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Google is introducing site-targeting for paid-advertisers in a bid to perfect their golden-egg ad-distribution network AdWords. Yesterday Google announced a limited beta test of a unique feature to AdWords, a system allowing advertisers to choose where their ads are displayed by selecting the sites or pages they will appear on. Billing will be done on a cost per thousand (CPM) impressions basis. Read more…

Mirroring last year’s rounds of conglomeration in the search engine industry, the search engine marketing (SEM) sector is seeing a round of mergers, acquisitions and newly minted partnerships. Read more…

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Wednesday, March 16th, 2005

Gmail Going Live April 1st

According to dozens of Google-watchers, Google’s ad-driven email system, Gmail is slated to move from beta to live-status on Friday April 1st, one year after it was introduced to a limited number of testers. On its first day, many thought Gmail was an April Fool’s joke.

To establish the initial beta-test group, Google issued a number of initial invitations to a very small group of users that day. It also sent each of those users six invitations to send to friends who where also issued six invitations with their beta account. Gmail grew its potential test group by a factor of six every time it gave away a new beta-account. For the past two weeks, Google has been randomly inviting users of its search engine to sign up for Gmail accounts with a discreet link that appears for about 1 in 100 users. Read more…

Yahoo will be killing the Overture brand name early in the second quarter as it moves to merge all its search services under the same banner. Yahoo also announced the beta version of the Yahoo Developer Network, an Application Program Interface (API) allowing search marketers and software developers to build Yahoo into search related tools they use or create.

Soon to be known as Yahoo! Search Marketing Services, (or likely, Yahoo for short), the re-branding announcement brings Yahoo’s advertising and search divisions together under the same name. The opening of Yahoo Developer Network signifies Yahoo’s commitment to competing with Google by allowing software developers and search marketers the ability to build time saving tools around the Yahoo! Search Marketing Service. The announcements coincide with Yahoo’s tenth birthday and day two of the mammoth Search Engine Strategies Conference currently underway in New York City.

Overture was the original pay per click search tool when it launched in June 1998 under the name GoTo.com. After hiring Ted Meisel as president of Overture later that year, the company successfully marketed the phrase “pay-for-performance” sparking the genesis of today’s powerful contextual distribution business model. The company thrived over the next few years, changing its name in late 2001, weeks before announcing its first partnership with Yahoo in November. After a year of rapid growth in 2002, Overture acquired Alta Vista and the search unit of FAST, AlltheWeb in February 2003. In early October 2003, Yahoo purchased Overture and its stable of search technologies, reclaiming its role as a serious contender in the business of search.

Yahoo will be phasing out the name Overture early in the next quarter in the US. After the re-branding effort is complete in the States, it will move to re-brand in international markets with the exception of Japan and South Korea where the Overture name will be maintained.

Advertisers should not see any major changes in policy stemming from this move. It is being done mostly to alleviate confusion between the various brands owned by Yahoo!, and to allow for better internal coordination between product units. If anything, advertisers and search marketers will save time as Yahoo’s core services will be accessible from the same page.

Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions will offer the following services in one suite:

  • Sponsored Search Listings, the flagship search advertising product
  • Content Match, Yahoo!’s contextual advertising listings
  • Local Match, Yahoo!’s local sponsored search offering
  • Site Match, Self Serve and Site Match Xchange, Yahoo!’s search URL submission products
  • Yahoo! Product Submit, the Yahoo! Shopping URL submission program
  • Yahoo! Express, the Yahoo! Directory URL submission program
  • Marketing Console, which enables advertisers to track campaign performance across multiple online channels
  • Search Optimizer, which allows advertisers to improve their campaign performance and reduce the amount of time spent managing their listings

“Our mission is to be essential to marketers of all types around the world,” said Ted Meisel, who is also Senior Vice President, Yahoo! Inc. in a press release “Unifying all of our search marketing and related products under one banner and one common approach reflects our commitment to integrate and simplify online advertising, allowing businesses of all sizes to take advantage of the Yahoo! search marketing solutions that best fit their marketing goals.”

Accompanying the re-branding announcement was the opening of the Yahoo! Developers Network API. Search is recognized as being the essential web-tool. Everything from weather information to airline tickets are found via search tools of one sort or another. Like its rivals, Yahoo offers several types of search tools such as images, maps, news, and video on top of general website search. By opening its own API, Yahoo is inviting web developers to build Yahoo search services directly into the products they create. For example, a Star Trek Enterprise fan-site could build a Yahoo powered search tool that finds video relating to quotes about the series. Similarly, a Phoenix Suns fan could create an on-site application that calls video clips of the brilliant point-guard Steve Nash. Marketers can build tools tracking specific campaigns and smaller search tools can combine their look and feel with Yahoo’s massive database to produce industry-specific results (vertical search) for unique business sectors.

