Google didn't run out of alcohol this year at the 2005 Google Dance Party. Lobster corn dogs are all the rage as Search Engine Strategies grub. Ask Jeeves and MSN are hot on the trail of search giants Yahoo! and Google. Agency partners aren't quite sure who to trust in search. And it seems like everyone wants to go to China, while search marketers want to go to the next level, but they aren't really sure what that means.
If you have allocated only 15 seconds to reading my column this week, you may stop here and consider yourself sufficiently informed for the water cooler.
Then again, you may want to know why the search industry is over its "sing with rapture, dance like a dervish" phase or how miscellaneous lobster meat -- crammed into cornbread and then lanced and served like a Coney Island corn dog -- can make or break a relationship. Perhaps you have interest in the best place in San Jose to secure pole dancing for a private party?
If so, please continue reading.
Ask Jeeves climbing the pole
Ask Jeeves CEO Steve Berkowitz came to Search Engine Strategies in a big keynote session way. The butler was quite the buzz in San Jose last week for two reasons. One, Studio 8, the nightclub that hosted a very swanky event for the search engine (clarification: San Jose swank), apparently came with music, dancing, and women in exotic apparel boogieing to a trip-hop beat. The second and even-better reason was the new home-grown search option for search advertisers: Ask Jeeves-sponsored listings.
Until now, sponsored listings that appeared on the butler site were purchased from, ahem, another search site. Ask Jeeves finally feeling comfortable enough to go out on its own is a beautiful thing for advertisers and intermediaries. For the former, more complexity and competition delivers buying advantages. For the latter, less two-stop shopping means complications, and complications demand the need for specialist third parties.
Ask Jeeves' search activity grew 16 percent from Q1 to Q2, 2005 according to Nielsen//NetRatings. While the Butler's 250 million searches don't yet compare to Google's six billion-plus for that period, significant growth is good news.
MSN ad centered
The Nielsen//NetRatings data wasn't such great news for MSN. For the Q1 to Q2 2005 time frame MSN's nearly 1.7 billion searches fell to almost 1.6 billion -- a four percent slide -- proving once again that offline brand building dollars are well spent for search sites.
Wait, did I just say that out loud? I think I may have said the loud part quiet and quiet part loud.
Here's what MSN was saying out loud at Search Engine Strategies: all parties interested in the MSN keywords pilot can sign up for its invitation-only pilot. Beginning in late October, MSN adCenter will offer its invitees some interesting demographic and psychographic keyword intelligence about its keyword-driven audience. Among the tools are an audience profiler (audience intelligence), site analyzer (scrapes your site for keywords), along with budgeting and keyword selection tool hobby kits.
Despite any apparent hiccups in audience size, MSN is a force to be reckoned with for the same reasons people are excited about Ask Jeeves going out on its own. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, recently let us know that while MSN wasn't the first in search, they are striving to be the best. The new and bold search offerings promise to give the existing sponsored search providers a run for their money.
Only the Presbyterian Jedi shall survive
Google and Yahoo! are going to China -- are you? Business Week and The Wall Street Journal, among many other mainstream media channels, have featured interesting thoughts on the burgeoning world neighborhoods in India and China.
What do India's planned $2,200 car of the people and China's increasing knowledge in biotechnology have to do with the online world? Both countries are rapidly adapting existing platforms to suit their needs, and the audience potential is astounding.
According to Internet World Stats for the Asiatic Region, this population represents 56 percent of the world and over 320 million internet users. Over 140 million of those users are in India and China. From 2000 to 2005, India and China's internet populations have grown 684 percent and 358 percent, respectively. The United States has less than a third of India or China's population and audiences here in the States grew only 113 percent to over 200 million for 2005.
The U.S. may be reaching critical mass at about 69 percent penetration, while India and China are at only four percent and eight percent, respectively. The Chinese internet search site Baidu shattered a five year NASDAQ growth record when its stock shot up to $154 from an opening $27 per share initial public offering. If those growth numbers continue or increase, and if the search IPO is any indication of what's in store for us, strap yourself in because it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Of course, there will be commerce and cultural differences to consider. My biography page in a Chinese character set, for example, is pretty alarming when you consider that Star Wars' "Jedi Council" ended up as "Presbyterian Church." I wonder if my name could end up Kung Fu Fisherman or Lobster Meat Monger?
The next level
The subject of relations between search intermediaries and their respective search site vendors continues to be a hot topic in the industry. The Search Engine Strategies day two discussion, "Ad Reps: Friend Or Foe?" was no different in many respects since this relationship always seems rocky at best.
If the sheer number of RFIs (Request For Information) and RFPs (Request For Proposal) floating around lately is any indication of what's happening in search, I'd say that there are one or two people out there unhappy with their search marketing program. On the other hand, maybe the lack of standards and industry guidelines is taking its toll on the search business.
Last week, a few marketers approached me with a series of complaints about search marketing firms. The most common complaint is that all search marketing firms sound the same. They say the same things; they all claim to have the best technology, the best people, and they don't really understand the marketers and their needs.
Of course they don't.
I followed up the complaints with a few questions. What are you expecting from the relationship that you are initiating with the search firm? Have you done your homework on the industry? Are you simply sending them a two-to-20 page (depending on the level of innocuous legal word gravel) deus ex machina for all things search?
The most common answer I received was this: "I am looking for someone to take us to the next level."
Sadly, too few were able to offer a cogent definition of this mysterious fantasyland, a place I like to call Nextlevelotopia. Simply tossing out a vague and ambiguous goal is no way to start a relationship nor is popping off a series of questions while hoping for a unique creative response. No wonder all of the responses sound the same.
Few marketers were able to describe the exact size, suggested gross domestic product and per capita income of Nextlevelotopia. One in particular offered said response over a round of lobster corn dogs. They provided an exact overview of their situation and had a high degree of certainty as to what the firm was seeking from the SEM relationship.
The moral of this shell fishy story: finding the next level means knowing exactly what you want. If you do, then your partner (or vendor, if that's your thing) will help get you there.
At the very least, you should have enough lobster corn dogs to pass around.
Read Elizabeth Lloyd's piece on Baidu, Yahoo! and China's growing online financial services industry.
iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan 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. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.
Mr. Ryan is chief strategy officer at Zunch Communications.