The dust has begun to settle in the Microsoft/Yahoo! deal that took place last week. Now we can finally begin to see what it really means… or can we? This specific topic can be broken down and analyzed in a million different ways. The implications on SEO, ad space, search engine market share, user interface changes, budget constraints, layoffs, and the list goes on and on. For my sake, and for your sake, let us cut through the fat and see what this new deal means at a foundational level, cut and dry.
So… What just happened?
On July 29th, 4:55am Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo!, posted on the Yahoo! blog that they had just signed a major search deal with Microsoft. The deal entailed that Yahoo! will be giving up their search technology, paid listings and organic listings, and lease Microsoft’s as of 2010. If everything goes as planned, a full transition will happen by 2012. Yahoo! will continue running their Premium Search throughout this new deal.
Running search technology is costly, and rather than own it, Yahoo! felt it was an economical decision to lease Microsoft’s and concentrate on what they do best, be a portal. Essentially, by leasing search, Yahoo! is able to optimize what Bartz refers to as “properties” such as news, sports, finance, email, and messaging.
This approach has already caused some confusion. It is important to realize that although Bing will be running the back end of search for Yahoo!, the results will still be dressed up as Yahoo’s results. The only real difference is that the bottom of the results will say “Powered by Bing” or something along the same lines. It will be interesting to see how this is going to affect local search since both Yahoo! and Bing have their own Local pages.
Microsoft’s massive attack on Google really launched with the release of Bing. As mentioned in previous blog posts, I believe that Bing will be gnawing away at smaller search engine’s market share but will have a tough time taking on Google. The lease of their search technology to Yahoo! is yet another strategy to gain some ground, hence, Coopetition (Cooperation + Competition). Although Yahoo! and Bing are technically competing, they are joining forces to take on the powerhouse we know as Google. Think of it as a David v. Goliath situation where Yahoo! is the rock that Microsoft is throwing. As Bartz put it, the new deal will lead to better competition “Competition equals innovation. But with one player dominating 70% of search, that field has been pretty lopsided. This transaction will create a healthy competitor that’ll keep everyone on their toes.” It is certain that both Microsoft and Yahoo! believe that if they hope to succeed, they must work together.
Make no mistake of it, although Google has not radically changed their user interface or rubbed new features in our faces, they are still making headway. Just like Yahoo!, they offer applications that simplify every day life and constantly improve them through the use of Google Labs. Just recently, they removed the Beta label from their AdWords service, improved their “Show More Results” link, and launched a traditional advertising campaign to promote their apps. The latter of the three is a blatant response to Microsoft’s Bing campaign. Although we are not used to seeing Google use traditional forms of advertising, this clearly shows that Google is willing to adapt and mix it up to keep what is theirs.
Microsoft is throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Google. In Microsoft’s defense, they are actually making some headway. However, overthrowing a competitor who holds 70% of the market share is no simple task, especially when that competitor is continually evolving in subtle but effective fashion. We can eternally dwell into the depth of this new deal and analyze every aspect of it. The bottom line is that Microsoft is following an aggressive attack plan on Google. As the two companies already established on Wednesday, they have “options” which means that many details are still to be determined. It truly is an unpredictable outcome. There are speculations and heavily weighted odds but one should never rule out any outcome. The tortoise has beaten the hare, the mouse has scared the elephant, and it’s possible that Bing could defeat Google.
Love: optimizing your universal search presence. The natural search results aren’t the only results that deserve optimization attention. Universal search requires a holistic approach to SEO where you need to also focus on optimizing for local, blogs, videos, images, and if you have an e-commerce website, product search which makes an appearance in the search results as shopping results. Check out the Product Search for Webmasters video from Google on how you can go about optimizing for shopping results. Also, you’ll need a Google Base account in order to get started with the optimization.
