Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

July 29, 2008

Why Are Advertising Agency Sites So Awful?

Why Are Advertising Agency Sites So Awful?Ad agencies are an endangered species in a cost-conscious, metrics-driven world ruled by Google. Today's ad men are in a profound state of denial about how much their comfortable world has changed, and there's no better evidence of this than by examining their web pages. Here you'll find cluelessness across the board. Here's a quick and sickening report on the search engine readiness of some major agency sites. Read it and weep.
Frames deprive content pages of unique URLs, the home page has practically no content at all, and the only indexed content seems to be in uploaded PDFs. These sins are typical of Flash-heavy, search-engine ignorant sites. Perhaps no serious agency types care whether folks come in through search engines. If so, they're making a big mistake.
Usability/Searchability Grade: D

Draft FCB
Better than the other sites in terms of having SOME text content on the home page; worse but commits sin of making text content images. (Are they worried that somebody will steal the big idea? Or just paranoid about the fonts? Hint: Stylesheets can work wonders.) What's ironic is that DraftFCB is actually buying the keyword "advertising agency" from Google. But the back button doesn't work, which means you're trapped.
Usability/Searchability Grade: D-
Home page text content? Nope. Consistent navigation? Nope. Search-engine unfriendly fames, over-reliance on Flash and PDFs? Triple yes. SIte must be doing something right, because it ranks very well organically on Google for the search term "advertising agency," so it's not a total wash. If only these guys had made proper use of their Meta tags, the listing would be much less cryptic. Usability/Searchability Grade: C
The late David Ogilvy would have kniptions if he could see his company's current site. The home page has a text count of zero, clicking on links results in annoying pop-up pages, the URL structure is a mess (although it could be worse), and content is duplicated on several Ogilvy-owned sites (which will cause Google's Duplicate Content Filter to have kniptions!). May not inspire confidence that Ogilvy is digital-ready.
Usability/Searchability Grade: D

Young and Rubicam
No surprise here. Texts live only as images, without ALT tags. No worse than the other sites, but no better. I suppose this bad situation is due to the consensual wisdeom of the ad men, and other B2B types, who reason that it's unlikely that any real client is searching for their services. WRONG!
Usability/Searchability Grade: F

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June 27, 2008

How to Read a Yahoo Reorg Memo

How to Read a Yahoo Reorg Memo

I was inspired to provide a machine-to-human translation of Yahoo's memo detailing its attempt to save itself. This post originally appeared on the pages of Silicon Alley Insider.


SUNNYVALE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - News), a leading global Internet company, today announced changes to its organization aimed at improving its products, technologies and execution.

Translation: Our products are undistinguished, our technologies are iffy, and our execution has been egregious. We're going to throw all the chess pieces in the air now, and hope they magically rearrange themselves in a way resembling a credible strategy.

The moves support its strategy to be the starting point for the most users, the must-buy for the most advertisers and the platform of choice for developers.

Translation: We haven't evolved from a portal, we still depend on "bulk tonnage" media buys, and we're desperately hoping that outside developers will do something interesting with Yahoo before Carl Icahn and his buddies bail out and send the stock to $10 a share.

Key Elements

Yahoo! announced are the centralization of consumer product development to enhance the company’s ability to release products worldwide; the creation of a U.S. region focused on bringing products to market for users, advertisers and publishers; formation of an insights strategy team; and enhancements to the technology infrastructure to optimize the use of data and improve coordination between product and engineering teams.

Translation: Somewhere along the way we lost track of where our people worked, what they did, who they reported to, and why we even hired them in the first place. We haven't developed many consumer products that have been of any interest to users recently (because we've been so busy talking up advertisers and publishers), and have been so focussed on on the Far East, where has been making us money (at least on paper), that we plain forgot that it kind of matters what we do in the U.S., hence the new group. As far as our new "Insights Strategy Team," we're hopeful that they can come up with a more interesting strategy than this tired portal-start-page business, which nobody takes seriously in a Web 2.0 world.

“These moves accelerate the ability of our deep and talented team to build great products, grow our audiences and improve monetization globally,” said Jerry Yang, CEO. “They are designed to put us in an even better position to leverage our leading global audience and capture the opportunity we see in the convergence of search and display advertising.”

Translation: Peek-a-boo: I'm Jerry Yang and miraculously, I'm still here! By the way, our whole game is dependent on the dubious proposition that display ads (which don't work) can be turned into gold by making them stalk you as you surf around the Web. It's inevitable that some sorehead will eventually point out that this idea is a chimera but we'll all be outta here by then.

Business and Product Changes

The company is creating three new teams that will report to President Sue Decker. An Audience Products Division will assume responsibility for companywide product strategy and product management.

