Jan 302005

A company called AlmondNet, run by Micha and Roy Shkedi is unveiling a new advertising program that teams up with users ISP’s and a network of website partners to deliver relevant advertising.

Now search engines and other companies have been using cookies to track users movements within a website for years. AlmondNet, however, wants to go a step further and track users movements throughout the Internet, and through these movements make an educated guess of what kinds of ads to deliver up on partner websites.

Let’s say you go from one website to the next search for antiques. AlmondNet will track this and when you land upon a partner site, they will deliver ads for antiques in front of your face.

On their website, they even proclaim “Site Visitors: See relevant, privacy-sensitive ads everywhere.” First, do you want to see ads everywhere? Second, they’ve had to invade your privacy in order to deliver these relevant ads to you, so how “privacy-sensitive” can they be?

Its like having a census taker or a personal marketer follow you around, making notes on every step you take and every product you reach for just so that when you are in the check out line in one of their stores, they can stack the candy counter with products you cannot resist.

Now this anti-advertising sentiment may sound strange coming from an Internet marketer such as myself. But I am a regular person first and as a regular person I want the Internet to be a place for information first and I do not want it to turn into a long series of infomercials. Second, as a regular person, I am also a privacy advocate. I do not like the thought of Big Brother watching me (or even Big Half-Brother – Big Business).

Sure, information and marketing can coexist on the Internet and should coexist. But there has to be a balance. And any time I see that balance tip towards having yet another Home Shopping Network, then I think its time to say, “Enough!”

Let’s let customers decide what they wish to purchase without placing a 24/7 spycam on them to track their every movement. I doubt if Micha and Roy would like their every moves followed by a zoom camera and digested by a supercomputer and sold back to them at the Internet candy counter.

Just my 2 cents (while supplies last)

Jan 292005

Amazon has just unveiled its own search engine, which is aimed at businesses and intends to compete with the online Yellow Pages industry.

One of the coolest features is something called “Block View”, which shows the surrounding streets and businesses at a given location.

According to The Denver Post online magazine, “A unique new feature of Amazon’s A9 online search engine allows users to browse photographs of storefronts and entire streets in downtown Denver and nine other U.S. cities.”

According to TheAge.com, “The services uses trucks equipped with digital cameras, global positioning system receivers, and proprietary software and hardware that includes 20 million images from 10 US cities.”

The next step I suppose will a be a virtual tour into the lobby to wait half and hour for your virtual customer service rep to hand you off to someone who can actually help you.

Now if this online tool could check the line at the post office in real time, I would be exstatic, but for now I don’t want to get me virtual hopes up.

Jan 282005

One of the former search engine leaders, LookSmart popped its head up to announce that its still here even when its year-end financial results are still sliding. LookSmart’s market share has been sliding for the last several years since they decided to convert all listings to paid listings whether those who were indexed wanted this or not.

A couple of years ago, MSN announced that they were dropping LookSmart as their results provider contributing to LookSmart’s ongoing financial slide. The demise of LookSmart has been predicted for some time now, so it is refreshing that every once in a while, they will pop their heads up and say “We’re still here!” Perhaps the upcoming Groundhog’s Day would have been a better time for this announcement.

For LookSmart to be successful again, they will need to come up with a new identity that will set them apart of Google, Yahoo! MSN, and Overture. Just being who they are isn’t working right now and hasn’t for some time. LookSmart needs to spend more money on R&D and come up with creative and innovative solutions that are more customer focused and less advertiser focused.

LookSmart needs to live by the old mantra “Give the customer what they want and the money will follow.”

Just my 2 cents (with a 50% rebate for filling out this coupon)

Jan 272005

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has reported that 82-percent of Internet users don’t know the difference between a sponsored link and an organic listing in the search engines. These 82-percent do not know that “sponsor” means advertiser in search engine lingo and that sponsored links are paid advertisements that sandwich the unpaid, organic listings.

Of this same group, 45-percent said they would stop using search engines if they were not being clear about paid versus non-paid results.

To me, this just points out how new the Internet is relative to other media. At one point, the general public did not know the difference between infomercials and a half-hour television program. There used to be true stories until “based on a true story” started to crowd them out.

