Misplaced Concern: The FTC, Google, Apple & United Airlines

Google was hoping that the announcement of Apple’s iAd program would help with approval of the AdMob acquisition at the FTC. However that doesn’t seem to be the case; Bloomberg reported on Friday that the FTC seemed poised to try and block the deal:

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission staff is urging the filing of an antitrust suit challenging Google Inc.�s $750 million acquisition of AdMob Inc., according to three people familiar with the matter. It will be up to the five-member commission to decide whether to follow the staff�s advice or approve the deal. The people familiar with the matter spoke on condition of anonymity. Peter Kaplan, an FTC spokesman, declined to comment.

The FTC staff signaled last month it was leaning toward urging a court challenge when it was disclosed the agency was seeking sworn declarations from Google�s competitors and advertisers.

Google PR has been periodically sending bloggers and analysts material critical of that position. A post from mobile app developer Wertago is the latest in that series: “Ignorance and Hubris at the FTC�” It details the company’s interaction with FTC staffers and critiques their apparent lack of knowledge and expertise around questions of mobile advertising and competition:

There is no way the FTC knows enough to support a decision to block the deal. The staff members we spoke to were not particularly knowledgeable about the mobile ad space they are considering interfering in, or about the technology sector more generally, or about mobile app development and monetization, or about the changes in the mobile advertising sector in the past year, or about the level of competition and pace of change and innovation in the market, however broadly or narrowly you define it. More generally, it seems obvious to us that the computer, web, and mobile technology sectors are so competitive and fast-moving that NO ONE has the knowledge, expertise, economic insight, or clairvoyance to say with much confidence precisely what effect the AdMob acquisition will have on competition in the market or on consumer welfare. We think a recommendation to block the acquisition would be a mistake.

Among scores of others I also spoke to the FTC. I have not talked about it because I was not really supposed to. But the post above and the prospect of the FTC’s action cause me want to make a few comments about that experience and my impressions.

My sense from the questions I heard and their underlying assumptions is that the FTC was inclined to block the deal from the start. I say that carefully; I don’t think the investigation has been a sham but my sense is that the bias was always against the deal.

The attorney I spoke to was a very intelligent person but had a limited understanding of the mobile advertising market — at best. I spent a total of about three hours over two conversations trying to help explain and describe the companies operating in the mobile advertising space and the highly dynamic nature of the market.

This is a summary of what I said about Google to the FTC:

The company will have a number of advantages if the AdMob deal goes through. And AdMob unquestionably makes Google more competitive in mobile display and in-app advertising. It also puts Google in a stronger “holistic” position than Yahoo or Microsoft in mobile, partly because Google has moved faster and done a better job of executing vs. its main rivals.

I said however that I didn’t believe competition would be affected adversely and that advertising prices were not likely to go up. Indeed, mobile CPM prices have been falling in mobile. In short I said, yes Google becomes more powerful and effective but the deal doesn’t stifle competition. The market is dynamic and highly competitive, I told the FTC.

There were also some other things that I won’t go into, in my interactions with the FTC, leading me to believe the agency wanted to block the Google-AdMob deal. Again, I don’t think the investigation was a sham or pretense but I think the FTC point of view going in was a too-simplistic one: Google is overly powerful online and we don’t want that to extend to this important new arena as well. I think that turns out to be basically the “Alpha and Omega” here.

The FTC is certainly not alone. There are many critics out there who agree with that viewpoint and want to see Google “reigned in” in one or more ways. Yes, Google is powerful. And as an abstract matter too much power or control isn’t a good thing.

I’m no laissez-faire capitalist but I think the mobile ad market is both very young and highly dynamic. It’s evolving quickly and definitely very competitive. If the objective of anti-trust law is to protect competition in the market then it is simply unnecessary for the FTC to intervene at this stage by blocking the AdMob deal.

It is similarly unnecessary for the FTC to investigate Apple around its developer rules. Apple and the iPhone are far from a monopoly in mobile. The idea that the FTC is going to try and get involved in the debate over what software tools third party developers can or should be able to use is kind of absurd. The FTC wants to protect and promote Flash?

Apple’s rules and restrictions may cause developers to spend more time with other mobile operating systems such as Android, for example. Apple might hang itself by being too controlling. But the market is in a position to make that determination better than the lawyers at the FTC. Again it’s much too early for any regulatory intervention. Apple doesn’t have a smartphone monopoly (or even the majority share); it has a very strong product and platform that lots of people want to develop for. But there are multiple platforms out there and plenty of competition: Symbian, RIM, Android, Windows Mobile, WebOS, Meego, Bada and so on.

Let the market and the competitive dynamics of the marketplace do their job at this stage.

I’d much rather have the good folks at the FTC pay attention to things like the United-Continental merger and other potential consolidation in the airline industry. Ticket prices are high and getting higher it would appear. Combinations and acquisitions in that sector pose real risks to competition and ultimately to consumer prices.

Mobile advertising, by contrast, is a new and highly dynamic industry with intense competition. It’s literally evolving on a monthly basis. I would challenge the FTC and anyone to find a market more competitive.

Postscript From Danny Sullivan: I’ll also add something I shared on a publisher’s mailing list yesterday.

The last time the FTC acted against Google to “protect” competition, it was to suggest that if Google moved ahead with a deal to provide search results to Yahoo in 2008, it would face an anti-trust complaint.Google quickly backed down.

Google’s proposal would have left Yahoo with its own search technology. All along, Google’s argument had been that its move was intended to help a competitor stay a competitor in the space. Crazy? In Google’s view, it’s a better company if it faces competitors. They ensure Google stays on its toes. Unsaid is that they also help ensure Google can point to a healthy competitive market and say “look, no need to regulate us here!” In addition, having two weak competitors (Yahoo and Microsoft) might be better than a single one that potentially grows stronger (Microsoft).

