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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Killer Verticals

Going back over some posts on Marc Andreessen's fantastic blog, pmarca, I came across this post that places market (and granular product-to-market fit and timing) ahead of "team" and "product per se" as a determinant of eventual success. In other words, a good product with an average team can still win if the market "pulls them along." I always thought of AOL as a company like that. You can probably think of many others. (Some in my field will say GoTo.com/Overture and Google AdWords were like that for awhile - they got better later.)

Cross-referencing these thoughts with some of the notables that show up on comScore's recent leaderboard of top web properties, I get some ideas.

Some markets are just so big, you can't dismiss them. Startups with a shot at doing something different in a vertical are not in a space that's "too crowded," arguably -- they are in the right place, with at least a solid chance of success.

Seeing Careerbuilder in 38th place, I think that startups like SimplyHired have a good shot at carving out a more than respectable sliver of a huge market, no matter how huge it seems.

In such verticals, international expansion also makes a ton of sense. Italy, Greece, Turkey, Singapore, French Canada, Mexico, "small" markets compared to the U.S.? Not if the category is big enough.

Seeing American Greetings in a ridiculously high position, I think that a greetings *feature* should probably be rolled out by Flickr, YouTube, gapingvoid, and others. If companies already have such things it may be worth pushing them a little harder. Greetings sound boring. But how many other categories have a whole store in the mall? Hallmark has a whole store in my mall.

Target (#20) and Wal-Mart (#22) are of a different ilk entirely. They actually sell "stuff." Those are some gaudy user numbers, though. Just imagine how many retailers in how many categories never thought e-commerce was worth the level of investment that could take it to that level. There are category winners in online retail still waiting to be decided. $1 million in up-front investment (or so) is all it would take some current laggards to dominate their niches. What are they waiting for?

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, April 26, 2008

How High is Your Bounce Rate?

Playing the role of a regular consumer trying to find something sure is eye-opening some days.

There must be a reason we all flock to third-party informational sites: the moment you give a corporate site the benefit of the doubt and actually try to visit the thing to discover more about a product you're keenly interested in, they let you down.


BMW Canada has a microsite for the 1 Series that requires you to "register for a PIN" to get into the site at all. See ya.

Infiniti Canada doesn't seem to want me to learn about their products, either. After struggling through the "English/French" splash page, I'm asked on a second page whether I want to fill out a survey. If I say no, I might be able to still access the site, which is heartening. But 75% of users will bounce at one of the two pages. 100% of search engine crawlers won't bother to wade into the rest of the site, though you can sure hold out hope that they'll pay attention to your SiteMap file. (Hmm, you're a big car company and they want your ad dollars... so... expect spider love to be sporadic at best, unless you embrace informational principles and quality user experiences.)

And of course the large hardware retailer that always asks me for my postal code if I want to see the product page for light fixtures. So the price will match the prices in the nearest retail stores. Boing!

I could stand on the roof of Casa Loma reciting the Cluetrain Manifesto over and over in the hopes that the "agencies of record" will listen... but then again, I could just get on with my life.

It's tremendously liberating when you stop hiding the banana, folks. Try it sometime.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, April 24, 2008

Last Call for Microhoo Scenarios

I chatted with some tech industry folk in Canada today and sifting through our posts here, they were confused as to whether I was for or against the Microhoo merger. To sum up, personally I have stated on a few occasions that from the standpoint of search advertisers (as practitioners), consolidation will be helpful if it happens, because it makes it easier to buy, promises better data and better overall product in the #2 player (eventually).

But as for precise buyout, merger, and integration scenarios, who knows, right? I remember being proud of calling Google-YouTube right, sort of. A lot of people critiqued the idea of the deal, and I thought it made sense. However, I thought Google might "buy it to kill it," and fold YouTube into Google video. Hey, small detail.

Anyway, I'm getting more interested in one of the low-probability scenarios outlined by Mona in this week's SEL column. Here's an even more precise version. Microsoft does the takeover, but with a side agreement with News Corp. in hand (that Yahoo also agrees with, on a high level handshake). Microsoft would identify the search, ad interface, display ad platform, network, tools, and other core portal & search assets that it wanted to consolidate. News Corp. would then inherit a significant number of content properties, at a healthy premium, in a flip from Microhoo.

News Corp's involvement would allow Microsoft to sweeten its offer by a couple of dollars, thus making it palatable to the Yahoo board.

Of course News Corp would need some assurances that its involvement would lead to wins for itself - presumably guarantees of advertiser dollars or something else.

We'll see.

