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The Competition Line up to game Gmail.

Optimized Email - a Brave New World of Optimization?

2:03 pm on Apr 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

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This is an interesting story from DMNews. It is the first place outside of webmasterworld I've seen raise the issue of targetting competitors ads. They do not go as far as I have and others here have in stating that is it probably a copyright violation, but they do present it as a concern.

They also raise a new privacy concern. They point out that gmail might violate provisions of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLB) that deals with sharing of personal information in a financial context.


Bringing up the GLB got me thinking. I served as privacy officer for a website tracking company. GLB was only one of several specialty laws we had to deal with.

There is also HIPPA which deals with medical information. I think this would most likely prevent your insurance company sending anything to a gmail address, doctors sending you email appointment reminders, and maybe even your great-aunt Sofie asking how your cold is.

Then there is legislation many of you are familiar with - COPPA - The Children's Online Privacy Protection. I do not see anyway Google can give children under 13 a gmail account without their parents written permission. It is questionable whether they can even accept any email from children under 13.

The small company I worked for spent into the six figures on privacy issues. I do not understand why Google is so slap-dash.

1:40 am on Apr 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Yes but by doing the verification, you make sure the senders email address is real. 95% of the problems with fighting spam could be fixed if every email you recieved was real. The main problem with fighting spam these days is that 99% of the spam you recieve is not even from a real email address that could be shut down.

With the email address being real it makes it much easier for google to put up filters to combat any future stealth spammers. How easy would it be for google to recognize stealth spam if out of no where, 1000 confimation auto responses have to be sent out to the same email address? There would be a few issues newsletters at first, but that will end when the service has been up for awhile. Newsletter email addresses won't be sending emails to 1000 new gmail addresses at the same time. People sign up a few a day, not by the thousands a day.

Let's face it, there will always be spam and spammers. We cannot get rid of them, instead we just have to try and slow the flow of spam.

2:55 am on Apr 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Some of the spammers use a ramdom email address that got from the Internet like the virus email does.

So, blocking that email will cause the real email address owner to be banned.

Spammers do not use their own email address so they have nothing to lose.

Real people who have been hijacked for their email addresses will suffer.

12:53 am on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I don't see what all the fuss is about. Do any of you have hotmail or yahoo accounts? They already place ads in your account just like Gmail is going to do. The only difference is that these ads will be targeted. What's wrong with that?

I could see there being privacy issues involved but how could spam get worse? Spammers use email because it is cheap/free. If they end up using Gmail ads they would actually have to PAY for those visitors.

3:52 pm on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

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contentsiteguy its about non public email being sent from individuals to individuals for the sake of their personal or business interests being scanned by google in order ..

not to reduce virus attacks

not to reduce spam time wasters

But to targets adverts for the recipient which may be competitive or against the very interests and nature of the non public message sent by the individual sending the message from outside gmail.

Then on top of that there are some privacy issues regarding the mass of data collected by google from search, toolbar and then gmail cookies etc which will allow them to monetize more and more on their profiling of the activity of net users.

And why would they not be likely to do that?

At the moment they are monetising public pages as much as they can even serving copies of these pages from their own caches on their own servers (for which they have not obtained opt in agreement) rather than simply delivering users to the site in question.

They are also operating policies in adwords and adsense which are very hard to pin down, almost not allowing users and publishers to know what the price is for what they are buying or selling. See discussions in the adsense and adwords forums in here.

And specific to Gmail they are now working on monetizing adverts based on the specific contents of non public messages delivered whether with the senders knowledge or not to gmail accounts (remember mail forwarding here you may not know that your message is going to end up in a gmail inbox). These are not public forum messages or public newsgroup messages but a part of the web where some level of "non public" or privacy at least is somewhat expected from commercial scanning ..

True the recipient can manually carry out searches based on some data that may be in a message you send them but this will result in competing offerings being displayed without any conscious effort from the recipient. Worth thinking about if you have a loyal satisfied customer base which you may not wish to start wondering if the grass may be greener in another field.

