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Friday, November 28, 2008

Do Dumb Ads Hurt Your Brand?

Searching for a definition for the word "sluice," I naturally turned to my trusty friend, Google.

A not unfamiliar sight appeared in the right rail: one of those irrelevant AdWords ads that just shows up out of the blue because I've typed a word that appears in a dictionary.

Sluice

Sale on Sluice!
Compare Sluice prices.
www.Shopping.com

Sounds yummy. And we know why the ads appear. Either it is pure arbitrage, in that the comparison shopping engine shows ads on their site or expects to otherwise induce enough revenue-generating clicks from each such ad, that it is a net gain on average if they can get those clicks below x cents on AdWords;...

or it is seen as a nice little brand booster -- dirt cheap clicks.

That's less feasible in the States, where Quality Scores are tuned to price those kinds of low quality ads higher, even in empty keyword categories. But in other markets the arbitrage (or cheap branding) game is still playable.

But it makes me wonder. If it's about building the brand, isn't it really doing the opposite?

At trade shows and in professional industry publications, the differentiators among all these comparison shopping tools are explored in detail. One has a better catalog; the other shuns ads; etc.

But all the consumer sees, over a several year period, is all these stupid annoying ads for Donkey, Angst, Holocaust, Sluice, Rhinoceros, and Mausoleum. Instead of being portrayed as rational shopping engines, these companies come across as used car salesman or trinket hawkers (or perhaps more accurately, robot trinket hawkers from a bad sci-fi movie, where we haven't trained the robots to be either respectful, contextually relevant, or persuasive), something search engine users came to Google to avoid.

Have years of these silly ads actually been a negative for the brands of eBay and Shopping.com and the like? There's no question in my mind. Instead of describing a benefit offered by these sites, they spew nonsense and do more harm than good. Unless pure arbitrage (milking what's left of these sites' equity) really is the goal.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Everyone" Can't Do It For Ya: Finding Your Tribe

I'm most of the way through Seth Godin's great new book, Tribes.

It's a book about leadership, and the need for leadership at every level to achieve meaningful change in any setting.

It's also about distinguishing between a passionate group that can "go places" and achieve something together, as opposed to a loose aggregation of people who don't really care enough to matter.

Great changes can be achieved by leaders with faith in their vision, followed by a relatively small number of people who help make it happen. One of many examples Godin gives in the book is the animal shelter activist who was able to make San Francisco into a No Kill zone (typically, 70% or more of healthy animals in shelters are eventually destroyed). He went on to replicate the feat in upstate New York. In this case, many people in established agencies actively resisted the initiative, and many others in these locales simply didn't care. The ones who did care made the difference.

Thinking about this I can see many parallels in business and online community, in things I see or do every day. Take Avinash Kaushik's common-sense exhortation that "aggregate" is never the name of your website visitor. If you get bogged down in aggregate statistics, you might be overwhelmed with just how many loosely-engaged, "valueless" clickthroughs come to your website every week. Yes, but why not make an exercise out of ignoring the 80% of people who aren't connecting with you and zero in on just the 20% of those who do? Study their characteristics. Build and grow with them. (And it's easier than ever to study them. This week, using Google Analytics' custom segment features, I hand-built a segment called "engaged quintile," for the 20% of website visitors on a client's site that stayed a long time and viewed many pages. By definition, guess what the "bounce rate" was for that segment? Yes, it was 0%! It's heartening and inspiring when you look at life through that lens.)

I've also been noticing how some online communities take off, and others have much more trouble doing so. I think that's because we often wildly overestimate the importance of numbers, and underestimate the importance of engagement, as Godin says. Even in communities that are supposedly in a niche, we wind up with a mass, semi-engaged group that never takes anything and runs with it. One online community of 2,000 people (sounds like a niche, right?) spins its wheels and goes nowhere, while another of the same exact size takes off. The second one doesn't take off because 2,000 people are doing stuff. It takes off because the core leadership is making this place their main mission in life, and an outer core of maybe 20-30 enthusiasts make it their mission, too. Most everyone else joins in over time because of that passion displayed by 20-30 people. Momentum starts with leadership, and a tightness and clarity of mission that breeds passion.

The first group is doing what Godin calls sheepwalking. The second is on a real mission.

This is also why broad online content plays like Yelp take so much money to get off the ground (and why InsiderPages, Judy's Book, OurFaves, and maybe MojoPages are fighting an uphill battle, or have already run aground). They're very wide, so nothing is happening in a lot of parts of the network. Yelp managed to roll ahead despite their breadth because of the passions of Yelpers, and the relentless effort to build community offline as well as online.

But other, similar communities just have a much tougher time of it. It goes back to another Godin recommendation, from Unleashing the Ideavirus or perhaps somewhere else, to pick a hive you can dominate (read: a genuine, small, focused niche). Weak passion spread across a wide field provides little sense of mission.

