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Ten more Internet marketing questions that keep me up at night (part 2)

Again, thanks to all who sent me e-mail about last week’s DM News column (Ten More Internet Marketing Questions That Keep Me Up at Night (Part 1)). In Part 2 of this series, I’ll list ten more questions that have deprived me of much sleep in the past several nights. If you’ve got the answers, please send me some e-mail.

1. If users ever discovered that they could go to a URL using the browser address bar, instead of Google, would the whole industry collapse? When AOL leaked its massive trove of Google search data last summer, one big surprise was the degree to which users apparently think that Google’s search box is actually the browser address bar. If people ever figured out the difference (perhaps aided by better browsers), a massive loss of search traffic (and pay-per-click revenues to the search engines) might well occur.

2. Whoever said the Internet was “a level playing field?” This statement is one of the biggest lies in Internet marketing. Those who control offline content distribution still wield enormous power, and this power is reflected in search queries that react to offline promotional efforts. Search marketing is an area where the playing field is completely tilted toward brands; fighting a successful campaign against them is difficult (but not impossible).

4. If the Internet is so vast, why do we all visit the same few sites over and over again? The top sites in Comscore and other Web usage reports rarely show much movement. The Internet is no more a “level playing field” for publishers than it is for marketers.

5. When will people stop talking about click fraud and just pay for what the media is worth? Yes, click fraud exists, estimates of its size vary wildly, and committees endlessly talk about the dimensions of the problem. But click fraud (which can be minimized if your SEM agency uses the right tools) is an issue largely driven by FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) planted by old line agencies and those with vested interests in maintaining the primacy of unaccountable, unmeasurable and untargetable media. Frankly, when these guys talk about click fraud it reminds me of the old adage about “the pot calling the kettle black.”

6. Why does Yahoo need 11,400 people to run a Web site? Yahoo evolved from a directory into a portal with hundreds of thousands of pages and dozens of discrete properties. Sure, it needs a sizeable staff to maintain these properties but there’s no question that it could do more with less. Yahoo’s headcount has increased about 15 percent in the past two years, but its sales and marketing expenses have ballooned by 30 percent in the same period. Even Time-Warner ran Pathfinder, its ill-fated Internet portal, with fewer than 150 people. It’s sad when people lose their jobs but unless Yahoo becomes more efficient, its long-term prospects look dim.

7. Yahoo claims that it doesn’t value “broken links.” So why do so many of the pages in its directory point to abandoned Web sites? Yahoo’s directory is filled with sites that are no longer current and in many cases don’t even exist on the Web any more. Yahoo should take at least 20 of its 11,400 employees and task them full time with updating its directory. If it can’t maintain an up-to-date directory, it should take it down, instead of asking its users to endure so many “site not found” messages.

8. Why are so many Web 2.0 companies based on Web 1.0 business models? Sites that provide photo sharing, social networking, streaming video and other so-called “Web 2.0” features have been around since the late ’90s (and most of them failed). The phrase “Web 2.0” is far too broad to be descriptive of what makes today’s Web economy different, and it’s been so overused lately that it’s on the verge of becoming a meaningless, marketing buzzword. Frankly, I think the phrase was invented to distance today’s entrepreneurs (most of whose projects will eventually fail) from entrepreneurs of the ’90s (most of whose projects failed spectacularly).

9. Why does the advertising industry refuse to break out search spend from online spend? Ad spend gurus such as McCann Universal’s Bob Coen continue to lump search marketing into the “online spending” category. The only conceivable reason for doing this is to inflate the importance of traditional banner and rich media ads in comparison to search spending. This obfuscation continues even though everybody knows that search spending is driving the online advertising bus.

10. If cost-per-action ads are the best way to avoid click fraud, why haven’t they caught on? Could it be that publishers (who assume all the risk in a performance-based model) have decided that cost-per-click provides consistently better yields? What good is a solution if nobody uses it?

If you have the answers to any of these questions or have a good question that I’ve missed, please send e-mail.

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