Friday, June 30, 2006
Om Malik posits that a key driver of Google's rollout of Checkout is that the company will accelerate its move into cost-per-action advertising, as opposed to cost-per-click. Anything's possible.
I'd expect them to roll CPA out as a parallel program in some way, though, rather than making it integral to the operation. Another recent Google AdWords development has been another facelift to the detailed reporting in the interface. They've added new tabs to allow users to access more information without cluttering the interface, and presumably, keeping page load times short and allowing advertisers to customize their UI experience to their preferred approach. It doesn't *look* like there's any imminent switchover to CPA -- indeed, it looks like Google is hunkering down to solidify and strengthen the core CPC model (albeit with significant modifications and enhancements) they've been working with since February 2002. AdWords is still arguably on version 2.5, and I don't expect them to get up to 6.0 anytime soon. :) Think about it. Through all the product announcements, Google Earth, China, and other noise, Google still makes money in one basic way, and they know it -- and continue to place their bets on it.
In a flurry of what-looks-like-rapid-change, Google's summer blockbuster this year would be surprisingly titled: The Constant Hedgehog.
On that note: in the past couple of months, we've said a lot of what needs to be said in this space. Sometimes, probably too much. :)
I'm taking off for the Canada Day long weekend today, and many of you will be taking a long weekend for the 4th of July. Enjoy! It's time for Traffick to take a bit of a hiatus.
For July, my posting will be very light, confined to the odd product review or book review. Following a short flurry around SES San Jose, Aug. 7-10, posting will be nonexistent Aug. 12-26.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
- Cheaper transaction pricing. Process credit cards for less! Hooray.
- As a retailer, you're probably wondering: what's the catch?
- You also get: Google telling its users that they're "protecting" customers "against" commercial spam (from you, the inherently suspicious retailer the customer just happens to have chosen to deal with)
- Google getting data about your customers they really don't think you should have, but it's fine that they have it
Google has been trading money for user data in much of what they've done recently. Google Analytics is free, for example.
I'm guessing that means data is very valuable. So, that's why you're getting a deal.
It would be easy enough to listen to various counter-arguments here. But there's this nagging feeling you get, and sometimes you have to listen to that nagging feeling. Let's say I sell sculptures of giant, genetically-engineered French fries. The world is beating a path to my door. My customer data contains various trade secrets, etc. These are *my* customers. I want them to stay that way, in as many respects as legally and morally possible. I don't want parts of that relationship to start leaking out to the bank, the Mayor, Jay Leno, or some search engine guys. Not unless the bank, the Mayor, Jay Leno, or Google actually bought stock in my company (we'll call it GigaFries, Inc.), or lent it money.
The other nagging feeling I have is that Google is currying favor with "users" by being inherently suspicious of "merchants" in its rhetoric. It's a "judge and jury" approach to business ethics that is starting to wear thin. Back when I didn't know many big words, I believe we called that "elitism".
So - it's not just about a good product, or better usability. It's about much more than that. On paper, it would be great if as a consumer, I could buy without re-entering my details. That's been one of the real drivers of Amazon as a leader. No doubt all of eBay, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others would love it if their universal payments system became the standard. They can't all become the standard, unfortunately. Will Google's? Obviously their brand and existing relationships with merchants gives them a headstart, and the "predatory pricing" (CNET's term) gives them a second wind. Note that merchants are even being offered *free* transactions based on how much AdWords advertising they do! So take whatever you pay in transaction fees per month - if you spend a lot on AdWords - and it now feels like you're just burning money needlessly with your current transaction processing provider, be that $50, $200, or whatnot.
But it's hard to say at this stage whether all of this will lead to widespread adoption of Google's service.
Good summary here at CNET. Chris Sherman's article here is excellent. Here is Google's side of the story. This latter - the comments by product manager Eric Lange - shows that Google is going to be using pretty much the biggest hammer they have to induce merchants to adopt their solution. They'll put a "badge" next to AdWords ads run by merchants that offer Google Checkout. A seal of approval, if you will, implying something about the merchant (they're trustworthy?) that in reality proves only one thing: they've opted to use Google's payment processing service. Will this impact quality scores for ad ranking purposes, too? Directly? Indirectly, by impacting clickthrough rates? Sledgehammer!
For me, it's easy enough to come out on the "dislike" side of this announcement. It makes the AdWords auction more complicated. (What if one advertiser is a lead generator only, or sells high cost relationships, and another is a normal retailer? Too confusing with the badges implying that one business is "sealed" by Google, and another isn't.) It ties one's business choices to one's free use of the ad program. Freedom is reduced. New Hampshire is not impressed.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
CNET's coverage of Google's impending GBuy launch alludes to speculation that the new service might eventually include micropayment capabilities. Yes, micropayments, the mistreated stepchild of e-commerce may soon see its day in the sun, if the saviors of Mountain View have their say.
And I say, "bring it on"! For too long content producers have been tantalized with promises of being nickle and dimed to wealth. And content consumers likewise have been tempted by the thought of being able to buy that interesting article for two bits rather than shelling out $4.95 for the whole magazine.
