Bing recently stated testing listing 'alternatives' near their local search results.
I wasn't able to replicate these in other search verticals like flight search, or on an iPhone search, but the format of these alternatives looks similar to the format proposed in Google's ongoing monopolistic abuse case in Europe:
"In effect, competitors will have the 'choice' either to pay Google in order to remain relevant or lose visibility and become irrelevant," a European consumer watchdog, BEUC, said in a letter it sent to all 28 EU commissioners. The letter, seen by The Wall Street Journal, terms the deal "unacceptable."
With some lower traffic smaller sites it is easy to get outlier data that is skewed & somewhat irrelevant (especially true if you have a website which happens to have relevant content in a category that Ask is spamming the heck out of Google in), but one nice thing about comparing Yahoo! and Bing against each other is that they are generally driven by the same relevancy algorithm. Of course Yahoo! and Bing may have different promotions added to their interfaces for certain query types, but if you take websites that are ranking for a wide basket of keywords you can generally see how the search engines are doing against each other at driving traffic.
Some categories (think mom from the mid-west who is a casual internet user) might have a bias toward using Yahoo! Search, but outside of areas where you might expect that sort of skew, I am seeing Bing drive more organic search traffic than Yahoo! is. Here are analytics images from 3 different websites so far this month that get quite a significant search traffic stream. These sites target different demographics from people in their 20's to 30's to 40's. And all 3 of them are getting more search visits from Bing than Yahoo! Search. And, looking at the data, this shift has been fairly significant over the past couple months.
This site gets tons of longtail traffic & ranks across a wide array of keyword.
This site is primarily driven by a few popular keywords & ranks #1 in both Bing and Google for them.
The reason this 3rd one is so Google heavy is because the Google algorithm likes the older site more & it does not have as many fresh links (which Bing seems to like more). It is primarily focused on a few core keywords where it ranks #1 to #3 in Google and #4 to #7 in Bing.
I suspect that Bing is still somewhat more selective with showing search ads than Yahoo! is (as Microsoft's online operation has been losing billions of Dollars per year & Bing is trying to win marketshare from Google, whereas Yahoo! is all about maximizing revenues per search). Yahoo! ads likely get a greater portion of the search clicks due to...
ads being shown more frequently & more aggressively
ads taking up more visual space (when Bing puts 4 ads above the organic results they put the URL and the description on the same line, whereas Yahoo! spreads them out across multiple lines)
Since Bing is sending more searchers onto the organic search results it means their real search share is over-represented if you look only at organic search visitors, but then as an SEO that is the main thing you are looking for - opportunity. It is a bit of a shame that on the above sites Google is still driving ~ 84% of search visitors, whereas Bing is still in the 16% range.
As Google comes over the top to bury the organic results by...
expanding the default AdWords ad units to have longer headlines and a boatload of extensions
entering broad consumer verticals like books and finance and offering customized local results
running self serving ads in a bunch of categories like project management and even wedding planning
...they kill a lot of opportunity as their ecosystem becomes more closed and perverted.
If the trends hold true, then in some cases it seems like Google might drive SEOs below the fold for core keywords while still pushing strong traffic into tail. Bing still doesn't have the index depth to match Google's relevancy on longtail keywords, but at least they are not crowding out the organic results anywhere near as aggressively on core keywords.
How are you seeing Bing fare against Yahoo! & Google? Are you seeing growth from Bing? What sorts of sites are you seeing Bing do well on & what sorts of sites are you seeing Bing do poorly on?
A few months back I was running Advanced Web Ranking and noticed that Google and Bing were really starting to come in line on some keywords.
Of course there are still differences between Bing and Google.
Google has far more usage data built up over the years & a huge market share advantage over Bing in literally every global market. Microsoft's poor branding in search meant they had roughly 0 leverage in the marketplace until they launched the Bing brand. That longer experience in search is likely what gives Google the confidence to have a much deeper crawl.