TripAdvisor got lucky, and maybe fooled quite a few copycats into thinking they succeeded because they were in a "niche". Sure, travel was a "niche" in 2001. But it's actually far too wide for most aspiring community builders to attempt today.

If you talk to a venture capitalist about a user-generated content "idea", they might ask you about what major cities you plan to roll out in. I hope you expect to raise rounds B and C to the tune of $20 million or more in total, because on a shoestring ($1-2 million) budget, you can dominate maybe one or two major markets, if you throw all of your passion and resources at them. Angie's List started off in Columbus, OH, and expanded slowly. They kept in business for 17 years before some Web 2.0 guys decided to pony up that big $20 million+ to help that business "go big." But the majority of the action is in the hives Angie's List was able to dominate: perhaps six or seven midsized markets. Few large ones. Many markets remain weak, with few homeowner reviews, memberships, etc. And Angie's List is considered to be wildly successful, relative to competitors.

What if you were actually starting on a shoestring as Angie Hicks did, with less than $1 million in capital? Probably you would be best off finding passionate groups of homeowners in midsized markets, and trying to get passionate leadership growing those markets. Try doing the same in a half dozen even smaller markets, even, in metro areas of half a million people. That's sort of how Angie did it, and that's how she grew passionate followings (tribes) of homeowners in the markets she does dominate.

Eventually, building a brand in that way, national dominance is indeed possible. But for the time being, forget New York... unless you really know what you're doing.

Amazingly, Angie's recent round of investors expected some of the proceeds to be used for European expansion. Insane. If you're the size of eBay or Amazon, that makes sense. It makes no sense for a company of mid-sized American tribes like Angie's List.

Meanwhile, I'm working with a niche (very small) ecommerce site that also focuses on community. It is in only one segment of travel, evaluating a particular type of vacation. On this site, in spite of the fact that they are open about the fact that they're trying to sell you a trip, the visitors are extremely engaged. Passionate people are writing reviews. And the "engaged quintile" is spending 10-15 minutes on site, on average looking at 14-15 pages on the site (regardless of their geographic locale or other characteristics). (And did I mention that 0% bounce rate in that quintile?) I believe the reason for the surprising level of engagement with this startup is that they truly understand what a passionate niche is today, and they mean to provide true leadership to that niche. 

A niche like "travel," or "bars and restaurants" sounds like a "niche" to the uninitiated, but unless you've got bottomless pots of money, remarkable and unflinching leadership, a core of 20-30 passionate co-leaders, and a really different hook, those "niches" today are just far too broad to maintain and grow a passionate tribe.

It's interesting that we were able to reach all of these conclusions without a single mention of technology, or "feature sets," isn't it? Makes ya think. At Yelp, Angie's List, Epicurious, Craigslist, and Flickr, the technology ranges from clunky to cutting-edge. But it's always in service of the tribe and its passions.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, November 24, 2008

Let the Attribution Debate Rage On, and on, and on

While we certainly admit that paid search is best at converting high intent prospects into customers and leads, and it isn't always the greatest for other kinds of demand generation, the recent escalation in citations of studies -- like the Atlas study cited in a recent SEL article that shows that "93-95% of audience engagements with online advertising receive no credit at all when advertisers review campaign ROI" -- smacks of protesting too much.

Upon further, close study -- with a large panel for example -- you can show that more folks viewing a wide swath of display ads online are slightly more likely to purchase than the control group not exposed to those ad impressions. From here, we are supposed to "attribute" x% more ROI to the display ads.

But wait. These studies don't make much effort to ask additional tough causal (ahem, we are calling it attribution, so we are assuming causality, so...) questions, such as, did those exposed to the display ads get exposed to them because of any of the following?:

  • They're a member of an enthusiast group that likes a certain topic, and so for that reason they are more likely to read the content on niche websites, so for reasons of being such an enthusiast in the first place, and being exposed to that content, at least as much if not more than being exposed to the display ads, they are in turn more likely to be found buying related items within the study period? Let's say I have warts, and go to a warts information site, that happens to run a few ads for "Warts Off." I happen to buy "Warts Off" in a drugstore based on some urgent need, and the colorful display case in the drugstore, that month. How much of that purchase intent, if anything, do I attribute to the online display ads? Who knows?
  • They are exposed to a heavy blitz of advertising on: TV, radio, print, outdoor, in-store, direct mail, etc. For that reason, based on searches, serendipity, etc., they're more likely to be exposed to certain display ads as well. As a result of the overall media buy, that group does buy a product during the study period. But arguably, the online display ads being supposedly viewed during that period had relatively little impact on the purchase. Sometimes they play a significant role, sometimes they play very little role (spurious correlation only). Sorting out one case from the other isn't high on the agenda of those who sell digital display ads for a living, needless to say.
  • Add to this second point, brand equity built up over centuries. Maybe some kinds of advertising lead to more purchase behavior, and others don't. And others lead to more online engagement generally, with display ads being part of that journey but not, perhaps, adding significantly to purchase causality. Perhaps the test group is more susceptible to the control group generally to this historic brand equity, and the increase in their viewing of relevant online display ads is caused by the impact of that historic brand equity on their online behavior overall.
  • Alexander Hamilton's face is on every $10 bill, but his brand isn't doing so hot. Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, has a strong brand, and he's only on the 2, and there are hardly any of those in circulation. What is a fair CPM rate for either gentleman to pay for this type of exposure? This has nothing to do with the above points, but I thought I'd point it out. Food for thought.
Only one takeaway here, really: there's nothing wrong with giving a lot of credit to the channel that produces truly measurable ROI, and if you're prepared to go through contortions to "scientifically" prove "attributability" to other forms of advertising, be prepared to accept that the casuality debate may just continue to rage on, with everyone from product engineers, to infomercial producers, to "house article" writers, to word-of-mouth guerrillas, to everyone else involved with promoting a product or brand, to continue to clamor for their fair share of credit.

