I won't try to fill any roundup shoes this Friday as the blog's real writing talent (no offense to Chad or myself) takes a day off, but I did want to talk about the Search Saga (I use saga instead of "wars" deliberately, as it's really more of a he-said-she-said spat than a technological arms race) and the latest news surrounding Google and Blekko and content farms (oh my?).
We'll start with the Google/Bing spat. I won't give you the standard roundup as Search Engine Land has done their usual impeccable job of that (check out their latest post for, well: the latest), Larry covered it yesterday and you can no doubt find it several other places on the Web. I also won't talk about who's "right" or "wrong" because I'm already a bit weary of the subject, and if you read this blog there's a decent chance you are too (though there is an excellent synopsis here if you just can't get enough - the line "using click and visit data to rank results is a very reasonable and logical thing to do, and ignoring the data would have been silly" sums up my feeling on the matter pretty well).
What I will do here is point out three things I find interesting:
- The real theft here is in fact on the part of Google's engineers: that random string test is the oldest SEO test in the books! And if they had just thrown this whole thing up anonymously on an SEO blog claiming a "valid test" to see which way the wind blows PR wise, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble here.
- Google seems to be taking it on all sides from a PR perspective. They are getting hammered on the content farm stuff, dupe content scrapers, and I think that they took it on the chin in the court of public opinion with this latest Bing controversy (a rare loss for them as Matt Cutts is basically a walking case study in world-class online PR).
- None of it matters as much as we think
Just to make things a bit more round-up like I'll quote an excellent post by Aaron Bradley asking Blekko to give him his spam back to help draw out my thinking on number three above (and to make a near-seamless transition to the Blekko/Content Farm story). Aaron had a unique and well-thought out take on the banning of sites from Blekko. Aaron says of Blekko's decision to ban twenty domains that have been frequently marked as spam by its users:
The spam flag methodology is at best a blunt instrument, and at worst editorial hubris masquerading as a mathematically-based methodology.
And for me the most jarring and important take away from the piece comes in the final few paragraphs when Aaron points out a Tweeter who says:
Dear #Blekko #ehow just showed me how to grow morning glories http://www.ehow.com/how_6757_grow-morning-glory.html Thats not spam #google :)
I think this last point is a really critical one: spam in Google is a total non-issue for any of my non-techie friends and family members. I have not heard one person who doesn't work in search/online marketing/tech complain about eHow or the decline of Google - even my friends/family who are relatively tech savvy (relatively tech savvy here meaning couldn't care less about Blekko or Matt Cutts but active on Facebook and Groupon) still rely on Google religiously and only talk to me about Google when they're:
- Using it as a verb
- Complaining about Instant "changing in the background"
- Asking about Bing because they heard something about market share on NPR.
And they actually LOVE getting Wikipedia results for everything under the sun (what with not ever having to worry about out ranking them).
But I actually think this is where Blekko is really smart: they don't seem to be building a search engine to get to 70 or 60 or even 50 percent share. They seem to be building an early-adopter, tech oriented search engine. They've marketed to that corner of the world BEAUTIFULLY. They somehow managed to endear themselves to SEOs and people crying "too much spam" at the same time by giving away a bunch of backlink data and then making a big stink about personalizing search results to filter out spam: that was downright Cuttsian. They also launched without a lot of fanfare on the heels of the Cuil debacle, which was again a really good marketing move in trying to win the hearts and mind of tech folks and early adopters.
Aaron mentions a "baby with the bathwater" element to Blekko's decision which I think is spot on: there are several subjects on which I am completely ignorant and an eHow article would actually get me from A to B and give me the information I needed. If there's a topic I'm fairly well versed in that I need a deeper dive on, however, I certainly don't want to see eHow in my SERP. So I would agree with Aaron and with Google: a more nuanced approach here makes you a much better general search engine.
But I think (hope?) that Blekko isn't trying to be the best general search engine. I don't think Blekko is even aiming to be the best search engine for 80 percent of the searches or 80 percent of the people. I think they're trying to be the best search engine for ten percent of the searches on the Web. If they can get a ten percent slice of the market (depending on which ten percent of course) that's potentially a two billion dollar company- given that they haven't raised a ton of money yet ($24 million to date, which isn't a huge number for building a search engine) and claim to have quite a bit left in the bank, it's reasonable to expect that they might be able to have made a dent in the market after one more big raise (big here being ~$20m). That makes them a home run success at 10 or really even five percent share. Even if you give them 5 percent share and $100 million in funding that's likely north of 10x returns on the VC money.
So if you were looking to build a 1 to 2 billion dollar company in the search space and grab 5-10 percent market share, would you try to be as good as Google and Bing on every single query, or would you try to beat them on some of the queries, and let them them fight it out for the biggest mansion on the block while you lounge in the in-ground pool next to your six-bedroom colonial?
There are also legitimate cases where I find their slash tags to be very useful - they're basically a quicker way to create custom search engines, and I can come back and query them for info on certain subjects. Again this isn't for everyone and doesn't necessarily help on every query, but doesn't that seem like a pretty solid way to build a search engine that gives the best results on 5-10 percent of the Web's queries? Got a better idea? (I bet there are some folks in Silicon Valley who would love to hear it).
And this all relates back to the Google/Bing tete-a-tete because I think that situation is fairly similar. Here I'll pull another quote from Edward Lau's excellent response on Quora:
The main downside for Google, and the reason that they feel that they have to publicly complain, is not so much that what Bing is doing is wrong but that Google has much less to gain relative to Bing through toolbar data. Their organic search results are superior in quality, and they have more market share and data for ranking anyways.
There it is, back to our theme: Google still has the best search engine for general search. Not only do they have momentum, distribution, cash, data, and great marketing but they actually still have a better mouse trap for most queries.
So What Does All This Mean?
Basically? Get back to work! I honestly don't think the last two weeks represent any more of a sea change in search marketing than the two weeks prior: they were just a lot noisier. The main takeaways are:
- You should still optimize for Google first
- Bing is a player
- Most of your target market probably still doesn't search for things on Blekko (but you might consider playing with their SEO tools)
- Clickstream data is an important factor to consider in your SEO efforts
But you should have known all that already, so relax and go optimize something!