Aug 20, 2008

One door closes - and another opens .....

After, almost 4 years working on various aspects of a growing Search Business – the time has come to take on some new challenges. Over the next few weeks, I’ll transition into a more strategic role in the Online Consumer Marketing space.

It’s been fun to learn about Search – and work with some very smart, very passionate people. Now, it’s time to close this chapter and open a new one.


SES San Jose - My Recap of a few key sessions..

Universal (Blended) Search This session was very popular last year – this time around, it seemed a little boring. I’m tired of hearing people say that the “10 blue link” search experience, is dead. I’ve spent many years in the online services industry, so I fully understand the value of a blended search interface – I think it’s great, however I don’t believe it will replace the simple SERP experience which made Google and other Search Engines so popular. I can only imagine how the SEO folks in these sessions, must feel. Each year they go to these sessions hoping to gleam some insights on how Search Engines trigger blended search results. The truth is, even the Search Engines are still figuring things out - and as they do so – traditional SEO tactics will not yield the expected results for certain types of keywords. The Product Mgr from Google provided some interesting insight: “Blended Search is great for advertisers – it drives more traffic and offers opportunities to present new ad types”. Someone else mentioned that paid listings as they exist today, will have to evolve. What’s interesting about all of this is that we all assume that the blended search experience is truly vastly better than the plain blue links with 2 or 3 lines of supporting text. If you show me a SERP which blends search results from video’s, Images, Blog Post and Maps and then show me another with just 10 blue links – I’m going to tell you that I love the blended search approach. I’ll say it’s more relevant, I like the value added content and I’m really loving all the bright colors.

However, If I'm searching for very specific information - my mind has already been conditioned to believe that 10 blue links with some accompanying text, is all I need. The problem with the Blended Search experience is that it starts to resemble a portal home page experience - which users can get from Yahoo, MSN, AOL or any general interest portal.

The key benefit of the traditional 10 blue link user experience - is that it's simple, easy to navigate and informative as well. Search Engines can present useful, relevant algorithmic results along with Sponsored links. Creating compelling advertising links over a blended search interface, will be challenging. There's so much great content available, that users are unlikely to actively engage with sponsored link placements.

This goes back to my central argument about the Search Landscape. In order for a Search Engine to be successful – it must serve 3 distinct customer segments, very well.

è Online Users – who generate the search queries and click on the sponsored links
è Website Owners/Keyword Buyers: Website Owners, Retailers/Wholesalers, Companies of all shapes and sizes – looking to profit from Search Engines
è SEM/SEO Players: Those who make a career out of helping Keyword Buyers & Website Owners – to gain exposure to the Online Users

Google is the only Search Engine which services the 3 customer segments very successfully – Blended Search hasn’t really taken off because – although it certainly provides some great value to Online Users, the rich results page experience presents challenges for SEOs and Keyword Buyers alike. Perhaps most significantly – users seem very content with the 10 blue link experience – can testify to that…….

SES San Jose - Day 1 - The Global Search Landscape

I noticed that the SES folks introduced a track called World View - on day 1 of this event. The first session focussed on Asia Pacific & Latin America - Part 2 centered on European Markets. I've summarized my learnings and takeaways below.

Latin American Market
The Hispanic Community is a rapidly growing, but largely underserved Market. There are over 44 Million Hispanics online, they’re young, highly engaged, spend plenty of time online. Spanish-dominant users are the fastest-growing online segment. The purchasing power of U.S. Hispanics is growing faster than many other segments; It is currently more than $750 billion and will likely exceed $1 trillion by 2010

While the U.S. Hispanic market is just 2 percent of the total search market worldwide, they are growing by 5% YoY. Hispanics are great Internet Explorers – and are known to use Google: 87%; Yahoo! Search 68%; MSN Search: 40%; Ask Jeeves: 32% and Altavista: 12%; amongst other Search Engines.
-> The average Latin American Internet user spends 29 hours online during the month –more than the global average of 25 hours
-> Video Search has a high penetration with the U.S. Hispanic market and Latin America
-> Search Engagement is especially high in 3 major Latin American countries - Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina

The key takeaway here is that the U.S. Hispanic and Latin American markets present huge opportunity for sustainable online advertising growth. Hispanics are very engaged and will likely be included to respond to targeted SEM Campaigns

Asia Pacific Region
The Internet is increasingly popular on a global scale: The most popular languages used on the Internet include English, Spanish, Japanese, French and Chinese. Internet penetration remains strongest in N/America and Europe, Latin America, Asia Pacific and the Middle East regions are growing very fast.

Japan is one of the most prominent Internet Markets – with over 89M people online and 85% broadband penetration. Online advertising spend topped $4.6B in ’07 and is projected to hit $7.6B by 2011. Japanese Internet Users are very engaged individuals, online video players, blogs, Mobile services and QnA features – remain very popular. The social networking phenomenon, epitomized by services such as Mixi, has really taken off in Japan - as is the case in China and South Korea. Google and Yahoo are both very strong local players – however Yahoo has an edge because it’s portal content and communication services are very popular with users.

Chinese users are relatively more turned on, tuned in versus their western counterparts. Given fewer media choices, much of China’s public Internet companies value are based on entertainment and communication.

