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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Yahoo Local, Tweaked

John Battelle offers a crystal-clear overview of the evolution and potential of Yahoo Local listings.

This isn't about Y! vs G, so much as it is both continuing to take an aggressive stance to take market share from YP.

I've posted on local search many times in this space, but the key principle is worth repeating. Y! & G have captured consumers' imagination (a) through better products that make things easier to find, whether it be maps, metadata, etc.; (b) through mindshare, meaning that consumers find the local information because they're searching through the leading search brand.

So at a recent conference (from the Q&A floor, mind you), one speech from a yellow pages company rep accused everyone in the room of being "oblivious" to the market position of yellow pages companies. Later that day, another intervention from the floor accused the panel of being "sponsored by Yahoo and Google". The strange comment went on to announce the market share of yellow pages companies online (6th or 8th largest "web property" in Canada). This latter panel was called Search Ads 101, and the curriculum was designed to teach newcomers about things like bids, ads, keywords, etc. You present the material you have, that attendees have consistently asked for. To be blunt, it ain't my job to shill for any company, YPG, G, Y, or anyone -- and the only companies who ever stand up and literally ask a meta-question challenging the design of a panel are those who feel threatened.

Dudes, we're not oblivious. Au contraire, everyone alive (at least those of us over the age of 20) is well aware of the offline local directory phenomenon (it's that big, heavy book), and sometimes we use their online versions. As industry people, we're also aware that the old directory companies are trying to work on their online directories, and we're aware that they currently get a fair amount of traffic, and we're aware of a few partnerships that place those listings online. But as the Google brainiacs and Web 2.0 conference conveners might say, this just isn't all that "interesting." And at the end of the day, we're free agents in this extended social networking space of the blogosphere + conferences + our day jobs. We got into this stuff, perhaps, because we're entrepreneurial, edgy, etc. If there was a web 1.0, we got into it then because traditional business models were being challenged, and marketplace friction being reduced, through the application of better digital technologies.

For those new to the Canadian directory space (if it's a space at all, since to me it looks like "space" is shifting) for which this debate took place, you may learn a lot by scrutinizing the "income trust" financial structure of the Yellow Pages Group. Notice anything? OK, OK, I'll spell it out. As compared with Silicon Valley companies, an income trust that invests directly in distributions to its shareholders, and in traditional television and billboard "awareness" campaigns, is not investing in its products. There is no Free Prize Inside. Do not pass Go.

Narcissism + worse products + not liking it when people talk about what's interesting to them = major threat to established player, largely self-inflicted.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, April 27, 2006

Why AdCenter Will Fly

MSN Adcenter isn't going to do well because of Bill's billions, or because Ballmer pounds on a table, or because Tom Cruise gets paid to jump on a couch and say he loves the butterfly.

Nope, its success hinges on whether the product is cool or not, from the standpoint of what working search marketers need and want.

The product is cool. It's good. The demographic targeting options and dayparting capability have conference attendees paying rapt attention, more so than you usually see with new product rollouts. It's too early to tell whether the product is stable or particularly usable, but it clearly has been a hit with those who've tried it out. The campaign forecasting tools alone are addictive enough to give new advertisers an incentive to sign up.

Of course the ads have to serve somewhere, so MSN needs to create a great MSN Search product as well, and convince folks to use it. In this case, maybe they should track down Mr. Cruise's agent and show him the money.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Internet Retail Grew 80% in Canada:Statscan

Barbara Coll sent me this report indicating that in 2005, Internet retail sales grew 80% over the year before.

That's solid growth. More than solid. Rapid.

Contrast that with several bearish comments heard in the Search Engine Marketing in Canada: Roundtable forum this morning at Search Engine Strategies Toronto. Maybe it's in the DNA of Canadian business to be a bit cautious and conservative, like a farmer assessing this year's crop by calling it "fair to middling."

But consumers are no longer sitting on their hands. They're web savvy, and willing to take a chance. I'm not particularly interested in "can't do" excuses - such as Canadians' purported preference for debit cards over credit cards. Maybe in the grocery store. But I don't personally know anyone who expects to buy online using some means other than a credit card. It's not scary and it's not exotic. People will adapt and this growth will continue, because it has every reason to: people are getting what they want and need faster.

