Google search tracks down assault victim

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google logo thumb Google search tracks down assault victimA Google search has helped tracked down an Australian girl US police believe was one of many young victims of alleged child predator Stephen Vosilla.

US Authorities recognised a logo on a video of one of Vosilla’s victims and logged on to the internet search engine, Google, tapped in the logo, and within seconds he was able to identify the logo was Australian and the young victim was likely from Australia.

Officers tracked the girl down in Australia, who then provided a statement for Tennessee investigators.

An investigation was launched that led investigators to Vosilla’s residence in Talbott, Tennessee,

A grand jury in Tennessee has indicted Vosilla on two counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and four counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. He remains in Tennessee’s Hamblen County jail in lieu of $US100,000 bail.

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Google keeps tweaking search formula

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Google thumb Google keeps tweaking search formulaSoftware engineers reverently refine Google’s search algorithm so consistently that it often ends a day a tad different from when it started.

Scott Huffman’s team tested ‘many more than’ 6,000 changes to its search engine in 2010, with 500 of them passing the grade to become permanent.

‘We have changed engines on a flying plane so many times it has become second nature to us,’ Google fellow Amit Singhal said, referring to how internet firms modify services while they are live online.

‘Alongside changing the engines, the plane has become quieter, the ride got more comfortable, and we even changed your seat while you were sleeping,’ he continued.

‘We just do it in small steps that go unnoticed.’

Singhal said Google’s search is tweaked, on average, twice in a working day.

‘On the one hand, we want to be moving quickly and we want to make great changes,’ Huffman told AFP.

‘On the other hand, we don’t want people to come to Google and say they don’t recognise it.’

Google in February took the unusual step of spotlighting an improvement to its secret search formula in the United States.

The move was part of an ongoing duel between the search titan and low-quality websites that feature only content copied from elsewhere on the internet or use techniques to trick their way to scoring high in results.

‘The feedback has been tremendously positive from users,’ Singhal told AFP at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

‘Overwhelmingly, the change raised ranks of high-quality sites and dropped ranks of low-quality sites.’

Huffman’s team is responsible for ensuring that ideas for improving Google search results do just that.

‘People are not just expecting a search engine to return every document that has most of the words typed in a query box,’ Huffman said.

‘They want the context understood; there are a lot of nuances hidden within that.’

For example, someone searching with the word ‘Japan’ is likely interested in real-time news about the tsunami tragedy there as well as other information about the nation.

One of Huffman’s favourite ‘broken queries’ from a couple of years ago was the term ‘Thai restaurant.’

General web searches kept giving top rank to a Thai restaurant in the upstate New York city of Schenectady.

‘I used to go complain to the ranking people,’ Huffman recalled with a laugh.

‘I’m in Mountain View. It might be a great Thai restaurant but I’m not going to Schenectady to get Pad Thai.’

Google began letting users set locations so the search engine could factor proximity into results when appropriate.

Proposed changes to Google’s formula are first tested on a separate set of computers that imitate real-world search.

Those deemed worthy are next sent to evaluators around the world who act as online searchers and rate the relevance of results in various languages and regions.

Google then does live testing, with promising algorithm enhancements carefully blended into results served up by the main search engine.

‘At any given time, some percentage of our users is actually seeing experiments,’ Huffman said.

‘It is interesting because users don’t know what is happening,’ he continued.

‘Of course, we don’t put things out there that are terrible; we have filters to know when something is bad.’

Plenty of improvements are ahead, particularly regarding the ability to understand and derive inferences from the world’s many languages, according to Huffman.

He bristles at any suggestion by Google critics that results are tampered with to favour advertisers or achieve other business goals.

‘If you think of the scale of what we are talking about, it is almost absurd to say we could rig results,’ Huffman said, noting that Google handles more than a billion searches daily.

For five and a half years he has run weekly meetings at which changes to Google’s search algorithm are decided.

Revenue implications of changes have never been brought up at those meetings, according to Huffman.

‘Not only do we not make decisions that way, we don’t even look at those numbers,’ Huffman said.

Google believes that delivering the most relevant search results to people as fast as possible is best for the California company’s bottom line and, by extension, steers away from useless ‘spam’ websites and ‘content farms.’

‘If we care about our users – don’t care about money – everything else just falls in line,’ Singhal said.

‘A healthy Web and happy users are key to our future.’

Singhal pictured a day when search engines understand users so well that they predict what people wanted to know and cue them with messages on smartphones.

‘That is the ultimate dream,’ Singhal said.

‘We are nowhere close to that yet.’

