Aug 23, 2007

User Generated Content - Take Centre Stage

I must confess - I'm still trying to get the hang of Social Media Networks. So during the San Jose SES, I decided to attend a few Social Media sessions and beef up my knowledge.

I attended

Examining The Phenomenon Called User Generated Content. (review accompanying slides)

Optimizing UGC - through SEO and CMS/SEO

Site Arcitecture is important. (Pre-define keyword rich categories, tpics and tags

Logical structure and cross linking, bread crum navigation

-> User Reviews / Product Reviews are apparently very useful, users want these reviews -but retailiers have been slow to embrace this trend. It's no surprise really -considering that the retailers have a lot at stake and they have no control over the messages which will be translated to reviews - by users (who may or may not be well informed).

Benefits of UGC: Marketing Benefit & Business Benefit. (let your users do the talking).

Users add content, often using key search terms, this helps one gain uinque content on boilerplate product pages.

UGC / reviews educate customers about the retailiers offerings. this results in costomers returining fewer goods (fewer returns save money)

Reviews educate the retailer about their likes and dislikes about their product offering. It's like having your own personal user surveys on your products.

Retailers Still Have Fears - especially of Negative Reviews. (yelp has maintained that 85% of reviewes on products are actually positive. According to Bazaar, 4 and 5 star ratings make up 80% of total reviews.

Fear of fake reviews - it's important to be prepared.

Track IPs of reviewers & ban fake reviewers

3 Key Ideas: require account & log in.

UGC 2.0??

Aug 22, 2007

Key Note Address With Jim Lanzone - CEO of Ask,com

Chris Sherman hosted a keynote address - with Jim Lanzone from Ask, as guest speaker. By all accounts, Ask is firmly in 4th place with less 10% query share, and dropping. It was an interesting session, during which Jim responded to general questions about GUS, the Search Landscape, Personalized Search and the Ask value proposition. (below are my key takeaways from the keynote).

Jim contends that Search Share is one measure of the effectiveness and popularity of a Search Engine and should be reviewed annually - monthly and certainly not on a weekly basis. Ask is motivated to introduce innovative features which help address users' Search Intent. The ultimate goal is to Satisfy users Search query with a rich result feature set. "Ask doesn't think about query share growth when introducing new features. We are competing for users and we feel that our local offering and our dynamic search engine results features provide better value for our users".

Ask contends that they have always been focused on delivering great Search Results. The purchase of Teoma improved their core product offering. Now that Search is an essential tool in everyday life, Ask strives to be the most wholly relevant engine, by delivering a good mix of Search Results - Ask 3D Search, being an example of an innovative search feature.

Interestingly, Jim Lanzone mentioned that approximately 50% of the engagement on the Ask SERP is NOT from web results. Apparently -that's a clear indication that Ask results are very relevant for their users. He stated that Live Club is not Search - it's simply Games - in which users solve puzzles or word games whilst initiating search queries. Some Search Engines measure the relevance of their Search Results, based on how many clicks are generated on the SERP. Others, monitor the amount of time which the user spends on the SERP or subsequent pages, before closing the results pages altogether. Jim Lanzone contends that Ask users are finding what they want on the results pages, so there is less of a need for multiple searches.

However, Query share is based on query volume, which is a function of the number of Searchers who use a particular search engine and the relative number of searches generated per user. If Ask results are really so accurate, then more people should be using their Search Engine and their Searches/Searcher should be higher. Ultimately, that would result in a better Search Query share than 5 - 8%, which is where they sit right now.

To be sure, Ask has a rich content offering on it's SERPs and is more synonymous with the concept of Universal/Blended Search than any of the Top 3. That hasn't yet translated into stronger overall relevance or greater adoption of ask, by Google, Yahoo or Live Search users. One question which seemed to freeze Jim, was the monetization aspect of Ask. Why would any Search Marketer buy ads on, when they could gain access to Ask users through Google. IMHO, Jim struggled to identify the value proposition which Ask offers to advertisers. The prospect of gaining access to other IAC properties may not be worth the hassle of monitoring separate campaigns on the same platform. Jim did demo an interesting new Ask TV ad, which highlights the value of Universal Search, but then - what else is new...........

Marissa Mayer Keynote @ SES

On day 3 of SES San Jose, we started the day with a keynote hosted by Danny Sullivan. The guest speaker was Marissa Mayer from Google. I went to the session - hoping to learn a little more about what Google is planning for the future. I'd just heard that Google has unveiled new YouTube ads, and I was curious about that. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to ask my question. I did however learn a little about Marissa's perspective on a number of Google features and Search Trends.

GUS - Google Universal Search.
This seems to be one of the key themes of this event. Marissa maintained that Google has changes it's entire infrastructure of how the servers work, along with it's rannking piece in order to provider users with Universal Search. The idea being to move away from 10 links and try to give users better, more useful answers. Universal Search renderes results more like an encyclopedia. Currently GUS renders Search Results from a hand ful of verticals including Maps, images, video and books. In future, Google will add Blogs, Scholar and other verticals. That said, Google's wants to focus on function before form - so performance remains a key priority - even as they strive to deliver a richer set of Search Results.

