After talking to Yahoo! earlier this week, I have more information on the specifics of the Google/Yahoo! deal. As you’ve likely heard by now, Yahoo! said it would use Google to provide PPC results for long tail (less popular) keyword terms. Yesterday, I learned tail terms would be calculated based on keyword volume. So, for example, Yahoo! will decide all terms with fewer than 100 searches per month will be backfilled by Google. With this information, a couple of interesting comments/questions spring to my mind…
(1) If Google is better at monetizing tail terms, isn’t success inevitable? And with success (and a better bottom line), isn’t there the possibility of Yahoo! find a way to tweak the definition of tail terms to suit their financial objectives? Eventually, we may see Google results in a very broad context of tail terms (similar to what has happened with PPC match typing).
(2) We’ve also seen the prices of tail terms increase in Google. I hate to say it people, but our days of cheaper Y!SM terms may be over. Over the last while, the prices of tail terms have crept up in Google and, as a result the same may happen in Yahoo! Besides better technology, there’s a good reason Google has been able to better monetize tail terms.
Note: for the next 3.5 months, it will be business as usual at Yahoo! (until the deal gets regulatory approval).
This'll be my last post about SES Toronto this year - you have to put the cork in something sometime, I guess. :) The team may have one or two more snippets to share on Monday.
I wanted to address two themes in this post; they're interrelated.
Without necessarily being conscious of it, as Kevin Ryan and I worked on putting this year's program together, we began with a thesis, or a question we wanted answered. Are a lot of the "core" search marketing tactics old and tired, warranting a new approach or even abandoning of the focus on "search" in favor of a more diversified visibility paradigm, call it Web 2.0 centric, call it social media optimization, or what you will? Session after session proved - without anyone having prejudged the answer - that we are ahead of ourselves in touting some of the apparent engagement metrics, benefits, "attitudinals" (Kevin making fun of some of the obfuscation of 2.0-world), and even good common sense of social media marketing outside of traditional search. And on the flip side, it was proven over and over again that we are underinvesting in and underestimating the immense power of the core search tactics and elements of full-scale professional search marketing:
Linking campaigns & beyond
Conversion optimization so that traffic isn't just leaking out of the "funnel"
How much we need to know about users, where they're searching, and how
How they behave differently in B2B vs. B2C scenarios
Feeds, from RSS to everything else (including Yahoo's new SearchMonkey)
Kinds of search, from video search to news search to vertical search to....
International dimensions, language, and culture in search
Webmaster tools and lab toys offered by the search engines
Research tools and tactics, including keyword research and competitive intelligence
Needless to say, I could go on.
By contrast, many of the kool-aid-du-jour campaigns and related mushy language - a "viral" YouTube video, a clever Facebook app, an interactive widget, etc. - seemed awfully expensive by comparison with getting all of the above right. Building the marketing sprinkles on top of your meatball sundae won't get customers into the basic navigation towards key objectives. This is not to dismiss the immense influence of social media. But we all need to be reminded to mine the rich ore on the land we already know and own, before raising big sums of money to go off in search of the next big discovery. Both are valid, but that depends on "what type of money you are." If you're hungry, don't get on a ship bound for a place with orange groves: pick the low-hanging apple right next to your hand.
Perhaps the biggest problem I saw with piecemeal attempts to just throw content into the social media channel, as I digested various case studies and comments, is the shocking lack of professional responsibility and continuity in these campaigns. Companies spend years building brands and examining the negative fallouts of different strategies and messages. Then they're supposed to just "throw in" with some ill-planned creative, grainy video, offbeat promotion, etc., without any projection of whether it's actually going to cost the company millions in brand equity, rather than being additive to the overall level of positive noise quotient as social media campaign advocates seem to imply? Wildfires burning out of control sure look pretty from the air, but who among us is really stupid enough to want one in our neck of the woods? A colleague of mine sometimes wisely points out the pitfalls of letting a process or message go "hog wild." Spontaneity and fun are, well, spontaneous and fun, but do companies really know what they're getting into? Me writing this blog is about as hog wild as it gets around here, and sometimes, maybe often, even that is too much. Yet Fortune 500 companies are outsourcing their social media campaigns to shameless promoters with no public relations experience and no qualms about subtracting a few zeroes from market valuations by releasing cheap-looking promotions into the social space.
