Friday, 31 August 2007

Google updates website penalty notifications

Google's Webmaster Blog has reported a change to their system of notifying website owners about indexing penalties, due to violations of their Webmaster Guidelines (such as spammy search engine optimisation techniques).

At the end of 2005 Google started to email website owners to notify them that their site had been removed from the search index due to violations of their guidelines - which was very decent of them to make webmasters aware that their 'dodgy' techniques had been spotted! However, several months ago Google had to stop this practice following some fake messages being sent out and instead, they started to post messages within the Webmaster Console.

This was fine, so long as you had set up access to the set of webmaster tools provided by Google and of course plenty of websites hadn't and therefore the warning messages were not being received. Now Google has decided to continue with the emails again and also post the messages in the Webmaster Console, with the intention of these remaining in place for websites that aren't even registered, so that once they do a copy of the message will be waiting for the webmaster!

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Wednesday, 29 August 2007

MyLiveSearch launches in beta

A brand new search engine is launched today that claims to be the world's first real-time search engine that can access the most current online information and delve further into the 'invisible web' that most search engines fail to index. It's being heralded as another new competitor to threaten Google's dominance, but how good is it?

MyLiveSearch has been developed in Melbourne by brothers Robert and Mark Gabriel. Having just been launched in beta, this search engine was apparently been in conceptual development for 10 years although it has only become possible due to broadband and the increasing power of home PCs. Using 'revolutionary technology' the strapline for the site is the 'World's first live search engine, you're in control'.

To make the search work you first need to install a plug-in (available for IE and Firefox). Once this is in place and you conduct a search, MyLiveSearch firstly retrieves results from Google (or you can change your default search engine of choice) and then your computer takes over through the use of 'spiral technology' to access these and more sites to present the most up-to-date information or to delve deeper into sites that the search engines haven't reached.

As the initial search results appear they begin to constantly change as the live search element kicks in. This can be quite disconcerting at first, although you can stop the process. Against each of the results are displayed their source and age - whether the listing is from Google and how old the content is, or whether the information has been accessed by the MyLiveSearch tool, which can make the age of the content just seconds old.

There are also advanced search options, such as a slider bar to put more weighting on standard web results or news stories, or you can restrict searches to some specified domains or to your own bookmarks. MyLiveSearch looks impressive but time will tell if users find the results any better than those supplied by Google. For some specific searches there can be a tendency for the results to display a large number of page listings from the same domain which is not very helpful, but it's still in beta and these things could be fixed as it develops.

The owners of MyLiveSearch will need to spend a large amount of money to promote awareness of this site (and to differentiate it from Microsoft's branded 'Live Search'), or if it's really good then they could benefit from word-of-mouth a very habit driven market. The main disadvantage will be the need to download the plug-in, which has always been a barrier to getting widespread use of search tools in the past, but it is worth trying and should be considered as another search option to use if you can't find information you need.

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Monday, 27 August 2007

Video search engines compared

Although YouTube appears to be ubiquitous when it comes to online video, there are plenty of other sites and search tools that exist to support this rapidly expanding online medium. A recent article published by The Wall Street Journal reviews 4 of the main video search tools - as well as YouTube, the article compared Yahoo! Video, Blinkx and the relaunched Truveo search tool.

The article provides a useful summary of the 4 different tools and looks at the way that results are displayed and how accurate they can be. As ever, the message is that whilst Google (and YouTube) may be the automatic first port of call to find information or videos on the web, there are other tools available that can be just as good, or better, and deserve a try!

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Friday, 24 August 2007

Content targeting with Microsoft adCenter

In a further move to compete with the Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing PPC tools, Microsoft adCenter have announced the introduction of content targeted adverts on their US-focused PPC accounts. These will come into effect at the end of August and advertisers are being notified so that they have the option of using this additional coverage (by default) or to block their ads from this coverage.

