Facebook’s people-based marketing platform Atlas to challenge Google ad dominance

As ubiquitous as it is Google, the powerful search company faces ever competition from different directions which impede its attempt to diversify beyond search. In a blog response to Rupert Murdock of Fox, Google listed some its competitors:

“Within search Google faces a lot of competition: including
Amazon for product search; Kayak and Expedia for flights; and Yelp and TripAdvisor for local information.”

Atlas Advertiser SuiteHowever successful or not these rivals might be, financially Google should be threatened the most by Facebook’s launch of a direct competitor to Google’s advertising subsidiary DoubleClick. Atlas, Facebook’s ad serving platform which it bought from Microsoft in 2013, will enable advertisers to target Facebook users across other websites and mobile apps.

Facebook’s people-based marketing platform Atlas to challenge Google

With its troves of demographic information, Facebook is a real threat to Google’s dominance, and a welcome new opportunity for advertisers. What makes Facebook’s Atlas platform so potentially impactful is that is the massive data it has on its users. Of course, what is powerful for businesses, can be creepy for users.

How to opt-out from the Facebook ads

If you don’t want Facebook to sell your personal information and browsing history to third-party companies, Business Insider has specific prescription:

“…visit the Digital Advertising Alliance opt-out, and in the middle of the page, click on “Companies customizing ads for your browser.” Select the boxes next to the names of companies you no longer wish to receive ads from, and then scroll down and click to submit your choices.

Mobile users will need to additionally opt out of advertising through special control settings embedded in iOS and Android. On iOS, visit the “Settings” app and open up the “Privacy” tab, click on “Advertising” and enable “Limit Ad Tracking.” On Android, Facebook may add this setting as a user preference within the “Application Manager” found in “Settings,” but you can also set up and manage a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on the device that should automatically disallow any browser tracking.”

Microsoft: Now that Vista is launched, watch out Google

Microsoft’s chief executive, Steve Balmer, in an interview with the Financial Times addresses the next priorities facing the biggest software company in the world, now that Vista has been launched:

“FT: …Search: where are you going further with search?

BALLMER: It’s one of these areas where we are clearly not the market leader. The market leader is clearly doing well in the market. It’s perhaps even more dramatic in Europe than in the United States, in general. Google has a higher share in Europe. The share numbers that usually get cited are US share numbers, but if you take a look it will be more dramatic. And yet the experience leaves a lot to be desired.

Something like 50 per cent of searches don’t actually result in an answer to the user’s question. Interesting factoid. The average search I think is 2.1 words. Isn’t that odd? Why don’t people type more into search queries? Because they’ve learned: the more you type, the more false positives you get. But isn’t that ultimately ironic, the more you’re willing to tell the computer, the less good job the computer does. That’s not very acceptable. The more I’m willing to type in, you would think that ought to get me a better answer back than a worse answer.

The chance to innovate in the experience is quite dramatic. We believe in that. We’re investing in that. We’re going to have to be long term – we count that as a value – we’re going to have to be long term, patient, disciplined, really in our thinking and just keep after it, keep after it with new innovations, continue to try to change the experience for the user.

In some senses, it’s one of the dullest experiences in the technology world today – ours and Googles and Yahoos – it’s not a shot at anybody else’s. But you’ve got to believe with user interface changes and technology you can do better than today’s search user interface. It’ll be an area we continue to invest in and push forward.

FT: In terms of winning this battle, how much of it is about the actual underlying technology, and how much about the way it’s packaged and branded. To what extend are you losing share at the front end and not necessarily getting as far at the back end for technology reasons, and how much of it is because of the other skills required.

BALLMER: Let me put it in three buckets.

Bucket number one is the base of the base of the base: how good are our results compared to other guys’ results? And I would tell you that in blind tests we’re pretty close. I can’t say we’re better, but I can say we’re pretty close. In blind tests.

Number two is: how does anybody innovate in the user interface, the user experience? How accessible, if you will, is it and how simple is it to get the answer to the question given the back end technology? And that’s an area where we have small innovations, but you should expect to see more from us.

And probably it’s an area where frankly, if you’re the market leader it’s a little harder to break out of your pattern than if you’re not the market leader. Let me just say it that way. As market leaders we have more of a temptation not to…

FT: As an underdog, you can invade…?

BALLMER: You would think so.