Bottom line, if online display is so great and you can really prove that, the price will rise. If you can't, it won't. The judges of your science will be the ad buyers, in the end.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, November 21, 2008

Wikified Google Search: Digging a Hole So You Can Fill it Back In?

Back in July, Traffick writer Matt Larkin reviewed Google's beta test of some Digg-like features. He saw little to recommend.

Now that Google has rolled out this "Wikified search experience" nightmare, the very chilling prospect arises that Google has finally decided to ruin itself without provocation. In tennis terms it would be called an "unforced error."

It may be just a visceral reaction, but I'm with Arrington, who just pleads with Google to just turn this thing off and stop this cult of the amateur world from spilling over from YouTube into the one workable, reliable techno-thing that is for many of us truly sacred.

Sure, the main thrust of the functionality might be so you can build your own personal search preferences, and leave notes for yourself. But it's a slippery slope, isn't it? With such a big headcount churning away on cool stuff, the real danger is that change for change's sake becomes a way of life.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Facebook's Long, Long Haul

Never let it be said that Silicon Valley companies aren't built to last.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's COO, says they're in this for "20 to 30 years". In 30 years, Sandberg will be 68. Check back then.

In 30 years, even Zuckerberg will be getting short of breath.

Meanwhile, wags are wondering if Jerry Yang's recent re-appointment as Chief Yahoo makes him Yahoo for Life.

And everyone knows the three leaders of Google have made a pact among themselves to still be at the helm of the company in 20 (or was it 30?) years.

Promising never to retire: it's the ultimate Silicon Valley status symbol. I guess Steve Jobs must have started it.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Is Your Paid Search Agency Paying Attention?

I was just going through a White Paper by an agency on the subject of paid search quality scores. I hate to be picky, but if your intent is to explain keyword auctions to your clients, then factual errors don't really sit well with me. In outlining the history, this paper essentially said that Google invented Quality Score to deal with relevancy issues in 2005, and prior to that everything was a pure auction a la GoTo.

As most of you know, CTR has been baked into Google's CPC search advertising auction since 2002!

Another problem with their very brief "analysis" was failing to explain the separate roles of keyword relevancy related quality, and landing page quality. It's a cool factoid to tell people that landing page load times matter (rarely, if they're really poor like above 12 seconds), but not if that gets people optimizing the heck out of already qualified, relevant landing pages, and misinterpreting the weighting of these factors in the ranking system. Google doesn't tell us the weightings, but anyone who's worked on a few dozen accounts (or actually paid attention to those accounts) knows that landing page issues create poor quality in rare cases, but "optimizing" an already good landing page is something you do, as the fitness magazines say, "for you" (for your own conversion rates)... the fun you have with landing pages shouldn't generally impact your ad rank too much as long as the page in question doesn't suck, isn't evil, etc.

So, this big agency's tiny "white paper" looks authoritative, but explains nothing in the end. Amazingly, one of this huge agency's specialties is buying clicks for large company clients.

But agencies aren't the only ones who fudge the facts on ad quality. In 2007, I saw a major international Google office once (no not Canada!) give a presentation that referred to the 2002 version of the formula. Guess they figured the ordinary schmoes "can't handle the truth"! (There may be something to that.)

At the end of the day, all of this fudging, and oversimplifying, and drawing of cartoons to show how easy it is to run an AdWords campaign results in rampant confusion and second-guessing. I talked with a prospect whose company has now been advertising on Google for four years. I noted the high costs on certain branded keywords, in part (I thought) due to certain relevancy and quality issues baked into the algorithm. I also noted that these were unjustified in the sense that the auction on those words wasn't particularly competitive; and moreover, the algorithm wasn't doing a great job on many of them -- there were wrong ads and bad ads from low quality competitors appearing against some of those terms, tickety-boo.

"But I thought it was a pure auction!," said the client side dude.

