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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Google's Paid Links Double Standard: An Analogy

Pay-Per-Post's Ted Murphy gets into a civilized debate about why Google applies penalties to sites that use paid posting models, paid linking schemes, etc., but leaves Techcrunch alone on promotional linking that doesn't seem qualitatively all that different.

The thing about it is, what can Ted expect?

Google is Google, and they have to fight evil in its most obvious, link-economy-distorting, user-disgruntling forms. Matt Cutts is never going to be able to say: "you know what Ted? what the hell. we'll treat you the same as Techcrunch."

This is for a whole lot of reasons.

The best analogy might be if a prominent member of the FBI stood next to a prominent mobster and said "hey dude, I know those 'legit' business guys are every bit as dirty as you, so why don't we just wink and nod and treat you the same as we treat the Bank of America." The real statement would actually end: "but the public doesn't see it that way, so that's why we have to toss you in the clink."

Then, the authorities might get to philosophizing about it and thinking about how maybe the public is starting to catch onto even the "well dressed hoods." And after 8-10 years of deliberation, the time might be right to make examples of even the "respectable-looking" folks who are robbing shareholders blind, for example.

Here, the penalty of getting differential treatment by a search engine is slightly less onerous (at least to most of us) than 10 years in a federal prison, so it's unlikely that there's much incentive for Google to go all Eliot Spitzer on Michael Arrington, just to reassure the public that they're going after even respectable forms of SERP manipulation. Google's editorial sorting technology is, at the end of the day, arbitrary. And the favoritism element is indeed magnified when big penalties are applied selectively, because now it's a matter of human judgment overriding the algorithm more than usual.

Boo hoo, maybe that's true. Just don't expect Matt Cutts to stand up and say: "Pay-Per-Post is my favoritest non-evil thing in the world!"

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, December 28, 2007

Even Google Has Meatball Sundaes

Some speculation as to why no one comments on Google News. (Partly, it's because you can only comment if you're in the story, but that may not be the only reason.) Trying to layer Web 2.0 (or whatever you care to call today's version of connectivity) on conventional algo-generated news aggregation is yet another case of taking what's old and trying to make it new without fundamentally changing it. (Topix is one player Battelle and Masnick didn't mention.)

Google has in some sense been lucky that its financial performance has allowed it to plug embarrassing gaps in its ability to foster community. The quality of commentary and tagging on Google Video, for example, paled in comparison with that on YouTube. But a few billion dollars later, that problem was solved for Google.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, December 24, 2007

George, Are You Reading?

So apparently the Economist has an Internet prediction piece that has been politely trashed by Marc Andreessen. If luck holds, my father-in-law will have seen the article and will bring it up as a topic of conversation over Christmas dinner. I greatly look forward to (as usual) disagreeing (politely, usually) with the Economist!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, December 21, 2007

Dave Winer Was Right - A Long Time Ago!

Advocating blogs back in 2002, Dave Winer reportedly made a bet about blog entries appearing higher in SERP's than New York Times articles on the top news stories of 2007.

This account suggests he only narrowly won. (The author also says that trusted journalists have been displaced in the SERP's by "nameless, faceless amateurs who don't have to prove their expertise." I say BS to that claim, given that plenty of media stories show up along with thoughtful, useful blog posts.)

But the old search engine trick is in play here, isn't it? What queries are chosen to be the objects of study?

"Mortgage crisis" was one of the top five, and without even looking at official journos' lists, that was the number one story I could think of for the year.

But the query I used to search on it - subprime fallout - wasn't the "official" one. On the subprime fallout query, I discovered that Winer was very right! Blog entries took the #1 and #5 spots, with Econbrowser showing up first and Seeking Alpha at #5. 2, 3, and 4 were CNN, The Boston Globe, and something called MoneyWeek.

On this query, The NYT didn't make it into the mix on Page 1 - they weighed in at #15, beaten by the New York Post (#13).

