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Yahoo! Present Tense, Future Unsure!

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on October 4, 2011

There are two separate and contrasting reports on the fate of Yahoo! post the exit of Carol Bartz. Yahoo!’s which could be regarded as the largest Web 1.0 dinosaur has possibly seen all its glory days and is simply unable to find its niche in the fast changing, quickly evolving Web 2.0-3.0 space. That is a pity considering that Yahoo! Was one of the first social companies (Yahoo! Chat anyone?). But then it lost the plot in SEO (Search Optimization) and then again in SNS (Social Networking). By the time Yahoo! Moved away from its display advertisement focused domain, the landscape had changed very nearly completely and the likes of Facebook and Google were well past it. Yahoo again had the first movers in Mobile space with some early link ups with Nokia- Yahoo on the go! but again lost the plot. Read up on the Fall of Yahoo! here

Coming back to the reports: the first one was about Yahoo! Preparing for a strategic sell-out and the fact that Yahoo! board should have sold out to Microsoft long back when Ballmer made a very generous offer. Yahoo’s long-time advisers Goldman Sachs and Allen & Co are preparing to give potential buyers financial information which is a sign that Yahoo is about to put itself on the auction block. Sale appears to be the best way forward ro get rid of the biggest millstone about the company’s neck – its board.

Yahoo has been consistently underperforming and made some howler decisions. Attempts including a very aggressive positioning effort (by Ms. Bartz) to turn the company around failed and the share price is much lower than it was when Ballmer made his bid.

In this context, the second report quotes Shashi Seth, who heads the Yahoo!’s global search and marketplaces business and the efforts around Yahoo!’s (yet again) turn around. This comes at the face of the fact that key executives at Yahoo! are leaving in hordes. Seth re-emphasizes on focus on making great products, experiences and learn how to monetize them. The key according to Mr. Seth is redefining how search has traditionally been understood and breaking the old paradigm of search to focus on new growth engines. Yahoo!’s new growth mantra focuses on
• Creating a search engine for Apps
• Focusing on Mobile search
• Ability to search through integrated user linked information across Flickr, Picassa, e-mail accounts, tweets, FB updates

With due respect to Mr. Seth, the plan sounds nice (as did every other Yahoo! turn around plan) but there are huge many gapping large holes in the scheme of things that Mr. Seth puts. Firstly, the mobility space is taken… Androids will push Google, WPs shall push Bing and Apple doesn’t care, because the whole app experience in terms of App look up and search is so well integrated in Apple that they won’t need Yahoo! to give them the solutions. That kind of rules out Points 1 and 2 listed above as the platforms will inevitably push their native search engines. The UX of Yahoo! search could also be a dampener. This applies to the two of the largest device platforms: Smartphones and Tablets.

Ability to search through integrated user linked information across user accounts is a great idea, but I suspect that the Google’s of the world are already doing it in some measure and are integrating things faster. What really enables Google and Bing is that they have a teams of developers working on their platforms using the native Google and Bing search apps. Yahoo seems to have realized the potential in mobile a little late for any real action coming through to them.

Yahoo seems to be serially missing out on another huge property that they have in terms of 12+ years of content. A content management system with optimization could bet Yahoo!’s answer … much like the Guardian example. However, I don’t think that it has the ability to turn Yahoo! around.

Revisiting the Bing Search Strategy

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on August 5, 2011

Microsoft’s leadership knew years ago that becoming a real competitor to Google would take patience as well as dollars.Microsoft is trying to beat Google at a different game. As against Search which is a list of options that the engine provides. Microsoft Bing is trying to help in terms of helping user making decisions faster and easier – a concierge like service which is why the monicker: Decision Engine as against a Search Engine

Bing’s consumer strategy has been around changing the game in search, they mean making search smarter. Today’s search, primarily finds topics, or noun phrases — a person’s name, a city, a product, a disease and so on.Search is still essentially a Web site finder.But the future of search is verbs — computationally discerning user intent to give them the knowledge to complete tasks. There is so little context in current search, and what Microsoft is trying to do is present users with context and structure, more a map of the world of information instead of just ranking it, especially in specific subject areas like travel and health

The phrase that Microsoft uses is “decision engine,” as opposed to search engine. New classes of information will help. Social network data, where Microsoft has an exclusive partnership with Facebook, and in May it included a feature for linking the “Like” tags of a person’s Facebook friends to that person’s search results in Bing. It is a first step, in including trusted opinions in search — and not just the popular ones that conventional search.

