Odds a new favourite at Google

Gaming ads are to make a reappearance on Google adwords. No doubt the rush of revenue this will bring as gaming brands, affiliates, gambling aggregators and consultants all rush to get a pieceof the traffic will provide a financial comforter when marketing budgets get cut.

It’s hoped that the more scientific approach to analysis of traffic sources and user behaviour will in some way curb the rush for gold in them thar Google hills… but there’s always going to be the chumps who throw money on the roulette wheel hoping that lady luck will shine on them.

How this will affect cpc rates is anyone’s guess but we’re betting on a big spike in competitive bidding for generics and some rather charred fingers as budgets get burned on injudicous kwyeord research and slack management.

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Yahoo and MSN back in talks – Google looks on

MSN and Yahoo! are back in talks.  You’ll remember that MSN approached Yahoo! with a $40 billion evaluation which was later sweetened by $7.5 billion. On refusal Carl ICahn started getting vocal with his 4% of Yahoo! and a threat to depose 10 of Yahoo’s directors.

Google are in the sidelines watching as the number 2 and 3 in the market (leaving Yandex out of European figures for the moment) disuss becoming a possible number 2 with a third of search market share. something not to be sneezed at with the value of search valued at about $40 billion per annum and set to double by 2010.

It’s certainly all to play for. The test of Google adsense being used in a percentage of Yahoo’s paid search ads last month has attracted the anti trust boys so the previous avenue of a commercial agreement which would see Yahoo as inventory for Google sales looks like its being put on the back burner.

Where will it all end? Without Yahoo, MSN will struggle to grow or even to maintain marketshare with their search offering being so limited in comparison to the products offered by the other two goliaths. Will MSN pursue the social media route instead with it’s proposed talks with Facebook.

Exciting stuff.

Yahoo!has more than one choice

Times Warner (owners of AOL) and Yahoo! are in discussion regarding a possible deal which would allow Yahoo! to gain more shareholder control while increasing Time Warner’s market penetration. The Wall Street Journal goes into the ins and outs but basically AOL would be rolled into Yahoo! and Time Warner would stump up some cash giving it 20% of the merged entity and allowing Yahoo! to buy back some of its shares. Sopunds like a sweet deal for both. Especiall considering that Yahoo! was the most visited site in the US last month.

News Corp is now also back in the frame but in a triumvirate solution with Microsoft rather than on it’s own as in previous talks.

Google’s AdSense test roll out on 3% of Yahoo!’s US searches is a great way for Google and Yahoo! to measure the potential revenue generation from a Time Warner (AOL) Yahoo merger…

Yahoo! looks like it’s got more choices – wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall in Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer’s office ?

Interestinger and interestinger.

Yahoo & Google put one in the eye to MSN

The search giants are slugging it out and the action is heating up! Yahoo! has just announced that it will test the serving of Google Adsense on its Yahoo.com domain (reportedly 3% of US served results over 2 weeks).

The story so far

This is after a bitter exchange of letters between MSN and Yahoo! on MSN’s offer ($31 per share) for Yahoo! which was rejected as completely undervaluing the company’s worth. At the weekend MSN wrote a letter to Yahoo!’s board which expressed disappointment at the company’s failure to move on the offer and accusing them of being unfair to shareholders. Yahoo! replied with a letter that between the lines calls Microsoft disingenuous, predatory and expecting to pick up the Yahoo! brand at a drop down price.

Who to please – the searcher vs the advertiser

Yahoo!’s fortunes have been mixed, the brand was the search colossus, but while Google concetrated on refining its algorithm around relevancy, it can be argued that Yahoo! focused on portal content, building communities and advertising revenue. Google with its market dominance has in recent years turned its attention to community and web 2.0 through a mixture of acquisition and creation of easy to use, free tools ( google docs, igoogle, blogger, youtube). In simple terms Google’s eye was on pleasing the audience, Yahoo!’s was more traditional and on pleasing the advertiser; and Google’s focus won out.

Future Search Market Share

The time for a Google merger with Yahoo! is long since past. Together they would take about 81% of the US search market. MSN has about 9%; a Yahoo! buyout would give them around 31%. You can see why MSN is keen.

What are Yahoo!’s tactics? Running Google Adsense across Yahoo! platfroms and networks could net the company billions. Is this the plan or are they sticking it to Microsoft to get a better price for shareholders.

It’s like Wargames for search. Nobody wants to have limited choice but Google’s offering is so compelling and MSN has never lived up to it’s search promise with dancing algorithms and limited market penetration. Yahoo! on the other hand is a much loved brand and many in the search industry are rooting for it’s survival intact and ready to fight another day.

Google Search Protection Money – trademark term search

Merge of google and the godfather logos

“Are you looking at me?” Is it my imagination or if you stare long enough at Google can you see the fat cigar, fedora and highly polished spats. Is Google starting to resemble Don Corleone? By announcing it’s stopping its support of sponsored listing trademark protection in the UK and Ireland, Google is bringing in  the equivalent of brand protection money on search shopfronts.

