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Archive for September, 2010

21.4% of Paid Search Experts Get Right Answer to Tough Question

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

In a recent Ultimate Quality Score Guide created by WordStream, 14 PPC experts including me were asked the annoying, but ultimately revealing, question:

“(Question #4:) Quality Score vs. Bid Management: If you could pull just one of these levers in every PPC account you touch, which would you pull and why?”

Andrew Goodman said: “Hello! It’s all about bids.”

George Michie said: “It’s about bid management, hands down.”

Elizabeth Marsten said: “Bid management. You pay what you pay.”

Thus 21.4% of us actually got the right answer.

Now, I’ve been “optimizing for Quality Score” since 2002 when it was CTR only, and I’ve been explaining how and dealing with how different versions of the formula cause low CTR’s to harm your account, in great detail, for that entire time. So I’m secure enough in my QualityHood that I don’t feel I have anything to prove there. I assume Michie and Marsten, as well, know they don’t need to impress anyone, because unlike most marketers, they get the math.

Richard Cotton (7.1%) actually agreed with us, and in fact criticized others for giving “evasive answers,” but then left in two references to how it is both and they are “inter-related”. So, while claiming not to hedge his bets, he hedged his bets.

7 of 14 (50%!!) gave often painfully evasive answers, choosing to not only speak in favor of both levers, but also in some cases, kicking into the big sell of all of the other factors you need to consider. One had hyperlinks to two bid management and campaign automation companies in his response, even though he voted for Quality Score. One respondent, on about his 7th coffee apparently, even mentioned trademark infringement, dayparting, and affiliate URL hijacking. Talk about changing the subject.

3 of 14 (21.4%) voted for Quality Score. Two of the three work at WordStream, so they’re clearly selling something. A WordStream white paper on improving Quality Score was promoted right in the text of the interview.

You do have to wonder how the marketplace will be educated when most vendors are pitching even when they’re supposed to be answering direct questions. I’d like to thank George and Elizabeth for confirming that I’m not crazy.

[To the fellow gurus, I know you're on the ball most of the time, so maybe this is more along the lines of the disgruntled electorate's plea to "shut up and answer the question". Shifty answers suggest you either don't know, or are selling me something other than an answer.]

So Much for Techcrunch

Monday, September 27th, 2010

If the rumored deal – AOL buying Techcrunch – goes through, can we expect the most vibrant, obsessively-followed Silicon Valley blog imaginable, to neuter its culture and gradually fade into respectability? If so, the fact that the last days of Techcrunch involved a brazen would-be bustup of a super angel collusion scheme will stand out even more in the light of history.

For now, we look forward to Techcrunch reporting on the buyout of Techcrunch.

Techcrunch, of course, has been a full-service, always-on fixture of the world of startups and high-growth company fundraising in Silicon Valley. It has created a deep resource and served a mediating function far beyond, say, the sarcasm and gossip-mongering produced by other high-traffic but much more cynical tech blogs over the years (such as F***edCompany).

Still, it’s always a possibility that a bubble mentality — the money ferociously raised in Web 2.0 / Bubble 2.0 — drove much of the site’s growth. So a feverish pace was required to maintain readership and traffic levels. The spike in traffic associated with last week’s AngelGate, arguably, was engineered to show just how influential Techcrunch is.

You can’t help but noticing that a long-ago, bubble-driven acquisition by AOL – legendary baby boomer investor tutorial site The Motley Fool – compares with Techcrunch in terms of traffic stats. In fact, it compares in a very interesting way. Techcrunch passed fool.com in traffic in 2009, and that appears to be when AOL took a serious interest in acquiring it. Hmmm.

fool-tech

The Digital Marketing Future: Listenomics, or Creep Factor?

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Previous columns in this series have argued that paid search is the most sophisticated current version of a true direct response “machine,” and that companies typically under-invest because they fail to see long-term predictable profit potential inherent in the “marketing asset.”

Meanwhile, under the “chaos scenario” of rapid deterioration in traditional media and advertising budgets, it’s tempting to try to port old media models uncritically into a digital form. That won’t work – at least not without old-fashioned arm-twisting and elbow-bending. Frankly, it’s ironic that a significant portion of Google’s future is tied to old-media-comes-online advertising that’s more representative of a Yahoo-like vision. Specifically: anyone who deals with Google now knows that its reps can’t repeat the phrase “YouTube home page takeover” often enough. Is this really the future of media, or its past? Of course, brands will buy some of this media, but it will be interesting to watch price trends now that everyone’s being conditioned to measure response.

