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September 18, 2006

What Happens When Google Removes Top Paid Ads in Blue?

By Li Evans

On Friday and over the rest of the weekend RustyBrick on SERoundtable and Search Engine Watch, and the crew over at WebMaster World were reporting about the top "Blue" paid ads, disappearing from Google's Search Results.

One of the posters on WebMaster World, called their Google Adwords Representative to question exactly why this happened.  The result? In a nutshell, Google's testing a new way of serving the ads, if a user never clicks on top blue ads, they move all the ads to the right.  Why?  Because the algorithmn assumes the person doesn't want to see them, and natural results are more relevant to that particular searcher.

Coming into 4th quarter, as a retailer, I think I'd be a bit concerned about this.  I know more than a few eyebrows will be raised at this latest development in Adwords. I've got more than a few questions running around in my head too.  Namely, if this is happening, does the price per click get lowered since you are now not getting that prime real estate of those top 1-3 blue areas above the natural listings?  Isn't that what I pay top dollar to get?

Let's take the example I came up with - and I easily found these, because I'm not one that clicks on paid ads.  I searched on Google for "Thomas the Tank Engine".  I didn't get any top blue ads.

Thomas the Tank Engine Search Engine Results

If I were a retailer running a toy promotion, especially Thomas the Tank Engine (an extremeley "hot" children's toy line - especially around Christmas), I'd be rather concerned.  I would be taking an extremely close look at my traffic coming into my site from Google Adwords, along with the analytics on the conversion. 

That now brings up another point - how does Google count the position - is that #3 or #4 since there is no Blue area.  For those big on the analytics of the ad placement -- how do you know if your ad is really doing well in the placement its at, because - is it truly at "#4" or is it the "#1" on the right hand side?  How will Google define this to advertisers?

Wow - what a can of worms this is going to open for Adwords advertisers who closely monitor their budgets on placement of ads.  I know - I was one of them, and I'd be on the phone with my Google representative right away.

This is about the time where Google should be communicating in their AdWords Blog, like the Webmaster Central Crew communicates with their audience on their blog.  The Inside Adwords Blog has numerous posts and some updates out there, but nothing referencing this "testing" or this change going on.  The latest two entries - Google Adwords Philosophy and Video ads tips and tricks (part 1 of 3) obviously aren't speaking to what's going on.  Hopefully they'll head this off before it becomes a major concern to retailers and ends up costing them repuatation wise.

Others discussing Google Removing Paid Ads from the top of the SERPs:

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September 14, 2006

Search & Regulated Industries

By Li Evans

Back at the beginning of August I spoke at Search Engine Strategies, on the Search & Regulated Industries panel.  Grant Crowell, of Grantastic Designs & a writer for Search Engine Watch, has a recap from that panel.  My fellow panelists,  Heather Framm and Martin Murray, as well as myself are quoted within the short version of the article

A longer version of the coverage of the Search & Regulated Industries panel is available to paid members of Search Engine Watch, which also includes some quotes from the other panelist, Ward Tongen.

I also have a pdf version of my presentation for the panel, anyone interested - drop an email to searchmarketinggurus [at] yahoo.com, or leave a comment here and I'll send it out - for free! :)

September 13, 2006

Yahoo! and Viacom? Speculation or Some Truth?

By Li Evans

The stock market seemed to be buzzing a little today with some "speculation" surfacing about a possible merger between Yahoo! and Viacom.  I picked up this little tidbit on bloggingstock.com, in an article by Douglas McIntyre, who sites David B. Wilerkson's Market Watch article about some merger scenarios playing about the maket with Viacom.

In the article Robert Routh, entertainment analyst at Jefferies & Co., speculates this possible merger because of  Terry Semel, Yahoo's current CEO.  Prior to coming to Yahoo's helm, Semel along with Bob Saly, "turned Warner Bros. into the industry's most profitable studio over a 20-year period that ended in 1999,"  Routh states.

Routh goes on to speculate, "if Terry Semel had Viacom, he could run Paramount, turn that thing around in 20 minutes, leverage the cable networks across the Yahoo portal -- and suddenly they would have a behemoth of a company that would be capitalizing on all distribution media," Routh said, and it would be "able to recognize revenue from all of them."

I'm not so sure about all of that, but it is a curious speculation considering that Yahoo!'s stock has been preforming as stellar as Google's has.  However, even with that consideration, I'd really hate to see such a good company swallowed up like that.  I just have that fear of what happened to AOL when Time Warner swallowed it up, happening to Yahoo! -- and that, in my own selfish (Search thinking) mind, could turn out to be a huge disservice to the industry and ultimately .... searchers.

