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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

JotSpot's 27 Employees: Now Googlers

They've done it again, this time with a wiki collaboration product.

Google just acquired JotSpot. And have announced the product will now be free.

The likelihood that I will try out JotSpot has just increased.

But to say that will affect the pricing power of other players in the wiki space... that would clearly be premature.

(Self-censoring, pre-emptively counterintuitive post of the day...)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, October 30, 2006

Browser Market Share Roundup

Speaking of browsers, I'm working with a client site right now that gets substantial traffic, and gets 88% of its visits from Internet Explorer (only 10% Firefox)! 95% of the IE visits are v. 6 right now.

I don't know what that says exactly -- not off the charts entirely, but a lot higher IE share than I'm seeing elsewhere. It resonates with the sense that this site has an older non-web-addicted demographic. I wonder where the share and that particular audience will be in a year, though.

What about you, dear reader? Seeing any particular sites with interesting browser market share data?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, October 26, 2006

Browser Report 2006: Attack of the Shiny Tabs

By now, it's old news that both major browser vendors launched their latest versions this week. Microsoft took the wraps off Internet Explorer 7 after many months of release candidates. Originally, Microsoft was to hold off releasing IE7 until Vista ships early next year, but they decided to move it up in order to stave off continual defections to Firefox.

And speaking of Firefox, version 2.0 of that baby -- which I've eagerly anticipated for months -- was also unleashed this week. I've upgraded to both of the latest versions, and have had a few days to play with them.

My immediate takeaway is that tabs in both browsers are really shiny. Actually, that's about the extent of my analysis: shiny tabs. Thanks for visiting. Not much else to see here. Or is there?

While neither browser has knocked my socks off with the upgraded features, there is much to like with both releases. Tabbed browsing is now universal, as are welcome additions like phishing detection and other whizzbang stuff that was unheard-of just a few years ago. Browser innovation has come a long way, and I applaud Microsoft and Mozilla for reigniting the browser wars. I think we're all winners in this race.

Here's what I specifically like with both:

Internet Explorer 7.0 Review

1. New interface: I still don't know how I feel about the radically redesigned toolbars in IE 7. The toolbar motif has become tired in recent years and until now, browser makers haven't found very effective ways of utilizing the increased screen real estate offered by these big fat monitors everyone seems to have. In Firefox, toolbars are far more customizable than IE, but it's still basically the same old stuff (File, Edit, View, Bookmarks, Address Bar, etc.) Thankfully, Microsoft is pushing the envelope here by totally rethinking where buttons and functions are placed. I'm not sure if I would agree with how they've grouped things, but again, I like the thinking here and look forward to further improvement in the years to come.

2. Font effects: For years, Bill Gates has been promoting his ClearType font rendering technology that makes even jagged fonts seem smooth. Now, ClearType is turned on by default, and again, Microsoft is to be commended for pushing improvements that don't necessarily excite people but are actually an improvement over what come before. I believe ClearType will also be enabled by default in Windows Vista. As a web designer, I've never been sure what to make of this font technology. On one hand, as a reader, it does make fonts easier to read and more pleasing to the eye; but as a designer, a font can look very different under ClearType, and until now, it was not very widely used. I suspect ClearType will gradually become the standard font effect, and web designers will take advantage of this to build even better website interfaces.

3. Miscellaneous good things: The tabs are of course a welcome improvement, but nothing new year. We Firefox users have enjoyed tabbed browsing for years. And before that, Netcaptor was my tabbed browser of choice. It feels like a massive step forward, however, now that in a matter of a few months perhaps 90% of IE users will begin using tabs. Will the world ever be the same. Yeah, probably so, but information consumption is about to spike. That's one small tab for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind. Or something.

The zoom feature is a welcome addition, as well. Just click the magnifying glass, and you'll see a larger view of a site. The image quality is remarkably good here. I don't think I will be using this feature often, but it is nice to have.

Printing is vastly improved in IE 7. It's much more similar to Firefox's printing capabilities. But the best thing is the simple one click that removes the headers and footers that always clutter up printed web pages.

The integration of RSS in IE 7 was another big feature that I thought would lead to an avalanche of interest in a godsend of technology. Sadly, I don't think that will happen, at least not because of IE 7. After all, I can't even get IE to recognize our very own RSS feed at Traffick. What's up with that! Based on previous reviews I've read, other folks don't think IE's implementation of RSS feeds is very well done and isn't likely to lead to a huge increase in RSS readership. Still, the revolution is coming, and will be syndicated.

Want more? Take a tour of the new IE.

Firefox 2.0 Review

There are fewer fun, new features in Firefox 2.0, sadly. But it's no wonder: Firefox 1.x was very nearly a perfect product, so when you're that good, you don't have much improving to do. Full release notes are available, but here are some of my favorite new things:

1. Inline spell check. Yippee! Now Firefox detects misspellingss in form fields automatically. No more having to click a button on the Google toolbar. This is a relatively small thing, but it feels like a big win if, like me, you type into lots of web forms.

2. Improved add-ons manager: Firefox 2 streamlines management of extensions and themes. This is a nice thing to have if you use lots of add-ons.

3. Session restore: If, by chance, FF crashes on you, never fear: your tabs will be saved. I've used the Session Saver extension for a long time, and it's saved my butt more than a few times. Now this functionality is built-in.

There are a few other small things to like, but it's nothing earth-shattering. The bottom line here is that if you use IE 6, you definitely want to upgrade to IE 7 (although in a few weeks, I believe it will automatically upgrade itself anyway). If you're a Firefox user, you don't have a compelling reason to upgrade just yet, especially if you're a heavy extension user. You'd think by now most extensions would be compatible with FF 2, but such is not the case (so what are you waiting for, you lazy developers of free extensions! Get out there and fix my extensions! ;) )

Verdict: Internet Exploder has definitely come a long way, but it's still a notch or two below Firefox, mainly because of the ability to extend Firefox's functionality with thousands of useful -- and free -- extensions. It's doubtful that Microsoft will ever open up IE in this way, and that's likely to ensure a loyal following for Firefox by power users for years to come.

Firefox wins this round again, although IE 7's tabs are awfully high on the bling!

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




When You're Looking for $150mm, Metrics Matter

Techcrunch reports that Digg was in talks with News Corp., but may be headed for another round of financing instead. The valuation surely depends on user numbers, numbers Digg and their acquirers surely have in their highly accurate and detailed versions.

Outsiders are reliant on guesstimates from panel-based metrics agencies, and the like. Michael Arrington writes that comScore is likely significantly under-reporting Digg's numbers. comScore says 1.3 million monthly unique visitors. For some reason, someone at Digg reports 20 million.

However, metrics agency startup Quantcast just sent me numbers that show - unless I am the world's worst analyst - that Digg's numbers are in fact far weaker than even comScore's figure.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




The Day I'll Yahoo: (Multiply by 100,000,000 other users)

Jeremy Z. points to Google's feather-ruffling "here we go again protecting our trademark" post, and reaction to it that includes one guy telling Google to "shove its lexographical advice up your..."

True enough. You're not going to track down every radio DJ and evening news anchor from Lindsay, ON to Tallahassee, FL, and points beyond, at this stage, and successfully convince them to stop saying "Google it."

Then Jeremy suggests you could always Yahoo. Do you? Do I? Sure, in some ways. But I don't really count.

What would really get folks talking, and Yahoo'ing? I mean the search engine, not all the other stuff.

How about make this look a lot more like this? Wouldn't that be a bold move? Would Yahoo's revenues collapse? Some of their channel managers get noses out of joint? Top execs' compensation models be perturbed? Maybe some of that, but the overall revenue from the all-important search channel would rise. street cred and Credibility with The Street would both rise.

