Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Google to be sued for ad fraud

Google is facing another lawsuit in the US, according to a report by CNet. The claim aims to take a class action status for many affected advertisers and has been filed by the same firm that previously won significant cases against both Yahoo! and Google for click fraud issues. The new claim accuses Google of deceiving its customers into paying for ads they didn't expressly request.

This is based on the sign-up process for a new AdWords account whereby advertisers are automatically included in the 3rd-party content network of adverts (Google AdSense). There is not an obvious opt-out option for this part of the advertising network and advertisers need to enter the campaign settings after the account has been set up in order to deselect this option.

It is likely that Google will need to revise this system in the future to make it more obvious to advertisers what they are selecting and how they can easily opt-out if required. It also seems to be the nature of being a big corporation now that Google will continue to face these types of action whenever a potential failure in their system can be exploited for money.

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Monday, 28 April 2008

Yahoo! to embrace social networking

The New York Times reports that Yahoo! is planning to refocus its website around the growing social networking trends, by adding Web 2.0 applications and allowing registered users to develop their own web pages, add widgets and personalise their experience, including providing the ability to link to friends and track actions and opinions.

The new plans are expected to start appearing before the end of the year, subject to any takeover by Microsoft. As the pressure for the acquisition moves towards the next stage, Yahoo! has been looking for alternative suitors to protect their position (such as AOL) or partners to strengthen their online revenues (such as Google's recent trial of AdWords on Yahoo!). Ultimately, Yahoo! appears to be looking at ways of using the latest Internet trends to increase their opportunities for selling advertising space on their web properties.

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Thursday, 24 April 2008

Discrepancies in web measurement data

The Wall Street Journal has provided a good summary of how different web measurement companies produce conflicting figures on website usage and the difficulties this can give to both advertisers and publishers. As it says, the science of tracking Internet usage remains far from perfect due to the different tracking methods and measurement criteria being used.

Advertisers rely on data from companies like comScore and Nielsen Online to determine where to place their adverts, but it has long been known that comparing data between both companies is fraught with problems. In the same way that web analytics software will measure site usage data in different ways, it is better to look at comparative data within the same system, rather than to compare figures between two different methods of data collection.

Both of these leading web measurement companies use panels of online users to collect data and then extrapolate out to the likely universe - in much the same way that TV and radio audience figures are measured - so that the end results are statistical estimates. This means that there can be wide variations when the visitor numbers are in millions, plus both of these US companies lack the capacity to measure total international audiences.

Both comScore and Nielsen Online are attempting to address those shortcomings by looking for ways to increase the size and depth of their panels, investing in technology and expanding overseas. Nielsen is also trying to combine its web research with usage data from other media collected by its parent company, such as mobile-phone and television measures.

However, the current data remains the best there is for advertisers at this stage and therefore a good starting point for media planning. Ultimately their own response data on the ROI of any advertising will provide more meaningful data on how to develop an ongoing campaign.

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Monday, 21 April 2008

Online retail not working for Australians

A recent article by Dynamic Business magazine reports on some surprising research completed by The Leading Edge consultancy in Australia which indicates that the number of online buyers has plateaued. Although the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics state that 61% of Australians shopped online in the 2006-07, this new research claims that those web users who aren’t currently buying online don’t intend to start.

Part of the reason for this stagnation is reported to be due to poor or unclear return policies by the retailers (47%) or high delivery charges (32%). Australia’s limited Internet capability is also quoted as being an obstacle for users, as well as the online strategies of traditional 'bricks and mortar' retail stores that tend to hinder their own online success.

Unlike retailers in the US and Europe that are embracing the opportunities of selling online, The Leading Edge say that many retailer websites in Australia are little more than online catalogue pages, with limited selling channels that offer few integrated services between existing stores and websites. Ultimately they claim that there is little being offered at the moment to excite shoppers or to give them the confidence to change their current habits and spend more online.

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Friday, 11 April 2008

Engagement becomes the new metrics system

An article by Brand Week outlines the change in online metrics to help measure the success of a marketing campaign, moving away from traditional notion of unique visits and page views and consider the broader notion of 'engagement', particularly in view of the growing importance of social media and networking as a marketing channel.

The report uses recent examples from Procter & Gamble and Dell, where marketing campaigns have been measured in a different way - in P&G's case, their agency was able to track both the initial message sent out as well as subsequent ones through other social networks, so that the viral path from one peer to the next could be tracked indefinitely. A color-coded viral map measured first-time messages consumers sent off the contest site versus those messages that were later passed on from one social network to the next.

This concept is based on the idea that activities undertaken - and the success of a viral marketing campaign for brand building - is more important than direct clicks on a site, or the resulting sales generated (which can be difficult to measure for a FMCG company like Procter & Gamble). The use of widgets can enable companies to track the chain of actions between different users but many marketers and brand managers still see engagement metrics as 'too loose' with few engagement measurements to date leading to sales.

