Friday, December 16, 2005

MSN Throws Its Hat in the PPC Ring

When I was in Toronto for the May installment of Search Engine Strategies 2005, I spoke with one of the engineers who worked for MSN Search, and I was hard-pressed to find anything to distinguish MSN Search from Yahoo! Search, a fortiori since MSN Search was using Overture/Yahoo! Search Marketing to power its paid search results and apparently had no plans of changing over to its own pay-per-click ("PPC") program any time soon. However, during the intervening months, many of my clients have been solicited by MSN Search for a new PPC program, so I made a point of speaking with one of the people from MSN Search when I was in Chicago for the December installment of Search Engine Strategies 2005. Much to my surprise, I discovered that the honeymoon between MSN and Yahoo! Search Marketing is apparently coming to an end.

A beta version of MSN Search's new PPC program has already been deployed in markets outside of the United States. Within the United States, MSN Search has been quietly substituting its own sponsored search results for those of Yahoo! Search Marketing every once in a while for quite some time, and the virtual divorce between MSN Search and Yahoo! Search Marketing should be finalized very soon. Once that happens, there will be three major players at arms length in the search engine space -- Google, Yahoo!, and MSN -- each with their own unique combinations of organic and sponsored search results. And while MSN will almost certainly give Yahoo! and Google a run for their money, I believe that this will only set the stage for some other competitor to emerge in the search engine space, someone who has been quietly flying under the radar of most of the so-called "experts" in the search engine industry.

I've mentioned the new and improved GoGuides directory a couple of times in my XODP posts, and the more I know about their future business plans, the more I think that they have a future in the search engine space as a source of trusted URLs for organic, link-based search engine algorithms like Google. The same can be said for other small-scale Web directories like Best of the Web and Gimpsy, and this will prove to be true regardless of whether MSN, Yahoo!, Google, or some third-tier PPC search provider wins the coming search engine wars. And make no mistake about it, a search engine war is coming that will be won or lost based upon the viability of the various search engines' PPC programs, as PPC is the primary source of revenue for all companies in the search engine space.

There are several pretenders to the throne in the PPC space. To wit, while GoGuides relies upon paid submissions as its primary source of revenue, it also has its own nascent PPC program, aptly named "Links2Go," and people who submit their websites through GoGuides Easy Submit program for $39.95 are given a $79.95 credit at Links2Go. I am also privy to other business plans that GoGuides has, but I got the impression that those plans were shared with me in confidence by the powers that be and are not ready for publication. Suffice it to say that, in many ways, GoGuides fits the bill for one of those companies that I believe is quietly flying under the radar of most of the so-called "experts" in the search engine industry.

The second up-and-coming company that I like in the PPC space is SearchFeed.com, which I use to power the sponsored links on the XODP Web Guides. What I like about SearchFeed.com is that it provides an XML feed that can be integrated with a wide variety of search platforms. My only complaint about SearchFeed.com is that I don't seem to be getting proper credit for my referrals of new business. It's a minor complaint because the volume of business referrals that I send SearchFeed.com is diminutive, and my lack of credit is probably due to a technical glitch that I am causing. Even so, it's still a legitimate gripe, albeit one that I have not had the time or inclination to pursue.

The third up-and-coming company that I like in the PPC marketing space is a Toronto-based firm called Searchforit.com. I first met the principals of this company at the aforementioned May installment of Search Engine Strategies 2005 in Toronto, and I was very impressed with how they were handling many of the challenges found in PPC marketing. Specifically, one of Searchforit's primary concerns was click-fraud, and they have left no stone unturned in their attempts to ferret out the perpetrators of click fraud. On this note, Searchforit thoroughly vets the websites where its clients' ads appear and does not pimp out said clients to other third-tier PPC providers who are seeking "backfill" opportunities. All told, Searchforit is now claiming that its daily traffic is up to 4 million hits.

In sum, and getting back to my original thoughts, MSN's decision to throw its hat in the PPC ring is most noteworthy because of the overall impact that MSN will have on competition in the search engine market space. Mark my words: This is the beginning of the end of organic search dominance by Google and PPC dominance by Yahoo! Search Marketing. By the end of 2006, one or more virtual unknowns will have emerged as new leaders in the search engine space.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

GoGuides.Org Redux

Shortly after the Search Engine Strategies San Jose 2005 Conference and Expo, I posted a message on the XODP Yahoo! eGroup extolling the virtues of GoGuides.Org and Best of the Web, and I invited the powers that be at each of these Web directories to put in their own two cents. Shortly thereafter, I heard back from Brian J. Prince, CEO and President of Best of the Web, who sent me a private e-mail thanking me for the plug on XODP, and sometime later I received an e-mail from Robert Barger, CEO and President of GoGuides.Org, who was apparently experiencing severe technical difficulties with his e-mail for several weeks after the San Jose show.