One delegate approached me nervously about the schedule for late on Day 2. Would the link building session actually focus on link building? Because if he was going to have to hear more general talk about social media, he definitely did not want to attend that session. Fortunately, panelists Mike Grehan, Deborah Mastaler, and Jeff Quipp gave him exactly what he was looking for, with seasoned, real-world advice about link building in today's environment.
Great feedback about Bill Tighe of Google, and the other panelists on the Advanced Paid Search panel.
I received hearty kudos for Mike McDerment of Freshbooks and the other panelists on the "B2B is Different" panel.
You get the idea. The core stuff works. The core stuff has evolved tremendously. It is vitally important and it is still moving the needle.
I also wanted to bring Fredrick Marckini's opening keynote into this discussion. You could point to many individual takeaways from Fredrick, but a couple stand out for me. While Fredrick certainly explored the changing landscape of search visibility and the growth of new search features, new tactics, and global growth opportunities, what he kept returning to was his core theme, complete with cheesy Huey Lewis soundtrack: "The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll is Still Beating." Hey, maybe we shouldn't be a bunch of dull folks sitting around swapping stories about H1 tags -- no chance of that for Fredrick -- but a lot of the core stuff still works. If you're too cool to listen to Huey, Fredrick's got some news from you (though he is far too modest to say so himself). Huey made him ridiculously rich, and Huey keeps him traveling around the globe as a core part of the marketing strategies of his agency's Fortune 1000 clients.
One and only one sub-point from that overall Marckini theme needs to be hammered home, I think. You can catch the rest at his next keynote, somewhere around the globe. That point is: Start Now. Search visibility and awareness don't turn on like a light switch. Someone else spent five years and $500,000+ getting to where they are now in the search engines and related online hotspots. Search success reflects social success, but that doesn't mean you become socially successful in a searchable way by trying a couple of gimmicks next week. You have to begin with a comprehensive strategy, and get going now, since yesterday already passed. There will be a basic 6 month lag time before you see any results to speak of. There will be another 2-3 year lag time before you really come into your own. Putting starting off for another year just isn't an option.
"Chicken and egg, tail wagging dog, or a playing card with a picture of a row of houses on the back, slowly falling from the top of the CN Tower; however you want to describe the situation, I assure you that Canadian CEO's aren't to blame for it," argued Goodman in a barely intelligible interview earlier this morning.
Goodman's account of the situation suggests that weak demand for "sweet spot" online items, such as drugstore-based supplies, comes from "dumb ladies" who refuse to learn how to use a computer. A full transcript of his story follows.
"Today I was walking in Bloor West Village and turned into a nutritional supplements wellness organic niceties store, because the door was open. I attempted to buy a small bottle of green tea capsules, and was told that before tax, the item would cost $45.00. I didn't hesitate to tell the shifty-eyed shop owner that I'm sorry but that is way too much, and I guess I'm used to buying this kind of stuff from a warehouse in Arizona. I don't like to buy from the Arizona place anymore because of the surprise shipping, duty, brokerage, and/or tax charges that so often sting us when we buy cross-border. So as my mind drifted to SNDCanada.com, a reputable, fast, Oakville-based retailer, the owner's faint plea penetrated just enough: 'Well these are high-potency.' I replied somewhat rudely: 'That is, if I believe the claim.' Truth is, I believe label claims somewhat in a major drugstore chain from major brand names, and I actually believe them from certain online outlets. But in a brick-and-mortar store in a 'hood full of gullible subjects I really don't think I'm getting my $45 worth.
"You see, in my neighbourhood there are a lot of underemployed, middle class (not rich, that market isn't big enough) women who concern themselves with personal grooming to the point of making it into a profession. They are, unfortunately, almost universally dumb. Rising asset values in their homes have allowed them to make overinflated purchases in local shops, and because they aren't genuine consumers like the rest of us, they don't question label claims. And unfortunately, they refuse to use computers. As anyone in business knows, dumb ladies are probably the highest-margin demographic short of New York State Governors. Sicko shop owners take advantage of the situation, making hyper-profits, and the owners of e-commerce properties don't make any money."
