Searching Beyond the Paid

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cyber Monday: Hype or Heaven?

For us, anyway, it was heaven. More on that in a sec.

It was hard to miss all the media hype over yesterday's expected online shopping frenzy. Dubbed "Cyber Monday," it was billed as the online equivalent of "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving. Despite the omnipresent media buzz, several major retailers were caught unprepared. The National Retail Federation reported that sites like Wal-Mart and Macy's were down for a good deal of Friday, although they were up and running Monday (details here, via the LA Daily News).

Additionally, the NRF's own shopping site,, crashed and was inaccessable much of the day yesterday. More at the SEW forums, here. (Personally, I find this hilarious - the very organization promoting Cyber Monday was unprepared for traffic to its own much-hyped shopping site?!?)

So, how did our magazine subscription sites fare? Pretty well, all told. As far as I can tell, our sites handled the traffic and we did not experience any notable problems.

Overall orders were up 8.6%, and sales were up 11.7%, over the same day last year.

On the internet alone, we had 36% more visitors than this November's average. Internet orders were up 71% over the month's average.

All in all, not too shabby for a company whose internet traffic and sales typically don't peak until the week before Christmas. I'll be keeping close tabs on this as the season unfolds.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

YSM Rep Offering Guaranteed PPC Placement?

A very interesting thread is unfolding over at the Search Engine Watch forums. Member "SearchM2" posted, saying his Yahoo Search Marketing rep told him he could lock in top placement in the YSM ad space for a guaranteed, fixed CPC. Other posters (myself included) are dubious, but he insists he's still negotiating with his rep and it sounds like a go. Speculation is unfolding as to whether the rep is confused, or what else might be going on.

I honestly wonder if the rep he's talking to even WORKS for Yahoo! Has someone unscrupulous called him, posing as a YSM rep? I hope this isn't the case, but stranger things have happened in the online marketing world.

I'll be following this thread with interest. I can't imagine that it's legit, but if it is, where do I sign?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Search Engine Strategies Chicago

SES Chicago is coming up fast, kicking off on Monday, December 4. Before we know it, search marketers, vendors, experts, and the engines themselves will gather at the Hilton Chicago for 4 days of jam-packed sessions, exhibits, and after-hours parties and bar talk.

It had been rumored that this would be Danny Sullivan's last SES, but a month or so ago, Incisive Media announced that Danny would stay on through 2007. That's good news for the conference - Danny is a big draw, and he's just a great speaker and session moderator. His keynotes and Evening Forum are a must-attend.

I'm excited about this year's show. There are two of us going this year, and even still, I'm not sure we can cover all the great sessions that are scheduled this year. I have been to 4 SES conferences, and every time I've come back with a bunch of great ideas and contacts that end up paying for the show costs, and then some.

I'll probably post more later about SES, but for now, suffice it to say that if you're a search marketer, this is a must-attend. Just check out my quote at the bottom of the SES Chicago home page - that says it all. ;>)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Holiday Search Engine Marketing

No matter how hard you may want to try, you can't escape it - the holiday marketing frenzy is upon us. It began before the tricks or treats of Halloween were even finished, and it's gaining steam fast. "Black Friday," the big shopping day after Thanksgiving, is almost here, and retailers everywhere can't wait to cash in. Decorations are up, the ads are on TV... and search marketers are talking about Holiday Search Campaigns.

Elizabeth over at the Search Engine Watch Forums started a thread called What Does Your Holiday SEM Campaign Look Like?. It didn't get a ton of replies, which might seem surprising on the surface. I avoided responding, though - because I didn't want to give away my strategies to the competition at such a critical time of year. I suspect many other SEW forum members felt the same.

Seana Mulcahy had a good article in MediaPost's Online Spin blog, asking basically the same question. I suspect she might hear crickets on her request, too. I do like Seana's description of going to Wal-Mat on Black Friday 2005, though: "How was it being there last year? Well I was tired, froze my ass off in zero-degree weather, got even more tired from waiting in line to get in the store, was appalled by the aggression and sometimes brute force of the determined shoppers... you get the drift. " Ha ha! That's been my experience as well. I made that mistake 2 years ago, and it'll be a LONG time before I make it again!

I guess all of this is to say that, I do have holiday search marketing plans, and they're really pretty simple. I've looked at previous years' results, and based my strategy from there. I can say that I'm seeing bid prices starting to climb already, but that's not a total surprise.

Internally, I think we're better prepared than ever for a successful holiday campaign than in the past. Time will tell if that's true. Happy Holiday Marketing!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

2006 Mid-Term Elections and Search

Great, in-depth article by Danny Sullivan in the Search Engine Watch Blog about election coverage, or lack thereof, by the search engines. In Danny's analysis, Yahoo came out the winner, with a very cool interactive map and up-to-the-minute coverage, both of which were easily found from Yahoo's home page. Google, in an unusual role reversal, came out poorly - of course, no election-related links were to be found on their home page, and searches for phrases like "election results" turned up precious little. In fact, the first organic result was about Election 2004! The difference, Danny speculates, comes in some pretty apparent hand-doctoring of the search engine results pages (SERPs) by Yahoo.

