iMarket Solutions Blog : Archive for April, 2011

Is Microsoft Stealing Google’s Search Results?

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

In last week’s blog post, we talked about the merger between Yahoo! and Microsoft’s Bing, and the possible ramifications of having only two major players in the search industry.

But in fact the search field might be even narrower than that: not only are Yahoo! and Bing now using the same search algorithm to get their results, but that algorithm might be based, at least in part, on Google results – because Bing may be stealing Google’s results.

How, you might ask, with the millions of searches made every day, could Google possibly know if Bing is stealing its results? After all, if a website is well-optimized for search engine placement, won’t it do well on both engines?

Yes, and no. Google and Bing have different proprietary algorithms and usually return different results. This is why, if you want your business to dominate the organic search results, it’s important to work with experts who know both engines well.

When there’s a lot of overlap between search results in the two engines, it suggests that something fishy is going on.

In this case, Google discovered the alleged plagiarism by looking at a search query that was both unusual and misspelled. In the summer of 2010, Google programmers happened to be looking at the search results for “torsorophy”, which is a misspelling of “tarsorrhaphy”. Google’s search program had spotted the misspelling and returned the relevant results for the correctly spelled word. As part of their analysis of how well Google had handled the challenging search term, Google’s programmers checked to see how Bing would handle the query. (We have a feeling that there’s a lot of such checking going on between the two major search engines.) The Google team discovered that Bing did not recognize or fix the misspelling, but nevertheless returned the same first-place result as Google had for the correctly spelled word. This raised the suspicion that somehow Bing was tracking Google’s results – because if Bing had not recognized the misspelling, how could it have otherwise known that “torsorophy” and “tarsorrhaphy” were the same?

Another red flag went up for Google’s team in October 2010, when Google’s metrics showed that Bing’s top-ten results, and particularly its first place results, were becoming increasingly identical to Google’s. Though there were still significant differences across many search queries, the percentage of overlap was definitely on the rise, making Bing’s results “more Google-like”.

To confirm their suspicions, Google programmers created one hundred fake queries for gibberish terms – something actual searchers would never type in, like “hiybbprqag” – and, overriding its normal algorithm, manually assigned particular arbitrary results to those nonsense queries. Within a couple of weeks, Bing was returning Google’s arbitrarily-assigned results for some of those gibberish queries.

Google brought their charges public in February 2011, claiming that Microsoft was copying its search algorithm. Microsoft responded with a statement that wasn’t exactly a denial, saying that it uses “multiple signals and approaches” to create its results, including “clickstream data” from the Bing toolbar.

In other words – as Google alleges – Bing might be monitoring and recording people’s Google searches, and then incorporating that data into its own results.

There’s definitely something going on here. Next week, we’ll talk about what’s happening and what it means for businesses that rely on organic search to generate leads.

P.S. Out of curiosity, we looked it up: “tarsorrhaphy” is a rare procedure in which the eyelids are partially sewn together to narrow the opening. This is done to protect the eye while healing or to counteract the side effects from disease. Ouch.

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How to Survive the New Search (Near-)Monopoly

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

In late 2010, two of the three major search engines, Yahoo! and Microsoft’s Bing, merged into one. Both search engines still exist independently – that is, you can still go to either one to type in a search – but the same search formula, or algorithm, will be used by both engines to come up with both organic and paid search results.

This is of course an interesting development, because together Bing and Yahoo! have the potential to present a real challenge to Google’s dominance in the search industry. Before the merger, Google had 65.7% of the search engine market share, Yahoo! had 17.3%, and Bing had 10.7%. Combined, though, Bing and Yahoo! have close to 30% of the search market, which makes them much more of a force to be reckoned with.

In some ways, the merger is good news for businesses that advertise on the search engines, because online advertising may become more cost-effective as a result of it. The most obvious and immediate benefit is in administrative savings. Instead of having to manage three separate accounts for each of the three search engines, online advertisers now only have to manage two accounts – a 33% reduction in administrative time.

There are other advantages to the Bing/Yahoo! merger as well. Now, instead of competing, the two search engines will be able to cooperate to create new search algorithms that will make searches better, faster, and more user-friendly. In turn, this will likely spur Google to innovate as well.

All this innovation will be aimed at one goal: to provide people with the precise information they’re searching for, as quickly and efficiently as possible. Of course, search efficiency is helpful to consumers and information-seekers, because it saves time and hassle. But it’s also vital for businesses that advertise online. The more a search engine is able to give searchers what they want immediately, the more – and the more qualified – leads that engine will deliver. Plus, fewer unqualified leads will see paid search ads, so fewer people will click on paid ads without buying, making for better ROI on paid search.

