Search Grows, But Instant Search May Have Cooked The Numbers

As colder weather settles across the US, search engine volume begins its seasonal climb that will peak during the holiday season.

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Measurement firm comScore released its monthly Search Engine Rankings this evening and reports the number of US search queries climbed to 17.6 billion, a 4% increase over August’s totals with one fewer day.  Google’s share continued a steady climb and remains the market maker with a 66.1% marketshare.

The data behind these measurements is likely changing because of the Yahoo-Microsoft alliance.  The numbers may be further skewed by Google’s new Instant Search feature.    comScore says they’ve adjusted their counting methodology and will now count a page of search results that remains displayed for 3 seconds as another search even if the person using the search engine continues typing.

Measurement systems like comScore’s or TV ratings are often done on a “panel” basis where a particular set of users represent all users.  This is scientifically sound analysis.   It works.  And had there only been one major change this summer, tonight’s numbers might be more illuminating.

After looking at the data, I’ve decided that I want to see at least another month or two of data before completely understanding how much Instant Search is influencing the size of the market and Google’s share of that market.  For now,  the most illuminating data is that Yahoo! search queries fell from 2.72 billion to 2.68 billion.     Even when looking at the June and July numbers, which were lower for Yahoo!, it’s clear that the #2 player is fading fast.

We’ve written many times about the US search market becoming a duopoly with two major players.  Until a Facebook partnership is created with one of them, the search marketing continues crawling to that level.  Your takeaway as a small business leader is to remain aware that Yahoo!’s role as an independent, major search player is ending.

Quicken Ambivalence

Strong words–love and hate.

Those are the words consumers use to describe brand experiences.

My personal affinity for Quicken goes back more than two decades.  I was such an early user of Quicken that the software couldn’t handle the amount of financial data I loaded on there.   In those days, Quicken was barely out of shareware status, and tech support insisted that every year be archived as its own file.  That sounded okay to me, except that you couldn’t report across multiple files.

I analyze web metrics as a big part of my life now.  Do you really think a version of me a generation ago was going to give up access to reporting across years?

But we spent a lot of time on the phone, and I think my efforts helped them build a better product.  In the early days, Scott Cook’s company provided outstanding customer service.  I was in that field then, and they weren’t simply good–they were best of breed.

As the company grew, Quicken and QuickBooks became leaders in their segment.  On their march to multi-billion dollar revenue streams, Intuit introduced big B2B concepts to their smaller business and consumer markets.  They rolled out  ”sunsetting”, a time when your software would no longer work regardless of whether it still met your  needs.   They also insisted on product activation because as Cook noted there were many more tax returns prepared using TurboTax then units sold.

I’ve admired Intuit and faithfully bought their products for years.  My lifetime value was astronomical and the word of mouth sales I generated was even higher.

Now the Quicken home line has introduced something so anti-consumer that the concept is mind-boggling.

Remember that I had years of data stored on a top of the line Quicken release.  Then I began substituting services like Mint.com (also owned by Intuit) for Quicken until I finally stopped using the product.  A need for some tax-related information sent me scrambling for the data file and then to Staples for a new copy of Quicken.

I no longer needed the top-of-the-line product, but the software and the customer service group insisted that I must upgrade to access my data file.

There was no downward compatibility.  There were no options.  Access to data you created in our best product means you were locked into that product for the future.

I can’t begin to tell you how poor that strategy is for a casual consumer market.  Brand loyal, I ran out to a Staples and purchased a $30 product to gather two facts.  Then I had to pay another $70 to upgrade my product.

My lesson learned?

Remember how I wouldn’t archive the files when they first started?  This weekend’s plan is to do so, but in a format that can be read by other programs.  Because as good as Quicken is and as brand loyal as I was, I felt Intuit abused our relationship.  They got an extra $100 in revenue this year, but the Quicken line has lost my business forever.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that the lessons you learn in one line of business do not always translate to other segments. I’ve often joked that a person will go to work and push around paper representing thousands of dollars of value if not more.   They’ll be agreeable, hold things for extra processing time or may even be delayed in their work with an overflowing inbox.  That same person will come home and spend 20 minutes arguing a $10 overcharge on the phone.

