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Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

Redefining the Search Scenery

As expected, the roll out of change in the world of search is proving to be highly disruptive. Though the year is only three weeks old, noticeable shifts are occurring among the largest search entities and throughout the search marketing sector, making the scenery much different this month than it was just a few short weeks ago. These are among the most interesting times on the Internet as the largest players are positioning themselves to take their unique and collaborative runs through the year of global convergence. Read more…

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Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

Yahoo Submits to Google's Share

Yahoo, the longest running search related business still running on the web has admitted defeat in the organic search sector, noting that Google remains the most popular in terms of market share. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Yahoo’s chief financial officer, Susan Decker said, “It’s not our goal to be No. 1 in Internet search. We don’t think it’s reasonable to assume we’re going to gain a lot of share from Google. We would be very happy to maintain our market share.” Read more…

Many search commentators have connected the rapid drop in Google’s share-values with their recent tussle with the US Department of Justice over its refusal to share search-records with the Government. As far as I can tell, the only thing connecting the two is the coincidence of timing.

As anyone with even a remote interest in search knows, the legal drama unfolding between Google and the DOJ fell out from the closet and into the public realm early last week, nearly a year after the DOJ initial request was complied with by Google’s rivals, Yahoo, MSN and AOL. Of the four major search engines in the United States, Google was the only one to resist the US Governments demand for information on searches conducted by its users.

Within days of the story breaking, Google share prices began to fall, showing a sustained decline for the first time since the search firm went public in August 2004. The sudden drop sent search journalists scurrying to their keyboards to make the unsubstantiated connection between the court case and the value of Google stocks.

What these commentators are neglecting to mention is that investors are becoming wary of the search sector, seeing the bulk of revenues coming from the single source of paid search advertising. Although Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing continue to shower shareholders with positive results, Yahoo’s most recent financial numbers, filed last week, just before the Google share drop started, came in one-cent below investor expectations.

The dust-up between Google and the US Department of Justice is very important and something all search engine users should pay very close attention to; however, it is not likely the root cause of the drop in investor confidence in the search sector. Perceived instability in the long-term business model is far more likely the reason investment management firms and the investors who rely on their advice appear bearish about Google this week.

Yahoo Local & Yellowpages.com Partner for Local Advertising

(source: Search Engine Journal)

Yahoo Local and Yellowpages.com announced a partnership today that will give select clients of Yellowpages.com premium sponsored ad placements on search results generated by Yahoo Local.

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Thursday, January 5th, 2006

Yahoo and MSN Speculation

The year opened with two major items regarding Yahoo. The first involves Microsoft, the second, MTV.

The LATimes, yes, the same publication that made a false start on rumours of Google computers, is reporting that Microsoft made an offer to buy Yahoo for $80 – $90 Billion. This is another thing that probably never happened. While highly unlikely, the rumour does shed light on a particular problem Yahoo and Microsoft both share, they want the same things but a common threat stands in the way, Google.

Yahoo is trying to become the primary online entertainment provider, a meta-network surpassing satellite broadcasting in range and choice. Yahoo is rumoured to be interested in buying Viacom, owner of MTV and a number of other mainstream media content creators. Along with their partnerships with music labels, other TV networks, and movie distributors, the purchase of Viacom would put Yahoo far beyond Google and Microsoft in the field of digital home entertainment.

Microsoft wants to continue to be the biggest thing ever and to do that; it needs to remain the operating system of choice in a rapidly changing world. To stay #1 means providing consumers with what they need, something both Google and Yahoo are almost but not quite capable of doing on their own.

The obvious piece of speculation, aside from the erroneous assumption they might buy Yahoo is an offer to partner up with Barry Diller at Ask Jeeves. On their own, Diller’s IAC has not yet capitalized on the potential of the fourth most popular search engine, MSN’s adCenter might have the technology and clout they need to even hope to compete against Google.

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…

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Thursday, December 15th, 2005

Yahoo Updates Index

Tim Mayer from Yahoo search has posted notice of a significant update to the Yahoo index last night. The refreshed and hopefully improved Yahoo index is now live.

Yahoo is looking for user feedback at ystfeedback@yahoo.com. The specific feedback they are looking for is,

  1. the quality of the search results (please specify keywords or terms used in conducting the search, and
  2. specific domains you think are under indexed, over indexed, or shouldn’t be there at all.

Readers and Yahoo fans can also make comment on the new index over at the Yahoo Search Blog “Sixth Weather Report” posting.

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.

An interesting phenomenon is coming to a monitor near you, perhaps the one you are looking at right now. The days of convergence are upon us. The trend towards the merging of media via the Internet is already causing significant cultural shifts as witnessed by the power bloggers have exercised in relation to TV and print journalism. What a difference an era makes. A decade ago, the traditional media set the pace by telling our stories and provided practical means of mass-communications. Today, the Internet provides a globally stable transmission line and the Web serves as both production studio and broadcast medium. The Internet’s growth and more importantly, the ease of access for anyone with a computer, a connection and a bit of talent, has pushed the majority of traditional media outlets into a period of survival strategy and planning. Read more…

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Friday, November 18th, 2005

Google and Yahoo Going VC

Business is funny sometimes. Massive amounts of capital, planning and commitment can be marshaled, administered and suddenly put to use backing a project or initiative that even surprises close contacts. A funny thing happened in London yesterday. John Battelle, author of “The Search“, blogger extraordinaire, founder of Federated Media Publishing, and suspected confidant of Google founders Larry and Sergey, learned something about Google he didn’t know before. Google has established its own venture capital investment fund. Read more…