Thursday, August 23, 2007
In today's SES San Jose panel on User-Generated Content (moderated by Rebecca Lieb and co-presenting were Matt McGee and Lee Odden), I looked at a number of case examples, and proposed a checklist for any UGC site trying to achieve breakout to serious popularity.
If you work through the logic, UGC 1.0 sites like TripAdvisor had a high-level SEO strategy that was simple (good content, lots of it, in a long tail of many search queries, that people like and use) and not risky (ain't playing head games with the algorithms). The site feeds Google, it doesn't compete with it.
A number of other hot examples today qualify as having said potential. There are also many risks. But something like Yelp has a decent shot at full breakout; on the other hand, I now worry a bit that NowPublic has no sound SEO strategy and may struggle to get traffic.
Others are potentially isolating themselves because they're unlikely to garner the needed boost from massive amounts of free organic search referrals. Again, working through the logic I think Mahalo is in trouble. They are competing directly with Google. Their crowdsourcing model is clever but appears to not scale enough to feed Google and users what they need.
So Rich Skrenta, earlier this week (knows of what he speaks, obviously) succinctly put the question: "Is it really possible to do dmoz/about 2.0 and have a go of it?" Skrenta's skeptical.
I agree with Rich, but might take an even more extreme position. The amount of SEO traffic to achieve TripAdvisor-like breakout is not going to be available to Mahalo, and there is absolutely nothing on the horizon that would appear to suggest they'll have platform advantages that would exempt them from needing an SEO strategy. As clever as it may sound, Calacanis' model is basically that he just founded a search engine to compete with Google, rather than a specialized site that would feed Google. This is why it is unlikely to work.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Day 1 of SES San Jose is in the books. It was a busy one for me. I managed to moderate a fast-paced session on Search Landscape, speak on Ad Quality, and took in a new session on Ad exchanges.
The Ads in a Quality Score World panel was moderated by Danny Sullivan. In this session I tend to amuse myself by watching carefully for subtle wordings, especially in statements by Googlers.
This shouldn't be surprising, in a way! Imagine if they gave as much info away in the SEO sessions as sometimes we get in the ad sessions. :) No wonder I now think of the Ads Quality session as the "new SEO" session at SES... as with New York, a large hall was absolutely packed for this one!
So Clay Bavor of Google came up with a couple of interesting nuances in an otherwise fairly straightforward overview and Q&A. On the question of how often quality scores are updated (as various pieces of data on keyword relevancy, CTR's, landing pages, human editorial review may be flowing in on different timetables), Bavor improvised brilliantly: he said Google's quality score updates are "relatively real-time." Relatively real-time! Take that you software benefits copywriters! Googlers can improvise this stuff in front of 1,000 people. It would take you a week to dream that up.
Bavor also noted that the old formula for elevation to premium placement, it was "auction price," not max bid, that was a key part of the formula. "Auction price" is what your next lowest competitor is bidding. However, I had always recalled that they said this was "actual price" (real historical CPC) on your keyword, not "auction price." I suppose I could go back and figure out when that story changed, or if I mis-remember it. Remember, at SES there is always a way to amuse yourself, even when on the same panel several times in a row. For me, it's all about the subtle nuances.
On a related note, congrats to Hitwise's Bill Tancer for the 10th anniversary of his Search Landscape presentations! (10 presentations, not all the same though Bill, we know :) ).
Labels: ses san jose
I've just received word that Shari Thurow's latest edition of Search Engine Visibility will be published tomorrow. Long considered the definitive text on sensible search engine optimization and search-friendly web design, this latest has glowing reviews from Danny Sullivan, Peter Morville, and Gary Price. Fine company indeed -- I look forward to reading my copy.
Friday, August 17, 2007
(via SEL, via Eric Goldman) American Airlines brings a suit against Google for allowing competitors to use terms like "American Airlines" to trigger their own ads. The question is: will the existing law and precedent suddenly change because this time, it's American Airlines? Doubtful if you ask me.
The upcoming SES panel (next Tuesday) on copyrights and trademarks should be a good one, as always.
Labels: google, keywords, lawsuit, trademark
Thursday, August 16, 2007
...but it helps!
