Monday, January 28, 2008
The "Google's going to have that bad quarter we've all been waiting for" prognosticators are out to play again.
I think the question turns on this premise that the spending on these ads, especially by small to midsized advertisers, is largely discretionary. Either that, or it's mostly measurably ROI-positive and dropping the spend would cause a company to stop making money.
In the mix here is Google's increasingly aggressive revenue optimization through its opaque bidding system that has returned many advertisers to the days of high minimum bids.
Anything could happen here. We'll have to read about it in the funny papers. But the long and the short of it is: if GOOG wants its revenue growth to look steady and smooth, it can do that.
On one hand, Canadian consumers should be grateful that canada.zappos.com is actually out there, showing the way it should be done to a largely underserved market and clueless sector... on the other, as this screen shot shows, when the default pricing is in USD on a site subdomained "canada...," maybe this could have been thought through a little better. The "US" is still in the upper nav, too. I mean, if this is Tuesday we must be in Cleveland, right?
Labels: canada, ecommerce
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Law firm claims that you can copyright a cease-and desist, thus layering law on top of law and contributing to the ever finer, subtler and cozier weave of what we formally ungraciously referred to as the "iron cage of bureaucracy."
Labels: infinite regression
Thursday, January 24, 2008
If you're not a domainer, honestly, it's hard to keep up with the exact mechanics of how domain registrars and related players make money from some of their most obscure tricks.
Have you ever noticed how the reaction to a practice is subtly shaped by the name you give to it? Call it "domain tasting," as reported here, and it sounds like an innovative fun way to make a buck.
Call it "domain kiting," and raise the specter of federal forgery laws being used to slap the tasters, and suddenly it doesn't sound like so much fun.
Who would have thought that the whole domain name system would have remained such a wild-west realm for so long?
At 2:00 p.m. Eastern, 11:00 a.m. today, I'll be giving a teleseminar with host Michael Stelzner of White Paper Source. The recommended audience is probably somewhat new to the field of paid search (beginner to intermediate) while being savvy in other areas of marketing or business. Mike's focus is on B2B so some of our discussion will tilt in that direction. If you have time, have a listen - it's only $39. Reminder: not recommended for advanced PPC folks, but rather, beginner to intermediate paid search advertisers, with a focus on the B2B and lead generation side of things.
Labels: b2b, lead generation, paid search, teleseminar, webinar, white papers
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Unlike some analysts, I'm not a self-styled management consultant. I don't know beans about who should be given ownership over the P&L in a vertical, and so forth. I don't work at Yahoo. I don't claim to know how everything works.
I do understand the economic engine, however, especially on the search marketing side and platform advertising side.
You can print reams of speculation about layoffs, acquisitions, restructuring, and focus. But when it comes to advertising, you have to make it easy for people to buy.
Yahoo is almost there. Panama turned that part of the company around and is something to build on. Yahoo has a sales and service arm that is second only to Google's, and given the inflexibility of Google's bidding system, Yahoo seems like almost a sympathetic sales ear in spite of their low volume.
But the rollout of the Panama feature set is still too slow. There's the economic engine I know and understand. Take what is working, and continue with its basic execution.
A very important example is an agency console to make it easy for agencies and large companies to manage many accounts, from a single dashboard, like Google has. A second example would be continued strides on things like geotargeting. I guarantee that if you do stuff like that -- make it easier to buy and manage your ads -- the people on the ground who have to implement this stuff will start actually doing more buying, rather than paying lip service to, Yahoo's available inventory. Panama rolled out successfully, but it isn't done yet. Keep going, Yahoo!
Labels: panama, yahoo
Monday, January 21, 2008
News just crossed my desk that Quantcast has secured $20 million in Series B financing. They're in the web audience measurement space that broadly includes leading players like Hitwise and comScore, but also upstarts like Alexa and Compete.com. Seems like a lot of analytics players want you to slap a little code on their website, and there isn't much of a revenue stream there yet, so isn't that a pretty big vote of confidence for yet another player in this space?
Well, they've got a lot of sites signed up to put that code on their site. So, in spite of the apparently speculative nature of business models like this, those putting in the cash must be doing so because they're betting on the value of rich user data. With Microsoft's new analytics platform aiming to add demographic info to the usual analytics mix, and players like Quantcast coming onstream, it looks like the business of deep web audience measurement is really heating up. That can only be good news for advertisers and publishers, but it will also raise ongoing privacy concerns, no doubt. For example, we have slapped the Quantcast code on this blog, but I'll bet you didn't know it. Well, now you do. A lot of bloggers like us don't spend a lot of time updating privacy policies and such, but at least that much, I've disclosed. For more, click "View...Page Source" on your browser.