Love: focusing your efforts on more important things…I kid (sort of), the news from Google that Pagerank sculpting does not work as SEO’ers thought is important. The Google man himself Matt Cutts explains it on his blog. The basics:
Your page has a Pagerank score of 8
It has 4 outgoing links
Left as is, each link passes along 2 points of Pagerank, 8 divided by 4
Previously, if 2 of those links pointed at less important pages, “Contact Us” and “About Us” for example, some SEOs would nofollow those links
In doing so, it was believed this allowed the other 2 links to pass along 4 points of Pagerank rather than 2
Now, nofollowing those important links does not pass Pagerank points in this simple way and requires Pagerank sculpting using a number of other techniques
Here is a SEOmoz post of the topic that also provides pros and cons from the SEO perspective.
Love: simple and reliable tools that allow you to track your company and its keywords across multiple channels – blogs, microblogs (Twitter, FriendFeed), social bookmarks, comments (blog, forum or otherwise), news, video and more. It’s extremely easy to get bogged down with tools just as it is with too much data. Personally, I tend to stick with those that are simple, efficient and reliable and do not often switch unless the tools will allow me to provide even more actionable insight – Occam wins. SocialMention is simple and reliable. Not only are you provided with links to blogs, blog comments, Q&A sites, social bookmarks, and more, that mention your company or keywords, but SocialMention also provides data on sentiment (positive to negative mentions), reach (number of unique authors mentioning the entered keyword) and other metrics.
Love: making your website not only able to be found, but actually accessible to everyone. Think of the user. Remain outwardly focused (just like phenomenal non-profits). Not everyone uses the same setup for surfing the internet, so you should ensure nearly all users are able to actually find information on your site once they’ve found you on the search engines. There are a few pointers in this post that play a role in SEO:
Supply proper meta tags – small piece of the pie, but a piece of the pie nonetheless
Use accesible navigation – descriptive title and header tags provide keyword relevancy and help structure your site, which can help improve the ability of Google to provide Site InLinks
Love: when you get information about search from the mouths of the leviathans. This whiteapaper, distributed by Microsoft, details features of Bing, the layout of the search results page, the structure and details of the search results page and much more information.
In a move that is pretty commonplace within the search industry, Microsoft has attempted to make a splash as a search engine yet again. This time, instead of simply adding new features into MSN or Live, they launched an entirely new brand, Bing.com at the end of May. So–What is Bing? What impact has it made? What does “Bing & decide” even mean?
Here are some quick & easy definitions, answers, thoughts, and more about Bing:
Bing is “a new approach to user experience and intuitive tools to help customers make better decisions, focusing initially on four key vertical areas: making a purchase decision, planning a trip, researching a health condition, or finding a local business.” Microsoft is attempting to diverge from the established entity we all know and love, the search engine. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, is quoted in the company’s official Bing press release as saying,
“Today, search engines do a decent job of helping people navigate the Web and find information, but they don’t do a very good job of enabling people to use the information they find.”
Hmm–I definitely need help navigating through billions of webpages, but do people really need help using information? I interpreted “Bing & decide” to mean that I search with Bing.com, and then I decide how to use the information I find. But, thanks Steve, I guess we do need help deciding what to do.
Market Share: Does Bing have a chance?
This is a great question, and one that won’t have an answer really for at least another 6 months or so. Ultimately, Microsoft needs to increase their search market share to attract advertisers and make more money. Non-search industry geeks have to actually hear about Bing, go to Bing.com, use it, like what they see, remember to go back and search from their cell phones later, etc. Bing has launched a traditional advertising campaign, to hopefully scoop up the masses. According to ComScore, in the first week of Bing’s launch, Microsoft increased its usage among American searchers by almost 2%; other sources are saying Bing has squeaked past Yahoo! worldwide. Not bad, but only time will tell if Bing & Decide will really stick.
Shake up for Analytics
Web Analytics tools have had to jump quickly to tweak their products to measure and report Bing.com data. Web Analytics companies Webtrends and Omniture have released statements and posted on their blog about how their customers can view analytics for Bing. Google Analytics first started reporting Bing as a search engine as of June 5 but sometimes is still shown as a referring site, as well.