We've turned the corner, I would argue, as several leading sites offer a better experience for users, driving expectations higher. High expectations are better than low expectations... they'll lead to further growth.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, April 22, 2006

Engineering Profit

Last quarter, I argued in this space that a lot of analysts were underestimating Google. Many spoke of a slowdown and of other woes besetting the company. In a few private conversations with institutional investors, I shared my personal opinion that Google had taken several hard steps in 2005, culminating in the ad quality initiative of late summer and into the fall, that would probably slow revenue growth a bit short term, but set the ad program on a healthy footing. It would take some low priced ads off the system, and force some advertisers to pay more for ads, so the profit margin would eventually rise. That, to me, looked like a move designed to impress Wall Street (eventually), although it also impresses users of the search engine. It's funny how long term growth and taking tough steps to address weaknesses in your company always go hand in hand.

Anyway, I felt bad about this view for awhile because -- on the strength of my comments alone ;) -- the stock of Google surged prior to last quarter's earnings announcement, and then tanked when they didn't live up to expectations.

Yesterday the Google earnings announcement came out for Q1 of 2006, and it was a "blowout" - a real bounce-back from the previous mild disappointment. It looks like all that table-setting did pay off after all, and advertiser confidence in the program continues to be strong and growing. Of note is the significant revenue growth that has been added through new international operations. Fully 42% of Google's revenue is now from international sources.

It's hard to imagine how any company could perform any better financially than this massively scalable international online juggernaut has done in recent quarters.

Hate to beat a dead horse, but this -- and by "this" I mean make their Yahoo Search Marketing platform more scalable and stable and sensible -- is what Yahoo needs to do, instead of constantly changing the subject. Doing this would go hand in hand with scaling their human team internationally. You can't build a global village with straw and spaghetti code.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Information Wants to Be Anal-Retentive

Don't you just love sites like PGATour.com? They make you agree to a Terms of Service document just to look at today's leaderboard. What could possibly happen if I rebroadcast, redistribute or otherwise recycle the news that Rich Beem is now tied for 7th in the Shell Houston Open? One shudders to think.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, April 21, 2006

A Tip of the Cap (and Gown) to Google Scholar

Google Scholar has improved as a citation index that ranks relevance based on peer citatations, as Greg Linden points out. Some bloggers are using examples like "web search" to see how well it works.

But let's really put this thing through its paces. Tried "democratic theory."

Participation and Democratic Theory by Carole Pateman came first. Works by Dahl and Macpherson soon followed. Hey, these are right answers! Not just a jumble of results. These are the works that a student of the field would have to read first.

It's a delightful bit of something like irony: a modern search engine influenced by peer citation models, finally going back and applying that to the actual academic world, instead of the wide-open web. It's got potential to be far more useful than those old citation indexes ever were. Or the primitive search functions that were formerly available in library databases.

But, the old brain said -- nothing quite beats the fun of taking your particular subject area, going to the shelf for that Library of Congress number, and looking at every book there to see if there's anything interesting. That's how I came across, for example, that book that takes the idea of democratic representation to the extreme, for argument's sake.

Take a look at who or what interests are formally represented in a representative system - in a house of representatives, elected senate, or parliament. It's plain to see that the only interest formally represented is geographic, and frankly, as a democratic device, that's plain capricious and weird. Of course we have plenty of other checks and balances, including the judicial system, but still. So this author proposes that every salient characteristic in politics be represented in an enormous parliament of several thousand representatives. You'd have to have x number of men, various ethnic groups (of course this is mandated in some parts of the world, but again, capriciously), age groups, sexual orientations, etc. These wouldn't be just lobby groups -- they'd be right in parliament! Obviously an extreme argument. But not a bad one, especially in the context of a bicameral or tricameral system where that house acted as an advisory body with certain veto powers.

The only problem is - I can't remember the author's name.

Off to Google Scholar. Type in "statistical democracy." John Burnheim's Is Democracy Possible? is the second listed result. Not bad, Google Scholar. Not bad at all.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, April 20, 2006

ClickTracks Kills the "ClickTracks Killer"

Many people thought the release of Google Analytics -- the free tool based on the old Urchin software -- would prove deadly to ClickTracks, for many the darling of the web analytics industry. Due to the limited availability of Google's offering, that hasn't happened yet. But ClickTracks could obviously see the writing on the wall.