A variety of formats beyond search could hit the jackpot in the future. Some may have legs because they allow for extreme and/or measurable personalization and targeting, while somehow keeping in consumers’ good books from a “creep factor” and “don’t bug me” standpoint, as search does. Facebook is the most commonly cited example. For some reason, people allow Facebook deeply into their lives – for now. That seems to be a prerequisite for expecting people to pay attention to commercial messages.

Bob Garfield calls this the “Listenomics Age.” In typically modest fashion, he calls it “the future of everything.” In this age, he writes in “The Chaos Scenario,” “survival means institutionalizing dialogue with all of your potential constituencies and sometimes total strangers for the purpose of market research, product development, customer relationships, corporate image and transactions themselves.”

Of all of these, he prioritizes the last, “because when you sell goods or services, you get money.”

In short, if you optimize highly targeted digital direct response campaigns and conversations, and other aspects of related buy cycle functions, you are the future.

It’s immensely troubling to some actors that a whole bunch of the “old stuff” might be going away. Hence a steady flow of name-calling and rationalizations.

Randy Rothenberg, president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, claims that websites have been “based on the direct-response foundation, infus[ing] the environment with ugliness and clutter.” The fact that direct response “has no institutional concern for aesthetic, regardless of what the long-term effect on the brand is,” seems to point easily to a remedy: better online ads, a creative revolution, and more impressive TV-like websites and interactive geegaws. Thank heavens, right? Transactional plodding, letting the data ask the questions and seek the answers…is so boring.

This flies in the face of what’s driving the current chaos, though. Consumers now avoid advertising. Only in advertising agency fantasies do they regularly and consistently seek it out because it’s so “creative.”

Yes, there are notable exceptions. Anecdotes about the integrated marketing juggernaut that is the Old Spice Guy are cute, but only serve to prove the point that old media and old agencies will spend just about any amount to temporarily revive certain dead old brands, as a case study in their apparent effectiveness. The resulting social media chatter is great window-dressing, but don’t be fooled; watch the aggregate numbers across the whole advertising industry. If this stuff really worked, you could sell foot powder and baking soda with a shirtless model. In fact, all media would be all shirtless, all the time.

In fact, there’s no inherent contradiction between creating beauty and fantasy in your brand, and eliminating one specific manifestation of “aesthetic” (short, expensive-to-create films broadcast at great expense to large numbers of people who’d maybe rather not watch). In reality, traditional advertising might be considered an extremely inefficient form of customer acquisition (and a nonstarter at relationship building and dialogue) begging to be replaced by something else. There are hundreds of other ways to build creative and aesthetic touchpoints into your encounters with prospects and customers. Start with catalogues, retail stores, well-produced video content from people who work at the company, product design, Web apps and environments for existing customers promoted through e-mail, social media, and traditional media, and more.

Permission Still Matters

The key to unlocking all of this? It’s still acquiring customers, through efficient means, so you have permission: an appropriately wide, appropriately targeted, and cost-effective footprint for attempts to drive recurring transactions.

Permission used to mean opt-in e-mail. Now the means of connection are more diffused: it’s also Twitter followers, Facebook communities, RSS subscribers, and much more. The most explicit form of permission, though, is being on a customer list.

Today, we’re seeing more sophisticated probabilistic data driving direct marketing. When I say that I expect the value of the keyword “pewter duck” to be $0.68 at 2:00 a.m. in Ohio, I’m marketing based on probabilities, informed by past and related data. With the advent of technology like Google’s Conversion Optimizer and similar marketing algorithms, many other variables go into the mix – often inside a black box.

“Creep Factor” Creep

But where will consumers draw the line? It’s a lot easier than it once was to hit up against people’s creep radar. Spyware and scumware were once nearly mainstream forms of advertising, but now consumers are beginning to understand the nuances of privacy. Search and navigation retargeting seem relatively innocuous to me – if I once searched for “2011 land rover” or almost bought a DeWalt nail gun before abandoning the cart, advertisers can take that information and show me ads that are more relevant and more likely to convert than the garden variety ad. But as reported recently in The New York Times, some consumers perceive search retargeting as “creepy” because the ads are “following you around.” Regardless, the power of data will eventually win out, even if targeting methodologies might have to take twists and turns to avoid major fallout.