What? A pure auction? Not since 2002. All the cartoons and 138-word "white papers" in the world can't boil down the auction process into something super-simple. But let's go with this much: CTR is still super-important, and then there are a list of exceptions and quirks you should familiarize yourself with. And for new accounts, experts like David Szetela (I concur with his take) get into some of the subtleties of the ideal way to build out for maximum Quality Score friendliness.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, November 20, 2008

Q3 Internet Advertising Revenues: Soft (Except for Google)

It's a bit surreal to juxtapose today's release from the IAB -- Internet Advertising Revenues for Q3 at $5.9 billion -- with Google's earnings release of last month, related to their Q3 earnings.

Since Google's revenues were $5.54 billion, you're apt to say: what the heck is going on here?

The IAB figures cover the U.S. only, of course.

But if you subtract Google's international revenues, their U.S.-only revenues for the quarter were all of $2.69 billion. So in the United States, this one company appears to be clocking about 46% of the revenues for the whole digital advertising sector. Twiddle a few knobs, and wait a quarter, and Google will be at around 50%. Among other things, you would imagine that this makes further acquisitions dicey for Google. One company moving from, say, 50% to 58% of share for an entire sector of such importance might make certain regulators nervous. (Not saying it's right, but that's sort of how the world works.)

Whether that's proof that Google is incredibly big, or the rest of the sector remains embarrassingly small given the gallons of ink devoted to it, I'll leave to your discretion. A third possibility is that display and other forms of online advertising have yet to reach the peak of efficiency achieved by Google's click auction.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Andrew Goodman says...

You gotta keep it in perspective.

Google was kind enough to share with me this evening a new take on their now multi-faceted keyword research tool lineup. I tinkered a bit, but between knocking off work at a reasonable 7:00 p.m., going to the gym, shopping for tasteful late-fall v-necks, and eating dinner, it seems I finished the evening without a single thing to say about Google's new product rollout, other than: I look forward to playing around with it. But seriously: that's work, and I didn't play with it very much after the news embargo lifted at 8:30 p.m. my time.

The real story is over at Mike Grehan's place (blog, I mean). On Sunday, as you can see beautifully laid out in his extensive post, he posted the full account of his day accompanying Incisive Media's Matt McGowan on a Veteran's Day adventure of a lifetime -- ("is this unreal or what?"). Read on a bit, to the previous day's post, and you get an inkling of another development in the search marketing events world: Matt's recent promotion. Well known to many as VP of Global Marketing, Matt's new VP position encompasses publishing and content, so he'll oversee of a variety of digital properties for Incisive. I wasn't even aware that Matt has only been with Incisive since 2006. A lot accomplished in a short time. (That's Mike pictured at left, on fifth avenue... not Matt. :) )

So what's happening with me here in Toronto this week? Well, I'm not as good with the camera or the anecdotes as Mike, but I can say I'll be guest-speaking at a class for the Canadian Marketing Association tomorrow night, and on Thursday Google will be throwing some events here in Toronto for -- finally -- the grand opening of their new, non-temporary, fully-Googly Toronto office in Canada Square on Yonge St.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, November 17, 2008

Jerry Yang's Departure as Yahoo CEO: Nice Man, Bad Leadership

To lead with what should hopefully be obvious to all, in spite of the frustrations many of us have shown with Yahoo's recent progress, Kara's certainly right: Jerry Yang is a nice man.

We'll be back with a few more thoughts on this one, on top of the many we've shared about the company over the past few years.

But for starters I'll begin with what I think are a couple of serious indicators as to what was so misguided about Yang's and his predecessors' approach to running Yahoo.

First, the comment in Yang's departure memo, that "the company is in many ways stronger than it was 18 months ago," or some such claptrap. Sure, you can make a list. Point to many accomplishments and initiatives. But what if those things are being spun out in a rapidly deteriorating context, where they are unlikely to thoroughly succeed?

This persistent soft focus on harsh realities is the hallmark of a "comparison company" that "doesn't go from good to great." I've recently pored over Jim Collins' Good to Great for the umpteenth time. Although all of Collins' insights aren't bulletproof, the part about the most successful leaders who have ultimate faith in prevailing but also build a culture of confronting harsh reality rings so true. At Yahoo, everything always seemed to be just fine, until the broken parts began to be fixed, two years behind schedule.

At least Peanut Butter Exec Garlinghouse was willing to stand up and say this. He had to say he bled purple when he tore a strip off the company for its failings, but at least he did it.

The corollary to the first point, then; secondly, is the conflation of loyalty with performance. It seems that "bleeding purple" is a prerequisite for working in the management ranks at Yahoo.

Dammit, it's us consumers that need to bleed purple, not you guys. We need to love the company; you need to make it work.

Fortunately, that leads me to my next, hopeful point. A lot of us still do bleed purple. Yeah I said it! I don't hide my Yahoo schwag when guests come over. I still have my own pet ideas for how Yahoo could improve its best products and extend its beloved brand. I think Yahoo could partner offline with all kinds of business and consumer routines in a way that Google couldn't.

