Google Goes Universal!

It seems the word is out about a new Google design that is in testing for launch soon and it is a big one. Screenshots below stolen from Top Rank Online Marketing Blog (hopefully the link is enough payment for their use!) show some major changes in not only the layout of Google’s SERP but also integration of universal search elements and dare I say it, some Bing style functionality!

So what changes are in the pipeline?

  • Slightly tweaked logo and search buttons on homepage
  • Search filtering using headings in new left column
  • Filter searches by time, bringing in a new real time search element
  • More obvious related search queries
  • Google trends integration to give timelines for search queries
  • Larger map integration with main search column
  • Google Shopping included alongside paid listings

What does this mean for search marketing?

  • Real time search and news sources increase in important due to the time filtering function
  • Each channel becomes even more important and I expect search volumes to increase across news, image video etc
  • Search marketers are going to have to utilise every channel available to gain coverage
  • Search to click on individual keywords will drop as users utilise the new navigation
  • The importance of big keywords (e.g. car insurance) will drop significantly and maybe so will their cost on PPC

Exciting times ahead folks!

new google homepagenew google mapsnew google product searchnew google trendsnew google video search

BingHoo – Yahoo gives up on search

bing to provide yahoo search results

So, it has finally happened.  The will they wont they debate, that has raged throughout search engine marketing world, has come to an end and Microsoft and Yahoo have finally decided to join forces in the battle against Google.  After months of speculation (and numerous articles on The Digital Lookout here, here and here) a deal has been done which will effectively see Yahoo give up on search, and hand their piece of the search marketing pie over to Microsoft.

The 10 year agreement will see Microsoft provide both the natural search results, via Bing, and the paid search results, via Microsoft adcenter, and means that once fully integrated, Yahoo will no longer have a search platform.  The agreement will however, see them retain their search marketing relationship staff as they will become sales force for both paid search solutions.

So whats in it for Yahoo?  Why give up now? 

Well lets face it, they have been on a downward spiral for around 2 years now and their market share has been continually dropping.  Also, as part of the deal, Microsoft has GUARANTEED they will see no drop in revenue per search in any of the countries involved for the first 18 months.  That’s a pretty persuasive offer, no drop in revenues from search, and the opportunity to cut overheads.  Yahoo will be able to remove the large overheads of running their search platforms, and have also confirmed there will be some staff cuts.

The deal also gives Yahoo the opportunity to go back to its routes as a media portal and focus its efforts more on what it does well in this area.  Yahoo Mail, behavioural targeting and news are what got Yahoo to where it is, and with the ability to re-focus on these areas with a guaranteed stable revenue from search it is not a bad option. 

After the initial 18 month period Yahoo will also still be receiving 88% revenue share from the deal, not too shabby!

And What about Microsoft? Why are they giving away so much?

Well this is clearly a simple land grab from Microsoft.  They have wanted a larger piece of the search engine market for a while but have struggled to achieve it.  They have the technology and innovation, Bing is a good product, Microsoft Adcenter too, is a useful tool, but what they haven’t had is the search volume and this was the easiest way to achieve it.

And, in reality, they have paid nothing for the purchase of Yahoo’s share, and more than likely, access to its technology, and they gain a 12% share of revenues.  This deal, once it all goes through will see them controlling approximately 40% of the US search market, and 10% of the UK.  The US figure is obviously the most significant of the two but they will surely be looking to strengthen their hold in the UK also.  That’s not a bad land grab for very little outlay.

Does this make search engine marketing easier?

Debatable.  Certainly only having two major SEO algorithms to deal with makes the process a little simpler, however given the UK market share, most effort goes into Google anyway.  Any success on Yahoo or Bing is generally a nice byproduct of good SEO practice, and not something which is targeted.

For paid search advertisers, only having two interfaces, and two APIs to deal with will make things a little easier, but that depends how they decide to deal with advertising on the two engines.  Do you appear on both by default? is it an opt in opt out for Yahoo? Answers to questions like these will be needed before the exact impact of the change is known.

The deal is set to be finalised early 2010, with a transition expected in the major countries by early 2011, so we have a while to wait.  But this is likely to be the biggest change in search in the coming years, so no doubt the next 16 months are going to be spent speculating about the impact of the deal, and how it is going to affect the market.  As more news comes out about how it is going to work, search marketers are going to have to understand what it means to them and their clients, and what they plan to do to make the most of the change.

More resources on this story:

Bing Hits the #2 Spot….For Now

So one of the big news stories this week has been bing overtaking Yahoo! to become the second most used search engine since its launch last week.  On its launch date of June 3rd bing received 10.8% of search engine traffic ahead of both Yahoo! and Ask and whilst this figure reduced to 3.1% of search engine traffic by June 6th but it still remained ahead of its rivals.

This news will obviously delight Microsoft but I cant help but thinking it is just an initial spike as people check out the new kid on the search engine block.  I like bing, and I think given time and more importantly awareness, it will gain an increased market share for Microsoft but right now, noone but those who are involved in search engine marketing, or who previously used Live Search, are too aware of its existence.

