Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Yahoo and Microsoft- The Superfriends

It’s now official that Yahoo and Microsoft will be merging their paid search platforms. They’re making their plans to move forward under the banner of the Yahoo! and Microsoft Search Alliance. Are they a legitimate threat to Google? Probably not. For the sake of argument though, let’s pretend this is going to work. What do they need to do to catch up to the market leader?

1. Strike while the iron is hot. Google is somewhat vulnerable right now. They’re distracted between Android, Buzz, Chrome, Wave, the Google phone, etc. There’s also been a pretty vicious backlash over the privacy debacle that Buzz caused. This is the best possible time to grab for market share. Unfortunately, the Search Alliance as they’re calling themselves, will not happen until the end of the year. So this one’s out. By the time they’re ready to launch a unified platform, Google will have developed something that actually works to counter.

2. What’s in a name? Search Alliance? Really? Was The Unified League of Cooperative Search Engines taken? Their main competition has them beat, hands down, in branding. People don’t search. They “Google it.” Do better than something that sounds like it came out of a name generator.

3. Make it easy. The plan is to use the Microsoft AdCenter platform as the ad management system. The online interface is cumbersome and unintuitive. It could be worse though. It could use Yahoo Panama system. Microsoft’s desktop tool is also better than Yahoo’s, though I find it can be somewhat iffy with saving and uploading all the changes that have been entered. The truth is, the Search Alliance needs to build a new system from the ground up. It needs to at least be competitive with AdWords and AdWords Editor.

4. Get results. Yahoo will be supplying the ad inventory. The thought is that this will guarantee Yahoo more revenue, and it benefits Microsoft to have access to a larger audience. What’s really going to happen is that Bing’s competitive advantage- the highest conversion rates of the 3 major engines- will disappear. Yahoo will flood them with ads, and as a result, costs will increase for advertisers while performance declines. This can’t happen. Find a way to keep costs down and quality up.

5. Work with me here. One thing the Search Alliance is getting right: Yahoo’s staff will provide support to agencies. I shudder at the thought of having to work with Microsoft’s staff regularly, and I feel for the individual advertisers who will be stuck with them. I’ve never gotten a straight, useful answer from someone at Microsoft. Their editorial policies are the strictest of the major engines, but their staff seems incapable of clearly explaining policies or providing assistance to find resolutions. When I have a problem on Yahoo, I make a call, and it’s taken care of.

So that’s it. Provide a good product. Keep the cost down. Make good customer service a top priority. And change that ridiculous name. Even if all of these pieces fall into place, it may not be enough. At least it will be interesting to watch.

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