Personalized Search - is becoming more popular with Googlers - with 10's of millions os users already. Google is already trying to user Session Memory to deliver more relevant results and corresponding ads. Although It’s hard to know what variables would be used through Personalized Search, Google currently leverages locations, atlas book and web history in delivering personalized results to users.

I also learn't that Search history and web history are now available – so users can see their history and even have control over their search history. That way, there’s less chance that Google personalized search will generate in accurate search results. One touchy subject for Search Markerters is that personalized search results are co-mingled with Algo results - which makes it tougher for websites to rank very high on Google SERPs. Marissa actually believes that personalized results will become the default of the future, because the relevance is so much better.

Inevitably, the subject of Social Media Networks was discussed - notably Facebook. Marissa noted the similarities between Google and Facebook -
-> Both have fully functional applications, a robust API and open platforms
-> Anyone can create a Google gadget or a Facebook application. So essentially, both provide a great opportunity to build a better deeper relationship with users.

Human Powered Search Engines, notably Maholao - have been in the news lately and Marissa was asked about Google's apparent position as an Algo Purist. She pointed out that although Algo results are very important, Google Coop does provide an opportunity for users to label results. Google Notebook also allows users to index information and provide commentary. So, in effect - Google leverages Algo results and the collective intelligence of it's user base.

Interestingly, when discussing Algo Results - she mentioned that Google sifts through 10's of Billions of pages in order to deliver relevant results. That would seem to indicate that Google's index size is simply massive. In the past, Google has claimed to have the largest index, but historically, the company refused to call out any numbers or walk anyone through how they can prove it.

Marissa included a 5 minute demo of Google's Local feature on iPhone. Including the street level views. She also talked about the Google 411 Service and how it provides voice activated maps. Apparently, Google Mobile is the one feature which doesn't suffer from a mid summer slump in query volume - possibly because more Googlers are spending time outdoors and using their cell phones instead of PCs or lap tops.

All in all, it was an interesting keynote - although there are lot's of questions about how GUS and Personalized Search will impact Search Marketers.

Aug 21, 2007

SES Day II - Personalized Search & User Generated Content

I've decided to focus on a number of very specific themes which I've observed at SES San Jose. There are many, well informed and knowledgeable individuals providing commentary on SEO Optimization, Search Engine Marketing and several other industry trends. I'd like to provide some insight on a handful of subjects, which I think are still evolving and certainly seemed to dominate some key sessions at SES San Jose. The key theme that I"m noticing is that the idea of Personalized Search and the power of User Generated Content - seems to be driving the Search Engine landscape, as never before. Universal / Blended Search (GUS), as Search Engines way of providing more "relevant" results by giving users a vareity of interesting features. Consumer Reviews and other User Generated Content, are very useful from a Personalization stand point. The key objective of Personalized Search being to provide results as close to Searcher Intent, as possible.

Gordon Hotchkiss, of Enquiro Search Solutions Inc. provided his insight on Personalization and Personalized Search. He contends that as Search Engines start to get users personal information, they can aggregate it, mine the data and introduce intersting ways of disambiguating their Search Intent.

Personalization is also influenced by the origin of the Search - smart phones, PCs, Lap Tops all may all represent a different Search Intent, in many cases Search is a task oriented exercise. One interesting question which a lot of people were asking at SES sessions was this - If the natural results are getting better, as a result of improved features like Personalized Search, - will anyone click on the ads?

Search Engagement studies have shown that Users tend to fixate on Imagery - so if Universal Search is delivering more Imagery - be it Celeb Pictures or Video Imagery, how will this impact overall relevance. Personalization of SERP, by surfacing Multi-media features - will certainly change the user experience and impact the relative importance of Page Rank for the top 10 - 20 weblinks.

As Personalization takes hold - the search space becomes a lot more user centric. Searchers provide information on their current tasks, social patterns and overall Search Intent -thruough their Search history.

A number of websites including one from Progressive, are establishing relationships with online prospects and customers -with interactive tools which help drive personalization right at the start of the process funnel. As Personalization evolves, SERPs may take on more of a Search Portal - type structure, with Search Results from different multi-media features, prominently featured on each results page.

So, I get that Personalized Search resutls change based on your perferences. But what if you've never searched for something before? Whose preferences shape your results? In many cases, a site will generate different results for the same query terms - when the queries are generated from different geographic regions. Search Engines are also trying to categorize Search Enine results based on regional differences. Google does a very good job of delivering Market-Specific results for same query terms, when the queries are generated from different geographic regions.

Dave Davies, from Beanstalk Search Engine Positioning, Inc. shared a different take. He reviewed Google Patents as a functrion of personalization and user behaviour. How will user behaviour impact the types of results which you we will receive in future.

Search Engines can watch user behaviour to assess the value of web pages which are displayed throuhg their SERPs. 3 key indicatrs of user behaviour - include: Click tghrough, Time to return to engine and type of query.

