Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Control country association on Google

Another announcement from Google's Webmaster blog has added to the raft of new features being included on Google's Webmaster Tools. There is now a function that can help you to control the country association of your online content, by domain, sub-domain, or even site directory level. This can be important when it comes to country-specific search results, since Google's results will vary on each country version of the search engine, plus using this option can also improve Google's search results for geographic queries.

Google currently only allows webmasters to associate their site with a single country and location, but they say that if your site is relevant to an even more specific area, such as a particular state or region, you can notify them, or whether your site isn't relevant to any particular geographic location at all. If no information is entered in Webmaster Tools, Google will continue to make geographic associations largely based on the top-level domain (e.g. .com.au or .co.uk) and the IP of the webserver from which the context was served.

This is another valuable option that can help to give webmasters more control over the way their site is managed by Google and displayed to searchers.

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Monday, 29 October 2007

Google develops advertising system

The FT reports on a recent analysts meeting where Google executives were confident about the advances being made to their advertising system, which will move them further away from Yahoo! and Microsoft. This prediction comes after the recent announcement of quarterly profit gains, where the 'monetisation' - the amount of advertising revenue it generates from each search - is still growing.

Google claims that "the quality of ads is still quite low" so that there is still room for further improvements in serving up relevant messages to the searcher. One sign of this is that Google recently reduced the number of adverts being displayed alongside its search results to try to weed out the least relevant messages. This means that there is a large volume of unsold search inventory available that Google believes it could make money on as it reached more specialised and local advertisers.

This is very much a financial viewpoint served up for investors, yet Google says that it had built a bigger team of specialists in the past year to develop and test potential improvements to its advertising. Due to these resources, they had been able to make 20 separate improvements to its search advertising system during the third quarter of this year, compared with only “two or three” in the same period a year before.

At the same time, MediaPost reports on the announcement by Google that they are working on a marketing 'dashboard' that will enable advertisers to integrate and track data across different ad formats, such as search, display and offline campaigns. No timing was given for this launch, but the expected finalisation of the DoubleClick acquisition is sure to move this along and present advertisers with a more extensive suite of tools and resources available from Google.

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Friday, 26 October 2007

Microsoft claims stake in Facebook

The New York Times, along with many other sources, report on the move by Microsoft to buy a stake in the social networking favourite, Facebook. Microsoft is paying $240 million for just a 1.6 % stake in Facebook, but this gives them a lead against Yahoo! and Google who were also interested in gaining a foothold in this increasingly popular website. The investment values Facebook at an incredible at $15 billion, despite it being only three and a half years old and generating about $150 million in revenue this year.

The article reports that as part of the deal, Microsoft will sell the banner ads appearing on Facebook outside of the United States, splitting the revenue. Microsoft also has an existing deal with Facebook to run banner ads on the site in the United States until 2011.

The enormous value being placed on Facebook shows that Microsoft believed they could not afford to lose out on the deal, especially as Google appears to be building a dominant position in the race to serve advertisements online through their acquisition of DoubleClick. Microsoft is concerned that it might lose control over the next generation of computer users, so has been trying to keep up with - and in some cases block - Google’s moves, even if that effort comes at a price.

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Thursday, 25 October 2007

StumbleUpon to add SearchReviews

A news story from The Boston Globe reports on the new development announced by StumbleUpon, the web search and user recommendation website that was acquired by eBay in May this year. The company is launching a new service called SearchReviews, whereby a searcher can see what their friends have found useful or interesting on the web.

With 3.7 million users signed up the StumbleUpon service (mostly via a downloadable toolbar) , there is currently a simple "thumbs up/thumbs down" rating given to websites and videos. The new SearchReviews feature will now display small coloured icons against those links that friends have rated, appearing on Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL or Ask. They also will appear on Google News, Yahoo News, Flickr photos, the Wikipedia online encyclopedia and YouTube videos.

StumbleUpon say that this will help to add a new level of selection within search results, with popular or useful sites standing out in the results. Since it was founded in Canada 6 years ago, StumbleUpon users have rated some 13 million sites, although the hope is that this new service will become more popular and achieve a critical mass that could change what constitutes popularity on the web and how it is measured - the ultimate combination of search combined with user reviews.

