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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Pssst... want a free listing?

Canadian business owners: Google Local Business Center is now available for Canada. Increase your chances of potential local customers seeing detailed info about your business: do this now.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Microsoft to Offer *Insert Google Copycat Here*

Hot on the heels of Google's debut of the bewildering new Google Base service, Microsoft says it too is vying for the distinction of "eBay killer" aka "Craigslist slayer" with its own entree to the online classifieds business, codenamed Fremont. Say, haven't we seen this before?

Everyone knows Microsoft has a well-earned reputation of "embracing and extending" everything that was once cool, but do they have to be so blatant about it? I mean, come on! The paint isn't even dry on Google Base. Nobody really knows what Google Base is going to be when it grows up, and already MSFT is copying it! I guess they'll be eagerly watching base.google.com, and as soon as a new feature is introduced, Steve Ballmer will pick up the red phone and give a command to a thousand Indian developers to start coding!

Of course, Microsoft denies the me-tooism. In fact, they say:

"We started this before anyone knew about Google Base. Having seen what Google Base is doing, I don't think they were aiming for a classifieds service," Wiseman said. "They don't have a taxonomy of listings like we do. They see it as an open database."

Somehow I doubt the sincerity of their claims about the coincidental timing. And what's with the splitting of hairs about the functionality of Base? You know, if it walks like a duck...

And not to bash MSFT too much, but their homegrown search engine is almost a year old now. Wasn't it supposed to have dethroned Google by now? Or at least Yahoo? And where is it now? Still in the low teens in search marketshare. That doesn't sound like a very good investment to me.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Kinda Jazzy: Yahoo Avatars

Yahoo Avatars in your email interface: irrelevant diversion or "free prize inside"? Hard to say whether this is the kind of thing that's supposed to distract users from the fact that even a Yahoo employee preferred GMail in his review, or whether it's actually an advantage to tailor web offerings to the lifestyley crowd (translation: kids?).

As a client asked me pointedly this morning: "why's Google's stock so much higher valued than Yahoo's"? Hmmm. Fundamentals matter. Yes, sales and profits. But what underlies that, still: search engine usage market share.

More on that later.

But back to Zawodny's GMail vs. Yahoo Mail review. A direct quote: "I've decided to continue using GMail as my primary vehicle for sending and receiving personal email. A copy of everything still goes to my server (and then to Thunderbird) just in case." Surely this must be satisfying news to GMail's developers.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, November 28, 2005

Amazon's ProductWiki


A little back-talk to Google Base brewing, perhaps?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tired of Drudge-ry?

What does the founder of Craigslist do for an encore?

Craig Newmark, dissatisfied with today's fair and balanced mainstream media, starts an online journalism company.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, November 27, 2005

But Can He Sing?

Gord Hotchkiss jots down some amusing, if slightly unsettling, observations about the cult following surrounding certain Googlers at certain industry events.

On the one point, though, about a spammy page that was brought to Matt's attention, and it probably being penalized after Matt got a look at it... I'm puzzled. Is this how Google catches spam pages? If the attempt was clumsy and stupid, as Matt implied, how come it was ranking? Shouldn't Google's algo, not Matt, be the one to weed out the clumsiest black hat efforts?

Meet Google: the world's largest human-edited link collection. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Dreaded "No Referrer"

If you're selling big, bulky items that cost in the hundreds or thousands of dollars -- especially if it's a business-to-business transaction -- you probably know it's impossible to accurately track every sale or lead back to the initial online search that ultimately generated the sale. We can discuss the obvious reasons in the technology and user behavior: cookie deletion, latent purchases, difficulty of tracking phone sales, users with multiple computers, etc.

But for some reason, after doing all that, we go ahead and misinterpret our stats anyway. We still discount or downplay the latency in major purchases. For example, looking at the sales we do have data for, we can see that 90% of our conversions happen within two days. The remaining 10% are spread out over weeks later. Maybe 0.5% happen near the end of our (let's say) 60 day cookie period.

So we take that 0.5% and twist it around to suggest that 99.5% of our sales come in a fairly short time period after the first ad view (even when that makes no intuitive sense). And we stop thinking about the 50% of our conversions that say simply: "no referrer." Are they direct navigations? (If so, why? Who?) Is it a problem with the analytics package?

