SES 2006: Google à Go-Go

Google dominated the ever-more gargantuan Search Engine Strategies (SES) San Jose conference this year. But that’s hardly news. Google seems to dominate everything anyway, doesn’t it? And anyway, the San Jose event is on home turf. Between the slew of major deal announcements, the massive annual Google Dance at the Googleplex, and a keynote by CEO Eric Schmidt, it was all Google, all the time.


Better-Targeted Search Ads

All the other search players are, of course, very much present, and all are ardently courting advertisers and marketers. Better targeting of paid search ads was a strong message at this week’s event.

Yahoo took the wraps off Project Panama, the new ad platform the company will introduce in Q3. In addition to a flood of new features, the system will allow advertisers to see queries up and down the purchase funnel for the products and services they’re advertising. This will, in theory, allow them to better chose the keywords and keyword phrases they bid on in campaigns.

The second-tier engines are hoping to adopt a similar approach. I chatted with Miva SVP Brian Mukherjee who told me his company is poised to announce very similar functionality in the next couple weeks. Miva’s new product will do much the same in a number of business categories the company has yet to make public.

Content Deals

Yet Google’s two new breathtaking deals with content providers MTV and are what captured the lion’s share of attention here. “We’re working hard to give people the ability to target where their ads go,” Schmidt asserted. “The MTV deal and the MySpace deal are big expansions of new content for our advertisers.” And playing the user-preference card as always, he added, “If you don’t believe us, you should have the decision not to play in that space.”

Yeah, right. But advertisers are starving for the eyeballs of all those young consumers. And as Schmidt pointed out about MySpace, “Nearly 100 million users spending hours and hours every day is an undermonetized opportunity. An opportunity for advertisers to reach an audience you’re not reaching today…. People don’t leave those communities to make a Google search.”

Schmidt argued the development of social networks is the most interesting trend on the Web. “It’s true not only in the U.S. but in other countries. It’s a relatively new phenomenon and a very big phenomenon. It’s a very big deal. It’s not just a transitional issue, and it’s not going to just go away.”

Meanwhile, Google’s MTV deal is the major move into contextual video advertising. We’re still very much in the era of search as a text-based medium. “It’s obvious much of the world’s video will be on the Web or be repurposed for the Web,” said Schmidt.

Just imagine what AOL could do in this space if it had a search engine — and if its reputation for handling search queries wasn’t quite so besmirched.

Click Fraud

Click fraud is still a large, heated topic of debate. Talk off the record to insiders at the major engines, and they’ll tell you their companies have thrown so many internal resources at the problem that it’s really best not to worry. But worry marketers do, and many things the engines are doing to quell fears end up fanning the flames.

Google released a research paper telling marketers not to worry so much, which fanned resentment and accusations of faulty methodology. Schmidt intimated that when serious problems emerge for Google advertisers (it’s important to note here he didn’t specify click fraud), third parties such as search marketers and agencies are often involved — and the fault lies with them.

This was corroborated, anecdotally at least: one major search marketer told me when a client was told by their agency they’d received a large number of fraudulent clicks on their campaign, data from the search engine involved revealed the number of allegedly fraudulent clicks exceeded the total number of clicks the ad garnered.

Expect an increasing amount of transparency on this issue from the search engines, research and studies from every direction, and continued unease. This one’s like spam, folks. It’s not the end of the world (or search advertising), but it’s not going away, either.

Is Google God? Is Google Good?

No, I’m not referring to the infamous Tom Friedman column but to the T-shirt for this year’s Google Dance. It certainly gave me pause.

So did a conversation I had with a major player over lunch the other day (who asked not to be identified). As you’re probably aware, Google’s share of U.S. search volume just broke the 60 percent threshold, according to Bill Tancer at Hitwise. But as my lunch companion pointed out, Yahoo and MSN Search have yet to make any significant gains in search share or to sustain the incremental gains they do make. “If this keeps up,” said my friend, “Yahoo’s going to be about as significant as Lycos.”

Google, meanwhile, is unwaveringly marching into print and broadcast media. “Remember,” Schmidt admonished, “we’re competing against traditional advertisers. If you’re VP of marketing, you have an allocation problem. As long as on a cost per revenue dollar our industry is lower, the money will continue to flow with us. It’s not obvious an upcoming recession would materially affect us.”

Wow. I certainly doubt Yahoo’s prospects are quite as grim as my lunch companion might believe, but it’s food for thought. If Google can manage to stay good — by remaining transparent, innovative, and, above all, secure — there seem to be no limits to its reach or power.

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