Last night I finally got a chance to sit down with Elliot Schrage, who was recently (well, six months ago) named VP of Global Communications and Public Affairs for Google. I’d been looking forward to meeting him – I’ve worked closely with his brother, author Michael Schrage, in the past, and more to the point, I was intrigued to find out more about the fellow who would be responsible for shepherding Google’s brand from Cute One Note Service to Massive Global Player. Elliot knows global issues – he was previously SVP for Global Affairs at Gap and a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He got his trial by fire just recently when he had to testify before a group of ornery Congressfolk on the issue of China.
The dinner was off the record, so I can’t really report the details of what we discussed, but I can say that I found Elliot frank, engaging, and self deprecating – but not overly so. He understands the essence of Google’s major challenge – becoming the company the world already expects it to be. As I’ve written elsewhere, I believe the Google brand is in need of message clarification – most folks still see it as that “Aha!” service that changed how they search the Web, but increasingly, it’s also the brand that does deals with Sony Pictures to promote personalized homepages. Clearly, brand strategy is on Schrage’s mind.
David Krane, director of corporate communications at Google and a major champion of my book inside the company, also joined us. Having been at the company for a long time, David is something of a bridge between the past and the future of the Google brand. Both seemed deeply engaged in what struck me as the right questions for the company. I’m glad I had a chance to sit down with them before finishing that last chapter of my paperback. Oh, shit, that was due last month….I better get back to writing…
Check this out. Thanks, reader Doug.
“Search this site” is integrated into the results, allowing a searcher to drill down into a particular site, right there in the SERPs. Interesting.
This is from my Biz 2 column, which just posted on CNNMoney.
So you’ve left Yahoo, with thousands of employees, to run a company with–how many people?
“There’s five of us.”
In the Valley, some entrepreneurs like to build things and run them. Others like to build them and hand them off once they get to a certain size. Where do you fit?
“I found that my sweet spot is in taking something at the prototype stage, where there’s proof of concept but there isn’t market validation yet. It can then be handed to somebody whose business is to take it to the mass market. It takes a different skill set to just start from scratch and say, ‘I’m just going to sit there for a year and work on this thing, and maybe it’ll work and maybe it won’t.’ That’s more of an inventor.”
Yahoo earnings met expectations. Semel’s message, apparently: We’re bigger than Google.
There’s a brewing controversy in SEM land over Google indexes AdSense URLs. At issue – a sense that Google’s organic crawler should stay clear of Google’s AdSense crawler. Matt Cutts of Google responds here.
My pal Jonathan Weber gets press at the Yahoo Blog.
Gary finds another interesting patent, this one portends a Yahoo competitor to eBay.
Google’s earnings come out Thursday, FYI….
Boing Boing reports on a third “dissident” jailed with what appears to be help from Yahoo.
You may recall my interview with Gary Flake, which ran earlier this month. I titled that “A Frank Interview With…” and mentioned that it would be one of a series, and just to show I’m not slacking off, here’s the second edition.
This time our victim is Jim Lanzone, Senior Vice President & General Manager of Ask.com. I’ve known Jim for quite a while, and always appreciated his passion for defending, well, the underdog. Read on to see what I mean…..
Google recently acknowledged that it finds the approach Ask has taken with Zoom at least worthy of a hire. What do you make of that?
I think it makes sense. We’ve had a lot of success with our product. As you’ve seen with the tools we’ve built over the past couple of years, we’re still focused on core search and things that help people get what they need faster. Relevant results are like the Model T: a way to get you from point A to point B. But you can do so much more for people. Just as cars evolved beyond a box on wheels, search is evolving beyond “10 blue links.” A relevant link was a novel concept back in 2002, but when people are exposed to tools like Zoom, or Smart Answers, they start to expect more.