Companies like Google and Yahoo inevitably will do all they can to eat the analytics' vendors lunches. And dinners... and probably breakfasts, too. Maybe even their midnight snacks. Anyway, it's in Google's interest, in particular, to give away tools that give them more insight into online user behavior. They will use this information to sharpen AdWords and to open up new revenue possibilities.

For companies like ClickTracks, though, their sole business is analytics. Any encroachment from companies with ulterior motives threatens their existence. But they aren't just take it lying down. They're fighting fire with fire by offering up a free -- yes free! -- version of ClickTracks. It's called ClickTracks Appetizer, and it sounds like an impressive counterpunch to Google Analytics.

Jennifer Laycock has a nice overview of the software, which is a limited version of the full ClickTracks software. You can download it here.

While you're at it, if you're a ClickTracks user, the company is offering a number of free ClickTracks training seminars to help you get the most of this powerful piece of analytics goodness.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Tuesday, April 18, 2006

When the Walls Come Tumblin' Down

Thousands of realtors are now getting into things like blogging. And their new-found savvy comes not a moment too soon, as companies like Google and Craigslist (not just those scrappy startups) are seeking to cut out some major middleman as they launch or extend their own real estate initiatives. An article on the big players' entry into this most lucrative of commission-based fields mentioned that current average real estate commissions stand at 5.1%. If that's on the way to 2%, it means plenty of pain for your average garden variety real estate broker. A few exceptional players will probably make out OK. And yet the difference probably won't all be captured by these new online players. Surely the ultimate winner, if you do the math, has to be the buyer and the seller, with access to information growing, and commissions shrinking. What remains to be seen is just how far the "for sale by owner" concept can go in this market. Many agents do a lot for their fee, but the market looks like it will pressure many of them to offer a la carte services.

From the ashes of the old, for the sake of full employment, we can only hope new, creative business models emerge.

For now, don't get too excited, Danny cautions. It's the Google Base story again. And the accounts of who Google and Craigslist might threaten focus mostly on newspapers, a clash we've heard of before. What truly does interest the economists, the investment community, and legions of real estate professionals, though, is the fallout on those who earn commissions from transactions. Remember what happened to stockbrokers and insurance companies? Is that finished happening? We are in the middle of something and it's not clear how far it can push.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Two Monitors? Try Two Computers

This whole business with Google Accounts is certainly enough to make you crazy.

Well before there was a GMail, I developed a strong affinity for logging into the Google AdWords platform for a client or two.

Then there came GMail, and other G-stuff, like the chat. I developed a serious Gmail habit.

And then we consolidated our current client accounts, some of 'em anyway, into a My Client Center interface.

My login for Gmail #1 isn't the same as it is for Gmail #2, or the third account I needed to use to keep My Client Center separate from My Other Stuff and My Clients' personal info. Oh, almost forgot, Gmail #1 is used as my login to administer a Google Group, and some other semi-work-semi-timewasting activity. I'm back and forth among these three accounts all day.

So what if I want to pull up that spreadsheet out of email #1, while replying to client using email account #2, and continuing to peer into the AdWords account that is operating under the auspices of account #3? Try it! It really confuses Google. Doing it in different browsers... might work. But possibly the easiest way might be, just having two computers going. Maybe three.

At this stage I turn the floor over to you for the requisite "why don't you...'s" and workarounds that I have no doubt overlooked. Just a sec. Phone's ringing. Michael Dell's on the line. Back in awhile.

Related: Danny Sullivan's Dec. 2005 post, "Havoc with Google Accounts"

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, April 13, 2006

Pressure's on Yahoo

I'm not sure if there's a relationship between Jeremy Zawodny's empty scotch bottle and the release of Google Calendar, but by giving users just one more reason to log into World o' Google, the new product challenges Yahoo in a way that Gmail alone didn't.