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Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Understanding AdWord's Quality Score

The Inside AdWords blog has just announced that Google have introduced a new Keywords Analysis page to help clarify the information on Quality Scores that are allocated to each keyword. Users can access this page by clicking on the small magnifying glass icon against a keyword in the AdWords account - this opens a small panel with summary information on the keyword's Quality Score and then links take you through to a more detailed page where the reasons for the low score are explained, together with options to improve it.

The Quality Score feature of Google AdWords has caused some uncertainty with advertisers since the calculations are many, as well as hidden. However, the main issue will be relevancy, which Google is keen to improve within the searcher's experience, so if clickthrough rates are poor or the site's landing page is not seen to be relevant to the term, then the Quality Score is likely to suffer.

AdWords users can also view the Quality Score for each keyword by clicking on the 'Customize Columns' link within each Adgroup and then selecting the column 'Show Quality Score'. This adds a new column which displays the Quality Score against each keyword (categorised into the broad groups of Great, OK or Poor) and the minimum keyword bid required for each search term.

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Monday, 22 October 2007

Google reports further sales growth

There was plenty of press coverage last week (this from CNN Money) about Google's continued revenue growth and share value. The company reported that revenues in the 3rd quarter were $4.23 billion, up 57% over the previous year. The value of the company has increased nearly 40% this year and the number of employees has reached just under 16,000.

This performance was ahead of analyst's expectations and illustrates the massive growth that is continuing to come from Google's search advertising model and how this sort of business performance is continuing to develop in an unknown area where there are no previous models to gauge the size and speed of growth in this market.

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Friday, 19 October 2007

Google's dominance in Australia is a concern

That's the theme of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, although it's a good 'scare' story generated by some SEO PR. The point being that the overall dominance of Google as the search tool of choice for Australians means that rankings here are vital and, in turn, there will be more competition for PPC positions which will push up the average bid prices.

Two figures are important here - one is that Google holds nearly 90% of all Australian search traffic, according to Hitwise, and also that the last annual Internet advertising spend figures showed that paid search advertising held a 40% share of the $1 billion market in 2006. This volume of spend continues to rise and so it's no surprise where most of the activity will be focused on.

This market dominance of Google is seen in many countries, although ironically it's in the US where Google has more competition, claiming only 62% of the search market, followed by Yahoo! at 25% and then MSN, Ask and others covering the remaining 13%.

Of course there are now more website owners who can see the need for effective online marketing and, with search as the 'high street' of online activity, it's the natural reaction for these advertisers to target Google and to start off with PPC advertising. As more entrants use this technique and bid for higher positions, then the average bid prices will escalate, which would be expected as the market matures.

At some point advertisers will find the point of negative ROI, which can be determined by a range of factors including product offering, pricing and website usability. And so a natural level will be achieved where some advertisers with deeper pockets may look at longer-term value and brand building, whereas other advertisers will have to review their strategy and consider an alternative approach.

One of these alternatives is to achieve 'natural' search rankings through search engine optimisation. These positions can achieve better clickthrough rates at a lower cost but are harder to achieve, with more websites now being optimised for rankings and with a combination of on-site and 0ff-site factors playing a part. However, all websites should be working to a long-term optimisation strategy as well if they want to remain serious players in the online market.

The article claims that, while Australian Internet users were nearly as sophisticated as Europeans and North Americans in their search techniques, Australian advertisers were about 2 years behind these regions in their marketing techniques.

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Thursday, 18 October 2007

Yahoo! reports growth in PPC spend

Yahoo!'s latest financial results have been published (PDF format) for the third quarter of 2007 and are starting to show growth in their search advertising revenue since the launch of the upgraded 'Panama' service. Overall, advertisers are shown to have increased their PPC spending with Yahoo by 7.8% during the period compared to the previous quarter.

This will be a promising sign for Yahoo! as advertisers adjust to the new system. However, the search service still needs to gain considerable ground against the dominance of Google, particularly in markets outside of the US.

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Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Yahoo! PPC introduces Quality Index in Australia

Yahoo! Search Marketing have been contacting Australian PPC advertisers to announce the launch of their new advert ranking system next week, which changes the way that adverts will appear within the sponsored search rankings.

