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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

An Open Letter to Jerry Yang

Welcome aboard, Chief Yahoo.

I did a little asking around, to some people that matter in the industry, people that care about your search division, and especially about your Panama rollout. What will happen next? Anything cool? Bold?

I've got some rough news for you: they don't think you'll do it. Maybe they don't think you can do it. Everybody's couching their language in lukewarm "we'll see" platitudes.

Well, it's good to get that out of the way. Low expectations mean at least you can beat them, I guess.

What would I like to see, personally? Off the top of my head?

I'd like to see Yahoo do enough silly things to try to contend in search in one form or another that Google actually gets scared. In this era, some of that will have to involve acquisitions of properties that have momentum, ad inventory, or cachet attached. There are a lot of ways you can still own more users and more search-like experiences. Acquiring them will be expensive, perhaps prohibitively so, but the alternative is to miss the boat. Oh, if only past acquisitions hadn't been so beside-the-point or overpriced, you'd be in so much better shape today.

Call me crazy, but:

* Get some momentum and leadership going by acquiring and fostering some of the available search startups. Powerset gets some buzz lately. Ergo, acquire Powerset.

* Ever heard of local search? Acquire Yelp.

* What's this business with Yahoo Domains and all the hosting and so forth? Could be a much more powerful business if you bit the bullet and acquired GoDaddy. That's right, the Big Enchilada. Go Big, Daddy, or Go Home. This is not a rocket science play, but an inventory and business customer play.

* Ensure that defaults on mobile devices are Yahoo-leaning. I had a Yahoo guy demo me the Yahoo One Search for mobile on a Blackberry last month at Mesh in Toronto. Right on! But will I use it? Google icons are all over my Blackberry, making me forget about the Yahoo ones. I get the feeling you could lean more folks to the Yahoo options on their Blackberry if you just acquired Research in Motion. I know, it's tempting to merely partner and it's expensive to buy a firm like RIM if they aren't interested in selling, but look at the potential. All this bullish talk about all of these mobile partnerships you can ink globally mean nothing if all they mean is the opportunity to be someone's second choice on their mobile device, behind Google. Next, innovate with some of the features/keys on the devices to make it even easier for users to access emerging services like free 411, and so forth. Integrate the Yelp reviews into things. Bob's your uncle.

* As our frequent correspondent John K keeps saying, you'll have to fire a lot of management types that accreted over the years. Get rid of clutter, and geek up. Now's your chance! Don't be shy.

* And yes, to this wish list I'd certainly add an interesting new partnership with Microsoft, or inking a deal to re-partner with Microsoft for search and search marketing. We're hearing rumors in this area. It would simplify our jobs if it came to pass, and give Google a little something to worry about.

* Finally, I'm still waiting for you to implement my suggestion to make the home page just the plain search box for a month. What a great publicity stunt this would be. The world's largest search company pulled that stunt starting in 1998. C'mon Jerry! August is Search Month for Yahoo! You can do it! You're the Chief!

Good luck, Jerry. You helped build much of the web as we know it. I'm one of those momentum, inertia users that loves some of what your company has to offer. I still use Yahoo Finance at least half the time (better SEC filings format); Yahoo Mail (some of the time); and My Yahoo (for feeds and such, yep I'm a real ungeek). I even used Upcoming.org recently; and who doesn't love Flickr. You get the feeling Yahoo is very, very close to the position of global dominance and street cred that it could be in.

There's also your advertiser ecosystem, specifically in search, to consider. That's an area I care about for a living. My firm does paid search marketing full time, so we have a stake in seeing your search market share, and search marketing platform, grow. Mona Elesseily, my colleague, has just completed a 105-pg.+ Panama how-to guide that will be finally out on the market in a week or two (like Panama itself, it was delayed). Poring over every word just reminds me of what a massive effort it was to turn that vital part of Yahoo around. And it also pains me to imagine that Terry Semel pretended like the project didn't exist, and certainly never seemed to take much detailed interest in the absolutely pitiful state of the former ad platform. Almost like he didn't get it. I know that one of your big cheeses on the Overture side (maybe even THE big cheese on the Overture side) got it, because he was one of the first buyers of my Google AdWords Handbook back in 2002. So, if some people got that AdWords was better back then, and didn't fix Overture until 2007... well... how do I put this delicately? Is there a problem with communication at your company? How are you going to overcome that? I mean, of course, internal communications. From 2003-, your PR was actually excellent: many folks continued to write and speak about how terrific Yahoo's search marketing platform was... even though it wasn't. Mission accomplished? Be careful what glowing PR you wish for, because PR doesn't build a better product.

