SEM

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.

Apollo 11 Moon Landing a Hoax? (No, but don’t tell Google Trends!)

Appologies for taking so long in between posts these days – things have been crazy, between interviews, SEO work I’m doing for friends, and other writing committments. But when I saw that today the #1 search on Google Trends was “Apollo 11 Hoax,” I had to look into it.

You see, today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. While I personally would have thought that would have resulted in a number of searches for “Moon landing,” “Neil Armstrong,” or “Space Exploration,” the majority have to do with conspiracy theories about the landing.

The reason for this is simple: This is what people are interested in. If you had asked me yesterday what I thought the greatest number of searches on Google would be for given today’s anniversary, the famous lunar hoax would not have been on the top of my list. This is the reason I always beg others not to guess as to what the most important keyword is for their SEO campaign is, but to look at the traffic data for their site.

Assuming you’ve been keeping track of who visits your site and why – and if you haven’t, shame on you! – then you can easily look back at who is finding your site, using which keyword phrase, and when. Simply assuming you got a large bump in traffic because you had a sale or a commercial that went live really teaches you nothing. The keywords people used to get to you, however, show what the majority of people had on their minds. If there’s a cycle, then you know what to expect the next time. In this case, I’m confident that one year from now Google Trends will show the same kinds of interest in the hoax. After all, a good conspiracy theory is a lot more entertaining than watching NASA footage of mankind’s glorious acomplishments in space. Apparently.

Let me finish by saying that whether I believe the Apollo 11 landing happened or not is not important – that is because it actually happened. Independant of whether or not I have a weird conspiracy theory gene or not, we went to the moon, Neil Armstrong was first, and that’s all. When someone has better proof than pouring over the photographs of the landing with a magnifying glass, I’ll listen. But there won’t be, because it isn’t true. Ta da!

SEMs and conspiracy theorists alike always need to look to the data rather than simply wish for what they hope is true.

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.