Friday, 28 September 2007

Microsoft introduces 'blended search' results

The New York Times has reported on a major updating by Microsoft of its Live Search service, in that it is changing the way that search results will be displayed. For example, a search for product information will now include photos and links to reviews and shopping information as part of the search results, with additional information being taken from sites like Amazon and PriceGrabber.

Microsoft will also be extending this approach to other types of searches, such as for local businesses, health information and entertainment. Satya Nadella, the corporate VP of the search and advertising platform group at Microsoft is quoted as saying about this new range of results that: “We call it blended search...We’re giving you instant answers.”

He also says that the idea is to try to anticipate what users want, yet in reality this appears to be little different from the 'universal search' format introduced previously by Google, or the new style of results on Ask - in a move by Microsoft to at least be level with the market, rather than to move it forward significantly.

Perhaps more realistically, Nadella is quoted as saying that his goal was not necessarily to steal customers from Google, but rather to entice Microsoft’s millions of users to turn to the service more frequently. This comes as ComScore reports that Google accounted for 56.5% of all web searches in the US in August, up nearly 10 percentage points from a year earlier. Yahoo was a distant second with 23.3% of the market, followed by Microsoft with 11.3% and Ask.com and AOL with 4.5%.

With Google becoming synonymous with 'search' on the Internet, they continue to establish what appears to be an unassailable position, with an even greater share of the search market in countries like the UK and Australia. Any developments that Google add have to be replicated by the other search tools to retain a similar offering, whereas new developments by the other main search tools - such as Ask's recent enhancements - seem to struggle to gain any new market share against user's conservative search behaviour and reliance on Google's results.

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Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Microsoft to buy stake in Facebook?

Facebook, the current social networking 'fad' continues to attract significant news coverage. The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft has made an approach to Facebook's owners for a 5% share of the business in return to around $300-$500m. This is yet another potential battleground between Microsoft and Google (as well as possibly Yahoo!) to gain a share of the high traffic web properties. Microsoft's main aim at the moment may just be to keep Facebook away from their rivals and then consider ways to make the investment profitable.

At the same time, an article in Advertising Age says that the New York Attorney General is investigating the safety measures in place on Facebook after receiving reports from undercover investigators - posing as underage users - that they repeatedly received sexual approaches through the social network and could also access unsuitable material. Added to this, Facebook was reported to be slow to respond to direct contact with concerns about these issues.

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Monday, 24 September 2007

Using conversion tracking to measure ROI

The second part of the guide to ROI being posted on Google's Inside AdWords blog covers the use of the conversion tracking code that's provided free to AdWords advertisers (who use the Standard Edition). If any form of 'action' is taken on a website, then the conversion tracking code should be used, plus if a value to the action - such as a sale, enquiry or newsletter sign-up - can be assigned, then this can be included in the code and then reported in the AdWords stats.

The value figure can either be set as a static amount for every action, or transaction, or if products or actions generate different levels of profit, then the value can be dynamically generated from each conversion. The article provides an initial overview to the process of setting up the value criteria within an AdWords account and also has links to other useful resources or guides.

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Google AdWords email scam

A possible new email scam has come to our attention that relates to Google AdWords accounts. One of our clients received an email that would appear to come from Google Adwords regarding the approval status of an advert within the account, claiming that an advert includes a Pop-Up.

However, on closer inspection it is a scam that closely mimics the legitimate Google AdWords email but the link to the account login page - where you can review the status of the advert - goes to a URL that is not a Google domain (in this case to a domain called cycle-trader.info). Therefore if a user logs in to this page to view their account they are potentially exposing the account details to the scammers and, although billing details should be secure, they will have access to the full AdWords account information.

Therefore if you have a Google AdWords account please check that any you receive from Google (or possibly from Yahoo or Microsoft regarding their PPC accounts) has a legitimate URL for the login page link, or the landing page is also a Google URL as the email link may redirect to the scammer's site. The email should also include your AdWords account number which you can check to see if this is correct, but if you login to your account, do so from the main Google site and not from the link in the email.