I met up with Robert Barger again in Chicago at the latest installment of Search Engine Strategies 2005 on December 6th and 7th, and I had a chance to discusss some of the issues that were raised about GoGuides at XODP. Specifically, as alluded to by XODP poster Brian Sammon, when someone visits the GoGuides website and is interested in becoming a volunteer GoGuide, they are more or less driven to the application page for people who are interested in becoming Submission Specialists. To be clear, GoGuides Submission Specialist program is a fee-based program that is *NOT* designed for volunteers. It is designed for professionals who work in the field of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

The Submission Specialist program is one of three ways paid submissions are processed at GoGuides. To wit, subject to GoGuides submission guidelines and the scrutiny of the powers that be at GoGuides, Submission Specialists are given access to the entire GoGuides directory so that they can process submissions for their clients and customers. If submitters have only one or a small handful of websites that they want to submit to GoGuides, they have two other fee-based options: Easy Submit and Express Submit.

GoGuides' Easy Submit program costs $69.95 and requires only the submission of a(n) URL along with a fee that is used (in part) to compensate a GoGuide who reviews that submission, writes an appropriate title and description, and finds an appropriate category for listing that submission in the GoGuides directory. If an Easy Submit submission is declined, the fee of $69.95 is REFUNDABLE. With Express Submit, a submitter pays a NON-REFUNDABLE fee of $39.99, and the submitter is obliged to write an appropriate title and description for his or her submission and find an appropriate category for it in the GoGuides directory. Like the Submission Specialist program, neither Easy Submit nor Express Submit are likely to be of any interest to people who want to volunteer to be GoGuides.

If you are interested in volunteering to be a GoGuide, an application can be found by following a rather obscure link found on a Web page that narrates GoGuides' site submission guidelines. However, I am informed and believe that the vast majority of GoGuides volunteer applications are rejected by the powers that be because monitoring paid submissions has become a full time enterprise for GoGuides President and CEO Robert Barger. Even so, volunteers are still a very important part of the GoGuides directory. To wit, the vast majority of paid GoGuides were formerly volunteer GoGuides who proved their commitment to quality control. I might add, quality control seems to be the primary concern at GoGuides, but virtually all GoGuides submissions are still processed in two days or less, and there is absolutely no backlog beyond three days.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Wikipedia Under Siege

XODP Poster MPDoyle writes:
<< Fox News' John Gibson' Big Story just ran a piece with Jane Skinner on a guy who was recently slammed by a malicious prankster in Wikipedia. >>
And a search on Google News indicates that Wikipedia is now currently under siege by a virtual mob. To be clear, the Wikipedia "slam" was not the act of "a malicious prankster," it was a hoax by one Brian Chase who was brand new to Wikipedia and had no idea that anyone would take it so seriously.
<< FoxNews had the victim on in person. >>
How is Seigenthaler the victim? Chase resigned from his job in shame over the prank, and even Seigenthaler -- a long time free speech advocate who has been thrust into the limelight once again -- has urged Chase's employer to rehire him.
<< The upshot of the victim's message was that the existence of open, anonymous web editing forums like Wikipedia is an invitation to our state and federal legislatures to get involved more deeply in regulating our access to the internet so that anonymous slams and defamations are not possible, or at least more difficult to perpetrate. >>
I can understand Seigenthaler's personal offense at being linked to the assassination of his friend Robert Kennedy, but it disturbs me that other people are taking pleasure in the ruin of a man who acted imprudently and without actual malice, and even more disturbing to me that anyone would use such an act as an excuse to further throttle the free flow of ideas.

According to Mike Landberg of the San Jose Mercury News:
<< Wikipedia is becoming a first reference stop for millions of people, from schoolchildren to journalists, including me. But many of these users don't realize a small percentage of articles are flawed. >>
What about the Bible? That, too, has long been a "first reference stop for millions of people, from schoolchildren to journalists." And a significant number of people accept as an article of faith that the Bible is without flaw. Personally, I think that a healthy amount of skepticism and fact-checking is incumbent upon readers of both Wikipedia and the Bible. And being the die-hard optimist that I am, I think that is the lesson that will be learned from the current controversy.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

XODP Blog Mailing List, Sitefeed, and Content Aggregators

MPDoyle wrote:
<< I have no problem navigating to the Blog site when I am motivated to post, I just fail to navigate there to read. If your list server will distribute to me, then please add me to the list server . . . and remove me . . . from the Yahoo group. >>
I added you to the XODP Blog mailing list, so you should get a copy of this blog post in your mailbox. However, it would be a little premature for me to remove you from the XODP Yahoo! eGroup, as there are still XODPers posting there. As such, I modified your preferences so that you will still receive a daily digest from the eGroup, which will include duplicates of XODP Blog posts that I repost to the eGroup, but will not include duplicates of comments and trackback links that are the province of the blog.
<< I will go to XODP.Org and register with the Blog . . . (This will probably automatically add my address to the blog's mail list server's data base, eh?) >>
Actually, blogs are proprietary. It sounds like what you probably want to do is set up a content aggregrator and subscribe to the XODP Blog sitefeed using something like FeedReader. And if you are anything like any of the other people that I have introduced to blogs and content aggregators, you are going to become much less interested in your e-mail.