Could it be true? With Google, you have to take it with a grain of salt, of course. Although, according to the CNET article:
"Perhaps coincidentally, company executives also were scheduled to host a talk on 'Micro-payments trends and news' at Google's Mountain View, Calif., office Thursday night. The talk was part of a scheduled meeting of BayPay, a networking group for people who work in the payment industry in the San Francisco Bay Area."
Why would Google hold such a talk during the same week of their online wallet announcement? Beats me, but I'm betting this is the best chance for micropayments since the idea was hatched by some brilliant idiot a decade or so ago.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Recently Microsoft launched adCenter Labs, making it available to the public.
It's always fun to play with beta tools. But hard-core marketers will want to know if anything is on this site that can help them with their existing campaigns.
Here are a few notes on features I checked out.
1. Keyword Group Detection. This tool was pretty unsatisfying. It behaves similar to other keyword research tools on the market, and gave me no new ideas over and above what I might find using the Google AdWords keyword tool. In some cases no related keywords were "detected". Food for thought is easier to come by, though. If you quickly click on the related keywords, and click again, you can get from "hard money" to "mazda dealerships" to "puma jamaica" to "rod welding injury" as quick as can be. And this leads us to wish we could do more "broad brush" run of site advertising by going for "super broad match" - at least in some industries. Google's algorithms mostly prohibit this. Editors at Yahoo and MSN will put the kibosh on a lot of terms as well. Which makes using the tools less fun than, say, buying ad time on Will and Grace. :(
2. "Search funnels" is fascinating - making public the data on what else people search for after an initial search. For example: 1.2% of users search for "eBay" after searching for "thong". Another 1.1% search for... well, I can't say. But honestly, people. This is not a frivolous example, but rather, tells you something important about search behavior. It's volume driven. Try something relatively popular like "contact lenses" - there isn't enough data because it's not a popular enough search term. But "thong"? Plenty of info on that!
3. Search mutations. Again, we seem to be waiting on data here. Nothing significant is found for "Derek Jeter" or "Delgado". Nor for the top brand names in some retail industries I tried. But plenty of info on Britney Spears mutations. Which probably makes you think of a joke. Even if you're not a professional comedian, that oughta be a slam dunk.
4. Content classification. I have to say, this one lets a lot of the cat out of the bag on how much search engines know about our sites. It gives a "confidence score" related to how closely the technology thinks the site comes to a pre-set universe of categories. OK, so with an obvious content site like cnet.com, several categories are competing with confidence levels in the mid-teens (15%, etc.). Trying a variety of content sites and homepages for service-based companies, I see a similar pattern. The info appears vaguely accurate. I tried typing in the URL of an ex-client, though. Though the product line *promotes* personal health, the functionality of the site is totally skewed towards e-commerce, i.e. selling the product. So the confidence score for "shopping/online stores" was .993! And "personal health" as a content category was the only other category that was on the radar, at a scant .002. Fascinating. For another client, though, the "shopping/online stores" score was only .250, even though it's just as much of an online store as the other. A third retailer I know came in at .555, as he should. He sells thousands of products on his site. Why the disparity, I wonder? Very tough to say. None of these sites has significant content, though all are being encouraged by the likes of me to develop informative landing pages and to post more supplementary background materials. Even .250 is pretty high, though. Seeing the disparity, it makes you wonder how much of Google's index is driven off relatively volatile predictive scores like this. And how unwarranted some of the differences are likely to be.
The long term trend is likely to be that they'll do a better job of pinpointing the "meta-purpose" of sites. Down the road, I don't expect you'll be able to fool a search engine into thinking your e-commerce site is full of "valuable content" unless it really is. This is not so much a question of what search engines should do about what they know... but more about what they know. They know more all the time, and they can use the knowledge if they wish.
So we're out of time for now. Trying these tools, did I come away with information that could immediately help in my campaigns? Not really. Indirectly though, I already feel edified. The smart money will definitely use these kinds of tools to understand their markets, and to understand what search algorithms think about.
Alejandro Diaz has written a better honors thesis ("Through the Google Goggles," a study of search engine bias) than you or I could have written. Really food for thought. (It was written a year ago. I just came across this through an article on Aaron Wall's site.)
In essence, it elaborates at length on a few paragraphs written by Page and Brin themselves, who anticipated bias in both commercial and non-commercial search results based on the fact that search engines themselves are profit-making enterprises.
Make no mistake: it would take an idiot to believe that large media conglomerates don't have interests. I notice even the little things, myself. I might even be a bit of a conspiracy theorist. Let's just say that I don't think MySpace is going to be getting a lot of favorable press by any of the media corporations not owned by Rupert Murdoch, anytime soon. First there was the parody on Saturday Night Live that "exposed" it as a place for perverts to hang out. And since there have now been a lawsuit and an impending marriage of a 17-year-old American girl and a 20-year-old Palestinian who have never met in person, I wouldn't expect the salacious tone of the coverage to abate. Yep, there is bias in what media outlets choose to report... especially about one another.