Previously the old Overture system was a simple bid rate to determine rankings based on other advertisers bids, so that you could 'slot' your ads into a chosen position based on the current bid rates. Now, the upgraded Yahoo! Search Marketing system is replicating the Google AdWords system, whereby the position of an advert will be based on a Quality Index, derived from a combination of the bid amount and a 'quality score'. This quality index is based on historical activity for the advert as well as expected performance based on broader search and advertiser data that Yahoo! will use to determine likely rankings and clickthrough activity.

This change means that PPC advertisers can run their Yahoo! campaigns in a similar way to Google AdWords, so that keyword, advert and potentially landing page quality will help improve ranking performance and reduce the bid prices that may be necessary to achieve higher positions than competitors. This all goes to improve the 'user experience' but it's also Yahoo! playing catch-up with Google.

Here's more information about Yahoo!'s Quality Index.

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Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Google tops global search market

New data published by comScore reports that 61 billion searches were conducted worldwide in August this year, with no surprise that Google dominates the share of this search market with 37.1 billion searches conducted through this engine (broken down into 31 billion main search actions and 5 billion going through YouTube).

Yahoo! owned sites ranked second, with 8.5 billion searches, while Baidu.com - the Chinese language search engine - was placed third with more than 3.2 billion searches. Just outside the top 3 were Microsoft sites (2.2 billion searches), and Korea’s NHN Corporation, which owns Naver.com, ranked fifth with 2 billion searches worldwide.

The survey also reported on the number of unique searchers by region and the average number of searches conducted per person. The 61 billion searches were shown to be made by 754 million searchers, equating to just under 81 searchers per person, on average. The Asia-Pacific region takes the largest share here (with the large markets of China, Japan and India) with 258 million unique searchers conducting 20.3 billion searches. Europe comes second with 210 million searchers and 18 billion searches, followed by North America, with 206 million searchers and 16 billion searches. Latin America demonstrated the heaviest search activity per person, with more than 95 searches per searcher in August.

These fascinating results are from the first comprehensive study of worldwide search activity, based on data from comScore's qSearch 2.0 service, taking data from the top 50 worldwide Internet properties where search activity is observed. The figure of more than 750 million people aged 15 and older who conducted searchers in the month represented 95% of the worldwide Internet audience.

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Monday, 15 October 2007

US survey on local search trends

An article by Search Engine Land reports on recent US research looking at local search behaviour and how this has changed in recent years. The survey analysed the actions of around 2,000 consumers who were looking for a local service and found that most (72%) would prefer finding products and services via search rather than having ads 'pushed' to them. A similar number - 73% - said that they were exposed to too many ads and, of these, an huge majority of 91% said they would prefer using search compared to having ads sent or pushed to them.

The sample was an Internet-savvy group - over 80% saying that the Internet was 'vital' to their lifestyle - and search engines were rated the top resource for finding local business information when looking at the share of different resources used. 74% had used search engines, compared to 65% using printed Yellow Pages and 50% using Internet yellow pages. Other sources used were traditional newspapers (44%), print white pages (33%), television (29%) and consumer review websites (18%).

There are more results from the survey reported in the article.

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Friday, 12 October 2007

Yahoo joins the 'universal search' club

Following the recent announcement by Microsoft that their Live Search engine will begin to display 'blended results' with maps or images included alongside relevant text, Yahoo have also now joined the club by presenting 'universal results' from a number of different search sources, ensuring that they also stay on track with the moves first made by Ask and Google.

AdWeek has reviewed the latest changes and the trend by the search engines to present more relevant results regardless of the media source. Quoting Jim Lanzone, the CEO of Ask, it appears that "Search used to be the ultimate bookmark finder. It's evolving into the navigational device for people's lives. The search experience is going to have a renaissance in the next few years."

The article considers the way that search advertising could start attracting brand advertisers in bigger number as it moves away from pure direct response traffic to the use of multimedia allowing companies to present a stronger brand message. As the use of 'universal search' results becomes more sophisticated, all the search engines will introduce new and sharper ways of generating relevant results that will also attract search advertisers and give optimisers more opportunities - and challenges - to achieve search visibility.

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Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Is Facebook really the next 'big thing'?

It seems that Facebook is the core focus for the Internet press at the moment, with a new piece of news or analysis each day. However, is it just the next latest craze that gains media interest instead of Digg, Twitter or SecondLife, or is it really a ground-breaking tool that others - including social networking competitor MySpace - will choose to follow?

