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Friday, March 04, 2005

Google Chasing Yahoo - Follow The Leader

Preface: My lack of a professional journalist to aid in putting together solid stories has forced me to publish this draft I composed nearly 2 months ago on a flight to Mountain View, CA. I figured if I waited any longer to publish it then it'd be useless. So don't harsh my mellow about punctuation or anything cause I didn't even proofread it.

With the flury of recent press releases oozing out of Google's Mountain View headquarters, you may be experiencing a bit of dejavu. Flashback 5 years just before the dotcom bubble burst and you'll remember the name of another company that blazed the path Google's following long before Larry and Sergey were even out of their dorm rooms. I'm talking about Yahoo!.

1.Web Hosting1stN/A
2.eCommerce Hosting1stN/A
3.Internet Service Provider [ISP]1stN/A
4.RSS [Feed] Aggregation1stN/A
5.Web Site Directory1st2nd
6.Domain Name Registrar1st2nd
7.Search Engine1st2nd
9.Free eMail1st2nd
10.International Search1st2nd
11.Mapping Service1st2nd
12.Local Search1st2nd
13.Image Search1st2nd
14.Image Search1st2nd
15.News Search1st2nd
16.Community Groups1st2nd
17.Affiliate Program1st2nd
18.Backlink Based Algorithm2nd1st
19.Public API2nd1st
20.Google AnswersN/A1st
21.Blogging Application2nd1st
22.Search ApplianceN/A1st
23.Proprietary OSN/A1st
24.Social Networking2nd1st
25.Blog SearchN/AN/A

Googles No Fool
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Google's just a lucky copycat that fell into the search industry and completely patterned themselves after Yahoo! But I am saying that many of the features Google's releasing to the public under the "beta guise" were done long before by Yahoo! and Google's playing catch up in many of these areas. They're playing catch up so in order to increase their revenue base but they're also attempting to improve on areas Yahoo! and others may be lacking in.

Also, you'll notice a trend in the feature comparison chart above. Google isn't the first to bring a new product to the market but they're the first to improve the current offering of products by making them better. Take their natural search results for example. Yahoo was a search engine long before Yahoo but then Google came up with the PageRank algo. Utilizing many methods of backlink analysis to determine the importance of a particular domain or url based on the number of backlinks it has. This revolutionized the way every other search engine looked at natural search and forced them to change their model because they were far too easily manipulated by spam efforts.

Another case in point is Google's free email service, GMail. Yahoo and Microsoft had their offerings out long before Google had even developed their PageRank algo but once again Google made it better by offering more storage and making your email searchable. Then Yahoo and MSN had to once again play the catch up game to offer a free service that was on par with GMail.

Another interesting trend is the fact that some of the applicaiton's Google's launched that aren't part of Google's current service offerings are ones that aren't all that profitable for Google. Take Google Answers, you can ask any question and for a fee of $5 - $100 you'll get a dedicated analyst to research and answer your question. However, Google's struggled to make this model profitable and they've received criticism from the researchers themselves because many of them are actually volunteering their time while Google's trying to turn a profit on their researchers philanthropic efforts. If that example doesn't work for you then just look at Blogger. Google's much touted acquisition yet it's offered free of charge. Now even though Blogger doesn't bring in any revenues from direct subscription services, it does however provide a wealth of data at a very low cost. I would even dare to speculate that it costs Google less to maintain Blogger than it would for them to crawl every blog online. By having direct access to the content and the templates storing the content they're able to perform in-depth analysis on the incredibly sexy blog space unlike any other search engine. Yeah, MSN's got MSN Spaces but they're the NKOTBs when it comes to blogging and they need to run a few more laps in order to get any street cred or really valuable data.

Or how about the Google directory which is just a duplicate of dmoz. That was what Yahoo built their original business on and then they came out with a search engine because the directory was no longer usable once it got too big. Google on the other hand just reproduces the dmoz directory and adds a PageRank bar next to each listing in their directory. if that's not duplicate content then I don't know what is. Reminds me a bit of a story about a kettle that loved calling an adjacent pot black.

