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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Major Google Blog Policy Change in 2007?

Earlier this month I wondered Why No Comments on Google Corporate Blogs? Now, I see at the end of a Google corporate blog post:
So we hope you continue to enjoy the rich stew we aim to serve. And before long, perhaps you can begin leaving comments directly. We're working on that. Meanwhile, our very best for a satisfying 2007 to you and yours.
Happy New Year, Google! BTW, since it's not possible to leave comments on the Google blog I read the most, Inside AdWords, I'll say "Happy Holidays" to the Inside AdWords crew by linking to their post. It's the next best thing to leaving a comment. (I answer questions in the AdWords Help groups as Rich@Apogee.)

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Google Zeitgeist and Yahoo Buzz Index Click Fraud

There's quite a fuss about the year end Google Zeitgeist. The basic objection seems to be that the searches highlighted are not really the popular searches from 2006. Whatever. It's editorial content. It's for entertainment value. It's not very useful. I'm more intrigued by this statement:
To come up with this list, we looked at several thousand of 2006's most popular searches, and ranked them based on how much their popularity increased compared to 2005... We also gave a bit higher score to searches with more traffic.
I can see how Google measures popular searches, but how are they measuring "searches with more traffic?" I think Google's just confusing the matter trying to explain the criteria for the list. They should just say they're pulling the searches they think are interesting. It's really no different from the Yahoo! Search Buzz Index. The real problem, though, with these sorts of lists is that they artificially drive traffic to search results which is bad for PPC advertisers, the companies that pay the bills for Google and Yahoo. About a year ago, in this post, I wrote:
I had a case earlier this year for one of my clients where they received a spike in traffic from their Yahoo Search Marketing ads. Examining their web server logs, I was expecting to find some click fraud. Instead, what I found was a pile of traffic from Yahoo's buzz index. Essentially, Yahoo's staff writes about the top searches. For my money, clicks from the Yahoo buzz index should be content clicks, not search clicks. None of the people clicking from there had actively typed in my client's keywords. By creating editorial content about search, Yahoo was artificially inflating traffic to certain keywords. Unless the ads being displayed were content ads, my view is that this was click fraud, perpetrated by Yahoo. The behavior of the visitors to my client's site certainly looked like click fraud. This particular search keyword phrase was one of my client's best converting. They spent a month's worth of advertising in one day with no conversions. If that's not click fraud, I don't know what is.
Click fraud, junk clicks, doesn't matter what you call it. These editorial lists about search are bogus, but not for the reasons others are complaining about.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Who Won the Ted Leonsis SEO Contest?

I didn't win the Ted Leonsis SEO Contest. I didn't win $500 for Blackbear United Football Club. Looks like I came in second place, but there's no cash prize for that. Hopefully, participating has helped bring a little more exposure for Blackbear United's youth development program. Since I joined the contest late, I was actually quite pleased to finish in the top 10 on Google. Right now, my Squidoo page ranks #9. Must have been higher on Christmas Eve. Last time I checked it was at #7. One of my kids was sick on Christmas Eve and I spent the evening with her and a bucket. I completely forgot about the SEO contest. Did anyone take a snapshot of the Ted Leonsis SERP at the end of the contest?

I'd like to thank the following people for helping me with this contest:
I opted to use a Squidoo page for my entry in the contest because I knew it could rank quicker than a page on my firm's site. This turned out to be a good strategy. So, thanks Squidoo! My site's currently getting the dreaded "Sorry, no information is available for the URL" when doing an info: search. And, no, Google's webmaster central tools tell me everything is fine. It tells me, "Pages from your site are included in Google's index." That's true, a site: search shows that, but something's broken. Either Google has a bug and the "info:" command is broken or else Google's webmaster central has a bug and is telling me everything is fine when it's not. Either way, this is a bit peculiar.

One beneficial side effect of participating in this SEO contest is that I've found some interesting SEO bloggers that were discussing the contest and have subscribed to their feeds. Some I knew about and others are brand new to me. They are: Graywolf's SEO Blog, Scoreboard Media Group, Stuntdubl, Johnon and Caydel's SEO Blog.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

christmas ascii art
ASCII Art by Joan Stark

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Z-Listers Christmas Blog Reading

Catching up on some Christmas blog reading, I found out about this z-list meme. Looks like it originated on The Viral Garden. Instructions there say:
What YOU can do is simply create a new post on your blog, but CUT AND PASTE the list I have below, and then ADD any blogs you feel aren't getting their due either. It can be 1 blog, or a hundred(or none if you simply want to repost the same list), but the idea is, find those great blogs that, for whatever reason, you feel aren't getting their due, link-wise.
I'm going to post the list from this more recent z-listers post. I'll add 2 9rules blogs I've been checking out. Here's z-list:

Who Is Andrew Wee
Creative Think
Movie Marketing Madness
Blog Till You Drop!
Get Shouty!
One Reader at a Time
Critical Fluff
The New PR
Own Your Brand!
Work, in Plain English
Buzz Canuck
New Millenium PR
Pardon My French
Troy Worman's Blog
The Instigator Blog
Diva Marketing
Marketing Hipster
The Marketing Minute
Funny Business
The Frager Factor
Open The Dialogue
Word Sell
Note to CMO:
That's Great Marketing!
Shotgun Marketing Blog
Customers Rock!
Being Peter Kim
Pow! Right Between The Eyes! Andy Nulman’s Blog About Surprise
Billions With Zero Knowledge
Working at Home on the Internet
MapleLeaf 2.0
Two Hat Marketing

The Engaging Brand
The Branding Blog
Drew's Marketing Minute
Golden Practices
Tell Ten Friends
Flooring the Consumer
Kinetic Ideas
Unconventional Thinking
Conversation Agent
The Copywriting Maven
Hee-Haw Marketing
Scott Burkett's Pothole on the Infobahn
Multi-Cult Classics
Logic + Emotion
Branding & Marketing
Popcorn n Roses
On Influence & Automation
Servant of Chaos
Presentation Zen
Dmitry Linkov
John Wagner
Nick Rice
CKs Blog
Design Sojourn
Frozen Puck
The Sartorialist
Small Surfaces
Africa Unchained
Marketing Nirvana
Bob Sutton
¡Hola! Oi! Hi!
Shut Up and Drink the Kool-Aid!
Women, Art, Life: Weaving It All Together
Community Guy
Social Media on the fly
Jeremy Latham’s Blog
SMogger Social Media Blog

BTW, doesn't seem like good netiquette to add your own blogs. But, if anyone wants to add either of my blogs to the z-list meme, they are:

Apogee Weblog
TagMan Game Blog

Now, I've got some reading to do...

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Squidoo for the Holidays

One thing I enjoy about the holidays is a chance to catch up on some reading and writing. Last year over the holidays, I started blogging and wrote TagMan, a game for web 2.0 tags. This year, as well as catching up on some offline reading, I hope to find some new blogs to subscribe to. In addition to exploring blogs from the 9rules network, I'm finding Squidoo is a useful place to find new blogs. I found out about this z-list meme today from Seth Godin's What to read now/next post. Will have to check out those blogs, as well. Speaking of exploring and Squidoo, try a game of Squidoo TagMan. It's a fun way to explore the Squidoo tag clouds.

Play Squidoo TagMan Game

Happy Holidays!

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Search Engine Reputation Management on the Rise in 2007

I predict more search engine marketing (SEM) firms will be offering search engine reputation management services in 2007. Many firms already offer these sorts of services. Examples include Prominent Placement, Converseon, Scoreboard Media Group and SuccessWorks. Search engine reputation management is by no means new, but companies are starting to realize the need to influence the search engine results pages (SERPs) for their brands' keywords. These keywords could be a company's products, key employees or corporate name itself.

Part of the need for online reputation management stems from the fact that it is easier than ever for competitors or disgruntled consumers to impact the SERPs. For instance, it's pretty simple for a consumer to launch a blog, write something negative about a company and then spread the word online. As others link to this consumer generated content, the search engines will pick up on the content and it can creep its way into the SERPs for a company's brand keywords. Consumers don't even need their own web site to do this. Blogs can be hosted by blogging companies and a variety of, for lack of a better term, web 2.0 companies make it easy to create content that can rank well on the search engines. For example, consumers can "piggyback" on the search engine strength of sites like Squidoo. Consider this Google SERP for Ted Leonsis:

ted leonsis serp
Ted Leonsis - Full SERP | Titles-only SERP

Notice search result #7 is this Ted Leonsis page on Squidoo. (Psst, that's my entry in the SEO contest. Shhh!) Search engine reputation management requires both SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay per click) advertising. Often, the PPC ads are only required in the short term since SEO efforts usually take weeks to impact the SERPs. If reputation management needs to happen immediately, PPC is an essential tool. For a humorous look at PPC and reputation management, read my previous post, PPC Advertising Comedy.

I want to stress the point that a search engine reputation management strategy will likely involve both SEO and PPC tactics. It will go beyond those to blogs and web 2.0 sites, as well. But, contrary to what many people thought when I wrote Top 7 Reasons Andy Beal's Answer to Question #8 of Lee Odden's 10 Questions is Wrong, I think both SEO and PPC are essential. In 2007, look for SEM firms that currently offer SEO and PPC services to start advertising search engine reputation management services as a specialized option.

Note: This is my entry in the ProBlogger Group Writing Project - Reviews and Predictions.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What's Missing from the Google Content Network Guide?

Before I get into what's missing from the Google Content Network Multimedia Guide (via Inside AdWords), I must say this is an excellent tutorial. Because the content network is enabled by default when creating a new advertising campaign, many advertisers don't even realize they're buying contextual advertising. This guide will help them understand what they're really buying. It's not search engine advertising. This is especially important for new advertisers using the AdWords Starter Edition because they don't have the option to opt out of the content network. Answering questions in the AdWords Help groups, I'm realizing many advertisers have no idea they're purchasing content ads in addition to search engine ads.