Still, Yahoo would have kept its search tech and stayed a search player. In contrast, Microsoft also wanted a deal with Microsoft, to buy its technology outright. That deal would have been worth at least $9 billion.

After the FTC’s action to preserve competition, suddenly, Yahoo was no longer so valuable. It didn’t have Google that it could play against any Microsoft offer, no were there any other companies stepping forward to match the rich offers that both Google and Microsoft had put on the table. As I read it, the FTC effectively undermined Yahoo’s value, pretty much gift-wrapping the company for Microsoft.

A year later, with a leadership change at Yahoo, Microsoft came back with a new deal proposal. It still wanted Yahoo’s search technology, but it would no longer buy $8 billion in stock nor pay $1 billion in cash for it. Instead, it would simply allow Yahoo to keep 88% of sales form search ads on Yahoo’s site. Here’s the side-by-side of the two deals.

Only one thing had changed to produce this firesale price. Google was no longer allowed to compete for Yahoo’s business. As a result, the marketplace appears to have gotten less competitive, not more. Microsoft offered far less for Yahoo’s assets than a year before. In addition, Yahoo effectively signaled it would no longer be in the search game. Yes, the spin remains that Yahoo will still be a major search player, that it doesn’t need to own its own search tech, etc. etc.

A Search Eulogy For Yahoo article from last year debunks this from my experience in watching the same. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong. But so far, since the launch of Microsoft’s Bing, all we’ve seen according to comScore figures is Bing taking share away from Yahoo. The deal’s not even in place, and Yahoo’s dropping. It’s hard to imagine that it’s going to recover, especially after it sells its technology.

So the FTC might block a Google purchase of AdMob? All that leaves me with is the idea that Apple might get the same gift-wrapped present — plus a feel a little sorry for any start-up that may be looking for a payday by being purchased by Google. The more it is prevented from buying, the more its competitors are likely to be handed bargain gifts.

Can Facebook Graph Search Disrupt the Google Habit?

Habits are hard to break. Whether it’s smoking, drinking, or something as benign as leaving your dishes in the sink as opposed to putting them directly into the dishwasher, years of quickly broken New Year’s resolutions suggest that permanent changes in established behavior are easier said than done.

Such ingrained behaviors can manifest themselves in a variety of ways, from physical repetition to brand loyalty. Just try getting a Starbucks aficionado to go to Dunkin’ Donuts sometime….

Online habits are no different, and there is no more ingrained habit for most of us than striking that 10-key combination g-o-o-g-l-e-.-c-o-m in a single motion in about half a nanosecond. That hardwired habit is an influential source of Google’s search-related staying power.

With Facebook’s widely covered announcement of the introduction of Graph Search, many are asking whether this new brand of search has the ability to both gain traction among users and disrupt the current “Google habit”.

Ultimately the strength of this habit is a function of two interrelated variables: utility and frequency. There is value in either variable independently, but when combined they reinforce one another.

Google clearly occupies the coveted upper-right quadrant on the utility-frequency matrix. For Graph Search to become an unmitigated success it will need to shoot for a similar space.

Utility: Delivering Value to Consumers

Google’s value proposition is, simply, that it's useful. Google is useful because it is very good at delivering its users with the right information in a highly efficient manner.

With its scale advantages, it has plenty of useful user data to continually refine its algorithm, ensuring this utility remains strong from an informational standpoint.

The next layer of utility in search extends beyond information to incorporating social elements. As the amount of information indexed on the web continues its exponential expansion, social provides a useful filter to help surface the most relevant information.

To enhance the overall utility of its searches, Google launched Google+ in 2011, giving a social infrastructure to all of its properties that would increase its ability to incorporate social signals within its search results.

With Graph Search, Facebook began with a very strong social signal but less utility from a pure informational standpoint. This means that users, at least in the initial iterations of Graph Search, are likely to rely on it in instances when they specifically want information as seen through the social lens.

Certain Graph searches may provide very high utility (e.g., “Which Sushi restaurants do my friends like in San Francisco?”) that directly influences your decision-making, but the question is how often they will make searches of this nature.

Frequency: Reinforcing Value to Consumers

Another key aspect to the “Google habit” is that it gets continually reinforced, day in and day out, just like brushing your teeth. (Actually, Google may even be more habitual than brushing your teeth because the average person conducts 3 searches a day but probably only brushes twice.)

Similarly, people who visit Facebook do it very frequently (about every other day on average) for a significant amount of time (about 6 hours per month on PC alone). This presents an enormous opportunity to develop Graph Search into a more deeply ingrained habit.

But the devil’s in the details.

Habit = Confluence of Utility + Frequency

Ultimately, a new search habit will only arise if Facebook Graph Search can deliver at the intersection of high utility and high frequency. The upper right quadrant is certainly something to drive for, and it will require greater emphasis on the utility dimension if Facebook hopes to leverage its strength on the frequency dimension.

That said, Graph Search certainly provides unique benefits to users and incremental monetization opportunities to Facebook. Graph Search is a worthy exploration in the new frontier of search and it will be very interesting to watch it develop in the coming months.

2012 was a key year in Digital Marketing. How will 2013 compare? Find out in London.

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Introduction: 6 Steps to Customer Life Cycle Optimization with Content

As an active observer and participant in the digital marketing world, I see a spectrum of attitudes and perspectives towards attracting and engaging customers online. There are a growing number of great examples and case studies within the world of content marketing in particular, but it’s really only a fraction of the digital marketing spend overall. Despite well promoted studies, statistics, trends and tactics, many companies don’t come close to realizing their potential when it comes to customer acquisition and community building online.