An interesting article by the LA Times considers 'the Facebook revolution' and what it means for the future use of the web - will it really contribute to a significant change in the way the Internet will be used over the next 5 years? Founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly said that he wants Facebook to become the biggest, most valuable database in the world - 'the database of human likes and dislikes'.

Since May, Facebook opened up its working to developers to allow anyone to produce 'widgets' and other programs that cover a wide range of applications to help the user experience - already there are more than 5,000 to choose from - such as the popular iLike and Movies tools that allow users to know what music, concerts and movies their friends like best. Marketing agencies are working hard to develop applications that gain business advantage without being too overtly commercial.

Facebook could become a central source of recommendation that drives markets and product sales, with advertisers effectively losing control of their marketing spend. Facebook, or a future version of this type of social networking site, could also become the Internet hub that drives activity and use, where individuals control their own data and influence market trends. This article covers some of these possibilities.

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Monday, 8 October 2007

Google's guide to the Description metatag

Google's Webmaster Central Blog recently posted a useful guide to using the Description metatag. The tips are designed to help websites display a more effective 'snippet' of content within the search results list, which may come from this metatag text, or from the page content.

The main tips are to revise the Description tag on each page as much as possible, to reflect the page content and to provide the searcher with accurate and relevant information which, ultimately from the website marketer's perspective, will make the user click on the link into the site to find out more.

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Google and paid text links

There is a good summary published by Forbes magazine on the issue of buying text links and how Google is handling these within their search algorithms. Over the past 6 months there has been a growing debate about whether Google is actively penalising companies for buying text links (or sponsored links) and how the search engine is able to differentiate between those that are purchased and those that are legitimately developed.

It would appear that Google is trying to crack down on the growing trend, with evidence of sites using this technique being penalised. Google is also asking for information on such practices and generating a climate of fear or uncertainty about whether such techniques should or could be used. It's yet another situation where web marketers look to capitalise on the ability to achieve high rankings on Google and, in return, the search engine attempting to prevent inappropriate manipulation of their results.

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Friday, 5 October 2007

New research on web advertising credibility

AdWeek reports on a new global consumer survey published by Nielsen that found the most popular forms of Internet advertising score at the bottom when it comes to consumer trust. The survey covered 26,000 respondents across 47 markets on their perceptions of different forms of advertising, both traditional and digital, and concluded that the older forms of ad messages (such as those appearing in newspapers, magazines and on TV) far outscored the most popular forms of web ads, search links and banner placements.

The results show that 63% said they trusted newspaper ads and 56% trusted TV spots and magazine placements, whereas banner ads were trusted by just 26% and search ads by 34 %. Even newer forms of digital advertising produced even worse results, such as the growing area of mobile advertising which was trusted by just 18% of respondents.

Even though digital advertising performed badly, other forms of online communication fared much better with consumer opinions posted online being trusted by 61% of respondents, and brand websites by 60%. The most trusted form of "advertising" was shown to be recommendations from other consumers, with 78% of respondents expressing confidence in these.

Other consumer-generated media was also seen to be a potentially powerful way of influencing customers, according to the survey, with 61% saying that they trusted blogs and other forms of consumer-generated media as reliable sources of information. These results provide an interesting perspective on the performance of online advertising and the potential power of blogs and other social networking sites as marketing tools.

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Thursday, 4 October 2007

Strategies to improve ROI

Making use of ROI data and developing strategies to improve PPC bid management is the subject of the last part of the Inside AdWords series on using ROI data.

In the first part of these blog articles, ROI was defined and its importance explained. In the second part, it looked at the use of conversion tracking code in a Google AdWords campaign. This final section explains how to use the data effectively, to revise bids and improve the overall performance of your advertising spend. It includes some useful examples and explains the concepts in a clear and easy to follow fashion, including a footnote on the importance of lifetime value.

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Tuesday, 2 October 2007

October's web marketing newsletter published

The latest issue of our regular monthly newsletter has been published today, covering some of the latest stories on web search and marketing trends. This month's issue looks at how website owners should be making the most of their analytics package to understand how their website and online marketing campaigns are working. It also reviews the new 'blended search' results introduced by Microsoft's Live Search engine and finally there's a warning for Google AdWords customers to be aware of an email scam that appears to be a legitimate email from Google.

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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