Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Google watch out, MSN is coming...

There may only be room for one winner in the battle of the titans which will soon break out in the search market. MSN and Google, antler to antler, have been eyeing each other up for the last year - each trying to exploit their own strengths and and overcome their weaknesses as they face a competition in which the stakes are all too high.

The stakes of the game involve money - more money than most of us can imagine - but that's only the half of it - reputation and the number one spot are the true goals.

Around a year ago, MSN's attack on the search market became inevitable with the launch of its own search index and crawler tools. Then a few months ago they began testing their new paid search advertising tool "AdCenter" with its launch in English in Singapore and later in French for the French market. The idea was to iron out the bugs and prepare to do battle in the key markets of the US and the UK.

If you were a venture capitalist, you might be prepared to launch and run a search engine these days just to claim some share of the rising market - and make some money. European search engine, Seekport, is doing just that. But this is Microsoft and Bill Gates we're talking about. From monolith of the PC world, to also ran in search, Microsoft is seething with anger at not being taken seriously enough in the search market.

A large marketing spend to promote MSN search moved its market share by a barely measureable percentage. It improved and invested further in its search technology - but still everyone turned to Google from choice. The team at MSN are visibly frustrated by their lack of progress at uprooting Google and the apparently blind loyalty of Google users. Representatives of the company could barely mask their frustration at the recent webmasterworld conference in Las Vegas. Quite clearly, they feel that users and search marketers have not given MSN the credit it deserves for progress.

Of course there is a third competitor in the market - Yahoo - which benefits from every paid-for click which takes place at MSN because they own Overture, the paid-search vehicle which runs the sponsored links in MSN and Yahoo. All changes once MSN rolls out its own advertising tool AdCenter - live now in the US and soon to arrive in the UK. It makes a whole world of difference to your promotional investment plan if you stand to reap the lion's share of the resulting advertising revenue - rather than handing a home goal to another competitor.

Does MSN stand a chance? How are they going to knock Google off it's pedestal?

I met with some of the team from MSN search at the Search Engine Strategies conference in Chicago last week and was given a grand tour of the AdCenter advertising tool. As my American friends would say, it's "awesome".

MSN aims to leverage its strength in the personal data it holds from millions of Hotmail or Messenger users to enable more sophisticated targeted and use of demographics. In auctoin-style search, this becomes somewhat complex as the bidder must choose different levels of bid for different demographics, gender, and age. The system also provides what's known as a "dayparting" option whereby you can choose between your ads appearing within 6 four hour slots during the day.

But it is clearly a strong proposition and will give it advantages within certain market sectors. Take fashion for instance, you really do need to know whether your sponsored links are being shown to men or women if you are, ahem, marketing lingerie!

Google is aware of the threat and its own weakness in terms of the knowledge it has of its users - hence the birth of Google Mail, personalised home pages and Google talk - all gathering demographic data on users as fast as Google's hard drives will take it. But Google has a couple of aces up its sleeve.

Right now Google has the audience and some 60-70% of it depending on whose figures you take. MSN's core weakness is it has no audience. It's a catch 22 for MSN, it needs the audience to win the advertisers to drive its system forwards. Meanwhile, Google clearly perceives the threat as it recently briefed and launched a European media campaign.

So what happens next?

My view is batten down the hatches - what we've seen so far are but a few mild skirmishes and it's going to get bloody. MSN is out to buy audience and to do it quickly - and my new year's prediction is that those deep pockets of Microsoft and Mr Gates and going to be raided more deeply than usual. Equally, Microsoft has learned that it needs to work with partners and with every channel it can lay its hands on - something they have learned to be good at from a poor start in the software world.

There will be deals galore - ones which we today don't even imagine such as arrangements between MSN and AOL (talks apparently are going on). Big sites with search potential (such as the BBC?) are going to get cracking deals on their search facilities; engines we've heard of and many we've not will be swallowed up - anywhere there's an audience they'll have it. And there'll be some big name acquisitions too.

The good news for advertisers and search marketers is that we're going to be wooed and encouraged to work with MSN. For Google, which in an unfortunately timed move, recently managed to upset large slices of the advertising community, this is not mere swanking and sword waving.

This is war.

Offline or online? Marketing turns inside out

The great question of the age is what percentage of your marketing budget do you spend online? The IABUK’s survey said last month that online marketing spend now represents 5.8% of total marketing budgets. I question this method of considering marketing budgets because I’m concerned about what this really means? And what comes AFTER the movement online? Is there life beyond “online”?

How much of your budget do you spend online?