Anyway, that's as pro-merger as I get. It makes sense on the search and search ads side, and with a savvy strategy to offload some of the content bulk to another organization, it gets more digestible.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




You Can't Search for Nothing on Yahoo

Rich Skrenta finds an interesting bug in Yahoo Search: unlike Google and Microsoft, which return search results, a search for "0" on Yahoo reloads the blank search engine box.

He also thinks Microsoft's result is biased.

Given the difficulty in figuring out how to handle this pesky query... why not just rank Page Zero at the top? Can't we all be friends?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ItsStillPureArbitrage.com


Rumors of the death of TrueLocal and their ilk in the arbitrage space may be greatly exaggerated.

Former click arbitrageurs, seemingly shut down by Google's newly aggressive site quality guidelines, continue to power away in "less mature markets."

In places like Canada, where many big brands still fail to show up and be counted in paid search results, the ad space still allows reinvented arbitrage players like Moxy Media to bid on click inventory on commercial terms, sending them to "modified but still arbitragey" sites like the one pictured above.

Where legitimate advertisers continue to struggle with unfairly-applied quality score penalties, it's doubly disturbing to see 365offerz.com, prefabricatedsheds201.com, and morearbitrage.allthesitesyoudontwant.com still sitting in the right rail.

As for us, we'll continue to fight for our legitimate ecommerce and media clients as they attempt to buy clicks for a reasonable CPC.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Yahoo Earnings Keep Us in Limbo

While nothing earth-shattering has come of the latest Yahoo earnings report, the bit about spending $13.9 million on outside help in figuring out how to fend off Microsoft did lead me to one conclusion: I'm not charging enough.

Here's how I would have structured my "How to Fend Off Microsoft" report:

"Don't. Take the offer."

That'll be $100,000, please.

It might not be the world's best advice, but the price is better.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, April 21, 2008

5 gaffes that will get you a low speaker rating at any conference, anywhere

Oh, to be a fly on the wall for the attendee comments about the panelists at a large search conference with many speakers and moderators...? I think you can probably guess that comments aren't always glowing. Paying audiences can be scathing in their feedback these days. Sarah Lacy's botched interview of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerman is only one example of the "tell 'em what you think" trend.

As a frequent speaker, I know how tough it is. I definitely don't always score top marks but I make up for it in volume :). Some folks - the ones who get the best marks - are actually something like professional speakers. They make their living from wowing audiences. The rest of us do it part-time.

I've read some reviews of "how to speak" recently that seem to place a really high bar on speakers who clearly mean well. I think some of those approaches are unrealistic.

But from reviewing past conference attendee comments, I'm struck by how easy it should be to avoid the biggest mistakes. If you give attendees a particularly bad experience, you're just shooting yourself in the foot.

So here's a list of five common don'ts drawn directly from attendee comments. To put it another way, you will guarantee yourself poor feedback if you:


1. Trot out the sales pitch. Everyone wants to know you've done something valuable for the world, but above all, they are there to learn something useful for their own business. All you need to do is to balance out your cursory amount of salesiness by adding insight and value to the session - get the weighting right and folks will love what you have to say.

Get it wrong, and they'll not only hate your guts, they may even walk out of the session. Not only don't people pay $1,000 to be pitched on your company's services, oftentimes the sales pitch is laughably general and aimed at a different kind of buyer or even a mass audience. I won't name names, but companies across the board constantly risk making this mistake. Resist the temptation to fold in three extra "about us slides" when you were allowed one.

As I said, every company - Google included - falls for this temptation. Amazingly, Google often gets an easy ride when it does this. But then, they're Google. You're not. :)

2. Disrespect others. People in the audience are pretty sensitive to when a speaker is monopolizing someone else's time, or engaging in a petty war of words with another speaker rather than (for example) giving the audience enough time for direct engagement in Q&A. The "celebrity catfight" theory sounds good on paper, but again, this is a business conference, not Jerry Springer. Conference programmers can save the fun catfight events for optional after-hours slots. Then you can take it as far as sumo wrestling.

3. Don't show up. Attendees are merciless in their comments about speakers who cancel. Listen, it's a given that a certain percentage of speakers will be ill, or have had a death in the family. There are many reasons to cancel an appearance. It's just that attendees seem not to see it that way. So let's compromise on this one. Don't bail without telling anyone. Also, definitely don't call the conference organizers and mention that you'd love to be there, but your Big Important Company has a "key meeting" that you just can't miss. Especially don't do this if you had a standalone 45-minute session, forcing the conference organizer himself to fill the slot with his own backup material. This happened at a marketing conference I attended in New York last year. The thing is, other speakers also had meetings, and some took 2-3 days off to travel to the event. What happens is that conference organizer quietly tells about 46 people what happened over cocktails, and people hear about it.

