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Monday, January 04, 2010

Local Search: A Winner-Take-All Market?

Earlier today, David Szetela asked for big bold predictions for paid search for 2010, for his PPC Rockstars show.

Partly jumping off Aaron Wall's earlier guest post about Google testing flat-rate pricing on local search ads, I called in to predict that there would be a further shakeout in local -- not that one particular local search engine (like Yelp) would win, but rather that in the race for growth and low cost leads by small to midsized local companies in any given market, there's going to be a major change afoot.


(So I'm really making a broader point about a massive shift that is happening in the local listings category - though that point was motivated by the experiments Google is working on right now in the PPC space.)

Local businesses may have a history of doing a lot of marketing without thinking in the past, but that's because the core medium (yellow pages, primarily, for many) didn't reward thinking, and didn't offer much means (other than buying a really big ad) to differentiate yourself. Google's new flat-rate click pricing for the local little guy may be a way to "relieve" them of the pressure of actually marketing. But that just illustrates that those looking to relieve themselves of the effort of marketing will be out-marketed by those who take a special interest in it.

This state of affairs will continue for the majority who sheepwalk their way through local lead generation and reputation management efforts.

A small minority will outwork, out-savvy, and out-hustle the rest. They'll win big. While winning big in a local market isn't the same as the "winner take all" quest for customers in the Amazon sense, it's still cool & lucrative to be a winner. Small is the new big, remember?

Let's walk through an example.

The pitter-patter of little feet here at home (mice, squirrels, or possibly raccoons partying in our attic, and ready for a long, toasty winter) has started to disturb those wintry sweet dreams.

We went to our usual go-to source for "pest control". The Yellow Pages? Are you kidding?

Word of mouth is fine, but what if you run out of information before you have the problem solved? It's pretty cold out. I don't want to go up and down my street knocking on doors telling people I have a raccoon problem.

Being a co-founder of HomeStars has its benefits: you believe so strongly in the local ratings and reviews concept, you want to use it for real!

Turns out the search for pest control companies in my town produced a no-brainer "best vendor". One pest removal company in Toronto has 105 reviews -- all resoundingly positive. I like to think I'm good at picking up on fake reviews, and on top of that, so is the HomeStars editorial team, so I'm not too worried. Normally, if a company scored perfect, I'd be suspicious. In this case it looks legit.

Success begets success here. Once you get such a great reputation, you keep coming up as a company with a great reputation. More homeowners will hire this company, because others have vouched for them. That's regardless of the level of investment by the company, GTA Wildlife Removal and Pest Control (sorry the word "Control" is obscured by the crown denoting "Best of '08"). Clearly, they need to understand how to help their customers find the website to write happy reviews (and be open and aware that any unhappy customer could write a negative one if they so choose). It also helps that they reply to customers -- shows they have a pulse and are even more engaged. And it helps that most of their competitors didn't make the effort!

That's a far cry from the days of yore. How did a business like this get noticed in the Yellow Pages? Pay more? Not really fair, was it? And it offered consumers no voice.

Since most people searching categories are looking for the "best," it's not going to cut it if you don't have positive reviews. Or if you're great at bringing in leads through high pressure marketing but then fail to deliver great service. In fact, the traditional ways of using cash to bring in local home improvement leads, when you're a less than reputable provider, can backfire! The more disgruntled customers you leave in your wake, the more race online to post about their experiences. The situation snowballs. It's not 1974. It's nearly impossible to pull off a "coverup".

Winner take all doesn't matter as much in pizza or Greek food, over at Yelp. People like to try different restaurants, and what tastes good is pretty subjective. $50 is at stake, not $1,000 or $50,000. By contrast, most homeowners aren't planning to hire a variety of pest control companies, or window installers, or garage architects, in the next year or two. They want to hire the one that people like themselves say is the best. At the very least, they'd like confirmation that the company they do plan to hire delivers quality service for the money, and that in the event of problems, they're present and accountable, and follow up.

So that's where we stand with getting rid of the furry critters from our attic. Can 105 reviewers be wrong? I'll be hiring this company. And will keep you posted!

[photo credit: Tammra McCauley]

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, August 24, 2009

Canpages Acquires Gigpark

As an avid watcher and sometimes participant in the Toronto startup scene, I was excited to hear today's announcement that local search provider Canpages acquired Gigpark, a social networking platform that helps consumers recommend service businesses to like-minded friends. Canpages has been on the acquisition trail, making other small acquisitions of late, including what was left of Ziplocal after it ran short of cash.