Media bias is something a fair number of postsecondary, undergraduate, and even graduate students spend time studying, of course. As forms of media have morphed, the subject seems to get more difficult to stay on top of. Much of what we see online today (like what you're reading now) is much shallower than traditional news reporting. Yet there is so much more of it, and a variety of ways of accessing it. For now, the searcher does seem to have a lot of choices, but the recurring worry in Diaz's thesis is that non-controversial spins on certain topics are more likely to find their way onto the user's screen. "Adversarial" voices may be crowded out.
The natural response is: do search engines enforce, or merely reflect, social biases?
Recall that PageRank is a kind of hypercaffeinated online analog of academic peer review. John Rawls, the most-cited philosopher of our age, may not be the "greatest" or the "best" philosopher, I always said when I was a keen student. But the citation indexes told us he was the big guy. And someone like Foucault, brilliant, controversial, and shaven-headed, came into his own for different reasons. Like a rock star... he got cited plenty when his time came.
The filtering process by which respectable opinions came up through respectable journals produced by academics at respectable universities would tend to support the relatively "mainstream" liberalism of Rawls, and that happy scenario supported thousands of little Rawls' and hundreds of thousands of senior-level students who needed contemporary, big, thick ideas to read alongside Aristotle. Everyone wins, except controversy, perhaps. Except when it's the kind of controversy that sells (thus, Foucault). Diaz, with his Stanford degree, implicitly buys into this process, with his respectably controversial thesis. Alejandro Diaz is highly marketable, as are some other well-known (Harvard educated no less) critics of search engines.
These types of questions could lead to endless circular debates about what truly has "substance" and what doesn't, and about what material is being "hidden" from us. Material is actively hidden from people in repressive societies, to be sure. But I'd argue that there are two main barriers to balanced, substantive fact-finding efforts, using search engines or other media sources for that matter. (1) Research skills; (2) The funding or encouragement of research and dialogue on relevant topics.
On the first point, no one should ever expect to get a deep take on controversial topics from a basic web search. I mean, no one ever thought Reader's Digest or The Economist were the last word on life, did they (as opposed to useful starting points or just fun reading)? Did they? Gulp.
Cue: the invisible web. How ludicrous is it to use a basic web search engine for really looking into an important policy question? Try typing some complex topic into Google News. Of course, you'll only see two or three recent stories. Nothing archived. Nothing from better academic journals, etc. You might do a bit better if you used Google Scholar. A lot better with a multifaceted search of periodicals and newspaper archives over a long period of time. Not that you or I have time for that sort of thing, but someone should.
Even here, there is no shortage of variety in search results if you type, say, "rising tuition fees in Ontario" into Yahoo Search. A variety of perspectives, including research papers (including some in Word format), are included on the first few pages of SERP's. The reason some other material might not be as prominent might be as simple as: the relevant organization did not put it online; the relevant organization isn't advertising in the margin, as a lead generation method so they can attract supporters and fund further research; the relevant organization hasn't prioritized its research program; the relevant organization had its funding pulled; rival organizations have done a better job of gaining mainstream media attention, which influences search rank. (That's the real toughie, to me: "legitimate" spokespersons and research papers get cited, and rival organizations may be relegated to the wilderness, by journalists. That's an issue for j-school or for soul-searching by news organizations -- not for search engines.) So this is a mixed bag. Search engines do reflect media bias and societal bias to some extent, but there is room for users to bust through this if they simply refuse to stop at one or two searches.
On (2), then -- if political battles are waged at the level of funding and de-funding organizations with different points of view, then it's tough to imagine how a search engine might fight this. Eric Schmidt (as cited in Diaz's thesis) may be too disingenuous by half when he explains that there is no news bias at Google because these are "just computers." (I once heard a Google News product manager say the same thing.) But he has a point. Google isn't a magazine. It doesn't create editorial content, or tell you what to think. It indexes pages, and ranks them. You can change the methodology of indexing and ranking, but that's always what it will do. Of course the algorithm has a bias, even if that bias is coming from some measure of social authority or acceptability, or user interest.
"Controversial folk" -- even those rotting in jail for decades -- have always found a way to get to the heart of matters, and have often found ways to disseminate their points of view, in circumstances far more constrained than those enforced by today's search companies. At the end of the day, the concern seems not to be that "we, the savvy searchers and holders of postsecondary degrees" will be duped when we type generic queries into the wrong search tool for our purpose, but rather that "they," the poor unsuspecting consumers with the AOL dialup accounts and small vocabularies, will have their minds warped by giant corporations (in a way that "we" never could, because we "get" how the SERP's are constructed). Perhaps. And that leads to a voluminous literature and some action on awareness-raising on behalf of the downtrodden that dates back to the late 1960's. :) It's just that we have bigger fish to fry this week...
A bolder act than writing a paper on news bias, then, might be to take the Church Lady act into society. If search engines exhibit bias, it's often based on the money and power "out there" that foster popular points of view and crowd out others, as opposed to the money and power interests of media organizations themselves. But yes, there's that, too. Without media literacy, we're all blithering idiots. Let's just hope the unsuspecting masses are savvier than "we" give them credit for. And that institutions of higher education will continue to teach deep research skills so people can uncover a variety of perspectives on problems like, say, click fraud. Did someone say search engines only present the "sunny side" of issues?