4. Openly admit that you aren't prepared. Imagine yourself sitting in the audience and hearing that.

5. Save your best material for the bar. I have informally cross-referenced negative comments about speakers coming in flat, or not living up to their billing, with the number of hours slept and number of drinks consumed the night before. No one is expecting anyone not to attend the parties, but it is all relative. A good rule of thumb is that anything more than four hours sleep, and less than nine drinks consumed, gives you a better chance of actually resembling yourself the next day. Exceptions to the rule may include Superman, Dave Naylor, and Frank Watson.

The audience has spoken! Good luck at your next gig, and remember, Abraham Lincoln probably got low ratings his first couple of times out too. And the silent majority may be internally thanking you more than they let on.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, April 18, 2008

More comScore Bashing

Now, all the stories du jour are making a connection between comScore's stock dropping 8% after Google earnings, even though we've already established that they shouldn't be held accountable for Wall Street's (or anyone else's) misuse of their data.

So either the stock dropped *because* of this development, or we are all just Fooled by Randomness, working too hard, and in dire need of a sick day (or at least an early shutdown on a spring afternoon)...

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, April 17, 2008

comScore in the Doghouse?

News organizations made a big deal out of comScore reporting a slowing of Google's paid clicks (at least according to its projections) recently. Yet somehow Google blew out earnings again.

Was Google reproaching comScore in today's earnings call? I don't think so. comScore has already warned that its data should not be misinterpreted. Why Eric Schmidt would bother referring to "certain third parties," I can't say, but best not to overthink.

Keep in mind that Lamberti and Abraham of comScore posted a detailed account of click monetization, including Google's deliberate removal of some low-quality paid clicks, to suggest that slowing paid click volume might not be an indication that Google is taking a financial hit. Basically comScore was telling the media: don't misinterpret our reports!

We in the business of skilfully navigating scary AdWords Quality Based Bidding said: amen!

And then Google blew out earnings.

They can't keep it going up forever, but once again, knee-jerk reactions to non-financial data drawn from projections have proven to be unfounded.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google Earns a Lot of Money and Is Getting Slightly More Evil

OK, so that's not what I would normally say. I don't tend to speak about the love of my life in sound bites (I like paragraphs :) ). But if I were forced to boil it right down for the media seconds after the earnings report, that's probably what I'd say.

Anyway: near a TV? Live in Canada? If so, tune into BNN at 6:40 (or it might be 6:50) Eastern, to see what I have to say about the GOOG.

Update - the segment is here (wait for the ad).

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, April 16, 2008

When Registering Domains, Think Big

OK, so I don't want to rain on the parade of the domain registrars who have a national newspaper campaign running to encourage Canadian companies to register a ".ca". But here's the thing about the messaging ("Get the domain name you really want" - "Avoid getting lost in the dot com shuffle."). It's kind of a load of hooey.

Personally, I have a real problem with the .ca.

It reinforces the tendency of Canadian businesses to think "provincially." Much of the time, you are in a global and definitely a North American market, even if you didn't realize it yet.

It's true that in some markets, a .com is a liability. Using a .com in France, research shows, will lower clickthrough rates on paid search ads, and no doubt conversion rates to sales.

However, Canada is not France.

We can easily compromise on this, anyway. And the beauty of it is, the compromise involves buying *more* domains, so that surely has to please the registrars. Buy the .ca. Buy the .com. Buy the .co.uk if you can. Buy a bunch of variations and backup plans on your .com and .ca, if your business is very important to you.

But whatever you do, don't assume a .ca is going to be a good domain for your business, long term. Do not assume that *any* domain that you cannot keep and scale with for 5-10 years is a good domain for your business.

The "dot com shuffle"? That's a good one. I hadn't heard that one! Buy the .com and the .ca together. I implore you!

Domain names are good. I own many. Few of these are .ca's.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




“Winning the Paid Search Game” Seminar – May 15 2008 – Toronto, Ontario

As the paid search game gets trickier, it’s important to keep up-to-date with the ins and outs of paid search marketing. So, we’ve decided to launch our very own paid search seminar series called “Winning the Paid Search Game”. The first in a series of bona fide Page Zero Media training seminars will be at the Westin Harbor Castle (Toronto) on Thursday May 15 2008.

With us, you’ll learn the latest in search marketing strategies and leave with actionable insights you can build right into your accounts. Here are some other topics we’ll cover:

- Keyword research and targeting techniques.
- How to generate killer ad copy
- Ad copy testing – from A/B to multivariate testing
- Landing page improvements and testing methods
- How to set bids so you’re not overpaying for clicks
- Learn to unravel and profit from “quality score” (algorithms now used by the major search engines to rank ads).
- Different PPC techniques for Google, MSN and Yahoo!

