Thursday, June 30, 2005

Slashdot | Google Sued Over Click Fraud

I hope to get some more time today to comment on this recent suit filed against Google for Clickfraud, but it looks like a competive suit to the folks at www.lostclicks.com, whom I've spoken with recently. I don't have their comments on this suit though, but I'll be interested to hear what they have to say. Slashdot has some good comments thought - read below. Hope to have more from the Zunch team later.

Slashdot | Google Sued Over Click Fraud

All search engines...report to work immediately!

Seriously, get back to work. Six new products in one week, is that all you got?

OK...maybe I'm the one who needs to get back to work after being distracted all week by Google Earth, the Google Maps API, the Google Personalized Search, Yahoo's MyWeb2, Google Earth, Google Video, A9's maps, oh and did I mention Google Earth. Yeah...I love it (and so does my space-loving, science-teaching wife).

So while the big news from Zunch might get overlooked this week, it appears that we're not the only ones traveling "full speed ahead".

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Yahoo! Search Weather Report II

Yahoo! Search's second algorithm update has come and gone like the spring rains here in Texas. Much like a summer afternoon rain shower on the Texas prairies, we haven't seen any significant impact - positive or negative, in terms of client's search engine rankings resulting from this algorithm update.

IMO...Yahoo! Search is seeking publicity knowing that Google's recent algorithm update (code name: Bourbon) created a significant buzz in the SEO world. Both updates conveniently made before the WebmasterWorld conference in New Orleans. Strategic PR at it's finest!


Friday, June 24, 2005

Followup: Meet the Google Engineers

I just returned from New Orleans where I was able to attend the "Meet the Google Engineers" mixer. First, thanks to the management at Zunch for the opportunity to attend. While I certainly didn't learn anything earth-shattering, I believe it was a worthwhile trip. Here's a rundown...

The engineers were obviously briefed like covert agents beforehand on what to say, what not to say and how to dodge questions. To be fair, I did feel like a majority of the questions were handled pretty well, although some questions were answered with a redundant "google uses over 100 factors in its algorithm...".

They pushed using the new Google Sitemap program and stressed that new features were going to be added in the future for better communication between webmasters. They also stressed reading the "webmaster guidelines" before developing a site.

Of course everyone and their mother asked one question: "Is there a sandbox?" Here's the answer: "There is no official Google Sandbox. There are many forms of data that cycle at different times, which may lead to the assumption of a sandbox. "

When asked about the recent patent that made news a few months ago, Google said: "Back at the time of that patent, our competitors were patenting everything. It was more of a defensive move than anything. We were told to go out and find anything and everything that could be used for historical information in order to patent it. We have many technologies which we have chosen not to patent for the sake of secrecy. We just hope that no one else discovers the same methods and tries to sue us!".

It was also interesting to note that the engineer that I spoke to claimed he had never heard of SEOInc, or what has happened to them recently. Yeah...

As expected, the session ended with the admonishon to create sites for users, not search engines. Words which fall on deaf ears at this geek-fest.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Why IO, Why?

I have a radical proposition: Get rid of insertion orders for PPC advertising.

Do IOs really serve a purpose? Or are they simply an extraneous carry-over from print advertising? Someone in an accounting department would probably be able to explain to my why this document is necessary… but from the point of view of a pay-per-click advertiser, they are a nuisance and a potential liability.

What information is in the IO? The length of the campaign, the budget, the client info, and the payment method. All of these are defined when you set up an advertising account online. Perhaps this is seen as a kind of protection for the advertiser, to make sure that they do not keep their ads up longer than intended or spend more than intended… but defining and changing the date or budget parameters is simple online. Even setting a max spend not to be exceeded, or an end date…

If it were not so simple to control these factors, or if, as in print advertising, there were a long lead time – so that you can’t cancel an ad at the last minute – then insertion orders would make sense.

OK – so yes, it’s another piece of paper that requires a few e-mails back and forth to obtain and get signed. One more thing to fax back. Pretty minor nuisance. How can it be a liability?

It becomes a liability when the Insertion Order runs out, and the campaign stops – and the advertiser does not realize it immediately.

Oh, wait – maybe that’s more a customer service issue. Maybe the real problem is that customer service reps do not send out notices that an account is about to be shut off because the IO budget or end date is reaching an end. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Or the customer service rep does not assure that a new IO is prepared in a way that will leave the account with no downtime.

Uh-oh. Is this turning into another Google rant?

Yes and no. Neither Google nor Yahoo has been consistent about keeping me apprised of IOs reaching either budget or time limits.

Yahoo has been better about letting me know when one is going to end and needs to be renewed, but not so good about noticing that an account had nearly spent its limit, or was spending too fast.

Google has been wildly inconsistent.

For example. One client has three accounts. The IOs are all set to end on the same day, but they are burning through their budget at different speeds. The rep I work with lets me know, about a month in advance, that this is happening… and that one of the accounts will reach the budget limit early.

I am happy they have done this, and ask that we go ahead and complete new IOs.

