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

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)

Oversharing Dangers

Meet Thomas Richards.  He’s my  newest, bestest friend.  I can tell you more facts about Thomas then I can tell you about some folks I’ve known for years.

Mouse and credit cardsThomas, which isn’t his real name, is one of the lemmings who jumped on the Blippy bandwagon.  If you don’t know Blippy, the online service gathers your credit card, bank and other payments and publishes them online.  Using collaborative technology, the company allows you to create RSS feeds, invite your friends, follow each other, comment and so on.

Think of Blippy as your personal Quicken file pushed to the web and shared with your friends.

Now besides being a marketing treasure trove (any affiliate marketer can mine this data from Google or other search engines), the key issue here is privacy.   I’m still shocked at the number of people who insist that Facebook is ruining their privacy yet sign up for services like Blippy.  A year or two ago, I went to the hospital overnight for some tests.  I told three people outside my family.  But if I were a Blippy customer and set up my data feeds a certain way, everyone would’ve known.

Let me know what I tell you about Thomas.

  • First, that’s not his real name because I don’t feel like violating his privacy more than he has done.
  • He’s a software student at a well known tech college in the East and grew up in Detroit
  • I know the names of 10 people he follows and 9 who follow him (that’s what I call a nice open social graph)
  • I have detailed financial transactions from multiple merchants with direct feeds as well as multiple credit cards that show merchant name, date, amount and some other detail but maybe not exactly what was purchased.
  • As I write this, there are 459 financial transactions viewable for non-members using a search engine along with this guy’s real name.
  • And the names of his friends.
  • And he thoughtfully annotated some of his purchases.

Let’s talk dossier.  I know who he is and in about 10 clicks, found out his life’s history on LinkedIn and a few other sites. Then I used data he published to Blippy to learn:

  1. He’s a junk food addict.  Many 22 year olds are.   Buffalo Wild Wings is his favorite, but he’s at a junk food place at least every other day.
  2. He pays the minimums on the credit cards he’s hooked up to the site.
  3. He likes throwback music and is an active iTunes purchaser
  4. His hair cuts cost less than $20 (and buddy, you need to change that soon)
  5. Fueling his vehicle costs $40-$50
  6. He has an iPhone and actively buys apps
  7. He is taking calculus now and also bought an intro Flash book.
  8. He bought Esquire: The Man’s Guide to Looking Good and skipped the haircut section.
  9. He just bought tickets to see Wicked with his girlfriend Kathy.  (yes, I changed her name too)

Look, he’s pushing 500 transactions to the web.  And he used his real name.  And I know his tuition, his taxes how much he pays on his credit card and all sorts of things.   This isn’t voyeurism.  If I mine his data along with the other public data, I can quickly find offers to sell him and craft offers to him via email, direct mail, Twitter or Facebook.  If the subject is:  Special for [town name] fans of [sport] and [music] and I micro-target 15 of these guys, my conversion rate goes through the roof.  If I automate that, I actually make money.

A couple of simple scripts to scrape the public data, bounce it against other public data and I have a database of actual purchase history.  We’re not talking Facebook’s self-identified interests.  We’re talking real transactions.  The mind boggles at what a skilled marketer can do with this information.

I love people who do this because they make my job easier, but for the love of all that’s holy to you, stop sharing your locations on Foursquare and Google Latitude, stop sharing your transaction history on sites like Blippy and stop whining about privacy if you’re living life in public.

Google Buzz Privacy – Fast Friday Fact

Yes, you’ve been buzzed.  We all have.

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The way that Facebook’s Beacon project or Amazon’s long ago Buying Circles shredded another layer of privacy.   Using Buzz it’s deceptively simple to share a private email address with a group of people.  Part of that is tied into the use of what is fast becoming an Internet standard:  an @ symbol in front of someone’s name.

Google Buzz includes an email address that you or your correspondent select as part of the reply.  So if I have one regular email address and another super-secret one and you use the @ reply with the super-secret address (maybe because it’s the one you have), you’ll send the email address out into the ether.

Google is rightfully taking lumps because the company didn’t explain this in this beginning.   The folks at Lifehacker have written the perfect primer on Google Buzz privacy.   I encourage everyone to read that work.

But before you go, are you using Google Buzz?  If so, what do you think of it, and did you know about the privacy issues?

Google Buzzes Facebook

“Hey, it’s way more better than status updates

That’s the implication, if not quite the words used in today’s video introducing Google Buzz.