Plain and simple, I'm convinced a lot of these are latent conversions and word-of-mouth referrals and they are direct navigation.

Throw in a twist. I finally got around to proceeding with the purchase of a bulky $700 item for the office. Because my bookmark was on the office desktop, and not my laptop, I needed to do a search to remember the name of the best company in that space... one that I'd discovered after a bit of research. I immediately saw them in the "blue background" sponsored listings, in 2nd spot. Knowing that spot is probably costing them $2/click, I probably didn't want to cut any further into their $200 profit margin. I had already cost them $4 with previous clicks, after all. So instinctively I opened a new tab and navigated directly to their site. Depending on how sophisticated their analytics is, I became a dreaded "No Referrer" customer.

The original (and subsequent) referrer, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was Google AdWords.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, November 24, 2005

Life's Too Short

Seth reports that a seventy-year old friend of his father's doesn't know what an MP3 is.

That's nothing. I recently talked with with a Googler, approximate age 28, who had never tried an RSS reader, and didn't seem to know what the point of it was. I met with a young (30ish) marketing manager who knew everything, especially when it came to search, analytics, and everything online. Except that she'd never used local search. Never used a comparison shopping engine. (Didn't even know what the latter was.)

Both are in stable condition, with vital signs healthy, and resting comfortably.

But seriously. Maybe it's about time you Web 2.0'ers got over yourselves. 1.5 hasn't yet penetrated. And people are too busy for your "must haves".

Related: Ignoring Useless Information Aids Memory

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Gaggle of Googles

Google - and the ad platform in particular - has released so many little upgrades, it's going to choke poor blogger. Gary, Jen, John, John, Greg, and ... the others... have duly updated you on some of the major improvements. (I'm offering my commentary shortly to Page Zero Advisor newsletter subscribers.)

What's spooky though is how all of a sudden a bunch of small upgrades have been released seemingly all at once, without being announced. One case in point, it now seems easier to use the geotargeting feature in AdWords for new campaigns. The "radius targeting" now allows you to pull the map around to get the coordinates just right, and it shows your area so you're not guessing (see image at right).

That's one example of a feature that is still vastly underutilized. Most advertisers are barely aware that it exists, let alone understanding the mechanics of techniques that might help them make the most of it.

And did we mention pay-per-call, separate content bidding, an obscure nameless easter egg feature that I don't wish to comment on but would like to thank Google for adding apparently in response to a wish list entry I think I posted long ago at Webmasterworld and SE Watch Forums...

There is much to be thankful for indeed. If you celebrate Thanksgiving, enjoy!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, November 21, 2005

Telidon, 25 Years Later

redCity, a Toronto-based local search engine, does a deal with Bell Canada to put local searching at people's fingertips on 60 free Internet kiosks, mostly at the airport. Welcome back, Telidon. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, November 20, 2005

Urchin Lurching Ahead: Forced to Close New Registrations

Gary notes that Google Analytics is having to temporarily close new registrations due to heavy demand.

Interesting point that it's a good marketing ploy to "close" something due to "heavy demand," but I can tell you when I tried to access Urchin lately it was deadly slow, and this was for a client who was an earlier paying customer! Part of paying for a service (even if you'll no longer be asked to pay), I assume, is a promise that the service will be available and not swamped by "free" users. I have no trouble believing that Google really needs to take a breath here before they let everyone on the planet sign up. Even for Google, that's a lot of data to process, and a lot of logins at once.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Note to Everybody in the Sector


Real-life scribblings from a recent panel on "Internet Search," held in Puget Sound. Apparently one Microsoft employee has concerns!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, November 19, 2005

2005 vs. 1968


Recently I had the pleasure of dining at Google's NY headquarters (not pictured at right). It was a modest-enough cafeteria setting, albeit with topnotch food and of course great company!

Prior to that, I had the curious experience of viewing a few analogous scenarios at Old Media companies. Here, you could glimpse dozens (what seemed like might be hundreds in a good year) of company execs settling down to leisurely lunches in lavishly-appointed dining rooms.

