Saturday, December 03, 2005

Florida Drinks Cat Piss

When I was trapped in Florida for a week over the Thanksgiving Holiday it became quickly apparent that the entire state is devoid of what most serious beer drinkers would consider real beer. Lot's of restaurants had beer on tap but it was always the same old mind numbing choices of Bud, Bud Lite, MGD, Coors, Michelob, etc. without anything resembling Anchor Steam, Bass, New Castle, Guiness, an IPA, Blonde or Hefeweizen and I'm not sure anyone in the state has even heard of the term Micro Brewery. Even Winn Dixie, the local grocery store a block away, had very limited beer choices, it was shocking.

In desperation I went to famous Rickey's in Hollywood, FL as I remembered they had some real beer on tap but all was not as expected as either there was soap residue in the pint glasses or the lines hadn't been cleaned lately. The Bass tasted funny so to make sure it wasn't a bad keg I tried something else and it had a funny taste too so being thoroughly annoyed and disappointed we bailed.

The next night we ended up at the Seminole Casino to play poker as the Hard Rock was just too crowded to even get near a poker table and it wasn't worth waiting 2 hours.

When I walked past the Seminole's bar I saw a big red beacon between all the cat piss on tap so I screeched to a halt to order a beer.

Bartender: "What'll ya have?"

Me: "A Red Hook!"

Mind you the beer is on tap next to where I'm standing but she walks away and comes back and sets down a RED BULL and tries to charge me for it.

Me: "Not Red Bull, I want a beer, a RED HOOK!"

Bartender: "I don't know what that is!"

It's only a foot away from the bartender at this point, I'm almost in shock now.

Me: pointing and waving at the tap "It's that big red tap that says RED HOOK E S B right there!"

Baretender then figures it out, pours the beer and I'm on my way to play some poker.

Later at the poker table a cocktail waitress shows up and asks what I want.

Me: "A Red Hook"

Waitress: "A Red Bull?"

Me: "No, A Red Hook" points at beer glass on table "it's a beer on tap, big red tap, RED HOOK!"

Waitress: "A Red HAWK?"

Me: "Yes!" - close enough, we'll see what we get.

She surprisingly comes back with an actual Red Hook but later when I order another Red Hook still calls it a "Red Hawk" yet again but at this point she could call it Red Square and I wouldn't care as long as they serve the right thing.

Two nights later I'm back playing poker again and I notice a different bartender and different waitresses so I'm thinking it might be better.

Waitress: "Cocktail?"

Me: "I'll take a Red Hook"

Waitress: "I don't even know what that is!"

Me: "It's a beer, 3rd tap from the left, big red tap that says RED HOOK ESB on it"

Waitress: "OK, I'll see if we have it"

See if you have it?

I can see the tap from where I'm sitting at the poker table!

OK, I wait 10 minutes and see her serving other tables, 20 minutes and still serving other tables, I figure I'm forgotten at this point so I head to the bar for self-service.

Bartender: "What can I get ya?"

Me: "A Red Hook"

Bartender: "A Real Beer drinker!"

Me: I faint at this point.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Forget Click Fraud, Fix Technical Money Loss

Must be a slow news day as we're back to beating the dead horse of Click Fraud yet again. What's interesting is that many of the very same publishers that continue to make their living using AdSense, YPN and other CPC advertising programs would continue to bang the gong of hysteria about Click Fraud and poison their own well!

Instead of dwelling on what probably can't be completely fixed, how about addressing simple real world technical issues that cause advertisers serious money loss and are 100% addressable by the CPC media companies. Not a popular theme I'll admit, as it's not trendy like scaring people into not spending their advertising money online like Click Fraud topics. However, this is probably more serious as it happens all the time, possibly more costly in the long run and perhaps even results in technical money loss mistakenly claimed as Click Fraud further fueling the current Click Fraud hysteria environment.