Location data, especially from the growing share of searches on smartphones, offers another rich stream of information. Knowledge of the user, his past behavior, his social circle and his location can add another layer of context and knowledge to the search.

The ability to write increasingly responsive, full-featured applications for the Web — using the new HTML5 programming language — should also make search more intelligent.The goal, is to connect to personal data — location, choices, lifestyle, past usage and then connect to real life connects such as bookings, reservations, linking friends, information of events and more. Thus search transcends a passive information mine into ability of “doing” more around search. The upside for Microsoft are the opportunities around monetization.

In short, the vision here is of a search engine that is part intelligent software assistant and part mind reader.

In Bing, the most visible evidence of the decision-engine concept is the ability to aggregate and present specific kinds of information in a search result. Microsoft has invested in travel services which also leverages the “doing” around travel.

Advertisers have noticed Bing’s progress. Microsoft’s share of its corporate clients’ click volume from search ads has grown to 24 percent, from 14 percent, in the last nine months or so. Bing is clearly behind Google, but now it’s a scale player as well

The progression is from data to useful information to knowledge that answers questions people have or helps them do things. Knowledge is the quest. Focussing in depth on a product category and expanding/augmenting the segment is a formula that worked in the past for Microsoft in PC software, with Windows and Office. But whether that game plan will work against Google is uncertain at best.

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Is it there yet?(Afraid not)-Bing continues to be drain money for Microsoft even while results are not as desired

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on August 4, 2011

2 yrs back, Microsoft launched an aggressive attack on Google’s search with its Bing search engine. It also put in place, an agreement with Yahoo powering the Yahoo search at the backend. 2yrs on, Microsoft is still at it, loosing loads of monies to the tune of $700 million a quarter. The costs for Microsoft, meanwhile, keep mounting. In the latest fiscal year, ended in June, the online services division — mainly the search business — lost $2.56 billion. The unit’s revenue rose 15 percent, to $2.53 billion, but the losses still exceeded the revenue.

While there are some results in terms of 14% of search market share in US, it isn’t as encouraging as Microsoft would have wanted it to be. Add the searches that Microsoft handles for Yahoo, and Microsoft’s search technology fields 30 percent of the total. It was always going to be difficult- Google was more than a search, it was a generic- a search behavior! (Read Launch notes of Bing, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV)

Microsoft’s assault on Google in Internet search and search advertising may be the steepest competitive challenge in business today. It is certainly among the most costly. Trying to go head-to-head with Google costs Microsoft upward of $5 billion a year, industry executives and analysts estimate.

As the overwhelming search leader, Google has advantages that tend to reinforce one another. It has the most people typing in searches — billions a day — and that generates more data for Google’s algorithms to mine to improve its search results. All those users attract advertisers. And there is the huge behavioral advantage: “Google” is synonymous with search, the habitual choice. Once it starts, this cycle of prosperity snowballs — more users, more data, and more ad dollars. Economists call the phenomenon “network effects”; business executives just call it momentum.

Bing’s gains have not come at the expense of Google. Its two-thirds share of the market in the United States — Google claims an even higher share in many foreign markets — has remained unchanged in the last two years. The share losers have been Yahoo and smaller search players.

Even while Microsoft is a big, rich company, investors are growing restless at the cost of its search campaign. The inability to make effective inroads into Google’s Search stronghold is seen to be a failure in Ballmer’s strategy. While the gas tank of investments at Microsoft is an seemingly an endless pit, the lack of results (as desired) on the Bing search engine and the drain on investments is beginning to show up in terms of Investors, Analysts questioning the path, intent and approach. Challenging Google in real terms on search is a long drawn battle and it all depends on how long is Bing ready to bleed as against how quickly does Bing get measurable real results for investors to approve the spends.

Revisiting the Bing Strategy (Contd)

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State of Search and Bing’s Challenge to Google!

