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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Video Search Optimization

I attended the Video Optimization panel at SES San Jose, and while I've not had time to blog the session, I did see this video interview of one of the panelists over at the Wall Street Journal (interesting that they've moved to embeddable video - no?)

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jim Lanzone of Ask - Tuesday SES San Jose Keynote

Day 2 of Search Engine Strategies San Jose 2007 began with keynote conversation between CEO Jim Lanzone and SES co-chair Chris Sherman.
From SES Mike Banks Valentine Copyright © 2007
Over the past day at three different sessions where both Yahoo and Ask had representatives on the panel, the moderators, speakers, and audience questions have focused entirely around Google. This happens simply because Google has over half the search market and they matter more to search marketers for the dramatically higher levels of search traffic referrals they generate.

We care about our top sources of traffic more. So it's got to be frustrating to the representatives of the search engines on panels and in keynotes to hear the name of their competitor tossed about endlessly. Lanzone started the discussion by commenting on the major news organizations headlines like, "In Attempt to Topple Google, Launches 3D Search" - thus saying that Ask doesn't develop the product in ways that benefit the product and the user, but rather only to compete with Google.

But Lanzone handled it with style and didn't react with anger to the favoritism. He stressed that Ask and Google are parnters, not necessarily competitors - when he stressed that Ask shares big dollars with their competition in this case and stressed that a renewal with Google for the contextual search product would be a "Multi-Billion Dollar Deal - if we renew it with them." We'll that's a fairly public negotiation. Take that legal department negotiators.

Lanzone also said that he sees Google as "A Data Source" - yes they are, Billions of times a day - oh, you meant for you too. That seems like a rather clear slap at Google to reduce a company that has taken over the search space and dominates the market - as a "Data Source". Well we all love our Data Source, just like we love our mothers I suppose - but we don't refer to Mom as something similarly dry like "incubating chamber".

Sherman asked about the "Culture" of Ask, comparing the Google small and nimble innovation teams and the MSN massive machine to Ask, to which Lanzone responded with a suggestion that they like to see teams with the left brain and right brain people working together on new products. Which didn't go far or produce enlightening answers.

Sherman brought up the flare-up in concern over privacy this summer and Ask announced the new "Ask Eraser" product which will allow users to request that all their personally identifying data be wiped from Ask databses. Lanzone responded with a rather odd answer, sort of downplaying the value and importance of a privacy protection tool by saying, "I'm surprised that got as much play in the media as it did - it has been a slow news summer."

This suggests that Lanzone doesn't see privacy as a priority, but that they've offered it to their users to calm them some in hopes that they can move on and just use the data of those who don't opt-out. This brought Sherman to ask about whether Ask can offer personalization tools if they are wiping user data. But Lanzone countered saying that users must specifically opt-in to the search history and "MyStuff" settings in order to use those - so their data will still be used.

So finally, Sherman moved on to talk about the Ask product and 3D search asking what effect the development of that new interface will have on search marketers. To which Lanzone replied, "I'm not sure, a lot probably, but I'm not sure in what ways..." since it is so extensive and changes searcher behavior dramatically.

Lanzone mentioned how the new 3D search home page has reduced uses of their own image search product by a significant amount and told how users are engaging directly with images off the results page by clicking on images from that results page. This is clearly the effect all the search engines are expecting from users, though each to different levels and to different effect.

Though Lanzone didn't address it here, Yahoo is using their "Blended Search" to keep users on the Yahoo site, a gripe many marketers have had about Yahoo for years. We'll see where it goes with Ask on 3D search. Although if they gain significant market share, it will likely be at the expense of MSN - and Yahoo.

They jumped to the 3D search product appears quite effective, but until it sends significant search referrals to webmasters, they are not likely to be among the fans of 3D search, nor will they pay much attention to it for more than personal use.

I'd like to have seen him pressed for more of a succinct answer on that question from Sherman - and so would the audience. But Sherman moved on to another topic - Mobile search - to which Lanzone responded that he sees it as an important part of the search market. He pointed out how it is actually quite incredible that you can have a mobile phone in your hand, type the letter "P", and have an autocomplete dropdown for a list of queries, choose the query "Pizza" and then you click "Search" and get a list of reviews, an option of "Near You" for maps and phone numbers, then click the phone number to make the call and order.

I agree, that is quite impressive and find it quite incredible myself, although few current phone interfaces work quite that well, at least not yet.

Sherman asked Lanzone for a reaction on Google's intention to bid on wireless spectrum and Lanzone seemed to dismiss it, saying that it "is so far afield from what we do..." so Ask appears not to be playing in the wireless game. He said, more or less, "Good for them" and wished them luck on it.

Lanzone mentioned the Ask search numbers of 50 million monthly, calling it "Collective Search" and then Sherman asked an intriguing question that I'd like to see expanded on SIGNIFICANTLY as it would have a dramatic effect on search and could convince me to use Ask, just because they were doing it. He asked about the idea of "Tagging" each link that was clicked with the search query and said he'd heard it mentioned my an Ask engineer at another conference. I'd LOVE to hear more about that as it has huge implications. Although all search engines could use this, If they incorporate it into results, it could dramatically change user behavior. Hmmm.

