Tuesday, May 30, 2006
I recently learned that MSN is willing to confirm that a Canadian rollout of AdCenter is slated "for 2006." One can only assume that the larger UK market will see an earlier rollout. Some chatter on the forums says June 2006 for a fairly wide-open UK beta. It's unlikely that MSN's entry will be particularly disruptive to paid search spending patterns at first, but it is worth noting that MSN Search is ahead of Yahoo in Canada, in second place, in part because its partnership with leading broadband provider, Sympatico.
Hat-tip to John Krystynak (Got Ads? blog) - Heather Hopkins of Hitwise UK has a killer, fact-packed blog going. If this means anything to you, Skype visits are through the roof due to a partnership with Bebo, which, as it happens, has pulled ahead of MySpace in the social networking category in the UK.
Monday, May 29, 2006
Since Day One of v 2.0 of Adwords (Feb. 2002), Google has strongly signaled that it is willing to trade off some revenue for long-term sustainability in its ad program. It's willing to spend cash in order to remove "unpleasant" or irrelevant ads from the system. The definition of poor quality ads, now as then, is probably a combination of user responses and company values.
These principles have not always been easy to enforce, however. Since introduction of a Quality Score concept in August (or so)*, Google has essentially redoubled its efforts to fine-tune the system so that it can understand exactly how much revenue it is forgoing when it enforces certain rules, and favors certain kinds of ads over others (regardless of bid or even CTR).
Last week (or so)*, advertisers became aware - through an update to the terms and conditions - that Google has begun spidering every landing page in the AdWords system to gain added cues for its quality scoring process. That raises key questions, of course. Weren't they doing this already? If not, what were they doing? Rumors abounded that they used human review, that they used information from their existing (index) crawls, and of course, that they were doing this crawling all along without telling us, though this latter is denied by those who watch out for crawlers.
Regardless, it is an improvement to have the rules made slightly more explicit. Post pages that don't give adequate access to the crawler - or adequate keyword cues - and you risk facing the wrath of the quality scoring algorithm. It's less of a worry as much if you have an established account - it's new accounts that face the toughest tests with the predictive aspect of the algorithm, intended to weed out specific types of violators, experimenters, and ham-fisted copywriters.
A final takeaway - and since I'm in London right now, that word is making me hungry: more so than when editorial policies were enforced by people, the quality score regime allows Google to not only penalize certain types of ad quickly and painlessly, it allows them to test and model the response in the system, and even the impact on the company's revenues. If there is a particular genre of ad that Google and its users don't like, Google can assess with some precision how much cash they're going to have to spend to buy quality for their users. Now Google even knows the cost to shareholders of setting up sanctions against various evils.
* - Explanation of "Or so": The Quality Scoring system was announced in August 2005, but aspects of it were likely in use as early as January 2005. Spidering landing pages explicitly began with the new TOC last week, but Google's been checking landing page availability, and scanning pages and whole sites in order to make keyword suggestions, for over a year - that's the little wait with the colorful animated balls when you upload a new ad, new keywords, etc. Anyway, now that we've all agreed to the new TOC "through continued use" of the AdWords system (without explicitly being asked to click a checkbox), the question of who told us what, when, is now relegated to yesterday's news. This uncertainty about the timing of certain initiatives (they happen before they're announced, sometimes) underscores both Google's secrecy and their impulse to experiment and tinker early and often.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
So it seems open-source advocates get lambasted when they sue nonprofits for using terms like "Web 2.0" because said advocates' companies have registered "Web 2.0" as a servicemark. How doubly ironic when said nonprofit has invited you to speak at their conference.
Already, the reaction has outstripped commentary on the O.J. Trial. Next we'll probably be downloading video of Tim O'Reilly doing a slow getaway in a white Bronco, with a horrified look on his face as he hops "back on the grid" and checks his Blackberry...
I'm sure you don't need my take, so here's a meta-take. I looked at all the blog comments on the Radar O'Reilly blog and I'd like to vote for this one as my favorite:
Sara: Hi Tim, how's your vacation going?
Tim: Pretty good. What's up Sara?
Sara: Um, well, remember that idea I had to sue non-profits for cash?
Tim: Yeah.Sara: And remember how I told you I was good at PR?
Sara: Yeah, well...hmm, let's see, how to put this? There's a bit of a "situation" developing here.
Tim: Don't worry about it, Toots, I'll have facilities fix the coffee-maker first thing Monday morning, as soon as I get back.
Sara: No, no, it's not about the coffee-maker.
Tim: So what's this about?
Sara: Well, remember when Michael Brown got that FEMA job for which his only qualification was being a colossal failure at raising Arabian horses?
Sara: And remember how I told you that I had some PR experience but you never checked my references because we were sleeping together at the time?
Sara: Well, I've never actually "done" PR. My most recent position was cleaning the Arabian Horse stables for Michael Brown.
