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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tornado in Reverse: What's Hot at SES

Gauging by attendance, everything.

But particularly hot sessions this morning seemed to be the one on tuning & optimizing landing pages, and one on click fraud. I left the packed landing page session a few minutes early for a lunch appointment, and had to wade through a sizeable spillover crowd in the hallway, taking in the session on "auditing paid listings" (campaigns, for click fraud). Luckily the conference here at the New York Hilton is actually set up to anticipate spillover crowds, with screens and sound set up for attendees relegated to the hallway.

The session I presented in yesterday -- on "contextual and other non-search ads" -- was well attended, more so than in previous years. It also gave me a clue into the evolving sophistication of marketers, and the uptake of content targeting. I polled the audience for how many were currently running content ads within the Yahoo or Google platforms -- nearly all the hands went up. I asked how many were spending 20% or more of their paid search budgets on contextual -- most of the hands stayed up. I asked about 30% or more. Most of the hands came down. So it's right there around 25%. Sharing a cross-section of available client data from small to midsized companies we've worked for and have good data for over the past year, I noted that we're generating 16.4% of our clicks from contextual channels. Since we often bid less, the overall share of spend accounted for by contextual ads is less than 10%. That's current reality -- over the past twelve months, remember. Moreover, a couple of our larger clients (excluded from my study) are choosing to keep content ads disabled entirely. From the above, I'd conclude that many companies are needlessly scared of contextual ads, *but also* that many are still spending too much on it out of ignorance. In most cases, with some exceptions, a well-managed campaign won't generate more than 10-15% of its spend in contextual. That's bound to change as new channels open up.

Anyway, back to the landing page session. The audience for this type of material is not only getting larger, but more sophisticated. Above all, what strikes you about the whole field of sophisticated multivariate testing of landing pages is that it's focused on profit maximization. That may seem obvious to say, but the laser focus on conversion -- regardless of what user experience "principles" might suggest -- stands in contrast to some approaches to user testing and the user experience. And if you're a marketer/advertiser... it becomes an absolute imperative to maximize conversions if your competitors are also doing so.

In essence, the competition for keywords is a driver of change. As prices rise, sites must optimize, sales processes must be optimized, and profit must be optimized. It's a tornado in reverse... blowing through a dilapidated town and fixing it up. While that might sound rather idyllic, it's also a bit creepy, like the time we broke into a buddy's pig-sty-messy dorm room and tidied it and cleaned it within an inch of its life. The fact that users are going to be getting better online experiences and finding what they want more quickly is an unalloyed positive outcome. But what about the fact that, on average, they'll be more likely to *convert* to a customer who spends money? Do people have unlimited money? Of course not. Eventually, then, the laws of economics (and time) apply, in the sense that everyone can't be buying something all the time. Thinking about this too hard will lead you into all sorts of philosophical questions about whether search engines are leeches, whether most advantages of optimizing user experiences in highly competitive industries are bound to be temporary from a profit standpoint, etc. Usability and testing aren't, after all, defensible business advantages. They're just tablestakes, on the way to becoming commodities of implementation and commodities in the labor market, aren't they? This is why maybe the best move -- now as always -- is to find unoptimized, bad businesses, and fix them.

Or maybe it's just easier to keep your head down, focus narrow, and optimize your pages! That philosophical stuff'll kill you if it's your job to maximize profit this year.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, February 27, 2006

So Long, Jeeves. Long Live Ask.com.

Jeeves, you had a good run. Not many guys can say they launched a lucrative IPO and kept the press and British schoolchildren interested enough in a brand that it lasted seven years. You even spawned a range of sarcastic columns. And speculation. "Is Jeeves gay?" is one of the more common questions asked of you. That put you right up there on the map with cultural icons like Tom Cruise, and Spongebob.

But you've outlasted your usefulness. The dudes with the capital just invested a whack of money on a search engine... they didn't need your ambiguity and low-tech image cluttering up the works. This is 2006! Time to drop the training wheels and use the full range of search engine features, like maps (check out the AJAX!), dictionaries, and blog search. So, thanks for the memories.