As it stands, even search.yahoo.com is more cluttered than www.google.com. How about - take what's on that page, lose the news headlines, and make that the yahoo.com home page for a week? Try it a few weeks out of the year. Test it. Freak out some of your shareholders, for the sake of user impact and possible long-term profitability. That's what Google would do!

Trick #2: browser toolbar default. Please use Yahoo on Firefox, Yahoo asks. Unfortunately that's going to be a slow build, what with Google being most people's default. Microsoft still has 60%+ browser share, so that might be a place to start, when Microsoft finally admits its attempt to regain search market share is doomed. Yahoo, Microsoft: you guys have a friendship to build?

I realize Altavista tried this "rediscovery of the clean page" ploy with Raging Search, and it was too late. Google had won. But Yahoo's still in the game, and yahoo.com is still a great destination and brand. It's not the same as AV.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Clicktracks Not Struggling: CEO

Crow still isn't tasty, no matter what anyone might tell you. Doesn't taste like chicken. Doesn't taste like the egg-white wrap my Zone Diet wants me to eat today. Definitely does not taste like the traditional French fish soup (haute cuisine version, with tiny baby squid) I had at Gamelle on Saturday night when Carolyn and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. (See John, I'm trying to get a little personal touch in there so you'll feel sorry for me for writing like such a chowderhead last week. Next time you're in Toronto, I'll take you for a bowl of the fancy fish soup. It's delicious.)

In a recent post I looked at the potential for Google's Website Optimizer product to drive down pricing in the "multivariate testing space". One thing that stood out in my mind was the aggressive comment in Google's press release that essentially said you don't need professional services to implement these tests - that the product makes it easy. Well, as anyone watching closely would realize, the "multivariate testing space" is very small and nichey. A possibly limited Google free product probably doesn't do much to consultants in the space who have their own products - because those consulting relationships are highly customized and don't compete with Google much. Google may be *trying* to compete or influence the marketplace, but most of all, of course, it's just trying to sell more advertising.

As an offshoot of that discussion, I mentioned that analytics software companies were probably finding it tougher going now that Google has a free Analytics product. Now, I don't expect every owner of a competing analytics company to call me up and tell me if they *are* struggling - I'll bet some are, if their pricing was in the stratosphere, especially. John Marshall of Clicktracks did call me to remind me that Clicktracks is indeed doing better than ever, revenue-wise. It is, if I may boil down the conversation, based on one simple fact: Google's product isn't better.

In general I think it's the case that convoluted, overpriced solutions will go out of business if Google and/or Yahoo offer similar stuff; and if they don't go out of business, then they'll definitely have to differentiate themselves in some way.

To another issue in the analytics space: users will often install multiple products. We've certainly seen that. Talking with Richard Zwicky of Enquisite, a startup in the category, I heard about his idea that an Enquisite install could include a complementary free version of *another company's* log analyzer, so the user would have a fuller range of reports to draw on. I thought that was great thinking. As a consultant, I know that you have to jump through some hoops in many organizations to get code installed. Why not have that single install cover multiple products so a range of reports are available... so you don't have to go back and get buy-in for another install?

As someone who both writes and analyzes the space, and watches clients struggle with analytics decisions, I see the marketplace and the social hierarchies of companies sending a lot of mixed signals. Companies seem cheap with budgets in some areas, and then overspend in others. Individuals are jealous of turf, or unresponsive. Consultants and agencies want to adopt a narrower range of solutions, to reduce learning time. Clients want simpler reports. Clients want no reports. Clients want more complex reports. Clients want better ROI. Clients want someone to tell them what they want.

It's natural to speculate that in this miasma, free products will take market share from expensive ones. But at many levels that has proven not to be true. Free products won't *always* win if they're not better. But won't they win some of the time? Sure.

I think one thing Clicktracks' success might underline, actually, is that their growth occurred because they were nimbler and cheaper than many competitors. They actually grew because they competed on price as well as features and service. So is it so wrong to speculate that if Google takes it a step further, and drops the price to zero, they might accelerate that trend? Perhaps not, because "free" is in a different category in the marketplace altogether. Products don't have to be free to offer exceptional value.

Finally, John and I had a quick discussion of Google's sometimes tough rhetoric that seems directed at some (not all) actors in the ecosystem - "spreading a little bleach around," was how he put it. This is something we agreed that we actually like. Google's statements about product offerings and facts in the marketplace are sometimes a bit sharper and a bit more intellectually tough-minded than one might expect. The first example is in the multivariate testing space. Google's product overview states concisely why the buzzword "Taguchi" testing is overhyped, and why certain simpler forms of multivariate testing will do. Kind of quietly challenging the mysticism being spread about in that space. Another area Google's been tough on has been misleading facts being spread by the purveyors of click fraud assessment tools -- Google reminds the marketplace that some of the statistics being spread around about click fraud percentages irresponsibly include clicks that Google doesn't charge for, because their fraud detection systems catch them. Indeed.

All in all, a none-too-tasty bowl of crow for breakfast (maybe this Hallowe'en-sized pack of Smarties will make the taste go away), but in spite of this, it's always a pleasure exploring industry trends with John Marshall, a real thought leader in the web analytics and related industries. In case there is any lingering doubt, he's not going out of business. And it's for that very reason that J.L. Halsey paid a premium price tag to acquire Clicktracks, which is doing just fine, thanks.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




It's Unsold on Purpose

Seth puts forward a search marketing targeting idea I surely would have supported four years ago: selling to people who are likely to be interested in your offer, by targeting keywords that may be "just off" or "related in some way" to that offer. In this case, he notes the similar tastes in vehicles exhibited by New York townhouse owners, so why not buy ads on keywords related to the little gray Toyotas, if you're selling townhouse developments?

By and large, Google's thought of that, and they're going to make it tougher on you to do this. Based on their concept of relevance, which is now built into quality score (and extends beyond mere CTR), they'll probably force you into a significantly higher minimum bid on that Toyota-related phrase, and that might well ruin your economics here. Either that, or you'll get very low response rates, and anemic volume.

Still - I like the thinking. Housing developments are a bit different from many potential advertisers. Mark S. here at Page Zero is working on a couple such campaigns now and we'd like to work on more of them because the economics are sound, if you do it right. They're often localized in focus and highly profitable, so if you target well, maybe you could absorb and make productive use of the $6 "toyota" clicks on relatively low volume. The thing about Google's tougher regime today is: it's not going to kick you out for trying wacky keyword theories. It just makes you pay more.

That's why you're seeing unsold inventory, Seth. Most advertisers are stubborn, and refuse to pay those kinds of premiums. Google is primarily trying to please search engine users, who don't like irrelevant offers. But they will let you flout that policy if your pockets are deep enough. The white space and general thuggery Google has unleashed on the irrelevant advertiser have, paradoxically, increased Google's profits. Go figure. :)

BTW, today I sent out a detailed description (for paying Page Zero Advisor subscribers) of the "tight loop concept" and how it seems to be an important part of the thinking at both Google and Yahoo in terms of the ad ranking algorithm (in Yahoo's case, to be implemented in 2007).

In this issue of the Advisor I also discuss the "torso" - keywords lying in the productive area between the head and the long, lonely tail. The "torso" is a cool new word floating around Silicon Valley (thanks to the insiders who reminded me that I could sound really original using that term "up here in Canada" ;) but apparently I'm bigger in Germany anyway so I'll refrain from pretending to coin it, eh). A search reveals that Chris Anderson and some VC's were percolating on that term in early 2005; also note the torso slide posted here on Traffick.com about a year ago. The concept of SEM bread and butter being in that non-tail, non-head zone has probably been around for a good decade, actually, started back when it was just SEO.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, October 23, 2006

Traffickast 001: Yahoo Panama Launch Roundtable

As mentioned previously, seven "influencers" got to put Panama through its paces *live* last week. We were briefed extensively on the system, and fed purple KoolAid. The result: shockingly trenchant observations about how Yahoo Search Marketing will work in 2007. On Friday, I got together on the phone with Mona, Barry, Catherine, and Jen (Greg and Andy send their regrets) to hash out what we know about Panama so far. The result is the first (hopefully of many) free audiocasts hosted here in Traffick.com - Traffickast 001.

