The tech war 2012 was about the competition among Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon. Early in 2006 Vinny Lingham (the former Clicks2Customers CSO and the current Yola CEO) wrote this article the Clash of the Titans (A Fresh Perspective) which predicted about how the three search giants (Google, Yahoo and Microsoft) were about to compete in search and pointed out the deadly mistakes that Yahoo has made in the search system (Yahoo Search Marketing aka Panama).
Now we all know what had happened to Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing search engine:
- Yahoo Search Marketing Problems – The beginning of the Yahoo Search Marketing’s scalability issues and other technical issues
- Yahoo PPC Global Strategies – Even PPC experts run into trouble managing and optimizing through a search ad platform that sucks on globalization
- Yahoo Exits Search, Replaces by Microsoft Adcenter and Bing – The start of Yahoo’s falling in search
- Bing-Yahoo Search Alliance Update – Microsoft’s Bing taking over to power Yahoo search
Here is Lingham’s original post:
It’s fascinating to see the press mull over the search wars that are currently being waged.
Here is an article from Business Week entitled “The Counterattack on Google”. This article outlines much of how Google’s Adwords system employs a yield based mechanism to monetize their search results, as opposed to the current bid to position model pioneered by Overture, which Yahoo currently employs. In recent months, Google has added the Quality Score variable to improve the rankings in favour of greater relevance and less price emphasis. The virtuous cycle is that the happier the users are, the more they will search on Google, and this strategy is most definitely working. It’s working so well in fact, that Yahoo has rebuilt the system and relaunching it (currently dubbed Project Panama), which they hope will compete with Google.
I’m not going to go into all the current flaws in the Yahoo system which is being relaunched soon, but I’m going to address the strategic flaws in the Yahoo/MSN battle with Google.
This is something that both companies have really overlooked, and also the analysts trying to figure out how MSN & Yahoo are going to compete, which they need in order to forecast the share prices going forward. The flaw is that these analysts don’t realise that there are some critical flaws in the strategies of the two giants playing catchup. I don’t believe that unless there is a critical change in strategy, that MSN/Yahoo will beat Google in the short term and Google is going to grow very quickly in foreign markets in particular.
So what are MSN/Yahoo doing wrong?
The Internet is the world’s largest economy. What Google does right is that it allows advertisers based in any geographic area, to use a centralised system and buy advertising across multiple countries, without relying on reloading their campaigns, etc etc. Someone targeting all French speaking countries, for a French language product, simply selects Canada, France, Belgium, etc and all IP targeted traffic from those countries are served with the ads in questions.
Google has solidified their position in global markets, including smaller ones such as South Africa, by allowing anyone in the Internet Economy to participate in their global ad marketplace. This further increases relevancy. As a South African, when I search Yahoo.com or MSN.com, I don’t see commercial ads targeting me, but I do on Google. Yahoo & MSN insist on a decentralized model, which makes no sense to me whatsoever and companies in South Africa are unable to target local users on MSN.com & Yahoo.com.
MSN & Yahoo have strong brands outside the US, but they are not able to easily monetize their search, because of this decentralized “region by region” strategy. Google’s has really built a classy system around allowing anyone from anywhere to participate in their global marketplace in any language and any currency. This is where I believe the Yahoo\MSN will fall short in the long term.
By looking at Google’s earnings growth outside the US, I believe that not enough focus has been placed on the global market by the other search engines and also, US advertisers do try to target foreign countries with their products. Kudo’s to Google on this one.
Furthermore, this strategy will leads to other complications in the Contextual products in that Yahoo\MSN are not able to target international publishers very well. If the ads that Yahoo serves through YPN (Yahoo Publisher Network) only have US advertisers – and Yahoo US Advertisers only wants this traffic (i.e. no international traffic) – they will fail to deliver the solution that serves the needs of the publishers and hence does not compete with Google’s AdSense solution. Yahoo needs to focus on taking on Google globally, not just in the US. Many of the Yahoo search solutions are too locally (US) focused. It looks like MSN may follow this route as well.
Google has succesfully used Geo-Targeting to build it’s business, but MSN & Yahoo have gone with proprietary marketplaces – a key differentiator. Google tries to provide relevance while monetizing as many searches are possible, regardless of where they are based.
If Yahoo/MSN wants to take on Google, I do believe that they need to go back to the drawing board and rework their global strategy, and not to focus purely on each geography separately. They need to increase the monetization potential per search. Focus on the Internet as a medium, not a geographic location. In order to be relevant, you must act as a marketplace, connecting advertisers to searchers, by placing restrictions or hindrances such as geographic location, currency, language, etc, they will not maximize the revenue per search.
Take this example:
For every hundred searches on a search engine this could be the sample demographic:
- 40 US – English
- 10 US – Hispanic
- 30 Other Countries – English
- 10 Other Countries – French
- 10 Other Countries – Other Languages
For these hundred searches on Google.com – Google could yield a Clickthrough Rate of 100% because it has advertisers targeting every search, in it’s global marketplace.
If you looked at Yahoo or MSN, they would only be able to yield good results past US English, and maybe France. Also, because the auctions are run in multiple countries, they do not get the benefit of overlaying multiple bids and relevancy to get higher CPC’s and a mix thereof. Forget CPC auction benefits for just a second – their listings are now less relevant and have lower yields per search – something their stock prices are reflecting.
This is the brutal truth, whether they like it or not. MSN has got a great new angle with their demographic targeting capabilities and this shows that they are focused on revenue per search, but I’m not happy that the strategy is correct, especially given MSN’s strong international presence and brand. MSN have also integrated Search into MSN Messenger, which gives them an even stronger international base from which to grow their search capabilities. The problem is that when users search, they’re not going to see the local plumber advertising unless MSN has a local marketplace.
The funny thing is that I’ve had this discussion with MSN & Yahoo representatives and both companies are either dismissive or blast about this particular strategic approach. If you carefully analyse the numbers, you’ll see that search is going to grow alot faster in many smaller markets, and if MSN & Yahoo are going to roll out marketplace by marketplace (slowly) they’re going to have to battle an even bigger Google ( I know, scary though). This is just one of the major flaws in the counterattack, but there are probably more than I can count.
It’s simple math that for every search, you need to display the most relevant adverts which generate the most money across the widest net of advertisers, and if they’re not doing that, they’ll never beat Google…