In related news, a recent article about Yahoo! (was that in Business 2.0 or Fast Company?) revealed a rift that runs deep in that company, between rank-and-file and new economy bred execs, and the new Hollywood talent (like VP Lloyd Braun) that has been parachuted into the company.

Geek perks lavish? Not compared to the value they add to the economy. Not compared with those other guys.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, November 17, 2005

Why Ad-Supported Business Software Won't Work

I think the hand-wringing over software companies searching for new business models is a bit over the top. Sure, we'll continue to see application that can be run as a hosted service continue to move online and proliferate.

But... business software supported by advertising? Not gonna happen!

Microsoft, in its typically greedy fashion, seems to be trying to find every way possible to get ads in your face, now that they've caught the pay-per-click advertising bug. I think this will inevitably turn out to be another case of vaporware or a scare tactic against competitors, and here's why.

Business applications are designed for specific business purposes that require concentration. And business managers tend to want their employees to focus on the task at hand. Advertising, when not in a helpful pull mode, is disruptive.

Pay-per-click -- and even content-targeting -- ads work because the user initiated the action that led to the ad being placed in front of his eyeballs. Those pesky text ads might be just what the user was looking for.

But if you 're working on a spreadsheet of your company's financials, the last thing you need to see is an ad for a CPA that will launch a web browser and take you away from your task. It's just distracting. If you are looking for help with a spreadsheet, you'll search the web, right?

So, it's a neat idea, but the idea of ad-supported business software is a non-starter.

But, I could easily see certain consumer applications, such as photo-editing software, being ad supported. What apps could you see thriving on this model?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




All Your Base Are... Oh Yeah, Someone Else Used that One Already

Don't rule out the idea that Google Base is just an elaborate ruse for Google to sneak into two or three particular biggie verticals, like automotive. (Sample search.) :)

Has nothing to do with eBay though. Nah. Nope. Heck, you can post recipes on there! The Dead Sea Scrolls! Your son's used baseball glove! Maybe your car! Your Bryan Adams collectible votive candles!!!!

Nah, no relation whatsoever to eBay.

To be serious for a moment, does this mean Google will toss Froogle into the dustbin of history, as a weak first draft?

Another thought: Gary (great post) asks where the revenue stream is. Hmm. Could this be a paid inclusion model? Where eventually you'll pay per click or something? That would be pretty audacious, Google offering paid inclusion when they said all along they wouldn't. Hmmm....

I tend to disagree a bit with Gary that the whole process is going to be too cumbersome for average sellers. eBay takes a little bit to learn, but the payoff can be enormous. I have a friend who has a boss who won't do the web thing, so the friend started posting pics on eBay of the high end equipment they liquidate, and keeping a % of the sale whenever they make one. He does this in his spare time. I'm sure the potential upside of a service like Google Base, to those who stand to generate steady sales, would more than justify dabbling in a bit of extra work learning how to upload and label so-called "content".

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Organic Search Rankings on the Move, or Pink Hats Meet Green Hats

What goes up, must come down?

I'm hearing feedback that makes Jagger sound a lot like how we described Florida. But it might be an even stronger brew (Jäger?).

Google's algorithmic update is getting most of the ink, but Yahoo also came out with its own weather report. We're hearing less buzz about this one, but here too, hundreds of thousands of businesses may feel the impact. We can see from the comments that many businesses have lost many of their pages from the index, and one called Perfume.com has apparently been completely banned. A major insurance comparison site I know gave up trying to understand why all their pages got indexed by Google and rank well, and very few in Yahoo, and rank poorly... so they just paid for inclusion in Yahoo, and it got them in right away.

It remains to be seen whether history will judge Yahoo "Weather Report for November 2005" to be more brutal than Google's infamous Jagger, Florida, etc. updates. Clearly they both affect a lot of people.

In any case: imagine you're sitting there with total control over the search engine ranking algorithm - or even partial control over it. If you're the user, you might skew it towards "research" and away from "shopping" ... some of the time, or always. You can do this right now if you play with the personalization feature in Yahoo!

Some of these algorithm updates are simply about that. About reorienting the algorithmic emphasis in a fairly far-reaching way.