That's the t-shirt many paid search auction-grapplers have been mentally wearing for years.
In a few weeks, Google will be going live with a slightly altered version of the AdWords auction. Group Business Manager for Ads Quality, Nick Fox, was kind enough to go into considerable detail outlining the change, which as usual has been misinterpreted somewhat here in the ventosphere. The most common dismissal of any change Google has made to AdWords is "another cash grab by Google"... which I guess looks like a clever dig in pixel form, but I think the changes are definitely more interesting than that implies. Many of those comments tend to emanate from sources who still think all clicks should be free, so take them for what they're worth.
1. The Simple Explanation... Past vs. Present
a. OK, so the explanation isn't that simple if you've been doing this for awhile but not paying much attention, because Google has changed the way they sell the top-position "premium" ad slots several times in the past few years. Several years ago, the first major change occurred when Google started, then stopped, selling those ad positions completely separately on a costly high-CPM basis, using a dedicated sales team, 6-month insertion orders, and the whole nine yards. That was convoluted to administer -- and more importantly, divorced that type of ad buy from Google's traditional AdWords formula that focused on ad relevance and quality -- so they discontinued the practice. The top slots more or less joined the regular auction, but they remained distinct in look and feel, and were great to achieve due to high CTR's, high volume, and sometimes, higher conversion rates.
b. However, Google then began to experiment with how many ads it would show in those positions, and by and large, placed a higher threshold of quality [prior to August 2005, CTR (click-through rate) was the only measure of quality] and CPC (cost-per-click) before it would elevate an ad to the premium area. The exact thresholds were never publicized, but typically, ads with actual CPC's below .75 had trouble making the grade for premium positioning. Ads with CTR's below the averages for the keyword or industry sector had trouble making the premium spots too. I'm guessing Google tweaked the formula several times.
As Nick Fox told me today, because (1) "these ads get more attention from users," and (2) "push organic results lower on the page," to say nothing of (3) "being particularly valuable for many advertisers," it's important for Google to find the right balance here. Above all, the user response to the ads is paramount. Users must not become turned off by the overall perception of quality in their day-to-day use of the search engine.
So until now, the function that determined whether an ad would show in a premium position or be placed in the right-hand margin was weighted heavily towards quality score, but also included actual cost-per-click. That made it different from the rest of the auction, which went on the basis of quality score and max bid. Max bid can often be much higher than your actual CPC because of the discounter built into the pricing method.
c. Now, there will be a small change to the formula. The downside of the "actual CPC" part of this was that it stopped certain advertisers from getting in premium slot due to a lack of what Nick Fox called "auction pressure." Other advertisers simply might not have been present or bidding high enough to push the actual CPC up enough for the leading advertisers to qualify for premium spots. Worse, I'm guessing that this might mean that slightly lower-quality ads could creep into premium positions, because they *did* pay more on an actual basis. They wouldn't be *poor* quality ads, but they might not be the highest quality. This actually reveals a flaw in the previous formula because it unwittingly relaxed quality standards slightly in the area where it should have been heightened.
My interpretation here is that advertiser control and overall user satisfaction rise with this change, but yes, it does seem that some advertisers might experience price increases.
2. Unforeseen complexity.
Unpredictable effects might occur to some advertisers who find they suddenly get promoted to premium position, or who have been bidding very high and changes in the auction dynamic cause other advertisers' positions in the auction to change.
Will you pay more in those cases? Probably, if your actual CPC has in the past been coming in below what the new minimum price for premium placement is set at.
What, did I just say "new minimum price for premium placement?" I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth. There is no set reserve price that Google is implementing here, but rather, a dynamic minimum that is a little bid difficult to grasp at this stage.
I guess the throbbing feeling I have in my brain about now comes from the fact that by adding this wrinkle, Google appears to be adding a second "minimum bid" - I'd liken it to a larger rung partway down the auction ladder. If you qualify to be in the premium slots (let's call this the treehouse), then you can stay up there, but you'll potentially pay more. The rope ladder down to the ground has the usual auction dynamic, but if you fall below that familiar minimum bid, the bottom rung on the rope ladder breaks and you fall into a big pile of leaves on the ground (out of the auction entirely). Potentially, your best friend's dog, Scrappy, licks your face as consolation, while you muster the courage to "improve quality or bid higher."
