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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Google Red-Faced...And Me, Too

You know a glitch is bad when Marissa Mayer posts on a Saturday. Google briefly flagged the entire Internet as "malware."

On a related subject, only twelve hours before Google's "human error" driven snafu, I had been informally sending some remarks to a client on third party "trust gauge" type indicators. My take was that the "malware" and "website trust" services often report too many false positives, to the detriment of legitimate companies.

I suggested that these third party services give warning indicators that are often "far over and above what a company like Google would say/do."

I further noted: "Google has in recent times gone as far as building in spyware warnings for sites that warn you that you probably shouldn't even go on to visit the site. But I can't help but think that many of these other 'nasty site report' scoring mechanisms are often inaccurate. A ton of legitimate companies have been caught in the net."

And went on to say: "So I think it's fortunate that Google uses more sophisticated methods to get it right, and there generally isn't an all-or-nothing type of response (save for sites that trade in spyware)."

Whoops! For a couple of hours there, Google's net was cast very wide indeed!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rewards for Search: Yahoo Canada Teams Up With Air Miles

Toolbar installation for cash or points isn't new. It has an uneven history in Internet lore, with the crash and burn of a few schemes back in 2000 as they were overrun by teens and hackers gaming the systems.

That wasn't the only reason I was skeptical when Microsoft rolled out a program to reward users for the searches they do, a few months back. (It's been a modest success, while share of non-incented searching on Live Search seems to be still declining.) It's also because people are not always eager to change their behavior just to get some small reward. Changing brand loyalty from Google to another search engine would take more than just points, you would think.

So how will this program whereby Yahoo (teamed up with a toolbar software company) rewards Air Miles cardholders for the searches they do, shake out? Will people switch to Yahoo just for the points? Well, they pick credit cards on that basis. But it probably isn't the reason why I bought Tropicana orange juice over another brand.

Despite not being overly impressed with all incentive schemes, I do know that some loyalty programs are much more popular than others. People love Air Miles. (They love real air miles even more, so a frequent flyer program toolbar like Aeroplan might be a bit more exciting.)

Still, one of the key reasons Air Miles works and keeps working is that your behavior is constantly being prompted. The clerk at the store, or the display at the gas station, asks you if you've got an Air Miles card. That isn't happening with your choice of, say, search engines or browsers (and when it does, unless it's at the top of your device or OS setup funnel, i.e. when you're just configuring it, you tend to get annoyed at the "browser war" or "search war" that puts all these prompts in your face).

So for this to work, somebody needs to prompt web users to install a toolbar or to make use of a loyalty program. Otherwise, far fewer searchers are going to take the trouble to make the switch. I'm sure a purple flyer in the Air Miles mailing will help. But that won't be enough, either.

That's why a merger between Microsoft and Yahoo (or, given that Microsoft isn't interested, the all-encompassing partnership they're probably going to work on) makes so much sense. If Microsoft, along with other players such as the makers of computers and mobile devices, prompt owners of new computers, new software, new OS's, etc., with the reminder to install the toolbar or to activate it with the rewards card information, now you're seeing some serious adoption that might win some market share back from Google... who would be unlikely to follow suit, as it would look tacky for the market leader to try to copycat such a transparent attempt to bribe people to use their search engine.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Yahoo Finance vs. Google Finance: Which Page Is Better?

I used Yahoo Finance for years, until I began spending more time on Google Finance.

My question is: which of these two pages is better?

Google Finance...


















or Yahoo Finance?













Both have information. Both monetize with some advertising.

My answer is, it's the page that gives me the information I want right away. And that's Google Finance. It's all about the chart, that draws the eye in. And about the AJAXy charts that are so quickly accessible and speedily adjustable once you drill down (from either the index chart or a stock symbol).

I'm sure there is a lot you can do with Yahoo Finance -- more than ever. It remains a very popular site. But for me, I'm just not that motivated to find out, because it doesn't draw me in quickly when it loads. Beware, Yahoo, the usability gods will get you eventually, even in verticals where you maintain a substantial lead.