Some are suggesting that Jagger is mostly about weeding out common spam techniques. Clearly, there is nothing new at all about ferreting out new ways of adding hidden text to documents. Those who think their short-term gains in rank entitle them to anything long-term are misguided, especially if they're cheating the engines. Most hardcore spammers know and expect their creations will get dumped from the engines, and they're fully prepared to reset and start again.

It's not the black hats who will be the hardest hit by these sorts of updates. Nor will it be the "white hats" - if white hat, to you, means creating a blog or an information portal and virtually divorcing it from any effort to directly sell a product or service.

It'll be the "rose hats" -- or at least those with special rose-colored ranking goggles installed -- that get hammered in many cases. Businesses who achieve certain ranks in the index, and believe they got there on merit and thus deserve to stay where they are.

Why "deserve"? If you try the little personalization slider on Yahoo, or investigate the various ways SE's could tweak the mix of results, you'll see that in fact it could be much harder to rank if you let the user decide the algorithmic mix. For now, search engines might be much more lenient on the local furniture store's ranking than some other type of judge might be on an average day. Maybe search engines will use machine learning to filter out certain kinds of commercial enterprises in the organic listings, if it becomes increasingly apparent that the average searcher is looking for some other type of information.

Try this: go to Yahoo! Mindset and type in a query like "divorce settlement." Then take the slider (you'll need to let the technology build a database for a few seconds) and move it all the way over to the shopping side of the dial. Take note of the rank order of the listings. Then slide it all the way over to the "research" side of the dial. Presto -- different search results. The concept of a "single" search engine index with a single way of ranking everything is dying, to be replaced by personalized search in various forms.

So it's not just a matter of search engines just weeding out a few spammy pages. They're also moving the slider around, as it were, on different aspects of the algorithm, and then measuring how loudly business owners and webmasters scream in response, as well as the impact on revenues.

And no question about it: updates like Florida and Jagger seem to be coming at a time right close to Christmas when the impact on businesses seems greatest, and their incentive to buy paid listings will be irresistible.

Assuming there is another loud outcry, you can expect Jagger to be watered down some in a month or two. But it will have achieved two intended effects: removing spam and reminding business owners to buy advertising on the search engines.

While many users happily avoid commercial messages, some of your customers will be directly searching for you where they know you're a business and want you to be: in local search, in the ads near search results, on eBay, in shopping engines, and so on.

No one ever said you were entitled to free search rankings as a substitute for having a great product and an advertising budget to support that. No one. Ever. Search rankings are great public relations, and you'll get your fair share, if you do the right stuff. But they're a bonus.

This brings up another twist: with Yahoo! Search, it seems more likely that you'll continue to be able to pay for inclusion (as you can now) in the organic rankings to avoid, in essence, being "Jaggerized." On Google Search, then, you have no paid recourse for organic rankings (unless you pay a spammer, which might backfire on you or definitely will backfire on you, depending on your company). On Yahoo! you get the feeling that something is different; that the gap is widening in philosophy. Google wants to stick to the idea that search results aren't for sale. Yahoo pays lip service to this, but seem to be deepening their commitment to paid inclusion as a tool rather than backing off on it.

I fundamentally disagree with paid inclusion. I wish it would go away, because it would simplify life and make organic rankings free, the way "they're supposed to be." But I'm increasingly convinced that there is very little "supposed to be" in the search marketing world anymore - nothing truly organic, nothing genuinely natural. Search technology in the abstract is still a thing of beauty and power. But you're reading this because you're a marketer, aren't you? If so, you must be pragmatic. If the hat fits...

Paying for inclusion in the Yahoo! index, then, is just a different shade of unnatural that might be a sound move for many enterprises with a stake in seeing guaranteed indexing in Yahoo's search index.

And to conclude with some sobering food for thought for you search marketing diehards. At some of the seminars I teach, only one or two hands go up when I ask who has heard of "Florida" as it relates to search marketing, Google, etc. These are evidently not hardcore SEO's, but the point is, they're corporate folks with an abiding interest in their search engine visibility. And they don't know that updates like Florida and Jagger can blow the hats right off even the feistiest player. The world, then, is full of people who see the search engine ranking game as a to-do list that is easily followed. In other words, they are thinking in terms defined long ago, in 1997 or earlier. There is a lot of education to do. And a lot of rose hats need to change over to some other color: white, gray, even black maybe. Or, my favorite SEM hat color: green.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Biggie Verticals

There's some buzz today about the size of the travel vertical in the overall ecommerce picture. Indeed.

