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.
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.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
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:
Long live the free press! (You won't always like what you read.)
Yahoo invests a huge amount to take a one-third stake of leading Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba.com.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
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.
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.
Monday, August 08, 2005