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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Yahoo: It's Worse Than It Looks (Again)

Techcrunch reports on a Wall Street analyst's recent analysis of Yahoo (YHOO).

Among the more painful realities:

  • Only a third of Yahoo's $21b valuation derives from US assets.
  • Yahoo's stock-based compensation, awarded to employees and managers with low morale or who foster poor morale, is generous even by the standards of generous compensators like Google or Facebook.
A picture of Yahoo emerges as a company that manages a stable asset, not one that forges new ground. Maybe an appropriate stance for a half-century-old media giant, but a sad fate for a company many of us not long ago still considered a "cool" Internet player.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, January 08, 2010

Yahoo Hiring More Engineers? Good Idea

In her self-evaluation for a "B-" Grade, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz notes that the company has become more focused. This Bloomberg article about the Yahoo turnaround cites recent new hires in sales and engineering as an example of the forward motion now that the tough stuff has been done. (Some Yahoos are also tweeting about the hiring, which should be no consolation to those recently downsized.)

"Geeking up" by hiring more engineers (after letting go less productive units) was one of our urgent recommendations in our Open Letter to Jerry Yang in June of 2007. It's taken 2.5 years to get that going?

In subsequent scorecards we focused on a couple of other things Yahoo could do to make a splash.

First, although the merger fell through, we're back to what we recommended in the Open Letter:

"...to this wish list I'd certainly add an interesting new partnership with Microsoft, or inking a deal to re-partner with Microsoft for search and search marketing."

Note: to re-partner with Microsoft for both search and search marketing, our recommendation of June 2007. This deal is now inked, and we're waiting for full implementation; seems like this will drag out months.

For achieving partial success on matters like this (some of them certainly disappointing for Yahoo and its shareholders), Bartz certainly deserves her B- rating (no lower).

One interesting piece of unfinished business from the wish list was urging Yahoo to acquire local search juggernaut Yelp. Recently, Yelp was rumored to be under consideration by Google to the tune of $500 million. Then, rumor had it the deal was dead. Today, Google announced a mobile feature called "Near Me Now," which some have called a potential Yelp Killer. Perhaps this would rightly send Yelp heading into the arms of a sympathetic suitor like Yahoo. But some of that depends on Yahoo's financial health and stock price over the next few months.

Even though Yelp would greatly strengthen Yahoo by helping them push hard into local search, that would also leave one major bit of unfinished business. The mobile market has progressed rapidly with the leading players, RIM, Apple, and now Google, having control over OS's as well as handsets. That leaves Yahoo in a weakened position. How to strengthen it? We always thought they'd make a nice fit for Research in Motion, since both companies seem to be in Google's and Apple's sights. It's unlikely Yahoo can play in this space with full chutzpah like Google and Apple, but they're a sympathetic brand that needs to grow or die and do so soon? They need to pull a big rabbit out of their hat here, it feels like. A confusing array of partnerships and "friendly arrangements" with their cutthroat competitors? You're only kidding yourself. Of course there's no way that Yahoo merges with RIM given the very different cultures at the two companies, and given that RIM's market cap dwarfs Yahoo's currently at $36b vs $23b.

Maybe the solution is cleaner if Yahoo continues to strengthen ties with Microsoft, before ultimately being absorbed by them. Then the three (RIM, Microsoft, Yahoo) could combine forces in the mobile market.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Major Mea Culpa Manifested in Yahoo Class Action Settlement

Today Yahoo is sending out details of a settlement in a Class Action lawsuit about its negligent and sloppy provision of partner traffic to advertisers, dating back through the Overture days and all the way back to GoTo.com, before Yahoo even owned a PPC engine. The story is presented as a minor hiccup by a couple of news outlets as of this writing. Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land points to the $20 refund component, though by my reading that's only reserved for any company that is now "out of business."

In the letter, Yahoo makes the usual noises about a settlement not being evidence of any admission of guilt.

But the description of what advertisers give up if they opt into the class reads like a detailed overview of every nefarious practice in pay-per-click advertising sales since the beginning of recorded time. (After the jump, the cut-and-paste.)

More important than the small refund is Yahoo's agreeing (1) to give advertisers a tool to fully control partner placement; (2) to better disclose online on the "Traffic Quality" portion of their website where traffic may come from; and (3) to enhance something called the "Click Investigation Request Tool" advertisers use to request information on specific traffic partners.

This non-admission-of-guilt will seem to many advertisers like a full recap of the often slippery relationship Yahoo has maintained with reality, especially in the realm of partner traffic. It comes as an albeit hollow victory for the many advertisers who were treated as an ATM by click arbitrageurs, rogue publishers, and Yahoo themselves.

And now for the ugly stuff:

"The Settlement will release Class members' Released Claims against Yahoo!. The complete definition of "Released Claims" is set out in the Settlement Agreement, which is available atwww.inreyahoosettlement.com or from the Claims Administrator. In summary, and without limiting the definition of "Released Claims" set forth in the Settlement Agreement, Released Claims include any and all claims, causes of action, demands, rights, liens, obligations, suits, appeals, sums of money, accounts, covenants, contracts, controversies, attorneys' fees and costs, expenses, losses, damages, judgments, orders, promises whatsoever, known or unknown, matured or unmatured, suspected or unsuspected, concealed or hidden, whether sounding in law, equity, bankruptcy, or in any other forum, from January 1, 2000 through and including September 22, 2009, that have been or could have been asserted in the Action. This release includes without limitation any and all claims concerning domain parking sites and pages; typosquatting sites and pages; bulk-registered domain name sites and pages; software applications; downloadable applications; pop-ups; pop-unders; "sliders"; "sidebars"; "injected ads"; adware; spyware; malware; malicious software; error implementations and pages; email campaigns; clicks that result from self-targeting; untargeted or random placements within the Distribution Network; ads displayed on sites or pages that lack any bona fide content, or any content at all; or ads shown to Internet users who have not conducted a search or viewed bona fide content related to a Yahoo! pay-per-click text advertisement."

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, August 16, 2009

On Benefits of Microhoo Search Scale, Disagreeing with Hal Varian

I disagree somewhat with Hal Varian's (Google's Chief Economist) criticism of the theory that combining Yahoo and Microsoft in search will lead to improvements based on scale, data, etc.

Statistically, for sure, scale is already high enough that more won't apparently lead to significant improvements in either search performance or ad program performance due to the impact of data on improving relevancy. That's on paper, in the lab.