That head start also means that Google has been working on understanding word meanings and adjusting their vocabulary far longer, which also gives them the confidence to be able to use word relationships more aggressively (when Bing came to market part of their ad campaign was built on teasing Google for this). The last big difference from an interface perspective would be that Google forces searchers down certain paths with their Google Instant search suggestions.
Who Copied Who?
But the similarities between the search engines are far greater than their differences.
At the core of Google's search relevancy algorithm is PageRank and link analysis. Bing places a lot of weight on those as well.
Google also factors in the domain name into their relevancy algorithms. So does Bing.
Google has long had universal search & Bing copied it.
Google has tried to innovate by localizing search results. Bing localizes results as well.
Bing moved the right rail ads closer to the organic search results. Google copied them.
Bing put a fourth ad above the organic search results. Google began listing vertical CPA ad units for mortgages and credit cards above the organic search results - a fourth ad unit.
Bing has a homepage background image. Google copied them by allowing you to upload a personalized homepage logo.
Bing offers left rail navigation to filter the search results. Google copied them by offering the same.
Bing innovated in travel search. Google is trying to buy the underlying data provider ITA Software.
Bing included Freebase content in their search results. Google bought Metawebs, which owns Freebase.
Bing offered infinite scroll and a unique image search experience that highlights the images. Google copied it.
Oh, The Outrage
Off the start Bing was playing catch up, but almost anything they have ever tried which has truly differentiated their experience ended up copied by Google. Recently Google conducted a black PR campaign to smear Bing for using usage data across multiple search engines to improve their relevancy. The money quote would be:
Those results from Google are then more likely to show up on Bing. Put another way, some Bing results increasingly look like an incomplete, stale version of Google results—a cheap imitation.
Perhaps why Google finds this so annoying is that it allows Microsoft to refine their "crawl" & relevancy process on tail keywords, which are the hardest ones to get right (because as engines get deeper into search they have fewer signals to work with and a lot more spam). It allows Microsoft to conduct tests which compare their own internal algorithms against Google's top listings on the fly & learn from them. It takes away some of Google's economies of scale advantages.
Is Google Eating Its Own Home Cooking (And Throwing UP?)
Here is what I don't get about Google's complaints though. Google had no problem borrowing a half-dozen innovations from Bing. But this is how Google describes Bing's "nefarious" activities:
“It’s cheating to me because we work incredibly hard and have done so for years but they just get there based on our hard work,” said Singhal. “I don’t know how else to call it but plain and simple cheating. Another analogy is that it’s like running a marathon and carrying someone else on your back, who jumps off just before the finish line.”
When a content site compiles reviews, creates editorial features to highlight the best reviews (and best reviewers), and works to create algorithms to filter out junk and spam then Google is fine with Google eating all that work for free. Google then jumps off their backs just before the finish line and throws the repurposed reviews in front of Google searchers.
This public blanket admission of Microsoft using clickstream data for relevancy purposes is helpful. But outside of the PR smear campaign from Google there wasn't much new to learn here, as this has been a bit of an open secret amongst those in the know in the search space for well over a year now.
But the idea of using existing traffic stream data as a signal increases the value of having a strong diversified traffic flow which leverages:
Recently we tested adding ads on one of our websites that had a fairly uninspired design on it. After adding the ads (which make the site feel a bit less credible) the new design was so much better fitting than the old one that the site now gets 26% more pageviews per visit. Anytime you can put something on your website which increases monetization, sends visitors away & yet still get more user engagement you are making a positive change!
If You Can't Beat Em, Filter
I was being a bit of a joker when I created this, but the point remains that as larger search engines force feed junk (content mills and vertical search results) down end user's throats that some of the best ways for upstart search engines to compete is to filter that stuff out. Both DuckDuckGo and Blekko have done just that.
In case you didn't look at the stock market today, Bloomberg highlighted what investors think of the Yahoo! / Microsoft deal
“This deal was a big disappointment,” said Moran, an analyst in Boca Raton, Florida. “They needed this deal, and it shows in terms of how the negotiations were concluded.”