Personal PageRank - Judging Your Value
Google will be assiging a value to you as a Search User. Factors for grouping users may include: Membership in common social communities, common bookmarks and common search behavioural patterns, (sites slected and/or behaviour on sites once selected). Jonathan Mendez, offered some key insights on the importance of Behavioural Targetting and Personalization for Search Engine Marketing.
->Nothing performs better than targetting to the intentions of users
-> SEMs need to be recognized as persons who do personalization / targeting
-> Behavioural Targeting is not just about online (display) advertising. Search Engines are getting involved as well

Key Parameters for BT and Personalization may be found in URL Referral Strings including
hl= host language
• safe = safe search preference
• client = browser
rls = results language
• q = query
btnG= search interface

Referral Strings in general, offer very valuable information on Searcher Intent. Online ads can provide even more useful information through Cookies, Ad Group, Ad Creative, Match Type and parameters based on Local features. All of these parameters are very useful as a source for developing personalized content.

In mining Search Reporting data, it's important to Focus on High Impact Segments: This provides a great segmentation base for analyzing BT data. The following segments below are all useful in BT. Behaviour, Source, Temporal and Environment.

Search Engine Commentary On Personalization & BT
Google - strives to answer the users question - regarding, What should I be searching for? Tarot have a horoscope gadget which gets about 37M PVs weekly, it works because they have found a way to showcase very useful content. Yahoo tries to focus on Subjective Search - by leveraging the collective knowledge base of it's users.

But, are we right to equate relevance with the degree of engagement on the SERP? Certainly, this trend makes Search Engine Optimization - more of a challenge. How do Search Marketers get their websites ranked high on Google, when GUS is reshaping the Search Experience. How about the other major Search Engines which are beginning to feature Multi-Media content prominently on their SERPs?

In theory, Personalized Search should provide a better Search Experience. One of Google's key goals is to optimize search results for users, specifically in relation to keywords. Website owners should think about creative ways to showcase content on their sites through different multi-media features (video, local, images and useful, relevant content). It's always a good idea to make your site the authoritative destination for a specific, niche areas. Historically, you could do that with a boatload of great content. Now, it seems that sites will have to get a little creative with regard to how that content is decimated.

Search Informed Marketing - Comes of age.

Search Informed Marketing - can be defined as, putting search into a marketing package. Essentially, Marketing is about connecting Supply with Demand. Historically - the Marketing Loop consisted of a few key action. Buy ads -> Get distribution -> Sell products -> Make profits -> buy more ads.

The advent of Search Informed Marketing is gradually changing all that. Search query trends can be useful for companies or organizations as they plan how to break out Marketing Spend for their Campaigns. Marketers are now being held to new levels of accountabillity to Business ROIs vs. Media ROIs Search Tools such as Google Trends Live Search Top 1000, can help provide current, almost real time information on what users care about, at any given time. By looking at how the world is searching and what trends are evident, you can get some interesting, real-time information on how the world is feeeling.

Marketing budgets are continuing to shift online as Marketers are realizing that the customer is very much in control. Technology innovation and broadband penetration have helped fuel the growing popularity of the Internet. Search Engines remain the most popular online dstination because of consumers need for relevant and on demand information. A Search Engine's value prop is to put that infomration in front of an engaged, global audience.

As Search Marketing takes centre stage, It's important to consistently integrate offline marketing campaigns with with Online, Search Marketing ones. It's important to start tying TV Marketing / promo services to Search Marketing Campaigns. You can also leverage interest in events and celebrities to support Search Marketing Campaigns - and specific promotional themes. Below are a few tips I picked up from the Session - on Search Engine Marketing

-> feed the need for contral an dcreate comeilling information

-> test your off-line mssageing with paid search advertising

-> close the awareness loop, with search, by monitoring increased demand for new key words. 89% of all consumers making in-store purchazes in the key retainl acategoreies, have condeucted onlin researches.

- > Remeber - keep your message simple. Deliver specific implementation plans.

-> Search Engine Marketers should always strive to talk to the person who stands to profit the most from the gains of a Search Marketing Campaign.

That said, It's still a tough sell, to make Big Brand Advertisers aware that Online advertising - specifically Search, could deliver a stronger ROI than TV or other mediums.

Web Analytics Session @ SES San Jose

Efficient Web Analytics is a constantly changing phenomenon. Matthew Bailey, from Site Logic Marketing - shed some light on this subject during his presentation at SES
San Jose. Below are some of the key points from his session.

-> Make sure your measurement expectations are clearly defined in advance. What do you want out of your website, what do you want your customers to do? You need to questions constantly question yourself, until your key objectives are clearly defined.
-> Segmentation is the key: only by segmenting your traffic do you really start to find out what's going on with your site. Here's the
-> You always need to review and analyze your data in order to either back-up your theories or perhaps, refute them.
-> Ask why - the data is telling you what its saying. What can be done to change the current data trends? Get the why and find out what can be done to address the why. This is the principle of segmentation - only by breaking down and segmenting data can you find out the why? This Analytical thought process provides intelligence and insights which cause or prevent us from hitting out objectives.

