Bill Gates opened the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last night calling this the decade of the digital lifestyle and workstyle. While his keynote speech only touched on search in general terms, he played down the threat of Google in an earlier interview and noted IBM as Microsoft’s chief competitor. Read more…

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Thursday, January 5th, 2006

Year Opens with Google Speculation

It all starts with a rumour. Someone said something to someone else and that someone told another person and before you can say, “cheese-doodle”, a wrong-story rumour grows out of control as speculation spreads it far and wide. Each retelling of the story adds another dimension, based on the teller’s assumptions and perspective. An interesting phenomenon has played out in the search engine press over the past two days, as a non-story about something Google is not doing grew into the imminent death of Microsoft almost overnight. Read more…

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Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

State of Search Marketing 2006

Happy New Year everyone! After a two-week slowdown, the North American business world is gearing up to its general terminal velocity. In the high-tech environment we work in, terminal velocity often appears to approach the speed of light. Being human beings however, we are not capable of moving as fast as light. Our working environment moves or changes faster than we can possibly keep up with. Read more…

It is that time of year again. Between the extra helpings of turkey soup and sandwiches, writers of every stripe are making lists of predictions for the coming twelve months. Last year, we got just over half our predictions correct. This year we hope to do as well or better but in an industry as dynamic and rapidly changing as the world of search, we couldn’t expect to hit a home run on every prediction. The only thing that is certain is the idea 2006 will be as or more interesting than 2005. Read more…

Many thanks to the readers and responders who nominated our blog as one of the top search engine optimization related blogs of 2005. In the end, we did not win however, we feel honoured to have been nominated and are pretty much pleased with the results. Read more…

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Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

Slawski's list of Google Acquisitions

Bill Slawski of WebAdvantage.net and Cre8asite Forums has made a list of companies and technologies acquired by Google over the past six years. For anyone interested in Google, especially search marketers, the post is a must-read.

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Thursday, December 15th, 2005

StepForth Blog Adds Comments Feature

For the past year, StepForth has published a bare bones Blog. We have not implimented features found on many other Blogs such as comments, trackbacks or tags.

We chose to publish our ideas and comments this way because, being the extremely busy people we are, we felt moderating a comments section on a fairly popular Blog would add too much time to our already action packed day. We already have a significant readership and, until now, have had no pressing need to see where or how far our words have travelled in cyberspace.

That’s all about to change. Actually, some of it has already changed. Earlier today we opened the comments section up, one of the first steps towards a much larger site and (by extension), Blog redesign. We hope the changes lead to more interaction with readers, other SEO practitioners, and webmasters. We strongly believe everyone who reads these words has something useful to share and that through the sharing of information, we can help in the effort to make the SEO/SEM industry more transparent and easier to understand.

Those interested in sharing their thoughts, opinions and/or ideas are welcome to register and participate in discussions. A special thanks to Ross (the Boss) and Mark (the VP) for doing the “heavy lifting” in our site and blog redesign.

Search engine marketing has displaced every traditional media with the exception of television in relevancy and importance in the eyes of ad-buyers. With much lower costs and a much greater reach, online advertising makes up the second largest area in which advertisers spend money and marketers pass messages. There are a growing number of advertising channels available via the Internet and the major search engines are interested in acting as facilitators for as many of them as possible.

These channels or services, unlike traditional predecessors, are open and available to virtually anyone with a product to sell or message to communicate. Openness, ease of use, a sense of fairness and the global reach of the Internet are factors that make search marketing so popular. Ultimately, the versatility of the Internet combined with the much lower costs associated with online communications is what has brought search marketing to today’s prominence. Add the evolution of the medium and expanded accessibility and it is a safe stretch to say that search marketing will eventually surpass traditional television advertising by 2010 as the communications vehicle of choice. Here is a short list of what the search engines currently offer in the way of services to small business advertisers.

