Microsoft Joins in the Favicons Trial

Reports on Search Engine Land this week suggest that Google isn’t the only one which is trialling the use of favicons in their PPC ads.  Matt McGee this week posted the below screenshot showing Microsoft displaying favicons alongside their PPC ads on Live search.  Apparently this is part of an internal trial and shouldn’t actually be seen outside of Microsoft IP addresses but a bug in the system has seen it shown to a lucky few in the outside world.

With both Google and Microsoft now prove to be trialling the use of imagery in their paid search listings it appears it should just be a matter of time before they become common place on the SERP.  Well, it should make for a more decorative and visually appealing search results page but, as mentioned in my Google post, I don’t envisage it affecting CTR in the long run as it will appear on all paid results once advertisers get the hang of it.  As a result, after the first few searches with the new results, users will become blind to the logos.  That is unless the great and the good of the search engine marketing world kind find ways of standing out from the crowd.

live search favicons

Yahoo! Wins Keyword Legal Case

Yahoo! has won a legal case in the US which puts a different slant on brand and trademark infringement in PPC, but also goes to show the search engines have covered themselves against such cases.

As reported in media post, Yahoo has come out on top in a case brought against them by Heartbrand Beef, of Yoakum Texas.  Heartbrand, who claim to be the only seller of Akaushi beef in the US, didn’t believe Yahoo! should allow their competitors to appear on the keyword “Akaushi” as it was misleading to their searchers and of the products their competitors provided.  This would have been an interesting judgment had it gone the other way.  It is different to other trademark disputes of past or present as it wasn’t actually a trademark or brand term owned by Heartbrand, just a product exclusive to them.  I can’t honestly see how Heartbrand thought they were going to win this case but the result does go to show that the search engines are covering themselves for any such cases through their practices and T&Cs.  Google, Yahoo and Microsoft aren’t stupid, they aren’t going to open themselves up for potential legal backlash through the changes they make to policies, they are going to be pretty sure they aren’t liable before making such as Google’s most recent changes to trademark bidding.

This is not the first time the search engines have come out in battles such as these, and it certainly isn’t the final say in the argument over brand and trademark infringement in paid search.  But the more cases like this which come out in the search engines favour, the less chance there is of one going the other way, which in turn means less companies will be tempted to try their luck in the courts.

I predict in 12 months trademark and brand bidding in PPC will just be a common practice, give it 2 years and search engine marketers will be reminiscing about the good old days when there was no competition on brand terms and you got all the clicks for next to nothing.

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 Yahoo Deal on the Cards in Q1?

Ever man and his digital dog has listed this in their search predictions for 2009 and now Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer has hinted that if a deal is to be done between themselves and Yahoo, now is the best time for it to happen. With Yahoo searching for a CEO to replace Jerry Yang and Microsoft themselves appointing an ex Yahoo face, Qi Lu, ad head of online operations, the newcomers could spearhead any potential deal.

It looks like the only way anyone is going to mount a serious challenge to Google and a combined effort, either through partnership or purchase would see the search experience of Yahoo combined with the technical know-how and product development and of Microsoft. It will be a big challenge to catch Google and it will take number of years to get there but if a deal goes through in Q1 it is set to be an interesting 2009!

NMA news story

Lets Call the Whole Thing Off!

Google announced yesterday that it was pulling out of the agreement with Yahoo which would have allowed them to display Google Adwords listings on Yahoo search results in the US.  The announcement comes in the face of a potentially lengthy and costly legal battles with competition regulators which Google has decided would “distract the from their core mission”.

In Yahoo’s response via email to it partners they reassured PPC advertisers that, whilst they were disappointed by the announcement, it would not prevent them becoming an “ever-stronger player in online advertising”.  and reaffirm their strength in certain sectors by quoted their positioning across selected news verticals.  A clear attempt to say “don’t give up on us yet!”

In a further twist, Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang has come out and reverted on his original defiance on a sell out to Microsoft by claiming that he was open minded about a potential deal with Microsoft having been bitterly opposed to such a deal when originally proposed.  Its funny how he has changed his mind immediately prior to the Google announcement!

So its back to square one in the search engine battle for supremacy with no deals on the table and everyone working independently.  But for how long?  Yang’s announcement is bound to start the Microsoft-yahoo rumour mill off again and it is probably more likely to go ahead after yesterday but who knows?  I’m sure there will be more twists in the tail before the saga ends.