We’re also offering the following free resources (over $200 worth):

1) A copy of Scott Miller’s TheConversionLab.com, a highly recommended report on testing for improved sales conversions ($97 value)

2) A copy of Andrew Goodman’s Winning Results with Google AdWords, 2nd Edition (sent to you as soon as it’s released by the publisher) ($20 value)

3) A copy of Mona Elesseily’s Mastering Panama ($87 value)

After the seminar (if you haven’t had enough of us!), we’ll head out for snacks and beverages (venue to be announced) and yak more about SEM and paid search marketing initiatives. We look forward to seeing you there!

Early Bird registration deadline for the Page Zero’s “Winning the Paid Search Game” in Toronto ends on April 24th, and seats are filling up fast! Register today!

Posted by Mona Elesseily




Monday, April 14, 2008

Burst Media, That Old Thing?

comScore's release for March contains some fairly riveting stats. Numbers this aggregated don't really speak for themselves, to be sure, but the picture painted is one that is far less monolithic than current media accounts (mea culpa I suppose) might suggest.

The ad network stats pictured here, for example, show many of the supposedly "tired old" companies doing some pretty brisk business. And some of the startups in the group show real promise.

Some niche ad networks are doing pretty well, too. As are individual sites, selling their own inventory.

If niche ad networks have a role to play, and if the best economics for large individual publishers (as Jason Calacanis recently argued) are to sell their own ads and barely use networks at all, then look forward to continued variety in the ad sales economy. No monolithic "takeover" by any big network is in the works. If anything, it proves the value of the publishers themselves. It is mighty difficult to control someone else's inventory, as disintermediation is only a click and a better deal away.

Conveniently left out of the tables: revenues.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, April 12, 2008

Reminder: YSM Minimum Bids Going to .01

Yahoo writes to remind us that sometime next week, their bidding system will switch over from the fixed minimum bids at .10, to the sliding scale similar to Google's, that has a theoretical minimum of .01 and much higher minimums for keywords that rate poor on the Quality Index.

You can always keep tabs on developments at the YSM Blog. Reading the most recent post, I also see some very sensible advice - campaign strategy is largely about building an intelligent, relevant structure. So planning leads to greater success. They compare it to building the Pyramids.

What a coincidence. At a seminar last week, I reminded folks that if you expect to build a glorious mansion, you can't just throw it up there with no plan or blueprint. Then again, if you have a tiny little campaign that looks more like Snoopy's Doghouse, then you probably needn't worry so much. Strap yourself in and get going.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, April 11, 2008

Is $6,000 an Incentive?

Talk about Yahoo offering additional signing bonuses to lure engineers to their AMP project got me to thinking. (Assuming the tipster's information is true over at Valleywag, which it might not be.)

In a new book by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, incentives that target the pleasure centers of the brain are stacked up against those that relate to the altruistic, helping, other-directed part of the brain.

According to the authors, even small pleasure-directed incentives begin to crowd out other-directed, helping motivations. So when money is introduced as a key incentive, it removes the powerful helping motivations from the equation, at least when it comes to what makes us feel attracted to something. The problem is, the amount of pleasure we get from cash is only significant enough to act as a solid motivator when that cash amount is extremely high - however that might be defined for a given individual.

One of the simplest examples the authors give is a friend asking you to move. You expect the beer and pizza, but otherwise, the chances of you helping out are basically tied to your team spirit and sense of obligation to a friend. What if your pal offers you $10 to spend your day helping? It's an insult! To many of us, $100 would still be an insult. You'd start to wonder why moving this guy is so hard that he has to pay $100. Depending on your financial situation, you might start to perk up and consider helping out at a higher dollar figure. Or if there was a promise of a really great party afterwards.

By and large, engineering jobs in Silicon Valley pay a lot. The money is without question a motivator -- to get your training or degree, and to come to Silicon Valley and work long hours. Once there, incremental financial incentives would need to be large to influence someone's life decisions. A few qualified people might go for small pay increases for really practical reasons, like personal debt. Many others would need to be shown either a $25,000 or $50,000 signing bonus, or something else entirely - like a clear and compelling vision. If you offer a low bonus, your brain stops thinking about the vision, but doesn't respond to the stimulus of the money.

Many technology companies are brilliant at conveying visions of great products, molding the future, working with great people, and more. I hope that's why you're in your job! But if there is any situation that doesn't lend itself to the "vision thing," it's going to work for a project that might soon be eliminated or radically altered by a merger.