Labels: web analytics
Every blue moon or so, I create something article-length that really should appear here, rather than somewhere else. So ... it's a post, but you can call it an article if you like!
Resolutions on Randomness: Beware the Black Swan
You pay close attention to your marketing campaigns. You resolve to be ever more quantitative and rigorous in your approach for 2008. But have you also resolved not to be fooled by randomness, and to be aware of the nature of probabilities and risks that you face in your efforts to measure and predict the future? A few nuggets of unconventional mathematical wisdom inspired by a well-known rogue “empirical skeptic” might help.
1. Beware the Ludic Fallacy. Author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and the preceding Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb tells a witty story about our tendency to trust heavily in the sanctity of models, if we’re the type of people who were well schooled and trained to accept the assumptions “inside the box.”
An exercise is proposed to two individuals. The first, John, is a highly respected economist with a Ph.D. who has been working in a high-level analytical position with a bank for years. He has a variety of credentials including considerable training in advanced statistics. He dresses blandly and always makes his train on time. The other contestant, Fat Tony, is a street-smart property investor from Brooklyn, vaguely associated with mob financiers, who runs a couple of legitimate businesses. Taleb prefers to think of him as “horizontally challenged Tony.”
The questioner (imagine Alex Trebek as host) says to both: “Assume that this coin is not loaded or unbalanced in any way and that the outcome of a toss is completely random – that is, 50% of the time, a toss will come up heads, and 50% of the time, it will come up tails. Now, assume that the past 99 consecutive tosses have produced a result of ‘tails.’ What is the probability that the next coin toss will produce a result of ‘tails’?”
“That’s easy,” says Dr. John. “50%.”
“At least 99%,” counters Fat Tony. “I don’t care what you said. That coin’s loaded. It can’t be a fair game.” He then whispers a few insults about the “nerds” he encountered in his “bank days” – they “just don’t get it.”
The “ludic fallacy” translates roughly as the “nerd problem.” Archetypal nerds like bank risk analysts are unassailably “right,” “prudent,” and “scientific”… that is, until their model fails them. Caught inside our models, we only imagine catastrophic risks occurring within the parameters of our assumptions. It takes something completely outside the prefabricated “game” to knock you off your horse. “That wasn’t supposed to happen” doesn’t make a catastrophic event any less catastrophic.
To give an AdWords example or two: you might have your daily budget set cautiously; you might be using a tool that tunes bids to ROI; you might have a number of safeguards in place to protect you against catastrophic loss. But then something outside your model stings you. Maybe it’s a huge influx of competitors for your keywords that you didn’t see coming, driving up click costs 200% and pushing you into oblivion. Maybe it’s the fact that the tidy stats reports sent to you by your co-worker or agency were in fact fabricated, and it took you six months to catch on to that fact. I’m not saying these are the most common scenarios or even that they’re highly likely. But they’re useful thought exercises to illustrate how the ludic fallacy as practiced by the Dr. Johns of the world can bite you… and how the street smarts of Fat (er, Horizontally Challenged) Tony would have been at least as appropriate to long-term success, if not more.
The ludic fallacy applies glaringly to things like currency trading and mortgage-backed securities, as we know. Fortunately, you have a lot better ability to limit your downside if you’re investing in something like a paid search campaign, but even so, Taleb’s thinking should make you re-evaluate which aspects of your behavior are truly “safe”. Many of those who make a big show of conservatism are actually lulling you into a state where you ignore the biggest risks.
2. Second, let’s look at the psychological impact of “watching” your investments closely. Taleb, with characteristic color, describes an early-retired dentist who decides to renovate his attic and manage his considerable stock portfolio rather than spending his days making even more money drilling old ladies’ teeth on Park Avenue. The dentist is, like many people, typically upset and anxious when he has a down day. Even though his investments and asset allocation are generally safe enough within the parameters of his method, he can expect a 5% to 30% return annually, even at the higher end of the return expectation, the market has a lot of “downticks” that make your heart beat too fast, or fake you out.