Note: if you don't work in search marketing this will act as a great sedative. But if you're patient, we have a few nuggets for you. In minute 39 we even tell MSN what they should do next! :)

It is a bit hard to translate the experience of messing about with the new interface into a voice-only discussion format. One thing none of us remembered to mention was a feature that will be very important to many advertisers: in the interface, there's a place to house both your "long" description *and* your "short" description. So you don't have to choose long vs. short - you can have different ad copy that will show up depending on the character limits allowed on distribution partners. Yeah, that's what I mean! If you're in the biz, that matters to you. If not, snoozers! :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Danny Sullivan Stays with Incisive, For Now

I could have sworn when I checked his blog last night, Danny was in Disneyland and that was about it. A few hours later he must have posted the update about his plans, summarized and commented on nicely by Searchviews.

In short, Danny is:
  • Still chairing SES New York 2007
  • Co-chairing SES San Jose 2007
  • Not chairing but participating in SES Chicago 2007
  • Stepping down from SearchEngineWatch.com and related publications (no change there)
  • Will launch a new search blog / website
  • Will host search marketing events (to be determined)
OK, so that tells us roughly where Danny is at. No doubt he won't have much trouble selling out the new conferences.

Hmm, now about all those folks including speakers, exhibitors, and attendees at SES shows over the years? It's anyone's guess. Like Danny, we'll be at Chicago this December doing our best to put on a good show, share info, and have a good time. Insofar as people like Danny and Chris Sherman will be integrally involved with SES through 2007, we will too. And even if Danny does organize future shows under a new banner, that makes you wonder if the SES's outside of the U.S. will continue to be just as vital as ever. You can't imagine that Danny plans to host dozens of shows. So we have to ponder the fate of Toronto, Milan, Shanghai, and of course Vancouver as far as search marketing tradeshows are concerned.

Beyond the next few months, in any case, the picture does get fuzzier and fuzzier because there are so many variables involved. All that's certain is that people in the industry want to know where all the other people are going to be, so they can show up, network, and learn. Maybe that's why so many people are coming to WebmasterWorld Pubcon in Las Vegas in November. (Danny is keynoting there, BTW). For search marketing vagabonds, it looks like Vegas in November is about as sure a bet as there is right now. Who would have figured?

Some additional prognostications for the 2007 search marketing season:
  • Search will continue to matter a lot to people, and will continue to become more ingrained in the worldview of citizens and consumers
  • The "longtail mentality" will be at least as important as the physical long tail itself
  • Smart marketers will continue to kick the butts of dumb ones
  • Networking and info sharing will continue to take on a variety of forms
  • Some of us speakers and exhibitors will perhaps, more than ever, look at tradeshows as a form of lead generation as opposed to pure consensus-building, partygoing, or insider-chatter
  • However, the long view of lead generation is that networking and referrals drive it, and you cannot network without seeing people, without making connections, and caring
  • Conclusion: all the major tradeshows and unconference opportunities will continue to be valuable events from a lead generation perspective, but those who take the "short view" of lead generation and make their presentations too "salesy" will ultimately lose sales (and speaking opportunities).
I think I just said: content is king.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, October 19, 2006

Am I allowed to be annoyed by this?

You! Yes you! The woman from Softimage, a software company in the graphics biz.

I moderated a roundtable on paid search at the Digital Marketing Conference today. I felt it was a really productive discussion. It also proved to me that Canadian marketers are not just "something like 18 months behind the US," but more like a range anywhere from one year to five years behind. That's a bit eerie for me to observe because we are *so* ready at my agency to help you get to the next level and the one after that... it's just tough to sit and listen to "should we or shouldn't we" hand-wringing at this stage. You should.

I don't mind the narrative, actually - it's eye-opening. It is, however, not fair that search people should have to prove it's real anymore - not even that we should have to cite *how* real - in $billions.

Aforesaid attendee had some interesting takes on the special needs of her company, but these were stories I'd heard many times before and worked with routinely many times before. What really got me was the sort-of-premise for the slow adoption: "well, I read a story in Business Week about horrible click fraud" and the whole thing

Sometimes, you have to come to the table with at least the barest of facts. Buoyed as always by monster earnings, Google is today a $130 billion company. It's on the way to earning $1 billion of *profit* per quarter. It rung up $2.69 billion in revenues in a single quarter... and not the fourth Q either, but Q3. It's all there in words, numbers, and pictures. Nearly all of that revenue came from clicks. They can't all be fake, now can they? Let's not belabor the obvious! It's time to get cracking, Softimage! Run that campaign!

Thanks to everyone who candidly shared their views, including new members of the Yahoo Search Marketing Canada team, and Melissa from Future Now (and all the rest). I hope you'll all follow up by email - as I did promise you all a copy of my book (of course Future Now has it already, and I have a copy of theirs :) .

Posted by Andrew Goodman




TripAdvisor 2.0

Doing some winter trip research, I couldn't help but marvel at all the sources of information TripAdvisor now offers to travelers making their trip decisions, after several years building their brand and a huge database of reviews. Not only the voluminous reviews and ratings and candid uploaded photos, but also forum posts, links to relevant off-site articles, and now, wikis. Yep that's right, they have something called "Inside Pages" that allow visitors to construct a travel guide for a given destination. It's editable over time, etc.

As I recently posted on my personal blog (for the benefit of family, friends, and oh, principals and investors in a little startup I'm working with), I am still coming to terms with the value of the information provided by a range of reviewers whom I don't know personally.

In the travel vertical, I don't appear to have the same checklist as many of the more prolific writers. Is there a silent majority out there? For the most part, a trip to a nice resort on a beach is something that pleases me - the bad stuff (if any) rolls off pretty easily. I don't get easily distracted by bugs, loud music, etc. And I don't book in the 50% off times generally, so posts about strange service in a resort in their off period in June are far less relevant than reviews that are from people who went in the "full gear-up" times of December-February. Anyway, some reviewers tend to be on the picky side and others, downright cranks.

Another thing the typical traveler may do - that I probably wouldn't - is take greater risks with weather. Reviews don't help you plan around that, typically. For example, my travel agent - the unstoppable Gino - reminded me that Cuba in December is pretty nice but can still be iffy on the temperature side if you're looking for long walks on the beach. There are a few inexpensive "nearly guaranteed warm weather" destinations (eg. the Dominican) that compare well with the pricier ones (such as Negril, Jamaica), often because a new resort area is opening up and they're trying to generate buzz. When you have an hour or less to sort through all the options (being busy), a travel agent who knows you well can actually educate you faster than you can educate yourself.

That does make me wonder about the wiki experiment. With so many destinations around the world, some travel destination wikis will remain sparsely edited, so how useful or expert they may be is in question. That said, the era of the "pro-am" (regular people bolstering the info flow, as cited in Chris Anderson's The Long Tail) is firmly in place and filling in many of the blanks left by traditional journalism and travel guides. Let the experiment begin... or should I say, continue.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Yahoo!! Panama is Finally Live!

By now you’ve certainly heard Panama is live. At this week’s Yahoo influencer event, I was one of the first marketers to test drive the new Y!SM system. With Panama, Yahoo has introduced many exciting features such as a new dynamic account structure, enhanced forecasting and advanced analytic capabilities to name a few. I’ll discuss several changes and highlight their benefit to advertisers and how they’ll help with overall Y!SM campaign management. Here goes :)

It’s not the sexiest change announced but one of the most important Panama improvements is the more efficient user interface. For example, during the ad creation process, the new dynamic structure allows advertisers to input ad copy for a group of keywords (a la Google). It will no longer take advertisers hours to assign unique titles and descriptions to individual keyword in an account. Split-testing of ads is also now possible.

