Google Instant a Marketing Ploy?

The article, “How Google Saved a $100 Million By Launching Google Instant” really caught my eye. How did the big giant do this? As you know for the past couple of weeks, since Google announced the launch of Google Instant people have been tweeting and writing about it and the offering their two cents about the implications it may have on SEO and paid search.

In my opinion it’s not going to change how companies currently conduct SEO and paid search campaigns. Right now it’s more of a waiting game. Will impressions increase? Will that cause Click-thru-rate (CTR) to decrease? How will Instant affect cost-per-click (CPC)? I’ve read blogs about how Google Instant is a game-changing, time-saving innovation, but is it really? Previous to Google Instant users still had the ability to search while Google threw out suggestions of what they may be looking up. So what’s changed? That results appear as you type… Not too impressive especially while doing some tests the first results that appear as you type aren’t necessarily things I was looking for.

Is this another attempt by Google to choke off the long-tail of paid search in order to force greater competition and CPCs on head terms? Only time will tell I guess.

Now back to how Google saved millions. I’m not in PR, but if I was I’d be amazed on a job well done by Google’s PR team. With just one press release and a few interviews, Google has taken advantage of their slight speed change into an attention-grabbing front-page news story. Looks like Google Instant has been an effective countermove to Microsoft’s $100 million dollar ad campaign at the launch of Bing.

Amazing how Google continues to be at the top of its game. When Bing launched they thought they could beat out the big giant with what they thought could be Google’s Achilles Heel. Bing researchers found that the average time spent in search sessions was getting longer and longer and users were getting ever more frustrated with sifting through results of multiple queries to find what they were searching for. So Microsoft engineered the Bing search engine from the bottom up to specialize in organizing search results data in a noticeably better, more efficient way so that Bing users would immediately experience noticeably shorter search sessions and reach decisions more quickly.

Currently, the average search session lasts nine minutes and requires about six queries, then assuming Google Instant shaves off two seconds per query, the search session goes from 9 minutes down to 8 minutes and 48 seconds.

The way Google launched Google Instant was timely as Microsoft is knees deep in preparing to roll out their search alliance with Yahoo. This sleeping competitor was taken by storm as Google’s PR and product teams helped reclaim, by default, the throne as the world’s fastest search engine.

I’m now concerned as what is to happen with the newly created search alliance by Microsoft and Yahoo. Will search users become overwhelmed by Google Instant and make searching on Google much more frustrating? Only time will tell!

Client Acquisition and Conversion

In the customer lifecycle, we know that there is:

  • Acquisition (driving traffic to the site),
  • Conversion (getting your visitors to do something valuable), and
  • Retention (getting your visitors to repeat those actions).

In each marketing phase of the lifecycle, we have metrics such as click through rate, and bounce rate to help quantify the success of our marketing efforts. However, these metrics do not tell a complete story as far as campaign performance is concerned.

In an article titled “Is it Acquisition or Is it Retention?” by Neil Mason, he delves deeper into the bounce rate metric which helps marketers measure acquisition and conversion. This metric is both difficult to interpret as well as act upon. Some questions we often ask include:

  • What’s an acceptable bounce rate for a campaign?
  • If there is a high bounce rate:
    • Is the campaign poorly targeted therefore attracting the wrong visitors?
    • Is the user experience so poor causing visitors to leave the site immediately?

As we can see, the lines between acquisition and conversion are easily blurred. The same idea applies to acquisition and retention, making them really just two sides of the same coin. While there are many definitions of retention, we can agree that this is the process of turning first time customers into long term customers, which is essentially one of the goals of many online marketing campaigns. So after a customer has visited the website once (likely via PPC), how do we get them to come back and convert again?

While Mason does not get into the specifics of this, we believe that through the use of SEO, local search,  Online Reputation Management (ORM) services and social media management  businesses can better retain their customers. Having a user friendly web site is an essential component to the user experience and having a good reputation certainly doesn’t hurt. By understanding that your business needs to retain customers in addition to acquisition and conversion them, the argument can be made that the value of our services – SEO, local search,  Online Reputation Management (ORM) services and social media management and the campaigns we implement should be evaluated beyond terms of the initial conversions. Our services then translate to the contribution of overall lifetime value for your businesses.

-Kristina Zhao

Someone Just Updated your Local Listing and you Don’t Even Know About it!

I recently came upon a brilliant article, and it brought up some fears of how some business owners are leaving themselves ‘open’ for attacks to their online local listing data.

This great article initially caught my attention as it primarily discusses business listings data, which is admittedly a subset of all location information for business (i.e. location and contact information).