That’s the mindset between business and consumer segments, a lesson Intuit missed applying.

Columbus Day Myth and Opportunity

Did you miss Leif Erickson Day on Saturday? Congress first proclaimed October 9 as Leif Erickson Day in 1964.  That’s a good call since the Norse explorer made his journey about 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

In marketing parlance, Columbus is the sizzle to Erickson’s steak.

More importantly, as a small business owner you have an opportunity  this Columbus Day. You can avoid ticking off 2.5 million Americans who self-identify as Native American or Alaskan.  Because in reading some great essays this weekend, many folks view this an African-American might view Lee-Jackson Day in the south.   And you can avoid ticking off your fellow business leaders who don’t celebrate failed strategy.

Most of us know Columbus didn’t meet his goals as a business leader. You don’t often see “Leadership Secrets of Christopher Columbus” for a good reason. Consider:

  • Columbus missed, and while failure is fine, not understanding you failed is bad.
  • Columbus overestimated his competitive advantage, holding out for up to 10% of proceeds for future trips.  He got some short-run cash, but no intellectual property protected his position. Revenue-sharing is great, but only if you’re providing value to your partner.
  • Columbus overestimated the value of his first mover advantage.   Within years, Cortes had sailed against the Mexica Empire to the north and Pizarro had attacked south in the Andes.
  • Columbus didn’t understand labor pools.  Triangle trade was not just a travesty of the belief system Columbus professed to have faith in, but expensive.  The population in Hispaniola fell from 1 million to 30,000 within a generation of Columbus’ landing.  I don’t expect a 15th century European not named da Vinci to understand the mechanisms of the native people dying from disease.  But Columbus dismissed the notion that European presence caused sickness. He ignored the data right in front of him.
  • Columbus cared more about the trappings of office than success.  Call this the Dennis Koslowski Effect.  Remember the Tyco exec with the lavish lifestyle and unauthorized bonuses?   Columbus did much the same, pushing for titles and his own Coat of Arms.   After receiving the latter, he had the insignia redone to include royal colors and unauthorized symbols.   Wealth allows people to buy nice things.  Chris didn’t understand that titles and trappings are transient.  What a horrible negotiator!

We can have fun with Columbus and the federal holiday (created in 1934, 30 years before Leif got his proclamation), but your takeaway as a small business leader is to understand more about diversity than is typically taught in a half day HR seminar. Columbus’  journey destroyed rich civilizations on two continents and led to destruction of a civilization on a third.

The Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey (and please fire any marketer who doesn’t have a shortcut to at least 2 census.gov pages) show that 2.4 million Americans identify themselves as belonging to one of those cultures.  Tens of millions more have an affinity for the Mexica/Aztec and South American cultures destroyed by Columbus’ competitors.

Your business shouldn’t celebrate failure and you also should be sure that you are sensitive to millions of your customers, prospects and partners.  Christopher Columbus wasn’t a good leader, but the only thing I know as a small business leader is that my bank is closed and I won’t get any postal mail today.  I sure won’t celebrate the day, however, even in jest.  Take a look at this map for where those millions of people live to understand why.

US map showing Native American populations

Search Share Shrinks To Two

With respect to Ask (Dr. Pepper) and AOL (fruit juices), the duopoly created by the Microsoft/Yahoo search alliance makes U.S. search a tussle between Google and Microhoo for supremacy.

comScore’s August data was released tonight and shows a minor fluctuation with Google dropping 0.4 points in market share, which were seemingly picked up Yahoo and Microsoft. If anyone you know says 4/10ths of one percent feel free to heckle them for weeks until they conceded that the change was actually 0.6%.

In the soft drink world, Coke (40% plus market share), Pepsi (30% plus) and Dr. Pepper / Snapple (15% plus) effectively control the market. Except that the companies carving out a niche in the gaps often grow profitable or threaten to and are gobbled up.