The most popular online activities amongst the 250M Chinese Internet Users – are: (Online Music: 86%,Search: 72.%,News: 72%Instant Messenger: 81%, Online Games: 59%). This actually makes sense – given the peoples’ love of Music and thirst for information. The online advertising landscape is growing fast – approximately $961M was generated in ’07, this amounted to about 7% of total ad spend in China. Search alone, accounted for $309M / 32% of total online ad spend. Current forecasts indicate that China will generate over $1.38B from Search advertising – by the year 2010. That estimate is not very far fetched given the fact that less than 50% of the Chinese population is online.
The sheer number of web sites and web pages continues to grow at a very high rate.

Baidu remains the strongest Search Engine in China – with over 71% Query share and revenue of $234M in ’07. Google has approx 23% query share and Microsoft, Yahoo and a string of 2nd tier players – share the remaining 9% query share. In addition to its Search Engine, Baidu has its own monetization platform and a growing list of online services & features

As Yahoo struggles across Europe – Google has grown even stronger. A recent report by “relevant traffic” indicates that Google gets over 80% of the Search advertising spend across all key European markets – including UK: 80%, France:75%, Germany:95%, Italy:95% and Spain:95%.

In France, broadband penetration is very high (94%). Much of the online advertising spend is driven through Media Agencies – so Search Engines without their own monetization platforms (like Microsoft and Ask) are at a distinct disadvantage. Add to this, the fact that Yahoo is focusing more on display advertising and it’s not difficult to understand why Google has over 75% share of Search advertising spend, in France

One thing European Markets have in common with Asian ones is the growing popularity of Social Network Systems and Video players. In France, Skyrock, Facebook, Spaces and Flickr. In Germany – local social networking players, such as y!gg, Mister Wong and mienVZ are doing much better than facebook, myspace and delicious.

In Germany, enthusiastic Searchers generate over 100M searches daily – 3B/month. Google has over 90% Market share, Yahoo:3%, Live Search:2% and T-online:2%, jointly account for 7% query share. Ultimately – Google is the key driver of traffic to key general interest portals and websites across DE and other key markets across Europe.

Overall, the speakers were okay and the sessions were fairly informative. Many of the key insights are not new - Social Networking is very popular, Google dominates in query volume, share and online advertising revenue - in most markets. One key trend is the Yahoo's query share and Search Revenue continues to decline across Europe and Asia. It does appear that YSM! is de-prioritizing Search in favor of online display advertising and perhaps choosing to stand it's ground in specific markets - such as UK and JP.

Microsoft derives search revenue in UK, France and Canada, through it's own monetization platform - adCentre, but relies on YSM! to help drive revenue throughout the rest of Europe and much of Asia/Americas. Without a truly global monetization platform which can offer formidable competition to both adwords and adsense, neither Live Search nor Yahoo Search - will make any headway against Google......

SES San Jose '08

I arrived in San Francisco this afternoon for what will probably be my last Search Engine Strategies Conference. These events are nice to attend once or twice - after that, the novelty quickly wears off.

Last year, I covered a number of interesting key notes and blogged about a few key sessions. This time around – I’ve decided to focus on specific sessions and spend more time talking to Search Enthusiasts at the Expo Hall.
So, I’ll post a handful of blog entries about my perspectives on a few key sessions. The SES blog does a good job of recapping the key sessions, as does Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land

Aug 5, 2008

Does Microsoft Have A Search Engine?

Last weekend, I took my daughter to a birthday party. As the event got started, I met the celebrant's Dad, and we started a casual "get to know you" conversation. Once he found out that I worked in the Online field - he was keen to ask me about Google.

He raved about the service and told me all about the leads he was getting from Google. Then he asked what I do, I mentioned Live Search and he had no idea what I was talking about. So I explained that Microsoft has it's own Search Engine - as does Yahoo. And that we both offer a similar offering to Google.

I then proceeded to explain that when MSN users initiate Searches, the results featured are actually served by our very own Search Engine - called Live Search.

He's response was instructive. "Why don't you guys just tell us about your Search Engine - that way I'll know that I can go to Google or whatever your engine is called - for my Search Results".
It's also worth noting that this individual knew nothing about adCentre - even though he leaves in the Seattle area and has been an active user of Google adwords for some time.

He mentioned that he goes to MSN to be entertained and informed. He probably uses our communication tools (hotmail & messenger), as well.

This isn't new - we all know that both Microsoft and Yahoo could do a better job of actively promoting their Search Engines. But that's becoming increasingly difficult because both MSN and Yahoo are known as general interest portals - not destination search engines.

3 Key Customer Segments
Users - like my host, who are oblivious to most search engines and simply associate Search with Google, similar to the way hotmail and Messenger are often associated with MSN or Yahoo.

Customers: Who leverage monetization platforms to drive users to their sites - by buying keyword placements

Influencers/SEO Community: Individuals & Corporations who influence the online habits of both Users & Customers, albeit in different ways.

At core, the Search Engine must deliver very good results and have a reliable platform to monetize those results - not just in the US, but Globally. Only Google does this today - only Google consistently delivers strong ROI to each of the customer groups outlined above - on a Global Scale.

That's the enormity of the task facing both MSFT and Yahoo and for that matter - Mahalo, Cuil, Ask and the other niche engines. I have yet to see a Google TV, Radio or Newspaper ad - So this is not all about Marketing & P.R campaigns, although that certainly helps.

So, after listening to my host rave about the leads he gets through Google - I politely mentioned that Live Search is a great engine and we have a great monetization platform in adCentre. Hopefully, he'll take the time to check out our Search offering, and see for himself.....