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on June 30, 2011

Google still rules the Search Kingdom by a few hundred furlongs.Latest reports from IgnitionOne, show how Google commanded 81% of all US search advertising spend in Q2 2011. This figure is actually up slightly from the previous quarter and a 17.7% increase from Q2 2010. Meanwhile, Yahoo/Bing spending dropped 7.7% from Q2 2010.Bing, increased its US search market share about 75%, from 9.7% in May 2010 to 17% in May 2011. Meanwhile, Google lost 14% of its search market share in the same timeframe. The combined Yahoo/Bing also saw YOY declines in other key metrics, with cost-per-click (CPC) down 11% and effective CPM (eCPM, or effective cost per thousand views) down 9% year-over-year. Yahoo/Bing clicks (3.6%) and impressions (1.4%) grew slightly year-over-year. However, Google’s rate of growth in these two metrics was approximately nine times greater for impressions (12.8%) and five times greater for clicks (17.6%).Google’s AdEx saw nearly 230% growth in spend year-over-year on a same client basis, despite a 20.5% decline in CPM.

Search is going social, and so Bing’s partnership and integration with Facebook – the world’s biggest social network – could potentially materialize into a big advantage over Google. Furthering the social connect, Bing has enhanced the way it takes and uses data from Facebook (such as Likes and interests) to create personalised search results.

Quoting Qi Lu, director of Microsoft Online Services: Bing and Facebook are collaborating to create a search experience that doesn’t exist at the moment. What’s missing from search is the trusted opinion of people you value.

There are still industry debates about whether Likes do add a level of trust and whether they’re all that valuable in the context of search.

1. But if social is going to play a role in search, then having access to Facebook’s data (which Google doesn’t have), gives Bing the advantage of being able to try new techniques and models for marrying the two areas.

2. Android is activating around 500K devices every day. That is 15 million Android’s in a month which means Google is going full steam at the Mobile Search. Bing is not sitting it out there and has partnerships with RIM, Nokia, Verizon to make Bing the default search engine. Bing is thus not too far behind Google, if not abreast, in providing best vertical searches on mobiles.

3. Bing’s iPad app is hailed as a more complete experience than Google’s equivalent app and really maximizing the benefits of the high resolution touchscreen device. This is significant because Apple makes Google the by-default search engine on its devices. By holding a “better experience” Bing makes itself a better alternative to Google on Apple’s devices.

4. A tighter data privacy than Google, may give Bing an advantage. The issue of data privacy is growing in importance as people wake up to the wide range of information that is available about them on the web. Google has not been able to convince users wholly about the efficacy of its data privacy policies, yet.

5. Microsoft’s Xbox is much more than a games console. For many users it acts as the gateway to the internet from their living room, making it a central part of their online experience. And Bing powers the experience from these gaming consoles.

Google has been way ahead for quite some time now – and has done so many things right, that it’s difficult to say whether Bing will ever be able to catch up. And it’s worth noting that Bing has only been able to gain some critical market share in the US so far (where Bing plus Yahoo – which is powered by Bing’s search engine – jointly have around 30%), while Google has a very dominant 90% + share in most European countries.

So part of Google’s global success is partly down to its commitment to investing in international versions of its products and quick penetration of countries outside the US. Bing will definitely need to add internationalisation to its plans if it is to get closer to its rival.

But at least the intense competition between the two is fuelling innovation and change and is great entertainment for industry watchers.

Tagged with: , , , The first step to Semantic Web going mainstream

Posted in Uncategorized by Manas Ganguly on June 10, 2011

This post follows the developments around the Semantic Web space which i have been blogging about over the past few months.

In a significant development, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have teamed up to index and define an interconnected vocabulary of terms that can be added to the HTML mark-up of a Web page to communicate the meaning of concepts on the page. The initiative is called The move represents a major advance in a campaign initiated in 2001 by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, to enable software to access the meaning of online content—a vision known as the “semantic Web.” By tagging information, Web page owners could improve the position of their site in search results—an important source of traffic. The approach is modelled on one of the more straightforward methods of describing the meaning of a Web page’s contents. Being backed up by the biggest search engines, Schema has a very powerful Launchpad and provided that it can index right and more importantly learn from crowd intelligence and add to its vocabulary, this could be the birth of Semantic Web.

