Private Metrics: An Eye To The Keyhole

Search engine ‘spying’: hoping to improve ad campaign results

As online measurements go, search engine spying is a relatively new twist to helping marketers measure and hopefully improve the effectiveness of their online and even offline campaigns. Briefly, search engine spying boils down to this: search engines and portals, such as Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and others, track—real time—the search terms people are entering into their systems—that is, right now, as the searches are initiated. This way, it’s apparent if people are showing immediate interest in, say, “robots” or “angels.” The underlying reasoning is that people often turn to search engines to find out something about new and happening topics, so the most popular search terms are, de facto, windows into matters of popular interest. Capturing the search terms tells us what’s hot and what’s not—what it takes to connect with a person’s current state of mind.

The concept seems reasonable in theory, but it’s still in the early stages of proving itself. Confined to words, phrases, and special operators submitted, it doesn’t intrude on the privacy of the searchers. At the same time, “spying” on people’s interests could potentially give marketers an edge in shaping their campaigns to capitalize on consumers’ top-of-mind awareness. Knowing the latest buzz could give companies the opportunity to adjust and fine-tune their online campaigns to achieve, say, higher click-through rates or increased brand awareness—depending on their goals. And, at the very least, it will give advertisers insight that they never had before. For web publishers, the use of popular search terms can be used help them learn more about their competitors and how to direct more traffic to their websites.

In general, the current universe of search engine spying methods divides into two groups. One is limited to tracking the last 10, 20, or 30 search strings during the last 30 seconds—constantly refreshing the list every 30 seconds or so. The second group provides more marketing information by tracking real-time queries over time—from a day to a week or longer. These services rank queries from the most to the least popular. Several search engine spies have emerged recently. Others will no doubt follow. Among the current crop:

The Yahoo Buzz Index

The Buzz Index can track queries over time. It is calculated each weekday. By aggregating and ranking the search queries of Yahoo’s 166 million plus monthly users, the Buzz Index tracks the interests of the world’s largest connected audience. The Buzz Index includes demographic profiles of a brand or product’s online audience; daily, weekly, and monthly trending; personalized term-tracking through portfolios; and personalized campaign tracking and audience measurement. Clients using the Buzz Index as part of their Yahoo fusion marketing programs include Pepsi and Barnes & Noble.

“When our offline version of Pepsi Stuff was in the marketplace four years ago, we did not have a true handle on its performance until the conclusion of the promotion,” said John Vail, director, digital media and marketing, Pepsi-Cola Company. “With the Yahoo Buzz Index, we can track’s relevance to consumers in hours instead of weeks, therefore we an make adjustments to the program much quicker.” Says Carl Rosendorf, executive vice president for Barnes &, “the Yahoo Buzz Index allows us to leverage the power of near real-time feedback…to create more effective marketing campaigns that increase click-throughs and conversions.”

Other Spies

The Lycos 50 tallies the service’s most popular search strings during the previous week. The system ignores terms such as “weather,” “news,” and “music,” because they are too broad to indicate the public’s interest. So, while a general item like “movies” will be eliminated, individual movie titles are included as are distinct trends like “horror movies.” Queries on popular web tools—such as “chat” or “auctions”—are ignored, in order to prevent the medium itself from skewing the list. Ask Jeeves’ “Take a Peek” spy function shows the 20 most recent questions posed to Ask Jeeves, updated automatically every 30 seconds. Excite’s Search Voyeur displays actual searches that people are doing on Excite, streaming continuously in a pop-up window.

WebCrawler Search Voyeur displays real-time searches in a news ticker format. The Magellan Search Voyeur displays a sample of recent searches and automatically updates every 15 seconds. Others search engines display recent queries specific to countries, such as Blue Windo Spy for Switzerland and searchUK Spy.

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