The end of the guide includes a link to an About AdWords for Content mini-site which is also quite informative. For instance, there's a list of content network partners. Unfortunately, that list only includes 18 sites. It's more of an advertisement for the content network - "Look at all these great sites! Don't you want your ad to run on these sites?" Yes, there are some great sites. What's missing, though, are all the blogs that exist solely for the purpose of displaying ads and all the sites that are of a very low quality, in general. Reminds me of a brochure for an ocean view hotel that's really miles from the beach. Tracking Google content ads for clients, I can tell you there's a fair amount of garbage on the network. What's missing, too, are the parked domains. Yes, if you're using the content network (and even the search network), you need to be aware of Google's AdSense for Domains program. This should have been included in the multimedia guide. It's a blatant omission.

The guide does a good job explaining the two options that are available on the content network: contextual targeting and site targeting. Unfortunately, the nomenclature isn't consistent with what's in the AdWords interface. This might help clarify:
Note that a keyword-targeted campaign can include both contextual advertising and search engine advertising. Don't blend the two, for a variety of reasons. Create separate campaigns for contextual advertising and search engine advertising. For instance, budgets are managed at the campaign level. If there's a spike in traffic for content ads, this could use up the daily budget and disable the search ads. Also, important metrics like CTR become meaningless when blended for search and content ads.

I'm not so sure I agree with slide 10 of the guide which contains content network tips for success:

google adwords content network tips
Slide 10

That slide suggests using content-targeting (a keyword-targeted campaign) with text ads to drive conversions but rich ad formats to increase brand awareness. I'd argue that anything on the content network is really about increasing brand awareness. To drive conversions, buy search engine advertising. Still, it's useful to think about how to use the different ad formats and the different targeting options.

Despite some obvious omissions like parked domain ad distribution, the new Google Content Network Guide is essential reading for all AdWords advertisers. Do you know where your Google content ads are being displayed?

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Reading 9rules Blogs

Steve Rubel and Robert Scoble are linking to new blogs. 9rules blog network One of the blogs Rubel lists is Folksonomy by Michael Zhang which is a part of the 9rules network. Since being accepted into 9rules, I've been exploring many new blogs. I'll follow Rubel's suggestion and will highlight a few blogs I've recently found. In order to limit the scope, I'm choosing 9rules bloggers that are in my geographical vicinity (DC/MD):
  1. Heat Eat Review by Abi Jones
  2. Maryland Media by Martin Ringlein
  3. Life Outtacontext by Jeff Gates
Enjoy! What new blogs have you found?

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Top 7 Reasons Andy Beal's Answer to Question #8 of Lee Odden's 10 Questions is Wrong

Can you tell I'm tired of these "Top N" lists? Nonetheless, here are my top 7 reasons Andy Beal's answer to question #8 of Lee Odden's 10 questions is wrong. In that answer, Beal says SEO takes "more effort than a paid search campaign." He also asserts that "anyone can manage a campaign without the need for outside assistance." My goodness, how can someone so smart say something so dumb? Here are 7 reasons his notion that SEO is hard and PPC is easy is plain wrong:
  1. Local advertising via Google AdWords is not as simple as it sounds.
  2. PPC advertisers need to develop and employ click fraud minimization strategies.
  3. Not all PPC advertising is the same. Although lumped together by default on PPC advertising platforms like Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing, contextual advertising is NOT search engine advertising.
  4. Multiple PPC platforms to learn. I imagine some advertisers are going to want some help with the Y!SM upgrade. A couple of years ago, I recommended second tier PPC search engines (read results from 2004 case study published on SEO Chat). I no longer use them due to click fraud issues. How will an advertiser know which PPC engines to use, which to avoid and how to keep up with each different platform's changes?
  5. Does anybody really understand Google AdWords Quality Score? Anybody? Bueller?
  6. With broad matches on AdWords, you don't really know what you're paying for.
  7. Will a new advertiser recognize that the new, simplified version of AdWords (Starter Edition) is actually not good for small business?
I'll stop at 7. This list could go to 11. Haven't even touched on tracking PPC ad spend, understanding technicalities like embedded matching, dealing with "inactive for search" issues, how to perform keyword research in the first place, testing ad text variations, customizing landing pages, etc. PPC is easy? SEO is hard? C'mon! This has got to be linkbait. Beal can't be serious. Why does there have to be this debate between PPC and SEO? They're both a subset of SEM (search engine marketing). They're both essential. If anything, though, I'd argue that SEO is headed for extinction as web designers become more aware of optimization issues and search engines get better about ignoring "unnatural" links. Even Beal's quote supports this idea. He says, "SEO is going to evolve, becoming a mixture of optimization, viral marketing, buzz generation and public relations." Actually, viral marketing, buzz marketing and public relations have nothing to do with SEO. Smart SEOs recognize that they need to evolve beyond SEO into these other realms. I think Andy has inadvertently admitted that SEO is gradually on its way out. PPC is hard. So is SEO. Top "N" lists are annoying.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Space Act Agreement

Not quite sure what this means but, "NASA Ames Research Center and Google have signed a Space Act Agreement that formally establishes a relationship to work together on a variety of challenging technical problems ranging from large-scale data management and massively distributed computing, to human-computer interfaces." This story's currently on Techmeme and is being covered well elsewhere in the blogosphere. Seems a strange partnership - a search engine and a space agency.

