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The Paid Search Share Slide

By - May 14, 2009

According to HitWise, all is not well in the land of paid search:

Paid Clicks Declining.png

Hitwise data indicate that the share of search traffic coming from paid listings is decreasing at the expense of organic traffic. In the four weeks to May 9, 2009, 7.25% of search engine traffic to All Categories of websites was from paid clicks. This compares to 9.84% in the same four week period in 2008 – representing a 26% decline in the share of paid clicks. This trend is apparent across 16 of the 17 Hitwise parent categories (i.e. Automotive, Food and Beverage, Health and Medical, etc). The only category that didn’t see a decline in paid traffic was Education, which received 1.45% of search visits from paid clicks compared to 1.39% last year.

….Referrals from search engines continue to climb but the proportion of clicks going to sponsored or paid listings is decreasing. This is no doubt a result of cutbacks in marketing spend due to the recession.

Here is where Google’s 2004 IPO claim to not manage the company for quarterly earnings will be tested.

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Google's Real Time, Squared Response

By - May 13, 2009

The Google Twitter Facebook goat rodeo is getting more interesting. At its Searchology event this week, (TC/Post coverage), Google unveiled a suite of new offerings that feel reactive to various competitors, including “Google Squared,” a Google Labs response to Wolframs’ new Alpha (more on that soon).

Reuters bills it this way:

Google also showed off a new feature, available immediately, that lets users view only the most timely search results, narrowing the results for a topic to the past 24 hours or the past week.

Google said it will search blogs and news sites, as well as the general information available online, to provide a fresher picture of certain subjects.

This feature comes amid the rising popularity of so-called real time search products, like the search feature on microblogging site Twitter, which allow users to search up-to-the-minute developments about certain topics online.

There is a lot to digest, will be doing it Friday to Monday, when I have time to write….

A Big Day For Twitter

By - May 01, 2009

New Twitter Search.pngYesterday Twitter rolled out integrated real time search to its entire user base, no small feat, given how fast that base has grown. It’s pretty elegant, with Trending Topics searched for on the right, and onoing, constantly updated searches integrated into the same interface as normal Twitter.

This is a big deal for the company. I’d love to see how search volume grows. Also important is that the interface now mixes search queries and tweets interchangably, a key step toward the monetization platform I’ve called TweetSense. It’s getting darn interesting, eh?

Google The Publisher

By - April 28, 2009

Over and over I’ve predicted that Google will be forced to act like a publisher, because there’s only so much demand that can be harvested, and sooner or later, Google’s core revenue-generating customers – that’d be marketers – will demand some help creating supply.

Supply means branding, and branding happens in the magical world of publishing. Here are two additional Google initiatives that point the company toward that world:

Google launches Digg-like feature

A Cnet piece giving an overiew of Google’s attempt to curate value from the wisdom of the masses. Called What’s Popular.

and…

Eric Schmidt on Google’s New Plan for the News

Never seen this site before, but the woman who writes is managed to get into a party where she talked to Eric Schmidt. From the piece:

I asked if the rumors I’d heard, that Google was changing its mind about getting involved with creating original content, were true. No, he responded, quite convincingly, they’re not. Google is not a content company, and is not going in that direction, he explained. But Google does have plans for a solution. In about six months, the company will roll out a system that will bring high-quality news content to users without them actively looking for it. Under this latest iteration of advanced search, users will be automatically served the kind of news that interests them just by calling up Google’s page. The latest algorithms apply ever more sophisticated filtering – based on search words, user choices, purchases, a whole host of cues – to determine what the reader is looking for without knowing they’re looking for it. And on this basis, Google believes it will be able to sell premium ads against premium content.

If this is true (sending a note now to ask), it’s a big step.

Will Yahoo And Microsoft Just Do It? If So, How?

By - April 22, 2009

msftyahoo-tm.jpgYesterday’s news about Yahoo’s layoffs was well received by Wall Street (which seems to love layoffs in every sector except its own), and part of the optimism about Yahoo’s future seems to lay in folks expecting Yahoo and Microsoft to finally get around to doing a search deal. I’ve written over and over that I think the two should do this, but as time goes by and the machine at Microsoft continues to iterate on its own internal search play, I find it harder and harder to see how such a deal actually gets done, at least when it comes to organic search.

Now, I predicted in January this deal would get done, of course, so I kind of have a dog in this fight. But recall how I predicted it would go down:

“Microsoft will gain at least five points of search share in 2009, perhaps as much as 10. This is a rather radical prediction, I know, but hear me out. I think Redmond is tired of losing in this game, and after trying nearly every trick in the book, Microsoft will start to spend real money to grow share (IE, buying distribution), while at the same time listening to the advice of thoughtful folks who want to help the company improve the product. However, search share is half the game, as we know. The second half is monetization, and Microsoft will continue to struggle here, unless it manages to buy Yahoo’s search business. Which it won’t, because….

6. Yahoo and AOL will merge.

7. However, in the second half of the year, Microsoft will buy its search monetization from the combined company.”

That’s some pretty damn specific predictions, now that I think about it, and it depends on a lot of stuff happening that is out of Microsoft’s control (AOL merging with Yahoo!) but I think the idea of combining search monetization efforts still makes sense. Yahoo has tons of distribution. Microsoft has tons of money. Both have a common enemy. We shall see.

Meanwhile, Bartz’s bluntness is still pretty damn provocative. Here’s a quote you have to love if you work in product management at Yahoo:

“We sort of had one product management person for every three engineers, so we had a lot of people running around and telling people what to do, but nobody was doing anything,” Bartz said.

Yow!

News: Google Lets You Put Yourself Into Results For..Yourself

By - April 21, 2009

cd3s9vfk_46dpjthjg9_b.pngOne of the principal things nearly anyone does on Google.com is a vanity search: We ask the question: What do people see when they put my name into Google?  

Today, Google is announcing, for the first time, that anyone can change what is seen. (The initial launch is US only).

This, to be clear, is a Very Big Deal.

Joe Kraus, one of the founders of Excite and founder of JotSpot, is now at Google, and this new feature is his baby. I spoke to him today when he sent me a note about the launch. I immediately called him back, because, as I said, I see this as a Very Big Deal.

Why? Well, Google has always been predicated on being a neutral black box. You, as a solitary entity, could not influence the results that Google provided (though of course a very large industry has emerged that attempts to do just that). But this launch changes the game, in a few very, very interesting ways.

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First, and most obvious, this is Google leveraging its might in search to get more people to sign up for Google profiles. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is important, given the competition from Facebook and Twitter, but trust me, it’s really important that Google 1. know who you are and 2. compel you to have ongoing relationship with the company.

Second, this move creates, for the first time ever, a new signal that is directly controlled by an individual but changes what *everyone else* will see in results. True, for now, the results are at the bottom of the first page of results, but that doesn’t mean it won’t move up once Google learns enough to make it truly useful.

Third, this is Google putting a human, community-driven face on itself. It’s Google saying “Hey search user! We want to listen and respond to you!” This is a very good thing for the company, and how it plays its hand from now forward is going to be very, very interesting.

Fortunately for Google, the man with the hand is Kraus, who is a master poker player (yes, I’ve lost to him) and a generally good guy to boot.

There are many questions to be asked about this new service, but the first one that came to my mind is this: Who ranks first for any given name? There are a lot of Joe Smiths, for example, and even more than one John Battelle’s, despite the relative uniqueness of that name (and even more if you count dead folks on the roles of Ancestry.com).

Kraus explained that the initial signal for which profiles would be shown (four will be shown, with a “more” button) will be based on completeness of the Google Profile. AHA! Another motivation to give Google more info on you!Goog me.png

What if there are like 200 John Smiths, and they all have complete profiles? What signals will determine which get into the top four, and which gets the coveted top spot? Kraus said he didn’t have a good answer for that yet, but one signal will certainly be clickthrough rates (like it is for AdSense), and they will be learning and iterating over time.

Google is also doing a US promotion to encourage folks to set up a profile – when you “Google Me” (literally, “me”), you get an ad (see image at left). Again, this is something of a first for Google, or at least unusual, as there are other AdSense advertisers for the term “me” who are not getting placement at the top – Google is taking it for its own promotion.

This all reminds me of the ending of my book. Which of course is my favorite part. In the epilogue, the final paragraph reads:

What does it mean, I wondered, to become immortal through words pressed in clay – or, as was the case here, through words formed in bits and transferred over the web? Is that not what every person longs for – what Odysseus chose over Kalypso’s nameless immortality – to die, but to be known forever? And does not search offer the same immortal imprint – is not existing forever in the indexes of Google and others the modern day equivalent of carving our stories into stone? For anyone who has ever written his own name into a search box and anxiously awaited the results, I believe the answer is yes.

The (News) Web Gets a Time Axis (Sort of)

By - April 20, 2009

TGoogle News Timeline.pnghrough its experimental Google Labs, Google has released a news time line. I remember asking Eric for this in 2002, so it’s cool to see it actually happen (clearly, it wasn’t top of the priority list seven years ago.)

Google’s own description:

Google News Timeline is a web application that organizes search results chronologically. It allows users to view news and other data sources on a browsable, graphical timeline. Available data sources include recent and historical news, scanned newspapers and magazines, blog posts, sports scores, and information about various types of media, like music albums and movies

My own description: I don’t get it. I wish I did, but this is a half step, like so many fine features out of Google. It doesn’t grab me, and compel me to use it in a way that delights. I so wish they had real publishers working there, because damn, there’s so much that might be done if Google had a true publishing mission. But then, this is my age old complaint, and I’m sounding like a real crank now.

A reminder for newer readers: I’ve been talking about the Web Time Axis for a long time now…

Google The Big Target

By - April 06, 2009

IWM4.6.09.png It’s not easy being the oxygen of the Internet economy. Google is starting to take blows from every side. Check out the first five headlines from IWantMedia this morning.

First, the Post (which I don’t trust much as a rule, given its broad use of unnamed sources) follows last week’s speculation around a Twitter acquisition with the headline that Google is talking to Twitter as a “defensive move.”

Second, Barron’s practically yells at Google for even considering talking to Twitter, because Twitter will never have a business model. (Idiots, of course it does).

Third, Google’s YouTube division is widely reported to be losing nearly half a billion dollars.

Fourth, Google looks to have to fight, yet again, the trademarked AdWords lawsuit.

And Fifth, Google is now looking less like a sacred cow, and more like a milk cow, to media moguls with impaired cash flow.

Happy Monday, Google!

An "Undifferentiated slush of results"

By - March 23, 2009

I love this piece in Ad Age if only for the way it characterizes Google’s results, at least in the eyes of a troubled traditional media world:

Major media companies are increasingly lobbying Google to elevate their expensive professional content within the search engine’s undifferentiated slush of results.

Many publishers resent the criteria Google uses to pick top results, starting with the original PageRank formula that depended on how many links a page got. But crumbling ad revenue is lending their push more urgency; this is no time to show up on the third page of Google search results. And as publishers renew efforts to sell some content online, moreover, they’re newly upset that Google’s algorithm penalizes paid content.

“You should not have a system,” one content executive said, “where those who are essentially parasites off the true producers of content benefit disproportionately.”

Where “true producers,” of course, are media companies that make packaged goods content. On the other hand, there is a point here. And the piece is worthy of the read.