Off paper, in the real world lab:

  • Yahoo's reported 20% share is fiction. Globally, it's much lower. In the US, the real number is actually lower.
  • Data is highly granular in a number of ways. So to start, Yahoo and Microsoft have different search shares in every language and every country in the world, and different search shares in sub-regions of the world. In many, one or the other currently hold share of 1% or less. By bringing both up well over 1% and closer to say, 3%, you get a significant increase in useful data.
  • Even the tools that Microsoft provides for advertisers will improve markedly with a doubling or tripling of available data across all major markets, because usable data also comes in the form of highly granular data about keywords. Google doesn't have every last useful tool for researching keyword and consumer behavior: Microsoft has and will develop some really useful ones. Currently, as an advertiser trying to use the tools, you get "insufficient data".
  • And though this may stray somewhat from the subject of how to improve a search engine's relevancy... what about something super real-world and practical: running an ad rotation test for a group of keywords and trying to select a winning ad from a field of eight? Isn't that search marketing? Right now, no one is testing very much on any platform other than Google. I suspect they'll be more likely to try tests specific to the Microhoo audience now, rather than just porting all of their consumer feedback driven campaigns over to the Yahoo and Microsoft platforms. The current way is just guessing: really testing in the actual auction you're buying the media in, is more precise.
  • By "now," of course I mean when the Microsoft-Yahoo platform consolidation is complete in around a year's time.
I believe that Varian's assumption is mainly wrong because he's giving his competitors credit for having more consistent share across all major segments than they actually do. Aggregate numbers look impressive, but the information is less consistent as you drill down. Doubling or tripling the available information in any given segment, especially small ones, is bound to be helpful.

To double predictive accuracy, Varian suggests you need "four times as big a sample". Well depending on whether you're looking at it from the standpoint of Microsoft or Yahoo for any given teeny tiny segment, the number of instances where one of them now has "four times as big a sample" is going to be very high. Doubling predictive accuracy on teeny tiny segments - either as a search advertiser or a researcher looking into search trends - is our bread and butter out here. We'll take the "bogus" scale of the Microhoo deal any day.

P.S. I loved Varian's other insights, including the interesting note on the emergence of the "micro-multinational" type of growth company. Though I might have to take a run, at some point, at the recurring Google theme about "communication costs basically going to zero." The costs for collaborative tools have gone close to zero. But...

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Yahoo?: Redesign Follies Continue

Careful, Yahoo. Your on-again, off-again home page redesign saga risks crossing over into "Microsoft's new, new, new search engine" ridiculousness.

In March we heard of your plans to once again revamp the Yahoo home page. Now we hear you plan to revamp the home page revamp, based on "user feedback":
"...We recently started testing some new designs based on your feedback. We recognize that many of you like your homepage just the way it is, thank-you-very-much, so the overall look and feel of the page will be familiar. But take a closer look, and you’ll see that we’ve made some fundamental improvements and packed in features that are easy to use and easy to make your own – things you have told us you want."
When you hear the phrase "packed in features," you should be very afraid. My Spidey sense tells me this is less about user feedback and more about ... well, something else probably (trying to better monetize the home page, maybe?).

Maybe instead of tweaking the edges, it's about time Yahoo scrapped the whole cluttered portal approach and started thinking more like The Google. As any longtime Traffick reader knows, we're well aware that these "portal" brands thrive in part because of the comprehensiveness of their offerings, and believe that they will continue to thrive due to their ability to connect these services. And search-based navigation will continue to anchor the user experience with these major digital destinations.

Yahoo has plenty of excellent properties and, understandably, they want to expose you to them. On the other hand, Google has properties-a-plenty, too, and has never had any trouble getting users to adopt them, despite having a spartan home page that makes you work to find many common features. In the past, Andrew has called for Yahoo to make a bold statement by adopting a scaled-down, search-based home page in the past. Is now the right time for Yahoo to take the plunge?

Perhaps a direct copycat approach isn't the best way to go, but surely Yahoo can come up with a more original home page. They can and should find a way to apply the "New Marketing," as Seth Godin might say in Meatball Sundae, rather than going the tired old banner ad route. It seems funny to associate a former trailblazer like Yahoo with Old Marketing, but that's what they're doing, at least on the home page.

Regardless of the approach, Yahoo isn't going to reclaim market share with an evolutionary home page redesign. I say it's time to go bold -- especially now that Microsoft is set for an advertising blitz to promote Kumo, Bing, or whatever their latest attempt at building a viable search engine will be called.

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Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




Monday, May 25, 2009

Will Microsoft's Search Ad Campaign Work? (Groundhog Day... All Over Again)

So via AdAge, we're told that Microsoft is readying an $80mm+ advertising campaign, and that it will promote yet another brand of their search technology, this time, called Bing?

Further to Cory's piece about potential reasons for consumers to switch to Yahoo Search, now we have evidence that Microsoft plans to put not only persuasion, but money, into the "getting people to switch" effort.

What a shame, though, that these two companies don't get serious about working together to achieve that goal.

We can only be excited about the potential for Microsoft to create better technology in the space. Competition is good. But it's already a concern when the story is shaping up to be more about the promo of the alternative to Google, as opposed to the technology it actually offers. That's certainly been the case with the various lavish Ask campaigns (and I still won't forget when their PR people wanted me to write about the "significance of getting rid of the butler," as they saw it), and we all know that all that money didn't move the needle on market share.

The premise is that search technology doesn't matter all that much, and that brand does: you put a Google skin on other people's search, and consumers still prefer the Google. Sure, but how did Google build that brand? Through innovation, focus, and technology... not advertising. And by keeping the *same* brand for ten years. I don't think consumers are going to be compelled by the "meta-story" of how Microsoft is (again) spending a lot of money to make (another) stab at the search space.

Microsoft and Yahoo are already working together on some cross-promotion efforts. But the $80mm standalone campaign for the Bing technology seems to work at cross-purposes with that.

With one major search engine (Yahoo, say) benefitting from the largesse of toolbar love from 96% of browser share (IE, Firefox, + Safari, say), a real alternative could be created organically out of how consumers already behave, and how they already think about online brands.