Call it synthetic direct communications, if you will, or anonymous personalization. This wild-card proxy for permission doesn’t require any type of action or explicit permission other than accepting generally accepted privacy policies in your digital life. You don’t even have to be an e-mail address, or an identifiable person with a past history, just simply someone performing actions that are statistically similar to others who have exhibited buying behavior. You’re an IP address, at best. A “user session,” hopefully. And one that types a search query, ideally. And past creepy, you’ve allowed cookies into your life that have tracked nearly every ad you’ve seen and responded to in the past year or more. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s simply “statistically useful behavior” to the marketer; for smaller companies, it’s impossible to gather without a market-maker like Google (or other behemoth) facilitating the process.

What Should Companies Do?

So, what will work best for your company? How can you build your own private “database of intentions” so companies like Google, Amazon, and your competitors don’t hoard all the data-mining fun?

  • Simple. Start with your website! Work on information architecture, navigation and findability, and testing landing pages so they convert better.
  • Enact a long-term plan to update your corporate communication style. This must permeate your Web presence, social media presence, corporate culture, and public relations approach. Moreover, you must simply communicate more.
  • Invest quite a bit more in paid search than you might have expected. Companies who do this show a long-term pattern of winning big. Possibly the biggest badge of honor in e-commerce is getting to a point where your paid search spend has grown 10 times or 50 times over a three to five year period. If it grows that much, it’s probably doing so because it’s working predictably, every day.
  • Install a widely-used Web analytics platform and cherry-pick relevant, actionable reports. Don’t allow ponderous “Web analytics practices” to be built as empires within the company; trust entrepreneurial uses of data over those intended to stifle marketing efforts or create needless silos.
  • Don’t do half a job. There is plenty of temptation to cut corners by placing too much faith in the proverbial non-professional dabbler, by “crowdsourcing,” by procrastinating, or using out-of-the-box silver bullets. But the client data I have in front of me says unequivocally that no company manager or owner, with the help of one jack-of-all-trades who works down the hall, can undergo a complete website architecture overhaul, test pages for improved conversion, build, test, analyze, and improve a 50,000 keyword campaign, and assess all the relevant tools, technologies, and relationships. Professional help isn’t cheap, but the good news is, serious investment in building an enterprise-class digital response asset is significantly cheaper than throwing a million dollars at ego-driven brand-recall style media.

Conclusion

In this four-part series, have I effectively made the claim that direct response marketing (especially through channels like search, not thought by some to be effective means of building a business, but simply “demand fulfilment”) and the building of private silos of customers, permission, and marketing response data are moving to displace what was previously thought to be an effective means of demand creation, namely big brand advertising?

Well, it doesn’t matter what I say. We’re in a chaos scenario. Companies that make the right moves will emerge much stronger than those that invest in wasteful tributes to the past.

Amazingly, considering all the advertising abuse they’ve taken online as well as off, consumers haven’t fled all commercial messages. In particular, they’ve embraced those served with search results. And in cases where consumers seem wishy-washy, search engines behave in a proactive, ameliorative fashion – they typically replace low-CTR ads with higher-CTR ones. They’re even willing to show white space against many search queries, just to maintain user loyalty to the medium.

Prophet of old media doom Garfield concedes that “the double-edged sword of search is that it captures shoppers in the process of shopping, but does little to build brand awareness for the general population.” But that argument isn’t to be mistaken as an argument in favor of the old mass broadcast models: “On the other hand, building brand awareness for the general population is wildly inefficient.”

Traditional ad agencies and old-media-inspired ad networks have done a poor job of helping companies navigate this sea change. Little wonder: it isn’t in their DNA.

Companies like Google, Facebook, Omniture, Acquisio, Trade Desk, and Clickable are at the forefront of the new order; so are e-commerce advertisers, from giants like Zappos to start-up hopefuls like Greeno Bambino. As Garfield puts it, “in order to exploit the Internet’s phenomenal capacity for targeting and optimizing messages in ads and on websites, advertisers will have to invest vast resources in information infrastructure – hardware, software, and flesh-and-bloodware – to crunch the vast amount of data that will be pouring in every second of every day.”

