this, but IMHO it was too open-ended. I propose a slightly different approach to it that didn't ask raters to determine which engine was most relevant, but rather, merely count how many pages in the top 20 on the sample keyword queries exceed a certain "spamminess score." We're talking about scraped pages, redirects, machine-generated gibberish pages... the real nasty stuff, which appears on a great many queries where it shouldn't. It wouldn't necessarily penalize sites for using spammy techniques, though. If someone's participating in a link farm, or cloaking, or keyword stuffing in the title tag, but the page the user sees is relevant to their query and likely to lead to a desired result (gaining real insight from original content, making a purchase from the type of vendor they were probably looking for, joining a forum, etc.), then the page shouldn't be counted as spammy. Actually, SE's have been thinking along those lines, too. How often have you seen someone using outdated optimization techniques like keyword stuffing in titles and tags, and yet the page itself would have ranked OK anyway, and the SE's actually do rank it well without penalizing it? SE's rightly look past a lot of the stuff we might consider "spammy," as long as the page is relevant.

This type of exercise wouldn't require us to split hairs in defining relevance. It would give us a base to work from that virtually any sentient, rational being would agree on. If snippets of gibberish content are stolen from multiple sources to create a junk page whose only purpose is to generate a bit of AdSense revenue, etc., then that's obvious spam. Users aren't seeking pages of stolen gibberish content... ever. Nor are they wanting a redirect to a casino site when they type "fantasy football statistics 2004."

In other words... in the parlance of applied social sciences, we need to "operationalize" relevance so coders can actually do their jobs consistently.

Danny, Rusty, if you like this idea, count me into the working group. We could hash out a scoring system on what counts as a "spammy page," choose a broad (but confidential, to avoid gaming by the SE's) keyword basket, and round up coders to assess the major engines. This would give us a real "SE spamminess index" as opposed to a highly subjective "relevancy score." It would get published in the Wall Street Journal before you know it, alongside some of those other famous SEM indexes they've been kicking around lately.

Who's in?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Miva's Almost Out of the Woods

Miva got off cheap. With a one-time payment of $8 million and an agreement to license certain aspects of Yahoo technology, they've settled their patent dispute with Yahoo over paid search technology.

Miva, in about fourth or fifth place as a provider of keyword-based advertising, still has shakier financials than they would like. But it looks like they've turned the corner, after considerable energy wasted with restructuring and legal wrangling.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, August 15, 2005

Google Sandbox = Purgatory

Amusing post by Richard Zwicky on the physical representation of the Google Sandbox. (Did it really happen?)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




The Slow Erosion of User Confidence

User attention is finite. Online publishers have often yielded to the temptation of trying to grab a bit more than their fair share of it; understandable, given the profit motive. The result, though, can be either a tragedy of the commons situation ("banner blindness") or just a loss of interest in a portal's cluttered offerings (Excite, AltaVista).

Opening up My Yahoo today I was treated to a type of pop-up that did, to its credit, have a "close" box so I could shut it off. However, it was moving slowly across the screen, right to left, making it quite possible to miss the close button and click on the ad.

Analysts are fond of saying that Yahoo understands advertising better than Google, and particularly understands big brand advertisers. Maybe, but they've often been a bit fuzzier when it comes to understanding their real bread and butter, users. Yes, Yahoo has many users, and no, they're not going to abandon the portal anytime soon. But that user confidence can erode quickly once the tipping point is reached; death by a thousand cuts.

Google, also seeking revenue and jealous that others may be grabbing more than their fair share of finite user attention, is now testing three ads at the top of the SERP's pages as well as ad units with longer body text. It's quite possible that such tests will eventually show no decline in user satisfaction, at least on the surface. But the process of eroding confidence is subtle, so they ought to think twice about proceeding even on the basis of a positive test.

It pays to err on the side of caution, as Google's short history proves.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, August 14, 2005

Stonecutters' Power Diminishes: Internet to Blame

"Who held back the electric car? We did!"

This song is being drowned out by rampant forwarding of emails as motorists facing record oil prices demand higher-efficiency vehicles.

That's right -- demand. That concept that big companies have so often treated with contempt.

This guy spends $3,000 modifying his Prius so it gets 250 mpg instead of 50. And the Toyota spokesperson tries to shrug it off as similar to the most extreme "hotrodders of yesteryear" who were crazy enough to tinker with their cars to produce more horsepower, more bling-bling, you know, that whole thing. She then goes on to say that maybe, in the future, the hotrodders of tomorrow will be trying to get more fuel economy out of their cars. You think? And maybe it'll be half the auto-buying public, and not just a few zealots, who will want to reduce their dependence on costly, polluting gasoline power?