This data can be used by any software to cross-correlate things that are related, or to understand the relationship between information from different sources. Semantic information might improve artificially intelligent assistants or tools able to make good recommendations.

Independently Google is working on a Authorship mark-up options which indexes information on the web in terms of its creator. Google supports this by it +1 feature, a revised Panda search algorithm and a news algorithm.

While still waits to have a affiliation from W3C, which the big 3 search engines have by-passed currently to unveil this semantics project and there are some code and mark-up led incompatibilities, definitely is a move towards integrating intelligent web services to further the consumer experience.

Search goes Social: Perspectives (Part II)

Posted in Internet and Search, Social context, media and advertising by Manas Ganguly on October 24, 2010

The debate- Internet-Searchable or Social seems to now precipitate towards the later.However, the changing landscape of internet has a few perspectives for all the stakeholders in the system. These discontinuities are but natural steps in evolution of internet around the user. In an earlier post, we had examined the effects of social search on Search, Internet Firms and Customers in general. This post is about the impact of Social search on Search Engine Optimization as a strategy and theory

Inclusion of social inputs in search could have many disruptive effects on search as whole. The social face of search is a strategic inflection point, which would involve internet companies re-defining customer experiences and consumer privacy
How does this impact SEO?

Over its 15 years of existence, SEO has grown from being a small wildcat operation run by webmasters and content services to being one of the most dynamic, fast-growing sectors of the tech market. The reason for this rapid growth is because — not in spite –- of the constantly evolving nature of search engines. While the recent developments will change elements of how SEO business works, the fundamentals will remain the same. As much as innovation shapes the day-to-day processes of optimization, the core foundations of the industry remain unchanged. The goal was — and still is — putting clients at the top of results pages, whether this is through organic search, paid search or social media. For SEO, this change highlights the need to integrate social networking if they haven’t already.

The Bing-Facebook agreement is indicative of the many changes that have taken SEO from a small-time game to a major, innovative industry. SEO is not about simply reacting to the changing search-engine landscape. Instead, it is about growing alongside search engines. It is about evolving with them to ensure that searchers get the results they need.

For years now, successful SEO firms have not been focusing their efforts strictly on organic search results. They’ve been steadily evolving along with changes in search engines: new Google algorithms, the emergence of Bing, the development of Google Local, instant searches, paid search, and searchable Twitter feeds.The basic elements remain the same, but sophistication and complexity have resulted in a better product.SEO now need to evolve into Digital Media Agencies (DMAs).

DMAs are about handling the many online representation needs of their clients. While top search engine placement remains the major goal, it is just one aspect of what they seek to do. A DMA also seeks to manage a client’s online reputation, create and maintain their social presence, and handle the many other aspects of a client’s online brand.

Their evolution of SEOs into full-fledged Digital Media Agencies is imperative. And as the social and search industries continue to change, so too will DMAs need to innovate.

Search goes Social: Perspectives (Part I)

Posted in Internet and Search, Social context, media and advertising by Manas Ganguly on October 20, 2010

The debate- Internet-Searchable or Social seems to now precipitate towards the later.However, the changing landscape of internet has a few perspectives for all the stakeholders in the system. These discontinuities are but natural steps in evolution of internet around the user.

Facebook and Bing tied up last week to feature Facebook contents and recommendations, likes on Bing Search results. Earlier Google also started featuring Tweets and Twitter updates in its search results. It’s a natural innovation that fits into the business models of both companies and takes the trend of individualized search results to its next logical level: results tailored to the searcher’s existing social footprint. Until now, search algorithms have used machine learning and artificial intelligence to predict which of the billions of pages out on the Internet might be most salient to the users’ search. Now, search engines are going to have access to something even more precious: the knowledge of who the users’ friends are and what they like.