This column originally appeared at ClickZ on September 10, 2010. Reprinted by permission.

Google AdWords Turns 10 Soon

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

I’ve recently been hearing that Google plans parties and/or promotions for the 10th anniversary of the Google AdWords launch.

With these anniversary dates, it’s often possible to come up with multiple dates, with beta launches and so on.

In this case it’s pretty clear-cut: Google’s launch announcement went out on October 23, 2000. This version of AdWords would bumble along with limited appeal until the “real” (CPC auction, with CTR’s in the formula) AdWords was released on February 20, 2002. Response to the real AdWords was strong, though there was some push-back by advertisers who preferred Overture’s pure CPC auction, published pricing, etc.

The vast majority of people working at Google — and even in the Google AdWords area — weren’t at the company then, and many wouldn’t come on board until 2005 and later. So if you were around and paying close attention way back then, that makes you special!

With all the budget that is now freed up by winding down the annual Google Dance, let’s hope Google has a bit saved up to recognize their long-time advertisers.

Oct. 23, 2000 is a special date for me, as well. It was my first wedding anniversary. For that one, I always knew there would be a tenth. With Google AdWords and all things dot com, I really don’t think many people thought in terms of ten years of survival. Whether newly married or launching technology products, outside of a large handful of dot com rich, pretty much everyone in the dot com bust haze of October 2000 was just focused on survival!

Over at Page Zero Media, this all just puts more burden on our party planner. As we’re moving to a new space, we’re holding an office-warming party doubling as a Hallowe’en party in mid to late October. Adding an AdWords 10th anniversary salute, and a hat tip to an 11th wedding anniversary? Let’s just hope there is plenty of punch to go around.

The Chaos Scenario: Will You Be Ashes, or Green Shoots?

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

The “Chaos Scenario” is upon us. It’s not proving to be an orderly transition. On one side: “old, dead media” (and the advertising that assumed and furthered its continuation). On the other side: “something very different,” and possibly far less valuable. There is hope…if you’re nimble enough to find value in something very different instead of clinging to the status quo and trying to survive on the old paradigm’s fatally diluted advertising rates.

Whoops, did Dwight Schrute from The Office get in here and down an extra strong glass of fermented beet juice? Am I channelling a hallucinating functionary played by Zach Galifianakis in Dinner for Schmucks IV? Sadly, no. “The Chaos Scenario” (by Bob Garfield) is the very real and very now-unfolding drama of the collapse of traditional advertising revenues in print and broadcast media (or the former “television-industrial complex,” to use Seth Godin’s term).

Between that ex-gravy-train and a soon-to-congeal new paradigm of companies finding efficient ways of connecting with customers is the current “Chaos Scenario,” wherein many large broadcasting companies, content producers, print publishers, ad agencies, and various other hangers-on, shrivel down by 95 percent or disappear entirely.

Denial is rampant and, unfortunately, the bargaining stage of the grieving process won’t be much prettier. Direct analogues of old media models – digital versions of the same things – are getting old and stale. They typically raise 2 percent or less of the former ad revenue base, which is not close to being able to fund the same quality of content. Case studies of experimental “all online” TV launches turned out to get too few viewers and not nearly enough ad revenue to cover the lavish expenses of traditional television production.

In other words, it’s really nice that your “video went viral,” but as media consumption patterns change, so do total ad revenues. And that will trickle through to production (no money to fund shows), which will accelerate the downward spiral of traditional broadcast. With no clear economic model to neatly take its place.

But, because consumers and brands still want to connect, we will eventually get to the other side. It’s hard to describe this future – especially if you happen to be a hapless reporter in the dead-tree press who still breathlessly follows the brand lifts of huge-budget campaigns for some increasingly superfluous packaged good (“I solved my pain reliever problem 25 years ago,” as Godin tells keynote audiences. “I use the one in the yellow bottle – the generic.”).