And then number three, is the brand. And brands can be tough of course, but as I point out to our people, the brand for search five years ago, six years ago, wasn’t Google, it was Yahoo, and now it’s Google. So it’s with the right technology innovation that people can really see a difference. It’s with the right business model innovation. Right now, the business model is fine, on the other hand there’s a lot of money that just sits there in Google between the merchants and the advertisers, the people who provide goods and services. A lot of it just sits there instead of flows through. It’s a bigger pot. Take the FT. You do not get to keep as high a percentage of what you take in relative to your user community as Google does relative to it’s user community. There’s opportunity for business model innovation as well.”

Search market share in 2006

Establishing a brand name in the search market place has not been easy for Microsoft so far, as CNET reported:

“Microsoft’s Live branding has been tremendously confusing and has hurt the company, and it is very likely contributing to the situation they are in right now,” said David Smith, an analyst at Gartner. “They’ve created another brand and have not differentiated it.”

No wonder, Google is still the king of search…

How much is search engine marketing worth to you?

Nielsen/NetRatings updated its report on the search engines’ market share in the U.S. [PDF]:

  • Google – 48.2% (in January 2006) vs. 47.1% (in January 2005)
  • Yahoo! – 22.2% (in January 2006) vs. 21.2% (in January 2005)
  • MSN Search – 12.8% (in January 2006) vs. 12.8% (in January 2005)

comScore Networks, on the other hand, measured lower but growing market share for Google in January 2006:

  • Google – 41.4% (in January 2006) vs. 35.1% (in January 2005)
  • Yahoo! – 28.7% (in January 2006) vs. 31.8% (in January 2005)
  • MSN Search – 13.7% (in January 2006) vs. 16.0% (in January 2005)
  • AOL – 7.9% (in January 2006) vs. 9.6% (in January 2005)
  • Ask.com – 5.6% (in January 2006) vs. 5.1% (in January 2005)

These percentages are based on an estimate that 85% of the total U.S. internet user base, or 146 million people, visited a search engine at least once in January 2006.

While the shares of the main search engines haven’t changed much since last year, the total search traffic in January 2006 has grown by 39% (according to Nielsen/Netratings) or by 11% (according to comScore) since a year ago. Whether you use the Nielsen/Netratings’ numbers (5.7 billion searches) or the comScore’s ones (5.48 billion searches in a single month), an average of 3 searches per user on a typical day (based on the 60 million daily search engine users in the U.S., estimate by the Pew Internet & American Life Project) begs the question: do search engine marketers overpay for their traffic, and if so, what is there to do?

The growing importance of search engines as a marketing channel would explain the growth of search engine marketing (SEM) spending only partially. When you compare the SEM annual spending growth, estimated at 277% by MarketingSherpa at a recent web seminar, to the 39% growth of search engine traffic, it becomes obvious that as many as the search engine users are they are not enough — too many of the search engine marketers are competing, and overpaying, for too few eyeballs.

While the fear of the competition might be a big factor for the keyword bidding craze, my guess is that the biggest reason why marketers so willingly part with their dollars is because they do not measure the return on their marketing investments. This is where the importance of web analytics and organic search engine optimization come. One enables the other. Unless you grow (organically), you cannot sustain your business. Unless you measure, you cannot manage. Unless you manage, you spend your online marketing budget at your own risk.

Google among the most respected global companies for 2005

Today’s Financial Times published the 2005 list of the world’s most respected companies. The leader for the first time is Microsoft, an indication that “the new economy has finally triumphed over the old”. Google ranked number 39, appearing for the first time among the top 50 respected list compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers and published by the Financial Times (last year Google was 58th). The list is composed after survey some 1000 global business executives along with media analysts, fund managers and non-profit organizations.

Among the other high tech companies Apple Computer ranks number 9 (up from position 42 in 2004) boosted by its iPod, Intel at 31 (up from 38th in 2004), and Cisco Systems reached number 30 (up from position 61 in 2004), the networking equipment company. No other internet pure-play made it to the top 50.

In addition, Google is number 9 among the most innovative companies as ranked by fund managers, up from 14th place in 2004. eBay was ranked number 7 for innovation but is not listed in the general ranking of the most respected companies. Similarly, Amazon.com is ranked 12th for customer service but is not listed among the most respected companies. Yahoo is not mentioned in any of the lists.

Search Engine Blogs: Official and Unofficial

Official company blogs have become a great PR tool for many high tech companies, like Macromedia. As Tara Calishain reports in her ResearchBuzz, search engines do not waste time in deploying this cheap way to disseminate information, rumors, and anything inbetween.