Furthermore, the local sponsored search product was eliminated and geotargeting features have been integrated in the new interface. Now, in a single account, advertisers can target by market, by region within a market or by city and surrounding areas (DMA) Advertisers will no longer designate advertising areas by radius or city or need a physical business address in the area in which they’d like to advertise (the last point relates to the old local sponsored search product).

Y!SM claims geotargeting matching technology is improved. An earlier acquisition of WhereOnEarth has introduced better match technologies and Y!SM will be able to better infer searcher intent via explicit search queries, Yahoo! user information and IP addresses. This is a welcome change as better matching technologies will translate into better ad distribution (for advertisers) and a better user experience for searchers. On the old system (over the last year), I ran tests using explicit queries with geographic qualifiers (i.e. Pasadena dentist) and queries would match to ads approximately 50 percent of the time.

Another beneficial feature is “fast ad activation”. With this, ads go live on the entire Yahoo network within five minutes (in my tests ads went up in about a minute on Yahoo.com). In the new system, ads will be automatically reviewed on the front end and manually reviewed on the back end after terms are placed online. Terms deemed sensitive (i.e. adult, pharmaceuticals, etc…) will be reviewed before they go online and will undergo more scrutiny than unflagged terms (these terms go through two editors instead of one).

Y!SM backend system changes are also worth noting. Y!SM has done away with large and often problematic system updates typically occurring over weekends. From now on, system updates will be smaller in nature, more frequent and cause no system downtime. This should translate into fewer account problems for advertisers. It’s worth noting Panama will be Y!SMs last large product launch and they’ll be moving to “rapid innovative releases”. With this, it seems Y!SM is more committed to getting thing working right for the advertiser than it is to the marketing hoopla around such projects. It’s refreshing to see Y!SM’s renewed commitment to a good advertiser experience.

Y!SM has also introduced some neat forecasting tools. By fiddling with the slider bar (referenced in Andrew’s previous post), advertisers can determine how many clicks they’ll get for a certain bid price. This tool will allow advertisers to assess the tradeoff between maximum click volume and the associated click costs. For example, an advertiser may decide to bid $1.00 per click for 100 clicks but not $5.00 per click for 115 clicks. The projection tool also shows an advertiser’s percentage of available clicks. If an advertiser wanted more traffic, they’d be able to determine the number of missed clicks and know how much missed traffic would cost.

Over the next few weeks, some Y!SM accounts will be given the opportunity to transfer from the old system to the new one. Yahoo! will set a date by which all accounts need to be migrated to the new system but the date will not be before Q1 2007, so that busy advertisers are not burdened.

If you’d like to be an early adopter of Panama – or what Yahoo is now calling “the new Sponsored Search” – you can submit your request here:
http://advision.webevents.yahoo.com/newsponsoredsearch/invite

Panama means a lot more useful features and benefits for advertisers. Stay tuned for more commentary on marketplace design (the new ranking algorithm set to launch in Q1), campaign optimization features and advanced analytics like the “assist” concept.

Posted by Mona Elesseily




Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Eye Candy from Panama: Bid's Influence on Ad Position

This screen shot is from a test campaign I ran this week (to see full size versions of screen shots here, click on them). The drilldown on any ad group's bid or individual keyword bid allows you to project how bids will translate into ad positions and their expected click volumes in the upcoming month. This is just for a single keyword, "interior decorating."

Slide the bar over a bit, to find out what it would cost to generate double the number of clicks (686 up from 343) on this keyword. Interestingly, the average amount I'd have to *bid* to generate that number of projected clicks in a month on this keyword is well more than double the current bid - $2.70, up from $1.03. That would achieve 94% of the highest potential click volume, twice the 47% achieved with my current bid. By bidding another 35 cents higher than that, you'd eke out a little more volume, to fully 100% of the highest potential clicks, with an average ad position of near 1.0.

But get this: due to ad discounting and the behavior of other advertisers, my actual average cost on this keyword when bidding that high is only projected to rise by 21.5%, to $1.13. In fact, the tool projects an average actual cost per click of $1.13 even if you bid all the way up to the 1.0 average position, projected at $3.05. Leaving a moderately high bid "on" all the time could be at least as cost-effective as bidding very high and governing daily impressions with strict budget limits, and volume is gained without a huge ROI hit in this case (or, depending on conversion rates, ROI could turn out to be around the same, or much worse if you convert better out of lower positions). With ad discounting and complex rank algorithms, many AdWords advertisers have learned that actual average bids aren't nearly as scary as the max bids you enter into the system. It's the actual amounts that need to be considered when making projections.

Will playing around with this tool teach advertisers about the demand curve and about optimal ad positions for their purposes? Will it help them to understand that bidding properly is a form of budgeting to be used in tandem with actual budget limits (also built into Panama for daily and monthly amounts)? You bet. What it specifically teaches them about their own account strategy is up in the air, though. That's going to vary wildly by keyword and by business. All we can really say for sure is that a lot of changes are triggered by changes in bids.

On high volume keywords with a lot of competition, these projection tools are likely to be a bit out of whack. On low volume or geotargeted keywords, they'll be a lot out of whack. But as the system gathers more data for your account as well as for advertiser behavior in general, the projections will become more certain. You have to start somewhere, and this intuitive interface is a great start.

With a visual like this, will there still be advertisers who want to bid 20 cents on core keywords, and still generate as many clicks as possible (obviously, in a competitive environment, these are mutually exclusive goals, all other things like CTR being equal)? You would think that a picture here says 1,000 words to this type of wishful thinking.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Another Watershed Release from Google: Website Optimizer

Talk about a potentially disruptive technology! Google has released a new product that integrates with AdWords: a landing page testing tool called Website Optimizer to help sites maximize conversion rates. It's high-powered stuff. More info from Google here. It seems only select advertisers will be invited to participate in the beta.

I'm not a software developer - I'm a marketer who would use this tool, or who would -- yes -- get paid to manage multivariate tests for clients, using expertise in my company to work on the websites in question in conjunction with the tool. So I'd use it to achieve client results. If I own a business, I want to use the tool, for sure, but I might also want to hire someone to do that job. Either way: great tool, want to use it, but it's not as if everyone wants to be conducting such tests for a living, and it's not as if every company has all the expertise in-house. In Google's "pre-test checklist" - again, very well-written - you are advised to "meet with your marketing team" and "meet with your webmaster" to get all the ducks in a row to run the tests. Hmm, so here, Google has likely not attempted to cover all the possible political permutations involved, but rest assured that for many companies, coordinating these events would be worth a hefty paycheck in itself.

If that's a "project manager" bias so be it, but that may also explain why this post is a bit of a rant. I don't think a cool tool is so cool if the company portrays it as so easy to use it's like falling off a log. That's just not true! But maybe it's just the press release wording I don't like (read on), because it downplays the role of expertise in building the experiments (to say nothing of the underlying businesses). In any case, the FAQ copy on the Website Optimizer pages itself is admirably dry and explanatory, including discussions of "full factorial" multivariate testing.

In Google's "pre-test checklist" - again, very well-written - you are advised to "meet with your marketing team" and "meet with your webmaster" to get all the ducks in a row to run the tests. Hmm, so here, Google has likely not attempted to cover all the possible political permutations involved, but rest assured that for many companies, coordinating these events would be worth a hefty paycheck in itself.

A short review of Google's last highly disruptive "price cut" in web analytics:

Not long ago, Google bought Urchin, upgraded and integrated it, and released a high-end web analytics product into the marketplace, charging zero dollars for it.

