Search and Win: A story that’s circulating today is one about the prospect of MSN and Yahoo! "incentivizing" users to switch to their search engines with rewards and prizes. MSN is further along; Yahoo! floated what might be called a "trial balloon" on the subject. Nielsen’s Ken Cassar thinks the general idea is "smart promotion." Others have been critical of the idea as one that smacks of "desperation." (This is the common journalist question: "Doesn’t this suggest desperation?")
I wouldn’t say it’s a desperate move; I would say it’s an effort to get attention and motivate users to show up and try the engine. Many people argue there’s effectively no difference between the top search engines’ results (Infospace disagrees). And there’s plenty of data that says there’s effectively no search engine "loyalty" out there. I think there’s a great deal more nuance here, but it’s a much longer discussion.
Here’s my view: Prizes might be a good marketing hook, but they aren’t going to win over users permanently or cement loyalty longer term. The search experience itself has to deliver value and be as good or better than the preferred engine (read: Google in many cases). There’s also the danger of what might be called "search fraud" by users just seeking to fulfill requirements to qualify for incentives/prizes. This danger will diminish or destroy the credibility of the engine with marketers over time.
AOL the Conversions King: Analytics firm WebSideStory reported (consistent with a similar report last year) that AOL had the "best conversion rate at business-to consumer e-commerce sites" of the four major portals/search engines. Here are their data:
- AOL Search (6.17 percent)
- MSN (6.03 percent)
- Yahoo (4.07 percent)
- Google (3.83 percent)
The WebSideStory explanation of this (user demographics/intent) isn’t entirely satisfying. However, one might explain the difference in the fact that Google is perceived as a starting point for research, while AOL, Yahoo! and MSN to varying degrees are destinations that keep people on their sites longer. According to Nielsen, here are the relative, average amounts of time (minutes) spent on each:
- AOL Search (2:16:49)
- MSN (0:37:29)
- Yahoo (1:09:19)
- Google (0:18:40)
Google Schadenfreude: Since Google missed the sky-high expectations of Wall Street in Q4, there’s a distinct quality of "schadenfreude" (pleasure at the misfortune of others) in the air. Barrons caused a further decline in GOOG when it speculated that competition would weaken Google’s market position this year. There’s nothing new or especially thoughtful in the article. It’s simply that investors may now be nervous about future performance and are selling (GOOG is off about $130 from its 52 week high).
Also, John Battelle, who owes Google quite a bit for his current status as best-selling author and search "guru," argues now that Google had "jumped the shark" given its appearance on Time magazine’s cover.
Lining the halls of Google are high-profile magazine stories dating back to 2000. (The Time cover is nothing particularly special or significant.) Google will succeed, grow or fall to earth largely based on the actual value (quality of search, tools and services) it provides to users and how the competition stacks up. The danger as I see it is that Wall Street’s distorted expectations will cause the company to do things (to produce growth/revenues) that are not in the long-term best interests of the user experience and, ultimately, the company.
Nokia Wi-Fi Phone: This week Nokia announced a Wi-Fi phone that offers can "travel" between cell and Wi-Fi networks. Carriers DO NOT LIKE this development and it’s a parallel one to VoIP on the fixed-line side of the house. But because they do not control the handset makers and because there’s competition and potential demand for these phones, this is a development that they cannot prevent. Thus there will be more pressure on wireless carrier revenues (both on voice minutes and data use). The only real question here is: Will Wi-Fi networks proliferate to make them real alternatives to cell networks on these phones?
PC vs. TV: Reported in today’s MediaPost (reg. req’d) is a piece of research that argues consumers want to be able to watch movies and TV on their PCs and vice versa:
25 percent of Internet users are interested in watching downloaded TV shows and movies on their PCs, 38 percent expressed interest in watching that same video on their TVs.
WebTV was largely a failure because of the bad user experience. The opportunity this time is to build a Web-surfing capability into IPTV, cable, etc., that combines the best of both worlds.
This leads me to another "shameless plug" for our coming Drilling Down conference and the session:
Who Will Own the Living Room?
The battle for the living room has begun with cable companies, telcos and search providers, among others, seeking to control the pipe, the programming and the advertising channel to the local audience. Will people hook up their PCs (or Macs) to their TVs? Will telcos succeed in installing IPTV and gaining share versus entrenched cable companies? Or will cable providers, arguably in the dominant position today, extend their dominance in TV to local advertising delivered through the living room?