Let me pose you a different question for which there is no statistic just yet: How much of your budget is “Inside Out”? I apologise for the unwieldy term which I will define right away: “Inside Out marketing” takes place when you’ve moved your budgets significantly online and gone beyond the critical turning point where suddenly it becomes clear that you will always need offline. Let me explain…

Just as the aerospace pioneers discovered when breaking through the sound barrier, where the rules of aerodynamics were different, I believe the rules change for marketers once they have moved their marketing centre of gravity “online”.

Firstly, they discover that they actually need “offline” and that “online” can’t achieve their goals all on its own.

Secondly, they learn that they need to reinvent offline.

And finally “Inside Out marketers” rediscover “integrated marketing” which you may have heard of before!

Now they’re fully fledged members of the “Inside Out marketing” club.

So how much of your budget is “Inside Out”?

As someone dedicated to promoting ‘search marketing’, you may think it odd that I should be asking marketers not to throw out the offline bathwater with the online baby. The essence is that both “online” and “offline” are linked and vital ingredients of this new marketing world BUT – the centre of gravity has shifted.

Rule number one of “Inside Out” is that the marketer’s web presence (the organisation’s complete web site network) has moved to the centre and become the marketing fulcrum around which all else revolves. This then enables the whole marketing plan to be re-evaluated in a cohesive and measureable way.

Here are the central rules of “Inside Out”:

Define your marketing objectives.
Place your web site presence at the centre of everything.
Use your web site as your marketing measurement tool on- or offline. If you’re using CRM – integrate CRM and web site.
Speed your development of customer insight and marketing communication tool testing by using online as the development medium
Once you know what works best – move back offline to drive your whole activity both on- and offline.

Answer: “Inside Out” consumes your whole marketing budget 100%

Your web site is capable of doing certain things very effectively:

It can capture and evaluate all of your results data on the fly.
It can run A/B spits to test different marketing concepts hundreds of times quicker than is possible in print. Beyond A/B splits you can use “multivariate” testing of concepts that can inform on literally millions of different approaches in just a few short weeks that you will be able to roll-out in print.
It can conduct market research – without having to resort to tiresome questionnaires – all you need do is present different information, to different customer groups and assess the results. You customers won’t even know you’re asking them.
It can capture latent need through the results of search engine marketing activities or through your own on-site search box.

Online is very powerful, but it does have some weaknesses – such as how can everyone be number one for “cheap flights” on Google?

In “Inside out”, you take the learnings from your web presence and drive them through “offline” knowing that the customer will respond – and in many cases go searching online. Just as Norwich Union did – when they picked up the search engine responses to their slogan “Quote me happy” – a phrase they owned.

So I contend that the switched on marketers will soon no longer think “online” or “offline” but “Inside Out”. Namely, that my web presence is at the centre and I therefore know my customer which means I am able to drive my customer to me, through offline communications such as direct mail, radio o r TV and pick up and walk the customer through to my web site through search online. Now that to me is the true holy grail of marketing.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Toprank blog in voting competition

A very good friend of Web Certain's has managed to get himself nominated as one of the best 'Blogs on online marketing' - something with which we'd heartily agree.

We recommend taking the time to check out Lee's blog - and if you think it's the best in the category - then vote for it too. At Web Certain we certainly use the Toprank blog as a reference tool and would not even dream of trying to compete with it!

You vote here!

2005 Readers' Choice Blog Awards - Voting Form

You might find the list of blogs on the voting form a useful resource anyway!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Shocking UK performance on broadband

Recent reports on broadband penetration worldwide are embarassingly bad for the UK. For the country which leads the world in web marketing, according to certain statistics such as web spend per head, to rank 16th in terms of broadband use is just dreadful.

Even in Europe, the UK is behind Scandinavia, France, Finland and Spain - and some of the countries which the UK beats - such as Germany - have widespread ISDN usage so the figures mask the real tragedy of UK broadband.

Who's responsible? I think we can all guess....

Multilingual search: Worldwide broadband penetration shows Netherlands romping ahead in Europe engines, European internet usage statistics, search marketing, international growth traffic

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Is Seekport a more relevant UK search engine?

The German organisation Seekport has moved its UK search engine out of Beta. Seekport launched in the UK in December and claims to offer more UK-oriented results - partly thanks to a team of editors who quality check the engine's results. The company is based in Germany and has plans to run locally relevant search engines throughout western Europe.

Testing of the algorithm suggests that it operates quite differently to other the American search engines currently producing results which seem odd. As far as Web Certain tracking of UK web sites is concerned, Seekport hasn't yet made it onto the radar and it will need some heavy promotion if it wishes to increase its share of the UK market.