There is still an educational lag time when it comes to the general public and the Internet especially in regards to advertising and marketing.

The over-riding element will remain for most users, though, which is the relevance of the search results.

Jan 262005

Google and Yahoo! have both rolled out their new video search capabilities. Google Video Search is in beta and Yahoo! Video Search is live as a tab on its front page but does carry the beta tag as well.

So, immediately I had to run to Yahoo! and do a video search for “Andy Griffith” to see if I could find some old reruns indexed by the new video search engine. Sure enough!

Not only were there old clips of reruns in the results but commercials for Sanka coffee and interviews with Andy as well. Some of the clips ran only a minute or so, but one of the interviews ran for a whole 27 minutes. Not bad, I thought!

When searching Google Video Search for Andy, though, I was not nearly as impressed. Andy Warhol and Melanie Griffith references appeared with no video, only still photos and a blurb explaining what the video was like had there been an actual video to watch.It looks like Yahoo! Video Search is ahead of the curve on this one. For instance, if you needed to do some video research for a timely story on Johnny Carson, you could do this right now on Yahoo! Video Search and come up with a page full of video clips. On Google, however, there are only still photos and an explanation.

The implications for video search (outside of all of the copyright and trademark problems) are many. Researchers, news organizations, political parties and consumers alike are likely take advantage of the new technology in years to come.

Once again the search engine wars heat up and Yahoo! Video Search has fired the first shot across the Google bow.

Jan 252005

MSN Beta has just become MSN Search going live and its not even Saturday night. Results from MSN Beta have been filtering over to MSN Search since January 16, 2005 and now it is official. The search engine wars heat up again as MSN Search is no longer dependent upon the Inktomi database for its results.

One of the exciting aspects of MSN Search compared to Google is that with MSN there is no grandfathering of SERP’s (or if there is, then the grandfathering starts now). Grandfathering means Google tends to give preference to older sites in the search engine rankings even if the sites are un-optimized or worse yet, spammy. Google also gives the greatest weight to off-page factors such as inbound links.

MSN Search, however, gives greater weight to on-page elements, so new optimized websites will rank better in MSN than they will in Google. No Sandbox, no waiting. This approach gives MSN Search greater relevancy in my opinion.

Of course, I may be biased since SEO Firm is now ranked number one in MSN Search.

Though the organic search results are sandwiched on three sides by sponsored listings, MSN Search devotes more real estate to the organic SERP’s than does the new AOL Search results, making it user-friendly rather than advertiser-friendly.

At last, more marketplace competition among the major search engines is here. Because market-share is always up for grabs, this year will be a most interesting year for the Big 3 engines.

Jan 242005

Much as been said about the so-called “Google Sandbox” which penalizes newer websites by putting them in a sort of holding tank for several months until they can prove they are a legitimate business and not just some fly-by-night operation.

This has caused great frustration for the legitimate businesses who have been penalized along with the spammers in the Boot Camp model of filtration. Only those with enough will, will endure the months of eating and playing in isolation, away from the real soldiers. Only those with enough intestinal fortitude will survive the Sandbox and the assumption is that the spammers do not have this kind of fortitude.

On some of the message boards there has been talk of circumventing the Sandbox by placing several repetitions of nonsense words such as –asdf on one’s website or repeating the made up word –dfgsdfgsdfg seven times as this is supposed to negate a Google filter and serve as a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card. While it may be worth an experiment, most likely Google has shut down this loophole by now.

It is unfortunate that the actions of a few make the majority suffer the consequences. There is no good way to tell the spammers from the legitimate businesses as they tend to infiltrate and integrate with the rest of the crowd. Most likely, the neighbor who just moved in across the street and smiles and waves at you from their mailbox is a spammer. Their kids play at your kids’s school and they go to your church.

Only time will tell and the waiting game must be played. So, as you wait to be released, make the Sandbox your playground. Build castles, make friends, work in cooperation with others and say goodbye when its your turn to leave. Also, have empathy for those who are not able to leave yet.