As confirmed in a keynote conversation with Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Strategies today, at the behest of IAC Interactive CEO Barry Diller, the lovable character is being retired. In his view, the butler icon was "baggage" that "niched, or segregated, us."

Diller harbors no illusions that Ask.com will rocket to #1 in the market overnight. But he does feel that no media business stays at "30% or 40% market share forever." While acknowledging that "habit is a tough thing to break" -- joking to conference attendees that you should all "rush back to your rooms now and change your [searching] habits immediately"-- Diller has enough experience in the "storytelling and narrative" (Paramount Pictures, Fox) business to know that "these things can break down over time." From his comments today, it's clear that IAC is in the search business for the long haul, and don't expect overnight success. Rather, they expect to work hard at building better products, because if it isn't "good" and "differentiated," says Diller, it "doesn't have any reason for being."

Today's one of those days, as it always seems to be when a major figure does a keynote at SES New York, that it feels like "our day." You come out of a room packed with people listening to a leader in the search industry, and into an elevator playing a top business story on CNN: "Ask Boots Butler." Man, they're talking about "us"! Again.

The outgoing valet will be feted in a stylish bash tonight. Even I'm invited, according to the Ask.com Blog. I'm just glad they didn't post something about Barry Lloyd wanting to marry me.

Just one more question about the day's events. Why doesn't Danny get nervous up there? I'm pretty sure most of the rest of us would. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, February 26, 2006

Black Hats Growing Rankings in Sand

And so, by figuring out how to get around it with a touch of ingenuity and Website Miracle Gro, SEO's have already sown the seeds of the sandbox's eventual demise. Google will soon need to accept that older domains ain't necessarily non-spam domains.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, February 25, 2006

Fixing a Broken Yahoo! Campaign? And They Said It Couldn't Be Done!

It's now available! Page Zero has just released the world's first Yahoo! Search Marketing Handbook, meticulously researched and written by my colleague Mona Elesseily. We appreciate all the input from the SEM community that helped in fact-checking and understanding advertisers' particular frustrations with Y!SM.

As you'll see, Mona doesn't pull any punches. And the 102-page illustrated guide to improved Yahoo! Search Marketing campaigns (formerly Overture) is practically formatted with action items that correspond to the analysis.

From readers, I've heard time and again that Yahoo! is just frustrating to work with. In fact this week, I heard that exact story in sales calls with prospective clients, both Canadian. One e-commerce project manager, from the government, had actually budgeted more for Yahoo in 2004, but found nearly all the legit traffic and customer support came from Google, so the budget for 2006 is being radically reshuffled. That's fair enough, though it's a shame, and she did take the trouble to point out that "Yahoo! are just hopeless! They just don't help!" Hey, don't shoot the messenger.

Another, a North American telecommunications firm, sang a familiar tune: "our Yahoo performance has just continued to drop as our business has grown -- mostly with the help of organic referrals and Google AdWords -- over the past three years. We call Yahoo up begging them, telling them we *want* to spend money with them, but we seem to get different answers all the time from uninformed reps."

But just saying that kind of stuff doesn't help you if you actually want to make money in this channel.

I've noticed people are now talking more about the details of how these online ad platforms work, especially now that MSN AdCenter and some other competitors are rolling out robust new services. And it's the details you need to master if you want to consider yourself an ROI marketer instead of one of those blase people who just "buy media." With Yahoo!, there are a *lot* of details. Not all of them pleasant. But if it's your full time job (as it is for Mona), isn't it time you confronted your demons and slayed that Y!SM dragon once and for all?

The regular retail price of the Yahoo! Search Marketing Handbook will be $64, but for the next couple of weeks -- call it March Madness -- it's 40% off, so take advantage now.

Labels: ,

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, February 24, 2006

Tech Investing Flashback

In the last long boom, was there anyone who didn't buy, or say they bought, Iomega at $2?