I probably shouldn't mention that the ads on Yahoo Finance often blink annoyingly.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Some days, I think about pulling an Arrington

Michael Arrington has had a week you wouldn't wish on anyone. Being spat on and witnessing the volley of unfair criticism rising to a fever pitch is no way to get into the WSJ.

The last time anyone spat on me was in a schoolyard at age 8. A bully chased me around the asphalt for about a half a mile. I got tired of running away, so I stopped. The bully stopped short, and unloaded a looghie right on my face. And then began running away. So I started chasing him. Anyway, people who spit on people are inherently repulsive. Even shoe-throwing is tidier.

Although I blog to a smaller audience, and I'm not being attacked daily, I can understand Arrington's sentiments about just wanting to stop because it isn't worth it anymore. Over here, my issue is with people's extreme sensitivity to criticism. With large companies, the slightest criticism can invoke either a response or that familiar cold shoulder response, whereby you can assume they're trying to teach you to write only positive things.

Startups are the worst, because they really want coverage. So their response to any negative coverage can be lightning-fast and solicitous. ("I see you covered x. Want to see a demo so I can show you how this thing really works?") It's not a big surprise that this is how a company might deal with coverage they don't like, but it's achingly predictable. And it's amazing how, up until that point, they'd never shown any signs of reading the blog, getting to know the writer, or participating in the relevant online communities... until all of a sudden they want to make friends, timed with some kind of public launch (or negative coverage).

That gets real old, and makes one feel like "what's the use of writing".

That said, I know that many people quietly read the content, and though not frequent, some of the comments people have written here in the past couple of years have been encouraging.

Probably the only reason I won't take February off blogging, like Mr. Arrington, is that unlike him, I won't be taking the month off to be in a warm place. I'll pretty much be dividing my time between Toronto and London, having foolishly booked something here when I should have been heading to SMX West in Santa Clara. So if I don't write in February, the only reason will probably be that my fingers froze up.

On a serious note, if nothing else, the hiatus should be good for Mr. Arrington's health. When you start to perceive extreme day-to-day pressures that look barely discernible to outside observers, it's time to step back, get some perspective, and take some deep breaths before your head or something else explodes.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Account Optimizations: YSM Blog Bites Back

In a post called "The Truth About Account Optimization," the Yahoo Search Marketing team have responded to what they see as distortions in the "blogosphere."

Ahh, the good old blogosphere, eh? It's great if they give you the thumbs-up, but when they call you on something, they really suck. They must misunderstand. And the Truth must be told.

All I did in my previous post on this one (other than joking around a bit) was ask for someone at Yahoo to stand up and be counted regarding the decision-making process that allows Yahoo staff to "help" advertisers with their accounts willy-nilly.

The response: a post by "Administrator", formally signed by "The Team." Is that any way to treat an old "blogger friend"?

The commenters on there, like Mel66, Jonathan Hochman, Ian McAnerin, and others, sure don't seem like cranks to me. And they seem none too reluctant to hop on to reiterate their disappointment with the way Yahoo has handled this particular issue. Forgive us, again, for not bleeding purple. We're just advertisers looking for real (not fake) transparency.

To quote one of the commenters, Al Scillitani: "Yahoo does not know my business, my products, my goals, nor what is converting and generating NET revenue me." That sums it up well. It is condescending to assume that SMB's are in particular need of "assistance" to the point where they need (opt-out) "help" with account management. That's implying that they're making mistakes with their accounts or are too stupid to run them. (Remember your churn-happy stockbroker friend? The one you broke up with in 1994?)

My money's not quite under the mattress yet, but...

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Yet Another SEM Automation Tool, Funded

News that WordStream just raised $4mm in funding had me checking out their product offering.

A lot of the pitch revolves around the idea that the solution can help you raise your AdWords Quality Score.