Taleb even puts forward some math to explain exactly how anxious you’re likely to be the more frequently you check on your portfolio. A typical well-diversified stock and bond portfolio might have a 93% chance of a positive return in any given year. If you were to check your returns annually, you’d have a 93% chance of feeling, if not ecstatic, at least not depressed or anxious. In any given month, though, you have only a 67% chance that your end-month statement is in the black. In any given day, you only have a 54% chance of this kind of “happiness.” The good news is, things don’t drop off too much more after that – the figure is always going to be somewhere slightly above 50%! But someone who watches their cumulative returns hourly is going to feel rotten pretty frequently – 49% of their hourly evaluations will be negative, and only 51% positive.
Taleb goes on to suggest this is part of the scientific evidence that explains why traders habitually burn out. The constant ebb and flow of positive and negative reinforcement may cause an adrenaline rush and seem fun at first, but it tends to be destructive to all but a few psyches.
You can’t map this exactly to a paid search campaign, but the math is similar. Imagine a lens with which you examine campaign performance, with five settings. The “extremely extreme close-up” watches returns constantly, adjusting bids hour by hour. The “extreme close-up” takes stock of matters twice a day. The “regular close-up” looks at things every few days. The “wide-lens view” checks things weekly. The “satellite photo” only looks at it every six months.
The “satellite photo” is obviously taking things too far in the direction of neglect. But both the ordinary close-up and the wide-lens view seem like they might be just about appropriate to the task. Too close, and it’s not just a case of making yourself crazy; it’s a question of what view is making you see too much noise in the chart – too much randomness. While an aggregated result over a long time series will converge to a fairly predictable (say) cost per order, you won’t see the expected behavior if you zoom in closely and look at what happened over a few hours’ time. All you’ll see is something that happened that might or might not be random, with limited predictive value for what might happen in the future. In other words, you’re looking too closely to see anything resembling reality, for your purposes.
The technical medical term for my advice here is “take a chill pill.”
3. The “narrative” fallacy”.
Marketing isn’t rocket science. It’s far more complex than that, with variable interactions and myriad possibilities and probabilities that would make any supercomputer melt. So sometimes, quite understandably, we make stuff up to explain the unexplainable.
A strange human tendency is that our brains like to ascribe causality to events, especially as time passes. So, histories tend to get written as if prior events were “leading up to” certain things that happened. We tell little stories to make “sense” of what happened, but sometimes what happened is just what happened, bearing little resemblance to the story. This is certainly a common tendency among marketers and advertisers, being the narrative-driven creatures they (usually) are. As the industry makes an important transition towards becoming more quantitative, watch out for your own personal tendency to “ruin” the elegance of the data by layering on some nonsensical explanation for it. Certainly, we can’t throw all hopes of assessing cause and effect out the window, but we aren’t working in perfect lab conditions. When things happen for obvious reasons, like conversion rates dry up right after Christmas, act accordingly, of course, and assign a story to the pattern. But where things aren’t so obvious, keep an open mind, and look for alternate explanations, or no explanations at all, until the data are more reliable.
4. Finally, take note of the “survivor bias” in assessments of historical cause and effect. Mathematically speaking, there are going to be winners in any competitive game. Take a poker tournament. I think it’s safe to say that someone who wins tournament after tournament is probably good at poker. But in any given (even very large) tournament, someone is going to win, and if you chose players of equal abilities for the exercise, one person would come out on top. The same goes for investing or any similar pastime. Statistically, Taleb argues, it’s probable that just by chance, someone as “good at investing” as Warren Buffett, or as rich as Bill Gates, would emerge in the distribution pattern of winners and losers. In fact, on a big enough planet given enough time, you might eventually see a few tall poppies who are exponentially better than Buffett, or wealthier than Gates. Taking the traits, habits, and techniques of rich people or successful traders as indications that these traits, habits and techniques are genuinely the reasons for their success is dangerous territory.
Needless to say, then, a photoshopped copy of someone else’s Clickbank commission check shouldn’t convince you that you should drop everything and do what they say to get rich through AdSense, or the like. Even if the check were real it might not be proof that you can succeed in the same way. Markus Frind makes $10 million in profit per year from advertising revenues on dating site PlentyOfFish.com – starting with a one-man operation and building the site himself in ASP.net. Copying his methods will likely get you nowhere – though his is a wonderful study in opportunism that many of us can learn from if we don’t over-interpret certain aspects of the story.