Now it's going to be really interesting to see which engine will be the first to hit some of the emerging markets like blog search and online tv/video syndication. Larry and Sergey say they want to run Google differently than any other publicly traded company and that they call the shots. However, when the snowball starts a rollin down that hill they'll find out that micromanagement of business units is no longer feasible or wise, especially with the market breathing down their necks wondering where there profits are. It will be, if it hasn't been already, a maturing experience for them and in the end [like always] the markets will dictate what the company does, not the wonder twins.

Wonder Twins Power, Activate!

Google Chasing Yahoo - Follow The Leader By Jason Dowdell at 09:53 AM
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Technology Review Magazine Displaying Ads

MIT's Technology Review Magazine I'm not sure if any of you have noticed this lately or not but MIT's Technology Review email newsletter has begun displaying small banner ads at the top of each email. I noticed it last week and thought it was interesting. The part that's funny about it to me is that they're beginning to monetize each area of their publication whereas previously there were many areas I felt they were letting go to waste.

The sponsors I've seen most often are IBM [advertising middleware software and apps], GoToMeeting [they're known for experimenting with their ads & where they're placed], and HP [advertising their Proliant series of servers powered by Intel Pentium 4 Processors].

The MIT Technology review newsletter is usually sent out on a biweekly basis on Tuesday's and Thursdays but occasionally on Friday's as well. Not a bad place to get a good feel for what changes are afoot in the tech sector and how they apply directly to our work, life and culture. They've also got a blog.

Technology Review Magazine Displaying Ads By Jason Dowdell at 09:49 AM
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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Basic SEO Answers For CFDynamics' Newsletter

Where ColdFusion Experts Host! I just completed a question and answer session with CFDynamics, a ColdFusion Hosting company. The questions were geared towards their hosting customers with a basic understand of the search engines but little or no understand of search engine optimization or search marketing. I thought it would be good to share the same information here. Even though I'm averse to discussing seo techniques on my blog, I'll put my own emotions on hold for the greater good of my readers.

Questions for Jason Dowdell:
1. How did you become an expert in this business?
Back in 1997 I had a car audio business while I was in college and I began esearching my online competitors. I found myself going back to Yahoo over and over in order to find the most important sites and I simply put 2 and 2 together and realized search would be the main way users find what they're looking for online.

2. What changes have occurred in the web industry that shocked you? (or at least make you scratch your chin and say to yourself,"Gee I didn't see that coming?"
The fact that natural search results are still around and that attempts to make all natural search results actually unnatural by making site owners pay a fee to be included. I honestly thought natural search was going to go away a couple years back but it didn't. That's been the biggest change or non-change I simply didn't predict.

3. What one piece of advice would you offer a business that just beginning to launch their web site?
Make sure your developer understands the way search engines crawl a site. If they can get in the 'mind of a bot' then the actual practice of optimization becomes much simpler.
A few quick tips would be...
  1. Use lowercase for all urls
  2. Avoid any special characters in your urls
  3. Include a text based sitemap linking to the important pages on your site
  4. Be sure your robots.txt is formatted properly or leave it out completely
  5. Provide a unique Title, Description and Keyword tag on each site and make those tags reflect the actual content of the page
  6. Focus on being the best in your field or market and provide insightful / unique content on your site
  7. Choose a host that understands the importance of speed and reliability in their hosting environment
  8. Shorter URLs are better and likewise, fewer directories are better
  9. Don't get hung up on owning every single domain name related to your main keywords, pick a single domain and use that as your main brand.
  10. In shopping carts you only want to have a single url for any item, no matter what category or page the user found that item on. Duplicate content penalties are rampant these days and this is a major achilles heel for most eCommerce apps.

4. What is one element that businesses which have a web presence forget or fail to do that would improve their site?
Focus on what their users are looking for. Hyperfocusing on the search engines can kill conversion rates and destroy the user's experience. Work on your sales funnel and give the visitors fewer and fewer choices as they proceed down the sales funnel.

5. What is ROI analysis and how can it benefit customers?
From a search perspective it's simple. Take the amount you spend with your search marketing firm + any pay per click fees and divide them into your revenues over time. This shows you how much money you're actually earning after your search marketing expenditures but be careful because it doesn't include the actual cost of merchandise.