Yahoo XODP and XODP Blog

XODP Poster Polecat wrote::
<< From past experience, I know that I will not navigate to a web blog to read the daily traffic. Does this XODP blog have the capacity to distribute a daily digest? >>
In a word, yes. However, when given a choice, the vast majority of people who follow blogs opt for a syndicated content feed (such as RSS) in lieu of receiving e-mail because a syndicated content feed is by its very nature completely spam free.
<< Will Yahoo.XODP be retained for that purpose? >>
In a word, yes. Unless and until it becomes clear to me that absolutely no one is using the XODP Yahoo! eGroup, I will continue to repost my articles from the XODP Blog to the XODP Yahoo! eGroup. However, there may be some comments left on the XODP Blog that will not lend themselves to reposting as well as "trackback links" that will direct people to posts on other blogs that reference posts on the XODP blog. These trackback links are one of the major advantages that blogs have over mailing lists.
<< How do Yahoo and the blog share info? >>
One of the features that blogs have is the ability to e-mail posts and comments to a designated e-mail address, and I had hoped to simply have all XODP blog posts automatically forwarded to the XODP Yahoo! eGroup. However, the e-mails were not getting through from the XODP blog to the XODP Yahoo! eGroup, so I started forwarding blog e-mails from my Yahoo! e-mail account to the XODP Yahoo! eGroup. I have also set up a mailing list that will forward XODP Blog posts and comments via e-mail to anyone and everyone who wants them.

Anonymous XODPers

XODP Yahoo! eGroups Poster Polecat writes:
<< I've never heard an argument in favor of anonymous posting that I agreed with. >>
The ability to speak one's mind under the protection of a nom de plume is one of the hallmarks of free speech, as evidenced by The Federalist Papers. Specifically, whistleblowers, human rights workers, and other champions of truth and justice often speak anonymously rather than put their lives and the lives of those they love at risk. Even so, making a statement and signing your byline to it can say quite a bit about your character, particularly when your critics hide behind their own nom de plumes for all the wrong reasons.

Polecat also wrote:
<< How is it that one's post is determined to be anonymous? . . . [I]s this anonymity a function of the XODP member's subscription preferences? >>
To a large degree, anonymity on the XODP Yahoo! eGroup is a function of the various members' subscription preferences. However, as it stands right now, anyone can post anonymously to the XODP Yahoo! eGroup by simply e-mailing the appropriate address. That policy will be changed in a matter of days, if not hours, as I stated in my previous post on this topic, and (after that time) only members will be allowed to post messages on the XODP Yahoo! eGroup, so anonymity there will be subject to the vagaries of the Yahoo! Terms of Service.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Anonymous XODPers Must Now Post to the XODP Blog

For several years now, I have dutifully sifted through the messages posted to the XODP Yahoo! eGroup to make sure that anonymous posters and other moderated posters have an opportunity to contribute to XODP discussions. And with rare exceptions, I have allowed most people who post regularly to the XODP Yahoo! eGroup to post unmoderated because I often take up to 48 hours to check on pending messages. Beyond that, I have allowed virtually all other posts to the XODP Yahoo! eGroup but the most obvious spam to go through. However, the time to change XODP's posting policy is now long overdue. As such, in a matter of days (if not hours), I will change the posting policy on the XODP Yahoo! eGroup to disallow anonymous posts, thereby requiring anonymous posters to post to the XODP Blog if they wish to have their voices heard.

This imminent policy change will be the next step in an ongoing transition process that is far from complete, and may never be complete. However, a few months ago, I quietly started posting virtually all of my XODP posts to the XODP Blog and then reposting them from there to the XODP Yahoo! eGroup. My objectives were and are to improve XODP's overall noise to signal ratio and to reduce the amount of time that I spend monitoring XODP discussions while making sure that XODP remains accessible to those who wish to use it as a free speech forum. And while there are many advantages that a blog format has over a Yahoo! eGroup, the one that invites this particular policy change is the fact that Blogger has an option for verifying that anonymous posts are not automated spam.

In a larger context, as the founder of XODP, I am informed by one of the guiding principles set forth by Jimbo Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, in his Statement of Principles for Wikipedia. To wit, "Any changes to [Wikipedia's] software must be gradual and reversible," and the same thing holds true for the format of XODP. One of the next steps in the transition from the XODP Yahoo! eGroup to XODP Blog will be the completion of an up to date archive for all XODP Yahoo! eGroup posts on the XODP.NET domain. However, that could take months (or years) to complete, as much higher on my list of priorities right now is the revision of my various USENET FAQs, which have been on the back burner for several years as I addressed the needs of my paying clients. As always, stay tuned for further developments.