search marketing

Yahoo Bows out of Search – Bing Becomes the New Number 2

As you probably read last week, Yahoo! has given up on chasing Google in the search engine market. Microsoft’s Bing will now supply Yahoo’s search results, and Adcenter will replace Panama in PPC delivery.

Well, we could all sort of see that coming though, couldn’t we? Between bid offers for Y! and talk about the number of balls they’d dropped over the years, it was only a matter of time.

But so what? The real question for everyone else is, “how will this effect me going forward with my SEM campaigns?

1. You now have to know how to optimize for Bing. Last month I was still telling people, “don’t worry about Bing. It’s just another Microsoft search property that will be changed out for something else completely new in two years, without ever gaining any traction.” Microsoft Network, MSN, Windows Live… there was no reason to believe Bing would be any more important.

With this deal, however, their market share in search jumps from a paulty 13% and fading slowly to 33%. Google still has more eyeballs of course, but Microsoft’s reach has just jumped dramatically.

2. Get used to Adcenter. This is actually a minor Godsend, as Yahoo’s Panama was always something of a pain. I’ve been a fan of the simple yet utilitarian Adcenter for a while, and now, again, it’s worth doing. If Microsoft can manage to squeeze more convertability out of the traffic analytics they just inherited from Yahoo!, you may end up spending more of your PPC budget there.

So what happens if Micorsoft makes their PPC traffic profitable?

3. Expect Google to Retaliate. Not in a sinister way, but in a competitive way, Google will answer the challenge that Microsoft presents. They have the most eyeballs, but to continue to make their millions they need to continue to be thought of as the best place to spend a PPC budget.

As for natural search, I don’t think people will be bailing on Google for Bing anytime soon. Whether they do or do not, however, Google is always updating their product, so you need to stay on top of what they like. The best way to do that is read the findings of other SEO professionals. Webmaster World is a good source of information I recommend – either for learning how to optimize for Bing or Google.

4. Go to the next Search Conference you can. In most any other year, these things are a waste of time. Speakers in a slow news year will talk about a lot of different things that may be useful, but hardly ever necessary. This year, however, it will be necessary for you to learn about what people are doing about Bing. You can also make good contacts there with other marketers and exchange information over time as you both come home and implement your changes.

5. You won’t have to pay for Yahoo! Search products anymore. It goes without saying this, but I’m just happy to be able to. This used to be de rigueur advice for doing well on Yahoo!. For example, the cost for being included in the Yahoo! Directory is $299, and while it did help rank better, it always made me feel dirty. No one should ever charge to be in a directory – if a directory has any quality, they don’t need to. They make their money from all the great traffic they bring in. A cash-strapped Yahoo!, obviously, didn’t mind. Now that they aren’t providing results, you don’t need to worry about it anymore. The directory itself delivers very little quality traffic – few do anymore. Don’t waste your money on it.

While I think it’s sad that search’s Big 3 is no more, it’s really only bad for end users – people searching for something now have one less venue open to them. There again, if there was any room for competition in search, surely by now some new search property would have come out to challenge Google, or Yahoo! or MSN. Since it has only been these three for so long shows there hasn’t been much innovation in a long time. If some new search engine can move into the vacuum left by Yahoo! it will. That one hasn’t in all this time may be a clue that none can.

In the meantime, the good news coming from this is all for us marketers. We now have one less property to worry about optimizing for or spending PPC budget on, while still reaching roughly the same number of people.

Trusting your SEM

Great natural search work doesn’t necessarily need a great product – many times it just needs a great client.

I’ve been doing some optimization for a friend’s website this week, and I’m glad to say, doing that stuff is still fun. Aside from the keyword research, and thinking about how a user would look for what the site is all about, it’s nice to have a client, essentially, who trusts you.

Often times, people who hire out for SEO know they need to get this work done – but the fact that they don’t entirely understand what is being done seems daunting. If I had to guess, I’d say it has something to do with justifying that part of the marketing budget to their bosses. I’ve also had the small business clients who are doing everything out of their own pocket, so they’re even more interested in the details of what’s being done. It stands to reason – you don’t just want to throw money into a hole because someone told you it would be a good idea. You want to know what you’re paying for.

What is generally not fun is having to explain why some keyword phrase the client is intent on mastering is a waste of effort, and why the keyword phrase they despise is actually the best way to get the kind of traffic they want. My peers and I have always called these, “ego searches.” Even though the phrase they want has little to no search volume behind it, they must have it. Frankly, I would consider just nodding my head and saying, “you got it, chief,” a form of thievery. If they insist on going this route despite my sage council, then they’re on their own. But it is often just a waste of money and working hours.