So rather than waste breath casting aspersions on the potential cash sinkhole that could be opened trying to build the Bing brand, I'll vote again for the only major brand alternative to Google that makes economic and emotional sense to a wide cross-section of consumers: Yahoo.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, May 22, 2009

Could Anti-Google Choices Re-Energize Yahoo?

Can declarations by tech celebrities (the technorati, as it were) start a snowball effect that impact the usage patterns of regular people? It doesn't always happen, but such sentiments can galvanize the crowd in certain cases, especially when attached to widely shared sentiments of fairness, transparency, and equity that have given rise to significant shifts in the locus of high tech power in recent years (such as, no less, the Open Source movement).

In other cases, falling well short of embracing open source models, consumers become more open to a second-place private-enterprise power because they see it as, at least, an "alternative." In the search space, that's why so many have continued to hope that Yahoo! stays solidly on the map.

Gina Trapani, the influential founding editor of Lifehacker, one of the most popular blogs around, says she's dumping Google search in favor of Yahoo! search. While this isn't exactly the equivalent of Jay-Z dropping Cristal and throwing his support to Dom Perignon, it may well be the start of a trend.

Before going down that road, it's worth noting that various pundits have previously predicted Google backlashes before, in 2007 and even 2003, and it seems to be a recurring theme every few years. Who knows, maybe we'll be saying the same thing two years henceforth in 2011.

But this time it feels a bit different.

As Google's supremacy over its rivals has quickened and as the Big G has begun intruding more aggressively on others' turf, concern over a potential Google monopoly is growing in many corners. This has caused many people to step back and ponder the consequences of an ascendant Google.

Recently, Ralph Tegtmeier (aka fantomaster aka the Dark Lord Voldemort of Cloaking) wrote a compelling piece comparing Google's burgeoning hegemony to the Kraken. Andrew and I debated it internally for quite a while, trying to decide whether concerns over Google are about to cross over from conspiracy theory territory into full "Google is actually becoming evil" land. Even the most forgiving of Google fans would have second thoughts of entrusting so much personal data to one company after reading fantomaster's take.

This unease with putting too many eggs in one basket is part of the reason why I've decided not to use Google Chrome as my primary browser, even after Chrome gets full extension capability similar to Firefox, which many people predict will lead to a mass abandonment of Firefox for Chrome. For similar reasons, I've also uninstalled the Google Toolbar from Firefox now that many Toolbar features are available inside the browser (I didn't really use the Toolbar much anyway). There's just too much data being beamed back home to Mountain View than seems necessary.

We've seen this sentiment repeated in other ways.

One of our clients at Page Zero opted not to install Google's Sitemap Generator due to data privacy sensitivity, despite the fact that they happily fork over their site activity to Google through Google Analytics. Their belief was that GSG acts as a network "switch" of sorts, with all server requests coming and going through GSG, and believed this would give away far too much sensitive information.

Search Engine Land has been chronicling the various anti-trust concerns associated with Google lately, concerns that seem to be proliferating more every week. For its part, Google is proactively attempting to blunt the momentum of this movement with their recent "charm offensive." Whether they succeed in fending off anti-trust actions in the future remains to be seen.

One thing seems certain. Just as the U.S. government's inquiries into Microsoft's business practices in the late '90s gave organizations like Red Hat and Firefox a vital opening, something similar is bound to happen with Google if it gets too big for its britches.

Could the main beneficiary of this be an old-timer like Yahoo?

It's conceivable that some shrewd moves by Yahoo! could lead to a reversal of Yahoo's declining search market share, and perhaps a resurgence to something on the order of 25% search share in the next few years.

Recall that Google's search distribution deal with Firefox expires in November 2011. It's a safe assumption that Google won't renew it due to their increasing support of Google Chrome. Or another way to look at it is, with Firefox's market share hovering around 20%, and perhaps headed to over 30%, Firefox might feel emboldened to be the one dictating terms. Regardless, Google must be a bit worried about Chrome's meager market share, as they've begun running TV ads for Chrome, a first for Google.

Mozilla could soon be in a position to be a quasi-king maker. They're independent-minded and, having emerged as a credible alternative to Internet Explorer even among mainstream users, they seem to be on a mission of sorts. If they decide to place a crown on Yahoo's proverbial head, things could get very interesting. Maybe we'll once again see a more diverse search landscape sooner than we think.

By the way, it's worth noting that last year Yahoo acquired the popular search-based extension Inquisitor, which I find myself using on a regular basis these days. It's a fine tool that I highly recommend to every FF user. Oh, and guess which search engine is set as the default? Yep, Yahoo.

Ultimately, I'm all for personalization and targeted advertising, and I don't really have a beef with Google knowing a lot of information about me. But there comes a point when too much is enough. When I realized just how much I rely on Google's services, it hit me like a slap in the face from Moe the bartender. Like Gina Trapani, I think there's nothing wrong at all with spreading the love around.

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Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




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




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




Wednesday, November 05, 2008

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




Friday, August 01, 2008

Linkworthy: Yahoo and Searchmonkey Progress

Linkworthy for a Friday:

  • Yahoo is now automatically enabling formatted Yelp, LinkedIn, and Yahoo Local results via its SearchMonkey rich data / open formats platform. I'm a big fan of SearchMonkey and happy to see Yahoo forging ahead with it. P.S. Yahoo should acquire Yelp and LinkedIn.
  • This dude is dumping Outlook for web-based email. Welcome to the club, finally! It's interesting to note from his article that major web host Dreamhost encourages all of its customers to stop using their email servers and to use GMail instead. This drastically reduces the number of support tickets for Dreamhost. Sorry, I mean DreamHost.
  • I'm so tired of going back and capitalizing the first letter of the second word on every two-words-as-one-word company or product name, especially when that makes it wrong...

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Meet the New Boss, Google -- And the Coming War of Free

Henry Blodget's post on the impending crisscrossing of lines on Google's and Microsoft's core businesses is timely. In 2009 sometime, Google's search ads business will be larger and more profitable than Microsoft's core Windows operating system business. (If Microsoft is lucky, that won't be the day Google launches a hostile takeover bid for Microsoft, a development Sergey Brin slyly alluded to several years ago, when such talk could easily be dismissed as a joke, or painful delusions of grandeur.)

Cloud computing, and ad-supported online business models are assumed to be a new naturally dominant business model. Chris Anderson has begun talking about the "power of free," as he gets set to release a new book on the concept.