"I decided to take a stand today. I walked out of the store. I was about to try SNDCanada.com, but instead remembered my new friend Ali - owner of Well.ca, a recent startup in the drugstore supplies space. My assessment of the price and convenience benefit of using Well.ca is definitely mixed at this point. A bottle of the higher-potency green tea caps from reputable supplement maker Holista runs $19.59 plus $3.00 shipping. (The "Add $79.41 more to your cart to qualify for free shipping" message does not act as an enticement.) And I'll always be in Shoppers Drug Mart in any given week so the convenience element is nearly nonexistent. In fact, it's a pain to buy online what with the forms & card info and all - and then the box comes to your front door when you're not home. What I'm really looking for, to justify the online effort, is a great deal on high-potency green tea capsules in a 1,000 or 2,000 count tub.
"Whatever I do, though, honestly, for spite alone I would never buy the small bottle from the shifty shop owner for $45.00. I mean what's next, buying protein powder at GNC in the mall? The only thing worse than dumb ladies? Dumb teenagers. They keep half the stores in the mall in business, and also refuse to learn how to use a computer."
Postscript: the water meter reader who just came by is a smart woman. She uses a computer while walking house to house! I wonder if that device could be used to zap some sense into those Canadian CEO's or dumb ladies, whichever came first.
This year, there were some excellent sessions at SES Toronto. One of the most notable was Fredrick Markini’s (Chief Global Search Officer from Isobar) keynote presentation where he talked about trends in online advertising. For a glimpse of what was covered, take a look at my interview with Fredrick Marckini.
If you’re interested in attending SES, the next two next full shows are SES Germany 2008 (June 23 to June 24 2008) and SES San Jose 2008 (Aug 18 to Aug 21 2008). I'll be kicking around both shows and look forward to seeing you there!
Through the lens of this lengthy article on why Yahoo isn't as much of a failure as critics say, I can safely put to rest three common rumors about Danny. The following are the myths. I say they're not true. (so they're not not not true, that's for sure)
"Danny sure doesn't write very much anymore." Really - that's what someone said to me yesterday. Then he writes 2,200 words about Yahoo not being a failure, on a Friday, and posts video with it, to boot.
"Danny's finally off the cold medication that makes him curse in articles." Garlinghouse just wishes he could write his memos like that.
"Danny is absolutely NOT cozying up to the black hats while pretending to be white hat!" OK, so I have a pretty fine-toothed comb, and to me, if you're recommending potential Yahoo CEO's they should be pretty drab characters who have never made one dime from any black hat SEO or ad network activity; characters like engineering types and even the nebulous operations wonks cited by Icahn are more appealing to me than folks with product management and business development (but largely public relations) backgrounds. If they'd made some of the Fakes and Schacter's of the world into co-CEO's, the company would be better off today (and these folks wouldn't be leaving).
But seriously, I think I'm just jealous that Danny writes so much, and so well. And I love that he agrees with me that Yahoo should try something radical, like making the home page just the search page... I said just try it for a month.
(P.S. Don't you think my Open Letter to Jerry Yang of June 2007 was so much nicer than the mean letters sent to Yahoo by Carl Icahn a year later? Whether it's you, me, ordinary shareholders, or Icahn, it's hard to avoid the sense that Yang hasn't provided a progress report on any of the urgent priorities Yahoo set in 2007. And without telling you something you can't already guess, some Yahoo employees are incensed that he turned down the white knight Microsoft offer, only to partner with Google.)
My first SES has come and gone. Left behind is a plethora of good memories and lessons learned. Among the highlights of the event:
Fredrick Marckini’s heartwarming dedication to his mother during the opening keynote address. Hey, don’t laugh..I thought it was great.
Fredrick’s shameless plug of Andrew Goodman’s upcoming book. I saw quite a few books and resources mentioned in sessions – showcasing the depth of expertise that the SES speakers bring to the table. The conversation goes on after the show is over, of course.
Uniting Page Zero colleagues normally thousands of miles apart. I finally put faces to several voices I knew only from conference calls and e-mails, and everyone lived up to – or exceeded – his or her sterling reputation in person.
Kevin Ryan and Greg Jarboe asking the Intro to Search Engine Marketing session audience if they knew what pay-per-click was. Every hand in the room shot up, even though this was the “intro” track. The rooks did their homework before they arrived.
A delicious dessert at lunchtime. Brownies are one of my true vices.