So there you have it. We're great customers, and many missteps by Yahoo's management have left the company a shell of what it might have been, lying next to a pool of purple blood, waiting for Microsoft to swoop in with a mop and a transfusion. Let's hope for better days ahead.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Mark Cuban's Alleged Insider Trading...

Is it even worth a comment?

Not about the case. Definitely not.

But I do remember thinking it curious that Cuban was messing around making high profile investments in a couple of tiny little search companies with zero fundamentals and in Mamma's case, not even "potential" given that it was on the downslope of its "story" (as in "story stock") when Cuban happened on it.

If he'd been really interested in this genre of technology companies, why not go for a portfolio approach to small-company search technology, or take a different tack than taking a stake in a publicly traded penny stock? Taking a stab at Mamma (and what was the other one, IceRocket?) seemed a bit like throwing darts... or a fun night playing Texas Hold 'Em or entering a pie-eating contest for charity.

In which case... if he loses... that will have been an awfully costly "night out." But I seriously doubt that a conviction would convince anyone that Mark Cuban was thoroughly guilty of anything other than being a goof with his money.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




SES Chicago is Jessica Bowman's Favorite SES Conference

Jessica Bowman, an in-house SEO expert who has built in-house SEO programs at Yahoo and Enterprise Rent-a-Car, will be back to join attendees and fellow speaking alumni for this year's Search Engine Strategies Chicago conference.

Recently Jessica was overheard telling friends that SES Chicago is her favorite SES. We caught up with Jessica to get to the bottom of this. We also asked Jessica for a few other thoughts and pointers about conference life and large-organization SEO.

Traffick: Jessica, you've been overheard stating that SES Chicago is your favorite SES conference of all! I don't hear that so much. People may mention San Jose because of the great weather and the Google Dance, or New York or London because, well, they're New York and London. Me, I have a bunch of reasons to prefer SES Toronto above any other. But Chicago?!? My Page Zero posse and I have a lot of fond memories of that conference to be sure, but maybe you can share your reasons for liking this one the best?

J.B.: It's my favorite event because it's more intimate than all of the other shows. The show is at the same location as the conference hotel, so you don't have to go out in the cold, and you can sneak a few winks during lunch if you need them. Because of this, everyone is condensed within the Hilton, which makes constant opportunities for interaction. And, there are two great bars where everyone congregates in the evenings where you can talk more candidly and interact with the speakers you saw during the day.

Traffick: Other than eating a piece of the giant candy Christmas decoration in the Hilton lobby and getting ill, I have one SES Chicago memory (non content related) that really stands out: Buddy Guy himself getting up to do a number at his blues club (Buddy Guy's). Sample lyrics: "Hey all you Yahoo people, why don't you call me on the phone..." Anyway. Do you have any spectacular memories?

J.B.: The Buddy Guy party is my fondest memory of all and one of the reasons Chicago is my favorite. Outside of that, it's the many nights of great conversation that happens at the hotel bar. The venue seems to be very conducive to conversations with attendees - I have had many eye opening conversations an met new people that have become friends.

Traffick: Fond indeed. I remember having a conversation with some of the guys in Buddy's band, and by the end of it, they were all fired up to come play at Jeff Healy's in Toronto... Your speaking and consulting generally focus on the challenges of in house SEO. Have these kinds of sessions become more popular over the years? Do you feel that the number of independent SEO shops will dwindle over time as companies bring the work in-house?

J.B.: In-house SEO sessions have definitely become more popular. When I started as an in-house SEO 6 years ago at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, I didn't meet one person who was in-house. Two years later we had the first in-house SEO session and only 20 people attended. Today it's a full house and once or twice we've even had standing room only at an in-house session.

I believe there will still be a place for independent shops, and I expect the number to decrease over time, but not in the next 3 years. I anticipate the demand for agency work among the bigger brands to dwindle, because they are starting to catch on and have the need and budget to build an in-house SEO program. I predict the needs for agencies will be more project based and bigger long-term contracts will come more from the mid-sized company who isn't ready to build out a team, but is ready to invest in SEO.

Traffick: That all makes sense. Some companies should never build in-house capacities in areas where they cannot afford the full-time expertise, or can't find a top person. And as far as all those in-house and agency positions being properly staffed, we're years away from the point where we overcome the current labor shortage of qualified SEO's, and years away from the point where this knowledge set is built into what people in a variety of professions bring to the table. You hear a lot of talk about folks 'knowing just enough to be dangerous,' and they are just that! My next question is about Yahoo, where you did in-house SEO advising. Can you share any learnings about being in the interesting position of teaching a big company that is actually a search engine, how to get better rankings in search engines?