Let's identify how advertising money can be technically lost:

1. Advertiser's Site Offline
When a large advertiser has a service issue with their web server hundreds or thousands of dollars can be lost in as little as an hour. One medium sized customer of mine used to spend about $1500/day and had to rely on a 3rd party server monitoring system to alert him when his server was down so he could manually shut down all of his advertising accounts which were costing about $100/hour during his site's busy hours. Most likely this advertiser had lost more than $50 in dead clicks just from the time the server monitoring system had detected the problem, sent the pager alert, the advertiser actually received the pager alert and then, if not near a computer, called someone else to go disable all his CPC campaigns until the server was back online. Let's not even mention the fact that he lost sales [more money] on the flip side when the server was back online and the reverse process started getting the alarm notifying that the site was back online, getting all the CPC campaigns active again, so it's lost revenue all the way around.

2. Dead Clicks
When the connection between the visitor and the advertiser's web site isn't working due to some sort of routing problems or other technical issues we get 'Dead Clicks' which are recorded by the ad server when the ad is clicked but the visitor never actually connects to the advertiser's web site. This situation probably happens much more frequently than most imagine and once was responsible for approximately a 5% click failure on an ad campaign I was tracking during an internet stability rough patch over a single weekend.

3. Accidental Clicks
Inevitably someone always accidentally clicks on a link and hits BACK often before the advertiser's web page is ever fully displayed. Unfortunately that click was already recorded by the ad server so whether or not the visitor ever actually sees the advertiser's web page he gets charged regardless and the visitor can't click 'UNDO AD VIEW' to correct the mistake even if they were so inclined.

What's the solution to technical money loss?

The simplest solution to the 3 problems mentioned above are the conversion tracking bugs that can be installed on the landing pages of the advertiser's web site. If the conversion tracking bug doesn't report than the visitor made it to the landing page within a certain amount of time the ad server can assume the possibility of a Dead Click and not deduct that click from the advertisers campaign. However, this does open the possibility for a shady advertiser to dynamically rotate the conversion tracking bug and only insert it on 50% of the pages but that too can be easily spotted and ban the advertiser.

When multiple conversion tracking failures occur a server monitor with multiple geographical locations and a diversity of backbones could be engaged that would ping the advertiser's server. If the server monitor detects the server is completely offline from all pings then the ads could be automatically suspended and then automatically re-enabled when the server is detected as being back up. If a specific backbone is detected as not being able to connect to a server then only customers on that backbone could be filtered from seeing the ads until the issue is resolved and thus solve the localized dead clicks problem.

Last but not least, the conversion tracking bug could have an OnUnload event component that reports back the total time spent viewing a page so that accidental clicks resulting in less than perhaps a 3 second threshold of visitor time spent on a page could be detected and deducted as well.

Before someone flies off the handle, this is not to suggest that any CPC media company provide server alarm monitors that track all advertiser's servers all the time, but only those advertiser's servers that are failing to report conversion tracking in a timely manner and once the server is detected back online remove it from the server monitoring system. This should be somewhat limited in scope to address what should only affect a small percentage of all the active ad campaigns and only those with failures detected. However, maybe Google will pony up and build a nice multi-backbone alarm monitoring system and offer it freely to their advertisers ala the latest freebie Google Analytics.

Not sexy topics, but definitely serious issues swept under the rug that all have easy solutions. The problem is I'm not sure the all the local corporate giants [you know who you are] rolling up and down El Camino and highway 101 in their gold plated Ferraris really want to address these problems as it's currently free money they'd be giving back.


Let's hear 'em!

Stopping Site Scrapers with a Honeypot

Running with some ideas I got from Brett on WebmasterWorld my roque bot trap is almost complete. His completely disabling robots.txt actually gave me a great idea as the rogue bots don't bother following the robots.txt rules in the first place so I've been working on some ideas to automatically identify and block rogue bots by setting multiple types of honeypot traps in the web pages that well behaved bots will ignore.

The basic concepts I'm using to catch rogue bots and scrapers are simple:

  • Bogus pages installed with fake links for bots to follow that well behaved bots will ignore
  • Tracking frequency of page access to detect rapid downloads
  • Tracking total pages accessed in a 24 hour period to detect a volume of downloads
  • Some secret herbs and spices I won't divulge
Sadly, nosy people looking at my web source code and accessing the honeypot pages may automatically ban themselves from my server but that's just the risk curiosity may cost.

The neat thing is I don't have to put a permanent ban on the rogue bots that get trapped as they'll just fall into another honeypot when they return or switch to a different proxy server.

