Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Why I'm kissing Tumblr a sad, sad good-bye

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

My company has a lot of blogs for the various businesses that I’m starting – 52 to be exact. Most of them are run on WordPress, which I really like, one is run on an old install of TypePad (which is clunky, but might be because I need to update), and one is run on Tumblr.

I love Tumblr. I love the user interface, the way that you can post quick snippets of things. Quotes, pictures, text, links…it is fun to use. And the templates are awesome. The Cara Austin blog is on Tumblr, and it’s a delight to update every day.

Sad Good ByeBut there is a fundamental problem with Tumblr that I wasn’t aware of before I started using it – the search engines don’t seem to like it. In the two months since I have been posting (every weekday starting March 13, 123 posts total), the blog has only received 17 visitors from Google. Every one of those visits, except one, had the term “Cara Austin blog” or “Cara Austin Tumblr” as the search term.

This is a major problem for a commercial blog. I have a personal Tumblr that I use for my own things, notes, things I want to remember – and I don’t care if no one ever comes to that site. But for Cara Austin, a musician who needs to get her name out there and needs to sell albums, this is a big issue.

I didn’t know this about Tumblr. I didn’t know that the pages wouldn’t be indexed well (or show up high) on Google. I knew that Tumblr doesn’t have comments. And I knew that Tumblr didn’t have a search engine built in. These things I decided to live with.

But I didn’t know that Tumblr had a search engine optimization (SEO) problem.

I could no longer ignore the fact after I launched another new blog on WordPress on April 23, put up a few posts, and that blog starting receiving more traffic, from a wider variety of search terms, in a much shorter time period.

Here’s a little chart to illustrate:

Tumblr SEO chart

And so I’m leaving Tumblr. I’m leaving with a tear in my eye, but I’m leaving nonetheless.

Photo by Jaye_Elle

New online video technology launches; has a viable advertising model

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Online video is already huge and getting bigger all the time. At least 75% of Internet users watch videos online and 8 hours of video content being uploaded to YouTube EVERY MINUTE. But there is a problem with online video because no one has (yet) figured out a long-term viable advertising model that will work with video. Google (which owns YouTube) is certainly working on it, but all the models that have debuted so far – pre-roll, post-roll, sponsorship – have fallen short because none of the formats have taken advantage of the inherent interactivity of the Internet. That is, until now.

I just took a look at what Revision3 and VideoClix have teamed up to put together and it’s great. Not only is the ad format interesting and cool, it’s also fairly unobtrusive and seems tailor-made for the Internet’s interactive format.

The first video to debut with the new technology is Diggnation (although all of Revision3’s videos will have the technology shortly). Watchers are able to interact with the video as it’s playing. When a viewer clicks on an item in the video that has additional information included, an area is displayed to the right of the video that has the details about the item, as well as room for advertising or additional vendor information.

Diggnation screenshot

This is clever. For one thing, the information that was provided was fun and interesting. (For example, I found out that the Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam has rooms that range from 1 to 5 stars and one of the rooms has a shower in the middle of the room.) I wanted to click every link in the video to find out more about the video that I was watching, the clothes that the hosts were wearing, and even to see what computers they were using. Since my clicks didn’t stop the video, I was able to click around when something was happening that I was less interested in watching and I didn’t have to miss anything that I didn’t want to miss.

My prediction – this online advertising format will be viable and long-lasting, particularly in the consumer market. Clickable video is here to stay.

Comscore's take on the Google click data: Not that surprising

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Comscore logoEarlier this week, Comscore released some data on Google paid click numbers that caused Google stock to take a nosedive, based on reports from a variety of news sources that this was a sure indicator that Google was vulnerable to a recession.

Today, in a blog post, Comscore gave its take on the data – “Why Google’s surprising paid click data are less surprising.” The main point? That the data that Comscore released may have been incorrectly analyzed by almost everyone who read it:

“The information triggered a flurry of reactions in the media and the financial community that centered on two concerns: 1) a potentially weak first quarter outlook for Google, and 2) an indication that a soft U.S. economy is beginning to drag down the online advertising market.

“While we do not claim that these concerns are unwarranted, we believe a careful analysis of our search data does not lend them direct support. More specifically, the evidence suggests that the softness in Google’s paid click metrics is primarily a result of Google’s own quality initiatives that result in a reduction in the number of paid listings and, therefore, the opportunity for paid clicks to occur.”

I continue to be of the opinion that the drop in click-through rates isn’t a negative thing and is primarily the result of Google’s ongoing efforts to combat click-fraud and accidental clicks to its ads. 

