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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Did Google Miss?

Google's financial report seems to have disappointed Wall Street. Drilling down on the numbers, though, ad revenues on the Google.com sites continue strong. The content network revenues -- looking a little sickly.

As stated by the CFO in the Q&A in the earnings call, "most of the miss was related to tax rates."

In general then, Google's "problems" are the same as they ever were: overreliance on ad revenue, and overreliance on the content network.

It sometimes seems that the analyst community asks about everything but Google's core revenue stream. I suppose that's because they're looking for new growth areas. Hardware, software, rich media, radio... how to monetize Google images, etc. etc. Interesting questions, but with few answers, because Google won't say much.

So let's see if any truly new revenue streams emerge this year.

Again, what Google did this fall was to focus on disincentivizing advertisers from running poorly-targeted ads on the system, or what Sergey just called "investing in quality initiatives." Couple that with continued cleanup of rogue publishers in the content network, and it looks like the stage is set for further, steady -- if unspectacular -- growth.

So did Google "miss"? To me, the nitty gritty is in the details. Given that advertisers were still adjusting to the new quality score regime in Q4, the 24% quarter-over-quarter growth in Google.com sites revenues is on track, if not stellar. The real test will be whether strong growth kicks back in as advertisers adjust to the new system and as new ones come on stream. In essence, the slight softness in Q4 growth on Google.com sites was something of a "planned miss." I'm still unclear on whether the average CPC actually rose in certain verticals, or fell. So was Mary Meeker, when she asked her question on monetization at the end of the call (reminding Google that they had boasted of improved monetization from Q2 to Q3). She received no good answer, and the call wrapped up. Let's hope she can do a little digging and find out more.

Where Google continues to show weakness is internationally (they describe international markets as "underpenetrated") and in the content network. Content simply hasn't had the legs or the profit margins to justify the enormous expectation Google's built around it. Until they break through into offline, or more radical monetization of channels like email, the core of Google remains, well, Google, and the ads shown on it.

So this, to me, is Google in a nutshell:

"Google Sites Revenues - Google-owned sites generated revenues of $1.098 billion, or 57% of total revenues. This represents a 24% increase over the third quarter revenues of $885 million."

Why don't I put much stock in the 42% of revenues generated on partner sites?

Three reasons, basically:
  • Google's share of this revenue is much lower than on sites owned by them.
  • This share could drop, and the size of the network could even drop. Disintermediation, essentially, faces any company that facilitates ad placement on sites they don't own.
  • In mid-term, Google's partners can always de-emphasize the Google ads to highlight better-paying ones.
The company claims to be putting an enormous investment to scaling the current business, and future businesses, globally. For now, "Google.com sites," and the advertisers who show up there, pretty much carry the can for the whole grand experiment. With $8 billion in the bank and 5,600 employees, whatever they do, it's going to get noticed. Still though, the underlying weaknesses in their non-Google.com businesses persist.

Good night, and good luck.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google is the Media / Internet / God

The latest issue of Business 2.0, which hit the stands last week, features a very interesting look at four possible futures for Google. They are:

Scenario 1: Google is the media

Scenario 2: Google is the Internet

Scenario 3: Google is dead

Scenario 4: Google Is God

So which one do you buy? Myself, I tend to learn toward the first scenario. I think it's highly possible that Google will continue to increase its clout because of the importance of searching to our daily lives. It's so much easier to look for something on Google than it is to remember where something is. And if other scenarios previously predicted about the big G hold true, I can easily see Google dominating all forms of digital media, which is basically all media these days.

The other scenarios are plausible, but they require too many leaps of faith, especially Google becoming God (however appealing that might be!)

Of course, a more likely scenario that B2 didn't focus on was the increasing chance that Google will be broken up by the Justice Department if it becomes too powerful. Think about it. Google could easily eclipse Microsoft in its influence over technology and culture with a few years' time. And we're already seeing the intrusion of government in Google's affairs with the recent lawsuit over Google withholding search data from the U.S. Unless Page, Brin and Schmidt handle these touchy encounters very deftly, they will certainly run afoul of the government in a big way before long. We all know that Google, while certainly no evildoer, can be as arrogant as Microsoft, in its own way. (Still I trust Google with my personal information and not Microsoft -- what does that say?)

Therefore, I think the first scenario is most likely, but before that could ever happen completely, the government will surely step in and bust up Ma Google.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Monday, January 30, 2006

Searcholicious Stats


At the upcoming SES New York, there's a session called Searchonomics: Serious Fun and Stats. Cool moniker.

Doing a search for the term "searchonomics," there are about 268 results (much of that duplicate content). You may be wondering: which super genius thought of this clever term first?

The oldest known reference, of course... our very own article from 2000, covering Steve Thomas's company, Wherewithal.

That sort of makes up for being the 5,511th person to say "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that bling."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, January 29, 2006

Do You Zoom-Zoom? Branded Keyword Use Now Mainstream

As John Battelle reports, Mazda's off to the races buying terms like "Pontiac" for its AdWords campaign.

