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Preview: All We Have To Go On

All We Have To Go On

Updated: 2014-10-04T19:06:59.451-07:00


...And thanks for all the fish


I took my nose out of my Civ Pro hornbook to mention here that, hey guys, I've ditched SEM to go to law school. Classes start Monday. Yes, I already have homework.

My three years in SEM have been a lot of fun. I've had a number of great coworkers and colleagues, made lasting friendships, promoted some really nifty products and services, and gained wide-ranging experience from all sides of the SEM industry.

And I haven't blogged about it very much. Happily, there are people out there with more to say than I have (see sidebar). Thanks for reading my occasional missives. Maybe I'll start another blog devoted to my journey through law school, but probably not -- why should the rest of you suffer? ;)

So long!

Ask Dr. Lazyweb


Dear Lazyweb,

Is there a way of specifying display URLs in Overture? Sometimes my sites have a vanity URL that redirects to the "actual" site. However, unlike the AdWords submission form, the Overture US Template form doesn't have a field for display URL. Can I get around this?

Hope everyone's having fun down at SES! I expect to hear all the juicy gossip from the parties.

Schneier on Click Fraud & Cost Per Action


Bruce Schneier's got an interesting post today about beating click fraud by tying fees to a different metric:

Click fraud has become a classic security arms race. Google improves its fraud-detection tools, so the fraudsters get increasingly clever ... and the cycle continues. Meanwhile, Google is facing multiple lawsuits from those who claim the company isn't doing enough.

[...] Google is testing a new advertising model to deal with click fraud: cost-per-action ads. Advertisers don't pay unless the customer performs a certain action: buys a product, fills out a survey, whatever. It's a hard model to make work -- Google would become more of a partner in the final sale instead of an indifferent displayer of advertising -- but it's the right security response to click fraud: Change the rules of the game so that click fraud doesn't matter.

The BetaNews article and the 1 or 2 commenters to it who aren't just patting themselves on the back for using AdBlocker bring up valid points: The pay per action model is a greater boon for advertisers than for Google on a day-to-day level, but it stands to help Google in the hopefully-not-daily cases where they're getting sued for negligence in fighting click fraud. Though the price range for cost per action would likely be higher than CPC due to the huge disparity between click volume and conversion volume, yet that price increase might not make up for the lost revenue from PPC. So Google stands to lose money if they switch over to a PPA model. That they're offering it alongside PPC as an option, instead of totally replacing the one with the other, is playing it safe: they get to test out the PPA model; many advertisers will likely stick to PPC out of inertia if nothing else, at least initially, so there won't be much revenue loss; and, once the PPA system has been fully rolled out, it's a good CYA measure in court. If some advertiser sues them for click fraud negligence, Google can shrug and say "You could've switched to PPA, but you didn't. Caveat emptor."

And hey, Google Checkout's just come out, too. Fancy that.

It's Friday By Now - Look At Webcomics


Keyword Cartoons. And you always wonder where those 235984376 content impressions are coming from...

There's also Spamusement. It's so Dada.

Does This Template Make My Submission Look Fat?


For about two weeks now, every time I try to use Yahoo!'s Bulk Upload tool, I've been getting a "file too large" error, telling me to keep my submission to under 5000 listings or 2 MB. But I've been a good girl and have made sure my submissions meet the size limits. Yahoo!'s Support Center representatives have been handling my submissions instead, which pretty much negates the whole purpose of having a Bulk Upload tool; I've been told they can't replicate the problem I'm experiencing. (I was, however, impressed to find them handling my case shortly before 6PM on a Friday. Go home, guys!)

Is it just me? Is anyone else having this problem? ...Bueller?...

Meanwhile, I entertain myself reading Xooglers, a blog by former Googlers. It's fascinating to read reminiscences about the early days of the company.