I also learnt about the 3 C's of Analytics: Context, Comparison and Contrast.
Context: Numbers without proper context are meaningless - there has to be comparison criteria to help guide the thought process

Comparison: Doing a proper comparison - by specific segments is important. This can be based on established performance benchmarks

Contrast: Monitor Specific Key Performance Indicator trends - notably, time on site, CTR, Engagement, Performance goals and Pages Viewed.

Aug 20, 2007

Michael Vick - Cops A Plea

So, the verdict is in - Michael Vick will indeed accept a plea deal. This afternoon, Vick agreed to admit his guilt in a dogfighting and gambling scheme.Billy Martin, Vick's lead attorney, announced Vick's decision as a federal grand jury in Richmond, Va., was preparing additional charges against the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback. Interestingly, he's probably saving himself from some significant Jail time. It would be interesting to find out what additional charges would've have been filed against him, had he not surrendered.

There simply was no escape for Vick - after his former buddies agreed to take a deal and testify against him. This whole thing would be really funny, if it wasn't so sad. I feel like I'm watching an episode of Law & Order. Here's a guy who had it all, God given talent, all the trappings of success and a guaranteed multi million dollar contract. And he throws it all away - just like that.

Some will contend that Vick was unfairly targeted - I really can't find any merit in that argument. Each man must accept responsibility for his actions and his utterances. Life is truly all about the decisions we make. Everyday - we make choices - in our attitudes, our mind sets - everything we do or say, is about the choices we've made at a given time. I wish more of us would make better choices...........

SES San Jose - The Buzz So Far Is Universal / Blended Search

I learnt a new catch phrase today - GUS - which stands for Google Universal Search - at least that what Bill Slawski, of Commerce360 said, during the Universal & Blended Vertical Search session. You know you're a market leader when you put a new spin on an old idea, and industry experts start positioning it as the "new big thing". I blogged about the concept of Universal Search, some time back - at the time, I observed that the concept of surfacing a variety of multi-media features on SERPs, was not a novel or new concept. Marissa Mayer - launched the concept of GUS in a Google blog post, back in May.

So far at SES San Jose, the underlying theme seems to be that Search Engines are innovating on how to deliver a diverse set of relevance results - by blending in vertical search features. The panelists at this "Universal Search" session included - the always entertaining Greg Jarboe, of SEO-PR , Sherwood Stranieri from Catalyst online and Bill. There was also a brief QnA with representatives from ask, Google and Yahoo.

Greg opened the session by sounding the rally cry about how Universal Search will radically change the way Search Engines deliver results and Search Marketers will have to unlearn much of what they now know about improving their website ranking on SERPs. In May, Google rolled out Universal Search and since then it is making specialized or vertical content more visible online. Consequently, News, video, image and blog results are starting to appear more prominently in Google results.

Ultimately, SERPs will present a vastly different look and feel than the traditional 10 links. One key consequence of this trend is that News Search will become more important and Search Marketers must start optimizing their P.R releases for News Search. Other blended alternative results include - weather, music, travel bookings, products, business locations and maps. This trend could be very interesting for innovative organizations, striving to promote exciting features - a good example is the iphone , which now features a richer set of results because GUS surfaces Videos and imagery along with algorithmic links. Another example is a query for Hilary Clinton which surfaces imagery, video's and other interesting facts about the Presidential hopeful.

One key question which everyone wants answered is - do conventional ranking factors play a role in how vertical search results are integrated with Algorithmic Results? How will search engines determine where to add images, videos or blog search results? One approach for ranking vertical results on GUS, would be to try and determine the following:
- how often searches for that result are conducted in vertical databases,
− how well those results rank, and;
− how users treat those results.

This may mean, Search Marketers have to make sure that their sites rank well for vertical database searches on topics or themes which are popular with searchers. I can see how this trend would drive SEO's crazy. Google's response to questions about how Universal Search impacts Page Rank, was to maintain that GUS fits in with their overall strategy and they will continue to strive to showcase the depth and richness of information on the Internet.

So what can you do? Create useful content which users will like. Strive to enhance the user experience on your site and bring users to relevant pages as quickly as possible. Create informative, useful content and deliver it through multiple mediums and features - including video's, Gadgets, Maps, Imagery, applications as well as Site Content.

Aug 19, 2007

SES San Jose -The Internet Event of '07, Kicks Off In Hours......

As I examine the SES Conference Schedule for the various tracks, I'm struck by how much SES content has grown in recent years. I counted no less than 15 distinct tracks, most of which will have some pretty great sessions. It's Day 1, and I'm going with the Searcher Track. I'd like to hear what the experts think about the current Search Landscape. Stay tuned - I"ll try to bring some insightful analysis and key learnings from each session I attend.