Tim: Are you saying you've Katrinaed us?
Sara: Yes. And I've done a "heckuva job" of it.
Posted by: JP at May 26, 2006 03:51 PM
It's funny, because it's not true.
Except for the part about CMP Media registering Web 2.0 as a servicemark, and suing a nonprofit. That happened!
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Shoptoit.ca, Canada's leading shopping engine, has inked a partnership that will place its merchant listings on the MSN-Sympatico portal. That's major! I heard the unconfirmed plan last month, but today, a press release from the two companies confirms it. The listings go live June 1.
I'm guilty. I pump up Yahoo's market share in things like calendar, mail, and finance. But I also use Gmail regularly, eventually will switch to GCal (maybe), and really think Google Finance is cool (but only use it 20% of the time).
New Hitwise data bears this out. Google has a huge lead in search, but lags in many other areas.
Still, something's not quite right about how this is being reported. Take, for example, Google Maps. Supposedly, it has 8% share, well behind Mapquest and Yahoo Maps. 8%? Really? Something's off here, isn't it? Am I the only one who can't believe it?
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Ever notice how many Wikipedia entries show up prominently in Google search results? Here we go again.
Depending on the type of search query, over the years, certain large websites have been so good at offering the "definitive" or at least leading resource page for a given subject that Google searchers have found themselves clicking through to the same major portals again and again. In short, these are the perennial SERP's winners, the ones that seem to have a reasonably good answer, solution, or chunk of content for just about anything.
Lately, Wikipedia's been all over the place. But over the years we've seen this with:
But it's patently obvious that those situations can't stay static. Either the large site in question directly competes with Google, or it's just not a level playing field to let them mop up so many SERP wins at the expense of their competitors.
- Yahoo category pages
- Dmoz category pages
- Various shopping engines
- Looksmart category pages
- And many others
Whether consciously or unconsciously, it seems that many such perennial victors fall back into a more normal range, where they share SERP wins and losses, like everyone else.
One possible reason that some of these sites do so well is that Google has to take such an aggressive stance against spam and rules violations, that it weeds out a lot of pages that once ranked. The remaining sites may be "backfill" in a sense -- unspectacular but reliable pages from sites like yellowpages.ca, which might show listings several times throughout the first few pages of SERP's on a localized query like "furniture toronto".
In other cases, perennial victors are taking advantage of the poor quality of results on long-tail local terms. A Canadian site called fabuloussavings.ca appears in the top five listings on a huge number of queries, such as "marble flooring toronto," no doubt irritating more established businesses that weren't built around optimizing for search engines.
It seems we're a long way from the "perfect search" held up as the ideal in the final chapter of John Battelle's The Search.
One reason is the adversarial nature of a public search index; the effort to weed out spam weakens results in unforeseen ways. The search companies do have clever workarounds, like highlighting other types of results (like local search) that work differently from the main index, to give them credit for moving in the right direction.
A second point to ponder, though, is that the major search companies are, yes, portals. Media compnaies. Would-be monopolists. They want good search -- yes. But perfect search? Even fair search? I doubt it. If a definition of "fair" as search scientists saw it meant that a lot of pages from a competing local listings company wound up in the top three of SERP's across millions of queries, do you think Google or Yahoo would let it ride, or would the definition of fairness keep changing? Would they, as Page and Brin wrote in "Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine -- Appendix A: Advertising and Mixed Motives" (2000), "add a small factor to search results from 'friendly' companies, and subtract a factor from results from competitors"? Overtly, no. Subconsciously or indirectly - almost surely.
How does this relate to Wikipedia as today's SERP Staple? It's neither a "friendly" nor "unfriendly" entity, so, like "too much dmoz," it'll likely fall out of SERP favor over time on the basis of users feeling there's simply "too much Wikipedia in there."
GLOSSARY: SERP = Search Engine Results Page
Monday, May 22, 2006
Google is now making a market between publishers and advertisers with a new ad product: Video Ads. AdSense publishers may choose to display these ads, and some advertisers, especially larger ones short on rich media inventory, will likely seek to experiment with buying them through Google.
The method for advertisers to upload the ads is similar to the current system for uploading display ads in content targeting, but a new "upload video ad" option is now available. Advertisers must upload both a "starter static image" and a video ad in any of the major streaming video formats. They'll be available to advertisers who choose site targeting (on a CPM basis) or classic content targeting (CPC).
Google's Product Management Director, AdSense, Gokul Rajaram, told me that the format will be less intrusive than typical video ads, as the user can choose whether to play the ad. Otherwise it sticks to the static starter image. In addition, some advanced metrics will be offered to advertisers, including "playback rate" and "playback length."
Google kicks the product off having beta-tested it with several test sites such as socialitelife.com and purevolume.com. They are hoping for uptake from advertisers such as movie studios, automakers, and travel providers, who may already have video available for promotional purposes.