This scam is just one of the numerous malicious emails that are sent out every day to generate 'phishing' attacks to get user login details to bank accounts or other secure sites, or to circulate viruses. There is also an email now circulating that appears to come from Microsoft regarding a security software update together with a link that tells you to download the update - DON'T DO IT! Microsoft has posted information about checking the legitimacy of emails from them.

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Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Google launches AdSense for Mobiles

The New York Times reports on Google's announcement that it will begin selling search ads on websites that can be viewed on mobile phones. This new product - called AdSense for Mobile - would work in the same way as the web-based system by displaying ads on mobile web pages based on keywords and site content. Advert prices will still be set through an auction bidding system and and advertisers will pay when a user clicks on its ad from the phone.

Google has been running a limited test of the system this year and this week it is opening the option to all mobile publishers in 13 countries, which are the United States, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Russia, Netherlands, Australia, India, China, and Japan. Google says that the ads would provide a new source of revenue for publishers and could also encourage more online sites to create mobile-focused websites - an area that remains slow to develop.

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Monday, 17 September 2007

Changes to Google Webmaster Tools

Google has announced a series of changes that are being made to the Webmaster Tools service, including a new interface and navigation system, plus subscriber statistics which can show RSS feed publishers the number of aggregated subscribers they have from other Google services, such as Google Reader and the personalised iGoogle search interface.

This comes on top of the recent changes made to the Webmaster Central landing page which provides website owners links to the range of services and tools being offered by Google to help manage and track site activity and performance. This includes Google Analytics and developer tools, as well as the range of gadgets that are available through iGoogle and Desktop Search which can also be added to webmasters' own sites.

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Friday, 14 September 2007

Search retargeting

An article on the ClickZ website reviews the use of 'search retargeting' which has been introduced by 24/7 Real Media's 'Global Web Alliance' network. This technique refers to the process of targeting dynamic display ads across the network of 950 advertiser sites, based on a consumer's search keyword queries and subsequent landing page visits on search engines, including Google, Yahoo, and MSN.

Search retargeting uses aggregate search data to serve banner advertising across the network of advertiser sites and has the benefit of being able to target more specifically than other forms of behavioural targeting, such as 'ad retargeting' which is based on a user's visit to an advertiser's website, rather than specific pages. Being able to track data beyond the home page of a site means that the creative on the display advertising can be adjusted based on the keyword or keyword group a user previously queried.

The number of display ads can be based on an advertiser's keyword portfolio and reflects the type of dynamic advert keyword targeting used in PPC campaigns, but adding a higher level of creative implementation. However, a big inventory of search terms can make a campaign very unwieldy but the system is scalable and advertisers need to test the effectiveness of different approaches.

24/7 Real Media say that although any advertiser can take advantage of search retargeting, the approach best serves retailers who can make their banner advertising more targeted and therefore effective, with higher clickthrough and conversion rates being reported, which also reflects the importance of online search behaviour to identify user behaviour and needs.

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Thursday, 13 September 2007

A guide to measuring ROI

ROI - Return on Investment - is a commonly used term but one that is often not measured effectively by advertisers who are running PPC campaigns, or any form of marketing for that matter.

The Inside AdWords blog, from Google, is posting a series of articles looking at ROI. The first piece , written by 'guest contributor' Fred Vallaeys, presents an overview of the issue, defining what ROI is and why it should be measured. It's a good, clearly written introduction to the subject and one that all PPC advertisers should read and then do something about!

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Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Offline behaviour driving online search

The results of a new research study reported by MediaPost look at data published by JupiterResearch on behalf of iProspect. The survey claims that 67% of the online search population is driven to search by offline channels. It also showed that 39% of online searchers who are influenced by offline channels ultimately make a purchase, suggesting that there is a close relationship between search and the various offline channels.

Using the hypothesis that search engine searches are growing more important to the majority of online users, the study set out to identify the importance and frequency of searches as well as the offline influences driving the prospect to the Internet, concluding with the behaviour of searchers in converting to a purchase.

