Google Instant Debut

There’s a new SEO hurdle in town, and it’s called Google Instant. You may or may not have already noticed this, since it is a part of the search interface. (As opposed to, which you would have visited once and ignored as fast as your old Wave account.) The idea is very simple: As you type, it loads the search engine results page (SERP) with results before you’re done typing.

Remember how it would offer suggestions to you in the search bar as you were typing? They’re still there, but now it’s also giving you results as you go.

If you’re trying to optimize your web pages, and you’re already having a heart attack over what Caffeine is doing for (or to) you, this is going to be another challenge. Unlike Caffeine, however, where everyone can share a methodology for dealing with it and keeping rankings, this is a bit more chaotic.

Let’s say you are a fitness instructor, and you want people to find your site when they do searches for, “fitness instructors”: By just typing, “F” it shows them Facebook as the first result – if they’re looking at what comes up, it’s an opportunity to forget about looking for you, and logging in for some time killing.

If they keep typing and get out “fitness,” athletic clubs come up – including some in their area, if Google has managed to get a location cookie in their browser. It keeps giving suggestions with every letter entered.

Keep in mind, most searchers don’t go with whatever comes up in their first search. When they aren’t happy with, “fitness instructors” results, they’ll lengthen the keyword to, “fitness instructors in [city],” or “fitness trainers for women” – essentially narrowing down the possibilities.

And Google Instant now offers up a LOT of possibilities. Just about each syllable you type into a search will call up a whole new lot of possible destinations.

If you’re worried how this will effect your search traffic, don’t. In my opinion, for the most part, I don’t believe people will jump ship on the result they wanted in the first place when Google gives them results as they type. People tend to not look away from what they’re typing when they perform searches. (I’ve seen the heat-maps of it, and I wish I had them to post!)

Also, search itself is now ingrained in us. So many people have “Google’d” something by now, they aren’t likely to start taking advantage of interim results just because they pop up on the page. They might over time, but that only means you have a while before you start losing traffic to just similar interests as what you’re selling.

Ignoring all of that, you need to consider the silver lining in all this – your site is also turning up in these alternate search results! If typing in a keyword phrase pulls up 10 different SERPs, that’s 10 opportunities for them to find you instead of what they were looking for in the first place.

So just keep doing the quality SEO work you were doing yesterday. If you were getting rankings then, I predict it will all come out in the wash.

Bing search traffic is much smaller than you’d think

If you’re still fretting over how to get some of that juicy Bing search traffic, stop.

Bing vs. Everyone

Above is a comparison of unique visitors (individuals visiting each site) for Google, Bing, Myspace and Facebook. When Bing launched, they had a massive jump in traffic – in large part because of all their television advertising.  Still, they’ve yet to get much more traffic than Myspace. Myspace, as you remember, is the social networking site everyone has decided is done and no longer worth worrying about.

Instead we are all concentrating on Facebook, and with good reason – their traffic is fast approaching Google’s. It’s pretty obvious that Facebook should be of greater concern to you than Bing. Google and Facebook have completely different kinds of traffic, granted. But if sheer numbers are important to you, Bing doesn’t have them.

Now look at the comparison between Bing and Microsoft’s other search platforms – the ones they wish you’d stop using now that “Bing” is here:

Bing vs MSN vs Live

While all three use Bing results, their numbers still don’t measure up to the collective traffic of Facebook or Google. More importantly, Bing itself is not popular. If Microsoft’s search engine were really impacting the search market, it would have overtaken these older properties of Microsoft’s. Bing had the same leap in visitors at launch, again because of all the television advertising and people’s love of something new.

I still maintain Bing will not rise anywhere near to being a Google competitor until they do something massively right, or Google does something massively wrong. When Yahoo! starts showing Bing search results at the end of the year, Microsoft’s paid search revenue will increase, but it remains to be seen if any of Yahoo!’s traffic comes over to proper. Yahoo! will still have all of their other cool properties that people use – Yahoo Mail, Answers, Delicious, Flickr, Messenger – and Bing will still be… well, whatever it is now.

And don’t get me started on how little traffic there is for mobile!

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.

My Decision on

I was with everyone else when the announcement of 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 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.

Breaking news! Yet another Google killer again for the hudredth time!

It seems every two years Microsoft announces some new development designed to compete with Google. First it was MSN. Then it was Live. (Yeah, that was a great idea.) Now it’s Kumo – due to release next week, and just as likely to change absolutely nothing.

Perhaps Microsoft is just so used to releasing ineffective “Google Killers” it no longer cares that each attempt gains them little ground over the long term. Their paid search is starting to do better for some markets, but overall they still get killed by Google and Yahoo!. 

Why? Well, Google has better search and Yahoo! has better everything else. The reason anyone still searches with Yahoo! is because they’re already using Yahoo!s other products – Answers, Mail, Yahoo! Radio, etc. What does Microsoft really bring? A lot of Hotmail users, who by and large are older users who were engineers in the 90s and are now retired. Hotmail was one of the first web-based e-mail clients, so those who stuck with it are an older demographic. They’ll search using MSN (sorry – Live) because that’s where they are anyway. Or, they are still using Internet Explorer because that’s what they’re machine came with, and their search engine is the default choice, and digging through all those options is far too much of an ass pain to bother with.

So Microsoft search is a hands down winner among the ludites and the lazy.

If they want to gain more ground in the search market, they simply need to provide better results. There will be a lot of talk about the results of Kumo in the coming days, but I discount this out of hand because frankly, if they knew how to give better results they would have just implemented it on their current platform and started bragging about that. Re-branding is way of changing people’s people’s perceptions without having to offer anything terribly new. If Microsoft is serious about competing in search, they need to cut it out with all the marketing about their latest new product yet again, and actually produce search results that give people what they need.

Ask did the same thing by bragging about their “algorithm” in 2007 – and it didn’t help them any more than it will help Microsoft.