I should be thrilled that someone is doing something to show advertisers how to do this. But don't expect experienced SEM pros like yours truly to be impressed with the solution's contribution to that effort. The danger is that a large part of the discourse now shifts to the minute technological machinations that supposedly contribute to a better campaign, and away from... yup, marketing.

[While they're at it, they're going to throw in a workflow tool that will supposedly facilitate your effort in "natural" search engine optimization. Beware: cookie-cutter SEO is worthless SEO.]

Two key premises of the tool are that it facilitates:
  • Higher CTR's on ads, supposedly by helping you group correct ads with correct keywords. Proper ad testing, though, requires a combination of strategy, a testing protocol, creative, and a library of techniques. The tool addresses none of those elements of marketing. More seriously, the CTR focus (while important) does nothing to address ROI (as opposed to CTR). If the tool could (1) genuinely help you group your keywords more in sync with your customer behavior and ad copy (no easy feat, sounds great on paper); (2) help you write better ads with suggestions drawn from a database; (3) focus more on ROI; then it would be an incremental win for advertisers running large volume campaigns or many accounts. (Check back in a couple of years.) Tools like this tend to be too cumbersome and costly to bother with if you're running a small campaign.
  • Auto-generation of specific, long-tail keywords taken from site searches and from expanded matches in Google broad matching. These keywords are added over time to your account. This gimmick is by now a staple of the SEM automation field. Roughly speaking, it can be accomplished by other means and other keyword tools, including Google's free offerings. It sounds like a clever hack, to be sure. But the impact on performance should be minor if you've done a thorough job in your account. Assigning more clicks to longer phrases rather than shorter ones sounds cool, but all you're doing is complicating the data analysis task, leaving your account with a splinter effect that would require several years of data to gather statistically significant feedback for bidding (or pausing) purposes. What you're doing is taking one kind of unknown (stats related to the compound performance of popular broad or phrase matched phrases, and making it into a different kind of unknown (in an exhaustive way): a splintered bundle of lower-frequency keyword searches (which, to be sure, can sometimes help your account in volume and performance terms; just not as much as you might think). If the relevance score on an obscure phrase is actually unknown to Google, then it might actually hurt (not help) your quality score until your account gathers that data.
Currently, in collaboration with my colleague Scott Perry, I am running an ecommerce account for a major e-tailer... this account has "perfect" Quality Scores: 10/10 on at least half of the keywords. Repeat: PERFECT 10's across much of the account!

This was achieved with savvy and patient methods that aren't in every campaign manager's quiver, to be sure. But it's important to point out that high quality scores (in this case, and therefore, most others) appear to derive from:

  • CTR. Achieved using a diligent build method to organize keywords around products. Toolset used: experience, and Google's tools, mostly. Further achieved with ad testing over many months, based on years of experience testing each element of the ad (without harming ROI). Also achieved because the company has a strong brand and because the paid listings are more compelling than the organic ones.
  • Conventional user behavior, information scent, and categorization. While we believe that landing page quality generally only comes into play when the page or site is a clear affront to the consumer, perhaps there is some boost over time as Google gathers signals that indicate conventional e-commerce searching and buying behavior. BTW, minute optimization of landing pages isn't required: these landing pages have mediocre code and aren't lightning fast to load... but they show users relevant products, as expected.
  • Account-wide effect. With CTR and user behavior signals screaming off the charts of High Quality over a long period of time, Google's Quality Score algorithm "green lights" keywords throughout the account, until such time as individual ones prove themselves unworthy. This speaks to build strategy: making sure the bulk of the account performs very well so that experiments do not have much effect on account-wide quality in proportional terms.
SEM automation is a crowded field. Many of the available tools in the marketplace contain one or two helpful bits, and force you into an overall system that is in perpetual beta, pulling you away from more serious marketing considerations. And unfortunately, many will need to make misleading claims about Quality Score and long tail keyword building (note how "magical" both of these building blocks of a comprehensive online marketing strategy can be made to seem). This is not a matter of being well-intentioned or not; it's when you build marketing tools as hammers looking for nails (and customers in a "segment"), rather than organically out of real-world pain points.

