As Google has looked to increase revenues and move beyond being "just a search engine" they have put themselves at the top of the food chain in multiple categories. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, etc. ;)
If you search for books their book search is the result in natural search and when you search for movies they push their iGoogle application in paid search. Every holiday season Google tries to make further inroads in ecommerce by doing things like offering free Checkout services (at launch of Google Checkout), integrating Google Checkout with AdWords ads (and claiming this increases ad CTR by ~ 10%), and promoting Google Base / Google Product Search more aggressively in their navigation and organic search results. Some early Google Checkout users also got free links.
As Google dives into music services a new one-box with links to selected partners will appear at the top of the search results. And as Google makes tie-ins with more software providers you can look for Google to promote Google pack and other such offerings across the spectrum of search results.
But lets look at a recent search result for the eBay brand. Google knows that eBay.com gets a 90%+++ CTR, that the keyword is a trademark, that the keyword is navigational, etc etc etc. And in spite of eBay even bidding on their own brand, this is perhaps the first time Google takes a valuable partner hostage.
If Google claims that they need to show brands on generic search queries to increase user satisfaction then why do they pollute the associated brand search results with irrelevant nonsense? Navigational searches are the easiest ones in the world to get right, and if a site has historically got a 90%+++ click-through rate for a keyword, why would it ever make sense to risk putting a universal search result or a marginally relevant ad above the obvious #1 result?
If people are looking specifically for news when entering a branded 1 word trademarked keyword then surely they would skip past the #1 result for the official site. Sure there is money in promoting apps for eBay, but it seems so counter to Google's messaging when justifying their algorithmic editorial philosophy elsewhere.
David Naylor highlighted how some Google UK and IE search results are showing primarily Australian websites because some of those keywords are most frequently searched for in Australia. Conversely some Australian search results were returning primarily UK websites for keywords that are more popular in the UK.
If you can't rank for a specific keyword it is worth looking at the composition of the search results and seeing if Google is localizing it to another region. Yet another reason to have a multi-domain strategy if you are targeting many markets.
Google Inc. will soon let users buy songs or listen to them for free, right on its main results page, as part of a broader push to enhance the offerings on the leading search engine, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The music offerings, from four online music services, are to be packaged in what Google calls a "one box" at the top of a results page, similar to the site's presentation of weather and financial results.
To lock up these sorts of deals, some of the largest players in dying markets are given a sweetened deal where Google does not directly generate revenue. But after the deal exists for a few years (and Google becomes a leading destination for that type of media) look for a sharp re-negotiation on pricing. And at that point smaller players better cough up the cash if they want to play.
This is why search is such a powerful market position. Google can wedge themselves at the top of any industry with instant, free, and massive distribution. And they can experiment with the business model and integration while starting off free until they have something that works.
Meanwhile the contracts behind such deals often have a strict NDA. So as long as you trust Google it should end up maybe ok. Except for when it doesn't. In the next couple years this partnering with rights holders and market leaders will hit dozens of markets - further consolidating them. You are either big enough to be #1 or you are #10. If your business model gets crushed when Google starts competing directly against you then it might make sense to invest in other traffic distribution channels and/or other points of differentiation which they can't clone.
Matthew [said] the brand update is about Google minimising the number of times people have to search to find the products or information they are looking for. Every time a user has to perform a second search Google regards it as their failure for not bring up the right result the first time.
So what Google is doing is testing which results are going to give the least number of secondary searches and displaying those. In the past somebody might have searched for “travel insurance” and found a few good sites before remembering that the Post Office does travel insurance too and searched for them to get a comparison. For Google this is regarded as a bit of a failure because they didn’t bring up the Post Office in the first place.
Understanding the bold part above also highlights why Google dislikes many affiliate based business models. Google views itself as the affiliate, and if Google sends the searcher through an affiliate page which does not add significant value (ie: no coupon, no in depth original editorial review, no value add comparisons, etc.) then they feel the extra click was a failure.
Microsoft's ad lab offers a search funnels tool which allows you to view what searches occurred prior to or after a search for a particular keyword.