As long as certain conditions are satisfied, this is perfectly legal in the U.S., as many of us have long argued. It's "in line with forms of comparative advertising" that have been legal all along.

This stellar move by Mazda leverages three powerful principles of keyword advertising. First, it targets a highly salient keyword that is theoretically available at decent cost. Second, it leverages someone else's media spend. If Pontiac is devoting some of its ad budget to telling people to "Google Pontiac," then the number of searches on "Pontiac," by people actively seeking to learn about car features, goes up. Other advertisers can piggyback on that awareness (without spending the same TV and print ad dollars) by bidding on the same keywords, and measuring the results. All perfectly legal. Not only legal, but savvy.

Third, the landing page is a direct marketer's dream: it's lead-generation oriented. The results of the ad can potentially be tracked all the way through to sale. Or at the very least, a metric like cost-per-test-drive can be generated, and further inferences made based on known ratios of test-drive-to-sale. (And, you still have that consumer's info, for the next low-cost postal mail campaign.) Oh, baby. What are the "brand" gurus going to do for a living? Where's the fancy flash animation? (I love those flashy car websites, don't get me wrong. They whet the appetite. But getting warm bodies into dealerships is a lot more tangible.)

The only drawback here -- and Google loves this part -- is that Google's seen this coming for a long time. They either want to see less of this kind of advertising, or know that the ones who will ultimately go gonzo for it are the deep pocketed crowd, such as ego-driven automakers. Currently, low quality scores seem to be rampant on trademark or brand related keywords. Low quality scores translate into a mandatory high minimum bid in AdWords. I wouldn't be surprised if they're forced to bid $5.00 just to show up at all. To show up at the top of the page, we might be looking at a CPC of $10-12 or more.

Then again, it's possible that quality score might be raised in this case if Mazda actually puts a comparison on the page, and mentions Pontiac in detail in the comparison, because that would make the landing page relevant. The algo's a secret, and so are the innards of Mazda's advertising account. :)

Advantage, Google (doesn't that sound familiar?). Now they've got ego-driven honchos in bidding wars for each others' brand names. When Google demonstrates how to make money on something, Yahoo usually isn't far behind in copycatting it, so I'd expect Yahoo to loosen their editorial restrictions on such words inside of a year.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, January 27, 2006

China, Internet Behavior, and Censorship

Attending a press conference for the Canadian Internet Project - a partner of the World Internet Project - a couple of months ago, I was struck by some of the survey data on citizen attitudes and orientations towards Internet use around the world.

One area that stood out was the political. I would have thought that it went without saying that the presence of the Internet offers a valuable resource with which to share political points of view, criticize the government, and more. But stunningly, a jaded public in North America doesn't seem to believe that the Internet helps them as citizens, or "provides more opportunity to criticize the government." Really? The lowest number of all was in Sweden. Probably, it's no coincidence that in societies that are highly literate and comfortable with free speech, citizens believe they don't get anything "extra" out of the Internet that they wouldn't already have through other means. I'd call that naive, but that's the type of response you get, I guess, when freedom is taken for granted, and when great access to the Internet has been available to everyone. The Internet now seems a bit like electricity -- shrug, so what?

Well, it's a big deal in some places. The China Internet Project is part of the world consortium, and on the question "does the Internet offer more opportunities to criticize the government," the response was in the affirmative -- the highest in the world. (Source: published research by the WIP. There is much data on all aspects of global Internet behavior and attitudes.)

That left me shaking my head. First of all, because the professors in charge of the world study made little fuss about the China vs. the free world anomaly. And the questions after the press conference steered well away from the Internet as a basic tool for communication and political speech, and over to e-commerce details.

I wanted to know: how did they get Chinese citizens to speak candidly about the 'net? Was the survey result just people saying what they thought the government wanted to hear, that everything is OK in China? Or did this admission -- that people find the Internet to be a revolutionary tool for free speech and political activity -- trigger a government backlash against Internet cafes and unauthorized sites?

So from these unanswered questions, I turn to the fact that Google's allowed their results to be censored by the Chinese government. Let's assume for a moment that profit is not the primary motivating concern for Google sticking it out in China. Google had a big decision to make, because three outcomes are possible: (1) Full uncensored Google; (2) No Google at all, the gradual closure of Internet cafes and spying on citizen use of the Internet, etc.; or (3) something in between.

I don't pretend to have all the details of Chinese human rights ebbs and flows, and Internet related policies over the last decade, under my belt. But what I'm going to argue is that the question really is a complex one as to how to best effect political change. It would be nice to believe it's as black & white as we think it is, except that we too live in a society that's imperfect; one that compromised political freedoms sometimes. We don't ask our companies to pull out of this society. We have to live and operate somewhere.