Also counter to Cadenhead's post: on my query, Wikipedia proved not to be a factor - not appearing in the top 50 results.

Isn't search funny? The results are highly query-dependent, and generic queries perform differently from more specific or unusual ones.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, December 20, 2007

Google, Yahoo Celebrate Wins for Xmas

Hat tip SEL:

The Google-DoubleClick merger has been approved by the FTC. This makes Google into an even more formidable force in the advertising space, and is on track to becoming a global advertising powerhouse as the definition of "digital" expands. What might this mean for advertisers and publishers? Hopefully, better pricing in the form of a true exchange model, something DoubleClick has been working on. Google's existing content targeting (we can only hope) will seem like a rather thin offering in comparison with a richer, more far-reaching ad network that empowers buyers and sellers.

Yahoo oneSearch gets installed on Latin American wireless carriers. 143 million wireless subscribers will be exposed to the Yahoo brand and technology. That ain't bad.

GOOG is up nearly 1% on the news; YHOO is trading 0.5% higher today.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, December 17, 2007

Want to increase e-commerce revenues?

Be more like Canadian etailer Gabriel Ross.

They have a prominent button on every page that says "10 Reasons to Buy From Us."

Not only do they ooze credibility, they have a great selection and can get you the order fast. That's more than most Canadian online stores can promise.

The reasons:

"
  1. At Gabriel Ross, we ship FREE within Canada!
  2. We have been in business for over 15 years and have thousands of satisfied customers. View a few of our glowing testimonials.
  3. We are proud members of the Better Business Bureau. Click the BBB emblem to the left of the page for information about our flawless record.
  4. We respect your privacy. We do not sell our customer information to any other company. We do not send out junk mails or spam to our customers. Learn more about our privacy policy.
  5. We utilize a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption protocol. This 128bit SSL certificate by Geotrust, protects customer information such as credit card numbers during the exchange between your computer and our server. You can also click on the seal to the left of the page to verify the certificate. You'll know the information is protected if the lock symbol pops into view in the lower right hand corner of your browser window when checking out. You can also verify secure pages by checking the address or URL listed on the location bar. It should begin with HTTPS instead of HTTP. You can also click on the seal to the left of the page to verify.
  6. We aim to be the best value in Canada on all the product lines we carry. If you find a lower advertised price on a product made by one of our suppliers, please contact us.
  7. We want you to be completely satisfied with every item that you purchase online from gabrielross.com. If you are not satisfied with an item that you have purchased from us, you may return the item to our store, or ship it back to us within 30 days of the order date for a refund of the purchase price minus the outbound freight charge. Special order products not inventoried will be subject to a 20% re-stocking fee. Returns must be accompanied by original receipt, in original condition with original packaging.
  8. Our goal is to ship out all QuickShip orders within 3 business days. These items are stocked, packaged and ready to go so will normally arrive to your door within 5 business days. Item not in stock are dependant on manufacturer lead times. If you are looking to have something shipped for a special occasion, please contact us for up to date lead times.
  9. Our goal is to answer all customer email and phone calls the same day. Our helpdesk is open Mon-Fri 8am-5pm PST. After hour and weekend phone calls and emails will be responded to the following business day.
  10. We design and manufacturer our own line of custom furniture at our Victoria Showroom. We are an authorized retailer in Canada for dozens of the hottest names in modern designer furniture, lighting and home accessories. Rest assured that you are in good hands with one of Canada's exclusive modern furniture retailers. "

P.S. No vested interest here, just a happy and relieved customer.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, December 15, 2007

Google Launches Wiki Site: A "Death Knol" for Wikipedia?

Breaking news: Google releases Wikipedia alternative. [I link to the slow-loading Salon article mainly because they win for best headline.]

Leaving aside for now various speculations about Google descending into "evil," the burning question in many people's minds is: will this diversification effort by Google succeed and become a standard, where similar efforts to branch out into spaces where users create content or community (orkut) have achieved only marginal success?

