One need only look as far as the Clicktracks home page to see the importance of myth, even in raw numbers. One of their happy customer testimonials states: "Clicktracks is like a religion to us." Data -- a religion? Veddy interesting. (Yeah, us too.)
Thursday, March 02, 2006
comScore's latest release shows Google with 41.4% share of all "searches" conducted in the U.S. in January 2006, continuing its trend of recent years. The comScore numbers have been inching up over that time, getting closer to the numbers reported by rivals Hitwise and Netratings, who have consistently given Google 50% share or more. Yahoo now clocks in at 28.7%. MSN comes in at a very respectable 13.7%. Sez comScore, anyway. What do your logs say?
When you break the numbers down even further -- either in your private data or by looking at more detailed reports from these agencies -- it gets interesting. Google Images often places #4. That probably means that Yahoo properties like Flickr (not to mention ordinary image search) are also surging. Other search categories, like news, shopping, blog, video, and local, are bound to follow as users get more sophisticated.
But users will be directed to these based on their initial choice of homepage or search box (or toolbar or...), quite often. Some users have preferences for, say, Google News, Yahoo Shopping, Google Local, or Flickr. But many don't, and need prompting.
So, Mr. Diller's recent keynote comment about Ask.com, that it "doesn't matter if we have 6% share or 2% -- what matters is relevance" isn't exactly true." This home page, direct navigation, and core search market share matters a lot. But we'll give him this point, because what he means is building a better product is the only way to improve share. It's not clear at all, though, that "no media business stays at 30, 40% market share for long," as Diller argued. Is search a "media business" in that way? Why isn't it more like an operating system or a browser (market shares for MSFT have exceeded 80% at times), a kind of standard? He acknowledges that it's a powerful "habit." Well, maybe it's somewhere in between, where 30-50% shares won't break down as easily as all that.
So if there's any way that the now butler-less IAC can make further strategic acquisitions to bring "searchers" in the back door -- as Yahoo has done with Flickr -- then now's the time.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Gauging by attendance, everything.
But particularly hot sessions this morning seemed to be the one on tuning & optimizing landing pages, and one on click fraud. I left the packed landing page session a few minutes early for a lunch appointment, and had to wade through a sizeable spillover crowd in the hallway, taking in the session on "auditing paid listings" (campaigns, for click fraud). Luckily the conference here at the New York Hilton is actually set up to anticipate spillover crowds, with screens and sound set up for attendees relegated to the hallway.
The session I presented in yesterday -- on "contextual and other non-search ads" -- was well attended, more so than in previous years. It also gave me a clue into the evolving sophistication of marketers, and the uptake of content targeting. I polled the audience for how many were currently running content ads within the Yahoo or Google platforms -- nearly all the hands went up. I asked how many were spending 20% or more of their paid search budgets on contextual -- most of the hands stayed up. I asked about 30% or more. Most of the hands came down. So it's right there around 25%. Sharing a cross-section of available client data from small to midsized companies we've worked for and have good data for over the past year, I noted that we're generating 16.4% of our clicks from contextual channels. Since we often bid less, the overall share of spend accounted for by contextual ads is less than 10%. That's current reality -- over the past twelve months, remember. Moreover, a couple of our larger clients (excluded from my study) are choosing to keep content ads disabled entirely. From the above, I'd conclude that many companies are needlessly scared of contextual ads, *but also* that many are still spending too much on it out of ignorance. In most cases, with some exceptions, a well-managed campaign won't generate more than 10-15% of its spend in contextual. That's bound to change as new channels open up.
Anyway, back to the landing page session. The audience for this type of material is not only getting larger, but more sophisticated. Above all, what strikes you about the whole field of sophisticated multivariate testing of landing pages is that it's focused on profit maximization. That may seem obvious to say, but the laser focus on conversion -- regardless of what user experience "principles" might suggest -- stands in contrast to some approaches to user testing and the user experience. And if you're a marketer/advertiser... it becomes an absolute imperative to maximize conversions if your competitors are also doing so.
In essence, the competition for keywords is a driver of change. As prices rise, sites must optimize, sales processes must be optimized, and profit must be optimized. It's a tornado in reverse... blowing through a dilapidated town and fixing it up. While that might sound rather idyllic, it's also a bit creepy, like the time we broke into a buddy's pig-sty-messy dorm room and tidied it and cleaned it within an inch of its life. The fact that users are going to be getting better online experiences and finding what they want more quickly is an unalloyed positive outcome. But what about the fact that, on average, they'll be more likely to *convert* to a customer who spends money? Do people have unlimited money? Of course not. Eventually, then, the laws of economics (and time) apply, in the sense that everyone can't be buying something all the time. Thinking about this too hard will lead you into all sorts of philosophical questions about whether search engines are leeches, whether most advantages of optimizing user experiences in highly competitive industries are bound to be temporary from a profit standpoint, etc. Usability and testing aren't, after all, defensible business advantages. They're just tablestakes, on the way to becoming commodities of implementation and commodities in the labor market, aren't they? This is why maybe the best move -- now as always -- is to find unoptimized, bad businesses, and fix them.
Or maybe it's just easier to keep your head down, focus narrow, and optimize your pages! That philosophical stuff'll kill you if it's your job to maximize profit this year.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Jeeves, you had a good run. Not many guys can say they launched a lucrative IPO and kept the press and British schoolchildren interested enough in a brand that it lasted seven years. You even spawned a range of sarcastic columns. And speculation. "Is Jeeves gay?" is one of the more common questions asked of you. That put you right up there on the map with cultural icons like Tom Cruise, and Spongebob.
But you've outlasted your usefulness. The dudes with the capital just invested a whack of money on a search engine... they didn't need your ambiguity and low-tech image cluttering up the works. This is 2006! Time to drop the training wheels and use the full range of search engine features, like maps (check out the AJAX!), dictionaries, and blog search. So, thanks for the memories.
As confirmed in a keynote conversation with Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Strategies today, at the behest of IAC Interactive CEO Barry Diller, the lovable character is being retired. In his view, the butler icon was "baggage" that "niched, or segregated, us."
Diller harbors no illusions that Ask.com will rocket to #1 in the market overnight. But he does feel that no media business stays at "30% or 40% market share forever." While acknowledging that "habit is a tough thing to break" -- joking to conference attendees that you should all "rush back to your rooms now and change your [searching] habits immediately"-- Diller has enough experience in the "storytelling and narrative" (Paramount Pictures, Fox) business to know that "these things can break down over time." From his comments today, it's clear that IAC is in the search business for the long haul, and don't expect overnight success. Rather, they expect to work hard at building better products, because if it isn't "good" and "differentiated," says Diller, it "doesn't have any reason for being."
Today's one of those days, as it always seems to be when a major figure does a keynote at SES New York, that it feels like "our day." You come out of a room packed with people listening to a leader in the search industry, and into an elevator playing a top business story on CNN: "Ask Boots Butler." Man, they're talking about "us"! Again.
The outgoing valet will be feted in a stylish bash tonight. Even I'm invited, according to the Ask.com Blog. I'm just glad they didn't post something about Barry Lloyd wanting to marry me.
Just one more question about the day's events. Why doesn't Danny get nervous up there? I'm pretty sure most of the rest of us would. :)
Sunday, February 26, 2006
And so, by figuring out how to get around it with a touch of ingenuity and Website Miracle Gro, SEO's have already sown the seeds of the sandbox's eventual demise. Google will soon need to accept that older domains ain't necessarily non-spam domains.