I hear nothing back for a week. I am told there’s no rush. I get passed between two account reps, who do not share all of the information I communicate. One IO gets completed, but with a start date that leaves the account with a day of downtime. The others get extended – so that now, instead of three accounts with a single end date, I have three with three different end dates.

I hear nothing further, until I notice that one of the accounts is not running. My client loses money. Google loses money. Why did I not get a call or an e-mail? And why, when I did hear back (two days later, after I followed up again, from a *third* rep), did they act surprised that I wanted a new IO?

This is not the first time Google has allowed a campaign to simply end without following up.

Oh, wait… I guess it did turn into another Google rant. (Hey, don’t get me wrong. The folks at Google are really quite nice. Just not so well organized.)

But seriously, why is all of this needed in the first place? If an insertion order really is a necessity, why can it not be generated easily, by the advertiser, online? If an electronic contract is insufficient, the info could be autofilled from information already in the account, printed, faxed back… Take out a few steps and simplify everyone’s lives.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

MSN Stakes Local-Search Claim on Virtual Earth

Bring on MSN! Ok, gist of the story here is the the folks at Microsoft plan to announce their "initial" push into local search. The company is expected to release a beta version of the MSN local search.

But to me, the coolest thing is that they are merging the "virtual earth" and search teams. This is EXACTLY what I think should be the next generation of search - search integrated with maps. I love it! Great job, MSN!

MSN Stakes Local-Search Claim on Virtual Earth

Monday, June 20, 2005

Google to Launch Paypal type service?

Google once again is rumored to be launching a new service that will rival E-bay's Paypal. Is this is a good idea for Google, or are they getting their hands into too much? Only time will tell.

Internet News Article | Reuters.com

Thursday, June 16, 2005

MediaPost Publications Home of MediaDailyNews, MEDIA and OMMA Magazines

The idea of search for subscription sites (especially the ones that you subscribe too) is long overdue. I'm suprised that Yahoo is just now coming out with this. I would imagine that eventually they'll sell subscriptions as well. I love this model. Tip of the hat to Yahoo!

MediaPost Publications Home of MediaDailyNews, MEDIA and OMMA Magazines

Monday, June 13, 2005

Free Click Fraud Monitoring - Free Pay Per Click Auditing - VeriClix

Ok, it's still in soft launch - but this service looks very promising for those who are wanting to track click fraud but don't have deep pockets. Looks like a great service from what I've seen thus far. Check it out. Thanks to Jeff Martin for bringing out this service!

Free Click Fraud Monitoring - Free Pay Per Click Auditing - VeriClix

Friday, June 10, 2005

Study: Search Engines Still Fail to Disclose Ads

So, the Consumer Reports WebWatch doesn't think Search Engines are doing enough to disclose the difference between paid ads and search results.

My question is not whether they are doing enough to disclose, but does it really matter? Does the relevancy of what a computer thinks (i.e. an algorithm) really make a listing more or less credible on the Internet? This isn't editorial in a newspaper, where an editor and reporter have verified the facts and the information is deemed to be accurate - this is a Web page that has been crawled by a computer and the code is being parsed out for relevancy. In my opinion, good advertising is actually more credible in most settings because, guess what, if it's not relevant, you don't buy it.

For more political or ideological things, I see the value in providing disclaimers of where the information came from more, but in my opinion, with the exception of Yahoo's SM's paid inclusion program (which I despise) the search engines are already doing a good job of disclosure. They can't help it if the average joe doesn't know what "sponsored listings" means. In my opinion, that's not a "cryptic" phrase.

Study: Search Engines Still Fail to Disclose Ads

Friday, June 03, 2005

Here Googlebot...Come On Googlebot...

So Google has yet another new feature that has created a buzz in the SEO world..."Google Sitemaps"

In short...

Webmasters, site owners, SEO specialists, etc. now have the ability to "feed" Google web pages they would like to have included in Google's indices. It's free to submit but not guranteed. Pretty simple!?

Here is how it works...

You create an XML feed of URL's you want indexed along with details such as when the page(s) was/were last updated and how often the page(s) change and you tell the Googlebot where to find the XML file. NOTE: The XML file (Sitemap) must be hosted on the web server. Pretty simple!?

This is great news for large dynamic sites that have issues being "deep crawled". However, there has already been a report from someone stating that they installed "Sitemap" on their beefy 3200MHz Pentium 4 running Debian Linux and 2 GB of RAM and it caused the server to crash.

I look forward to reading more reports on this when I get back into the office on Monday morning.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

Companies subvert search results to squelch criticism

Coming from a PR background - this type of "search engine reputation management" fascinates me...And I must say that I've done my share of working to get bad results down in search engines so as to protect a client's reputation.

The article below, however, I feel is infused with unrightous indignation about what was done by Quixtar.

If you don't want to read the article, the gist is that Quixtar (basically the online arm of Amway) decided to battle some negative comments about them on the Web by creating Web sites and blogs with positive comments about them. The then worked to push these "positive" sites up in the search engine results.

The article's author seems to imply that this type of technique is "spammy" and "manipulative" - however in his effort to give both sides of the story, he quotes a representative from Google saying they are ok with results because they tell both sides of the story.

