Thursday, November 30, 2006
Yesterday I talked with Nick Fox, Senior Product Manager for Ads Quality at Google, to get caught up on the latest issues relating to Quality-Based Bidding. To refresh your memory, Google's minimum bid on a keyword (essentially, governing whether you can afford to show your ad at all) is affected by quality score. If quality score is very low, you will be faced with a very high minimum bid. Google is now factoring Landing Page Quality into the overall quality assessment, and offers advertisers a set of landing page and site quality guidelines to give them an idea of what to avoid.
Google's latest is that landing page quality is now affecting whether an advertiser's ad gets included on the content network, as well as impacting your search campaign. They've also recently completed an improvement in the algorithm that scours landing pages. According to Fox, there is now "new data from the Adsbot crawl," and Google has "trained the algorithm on more human-labeled data." The reason for looking at landing page quality, according to him, is "to improve the user experience," by removing ads that fall below the "quality-based minimum bids." In Google's view, this latest update has been "successful" insofar as user evaluation data show an increase in user satisfaction with SERP's.
There are, of course, many unanswered questions.
(I'll be presenting more detailed information on Monday Dec. 4, at a Search Engine Strategies session called Ads in a Quality Score World; and also writing a longer article for Page Zero Advisor subscribers.)
I asked him only hard questions. Here's a sampler of two of them:
Traffick: To make this as clear as possible, I'm trying to get a sense of whether a number of the "other relevancy factors" you look at for AdWords actually affect ad rank, or whether you're still letting CTR history and minimum bid decide together where ads are ranked on the page, with the other factors coming into play only with regard to setting minimum bids?
NF: This is where it gets complicated. Actually, there are two quality scores. The first is for setting minimum bids. It's less accurate. [Traffick: Thus, we assume, predictive where limited data is available on CTR History.] It takes into account landing page quality. The information we use for ranking ads is much more specific.
Traffick followup: So, I'll assume a whole range of factors are involved in
deciding ad rank but that along with bid, CTR History is, as Google has said in the past, "predominant." But you're saying that landing page quality does not currently affect ad rank; landing page quality only affects minimum bids.
NF: We've been debating this internally, and it's my feeling that our users will benefit even if we push the landing page quality measure into the quality score that affects ad rank. Basically, I advocate all of the factors being used in the actual rankings of the ads, not just affecting minimum bids. So I'm pushing for landing page quality being included in the ranking formula and I think you'll see that soon.
Traffick followup: What are some of these other factors besides CTR?
NF: While much of this is proprietary, I can say that many of them are just different cuts at predicting CTR.
Traffick: How can you provide more information to advertisers who have low quality scores, and is there some way advertisers can appeal high minimum bids that might be based on "algorithmic false positives"?
NF: Google is currently exploring ways of providing more of this type of information to advertisers. The problem is, if we give too much information about the process to the bad guys, they'll turn around and use that to circumvent the process.
Traffick followup: So they try to "fix" it, but the intent is not to really fix it.
NF: Right, the intent is not to really fix it. In any case, Google is running a test now -- we haven't formally announced it yet, but I guess I'm going to tell you now -- showing in the front end, quality score information to the advertiser. This is sensitive. Potentially it helps the bad guys optimize, so we have to be careful how we implement this. As for the editorial process and appeals, today there is an escalation process, and Google can correct mistakes if it sees that a mistake has been made. There are actually few enough of these appeals that I get to see all of them personally.
Bonus question: Do you use things like account history (as in spend, or length of time with an account) in the quality score algorithm?
NF: No. Google doesn't believe in setting up perverse incentives when it comes to improving the user experience. So we don't use total spend or time as incentives.
Fox further added that Google had "heated internal debates" as to whether they should wait until January or launch the latest update of the quality scoring algorithm(s) now. They opted to do this now because they'd rather lean towards improving the user experience on the search engine during holiday time, the busiest time in terms of usage for a search engine. Another reason cited by Fox is that "good advertisers" are now likely to see an increase in clicks and leads during this busy season, which will increase their satisfaction.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I told a client today about a phenomenon known as "adversarial indexing." Actually, I said it was "known as adversarial indexing" or that "information retrieval scientists call it adversarial indexing," when I should have said "information retrieval scientists call it something like adversarial indexing." It refers to the concept of attempting to design systems that will serve relevant search results in a world governed by competitive rather than congruent motives: in a world where there is an incentive to spam the engines. A recent paper by some Microsoft scientists alluded to this, but I'm guessing they must have called it "adversarial information retrieval," given that there are (or were, until this post) zero occurrences of the phrase "adversarial indexing" in the Google index if you do a search (using quotation marks).
In any case - adversarial indexing is a decent way to put it, because even deciding what gets into the index at all is dictated by the types of submitters you have. If many are trying to game the engine, you don't even let some of them submit stuff, or you sandbox their stuff, or whatever. That's not exactly an environment that has a long history.
Possibly the first appearance of this phrase in print was on the napkin my client wrote it on.
As it turns out, adversarial information retrieval is a field that has a growing following.
Shorthand for budding feature writers: "it's like a game of cops and robbers!"
Can't lose 'em all.
April 25, 2002: If Precedent is Any Guide, Google Answers Will Fizzle
November 29, 2006: Google Closes Answers, a People Driven Service
In the click arbitrage world, some of the least successful players are complaining about something they call the Google Slap.
This is presumptuous.
When I watch South American soap operas, I notice the only guys getting slapped are usually pretty handsome devils - they just stepped over the line a little bit. They've got the goods, they just pushed a little too hard. (Metaphorically speaking. I do not advocate actual pushing - or shoving.)
Some of these MFA ("Made for AdSense") sites, on the other hand, are little more than scraper sites at best, with duplicate content patched together on ugly pages, combined with ad links. No one visits them of their own accord. That's not a general account of all arbitrage in the business world or online, it's a specific comment on those particular sites and pages.
The world has zero interest in your pages, and thus, no longer does Google want to run your ads through their system. A low quality score is assigned. You're now officially invisible.
Basically, they just said "we'll call you." And they didn't call you. You got dumped.
Being dumped is not the same as getting slapped.
The coffee has kicked in, with memories of another Mitch Joel schmoozefest dinner (Geek Dinner III? With few actual geeks in the room) ringing in my brain. Prior to that, I attended a Yahoo Canada event. For thoughts on that, I'd basically echo Stuart MacDonald's post: Yahoo Canada has announced rollout of Panama Proper (Search Marketing for real) for January 2007. The launch party didn't offer many new insights for me, other than seeing the geotargeting map with actual Canadian provinces. :) (I guess this is what bloggers do: Stuart's first post was that snarky two-sentence one, but then this a.m. he backtracked a bit and congratulated Yahoo. The fast post was probably just to prove he was the first one to post it, as he live-blogged it from the event. :) ) One more nugget was that existing Canadian accounts - apparently there are some, even though they'd only be for French Canada, since English-speaking Overture accounts must currently be North-America-wide - can now contact Yahoo to do an import over to Panama. The rep from Yahoo cited "a few hundred" accounts. A few hundred! After all these years in the business! That's sad!)