On the whole, post-merger implementation hinges on the ability to retain quality personnel. An overall sense of "join us, we're building the next thing," is paramount. Things have great potential to turn sour if the message is: "Welcome to our restructuring phase. Please feel insecure for the next 18 months."

If you want second-rate people and caretaker types to come work for you, ignore the compelling vision thing at your peril, or be prepared to pay through the nose to lure top talent.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, April 10, 2008

Yahoo-AOL "Surgical Merger" Not as Crazy as It Sounds

The problem with the Techmemification of tech news is that you often get your news through the filter of arrogant blowhard bloggers who distort the reality field even more severely than news outlets themselves. Case in point, this Michael Arrington rant on the impending Yahoo business combination scenario. Everyone will read it, and now everyone will start wildly assuming the narrative has to be seen through this lens.

Personally: I don't know what News Corp. is doing or thinking. They aren't a player in search or many of the current types of Internet apps that reside within these giant companies. I don't know or believe that Yahoo is going to roll over and hand their ad management over to Google AdWords. We're getting way ahead of ourselves here. [Edit: The fact that they're going to test Google's product, at this stage, is a punch to the gut for internal morale, if you ask me. Bad strategic move. On this particular point I can't help but agree with a colleague at another SEM firm that the current set of "anything but Microsoft" moves seem knee-jerk and sophomoric.]

Fred Wilson uses his narrative powers for good, at least. The giants are playing around with beloved Internet services like they are toys. To a select few of these bigshots, they're just assets to be bought, sold, traded, combined, and such. The rest of us actually use and rely on them -- the whole reason they wound up profitable in the first place!

Wilson, bless him, actually gives a crap about what might happen to users of AIM. See? There are some real details of user habits and migration to new services that might matter in there. Such details also prove that companies like AOL do have a remaining valuable user base, one that would integrate well into Yahoo, for the right price.

Henry Blodget also points to a number of popular AOL services and brands that might find a pleasant home within Yahoo.

So it's a double shame that wannabe financiers in the blogosphere take the same "bigshot with toys" attitude as some of the bigshots themselves, towards what are actually vitally important services that many people use now, and will want to see improved down the road.

Give Yang and the Yahoos just a shred of credit. Don't you think their concern over those services and their future is even a tiny bit of a motivator in resisting the Microsoft bid?

If you work through the logic of the strengths and potential of all these companies and their users, you might be able to draw your own conclusions, far removed from the fist-pounding bully talk that has unfortunately become a favorite of, not only media company executives, but bloggers cheering them on.

Last week, right up to last night, I worked out my own analysis of the current situation, in between long bouts of actual work -- and most of it came about without the benefit of leaked info about the AOL talks. Reprinted from the Traffick Newsletter, in its entirety, is my take.

--

'SURGICAL MERGER' WITH AOL COULD HELP YAHOO THWART MICROSOFT BID

By Andrew Goodman, April 10, 2008


In the first part of this story, I attempted to establish the premise that core organic web search is fairly defective today, in spite of the many advances and the various distractions and apparent improvements provided by today’s “blended” search results.

Rich Skrenta, founder of a stealth startup called Blekko, complains that Google “was built to index a web that no longer exists... a web where people still engaged in social linking behavior, for one thing.”

Skrenta believes that the “editorial voice” of a search engine is expressed through its algorithm. As the founder of a famous “scalable” Internet directory that didn’t, in the end, scale, Rich knows his stuff cold. Whatever he’s working on is bound to be more in sync with the web than that PageRank-dominated Google model.

In a related vein, as I pointed out in Part 1, I believe that a company like Yahoo may be able to create more consumer-friendly search by working towards an embrace of open formats and “interoperability” and “participation in a trusted metadata scheme,” but will bias the voice so that a certain “trusted universe” of publishers may be featured, as it were. This is no different in principle than Google hand-picking the (fewer than 10,000) sites that are eligible to appear in Google News, you know.

Essentially, the idea I am raising here is a new, more sophisticated take on “paid inclusion,” hopefully without the paid. But a hefty once-a-year fee per domain ($500) might make sense – it would weed out the silly high-volume spam, and encourage registrants to make the most of their participation in a new ‘publisher environment.’ Break the rules, you get booted. If you’re truly serious about content, you’d no doubt pay the $500 and interact diligently with the custom environment set up by the search engine. That doesn’t mean that no other content would be indexed. You could still “blend” various kinds of results, including the backfill of full web search, paid listings, and so on.

Sure, Google Webmaster Tools are cool… to a point. Sitemaps protocol – useful, but already embraced by more spammers than legitimate publishers. But we think there is more to interoperable publisher-index life than that. And Google at 90% market share would not be healthy for anyone.