It would be a shame, of course, to give up now on the promise Yahoo still holds. It's brave of you to take the helm at this juncture. And I hope those who won't go out on a limb predicting success will soon have to change their tune. But if we don't see some action in the vein of the suggestions above, we'll be disappointed.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, June 17, 2007

Canadian Search Marketing: Impending Hockey Stick?

Canadian Advertisers, Pull Thy Collective Head Out of Thy Collective Butt? That could have been the subtitle of some recent speeches and writings by Gord Hotchkiss, a well-known Canadian search marketing guru.

This week, in person and in writing, Gord was tearing into the Canadian business community for its poor record on adopting online advertising and especially search visibility tactics. This is juxtaposed with the Canadian people's world-leading Internet usage. This theme's been rolling now for a couple of years, statistically speaking, thanks to reports from companies like comScore, and now buttressed by survey research being disseminated by companies like Yahoo. In terms of quiet rants, it's been out there since 2001 or so, since some of us began seeing the post-bubble surge of quiet interest in search as the most cost-effective direct marketing and public relations tool going... by our US-based clients, who moved quickly on the opportunity and kept us all busy with work. (It didn't hurt that our dollar was very low, so we were low-cost providers who otherwise looked, quacked, and smelled like American consultants.)

Gord pinpoints the problem even more precisely - to Toronto, which holds most of the economic clout in the land, but seems slooow to adopt. Hey Gord, c'mon, I have to work here when I'm not hiding in New York or Glasgow! Easy for you to rant at my neighbors eh?

But this is not so new, Canada being above everybody else on per-capita this, and worse than a lot of countries on per capita that.

There are probably many more reasons beyond just a few businesspeople having their heads up their butts, than Gord and the commenters on his post let on. And even if that's the reason, it would be interesting to explore why that might be, then.


* Market size, chicken-egg, and what are they going to do with those clicks anyway? Larger companies with reasons to unlock big ecommerce budgets would have had less reason to do so until recently, because ecommerce itself had not come of age. Inventory and logistical issues were dealt with more slowly. No shopping engines were really available because the concept of a "comparison" was silly. The fear of online eroding offline margins was allowed to linger longer, because no competitors forced anyone's hand by racing online. Sweet complacency reigned, but this was at the higher level of ecommerce generally, not specifically with search. On ecommerce comparison engines, Google never launched Froogle Canada, for example. But due to not only doggedness but also market opportunity and some willing investors, Shop2It out of Calgary has persevered to build a real shopping engine for Canada (hammering out partnerships with AOL, MSN, Yahoo, and Canoe) -- that has required long effort to encourage adoption by etailers to upload their feeds, improve their stores, and actually try to sell to Canadians! An effort not even Google was up to.

* But why? There are definitely a host of cultural reasons, and reasons of business culture. Here are several sub-points in that regard.

First, small business is not championed or given the resources or encouragement it should have to pursue contemporary online growth. In Toronto the classic small business of a little independent brick and mortar shop is certainly a new Canadian's dream and the one hungry and busy middle-class Canadians are all too eager to applaud, but the other kind of small business, the one about getting a big idea and growing it, is seen as some sort of insane affliction. Family, friends, and neighbors will worry that you should just stop screwing around. Get a job with a big company Mom has heard of, like Bombardier, Nortel, or Microsoft. Doesn't matter if that job is stultifying, structurally set up to fail, etc. - so long as people have heard of it and you get invited to the company box twice a summer, you're part of the crowd. Good job. Luckily, people have now heard of Yahoo and Google, so there is a chance we'll see interest in actually nurturing tech and related startups here. (Next point covers these guys.)

