Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Craigslist & the Communications Decency Act

Craig Newmark, chairman and founder of Craigslist.orgThe well-known web site, Craigslist, was involved in a recent lawsuit involving the Communications Decency Act ("CDA"). This case is of particular interest to Internet marketers and goes by the formal case name of Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, Inc v. Craigslist, Inc.

In this case, which was heard in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the Court basically held that the Communications Decency Act ("CDA") immunizes the defendant, Craigslist, Inc. ("Craigslist") from liability for publishing housing ads authored by third parties that allegedly violated the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c) ("FHA").


So, what does this case mean for U.S. Internet marketers? Basically, what this ruling means is that, if you display ads on your web site, provided those ads were authored by someone else, you cannot be liable for displaying those ads on your site even if they are illegal and you would be liable had you authored them yourself.

Proviso: This case was heard in a local federal court, so the law may be different outside of the Northern District of Illinois but if other jurisdictions rule differently on this issue, the issue could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

For a fuller discussion of this case, and a related case also involving the CDA, read this post.

What is Craigslist? Craigslist is "a web site that publishes local classified ads and forums for 450 cities worldwide" and is, at the time of writing, the 33rd most popular web site on the Internet, according to Craigslist also disproves the theory that you need a sexy design in order to have a successful web site!

Joel Comm or Joel Con?

Joel CommJoel Comm (author of the bestselling "Adsense Code") is troubling me. I recently read his post about the new "paid-to-surf" program, Towards the end of this post is a link, containing the text "" This gives the definite impression that the link goes directly to However, the actual URL is "," which redirects the user to, presumably using Joel's affiliate code.

Now, it's not a big deal but it causes me to question his integrity. What do you think?

I'm also troubled by the MFA ("made for AdSense") templates that he sells ... but that's another story!

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AdSense: Scam or the Real Deal

I've often been asked whether you can really make a lot of money online just by putting up AdSense sites or whether the whole thing is just a scam. This is understandable given the way AdSense is often presented in various online advertisements for AdSense sites and the like. So, is this for real or are they just scams?

There really are two issues here. First, can you make good money from AdSense? Second, are "made for AdSense" (MFA) sites scams? I'll address these in turn.

Earning from AdSense

I would be lying if I said you can't make good money from AdSense because many people certainly seem to be doing just that. However, the impression is often given that all you have to do is create a web site, sign up for AdSense, stick some code on your pages and then just sit back and watch the money roll in. However, rarely, if ever, are things quite that simple. If you already have a web site in place that gets a good number of visitors, then displaying AdSense ads could certainly work pretty quickly for you, especially if your site lends itself to good quality ads and a visitor-base that is likely to be interested in the products/services being advertised. On the other hand, when it comes to new sites life may be very different.

Supposing you create a new site, even if has great content, if no-one is visiting how are you going to earn anything? That is the key point and one I'll address below.

MFA Sites Scams?

Are these "made-for-Adsense" sites scams? Well, I guess the answer to that depends on how you define "scam" so I'll address the reasons why such schemes are not quite as simple as they claim to be.

Back to the subject of who's going to click on those ads if there are no visitors ... most AdSense schemes don't seem to address this issue. Without visitors you may as well not have a site at all. So, if you're creating a new site in the hope of earning money from AdSense, remember that you are going to have to put in a lot of hard work attracting visitors--which is a whole new topic in itself. So, unless you're already experienced in marketing new web sites, you will probably have your work cut out to make good money on a new site.

Another important issue not really pointed out in these schemes relates to site content, especially in relation to Google's AdSense policies. First the Google AdSense Program Policies state:

"No Google ad may be placed on pages published specifically for the purpose of showing ads, whether or not the page content is relevant."

Thus, if you are putting up a web site for the sole purpose of displaying ads, you are in violation of Google's policies and could have your account discontinued. How Google determines your purpose, I cannot imagine!

The second issue is that many of these "made-for-AdSense" sites are simply a collection of freely available content that is already available elsewhere on the internet. Even though there is certainly a place for such content, if the bulk of your content is not original to your site then you are not following Google's webmaster guidelines, which is also frowned upon by AdSense policies.

In summary, yes, you can make good money from AdSense, particularly if you already have a successful web site with a good visitor base. Otherwise, even though it can be achieved it takes good, original content, the right type of content, hard work at marketing your site and the nous to know how to attract visitors.

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AdWords Matching Options Explained

There are currently 3 main types of keyword matching options in AdWords. I'll describe them from most targeted to least targeted. Note, I shall also use the term "keyword" to describe what should probably really be described as "keyphrases," i.e., keywords comprised of more than one word.