Microsoft's Engagement Mapping service also tries to address this issue by tracking both the last site a consumer clicked on to get to a brand's web page (such as via a banner ad), as well as a history of pages a person has traveled through on which a brand has advertised, prior to landing on that brand's home page. The ultimate goal is to measure how effectively a campaign creates recall for someone.

In Dell's case, the article reports that the company is more concerned with creating and measuring online interactions than with connecting them to sales, with a goal of community involvement by encouraging suggestions on changes that could be made to Dell's products. Ultimately the company wants to build a sense of trust with consumers, so that they return frequently to the brand's website.

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Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Search behaviour and 'universal' search results

A new research report by iProspect in the US has been reported by Media Week and it seems to show that most web users still tend to prefer making general web searches, rather than use the specialised 'vertical' search options, such as news, images or blogs. However, reflecting the more recent move by the search engines to present 'universal' or 'blended' search results, the study did find that these searchers are responsive to search results that now display multiple forms of results in one place, including text, video, images and news.

The research reports that only 17% of users who conduct a news-specific search actually click on a result, while 36 % of users click on news results that appear within general searches. In a similar way, 26% of users find satisfactory results when conducting an image-specific search, while 31% click on image results within general search results and for video there was also a similar pattern (10% versus 17%).

The report concludes that this trend is due to a common “aversion to vertical search” (or perhaps an unfamiliarity with these options) among web users. However, following the introduction of Ask's combined search results and Google’s launch of “universal search” in 2007, more web users are becoming familiar with the combined search results and are therefore becoming more familiar with these options.

This will therefore strengthen the role of universal search and highlights the need for business websites to consider how they can optimise for all the different search results that may be presented. However, as iProspect also point out, vertical search also still exists as an option and companies shouldn't ignore the need to optimise for these results as well since they can be more focused and less 'cluttered' (and competitive) than the main search results list.

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Monday, 7 April 2008

Cost of Internet crime in the US hits $240m

The Associated Press provides details on a new Government report from the US which says that the cost of Internet-related crime hit a new high in 2007, reaching about $240 million. The data, published by the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center reveals that the number of reported Internet scams dropped slightly from previous years, but the total lost jumped $40 million.

The data also shows that men lost more than women on average ($765 compared to $552 for women) and that older people were also prone to lose more, with victims in their 20s losing $385 on average while people over 60 reportedly lost an average $760 per scam. The most common crime reported was auction fraud, followed by the non-delivery of a purchased goods and then confidence fraud, in which scammers ask consumers to rely on them, resulting in a financial loss. About half the losses involved amounts less than $1,000 and one-third involved amounts between $1,000 and $5,000.

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Friday, 4 April 2008

Google implements job cuts

Google has announced their first sizeable jobs cuts in their short corporate history with a reported 300 positions to be axed. However, as the New York Times reports, the expected reduction of jobs comes as a result of the DoubleClick acquisition and the much expected rationalisation in staff numbers. However, these numbers are higher than forecast and represent about a quarter of the total US workforce at DoubleClick, plus further cuts are expected in the overseas offices as well.

There are also reports that Google will sell off the Performics part of the DoubleClick business, since this search engine marketing firm would have a clear conflict of interest with Google's search engine results.

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Thursday, 3 April 2008

Yahoo! partners with Click Forensics

In a surprise announcement on the Yahoo! Search Marketing blog, Yahoo! have revealed that they are creating a partnership with Click Forensics to tackle the thorny issue of click fraud within PPC advertising campaigns. This is quite an unusual move since both Yahoo! and Google have disagreed with the data published by the click auditing company, Click Forensics, due to differences of opinion about the definition and measurement of the data.

Now Yahoo! has taken a positive move to work with Click Forensics in a way that should benefit the PPC market as a whole. Yahoo! say that Click Forensics will act as an intermediary for advertisers and cooperate on specific advertiser issues when advertisers request help about potential click fraud events. Click Forensics will be able to provide Yahoo! with more information on behalf of the advertiser if there is a question about traffic quality, as well as any additional data that may help Yahoo! to update their traffic-quality measures.

There are likely to be some conflicts of interest in this arrangement, but a more open partnership between the 2 companies should be welcomed. Yahoo! have also announced that they will be make a Click Filter report available to advertisers, showing the number and percentage of clicks that have been discarded as 'fraudulent' - much the same as the report option currently available through Google AdWords.

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Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Web marketing newsletter for April published

The April issue of our monthly newsletter covering some of the recent stories on web search and marketing trends has been published. This month's edition looks at the issue of improving web page load times, which will become an important factor for some Google AdWords advertisers since this element is now being included with the 'Quality Score' formula to determine advert rankings. It also looks at the process of creating weblinks and how the 'nofollow' attribute can have an influence on this process - and why it was introduced in the first place. Finally, following the completion of Google's acquisition of DoubleClick, the newsletter considers what this means for the combined business and the online advertising sector as a whole.

If you want to sign up for future issues of this newsletter, please do so by using the form at the bottom of this page. To view back issues of this newsletter you can see the archive by date or by subject.

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