Google, Apple In Conflict While Microsoft, Yahoo Agree

All the headlines this morning confirm that Microsoft, Yahoo agree on long-sought search deal:

Microsoft Corp. has finally roped Yahoo Inc. into an Internet search partnership, capping a convoluted pursuit that dragged on for years and finally setting the stage for them to make a joint assault against the dominance of Google Inc.

The 10-year deal announced Wednesday gives Microsoft access to the Internet’s second-largest search engine audience, adding a potentially potent weapon to the software maker’s Internet arsenal as it tries to better confront Google, which is by far the leader in online search and advertising. Microsoft didn’t have to give Yahoo an upfront payment to make it happen, as many Yahoo investors had hoped.

It will take up to 2 years to get put in place, so don’t expect sudden changes. It’s the kind of headline to yawn about.

There’s another headline that really should be getting all the attention: Google Pulls Apple from Search Results. Since it is the kind of headline that cool thought may attempt to bury, here is the start of the story:

Google Apple Fight

Perhaps the final paragraph of the story, although humorous, may correctly indicate the seriousness of this item:

Some industry analysts think the retaliatory moves could result in all-out war like back in 1939, when a Polish sausage company stopped using pork from Germany. In response Germany invaded. “We don’t want another situation like that,” said Bank of America’s George Pendry.

It all confirms that the company which has set as its high ideal to catalogue all knowledge while doing no evil is driven by the advertising bottom line. Relevancy of results takes second place to that.

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Wot No Google Local Search

chad
Wot No
google
Local Search

The character on the right appeared in the most unusual places during Word War II asking similar very basic questions. You might have called him Kilroy if you are in the US or Chad if you are in the UK.

The comment is particularly surprising currently since there is a great deal of discussion and concern about Google Local Search and how it works.  You may therefore be a little surprised to find that it does not exist.  It is widely acknowledged that providing local results when people search for stores or suppliers is very important.  Not least because you can then show relevant advertising close to the point of purchase decision.

It is even more surprising because the opposition does provide local search facilities.  Just type in local.yahoo.com and you will be shown the following search screen.

local yahoo

It is very similar to the format for a Yellow Pages search for local suppliers.  It would seem to be the natural way to help people find what they are looking for in their neighbourhood.

With Microsoft’s new entrant Bing, you can also arrive at a somewhat minimal local search page by typing in local.bing.com.  This is presumably a work in progress since it is somewhat sparse and even enigmatic.

localbing

Now try to get a Google Local Search by typing local.google.com and you are in for a disappointment.  Here is what you see. 

localgoogle

The word local does not appear at all.  Google has decided that you really preferred to do a search among their Maps.  Indeed it is impossible to find a link to Local Search on any of the desktop PC search pages.

Google has accepted the much bigger challenge of trying to guess in the Universal Search Page whether or not you may wish to be seeing local results.  If Google guesses this is so, then towards the top of the search results they will show a block of local services that may fit your search.  Why they have gone this route, only they can say.

local google results

The only place you can find a link to Local Search is on the Mobile Search Results web page as shown on the right. Even then, you are just served up a list of local results without any opportunity to give a more precise indication of where you are located. Given the interest in Local Search and the need to get it right, this guessing on the part of Google hardly seems adequate, since it is not very reliable. Perhaps it is time for Google to follow the others and provide the obvious way for people to do Local Searches.

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Always On The Alert

geese computer shih tzu

What do these three images have in common?  All three have been used by man as ‘watchmen’ or guardians. The sacred geese alerted the Romans when the invading Gauls were trying to sneak into the city.  Despite their size, the Tibetan lion dogs or Shih Tzu acted as watchdogs for the temples. .. and finally many main frame computers act as sentinels against unwanted intruders.

Standing on guard is a thankless and boring task.  Given the monotony, it can be difficult to stay alert.  Where the task can be delegated to a computer, it will be done much more efficiently.  Thankfully there are a number of programs now available that can monitor the Internet and signal when something unusual has happened..

google alerts

Google Alerts is one such program.  It can provide e-mail messages whenever particular keywords, like the company name, are detected in new web pages.  It is an easy way of monitoring publicity efforts or competitive activity.

tweetbeep

Many people are now Microblogging on Twitter.  Luckily it is possible now to get Twitter alerts. TweetBeep is like Google Alerts for Twitter! Put in a keyword or website, and get emails when others tweet it!

exact factor

Monitoring how well a website is doing in search engine rankings would be another good area for SEO tools that would provide such alerts.  The problem with the search engines is that there is far too much data.  Expert SEO’s can spend the time involved in crunching all the numbers that describe how web pages are ranking with the search engines.  Now webmasters who have much less time can use a new program, Exact Factor, to provide alerts on how well web pages are ranking for particular keywords in different search engines.  Limited results are available without signing up, but registering for a free account gives access to all the services.