But I think many analysts fail to grasp the complexity of the scenario. (Well, maybe it isn't that complex, actually. My wife, who teaches labour market theory among other things, notes that China can win a lot of business by simply undercutting other companies in the garment sector. But then India, or somewhere else, undercuts them. The result isn't beneficial to the guys who did the first round of undercutting.)

Today, Google is very wealthy, from a core economic driver. It is so wealthy, it is able to give away many products and services for free - sometimes, after acquiring a leading paid or freemium player in a space. This activity has been rampant. Blogger was acquired and its premium version was given away for free. Google Analytics continues to grow in sophistication. It costs $10,000 - $200,000 less than competing products; i.e. it's free. Google Checkout simply undercuts the pricing of PayPal on merchant services. Google Docs and Spreadsheets takes aim at Microsoft Office, and again, it's free.

This is what Microsoft used to do. It used to take out whole lines of business by adding them as a "feature" to Windows or Office. Now, it seems, the tables may have turned. Microsoft could only do that when it had a natural monopoly. That's being whittled away by open source, cloud computing, and giveaways galore. Much of that competition is going to come directly from Google.

So why do some analysts feel that Google itself is immune from tit-for-tat, any more than China can lose garment trade to an even cheaper competitor?

As consumers find ways of getting what they need from companies who choose to make it accessible with no advertising, ad supported models themselves are shaky. Brin has often said it himself: a competitor is only a click away. I can't avoid all commercial messages: I can't drive on a different highway, use a different subway platform, or wriggle out of my airline seat. It's a bit difficult to miss the glossy ads on the magazine I choose to read. And some messages, I actively seek. Google's business isn't going away anytime soon. But the real heyday of Google from a consumer standpoint might have been in the years when expectations of future profit (and some funding still in the bank) were subsidizing a search site that showed *no* ads.

[And as an aside, it's essentially the same phenomenon and "ethos" (an "ethos" that is more of an economic model dependent on acquisition or massive funding) that drives many Web 2.0 companies. Many of them make the mistake of divorcing "the power of free" from the need to be acquired. Others are smart enough to know when to fold 'em, for healthy valuations.]

If "free" is so great, then isn't even freer even better?

There is a certain false cleverness, then, about business models that smugly give stuff away to put others out of business, based on the knowledge that some other parts of an enormous (and hopefully, diversified) conglomerate can subsidize the insanely great deal consumers are getting on the other stuff. It works as long as that profitable part is safe! For most companies, it isn't.

Make no mistake though, for a handful of gigantic companies, these models are *very* clever and they work very well. The overall profitability comes from bringing a very large number of consumers and businesses into the "fold," and figuring out how to maximize profits from the few areas that consumers will actually "pay" for. Yes, in an era when everything seems free, I even have to put "pay for" in scare quotes.

That's why today I dub the large Internet companies (we used to call them portals) Super Funnels. It's far more complex than just the rather simplistic idea that we can offer cloud-based services cheaper, or free, or support whole lines of businesses with ads. But it is all about the rampant amount of investment capital and cash flow that makes it possible to create amazing user experiences and products that cost very little... as long as some element of the whole process, and hopefully many elements, are wildly profitable. Achieving this is not like falling off a log. The funnel has to be very well engineered, and the pockets have to be very deep.

Connected to my analysis (which basically says, beware of "the power of free" if all that means is an ad-supported model that assumes x% of users will tolerate and act upon advertising) is the rampant assumption that display ads online are holding up well as an economic model. What are the CTR's and ROI on such ads? So poor, metrics gurus have to come up with new measures that disguise the lack of engagement. Where people are really going to share and interact - platforms like Facebook - will let you bother users for a $0.30 CPM... and this may be the high-water mark.

Search ads are largely safe, for now, because they are quasi-classifieds, and because Google engineers the ad program to make the ads and the sites they lead to actually as good as or better than the sites in the organic/blended index results. That leads to the question, won't somebody eventually come up with more pleasing organic index results? What if someone releases something very, very good, and makes it available without ads for three years? They'll need a few hundred million dollars to try that stunt on any serious scale.

Can someone out-Google Google? Eventually, someone will, but for now the discourse of "the power of free" will sync up well with the next 5-10 years of Google hyperprofits. It's just a mischaracterization that "free" has true power, divorced from its rare, Super Funnel context. Google is the most efficient Super Funnel today, which will continue to be very disruptive to former dominant ones like Microsoft (other targets will be phone monopolies and the list goes on). To get back to a scale that can challenge Google's dominance, Microsoft has been rightly looking to bulk up to achieve more scale in today's dominant ("power of so-called free") business model. Hence its interest in Yahoo, Facebook, and others. Can Microsoft "go it alone" in this quest, as the current discourse of Ballmer and Gates suggests? It's highly doubtful. If they do not return to several bargaining tables soon, the buildout will take too long.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, May 08, 2008

"No Plans" to Bring Yahoo Glue Pages to North America

At Yahoo India, product managers have created a variation on search results pages called Glue Pages. Instead of just search results, the idea is to put together a richer page of different kinds of info.

There's nothing particularly new in that. Companies like Ask, Mahalo, and... Google have experimented with how to present mixed or blended results pages.

It sounds somewhat exciting when you first hear about it, but there's really no evidence that such pages are in fact better, or what we as searchers are really looking for. So it's nice to hear that this will be a localized experiment. Experiments are great, but let's not get crazy and overestimate people's appetite for these kinds of pages.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, February 02, 2008

News Corp. Said to Be Considering Yahoo Bid

According to a source at Techcrunch, News Corp. is trying to put together a syndicate to launch a bid for Yahoo. But I tend to agree with Paul Kedrosky's and Mathew Ingram's take, that Microsoft's high bid means it's already headed off potential rival bids. Yahoo is worth more to Microsoft than to any other company, and especially to hostile bids by opportunistic hedge funds.

Yesterday, I reminded you that I advocated a News Corp. bid for Yahoo in 2001. Back then, it would have been cheaper -- YHOO traded at a split-adjusted $9-10, in the depths of the dot com bust.

In related news, I agree with Louise Story's take in the NYT -- this deal would create more, not less, competition in search and display advertising. Recently, Google had been enjoying a situation whereby it had no serious competition. A Canadian ad buyer quoted in this Globe and Mail story, implying that three players currently makes it an ad buyer's market, is missing the point, which is that two players would be more competitive than three in this case, particularly given that Google is set to become even more powerful with the acquisition of DoubleClick.