Second, related to the first: big-company culture dominates, and Bay Street dominates. That's why the natural resource and financial sectors are *still* ruling our business pages. If the Street can figure out a way to finance it, then do it. Talk about it, work there, orbit around it. Otherwise, don't. That makes the Web 2.0 and any other high-productivity-oriented, high-achievement-oriented subculture just that: a subculture. The positive thing about that is that subcultures tend to be immune from peer pressure. The negative can be that unless their projects are financed, the world doesn't see the fruits. The other negative is that disgruntled subculture members become expatriates, in body or in spirit. Solution: our business *finance* and moral leaders need to nurture the subcultures, as JLA and Brightspark have done with b5media, and as the Mesh organizers have done organizing a conference around it. It all seems so under potential (b5 seems cool, but seems so alone out there; Mesh is great, but could be better) precisely because there needs to be just a whole lot more of this.

In other words, at a lot of levels there are a lot of great online entrepreneurs out there eager to be part of a community and eager to find markets. Their financiers and their neighbors down the block though could care less about their aspirations and right now are busy ignoring them as they prepare for cottage season. Because why don't you just make your ridiculously high salary in real estate or traditional advertising and shut up about innovation? "Zillow? What's that? Pass me a cold one." But it's only a matter of time before the cadre of Canadian entrepreneurs willing to build an online business, even through the delicious summer months, effects far-reaching change. Incentives and opportunity eventually produce results, but the state of financing is hindering the rate.

* Is Canadian talent being insourced to Silicon Valley? Google's office in Canada is just a sales office. One thing about weighing career and business ideas is that it has to seem like a real opportunity and a real lifestyle that other people have. In that regard, you can talk about them being "lower tier jobs" all you like, but the fact of a Google going into Michigan in a big way changes the parent-educator-neighb0r-youth dialogue. A lot of solid jobs equals a platform around which an economic and innovative ecosystem grows. Toronto is identified by Richard Florida as a creative cluster because of sheer scale, tolerance, concentration of educational institutions, and a host of other factors, but we shouldn't be content to rest on the luck and confluence of certain factors to drive growth in online business. Proactively encouraging even more of those things is a good idea. Dalton McGuinty, our provincial premier, is all over continuing our leadership in the auto sector. He's also promised transit expansion that's 15 years overdue, which will no doubt put a fat contract in Bombardier's lap. That's nice, but ... sigh, cars aren't where the puck is going. And in a metro area of 7 million, transit is just basic infrastructure. What else are we doing? Companies like Microsoft have a lot of employees here. Companies like Google strike me so far as uneven in their approach to how they foster and nurture their foreign offices. Isn't that called "insourcing"? Foreign offices can be just push centers that focus on replicating the adoption of the product back home, but those workers are classic account execs and support staff. At the end of their day, do they give much thought to engineers and high-tech startup culture? Silicon Valley is very good at luring those types of risk-takers and top thinkers away from their home countries. So what we can build around here is an important question. That's why companies like Research in Motion are so huge in the Canadian national imagination right now. The founders are literally national heroes. We need many more RIM's. And we'll need a counter-brain-drain and an insourcing revolution of our own. The reality is, you need a critical mass of people with good high-tech jobs to make that seem like the thing to do... and not to do somewhere else. Else, businesses will be run and migrated online without the benefit of new qualified blood. PROFIT Magazine and a few dozen people doing great stuff in government and education, in spite of incentives towards complacency, get it; most other potential influencers don't.

* Meanwhile, traditional advertising and Bubble 1.0 mentality web shops still cling to their perch and their perks in Canada. Large companies continue feeding them and their ranks aren't thinned by much, even though the word about measurable performance and user experience is starting to spread. Usability, business, and the online experience are really holistic phenomena that require stalwart "connectors" or "polyglots" who don't overspecialize but who have deep programming, design, and communications skills available in-house or in-brain too. Case in point, the startup I worked with settled on a web design firm out of Michigan that has Web 2.0 user interface and design savvy. They write real code and do real design; they don't force you into proprietary off-the-shelf boxes. The same job from a traditional web shop would have cost 5X as much. A local Toronto firm doing just the identity work, and none of the other work, quoted us double the price - and they are really good, far better than most in town, and so busy that they probably wouldn't have had much time for our job anyway, no matter what the budget. Demand for competent online professionals in Canada far exceeds supply. ... User experience as part of someone's job. Search savvy as part of someone's job. Basic background on online demographics and analytics as someones' job. This all has to happen. It's not happening very fast because of course you don't learn it in school (yet) and so you would need to go to a "good shop" to learn it, or learn it by osmosis through your particular subculture. I'm optimistic that we will reach the critical mass (in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Calgary, in particular) or simply see lifestyle/cultural shifts (as we see perhaps most prominently in B.C.) to have institutional and cultural homes for this subculture, but it's not there yet. We won't see it develop in the college and university system adequately, so it'll have to come through ad hoc partnerships and experiments with those institutions. It'll have to be fostered through online community. Through offline communities like the meetups and geek dinners. And through remarkable new conferences put together by selfless connectors.