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SMBs Turn to Social Before Search

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According to the American Express OPEN and Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) “Small Business Search Marketing Survey”, US small businesses recognize word-of-mouth as the top way their customers find them, followed by the internet and search engines.

The reliance on word-of-mouth—likely along with the low cost in dollars of participating—has led small businesses to make social media their No. 2 online marketing effort, after company websites. As of March 2011, 44% of respondents to the survey used social media for marketing, vs. 28% who used SEO and 21% who used paid search. Looking ahead, more small businesses planned to add social media marketing this year than either search tactic.

Other research supports the finding that small businesses have made social a top priority. A February 2011 MerchantCircle survey found over 70% of US local small businesses used Facebook for marketing, while only about two-thirds used Google and one-third used Bing.

While 57.2% of small business respondents told Ad-ology that social media was at least somewhat useful at generating leads, the MerchantCircle survey found local small businesses were more likely to say search engine marketing was an effective channel than social networks, at 40.2% vs. 36.7%.

Social may have an easier learning curve and require less direct spending by small businesses that are less experienced with online marketing—and the “must-do” factor helps as well—but time-tested online marketing methods like search should not be ignored. Search, in particular, unquestionably helps businesses get found by consumers right when they’re looking to buy.

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Search Behaviour Shines Spotlight on Organic Results

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Google Loses YOY Search Activity

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In addition, Google saw its year-over-year query volume decline 0.6%, from 10.52 billion to 10.47 billion; and its year-over-year market share drop 11%, from 73.9% to 65.7%. On a month-over-month basis, Google actually experienced a 4.8% rise in unique visitors and 0.2% increase in query volume, although market share declined 1%.

Search activity across the five engines saw more activity in December, with an 11.8% increase in overall query volume from December 2009 and 1.3% increase from November 2010.

Microsoft search, primarily reflecting usage of the Bing search engine, has dramatically grown year-over-year. Unique visitors increased 35.2%, from 62 million to 84 million, query volume grew 69.4%, from 1.4 billion to 2.37 billion, and market share grew 52%, from 9.8% to 14.9%. Month-over-month growth was healthy but much smaller, likely indicating Bing is reaching maturity now it has been generally available since June 2009.

Interestingly, Yahoo’s search query volume dramatically rose 22.7% year-over-year, from 1.94 billion to 2.38 billion, but its year-over-year growth in market share was much more modest (a still healthy 9.5%), and its unique visitor total dropped 3.1%, from 89 million to 86 million. On a month-over-month basis, Yahoo showed modest growth in all three areas.

Bing Powered engines (including both Bing and Yahoo) as a whole grew 4.1% month-over-month in query volume, driving its total market share up almost 3%. Bing-powered engines took a combined 29.8% of the total search market. Compete does not compile year-over-year or unique visitor statistics for Bing-powered search engines.

While Ask.com’s query volume total in December 2010 was a comparatively low 595 million, this was 100.3% more than 297 million a year earlier. Unique visitors grew 79.5 % in that time frame, from 47 million to 85 million.

AOL recorded a 34.4% increase in search query volume between December 2009 and December 2010, jumping from 84 million to 113 million queries. Neither Ask.com nor AOL reported any other exceptional month-over-month or year-over-year growth figures.

Microsoft, which saw its total core search engine query volume drop 4% month-over-month in November 2010, rebounded strongly in December 2010 with a 9% gain, according to recent comScore qSearch data. As tabulated by comScore, Microsoft’s core search queries grew from about 2.01 billion to 2.18 billion, placing it third overall.

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Google Drops Real Estate Search on Google Maps

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Google thumb2 Google Drops Real Estate Search on Google MapsAt Google one of our key philosophies is to take risks and to experiment. To that end, in July 2009 we announced the ability to find property for sale or rent directly on Google Maps. This is one of the “search options” next to the search box on Google Maps, and is currently available in the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Japan.

In part due to low usage, the proliferation of excellent property-search tools on real estate websites, and the infrastructure challenge posed by the impending retirement of the Google Base API (used by listing providers to submit listings), we’ve decided to discontinue the real estate feature within Google Maps on February 10, 2011.

We’ve learned a lot and been excited to see real estate companies use Google Maps in innovative ways to help people find places to live, such as Coldwell Banker’s use of Google Maps and YouTube, or Realtor.com’s Android app that lets you draw a shape on a map to find all properties you’re interested in.