Interesting food for thought, purely speculation at this point, and I hope it stays that way.

searchmob

Target's A.D.A. and N.F.B. Issues

By Li Evans

This past February Accessify was the first to report about the National Federation of the Blind filing a lawsuit against Target over its website and it’s inaccessibility issues. Last week, a judge ruled on Target’s attempt to get the case dismissed from the California court. Target tried to get around the Americans with Disability Act by claiming their website didn’t fall under the act, under which the lawsuit made the claim, the judge on the other hand disagreed and said that A.D.A. isn’t limited by “brick and mortar.”

The refusal to dismiss the case on those grounds, is a big win for the NFB, and I’m sure it’s got the people over at Target.com a little irritated, and, I bet the folks over at Amazon are now a bit concerned. Why Amazon? Take a look as to why (if you didn’t already know):
   

Target.com Powered by Amazon

Target.com is an Amazon store. This means, Target’s website infrastructure is powered by Amazon, which makes it’s a little more difficult for Target to just go out and add all the ALT text that the NFB is citing that is missing in their website. Ever take a look at Amazon’s site for A.D.A. issues? You guessed it – no ALT text on their images either. So why Target and not Amazon? Well the speculation around the industry is that Target has a “physical” structure, Amazon doesn’t, and that’s why the NFB went the route it did with the lawsuit.

Taking it a bit further, I took a look around Amazon’s website to see who else they prominently show as an “Amazon Store”. I found Office Depot is powered by Amazon.

Amazon Powered Stores

So my curiosity is now piqued, how exactly is this site handling the A.D.A. Interestingly enough there’s a mix of use on ALT tags on OfficeDepot.com as the image below points out on just their homepage. It looks like the images that are more system generated in a somewhat random fashion (I’m sure though there’s some kind of business logic rules in action here), don’t have the ALT text attached, but the other images that are prominently displayed in focused promotions do have the ALT text.

Office Depot Home Page


This really makes me wonder how much involvement Target has in their site updates, and web page creation. They must have some kind of involvement if Office Depot can update, it can’t all fall onto Amazon, especially since Amazon likely doesn’t know who the true Target customer base is, Target knows that. Obviously Office Depot has some type of control, due to the mix of use and non-use of ALT text in image tags, so Target's  got to have some type of control too.

The other question that really puzzles me, is WHY NOT? Why in the world wouldn’t you use ALT text? It’s just really befuddling to me as a marketer at heart – its another opportunity to sell to another (different type of) consumer.  Not only that, but a website that passes usability factors, the search optimization just flows in naturally. So why Target isn’t doing this with their website?  To be honest and in it is just my opinion, it just wreaks of laziness in coding and just plain out cutting corners.

Problem is with laziness and cutting corners in business, it tends to come back and bite you where you least expect it. I guess whoever made the decision not to use ALT text at Target, is now questioning those cost-cutting measures they took. 

Other sites discussing the Refusal to Dimiss the NFB’s lawsuit against Target:

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September 12, 2006

Pogo Sticks? Bouncy SERPs? Sticky Pages?

By Li Evans

Ever wonder if there is a term for when a searcher does a search, clicks on a result and then finds its not what they want and hits the back key to come back to the SERP they were orginally on and then clicks on the next listing the search engine gave them?

I did!  And I tried to find stats on this "search action", but couldn't find hide nor hair of anything.  This was back in July, and it was really annoying me that I couldn't find what the term was nor any data on it.  So I stepped back and wondered who in the industry could help me, and that's when I email Gord Hotchkiss.  I figured if anyone had an inkling it'd be him.

I was pleasantly surprised when he emailed me back with not only a term, but with some "raw" data that Enquiro has seen in their studies on what is called "Pogo Sticks" or "Pogo Sticking".

I had a pleasant surprise in my feeds today - Gord has an article on just what we were conversing about back in July, so go and read: Tales of Pogo Sticks, Bouncy SERPs and Sticky Pages.

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September 09, 2006

Andy Beal's Top 10 Mistakes by SEM Firms

By Li Evans

I find that the weekends are my days for catching up on the things I want to give more "in-depth" time too - lately that's really reading a lot of industry blogs.  I like sitting out on my deck with a nice glass of wine, my iPod playing a shuffle of my music or even catching up on some podcasts.

Tonight I'm catching up on Andy Beal's Marketing Pilgrim and came across "The Top 10 Business Mistakes Search Marketing Firms Make".  What a great article with a lot of sound advice for SEM companies.  I heard it briefly mentioned in one of the podcasts I listened to earlier this week, so I made a mental note to read his blog this weekend - and I'm glad I did.  Not only is the article great, but the people contributing comments to it are rather insightful, too.

Take a few minutes and give Andy's article a thorough read.