Missed the boat then? Well, here's your chance!

Fool on!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dr. Wilson Reviews New Google Tools Book

Receiving a new book called Google Advertising Tools by Harold Davis (O'Reilly, 2006), I eagerly opened it and scoured the contents for advice on how to choose and/or build third-party campaign management systems. Sadly, on issues like dayparting and bidding to position, the book is silent.

Ralph Wilson's review says something similar: "While Davis explains the technical details of AdWords advertising, he presents little in terms of campaign strategy." Beyond that, though, there isn't even much technical advice. It's mostly at the level of technical specifications.

A chapter entirely devoted to "making money from adult sites" seems off topic and a presumptuous waste of time. Dr. Wilson's review politely ignores it.

Although there are bound to be useful bits of guidance for programmers here, the overly broad focus on all things SEM (before getting into the meat of the topic) left little room for addressing the real issues that are facing development teams looking to get the most out of, specifically, the AdWords API, specifically with regard to creating better business fundamentals for the end user of the tool.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, February 17, 2006

Does Values Research Explain Where Global Opportunity Lies?

Again with the holiday side effects.

In the past week, I consumed zero news, but got into some deeper reading, including this piece -- Mapping America's Values -- in The Atlantic (sorry, mostly behind a wall). As every second article in magazines like this instils a Syriana-like sense of the cultural differences between America and -- in particular -- highly traditional societies, the research on global values seemed particularly timely.

I remember Ronald Inglehart's research to when it was first hot about 15 years ago. The rough upshot of this attitude research was that as societies grew prosperous, they were able to focus on "post-material" values. Around 1990, the icon for "post-material" was environmentalism. On one hand, you could look at it in a positive light -- environmentalism followed from prosperity. Or looking at it cynically, it was a way of suggesting that "middle classes" pursue status values, a kind of political bling-bling for people who have most of their main needs satisfied -- thus these values could be disparaged as "luxuries."

As time has marched on, it's obvious that the post-materialist theme really resonates, and in a lot more ways than those kinds of narrow debates.


Today, Inglehart's team of researchers has more data, and are looking at more countries. What's really interesting is the longitudinal nature of the study, now that all this time has gone by. Russia moves backwards towards "survival values" due to recent economic woes. Pakistan, as we can see, is the most traditional and most survival-oriented place in the world. Most nations move up and to the right, as prosperity grew in the 1990's. Mexico is an interesting exception. Self-expression values grew, but traditional religious values also grew, making it more like the United States. And check out Sweden!

So what's also interesting is how the researchers map clusters of values on two dimensions: survival vs. self-expression values, but also secular-rational values vs. traditional values.

We see in the diagram, as we so often do, American exceptionalism. In places like France, religiosity (traditional values) has dropped off sharply since the 1950's, though it appears not to have dropped any lower in the past ten years. (In a related story about the new Pope's assessment of the prospects for Christianity in the world in the same Atlantic, was his list of places like this -- "Quebec is lost" he said (I'm paraphrasing).) Yet of all the prosperous countries well to the right-hand side of the continuum towards "self-expression values" (people who love choice, freedom, etc.), the United States is also the most religious. As the article put it, the U.S. is both the most religious and the most liberated country in the world. An apparent paradox. Countries that are similar on both counts are Canada and the UK.

Thinking about the paradox got me thinking about markets and customers.

And it suddenly didn't seem like such a paradox at all. To have markets and customers in most industries, you need a level of prosperity, choice, and freedom. This goes all the way back to Hobbes' need for a "social contract" to put aside civil war in order that conditions for "commodious living" be in place. That dimension does most of the talking as far as the overall, broad-brush economy goes. The kind of economy I'm talking about is the ability to talk to a big market -- let's say online -- and have them make decisions to try new things, and adopt and embrace your better or more exciting solution (or just buy your art). A free-flowing, functional, efficient, and prosperous economy.