But moving onto the two thought nuggets:
1. Are big Internet/media companies like Yahoo trying too hard to target the mass market's superstitions and proclivities ("yikes! something called phishing is going to take all my money!"), so over time, alienating a constantly growing base of savvier users? I tell you, it REALLY annoys me on the login to Yahoo Mail that there is some safeguard-protector thing that I can somehow pay attention to in order to be immune from phishing attacks. (Maybe I'm not supposed to be a Yahoo user at all? Should I be just using Thunderbird? Etc.) A move towards simpler interfaces, and less hand-holding, would be welcome. But I've been beating this drum for a long time. I'd pay to be a Yahoo Services or Yahoo Premium subscriber if I could avoid the constant onslaught of advertising - kind of an executive club for people who want to use online functionality without being forced through the old-world, interruption-marketing maze. Unfortunately, as anyone who listens to the drumbeat knows, that ain't gonna be in the cards. Case in point: at a launch of Yahoo Panama for Canada (see above), while the head of YSM Canada, Martin Byrne, gave a detailed Powerpoint presentation, there was still quite a bit of distraction as the regional GM stopped to thank big companies for their banner business. In other words, even when they're doing a gala intro to search (and apologizing for it not being "sexy,"), they're trying to move their other inventory. Until Yahoo gets rid of this Clutter 'R' Us mentality, from a user standpoint they'll probably gradually lose the allegiance not only of the savvier user base, but of conservative users over 60 (who might appreciate the protection from phishing, but hate a lot of the other clutter). Who's left? Note to Yahoo: the only reason your bottom line in Canada shows non-search inventory to be such a hugely important part of your business is because you've spent the past ten years doing nothing about search, which is a potentially *huge* channel. I understand that "search isn't sexy." Except that the platform that offers search is eventually going to be used even by your larger customers to buy a lot of other kinds of inventory. I know there are some agency people who still want sexy, want to be sexy, want to be seen as sexy, etc. For the rest of us SEM diehards: we want the opposite. We'd like to be able to sneak around and buy the sexy stuff when no one is looking.
2. To Mr. Rogers. Many of us use your business high-speed Internet service, and we pay for it. Right now, all of downtown Toronto has free wi-fi courtesy a trial period for a new service offered by a utility company. Now I'm not about to shut down my Internet service for four months - I know you need that revenue to sign Frank Thomas to slug for our Blue Jays - but ... don't be too surprised when we don't have any loyalty to you, the day Google or someone else announces permanent free Wi-Fi for all of downtown. What will you do when you can't monopolize... that is the question. Oh well, at least the Jays have a healthy payroll.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Conferences are great learning experiences oftentimes, but I've always marveled at how unprepared some people come. I've traveled 4,000 miles to give a detailed, day-long seminar, only to get that sagging feeling you get when someone asks a really, really easy question that could have been cleared up in an email, or pretty much by reading the title of the seminar (that is, if the seminar title was - "Keyword Meta Tags Are Not THE ANSWER").
But Keri Morgret's post takes us to a new level of unpreparedness: the kind that can get you, as a seminar participant, in hot water. It's not so bad if some of your fellow audience members will laugh at you (hey, that's impolite)... it's the idea of exposing illegal tricks to search engine reps who are sitting right there in the audience. (Sorta similar to my previous post, I guess.) Your source code full of hidden text? You probably don't want that up on the big screen.
Keri's longer list of basics to fix would be good advice for anyone. Not all of them are so basic.
And oh yeah, Keri, I've seen these too. The classic was repeated yet again at SES London last year in a Q&A following the "Meet the Crawlers" session. After a lengthy question exploring
various theories for why a site wasn't being indexed, the Yahoo rep calmly viewed the source code and revealed - you guessed it - the robots.txt exclusion. Have I already told this story?
On the flipside, some of the level of detail covered in these sessions is a bit intimidating. It looks to me like some panelists make assertions rather than pointing to certain areas as testing points or debatable points. Some SE-friendliness rules of thumb are not literally rules; they're pieces of the puzzle that need to be weighed against creating an overall compelling user experience and business plan. To beef up these sessions, I'd love to see examples of sites and pages that "seem to suck," but rank anyway. That'd be food for thought.
Monday, November 27, 2006
So these folks openly offer a deal to search engine traffic tricksters: "get us enough traffic to get rich, you get paid when we do. If not, you get 'pro bono'".
Keyword optimization, search engine tricks, rank blasting, algorithm huckstering, writing skills for financial blog, research skills / back ground knowledge to give blog serious creed, Usage: Del.icio.us, Flickr, Digg, MySpace, IM botting, YouTube, etc. will be needed.
Hmm, I think I know people who do ... uhhh.... that. Sure wouldn't want to mention their names in the open, though. What I wonder is - would they actually respond to an ad on Craigslist in this style?
You've heard of deals like this, just not usually posted so openly. Post the URL, don't you invite, er, rather unwelcome scrutiny?
Is this ad a troll from Google, or is it real? Because... surely the posters know... some time ago Google decided that one of the best ways to look for spam is to, well... look for it. I'm sure Matt Cutts is drinking a Sprite right now looking at that ad...
Well, back to building and observing real businesses. I bumped into Jeremy Wright and Mark Evans of b5 Media today. I think they'd be considered "blog miesters" [sic]??
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Google Music Trends says "Far Away" by Nickelback is #3 in Brazil, which confirms their hugeness, given that they make it inside the top 5 in the US, too.
A glance at different countries shows a lot of predictably popular music making it into the top 20, with the regional card influencing things in a lot of countries (The Killers get a bump in the UK, Billy Talent gets much-deserved recognition in Canada).
But Nickelback seem borderless. Perhaps it's the monosyllabic lyrics and uncomplicated rehash of 80's power ballads? Or did they just play in Brazil? I'm not motivated to find out.
Actually, the country-by-country data are fascinating... showing, without even getting into the tail, how independent-minded listeners are becoming. Far from homogenized culture in an era of globalization, we're seeing listening habits growing more self-directed. Australia's hit list looks like its very own thing. In India and elsewhere, they've decided to let James Blunt hang around for a long time. And what's up with the Mexican obsession with Diana Krall?
No entry for Kazakhstan... yet.
How does Google know this stuff? They record your music habits should you choose to "share your current music track" with friends on your Google Talk list. The FAQ says "you'll be voting on Google Music Trends" when you "opt in," but having just downloaded Google Talk to a fresh new computer, I can confirm that what they really mean is: "when you don't opt out."
These hits are fun to eyeball, but the long tail data must be driving them wild over at the Googleplex. Sorry Amazon and iTunes, but Google will soon have more than enough data about music listening trends... cross-referenced with IP addresses and other demographic info, of course... without really even trying.
Anil Dash believes the Google Talk methodology is completely unreliable. Perhaps, for now - but depending on the scale, it's gotta be somewhat telling.
Danny, Battelle, et al., do I see the next few years' worth of sessions on "search engines and privacy" taking the debate to the next level?