Organic Listings

By far, the strongest form of search engine advertising is found in the free organic listings, at least if your site is in the Top10. According to a number of studies, the most well known of which is Gord Hotchkiss’ Google Eye Tracking study , the vast majority of search engine visitors examine and select organic listings over paid listings.

Organic listings are also the least expensive form of online marketing. All that is required is a good website and information on items people are searching for. Delivering a bigger bang for less money, a strong placement at Google, Yahoo and MSN can provide dramatic increases in site traffic.

Ironically, organic search marketing is not seen to be nearly as sexy or interesting as its wealthier cousins from the paid-placement side of the family. The free, organic listings are the loss leader of the search engine world. None of the major search engines makes a penny providing free listings and the search marketing sector servicing organic placements is still seen as an arcane and murky world by many advertisers.

Pay Per Click Advertising and Placement

Pay Per Click or PPC is currently the most popular advertising service offered by the major search engines. Mainstream marketers love it because PPC is fairly easy to understand and not nearly as difficult to explain to others as organic SEO. Because of this, and the base fact that search engines make money hand-over-fist from PPC programs, the rise in interest in search by major advertisers mirrors the evolution of the various PPC systems offered.

Overture started the ball rolling with their original pay per click search engine GoTo.com. The model was copied and modified by Google and Yahoo purchased Overture, rebranding the service Yahoo Search Marketing. Overture was fairly successful in its early years, sticking deals with the search engines of the day to display paid results much in the same way Google and YSM do today but it wasn’t until Google introduced AdWords that mainstream advertisers took notice.

When they did, the sky was suddenly no longer the limit. (Google is actually working to send search services to space.) Mainstream advertising agencies and the absurd amounts of money they control started attending conferences and learning as much as they can about pay per click and other forms of search marketing.

PPC offers a number of definable results that organic SEO simply cannot. You can guarantee with absolute accuracy that the result will be visible on the front page as long as the money and effort is there to make it happen. Good SEOs haven’t made guarantees for a number of years now. PPC has another hidden advantage that makes it widely attractive to larger advertisers.

Contextual Ad Delivery is possibly the coolest thing since the automated bread slicer was invented, at least if you think like a marketer or a search engine financial executive. The delivery system works in two unique ways. The first is based on keywords entered by searchers; the second is based on keywords found on a page or document.

Many search engines display ads generated by a larger search tool. AOL for example currently runs ads generated by Google. The specific ads coming up to the right of the organic search results are placed there because they somehow correspond to the keyword query made by the searcher viewing them. That’s the basic form of contextual ad delivery.

The more complex form is found on non-search related documents. Next time you visit a website that is not a search engine, (perhaps even this one), take a look around the sides of the screen. If you see any ads by Google or YSM, you are looking at contextually delivered product. The ads appear on the screen because the website owner has partnered with Google or YSM. The ads are generated based on keywords found on the document on which they are displayed. Whenever a site visitor clicks on one of those ads, the site owner shares a percentage of the click-through bid. Similarly, users of Gmail have become accustomed to seeing paid advertisements generated based on keywords found in the text of their email messages.

Marketers see contextual delivery as the predecessor of personalized ad-delivery, a service MSN feels it is close to introducing when it takes adCenter out of beta.

Shopping Search

Another form of search service is shopping based search engines. Shopping engines deliver product information directly to consumers, and help them find online merchants to purchase from. They are not meant to be places people look for lost relatives or seek solutions to common health ailments but they would be glad to refer visitors to a good book or microwave oven.

Most shopping search engines receive information directly from the databases of merchants using their systems via an XML feed. Two well-known independent examples are Become.com and Shopping.com . They are not alone however as the major search engines know a good thing when they see it. Earlier today, another well-known shopping engine, PriceGrabber.com was purchased by London based GUS PLC for $485million.

Google, Yahoo and MSN all have their own shopping search engines. Of the three, Yahoo’s is arguably the most interesting application of Web2.0 philosophy, MSN is the most traditional and Google is the most comparative.