The first session I attended was titled "The Search Landscape", the key objective of this session was to review the current Global Landscape for Search. We listened to brief presentations from Jeremy Crane, of Compete , of James M. Lamberti, comScore Networks as well as Jon Stewart, from Nielsen//NetRatings and Bill Tancer, of Hitwise. All in all, a pretty good panel of industry experts in the field of Search Reporting.

Bill Tancer pointed out that, based on hitwise data trends, Googlecontineus to grow at a rate of 24.3% - compared to August 2006. Yahoo Search gained 17.2% while Live Search decreased. It's intereting that Bill Tancer reffered to Live Search as MSN Search (plus This was a relatively common theme amongst the SES Speakers - on day 1. That truly speaks to the lack of recal which the Live Search brand currently has, amongst industry insiders.

According to Bill, the top 3 Search Engines are taking a larger share of total searchess generated by users who visit the the 1000 plus sites which Hitwise tracks.

Bill also chose to discuss a question which he's been pondering lately - is facebook the next google? Facebook has experienced two tipping pints: Corporate networks and opening access to anyone with an email address. The Social Networking sites' remarkable growth came after they opened up their system to the general public and reduced restrictions account set ups.

Clearly Social networks are interesting because they don't rely on Search Engine Traffic to drive page view growth. A review of the traffic sources to Facebook revealed the following trends.

  • Net communities and social search: 33.8%
  • Search: 9.3%: Much of which is made up of navigational terms (e.g - facebook, social networks, e.t.c)
  • Portals 11.3%
  • Email: 21.8%

Interestingly, users seem to be open to using more than one social networking site and being members of different social networking communities. Back in '95, our home page was our protal page, that's where we go things started. In the late 90's the Search Engines became the starting point for many. Recently Search Engines have started incoprationg more content and becoming more like portals.

Social networking sites are becoming the starting point for our online search experiences. As social networks grow, more and more content is being incorporated and Search Engine's popularity as a "home base" may be diminishing. Bill reasoned that bettering the search experience within Social networks is a valuable initiative which Search engines definitely should examine.

Next up was Jon Stewart from NNR - he focussed on the use of Search Engines as a Customer Acquisition Tool. The key thrust of his presentation was that Search Engines play a big role in getting users to online (retail sales) websites, but plays a less significant role in getting people to transact - once they arrive at the specific site. Interestingly: Googles share of transactional referrals mirros it's overall search market share - followed by Yahoo 17% and MSN 14%. MSN, Yahoo and Google have varying degrees of value in driving transactional referrals in each of the niche categories such as Specialty Apparel, luxury goods and Specialty homes.

From my perspective, this information wasn't particularly useful. Search Engines are no more or less likely to help drive customer acquisition than any other online destination. Especially when one considers that Search Engines are primarily a research tool, used during the early stages of the purchase funnel. In many cases, users will extensively research items online through Search Engines and then go into a physical store and make a purchase. is a data aggregator - focussed primarily on the U.S Online population. According to their data files, 90% of all online media spending is spent on the top 50 websites. There are 6.5B searches in the U.S each month, But only 4B result in search refferrals. Here's how the Compete Index breaks out of current Search Share from Julyu '06 to date.
Google : 66%
Yahoo: 20%: showing the most decline over the past year
MSN: 10%
Ask: 3%

Usage of Google is higher in the market amongst men and lower for women. Seniours over index in their suage of Yahoo!, Live Search and Ask. Men have a 4% greater likelyhood of using Google than the entire Search Market in general, and are significantly less likely to use ask or Live Search.

Interestingly, both Liberals & Conservaties tend to overindex on Google (Liberals :80% vs. Conservatives: 73%). One interesting point I which Jeremy mentioned was that
Searchers tend to perfoam all their searches for a given topic on a single engine. He gave an example of Airline industry related searches.

Apparently, 80% of google users only use goodle for airline searches - 66% of Live search users will use only Live search for airline searches. So it's important to buy keywords on different search engines, or a large group of consumers will never see your message. 62% of purchase related activity occurs the day before the actual purchase. The search activity leading up to the actual purchase can run 2 - 3 months long. At the start of the purchase funnel, high level Brand/Generic type keywords are used. As users proceed through the funnel, they start to generate more product specific keywords. They then review comparative data just before the actual purchase is made. The focus on Brands seems to happen towards the end of the purchase process.

Key Tips For Search Marketers

  1. Search Marketers need to be in more than one place at the same time and spread their message across multiple search engines.
  2. Don't focus on just google and yahoo, Live search has loyalists who use (primarily) Live Search
  3. Know your target consumer - where are your consumers, what are they searching for and where do they search for it?
  4. Say the right thing at the right time: Get a message in front of your users (a branding message), which will compel them to make a purchase. You don't necessarily want to put a hard sell in their face - right of the bat.

Lastly, we heard from Comscore about their new qSearch 2.0 reporting tool and their impressions on the current Search Landscape. Below are my key points.