Finally: check out the great piece in SEL where we get words right out of the MSFT horse's mouth as to the benefits of scale in this industry.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, February 01, 2008

Microsoft + Yahoo: The Deal Everybody Says They Saw Coming

Microsoft has offered to take over Yahoo again, a year after being quietly rebuffed. This time around, the very public offer comes in a context of swirling turmoil around the big Y!.

Of course, most pundits saw this deal coming, or at least have figured they have known what Yahoo should do next. We're all so smart! I've personally been telling Yahoo what to do for years. The advice changes from year to year.

My most recent attempts (the open letter to Jerry Yang, and followup) to advise the big Y! brought up the M-word, advising a partnership with Microsoft in search advertising and search generally, did not go so far as to advocate a merger (as some did). I think I just assumed Yahoo was strong enough not to need to merge entirely, and there are issues of cultural fit between Y and M. However, in a context of an unraveling financial picture and the imminent loss of (even more) Yahoos through departures and job cuts, suddenly, niceties like "fit" seem less germane.

Last night, a group of us Toronto-based search marketing folks had another informal social gathering. There was considerable talk about Google's power, but other than this, mostly small talk. The flipside of "what can competitors and players in the ecosystem do to survive in the context of Google's dominance" got lost in anecdotes about road rage and Caribbean vacations. But what should have been the next logical topic for discussion would have been to inquire if there was anything Microsoft might do in this regard. That hasn't been a common theme among the technorati, because many have spent years trashing Microsoft's products - and hoping for better.

My knee-jerk response so far to reports of this deal is, at first, "holy crap," quickly followed by the obligatory "yeah, I thought so," and then, "well, they don't have to accept the offer."

If the deal does go through, one clear wish will likely come true: no need to plumb the depths of two competing ad platforms to Google's. Yahoo can keep Panama, and borrow all kinds of little Microsoft innovations and advantages to build into the next version of the platform (such as MSN adLabs tools, demographic bid boosting, a robust new analytics platform that will give Google Analytics a run for its money, etc.). That, and the opportunity to buy more ads, more quickly, for less money, and with less overhead costs for the ad platform providers, is pretty much a win for all concerned; it's the kind of consolidation that makes (check that -- would make) sense, even if also there is some sadness and some potential disadvantages to subtracting players from the competitive landscape in search and online advertising.

On a concluding note, before I get back to the mundane details of the day, I'd like to thank Steve Ballmer for making this Friday a little more interesting for all!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Yahoo Going Forward: Simple Works

Unlike some analysts, I'm not a self-styled management consultant. I don't know beans about who should be given ownership over the P&L in a vertical, and so forth. I don't work at Yahoo. I don't claim to know how everything works.

I do understand the economic engine, however, especially on the search marketing side and platform advertising side.

You can print reams of speculation about layoffs, acquisitions, restructuring, and focus. But when it comes to advertising, you have to make it easy for people to buy.

Yahoo is almost there. Panama turned that part of the company around and is something to build on. Yahoo has a sales and service arm that is second only to Google's, and given the inflexibility of Google's bidding system, Yahoo seems like almost a sympathetic sales ear in spite of their low volume.

But the rollout of the Panama feature set is still too slow. There's the economic engine I know and understand. Take what is working, and continue with its basic execution.

A very important example is an agency console to make it easy for agencies and large companies to manage many accounts, from a single dashboard, like Google has. A second example would be continued strides on things like geotargeting. I guarantee that if you do stuff like that -- make it easier to buy and manage your ads -- the people on the ground who have to implement this stuff will start actually doing more buying, rather than paying lip service to, Yahoo's available inventory. Panama rolled out successfully, but it isn't done yet. Keep going, Yahoo!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, September 10, 2007

Yahoo Scorecard Post-Semel

Valleywag believes Yahoo hasn't done much, a couple of months into the "100 day" plan put forward by new/interim CEO Jerry Yang. Maybe summer isn't the best time to start the clock on something like that, though.

Without second-guessing whether these were good ideas in the first place, here's the update on what Yahoo has or has not done from my list of random big ideas posted as An Open Letter to Jerry Yang on June 19:

* Yahoo has not acquired any hot little search startup;
* Yahoo has not acquired Yelp;
* Yahoo has not acquired GoDaddy;
* Yahoo has not acquired Research in Motion, but Microsoft was rumored to be interested;
* I am not aware of whether Yahoo has downsized inefficiencies in management -- I'll leave that to Valleywag. However, some key Yahoos have left for startups like Veoh. This probably means Yahoo will need to show it is serious about attracting good people, by showing the door to less effective managers, and recruiting some high-profile people. Jeremy Zawodny showed good initiative by jokingly attempting to recruit Matt Cutts through his blog. Matt was jovial enough to reply in comments.
* No sign of a partnership with Microsoft;
* The home page is as uninspiring as ever (if you like that sort of thing, MSN.com is better);

One key move has been to acquire an ad serving company, BlueLithium, to follow on the acquisition of Right Media. Although the latter is not a major deal, the trend is important.

As long as advertisers are disgruntled with current ad networks and "contextual ad platforms," this is an area that new product development needs to focus heavily on. That, plus gobbling up more inventory in a variety of verticals (personals, home, travel, social networking, etc.), will have to be the focus for Yahoo for the remaining few days of this 100-day segment, and the 100-day extension we'll have to give them, because the wheels grind slowly when it comes to turning around a multibillion-dollar company.

It'll be interesting to see if Yahoo can integrate new ad buying features (and more relevant inventory) into its Panama platform, or whether they'll create separate automated platforms for buying ads online based on the emerging "exchange" paradigm that will eventually largely eclipse the old networks and traditional media buying functions.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, June 19, 2007

An Open Letter to Jerry Yang

Welcome aboard, Chief Yahoo.

I did a little asking around, to some people that matter in the industry, people that care about your search division, and especially about your Panama rollout. What will happen next? Anything cool? Bold?

I've got some rough news for you: they don't think you'll do it. Maybe they don't think you can do it. Everybody's couching their language in lukewarm "we'll see" platitudes.

Well, it's good to get that out of the way. Low expectations mean at least you can beat them, I guess.

What would I like to see, personally? Off the top of my head?