The fact is, with a minor degree of censorship, the government might start to permit the rapid growth of relatively free citizen use of the Internet in China. Block access to a few sites, but allow widespread use of email, millions of other sites, and various kinds of interactive applications? That's a lot of freedom and information flowing, resources that could be used to overturn the current state of relative repression.

You walk away completely, to make a point, and maybe the government sees less of your shining example of democratic political values in its midst, and responds by severely restricting net access.

In a place where (the highest proportion in the world) of the people believe that the Internet offers more opportunities to criticize the government, maybe it's worth asking those people: "Even with the following list of sites blocked, do you have more opportunities to learn, to communicate, and to advocate a political point of view using Google and similar tools as they are increasingly made available?"

Maybe eventually Google does need to pull out completely, to make a point. But I have trouble believing this one's only about money. Maybe it's about naively attempting to wield influence so that the government relents and loosens restrictions. I believe Google should set a time limit on the effort. If things actually worsen in terms of censorship and repression as a result of Google's compromise, within a year, say, they should pull out.

And to my fellow lazy citizens of Western democracies who don't believe that the Internet is a powerful tool that offers you a voice and a resource to support and build political movements (not just scrapbooking clubs), what are you thinking? This freedom was hard-won. Exercise it, or at least recognize a good thing when you have it.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Subpoena Thing: Gov't Keyword Research

It's time to say a few words about why the government's request for search query data bothers me.

As he so often does, Danny summarizes a controversy nicely. The FAQ at CNET is also useful.

To be clear, if Google complies in a fashion similar to what AOL and Microsoft have already done, they'll be handing over search query information that has all the personally identifiable material stripped out. That in itself is unsurprising and uncontroversial because it's info most of us can dredge up on demand, or at least approximate. And as Danny points out, anyone who's taken a tour of the Googleplex has enjoyed a variety of live search displays along with their M&M's.

Indeed, I regularly give people plenty of tips on how to gather such information for themselves for market research purposes. It's called keyword research! You can use tools like Wordtracker, which arguably make use of metasearch data from companies like Infospace. Or you can create your very own AdWords account, run it in real time, and discover how many impressions selected queries get in a month.

What you can't and shouldn't be able to find out is who is doing the searching. Unfortunately that comes back to the ever-blurring line between search personalization and "convenience of user accounts" and the invasion of privacy. The major portals are glib about gathering all this info. Maybe the government wanting to look at it should be a cold splash of water in the face for Google: now you know why we're so concerned about you looking at it.

So - keyword research is no big deal. It's actually sort of funny the way law enforcement types try to do Internet research, asking for things that aren't hard to get. On Search Engine Watch Forums, though, for some reason I got into the thick of this debate taking a strong stance against the government's action. Mainly because I don't want to be sitting here in a year when Phase 2 hits, and the personally identifiable bits are now left in. And the request is for six months' worth. So the vice squad ramps up and 100,000 people are suddenly under investigation. Moral panic. Finger pointing. Etc. A few real criminals caught.

There is some precedent for governments accessing needed info from companies like Google, obviously, to make a "bust." Orkut was becoming a bit of a hotbed for criminal communication (to say nothing of orgy planning in Brazil) until some "busts" put that to rest. The question is actually why they haven't done it a lot more. Obviously, the answer must be because they don't really have a strong agenda to track down every drug cartel or murderer on the planet. And plots and criminal activity must first be discovered by authorized means, not by spying on everyone, all the time.

So back to the current government request: taken at face value, it's innocuous. I joked to some colleagues over coffee yesterday that our office would look great if we hooked up a live display to Metaspy and blasted the random, rolling feed of user search queries (family filtered) out into the street.

"chocolate dream cake".
"australian open."

Big deal, right?

How about unfiltered Metaspy? Hmm, not that many porn searches, but it's only 6:30 p.m.

"bbc.co.uk"
"plasma edtv"
... and plenty of others with no bad words, and nothing dirty

But the following one had no individual bad words, but a strong link to something illegal, and immoral:

"naked 13 year old girls".

It only took three screens of random queries on Metaspy Exposed to see a puerile search like this, assuming that a search should be taken as a sincere intent to look for just that, which is debatable.

So it's this that is at the root of the desire to investigate, and it's neither the beginning nor end of law enforcement efforts to stop child pornography and child molestation. It's well known that FBI agents sit in chat rooms attempting to catch pedophiles, for example.

The government then could have easily accessed this type of information without going to too much effort. And eventually they will have a full dossier on it. Not difficult.

But where does this lead?

If I'm a government law enforcement officer and the only tool I had at my disposal was the weak random sample data on Metaspy, I'd still have tons to go on. By screen 3, I'm already on the trail of someone interested in child porn. (Let's leave aside the next question: what if you discover a lot worse searches, by a lot more people than you can possibly arrest in a lifetime?)

