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Hello and welcome to the eighth episode of the AuctioneerTech Auction Podcast for the week of 20 October, 2008. In this episode, we’re going to cover two recent topics from auctioneertech.com, DNS and Google AdWords.
Over the last several months, there have been many security bulletins about the vulnerabilities found in one of the fundamental technologies that makes the web work called DNS. DNS stands for domain name system. It’s a fairly complex system, but abstractly it’s fairly simple.
Every device on the Internet is accessed by Internet protocol, or IP address, which is a dotted quad, or sequence of four numbers separated by periods like 184.108.40.206. We remember websites and services and companies by their website domain names. I’ll bet you can name the websites for Google, Amazon, eBay and AuctioneerTech off of the top of your head, but I’ll bet you don’t know what the IP addresses of the servers are that your computer talks to when you visit those sites.
DNS exists to convert the domain names, like auctioneertech.com, into IP addresses, like 220.127.116.11. It’s like a phone book. You know the name, you need the number.
When you type the website www.auctioneertech.com into your browser, you computer first checks its cache memory to see if it has visited the site before. If it has, it further examines the record to see if that record is still valid. If it’s valid, it directs your browser to the computer at 18.104.22.168. If the TTL, or time to live, on that record has expired, the computer recognizes that the information is too old to be valid so it contacts a DNS server to find out the correct IP address of the domain. The DNS server is usually owned by your Internet service provider, or ISP.
Your ISP’s DNS server has a bunch of address records in its memory, each record with its own TTL or time until that record expires. Each time a subscriber requests a site it doesn’t have, it gets it and adds it to memory so it doesn’t have to get the same record again before the record expires.
The problem that’s been in the news recently relates to what is called DNS poisoning. Essentially, it’s possible to intercept the requests made by the DNS server for a domain name’s IP address and reply to them with incorrect addresses. For example, when the record for PayPal expires and the DNS server goes to update that record, a malicious person could catch that request and reply with an IP address for his server, causing the DNS server to tell the requesting subscriber that the IP address to PayPal is a malicious computer rather than the PayPal server. Now that malicious computer would serve a website that looks just like PayPal and have paypal.com in the browser address bar and the subscriber could be tricked into entering his username and password, providing access to his bank account to the malicious person. This attack is not Paypal’s fault, it’s the fault of the original DNS technology which was far too trusting.
Recently, patches and updates have been made to many DNS servers from many different ISPs. The problem is that you may not know if your provider has updated its servers. There is a test located at DoxPara, a link to which is posted on the transcript to this podcast, to tell if your DNS is vulnerable to the latest attacks, but by far the better choice in my opinion is to use a free service called OpenDNS.
OpenDNS is a distributed network of free DNS servers that are faster and more secure than your ISP’s DNS server. Because they have so many users, the odds of them having the website you’re looking for are much higher, allowing them to return the IP address immediately rather than to have to look it up. They’re on top of their game, which means you can always trust that they’re running the latest updates and patches.
They have a fantastic control panel which not only provides statistics showing total requests, unique domains, unique IPs and more, they will allow you to block categories of websites or specific domains or IP addresses. You can block dating sites, gambling sites, auction sites, adult sites, gaming sites, religious sites, blogs – the list goes on. If you’re an auctioneer, you probably want to allow auction sites but block adult sites. If you’re a school, you probably want to block dating sites and religious sites as well. OpenDNS lets you block these categories and more. I have music sites blocked, but my staff likes to listen to Pandora Internet radio, so I can block the music category but specifically allow Pandora.
OpenDNS automatically blocks known phishing sites, which means that if you try to visit a site that is known to be malicious or to try to extract personal information from you, it will block it until you specifically allow that site in the OpenDNS control panel.
If you manage a network, simply enter the free OpenDNS server addresses in the configuration of your router and rest assured knowing that your router will cause all the computers on your network to go through the OpenDNS servers. If you manage multiple networks, the OpenDNS control panel will allow you to block and allow specific website categories for each network or all at once. If you have a notebook computer and are accessing the Internet at a wireless hotspot, you can use the OpenDNS servers specifically on your notebook to ensure that you’re really going to the sites you wanted to go to rather than hoping that the DNS servers used by the hotspot are not vulnerable or already poisoned.
One final feature is intelligent redirection. If you type example.cm on a normal DNS server, it will take you to either a page not found 404 error or a scam site or ad site hosted by a domain squatter. Type example.cm on a computer using OpenDNS and it will recognize that you probably meant example.com and correctly take you to the site you meant to visit.