Understanding your ROI will help you understand how much you can afford to spend on a search marketing firm or consultant. You will find that many are simply out of your price range, it's amazing how many people go with the most popular firms just because they're the most expensive. Find a firm that suits you and let your competitors waste their money on the Madison Avenue firms.

6. Based on your web site information, it states that it's an expensive quick fix to use search engine marketing (SEM) to drive targeted traffic to a site. In other words when organizations sponsor a link and pay per click for traffic. Whereas, a search engine optimization (SEO) makes web sites friendlier to crawler-based search engines. Would you recommend combining campaign efforts for both a SEM and an SEO?
Absolutely, there's a lot to be gained if you can afford to do so. However, if you're just getting started and funds are tight I'd recommend forcusing on natural results (seo) and then finding out what keywords are converting and from which search engines by analyzing your log files. Then you'll know where to begin spending your ppc money in order to get the highest return on investment. One caveat is that it takes time to rank well for your targeted terms and if you have more money than time I'd recommend using ppc to kickstart your sales and perform seo at the same time.

7. How can site architecture affect crawler based search engines?
  • It can cause a site to be automatically penalized for having duplicate content even when none is present.
  • Properly formed and optimized urls can give you an extra boost in rankings.
  • CSS based designs allow you to have more content and less code which makes it easier for the spiders to crawl your site.
  • JavaScript based navigations are difficult for search engines to crawl and often result in pages not getting indexed and thus never even having a chance to rank well.
  • Flash sites are difficult to index because the only information that's indexable is the meta information within the flash movie and a search engine is only given a single url for the site rather than multiple urls for users to choose where they want to go.
  • Embedding JavaScript within pages increases the page size, load time and reduces the content to code ratio. Essentially making a page less important because there's more code than content.

8. If some of our customers have never visited Global Promoter what free tool from your TurboPromoter would you recommend?
The search engine saturation and link popularity tools. The search engine saturation tool tells you how many pages the major engines have indexed from your site. If the number is extremely low or high then you know you have a problem. If the number is lower than the actual number of pages on your site then you know your site isn't being crawled properly. If it's too high then there's a good chance you're getting hit with a duplicate content penalty because you have multiple urls pointing to the same content. Usually a result of sorting items or results using different parameters.

The link popularity tool tells you how many other sites are linking to your site but you can also look at your competitors and see who's linking to them in order to begin your own backlink campaign.

Oh and by the way, yes CFDynamics is no. 1 on Google for their main term on Google [ColdFusion Hosting]. The most rewarding feeling for an seo is helping out the companies that totally deserve it by getting them to the top of the main engines for their most important phrase.

Basic SEO Answers For CFDynamics' Newsletter By Jason Dowdell at 11:45 AM
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Marketing Shift Redesign In Progress

You may have noticed the site looks a bit different than it did yesterday. That's because last night I spent some time implementing an upgraded layout thanks to one of the best CSS designers I knoow, Alex Harris. You'll notice that the dates and titles of each post use flash but they're also cut and pasteable and if you view the source you'll notice the source contains text. Pretty slick huh?

The process is called SIFR and has been dubbed "The Healthy Alternative To Browser Text". I think you'll find it's quite search engine friendly as well as attractive to boot.

I've also added some space in the header, left nav, right nav, footer and body for ads. I'm not currently seeking advertisers but I wanted my blog to be friendly to the more sophisticated readers who want to send me things like a 60gig color iPod Photo or a new cell phone :) Piper's dropped my Motorola V600 so many times the cover doesn't like to stay in place any longer.

Anyway, questions and comments are welcome but you'll have to pardon the dust. Since I only work on this early in the morning [as I'm rising to the beat] and late at night [when I'm taking shoes off my feet] there will be some dust.

Marketing Shift Redesign In Progress By Admin at 10:54 AM
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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Yahoo Search API Finally Launched

You know I hate rehashing the news, I call it regurgitating for blogs, but I've been waiting for Yahoo to launch their API for a long time and the time is nigh. Can't wait to get in there and play around. Wait, I don't have time to play around, looks like I'll be staying up past my 2:30 am bed time to develop some new and quirky apps.