September 08, 2006

The Past & Future of Search Engine Strategies (SES)

By Li Evans

OK - Bit of trivia time here!  Who was the first representative from Google to speak on the "Meet the Search Engines" Panel at the very first SES back in '99?  BTW... Shari you can't answer, because you were there.  Gord Hotchkiss- you can't answer because you wrote the article that lead me to the page with the answer!

Do you give up?  Well the answer is Larry Page, who at the time was Google's CEO and co-founder.  How do I know this?  Gord has an excellent article posted on SearchEngineGuide.com about "Life after SEW for Danny Sullivan", that clued me into this.  In this article Gord links to the very first agenda page of the first SES that was held back in 1999 in San Francisco.  I have to say I was surprise and delighted to see this page still "live".

Alright, now that you are back from reading that piece of search nostalgia, can I just add - "WOW.. look how far the search industry has come!".  Thanks.... for letting me express that! :)

Truly, look at not only who presented, but what companies the presenters from.  It's amazing both how much search has changed (some of these companies no longer exist in the form they were back then) and how these companies have grown (how many of us would jump at the chance to hear Larry Paige speak on a panel these days?).

Gord's article really rounds things out with Danny's announcement.  It brings home a lot of thoughts and interesting points.  I look at that agenda and I'm shocked it was all covered in one day!  Probably more to the point, I really see now, how Danny not being at the helm of SES is really going to change.

This year at SES in San Jose, Danny really didn't have any involvement in the trade show side of the house.  That was totally on Incisive Media.  Danny ran the sessions, what the sessions would be, who spoke and so on.  I've been to other SES's and they were run by Jupiter - never did I ever get a "corporate" kind of feel going on in any way.  To be honest - this year I did.  One thing in particular really drew my attention.  The tables outside of the session with the free books.

I sat back and pondered .... "How did THAT happen?"

Don't get me wrong here - I'm totally for and support what that book is about, and I'm a fan of the book & its authors.  But it just really made me think - "Why this book?" Why not another book by other speakers at SES?  I can rattle off at least 5 books that had a much closer and more direct relationship to SEARCH, than the book I found on those tables.

I'm definitely not here to start of controversy about the contents of the book - my point is, in the prior SES's where it was run by Danny or Jupiter Media you never saw such a promotion outside of the sessions.  More to the point this happened after Incisive Media's purchases SES from Jupiter Media.  It really, truly makes me wonder now, how much more "corporate" and "promotional" SES is going to get in the future and if the true spirit that SES was built upon is going to disappear after December 7, 2006.

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Google Sitelinks - 5 for the Price of 1

By Li Evans

Within the last month while working on some research projects for clients, I began to notice a difference in how the first result in the search engine results pages (SERPs) of Google.  The result being presented had the main title of the page displayed, then underneath the description a listing of 3-5 other links within the website were being displayed - with a quick snippet about each item in the list.

There is not a common formula for the listing of sub-pages under the main listing - and this only appears (right now) for the listing that is number one.  Take a look at the few examples below:
Beserp

Search:  "bare escentuals"                      

Comcastserp
Search: "comcast"

Tmobileserp                     
Search: "TMobile"

Extonsqmallserp
Search: "Exton Mall"

The thing to note about each of these - they are all brand names or company names.  If you do a search on "cellular phones", "mineral makeup", or "cable services" - you do not get the same site link listing, even if its a company that comes up that way in another search results.

Keeping on top of communicating with the SEO/SEM Professionals and Webmasters, Google is posting about it on their webmaster blog.  Vanessa Fox explains "Our process for generating Sitelinks is completely automated. We show them when we think they'll be most useful to searchers, saving them time from hunting through web pages to find the information they are looking for. Over time, we may look for ways to incorporate input from webmasters too. "

This is something that all major companies should have a "heads up" about because this can impact the SERPs for their company names, brands or products.  It has it's pros - the major one being literally having up to 5 listing right there in the #1 spot.  The major con - where a company could have had a few listings within Google, say they dominated 4 or 8 of the top 10 listings, now they could be just having that #1 slot - and their competitors can now move up in the rankings and be landing in the top 10 now.

As a searcher - I think this is a nice, user friendly improvement to the SERPs on Google.  It would be nice to see the webmaster involvement to become a legitimate contribution - letting the companies choose the pages being listed in that sublist, would be ideal.  However, from a search marketing aspect, now I really want to make sure my clients have the most enticing titles and descriptions for all of the most important pages.

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September 06, 2006

Googlebot - Cached vs. Last Visited

By Li Evans

Vanessa Fox is fast becoming one of my favorite "Googlers", right up there with Matt Cutts.  Not only is she a devout Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, like myself - but she follows up with what she says, and to most people that's golden.  Last week as guest host on WebMasterRadio.fm's Good Karma show, Vanessa and Matt talked about a lot of things that dealt with how Google crawls and displays search results, including how Google handles accented characters and words.

