Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays as well.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Redzee: An Unwise Investment

Our office got a call today from a Redzee sales rep. He was looking to sign up one of our clients for their pay-per-click advertising service. Needless to say, we didn't. You see, Redzee is a relatively new meta-search engine. I?m not sure if they're using their own results or pulling from somewhere else, but the site thumbnails are from Alexa. In any case, this is not the kind of place that we're looking to advertise and I'll explain why.

Now, according to the sales rep, the company has aspirations to become the number one second-tier engine (the best of the worst, one might say). Based on my visit to their site, they're going to have a heard time of it. For one, the site doesn't work right in Firefox. It gives three errors every time you do a new search. Nice. At least they aren't plotting to unseat Google...

Anyway it seems that their business strategy is simple: Generate some traffic through advertising (on DirecTV says the sales rep) while pushing hard on the sales side. That way they can lock in the profits without all the waiting for a genuine user base to materialize. Not surprisingly, you pay upfront for your clicks.

A quick look at Alexa brings up a few red flags. First, we find that 17% of their traffic goes to the admin part of the site. Either they have A LOT of advertisers, or very little of anything else. I think it's safe to assume that an even greater portion of the rest of their traffic consists of advertisers doing searches on their own terms, or people like me checking things out. That doesn't leave a lot of room for eager buyers that might make your advertising worthwhile.

Funny aside: Redzee's thumbnail image on Alexa does not include their logo. This is probably because it's flash and takes forever to load?

The second red flag was the reviews: Several very positive reviews (obviously made by Redzee folks) are accompanied by some very bad ones. I won't get into details (the world of reviews is a sketchy place) but I was not impressed with what I found.

So, here's what really counts: I will not be advertising on Redzee any time soon (not even for my personal sites). If and when they become an established presence in the search engine marketplace, I may reevaluate that decision. Right now I think they have things backwards (money first, value later) and that's just not the way things work if you're looking to establish credibility and build a lasting business. This feels much more quick-buckish.

To back me up on this, I direct you to a well known source for search engine marketing info: SEOmoz investigates Redzee.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Content Wars: A New Hope for Newspapers

It may be possible that newspapers are finally starting to recognize the huge goldmine they're sitting on. In an article titled Old idea, new media, Toronto Star columnist David Olive points to several positive trends that just might take newspapers back from bust to boom.

I'm not going to get into the details of the article here. You have the link if you want it. The crux of his argument, though, is that newspapers have tons of great content. As newspapers make more and more of their articles available online (and even start to throw in web-only features, etc.), they attract ever larger amounts of visitors. Of course, you and I know where this is going: Money.

As non-newspaper-owning webmasters, we can learn something from this. Fresh stories, insightful commentary, useful information, quick tips, local issues - any and all of these things will attract visitors to your site. Visitors who will come back for more, which lowers your marketing costs and increases each visitor's potential value. The longer they stay and the more involved they get, the more time you have to advertise to them. The big web properties (Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, etc.) all know this. That's why they offer so many varied services; To keep you around.

What can you offer that will keep your visitors around? The newspapers know, and that should get you thinking.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Cost of Spam

Some people wonder if spam should really be considered a criminal offense because it doesn't really hurt anyone. Some people claim that prohibiting spam is prohibiting legitimate speech. Some people are idiots.

Take for example. Lots of people (like me) use the free services of Blogger to create their blogs. People write about their lives, their pets, their stupid dates, their lethargic Saturday mornings, their work, and lots and lots of other stuff. Some do this for recreation, others do it with profits in mind. Either way, normal users abide by the guidelines of the service and use it in the way it was intended to be used. They create value for themselves, for their readers, and for Google, who owns Blogger. This relationship is symbiotic. The more good blogs, the better Blogger becomes.

Spammers, however, exploit it. They use automated tools to post massive quantities of content that is of no value to anyone (not even themselves, since they won't ever read it). They post it to automatically created blogs as well as into other people's blogs in the form of comments. They do this because for a few of them there is the potential to make money. This relationship is parasitic. As spam increases, the value of Blogger decreases.

Every blog takes up server space. That has a cost. Every time a user views a splog (spam blog) it uses bandwidth. That has a cost (for Google, for the user, and all the intermediaries who carried the data). Every time a user searches on Blogger and finds spam instead of a real result, that devalues the service and wastes that users time. More costs. In order to preserve the integrity of the service and protect it from exploitation, Google must allocate some of it's resources to spam detection, removal, and prevention (employees, computers, electricity, time, etc., etc.). Big costs. In order to prevent spam, Google implemented word verification for posts and comments; Yet another price (in time and convenience) that users had to pay because of spammers.

Spamming is like writing with tacks on the highway. It may be speech, but it is neither free nor tolerable. It is criminal.

As I have shown, the parasitic nature of spam (all spam) creates social costs. In other words, spam is cheap because spammers can exploit various online services and systems (Blogger, email, etc) and off-load their costs onto the users and providers of those services and systems. This is just like a factory that pollutes the river that a nearby town uses for its water supply. The factory exploits the location of the river in order to avoid paying the costs of proper disposal. So, the town must pay the costs of cleaning the water for its use until the town gets wise to the factory and passes laws that force it to either stop polluting or to pay for the filtering.

In the case of the factory, which produces something people want, the fines should generally be fixed at a level that permits the business to continue. In the case of spam, which produces nothing of value, the penalties should be set high enough to destroy all profitability (thereby removing the economic incentives to spam in the first place).

My advice: Eat some spam. Don't be a spammer.