Yet we recognize that there might be better, more effective ways to help people find local real estate information than the current feature makes possible. We’ll continue to explore this area, but in the meantime, Google offers other options to home-seekers: you can still access other information in Maps such as local businesses, directions and transit times, as well as aerial and Street View imagery to explore where you might want to move, and also use Google search results to find helpful real estate information and websites.

Real estate companies can also continue to use tools from Google to help connect with buyers and renters who use the Internet to research properties. For example, companies can use the Google Maps API to embed customized maps that are useful to potential clients right on their own web pages. Our Google for real estate professionals site contains various methods for generating leads and improving real estate business operations.

Posted by Brian McClendon, VP, Google Earth and Maps

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Google Improves Share of Search Engine Ad Spend

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 Google Improves Share of Search Engine Ad SpendIn contrast to the year-over-year (YoY) declines experienced in 2009, punctuated by a nearly 10% drop in Q3, YoY search spend based on a same-client basis increased by 18.5% in 2010, setting up a positive start to 2011.

Growth of about 35% in Q4 2010 (see more detail below) brought up the overall average, as increases in the first three quarters ranged from roughly 5% to 15% (based on MarketingCharts estimates of SearchIgnite graphical data).

 Google Improves Share of Search Engine Ad SpendIn 2010, Q4 saw particularly strong growth with 35.3% YoY increase in search spend (Q4 2009 YoY search spend was flat). All other underlying metrics in Q4 2010 show positive results, with 20.6% YoY increase in clicks, 2.3% YoY increase in impressions and 17.9% YoY increase in clickthrough rate (CTR).

In particular, search momentum built up throughout the quarter with accelerated spend (YOY Oct +25.4%, Nov +35.3%, Dec +44.8%).

 Google Improves Share of Search Engine Ad SpendThe retail vertical reported even greater increases in search spend (36.6% YoY), average order value (AOV, 31.3% YoY) and conversion rates (22.5% YoY) for Q4 2010 based on same retail spend. Consumers are spending more per order compared to the Q4 2009 holiday season, which SearchIgnite says signifies an improvement in consumer sentiment.

Notably, AOV was up 48.3% YoY in December 2010. This is a significant improvement from 2009, when Q4 AOV declined by 13% YoY.

The top five rankings for total core search queries and total core search share were identical in December 2010, according to new data from comScore. However, Microsoft was the only search provider that saw its share grow, rising 6% from 11.3% to 12%. Google stayed flat with 64.3% share, while Yahoo lost 2.6%, dropping from 19.3% to 18.5%.

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Microsoft Core Search Query Volume Rebounds

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Overall, Americans conducted about 18.2 billion total core search queries in December 2010, up 3% from about 17.7 billion the previous month. Top core search query provider Google experienced 3% month-over-month growth, from about 11.4 billion to 11.7 billion queries, while number two Yahoo stayed essentially flat with 3.43 billion queries. Number four Ask Network (-1%) and number five AOL LLC (-5%) both had fewer total core search queries in December 2010 than November 2010.

comscore us search engine total core dec 10.thumbnail Microsoft Core Search Query Volume ReboundsThe top five rankings for total core search queries and total core search share were identical in December 2010, but Microsoft was the only search provider that saw its share grow, rising 6% from 11.3% to 12%. Google stayed flat with 64.3% share, while Yahoo lost 2.6%, dropping from 19.3% to 18.5%.

comscore us search engine by number of queries dec 10.thumbnail Microsoft Core Search Query Volume ReboundsMicrosoft had the highest percentage growth of explicit core search queries among any of the top five explicit core search providers, rising 4% from 1.88 billion to 1.97 billion. Google retained its number one spot with 3% growth, rising from 10.62 billion to 10.95 billion. Yahoo’s explicit core search query total remained essentially flat at 2.63 billion.

Overall, Americans conducted about 16.44 billion explicit core search queries in December 2010, up 3% from about 16.04 billion the prior month.

comscore us search engine dec 10.thumbnail Microsoft Core Search Query Volume ReboundsExplicit core search market share results did not change dramatically between November and December 2010. The top five ranking stayed the same, with Google having the largest growth, increasing its share 0.6% from 66.2% to 66.6%. Microsoft also incrementally grew its share from 11.8% to 12%, while Yahoo lost about 2%, dropping from 16.4% to 16% but remaining in second place.

comScore is also providing data on the share of algorithmic explicit searches that are powered by Google and Bing, and branded as such to the consumer. Google’s “powered by” share is composed of searches conducted at Google entities, as well as branded searches at AOL and Ask. Bing’s “powered by” share is composed of searches conducted at Microsoft entities as well as branded Yahoo entities.

