View Full Version : Ask The Search Execs

08-01-2004, 04:27 PM
This Wednesday, we're having an "Executive Roundtable" session at SES, where top execs from Ask Jeeves, AOL, MSN and Yahoo will be discussing questions about the search industry. I'm looking for ideas on what to ask them -- suggestions are welcome. Questions should be strategic in nature, in terms of issues and actions the companies might take in terms of search generally. Tactical questions such as on how to get listed and so on, this is the wrong panel for that.

08-03-2004, 12:37 PM
I won't be there, but...

how will you guys fend off losing ad revenues and distribution to well targeted niche products such as bloglines

I am not sure if that is any good though, so maybe...

what do you consider to be the strongest competitve advantages of each of your competitors, and what are the weak spots in your business model / product? :)

08-03-2004, 01:28 PM
Most of the major search engines now include measures of link popularity/analysis as part of their ranking formulas. The idea (as I understand it) was borne out of Google's PageRank paper wherein the basis for the approach was described as counting links as votes/citations. This worked great for Google in the beginning when webmasters were still linking "naturally".

It is quite evident that search engines can no longer ignore the fact that their business has affected the nature and methods motivating a large percentage of today's webmasters in linking out. It strikes me that the search engines' relationship to the WWW is analogous to the scientist observing quantum phenomenon - by the very act of watching, the observer affects the observed reality (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/02/980227055013.htm)

It seems to me that links are no longer serving as qualified votes/citations as more and more are published with the intent of manipulating SERPs. The question is with regards to the future handling of the "problem".

Has Google considered removing the PageRank indicator from their toolbar and directory? IMO, this feature more than any other single item contributes to the "problem".

Have the search engines considered removing the link: searches altogether? (IIRC, Teoma does not offer it currently)

I would also be interested in their thoughts/opinions on supporting an organization that promotes website optimization for the SEO industry in accordance with their guidelines as a strategic method for handling the "problem".

08-03-2004, 02:01 PM
How effective will personalized search be, and will you be implementing it in your search engine? Do you see it becoming the norm for consumer useage?

What would the search engine representatives think of an organization that monitored best practices of the SEM/SEO industry for consumers?

08-03-2004, 02:23 PM
Are SEOs the enemy?

Will the SEs ever be willing to proactively engage with SEOs in terms of information and support?

How far would they be willing to go in working with SEOs?

08-03-2004, 03:11 PM
Overly simplified question...

One of the attractions of the internet is that it has, to some extent, democratized media and broadened choice. As the search portals, which have become the de facto gate keepers, coalesce and become media companies and vendors themselves, how do we maintain this diversity of access which we have all come to value?

08-03-2004, 04:45 PM
Concerning the business of search. What is the next big growth area (in terms of potential market size) after local search and international growth opportunities? The Yellow Pages are a $15 billion market and everybody knows the big boys are going after international expansion as well, but what are the opportunities that are further out on the search horizon?

08-03-2004, 05:24 PM
Why is Multilingual Search Markets within the U.S. not a priority? Give us an idea of search volume to show the SEM industry its potential to profit from it. Timing can be good or bad, but at this moment, I think it's critical. I posted a more detailed explanation of this post in this thread (http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/showthread.php?p=7744#post7744) from SES San Jose coverage.

<added>underline on "within the U.S." (not international)</added>

I'm not sure if you have enough time to go over the entire thread, but there are very good points outlined in "Threats and Opportunities of Search Engine Marketing (http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/showthread.php?t=506)".

08-03-2004, 05:44 PM
Could you ask the Ask Jeeves reps if they sleep a little better at night after they made the decision to remove PFI from their index? How do the others feel about that move?

08-03-2004, 06:00 PM

(1) Will there ever really be a solution to the 301 Redirect problem?

Other search engines drop the "old" URL and list only the URL to which the 301 points. The word is out that Yahoo does not really want to solve this. True or false?

08-03-2004, 06:23 PM


(1) Will there ever really be a solution to the 301 Redirect problem?

I am with DianeV on this one. This question has been burning for ages now and never seems to be given a difinitive answer.

If they have no intention of better handeling 301's, what other method of permenantly moving pages, without loosing listings, can they suggest?

08-03-2004, 09:45 PM
Why do you think the search industry has now seemingly de-emphasized the idea of categorized directories and qualified human editors to inject third-party benchmarks of quality into the search process?

Will your company be focusing more on this field in the future? What types of innovations do you think are coming in the general area of measuring the reputability of content and merchants, by human editors or other means?

Could a new company succeed just by focusing on the directory business operated by qualified editorial staff, as Yahoo, LookSmart, and dmoz once did in their heyday?

08-03-2004, 09:52 PM
I want to know the search execs feelings about Microsoft's entry into the market. Are you planning for it? Did Google really get an offer from M$? Do they feel that they will be a threat? If so, do they have plans to work with MSN as a partner?