Good night, and good luck. Again.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
I had no idea it had gotten to this point. Ben Tristem, who upon further research turns out to be a famous "Jack Kerouac of the Internet generation," passed this on (one of his clients is selling it). A motor home selling on eBay with room for your sports car in the back! If you have a spare few hundred thousand pounds, of course.
Normally, I don't help people sell their vehicles or real estate, but checking back through past email exchanges with Ben, it seems that his also-famous girlfriend Lizzie -- pictured along with Ben in news articles about their rambling business-on-wheels -- "fully supports my peanut revolution," which means she must have read the final chapter of Winning Results with Google AdWords. Let the bidding begin!
Friday, June 23, 2006
Sometimes this industry makes you chuckle. Finally it's come out: Matt Cutts has been editing the entire Google index all along. How else to explain that search relevance has been dropping like a stone since he went on vacation? ;)
Hey kids! Bored at the bus stop? Why not watch "Reality TV's hottest women" on your new Moto Q device?
Google Video is gaining momentum with more premium videos being added to the roster. Usability seems strong. It's easy to preview and buy (or buy a day pass to) the video of your choice. "Reality TV's Hottest Women" will set you back $4, or $2 for a day pass, for example.
No wonder Google needs Net Neutrality. How are they going to help you download stuff at the bus stop unless they can be your wireless Internet provider of choice, everywhere you might be?
So anyway, Google informs us that user-generated videos will continue to be free. And free is what most users are looking for... right? That's where sponsorship comes in. Google is currently running a test where a sponsor like Burger King can bid on a video sponsor slot. If they win, they receive the following:
- The ability to run a 15-30 second post-roll video ad
- Persistent branding while the video is playing through a text and icon above the video player
- A listing on the sponsored videos page
This is win-win-win. Users still get free content. Big sponsors find extra online places to put their ad inventory, since there isn't enough of it. And Google diversifies its revenue stream, monetizing video content in a revenue share deal with the owners of the content.
Just imagine the turnout at Adam Sandler's next movie if it was free admission, and all you had to do was watch a four-minute ad at the end and look at the sponsor's logo across the top of the screen. That'd be like a $12 savings! (But don't worry about the movie theatre -- they'll make it back in popcorn.)
Thursday, June 22, 2006
The resident king of my house, Walter (pictured here), makes a lot of noises. He purrs when you go to the grocery store and get the Iams so he isn't choking back that Meow Mix junk food. He meows to go out. He meows a different way to scare imaginary critters out of corners. He even does that weird bird impression cats do when they're trying to befriend Tweety before eating him.
One thing Walter will never, ever do is bark.
So what's that got to do with your web site? In the view of Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg, everything. Their new book, Waiting for Your Cat to Bark, offers more than twenty short chapters of deep-seated exploration of customer motivations when they're online, through the whole process from research and purchase consideration through to interacting with your company on the site and beyond.
Too many marketers fail to study and profile their customers. They fail to understand the frame of mind the prospect is in when they first engage with your company from "driving points" like paid search clicks or word-of-mouth referrals. So, they're speaking the wrong language to the wrong people. They're expecting prospects to do things they aren't wired to do, whether that be to buy at an inappropriate time, or whether that be to buy a product they have zero interest in. Throwing good money building sites and driving traffic to pages that don't convert (for the above and other reasons) is indeed like waiting for your cat to bark. (And maybe even paying him 50 cents for every meow, and 2 bucks for each fake birdcall, while you wait.)
In this book, the Eisenbergs marry long-standing intellectual traditions and business wisdom with newer imperatives of online communication, as they cover persuasion architecture scenarios, psychographics, and other elements of research and implementation of a website redesign. In complexity, this task is a 10 out of 10, which makes it even more improbable that an author could convey the concepts in a straightforward manner. These authors somehow pull it off.
Probably even more telling than reading the book might be looking at examples of websites these authors (through their company, Future Now) have advised on or completely redesigned. Taking a multitude of priorities and a variety of potential customer profiles, and reducing this to (in the end) a single finished website, is very much a task of priority-setting in science, reducing complex goals and multiple variables to a much cleaner subset of navigational elements for the benefit of users.
For my company, the highest compliment you could pay to a related agency would be that their work related to ours in a "plug-and-play" manner. Does their effort to improve communication, usability, and ultimately, conversion rates interface well with (for example) our effort to run the most efficient and eminently measurable traffic driving campaign through a Google AdWords? Does it result in a site that is search-engine friendly, yet amenable to further development of content and easy tweaking for better placement in search results on key phrases of importance to the client's best customers? From our experience, that's what you get when you "plug in" to a site that Future Now has advised on (I'm sure they'll be happy to hear that - but they already know it, because, like my company, Page Zero, they quantify their success).
For a book that doesn't get too far past 200 pages, Waiting for Your Cat to Bark is encyclopedic. Rather than offering textbook definitions of concepts like the sales funnel, the authors offer debate and deeper explorations of basic assumptions. There are numerous engaging anecdotes and examples, but more case studies and even screenshots would have helped the material to affix more tightly to my brain cells, I admit. But all in all, I'm surprised that it was possible to convey this often complex material so accessibly. This book should be read patiently, and right through to the end. It's well worth the effort. I doubt this will be the last time I'll consult this one. I expect to re-read several chapters in short order.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Google's testing of a cost-per-action network is certainly as newsworthy as the blogosphere makes it out to be, but let's not get carried away. Cost per lead models are certainly nothing new to many industries. We've had our share of clients who have come grumbling to us from fields like real estate and insurance, dissatisfied with the mysterious lead generation processes and deteriorating lead quality from services they typically refer to as "the usual suspects."