The fallout went something like this. Web analytics had to get a lot cheaper, even though many customers claimed they wanted more customization that was only available from third-party solutions like Omniture Sitecatalyst and the other industry leaders.

Brave at first, Clicktracks sold only a few months later to J.L. Halsey for a decent, but probably not ideal, selling price. It might be fair to say that was the handwriting-on-the-wall price.

At first there was some resistance to Google's offering. Agencies and large companies talked responsibly in public about the importance of keeping their data away from the world's largest technology company.

Just as "jawboning" doesn't always affect market forces unless the jaw is Alan Greenspan's, this jawboning at a macro level doesn't necessarily have strong enough moral force to stop the individual implementer of a marketing project from making their decision based on cost -- or possibly even more important -- convenience. Given that the access to a full marketing dashboard gets a lot easier for a consultant like me once a fully integrated "full loop o' Google" system gets installed, it's very tempting to go in that direction, privacy be damned. Please don't misquote me: I don't hate privacy, and I can see how much control advertisers collectively cede to Google by installing Google code on their sites. But on any given day, given the politics and expense of actually getting things done out here (I say "out here" in the sense of the professional marketing playing field, like PGA golfers call the Tour "out here," and come to think of it why am I typing all this instead of getting out there somewhere in the green grass), there is a strong lunar pull towards Google's integrated (free) solutions.

So here we go again. Google is now entering the analytics market in a new way, with a multivariate landing page tester called Website Optimizer. This would compete with third-party solutions currently on the market, such as Vertster.

From the standpoint of my group's consulting efforts, we like Google-made solutions as they work well, are free, give us more we can help clients with, and don't unduly make the third-party providers or those who have built expensive white elephant, er, proprietary in-house technologies look like the geniuses. In short, we are vendor-neutral so we actually like to use Google-made solutions so we don't have to integrate lots of disparate ones. That's why I enjoyed using Google's dayparting feature in AdWords and began making use of it regularly shortly after it was added.

That being said, giving Google a huge file of what landing page elements, including button sizes, copy lengths, wordings, font sizes, layouts, offers, etc., work best, and user characteristics responding to *different* elements *differently* -- well, the mind boggles. Can they possibly use all the information for good? If not, what evil things will they do with it? Will there be another net transfer of wealth from [all other companies in the ecosystem, including private companies in any industry at all] to ... [GOOGLE]?

To put it in perspective: Amazon.com built a business around huge amounts of conversion testing, and they pretty much know all there is to know about what works - on their website, for their customers. Google, by comparison, would know about every industry in existence, with more information, too, about what the clicks cost and other clickthrough details. They'd know about the entire loop. Database of intentions? How about a database of intentions and fulfilled desires?

Meanwhile, as trillions of dollars move from us to them, Matt Cutts feels all unclean on my behalf that Yahoo gave me an MP3 player. Just kidding Matt. I'd send you a gift to make up for the wisecrack but I know how you feel about those. Some of your colleagues like cheese plates, by the way, but I'm now too scared to send them.

But I'm probably not really in a generous mood given that Google explicitly notes in their press release that Website Optimizer "does not require consulting or professional services to implement. By allowing site visitors to determine what content is most useful, as indicated by the highest conversion rate, we are removing the guesswork and trial-and-error experiments that used to be the norm for determining landing page optimization." So, go ahead and do it yourself. Your customers and computers will give you the right answers! Multivariate testing in a box! Agreed, that's the rough idea, but there is a bit that goes on behind the scenes to get you to the point of testing, let alone to conduct the test, no?

Perhaps all Google means is that the tool works very well, and that testing and not preconceived notions should be the foundation of landing page design. Perhaps this is just a matter of semantics or usability/marketing philosophies, but the wording does sort of sound like a swipe at third parties. "We've released a new technology, and only a helpless idiot would need to hire someone to implement it," is what is sounds like to me. Our clients aren't helpless, they just don't run web design and marketing copywriting (and multivariate testing, and media planning, etc.) shops for a living. There is a cost for running sophisticated marketing tests. Google wants to imply - to what end I have no idea - that there is no cost to this (maybe they want props as the "price slashers" for professional services... "we will be welcomed as liberators!"). Forgetting for a moment the main cost - loss of privacy of sales data and consumer behavior to the benefit of the world's largest online advertising broker - there is also a cost beyond that, the normal costs of running a business and achieving objectives using someone's expertise.

Although a multivariate testing tool is very good at testing, say, five button designs with five different messages on them, who came up with today's leading button designs? Who came up with the wording? Who knows that button design is or is not one of the top ten priorities on the page? Top three? Who cares? Who is expert in trends in that area and who would screw it up, even if they had a great tool?

Actually, unless you have extreme click volumes, some of those creative decisions are very important, because you would need 100,000 clicks to test *everything* using brute force. You have to start in a "headstart" position if you're trying to get answers out of 1,000-10,000 clicks, which would be more the norm. And if those clicks cost $1 each... well, you get the point. You can't always test all permutations of conversion rates on five button sizes, five button colors, five button designs, and five button wordings on a reasonable number of clicks. There is a real-world environment to consider here and other factors like seasonality and many others can begin to intervene. And in the above example, you'd only have figured out the best button for one particular vertical on one landing page, and nothing else. You could weakly extrapolate the results to other situations. So clearly there's a need for professionals who can begin with reasonably persuasive, creative, page elements in the first place. And to have them come up with multiple options and to run the tests... will require something akin to professional services.

As Google's pre-test checklist basically asks: "you've already got plenty of creative content to plug into this don't you?" Well hello. Many companies do not, and expect it to be created out of thin air. Google's implying that this is trivial and costless is not helping.

Now there's another factor to consider. Google says that while you're using Website Optimizer, your AdWords quality scores won't be affected. But when you select a new landing page, keep in mind that it "might" be affected. It will probably go up, given that Google is bound to think their own tool is doing good things, and they want access to your data so they want you to use the tool, and a reputation for it killing quality scores would not be much incentive to use it.

So does that mean conversion rates are now going to be part of quality score? No? Or that this is a red herring and the use of Website Optimizer actually plays a negligible part in quality score? For the sake of simplicity and agnosticism as to what truly counts as "quality," I'm assuming the latter. A great user experience shouldn't necessarily be judged by predefined conversion events.

So if you're scoring at home or office: I'm like thousands of others in that (1) I'll probably use this stuff, if they let me; (2) I'm afraid of the larger consequences, especially if Google begins to "organize and make universally accessible -- to itself -- the world's confidential marketing information". At least it's not causing global warming, that I know of. Google has that covered anyway, with their new solar panels.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Nattering Nabobs of Never-Say-Neveritism

Messengers often get shot.

In the paid search industry the news has often been unpleasant to convey, primarily on three fronts. At a certain point, when nearly every observer had about the same criticisms, it must have seemed to folks at Yahoo and Google that we just liked to be difficult.

On the major bones of contention, our comments here were far from the worst, but we were often the first.

The major bones of contention have been pretty consistent over the past couple of years.

  • The Yahoo Direct Traffic Center sucks. We've said it here; Mona Elesseily's handbook pointed out its glaring flaws while telling advertisers how to survive; some message board posters actually pointed out 20 or more specific ways in which it sucks.
  • Click fraud is a problem.
  • A lot of that problem comes from the content targeting side. So the complaint here was that you couldn't trust content and that you needed to develop workarounds that helped you bid much less on it. Typically the group of presenters at Search Engine Strategies on this topic, like my colleagues at Reprise Media, made this point diplomatically. I tried to inject humor using "souped-up Pinto" and other goofy analogies that would have been even funnier if I had a good animator on staff for my Powerpoints. A whole host of other critics just basically yelled a lot, which no doubt the Googlers and Yahoos found unhelpful. But it did help to get the point across.
This week's meetings with Yahoo were so uplifting in the sense that a lot of that air was cleared. When several members of Yahoo's Panama team could openly say things like "improving on the DTC would have been setting the bar so low because I cannot imagine a worse product," it made us feel like they were acknowledging our pain, and acknowledging that we may well be fair-minded critics who were simply stating facts.