Exact Match

An exact match keyword is a word, or words, that you enter surrounded by square brackets. For example: [google adwords]. Exact match keywords only trigger the display of your ads if the person searching on Google (etc.) enters that exact search term, i.e. the same words as your keywords, in the same order, with no other words. Thus, the only search on Google that would trigger your ads for this keyword would be "google adwords"

Phrase Match

A phrase match keyword is created as above, only this time surrounded by double-quotes. For example: "google adwords". Phrase match is basically the same as exact match with the important exception that the person searching can enter additional words in their search query. However, they must still enter your keywords in the same order and with no additional words between them. For example, in this case, someone searching for "useful google adwords tips" would trigger your ad but these searches would not: "google tips for adwords," "adwords google tips."

Broad Match

Broad match keywords are simply keywords with no additional brackets, quotes, etc. For example: google adwords. Broad match keywords trigger your ads if all of your keywords are contained in the user's search query, in any order, regardless of any other words in the query. For example, all of the following would trigger your ads: "adwords by google," "adwords google information," "google tips for adwords."

One additional thing about broad match keywords that you need to remember. Broad match keywords will also match search phrases using similar terms to the ones you've entered, such as synonyms, plurals, different verb endings, etc. For example, if you created a broad match keyword - bike shelter - it could (at least in theory!) match all of the following searches: "bike shelters," "bicycle shelter," "bike shed," etc. Google refers to this as "expanded matches." Indeed, using the google adwords example above, depending on just how broad Google is prepared to go, in theory, even the search term "Yahoo search marketing tips" could trigger your ads!!

As a general rule, exact matches are more relevant, targeted keywords and tend to produce higher CTRs (click-thru rates). However, if you only use exact matches you may miss getting clicks for searches that you did not think of. On the other hand, if you only use broad matches, the clicks you get are less likely to lead to conversions and lower CTRs, which, in turn, results in you having to pay more per click. Thus, over time your campaign should include more and more exact match keywords in order to maximize your CTRs and minimize your costs

Negative Keywords

Finally, you can also create negative keywords. By adding a hyphen/dash/minus sign ("-") to the front of a keyword (whether a single word, phrase, broad or exact match), you can exclude certain searches from triggering your ads that otherwise would do so.

For example, suppose I am advertising a cheap web-based email service, I could create the keyword: web based email. Without a negative keyword, anyone searching for "free web based email" would bring up my ad. However, if they are looking for a free email service, and mine is just "cheap," it is unlikely to lead to a conversion. Thus, I can enter a negative keyword: -free. Now if any searches that would normally trigger my ads contain the word "free," they will no longer do so. A well optimized campaign should generally have several negative keywords as well as exact matches.

Note, negative keywords combined with phrase or broad matching is known as embedded matching and "is a sophisticated form of keyword matching that allows you to prevent your ad from appearing in relation to certain phrase or exact matches." (Google AdWords Learning Center: Keyword Matching Options).

To summarize:

broad match -- includes those words, in any order, or similar words, and may include other words
"phrase match" -- includes those words, in order, and may include other words
[exact match] -- must only include those words and in that order
-negative -- must not be contained in the search term

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AdSense Nonsense - Clearing Up Some Misunderstandings

I regularly read posts in the official AdSense Help forum that highlight some common confusions and misunderstanding among AdSense newbies. So here we're going to put the record straight.

There are two common misunderstandings regard AdSense's CPM ads - not to mention the fact that some people don't even realize that there are CPM ads!

First, that you can choose whether to display CPM ads or not. Second, the belief that you will earn from AdSense ad impressions no matter what. I'll address these misunderstandings in turn.

Choosing CPM Ads
You don't get to choose whether you get pay-per-click (PPC) or pay-per-impression (CPM) ads. By default, you only get PPC ads and you will only get CPM ads if an AdWords advertiser hand picks your site to advertise on (in AdWords terminology, a "site-targeted campaign"). This is extremley unlikely in most cases, so the vast majority of AdSense advertisers never get CPM ads on their web site.

Payment for Impressions
AdSense is primarily, at least at the moment, a pay-per-click program. Thus, as stated above, by default you will only get PPC ads. Therefore, unless someone clicks on your ads, you will not receive a cent no matter how many thousands of impressions you may have.

There are also two common sources of these confusions, the eCPM statistic and image ads.

The confusion about payment per impression often arises because AdSense reports a statistic that it refers to as "eCPM." eCPM is your effective CPM income, i.e. you effective income per 1000 impressions which is merely a rough approximation as to how much you will earn from PPC advertising on your site, based on performance and impressions to date.

For example, if you've had 500 impressions and you've earned $10, your eCPM would be $20. If you'd had 10,000 impressions and earned $10, your eCPM would be $1. The formula is:

(earnings/impressions) * 1000
Thus, using the first scenario above, if AdSense is reporting an eCPM of $20, all that means is "if your PPC ads continue to perform at the same rate as they have in the past, for every 1000 impressions you will earn roughly $20."