If you look at some of the above branded keywords associated with credit cards you will see those brands ranking in Google's search results for credit cards.
About 3 weeks ago Dave Peiris highlighted a similar set of theories about the Google update, noting how some of the related searches seemed to be driven in some cases by the next search query. If user satisfaction remains constant or increases slightly (as one might expect it to, since brand is in part driven by exposure, and we tend to like & trust things that we are aware of more) with such algorithmic changes then you can expect Google to keep pushing them on more and more keywords (at least until it starts to harm relevancy slightly). Why?
AdWords is approaching a natural price ceiling in many markets based on direct advertiser ROI (and perhaps some related measures like lifetime customer value)
as Google's display ad network grows they will get more taste of the branding ad dollars (from when you try to advertise to build a brand right on through when they are cashing in on your branding efforts by selling ads against it)
promoting brands helps promote irrational and wasteful and abstract advertising campaigns that can only attempt to be justified when thinking about (and guesstimating) the broader branding impacts of the additional exposure
Many thin website models (unremarkable thin affiliate, AdSense publisher with thin keyword-targeted content, etc.) will slowly get chipped away at by such algorithms if Google moves this down the query stream (though they can't go too deep into the longtail with it or they would start impacting relevancy in a negative way).
As an SEO, this query recycling concept (if expanded) means that you not only want to rank, but you want to deliver ***an experience*** remarkable enough that people actively search it out by name. And you want to be one of the first couple brands that people think of for your core target keyword.
Search is already heavily influenced by a rich get richer effect and the concept of cumulative advantage. And with search engines potentially feeding search query chains back into the relevancy algorithms, it gets that much harder to come from behind in saturated markets unless you change the model or target different keywords. If you are late to the game and a #10 player it might make sense to brand yourself against the second largest keyword rather than being an after-thought in a more saturated keyword market.
In the above interview Steve Balmer states that search innovation has slowed down over the past 5 years compared to the 5 years prior. While committing to pouring billions of Dollars into the search market, Steve Balmer does not think that search has kept up its rate of innovation. But this perception is actually a fib. A lie. One that Steve must tell himself AND the media in order to try to gain press coverage for Bing and justify what will amount to a very expensive competition in the search marketplace. And it is a lie the media mush push to be able to write about / hype THE NEXT GOOGLE!!!!!!
Search Innovation is Speeding Up
The reason I know that search keeps speeding up is that I write about it. We offer subscribers a monthly newsletter, have forums that we participate in daily, and blog about the latest developments in search. This past month I have done a week of traveling and 2 conferences, but I have absolutely struggled to keep up with the all the changes recently (in spite of closing our site off to new members). Frankly I am amazed at how Danny Sullivan is able to put conferences together and still keep up with everything!
To understand the search game you must first understand that Google is first and foremost a public relations driven company which sells itself as a technology company. This is precisely why they market their browser/operating system as a browser and not an operating system...to avoid the regulations on (and comparisons with) Microsoft.
Now some of the changes may not be noticeable to the average searcher because Google has become more refined over the years. But it does not mean that the market lacks innovation. I thought it would make sense to put a post together to highlight some of the ways search has changed so far this year.
Here's my current idea. I believe that Google's staff contains more statisticians than any other specialty. The algo is, more and more, driven by statistics and probability. These statisticians watch query data as well as backlink data. That's what jumped out at me while re-reading this patent: backlinks PLUS queries.
This is my current brainstorming area, and it's why I recommend the idea of ATTRACTING backlinks more than "building" them. Backlinks alone cannot create a statistically correct footprint for a growing, thriving website. Even though such a "dummied-up" impression has been a working tool for improved ranking in the past, it's a tool whose future is getting more and more cloudy.
Creating a legitimate looking link profile by doing nothing but push marketing keeps getting harder as Google refines what they are looking for as a natural link building profile based on better statistics. If your link building efforts revolve around public relations, publicity, and brand then you are good to go. But if they are mechanical and aggressive you can use fairly similar link building strategies on 2 parallel sites and see one rank while the next is stuck somewhere in Google hell. From the above linked 5 Googler interviews you can see how Google is constantly working to improve localization, word relationships, indexing, and spam detection. QDF + universal search further complicate the search results.