Saturday, November 25, 2006
...from the Traffick.com "holiday rush desk"...
Last week I sent a reminder to my Page Zero Advisor subscribers that it's very close to deadline time for getting all your Google AdWords ads posted and approved for December. Anything after Dec. 1, Google informs its top clients, may wind up sitting in a major editorial queue (as has happened in years past). This is due to increased volume and eventually, I expect, Google holiday schedules.
Yesterday Mona warned you that now might not be the best time to enable your Yahoo account for Panama, especially if the old system is doing fine for you day to day. Do it in January if you're unsure.
One more tip: if your budget settings in either Google or Yahoo are too low, you might find you don't take advantage of the high search volume available to you (and in some cases, the much higher conversion rates). Sounds obvious, I know, but I've seen accounts where even after upping budgets a couple of times, they still push up against their limits in a given day (and therefore need to be upped again). Remember, in some industries, December volumes can be 10X what you see in September. For those of you that rely on this volume to carry you through the entire year (and to acquire customers who may return in 2007), don't get caught napping.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Earlier this month I had the chance to talk to a group of students taking a brand new course in search marketing, at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. Instructor Liz Gray developed the curriculum from the ground up. Part of the effort involved finding local companies interested in cooperating as case studies for AdWords campaigns. Google provided support in the form of advertising credits and encouragement.
After spending some time learning theory, a couple of weeks ago, students' ad campaigns went live for companies like Fundates.ca, Rite Rate (natural gas), Sweet Pea Baby Food, GoodLife Fitness, and CottageLink. I've pictured the CottageLink ad because I've used that site in the past and it's been indirectly responsible for some of the greatest moments of my past couple of summers. :)
It seems inevitable that deeper instruction on search marketing as a specific skill will find its way into business curricula. As for what excites Liz Gray about the field, succinctly put: "measurable advertising ROI." Her students like the class because it represents a growing category of advertising, but many companies still aren't using it at all, so "they feel they have something new to bring to the table when they get into industry."
Congrats to you all on getting in front of the curve! May you stay there!
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Recently, Iíve heard a few grumblings about the Panama account migration process. In this post, Iíll provide some suggestions on ways to avoid headaches with Panama.
With the Panama update, Y!SM is merging existing categories and/or creating new account categories (otherwise known as ad groups) in an attempt to group similar terms together. Iíve seen Y!SM make some groupings that may at some level make sense but may not make sense for your particular campaign. Take a look at the following example. Y!SM grouped terms like ďteaching jobs MinnesotaĒ, ďteaching jobs MissouriĒ and ďteaching jobs PennsylvaniaĒ into a single category (Iíve changed the type of job to protect client interests). At some level, it makes sense to combine all teaching related terms into a single category. In this case, terms had worked better in separate categories with distinct ad copy and URLs. It can be difficult for Y!SMís automated mechanisms to accurately determine advertiser intentions so be sure to thoroughly review accounts before migrating them. A little extra check can save many headaches and countless hours of account reorganization. Note: once accounts have been upgraded, itís impossible to revert back to the old system (old account architecture is gone).
Also, it may be a good idea to hold off migrating accounts until 2007 especially if the Christmas retail season is important to your business. Upgrading accounts will be mandatory for all accounts sometime in Q1 2007 (the specific date hasnít been announced). If you do migrate now, download a spreadsheet of all account information before upgrading accounts (just in case).
Also, after account migration, Iíve heard some advertisers have experienced more content volume. Iíve always advised people to be careful with the content product as volume spikes can sometimes be erratic (for example, a relevant news story on a news site can cause spikes in volume). To avoid surprises, turn off content match before migrating accounts. Resume advertising when you have time to actively manage content volume.
I continue to revise the Y!SM book and I continue to learn many interesting tidbits about Y!SM and the Panama update. Stay tuned for more information.
I promise the book will be ready by Q1 of 2007. That way, Wall Street can tank my stock when I have to stand up and announce that it will actually be Q2.
There are many insightful posts floating around about the recent lowering of expectations at local search startups like Judy's Book and Insider Pages; Niki Scevak's is one of them.
I disagree with one of the points, though:
"...the sales component of the business has been the toughest to crack, and at some point in time it makes sense for a sales person to lead the ship. Verizon Superpages, for instance, is simply a large sales organization and not much else."
A startup cannot be a venerable old sales machine. Internet search and navigation plays, vertical communities, and networking sites can do amazing things. One of them is not to be another Verizon Superpages. RedToronto tried that model - without any content to speak of, they tried to copy the old listings companies from the ground up, on a shoestring. That means a lot of selling, but little substance. In spite of some good ideas lurking under the hood (including Green Pages) it didn't work out too well, and they're currently retooling.
Think about Google in 1998. 1998. 2000. 2001. Was it at any of those stages "a large sales organization and not much else"? No. They built something remarkable that you can sell ads against. They built valuable inventory. To do that requires capital, genius, and also a shocking degree of frugality (at first).
Online startups shouldn't be tasked with just building "sales organizations" alone. Because what are you selling?
That leads to a lot of other conclusions about how funds should be allocated by entrepreneurs, and how long their runway should be, funding-wise. Just imagine what our world might be like today had investors killed the Google Golden Goose in 2000, by rushing to over-monetize what wasn't finished, compelling, or dominant yet. Or if they had neglected the corporate culture in favor of working the phones.
In Part 1 of the Sullivan keynote, one theme was the fast-changing nature of online marketing.
Yes, it does change fast, but not really.
Does this sound familiar?
Andrew Goodman shows up to a seminar and asks how many of the attendees are familiar with a 201-level search marketing concept like the "miserable failure" search query, or the Long Tail. Having just come off a conference where 99% of people would have put up their hand, and the remaining 1% just had his arm in a sling, Goodman's shocked when not a single hand goes up... and they mean it.
A prospect contacts us at Page Zero with some initially favorable impressions of their first push into online marketing. Their customers have become increasingly dependent on the web as a research channel, and they also use the website to set up appointments with sales reps. However, right now, this company has an incredibly expensive-looking, Flash-heavy site with virtually no search engine friendliness in mind; landing pages that won't work as measurable or persuasive pages to bring paid search traffic to, etc. Had they taken care to research the search channel a bit more (it's close to 50% of online spending, y'know), they would have saved themselves 6-12 months, and $50-100,000. Now, a long term SE visibility plan is required, including significant changes to the website. Fortunately, the time to market for a custom AdWords campaign is much shorter, although the effort to persuade and measure better will also require non-trivial site changes.
Some things haven't changed nearly as much as they should have. Wouldn't a self-respecting web shop want to partner with a reliable marketing shop, or have one of their own in-house, so the client gets what they need from the beginning?
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Part 1 was published in Las Vegas airport Friday.
Not to take anything away from the wit of the search intelligentsia, but sometimes, search engine jokes tell themselves. Danny related the story of how the previous day he had helped Google's Vanessa Fox by lending her some of his decongestant, but there was still some question about the proper dose. One quick trip to Google Search, and the problem was solved: except that the first result gave the proper dose for elephants!