It might well be that a good part of your future success depends on luck. As such, you have to enjoy life to the fullest and not look with envy at those who have been disproportionately successful, nor think you have somehow fallen short if you don’t hit those heights. For the part that doesn’t depend on luck, be careful not to mess it up with foolish risks.
Good luck with all your endeavors in 2008.
Andrew Goodman is still editor-at-large of this blog, among other things.
Friday, January 18, 2008
This short item about the Google-DoubleClick merger made it into B2B magazine. Although it appears so from the one quote, I'm not actually a full-on critic of the merger. I see it for what it is, a move that solidifies Google's dominance in the online advertising field, but I also noted the "glass half full" scenario, which is that this merger could allow Google to implement an innovative exchange model for online display advertising that would be significantly better than their current content targeting program in AdWords. Moreover, Google's motivation in terms of their continued wish to sign up new advertisers and publishers in their network, coupled with their "already scaled" efficient business model, means they might heavily discount any markup they charge for operating an ad exchange. That part of my comment didn't make it into the article.
What also didn't make it in was my note that Google would probably have to divest itself of Performics to avoid conflicts of interest in media buying - a topic that I went into some depth on. Kevin Lee must have said about the same thing, as that view was attributed to him.
As a market maker and platform builder, Google might be big and scary, but they're also likely to be a reasonably cheap and efficient enabler of business. (Sound familiar... like last generation's biggest technology monopoly?)
Labels: doubleclick, google
Thursday, January 17, 2008
I don't purport to keep tabs on Google's various construction projects around the globe, so I can't say whether Google Canada's planned new sales office is in the top 5 in terms of northerly latitudes. Suffice to say though if any substantial new offices worth a mention are built in Moscow or Sweden, they'll be kicking Toronto's butt (43 degrees, 40') by a long ways. Minneapolis would edge us out, also. We're just about tied with Kennebunkport, ME.
Anyway. Page Zero Advisor readers recently heard me marvel at the fact that Yahoo! has just moved into a spacious, customized, and very purple new office on the Toronto harbor, in the Queen's Quay Terminal building, occupying the entire top floor. The space nearly rivals the YSM offices in Burbank - pretty good for a bunch of Canucks. They have all the meeting rooms nicknamed, but I already forget the themes. Hockey teams or something?
Google, not to be outdone, informs me of an imminent move from their uninspiring quasi-temporary (for the past seven years) location in (what used to be called) BCE Place, to a customized new space in Dundas Square (that's near the Eaton Centre if you're scoring at home). Will there be a cool cafeteria? Massages? Windows? (Not that kind of Windows...) I suppose we'll only know if they let some ink-stained wretches in for a tour. I'm also a tad curious as to who, specifically, came up with this particular location. Yahoo's Harbourfront location is better in terms of "fun" - but then again, with enough budget for whatever has replaced foosball tables these days, you can make your own fun. (For people still scoring at home, MSN Sympatico works right near Yahoo's new home.)
Labels: office space
Hats off to Yahoo for throwing its hat into the OpenID ring. Techcrunch's description is of course accurate - it's a huge win for the OpenID concept.
Time was, to help your website users get logged in more easily with their most memorable accounts (Yahoo and Google for starters), your company would have to get acquired by Yahoo or Google! I know as a user I like the convenience of knowing that I can get into Flickr wherever I am (by logging in with my Yahoo ID) without having to rely on any fancy password remembering methods.
Life should get a little easier for users and the owners of membership sites. Score one for the ecosystem.
Related - for the nostalgic: Kicking the Gator Software Habit, by Cory Kleinschmidt
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Looking at literature on how to sell better is always an eye-opener for me because it makes me realize a couple of things about my own business, which does indeed revolve around selling a service.
One thing we are unconsciously doing at my company is accelerating our thinking past selling to our customer, to selling to their customers. After all, that's the whole point of our service: targeting our client's customer. Our client is a customer, but if we linger on that point too long without getting engaged with their customers, no one wins. What's required in this scenario, it seems, is "double empathy." Especially for shops (like Future Now; we do a shorthand version of this) who must engage in profile and scenario research to help other shops sell better in a whole variety of industries, it's great mental gymnastics. As the television personal trainers say, it "gets you out of your comfort zone." Since the phone started ringing in 2001, and I started helping other companies sell to their customers, I've been out of my "comfort zone." This becomes a comfort zone in itself. I wouldn't trade that experience in developing "double empathy" for the world.