Beyond the core ranking algorithms there are also new ways to sort through information.
Google has added many options / filters / lenses to view search through, including links to...
vertical databases (like Videos, News, Blogs, Books, Forums, and Reviews)
results within specific time frames
ways to navigate related searches (via Related searches, Wonder wheel, Timeline)
additional filters (like displaying images from the page, more text, fewer or greater shopping sites)
Thinking through those type of filters with universal search in mind (and Google's new caffeine index in place) you could see how Google can further alter the search landscape on a query by query basis. Give me something fresh, give me old trusted stuff, give me at least 1 authoritative review, etc. In select markets this can be further refined by editorial partnerships like the health onebox.
Here are recent SEO results. And when authoritative SEO related sites (like SEO Book, Search Engine Land, SEOMoz, SE Roundtable, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch, etc.) publish fresh posts they quickly get mixed into the top 10 to 20 search results (similarly to how Google News results get mixed in). As Google tests mixing in different types of results they can track user response on a per query basis, and bucket different related keywords together.
Inspired User Interface Innovation
A lot of the innovations come from competing search services. Consider that
Google's SearchWiki (and SideWiki) were heavily inspired by Wikia Search.
Yahoo! implemented search suggestion features widely before Google did.
Ask 3D pushed about a lot of the universal search sort of ideas.
Google tried to clone Youtube, right up until they were forced to buy it.
It doesn't matter what regulations appear, advertisers feel the need to buy those ads because that is where the distribution is. Currently Google (and Facebook) have such domination over advertisers that they can mass ban them and shut them down overnight as desired, in spite of the economic climate.
There is going to be continued innovation in the online advertising space as marketers better test / recommend / track / explore / learn how to better automate blending ads and content.
Why Write a 5 Page Blog Post With ~80 Links in It?
to help me collect my thoughts and share them with you, our readers! :D
to point out that anyone talking about a lack of innovation is search is speaking from ignorance, hyping public relations messaging to the media, and/or lying
to help push to save Yahoo! Boss. By some measures it might be bigger than Bing AND it if it stays around it will help ensure that search keeps innovating at faster and faster rates with healthy market competition
A few months back I had a chat with ShoeMoney and we talked about a lot of marketing stuff. He always speaks of the importance of being able to leverage success to build other related projects. It is typically worth far more money to be a lead player with projects that build off of each other than it is to be a #10 player in many different markets trying to build disconnected brands that can't feed off each other. Even traditional slow moving publishing organizations like newspapers are aggressively leveraging network effects in their SEO strategy.
Networks Allow You to Come From Behind
When you look at Theme Forest they came late to the market, and yet are many times as large as competing businesses that are twice as old. Envato was launched in 2006, and in spite of coming late to market they were nearly instantly successful. Owning popular blogs helped them create thriving marketplaces, and the marketplaces help them make the blogs more popular. The promotion is circular.
Most Leading Web Companies Use Networks
Larger web networks like IAC, Amazon.com, Yahoo!, Internet Brands, Quinstreet, Expedia, Classified Ventures, BankRate, Monster.com, and Demand Media employ the same tactics. At $170 million Mint was a cheap buy for Intuit just to block out competition. Any additional distribution and cost savings are a bonus. Once you have distribution you have free inventory to promote a new site into a related vertical. And this strategy works with smaller niche sites as well. Publishing this site made it easy for us to get a lot of exposure for my wife's PPC strategy flowchart.
We originally gave away free SEO tools mainly with the ideas of building links and promotion in mind. But now they also help establish a customer funnel while commoditizing the value of some similar business models. And because many of the tools are decentralized (as Firefox extensions) maintenance costs are much lower than someone who centralizes everything. Our customers on average tend to be toward the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, so giving away useful and extensible tools helps us meet that market. But a lot of our business strategy has been made up as we went along, rather than having an aggressive master plan in place.
Watching Big Companies Develop Strategy
Some companies are driven by big goals and 5 (and 10) year plans. Adobe bought Omniture and plans on offering deep analytics into user interactions with flash widget ads. Out of nowhere Adobe entered the ad market.
