Search Site Profile: Lycos

Last Saturday night, at the behest of my Yellow Rose companion, I attended one of those high-priced Hollywood fundraisers for (insert charity name here) to benefit the Arts. Of course, I approached this one like I would any event of this type— with jaded skepticism. However, as I sat next to my childhood filmmaking hero, Mr. Steven Spielberg, (along with a room full of A-list celebs) and heard the tremendous efforts put forth, I realized I had at least one thing in common with these altruists—I always root for the underdog.

This week, I begin a monthly series profiling search-marketing providers that stand out from the crowd. Not because they have a phalanx of public relations experts or the mainstream press machine has brought them to center stage, but instead because they work hard at having something viable to offer advertisers. While tossing in my experience and perspective, I’ll be clearing up the confusion and cutting through the search hype because, doggonnit, someone has to!

Speaking of all things canine, Lycos’ top dogs Tom Judd, Lori Kuhn, Adam Soroca, and Tom Wilde recently opened the preverbal kimono so that I could bring you the latest in happenings and advertising options from this search site plus a whole lot more.

More Bark, More Bite

Lycos, the loyal search Labrador we all came to know and love, is now owned by the Barcelona-based parent, Terra Lycos. A search destination that provides paid search in the form of inclusion and placement, what really makes Lycos interesting is the menagerie of online marketing options it brings to the table. This is a time when bigger search destinations like Yahoo! have decided to focus on refining themselves as search utilities. MSN is doing away with banners in favor of text ads, and both Looksmart and Ask Jeeves have closed the door on the banner as well.

Though last October’s Solomon Smith Barney report The Search Market barely referenced Lycos, the dog was credited with being one of the search pioneers from the mid-nineties. Today, representatives do not refer to Lycos as just a search site. “It’s a network of autonomously run sites-- independently managed entities that receive ads in very specific context,” reports Lori Kuhn, western regional sales manager. According to Lycos Direct Manager Tom Judd, “Lycos is a house of brands not a branded house.” These are more than adequate ways to describe the universe of Terra Lycos which delivers such powerhouse Web brands as Wired News, the newly redesigned search engine, HotBot and do-it-yourself site-building communities Angelfire and Tripod.

Digging Up The Bones

comScore data from June, 2003 confirms the power of the Lycos network as compared to search alone. The share of total searches for that month amounted to less than 1% of all searches at just 5.5 million unique visitors. However, when you add in the rest of the network, the picture becomes a bit clearer with over 53 million unique visitors to the total network.

The U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray report, Golden Search, used Nielson//NetRatings data for 2002 to depict an abysmal drop off in search user activity for that year. The top four search sites, Google (34%), Yahoo (21%), MSN search (18%), and AOL search (11%) represented the biggest chunk of search destination market share. Narrowly missing the sad “other” designation were smaller search providers like Lycos (3%), Ask Jeeves (3%) and Alta Vista at (2%).

Golden Search reported Lycos had some relatively strong brands but believed that Lycos needed to develop a single portal strategy. According to The Golden Search report, Lycos outsources its Algorithmic Search, Paid Listings and Paid Inclusion offerings. That’s not exactly the case.

Lost: The Search Facts. Answers to, “Here Boy”

Not to be too hard on the Golden Search people, Lycos does receive paid listing data (and revenue) via Overture. However, Lycos is doing search on its own with InSite, which consists of both a paid-inclusion and paid-placement vehicle.

According to Adam Soroca, group products manager, Lycos InSite, “The InSite Ad Buyer provides a single destination to place and manage paid-search programs. We intended to provide a place for newcomers to demystify search marketing and a key paid-search destination for existing advertisers in the space.”

One could argue that all paid search began with, and is still dominated by, small business and the InSite Search Engine Submission service is designed to provide small to medium enterprises an affordable paid-inclusion tool. A nice change in the age of skyrocketing click costs, which may preclude a small business advertiser from even entering the space.

While the InSite Ad Buyer provides access to the Terra Lycos network via paid search listings, I have to register a complaint. Lycos does not allow third-party bid managers like GoToast or BidRank as other search sites Sprinks and Kanoodle do. Although Lycos plans to release its own campaign management tool in the fourth quarter of this year, I’d still like the option of plugging them into my third-party, campaign-management interface.

My suggestion for Lycos’ search moving forward would be to further capitalize on the speed to market quotient for refining and monetizing search. Due to its smaller size, Lycos can move as the preverbal speedboat as opposed to the larger search aircraft carriers out there. “One search technology supplies all of the sites, allowing Lycos to target specific verticals within search,” reports Tom Wilde, global general manager, Search Services. “For example, Lycos anticipates being able to target a teenager searching for wireless phones and SMS thereby using research to translate user behavior.”

The possibility of serving targeted and individual messaging elements to searchers using the same phrase based on demographic or psychographic designations has me biting at the bit. A male teen group would see a different messaging element than a female teen group and could be directed to separate landing pages for the same wireless device.

Best of Show

Trying to encapsulate the rest of Terra Lycos’ offerings may read like a New York minute delivered at warp speed. Although it may take more than sixty seconds to peruse online, here it goes.

To hell with the 468 ad unit. Go big or go home I always say and Lycos is heavy into rich media and site continuity making rich content both a buzzword and a way of life. Whereas the trend for search has been rediscovering the more utilitarian qualities, Lycos has gone one hundred eighty degrees from an exclusively text-focused environment by delivering graphic intense rich media in much needed categories like entertainment.

If reaching site-building entrepreneurs and teens is your thing Tripod and Angelfire are ranked in the top sites on the Web for those audiences. Last week, Angelfire was ranked the number one teen and tween destination online above Teen People and AOL Teens, according to comScore’s August 2003 Community Teens report. The Tripod/Angelfire Blog Builder received the PC Magazine editor’s choice distinction in September 2003 beating Google-owned Blogger.

Also notable, WiredNews and HotBot Search attract very specific verticals. Lycos acquired email provider GetRelevant to revamp Direct Marketing efforts. Within the direct marketing offering is an email co-registration option with over forty sites like Investors Business Daily.

As a general rule, I am not a big fan of the online dating sales pitch. However, if you desire to reach would-be romantics thereby perpetuating the commoditization of romance in an environment that is decidedly eschewed to the female dating agenda, the Lycos property may be your site. Alternatively, the special interest dating site, is worth a visit for entertainment purposes, though ads are not served into this site.

This Dog Can Hunt

In just under two years, Lycos has gone from a focus-on-banner revenue to multi-tiered content, search listings, and rich media. In the same time period, search listings have gone from being a commodity to paid listings paying everyone’s bills. Lycos has gone from being a blip, or “other” search site in search industry financial reports last year to becoming a bone-a-fied entity in this year’s. In the end analysis, we can continue to expect great things from Lycos.

As another challenging online marketing week begins, I find myself in a position to thank the deity for three unique, extraordinary gifts; search sites that transcend boundaries presented by popular conjecture, altruistic celebrities, and tall, blue-eyed Yellow Roses from Texas.

If you’re an advertiser or agency and know a search provider that works harder and delivers, drop me a line.

About the author: iMedia search columnist Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. He is currently Director Market Development of IPG’s Wahlstrom Interactive where he provides guidance in directional online marketing to Wahlstrom’s prestigious list of clients and sister agency brands.