Cost per sale? If I can literally run my ads on a pure affiliate model, then I'll happily offer that payout to the publisher. No problemo there.
But there are going to be bumps in the road here in spots, for sure. When "actions" become currency (just as when impressions and then clicks became currency), then there are incentives to either emulate those actions or to generate them through unscrupulous techniques (poaching from other affiliates, spamming search engines, spamming inboxes, etc.) - as affiliate networks have long known.
It's interesting though. And it comes at a time when eBay seems to be launching a similar model.
For francophones: Winning Results with Google AdWords is now out in a French version (titled Generer du trafic et du profit sur son site avec Google AdWords). I was offered tangible proof of the release a couple of days ago when a visitor from Paris happened by my office with his friend, carrying the book with an odd new cover I hadn't seen before. After chatting for awhile, they asked if Andrew Goodman was around. I gave them a card. :) Although this is a word the publisher (for this edition, Pearson Education) came up with, I'll admit it: I kind of like being a "gourou."
It's also worth noting that I worked with this publisher to provide several updates to the material to reflect recent trends in the AdWords platform, as this edition came out seven months after the first.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
In 1961, Yale political scientist Robert Dahl published a landmark study of power, Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City. By analyzing who seemed to hold sway over important local political decisions (who "won" on key issues), Dahl's analysis laid out what would later be called "Power 1" by political scientists -- a kind of simplified study of power based on clearly identifiable "wins" on contentious issues. Dahl's conclusion was sanguine. Even at the local level, American society was blessed with enough checks and balances that decision-makers were kept on their toes. No one faction "owned" the town.
Ten years later, Dahl began to change his mind. By the end of his career, his position on the relative power balance in American society had changed radically, though his interest in democratic process had not.
Recently, questions have arisen about Google's ability to win share in any product category but its core search areas. Google Finance, for example, is #42 in the business information vertical, while #1 favorite Yahoo Finance garners fully 35% of user activity.
In Local Search, even, where Google has a very cool product with considerable momentum, they are up against serious competition against older listings businesses. It's by no means a foregone conclusion that a cool product will win. So here again, yellow pages businesses act as a countervailing force, ensuring that no one player gets too powerful. Users and advertisers alike can shift their dollars and eyeballs, keeping the leaders honest and spurring innovation.
Can this "stalemated" or "competitive" environment last?
I suppose we might draw two conclusions. First, that the various checks and balances involved in having a variety of successful Internet giants are proof that no one holds sway over consumers' choices to an unhealthy degree. The second, related conclusion might be that consumers are choosing products based on this healthy competitive atmosphere.
I think both conclusions might be hasty.
To take the second first: Google's dominance in search, as well as its laggard position in things like email and business information, may be proof that consumers only "choose" to a certain extent. Once a product or service satisfies a need, extra research and a decision to switch are simply not warranted. Many simply find Yahoo Finance good enough. All Google does by releasing a new product full of "AJAXY GOODNESS" is to give Yahoo ideas as to how they might perfect their own offering.
Popular lore has it that another web site or another web service are "only a click away." From what I've observed, a lot of people are more inclined to switch cars or dishwashers than they are web services. The "one click away" thing is a bit of a red herring. A car (or a dishwasher) actually cost quite a lot of money, so the extra research is well warranted, to say nothing of a lot of fun. Doing more research on "how to use local search" is for many like pulling teeth. If something seems easy to an intermediate-level user of web services, and they remember it was actually a bit tedious to get up to speed on it in the first place, I'm betting they'll cling to it like a barnacle. So sure, it's easy enough for the very young to play with new services like MySpace. But in general, as we've seen from the GMail rollout and so on, there isn't incredible volatility in people's web habits. Switching one's routines and rituals is like moving house -- you'd rather not do it every year.
Now - about that healthy "stalemate" type competition, where Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google (and Amazon, and eBay, traditional media and traditional listings/classifieds businesses, and, we hope, plenty of up-and-comers) all have leadership in different areas. Yes, that's sort of true for how things currently stand, but it's a status quo most of these competitors wish they could break out of, by going up a level or two and gaining unfair distribution advantages. Microsoft is legendary for it. The others are going to be thinking about how they can do it. That's perhaps why debates about Net Neutrality are important. It's also why companies like Google and Yahoo are looking for deeper and deeper platform advantages. You still wonder why they haven't made more powerful overtures to traditional companies in sectors like hotels, autos, home building, and so on. Not to have them as advertisers, mind you, but as distributors.
