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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - April 2006

Welcome to the latest edition of our monthly newsletter on web search and marketing issues.

This month we look at the rebranded and relaunched Ask Jeeves search engine - now just called Ask and offering a range of new search features to compete with the likes of Google and MSN Search. MSN is also developing a new array of features to take one step ahead in the search market and we also look at the new 'Live' tools that are being tested in beta.

The Internet Advertising Bureau has also just released its latest figures on the growth of online advertising and we review these, together with other recent research into the marketing activities of B2B companies on the Internet.

To find out more, please read on below and follow the links to the full articles available on our website. If you want to refer to any items included in previous editions, you can find them here.

On to this month's news...

Ask Jeeves drops the butler

Having been in existence for 10 years as Ask Jeeves, the fourth most popular search engine underwent a major rebranding at the end of February by dropping the image and name of 'Jeeves the butler'. Supported by an extensive advertising campaign, the search engine is now simply called Ask and has relaunched with an extended range of search services.

Ask Jeeves was founded in 1996 and built its reputation as a plain English search engine suitable for users who were not familiar with using search tools. The 'Jeeves' butler represented a personal service for users and the image of this search service was built around the iconic image. However, having been acquired by InterActiveCorp in 2001, the strategy has changed and Barry Diller, head of IAC, has justified the removal of the Jeeves name and character as "baggage, that niched or segregated us." The aim is now to compete with, and take share from, the established search leaders - particularly Google.

Supported by extensive cross-media advertising, the new Ask search engine represents more than just a name and image change as the search tool now offers an improved range and depth of functionality. These advances include a customisable 'toolbox' on the right of the search results pages which offers direct access to around 20 different search tools, including an updated image search, maps and local search, weather, dictionary and desktop search.

The main advantage of the new 'toolbox' is that it appears next to the search results, giving users the option to narrow-down their search, whereas, on the other search engines the main point of access for these features is above the main search box before proceeding to the search results pages. For most people this requires some forethought as to what type of search would best meet their requirements, whether that might be using the directory, maps, shopping, or academic resources. Often in practice, however, it is the case that a user only decides to narrow their search once they have seen what results appear initially.

Within the standard web search results, a binocular icon appears against most results, which allows users to 'hover' their mouse pointer over it and view a thumbnail image of a site before they decide to click on it. This is not a new feature but one that could make a difference as it may help to substantially decrease the time wasted clicking through to sites before deciding to they're not what you're looking for. Having said that, users will decide whether the small image tells them enough about the site that they may want to visit.

Ask also claim that the underlying core search functionality has also been upgraded. Their search technology comes from the Teoma search engine, which has now been fully absorbed into Ask and no longer exists as a standalone search tool. The whole look of Ask is cleaner, following the Google model, and ultimately the quality of search results will make a difference.

The reliance on a large number of sponsored listings is being reduced, which is good, although there are no signs yet that the Ask 'spider' is becoming more active and this search engine still takes a long time to index new sites or changes to existing ones. However many millions of advertising dollars are put into attracting people to try this new look search tool, the long-term outcome for Ask will depend on their comparison with Google's quality of results and their ability to change people's search habits.

If you'd like to know more about the new Ask search engine and how it could impact your search engine marketing activity, please contact us for more details.

Latest statistics on web marketing growth from the IAB

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has just published the latest figures on UK advertising spend in 2005 which shows a further significant growth of 66% compared to the previous year, up to 1.4bn. At the same time, the IAB has also published research on the use of online marketing by business to business (B2B) advertisers.

The new IAB figures on online advertising continue to attract extensive publicity due to the significant year-on-year growth within this medium that bucks the trend for all other areas of advertising spend. Compiled from research by PricewaterhouseCoopers using a sample of 78 representative companies, the 2005 figures show that online was driving the advertising market compared to 2004, where only TV (+3.6%) and outdoor (+5.8%) saw growth.