This should be a very interesting experiment and I'll keep you all posted after testing it for a weekend to see how effective it is - maybe I'll set up a honeypot service if this works!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

AdSense Weights Ads Displayed with Search Keywords

We discovered this little AdSense behavior of weighting ads on search keywords while checking the SERPs for a web site that obviously had AdSense on it. For some reason we decided to click a few of the links to the web pages from the various search engines and noticed that 2-3 of the ads in a skyscraper were different when clicking from a search than by directly accessing the page or from navigating to the page via site navigation. Based on our intial observations it seemed that secondary keywords using the same landing page are displaying ads weighted for that particular audience based solely on the search keyword.

Curiosity may have killed the cat but AdSense paid for his funeral so we did some testing.

How the test was done:

1 - To study this phenomena we set up a test with 2 computers so that my personal search profile wouldn't impact the results on the 2nd control computer.

2 - We chose a series of keywords to test using Google Analytics to find some top ranking search keywords that landed on the site coming from Google, MSN and Yahoo.

3- Then we performed searches on a series of terms that all went to the same landing page with a single AdSense skyscraper displaying 5 ads, in this case the home page, and clicked on links to the home page via the search page. We followed up this with directly going to the page without using a search engine to see what ads were displayed. [Later we tried deeper links as well.]

4 - We annotated what ads were being displayed coming from search keywords vs. accessing the pages direct and correlated the results.

What we discovered was that certain types of ads were displayed based on the keyword such as search for "Junior Widgets" returned a portion of the ads (2-3) as teen oriented ads compared to a search on generic "Widgets" or "Senior Widgets" or direct page navigation and the results were very reproducable over and over.

Knowing that search keywords weight ad targetting should help webmasters use a combination of Google Analytics and the new Adwords Keywords Tool to determine which search keywords are impacting their revenue and via SEO efforts enhance the more positive paying keywords to maximize the revenues of landing pages.

UPDATE - It's in the Patent!
Someone pointed me to the AdSense patents and Jenstar confirmed that she's known AdSense does this so at least I'm not imaging things! Funny I've never heard this mentioned in more than a year since I've been using AdSense and reading the forums but it's posisble that prior to using Google Analytics it just wasn't that easy to see these things going on.


After doing a bit more testing it seems that only Google, MSN and Yahoo search queries are being used by AdSense to enhance the ads displayed. The queries of other search engines like Teoma, Gigablast and Altavista appear to be ignored by AdSense.

Nick sold ThreadWatch!

What in the hell is going on?

The ringmaster of my favorite watering hole has just sold the damn place!

I need a drink.

Zen Micro Part 2 - the Software Fiasco

Now let's explore the wonderful world of Windows XP "Plug 'n Pray" technology and how to truly screw up a computer by installing new software provided with a Zen Micro.

The instructions said to install the software on the CD before plugging the Zen Micro into the USB port which seems like a reasonable thing. Little did I know that installing the software on this CD would start a cascade failure of various music programs and would kick off a chain reaction of near total destruction on my computer.

The little "Zen Micro Media Explorer" tool that I installed seemed to work fine and after uploading a few MP3s everything seemed to be operating properly as upload, synch and playback were all working.

Now, let's try to upload some "Yahoo! Music" - it flat refused to upload this "invalid" media type. Since when are WMA files INVALID MEDIA for a player designed to work with Yahoo! Music?

Well isn't this a happy load of bullshit as I specifically picked this unit as it was supposed to be compatible with Yahoo! Music and it isn't compatible out of the box. Nice little error messages, no explanations as to any solutions, Yahoo's website was pretty worthless on this topic so after rummaging around on Creative's web site I found the new driver that I had to download and upload into the Zen Micro.

More fun:

What do you mean the Zen Micro has to be reformatted and all my MP3s tossed? Ok, we're into some seriously flawed horse shit at this point that would send less tech savvy people screaming into the night but I'm dealing with it well so far. I upload the new drivers, it reformats the Zen Micro, and everything appears to be OK as I can still upload MP3s and they play.

Now for the real test - let's upload a WMA file.

No dice - we're getting a new error attempting to upload those WMA files, something about media types, licensing servers, all sorts of new errors.