I'll file "playing with the new calendar" under permissible "taking the weekend off" activities. Because it's not work - it's fun!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




While We're "Surveilling" People... (Or, Life After Click Fraud)

I have an interview with a Wall Street type today. One of our topics happens to be click fraud. This has usually been a topic when financial analysts have wanted to pick my brain about the search marketing industry.

This coincides with something I've noticed recently: some cracks of daylight in what can be a difficult slog through crummy clicks. For some time now, advertisers in many industries have been aware that the primary sources of bad clicks appear to be (a) bad content partners; (b) malicious clicks on high-priced "core" keywords, possibly by competitors.

Some of the latter is starting to ease off as fraud perpetrators recognize the magnitude of what they are doing. One seller of office supplies on a forum has IP-based proof that employees of a major office supply company click rampantly on his ads, month after month. Now that can be comparison shopping, but it might also be seen as low-level sabotage. Two good results can come of gaining a better understanding of this. One, Google and Yahoo can continue to do a better job of filtering these clicks and not charging the advertiser for them. Two, the perpetrators can eventually be called on the carpet for their behavior, especially if it can be proven to be deliberate or malicious.

How can you prove anything like that? Well, what if this started to happen: people who rampantly click on high-cost search ads have their activities logged, and actions investigated. Draconian? Maybe. Impossible? I doubt it. Recently, through a combination of technology from companies like Microsoft and police surveillance, a number of child porn related busts were made. If we're going to be wiretapping everyone anyway, I'm betting that even a clever Internet user could be busted if they were part of a click fraud conspiracy. Or even if they just clicked a few hundred times on high-priced ads in an obvious pattern to defraud.

I'm no believer in draconian surveillance. But I am tired of high-tech rogues basically taunting us with the premise that they can't be caught. They're just too darn sophisticated! For those of us who often keep ads turned on only in the United States and a few other countries (not Poland), I think it's entirely possible that the perps overestimate their capacity for anonymity.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, April 10, 2006

Tragically Hip

In the Search Insider email from MediaPost, Sara Holoubek remembers some tortured meetings from days gone by.

"IN THE LATE 90S, I was working on a campaign to make Compaq hip. The firm attempted to buy itself coolness by sponsoring Sting's world tour..."

Make Compaq hip?

Hip... hip... Ok, good idea I guess. But Sting? I know it was way back in the "late 90's," but...Sting? My wife's uncle Hugh, an octogenarian trumpet player, is hipper than Sting (who I recall liking quite a bit well before the "late 90's"). Although admittedly, uncle Hugh doesn't have a world tour you can sponsor. I bet he'd open for Sting though, if you asked.

It would be hipper to let yourself be acquired by HP. Hipper to hire Carrot Top as your pitchman. Hipper to incorporate Fred Willard into your ad creative.

If you love somebody, set him free. Please.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, April 07, 2006

How Hard Can it Be....?

To order common, garden-variety tradeshow logo materials - say, about 1,000 or so? As I've found in the past, hard.

Today I stumbled on a guy that made it easy. When I said can you get it done fast, he said yes. When I said can you do it for a really low price, he said yes. (Actually, I did NOT ask that -- his lower prices were just a bonus.) When I asked for two-color printing, he didn't say "oh man that's a lot extra," or as in the case of yesterday's encounter, fax me back the quote that said "single color only on this product." He did not charge extra for clips. He upgraded me to a finer material for the same price. Best of all, when I asked about the artwork not being in the right format, he said "send it over!" so I sent it over, he converted it, showed me the proofs, and put the $40.00 for that on the ridiculously affordable quote. All inside of ten minutes.

I know, this post is getting overly Seth-like, as is my bad habit. (Yes, Seth, when I think about what blogging is, I think of your style.) I suppose this is vaguely relevant to the current blog because I found him through his AdWords ad... almost called him the first time because of his focused product offering, but I misguidedly called a local company thinking it made any difference. (He's in Vancouver, the company I called, near Toronto.) The second time I saw his ad, I called him, a full day had elapsed and my rush was greater than ever. Unlike the local firm, he said yes to everything, quickly, and charged me a lot less. I guess his pricing was just the icing on the cake. The "cake" was the fact that minor requests and questions were taken as just that -- minor and easy. When you need 1,000 of something fast, who cares if it will cost $40.00 to convert the art. But the other guys I've talked to in the past (unfortunately, salespeople who hadn't quite understood what movitates their customers) seemed to believe that delaying and hemming and hawing for an entire day about the difficult art conversion process was somehow helpful... when doing it in 5 minutes and charging the $40.00, as I found, is entirely feasible.