Yahoo Shopping has moved forward into the world of Web2.0 providing lists of products and reviews compiled by its massive user base. It actively promotes users to save lists to an area known as my lists, and to make those lists available to other users. Yahoo has tied Yahoo Shopping into Yahoo local search and provides maps to stores found through their shopping engine.

MSN Shopping is fairly traditional and straight forward with product listings by category and price range.
Google’s shopping service Froogle is actually more of a comparative price engine than a pure shopping engine but, in conjunction with Google Local and Google Maps, Froogle can provide directions to the lowest cost items near you.

Local Search

Perhaps the biggest marketing bonanza will be found in local search engines. Many search engine observers suggest local search will replace the Yellow Pages as users start to interface with search via handheld devices and cell phones. Most often used by consumers looking for a product or service near their own home, local search engines tend to draw information from the general search databases.

The types of search services mentioned above are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the full range of features, tools and services offered by the major search engines. For small business advertisers though, these are the services that are easiest to take advantage of and tend to return the best results.

Marketing in general has become more complicated and search marketing is becoming extremely complex. Small businesses that already have a relationship with an SEO or SEM firm might want to arrange a meeting with their search marketing vendor to discuss plans for the coming year. With or without the assistance of SEOs or SEMs all online advertisers have a lot to think about over the holiday season. 2006 looks like it is going to be wild and highly productive year.

Mondays follow weekends and a lot can happen over 48-hours. That makes a Monday morning a bit of a mash-up. As I scan article ideas from first to last, my mind keeps wandering to the middle. There must be a common thread uniting ideas found in the four pieces outlined below. The most obvious connection is that each relates to search marketing but perhaps if read collectively there is something a bit deeper, a signal of where the SEM industry is going. Read more…

The StepForth SEO Blog been nominated for an award from Search Engine Journal. That’s a nice way to start a Friday morning after a long and busy week. Huge thanks from StepForth to those who nominated us. That was the easy part. Now, anyone interested in voting for their favourite blogs has a much harder task ahead of them.

A quick scan of the nominees shows a number of well written and highly informative blogs readers can cast their ballot in support of, separated into five categories. Participants are asked to rank each nominee on a scale of 1 – 5 with 5 being the highest score.

Best Search Engine News Blog

Pandia | MarketingPilgrim | SearchEngineBlog.com | Search Engine Lowdown | Search Views | John Battelle Search Blog | Search Engine Watch Blog | Threadwatch | Google Blogoscoped | Search Engine Roundtable | Research Buzz | Top Rank Blog

Best SEO Blogs

StuntDubl | FishSEO | SEOMoz | SEO SpeedWagon | TextLinkBlog | SEO Black Hat | SEO by the SEA | Jim Boykin’s Blog | Link Building Blog | Stepforth SEO Blog | Matt Cutts Blog | Greg Boser’s WebGuerrilla | SEO Book

Best Search Engine Owned Blogs

Yahoo Search Blog | Ask Jeeves Blog | MSN Search Weblog | Google Blogs (All of them)

Best Search Engine Marketing and Contextual Advertising Blogs:

AdRants | Did-It Frog Blog | Got Ads? | JenSense | Google AdWords and Adsense Blogs (in general) | Marketing Vox | ProBlogger | Traffick.Com

Best Blog Search Engine Blogs

Topix.net Blog | IceRocket Blog | Daypop Weblog | Feedster Blog | BlogDigger Development Blog | blogpulse Newswire | Blog Search Engine | Technorati Weblog

As you can see, there is some stiff competition in the SEO Blog category. If you are interested in voting, please visit the Search Engine Journal’s 2005 Best of Search Blogs Awards at SurveyMonkey.com. To anyone who participates, thanks for voting. And to other nominees, thanks for writing and sharing your information with others in the industry. Hopefully we can all teach each other another thing or two in 2006.