Bing has introduced more complications for web analytics as well–similar to Google’s longer snippets launched a few months ago, Bing searchers can hover to the right of a search listing to view content on the page and potential navigation path even before clicking the listing. Since analytics code isn’t activated until a user clicks thru to a site, these new features in search results may change the way a “website visit” is defined. Some are concerned that visits will decrease if searchers can preview each listing without visiting it, but the result of this change may not be as dismal as some may have predicted, as mentioned in MediaPost, “Preliminary data suggests that bounce rates on Web sites have declined from people originating on Bing.” For the first 10 days of June, a site I track that has 30K unique visitors per month had a bounce rate that was 5% lower in Bing than in Google, which supports the notion that previews of listings can be a good thing for websites.
Although Microsoft CEO mentioned publicly that the Bing.com domain was one of the only easy domains to purchase at a decent price, there is lots of speculation about the “true” meaning of B.I.N.G. I guess we’ll never know…
To me, Bing represents an attempt at healthy competition in the uncompetitive search industry. I’m all for it–as Celine Dion said (something that is a little too perfect for Microsoft and Bing), “I’m not in competition with anybody but myself. My goal is to beat my last performance.“
At the beginning of the year, this post on the Apogee Search Marketing Blog made some predictions about search marketing in 2008. Before we try to make any predictions about 2009, let’s take a minute to review 2008’s search predictions compared to what actually occurred over the last 12 months.
Apogee’s 2008 search predictions were as follows:
Management tools become the cost of having a seat at the paid search table, rather than a competitive advantage. PPC management tools were certainly abundant in 2008. And, yes, they were almost necessary to a campaign’s success. Whether these tools were internal or external, focused on automated bid management, analyzing data or testing campaign variables, management tools freed up paid search managers’ time so they could focus on new opportunities, expansion and overall strategy.
Business/marketing acumen becomes more important to paid search management than technical prowess. While tools are great, tools just do what we tell them to do. Ultimately paid search managers have to set appropriate goals for marketers and outline the necessary steps to reach those goals. This year ad copy and landing page testing have gained popularity as marketers focus on increasing conversion rates. With new tools such as Google Website Optimizer (GWO), these tests are becoming easier to implement.
Search engines continue to provide better bid management functionality. Most tools vendors don’t react. Search engines have made many improvements in an effort to provide better bid management functionality in 2008, but despite all of the changes made this year, there is still a long way to go in providing reliable bid management functionality.
Google announced a new quality score method this year that determines CPC in “real-time,” as opposed to its tried and true static quality scores. It also allows for marketers to see first page bids rather than minimum bids.
AdWords Editor now allows users to download performance statistics so that analysis and adjustments can easily be made in the same interface. In addition, the newest 7.0 version, allows users to see quality scores and first page bid estimates for keywords.
Yahoo! now allows marketers to view average rankings when in the bid editing page.
MSN Live Search released a desktop beta tool that is essentially an AdWords Editor for Microsoft.
Bid management tools are also still a bit behind the curve. While their automation saves paid search managers time by adjusting bids, they are slow to react to changes made by search engines. Adjusting bids manually within the search engine’s interface is often more complicated than just using the free tools offered by search engines. As for full blown campaign management, we’re still not seeing many tools with the ability to handle that functionality yet.
Google extends its lead in the paid search market, either a little or a lot, depending upon how you measure the industry. Without a doubt, Google continues to be the leader in the paid search realm. ComScore recently released that in October 2008 Google Sites held 63.1% of all searches, as compared to58.5% in October of 2007. Google’s revenue also increased 31% from third quarter 2007 to third quarter 2008, raking in $5.54 billion in Q3 2008.As for service offerings, Google rolled out tool after tool after tool aimed at helping paid search marketers in 2008. All of these tools successfully assist marketers in optimizing and expanding their paid search campaigns, allowing for Google to maintain and grow its steady cash flow.
Local search continues to grow, but still has a difficult time providing substantive traffic in most markets. This year businesses flocked to Google Local Business Center. It has become “the” thing to do. As Universal Search rolled out throughout the year, local search optimization became even more visible and critical. In most industries and major cities, a business with a service that is location-specific and not on Google Local, will basically be behind by the end of this year.Furthermore, Google’s Local Business Ads (LBAs), a version of paid ads that appear mostly on Google Maps, contributed heavily to local search’s growth in 2008.
