All Change at the Next Stop: Yahoo, Bing, Google & Facebook

It is a truism of almost every industry that change happens at a rapid pace and in the last few months the search industry has witnessed enormous changes that will have a huge impact on how we go about marketing online. Mergers, acquisitions and overhauls have been the order of the hour, with the usual mixture of winners and losers.

Hello Bing, Goodbye Yahoo

Perhaps the most significant recent development has been the long-mooted coming together of Microsoft and Yahoo in a partnership that sees one of the web’s oldest and most revered search engines make way for the Redmond giant’s technology. The two companies had been in a will-they-won’t-they dance for what seems like years, but at the end of July the deal was finally inked.

In exchange for an 88% share of search ad revenue, Bing will replace Yahoo’s search engine and bring much-desired exposure of Microsoft’s technology to the 570 million or so visitors Yahoo currently attracts. The immediate gain for Microsoft is the potential to increase its share of the search market to around 28%, which will bring with it vastly increased search ad revenue. Interestingly, more recent statistics have shown Bing’s search ad market share soaring by around 44%, a seemingly clear sign that advertisers and web users appreciate the service.

Microsoft is of course taking something of a multi-pronged strategy, with its earlier investment in Facebook: see below for more.

The deal also puts another nail in the coffin of Yahoo’s strategy, which through the tenures of Terry Semel and Jerry Yang has been somewhat suspect: remember, this is the company that in 2002 failed to acquire Google for $5 billion – what a bargain that would have been!

What does Microsoft-Yahoo Deal mean for Search?

Rising Traffic – The clearest implication is that Bing is now a much more important consideration for search optimisation and marketing campaigns. Hitherto, our experience of Bing traffic has been somewhat underwhelming, typically our clients see a roughly 20:1 Google to Bing ratio. That is now highly likely to change and as such we’ll be focusing much more on Bing.

Lack of Back-link Data – From an SEO perspective, one of the jewels in Yahoo’s crown is the superb Site Explorer, which provides a very thorough breakdown of the back-links a given web site enjoys. Google’s Webmaster Panel does have a backlink tool, but next to Yahoo’s, it’s rather poor. With the M:Y deal, are we in danger of losing Yahoo’s backlink data? Will it be migrated to the new platform? We can only hope it will as losing it would put a huge dent in every SEO’s toolkit.

Facebook, Friendfeed & Designs on Real-Time Search

One of the hottest topics on in the search community right now is real-time-search and whether the major players are actually capable of delivering updates to their indexes in the same way that the likes of Twitter can. With this in mind, Facebook’s acquisition of Friendfeed is very interesting, as it brings the social networking site closer to being a provider of real-time search results across your network of friends and contacts. Some have said this pits them squarely against Google and have even spoken of a Google vs Facebook war. Adding the rising popularity of Twitter to the mix, and the scene is set for something of a search showdown.

Thinking laterally, for many people Facebook is the de facto starting point for a web browsing session, so if the site can deliver a rich and compelling search experience it has a very strong change of diverting the searching habits of some of its 240 million users away from Google.

Google Perks Up

We do love a pun here, and Google’s latest Caffeine update provides ample opportunity for them. Silliness aside, the update does represent something of a step change for Google as it aims to tackle a number of persistent challenges: Speed, Relevance and Index Size. Whilst access to the preview system has been limited, early feedback from the search community has been generally positive, particularly on the speed of results (halved in many cases), the ranking of authoritative domains over ones that are less so and a closer alignment of search results with relevance, something that Bing has incidentally been making noises about. Social Media links seem to be rising in rank, but with the recent ‘revelation’ that 40% of Tweets are ‘pointless babble‘ is this necessarily a good thing?

Friends Reunited Perks Down

It was announced a few days ago that Brightsolid, the internet arm of D.C. Thompson Publishing, agreed to acquire Friends Reunited from ITV for £25 million, the troubled broadcaster thereby taking a hit of £150m on the £175m it paid for the site back in 2005. Whilst the popularity of the site has waned (with Facebook bearing down, it’s no surprise), it does allow BrightSolid to develop its interests in the Ancestry and Geneaology market, one into which it has made tremendous strides.

With FRU now in the hands of a smaller (and arguably nimbler) owner, we certainly hope that it’s a positive sign and wish them all the best – there aren’t enough internet-based companies in Scotland for our liking!