Gigpark's traffic numbers are currently dismal, ranking it only 139th on the Techvibes Canada Startup index, so the acquisition must be motivated more by the quality of the platform and the team than by current user numbers.

There are several oddballs on the Techvibes list, in any case (several mature companies, standalone utilities like AjaxWhois, etc.), and it's fair to say that its compilation of numbers from Alexa, Compete, etc. offers only a very rough guide to user growth and startup potential. Some sites listed fairly far down the list have sound business models (software, ecommerce, dating) and are known quantities (Acquisio, Well.ca, Freshbooks, PlentyofFish, RedFlagDeals); others are growing but may still not be getting nearly enough traffic to be profitable yet (NowPublic); and some rank quite high but still not good enough to be considered anything but also-rans or pleasant hangouts that have lingered on past their "hot company" expiry dates (Suite101.com). (Disclaimer: I'll keep it to no comment about HomeStars, a company I am associated with.)

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, July 04, 2008

New Online Phenomenon: The Review Farm

Those well versed in the search game can easily chronicle how the act of social linking gave way to the link economy. When Google gave quality links value, the game was all about how to get them. Can't get favorable external mentions? Swap links. Google discounting reciprocal linking? Join up in a large, elaborate interlinking scheme that passes PageRank to members. Oh, but you knew Google would get wise to that too, didn't you? And that they would introduce Other Ranking Factors and spam tests to try to get the real good stuff to bubble back up to the top again?

Now, word's out that Yelp management won't take such schemes lying down when it comes to local business owners banding together to write positive reviews in order to boost each others' reputations and rankings in category listings. The business owners protest; Yelp sticks to its guns. Is it Orwellian? Consumer friendly? Or should anyone get their shorts in a knot about a few glowing reviews of the local pull-taffy-and-bubble-tea emporium? I mean, who doesn't like taffy?

Well, maybe it's a bit of both. Google's practices and philosophy are very similar. To paraphrase: "We reserve the right to torch your rankings if we suspect any shenanigans. Sorry."

It all boils down to the fact that neither Google nor Yelp ratings are literally "correct." Both are open to interpretation and game-playing. However, in a more comprehensive sense, businesses can develop strong reputations by being visible on these properties, and they can do so without cheating. For now, the publishers' attempt to stem cheating will be tinged with arbitrariness. Some howls of protest might be legit. Longer term, these sites will allow for deeper probing into claims: peers will be able to find peers and get a better sense of what's real.

Make no mistake about it, though: relevancy rankings, and business ratings and reviews, are serious business. Consumers depend on them. Businesses with strong ratings often deserve them. It would be a huge shame if the Googles and Yelps of the world were forced to give into scaremongering about their imperfect technology; perhaps left to plaster For Entertainment Value Only across their pages, like some cheap carnival psychic.

In case you missed it: National Taffy Day

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, March 24, 2008

What's the Deal With GA and Geography?

If you delve into Google Analytics reports by geography in my neck of the woods, you get some curious results: places that are really neighborhoods are classified as municipalities. Places that are only distant memories, officially speaking, are still ontologically in your face in GA reporting.

For example, one site I work with gets a lot of traffic from Etobicoke, Malton, Weston, and Islington. If we're laying out the information architecture of our website, should we perhaps use Google Analytics as a guide in planning? Definitely not.

Problem: Etobicoke, once a town near Toronto, then a borough of Metro Toronto, and finally, a mere ward district and place with a name that is meaningful from a real estate standpoint, is definitely not a city or town today. Malton is a mere "neighborhood" within Mississauga, although it might once have been a town, city, postal unit, etc. etc. in the distant past. "Islington" is a nice name for a certain intersection and surrounding areas, in loving memory of many decades ago when Islington was a town and postal unit. Rexdale and Weston are much the same as all of the above. The problem is compounded by the fact that many users are still associated with national ISP's like Rogers and Sympatico that have IP addresses assigned to these locales.

Not only isn't GA hip to the subtleties, it's using designations that don't exist and phantom names-of-things that recall fond memories of malt shops and filling stations from the 1940's.

We can all agree that an information architecture on a site like Toronto Life should be as flexible as possible, and include neighborhood names and informal names. (I personally get a great kick out of people from West Queen West who write letters to the editor decrying Toronto Life's version, Queen West West. Ha ha! I'll say it again - Queen West West! Queen West West! Hope that guy's reading.)