It appears that the biggest shortage in our industry remains people who are good at marketing, decision-making, priority-setting, and reporting. Some of the available tools support those efforts; many seem to be a cumbersome, redundant layer seeking yet more of your precious time and attention.

Finally, I can't help but caution potential customers about the Trojan Horse problem, something I'll cover in an upcoming installment of my series on Bid Management Automation over at Search Engine Land. To boil down my argument: an unknown, recently-funded startup is eager to put their pixel tracking on your site (isn't everyone these days?). Indeed, the likelihood that they'll gain access to your data is probably one of the factors that contributed to them getting funded. But as the business owner, do you want that?

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




April Fool's Day Comes Early at Google

Offline Gmail. Sure.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, January 26, 2009

What a Great Idea: Website Focus Group for $25

Crowdsourcing is alive and well.

While it may be no substitute for in-depth usability labs, a good friend of mine recently launched a service - Third Party Feedback - that will provide real consumer feedback on their responses to your website. Price? $25. I've already tried it for a colleague's site, and dollar for dollar, I can tell you that's some of the best feedback I've ever seen!

As my friend pointed out, some of the most disheartening feedback you can receive is: "I have no idea what this site is about, or what this company does." It's not all that common, but it happens. And it's proof that all too often, we're way too close to the situation to catch the obvious.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, January 22, 2009

Google Q4 Earnings: Business as Usual?

Yep, pretty much. Growth slowed but the sky didn't fall. On an annual basis, the 2008 gross revenue figure of $21.8 billion was at or a bit ahead of where most predicted it would land, back at the start of the year.

If anything, the economic downturn (and all the talk about it) provided a solid impetus for Google to shut down its non-performing, distracting projects. If they had tried to do this in better times, there would have been more grumbling.

Now, naturally, talk will turn to speculation that it is Q1 of '09 that Google is really worried about. And maybe there will prove to be some truth to this, finally. Surely, click prices will have to soften some quarter. Advertisers looking for bargains can only hope so.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nanotargeting?

In the past, I've ranted a bit about marketers "over-targeting" to the point of stereotyping, with the effect of alienating a large portion of the customer base. In a recent book chapter I used the example of car ads that seem to cater exclusively to 24-30 year old males, yet in my real world travels I see plenty of 50-year-old women driving that vehicle. This tendency was just confirmed for me as I trawled the (apparently, only available, if you go by what comes up in a search) car forums online. A car that I would want/drive is (if you go by the online image) actually more suited for the "tuner" set of punks who subsidize vehicle purchases by paying zero rent to live with their parents. Actually, if you're online, it seems that nearly every car is owned or driven by these people. It makes you want to buy a Cadillac or a Buick Riviera just not to be associated with them.

Anyway, further to my quest to be nonplussed by ads I see on a daily basis, I opened the Globe and Mail yesterday to see a half-page green-and-purple print ad for E*TRADE touting Canadian investment RSP (retirement savings, similar to an IRA) accounts. The differentiator was fewer fees, so with the two-fifty you'd save every month, the premise is that your wealth will grow faster. Really.

The headline, in giant block letters, was:

GET THE SPORTS CAR BEFORE THE BALD SPOT.

Now I have no personal exposed skin in the game (no bald "spot"), so no personal animus. I like sports cars just fine.

Let's start with the logical problem of your wealth growing fast enough to get a sports car "before the bald spot" (whatever that means). The money is going into your retirement account. To keep it tax-sheltered, it must stay there. The idea is to keep it there until age 60, 65... something like that.

