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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Joke's On Us

Jimmy Guterman makes the point that it's hard to tell whether the F'd Company - Techcrunch merger is an April Fool joke or not. And then it hits you: either way, it doesn't matter. Something about either the joke or the reality is wrong on so many levels.

(If real: not something we've ever been a real fan of in this space. If joke: not funny.)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, March 30, 2007

Trendwatch: Yelp Poised for Breakout?

Yelp has been the most-watched company in the seemingly-narrow but fast-growing niche of user-generated content specifically with regard to bars, restaurants, and clubs, and "youth" oriented hotspots and retail. For them, it's beginning to expand to the point where they're a bit of a social community and a "go-to" site if you're looking for local review content.

Sure, there's a lot of room in this space for competition, but it isn't looking good for Yelp's competitors.


(Alexa is unscientific, I realize - but roughly accurate at the higher volumes. The bottom two sites are InsiderPages and Judy's Book. The blue breaking-out line is yelp. The top two are CitySearch (red) and SuperPages (cyan).)

It's fairly well known in insider circles that Yelp's startup competitors, InsiderPages and Judysbook, have struggled. This isn't the place to further examine why, but an easy and true answer is that there can only be so many winners in a space. As always, would-be destination sites are competing for valuable user attention and loyalty.

There is also a potential vulnerability in the bigger traditional (superpages) and nouveau (CitySearch) listings providers. Their support seems to be gradually eroding.

Meanwhile: new startup local search and review services are launching (such as ZipLocal, just launched in Canada). Established local portals are redesigning their interfaces and spending more dollars on marketing and ad sales. Huge media companies, I hear, are set to launch their own little Yelp-like experiments.

In this chaos, if Yelp can emerge as a clear leader, it makes a user's choice a lot easier, and makes it that much harder on Yelp's competition. But depending on your location you may not see Yelp as a clear leader yet.

The other variable is business models and longevity. Any number of scenarios can play out. Ambitious startups that are bleeding money, like InsiderPages, are likely to flame out. Traditional media companies running breakeven-or-better local portals aren't likely to go away, and they already have sales forces in place. Larger media companies launching new experiments *seem* to have staying power, but if there is zero adoption of their new ventures, then they'll just be folded up. And Yelp is no doubt burning cash too fast for its current monetization model, so it relies on a favorable buyout price as its "business model."

Another business model consideration is that sales effort alone can't sell these listings. If local business owners - confused about online to begin with - are being besieged by salespeople for local listings sites, it's only those with strong brands or those with "hot" brands that can really rely on business owners paying attention to their sales pitches.

Putting it all together and looking at the strong indicators in the user numbers, I'd conclude that Yelp will triumph amidst the chaos and will likely get its favorable buyout price.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tancer Picks Up-and-Comers

Based on the early adoption patterns of demographics he calls the Young Digerati and Money and Brains, Bill Tancer of Hitwise picks four up-and-coming Web 2.0 sites, including a video sharing outfit called Imeem.

The question he doesn't seem to answer is: why? To the naked eye, Imeem appears not too differentiated from similar offerings.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Kathy Sierra: Keeping it Positive

Like many, I'm far enough removed from this particular conference & blog orbit that I don't really know that much about Kathy Sierra, or the motivations someone might have for writing noxious comments about her and threatening her.

On the strength of the belief that what has transpired has been an act of misogyny in the professional world, hundreds have sent supportive comments and have published supportive posts. To that, I want to add: hey guys, it's OK to stand up against injustice (in support of anyone who is being dismissed or discriminated against) before the death threats kick in. But better late than never. To date, there are 1,165 supportive comments on her blog post about this matter.

Insofar as the threats might appear to be coming from one highly identifiable individual, it becomes a bit of a sad case. It began long ago with his well-known and long-drawn-out breakup and post-breakup angst ("off topic in the extreme") carried out in an email newsletter that had been about online cluefulness. After the initial thrill of the gonzo journalism schtick had subsided, I assume readers were wide-eyed in disbelief, then saddened, by the troubling personal-life stuff. The same individual - sad and wrong again - seems to have gotten into it with a female employer in the early going of a blogger gig, and when fired, confirmed his ex-boss's suspicions by titling his post "The Bitch Fired Me." Whatever happened probably didn't fall into a gray area. Is this mental illness? I'm not a doctor, but that seems pretty certain.

If there were several perpetrators, some of them possibly even respected bloggers, then the situation gets nastier. And sadder.

So it's all very sad, but possibly, a localized phenomenon. As Valleywag seems to imply, it's really tough to understand what really happened.

The real story should be quite simply that Kathy Sierra offers deep and thoughtful content, and it would be a crushing shame if that were diminished. Check out this recent detailed post about Twitter. It's detailed thoughts like this that give some of us bloggers, accused of rambling on a little too long, strength and inspiration. We need to ramble a little less and cite some more authoritative sources, is probably the lesson.

Being the brutally honest sort that I am, I'll also say that in scanning her blog, I didn't find myself liking, agreeing with, or appreciating every last word of every post. But that's disagreement, not grounds for a personal attack.

I still haven't made up my mind whether these kinds of attacks are or are not more likely to occur in online communication, or blogging. Or whether sarcasm counts as a lack of respect. Or whether subtle ways of dismissing people contribute to an overall climate of attack. Or whether there are just a few sickos out there.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The A-Hole Controversy

Sorry for all the off-topic posts, but have you noticed how many hours of warm sunshine we've been getting in the Northeast lately? It's put me in an upbeat mood.