And thats usually the point with a lot of business relationships .. your customers will start to look for alternatives if and when they are dissatisfied. What google is doing with recipients of business correspondence is it is saying .. does not matter how happy you are with your current suppliers .. from this businesses email we know that all these people could offer you competing products ...

Well thank you Google .. I really think you did us a big favour there! [not]

Well there are some of the issues which people I think are finding interesting .. sorry no time to be more specific more deep or more clear :-) easter monday and all - happy easter btw :-)


5:28 pm on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Mark I understand all that and like I said earlier, there may be privacy issues involved. However, my post was directed at those who believe that spamming is going to become a worse problem because of gmail. That argument simply has no basis whatsoever.
5:35 pm on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

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A few small clarifications and IMOs--

The unfortunate part is lets face it, if the Ads are relevant enough the users might almost get confused and actually think that the links are a part of the email message itself..

That's not likely in the Gmail display. Ads are over to the right, clearly labeled, as on a Google search page.

surely advertisers will 1st decide whether they want their ads show on gmail!

or am I missing something?

Advertisers may opt out of the entire content network, of which Gmail is now a part. If they do, their ads will not appear on AdSense publishers' sites.

GMail's reputation is already so bad that G has to dump it ASAP and move on with their core business.

Google's core business is matching contextually related pieces of content. The fact that Google is attemtping to put e-mail into the global content bucket is interesting, ambitious, and not in the slightest removed from the company's core business.

Google would have to be crazy to put ads on emails coming into Gmail from outside. I can see the uproar now. Outgoing email from a signed up Gmail account holder is a different thing entirely.

Google places nothing whatsoever on outgoing e-mails, not even a little link back to Gmail. The ads are not *in* any e-mail; they are placed alongside mail displays in the Gmail account.

7:11 pm on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

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The unfortunate part is lets face it, if the Ads are relevant enough the users might almost get confused and actually think that the links are a part of the email message itself..

Brad already thoughtfully refuted this. As someone who is now testing Gmail, I can also attest that NO one -- not even a tech-challenged person -- could possibly mistake the ads for being part of the email content. This is made clear at signup, clear on the mail pages themselves, and so on.

I forsee many newsletters and purchase confirmation emails switching to graphics so as not to trigger those adword ads

Doubtful, because this would...
- likely increase the sender's cost (bandwidth)
- be unfriendly to dialup users
- not show up automatically for Gmail users (external pictures are withheld on every email until the user clicks a link to show them)

Let's face Brett's example - fire out 15k "content rich emails" a day to XY k google accounts ...

I'm completely lost as to Brett's point on this subject, frankly. Spammers are spammers. They aim to get their mail to anyone and everyone, and Gmail -- while perhaps eventually a delightfully large target like AOL and Hotmail and the like -- is no different. And why would a spammer want to trigger ads that he or she would have to pay for?! Lastly, as noted above, all graphics are initially withheld from display, which means spammers' Web bugs are also pretty useless.

Legal problems

As I've noted in other threads, this is extremely unlikely based upon my take on intellectual property (IP) laws, at least in the U.S. (I'm not as familiar with laws elsewhere). Google makes the basics of the service very clear in its advertising and its signup, so there are no disclosure issues. And regarding the filtering of mails from non-Gmail folks... this is a non-issue. Your emails are likely already filtered; the motive for filtering does not, in this context, have any legal bearing on the legality of doing so.

intrusive ads

Hardly. And, while I almost hate to say this as an AdWords/AdSense user, I'd say I don't even notice the presence of ads 98% of the time, much less click on them.
9:27 pm on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

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for ThatAdamGuy GoogleGuy and others .. From no Guy just Mark :-)

As a commercial user of the net I expect to be able to target specific terms used in the customer service emails and sales emails from my top target competitors.

I will of course be looking for terms (perhaps even the specific customer service team members names) to trigger my competitive adverts when their customers and prospective customers are reading emails from my enemy and these I hope will not often be being searched for on the wider public internet.

It seems quite likely to me that terms or identifiable strings of words with low internet search frequency will appear in commercial emails from my target competitors so focussing a campaign on these should result in suitably low exposure rates and with these ads mainly appearing in Gmail slots as intended.