The next question might now be directed by law enforcement agencies directly to the owner of that query data. In this case Infospace. In some other case, Google. "We see a query for child porn here. Give us as much data on that query as possible so we can begin attempting to monitor that particular searchers online behavior." In other words, to see if this person is doing something else, possibly illegal, and whether a case can be made against them so they're arrested.

Would there be anything wrong with that? I know there are going to be two sides of that debate. It's not wrong to find actual criminals, of course.

But it's this scenario that makes me sceptical that any law and order oriented administration could resist drilling further down into the data, once they see the smoking gun. And they will. They'll see piles of incriminating-sounding search queries. Now what?

So... what about the next government request? And the one after that? That's the one that worries me, which is why I think it's important to speak up now to establish the proper line where commercial interests and personal liberties must be defended, no matter what the purported "greater mission."

And back to the everyday stuff people are searching for, "unfiltered":

"haida clipart"
"optiquest q75 driver"
"calculate grade point average"
"e-file taxes free"
"punk rock bowling 2006 las vegas photos"
"funny quotes"

It's at times like this when I wish every screen were as boring as that. Sadly, no.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, January 19, 2006

My Yahoo! Gets Ajaxy

Yes, that's right. I just coined a new web word: Ajaxy. Write it down. All you other word coiners out there... you're on notice.

Anyway, Yahoo! is finally getting with the times and has built in some Ajax functionality into My Yahoo! Users can now move around components with drag and drop, and you can supposedly view entire news articles on the My Yahoo! page without leaving the page, as with Netvibes, although it doesn't seem to work for me at the moment. (Upon further research, Yahoo! has apparently removed this non-working functionality; it will surely return after the kinks are worked out).

All of this is certainly in response to the proliferation of purely Ajax-driven personal portal pages, which are far more engaging than the stodgy old static pages like Yahoo!'s. Old school portals like Yahoo know they're falling behind and they're scrambling to catch up.

My favorite of these neuvo-portals (there's another new word... I'm on a roll tonight) is still Netvibes, which continues to out-innovate its competitors. Seems like they add a neat new widget every day, and they promise big things to come. Watch this space!

The big winner of this could very well be the news organizations that makes it as easier than the others to integrate with the new wave of portals. This will be true because the methods of delivery, which outfits like CNN use as a competitive weapon won't be important if everyone uses a personal portal.

As for the new winners, I would bet on the organizations that provide the wire services like the Associated Press and Reuters. Other big winners could be the news aggregators like Topix.net and new players like Newsvine and blog networks, which are basically open source news wires.

Some say that the portal is about to make a strong resurgence, and I believe it. I don't really even use My Yahoo anymore thanks to the robustness and ease of use of Netvibes. Considering my strong ties to Yahoo!, that's saying something.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Making Jon Stewart's Job Easier


OK, DOJ, deal. Go ahead and snoop into "what people are searching for." As long as you publicly post everything Rush Limbaugh has searched for in the past three years. (Brace yourselves. It ain't gonna be pretty.)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google, I Know What You Did Last Fall

Some wonder if Google's quarterly results (coming Jan. 31) will disappoint -- if Yahoo's recent slightly-below-expectations numbers are a bellwether for the sector. Probably not, think most analysts, including, it seems, top Yahoo brass.

Seems it's come to the attention of top Yahoo execs that Google's ad platform kicks Overture's tail. No, not just a little bit. I mean this Overture thing is really holding Yahoo back. Terry Semel's being polite about it in public, but I imagine he's becoming more and more impatient the longer it takes that unit to overhaul the Overture (Y!SM) beast.

Back to Google. As my subscribers read in December's special update, Google's new quality scoring formula will have had a measurable impact on Google's financials, since it clearly affected a wide range of advertiser accounts. We won't know until we know, but my strong suspicion is that Google intends (or expects) to wow Wall Street with a higher average cost per click. They've knocked out the lower-priced clicks, taking on lowball bids from a number of angles (albeit indirectly, through a new ad ranking system that is intended to solve numerous problems at once). What this will appear to do, I think, is raise the average CPC, and thus Google's reported profit margins.

Yet it leaves quite a bit of inventory unmonetized, leaving further room for growth, and keeping users happy. Wall Street seems to like companies that have the power to "raise prices." In fact, I remember the delight exhibited by the CNBC dude when Ted Meisel of Overture came on boasting about their ability to raise minimum CPC's from .05 to .10 (those were the days -- when that actually seemed to matter). "So you've got pricing power." The market marveled and Overture kept rolling.

Imagine if Google, at $400+ per share, gets the same red carpet treatment.

This is also a temporary way of dampening revenue growth (so it doesn't look ridiculous and set unrealistic expectations). So much for GOOG not being concerned about "earnings management."

Advertisers are hoping this is just a bout of temporary insanity so Google can snap up a few companies with their $600+ stock. Because a lot of them (not just evil ones) get a real kick out of being able to bid on that lower-cost inventory. Without it, the Long Tail is one of those nice little Web 2.0 fairy stories that doesn't actually apply to your situation.