Why do companies continue to invest in content creation without�specifying�its purpose, the intended audience or outcome? Why do so many business marketers continue to think their existing distribution channels are all that’s needed to gain the full value of exposure to the content they’re publishing?

Limited resources, time and organizational constraints are common excuses. In fact, 69% of companies responding to our Integrated Online Marketing Survey said “Lack of Resources” was the top reason for not integrating digital marketing tactics like content marketing, SEO, social media, email, blogging and online PR. �I wouldn’t be�surprised�to find that many of the companies that cite lack of resources or internal expertise, also pour substantial budget into familiar, poorly measured traditional marketing channels like TV, print and offline publicity.

Customer segmentation and persona driven content marketing, like SEO, is an ongoing effort requiring participation, refinement and adaptability. �Knowing the customer journey across the sales cycle is a living map on how to use optimized content for awareness, interest, consideration, purchase, retention and advocacy. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for companies that are just getting started in a meaningful way with content marketing and social media to look at their marketing mix in a more holistic way. �Integration can facilitate consistent customer experience across marketing channels but I believe it can also serve as a force multiplier for a company’s overall digital marketing efforts.

This is an introduction to a 6 part series of posts that I’ll be writing over the next few weeks on how to better attract and engage with prospects, customers and any other audience your content is intended to reach, online.

There are a number of models that represent buying and sales cycles, but as we’ve pointed out�here�in the past�and in conjunction with reports I’ve collaborated with Forrester Research on (Make the Switch to the Customer Life Cycle�and Four Steps to Tackle the Shift to the Customer Life Cycle) the role of brand and consumer relationship extend outside the buying cycle. Companies must adapt beyond optimizing their online marketing for linear sales relationships and expand those activities to the full customer life cycle relationship to retain and to inspire advocacy.

Each of the 6 steps will be modeled after the following format:

Current situationApproach to optimizationPractical exampleNext Steps in the cycle

Be sure to watch for the next posts in this optimization series covering each stage in the customer lifecycle model:


By sharing a structured approach to different situations for each phase, I hope readers will start to connect the dots with how different content-based marketing tactics can be integrated and optimized for better customer experience, more sales, shorter sales cycles, greater revenue and better customer retention.

As always, if you want a deep dive into an “Optimized” approach to content marketing, be sure to pick up a copy of the book Optimize�:)

Friday AM Search News

According to the Bruce Clay blog, Mike Grehan has joined Bruce Clay as VP of International Business Development. Congrats to both Bruce Clay and Mike as BC gets a very high profile SEO rockstar and Mike gets to continue flying around the world doing that SEO thing.

You may also recall that last week Bill Slawski joined Commerce 360. If you’d asked Bill what he’d be doing now a year ago, working for another company probably wouldn’t be it. However, Bill’s a very smart fellow and Li along with the Commerce 360 team are very fortunate to have him.

Google has released Google Gears, which is intended to provide developers a way to create offline versions of online applications. Google Gears already works with Google Reader and Barry has a nice post illustrating that. Some speculate that this is another effort by Google to compete with Microsoft. More at SEW and the official Google Gears blog.

If you’re in Toronto for SES, then be sure to check out Greg Jarboe’s class on press release optimization. Greg wrote a very interesting article about Google’s news sources in Search Engine Land yesterday.

Aaron mentions that Dan Thies has a new SEO Fast Start book out. Download here.

In the acquisition world of news, StumbleUpon (#2 source of traffic to this blog) was acquired by eBay. TechCrunch also confirms that Google is acquiring Feedburner for $100 million. If anything, it would be nice to have RSS feed stats embedded with Google Analytics.

Google Cuts Maps API Prices by 88%

Google has slashed the price of its Maps application programming interface (API), according to a post on the Geo Developers blog.

In a move to attract more enterprise use of the system, U.S. companies will now pay 50 cents instead of $4 for every thousand map loads, an 88 percent lower rate.

With the plunge in API costs, Google also introduced simplified usage limitations, saying that the same usage limits and pricing will now apply to applications using Styled Maps and the default Google Maps.

"We're beginning to monitor Maps API usage starting today, and, based on current usage, fees will only apply to the top 0.35 [percent] of sites regularly exceeding the published limits of 25,000 map loads every day for 90 consecutive days," Google Maps API project manager Thor Mitchell said in the post.

Mitchell also insisted that companies using the software will not see a break in the Maps service if they see a sudden surge in popularity. Instead, Google will contact them to discuss payment options.

The move comes six months after Google began charging for Maps use in January, and just days after Apple removed Google's Maps API for its own mapping service.

This story originally appeared on The Inquirer:Lee Bell wrote Google cuts the price of its Maps API for enterprises

This article was originally published on the Inquirer.

2012 was a key year in Digital Marketing. How will 2013 compare? Find out in London.

Improve your Online Marketing Skills at SES New York!

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How To Find Your Most Popular Posts

It’s the end of the year and a lot of blogs are now putting out their top posts of the year posts.� But how does one find out which are the top posts on their blog?

Here are a few ways you can find out which posts are tops on your blog.