The situation can, however, go up another notch in complexity. We are a marketing company helping other companies market to their customers, so we have to market to our clients and help our clients market to their clients. So far, so good. But what if we have to help a marketing company market to their clients? And what if their clients were, in many cases, marketers? We'd be marketing to a marketing company who is marketing to marketers.
Without going into detail, then, about why we say no to some of these projects, it's safest to say that certain projects make my head explode. For safety's sake, we'd be much better off taking it down one or two orders of complexity: we help you market software, or accounting services, or something made out of aluminum.
Labels: infinite regression, sales
Monday, January 14, 2008
Pondering the sales equation, I can't get out of my head that post from way back by Barry (RustyBrick) Schwartz on being a terrible salesman. In addition to being a hilarious bit of self-disclosure, I increasingly realized that this was proof that Barry is, on several levels, actually quite a clever salesman. And surely, a clever salesman in the digital age has to think on several levels.
That bit of irony aside, before I go on to more thinking about sales, this is after all only Part I of this post... so let's linger a bit on Barry's claims. Was he right about these various factors that make him a terrible salesman? Let's take a few points under consideration, including ones Barry didn't include as points:
- "RustyBrick is as busy as ever, which is maybe why I am a bad salesman." I love this one. It's deftly constructed and virtually guarantees that RustyBrick will continue to be busy. I'm betting Rusty is one of those guys who never flunked out that job interview question about "describing your weaknesses." Notice how describing his weakness is coupled with the revelation that his company is swamped with work! Top marks for this part.
- "Don't dress well." Dress has become a fascinating topic. You can really screw things up these days by overdressing, I've noticed. If you've got a solid reputation, I think you can get away with dressing down. Also, upscale people tend to pull fast ones on those of lower rank - to wit, the upscale Asian restaurant we celebrated Carolyn's birthday at on Saturday night. The well-to-do locals came from their homes, not work. And they didn't count this as a formal event. So they wore turtlenecks. Luckily, I didn't go so far as to wear a tie, but still, doh! - we were a little overdressed. Returning to business, probably, there is a way to alienate a prospective customer with your clothing, but not as much in technical and advertising fields. Looking cheap and shabby because you're clueless or penniless is a bad sign, but dressing in your own way is just kind of the norm these days. Some people can get away with it. Personally I feel awkward if I underdress for a client, but you cannot overdress either, especially for startups and "funky" offices.
- "Don't come to meetings well groomed." Well Barry, you're a brave man to admit this :), but it's probably not recommended except for the very successful. Now you guys can laugh at this bullet point, but recently, I thought my last haircut just didn't "take," so I went in for another one a good two weeks ahead of my usual schedule. I felt *so* much better afterwards, it wasn't even funny. I cannot really fathom anyone in a sales role (I mean a professional, not the head proprietor who doubles as a salesperson, like Barry and I) not developing a fairly consistent approach to the whole "grooming" concept. But there are more than a few exceptions, which no doubt prove the rule.
- "Don't prepare outstanding presentations." Yes, this can be a bit of an odd one. But increasingly, I think the folks who prepare outstanding presentations are the ones who are going to come second to someone's relationship or reputation. I recently showed up to present to a B2B client and spent the entire session in intense Q&A. My USB memory stick never made it into the computer. I sent the presentation over later. This did not hinder the sales process one bit. But making the effort made me feel more confident, so I didn't freak out and crash my car on the way there or back. So if that's what preparation will do for you, do it.
- "Don't compliment the individual I'm meeting with." Certainly, obsequiousness never put any client in the right frame of mind. Complimenting or noticing something about their company probably helps, though. And being normal enough to make small talk usually helps, but again, if you're going to be dealing with systems and code, maybe they don't want you to be too normal.
- "Don't research the prospect." Sure - you're busy already! Why aren't they researching *you*? Ha. Well, a little research never hurts, but again it proves that market position matters and they'll work with you to help you do that research if they like you. Meticulous research is something you do when someone is actually paying you for meticulous research.
- "Don't write powerful, graphical, proposals." Interesting. I have to admit I've grappled with this myself. Many prospects explicitly instruct me not to bother with this. Others prefer it. But to be open about it, many's the time that a detailed, bullet-pointed, all-text email has been well received. Depending on what you do, clients are pragmatic. You'd be in a different situation if you were bidding on a skyscraper construction contract or the Olympics.
