Searching Beyond the Paid

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Search Engines Killed The Newspaper Star....

OK, so it's hard to sing those words to the Buggles tune, but I think I made my point anyway. Great article by David Berkowitz in MediaPost's Search Insider yesterday. He attended a panel of journalists and editors who reportedly spent much of their time lamenting the death of newspapers (and, by association, magazines) at the hands of Google and Yahoo. I love these articles probably more than many SEM'ers do - I worked at a newspaper for over 6 years, and am currently doing SEM for a magazine subscription agency, both of which give me a unique perspective on a "dying" industry and an emerging one, all at the same time.

Here's my favorite quote from the article: "[Search engines] might be more directly winning over classified advertisers, but the erosion shows that newspapers have not been able to adapt to a changing media landscape since LBJ was president, so either finger consumers for tormenting newspapers with the death by a thousand cuts, or consider the damage self-inflicted." Hear hear. Indeed, search is the new classified section, to a great extent. In fact, my experience in classified newspaper advertising is what got me this SEM gig - while not exactly the same thing, there are many parallels, especially when it comes to hunting down relevant keywords and writing really short, yet clear and concise, ad copy. One look at my local newspaper's classified ad section tells me that they're getting hammered by the online job search providers. 10 years ago, the Sunday Jobs section easily ran 12 to 16 pages every week, often more. Now, I've seen *many* weeks of 6 to 8 page sections, with half-page house ads filling up space. Yikes. And how has the newspaper reacted to this decline? By raising their classified rates to the point that Mom and Pop Storeowner can't afford to advertise their job openings in the local paper any more. It's a vicious downward spiral that's been happening ever since I started at the newspaper in 1989 - "volume's down? We better up our ad rates."

Magazines are running into a similar problem. Circulation and ad revenues are down, so what do they do? Turn a blind eye to rogue magazine agents who sell bundles of 5 subscriptions on eBay for $0.99, that's what. Legit agents have a hard time - no, an impossible time - competing with this type of price-cutting, even if it's not "authorized" by the publishers. Legit agents trying to sell subscriptions via search are being penalized by publishers trying in vain to shut down the rogue agents by submitting trademark restriction letters to Google, or, worse yet, deauthorizing all online agent sales. Problem is, that only stops the good agents - the rogues keep on taking money for subs that they either don't fulfill, or falsify records to fulfill.

In both cases, the print media have themselves to blame. Instead of embracing technology, they're running around like Chicken Little. Instead of reinventing themselves to better fit the market, they're pointing fingers and crying foul (or "fowl"). Mr. Berkowitz makes some great suggestions as to how the print folks can use search to their advantage. I challenge them to actually do it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Short Post

It's been quiet on the PPC front this week, with nothing really new to comment on. Yahoo still hasn't responded to my click fraud inquiry, Ask is working on another click fraud inquiry... oh yeah, and I signed up for our Google click fraud settlement refund. Someone on one of the forums, who isn't involved in PPC, said the click fraud settlement web site sounded like a scam to get your Google Adwords account info! I hadn't thought of that...

We installed ClickTracks Pro last week. As with any launch, it's had its ups and downs. We still need to get it configured, and I need a new computer - my processor is too slow to run ClickTracks! Kinda funny. I still firmly believe it will be worth its weight in gold once we have everything set up.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Public Policy = Foreign Language?

What a great article by Dave Morgan in MediaPost's Online Spin today. "Net neutrality" has gotten a lot of press in the online and interactive world recently, and the series of events has illustrated quite clearly how little this industry knows about public policy. First off, hardly anyone had a grasp on the House bill and its ramifications until it had already been defeated in the House - too little, too late. Second, those who did try to influence the lawmakers didn't really go about it in the right way (see this Search Engine Watch blog post for a summary on Sergey Brin's last-minute visit to Washington). Finally, and perhaps most frightening of all, I'm not sure a lot of online marketing professionals really care.

Folks, it's time to start caring. As Dave Morgan points out, the telcos are WAY ahead of online media when it comes to having political influence. In college, I took an entire course on telecomm public policy and its history and importance as part of my telecommunication degree at Michigan State. The internet wasn't even around then, by the way (man am I old!). At the present time, I don't think there is even such a thing as a degree in internet marketing, much less a course therein on public policy. Those who understand public policy's inner workings come from other fields, such as Dave Morgan in journalism, and someone like Andrew Goodman with a political science background. However, too many of the online marketing industry leaders are techies and geeks who have no understanding, and most days no use for, politicking.

This is going to be an interesting development to watch. It's obviously gotten Google's attention, if only to serve as a wake-up call that hey, the whole world doesn't revolve around your every whim - only the online world does that! Keep an eye on this, people - and go Google your House and Senate rep's email addresses today.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Take My Conversion Data - Please!

A thought-provoking thread on Search Engine Watch, which started with some misinformation, has really got me thinking. And wishing (or dreaming, to quote Andrew). Someone asked if conversion rates factored into Google Adwords' Quality Score, which determines how ads are ranked on the page. The (corporate line) answer is no, but it's a very interesting concept. Sure, some advertisers just want traffic and branding and don't care about conversions, but I've gotta believe that most advertisers are looking for some kind of action from the click - a sale, a signup, a phone call, a newsletter subscription, whatever. Unless you've got really deep pockets, why would you pay to send people to your site and not get anything back from them?