The resulting is a free-for-all in the PPC field. A search for a trademarked brand will result in competitor ads being served as well as the brand owners. So what’s the fall out for the marketing family?

  1. We know that brand searches (goal oriented ones anyway) are usually associated with higher purchase intent. PPC campaigns which are measured by more short-term measures of ROI will certainly suffer.
  2. Brand reputation management is becoming increasingly mainstream. PPC advertising has it’s part to play in online brand protection. Google’s move shifts PPC’s role from marketing/PR glove to boxing ring.
  3. With the reported downturn in Google’s paid ad clicks for the first time, won’t this be a sweetener for those clutching their shares.
  4. It’ll encourage premium bidding with marketers looking to create “tipping point” ads to generate leads on the back of competitor keywords. Brands will be forced to bid on their own keywords to keep themselves at the top of the pack.
  5. Watch those affiliates go – “yehar, thar’s gold in them thar hills”. Watch brands become more vigilant with affiliate content and t&c’s outlining what keywords they cannot bid on.
  6. Search agencies will be conflicted in response – on the one had they can expect PPC spend to increase on accounts, on the other there’s going to be a lot more monitoring and disgruntled clients to deal with.

As is the case in the States for the last four years, trademarks probably won’t be permitted in the actual ads. The good news is that it doesn’t come into effect until May, then watch for turf wars and some smaller brands “sleeping with de fishes”. Capiche?

Universal search and CTR

Universal search is starting to shake up search marketing. The recent posting on the Comscore blog makes the interesting point that while CTR for paid search might decline, referrals from Google on the whole could increase i.e. Universal search has the potential to drive more valuable traffic to sites.

At first sight this looks like a very non-commercial move from Google that might have a negative impact on thier paid search revenues (shareholders will no doubt have another wibble). But Google’s success is built on it’s importance as a resource to consumers/searchers. By blending the results, Google is servicing the needs of their audience first, and as sure as a cat’s a hairy beast search marketers will follow. SEO will become increasingly vital.

Put this in the context of CTR for paid search now averaging about 0.2% and video CTR on sites like Youtube averaging between 1-2%. There is every chance that Universal Search will provide more relevant traffic to sites and with around 17% of all searches returning blended results search marketers need to rise to the challenge.

Watch out for the scramble to market as the reality of this filters down the marketing hierarchy.

It’s a gender thing?

Two bits of news in the last couple of weeks highlight the growing importance of gender as a demographic in digital marketing.

Ask (previously Ask Jeeves) announced last week that it was going to stop being all things to all men and focus instead on the women. An illustration of how the future is niche.. and increasingly pink.

Asks status as no4 in the US marketplace and it’s historical popularity round the world in part stems from it’s past success as engine of choice in the education sector. Hopefully the female and health focus will shore up an engine that a lot of us marketers cut our first digital teeth with.

But they might want to leave out the gamers from their stats. Massively Multiplayer Online – Role Playing Games (MMORPG) have released the startling news that 70% of females and 54% of males have played as the opposite gender.

Digital Marketing in a Downturn

What happens if the credit crunch becomes the marketing budget crunch where wrestling with the CFO becomes a grim weekly reality? God forbid!

A lot has changed since the dark, fearful days of the last recession at the end of the 80’s, early 90’s. Back then it was the era of faxes and regurgitated Kotler and McLaren. But from adversity comes success. Recessions can be a breeding ground for marketing innovation in the face of tremendous financial challenges.

Online marketing wasn’t really around during the last recession, nor for that matter were most of Britain’s online marketers out of college (or indeed secondary school!).

Very probably the cost effective aspects of digital marketing would take a larger share of the overall marketing budget in a time of recession. Here’s a few aspects to ponder on.

Metrics – The good times and bigger picutre marketing go hand in hand, a down turn is a time of detail. If you’ve only been giving those stats a cursory look, it’s time to get into the detail. Mine it for the gold.

Competition – Keep a good weather eye on the competition through online tools and be opportunistic. Remember they’ll be feeling the pinch too.

Brand Equity Marketing – inevitably a target of the brown suits in accounting but a refocusing of brand spending to online and more granular activity of Social Media Optimisation will help.

Consumer Decision Making & search – test going against the usual agency SEM mantra of investing in generic keyowrd paid search. Refocus on terms which show a clearer intent on purchase e.g. “value egyptian cotton sheets” rather than “bedsheets online”. Measure the effect of this over a quarter in terms of both ROI and revenue.

Natural Search – it’s cost effective and sustainable if you spend some time getting it right. 90% of all site visits in UK have an element of search engine so make sure your infront of your potential customers when they are looking for you.

Online Inventory – harden up on your online media buying. Relook at the basics of time and geography, layer on context and investigate behaviour opportunities in large networks.  Negotiate!

Social Media Optimisation – can be very confusing for most marketers at the start. Invest in putting a strong strategy together and you’ll find that for ongoing minimal effort will reap strong returns.

Email – get into the detail and segment your database. If your email set up doesn’t give you the detail you want invest consider investing in software or move operations to an online emarketing provider. Focus on building loyalty and repeat sales with existing customers by creating incentives that match their behaviour/interests.