You've probably come across the recent flareup of "don't hire assholes," and "are you an asshole tests," etc. - and now, inevitably, there's the case for the upside of assholes.

Driving by some corporate signage near Front & Portland today, I was reminded that some people are really crafty, and really, really good at dealing with assholes. If you're a reader of Toronto Life, you might know that a quite revealing profile was written about a dashing fashion retailer, delving into his vanity, his personal affairs, and, well, his assholishness. The reporter had lots of info from a number of reliable sources, although a main one was arguably a disgruntled person.

Said a-hole and his entourage weren't going to take this lying down, of course, so they launched a letter-writing campaign to rally around the patriarch, defending his staunch yet stylish image. I guess the hope was that one of these letters would be printed, or the magazine might print a retraction, or some other hoped-for outcome. Whatever the outcome, it wouldn't have been to go back on the statement that the mogul had "eight children from at least six mothers," presumably a fact that had already been verified.

Nope, their "rally around" tactic backfired because the magazine's response was to let it flow freely, *in full*. In the Letters to the Editor section, *all* the letters were printed, like six long-winded, glowing letters (some of which of course had overlapping scripted material). Five of six had the same last name... as the guy they were defending.

Printing every single letter and letting readers decide was a brilliant way of shining even more light on the situation.

After running through that in my mind, waiting at the stoplight at King and Portland, my eyes lit upon a famous, tall, bald Condo King. Said King is impossible to miss, and he knows it. A light horn honk emitted from one of many passing vehicles. Condo King whipped around, unlike any of the other pedestrians, looking for all the world like he was expecting to be recognized. "Yes, it is truly I, the great Condo King!"

And now, back to work.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Search Faux-Pas: Smuggling Sponsors into Navigation Conventions

Barry at SEL reports: MSN UK put a prefill in a search box, touting The Apprentice on BBC. Ouch!

Lately I've been in on quite a few, shall we say, monetization strategy meetings. Those newest to the 'net often think you can "stick in" advertising not just in ad slots, but by performing a takeover of common navigation devices - let's make this search turn into a search for a certain vendor's products... you name it. I think users disagree!

Then again, I wonder how far you can push this - and so do many - as evidenced by the MSN experiment.

For example, on the "example queries" published below the search box on a site like Yelp, what if it said, instead of:

"Example: Tacos, hair salon, English pub"

it said: "Example: cafe, Anchor Bar, physiotherapy"

And on a major vertical search site, would an example query using a national advertiser, in that little line, like "Walgreens," be way out of line? What's your take? That's one of the topics I hope Danny and I discuss today in the Daily Searchcast at 11:30 ET.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, March 27, 2007

World's Biggest VCR Warehouse!

I was driving by the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto today. Give or take, it probably is. Amazing how unimportant that seems now in this long-tail, Amazonified world, isn't it?

The world's biggest anything isn't forever. As some continue to believe, it doesn't even matter forever if you're the world's biggest search engine. Something, somewhere along the way, will shift. And "world's biggest search engine" will look like "world's biggest bookstore" - an anachronism, a quaint cultural practice, or nice memory.

I give it 20 years.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




A Note on the SEM Scholarship Contest

Andy Beal is hosting another SEM Scholarship contest chock full o' prizes, including a free pass to SES San Jose in August. It's a great opportunity for newer members of the marketing community to showcase their new ideas.

Ideally, of course, you do not want to be put in this position. You'd rather be Paula Abdul sitting up there saying "way to go" than one of the contestants singing their heart out. That's the easy job, for sure.

The hard job on the judging panel is Simon Cowell's. That's the role I hope to fill. Kidding!!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, March 26, 2007

Newspapers Can Do Lots of Things

On changing media consumption patterns...

I've noticed it's fashionable for folks to say they "don't read newspapers" nowadays. Yes, it's a sign of your generational correctness. And sure, I see where you're coming from. Info today just ain't the same.

But I'd like to ask what percentage of these newspaper-haters are married. Then, a couple of years later, I'd like to ask those who say yes, if they still are.

What we have here is info-hubris, I fear.

You got a couple of consenting adults in the same room, first thing in the morning, on a weekend. Now a good percentage of those a.m.'s, maybe it's acceptable to ignore your spouse by answering email or checking out your feed reader, or cuteoverload.com or survivorsucks.com or Google Finance or the box scores or whatnot. But there are times when tapping away on that sucker is going to be the source of considerable tension.

A newspaper is a tried & true spouse-ignoring tool. The practice has been honed over centuries. You can even use a book, though due to its compact size it doesn't do as good a job of covering up the drool that comes with that adorable bedhead. Nor will it effectively muffle the crunching of cereal.

Mark my words, as Aunt Gertrude would say: no good will come of this anti-newspaper fad!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




"Full and View Are Very Common English Words"

Pleasing all the people is very hard, but AOL tries. via Valleywag

Chalk another one up for the "just get on with it" camp.

It's also a shame the other 14 finalists fall on the cutting-room floor. Maybe there should be an aftermarket for naming-exercise leftovers.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, March 23, 2007

More Twittering on Blogger

Just ate leftover fish & sweet potatoes.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Twitter: Jennicam For All

What if you were nobody, who became somebody, and there were weirdos who wanted to watch your every move? Let them, of course?

My friend Mitch Joel writes, in part:

I think the tremblings of Twitter and the growth of Facebook are pointing us to a new era in Branding. It’s here and we’re paying scant attention to it. Personal Brands are going to start growing to levels usually relegated to, what marketing industry experts call, “super brands.” Who needs Starbucks when you can have Scoble? Who needs Rolls Royce when you can have Rubel?