The vast majority of the younger age group reported a growth of importance in performing queries on search engines, and a significant percentage of online users 25 and older reported the same. Almost 75% of online users who have been using the Internet for less than a year report that search has grown in importance to them, while more than 50% of online users with more than one year of Internet experience also agree with this statement.

Offline channels clearly influence a significant percentage of online search users, says the report, with TV and word of mouth influencing over one-third of online search users to perform a search, which is perhaps not entirely surprising and reflects the impact of brand awareness which we've noted before, as well as the growing influence of social networking and other Web 2.0 sites.

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Monday, 10 September 2007

US trademark case against Google dropped

A report by Cnet last week says that a long running trademark dispute over Google AdWords has been dropped in the US. The case by American Blind & Wallpaper Factory was first filed in 2003 as the company, who act as a reseller of window blinds, charged Google with trademark abuse due to the AdWords PPC system allowing competitors to buy ads that appear when consumers search the web for information on their business.

Google therefore seems to have successfully defended their practice of allowing advertisers to bid for keyword search words, even for trademarked terms, even though a number of similar cases have been lost in Europe. It would also appear that the American Blind & Wallpaper Factory may have had a weak case due to the use of generic terms within their company name.

Cnet's report says that neither party has accepted liability or wrongdoing, and they will both pay their own legal costs. American Blinds have stipulated that Google was paying nothing and making no change in policy in order for American Blinds to settle the case. According to a quote from Michael Kwun, Google's managing counsel for litigation, he stated that "From the start, we've said that American Blind & Wallpaper Factory's claims were baseless, and that Google's trademark policies are perfectly reasonable and lawful."

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Friday, 7 September 2007

Widgets as a marketing tool

A recent article in AdWeek examines how the use of 'widgets' - small online programmes that users can download to provide content or tools - are becoming a powerful new tool for marketers, particularly on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

The story reports that some advertisers are now viewing widgets as a potential replacement to banner advertising as they can blend brand awareness with a useful application that users will keep. They can also be used to drive traffic to an advertisers website or increase the number of inbound links.

A case study of STA Travel is included, looking at the ways they have used widgets to target student travellers, providing them with downloadable tools for their social network pages, such as a travel countdown clock, a 'to-do' list, destination weather and special travel deals.

The article also reports on the comScore widget tracking service that was launched in April and indicates that the number of people who view widgets has grown from 177.8 million to 239.3 million in June - a 35% increase. Although ComScore doesn't currently keep figures on the number of people who download widgets, they may introduce such a service in the future.

The challenge for advertisers is to now develop the use of widgets to their potential target market, looking at innovative applications and developing the technology and awareness to spread the usage of such tools.

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Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Trademarks on Microsoft adCenter

Microsoft have been notifying users of their adCenter PPC tool of changes to their trademark policy which comes into effect this month. As a result, advertisers may still use trademarked terms in their campaigns if they are the owner, an affiliate or reseller of trademarked products or services, or a site that 'uses the trademarked term in an informational, descriptive, or non-competitive manner'.

The change in policy is that it is now the advertiser's responsibility to obtain permission from the trademark owner to use a trademarked term in their ads. It will also be the trademark owner's responsibility to address ongoing incorrect usage of their trademark term/s directly with third-party advertisers. So Microsoft adCenter is basically 'passing the buck' and saying that they will no longer intercede to obtain permission for the advertiser wanting to use a trademarked term.

This brings them more into line with the policies on Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing and extracts them from any time-consuming disputes, so that they just become the arbiter of any infringements. As before, such infringing use of trademark terms by direct competitors remains a violation of Microsoft adCenter policies and if advertisers have a concern about misuse they can still notify Microsoft using this form.

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Monday, 3 September 2007

Web marketing newsletter for September

The September issue of our regular monthly newsletter has been published today, covering some of the latest stories on web search and marketing trends. This month we look at the launch of the new Melbourne-based search engine MyLiveSearch, we consider some of the negative effects that the Internet can have on business today, and we continue the review on some of the new reports being offered by Google AdWords that was first covered in last month's issue.

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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