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Friday, October 07, 2005

Web 2.0: Dem's Fightin' Words

Apparently Terry Semel of Yahoo! had some not-so-flattering things to say as a wannabe portal, while acknowledging its leadership in search.

Google's PR response was bemusing -- they thanked Semel for the compliment and noted that competition would be healthy for the user.

No matter busy life gets, I simply must not miss next year's Web 2.0! It's become the talk of the industry.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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The Local Online Threat (Google + Wi-Fi, for Example)

The presence of localized free hotspots threatens, among other companies, newspapers, who would have to contend with online rivals who would have the ability to serve localized ads targeted even by neighbourhood.

Does this explain the ridiculous coverage and sly digs in newspaper articles about, say, initiatives like Google + Wifi?

One major newspaper last week (in the business pages - the business pages!) began such a story by describing the Internet - the Internet! - as a system that has been used to "peddle" everything from "Pez dispensers to porn."

What about "small pieces loosely joined"? A reduction in economic friction? Rising productivity? "Always On?"

Online companies' old media rivals find it terribly easy to contain their enthusiasm about this particular revolution in global (and local) communications.

Don't believe everything you read.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Cutts: Google Thinks of Ads as a Type of Search

Matt Cutts of Google posted:

By the way, there’s another quote from me in that Red Herring story: “If you view ads as a necessary evil, it will color the experience.” What I was trying to say is that Google doesn’t view ads as a necessary evil to make money. We view showing ads as another type of search–one in which relevancy is just as important as web search. To me, ads shouldn’t be this unwanted thing you have to show on the side of your site; for many searches, the ads can be just as helpful as organic search results, and we should always try to make ads a useful service to our users, not just a “necessary evil.”

Interesting. It's been obvious for a long time that ads are just another type of search in Google's mind, and perhaps more so lately. Rarely has anyone gone on record wording it quite like this, though.

I've been beating this drum for some time, challenging those random Adbusters and critics of the hidden persuaders I meet from time to time on street corners. The numbers -- user behavior -- tell us that many people consistently see the ads to be relevant to their search. Not always, but sometimes.

I'd elaborate a bit more (see elsewhere, in the Winning Results book) that the fact that Google didn't merely roll over and serve the wishes of advertisers waving fistfuls of cash was actually -- whether accidentally or not -- the reason they ended up making so much cash from the very advertisers they took a "tough stance" with as far as relevancy is concerned.

Cutts' statement is at once commonplace yet startling. Commonplace, because Google has built some kind of relevancy criteria (particularly clickthrough rates) into its ad program since version 2 of it was launched three-and-a-half years ago. But startling to advertisers grappling with the new ad ranking formula, because they are after all paying to show up in the ad space, and their positioning is increasingly determined by relevancy factors they don't understand or even know about. (Yes, of course the advertiser's bid does influence the position, but sometimes it takes an awful lot of money to show an ad that Google's system has deemed irrelevant to the user's query.)

Consider this, dear reader: maybe Google does offer "paid inclusion" after all. It's called AdWords.

Your participation in the auction, even with fistfuls of cash, is in and of itself no guarantee of any particular ad position.

As on the organic side, Mr. Cutts' little asides about ads seem to be worth their weight in gold to any site owner who cares to listen closely.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

First Ever Marriage Proposal by Search Engine


There's lots of search engine and advertising news this week, but this trumps all.

Barry Schwartz proposed to his girlfriend through Ask.com, via a special placement set up by the company. Ain't this the cutest?

I can't remember anything so exciting happening to me in cyberspace. Not so long ago, through GMail, someone asked me to meet them "uptown for drinks at 5 p.m.," but it turns out the email was for one of the seventeen other Andrew Goodmans whose emails sometimes come to my Gmail box.

A memorable day in search engine history. And no doubt to be cherished forever by the happy couple. All the best!

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Site Targeting: Already Givin' It Away

Early feedback on Google's fledgling Site Targeting initiative suggested that much of the inventory might even be overpriced at the $2.00 CPM minimum. Google subsequently dropped the minimum bid price to $1.00 CPM ($1.25 if you're scoring from Canada).

That's the current status quo, but yes, Virginia, smart pricing seems to be in effect in this program, too, as I've been seeing effective CPM's of below $1.00 in my actual stats. The lowest I've seen so far is 50 cents. That's getting close to the effective CPM I've calculated for one of my most successful conventional content targeting (or CCT, for those scoring from Planet Arcania): 25 cents.

This might not reflect the norm, since I'm looking at an experiment with a few mass-market "imacheapskate.com" type sites.

But it goes to show that no matter whether you're Doubleclick, Google, or a circus performer, you're going to have a hard time taming the content tiger. Performance and price seem to be under perpetual pressure when it comes to run-of-network content ads priced on a CPM basis.

Which, once again, proves that Google really did have a point when it came out with the original content targeting premise that computers might be able to do a better job of matching ads to content than humans can.

It also proves there are a lot of rotten sites in the network. Pricing it right is a start, but if the appropriate price is close enough to zero, it might be time to purge those sites entirely so Google advertisers can cut through the clutter.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Winning Results Book Contest, Revisited

Earlier I posted the following mind-bending quiz for any readers who wanted to win a free book.