...Because Their CEO Did Not Grasp the Importance of Search
In the same article Yahoo!'s CEO justified the Yahoo!/Microsoft search deal as something that clears fog:
“The priority was not to do the deal,” Bartz, 60, said in an interview. “The priority was to get the fog away from the company. Yahoo got pegged as a search company and we’re not a search company. Search is only one aspect of what our customers do.”
To look at the highest margin and highest income piece of a business and call it fog is absurd.
How Search Sets a Baseline
Search is the most direct way to target ads at consumers. It is easy to establish a baseline values and measure change. It allows you to implement (and advertise) new product ideas at no cost.
The other important baseline evolving search sets is the difference between spam and value added content. If you have ever read any of Google's leaked remote quality rater documents you would see that the search result itself is a lower threshold to force the evolution of media.
Web Search Holds Everything Together
A lot of Yahoo!'s properties are somewhat average, but not remarkable. Some of them succeed ONLY because they are a part of the Yahoo! family of websites. Web search is the glue that holds the pieces together.
Search is the most profitable online ad market and having a big stake of that market allows them to promote their other business interests in a cheap & targeted way. Selling off the search assets does not suddenly put them in a strong competitive position.
It does not suddenly make their thin content sites thicker and more valuable. If anything it will make it harder for their other sites to compete as it will require them to be thicker to stay competitive when they lose the subsidy they were getting from search.
Besides better exposure for its Bing search engine by placement throughout Yahoo!, Ballmer said, Microsoft hopes to improve the quality of its searches by analyzing over a decade of data Yahoo! has on how people search. The data improves search quality for everything from correcting misspelled words to likely patterns of search behavior.
Danny highlighted how much worse this deal is for Yahoo! than the deal offered last year in a side by side comparison and wrote a search eulogy. Yahoo! spent a couple billion dollars acquiring Overture/AltaVista, Inktomi, and AllTheWeb. And they sold it for $0!
Microsoft will acquire an exclusive 10 year license to Yahoo!’s core search technologies, and Microsoft will have the ability to integrate Yahoo! search technologies into its existing web search platforms;
Microsoft’s Bing will be the exclusive algorithmic search and paid search platform for Yahoo! sites. Yahoo! will continue to use its technology and data in other areas of its business such as enhancing display advertising technology.
Yahoo! will become the exclusive worldwide relationship sales force for both companies’ premium search advertisers. Self-serve advertising for both companies will be fulfilled by Microsoft’s AdCenter platform, and prices for all search ads will continue to be set by AdCenter’s automated auction process.
Each company will maintain its own separate display advertising business and sales force.
Yahoo! will innovate and “own” the user experience on Yahoo! properties, including the user experience for search, even though it will be powered by Microsoft technology.
Microsoft will compensate Yahoo! through a revenue sharing agreement on traffic generated on Yahoo!’s network of both owned and operated (O&O) and affiliate sites.
Microsoft will pay traffic acquisition costs (TAC) to Yahoo! at an initial rate of 88% of search revenue generated on Yahoo!’s O&O sites during the first 5 years of the agreement.
Yahoo! will continue to syndicate its existing search affiliate partnerships.
Microsoft will guarantee Yahoo!’s O&O revenue per search (RPS) in each country for the first 18 months following initial implementation in that country.
At full implementation (expected to occur within 24 months following regulatory approval), Yahoo! estimates, based on current levels of revenue and current operating expenses, that this agreement will provide a benefit to annual GAAP operating income of approximately $500 million and capital expenditure savings of approximately $200 million. Yahoo! also estimates that this agreement will provide a benefit to annual operating cash flow of approximately $275 million.
The agreement protects consumer privacy by limiting the data shared between the companies to the minimum necessary to operate and improve the combined search platform, and restricts the use of search data shared between the companies. The agreement maintains the industry-leading privacy practices that each company follows today.
What is not in the deal terms is that Yahoo! will slowly erode search market share to Bing. By the end of the 10 year period Yahoo! could become AOL.
I've been trying out Google's Chrome browser. I like it. I really do.
I like Chrome mainly because it is fast. Faster than Firefox, anyway. However, I'll be alternating between the two browsers, because Firefox has a plethora of useful plug-ins that Chrome lacks.