In large part, the stalemate is about valuations. If someone (or a couple of the leaders) can break from the pack financially to the extent that they're able to consolidate with very large partners and competitors on favorable terms, suddenly the $200 billion giant is beating the tar out of the little $25 billion companies in the space. I do think some kind of shocking consolidation moves still make sense in the "info space." Companies like Google will someday need to admit that they don't have all the answers or all the assets, and other companies out there do. Consumers, meanwhile, are craving simpler answers... they do not, by and large, want to become expert searchers, schooled in figuring out where "else" to go when their search engine or key vertical app doesn't quite measure up.
It's interesting to watch the stubbornness of Microsoft, still believing it can "play catchup" in search, as it did with Internet Explorer. Can it? And is Google now falling victim to the same optimism in the many verticals it's gone into, thinking it'll catch the leaders but finding itself languishing?
Perhaps the takeup of the new GBuy service -- until we hear otherwise, this is still taking direct aim at PayPal -- will be a real bellwether as to whether Google really merits that big "S" it seems to wear on its metaphorical chest.
Friday, June 16, 2006
For you night owls, tonight Google has announced (and gone live with) Ad Scheduling.
I just tried the feature. Sweet.
For those who manage many paid search campaigns, usability is paramount. It just took me a few seconds on this one test to pause ads during time frames I didn't want them shown. By switching to "advanced mode," you can raise or lower bids by whatever percentage you like, during specific time frames. This is truly a set and forget approach to account customization, not requiring a cumbersome & costly third-party tool.
As for how I expect it to affect many advertisers: badly. No, that's not a complaint about the feature, which is extremely easy to use. It's just that many advertisers will use it as an excuse to show their ads less often, forgetting that it's not just when customers buy that matters, it's the overall persuasion process that takes place over time. I've been talking about my hunch on this for a couple of years now, it seems. When everyone starts overusing the scheduling, you might as well leave your ads on, because you'll get a better deal on them in the auction while others' ads sleep. That is, unless you're rock solid sure of high-conversion times. By diverting funds from so-so time frames, and actually boosting bids during your hot times, you'll potentially increase ROI. The beauty is, this should be easy to do, and the impact on your bottom line, easy enough to test in a rough & ready fashion.
It appears that the feature is currently available only at the campaign level. Advertisers have been asking for this for some time, and Google has responded. I wonder how many will now turn right around and begin asking for more granularity in the scheduling, so it can be done by keyword.
As always: choose your time zone with care, and when in doubt, call in a trained professional.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Not Invented Here, Dept.:
Last night I viewed a poorly-done commercial starring Ben Johnson chatting with Frank D'Angelo, owner of Steelback Brewery, the producer of a new energy drink called Cheetah Power Surge. I would have given it a couple of stars out of five, because it was pretty easy to remember the product due to the cheesy play on words ("cheating," "cheetah").
D'Angelo's no Donny Deutsch, but he's getting plenty of P.R. out of this already.
But the ad was pretty rotten. So it heartened me at first when I saw that the panel of ad execs in the Hard Sell column in the Globe and Mail unanimously gave it zero stars! For once, they all stood up to be counted instead of giving mealy-mouthed praise. Way to go!
Except there's one problem with that "stand." You guessed it, D'Angelo produced the commercial himself, without using the services of an ad agency.
Karen Howe of Due North Communications said that "this commercial has taken advertising to a new low." Compared to what, the current ad for a sporty small car that relies heavily on a graphic shot of a dog's hindquarters mooning other drivers out the window?
Simone Creet of Saatchi & Saatchi states that "Ben Johnson is reduced to doing a commercial that insults his integrity, his accomplishments and our intelligence. It makes me sad." Compared to, say, watching clips of Ben racing animals for money?
Dale Roberts of Enterprise Creative Selling sez: "These are really big nails on a very big chalkboard." (Compared with, say, the current Gas-X commercial that includes really loud farts in a really small room?) He adds: "Will it sell product? Oh yikes, maybe."
Yikes. Imagine being judged on that criterion.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
What do you have to do to get to #1 on Yahoo's Buzz Index? No, thanks.
Here's a writeup on my seminar for the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association this Wednesday.
No one called "Bigdaddy" or "Jagger" will be there, and we won't be in "Florida." It'll be just us online advertising folks, talking about the tough challenges we face today.
I don't really believe you can do a paid search "seminar" in 45 minutes, unless it's 101 for Newbies. So I'll be offering food for thought and an update on the, er, complicated new realities of paid search.
I look forward to seeing/meeting Lee, Joe, Elissa, and everyone. And to answer the question posed at the end of the Lockergnome writeup: it sounds like Ed (and no I don't mean Asner, I mean "Haystack") will be in California, so we won't see him. Probably meeting with Jagger.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
eBay launches an AdSense competitor. Suits me fine. While I'm out enjoying a movie, site monetization expert Jennifer Slegg will have to be holed up inside reading up on the details of the new program! :)
Friday, June 09, 2006
The only question is -- will they have their own blogs?
In my last post I expressed bemusement over the spate of weight-loss posts around the related blogs. In fact, having never had to lose 50 lbs., admiration and not bemusement is the appropriate response to Jeremy Zawodny's story of how he lost it.