Well, guess what Toyota. It's the most emailed news story, according to Yahoo today. People want this. You know how to manufacture it. So do you really think you can sidestep rampant consumer demand by hiding behind misinformation and PR spin? Your premises -- that Toyota can't do it, and that people don't want it -- are demonstrably false. You'd have a better chance of reviving Steve Gutenberg's career than pulling the wool over our eyes on this one.

Related: Tyler Hamilton, a technology reporter for the Toronto Star, has devoted his entire blog to alternative energy.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, August 11, 2005

Is Google Getting Into Behavioral Targeting, or Not?

It's interesting to juxtapose the formal and informal statements of Google staffers (on panels, and in the hallway) on the question of making more behavioral targeting available to advertisers, with the reality that they are piloting just such a program, as reported by MediaPost.

Googlers frequently take a more cautious line about privacy and the use of behavioral data than some of their competitors, such as MSN Search, who are planning to roll out more demographic targeting options for advertisers. "Our belief is that your data is your data" is a typical Google take on such matters.

Ok, so how to reconcile that with proceeding with this pilot program?

Well, for one thing, this doesn't involve Google itself directly tracking user behavior or using private data shared by its own users. It appears that it will be a voluntary disclosure by publishers about the aggregate demographic patterns of their readerships. No offline publication could sell ads without that. If publishers do a good job of communicating that information, advertisers will find them through the AdWords Site Targeting platform, and their rates will go up. If they do a poor job of it, they'll confuse people and wind up being an underperforming part of the AdSense network.

By pushing ahead with this pilot with little warning, but making the fundamentals of the initiative more benign than they first appear to be, perhaps Google is hoping to spur rivals into doing something crazy and getting into backlash territory. Regardless of the motivations behind the timing or the design of the program, Google seems likely to pursue a gradualist approach that does less to implicate Google directly in privacy issues than the approaches that seem likely to emanate from more aggressive rivals.

Yahoo also seems to be taking a gradual but steady approach. It's definitely good for advertisers, but they need to take care that it's also fair to users. Many in the advertising business will push them to overstep reasonable bounds of user privacy. They ought to resist that pressure.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Secondary Sources of Targeted Traffic: All Part of the Game

Leslie Walker of the Washington Post homes in on what she terms web "clutter" -- sites and pages that may be little more than parked domain names with limited content and a lot of paid listings, not all of which are relevant to what the user is looking for.

The profitability of this type of advertising is what has induced holding companies like Marchex to roll up various domain name repositories. For Marchex, this is synergistic with their existing Enhance paid search platform, a second-tier PPC which, like all second-tier PPC's, can use all the legitimate keyword inventory it can get. Such sites also sign up with publisher networks from Yahoo and Google, so Marchex earns ad revenue shares from those companies as well.

Walker is sceptical of this class of sites, but the reality is, there is only ever going to be so much "top tier" online ad inventory -- Google Search, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Yahoo Search, GMail, etc. -- to go around. The secondary stuff lies somewhere in between this limited amount of prime inventory, and absolute dreck. What differentiates alternative or secondary traffic sources from utter dreck, from an advertiser standpoint, is the simple fact that it sometimes converts to a sale. If it sometimes converts to a sale, then the user isn't necessarily being led too far astray.

In our society, advertising is pervasive. Some parts of the web experience do involve interruption. All this means is that the Internet is not a special, private enclave like a university research library. Welcome to the Internet post-1994. But there is an invisible web for those who need to do serious research.

You can see the parallels in nearly every industry. Somewhere between junk bonds and Grade A corporate bonds, for example, are debt instruments of middling quality. All are priced accordingly.

I suppose, to force another analogy out of this poor keyboard for one day, without a marketplace willing to finance different schemes such as lower-cost townhomes, the ordinary person would have no place to live.

Walker's "let them eat cake" argument wishes for a simpler time when the web wasn't an advertising medium. Let's face it. The most important search and navigation companies rely heavily on ads. 97% of Google's revenues currently come from advertising; no small portion of that is through content sources and alternative traffic of middling quality. As a related post on PaidContent.org mentioned, there's no small irony in the fact that, surrounding Walker's article in the Post, there are cascades of annoying ads in various formats. Since content isn't free, sites like WashingtonPost.com show ads.