This might be the most subtle yet important shift that marketers face as they deal with the reality of new media. Marketers aren't renters, now they own.
For generations, marketers were trained to buy (actually rent) eyeballs.
Suddenly the new media comes along and the rules are different. You're not renting an audience, you're building one.
Google is GOD of the Web
One of the best companies to study from the perspective of using market leverage to enter new markets is Google. Recently they struck a deal with Warner to bring their music back to Youtube. But even while their music was not on Youtube I was still able to listen to it - on Youtube ;)
Make the service essentially free to buy marketshare, become the marketplace, and kill the business model for competing start ups in the space.
Promote it across search, the AdSense content network, and via a thick public relations program.
Use the work of thieves and the blurry parts of copyright law to diminish the value of non-partner content to try to force non-partners into a formal partnership.
12 to 36 months later start charging a fair to normal market rate for the service. Claim the service makes no profits until it is an undeniable cash cow.
One of the more cynical, but perhaps accurate, in depth research reports on Google's use of market leverage is Scott Cleland's Googleopoly [PDF]. You might not be able to apply every idea in there to your projects, but it should help you understand where Google intends to intersect with your market and how you can leverage some of those touch-points to your advantage.
One last tip, from Larry Ellison, "Pick your competitors carefully for you will quickly come to resemble the companies you compete with."
This should be of huge interest to anyone who produces content on the web.
...it comes off.
Google is planning to roll out a system of micropayments within the next year. Micropayments, as the name implies, are small payments - a cent or even a fraction of a cent - and the idea is that micropayments can be used to pay for accessing web content.
While currently in the early planning stages, micropayments will be a payment vehicle available to both Google and non-Google properties within the next year,” Google wrote. “The idea is to allow viable payments of a penny to several dollars by aggregating purchases across merchants and over time.”
Micropayments are not a new idea, of course. People have been suggesting micropayments will be the next big thing for quite a while now. Jakob Neilsen got it rather wrong in 1998:
I predict that most sites that are not financed through traditional product sales will move to micropayments in less than two years. Users should be willing to pay, say, one cent per Web page in return for getting quality content and an optimal user experience with less intrusive ads. Once users pay for the pages, then they get to be the site's customers, and the site will design to satisfy the users' needs and not the advertisers' needs."
Will Google be the first company to make micropayments work? It remains to be seen, but if they do, this will be the biggest game-changer on the web since PPC.
The Decline Of News
The news industry have been howling as their outdated business model falls apart. Their days of running regional oligopolies are fast coming to end, eroded by the ubiquitous web and the low cost of online publishing. The media is fueled by advertising, and as their readership fragments, the value to advertisers drops.
But what happens if 100% of a newspapers revenue came directly their readership? Micropayments may make this possible.
The big question is: who would pay for the garbage the media serves up? Why should we pay for regurgitated press releases and stories about celebrities shopping expeditions?
Micropayments could help increase the quality of news. Paid news outlets, like STRATFOR charge $349 for annual membership. How can they do this? By providing a level of analysis and research you don't get from mainstream media. Clearly some people are prepared to pay for news that isn't driven by advertisers and the lowest common denominator.
However, the subscription price is still a barrier for most. But what if micropayments, by introducing economies of scale, made it possible to get quality news, analysis and content for a few cents a week? What happens when the price is so low you barely even notice you are paying it?
The scale of the web, plus the tiny charging increments, could be a game changer. And not just for news. This opportunity applies to anyone in the web content business.
A true micropayment system would operate invisibly and simply accumulate charges on the user's monthly bill without an explicit confirmation for every click. That's exactly how electricity bills and long-distance telephone bills work. True, people wouldn't make many long-distance calls if they first had to discuss the fee with an operator (though we certainly made calls back when we had to talk to a long-distance operator and acknowledge charges for each call). In any case, telephone companies now simply add up the calls and put them all on a single bill. Intellectually, you know that it costs money to use the phone and turn on a light, but if you want to talk to somebody, you pick up the phone. And if the room is too dark, you switch on the light. You don't go out to the meter every few minutes to check on your electricity bill.