Google rolls Click-To-Call in with its local search service, and still no one cares.Not much word about Click-to-Call this year; still no one cares. What has gained recognition in 2008 is phone call tracking for paid search campaigns. Companies such as ClickPath, provide the ability to track calls to the keyword level.
Google Pay Per Action gains traction with B2C advertisers, struggles with B2B advertisers. Google launched Pay Per Action beta globally in June 2007, but phased it out in 2008, citingthe DoubleClick/Performics acquisition as the reasoning.
Google Product Search (previously Froogle) celebrates its sixth birthday, remains in beta. Yes, Google Product Search is still in Beta. During 2008, this product caught up with other comparison shopping engines by showing groups of similar products when a search is performed. This change caughtsome bloggers’eyes when it first rolled out, but ironically, later in the year Google Product Search made it on the list of search engines you’ve never heard of. An option that many companies have not yet tapped into is submitting services just as you would submit products.
Google continues to rail against paid links. The paid linking industry adjusts and continues to provide SEO benefit to its clients. SocialSpark was launched byPayPerPost in mid-2008, and the head of Google’s webspam team Matt Cuttssays he actually likes IZEA’s new service. SocialSpark provides advertisers an opportunity to pay bloggers for a review but requires a nofollow link to the advertiser.Another paid link vendor, Text Link Ads (TLA) launched InLinks publicly in November. Throughout 2008, Google has commented and posted extensivelythat paid links are in violation of the FTC’s Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. SEO bloggers have been debating about the impact of these changes as recently as the last few weeks.For whatever reason, Yahoo! and MSN haven’t been quite as vocal against paid linking in 2008. Yahoo! isn’t worried about the payment as much as the likelihood that a paid link usually doesn’t give as much value as a non-paid link.
SEO becomes more metrics driven as companies learn to measure their SEO performance. Absolutely. Tracking SEO leads and sales provides ROI that is critical to include in a company’s overall marketing expenditure analysis. The tricky part here is if the company knows what the value of a lead is to them or if they can track natural search visitors all the way through to a sale. During 2008, fewer companies were concerned about rankings as they were forced to look more at the bottom line.
Rumors swirl about an imminent merger between Yahoo! and Microsoft triggering a deluge of blog posts and nothing else. Yes, definitely. Talks between Yahoo! and Microsoft surfaced again early in the year but have fizzled quickly. Mid-2008 Google stole Yahoo! from Microsoft and became the attention of all, but that too died out by the end of the year. Although Google and Yahoo! gave it a shot with a trial period during the spring, antitrust scrutiny and regulatory concerns ultimatelycaused Google to call it quits with Yahoo.
The line between Search Engine Optimization and Social Media Marketing blurs further, except among those that actually know how to perform SEO and/or SMM. SEO and SMM definitely continue to be blurred in some circles (i.e. many marketers think creating a Facebook page will greatly help their search engine efforts). While creation of the company’s profile in these outlets is a fairly straightforward process, actually promoting them becomes much trickier and requires a completely different set of goals and strategies. Tracking offline inquiries becomes an important consideration but is not yet mastered in most campaigns.
During the last day of panel discussions at SMX East, search engineers from Google, Yahoo!, and MSN were asked questions from the audience. The panel was moderated by Danny Sullivan and provided several important and valuable information that every SEM professional should know.
The representatives were Nathan Buggia, Live Search Webmaster Central, Lead Program Manager, Microsoft; Aaron D’Souza, Software Engineer, Search Quality, Google Inc.; and Sean Suchter, VP of Engineering, Yahoo!.
Affiliate Links: When the panel was asked about the use of affiliate links, Sean Suchter of Yahoo! stated that if the affiliate links came from reliable, valuable and relevant sources, they should be counted in link algorithms. The representatives from Google and MSN agreed, and added that they thought that marking these affiliate links with a nofollow or any other method of blocking link values.