Number of Comments – One easy way to see if a post is popular or not is to look at the number of comments.� The more comments, the more engaged people were with the post.� The downside here is that a lot of people may read the post, but only a few may actually comment.Number of Trackbacks – How many other blogs are referencing your blog post?� If you have a lot of trackbacks, that means your post could have a far reaching impact across the blogosphere.� However, the quality of those trackbacks is an important thing to check too.Social Traffic – How many Diggs did your post get?� Does it have a lot of stumbles?� How well is the post doing in social media sites could be another great indicator if the post is popular or not.� Again, it all depends on the quality of traffic.� StumbleUpon can send a quick 200+ people, but what if they all gave it a thumbs down?Analytics – Analytics is a great way to see which posts are getting the most traffic.� Analytics encompasses traffic from other websites, blogs, social media and search engines.� It’s probably the best indicator and the easiest one to pull results from.Post Plugins – You can also get plugins such as Post Ratings where users can rate the quality of a post, or you can download one of the popular posts plugins which analyzes things like comments, trackbacks and other indicators they feel are necessary to pull popular posts.Use a 3rd Party Service – Sites like PostRank work to analyze each post and come up with a popularity score.� The nice thing here is the other service does all the work for you.

Any one of the items above can help a blogger find out which posts are the most popular on their blogs and help create one of those “Top posts of the year” posts.

What other way have you found to find the most popular posts?

Get Me To The Gulag: Google’s Map Maker Becomes A Political Weapon

On Monday, Google announced that “citizen cartographers came together in Google Map Maker” to help create a “new map of North Korea” for Google Maps. BuzzFeed was the first to point out that the new maps contained references to “gulag” and “concentration camp.”

Beyond this, some people on Google+ have added satirical, fake reviews to those locations. For example, Gulag 22 (a real place apparently), is rated as “excellent,” with one reviewer saying, “Most exquisite checkpoint, made possible by Honorable Soldiers of Glorious Leader.”

Google+ offers its standard invitation for you to review the Gulag as well: “Your review will help your friends and others learn more about this place.” That’s just a generic component of the page but unintentionally funny in this context.

Google Maps have been the subject of political controversy before but usually around disputed place names and borders, more straightforward map issues. Given this episode, activists and pranksters may try and use Map Maker to make more “statements.”

Indeed, hours after “gulags” were discovered on the North Korea map Danny Sullivan found a comparable Map Maker (“concentration camp”) update regarding the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison that the US operates in Cuba.

As was the case with the North Korean gulags, Google+ may also become a place where people make political or social statements about places. If that becomes widespread, Google may have to institute additional controls to prevent further pranking.

23-Point Web Content Litmus Test: Is It Truly Unique, Engaging & High Quality?

Creating unique, high quality content for company websites, blogs or social is one of the biggest challenges businesses face. Each piece you publish must accurately reflect your business and be unique, engaging, and relevant to have any positive effect with your readers – and with search engines.

Use this informal litmus test to see how your content measures up. Be critical in your evaluation of your new content; you’re only hurting yourself by going easy on it. If it helps, have an associate objectively score your content (if you feel that work you’ve created is Your Baby, you need a fresh set of eyes on it).

If you answer “No” at all – ever – to any of these questions, make your best effort to improve the work before you hit publish.

Before you write/draw/record or otherwise create content:

Is there a need for what I plan to create within my market? If you answer “No” or “I don’t know,” research the topic, reader feedback, competitors and the market before proceeding.Have I done my best to make sure there’s nothing too similar out there already? If not, search for similar pieces of content before proceeding.Am I doing this for the right reasons, or is it because everyone else is or I feel like I have to? If not, why are you doing this? Aren’t you wasting your time?

Once you’ve created your draft content, evaluate for:

AccuracyHave I researched and properly referenced all previously published information I’ve mentioned? If not, do your due diligence, know your topic, and credit previous works.Have I had someone proofread for spelling and grammar? If not, have someone else read over your work, as it’s incredibly difficult to edit your own content.Have I had someone fact check my work? If your content required any kind of research and wasn’t written from first-hand experience, have a colleague fact check to ensure accuracy.Can I prove new concepts or ideas I’m putting out there? If not, even when writing from personal experience, it’s still important to back up what you’re saying (even if it’s a theory) with your own case studies, reports, images, etc.Relevance & ValueIs this something my readers/viewers/listeners are likely to care about and/or learn from? If not, determine your purpose before proceeding to help create focus.Is this directly related to, or does it tie in to, my product/service or industry? If not, stop reaching and hone in on what matters.Is my contribution to the topic at hand timely, or is it an evergreen topic? If not, find a more current angle to tie your content to, or ensure the information you’re offering won’t become quickly outdated to make it evergreen.Can a reader/viewer/listener take one crystal clear point away from this piece of content? If not, you may lack focus or need to split it up into multiple pieces of content to keep each one on point.OriginalityDoes this piece of content offer something my target market can’t get anywhere else? If not, you need to add your own perspective or knowledge.Am I properly quoting or referencing the work of others? If not, or you’re not sure, use only 50 word or less excerpts (not a law, but a best practice) and link back to the original source.Did the majority of the content come from my own personal experience, my opinion on a news or industry topic, or otherwise out of my own mind in some shape or form? If not, and the work consists largely of content sourced from elsewhere, it’s really a form of curation, not content creation. It needs your own personal flavor (and quite possibly less of everyone else’s) to make it unique.Does the voice, tone and overall message match my own (for a personal site) or those of my company? If not, take another crack at it. Your brand message is what makes you unique and your visitors expect your content to be consistently “YOU.” Give them what they came for.Engagement & Purpose

Does my content satisfy an actual human desire for information, humor, controversy, insight, etc.? If not, pinpoint what it is you want the reader to think, feel or do; discover what you need to do to elicit that response. Think of Google’s Do, Know, and Go searcher classifications and try to understand what it is your visitors are looking for, then deliver it.Have I made clear what action I want the reader/viewer/listener to take next, whether it’s to share the content, call a phone number, email my company, complete a purchase, or sign up for a newsletter, for example? If the answer is no, add a clear call to action.Does this piece of content offer resources to explain industry-specific terms or offer more in-depth information on introduced topics? If not, provide links to definitions or other content; don’t assume all readers are at one level or understand all concepts.Is it easy for people to share this piece of content? If not, add or update social like and share buttons for all major networks and add a subscribe option.Is my content accessible for people of differing levels of abilities? If not, use descriptive alt text for images (this has more than SEO value!), transcribe audio, or caption video.