Search engine marketers, Sullivan reassured us, have great job security. With everything changing so fast, only the true pro has reliable information. For example, not so long ago, MSN didn't even have its own search advertising platform. And Yahoo's platform is going to be completely revamped. No punchline here, fortunately. Search marketers have job security. Phew.
Privacy issues for users are at the forefront of Sullivan's concerns about how search companies affect the larger community. Despite search engines' sometimes excessive use of our personal data or other companies' copyright material, Sullivan saw the lawsuits by Belgian newspapers as extreme. By "getting their way" and getting Google to remove their headlines and snippets from Google News, these newspapers also succeeded in making themselves completely invisible, as Google soon found a way to make sure none of their content appeared in Google Search, either.
Sullivan quipped: "Some companies pay good money to get banned like that." (Meaning: some companies pay firms to employ deceptive tactics to increase search engine visibility, before ultimately getting banned.)
Sullivan underscored the difference between caching and indexing. Surely indexing and publishing snippets of information with the purpose of sending users to the originating website would be allowable under most law. This is in sharp contrast to storing all the content on Google's servers. Caching, Sullivan argues, should be completely opt-in.
Sullivan then talked about his own future. His plans to phase out his involvement with Search Engine Strategies remain unchanged, and the departure from Search Engine Watch, the website, is imminent. I haven't spoken to anyone who expects much of Search Engine Watch going forward, and don't expect I soon will. Will the site soon die, or fizzle into a kind of archive for a ten-year history of Sullivan's work? Will it be sold, possibly even to Danny or a group involving Danny, so the content can be archived on his new site? Time will tell.
The fate of the Search Engine Strategies conferences seems less bleak, especially given the longer ramp-down period Danny has promised (involved in one form or another through 2007). Much is cloudy and up in the air about the future of the conference circuit post-2007; let's leave it at that.
Danny has announced the name of his new website, in any case: SearchEngineLand.com. Joining him to create daily news blogging, longer original content, and other daily activity, will be Chris Sherman and Barry Schwartz.
Possibly the most interesting topic Danny has covered in several recent keynotes, including this one, is the notion of search engines working towards common standards for the good of the business community. In that vein, during the conference, Yahoo and Microsoft announced that they would honor the SiteMaps protocol spearheaded by Google. That's an unprecedented level of cooperation and should save site owners some headaches in getting properly indexed.
To wind up on another meta note: the "session's over, let's get out of here" din during the Q&A was so loud, it was tough to hear anything. Which just goes to show, a great keynote speaker can bring in the crowds, but the post-session Q&A can't compete with a coffee break on Day 3 of a really cool party. Pubcon: not a place for stuffed shirts.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Sure, Yahoo senior VP Brad Garlinghouse seems pretty radical with his lengthy memo that proposes eliminating redundancies and creating a bunch of newly-conceived business units pretty much from the ground up.
But he's nowhere close to me. I proposed making the whole company into one big ol' search page for a month. (OK, Yahoo, you can still run ads next to search results, so in addition to the search group, half the new Burbank campus would stay open to handle the YSM side. In fact, maybe it would have to expand.)
I think that's why I'm not in charge of a big company. And besides, I don't like the sounds of "Chainsaw Goodman."
Finally, on Garlinghouse's demand that we should all stop liking peanut butter, I can't go along. If it's a metaphor, fine, but make it Nutella. I'm happy to hate that.
I was checking to see if a client ranked well on the term "Dyson DC 14," and couldn't help but notice that Jeremy Zawodny's blog entry on the subject made it to page one of Google SERP's! What a little PageRank/TrustRank will do for you... now you're an instant vacuum cleaner expert.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Chris Tolles, co-founder of Topix.net, offers a brilliant summary of Pubcon, including a comparison between this and something like Web 2.0. Could Tolles be the ultimate hybrid? A well-versed attendee/sponsor of both conferences, who totally "gets it"?
That sense of the gap between the two types of conference was confirmed for me in a chat with Lawrence Coburn, president of Rateitall.com, a consumer review site (who gave a thought-provoking presentation on "widgets" as viral marketing tool). Coburn noted that many of the companies who are closest to the Web 2.0 scene (actual startups with short runways of cash) might actually be priced out of attending that event, and worse, would miss out on the fresh ideas that come out at a Pubcon sort of event featuring players who are, in Tolles' words, "...hungry. A little scary. Nobody is dialing it in at this place."
Nice job by the National Hockey league, inking a deal with YouTube to distribute clips of highlights, and opening up its own "web channel."
That's the first sound marketing idea the NHL has had since Gerry Cheevers (surely he was dreamt up the marketing dept.?).
My cabbie in Las Vegas -- who has the Ducks to take it all at 19 to 1 -- noted he first started watching hockey back in 1992-93 when the Kings made it to the final. He got riveted when they defeated the Leafs in the semi-final and there were a "lot of scraps and head butts and stuff".
I was in Montreal the day after Montreal won that one. One of the local papers had something like a 50-page feature section on the victory. The popularity of hockey has been sliding ever since, not only in non-hockey places, but in core areas like Montreal. Something to do with there being lots of other things to do, and the fact that all the players are Russian and the Forum is now called the Bell Centre. And people are spending Saturday nights on their Blackberries, or renovating their kitchens.
It seems to be an uphill battle for the NHL, but following on the heels of the intelligent rule changes to make the game faster, maybe this YouTube idea is a sign that the NHL brass are smartening up.
Not really. I'm a Habs fan. I bleed bleu, blanc, et rouge. Or at least I used to, back when #10, Guy Lafleur, smoked before games, and flew down the right wing, hair in perfect sync, blasting a laser-accurate shot just inside the left post. Half the defencemen in the league could barely skate backwards, which made the skill players look that much better. Half the coaches couldn't read, and Roger Nielsen had yet to pioneer the use of video. Those were the days. I doubt we'll ever see them again.
Friday, November 17, 2006
It was a first for Pubcon. Andrew Goodman spoke there! True - but seriously, this is a review of Danny Sullivan's keynote speech. Danny was one of the reasons the conference garnered so much buzz and so many new attendees. On a meta note, I'm pleased to be blogging this review reasonably soon after the talk. For Searchday, I've reviewed the past five or six Sullivan keynotes at Search Engine Strategies, but it's been increasingly evident that "live" blogging or "fresh articles" are far more interesting to readers than the "submit conference session reviews and publish them gradually over many weeks after SES" model. That model has been fine for promoting SES, but not a good reader experience, as the info feels stale even if the content is still valid.
First with the requisite "how full was the room" assessment. Well, a very large hall was packed, though there were a few empty seats in every row - so another 200 could shoehorn in there if Danny's back next year. Also different from other conferences I've been to is that people think nothing of straggling in 15-20 minutes late. The breakfast area was full of folks leisurely doing business, waking up, and letting their pastries digest before wandering over to the hall. The back of the room was quite full by 9:20.
Overall, Danny's theme was one we've heard him touch on consistently: exploring what makes search such a powerful marketing tool, one that resonates with users/consumers in a way that flies in the face of traditional interruption marketing. He even brought in the concept of a "reverse broadcast network" (the customer is telling you what they want, you're just trying to tap into that), a concept that would be new to many first-time attendees.