All that being said, this country will succeed and shift to heavy online spending in spite of itself. Why? It's the big budgets. Big-company culture has its drawbacks, but by 2009 that correct percentage of overall ad budgets will have moved over to online and to search, because eventually top execs will see that logic, will have read my next book, seen Gord's next talk, listened to a presentation by Martin at Yahoo Search Marketing Canada or the new head of Google Canada, and will have jotted search down for 30-40% of nontraditional ad spending, which in itself will grow to 30-40% of all ad spending.

Like financing a mining play, maybe search and ecommerce in Canada succeeds because of some figures that get sketched out on a napkin and decided at the highest levels. That's not the same as succeeding because the subculture grows, or influential people "see the light" early on because they're forgoing their 30 nights a year in the Air Canada Centre box seats to maybe study up on this stuff. (Fortunately, if Balsillie brings another hockey team here, entrepreneurial online-savvy learning materials will be mandatory reading before entry to the box.)

Search marketing and ecommerce in Canada won't succeed perhaps for all the right reasons, but I'm saying they still succeed. Based on the sheer compelling reasons for moving ad budgets and talents over to online user experiences and commerce, it'll succeed wildly. Budgets will increase in 2009-10 in that hockey-stick way.

And in part that'll be made possible by the unique history of a free, peaceful, diverse country that gave its best minds reasonable space in which to think and develop, and enough reasons to stay that Hotchkiss stays here. Hopefully, at least, some of those reasons include dollar signs. But Hotchkiss is also going to need a few more fellow players in this subcultural sandbox to keep him from picking up his pail in seek of a new playground.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, June 15, 2007

SES Toronto 2007: Built By People, for People and Robots

Finally catching my breath from Search Engine Strategies Toronto 2007. As close to an unqualified success as I could have hoped. Many attendees including Pauline from HighRankings (who interviewed me for Jill's newsletter) noticed that the freshness of the program spurred speakers into coming up with new, fresh, cutting-edge material. That gave sessions the buzz that might have been missing from the less-than-stellar beverage tables. Pauline also asked if there were any new speakers. There certainly were! We had the chance to see several new SES faces including Helen Overland of non-linear creations and Tamera Kremer of Wildfire Strategic Marketing. (hehe Tamera, don't worry, your link comes below...)

A lot of the big highlights for me were in sessions I attended or moderated, and of course, in having the distinct pleasure of welcoming Seth for our keynote. Like the consummate professional he is, he tailored his talk just for SES Toronto, offering his hilarious take on a "brief history of search" before trying to prod search marketers into stepping away from tactics to focus on the bigger picture of making ideas spread. Seth, I'm sorry, but we're going to really need to drill down on your candy store example from Highway 11. My colleague Mark in the standing room in the back did some instant calculations on the total sales and average cost per order, and we feel that Rita is perhaps not as remarkable as she lets on. :) But then again, Mark grew up in Sudbury, a fair ways north of Rita's shop, so he's had plenty of experience challenging the tall tales of people from warm-weather climates (like Orillia, ON, or the tri-state area).

Back to sessions that offered new insight. Nick Fox of Google (the less famous Fox) slipped us updated insights about quality score and in fact even a couple of algorithmic elements that I hadn't seen published anywhere. Who says you don't pick up secrets at SES? There were quite a few sessions where new info came out in Q&A.

There are too many others to mention. Gord Hotchkiss, to name just one, was noted in the feedback I'm hearing not only for his fresh material but also for his edginess! Apparently Gord thinks Canadian advertisers need to .. what? Whatever it was he said, I promise to send him a case of generic Cott cola complete with the Canadian Politeness Serum so he'll stop encouraging people to wake up and do better. :) Martin Byrne of Y!SM Canada actually got a laugh with a meta-joke about there being a high probability of a rise in Canadian statistics. Well, this is Canada after all. We love meta-jokes about vaguely governmental-sounding stuff.

