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The Changing AdWords, Paid Search Landscape - And What it Means

Interesting data out of Comscore and TechCrunch this morning that points to the slowing growth of paid search activity despite a rise in search activity. Comscore believes it is a consequence of longer search queries, but Michael Arrington has a larger picture answer (which I agree with):

U.S. Search queries are up 68% in the last year, but paid clicks are up only 18% in the same period...

he reason there are less ads on search results, I believe, is that there are, simply, less advertisers. Far less. Big spenders, the category leaders, are just gone. Sharper Image, Wickes Furniture, Levitz, Foot Locker, Wilson’s Leather, Ann Taylor, Zales, Mervyn’s, Macy’s, Circuit City and a ton of other retailers are either shutting down entirely or closing lots of stores. And more are on the way. All of these companies used to spend tons of money on paid search ads. Those budgets don’t exist any more.

Combine that with the fact that, as any paid search advertiser knows, it is downright hard to spend more money effectively. SMBs face the same problem: scaling paid search spend in both click volume and conversions.

And - let's not forget that the affiliate landscape is rapidly changing. Affiliates once accounted for a major portion of AdWords spend (either directly or by indirectly bloating the prices of keywords). As major affiliate programs have changed their policies (ie Amazin prohibiting paid search), an entire tier of sophisticated marketers disappeared.

So in a move that certainly is not coincidental, Google yesterday announced that AdWords advertisers can now bid on brand terms. Wow. That is a very significant change - both directionally and operationally (for advertisers and Google alike).

Brands spend countless hours protecting themselves. And that, until now, has included protecting themselves in paid search. Meanwhile, competitors or savvy arbitragers (affiliates, etc) have long capitalized on branded keywords. Early on at eBay, for instance, we had to specifically prohibit bidding on eBay's brand - which included numerous derivatives of eBay,, etc.

I am sure Google has operational reasons to allow brand bidding: it is both messy and intensive to protect the brand names (and not always accurate or fair). But this is clearly a move that is intended to drive revenue by reopening high-traffic keywords.

Expect related CPCs to rise, brands to complain loudly, and affiliates to scramble immediately.

Twitter's Sweet Spot: 45-54 Year Olds

Fascinating report out of Comscore on Twitter's demographic breakdown:

18-24 year olds, the traditional social media early adopters, are actually 12 percent less likely than average to visit Twitter (Index of 88). It is the 25-54 year old crowd that is actually driving this trend. More specifically, 45-54 year olds are 36 percent more likely than average to visit Twitter, making them the highest indexing age group, followed by 25-34 year olds, who are 30 percent more likely.

twitter-comscore I expected the lower trending for the under-25 crowd as that demographic grew up on Facebook and lives there. I would have expected that the 25-34 bracket would be Twitter's sweet spot - always online, early adopters and followers of pop-culture. But the 45-54 bracket is surprising... until you consider that marketers and companies indeed represent a significant portion of Twitter:

With so many businesses using Twitter, along with the first generations of Internet users “growing up” and comfortable with technology, this is a sign that the traditional early adopter model might need to be revisited.

ComScore Announces Self Service Model - Coming After Quantcast?

At the poorly-attended breakfast session at TechCrunch 50 (maybe because its 8am) - ComScore has announced quietly that they are releasing a self-service model "in the next few days". A publisher will be able to tag their own site and then collect standard ComScore reporting metrics.

This places them directly across the table from Quantcast and opens them to smaller publishers who traditionally cannot afford to work with ComScore. It is yet to be seen how ComScore will treat their self-service (supposedly free) model with their revenue-based model (which is prohibitively expensive for most).

Quantcast is the clear leader in the self service space. Compete is trying to differentiate themselves through premium data. To date, ComScore has served the large publishers... interesting to see what traction ComScore gets with the smaller publishers... there is only room for so many tracking pixels on each webpage.

