Thursday, November 24, 2005

The future of search engine optimization

I don't recall where I read that-- it was in one of the many newsletters that lands up in my inbox every day-- Google is likely to be offering a SEO module within one of the many tools it offers. Not sure how true this is...If I recall, the article was focused on the implications of various actions by Google on SEO companies.

I suppose the only way out for SEO firms is to be really focused on optimizing websites for their users. Let's call this process OSU -- Optimizing for Search Users. Replace the "S" with Site --- I think it is pretty much interchangeable.

OSU should always have been an important goal for any website or SEO firm, but with various changing scenarios, I believe it has only become all the more important.

Search may become quite personalized (may take a bit of time--- but indications are that we are going down that path). As and when that really happens, the search results that one user sees for the same keyword will most likely be a lot differnt from what another user sees. Therefore, a default no.1 rank in a search engine may have little meaning in that case.

In such a scenario, what is really important? That a website ranks at the top when its ideal target user types in that keyword. A website publisher or a SEO working on behalf of the website publisher doesn't have to be bothered about the rest.

Has it become more challenging for the SEO? Or a lot easier and more focused? Probably the former--- because the SEO really really needs to be able to define the right user and then ensure that the right user sees his website during a search..

There is no doubt about one thing though--- SEOs will have to adopt the OSU approach.

Manoj Aravindakshan

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

TechTarget plans IPO

There seems to be a lot happening in the B2B media space these days, but the biggest news probably seems to be an IPO by TechTarget. It seems that the company has finally confirmed the rumors that it is seeking to list itself. Folio magazine reports that TechTarget is striving to raise close to $600 million, expected to happen early next year.

The manner in which TechTarget has grown in the few years that it has been in existence is indeed a case study for online publishers. Its revenues grew 51% in the third quarter this year, outpacing overall industry growth. Moreover, having already carved a niche for itself with its online media, the company's foray into print also seems to be doing pretty well, despite a sluggish market overall.

The fact that it had created a strong user base online, and thereby creating the potential for advertising & marketing services revenues from customers, at probably a lower cost of user acquisition (I'm guessing here-- cannot be sure), is undoubetedly helping it to generate more advertising & marketing service revenues from potential advertisers. A slightly different model from what traditional publishers have tried to do--- but one that seems to work.

One wonders to what extent some of the other big publishers adopt a similar model in their own niches?

On Target Media

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Google search --- is relevance being compromised?

Everytime Google does an update to its algorithms (and now we are living through Jagger.), the world goes ga-ga over how it is trying to continue to improve the relevance of search results. It almost seems like we are continuing to live in the past; and we are taking improvements from Google for granted. Not surprising because it's a search engine that has over the years won us over completely--- but hey, take a step back and watch it. I don't know if Google's updates are now more of an excercise in 'scaring' SEOs or if it is a genuine attempt to improve the quality of search results. I say this not because I have an axe to grind against Google-- but I strongly suspect there seems to be something really wrong happening out there in its search results.

Let me give an example--- in the course of some research for an online retailer based in the US, I did a search for 'lingerie' on Google (just a couple of days ago). And guess what the 3rd search result was ---- an electronics retailer from Australia. There was nothing in the title or description that showed that had the keyword 'lingerie' on it. Curious, I actually checked out the Australian retailer's website to see if there was anything on the page that it was pointing to, or for that matter, anywhere on the site. Absolutely no mention of the word "lingerie" anywhere; and absolutely no relevance of any manner whatsoever to the content on the site. Products on the site were various electronics goods(to be fair to Google, when I checked it again the next day, things were better). But that was not a solitary example, this was just one that happened a couple of days ago.

It seems to be a similar story with the content match ads on the distribution network--- I have found absolutely irrelevant ads being displayed on sites that have signed up for the AdSense program. For example, do you expect to see a 'Starhub Mobile' ad on a blog about some property in Italy? Obviously the geo-targeting worked in the sense that the ad was being shown in Singapore; but the site it was being shown on was absolutely irrelevant to the advertising message. If I were to click on that ad for whatever reason, wouldn't that have been an absolute waste of a click for that advertiser?

I believe advertisers that are using PPC marketing need to take a very close watch on their content match ads --- at least in terms of the spend, because in the absence of knowledge where these ads are actually being distributed/shown, a lot of money could really be going down the drain (of course, it could also mean AdSense publishers--- and that includes us stand to benefit just as Google does; That's probably something for another post)

The point I get back to is of relevance--- is the powerful Google search algorithm losing its power in its quest to do too many things? And who is paying for this lack of relevance? It's time users got this feedback across to Google.

Manoj Aravindakshan
On Target Media & Marketing

Friday, November 04, 2005

Getting paid for searching? Welcome to the 'user loyalty model'

Now this is going to make the search engine wars more interesting. And not surprisingly, it had to come from Microsoft. In a recent interview to UK's Computing magazine, Bill Gates alluded to the prospect of search engines (read MSN) 'rewarding' users for using search.

That's exciting for several reasons: a) competition is bound to increase, that will help PPC advertisers who are increasingly beginning to pay an arm and a leg for every click... (b) searchers will benefit not only with the results they are looking for, but the cash or whatever other rewards that might be on offer.

But probably more importantly, it has the potential to shake up the search engine hierarchy. That's because both Microsoft and Yahoo! have a significant advantage over Google if and when they launch a 'user loyalty' program, since both these companies have a bigger base of 'registered' users to start with. That makes it a lot easier to roll out a loyalty/rewards program.

Some analysts say that such a program may not work because users will still go for relevance. Yes, of course, but who is a judge of relevance? Relevance is effectively a perception of a USER, let's remember that, and not of the search engine--- and this perception is subject to change. Does a user always expect the best result at the top of the organic search result? No, definitely not. Will a user be willing to look down a few places more if he/she is going to get a reward for doing the search in the first place? Most likely yes.

Users of any product will be willing to upgrade/downgrade to another product or service as long as they PERCEIVE that the value of what they are getting additionally is MORE than what they had previously.

I think the relevance argument is a bit flawed and counter-intuitive (more on it in separate post).

More later,