A handy breakdown of multivariate testing and managing ad campaigns by Mona Elesseily, Jeff Lancaster and Bill Tighe. I learned that my gut was right on some of my own tricks – I’m a fan of making ad groups for misspelled words – and that I have a long way to go in other areas. Time to really put my ad testing skills, well, to the test.
Bryan Eisenberg’s frank, vibrant keynote address Wednesday morning. He makes important points but does so in terms everyone can understand. Who wouldn’t get hooked on all those snappy diagrams showing search users’ eye movements? Cool stuff.
This exchange during the uber-technical Web 2.0. and Search Engines session Wednesday afternoon:
KEVIN RYAN: OK, raise your hand if that wasn’t way over your head. (Most of the attendees raise their hands – I wasn’t one of them)
KEVIN RYAN: OK, raise your hand if you just lied.
Amanda Watlington sending shudders down my spine during her macabre session on SEO scams. The worst are the firms that refuse to show how they do what they do – “magic sauce,” as she put it. Reminds me of ordering a sandwich at Quiznos. How can we trust them when their sneeze guard is opaque? I never know what they’re mixing up back there.
Matt Van Wagner ending the scams session and, essentially, SES, with the claim that Al Gore did in fact invent the Internet. I ended the day laughing. What else could I want?
All in all, a great first SES experience, one in which I was made to feel as welcome as the big-name speakers were.
Very brief update from conference-land. After attending Fredrick Marckini's excellent keynote session in the a.m., I moderated sessions for the rest of the day.
Very brief summary of one:
In the State of Search Marketing in Canada panel with Ken Headrick, Brent Bernie, Guillaume Bouchard, Eric Morris, and Martin Byrne (Microsoft, comScore, NVI, Google, Yahoo), several panelists observed the significantly higher use of search and depth of Canadian users' search and web savvy (relative to the U.S. and most other nations), combined with fewer dollars being spent in relevant verticals by marketers and fewer dollars being spent by consumers on e-commerce, again, relatively speaking. Proportionally, Canadian e-marketing and e-commerce spends "should" be higher than they are relative to user savvy and search behavior.
To summarize that state of affairs I invoked my favorite turtle from the Simpsons episode, the one where Homer's hallucinating on a hot Mexican pepper and asks the turtle questions. Turtle nods yes or no.
To avid use of search and new media in Canada: "Is that because broadband Internet is basically free?" (Turtle nods yes.)
"Will Canadians ever begin spending more online?" (Turtle shakes his head no -- I try to argue with him on this.)
Eric Morris talked about our avid interest but lack of real use of mobile search and apps.
"Is that because we don't have any unlimited data plans?" Turtle nods yes.
SES Toronto has officially begun…sort of. For anyone seeking a brain primer before hitting the main festivities tomorrow and Wednesday, the event kicked off with training sessions on Monday.
I arrived to find two buffets – one was a tasty continental breakfast and the other was the choice between two different training sessions: link building tools and SEO tactics. I went with link building and joined several dozen fresh faces, all of whom were surprisingly alert given the early hour.
We were treated to a smart-yet-snappy tutorial by Alliance-Link’s Debra Mastaler (also of link spiel blog fame). The session was useful for all types, from experts looking to perfect their link building skills to novices wanting to fix mistakes or make sure they were doing everything right.
What did I take away from it aside from a full belly? Quite a lot. I’ll be focusing much more on finding authoritative sources the next time I try to build links. I also know a lot more about the pitfalls – how to leave link targets happy instead of highly unhappy.
One thing that was amazingly clear this week, after the dust settled, was how wrong and useless the hair-trigger blog posts were in reference to Yahoo's "termination" of talks with Microsoft, and its ad deal with Google.
This little rhythm happens. Yahoo makes an announcement or two. PR informs some bloggers. Other bloggers happen on it. Heck a friend of mine even phoned me to remind me to read the PR email that had just come in with reference to the Yahoo-Google ad deal.
It's getting to the end of a busy day - or it is after hours. And bloggers feel compelled to post. Under that scenario, many (half?) the posts you see are very close to just regurgitating press releases. In that "taking press releases literally" mode, incorrect analyses are actually spread around the industry... for a short time.