Finally, before hitting the publish button, ask yourself:

Is my formatting easy to read, with callouts where necessary to highlight important points, enough white space, and logical paragraph breaks? (For video content, is it easy to watch, clear in high resolution, etc. For audio, is the sound optimal and volume steady?) If not, view/listen in a preview mode and make changes as necessary.Does my summary, meta description or excerpt clearly and accurately explain what people can expect to find if they click a link on a social site or search engine? Further, do I deliver in the content itself what I promised in the description? If not, take another shot at your description until it accurately reflects the content and vice versa.Is my title logical, relevant, eye-catching, attention grabbing, and likely to appear in searches on the topics I’m targeting with this piece of content? If not, come up with a few alternate titles and try them on for size before choosing the one you will tie to the content, forever and ever, amen.

Anyone can publish online, it’s true. If you want your content to stand out, however, it’s important to up your game.

Once you’ve run through this list a few times, these points should become second nature and a part of your content creation process. You will begin to consider these factors earlier in your process, making it less time consuming and easier to optimize as you write or record. Print this out and keep it handy as a pre-publication checklist.

Do you have other elements in your own content litmus test that your writing or other pre-published work must live up to? Let us know which standards you measure your content against in the comments!

2012 was a key year in Digital Marketing. How will 2013 compare? Find out in London.

Improve your Online Marketing Skills at SES New York!

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There’s A WordPress Plug-in For That

The nice thing about the iPhone WordPress is that there is a plug-in for just about everything.

Lets say you want to create a fancy image gallery to showcase your photography. With NextGEN Gallery you can add as many images as you want and have the beautifully displayed in blog posts or on a gallery page.

Image Gallery with NextGEN Gallery

Want to poll your audience? With WP-Polls you can create as many questions and get as many answers as you want.

Polls with WP-Polls

Maybe you want to you want to add Google Analytics to all pages of your blog AND see your stats on your WordPress dashboard. Google Analyticator can do that.

Google Analytics via Google Analyticator

Lets say you want to create a contact form. With cforms you can create simple, or complex, forms all by dragging and dropping form elements.

Forms with cforms

Need to find out how to easily embed a YouTube video in your post? Viper’s Video Quicktags lets you embed YouTube, DailyMotion, Viemo, Flickr, MySpace and more.

YouTube Videos with Viper's Video Quicktags

Thinking about creating an XML sitmeap for search engines? Google XML Sitemaps has you covered. It’ll automatically generate one and tell the search engines.

Google XML Sitemaps

Lets say you want to make your blog iPhone, Android, Palm Pre and BlackBerry Storm�friendly. Well the WPtouch iPhone Theme does just that. Install the plug-in, activate it, and you are good to go. No additional coding necessary.

Mobile Theme with WPtouch iPhone Theme

Want to turn your blog into an e-commerce store? WP e-Commerce has you covered with all the store options you need to start selling anything.

Create a Store With WP e-Commerce

You can also translate your content into 41 different languages with Global Translator.

Language Translations with Global Translator

Worried about loosing your blog posts or images? WP-DB-Backup and WordPress Backup can back everything up daily and email you a copy.

Backup Your Blog with WP-DB-Backup and WordPress Backup

There’s a plug-in to do just about anything, only in WordPress.

So, what are your favorite plug-ins? Or what functionality do you need?

AdWords for Video: The Good & The Bad From a Video Ad Junkie

The teams at Google and YouTube have been beefing up the set of tools for content creators and advertisers lately.

In April, YouTube announced AdWords for Video was rolling out of beta and they would be giving away $50 million in free Google AdWords advertising to 500,000 businesses that are ready to get into video.

At first sight of the new AdWords for Video UI features, I was hopeful it would make video ad creation easier. To some extent, AdWords for Video made the video ad campaign creation process simple and in others it threw out the spike strip.

This post will examine the highlights of the platform as well as where it falls short. Let’s start things off on a positive note.

PRO: Remarketing with AdWords & YouTube

For some time now YouTube has allowed advertisers to use remarketing lists built in AdWords to serve video ads in YouTube. Recently, YouTube baked the ability to create video remarketing lists into AdWords for Video. Below are the preset video remarketing lists.

Two things about these preset video remarketing lists:

They focus heavily on users who engaged with your content with some social action (comments, subscriptions, unsubscriptions, likes, dislikes and shares).The lists require 100 users before they can be remarketed to (same as AdWords remarketing lists).PRO: TrueView InStream and InSlate Ad Units

TrueView was developed with both the user and advertiser in mind. The advertiser only pays when the user chooses to view the video. It’s that simple.

Within the traditional AdWords UI there is a non-skippable InStream video ad unit, but who wouldn’t want an engaged user who chose to watch a video over one forced to view it? AdWords for Video is the only place to set these two video ad units up.

InSlate Ad Unit

InStream Ad Unit

CON: Reporting Segmented by Day

Many are familiar with reporting from the AdWords UI that allows you to segment data by day, conversions, time, network, click type, device, experiment, top vs. other, and +1 annotations.

AdWords for Video isn't that robust. In fact, it doesn't allow for segmentation at all.

Considering many custom ad reports are based on this native output, it’s a real kick in the shin to not have any options here. In addition, there is no email or scheduled reports available.


Day by day segmentation is done by hand. Isolate each day in a desired date range and output the report for each date.