Last night I was lucky enough to sit with two eBay'ers at dinner. They asked us to guess what was the #1 category for them by items sold. Trying to be extra clever I guessed sports card collectibles. Someone else just guessed "collectibles." According to them, the right answer is apparel! When I proceeded to tell the first half of an off-color joke about used clothing, they told me they'd have to tell me a funny story... but not in the restaurant. Never got that one out of them. :)

And according to this same "research," the biggest item for eBay by total dollars spent is automotive (eBay Motors).

That reminded me: Google recently had a breakfast seminar on the trends in automotive sales & marketing online, in Toronto. What are they up to?

So there's your biggie verticals roundup!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, November 14, 2005

It's Free Day!

1. Sweathogs ascendant. AOL to offer old TV shows for free, but also Tivo-proof.

2. Google frees Urchin, thus dropping the other shoe on the ongoing saga of Google's entry into the analytics space. The usual pros & cons apply: free is good, integrated is good (maybe even very good), but giving Google your private business data? Priceless... to Google that is. Buyer (freeloader) beware. I do concede that telling buyers to beware of a free product might be a slightly quixotic refrain at this stage of the game.

In both cases, we watch and wait to see what the other, other shoe might look/feel like.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, November 12, 2005

You Know More Than You Think...

It's not yet four years that Google's been running the PPC version of AdWords.

It really made me think back to Day 1 of the program when I read Dylan Parker's blog entry from that day. Parker was a web developer who wrote of it: Apparently they are positioning themselves to compete more directly with overture.com. "Who?" you ask? That's what I thought as well. I had never even heard of these guys. Apparently they make a bundle every year from selling search results hits to the highest bidder. They've got ties into the results of AltaVista, Lycos, MSN etc etc etc..

A blast from the not-so-distant past, when few in Silicon Valley or elsewhere had heard of this "Overture.com" that Google planned to compete with. And those SE names! AltaVista! Lycos! Parker was still getting his news from an AP feed on Excite.com.

Only nine months later, Parker began blogging of his new job... at Google.

(I stumbled on his blog because I saw his recent post on the Official Google Blog. And I came across *that* not because I watch this blog like a hawk, but because it showed up as a "related headline" in the margins of my GMail account. Whew!)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Well, Isn't That Silly

I made it to London, and sitting here in a Starbucks I thought there probably couldn't possibly be anything relevant to blog about, since I haven't done anything search-related or talked to a soul yet. And posting about the Maserati that keeps circling around Gloucester Road station, or the sunny weather, or the cute dog that just walked by, just won't cut it.

Well how 'bout this: since the wireless service in the coffee shop is run by t-mobile, here I am in the heart of London trying to use Google, and it defaults me to the German home page. I then type Google.com into the address bar. Same. Eventually I find the link for "go to Google.com in English." Wacky.

Speaking of Hotspots, I am keeping score:

International transit area in Warsaw airport: free wifi, and inexpensive Polish vodka at the duty-free.

Laguardia: You'll pay for it.

Departure lounges, Terminals 1 through 3, Toronto Pearson Airport: even in the beautiful new $300 trillion Terminal 1, a complete absence of wireless Internet connectivity.

Is it just me, or does much of what passes for commerce in airports have a decidedly "B2C" flavor, in a venue loaded with business travelers?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, November 10, 2005

AutoBlog Says "Hey Stoopid" to GM's Ad Agency

It's funny, and it's about advertising, and about industries that are slow to change, thus it qualifies to be posted here.

Excerpt from Autoblog's take on General Motors sexist madness:

The stupidity starts right on the first inside page, with bold print proudly proclaiming “Boys play with trucks. Girls play with dolls. Let’s start there.” Things don’t get any better. The whole thing just reeks of ad guys who are trying to act tough, when we know damn well they’re not driving pickup trucks to their chest-waxing appointments.