Moving on, I'm pretty sure they've also let out the entire female audience with this headline. By combining "sports car" and "bald spot" in the headline, they've deftly conveyed (ok, entirely transparently revealed) that their "research" shows the audience they're targeting is male. But by doing so, they just untargeted (turned off, however mildly) the women.

Now as for the premise that you're in a race against time to save up enough cash to get that hot car (you know, to impress the chicks), and the bald spot thing would really put a damper on your overall hotness and sporty satisfaction level. Male pattern baldness (MPB), which does not affect all men, typically starts to kick in around age 25 - or milder forms, after 30. That is to say, most MPB dudes are going to have a bald spot by age 28-32.

The "corporate promotions" announcement that happened to be right next to this ad actually showed a picture of a successful exec moving up the corporate ladder. He was late 40's looking, and had a full head of hair! For him, a double win! Any car he wants... *and* hair!

In essence then, the E*TRADE ad has decided to target youthful investors (suffering from potential MPB) who expect to be able to save enough to buy a $50,000 car (one dollar at a time, through lower fees), in time to beat the bald spot.

Target audience: high-earning males, age 22-24.

People alienated: all women, and nearly all men with money to invest.

Once again confirming to me that some of the people supposedly helping companies with advertising are hurting more than they help.

Someone might counter that the line was meant to be funny. But block letters
are rarely funny. Maybe a hilarious photo? Of some silly, oddly-dressed *old guy*? (Age 32?)

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Canadian Tire Shutters E-Store

My father-in-law, George, is something of a business expert.

An ex-banker, he can generally make sense of a balance sheet. Then he goes around and talks to employees, and pokes around in the stores. For him, it's far superior to golf as a pastime. It might even beat growing tomatoes.

For several years George has had one conclusion about Canadian Tire: "They've got big problems."

George has never visited Canadian Tire's website... nor much of any website, for that matter. That's my department.

Disclosure: Canadian Tire is an ex-client.

We *never* talk publicly about ex-clients, and we certainly don't disclose anything about current clients without their permission. So about all I can say about this as a now outside observer is, they shut down their entire e-commerce operation, and I'm gobsmacked.

In the news release about this, a company spokesperson referred to the cost of shipping heavy items such as patio sets. (!) Come on. Patio sets were never on anyone's radar as an item to buy from Canadian Tire online. Instead there is a long, long tail of attractive items that people might indeed buy. But the online presence didn't make it easy to buy, and needed a total overhaul. I'm not close to the situation, but just over a year ago, one of their most senior and savvy execs left the company -- one assumes out of frustration.

While it's certainly true that the online world faces challenges (the fact that 85% of Canadians live within a 15-minute drive of a Canadian Tire store, leaving little on the table for what is already a small national market), there is only one way to enter that world as a major retailer. One word: investment. Investment, even on a fraction of the scale of the investment in 450 brick and mortar stores.

Lack of investment = failure. "Patio sets are heavy" sounds like one of a string of rationalizations for a lack of commitment to e-commerce. Let's hope the fearful attitude isn't contagious. The last thing Canada needs today is to shrink from innovation and the pursuit of consumer convenience and efficiency (to say nothing of leadership in data mining, etc.). Canadians are indeed reluctant to buy online, as compared with their U.S. counterparts. Without leadership from the highest corporate levels, they may remain reluctant.

Let's not dance around this in typically Canadian fashion. If frickin' Hedonics can sell online here in Canada, then so can Canadian Tire.

If Sonoma-Williams (a U.S. company) American Apparel (a U.S company) can, so can Canadian Tire. If Zappos and NutsOnline (both U.S. companies too) can do it, so can Canadian Tire. If Golf Town can... well, you get the idea. (You don't literally have to ship tires.)