You're joking, right Mitch? Or is there too much ringing in your ears today from the echo chamber? We are going to have to have a good long chat about this in person so I can understand where you're coming from, because personally I will take Starbucks over Scoble and Rolls Royce over Rubel (as wonderful as these dudes may be). Maybe we can just chalk it up to Starbucks being apples, and Scoble being oranges.

It makes me think about Erving Goffman's concept of frontstage and backstage behavior. It's interesting that Goffman drew attention to the concept of the Operating Theater as a device to elevate the status of some medical professionals. The play's the thing.

This veneer of immediacy & transparency provided by Twitter is quite an interesting phenomenon. How are legends made? A lot of it is in what you leave out. If Twitter had been the saxophone-du-jour when Clinton had been running for office, you can certainly imagine that old smoothie twittering many (but not all) of his movements. John Edwards Twitters. I think this says a lot.

So here's what a heavily-twittered day might look like for me if it were today - and all the good parts were edited out, and the "bad," "less than inspirational," or "confidential" stuff were left in:

- 7:44: Woken by screaming of cat, Walter, at neighbour cat

- 8:03: Grind & make coffee. Starbucks beans, not fair trade. I made it too weak.

- 9:00: Threw water in general direction of neighbor cat, Giorgio, who torments Walter

- 9:14: Compliment Carolyn for emptying dishwasher the night before. I sure didn't do it.

- 9:41: Finally wearing pants.

- 9:59: Brief phone call agreed to contract with XXXXXXXX [sorry can't do full transparency on this one], same details as previous email exchange. Very pleased with 9-month duration.

- 10:07: Put in Respond.com quote for Business Liability Insurance, because I don't currently have any, to facilitate becoming an Authorized Reseller for XXXXXXX

- 10:20: Hiding in home office with door closed, hoping Carolyn deals with tradesman scheduled to arrive at 10:30.

- 10:41: Duct cleaning estimate dudes from Sears are late.

- 11:30: Banking errand. Resisted picking up takeout from Flip, Toss, & Thai. Or did I? The Emerald Curry is irresistable. Yesterday, my friend Raja made fun of my heavy eating schedule.

- 2:00: Client call with XXXXXXXXX (sorry this one is actually under NDA. so much for twittering!)

- 2:10: I'm gesturing with my right hand as I talk with XXXXXX. HUGE stack of parking tickets just fell to the floor! %$$!!

- 2:55: Tell colleague I'm swamped the rest of the afternoon

- 3:07: Nicest day of the year. Park car on Bloor Street, walk to entrance of High Park, go for run. Yes, I drive to my run which is only a 10 min walk away.

- 3:07: Twittering about running, but I'm really too lazy to run today. I usually am.

- 5:20: Knock off for Yoga - Carolyn's. I do a workout to make up for not running. I'd joke about ogling the Yoga class, but I don't even know what room it's in.

- 7:10: Sushi.

- 9:00: What Not to Wear

- 10:00: Catching up on storyboarding new site for XXXXXX, my second job (don't tell anyone)

- midnight: I love folding laundry!

- 1:00 a.m. Why can I not concentrate on writing this book chapter! 1:00 a.m. used to be the best time to write when I was 25 yrs. old!

Hmm, even with pretend candor I had to leave the "best parts" out. So isn't that what Twitter is about?

I'd love to see hyper-realistic Twitter reports for any of the following:

Richard Nixon
Lance Armstrong
Willie Nelson

Probably, though, I'd really rather not hear from:

Britney Spears (I get the picture from the paparazzi)
Russell Shaw of ZDNet (I'll stick to his blog)
Kirstie Alley
Carrot Top
My immediate family
Jerry down the street
Loud carpet store owner trying to get attention

There was a modern artist who used to chronicle his waking time every day as a discrete daily creation (using a stencil or rubber stamp type of printing), and that was about it. In other words, he shared one intimate detail with the world, but left the rest out. (Does anyone know the name of the artist? I'm having trouble finding this.)

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, March 22, 2007

Google Didn't Pay for Their Traffic

Sometimes the random type exchanges about our industry can really spin your head.

I was in a meeting today and it came time to extol the virtues of TripAdvisor. They took off in part because of the high level of long-tail, organic traffic. "They didn't have to pay for a lot of their traffic," was my point.

Observed an observer: "No. And of course Google didn't pay for their traffic, either."

Literally taken, as the story of Google (great word of mouth, strong organic growth), that account is 100% true.

But hearing it now sounds weird.

Google didn't pay for their traffic? They are traffic, baby.

And if you're very lucky, they're the place you're getting your traffic that you don't pay for from. Preposition-fest adjourned.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Daily Brain Dump

Random tidbits:

- I get a bit unsettled when someone goes up a level of generality in their domain naming. Like, "we managed to snag a more generic domain name than you'd expect - so look at us!! and be prepared to be thrilled for us in six years when we flip that sucker for $1,650!!" The Keele Street Christian Church proudly displays their domain name, www.keelestreet.ca, in the front window. Hey, shouldn't that be keelestreetchristianchurch.ca, or keelestreetchurch.ca? At the very least, make it geographically informative, like keele-and-annette.ca, by putting the cross street in there.

- Topica, the email campaign management service, has a beautiful graphic on its home page. A huge 3-d "2007." Beautiful. Folks, it's March 21.

