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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - February 2010

Welcome to the February issue of our monthly newsletter which looks at some of the latest news and developments in the web search and marketing field.

This month is another Google-dominated newsletter, as we look at some new developments from Google as well as a common issue with Google Analytics. Firstly, we consider the new Personalised Search function from Google which was introduced with limited fanfare at the end of last year. However, the implications of this change for all searchers, as well as for search engine marketing, is notable and something that every web searcher should consider.

We also look at Google's continuing developments in the mobile search ad advertising sector, led by the launch of their first mobile phone product during January, as well as other developments with the acquisition of AdMob and improved targeting with Google AdWords on mobile phone devices. Finally this issue of the newsletter considers the differences in reported data between Google AdWords and Google Analytics, and why these might occur.

You can read more below, or you can also browse through previous editions of the newsletter, either by month or by subject . We are also reporting the main news stories during each month in our regular web marketing blog or you can get the latest updates by following our Twitter account.

On to this month's edition...

Google's Personalised Search

Google has offered personalised search results for some time, serving up customised, tailored results for each searcher to provide them with the most relevant results possible. By 'learning' about a user's search history and preferences, Google can then adjust the search results in the future. This was initially only available for people who were logged into a Google account, but since December last year, Google made Personalised Search the default option for everyone.

This recent change appears to have been introduced at a low key level, despite the significant implications for users in the way that search results are now being presented to them as well as for companies that are marketing their websites using search engine optimisation. By using a 'cookie' file that is saved on each user's computer when they search Google, the search engine is able to record past activity to help adjust similar search results in the future.

This tracking feature was originally provided in the form of Google's Search History, which was switched on as a default option for many Google searchers in February 2007. It was renamed as Web History in April 2007, to reflect how it began to track more information about how Google users surfed the web after having conducted a search. It then became known as Personalised Search and was available only for signed-in Google account users, but this recent change has meant that every searcher is now having their search activity recorded in order to help Google serve up more relevant results in the future.

If a user now searches Google, a text link appears at the top right of the screen saying 'Web History'. This link explains that "search results may be customized using search activity from this computer" and users have the option to disable this function. If you sign into a Google Account, you have the option to register for the more detailed Web History option which then displays more detailed information about previous search activity and the search results may also be adapted in different ways based on this data.

All the main search engines have always retained search history for a set period of either 90 or 180 days, although this data wasn't linked to individual searchers. With Personalised Search, the data is recorded on the PC, unless the user is signed into a Google Account. Either way, there are privacy issues arising from this data collection and although Google does provide users with an opt-out option, most people are unlikely to be aware of this and will do nothing about it.

Of course, Google's argument is that by recording this data on search activity they can improve the quality and relevancy of results in the future. The use of cookies and user history has influenced the ranking of Google AdWords adverts in the past, and continue to do so. The extension of this feature for all searchers means that users may be presented with quite different results when using different PCs, and popular sites that have been visited in the past are likely to rank better in the future.

From a search engine optimisation perspective, this means that ranking results for a site will potentially vary between different users and will be hard to track changes on an accurate basis. Having said that, ranking positions have always been used as a benchmark in the past and the real measure of a successful SEO campaign will be an increase in search engine referral traffic. In the long term, the data that Google collects about search rankings and user activity is likely to influence ranking results overall.

You can find more information about Google's Personalised Search results here and it's worth bearing this feature in mind when you use this search engine. If you'd like to know more about this and the impact on your search engine marketing strategy, then please contact us.


Clicks vs. Visitors differences between Google AdWords and Analytics

As Google Analytics becomes more widely used by business websites to track online activity, it's also possible to link a Google Adwords account into the data, which helps to add an extra level of information about the effectiveness of this form of pay-per-click advertising. However, a common issue that arises from this data is the discrepancy between the numbers of clicks reported by an AdWords campaign, and the visits data shown by Google Analytics.

Once a Google AdWords campaign is linked to an Analytics account, it's possible to view additional data within Analytics on how the PPC activity is working. The Analytics reports show data for clicks which most closely match the figures shown in the AdWords interface as well as for visits. There are often differences for each of these numbers between the two accounts and this discrepancy can occur for a number of reasons, even if the Google Analytics code has been implemented correctly.

Many people believe that AdWords clicks and Analytics visits are the same thing, but this is not true. In Google Analytics, there is an important distinction between the clicks in an AdWords Campaigns report (which shows how many times the adverts were clicked by visitors) and visits, such as the numbers shown in the Search Engines and Visitors reports, which are the number of unique sessions initiated by visitors.

Of course the first thing to check is that the Analytics code has been implemented correctly on all pages of a website and that the AdWords account is linked. If these elements are working correctly, then there are a number of reasons why the numbers may not match, such as:

It's therefore important for Google AdWords advertisers to understand the reasons for these discrepancies, so they can accurately assess the figures reported by Analytics to maximise the Google Adwords campaign's performance.

If you'd like to know more about this issue and how it might affect your Analytics data, please contact us for a discussion.


Google and the Mobile Internet

Google is rapidly expanding its interest in the mobile phone market, which is expected to see massive growth over the next few years. This has been demonstrated by three recent developments: the launch of its new mobile phone; the intended acquisition of AdMob (a mobile advertising network); and the way in which it has added extra options for Adwords advertisers to target mobile phone users.

On 7th January 2010, Google unveiled its new mobile smartphone, the HTC Nexus One, which is designed to compete with Apple's iPhone. This is Google's first own-brand smartphone, although it has previously been providing the Google Android operating system through other phones. The phone is initially available in the US and is being sold directly from Google's website. It can be purchased 'unlocked' so that any chosen mobile carrier can be used, but clearly Google wants to gain a bigger share of the mobile phone market to capture more mobile search activity and to provide another advertising platform as a revenue stream in this growing market.

In another recent move, Google acquired the mobile advertising start-up AdMob Inc. last November for US$750 million. The purchase is one of Google's largest deals and underscores how the search giant is trying to get more creative to extend its dominance in Internet advertising to mobile phones. AdMob is one of the leading mobile display advertising companies and comes with an experienced team and over 15,000 mobile websites and applications.

Although Google has been selling ads next to search results on mobile phones and on some mobile web pages for years, their efforts haven't generated much revenue. However, AdMob which was founded in 2006 - places ads on mobile sites that match advertisers' chosen criteria and in some cases provides a system for large advertisers to design the adverts themselves. The change to Google's mobile advertising strategy through this acquisition shows that Google is serious about becoming a major player in the mobile advertising business, as it has now put itself amongst the front-runners in this market.

Finally, at the end of January, Google announced new targeting options for mobile phone advertising through Google AdWords. This will enable advertisers with a carrier- or device-specific message to reach targeted users. For example, companies selling iPhone cases can use device targeting to ensure that users with Android phones won't see their ads. Also, Google are making sure that ads linking to mobile application downloads will automatically appear only on devices that offer those apps which will improve the targeting and relevancy for advertisers.

To find out more about Google's mobile advertising developments, please contact us now to see what opportunities are available for your business.


Recent articles from The Marketing Workbench

The Marketing Workbench is our regular web marketing blog covering news and comment on Internet marketing events and trends. If you want to keep track of current stories you can visit this section of our website on a regular basis, or set up an RSS feed. These are just some of the items posted over the past month:


We hope you've found this month's issue useful. Please contact us if you need any more information on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions to us.