What I found a greater value was the conversation about how Google knows when a page has been changed or modified in any way, and how that relates to what's cached and how that's displayed in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).  Prior to the Good Karma show on 8/31 and to the posting on Google's Webmaster Central blog by Vanessa, things were a bit confusing for webmasters. 

By watching traffic logs, webmasters can see the Googlebot visits a site, but what they can't see is what google's actually sucking down and reading every time it comes for a crawl.  This leads to a bit of confusion from what Google's displaying in the SERPsas the last visited date.  Vanessa gives the following example:
   1. Googlebot crawls a page on April 12, 2006.
   2. Our cached version of that page notes that "This is G o o g l e's cache of http://www.example.com/ as retrieved on April 12, 2006 20:02:06 GMT."
   3. Periodically, Googlebot checks to see if that page has changed, and each time, receives a Not-Modified response. For instance, on August 27, 2006, Googlebot checks the page, receives a Not-Modified response, and therefore, doesn't download the contents of the page.
   4. On August 28, 2006, our cached version of the page still shows the April 12, 2006 date -- the date we last downloaded the page's contents, even though Googlebot last visited the day before.

Well that's all changed now!  Yes folks, this is a great example of a company listening to it's "customers" and changing things so the experience is better for everyone - all around. 

So now - the cached date is going to reflect the last date the Googlebot visited your site.  So in the example above, Google's now going to display the cached date as August 27, 2006. 

For a full run down on how this works including the reading of what Google does with a 304 response from your server - check out the blog post on Google Webmaster Central Blog.

The Power of Blogging & Search – Lessons for the Entertainment Industry

By Li Evans

If there ever was a week for the entertainment industry to get a wake up call about the power of the internet, search and blogging all wrapped up into one great big bouncing ball, it’s been this week.

The power of the internet sent the news of Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin’s death, around the world in a bazllionith of a second. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a celebrity death take a hold of the entire blog-o-sphere like Steve Irwin’s has. From search bloggers to Aussie bloggers to ordinary personal bloggers – everyone’s blogging about him, I doubt that Steve could every have comprehended his true reach to the world, and it’s tragic that this is how we find out just how many lives the exclamations of “Crikey!” and wrestling with crocs truly touched.

Just to give you a grasp of just how far the reach is, Technorati is reporting over 34,500 mentions in blog postings for the term “Steve Irwin”, its #1 for today (September 5, 2006). Also ranking in the top 10 on Technorati’s top searched term listings are the terms “Irwin” and “Crocodile Hunter”. Digg’s “The Crocodile Man, Steve Irwin, is dead” has over 8,400 diggs and over 700 comments attached to the story and is the site’s most popular “dugg” item of the week so far. The 2nd top story on Digg is about the Bandwidth this story is sucking up on the news websites, just showing the viral affect this story has had, and also just how much people have come to rely on the internet for their news.

Not to be lost in the news of Steve’s death, Rosie O’Donnell is still making waves with her blog, too. Rosie, I have to admit, is one of those few celebrities from TV/Movies that is actually clued into Web 2.0. She has a blog, she updates it frequently, even has advertising on it. She also has a Flickr account and incorporates it into her blog.

Rosie’s boss, is apparently clued into the power she wields here on the internet too. Barbara Walters was quoted in Newsweek as saying, "I didn't like the blog. I'm counting on Rosie's intelligence and sensitivity and humor. This is, after all, an entertainment show. It is based on people who like each other and are having a good time, not on people who are arguing and unhappy." Rosie was blogging about the show’s promos earlier – and with the way the internet can carry things faster than a drop of a queue card, and with the reputation of “The View” on the line – I can understand Walters’ concern.  I think I’d be really concerned if she HADN’T said anything about O’Donnell’s blog. 

Lastly, the essence of not understanding search, viral impacts, and just the search industry in general is “The Donald” himself. I blogged about the issue with Trump.com over the weekend, as of this morning, Google and Trump.com must’ve worked to get some things fixed as the snafu of “levitra|cilalis…..” is now gone if you look up “trump” on Google. Thanks to technology though, Threadwatch.org has screen shots – and those will likely end up having a life of their own.

I wonder how many times Tom Cruise has done and “ego search” on Google? It might behoove him to – “TomCruiseIsNuts.com” is #2 for his name. It’s little things like this that turn into huge issues for PR folks. It’s also goes to show even more the entertainment industry has a heck of a long road in front of it in grasping just how much search and blogs affect their reputations and even their livelihoods.

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