We’ll even need to get past the generalized optimism about “moving a percentage of traditional ad budgets to digital.” They won’t simply move. To our conventional eyes, those ad budgets look for all the world like they’ll be simply shrunk, or cut. (It’s more complicated than that, of course.) Old advertising models won’t absorb digital as “another channel,” and “ad rates” won’t just hop from one “medium” to another. What we’re witnessing is the collapse of a vast, complex, and long-overrated economic system.

The enormity of the mess created will cause some to focus purely on the mess itself. But it’s a real transition with real root causes, not mere episodic failure. Diagnosing the problem seems depressing only if you believed too much in the old structure.

One digital megabrand is most representative of the failed attempt to neatly port old media thinking online. The story was persuasive at first, because the advertising dollars were there at first. As Y Combinator’s Paul Graham recently recounted, back in the day, “Yahoo’s sales guys would fly out to Procter & Gamble and come back with million dollar orders for banner ad impressions.” In light of that, why would Jerry Yang pay attention to emerging technologies that would extract maximum value from more targeted forms of media? Old media models were working fine. The company’s post-IPO DNA was pro-interruption despite its roots as a “search” pioneer.

“Content” would grow rapidly, and be created, aggregated, or “produced” by a leading digital brand – Yahoo – that would consolidate leading “properties.” Multiply CPM rates by being the brand that serves the most pages of content in the world, and the future seemed assured. But Yahoo was engulfed by a wider math. Everyone else started producing and aggregating “content,” too. Under very different conditions from the old broadcast world, the value of that content to advertisers plummeted, and continues to plummet, often held up today more by persuasion than by market forces. Yahoo’s declining profitability and stock price year after year are proof only of a valiant but ultimately doomed fight against those forces.

Yahoo’s own scientists know the real truth about content. Today there are vast, ever-expanding amounts of user-generated and long tail content, much of it useless, but a certain percentage of it incredibly useful to someone. And that’s a massive opportunity in some way, but not one you can glibly charge $25 CPMs against.

Unfortunately, the fight was out of Yahoo long ago, in Graham’s view. So capitalizing on these opportunities today is a longshot. Even in 1998:

“The company felt prematurely old. Most technology companies eventually get taken over by suits and middle managers. At Yahoo it felt as if they’d deliberately accelerated this process. They didn’t want to be a bunch of hackers. They wanted to be suits. A media company should be run by suits.”

The anti-Yahoo, of course, was clearly Google. Around search, and a search-based advertising platform, it built other fast-iterating marketing response technologies, including an auction-based display ad network that worked far more cleverly than nearly any other. Almost anticlimactically, the company acquired ad network giant DoubleClick. And out of the acquisition of a mid-sized company called Urchin, it built by far and away the leading Web analytics platform in the world, Google Analytics.

This “anti-Yahoo model” gives us a clear view of the future; hope that out of the ashes of this “Chaos Scenario,” we will see green shoots emerge. If you’ve been working diligently in certain parts of this industry – in particular, search, response testing and conversion improvement, analytics, and related app and platform development – you probably see that forest more clearly than others. The key is not to be distracted. Don’t let weaker parts of the advertising world dilute the power of what you’re building today, just because they’re bored, envious, or not fully cognizant of the magnitude of the change.

The largest diversified advertising agency conglomerate in the world, WPP, plus the “Yahoo” of the Internet advertising industry (that would be Yahoo), are worth a combined $26 billion. The leading digital publisher, Google, is worth $144 billion, even as it reinvests much of its mega-profits in future-building activities related to mobile, operating systems, and new free services. That’s more than a pattern forming. It’s proof of utter, disruptive chaos.

Or to cite Bob Garfield, this is “the democratization of the information economy, simultaneously destroying fortunes and creating them.”

This column originally appeared at ClickZ on August 27, 2010. Reprinted by permission.

Internet Retailing and Services: Who’s Big? Who’s Great?

Monday, September 20th, 2010

In the midst of the onslaught of breathless news coverage of the tech sector, with new devices, features, squabbles, and posturing being the order of the day/hour/minute, it’s sometimes helpful to step back and be reminded of who the actual players are, economically.

One (albeit imperfect) way of doing that is to look at where companies rank in the Fortune 500, and in their respective designated categories within the Fortune 500.

So who ranks up there in this subcategory, Internet Retailing and Services? Google, of course, takes #1 spot, but it still sits only around 100 in the Fortune 500 as a whole. What, did I say #1? No. Google is #2! Amazon is #1, owing more to its low profit margins than its superiority to Google as a company. That Zappos acquisition can’t have hurt.