Reported by....Netimperative - Seekport UK moves out of test phase

Search engine watch announces SMA-UK committee

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Watch has announced the new SMA-UK committee in his blog.

SMA-EU Formally Launches; SMA-UK Names Executive Committee

Friday, May 06, 2005

Search Marketing Association UK - results just in

The British Government is not the only one carrying out elections at the present time. The Search Marketing Assocation UK has held its own election for the first committee fully chosen by the membership.

Personally, I'm delighted that members have seen fit to give me the chance to serve on the committee in a formal way - and to continue the work I have been doing with the other founder members who were part of the original working group. I'm also very aware of the responsibility this entails and will certainly do my best to look after the interests of all members.

The full members of the committee can be seen on the SMA-UK web site, of course.

The next step is for the committee members to go forward to the full membership for the President and Vice-President to be chosen.

Election done, now let's get back to work

It has to be said that the UK election does appear to have affected decision-making. Studying our tracking across many UK web sites, it would appear that April was seasonally down on activity compared with March which was well up.

We're looking forward to seeing things pick up in terms of web buzz - and the usual pattern is that a quieter month is followed by much more activity. We'll let you know!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Espotting to launch pay-per-call in the UK

Netimperative reports that Espotting is to launch its pay-per-call service in the UK. Running already for some months in the US, the idea is that the web user clicks on an ad and is then presented with an online ad with telephone number.

Unlike pay per click, however, you only pay if someone calls. An ideal solution for call centres with web sites which are less than effective, you might think.

That's because the downside is your web site doesn't perform its normal role of conversion - and you are totally reliant on the call-caller relationship. This isn't necessarily an issue - but it does mean re-thinking your strategy.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Ask Jeeves to reduce the number of ads on search results pages

Good news for marketers from the CEO of Ask Jeeves, Steve Berkowitz who, following the acquisition of Ask Jeeves by IAC, has announced that the number of 'sponsored links' appearing at the top of Ask Jeeves results is to reduce. Apparently tests have shown that reducing the number of ads at the top of the page actually increases the frequency with which people visit the site and stay there. They didn't need research for that - they could've phoned!

The IAC acquisition will also lead to the Ask Jeeves search box appearing on Expedia, CitySearch, Ticketmaster and - a quick win.

Search Engine Watch

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Golf for sale on eBay with 'heavenly' history

Couldn't resist this story - the new Pope Benedict 16th no longer needs his old Golf with 75,000 kilometers on the clock. Moving to Rome? Where else would you sell your second-hand Golf - but eBay! Thanks to Austrian TV's web site for letting us know!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Who wants a search history in their search engine - consumers or advertisers?

Both Yahoo and Google have launched a facility to check your search history - something people may remember first from A9.

Why would Google and Yahoo launch such a service within a week of each other - noting that they have both been talking about 'personlisation' for some time.

I don't find huge numbers of search users commenting that they can't remember their searches and yet both Google and Yahoo seem to be finding this very important.

Could it be the development of the advertising service of both search engines? MSN has already announced that it will use the hugh volume of personal information it holds on users to target demographically with its new pay per click system due to launched soon in France. MSN has the benefit of a long history of registrations from Hotmail - as well as from Microsoft Messenger and its many other products and services. It clearly aims to leverage this!

Yahoo has been building personal data too - but Google is relatively far behind on this one with its email system only having been created in the last year.

You should expect lots more 'personalisation' features to come from the engines - especially Google. What about your own personal web site for free? It's just a matter of time.

Reuters Top rank Online marketing blog

Monday, April 25, 2005

Google goes for cost per impression charging for new 'Site Targeting'

Google is moving fast these days - and working hard to protect its business model - by launching new ones. Now, it has announced a new tool which will allow advertisers to target particular external sites with their Google Adwords.

'Site Targeting' goes live to a few select customers today and will be charged on a 'cost per impression' basis. Advertisers will be able to select where they wish their ads to appear by selecting from a lengthy list - or going 'board' but specifying certain sites where the ads should not appear. This does not include Adwords itself - in other words Google search.

Why is google doing this? Why go back to an impression charge?

Possibly to head off criticism over the quality of some 'clicks' which come through the normal Adsense system. First, there was Smart Pricing which meant you paid less if the conversion rate - measured by Google's tracking on your site - was below the norm.

Then there was a lot of concern over what's termed 'click fraud' where competitors or publishers could put up the cost of your advertising by clicking many times. What better way to regulate this than to give the power of the advertising to the advertisers themselves.

Just as importantly is Google's aspiration to win over the Fortune 1000 advertisers who spend disproportionately on advertising - but not, it seems, with Google. Why not? Because they have brand values to protect. Don't we all!