I've noticed a lot of high achievers tend to brag about their fitness regimens. To those not into running in triathlons, that can be a bore. Everyone's goals are different, too. Triathletes take in as much as 7,000 calories a day when in heavy training. Not everyone's looking to lose weight. And what the heck are all these super-achievers trying to prove? :) But I'd wager that most of us are looking for ways to perform better... to optimize, so to speak. Or simply to lessen risk of heart attack and stroke, etc.
No one is perfect, so it usually is a matter of mutual encouragement. I think it's a good thing that people talk about what they're going to do even before they've reached the perfect lifestyle or ideal weight. If that provides motivation, so be it.
I couldn't help but notice in Jeremy's post how long it took him to start zeroing in on the nutrition aspect. It takes a long time for most people to get that down pat, especially in the behavioral department - cooking and preparing all that healthy food (to say nothing of bringing it home). There's no worse feeling than looking in a fridge full of produce you bought and didn't eat... and then surveying the landscape of your takeout containers. A victim of a busy lifestyle, again.
Shouldn't there be a way of getting straight to that result without having to know so much or think so hard... or cook for yourself? Of course, there is. For years, companies like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers have sold meals to their clients and coupled that with counseling and support.
What if you're more self-directed, though, and just want the meals?
The AdSense ad I saw below Jeremy's post gives away the game: "Toronto Diet Delivery: Receive Gourmet South Beach Meals Delivered Right to Your Door."
I began experimenting with a similar service - ostensibly to save time because I was finishing a book - last year. It's called In the Zone Delivery, based on the Zone Diet by Dr. Sears. I tried that diet myself a few years ago and found it left me with too little energy. Somehow though it's working better now. The secret is to add in more of the healthy fats, which add calories and reduce appetite naturally. If you're very active, I'd suggest throwing in "unhealthy" carbs as needed to get your mojo back.
With the Zone delivery service, three healthy meals plus two snacks come to your door in a cooler pack each day. My neighbors all make fun of me. It's great. One odd neighbor came over at 1 a.m. after the delivery to tell me what he'd seen, a suspicious character dropping off something that looked like a bomb on our front doorstep. :)
Their counselor interviewed me first and found that I weigh 185 lbs. and exercise frequently, so the meals come with x number of calories to take that into account.
Result? Although I never stay on the diet for more than a couple of months, the change from 185 to around 180 is painless and takes only a couple of weeks, and the next leg to 175 depends on how much cardio I do. :) I'm not really looking to lose weight, anyway, just to gain health. And I want to think less. I have stuff to do.
The change in weight is not the only side effect. I actually believe in the principles behind some of the diets that give you low-glycemic index carbs, and healthy fats, in proportion with protein, at every meal. There is no energy dropoff after a meal.
Because it's expensive, and because my wife and I are such stupendous cooks, I don't keep on this all the time. But it's pretty much foolproof. I'd even say there's a little "web 2.0 long tail goodness" mixed into this. You can simply log in, and get rid of the meals you don't find tasty and dial in one of your favorites. You can exclude vegetables you dislike. And the food preparation is supervised by a gourmet chef.
If you're a "Don't Make Me Think" person, and have had your interest in nutrition piqued by the blogo-weight-posts this week -- and you live in a larger city -- I can't recommend the In the Zone Delivery type services highly enough. As an added benefit, it plugs right into work. Either eat the meals at home, or take them with you and zap them.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
The days are longer, so naturally, you spend longer days at work-like tasks *and* aimless junk, too. That must explain all the surfing I've done this evening.
First, what's up with the epidemic of weightloss posts from Zawodny and other blogosphere notables? Danny weighs in on his personal blog, and is proving to be a true now-Brit by invoking "stone." My feeling, as sycophantic as this likely feels to the reader: Danny's only "weight problem" is thinking that 182 pounds is heavy. Maybe it feels heavier when they're stone. But I do agree, it's the travel that gets you. I'll probably weigh in on my personal blog ... just as soon as I can figure out how to log into that Blogware interface. Hint, though: Anne Kennedy knows my secret. I told her over ... wait a minute, is this ironic or something? ... delicious Italian food. As most of us know, the secret (other than the dietary one I discussed with Anne, which only works when adhered to) is tantalizingly simple: don't work, don't travel, and live the life of Lance Armstrong or Beckie Scott. (Time to do a search on that second one, eh?) Oh well. Did I mention I got some new blades yesterday? K2's. Big wheels. Yeah! Told all my colleagues I'd blade to work once a week. "That's far," they said. They're right.
In other news, although she mentioned the interview earlier and it's now two weeks old, it deserves some linkage. Mona Elesseily of Page Zero is quoted extensively in this story in Direct Magazine, commenting on the exciting changes slated for Yahoo's Panama platform in the fall. Our subscribers can hear Mona's more extensive comments by listening to our recent "PZCast" podcast.
And thanks to the dude who phoned to help us with the popping p's on the podcast. This was a listener who left a phone message, and I called him back - and woke him, because he works the midnight shift.
Podcast perfection: we're working on it! As it happens I'd already discussed microphone technique at length with veteran radio man and SEO expert at large, Mike Grehan. He mentioned the fabric trick, too. But Mike, bless him, has a full mixer getup complete with two high-quality microphones... that he totes with him all around the world. So IT SEEMED LIKE A TERRIBLE WASTE when Mike and I finally sat down in London for an interview... and we wrapped up a good one... and he left his computer on... and then later in the evening after some Thai food and maybe a couple of Irish coffees, he convinced another colleague to be interviewed. Since the Audacity project on his desktop was still open and still running under my filename, he simply recorded over it. The veteran radio man owes me one!!!
