Tuesday, May 31, 2005

MediaPost Publications Home of MediaDailyNews, MEDIA and OMMA Magazines

Ok, the analysts are speaking and loving Google. The SEO community is bashing Google at every turn lately. Who is right? Does anyone know a single search engine marketer that is investing heavily in Google? Personally, I'll keep my money somewhere else - although I wouldn't count Google out on what they can do. I just think they are spreading themselves to thin and letting a little too much "evil" into the kingdom.

To all of you recent Google millionaires - I'm available for Yachting appointments.

MediaPost Publications Home of MediaDailyNews, MEDIA and OMMA Magazines

Pay-Per-Click Linking?

I had a client forward an email he received from a company (for all intensive purposes let’s call them Company X) wanting to place a link on his site and in return they would pay him .60 every time someone clicked on the link. Since I am not familiar with this type of link request / linking strategy, I immediately forwarded the email on to John and Tony asking if they have ever heard of this type of linking strategy and if we should recommend it to our client.

After discussing this internally (with some debate), we came to the conclusion that we wouldn’t recommend this type of linking program because it’s a way of creating artificial links for clients of Company X which in no way benefits our client’s website from a linking stand-point.

Is this the “get new backlinks quick” strategy that will replace the three-way linking strategy?

Friday, May 27, 2005

New Ask Jeeves features examined

Ask Jeeves continues to solidify its stance as a legitimate contender with two new features this week. Here's my thoughts on "Focus" and "Web Answers"...

First, I must say that I like Focus. Frequently when I search unseccessfully, I change one word in the query to try and adjust my angle. Focus goes a step further and peaks my interest with queries that I otherwise would not have thought of. For instance, I've been looking recently for a very particular set of golf irons. The Focus feature helps me use the engine's full potential by suggestion queries related to 'Cobra SS-I Oversized Irons'.

Now...Web Answers. First, let me say that the technology behind it is impressive. Give credit to the scientists and engineers at AJ who have compiled such a strong product. However, I do see Web Answers causing more problems that it solves.

First and foremost, there is a legitimate possibility that the Web Answer given back may be inaccurate. I was reminded of my friends remark many years ago, noting that the Internet is about as reliable as the "men's room wall". While things have improved, web sources are still regarded as inferior to paper or quoted sources. AJ does no verification of the accuracy of each Web Answer, so please corroborate your answers. I can just envision a bunch of 7th grade Michael Isokoffs typing in a question and then quoting the answer in their papers as "anonymous Internet source". As a veteran print journalist told me on Monday, "reporters are lazy". Hey dude...it's not just reporters.

Secondly, this continues to transform search engines into super-membranes, satisfying every need of the searcher instead of being a gateway between the searcher and web publisher. This is destined to continue as new mediums like blackberrys and mobile phones become standard equipment. Future users will not want to click-thru to a publisher's site, and so the 'Web Answers' phenomenon will grow. Before long, web publishers (and I am one) will just be used by the engines for the information they provide, and less and less visitors will be forwarded through. Not that I'm pessimistic or anything...

There you go...two new features to play with. Your thoughts are welcome, as always.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Prospect of Search Ads on P2P Site Rattle SEMs

Ok, so this doesn't exactly "rattle" me, but it does make me think of Danny Sullivan's keynote speech in San Jose last year. Danny made a good point by saying "contextual advertising is not search."

But Contextual advertising is sold by the search engine, it can use the same creative as search advertising and is bought based on keywords. But let's get real - all contextual advertising is is an updated version of the great banner networks of a few years back. Heck, Google's even about to roll out CPM pricing for these ads - placing them in "demographic buckets" instead of keyword contextual buckets. In Contextual, we find that sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. You have to test.

As far as branding implications from ads being on P2P sites - well, those are there. Google now lets you filter out sites where you don't want your sites to appear - but that process can be very time consuming...and requires more time than most are willing to spend. So my opinion is, bring on the P2P networks for some, but let us opt out if need be. I'd also love the ability to get a list of sites where we "can" advertise and be able to add new ones instead of being put on a group of sites by default and then having to widdle away at them one by one. You see, sometimes I like to sleep.