This evolution has a ground breaking impact in terms of how Search optimization engines function and the SEO gurus and companies will now have to adapt to the ever evolving user needs. A few thoughts on the impact of the fusion of social media to search:

Search just reached an inflection point. Google’s great innovation was to figure out how to deliver the most relevant search results, based on the assumption that a webpage that had a large number of other pages linking to it would be more interesting than one with fewer links. Google has built its search algorithms by continuing to troll large sets of data for other attributes that indicate relevance. Recent developments (Bing and Facebook in particular) can deliver results based on what the users’ trusted sources of information—the users’ friends and acquaintances—think. This is a giant leap forward. Which leads us to the next point…

Companies have to focus on creating great customer experiences. Because when their customers go searching online—for a movie, a camera, a travel destination—their friends’ recommendations are going to be front and center. Launched a store that no one “Liked?”. Chances are that it is not going to show up in the search results.

Search is going to look a lot different. Forget the list of blue links. The introduction of a social dimension to search results, could actually start representing search results—visually—in new ways. Though it is too early to elaborate: What ways? It still means that search visualization could be wholly different now on.

We’re going to be seeing even more social elements introduced into Bing’s search results. And soon. That is evolution. Microsoft and Facebook collaborative effort took them two months to think up. Which means more are going to be coming down the pike in the months to come.

The user must now master the users’ Facebook privacy settings. Mindful of earlier criticism of Facebook’s handling of privacy issues, both Microsoft and Facebook went out of their way today to stress that users will retain control over what Facebook shares with Bing. The flip side is that users actually have to exercise the control that Bing and Facebook give them.

Bing adds a social layer to search: Search goes Social

Posted in Internet and Search, Social context, media and advertising by Manas Ganguly on October 18, 2010

In 2007, Microsoft paid $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook. Since then, the two companies have worked together to introduce advertisements on Facebook and incorporate Bing Maps into Facebook’s location application, called Places. Facebook and Microsoft appear to be forming a united front against Google, a rival to both in several ways. Despite heavy investment by Microsoft, Bing still greatly lags Google in terms of market share. Google has made several attempts to strengthen its social networking offerings and compete with Facebook.

As expected the Bing event announced the partnership of Facebook and Bing to fortify the Bing search domain with inputs from the social networking giant. The Bing Social Layer is more than a strategy to take out Google in search; to me, it is an evolution process.To many it is the coming true of the adage “ enemy (Facebook/ Bing) of the (common)enemy (Google) is a friend (Bing/Facebook)”.The common denominator here is Google, the common enemy. However to me it is the evolution of the internet from being search led to social led. At stake, analysts say, is the ability to know more about users, and to charge more for ads that are more effectively aimed at those users. Making search more social is ultimately going to drive more targeted advertising, a service and ability that marketers are willing to pay a huge premium for.

Bing’s new features now allows users who use Facebook to see Bing search results that incorporate information from their friends, like restaurant recommendations.

1. Bing now integrates information on recommendations and “likes” made by the users’ social circle. Thus Search result makes its transition to a Search Optimization Model to a more Social model. When a user searches for something like a movie, place or product on Bing, information about how many of their friends “liked” that item on Facebook and related links they have shared will appear alongside the results.

2. Bing also integrates people searches based on Facebook profiles and the mutual friends data. I am most familiar with this kind of data from the Linkedin Profiles. Adding this layer will add a certain element of sociability to the internet search domain.

Heres the video explaining the Bing Social Layer:

Bing is therefore going to introduce the power of social networks to Search. And it will be interesting to see how the search space plays up with the dash of socialization that Bing has injected into it. It is time for Google to react and for one a lot of people around think that Google should now acquire Twitter to counter the Bing-Facebook challenge.

Bing and Facebook can spell problems for Google and Foursquare

Posted in Internet and Search, Social context, media and advertising by Manas Ganguly on October 13, 2010

October 2007: Microsoft takes a 1.6% stake in Facebook for $240 million.

November 2009: Microsoft integrates Facebook Feeds into Bing search results.

October 2010: Fingers crossed as Facebook and Microsoft are due for a big announcement at the Bing Event tomorrow. It is expected that tomorrow’s Bing event is about bringing Bing and Facebook even closer together. It is reported that Bing may employ Facebook “like” data to make search results more personally and socially relevant. Here’s the example of search going social.