That’s the payday Fuze and Odwallla hit when Coca-Cola bought them for a combined price of more than $400 million within a relatively short 6 year span.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that you better decide whether you like Coke products, Pepsi products or both for your business. For you that means Google AdWords and Microsoft’s adCenter if you’re doing any kind of search advertising.

But there are new players out there. Bottled water (aka Facebook) is all the rage and smart companies are starting to see profitable direct response results from the social network.

And the comScore data also shows that Ask and AOL combined for 964 million searches in August. As a marketer I call that number “nearly one billion” and despite the manner in which we toss around large numbers, one billion of anything in one month is big business.

So have your Coke or your Pepsi or switch between the two.

Try some bottled water when it’s appropriate.

And if Dr. Pepper, 7-Up or fruit juices are on sale, you may want to stock up on some of those.

The comparison is overly simplistic, but the point is valid. Search advertising is now a Google-Bing world that will control more than 80% of US search engine actions this fall and winter. Other options exist, but they may not be direct substitutes.

Try them all. Don’t get in a rut.

US Search Engine Market Share

comScore Explicit Core Search Share Report*
August 2010 vs. July 2010
Total U.S. – Home/Work/University Locations
Source: comScore qSearch
Core Search Entity Explicit Core Search Share (%)
Jul-10 Aug-10 Point Change
Total Explicit Core Search 100.0% 100.0% N/A
Google Sites 65.8% 65.4% -0.4
Yahoo! Sites 17.1% 17.4% 0.3
Microsoft Sites 11.0% 11.1% 0.1
Ask Network 3.8% 3.8% 0.0
AOL LLC Network 2.3% 2.3% 0.0

Chart: comScore qSearch analysis

How Google Just Changed Your Online Reporting

One of the core metrics online marketers use is the number of impressions an advertisement receives.   That’s important in any advertising, but the prices advertisers pay for search advertising is based in part on the “click through rate” or CTR.

Today’s Google Instant announcement means that search results will change fast and that’s very cool.  You’ve undoubtedly seen media coverage or even used the search yourself.   The biggest browsers:  Firefox, IE 8,  Chrome and Safari will all use Google’s instant search.

But the impression counts are going to be completely shot.

As the announcement was being made, I asked two well known online marketers on Twitter what would happen to the impression count.  You see, every time a new set of ads was displayed, Google’s counters likely considered each ad displayed and incremented the impression count.

One’s response?

“Good question”

Inside AdWords, the official Google AdWords blog, admitted this afternoon that impression counts will vary.  Here’s the quote from Dan Friedman there:

It’s possible that this feature may increase or decrease your overall impression levels. However, Google Instant may ultimately improve the quality of your clicks since it helps users type queries that more directly connect them with the answers they need.

Feel free to stop reading after the first sentence.

Those fancy reports you look at every day or week or month?  The ones that folks like us look at daily?  One of the key measures–impression count–is shot.  Everything derived from that measure, including click through rate, is suspect. It’s not that the usability is good or bad or that the metrics themselves are good or bad.  Your takeaway as a small business leader is that some of your key measurements are no longer apples.  They’re oranges.

And that means your online advertising history will be like comparing two different fruits.

Gmail Becomes Perfect For Your Small Business

I added another organization to Google Apps yesterday. This one was a small non-profit whose capabilities immediately increased from the free webmail that came with their server package to the collaborative suite Google offers free.

By changing a few records in the configuration (don’t try this by yourself if you don’t know what the phrase MX record means),  the organization immediately was able to share  contacts, calendaring, forwarding, start pages and my absolutely new favorite thing:  priority inbox.

Everyone wrote about priority inbox last week, but I wanted to take a more cautious approach.  Silly me.

Priority inbox is hands down the best innovation for Gmail since… well, I think ever.  My personal time savings on my main email account is around an hour after one week after using priority inbox.   I reached that number by allocating 20 seconds to email.  That includes the opening, scanning and deleting or filing for later of email that is not mission-critical.  I’ve had just about 200 emails in the last week and there are still 86 nestled in the “not important” category.