They're already pulling a one-up on Google by offering not only access to their web results but access to image search, news, video and local search as well. Woohoo, this is gonna be fun!

Yahoo Search API Finally Launched By Jason Dowdell at 10:45 AM
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Q & A With iUpload CEO Robin Hopper

I honestly didn't "get it". All the recent Q & A Between Robin Hopper & Jason Dowdell hype around iUpload bewildered me and I was unable to figure out what everyone was talking about. So Renee kindly set up a call between iUpload's CEO Robin Hopper and myself and now I find myself gulping the kool aid. Hopefully the question and answer session will remove some of your questions about what they're up to as well. Enjoy! Q. What are the advantages of using iUpload versus WordPress or any other blogging app with user mgmt. and workflow features that I can download and host on my own box? A. The similarities between what we offer compared to WordPress or other blogging apps probably begin and end with the fact that they are both blog based. Other blog applications offer group blog/guest author capabilities and have very simple workflow features (i.e., submissions from author A will be held as drafts, letting multiple people create and maintain a blog. While we do have guest authoring, our approach is very different in that we provide our clients with their own branded blog network and they can give out blogs to any number of individuals. Those individuals can blog about whatever they'd like and an extensive set of administration tools supporting an unlimited number of workflow/approvals can liberate content from those individual blogs for use on any of their web properties or even other applications. The approach means that the very best content being created in individual blogs can be discovered without necessarily knowing or visiting that individual blog. At the same time, you get all the benefits of individual blogs like tapping into the smaller spheres of influence of each blog, two-way conversation creation, putting a friendly face on the organization, etc., etc. Here's a post I did on my blog a while back that also tries to illustrate the differences: Q. Currently partnering with Pheedo for incorporating Ads into feeds, are there any other key areas you'd like to partner with a company on rather than manage in-house? A. The recent Pheedo partnership allows community owners and/or individual blog site owners to incorporate ads in both their feeds and in their sites themselves and is one of many partnerships we have with more coming soon. A key feature of our application suite is something we call Perspectives (released in beta a couple of weeks ago). Perspectives is very much about partnerships and partners to date include Tribe, Salesforce, Plaxo, Yahoo, Technorati and others. Essentially Perspectives lets you participate in diverse communities all from the friendly confines of your own blog - for example, I might post something on my blog site about an item that I have for sale and apply a "classifieds perspective" which may make the information accessible from a number of classified sites or perhaps eBay. As a business example I may post content to my web site or to my corporate blog and apply a "crm perspective" which could control who (customers vs. partners vs. staff) would actually be able to view the content on the site. Q. I've used the free blogging account and have found some good and some not so good features in it. How different is the business blogging app than the free account? A. The free blogging account really just lets you see the lowest level of what I've outlined above - the individual blogs themselves. The business blogging application builds on this and differences include: Customizable Templates - clients can provide full template libraries for individual bloggers to choose from and/or let them customize for build their own templates Skinned application - the blog application itself is "skinned" as our clients Definable feature set per client - the features offered to individual blogger is definable by our clients meaning they can decide what features are appropriate for their bloggers right down to even the buttons in the rich text editor that appear. Premium options - clients can offer different versions of blogs including paid-for versions Quick post & guest author facilities - lets clients create another level of author, i.e., the casual contributor that doesn't need his/her own blog but can participate just by filling in a form. Custom URL - communities define their url and the naming convention and options (allow domain mapping for example) for their bloggers. Community of blogs admin - the entire community admin and editorializing module is not part of the free version. Q. How does "cross-posting" get moderated? Suppose I don't want my bosses' posts showing up willy nilly on my blog cause my friends will think I'm a flakey brown-noser? Do I, as a grunt employee, have any control over that? A. We're not really about cross posting between blogs or having people stick stuff in each others blogs (although I guess customers could enable that if they really wanted to). Our approach is intended to let companies have some control over the branding of individual blogs (although its entirely up to them how much control or freedom they want to offer their community of bloggers), let