Yahoo’s hard work to rebuild its brand strength against Google is slowly paying off with rises in market share and customer loyalty. By clearing up confusion between the brand names Overture and Yahoo and opening the hood to allow users to create their own versions of core products, Yahoo has given web searchers and marketers the gifts of clarity and empowerment. Ultimately it has given itself a gift of greater presence. Happy Birthday Yahoo!. Here’s to another ten years.

Several forums are tackling the Autolinks feature in Google’s new Toolbar v3(Beta). It’s getting ugly friends.

Accusations of spyware, adware and malware are springing up beside the obvious comparisons with Microsoft’s previous abuses of their powerful position.

Over at Jill Whalen’s HighRankings Forums, the discussion turns towards class action lawsuits.

Meanwhile, over at CNet, reporter Stephanie Olsen speculated on Google’s hiring of former MS product manager (and the original author of the failed MS Smart Tag auto-link software) and the fact that Microsoft continues to hold the patent on auto-linking.

Even in the quiet retirement community of Palm Springs the local daily, The Desert Sun raises questions about Google Maps (a main feature of Google autolink) and a person’s right to privacy. After writing such an angry article, one wonders what will happen if the author Cindy Uken starts to dig a little deeper.

Google is flirting with the event horizon of a massive PR nightmare.

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Thursday, February 17th, 2005

Times Company acquires About.Com

The Times Company, owner of the New York Times has purchased About.com from Primedia for $410 million in cash.

About.com employs approximately 500 experts or guides who create content on thousands of topics ranging from the arts to zoology, attracting 22-million visitors per month.

“The global reach of About.com and opportunities for cross-promotion between its channels and our digital properties will be additive for both businesses,” Janet Robinson, president and chief executive of the Times Company, said in a statement posted to the New York Times website.

Along with their flagship newspaper, the Times owns the Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune, 16 regional newspapers, 8 television stations and 2 NYC radio stations. It also publishes nearly 40 unique news related websites.

About.com, which was put on the block late last year, also attracted interest from Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and AOL.

Google shares jumped over $10 yesterday to close at 192.99, increasing in value nearly 3% over the day. Prices were expected to drop slightly as the six-month lock down on 177-million held by Google employees and early investors expired at midnight last night.

Trading was almost four times the average volume with 38,563,336 shares in play. Heaviest volumes were seen in the early hours with small spikes happening throughout the day. At the time of this writing, shares are trading on off-hour markets in large blocks at 193.32.

The 177-million that became available on Monday nearly doubled the amount that have become available in the six months since Google’s August IPO. Hungry investors were prepared to snatch up shares as quickly as they became available, hence the 3% increase in asking price.

For many NASDAQ watchers, Monday was seen as a sort of a Groundhog Day offering a favorable forecast on the search-sector. Investor confidence in Google remains quite high and that confidence helped the tech-board weather an otherwise lackluster day.

At the time of this writing, Google is up again, trading at 195.93.

Search engine watch has printed December 2004 stats from comScore Media Metrix detailing the market share of the major search engines going into the new year.

Google continues to dominate, generating 48% of all search results either directly or by providing results to smaller search firms such as the Excite Network. Yahoo follows a distant second with 32%. The pre-proprietary MSN came in third with 16% with Ask following fourth at 2%. Read more…

The venerable About.Com is on the auction block. Founded in 1996 as the Mining Company, About is one of the oldest well-known Internet properties.

In October 2000, About was purchased by Primemedia for $690Million worth of stocks. Today, the final bids are being accepted from five companies are thought to be in the $300 – $500Million range.

The five companies expected to offer final bids are; Google, Yahoo, The New York Times, AOL/TimeWarner, and Ask Jeeves. The auction, which is managed by Goldman Sachs, has been quietly active for just over a month.

About has seen difficult times over the past few years. While carries has more information on more subjects than most websites, most web-users never included in the “must-visit-everyday” category of news and information sites.

Interest expressed in About from major search engines is not surprising but then again, neither is the bid from the NYTimes. About.com has a massive directory network of expert sites. It also has a huge archive of topic-based articles. Long-time search readers will remember Search Engine Guide editor Jennifer Laycock’s daily columns in About.Com.

The future of About.com depends on which of the five firms place the winning bid. Perhaps we are about to see the massive reporting resources of the New York Times appearing at About. On the other hand, perhaps About is smaller than the sum of its parts and one of the four search firms bidding will walk away with a larger advertising network. Whatever happens, About.com has suddenly become very interesting.

G-Hawg update. No shadow seen = early spring vacations for investors.

In an intense one-hour webcast and phone conference, Google released their Q4 numbers. Revenues were up 101% to $1.032 billion in the last quarter of the year. Income from operations was pegged at $303 million, a staggering 30% growth. That’s on top of two previous quarters that each showed 15% increases in income.

Watch for an initial review of the Q4 announcement in a few hours and a much longer analysis in tomorrow’s StepForth newsletter.