How can OpenDNS provide such a fantastic service for free? When you enter a site like example.cm and it doesn’t have a good guess as to what you really meant, it will display a page of Google-powered search results as if you entered that website into the search bar rather than the address bar. OpenDNS takes a percentage of the ad revenue generated if you end up clicking on one of the sponsored links. You can customize the logo using the OpenDNS control panel so it looks like search results from your company, which is a particularly nice feature if you manage a network. The address bar search is so nice that I’ve found myself getting lazy and entering everything in the address bar because I know that OpenDNS will cover for me and convert the malformed website address into a search query.
With all the baddies on the Interwebs, OpenDNS provides peace of mind that when you type an Internet address in the browser’s address bar you’ll end up where you wanted. It provides an increase in browsing speed which translates to an increase in productivity. It makes you safe and boosts your bottom line. And it’s absolutely free. For instructions to start using OpenDNS, visit www.opendns.com.
Now, a question was posted on the page for last week’s podcast by Joe Abal from Florida who asked if I thought Google’s AdWords is a profitable marketing tool. The short answer is yes, but I thought it would be good to discuss what AdWords is and in what context it works best for auctioneers.
Google is a mammoth company, slowly weaving its way into every corner of the Internet by offering free services that are better than the competing for-pay services. The development of these free services is not cheap, especially when Google allegedly requires only 80% of their employees’ attention through their Innovation time off program which encourages each Googler to spend one day a week on projects that interest him or her.
When you search Google, there are two kinds of results returned. The organic results are those listed on the left while the paid ads, or sponsored links, are listed in a block on the right and sometimes above the organic results on the left.
When test subjects perform searches and their eyes are tracked, the results are pretty clear that the vast majority of the time the subjects look first at the top of the organic results list. There is a very intriguing study from a company called Eyetools showing this concept, and a link to that study is posted in the transcript for this episode. These data confirm that it’s much more valuable to have a high organic ranking than to rely on paid ads.
The problem is that you can’t strong-arm your way into ranking high on an organic search, especially if that search is fairly common. A modern-day snake oil industry has built itself around SEO, or search engine optimization, but the fact is that auctioneers seldom have the time to wait for the tweaking and testing involved in a targeted campaign to rank higher for queries relating to items in an auction.
Google AdWords allows you to buy placement of links on Google search results and on websites using Google’s AdSense product which lets site owners display relevant links and get a portion of the proceeds. AdWords customers are charged based solely on how many users click on the ads. Your ad may be displayed thousands of times, but if nobody clicks on it you’re not going to be charged anything.
For customers, AdWords is an auction requiring three pieces of information. You tell it which keyword you want, how much you’re willing to pay for each click, and how much you’re willing to spend per day. AdWords will display the ads with the highest price first until that customer’s per day limit is met, at which point it will no longer display the highest priced ads, displaying instead those of lesser value. You also have the ability to target specific locations, so an ad can run in Kansas and not in Minnesota, for example.
Let’s say you want everyone in North Carolina searching for auction to be shown a link to your website. AdWords displays about eight sponsored listings per search, so you have to outbid all but seven other AdWords customers. With competition from eBay and Overstock.com, two large companies among many with a vested interest in the term auction, a campaign for such a generic term can be quite costly.
Take the keyword phrase combine auction. Because there are fewer companies targeting that search phrase, it’s going to be cheaper and easier as an advertiser to put that link in front of people searching for that phrase. The downside is that there are many fewer people searching for combine auction rather than auto auction or just auction.
AdWords shines when we try to advertise niche merchandise, and organic returns are more valuable for institutional marketing. It’s far better for a weekly auto auction to work to build a frequently-updated website to rank higher for organic returns for auto auction and to use AdWords to quickly advertise antique or unique automobiles as they come in using AdWords to target those people interested in such vehicles.
We auctioneers have fairly unique needs. We usually have a short time to market specific items. If we had an abundance of time, we could build a website for each item and build the ranking over time. Most times, however, we have a marketing window of a week or two, and AdWords gives us the ability to provide exposure of the specific items we have to specific demographics interested in those items.
You’ve been listening to the Auction Podcast from AuctioneerTech. If you have suggestions, questions or comments, or are interested in being a guest, please let me know by going to www.auctioneertech.com/feedback and leaving a message. You can also post public comments about this or any other episode, as well as find show transcripts, on the auction podcast page of auctioneertech.com.
Thank you for listening. Now go sell something.