I see this as potentially a great way to specifically target my weaker enemies with the aim of taking their customers and prospects, sowing doubts, and piggybacking on their offline promotions which may have generated these contacts.

I also note that it seems Google has changed its line on trademark enforcement at least in the US and Canadian markets (see post [webmasterworld.com...] in the supporters forum) this may make it much more possible for me to target my enemies directly using their trademarks to trigger my adverts although this may lead me to spend more in public adwords than I might like.

However this relaxation on direct trademark enforcement also makes it more likely I can target my competitors customers and prospects directly when they are reading non public email from my targetted competitor using trademark and a word less likely to be searched for together on the net.

These words may often be together not even sequentially in the target companies email. And when adverts are selected for Gmail users are not entering any search that they have positively decided, Google instead is deciding based on the texts in the email being displayed, so its a bonus that I can play with terms which would not be likely to result in my Gmail target adverts triggering a listing in public on the internet.

I want to just keep these specific adverts between my companies and the Gmail subscriber, kind of like the non public email that they will be piggybacking on.

And unless my competitor has set up dummy Gmail accounts to monitor my activity .. the joy is that they may not realise I am doing this for a long time if ever.

And even when they do there will not be a lot they can do about it if I am targetting their employees names or parts of their email addresses or their trademarks within a sentence or phrase :-) quite wonderful :-)

Of course

I would pay more if google would allow me to target sets of ads only to gmail users reading emails from a specific competitor and that these sets of ads would not occur in "public space" at all only when these specific Gmail users are in their inboxes reading my competitors emails.

For that I and I dare say others would pay more! :-)
And that specifically is what Google is offering us, except that they may expect us to have to play with targetting and phrasing and their fun auction to determine price.

How about a simple offer, this much for an advert to appear whenever email from company x is being read by a Gmail user?

How about it GoogleGuy?

Of course the concept will only come truly to fruition for competitor targeting when Microsoft is able to enable such a service in the installed Windows Outlook email client pre set as default into the majority of personal computers bought today, this would bring the concept to its logical conclusion.

Erm am I playing devils advocate or not .. not sure?

10:14 am on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Forgive me for being a bit dense, but could you please give an example or two, using our WW standby favorite of generic Widgets and such?

And even before you do that, realize that Gmail targeting is based (to my knowledge) 100% on AdSense, which means that it's FAR from perfect. Just as we Webmasters may shake our head and wonder, why the heck did THOSE ads show up on my page (via AdSense), so too would schemers such as you suggest be equally stymied, I'd think, trying to intentionally target particular sets of customers via Gmail.

Remember, also, that you can't target Gmail independently of Content matching; in other words, at present, AdWords users either agree to have their ads shown on all Web sites that are part of AdSense (and related premium programs) *AND* Gmail, or they turn off this option and show their ads only on search results.

Given this, I think any type of intentional Gmail targeting is going to be exceedingly difficult.

But, as I suggested above, feel free to offer some sparkling Widget examples, and then I think we in the peanut gallery can then offer more finely-tuned and witty-but-not-necessarily-informed opinions about the successful odds of the targeting you envision ;)

10:50 am on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

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No need for specific examples ..

If I can't target ads ..
I wont spend any money with Google :-)

What is google offering .. you spend your money on adwords and they will just spread the ads about anywhere they like

I dont think so

And further oh we wont be specific about the cost either!

Someone must be joking ..

I want to target my promotional spends as much as possible to reduce wastage and noise and maximise its effectiveness.

If I cant there is less point in doing it ..

I am pretty sure that sheep farmers in Outer Mongolia will not be interested in my new Widget which I am promoting as being better than the Widget from XYZ company in Touson AZ.

Consequently I only want to promote my new better Widget to people reading emails about the inferior Widget from XYZ company in Touson - even if some of the wording in the emails may be similar to that used by Mongolians discussing that great game they play with differently coloured sheep bones :-)

So the point in targetting email inboxes is to get adverts displayed when specific email is being read.

Otherwise why would I bother to do it?