Danny Sullivan is world-renowned for his donut expertise, only slightly behind his search engine expertise. We're proud to learn that he thinks Tim Hortons donuts are the best in the world. I have, thus far, refrained from telling Danny the entire history of the company. Nor have I told him about my friend Steve, who holds a PhD in History (and wrote a dissertation that included lengthy sections on, yes, donut culture in Canada and the history of franchising). But I will, if he has a spare hour.
This news is a bit old, but I thought I'd take the time to tell people who don't know that yes, in addition to all the other writing he does, Danny's been quietly publishing a personal blog, Daggle.com, for some time now.
Friday, May 19, 2006
Here's a real post from Craigslist:
"I need a place to leave my hockey equipment to dry this summer. Any sort of space with a little air movement where it can be spread out and the smell won't bother anyone (and where it won't get rained on) would work fine. Most weeks I'd use it once or twice, probably picking it up sometime in the early evening and dropping it back off fairly late. Price negotiable."
If there are no takers in the parking/storage category, I suggest the poster move this to the "Personals: What Men Seeking Women Really Want" section of the classifieds.
I don't often comment on our AdWords/Yahoo client campaigns in this space, but I thought you would like to know. One retail client has Trump: The Game on their voluminous product list.
Some products sell well, some poorly.
But the Trump board game has sold, well... zero copies this year. None.
So if The Donald comes up to you, with his trademark monotone, and starts trying to feed you some guff about "This is the best selling board game of all time...," remember, I've got the data to prove that's just another classic Trump nose-stretcher.
In her latest High Rankings newsletter, SEO pioneer Jill Whalen comes out with guns a'blazin' against the outdated insistence on achieving, err, high rankings. She wisely claims that SEO success is achieved by inducing action by your visitors and not in simply showing up when somebody searches for something.
Although the article rambles a bit, the gist is clear: search engine rankings alone are a poor yardstick for measuring the success of SEO campaigns. Instead, start boning up on web analytics with tools like ClickTracks or Google Analytics. That's where the real action is.
On the surface, Jill's point seems absurdly obvious. But, for whatever reason, SEO myths about rankings being of paramount importance still persist. Maybe it's because most SEO consultants don't have the business chops to understand business and the metrics that reflect successful business. Or maybe it's because getting your site from point Z to point A in search engines is an easy concept that unsophisticated marketers understand. There's no two ways about it: data collection, analysis and action takes a lot of time, energy and brains.
So if you're working with an SEO company that thinks rankings are the most important achievement you can make in SEM, rather than just an activity that brings visitors to your site and that give you data to analyze and act on, you need to get a new consultant!
Thursday, May 18, 2006
It looks like Yahoo's Search Marketing platform, expected to begin ramping up in Q3 (but we still bet full switchover to live serving is for 2007), is moving in an exciting direction.
In addition to demographic targeting options, it's moving towards advising advertisers which keywords carry a stronger "intent to buy." That not only helps advertisers bid appropriately on the inventory, but it may reduce the number of ads on non-commercial inventory, which should benefit users.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
The first ever mesh conference is now in the books.
After day 2 yesterday, my impression was even more positive overall than after day 1.
The day began with a contentious keynote Q&A in which PR expert Steve Rubel traded perspectives on corporate blogging, and whether "character blogs" (like let's say Mickey Mouse blogged) are inauthentic. The exchange with the audience was rather electric. As a mere spectator to that whole area (other than being a "character" who "blogs"), I'm not sure if I 100% picked up on every nuance, but it looks as if there's a continuum: those that are 100% "authentic" in their conception of blogging, who feel it works best if the writer has a true voice, on one end, and on the other, people who are in the grip of the advertising industry's aspirations, so will say anything to justify a blog that can push somebody's product (so, the people who say that "character blogs" are "successful"). Rubel seemed to come down somewhere in the middle, though it has to be said that this is a rather strange middle if his company is taking promotional materials from Wal-Mart, sending it to bloggers, and "hoping they'll find it useful, but knowing they can comment on it any way they like." Honestly, this doesn't sound anywhere close to my idea of blogging. Web 2.0 it ain't. It's "push".
But am I saying that just because it's Wal-Mart?
Albert Lai of Bubbleshare, Malgosia Green of Nuvvo, and Michael McDerment of Freshbooks were asked at a later session how they promoted their startups. Green's and Lai's companies directly approached hundreds of influencers in their field who blog, and got great word-of-mouth response. McDerment mentioned that his company needed to spend a bit more on AdWords ads to get his product, an online invoicing system, noticed. In any case, there seems to be a clear distinction between the type of engaged word of mouth in the blogosphere created by entrepreneurs like Green and Lai, and Wal-Mart sending PR puff out to (so-called) bloggers in the hopes that they can dominate the discourse. In part because Wal-Mart has so many products and so much to say. That's not how real word of mouth works, is it? As someone who might actually be looking for a cool online app, hearing about one from a blogger I trust seems intuitive. It seems like the kind of conversation we need, when it fills a huge void and gets us to the real goods faster.
