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MSN AdCenter Performance Beats Google, Yahoo, According to Beta Testers

Kristen Lindsey - Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Internet Retailer reports today that MSN AdCenter, its new pay-per-click service currently in beta, is outperforming both Google and Yahoo according to search industry experts testing the service.

MSN's AdCenter has features additional to either Google or Yahoo which allow advertisers to target their advertising by additional demographics like gender, age, geography etc. Currently Google and Yahoo only offer targeting by geography.

MSN's AdCenter is still in beta testing, though it indicated that it would launch either late first quarter or second quarter, 2006.

What this means to you: If you currently advertise using pay-per-click, you will want to watch the AdCenter launch closely. Not only will it possibly provide you with a bigger bang for the buck than other advertising, when it launches it will slash Yahoo's current reach, because it currently provides MSN with its sponsored listing results.

If reach is one of your goals with pay-per-click, have MSN on your list to expand to when it launches.



Yahoo Shortens PPC Ads from 190 Characters to 70

Kristen Lindsey - Thursday, January 19, 2006

Yahoo announced this week that it will change the length of its PPC ads from 190 characters to 70 characters. This length will now become standard with Google AdWords and MSN AdCenter, which both have ads of 70 characters.

Why the change? Though there were no direct explanations from Yahoo in the MarketingVox article, marketers believe that this length is easier for busy consumers to digest and determine relevance before clicking on the ad.

Some other theories are that the ads read better on handheld devices, than shorter ads have traditionally had higher click-through rates, and because more ads can be fit on a page.

Bottom line for advertisers and marketer -- this will be an improvement in administration for sure -- they will only have to write one set of ad versions at one length, versus previously having to write two.

If you are an Overture advertiser, you will want to check out your ads - this change is going into place this week, so you may want to make some adjustments.

Have you seen higher click-through rates on Google versus Yahoo? What do you think of the change? Let me know!



Men and Women Use the Internet Differently

Kristen Lindsey - Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Pew Internet and American Life Project released a fascinating study late last year on Internet use of men and women.

The big news is that Internet use by women has drawn very close to that of men. 68 percent of men are internet users versus 66 percent of women.

Though overall use if about even, the types of activities that men and women do online are markedly different:

  • Men log on more often, use the internet for longer, and are more likely to have broadband access.
  • Women are more intense users of email -- they are more likely to use email to connect with friends and family, they exchange more stories and jokes via email, and they feel more strongly that email is a communication medium that improves their lives.
  • Both men and women use the internet as a major source of information. Men seek financial or political information and use search engines more aggressively.
  • Women seek out information that interests them, like health and religious information, and they are more likely to use interactive sources, such as online forums.

Full details of the report are available at the Pew Internet and American Life Project website.

Thinking about how this information effects your business can enable you to look at your web business approach and see if you are catering to your target market as effectively as you could. For example, if women are your primary target, keeping in mind their comfort with interactive, communication-based means for obtaining information is something that you could adapt to.

Have you made any specific changes or structured your web business particularly to match your target market's online behavior? Let us know!



Holiday Sales Online Taking a Larger Piece of the Pie

Kristen Lindsey - Friday, January 06, 2006

Wow. Amidst reports of tepid holiday sales in 2005, there seems to be one bright spot in retail - online shopping. According to a report from Goldman, Sachs & Co., Nielsen/NetRatings and Harris Interactive Inc., online holiday sales were up 30 percent over 2004.

This growth comes as reports describe the overall holiday season for retailers as "moderate" and "respectable." Online sales, on the other hand, have been described as "booming," "roaring," and "record."

Several statistics punctuate this. The GS, NN, HI report indicates that 27 percent of all holiday shopping occurred online, and astounding chunk of business in a channel that barely existed 10 years ago. Amazon.com enjoyed a record season, and at one point on December 12 they were enjoying 41 transactions a second.

If you are a retail business, take note. When 27 percent of shopping occurs online, that is a channel that needs the utmost attention. And this share will continue to grow.

Are you a retailer that had some success online this holiday season? Tell me about it!