I'd like to see Yahoo do enough silly things to try to contend in search in one form or another that Google actually gets scared. In this era, some of that will have to involve acquisitions of properties that have momentum, ad inventory, or cachet attached. There are a lot of ways you can still own more users and more search-like experiences. Acquiring them will be expensive, perhaps prohibitively so, but the alternative is to miss the boat. Oh, if only past acquisitions hadn't been so beside-the-point or overpriced, you'd be in so much better shape today.

Call me crazy, but:

* Get some momentum and leadership going by acquiring and fostering some of the available search startups. Powerset gets some buzz lately. Ergo, acquire Powerset.

* Ever heard of local search? Acquire Yelp.

* What's this business with Yahoo Domains and all the hosting and so forth? Could be a much more powerful business if you bit the bullet and acquired GoDaddy. That's right, the Big Enchilada. Go Big, Daddy, or Go Home. This is not a rocket science play, but an inventory and business customer play.

* Ensure that defaults on mobile devices are Yahoo-leaning. I had a Yahoo guy demo me the Yahoo One Search for mobile on a Blackberry last month at Mesh in Toronto. Right on! But will I use it? Google icons are all over my Blackberry, making me forget about the Yahoo ones. I get the feeling you could lean more folks to the Yahoo options on their Blackberry if you just acquired Research in Motion. I know, it's tempting to merely partner and it's expensive to buy a firm like RIM if they aren't interested in selling, but look at the potential. All this bullish talk about all of these mobile partnerships you can ink globally mean nothing if all they mean is the opportunity to be someone's second choice on their mobile device, behind Google. Next, innovate with some of the features/keys on the devices to make it even easier for users to access emerging services like free 411, and so forth. Integrate the Yelp reviews into things. Bob's your uncle.

* As our frequent correspondent John K keeps saying, you'll have to fire a lot of management types that accreted over the years. Get rid of clutter, and geek up. Now's your chance! Don't be shy.

* And yes, to this wish list I'd certainly add an interesting new partnership with Microsoft, or inking a deal to re-partner with Microsoft for search and search marketing. We're hearing rumors in this area. It would simplify our jobs if it came to pass, and give Google a little something to worry about.

* Finally, I'm still waiting for you to implement my suggestion to make the home page just the plain search box for a month. What a great publicity stunt this would be. The world's largest search company pulled that stunt starting in 1998. C'mon Jerry! August is Search Month for Yahoo! You can do it! You're the Chief!

Good luck, Jerry. You helped build much of the web as we know it. I'm one of those momentum, inertia users that loves some of what your company has to offer. I still use Yahoo Finance at least half the time (better SEC filings format); Yahoo Mail (some of the time); and My Yahoo (for feeds and such, yep I'm a real ungeek). I even used Upcoming.org recently; and who doesn't love Flickr. You get the feeling Yahoo is very, very close to the position of global dominance and street cred that it could be in.

There's also your advertiser ecosystem, specifically in search, to consider. That's an area I care about for a living. My firm does paid search marketing full time, so we have a stake in seeing your search market share, and search marketing platform, grow. Mona Elesseily, my colleague, has just completed a 105-pg.+ Panama how-to guide that will be finally out on the market in a week or two (like Panama itself, it was delayed). Poring over every word just reminds me of what a massive effort it was to turn that vital part of Yahoo around. And it also pains me to imagine that Terry Semel pretended like the project didn't exist, and certainly never seemed to take much detailed interest in the absolutely pitiful state of the former ad platform. Almost like he didn't get it. I know that one of your big cheeses on the Overture side (maybe even THE big cheese on the Overture side) got it, because he was one of the first buyers of my Google AdWords Handbook back in 2002. So, if some people got that AdWords was better back then, and didn't fix Overture until 2007... well... how do I put this delicately? Is there a problem with communication at your company? How are you going to overcome that? I mean, of course, internal communications. From 2003-, your PR was actually excellent: many folks continued to write and speak about how terrific Yahoo's search marketing platform was... even though it wasn't. Mission accomplished? Be careful what glowing PR you wish for, because PR doesn't build a better product.

It would be a shame, of course, to give up now on the promise Yahoo still holds. It's brave of you to take the helm at this juncture. And I hope those who won't go out on a limb predicting success will soon have to change their tune. But if we don't see some action in the vein of the suggestions above, we'll be disappointed.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, June 02, 2007

And the Pay is What? On Mahalo, or Weblogs, Inc. Act II

Peter Hershberg offers a nice reminder to Jason Calacanis' Mahalo that there might have been a few other search plays in history that used an "energetic group of Guides." In addition to About.com and Ask Jeeves (nice catch there, Peter and Danny), I'd cite, er, Go Guides, this list of mostly-defunct "Expert Sites," and of course the former Zeal community. Not to mention Squidoo. Yahoo Answers. Digg, et al. People, people, everywhere; and in some cases, unique technology to leverage their contributions.

Humans do scale, of course, in the sense that there are billions of user behavior decisions every month, and a smaller universe of editorial judgments being made. From PageRank to Wikipedia to Usenet to Slashdot to the Yahoo Directory, search engines, vertical communities, and widely-based human-edited web plays [see Traffick article "Are These Verticals Too Horizontal? The Slow Death of Mega-Guide Sites] have always tried to leverage editorial judgments, communities of meaning, and the value of expertise and passions.

I think a really good question for any startup to ask today has to be: in spirit, how much more sophisticated or useful is your plan than Jerry Yang's collection of favorite links in 1994?

Mahalo will become part of a huge trend that's been ongoing since the dawn of web search tools and web directories. Is it any better or even as good as the many mentioned above? If it turns out to be, it'll be because it reached a critical mass of users, and found better ways to ferret out the problem of "smuggled spam" -- the gradual deterioration in editorial standards that happens to unrigorously-edited web properties in a world that respects editorial integrity so little that Pay-Per-Post is seen as mainstream. If all goes well, it will succeed in some verticals only because of their uncommon quality.

And that's no different than many that have come before. An open web platform allows quality stuff to get out there, whether or not it's found on a particular secondary layer that purports to do a better job of sorting it. Mahalo might become as well known as LookSmart, or The Drudge Report. Either way, as Hershberg argues, it's going to be scrapping hard over 1% market share.