Dr. Paul Kedrosky gave the second a.m. keynote, on the current venture capital environment. From the back of the room, Kedrosky looked like a handsome version of Harold Ramis, I thought. My next thought, as he talked animatedly about the overfunding of certain sectors by Silicon Valley investors, was: "Stiller-like." But facial superficialities aside: Kedrosky is a great educator on the whole capital funding infrastructure that supports and creates both bubbles and legitimate forms of growth. There was some consensus between Kedrosky and the audience that deals like Skype being bought out and the funding of a mere browser front-end such as Flock were examples of the irrationality that takes hold, where non-businesses get more money than makes sense. But there was also the important point that it doesn't matter, because VC's are trying to win through dealflow, by finding the one or two good deals that do work. So not only will they fund a lot of duds, they'll look at 1,000 business plans, most of which suck, because that's the nature of their business. In this economy, Kedrosky argues, "it takes a lot of bodies to fill a swamp." A clear conclusion, if you don't want to be one of those bodies, is to run your business and your career a little more conservatively -- don't seek VC funding, don't quit everything to chase a hot sector. Or, if you want the world to be a better place... and already have some economic security or are a little bit crazy... do it. :) After hearing about a wide range of trends and hot sectors in this session, some from audience discussion, it wasn't all that much of a shock to me to hear that pretty much the only profitable startups out of the gate are dating sites. One niche play out of Vancouver was mentioned, doing something like $10-15,000 a day in advertising revenue, while charging lower fees than usual for memberships. If the fact that things like dating sites are the only clearly profitable plays worthy of mention in a Web 2.0 conference shocks you, well... where have you been!?
Kedrosky and the audience also agreed that companies are being funded today on the basis of features - not products. But that wasn't surprising, Kedrosky argued, in a world where Google is willing to release features and call them new products? (Isn't Jeteye, a startup, better than Google Notebook? Is either a product?) Sure enough, shortly after hearing that comment, I received an email reminder from Jeteye's PR that I really should take time to compare Jeteye with Google's new "product." I plan to do so, in fact have been planning to do so since founder David Hayden was good enough to talk with me months ago! Arrgggh...
Seriously, though, if we're talking about tools that make it easy to build a dossier of information, files, etc., based on your research, and to share it with others, that's just another choice of platform that you'd need to make. It really might well be a feature as opposed to a product, in the sense that many at the conference are pondering issues like corporate Wiki adoption, etc. There are no silver bullets, but you can only persuade colleagues to participate in so many different forms of collaboration. If there are too many product (feature) pitches, we're all back to email attachments and apathy. :)
All in all, the conference exceeded attendees' expectations. I did hear a couple of minor complaints about people with an agenda (a product to push) tilting things. That's always a concern, but I felt a fair balance was mostly struck.
It's just not very often you get to hear speakers of this caliber. Hearing lessons from the owners of living, breathing, and successful startups - not in any canned way, but in an interactive format - is all too rare. There were several packed sessions on other topics, also. For example, Canadians just don't often get too hear directly from the managers of their leading online brands -- the senior VP of Chapters Online, Jonathan Ehrlich, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd.
One of the odd meetings I had, at the reception afterwards, was with the brother of Mark Evans, one of the conference organizers. Mark is more high profile with his blog and writing in the National Post. But it turns out his brother manages e-commerce for Canadian Tire, which is more practically related to some of what I do. He introduced himself and said he'd read my book. That was unexpected.
I also met one speaker, Elissa Gjertson, who got some rave reviews for her innovative "15 minutes of fame" company presentation. After taking her transparent business card, I enjoyed her departure from the serious advertising vernacular and into uncanny impressions of her own Minnesota accent. I told her I was speaking in Minnesota at a MIMA event on June 14, and she told me she was a member so would definitely be showing up to heckle me. :) Small world! But I guess making it just a bit smaller was the point of mesh.
The last session of the day really confirmed for me how rare it is to get a group like this together.
In a session on how Web 2.0 will change the software industry, reps from companies like Flock and Wordpress offered piercing insights on how the user experience is changing. As evangelists for certain (modest-seeming) improvements in the way we accomplish daily tasks, there was a refreshing radicalism to their takes on various topics. For a change, they were in a room where they were largely preaching to the converted, which made for a nice comfort level and a willingness to open up. It's just interesting to hear how many people are using certain kinds of collaborative tools (like Basecamp), how someone is working on "microformats" to make little pieces of your online experience more interoperable, etc. The most impressive thing is, the panel wasn't cowed at all when challenged by an audience member who had an admitted vested interest in saying "online banking apps are currently perfectly usable." This group was clearly not interested in "saying the right thing," but rather in imagining the future, and so -- if necessary -- saying wrong things to see if it leads to innovation. Possibly this attitude is more prevalent among software developers, especially at maverick startups (Automattic of Wordpress fame has only five people!). It's quite possible that the majority of "business" conferences -- even those that claim to be about innovation and change -- are substantively more conservative than those centered around the goals and aspirations of Web 2.0.