- "Don't act like I want the prospect's business." It's true, you can be *too* needy. But Barry, when you do this, are you telling me people actually hire you?
- "Don't follow up on those proposals." I have usually found, with Barry, that if they like the proposal, they'll follow up. Nagging people very rarely gets them to yes, though it might help you to piece together some approximation of why they said no.
On the whole, I think Barry's identified a number of ephemera that do not determine fundamentally whether or not you make a sale. It's fair to say that you must have substance to back up the elements of style mentioned above.
But he's probably partly kidding and also, not showing what goes into the "sales" process that is not strictly about sales per se, but about how to structure a service relationship for long term success of both parties (which is like sales, but isn't "selling"). Most people couldn't be quite as blase about this - it depends on your market position and the quirks of your industry, including the balance of supply and demand. (Just try to get someone to install the front door on my house faster than Home Depot's current three-month turnaround...)
Back with the sequel in another day or two, hopefully.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
In the search marketing industry, face-to-face events seem to abound. If you're a bit lost, here's the beginnings of a rough working guide to the next 4-5 months in the field and what to expect.
- SMX West is the next major search engine marketing event in the North American landscape. It's particularly notable because it's the first "big" (as in - comprehensive, multi-day, non-niche) search tradeshow in the series begun by Danny Sullivan and his partners at Third Door Media. As you might expect, they're going all out, including keynotes covering the all-important future of search topics. I'm pleased to be speaking on the ins and outs of user-generated content (a topic I first proposed and spoke on at SES San Jose in August 2007), and a newly-titled (clever one guys) session called Decrypting Quality Scores. This stuff doesn't get any easier for marketers, and so I expect the quality score session to be as jam-packed as all those link-baiting and Matt Cutts tea leaves sessions ever were. :)
- Prior to that, SES London is coming up fast, and will pack the Business Design Centre in Islington to the gills. This cutting-edge program has been hammered out by first-time SES London Conference Chair Mike Grehan, and SES Programming Director, Kevin Ryan, and the advisory team. It will be an interesting decision facing Incisive Media for 2009 - return to the Docklands, where space is abundant but folks need to burn an hour in transit to London proper if they want to sightsee, or figure out another venue that is big enough to handle the ever-growing Euro & UK search marketing hordes? (Have they built a Four Seasons on the Isle of Skye yet?)
- SES New York. Man, it seems like only yesterday I was at that one! But if you're considering going, jump all over it now - the Platinum Passport early bird special (if you register by Jan. 15) saves you a big chunk of change.
- SES Toronto is coming up in mid-June. I have to call it "big" - it's what you do in Toronto, which by now considers itself "big". However, I may have to drop my goal of having attendance at Toronto exceed London's. The UK and Europe market tend to gravitate around SES London, whereas Toronto attracts a North American audience in competition with three other major SES dates during the year, and dozens of other midsized shows. It's essentially the "can't miss" search conference for Canadians, and the "what a great idea" conference for anyone in North America or around the world who missed SES New York and want to come for something similar and a great party in June in this part of the world. If I have any goal for SES Toronto 2008 (other than refreshing the content to be cutting-edge, as with last year), it's to convince more folks from farther afield in Canada and elsewhere to make the trip for all this one has to offer. My research showed a high percentage of attendees are the "90-minute driving distance" type - with no small number of ambitious "five hours from Cleveland" road-trippers. What is this - do people no longer like to fly? Anyway, fortunately for my Scandinavian friends, the fly-or-drive decision is made for them by an ocean. See you in June!
- Sorry. With all the yakking in the above point, I forgot to update you on the speaker pitch schedule for Toronto. It seems like June's a long way off, but it isn't so far away now. I'm taking all informal questions and conversations into account now as we mutually plot to organize and make universally accessible all the world's money, or whatever we do... but new session pitches won't be solicited on the SES speaker info blog until mid-February, after we've recovered from London. The pitch window for open, available sessions will stay up for several weeks in March.
The Small (but Proud):
- A new mini-conference brand has been launched by the SMX /Third Door folks, to coincide with the first event of its type in Israel: Sphinncon. Did I read right? Tickets are $50? It appears that this will be pitched primarily as a networking event so those with parallel interests can meet up and socialize. I can't get enough of these events because of how darn efficient they are. In putting SES Toronto together I'm always thinking about how we can arrange additional events like this for post-show or pre-show.