Anyway, when Google's earnings report is on track again, don't be too surprised. They're raking it in, and for the sake of optics -- for now, at least -- they'll have put together a quarter that shows a higher average CPC across the board, making it look like a stagnant average CPC trend has reversed itself. Only time will tell if CPC's are actually rising.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Is Every New Search Engine Just a "Feature"?

Glancing over press for a new social search engine, prefound.com, I'm struck by a few (hopefully of the "pre-found" variety, as my grandaddy used to pronounce "profound") thoughts. I do like the idea of shared recommending as part of the search scene -- hey, who doesn't ... didn't Yahoo build their own My Web thing? BUT:

  • This isn't new. Again, poor Jonathan Abrams (HotLinks.com), and the founders of Backflip.com came up with something called shared bookmarking or social bookmarking back during the Web 1.0 bubble. Same idea. Good idea. Went bust financially, unfortunately. And many of the creators got criticized, defunded, and forgotten all too quickly.
  • If it's a way of improving search relevance, then leaders like Yahoo and Google will simply build it into what they do.
  • Or, they'll buy you out.
  • So, the complaint that Web 2.0 companies are mostly about building and flipping to Yahoo, Microsoft, or Google (let's not forget eBay and Amazon), is not without validity, it seems to me.
Have we reached the stage where Internet functionality and search are largely controlled by Borg-like brands? To beat them, you'd have to be pretty unconcerned about money (they'll wave $50 million in your face to acquire what you have without even breaking a sweat... try not to hug and kiss them when they do). And you'd have to have something pretty revolutionary. At a high level, no major new brand has emerged in this space since 1999, when we began watching it.

Switch gears a bit. How does something like Flickr or Skype revolutionize the world as an independent force? Certainly not by selling so early to a Yahoo or an eBay. The best-known brands just got stronger and savvier by tapping the energy of these fast-growing plays.

Looking ahead to when we once again look back in earnest at the 1995-2005 period in Internet business growth, Google's emergence as a major brand out of the ashes of the first wave may someday look more improbable and fortuitous than is commonly supposed. All noise aside, it was built around two cores: relentless leadership in search and the user experience, and a more efficient ad platform. The third, crucial component: raising money and catching an equity bubble. People underestimate how game-changing that part of it is.

Final point: the biggest stories to hit in 2006 are likely to be about even further consolidation of giants. At least one major merger will happen amongst the top six Internet companies and the top six or so diversified global media companies.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, January 17, 2006

91st Nervous Breakdown: Ontario E-Commerce Nightmare

maOn a popular gift shop site -- it boasts that it's one of only 50 of 62,000 rated businesses that earned the BizRate circle of excellence -- I came across this doozy:

"We regret that our site is not specifically designed to accommodate shipping to Canada, but we are happy to ship your [site name] purchases to Canada. Please follow these steps:

  • Select "Canadian" shipping for your shipping option.

  • Please fill in the complete information of the destination address in the available fields provided. Include city, region, postal codes, country and any other relevant information.

  • In the field for "state", select "AK" and enter "10000" for the zip code. Make sure all relevant information is in the other fields.

Please be aware that you are responsible for any customs or duties."


I think what they mean is: "we ship to Canada, but our web design company screwed us and we're too scared/cheap/lazy to fix the website."

Update: I just called to place my order. No luck here, either! I was told that these folks can't take any credit card issued outside of the US. The way to order is to send a certified check or money order... Man, if you're big enough to have staff taking calls from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m., then surely... you can take somebody's Amex even from an incredibly high risk zone like, um, Toronto.

Couldn't I just Paypal it to somebody?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google AdWords and Radio

Hang onto your hats. Before long, you'll be able to add radio to your Google AdWords media mix. Now all you need to do is produce some ads. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, January 15, 2006

Be Careful What You Wish For

Some have had trouble understanding why I might try to defend Jakob Nielsen's recent critique of search engine overmonetization.

I think it can pretty much be boiled down to point six in David Owen's recent Your Three Wishes: F.A.Q..

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, January 12, 2006

Some Favorite Firefox Extensions

I always enjoy it when other bloggers post lists of their favorite Firefox extensions, so I thought I'd join in the fun. Here are the 22 Firefox extensions I can't live without:

Aardvark 1.1
AI Roboform Toolbar for Firefox 6.5.8
Backpack Pages 0.1.4
BetterSearch 1.9
Ext2Abc 0.4
Forecastfox 0.8.2.5
googlebar 0.9.15.07
Greasemonkey 0.6.4
Highlighter 0.1.2
IE Tab 1.0.7
Linkification 1.1.6
ListZilla 0.7
MeasureIt 0.3.5
Performancing 1.0.1
Sage 1.3.6
ScrapBook 0.18.4
SearchStatus 1.14
SessionSaver .2 0.2.1.030.4
Tabbrowser Preferences 1.2.8.8
Talkback 1.5
Web Developer 1.0
X-Ray 0.5

Oh, and in case you're interested in exporting a list of your favorite extensions, you can do it easily with the ListZilla extension.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Take Off Your Coat and Stay Awhile

On Notice: My Pal Mike. I hate to go all Colbert on you, but... I have an ultimatum.