If it's neighborhoods you're after, there are certainly databases of neighborhoods for every city and town out there through major data providers. But if you want to know the difference between a neighborhood, a ghost town, a real town, a city, or a metropolitan area, don't look to GA. It hasn't a clue.

Rather disappointing. Beyond that, for people that don't re-examine their geographic assumptions, they're likely to get tripped up when using the information for real-world purposes.

In general, geography is a lot harder than it looks at first glance, especially when you're building a website. Looks like that could be an interesting panel for the Local Search tracks.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, January 07, 2008

Kijiji a Comer in Pursuit of Craigslist's Oodles of Traffic?

The New York Times recently reported a story about Kijiji's attempt to take on Craigslist. Though Kijiji has some decent traction globally, it had been an unknown in the US. Is that about to change?

One factor in recent growth mentioned in the article was campaigns by eBay to inform users of Kijiji's presence. But what about the old tried and true - the organic search referrals that did so much to help Craigslist over the years? I figured Kijiji would look pretty strong on this front, because I've noticed their prominent placement on many local search queries here in Canada, in spite of their strong competition from, among others, Craigslist and Livedeal.

So I turned to my friends at Hitwise, and they nicely supplied the following snapshot of Kijiji's rapid growth in organic search referrals - technically they refer to this as "downstream traffic from the search engines category, as a percentage of all search engine referral traffic" - so literally, this is their share of the overall pie of available search referrals from Google, Yahoo, etc.:
















Nice-looking growth - so are they going to knock Craigslist's block off? No time soon. Look at the comparison chart - the charting software nicely equates Kijiji's relatively tiny referral traffic to zero:

















Finally, we looked at Kijiji's search referrals against Oodle's (thanks to Greg Sterling for reminding me of Oodle's existence):
















This shows Oodle kicking kijiji's butt. I'm still checking on whether this reflects paid clicks as well as organic.

Kijiji faces a not-insurmountable chicken-egg problem. Nothing says their search referrals can't go up 10X this year as their relatively new site gains more quality signals with Google's algorithm. But breaking through looks like it will be a formidable challenge - more so in the US, where Craigslist is established, than globally.

Regardless of what happens, eBay will be OK. They own stakes in both Kijiji and Craigslist.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, July 24, 2007

SuperPages Adds Video Ads

Today, Superpages.com is announcing the rollout of a "documercials" program that allows small to midsized businesses to enhance their local listings with professionally-produced video clips.

The program will initially be limited to Seattle, LA, and the Bay Area.

How it works: a team of professional videographers visit on-site and take up to an hour of video, editing this down to a promotional clip of short duration, available when viewing a business listing at Superpages.com. At press time, I wasn't able to nail down a price list.

Is this useful to advertisers? Well, the first thing I thought of was that this professionally-produced video could be a real bargain if you could repurpose it and if Superpages' partner (the video production teams) is coming in with a cut-rate service. But there's not much talk about whether the cost here is justified in terms of user response, conversion rates on listings, etc.

The biggest limitation appears to be..., well... it's only available in the test markets.

Will Superpages' competitors (I'm thinking of Yelp and CitySearch, not the major search engines IMHO) rush to adopt this model? If advertiser demand is there and they can charge a premium for the listing (while facilitating video production at roughly break-even), then you bet they will consider it.

Superpages currently sports 18 million business listings in the United States.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, July 20, 2007

Seeing Through the Bearishness About 'Hyperlocal'

Whether it's just cyclical investing fads, journalistic boredom, or recent business failures of startups like Backfence, I'm noticing a strange lack of enthusiasm for local and so-called "hyperlocal" online content and listings business models.

Meanwhile, in the offline hyperlocal space -- the one our friend Om Malik likes to laugh at -- business is booming. Or at the very least, many small media businesses are booming to the extent that the flow of offer books, business profiles, neighborhood newspapers, etc., far from drying up, continues to increase.

My neighbourhood, Bloor West Village, supports approximately five neighbourhood (hyperlocal) newspapers, with three of them being actually delivered to the doorstep with some regularity. The flow of other free magazines, offer books, and "opportunities for advertisers to reach homeowners," continues to mount. Someone's got to be selling these ads, and someone's got to be buying.

Meanwhile some of the online plays in the local space are facing a tougher sell, ostensibly because either there is too much competition in the space, or because "businesses don't get it". And as a result, buzz about these companies is mixed at best, in the investor and analyst communities.

Meanwhile, some unknown is making a million bucks or ten million bucks a year for his little flyer or offer book company.