The other dimension doesn't matter nearly as much to "buyability" in consumers and "growability" of companies. Religiosity clearly does not hurt business in the U.S., and many might argue that it helps. (I'd like to think it's a neutral value -- I'm not religious -- but I don't speak for the market.) And extremely "hyper-rational" groups of consumers might well be the scariest customers of all. "Sceptics" don't sound like such great customers. If you're into Continental philosophy, or have a society full of engineers and holders of postgraduate degrees, how are you going to build a detergent brand or sell people a flashy car? Who would buy an SUV that got ten miles to the gallon? At some point, many big-company marketers wish for a lenient customer base who are willing to buy on faith.

Maybe then Godin's Free Prize Inside -- which asserts that the key to marketing is to build a better product and expect that savvy consumers will share the information in a radically "informed" word-of-mouth world -- is really the book for the Swedes and the Dutch on the graph, along with of course the e-terati who can comparison shop, blog, and do background research til they drop.

His other (more recent) book -- All Marketers Are Liars -- is the yang to that ying. Here, he argues that customers want a story, a narrative. They want your reality, but they want to be swept away by it. This book is the marketing book for the rest of the world.

Both are true, but All Marketers Are Liars is more true?

In the end, it looks like the dimension from traditionalism to rational-scepticism doesn't matter nearly as much to markets and growth as the dimension from "survival" to "self-expression." The parts of populations -- the top 20% of the top 10% of nations -- that have self-expression values (and money) to burn can buy lots and lots and lots of products in nearly any category. It doesn't matter if they also hold fast to traditional religious values, although depending on what they buy, it probably leaves some 'splainin to do.

Sell to prosperous nations, and sell to the middle classes of emerging nations? Absolutely. Trying to get in early on huge markets where there is very little money or infrastructure? You could be ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred years too early. And I'm just talking about selling patio furniture, pet toys, air conditioners, and Brita filters... nothing complicated like constitutional democracy.

The question does remain, if American exceptionalism on the faith dimension dissipates and she begins looking more like Sweden someday, will the marketer face a brutal, sceptical, Free Prize Inside world, where the marketing is the product, period?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google Groups Gets Robust

I go away on holiday, and all hell breaks loose. Or so it always seems!

Compared with the pace of development last year, a swack of new features just added to the Google Groups discussion platform (I'm referring to the custom groups you can set up for members, not the newsgroups part) could be characterized as a jailbreak!

My first clue that something happened to Groups was the ability to rate posts (finally). Then I noticed user profiles are finally available. Finally, I noticed something I never noticed before. Not sure if it's new or not. Email masking is used on members' posts to prevent spam, but it's easy enough to "unlock" these by clicking on the unlock link and then typing the familiar ransom note code.

Again, it's rather unfortunate that platforms like this grew out of an email metaphor, as many users get the emails rather than visiting the web-based platform to interact. So many people don't quite know how to use Groups effectively. Hopefully it'll all come together. Likely, that'll mean "together with Picasa and a few other things."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, February 15, 2006

E-mail Postage Stamps? Up with RSS


Postage stamps for e-mail? Yahoo and AOL have announced a new program for e-mail marketers who can opt to pay from a quarter of a penny to 1 cent per e-mail in exchange for bypassing their spam e-mail filters.

They say it is to provide legitimate e-mail marketers a way to bypass spam filters, but as with any giant corporation, the educated skeptic will take that with a grain of salt. Surely they've run the numbers and found that a fortune can be made even if a stamp costs as little as a quarter of a cent.

The big marketers will cough up the dough for a guarantee to reach every Yahoo Mail and AOL user in the world. And it's a worthy investment for those companies. But there's already a guaranteed way to avoid spam filters that we should all be using.

It's called RSS.

RSS may still be a bit wonky for the average bear, but the forthcoming IE 7 will change the game in a big way. By nature RSS is spam-free. The only way for a web feed to pop up in your RSS reader is for you to make it so.