So it's been brought to my attention that world-famous search technology expert Mike Grehan is finally blogging with some regularity. Good, because there is so much junk to wade through, I'm looking forward to Mike's posts, which I expect to dig a bit deeper into what the search scientists are really thinking. Here's the deal Mike: we love to link to great content, but you gotta keep it up for at least another month, or we won't! Hmm, wait a sec. That was tautological. How could we link to a post you don't make? So post, fellow raconteur, at least once a week. Quality over quantity, but don't stop.

(As for this picture of me and Mike sitting together, it comes to something when you sort out where you were by looking at the date and carpet pattern. Thin-slicing the data, I can ascertain this was taken at the New York Hilton lobby bar, natch. Just so there is no confusion, the guy who seems more comfortable wearing his coat indoors is me.)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Google *NOT *Testing Underlined AdSense URLs

You may have noticed that AdSense ads are sometimes displaying an underlined hyperlink in the display URL. From a usability perspective, I find the underlined URLs to be distracting. And as a publisher, I find it equally annoying.

This is probably just a temporary test to see if underlined URLs get a better clickthrough rate, but I believe at best it will prove to be a wash versus the non-underlined URLs, and at worst, will show a decline in CTR. There doesn't seem to be any inherent improvement in ad quality by showing an underline. They just look off-kilter.

What do you think, fair reader?

So listen up, Google. If I wanted to display an underline in my site's ads, then I would. But I don't, so please stop the test, Google! Or at least, make it optional.


Turns out this was a result of a Firefox extension called Linkification. I guess I'll have to ask the extension developer to find away not to underline AdSense URLs!

Nothing to see here. Move along, move along...

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




There Is No Such Thing as Free Content

You may be starting to see new websites popping up offering "instant web content." Yeah, as if you can simply add water and -- poof! -- watch your AdSense clicks skyrocket! (I'm sensing an anti-informercial-site rant coming on, but that's for another time.)

The latest one I've found is NicheContentDirectory.com. Don't ask my how I learned about them (OK, you twisted my arm... they appeared in our AdSense feed). This lovely site urges you to "grab content, upload articles - create targeted traffic to your site!!!" The premise behind these silly sites, of course, is to sell or distribute targeted content that you can add en masse to your site for little or no effort, which will increase the number of pages in the engines for your site.

But, remember, just as the first law of thermodynamics states there is no such thing as a free lunch in energy, there is also no such thing as free content. It may be attainable for little or no money, but it will definitely cost you. Don't do it.

It's common knowledge today that search engines often penalize sites for publishing duplicate content. If there's content out there that is free, you can bet that your competitors are probably out there "grabbing" it, too. Essentially, if you do this, you're just wasting your time because it won't help. The engines are very sophisticated in their ability to detect duplicate content, and the allure of free content and instant results isn't worth it.

So, be different. It'll be worth it. Actually hire a writer, or write content yourself that you can't find anywhere else. This is what sustainable business is all about.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Podzinger Voice Recognition Out of Beta, Daily Roundup

Haven't test-driven it yet, but reviewing product features, it looks like PodZinger's ability to use voice recognition to help users search for podcasts is state of the art. It has more features than some competing engines.

Elsewhere: see SearchDay for my review of Danny Sullivan's keynote from SES Chicago.

And taking up the issues of media concentration and Internet economies that made this site great in the first place, I follow up on Search Engine Watch forums in a thread that debates Jakob Nielsen's provocative characterization of search engines as "leeches" extracting too much money from the companies that are "forced" to advertise on them. Of course, Jakob is arguing that you need to wean yourself off SE dependency, which isn't a new argument, but is an important one to make nonetheless.

I think we can all agree: when average CPC's go past $10, we're all really going to love free search referrals. :)

It's an interesting subject, because as we've alluded to a couple of times before, we have largely weaned this site off SE dependency. Returning users make up a larger percentage of visitors thanks to RSS, sort of similar to what used to happen when people used to pay attention to our email newsletters. It's quite nice to see the return of traffic to Traffick, getting about as many visitors as a friend's ecommerce site that sells $200,000 per year of consumer goods... but we'll let you know when we're raking in $200,000 a year on ads, so AOL can buy us. It looks like it may be quite some time before this happens. ;)

All kidding aside, though, the SE traffic to this site is absolutely vital to continued growth in recurring visits, as it is with most sites. Without that, we'd stagnate and visitation would drop off. That goes for just about any business you're in. You can reduce SE dependency, but it's still great traffic to grow on if you can get it.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Lunch with Goodman

Hey Toronto and GTA'ers!