Mistaken Spam: Though it’s rare, there are some instances where there are false positives in spam. Aaron D’Souza stated that he is committed to working to eliminate spam and duplicate content. In cases where spam is a mistake, webmasters are encouraged to send feedback through Google: Webmaster Central; Microsoft: Webmaster Tools; Yahoo!: Site Explorer Suggestions forum.
The Importance of Links: The panel was asked if links were considered the main source for determining search engine rankings and all three generally agreed that it is. And though it might not be the most important signal in determining rankings, it is more important that a webpage’s title tags. No one indicated that the importance and impact of link building would fade away in the near future.
Pay Attention to Sitemaps: Sean Suchter from Yahoo! stated that websites should always submit their sitemaps, either in .txt or .xml format because it will help with inclusion. He also stressed that it is important to make sure that a sitemap is working correctly. Some examples of why sitemaps are important were discussed, including Yahoo!’s method of determining which pages are important on a site. Sean Suchter’s advice was to include only the important pages on a sitemap, not every page on a site. Nathan Buggia stated that URL structures on a Sitemap are crucial. All three members of the panel agreed that websites with sitemaps experience higher traffic than sites who do not have a sitemap in place.
The Use (or Overuse) of Session IDs: Typically, putting session id’s in a URL is strongly discouraged. Yahoo!, Google, and MSN all mentioned that they have measures in place that will de-dupe session id’s in URLs. The panel however did not clarify whether or not links that point to these URLs with session ids would be counted as part of an original page. To air on the side of caution, SEOs should not include session ids in URLs and use the 301 redirects to ensure and improve link equity.
Test Page Rank Sculpting: The panelists all agreed that Page Rank Sculpting, or “PR Sculpting” should be tested because some sites will receive value, but most will not. It’s generally not considered near the top of an SEO priority list when optimizing a website.
In the end, this panel discussion was extremely beneficial in answering some very important SEO questions.
In a rather bold move, Google has taken an official corporate position on California’s Proposition 8, which would ban same-sex marriages. Google’s stance was published on their official blog. Google joins Levi Strauss & Co. in public opposition to the ban.
Many groups that support the proposition are calling for a boycott of Google. For example, Texas A&M’s Catholic Center is threatening to change their blog to a different blog hosting service. The blog is currently on blogger, a Google-owned website.
While it is unlikely that the boycotts will harm Google, Google’s role in the information space is once again questioned. As a search engine, many users expect Google to objectively search and rank information on the web. Endorsing political positions may obscure this role because Google is publicly making judgments about the information that it is sorting.
However, it is impossible for individuals or companies to remain objective all of the time, and the algorithm is just a formula that beliefs do not affect, at least that’s what Google claims.
This is just one of many politically related moves on Google’s part. Google has also launched a campaign to encourage voting that uses Google maps to help citizens find their voting information.
It will be interesting to see what steps Google takes next and if their competitors will use this issue to gain market share in the search space. Some users may already be lured away by Microsoft’s SearchPerks program.
MSN announced the launch of their new SearchPerks program on Wednesday, a promotion that offers searchers points, or tickets, for searching through MSN.com. The points can be redeemed for prizes including airline miles, t-shirts and a wireless XBOX 360 controller.
Users receive 500 tickets just for signing up for SearchPerks before the registration deadline, which is Dec. 31, 2008, and can earn up to 25 points a day. Users can only accumulate tickets using Live Search at Live.com or MSN.com, Windows Live Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger and earn one ticket per search.
Then, users must download a Perk Counter which will keep track of how many tickets have been earned. According to Microsoft, the Perk Counter, “also tracks some online activity, like clicks on banner ads. The Perk Counter does not track what you search for or which websites you visit.”
The promotion will end on April 15, 2009 and tickets can then be redeemed for prizes three to four weeks after the program ends. SearchPerks is expected to gain more popularity than MSN’s original search user promotion, Live Search Cashback Program.