The formalities included WebmasterWorld founder Brett Tabke reminiscing about his first time meeting Danny, and how long he followed Search Engine Watch. Brett described the heart-stopping moment this past August when we received word that Danny was now leaving Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Strategies. "I was downstairs, and heard my AIM ping," related Tabke. "Then I heard my office phone ring. Then, my cellphone rang." Many audience members could relate.
Sullivan led off by returning some of the introductory love, reviewing ways in which WebmasterWorld has already become an institution. Community members have coined phrases like "Google Dance" (to indicate a periodic Google re-indexing). The term was so popular, the annual Google bash on the Mountain View campus now uses the same name. (Hands up: how many have been there, done that, at every single Google Dance, and got all five t-shirts?)
Other WMW contributions to the lexicon cited by Sullivan were names like Florida (to refer to a particularly unsettling index update) and characters like GoogleGuy (an anonymous, prolific poster from Google on the forums).
The forum community has too many subplots to summarize easily, but Sullivan characterized it neatly by referring to its leader, Tabke, as something of a "rebel" - he did it his way. (Few speakers at Pubcon, yours truly included, failed to insert some sort of cheesy Vegas reference into their content.) Tabke's background dates back to BBS days, so when it came to decisions around technology, programming, marketing methods, and more, Tabke is said to be a kind of rule breaker. Perhaps it's only rule breakers who can create something unique and human enough that it leads to true online community - still a rarity in a world of contrived virtual experiences and information overload.
Sullivan turned to the usual defense of the search engine marketing industry, using popular press dismissals as a foil. Business Week noted that search was well down the list of respectable marketing methods - "just ahead of putting a Herbalife poster on a telephone pole." Should we be insulted, or just laugh at it? From Sullivan's detailed overview of the economic impact of search marketing, it seems we are in the driver's seat, so a laugh is our more common response now. That's how far we've come. Danny shows us the usual clueless insults and we don't get insulted -- we're too busy to care.
Another thing that irritates Sullivan is the continued difficulty in getting financial reporting and analyst commentary that talks about search and only search. Referring to it as "contextual pollution," Sullivan worries that lazy assessments of the financial performance of large search companies will potentially make search a scapegoat in any ad downturn. We remember from the last online bubble that "contextual advertising was the first thing to take a hit," but many forget that search advertising grew out of the ashes of that severe downturn. Danny implies we need to steel ourselves now for the misleading press that will come with the inevitable downturn, when we all know search will remain more consistent as a marketing method than other forms of advertising, whose pricing is much more volatile.
He went on to caution search marketers that because Google and Yahoo are chasing billions of ad dollars in other formats like video, and offline ventures like radio and print, there will be a natural tendency for them to try to "pull us [search marketers] along with them."
This is a concern that resonates with many of us. Especially in the days when AdSense was being rolled out so recklessly, many of us wrote and argued frequently that Google seemed to be getting away from its core strengths. But because the search listings space is all too finite and top line growth matters when you're trying to battle against larger rivals (including old media), it's always been inevitable that these search companies (back in 1999, we were calling them portals, which was then a way of saying "giants who are seeking monopolistic advantages") would seek to expand their reach. And if they're going to do so, then they have to worry about their direct rivals (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and a short list of others) expanding first and establishing leadership. So, as Google caught up with Yahoo, and decided it needed to branch out as Yahoo had done... the land grab was on.
Sullivan's characterization of an industry being "pulled in" to forms of marketing that simply "aren't search" is right on. I spoke with Joe, a marketer and software developer from Spokane, WA, at a Microsoft party that same evening. Joe's company is developing software for submitting video ads and clips to various major publishers of video content. In short, Joe's an example of an online marketer, like so many we are seeing today at conferences like ad:tech, who is working on the "interruption marketing" side of the ledger. As the focus gets more diffuse, Sullivan offers a clear reminder of why that tendency to bother consumers with distracting messages makes search seem that much more special by comparison.
I'll return Monday with Part 2 of this review. Have a great weekend.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Or an important indicator, anyway. Webmaster Pubcon is packed this week. Attendance is significantly ahead of any previous Pubcon. Brett Tabke, Joe Morin, et al. have hit a real milestone with this level of credibility and attendance. Keynotes by Danny Sullivan, Guy Kawasaki, and John Battelle created a buzz.
You hear comments in the hallways about the overall quality of content -- very high, most agree, though uneven. The format and the tightness of scheduling isn't quite caught up to more established conferences. My main gripe is that the water coolers in the halls look like they have high quality H2O in them, but are in fact, the same old highly chlorinated Las Vegas tap water. and if that's the main complaint, your show's been a success.
A great indicator of the response: I was talking at lunch with Tony Colan of Web Integrity Services. Tony's company is into a few different things, including owning a growing blog service, Blogster.com. We were talking about mutual interests in local search and classifieds (Tony helps companies like TrueLocal sell advertising direct to local advertisers, and he's pitching others in the space. I told him about HomeStars, a startup I work with.)
Tony mentioned that JudysBook CEO Andy Sack came to Pubcon expecting to stop in for just a day, and was so impressed by the content and connections that he stayed on for the rest of the conference.
Hats off to Brett Tabke and the team for being so successful in building Pubcon to this point.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Detlev Johnson, in the SearchReturn email newsletter, weighs in on the subject of landing page quality algorithms by turning to a history of paid search price increases: GoTo going from .01 to .05, Google entering the game with a smart auction with a .05 minimum, but then adding high arbitrary minimum bids that we wrote about in Page Zero Advisor (referring to it as "Soviet-style economics," a carefully-chosen phrase that Perry Marshall has recently latched onto and loosely used in his print newsletter, three years later), Google removing the high arbitrary minimum bids nine months later, YSM raising their minimum to .10, algorithms entering the fray and making things less transparent in 2005, with a new method of enforcing high minimum bids on keywords/ads/sites with low quality scores. The landing page quality component came in last December, and is getting more extensive. At Threadwatch, they call this "price gouging"; around the affiliate-osophere, they're calling it Google Slap. Ouch.
I note also that Detlev talks about the possibility of Google's system being so well calibrated that they could use it to hit quarterly targets. That's a concept I first discussed shortly after the new Quality-Based Bidding regime came in. I suggested that Google might even try to keep revenues from racing ahead too fast, while testing the impact of price increases on profit margins... in essence engaging in the "earnings management" they once claimed they'd avoid. They probably don't have to do this - but it's clear that they could, by pulling a lot of "bad" ads of the system and taking a short term revenue hit. That's a huge luxury for Google, because more white space and more relevant ads may mean more satisfied searchers.
Meanwhile, the "official" bottom bid on AdWords is now only .01 again! :) But your cost will be higher. :)
So we've heard all the complaints: Google is gouging, etc. Is this trend in enforcing certain policies through price increases really about increasing Google's revenues, or really about "taking aim" at certain advertisers?
It's obviously a bit of both, but consider this please: the price increase is the main thing, and that has happened over time, on the average click, through a combination of market forces and Google-tweaked "incentives."