NASA Moon Framed
Image Credit: NASA (Moon Framed)
When I saw this story, it reminded me of how I ended up working on the World Wide Web. In 1994, I was working for Loral Aerospace on a NASA project. The guy in the cube next to me started playing around with Mosaic, one of the first web browsers. We began tinkering with CERN httpd and NCSA HTTPd web servers and built applications to display in Mosaic. Not being a GUI developer, I thought it was great to have an easy way to build graphical applications. Obviously, this is before web scripting languages like PHP and ASP existed. We wrote CGI programs as Unix shell scripts. More than a decade later, I still write CGI scripts. For example, this search engine spider tracking tool is a shell script. The free keyword research tool is a PHP application, though. I have learned something in the interim. ;-)

Anyway, I thought the WWW was fascinating and split my time between writing Unix/C++ apps for the NASA project and tinkering with the Web on the side. I decided that the company I worked for, Loral Aerospace (since bought by Lockheed Martin) needed a home page on the WWW. So, I put together a demo and presented it to the boss of my boss. I'll never forget what he said, "Well, I don't think we need to waste our time with this kind of thing." Something to that effect. I was flabbergasted. The next day I started looking for a new job. This clearly wasn't the kind of company I wanted to work for. A few weeks later, in early 1995, I went to work for America Online, at that point in time a distant third behind Prodigy and CompuServe in online services. I initially worked on their Usenet servers in a Unix/C++ environment and later did some web development. Spent more than six years there. Had to get out after AOL merged with Time Warner and it lost that startup feel.

Well, it was nice blogging about something other than PPC advertising for a change. This whole NASA-Google partnership jogged my memory and reminded me of why I'm in the web consulting business in the first place. I'll get back to more PPCmoz-ish posts in the future. I hope you enjoyed this diversion.

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Be Careful with AdWords Expanded Matching

After writing about PPCmoz yesterday, I realize I've been creating some pretty useful (IMHO, of course) content pertaining to PPC strategies but on *other* people's sites, either by posting blog comments or forum entries. Figured I ought to create that content here, as well, in some cases. For instance, Lee Odden interviewed Stacy Williams (of Prominent Placement) at SES Chicago and posted the video interview. Go see it, read the comment I left and then come back here and I'll add some details.

Did you watch the video?

No??! C'mon, go watch the video. And, read my comment.

What? You forget to read my comment? Sigh. Ok, here it is:
Lee - Nice interviews. Good to hear Stacy mention expanded matching. I’ve been advising setting different bids for exact, phrase and broad, particularly as broad is now actually expanded broad matching. For instance, in the video she gives the example of buying ads for /used sun/ broad match. That could look like this in an ad group keyword list:

[used sun] ** 1.44
“used sun” ** 0.99
used sun ** 0.25

Point is to pay more for what you know you’re buying and less for what you don’t know. Also, if you are buying broad matches, it’s worth using Google’s keyword tool with the “Use synonyms” box checked to get an idea ahead of time as to how the system might expand the broad match. In the case of /used sun/ I’m currently seeing expanded keywords like:

used cars for sale
used sunfire

Clearly, Google’s keyword system is expanding “sun” to “sunfire” and then equating that with “cars” so if I had keywords /used sun/ broad match, I’d definitely add these negatives right from the start:


It is useful to use (expanded) broad match, but it’s worth minimizing risk by setting those bids much lower than exact or phrase, so you’re not paying for clicks for poorly matched keywords. As Stacy mentions in the video, it’s important to scour the server logs periodically to see what actual keywords the broad matches are bringing. Then, new negatives and even new exact and phrase matches can be added to the ad group. This way, the keyword list can evolve over time but you’re not paying high CPCs for extraneous keywords along the way.

Anyway, haven’t seen too many people dig into expanded matching so figured it’d be worth mentioning how important it is to recognize that it is the default way Google handles keywords and advertisers need to deal with it appropriately.
It's important to recognize that broad match is actually expanded broad match. What is expanded matching? Here's Google's definition:
With expanded matching, the Google AdWords system automatically runs your ads on highly relevant keywords, including synonyms, related phrases, and plurals, even if they aren't in your keyword lists. For example, if you're currently running ads on the keyword web hosting, expanded matching may identify the keyword website hosting for you. The expanded matches will change over time as the AdWords system continually monitors system-wide keyword performance and other relevance factors. This helps determine which expanded matches and variations are the most relevant to user searches.
Sounds great, right? It doesn't work so well in practice. Digging through web server log files, I've found some pretty peculiar expanded matches. I don't want to go into details since I think keywords are important business intelligence. I was actually a bit surprised when watching Lee's video interview to hear Stacy talk about specific keywords from a client. I'd use my own firm's PPC data and not a client's. The basic problem is that if you use broad matching, you're really using expanded broad matching so you don't actually know what you're paying for. This can have some rather deleterious effects on an ad campaign.

