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What was Google thinking .com?

I stumbled across a great post on TechCrunch yesterday – an expose on Google’s astounding domain name portfolio that contains the obvious, the shrewd, the clever, and the downright baffling terms.

The analysis conducted by uptime monitoring service Pingdom exposed some very strange registrations for Google. Now before we go any further, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not unusual for a major corporation to have in excess of 1,500 domain names on its books at any one time – sure only 20 per cent of them are being used to market and the rest are a combination of defensive registrations and protection for future or past products and services.

But, in my opinion, if you’re so bad with a keyboard that you type geggle.com, glougle.com or glogoo.com when you’re trying to get to Google – you don’t deserve to find the right site. But somebody advising Google told them it was a good idea. Probably as good an idea as it was to make sure nobody else got their hands on goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooogle.com.

There were some worrying things in there too – Google is the overwhelming favourite search engine but googlereligion.com? Beyond the obvious product and service domains you’d expect Google to register, you have to wonder what googleporn.com, googlesex.com and google-yahoo-porn.com are intended for. I know that the adult industry was one of very few that continued to flurish during after the dot-com bubble burst, but surely that will never be a revenue stream for Google, even in today’s economic climate?! 

Looking through the full list from Pingdom one thing is clear – a lot of Google’s domain name strategy belongs on googlejokes.com. The whole thing reminds me a bit of the time Microsoft tried to sue a 17-year-old schoolkid called Mike Rowe for having registered MikeRoweSoft.com… I suggest Google puts in a call to a real domain expert like Jonathan Robinson at NetNames to make sure they’re protected without going domain crazy. 

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What’s News Corp’s MySpace problem?

Rupert Murdoch’s $580million acquisition of MySpace may have seemed a steal compared to the $240m Microsoft paid for a 1.6 per cent stake in Facebook, but all is not well with Murdoch’s plans for his social network, and it is being felt in its stock price after Fox Interactive Media (where MySpace sits in the News Corp empire) reported it would miss its 2008 revenue goal of $1billion. News Corp’s stock price has slipped 9.9 per cent this year alone.

Sure, Murdoch is throwing money at MySpace to expand into India and South Korea and add a music downloads service, but the social network is struggling to attract and retain advertisers in the volumes it needs because of the risk of their brands being shown next to inappropriate user-generated content. It is precisely the freedom and flexibility MySpace user love so much, which is causing the company problems with advertisers.

Bloomberg reports that Fox Interactive’s costs will rise a massive 46 per cent this year as they bid to open new channels for MySpace – almost as much as revenue is expected to grow. The bottom line with investors is that while MySpace continues to try to grow its audience in different markets – it is still failing to fully monetise the vast audience it already has.

However, today MySpace launched a new ad platform to give advertisers more control over where their ads are being run. It is a small step – arguably long overdue – but whether it will solve the site’s short-term adveritsing issues remains to be seen, when rival networks have already stolen a lead. While Facebook wrestles privacy issues, today enabling an ad system opt-out, it is at least driving strong advertising revenue.

MySpace’s hope has to be in the medium term, beating Facebook into new markets where advertiser sensitivity to site content is far less pronounced, doesn’t it?



Google trademark policy echoes domain name industry woes

Google’s surprise decision to change its trademark policy will effectively remove protection brands have from rivals, or impersonators bidding on their trademarked paid search terms. It’s also expected to have an impact natural search, but that will, naturally, take longer to be felt and may not be quite as obvious as you first think.

Google has justified the move as simply reflecting users’ behaviour, and that it will give the person searching access to far more choice, thereby improving the overall quality of results. However it will present a new brand protection nightmare for companies already facing more, evolving online brand threats than they can shake a stick at.

Having worked with a number of companies, specialising in various aspects of the online brand protection picture I can see a major similarity in what Google is allowing to what has existed in the ICANN governed domain names industry since year dot. There are currently over 150million registered domain names around the world and estimates I’ve heard suggest that around 25 per cent of all those registrations are speculative or opportunistic (by cybersquatters, domain name warehousers and those engaged in kiting). If that’s the scale of the threat, you can only imagine the scale of defensive registrations being made by brand owners where easily more than two-thirds of your portfolio of names could be purely to stop a rival or speculator acquiring it and doing your brand damage.

The domain names industry is that way for a reason – and that’s the relatively loose ‘first come first served’ principle of registrations (for search read: ‘highest bid, first listed’) but until now, with one very major difference – in domain names there is very little practical or enforceable protection for brand owners beyond being first up, whereas in search there was always Google’s common sense.

While Google’s move may help address the slow in growth of clicks on paid Google ads, perpetrated by the search engine’s bid to ensure more relevant, better quality results, it could all too quickly degenerate into the free-for-all model of the domain name industry.

Marketers are already struggling to keep rising paid search costs in check and if this plays out the way many fear it might then likely two things will happen:

1. The current increased interest in natural search will swell dramatically and impact investment in paid search – after all an increasing number of voices are joining the chorus that natural search delivers better quality leads at a fraction of the CPA

2. Major brands will need to agree a code of conduct between themselves to avoid needlessly burning budgets trying to outbid the other’s trademarks and instead focus on dealing with the far more serious threat posed to their brand value by counterfeiters, cybersquatters and impersonators who won’t think twice about taking advantage of the new system.



Yahoo!, Microsoft, Google, News Corp – a deal done in 3 weeks?
April 10, 2008, 3:42 pm
Filed under: Google, Microsoft, News Corp, search marketing, Yahoo! | Tags: , , , ,

The bidding for Yahoo!’s future took another twist today when it emerged that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp was trying to work with Microsoft to find a way they both could get their hands on Yahoo!.