The source of the negativity, of course, is mainly based on sky-high expectations for these online plays! The "boring" offline ad companies fly under the radar, don't have to be cool, aren't ashamed of overstating the value of their ad space, and most of all, are more than happy not to scale beyond their own private ambitions. VC-backed online plays, and those owned by huge conglomerates, have to be big enough to create homerun-type returns, or to move the revenue and profit needle in significant ways within the bowels of $10b media or telecommunications conglomerates.

The astonishing thing is that quite a few of these will succeed to that improbable extent (see: Craigslist, Server Logs)... if they're willing to push through The Dip and stay true to what makes them far superior to the overstated, overrated, offer book and me-too community newspaper crap that flows to the doorstep. Certainly, belief is a big part of this scenario. If analysts like Malik are openly contemptuous of old media, perhaps that's healthy because the online crowd need something to build on their sometimes-wavering belief. You have to believe you're fighting to wrestle ad dollars away from a silly, wasteful, overrated old hulk of an industry.

However, that irrational fervor -- always useful in starting a new order of things -- clearly needs to be tempered. Many successful businesses are being built through partnerships with traditional media companies. And if you're looking to get acquired, as most startups are, you need relationships as well as an underlying threat to established models. Pure threat just incentivizes the old money to try to crush you - and certainly doesn't do much to encourage needed distribution partnerships.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, May 20, 2007

Duly Noted: Local Business Paid Search Tips

In the type of corkscrew-like irony we've come to expect reporting on media who report on other media...

I was looking forward to seeing the finished version of Ilana DeBare's SF Chronicle article after she called to ask about how local businesses can use paid search to best effect. In effect, "paid local search" options compete directly with mainstream newspapers' ad models. Remember, we heard recently that the SF Chronicle itself is struggling, and laying off considerable numbers.

I liked some of what I saw in the article, but other tips seem to talk down to small businesses a bit. Do we expect too little of the "local" business? Some of the "local" businesses I frequent do tens of millions in business; others are at least in the low millions. That's more than many broad-based, but not very viable, online entrepreneurs are able to achieve. We're not talking about a hot dog stand all the time.

It's a bit of a myth that local businesses who don't do "online" business are ill-advised to pursue paid search. And if they don't, is there any business with a website that would find it particularly onerous to build in at least one decent measurement of buyer intent, such as a lead form, appointment form, etc.? Sure, many will just phone the hair salon. But Pure MedSpa takes online information requests and appointment booking requests, and so should many of their competitors, even if they only have a single location.

Obviously, if you're watching every penny, you don't want to burn money needlessly. But from what I've observed, in the chaotic world of the local and partially virtual business, a bit of mad money probably can't hurt in goosing your online presence. Take Shelly Purdy, a local jewelry designer in Toronto. These are medium-priced items, but by no means small-ticket. Now that e-commerce is enabled on the site, you might think - great, it would have been silly to buy paid search before, but now it's a good idea. But what if Shelly has a competitor who really doesn't emphasize online jewelry sales? What if that competitor is doing $2mm a year in sales, and spends a couple hundred thousand dollars a year on various promotional methods, including craft shows? Would it be so wrong to set aside $10,000 for paid search keywords, targeted tightly to a small geographic area, aimed at driving visitors to the showroom, a special event, or special promotion? But it's unmeasurable!! Gaahhh!! $10,000 out the window!! Hmm, $10,000 isn't all that much considering all the other unmeasurable marketing they already do.

So in my opinion, it's high time we raised the bar for "local" businesses and expected them to study the online targeting options in more depth. Saying "paid search isn't for you if you don't have a clear online outcome" is giving lazy people an out. Perhaps some of those online outcomes need to be built or pursued.

Similarly, I'm not too impressed with the notion that a business-to-business advertiser might not want to bother with online because the old-school network of "business cards" and "rolodexes" is the ticket. Face-to-face is cool, but this is 2007, and people search. Want to rake in more business than the other junior commercial real estate brokers who are relying on the old traditional methods? Get visible online. Take the time and trouble, and reap the reward.

