SMM Offers Advertisers Display Ad Spots

The website for The Other Bloke’s Blog was recently modified to give a better experience for visitors to the blog.  Since the most common screen width for our visitors is 1064 pixels, the website was widened to reflect this.  The design is now a three column design with the two right-hand columns being available for advertising.  Nevertheless at the same time the left-hand column is wider than it was before so that is of benefit to those who come here to read..

In increasing the area of the screen devoted to advertising, we relied on Google’s policy of trying to ensure that the ads they displayed would improve the readers’ experience.  Here is what they say about their ‘Quality Score’ and how it is calculated.

Quality Score helps ensure that only the most relevant ads appear to users on Google and the Google Network. The AdWords system works best for everybodyŚadvertisers, users, publishers, and Google tooŚwhen the ads we display match our users’ needs as closely as possible. Relevant ads tend to earn more clicks, appear in a higher position, and bring you the most success.

The other factor of course is to ensure that the ads do return sufficient revenues to achieve our objectives.  AdSense is only one of the potential advertiser networks and we have been trying others.  One of these is Adbrite, but so far the ads do not seem as attractive as those provided by Google.

Of course with the current economy, times are tough for advertisers and for advertising networks. Even Google in reporting excellent results noted that it was tightening its belt.

For Q3, Google’s profit rose 35% to 1.35 billion on revenue that was up 39% to $US5.54 billion.

Although the number of people who click on its search ads grew 18% quarter-on-quarter, Google trimmed costs 18% during Q3 in anticipation of turbulance ahead, and reduced its usual frantic pace of hiring, bringing on 519 staff during the quarter, compared to 2130 during Q2.

Times are even tougher for AdBrite apparently.

AdBrite, the “Internet’s Ad Marketplace,” has laid off 40 percent of its workforce in an effort to be profitable. Two executives, its vice president of marketing, Paul Levine, and its vice president of finance, Bob Feller, were among those laid off.

Given this turmoil in the advertising network sector, SMM decided that going directly to advertisers should be a win win situation.  Accordingly as you will note by the Info button at the top right advertisers can place their advertising directly in all three SMM blogs as a group.  The three blogs cater to the business and Internet marketing worlds with slightly different emphases.  In this way an advertiser will have a broader coverage than using a single blog.  Since the combined traffic for the three blogs is over 15,000 page views per month and growing strongly, this should represent an attractive opportunity.

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AdWords targeting

Google has worked hard to improve the quality of the AdWords adds that appear on blogs such as this.  The AdWords blog frequently has posts on how the quality scores are being improved.  In general that means that the banner ad and the ad at the top of the right sidebar should hopefully appeal to visitors to the blog.

It was therefore somewhat surprising to note from traffic data the following block of ads in the right sidebar which one Google searcher would have seen.  Can you guess what post that appeared with? 

chivas adsense ads

Surprisingly it was a post about a super-premium blended Scotch called Chivas 25 that retails in Canada for $400 dollars a bottle.  The AdWords advertisers are clearly targeting high rollers.  At least that is clear for all except the second advertiser.  No wonder they are looking for worship on a budget if they have such expensive tastes.

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Does Google Need An Ethics Policy Like The New York Times?

Google has a paid link dilemma, at least according to Patrick Altoft (tip of the hat to Lee Messenger). As he says:

The reason Google doesn?t like paid links is obvious and understandable from their point of view. Google quite simply doesn?t want websites to be able to buy their way to the top of the search engine rankings.

As I commented there:

Google is really a publisher. It publishes its search results. It adds paid advertisements and the more you pay the more visible your Adwords will be. It is trying to maintain that the non-Adwords content is commercial free. However it realizes that big advertisers may well spend money to get higher in the organic results ( the publication side of the business). It needs to be visible in trying to preserve the integrity of that noncommercial content.

Clearly Identifying Advertising

This is not a new issue. Back at Christmas 2003, I offered Google a suggestion on how its Search Engine Report Pages (SERPs) might appear.

Google SERP Mockup

Google SERP mockup

This is almost like a newspaper page. In a good newspaper, there is a strict division between the advertising side and the editorial side. Similarly, in Google there is a strict division, a Chinese wall some say, between Search and Advertising. In the image, the Search section is white and labelled Information Zone. Here Google will serve relevant informational pages that relate to the meaning of your search. The blue section is labelled Commercial Zone and here Google delivers Advertising that is in context with the meaning of your search.

Such a clear distinction is what the Federal Trade Commission has ruled must occur on Search Engine Report Pages (SERP’s). Indeed if Google chose to show each content on different colored backgrounds as in the image, perhaps everyone would win. Those who wish to read the advertisements can easily identify them.

Ethical Publishing

Google will be 10 years old this coming September. The New York Times will be 157 years old in the same month. So it is had longer to grapple with these issues. Perhaps its Handbook of Values and Practices on Ethical Journalism (pdf file) might provide a model for Google. In particular, one can read the following:

72. The Times treats advertisers as fairly and openly as it treats readers and news sources. The relationship between The Times and advertisers rests on the understanding, long observed in all departments, that news and advertising are strictly separate – that those who deal with either one have distinct obligations and interests and neither group will try to influence the other.

Google might also take to heart what the New York Times says about integrity.

At a time of growing and even justified public suspicion about the impartiality, accuracy and integrity of some journalists and some journalism, it is imperative that The Times and its staff maintain the highest possible standards to insure that we do nothing that might erode readers? faith and confidence in our news columns. This means that staff members should be vigilant in avoiding any activity that might pose an actual or apparent conflict of interest and thus threaten the newspaper’s ethical standing. And it also means that the journalism we practice daily must be beyond reproach.