So let's be clear about one thing. Every episode of significant price inflation has chased large groups of those "targets" (inefficient affiliates, companies with bad business models) out of the ad space. Even without tying it to a particular policy, the higher pricing has changed the configuration of who uses AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing. Only someone whose head refuses to see life in terms of trend graphs, and who cannot process the dimension of time, would think this trend is over with. Ad prices are going to continue to drift up until they reach parity with other advertising opportunities, and it means only certain kinds of offers will be able to survive in the system. Larger companies are still only cautiously dipping their toes in here. As they continue to study more ways of benefitting from paid search, click prices will continue to creep up.
The fact that the SE's are pulling low quality (by their definition) stuff off the ad network is an interesting quirk, bound to anger some, but the macro trend is indeed a price increase and who gets left standing when that is done. Extremely high ad pricing is one reason you don't see ads from a Viagra affiliate in Vogue Magazine or next to Desperate Housewives content. As an ad network and publisher Google is not quite Vogue or a TV network in prime time, of course, but again... look at the trend graph.
Talking with a group of mostly affiliate marketers here at Pubcon in Las Vegas, I am surprised to hear that the supposed targeting of affiliates and arbitrageurs by Google is not making the huge waves you might expect. Even at ten cents or twenty cents, much of this contingent got priced out of the paid ad space long ago, and has little or no intention of studying the problem in more depth now that prices continue to drift up. The talk is all about the trends in link buying and hard core SEO tactics. People have "websites," they expect to make more "websites" to pursue various opportunities they've heard exist in various niches, and they do not plan to pay one thin dime driving traffic to those websites (except for working on them constantly, paying for links, attending costly conventions... oh right, so they are paying money to do this, but they refuse to pay it to the search engines).
Anyway, the big time arbitrage group is in rarefied territory. The average player is just not in this space to any significant extent, and has no plans to get in. Most affiliates go the SEO route. PPC prices have been rising for a long time, and the so-called little guy (actually tiny guy who doesn't plan to build a business, just a website) is indeed getting priced out. The price rise is the macro trend. The editorial policies are just that extra push to remind the tiny guy what the purpose and/or effect of the ongoing price rise was in the first place -- obviously to make more money for Google, but also to get rid of them.
Since we've been writing about that phenomenon ever since we published little tidbits on GoTo's rise to 5 cents... we can't help but think that the whole concept of a Google Slap is overblown. Many advertisers survived and thrived after "GoTo slap," and a large number of opportunistic players took their marbles and went to play in another place. That place is mostly SEO.
As for how the quality algorithms actually work, there are clear public statements by Google to that effect in their FAQ's, but let's hope they get clearer. In December I'll follow up on that.
Monday, November 13, 2006
The thinking man's Pud? Donna Bogotan in pants?
Hoo! Nick Denton takes over as editor of Valleywag and goes all passively-aggressively upside Battelle's head. The notorious gawker takes his talents to a place where feathers are easily ruffled.
If none of this makes any sense to you, good for you! It means you've got a day job.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Yessirreee, Google sure is doing a good job of getting rid of those arbitrage links from the ad space. Why just the other day, I did a search for "red jelly beans toronto." Unfortunately, it appears that the SERP's are useless. No problem, I say. The ads look pretty good. Except for the third one down, that takes you to a gem of a "jelly bean directory." The world needs a good jelly bean directory. And yep, the ad links on it are through Overture.
To help one of the advertisers on that site get their money back, let me recommend that you directly visit JellyBelly.com. Now those are some great jelly beans. Or you could patronize CandyDirect.com, who appear to be a real store.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
GigaOm weighs in with a mostly-thumbs-down on the Web 2.0 conference; seems the cause for complaint was a lot of excessive caution and cynicism, fueled by money.
Maybe that's why I've always had a sneaking suspicion that it's more fun to be out in the relative hinterland -- you can get away with more when less is at stake (refs: Atwood, Survival; Salutin, Marginal Notes). As I haven't read a classic Canadian author since 1985, don't hold me to this theory -- it's more going on instinct and naughty events like Mitch Joel's Geek Dinner II.
Apparently the talk at the Web 2.0 event turned to what will be the proverbial sock puppet of this bubble. What will crash and burn hardest? Some said social bookmarking sites, others thought mommy-oriented social networks. Both good candidates, for clear reasons. On the latter, as useful as these sites may be, there are going to be too many of them, because the reason for launching is driven more by the lifestyle and "first thoughts" of the entrepreneur (I'd like to help other moms and keep a flexible schedule, ergo I'll launch a Mom-oriented... ) than market demand. You can only have so many of these things.
On the social bookmarking stuff, I admit I'm still baffled. What's so new about tossing a link up to the network and rating it? Such projects were funded last time around (HotLinks, Backflip), and then during Bubble 1.5 (P2P social bookmarking such as OpenCola and Clip2, this time around, we also see self-funded research-sharing, folder-sharing efforts like Jeteye compete with Google's product development efforts, etc.; and farther along the scale of mission critical there is the actual wiki movement, leading to a recent acquisition, again... of Jotspot by Google)
The whole concept of rating stuff and sharing it is becoming ubiquitous, so it looks more like a feature than a company, with the exception of a couple of today's faddish systems like Digg, which may manage to cash out before it craps out. Yahoo and Google will certainly build this functionality into different aspects of search, if users like it. Social bookmarking en masse seems like to diffuse a project to really take off separate from the main user habits; on the level of a vertical community, it starts to make much more sense.
Is the notion that we're sharing and rating only *links* ("about anything," with "anyone") not too lame for words? A radical shrinking of the broader promise of real networks for file sharing and tight-knit online community activity that started with BBS's and continues all the way through Gnutella et al. today? With something like Digg, where's the exclusivity? The reciprocity? The free software you share with friends, until the cops bust you? So as one observer said, Digg is mostly like a game, when you get down to it. I'd suggest, a pretty boring one.
Do not Digg this post. Do not collect $200,000,000.
Friday, November 10, 2006
John Scott argued that top bloggers should put in more effort to link to lesser-known blogs. I tend to agree... although those B-Listers and D-Listers (I'd read Kathy Griffin's blog any day) do need to hold up their end by posting more than once a month. Insofar as blogging is a subversive activity, Scott's now encouraging bloggers to go forth and "subvert the A-List". Not a bad idea.
Now, let's try to figure out what became of John's plan to give away $10,000 to people entering his contest. The last mention of it appears to be in September. In fact, the last post on John's blog appears to be in September.
If you want people to listen to you, you have to post, don't you?
Which brings me to my next point... about why I'll probably renege on the promise I made in my last post, to, um shut up for awhile. No one's gonna link to vapor, am I right? So don't hold me to the Blogosphere Monastery Plan.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Yeah, even the headline makes it sound confusing. Google assesses Landing Page Quality to determine whether your ads should be shown at a normal bid or a higher bid. Now, that assessment will affect your ad distribution even in the content network.