Friday, April 22, 2005

93% growth in turnover for Google in Q1

Google has reported its results for the first quarter of 2005 showing a 93% growth on turnover when compared with the same time last year. Total turnover January-March was $1.256 Billion.

The growth, according to Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, was in part due to the growing use of the internet. "We have been able to take full advantage of the growth in online advertising. In addition, we performed well across all our operations with our engineering and product teams delivering dozens of new products and features for Google users around the world."

The Google Ad Sense programme which generates revenue from ads on publishers sites grew by 75% - whereas Google's own sites - the search engine itself and amongst others - generated 116% growth. So it would appear that 'search' continues to outpace other activities.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Google launches!

It's actually been a long time coming and awaited with some keenness - but it's now live and working well. With no warning and just the addition of a line underneath the search box - the localised UK Google burst into life this week.

It features two search boxes - one for the query and one for the location - but then "hey presto" a list of locally addressed organisations leaps onto the screen accompanied by a 3-D map flagging the precise locations for each list item.

You can click on 'directions' without even saying where you are and you receive an excellent map routing you pretty efectively to where you want to go from the centre of the nearest town.

Across the top of the screen are the expected 'sponsored links' in a fairly familiar format.

To appear at the top of the screen you can simply advertise with Google Adwords - but much more interesting is the option to geo-target your results on a particular town or location. Advertisers now also need to review their advertising with directories - especially Yell. Com which is being used to supply the categories and the natural or organic results.

All of this makes Adwords more complex once more and many advertisers will now need to employ an agency with people who really know what they are doing - even if only to save the immense amount of time needed to make the 'pay per click' method successful.

But well done Google, at last, for an excellent tool which will solve a problem for many businesses. I don't understand why you didn't tell agencies about it earlier so we could plan for it and promote it - but otherwise top job!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

59% of UK web users access via dial-up

BT announces its 5 millionth customer for broadband in the UK today - which sounds like a rather large number - but it's not. The UK is somewhat behind the rest of Europe which makes the UK's internet activity growth all the more impressive. In Germany, fast access (broadband and ISDN combined) is already over 60% compared with Britain's miserly 41%.

Despite this slower access rate to the web, the UK continues to outpace the continent in terms of web activity and web spend. Remarkable!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Who causes 'Spam' and poor content?

Stefan Karzauninkat, Director of Quality from German-based search engine seekport demonstrated a wide range of so-called 'Spam' examples for web site owners to avoid. Many of the examples given included Google Adsense ads which brought me to ask myself the question "Who is causing the proliferation of poor quality pages on the web?".

The search engines themselves, through the 'content' networks they are building, must bear some of the responsibility for this by creating a financial imperative to go and creat such pages. Or am I missing something?
Andy Atkins-Krüger
Managing Director
Web Certain Europe Ltd
t: + 44 1904 425577

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Continued decline in email marketing open rates

The opening rate of emails has further declined from an average of 38% at the beginning of 2004 through to 33% at the end of 2004 - according to DoubleClick. This decline is largely put down to the ageing of email lists and the greater use of email 'spam' filtering systems.

Web Certain's advice to clients is to continue to focus on building subscriber lists through you web site as the performance of this email tactic substantially beats more traditional 'blast' techniques of emailing - and we do not recommend buying email lists except in very exceptional circumstances.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

That 'Marketing Week' quote...

The UK's Marketing Week magazine quoted me in their recent 'Search marketing' supplement - here's what they said:

It is also important to make sure that the brand message in both natural and paid for search listings is consistent with above-the-line marketing campaigns. The importance of integrating search with other marketing channels is something that search marketers are keen to get across to clients.

Andy Atkins-Krüger, managing director of search specialist Web Certain, says that search marketing fits well with more traditional forms of listings advertising such as business directories. "If you think about it from a traditional marketing perspective, search engines are providing an answer to a question, which is exactly what directories such as Yellow Pages do, " he adds.

A number of businesses spend thousands of pounds a year on directory advertising, but this spend is often seen as part of the offline budget and is completely isolated from other marketing activity.

Andy Atkins-Krüger suggests that listings, whether in print of online, should be looked at together since they are often closely linked. "I'm not saying that people should fundamentally change the way they spend their budget, but rather than think of it being either online or offline, look at directories as part of a bigger thing called search. People could take what they learn from Yellow Pages to Google and vice versa."

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Google to buy web analytics firm

Google has announced the purchase of a firm called 'Urchin' which is a well-known web site statistics package used by many companies. What does this mean for Google? Could it be they are expressing their need to control the web sites they feed traffic too?