Also interesting to note that ComScore has now mentioned Quantcast in passing a handful of times during their presentation.

beRecruited and STACK Media Reaching Targeted, Large Audiences

July's Comscore numbers for sports networks were released recently and STACK Media made it's first appearance on the chart with 3.5 million uniques in July and importantly is the #1 platform for "active young men (12-24)".

Why is this important? Because beRecruited is part of the STACK network and played a critical role in these numbers and demographic targeting (the 12-24 year old audience is clearly our sweet spot). From Circulation Management:

Key to that traffic spike is a content partnership with three properties: sports retailer, (Footlocker owns East Bay) and, an online recruiting tool for high school athletes. “We focused on executing against a distributed media strategy where we take our content and distribute it to partner sites. In exchange for distribution of the content we’re also selling all of the advertising inventory on those sites. The tagline ‘Content is king, but distribution brings the bling’ is definitely a motto here,” says Palazzo.

But before STACK could effectively enter into distribution partnerships, the company had to prove the worth of its content. “Our content is the glue that is making these partnerships function because it’s unique in the sports space. It’s not news coverage, it’s sports lifestyle and performance. They’re the who’s who and we’re the how-to. That differentiates us and gives us the ability to create these types of partnerships,” says Palazzo.

Despite the initial focus on the high school athlete, the company has found that sports training, especially when it’s presented by professional athletes, is appealing to a broader audience of 12-to-24 year olds. “We’re focused on a new market. Our competitors now are, Yahoo Sports, and AOL Sports and Fox Sports—people that are in the top five that blue chip marketers are using. We may not have 20 million uniques, but the uniques we have are definitely [the marketer’s] target.”

1. Yahoo Sports - 21,851,000 uniques 2. ESPN - 18,101,000 uniqueS 3. Fox Sports - 14,644,000 uniques 4. - 12,778,000 uniques 5. AOL Sports - 11,631,000 unique s (doubled in a year - 6,858,000 in July 2007) 6. NFL Internet Group - 7,482,000 uniques 7. CBS Sports - 5,923,000 uniques 8. Sports Illustrated Sites - 4,656,000 uniques 9. WWE - 4,206,000 uniques 10. STACK Media - 3,580,000 uniques


STACK Media today announced its ranking as the #1 online property to reach the coveted active young male demographic--as measured by comScore Media Metrix. With over 3.5 million unique visitors in the U.S. during July 2008, STACK Media jumped ahead of and to land as #10 on the prestigious comScore list of Top Sports Web Properties. In addition to mass reach, STACK Media now offers display and video brand advertisers the greatest efficiency against the highly desirable but elusive category of active young (12-to-24-year-old) males online.

Long Tail Analytics with Quantcast, Google Trends & Compete - Who Wins?

Google entered the public web analytics game yesterday by expanding Google Trends beyond search queries and into web traffic. Just a couple years ago, we had two options for web data: - Comscore provided detailed analytics for the web's top sites - Alexa (inaccurately) estimated traffic based on their tool bar users / usage

Now, we have three major players offering analytics for the tail of websites: Quantcast, Compete and Google Trends. Quantcast is, at this point, the only player that enables publishers to add tags to their site (or media: flash, network, etc) that effectively share their stats and make them public. This gives Quantcast full information about the site and its visitors (the same way that Google Analytics collects their data); they then share a portion of that information publicly and, for quantified publishers, that data should be trusted: pageviews, uniques, visits, etc. The beauty of what Quantcast has built is that publishers are incented to 'quantify' their sites because it provides a trusted 3rd party representation of their traffic - and for the tail of websites, that's an important differentiator because Comscore only measures the web's top sites.