Prediction: the Canadian Tire e-store will be back, after a couple of years of rethinking and hopefully, recruitment of specialists. For now, it sounds like they're piloting a "research online, pick up in store" program, which is interesting, but more or less mimics behavior people already follow tacitly. Another option, if Amazon beefs up its .ca presence to partner with hundreds of retailers as it does in the U.S. , would be to negotiate a preferred partnership with the e-commerce leader. That too would require commitment to study and tweak the program to respond to consumer behavior over several years. It's easy to give up too soon. (Doom was predicted many times for Amazon itself, by Wall Street pundits and "retail analysts".)

Meanwhile, the long, cold winter for would-be e-shoppers in Canada continues. Enjoy that drive to the store.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, January 16, 2009

Nah, Microsoft didn't "blow it" with PPC in 2000

I'm a bit concerned with the take by Larry Dignan on this WSJ story about Microsoft shuttering a service called Keywords in 2000.

The point is not that they didn't do much with paid search (or even that Yahoo could have "done more" with Overture).

The point is that there have been dozens of viable and interesting keyword purchase and auction inventions. There were even some solid contenders from well known brand names, such as LookSmart, and before that, AltaVista, and virtually the first appearance of the concept ever, Open Text. Metasearch engine MetaCrawler sold keywords too, prior to 1998, though the system wasn't slick.

But, and it's a big but, the real issue has always been share of searches, not quality of monetization platforms.

Google built the lion's share of searches *and* had a slick monetization auction. The reason Overture and Yahoo were second is because Overture pioneered that auction *and* Yahoo was a solid second in search share. Prior to the Yahoo acquisition, Overture enjoyed share by partnership. Its distribution network was very solid. Lest we forget, one of its early wins was Microsoft bCentral, and later, MSN used Overture to monetize its paid searches. While paying the revenue share to Overture might have cut into profit slightly, Microsoft would have "won" if it had grown search share. It could have kept sending those checks to Overture, switched to any number of other partners, and built its own solution more quickly, if that had seemed to matter.

Today, Microsoft adCenter is a fine PPC auction platform and would be even better if more resources were devoted to it. But advertisers won't begin to care until the share of searches and paid search ad spend reaches, say, 15%. It's also missing the distribution advantages of the Google Content Targeting network, which has grown and improved by leaps and bounds since its introduction in 2003. So here again, Microsoft is behind on distribution and the convenience of buying more ads, not on monetization platforms. Google acted with desperation to get ahead of competitors like Yahoo, Microsoft, and DoubleClick in the nascent "text ad display space" and really innovated by acquiring semantic matching resources and building their own technology aggressively on top of that. They iterated and failed often; they shipped new releases early and often.

So to recap the point about monetization platform vs. share of searches (and secondarily share of network partners and publishers): all of those other properties -- AltaVista, Open Text, LookSmart, and many others -- went by the wayside as consumer engines, so there was nothing left to monetize. Microsoft (to date) has not grown its search share high enough to "compete" with Google, though they're way ahead of zero.

Yahoo has also been a disappointment in that regard, and both Yahoo and Microsoft did a poor job of chasing Google in the "text display ad" auction space, as well. It's all about reach. Google saw the race developing, and began running it at least a year sooner than anyone else would have.

That's the point. As is usually the case, market leadership doesn't turn on a single event. It's all about immersion and total commitment to a market. Only Google displayed that. Yahoo came close. Microsoft? The jury is still out.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Page Zero Seminar Reminder: Book Now for Best Price

Hey, just a reminder that you'll get a better price if you book your seat for our upcoming marketing seminar, "Winning the Paid Search Game," by end of day Jan. 15. After that, early bird pricing ($299 in Canadian bucks) expires.

There are many good reasons to attend: whether you're in a related marketing discipline and need to gain some perspective on the fast-growing world of Google advertising; want to pump up your campaign performance and stop making costly errors; or get personalized answers to difficult strategy questions... it's all happening on Feb. 3 at the MaRs Collaboration Centre. (Bonus: yes, of course you get a signed copy of Winning Results with Google AdWords, 2nd ed., if you attend!)

