In Shanghai, Mike finds what may be Google's Achilles heel.
I tend to live in a kind of time-zone-free bubble these days. Having just returned from China, and for the first time in ages sitting at my desk in the U.K., I'm still not sure what day of the week it is, let alone what time zone I'm in.
China is a fascinating country. My company is opening a Hong Kong office in the new year, so the trip was timed perfectly to get a feel for the search marketplace as I mingled with China's movers and shakers at ad:tech Shanghai.
My particular session was heavily attended by Microsoft and MSN representatives. At lunch, I met with Celina Chan, Microsoft's Hong Kong-based regional director. We discussed the launch of adCenter (MSN's PPC (define) program), which has been piloted in Singapore and France.
I also talked with MSN's Xu Jingyi. Microsoft has its advanced technology center in Beijing, where staffers were tasked with a brief to out-do Google and Yahoo on the PPC front. Jingyi has been slaving away with her team building, testing, and upgrading MSN's new ad platform. (I'll feature my interview with Jingyi and Chan and my look under adCenter's hood in a future column.)
I asked both women what they thought would set MSN apart from Google's AdWords product. They immediately focused on years of profiling, user behavior, and data mining. In short, they know a heck of a lot more about their audience than Google knows about its own.
Is It or Isn't It?
Interestingly, about two years ago, I was interviewed by the BBC, which asked me the same question about Yahoo and Google. My answer was very much the same. Yahoo had millions of subscribers and a lot of historical data to go with them.
If Google has an Achilles heel, this is it. And they're very much aware of it. Most certainly, MSN's new product will add a much higher level of precision advertising than what Google currently offers. Gender, age range, and geographic location are among the demographics and stats adCenter offers to advertisers seeking tightly targeted accuracy.
Google's constant stance of "We're not a portal" is valiant insofar as keeping up the engine's uncluttered interface and search-first image goes. However, it doesn't help when it comes to data mining for personalization.
There was a little outcry when I mentioned recently you only have to click the "More" link on the Google home page to see a not so very well hidden portal-like array of features and services.
And Google has recently taken another huge step toward "portaldom" with Google Accounts. I could be wrong, but isn't signing in (i.e., subscribing) to specific services and features, such as email, news, weather, and social networks, the same process as subscribing to those well-known portals Yahoo and MSN?
Personalization vs. Customization
Profiling for personalization can provide an enormous leap in relevancy for both organic and paid search results, to the benefit of end users and advertisers. How can Google compete if it doesn't have access to the same kind of audience data?
Now, personalization and customization are two very different things. Customization is about layout and preferences. You may want to change the color of your log-in page, for example, and decide to have sports news or finance first. Basically, it's a cosmetic or functional thing. But personalization looks at a multitude of data mined for a particular set of users.
In the future, we'll change gears from simplistic, technical-based SEO (define) to a more sophisticated, marketing-based SEO. I'll be delighted when we get rid of the "you need keywords in an h1 tag here" and "keywords in your alt text attribute there" commotion. It's just a smokescreen from industry people who don't understand marketing and think a little tech-speak peppered with a bit of FUD (define) about being banned by search engines will suffice.
In keeping with my "ignorance isn't bliss" mantra, I found a great document last year that covers personalization in great depth. It's not specifically a search engine personalization document. Rather, it academically covers Web site personalization. If your Web site is huge and growing, just like a search engine, you'll get a great deal from it. I certainly did.
Meet Mike at Search Engine Strategies in Chicago, December 5-8, 2005.
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Mike Grehan is Publisher of Search Engine Watch and ClickZ and Producer of the SES international conference series. He is the current president of global trade association SEMPO, having been elected to the board of directors in 2010.
Formerly, Mike worked as a search marketing consultant with a number of international agencies, handling such global clients as SAP and Motorola. Recognized as a leading search marketing expert, Mike came online in 1995 and is author of numerous books and white papers on the subject. He is currently in the process of writing his new book "From Search To Social: Marketing To The Connected Consumer" to be published by Wiley in 2013.
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