CON: No API Access = Slow Campaign Production

When building out several campaigns, duplicating ads and swapping out ad copy, a third party API tool makes life a heck of a lot easier. Unfortunately, there is no API access to the AdWords for Video platform. This means something that could’ve taken 5 minutes takes 15 minutes.

Work Around

Unless the ads being served are TrueView, InStream, or InSlate, create InDisplay and InSearch in the traditional AdWords UI. This will allow video campaign access from AdWords Editor and transitively quick campaign reproduction, find and replace functionality, etc…

How about you? Have you had any revelations, candles of joy, or concern with AdWords for Video? Sing its praises or air your grievances in the comment thread below.

2012 was a key year in Digital Marketing. How will 2013 compare? Find out in London.

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Irony: You Need A Map To Find Google Street View On The iPhone

We came to a strange realization on Friday at SEL headquarters: Google Street View is terribly unintuitive on the iPhone. As Danny Sullivan suggested, you practically need a map to find it. For those of you with an iPhone or iPod Touch who know how to use Street View already, move along — there’s nothing here for you. For the rest of you who, like us, had no idea you could access Street View, here’s the story of how and where we found it.

It all began with these two links: the new iPad page on Apple’s web site, and this video showing a demonstration of Street View on the iPad’s Maps application.

As I watched that video, I thought that Street View must be new on the iPad because I’ve never used it on my iPhone. When I’m using the Maps app, the only view options I see are Map, Satellite, and Hybrid (and List, which is mainly for directions).

I thought maybe Apple had just forgotten to mention that Street View was also new on their web page, and instead only mentioned Terrain View as a new iPad feature. We were planning a short story here on SEL to mention that both Street View and Terrain View were new on the iPad Maps app, so I emailed Google’s PR folks to confirm.

Google pointed out that the iPhone does have Street View, and that they announced it all the way back in 2008.

Say what?!?

That was news to me. It was also news to Danny and Greg Sterling; none of us could find Street View on our iPhone. I checked again — went to downtown Seattle on the Map and Hybrid views and couldn’t find anything that would show me Street View.

We asked Google what was going on. I asked on Twitter, and got a 50/50 split on replies: half knew how to access Street View, and half didn’t know it was there.

So, how do you use Street View on the iPhone/iPod Touch?

While we were shooting emails and tweets back and forth on this, Danny finally figured it out: Street View only becomes an option when a pin is showing on the map. You either have to do a search, which will produce a pin for you, or manually drop a pin wherever on the map you’re looking.

Once you have the pin showing, the blue arrow on the right of the info box seems to be the dominant option, but clicking that leads to an information screen that also doesn’t offer Street View. Instead, you have to click the little orange person icon on the left of the info box to access Street View.

So, we were wrong. Google, Apple, and about half the Twitter users I asked were right: You can access Street View on the iPhone. Only thing is, it’s gotta be the most unintuitive user interface Google has ever created. Or maybe Apple created it? Either way, these are the two companies that pride themselves on elegant and simple design more than any other companies I know. Bloggers shouldn’t need to write posts like If You Can’t Find Google Street View, You Are Not Alone! or say that Street View is hidden away like an easter egg. Oh, the irony.

Impressive: The Wolfram Alpha “Fact Engine”

Much attention has been focused on the forthcoming Wolfram Alpha search service. Will it be as important as Google has become? Perhaps! A new search paradigm? Yes! Or at least a new way of gathering information. A Google-killer? Nope! But when the service launches, it should become an essential in anyone’s search tool kit.

Wolfram Alpha is backed by Stephen Wolfram, the noted scientist and author behind the Mathematica computational software and the book, A New Kind Of Science. The service bills itself as a “computational knowledge engine,” which is a mouthful. I’d call it a “fact search engine” or perhaps an “answer search engine,” a term that’s been used in the past for services designed to provide you with direct answers, rather than point you at pages that in turn may hold those answers.

Earlier this week, I talked with Stephen to understand how the service works. Below, my look.

Amazing Stats, At Your Fingertips

Do a search on Wolfram Alpha, and if it has matching data, it presents a ton of information on a single page, from figures to charts. For example, a search for “newport beach” not only shows the current temperature and forecast but also provides easy access to historical temperatures, which also get charted:

Looking for the gross domestic product of a country, say France? Wolfram Alpha’s got that:

Housing starts in the United States? Got that:

Want to know how popular the name Daniel is in the United States over time and how many people are currently estimated to be alive with that name, plus their ages? Wolfram Alpha can do that, too — though I wasn’t quick enough to screenshot that example during the demo. We moved fast! But over at Read Write Web, See Wolfram Alpha in Action: Our Screenshots has more examples you can view.

Wolfram Alpha also made a public demo debut this week at Harvard, which you can watch here:

Here’s a shorter version that shows actual screenshots of the service.

David Weinberger also has an excellent summary of the public demo.

Tapping Into Databases; Centralizing The Invisible Web

Where’s all this information coming from? Unlike Google or a traditional search engine, Wolfram Alpha isn’t crawling the web and “scraping” information, a process where you try to extract data from a web page. Instead, it’s working with a variety of providers to gather public and private information. More important, it then uses a staff of over 150 people to ensure the information is clean and tagged in a way that Wolfram Alpha can present.

For example, many government agencies publish statistical information, such as the housing starts data I mentioned above. Wolfram Alpha obtains this data, which gets incorporated into the overall database people search against.

There’s no great magic here in dealing with a single set of data. Anyone could download data on housing starts, open the information in a spreadsheet like Excel and produce tables and charts. Where Wolfram Alpha amazes is by having a huge collection of statistics and other facts that, at least in the demo I viewed, can quickly be searched through and displayed with the ease and speed of doing a regular web search.