Prospect of Search Ads on P2P Site Rattle SEMs

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Keeping Virtual Earth and Google Earth Current Enough to be Relevant

MSN unveiled their new satellite imaging product, "Virtual Earth," yesterday at the D3: All Things Digital" Conference in San Diego. This is the latest example of the ongoing competitive battle among the major search engines to provide the latest and coolest features - or at least keep up with the competition.

I think Virtual Earth and Google Earth, the very similar recently-announced product from Google, will provide great new depth for local search. Both have plans to show multiple layers of featured locations so a user can see the geographic relationship between different destinations. Ex. How close is the nearest Starbucks my nearest bank branch? They also both have indicated that PPC advertising will appear with the local listings.

Today was the first chance I've had to download and check out Keyhole, the satellite mapping service that will soon be re-launched as Google Earth. To be honest, I wasn't that impressed. I live in a rapidly growing suburb. My home was one of the first to be built in my neighborhood back in late 2000. My house does appear on Keyhole's photo, however it does not recognize my address, only the street name. By viewing the state of my neighborhood and the area around it, I figure that the image currently appearing in Keyhole was taken in late 2001 or early 2002. Using Keyhole's "Layers" feature, I attempted to find the nearest Starbucks and my local bank branch. Keyhole does not show my bank, which was built in 2003. It definitely doesn't show the Starbucks built less than a mile away which opened two months ago.

I'm hoping that when Google Earth, and Virtual Earth for that matter, officially launch later this summer that both the images and local listings will be updated regularly enough to be relevant to searchers.

iMediaConnection: SearchTHIS: Saving Your Search Tail

Looks like this blog is starting to get some attention. Thanks to Kevin Ryan for the great write-up. I hope that Google gets the message that the Smart Keyword Evaluation tool is broken. I really hope they fix it soon.

iMediaConnection: SearchTHIS: Saving Your Search Tail

Monday, May 23, 2005

What will make a better Search Engine?

Sometimes, as a search engine marketer, it's easy for me to concentrate on driving traffic to my client's sites and not think to much about what actually makes people use a search engine. In my graduate school days, I spent hours of research time trying to determine "why" people used the internet the way they did. We've come a long way from those days of the Internet, but the question still remains - what motivates individuals to use the internet - convenience? curiousity? coolness factor? a combination of all? As Blumler and Katz state in their "Uses and Gratifications of Mass Communication" theory, it's probably different for each consumer. After all, media consumers have a free will to determine how and why they use the media.

But in the blog post below, Greg Sterling of The Kelsey Group lets us know that Accoona, the search engine that launched last fall with Bill Clinton cutting the ribbon and the promise of billions of Chinese consumers, is in trouble. And he says no one will gain market share in the search engine world unless they are better that Google, MSN, Ask, Yahoo and the others. I agree with this assessment. What I don't know, however, is WHAT will make the next search engine better. Will it be personalization, relevancy or something I can't even imagine? I'd love to hear others thoughts.

- Search Engine Journal

Friday, May 20, 2005

Comprehensive SEM Blog Network Site...

Came across the recently launched SEM resource Search Brains this afternoon. It is basically an online source for keeping up to date with the Search Engine industry.

My .02...

Good SEM related information including articles, blog posts, resources, etc. that updates every 15 minutes but the format is a bit cumbersome. I would like to see the font size increased and a link to "archived" articles/posts so that you don't have to scroll so much.

I really like their call-out on "roll" of Bloggers so that you can directly access an individuals blog...Tony is working on getting ZEN-SEM on their roll as we speak. : )

I am going to bookmark this one and see how it develops.

Google Launches Personalized Home Page

So Google wants to be my home page? Guess what, it already is.

I again ask the question - is Google trying to do too much? Are they getting away from the "one thing" they do well. We all saw how this portal approach worked back at the tail end of the bubble.

And with the launch of a new CPM model of advertising (Laura and I sat through a presentaiton about it yesterday with Google) I hope that Google is learning from history and not repeating others mistakes. I guess only time will tell.

Google Launches Personalized Home Page

Thursday, May 19, 2005

One Hit Wonders

You know...Iron Butterfly, the '97 Marlins, Right Said Fred...and Google?