- It isn't very hard to find great Toronto restaurant reviews, if you know the main sites (Chowhound, Toronto Life, etc.) that purvey reviews. These will generally come up easily in a search. And if you're a good searcher and know the type of food you want, or the neighborhood name (Queen West, for example), you can even kind of do a themed or geographic search, in a way. But as for Google Local and the other blue-chip "local" and "map" based search engines, currently they aren't doing a very thorough job of aggregating this information. No doubt in a couple of years this problem will be solved and the maps and results will be intuitively and comprehensively populated - but for now, knowledge of your favorite sources (Toronto Life, NOW Magazine, Chowhound, etc.) and how they divvy up the city or leverage the community for recommendations, is the only path to foodie satisfaction. In case you were wondering, for dinner tomorrow night I'll be at one of: Parsi Restaurant, Jules, or Czehoski's. Vote now!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Which Blackberry?

One finicky poster at Engadget wonders why the Blackberry 8800 was even made. I mean, it may be super thin, with a better phone in it, GPS-enabled and much much more, but no flash camera! I mean come on!

Answer: believe it or not young Jedi, traditionally the majority of Blackberries were always bought for employees, so they could be better leashed to the office. Then free agents and bohemians found a way to convince themselves that the devices were kind of liberating. This doesn't overcome the underlying fact that the basic reason for a Blackberry is to keep your cube following you around the planet.

So the reason that some of these devices don't come with cameras, I suppose, is similar to the reason the new line of Steelcase office equipment doesn't come with complimentary snowboards hanging from the units.

And if your work/play does involve photography (which for many it does), either you'll need a better piece of equipment, or you'll buy one of the Blackberries that does.

Spend too much time on the blogs and you start to overlook the fact that not all time is free time. Present company excused.

I was going to be holding out for an 8800, but now I'm holding out for an 8300. If this indecision keeps up, I'll be free forever.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Google Expands Pay-Per-Action Test

Google has been testing a "pay-per-action" ad model since July 2006.

Today they're announcing a wider rollout of the service, but still in "limited beta release."

In a brief chat yesterday with Rob Kniaz, product manager for Google advertising products, I learned that AdSense publishers will be able to add the pay-per-action units in addition to their current AdSense (CPM or CPC) ad units. They'll be able to shop for potential offers in a variety of ways, either by selecting a specific advertiser's offer or by incorporating keywords into their code and letting Google's system smart-match from their advertiser list.

From the advertiser side, there will be a dedicated interface that allows them to upload creatives as well as the parameters for payout (eg. $3 per sale; $35 per lead, etc.). I'm waiting to see the full implementation, but at this early stage it looks like there will be a couple of things to look out for:

  • Verification of the actions is a key concern. I always argued that cost-per-action was no panacea to the verification issues around CPC or CPM based advertising. To be sure, you can't fake a sale if money changes hands, but a no-good publisher or random vandal could certainly potentially generate low-quality or fake leads. As with pay-per-click, it's not quite good enough to argue that advertisers should lower their bids accordingly, since the impact of bogus activity could be quite uneven.
  • How are these outcomes going to be tracked? I assume through Google Analytics, Google Conversion Tracker, or Google Checkout.
  • As such, it does certainly expand the Google footprint in all of these areas. It also confirms that the introduction of products like Checkout were not disjointed experiments but rather part of a broader overall strategy that is only being shown to us gradually.
There are some clear positives in this experiment. In potentially opening up a CPA marketplace to all of its several hundred thousand advertisers, with tens of thousands of publishers on board as well, it instantly gains the clout of a service like Commission Junction or Amazon Associates, but with less friction and lower cost (and over time, greater variety to choose from, for both sides in the transaction). It gives publishers a new way of experimenting with maximizing their monetization efforts (with better targeting, not user overload as shown in the last post), and allows advertisers to explore a new way of buying content-targeted exposure through Google. Put another way, it allows merchants to set up an "affiliate program," but with considerably less hassle than with other affiliate systems.

To be clear, the cost-per-action test has nothing to do with the search results or ads next to them. It's an additional marketplace being built to facilitate cost-per-action ad payments between AdWords advertisers and AdSense publishers.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monetizing Your Site: Here's What You Don't Want

I was about to link to this site because they had a relevant article to my next post. But their article was nearly unreadable because of all the monetization around it. Hey, it's nice to sell ads, but...

So now they're officially in the usability hall of shame.

To review, they've got:

  • A banner at the top
  • A tile, top left
  • Too much nav down the left
  • Another top banner
  • A "developer marketplace" text link unit
  • A big square bugger
  • A right-side skyscraper
  • IntelliTXT underlining of keywords in content
  • Another tile (lower left)
  • White paper marketplace
  • IBM stuff
  • A single little text link ad for LocalLaunch
  • Two extraneous widgets
  • A large square AdSense unit
  • A conventional AdSense unit
Is this supposed to be a joke? Too bad I gave up on the idea of reading the article here.

That's fifteen separate monetization pieces on a single page of content, an article that is unnecessarily chopped up into four parts to generate more "pageviews." Can you top it? Post examples, if so.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, March 17, 2007

On Hedgehogs, Limits, and SEM

So Jim Hedger nicely commented on my recent interview with Richard Zwicky over at Enquisite. I have a little riff on Jim Collins' hedgehog concept, rolled in together with some statistical viewpoints about the overall size of the SEM spend in relation to marketing and advertising as a whole - something I try to convey in seminars, book, etc.

Jim mentions this as "injurious" and "potentially limiting". On the injurious front, especially since his name is Hedger, I'll take that as tongue in cheek, of course :) . But the idea that the sum total of SEM does indeed have its limits is important, in my view. Advertising spend outside our realm is indeed seemingly limitless. I think it's important to talk about limits, though. If all you can spend on relevant clicks in a year is $1,000,000 - even as a large company with a big budget - then that's all there is here. I think it's important to admit that. SEM is a large and growing field that does specific things for a large number of companies. It's approaching 50% of online ad spend, depending on how you measure. But it's finite, and the daily and weekly impact can indeed be quantified.