Even Microsoft is taking the high road on this by adopting Mozilla's RSS icon as the standard, and pushing RSS hard in Windows Vista. So, please tell me why companies like eBay and PayPal aren't embracing this easy-to-adopt technology? People like me receive hundreds of phishing attempts at my PayPal password every month, and I haven't seen PayPal lift a finger to do anything about it. My conclusion? The big e-mailers don't take this problem seriously.

All PayPal would have to do is unleash a massive marketing campaign that explains the problem (uncontrollable phishing and spam), provide a clear solution (any number of RSS readers) and provide a deadline for a cutoff of all permission-based e-mails. It's that simple. If the eBays and PayPals truly cared about their customers, they would do this tomorrow.

These companies need to take responsibility for educating their customers, and should drag them into the new age of RSS, if necessary. RSS is the solution, and it would be so easy to make it happen, if they would just try.

As usual, Godin gets it. He's an "it-getter," in the wise words of Colbert. He thinks ISPs should serve as the RSS evangelists, but that seems very uncharacteristic for them. Again, I think the companies who are being misrepresented should take the RSS initiative. They have much more to gain than ISPs.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fables of the e-Reconstruction

As Wired says, the e-future's so bright, we gotta wear shades:

"Would You Buy a Used Dotcom from this Man?" describes how one venture capitalist is finding tomorrow's promising startups from the scrap heap of the dotcom bust, and sifting through the business plans submitted during the pre-bust heyday to find still more hits.

"The New Boom" by long-tail maestro Chris Anderson tells us why this new boom is fundamentally different than the last one. Hint: broadband ubiquity + online ad boom + open-source software + maturing business models = sustainable long boom.

There, now you know!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Sunday, February 12, 2006

AdSense Tips from ContentBiz + Traffick Taps AdBrite

Interested in learning more about AdSense? ContentBiz.com has a thorough article that covers the basics of Google's contextual advertising program for web publishers, and offers up some useful tips on how to maximize your revenue as a publisher.

Act fast. The article goes behind a paywall after Feb. 20.

AdSense doesn't work for all sites. Take Traffick, for example. Our second experiment with AdSense has fizzled out after just a month. We earned enough to buy about two pizzas, and that's it.

That's a pretty common problem when you have a site like this. Sophisticated visitors like you tend not to click on AdSense ads. And it's easy to see why. You're already plugged in to the scene. You guys know where to find the kinds of companies that appear contextually on sites like ours if you want to find them, right? It doesn't help that it's usually the same ads over and over. Plus we try to block the ads that compete directly with Page Zero and Siteopedia, and that cuts down on the possible ads. Hey, no need to send business to our competitors, right?

So, just for fun we've decided to take a crack at AdBrite, the text-link advertising network that's popular with blogs. If you want to reach a targeted audience of influential members of the search community by advertising here, give it a shot. But, no SEM firms, please!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Google is Safe from the Sharks


What's with the search engine community's bizarre fascination with fingering the exact moment Google starts losing it? Every day it seems someone is citing this or that example as proof that Google is going downhill, or even worse, jumping the shark.

Now, to be sure, Mr. Batelle's opinions are worth more than the average bear on this subject. He did after all write a book all about Google, "The Search." But, please! Just because Google is on the cover of this week's Time magazine really has no relation to their shark-jumping status. I think a simpler explanation is that the company has been in the news frequently of late, and therefore, is a story worthy of being featured on the cover.

If the mere presence of a company on a major magazine cover meant certain doom, Google would've flamed out years ago. They've been on many magazine covers in the past few years, although none as prominent as Time.

And even if Google does "jump the shark," or make a serious error in judgment, that doesn't mean they can't press rewind and un-jump it. Microsoft has done so many times and is still alive and kicking the last time I checked. And Bill Gates has been on Time's cover at least three times!

I do agree, however, that Google is entering the riskiest period of its short existence, but nothing that has happened thus far makes me think they can't navigate the uncertain course with grace and relative ease, as they have to date.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Friday, February 10, 2006

The Soul of MSN

Via Barry at the SEW blog (congrats on the new gig, Barry!), we hear again of Microsoft's never-ending quest to build the MSN portal as "it should be, an entertainment hub."