On this "will it float" question, the speculation depends on some sticky stuff. Can Google resist the temptation to load the dice?

Recall that main rival Wikipedia is highly visible largely because Google makes it so.

Further complicating matters is the recent memory of the Squidoo Slap, and the fact that Google's new service highlights authors, making it a little bit like Squidoo, whose rankings in Google Search Google ultimately controls.

Potentially driving the nail in the coffin on the evil meter, is the "search blending" thrust of all major search engines today. "Universal" or "Blended" search can all too easily become euphemisms for driving users to your own content. If that content happens to be excellent, then consumers know what they're in for and willingly accept the "blend." It's not as if other large media companies routinely point to rivals' programming, but of course there's a certain implied mandate we impute to search engines that they remain free of bias. When that line is crossed, credibility can begin to ebb.

In the Orion Panel on Universal and Blended Search at SES Chicago, various panelists were asked if these terms would catch on to describe the emerging face of search. Most said they were awkward terms, so recommended just the dignified-sounding term "search." But is it search, if it's really starting to be deeply, um, blended? Or is it a portal? That's the term I quipped on the panel, but maybe it wasn't entirely a quip. It's not polite to talk about search engines as portals and monopolists, ironically because search engines became as powerful as predicted. The powerful prefer to operate using descriptors that mask that very power. So presenting "blended" search as a kind of technological breakthrough, rather than a possible power play to encourage user adoption of other major properties owned by the search engines, is the politically correct way to spin it. So that's why we're not supposed to call them portals, I guess... because it's too true.

Evil or not, then? It's too gray an area to answer definitively. It's not evil in the sense that government regulators should step in, because big media companies always promote their own stuff. That's the whole purpose of becoming big. Network effects, literally. But as a search engine company, Google has some big non-evil principles to live up to. So many observers are already saying that knol is a step too far.

Leaving aside the ethical debates, it's a more straightforward game to speculate on whether knol will fly. Some say no. I say yes. Google has learned from past launches (like Google Answers) that flopped. But this product is being released as a follow-on second generation rival to a flawed first-generation pioneer. This puts Google in the enviable position of correcting certain pet peeves in the original model. The slightly-Squidoo-like practice of featuring individual authors (thus allowing multiple entries on a topic) provides new incentives for a new generation of contributors. If the platform is easy and fun to use, a lot of people will use it.

Purists may also find it interesting to note that the "fixed ontology problem" as described by Wherewithal founder Steve Thomas (in his critiques of directories like Yahoo and dmoz) is solved by allowing multiple lenses, er, I mean multiple authors for knols, allowing knowledge to split off into parallel streams, finding receptive audiences. This potentially puts an end to the deadlocks on some topics that lead to intractable process problems. It also gives voice to authors so there's more incentive for "real grownups" to contribute, as opposed to the army of anonymous diehards (often very young, with great skills at transposing public domain information) that built Wikipedia.

I had advocated a similar development for About.com when they were acquired by the NYT. They could create a great many more Guides (or whatever type of content) if they leveraged real, visible, celebrity reporters, authors, and experts, rather than the "whoever" process of choosing Guides they established in Gen 1. But of course, time waits for no one, and now, no one will be clamoring to be a Gen 2 About guide, because Squidoo and Knol and the like are getting all the attention.

Take one part quality product development, and one part great follow-on timing for a second-generation wiki user community that is itching for something better. Add to the mix Google's power (if it so chooses) to turn the screws on rivals Wikipedia, Squidoo, and Mahalo on the search engine visibility front, and you have a situation with enough power and flexibility that chances of success are high.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Did Rogers 'Hijack' Google Home Page?

This is not an issue of net neutrality - because of the simple fact that you still have to pay providers for the bandwidth they sell you.

I'm going to have to give the Canadian telecommunications behemoth a pass on this one. First, I use far less than my allotted bandwidth at home and at work, because I don't use my connection as a 24-hour television service or download factory. I am actually subsidizing those folks - always have.