  • Comscore has a Panel of 2M people around the world who have opted-in to let them observe their online behaviour. Comscore is currently in 32 Countires, worldwide.
  • qSearch: provides clients with in-depth analysis of consumer search activiety across a variety of metrics: search queries, paid search impressions, paid clicks, natual clicks, conversion.
  • qSearch will analyze Core search, local, image, auto search, Toolbar search amongst other verticals
  • qSearch 2.0 will deliver fair and consistent treatment of today's major search players regardless of: Taxonomy, Technical Implementations, Business Relationships / Partnerships

Comscore hope that qSearch 2.0 will help address the apparent lack of Inventory which is putting pressure on bid rates. qSearch will help expose more inventory on the search landscape. Clearly, the industry needs to start looking beyond the established players for inventory in the Search Landscape. Comscore indicated that there were 13B queries in the U.S - in July. (up 6.2% MoM), and the Global Query volume continues to grow at a steady rate.

Analyzing data effectively was also a hot topic during this session. The Comscore panelist maintined that Search Marketers need to look at some key factors.

-> Search Penetration: how many people are doing it

-> Search Intentisity: the level of Search Engagement. Searches/Searcher

-> Algo Click Through Rate: How many people actually clicked on a paid link

Key Trends
Heavy Searchers are driving the industry. 70% of search activity is driven by only 20% of online users. So you are talking to the same group of people but you have multiple opportunities to reach them. Web Search remains the dominant Consumer activity. Web search YoY growth is easily the strongest. Other verticals also show strong YoY growth.

Social Networking Sites are driving vast amounts of query volume - and this creates interesting opportunities. Youtube drives 1B queries monthly, My space could be the 4th Search Engine in the U.S, they are bigger than Ask and AOL - in terms of the volume of queries which are driven on a monthly basis. eBay is also bigger than Ask or AOL Search - in terms of overall query volume.

Global Search Share: Comscore will now report on Search query volume in every country where comscore does business, around the world. Already - this sets a new trend in terms of overall query volume and the relative importance of the U.S - vs ROW.

US Searches: 13Billion monthly.
ROW: offers tremendous opportunity - at 60B queries monthly.

All in all, a good first session - more to come later..

Live In San-Jose: "Has Google's Growth Come At A Price??"

So, I'm all set for only my second SES event - here in San Jose. I'm told this one is the mother of all SES events and I'm looking forward to hearing all that it has to offer. Personally, I'm more interested in the Business of Search, so I like to comment on trends which I believe will impact the Search Business Landscape. I'm sure all Search Engines want to make the World's Information readily available to everyone, but to do that, you need $$$$$ and plenty of it.

That's why I was drawn to an article in the San Jose Mecury News today - titled "Google's Growth Has Come at a Price" - that's not saying much, any form of astronomical growth always comes at a price. Since Google went public in Aug '04 - at $85/Share, its market value has grwon nearly 500% to $156Billion. In Comparison, MSFTs value is not reflected in it's current valuations. Ah - but now, Google is feeling the heat from the dreaded Anti-trust regulators. Seems that the proposed purchase of DoubleClick doesn't sit well with those trust folks in the US - even the Europeans are keen to scrutinize the deal.
So now, the shoe is on the other foot - and Google is playing defense. Basically, the Anti-Trust folks are concerned about two key points.

1. Google's apparent dominance of the rapidly growing Online Advertising Landscape would be made much stronger by the purchase of DoubleClick, with it's strengh in serving and tracking Display ads.

2. Double Click and Google individually have vast amounts of personal information on peoples online surfing / buying habits and trends.

This may be seen as a "Microsoft like" dominant position which could effectively eliminate competition in the Online services sector. Somehow, I think Yahoo and MSN may have something to say about that - but niether will complain about the regulators interest in Google.

Perhaps there's more to all this than it seems. Certainly Google stands to gain from the purchase of Double Click, however - there is growing animosity against the company, and probably plenty of envy to boot. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out - Sergey and Larry would do well to learn from the painful lessons of others...........

Pilots Rescue Stranded Individuals In Oklahoma

So, I just arrived in my hotel in San Jose, getting ready for SES tommorrow. I happenned to catch a live broadcast of a rescue operation mounted by the Oklahoma Police - to pick up individuals who were stranded during some very severe floods out there.

Now let me break this down as best I see it. Police Officers are not trained hang off helicopters and execute rescue's of this nature. I saw some pretty remarkable piloting from the Police Helicopter Pilots and some extremely heroic stuff from the other officers. They're doing all this while CNN and FOX are beaming this stuff live - to millions of people around the world.

Imagine, trying to execute on a "stretch assignment" that you haven't really been trained for - with millions of people watching you and scrutinizing everything you do? And yet the copters are going back and forth, scooping folks up and whisking them to safety and then immediately going back out to do it again. These police officers are true heroes - and their efforts should be acknowledged.

I've often mused about different types of career paths - and what it means to excel or underperform in your daily job. For most of us, a bad day is just that - one bad day. I'm a Business Manager with a keen interest in developing and executing strategic initiatives. If I have a really bad day, perhaps a Business Unit or Organization that I oversee will not meet Revenue Goals - or we may fail to properly execute a specific strategic initiative. Most of us can recover easily from Bad Days or even Bad Years.