Yahoo Reduces Ad Character Limit


This news makes me cranky, but it aids my laziness in the long run. ClickZ reports that Yahoo is changing the character limit for ads from 190 characters to 70 -- i.e., the same character limit as AdWords ads have. Google was just recently testing 200-character ads, in imitation of Yahoo, but now Yahoo's decided to one-up Google at the "sincerest form of flattery" game.Advertisers have until January 18 to revise their ads, which sounds like a month's notice but isn't, due to the holidays. The timing makes sense overall, since the holiday crunch will soon be over and we'll be heading into Q1, which is generally pretty quiet. Still, extending the deadline a little further into Q1 would've been nice. After the 18th, ads that haven't been revised will be auto-truncated to 70 characters. The article says "a YSM spokesperson said the auto-truncation system doesn't prematurely end sentences or otherwise result in incomplete ads". Well gee, that would be an improvement over the way things are now, since in my experience, 190-character ads that fall out of the top position and into the right-hand side of the page are already truncated down to 70 characters, abruptly, with an ellipsis, and the result looks just awful. It's already canny practice to make the first 70 characters of your Yahoo ad a self-contained message, then use the 120 remaining characters to expand on that message, so the ad looks good whether or not it gets truncated. If the auto-truncation software that will be employed come January 18 is an improvement over whatever Yahoo is using now to truncate ads, then why aren't they using it already? And if, as I suspect, it's the same old same old, well, I guess I'd better hop to revising my Yahoo ads. By which I mean "copying my Google ads."That's the bright spot here: Currently I write two versions of the same ad, one for Google, a longer one for Yahoo. The amount of work I have to do has now been cut substantially. Well, in the next month my and everyone else's workload will increase while we have to do all this busywork, and then in late January there will no longer be any need for writing two versions of an ad. That's good for my laziness and good for efficiency, though it's bad for my hourly billing. Still, not having to rewrite ads to two different character lengths will free up time to be spent on other work, and that will come as a blessing to SEM agencies overwhelmed by their accounts.We've played this game before. Multiple times. I remember it was two years ago almost to the day that Google stopped running longer-format ads in the top position, over search results. They were about the same length as Yahoo's ads are now. Anyone running that type of ad had to revise down to the familiar AdWords 25/35/35 format. Then Google wanted to dust off that old format this past August; I suspect some advertisers chosen for the test simply duplicated their Yahoo ads. And now Yahoo is pruning its ad length down to Google length, so that's yet another instance where advertisers can re-use ads written for one search engine to meet the other search engine's changes while the two play silly buggers.Dear Google and Yahoo: Make up your minds! Pick a character limit and stick to it. It's shameless the way you flirt. If SEM were a romantic comedy, you'd be getting married and having your happy ending right about now. Exeunt omnes.P.S. Oy vey. We'll see where that goes.[...]

AdSense's Function as Security Theater?


So, security expert Bruce Schneier writes often in his blog about what he calls "security theater": measures that governmental and other bodies take that make people feel secure, but which may or may not have any actual value in really making us safer. He recently blogged about phishers' use of fake SSL certificates to lull visitors into thinking they are at a legitimate site. Moreover, what's to stop someone from going the low-tech route and just taking, say, the TRUSTe logo and sticking it on their phishing site, using it until TRUSTe catches them at it (if ever), and then flying by night as is their wont? (That's a real question; I admit ignorance of certifying authorities' process for preventing and rooting out fraudulent use of their marks.) And then there's the higher-order question of whether the bodies who give sites their thumbs-up are themselves unswayably impartial judges (see first comment to the Schneier blog post, alleging that VeriSign SSL certification means nothing but that somebody shelled out the money for a certificate).There are a lot of dodgy sites on the Internet, but there are a lot of legitimate businesses out there too, and it can be difficult for the user to tell the good guys from the bad guys. You can search the 'net for previous customers' feedback, but you might be unable to find any, or customer ratings may conflict, or "customer" reviews might be fake (definition case:, and so on. How does a user know whom to trust when looking for goods or services online?A few days ago, while surfing around a bunch of possibly-dodgy ringtone download sites*, I realized that I could use Google AdSense as a rudimentary dodginess detector. I'm not sure this idea works, so I'm running it by you -- please comment. AdSense has guidelines for what sort of sites it will accept to the program, so in order to pass muster, I'm guessing a site has to be at least fairly legitimate. I'm hesitating to make the strong statement that "AdSense only accepts legit sites," as I've heard speculation about possible gaps in their guidelines; I wish I could check over the guidelines, but the AdSense site is down right now. D'OH! Anyway, while surfing these ringtone sites, I started looking for AdSense ads as an indicator of a site's authenticity. Of course, this strategy is very rudimentary: there may be false positives due to sites putting up fake AdSense ads or flouting the guidelines; moreover, there may be a lot of false negatives, since not all legit site owners participate in AdSense or similar programs.Therefore, due to my uncorroborated suspicions about the nigh-inevitable occasional gap between AdSense's guidelines and real-world site owner behavior, AdSense ads' implicit function as a validating authority constitutes a sort of "security theater": having Ads by Goooogle on your site gives you at least the appearance of legitimacy, and users (or at least yours truly) feel they can trust you. Despite my paranoia, I feel that in most cases, AdSense ads are indeed a valid baseline standard for "hey, this site isn't a totally flagrant scam operation." Caveat emptor nonetheless.I wonder if the implicit message sent by AdSense ads' presence, that "Google vouches for this site," is at all statistically significant as a way the AdSense program brings revenue to site owners. A user might lead out on an AdSense ad, earning the site owner money, or she might say, "Hey, this site has Google ads on it. It must be legit. I will buy my 'Benny Hill' ringtone from this site instead of from that other site that doesn't have Google ads." Maybe Google should comment on the TRUSTe whitepaper I linked above ("How Not to Look Like a Phish") to promote the value of good old-fashioned advertising, with its habit of building customer confidence. People trust brands they've seen advertised; perhaps they also trust brands that carry advertising, the way a sports fan might as[...]

