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Saturday, July 19, 2003

Patent War Pending?

One potentially significant fact about the Yahoo-Overture deal that appears to have been largely overlooked is that Yahoo's purchase gives them more than 60 patents. Apparently, all of the patents are related to technology and processes for indexing the Web and Pay Per Click bidding systems.

Is this bad news for other PPC engines? It can't be good, that's for sure. Overture says it is ready to "vigorously defend" their patents, and there's no reason not to believe them; getting a patent is both difficult and expensive. However, Overture is already battling Google and FindWhat in court over patent issues, with little to show for it so far, as defending a patent is a long and drawn out process. Therefore, it could be a while before we learn what Overture's patent arsenal really means to the industry.

Posted by Adam
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Thursday, July 17, 2003

More on BananaSlug

Steve, the creator of BananaSlug, which provides a unique way to search Google using the Google API, e-mailed me yesterday to give a little background about the service.

I had wondered aloud in a blog entry the other day about the meaning of the name, and Steve was happy to oblige me:

Why is it called BananaSlug? I am a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, home to lots of real banana slugs, and it's also the school mascot. I had registered the domain long ago, but never used it for anything.

Ah, so that's it! Steve also updated me on some enhancements to the site:

The new version of BananaSlug redirects immediately to Google results after the 1000 limit has been reached. Not ideal, but you don't have that intermediate clickthrough to do.

Sounds good to me, Steve. Keep up the great work. That Google API program is a beautiful thing.

Posted by Cory
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Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Numbers? We Got Numbers!

comScore Media Metrix recently sent out a press release in the wake of the Yahoo-Overture merger detailing the "share of searches submitted by U.S. Internet users, May 2003." This from their proprietary "qSearch" study which I gather isn't available without a subscription.

In any case, some interesting findings:

Google Sites 32%
Yahoo! Sites 25%
AOL Time Warner 19%
MSN-Microsoft Sites 15%
Ask Jeeves 3%

Now allow me to do some funny math to capture the "true" picture as it were. This might not be quite exact because "searches" might measure various types of search on the major portal properties, but it's the thought that counts, right? Since Google powers both Yahoo Search and AOL Search, if you assign the lion's share of searches on those portal properties to Google, you arrive at the conclusion that Google might be powering 60-70% of all online searches. That really doesn't surprise me. (Where do you search? How about anyone else you know?)

The proprietary or "other co-brand" parts of AOL and Yahoo aside, MSN is now outgunned by Google something like 5 to 1, with no other strong players in sight. Ask Jeeves is lucky to have its 3%, and AltaVista, FAST, and Inktomi are all being gutted for spare parts or repurposed in one form or another by their new owner, Yahoo.

As for shares of sponsored keyword links, Google has surpassed Overture, according to comScore Media Metrix's numbers:

% of U.S. Searches Served by Paid Search Affiliate Network
May 2003

SOURCE: comScore qSearch

Google Network 54%
Overture Network 45%

That one confuses me a bit, since it's obvious they're exluding LookSmart and FindWhat. For some of our clients, FindWhat generates more leads for us than Google - they must have a bigger share than half a percent.

In any case, it's pretty clear that if your optimizing your site for search engines or advertising on them, Google is where the consumers are. Don't take my word for it. Look at the stats.

As longtime portal watchers, we'd always sort of treated Yahoo! as if it were the "flagship" portal or the "real" portal with AOL as a kind of pumped-up ISP whose training wheels would someday be obsolete, and with MSN generating a lot of phony claims and phony numbers. That seems to be proving true. MSN's publicity machine would have you believe that they're ready to take the search market by storm, but we're not buying it. And as Cory's blog on AOL (down the page a bit) suggests, AOL has tired of exaggerating its own importance in the current online landscape. That's refreshing.

It looks like the handwriting is on the wall for some big online brands. Their next few moves could be important ones.

Posted by Andrew
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Clever Search Optimization Tactic, or Just Dumb as Dirt?

The AdBumb gang listed a couple of upcoming advertising-related conferences in a recent newsletter. One of them was:

Seach Enginge Strategies
August 18-21
San Jose, CA

"Search Engine Strategies 2003 features presentations and panel discussions that cover all aspects of search engine-related promotion. You'll learn how search engines interact with your Web site and ways to improve your listings." A Jupiter event, has been pretty good every year, although they don't like to let me in the door.

I'm thinking - you got two out of three words wrong, Bumb, why not go for the hat trick and get the date and place wrong too?

Soich Enije Drabamees
September 3-6
Anchorage, Alaska

Just yanking your chain, Bumb. (See you in San Jose, dumbasses!)

Posted by Andrew
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Another Interesting Google API Tool

You may already know about Googlealert, which allows you to be notified by e-mail when up to five different keyword searches bring back new results in Google's index. Googlealert employs the fascinating Google Web API, which allows developers to create apps that tap into Google's 3 billion page index.

I recently discovered another clever tool that uses the API. It's called BananaSlug (not sure why, though). This one takes your Google keyword phrase search and throws a random word into your query, which brings back different results than your normal matches.