I also think that Google is likely going to have slower growth if the entire economy goes into a recession. Afterall, what media company isn’t vulnerable in a recession?

About.com's CEO to leave. Yawn.

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

About.com logoThe news is just out today that About.com’s CEO Scott Meyer is leaving the company.

I have been following About.com for years, primarily because I have been in the business of building content networks and About.com has been around in this space for a long time. At this point, About.com is one of the saddest sites on the Web. I mean, it’s owned by the New York Times Company, one of the most venerable content producers EVER, and what has About.com done in the past few years? It has just about maintained the status quo with its network of Web sites – About.com gets traffic, but that’s about it.

Do you know anyone who loyally follows About.com? Can you name an About.com guide?

About.com should be doing something more, different and interesting. They have traffic, they have a strong parent company, they have a solid brand name, they have expert content producers in every niche…but yet, they are so, well, boring.

From the NYT annual report, courtesty of paidContent.org:

“We estimate that approximately 70% of About.com’s traffic is generated through search engines, while an estimated 25% of its users enter through its home and channel pages and 5% come from links from other Web sites and blogs. Our other Web sites also rely on search engines for traffic, although to a lesser degree than the Web sites of the About Group. “

Yawn.

Perhaps Scott Meyer is moving on in hopes of doing something a little more interesting.

Consumers not the cause of Google's slide

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Google logoGoogle’s stock price is dropping, and people are freaking out. Yesterday’s stock price drop was in response to a recent report from Comscore indicating that January 2008 showed only flat growth year-over-year versus a 25% increase in Q4. This apparently is the result of lower click-through rates on paid search ads, and people are worried that this means that Google is exposed to a slowdown if there is a recession in the U.S.

The near-panic is somewhat understandable considering that the overall U.S. economy isn’t doing all that great, the tech folks are scared of another bubble, Microsoft is talking about taking over Google, Apple’s stock is dipping, and everyone is looking for someone – anyone – to believe in. Google has been the obvious choice for a long time, and no one wants the tech darling to falter.

But the thing that I take issue with is the notion that this decrease in clicks is a result of consumers clicking less because of a coming recession. These numbers from Hitwise show that there has been no decrease in overall search traffic to shopping sites – meaning that consumers are still clicking.

And if consumers are still clicking on search links, why would they suddenly not be clicking on paid search ads? Could this be because consumers suddenly have become more discerning about what is a “paid” result vs. what is a “organic” result? No way.

My question for Google would be about how much of this decline comes from the dip in clicks on AdSense partner sites. My bet is that the clickthrough rates have dipped significantly on partner pages. Why? Primarily because of the click fraud prevention that Google has been implementing, as well as the “accidental clicking” measures that Google took back in November.

Google click change

Remember, this was the second change that Google made to its ads; the company first changed the paid results on its main search pages in April, a move that many advertisers said led to a decline in the number of clicks, but not in the amount of revenue that they were earning.

And this might just be the bottom line. If there is no growth in the number of clicks, but revenue is growing, Google may have figured out a way to increase ROI for advertisers. Like this Businessweek article says, we’ll have to wait for earnings in April to find out for sure.

Four hurdles to jump after starting a business

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Making the decision to start a business is just the beginning. Along with all the actual work you have to do (which I’ll write about later this week), there are other early hurdles, some of them mental, to jump. Here are four:

1) Telling other people. For me, this one was tough. I had worked with the people at my company for almost 8 years, and many of them were like a second family. But telling them was nothing compared to telling my real family. Breaking the news to my parents that I was thinking of quitting my job was difficult, but they were supportive. Both of my parents were elementary school teachers, my dad taught at the same school, the same classroom and grade, for more than 30 years before he retired. He told me that doing something that I loved was incredibly important because I will spend too much of my life working to not love what I’m doing. Good advice, I thought.

But telling them that I was starting a company – and an Internet company that starts other companies – was a whole different story. My mom’s response: “Thank God Chris has a job.” The real issue, though, was that they didn’t (and probably still don’t really) understand what it is that I do. This is not surprising because very few people understand what I do. But I knew for sure that they were both on my side when I went home for a visit at Thanksgiving, and my mom had print-outs of my Web sites (she actually printed copies of the sites on her color printer) propped up on her hutch in the dining room. Adorable.