Breakfast is provided, and networking opportunities continue as we'll walk to lunch (optional!) after the learning.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Change

The new head of the FCC is "one of us," according to Fred Wilson.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, January 10, 2009

Spotted: Backlash Against Advertising... By Advertisers, in Ads

Recently I've come across examples of ads that get all introspective and self-referential on us, essentially by self-deprecatingly referring to the questionable value of advertising itself.

Billboard ads spotted around Toronto showed an ad for Miele appliances with shouty graphics -- "up to 40% off!" - "hurry in!" - "BLOWOUT!" - " - "Offer expires Dec. 31!"... followed by something along the lines of:

"Sorry. We never have sales. We're new to this."

Maxwell House is running a TV ad that says "The average TV advertisement costs $245,000. This one cost $19,000. Where should we spend the difference?" (The idea came from ad agency: Ogilvy Toronto.)

Two very different brands. But they have something in common: they're openly questioning advertising business as usual... right in the ads. With the help of an ad agency!

Worthy causes -- seen as more worthy than advertising? Referring to the cost of advertising -- in an ad? Apologizing for a sale promotion, to get a laugh? We're on the verge of a major crisis of confidence in the old brand logic. The cracks are starting to show.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, January 09, 2009

Death of the Blogroll?

The cheeky term "blogroll" contained within its ironic coinage and smirking delivery the seeds of its own demise.

As it grew in popularity, the term was leapt on by the very people who bought into all that Cluetrain-era openness, transparency, and good old meritocracy. Great content, not powerful friends, should decide who and what gets read. Right?

That "era" isn't dead. Indeed it has continued to gain momentum.

But somehow the nudge-nudge mutual-congratulation "you link to me, I link to you, and Google will love us more" notion of the blogroll was exempt from self-scrutiny. "We're the new A-List, so the rules don't apply among 'us'," seemed to be the logic.

And so blogrolling trickled down to that B, C, and D lists.

As a blogger, I really do think that you should link to something specific *in a post* if you think it's valuable, or if you're citing it. And I don't care if you're on the E list. If it's good stuff, I want to read it and I hope someone will alert me to it.

But the reality is, many of us don't have everything we claim (50 blogs? Some of them with a lot of me-too content that you just don't have time to read) on our real-life reading list. So the "blogroll" really is just logrolling. Wink, wink, whatever.

Maybe blogrolls would improve if people at least categorized them roughly. "Daily reads," "weekly look," and "occasional."

Call me a geek but I do consult Techmeme daily. MarketingPilgrim and those types of blogs, probably weekly or so. skrentablog monthly, because Rich doesn't post often. Mike Grehan's blog and Danny's daggle, I forget to look for awhile and then get caught up... at least every month (that's because I know them personally and just want to read as a friend).

[Another key point is that because of Techmeme, I don't need to remember to visit Search Engine Land, Boomtown, Michael Ingram, Mark Evans, Techcrunch, etc. -- if something is breaking, Techmeme will tell me and I'll just poke around at all the stories and commentary... I'm sure many people do that now.]

But as for individuals' blogs... there are probably 500 solid people in my industry that I know personally and decently well. 498 of those have a blog. Just because you linked to me or because we're friends doesn't make it OK or honest to add it to the "list of things we read." What if we don't? Then we've just hopped off the Cluetrain, participated in a weakly-functioning link farm, and done a disservice to readers by cheapening the value of a link. So that's why our blogroll is currently "under construction." Will it return? Probably not.

P.S. Doc Searls, who is often credited with coining the term "blogroll," seems to have discontinued his blogroll in 2007. See his post, "More Blog, Less Roll" for more. In part, he wrote: "Blogrolling itself looks like advertising, gatekeeping, or both. Feh. ... Time to move on." Well said.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Publisher Ethics: Yahoo, Welcome to the Blagosphere

You can take the Yahoo out of the country...but you can't take the GoTo out of Yahoo?

