Roundup: Search Engine Strategies

Search Engine Strategies in New York last week proved to be one of the busiest shows ever. It seems to go from strength to strength. Traditionally, the summer show in San Jose has drawn the most traffic, so it’ll be interesting to see how the numbers stack up later this year.

There’s a huge amount of camaraderie between the speakers at these shows, which adds to the very friendly atmosphere even first-time visitors enjoy. And there are huge amounts of useful information in dozens of sessions. Sometimes, though, hanging around the conference hotel bars can provide some of the juiciest snippets.

I had the opportunity to catch up with contacts new and old from the major search engines and get the lowdown on anything new.

This show was very much a farewell to the Jeeves butler, with Barry Diller retiring him personally during his keynote session with Danny Sullivan.

I have a fondness for Ask, as it shall now forever be known (truth is, though, we all still called it “Jeeves,” not “Ask,” throughout the entire show). I bumped into James Speer, who’s responsible for heading up the paid offering launched in August last year. He’s been with the company since 2000 and knows the technological capabilities very well indeed.

When discussing PPC (define) advertising, it’s easy to talk about Google and Yahoo as if they were the only players and to forget Ask has its own PPC and contextual advertising network. Given Google AdWords has been responsible for adding a huge amount to Ask’s bottom line, it made me wonder why it needed its own network at all.

“Like a lot of other major portals on the Web, there’s a discomfort with having a single party responsible for total revenue. Plus, we realized there was a tremendous amount of IP that Google was amassing as part of that program,” Speer was quick to point out.

It was interesting he mentioned Google amassing IP. That prompted me to flag Google Analytics and the huge amount of data IP agencies and companies lay bare to it.

I’m in China in a couple of weeks, where I’ll be visiting Microsoft’s Advanced Technology Center in Beijing. When I spoke last year with the team that built Microsoft’s new adCenter in China, it was billed as a Google-killer. James Speer wasn’t so convinced.

“From my perspective, the jury’s still out,” he says. “It sounds sexy and exciting, but we need to see whether it can deliver a higher ROI for advertisers. A lot of what’s being offered has existed in advertising for a long time. So in many ways, search is only just now beginning to use these elements of targeting.”

So, where does Ask see itself with its competitors in terms of model and functionality?

“From a features set perspective, we’ve tried to achieve parity. So forecasting tools, budget, bid management, and keyword suggestion tools are all part of the equation,” says Speer.

He added, “Obviously, we’re CPC priced. We’re more closely aligned to Google in the way we rank ads on the page. We use the YieldRank calculation, so it’s CPC and click-through rate. In terms of targeting technologies, right now we’re very focused on keywords, whether it’s exact matching of keywords or broad matching.”

The Ask network includes a number of portals, such as My Way and My Search, and some I didn’t think still existed, such as iWon (which apparently still has a “loyal audience”) and Excite.

Way back, when I wrote the first edition of my search marketing book, I made reference to one of the most visionary articles I’d ever read: “As We May Think,” published back in 1945. Scientist Vannevar Bush, the author, is thought to be one of the first (if not the first) hypertext thinkers.

One of the many visions he had for the future was something called memex. It was all about research and collective memory. That meant you would research something to a point, then someone could pick up your search trail and take it further from there.

It’s an interesting concept, one Sir Tim Berners-Lee had in his mind when he invented the World Wide Web. For us marketers, it’s rather like the solution to the eternal problem of “How did you find my site?” So many visitors never remember how they got there.

It may only be novelty value or really the embodiment of Bush’s vision (he also describes the fax machine in the paper), but I had to pay attention when I saw the headline of a press release sent to me last week: “New Search Trails Technology Inspired By A Vision Way Back In 1945.”

It’s from a search utility called Trexy, which remembers the search terms and Web pages visited on over 3,000 engines. You can create your own trails or follow someone else’s. I’ve only just started playing with the toolbar, which you must install. But it has promise. Just please do something about the too-cute logo. I can’t take it seriously.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

Related reading