Um, didn't MSN just relaunch last year? And how many relaunches does that make now for MSN? Five? Ten?

Why is it that Microsoft constantly must reinvent MSN every few years? I've thought a lot about that, and I think the MSN's problem is that it has no "soul."

Essentially, it's a mouthpiece for Microsoft's various, jumbled relationships and competing priorities that are never harmoniously linked in any meaningful, logical way. Unless Microsoft takes a completely different approach and unhooks MSN's tentacles from the Microsoft DNA, it will never succeed. It will just continue to putt along at the same rate, with the same nondescript lack of focus.

If Microsoft wants MSN to be an entertainment hub, then focus on the entertaintment aspect! Don't throw all kinds of real estate, health news, and business info into the mix. Focus on offering the best entertainment services that tie into Microsoft's entertainement initiatives, like Media Center, X-Box, Windows Media video, etc.

Better yet, if you want to create a portal the way it oughtta be, just look at My Yahoo! Why not try to embrace and extend that one, instead of the previous version of your uninspiring portal that is only used because of its default status in IE?

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Thursday, February 09, 2006

Beemer's Back

Detlev Johnson reports in the SearchReturn newsletter (if I may quote at length):

"BMW is back in Google. After only three days being delisted, the
team at Google saw fit to actually converse with BMW to help them
get back in. The reinclusion process generally works. Smaller
firms could never hope to get such red carpet treatment. It's the
silent part that makes it difficult sometimes for normal
webmasters to have a clue what to do. BMW had no such problem."

Exxxactly. Some deterrent.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Google Snags A9 Chief

So another big name in search joins the Google juggernaut. How long have they been on friendly terms, you wonder?

Based on the experimental -- but commercially unsuccessful -- nature of some of the A9 technology, we kinda suspected A9 was on friendly terms with Google (at one point on this blog, I alluded to it as being "Google Labs 2."

Now, the key figure in this remote search lab has been brought in-house.

Does the timing coincide just a little too closely with Amazon's announcement that it's launching its own contextual ad network?

You sense that the friendly coopetition between these two companies just got a little pricklier.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Google Sends a Message to BMW: Unfortunately, the Wrong One

I come from a liberal, non-punishing type of family.

I remember when my sis and I were raising a ruckus as small children, we'd usually be convinced to shape up with a few words, or well-placed silences. But sometimes we wouldn't be, so our parents would half-jokingly say: "Quieten down up there or I'm coming up there with a big stick!" The problem with that one, of course, is that children are insatiably curious. After awhile, we'd stay up a bit later and make a bit more noise just to test when the "big stick" threat would rear its implausible head. And finally, we demanded to actually see the big stick. Foolishly, Mom decided she'd better come up with something, so we were led to a closet where were shown a rather pathetic-looking yardstick. "That doesn't look very big," we mused. Realizing that the threat had turned into a fun game, for our semi-laid-back domestic enforcers, it was back to mean stares, mock outrage, hushed tones, and moral suasion. (The unfortunate side effect of the Internet is that said ogres will be reading this post inside of one day, even though they're enjoying winter on the other side of the planet. Look, Ma, I'm airing our squeaky-clean laundry in public!)

Well, purveyors of deceptive online content, and index spammers, aren't children. They're members of an economic game that affects millions of businesses. The future social development of hard-core cloakers isn't something that keeps me awake nights. Fair rules that apply to all are much more important than spammers' sensibilities. Are you a big company that got "duped" by your "deceptive" SEO firm? Shame on you, then. SEO has been around for ten years, and it's time you did your due diligence.

So if Google's going to pull out the big stick on big brand name companies who engage in garden-variety spam techniques, then I say, make it a really big mofo'in club, like the ones you used to see in the Flintstones. Ban them for a year. Take that, you wascals. Right now, the message being sent is relatively benign. You'll get de-indexed, but if you grovel, you'll be back, and oh, by the way, as we've been saying ever since Florida, wouldja buy a few AdWords from us you cheapsakes?