Translation: We still think of our users as "an audience" that should be talked to, not listened to. After all, the main thing that keeps us going is big brand spenders who really don't care about all that fancy-dancy "conversation" stuff.

It will be led by Ash Patel who previously managed the company’s Platforms & Infrastructure group. A U.S. region with accountability for all go-to-market activity in the U.S. will be led by Hilary Schneider, who previously headed the company’s Global Partner Solutions group. Finally, an Insights Strategy team will assume responsibility for centralizing and executing a common strategy for the use of data and analysis across Yahoo!. The company plans to name this group’s leader within the next few weeks.

Translation: We're enshrining "Failing Upward" as our new company slogan.

“The changes we’re making today will help deliver superior global products for users and enable faster and better decision-making,” said President Sue Decker. “This is a logical next step in light of our success last year in moving to a more centralized approach to developing world-class marketing products. We have planned these changes deliberately over the past several months to clarify responsibilities and to capitalize on the scale advantages while allowing for fine tuning to meet local market needs.”

Translation: I'm Sue Decker and I speak in mind-numbing generalities. I don't expect you to know what the heck I'm referring to when I speak of last year's "success... in moving to a more centralized approach to developing world-class marketing products" but trust me: we're on the right track. Oh, and we weren't panicked into making these changes by everything that's happened since February. We've been planning them since 1997.

Technology and Infrastructure Changes
Yahoo! is making changes to its technology organization, led by Chief Technology Officer Ari Balogh, to better position the company to execute on its strategic priorities. Principal changes are developing a world-class cloud computing and storage infrastructure; rewiring Yahoo! onto common platforms; and creating a stronger partnership between product and engineering teams.“Since my arrival at Yahoo! earlier this year, we’ve carefully evaluated the best possible configuration of our technology group to support our business strategies,” said Balogh. “I’m excited by the depth of our team which—combined with the talent we continue to recruit—will execute even better under this new structure.” In order to expand its cloud computing capabilities, the Company will form a Cloud Computing & Data Infrastructure Group, charged with developing a computing infrastructure that balances scalability with cost effectiveness. It will move all consumer-facing platform teams to the Audience Technology Group, led by Venkat Panchapakesan. In addition, it is putting new leadership in place behind Yahoo!’s search group, naming Prabhakar Raghavan to direct search strategy and Tuoc Luong as the interim leader of the search product team. Both Prabhakar and Tuoc will also continue in their roles as the leaders of Yahoo! Research and Search Engineering respectively. In addition, David Ku will lead the Advertising Technology Group within Search. Yahoo!’s Marketing Products Division, Connected Life and Corporate Marketing groups will continue to operate as they do today.

Translation: Lots of fun changes afoot in the engine room! We can't tell you what the heck cloud computing has to do with our unchangeable portal strategy, but maybe we can finally develop some kind of product beyond Flickr that people would actually pay for so we're covered when the banner ad bubble pops. Hey - did you notice that we haven't actually mentioned any layoffs in this memo? Don't worry: they're coming, and it's more than likely that the grunts, not the execs, will take the brunt. Why cut fat when you can cut muscle?

About Yahoo! Inc.

Yahoo! Inc. is a leading global Internet brand and one of the most trafficked Internet destinations worldwide. Yahoo! is focused on powering its communities of users, advertisers, publishers, and developers by creating indispensable experiences built on trust. Yahoo! is headquartered in Sunnyvale, California.

Translation: We still live and die by raw, undifferentiated traffic. Just about everything we do is duplicated by competing services, so the "creating indispensible experiences" phrase is there strictly for laughs. We still have a hell of a memorable domain name, however, and it's for sale at a price that I'm sure you'll all find reasonable.

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June 11, 2008

Microsoft's Windows Live Expo Scrapped

Much has been made of the complicated problems that have prevented Microsoft from dominating the online space, and the failure of Windows Live Expo supports the notion that MSFT really doesn't have a clue. I've long been of the view that Microsoft will eventually succeed because it's got more cash than Saudi Arabia, possesses major engineering talent, and is infused with exactly the kind of killer spirit required to win in the online space.

But lately I'm beginning to have my doubts. MSFT keeps demonstrating a failure to master the simplest principles of Internet Marketing 101, including the principle stating that you must have a catchy name whose meaning bears some close resemblance to what the function of your property is. The name "Live Expo" sounds like some kind of virtual trade show, not a classified site. "Live Marketplace" or "Live Classified" would have been a far better choice, but even the word "Live" (used by its flagship search engine, "Live Search") is practically meaningless, unless what you're selling is longevity products.