They aren’t important.  They’re  nice to know.  They’re kind of interesting.  They won’t change my business, my life or help my family.  They’re the information overload that help pass the time while you’re waiting in a dentist office, having your car’s oil changed or waiting for a train.

This mail doesn’t need to interrupt your day, and priority inbox assures that it won’t.  If this trend holds, an hour a week is an amazing pickup for a usability change.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that Gmail has evolved to the point where it demands your attention as a free email solution for many small businesses. Setup is relatively easy, especially if you’ve kept up with your old email and are willing to start with a fresh email box.  You can use your company name, use the Gmail interface and use an internal Google search to find an old email so you don’t have to categorize or file your mail in folders.

Help Save The World At Work

Learning about distributed computing is like having the scales fall from your eyes.

We use our computers much less than we actually think. We go to meetings, have lunch, take phone calls, grab a cup of coffee, talk with someone in the hall. Those minutes add up to a big chunk of time every day.

A program called the World Community Grid can use that time when your computer is not in use to help change the world. Scientists need computing power to run millions of simulations, calculations and other exercises. A small program you can download in several minutes and install on your computer “loans” your computer to those scientists.

Take a look at some of the projects you can help with simply by installing this program.

Distributed Computing Projects at WC Grid

  1. Help Conquer Cancer and Help Fight Childhood Cancer
  2. Computing for Clean Water
  3. Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy — Phase 2!
  4. Clean Energy
  5. Discovering Dengue Drugs

That’s just a sample of the work your computer can do the next time you’re in a meeting. You can choose some or all or even just one of the projects. The organizational partners include IBM, UC Berkley and the National Science Foundation.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that your unused computer cycles can be used to change our world.  Even small businesses like ours help.  At Silver  Beacon, the program runs on 6 different computers.  Our two year anniversary in the program is in a few days.  During that time, we’ve given 2.3 years of computing time to these science projects.

Imagine that—just over one day of free computing time for these projects for every day of elapsed time.  Estimates vary, but a nice round number is that there are maybe 30 million small businesses in the US.  Imagine what would happen if only 1% participated at this level and donated 300,000 days of annual computer time.

Imagine how the world would change with 821 extra hours of computer time given to the scientists working to improve our health and our environment.  Sometimes science produces Tang.  Sometimes science produce a polio vaccine.

Download the BIONIC program from the World Community Grid today.

Chrome Extensions – Summer 2010

Firefox, that sleek alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, became the victim of its personalization. Performance slowed to a crawl once extensions became all the rage. Your browser will suffer regardless of your computer’s speed if you add too many.

(We learned this listen back in the days of MS DOS in the 1980s when we crammed everything we could into the startup batch file and then learned that we had just reduced our 640K to pretty much nothing with “terminate-and-stay-resident” programs. Their descendants are in your Windows system tray right now)

So with Google Chrome as my regular browser, I set about finding the best of the extensions and pledging to ruthlessly purge any I did not use. My Winter 2009 Chrome extensions overview is still one of this blog’s top stories.   The followup from Spring 2010 isn’t far behind.

But I’m changing on you.  I’ve added more Chrome extensions and am unwilling to delete older ones to get to the arbitrary limit of 10 I set for myself.  So I’ve re-framed the goal.  This is still a great list of 10 all-purpose Chrome extensions.   But I’ve also segmented out 7 for web professionals–developers, marketers and those of us who make our living online.

Seventeen of ‘em.  Any day, that old Firefox will look fast, but so far there is no noticeable slowdown.

Summer 2010 Top Chrome Extensions

1.  Feedly — the news reader’s magazine interface continues improving despite competition.

2. Xmarks sync your bookmarks to the cloud and to every computer you own or buy.  Chrome does this for Google accounts, but you won’t always use Chrome.  The 23rd most popular extension.