Throughout the day, the gang from G4TechTV Call for Help were shooting on site, unusual for them as they usually shoot out of the Rogers studios on Lake Shore Blvd. Various attendees and random passersby were being asked to come down the escalator, and "look natural." A producer on the show confided that mesh was a hotbed for him in terms of booking guests for future shows. Probably 95% of the speakers would say yes to coming on the show in a heartbeat, at least if they're locals.
One of my clients, CEO of a local tech company, bought a whole table beer and nachos afterwards - hungrily devoured by a couple of the university students who had managed to snag free "student designated" passes to the conference. That worried me, because he'd announced that "suppliers buy for all his customers," but then, I realized, I'm not only a supplier, I'm also a customer. Yep, both! Small world.
Events like mesh are not easy to put together. This one was an unqualified success. To the organizers - Stuart, Mark, Michael, et al., - please do it again!
Monday, May 15, 2006
Our good friend Mitch Joel has implored us to blog a bit about mesh. Well, I'll tell you a bit of what I saw.
First of all, to reiterate, a tightly organized, thematically consistent two-day conference on emerging Web 2.0 trends, divided into keynotes, practical workshops, and panel discussions, went from conception to reality in only 9 weeks. A flurry of last-minute registrations sold the joint (maRs, a grand new facility at 101 College Street) out. It looked like 350 people were in the keynote, so probably that's close to 400 attendees. I had honestly expected 100-150 when Stuart told us about it. He and the organizers must be ecstatic.
Om Malik led off, interviewed by Mark Evans of The National Post. Both have popular weblogs and both have been a bit consumed by the wireless and VoIP spaces, so their blogs are sort of like bookends in my mental map. Evans is the consummate pro, and like many Canadians, fair-minded and polite. Thankfully, Malik told us what he really thought, and was highly entertaining. On traditional newspapers, etc., he basically said that Darwinist forces will kill the bad ones and fairly soon, and that many news organizations aren't suited to be in that business at all.
Although I didn't catch it, I heard Malik ruffled a few more feathers when he sat on the "Are Bloggers Journalists?" panel.
I spent the afternoon focusing on practical workshops. The first was about wikis. I was a bit surprised the vastly erudite crew of key speakers (there was one presenter, and some "co-talkers" who spoke more than others, though seated around the room) didn't offer any kind of corrective to the assumption that the "to Wiki or not to Wiki" decision would be "will you have a corporate Wiki." There was also a software developer bias to the reasoning. Many talkers (they weren't speakers, so I'll call them talkers) seemed eager to correct people's notions of how to collaborate at a company, with the usual enthusiasm for the notion of changing corporate culture to be more bottom-up (standard Cluetrain stuff at best, right?). By now, the breathless cheerleading should have given way to an admission that there are solid corporate reasons not to treat every project, collaboration, document, etc. as an open-ended, non-hierarchical sandbox that never gets shut down. For one thing, did it ever occur to anyone that the owner of the company (even if that's YOU) should want and encourage closure, a sense of finality, of time management, of moving onto other tasks? I recall in the heady days of grad school, feeling like those 16-hour formless days of following the eddies of my ideas and going on a huge tear on something that wasn't getting me any closer to the BIG goal... was totally normal. So -- there are very practical reasons to have Wikis or other forms of more efficient, distributed decision making and project management -- definitely. And the session gave me ideas I'd like to try. But I definitely felt like the Wiki cheerleading was slanted and a tad preachy. A lawyer contributed a great idea for moving his colleagues towards a better method of collaborating on documents, using a Wiki. To me, that was a solid business case. But one of the main talkers dismissed this step forward as "rather transactional" (whatever that means). So it would seem that the only people allowed to catch on and use the Web 2.0 technology are that narrow sliver of folks who qualify as visionaries rather than two levels down at the level of crossing the chasm to real-world application? Bollocks, if so.
Got some great tips on the nuts & bolts of Podcasting at the next session, hosted by Amber Macarthur. One of her suggestions was to investigate specialized hosting arrangements if you're planning a lot of audio or video broadcasting - hello, if you have a lot of subscribers, your web host will probably charge you about a million bucks for bandwidth. She recommends a service called LibSyn which has amazing pricing and specializes basically in hosting these kinds of files. I had to ask some kind of question after, so I asked where to buy the mike she uses to record, which she demo'd at the front of the room. Actually got an answer -- Carbon Computing! -- which is near where I used to live, in Seaton Village (which real estate agents call Upper Annex). But Amber and her cohort were a bit at sea when it came to recommending any recording platforms other than those for the Mac - they recommended one called Audio Hijack.