08-04-2004, 10:21 AM
Yahoo! (& Overture):

Google has one! MSN has one! How come you don't have one?

<pause>time to think</pause>

;) I am talking about a Hebrew version.


08-04-2004, 11:02 AM
What are their plans for the Brazilian market for this year and the next.

08-04-2004, 11:46 AM
Thanks, everyone, for all the great suggestions. Running off to put some of them to the panel shortly. FYI on the 301, came up in the web server issues panel yesterday. Greg Boser took Yahoo to the ropes on it; Yahoo says they're aware of it and promising to work on it.

08-04-2004, 02:39 PM
Danny said these panelists are all very brave since he just gave them the questions 10 minutes ago.

Jerry Campbell from AOL said that we are all trying to solve the same problems, but they have different ways of solving these problems. AOL search fits within its subscription base via Google results (the web search) and, on top of that, AOL takes their content (Time Warner) to bring out the search. If you search on pumpkin recipe you will get recipes pulled from Time Warner's food channel. AOL delivers a great "content experience."

Jeff Weiner from Yahoo! said Yahoo! wants to understand the intent of each user when searching. Search is to provide the means to the end, but they want to also provide the "end." They feel the most important thing is personalization. They also have a huge register base. They now own their own proprietary search technology which gives them a lot of flexibility. They are also able to integrate their content from their partners. He began to give a live demo from Yahoo.com. His first search was "san jose traffic", "san jose airport", "american 123", "new york city weather", "new york hotels". These are examples of how Yahoo uses content within the search. A hidden shortcut is "shopping!", if you add an ! after the name of the Yahoo section, you will be taken to that property. So we went over to the shopping section of Yahoo and you type in "camera." Yesterday Yahoo! announced Yahoo! Local at http://local.yahoo.com/. Search for "restaurants" and you can then narrow it down from there. I did this last night, but I used SmartView - which is neat. He then moved over to SmartView.

Paul Gardi from Ask Jeeves decided to use his presentation, Danny (i think) asked them not to. Ask says "one size" does not fit all. They have 8 brands, each brand provides a different experience. He started talking about how the industry is growing... He believes we are just at the beginning of understanding searchers. In one year they jumped from the 32nd ranked property to the 7th. They have a 25% domestic reach compared to 10% last year. In the future they will continue to innovate. Improve relevancy, leverage the Teoma technology, further differentiate Ask's distinct search experience, and expand local strategy. He then showed a demo on typing in "weather in san jose" and it shows you the weather right there, with more options, right in the search - he said we should try it on our phones now.

Christopher Payne from MSN Search, he said he is the new kids on the block. He feels the end user is going to win in the coming years. Some of you know my thoughts on this, back to coverage... Microsoft is undergoing a transition, they have been in the search space since 1998. They outsourced the technology until now, and now they are investing in building their own technology. In the next 12 months they hope to release these technologies. They will giving you the ability to not only search the Web but also their desktop (email, files, etc.). He feels this desktop search will be the major area of search in the next few years. They announced changes to their live site in July, they made decreased the weight of the pages (much faster now), they pulled the ads and labeled them more clearly, eliminated their paid inclusion (because customers want separation between paid and natural). They just announced their recent "newsbot" at sandbox.msn.com in the US. It is based on their search technology, its MSN's first personalization example. "Implicit personalization", they look at what your reading and then serve up more of that type of news, this will be transparent to you. This "implicit personalization" will migrate over to Web search. The last thing he would like to talk about is the tech preview, he said its the beginning. Its not great, its there to provide feedback in order to develop a road map to build a better search provided by MSN.

Google is not here, because of the IPO, I am sure they will be here next time. Danny will talk for Google (people laughed).

Questions Now:
Question: How do you bring in the searcher from other properties?
MSN said by providing a better technology, people will switch.
AOL said by providing the most relevant result right away, by providing an emotional experience that 'wows' people, sample people and get it right each and every time. Search evolved from providing results to helping navigate the content on the Web.
Yahoo said a way to provide search always, maybe a toolbar. How do you get them to download it? They provide an anti-spy bot in their toolbar. Search is completely stateless, we don't know them, no relation, etc. He said as we get to know the user better, we can get them to stay.
Ask said we look at the world that every person in this room is unique. He asked how many people in the room ate an egg in the last month? Then said he bets some of you had it scrambled, some had it easy over, etc. You need to customize it for each users needs. Not a "one-size fits all."