If these Police Officers in Oklahoma have a bad day today, people will die. Same goes for Doctors, Nurses and practically anyone in Health Services or Law Enforcement. Today - I'm simply thankful for the Men and Women who work hard everyday to save and preserve people's lives.....

Aug 5, 2007

Is Live Search Really Gaining Search Share?

Recently – I came across a post on the Compete blog – regarding changes Search Share gains for Live Search at the expense of Google. According to the data provided by Compete, increased their query volume by 67% from May, and 48% from a year ago.

Search volume was up all across board in June, with the 3 main search engines gaining or holding share. However a large portion of the incremental Live Search Queries are coming from the Live Search Club, where the lure of great prizes is clearly encouraging users to play games for points.
All of the games involve using Live Search – and naturally, this has lead to a significant increase in Live Search Query Volume. This sounds like great news for Live Search and for Microsoft – however, there’s been some speculation that “Bots” helped boost Live Search gains.

Apparently a portion of Live Search Query gains can be attributed to bots, though the exact percentage isn't clear. Some Live Search Club users have asserted that automated searches account for a significant portion of Microsoft's search share gain. You can’t argue with the value proposition of the prizes – which include Microsoft including Microsoft Xboxes, Zunes and even Windows Vista. Interestingly, Internet Opportunists, not content to game the system, are now selling Live Search Club accounts on ebay. There's even an instructional video on YouTube to teach would-be scammers how to beat the system. So, now I’m really curious about Bots – and decided to do a little research of my own.

A Bot is derived from the word robot and is commonly used to describe a program on the internet. It is so named because it interacts with people as though it were a real person. Generally used by web crawlers and spiders on the web. These web robots interface with web pages to gather information. Internet bots, also known as web robots, WWW robots or simply bots, are software applications that run automated tasks over the internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human editor alone. The largest use of bots is in web spidering, in which an automated script fetches, analyses and files information from web servers at many times the speed of a human. Each server can have a file called robots.txt, containing rules for the spidering of that server that the bot is supposed to obey. In addition to their uses outlined above, bots may also be implemented where a response speed faster than that of humans is required (eg gaming bots and auction-site robots) or less commonly in situations where the emulation of human activity is required, for example chat bots.
Search engines use Bots to spider websites with and online games such as Quake use Bots as artificial opponents. Bots do not need to eat, drink or sleep and will relentlessly do their masters bidding until told to stop. The Live Search Club is a brilliant promotional & marketing campaign for Microsoft -becuase it leverages the use of key Microsoft Assets, Products & Services - to promote a Search Engine which is clearly already growing in popularity. Now if only they can get rid of all those pesky bots....................

Aug 4, 2007

My Take "On How To Beat Google"?

Recently, I came across a post with featuring 12 tips on how to beat Google. Below, I take a closer look at each of these tips and offer my own insights.

A conventional attack against Google's search product will fail. They are unassailable in their core domain. If you merely duplicate Google's search engine, you will have nothing. A copy of their product with your brand has no pull against the original product with their brand.
-> Not sure how you win the hearts and minds of Searchers if you don't mount a strong attack on Google's search product. If indeed Google is not invincible - then why not try to create a more relevant Search Engine - especially when it's widely known that over 40% of existing Searches go unaswered.

Duplicating Google's engine is uninteresting anyway. The design and approach were begun a decade ago. You can do better now.
-> Google didn't invent th ecurrent UI for most Search Engines, they inherited it. That said, they certainly improved overall performance and relevance of Search Engines. There's absolutely nothing wrong with duplicating the design and approach which Google uses - the key challenge is to deliver a very light page and fast ultra-relevant results. Utilizing the same design approach as Google can actually be an advantage, because users will feel comfortable with the format.

You need both a great product and a strong new brand. Both are hard problems. The lack of either dooms the effort. "Strong new brand" specifically excludes "". The branding and positioning are half the battle.
-> I think it's save to say that the key players in the "Search Wars" are now clearly defined - at least for the next 5 years. It's highly unlikely that any totally new brand is going to challenge the big 3 -with 2 smaller players fighting for scraps. Very few Global Organizations have the resources to mount a challenge to Google in the Search Space. Yahoo has tried - but Microsoft's Live Search is clearly the key pretender to the throne. I think the value of a "Strong New Brand" is probably overated anyway. Both Yahoo Search and Live Search derive a large proportion of their Query Volume through their General Interest Portals. Google is the only truly Global Search Engine - it's brand is strong becuase it's undiluted by Portal Channels and Communications Products. If Yahoo and MSN can continue to grow their audiences and get their users to use their Search Engines more often, they'll certainly take share from Google. (assuming of course that their Search Engines achieve releative parity with Google, in relevance and performance).