J.B.: [Chuckle] Surprisingly, it's the same as it was for any enterprise-level organization. When I joined Yahoo!, I thought it would be different because they were a search engine and I was going to be doing things differently. It turns out that they are no different than any large company with many different divisions - politics, red tape, proving the ROI, getting SEO into the development life cycle, etc.

The biggest tips I have for enterprise-level in-house SEO programs are:

  • Get SEO injected into the development life cycle. This seems to be the most complicated and the most vital to success. It requires you to put on your detective hat and map out the entire development life cycle - who does what, when, who they give it to, who approves it, etc. Then, identify which steps and deliverables SEO needs to be involved in. It gets challenging because most companies do not have it documented in the level of detail you need for successful SEO injection. When clients bring me on board, the first thing we do are a series of intake discussions that reveal new layers of complexity with every minute. Once we know the intricate development life cycle, we identify where SEO needs to be involved when it comes to: meetings, discussions, reviews, approvals, contributions and more.

  • Train. Train again. Train one more time. Repeat. SEO is not top of mind, it's not part of the job description and in the grand scheme of things it's not truly a priority in the eyes of many people involved in SEO.

  • Establish a scorecard. At large organizations, scorecards work very well. Make it simple, yet effective and compare different divisions so that business managers can see what SEO can do for them. A piece of advice I give to clients is when creating your scorecard, run it by all the execs before you officially publish it. Some managers are sensitive about other people

Traffick: Awesome tips! Hehe. You trailed off a bit at the end there but I think you're coming through crystal clear. Managers don't like to be told they're doing a crappy job. Tact is key. Did I just say crappy? One last question. Do you have any strategy for learning and developing your talents that you apply when attending the search marketing conferences? Even conference veterans need to keep pushing the envelope and using the opportunity for continued learning, networking, and personal growth, right? How about tips for newbies?

J.B.: Tips for the newbies:

  • Talk to anyone and everyone - it's surprising who truly knows search engine marketing and who can add insights to your PPC or SEO campaigns.

  • Gather business cards and write on them - too many times I have come home with a stack of cards and struggle to remember what we discussed and why I wanted their card. One additional thing I've learned is to fold the corner of cards that are from people I want to talk to after the show.

  • Attend sessions all day - even if it's something you already know, sometimes just sitting back and listening to what others are doing will make you think about your projects from a different perspective. I have been attending search conferences for 6 years and I still take away tidbits and come up with new ideas during the most basic sessions.

Traffick: Thanks for your time and insights, Jessica! See you on December 8.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, November 15, 2008

Click Arbitrage Hits the Mainstream (If Only in Hindsight)

Under the guise of the weekly personal financial profile called "Me and My Money" in the Globe and Mail, reporter Tony Martin teases out an interesting local tech story from investor Will Ashworth that refers directly to Geosign's click-arbitrage-oriented business model. Holy moly!

For those just beginning to score at home, Geosign's properties included a site called TrueLocal, along with several thousand other websites that showed sponsored links, largely in partnership with Yahoo. Traffic was driven to those sites by SEO and low-priced clicks obtained by "lowball bidding" on Google AdWords. Google's Quality Scoring system, including the period where low Quality Scores were associated with high minimum bids per click (as high as $5.00 or $10.00), was largely motivated by top management's desire to squelch most of the arbitrage-based ads in the system.

The key excerpt from the article, "Writer pens an ode to small-cap stocks":

"Forget Nortel. Freelance writer Will Ashworth calls the 2007 collapse of Guelph-based Geosign -- where he worked for six months up to its demise, just weeks after it received $160 million in venture capital -- the biggest tech wreck. It was trying to make money from online arbitrage, but crashed when Google changed its policies. 'It certainly teaches you that in investing, things aren't always what they appear.'"

And, one supposes, in business generally.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, November 13, 2008

Investing Primer

Google currently holds $46 in cash per share, and its book value per share is $87.

Going with the most optimistic figure, if you bought Google stock today at $287, it would be like getting it for $200.

An amazing bargain? Personally, I think so -- recession and all. Another point to consider is that Google's EPS is dampened by massive expansion. Any belt-tightening at all, or a hiring freeze, could goose profits and add to that cash pile.

Note: I hold no shares in any tech stocks, including GOOG. And do not have any ax to grind. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




New Google Site Search Functionality: Initial Thoughts

Today, Google releases a new update to its increasingly popular Site Search product. I had the chance to speak with Nitin Mangtani, Lead Product Manager for Enterprise Search at the company, about Google Site Search's growing momentum.

Along with its popular search appliances, Google's "cloud-based" site search solution is gaining momentum. New pricing and features seem to eliminate some previous objections to using what was already a powerful service.

Clearly a search focused company will have a leg up in providing comprehensive indexing of your pages, and fast, relevant results for queries. But what else does Google bring to the table?

Customization is key. Today, companies using the increasingly inexpensive product (it starts at $100) can choose their own "look and feel" if they so choose, and yes, you can remove the Powered by Google logo treatment with no penalty -- it's up to you.