Yep. Atleast according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, speaking at Stanford last week. Ballmer, whose search engine is fresh out of spring training, told students the fall of rival Google is no more than 5 years away.

Is this just more marketing hype from Gates and crew, or does Microsoft truly have what it takes to topple the search leader? Merely one year after the famous "Google kicked out butts" statement from Gates, team butterfly seems as proud as ever. With $100 million less and 1 percent more (market share since Jan 05), there's no question Microsoft is embracing the long road ahead.

Maybe Longhorn will revolutionize the way we search. I doubt it, but I've doubted Microsoft before. They certainly don't lack the resouces or talent. Or attitude, for that matter.

Can Google hang on over time to hit for the cycle? Only time will tell. For now, they have earned the right to bat clean-up.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Not So Smart

Google’s Smart Keyword Evaluation Tool – what exactly are the advantages, to the advertiser, to Google, to the consumer? It’s supposed to disable terms that are underperforming, so that they are taken out of the rankings to improve the user experience. I’m simply not convinced it’s working at all as intended. I don’t even think anyone at Google really understands how their own tool works.

We recently had a client who was offering an online broadcast of March Madness college basketball games. It was approved by the NCAA, and, in fact, the URL was on their site. Can’t get much more relevant. This was an unusual PPC campaign, as there was a very narrow window of consumer interest. We started off with a test campaign using a core of college basketball and March Madness related terms, and then expanded to specific team and school names as the brackets were announced.

Traffic was slow on the test campaign… and some of the key terms got disabled. Quickly. Terms like “march madness basketball” – which were getting an acceptable clickthrough rate according to Google’s own definition. Look in the FAQ, and it says .5% for first position. Of course, part of the problem there may be that the numbers you see in the client center, and the numbers Google uses to determine a keyword’s status are not the same pool of data. You are looking at the total, including performance on partner sites. They are using Google-only search numbers. Why, if they are able to separate these numbers for their own use, and they are making decisions which effect your campaign, can’t the data be displayed separately for the advertiser as well? And how does it help Google, the advertiser, or the user if terms that are performing well on partner sites are not allowed to continue to be displayed on those sites?

There was a huge spike in March Madness-related search terms once the games got underway. Pre-season there was very little. So, by starting the campaign early, we ended up being penalized for an early lack of interest and were allowed to use some terms which had a high degree of relevancy and for which there was a great deal more traffic than when we started the campaign. The “smart” tool is not smart enough to factor in seasonal differences.

Then, as we added terms to the campaign, we encountered another problem. Terms were put on hold or even disabled – with no history whatsoever. How can any algorithm determine that any term will not perform well for any given client if it is never given a chance to be displayed?

During this campaign, I had lunch with a few people I work with at Google, and asked for an explanation. I was told it may be because of the performance of “similar” terms in the campaign, like plural versus singular. Problem was, there were no similar terms to most of the new ones which had any more history for such an evaluation. The Optimizer I spoke with seemed just as baffled and frustrated that accounts she uploaded new terms for often ended up with several ‘on hold’ or disabled from the start. She said, vaguely (something I have heard, in just as vague terms) that the number of terms on hold had to do with the total number in the account. If you upload too many new terms at once, several of them may be inactive. This also makes no sense. Why can I start a campaign with 2000 terms and be fine, but if I start with 200 and add 1000, I have several that are inactive?

The standard advice is to choose terms which are more specific. This, however, does not explain how a term like “gonzaga bulldogs college basketball game” – which is very specific – would be disabled as soon as it’s uploaded. Apparently, the Smart Keyword Evaluation Tool bases some of its decisions on the history of a term across accounts. So, if several other advertisers have not had success with a term, it might be disabled from day one when you upload it. This does not seem to make much sense. There is no way that an algorithm can evaluate relevance without history for the particular client that is advertising… and if a term is disabled for poor performance, a change in ad copy should allow that term another chance.

I think that this is a tool that was created as an attempt to shortcut the time necessary for human review in relevance. It is, however, shortsighted and flawed. It does not take into account conversions – a term with a low click-through but high conversions would seem like a good one. It does not take into account the differences between different advertisers for the same keywords. It does not take into account seasonal spikes in a term’s relevance. The only way to tell whether a term is relevant for the user is to either review it manually (with editors, as Overture does) or – as has been Google’s strength in the past – to allow the users to decide.