Google is clarifying, for starters, that the Landing Page Quality portion of their assessment of overall Quality does not affect ad rank - just minimum bids. In other words, it doesn't govern the overall auction, it's more of a punitive measure that creates an on-off mechanism much as editorial policies did in the past. No one's getting a bonus for having a "really awesome landing page."
How clear is that? Not really clear enough. Such explanations seem to come out as if they were obvious facts, months after they were implemented quietly or not fully explained. Translation: often, I feel dumb - yet somewhat vindicated in my earlier fumbling explanations, which were roughly accurate.
If there is a possible interpretation of that, it goes something like this: a lot of arbitrage and affiliate type players were shut out of showing AdWords on Google Search on their first go-round. Although this is not official verbiage, I believe at least one Google staffer has referred to this as a "sweep".
So the next place you'd see those ads showing up, as the "swept" began to react to the change, is in the contextual ad space.
Not exactly a minor issue, because users are still going to be ticked at some of those old familiar ads designed only to send users to go click on more ads.
Example: one place I see a lot of weird contextual ads is in GMail and in Google Groups. I have a junk GMail account I use to assess a bunch of autoresponded offers and marketing schlock. Some of that stuff is selling something, and sometimes that something is really junky. But none of it is selling anything of an adult nature. Yet some of the contextual ads that were sneaking in were pretty obscene. Oh, the words weren't obscene. But the meaning was.
Personally, I don't care! But you get the feeling a lot of GMail users might care.
So - the thinking at Google seems to be: we'll do anything to make sure that there are plenty of our ads showing up all over the web, in contextually relevant places. But we also want to make sure that they are niiice, respectable ads, with niiice, user-friendly landing pages.
They won't say precisely what kinds of landing pages they're targeting as low quality. Instead, we get helpful hints like "put yourself in the user's shoes." Well, what if that user isn't wearing any shoes, or pants? Drum roll. Ha ha. They really mean "put yourself in your grandmother's shoes when she is sitting and the computer next to her grandchildren." Or something along those lines. And yeah I'm kidding. Because I'm conflating taste/obscenity related concerns, and user experiences more broadly. What Google is targeting in the greatest numbers is something very identifiable: ad links from Google that go to pages full of additional ad links, from Yahoo or maybe Google (not to a page that is selling something, or a page that has quality content in addition to ads). Secondarily, they're after data collection and email squeeze pages that don't fully disclose the nature of the offer or the business behind the offer. And of course the evil popups and such from days of yore. Sure, there may be a number of other usability and transparency issues being looked at, but those would be your low hanging fruit. It's not like they genuinely have a bee in their bonnet about every single tiny issue with your site.
So it's arbitrage and data-collection-without disclosure that seem to be in G's laser sights. You know it, I know it, the American people know it, we're on track, a thousand point of light.... what, you say, it's happy hour already? Thank God.
Trying to disseminate (and assimilate) info in this industry is stretching me like Gumby. On one hand, 400 reactions to some minor change by Google are dutifully launched out into the blogosphere by industry watchers... many of whom add very little commentary (sadly, unless you're rather loquacious, this refusal to offer insight and mere regurg. of the news tends to be the nature of blogging).
On the other hand, in the more productive part of life, I have to explain in simple terms - whether it be to a fairly savvy new client or an advertiser who attends a seminar, and is very new to the space - how I tend (or intend) to deal with issues like budgeting, keyword research, and reporting.
If you see less and less up-to-the-minute commentary about all of the various minor developments in features and policies at the search engines here going forward, it's because energy seems better focused on the bread and butter stuff... (Cue famous movie trailer voiceover guy)... in a world... where 58% of corporate marketers still know or care very little about search... we have a lot of work to do. Outblogging the planet seems to be less and less viable as a parlor game, so... on November 10... starring Kevin Costner... Robert de Niro... Jessica Alba... and the Professor and Mary Ann... it's Attack of the Implementers. Rated R.
Translation: outside of fun reports from conferences, or self-interested plugs, posting will be very light here for the balance of the month.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Being built for speed isn't a bad thing - especially not if that makes your price tag go up.
Insiders looking for the "next Flickr" and the "next JotSpot" are congregating this week at Web 2.0.
Some of these types of conferences (Toronto's entry, mesh, is going on again next spring) seem to be a little closer to the "unconference" model where you have more face time with the builders of hot, fast-moving companies like Toronto-based Bubbleshare and Chicago-and-the-planet-based 37 Signals. They are becoming absolute musts to anyone wanting to stay conversant with what makes growth happen (remember when you thought you understood why Hotmail succeeded?). For example, mesh was the first place I ever heard of plentyoffish.com - venture capitalist Paul Kedrosky was describing it as one of the few fast-growing Canadian web startups, but lamenting the fact that they made so much money they didn't need VC funding!
Web 2.0 Con in San Francisco (not that I'm in attendance mind you) has a long list of established speakers like John Battelle and Don Tapscott, to go along with the networking amongst hot new players. It seems a little more formal and of course much more big money will be in attendance. That means more serious deals will get done, but also that some of the entrepreneurs there will be putting on just a bit too much of a show (i.e., BS'ing).
It seems to be a given that Web 2.0 Con will generate enough buzz for a dozen or so startups that they'll find themselves in the arms of an established suitor, prior to making significant revenues or proving their business model.
Velocity is good, if it's on your side, and the acquisitions will make sense at the time. Next year's crop of startups may well include silly things that mimic the attitudes and buzzwords of this latest crop. That'll be annoying to most outside observers, and the mainstream press will have its field day with it.
I guess if it were me, I'd be most interested in Web 2.0 plays that combined a credible business model with a fast-growth niche, rather than just being a business-model-free fast mover. Then again - Google had no business model when it started up.
And if you're looking to start the next Flickr, maybe you should try another idea. :) I hear great things about Bubbleshare.
Monday, November 06, 2006
What they say is true. Search is such a highly granular, customized, long tail type industry, there's an awful lot to talk about. I had about an hour to give a talk on Friday (interesting group - a college class learning about SEM - update shortly), and still felt myself running out of time. In a world where you now have whole college courses (the few, the proud) devoted to nothing but search marketing, it's little wonder that I run out of time way before I run out of material.
If you're planning to be in Chicago in early December, that problem is now solved!
For that highly personalized, totally granular type of workshop experience, I'm looking forward to digging in on Friday, Dec. 8 with a full day workshop on Paid Search Advertising, put on by Incisive Media the day after Search Engine Strategies. If you need a really detailed course on paid search, one that has time to answer some of your specific questions and address your business challenges, consider signing up for this course. My colleague, Mona Elesseily (a.ka. That Yahoo Search Marketing Expert), will be speaking for a portion of the afternoon program as well. For best results, come prepared with questions or even consider emailing us questions or mini business background case studies in advance. Spaces are limited - act ASAP.
Also, check out the program for Day 1 (Monday, Dec. 4) of Search Engine Strategies Chicago, as Mona and I will be speaking here, on "Ad Program Strategies" and "Ads in a Quality Score World," respectively.
See you in Chicago!
