Google, Bing and Moe: The Search Engines

uneven balanceWe’ve beat the drum about a search duopoly since before the Yahoo-Microsoft search alliance was finalized.

A duopoly is a market condition when there are two competitors serving many buyers.  Literalists will insist that Yahoo, Ask, AOL and meta search engines still receive a very large number of search requests.

That’s true.

What you need to know as a small business leader is that comScore’s latest data shows that Google or Bing “powered” 93.8 percent of US search in December.   There is an awful lot of money to be made in the fringes that remaining 6 percent or so.  But in January 2011, make sure you understand that web search is a two player game.

Yahoo! is reinventing itself into a content company as fast as it can.   AOL isn’t far behind.  And we’re not counting searches on entities like Facebook, Amazon or eBay.  One could argue that an Amazon search is in many ways a proxy for a commercial search–certainly among its core categories.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to remember that even Google says search engine optimization (SEO) is an ongoing process and you have two different companies in which to position your company’s goods and services.   That’s the first, ultimate priority because you reach 94% of the United States that way.

Source:  ”December 2010 Search Engine Rankings“, comScore, 1/14/2011
Image:  Balance by Stephen Stacey

Google To Display More Product Info


Looking for product specs and descriptions? Google plans to list them directly on their site without sending the consumer to your site.

Google will begin using information compiled by data aggregators to provide information to consumers in the growing Google Products area.

The company has done this before, but things are different now.  The search engine once tried walling off internal information from products like Froogle and Google Product.  Now comes Google Product Search with product pages that compile “all the information” Google has on a product.

Google manager Brian Lam blogged yesterday that the company would “[work] with suppliers and manufacturers to get product data straight from the source.”   The company chose Edgenet, a data company that organizes information from thousands of companies in multiple sectors, including consumer electronics, furniture and “general merchandise”.
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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.

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.

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 Waves Goodbye

Google's Wave looked even more exciting...

Ah, those days when we were all desperate for people to invite us to Google Wave, got our invitations,  jumped into the deep end and collectively muttered “Now what?”

Those days were only a short while ago, but Google is getting better at knowing when to cut and run.  That’s why tonight’s announcement that Google Wave will not have future development is no surprise.

The actual quote is:

But despite these wins, and numerous loyal fans, Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked. We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects.

I’m a trained marketing professional and can render those 300 characters with 18 of my own.

We’re killing Wave

(Did you get that too?  Great.  Maybe you’re a trained marketing professional too.  We have nifty handshakes and decoder rings.  Send $10 via PayPal and I’ll tell you them),

The post by Google Fellow Urs Hölzle is correct in one area.  Wave was exciting.  He says Googlers were jazzed by the service, and I would argue that the web early adopters were just as jazzed.

The problem with Wave is one that constantly faces smaller companies.  They built it, everyone came, and no one knew how to use the technology to enhance anything.

It didn’t revamp email.
It wasn’t the opening salvo in unified communications.
It didn’t replace long forum or email threads.

A lot of people just let it sit there, idle, until Google shoved its next offering, Buzz, into Gmail and opened another can of worms.

Meanwhile, Google Wave sat on your toolbar and reminded you that you hadn’t figured out why you wanted the damn thing in the first place.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to know when to fold ‘em. You must be brutally honest with all of your product and service offerings.  If they aren’t pulling their weight, you have to end them.

Two years from now, no one will talk about Google Wave.   Or Google Buzz.  Or any of the other big web products that have been attempted and rolled back.

You can shut down an unprofitable or time-wasting drag on your resources or it can help to shut down your business.  There.  That’s not a hard choice, is it?

Scaring Customers

I talked with a grocery chain employee who shared a taste of how much data the company tracked on shoppers. Her words were a recipe for making me want to pay cash at her store except there is a surcharge for not showing your frequent shopper card.

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Her chain offers a choice. My telephone company and cable company don’t offer those choices. Neither does my ISP, which will bundle my surfing data along in a neat advertising package.

Services like Gist, Blippy, Google and the ever-ubiquitous Facebook means that you probably know a lot about your customers. And if you run a small business, your client base may be segmented fine enough where a small number of clients mean big bucks.