In some ways, this is like a Holy Grail that any number of “invisible web” search engines have chased over the years, the ability to look inside data sources that can’t easily be crawled and provide answers from them. Wolfram Alpha succeeds because unlike with those past attempts, it has produced its own centralized repository of these answers and stats.

If a traditional search engine is like a giant “book of the web,” with copies of all the pages that it has found stored in a searchable index, then Wolfram Alpha is a like a giant encyclopedia of statistics and facts — or a CIA Fact Book — or a World Almanac. It’s brimming with facts and figures.

Much of the information, once entered, doesn’t need updating. However, some facts and figures change. Pluto, once a planet, is now a dwarf planet. When to refresh the data is another challenge for the system. But the company is working to figure out what information needs to be regularly revisited. Wolfram noted that a new moon of Saturn had just been discovered, “so someone is dutifully adding the information,” he told me.

Another challenge is that some of the information gathered might be wrong. In some cases, Wolfram Alpha might try to average data (and point this out through in the source notations that all pages carry).

“We might still get it wrong because the underlying sources get it wrong or something that our implicit model gets wrong. But there’s the trail of where did the numbers came from,” he said.

In other cases, they’re in a unique position to spot if some data regularly accepted might not be up to snuff.

“Sometimes there will be data that’s incredibly wrong, ” Wolfram said, giving an example of a lake database with latitude and longitude coordinates that, when Wolfram Alpha plotted it against a map, turned up some surprises.

“Someone did the obvious test and plotted the lakes and found lots of them in the middle of oceans. Things that people have never checked, as we start to do visualization and analysis, it’s remarkable how often we find things that were obviously wrong but not noticed before because they were in printed form or not looked at in aggregate,” he said.

Gaps In The Knowledge Base

Wolfram Alpha has limitations, of course. There are plenty of statistics it doesn’t have. For example, one query it couldn’t do was how the size of search engines have changed over time. There are no official sources for this information, especially since the major search engines stopped putting out such figures. And as it doesn’t crawl the web, it doesn’t know of historic figures that I and others have published.

Search engine popularity figures posed a similar challenge. These are regularly provided by at least four different metrics firms, but Wolfram Alpha doesn’t have that data.

Some of this will change. The company is actively working to expand the data sources it contains, and it invites those with information to contribute data and their knowledge expertise.

Some questions it’s unlikely to ever answer. Want to know how Google works? There’s no published formula for this; no set of verified facts about it. Any answer to that takes a more narrative form, and even then, it’s largely subjective based on what various authors might think. The more subjective the query, the less likely Wolfram Alpha will have an answer.

“We’ll never be able to compute some personal detail of somebody’s life, but you can search for it with a traditional search engine,” Wolfram said.

This is why it won’t be a Google-killer, but more on that, further down.

Disambiguating Queries

Any search engines faces the “disambiguation” challenge, figuring out what someone is after when a word can have multiple meanings. Did “apple” mean the fruit or the computer company, for example.

Search engines traditionally use related search options to assist users. In addition, they rely on the fact that by presenting up to 10 different listings per page, they have multiple chances of guessing at the query intent correctly.

Wolfram Alpha, by having a single answer page, doesn’t get such chances. So to help, it makes its best guess at what particular meaning it thinks a word has and presents options to get other answers, based on other definitions. For example with “apple,” it defaults to the “financial entity” term but suggests there’s also:

a species specificationa spacecrafta general materiala food

It then allows the user to change their answer based on those:

Wolfram says a huge amount of work has gone into having human editors develop the classification schemes. These are used for more than helping searches select the right definitions for their searches. They also allow the service to know how to automatically blend answers from different data sources into a single page.

For instance, Wolfram Alpha has lots of information from different sources about foods. It has lots of information from different sources about financial data. When a search is done for Apple, and it knows someone means Apple the computer company, it uses this tagging or classification to pull relevant data only out of financial databases, to create an Apple page on the fly. Food information is not used — otherwise, you’d have an odd page where along with a financial chart for the company, you might also get nutrition information for the fruit.

The service also makes use of IP data to help disambiguate. If by using your IP address, it knows you’re near a particular city, then it will use that along with other factors to decide which “city” data to show you in the case of multiple cities with the same name. A “city fame index” is also used.

Computing Knowledge

Just providing easy access and amazing display of data might be enough of an achievement, but Wolfram Alpha goes a step beyond by allowing for sets of data to be calculated against each other. Want to divide the GDP of France and Italy? You can do that by simply entering “gdp of france / italy.” Or in another example they’ve shown, you could divide GDP by the length of railway in Europe.

Some of this feels like cool parlor tricks. Enter 13.56 billion years ago, and you get a page of various stats that Wolfram Alpha thinks might be interesting. They will be to some, but perhaps more in the way that when Google Maps came out, many people cruised the satellite views out of curiosity rather than to solve some immediate need. A query like “uncle’s uncle’s grandson’s grandson” is used as an example of how a family tree can be generated — also interesting for the “wow factor” but not really a query that many would ever do in real life.

While many of the demo queries may feel like ways Wolfram Alpha is being put through its paces, rather than reflecting real life queries, I’m pretty confident we will see some amazing uses of its calculating abilities. As Twitter cofounder Biz Stone recently called Twitter “the messaging service we didn’t know we needed until we had it.” Similarly, Wolfram Alpha may become the search service we didn’t know we needed — and in particular, the search service we may use in ways completely unexpected from what anyone is envisioning.

Complimentary To Google, Not Competitive

Sound amazing? As I’ve said before, I’m pretty jaded about search. Any number of would-be Google-killers have come and gone without gaining traction.