At the reception, I drank diet Coke (because I had to play floor hockey later), bumped into new friends, and some old. Got Andy from Yahoo to promise me I can drop by the office sometime to spy on them. :) I hear they've just had a law passed now that makes it legal for them to torture spammers.
One of the folks I met said his startup site was a cross between TripAdvisor and Digg. I was having trouble hearing the word "Digg" and needed it repeated a couple of times. Maybe I'm just not cut out for this brave new world. :) In fact, it's possible I mis-remember this, and it's a mashup of Flickr, Pong, and the security camera at a gas station at Park Lawn and Lakeshore. I think there was something in that Diet Coke.
I missed the party at the Drake - because of floor hockey.
I'll report on what sessions I catch tomorrow. But our office is nearby, and so are some great lunch spots, so I'm sure I'll sneak off for a bit.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Last month, a few of the faithful SES crowd were stumbling from the Ultra Supper Club towards The Charlotte Room. We found ourselves crossing the street with Stuart Macdonald. He was nice enough to stumble alongside us for awhile. He slyly mentioned something about "not really having to work," but that he was "back in Toronto" and "organizing events now." He then gave me a card that referred to Toronto's very own web 2.0 conference, mesh.
The following week, I checked it out, and registered. What a concentration of web-savvy folks, both speakers and attendees -- and no need to fly anywhere. And an after-party at The Drake -- a cool place I couldn't quite squeeze in when introducing newcomers to the city last month. :)
It's been awhile since we pointed, um, sarcastically to the bubble mentality of 2000, wondering if perhaps the blogosphere and the VC-osphere-ad-revenue-gravy-train et al. had become just a bit of an "infinite regression" scenario, or at the very least, temporarily self-referential and thus magnifying the importance of some players, until the cash wears off.
All these years later, the party is revving up again, and once more, dissenting voices come from some guy who lives in a van down by the river. OK, well, this critic -- Joe Clark -- lives in Leslieville, actually... which is not far from Riverdale.
So will mesh turn out to be superficially ouroboros or inspiringly Znaimerific?
This may seem post-hypercritical of me, but... who cares? For the paltry reg. fee, the chance to finally meet Om Malik, bump into the Wordpress founder at the Drake, and catch up with old friend Debbie Weil, among other things... it's much more than worth it. That's a lot of savvy networking for your dollar, per square foot, per minute.
Sorry, but I see on the site... the conference is now sold out. :)
Now that Chris Anderson is gaining more notoriety with his steady volume of postings and speeches on the Long Tail concept, many are analyzing its application to their particular industry.
The Long Tail of search queries is of particular interest to ours. Indeed for smarter organic optimizers, it's become a sort of shorthand. "Most of how I approach it is long tail," one leading SEO told me recently.
When it comes to placing keyword buys (paid search), though, I tend to think we're still buzzing around the issue, and sometimes clouding it.
I've opined here in the past that most paid search campaigns should focus on the "middle of the tail," not the long part of (what Danny calls) "onesies and twosies" (odd search queries that might get one or two searches a year). No matter how long that tail, it's generally good business to focus on the 80% of the searchers that will come in through more frequently-searched queries. And that could be as high as 90-95%, if you're using matching options, such as broad match.
Confounding the matter is all the excitement emanating from the top folks at your Googles and Yahoos about their contextual ad programs. It's all very cool, theoretically, that the many niche sites out there can plug in Adsense or YPN, earn a few dollars, etc. without needing an advertising department.
But do advertisers really want, or understand, this inventory? Isn't the Long Tail part of the story also a way of diverting attention from the fact that these automated ad programs don't do very much to help advertisers get placed on larger sites? That they do little to "accredit" participating publishers, or to collect demographic information on them?
Advertisers are looking to tap the Long Tail after they get the low hanging fruit, sure. But the automated, just-trust-us inventory is not very Web 2.0-ish, in spite of the cachet of the Long Tailishness of the contextual programs. Persistent, savvy advertisers -- the type who understand the long tail concept in the first place -- are probably looking for a way of searching the advertiser base that includes more attributes about the participating websites. For example, quality publishers could voluntarily participate in a program that measures user paths and readership habits, so they could be distinguished from build-to-monetize "crap" sites who have virtually no real readership. It'll come, hopefully.
Friday, May 12, 2006
All over the world, kids are out there kicking soccer balls, shooting hoops, maybe even hitting a golf ball. Most won't ever make a dime from the pursuit. What they earn is the thrill of doing better, when they try -- in a structured way -- to do their best. It's a great feeling when they do have that good game, and someone actually says "great game today." Makes them feel like Tiger Woods for a day, or at least a moment.
Matt Cutts is a low-key guy, so he's probably not going to want me to mention this. But he reviewed Winning Results with Google AdWords today on his blog.