Apparently users are also spending over 8 minutes a piece on bing which will also please Microsoft as the more time spent on site, the more ads displayed, the better chance of revenue generation.  Again this stat could again be skewed by users playing around with the new bing functionality so time will tell on this one too.

Early indications are good, but there is still a long way to go before bing can be described as a success.

Bing stats

bing market share

The bing Review

So this week saw the launch of Microsoft’s latest attempt to gain a foothold in the search marketing world.  Originally thought to be named Kumo, but finally released as Bing, this is Microsoft’s latest attempt to challenge Google’s supremacy and prove they have something different to offer.  Backed my a multimillion dollar advertising campaign in the US announcing the end of the search engine and the revolution of their “decision engine” they seem to strongly believe they something new and improved to offer the world of search engine marketing.  But what have they really changed?  Below is my summary of the various features of Bing, and also, where nothing in particular appears to have changed.

Live Search Suggest

As you type in the search box Bing brings up a list of suggested searches you may be looking for, auto completing single and double worded phrases.  In the screen shot below you can see as I type in the word car, bing starts to suggest words like “cartoon network” “carrie underwood” and other words beginning with car.  Google obviously does a similar thing but also displays the numbers of results alongside each keyword.  Google’s functionality is actually a little more sophisticated and interprets your search meaning more accurately, so nothing new or ground breaking here.

bing search engine

Search Refinement

One of the new features which forms part of bing’s “decision engine” positioning is the search refinement suggestions which appear in the left hand margin of their new SERP when results are displayed.  Again, nothing ground breaking, but it does add a little bit more usability to their results, and from their point of view, allows for a more accurate search experience and obviously more searches means more ads displayed and more potential ad revenue.

bing search results suggestion

Website Preview

Another part of the decision engine functionality is the ability to preview website content for the SEO rankings to allow the user to make a more educated decision on which is the best website to visit.  On hover Bing displays a text snippet from the website along with some of the navigation links to allow entry into a different part of the website.  Google has been offering site links on some website for a while but not on such a wide scale, and the ability to view additional website content is a nice addition which should allow users make a better decision on a websites suitability without leaving the search results.  At last something Google doesn’t have! (yet)

bing natural search results

Image Search

The changes to th Bing image search functionality are more aesthetic than any improvements to the results.  On hover an image is enlarged to give you a better view, and you are presented with the details of the image, i.e. size and file name.  There is a little added functionality in the option to view similar images which could be useful, and they have also added the ability to feedback on image results.  Some nice usability amends but again, nothing which is going to shake up the world of search and scare Google too much.

bing image search

Video Search

The video search function also has some nifty (but not necessarily groundbreaking) features aimed at keeping you with Bing, and helping you make your “decision”.  Once within the video SERP you can hover over one of the videos and it will begin playing a snippet so you can see some of the content.  Once you click a video it will also play a full size version, within Bing, without you needing to visit the video owners site.  This obviously means that users can use Bing in a youtube format, and not need ot navigate away from Bing to different video sites.  I did find a couple of instances of this functionality not working meaning it was necessary to visit the website hosting the videos though, so maybe it can be blocked in some way, and if it can most video owners will do so as they would prefer to viewer to enter their site.  I like the hover functionality, one up on Google there.

They have also added some additional search functionality (again using the left hand margin, I see a common theme developing!) which enables a more advanced search quickly and easily.  The ability to filter video search results by length, screen size, resolution and source.  Again, nothing that cant be done using Google advanced search but actually done in a much more user friendly way removing the need for a completely new search query.

Natural Search Algorithm

Not much news here I am afraid, it looks like there has been some minor tweaks to the Live Search algorithm but nothing major.  I have seen some movements up and down of maybe 5 positions but nothing major.  This is going to be one of the big changes and a test of Bing as a search decision engine.  More usable search results so that all the awareness generated by Microsoft’s advertising spend doesn’t just result in single visit users who revert back to Google after disappointment with the sites their queries return.

Paid Search Results

Again nothing new to report, Microsoft’s claims of taking their search engine beyond “ten blue links” didn’t actually result in taking PPC any further than it was on Live search.  I believe a new adcenter is due later in the year so maybe they will roll out some changes or additional functionality with this release.  But for now nothing changes, other than a possible uplift in impressions as people check out bing to see what all the fuss is about.

So will it change anything?

Although I have pointed out here that a lot of the features are nothing new, I actually like what Microsoft have done with bing.  The image and video search functionality is good, the bing platform is user friendly and I like the design and layout.  They still have a long way to go until they are a true challenger to Google though.  The usability will help them keep some of the new users they get from all the publicity, but more needs to be done on the technical side with the SEO and PPC results and options. Advancements in the adcenter options and their PPC system, as well as improvements int he natural search algorithm are going to be the next big challenge, and wll be crucial if they are going to eat away at Google’s market share.

A lot of what they have done well can be picked up by Google and implemented pretty easily and that is the main problem. Until they come up with a ground breaking innovation which is unique to them and difficult to copy, they are always going to be playing catch up.  I have said in the past, I really want somebody to step up to the plate and challenge Google, and it is only real innovative thinking and something truly new and fresh which will achieve this.  Getting better, Microsoft, but still a lot of work to do!

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