In December, 69.4% of searches carried organic search results from Google, while 24.4% of searches were powered by Bing organic results.

The query volume for Bing-powered search engines (which includes Microsoft Bing as well as Yahoo) grew 4.3% from October to November 2010, increasing from about 4.38 million to 4.57 million, according to recent data from Compete. As opposed to October 2010, when dramatic 16.2% growth in month-over-month Microsoft query volume (almost 1.9 million to 2.2 million) drove most of the Bing-powered query volume increase, Yahoo was the catalyst in November.

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Microsoft Loses Some Search Gains

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Microsoft sites, which have recently shown impressive month-over-month growth in core and explicit search queries, backslid a bit in November 2010, according to new comScore qSearch data. In particular, total core searches conducted on Microsoft sites (primarily representing the Bing search engine introduced earlier this year) dropped 10% between October and November 2010, from 2.3 billion to a little more than 2 billion.

comscore us search engine total core nov 10.thumbnail Microsoft Loses Some Search GainsAmericans conducted nearly 17.8 billion total core search queries in November 2010, down 4% month-over-month from 18.4 billion in October 2010. Google sites ranked first with 11.4 billion searches (-4% from October 2010) followed by Yahoo sites with 3.4 billion. By remaining virtually flat, Yahoo was the only one of the top five total core search query providers to avoid losing core search queries from the prior month.

In terms of core search market share, little changed from October 2010. Google remained on top with flat performance of 64.8%. Yahoo grew its share about 4%, from 18.5% to 19.3%. Number three Microsoft lost more than 6% of its share, dropping from 12.1% to 11.3%.
comScore also tracks market share in terms of “powered by” search. Google’s “powered by” share is composed of searches conducted at Google entities, as well as branded searches at AOL and Ask. Bing’s “powered by” share is composed of searches conducted at Microsoft entities as well as branded Yahoo! entities.

In November 2010, 69.2% of searches carried organic search results from Google, while 24% of searches were powered by Bing organic results.

comscore us search engine nov 10.thumbnail Microsoft Loses Some Search GainsAlthough Microsoft saw its total number of explicit core searches drop 2% month-over-month, from 1.9 billion to 1.88 billion, Microsoft’s explicit core search market share improved more than 2%, from 11.5% to 11.8%.

Otherwise, Google sites led the US explicit core search market in November 2010 with 66.2% market share, followed by Yahoo sites with 16.4% and Microsoft sites. Ask Network accounted for 3.6% of explicit core searches, followed by AOL LLC Network with 2%. Fluctuations were minimal.

comscore us search engine by number of queries nov 10.thumbnail Microsoft Loses Some Search GainsMore than 16 billion explicit core searches were conducted in November 2010, down 4% from October 2010. Google Sites ranked first with 10.6 billion searches (down 4%), followed by Yahoo sites in second with 2.6 billion (also down 4%) and Microsoft sites in third. Ask Network accounted for 580 million explicit core searches (down 3%), followed by AOL LLC Network with 327 million (down 5%).

Wealthy Americans are more likely than middle- and lower-economic class Americans to conduct web searches for a variety of data, according a recent study by Pew Internet & American Life Project. On a given day, 40% of wealthy Americans research a product compared to 19% of other Americans, and 20% of wealthy Americans will search for a map, compared to 12% of other Americans.

When it comes to seeking health information online, once again the highest income bracket has the highest levels of engagement in areas including medical issues, treatment and facilities, doctors and test results; while the lowest income bracket has the lowest levels of engagement.

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Why Social Media Is Top Priority for Search Marketers

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Is 2011 set to be the “year of Facebook,” even among search marketers? Based on what US advertisers told search marketing agency Covario, it’s definitely the year of social.

Search marketers have discovered how social media marketing can help build their search engine optimization efforts, and respondents to the Covario survey said their No. 1 priority for SEO next year was integration with social media programs. According to the report, “leveraging social media for scalable link-building efforts is a major initiative for advertisers.”

Social media will also play an important part in paid search efforts next year. Search ad campaigns on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn were top of mind for nearly half of advertisers surveyed—far ahead of priorities like local search or dealing with recent changes to major search engines (for example, Google Instant and Yahoo!-Bing integration).

The report noted that major spending increases on Facebook search advertising are planned for 2011. Covario estimated many advertisers would be spending 10% to 20% of their pay-per-click budgets on Facebook next year, giving the social networking site a major share of that market. The report also indicated that rather than pulling dollars away from other paid search spending areas, these would be additions to the search budget coming from display or offline budgets instead.

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