- SES Paris is just days away, and my colleague, Page Zero's Mona Elesseily, is en route as we speak. Word has it she'll be speaking in French! J'en suis fier! Recently, reading my own book in French has been a great way to come up to speed on all of those extremely specialized terms we bandy about in our industry, like augmenter son taux de conversion (don't quote me on that). Another Canadian SEM, Richard Zwicky of Enquisite, appears to have been asked to moderate no fewer than five panels! Think it's a bit hard to find leading SEM experts from North America, who can cover the latest topics in the field, who also speak French? Good luck everyone!
- Recently a few of us here in Toronto recently got together to talk SEM over some pints. (I'm betting you might have events like this in your area - a great way to overcome the isolation of the digital toil without having to present anything or prepare anything.) The age of the sponsored or association-based meetup: "out" for 2008? "In" is heavy informality but high quality networking. Yesterday I found myself plotting the next one already with local friend Mike McDerment of FreshBooks (his main career prior to launching a startup was in search marketing, hence his continued interest), we've already set a date, place, and time - Bow and Arrow pub at Yonge & Davisville, 6:30 p.m., Thursday January 31st. If you're utterly knee deep in the search marketing biz, and don't have body odor, drop in! (You're allowed to drink cranberry juice and soda instead of beer. Other than the no-stench policy, we're pretty open-minded.) I cannot link in any way to the highly informal event's "page," as there isn't one. Nor do I see fit to give link love to a pub. So Freshbooks gets it. Did I mention Mike co-organizes the mesh conference? Thanks go out to everyone who attended the first Greater Toronto SEM Social in November, hope to see you again along with anyone else stumbling across this post! But special thanks go to Brendan Kerin of Siteposition for the effort he put in to make this a success instead of our usual talking about it but not doing it.
The "wacky" usually gets posted online in the forms of compromising videos or photos after one of the above events, so resign yourself now to being found out as a wild, party animal even if you spend most of your days in sessions. You don't even control your personal brand, sometimes. Sad, but true. Don't let the paparazzi get you down! Be flattered that they care.
I'm sure there's a lot more going on, but that's my nickel's worth.
Labels: ses, smx
For years many of us in the advertiser camp have yelled about the fact that vendors like Google AdWords lump domain traffic in with "search" traffic without giving you much control over the situation. A lot of this was justifiable yelling - but as with much about the content networks (and stuff that should be in the content network but was in the past classified as search), today's reality seems to have improved.
Commenters at John Battelle's SearchBlog (he's soliciting info on the domain field because of an upcoming talk he's giving at a gathering called DomainFest) are offering the usual analysis of the domainers cabal, but they haven't brought you up to date about this, Google's newly transparent (in beta) classification of contextual traffic types. Not only will they be allowing advertisers to exclude domain traffic, but maybe more importantly, they're exposing conversion rates on various traffic types at the campaign level.
On anything I've seen so far (again, in beta), the conversion rates on things like parked domains and error pages were not as bad as expected; sometimes, they were better than the account performance as a whole. Why? It must have something to do with aggressive filtering as part of Google's "proactive" stance against fraudulent and suspicious clicks. Whatever -- if the number fits, wear it. The new era of transparency should continue to distance the major online ad providers from the "bad old days."
Labels: domain names
Monday, January 07, 2008
If you look me up on Spock and go by the tags, this is the impression you'd get of me:
I just thought you should know. Because it's all mostly 100% true!
- am the Internet Industry (sorry Al Gore), the Toronto Blue Jays (sorry Ted Rogers and #1, Tony Fernandez), and Google AdWords (sorry guys).
- little known fact: I am a "principal"
- in addition to being a principal, I work at Page Zero Media
(we just launched a redesigned site with the unhyphenated version of the domain, so now's as good a time as any to self-plug from over here)
- have brown eyes and "brown hair hair"
- enjoy Mexican
- enjoy hockey
- am a graduate of the University of Toronto
- am a graduate of Burlington Central High School
- among other things.
In trust we trust,
Labels: online reputation, social networking, spock
The New York Times recently reported a story about Kijiji's attempt to take on Craigslist. Though Kijiji has some decent traction globally, it had been an unknown in the US. Is that about to change?
One factor in recent growth mentioned in the article was campaigns by eBay to inform users of Kijiji's presence. But what about the old tried and true - the organic search referrals that did so much to help Craigslist over the years? I figured Kijiji would look pretty strong on this front, because I've noticed their prominent placement on many local search queries here in Canada, in spite of their strong competition from, among others, Craigslist and Livedeal.