The story goes something like this: in August, the publisher and I put together a list of reviewers in fairly standard fashion. Interested journalists, industry experts, etc.
A little while later, I decided to send a few out purely on my own. One of those was to Googler Extraordinaire Matt "Jagger" Cutts.
There was zero response or mention, so I just assumed that this is the sort of thing Matt "doesn't do." I was so right!
Today, he published a positive review out of the blue. And went on at some length about his ethical dilemma in accepting a "gift" of the book! (He bought his own copy on Amazon to make it right.)
You know that feeling you get when you get a compliment that is semi-sincere, or an endorsement from one of those people Godin refers to as "promiscuous sneezers"? It feels OK, but nothing special.
When a true skeptic, a guy who has worked in the AdWords team as a engineer in the past, and now has nothing to do with the ad side, overcomes his fear of "gifts" and posts a really positive comment, it means a lot more. In fact, that review (in my mind and gut) is the most positive one to date, and that's after eight long months in print. Matt, I'll be having Sprite with my pho for lunch today, to celebrate.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Google's released Google Co-Op, a means for putting together vertical search engines. And there's some element of tagging in here too, as Danny reports. Danny and Barry spent some time playing around with it, and are sounding confused -- I haven't the time, so I'm 10x more confused than they...
Next best thing to being at Google's Press Day:
Matt Cutts, huge post on Google Press Day 2006
Danny Sullivan, My Big Fat 2006 Google Press Day Roundup
Exhilarating release in Google Labs: Google Trends. This is moving towards being an answer to MSN adCenter's demographic keyword research. I did a car-related query and it paid immediate, fun dividends:
Clicking on the "regions" tab I discovered that Canadians (comparatively speaking) love the subcompact Toyota Echo. BMW 335i is a brand new product for fall, so the tiny blue blip shows searches just beginning a couple of weeks ago.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
It's come to my attention that some might misread the tone of this blog as "sarcastic."
We're not sarcastic -- we're Canadian.
OK, Cory isn't Canadian. He's from Missouri. The "Show Me" state.
So, I'm Canadian, and a bit sarcastic. Tell you something you didn't know.
I'm also rather passionate about the facts, and letting customers (the marketplace) speak loud and clear. I'm re-reading Jim Collins' now-classic Good to Great. What we know, from this great work, is that great companies let the facts -- as dictated by market conditions -- speak loud and clear. Cheerleading and happy thoughts have often been the downfall of the "comparison" (merely good) companies. Needless to say, facts can be uncomfortable.
It's been said the job of any newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. Who the "afflicted" are is anyone's guess in this world, but as we consult directly with advertisers, you can assume it's them I'm comforting when I'm writing things that afflict the comfortable.
On top of everything else, I was working on a PhD in Stalinist poetry before I got this gig, so...
That last bit wasn't true.
Now back to making money hand over fist.
Monday, May 08, 2006
If you're a Yahoo Search Marketing advertiser, you've seen the email by now outlining the New Sponsored Search. The features are interesting, but the most important piece of info for advertisers, pundits, and Wall Street alike is the launch date: "Fall."
Practically speaking, then, you're stuck with the old platform for another 6-7 months. Don't let your campaign lie fallow waiting all that time while competitors pick up leads. It's possible to make the old system work.
Let's turn to some comments on the new features.
Fixing the awful control panel: well, yeah, we knew that would be at the top of the list. Seeing what you're supposed to see, quickly... it's just tablestakes isn't it?
Fast ad activation: that's an interesting twist (AdWords-like). It contrasts with the "order" system of the new MSN adCenter, which has "Overture-like" editorial approval. We'll see if the Yahoo human infrastructure deals well with the new automation -- I would expect it to help them in their jobs.
Ad testing: always one of the most awesomest features of AdWords. We can't wait.
Geotargeting: will affect a significant percentage of advertisers.
Comparisons with competitors; "quality index"; this one is murky, and not sure whether I like it. Being benchmarked against competitors largely based on CTR is certainly to the advantage of the search engines, but you worry that advertisers will be given bad advice on how to "improve" their campaigns. Even with lower CTR's hurting position on the page, it is possible that a higher ROI might result. As usual, the advertisers who track best, will do best. Wonder if they've got dynamic keyword insertion lurking in the wings, too?
Yahoo plans to offer a blog, and regular articles giving you the "inside scoop" from staff on how to best take advantage of the system. Kudos. As always we'll be here (and there) with the "outside scoop" (unbiased, third party advice) -- which is always sorely needed.
Broad takeaway: it looks like a me-too product, but a much better one, so it's going to be well received.
Broader takeaway: that Yahoo is creating a new product with such a distinct flavor, and getting buy-in from its team, adds momentum to the #2 player and seems to put pressure on MSN, the #3. In spite of adCenter's many cool features, the emergence of a new Yahoo system reinforces the fact that MSN will be playing catchup.