Whatever Yahoo is working on, or could work on, they need to figure out how to deal with current reality - the looming Microsoft offer. If they’re committed to the idea that they could come up with consumer-friendly, useful search that actually beats Google’s, how will they do that given that Microsoft has continued to press its near-hostile takeover bid with threats and bluster?

There are three leading scenarios:

(1) Try to go it alone, or (1+!) try to go it alone while enacting poison pill clauses designed to sour Microsoft’s takeover experience and to stick it to Steve Ballmer personally. This scenario seems unlikely or at least unhealthy. It would be a spiteful strategy that would be opposed by most shareholders, and possibly, the legal system. The prospect of a years-long struggle reminiscent of Peoplesoft’s attempt to resist Oracle is frankly nauseating. While it is that type of takeover negotiation history that emboldens Yahoo’s leadership to believe they can exact a higher price from Microsoft, too long a waiting game would sap morale internally and in the ecosystem.

(2) Find a reasonable enough business combination that can help Yahoo gain a bit of scale and market share, and distract shareholders enough to turn down the Microsoft bid in favor of moving forward with this second, less drastic, deal. This would be with an old-fashioned consumer Internet brand like AOL. There has been some chatter about this, such as here: http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=7946. Most observers see it as a bad idea. Unless it is done very carefully, I have to reject the idea insofar as there would be far too much chaff mixed in with the wheat at AOL. Yahoo can’t afford to overvalue AOL and then go winnowing out the parts of it that might be useful to Yahoo. This would financially weaken Yahoo and make it less able to move on other priorities. However, if a smartly-constructed "surgical merger" can be put together, I think this alternative might really work. Here's one recent take on the talks taking place with AOL.


(3) That leaves the Microsoft deal. Although anathema to the unspoken “no assholes rule” in place at many companies, Yahoo included, Ballmer and crew bring a strong offer to the table. A combined company looks like a strong company, able to then accomplish further momentum-builders. That might include increasing stakes in Facebook and other emerging social apps and content verticals. It might also include waiting AOL out to buy up any useful parts piecemeal, or making another big offer and then discarding the scrap. Now, the “combined company” starts to look like it might have the muscle to be a real global player on a par with Google.

(3) is still the strongest play for Yahoo unless they and AOL get really creative, and quick. I just hope that in all the commotion, the kernel of the above idea is not lost. Yahoo, to say nothing of feisty secretive startups like Blekko, could still do some cool things to provide a better search experience for consumers, and a more consistent, respectful relationship with publishers. In spite of many great products and the many good deeds they do, in core search, Google has something of a rep now as a “glorified scraper company” with outdated ranking methods. Surely there is room for a viable second-place alternative.

I'm on the edge of my seat here. Aren't you?


Have a good one,

Andrew

P.S. Yahoo, it's a bad idea to hand over your ad management to Google.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, April 09, 2008

SEO to Give Way to DAO?

Leafing through this month's issue of PROFIT magazine (sorry but the current issue is not yet online as I write this), I came across a sidebar about a concept called DAO or "Digital Asset Optimization." The argument is that a more comprehensive strategy is required today for websites trying to maximize their visibility for all types of searches for all types of media and content (for example, video, products, news, images, etc.). Lee Odden was quoted in the piece. I had to say to myself "nice PR work, Lee, getting quoted in that story!"

Looking back to the first mention of this term around June 2007, it turns out that our good friend Lee Odden at Toprank may have coined the term, but it hasn't yet fully caught on (after enjoying a brief heyday). A number of people responded to his June 2007 post, and seemed willing to use the term, but you don't see a million "DAO" references in Google. One SEO from India got so excited about the term, though, that he registered the domain "daodigitalassetoptimization.com" in February 2008.

What we are seeing, if not lighting-fast growth of the term DAO, is growing acceptance of the idea. People are coming at the idea of "being more visible" from a variety of angles: talking about the growing importance of blended and universal search; deliberate & planned use of video to augment written articles and promotions; properly labeling & tagging your existing digital media content; etc.

What you call something seems to have an impact on whether people think it is something worth talking about. Greg Jarboe mentioned that attendance to training sessions (Incisive Media - in conjunction with SES) rose when they changed the title from "Getting Found in All the Right Places" (people didn't know what it was supposed to mean) to "Universal and Blended Search" (people cottoned onto the fact that it was something new and technical that Google was doing that we'd better be aware of).

So, I guess we probably won't all be calling it DAO (but just in case, I've stuffed this post with the term), or GFIATRP, but rather, "Universal and Blended Search," "Online Reputation and PR," and "Social Media Marketing." They're interrelated, but they can be discussed as if they were separate topics.