Like many Firefox converts, I haven't looked at Internet Explorer for some time now.
Microsoft have recently released IE8, so I thought I'd evaluate it in terms of search, and contrast it with the functionality and positioning of Chrome. Many in the internet community have speculated that Chrome is going to eat Microsoft's lunch, and not just in the browser space, but with the ushering in of cloud computing. Is this plausible?
Let's take a look.
You can download IE8 Beta from here. As usual, you'll have to sign your soul, and those of your yet unborn children, etc, etc over to Microsoft, and then reboot.
Goodbye Google Toolbar
You run through the inevitable setup screens. The first search-related issue I noticed was that Google's toolbar wasn't compatible with IE8 beta, and asks me if I want to disable it. Is a bug, feature, or a market position? ;)
Next up, IE8 asks you if you want to use "Express Settings", which means that the search provider will default to your existing default, and just about everything else defaults to Microsoft products or services. Internet Explorer also wants to become your default browser. At this point, you can opt for Custom Settings, and modify each setting individually.
Pretty flexible, really. If you want to opt out of Microsoft services, you can do so easily.
The Search Wars
My main reason for looking at IE8 is in terms of search. What functionalities do you get, and how is this browser positioned against Google?
One feature, called Search Suggestions, offers, naturally enough, search suggestions. Like the equivalent Google feature, IE8 will try to guess what keyword you are search for a prompt you with suggestions as you type. This feature works with many different search providers (Google, Yahoo!, Live) and large ecommerce and content sites (Amazon.com, eBay, Wikipedia), which makes the search box a nice keyword research tool, but nothing new to most of us, I'm sure.
Note that this type-ahead feature, like on all browsers offering type-ahead suggestions, will send your search queries to your search provider, even if you don't hit send. Matt Cutts, perhaps sensitive to the privacy concerns aimed at Google, makes the point in this comment he posted on GoogleBlogoscoped that " if "Suggested Sites" is on, "your web browsing history is sent to Microsoft, .... the addresses of websites you visit are sent to Microsoft, together with some standard information from your computer such as IP address, browser type, regional and language settings.....".
How Will This Affect SEO?
An aspect SEOs need to consider is how the widespread implementation of search suggest is going to affect SEO. In this post, Aaron talks about how search suggest is likely to force a consolidation around the most popular terms. This has implications for those going after the long tail, but also provides new SEO opportunities, especially if you have a brand that incorporates popular search terms.
Explorer also allows search suggestion from any provider, which can be a useful SEO tool, in itself.
IE8 also offer Visual Search, which provides pictures to help you select a result. This didn't seem to work for me, but I did notice that a search on "Seattle Weather", the search term suggested by Microsoft, did bring up a page featuring advertisements for Australian outdoor sportswear suppliers. Reminds me how far other providers have to go in this text ad space in order to catch up with Google. It wasn't until I dug around a bit further that I discovered that you need to install search providers. Even then, it wasn't playing well, giving me a string of error messages.
Still, problems are to be expected in a beta release.
Other improvements include search history matching, a useful "Find On Page" button added to the instant search box, and the ability to drag the search box in order to change the width. A few nice touches.
Forced Search Provider?
On the Microsoft global-domination conspiracy front, far from locking you in, Microsoft have made it rather easy to configure IE8 to incorporate your choice of search provider. It wants to default to Live Search, but you can easily select Google, or other services. The pull-down search box provides options to add more. So, good marks in terms of flexibility.
There are various other features, including InPrivate browsing, which supposedly blocks ads and prevents people tracking you across the web. As it isn't search related, I won't review it, other than to say it is good that the user has to jump through a few hoops to enable it. Love 'em or hate 'em, web ads enable the production of a lot of "free" web content. If ads were turned off by default, many sites would simply cease to exist, or start charging for content. Full marks to Microsoft for leaving this option to the power users.
IE8 Vs Chrome
Now, contrast these features with Google's Chrome.
