The earnings reports are in, and the outlook for big search is promising. Google and Yahoo are going head to head with video and social components, and each is taking its best shot at dominating the search world as we know it.
Yet, in all the expert coverage about product offerings and advertising-supported scalable enterprise, there was no mention of the latest and greatest offerings from the big search providers designed to increase audience share.
Here's the formula
Better advertising opportunity equals more efficient search and more searchers. Search advertising revenue is perpetually limited by the amount of search activity in related, relevant categories, yet there is a bit more to building a better mousetrap as recent developments in the business have taught us.
Yahoo announced plans for its new platform back in August, and advertisers began moving into the new platform shortly before the New Year. Top on the list of Panama's increased capabilities is the ability to manage a search program around an advertiser's specific goals.
Ideally, Panama will also allow advertisers to view keywords and phrases that have not only affected purchase behavior but every search that led up to a purchase. In other words, more advanced analysis of search advertising programs will provide the advertiser with a better picture of how buyers can be influenced earlier in the buying funnel.
Yahoo's new ranking system for sponsored search listings bears a striking resemblance the quality scoring system Google has been using for some time. In short, more relevant listings that receive higher click through rates get better positions at lower costs. Some would say Yahoo has caught up to Google in the search advertising efficiency category.
The new MSN
No search advertising platform has more hype packed into it than MSN's AdCenter. When the idea of targeting searchers according to their demographic and -- ultimately -- psychographic profiles was first introduced, the search marketing world rejoiced.
Back in the real world, where many marketers are still struggling to understand the differences between SEO (natural or editorial Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (inclusive of all Search Engine Marketing), we often look at these advancements and smile while we help clients struggle through the basics (gratuitous one-eyed smiley face.)
MSN continues development of next generation search. In addition to targeting, MSN also has a keyword and phrase analysis tool in the works to help advertisers understand desired action behavior and the purchase funnel.
Also notable in the most recent release of AdCenter is the ability to place ads on MSN's content network.
Behold! The question as to whether or not audience segmentation and demographic targeting has been answered. Click through and desired action behavior can be influenced by better targeting, but massive audience reach lives in content networks.
The evolution of generating revenue with a destination site is pretty simple in its barest elements. First the content magically appears, followed closely by content search advertising listings (e.g. Google's AdSense). Once the site has proven itself, an ad network appears on the scene (e.g. Burst Media) because there's more money in CPM based ad models.
Today's content search ad models seek to keep the publisher throughout its life cycle with increased offerings of graphic advertisements and the rich media (aka video) experience. When search sites are compared side by side, Google is the clear winner, followed closely by Yahoo.
A cross section of content popularity offers a slightly different view of the search advertising landscape. According to comScore's September, 2006 rankings of popular destinations, Yahoo is number one with nearly 130 million unique visitors a month. Microsoft is at third with almost 120 million uniques, and the one two punch of Google and AdSense partner Time Warner holds about 230 million visitors.
Content is… the answer
But what was the question? In the search advertising world, innovation once meant the ability to identify the cost/return benefits of buying one keyword over another. Later, the ability to manage directive search separate from content search was considered advanced.
The end game for search providers today lies in capturing audiences when they can be influenced to make a purchase. Directive search advertising offerings like Google's AdWords still drive the bulk of revenue for both publishers and advertisers. Google is not being left behind with a powerful content network and continues to test video advertising on its content network.
All the advanced marketing tools in the world will not help a search provider if it only has a small percentage of overall search traffic. Or will they? Heavy competition in the search category has forced innovation faster than advertisers can keep up with the advances.
He who holds the keys to better content monetization may be the one who wins this game.
Kevin Ryan is the chief executive officer of Kinetic Results. .