But this short time is long enough for many readers to bite off a little bit of wrong info, and move onto their day. The waters get muddied.
Somewhere by the middle of next day, the channel has been refilled by the content of more seasoned journalists, Wall Street analysts, etc. weighing in with more textured coverage. Then, additional facts -- like Yahoo turning down a similar deal with Microsoft -- come to light. Suddenly the knee-jerk posts need to be revised, revisited, and re-released... if anyone's still reading.
Some writers, particularly those at the New York Times and Mike Arrington, seem to gauge the tone of their coverage to the stock price of the company in question. Not always a bad idea, if you want to seem in step for a couple of days. Hence the time lapse of approximately one day before the "Yang you blew it" "massive destruction of shareholder value" posts began coalescing together like one big nascent anti-Yang Googlebomb. As YHOO shares stabilize and creep back up, the vicious attacks will become more sporadic, though we should probably expect daily telegrams and missives in longhand to be sent to Sunnyvale from the Desk of Carl Icahn. If we're lucky, these will be forwarded to Valleywag.
It seems like it's getting harder and harder to digest the news -- and it isn't that the blogosphere writ large is "to blame." But there are clear differences among bloggers: they break down into (i) a rare few who have running insights and access to better facts; (ii) those (like me) who are sometimes insightful and sometimes have access to better facts; and (iii) those who make no attempt to add anything to the discussion, but who are quick at posting "something."
I'm not sure if you can address all of this with an algorithm... or what... but in the case of something like Techmeme or Technorati, it's clear the playing field (like any playing field that rewards visibility) is getting soft-spammed by quick-response rehash posts and even knee-jerk posts that are flat wrong about the facts.
Admit it, gamers, er, I mean bloggers -- we're all a little bit part of the problem.
Browsing through Sphinn, the forums, and other places where online marketers hang out, it's hard not to notice the disproportionate focus on anything but paid search. To put it another way, the disproportionate focus on SEO, especially SEO 1.0 details, intimate details of SEO's as individuals, who said or did what, and various meta-minutiae contributions like the one you're reading now.
I've always been comfortable with being an avid part of what the old SEO world still seems to see as a "niche," but then I read a little newsletter from Perry Marshall this morning, and a voice said to me: "Andrew, dammit, these people are taking money from your pocket. They're stealing!"
I was surprised at Imaginary Perry's vociferousness on the subject, but hey - he's probably noticed what a vociferous advocate of paid search I've been since inception. He's probably also done the math. All of the headlines over the past couple of weeks, all of the Wall Street interest in Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft: it's all because of auction-based targeted clicks, half of which come directly from a user search, triggering a payment to Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft. It's a $15 billion a year business. It's one of the most proven (legitimate) ways to make money online if you're a small business. It's a hugely successful and growing direct marketing channel (and data goldmine) for large businesses. Unlike SEO, you control the levers. Unlike SEO, paid search also forces you to consider conversion issues and information scent in an immediate way - or you get your head handed to you financially. There's no free ride that leads to mushy thinking.
It's one of the reasons Page Zero regularly welcomes a new client, without having to resort to fads. Oftentimes these are clients with realistic expectations, strong businesses, and ad budgets. Albeit with a long-term view of testing and iterating, these clients have a real expectation that they'll be tightly testing and improving in the first month, and holding their own feet to the competitive fire.
Example: Page Zero welcomes new client, Tripharbour.ca / Tripharbor.com. For the next few months, I'm guessing Tripharbor's clicks will primarily come from AdWords - less so, organic search, and even less so, from social media gimmicks. Probably because the founder understands the guts of direct response (he was with Expedia). You have to get the fundamentals of your marketing sundae right before you start throwing the fun sprinkles on top.
I really love stories about Matt Cutts' haircut and linkbaiting tactics from folks with no public relations training, I really do. But let's not confuse it for marketing.
So I can only say again: wake up world! Paid search is here to stay. For real.
After much speculation, Google/Yahoo! announced a paid search deal with Google. In the new Panama interface, Google ads will run alongside Yahoo! ones. The deal also includes the Yahoo!’s contextual network. Among other things, Yahoo! is looking to Google for help to monetize underperforming inventory, namely, tail terms. Yahoo! has identified an $800 million opportunity to monetize such terms and according to Yahoo! the deal is expected to yield $250 million to $450 million in incremental operation cash flow.