As I've always held, the power of a Search Engine Strategies conference lies in the tireless contributions of fresh material by panelists (those offering sales pitches only are soon excommunicated), and the power of the network. And if by "network" you think "party," so be it. It was that, too.

Thanks also to the insights offered by the afterbloggers like Jonathan and Tamera. Keep up the good work, everyone!

For authenticity's sake I need to throw in a negative or two. Well OK, I really didn't like the sandwiches. I rarely do at these things. I think we need to work on that. And needless to say, thumbs down to the Fairmont Royal York for overbooking their hotel by a count of something like fifty, sending a number of us to the nowhere-near-there Delta Chelsea, and a number of others (including some Googlers) to the Days Inn. FedEx got our rooms, as we could plainly see from the "Welcome FedEx" lapel buttons sported by hotel desk staff. Can $200 in "I'm sorry" vouchers undo the damage to a quality hotel brand that can't keep a reservation, and makes arbitrary decisions about who is more "important" to their business? Not screwing up so royally in the first place is always a better way to go.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, June 14, 2007

Zillow Picks Up Prominent Googler

Real estate 2.0 play Zillow just hired Vanessa Fox, who had been with Google Webmaster Central. Good luck Vanessa!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Blogging: Now a Great Way to Get Sports Tickets

According to William Houston [scroll down to story ' hockey blogging'], The New York Islanders have determined that the blogosphere "cannot be ignored," and they've set up a work area for bloggers. This report from a newspaper that now has a /sports/hockey blog online. (If professional journalists are also bloggers, are they in the blogosphere or not?)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, June 11, 2007

My Sunny Saturday in Manhattan

Like a normal person, I took a little time for myself on a Saturday morning, before flying back from the FOOA conference in New York.

Unfortunately the marketer in me never sleeps.

Noted:

* FreshDirect.com. I saw a huge delivery truck unloading ungodly amounts of chicken outside a large gallery/museum. Everyone who laughed at Webvan and their latter-day cousins should by now understand that the sea change in consumer expectations for quality of food, and the emerging Long Tail of Food, is going to create huge growth in this type of business, though they might not get huge all at the same rate or go public, or those other silly bubble dream things.

* John Battelle's The Search is still going strong as a leading business book. It was near the checkout at the B&N I stopped into. That's good news for anyone in the search biz.

* Spotted: a Yahoo "Green Cab" was looking good out there. I was confused, though, as to why it was a small SUV as opposed to being a regular car. Could it have been greener? Could it have been a Prius? It's not like you need a ton of engine power in the city to get to the right speeds. Maybe someone could clear that up for me.

* Faux-local: does it really work? Virgin Mobile has a big bus-shelter billboard ad lauding the finer qualities of Hell's Kitchen, telling the locals that they really kick ass, more or less (takes about 500 words to say it). Seems "local," but isn't it actually written by an agency on behalf of a multinational telecommunications company? Does this actually work? Obviously if small is the new big, it does. But maybe not every tactic rings as true as another. The people standing waiting for the bus didn't have an expression on their face that suggested "Hey, that Virgin Mobile really respects us! Damn!" How long is it going to be before people start to notice that Virgin thinks that every neighborhood kicks every other neighborhood's tail? On that day, the revolt will start.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, June 08, 2007

Landing Page Quality Update: Bears!!!!


I just got the note about another tweak to AdWords quality scoring:

"Google has made some minor updates to our Quality Scores based on advertiser landing page quality. Similar to past Ads Quality updates, a small number of advertisers who are providing a low quality user experience on their landing pages will see an increase in their minimum bids."

We were further advised that the change does not affect "the vast majority of advertisers."

But what are they coming after? I did some digging. Apparently users hate bears. So if you have any discussion of bears, photos of bears, or worse - anything that advocates bears in any way... good luck.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Country of Origin Effects on Consumers - Ad Age Report

Is it just me, or is the report on this study a little muddled?

Young people don't know about geography (not a surprise). They don't care about where a product comes from (or yes they do care). If it's a luxury brand or a high tech item, it matters that it comes from a place associated with quality or high tech (ok, now we're getting somewhere, and Ries and Trout said it a long time ago).