Did you find Chrome noticeably faster than your existing browser, be it Firefox or IE?
Speed was the deciding factor for me. On the internet, speed is (nearly) everything. IE8 didn't strike me as being any faster than Firefox, and certainly a lot slower than Chrome.
In this respect, IE8 feels like an update to an existing product, as opposed to a game changer. Chrome feels like a game-changer, even though, when pushed, I can't put my finger on exactly why this is. I think it may come down to the usability gains of extra speed, especially if your day to day use orients a search function. IE8 is adding functions, desktop application-stylee, while Google is busy taking features out in order to simplify and minimize.
If cloud computing is to take off, then the browser is going to need to need the speed of an application, and it is going to need to be simple and transparent in order for people to bother migrating.
Application-Centric Vs Web Centric
Chrome explains itself better. The Google information pages tell a cohesive story, whilst Microsoft's story appears scattered and a little confused. I'd liken Chrome to an Ipod. It lacks features some users might demand, but it works right out of the box for most people. Microsoft IE8 is, well....Microsoft. It feels more application centric.
Perhaps that says something about the web strategy of the respective companies. Google wants to pull users out of their existing habits, and into the Google web, whilst Microsoft needs to integrate existing application users with the web.
A subtle difference, but there nonetheless.
Have Your Say
What are your thoughts? Have you tried both new browsers?
cNet recently covered a new Microsoft Search research paper on BrowseRank [PDF]. The theory behind the concept of BrowseRank is that rather than using links (PageRank) as the backbone of a relevancy algorithm, you could look at actual usage data from hundreds of millions of users.
Since there are more web users than webmasters BrowseRank would be a more democratic system, but many users are mislead and/or easily influenced by social media, public relations, and some referral spam strategies, so BrowseRank could surface some low quality temporal information, making manipulating Digg and other "firehose of traffic" sources more valuable than they perhaps should be. Although if certain referrals were blocked (Digg, StumbleUpon, etc.) and/or BrowseRank was combined with a blended search strategy (like how Google mixes Google News in their organic results) Microsoft could have a bit more confidence in waiting out some traffic spikes to see if traffic is sustained. And this potential shortfall (if managed properly) could actually lead to a major advantage over the stale effect of PageRank. If you create non-resource hyped up piece of linkbait that gets a quick rush of links and never gains any more votes then why should that page have a lot of authority to pass around your site?
BrowseRank can look at user time on site to help determine if the site was of quality, and perhaps even normalize for page length, but what happens if a page is really good at answering a common question? Even if people only ask it once in a great while quality content should not be penalized for great formatting, ease of use, and a great user experience - though as search evolves search engines will keep displaying more content in the search results, license specialized data, and answer many common questions directly in the search results.
In addition to looking at traffic that comes via links, BrowseRank also identifies direct URL visits via bookmarks or typing in URLs. These types of traffic sources
are considered "green traffic" because the pages visited in this way are safe, interesting, and/or important for users.
Such an algorithm would add value to direct navigation keyword rich URLs. Another obvious extension of such an algorithm would be identifying brand specific searches and URL searches, and bucketing those referrals into the green category as well.
To encourage such branded search queries and long user interactions it would be better to create strong communities with repeat visitors and many web based tools rather than allowing useful user interactions occur through browser extensions.
Another big issue with BrowseRank is that it highlights many social media sites. The issue with social media is that any piece of content is generally only relevant to a small number of people and most of the content is irrelevant to the population at large. Unless the search engine had a lot of personalized data promoting the general purpose social media sites would be blunderous - surfacing lots of results that are irrelevant, spam, or both.
One of the big advantages PageRank has over BrowseRank is an economic one.
People are more likely to link at informational resources, thus surfacing those pages and sites higher in the search results.
This gives Google's organic search results an informational bias which makes searchers more likely to click on Google's paid ads when performing a commercial search.
Google also has the ability to arbitrarily police links and/or strip PageRank scores to 0 with the intent to fearmonger and add opportunity cost to anyone who gathers enough links pointing at a (non-corporate owned) commercial domain. This layer of social engineering coerces publishers to create the type of content Google likes to rank.