One writer from Argentina has already won a book plus a bonus prize for getting the RIM question. (Nice going!)

But we didn't get enough responses because our contact form was broken last time around. Now it's fixed. Here you go again... I've reworded some questions. Good luck!

EASY QUESTIONS (general search oughta do it):

1. Before it was called Google, what did Page and Brin call the prototype of their search engine?

2. A British fashion site spent far more on launch parties, site design, and marketing than it could possibly have expected to recoup in sales. Bankruptcy came next. What was the name of the site? (Hint: not hiss.com.)

3. "I kiss you," or "all your base are belong to us" - which phrase has more mentions on the web? Why do you think this is?

HARDER QUESTIONS:

4. Co-founder of Excite Joe Kraus. What's his latest gig? Does he have a blog?

5. What did Nick Denton do before Gawker Media? What about before that?

6. (Search recent Traffick.com posts): What might a clever expression be for “The original incarnation of Business 2.0 Magazine”?

7. What search guru has the domain name calafia.com? Which former Google employee wishes he did?

BONUS (even harder) QUESTION:

8. Abba and Research in Motion have what in common? (you’re allowed to miss this one, but the correspondent from Argentina got it no sweat)

Now how exactly will the winners be determined?

We’ll use a proprietary scoring algorithm that includes the following factors: accuracy; rightness; randomness; obsequiousness; timeliness. We can’t reveal the exact formula. But at the end of it all, the two (or three, depending on user testing) best answers will get a lovely high-quality book. One additional bonus prize will be awarded if anyone gets (what our algorithm deems to be) an A+ result.

Shoot me your best try at my GMail account [username is agoodman] or use the contact form.

We'll keep this running for awhile, until we get answers, people!

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

ClickTracks 6: More Bling for Your Buck

[photo credit: "Bling Keyboard," Graham Anderson, via Flickr]

You've got to admire ClickTracks. Lately, the idea that the workplace is actually more productive when right-brained, visual, creative folks are involved is getting its due -- to wit, Dan Pink's recent book A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age.

I'm sure other analytics vendors have sometimes talked a good game when it comes to making reporting more intuitive and setup routines less onerous, but it was ClickTracks that made everyone pay so much attention to usability and presentation design in the current generation of web marketing consoles. They initially burst on the scene with a fervor perhaps matched only by Brett Favre staging an improbable touchdown drive.

From the demo I saw (of the Pro version), ClickTracks has found the endzone with the 6.0 release, and they've done it with style. (The "blue man" icon in the demo was sporting a big bling-y gold six-shaped medallion, and the title of the presentation was cheeky: "The Best Six You'll Ever Have.")

Substantively, I am impressed with a number of features. For marketers seeking to conduct A/B testing of landing page performance, an easy wizard facilitates setup of the test. Asked why the analytics firm didn't go farther to integrate the actual page creation aspects of A/B testing (a la Offermatica), CEO John Marshall wouldn't rule out either a future merger or future in-house development, but wouldn't go on record as saying the company would proceed on this front. It sounds to us like (if they do anything, that is) they'd prefer to buy, rather than build, this feature - I think such an acquisition would make sense because the acquired company would also deliver new potential customers to ClickTracks.

Many features are enhanced with helpful visuals. Mouse over a link in a report about page performance, and get a thumbnail of the page (so you remember which one it is). A/B test results can be packaged into a PDF overview to send onto skeptics in upper management. Segments of traffic are clearly demarcated by color bars and icons, and so on.

Minor, but still significant, improvements, include an enhanced "What's Changed" report, allowing better control over time periods.

A key improvement is the ability to achieve "dashboard-style reports" without being reliant on a proprietary Windows-based interface. ClickTracks 6.0 allows more to be done with a standard web browser.

As authors like Pink would likely argue, what starts out as a belief that better design helps us think about relationships in new ways, actually gives way to an understanding that right-brained thinking helps analytical folks to be more scientific, period. For example, rather than releasing a "sales funnel reporting" feature similar to that offered by competing vendors, ClickTracks chose to rethink the basic premises of how to look at the funnel. By not presupposing a typical, linear funnel pattern on the part of users, ClickTracks created a simpler form of funnel report that appears not to fixate on the entire funnel but rather offers an overview of what proportion of users tend to advance to a more advanced stage of the funnel from any given page or group of pages. While that still rests on a normative assumption about what it means to the marketer that the user "advanced" to a more advanced stage in the buying process, it doesn't assume a single path. Many users actually exit or back up from the funnel at different points; such that there are in fact many little funnels. Rather than giving up on the potential to achieve insight, Clicktracks designed their report to help marketers achieve comparative insights about the persuasiveness of certain pages, without them needing to wring their hands about "shopping cart abandonment." (Which, according to the Eisenbergs' recent book, is "not the real problem" anyway.)

In web behavior, the data are never simple, because user behavior isn't. So under the guise of simplicity and elegance in design -- Marshall says "we consider ourselves to be the iPod of analytics" -- ClickTracks actually allows marketers to look at the real complexity of their user behavior without feeling like the process is cumbersome. He claims that their funnel report would take two or three minutes to configure, compared with "maybe a day" for some competing products.

