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

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

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.

How Much Webmasters Make From Ads

coins with clock

Pennies and dimes add up over time

This morning’s announcement that websites keep 68 cents of every dollar spent when visitors click Google ads is the latest salvo in the company’s scramble to woo webmasters.    Google has a seemingly insurmountable lead in search.  We’ve written before that Google’s lead mirrors Microsoft’s software lead a decade ago and IBM’s hardware lead a decade before that.

Something will come along.  There’s already a shift led by Facebook which provides entertainment and Google which provides utility via search.   That’s not to say that Google is going anywhere… yet.   And I’m certainly not ready to proclaim this the Facebook Decade.

But Google VP Neil Mohan writing in what he calls the interest of transparency disclosed a number that has been hotly debated for years.  Even if the number isn’t exact or there are extenuating circumstances, one has to look at the intent behind the disclosure and ask what has changed.

The difference is the fragmentation in ancillary markets.   As a small business, you may choose to earn money on certain pages of your site (please don’t do this on your pre-sales pages!) with Google’s AdSense program.  As Mohan points out, you’ll get 68% of the earnings and if someone promises you 80%, how much more are you going to get from the trust created by the industry leader and its partner companies?

Mohan’s argument is compelling, and the number is important.  Because here is the math he hopes that you do:

Assume you have ads running on your website and that those ads generates $4.00  for every thousand pageviews.   Google’s announcement today would tell you that its advertising network receives $5.88 in advertising for those thousand views.   At 100,000 pageviews, the number is $588.  So if those pages are generating that much, couldn’t you just sell them for $600 at that level?

Sure.  But you can’t find a buyer at that level because you’re a small business and those 100,000 pageviews are your week or even your month.  That’s why there are other advertising networks:  AOL’s Advertising.com, Chitika (which works with Google and Yahoo!) and niche marketplaces like Glam Media.  In all, there are more than four dozen active ad networks.

Google’s announcement today of its revenue sharing percentages just may be the company’s recognition that this area of the business needs to be protected.

Free Form Templates From Google

Google did so much this week that one of the more immediately useful announcements may have been overlooked.

You’ve probably heard about Google TV, improvements to Google AdSense for businesses who use that advertising network and the attempt to revive Google Wave by making it available upon request.  For practical purposes that impact small businesses, the item that caught my attention was one I urge you to consider.

Using Google’s easy but powerful forms just got easier with new free fonts and templates.   I also have to give a special hat tip to Googler Melissa Louie, who identified herself this week as the creator of Google Chrome’s Zen/Spring theme.  I’ve used that theme almost exclusively for months, and it has become Google Chrome’s face for me.    Way to go, Melissa. That theme rocks, err, is tranquil and calming.

Why Google’s New Themes Matter

Google Forms is already the easiest, most cost-effective (free) way to gather data online.   I already use Google Docs with dozens of clients and partners.  When I revert to the Microsoft Office swap via email and trying to track version control, I develop a little tic and I’m pretty sure I grind my teeth.

Google's new form themes

Click for detail

With the release of 24 new free fonts and the use of images from iStockphoto, Google Forms are pre-made templates that should satisfy most small business needs.   You can use them internally or with customers.

Surveys and similar data are automatically filed in spreadsheet view.   Even better:  you can share that spreadsheet to anyone with an email address.   It’s perfect for small businesses, but it even works for the small business softball league you’re in because everyone doesn’t have to be on the same domain.

What you see to the left are templates that the Google team has put together for various industries and generics for others.  There are even new social forms like party invitations.

The templates have been added to Google’s free template library.  As I was discussing with my partner yesterday on the phone, Microsoft’s attitude toward templates frustrates me to no end.  Registered owners of expensive Microsoft software (she uses a Mac, I have a PC, but I don’t use IE’s browser most days) can only access Microsoft’s free template library using the company’s browser.  Sure, it’s probably legal.  It’s just dumb customer service.

Google’s free solutions cover at least 80% of what Microsoft offers with the added benefit of being accessible using any browser.  And remember, they’re free.  Free is good for any small business paying attention to cash flow.