It’s also not just what you have under the hood, but how the product is designed. As you can see, we place our Zoom related suggestions on the right-hand side of the page, where others have ads, because we’ve found this to be a natural place for people to look to iterate their searches. Iteration is a common user behavior in search, because of the natural tendency of searchers is to start with one term and then whittle their way, gathering clues, to the right keywords. Zoom related search helps them do this instinctively, without learning how to use it. It’s in the right place and the right time. It is fundamental to people’s search needs, not just an interesting bell or whistle.
When I posted on these topics, a number of folks chimed in saying that Ask isn’t nearly as relevant for things like last names or the name of their business. What is your response to them?
When it comes to algorithmic search, we’re far better than we’ve ever been, but we’re not as good as we want to be. We’re in the middle of some important infrastructure upgrades, so between now and the end of ’06, you’ll see us steadily strengthen our relevance even further. One place we lag in particular is freshness. That will change. Content management and quality control are things we haven’t put as much manpower on yet. That is coming. Mostly our focus has been on algorithms and heuristics, and we believe we have some of the best in the industry. You pointed out some of the benefits of our differentiated ExpertRank (formerly Teoma) ranking methodology, which certainly has a different take on things at times. (For example, try the queries “dc colleges” and “bay area airports”.)
With the “Scoble” example, we somehow missed ranking his new page, so the top result wasn’t right (Google made the same mistake). On the other hand, for the query “Robert Scoble”, we have a Smart Answer at the top of the page with his photo. You pointed out that for “Battelle” we did a better job for the algo results, but we also found you in the Zoom related searches under “John Battelle”, and had a Smart Answer for you too. Again, going beyond “10 blue links” is something we are leading the way on. Relevant links are very important, clearly, but we can do more to get you better information, faster.
So, let’s talk about “getting beyond the blue links.” That’s code for “beyond Google,” which has been a very important partner for Ask, in terms of business model. Where do things stand on going your own way past your Google AdWords deal? And do you think Ask can ever break out of its role as a small player compared to the giants like Yahoo and Google in terms of search traffic?
Our relationship with Google has never been better. I like so many of those guys on a personal level, and we make a lot of money for each other on a professional level. Our interest in building our own ad system is straightforward. In some cases, we make more money if we sell the ads ourselves. In some cases, advertisers want a direct relationship with us. Over time, our own network will strengthen, but that will take time. It’s going very, very well so far. Google gets this and is supportive of our efforts because it makes us a stronger partner for them overall, and helps grow the category overall.
We absolutely compete with Google for users, as we do MSN and Yahoo. In the past we have called this “co-opetiton.” I think it’s easier to conceptualize this using an analogy. Imagine we’re the Fox Network and Google is CBS. Fox tries to create great shows that compete for viewers with CBS, but Fox lets CBS sell its ads for them. If Fox wants to sell some of its own ads, either to try to make more money or because some advertisers want that option, Fox does it themselves. Either way, it’s good for CBS because they know network TV traffic isn’t a zero-sum game, and Fox isn’t going away anytime soon.
In terms of our size, we may be small relative to Google, but I think this needs to be put into perspective in a couple of ways. First, as a business, remember that a 1 point gain in market share for Ask (from 6% to 7% share) is a 15% increase in share of queries. The way our business works, that’s also likely a 15% increase in share of revenue. So just one point of share has an incredible impact on our business growth, and I think people forget that because they’re comparing us to Google, rather than to our own growth curve. As I said, it’s not a zero-sum game.
When it comes to users and traffic, at 6% we may be small relative to GYM, but we’re still a top player in the #1 activity online outside of email. We’re anything but small. Collectively we operate the 6th largest (just passed Amazon last month) Web property in the world. It’s just that you’re looking at us relative to the GYM behemoths, who admittedly are a level above us.
To that end, I would love for people to appreciate what we’re trying to do in competing against them. We’re the underdog here, kind of like Firefox. Google does a good job of presenting themselves as the underdog, and MSN is helping them with the way they act publicly. But to me they are both giants. So back to your original statement, yes, we feel passionately that there is more to search [than] the Google paradigm. Nothing against them, but we are doing some things better, and those who experience it are coming back more often. That is why we’ve grown market share, and hopefully we can accelerate the curve.
One of the most important page-turners for Yahoo and now Google, as well as Microsoft, is mail. Is Ask Mail on the horizon? And what do you make of all the new features at Google – Fusion, Calendar, Finance, etc.?
We prioritize by impact to searchers. Verticals like Finance make sense, because people are searching for that information on Ask already. (Our Finance Smart Answer was launched 3 years ago. To date we haven’t launched a full Finance “channel”, but at some point that could make sense.) This is true of almost all informational categories on the Web. Search is the doorway.
Email would be a tangent for us, currently. Ask has been growing through increases in frequency of use, by improving core search and developing unique search tools. Things like the launch of our new Image search in January, which many insiders have called the best in the industry, and our new Maps, which has received great buzz for its feature set, really drive query volume for us. As we move forward, we’ll add products that are “first cousins” of search, that help you organize and/or do things with the stuff you’ve searched for. I don’t want to give too much away here. But I can assure you that everything will make sense as an extension of our core reason for being: search.
Thanks, Jim. Will you be open to answering Searchbloggers’ questions in the comments once I post this?
Fathom’s quarterly index is out, and prices “eased” a bit (3%). Average keyword price is $1.39. From the release:
Following on the Q4 2005 holiday season, the drop in bids was not surprising given the seasonal nature of advertising.
Overall, the average bid has increased 1.4 percent since the September 2004 inception of the KPI when the average bid was $1.37. Although prices often vary dramatically day to day, average bid prices have settled in to a predictable range.
“Search marketing is growing at a robust 25 percent this year, and price stability helps that growth” said Matt McMahon, VP Marketing Services at Fathom.
When news of this broke a week or so ago, I thought “Well, it was about time Google started to play ball with the movie folks, the way Yahoo has for years.” Sure, it’s interesting that Google is finally jumping into the cross promotion pool – this ain’t a big Adwords buy, after all – but we all expected this day to come. Then I got a call from Marissa Mayer at Google, on Friday, with promise of an embargoed story. Usually Marissa is calling folks like me when a major new product is launching, like Fusion, or Finance. But this time, it was not a product, it was a promotional alliance between Sony Pictures and Google.
Now, this doesn’t strike me as big news, at least, not initially. Sure, Google and Sony are teaming up in a unique way, combining their brands to promote the Da Vinci Code. And sure, it’s being done in a particularly “Googley” way – with puzzles and codes and a contest that will ultimately crown a grand prize winner just as the movie is coming out. But….let’s consider this for a minute.
This marks Google’s first major step into the world of pure co-branded promotion, at least here in the US (we saw the Nike soccer site just a few weeks ago as well, but that was, well, soccer. For movie obsessed Americans, it didn’t have quite the same impact, and it didn’t have the same profile that this one has, for more on that, keep reading). And while this seems pretty tame – Sony is paying Google for all that traffic, right? – the deal is in fact more complicated. Because Marissa assured me that no money is changing hands here. In other words, Google feels it is getting as much from this as Sony is. Why?
Well, because this is more than just a movie promotion. It’s a Google products promotion as well. The puzzles and codes will drive people through Google’s products – not just search, but Calendar, Mail, Talk, and – in particular – the personalized homepage. In fact, to even get started, you have to set up a Google account. Mayer told me, in no uncertain terms, that the strategic goals of this promotion for Google was to familiarize folks with Google’s services beyond search.
It ain’t a branding campaign, but it sure as hell is close. I have to say, among many other things, it’s rather clever. The effect is a big box ad for the Da Vinci code on folks’ personalized home page, yet it’s been invited in via the context, so it doesn’t feel intrusive. As for the pay off for Google, I’ll write more about that in another post.
Regardless of how clever, however, this is marketing, plain and simple. And, to restate – this ain’t your father’s AdWords. The times, they are a changin’.
He makes the point, made before but which bears repeating, that MSFT can do the most harm by really going after AdSense. Which it has clearly not yet done. In fact, it doesn’t even seem on the horizon (AdCenter is, but that’s only for MSN…)