As with Google alerts or TweetBeep alerts, e-mail messages can be sent when particular results surface.  The following screenshots show some of the choices that are available in Exact Factor.  Results can be seen either on the screen or via e-mail alerts. The first is a simple choice of an alert for a particular keyword or keywords in a number of search engines.

add alert

Another possibility is to compare your own website against a competitor for particular keywords.

add competitor alert

The next image shows just a small fraction of what is available after such an analysis is done. There is a good deal of flexibility in what is shown on the screen and results can also be downloaded. For example a weekly report can be produced that summarizes relative positions for a range of keywords.

compare results

The advantage of this process is that it can be made completely automatic. Expert SEO’s who are prepared to dive into complex analyses may well not find this an important advantage. However many other webmasters will find assurance in the continuing surveillance of their website so as to spot when results may be deteriorating. Such early warning systems give the best opportunity of identifying what may be the problems and correcting them promptly.

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Yahoo Buzz Is Quite Delicious

As Stephen Wilson tells us, Yahoo Buzz is now open to everyone. Yahoo Buzz is a way of telling the world about websites that have particularly delighted you and the Buzz Log gives added visibility to What’s hot on Yahoo! Buzz™.

Yahoo Buzz is a site where you can vote in a similar way to Digg, although it is likely that there will be more editorial control.

As Darren Rowse explains, Yahoo Buzz will appeal to a certain type of audience and reader and will therefore present different opportunities to different publishers.

The burgeoning expansion of social media websites is almost head spinning. Another popular website with some similarities is del.icio.us or as it has recently been transformed into delicious.com. The delicious blog provides some explanations:

Oh happy day — the new Delicious is here

The new Delicious
Over the past few days we’ve been transitioning Delicious over to our new platform, quietly starting with RSS feeds and APIs. Today we’re taking the final step and flipping the switch on the new web site: delicious.com.

The new Delicious is just like the old del.icio.us, only faster, easier to learn, and hopefully more delightful to use and to look at.

It’s even more head spinning when you realize that both Yahoo Buzz and delicious are owned by Yahoo. As Michael Porter so wisely said, “Of course strategy is hard – it’s about making tough choices.” If Yahoo cannot make up its mind, how are we, the poor consumers, to do so.

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Search Engine Olympics – a Gold Medal for ?

Which Search Engine wins the Medals?

Today’s headline suggests that Yahoo Wins Gold Medal for Online Olympic Traffic.

As U.S. workers continue to check out the Olympics online during the work week, Yahoo is beating the competition in drawing eyes to its Olympic content. But if you are in management, don’t freak out. Peak time for your employees’ daily Olympic fix is lunch time.

That can hardly be regarded as a complete answer to the question that David “Doc” Searls posed, “Is Yahoo a better search engine than Google?

One of the commenters pointed out that Jeff Jonas had already suggested How to Beat Google! (At Search). Another contender was said to be Clusty.

Clusty got its start in Pittsburgh, PA in 2004 when the search software company Vivísimo decided to take its award-winning search technology to the web.

Vivísimo was founded in 2000 by three Carnegie Mellon University scientists who decided to tackle the problem of information overload in web search. Rather than focusing just on search engine result ranking, we realized that grouping results into topics, or “clustering,” made for better search and discovery. As search became a necessity for web users, Vivísimo developed a service robust enough to handle the variety of information the everyday web user was after. The result was Clusty: an innovative way to get more out of every search.

Doc Searls had checked a few searches for old blog items in affirming the superiority of Yahoo. It is an intriguing question. Clearly a well-founded answer would require much testing. However a quick check might confirm whether he was on to something. I therefore checked out the performance of the three, Yahoo, Google and Clusty, on some of my old blog posts. The blog posts were all present in the databases for Yahoo and Google, so this was a measure of how well they could deliver results from their databases.