The general idea is unlikely to go away, and it will keep marketers mighty busy keeping on top of these trends.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Uh Oh, Judges Are Ruling on Meta Tags

Eric Goldman can act as my "state of SEO" spokesman anytime. As always - he's on top of reality in our world.

As Barry Schwartz reports, a court has ruled that use of a competitor's trademark in "meta tags" can constitute copyright infringement. We aren't told whether it's the description tag we're talking about (at least that is often visible in search results), or the keyword tag. If it's the keyword tag in question, this will potentially get us back to the days of press coverage of those spooky-sounding "invisible words" in a "hidden file" that help "SEO black hats" get sites to rank "at the top." It's all so 100 years ago. Veteran search marketers, plug your ears.

A primer on that. Go to View...Page Source in your browser. See the part about meta name = "keywords"? That's the part that search engines no longer pay any frickin' attention to.

Prof. Goldman points out that the "court does not exhibit any understanding of anchor text," among other things.

The problem (or one of many problems) is: while there is certainly an archaic standard for how to structure so-called meta tags on HTML pages, there is no standard for how metadata is used. And with good reason. To quote Cory Doctorow's reasoning in the timeless ditty "Metacrap," "people lie."

The fact that a court is talking about meta tags is bound to confuse the general marketing public into thinking meta tags are something they're not. The reality is, it's an evolving landscape and telling a search engine where you would like it to rank you, on what terms, is not going to work.

Metadata in a general sense and as a general principle is fine and useful; in this context, bound to confuse the uninitiated. Say, am I beginning to repeat myself?

Because I'm not a competitor, I guess I'm legally allowed to write about Accu-Spina. Sheesh.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, April 07, 2008

Canadian Babelfish Wanted?

Today I got into some conversations about just how Canadian Toronto is (or Canada, for that matter). It made me recall a chat I had with Jeffrey Eisenberg a couple of weeks ago, wandering up Spadina (rhymes with "diner" not "Gina") Ave.; in his opinion this is the most American of Canadian cities.

Be that as it may, I got a note from a Boston-based friend asking for a translation of this:

I need a Canadian interpreter for the following sentence: "We recently bought a large semi in Little Italy." What is a "semi" in this context?

So I was not aware that "semi" to represent "semi-detached residence, specifically half of a duplex" was not commonly known to be the same as "duplex" (or the half of a duplex you own). Semi=duplex (one side). Duplex here = duplex (both sides).

It went on to say that he made his semi into "three units," meaning three rentable apartments, no doubt possible because it was a large semi.

Little Italy is the trendy area around College and Clinton in Toronto, with bars, cafes, and apparently, large semis that are sometimes income properties, but for the fortunate, single-owner dwellings.

And to round out the translation session: the "pot lights" the gentleman was installing have nothing to do with more liberal laws in Canada.

My friend is originally from Ohio, which may or may not explain anything.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, April 06, 2008

Oh Yes, Microsoft's Still Interested -- And "It's About Search, Stupid."

So my long exploration of a future rosy scenario for Yahoo to stay a strong and beloved second place in the search engine race (remember, they're still #1 or #2 in a fair number of verticals and niches) left part two unfinished.

Part 1 was about search, and the consumer, and how some at Yahoo still "get it" better than just about anyone in the world.

I still haven't dropped the other shoe about exactly what partner might be better than Microsoft to help them build that. In Yang-like fashion, I'll get around to it.

But let's be clear about this much - assuming you already have a grasp on the fact that Google currently has dominance of search to the tune of 60-85% market share, depending on the market. Yahoo is #2 in search. Microsoft is no longer a close third place in most markets. They're a distant, unimpressive third. Especially unimpressive given the investment and resources they've put in thus far. It's tough out there.

So: why does Microsoft want Yahoo so badly? Why is all the current "jawboning" about Yahoo being a weak company lucky to have such an inflated bid not cause Microsoft to waver from its effort to acquire Yahoo?

Because when it comes to search, and anything that looks like search, Microsoft is desperate to buy into what they haven't been able to grow organically. As things stand, they're being squeezed nearly into oblivion, which really doesn't bode well for the company's future. They're looking to make a strong transition into anything scalable with an advertising dollar attached.