individuals post what they want in those individual blogs, then liberate the best content for re-use on other properties. Because our clients "own" the templates offered to their individual bloggers they can push relevant information out to those individual blogs if they'd like (examples might be recent news or press releases, sponsor ads, top headlines, etc.) Moderation the other way is quite extensive. An entire community administration interface lets staff review content authored in individual blogs, editorialize it, target it for reuse on other web properties, send it through an appropriate approval process, etc. It even lets you monitor trends... For example suppose at the admin level you notice staff are blogging a lot of tips for using one of your products and you decide that it would be great to display appropriate tips in the product section of your main website... Click on categories, create the new category for the tips, search to display a list of relevant posts and either approve all or select the most appropriate and that's it you have a new section for your website. Q. Do you see this as something that will get adopted by companies in specific verticals first or something that will get picked up by large corporate accounts in various industries with no focus on any vertical in particular? A. The short answer is "yes". Because this is completely branded there will end up being verticals that grasp it quickly based on implementations that we've already done. Of course we gain a fair bit of expertise in these areas so it's natural that we end up with successes in different verticals. A couple of early verticals for us have been publishers (citizen journalism applications), reality television shows (fan blogs), large brand companies (photo and other contests), and the more horizontal corporate blogging applications. However, the platform really is a good fit for any organization that wants its constituents (staff, customers, partners, citizens, etc.) to blog. Q. Is it fair to say this is like Yahoo Groups or Google Groups for corporations, but with a blogging platform instead of a forum as the base? A. While post from individual blogs could be rolled up and presented in a discussion forums, it's really is much more than that, for example, content from individual blogs could build entire intranets or websites... An unlimited number of community categories let you get as granular with the application as you'd like and respond to different initiatives very quickly. Think of it as an enabling platform for almost any opensource marketing initiative. Q. What are the hosting options? Can I host it on my own boxes? I assume there's a hosted solution option and if so, am I sharing the same database / machine as 1,000 other corporate accounts or do I have my own boxes and database? A. The iUpload Application Suite is delivered in the application service provider model. Like asp's in other industries like we're not implementing individual iterations of the application for each client but run the application across an extensive, redundant and load balanced datacenter facility. The Application Suite is in it's 6th generation and has been employed by organization large and small to not only manage public web content but also very private and secure intra and extranet content. Q. Is there an API for this? A. Yes, although not available to the public using the free version of blog, there is a publishing api for our corporate customers. We also have an API for Perspectives that we'll start to make available to the public in the coming quarter. Q. What's the licensing model? A. Pricing model is monthly subscription primarily comprised of a base fee for the application and all the administrative modules and incremental fees based on the number of users and/or blogs you wish to empower people with. Smaller communities with basic administration and aggregation requirements start at $100/mth while large communities with the full administration console starts at $1000/mth.

Q & A With iUpload CEO Robin Hopper By Jason Dowdell at 10:27 AM
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Volvo V50 Search On Become

I was actually happy this evening just before I headed off to bed. I searched on using Volvo V50 as the string and found [in the first 12 results] answers to every question I had unanswered about the car. After I got the answers I was looking for, approx 2 minutes [including reading sites returned in it's listings], I was so happy I wanted to share my enthusiasm in a post.

It's not easy to get a search engine marketer excited about search results, especially when I deal with all sorts of penalization issues associated with Google and Yahoo in the same way most parent's of toddlers change diapers. So when I found what I was looking for on in less than 5 minutes and not a single result was what I'd consider noise, I got a little excited.

Try it out for yourself, the beta is open to the public.

Volvo V50 Search On Become By Jason Dowdell at 01:23 AM
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March 2005 Week 2 »

  • Week 1 (7 entries) March 1-5
  • Week 2 (4 entries) March 6-12
  • Week 3 (7 entries) March 13-19
  • Week 4 (10 entries) March 20-26
  • Week 5 (1 entries) March 27-31

Google Chasing Yahoo - Follow The Leader
I think google has been sucessfull in its chase, t...
by Sriram

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