About the only clear conclusion I see is that the US auto industry is still in big, big trouble, and doubling down on the patriotism is making it worse, further alienating youth, the buyers of the future.

But no mention of the counter-case, such as American Apparel; or the substantive issue behind that (not all "countries of origin" are equal; some are low-wage places with no labor laws - does this matter to customers or not?). Rather disappointing.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Power to the Peeps: Jericho's Back

Who says protest doesn't work? (With the aid of some ongoing "shelling" of the CBS Headquarters, with tons of nuts.)

Word has it that CBS is going to buy 8 episodes of Jericho for next year.

According to my research department, "Jeff Braverman of NutsOnline is getting some really good buzz on the 'Survivor Sucks' forum, and they hate everything!"

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Attention Public Relations Mavens: Meet My Friend Greg

Speaking of Search Engine Strategies Toronto, did you know that Incisive Media now hosts half-day and full-day training sessions - intensive workshops on special topics to bring you fully up to speed - the day prior to the SES conferences? These are very popular for companies wanting to see to it that their people get deeper, hands-on training in paid search, SEO, public relations, analytics, and other niche topics. Some of these for June 11 at the Intercontinental Hotel are virtually sold out now, but I wanted to give a heads-up for the one on online PR, news release optimization and blogger relations. It's a fast growth area, and there's no savvier expert than Greg Jarboe.

Attention PR mavens, and savvy online marketers: on June 11 - Greg Jarboe teaches the training session
on SEO PR 2.0: From press release SEO to blogger relations and beyond.

Check it out.

Greg's also speaking on two sessions at the regular program for said Toronto-based search marketing conference:
Why give this particular topic a plug? Basically because you can really see the negative fallout for those who don't "get" Public Relations 2.0. To the savvy go the spoils. See you there!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Embargo Over, Ask.com Now Available in 3D

We can now safely report that Ask has a new look and feel. A wide range of media sources are now dutifully reporting on it. But is it news?

Maybe, but some of what we're focusing on is barely worth a mention. You can "skin" the homepage... if you happen to use it, but if you're like 98% of searchers, you never do. So the comment on this post at Business 2.0, that this "polka dot background is a thinly veiled swipe at Google," is about as devoid of substance as the whole idea that a skin is a feature. (Who, then, are the Western Sunset or Tall Trees skins aimed at?)

I put the app through a few paces - though only brief and unguided thus far - and found myself appreciating the fact that I can now search blogs and other types of specialized search from the homepage more easily. Like other observers, I noticed a liberal use of AJAX, which among other things gave me "suggested searches" as I typed. Attempting to type "cupcakes NYC," I got the suggestion "cupid's chokehold," which I think is a nonsexual reference gleaned from the popular Gym Class Heroes hit.

In addition to having an algorithmic search engine, Ask/IAC are a force in local search. Unfortunately, my locale being Toronto poses a problem for Ask just now. It recognizes my location when I do a search - even adds the country to the label at the top of the page. But there are no listings, so all the Tim Hortons nearest Toronto but across the border are listed. Who knew so many Tims in Tonawanda?

















As a paid search junkie I also notice the sensible placement of the text links at the top and bottom of the page. I like the look. The highlighted boxes will get clicked, and they're fairly delineated from organic results.

Query-wise I tried a variety of searches, focusing heavily on local stuff. Honestly, the engine attempting to serve up images in the right panel didn't do a good job.

On an automotive query I not only saw fairly accurate organic search results a la Google, but some relatively attractive ads. It's this genius -- of making the ads look about as attractive as the organic results -- that is the secret to search engines making money, which I presume is part of the point here. Perhaps then it's not so bad that the video results in the right-hand panel were not all that interesting - just general BBC news about the car companies in question. I noted that the top ad on the page is served via Google AdWords (it has to be, as I'm running the campaign so I ought to know!) as opposed to being served through Ask's own ad system.

The jury's out as to whether the re-skinned Ask makes a dent in user patterns after journalists give it the courtesy tire-kick. My sense is, nice try, but does it cook me pancakes? Alka Seltzer when my tummy aches? Or even let me search for cafes in Toronto? Not yet.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, June 04, 2007

The Danny Factor

Any question as to whether Danny Sullivan's first independent conference, SMX Advanced, would be influential, seems to be answered by the fact that the big search companies are timing major product and feature announcements around the conference. Another one comes out of embargo in a few minutes...