Yahoo!’s rejection of Microsoft’s $31-a-share-offer earlier this week did not please a number of Yahoo!’s investors. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster asked 20 of Yahoo’s Institutional investors their opinion and the majority said they would prefer to deal with Microsoft on that offer, than do no deal at all. The growing feeling among Silicon Valley investors is that a deal will be completed in the next 3-4 weeks.

What that deal will be and what good it will be to whom, remains to be seen. Google is remaining omimously quiet although, Yahoo! is about to turn over three per cent of its US search queries advertising inventory to Google in a two week trial – clearly a little detail that – if you were cynical – might say is being done to annoy Microsoft during its pursuit.

Difficult as it is to keep up with all the twists and turns – Jemima Kiss over at the Guardian has summarised key events here in a neat timeline.



Newspapers the big winners from online video
April 9, 2008, 9:33 am
Filed under: online advertising, online TV, TV | Tags: , , ,

My post yesterday about web TV got me thinking about online video in general which is when I came across this piece on Press Gazette inspired by a study from researchers at City University into the use of video on UK news websites.

Online video is an interesting proposition for newspapers in particular. The success of any online video venture – whether on a news site, or a dedicated web TV service – comes down to the quality of the content. That’s something newspapers have plenty of. The FT in fact recently relaunched its video player and that channel is a key focus for the paper’s online ambitions, and has become one of its most popular sections, broadcasting hundreds of its own in-house made videos online each month.

So on the face of it the newspapers have a winning forumla to give readers what they want. And that’s what it’s really about for the audience – not the novelty of being able to watch a video online, but being able to actually get the content they want, through the medium they prefer. The companies that succeed will be those who give readers the content they want, the way they want, and not the way the newspaper thinks they should consume it.

Bearing that in mind, monetising Internet video is not a major challenge. Speaking to media buyers, pre-roll blindness and associated issues are not as big a problem as some might have you believe. If the Internet video content is worth watching, most viewers are willing to endure a reasonable (apparently at most 15 seconds) of pre-roll or equivalent advertising.



Joost struggling in burgeoning web TV market
April 8, 2008, 10:34 am
Filed under: hulu, iPlayer, Joost, online TV | Tags: , , ,

Once the darling of web TV, Joost is apparently struggling and according to James Ashton at The Times, is planning a retreat after failing to attract enough users and worthwhile broadcasting rights. Ashton claims that Joost is set to refocus its ambitions from global domination, to just the US market.

Joost launched last year and enjoyed a monumental wave of popularity and hype courtesy of it being ‘The Next Big Thing’ from Skype founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis. With A-list backing it didn’t have to try hard to stir up a major buzz, but what it needed to do was follow through the very astute viral and seeding process with quality content that users would want to watch. I’ve played extensively with Joost and while it’s a nice, slick piece of software and is fun to play with from that perspective, there simply isn’t the content that can keep you glued to your screen.

The Web TV market is burgeoning. According to a new report published this week, the web-based TV viewing audience is growing steadily and now nearly one in ten of all broadcast and cable TV shows in the US are being viewed online. The authors of the report, the Convergence Consulting Group estimate that 9 per cent of all full-episode TV viewing was done online in 2007, 50 per cent more than in 2006 and expects that to grow to 14 per cent in 2008, 19 per cent in 2009 and almost a quarter of all viewing in 2010.

The consumer demand is there – and of the tens of web TV services to be launched in the past year, the stand out winners have been BBC’s iPlayer in the UK and News Corp/NBC’s Hulu in America. The secret to their success? Rights and access to content that is at least as good as what is available on traditional television.

So what now for Joost? unless it’s happy to become a niche player in the US, it will need to imminently align very closely with a major content owner. And for the rest of the market? well in the UK at least, nobody has yet taken on the challenge of convincing the marketing and advertising community of the opportunities and effectiveness of web TV as a channel to carry their messages – whoever manages to align themselves first as the leader and expert on web TV advertising stands to gain big-time.



Yahoo! open to better offer, but is there any point?
April 7, 2008, 5:30 pm
Filed under: Google, Microsoft, search marketing, Yahoo! | Tags: , , ,

Yahoo! has responded bluntly to Microsoft’s three-week deadline to accept its $42 billion offer via a defiant open letter issued today saying the offer did not represent good value for Yahoo! shareholders, but that the company would be open to a better deal.

So why is Microsoft so keen on Yahoo still? Well its stock price has slipped more than 15 per cent since the start of the year an in a tightening market, search is one particular sector that is still thriving.

So that’s why the sector is so interesting – but what about Google, and if Microsoft and Yahoo! get together, do they really stand a chance? According to the latest stats from Nielsen, Google retains a 59 per cent share of all searches compared with 18 per cent for Yahoo! and 11 per cent for MSN.

Just because on their own, Yahoo! and Microsoft have failed to take make any impact on Google’s dominance, does not mean that if they get together they will miraculously make inroads. In fact, the cultures of the two companies are so vastly different that any alignment of the two businesses will take a long time to achieve and will struggle to become seemless. The real benefits of Microsoft and Yahoo! coming together will be beyond search, in terms of all the content and other services the two companies own, but that doesn’t address the sweet-spot that is search.

We’ll have to wait and see what Microsoft’s next move is, and if a hostile takeover attempt may be on the cards. Regardless, in the search sector both Microsoft and Yahoo will continue to struggle against Google. The secret to Google’s success has always been its simplicity and the fact that it was always a search engine and everything else has been built around that core, winning formula. Hard as they may try, Microsoft and Yahoo will always be coming at search from the perspective of a portal and content owner and making search the core of what they do is far easier said than done.