Microsoft’s new search engine better than its marketing

While Microsoft’s new search engine bing has been getting a number of positive reviews since its launch a few days ago, the TV commercial is being lambasted.

Just read the comments on this Advertising Age story. Comments such as this one from Robert in New York:

Noise and nonsense. Particularly unimpressive—its set up is too long and confused; while it’s payoff is virtually indistinguishable from the set up, which is to say no message, let alone benefit was delivered. More distressing, it was created by people who simply want to delight themselves and who I suspect think they’ve created something cool.

Blow your mind with Wolfram Alpha

I’ve been playing with the new Wolfram Alpha “computational knowledge engine” and I think one of the best terms to describe it is straight out of the 1960s: “mind blowing”.

Wolfram Alpha is not about searching for web pages (Google is still pretty good at that) but, rather, about getting answers to numerical questions, computed on demand from vast amounts of curated data plus algorithms.

For example, Wolfram Alpha can:

  • perform mathematical, financial or scientific calculations
  • analyze geographical or statistical data
  • provide a summary of events on a particular date, including the weather (automatically defaulted to your current location based on IP address)
  • tell you all the words that will fit in that crossword puzzle that’s had you stumped all day
  • tell you how the height of Mt Everest compares with the length of the Golden Gate Bridge [see screenshot]

Click here to view the Wolfram Alpha introductory video

It also has an astonishingly ability to deliver related chunks of interesting information including nicely formatted tables and graphs.

I recommend watching Stephen Wolfram’s complete introductory video (it’s about 13 minutes and takes a while to load).

There’s also more info about Wolfram Alpha here and here.

Search marketer slams Canadian advertisers

Some harsh words for Canadian advertisers regarding their use — or non-use — of paid search:

Toronto seems to be the epicenter of the orifice that Canadian advertisers have lodged their collective heads in. The city doesn’t get it, the province doesn’t get it, the country doesn’t get it. When it comes to search, Canada (with a few exceptions) is clueless.

That’s from a Canadian, by the way. Gord Hotchkiss is president of search marketing firm Enquiro and he lives in the United States British Columbia. 

He’s been in Toronto this week for the Search Engine Strategies conference, but it sounds like he’ll be glad to get back across the border. He may be safer there too.

Search, and you’ll find one ugly website

Search Engine Strategies 07 Toronto front page - 2007-06-07

Next week’s Search Engine Strategies conference in Toronto looks interesting, particularly the keynote by Seth Godin, author of The Dip.

But why is the conference website so utterly awful in its design?

I’m not talking about its SEO performance (which I haven’t checked), but its actual appearance. Some of the worst elements:

  • The floating width front page with its wide centre column makes for very long, hard to read, lines of text.
  • The vertical navigation is blue text on a grey background – but you weren’t interested in reading it, were you?
  • The sponsors’ logos are piled on top of each other with no room to breathe.
  • Even on my spacious 1400 pixel-wide screen I get a horizontal scrollbar.
  • Bizarrely, the bottom 80 per cent of the page is empty. (Maybe that’s where they hide the keywords?) 😉

I’d recommend the organizers of SES 07 take a look at the site for last week’s Mesh Conference, also in Toronto. It’s a simple site that’s a pleasure to use.

CanWest unveils local search and directories

CanWest Mediaworks has announced plans to publish local directories, in print and online, in three cities.

Ottawa is first on the schedule, with a directory to be launched this summer. Similar products will appear in Regina and Saskatoon early next year. According to the announcement:

The Ottawa directory will offer consumers complete business listings, glossy print maps, a complete and easy to reference government section, community information section including schools, recreation, and parks information, a restaurant guide for dining selection, and large ads full of information to help fine-tune buying decisions. The initial online offering will also include mapping, search and driving directions.

CanWest’s portfolio includes the Ottawa Citizen, Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix daily newspapers, the canada.com portal, and broadcasting stations.

In addition to advertising in the print directory, businesses can advertise online in their local pages on the canada.com network, offering advertisers potential cross-promotion alongside the CanWest network. Online advertising can be purchased with specialized packages to meet individual businesses’ needs, offering advertisers the choice to include ad creative, URLs, email addresses, additional descriptive text, and more.

Optimizing baby’s name

Selecting a baby’s name was seldom easy. You had to please the parents, and the grandparents, and make sure it wasn’t going to be an invitation to playground taunts.

But nowadays savvy parents also have to be sure their child’s name is search-engine optimized.