In my opinion, that's all most company's want to do - tell their side of the story and let the consumer decide. We're definitely seeing a PR war in the search engines. After all, anyone can start a blog about your company and post negative things there that can hurt business. And as long as they know and understand libel laws, there's not a whole lot you can do to stop it. But you can get your side of the story out there. There are so many reasons why a disgruntled customer or employee might try to damage your reputation - and if you have no recourse to fight it, then what do you do, just sit back and watch sales go out the door?

I don't think Quixtar did everything right (I wouldn't post false blogs that aren't blatantly obvious that they are company sponsored) but I applaud their efforts. I say good luck - and call me if you want to talk about how to do this better.

Companies subvert search results to squelch criticism

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Google Secret Lab, Prelude - Henk van Ess's Search Bistro

Talk about some buzz around the office! Ok, VERY unconfirmed reports are saying Google is using some "manual" intervention to determine search results. Any evaluators out there, give me a ring! We want to talk to you!

Google Secret Lab, Prelude - Henk van Ess's Search Bistro

The Editorial Process

Have you ever wondered who those “editors” are at Overture/Yahoo? What exactly do they do? Why do their decisions seem to be inconsistent.

Well, I can tell you. I used to be one of those editors.

Here’s the basics:

An editor receives a full week of training when they start, mostly on the guidelines and interpretation thereof. Some of them are cut and dry, and any editor will make the same decision (unless they are just being sloppy.) Like the back button. It’s got to work. If someone goes to your site from a PPC ad, and sees that it’s not what they are looking for – they must be able to easily return to the listings using the back button.

Some of the rules require interpretation. This most often is an issue with content. Let’s say you want the keyword “tire” and your site sells rims. Is a rim a tire? Is it a tire part? The editor gets this in front of them, and they make a judgment call. My judgment call may be different from the editor sitting next to me. Is someone who types the word tire into an engine looking for rims? In fact, might decide one way today… and (having forgotten about seeing the listing before) reverse my decision a month later when presented with the same scenario.

Now, here’s where it gets fun… The editor may turn to their neighbors and get an opinion from one, two or three others sitting nearby. We did that all the time. Some editors more than others. Some editors are inclined to be more lenient. Some are more strict to the letter of the guideline. Some think more like the advertiser, some more like the searcher. And sometimes, at the end of a long week, when we are rushing to meet our quota (yes, they have quotas for the number of listings an editor must process) – we get sloppy and don’t pay as close attention. We miss content, we forget to check the back button. Listings get declined when they shouldn’t or approved when they shouldn’t. Not often, but they do. (I prided myself on my exceptionally high quality scores, with a less than 2% error rate.)

The most common reason to decline a listing is probably obvious path. You have a lovely home page, and want all visitors to your site to go there – but how do they find the exact thing they were searching for from there? If it’s obvious (shown on that page, or listed in a menu), then you’re good to go. If the editor doesn’t see how to find it, then a searcher is unlikely to as well. Unless of course, the editor doesn’t know that the keyword you want, “dubs,” are large rims, and thinks it has something to do with voiceovers… and then, even though you have 22” rims listed in the menu, they might decline. I’d hope that they’d take a moment to figure out why you want the term (asking, doing a web search) first, but – sometimes that quota looms and finding answers takes time.

Here’s the thing about editors. They’re only people. People are inconsistent, though we do our best to be otherwise.

That is, when your listing is reviewed by a person, and not a program.

Another source of inconsistency is a little thing which editors aren’t supposed to talk about called “E2.” These are listings that are deemed “low risk” and processed automatically. Low risk listings meet the following criteria: they are low-volume, they do not contain any brand names (at least none that are in the database), possible drug or medical terms, gambling, or adult. Sometimes a listing can be flagged because there is a word in the description that the system can’t interpret according to context… like “bet” and then it will be routed to an editor.

You see, the volume of listings has increased so rapidly that there is no way for editors to keep up with them all… so E2 processes many of them. And, being a program, it has limited capacity for interpretation. What’s more, when things get really busy and the editors are all working overtime, the E2 program might get tweaked to be less sensitive, and allow more terms through.

But call me biased (OK, yes, I admit it) I prefer this system, even with its flaws, to Google’s… Because I know when my listing is submitted that it’s either online or not. If it’s declined, I can make a change and resubmit. With Google, I may have a listing live for months, only to one day get an e-mail saying that the ad has been shut off because of a guideline violation… You get a higher quality ad, most of the time, when it’s been proofed by an editor before it goes live. (Some of the ads on Google are such a mess, I’d be embarrassed to use them to represent my business.)

So if you get something declined and don’t understand why, maybe it went through E2. Maybe it went to an editor who was tired. Most likely, on the other hand, it simply didn’t meet the requirements. Keep in mind, most of them are there to improve your click through and ROI – because doing so is in Yahoo’s best interest. You getting traffic is what makes them money. You making money is what keeps them making money. The better you know the guidelines, the better you can make your ads work for you.