Ranking customization and layout options are more extensive than you might realize. Site owners can feature certain types of content; they can add specific weightings for valued attributes such as freshness; and much more. I'm uncertain how far you could really take this for a site requiring full customization, though: a movie review site that wanted its own look and feel across the board would probably still feel constrained by the Googliness of this particular search solution. But the product shines for many information-rich corporate sites, and ecommerce sites seeking to connect customers with products no matter what the query.

Because Google is ahead of many competitors on things like misspellings and synonyms, it's also a bonus to have these features included in Google Site Search. Site owners can customize synonym lists as well; it seems like that is standard fare for site search today.

I asked Nitin specifically if "smart" algorithm ranking factors like clickstream and behavioral data would be used to bubble relevant results to the top. By all means, the advantages of Google's proprietary technology are brought to bear on every query, was his answer. But here is where some customers might get uneasy. There is an uncertain mix between rank weightings you can customize yourself, and black box ranking factors that will run in Googly fashion and never be revealed to you. Those who wish to control or understand their site search algorithm won't enjoy this black box product, and this is where Google's status as a public search engine that must guard its ranking secrets against spammers becomes as much of a liability as a strength, given that now, you're guarding the algorithm against potential developers of custom ranking solutions for localized use, as opposed to would-be rank mavens trying to game the system in the case of the adversarial indexing environment of the public Web.

Google has chosen a new pricing model, and the new "index on demand" feature of the cloud-based site search product, as hooks for this latest round of publicity. But on the whole, it's simply useful to be reminded that Google's inexpensive, lightning-fast, uber-scalable site search product now has the chops to handle not only many mission-critical large company needs, but the flexibility and low price to impress niche site owners looking for a better, cheaper, site search solution. Worth a look.

Today there are simply a lot more reasons to take a second look at Google Site Search.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is AdWords Quality Score "Like SEO"?

Quality Score = SEO. That's the oversimplified version of things being shared around by some marketing advice-givers of late.

Ask any key Googler on the paid or unpaid search side, and they'll readily admit something like "for both the organic search algorithm and the paid search ranking system, we look at very similar signals."

That's not the same as saying the AdWords program responds well to "SEO," however. Landing pages serve a very different function in paid search campaigns. You don't have to perfect them with SEO principles, and you'll very rarely get a major ranking boost from using SEO principles. You'll still predominantly rank well if you (1) have a high CTR; (2) bid sufficiently high; (3) create a strong relevancy pattern by associating the most relevant high-intent keywords with relevant ads and relevant landing pages.

Strictly dealing with the landing pages themselves, though, don't go overboard worrying about their impact on Quality Score. The wrong landing page can give you a poor Quality Score, for a variety of don't-be-evil reasons. Google does attempt to look at the page content, and will measure user responses such as bounce rates and back-button-hitting. But you don't have to twiddle around with keywords in headings and stuffing keywords in body text as if this were SEO circa 1997.

Powerful campaigns with real patterns of satisfied user behavior are "relevant enough," even with the basic elements of relevancy present on the page. Additional relevancy is likely not gained with keyword stuffing efforts. Outdated efforts to game QS with SEO principles only take away from real user response testing - pleasing navigation, persuasion, and testing that can improve conversion rates (without gimmicks and superstition).

The folks to say "AdWords = SEO"... they may be in the ballpark, and they haven't totally struck out, but the analogy is a foul tip into the bleachers, at best.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Something Funny's Going On

Google has been unusually active with product releases and good-news announcements all of a sudden. Historically, this has often coincided with a PR strategy to blunt the impact of bad news in the immediate news media and blogosphere reaction.

In the last few days, we've heard of upgrades to Google Ad Planner, major new developments with Google Analytics, the release of Google video chat, and this flu-tracking thing has gotten so much play I heard Marissa Meyer on the lunchtime radio news.

And there is more to come, with more significant announcements slated through the next week (just watch).

This has me thinking something must be up. The stock has taken a major hit this afternoon, to close to $290 (down 6.75%). Maybe that's just a reaction to further analyst downgrades, which usually signal a bottom for stocks in solid companies. Maybe the vagaries of federal bailout plans and stimulus or lack of it, election results, and general market conditions are making this safe stock look riskier than the rest of the stocks in the index. But something makes me suspect another shoe is set to drop.

Maybe that's market psychology at its most acute, though. It's spooky, whatever it is.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Organizing The World's Images of You in Your Bathrobe, and Making Them Universally Accessible

Google rolls out voice and video chat.

[I'm already using the voice; I am sure I expected this development. As for the timing, it does seem timely to me. The Google blog post about this points out how it helps this particular project team communicate between the US and Sweden (Sweden? Isn't that where Skype's from?); lately, you may have seen those GoToMeeting TV spots touting the benefits and cost savings of remote meetings as against costly air travel in a recession.]