I do think we could do to dig in with a bit more research about the thus-far underquantified impact of search listings in driving offline revenues and choices, though. Especially when it comes to local and long tail research.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, March 16, 2007

New "Visits" Metric: Pro and Con

(via Searchviews) comScore begins touting a new metric, "visits," that allows a second visit and a third to be counted from a single user if that visit is more than 30 minutes after the previous one.

OK, well first of all, the concept of a visit is far from new. But let's run with it any way.

On the "pro" side, it's going to be vitally important to look at new measures of attention online. Time spent, and yes, visits, are key metrics because of the so-called death of the page view. New presentation methods such as AJAX will mean it's harder to measure pageviews (or impressions), and that makes it hard to fairly price advertising. I'd add that this is a good development in that content sites sometimes or often chopped up their articles unduly, or otherwise engineered a navigation model that actually produced more pageviews per visit. Should that be considered "more ad inventory" or not? Clearly we have always been dealing in nebulous concepts of user attention and some online advertising is well overpriced and some underpriced.

On the "con" side, I'll refer you to the perennial problem of sites gaming their traffic; or again, simply engineering more of what they have for sale. Valleywag's been relentless in poking holes in those who use small tricks to pump up the volume of what they're selling. The concept of visits is going to be unduly exploited by some sites, inevitably.

In the end, happy advertisers will be happy advertisers, and overpriced advertising will disappoint. But we do a disservice to clients if we don't continue to probe these various metrics for, shall we say, the "gaming opportunities" they might provide for some publishers.

Is "visits" better than uninformative stats like "reach"? Absolutely. Publishers and agencies have no business selling "reach." I'd rather see us be looking at a multifaceted stats package for pricing ads, like a quarterback rating (comprised of pageviews, time spent, heat mapping, and a list of various other stats). Or that could be considered at least a method of providing a third-party "scorecard" for how users work with a given website; of what type of audience and attention you're dealing with. You hear a lot of tough talk about third party advertising "audits," but that misses the point. You're not selling something that is ever 100% quantifiable, as the death of the page view shows. So as an industry I'd love to see us innovate, use scorecards, and explain the value of targeting.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Delicious, Tasty and Helpful: Keyword Anchor Phrases

SEL reports on the latest development in Google Webmaster Central: reporting on the anchor phrases that link to your site. Just more proof that Webmaster Central is a great new development in relations between the search engines and their immediate ecosystem: website owners & webmasters.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Phony Blogs that Give Blogging a Bad Name

Stumbled across a blogger's profile on Blogger. This blogger, called "Product Advocate," runs blogs on:

Toys

Jewelry

Speeding Tickets

Clown Makeup

... you get the picture. They're really not blogs, they're a few posts by SEO types on behalf of their clients but pretending to be "real" content, purporting to be about that particular industry, and then there are "links" that basically feature the client's site. I honestly don't know too many people who set up a whole blog just to enthuse about their traffic ticket paralegal firm. It's hard to come across such people in real life, because there aren't any.

And then SEO firms wonder why all the bad public image in the press? It's hard to defend your profession if you're willing to continue to do things that appall the search engine using public.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Satan Loves Splenda

Seth's right. If people really want to be negative, how can you stop them?

It's just an ajaxwhois away from finding the availability of SplendaIsTheDevil.com, SatanLovesSplenda.com, or whatever you like.

BTW, Santa loves Splenda also. A lot of people both love and hate Splenda.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Talk About Your Golden Triangle!

Aaaah, I finally get to use that headline!

(via Boing Boing)

Lots of great food for thought from Jakob Nielsen and Tara Pernice Coyne reported on at OJR.

The normal stuff:

  • Longer fixation as indicated in heat map studies isn't necessarily good. It can equate to less retention. So the longstanding Nielsen tenet that web users scan is still right, and so you offer them long gobs of content at your peril. So basically, at any given point in the scanning process, many users are still sort of navigating. (Broader takeaway for traditional journalism: it's not enough for newspapers etc. to just put their "great content" online. Online they might need to be investing in genuinely new media forms. Shorter fixation but longer duration might be the experience that reflects true information-gathering online.)
  • Images need to be relevant and personable. Stock images, abstract concepts, and drawings often don't work. (I noticed this in action yesterday, asked to review an ecommerce site that sold an alternative type of flour. The photos on different quantities of flour were stock photos of a variety of desserts you could bake with it. Very confusing to see a cake when I'm expecting to buy flour, and then below that, to see scones. Etc.)

But of course the racy part is this: men fixate on both face and genital area - at least in the ballplayer picture; women fixate only on the face. The finding on the men doesn't surprise me all that much. Should I be surprised to note that the men are either comparing themselves to the athlete, or pondering having sex with him? No. But as always (not being female) I do find it utterly bracing to hear that the women (over 100 in the experiment) all wanted mainly to have a relationship with the ballplayer, or to see what he is focusing on or thinking. Really!?!?

Now there is an alternative explanation: the photo is of George Brett, who had a famous bout of hemorrhoids in the World Series in 1980. Perhaps the men knew this.