Give it a whirl.  I think you’ll like any of the forms you try out.

Google Up, Yahoo Down, World Continues Spinning

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Google’s share of U.S. search was up again last month

Oh, you’ve heard it?  Good.  Google up a fraction, according to comScore.  Yahoo down a fraction.  Microsoft holding around 11%.  Ask and AOL combine for a little over 6%.

It’s a big world.  Billions of searches.  One tiny percentage of one percent is huge.   And that’s what comScore calls the core search market.  Add in properties like YouTube, which has more searches than Yahoo! according to this study and Google laps the field.  comScore sizes overall search at 22.2 billion searches with Google properties accounting for 60% of search and Yahoo! accounting for 11%.

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There are really two places you need to be aware of as a businessperson:  craiglist at just under 3% and Facebook closing in on 2%.  I think the Facebook number is grossly underreported.  Even if Facebook’s search number is accurate, comScore says Facebook search traffic grew 10% between January and February.

When you’re dealing in the hundreds of millions of anything, ten percent is a staggering number.

Bigger Google – Fast Friday Fact

December’s search engine market share data is out from Hitwise.  Don’t bother with the link   The Fast Friday Fact is that Google’s share increased 1 point and the next 3 players (Yahoo, Microsoft’s Bing) all lost share.

Google now has 72.25% of U.S. search engine market share.   That’s why when people complain about the company or its policies, the battle is uphill. There is no real monopoly issue.  Google beat everyone at search fair and square, including its two closest competitors, both of whom had search engines and a big lead before Google launched.

Your Fast Friday Fact is that US Internet search is Google’s world.  You just get to use the site for free.

Monitoring Your Computer Time

Image representing RescueTime as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Ready to learn more about how you spend your time than you may really want to know?

Welcome to RescueTime.

This program is one of the easiest ways I’ve found to monitor productivity.   Installing a simple program keeps track of the websites I visit and the programs I run.  Simple configuration allows me to train the system to know that some sites are work related. Google, in my case, is more often “Business:Operations” rather than “Research”.    And when Rescue Time doesn’t recognize a site or program, you get to categorize the time.

The result is a series of regularly updated reports that show how much productive time I’m spending.  I knew, for example, that the sites I visit each morning took some time.   I was surprised to learn the time some mornings was more than double.  I also set the system to alert me when I spent an hour each day on “very distracting” applications or sites.

Those site visits mount up fast.   (cough)

Eventually I found myself with dozens of hours in the database.  Like many businesspeople, I spent far too much time in email.  There was also a lot of time in Excel.  The real findings were the 5 and 10 minute visits to other sites.  During a week, that time added up too.

I remember reading a Bill Gates quote that he and Steve Ballmer would exchange calendars and critique each others time.  Since Ballmer is apparently busy, I used Rescue Time.    The program runs quietly in the background, doesn’t seem to use too many resources and is a good bargain at $64/year or only $8/month.

Try it for a month or two and see what time you can rescue.

Note: Joe & the RescueTime team just wrote and suggested we share with everyone there is a referral program.  I had seen that and promptly forgot all about it.  So the link was here changed to a referral link.  If you decide to install RescueTime, you get 2 weeks free for others you refer and 4 weeks if they get a paid account.

PDFs Under Siege – Fast Friday Fact

Latest PDF File Icon

Watch for PDF security vulnerability says owner Adobe. Image via Wikipedia

That seemingly safe PDF you receive may not be as innocuous as it looks, warns Washington Post security guru Brian Krebs.

Writing in today’s online edition, Krebs reports that PDF-format owner Adobe is warning of security vulnerabilities.  According to Krebs, the company plans to release a fix Tuesday so that its software updates at the same time that Microsoft sends its weekly operating system update.

Put a note in your calendar now to have your company’s computers updated Tuesday.  Meanwhile, be on the lookout for a blizzard of PDFs even from addresses that you know.   A good rule of thumb:  if you’re not expecting a file from someone and the tone of the email doesn’t sound like your acquaintance, send a short note and ask them to confirm they sent you a file.