As with the other PPC tools, content targeted advertising extends the reach of your PPC adverts to other non-search websites. These tend to be third-party websites that have signed up to carry the PPC ads from one of the leading providers, in return for a share of the revenue. Content targeted adverts can be less focused although the theory is that the PPC adverts are matched to appear on pages where the content is related to the search terms that are being bid upon. In most cases, users of these sites may not be actively searching but advertisers can pick up 'passing traffic' and this coverage can sometimes attract some good conversions.

At the moment it appears that Microsoft will be displaying their adCenter PPC adverts on other Microsoft/MSN websites, but their intention will be to extend their network and enable advertisers to achieve wide coverage for their adverts. Google already holds a very good share of the content targeted market and has become more open about the sites being used and the results being achieved, so it will be interesting to see how much of an inroad Microsoft's new service can make into this sector.

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Wednesday, 22 August 2007

"Dodging Google sheriff"

An article with this title was published in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday and provided a detailed summary of the current trends in the SEO market, plus Google's attempts to combat search spam. Read the full story here.

It's mostly a well researched and written piece, giving a good balance to the sector and the way techniques have changed over recent years. One very relevant comment about SEO says that "it's increasingly the case that strong organic (search) rankings require an integrated effort from several disciplines (PR, writing, design, web development), making SEO a fundamental component of a web strategy rather than an afterthought".

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Tuesday, 21 August 2007

'Click fraud' resource centres

To counter the growing concerns and debate about click fraud in a PPC advertising campaign, both Yahoo! and Google have just launched some information pages explaining what it is, how it is measured and what they are doing to combat advertiser's concerns. Yahoo! launched their Traffic Quality Center first, which was quickly followed within the week by Google's own Ad Traffic Quality Resource Center. Neither of these information pages contain much new information, but they have now combined it all into a user friendly 'information centre' to try to ease the concerns of advertisers.

Yahoo!'s pages include background information and news on traffic quality and what click fraud is as well as how it is combated (in very general terms), plus there are guidelines on identifying fraud, how to submit a click investigation request and links to other resources. As Yahoo! states, their "commitment to traffic quality is not new. In fact, since 1998, our Click Protection System has been up and running 24/7 with the goal of filtering out bad clicks—helping to ensure that you’re only billed for the clicks that count. Like all such systems, it continues to evolve with the marketplace".

Google's new pages follow a similar pattern, with an explanation of what click fraud is and how Google identifies it and responds to the problem. There is a technical section with links to articles and other resources, plus some multimedia features and FAQs, as well as guidelines for contacting Google about the issue. Google's resource centre doesn't quite have the polish and depth of Yahoo!'s yet and could just be a quick reaction to Yahoo!'s PR move, but it's a good start and a useful resource for advertisers to refer to if they are concerned about the issue with their PPC campaigns.

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Monday, 20 August 2007

Advertising on social networks

A recent article by the International Herald Tribune summarises the challenges starting to face advertisers who want to take advantage of the growing popularity of social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo. As the increase in global advertising spending on social networks is forecast to grow to $3.6 billion by 2011, up from just $445 million this year - according to eMarketer - then the opportunities and issues facing advertisers becomes more of a factor.

The article recounts recent cases where leading brand name advertisers have placed ads on some of these networks and found the 'associations' of their placement against ever-changing content to be unacceptable to their positioning. Clearly the owners of these sites need to manage advertising placement to avoid these concerns if the market is to grow, but at the same time advertisers need to consider the focus of their campaigns whilst still taking advantage of the huge traffic numbers that can be reached.

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Friday, 17 August 2007

Google Pack add Sun StarOffice software

In a further challenge to Microsoft, Google has announced the addition of Sun's StarOffice software to its 'Google Pack' - a downloadable package of free software products produced by Google or other partners.