In the context of a user nearly running out of bandwidth and being informed of the extra charges that will be forthcoming, that's the responsible thing to do. That way, no one can squawk about the charges.

No, the provider should not have the right to interrupt you based on any little thing, but surely a notification of a bill that is going to be forthcoming for an overage is only fair.

In a related example, Rogers almost never texts me on my Blackberry. But they do ping me on rare occasions when I forget to pay the bill. That way, I know why I'm getting slow email and weird errors on my phone: I'm about to officially become a deadbeat. I can rectify this by phoning their 800 number (that still works) and making arrangements for payment.

Nothing to see here -- move on.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Post Infrequently, Carry a Big Stick

From my feed reader:

Rich Skrenta weighs in with a riff on how PageRank ruined the web. It certainly made people into mindless, fawning link buyers. :( And Rich is absolutely right. A $200 billion company can hardly expect us to go around poking their garbage. Get a better algorithm, don't complain about bought links, which should have been predictable and could have been predicted by any junior economist analyzing the claim that a link had value because it was a "vote" for a page. They have had eight years to think of a way to stop the process of making a gray or black marketplace for such value. Jawboning ain't gonna do it.

For another big idea every couple of weeks, if you haven't already, check out Malcolm Gladwell's blog.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




AdWords - The Game of World Domination

Now, it's more fun than Risk.

When you're setting your country choices in Google AdWords campaign settings, you may notice some new functionality. A handy map will visually display the countries chosen; and you can select countries in "bundles" such as "US and Canada," "Western Europe," "Latin America," "Caribbean," etc. A real time-saver as opposed to hunting and pecking from a long list.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, December 10, 2007

NYC Search Marketing Exec Lets Fly Re: SES Chicago

A particularly brittle response to the SES Chicago experience was just proferred by writer Mark Simon on MediaPost. I take issue with some of it, so here are my comments. I'll have to cut and paste liberally because they put these things behind an annoying reg-wall that 90% of my readers won't likely bother with.

M.S.: ...you'll forgive me for wondering whether the whole idea behind SES Chicago is to give the industry a hellish endurance test. After all, who but the few, the proud, and the totally search-obsessed would be willing to run the gamut of massively delayed flights, subzero Chicago winds, and crushing traffic jams to attend this thing?

Because I survived this grueling annual ordeal, here are a few observations gleaned from my experiences at the show:

Traffick: There's no point in anyone trying to argue this one. As much as I want to be loved by the SES organizers, facts are facts. Each year it's been a crazy ordeal getting from Toronto to Chicago and back in December, and this is for 59 minutes in the air! Colleagues from Victoria, BC took two days to make their way through multiple storms to enjoy a day's worth of activity. On top of that, any longer than two days in the Chicago Hilton gives me a nasty cold. This may be affecting my mood right about now. But then again, people do come out every year. Chicago's a big market, and other times of year have other things booked. Still, this act is wearing thin on even the proud and the obsessed, so a rethink is in order for 2010. I'm sure 2009 is already booked, by necessity.

1. SES keynotes keep getting weirder and weirder. I'm not talking about Northwestern Professor Don E. Schultz, whose keynote on SES Chicago Day 1 provided a good, highly relevant top-down discussion of search as a critical evolution from "push" to "pull" marketing. I'm talking about Seth Godin, whose keynote address kicked off Day 2. I like Seth but found his keynote little more than an elaborate promotional stunt for his latest book, "Meatball Sundae." Again, Seth is a bright, funny guy and I generally agree with a lot of things he says (especially his 2005 comment that "SEO is Worthless"). But my hope is that SES reins in its alarming tendency to hire mainstream marketing celebrities and starts getting some speakers with some actual hands-on search campaign experience to do its keynotes in the future.