Question: What is the next big vertical for your engines?
AOL said they break it down into revenue and user experience. People looking for values with product, looking to make a transaction. Value added content will be a focus for improving your vertical experience.
Yahoo said where is user demand, he said local is about 20% of all queries. How can they differentiate this content and then value creation (monetize and product quality). Going forward you can start to see travel, music (lyrics, downloads), and careers.
Ask said its based on the search, local is huge (he said about 10% on his site). See more of reviews, opinions, local markets, and more. Its about combining structured and unstructured data. Also desktop search.
MSN's next vertical is search :). News, desktop search are other verticals.

Question: Do you view SEMs as the enemy or what?
Ask said they see SEMs as a very valuable aspect of their Web search experience. He likes the fact that people optimize, not spam, but optimize - as long as they are doing it for the right reasons.
Yahoo said that bad irrelevant results are the enemy not SEMs.
AOL said advertising equals content. SEMs are the best thing that happened to the industry.
MSN thinks our interests should be aligned in the long run. If we degrade results with spam, then it hurts our industry and our assets.

Question: What is your best search feature is?
AOL said that the best feature that people don't know that AOL has is search (people laughed). His favorite feature is that everything is locked inside the AOL client.
ASK said that its not a feature, people don't look for features. He said its the unfeature, "smart search" - give them the result right away.
Yahoo said he has a shortcuts page, and brought it up. They try making it easier for people to find these features. His favorite features include; he searched on "Florence" and he showed off the "also try" refine your search option. He loves the anti-spy feature as well.
MSN said his feature is "lookout" which helps you search your outlook email. It will change the way you use email.

Question: What will continue to grow search revenue?
MSN said the number one thing they can do is increase the supply, get more people to search.
Yahoo said the same thing.
ASK said people are seeing a complete shift in the advertising landscape, we are getting better at measuring that. As we do that more, its becoming a better experience and more and more people will enter. Advertising is a $300 billion industry, and search is a tiny fraction of that.
AOL, traffic needs to increase and he agrees with the others. He also adds that we have one answer (web search), how do we give more answers in other ways?

Question: Google is going public, what impact will Google going public have on you?
MSN said they don't think about it much. He said it won't affect the industry to much.
ASK said they are excited about it because it brings the industry more credibility.
Yahoo! wishes them well and welcomes to the club.
AOL said it brings a focus to the industry, AOL likes seeing good friends succeed.

Question: What surprises you the most about searchers?
MSN said the search diversity about what people are looking for. There is so much more potential to answer a searchers questions better.
ASK said searchers are unique, the same keyword search done by person A can have a different meaning if searched for by person B.
Yahoo said the number of people who use the search box instead of typing in the company name into the browser URL box. I said before, I was at a client and he wanted to go to the Google homepage, so he searched on "google.com" at Google.com. :)
AOL said emotion is what they look at.

Question: If you had to describe your search engine as a person, how would you do it?
AOL is Cal Ripkin, AOL always shows up and always delivers.
Yahoo, did you see the movie "Good Will Hunting" and he said we are incredibly smart.
ASK said we are at your service to meet your needs, he said we are "data" from star trek, we know everything you might need.
MSN said instead of coming up a name, he said he will describe the attribute; passion and innovation.

08-04-2004, 04:25 PM
I enjoyed this session very much. Here are some thoughts to my opinion.

ASK - My favorite for this session. Why? Because Paul Gardi did a great job to point out that at Ask, Teoma and all their brands see THE WORLD as communities that need personal attention since "everyone is unique" rather that this is a "one size fits all" world approach. You know, all others did imply that the importance of how they see the world but it was really not put forward as Paul did. . These guys are definetly on the right track to leading the pack at many things on search.

Yahoo! - Has a great grasp of the overall picture and the most complete in my opinion. They are looking above and beyond to bring the user to the right answer when a search query is being responded. By tying that to their membership user database they will for sure bring awesome quality and relevance in results in the future by differenciation and value creation. For example, their annauncement of Local Search. With all they have in their [I]magic hat, they look to me that they will win users loyalty by making users feel like they want to stick around the Yahoo! network a lot longer before taking off to the world wide web.

MSN - As they said, the "newest kid on the block", however I see these guys grabbing an even bigger picture around the users behavior since the comupter is turned ON. For example, their best new feature mentioned was thier recent buy of "Lookout (http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/showthread.php?t=619)", which I know it's one of the best tools I have in my computer. I know things like this is something that makes me spread the word about great technology provided by MSN and will of course bring user loyalty in the future. I also had the opportunity to talk to an MSN Search person who gave me great insight (http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/showthread.php?threadid=924) to their plans with multilingual search market focus.

AOL - Is definetly in LOVE with Google. They know the great emotional experience that brings the WOW moment when a relevant result shows up at the top. They also want to tie in the entire search experience with their huge amount of content for their members and that's a great concept, but unfortunately it can not be accessed by anyone else from the world wide web. Got to install your free 1000 hours first.

Google - Unfortunately, being on the quiet period they were very missied but perfectly understandable. I look forward when they participate next time.