Monitoring them online has never been easier.

Before a friend went on a job interview, I used our competitive intelligence template to put together a dossier for her on the folks she was interviewing with. She had everything from Amazon wish lists to pictures of their homes (thanks, Google Street View) to political contributions and more.

Now, picture yourself interviewing this woman who misspeaks and shares some of this information. Wouldn’t you feel a bit violated?

But her having that information was not only easy to accomplish, but well worth her time because she could familiarize herself with things of interest to interviewers. Played smartly, that’s a great strategic advantage when competing against other job applicants.

And you can create the same advantage when talking with your clients or prospecting for new clients. Bear in mind, though, that our world has far too much information available free with little effort.

Genealogy is one of my hobbies (yes, you’re shocked that a search engine marketer likes to search history too…) and the explosion of new sites and databases has made personal privacy available to the consumer market for little or no cost. Clicking a button last week brought my brother-in-law’s birth certificate from the 1960s to my computer along with information about his parents. A few more clicks brought their information, including marriage and birth records, to me as well.

This information has long been available, but it’s only been the last few years that the data is available to everyone without qualification. And by saying the wrong thing, you could easily spook someone who wonders why you’re studying them so closely.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to think about the information you compile and how you use that data. Sure, knowing a spouse or child’s name is great. By all mean talk about favorite sports or television shows. But tread carefully when you apply the information you’ve learned online to your conversation.

While you’re doing that, consider this wonderful video about what future privacy could look like. (Hat tip to Bill over at WinPatrol–a great security system– for posting the video and raising the questions again. And no, I won’t tell you how I know him)

More Opportunity Than Ever in Back to School Sales

Back to school sales represent bigger opportunities than ever for merchants willing to discount and appeal to a broader market.

sale signThat projection from a Google Retail study says that school-type supplies are bought for more purposes than school supplies.  Every good office manager knows that.

What might not be as clear is that parents are using the opportunity to search for items for other family members and they are price sensitive.   How could they not be?

Google’s study found that 90% of back-to-school shoppers were influenced by price. That’s not the surprise.  Those are table stakes.  You have to know that. What you may not know is that 60% reported they would be influenced by coupons.

The macro economy is sluggishly grinding to a recovery.  The micro economy has tens of millions of folks out of work and struggling to stretch every dollar.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that multiple retailers with multi-million budgets are going to bombard consumer markets in a few weeks with coupons and discount pricing.  Even though you may not even sell back-to-school type items, even for college students, your marketing messages are going to be in the mix with the discounts.

Unless you’re a premium brand,  you might want to consider the global consumer mindset and ride the back-to-school discount wave.

Are You Ready For Your Close-Up?

You, your customers or your business has a shot at being in a Kevin Macdonald film to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.   The film is being executive produced by Ridley Scott and sponsored by Google and electronics maker LG.

Called Life in a Day, the film will be a “cinematic experiment” to demonstrate what life in 2010 was like according to Google’s official film announcement last night.   Finding partners with better pedigree would have been harder.  Macdonald’s directing credits include The Last King of Scotland, and you’ve likely seen anywhere from a couple of pieces to much of Ridley Scott’s work, including Blade Runner, Gladiator, Alien and TV shows like The Good Wife and geek-police show Numb3rs.

Google’s plan for the film is brilliant.   Whip out your camera and start shooting video on July 24.    Upload the content to YouTube by July 31.  If any of your footage makes the film, you’re a co-director.  Even if you don’t make the film, you’ll be one of the kajillion entrants.

But this really could be a home run for your business.

Who knows what image the director is looking for?  Sure, there are 6 billion people out there, but how many do what you do?  Great.  Now how many are submitting a video?  And what if something magical–a twinkle in someone’s eye, an unexpected smile or frown, a small piece of daily living–exactly fits whatever thing the director is looking for right then?

You know the worst thing that happens?   You submit your video, don’t make the cut and have lots of footage for video on your site, television commercials and even a training video.  Video is not hard.  Editing video well is hard, but you pay someone to do that.

They don’t do what you do either.

You can find out more about the Life in a Day project at the Google blog or watch their nifty video below. Oops, I mean trailer. Welcome to Hollywood, baby.