And so, I say to you, oh Google-powers-that-be, let the keywords run! Let the people decide!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What Makes a Good SEO Client?

I have read several articles on "Selecting a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Agency" but something that we have been talking about in account services is the inverse of that, "What makes a good SEO client".

Nothing is more perplexing for us as SEO specialists and account managers as a client that...

* Doesn't implement our recommendations for page content, title tags, META tags, alt tags, etc. OR overwrites our recommendations
* Makes changes to their site or site pages without notifying us prior to making the changes
* Doesn't provide access to their site analytics OR doesn't take advantage of our web analytics solution - zWebTulz

Our clients that have the best ROI from SEO take full advantage of our SEO knowledge and proven methodologies. Why wouldn't they?... that's what they pay us for right!?

Search Engines and King Content

This is a great article. I love the writer. :)

Search Engines and King Content

Monday, May 16, 2005

Googlebowling - A true step into the Gutter

Googlebowling is a term coined last month by Threadwatch. It has been making the rounds on several SEO sites and while I'm not sure of the legitimacy of the concept, if it's true it could be disturbing for many sites trying to get ahead in the natural SEO game.

Googlebowling is simply getting a ton of links very quickly with the same anchor text in order to flag Google's spam filters. Pretty ingenious, and would be pretty hard to do. But in theory it's definitely not beyond the realm of possibility for some folks out there.

Recently, a large SEO firm that shall remain nameless was inexplicably stricken from Google's results. This firm had ranked VERY highly for some pretty competitive terms - and all of the sudden they were gone. Their CEO blamed it on some people doing some unscrupulous things, namely requesting links to his site from anywhere and everywhere.

This brings up the question - is it possible to bring down another site's rankings? I know there are some shady public relations professionals that would love nothing more than to hire an SEO that could bring down the competition's Web sites. What would a corporation pay to have a yourcompanysucks.com site that refers to THEIR company suddenly disappear from the search engines? Believe me, they'll pay alot.

I hope Google is working to fix this problem. We'll certainly be watching for it closely with our clients.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Urchin Improved: How Google is elevating analytics

Google announced last week that pricing for its recently acquired analytics product, Urchin, is being lowered significantly (news release). While lower prices are great for everyone, the real gem for marketers was buried deep in the release and hasn't garnered much attention. Urchin users now have the ability to directly import Adwords data into their Urchin reports, revealing true ROI metrics within the reporting interface.

"So what? Can't you import that data already with others solutions like ClickTracks?" Yes. But in the time it takes you to login to Adwords, select the reporting period, export the data to a CSV file, log back in to ClickTracks, upload the file...you see my point.

To my knowledge, Urchin is now the only full analytics suite that provides this seamless integration to PPC data. Login, see you visitor stats, take a look at your current PPC ROI, grab a cup of coffee and get back to work.

Myself and others at Zunch have been working on this exact integration for zWebTulz, our analytics solution, for some time now. If Google doesn't beat us to it, we hope to be the first with seamless PPC integration to Google Adwords and Yahoo SM (the artist formerly known as Overture). This capability will allow online marketers to spend more time making decisions and less time pulling data, and that's a good thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

iMediaConnection: SearchTHIS: Clutter, Relevancy, & Search

Kevin Ryan makes some good points in today's imediaconnection about the continuing quest of the search engines to "be everything to everyone."

It's funny - yesterday I was rereading through some of Google's advice for Webmasters and I came across something in Google's philospophy that caught my attention:

Check out number two here: http://www.google.com/corporate/tenthings.html

It's a philosophy that makes sense. My question is, is Google getting away from this with all of their other offerings? Obviously Google's one thing is search - but how do we define search? Is Orkut search? Is Gmail search? There are arguments that all of it has to do with search - but I'm thinking, it's not actually search. The recent acquisition of Urchin by Google shows they are now interested in analytics.

It may be a matter of symantics, but one for the Google folks to ponder in light of what happened in 2002. You can do one thing and do it well, but you better know what one thing is.

iMediaConnection: SearchTHIS: Clutter, Relevancy, & Search