The Canadian Marketing Association is holding a dedicated day-long seminar on Search Marketing next week. Instructors Steve Mast and Kevin Jackson, seasoned specialists at local interactive agencies, have a full agenda planned for breakout sessions on both the paid and organic sides of the ledger. One of the subtopics is on something they call "building search equity," which sounds interesting.

The location says TBA at the moment, but it's confirmed at the Downtown Holiday Inn on King.

I'll have my joke-writers in overdrive over the weekend, and hopefully bring a few provocative facts, figures, and images to the room to break up the day.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, January 09, 2006

Google Extends Massive Leechy Lead

A lot of numbers seem to get thrown around the searchblogosphere. I closely follow a shorter list of numbers that matter. Search referral market share is right up at the top of the list, because as always it helps prioritize our clients' time and money.

comScore does a nice job of breaking it out, but I still think the numbers are wrong, for all practical purposes. Look at your site's referral data. Probably Google's lead is bigger than comScore suggests.

The latest study has Google over Yahoo 40-30 or so. MSN's 14.2% and Ask Jeeves 6.5% are flattering to those companies, but you likely won't find anywhere close to those numbers if you look at your site's stats.

In other news, the majority of this site's search referral traffic is now coming from searches for a well-known "hottie" we posted about awhile back. We're still waiting to get rich off that Long Tail... but if need be we'll just turn this into a Scarlett portal, and sell mugs & thongs.

Also, overall site traffic continues to undergo a renaissance due to RSS feeds, direct navigation, and navigation from links on other sites. Search engine referrals now make up a smaller proportion of Traffick.com's referrals, which I guess means the site has reduced its reliance on search engines. About which more soon.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Firefox Auto-Complete Bug Fixed!

For several months, Firefox's "auto-complete" feature that remembers typed words in text boxes was disabled, for reasons unknown. This meant that everytime I used a search engine or a shopping cart form, I had to laboriously type out the entire words rather than just the first letter and then selecting my previously entered text from the drop-down list.

Can you imagine the horrible inconvenience? What year is this anyway, 1999? I had resolved to simply live with this growing annoyance, but this morning, I had had enough. I decided to search far and wide to find the source of this malicious bug, no matter the cost. I would pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to regain my cushy lifestyle.

And I found it. The culprit: the Google toolbar. (In my best Jon Stewart impression, with fist shaking) Damn you, Google toolbar!

When I think of all the days, I mean hours, I mean minutes I've lost to typing complete search queries and my home address and my phone number, I can't speak. Oh the horror, the horror.

But, if you're in the same boat as I once was, fret not. The solution is pretty easy: just uninstall the "official" Google toolbar and install the unofficial Googlebar extension. (If you're using Firefox 1.5, be sure to get the "experimental" version, or Googlebar won't work.)

In fact, Googlebar actually has better features and options than the real deal, so it's a win-win. Thank you Thighmaster, err Googlebar!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Sherman Calls the Top for GOOG


Quip of the day: "Look out below if this analyst suggests Google Beanstalk as the next big growth opportunity for the company."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, January 07, 2006

Google Video Buggles My Mind

Ever wonder about the moves made by successful moguls?

For some reason, people keep expecting Google to do something earth-shatteringly iPod-like in the entertainment biz, completely transforming the way people think about the company. Do they have it in them?

Maybe, but the new Google Video Store certainly isn't it.

Billionaire types commonly dive into sports teams, Hollywood studios, and other hobbies not as moneymakers, but because they can. They're "trophy businesses." Edgar Bronfman Jr. is one celebrated example. He took a big chunk of his family's beverages-related fortune and sunk it into the entertainment business, culminating in a bungled merger with French conglomerate Vivendi. How to make a small fortune in Hollywood? For Bronfman, the answer was: start with a big fortune.

Chatting about such ventures with a pal yesterday, talk turned to his days growing up, when a few working men would go out to the horse track to unwind. None were very good players, so it was purely entertainment. One man won a sizeable sum, and caught up in the excitement, vowed that he'd keep half and let the other half ride on the most outrageous longshots. After all, he was playing with the house's money. The problem was, one of the other men began following his bets, thinking he was acting in concert with a seasoned bettor or at least one who had inside info. The day's big winner hadn't explained to the earnest pupil that he didn't in fact have a strategy for the remaining day's bets. It was just scattergun craziness. The poor (poor, poorer) guy lost a pile of money following these bets.

That put me in mind of Mark Cuban. This guy's a billionaire. He owns a sports team. And he loves to have fun. Some of his fun has involved investing in real dogs, including a couple of also-ran companies in the search space. Woe betide the "student" who, without a spare million or two to burn, follows a Cuban or a Bronfman down the garden path.

So this is a bit on my mind as Google gently goes Hollywood with their new foray into being a "video store." Why are they doing it? Why are they doing it in the way they're doing it? Maybe it's part of a long term strategy to become friends with other media companies instead of antagonizing them. Maybe it'll make a bit of coin. But by and large, it's a no-risk proposition. They're playing with the house's money, and it's fun. Don't try this at home, kids.