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Yahoo to Release Quality-Based Content Click Pricing

Today Yahoo! announced quality-based pricing for clicks coming from distribution partners in the sponsored search and content match programs. Similar in intent and implementation to Google's "Smart Pricing," it will automatically discount a publisher's click revenue (and the amount the advertiser pays for that click) by "a certain percentage" based on traffic quality as measured by conversion rates and other factors.

This systematizes the same process that has taken place with interactive ads for years: advertisers run tests, find out which sites convert well, and reprice their offers when they re-order, lowballing the low quality publishers.

My take:

This is a much-needed initiative for Yahoo!. Although it will initially dampen revenue, it will put Yahoo's relationship with advertisers on a solid foundation, allowing for future growth. I've witnessed first hand the slow increase in the ROI graph on Google's content network, to the point where we now feel confident bidding on this inventory in almost every advertiser account (although still lower than we bid for search inventory, usually). Smart Pricing has been an important part of this picture, as blunt an instrument as it may seem to some publishers. It's worth noting that by taking away ill-gotten revenue from bad publishers, these networks can afford to pay out better to quality publishers.

This initiative will further cramp click arbitrageurs' style, though not all forms of arbitrage will be negatively impacted, because not all publishers are part of the same content network (did you know that?) so different rules might apply. That being said, these distribution partners that are classified as falling under "sponsored search" appear to be subject to the new quality-based pricing; however, nothing some select partners won't be whitelisted or made exempt from the policy.

One possible criticism of such policies (I called this an "actuarial" approach to content pricing when Google rolled it out 38 months ago) is that it's a way of blunting criticisms of fraud-prone distribution partners without actually offending the partner network by taking direct action. In other words, it's an abdication of past responsibility for click fraud in the network, while trying to quietly rectify the problem. A further indication of a gradual acceptance of responsibility for the quality of the partner network is in point 17 of the FAQ's: "Although we do not currently offer the ability for advertisers to opt-out of particular sources of traffic, this is a feature that we plan to begin offering later in 2007." Good thing, because for some partner traffic, as far as many advertisers are concerned, the only smart price is zero.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, June 03, 2007

Amp'd: Not Just Morally Bankrupt

Sounds like trouble.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, June 02, 2007

And the Pay is What? On Mahalo, or Weblogs, Inc. Act II

Peter Hershberg offers a nice reminder to Jason Calacanis' Mahalo that there might have been a few other search plays in history that used an "energetic group of Guides." In addition to About.com and Ask Jeeves (nice catch there, Peter and Danny), I'd cite, er, Go Guides, this list of mostly-defunct "Expert Sites," and of course the former Zeal community. Not to mention Squidoo. Yahoo Answers. Digg, et al. People, people, everywhere; and in some cases, unique technology to leverage their contributions.

Humans do scale, of course, in the sense that there are billions of user behavior decisions every month, and a smaller universe of editorial judgments being made. From PageRank to Wikipedia to Usenet to Slashdot to the Yahoo Directory, search engines, vertical communities, and widely-based human-edited web plays [see Traffick article "Are These Verticals Too Horizontal? The Slow Death of Mega-Guide Sites] have always tried to leverage editorial judgments, communities of meaning, and the value of expertise and passions.

I think a really good question for any startup to ask today has to be: in spirit, how much more sophisticated or useful is your plan than Jerry Yang's collection of favorite links in 1994?

Mahalo will become part of a huge trend that's been ongoing since the dawn of web search tools and web directories. Is it any better or even as good as the many mentioned above? If it turns out to be, it'll be because it reached a critical mass of users, and found better ways to ferret out the problem of "smuggled spam" -- the gradual deterioration in editorial standards that happens to unrigorously-edited web properties in a world that respects editorial integrity so little that Pay-Per-Post is seen as mainstream. If all goes well, it will succeed in some verticals only because of their uncommon quality.

And that's no different than many that have come before. An open web platform allows quality stuff to get out there, whether or not it's found on a particular secondary layer that purports to do a better job of sorting it. Mahalo might become as well known as LookSmart, or The Drudge Report. Either way, as Hershberg argues, it's going to be scrapping hard over 1% market share.