I, for one, am very relieved that we did not go the Urchin route with our clients because I would feel deeply troubled that all their 'success' information was available directly to one of our clients' major web advertising suppliers.

It's rather like buying advertising from ITV - and not only do they have access to your financial accounts, they produce them. It's a terrifying thought.

Personnally, if my site was monitored by Urchin - I'd move as fast as my mouse could take me.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Froogle close to UK launch

Froogle will soon be a fully-fledged shopping comparison search engine in the UK with a new Froogle link appearing on

Froogle offers the ability to shopping sites to list for free - Google then uses an algorithmic method to decide in what order to list products for the searcher. Google aims to make a living from the advertising it can generate from its Adwords product alongside.

The new development means Froogle will be taking on Yahoo's Kelkoo and other products such as Dealtime - but it will also have to contend with Ebay!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

AOL launches vertical 'travel' search engine in the US

At Web Certain, we have been predicting, literally for years, that we should expect to see the emergence of vertical - i.e. sector-specific search engines. AOL is already heading in that direction and not surprisingly starting with travel powered by Kayak - a recent AOL aquisition.

The new project has been launched in Beta - and is known as Pinpoint Travel.

There will be more of these for sure. Expect further launches from Yahoo, MSN and Google in the coming months - notwithstanding all the potential market newcomers!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ask Jeeves sale poses possibility of further pay per click development

IAC/InterActiveCorp is putting forward plans to buy Ask Jeeves for $1.8 Bn which would bring yet more hot investment into the search market - reports Clickz.

The Chief Executive of Ask Jeeves, Steve Berkowitz, is already hinting at a new pay per click advertising tool from 2007.

The deal would extend Ask's reach substantially as IAC owns some of the most popular sites on the web including Citysearch, Ticketmaster, Evite, and, as well as the Expedia travel sites.

Friday, March 18, 2005

MSN's new pay per click system to be trialed in France

MSN has announced their new pay per click system - but it will not be available in the US until it has been tried and tested in France and Singapore.

This is great for Web Certain because it puts us in right at the front end of the development as an early user of the system as we already buy clicks in France!

Forrester Research predicts 65% growth in European search marketing

We all know search marketing in Europe is growing quickly - but Forrester's predictions are for at least another five years of substantial growth ultimately reaching a spend of 3 billion Euros. The current market in 2005 is estimated to be 1.4 billion Euros.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

MSN's new pay per click system to increase targeting

Even before MSN has formally launched it's new pay per click service to replace its current partner Yahoo (formerly known as 'Overture') - information is being released which shows that MSN is planning to upstage both Google and Yahoo in terms of targeting ability.

Using data from Hotmail or from postcodes, MSN is planning to allow pay per click advertisers to target different demographic market segments with the service.

Search Engine Guide explains...

Google loses French trademark appeal

Google has lost its appeal in two trademark cases in France and must now pay 75,000 Euros in fines - over $100,000 or £52,000. This was a vital decision for all trademark owners hoping to protect their trademarks from being used by others within the pay per click activity on Google.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

MSN to go solo on pay per click

MSN is rumoured to be announcing tomorrow 16th March that it is testing and launching its own pay per click vehicle. For advertisers this is welcome news as greater competition will help with targeting and performance and the better search marketing companies will capitalise on this opportunity.

Google news goes into beta for the UK and the rest of Europe

Google has had a news facility in beta for the US for some time - but when searching for news in the UK there has been an American bias to the stories presented. Now Google has moved Google News into beta for the UK and most European countries too.

This is interesting for those of us who practice online PR as for some time Yahoo's news facility has really been ahead of the game.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Google restricts ranking checks

According to Gooogleguy on webmaster world - Google has implemented new technologies to restrict the amount of automated queries they receive from search marketing people. I do understand Google's problem with this - but can't quite grasp why they - and other search engines - don't recognise this as a business opportunity and help search marketers work with tools which do function - potentially through the new API.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

SES NY persuades AAK to start a personal blog

It's true - I've been using blogs for sometime - but following NY SES, I came to the conclusion that there had to be an Andy Atkins-Krüger blog too.

Why? Various people I had the pleasure of meeting convinced me I had to look at this especially Lee Odden of TopRank with his SEO blog. It was quite entertaining to see Lee discuss SEO blogging with Alan Webb of Abakus - especially when you bear in mind that if you search Google for SEO blog - you get Alan's blog (in German) and Lee's battling it out for top spot.

Lee has to know more about blogging than anyone else I know and will certainly be the expert I ask for advice on this area in the field.

Thanks to Lee and Alan for their help - especially at the Yahoo 10th birthday party!