How do you deal with this "feature" of Google AdWords? You don't necessarily want to stop using broad matching. But, if you are using broad matching, you'll need to regularly check on the actual, expanded keywords and add negative keywords as needed. It's also worth including phrase- and exact-matches as well as or instead of broad matches. As noted in my comment, I've adopted a strategy of bidding higher on exact matches. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of expanded matching without the risk of paying too much for extraneous keywords. Be careful with AdWords expanded matching!

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

PPCmoz - Open Source Pay Per Click

One of my favorite blogs is SEOmoz from Rand Fishkin's SEO company. Since being accepted into 9rules, I've been thinking lately about the direction of this blog. I'd like to think of it as a kind of PPCmoz - plenty of blog posts about PPC (pay per click) advertising but in an "open source" kind of way. Most of the work I do on a day-to-day basis involves PPC advertising and I've been working with PPC search engines since 2002. Hopefully, I have some experience that will benefit others. Here's an example of the PPCmoz sort of information that already exists on my firm's site (not just the blog).

Free PPC Tools:
PPC Strategy Articles:
PPC Blog Posts:
If you want to discuss PPC advertising in an "open source" kind of way, consider bookmarking or subscribing to this blog. Apogee Weblog is PPCmoz.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Clearing Up Google AdWords Quality Score Confusion

There's been a fair amount of confusion surrounding all the Google AdWords Quality Score changes. Looks like Google's trying to address that by highlighting sections from the Help Center that relate to Quality Score (QS). You can also use the AdWords Help CSE (custom search engine) to learn more about QS. Try this search: Quality Score. That CSE includes results from the Help Center, Inside AdWords blog and the Learning Center. Hopefully, that'll help clear up some of the lingering confusion.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

SEO Tactics Are Working

I was greeted by a pleasant email this morning from Gary Korn who runs Maine.Info (an amazing collection of resources about Maine). He's one of the many webmasters helping me out with the Ted Leonsis SEO Contest. The email simply said:
#8 this morning on my machine! That is on GOOGLE.
Yesterday, my page for the contest was showing up in spot #22 so Google's been quite busy overnight. I didn't think they'd be doing anymore updates before the holidays. There might still be more fluctuations before the contest ends on 12/31. Here's a current snapshot of the top 10 on Google for the [ted leonsis] phrase:

Ted's Take

Ted's Take - AIM

Ted Leonsis - Washington Capitals

Ted Leonsis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ted Leonsis

iMedia Connection: Q&A with AOL Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis

Ted Leonsis Takes a Sharp Turn

Ted Leonsis SEO Contest on Squidoo - John Andrews - » Ted Leonsis is an SEO, too

Digerati: The Marketer: Ted Leonsis

Of the 10 URLs, 3 are "owned" by search engine marketers: #5, #8, #9. BTW, if by chance Mr. Leonsis happens to read this blog entry, I do apologize for "polluting" the search engine results for your name. This is transient. I'll take down links when the contest is over. I figured if SEOs are going to "pollute" the SERPs (search engine results pages), I'd get a positive URL in the mix. It's also worth noting that nobody "owns" the SERPs. Only Google controls them. It's all UGC (user generated content) after all. Clearly, it's worth investing time and money in SEO and PPC efforts to influence those SERPs, however.

BTW, I concentrate more on PPC work than SEO work. If you're serious about SEO, Graywolf's SEO Blog (yep, that's Michael Gray of who "owns" #5 in the above SERP) is mandatory reading. Read his top 100 posts if you're new to his blog or want to learn more about SEO. If you want more background on this SEO contest, read my last entry on the subject, PPC Advertising Comedy.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I Was on Sirius Satellite Radio Tonight!

Crazy. I was on Sirius Satellite Radio tonight. One of my clients, Amy's Plantrex Flower Shop, called me up today and asked me to fill in for them. They had received this email from Sirius Satellite Radio (slightly edited to protect privacy):
Hi ___ and ____,
I produce a radio show on Sirius Satellite and just found out that today is officially _________ ___________ day! Is there any chance that you would be willing to do a brief interview via phone this evening? The show is called The Busted Halo Show with Father Dave Dwyer and airs from 7-9 pm. It would be great if you could talk to us between 8:20 and 8:40 just to give us a brief history of the plant and and other info that you might have. You can plug your website and any other gift products that you might be selling for the holiday season. I chose your site off of a google search after reading about Amy and liking the feel of the site and its personal nature. Please let me know what you think as soon as you can so that I may look elsewhere if you are not available.
Thanks for your time,

_____ _____


Sirius Satellite Radio
1221 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
The owner of the company couldn't be on the phone at that time because his daughter had a concert. Gotta love these mom-and-pop businesses - they have their priorities straight. Anyway, since I've been working with them for awhile (since 2002) and am quite familiar with their products, he asked me to answer questions about on the air. I haven't been on the radio before, but have been on plenty of conference calls. Seemed just like one of those so I think it went pretty well. Will see if I can get a hold of some audio from the 10 minutes or so I was on the air. Was able to plug their monthly gift service and seasonal items like poinsettias. Hopefully, I helped them out.