Microsoft is testing placing ads and an interactive media environment on shopping carts:
Cardholders will be able to visit a website and plan their shopping list that will then appear on a cart-attached screen when they get to the store and swipe their card.
The screen will display the price of items that shoppers place in the carts and a running tally of the total; moreover, ads, coupons and incentives will also be displayed as shoppers walk around the store.
The instant-feedback nature of such incentives will give advertisers real-time results on which prompts worked and which didn't.
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Step 2: Download Excel Trial & Ad Intelligence Plug-in
Ad Intelligence is a new cutting edge keyword tool from Microsoft which will probably force Google to make better keyword tools. All of this data is free as long as you have a Microsoft AdCenter account (you can set one up for $5, and get free ad money using the above coupon) and a copy of Microsoft Excel (the Ad Intelligence link below allows you to download a free trial of Excel).
Some samples of the kinds of data you can get from Microsoft Ad Intelligence:
keyword ad data
related keywords to advertise on
spiky keywords (recently hot search volume)
URL related keywords (site related key words)
Background Data Information Reviewed
Here are some of the sweet features of Microsoft Ad Intelligence:
Keyword wizard: Allows you to extract keywords based on a list of keyword in excel, a given vertical, or a given URL. Then it allows you to generate an expanded keyword list based on category similarity, keyword bidding association, or keywords containing the core keyword. Then it allows you to export an output of estimated search volume, clicks, ad position, ad CTR, and click cost for a given date range and match type.
keyword extraction: Extract keywords based on an input URL. Can set maximum keywords from 1 to 100, and can set a minimum confidence level of relevancy.
keyword suggestion: suggest keywords based on aggregate advertiser behavior, keywords containing the core keyword, or keywords that are deemed to be similar based on category similarity
search buzz: Top category keywords based on 22 core categories and about a couple hundred subcategories. The spiky tool uses the same categories but is focused on spiky keywords, and includes spiky index, spike start date, and spike end date. You can also set it to "all verticals" to discover leading overall spiky keywords or leading common search queries.
monthly traffic: Monthly search volumes for keywords, and forecasts for the next 3 months. Also offers a daily search volume option.
keyword categorization: Identifies categories that a keyword belongs to.
geographic: Shows the geographic breakdown of a search query.
demographic: Shows date range and male vs female breakdown stats of keywords.
monetization: Allows you to view ad impressions, ad clicks, CTR, and CPC by category.
advanced algorithms: Allows you to change date ranges and other variables for the above tools.
Try it Today
Step 1: Create Your Microsoft Ad Center Advertiser Account
Open your Microsoft AdCenter account. Bing and Yahoo! Search expand the reach of your business to millions of monthly users.
Are you from the United States? Use this $50 coupon.
In 2005 Fast again appeared on the web search scene when they started powering organic search results for Miva, but they do not have their own search destination. Earlier this year Fast made noise about creating an independent ad network that allowed publishers to keep the bulk of the profits, but OpenAds already exists, and I have not heard much of Fast's proposed AdMomentum after the initial hype.
Fast recently missed quarterly numbers and changed their accounting practices. They do not have a great business model compared to Google (enterprise search is nowhere near as profitable as web search). If general web search relevancy moves beyond measuring links and more toward user feedback perhaps owning Fast would help Microsoft increase their core relevancy algorithms, and enterprise relationships can probably help them cross sell web ads too.
Update: Fast is to lead the Pharos search project, which will be funded in part by European governments. If Google gets regulated out of market domination in Europe then Microsoft may have bought a key competitive piece.
Potential search plays later this year:
IAC is only worth about $7.2 billion. Earlier this year they announced that they are planning on spinning off into 5 major companies. Perhaps when that is done Microsoft, eBay, or Amazon.com should try to buy Ask.
If you watch the Bill Gates CES speech (online here), at about 35 minutes in he talks about how Microsoft will power NBC's online video distribution for the Olympics. At about 41 minutes in they mentioned that there are 10 million members on Xbox live.