Do us all a favor, MSFT, and name your products with terms that can be used as verb. Nobody "Lives" anything, they "Yahoo" it (rarely) or "Google" it (ubiquitously). Let go of the ridiculous notion that you have to globally brand everything under a single, meaningless moniker, and you might get a few insights about the online world. Hell, even "" would have a better chance of gaining traction than your crazy "Live" empire.

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April 04, 2008

Tina Brown Returns to the Web: Train Wreck Ahead!

Tina Brown Returns to the Web: Trainwreck Ahead!
Tina Brown knows absolutely nothing about running Web sites, and her disastrous record with should have resulted in her being banned from the Web forever. Unfortunately, it's impossible to do this, and so Brown is reaping tons of press with her plans to launch a new site that's going to blah blah blah. Big deal - she hired away the creative director from - if this guy's such a hotshot, why can't beat in the traffic wars? The whole thing is a joke and I'm sure that whatever Brown comes up will be a ghost site within 18 months of its launch.

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October 30, 2007

How to Read an Advertising Agency Blog

AdFreak (a really good Blog on advertising) has a funny post noting how badly ad agencies handle their Blogs. Only a few actually blog at all and even the ones who do put up content which is only updated once a month or so and is entirely vacuous. In the spirit of AdFreak's cynical take on advertising, here's a quick translation of the mild rantings of Bob Scarpelli, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer of DDB (formerly Doyle Dayne Bernbach, now part of a giant, soulless ad agency holding company):

BLOG ENTRY FOR OCTOBER 9, 2007 (Gee, that was weeks ago)

ENTRY: Great to see the activity and people's different perspectives.

TRANSLATION: Thank God there's more than one comment on this stupid thing. They were really starting to laugh downstairs.

ENTRY: I agree that part of our job is to tell interesting stories that are inspiring, moving and uplifting.

TRANSLATION: 99 percent of our job is to move product. The remaining 1 percent is devoted to making extremely drunk people laugh at our stupid spots.

ENTRY: At the same time, we are in the business of educating and convincing, so it is true we are problem-solvers.

TRANSLATION: We use fear and sex to move truckloads of toothpaste into your mouths. The only problem we really solve is justifying our fat salaries to clients who would have moved more toothpaste if it wasn't so expensive because of our fat salaries.

ENTRY: Objective, identifiable results in our business and craft are undeniably important with process and measurement being a big part of the debate these days.

TRANSLATION: We have no idea whether our ads are effective or not, and it really bothers us that people are bothering us about this.

ENTRY: I wanted to turn our discussion to the thorny topic of measurement.

TRANSLATION: I want to distract you from seeing how bad this experiment is turning out.

ENTRY: In a business sense, how can we measure creativity?

TRANSLATION: The only way to measure creativity is by how much we pay our creative director.

ENTRY: What are some of the metrics and measures you think are fair to use in the assessment of creative product?

TRANSLATION: Which fuzzy numbers are most likely to protect us from angry clients?

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October 23, 2007

Should The Pay Its Bloggers? Not on Your Life!

Should The Pay Its Bloggers? Not on Your Life!As reported in, the AP's Simon Dumenco has been on the warpath for the past several weeks against The for not paying the Bloggers who contribute to the popular liberal site. Dumenco seems particularly miffed by Huffington co-founder Ken Lerer's remark that paying its contributors is "inconsistent with HuffPo's business model."

Frankly, I think this is all a tempest in a teapot. Using volunteers to build a brand by offering them a few crumbs of recognition in exchange for monetizable text IS the business model of the Web. The multi-billion dollar AOL brand could not have been built without the cooperation of legions of unpaid volunteers. Geocities would never have made its founders rich without the cooperation of unpaid, attention-seeking home page authors. One can argue that Google is nothing more than a huge content aggregator that uses the same time-proven model of exchanging visibility for intellectual property.

Nobody holds a gun to the heads of HuffPo's writers forcing them to write for the site. They willingly contribute and reap the benefits downstream on their own sites or elsewhere in their off-line careers. Call this new content exchange model a way-new form of capitalism, or a sinister species of socialism, but it's the way the idea marketplace works and it's not going away.

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September 17, 2007

New York Times Comes to Its Senses, Abandons "Walled Garden" Content Plan

Back in 2005, I wrote an article for Ghost Sites excoriating the New York Times for putting much of its best content (including columnists Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, Judith Warner, Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, Tom Friedman, David Brooks, and others) behind a subscription wall.

The Times was making $10 million a year on its subscription scheme, but its management clearly recognized that it could be making much more by opening up its content and making it ad-supported. Abandoning the "walled garden" approach is great news both for the Times and for those who continue to regard this institution as an indispensable resource. Bravo!

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