To provide a topical summary measure, I decided to award gold, silver and bronze medals in each event. The gold medal was worth three points, the silver medal two points and the bronze one point. Here are the detailed results for searches for these phrases. They were done without quotes. The phrases were chosen at random so although the sample is small, it should be representative. NF indicates that the blog post was not found in the first 100 results

Performance has a whole host of associations that work well, particularly considering the sports analogy.
#1 Yahoo #1 Clusty #4 Google (61,000 entries)
Does UPS own Brown as part of its brand?
NF Yahoo #6 Clusty #3 Google (365,000 entries)
This is because the use of Frames in web design causes all sorts of problems so that most savvy web designers do not use them.
NF Yahoo #1 Clusty #3 Google (314,000 entries)
They’re even talking about a place for bludgers.
#7 Yahoo #1 Clusty NF Google (65,500 entries)
It’s intriguing to think of the Internet as an Open Space as in Open Space Technology.
NF Yahoo NF Clusty #8 Google (87,100 entries)
ReCellular has more than half the U.S. phone recycling business.
#23 Yahoo #23 Clusty NF Google (714 entries)

Which search engine had the best medal standing? As mentioned, Medal Scores were assigned as follows:
3 for Gold, 2 for Silver, 1 for Bronze.
This gave the following results.
        Yahoo 10.5 | Clusty 14.5 | Google 11
The minimum medal score would be 6 and the maximum 18.

… and the winner is Clusty. If these results were substantiated in more extensive testing, then the major search engines might have to take Clusty seriously. Google of course has a huge advance on the rest of the field. However if Yahoo’s possible superiority opens up the question, then questioners may possibly become aware of the little search engine that could.

If you would like to see a short video summary of this, then you can play the following:

The video itself, Is Yahoo Beating Google, can be found on YouTube.

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Microsoft should KISS more often

 
KISS
Keep It Simple, Sweetheart

Microsoft has finally said its courtship of Yahoo! is over. Perhaps it was never meant to be. Danny Sullivan has a very fine analysis of the whole saga and wonders whether walking away is perhaps Microsoft’s $5 Billion Mistake? There is still the same concern however that Michael Martinez raises. How can Microsoft succeed in Search?

The key question is: Should Microsoft have two brands? That same question came up two years ago. However that was discussing whether they should be running with both MSN Search and Live Search. A subsidiary question was how to pronounce the latter: Liv Search or Lyve Search.

Microsoft seems to be good at getting itself into these problematic situations. Just think Internet Explorer versions 6, 7 and 8 as an example. In its strategic thinking it seems to follow the Tom Peters precept: “If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.” How much better they would perform if they followed the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Sweetheart). There are many more eminent thinkers they could refer to who would support that approach.

Focus, focus, focus
Peter Drucker
The Null Hypothesis is presumed true until statistical evidence indicates otherwise.
Sir Roland Fisher
A scientific theory should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.
Albert Einstein
Of two competing theories or explanations, all other things being equal, the simpler one is to be preferred.
Occam of Occam’s Razor

With Bill Gates adopting a more hands-off approach, the chances of Microsoft becoming more KISSy seem remote. They presumably will soldier on trying to figure out how to get their Search horse back on its feet. The prognosis is not good.

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Where Do You Shop – MSN, Yahoo or Google?

Which Store For You -
MSN, Yahoo or Google?

Back in 2004, Jakob Nielsen expressed concern that Search Engines were becoming Answer Engines. As a Pew Internet Report at the time confirmed, Internet users are very happy with their experiences searching the Internet, but many are naïve about how they search and the results they find. Nielsen was concerned that people would merely use the output from the search engines and not go back to the original sources of information.

Search Engines Or Selling Engines?

As we enter 2008, the world has moved on from the picture that Nielsen was seeing. You might almost feel that Search Engines have evolved to become Selling Engines. No longer does a search engine provide the most relevant information about products. By a series of small and not so small changes, the search engines have almost become like storefronts. The information provided to you will present the products on which they make money first in what they display.

If you doubt that, just check out the results you get if you are looking for say the Nokia 6131 cell phone. A search with MSN (or Live as they sometimes label it) shows the following:

cellphonemsn.jpg

First you have three sponsored ads. Then you see the results from MSN Shopping. Any other results are almost pushed off the bottom of the screen.