Looking at the email from Sirius Satellite Radio, I can identify a couple of small business marketing lessons from this sentence: "I chose your site off of a google search after reading about Amy and liking the feel of the site and its personal nature." First, the small business web site needs to be designed well but not over-designed. If the site had been too corporate, it would not have differentiated itself from other online florists. Hmm, design to differentiate. That sounds pretty catchy. It seems like most businesses look at what competing sites are doing and try to mimic those that are successful. That's not necessarily the best strategy. Incidentally, this can completely backfire. The recent Google-Yahoo copying fiasco is a case in point.

Amy's Plantrex Flower ShopSecond, Amy's Plantrex Flower Shop would not have been asked to participate on the radio show if they hadn't been visible on the search engines. Tracing the original visit via the web server logs, the Sirius Satellite Radio employee found via a PPC ad on Google. It's worth investing in search engine advertising to promote a small business. Sales are not the only outcome of such a campaign.

Did you get the sense that I was plugging in this post as well as on the radio? ;-)

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Yahoo! and Google Both Suck

There's plenty of chatter about this whole Google copying a Yahoo! splash page for Microsoft IE7 (see TechCrunch, Scobleizer, Tailrank). Reading the "debate" between Matt Cutts of Google and Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo! I can only come to this conclusion: Yahoo! sucks. Google sucks. This is just plain silly. In the PPC advertising space, both Google and Yahoo! are imitators. Overture, formerly GoTo and since acquired by Yahoo! was the originator. So, why don't you guys (Matt/Jeremy and Google/Yahoo!) stop bickering and get back to innovating?

Both Yahoo! and Google are great companies (I don't really think they both suck - they're just both acting that way right now.) Currently, Google has the best advertising platform online. Yahoo! is building (re-building Overture?) a similar platform. Yahoo! also owns some fantastic social media properties like Flickr and While on the topic, have you tried a game of Flickr TagMan or TagMan? The problem for Yahoo! is that it does not matter if they build a comparable or even a better advertising platform than Google if they don't have the search traffic to monetize. Yahoo! needs to take market share away from Google. I actually think they can do this.

In Google Concedes Yahoo has the Answers (posted on 11/29) I suggested a couple of ways Yahoo! could leverage its social bookmarking service to differentiate its core search product from Google's. That blog entry had quite a few visits from corporate Yahoo! IPs. I wonder if they concur with some of those thoughts. More recently, VC Fred Wilson wrote a post on 12/7 where he suggests using as the foundation for a killer social search engine.

I'm beginning to think that Google is about technology and algorithms whereas Yahoo! is about people and social media. If Yahoo! wants to beat (or at least compete) with Google in the realm of search (and it has to because that's where the money is right now) then it needs to leverage its core strengths rather than trying to imitate Google's.

BTW, notice that someone from Yahoo! posted a comment on my last blog post about the lack of comments on Google corporate blogs? No, Yahoo! doesn't suck. Neither does Google.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Why No Comments on Google Corporate Blogs?

Doesn't it seem strange that the company that owns Blogger doesn't have comments turned on for corporate blogs? Is a blog without comments really a blog? Note that Yahoo! allows comments on the new Yahoo! Search Marketing blog and the Yahoo! Search blog. One of the most popular SEO blogs is written by Matt Cutts, a Google engineer. He has comments turned on and answers quite a few of them. Does Google have an internal policy regarding blogs by its employees vs blogs by the company? Why am I even talking about this? In a recent post, Matt appended this:
P.S. Here's a completely unrelated tip for small businesses. If your small business doesn't have a website, you can still advertise on AdWords and Google will host a business page for you.
I left a comment on his blog regarding that postscript to which he replied:
I'm not an ads person, but I'll definitely pass the feedback on, Richard Ball. Thanks for the clear write-up of how it works.
Very gracious response from him. Trouble is, he shouldn't have to take the time to either read my comment or pass it along. Google already has a blog called Inside AdWords where they posted the announcement. Since Google corporate blogs don't have comments turned on, I did the next best thing and wrote a blog entry, Do NOT Sign Up for Google AdWords Hosted Business Pages, and linked to their blog post. They do at least have the "links to this post" feature enabled. Is that their alternative to comments? Don't they want direct feedback about their products?