Jan 232005

This week, AOL Search is set to roll out and enhanced version of their search portal. The organic results say they are “Enhanced by Google” which means their results are the same as the Google results.

One search engine news portal exclaims that AOL Search is aiming to compete head-to-head with Google, Yahoo! and MSN. I don’t think so.

As long as AOL Search uses the Google database and results, they can repackage the results page all they want, but they will never be serious competition for the Big 3.

If you do a few quick searches with the new AOL Search interface, you’ll notice that the new AOL Search includes more advertising space than the other major search engines. Some searches deliver sponsored results (paid advertisements) at the top and bottom of the page.

For instance, if you do a search for “funny t-shirts” you get 10 organic listings sandwiched in-between 8 paid listings. On the top right is a box called “Web Offers & More” which contains 4 more general paid link categories and once you click on a category, you’re delivered 10 more paid advertisements.

To me, the whole new look is advertiser-focused rather than user-focused. I don’t particularly like the hard sell approach the new AOL Search is taking.

One redeeming feature of the new AOL Search is the Snapshot feature that appears at the top of some listings. Though a Snapshot may be a paid advertisement, most often it is an attempt by the AOL editors (who hand-pick the Snapshot) to deliver real, non-paid content to the user.

All in all, though, the new AOL Search is just a repackaged Google, with a few advertiser-focused bells and whistles. For AOL Search to truly be successful, they need to establish their own database and identity to compete with the Big Boys.

Jan 222005

I just heard about a data mining company that stated that in the United States we have a right to privacy but not to anonymity. In other words, you can never just go off, get lost and be alone if this is what you’d like to do. Their business model is to collect as much information on individuals as possible, shape it into some meaningful format and sell it off.

The U. S. government’s Patriot Act has been seen as many as a trade off of some personal privacy for the security of all. There are many objectors to this model as well.

When people first start flocking to the Internet, they reported that they like the feeling of anonymity since they felt free to express themselves in ways they could not in everyday life. As the Internet has developed, anonymity has all but gone away. If you sign up for anything, free or otherwise, your PC’s IP address is recorded. If you give a credit card number then all sorts of information is recorded about you. Also, for those who commit crimes, the police and FBI can make the ISP’s hand over all sorts of information.

The struggle now is to retain a since of privacy on the Internet. Guarding one’s email address like it was gold so that it doesn’t get into the hands of spammers is a priority for many. But many people still don’t know that most search engines and many websites place cookies on their PC’s in order to track their movements, buying habits and other habits. Some sites will place adware or spyware on your PC without any warning and the only way to get rid of this is with anti-spyware software.

The Internet is not the Wild, Wild West that it used to be. I miss those days.

Sometimes I yearn to just go off, get lost and be by myself for a while in total anonymity. And just the fact that you cannot do this by land or by Internet anymore, I feel a bit less free. Where can one go and not leave a trail?

Jan 212005

SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization) recently released its “The State of Search Engine Marketing 2004” report, summarizing trends in the SEO industry for last year. According to the survey, online advertisers spent over $4 billion for search engine marketing in 2004.

Of this amount, $3.3 billion was spent on Paid Placement ads such as Google AdWords or Overture. Organic SEO captured a mere $500 million, though 90-percent of the advertisers say they engage in both Paid Placement and SEO.

So, why is more money being spent on Paid Placement than on SEO? I believe the simple answer is that Paid Placement cost more – a lot more. The reason advertisers are spending only one-sixth of the money on SEO is because SEO provides a much greater ROI.

The most often stated reason that companies turn to SEO Firm is because they want to reduce or eliminate their Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns. With the cost of PPC keywords rising so rapidly, many small-to-medium size firms simply do not have the budgets to compete with larger firms. Turning to a company such as SEO Firm helps even out the playing field by competing in the organic listings instead of PPC.

Most likely the trends from 2004 will continue throughout 2005 as well. Advertisers state they are willing to spend up to 33-percent more on their keywords for PPC campaigns this coming year. At some point though, advertisers will get weary of continuing to pay the big bucks with no end in sight and focus more on their organic listings as revenue generators.