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What’s a Google Buzz, you ask?   Well, as Google continues to embrace social media, the company is looking for connections between people much as it looked for connections between webpages when it originally began indexing the web a decade ago.  Buzz is a hybrid of Google Wave and Facebook comments with a dash of Twitter thrown in.   Having just logged in to Google Wave for the second time this year and again seeing nothing, I’m reminded of how the cool can often seem desirable until we actually attain it.

Linking email to social media seems like a cool idea, and maybe this interactivity will help Google Buzz succeed where Google Wave has yet to catch on.    Just like any other social media list, Google Buzz will likely require grooming and maintenance.  My son’s history teacher probably doesn’t care to be linked to me in a social graph.  Google previously dealt with such issues by putting addresses labeled “friends” or “family” into a social graph.  But again because I code my cousin’s husband as family doesn’t mean that he cares what I think about anything related to social media so a little maintenance will be in order.

Whether Google can suck even more users into the Gmail vortex and away from Facebook remains to be seen.   By all accounts, the company is seeing Twitter become the real-time search engine of relevance while Facebook becomes the Internet’s playground and chat room.  That leaves Google to be the library — not a bad place to be, but the folks in Mountain View want a little more buzz than that.

Searching Now Influenced By Your Friends

social-network-graphIn December, we wrote that Google had “fundamentally changed the search engine results for everyone in North America…

At issue was the notion of “personalized search”.   That’s where Google builds a dossier of people’s interests and then tries to tailor search results to meet those interests.  The entire process’ details are much more complicated than anyone except a math whiz specializing in search engines should delve into and certainly not in a blog.  But Google changed the rules.  Previously a user had to opt-in to this program. Now anyone who didn’t want to participate had to opt-out.

Do No Evil takes a hit as a company grows.  The philosophy takes a huge hit when an entity completely avoids permission marketing.

Google Tries To Out Facebook Facebook

You know your friends on Facebook?  And you know your Flickr photos?  And maybe that blog or forum you frequent?   Not just you, but the people who interact with you — your social graph — will soon influence your Google search results.

That process is opt-in for now and so far seems to be limited to Google Images.

Then again, personalized search was opt-in until about 7 weeks ago.

Google cheerily calls its announcement “Search is Getting More Social“.  That’s their name.  Our headline today is “Searching Now Influenced By Your Friends”.  Hope more than you hope for most things that Google doesn’t opt-in for everyone for “social search”.

As many shots as we take at the company, their search results remain the defacto standard in North America and in much of the world.  And while I love some of my friends and like all of them, I don’t want their biases to take a valuable “page one” spot away from another source.  I think it’s bad enough that my biases can alter search results.  I certainly don’t need my friends and family altering my  results.

Stop Demanding High Rankings

Drawing of a self-service store.

Do you want visitors or profit? Image via Wikipedia

I watched another potential lead go by today and decided not to purchase the information because the prospect was in a medium sized market.  Their sole criteria was that they wanted to rank in the top 3 spots for a certain local phrase.

It’s important that you as a small business don’ t make this mistake:  there are no more ways that rankings can be counted. There are lots of SEO specific phrases that tie into this concept.  Ignoring them for a minute, here’s what you need to know:

  • The Google results you see for a query will likely vary based on the physical location of the Internet connection you’re using.
  • The Google results you see for a query will likely vary based on whether you have a Google account and are logged into that account.
  • The Google results you see for a query will likely vary based on how other searchers have interacted with a page and query over time.
  • The Google results you see for a query will likely vary based on constant testing Google does for thousands of variables.
  • And our new favorite, Google Social Search.

Forget about Social Search for a moment.  Remember this because it’s critical business advice that predates the Internet by thousands of years.

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Social Media Is Here To Stay

Our grandparents thought rock music was a fad too.

Our grandparents thought rock music was a fad too.

Social media is here and will shape the next conversation about marketing.   For those of you who insist marketing and sales are separate, you remain correct.  Sales is a subset of marketing.  This conversation includes you too.

Remember Facebook, that college thing that all the cool kids did?  Internet measurement firm Quantcast says that Facebook attracted more than 78 million visitors last month, and 23% of them were 35 years old or older. More surprising:  9% are 50 years old or older and that women far outnumber men.

The age demographic is more pronounced on Twitter, where 53% of the audience is over the age of 35.  Twitter started as a geek haven so the older users aren’t that surprising.  What may surprise you is that Quantcast estimates only 1% of Twitter visitors are teenagers.

The same data holds true for every social media site you can think of, even Digg, which is often viewed as the testosterone-fueled site of 20-something geeks.  Quantcast directly measures Digg’s data, and while the gender split still exists (63% male), they are older guys.  Well over half (59%) are over the age of 35, and one-third o that group is over 50 years old.  They’re smart too — 60% have college degrees.