Yahoo! and Google have very similar layouts of information, but they are a little more subtle about it. The Yahoo! display looks like this:

cellphoneyahoo.jpg

Apart from the light blue color behind the first two items, you might almost think that all four items are responses to the search query. This effect has been heightened by Yahoo’s recent decision to no longer number the entries in its keyword search reports. As you might expect, the first two entries are sponsored ads. The third entry is a link to Yahoo! shopping. Only when you get to the fourth item are you getting outside of the Yahoo! space.

The Google display adopts a middle position between the MSN and Yahoo! versions.

cellphonegoogle.jpg

In this case Google is showing two sponsored ads, which may or may not include the phone we are searching for. We then have a series of links to products in the Google Products Index. If this isn’t enough to entice you, they even give a link to products listed with Google Checkout. It’s only after you’ve passed through all of this Google (selling) space, that you can get to links from outsiders.

Searching or Shopping

If you were searching for information on the Nokia 6131 cell phone, you might be somewhat put out that these search engines are trying to sell you so hard. However some people like to shop. If you want to shop with Yahoo!, then shopping.yahoo.com shows you all that the Yahoo! store has to offer.

shoppingyahoo.jpg

 

Equally if you want to shop with MSN, then shopping.msn.com brings you into the MSN store.

shoppingmsn.jpg

 

You can go shopping with Google at shopping.google.com, but surprisingly it still looks like a product search engine rather than a store.

shoppinggoogle.jpg

It probably is only a matter of time before Google decides it should have a pleasing store front like the others. After all, if your mission is to sell products then you should do it the best way you can.

The Bottom Line for Suppliers

If you are trying to sell products on the Internet, what does this change mean for you. Search engines are widely used by prospects as they check out what is available. If the search engines are now behaving like storefronts, then you may need to pay their fees to get exposure on their “shelves”. It just means that organic or natural SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is now an even greater challenge than it ever was.

Related:
Google Changes “Products” Link to “Shopping” For Holidays
Google Shopping: Google Tries For Shoppers Once Again
Google launches Froogle/Products/Shopping
Christmas shopping for the Nintendo Wii with Google

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Make Your Website Search Engine Robot-Friendly

 
Search Engine Robots Read Site Maps Too

In November 2006, all the major search engines for once agreed on new Sitemap standards. Sitemaps.org set out the rules for sitemap files that all the major search engines would follow.

If you use a program such as GSiteCrawler, you can produce a full listing of all the web pages on your website in an XML file: the standard name for this file is sitemap.xml. The search engines do prefer a G-zipped version of this file, usually named sitemap.xml.gz. The GSiteCrawler program produces both versions. Although even Microsoft’s MSN/Live subscribed to this standard, as yet they have not indicated how they wish to implement the standard. The other majors have been more helpful.

A good way to start is via the website for Google’s Webmaster Tools. Once you have loaded your sitemap file to your domain, you can submit this to Google. An advantage of this approach is that Google will then in due course evaluate the sitemap file and indicate any errors therein.

The real news came up last week when Google, Yahoo! and Ask indicated that another route to inform them of the sitemap file is to include a reference to the precise URL for the sitemap file in the robots.txt file. Every domain should have a robots.txt file, even if it is an empty file. Search engine robots (or spiders) will sometimes visit a domain and check only the robots.txt file. This confirms that the domain is live. Without such a file, an error is recorded. Now you can add anywhere in the file, say at the bottom, an additional line that reads as follows:
Sitemap: http://www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml.gz

The robots.txt file is normally checked often by search engine spiders. By doing the above, you should quickly get the new file picked up. Ask, Google and Yahoo! are all using this robots.txt file approach.

If you have just loaded up a sitemaps file and want to be sure that the sitemap file is picked up ASAP, you can ping the search engines directly. The following hyperlinks are the appropriate way to do this.

Ask:
http://submissions.ask.com/ping? sitemap=http://www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml.gz
Google:
http://www.google.com/webmasters/sitemaps/ping? sitemap=http://www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml.gz
Yahoo:
http://search.yahooapis.com/SiteExplorerService/V1/ping? sitemap=http://www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml.gz

NOTE: The space after ping? should be removed. It is included here to improve the formatting of the blog post.

This should provide all the information you need on the sitemap file and how to alert the search engine robots that you have one. If there are additional points, hopefully someone will add them in the comments.

Related:
What’s new with Sitemaps.org? – Official Google Webmaster Central Blog
Use Your Robots.txt To Publish Your Sitemaps Xml File – Cre8asite Forums Discussion

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