The Wall Street Journal looks at the occurrence [I’m not sure we can call it a trend yet] of parents-to-be selecting a name for their child that will appear high in search engine rankings.

It’s essential for these parents to find a name that is uncommon, otherwise their child may be on page 89 of results for “Britney Jones” or “Jason Smith”. That’s virtually unsearchable, which is only a step away from non-existent.

According to the WSJ:

US internet users conduct hundreds of millions of search queries daily. About 7% of all searches are for a person’s name, estimates search engine Ask.com. More than 80% of executive recruiters said they routinely use search engines to learn more about candidates, according to a recent survey by executive networking firm ExecuNet. Nearly 40% of individuals have used search engines to look up friends or acquaintances with whom they’d lost touch, according to a Harris Interactive survey commissioned by Microsoft Corp.’s MSN unit.

But what if the parents cannot find, or agree on, a search-friendly name? That’s when it’s time for Search Engine Marketing. Just make sure you bid high on the keywords for your child’s name. It’s a small price to pay for the kind of visibility that could help your kid succeed.

David Berkowitz at Search Insider goes even further, with some excellent marketing ideas. Here are just a few:

Write a press release the day your baby’s born with the baby’s name in the headline, and optimize the entire release. As soon as the little one takes its first breath, he or she can even appear in the body of Google’s natural search results thanks to universal search.

Buy all potential domain name misspellings of your baby’s name. If you’re blessed with ample foresight or come from an ages-old tradition of arranged marriages, buy versions of the last name of any potential suitor you have in mind. Redirect the names to your baby’s main dot-com domain.

Googlebomb your baby’s domain around the phrase “world’s cutest baby,” “future Nobel laureate,” or “Harvard class of 2025.”

While Berkowitz claims his advice is tongue-in-cheek, he also says some of his ideas would work just as well for, say, your business, as for your baby.

Search drives update of Yellow Pages online — and in print

Search is ‘front-and-centre’ on the new Yellow Pages site 

The Yellow Pages print edition is being reshaped by the way people search in the Yellow Pages online edition.

As Grant Robertson wrote yesterday at reportonbusiness.com, online search behaviour revealed deficiences in the Yellow Pages’ information structure:

When people went to its website to find a sushi restaurant, they typed the word “sushi,” not “restaurants – Japanese” or “restaurants – seafood.”

Moreover, search terms being used online show how customer needs change over time — information that will reshape the print edition of the famed business directory:

…you can already bid adieu to “armouries” and “buttonhole makers” as categories next year. They’re being discarded in favour of breakout terms like “tapas” and “wine cellars.”

It’s also interesting to compare the recently revamped Yellow Pages website with its predecessor. The old site devoted much of its front page to the traditional Yellow Pages directory structure, the “Restaurants – Japanese” approach. Category lists have now been relegated to a small link on a page built around keyword search.

Thanks to the ease of tracking online search terms, the Yellow Pages print edition is set to become a more useful product too.

Comparing top sites: US and NZ

Hitwise top 15 sites - US and NZ - April 2007

It’s always fun (well, I think so, at least) to compare web traffic stats. Today I was having a look at the top sites identified by Hitwise for the United States and New Zealand. (Unfortunately Hitwise doesn’t report Canadian data.)

First off, it’s important to note that the data refer to market share (expressed as a percentage) of all visits to sites by users based in the specified country. That’s not the way most websites report their rankings, which are more often based on page impressions or unique (unrepeated) visitors during a period. Moreover, the Hitwise data are extrapolations based on samples obtained from co-operating ISPs in the specific countries, not actual counts.

OK, now to the comparison. A few things I found noteworthy:

  • No news website appears in the US top 15. But two (nzherald and stuff) appear on the NZ list. Yes, Kiwis are always on the lookout for news (especially if it’s about rugby). 😉
  • Auction site eBay is number 8 on the US list. But home-grown auction site Trade Me is number 3 in NZ. In fact, more than a quarter of all New Zealanders are registered members of Trade Me, which was sold last year to publishing group Fairfax for NZ$700 million. Now that’s a success story. I find it much nicer to use than eBay and just wish they’d expand out of the Antipodes.
  • In the US, the social networking action is on MySpace and, increasingly, Facebook. In NZ, British-based Bebo dominates. A Silicon Valley rumour has Yahoo looking at buying Bebo for around US$1 billion.
  • YouTube and Wikipedia are popular in both countries. (At least the kids are doing their homework while they watch videos?)
  • In both countries, web traffic is dominated by search and email.