The message to those who recommend riskier techniques is (for now), clear enough: here's the worst that can happen. The worst that can happen -- if you're a prominent firm with good grovel techniques anyway -- is a temporary slap on the wrist. For those who have more reason to go "gray" or "black hat"... the message couldn't be clearer: spam on. Google could be a lot more draconian.

In case you missed it: the news coverage claims BMW.de got the "death penalty" from Google. In fact they'll probably get out of the clink soon, with time off for good behavior. Or as the Flintstones theme put it: "that cat will stay out for the night."

This wacky "Google is being Orwellian" post gets a good rejoinder from Danny, if you scroll down the page. Along with Danny, I see no reason at all to consider a search engine out of bounds for strict censures against optimization techniques that are clearly deceptive to users. Search engines are built around automation and math, but they are also editorial organizations that have the right to set their own ranking rules based on what they think is best for consumers and fairest to all companies that are vying for rankings.

Imbroglio aside, it doesn't affect my inner debate: will that be a BMW 323i, 325xi, or [used cars used cars used bmw canada britney spears autoblog edmunds car parts comparison bmw] 330xi?

Man, I hate when irrelevant keywords interrupt my dreams.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




How a Cuddly Liberal Became King of All Media

(Or a pretty interesting play, anyway.)

1. Usability, filtering
2. Community & critical mass
3. Stealth

Rich Skrenta lays it all out in this defence of Craig Newmark. I think Rich knows what he's talking about: at ODP, he rode on the back of a cute dragon-zilla and "humans do it better" to (nearly) take over all world media...

(Hat-tip Battelle, (Prince of All Cuddly Liberals Currently Taking Over All Media))

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, February 06, 2006

RSS Forecast Mostly Sunny

Via Micro Persuasion, we read the good news that one of the major weather sites is finally offering weather forecasts via RSS feed. My question for the weather agencies: What took you so long?

Ever since dumping My Yahoo in favor of Netvibes, I have had very little advanced warning of outside atmospheric conditions for two months. It's felt like living in the 19th century. Actually, it's been kinda liberating and unpredictable not to worry much about the weather. It's February, ya know. Just take a jacket. You can always take it off later, right?

But, a man cannot live like this forever, so thankfully the Weather Channel now offers local weather forecasts by RSS. I'll be adding this to my Netvibes portal page just as soon as I click the big orange "Publish Post" button!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Friday, February 03, 2006

Advertiser IQ Test

When I see advertisers show up on parked domains and other questionable content placements, I sometimes wonder about their sanity.

I'm not one to completely reject content, nor parked domains, as a potential source of cost-effective leads.

But consider this scenario. On a fairly expensive keyword, I see an advertisement in the very top ad placement on Google - in the premium spot, with a blue background. Knowing approximately what advertisers are paying in that space, I project their cost for that click to be at least $1.50.

The ad takes you not to an advertiser, but to a parked domain page, which itself shows ads. The advertiser, then, owns the domain, and is partnered with the company that is placing the ads. Let's say they get 70% of the revenue, and the ad server gets 30%. (By the way, it isn't Google Domainsense serving the sponsored listings on the parked domain in this case, it's Overture. So we're talking about a fairly standard and well-known gambit here -- the "click arbitrage" play where a publisher buys clicks "low" on Google and sells them "higher" as an Overture content network participant. Whee! Some have called this "click pimping." In this case, I'll agree with the pejorative term. It's a frickin parked domain, after all.)

My first concern, of course, is to doubt that all the clicks on the content listings can be legit. How can a biz that just takes you to a parked domain be making enough money on its own merits to outbid all the legitimate businesses who are using AdWords to actually promote a real business? If that were the case, then wouldn't all the ad space near Google SERP's be filled with ads that merely took visitors to parked domains with more ad listings on 'em? Now wouldn't that be fun!