This is the apparent paradox of incorporating right-brained thinking into analysis: what looks and feels "easier" is in fact more penetrating. To go from mere "information" to "actionable concepts" requires more data, not less. An indifferent reporting package would make the task of organizing that data too daunting for anyone but maybe a fictional computer-brained blue man wearing a big gold medallion.

Segmenting users and avoiding aggregate data is one way to develop more actionable insight when it comes to web traffic. "There is no 'average visitor'," advises Marshall. "Segment as much as possible." For example, funnel reports broken down by new vs. returning visitors would show that different classes of users have "distinct ways of interacting with the funnel." That kind of data would inform and influence further site development and usability testing, for example, as well as landing page testing.

The "time split" feature is also a useful one, allowing an analyst to create a report to prove up the ROI impact of, say, a site redesign. A site archiving feature is included for companies that wish to keep copies of old pages on file to organize their thinking about the causal effect of "before and after."

The iPod of analytics? Taking a niche, geeky, difficult-to-use, data-intensive task and making it stylish, simple, and powerful? It's a no-brainer... or should I say, a right-brainer.

As for whether stylish CEO Marshall will have a 16-bit color Sharpie on hand to autograph your custom funnel report at the next trade show, I can't guarantee anything, but I wouldn't bet against it.

Version 6.0 of ClickTracks Professional, Optimizer, and Analyzer will be available to the public October 12, 2005.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Non-Microsoft Office? A No-Brainer, Methinks

John wonders why Google would want to "directly poke Microsoft in the eye" by teaming up with Sun on a software alliance that would offer Java-based products competing with Microsoft Office.

As enthusiasts, we've been yakking about the notion of a Java-based alternative portable office suite since we founded this site in 1999. But as a business owner it becomes even more obvious what the benefit is. The phrase "free productivity suite" fairly jumps out at you when you analyze the benefit to your bottom line that might be coming as Microsoft's monopoly erodes. Nothing in life is free, but a 75% price drop in cost in this sector would be huge.

Why would Google want to help users lower their computing costs? Is that a poke in Microsoft's eye? Hasn't Microsoft been poking us all in the eye for too long?

As to why this makes Google money, or whether it will awake a sleeping giant, it's clear the sleeping giant has been awake for some time, trying to stomp on Google. Google's no longer tiptoeing around, it's trying to weaken the giant by lacing its main meal of the day with something toxic -- in this case, the toxicity of price competition.

Microsoft had a monopoly, which is why they could charge so much for Office.

It's not clear how any of this benefits Google, but it's clear that it will benefit the marketplace. And isn't it all about fighting evil, "and the money will come"?

The giant isn't dead. His software led to huge gains in global productivity, for a time. But he'll have to cut prices if he wants to live.

Major changes are coming. They stem from one thing: money. And the ability of a monopolist to extract too much of it from customers... but not for much longer.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Open Content Alliance a Sight for Sore Eyes

Yahoo and others have announced a plan to digitize and make accessible library materials; a plan similar to the controversial Google Print initiative.

What's different about this plan appears to be a subtle difference in tone and pacing. The project starts with public domain material and material that authors and copyright holders "opt in" to making available. Google's plan was "opt out."

Perhaps it's now clear why recently I read two quite equivocal pieces on this general topic; one in the University of Toronto alumni magazine and another on the editorial page of the Monday Globe and Mail. The "on one hand, but on the other" treatment wasn't far off, now that we see where things are headed.

The University of Toronto is a major founding member of the OCA. With a few subtle tweaks, the idea of making information accessible now looks slightly more respectful of authors' rights. Yahoo comes off looking like "Mr. Nice Guy."

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Online, Ads Work Better When They're Search?

Interesting offering from Toronto-based Inoventiv. It allows advertisers to create a searchable ad unit, facilitating a "navigational" style interaction between the user and the site rather than forcing them to click through to an offer site unseen. (Example: dating site Lavalife.com would show an interactive creative inviting users to "search for local singles".)

(1) It sounds like it will be effective for certain kinds of advertisers.

(2) Inoventiv isn't the first company to realize that users respond better to content ads when they seem "navigational," but their presence is possibly giving a wake-up call to some major players which could continue to shape the design of online ad units.

One imagines that other interactive features could be incorporated into ads, too. A search is a type of quest for info, so what about the other staples of the buying process such as mortgage calculators, car lease calculators, and other such gizmos? Depending on whether they're proven effective, they could find their way into more ads. It's like taking an effective part of your website and moving it one step forward in the buying cycle. Intriguing.

Maybe eBay could run ads highlighting products and their current bid amounts, and time remaining in the auction...

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Speaking Engagement

See Andrew Goodman speak at eMetrics Chicago 2014

Need Solid Advice?        

Google AdWords book


Andrew's book, Winning Results With Google AdWords, (McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed.), is still helping tens of thousands of advertisers cut through the noise and set a solid course for campaign ROI.

And for a glowing review of the pioneering 1st ed. of the book, check out this review, by none other than Google's Matt Cutts.


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