They wound it up with a video clip Ask will be running which shows the 3D product in use and compares it to "10 blue links" to diss Google - er no I mean "Alta Vista". So he said with a grin and tongue firmly in cheek.

Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Universal & Blended Search at SES San Jose

The Search Engine Strategies session on Universal and Blended Search was the highlight of the day at SES on Monday. A great panel made up of a cross section of industry luminaries made for stimulating and varied discussion of one of the biggest things to launch in search for years. Panelist Greg Jarboe of SEO-PR suggested that Universal search is a huge development and rivals the Google Florida update.

Jarboe showed some screenshots including recent phrases in the news done NOT at Google News, but at Google standard search. A half dozen examples brought up in various combinations - news story results (with photo thumbnail), videos, photos, blog results, maps, images and onebox results. The position of each of those in the rankings varied, but news and maps were usually nearer the top or at the top, with video results hovering around the middle of the page and blog results, photos (from image search) at the bottom of the page.

While we've heard the term "Google Universal Search" used quite often, this is the first time I've heard it shortened to "G.U.S." Sherwood Stanieri of Catalyst Online followed Jarboe and discussed how universal and blended search affects video in the rankings. In researching how positions in the top 10 results change but show inconsistencies in how their rank was determined by relating those results to pagerank, number of views of those videos and numbers of comments to those videos on social sites and finally, the popularity of the topic searched on.

In Universal search it appears that Google "Hot Topics" (formerly Zeitgeist) is a part of the algo since those topics spiking in popularity will bring up video results more often if they are on that list (and likely photos, news and relevant blog posts).

Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea was up next and pulled his expected studious dissecting of search patents into the discussion. While I'd love to say I did follow a few of his examples and agree with his conclusions and assertions - I can't outline them effectively here as they seemed to bounce around a bit, pulling bits and pieces out of published patent here and there and back to his own findings, then to search results.

Google engineer David Bailey leads the Universal Search effort and summed up his thoughts on what Universal Search means to SEO by saying "Business as Usual". OK David, I happen to agree, but couldn't you expand a bit? Tim Mayer of Yahoo briefly how Yahoo's Blended search intent was to improve user experience, but to me it appeared that Yahoo intends to do all they can to keep searchers on the Yahoo site, with pop-up windows, shortcuts to the giants of ebiz and exclude all but their own pages from click-throughs. Eric Collier of Ask talked about their new 3D search, and how fewer users moved to page two of results, suggesting better relevancy of page one results.

I'll reiterate what David Bailey had to say "Business as Usual" when it comes to SEO - Google improves results and sends more searchers to relevant sites, Yahoo keeps users on their site and Ask works pretty well, but can't get a handle on a substantial market.

Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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SES PR Train Wrecks Don't Address Search Engine Marketing

I attended my first session of the day at Search Engine Strategies (SES) San Jose in order to learn more about bad PR as it relates to SEO. Oops, no search discussed here.

The session was titled, "Public Relations Train Wrecks in the Interactive Biz: Disaster Can Be Avoided!" I assumed we'd hear about how things like the Microsoft/Edelman PR Blooper. I figured it would address how search results can haunt a company like Walmart, that handles their PR badly. I thought it may be at least peripherally about how bad PR search results are persistent due to bloggers linking to results using the company name.

The session description says,

"Interactive marketers know that public relations and marketing are hopelessly intertwined. Yet many in the interactive space do not understand how to develop a successful relationship with key publishers. Don't just issue a release and hope for the best. Learn the difference between productive efficient contact and annoying drivel. This unprecedented and candid discussion with today's top interactive marketing editors will reveal train wrecks (no names please) and best practices for you.
I chose to attend this session thinking, since this is a search conference, that it would have to do with search. I guess I'm going to have to carefully read session descriptions to be sure they aren't talking about things that have little to do with search. Hmmm.

Rebecca Lieb of ClickZ, (sister site to SEW under Incisive Media ownership) and Brad Berens of Imedia Connection (I'm not sure whether to be embarrassed that I haven't heard of them) were the only panelists introduced by moderator Kevin Ryan (of Incisive media). The two panelists sounded as though their days are spent under a constant flurry of bad press releases, follow-up emails, and pitches from PR firms, followed by endless phone calls from annoying publicists. The session description might have been accurate, but what does this have to do with search?

Don't get me wrong and think that I'm suggesting that this wasn't a good presentation by some worthwhile panelists on an interesting topic - but I spent a good deal of my time waiting to hear the relevance to search. It never came.

Both Berens and Lieb strongly emphasized how important it is for PR representatives to "Know thy Editor" and to know the Audience of the publications they seek coverage from - that they not "waste" the time of editors (and publications) that have little to do with the topic being pitched to them.

Were Berens and Lieb told they were speaking at a search conference? Do they know the audience at SES is made up of SEO's and SEM's? "Know thy audience" might be suggested to speakers at search conferences. The session was sparsely attended, but if PR reps are lacking at a search conference - I hardly find that unexpected. Perhaps if that description were changed a bit to include a bit more SEARCH relevance, and the speakers covered a topic expected at a SEARCH conference - or even skewed this topic toward search topics, the attendance might increase just a bit.

Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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