Techcrunch predicts a whiteboard feature next. Ouch again for any company trying to charge for any of this stuff...

So... the purpose of Skype now is...???

Well, I guess you could use competing products so Google won't be archiving digital images of little old you yakking about confidential company matters. If you're the paranoid type.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yahoo Leads the Way in Election-Frenzied News Category: Hitwise

According to day-by-day traffic numbers being circulated by Hitwise, Yahoo News is the #1 source for news these days, especially in the days leading up to, and during, the election. In fact, Yahoo News's market share for news visits is triple Google News', the #4 player in a near dead heat with Fox News at #5. MSNBC is #3; CNN.com is #2.

The Drudge Report, ABC News, NYTimes.com, USA Today, The Huffington Post, AOL News, The Washington Post, and Real Clear Politics are among the other leaders this past week.

The picture is a little more embarrassing for Google News than the Hitwise figures seem to suggest, because they have FOXNews.com Elections in 8th place. Combined, the FOX properties as a whole vault into 4th place, pushing Google News down to #5.

Of course these are estimates based on Hitwise's proprietary sampling methods. But Yahoo News has a solid lead, it appears.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Yahoo Ad Agreement: Google Won't Proceed

My sources just informed me that Google has pulled out of the advertising agreement with Yahoo, citing regulatory interference.

Although it is a short term loss to Yahoo's bottom line, I believe ultimately it's healthier for competition to keep the two companies more at arm's length and for Yahoo to continue to develop their own, proprietary platforms.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Take Heart, American Friends

Somewhere in the world, business carries on more or less as usual.

This report shows Canadian auto sales hitting a record in October, while US car sales are reaching new heights of terribleness.

Automotive industry expert Dennis Desrosiers wonders whether Canadians opened their "investment statements" in October. Don't they know they're poor? But hey, that's thinking like an American!

Canadians have less propensity to buy or not buy things based on whether they feel prosperous. On average, my visual observation suggests that Canadians tend to keep their cars longer, and a large number of them are driving around in crappy, beat-up cars. In the US people trade them in more frequently and on average, try to keep up with the Joneses a bit more.

North of the border was seeming so shabby, by comparison. All those dented fenders and dark green Ford Escorts and ancient Hondas. Yep, it all seemed kind of pointlessly frugal ... until now.

Now, when it truly comes "time" to go ahead and get a new vehicle, for Canadians, it's time, period. And if employment doesn't completely go in the tank, with the relatively robust state of Canadian mortgage ratios, and the like, Canadians will by and large be able to finance their new vehicles. And if prices improve or exchange rates help some people earn a bit more, sales will actually go up.

Meanwhile, it's morning in America. Today's the day. Good luck, everyone!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, November 03, 2008

Get Social, T.O. SEM'ers

The informal, unauthorized, ad hoc Greater Toronto Area SEM Social Organizing Committee has set the date & place for the next SEM Social event.

For those who have yet to attend, it's a chance to get together and talk not too much shop with others with an interest in search engine marketing and related digital marketing fields. We expect a nice group of 20-25 folks.

When: Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008, 6:30 p.m. (arriving promptly may help make our case to take over the private room) - 10:30 p.m.+

Where: The Charlotte Room, 19 Charlotte St. (near Adelaide & Spadina)

Why: Because the rest of our lives are far too "organized". No minutes will be taken.

Who: No criteria but a willingness to dish dirt, cut deals, and talk smack with search marketers and related digital marketing mavens. Bring a friend.

See you there!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Separated at Birth? Hallowe'en Wrapup

Witness here the amazing resemblance of our very own (search marketing industry's very own I mean) Elisabeth Osmeloski, to the expensively be-suited excellency-Alaska-governor Sarah Palin. Pictured here with First Mate Matthew Ostrander.

Elisabeth claims she was "going for Tina Fey" with the look. Sure, we'll buy that... we know you're not power-hungry enough to want to be VP (who, by the way, "presides over the Senate,"), and funny women are totally de rigueur. Intentionally funny women, that is.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, November 01, 2008

Facebook: What Would You Pay For?

Sam Diaz over at ZDNet specifies which premium services he'd pay Facebook for.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sarcastic AOL'ers Slag GMail in Post

Wishing them a Happy Hallowe'en, some folks over at AOL backhandedly critique Google for lack of originality in what several commenters referred to as a "petty" post.

One comment noted: "I don't get the joke. Did GMail adopt a clunkier interface for Hallowe'en?" (Ouch.)

Another said: "Scoreboard: TWX $10.09. GOOG $359.36." Ouch again.

Interesting point buried in the spite, though: the AOL Webmail team introduced an attachment reminder feature in 2007, well before GMail did. On one hand, we should probably smack some common sense into our own heads whenever we find ourselves a little too impressed with an incremental feature release from the Big G. On the other, I'm guessing Google's attachment warning feature works better than AOL's. Just a hunch.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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