Wolfram’s specific that the service isn’t aiming to be a Google-killer or even considers it a traditional search engine that competes.

“We are not a search engine. No searching is involved here,” he said. “The types of things that people are currently searching for have some overlap [with Google], but it isn’t huge. What’s exciting is that we have a whole new class of things that people can put into a input field and have it tell them what it knows.”

While I think technically that Wolfram Alpha will be pretty amazing — and indeed a huge new significant tool that people should consider — it will still face a hefty awareness challenge. It remains a specialized search tool, and general searchers — which are among those Wolfram Alpha is targeting — typically do not go directly to such tools.

Now That It’s Built, How Many Will Come?

Wikipedia is an excellent example. It has great awareness among the general public, from having been lampooned by Stephen Colbert to having a professor gain attention for banning its use by students. Despite such awareness, Wikipedia still gets a huge amount of its traffic from people who come to it only by doing a search at Google, rather than directly.

For reasons I’ve never seen fully researched or explained, people simply do not go to specialty search tools in mass numbers. Even at Google, the percentage of people going directly to its image or local search services is appallingly small, which has why it has made such an effort with universal search & blended results.

Another challenge is that some of what Wolfram Alpha does can be done VIA Google — emphasis on the VIA part, as I’ll explain.

For example, want a list of words that end -aq? Wolfram Alpha can show you them, but a search on Google quickly brings up a page in the top results that has them as well. Want the weather in Newport Beach? Google (and others) provides a direct display with links to deeper information. For many searches, this will still keep Google as a first port of call. Even though Wolfram Alpha directly displays answers, the Google Habit will remain strong, and they’ll likely be happy enough that Google points them in the right direction. And unlike Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha likely won’t get a chance to rank in Google’s own results. There’s no set number of pages that Google can crawl, though it will be interesting to see if some pages start getting listed if people link to specific searches (if someone links to a Wolfram Alpha search request, that might generate a page that Google and other search engines can read).

Wolfram Alpha’s edge may be that it’s a unique repository of general knowledge that imitates a search engine (unlike Wikipedia, which has no search engine feel). Of course, the killer combination would be for Wolfram Alpha to be partnered with a major search engine. It’s something Wolfram said is being considered, though there are no formal discussions at the moment. The focus is really getting the service opened to the public and seeing how the initial reaction goes.

“We hope to be a high quality source, a quotable resource, in many cases,” Wolfram said.

Google, of course, just rolled out public data search, allowing people to chart out unemployment and population data in the United States (while this seems like a spoiler to Wolfram Alpha, Google’s since told me the exact timing was completely coincidental and even moved at the last minute due to the birth of a child of someone on the team).

While the launch during Wolfram Alpha’s public demo may have been coincidental, there’s no mistake that Google thinks searching through structured data and databases is important. The company told me it will continue to expand the data it offers, especially based on the type of queries it sees that would most benefit from it.

Still, at the moment, Google has nothing like the number of human editors (“curators,” Wolfram Alpha calls them) involved to build such a centralized database. The Big G can’t be written off, and if it decides that Wolfram Alpha really is drawing away people it needs, I’d expect it to build rapidly to compete. But Wolfram’s coming out with a big head start.

Aiming For Profits

When it goes live, Wolfram Alpha hopes to pay for itself in two ways. The right-side of pages — the “right-rail” in search engine vernacular — will carry sponsorships. Some deals for these are already in place for when the site goes live, though Wolfram didn’t reveal which companies will show there. Unlike traditional search ads, these don’t appear to be cost-per-click driven. Certainly no self-serve AdWords-like system appears in the works.

There will also be a corporate version eventually, which will allow users to do queries that involve heavy amounts of computation, to upload their own data in bulk or download data sets. The company also envisions licensing out private versions of the service and is still planning other offerings.

Will this all make the service eventually profitable?

“I hope it will be. I’ve invested quite a lot of money in it, as you can guess. I certainly hope to make that money back, otherwise it is a very grand piece of philanthropy on my part,” Wolfram said, with a chuckle.

As for the business issues still to be determined?

“I’m one of those people who doesn’t go for, ‘Let’s make an absolutely precise business plan’,” Wolfram said.

About That Name…

I’ve seen a fair amount of criticism that “Wolfram Alpha” doesn’t come along as a catchy name that will resonate with general searchers. Certainly, I find it a bit clunky. Is that really going to be the final name?

“Whether this ends up being Wolfram Alpha or overtaking our Wolfram.com site, that’s a subject of great internal debate at our company. We were keen to make sure this product is associated with our brand. Worst case, if we never figure out a business model at all, it’s great example of what the technology we have built can do. Our corporate name is as good a nonsense word as any Web 2.0 word,” he said.

Commenting further, he added about the “Alpha” part:

“There’s a bit of this being the first of something and a bit of humility that’s just the beginning of what I expect will be a very long term project. This is basically my third large project in life.”

When Can We Play?

Ready to try Wolfram Alpha out? The service is set to launch this month, though an exact data hasn’t been set.

New search services notoriously get overwhelmed by traffic when they debut, and I have no doubt Wolfram Alpha will get swamped with visitors. Given that it is so processor-intensive — that no pages are cached, which helps with load — I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go up-and-down in the first week it’s out. But the company feels confident that when it goes live, it’ll stay up consistently, based on load test it’s doing.

When it does go live, check it out. As said, it won’t be a replacement for Google or a traditional search engine. But it looks like a promising new resource to gather all types of answers.

For more, see related discussion at Techmeme.

Postscript: See these follow-up stories since the one above was written:

Up Close With Google Squared & Some Wolfram Alpha ThoughtsWolfram Alpha Live Review: The Un-Google