So in the spirit of high expectations, here are some of my favorite current resources that should help small businesses or local businesses study ways of improving their online presence:

In my opinion, here are at least four things out of the long potential to-do lists that ought to have been recommended to local businesses:
  • Google Local Business Center is free. People increasinly use Google Local Search, and maps, so you want to show up here. Get a listing. Upgrade it if you know how. And wait, did you see that Google actually facilitates the process of creating a coupon so you can see if your local paid search ads are working? So much for excuses about "unmeasurability"!
  • Make sure you're covered on key local vertical sites. If Toledo.com is important to your local audience, get visible there. Just make sure you understand what you're paying for.
  • Be aware that your reputation is going to be affected by how you appear on the latest generation of local business search and consumer review sites: Yelp, InsiderPages, CitySearch, Judysbook... you get the idea. Figure out whether free "claimed" listings will enhance your image. Consider upgrading your listing for added visibility.
  • Do conventional, but localized, online and offline public relations (in a savvy way). This is especially great if you have a website and you can get folks to point to it. For this, maybe find a local boutique PR firm. Again, perhaps not for the very small or very boring, but if you're very small and very boring, why am I even writing about you?
A longer discussion is at what size of business is it viable to have a quality website designed for you - and what type of website? What functionality is required? Should you blog? Twitter? Listen to your inner voice here as you study what you can. There are tens of thousands of restaurant listings in my metro area. Do any of the owners blog? Twitter? I really don't know. Will they in the future? Don't know either. Is it vitally important for them to do so? Well, no, but culturally, personally I'd take some guerrilla vlogging from a head chef over a canned flash video treatment any day. But culture is culture. Most of these businesses should be mastering the basics rather than worrying about the bleeding edge stuff.

Having your own cyber-business opinions helps. Why abdicate your online personality solely to some disinterested web design firm who is expected to give you an "online presence"? The concept of an online presence sounds pretty static to me. Nope, you've gotta take ownership of this stuff and work with that firm - if you can find a good one. So that leads to a broader question: can you cost-effectively outsource a good portion of your marketing efforts if you're a small local business? Yes, but I think you'll need to get lucky. There are probably 1,000 people on the planet qualified to help you without doing counterproductive stuff. It's tough to find them.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, March 30, 2007

Trendwatch: Yelp Poised for Breakout?

Yelp has been the most-watched company in the seemingly-narrow but fast-growing niche of user-generated content specifically with regard to bars, restaurants, and clubs, and "youth" oriented hotspots and retail. For them, it's beginning to expand to the point where they're a bit of a social community and a "go-to" site if you're looking for local review content.

Sure, there's a lot of room in this space for competition, but it isn't looking good for Yelp's competitors.


(Alexa is unscientific, I realize - but roughly accurate at the higher volumes. The bottom two sites are InsiderPages and Judy's Book. The blue breaking-out line is yelp. The top two are CitySearch (red) and SuperPages (cyan).)

It's fairly well known in insider circles that Yelp's startup competitors, InsiderPages and Judysbook, have struggled. This isn't the place to further examine why, but an easy and true answer is that there can only be so many winners in a space. As always, would-be destination sites are competing for valuable user attention and loyalty.

There is also a potential vulnerability in the bigger traditional (superpages) and nouveau (CitySearch) listings providers. Their support seems to be gradually eroding.

Meanwhile: new startup local search and review services are launching (such as ZipLocal, just launched in Canada). Established local portals are redesigning their interfaces and spending more dollars on marketing and ad sales. Huge media companies, I hear, are set to launch their own little Yelp-like experiments.

In this chaos, if Yelp can emerge as a clear leader, it makes a user's choice a lot easier, and makes it that much harder on Yelp's competition. But depending on your location you may not see Yelp as a clear leader yet.

The other variable is business models and longevity. Any number of scenarios can play out. Ambitious startups that are bleeding money, like InsiderPages, are likely to flame out. Traditional media companies running breakeven-or-better local portals aren't likely to go away, and they already have sales forces in place. Larger media companies launching new experiments *seem* to have staying power, but if there is zero adoption of their new ventures, then they'll just be folded up. And Yelp is no doubt burning cash too fast for its current monetization model, so it relies on a favorable buyout price as its "business model."

Another business model consideration is that sales effort alone can't sell these listings. If local business owners - confused about online to begin with - are being besieged by salespeople for local listings sites, it's only those with strong brands or those with "hot" brands that can really rely on business owners paying attention to their sales pitches.

Putting it all together and looking at the strong indicators in the user numbers, I'd conclude that Yelp will triumph amidst the chaos and will likely get its favorable buyout price.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Daily Brain Dump

Random tidbits:

- I get a bit unsettled when someone goes up a level of generality in their domain naming. Like, "we managed to snag a more generic domain name than you'd expect - so look at us!! and be prepared to be thrilled for us in six years when we flip that sucker for $1,650!!" The Keele Street Christian Church proudly displays their domain name, www.keelestreet.ca, in the front window. Hey, shouldn't that be keelestreetchristianchurch.ca, or keelestreetchurch.ca? At the very least, make it geographically informative, like keele-and-annette.ca, by putting the cross street in there.