It doesn't lose any steam from there. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Visionary Joins the SearchBlogO'Sphere; A New Keyword Tool Joins the Fray

All I can say is: great post Chris Zaharias! on the implications of Yahoo! potentially factoring CTR into their ad ranking formula in 2006.

It's not every day a visionary joins us in the SearchBlogO'Sphere. OK, maybe visionary is the wrong word, given Chris' history as described by him. But I'd rather try to look ahead one year than three, since in this business the latter is nearly impossible.

In other (not unrelated) news, sitting next to Kevin Lee at ad:tech is a useful exercise. He was playing with the new keyword tool available to those who are early MSN AdCenter clients. Whoa! Some of the features are a bit better than Google's, Yahoo's, or the available third-party tools. Real life data for any given searchphrase is available. I liked the monthly "trend report." You could be looking for "delta dentists" and seeing how many searches there were day to day - typically, there were notable weekend troughs in search volume (apparently people have a life, backing off their search usage on weekends even when it comes to searching for non-work stuff). Of course, you could always get this data more or less by actually running an AdWords account and tracking impressions, but the MSN group have added a couple of easy-to-use reports that make it cool. Moreover, MSN's keyword tool gives you fun demographic breakdowns. For those users for whom this info is available (through Hotmail mostly, I'm assuming), MSN Adcenter gives you a pie chart for the age groups (for example) searching for this keyphrase, and one for the leading city locations from which such searches are initiated. ("Delta Dentists" is most searched for in Los Angeles.) Not bad for 6% search market share. :)

Notwithstanding great efforts by Miva, Kanoodle, Enhance, Quigo, and other second-tier players, this three-way competition amongst three paid search heavyweights bodes well for advertisers -- better than the two-way competition we've seen thus far, which has tended to produce a mix of innovation and obtuseness.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Peru is Overrated

It may surprise you to learn that online mapping excites people so much that there are even blogs devoted to it... such as Google Maps Mania.

It might surprise you even more to learn how many programmers have already created applications based on the mapping technology. This post mentions a game of Risk that uses Google Maps.

The problem is, it's way too easy to think of ideas similar to this. (I'm thinking of one right now.) This stuff is addictive!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, November 06, 2005

Why Marketing is Hard

It's Sunday.

Will I:

  • Watch the football game?
  • Do yard work?
  • Catch up on work work?
  • Work on my presentation for a conference and pack my bags?
  • Go for a run?
  • Watch this TV ad about Chuck Schwab, or reach for the remote?
  • Spend more time with family?
  • Read RSS feed #52.3?
  • Search for a BENQ projector? Buy the projector? Buy a competing product? Do nothing?
The attention deficit is very real - see Chris Tolles' great post on this. Meanwhile, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem is studying ways of making us pay more attention to golf in November. But isn't Finchem fighting the attention deficit? Isn't that just a zero sum game, a game where you want to take a bit more attention away from 30+ football teams, 30+ hockey teams, 30+ basketball teams, 5,000 shows, 10,000,000 movies, 10,000,000 websites...? Better Finchem sticks to preserving the greatness of what he's already got, rather than asking people to care about golf during football season. Even better, for those who aren't Finchem, is the opportunity to invent whole new categories that get talked about for their own sake - like the golf reality show The Big Break or something relatively pedestrian, even, that reaches directly out to the average player, like the Golf Channel's Playing Lessons with the Pros. People talk about these shows among themselves.

Chances are the same lesson applies to most marketers. Don't ask people to pay attention when there is no reasonable expectation of doing so. Faced with so many choices and messages fighting for one's attention, raking leaves seems like fun.

Attention is finite. You can catch people's attention when they're actively seeking to solve a problem or indulge themselves or buy a gift or do something special. Not when they're, um, not seeking anything of the sort.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, November 05, 2005

SEM as Mass Tourism


"Gibberish doesn't sell" didn't exactly convey the theme I wanted, so my Big Idea for ad:tech has been tweaked slightly to "search is like mass tourism." Not to reveal the whole 62-second bit here, but the idea has a long history: advertisers tend to drift towards overthinking or "skewing their creative towards the highbrow."