Somehow this seems particularly ironic given the fact that Google's business is built on UGC (user generated content). After all, Google search results are UGC. Obviously, the order of the search results is proprietary, but the search results themselves are, essentially, titles and descriptions of URLs that Google pulls from UGC. They bought Blogger and YouTube, both UGC companies. In a sense, AdWords is a UGC product, where the users are advertisers. Why no UGC (comments) on Google corporate blogs? Definitely seems to be some sort of disconnect there.

Speaking of UGC, here's the comment I left on Matt's blog:
Matt - Regarding your "completely unrelated tip for small businesses" here's a tip for the AdWords team: Take Starter Edition back to the drawing board. The hosted business pages are great in concept but poor in execution because they are tied to AdWords Starter Edition. Here's the problem. If a new advertiser wants to buy ads on Google, they think Starter Edition is a good way to get their feet wet with search engine advertising. Trouble is, they're really buying contextual advertising as well. That's not good for a small business just learning the PPC ropes. Either make it clear to new advertisers that they're buying contextual advertising or give them the choice to opt out. From this AdWords help page (

"When you create a new keyword-targeted AdWords campaign, your ads are automatically 'opted in' to run on the entire Google Network. Starter Edition accounts must remain opted in. If you have a Standard Edition account, you can opt out of the Google Network at any time by editing your distribution preferences. Since selecting both search and content sites allows your ad the broadest possible exposure, we recommend you remain opted in. However, the choice is entirely yours."

Huh?! The "choice is entirely yours" except if you're using hosted business pages which are using Starter Edition which forces you to remain opted into the content network, where the chance of click fraud (or at the very least junk clicks) is higher than on Google itself or the search network. With all the heat Google (and other search engines, to be fair) is taking concerning click fraud, this combining of search ads and content ads for new advertisers seems like a bad idea. Sure, it's more revenue for Google in the short term and it's more ad impressions for a small business w/o the work of creating 2 separate ad campaigns. But, these new advertisers, signing up for what they believe is search engine advertising, will start to see where their traffic is coming from and they'll think they're subject to click fraud. It's usually not the case. It's just that they've unwittingly purchased contextual advertising.

Can you get someone to fix this? Doesn't seem like a good idea for small businesses in the short term. I also think this'll hurt Google in the long term. I'd suggest either dropping the content network from Starter Edition or giving those advertisers a way to opt out. At the very least, make it excruciatingly obvious that they're buying contextual advertising and not pure search engine advertising.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Do NOT Sign Up for Google AdWords Hosted Business Pages!

Hosted business pages by Google are a bad idea, because they're only available for AdWords Starter Edition. While the concept of a starter edition is a good idea as is the idea of a simple web page for a small business that doesn't have a web presence, do NOT sign up for a hosted business page! Why? You won't know what you're buying (it's contextual advertising as well as search engine advertising). You'll pay more than you expect. You'll be exposing yourself to click fraud. The problem is that AdWords Starter Edition, as designed, is actually not a good choice for a new advertiser. Here are some reasons why:
  1. You can't opt out of the content network (contextual advertising)
  2. You can't set lower bids for the content network
  3. You can't exclude low quality content network sites
  4. You can't run different ads for different products/services
  5. You can't opt out of the budget optimizer
  6. You can't create an effective local ad campaign
To see what I mean by #6, you really need 2 different ad campaigns with different settings to target your local Google ads. There's no notion of campaigns in AdWords Starter Edition. Regarding the budget optimizer, even Google's help text seems to indicate it's a bad idea: "Please note that we don't recommend the Budget Optimizer for advertisers focused on measuring conversions or values of ad clicks." Huh?

In order to minimize click fraud, advertisers need to be able to manage search engine advertising separately from contextual advertising. By combining these in the starter edition, Google is exposing new advertisers to a higher risk of click fraud. That's not a good long term strategy for them, particularly as click fraud is a hot topic right now. If, as a first step, the starter edition was modified to NOT include the content network, then I might suggest trying a Google AdWords hosted business page. Right now, avoid them.

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Welcome to the 9rules Community

Wow! For all you visitors from the 9rules new additions post, welcome to Apogee Weblog! Not quite sure what to say. Will take awhile for this to sink in. I've been reading some fantastic 9rules blogs such as Pronet Advertising, Paul Stamatiou and Mashable for quite some time. It will certainly be an honor to be a part of the 9rules network. Wow. Should be crashing (~1am as I type) but I wanted to get a quick post up to say hi - and thanks. (I have 3 kids, the oldest is 5 so mornings can be quite a challenge.) Anyway, while you're here, enjoy a game of TagMan:

web 2.0 tags game
There are versions for Technorati, Squidoo, and Flickr. (The Flickr version is the most popular since you see a set of pictures as the "prize" for winning a game.)

