Search is an exciting and sometimes-mystifying part of the internet. It's also an essential ingredient of the interactive marketing pie. According to one projection by eMarketer, Paid Search alone will account for $6.7 billion of an estimated $15.6 billion that will be spent on interactive marketing in 2006. And the playing field seems to shift almost daily-- with one of the search companies announcing a new initiative, new technology or new acquisition.
In all this change, where should interactive marketers be focusing their attention? What new tools will enable marketers to increase visibility for their brands? How do you tell the difference between Google and Yahoo? Between MSN and Ask? And what about all those other search engines?
Over the next few months, we're going to look at what the top search engines are doing and how these actions affect marketing. And we're going to start with the biggest one, the elephant in the living room: Google.
Always a media darling, the last 18 months have found Google even more in the spotlight than usual, with intense news coverage of its every step -- including rising stock prices -- and even two major books about the company: John Battelle's "The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture" and "The Google Story" by David Vise and Mark Malseed both came out in the fall 2005. The scrutiny is justified: Google is on the move.
And Google-centric innovations don't just come from Google itself. In addition to the tools discussed in the pages that follow, Google's many open APIs allow developers to create programs that interact directly with Google products, including AdWords, Blogger, Deskbar, Google Desktop, Earth, Froogle, Gmail, Google Homepage API, Groups, Maps, News, Search Appliance, Talk, Video and, of course, search.
One innovative example is how HBO is using Google Maps to promote the return of "The Sopranos" with a map of locations of fictitious events that have occurred during the series-- all to help viewers get ready for the show's March debut.
2005 was a big year for Google, and it's poised to continue growing in 2006.
We'll take a look at Google's capabilities and interactive marketing opportunities in:
Nanette Pietroforte is an editor at iMedia Connection.
Size of Index: While it would be nice to be able to provide a head-to-head comparison of pages in index among the top search engines, Google no longer talks openly about how many pages it has indexed, instead simply offering that its index is three times larger than any other search engine.
Google Desktop Search: Provides full text search over users' email, files, music, photos, chats, Gmail and webpages that they've viewed. Google Desktop also helps users gather new information from the web with Sidebar, a desktop feature that shows new email, weather and stock information, personalized news and RSS feeds and more. Sidebar is personalized automatically, without any manual configuration required.
Google Personalized Homepage: Allows Google users to determine how and what kinds of information they want highlighted on their Google home page, including weather, news, quotes and words of the day, RSS feeds and more.
Google Personalized Search: Orders search results based on what users have searched for in the past. It also allows users to view and manage past searches and create bookmarks that users can access from any computer.
Google Video Search: Google also features a video store, which we'll discuss further in "Content."
Google Click-to-Call: A new product that gives users a free and fast way to speak directly to an advertiser found on a Google search results page over the phone. When the phone icon is clicked, users can enter their phone number. Click "Connect For Free" and Google calls the number provided. When users pick up, they hear ringing on the other end as Google connects them to the other party. Users' numbers aren't shared with anyone, including the advertiser. (When connected with the advertiser, the number is blocked so the advertiser can't see it.) In addition, Google will delete the number from its servers after a short period of time. Advertisers are charged per phone call.
Dark Fiber: Google continues to purchase dark fiber: fiber-optic cable that has already been laid, but is not yet in use. Thousands of miles of dark fiber are available in the United States, but there have been few takers because of the high costs of making it operational.
Wi-Fi: Google, in partnership with EarthLink, Inc., put in a proposal last week to build a citywide wireless network in San Francisco.
Other players include
Search: Yahoo, MSN, Ask Jeeves
ISPs: AOL, Earthlink, Comcast, NetZero, Speakeasy
Specialty search engines: Kayak (travel), Technorati (blogs), blinkx.tv (video and audio)
What this could mean for marketers
Let's face it: search is far from perfect. When you search for the term "apple," Google has no way of knowing whether you are looking for granny smiths or pink ladies, iMacs or iPods. Now imagine Google knows (through Personalized Search) that in the last two weeks you have queried "mp3 players," "iTunes," and "music downloads," and clicked on results taking you to c|net's review of the latest iPod. As your Wi-Fi ISP, Google knows you are in San Francisco's Mission District and there is a Best Buy on Harrison Street just a half a mile away from your current location. Based on this information, Google can display the highly relevant result of Apple.com's iPod product page at the top of its natural search results and present you with a Best Buy offer for a free iPod case if you click on the "Call Now!" link at the top of the paid listings. All of this will be possible in Google's not-too-distant future.
Next: AdWords & More
Google AdWords: Most visible during standard Google searches, AdWords reaches users when they are actively looking for information about certain products and services online, and then it sends targeted visitors directly to what advertisers are offering. AdWords is based on cost-per-click pricing so advertisers only pay when people click on their ads.
Google AdSense: Automatically delivers ads that are targeted to advertiser's sites and site content. Google offers AdSense to allow sites to earn more revenue while connecting some visitors with relevant products and services. Google notes that when its WebSearch service is added to a site, AdSense delivers targeted ads based on search results pages, too.
Rich Media: Google is taking its AdSense one step further. It recently began contacting publishers about participating in beta tests of rich media ads, including interstitials, expanding ads and floating ads.
Radio: Last month Google acquired dMarc Broadcasting, Inc., a digital solutions provider for the radio broadcast industry. dMarc connects advertisers directly to radio stations through its automated advertising platform. In the future, Google plans to integrate dMarc technology into the Google AdWords platform, creating a new radio ad distribution channel for Google advertisers.
Print: As we reported earlier this month, Google is testing a new program that allows advertisers to bid on ad slots in 28 magazines including "Car and Driver," "Martha Stewart Living" and "PC World."
Print Classifieds: In a small-scale experiment, Google is running classified-like ads in the pages of print newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times. Google provides its own ads for the unsold space where the paper would normally run in-house ads. "Ads by Google" appears at the top of each box of ads in very small type.
Other players include
Yahoo (Overture), Microsoft Search, Clear Channel, Comcast, Gannett, BlogAds, ebay, Craigslist
What this could mean for marketers
Considering Google's maneuvering in this space, it's more important than ever for advertisers to get involved: for the obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. Obviously, AdWords is a proven program with healthy returns for advertisers. But there's more going on here. This is the humble beginnings of the first automated, multi-channel ad portal.
I say humble because there are kinks, and advertisers aren't exactly flocking to some of the new programs (Google had to push back the deadline for print ad bids from February 20 to February 24). However imperfect, notice how Google has crafted a (more-or-less) one-stop shop for search ads (AdWords), online display ads (AdSense), newspaper and magazine ads. Soon there will be radio. Then what? Can television, cell phone or taxi cab hubcaps be far behind?
Not convinced that Google TV is in the works? At the very least, marketers may expect Google to set up a program for distributing pre or post-roll video ads. Perhaps to surround some of the programming that viewers currently pay for at video.google.com. (See "Content" for more on this.)
Our advice: be an early adopter in Google's ad offerings. The sooner you get used to navigating an ad portal like this, the sooner you can take advantage of the exclusive deals that are probably in the works: discount packages, inventory you can't buy anywhere else and more.
With an automated ad portal in place, advertising agencies could become obsolete if their not careful. When all the systems are in place -- AdWords, Google Print, Google Television et cetera -- the system will probably be able to automatically suggest print, outdoor and other placements based on, say, an AdWords play.
If that sounds a bit too far fetched, agencies will want to get used to Google's system so that you can relate to your clients. Google is good at making their products easy to use, inviting and hip. Clients will be asking questions, will you be ready with the answers?