If there's any takeaway from the launch of Mahalo, it's a reminder that without any humans at all exercising editorial judgments but also judgments on how to structure the look and feel of results pages, you get a jumbled mess in response to a search query. Google and other leading search engines a combination of user experience producers and algorithmic methods of determining query intent. One of the best things about companies like AOL and MSN (and in its unique way, Yahoo) for the mainstream user, was always the sense of "consumer editorial responsibility" on common queries. Mahalo is a reminder to these companies that they should be actively recruiting editorial personnel, and continuing to heavily produce the portions of useful search query result pages on popular queries that are family friendly, consumer friendly, educational, useful, etc. More packaged answer sets, less jumble and clutter, is a great way to stand out in the subset of society that prefers these.

Huge opportunity: such results sets are also mobile-friendly. More on this later...

Perhaps then, when Ask allowed the "algorithm to kill Jeeves," it zigged when it should have zagged. If you're going to be scrapping over 1% market share, with the potential for growth if you hit a real nerve out there, why not go out in style? If I were Mahalo, in addition to working on technological innovation and community-building, I'd use at least some of the lavish funding to attract marquee writers and journalists for high-profile editorial oversight. This would give them a chance to beat the NYT-owned About.com at its own game.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, June 01, 2007

NutsOnline / Jericho Update

Oh man, they've been in the NYT, and the WSJ now, among many, many others.

They're up to 17 tons of nuts sent over to CBS.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Search Engine Strategies Mythbusting

In the past couple of weeks I've been doing my best to promote the upcoming SES Toronto. Such as, telling people about it at the Mesh pre-mixer or sitting in the hallway at Mesh and not saying a word about SES until someone asked about it.

I've heard some strange things that have surprised me.

* "I hear there are hardly any women at that conference." Hmm, contrast with the conversation I had with Rebecca Lieb at SES New York, where she remarked that in the past days of search and search marketing, if you were a woman you had the bathroom all to yourself. "But it is totally different now," she said, more or less. (Rebecca will be a moderator and speaker at the Toronto show.) The point is, this has changed a lot. Not only are there a high proportion of women attending, a lot of the best-known speakers are women, and if you look at the program, you'll see evidence that the overall proportion of female speakers increases all the time.

* "I pitched a couple of years ago and didn't get on, and didn't even get a response." I can speak from personal experience that with 60-150 speaker relationships to manage prior to a conference, it becomes very difficult to reply adequately to the whole list of people who didn't make it on, because you're dealing with the program on a tight timeline. So on behalf of all harried conference organizers, I say sorry but forgive us! There is hectic and beyond hectic and I can only guess that this is even more so for those who are organizing multiple big conferences a year. I also suspect that speaking is like getting a job or getting an investment. A referral or a personal contact vouching for your credentials goes a long way.

* "It all seems a little 'inside baseball' to me." I do agree that any specialized field can seem too closed. But the people with skin in the game and marketing tasks to take care of, which is a lot of people, the effort to break through the apparent cliques is of course worth it. There are cliques in any industry. Note: breaking through cliques is what the networking and parties are for.

* "Kind of a niche topic to hold a conference on, isn't it?" For 2007 this was a true whopper, and made me feel like putting my Mesh Martini down and hopping a plane to somewhere else that gets it, such as perhaps the Bay Area; Bend, Oregon; Boise, Idaho. The response would be that even if you boiled it down purely to non-organic search, it accounts for 40% of all online ad spending. More than that, if you're looking at any and I mean any business or organization or with a website or blog, x% of their traffic (just peek into that Google Analytics report) comes from "search referrals." Often that % will be 40, 60, or 80%. Niche? Narrow? Search is universal/huge. Give me a break. Without grokking it, you're invisible. The Long Tail by Chris Anderson could have, and maybe should have, focused almost entirely on the Long Tail of Search. As RSS and other ways for connecting with users have grown, of course we have panels on this.

Hmm... what else...

* "How frequent are flights to Toronto? Out of what airports?" If you were from New Jersey and asking this question, rest assured that you can get a flight to Toronto out of Newark, and more than once a day. :) The direct flight from Newark is 98 minutes. From Laguardia it is 90-95 minutes depending on the plane.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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