Using the mass tourism analogy: my friends came to visit Toronto. Even though they've been to all four corners of the world, and would be considered sophisticates, their search for things to do while in town involved "CN Tower" and "Niagara Falls." Although "authentic" travel experiences are increasingly in demand (which is why I took my friends on a 3.5 hour drive to see the "real Canada"), the main volume of tourism business is driven by consumers whose standards for "what counts as authentic enough to have a good time" are a bit looser than that of experts and intellectuals. (Thanks to Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter's The Rebel Sell for this insight.)

In search marketing, we are often priced out of the mass market, super-popular keywords and concepts at the big end of the Long Tail graph pictured above right. But the bulk of the business can't come from the rare, esoteric long-tail queries, as romantic as that may seem. If you work in a midsized company or an important division of a larger company, you have to think scale, and that means targeting not the most general audience, but something akin to a "mass niche" audience.

So need to remind ourselves that we'll be writing ads to a broader audience, and even a slightly mindbending twist in an ad headline can result in weak response. While it is important to write ad copy that filters the wrong prospects, there's no sense in writing overcomplex headlines that tend to filter more "random searchers" than they should - whether they are good prospects or bad. The Web 2.0 marketer's conceit of "extreme granularity and audience sophistication" can simply be overdone. So the "SEM Zone" may tend to be in the middle of that long tail. The ads we write and the tone we take need to be straightforward, navigational, and nonjudgmental. By writing an unpretentious, direct headline like "Email Accounts," instead of one like "Get an Email Inbox for Life" or "Get Your Own Email Domain," you let people place their own meaning on your offering, rather than trying to box them into one.

If this post has become just a shade too clever, to boil it down, I'm trying to warn against creating inappropriate ad headlines due to overthinking... the kind of overthinking that comes from being too exposed to your own industry. Your audience may be increasingly sophisticated, but that doesn't mean you can or should burden the searcher or user with everything that lurks under the hood in your offering... especially not when they're quickly scanning a page of SERP's or content.

At the end of the day, your numbers will guide you. Even a slight brow-furrow for your prospect will lead to unnecessary filtering.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, November 03, 2005

Algos Gone Wild: Google Exposed!

This Google patent application speaks volumes... literally. As I understand it, the SEO junkies are rightly going over it with a fine-toothed comb to discover how exactly Google plans to fold personalization into the rank-ordering of search results.

But overlooked in that discussion is the fact that Google sees its algorithmic thinking increasingly as applying to all "placed content." This can mean organic search results, ads near organic search results, ads or related headlines near email, or ads on content pages.

Personalization potentially creeps into the way that ads are displayed, then. That'll eventually have a dramatic impact on the opportunities available to advertisers, and the price they may pay to gain visibility.

For now, some of this application does a very interesting job of describing ("for the sake of illustration") exactly how Google AdWords and/or Overture worked in their past incarnations. And then it adds info about how AdWords might work in the future.

For anyone deeply interested in search, these patent applications offer a crystal-clear view of how Google's top scientists would describe exactly what their technology does, and how it fits in with commonly-understood categories of search technology, and how certain "embodiments" of certain features might look. For example, to guard against changes in user interests, a personalization-enhanced search engine might choose to show the "generic" index results in positions 1, 3, 5, and so on, and the personalized results in position 2, 4, 6, and so on.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, November 02, 2005

That Index Updates *How* Often???

From zero to "about seven" instances in three days: "gibberish doesn't sell."

If you're looking for a practical example of this principle, guess which of these four text ad titles gets the highest clickthrough rate (CTR). Which comes second? Which generates the best ROI? There is a right answer. :)

- Get an Email Inbox for Life
- Get Your Own Email Domain
- Email Accounts
- {KeyWord: ----} (in other words, a title that automatically matches the user's Google Search query if feasible)

And what does any of that have to do with the principle that gibberish doesn't sell? Basically this: a clever ad to you (the advertiser, if you will) might seem somewhat clever to a reader who is closely reading a page. But the average reader is neither fully aware of the nuances of your business, nor reading closely. Instead, it's someone scanning quickly, deciding who's relevant to what they want. Testing ad copy thoroughly over hundreds or thousands of clicks (and sales, ideally) is the only way to prove anything. Then, it's fun to speculate on the meaning or cause of what you just discovered.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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