Useful Widgets


A stopwatch widget for Dashboard is a Mac-based independent contractor's best friend.

The PageRank widget may come in handy, too.

What are your favorite widgets, especially ones that help you work more efficiently?

(I must confess to taking dorky amusement in the ambiguity of the query "adwords widget". And hey, I didn't know "widget" is the name for that little ball inside cans of Guinness. You learn something new every day.)

Back from the Dead


Apologies for my long absence. My life over the last few weeks was consumed by moving from the Bay Area to Portland, Oregon, where I am now settled in and very happy with my decision to relocate. I am beginning to make professional contacts in the city, a process aided by a networking event (with associated mailing list) called pdxMindShare. If you are in the Portland area and work in online marketing, business, web design, etc., pdxMindShare is a fun way to meet potential employers, employees, and various other new entries for your PDA's address book. Also, the restaurant that hosts it, Masu, serves up some darn good sushi and drinks.

Now that I'm back on the job market again and hanging out my own shingle, I'm noticing that, among the flood of job listings for online marketing positions, SEM skills alone are no longer sufficient. Agencies and companies are looking for people who bring a more rounded skillset to the table: not just SEM, but SEO (two separate job descriptions at my last employer), plus e-mail marketing, maybe some website design thrown in for good measure. The biz is becoming more mature, users are becoming ever more savvy, and I've got a lot of learning to do! It's a challenge I'm glad to accept. To quote Robert A. Heinlein, "Specialization is for insects." I could use those extra arms they've got, though.

Kickin' It Old-School


For the first time, Google is testing out print advertising. The plan: Buy advertising space in magazines and resell that space in chunks to AdWords advertisers. Reactions have been mixed, but some parties are excited about the idea of Google bringing its Midas touch to an old-and-busted medium:

Bill Adler, chief executive of security software company CyberScrub, another of the Google advertisers in PC Magazine, said print ads are a welcome alternative to pay-for-click, which "tends to be somewhat up and down as far as effectiveness, for any number of reasons."

Welcome to Labor Day Weekend, son!

If I were an AdWords advertiser, I'd be rather skittish about taking part in this venture. It's damn hard to accurately measure your ROI from a print ad for your website. PPC (pay per click) model advertising is so much easier to work with, from an analytical standpoint, than traditional print media advertising. Apparently Mr. Adler would rather be able to shrug his shoulders and make up numbers he likes than have to face the sometimes unfavorable fluctuations of data he can trust.

Measuring business generated online from an ad displayed offline is hellaciously fuzzy. Note that the ads show the advertiser's URL and phone number. The Inksite and 602 Software guys (or whoever wrote their ads for them) were clever enough to provide a URL ending in "/pcmag", so they can be fairly sure that anyone who ends up at that page got there because they saw the print ad. Except that, uh, I didn't have to pick up the magazine to find those URLs, since they're right there in the online version of the ad... assuming the URL in the online version is the same as in the print edition (and I ain't going down to Fry's to check)... You see what I mean? Hard to track. Furthermore, I hope that those phone numbers are either also special lines set up just for readers of the ad ("[877] INK-SITE"... probably not), or that the CSRs answering the phones are asking callers if they called up after seeing the ad. And that they have a magic wand for making sure they don't double-count people who see the PC Mag ad and then both visit the website and call the phone number.