So I turned to my friends at Hitwise, and they nicely supplied the following snapshot of Kijiji's rapid growth in organic search referrals - technically they refer to this as "downstream traffic from the search engines category, as a percentage of all search engine referral traffic" - so literally, this is their share of the overall pie of available search referrals from Google, Yahoo, etc.:
Nice-looking growth - so are they going to knock Craigslist's block off? No time soon. Look at the comparison chart - the charting software nicely equates Kijiji's relatively tiny referral traffic to zero:
Finally, we looked at Kijiji's search referrals against Oodle's (thanks to Greg Sterling for reminding me of Oodle's existence):
This shows Oodle kicking kijiji's butt. I'm still checking on whether this reflects paid clicks as well as organic.
Kijiji faces a not-insurmountable chicken-egg problem. Nothing says their search referrals can't go up 10X this year as their relatively new site gains more quality signals with Google's algorithm. But breaking through looks like it will be a formidable challenge - more so in the US, where Craigslist is established, than globally.
Regardless of what happens, eBay will be OK. They own stakes in both Kijiji and Craigslist.
Labels: craigslist, kijiji, local search, oodle
Friday, January 04, 2008
Whether it's because of consolidation and pressure from above (Google, Yahoo, etc.), or too much competition from one another, including newer upstarts, traffic to key local search sites appears to have peaked about two years ago.
(Disclaimer: I know Alexa isn't 100% accurate, but above the 5,000 rank it's probably roughly accurate.)
Major local search, review, & listings sites like CitySearch and Superpages.com were stronger a couple of years ago - note the decline of late. Upstart Yelp had momentum and looked poised to break through past the others, but has backed off in recent months. Other contenders like InsiderPages and JudysBook threw in the towel.
This isn't to say that user interest in local search isn't surging, just that no category killer is emerging (other than Google), and that the path to success in this vertical seems littered with failures. Given this reality it seems that many of these plays are going to need to exit into the arms of a potential category killer (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, or at least IAC or a major media company) lest they remain mired in mediocrity and facing low barriers to entry, like Zagat.com. Going it alone seems like an uphill battle - especially given the stakes and the capital that's behind the old meatball sundaes in the space as well as the Googles of the world.
It tells you something when 750 people (as of this writing) comment on a blog post. Om Malik suffered a heart attack over the holidays. Get well soon, Om!
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
SEO techniques typically linger long after their "good til" dates. 2008 should be no exception, but if you're paying attention it's time to move onto the stuff that works.
This useful review of techniques that Google clamped down on this year included:
- Ho-hum reciprocal linking schemes. I link to you because you link to me. The authors of the article said "time to get one-way links". What!? Are you crazy? Do you know how hard that is in this day and age? Well, there are a couple of ways to achieve this. Do something cool enough that people really want their friends to know about it. Or, send someone a brown envelope full of cash for a link. Google can't track this (yet). Don't overpay.
- Ye Olde Directories. So-called "directories" that are only in business so lazy business owners can "get links" so "Google ranks them better" have been on the way out for some time. Little wonder; there is no editorial discretion and as directories they are useless to 99.9% of the population. In fact, I bet Googlers (manually looking for trouble) see a JoeAnt link as a red flag for further investigation. So what now? When Ye Olde Directories are gone, something may have to take their place, so it seems we're in a bit of a warped phase of widespread soft-spamming of Wikipedia, Digg, Reddit, and - as long as it's a trusted circle of some sort - you name it. Gray is getting grayer. How Google chooses to weight all the many potential quality and "not-spam" signals out there is anyone's guess, but you can guess this much: Google can't possibly have perfect answers to combat ever-increasing levels of opportunism in the pursuit of visibility. What I personally see as legitimate in this ethical and practical quagmire? See above, under "Do something cool enough..."
(hat tip Search Engine Roundtable)
- Bye-bye to 10 Blue Links, Hello Universal. I get the concept, but are we being oversold by a reinvented crop of Universal Gurus eager to create a new SEO sub-specialization for themselves? I'd love to see some empirical data about how the gradual decline of the "10 Blue Links" concept is actually affecting companies' search referral traffic, regardless of whether they profess to "get it" or not.
One thing that won't change: search marketing professionals will be selling you something this year. With the authors of that article, I hope folks will at least be buying relatively current services, not futile make-work projects.
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