On the downside, though, with only two major players in the search market, we’re getting close to a monopoly. There’s a possibility that we’ll see an increase in paid search advertising rates as a result. Even more importantly, the near-monopoly means that there’s no room for error in constructing online advertising campaigns. There are now only two channels for reaching online consumers, and if you don’t understand the algorithms for both search engines – and how they differ from one another – you may lose the opportunity to reach a significant percentage of potential customers. Therefore, while administrative overhead may be reduced thanks to the merger, online marketers will need to invest the extra time in constructing maximally effective online campaigns.

What’s the bottom line? We believe that online marketing expertise is more important than ever. Expertise is required to maximize organic results so that your company is less vulnerable to increases in paid search rates. Expertise is also crucial for making sure that you have a dominant presence in both search engines.

iMarket’s strategy and expertise will make sure that you’re well-positioned to succeed in the post-merger search environment. Our focus has always been on maximizing ROI by maximizing organic search performance in all major search engines – and our online marketing team has years of experience working with those search engines. We’re confident that our clients’ websites will continue to out-perform the competition.

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Inbound Marketing: The Future of Marketing Part V: The Yellow Pages – Your Grandmother’s Inbound Marketing?

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

“Why are the Yellow Pages like nursing homes? They’re shockingly expensive, few people under 70 use them, and many who do are just a little out of it.”*

Ah, the Yellow Pages. The tried and true marketing stalwart.

After reading the last few blog posts, you might be saying, “Hey, wait a minute, Yellow Pages puts your business in front of people who are already looking for your products and services. Doesn’t that make the Yellow Pages ads a kind of inbound marketing?”

Yes, it does. It’s why the Yellow Pages used to be a pretty good source of leads. It is a search engine made out of paper.

But things are changing now. In 2008, the Internet surpassed the Yellow Pages and became the #1 source for information about local businesses. Back then, the two mediums were running pretty much neck-and-neck, but since then the gap has widened. It’s hard to get statistics on Yellow Pages usage, because of course the Yellow Pages wants to put as positive a spin as it can on its numbers. However, we can get a sense of where things are going from the September 2010 public filing of SuperPages (one of the largest Yellow Pages companies in the US): SuperPages’ revenue decreased 61.3% from 2009 to 2010.

Of course, this only tells you that fewer people are advertising in the Yellow Pages; it doesn’t tell you how often your potential customers are using the Yellow Pages to find you. In the absence of any useful statistics from the Yellow Pages itself, there are a couple of ways to get a feel for this.

First, ask people you know how often they use the Yellow Pages in general. If you ask your kids, they’ll probably say “never”. If you ask your mother or grandmother, she’ll probably tell you that she still uses it occasionally.

Then, start asking your recently-acquired customers if they used the Yellow Pages to find you. Remember to phrase the question carefully, though, because people may look up your number in the Yellow Pages because they heard about you some other way. If that’s the case, it’s not your expensive Yellow Pages display ad that generated the lead – some other form of advertising really made the sale for you.

Although Yellow Pages use is hard to ascertain, we do have some pretty good statistics about how many people use the internet to research local products and services. According to a recent BIA/Kelsey study, 97% of people use some kind of online media (search engines, social networks, etc) to check out a product before they buy it.

Coming back to our basic principle of inbound marketing – putting your message out in front of people who are actively engaged in looking for a product or service – we believe that these days the smart (marketing) money is on the Internet, not the Yellow Pages.

However, we recommend that you don’t completely forget the Yellow Pages. Some people (particularly older people or people in rural areas with poor internet connections) will still use the Yellow Pages to look up your number after they’ve heard good things about you via other channels, including the Internet.

Also, there is still a compelling reason for service companies to maintain a Yellow Pages listing: you need to make sure people can find you during an emergency, even if the power is out.

For this reason, we recommend that you maintain a simple line listing in the Yellow Pages – but that you don’t renew your display ad unless your survey of your customers provides clear evidence that it’s working for you.

Adopting an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude, the Yellow Pages are fighting back with their new YP.com website and mobile phone app. According to a recent article in USA today, 40 million people have downloaded the app so far. At iMarket, we’re keeping tabs on these developments and our strategy will continue to evolve to meet the changing online environment.

*This is a joke circulating around the internet, and it probably stems from a blog post made by Killian Branding at http://www.killianbranding.com/whitepapers/why-are-the-yellow-pages-like-nursing-homes/. The post makes some terrific additional points about Yellow Pages vs. Internet advertising that we didn’t have room to go into here.

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