The real battle, in any case, is for search market share -- if all three platforms are reasonably robust. Distribution (reach) and quality of reach (mostly search) has always been the main driver of online advertisers' time and money decisions. There's a bit of an opening for MSN on the content targeting and general ad serving front, obviously, as Y and G haven't particularly distinguished themselves in those areas. Certainly there is room for a different approach.
I had been wondering if Yahoo and MSN might try to team up to be Google Killers... but now it looks like the cultures of these organizations are different enough, and both are confident enough, that it is at least a couple of years before either admits they need help. Similarly, Ask.com is still in its optimistic Diller's-Here phase, so in spite of the logic of it being snatched up by one of the three leaders, that's probably not in the cards for awhile yet either.
Which means: reps from all these companies will be trying to convince advertisers to buy direct from them, which will mean a lot of noise and unfortunately extra effort from marketers. Even Ask, as a fourth player, cannot be ignored as an ad buy because a direct buy with them is placed in premium positions (Google ads are placed at the bottom of the page). But as 1-2% of many advertisers' volume, many will indeed ignore it.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
If you're in marketing and advertising, do you ever feel a bit creeped out by a big brand you're doing work for? How about a "superstar" in the biz who appears willing to shill for just about any product going? Do you ever find a place to draw the line? It's a tough one, living in a material world.
At the very least, I think you can safely mute your enthusiasm for certain products and the people who promote them.
Here's an interesting resource: the list of known and suspected carcinogens. In some parts of the world, products containing known carcinogens must be banned, and strongly suspected carcinogens must be labeled. In other jurisdictions, the regulatory bodies say: "hey, no problem!"
Now let's say you're at a talk, and well-paid big-brand manager gets up and says "I'd really like to thank the people at Mustard Gas for all their wonderful support. It's such a kick-ass product and they're really great people. Just wanted to get in a quick plug here, they've come up with a new version called Power Mustard Gas -- for really tough Gassing problems, it's got 50% more power!..."
You're allowed to roll your eyes at that person. You're allowed to walk away from promoting Mustard Gas, and make less money as a result. Your mom will cheer.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Last night, something surreal happened. I was reading a press release for a new blog search engine called sphere.com - and I looked up at my TV to see David Blaine inside an actual sphere. I couldn't help but thinking: "what's the point of that?"
In relation to the blog-osphere or the acrylic version, rather than feeling energized or curious, I couldn't help but feel a bit punchy and listless. Sphere.com has the requisite "why our blog search is better" information on the site, but does it really get your engine running? Not mine. One of the reason the well-connected founders decided to undertake the project was to "encourage more people to discover great blog content," and even to "encourage more people to blog." Do we really need to do that? That's like asking David Blaine at a family dinner if he has any stunts he'd like to perform. Don't encourage him!
Today's release from Sidestep is quite different: it's a feature you know you'll probably use if it works as well as billed. It's called "activity search" - as an adjunct to your travel portal experience. You've booked your trip, and you know roughly where you're headed, but you haven't completely figured out what to do when you get there. Enter "activity search."
The old way would be to go through conventional means, reading the travel guides, asking family and friends, and doing in-depth research. The new way seems like it would save a lot of time.
Carolyn and I are going to explore the Rockies this summer for a couple of weeks. I know we shouldn't have any shortage of activities, but why waste the first couple of days coming up to speed because we were too rushed to research everything, when we could play with an activity search engine that would search multiple travel sites and return a quick list?
Unfortunately, the feature isn't truly useful to me yet, as searches for Calgary and Jasper, Alberta, returned no results.
How about U.S. searches? I'm heading to Minneapolis next month. According to Sidestep at this stage, there's not a whole heckuva lot going on there. I could see a Twins game, if I stayed an extra week. I'm not a huge fan of ice dancing or lesser Broadway musicals.
So I'll backtrack slightly. Activity Search is "somewhat useful." Real research still beats it by a mile, though. Metasearch is only as good as the content created by source providers. The search business still has a tendency to devalue content and celebrate feats of data mining -- or to put it another way, we tend to "lionize spiders."
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Congrats to Mona, author of the Yahoo! Search Marketing Handbook (edited by yours truly, as you can see on the lovely cover graphic). MarketingSherpa is now offering it in their store, and it's now on their bestseller list... and climbing, of course!
Hey, if you want to hear Mona's upcoming podcast though, covering tough-to-answer Yahoo Search Marketing questions by month end (this month), you need to be one of our premium subscribers, which means buying one of our ebooks (such as Mona's). If you have a question you want Mona to answer in the podcast, get in touch with me or her by email or contact form, and we'll try to add it to the 'cast.
Public Relations Maven
Page Zero Media
Via Battelle via other people... Amazon-owned Alexa is now powered by Microsoft Live, not Google.
Yes, indeed, "it's on."
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