I know, this post wasn't pretty. I think it shed more heat than light.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Topix's Domain Name Woes

Wow, I can't believe that domain squatter managed to squeeze $1 million out of Topix.net for the .com, according to Kevin Delaney's WSJ piece on the difficulty you can face if you change domain names (introducing the business world to our capricious world of lost Google traffic when sites are rewritten or redirected etc.). That's a lot of squatting cheddar. Unnecessary, in my view, but one of those buys you make if you or your investors have the money and are risk-averse. I sure hope both Topix users and Google get used to the new Topix.com domain.

I think the rest of us, especially those running content sites that need user loyalty but not purchase-point credibility, should start taking the attitude: "why bother"? How much is too much for a domain?

And yes that's me quoted farther down in the article, in relation to another domain change issue. :)

CLARIFICATION: I've received some feedback wondering why I am criticizing Topix. I am not! What I really don't like is domain squatters. I was impressed by the fact that Topix.net managed to do just fine with their name - and thought of them as sort an example of a company that bucked the trend that said you absolutely had to have a .com (like Craigslist if you like). Eventually when a company like this grows, they wind up acquiring the .com (as Craigslist certainly did); but my take for other small companies is, maybe you don't have to give in. We have certainly had plenty of egg on our face at other companies I've worked with in terms of naming and domain decisions; but the overreaction (paying outrageous sums to squatters) is something many of us can ill-afford. I recently paid $1,300 for a .net domain, and $1,300 for an "alternate" domain (completely new name) in lieu of a much higher price. I also got "lucky" and paid $1,900 for the unhyphenated version of my company name domain. These are fair prices and frankly about as high as I'm willing to go. And it's also worth pointing out to budding entrepreneurs: if you get something really original, domains are $10. OK, jawboning session over.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Screw the Search Engines! Says Roche

Jamie Roche takes the refreshing view that you shouldn't cower in fear at every possible like and dislike of the all-powerful spiders: not if you're a rabid tester or if you just focus on the user experience in your own way.

His take isn't for everyone, but as the president of a major multivariate testing vendor and CEO of a digital agency, he's probably not out of touch with real world dilemmas.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Affiliate Marketing Doofuses

There's definitely a reason the managers of AdWords and related programs find affiliate marketers a challenge. In part, it's precisely because they have no stake in the underlying business that - as creative as they can be in maximizing results - they will sometimes say anything to get a click. Affiliates for my ebook (as thankful as I am, though not so much when they advertise on my name) have used bogus registered trademark symbols and a number of other misleading ad copy tactics. The most recent effort I saw indicated that "ROI was guaranteed by Andrew Goodman."

I don't guarantee ROI. Who would? Like many others it seems like you have to constantly go running to Google to address these wild claims made by affiliates in your name.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, March 12, 2007

The Wide, Wider, Widest World of Search

As announcements proliferate about the major search engines getting into all sorts of new advertising areas -- particularly Google and their TV experiments -- the race is on for pure search agencies with big-time aspirations to upgrade their BHAG's. One of the first off the mark: Did-It, with the phrase "auctioned media management" being added to the tagline on an article by VP Mark Simon.

No doubt a few of the rest of us have bandied such phrases about in internal PPT strategy sessions.

Basically what it comes down to is a big hairy audacious hope: we pure search agencies do a great job managing paid search. But in 1, 2, 3, 5 years, please, please let us help you buy that other stuff also. Please. For heaven's sake don't just give all the money to Google. There is already a serious faultline in California, and another few megatons of cash won't help at all.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, March 11, 2007

Spot the Suit: Cuban Suing Google

So Mark Cuban doesn't wear a suit, but he is one. Go figure.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, March 08, 2007

Why Google Website Optimizer is a Win-Win: 1

Like a few others, I've been beta testing Google Website Optimizer. It's great.

Here's why it's a win for Google. They'll make more revenue because marketers who test will get impatient and need more data. They'll enable their paid search accounts fully, possibly even enabling marginally performing groups, to get a statistically significant conclusion to their test more quickly so they can move on. No, you don't have to buy clicks to use Optimizer; it'll measure conversion performance on landing page variations with any kind of traffic. But the fact that it's tied into an AdWords account sure makes it easier to enable those clicks, doesn't it?

It's a win for advertisers for a very simple reason, of course; the prospect of improving conversion rates and thus profits. It's not magic. It's science. Behind the science, comes creativity, best practices even(!) and unpredictable user psychology.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Random Sour Grapes...

And not a fine vintage at that.

How can Microsoft on one hand claim a commitment to understanding and winning in the search space, and then at the same time attempt to undermine the entire foundation of the business?

Taking the logic/rhetoric to its logical conclusion, Microsoft would have to back off any new economy initiatives around other-generated content, leaving a gaping hole not only in its search strategy but in its entire online division.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Branding on the Cheap

Hey, if you advertise in Canada, the deals are amazing.

I saw someone bid $0.01 on content targeting yesterday. They actually got 119 impressions, and zero clicks. Average CPC: $0.00. We'll take that deal all day long, though obviously we'd be happier if the 119 was 119,000,000. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, March 05, 2007

Social Media Gone Wild

Ever since the rise of social media sites like Slashdot, Digg, Reddit and their myriad clones, those little badge icons and the accompanying invocations from publishers for their visitors to [INSERT NAME OF SITE AS VERB] them have been popping up like the dandelions that will start appearing on lawns everywhere. In the beginning, it was helpful. But as more of these sites have appeared, blogs everywhere are starting to resemble the credits at the end of movies.

Witness the post footer template that our good friends at Search Engine Land are sporting now in the screenshot below. I sure hope no more social media / bookmark sharing / social networks pop up any time soon, 'cause social media fatigue is setting in with me.