“My mother and father thought I had lost my mind, because I had this great job at Xerox, a nice big office overlooking the whole Bay Area. They said, ‘What are you doing?'” – Charles Geschke, cofounder, Adobe Systems

“[I had to tell my parents that I wasn’t finishing school], but what was actually harder was having to go to the president of the university and ask for a leave of absence. I had never met him before. It was quite interesting because he apologized for having to try to disuade me from it. After he finished his speech, he wished me the best of luck and shook my hand with a big smile. I rememberd that, and ironically, 20 years later he’s one of RIM’s board members.” – Mike Lazaridis, cofounder, Research In Motion

“My parents thought I was pretty much over the top because I had this very prestigious job at the Federal Reserve Bank and went to work every day from my apartment to this beautiful bank and got promoted and made a bunch of money for my age. Why would I quit? It was very hard to communicate to people who weren’t in the very small software industry what you were doing. People didn’t question you; they couldn’t even converse with you. At Thanksgiving: ‘What do you do again?…OK, thanks, that sounds really interesting.’ …People didn’t quit their jobs and start these companies. Although once you become an entrepreneur, it’s sort of like becoming an alien. You notice there are other aliens!” – Ann Winblad, cofounder, Open Systems

Hurdles
Photo by iowa_spirit_walker

2) Having faith that it’s going to work. You have to believe that your idea is going to work before you decide to start the company, but continuing to have faith in your vision is something that you have to choose to do every day. For me, it’s hard when I read articles about how many small businesses fail because I tend to make decisions based on probability and best-case scenerios. So the probability is (based on the stats) that my business will fail. But I have to have faith, I have to decide every day that I will beat the odds, that my company will not become a statistic. That I will succeed. The good thing for me is that my business model has failure built in, which is fantastic, because I’m already planning to fail. I’m starting a number of things at the same time with the full knowledge that some will not succeed. But the trick is to hold onto the faith that some of them will succeed.

“It took a lot of faith. You call it vision, but it’s a combination of vision and faith that 1) it’s going to happen someday, and 2) it has value, and 3) you can actually accomplish it in an economic way and promote it so that you can fund the development and growth of the business. That’s pretty tricky stuff.” – Mike Lazaridis, cofounder, Research In Motion

3) Embracing the uncertainty. When you start a business, you may be trying to hold onto faith that it will be a success, but you don’t really know that it will be. Along with that, you don’t always know where you’re next client will come from. Or employee. Or dollar. So you have to come to a point of accepting the not knowing, embracing the uncertainty. For me, it’s kind of a thrill to be working this all out as I go because I have come to believe that no matter what I face, I’ll figure it out. It might not be today or tomorrow, but eventually, I’ll either determine a way to get around the issue, find someone to help me with it, or overcome it in some way.

“Part of the excitement was just seeing how the world would respond. I kind of like uncertainty to some extent, because it’s a little bit of suspense and excitement and adventure, almost, right? And you can learn a lot even if things don’t work out. But not everyone likes adventure. A lot of people seem to be against uncertainty, actually. In all areas of life.” – Paul Buchheit, creator, Gmail

4) Remembering that there are pros and cons. I got married fairly recently (May 2006) and for at least a year following that event, almost everytime I saw someone I hadn’t seen in awhile, they would ask, “How’s married life treating you?” That exact question. Since starting a business, the question has morphed to, “How’s the business coming along?” I love that people ask about both my marriage and my business, but the truth of the matter is that with both, there are pros and cons. The trick is making sure that there are more pros than cons.

For the first few months after starting the business, I had a really hard time with the isolation of working at home, alone, with no one else around to talk to all day or who fully understood what I was doing. I tried a lot of things to overcome this, and the thing that ended up working the best was going to Panera Bread and using their free wi-fi. At least there I was around people, and the din from the conversations helped me feel not-quite-so-alone. Lately, that con has turned into more of a positive. I love being able to set my own schedule and to work at my own pace, and I’m able to get things done faster than ever. The good can become bad and the bad can become good in the blink of an eye – the key is remembering that, and working constantly to turn the negatives positive.

“Startups are just so amazingly fun; they are so amazingly stressful. Whether you are an engineer or whether you are a founder, at least for me, it takes every emotion you’ve got and multiplies it 100-fold. Higher highs, lower lows than any other work experience. A startup is all-encompassing, so do it when you are young and when you don’t have a family because you’ll lose it all.” – Mark Fletcher, founder, Bloglines

“It’s a combination of sudden freedom to run things as you please and crushing responsibility in which you know you have to do certain things in a certain way at a certain time. That eradicates all of that freedom.” – Joshua Schachter, founder, del.icio.us

Tomorrow, I’ll continue this series with a discussion of the financial issues that go into a start-up.