Oh joy.

Well hell, let's just play some music on my computer and chill out while I'm reading up to see what's wrong now. Wait, no music is playing on my computer, oh no, oh HELL NO! At this point both Yahoo! Music and Windows Media Player appear to have completely lost the ability of playing any and all WMA files as they no longer appear to be able to connect to license servers or any other damn thing let alone upload the files to the Zen Micro. Clicking PLAY on any WMA file on my computer now results in a list of songs flying up the screen at lightning speed as each one is just skipped as 'unlicensed'. I can still download from Yahoo! Music but that's about all it can do at this point as it's otherwise totally dead in the water.

It's now very obvious something on my computer has had it's head fly up it's own ass in a very bad way, so let's try the first line of defense after a new Plug 'n Pray installation and reboot the computer.

Still doesn't work.

Let's trying reading the Creative and Yahoo! Music sites for any clues.

No Dice.

How about Googling for others with this problem?

No Dice in the top 300 results on my queries so I give up this route.

OK, it appears we're in uncharted territory, everything has went to shit, I'm getting frustrated and whiny after messing with this crap for a few hours now for a "Quick and Simple" [BULLSHIT!] installation.

As a last resort before taking the Zen Micro into the backyard and smashing it to bits with a hammer I decide to re-install both the Windows Media Player and Yahoo! Music from scratch and miraculously that seems to resolve the issue so those wankers at Creative obviously installed something that whacked my system.

Now we can upload WMA files and play them on my computer once again, all is well.

Or is it?

Using Yahoo! Music I uploaded a bunch of files just to see if Y! Music interface worked and that seemed to work OK with the exception it only shows you Y! Music files and nothing else so it's too limited for my real world needs.

Next I gave the Creative Media Source Organizer a test to see if it was worth using and it did upload all my music files but the user interface [aka pathetic] could use a lot of work so I abandoned this path quickly.

Last but not least, the Windows Media Player seems to be the best in breed of the 3 I tried and it can upload and synch all my music quite nicely.

Now it's time to examine the actual files on the Zen and see what I've got uploaded.

Holy Crap!

I seem to have a bunch of duplicate files all over the Zen Micro as those 3 tools all seem to have different ideas on how to name the files copied over to the Zen and used up a ton of space with dupes. Fucking fantastic as now I have to wipe it clean ONE MORE TIME and upload everything from scratch again just to get rid of the dupes.

Speaking of dupes, I feel duped throughout this whole process as my supposedly easy to use Zen went from a simple CD installation and USB Plug 'n Pray to a complex technical support nightmare of near biblical proportions.

Miraculously it all worked in the end but I seriously wonder if I just hit a random speed bump others haven't encountered or if there are thousands of unsuspecting consumers out there banging their heads on a malfunctioning computer after following these simple instructions?

Who knows, maybe I'm just the lucky one!

The ZEN of MP3 Players

My lovely wife bought me a Zen Touch for my 45th birthday last week [now you know how old I am, isn't that special] as she wanted me to have a nice 40GB music player but all that is 40GB does not glitter. I was so excited when I unwrapped it until I turned on the Zen Touch and the backlit display was so dim I could barely read it which happens when your eyes go to hell after 40 but I digress as this is about Zen.

The Zen Touch was a bit hefty too, kind of like my wife's iPod classic which could probably be used to fend off attackers in a pinch. The next problem I noticed was how the A/C power adapter had to be plugged into the back of the USB cable so you had to have TWO cables connected to this stupid box just to recharge it?

OK, this Zen Touch gets stupid design of the year award being a bulky dim backlit hydra so this thing must go back to Worst Buy [Best Buy to some] and be exchanged ASAP.

So we run to Worst Buy with the intent to 'trade up' to the new Zen Touch Photo which wifey assumed would be easier to read with that bright color display. Well, it was definitely color but not so bright either, a little brighter but too dim for my tastes even after tinkering with the contrast and color display options. These people over at Creative Labs should take a page from the cell phone companies and punch up the brightness on the display but that would make too much sense as who over 40 needs to see what they're doing? Obviously the Stridex generation is their demographic and not an old fart like me but I'm digressing again.