Anyway, there is of course controversy surrounding this issue - "but we'd have to have Google Conversion Tracking or Analytics or in some other way supply Google with our conversion data, and that just gives them way too much power." How? Sure, theoretically it's possible that Google could take that info and use it to start their own division to compete with my business - but c'mon, is that even the slightest bit realistic? And then there's the obvious privacy / non-disclosure issue. I'm quite sure G is smart enough to know better than to share my conversion data with other clients or companies. Barring those two things, why shouldn't I tell them how many of their visitors actually convert? I mean, fact is, if I'm not getting conversions, I'm gonna pull my ads, or at least reduce my max CPC - which costs Google money, doesn't it? Why can't we find some middle ground on which we can both make money?

Hey Google, if you're considering beta-ing this, sign me up! I'd love to give it a shot.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Yet Another Click Fraud Commentary

I was supposed to hear back from Yahoo 2 days ago regarding our click fraud refund, as referenced in my previous post. I'm still waiting....

Here's a great article from Multichannel Merchant which illustrates the fact that I'm not the only one. Of course, I knew I wasn't the only one, but geez. Wake up, search engines! You're smart, really smart - but you need to recognize the fact that your advertisers understand their business, their customers, their advertising pitch, and their web traffic patterns better than you do. Anyone who is spending $20K per month on search advertising isn't doing it for the fun of it - they're tracking and watching to make sure it's working. Either that, or they're just plain stupid. Or they're a brand marketer. LOL

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Yahoo Click Fraud Update

This is an update to my earlier post, "Google, Yahoo and Click Fraud." It's been over 3 months since I first contacted Yahoo about low-quality clicks from their content network. I felt I had some pretty iron-clad evidence - conversion data (lots of clicks, 0 conversions) plus log file data showing 85% of the visitors had a length of "Didn't Stay." In other words, pretty much the definition of click fraud. I forwarded this info to one of the reps I've befriended at Yahoo who's been really helpful in the past. Weeks went by and I heard nothing.

Fast forward to yesterday... I finally heard back from my rep friend. He said the reason it was taking so long was because he'd been rejected by management - twice. They told him there was no suspicious click activity found on our account. Huh??? Keywords that previously were converting, all of a sudden had volumes through the roof, with no conversions, and that's considered "normal"? Please.

To the rep's credit, he fought back a third time, telling them that I'm not an advertiser who cries wolf - he knows I watch these things carefully and back up my claims with data. Here's my favorite bit from our conversation yesterday: he said he told his manager that "if we were sending them thousands of clicks, and they were getting a good conversion rate on those clicks, she'd be glad to pay for it and would be asking for more." Yes! That's the name of the game, isn't it? If I'm getting converting clicks at an acceptable cost, bring it on, baby! As long as they don't break our servers, I'll take all we can get!

All of this brings me to one big question: Why don't the engines take us at our word? I've been with Yahoo for going on 4 years, and have asked for a click refund a total of twice during that entire time. I am not constantly calling them about bad traffic. I spend big bucks with Yahoo for one reason: It works. If a given keyword doesn't produce, usually I just dump the keyword. A formerly good keyword suddenly going bad overnight doesn't fall into that category, though. Something else is going on, and it ain't anything good.

And how does this resistance benefit Yahoo, I ask? I've completely stopped advertising on their content network because of this fiasco. They're not getting my money there any more. And, I've made sure to tell my friends on the various message boards about their turtle-like pace in rectifying the situation. Have they really done themselves a favor here? Wouldn't they rather have me singing their praises? Are they really so big that they don't need my 5 figure a month budget? I'll find out later today, when the rep is supposed to let me know how things came out on his third go-round.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Beeping Beeps in Blogger!

Argh! Blogger doesn't want to fix the title of my last post. So if it looks funny, don't (BEEP)ing blame me.

Some Really Great Creative

This rich media ad for the Philips Bodygroom just gave me the best laugh I've had all day! It's an absolutely brilliant example of great creative, plus a real word-of-mouth / viral component that fits the target market to a T. There is so much buzz in the Internet Marketing world these days about rich media, "WOM" (word of mouth), and viral marketing that I've almost gotten to the point of tuning it all out. But this is a great campaign that does it right.

The ad agency did their homework, too. The iMedia Connection web site explains how the campaign was developed. It's a great case study in the right way to do target marketing: research, brainstorming, planning, and execution. The best part of all, in my opinion, is the fact that it's driving sales. After all, isn't that the goal? Sure, brand awareness is great, and this campaign'll do that too - but as we all know, money talks and [beep] walks. Other viral campaigns, like the much ballyhooed Chevy Tahoe "make your own commercial" push, were fun for people to play around with, but I doubt they sold many Tahoes that way. Some could even say the whole thing backfired, what with the spots out there bashing SUVs for gas-guzzling, bashing US automakers for a variety of transgressions, and the many silly-and-juvenile-and-bordering-on-offensive risque ones... Sure, the campaign got plenty of word-of-mouth, but I'm not sure it's what Chevy had in mind.

Tribal and Norelco got this one right. They hit the [beep] on the [beep]. My opinion of WOM just grew - one optical inch.