A micro-payment system should be quite different from existing payment systems. You won't be asked to fill out your details each time. Rather, it would be as simple as a click of a button, and tracking and billing would happen in the background.
Google Extends Their Reach
With Adsense, Google cleverly figured out a way to click the ticket on content it didn't own or produce.
The problem with Adsense is that it works best when placed on content heavily geared towards commerce. Micropayments opens up a business model for other types of content, content that is not easily aligned with a commercial imperative.
Imagine the potential for high quality, non-commercial content. Imagine the potential for channels like YouTube. On demand television and movies for a few cents. With micropayments, the volume of content Google could click the ticket on gets much, much bigger.
Does brand matter? That seems to be a question Google wants to challenge. Eric Schmidt offers quotes like "brands are how you sort out the cesspool". Google's search algorithms this year have put more weight on domain authority (which is often associated with brands).
But while Google is telling everyone else to build a brand, Google might be looking to compete head on with brands in many large verticals. According to the NYT:
“LendingTree recently learned that Google imminently plans to launch a loan aggregation service in late August or early September of this year that would compete with LendingTree,” the complaint says. “Lending Tree has also learned that Mortech intends to make its pricing engine services available for use with Google’s new service and will send information related to mortgage loan offers to be displayed to consumer on Google’s Web site.”
The complaint further says that LendingTree has obtained screen shots of a trial version of Google’s service that further indicate that it plans to “provide customers with conditional loan offers in addition to lenders’ contact information.”
Google made a similar test in the UK last year. This is just more reason to develop longtail content and try to build distribution channels outside of search. It seems if you are too successful with search Google may do some self-serving to compete directly against you.
For the last several months, a large team of Googlers has been working on a secret project: a next-generation architecture for Google's web search. It's the first step in a process that will let us push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions. The new infrastructure sits "under the hood" of Google's search engine, which means that most users won't notice a difference in search results. But web developers and power searchers might notice a few differences, so we're opening up a web developer preview to collect feedback.
In the new infrastructure so far I think there is...
an increased weighting on domain authority & some authoritative tag type pages ranking (like Technorati tag pages + Facebook tag pages), as well as pages on sites like Scribd ranking for some long tail queries based mostly on domain authority and sorta spammy on page text
perhaps slightly more weight on exact match domain names
perhaps a bit better understanding of related words / synonyms
tuning down some of the exposure for video & some universal search results
You can check out the new results here and CompareCaffeine.com offers side by side comparisons of new Google + old Google - similar to the recent blind search service which compared Google, Yahoo!, & Bing results.
This WMW thread mentions some relevant background on Google's approach to storage. In his post on the update John Andrews mentioned how smaller chunking of data could allow the algorithms to make SEO more challenging (or at least more holistic):
Smaller chunks means faster SERP generation…. and possibly more specific quality management (smaller more specific binning of URLs if desired) How this plays out for SEO is interesting now… and especially whether or not we will be able to influence various aspects independently from the whole.
The ROI on effective SEO campaigns is simply unbelievable, and Google is going to do everything in their power to diminish the ROI of algorithmically focused optimization efforts. As the cost of memory drops and the algorithms improve, the next couple years might separate the men from the boys in the SEO space. Those improvements will drive many SEO practitioners into parallel fields like niche publishing and public relations. 5 years ago was the perfect time to start building your empire. But starting today is far better than starting tomorrow.
I tend to be somewhat cynical toward Google because I generally do not trust authorities and they CAN and DO kill many web based businesses that are too reliant on search. But to offset such posts I figured it would be cool to do a counter post on reasons to love Google
They pushed search. Back when search was unprofitable they believed in making it better rather than being at least 80% as good as the next portal. Search was eventually going to become big no matter what, but they largely are who pushed it becoming so big so fast. And search makes marketing more efficient because users feel they are in control when they search for information, even if in doing so they find your advertisements & offers. A search driven marketing strategy also allows you to build relationships by people finding you while looking for topics you published content on. This enables genuinely useful sites to bolt on services for sales without needing to worry about having to get as much value out of each person as a hyped up salesman because the website with real utility will typically reach far more people.