Insisting on not trying for a phrase that aptly represents them, however, is far more foolish. Years ago, I worked at a Barnes & Noble, which had a Starbucks Cafe. The Starbucks representative came out to train us, and insisted vehemently that the Frappuccino was not a “Frappuccino.” It was, in fact, a “Frappuccino Blended Beverage.” This is how we were to say the product at all times. Starbucks must have unclenched since then, because I haven’t heard this tortured piece of language since. They must have realized that no one ever uses the added, “blended beverage” when ordering one.

What if for search they decided they just had to own the phrase, “frappuccino blended beverage?” “Frappuccino” gets about 100,000 searches a month, and the “blended beverage” version gets somewhere between none and zilch. So why bother putting in the work to get that whole phrase, when no one is searching for them that way? Sure, it will go to help in the fight to own the “Frappuccino” searches, but that’s not the point – if you can’t benefit from that entire keyword phrase, ditch it. The people looking on Google for information decide how your product is referred to. If you want to change that, you’ll need to spend a LOT on advertising to change their perceptions. (After all, Kentucky Fried Chicken didn’t become KFC by going door to door and handing out pamphlets.)

For these reasons and others, I think doing the best possible work in search, or any marketing for that matter, has a lot to do with a client trusting your judgement and experience. While there are times we’re wrong, (an axiom of advertising is, “no one knows the client’s business better than the client,”) we do know the medium better than the client. That’s why we’re being paid to do the work. You should have a strong hand in your campaign, but if you are more of a collaborator than a king handing down proclamations of what can and cannot be done, you’ll see your campaign does a lot better a lot faster. In my opinion, having a client that is a partner unleashes me, allowing me to do all of the things that will make their campaign better.

My Decision on Bing.com

I was with everyone else when the announcement of Bing.com was made. “A conversation engine? What the hell is that!?!”

Well of course, kids, that’s marketing. Microsoft couldn’t beat Google at search, so they just changed “search” to “decision.” So now they own the “Decision Engine market” because Google never thought of that particular euphemism. It’s not unlike when Starbuck’s started serving “Frappuccinos.” Ice blended drinks had been around for years, but since no one thought to call them, “Frappuccinos,” Starbucks became the winners in the Frappuccino business.

But so what? Bing’s been out a little while now, and I’ve had a chance to tool around with it. And I am happy to announce, Microsoft has effectively become Ask.com. The layout and sidebar features offer the same content, and the results are of the same quality. If Ask is paying attention, they really might want to consider whether or not they’ve been in the decision engine market all these years.

Their media searches are much better than they have been, but this is more a sign that Microsoft has learned to catch up. It has videos from the major sites (Youtube, Vimeo, Viddler, Metacafe) as well as the media outlets and their own video. (Fox, NBC, USA Today.) The results are far less anemic than I remember MSN or “Live” results being. Welcome to the party, Bing.

Ditto for the image searches – a lot of content, not a lot of deciding. Is that unfair? Perhaps – but Microsoft made this label up, so they should have to answer for it. If I do an image search for, “pizza,” how exactly is this different than if I do an image search on Yahoo?

The web search results (I have to stop calling them “decision results” – it’s silly) are roughly the same quality as Google. The layout incorporates that “Universal Search” philosophy that has taken two years to become an overnight success. But those maps and images and accompanying information appear at the bottom of the page instead of the top. IMHO, It’s a rather lame way to differentiate themselves from their search brothers.

I also find it rather disappointing that Bing didn’t incorporate one of Google’s better features, offering the correct spelling of a word if you search using the wrong spelling. You see, I had no idea how to spell “Frappuccino” when I kept referencing them. While Bing didn’t clue me in to my error, Google did. It’s an easy feature that should have been included, especially since so many of us need copy editors in our daily lives.

Given the marketing budget behind Bing, here’s what I think will happen: They will continue to grab up more and more market share in search, just as they did with Live, just as Ask did two years ago. But eventually people will stay with Google, because they’ve been using it so long. They definitely have a better product then they had before, but the majority of users still don’t search things – they “Google” them. (Google’s own hand in redefining the market shows itself in this.)

So who will benefit the most from this? For now, my Dad – he got a Hotmail account sometime during the Hoover administration, and as a dedicated Luddite has no intention of switching to anything else. This means every search he does is on a Microsoft product. He is typical of his age group, so boomers will continue to be the base for MSN/Live/Bing, while the rest of us use Google, our Moms use Yahoo!, and Twitter Search will be the choice for the truly smart ass among us.

Microsoft’s one shot at getting a leg up will be to promote themselves as the search engine for pre-teens and teens. In ten years they will be in that target demo that Google has now, and those of us who are the current target… won’t. Microsoft definitely has the money to keep their advertising juggernaut running forever if need be. If they can manage no to re-brand themselves yet again, and do real work appealing to their future adult customers, then I think it will have a shot.