Google's having a slow time making inroads into the print ad space, but the announcement of their deal with 50 major newspapers is certainly a big push forward. If the auction model does catch hold in print advertising, it'll offer unprecedented efficiencies. It will also change the way these businesses think about ad sales.
Call it disruptive to say so, but when ad placements can be bought in an automated auction run by a third party, a significant portion of today's print ad salespeople had better start brushing up their resumes.
If ads show ROI, they sell themselves, for exactly what they're worth. Under perfect marketplace conditions, etc.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Once again it has come to my attention that most people are beginners when it comes to trademark issues, and will happily assimilate their competitors' "trademark outrage" out of fear, ignorance, or some kind of unfulfilled legal fetish fueled by watching bad TV. Specifically, I hear about all the fear in the paid search business that remains about using trademarked words as trigger keywords, and using the trademarks in ads. Clearly, there are legal tests of trademark violations, but a large part of the day-to-day use of brand names counts as fair use. Yet threatening phone calls and knee-jerk acquiescences abound, still. I still advise many clients to stand down when threatened, and further, advise that I am not legal counsel, so the point I'm making here is of a more general nature -- let's stop with the crazy stereotypes around what qualifies for legal action on trademark violation.
Maille, as mustard making goes, is a relative teenager at about 259 years. Actually, it seems they began with vinegar before moving onto mustard, and their Dijon style mustard is now considered venerable enough to make their competitors seem like relative rookies. That helps with profit margins, no doubt. By American standards, their brand seems to have enough prestige to have become "aspirational." Having been snapped up by Danone in 1980, Maille is now owned by The Unilever Group. That gets the product on a few shelves.
French's (ha, French's, an American brand) aspires to be Maille, at least in the Dijon category (which is a designation that isn't controlled or trademarked in North America, btw). That must be why they have the satirical TV commercial showing a fellow in a Maille logo polo shirt (does he work for Maille? we'll never tell) admitting that French's Dijon tastes better. Then he says "you'll black out my face and disguise my voice, right?" French's mustard is over 100 years old. It is owned by Reckitt Benckiser, a huge conglomerate that also makes Lysol and Easy-Off.
So what should Maille's reaction be? To be flattered, of course. There's not much else they'll be doing about it, given that this is a comparative taste claim of sorts. Again, I'm not a lawyer, but you can be sure the French's people didn't make the expensive spot without checking on this.
So if common sense is allowing us to avert the Mustard Wars of 2006, maybe your vertical will survive a little friendly comparison and juxtaposition as well, in the ordinary course of competitors wooing new customers.
Liz Gannes at GigaOM reports that AllAdvantage is back. Do your own background research, but basically these are "get paid to surf" schemes that lack transparency. I find it very troubling.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Ah, beautiful white space. Sometimes nice if you're a search engine user. Not so great if you're an advertiser who has cluttered it up in the past to your benefit, and is now being asked to pay a higher minimum bid just to show up there. And maybe a bit weird if all the other advertisers on that keyphrase are being asked to do the same.
It's one thing to describe roughly what I think is going on with Google AdWords' quality score algorithm, and what Google officially says about it. That info is roughly, more or less, out there.
That being said, when it comes to being slapped with minimum bids of $5.00 or even $10.00 on formerly successful keywords (not a common situation, but one that is still problematic to those legitimate businesses affected), you never know which part of the formula is affecting you, and how much of it is manual, human-based editorial decisions.
In the past, individual keywords weren't routinely disabled by editorial staff without any type of explanation.
Editorial Process 1.0 at Google was at least somewhat dependent on human policy enforcement of a variety of rules and guidelines. When an advertiser broke a rule, they were given an indication of what rule they broke.
Editorial Process 2.0 is more along the lines of "you should know what you did."
For queries like "Yahoo Campaign," I guess we know what we did (all of the advertisers who would probably like to show up for that): we offered to help marketers make their Yahoo campaigns better, and Google apparently doesn't like it, so there are zero ads eligible to show. There are three ads eligible to show for the query "Overture Campaign," far fewer than previously. You wonder just how much of this anticompetitive and just downright petty uses of quality score is going on.
We've noticed that although quality score issues are not widespread, some of them do seem to be triggered by certain definitions of privacy and data security that favor Google over identifiable competitors. For example, what if (I'm just saying what if) the advertiser uses a third-party pixel tracking solution so they can manage their keyword campaign to ROI objectives, but fails to disclose that in the manner that Google prefers? (Recall, if you use Google Conversion Tracker, you don't just put a pixel on the site, you have to let users see a full text link that says "Google Site Stats".) And what if (I'm just saying what if) that is actually hurting quality scores of AdWords advertisers? Wouldn't that bias the marketplace in favor of Google's conversion tracking solution, similar to the manner in which Google's differential display of ads from companies using Google Checkout would bias those advertisers towards using Google's payment solution? And you can look at a lot of similar Big Question Marks. Because Google speaks vaguely about their policies, and algorithmically (with some human input) assigns quality scores in a "mute" fashion, we're left to ask these questions.
It's one thing to offer incentives to customers to do more business with you. Quite another to bias an "auction" that has been billed as a reasonably fair and level playing field (with rules invented only to maintain the integrity of the auction).
By hiding behind an algorithm, instead of governing editorial matters with reasonably transparent policies, Google can avoid charges of anticompetitive behavior in their ad program.... for now. Depending on the extent of this type of bias, however, I wouldn't expect they could get away with it forever.
Now as Yahoo, too, moves towards eventual implementation of a multifaceted ad auction, they have some real dilemmas to sort through about how much to share with advertisers. If people find themselves losing ad rank based for unfathomable, mysterious reasons, the auction's legitimacy begins to decline. It's time to do some hard thinking about auction integrity and fair disclosure of as much information as feasible.
Somehow, in spite of the advantages to Google (and potentially Yahoo) of hiding the details of algorithms, more transparency needs to be injected into the editorial side of what leads to an extremely low quality score. For minimum bids of $5.00 and up, you'd think more than a boilerplate overview of the overall issue of quality would be warranted. What component or components of quality were primarily responsible for the very low score? If it's on the editorial, "forbidden fruit" side, shouldn't they try to write a note about what exactly the violation was? Or to cut down on the volume of notes, could there at least be a structured followup process?
You can check out what ads are eligible to show on any given search query, as I did in this instance, by running the Google Ad Preview tool. A handy little feature for marketers.
Edit: Shortly after first writing this I remembered that Google has new magnifying glass icons next to all keywords in an an account. When you drill down for further info on keyword status, sometimes it tells you that the keyword isn't showing specifically because it has a low quality score. From there, you're asked to read the boilerplate info. But this more specific information "by keyword" looks like it's architected in such a way that Google could add in more advice or comment that would be more specific to the reasons for low quality score in a particular case. Perhaps they're prepping the interface for just that.
This is one of those smaller type announcements that I'd rather blog quickly here so my co-workers know about it (on their own time) rather than interrupting anyone for even a few seconds by mentioning it to the guy at the next desk. Busy search marketers know what I'm talkin' about. We don't have a huge amount of time to think about Ask and Lycos these days. :)
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