Liberty Media, a holding company that counts Expedia and shopping networks among its holdings, is #3. Ebay is #4.

All by way of pointing out that Yahoo, longtime doormat of the tech media (including, at times, yours truly), rounds out the list at #5. Yahoo has stayed strong within the Fortune 500, currently at 343. In fact, it’s higher on the list now than it has been throughout most of its history. Yahoo, despite paling by comparison with Google, has grown over the years. And it’s only 240 spots back of Google on the big list.

Yahoo, it seems, has remained relatively immune to screwups by top management, wasteful practices, botched acquisitions and failed experiments. It can get away with this because, like many companies that get on the right side of scalable business models in software, media, and digital service delivery, they have pockets of shockingly high profit margins and scale. They also continue to have a recognized and generally benign brand.

Far from being out for the count, Yahoo may indeed be poised to resume its growth into one of the most successful companies in history – period. It will never be Google, but it can be something in its own right.

I’ll explore more in an in-depth feature (forthcoming).

P.S. In the “Computer Software” category, Microsoft still dwarfs all contenders. There is, of course, significant overlap in Microsoft’s digital lines of business, but by strict categorization it’s not in the “Internet Retailing and Services” Mix. Nor are the Apples and other device makers of the world, though they undoubtedly factor heavily into the competition.

The Ultimate Tinfoil Hat Guide to Google Instant

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Saddened by the inability of the usual sources to doggedly pursue all angles of this story, it seems that Traffickwag must once again step into the breach.

The Register has a few pieces on Google Instant, but nothing that really smacks of the requisite level of paranoia. Perhaps this is because they’re getting bogged down on juvenile examples, like how the Slutsky family is cheated out of an Instant experience. Valleywag, similarly, is all about pee-pee-poo-poo.

Conspiracy theorists, leave it to Traffickwag. We’re here to do your job. And it’s a heck of an interesting job, come to think of it. I’d have written this post under a pseudonym, but setting up a new WordPress account would have taken time. And time, Sergey, Larry, Marissa, and the team assure us, is something we do not have. If people can search one nanosecond more quickly, then they’ll “search more”. Hmm… maybe. I’m not sure cycling past “burger king” when I get a call in the middle of my search for “Burt Reynolds,” or a page full o’ Ticketmaster when I look for T.I., is “searching more,” but this is clearly a matter of opinion.

Seriously, now. There are many potential explanations for why Google would have rolled this out. Do they really expect us to believe their official explanations? And why has no one seriously questioned their motives?

Please think in terms of an inverted pyramid — from the most plausible and palatable explanations at the top, to the most unlikely, yet possibly powerful, conspiracy theories at the bottom. We’d draw the inverted pyramid, but again — we’re pressed for time.

Google’s Motives in Rolling Out Instant Search at the Present Time

1. Google Suggest helped people use their brains less, and search more quickly. So, based on positive user responses to similar functionality, Google decided to extend that functionality.

2. People use search to navigate. The core idea comes from URL completion and (again) features like Google Suggest. A lot of the time people want to use search tools like a bookmark, so by focusing on making that faster, users get happier and Google’s engineering team is forced to come up with a solution to stop this activity from draining so many resources. The fact that the user sees a full preview instead of just Google Suggest is sort of icing on the cake.

3. Shock and awe. More than just icing on the cake, Google declares their supremacy as a technology leader by performing unlikely feats that are highly visible for all to see, consumers and competitors alike. All that is missing is Sergey Brin in uniform astride the deck of the USS Algorithm, declaring “victory” over foes, real and imagined. Great for internal morale.

4. Speaking of internal morale, it’s people driven and ego driven. Whether it’s Larry Page or Sergey Brin getting single-minded about “proof of speed,” Marissa Mayer (or “marissa_” in Google Instant Speak) approving of the focus group test data, or the team of (smiling, clapping in photo) engineers getting to work on a neat toy and solve interesting problems, there are plenty of people at Google who simply wanted to push this through. So it’s win-win-win-win, especially if you happen to work at Google.

5. Shock and crush. The move is intended to fake out competitors, to lure them into overinvesting in the wrong things, or to shame them by making their technology look outdated. End result: competitors weaker, consumers more enamored of Google than ever.