You need to position your product to sub-segment the market and carve out a new niche. Or better, define an entirely new category. See Ries on how to launch a new brand into a market owned by a competitor. If it can be done in Ketchup or Shampoo, it can be done in search.
-> This makes no sense at all. Let's take a step back and consider the key objective of this post - "How to beat Google". How can you hope to defeat the Google Juggernut, by "carving out a new niche"? What niche? What Category? The Value Proposition of any Search Engine is clear - to help users quickly get information. The revenue model of most Search Engines is also quite clear - sponsored links, with a key engagemetn parameter. This market place is growing at a rapid clip already. People understand it and the ROI must be pretty good. Otherwise Google wouldn't be delivering Billion Dollar Revenue figures each quarter. So tell me how you beat Google by looking for a new "niche" market. Search Verticals are great, but thus far, over 80% of Queries are for Algorithmic Search Results, plus, there's no siginificant revneu to be had in Vertical Search, at least not today. So, you can't beat Google by looking for a sub-segment of a market which they already control.

Forget interface innovation. The editorial value of search is in the index, not the interface. That's why google's minimalist interface is so appealing. Interface features only get in the way.
-> This point directly contradicts point #2 above. I actually disagree with this point. Innovation is always important and always useful. Google had no idea that their Search Engine would be such a big hit when they began innovating in an effort to improve on existing Search Engines at the time. They intuitively felt that they could do a better job with the bid-price model with Bill Gross pioneered with, and they did. It's possible to create a strong value proposition with an alternartive, UI - perhaps one with more vertical search integration. The key challenge is that it's a lot more difficult to monetize specialized search results - and at the end of the day, that's really what drives the business.

Forget about asking users to do anything besides typing two words into a box.
-> Not so sure I understand this point - but I'll take a stab at providing my insights. As an avid searcher, I often type two or three lines in a Search Box, especially if I'm looking for very specific "time sensitive" information. I value the availabillity of the advanced search feature, which enables me to provide important context for my searches. If this comment implies that users don't want to do anything other than type a word or two in a box, I'd disagree. Search Influentials - and "Influentials" in general, help to shape Industry Trends. Your average influential does a whole lot of tail queries.

Users do not click on clusters, or tags, or categories, or directory tabs, or pulldowns. Ever. Extra work from users is going the wrong way. You want to figure out how the user can do even less work.
-> Similar point to the one made above. My response remains the same. No doubt, most users won't do any extra work UNLESS they see true VALUE in the results. That's the key. It's also worth noting none of the 3 leading search engines creates more work for users. The all have advanced search capabillities - but don't shove it down the users throats.

Your results need to be in a single column. UI successes like Google and blogging have shown that we don't want multiple columns. Distractions from the middle with junk on the sides corrupt your thinking and drive users away. -> Again, this is highly subjective. I don't care about multiple columns as long as the results I get are relevant. Most people enjoy getting a variety of results for their searches - I've never heard anyone complain about having to review multiple columns, but they'll complain about query results on a single result column, with poor relevance

Your product must look different than Google in some way that is deliberately incompatible with their UI, for two reasons. One, if you look the same as them, consumers can't tell how you're different, and then you won't pull any users over. Two, if your results are shown in the same form as Google's, they will simply copy whatever innovations you introduce. You need to do something they can't copy, not because they're not technically capable of doing so, but because of the constraints of their legacy interface on -> The most important form of differentiation from Google - is to deliver a better quality product. If your marketing and promotional activities are strong enough, then feature and performance parity with Google may be sufficient. It is NOT necessary to deliver a UI which is incompatible with Googles -especially if you're not relying on your Brand Name to drive Traffic to your Search Engine. This goes back to my point about Yahoo and Live Search. I can see how this point may be true for or any of the smaller search engines, but they're not going to threaten Google anytime soon. If you try to create a UX which is markedly different from the Industry Leader, you force users to choose. Now, consider the fact that Google already processes well over half the number of search queries entered Worldwide - and then think about the key goal here "to beat Google".

Your core team will be 2-3 people, not 20. You cannot build something new and different with a big team. Big teams are only capable of duplicating existing technology. The sum of 20 sets of vision is mud.
-> Again subjective. Search is a very complex and interesting problem. There are many different ways to explore Search and deliver a compelling value proposition. I agree that when teams become too big - they are often unwieldy and sluggish. However, there's no reason why a team of twenty can't be work on 4 or 5 seperate projects -as part of one key objective.

Search is more about systems software than algorithms or relevance tricks. That's why Google has all those OS programmers. You need a strong platform to win, you can't just cobble it together as you go like other big web apps.
-> Who knows if this assertion is totally accurate. At the end of the day, the users will decide, and you can be sure that they will lean towards the Search Engine which consistently thrills, excites them -while delivering useful, relevant information.

Do not fear Google's vast CapEx. You should wish maintenance of that monster on your worst enemies. Resource constraints are healthy for innovation. You're building something new and different anyway.
True - but if you ever hope to Challenge Google, then prepare for the same sought of CapEx that they have. Afterall, serving over 100m queries daily requires plenty of resources