No matter what small business you are leading or what type of marketing you are doing, you must be in the social media space right now.  I said exactly that to a client this morning.  He is leaving for vacation in days, but I’ve already told him to let his mind meander around social during that time because he is going to have to market there now.

Here’s the rub:  if you don’t know your way around and you haven’t built social capital already, you’re going to get slaughtered in this space.  Your marketing won’t be inefficient; it will be a money-loser.  Even worse, your brand can take damage if you blunder into social media without knowing what you’re doing.

Back left side of my business card

Back left side of my business card

On the back of my business card is a list of how visitors on different social networks can reach me.   In some cases, I was beta-testing these sites before they went public.  In almost all, I was one of the first there.

Take Twitter for example.   I wasn’t there first, but I was there in May of 2007.   Not 2008, but 2007.    Over that time, I think I earned enough credibility with those who follow me to go off on a rant or ask for someone to read or comment on something.  Try that after you joined three days ago and blindly followed 1,000 people, and you will simply be ignored at best.

But you need to be there, marketing yourself and your organization, while also making sure that your personal brand is intact.   The same people who today say that social media is a passing phase sagely nodded when famous failed predictions (The worldwide market for computers is indeed larger than 5, and thank you Bill Gates, but using Vista we need more than 640K).

Twitter or Facebook or any other social network’s success in a decade is irrelevant.  Amazon made its decade, so did eBay and many other companies.  Perhaps some of these networks will too.   But today, right now, your clients, prospects, friends and relatives are there, and if you’re not there, you’re not in the game.

More mainstream media hit the courts today when The Chicago Sun-Times filed for bankruptcy protection.   Would you rather advertise in a media that is in free-fall decline or one exploding with attention?

And if you think the rules of marketing communications haven’t been rewritten these last few years, enjoy this terrific song from Danny & The Juniors recorded a mere 51 years ago.

5 Ways To Generate Productivity on Pseudo-Holidays

A CEO I once worked for told me how much he hated CEO holidays.    Especially bad were mid-week holidays as this year’s Christmas and New Year’s Day fall.   He tried keeping his emotions in check but would sputter and fume about the way staffers not on vacation would aimlessly drift through the day.   “Tell one of your directors to deal with it,” I remember him snapping one Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Good idea, I thought.  It’s a shame I told my gang they should take a two hour lunch and unwind since the place was dead.

But over the years we found some tasks that can be done each pseudo-holiday (and yes, tomorrow is one) so that some value happens.  Here are some ideas aimed at marketers, but easily adapted to other functions.  This is not busy work.  These are all things you should have done before hectic days got in the way.  Pull out this document again around mid-February, polish off the list and go take a long lunch.

  1. Check your analytics packages from every system you use.  This is when you find all the vendors you give view or even write access to and forgot to remove.  As I write this, my personal account has access to 3 clients we don’t work with anymore.  My business account has 2 others.   We were friendly, sure, but should I really see that one of them is spending an awful lot of money on [redacted for his good]?
  2. Did any major social networks or email services roll out for which you haven’t practiced good protection?   Twitter immediately jumps to mind.  For the uber-geeks of 2007 to the mainstream geeks of 2008, this may be a microblogging  platform for several years to come.   If so, you should have your personal name, your company’s name and your major brand names all protected on Twitter.   There are 1 million registered users.  Don’t lose your name to someone else.
  3. Have you purged all rented lists?   One day you’re not going to be there and someone is going to marvel at the deal they get for 50,000 more names.  If you’re out of license, either buy the list, extend the license or get rid of them.  And don’t get rid of them by asking IT to drop them in your prospect file.
  4. Pull the domain records for every name you own.    Start tracking the name, registrar, and DNS.  Then renew any you’re keeping for the maximum you can through your registrar.  Get 10 years if you can.  If the domain in question is a business, trade or product name and you’re unwilling to spend $100-$200 to lock down the name for a decade, please rethink your domain strategy.  Or call us, and we’ll do it for you.  But seriously, didn’t you spend more bringing in pizza for the last lunch meeting?
  5. Change the password on all “shared” SaaS accounts, internal email groups and email all key vendors with the names of approved buyers.  Yes, you forgot that you added the intern’s name in July because giving that person access was easier than logging in each time yourself.  Understandable.  Now please remove their access because your security person is about to cry.  And yes, if you don’t have a security person, we can hook you up with a referral.

I’m not sure, but ours may be piloting the Space Shuttle from his lair tomorrow while everyone else is on pseduo-holiday.