Monday, 27 October 2008

The Chrome Wars

Google Chrome officially launched in Beta on 3rd September 2008. Since this point the blogosphere has been filled with commentary about the performance of the new browser. Lot's of bloggers are talking about the pro's and con's of the new browser and how it fulfills or does not meet each of it's promises. Fewer have touched upon the Google strategy that sits behind this move. Why have Google released a web browser? Perhaps the answer is too obvious for the more educated online pundit to cover but I felt it was worth blogging about.

Microsoft are a huge organisation. They have made it clear that they are prepared to devote almost unlimited resources in order to acquire a higher proportion of the ever growing online advertising investment. It is difficult to argue that they don't have the greatest opportunity. Windows is the default operating system for all home PC's. Over 70% of internet users also continue to use Internet Explorer as their default browser. But 86% of users continue to search the internet using Google.

This represents the biggest tug of war on the internet. Microsoft have the browsers but Google have the searchers.

MSN launched Internet Explorer with MSN Live Search set as the default option in the search box. Google were not happy with this step, complaining to the European Commission that Microsoft were acting anti-competitively. The high percentage of users that change their Internet Explorer default search engine to Google is surely the biggest insult Live Search can get.

Recently I blogged about the latest version of Firefox, 3.0. I have been very impressed with this browser and after a brief dalliance with Chrome, I have reverted. The beauty of Firefox is it's compatibility and the abundance with available add-ons. Although Chrome is also open source, Firefox just feels more malleable and more personal.

Another question that bloggers have been asking is how the launch of Chrome impacts upon the relationship Google have with the Mozilla Corporation. It is well publicised that Mozilla earn a large proportion of revenue from Google via searches and their established referral scheme. Indeed, this scheme has recently been extended to 2011 .Reading into the detail, it would appear that Mozilla are relatively unfazed by this new addition into the market.

My suspicion is that the lines between these organisations are quite blurry. They have collaborated on a number of technical, product and financial aspects in the past and I am sure that Silicon Valley staff move quite freely between the hi-tech organisations. After all, they are less than a mile apart.

The latest statistics demonstrate that Chrome has failed to have the impact Google clearly intended. My feeling is that they released Chrome out to the online community, gathered information based on it's reaction and are now working on making the relevant improvements. An indication of this is that they are no longer advertising on Chrome on the classic Google search page.

Microsoft and Mozilla are not sitting back and letting Google innovate on it's own. Many of the major benefits of Google Chrome are evident in the Beta version of IE8 and there are some very exciting developments anticipated when Firefox 3.1 becomes available for download later this year. One thing is for sure however, Google are by no means finished in this area.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

XLent Rankings at least!

Without doubt, the XL crisis was the biggest story to hit the travel industry this year. The airline and package holiday operator was perhaps the most significant victim within this sector of the troubled market conditions.

As my former organisation competed in the same space, it was actually good news that XL went bust. One less competitor and additional capacity in the market meant that there was less of a requirement to squeeze the margin out of our prices.

Therefore, I was surprised to see that from an search engine marketing perspective, XL became more of a threat. As an example, if I search for "Florida Holidays" features ina higher position than
Virgin Holidays, an established operator that continues to sell Florida Holidays.

The fundamental principal of Google's pagerank formula actually benefits organisations that are experiencing high profile problems. Authoritative sites that are covering the XL news story naturally create links to the XL website. In a relatively short period of time the site has amassed nearly 15K inbound links. Even organisations with an extremely active link-building programme would struggle to grow their portfolio of natural inbound links so quickly.

This exposes one of the major flaws in Google's algorithm. Google fails to correctly interpret the context of the inbound links to XL. It can the recognise volume of links from authoritative sources but it fails to consider that they all paint a negative picture of the troubled organisation.

Google of course understand this problem. Ranking XL above Virgin for the term "Florida Holidays" does not help the consumer find what they are looking for therefore they may lose confidence in search as a research method.

The context of an inbound link is already acquired from the anchor text and the text that immediately surrounds it. Insights into the context can also be gained from the network of sites where the links are created. For instance, links
from consumer protection sites such as Watchdog can be interpreted as a negative.

The algorithm needs to work harder to understand the reason why the link was created. In order to do that, it needs to be able to understand the semantic nature of the original article. This is the one of the major premises behind the Web 3.0 concept and something that we will hear a lot more of in the coming years.

I am sure that XL will be back in one form or another. The reputation of the brand from an offline perspective is in tatters. But according to the algorithm, is a great site that is gathering inbound links from veritable sources. Therefore, whoever inherits the domain, inherits a large amount of link equity, that was not there prior to the collapse.