The Search Engine Report Pages (SERP’s) that Google produce around the world clearly have a much bigger impact than the New York Times. Given Google’s size, the need for integrity is paramount.

Is Google A Publisher?

Although a Doctor in Philosophy might not agree, the person in the street would have little difficulty with this question. Just take a look at Google News for example. Its tagline states: Search and browse 4,500 news sources updated continuously. It is so similar to a newspaper that Google even has to add a disclaimer at the foot of the page. The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program.

Clearly there is a major difference between a New York Times publication and a Search Engine Report Page (SERP) produced by Google. What Google publishes is entirely created by computer. Every entry is there because Google’s search algorithm deemed it more relevant than items lower down in the list. The actual text for each item is then developed by an automatic snippet production process. No human author is involved.

The problem arises because Google’s search algorithm places some weight on the number of links pointing to any given web page entry. That is the core principle of the PageRank concept, which is what distinguishes Google from other search engines. Paid links may be one way in which website owners try to influence what appears in the Google SERPs. However this is only a tiny tip of the iceberg, as compared with the way major companies can influence where their websites appear in lists. Major companies can easily create a network of associated sub companies, affiliates and partners. These might quite naturally link to the mother company website. These links are technically not paid links but certainly generate benefits for their creators. It would however be a task worthy of King Solomon to decide which should be deemed paid links and which not.

Google has decided to take a different path, which could be viewed as undemocratic. It seems to be working with a very narrow definition of a paid link. This is a link that has been created because cash was received directly for its creation. Large companies can create links in much more creative ways and avoid the paid label being applied to their links. The present Google approach is likely to hit smaller companies and of course the more who are affected the louder the volume of complaints. If they wished to create the maximum noise about their approach, this is the way to do it. If effective, it could reduce the volume of such directly paid links. It avoids entirely the difficult question of links that are created by big company networks.

The Advertising/Editorial Content Dilemma

It’s not an easy problem for Google to resolve. As Louis Hau points out, even Newspapers Confront The Enemy Within:

Newsrooms have long cultivated a strict “church-state” division between themselves and their papers’ advertising departments, fearing a loss of independence and integrity–and with it the trust of readers. Like it or not, the newspaper industry’s increasingly grim financial outlook leaves editors with little choice but to work across the aisle.

Whereas newspapers may be discussing life-and-death issues here, that’s hardly the case for Google. Whether the Google Adwords program is influencing its approach to paid links is not something they declare. Paid links are certainly a competitor for a share of any online marketing budget. Some feel that Google can set its own rules in its own publications. However when a company becomes so dominant in any market place, perhaps the normal free competition rules need some restraint.

If you feel strongly on this, you may choose to add your comments here or perhaps join the ongoing discussion on this at Cre8asite Forums.

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Christmas shopping for the Nintendo Wii with Google

Where Oh Where is that Nintendo Wii?

Ryan Kim of the San Francisco Chronicle has just provided Tips for those on the hunt for the elusive, desirable Nintendo Wii. Apparently it’s a really tough challenge as she recounts.

Kristie Lauborough’s unsuccessful quest for the popular Nintendo Wii has been repeated throughout the land in what has become an unprecedented distinction for Nintendo. The Japanese game maker has had the hottest toy gift two holiday seasons in a row, a title that brings bragging rights, but also stokes criticism and frustration from those unable to find the console.

Many people will turn to Google in such a search and it’s instructive to see how Google tries to help. If you are someone selling Nintendo Wiis, how can you get maximum visibility in the Google search?

Google Search for Nintendo Wii

The first thing to note is that if you are relying on what is called organic SEO (Search Engine Optimization), it’s getting tougher and tougher. You can hardly complain since Google is providing free visibility. Quite naturally, Google prefers to list at the top sellers from whom it makes money. The free riders are being pushed down the page. At the top you can see two sellers who have paid to have Adwords ads appearing.

Interestingly just below them are three sellers who have not paid. They have added their products to Google Base, which is a free service. If you use the Google Shopping link or do a Product Search, then you are searching through the products in Google Base. Any seller would be well advised to check through information on Google Base and there is also a Google Base Blog.

In such searches, Google makes money by publishing Adwords ads around the Product Search results. Google is also encouraging sellers to use Google Checkout. That’s why it allows purchasers to click on that Google Checkout link to scan sellers offering that service.

For the moment Google Checkout is a loss leader for Google. It has decided to continue to offer Google Checkout free through February 1st.

Currently, Checkout doesn’t charge credit card processing fees, which means Google swallows the expense every time, a program that was supposed to end in two weeks. Looks like Google couldn’t stand the idea of sending anyone an actual bill (or more likely, they wanted to extend the program through the end of the post-holiday shopping season), so free Checkout continues, for one more month.

After February 1, 2008 Google will start charging transaction on every order that gets processed via Google Checkout. “You will still be able to earn free transaction processing if you use Google AdWords – for every $1 you spend on AdWords, you will be able to process $10 of sales through Checkout for free. For additional sales, you’ll be charged a low 2.0% plus $0.20 per transaction. Fees are the same for all payment types (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover) and there are no monthly, setup, or gateway fees.”

More details on this are available from the Google BlogNewsChannel.

Google is hoping that sellers will find this a win-win situation. Naturally Google supports those sellers through whom it can generate revenues. Even if you’re selling something as elusive as a Nintendo Wii, you need to be visible. Pay for Adwords and use Google Checkout and you get the best of both worlds. Increasingly others will find themselves squeezed out as the above key word search shows.

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