As I'm sure Bryan Eisenberg would agree, when you have so many calls to action packed together so tightly, you're less likely to achieve the desired outcome. Maybe publishers should start picking the most popular social sites in their verticals. Or maybe the inevitable shakeout of social sites will make it all a moot point.

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Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Navigating for Products in the Mall

(spotted at Techmeme)

Bob Tedeschi of the New York Times covers services that will allow you to locate specific products while in the shopping mall.

The future is here.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, March 04, 2007

Reminder: SEX.com Still Available for Purchase

Danny, I know you seem happy with SMX, but I've got something even better:

searchenginexylophone.com (SEX)

Call me.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




LinkedIn Is the New Classmates.com!

LinkedIn has done it again. Your past educational institutions are typically an important part of your LinkedIn profile. Now, you can browse everyone in the system who shares that affiliation.

I hear a lot of skepticism about LinkedIn in day-to-day conversations, but I think they've really nailed this thing. They keep releasing important new features and have been more viral than their competitors.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




MSN adCenter Literature: Here's Waldo

One of the brochures in my MSN adCenter Canada launch package is a pseudo-scientific guide ostensibly penned by a "Dr. Waldo Hawking." Evidently, Dr. Hawking hasn't made a huge splash. As of today a search for "waldo hawking" as a phrase nets zero results on Google, and none on Microsoft Live Search. Ha!

Dr. Hawking, of the nonexistent Mississauga Institute of Search, offers among other things a "Searcher's guide to Not Finding Customers." Under the heading "Conversion -- Old School," he or she offers: "Conversion is the key to success in marketing -- but don't take it too far. If your conversion techniques involve excessive guilt, subliminal hypnotherapy, or isolating potential customers in a compound, you may be taking conversion too far. However, you may also have a promising career in direct mail."

Ouch.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Search Sucks, Vol. 386: "Get Off Your Lazy Butt" Edition

Tom Foreski in SiliconValleyWatcher lists all the ways that we the people are expected to help search engines do their jobs - so search technology isn't pulling its weight as compared with the human element.

Eye-opening at first, but rather than a blow-by-blow response, why not sum it up this way:

  • Should you do extra work to label your content or install sitemaps? Hmm, only if you want to be found.
  • We're talking about publishers, not people. Therefore, purveyors of information (and/or products and offers) in a hugely competitive, open environment. Tom's article, for example, sports ads for conferences as well as Edelman, the world's largest PR firm. Seems like a tag or two might be a decent tradeoff for the exposure. You don't expect the engine to actually write the content for you, so what's a bit of extra metadata between friends? As for "people," it's the users that are getting a good deal out of the extra work you might do to label your content
More detailed response:

  • Tags or labels are indispensable when it comes to some kinds of content, such as videos or photos
  • If something is useful or popular enough, depending on the community, third-party tagging can be helpful. What's the incentive to do this? Interesting question. What's my incentive to type this sentence? But yes I think there is a huge bunch of unlabeled stuff that probably will stay unlabeled because there is no incentive to label it. That doesn't mean search engines aren't going to try to "organize it and make it universally accessible."
  • The article's general tone seems to suggest that the search engines are stingy about "sending their robots around." Far from it! Even relatively unpopular sites are spidered frequently nowadays.
  • Search engines have advanced in many ways over the past few years. One of them is their sheer storage capacity. Index size is a huge challenge, which brings us to:
  • The claim that corporate search engines are doing a better job of letting publishers take the lazy way out is a bit odd. It's a much smaller dataset, so stuff is much easier to find. But I'll grant that it is interesting that some of these technologies are quite good at recognizing industry-specific patterns, and autocategorizing content -- no user tagging required. But that's a whole internal debate in the info retrieval field. I'm sure some companies use human categorization!
  • Search is a bit like matchmaking, and the meaning of what "search" is has expanded. Take the emerging field of local search. Now add the premise that "refine is the new search" (I don't think it really is on its own, but users definitely want to be able to "drill down" to get exactly what they want by telling the search engine). And hey, why not toss in the idea of geolocation & mapping. So I'm a user and I'm looking for a hardware store, let's say. Let's say I also want to find a hardware store that sells a certain brand of doorbell. I'd prefer it be within 20 minutes driving distance. And I want to find one that is "open 24 hrs." (just for argument's sake). None of that is ever going to be findable without a huge amount of research, unless of course the "publisher" (hardware store owners) is willing to upload their information in a structured format. By uploading that info, buyer and seller connect more easily. By not uploading it, you choose "not to be on the map." It's your choice.
  • Things like Google Base are arguably research projects to help Google find out what are some common categorization schemas in a given industry - or a whole category, like brick and mortar retail. (If "open 24 hrs." is a common one, then maybe it'll come up more often in search and navigation databases as a yes/no item down the road, let's say.)
In short, the claim that "people should just find me" is a bit like building an all-graphics site and hoping people will find you when they search for "guitar pick." Or sitting on your back porch strumming "Galveston" and praying you'll be invited onto American Idol.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Ickiness of Pay-Per-Post

Don't quote me on this -- if they hand me a free appletini at a party I'll still guzzle it -- but I have to agree with this Valleywag post about Pay-Per-Post.

Online PR is so fertile and important a field, it's growing as companies grasp its subtleties. As with the lower-order concept of inbound linking, people who want to package it up in an icky way try to take over the field. If a client asks me to do online PR for them, I have every intention of saying no if they want me to emply Pay-Per-Post type services. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot, using a service to enhance a corporate reputation and then having to face the inevitable firestorm of controversy when the public finds out that you paid a bunch of bloggers $28 to post about how great your breakfast cereal is.