Yeesh. So if your ads show up on the page against larger companies, etc., despair not. Many of them are probably saying "no", so the customer will be grateful when they find you. (Is that persuasive momentum? Or just common sense? Whatever you call it.... don't lose it.)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, April 06, 2006

Original Name: Southern Death Cult

The Cult was a great band with a cult-like following (then they got mass appeal). But even they weren't an actual cult.

Contrived cults, contrived buzz... they're all the rage now, you know.

My friend Don, who reads this blog, said over lunch recently that he doesn't believe in "forced" word-of-mouth marketing. I think he's got a point. Trying to seed word of mouth for products that don't have the goods... won't work. Many have tried to "unleash the ideavirus," but there has to be an idea in there for it to make sense.

I can think of no more ridiculous example than the monstrous notion that the SNL so-called "cult classic" video "Lazy Sunday" was being "downloaded all over the web spontaneously" because it was just so frickin' hilarious. That would be like saying that people spontaneously rushed out to see the unfortunate 1995 Frankenmovie, Stuart Smalley Saves His Family, two and three times. Check the financials on those claims!

And so now we have mass-market gum brands being marketed as "cults." And Rickard's Red (Labatt Blue with food coloring) being marketed as a microbrew.

The fact that this won't fool anyone is not the most annoying part of it all. It's that the beer nerd or gum nerd sitting next to you on the barstool or Starbucks couch will explain patiently to you exactly what I told you just now, as if you didn't already know. Next month, he'll probably be under the grip of some word-of-mouth marketing agency, and you'll find yourself drinking Guinness at his suggestion, which you might well have done anyway.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Yahoo: We Want to Love You

Ben Edelman's bringing to light stuff many of us have faced month in, month out, for years: Yahoo Search Marketing's shifty relationships with shady partners such as 180 Solutions. (Latest Via Searchviews.) You can debate what-kind-of-ware they are, but there seems to be no debating: Yahoo Search Marketing advertisers want to be able to explicitly opt in and out of unorthodox placements. Even if you opt into something called "advanced match," I would argue that few would want their matching to be, um, that advanced. Whoops-I-tried-to-get-rid-of-a-popup-and-now-I'm-on-your-site. Lovely. No, if I wanted that, I'd buy it directly.

We've posted exhaustively about such matters. It's too bad they still seem to be riding this merry-go-round.

It's as simple as this: our clients want us to deploy "volume expansion" plans because they don't get enough targeted clicks (who can ever get enough?). Problem: if we're getting fire-hosed with nonsensical clicks at random times, we shut the campaign off. We can't expand it. We have to wait until things develop a certain degree of clarity.

Transparent, we don't expect. Opaque, we cannot tolerate.

Yahoo: we can't wait for the day that you upgrade to translucent. I hear it's going to be the hottest look for fall. (Notice all that lead time we're giving you, and extra time for golf.)

In the meantime, everybody had better upgrade their idea of what web analytics means, to get the full picture on their incoming traffic. The simple reports won't tell you enough about the nasty stuff. And on that note, I'll be back in awhile with a review of the Eisenbergs' new book. Later Gators!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Opposite of Good

So there are these link directories that bill themselves as "search engine friendly." Here's the logic I think you need to apply to them, if you think that listing there will boost your search rankings:

1. The point of the directory is mainly to give you some link juice to help your site rank higher in search engines.

2. Search engines can easily find out about it, since they're prominently advertised.

3. Search engines don't want you ranking higher based solely on trying to rank higher.

4. Ergo, instead of helping, listing in such known link directories will hurt, not help, your rank. That's not the same as being penalized or banned. It just isn't helping your case, and may hurt slightly.

What's your take on that logic? If it's sound, why do people keep buying into these things?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, April 03, 2006

My Conversation with Amy

If you're a small businessperson looking to come up to speed on the ins and outs of the myriad aspects of doing business online, properly, the sheer number of options can be daunting.