All of the quotes in this article are from the wonderful book Founders at Work: Stories of Startup’s Early Days, by Jessica Livingston.

Microsoft vs. Yahoo: And the winner is…Flickr!

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

By now, everyone has heard about Microsoft’s unsolicited (and unwanted) bid to take over Yahoo. You’ve read Google’s evil(ish) response. And Microsoft’s counter. Perhaps you’ve even followed the commentary for, for, for, for, for and against, against, against, against, against the deal. And the analysis about whether it would be bad or not bad for start-ups.

My opinion: either way, everything’s going to be alright. If Yahoo is absorbed by Microsoft, the world will continue. If there are services that Yahoo offers that Microsoft eliminates, another company will build products and services to take their place. If Yahoo and Google make a deal and Microsoft is left hanging, and Google turns from the good guy to the bad guy and Microsoft starts being seen as the underdog, well, that will be weird, but it will be OK. If some third-party comes and bails out Yahoo (which is not likely at this point), things are going to be fine.

Either way, some people are going to be happy. Some people are going to be unhappy. But business will continue. Something similar happened when Adobe bought Macromedia, a deal that was bemoaned by many as the demise of good creative software. But the deal went through and there is still good creative software. There will be tough times, there will be struggles, but change sometimes fosters creativity and innovation – and both of those can be better than a company withering away on the vine, which may have been Yahoo’s fate if no one stepped in and did something.

But all of that aside, I think that the real winner in all of this hubbub is Flickr. Not Yahoo, even though they own Flickr, but Flickr itself.

I noticed early on in all the discussion about the possible Microsoft/Yahoo deal that various pundants would write an analysis of the situation and then would say something like, “No matter what happens, don’t you dare hurt my Flickr.” I commented on it, and thought it was interesting.

Then a whole movement erupted.

Currently, 2,672 Flickr users have banded together to fight Microsoft’s acquisition of Yahoo because they are afraid that it might hurt their Flickr. This is just one of the thousands of protest photos that have been uploaded:

Microsoft Yahoo Flickr
Photo by robsv

You don’t see users of Yahoo e-mail worrying. Yahoo Small Business services, which are popular and have a lot of users, aren’t protesting. It’s just the Flickr users.

So in my scorebook, Flickr is the winner. They built a brand that people love, and not only do they love the brand, but they are willing to fight for the company. Flickr did this by creating a service that’s easy to use, allows interaction, fosters community, and is free.

Or do you think that these Flickr users really just hate Microsoft that much?

Twitter + Google maps + Super Tuesday = cool combo

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Google and Twitter icon on TwitterI have seen this written up in a number of places, but I just wanted to chime in to tell everyone about the Google/Twitter mashup that’s displaying political tweets real-time on a map of the United States. I first found out about it when I logged into Twitter today and saw the little image pictured above.

Twitter is a “micro-blogging” tool that lets users send “tweets” up to 140 characters long to the Twitter Website. All messages are saved to the user’s profile page and sent to anyone who is “following” that user. Today, all messages that are posted to Twitter that are related to politics, voting or the Super Tuesday primaries are being superimposed on a map from Google. It’s pretty cool to watch.

Here’s a screenshot, and again, here’s the link:

Google Twitter mashup screenshot

By the way, I’m planning to write more about Twitter soon, but if you are a Twitter user, feel free to contact me there or follow me: @mchang16.

What SkyMall can teach you about user testing

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

I’m on the plane right now, on the way to Jamaica with Chris, who is going to a conference (I’m tagging along), and we just spent about half an hour looking through SkyMall, the catalog of often-quirky products that they have in the seat-backs on the plane. I love looking through SkyMall, mostly because it makes me laugh the things that people come up with and actually sell. Some of our favorites from this issue:

  • Gravity Defyer shoes (page 13) – Really Alexander the Innovation Wizard that is the best part of these shoes. Chris’ title is “Chief Innovation Officer” so I was trying to get him to change it to “Chief Innovation Wizard” after seeing this picture of Alexander.
    Alexander the Innovation Wizard
  • Spring Flex UX (page 66) – This ad features a man wearing nothing but white – shorts? underpants? – working out at his desk. Ummm…
    SpringFlex UX
  • CD case(page 79) – This case holds 2,262 CDs – they better sell these fast before people stop buying CDs (does anyone own 2,262?) and the music industry implodes!
    2262 CD rack
  • Caddie Cooler (page 80) – “Cleverly disguised as a 3-wood,” I sincerely doubt that my dad or brother will be bringing this out on the course anytime soon.
    Caddie Cooler
  • The Neckpro Traction Device (page 108) – The picture speaks for itself, but there must be a very limited market for this device.
    Neckpro traction device
  • Big Foot the Garden Yeti Sculpture (Page 161) – Definitely not something to welcome the neighbors
    Big foot the garden yeti
  • Basho the Sumo Wrestler table(page 160) – Will go well with any decor, unless you’re sitting behind it…
    Basho sumo wrestler table

And these were just the products that made us laugh the most. Every page of the catalog we were pointing at things and commenting and talking about the good ideas, the bad ideas and how to improve some of the products that had a nugget of a good idea, but executed it poorly.