Any rational assessment of Google's likely outcomes in this marketplace -- especially given that they've entered it so incrementally rather than launching anything that changes how people think about, use, or pay for content -- would be similar to this detailed piece by Gary: it sure looks like they have a lot of competition. So I can get old NBA games through Google. Well, surely a cable company (etc.) could offer the same. It's something, but it's somehow not very compelling. It's a business deal, rather than a technological breakthrough. (It's like Google's become more like Yahoo, or AOL...) Beyond established video sales and content creation businesses with "models," they have to duke it out with present and future billionaire bon vivants: Cuban, Bronfman, Branson, Trump, Murdoch, a few thousand software guys, financiers, oil moguls, hotel chain owners, and of course, Gates. Should be fun. To watch.

Until they do something big like acquire Tivo, though, I won't be able to say the earth has moved for me. (Then, they'd control two leading verbs in the English language.)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Kraneland Says Stop Thinking Inside the Box

If David Krane puts the kibosh on the Google Cube chatter, then it's not true for sure.

That leaves the lingering question: just what *will* Google announce this Friday? I'll bet it's more interesting to some of us, and less interesting to others, than the little cheap computer idea.

For me, I couldn't give a hoot about the little cheap computer idea - so "inside the box" you have to think Google wouldn't want to do it. After all, they don't wanna solve "already solved problems." This is why Google also won't offer an even cheaper version of the X10 camera, for example (nor a free version in exchange for you giving up all your privacy - but I digress).

A rule of thumb: if Corel tried it, Google probably won't. So far, we've seen a lot of speculation about "things Google might do" that parallel "things Corel did, that flopped." Java office suites, "thin computing"... what's next, maybe a popular graphics program!?

Also, is it just me, or has this Cringely character been wrong about a lot of stuff lately? Hot on the heels of misinterpreting the Google AdWords quality scoring method and making predictions about big and little Google boxes and cubes, he's now saying that PPC advertising is destroying traditional publishing. Well... if it was that inefficient, it didn't need any help.

Worse than traditional publishing: dot com bubble print publishing that leverages traditional brand-marketer inertia. Did you see that full-page ad in Wired, the one with no call to action, no photo, no nothing, just a blank page with a SubZero logo? Guess the bubble people are getting new fridges this year. Unless SubZero is making computers, or cars, or lava lamps. The ad didn't say.

If we seem obsessed with Google here, we might be excused -- it's my professional life. But for a journalist like Cringely, I surely hope 2006 holds letting go of the Google obsession and thinking about something ... anything... else.

Now it's off to enjoy the very first wash of the year with a spanking new dishwasher. Not made by Google. Nor SubZero either. Rhymes with "wosch." Buy now!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




RSS Icon: Let's Stay with Orange

Is Microsoft going soft in its old age? Last month, it actually embraced a standard without trying to "extend" it. Saints be praised!

In December the Evil Empire announced its intention to adopt the Firefox RSS icon to symbolize RSS web feeds in the next version of Internet Exploder. MSFT might even use the icon in Windows Vista and other forthcoming apps.

If you aren't familiar with the newly standardized icon, it's the orange rounded box icon with the white arcs near the upper-right hand corner of this page.

Yes, it's a shocking bit of news, but a welcome bit of news at that. Many observers like me believe mass adoption of RSS will follow shortly after the launch of IE 7 sometime later this year. And that's a desperately needed, good thing.With the rapid explosion of content on the Web, it's imperative that we harness technology to help us find and consume the content we are interested in, lest we drown in it first.

There are even sites popping up that are helping spread the word to website publishers everywhere by offering ready-made icons free for downloading in any number of sizes to suite your purposes. Unfortunately, one site in particular and possibly others, are offering original art files for download that allow anyone to easily modify the icon to match different color schemes.

That means you might start seeing RSS icons in blue, purple or red, and not just the standard orange and white. Now, call me crazy, but I always thought that standards were meant to make things consistent, not confuse them further.

So I say to all you icon evangelizers, let's stick with orange, shall we?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Hi, Cher!

Om "Easy for You to Say" Malik (#3 on a Google Search for his first name) notes that popular geeks like Robert Scoble come up high in search results when you type their first names into Google.

So being a search geek, I typed "Danny." "He" came up #5 out of 44.8 million listings. Now that's power!

Gary Price is showing up #11 in my search for "Gary" -- not too far behind Gary "Cars" Neuman (#7).

For "Tara," the publisher of ResearchBuzz herself comes up behind only Tara Reid. Wowsers! I wonder what she's going to do with all the loot.

It helps if you have an unusual name. Barbara Coll doesn't come up in the top 100 for "Barbara," but her site does place first for "Webmama." Apparently not a slam dunk, as there are other "webmamas."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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