If there's any takeaway from the launch of Mahalo, it's a reminder that without any humans at all exercising editorial judgments but also judgments on how to structure the look and feel of results pages, you get a jumbled mess in response to a search query. Google and other leading search engines a combination of user experience producers and algorithmic methods of determining query intent. One of the best things about companies like AOL and MSN (and in its unique way, Yahoo) for the mainstream user, was always the sense of "consumer editorial responsibility" on common queries. Mahalo is a reminder to these companies that they should be actively recruiting editorial personnel, and continuing to heavily produce the portions of useful search query result pages on popular queries that are family friendly, consumer friendly, educational, useful, etc. More packaged answer sets, less jumble and clutter, is a great way to stand out in the subset of society that prefers these.

Huge opportunity: such results sets are also mobile-friendly. More on this later...

Perhaps then, when Ask allowed the "algorithm to kill Jeeves," it zigged when it should have zagged. If you're going to be scrapping over 1% market share, with the potential for growth if you hit a real nerve out there, why not go out in style? If I were Mahalo, in addition to working on technological innovation and community-building, I'd use at least some of the lavish funding to attract marquee writers and journalists for high-profile editorial oversight. This would give them a chance to beat the NYT-owned About.com at its own game.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, May 31, 2007

Zod Nazem Leaving: Is it Really So Bad?

In the twisted minds of some business journalists, business is all about charismatic leadership. In the minds of some business school curricula, business is all about leadership, period. So because Yahoo's CTO is leaving, we're supposed to believe that the company is now in turmoil and facing a "leadership void."

But Zod Nazem has been with the company for 11 years! Just imagine what that must be like at a company that was pretty much synonymous with the growth of the Internet.

Every company's got issues. But I wouldn't rule out the continued success of a company with a range of digital businesses that are profitable, and a brand known globally in mostly positive terms.

I think the problem is, half the world is an armchair manager, possibly even an armchair "C level exec." Even some folks at Yahoo are armchair managers! (but I digress)

But ideally, great companies will run pretty well without a rock star CEO, without a rock star CTO, and definitely without anyone from the press understanding what's under the hood. It's about execution on one hand, and sound fundamental business units on the other. And hopefully a quiet, Level Five leader or two.

Nazem's work with the Panama rollout would be a great example of working on creating a make-money-automatically business that works so well that even top management cannot screw it up. "Playing catchup with Google" isn't the sin it is being made out to be: it was the responsible thing to do!

This just in: Google is doing better than Yahoo. :) In turn, Yahoo is doing better than a million other companies, including some of the biggest and best.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, April 30, 2007

Traffickwag: Google, Yahoo, bosom buddies

In Canada, the fast-growing Yahoo office on Front Street has in fact overflowed and it'll be awhile before they move into their new digs on Queens Quay. In the meantime, a satellite office on a high floor in BCE Place has been established. That means some national sales reps from Yahoo and the same from Google see each other on the same floor. Can you imagine?

Maybe the worst part for both is the name of the building. Combined, Google and Yahoo sport a market capitalization about 7X BCE's.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, April 13, 2007

Search Market Share Matters, or Why Yahoo! Needs Acquisitions Pronto

The latest Hitwise figures show Google increasing its monthly share of searches again in March, at the expense of Yahoo (down slightly), and Microsoft (down slightly).

Microsoft's numbers can be attributed to a few glitches, depending on who you talk to. A rebrand of the search offering (bad, confusing idea, I think) or difficulties with Hitwise's methodology.

Netratings estimates a slightly lower number for Google, 55.8% for February. Unlike Hitwise, they seem to assign 5% share to AOL Search. Whichever ratings agency you trust, it's clear (again) that Yahoo is in real trouble of losing its status as any kind of default search box for anyone. That would spell big trouble for the organization as a whole.

So I'd like to focus a bit further on the danger Yahoo faces if they let these numbers slip any further.

* First, they've spent too much on search to abandon it.

* Related to that, they've invested too much in Panama, which was built *primarily* to monetize Yahoo Search and only secondarily as a platform to bid on content, to lose any more search share.

* Third, search is good.

The "typing stuff into a box" thing is too important a category to cede, no matter how navigation may shift in the future. It is not good enough to say that Yahoo has a great diversified model that will make them money from all kinds of ad formats and fees. True, but it's not powerful enough to compete "unfairly" as a real heavyweight, if users stop using their properties to search.

So how to acquire enough of those searches? Big ideas grown internally aren't necessarily the way to win people over from their Google habit. So how to acquire enough momentum to re-establish it as people's habit to search on a Yahoo property for at least some of their needs?

* One way to get some of this back would be to acquire local search properties - like the very hot Yelp. You don't have to get into unfathomable social search or expensive Facebook acquisitions, under that scenario. There are some growing, fairly conventional, properties with a slight cachet of cool that are doing quite well. Get them now, before the price doubles.

* Next, keep building out those verticals. If your leading properties are losing to upstarts, acquire the upstarts purely for traffic. Then get the AdSense ads off them.

* As stated above. Acquire specially selected content sites purely because they're AdSense sites. Revamp the monetization plans of those sites.

* Make sure to internationalize your search for these acquirable properties, of course. Yahoo has certain major international holdings, but they need more.

* Biggest of all: Ask is clinging to some market share, and would immediately add several "type it in a box" type properties to Yahoo's stable. Moreover, IAC owns other vertical properties that would work to reinforce other things Yahoo is doing. Although it could be painful, there's nothing that says Yahoo couldn't launch a bid for all of IAC, sell what doesn't fit, and keep what does. Yahoo's valuation is currently about 4X IAC's. People worry about Yahoo's executive bloat, but the best way to reduce the bloat ratio is in fact to grow your overall top line and overall traffic, as long as it's strategic and as long as a lot of it is scalable search type stuff.

* Try to absorb a handful of departing, cashed-out Googlers who are somehow going to be convinced that this is a really cool challenge.

* Least likely, but a good idea for both companies: convince Microsoft to give up on search and paid search platform building. Re-partner on both fronts.

* Piss off Wall Street somewhere around Q1 of 2008, by implementing a short-term de-monetization plan across all properties to increase user satisfaction and traffic growth. Basically, spend the rest of this year studying how you can monetize your traffic *less*. In verticals, in search, in apps, etc. I know that's already happened in a lot of places, but try to hive off a little more - your effective CPM probably bounces back anyway if you're patient. (See Godin, Seth. The Dip.) Don't think Google didn't just spend the last couple of years doing that after beginning life obsessed with it. The paradox of Google's gentle de-monetization initiatives is that it made them money hand over fist in the long run.