In time Google may become more self-serving with their search result biases, but for now they still do not have a paid inclusion program and they are nowhere near as self-serving as some competing companies like Yahoo! are.
They make SEO somewhat challenging. About a month ago a friend of mine launched a site and ranked it in the top 3 for some money keywords in Bing. Unless you are the U.S. government you typically can't do that in Google. The complexity of SEO presents a barrier to entry to new market participants, but once you are already established that barrier to entry helps protect your profit margins. And if you sell SEO products and services you know that there is going to be a market in need for a long long time.
In 2003 when I started SEO I was broke, in debt, new to marketing, unemployed, and within 6 months of opening Dreamweaver (to create a rant site rather than a marketing site!) I ranked in the top 10 for keywords like search engine marketing. I believe similar things are possible today with sweat equity, but the time delay is typically much longer and/or you need to operate at a much higher level than the stuff I did back then. In a way, this barrier to entry causes a lot of the worst parts of the web to disappear because it requires more commitment and/or investment to compete.
AdWords = instant market feedback. AdWords allows you to test a business model idea before building the business. And it gives you instant feedback from relevant market channels that you may not be reaching. It is one of the cleanest distribution channels with one of the smallest overlaps with other marketing channels:
Consumers who buy after clicking a competitive (non brand) paid search ad are the least likely to have been to the site previously through a different channel. In our research, only 10 to 20% of buyers who touched a PPC ad last came through any other channel previously. Compare this to affiliate traffic, where 60 - 75% of buyers came through another channel first.
Once you can convert cold leads from search it is much easier to convert warmer leads that are recommended via word of mouth marketing, affiliate arrangements, and other editorial & marketing channels.
Google furthers the value of this channel by baking a/b split testing directly into AdWords, creating valuable tools like their Website Optimizer, making their Analytics tool (somewhat) free, and even putting free conversion optimization presentations online:
AdSense offers a fast and easy baseline revenue stream. Many years ago advertisers had a big advantage over smaller publishers due to asymmetric information. While contextual ad networks have depressed the CPM rates of many large bloated "premium" publishers, they have also gave smaller publishers the ability to easily, quickly, and automatically test monetization potential. From that baseline publishers can look to improve the model by...
use that data to work on optimizing + promoting high earning content and/or creating more content covering similar themes
advertising similar offers that are advertised on their site
Vastly improving productivity. Like search, email was a vast wasteland of non-innovation (at least amongst the mainstream providers) until Gmail came out. They made it larger, faster, and more convenient. And they made obvious improvements (like adding search to email). A lot of my productivity that I take for granted comes from features in Gmail. Without Gmail evolving email I doubt I would be able to service nearly 1,000 customers while also having time to do marketing, work on building other sites, spend time reading, and have a bit of time for playing and working out.
Their document collaboration is great, and the recent addition of forms (that you can embed into pages for free) is killer.
A Free MBA Marketing Course. If you follow Google, know where they are moving, and understand the intent behind many of their moves it is better than any marketing course you could take.
Marketing to young people + making their software suite a default by giving it away to schools: "For more than two years, Google has approached colleges and universities with a near-unbeatable offer: provide unlimited hosted e-mail and other applications, all branded by the institution and delivered free of charge."
And what is more remarkable about the above 5 points is that all of them are reasons to talk about Google and they are things that were mentioned just from this past week. There is a reason to talk about Google every day, even if it seems like some of us publishers are becoming broken records in doing so.
Hating Google in context. I do disagree with many of their policies, but I think a lot of blame goes toward Google when market forces commodize existing business models. But they are just another market force pushing the evolution of media. That means they will commoditize a lot of businesses and business models. When it is done hypocritically (I could write another post on this topic!) I think it is fine to complain, but it is typically more profitable to keep evolving your business model to make it keep adding value and make it less reliant on search.
And the less reliant you are on search the more reliant search becomes on your content. If you keep adding value every day then your business is not likely to see any risks with search traffic. If you were more like Google (to where people had new reasons to talk about you every day) you wouldn't need search traffic to build a sustainable business.