Overloaded with Vanity URLs?

Do you get the feeling that vanity URLs are everywhere?  I’m seeing at least two or three a day, maybe more.  According to Verisign, over 105 million domain names were registered at the end of 2Q06, a 27% increase over the past year.

But I have a problem with vanity URLs…I usually can’t remember the addresses.  Vanity URLs are supposed to be clever and creatively relevant ways to drive site traffic – for people with good memories.  For example, while traveling between the US, UK and Ireland last week, I saw new executions for the HSBC local campaign – brilliant.  However, every time I got online and wanted to check out the full campaign, all I could remember was that HSBC did them, but not the URL.  (So finally I snapped a pic before my flight back to Boston and being tormented by trying to remember an address for seven hours.)

According to recent Forrester research, more consumers report visiting sites after seeing an address in something they can take with them – like on a product package or in a print ad.  Those "takeaway" media have about +20% effectiveness over outdoor and radio – more "atmosphere" media.  And for those of us who are forgetful, the cameraphone helps archive images and bridge the gap!

What do you think – do vanity URLs work for you?  [both as a consumer and for driving marketing ROI!]

P.S. I created the short Wikipedia article on vanity URLs in about 5 minutes early on Sunday morning – your help to expand the entry would be great!

Search algorithm quirks – brought to you by the letter S and the number 6

Ever run a search engine query for a single letter or digit, e.g.  to get a stock quote for Ford?  Sometimes, the organic results aren’t what you’d expect:

Sometimes the page reveals the not-so-obvious answer; other times it’s in the page source.  Funny how these things work.

Google bug or another “go to hell”?

Back in 2002, when you searched on “go to hell” in google, the top result was Microsoft (full story at Computerworld). Seth Godin points out a new bug this morning, this time involving Yahoo! – if you google “therapy products“, you’ll get a nice block in the middle of your results leading to the Y! home page.

Algorithm bug or veiled commentary?

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Amazon.com Restaurants

Have you ever noticed restaurant listings on Amazon.com?  They aren’t available from the home page or any of 32 product categories.  There isn’t any mention in the press releases or investor relations.  However, you can search the site for "restaurants" and something interesting shows up – menus from local dining establishments.  Don’t search for "restaurant" without the "s" – that’ll give you a regular product search.

As far as I can tell, there’s no affiliate revenue involved here for Amazon.  Here’s the FAQ.  It looks like they’re extending their business model into information delivery and not just online sales.  Prior moves, such as "search inside" were still driving to a sale.  In this case, I’d expect to see the affiliate business model evolve eventually (e.g. restaurants pay to have their menu published – they may have already), but for now there’s no way of tracking if a customer calls to make a reservation as a result of viewing the menu on Amazon – same phone number (click to call would be nice here too).

I stumbled across this content – in thinking about a trip to New York later this week, I was wondering how far away I’d be from this great pasta place, Lamarca.  I remembered it was near Irving Place.  Then I checked for "lamarca" on the map.  Clicking on the first link, the restaurant’s address card showed amazon.com as the source of its contact information – which was interesting.

Amazon.com may not be as sexy as Web 2.0 newcomers – but don’t count out the company that revolutionized e-commerce just yet…

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Google search results – new format

Looks like the Google search results page has been changed to deliver more traffic to different search types.  If you go to the page and search, links to other search types have shifted from text-only labels at top to a left-hand nav with a page rank-style feature.

This is what the old search results page looked like.

Smart thinking, Google.  This will lock in additional loyalty as users find Google search more useful – and also drive more traffic to local, the holy grail of search.

UPDATE:  Seems like they’ve been testing since 3/10 and for me, this format comes up consistently in Firefox, but never in IE 6.0…!

UPDATED UPDATE:  Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Watch says that the test is about "a month or so old."  I guess that’s what I get for writing about something not in my core coverage area!  So when’s it going to move out of beta and into production?  BTW I ran the same search (red sox) on Yahoo! and got an even more useful set of results – scores and schedules.  Nice.

PPPS:  Here’s a link on how to make the results show up in your browser, from Google Blogoscoped.

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Proof of what search marketers should already know

Seth Godin conveys "good news for Google investors" from a lesson learned with Squidoo and WWE Smackdown! superstar Rey Mysterio.  The other side of this coin is terrible news for Google advertisers – which smart search marketers should already know.

To quote Mr. Godin:  "…the efficiency of using google.com means that many people (perhaps most
people) start their online journey on Google, even if they know the url."
  I agree.

In a situation where your site comes up first in organic search results AND you are paying for a top paid position, you are paying for traffic you should have gotten for free.  For example, search for "bestbuy" or "circuitcity" on both Google and Yahoo.

Yahoo’s decision to prevent trademark bids should help defend against not only guerilla hijacking but also aggressive affiliates (who should be following your policies prohibiting competitive keyword buying anyway).

Next time someone recommends that you buy your own search keyword to "protect your brand," consider the motivation – do the math – and determine whether or not it’s really necessary.

BTW Squidoo and Rey Mysterio are both pretty cool, too.  You should definitely check them out.

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Yahoo bans trademark keyword bids

Cross this one off of your guerilla marketing to-do list.  According to CNet and other sources, Yahoo will prevent advertisers from bidding on competitor keywords starting March 1st.

My understanding, mostly derived from hearing Alan Rimm-Kaufman speak on the subject, is that current law is meant to prevent deceptive or misleading advertising – like if you placed a paid ad that was titled "Bentley" but led you to the Mercedes site instead.  The way Mazda and GM did it – and are still doing it when you query "pontiac" or "kermit" on google – seems perfectly legal.

Then again, I’m no lawyer, so don’t take my word for it – check with someone who’s got proper credentials.  Is it just a matter of time before users start tuning out search ads?

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Guerilla keyword buying

In the wake of "google pontiac," I was checking Google and Yahoo! during the Super Bowl to see if anyone was trying to piggyback on major brand investments.  Sure enough, terms like "whopperettes," "brown bubbly," "dove," and "godaddy" were purchased by companies offering services totally unrelated to the keywords.  It looks like the 3 companies that I noticed – zooba, vcatravel, and thegoodsamaritanlli have since pulled their buys, but others have jumped in.

I asked Josh Stylman of Reprise Media about guerilla keyword buying and he had some interesting things to say, in particular that guerilla keywords can be effective in context, as SEM is "totally intent driven and non-interruptive."  He also pointed out that GM did this the right way by purchasing "kermit" to pull a Mazda on Ford.

A couple of related branding+search pieces have been published recently, including one from iMedia.  I agree with the logic technically, but it appears that vendors are trying to find new ways to position search to drive incremental sales.

I see the issue really heating up when the lawsuits start flying.  When someone steps over the line with trademark/copyright violation, expect a microscope on the anatomy of search and a flurry of activity in the affiliate marketing space.  With such high profile guerilla tactics, no doubt GM and Ford have already been seeking counsel on the matter (btw mazda doesn’t appear to be buying "pontiac" anymore).

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