MSN Adcenter PPC Program Beta Accepting Applicants

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Though MSN launched its Adcenter, its own pay-per-click search engine, in Singapore, it is also ramping up its testing in the U.S.

MSN search posted an invitation from Yusuf Mehdi, MSN's SVP, on its blog site to sign up to be eligible for the pilot.

You can sign up for this pilot here: http://advertising.msn.com/adCenterPilot/89620.asp

Currently MSN is running the pilot on approximately 25 percent of all SERPs and the remaining 75 percent are running its Yahoo contracted ads. This is expected to increase over time until there is a complete changeover, likely in Spring 2006.

Have you had a chance to test the MSN system? What has been your experience?



Search An Even Bigger Part of Our Online Lives

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Increasingly I have conversations with people about how search has impacted our lives for the better. There are things you can find on a search engine that would have taken days if they were at all possible previously.

I was reminded of this when I visited my local library last weekend. My husband and I are starting a house project and sought design books to give us some ideas. The task became frustrating when I realized that there was no clear terminology for what we were trying to do, a must to find anything in a library. Is it an built-in bookcase? Inset bookcase? Fixed storage? Will we find books in the remodel area? Woodworking? Storage? We finally hit gold when we found a section with books on storage idea, but this was 45 minutes later.

What struck me, however, was that with a couple of quick searches online I would have had the terminology needed to describe our project and probably would have found some project plans as well.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project is reporting statistics that reinforce the impact that search is having on our lives. There has been a jump in search use by online users in the past year. The number of people using search on a given day jumped from 30 percent to 41 percent of online users.

Though email is still the most common online activity on a given day, search continues to grow closer.

How has search impacted your life? For the better? For the worse?



Web Stats: Log Files versus Page Tags, Part 1

Kristen Lindsey - Saturday, December 03, 2005

With the release of Google Analytics, it is likely that many companies, both who already have web statistics and those who may be turned on to the vital need of web stats for their online business, will be exploring options.

One basic element of web analytics that is very important in these considerations is which technology you decide to use. Currently there are two primary processes for gathering website statistics: log file information and page tags, usually with some Javascript.

What is Log File Analysis?

If you are wondering what language that last sentence was in, log files are records that are usually compiled by your hosting company that records every request made to your web server and every action it took. So for example, if someone types your website address into their browser and presses return, there are a number of commands sent to your web server to send back the html file of your home page and its dependent image and graphic files, etc.

Common tools that use this technology are AW Stats, WebTrends log analyzer, and the old Urchin 5 web log analyzer.

All of these commands are recorded, and there are a number of additional pieces of data that are recorded as well -- the visitor's IP address, where they last came from (if from another site), what keyword terms they used to search (if coming from a search engine), what browser they are using, and all sorts of stuff meaningless to a marketer.

A log file analyzer parses through this information and displays the data in a format that is useful for analysis. Keep in mind, "useful for analysis" is a general term -- there are a wide variety of log analyzer programs that barely accomplish this, if at all!

Pros of Log File Analysis

There are a few pros of log file analysis, especially when combined with some other tools to make the data even more accurate:

  • Total data control - log files live on your web server, so you have total access to them any time and others cannot access them
  • Lower cost of analytics software acquisition: once you buy your log analyzer software, you don't have any additional monthly fees to do analysis. (NOTE: there ARE some total cost of ownership costs, but I am not going to go into that today)

Cons of Log File Analysis

In my opinion, there are more cons than pros to log file analysis from a business owner or marketer's perspective (you know, the people using much of this data!):

  • Large file size - log files can be enormous, so a business needs to have adequate storage space or a back-up system to manage the files. This usually requires a good network or web administrator.
  • Not so accurate data - most log analyzers use IP addresses to count visitors. However, IP addresses are simply an address located on the Internet and do not necessarily point to a specific user. For example, a large corporation may have just one IP address for 500 people, whereas an ISP may have 1,000 IP addresses for 50,000 subscribers and assign them dynamically as users come online. You get the picture.
  • High maintenance - log file analysis can be effective when configured correctly, but that takes some expertise. I often recommend against this option for clients unless they have someone in-house who has the expertise to configure your log analyzer effectively. As you can see, "Total Cost of Ownership" of log analysis can grow when you consider staffing and expertise needed to make it work best.