Of course, figuring out how much business you got by advertising in a print magazine becomes even harder when that magazine has a naughty habit of doctoring its paid circulation numbers.

Another One Bites the Dust


I love Daily Dinosaur Comics. The strip's creator, Ryan North, has just posted an AdSense tale of woe that rings all too familiar. He's right, you know -- as I understand it, AdSense customers are just as vulnerable to click fraud as AdWords advertisers, but apparently AdSense customers are presumed guilty and blackballed whereas AdWords advertisers get account credits. (To be fair, there are obviously more happy AdSense customers out there than unhappy ones, but happy people don't make noise. You only complain when your toy stops working; you don't comment when it's running smoothly as intended -- in fact, you don't even notice. That's success, after a fashion.)

I've heard and read similar complaints from AdSense customers before, and it distresses me to hear that nothing's changed in the last couple of years. A little more transparency would really befit AdSense here. Yes, I know they've got to defend their payment model, like their other intellectual property, from reverse engineering by cloaking its workings in a "black box," but the side effect is that a lot of people feel they're getting screwed over: they're at the mercy of AdSense, and when they run afoul of it, AdSense customer support has stonewalled them. When you anger bloggers, they blog about it. And who needs more negative PR? (Heck, at least these days, if you have a bad experience, now it can be told.)

Am I failing to understand the issue here? Isn't it possible for the AdSense payment model to be more transparent without exposing the IP and thus jeopardizing revenue? Less hand-waving, more hand-shaking, guys.

"Don't like the ToS? Don't sign the contract," I hear you say. Well, yeah. There are other services out there for those who've been burned by AdSense or (as posted here previously) simply find that the other service makes them more money. However great your product is, if your customer service sucks, you'll lose business... to the competitors who have sprung up without even needing to RE and rip off your IP for their own service.

(It looks like I'm in a bad mood today, pontificating on a service I don't know much about. I'm going to go get more caffeine; you go read Jen Slegg.)

Quality-Based Bidding: One Man's Poison...


CNET reports that AdWords advertisers are feeling the burn from the new "minimum bid" system, while AdSense customers are seeing higher revenues. This is in line with what I've been hearing over the last week and a half. One audience member at my BAR Camp talk said his AdSense revenue had tripled in the prior few days.

If you're adding new keywords to your AdWords campaign, I recommend starting out with a higher max CPC than you'd normally use. If you bid really low (as you might have been wont to do under the old system), and that bid proves to be well below what most others are bidding, your ad will display in a low position, resulting in poor CTR, resulting in the keyword's getting disabled, and as a result you'll be asked to pay a higher minimum CPC to reactivate it. That is, if your ad even gets a chance to show -- I've already heard tell of keywords that were just added getting disabled immediately, with Google setting min CPC to reactivate at way above the original max CPC the advertiser had chosen. On the other hand, if you bid too high to start with, you can always adjust downward later. Keep an eye on things. We're all going to have to baby our accounts for this first while.

You should also be thinking about what keywords you're really attached to: you might allow some keywords that are of lesser importance to you (i.e. not worth it to you to pay the minimum bid) to get deactivated, and reallocate that money to your core group of keywords. Figure out which keywords have been most successful for you, which are core to your branding, and conversely, which have been poor investments. Do you have keywords that are getting high CTRs but don't convert well after the user reaches your site? Consider getting rid of 'em. The Long Tail is sooo five minutes ago. Take a long, hard look at that keyword list and think about thinning the herd.

