Yahoo! And Microsoft Search Alliance

As of February 18, 2010, Yahoo! and Microsoft were given regulatory clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice and the European Commission to make their new Search Alliance a reality.  This agreement has been in the works for a while now, and the official announcement was made last July regarding the proposed contract.  Now, both Microsoft and Yahoo! claim many of the deals’ features can begin to be implemented within days.

The most important aspect of this merger is that Microsoft will gain management of the technology platforms for both natural search and paid search.  Microsoft will also support self-service advertisers and Microsoft AdCenter will become the single platform for paid search.  Yahoo! will be responsible for supporting high-volume advertisers, SEO and SEM agencies, as well as resellers and their clients, and will focus its energy on adding rich content and enhanced listings while Microsoft focuses on providing the most relevant algorithmic data to the search platform.  Both companies will each maintain their own display advertising, email, instant messaging, sales force, and other proprietary features.

As part of the arrangement, Microsoft will also get a 10-year license to certain Yahoo! technologies, and in return, Yahoo! will be given 88% of search revenue generated for the first 5 years of the deal to compensate for traffic Microsoft receives from Yahoo!’s sites.

Although the two companies claim there will be no immediate effects, transitional details can begin shortly.  Both Yahoo! and Microsoft aim to complete the transition of algorithmic search in the U.S. and Europe by the end of 2010 but may extend that timeline out to 2011 if needed.  Full implementation of the agreement is expected to be implemented within 24 months of regulatory clearance.  For now, the Search Alliance has been approved for the U.S. and European markets, but negotiations are in the works to extend the Alliance to Asia, Latin America, Australia, and Canada in the future.

According to Yahoo!, this merger is expected to add $500 million in yearly operating income and $275 million in cash flow, while reducing capital costs by $200 million.  In addition, Yahoo! claims it will add 62% more search volume and 150 million more searchers than on Yahoo! alone.

For agencies or companies represented by agencies, support and continuity will still come from Yahoo!’s sales team, which will be most effective in helping businesses navigate through the upcoming changes and best succeed in the new unified search marketplace.  Both Yahoo! and Microsoft expect the Search Alliance to benefit advertisers, consumers, and publishers alike, but during the transition phase, it will be good to know assistance is still a phone call away.

Contributed by Amanda Finch, VP Operations

Google’s Latest Platform To Outperform Twitter?

Google literally started the online world “buzzing” with the February 9th launch of Google Buzz, the fully Google-integrated platform for real-time sharing set to rival and possibly bring about the end of Twitter.  Gmail users have likely already noticed the new Buzz application in their account, which, according to Google, is preset with all the users’ contacts and is ready to roll.  Buzz is already causing some industry warnings, but will probably initiate a frenzy of users and businesses ready to jump on board. During the official launch event, Google touts Buzz’ top five highlights that, off the record, officially trump other real-time platforms such as Twitter.  These items of interest include “auto-following”, where the user’s Gmail contacts and chat buddies automatically become reciprocal “followers”, which negate the user having to search for, find, and add contacts.  Google claims this aspect satisfies the user’s need to have the platform “just work”.

The second selling feature is the ability to share rich content quickly.  Users will be able to view images, videos, links, and content pulled from other applications as quickly and easily as they always wished other platforms worked, but which usually didn’t.  This allows the user to flip through their friends’ photos with zero delay, at sizes almost as large as the browser window.  Videos will be viewed in-line and in high-quality resolution without opening a new window.  Sharing a link will also allow the user to “fetch” headlines and media from that site to display alongside their post, adding very rich experience users will find refreshing and probably addicting.

Buzz will also allow easy switching between public and private sharing.  Just as in Gmail, users will have the ability to create different contact groups such as co-workers and family, as well as add custom groups.  Switching between groups or posting publicly is as easy as clicking the appropriate group from a drop-down menu while adding your post.  On the downside, the default setting is “public”, allowing your posts to be found by anyone unless you specifically pick another option.

Fourthly, a great feature of Google Buzz is the easy integration into the Gmail Inbox.  When a user’s post is commented on or replied to, an email will be sent to the user’s Inbox.  Unlike other applications, however, there will be no need to open a new window and enter a password; instead, the email will open and you will be looking at the Google Buzz platform, with all the typical bells and whistles at your immediate control.

Finally, being Google, a “recommended” feature will also be available.  When a non-contact has added something Google feels would be of interest to the user (for example, when several of the user’s contacts have commented on a third party’s post), Google will post it to the user’s Buzz account with a “recommended” link next to it.  This link will explain the reason for the recommendation and allow the user to show whether they are interested or not interested.  Over time, the user’s interest, or lack thereof, will “teach” Google about their preferences for future recommendations.

With all this new technology at our fingertips, are there any downsides to Google Buzz?  For one thing, many people are expressing their great concern over the lax nature of Buzz’ privacy policy: unless a user manually changes their privacy settings, anyone will be able to access their profile and see the contacts they email or chat with most often.

Another cause for concern for some businesses: will this new platform add to Google’s highly integrated system, further cement Google’s monopoly online (including mobile devices), and stunt the growth of other businesses such as Microsoft?  How will this affect other companies?  It will be necessary to keep on top of all changing technology platforms to best communicate your brand as users’ preferences change.  In the meantime, many companies are already jumping on-board in an attempt to take advantage of the internet’s latest and greatest.

Contributed by Amanda Finch, VP Operations