Anyhow, their loss, not mine as I found a much smaller [and cheaper] unit called the Zen Micro that had a better backlit display easier to read, 5GB storage, recharged off the USB port of the computer and therefore only had one cable. Seems to have good battery life as my first excursion with it was a cross-country flight from San Francisco to Miami and I used it in Florida several more hours before charging it for the return trip, very nice.

Now the ugly - getting used to the Zen's hypersensitive controls as this thing is more sensitive to the touch than a virgin on prom night. You can barely pick up the Zen without accidentally changing what it's doing so you inevitably pause, skip, switch modes or something every time you grab the unit. They were wise to install a "control lock" switch on the top or either I'd be in the loony bin or this thing would be in the trash bin by now.

The other thing that makes me bats with this thing is the scroll control is also the select button so trying to scroll and pick a song frequently ends up accidentally picking the wrong song. Not too bad as I'm getting used to it but this thing would be helped with a 'SELECT' button like the iPod has.

In the 'My God What a Complainer' department I have another grievance to file which is that you really can't charge this Zen thing and use it to play music at the same time unless you disable all the auto-synch software as it otherwise goes into auto-synch download mode [aka the Zen trance] the minute you plug it into the USB port to charge it.

Guess what?

Yes, there's MORE to this story as all hell broke loose when I installed the Zen software which almost made me throw the Zen thru the wall and issue a fatwa on Yahoo! Music but you'll have to wait for the second installment to find out all the gory details.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

AA - American Airlines or Al Anon? You Decide...

Well the bucketheads at American Airlines have really topped the charts in the "stupid airline food for $5" category today on a flight I took from Miami to San Francisco.

Me: "Alex, I'll take 'Stupid Airline Food' for $400 please."

Alex Trebeck: "Name the sandwich that has raisin bread, cream cheese and ham"


Me: "What is a Ham and Cheese sandwich designed by a drunken airline employee?"


Alex: "You are correct!"

What kind of moron thinks your average joe flier is going to shell out $5 for some whacked out shit sandwich like this? The only other alternative is the $5 "snack box" full of gerbil food.

Well American Airlines you can take your idiotic sandwich and shove it up a flight attendants ass 'cause I'm not buying it.

Monday, November 28, 2005

FireFox Referrals kills CTR?

BillyS on WebmasterWorld said that his CTR (Click Thru Rate for you noobs) went in the crapper after installing the AdSense FireFox Referral buttons all over their site which in turn made smart pricing engage and drive their income straight down the crapper. Makes perfect sense to me as most people are afraid of switching browsers or simply don't want to or they'd already have FireFox so this is just a PR stunt and a financial boondoggle for one poor webmaster that got suckered into the Google hype.

Obviously I don't know if that chain of events that lowered his income was triggered by the FireFox Referral button but it seems possible and I sure wouldn't be surprised if that was the case and if so, Google should just be ashamed of themselves by combining this PR stunt into someones global CTR in AdSense.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

AdSense Off Topic Ads are Income Killers

Here we go again as the AdSense ads showing on my web site are very targetted and usually perform very well but some schmuck launching a new meta-search (yeah, we need another one of those) seems to be either site targetting or keyword targetting and he's raising hell with my earnings today.

Banning a few bad ads wouldn't be so terrible except:

a) Google takes up to 4 hours to stop showing them which can cost a busy site hundreds of dollars before the ban takes effect

b) The Google Preview tool does't seem to show Site Targetted ads as any time I run it the ads I'm looking for don't seem to show up, maybe there's another reason but Google isn't telling.

c) The Google Preview tool doesn't help streamline blocking ads, only figuring out the domain name to block, it's a time consuming process designed to piss off publishers IMO

It would be nice if the AdSense team got off their ass and fixed this problem as you can damn well believe that if the ad is killing my income then Google isn't getting paid either but that logic seems to skip right over their overly educated heads.

AdSense Preview Tool for FireFox?

I'm wondering why Google didn't first make an AdSense preview tool for FireFox before paying AdSense people a whole $1 referral fee just to get people to download and install the damn thing. On one hand Google wants to unseat Internet Explorer as the dominant browser yet are still behind the curve putting all their technical resources behind it.

Come on Google, get with the program, shit or get off the pot!