A few years back a concept was proposed as to whether there could be a Wikipedia of Yellow Pages and if it could be successful.  Greg Sterling in 2006 said:

“…until recently Wikipedia seemed a long shot and almost preposterous notion itself. And if the directory follows in the footsteps of Wikipedia it will become a highly successful (and visible) way for local businesses to be found. It could also be radically disruptive if successful.”


Greg noted that one such concept, Yellowikis, failed, although Brownbook and Bizwiki have continued with similar ideas.  To date these have not been successful in attracting consumer use, and properly structuring data in a way that other developers can use.


Now in 2010 the idea appears to be gaining ground.  More key players are interested in this Wiki of places and organizations are already working on a solution!


But the question stands… With this concept of Wiki places information will have to be sort of a open source.  So who will be in charge of centralizing this data?

Many people including myself, are in favor of data aggregation companies.  I like the fact we work with many local search data aggregators because we can easily update our clients local listing data and with frequent submissions of this data to over 100 local search sites, I never have to worry about who may be out there updating my local listings with out my knowledge.

Recent Google Online Advertising Spend

AdAge  recently had an interesting article regarding some large company’s recent online advertising spend with Google.

The article points out BP as an example in the power (especially regarding online reputation management) of Google online advertising. Before the spill, according to AdAge, BP was “only” spending around $57,000. After the spill, however, BP spent millions each month quickly becoming one of Google’s top advertisers. Ultimately, as we all know, Google is fast becoming the main information outlet for Americans with many more people likely to search, view and read news and information on the internet before television.

The article goes on to analyze overall spend within Google. Although the advertisers seen above spent millions in June alone, these only make up for just 5% of Google’s revenue in that same month – there are thousands of other small advertisers that are the long tail, those that help make up Google’s $23 billion in global annual revenue.

Update to How Impressions are Counted due to Launch of Google Instant

Google Instant was debuted today. Google Instant is a facet of predictive search. As such the definition of an impression has changed and Click Through Rates (CTR) may be affected positively or negatively because of it.

With Google Instant, an impression is counted if a user:

  • Takes an action to choose a query (for example, presses the Enter key or clicks the Search button),
  • clicks a link on the results page, or
  • stops typing for three or more seconds.

It’s possible that Google Instant may increase or decrease your accounts overall impression levels. However, Google Instant may ultimately improve the quality of your clicks since it helps users’ type queries that more directly connect them with the answers they need.

Therefore the new definition of Impression according to Google is:

The “Impr” located on your reporting statistics refers to the number of “impressions” for your ad. In most cases, an AdWords ad impression is counted when an ad is displayed on Google or the Google Network.

However, when someone searches on Google using Google Instant, ad impressions are measured differently.

When someone uses Google Instant, ad impressions are counted in these situations:

  • The user begins to type a query on Google and clicks anywhere on the page (a search result, an ad, a spell correction, a related search).
  • The user chooses a particular query by clicking the Search button, pressing Enter or selecting one of the predicted queries.
  • The user stops typing, and the results are displayed for a minimum of three seconds.

Google updates number of Organic links that can show in SERPs

Google is constantly changing their algorithm and how the search engine results pages (SERPs) display relevant infomation.  An ‘improvement’ made in the last week includes the following:

For search queries that show a strong interest in a particular domain you will now see more than the two listings for the domain.  This is a change from the maximum of two listings that Google would show per organic search result prior to last week.

For example, if you are planning a trip to New York City and want to visit the Whitney Museum – you may search ‘Whitney Museum Exhibitions‘ as shown below.

Image of Whitney Museum SERPS

Notice the number of results from the Whitney’s own page.  You are no longer presented with results from sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp and CitySearch above the fold on page one.    You must scroll down to find relevant information from different sources than the Whitney Museum.  There are certainly good and bad implications with this change, but the update to the number of organic links that can be shown for a business will help those tasked with controlling the information that appears when web users search for their business an exciting challenge.

Bing Has Free Tools! Make sure you use them.

Microsoft Search (Bing) is becoming more relevant each day and as such it is a good idea to be familiar with all of the great tools that are available that will help increase your accounts performance on Bing.  It is especially important to know about all the free tools that can make managing your online search account more robust and relevant to users search queries.

We were previously familiar with the tool, but after reading this article about Microsoft Ad Intelligence, we decided we should jump on the band wagon and remind you why it’s so great.

This free tool is an add-in for Excel (2007 version only), but you must have a Microsoft adCenter account. The setup is free; however you need a credit card to put into the system. Most people do not use this tool because of these two criteria, but the information that it generates is very interesting and worth the effort to gain access to this data.