And if Google makes this hard to do? then

1) many will not bother = Google dont make money on Gmail

2) only people like gamers and spammers will be able to get me the result I want - my ads showing in Gmail when people read messages from company XYZ in Touson AZ, but if I have to use gamers and spammers I will be paying them money that google wants me to pay them, result again google loose out.

So if Google dont make it easy for me to target readers of company XYZ in Touson AZ's email they are selling a half service .. its there for you but only if you play about and game the system ... what ... the only reason I would want to use the service is if I can use the service ...

12:18 pm on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

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MOD scissors from Gmail ...The rest just don't cut it!


You are reading this advertisement because you or a third party has signed you into gmails TOS ...

Have a "googlie day Y'all!"

1:04 pm on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

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It just occured to me that not that long ago I started getting lots of weird SPAM that said nothing it was random strings of letters that did not spell anything and maybe one or two words that made sense. I wonder if that has anything to do with somebody testing out GMAIL spamming.
10:20 pm on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Several WW'ers have expressed concerns about losing business due to competitors advertising alongside their quote emails or newsletters in Gmail. Here's why I believe that such ads will likely have no net affect in this context.

About price comparisons

If I ask a company for a quote and they send me information, it includes much more than a price... it includes information about the product and/or service, plus language that may or may not give me a sense of the 'feel' of a company.

Let's say that I requested a quote on "Customized Widgeting Services" and am now looking at a CWS email in gmail. And alongside that reply, I see an ad for "Widgeting Services - $19/month!..." on the righthand side.

- The quote I received may have been for $14 and I may think to myself, wow, this company that mailed me is really offering me a good price!

- Perhaps I'll check out the competitor's offer, see that their site isn't as professional as yours or their language isn't as reassuring, and then be emboldened to accept your offer. I've now cost your competitor [x] cents, and you've gotten a confirmed sale.

About ads next to your newsletter

- The ads may well be complementary. You're selling Widgets, and I see an ad for Widget books or Widget holders. "How cool!" I think, I don't need to move to the competing Wodget brand, because apparently there are lots of great accessories for Widgets! I think I'll buy the new Widget version from this newsletter.

- Newsletters become even *MORE* important! What are the best ways to keep customers engaged and loyal? Speak to them regularly, offer useful tips without obnoxious marketing-speak and hard sales language. With many AdWords-using competitors perhaps competing on price, this gives your company (with the newsletter) an INCREASED chance to focus on building customer relationships long term. AdWords does not a relationship make.

- And, as noted above, your customers MAY click on ads of your competitors, only to see that you offer better prices or better service or better information, thus becoming yet more loyal customers of yours.

* * *

In short, I believe that if your company offers good value (which is NOT synonymous with cheapest prices!), then you're all set, Gmail or no Gmail.

This actually reminds me of one of my friend's (thankfully) ex-girlfriends. She got angry at him when he'd go to the beach (with or without her) because she feared that he'd be attracted to some beach babes and then dump her. This indicated several things to me (and, I believe eventually, to him):

- Someone with such low esteem has much deeper problems than a few tiny bits of cellulite.
- If she really had such little trust in the guy to begin with, then he was unworthy of her affections, whether or not he was going to the beach. In other words, if he was already unhappy, he'd be unhappy in the relationship whether or not he visually saw other women.

And, like Gmail, her competitors were already everywhere. Just banning him from going the beach wasn't punishing the beach. It wasn't even really punishing him. It was denial, pure and simple, and led to their breakup.

10:34 pm on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

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When you are in a business where you take care of your customer and you offer a very good post-sale service and so on, compitors can come up with a nice looking site, nice bla-bla, and a cheaper price and steal your customer who may or may not be happy after (depending if he needs to deal with the customer support)

If I advertise a widget on a newsletter, I am not necessarily put all the related items in the newsletter as well, so why would I want the customer to buy it on an ad found on GMail instead of coming back to my site?

I would agree with you if all the companies would put the same effort in customer satisfaction, but it's not the case, and at the end, customers only know this after the sale, when they need the support. Those site won't display an ad "Get 10$ discount but forget customer support"

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