On this blog, I mostly write about web marketing topics, particularly search engine marketing (SEM). I also like to create free tools for the SEM community. Some are open source. Examples:
Here's a sample of some blog posts to give you a flavor of this blog:
These are some of the most visited articles:
Thanks for stopping by. I'm keen to contribute to the 9rules community. And humbled by the inclusion of my blog in the network. Wow. Cool.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

PPC Advertising Comedy

PPC and SEO work can be pretty dull at times. Sometimes the search engine marketing community needs a little drama to liven things up. Yeah, I'm talking about the misguided Ted Leonsis SEO contest (that post is from my other blog for the TagMan web 2.0 tags game). I entered the contest because I respect Ted Leonsis and if SEOs are going to "pollute" the SERPs for his name (Google search for ted leonsis) I'd like to jump in and get some positive URLs in there. This is all transient. After Christmas Eve, all the links will be taken down and things'll settle back down to normal.

Here's where it gets interesting. Yesterday, Jason Calacanis apparently said "SEO is bull$h!t" during a keynote address at the Chicago SES (Search Engine Strategies) conference. These guys (very reliable sources) say he said it while ShoeMoney (who's always very honest) claims otherwise. If Calacanis did disrespect the very industry he was presenting to, then I think these SEOs should mess with his ego surfing, which they are doing. I can see why people in the SEO/M community are upset with Jason Calacanis but not with Ted Leonsis. Now, getting to the title of this post, if you search on Google for ted leonsis, you'll currently see these two ads:

Reputation Management
Playing Games With Your Reputation
Get a Real SEO to Protect it Today

Vanity Ranks Go Both Ways
Smokey the Bear says Reputation
Management is no laughing matter.

What's interesting is that these SEOs (SEMs really) are writing their ads for an audience of one: Ted Leonsis. I tend to get a little impatient waiting for SEO results to kick in, so I decided to engage in some PPC advertising myself. I'm rotating two ads, one of which reads:

To the Bear and the Wolf
You animals should be howling
about Calacanis. Not Mr. Leonsis!

I think this is quite funny that they're writing ads for Ted Leonsis to read and I'm writing ads for them to read. What kind of a conversation is that? In the meantime, anyone searching on Google can observe the discussion. I hope they're enjoying this PPC advertising comedy. Anyway, if you want to help me with the Ted Leonsis SEO contest, please read this. I'm playing for:

maine youth soccer club

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Friday, December 01, 2006

AdWords Content vs Search Quality Score Confusion

I've been working with Google AdWords since December 2002. I had been using Overture (since acquired by Yahoo and renamed Yahoo Search Marketing) prior to that. When Google brought AdWords to market, they introduced a new way to rank PPC (pay per click) ads, looking at both the CPC (cost per click) bid and the CTR (click through rate). This was a useful innovation. Now, small business could compete with big business. Since ads weren't ranked strictly by highest bid, small advertisers could outrank big advertisers by writing higher quality ads. This also turned out to be a better solution for search engine users, since ads became more relevant to their searches. Now, though, I think Google is over-innovating and is causing confusion with their notion of QS (Quality Score). Unlike CTR, QS is not a value that advertisers can see in the AdWords interface. It's hidden. There's even some conjecture that it doesn't really exist (see AdWords QS is BS as an example). First, Google introduced QS for search ads. Now, they've introduced QS for content ads. This is causing some confusion, which Google is attempting to address.

Let's suppose QS (Quality Score) really does exist. If that's the case, why doesn't Google display it as a column in the AdWords interface, much like CTR? Just like CTR, it does apply to individual keywords, so for each keyword why can't advertisers see the keyword's QS? From this Google AdWords help page:
For the search network, this placement is defined by your keyword's Quality Score and maximum CPC bid. The Quality Score used in this case differs slightly from the keyword Quality Score used to determine your ad's minimum CPC bid requirement.
So, each keyword has a QS. Why is this invisible? This help text also confuses the matter. It seems to indicate there are actually two Quality Scores for search ads: a QS for ad ranking and a different QS to determine the minCPC. Now, with the introduction of QS for content, there's a third QS value??!! From this help page:
For the content network, we don't use a keyword's Quality Score to set quality-based minimum cost-per-click (CPC) bids. Instead, we evaluate all keywords within the Ad Group and match your ad to pages across the content network. However, we do use a keyword's Quality Score to rank your ads and position them on network pages. Your keyword's Quality Score is based on the relevance of the ad and keywords to a content site, your ad's performance history on the site and similar sites, and the quality of your ad's landing page.
This is getting confusing. Are there really three different Quality Scores? Plus, for the content network, this is contextual advertising where Google matches the content of a publisher's page using AdSense with the keywords in an AdWords advertiser's ad group. How could content QS be set at the keyword level? Their algorithm matches a whole collection of keywords against a web page. This content QS is just as confusing, then, as the two values for search QS.

With these confusing QS changes, are advertisers going to shift their ad dollars to Yahoo Search Marketing or even Microsoft adCenter? I don't think it's likely in the short term since advertisers need to display ads where their potential customers search. Google continues to command the largest share of the search engine market. However, as Yahoo generates some buzz due to their search engine advertising platform upgrade and search engine improvements, does Google need to reconsider these landing page Quality Score changes?

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