* Finally -- though it didn't work so well for Lycos, consider leaving acquired brands intact. (It works for IAC.) If you acquire Yelp, don't fold it into your overall plan but rather let it maintain its identity for the most part. Use your leverage to distribute it more widely and improve the product.

This post brought to you by the philosophy that launched this site in 1999: while the search & traffic ownership game is not quite winner-take-all, it is something close to that. Monopolistic-type advantages will make it more likely for people to default to your offering. When you own the traffic 100%, profit margin on monetization is superb. Profit margin on brokering media is highly squeezable. There are some searches out there that neither Yahoo nor Google own. It would make a lot of sense for Yahoo to swallow the price tag now, and begin owning them.

Go big or go home!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, February 26, 2007

Seth on Contextual Ad Targeting

Seth Godin wonders whether media buyers are right to pull ads off Google's and Yahoo's contextual networks because of how loosey-goosey they are with their approach to placement -- they match ads to pages, rather than allowing the advertiser "channel control."

While it's true that Y!&Goog would benefit from better sites joining their networks, I agree with Seth that being so afraid to show your ads on "Joe Schmo's Sports site" could be doing the client a disservice.

I thought we already had this debate. In the early going, lot of us were critical of the contextual ad programs for a number of reasons - mine was simply the poor performance, fraudulent or crapulent publisher partners, etc. Others in the biz, with more of an agency bent (and most likely to cheer for Quigo, Sprinks, etc.), demanded that Google's content targeting allow more direct control of what websites ads show up on, as opposed to forcing advertisers to accept the open-ended "smart matching" concept that used semantic technology to match ads with content.

So... first Google responded with site exclusion. Then, they released a site-targeted flavor of content targeting, in a parallel program. That as a direct response to these agency-style demands. Site targeting allows you to browse a menu of sites, add them to your list, and only show your ads on them.

I monitored ads running in both flavors for several months. A funny thing happened: the old "flawed" content targeting program got better, and my approach to managing those campaigns improved. The ROI came in line with search. Meanwhile, nothing on the "site targeting" side was converting. The performance was much worse.

At a couple of conference presentations I guessed that this is in part because computers do a lot better job of matching my ads against a million potential candidate pages than I possibly can in scanning down a list of 50 so-so potential publisher targets. You settle on 20 or so of these sites, then become obsessed with spending the full budget on just those. They convert poorly, so you've overspent on this handful of websites. That's a fairly typical scenario.

In short, because of computers aiding in the matching, classic content targeting offers more efficiency, as the systems get perfected.

Seth, both the intuition and the data point towards there being nothing inherently wrong with Google's approach to matching ads with content. No, the program isn't perfect, but placing high-CPM ads on big brand sites just because I want to appear respectable isn't exactly a challenge. It's more of the same: take too much of the client's money, and waste it, and claim the blue-chippiness of that approach as a benefit.

Both approaches -- the finicky put-me-only-here approach, and the "ROI-or-else" approach -- work in the marketplace. For very different reasons. Funnily enough, Google now offers two parallel programs to suit different ad buying constituencies, and are working on rolling out multiple ad products down the road, to keep everyone happy.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, February 05, 2007

YSM Confident in Canadian Rollout

Last week I attended the Yahoo Search Marketing launch event in downtown Toronto (held at Kai Lounge). It's intended to confirm to Canadian advertisers that yes, now you can use the full suite of search marketing tools to target just Canadian searchers; you can geotarget; and you can do all of this using the new Panama platform. This is now live with a full complement of support reps available to provide support and assistance. My company hasn't worked with a huge number of Canada-only campaigns in the past, but coincidentally demand for it is now picking up and questions about Yahoo are increasingly common now that companies are aware of it as a second option after AdWords. An example of a field where you pretty much won't be marketing "across the board" to the U.S. and Canada would be a highly regulated area like drug trials or pharmaceuticals. As another example, a major Canada-only ecommerce site I'm pitching right now will benefit immediately from the Yahoo rollout. Money will no longer be left on the table due to platform limitations. What were companies doing in the past? Well, nothing. You couldn't buy PPC just for Canada through Yahoo.

For those who are confused by this latest launch event - because it's the second time Yahoo has held a launch event for YSM in Toronto in the past few months - I think this latest was more of a "we're flipping the switch" reminder to a selection of businesses who are particularly plugged into the scene. The previous event was broader-based and intended to gain media attention and to introduce the local advertising community to a range of Yahoo execs.

Of course for oldtimers in the industry there was little new here, but the agency community and larger advertisers should take note that Yahoo consistently refers to the extensible nature of the Panama platform. Eventually (similar to Google's trajectory), you'll be able to bid on a range of media through the auction. That consolidation is healthy but it's going to be awhile before it reaches critical mass.

I'm not sure how accurate this is, but at a dinner following the event I was told that the Yahoo Canada team has grown to well over 100, currently all crammed into the Front Street office (though they're still on track to move to a more spacious location sometime this year). The team specifically devoted to search marketing is smaller, of course - Yahoo's a diversified company so that explains the "well over 100" number.

I haven't seen much coverage of this event, other than Sulemann Ahmed's brief overview. What Sulemann didn't cover was the door prizes. In keeping with the company's fun image they had a few giveaways for those who handed in business cards. After the first ho-hum drawing, all eyes were on the next prize: the video iPod. I apologized to the friend standing next to me, warning her that "I always win the door prizes at these things." The next thing you know, her name was being called as the owner of a new iPod! So much for me being evil. :)

The final door prize, dinner and Raptors tickets, was going to be a great way for me to treat some of my buddies, so I was really looking forward to winning that one. Unfortunately, Martin Byrne (Director of YSM Canada), the MC, called me over to do the drawing, so I was ruled out! A guy from Lavalife won it. I apologize for having trouble reading his name (small white print on a bright red business card). Or maybe this was because I still had my eyes shut from the random drawing process.

It is just good to see that due to an influx of full time Yahoo people in Toronto, there are more search-savvy people to discuss customer targeting with and to generally advance the cause. Some staff have been lured back from sojourns in the UK and continental Europe - call it Canada's brain gain. Yahoo plans a full slate of events to evangelize search to marketers in Canada, beginning with some introductory level academy type courses (by a third party company) at a very reasonable cost.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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