Normally the engines, especially Google, try to stay away from such "hand jobs" in the SERPs, opting to let their algorithms do the work. At the same time, all the major engines have admitted that there are times when it makes sense to manipulate the results by hand. Seems to me that yesterday was one of those times - things were happening fast, and lots of people who aren't search engine "power users" probably turned to Google or Yahoo to try to find out the latest election results. If they turned to Google, it's likely they came away frustrated. If they turned to Yahoo, they were probably quite engaged and pleased with what they found.

What I personally find funny about all this is that it's such a switcheroo from the PPC programs. More often than not, after working in Google's PPC interface, I come away engaged and pleased; after working with Yahoo's, I come away frustrated and annoyed. Same thing with their respective customer service departments. Same thing with their "partner sites" and the ROI from them. It's nice to see the two switch roles for once.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Yahoo Search Marketing Launches YSM Blog

Accompanying Yahoo's new Panama advertiser interface is their new blog, the YSM Blog. It only has 2 posts on it so far, but there are hundreds of comments from the search community. Some are the typical spammy sort, but there's a lot of good stuff there too.

Many marketers want to know why Yahoo is doing away with their pure auction method of ranking ads. I agree. I actually like the current model - you place your bid, and you get your desired position. No games with "quality score" and "landing page relevancy" and "CTR thresholds" and all that nebulous stuff. You know what you need to bid, so you bid it, or you accept a lower position. Simple, and it leads to consistent results week after week. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

There were several comments regarding click fraud, as well, including one from my pal Discovery from the Search Engine Watch forums. Indeed, click fraud from Yahoo's content and search network is a huge problem - bigger, in my opinion, than with Google. At a minimum, they need to allow site exclusion. This isn't part of Panama, though; at least so far.

A few people applauded the geo-targeting options. Here here. We can only sell to the US, yet we get hundreds of clicks every month from Canada via Yahoo. So, we're paying for nothing. I can't wait to exclude Canada!

Finally, there was more than one comment stating that a blog isn't really the best way to communicate. I agree - especially since the Panama announcement came almost 2 weeks ago, and they've only got 2 posts on their blog. A high-profile program like Yahoo's should have daily posts, at a minimum - not a measly 2 in 2+ weeks. And the two posts are pretty much corporate hype and PR, if you ask me. There's very little meat there. They've already gotten enough comments to give them fodder for 100 blog posts - why aren't they posting? It's one of the cardinal sins of a corporate blog - don't put it out there and hype it to your customers and then let it stagnate!

I do appreciate what Yahoo is trying to do. I really do. I'm just surprised at how unprepared they seem to be - they haven't paid much attention to their competition, which is just crazy. Instead of a lame blog, they should have put a "YSM Rep" or "Yahoo Guy" or whatever on the forums, right away, and had him/her spend 90% of their time responding to posts. And don't get me started on how poor a job they've done monitoring their competitor's PPC interfaces!

MSU Fires Head Football Coach John L. Smith

No, this doesn't have anything to do with the world of search, but it is a subject near and dear to my heart. MSU administration finally woke up and smelled the empty seats in Spartan Stadium, and decided to fire head coach John L. Smith. It's about time. I was calling for his head after the first game of this season - MSU came out flat and barely beat a team they should have walloped (Idaho). They had a couple good games after that, but then it's been a steep slide down to Pitsville. Rubbing salt in the wound is our neighbor (but NOT friend) down the road, the University of Michigan, laughing their arrogant asses off while they sit at #2 in the nation. John L. had to go, and I'm glad.

The big question is who will replace him. Speculation abounds on the fan boards and sports talk shows. I don't have a preference, as long as it's somebody who'll get in the players' faces and make them accountable for their mistakes, like Tom Izzo does in basketball. (That rules out Steve Mariucci and a couple other names I'm seeing bandied about.) Last week, my family and I were lucky enough to attend a basketball practice via the MSU Rebounders Club. Even though there were easily 100 fans in the stands, Tom didn't hesitate to scream at his players when they screwed up. Better yet, when one player makes a boneheaded move, he makes the entire team line up out of bounds behind the basket and run suicide sprints. Then the offending player has to stand at the foul line and make 4 free throws in a row. If he misses, they run more suicides. Guess what - there aren't many mistakes made. On the football field, we've got guys getting flagged for illegal motion or holding or whatever boneheaded penalty 3 downs in a row, and the guy stays in the game without so much as a wince from John L. He just stands on the sideline with that stupid smirk on his face. Unacceptable. Players need to be held accountable for their actions. Nothing whips an 18 year old into shape like being screamed at in front of his peers, and being the guy who made his entire team run suicide sprints...

Anyway, this is all over the sports news world, so I can't possibly link to everything that's out there. Google News has about 1,000 articles about the firing, and sports blogs everywhere are abuzz. My favorite commentary is by the local Lansing ABC affiliate's sports commentator, Hondo S. Carpenter, on his SpartanNation web site. Hondo is a fanatic, to be sure, but he's a fanatic in a good way, and he's got great things to say about the message the fans have been sending all season.

Maybe MSU will get to a bowl game sometime in the next 10 years. Nonetheless, I'm glad I got to go to the Rose Bowl when I did.