Friday, 27 June 2008

Google testing PPC ad targeting

A report by The New York Times claims that research undertaken over recent months by Piper Jaffray in the US has uncovered apparent ways that Google is now testing behavioural targeting for its PPC adverts. By using the huge amount of data that has been collected on search activity and patterns in the past, Google may be starting to display different adverts to people based on their previous search activity - so that the example given indicates that if a searcher looks for “scuba,” then something else, and then “vacations" could pull up ads for diving trips.

It's no secret that Google is using it's massive source of data to understand search activity and to target activity in different ways, such as through the personalised iGoogle tool and also the likely development with banner advertising that followed the acquisition of DoubleClick last year. Some of this data collection is using 'cookies', which are small files attached to web actions from individual users.

Google had changed its privacy policy several years ago and indicated to users that it might record personal information about them for reasons that included “the display of customized content and advertising.” In 2007 Google also started looking at the immediately previous search when considering the display of PPC ads although Google did not need to use cookies for this because web browsers report the address of the previous site visited to the current site being visited and in the case of a search, that address contains the search terms.

This type of development in search targeting or behavioural targeting is becoming one of the main areas where the search engines will be competing to gain market advantage over the next few years and to improve the targeting services being offered to advertisers. Google, Yahoo! and MSN are all looking at tackling this issue with different approaches, although all of which are likely to raise privacy concerns, including possible legal cases in the future depending on the methods being used. However, it also should mean better relevancy for both searcher and advertiser if the balance between targeting and privacy can be achieved.

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Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Microsoft looks elsewhere for acquisitions

Following their failed attempt to buy Yahoo! over the past few months, Microsoft are looking at new ways to develop their online market share and web technology skills through acquisition. Although top executives were quoted in the Financial Times only last week saying that they would not be pursuing a spate of acquisitions - including rumours of Facebook and AOL now being targets - it hasn't taken them long to set their sights elsewhere.

This week Microsoft have announced their purchase of Powerset, a semantic search engine based in Silicon Valley. The news has been widely reported, including by Venture Beat, and the price being paid is over $100m which could be good value for money if the technology can be developed and used to Microsoft's advantage ahead of similar work by Google.

Semantic search is seen to be the next big development within search, whereby the search engine will attempt to understand the searcher's typical requirement based on the search terms being used and so display more relevant results to suit users' needs. Google is working on this technology but may be some way off launching a workable model, so if Microsoft have assessed this new purchase correctly and can take advantage of the specialist skills that come with the company, they could steal a march on Google in the future.

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Friday, 20 June 2008

Google also dominates mobile search

A report by mocoNews indicates that Google is also starting to dominate the mobile search market. Taking figures from the latest Nielsen Mobile survey, Google is shown to have a 61% share of mobile searches in the US, followed by Yahoo! at 18% and MSN at 5%. This is probably not a surprising trend as searchers are likely to use the same search tools that they find most useful on the web, although performance and results in the mobile sector will also determine usage.

This issue was covered by an article earlier this month by USA Today, which reported on the strategies that the main search companies are taking to gain a share of the rapidly growing mobile, including Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system and Google's 'Android' project. The general feeling that the mobile web is likely to become an advertising goldmine is not being lost on these companies who are working to establish a foothold now and ensure that they don't miss these new opportunities that could determine future business success or failure.

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Monday, 16 June 2008

New features with Google Trends

Google has recently announced some additions to their Google Trends tool which includes the option to now download the stats into a spreadsheet. Google Trends can be a useful tool to look at how different search terms or phrases may have been used over time, as well as by geographic area or language.

You need to have a Google Account to get access to the full data from this tool, but once in you can view trends by individual terms or you can compare two terms together. Data is scaled to fit the comparative charts, but it helps to provide seasonal usage of terms, or the market responses to particular news stories or other events that may drive search activity. With the new option to download the data into a spreadsheet format it provide new ways to analyse the data for your particular business needs.

The Google Webmaster blog has also just announced the addition of an extra layer to the Google Trends data which is still in development phase but enables users to view the activity on popular websites based on the way that the number of unique visitors has changed over the last 12 months, the countries where the site/s are most popular, the top related sites and search terms used. For example, a search for Amazon shows the different visitor trends between countries and the high traffic spikes each year prior to Christmas where the site has a particularly strong presence, such as the US and UK.