Also, SearchPerks works only on Internet Explorer- if you try to access SearchPerks in Firefox, you will receive a message informing you to open the SearchPerks link in IE. Also, the PerkCounter only works in IE.
Undeniably, what currently works in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) occupies a majority of the collective mind of Apogee’s SEO department – links, links, links, on-page recommendations in the form of content, internal linking and tag optimizations, among others. However, we are also keenly aware of the future – that is, what does the future hold? Where is search heading? How will search engines determine a website’s relevancy for a keyword in the future? What will search results look like in the future? Where will Information Retrieval lead us?
To borrow an ongoing joke from Late Night with Conan O’Brien, what will happen in the year 2000 (9, 10, 11, etc.)? It behooves us to be Google, Yahoo! and MSN voyeurs because we are in the business of maximizing web sales or leads for our clients. Constantly researching industry trends will allow us to continue to produce solid results.
At present, Microsoft sits in third place behind Google and Yahoo! in the search engine space. Essentially, Google’s current domination of the market is due mostly to their search engine. Google provides the most relevant search results and, as a corollary, receives the bulk of traffic.
However (emphasis mine), according to Google, as quoted from their quarterly investor report, “[i]f Microsoft or Yahoo! are successful in providing similar or better web search results or more relevant advertisements, or in leveraging their platforms or products to make their web search or advertising services easier to access, we could experience a significant decline in user traffic or the size of the Google Network. Any such decline could negatively affect our revenues.”
So, how is Microsoft attempting to provide better web search results and snag the gold? Microsoft thinks it has an idea about where search could head in the future and, of course, they are looking to mold that future. PageRank meet BrowseRank. Google’s PageRank algorithm places emphasis on the number of incoming links to a website when determining relevant search results for a query. It is not the only criteria for determining rankings, but it’s very important. Researchers at Microsoft feel incoming links are important as well, but their BrowseRank algorithm places greater emphasis on how users interact with a website – length of time spent on the website and click through path, for example. In a paper entitled BrowseRank: Letting Web Users Vote for Page Importance, researchers concluded that, “PageRank only models a random walk on the link graph, but does not take into consideration the lengths of time which the web surfer spends on the web pages during the random walk. Such information can be a good indicator of the quality and thus importance of the pages.”
What might this mean for you and your website? Since we’re strolling through “what if” land (my history professor, Dr. Larson, always said “what if” history writing is terrible history writing, by the way), let’s assume PageRank and BrowseRank somehow form like Voltron to produce ProwseRank, the ultimate algorithm.
First, developing incoming links would continue to be vital to any SEO campaign. Second, providing users with the best experience possible through informative and interesting content, useful internal linking and optimal website effectiveness and usability would not only increase conversions, but would definitively increase rankings. It already sounds like a recipe for success!
“Google’s not a real company. It’s a house of cards.”
- Court transcript, November 2004
“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”
- USA Today, April 2007
“We will make our products work out of the box.”
- Source and date unknown, but does it really matter?
“There will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.”
- Washington Post, June 2008
Ballmer may be a brilliant executive, but he leaves a lot to be desired as a prognosticator. But then, so do most who attempt to predict the future (ask me sometime about my string of incorrect predictions regarding the Democratic Primary).
That said, Ballmer’s predictions regarding the death of print are especially inane. Print was predicted to die after the creation of both radio and television. It’s still here.
Certainly, circulation has dropped for many print vehicles. And the movement of classified ads to services like Craigslist and Monster have removed some juicy revenue streams from the newspapers. But print is not going away. At least not within the next decade.
Newspapers, in particular, still have very attractive business models. Many have profit margins that online publications would love to have. And they have significant numbers of feet on the street, something the online-only publications are not likely to be able to field any time soon. Yes, they need to adjust, but those that take a long term approach are likely to do so.
And while computer screens have improved greatly, they still cause considerable eye strain with continual use. Especially the screens on smaller, mobile devices. As much as I love technology, I’d still rather sit out on the back porch with a print magazine, not a computer.
Lastly, with the number of boomers retiring in the next decade, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the demand for print media may actually increase, not decrease in the next decade.