3. StumbleUpon — the granddaddy of social bookmarking.  #24 on Google’s most popular list.

4.  Speed Dial — mimics Opera’s thumbnail start page.  Amazingly, #25 on Google’s list.

5.  After the Deadlinespell-checking in web forms.  Amazingly simple.  From the creators of WordPress.

6.  Invisible Hand – shows a simple message if a product you’re looking at is less expensive elsewhere.

7.  Slide Show – create a browser slideshow from groups of images on Flickr, Picasa and other sites.

8.  Turn Off The Lightsdims the rest of the screen when watching videos.  #14 overall.  Very cool effect.

9.  Weather Underground – unofficial from the open weather community.  Current conditions, forecasts.

10.  Wikipedia Companionaccess Wikipedia in a pop-up screen.  Loaded with features.

Top Chrome Extensions for Web Professionals

A.  SEO Site Tools – Carter Cole’s SEO tool gets better every month.  The only repeating web pro extension.

B.  Clicky Chrome – For small businesses, this is great real time analytics data and a good extension.

C.  Eye Dropper – No more fumbling for hex codes.  Match colors exactly.

D.  Ghostery- Shows what tools, analytics and scripts are on a page.  Introduces new ones the big boys use.

E.  MozbarSEOmoz tools in one easy, thin toolbar above or below your page.  Go Pro and get more tools.

F.  Resolution Test – Instantly resize your window to one of 12 resolutions.

G.  Tin Eye - image search that displays other sites with the image, even modified versions.

So what fell off the lists?

A couple of web pro tools,  Lorem Ipsum Generator (nice, but not used often enough) and Chrome SEO (replaced by Mozbar), fell off the list from summer.  Also getting deleted were the popular Cooliris (I rarely used it and prefer Slide Show), Dotspots (great technology that didn’t enough users) and Orbvious Interest (a Read It later clone).

Chrome users: Do you agree with these lists?  What extensions do you find indispensable?

Google’s Online Hard Drive Adds Search

State of the art... for Mad Men

If you’re using Google’s document feature, you already have access to full-featured spreadsheet, word processing and forms-based software.  For months, you’ve been able to attach tags to files created by each, automatically convert documents temporarily or permanently, and share them on a document-by-document basis.   My favorite part has long been the ability to have a complete audit trail of any changes made to any document.

Now Google has added… search.

Yes, I know you’re yawning, but Google’s new document search is far different from anything you’ll find on a PC.  Now you can search your email and your Google documents for a phrase.

Say what you will about Google, but the company knows how to search stuff.

This is a tweak, but it’s an important tweak.  Your takeaway as a small business is that you can create online versions of any popular office suite application that is at least full featured as Microsoft Office. And maybe most important, you can upload existing documents from your hard drive to your Google account.  Now your backup is tied to your Google account rather than the server in your closet or a pay service somewhere.

If your client or the other person doesn’t want to use Google’s applications, save your file as a PDF and send it to them that way.   But every client I’ve worked with for the last 18 months has started the ROI model with us in Google docs, and this process just plain works.

The IT crowd has told us since at least 1980 that the single biggest point of failure for a computer is the mechanical drive.  Google applications remove that layer of failure and allow sharing.  Privacy watchdogs continue hounding the company to ensure your data is not inappropriately used.

This is a win-win.  If you’re not using Google documents now, give it a try.  If you are and want to try the new feature, it’s located in the LABS section of Gmail.

Photo:  ronnieb51

comScore Shows Why Search Is More Than Google

4.3 billion searches in the United States during July 2010.

That’s how many searches were handled at Yahoo! and Microsoft controlled sites for the month. Both saw modest gains while Google saw a slight decrease but the biggest message is in comScore’s new “Explicit Core Search Query Report“.

As Yahoo and Microsoft increasingly intertwine their search businesses, the companies combined for nearly 1/3 of all US searches.  And there are studies that suggest certain product categories convert better for sales or leads than a Google search or advertisement.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that Google remains synonymous with search, but ignoring a combined 33% of the market is bad strategy.  The advertising formats and frameworks are different for Google and the new Microsoft adCenter Search Alliance.  Facebook adds a third, complicating wrinkle, but search advertising is no longer Google and 5 smaller competitors.  There are three platforms with opportunities, and the small business leader will have a stake at all three.