The StarOffice package usually retails for around US$70 but is not available for free as part of the Google Pack downloads. It provides word processing, spreadsheets and presentation software which is compatible with Microsoft's popular Office software and performs all the main functions that most users would need, plus there is an automatic PDF export function. Google offers their own word processing and spreadsheet products although these are online services and may not have attracted the take-up that Google would have liked.

This new inclusion with Sun's software should help to increase the downloads of Google's suite of software products and, through the close cooperation between these companies, put Google in a stronger position to take share away from Microsoft's current monopoly in the PC applications market.

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Thursday, 16 August 2007

Microsoft's web search showing 'positive' growth

Reuters have reported a press statement made by Microsoft this week that claims their web search business remains on a "positive trajectory" - a suitably vague statement that could be interpreted any number of ways! This was supported by their claim that Windows Live Search gained market share over competitors in the quarter ended in June, although of course it remains a long way behind Google, particularly in the non-US market.

The company said that there are plans to roll out a series of updates over the next 12 months with new releases of the search platform and services. Microsoft is also trying to develop its AdCenter PPC service to gain share from Google AdWords and Yahoo!'s new-look Search Marketing service, although the underlying driver for making this grow will come from a bigger share of the search market to attract new advertisers.

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Wednesday, 15 August 2007

People search engines

The concept of 'Googling' someone to find information about them online as long been popular for business or personal reasons, with sometimes surprising results. Some figures have placed searches for people at around 30% of total search traffic. The growth of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, as well as numerous personal blogs has also increased the amount of information available online about individuals.

There's now a growing trend for personal search engines to be launched, many of which scour the social networking sites to combine available information about people. The official launch of Spock this month follows the earlier start-up of Wink - both sites offering search access to people information and with ambitions to index information on every person that has some online presence.

Spock has been in beta for some time and claims to have over 100 million people already indexed by its search engine. Initially information is provided from data collected from other sources, but individuals have the option to take control of their profiles (a great way to attract traffic to the site) and to view which sources were used for the original information shown.

There are concerns about privacy and the widespread availability of information which could be used for identity theft, so the warning is to take care what information is being posted. Even so, these type of search tools could grow in popularity and become a valuable resource for a variety of reasons.

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Monday, 13 August 2007

Google AdWords introduce new bidding formula

In a move to stay ahead of the new Yahoo! Search Marketing PPC system, Google AdWords have announced a new bid formula to enable advertisers to take higher ranking positions within the sponsored results. According to Google, the change is "designed to improve the quality of our ad results, and to give you more control over achieving top ad placement".

The ranking position of an advert within the Google AdWords results is determined by the bid price and Quality Score, which is based on a number of criteria that Google uses to calculate this. The bid price actually results in an average Cost-Per-Click (CPC) for a search term, which is determined by advertisers bidding below your own bid price - so for example, although you might be bidding 50c for a term, if the next placed advertiser bids 25c, then your CPC will be 26c.

However, what Google is saying is that these lower advertiser bids drag your own CPC down, which means that you may not be able to achieve a higher ranking. Therefore the new changes mean that your maximum bid price will play a more important role in determining your advert position and is something that you have more control over.

It also means, of course, that your average CPC could increase too, but this would need to be tested on a term by term basis, since there are so many factors in play - including the Quality Score issues - that it can be hard to determine how one factor may change the dynamics of a campaign, plus if all advertisers bidding on a term use this new system to boost their ad rankings, then the average CPC is likely to rise as well.

Google continues to set a minimum bid price for the top positions above the main search results, although they continue to stress that the better quality the advert and landing page, then the option to reduce the minimum bid level improves. This can be quite a complicated system to grasp, particularly for new advertisers, and although Google likes to focus on quality and relevancy, cynics will also see this as a move to increase their revenues further.