Traffick: Among other things, Godin was talking about the futility of old-school companies trying to simplistically graft new media onto fundamentally broken models and communications assumptions. I don't know if Simon restricts his views to a very narrow part of this changing consumer environment or what, but I actually find Godin's advice practical for some day-to-day decisions, and tactics, for my business and for client businesses. I have ever since I learned to make emails "personal, anticipated, and relevant" in 1999! I work with old-school companies who get it, some who don't, web pure play retailers, and completely untried, but bold and groundbreaking, web startups. The distinctions Seth makes ring very true to me. I have no sense that he hasn't been there. In fact, I use particular strategies in his discussions (eg. flipping the funnel) to apply to these endeavors, because he does a better job illustrating them than the nouveau sprinkles-and-cherries people can. The praise for Don Schultz is well-founded - excellent speaker - but a bunch of the concepts relating to permission and the "TV-industrial complex" were pioneered by Godin or at the very least popularized by him. I find Godin the opposite of weird.

Pedagogically or whatever, it's also rather inane to suggest that we have hands-on SEM's as keynotes. Really! So we've got a conference full of cutting edge tactics that is supposed to be framed and inspired by yet another tactician? That's just not what a keynote is. A mix of inspiration and celebrity with the tacticians is the correct mix.

2. SES has got to change its name. As my colleague Dave Pasternack has noted several times, ...


Traffick: I'll stop you there and let this (rather tactical) point speak for itself, without addressing the tedious, long-winded critique of panels involving tactics that many attendees pay for like clockwork, year in and year out.

3. Where the heck was Yahoo? Google, Ask, Microsoft, and Looksmart all had a big presence at SES Chicago. But Yahoo's absence caused a good deal of after-hours speculation that Yahoo had decided to turn its back on the show because search really isn't a big part of its future. Yahoo's absence was a surprise, given that Ron Berlanger, its vice president of agency development, is on SES' board. I doubt that Yahoo is any less dedicated to search than it was a year ago: in my view, it simply had decided that the time and expense of attending wasn't worth the ROI this time round. But it was disturbing to see one of search's major players take a pass.

Traffick: I think they were at Pubcon.

4. Has the world maxed out on search shows? Maybe it was the cold weather, the timing, or the fact that SES Chicago overlapped with PubCon (which happened in much warmer Las Vegas), but SES exhibit hall traffic was definitely lower than I remember from prior SESs. This can't be good for the exhibitors whose dollars support this show. In fact, I had more than one conversation with exhibitors who were seriously thinking about canceling future SES bookings; only time will tell whether this talk was the usual show floor grumbling or an indication that the search trade show business is about to get much smaller.

Traffick: It doesn't take a genius to see that with the proliferation of conference series, and two major ones scheduled head-to-head, there is going to be some fallout. I thought I noticed an ever-so-slight drop in attendance from last year. But SES London more than doubled in attendance last year - so it's more a question of saturation in the United States, where many of the shows are relatively easy to get to and can start to cannibalize one another (even within the same series).

I'll agree with Simon on this point: SES Chicago was unduly stressful because of a sense of dislocation (largely with our past, but also with the future). But all change can be stressful. And in any case, such considerations are farthest from the minds of most ordinary attendees (whose dollars also support the show), as opposed to the nattering insiders such as Simon and myself.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cross Country Ski Club Newsletter Update

Nah, just kidding. Search changes faster than skiing.

For those who didn't see it, this is my latest column on Search Engine Land, taking a look at what old search conference programs can teach us about the challenges our industry faces today.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, December 02, 2007

Acrobatic Feats of Advertising: Yahoo-Adobe Partnership

Now that's using the old noodle. Yahoo and Adobe have jointly figured out that you can stick ads in PDF's. Nice little win for Yahoo.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, December 01, 2007

Winning Results for $9.99

Yes, I am working on the second edition of Winning Results with Google AdWords (still). :)

But if you've never read the book and can't wait, it's pretty cool that Amazon makes it available for only $9.99 if you have their new Kindle book reader.

Personally I won't be toting the reader around, but if you're a gizmo-aholic, have fun!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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