An indicator of this avid interest is: if you work in the search advertising industry, you may have had Microsoft people - whether they are directly working for Microsoft, or for a market research firm, PR firm, "agency of record," or some other subtle offshoot - sidle up to you and ask you what it might take to move some of your clients over to Microsoft adCenter. Or begin talking about it more in articles. Or generally mention them, in a slide or two in a seminar. "I mean, after all, we boast the highest ROI of any of the major PPC vendors... right?" And the platform is interesting and innovative, even if the overall ad buying experience has its shortcomings. To the above, agreed. But:

Usually the SEM's answer is something along the lines of: "Look, you've got 10-11% share on paper, and in the real world of searches, sales and leads for any given client, more often than not it's closer to 5%. If this drops to 2%, it's even worse, but even at current levels it's a tough sell. It's not quite on the radar for many clients. And therefore, not for us, as much as we'd like to see more competition and cool bidding features."

The conversation continues from there, and some nice things may be said about good intentions to work together. The eerie thing is, the Microsoft-associated person won't dispute your 5-6% number; maybe not even the impending 2% market share scenario. It's as if they know you're right. They're more self-aware than, say, Ask.com execs were three years ago.

Letting things go in that direction puts a huge crimp in Microsoft's style. To be able to fully and properly represent themselves, their many products and services online, they need some advertising reach and access to search visibility that isn't diabolically controlled by archenemy Google. They need access to the subtle forms of public mindshare that only search and related advertising inventory can provide. (Think that's why they overpaid so much for a 1.6% stake in Facebook? You think?)

So look around at who they can buy to boost that search market share way up. And at the same time, who holds a ton of other targeted ad inventory. There's only one: Yahoo. No one else. Except maybe Facebook, which stake Microsoft might seek to increase at a more favorable valuation than the first.

To achieve this objective, Microsoft has decided it will pay a premium, and I don't see chatter about weakening market conditions, and other claims that Yahoo isn't in a desirable position, as likely to cause them to undecide.

Microsoft's resolve to do a deal seems pretty clear.

The question remains: does Yahoo have any alternative?

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, April 03, 2008

SES Toronto Speaker Info - Reminder

I had a couple of folks stop me at the e-metrics summit yesterday to ask: now that the agenda is posted for SES Toronto (full abstracts to come in a couple of days), does that mean final speaker slots are all set?! While it's definitely tough to get a speaking slot these days, we aren't *that* quick to finalize things... so not to worry, there is still time. But you have to pitch through the official form along with everyone else. :)

The main pitch window is still open (until April 15) if you want to appear on one of the panels. Please go to the SES Blog for the full instructions - and thanks again for your interest in Canada's biggest and best search marketing event, June 17-18 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

That's all I'll post here about the speaking side of things, as I'd much rather discuss the joys of attending the show. :) For example, we'll have some great keynotes as usual. Can't wait.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google to Divest Performics

As some in the advertiser community had advocated, Google has decided to sell off the Performics division that came along as part of the DoubleClick acquisition. This would have put the agency in a conflict of interest position.

Next on the agenda...

Ahem. Microsoft? Don't you own ...

[Here's the official Google post. Hat tip Techmeme.]

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Wanna Rank? Upgrade Your Loafers

Based on the news that Google engineer Brian Merrill is leaving the company, I wandered around and got into reading Merrill's blog. A recent lengthy post attempts to alert us to the pitfalls of judging by outward appearances. Exactly the same person dressed in a different way on the BART (Merrill) is, well, exactly the same person. Yet he's better treated in nice loafers and a smooth shirt. (The real point of the post was to expose anti-Muslim prejudice.)

How ironic then that Google's latest Quality Raters Handbook has been making the rounds. As a search engine that prides itself on algorithmic approaches to ranking content, they sure seem to have a lot of people making judgment calls on site quality. Literally, raters are asked to "label" sites as "vital," "useful," "relevant," "not relevant," "off topic," etc. Also: "spam," "not spam," and "maybe spam."

Maybe this small army of raters gets it right a lot of the time, but the pain you'll feel if your site "looks like" one of these "off topic, maybe spam" sites, for example, could be severe. They can't rate all the sites and all the pages, so... machines are doing the work that bakes in some of these biases. It leads to much potential mayhem. Probably, it can't lead to corruption like Dmoz editor corruption, because raters are likely kept on a fairly short leash. They don't choose the sites/pages to rate so they probably can't go around upgrading pages that actually suck, to "relevant" or "vital." (To do that, you'd need to be higher up the food chain.)

Anyway...Malcolm Gladwell referred to this process of acting on a narrow information set as thin-slicing - this is a vital activity in our world. But equally important is the distinction between good rapid cognition and bad rapid cognition. When it goes bad, you have (for example) unhealthy prejudice - whether it be against a person or a particular type of website.

Is there a better way to weed out all the spam and arbitrage? I'm not sure. But that's the general environment we as marketers have to work with. Most of us are ill-prepared to do so because we don't generally assume search works this way - defensive, and all too willing to "label" pages as off topic or spam "until proven innocent."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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