Here is a current list of official search engine blogs:

And here, few unofficial blogs dedicated to the major search engines, added by me:

Forecasts: MSN Search Launch and Online Holiday Shopping

The Financial Times, NY Times, Reuters and the AP reported that Microsoft is expected to launch its new web search engine tomorrow, November 11, 2004. This is anticipated to be among the main challanges to Google’s dominance of the search engine market place. While it is expected that Yahoo’s subsidiary Overture will continue to supply sponsored search results to MSN Search, the organic search results will be provided by Microsoft’s own search engine rather than Yahoo! Search. This will further reshuffle the search engines market place which as of May 2004 looked like this (image by SearchEngineWatch):comScore Media's estimate of search engine market share as of May 2004

AOL continues to serve both organic and sponsored search results from Google’s search engine and AdWords pay-per-click program. In unrelated news, Google launched Google Advertising Professionals program and AdWords Learning Center in responce to Overture’s Ambassador program.

Online Holiday Shopping to Exceed $15 Billion This Year According to comScore Forecast

comScore Networks today released its forecast of online consumer spending for the 2004 holiday season. comScore reports that consumer spending on non-travel goods at U.S. Web sites will exceed $15 billion during the November through December holiday season, representing growth of approximately 23% to 26% over the 2003 season.
Continue reading “Forecasts: MSN Search Launch and Online Holiday Shopping”

Credibility of Search Results and Paid Search Awareness

A new report on the credibility of search engines called “Searching for Disclosure: How Search Engines Alert Consumers to the Presence of Advertising in Search Results” (PDF, 2.8MB) and released by ConsumerWebWatch examines how search engines explain business relationships with advertisers to their users. The study evaluated the compliance of 15 major search engines with the FTC’s guidelines on disclosing paid sponsorship of search results. The sites evaluated in the study were: 1stBlaze, AltaVista, AOL Search, Ask Jeeves, CNET’s Search.com, Google, InfoSpace Web Search, Lycos Network Search, MSN Search, My Search, My Way Search, Netscape Search, Overture, Web Search and Yahoo! Search.
Continue reading “Credibility of Search Results and Paid Search Awareness”

Search Advertising Drives Online Marketing Growth

According to the Internet Advertising Revenue Report released Monday by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PricewaterhouseCoopers and reported by MediaPost, “the rate of expansion for online ad spending continued to accelerate during the second quarter, soaring 43 percent over the second quarter of 2003, which pegs the second quarter’s online ad volume at $2.37 billion, compares with a growth rate of nearly 40 percent and a volume of $4.6 billion during the first half of 2004…

Sequentially, online ad spending rose 6 percent over the first quarter of 2004, which the IAB and PWC revised downward to $2.23 billion from an earlier estimate of $2.27 billion.”

Search engine marketing accounted for $947 million or 40 percent of all online ad spending, up from only 29 percent a year earlier, making it the most important driver for online marketing growth.

Google AdSense Changes

Google announced new changes to its AdSense sindication program for sponsored search results for web publishers. In addition to making multiple and collapsing ad units available, Google renamed the generic WebSearch and SiteSearch services into the brand-consistent ‘AdSense for search’.

Ads by Goooooogle

Along with these AdSense formatting changes, Google is running a new branding test by expanding the name on the served ad units into ‘Ads by Goooooogle’ ad units. Tara Calishain’s ResearchBuzz blog, with too much free time on her hands, is quick to point that any Google-resembling domain name with more than three Os in the name, i.e. Goooogle.com, Gooooogle.com, Goooooogle.com does not belong to Google.com. Talk about risky branding tests 🙂

User Empowerment: Search Engines and Search Engine Adversiting

Today’s UseIt newsletter by Jakob Nielsen puts the usability of search engines among the leading factors of web usability:

“Search engines are the archetypical embodiment of the mastery ideology. They place users firmly in the driver’s seat and take them where they want to go. You can get anywhere on the Web using a subservient interface that accepts any words you throw at it and serves up a simple, linear list of rank-ordered choices.

Not coincidentally, ever since the WebCrawler debut in 1994, users have proclaimed search as one of their main activities on the Web. Being in control feels good…”

Nielsen further lists search engine advertising among the champions of web empowerment, by stating that “most successful Web ads empower — rather than annoy — users.”