- Topica, the email campaign management service, has a beautiful graphic on its home page. A huge 3-d "2007." Beautiful. Folks, it's March 21.

- It isn't very hard to find great Toronto restaurant reviews, if you know the main sites (Chowhound, Toronto Life, etc.) that purvey reviews. These will generally come up easily in a search. And if you're a good searcher and know the type of food you want, or the neighborhood name (Queen West, for example), you can even kind of do a themed or geographic search, in a way. But as for Google Local and the other blue-chip "local" and "map" based search engines, currently they aren't doing a very thorough job of aggregating this information. No doubt in a couple of years this problem will be solved and the maps and results will be intuitively and comprehensively populated - but for now, knowledge of your favorite sources (Toronto Life, NOW Magazine, Chowhound, etc.) and how they divvy up the city or leverage the community for recommendations, is the only path to foodie satisfaction. In case you were wondering, for dinner tomorrow night I'll be at one of: Parsi Restaurant, Jules, or Czehoski's. Vote now!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, March 04, 2007

Search Sucks, Vol. 386: "Get Off Your Lazy Butt" Edition

Tom Foreski in SiliconValleyWatcher lists all the ways that we the people are expected to help search engines do their jobs - so search technology isn't pulling its weight as compared with the human element.

Eye-opening at first, but rather than a blow-by-blow response, why not sum it up this way:

  • Should you do extra work to label your content or install sitemaps? Hmm, only if you want to be found.
  • We're talking about publishers, not people. Therefore, purveyors of information (and/or products and offers) in a hugely competitive, open environment. Tom's article, for example, sports ads for conferences as well as Edelman, the world's largest PR firm. Seems like a tag or two might be a decent tradeoff for the exposure. You don't expect the engine to actually write the content for you, so what's a bit of extra metadata between friends? As for "people," it's the users that are getting a good deal out of the extra work you might do to label your content
More detailed response:

  • Tags or labels are indispensable when it comes to some kinds of content, such as videos or photos
  • If something is useful or popular enough, depending on the community, third-party tagging can be helpful. What's the incentive to do this? Interesting question. What's my incentive to type this sentence? But yes I think there is a huge bunch of unlabeled stuff that probably will stay unlabeled because there is no incentive to label it. That doesn't mean search engines aren't going to try to "organize it and make it universally accessible."
  • The article's general tone seems to suggest that the search engines are stingy about "sending their robots around." Far from it! Even relatively unpopular sites are spidered frequently nowadays.
  • Search engines have advanced in many ways over the past few years. One of them is their sheer storage capacity. Index size is a huge challenge, which brings us to:
  • The claim that corporate search engines are doing a better job of letting publishers take the lazy way out is a bit odd. It's a much smaller dataset, so stuff is much easier to find. But I'll grant that it is interesting that some of these technologies are quite good at recognizing industry-specific patterns, and autocategorizing content -- no user tagging required. But that's a whole internal debate in the info retrieval field. I'm sure some companies use human categorization!
  • Search is a bit like matchmaking, and the meaning of what "search" is has expanded. Take the emerging field of local search. Now add the premise that "refine is the new search" (I don't think it really is on its own, but users definitely want to be able to "drill down" to get exactly what they want by telling the search engine). And hey, why not toss in the idea of geolocation & mapping. So I'm a user and I'm looking for a hardware store, let's say. Let's say I also want to find a hardware store that sells a certain brand of doorbell. I'd prefer it be within 20 minutes driving distance. And I want to find one that is "open 24 hrs." (just for argument's sake). None of that is ever going to be findable without a huge amount of research, unless of course the "publisher" (hardware store owners) is willing to upload their information in a structured format. By uploading that info, buyer and seller connect more easily. By not uploading it, you choose "not to be on the map." It's your choice.
  • Things like Google Base are arguably research projects to help Google find out what are some common categorization schemas in a given industry - or a whole category, like brick and mortar retail. (If "open 24 hrs." is a common one, then maybe it'll come up more often in search and navigation databases as a yes/no item down the road, let's say.)
In short, the claim that "people should just find me" is a bit like building an all-graphics site and hoping people will find you when they search for "guitar pick." Or sitting on your back porch strumming "Galveston" and praying you'll be invited onto American Idol.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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