In my next post I will outline the other technology for web analytics - page tags.

Are you using web analytics tools for your business currently? What are you using and has it been effective? Let me know!



PhoCusWright's Online Travel Overview Study Released

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

PhoCusWright has released the 2005 edition of their U.S. online leisure traveler study. The word from them is that though the online market continues to grow, it is growing a a slower rate.

U.S. online leisure travel growth is 26% in 2005, down from 29% in 2004 and 40% in 2003. This is a much higher rate than overall travel. Though online and offline travel growth will ultimately approach the same levels, currently online travel growth is four times offline growth.

Historically most of the growth of online travel has come at the expense of offline travel, but slow and steady growth of the overall market to pre-9/11 levels indicates that some of this growth is from the overall boost in the market.

Are you in the travel market? How is your business influenced by the growth of the online leisure travel market?



The Impact of Google Analytics on Your Business

Kristen Lindsey - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wow. Where did the Fall go? I apologize for not being on top of posting. I will be sure to post frequently again from now on.

As you may or may not have heard, Google launched a free web analytics product called Google Analytics a few weeks ago. The basic gist of this news is that for the first time information and data about web businesses is available at no cost, whereas formerly it cost $2,400 to $15,000 per year just for the service. Let that sink in for a minute.

What kind of information can you get if you use Google Analytics that has not previously been affordable for smaller businesses? A brief list includes:

  • Website conversion information - easily know how your site is converting.
  • Scenario analysis - evaluate simply if website visitors are moving through your site in the way you designed it to. (Example -- how effective is your checkout process?)
  • Measure the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns - what advertising is producing the most revenue?

The list goes on and on. But how do you know if you should consider Google Analytics? Ask a couple of questions of yourself:

  1. Do I have a conversion process on my website that needs analysis? Even a process to a sign-up form or inquiry form counts as yes if you are designing your website to drive people there as a conversion.
  2. Am I conducting online marketing like pay-per-click or banner advertising that I am spending a decent amount of money on?
  3. Have I set online goals that I need to monitor and measure?
  4. Am I interested in testing new content as I put it up on my site?

Google Analytics provides the opportunity to do all these things, whereas smaller analytics providers have traditionally not been able to provide this type of analysis.

On the whole, Google Analytics is an incredibly robust, powerful web analytics tool for no service cost. However, you also may want to consider how much you use your statistics or if you have helpful staff or contractors that will help you use the data as effectively as possible. If not, then you may implement something that you would have trouble taking advantage of.

I will be writing more on this over the next few months, as analytics is a critical aspect of your online business.

Have you signed up for Google Analytics and installed it on your site? What has your experience been? Let me know by commenting on this post!



Permission Email Deliverability Up, But Down at Gmail and Hotmail

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Deliverability of permission, or opt-in, email rose in the third quarter of 2005, up to 89 percent, according to DM news. That being said, two email service providers showed a drop in deliverability - Hotmail and Gmail.

Hotmail's "false positive" rate (number of permission emails mistakenly processed as SPAM) grew to 9.4 percent in the third quarter, while Gmail's rate increased to 7.17 percent.

Top performers in  email deliverability were PeoplePC, MailBlocks, Gmail, Yahoo, SBC Global, and Road Runner, according to DM News.

What does this all mean? Well, industry efforts at devising means to filter SPAM while allowing desired email through appears to be improving along with Email Service Provider implementation of these means.

What does this mean to your efforts at improving your email deliverability? Well, all serious email marketers need to research ways to improve the number of emails that are successfully delivered to subscribers. Carefully applying sender validation like SPF or Sender ID or else selecting email providers that do so will increase the number of delivered email, which should boost campaign results.

Do you have a story of how deliverability has boosted your campaign performance? Let me know!