Image Ads
Many people, including myself initially, get thrown when they see image ads on their site because they think they must therefore be CPM ads. However, just because an ad is an image it doesn't mean it's a CPM ad, there are also PPC image ads. In AdWords, you can create CPC (cost-per-click) image ads as well as text ads. So, if you see an image ad on your site, the chances are that it is still a PPC ad, not a CPM ad.

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Yahoo Search Marketing's New Advertising Platform

Yahoo is just beginning to roll out its new advertising platform to U.S. advertisers with, presumably, the rollout extending to non-U.S. advertisers next year. As part of the new platform Yahoo is introducing some terminology changes:

"Categories" is becoming "Campaigns" and "Listings" is becoming divided into "Ads" & "Ad Groups."

Then, of course, we still have "keywords."

So, campaigns, ad groups, ads and keywords - that terminology sounds very familiar. Hopefully that will makes things easier for the unhappy AdWords advertisers switching over to YSM!

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AdWords Editorial Review

Jeremy Chatfield of Merjis has just published a very interesting article on his blog concerning the Google AdWords editorial review process, how it affects your search network and content network advertising campaigns and offers methods to work around the problems. Recommended reading!

Why Your AdWords Content Network Ads May Not Be Seen

There are several common reasons why your AdWords Content Network ads may not be getting any impressions.

I. Ad Rank

Your ad's position on content sites is based on its content bid and its past performance on those and similar sites. If you have not enabled content bids, your Ad Group's keyword-level maximum CPCs influence your ad position. Read more about pricing on the content network and learn how to increase your content bids.

II. Approval Status

Ads may run on Google immediately, but they will only run on sites in the Google Network after being reviewed. In addition, each time that you edit your ads, they are resubmitted for review.

III. Partner Requirements

Some sites in the Google Network may restrict advertising or keywords based on their own policies regarding content and editorial standards. These restrictions (not influenced by Google) may prevent your ad from showing on certain sites. Google is unable to disclose details about the guidelines of individual sites.

IV. Budget

If your ads qualify to show on the Google Network, you might see an increase in impressions and clicks. Make sure that you maximise your ads' visibility and get the exposure that you want by setting your budget to an adequate amount. Find the recommended daily budget for your campaign.

If you are using the Google Budget Optimizer(TM), you may need to adjust your target budget.

Google Introduces Sitemaps for Google News

Google now gives webmasters of English language news sites the ability to create News Sitemaps in order to let Google know exactly which articles should be included in Google News.

Google also states that news sitemaps are frequently recrawled, so this is also an ideal way to ensure that fresh content is included in Google's news interface.

More detailed informaion is available on the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog.

Beyond Affiliate Marketing

We've all read tons about affiliate marketing where (mostly) a vendor's digital products are marketed by third parties as a means of earning revenue on an amount per sale basis. The most common scenario is one where products available from Clickbank are promoted via Google AdWords or Yahoo Search Marketing. However, there is another entirely different opportunity for those wanting to progress beyond affiliate marketing or, at least, add yet another marketing string to their bow--drop ship marketing (DSM).

Unlike most affiliate marketing programs, DSM is concerned with marketing (and selling!) real, tangible products. In a DSM scenario, you take orders on behalf of a supplier who then despatches the products directly to your customer. You pay the supplier for each order, so your profit is totally dependent on the difference between your sale price and the price you pay to the drop ship supplier, less any additional costs (such as PayPal fees, eBay fees, etc.).

How you sell the products is entirely up to you. For example, many of the products you see for sale on eBay are, in fact, drop shipped items. In fact, if you see the same item being sold from multiple sellers, all with exactly the same images and descriptions, the chances are they are, in fact, all selling on behalf of the same drop shipper!

So, who are these drop shippers and how do you find them?

Like most things, just search for "drop shipping" and similar phrases on Google and you're sure to find a bunch of potential suppliers. Alternatively, add a type of product to the search phrase, such as "drop ship watches," and you should find some more specific suppliers.

In the U.K., the best known and most successful drop shipper is ATS Distribution, who supply many eBay UK sellers. As a word of warning, I would recommend avoiding The Drop-Ship Store (Sysfix). They give the impression that they actually supply the products you order when, in fact, they are merely reselling products from ATS and other U.K. drop shippers so you are much better off going to their suppliers!

Finding a good drop ship supplier and coupling that with your own online store, eBay, Froogle, etc. can be an excellent source of revenue, particularly around Christmas time - so what's stopping you?!

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Calculation of AdWords' Quality Score

Brad Geddes of has made available online an HTML version of the presentation he gave at PubCon concerning how Google calculates the AdWords quality score. If only Google would release even more detailed information!

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Google Under the Hood - Part One

What Bot?