More significantly, online advertising is now taking a 7.8% share of the UK advertising market, which is a larger share of spend than radio, consumer magazines and outdoor advertising. It is also expected to take a greater share than national newspaper advertising within the next 12 months.

Paid search also remained the fastest growing sector of spend within online advertising, seeing a 78.8% increase in spend to 768.4m, followed by online classifieds which grew by 62.4% on 2004 to 262.2m, primarily due to automotive and recruitment activity. Recruitment was also the highest spending industry category, worth 22% of the total market in the second half of 2005, followed by finance (17.4%) and automotive (12.4%).

In a separate survey published in March, the IAB report that B2B companies are failing to take full advantage of the Internet as a marketing medium. Apparently only 39% of companies use search marketing or display advertising, and just 29% use online classifieds. However, the tool of choice appears to be email marketing, used by 89% of respondents primarily to promote products (54% of companies), send out newsletters (49%) or for customer acquisition (47%).

However, as the topline advertising spend figures suggest, the market is expected to grow rapidly and 63% of B2B companies surveyed said that the Internet will take up more of their marketing spend in the next year or so, either to build their brands, grow their client bases and to save on distribution and customer management costs. 96% of respondents also stated that online marketing was appropriate for a business audience.

If you'd like to know more about either of these surveys and how the trends should affect your online marketing strategy, please contact us for more details.

MSN introduce new range of 'Live' search tools

As well as Ask's relaunch (above), Microsoft has also been quietly working on a new range of web services - such as search, email and maps - to try to build their market share across a variety of areas to compete with Google's increasing array of products. These new tools are all branded as Windows Live, and mark a move away from the traditional MSN portal service, to the 'tool' focused approach taken by Google.

Windows Live makes use of AJAX technology, which allows users to interact with web pages and fetch information without whole pages needing to be reloaded - allowing the development of web services with functionality similar to standalone software.

We have reviewed the main Microsoft Live services below, to help you decide if they will be a useful tool for your everyday work and research, plus we look at some implications for UK marketers.

Live Local: mapping and local search programs have a great number of uses and also have the potential to provide targeted advertising for local 'bricks and mortar' businesses. We have already seen a number of websites making use of the Google Maps API, including the national estate agency service, Ononemap.

The most impressive feature of this new Live Local program is the 'birds eye view' which provides high definition photos of major use cities, such as New York. Although coverage is quite limited at the moment to a handful of US cities, it has raised the bar further and demonstrates how local search and mapping services may develop to another level in the next few years.

Live Mail: this feature, open for beta testing to current Hotmail users, aims to emulate Microsoft's offline email software, Outlook, by offering a similar 'panel' based format. Although it doesn't currently appear to be as powerful as Google's Gmail service, if this new MSN service can be refined, it will be a welcome enhancement for Hotmail users who make up a reported 52% of UK web mail users, and who have been struggling with a dated interface for some time.

Live Search: the main advancement with the Live Search tool has been the change to its interface. A range of 'vertical' options, such as image or product search are placed prominently and it uses a scrolling frame of results, replacing the traditional range of result pages - making it easier to search through. This search engine still uses the same results as MSN Search, which we have found to be more susceptible to spam than most other search engines, and has a way to go before being able to match the quality of results Google provides.

Although clearly needing refinement, as these services develop they are likely to form the main competition to Google's expanding range of tools. Marketers may also have the opportunity use MSN adCenter pay per click advertising to target users of these personalised tools using demographics as well as keywords.

If you'd like to know more about Microsoft's range of new services, please contact us for more details.

Book review - Search Marketing Strategies

For this month's book review we look at a new title in the growing list of books now being published on search engine marketing techniques and applications. Search Marketing Strategies by James Colborn is written for marketing professionals who want to start using, or improve their expertise in, search engine marketing techniques - both through natural optimisation and paid search.

Read More....

We hope you've found this month's issue useful. Please contact us if you need any more details on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions.