Search Engine Journal Agrees With Me!

Its always nice to have your opinions and thoughts backed up by a trusted source. I wrote back in February (PPC bid management software) about my thoughts on why software will never replace human intervention in management of PPC campaigns and this week a similar post has appeared on Search Engine Journal, this time in relation to SEO tools. The post written by David Harry argues, much like I did, that a good search marketing tool is only as useful as the person wielding it and the the analysis and interpretation of the data produced by search marketing tools is where the real value lies.

I encourage you to have a read of the article, it makes some valid points surrounding the use of tools for SEO, many of which can be applied to automation of other processes both online and offline.

Full article here

Conflicting Messages About Search Marketing in the Recession

Many people, including myself, have been speculating about the impact of the recession on search engine marketing and digital marketing in general.  Most people predict that the measurability and flexibility of digital channels, pay per click and search engine optimisation stand it in good stead as times toughen and marketers value measurability and profitability over brand exposure.  But the truth is, no-one really knows, and this is highlighted by conflicting reports which have been published in recent weeks.

A report produced by Efficient Frontier into US search spend towards the end of 2008 showed a slow down in year on year search spend, which, whilst it wasn’t directly put down to economic conditions, it could be construed in such a way.

In contrast to this the latest marketing sherpa stats show that search engine optimisation and PPC are where digital marketers saw the greatest return on investment in Q4 of 2008, thus indicating they would be the major sources of investment in 2009 also.

Nobody knows the impact of a recession on search engine marketing.  After all, it didn’t exist the last time we experienced one!  My personal opinion is that if there are any channels which are set to benefit it will be the measurable and flexible PPC and the “free” and highly profitable SEO.

Search Engines Feeling the Pinch

Although much has been said about digital marketing and more so, search engine marketing, being recession proof and the one area of the marketing plan which is set to actually benefit from recession, recent news stories indicate that this may not be the case.  It appears that Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, the three major players in the world of PPC, are battening down the hatches for a tough 2009 in search.

Yahoo!

Yahoo! announced this week that it is shutting down its content network, a move which was met with nothing more than a shrug by the search engine marketing community, but one which could signal that Yahoo! is looking to cut back on its less profitable areas.

Yahoo shuts down content match in the UK

Microsoft

Rumours are rife that Microsoft are set to announce job cuts in the next week, with some expected on the search side of the business.  This is unsurprising considering the disappointing growth of Live search and the perceived lack of focus in this area, perhaps they are set to rely on the Yahoo! workforce and are giving away something about the merger rumours!?!

Microsoft Job Cuts May Come Next Week

Google

Surprisingly it is Google that appear to be making the most cuts, with the announcement it is cutting 100 recruitment positions (1% of the company) and shutting down 3 engineering offices.  The staff on the engineering side will be given the option to relocate but you would think a large proportion of them will also end up redundant.

Google have also announced the removal of a number of their product offerings and the discontinuation of development of a number of others as they look to focus on the products that earn them direct revenues in these difficult times.  The affected Google products are:

•    Google Video
•    Google Catalogue Search
•    Google Notebook
•    Dodgeball
•    Jaiku
•    Google Mashup Editor

Google to lay off 100 recruitment staff

Google closes a number of products

So what does this say about the confidence of the three biggest suppliers of paid search advertising?  It could be seen as good business sense on their part, sorting the wheat from the chaff so to speak and focussing on profitability in tough economic times.  Moves like this however can only result in Google extending their lead in the race for search engine supremacy.  The optimist in me would like to see Yahoo! or Microsoft being aggressive in a  push steal market share in the downturn, but maybe they are both resigned to the fact the only way forward is to join forces.

2009 is set to be a tough year for us all; some will fall, while others will prosper at their expense.  At the moment it appears even the search engines are jockeying to be in the best position as it appears things are going to get worse before they get any better.

Microsoft won’t take no for an answer!

It looks like Microsoft might be refusing to take no for an answer in their bid to buy out Yahoo! in a bid worth $40Bn.  After having their bid rejecting because the Yahoo! board believed it significantly undervalued their brand and investment in technology Microsoft are rumoured to be responding by attempting to ignite a proxy fight to take over the company.  Such a proxy fight would see Microsoft nominate a group of directors sympathetic to a deal for shareholders to vote on at Yahoo’s annual meeting.   According to Morningstar this is Microsoft using the carrot and the stick approach, just both at the same time! The carrot of the share price, 62% above trading price, and the stick which comes in the form of the threat of a proxy battle.  The drama continues and maybe Microsoft will get their way after all!

Microsoft buying Yahoo – what does it mean?

Ive finally gotten round to having a little think about the big news story of the week, Microsoft tabling a bid of $44.6 Billion in cash and stock to buy its rival Yahoo.  There has been no official comment from Yahoo on the reports but I thought Id document my thoughts on the impace this could have.

The portal market

Yahoo and MSN are the two big players in the portal market, the one stop shop for all you web needs, search engine, web mail, news feed, weather reports, all in one place.  This is where Microsoft will gain a massive advantage and pretty much gain complete dominance.  Aside from the ISP sites, which gain their visitors through having a default homepage setting in the ISP setup process, Microsoft will have a dominance in this field comparable to Google’s in the search market (more of that in a minute!).  So what does this mean to MSN? Well instantly they will take on board the lions share of the portal advertising revenues around the world.  Yahoo has built an advertising model which is highly lucrative and brings in a huge amount of revenue each year, utilising the latest behavioural targeting technology to keep online advertising moving forward.  MSN obviously has its own advertising model and ideas on how the market is going to advance but they will automatically boost their ad revenues with the purchase.  It also sets them up well for the predicted rise in online ad spend over the next few years, from $40 billion to $80 billion if you believe the predictions, dominance in a market this size is a mouth watering prospect.

The search market

This is where it gets really interesting.  Microsft has struggled to gain a foothold in the search market since it launched its own PPC model in 2006 and I forecasted in a previous post (Microsoft sets its sights on 40% market share) that a purchase may be on the cards if they were to achieve their targets.  The purchase of Yahoo Search Marketing (YSM), if part of the deal, would possibly take their market share into the double figures in the paid search arena.  Their system is good at present, the quality of their traffic is good, its just the volume they have been missing.  YSM would help boost this and make them a legitimate number 2 in this arena and they undoubtedly have the fire power to make dents in Google’s dominance (see their response here).  It does raise the question, what does this mean to search agencies?  the market which was due to fragment with the launch of wikia search, AOL breaking out in the US, Ask hinting at the same, is now significantly consolidated if this deal does actually go through.  Does this make SEM simpler? Not really but it could be perceived that way, a post for another time I think.

How do they manage it?

This will be interesting, does Yahoo become Microsoft branded?  or is it just another property of the technology giant?  Does it become Microhoo? Yasoft? Mahoo? or does it become Yahoo – a Microsoft company? and more importantly for internet marketers do they keep the two infrastructures separate, the advertising interfaces, the search algorithms, the display advertising models.  This is what will be the key determinant of what this means to the industry and what it means to digital agencies.

Whether the deal goes through remains to be seen, when it goes through is another question yet to be answered. What is undeniable is that it is going to influence the online advertising market significantly, in what way, remains to be seen.