Moving on. Back to the math. Let's say it was $1.50 to get them to the page of content with the sponsored links on it. Now you must make $1.50 back. Assuming a 70% revenue share, that means -- assuming a conversion rate from click to click of 100% (pretty big assumption but whatever) -- that means the average advertiser on that page of content is paying $2.14 per click. That's $2.14 per click for confused clicks, low-quality clicks, fake clicks, etc. Is it worth it? Could conversion rates from this particular traffic possibly justify this CPC? Well... only if conversion rates from a parked domain page were actually higher than the Google SERP page... since these advertisers aren't showing up on Google for the query in question.

So are these advertisers confused? Lazy? Insane? Stupid? "Aggressive"?

Maybe these kinds of listings -- the really high-cost parked domain listings -- do convert to leads. But it raises a number of questions. Because after all, wouldn't it make more sense to just put your ad in front of people searching on Google?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Cold-Callin' SEO Firms

Every once in awhile, we ask our friend Jill Whalen - who publishes the High Rankings Advisor newsletter - if we can republish some particularly timely advice. Well, this isn't timely so much as timeless, but there's a bonus topic in this Q&A. Read on. Also, Jill's given carte blanche for me to add a couple of editorial comments below.

--
Jill,

Thanks for the invitation to say hi with a question. I heard about you
via Google search.

My interest was prompted by a call I received from an SEO firm. My site
has been up 8 months with little success in rankings improvement. So the
call was timely. Yet, I am a newbie, so I am curious as to whether an SEO
can do as they suggest -- get top-10 placement on major search engines?

Can you give me a short list of companies who you feel deliver results
through improvement in rankings and are trustworthy?

I look forward to your newsletter. Thanks!

David

++Jill's Response++

Hi David,

You'll actually want to wait a few more months before making any
decisions on hiring an SEO firm. This is because Google has an "aging delay" that
generally lasts at least 9 months all the way up to 1 year or more, and
your site is only 8 months old. This means that no matter what you do, you
will find it very difficult to show up in Google for pretty much any keyword
phrase other than some weird obscure ones.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if savvy SEO companies are looking for
sites such as yours that are just about to "pop" from the aging delay,
so that it looks like they are geniuses when you suddenly start to get
high rankings. [Editor's note: Genius comment, Jill. You know that's probably
exactly what they're doing. When will SEO firms be more realistic about the
causality of their own efforts, and be willing to share credit with their clients?]

The thing is, when it happens you probably would have received
those rankings by doing absolutely nothing but waiting.

Regarding SEO firms, being as I am the owner of an SEO firm (or two!)
myself, I tend to stay away from recommending or bad-mouthing other
firms.

Unfortunately, about 80% or more of SEO firms out there are not what I
would consider to be up to standards, so please do be careful if you decide
to outsource this. It's easy to talk a good game in this biz, but much
harder to actually do a good job. (See my previous answer in this newsletter
for additional advice on choosing a firm.)

Please read the articles at my site, plus read the past newsletters and
start hanging out in the forum. Get a feel for what good SEO is. If
you have more time than money, try implementing some of what you learn, a
little at a time, and see what happens. If you have more money than time,
then at least you'll be more knowledgeable if you decide to outsource to an SEO
firm.

Hope this helps!

Best,

Jill
[More editorial notes: 1. It may "seem" serendipitous and timely when someone cold calls you -- but it's still a cold call. Remember the old adage about sitting around the card table? If you don't know who the patsy is, it's probably you? Don't select vendors from cold calls, OK? 2. There's a lively debate on the Google Sandbox at Search Engine Watch Forums.]

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, February 02, 2006

Memory Leak Fixed in Firefox 1.5.0.1?

The first update to Firefox 1.5 has been posted for download here. Better stability and better security are the main reasons behind this update.

If you've struggled with the merciless memory leaks since version 1.0.7, this vesion will supposedly fix them. Still, trust but verify. I'm watching my memory usage in the Windows Task Manager. You're on notice, Firefox.

A complete list of all bug fixes and changes is posted at The Burning Edge.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




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