The result of that constant stream of criticism has been positive, in fact.

  • Panama's out, and it's no piecemeal change but a complete re-do. With loads of fun for marketers in store. We can even try to reverse-engineer a Quality Index. For the time being, the new ranking algorithm will not take effect (until full migration is done in 2007), but advertisers who get early invites to Panama will be able to begin A/B testing ad copy right away, to learn a bit about response.
  • Yahoo's team developed a revolutionary concept of tracking not just direct conversions from clicks, but also prior clicks associated with a sale or conversion, calling these "assists." In vanilla web analytics, all but the most recent click leading to a sale are "wiped," so prior clicks also leading to that sale get no credit. Imagine if the National Hockey League only counted goals. Wayne Gretzky would have been seen as a mediocre player (until that year he scored 92 just to make sure he survived any retroactive retooling of the hockey points concept). John Slade at Yahoo thinks this will contribute to a significant uptick in marketer sophistication around the impact of online advertising, and give credit more accurately to clicks that occur earlier in the sales cycle and from multiple sources. I agree. Mona Elesseily gave our listeners (PZCast 001, our first ever audio broadcast for Page Zero Advisor subscribers) a sneak preview of the assists concept back on May 23. This stat will only be available to advertisers using Yahoo's conversion counter / analytics products, of course. But for those wondering about an incentive for installing a second or third code snippet on their sites, this may well be an incentive. It's not a trivial stat and one that will be very hard for most of the current metrics solutions in the marketplace to replicate.
  • Click fraud hasn't gone away, but specific steps have been taken to "clean up" the content networks, and Google shows a record of clicks they considered invalid, if you run a report within Adwords. There is continued progress on this front.
  • Related to that, confidence is growing in contextual ads. I've noticed more conversions and fewer scary traffic spikes. 18 months ago, I would have said you'd set your content bids around 75-80% lower than you'd usually set your search bids (in the aggregate, on average) if you're looking for about the same ROI. On some of our accounts, this has crept up. When advertisers begin seeking content clicks rather than acting defensively towards them, this is a sign of a real change in overall traffic quality. I'm not 100% sold on Yahoo's network yet, but because their content offerings will have to be "Panama compliant," we'll just have to wait for 2007 iterations of Panama to see what level of advertiser control we get to play with there.
Some of these changes have been revolutionary - most, evolutionary. But for me, one heartening thing about the various developments is that the vendors now understand that hey, we're not generally negative folks by nature. As advertisers, we are perhaps inherently optimistic and also creative. We like to test, and we like to know stuff. Now that we're closer to being on the same page, admissions like "the DTC was basically a really simple spreadsheet" are refreshing, because us "outside critics" feel like we're playing a constructive role. We're not Oscar the Grouch by nature - we only scream when something is truly horrible, as things sometimes have been. We're also good sports when we lose at bowling.... although much more so when you let us win. (Is 123 a good score?)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, October 17, 2006

No Turning Back: Panama Goes Live

More soon - posting in LAX :)

As of today, the first wave of advertisers are converting over to Yahoo’s new Panama ad system. The system will be made available to all advertisers in the U.S. by year end. Once they migrate, there will be no opting back for the current Direct Traffic Center, a fact which is unlikely to generate any tears.

On Monday, along with a small group of other visitors (bloggers and authors such as Barry Schwartz, Jennifer Slegg, Andy Beal, Catherine Seda, Greg Sterling, and Mona Elesseily) to Yahoo Search Marketing Headquarters in Burbank, I enjoyed a live demo (more than a demo, since our ads showed up live on Yahoo Search, from our actual Overture, er, YSM, accounts). YSM is now totally rebuilt and operating on different machines with a different tech team, while the DTC team maintains the legacy system until the last advertiser is migrated off sometime in early 2007.

A Long Ride into “Roosevelt Station”

A lively narrative led by John Slade, Senior Director of Global Product Management, gave us a feel for the hectic but structured development process over the past 18 months leading to the countown to rollout yesterday, the day before Yahoo’s quarterly earnings call. Slade looked tired, which to us was a good sign. He spoke passionately about the feature set of the new product (“Panama”) as well as the new scalable development process (“Roosevelt”) which will add agility to Yahoo’s marketing platform going forward. Zod Nazem, Yahoo’s CTO, explained how resources were migrated from within Yahoo to build Panama; David Ku, VP of Engineering, spoke about how insights from Yahoo Search were integrated into the ad platform design, specifically around the new ranking algorithm. A variety of other team members – John Kim, Betty Park, Brian Acton, Tim Cadogan, David Pann, Darshan Kantak, and Mark Morrissey, introduced themselves and answered questions. Steve Mitgang, Senior Vice President and General Manager of YSM, spoke at a high level about the intuitive needs of platform users worldwide.

In setting up my own dummy ads, I found the system intuitive to read as well as operate. The overall paradigm mimics Google AdWords, with the structure Account > Campaign > Ad Group > Ad being familiar to any search marketer today.

It’s interesting to reflect back on the fateful day when Google rolled out version 2 of its AdWords platform, in February 2002. At that time, it essentially tipped its cap to the auction model and the pay-per-click concept popularized by Yahoo – and wound up paying a hefty patent settlement as a result. But what Google did to improve on that was significant. As the Yahoo team acknowledged, the current DTC is like an unsophisticated spreadsheet. Google’s ranking algorithm and campaign reporting and setup features moved AdWords significantly ahead of Yahoo, where it stayed for nearly five years. Today, Yahoo’s in the position of mimicking Google’s offering. So is it a me-too product? Well, from the perspective of our clients, that wouldn’t be so bad… we like AdWords – it scales, and it works. Now YSM does too.

Key missing features now included in the new product are bidding by ad group and multiple ad rotation. Advertisers who migrate over will no doubt find these helpful and begin using them right away.

A number of account migration features are available too, but may be more in the background for power users.

There were also a number of unexpected features. Imperfect, but welcome, is a continent block feature.

I had a quick discussion with Yahoo exec Josh Siegel that evening… he acted surprised ... as in... “so, a lot of advertisers would literally expect that U.S. geotargeting would literally mean that clicks would come from that country?” Um, yeah.

We got an extensive rundown of the new ad ranking formula. The pricing formula may include a larger than expected price discount for ads with very high relative quality score. Other relevancy factors will be included in the Quality Index. Yahoo won't reveal much, but in an upcoming newsletter for Page Zero Advisor subscribers, I'll get into more detail. I'm also hosting a PZCast audio roundtable of all the attendees of yesterday's demo. We're recording that Friday - again it will be available to PZ Advisor subscribers. (see page-zero.com for subscription info)

Potential impact on search user satisfaction – the emphasis on quality creates better user satisfaction so both more revenue for Yahoo *and* potentially stems slide in search market share. But is it enough?

Overall, this is a huge improvement, with everything from fast ad activation to helpful, intuitive reports. Eye candy includes excellent projection tools with scenario graphs to indicate projected clicks based on increased bids and thus improved ad position.

That's the first quick report of several. Congrats to Yahoo on a historic product rollout. Back tonight for more.

Mona Elesseily, my colleague now working on the "Panama" version of her Yahoo Search Marketing Handbook, will be blogging her thoughts shortly, also.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, October 13, 2006

Six Questions for the Digital Marketing Conference

On October 19 I'll be moderating a roundtable on paid search at the Canadian Marketing Association's annual Digital Marketing Conference. (It's been held at The Guvernment nightclub -- why that had to be the venue is an interesting conversation in itself!)