The minimum bid to be on the rope ladder (active in the auction at all) is *published* right next to the keywords in your AdWords account. But it doesn't look like your price of admission to the treehouse (the premium positions) is going to be published. One minimum bid, disclosed; the other, not. And a real dilemma for Google as to how they could possibly publish that given the limitations of the AdWords user interface as complicated as it now is.
So while the change may be minor in practice, advertisers are counseled to watch their bids, particularly if they've mucked about with high maximum CPC's (aka bids) in low actual CPC zones. You might begin paying more than that low level you've been accustomed to, in those cases. You should always be prepared to pay the full amount of the max bids you set, so it's never a good idea to bid wildly high, counting on a lack of auction pressure to make up for your laziness in bid management.
Let's ditch the passive voice, just to be clear. I counsel you to watch your bids!
Labels: ad quality, google adwords, nick fox
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
I just had a look at Brett Tabke's kickass (if mindblowingly extensive) tips for conference presentations. Really great info - and many of us veterans have to remind ourselves to prepare and pay attention to the "don'ts," just as much as any rookie.
Then again (you knew that was coming, eh Brett?), sometimes a little voice inside me marvels at how everyone judges everyone else nowadays on their presentation P's and Q's.
I think I made great strides from (if not quite taking literally) Seth Godin's powerful screed Really Bad Powerpoint. After awhile though it's amazing how much second-guessing and mental holding-up of scorecards you get at these things. And you'll sometimes hear it said of someone that "so-and-so is a really great presenter" (like Reagan, or Clinton?) when that person had absolutely nothing of substance to say.
So I have a small hope that people attending the conferences will also be willing to cut someone some slack if they bring some solid info to the table, and that speakers will continue to be willing to bring that solid info, even if they risk having people shake their head in pity for their unhoned presentation style. I think we can all use more coaching on our presentation skills... but for the rookies out there, I hope you won't just "fake it til you make it"... make it good. And while you're at it, let's go for original. :)
At some of the "un-" conferences, PowerPoint is now banished, in favor of a "dialogue." Unstructured, to me, doesn't make for more democracy or more spontaneous outpourings of wisdom, though. I think I'm with Brett. I think by and large, speakers should prepare, and work on being better at delivering their material. Q&A and the bar is for dialogue.
Brett, your post was definitely both original and good. Who else would care enough to provide a real-world manual for presenting while hung over?
Labels: pubcon, speaking
That's the title of my upcoming... er,,,... this... post.
Mike, you may be right, but I'm guessing you'll never stop it. By "it," I mean the tendency of SEO snake-oil salesmen (sorry, "snake-oil 2.0") from selling their seemingly plausible SEO formula long past its "gone stinky" date.
I think in any industry that is sufficiently mysterious, and also lucrative and growing, you'll see this pattern. Even the most sincere practitioners will often be willing to give up aspects of this "let's just tell the truth to the clientele" fervor they had when they started in (this contrarianism sometimes proves profitable in the early going), to gravitate for the easy sell (because the gullible customer is often practically begging you to sell this way) that their competitors are making so much easy money on. It's called inertia, gravity, a plausible story, a myth you can't bust no matter hard you try, etc.
I don't believe in "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," personally. But many do.
Health clubs might be the perfect analogy. Localized small fitness club chains can remain relatively immune from the sales pressures of larger, publicly traded corporations. Local trainers are allowed to have their own personalities, they're allowed to help clients without selling, they're allowed to advise professionally without always tying it into a hook or a gimmick. Then one day, the fitness club gets bought up by a sales-oriented conglomerate, and some of the old staff are fired; others are asked to memorize sales pitches, even sleazy seduction tactics, in order to get the clients to buy more.
As you can guess, this recently happened at my health club. While I've always been somewhat amazed at the whoppers told by way of getting clients to sign up for personal training packages, it's become ever more cringe-worthy. They'll say anything, it seems. Especially to the newer customers. All in order to justify selling 16 sessions instead of 8, etc.
- "Once you add muscle, you'll burn more fat." A gross exaggeration the longer the point is made to the individual who has never exercised, and the more fictional a picture you can paint of a slightly more muscular individual shedding fat as they lay around watching TV and wolfing down corn chips.