Whats at stake? Checkmate Google and Foursquare

That could be a huge blow to Google, whose relevance ranking algorithm is the company’s crown jewel and the main reason why it still dominates the search market. Google guesses what users are interested in based on their past behavior. Facebook knows what users are interested in because they’ve entered the data right there on their profile pages and news feeds. If Bing can get that Facebook data, that’s an advantage.

Another possibility is integration between Facebook Places and Bing Maps. Imagine signing into Bing Maps using your Facebook name, then seeing the location of all your Facebook friends who’d also checked in. Facebook certainly could use help getting people to use Places. Facebok places is yet to find traction after launching in August 2009.More and more users are signing up for geo-location service Foursquare.

Possibly this will bring more search traffic Bing which has been able to make about marginal gains even after its association with Yahoo Search.

Lets watch this space then.

Bing’s baby steps to No.2 in Search and Yahoo’s uncertain gamble.

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on March 11, 2010

In the battle of Search Engines, Yahoo! seems to slowly loose its steam even as Bing is beginning to take baby steps towards the No.2 Search Engine Position. The Bing strategy seems to get to a threshold level after which it would launch a frontal attack on Google. This is as per latest data from comScore on US markets. Bing’s gains are aided by the company’s aggressive marketing and there is a question mark on Bing’s ability to sustain traction. The Microsfot agenda however looks like they would keep buying out the share gains as long as Bing doesnot get a 20%+ figure consistently for a quarter or so. Then they would slowly scale down the marketing dollars.

Bing’s efforts at more relevant search results are catching attention of users globally. The sidebar feature alows the user to cut the chase down pretty quickly. However, Bing lacks in specialist products such as the Google Scholar. It appears to be the vertical searches–such as autos and health–helping Bing, which has been its strategy to differentiate itself from the Google juggernaut.

For Yahoo, which is almost voluntarily stepping down from the No 2 position, the gamble is still very unclear. In an earlier post, i had discussed Yahoo’s new strategy which was about re-positioning Yahoo to make it more relevant to users. Yahoo was in effect trying to re-create its 2000-2005 era of success, which looks pretty tough in an age where domains are getting neatly domained (Facebook for Social networking, Twitter for Micro-blogging, WordPress, Zynga on Facebook and more). I am doubtful of sustainability of Yahoo’s efforts in absence of a very clear positioning plank. It might have got the numbers with a big budghet marketing plan, but i am not sure if they can create stickiness (a la Facebook).

Here is the quick update on the Search Market results for February:

1.According to the data, total US core search volume increased 10.4% Y/Y in February, below the 12.4% growth in January. The total growth in the first two months of 1Q decelerated to 11.4% Y/Y from 4Q’s 15.8% Y/Y growth.
2.Google domestic core search market share was 65.5% in February, up slightly from 65.4% in January. Google grew February core search volume by 14.3% Y/Y, behind 16.7% growth in January. Google domestic core search volume growth of 15.5% Y/Y in the first 2 months of 1Q is below 4Q’s 19.9% Y/Y increase.
3.Yahoo! domestic core search market share dropped to 16.8% in February from 17.0% in January. Yahoo! February core search volume was down 9.8% Y/Y vs. an 8.9% Y/Y decline in January. Yahoo!’s first 2 months of 1Q domestic core search volume’s decline of 9.3% Y/Y underperforms 4Q’s 0.5% Y/Y decline.
4.Microsoft sites domestic core search market share increased to 11.5% in February from 11.3% in January. Microsoft sites grew February core search volume by 55.4% Y/Y, up from 49.6% Y/Y growth in January. Microsoft sites’ domestic core search volume was up 52.4% Y/Y in the first two months of 1Q, ahead of 41.9% Y/Y growth in 4Q.
5.Ask Network domestic core search market share dropped slightly, to 3.7% in February from 3.8% in January. Ask grew February core search volume by 0.7% Y/Y, down from 15.5% Y/Y growth in January. Ask Network domestic core search volume was up by 7.8% Y/Y in the first two months of 1Q vs. 8.8% Y/Y growth in 4Q.
AOL February domestic core search market share stayed flat at 2.5% in February. AOL February core search volume declined by 29.3% Y/Y vs. a 27.8% Y/Y decline in January. AOL domestic core search volume was down 28.5%

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