I've been asked to come up with three discussion questions for the nine experts around the table, and three "backup questions." I'll jot them down here so I don't lose them, and to give panelists a handy URL for accessing them. Perhaps a useful bellwether of what people in the industry are likely to discuss at a high level, and in their general decision-making processes?

Main questions:

1. The elephant in the room: click fraud. Do you see more or less of it now? What are you doing to combat the problem? What are you doing to identify the problem?

2. It's a new world, again. Google AdWords uses a complex "quality-based bidding" algorithm. Are you seeing changes in your accounts as a result? Do you feel that it's increased the complexity of your job? Has it raised prices?

3. Yahoo Search Marketing question (TBD).

Backup questions:

4. What role do automated bid management technologies play in your strategy, if any?

5. Analytics: are you or your clients comfortable with using Google Analytics? If not, what else would you use and why? What sorts of reports do you find primarily useful and what sorts of reports might you want to access for more "niche" purposes?

6. Whether you work in an agency or in-house, does your company have trouble attracting qualified SEM talent? If you had success finding people, what was the trick?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, October 12, 2006

Funniest Headline of the Day: Fall ISP Blowout Sale

If you don't follow the business headlines closely, this headline might seem like someone's pulling your leg:

AOL UK Bought By Carphone Warehouse

But indeed, it's deadly serious.

In other news, the Pillsbury Doughboy has increased his stake in AltaVista UK's Free ISP from 10% to 110%.

Hey, remember when the fish-oil company tried to take over Excite?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Piggyback PR

"Dear Andrew,

"Lost in the flurry of coverage about Google Tube was... [turn to pitch for PR firm's client's most excellentest solution]..."

Actually, what got lost in the flurry of coverage was... your email. Delete. Can't you see we're all busy, trying to build, invest in, or otherwise make hay off the next GooTube (just as your client is, apparently)?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wasting More Time with YouTube

As everyone knew, YouTube was way, way ahead in users and uploaded content. I did some quick checking, on queries like "athens" and "mcdonalds" and found that there were typically between 4X and 12X as many videos uploaded to YouTube as to Google Video. This stuff isn't going away.

There are over 3,300 videos about "backyard wrestling" at YouTube. Barely over 300 at Google Video. (Sounds like Hal Niedzviecki needs a new chapter to his book, Hello, I'm Special, which probes the "backyard wrestling" "look at me I'm famous for 15 nanoseconds" phenomenon. Talk about a long, long, long tail.)

For this one, you may need subtitles along with the 3+ spare minutes, but it illustrates the point further. Google Video had fewer than 20 videos about "Tim Hortons" and YouTube, 218 and climbing. Very little of that content is copyrighted or ripped off, either. A lot of it is very (very, very) stupid, but it does seem to have almost a social networking component, as even the dorkiest dudes may find themselves described as "hot" by a "jen4353" who lives very far from those dudes.

Flickr, by contrast, has 845 photos tagged Tim Horton's.

There's a long way to grow. Sure, there are thousands of photos of people in a McDonald's, or Tim Horton's, or landmarks in Athens. But I can find zero of anyone drinking a beer in the Athens McDonald's. Let that be my challenge to you. And no, you can't drink a beer in Tim Horton's. Not unless they build one in Athens.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




MySpace's Recent Growth: Every Bit as Creepy as it Sounds

Advertising Age notes in a recent article that the 35-54 demographic now accounts for no less than 40.6% of MySpace usage, and that the teen 12-17 cohort has been cut by more than half, now accounting for only 11.2% of usage. Uh oh. Does that sound hip and youthful to you?

(In other news, Saturday Night Live's primary demographic is now between 68 and 96, coincidentally the average age of its most famous past cast members. But I still think the show is pretty funny. And just by the by, I recently remarked that Fred Armisen looks just like Ugly Betty -- before he played her as "Fuggly Betsy" on the show.)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, October 09, 2006

Meet Google, World's Largest VC

As rumored, Google did agree to acquire Youtube for $1.65 Bbbillion in stock.

This Info Week article provides a helpful overview of the sky-is-falling analyses of "doomedTube".

Hey, Mark Cuban: copyright law is granular here, it seems to me. If Google puts together a responsible set of editorial and technical solutions to prevent copyright-infringing content from going on there, then any litigation must be between the violator and the litigant. Obviously, companies can sue Google if they wish, but everything Google builds is a "platform," and so far, in the United States, they haven't been crippled by copyright lawsuits. Rather, they've been challenged and sued repeatedly but have fought back and defended their take on fair use, while preparing to comply with legal directives that might require editorial, policy, and technological tweaks. This has happened with Search, Book Search, Video, News, AdWords, and a few other Google projects/platforms.

Similar to how it's playing out with the AdWords platform, with Google Video or its cousin Youtube, the onus is on Google to build a reasonably responsible platform, and to police it reasonably. And to stand down when it feels like it's probably going to be better off not fighting a particular case. And/or to form legal agreements with copyright owners. It's messy and it's ongoing, but it's not black or white.

So: in my opinion, even in the worst-case scenario, a bunch of the current content gets pulled off there, leaving a remnant that is still quite popular and growing. Meanwhile Google has to expect steady growth in voluntarily uploaded individual content, and commercial stuff that gets distributed through a license. That's not so far different from early experiences by previous operators in similar spaces: Flickr, Singingfish, etc. It is different from services that were and are 100% dedicated to piracy, such as Napster and its current equivalents.

The biggest risk here is not litigation, doing the wrong thing, offending folks, etc. The biggest risk is failing to achieve scale and leadership and becoming irrelevant and ignored.

Google, World's Largest VC, is betting that even the most crippled version of Youtube will wind up being worth more than $1.65 billion. That's a carefully-hedged bet. Essentially, they've used their imagination on both the low and high ends, and purchased a "30% stake" of today's Youtube in the hopes that it's really a "60% stake" of something much larger. (Meaning: even if 70% of the content gets wiped off next year, they'll have achieved their worst-case scenario. Meaning that Google probably values Youtube at a closer-to-$5-billion valuation, and has argued strenuously for the "potential-litigation-discount," so they're actually thanking Cuban for his money-saving analysis.)

Doing this with Google stock just complicates the math a bit more for those of you scoring at home.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Business.com Launches Work.com

Where *did* they get all that great content? Work.com is a so-called "Web 2.0" site launched today by Business.com. New, yes. Web 2.0? I'm not sure why.

In any case, it looks to be, unabashedly, a business-to-business version of About.com. At first glance the guides to various business topics are outstandingly helpful.

From what I can tell, most businesspeople , especially small businesses, face a constant struggle on two fronts: (1) keeping up to date in terms of their breadth of knowledge of trends and techniques that affect their performance; (2) keeping up to date in terms of process issues. Because business tends to be "interoperable" whether you like it or not, suppliers, clients, employees, and partners may find it irritating if you don't keep abreast of at least the major issues in terms of communications and work process. And by following the latest trends, you can relieve yourself of many headaches.

For example, Scott Allen, an expert on business networking, casually reminds readers that increased use of business networking sites can lead to an influx of email. He then points them to the "Inbox Zero" section at 43 Folders.

Because it's got the latest info by guides who are truly plugged in, Work.com is a winner. It'll surely save businesses time and no doubt many of the guides will be referenced often.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, October 07, 2006

Pooh-Pooh-Tube

Om Malik thinks the Google-Youtube rumor is pretty thin, and that Google would be just opening itself up to lawsuits and mayhem by acquiring the video-upload service.

Greg Linden feels that Youtube has nothing unique other than users, and that it simply isn't Googly.

Sure, but neither was Sprinks.

So, here's the counter view. "You buy it to kill it." And secondarily, to add a little more reach to your ad network, to make it that much more interesting than Yahoo's.