- "There is an electrostatic connection from your feet through to your head, so from-the-knees pushups are useless, whereas even 3-4 regular pushups have real benefit." Perhaps this is even true! But obviously the purpose is to create confusion and dependency as part of a regular, staged program of pseudoscience and quasiscience. Remember, even if something is somewhat true, or vaguely scientific, doesn't mean it's relevant or helpful. Often the purpose is directly related to sales. I mean really, the trainer is not all that taxed standing there watching you do four pushups. He has plenty of time to think up ways to get you to buy more from the health club.
Why does this stuff work? Because the methods are honed across many gullible clients, and as long as they're getting some benefit, truth matters less to the business than doubling or tripling the revenues from the same rough relationship and same basic quotient of truthiness.
- Some unprintable type interpersonal stuff which is so consistently dished out I can only assume it works to boost revenues, either on or off the books.
Many in the search marketing industry have turned their back on outdated claims and demagogic pandering to the client's psychological propensity for wanting better metatags and higher PageRank. The best solutions evolve and work strategically with client needs, because unlike the physiology of the human body, the marketing landscape changes rapidly online, even if a few principles stay relatively consistent.
But Mike, don't think anything we say is going to stop all of the shenanigans or selling of outmoded methodologies... any more than I'd be well-advised to spend valuable energy karate-chopping the trainer who gets the client to sign up for more lessons with elaborate rationales for complicated exercise and naughty banter about Kegel exercises. I don't have time to learn karate, anyhoo. You know and I know there are always consultants out there willing to prey on ignorance, and firms that can even make that business model scale. Sadly.
But happily, in a way, because it reflects well on the health of our industry that there are many folks attuned to the benefits of a strong search presence.
Now give me ten pushups!
See, it was starting to work on you, wasn't it?
Labels: mike grehan, seo
Monday, August 13, 2007
Got this promo for an upcoming conference exhibit:
With a suite of search-related tools, and a dedicated group of industry solutions analysts, Nielsen//NetRatings can help you determine if your search strategy is working for you. Find out:
- Your click-through rates on sponsored and organic search links
- Your buyer conversion rate
- Who's driving the most traffic to your Web site
Can you say any basic logfile analyzer (free) or more sophisticated product along those lines (ClickTracks)... to the tune of 100's of vendors dating back to the mid-1990's? Surely you'll have to explain why yours is better? Different?
Labels: web analytics
It's official - I'll be hosting SES Toronto 2008 and 2009. The press release from Incisive Media is here.
Labels: ses toronto
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Second Life is a way of life for some, but for advertisers, it's not all it's cracked up to be, according to WIRED magazine. Good overview of the issue here by Cam Balzer.
Labels: second life
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Greg Linden reviews a paper by MSN scientists that shows some interesting things about search personalization. When "click entropy" is high (people are exhibiting a lot of different behaviors in response to the set of results, as opposed to clicking on the first one because it's the best), personalization is warranted and helpful.
Another finding is that fine-grained, click-based approaches to personalization are better than profile-based approaches.
This must have been what I was getting at when I was underwhelmed by Google's beta of so-called personalized search a couple of years ago (it was based on a very simple profile approach), but then of course I rambled off on another tangent. Looks like MSN and Linden have captured the essence of the problem.
Labels: search personalization
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Further to my last post, Mona Elesseily's new comprehensive report on the Yahoo! Search Marketing platform is now available for purchase in the Page Zero store. Just in time for your fall marketing campaign!
Labels: yahoo search marketing
Friday, August 03, 2007
My colleague Mona is celebrating a birthday over the weekend. What a great coincidence, because I've just received the final layout of her great new report, Mastering Panama, which will launch to the public in a couple of days (oh the joys of self-publishing). They won't let you send champagne through the mail in socialist British Columbia, so for now we'll have to get creative in wishing her the best.
Mona's been driven to distraction by this project -- nothing like being the author and layout supervisor all at the same time as holding down your day job -- hence this, um, sympathetic cartoon whipped up by the good folks over at Search Engine People portraying a gaggle of industry authors who have most certainly been there.
Stay tuned for launch!