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Friday, 13 June 2008

Yahoo! finalises search ads deal with Google

After much speculation, Yahoo! has now agreed a deal with Google to carry their search advertising in return for a revenue share. As reported by many news agencies, including Reuters, the deal forms a non-exclusive partnership and Yahoo! say they have made this move after failing to agree a deal with Microsoft who had revised their earlier acquisition approach to now buy just Yahoo!'s search business.

Under the new arrangement with Google (which follows an earlier trial period), Yahoo! will run Google's AdSense PPC adverts alongside its own search results and on some of its websites, but only in the United States and Canada for the time being. Yahoo! will also retain control over where the Google ads will run and which search terms will be used - there is more information published by Google on their official blog. The deal has been agreed to initially cover four years, with options to renew it up to a period of 10 years.

Yahoo! must see this as part of a rescue plan for its ailing business since it expects the deal to create an additional $250 million to $450 million operating cash flow within the first year. However, within the brief press release there is no mention of what impact this arrangement will have with Yahoo!'s own PPC service and for the advertisers currently running accounts in these regions, but it seems to indicate that Yahoo! expect to make more from this model than developing their own service. More on this should become clearer over the next few weeks or months.

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Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Dealing with duplicate content on Google

The Google Webmaster Blog has posted some useful information on ways to manage the issue of duplicate content, which is becoming a common issue for many sites. This may be caused due to the difficulties of managing large dynamic sites, or very often due to syndicated content being shared between sites. The other main example used by Google relates to content which may be duplicated due to 'screen scraping' by third-party websites that are creating mass content from original sources, which can occur for various reasons.

The Google article provides links to previously published advice and tips on how to handle such situations. It also provides guidelines on ways to ensure that original content can be indexed by Google, which should be the main concern for the content creator.

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Friday, 6 June 2008

Developments in the mobile web

A recent report by Business Week illustrates ways that the mobile web - Internet access through mobile phones - is starting the change the way that people go online and use websites.

Dubbed 'the weekend web', there is now a distinct trend (at least in the US) where people are spending more time online via wireless devices, as well as tending to use a different set of sites than during the week. Google reports that most mobile traffic to their search site comes at the weekend with mobile browsing increasing by 89% in the past year and mobile page views reported to have increased by 127%. The increase is attributed to a wider availability of one price-full access data plans plus the increasing sophistication of handheld devices such as the new Apple iPhone.

The article includes research from M:Metrics, who are tracking the use of mobile web access and the popularity of different types of website. The weekends see a lot of mobile web activity around classified advertising sites, like Craigslist and eBay, as well as travel/mapping sites, sport and weather sites.

As the use of mobiles to access the web increases, market research company Nielsen have launched a new online audience-profiling tool for this sector, called Mobile @Plan. A report by Multichannel News describes how this new service will provide marketers and publishers with lifestyle and demographic information on the leading mobile web sites, enabling advertisiers to efficiently target their intended audience through mobile phones.

The service gives marketers valuable audience data for more than 200 mobile websites by profiling their users according to more than a thousand points of lifestyle information, including demographics, leisure activities, life events, electronics ownership, media use and brand-level purchase activity on travel, auto, finance, food and beverage, real estate, pets and more.

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Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Using the Robots Exclusion Protocol

The Google Webmaster blog has just published a succinct summary of the Robots Exclusion Protocol - the standard used by websites and search engines to allow or disallow the indexing of a site or particular sections or pages of a site. This is one element that is commonly missed by many websites but should be used to streamline the way that search engines can visit and index a site.

The Robots commands can either be used within a robot.txt file hosted on the website's server, or within a robots metatag at the page level of the site. The standard is now widely accepted by most search engines, although there has not been any common development between the main search tools in the same way that the Sitemaps protocol has been developed. However, this Google post outlines the main implementation requirements for a robots file or metatag, listing and defining the different directives that can be used.

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Monday, 2 June 2008

June newsletter on web marketing issues published

The June issue of the monthly Web Marketing newsletter has been published, covering some of the recent stories on web search and online marketing trends.

This month's edition looks at the importance of increasing links into a website and how different types of content can be used to attract links and visitor traffic from other websites. It also examines some recent research in to the changing search habits seen over the past 6 years and finally the new edition reviews the new Live Search Cashback service which has just been launched by Microsoft, and the possible implications for search engines in the future.

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.