Google says that this new system shouldn't create dramatic changes, but some advertisers may see movements in the positions of their ads, either up or down, which could also results in a change in the average number of clicks and average CPCs for impacted ads. As a cautionary warning, Google's help notes say "be sure to check your stats regularly and adapt your campaigns as you see fit. " One useful tip is that if you don’t want ads that usually appear in high positions alongside search results (on the right) to appear above search results (on the left), then you do need to check that their maximum CPCs are not dramatically higher than the actual CPCs being reported.

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Thursday, 9 August 2007

Internet advertising sees further growth

The latest quarterly figures just released by the Internet Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers show further growth in the Australian Internet advertising market, which continues to run at a higher rate than any other media sector.

In the last quarter (April-June), spending on Internet advertising was up by 44% on the same period in 2006, reaching just over $325 million. Search advertising continues to take the majority share of this spend, with over $145m (45%) spent in the period and a 77% increase over the previous year. However, these figures don't represent as high a growth rate year-on-year as the previous quarterly period, which could indicate an early sign of the rapid increases of previous years now starting to slow.

This is the second quarterly report compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers since they took over the contract for tracking the spending trends on behalf of the IAB. The Search and Directories spend sector continues to be an estimated figure due to Google not releasing their figures, which could account for over 80% of this market.

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Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Google 'drops' Supplemental Results

After some speculation, Google has announced that it would be removing the Supplemental Results from the search index. However, this only relates to the tagging of these results - noted in the green URL/information line below the search listing - rather than the pages themselves.

These Supplemental Results have existed for many years and represent pages that are seen as less important by Google's indexing criteria, although they can still be displayed within quite specific search results. However, lately the number of supplemental results have become an issue with web marketers, who can identify the pages and then make changes to try to re-establish them within the the main indexes. At the moment, the method of displaying these pages still works, although this may also disappear.

So Google is now 'hiding' the pages that are identified as Supplemental, although the categorisation and use of these pages will still remain. It will just become harder for website owners to identify these, although the basic principles of avoiding pages becoming Supplemental will remain - unique fresh content and a good link structure being the primary considerations.

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Monday, 6 August 2007

SEO for videos

Now that Google's 'universal search' results are starting to appear, the role of videos within these results can be quite prominent. As a result, the need to optimise videos so that they can rank well for relevant searches in gaining importance.

A recent article from Advertising Age reviews the way that video optimisation is developing, from the basic rankings provided by YouTube, to the more specialised video search tools like Blinkx. However, since Google still attracts the vast majority of search traffic, the need to optimise videos so that they can perform well in these results is vital.

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Thursday, 2 August 2007

Web marketing newsletter for August

The latest monthly issue of our regular newsletter on web search and marketing trends has just been published. This covers some of the stories previously featured in the Workbench blog, including the new Smart Ads option launched by Yahoo!, how the main search engines have been updating their privacy policies, and a look at some of the new reports being offered by Google AdWords.

If you want to sign up for future issues of this newsletter, please do so by using the form at the bottom of this page. To view back issues of this newsletter you can see the archive by date or by subject.

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Wednesday, 1 August 2007

The latest click fraud debate

The recent publication of the quarterly figures on click fraud by US firm Click Forensics has sparked the ongoing debate again between search engines and the growing number of monitoring companies, who accuse each other of misleading data and incorrect interpretations of click fraud within the PPC advertising market.

The new Click Forensics data suggests that the average click fraud rate in the 2nd Quarter of 2007 was 15.8%, although the big networks - Google and Yahoo! - accounted for 25.6% of all fraudulent traffic during this period. Yahoo! responded to say that advertisers hadn't been charged for 12-15% of all clicks through its network. Google questioned the whole methodology being used by Click Forensics and say that the figures are being inflated incorrectly to generate concern amongst advertisers (and to promote the benefits of the Click Forensics service).

Of course both sides of this argument have their own agendas and are unlikely to agree a correct definition and methodology to track fraudulent activity. There will always be an element of wasted traffic that's impossible to track, but getting an accurate view of identifiable fraud would need closer cooperation and the sharing of data between both parties, which is unlikely to happen.

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