The idea behind BananaSlug is to promote "serendipitous surfing." Because there are usually so many matches to keyword searches, especially for competitive phrases, you may never stumbe upon a site that is, say, 500 matches deep. So, BananaSlug inserts a random word from a few distinctly chosen categories (such as World Cities, Tarot Major Arcana and Suits, Themes from Shakespeare, A Full Dictionary, etc.) to give you results you wouldn't normally see.

BananaSlug is probably more of a novelty than a truly useful tool, but it's certainly worth playing with. As with any Google API tool, however, it is limited to 1,000 daily queries, so you might not get to use it the way it was intended. After the 1,000 query limit has been exceeded, you have to then click through to the Google site to see your matches.

It would be so nice if Google would open up their API program to commercial development so we can see what developers can really do with it! Who knows, now that the search engine business is heating up, this may be one area where Google can set themselves apart from the pack even more.

Posted by Cory
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Tuesday, July 15, 2003

AOL: Not Just for Newbies Anymore?

Amid all the frenzy about Yahoo buying Overture, the funniest thing I read today was a USA Today article about how AOL is ever so slowly turning their ship around as they try to stanch the bleeding of dial-up customers flocking to low-cost outfits like NetZero and high-speed access offered by cable and DSL. This is a quote from an actual, living, breathing AOL executive about how bad things at America Online are:

"Everyone has AOL, but they have it like a cold," says Len Short, AOL executive vice president brand marketing. "At some point there was this thing called the Internet, and people got AOL discs. It's how people got going. It was a well-defined category at the time. The problem now is the average household has five to six years experience. We're not newbies."

As Keanu would say: Whoa! I don't think I've ever heard an AOL employee go on record saying that their service is an outmoded dinosaur that might be destined for the trash heap if it doesn't pull a Houdini act soon...

Posted by Cory
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Monday, July 14, 2003

In Other News, Marlborough Man Stops Smoking, Takes Up Spinach

McDonald's reports that its floundering sales have been revived by sales of salads.

Which just goes to show - you should always stick with the product line that people identify you with most. Unless that product line is whips and buggies, or boring hamburgers that 9-year-old kids won't eat because they're "dieting."

Ironically, Wendy's new salads have more calories than their hamburgers.

I await the rise of the truly visionary fast food joint that comes out with my personal favorite, the incredibly tasty "egg whites and spinach with a hint of Barberian's steak seasoning." Washed down with a glass of heart-protecting wine, preferably.

Posted by Andrew
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Which Toolbar Do You Use?

Over the past few weeks, a gaggle of "toolbar" rollouts have taken the Internet world by storm. Well, OK, not by storm, exactly. But I'm sure if you went to Google News and looked for "toolbar," you'd see all the recent announcements.

Or would you? The first bazillion or so results on a news search for "toolbar" are for the latest iteration of the Google Toolbar. Some might think that's biased, but on second thought, that probably mirrors the overall pattern of toolbar installations in the populace.

Even early toolbar adopters get sick of trying out toolbars. In fact the first episodes of "toolbar fatigue" were being felt 18+ months ago. Remember when you couldn't decide between the Yahoo toolbar and the Alexa toolbar (and one or two others I'm forgetting)? So you deep-sixed Yahoo? Then later on, when the Google Toolbar (undoubtedly the most widely-used toolbar out there today, though I haven't seen any metrics on this) came along, it was see you later Alexa. My relationship with Alexa has definitely been on-again, off-again at the best of times. When given the opportunity to view PageRank, I decided that was better than "Alexa rank," so I stuck with Google.

In that cluttered, Google-dominated context, it seemed more than a bit strange that Dogpile and Hotbot went to great efforts to publicize their recently-released toolbars. There are only so many rungs on that ladder (limited mindshare). And only so much space on the user's browser (limited "screenshare").

So what toolbar do you use? Do you use multiple toolbars? Drop us a line and let us know.

Posted by Andrew
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Much Bigger News: Overture Sees Writing on Wall, Sells Out to Yahoo

Confirming rumors that have been flying for the past couple of months, Yahoo today announced that it is acquiring pay-per-click keyword advertising pioneer Overture services in a deal valued at $1.52 billion.

We'll certainly have more to say a bit later about this landscape-changing deal. In short, it's a smart play by Overture. As a middleman that never owned its own traffic to any significant extent, Overture was stuck with no clear franchise. What it has may be of little long-term value, but in the short to medium term, it has strong revenues, some decent technology, and a large advertiser list. Yahoo could have generated the same revenues with its own in-house operations or through continued deals with the likes of Overture, and it could have built or bought the necessary technology. Finally, we've always argued that the advertiser list is not as impressive as it seems. Those advertisers will quickly go to wherever the traffic is (Google signed up 100,000 advertisers in short order).

In any case, Yahoo obviously decided it would be more convenient to run their internal advertising systems using Overture as a backbone than building and buying what they needed at a lower cost.

But the biggest winner was Overture, which had already admitted in its financial statements that their overall revenue share from portal deals was inexorably shrinking each quarter as the traffic owners took steps to slowly cut out the middleman.

Over the long haul, this can't help but affect Overture's distribution deals with Yahoo competitors such as Lycos and MSN. But short term, this shouldn't affect the accounts or the spending and return on investment patterns of Overture advertisers.

Posted by Andrew
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