The "ad clutter" complaint has always been somewhat unrealistic as it relates to free content, although as a person who likes to read without being bombarded with highly intrusive multimedia ads, I sympathize. Remember when people thought ads in the margins of GMail would be intrusive! We're talking about a free mail service! To avoid ads, one option is not to use the service. Yahoo Mail users do have that option of removing ads by paying for an annual premium subscription.

One conspicuous place that ad-removal option does not seem to exist is on major newspapers' sites. They make content available only on a limited basis, then make you register to read more. Registration never gets rid of the ads. Maybe Walker's next open letter could be to her own company?

Another argument, put forward by insiders at companies like Google, is that the availability of ad dollars is actually providing an incentive for new producers of quality content to come onstream.

At first, the explosion of "ersatz targeted" content is messy, but longer term, advertisers will be able to apportion their dollars to the inventory that truly converts, aided by back-end data being gathered by companies like Google, Yahoo, and yes even Marchex. Crap pages don't convert, so they don't have an infinite shelf life.

Perfume.com and Credit.com are two examples of sites that are really just direct-navigation plays that would be content to serve a little bit of cheesy content to drape around advertising or product sales. But longer term, nothing says they won't grow into useful, extensive repositories of content along the lines of a Bankrate.com.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, August 10, 2005

At Least My Mom Loves Me



No sooner do I drop by searchengineblog.com than I find it trying to one-up our humble backlinks count here at Traffick.com. (It's easy to screw this up if you use the wrong syntax... but after checking carefully I conclude that Peter has massive linkage. OK, OK...)

Some other backlink counts of note:

sammysosa.com: 19

britneyspears.com: 340,000

kevinfederline.com: 2

kraneland.com: 2,750

cnet.com: 15,600,000

nytimes.com: 19,600,000

Long live the free press! (You won't always like what you read.)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




China Week, Cont'd

Yahoo invests a huge amount to take a one-third stake of leading Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba.com.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Google Authorized Resellers in China

Google has announced that it is endorsing three Authorized Resellers in China.

China Enterprise, China Source, and Hotsales have become Google Authorized Resellers and will provide sales and support for Google AdWords ads in China.

This is a special type of program that reportedly compensates the reseller companies with healthy commissions for selling Google AdWords to their clients. As Google compares it with a program in the U.S. where Google has partnered with BellSouth, it looks as if only sizeable agencies and other types of large partners would qualify for reseller status.

For those of you looking at the future of the paid search "ecosystem," I don't have to tell you how important this development could prove to be. Looking at the history of high tech, a healthy relationship with reseller allies around the globe is what has lent stability and longevity to a titan like Microsoft.

More immediately, it seems that the race is on for the Chinese market, and many major high-tech companies are going to be trying to crack that code.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




146,000 Backlinks Woohoo!

Some folks have been noticing that with today's announced "humongous Yahoo index" of 20 billion or so pages, the backlink count for their sites has gone up considerably.

Honestly, I don't really care how it happened. I just love the fact that this site now shows 146,000 backlinks on some search engine. Really, what IS UP WITH THAT!?!

Jakob Nielsen's useit.com has that beat, though. A usability site shows 235,000 backlinks on Yahoo. Geez.

But not all the blog pundits fare so well.

John Battelle? A piker, with only 18,400 backlinks.

Mr. Seth Godin? 12,000? Come on!

But if you want to get to know a real site, try searchenginewatch.com. Yahoo shows 587,000 backlinks.

But Zawodny trumps all, with a supposed backlink count of 651,000.

Or does he? Boingboing.net, over a million backlinks.

Should we start printing the t-shirts, or just agree that we all have a lotta links?

The fact that content sites have so darn many links, and seem to get more filthy linking rich all the time, underlines the potential futility of linking campaigns for small retail sites. One great e-commerce site I know sports "only" 3,600 backlinks in this new Yahoo regime. What earthly SEO good might it do this client to suggest that a linking campaign might boost his search engine rankings? Get him 200 quality links, and he's only up to 3,800. Yahoo yawns as the real "heavy hitters" in the linking dept. easily make it past 100,000.

It's perhaps a point to ponder. Content is king online, as proved by the Nouveau Yahoo backlink count. If you offer commerce, not content, chances are, the SE's will be less impressed with you than you'd like. So, as always, paid search will continue to be a reassuring constant amidst the roil of SE indexes and algos.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, August 08, 2005

:rolleyes:

Yahoo begins charging only for actual ad impressions.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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 Goodman




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 Goodman




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 Goodman




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 Goodman




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