By:Andy Beal, Published:2003-8-23

Inside Search Engine Strategies, San Jose 2003 Day 2

Day Two

Day Two of Search Engine Strategies, San Jose promised to step up the pace with the offering of three separate itineraries for search engine marketers to choose from. While many attendees were recovering from the Google Dance the night before (which should probably be re-named “Googlepalooza” as the open air event offered a soundstage with DJs, marquee tents, Segway rides and massage chairs all designed to sweep attendees up in further Google hysteria), they soon got down to business when Danny Sullivan took to the podium to give an unprecedented keynote address on the state of the Search Engine Industry.

While Danny started off his address with a comical look at the recent acquisition upon acquisition, he soon got down to the nitty-gritty of the future of search. With over 5 billion searches conducted in the month of June, he confirmed there is no doubt that the search engines are here to stay. Danny decided to look into his “crystal ball” and made some predictions of what is to come. Some important observations included:

  • Yahoo will launch its new search engine sometime in 2004 with a combination of Inktomi, AltaVista and AllTheWeb technologies.
  • MSN should also be ready to launch their own crawler in 2004, with the possibility of purchasing any of Ask Jeeves, FindWhat, LookSmart or even Google, to help speed up the implementation.
  • AOL is likely to continue its partnership with Google as this remains a non-competitive relationship for them.

Moving on to audience reach of the search engines, Danny explained how Google’s current reach of 76% of all searches would be diminished in 2004. He predicted that Google’s total audience would reduce to around 51% with Yahoo at 25%, MSN at 15% and the other engines making up the remainder.

Discussing the future popularity of the search engines he suggested that Google might become a victim of its own popularity with both reporters and users experiencing “burn-out”. With tongue-in-cheek he predicted that Ask Jeeves would make valiant attempts to become the “Avis of search engines” by positioning itself as the #2 preferred search engine. He also believed that LookSmart would position itself as the most popular supplement to primary search results, continuing its current trend of being a provider to other search engines.

Turning to paid placement and paid inclusion, Danny expected to see growth and development in this side of the industry as search engines look to increase their Advertising revenue from their search results. Citing results from an IAB survey, Danny didn’t believe that search engine users would object to paid advertising as 64% of them are already aware that it exists and 52% of those do not care, so long as the paid advertising is relevant to their search. Drawing from his previous journalism experience, he estimated that in the coming years search engines would increase the amount of paid advertising shown on a search results page from an average of 25% to around 70%.

Danny wrapped up his keynote address by answering a question on everyone’s mind; “Will SEO still be important?” He strongly believed that search engine optimization (SEO) would still be a dominant part of the industry as there will need to be a balance between paid ads and organic listings.

While the Search Engines & Trademarks session concentrated on information that would be of interest to those involved with the legal aspects of a company’s campaign, there were some interesting comments that stood out.

The recent incident where eBay asked Google to remove any sponsored ads that included their trademarked name, drew claims of hypocrisy from the panelists. They pointed out that while eBay did not want companies to bid on the word “eBay”, one could go to Google and search for trademarked names such as “Barbie” and instantly see paid ads for the product on sale at eBay.com. The panelists also touched on cases that are currently working their way thru the legal system. They suggested that, while it is fair for a company to use trademarked names in comparative examples, the waters become very murky when simply bidding on a competitor’s brand name. The best advice from all of the panelists was to seek legal advice before bidding on the trademarks of any company.

A new topic to SES was “Cleaning up the Mess”; a look at how to clean-up spam that had been left by another SEO company. Many of the panelists discussed techniques for identifying spam including viewing Google’s cache of the site and the source code. In addition, Matthew Bailey of The Karcher Group offered an assortment of techniques for spotting spam and rectifying it. Some of these tips included:

  • With Google’s PageRank fluctuating wildly over the past couple of months, he urged SEOs to not automatically assume that a low or zero PageRank meant a penalty on the website.
  • However, if you do determine that a site has been banned by Google, fixing the problem and then sending an apology email to Google outlining the problems fixed and promising not to do them again, was the best approach to getting a ban lifted.
  • Bailey also suggested viewing the website with a text viewer such as the one located at http://lynx.browser.org to determine how a spider might be viewing the site.

Shari Thurow of GrantasticDesigns.com also suggested some things to keep an eye out for when reviewing a website. She pointed out that a site might not be banned, but may be using techniques that were preventing it from getting listed. These included:

  • A recently redesigned site that had switched from static content to dynamic.
  • A newly implemented Robots.txt file might also have an adverse effect on a site’s ranking if not correctly formatted.
  • The new use of cookies or session IDs might also be to blame for a websites sudden drop in ranking.

All of the panelists suggested that businesses should review the contract of any SEO firm being considered to ensure that they would not be taking any risks. A clearly outlined “anti-spam” policy was considered to be among the top things to look for when choosing an SEO. With the use of doorway pages being viewed one of the worst things an SEO could implement in an “organic” optimization campaign. However, as Danny Sullivan pointed out, using doorway pages for PPC was totally fine and acceptable. Although, he confirmed that using them for “crawler” listings would be bad for anyone’s website.

It seems that a new search engine statistic or survey is released every week. The Search Engine Ratings session promised to shed some light on exactly where all of this data is coming from. Up first was James Lamberti of comScore Networks to provide details on how his company collects information and what they know about search engine use. Lamberti explained that comScore uses data collected from more than 1.5 million online consumers who agree to have their Internet activity monitored passively. Unlike some consumer rating companies, comScore is able to track various types of Internet activity including searches, click-rates and conversions.

They are unique in that they are able to track online activity in addition to asking the normal consumer survey questions. The benefits of this were apparent when Lamberti offered two stunning statistics.

  1. 15% of Google visitors do not actually go there to search. He gave an example that many people have Google set as their homepage when they launch their browser. This registers a visitor for Google even though no actual search was carried out.
  2. 20% of consumers surveyed attributed their searches to the wrong search engine. For example, they may have said they went to AOL, but the data tracked by comScore showed they actually used MSN.

The remainder of the panel was made up of experts from Nielsen/NetRatings, Hitwise and Statmarket. While none of them could agree on percentage share of search engine users, between them they offered some very interesting statistics:

  • While Google may be dominant in the US, in Japan, Yahoo receives 74.19% of all searches.
  • There were 5.5 billion searches carried out worldwide in June 2003, up 28% compared to the previous year.
  • In 2002, more than 25% of all online product purchases originated from a search engine.
  • While 96.9% of US searches are carried out on US search engines, only 56.6% of UK searches were done on a UK search engine. In fact, the US Google is more often used in the UK than Google.co.uk.

The end of the ratings session also marked the end of the second day of Search Engine Strategies, San Jose. Day Three brings Google co-founder Sergey Brin to the Keynote address podium and advanced topics of search engine marketing and search engine technology are also introduced.

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