It must be time to eat one of those small, healthy meals. Ciao!
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Sergey Brin is now saying he's not entirely sure Google did the right thing allowing a censored version of its search engine in China. (He also took the trouble to point out quietly that savvy users in China know how to get the uncensored version.)
In January, I tried to explore Google's motivations for their decision - and argued that they should "set a time limit" on the effort. It sounds like this is something Google is now doing, essentially putting China on a shorter leash as stories emerge about the spread in scope of censorship and the lack of availability of Google.com in most Chinese provinces.
Did Google do the right thing by going in, on a trial basis? Will they do the wrong thing by reversing course and pulling out, should censorship efforts increase? In my view, yes to the first, and no to the second. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. If new data comes in, you're allowed to change your mind.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
I don't know how he did it, but Frank Rumbauskas' new book Never Cold Call Again is at #1 on Amazon as I write this -- up from 58,000th yesterday!
We've been helping Frank with his paid search campaigns over the past couple of years. He's a great salesman (obviously) but more importantly, a smart guy with a heart. He's going to help a lot of people with this book.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
Google took the interesting tack of pre-announcing dayparting, a significant new AdWords feature at Search Engine Watch Live in Seattle recently.
Dayparting is such a straightforward matter, it's nice to know firms won't have to bother automating it through the AdWords API, if that's the most complex thing they want to do.
Combine that with a simplified bid-to-position (not true bid-to-position, but "position preferences") feature, and it seems likely that Google will release proper bid-to-position within 9 months, and possibly bid-to-ROI within 18-24 (providing you use their analytics, which is a big "if").
The way things are evolving, the third-party campaign management tools shouldn't go away, but they'll likely not grow as fast - they'll just hold their own. They'll be important for advanced campaigns involving lots of dollars and high complexity. Other, simpler campaign management features will get built right into the campaign interfaces. It's not too much fuss to set your dayparting parameters three times for all three major search ad platforms you're using, even if a third-party solution is still valuable for more complex tasks, like bidding.
The impending release of Yahoo's Panama platform, and the rich feature set of MSN adCenter, are putting significant pressure on Google to accelerate its product development for AdWords, and that's a good thing for advertisers.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Recently, former Wall Street analyst Henry Blodget spoke with our own Andrew Goodman on the state of search engine marketing.
Topics included: paid vs. organic search; keyword prices; local search; spending trends; click fraud; refund policies; and Microsoft adCenter. It's a fairly long read, but if you want to know Andrew's thoughts on a wide spectrum of SEM issues, it's well worth it.
Check out the article here.
When I posted the interview on Traffick for Andrew to proof, he wanted to clarify a few points discussed during his interview with Henry.
So there you have it. Enjoy the interview!
- Page Zero's opinion of the Microsoft adCenter product and team continues to improve as we familiarize ourselves with the product, the adCenter team and global rollout plans.
- Andrew coyly noted that some of his opinions change week to week, generally speaking, as new information and details come to light. :)
- The large UK client referenced in his comments, we can now disclose, is Careerbuilder.co.uk. We expect this company to continue to grow rapidly, and paid search under Page Zero's direction is a significant part of that equation.
It's safe to say it's a time of turmoil for those companies, like Atlas and Inceptor, who offer third-party bid management software.
First, the new MSN adCenter is released, and according to Inceptor's Michael Sack, they thought it would be a great idea to come out with "basically Google - it's basically AdWords." And AdWords has never been as easy for bid management systems to work with.
Now Yahoo, with its Panama platform in development, is going to be completely revamped by year end as well.
Adding to the pain is new AdWords API pricing, which one panelist on the ad management tactics panel at SES London today likened to "a kind of nasty double taxation." For the average application, changing a few bids every day would come with a "nominal" cost. But for automated systems that rely on frequent bid updates, the cost is significant. One panelist was working with the API to change ad copy to reflect updated pricing on products. At about six cents a change, that sounds doable. But what if the model depends on 5,000 price updates daily? That extra daily $300 stings more than a bit.
Google's AdWords API blog states that some developers, such as those working for individual companies to run their own campaigns, "may" be exempt from the fees. Already, that suggests the fee structure is negotiable. So the process is in motion: bid management software companies will be haggling (or whinging, or whining, depending on where they reside) over the price. I'd bet that Google will take a hard line with companies whose income is derived from selling auxiliary Adwords-related tools to a large number of customers, as opposed to those who want the API access for "their own" use. But what about the gray area, such as the smaller agency or developer who develops a tool to aid clients with campaigns -- say, a dozen or so clients? Even here, I suppose it is not a huge cost, and if there is a benefit exceeding the cost, that cost probably can and should be passed onto the client. Has Google got the price right? Is it really nominal as they claim? Time will tell. The impact, in any case, is acute on a handful of marketplace players. A more diffuse price increase / impact will be passed onto customers who use API-driven services.
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