Subtlety is king when it comes to public relations.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, March 02, 2007

Egyptian Blogger Dissent

What does a blogger, vlogger, or podcaster do when the "chill" sets in?

That chill can be a lot worse in some parts of the world than others.

Egyptian blogger Abdel Karim Nabil Suleiman has been jailed for his sustained critique of government policies and his educational institution, among other things, on his blog. Mr. Suleiman called for his former Islamic school (he had been expelled) to become a secular institution, and posted on his blog a "pledge to defend Arab and Muslim women against discrimination," according to a Globe and Mail report by Carolynne Wheeler.

Dissent blogs are a growing story in Egypt. Some, like this one, show evidence of police abuse.

In seemingly less contentious nations, we aren't generally jailed for what we write. Because it's so easy to seem controversial without actually ever taking a chance, it's also easy to forget that taking a real stand, even a small one, involves a measure of courage.

From time to time I make a mistake - who doesn't? And more often than some would like, I post or broadcast something a little bit frivolous - maybe even stupid. I'm sometimes guilty of having too much fun, being unprofessional, etc.

That someone is willing to go to jail for the right to expose abuse and discrimination is a reminder of just how easy some of us have it, relatively speaking.

But it also makes me think twice of censoring myself after the fact if someone writes to tell me I've done something stupid, told a racy joke, or laughed a little too loud. Because, in part, it's not being afraid of who you are, is what we're fighting for, isn't it? The "big chills" are truly frightening. But it's insidious when we let the "little chills" get to us, too. A loss of a few advertiser dollars, or a naysaying voice or two, is far from being jailed - so maybe it's a reminder to thicken the skin and to not be too apologetic based on the fear of someone wagging their finger, or of a loss of $218.94 in banner revenue.

Break a few eggshells today.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Yahoo Search Marketing Minimum Bids - UK vs. US

Yahoo has recently clarified that they'll be sticking with the $0.10 min bid in the U.S. and discontinuing grandfathered bids.

Which should make it surprising that they're dropping the minimum in the UK to 5p - except that 5p works out to roughly 10c. So it's about the same in both places.

Either way, most of the time these minimums don't matter. If your market is in any way competitive you'll soon be paying significantly more than this to stay visible, even if you're "lowballing."

It's interesting to notice that Peter Hershberg doesn't feel the need to couch this story as "under Panama". Peter's company does a lot of paid search. He understands that whether you call the platform Panama, Kumquat, Sasquatch, or Guantanamo, a minimum bid is a policy having nothing to do with the interface per se.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, March 01, 2007

Post Coverage of Click Fraud: Kicking it Down a Notch

For some odd reason, I expected the Washington Post to improve its coverage of the search engine industry. Nope. It seems to have gotten worse.

Sara Goo picks up the click fraud topic with this helpful effort:

Maybe I should back up here. What is click fraud and why should you care? Google makes money every time people click on the "sponsored links" places next to search results, which are really text ads paid for by advertisers.

Wow, oh wow. It appears we'll have to get ready for every article for the next five years being mostly taken over by the boilerplate "here is what a search engine is" preface, so readers never actually get to learn anything. Hard to blame the author here. Her editors made her do it.

These ads appear not only next to search results but also as text ads that Google places on blogs or other Web sites, labeled "Ads by Google." (I never click on these ads but apparently, a lot of people do because it provides Google with a significant chuck of its revenue.)



Indeed, a significant chuck. Like 97% of $11 billion per year. Sara Goo, are you trying to rile me up with that old "I never click on the ads" thing? Hey guess what Sara: I never buy anything from the advertisers who put their ads in the Washington Post! Tit for tat! The "I never click on the ads" gambit is fine and expected from the average person in cocktail party conversation, but you're a tech journalist so it seems disingenuous to my ears.

Each time someone clicks on the ads, the advertiser pays Google and the Web site displaying the ad. But fraud occurs when people repeatedly click on ads with no intention of really viewing the ad; rather, they want to drive up the cost for the advertiser and increase revenue for the Web site owner. It's more sophisticated than it seems. People create sophisticated "click robots" to make it look like authetic clicking when it's really not. People have also created networks of clickers, or people paid to click on ads to evade Google's click fraud filters.

It's an industry-wide problem--not just for Google--and one that has been compared to the days before newspapers and television had any accountability to advertisers to reveal true numbres of how many readers or viewers they were delivering to advertisers. Similarly for the online advertisers, there is no independent organization now monitoring how many clicks are fraudulent and many advertisers don't have the technology to know the difference.

Still clinging to "wild West" mythology vis-a-vis the Internet? Claiming that newspapers and television are bastions of accountability? It's getting hard to take this. Well, at least you're making it plain why we won't be seeing fair and balanced coverage from you anytime soon.

Also, you made a second major spelling error.

And finally, I'm resentful because you just have the word "Goo" under your photo. I'm Goo. It's been my nickname since university.

Anyway, the rest of your piece is pretty OK, but I see we're always in jeopardy of sliding back into old-media-vs.-new-media rhetoric. It will be good to see some independent auditing of clicks, and wait a minute, did I hear you say it's Google's competitors (other than perhaps Microsoft) who would be in more trouble if that happened? Google stands to lose a lot less from independent auditing of clicks precisely because a much lower proportion of fraudulent clicks are being charged to advertisers. In any case, all of the top four firms can afford to "step up" to allow more scrutiny of clicks by third parties, and I look forward to the day. Financially, it will hurt Yahoo and Ask the most.

FOLLOWUP: Google has now posted an extensive report on the Inside AdWords blog.

Labels:

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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