Microsoft adCenter gives you information based on actual Bing and MSN query data including:

  • Relevance
  • Volume
  • Cost history
  • Search-user age group
  • Gender
  • Geographical location

Additionally, the “Vertical KPIs” tool allows you to learn about how keywords perform in a specific business category and content vertical. This translates into the ability to predict expected cost and performance of your search/content campaigns. This tool is especially useful as Yahoo transitions to Microsoft Search (Bing). Microsoft is beginning to bridge the search marketing gap between itself and Google, so we all need to get most comfortable with the Microsoft search world.

-Kristina Zhao

What I Learned From AT&T

An article from AdvertisingAge can actually teach us several things – how AT&T is expanding to the iPhone App Market and how to keep customer’s loyal in the face of competitors and an expanding market.

While AT&T offers around 20 iPhone apps currently, the fast-approaching reality that AT&T will not be the only iPhone carrier forever is causing them to expand their offering with tailored apps unique to AT&T that might make users want to stick around a little longer.

Mark Collins, senior VP-data and voice products, AT&T Mobility and Consumer markets, said AT&T is focused on building apps across all phone makers’ platforms that bring value and help minimize churn.  He said that when an AT&T customer stores its social networks, photos, and videos on AT&T and uses, for instance, its “Family Map” app that locates phones on the same plan, “they’re much more likely to stay with us.”

AT&T pursuing this expansion in their offerings, currently unique to the mobile service provider helps increase the likelihood that customers will stay – even with the iPhone being offered to other providers. Most businesses can take this to heart as well – you should constantly be on the lookout for new offerings and services to provide to your clients (for our team most recently local search). By expanding offerings to your clients, you can help them stay a loyal customer and provide a great benefit to them.

This Holiday Make Sure Your Business Gets Paid (Search)

The holiday season is going to be quickly upon us!  I don’t know about you but I am getting excited and saving my pennies for presents.  In light of my passion of Christmas, I have started investigating various promotions with and for my clients.  This is the right time to start thinking about the holiday shopping season as it starts in late September.

Today, in my research, I came across a great guide that can help to ensure your account is ready:  Paid Search For Boosting Holiday Season Profits.

Studies show that conversion rates increase in the weeks leading up to the holidays, with overall conversion rates increasing an average of 42%!  We may not see this lift in sales till November but with buyers researching and not only clicking more often on ads, but also converting, merchants see a tremendous lift in overall profits as a result of the compound effect of these behaviors.  In order to build our holiday paid search campaigns for 2010, behavioral observations like these can serve as guide posts for planning budgets, bids, promotions and even management strategies.

Here are 5 tips from this article that will help get our accounts ready:

  1. Boost bids going into the holidays: The article suggests reviewing trends from last year to put together a schedule for boosting bids based on where we are in the holiday calendar.  Research shows that conversion rates typically increase anywhere from 25% to 50% over November in the four weeks leading up to Christmas.
  2. Adjust budgets and max CPCs to handle holiday volume: We want to make sure no keyword falls below the first page during this time due to budget constraints.  During the holidays you will see a trend of increased queries, clicks, and even cost-per-click!  This is a big one for us:  We need to make sure our clients budgets are set so that we don’t run into a situation where our clients ads are not showing during key times in the month.
  3. Plan for break-out items: Now this is a strategy I haven’t seen done but could work.  What we can do is “break out” products that sale really well during Christmas.  Obliviously, we won’t know exactly what will sell out, but we can plan to manage hot items as they arise.  This article suggests setting alerts to identify groups or keywords hat see large increases in click-through and conversion week over week. Once we identify those high performing products and terms, we can consider expanding keyword buys around these products and terms by using search query reports to identify words that users are typing in to reach your site.
  4. Pay attention to ground shipping cutoff dates: According to the National Retail Federation Survey, nearly 80% of retailers plan to offer free shipping promotions this year.  Let’s talk with clients if this is something they can offer as well!
  5. Manage bids to inventory: Again here is where we come into play.  We need to ensure we keep up to date on inventory levels on items that are tied to keyword buys.  Research shows that conversion rates fall for items that are out of stock, as well as for items with limited selection available.  If you see dramatic drops in conversion rates this can indicate that customers are finding either low inventory or limited selection.  Dampening or turning bids off wholesale when you reach a low inventory or limited selection situation will ensure that we don’t buy costly clicks that won’t convert.

I know we are still a couple of months away but it’s a good idea to start planning for the Holidays today!