This made me wonder if the SkyMall people do user testing. Do they have consumers come to the SkyMall offices, give them the most recent copies of the catalog, and watch them interact with it? It is impossible to watch every person read and use their product, but how much testing do they do, and how much do they use the data they collect to make changes and to help them pick what will be included in the catalog in the future?

There is a really good correlation to the Web here. Any business that has a Web site (and every business should have a Web site) should also have some kind of analytics tool running on their site. I use Google Analytics on my Web sites, but I have used Omnitureand others in the past as well – any of them work (but I whole-heartedly recommend Google Analytics – it is free and very easy to set up).

Once you have analytics set up on your site, you should be able to do some user testing – you will be able to check out, among many other things, what pages people visit on your Web site, their navigation path, what pages they linger on, what are the most and least popular sections of the site. And if you sell things on your Web site, you can easily evaluate how appealing various products are to your market.

Along with this day-to-day evaluation, it is also a good idea to occasionally do user experience testing. It is incredibly illuminating to be able to watch your users interact with your Web site. When we ran such tests at Ziff Davis Media, we used software called Morae, which worked well. When we ran the tests, we had two computers set up; one in the user testing area, the other in a viewing area where everyone else could watch the users go through a set of tasks. (Our stations were actually set up in two different states.) The users are taken through a series of tasks by a tester (a guide of sorts) who asks questions and gives the users various tasks to complete. The users are instructed to talk out loud about what they’re thinking when they are navigating the site, and the software on the testing computer records all the various motions that the user makes, their facial expressions and their voices. The viewing computer has a split screen, which allows the observers to watch both the users’ faces (which are recorded via a Webcam) and the users’ desktop displays at the same time. It’s amazing the things that you can learn in just a few short viewing sessions.

Do you do any user testing on your Web site? If not, start somewhere. Make sure that you have an analytics system installed, and begin checking it and learning what all the numbers mean. It won’t be long until you can make simple changes that will lead to vast improvements to your site.

What is Creative Commons?

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Creative Commons logoCopyright has gotten a whole lot blurrier with the Internet. Copyright is one of those things that used to be very cut and dry – someone would write something, it would be printed (on paper) and there would be a copyright notice on it. No one else was allowed to reprint that thing without permission or quote marks and an attribution. End of story.

But on the Web, things are much more hazy.

First of all, content is much harder to control. If you write and publish something (or take a photo or a video or record a podcast), it’s out there in all its digital glory for all to see – and copy. Sometimes it’s copied with the OK of the original creator, sometimes there is an attribution, and sometimes things are just stolen – total copyright infringement, difficult to prove, harder to enforce.

For example in the earlier days of the Web (early 2000s), a company that I worked for had a network of about 40 Web sites. Overnight, all of the sites were completely de-listed from Google. The reason? Some other company had, unbeknownst to us, stolen ALL OF THE CONTENT FROM ALL OF OUR SITES, and created duplicate sites based on that content. Google saw this as “duplicate content” and a “spam island,” and we were kicked out. We eventually got back in, but not after a whole world of trouble and difficulty and pain and anguish (you get the point).

So it is with this issue, this difficulty in mind, that the Creative Commons licenses came to be. To quote exactly from the Creative Commons site, this is what the license are:

“Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright — all rights reserved — and the public domain — no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting certain uses of your work — a “some rights reserved” copyright.”

In my words, these licenses allow content providers on the Web to allow other people to use (or not use) their content based on a clear set of guidelines.

The following are the different Creative Commons licenses and how they are used. Again, I’m taking this straight from their Web site:

Attribution Non-commercial (by-nc)
by nc cc license logoThis license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

Attribution No Derivatives (by-nd)by nd cc license
This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.

Attribution Share Alike (by-sa)
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even by sa cc licensefor commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

Attribution (by)
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon yoby cc licenseur work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.

For more information on Creative Commons, here’s the Wikipedia listing. Flickr’s explanation of the licenses is here.