Are we forgetting that Google already has a video platform that uses similar approaches to tagging as Youtube? That Google is developing methods of policing invalid content?

So potentially, the acquisition gets digested in stages, eventually resulting in the demise of Youtube and a lot of momentum for Google Video, which would operate under a significantly different set of rules. In addition, the modus operandi of Google in terms of organizing the world's content seems to be pretty consistent: push the legal envelope early and often, in order to spur talks with large content providers to create formal agreements to replace a patchwork of look-the-other-way-because-we-are-trying-to-look-cool, and the occasional you-pushed-us-too-far-and-now-we're-litigating.

Watching Youtube pursue that very method must have woken Google up a bit. A Youtube that has now successfully leveraged their scale into some formal agreements with content providers is a Youtube Google can make sense of, and potentially integrate into the long-term plan.

P.S. Looks like Cramer agrees.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, October 06, 2006

Need More Places to Put Ads, Need More Places to Put Ads...

So if the rumor is true, and Google acquires Youtube... what about Yahoo and Facebook? And why the flurry of activity now? This would be out of character for, especially, Google -- who have generally made little acquisitions though recently they inked a huge "partnership" with MySpace.

Thoughts on Google-Youtube:

  • Probably the only reason this one falls through is price. $1.6 billion is clearly too much, on one hand, but it is also chump change to Google. So that's a wash.
  • They're likely haggling less over other details, because Google plans to roll Youtube users into whatever it wants (eventually, Google Video). It'll change the rules and operate its own system. This is going to be primarily a way of boosting Google Video to #1 in its category, quickly. Unfortunately for Google, Youtube's been getting all the attention, and with all that cash in the bank, waiting forever seems like a silly way to grow a business. Just go get those users.
So what about Yahoo-Facebook? Yahoo is eventually going to be wooing advertisers with its much-touted in-development Panama ad platform. But the advertiser community might be underwhelmed if that is not coupled with announcements about improving the quality and reach of Yahoo's online ad network. So, in spite of the nasty dilution it may cause to Yahoo stock, it would be an awful fate for Yahoo to slide into, say, 3rd place on advertisers' radar. I'll guess they push hard for the Facebook deal, and make one more large ($300 million plus) acquisition of content that works well with contextual ads, before year-end.

Finally, I'm going to go out on a crazy limb and predict that MySpace will eventually do the predictable thing and dwindle in the popular youth imagination. It's a pretty sophomoric, uninteresting place to be, and it will face competition. In that space, Google knows it failed badly with Orkut, for some reason -- perhaps because it was trying to show off that this was just sort of a "spare time project". Losing so badly here should be cause for Google to look in the mirror. And perhaps this is why they have decided to acquire YouTube, so it won't happen again. After all, Murdoch could buy it. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, October 05, 2006

Empowering Ordinary Citizens Through Gross Oversimplification

(in part via Searchviews)

Platonists to the right of us, Platonists to the left... and apparently inside the bowels of the Googleplex, too.

Let's make a truth-assessin' machine!

Politician A says "Headstart Programs didn't create any opportunities for disadvantaged children, and were a waste of money."

Politician B says "Headstart Programs worked, if you compare outcomes over 25 years, looking at the numbers in this way."

Politician A retorts with something else. Politician B counters with something else entirely. Politician C appears to agree with both, then changes the subject. Meanwhile various layers of government are working on the problem or not working on it based on the shifting sands of institutional reform. Etc. And so on.

"Sure," Schmidt might say, "the idea of a politician truth predictor might be slightly flawed crude now, but eventually we'll perfect it." Yikes?

Social engineering. Literally.

Chantal Mouffe, in her spare time, once gave a paper chronicling 300 historical definitions of social and political equality. Can't even find that precise paper, but the overview of Mouffe works on Google Scholar gives you the idea. Where would one begin?

And now we'd like to nail down the whole "truth" thing for the betterment of society? Well, sure. I'm glad someone thought of it.

So - the manner in which facts and perspectives trickle into the policy process is incredibly complex. It's not just a matter of saying x proposition is more or less true, like some Socratic dialogue... even if you had a relatively gullible sidekick to help things along ("it seems like it, Socrates").

(Perhaps you are aware of the term "sophistry"?) This is life, not a reality show. And progress in (what is it we value again? let's say self-determination) won't be boiled down to a simple matter of lie detection in scripted situations. As Google well knows, you can avoid lying by keeping the wraps on sensitive and pertinent information. Ah, where to begin with this can of worms of a topic?

How about the concept of "power" - remember that from your advanced political studies class? "Agenda-setting power" might actually decide the structure of the questions around which truth or falsity get determined. (Indeed, there are decisions, and nondecisions.) Indeed, in a policy debate, it's been customary that if you don't structure your analysis in a certain way - you aren't using analysis at all! In 1974, Steven Lukes posited a "third" dimension of power that's barely perceptible to people immersed in a certain set of norms. Other great scholars like Hollis and MacIntyre explore similar themes.

Is "truth" manipulated in the political process? Needless to say, it is. Can a fun algorithmic truth-predictor game bust up this history of, er, untruthiness, and ... empower people? Not really. The mere presence of fast-growing citizen usage of Internet resources is empowering in itself... far more so than any contrived attempt to help this along.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Wendy Muller Leaving Google Canada

Wendy Muller, who has headed up Google Canada's advertising and sales office for the past four years, is leaving the company, according to sources and now confirmed by Google. While we can certainly hope on one hand that Wendy can relax a bit, on the other, we hope her next role is a high-profile one. After all, with this kind of glamorous coverage (that I have yet to needle her about in person), it wouldn't be right if Wendy left the spotlight. :)

We're staying tuned.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Usability Rant of the Day: "Print this Page"

In the past two days I tried unsuccessfully to invoke the "print this page" function on articles I read online. In the first case, on an advertising publication's site, the "print this" link crashed Firefox. In the second case, at a direct marketing publication's site, the "print this" link brought up a box with the article supposedly formatted for better printing. Not only did they stick a new batch of text ads at the top, but page 3 of 3 did not in fact print, leaving me with an "article excerpt" rather than the full article.

The solution? Just use the regular print function on the browser -- isn't that what it's for? That doesn't require me to reboot my computer or to head into a meeting with a partial article to hand out. A little less pretty, but less annoying.

Given the frequency of glitches with "print this," I'm led to wonder why websites bother with the feature at all.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Yo! Contextual Advertising Trying a Bit Too Hard (Might as Well Show ROS Skyscrapers)


As I've been telling friends and family, I'm working on a new book. A very easy one to write, it will be, as the content is entirely user-generated. Instead of having to dream up something fake (as in a book my father used to laugh his head off at, the now-rare-and-antiquarian "Letters To My Son," by Eric Nicol), I receive all these highly personal emails from people - but they're not for me.

It seems that pretty much everyone is willing to guess at an email address if they don't know it. And if your Gmail address happens to be a really popular "guessed email," you get the most crazily private stuff sent to you. I've had comforting notes sent by an aunt to two squabbling siblings. I've been invited for drinks uptown, not in my town. I've been asked to proof a traditional wedding vow. And seen minutes for private business meetings. All over email sent to the wrong guy. Are people out of their minds?

And then Google turns around and shows ads next to nonsense subject lines (like "yo!", sent by "Debbie"), compounding the bemusement.

Well... as Debbie just wrote to me (thinking I'm "Ashley"): "Enjoy Nascar!"

Keep those letters coming...

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Say, that CMS or e-cart Could Really Help with Your SEO Effort...




...unless of course, you don't fully use it, so your meta description tags all talk about how great Mambo Content Management is. Does that look silly in a SERP or what?

I suppose that's one of the reasons Google often grabs text from the page, instead of using your description tag.





"But we hired a firm to do our SEO for us last year!" That's the problem with SEO. Everyone says they can do it. Few actually do it.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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