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..

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