Labels: cartoon, mona elesseily, yahoo search marketing
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Take this rant. By writing it, the author satisfies himself that he is hipper than John Dvorak. After reading it, I feel younger than Andy Rooney. Awesomeness!
In all the hubbub about Squidoo lately, I think I might have forgot to mention: I like the whole concept of a Squidoo lens and want to build one myself. I have two or three quirky passions that are close to lensworthy. (I was reminded of this when reading Pauline Kerbici's interview with Seth in today's High Rankings Advisor newsletter.)
Sure, a lens isn't that innovative or revolutionary -- more an incremental advance on past designs of personal publishing platforms. But haven't you read the parts in one of Seth's books where he does so much to advocate the vital process of "soft innovation" (just making the world better enough to make something useful truly impactful)? No? Well it's in there. Free Prize Inside, I believe.
The only problem is that I'm out-passioned on some of these things. I am, essentially, a wannabe. I love inline skating and have opinions on the products, but it's not like I have time to join a club, or the disposition for Extreme Skating (I lost that when I was 16, and that big kid bodychecked my head into the boards, but I digress). Other people's existing lenses are far better than anything I'll ever do.
I don't love yoga, but like many men, I am highly appreciative of lululemon yoga pants. I don't know how many men have started lenses on this topic, but I suspect there will be quite a few such opinions cropping up around the web. And I'm not sure the "optics" of making that my only official Squidoo "passion" are going to, uh, sit well. So moving on...
I am a self-professed weather nut, and want to get one of those personal weather stations for $400 so I can plug it into Weather Underground and share hyperlocal weather with the world. But notice the phrase "want to." Here again, I'm essentially a wannabe.
But I'll think of something. I like one of my trees so much I named him Bob (Bob Osakazuki, the Japanese Maple). I own the domain name osakazuki.com. My wife knows I love this tree so much, she commissioned a painting of Bob for my birthday (how's that coming, honey?). If that's not lensworthy insanity I don't know what is. So in my "spare" time, I'm sure I'll be starting a lens about Acer Palmatum and all of their spectacular cultivars.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
I came across two useful new articles by Kevin Lee and Gord Hotchkiss -- Kevin saying that the SEM industry is immature in both senses of the word, and Gord chiding us for lacking innovation. (I agree more with Kevin's, I think - it's vital that agencies and clients develop a partnership rather than a one-off or serial dating mentality. Gord, I know what you're saying but I believe many firms are innovating a lot under the hood, or working on more spinoff software or Web 2.0 projects than you give them credit for. But I enjoyed both articles.)
So I realized that I had my own recent piece where I accused some of the online interactions among the insider SEM crowd of being "sophomoric." This was written as a birthday present to myself (talk about sophomoric and self-referential!), but later that night, I had trouble sleeping because I thought I'd been offensive in some of the article -- and to put myself to sleep, I pulled the post off the blog. Now, I realize that I was really wide awake that night because I drank coffee at 9 p.m. and was worrying about an important meeting the next day - and that I actually stand behind the albeit feisty piece. If Gord and Kevin are going to stick their necks out then I shouldn't be a chicken, so back it goes: Exhaustion Leads to Nostalgia: How Far Into this Vortex Are We Willing to Go? Thanks to fantomaster and Aaron Wall somehow managing to comment on it before my 3 a.m. lullabye deletion.
Labels: agencies, echo chamber, sem
Google missed some inflated expectations in a couple of the past 16 quarters, but other than that, they've done exactly as I've expected -- grow explosively.
Right now though, tangible evidence is mounting that finally, keyword prices in several key verticals should be affected by an economic downturn. Previous rumblings about "problems in the subprime market," etc., hadn't really filtered their way through the economy, let alone the click economy.
Now, in several key indicator verticals, it's looking like lead quality is dropping, and some big spenders are getting gun-shy about their campaigns.
This is not an all-or-nothing proposition, and growth and advertiser adoption remains spread out across thousands and thousands of niches. But this soothsayer sees a softening of Google's U.S. growth in monetization of, primarily, "Google properties," in the current quarter.
Internationally and in terms of the big picture of all ad spending (including contextual ads) through the search engines' auction platforms, the trend is still up, of course.
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