Y!SM Doh



Nearly Roadkill


[First off: Per request, my BAR Camp slides are now available in PDF format.]We are getting very close to the Online Marketing Millennium, in the old-fashioned sense of Christ's 1000-year reign on Earth. The Savior is coming in the form of totally customized marketing to individuals on The Internet, and it's slouching pretty close to Bethlehem as we speak. We're close, but the process still has its hiccups: someone at BAR Camp was talking about how he spent some time on Amazon hunting for children's gifts, and thereafter Amazon would only recommend kids' items to him, when he was actually looking for, like, O'Reilly books or whatever.I was thinking about this issue yesterday after my response to NeilFred's comment on my last post: Google most likely is working on a scalable enterprise-class customized personal marketing solution. ("Bingo!") Serving ads based on a query, considered in isolation, is old and busted; the new hotness (well, recent warmness, I may be behind the times) is serving ads based on an entire user profile, based on a context built up over time, sync'ed with the individual's current needs*, and pulling data from a variety of sources -- from your search history to what interests you list on on Orkut to the tags you attach to your Picasa photos. Not so much psychographic marketing as -- let's call it id-ographic marketing. Market segmentation into a set of size 1.It's coming, but it's far from a new idea. It's one of the more interesting themes in Kate Bornstein and Caitlin Sullivan's book Nearly Roadkill, wherein every person must Register themselves with the government on the Internet under their true, legal identity; not to do so is a federal crime. A male policeman who is not very good with computers accidentally registers as a female (it's a binary choice, mind, you can't check "Other"!), discovers he can't hit "Back" in the registration wizard to correct the error, and finds himself doomed to an eternity of tampon ads. Watching the evolution of online advertising, particularly Google's contributions, has made me hearken frequently back to Nearly Roadkill. So I decided to post about it today, only to discover that danah boyd beat me to it by two years. She seems to be thinking mostly about the social aspects of the book, though, while I'm looking at the marketing part (as you might expect from danah and me, respectively). That's not to say I haven't also spent a lot of time considering other themes in the book, but since this is my marketing blog and not my (nonexistent) recovering English major blog, I'll stick to mentioning NR's eerie prophesying of the coming millennium.If anyone can immanentize the Eschaton, it'll be Google."Speed it, O Father! Let thy Kingdom come!"UPDATE: Dogster's Ted Rheingold's got some related thoughts.*I include this clause because Amazon still recommends LSAT study guides to me, even though I took the LSAT a year ago and have already navigated the law school application process. Why doesn't Amazon make note of my buying an LSAT study guide, wait one year, start recommending standard 1L books on CivPro and the like, wait another three years, and then start recommending bar exam study guides? Unless, that is, it collects data in the meantime that suggest I've abandoned the law school thing.[...]

BAR Camp: Thank You


To all the people who made BAR Camp happen: Thank you for putting on what has to be the best conference I've been to. Thanks to the organizers for pulling such a cool event together in just one week; to the sponsors for feeding me, clothing me, and housing me; and to the attendees for blowing my mind. I could practically hear the rusty gears of my brain screeching from unaccustomed use. The best part was that people weren't just talking, but Doing, right up through the very end of the conference. Organizers, you catalyzed a great thing, and I am looking forward to BAR Camp 2006.

New: Google Desktop Sidebar


Y'know, if I were trying to promote my company's hot new product feature, I would've taken a screenshot at a time when the company stock wasn't down $4.17. But that's just me.

Nice-lookin' Sidebar, anyway. I like the scratch pad. Wonder when they'll add advertising in a panel you can't minimize or remove. Would that be evil?



Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Robert Scoble Asks, And Robert Scoble Shall Receive


I'm at BAR Camp, where I gave a talk on Saturday about Google AdWords basics. Robert Scoble complained that I had no blog. Scoble, me voici.

This blog will be devoted exclusively to Serious Professional Stuff: search engine marketing (SEM), search engines in general, and other highfalutin topics. To kick things off, here are my slides from my AdWords talk. (I probably should develop a Serious Professional Website also in the near future.)

All I want is for people to know what the hell SEM is so that I don't have to keep explaining myself every time I meet someone new and get the inevitable question, "What do you do?" This has been a lifelong problem: my father works in the epitaxy sub-field of the semiconductor industry, which I understand vaguely as "putting things on top of other things" (namely, a thin layer of crystals on a silicon wafer). My mother, when I was younger, was a Japanese<->English technical translator. I would tell them, "Why can't you be a construction worker and a secretary, or something similarly commonplace?" And here I am, following in their footsteps, working in an industry that currently can't be summed up for most people in a neat little phrase. Moreover, I've learned to celebrate not being commonplace. Thanks, Mom and Dad.