Meanwhile, Compete collects their data from a panel of users and releases monthly stats (for quantified publishers, Quantcast releases daily updates). Below, you'll see just how different Quantcast and Compete are for (who is now quantified). Quantcast shows 9 million monthly uniques and 1.4 million daily uniques - Compete shows about 1.4 million monthly uniques. Big difference:

According to the data (3m uniques vs. 1m) and all of my anecdotal Silicon Valley conversations, Quantcast seems to be the preferred analytics provider over Compete.... but the real wildcard is clearly Google. The Google Trends launch garnered huge buzz yesterday - but it's yet to be seen how big of a step Google is actually taking. You'll notice below that Google Trends shows 600k daily uniques for - which falls between Quantcast and Compete... which leads to me to ask the obvious question: Will Google open up Google Analytics publicly on an opt-in basis? Quantcast has pushed Compete aside by gathering real data provided directly by the website owner. Google already has a massive footprint in Analytics - by providing an option to "make your data public", they can create a consumer-facing analytics service and extend the reach of AdWords / AdSense by matching demographics and allowing direct ad-buying.

The integration is easy and leverages Analytics massive user base. More importantly, it delivers accurate data and makes Google Trends relevant - because, as it currently stands, the data is good just that: trends.

April Search Data: Google 61.6% of Market, Yahoo Falls to 20.4%

Much of the news today was around Facebook's 10% month-over-month decline in unique users - but the search query data out of Comscore is equally interesting (and important, particularly in light of the Microsoft-Yahoo deal).

Google gained nearly two points in search share - now representing 61.6% of US search queries. Google had sat around the 58% mark from October - December of 2008 and surged in April (breaking 60% for the first time). Meanwhile, Yahoo fell nearly a full point to 20.4%. Since January, Yahoo has falled 2.5 points (11%) compared to Google's 3 point gain (5.3%).

As Yahoo attempts to remain independent, their rapidly declining search share does not bode well or instill confidence.

Google's Numbers: Conversions +24%, CTRs +19% and CPCs +11%

The most interesting outcome of yesterday's strong Google earnings came from Efficient Frontier, who released a report on Q1 search engine performances:

In Q1 2008,Google accounted for 77 percent of total search spend, gaining 3.3 percentage points in share of search spending from Q1 2007. Return on investment (ROI) on Google improved by 24 percent, click-through rates (CTRs) improved by 19 percent, and cost per click (CPC) rates increased by 11 percent in the period between Q1 2007 and Q1 2008, suggesting that large-scale advertisers are benefiting from Google's quality updates and can continue to afford its higher CPCs, particularly given the increase in ROI.

Google has improved conversions (24%), click-throughs (19%) and CPCs (11%) - a consequence of strictly enforcing advertising quality measures (which Comscore noted led to declining paid search clicks). By removing the clutter of untargeted ads (particularly on generic or branded terms) leads to more effective, premium placements (at premium prices).

Equally interesting, it appears that Yahoo has now implemented more restrictive ad pricing requirements - on a dynamic basis (just like Google). A reaction to Google's earnings and Efficient Frontier's data?

Techcrunch Surveys Widget Tracking and Who's 'King' - Including Widgetbox, Clearspring, MySpace

Interesting post by Techcrunch and Erik Schnofeld today about the widget world and how tracking within this space is difficult. The trouble is that: 1) there isn't a standard widget format / type - Widgetbox, for example, offers both javascript and flash versions of widgets.

2) many widgets use multiple services for installers, analytics, etc - causing double counting among some providers.

3) it's a new, quickly growing frontier (which always presents challenges). This will get clearer over time.

Who rules the world of widgets? It is difficult to measure, but comScore takes a stab at it with a new ranking of widget providers as measured by viewing audience... It seems like Meebo should be in there, with a reach of about 19 million, which would put it right after iGoogle. Who else is missing?...

Erik then updated the post with the following message (kudos for doing so):

Update: WidgetBox claims 25 million monthly uniques for their widgets, but says they don’t all get counted by comScore because they use Javascript. Another problem with this list is that there might be double-counting. Clearspring, for instance, puts a tracking embed code in RockYou’s widgets. Like I said, these things are difficult to measure.

Full Comscore release is here. Update: VentureBeat has now covered the Comscore data but without much mention of tracking complexities.