With the deal, Yahoo! will be able to choose where Google ads will appear (for which keywords) as well as how many ads will appear per keyword. In the conference call Q&A, when asked if the agreement will cannibalize any aspect of Yahoo!’s current business, they stated there was room for such a deal and highlighted the positive results of the infamous Google/Yahoo test of April 2008. At this point, Yahoo! believes Google is better at monetizing tail keyword terms and they believe the deal is a win-win for all.
The deal is a non-exclusive agreement and is for a ten year period. The first renewal period is after four years with at least two more renewal periods in the remaining six years. The agreement is currently for the US and Canada only.
You are all aware of the multitude of big announcements in the space by now - Yahoo concluding talks with Microsoft, Yahoo partnering with Google, etc.
We'll no doubt have more to say, but quick takes for now.
I've been saying for awhile that I think a partnership with Google to display ads is a bad idea. Yahoo seems to be under the impression this will up their revenues. Perhaps, but it will also continue to slow adoption of their own Panama ad platform, and speed up the complete victory of Google AdWords. Advertisers may notice even less volume through Panama than before - think they'll thank Yahoo for that? No - they'll place even more stock in Google's ability to deliver the goods. The move *definitely* hurts Microsoft. And so there is one clear loser in the scenario.
There is a lot more going on with Yahoo and all of these companies. It will continue to be a complex growth story for all.
And need we remind you that Yahoo concluding talks with Microsoft will not deter proxy fighters like Carl Icahn from trying to kick out the board and force some kind of deal anyway. Will that prove to be noise? Time will tell.
In the end, we've seen Yahoo display pride and to stand up for itself - with the reservation that it has had to align itself with Google in order to do so. No matter what happens from here on in, it is clear that Yahoo has taken a clear stance in favor of, well, itself. And the potential of its peanut buttery array of strengths. And it has decided to treat search as just another piece of the puzzle, another tool, another of many monetization angles. Right or wrong, that's really how Yahoo's been treating search since 1998.
Yes, it's creeping up fast, and if you've considered attending or didn't realize it was this soon there is still time to get registered for Search Engine Strategies Toronto. There is a training day (choice of four half-day sessions) on Monday the 16th, followed by the conference proper on the 17th-18th.
As program chair of the conference that means a busy week of content and socializing for me. With sizzling keynotes from Bryan Eisenberg and Fredrick Marckini, dozens of top local and international speakers, and a bash at Ultra co-sponsored by Yahoo and Epiar, it promises to be a week to remember.
For newcomers to the event, consider that we've tried to set tracks appropriate to your needs: a basics track (get me up to speed), a practical track (more tips & cases), and an advanced track (for cutting edge tactics, new research, and hot trends).
We'll try to blog some info from a couple of sessions here, but that's no substitute for being there. See you there!
Actually, if you're doing broad keyword brainstorming and seasonality research and you don't want absolute counts, Google Trends is the best available tool. It gives you real Google data (though not absolute), is very handy in terms of presentation of historical data, and will also give you regional breakdowns (which seem less reliable -- did Canadians just discover cashews in 2007?).
I do find seasonality research fascinating. It forces you to rethink consumer behavior and to understand that conventional wisdom is always going to evolve online. "Holiday seasonality thinking" will give away to more granular seasonality thinking, IMHO. For example, if you search for "figs," the spikes are in October - not November or December. Well duh! This is when figs are harvested so you can get them fresh. I suppose for those of us who assume figs are some dried thing, we wouldn't give that a thought. There is so much we don't know (or research)... and the tools are out there to find out.
FWIW: search-wise, North Vancouver seems to be the fig capital of Canada. Take note!
On the other hand, if you really are looking for absolute numbers, Google Trends still falls short.
Why is it that new, "better" site designs/architecture often seem worse from a user perspective? Fact is, I had gotten used to the old, "bad" weather page from Environment Canada. You know, the one that didn't require me to click "more info" so I could get the actual forecast instead of just the pretty sun with cloud icon? The one that had the "record values" in the place I knew to find it, instead of having to go hunting?
Did the interface get better or did I just have to click more?
Continuing the recent thread of ad hominem CEO assessments, can't disagree with Larry Dignan's take on Carl Icahn's latest letter. Eric Schmidt was a perfect helmsman for Google because Google is an engineering company and Schmidt can handle the troops from strength based on his former role as a CTO... not because he's an "operations" expert.
As for who Yahoo should choose when Yang steps aside is less clear. Yahoo is not a pure engineering company as Google is, although it has spearheaded many soft innovations in alternative web technologies.
People-wise, what is the breakdown, anyway? You could find just as many mid level product managers and MBA's at Google as you could at Yahoo, so in my view the best characterization comes from the org-theory world (Perrow) -- what is the "dominant coalition" at either company. Google's dominant coalition of engineers, programmers, Ph'D's, etc. is solidly backed by a dual class shareholder structure that puts great power in the hands of Page and Brin.
At this stage, Yahoo can't seem to decide what its identity is (the peanut butter thing). Peanut butter syndrome is not helped by the distributed share ownership (70% institutional holders). Holding company would be a bad identity to adopt - IAC is an "OK" player online but can't win on a large scale, it seems. Marchex is a quietly successful holding company, but not on any scale.
Yahoo's brand is well supported by Jerry Yang in the role of Chief Yahoo - but there isn't any clear path towards choosing a new CEO. Icahn has a point, but I sure hope he wouldn't be directly involved in the final decision, because he only has a point in a very general sense.
Likely, Yahoo's next CEO should be one who has worked in solidly progressive roles in technology and new media at larger companies who excels at drawing out the strengths of those who build and manage key Yahoo products and channels.
In Jim Collins' Good to Great, the #1 no-no for companies historically - from a shareholder return perspective - has been to place too much stock in "rock star" CEO's. CEO's who understand a company's economic engine, who play hedgehog, who get the right people on the bus - tend to outperform. And they do that over the long haul not by being favorites in the media (or by being already billionaire rich when they take the job), but by gaining respect internally. This is why Schmidt was an apt choice for Google. Whoever runs Yahoo should be not only liked internally, but respected enough to bring out the best in its people and nerdy enough to care about the details of product development and user experiences. And unlike one previous CEO, they should use the Internet enough to know the difference between a browser and a widget.
Thanks to recent breakthroughs in semantic search technology – namely, Powerset’s application of semantic search to Wikipedia -- there’s no question search engines just got smarter. The more pressing question is whether or not the big, “dumb” search engines are a problem that needs resolving. Are we really that dissatisfied with Yahoo and Google?
Admittedly, Powerset’s semantic search boasts some fascinating features. Its representatives claim that it “understands” search terms in natural language. Instead of searching “NHL consecutive games goal streak,” for example, you can ask Powerset “Who holds the NHL record for most consecutive games with a goal?” and get a highly relevant answer.
To show off its effectiveness, Powerset recently demoed its semantic search within Wikipedia’s data set. The results are intriguing; whereas a traditional Wikipedia search pulls up a list of 10 (usually) relevant results to match a keyword search, Powerset, via disambiguation, determines what it is you’re specifically searching for and provides not only the correct entry, but notes and facts on the subject. Impressive stuff, right?
Not according to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. He thinks Powerset's data set is too small to really test the capabilities of semantic search and, as far as he’s concerned, using Powerset on Wikipedia is fixing what ain’t broke. It’s tough to argue with him; Wikipedia searches almost always give users what they want – perhaps even more so than Google or Yahoo searches do. They also hint at being “smarter” than Powerset might have us believe; as users key in their desired search terms, a drop-down bar begins “guessing” at what they’re searching before they hit the “enter” key.
While it’s silly not to consider a search engine that “understands” us an exciting prospect, the effectiveness of existing methods makes me wonder if we “need” semantic search yet. Powerset claims it works best for research, for those not searching for specific items but instead seeking general information on a topic. Well, which types of users are most likely to use search for research and inductive gathering of information? Anyone in the educational field. The last time I checked, they have large internal databases through which they can gather boatloads of literature on their topics of study, be it government documents, journal articles or online writings. In other words, they’re doing just fine. Is there a demand yet for a smarter search?
Also, Powerset says monster search engines like Google get results via “brute force” – saturating results pages with anything remotely relevant – while semantic search retrieves highly targeted information. As Jimmy Wales suggests, however, Powerset is still unproven. What if it can’t answer one of my expertly worded questions? At least with Google results I know I’m not missing out on anything relevant, even if it means wading through some garbage in the process.
For example, I asked Powerset "What is the most poisonous animal on Earth?" and received a detailed report on the Golden Poison Frog (so deadly that other animals have died just from touching a paper towel stepped on by the frog. Who knew?). No other animal was said to be as venomous. When I typed the same question into Google, not only did it also pull up the Golden Poison Frog, it pulled up several other animals who were also thought to be as poisonous. Sure, Powerset's answer might be the correct one, and it may have "understood" the question better than Google, but it's unsettling to see that there are some conflicting opinions on the subject out there and that Powerset missed them.
Powerset also has some kinks to work out with "incorrect queries." Wondering where the Fonz disappeared to, I asked "when did Henry Winkler die?" only to receive a mishmash of results containing Winkler's name loosely associated with the word "die." Typing "Henry Winkler died" into trusty Google, however, pulled up a site that gave me a much more precise answer.
Sure, semantic search may be the way of the future, and it could one day put heat on the likes of Google or at least make them rethink their own search infrastructures. But I don’t think that era is upon us just yet.
I'll stick with the big search engines for now. They may not be “geniuses,” but they’re reliable and smart enough to keep most of us happy.
This analysis from Rob Hof suggests that Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang's resistance to a deal with Microsoft is not based on deep-seated hatred of the Redmond behemoth, but rather is based on sound reasoning about risks. Such risks include two companies of immense magnitude being hung up and hamstrung by regulatory hurdles, which may result in all or part of the deal being quashed.
Beyond that indication, and some quotes from former associates telling us that Yang is a level-headed fellow, however, we don't get any reports of a clear vision. Bulletin: when it comes to Yahoo, we may never get that report. The "vision thing" seems to elude the company; not really shocking given the amount of time Terry Semel was left running it.
Make no mistake: it's a pivotal time for these two companies. Yahoo's current process of identifying and deepening its strengths in content, web 2.0 apps and contextual media is perfectly sane, and in keeping with its long-time diversity of strengths (the peanut butter thing). But the tea leaves seem to now read that Yahoo is strongly considering an exit from search, or at least a downshift towards letting Microsoft or Google run more of that show.
The end result (partnerships, stakes, cobrands, and no clear resolution or merger) points towards Yahoo continuing to be a vibrant, uneven, diversified powerhouse that some people (shareholders and smart-aleck execs, but not so much users) think of as a big mess. That would be completely in keeping with its history.
The question then becomes, what's Microsoft's vision? Are they really crazy enough to think they can be a strong #2 in search, and other things Google is dominating right now? Will Steve Ballmer turn purple in the face trying to achieve it with only a small piece of Yahoo to work with? Stay tuned.
In the midst of some of the Microhoo takeover bid turmoil several weeks back, an industry friend scoffed at what he called Jerry Yang's "sophomoric" handling of the situation. "Now hold on a minute," I thought to myself. Yahoo had every good reason to do what it could to argue for its future as a strong, independent brand rather than just rolling over in the face of Ballmer bluster.
But recent news syncs up with the specific point my friend was likely making. It was particularly that stunt with agreeing to the experimental ad listings outsourcing deal with Google that looked juvenile to him. Indeed, now that we can see evidence of the reasoned arguments Yahoo management had made against just such a deal only weeks before, it now really looks like a petulant move intended as a snub to Microsoft - cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. Not the kind of move that does justice to shareholders, or thousands of employees who assumed that management was sincere in trying to compete against Google's offerings, rather than going for a short-term revenue bump. Sophomoric, indeed. Or as "mystified" Rupert Murdoch put it: "Jerry Yang is a friend, but he only owns 5%."
While seemingly innocuous and occasionally bumbling, Canada doesn't have any national diseases (SARS was overblown) needing Sarkozy-strength fixing. Our currency is strong. We are poised, if not to take over the world, then to be more competent in 2008 than we were in 2007.
So folks, go out there and win one this week! Or at least -- like Mike Weir in the Memorial -- come tied for second in something! When in doubt, hire Americans named A.J. and B.J. and pay them a great deal of money to lose for you!
Any fellow Canucks care to build on this list/legacy: the comment field is open. Canada Day is only one (1) month away. We need you.