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the various Google bots . . . those "spiders" or "crawlers" that mysteriously come to your web site in the middle of the night, when no-one's looking, and poke around to see what's there . . . well, not quite, but they do visit your web sites. However, there is not just one Googlebot, there are, in fact, several bots, each of which has a specific job. If you take a look in your log files or your analytics software, you may well see the tell-tale signs of a visit from one of these creatures. Below is a field guide to these Google animals, their names and purposes.


This bot is a relatively new member of the family of Google bots and goes by the name of "AdsBot-Google." If you are an AdWords advertiser, this bot may well have visited you recently. This bot is one of the major players in Google's new "landing page quality" initiative and its sole purpose is to check the quality of your landing pages. How a bot does that, I have no idea, but it does just that!


A close cousin to the AdsBot is the MediaBot. Whereas AdsBot is for AdWords clients, MediaBot is for AdSense publishers. This bot goes by the name "MediaPartners-Google/2.1" and is the bot that crawls the sites of AdSense publishers in order to determine which ads are relevant to the site's content. So, if you have relevant ads on your site, at some point you've been visited by the MediaBot. There is a degree of confusion among those aware of this bot as to whether or not it plays a role in Google's main search index. I have concluded that it does play a minor role but, in my opinion, a relatively insignificant one. Officially, MediaBot's functionality is completely separate from the main Google search index. However, it seems to be clear that Google uses cached copies of sites retrieved by MediaBot to update Google's main search index but only when GoogleBot would have visted the site anyway. In other words, it just uses the MediaBot cache to save time and to save bandwidth on the host server. Thus, it appears that there is still absolutely no advantage to be gained (at least in terms of Google's organic search results) by having AdSense on your site.
The three remaining bots all serve related purposes, but each has a distinct task to fulfill.
This bot, officially known as "Googlebot-Image", crawls sites in order to index the images found on those sites. Thus, this is the bot that primarily drives Google's image searches. I have read that the ImageBot is a relatively infrequent visitor, perhaps visiting only every 6 months or so. Thus, if you have images that you desperately want to be indexed by Google, you may have to be pretty patient!
This is the little sibling of the main Googlebot, described below and it crawls web pages for the Google mobile index. It goes by the name of "Googlebot-Mobile."


Last, but by no means least, we come to the mysterious Googlebot. This bot is the Gemini of Google's bots, manifesting two separate personas, each with a distinct function: Freshbot and Deepbot.

"Freshbot," as its name suggests, simply looks for fresh content to index, so it is speedy but rather shallow, quickly moving from site to site in search of something new to devour. In sharp contrast to this is its big sibling, Deepbot. If Freshbot is the Christopher Columbus of bots, looking for new places, never before seen, then Deepbot is the Lewis & Clark or David Livingstone, exploring the inner depths of known lands. Thus, Deepbot is anything but shallow and is really the main driving force behind Google's organic search results. Deepbot is an omnivorous "deep crawler" as it tries to follow every link it comes across and download as many pages as it can for Google to index.


Tuesday, 28 November 2006

About Me

I joined "the information superhighway" back in 1995 when CompuServe was king, BBS systems were hip 'n' happ'nin' and Yahoo was still a pipe dream. Remember those days when 14.4k modems were state of the art, visitor counters were still cool, you couldn't email attachments unless you UUEncoded them first and the Internet was a wild uncontrolled universe ... happy days!

In 1995 I had also been working in I.T. for 10 years, starting off on a 20 MB PC programming in a 4GL called "DataFlex" for a small company in Felixstowe, Suffolk, U.K. Prior to that, I had first learned programming at a local college where I learned BASIC on a mainframe with no VDUs, just printer terminals with "music paper" printouts, our programs were stored on punched cards and the Commodore Pet was the latest thing.

In 1996 I married an American and moved from the U.K. to Northern California, living just outside Sacramento. It was there that I started programming in Visual Basic and, while employed at Prima Publishing, now part of Random House, that I first started developing web sites professionally, becoming Project Manager for all of Prima's web site development and internal application development. It was at Prima that I first became aware of many of the new web technologies and I.T. developments that are still being felt today ... including search engine optimization, online advertising, XML, data feeds and so on.

On leaving Prima, I began work as a full-time I.T. consultant, concentrating primarily on intranet and web-based application development.

Now, back in the U.K., where I have been since 2003, I have been continuing my I.T. consulting work and have concentrated mostly on search engine optimization, AdWords advertising and general web design & development. I also have a particular penchant for web usability and accessibility issues, having had quite a bit of prior experience with deaf and blind people ... in fact, I can read braille, though not by touch!

In 2005 I also graduated as valedictorian from Concord Law School in California. It was while studying cyberlaw that I had to create what is now my hobby site,, "the legal legacy of Elvis Presley." My time in law school also piqued my particular interest in cyberlaw-related issues, with particular regard to intellectual property issues online (i.e. trademarks and copyrights).