6. Google isn’t up to anything, but it’s making a big mistake. This is Google’s New Coke Moment. This theory is not too likely, but many of these theories are partial truths at best. This one suffers from the fact that users can shut off Google Instant.

7. Google’s going to find out very soon that it screws up their revenue projections, so it’s making a big, costly mistake. They’d find this out soon enough, and would shut down the initiative. But no one would know if it was for this reason, some other reason, or because they’d planned to make it short-lived all along. See, even when things are simple, don’t you feel yourself being faked out? You should be able to, if you adjust the tinfoil hat correctly. Try harder, please!

8. For all of its might, Google struggles with spam, basic relevancy, logic, and metaphor problems. The basic web index results are frequently unsatisfactory, and the problem isn’t going away by working on real search relevancy — that’s too complex. So instead, raw power and interface changes (seemingly complex, but less complex than the really intractable AI problems they want to solve) are used as a distraction to make users think there is forward progress and a high degree of technological sophistication in da house.

9. Google’s smuggling in an attempt to favor big brands in the organic search results. When consumers are bored and just playing with the search engine, brand names will start coming up more often. That will subliminally appeal to corporate marketing people, who will warm up their relationship with Google faster than you can nuke that “caution: contents very hot” fast food apple pie.

10. Google deliberately does a conspicuous “reset” every two years ago, to renew interest in their brand, and to avoid stagnant attention patterns. Among several potential outcomes of these major overhauls is avoidance of banner blindless, to rekindle conscious attention to the whole page, to preserve long term revenues and also to rekindle a faith in Google’s overall mission to innovate around a better user experience, paradoxically, while focusing much of that initiative on revenue per page served.

OK, now the really crazy, out-there ones. I stress, the pyramid is still inverted, and the probability is shrinking while the nefariousness and “things that make you go hmmm….” factor is off the charts.

11. Google begins inventing user behavior patterns that only Google can do a good job of measuring. What’s an impresssion? Who knows? Impressions are ancient history. New metric: “time on letter typed”. Google Analytics, Tinfoil Edition now goes for $50,000 and up.

12. Legal reasons. Every so often, lawsuits by both private actors and governments ratchet up to an alarming level, threatening the ability of a company like Google to continue operating its core business. If litigants are challenging Google’s motives and methods of ranking pages in “search results,” then let’s invalidate several key premises of how the interface and process even work. Make it into “sometimes it’s this, sometimes it’s that, and it’s definitely not always about that.” Judges are forced to throw out cases that refer to a specific method of ranking searches that Google can argue is only a subset of how their “discovery-minded prediction interface” works, or whatever. By systematically creating a framework that appears to discredit any notion that there is a clear pattern of anticompetitive behavior (or whatever is being alleged), Google makes life tough on the litigants. See the pattern? It’s a pattern of disrupting what seems like a pattern, so you can never claim there is a pattern.

Poof, legal problems gone… or at least, prohibitively costly for their foes to pursue. All in a day’s work.

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Bing + Yahoo at 24% Share?

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

One real benefit of the impending consolidation of Microsoft and Yahoo’s paid search programs will be, I hope, added visibility into their true market share.

The latest Hitwise report on search engine market share in the US shows Yahoo and Bing combined still managing to drive 24% of searches in the marketplace. Yet anecdotally, this doesn’t stack up well with what businesses are actually managing to spend on clicks through the paid search platforms. That’s even when you discount for quality of platform and the non-search inventory that Google serves.

With a single, consolidated platform that brings Yahoo Search clicks into the same buy, it should be easy enough to tell whether it’s feasible to drive around 24% of spend (again, discounting appropriately for relevant factors in order to compare oranges to oranges). If not 24%, then most search marketers are at least hoping for a solid 15%. Scale matters, if you’re going to make the effort to optimize and manage a campaign.

If that number doesn’t seem to be happening, Microsoft and Yahoo are going to have some ‘splainin’ to do. All of which will be healthy for the industry, despite being painful for the publishers involved.

The first order of business, I suspect, will relate to a growing chorus of advertisers who will resent not being given separate control over the Yahoo inventory. The need for such separate control was well spelled out in a recent post by George Michie.

 


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