A Day in the Evolution of Search Media

At the rate search industry headlines are appearing lately, Google News and Yahoo! News would overflow with content if they only had news about Yahoo! and Google. In light of this, analyzing a single day's search news can tell you volumes about the industry.

On Thursday, the Aug 18 Online Media Daily headlines spanned search engine user demographics, local search, mobile search, and shopping. Let's extract what's most important as we try to stay on top of the business while still getting our jobs done.

The headlines: -"Hitwise: Google Searchers Male, Yahoo! Skews Young"
-"Yahoo! Enlists Green Day, Missy Elliott, To Tout Music Subscriptions"
-"Google Buys Wireless Technology Start-Up"
-"Yahoo! Upgrades Local Search"
-"Google Out, Yahoo! In At iVillage"
-"Amazon Offers Retailers Search Marketing Help"
-"Ex-AOL Employee Given 15 Months for Spam"

We can set aside the last article, the only one without material search implications. The first article was the most read on MediaPost as of mid-afternoon Thursday, and rightfully so; it's the most important, especially for the media buyers reading.



The article focuses on the Hitwise data that shows Google's users skew male, Yahoo! Search is split down the middle, and MSN and Ask Jeeves skew female. In examining such data over time, a media buyer, advertiser, or search engine marketing agency could start targeting search engines like any other media property. Along with Hitwise, comScore, and Nielsen//NetRatings others are pushing out related information too, as icrossing did with its "How America Searches" report it published with Harris Interactive earlier this summer.

Treating search engines like online publishers is talked about a bit, but rarely practiced. Yet imagine a media planner saying, "For this travel promotion, we'll pitch Atlantic City packages on MSN, which has the highest percentage of women over 55, but we'll target Vegas heavily on Google, which has the strongest base of high-income young males." This could be precisely the type of information that could help agencies better understand the search model and pitch it to their advertisers, who can in turn shift more of the budget to the engines - most often via a third-party search marketing agency.

Continuing with the news, the second-most-read interactive industry story on MediaPost that Thursday was iVillage's shift from Google to Yahoo! Odds are it stemmed from little more than who'd give iVillage the larger share of ad revenues. But what if it was more than that? Imagine if a factor in the decision to switch was iVillage viewing Yahoo!'s demographics as more fitting in with the "Internet for women" branding. It could in turn create a cycle that feeds on itself, with search media buyers choosing engines not just on their demographics but based on the types of visitors who view the syndicated results. It's Yahoo! and iVillage versus Ask Jeeves and HSN versus Google and SportsLine. Okay, I don't see this shift happening as described anytime soon. But if you're an agency person or a brand captain, you've got to be tickled by the possibility.

More news: Yahoo! Local now includes merchants by neighborhood and user reviews. Having recently moved from Queens to Manhattan's Upper West Side, I was excited by seeing what recommendations Yahoo! had for me in my neighborhood. Yet its event listings highlighted museums across Central Park (though it's less than a mile away, it's like traveling from San Francisco to Oakland, or Chicago to Phoenix). Restaurants reviewed were literally all over the map. It's a sign that we're getting there, but it's also a sign that maybe some of these local search upgrades aren't all that revolutionary.

Do you see feature stories every time AOL issues a new Instant Messenger update from, say, version to 5.9.082405.sigma.epsilon.pi? Maybe there's something to be said for bundling announcements so we know when the real news hits. Then again, these engines sure know how to get ink. The butler Jeeves should change his tie daily just to rack up more headlines. You'll open up the news and read, "Jeeves Switches to Paisley."

Moving on to the last three pieces, Yahoo! Music's news is worth noting simply because it's now offering a music engine, not just a player or service.

Google's wireless acquisition is in step with the gradual migration of search and Internet usage to mobile devices. Yet how many search-triggered or contextual-text ads will you be able to see on the screen of your cell phone or handheld, along with the natural results or content? Buying opportunities remain far off. For search engine optimization, being first will matter even more, as result No. 3 could be 'below the fold.'

Lastly, Amazon is offering Efficient Frontier's paid search management tools to its retailer network. It's a smart deal all around and the major engines should send Jeff Bezos gift baskets - the nice kind, from Harry & David, which also has great chocolate.

All in all, in a day full of search news, there's only one piece that could help those of us in the trenches do our jobs better. It's watercooler talk, at best. Which reminds me - did you hear about that AOL spammer?

Right, right, no time for chitchat... time to get back to work.

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