Still, to this day, there are few true resources out there that offer unbiased reviews and tips.

I tend to think that some of us marketing professionals in this business try to sell too much to such businesses, too soon, and I'm not shy about saying it. That being said, by arbitrarily determining that the smallest businesses don't "need" what we have to sell, we also decide that they don't need replies, customer service, etc. It's a problem, and a tough one to solve, because if the customer service response is meant to simply convert people to high-cost products and services, then that's less ethical than not responding at all. Bottom line, pointing people to useful free or inexpensive resources costs money, no matter what the Lovecats may say.

So Amy, a marketer with one outstanding product and a lot of unanswered questions, exchanged emails with me recently.

Before I recap the contents of the exchange (with permission; some names have been changed), I should add that you could save yourself a lot of trouble by combing through the resources available at Ralph Wilson's excellent site, Web Marketing Today. In particular, focus on the articles and the reviews of products, services, and publications. Ken Evoy at SiteSell.com also caters to this market, but SiteSell (consider yourself warned) will be more interested in directly selling you things like site builders (you don't have to buy these products, though - their info is also very helpful and some of it is free).

--
Amy wrote to me with a question about my Google AdWords Handbook package:

"I'm on the brink of starting an adwords campaign for the first time
but I don't really know much about it at all. I have never advertised
my product but it it gaining a wide fan base and getting into many
publications, message boards, etc.

1. Will your book/course explain the whole process even to a total
newbie?
2. Robert Rutabaga's was recommended to me by a friend. His company
just sent an update and told about you/yours. He says he has a a
testimonial about your course. (I didn't see it.) His is cheaper.
3. How is yours different from his, the same, better?"

--

I responded:

Amy, Bob's material starts off cheaper but becomes much more expensive if you want the full package.

If you're an absolute beginner and are concerned about the pricing of my materials, I suggest you start slowly. Visit Amazon.com and purchase my book Winning Results with Google AdWords (McGraw-Hill, 2005) for $16. You can't go wrong.

As far as how my stuff is different: Bob got the whole idea of becoming an "AdWords guru" from me. My first AdWords ebook came out in March, 2002 -- 20 months before his first material came out. What can I say. He's a smart man, has a lot of great clients and colleagues who keep him on his toes, and there are enough good ideas in both of us to go around. Many of our "students" have started lucrative businesses just from our materials. One early reader of my book started a marketing company that does $1.5 million a year now - 2/3 of that is profit. Not that this is supposed to make you faint with joy - it's only money, and I know the folks who started that marketing company enjoy the money mainly for the freedom it buys. They like fresh air and volunteer work, and hate the rat race.

Some of our clients are very large (Fortune 500), and we work very hard for them. Some are quite small, and are growing fast, and we work very hard for them.

Looks like you have a sound product, but AdWords can be risky on a small budget if you are trying to find buyers using expensive keywords -- for a very specific product that many potential customers don't yet know they want.

In scrapbooking you will be up against larger companies and that can be tough because they are possibly able to be more scientific through all stages of customer acquisition and retention. Therefore, continue to use a variety of marketing methods, including reliance on natural search traffic. Note: I said "reliance on natural search traffic" -- not "search engine optimization." Good traffic from search engines doesn't require extensive "optimization" if you have real customers and are on top of the basic factors that determine search rank. But do build out the content on your site, in a natural way, so search engines can find you. Pay attention to things like web credibility and usability. Disclose everything fully on your site, and make it easy to navigate. Communicate with your audience, not with (what you think) search engines are going to like.

(Just to be clear, I do believe in many of the techniques crucial to optimizing to improve natural search referrals. But I also believe that 90% of businesses and maybe 90% of the firms they hire to help them with this kind of project commit fundamental errors when they "optimize." Often, they do more harm than good. Check out my "simpleton" article "Anatomy of a #1 Search Result." - http://www.traffick.com/article.asp?aID=115. 3.5 yrs. later, it's still true.)

--

It's not that I believe in giving everything away for free. The reality is, we've turned the corner on that. Companies with sizeable web presences are investing more in web services, more in analytics, and more in measurable traffic. The proposals we send to our clients represent the cost of doing a professional job.

