The Boom is Back -- Let's Party

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SAN JOSE — The signs are unmistakable. That feeling is in the air again.

The Internet boom is back. Let's party!

The Metrics of Money Mania

Tech stocks may still be in the doldrums. But other indicators show that your company may have opportunities now that you haven't had since the Internet bubble burst in 2000:

Web Addresses Are Hot Again. Verisign Inc., which maintains a directory of all dot-com and dot-net addresses, reported recently that registration of all domain names had hit a record high of 4.7 million in the first quarter of 2004. That compares with a mere 4.1 million new names registered back in the first quarter of 2001, when Internet fervor was still on a roll.

Money Is Flowing. Search engine stalwart Google.com, which is preparing its initial public offering (IPO) soon, estimates the value of its company at between $29 billion and $36 billion. That would make its estimated $3 billion in stock sales the eighth-largest IPO in history. If the price holds up, it would give Google a market value greater than such large corporations as Ford Motor, Vivendi Universal, and possibly Boeing.

Irrational Exuberance All Over Again. Excited investors will undoubtedly pay that amount for Google, despite the challenges it faces from search-engine competitors such as Yahoo and Microsoft. And Google's cash cow, the search-specific ads it sells, might even fall prey to a lawsuit by Overture, the originator of such ads and an arch-competitor. Overture, whose ads are shown by Yahoo and many other sites, holds a patent on bid-for-placement ads and might (if its suit is successful) force Google to pay a license fee or even stop selling its own ads.

Who knows what the court will decide in this case? What's important to realize is that Internet businesses are once again a place where cash wants to be.

And that, my friends, means there's money to be made by your company.

Do You Want New Customers Or Not?

If online advertising is something worth billions in speculative investments, and is something worth fighting in court over — and it surely is — then it's something your business needs to take advantage of while there's still gold in them thar' hills.

Advertising in Google and Overture and perhaps some of the many smaller bid-for-placement search engines is still the cheapest way to attract new customers for many of the companies that have tried it. If your business isn't yet doing so, you might want to start running online ads now before every other Tom, Dick and Harry has escalated the bid prices through the roof.

The problem I've found with paid-placement advertising is that there are just so many details to grasp. First, you have basic questions about what products work best in online advertising and what key words should be bid on. These can be daunting challenges by themselves. Then you add such complications as changing your bids from day to day to get better positions than your competitors. You may also find you need to bid less — or not at all — during times of day when the responses you get aren't very profitable.

It's enough complexity to drive you mad.

Letting Computers Run The Computers

As you read this, I'm in San Jose, Calif., at the Search Engine Strategies (SES) Conference. This is an intensive confab put on several times a year in major cities around the world, bringing together purveyors and users of search engines large and small. After its stint in San Jose, SES next pops up in Stockholm, Chicago, New York, and Tokyo. (SES is sponsored by Jupiter Events, a subsidiary of Jupitermedia, the publisher of this Web site.)

Here at the convention, the complexities of managing online advertising are the province of a number of specialized Web services. I wrote a review of two such bid-management services in this space on Sept. 22, 2003:

Go Toast (now Atlas OnePoint). This service offers its customers fine-grained control over online advertising bids at Google, Overture, FindWhat, and about 30 other search engines. Go Toast, based in Denver, Colo., was acquired by Atlas DMT in December 2003 and renamed Atlas OnePoint.

Maestro. An offering of Did-it.com, located in New York, N.Y., Maestro is arguably a bit more "set it and forget it" than OnePoint. Compared to OnePoint, it aims at a somewhat higher-end market of firms: those spending more than $30,000 per month on online advertising.

Next week, I'll report to you on how players such as these are making the most of today's accelerating marketplace — and how you can, too.

An Executive Tech Update

I wrote in the July 20 installment of Executive Tech that you should download the beta 0.9.2 version of Firefox, a long-awaited alternative browser, and test your company's Web sites for compatibility with it.

I've found a strange quirk that you might also run into. When a hyperlink is clicked in Microsoft's Outlook 2003 e-mail program after Firefox is made the default browser, a dialog box called Locate Link Browser appears for no apparent reason. If you use this dialog box to select the Firefox program to open hyperlinks, you may see two Firefox windows when hyperlinks are clicked in Outlook.

Microsoft acknowledges that this is a bug in Outlook 2003 when running on Windows 2000. (See the company's Knowledge Base article 821692.)

This interaction will no doubt be fixed by the time version 1.0 of Firefox is released, probably this September. In the meantime, you can fix the glitch by changing two file types in Windows. Deselect the option for "DDE" under the file types "URL:HyperText Transfer Protocol" and "URL:HyperText With Security." This is more fully described by the Software Tips and Tricks forum.

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