Our industry seems rather talked out these days, but if you look hard enough, there is actually some discussion of Yahoo's recent terms-and-conditions update for the search marketing program, the crazy one that gives Yahoo the right to go in and "optimize" your search marketing account unilaterally. As benign as it may appear internally, and as infrequently as "bad" incursions may take place, a line has been crossed. Why is the line so obvious to the rest of us, and so invisible to Yahoo? Where does the buck stop, there? What spokesperson is willing to stand up and explain or defend this policy?

As difficult as the Google AdWords environment has proven to be for many advertisers, and as revenue-focused and self-serving as some AdWords features may be, I've always defended Google against unfair criticism by comparing their approach to that of their competitors. When it comes to hard-to-follow features, matching options, traffic segments seen as undesirable by many, and so forth, Google has usually gotten around to adding the crucial element to the advertiser-publisher relationship: the opt-out. Know which boxes to check or uncheck? Understand how to get reporting breakdowns by segment? Then you can protect yourself from getting hosed by Google and their partners. A high percentage of advertisers don't know how to protect themselves against things like Automatic Matching (or even what that means), but at least the opt-outs are available.

Although pretty heavy-handed in some cases, this also goes for Google's "optimization suggestions." While Google is pushing the "room for improvement" notifications a little too hard, in my opinion, at least they don't reserve the right to jump into your account and make the changes arbitrarily.

Yahoo has a long history of making it harder to opt out of various traffic segments. Always behind, bringing up the rear, being dragged kicking and screaming into offering superior targeting options to advertisers by the progressive force in the space (Google). Panama was a fine platform aimed at playing catchup, but came very late to the scene. Geotargeting is just one element that Yahoo brought late to the party, and even then, it wasn't ready for prime time.

Why does all this matter?

The search marketing and digital marketing industries have very little going for them if not for credibility and accountability. Today we have a golden opportunity to stand out and contrast with traditional marketing during the present weak-economy-driven "flight to accountability." A shame, then, wherever the story we have to tell has to be tempered with red-faced shuffling of feet: "oh, well, that part's still kind of shady... sorry."

And just look around at the negative examples in other walks of life: folks who clearly didn't get the concept of an opt-out check-box:


Bernie Madoff to investors:

Do you want your life savings to be placed into a Ponzi scheme and stolen by myself?

YES ___ YES ___

Rod Blagojevich to Illinois voters:

Would you like me to make Illinois a laughingstock by transforming this high office into the "eBay of government corruption"?

YES ___ YES ___


It would be a shame to conclude that waning levels of discussion and debate (and outrage) in our industry mean we've become immune to hypocrisies and arbitrary measures, based on a steady stream of "corruption news" in industry and government. Saying nothing is easier. But it guarantees that the imaginary "line" gets blurrier and blurrier, in all of our dealings. At a certain point that makes it difficult to function at all. (Book recommendation on this subject: Stephen M.R. Covey, The Speed of Trust.)

There is some hope. Andy Beal's post about Yahoo garnered the highest number of comments in the blago... sorry, blogosphere. Now if we can call on Danny for a well-placed f-bomb or two, well, all four of us remaining protesters will focus on looking good for the videocams as the digital powers that be bulldoze us six feet under and subsequently remove the evidence from YouTube (for a TOS violation).

Still not convinced this is important?

Let's look at some other billing relationships and how the provider might just "give you a helping hand":

  • Your cellphone provider: "We reserve the right to phone your ex, tell them you're miserable, and to transfer those stored photos of you sobbing, to their phone."
  • Your "Healthy Optimized Meal Plan" delivery service: "In place of your gourmet meal, we reserve the right to send you apple pies and/or bales of hay."
  • Your dentist: "If we think it'll make you look better, we reserve the right to replace real teeth with gold ones. Matching gold-look chains: complimentary! (Platinum: extra charge.)"
  • Your cable company: Hmm, forget this one. I'm pretty sure whatever it is, they're already doing it to you.

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