But not everyone is sure how to allocate their budget yet, even if they have a decent one. Is there some panacea to giving small business the type of information they require without breaking their bank account? Maybe it isn't rocket science. Maybe it's as simple as a $16 book.

When you're ready to graduate to the next level, Amy, the higher-priced specialized ebooks, and the tradeshows, will be there when you need them. Keep it going!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Doc Searls: Not the Usual WSJ Drivel for Sure

Doc Searls brightened my day today as one of the few people who will probably consider the moral dimensions of the Web 2.0 brouhaha or business in general, for that matter, all week. By moral dimensions, I don't mean the sneering "they're all crooks" morality of bad business journalists. But rather the assessment of the emerging foundations of modern business communications and what Aristotle might have called commutative justice.

Unfortunately though, Doc's stab at this seemed like one of those nasty first drafts that could turn into a really weak book unless he thought harder about it. Essentially it's three parts Kant, and one part Tim-Sanders-slash-Jesus.

I liked the Markets as Conversations metaphor better (Habermasian). Let's run with that. There is expediency, not morality, in giving stuff away, or giving more than you get. And there is basic efficiency in allowing heightened communication, smoother platforms, and better access to information, as Tim O'Reilly points out.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Where's My Choo-Choo?

It's been reported today that Bill Gates is the largest shareholder in Canadian National Railway Corp., at 5.8%.

As much as he's like to say that it's because it's a modern, diversified company and that they got a lotta computers in dem trains nowadays, Gates also has a special affinity with railway barons of days gone by:

  • Quasi-monopolistic control over a "choke point" in the economy - the world can't get by without him
  • Empire built on an infrastructure that required massive advance government investment
  • Eventually, they try to bust you up

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, April 02, 2006

Tagging as the Answer to Everything?

There seems to be a good reason why "tagging" works so well for communities like Flickr. Users assigning their own "loose" metadata to photos makes it easier to assign attributes on the fly. No particular knowledge or study required. The builders of the system don't have to anticipate any particular structure to the knowledge. No one needs to know anything about XML. A simple text search later on brings up a bunch of the stuff you want.

So, sure there are drawbacks as there are with anything. In public databases like Yahoo's MyWeb, as analysts like Danny Sullivan have commented, tag spam is the biggest threat as it always is with search related stuff out here in the open. But the power of simple tagging appears to have a bright future.

I'd like to tag parts of my AdWords account for reasons of my own. (I'd also like to annotate the account with a log of experiments performed and reasons why - so a commenting system beyond the simple system "activity log" would also be on my wish list for AdWords.)

Ad creative, in particular. In your tracking URL code nomenclature, you can come up with a way to measure everything. But that's actually harder than it looks. Running systematic tests is not something that you always plan for correctly when you're getting all those initial destination URL's set up.

With tagging, I could bring up a list of all ads (and the keywords they apply to) where I used a particular "attribute" - say I had a new type of free shipping offer that I wanted to compete against the old version of same. I might tag it with "freeshipitem". Further, let's assume that a lot of the ad groups (keywords) these new ads applied to were relatively low volume, but that they were directly competing against the older type of offer. Having thrown a bunch of those little tests up in relevant parts of a very large account, I would now have a difficult-to-follow mess of new ads being tested against the old, in a bunch of different places. To get some illuminating "across the board" answers about the effectiveness of all ads with that attribute, you could just pull up a specialized type of custom report within the AdWords interface.

In short then, you can track just about anything, and customize your ROI tracking in just about any way you like. But that's in theory. In the real world, tagging might allow for further customiaztion "after the fact," "on the fly," etc. - and one tag wouldn't need to compete with the other. The tags would be just a way of tracking down the parts of your account that you felt were significant or themed in a certain way, for the purposes of getting aggregate numbers on the whole group that matched that attribute. An analyst could even go in for you and "describe" your existing ads using tags - for example, if you used a special display URL with a keyword-rich subdirectory, you could have a person tag all these with "keyrichdir," instead of having to be aware enough to build these into your tracking code nomenclature at the start.

Hey, that's just an example. In general, I don't think we've seen the end of tagging as a practical "idiot's way" of pulling customized information out of a database.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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