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Leery of Paid Search? You’re Not Alone, Says Microsoft

If you’re a small business owner, you’re probably a bit leery about undertaking a paid search campaign such as Google AdWords. Even if you’ve engaged the services of an Internet marketing company, you may think that paid search beyond your means. If so, you’re not alone – at least according to the results of a study recently released by Microsoft adCenter.

The company’s press release said, in part:

The findings indicate that a majority of the small businesses surveyed invest in developing Web sites, but fail to take even the simplest steps to enhance their online business presence. The study revealed that 59 percent of small businesses with Web sites don’t currently use paid search marketing, and of those, 90 percent have never even attempted it.

Surprisingly, seven in 10 small-business owners who participated revealed that they would rather try to do their own taxes than start a paid search marketing campaign.

It went on to say:

Despite the lack of investment in paid search marketing, the weakening economy and increased competition, nearly nine in 10 (86 percent) small-business owners surveyed felt that they could be missing opportunities to grow their business, while three in four believed prospective customers could be searching online for the type of service their business offers. Although most do not embrace the practice, the small-business owners who use paid search marketing are very satisfied, as 72 percent reported an increase in sales inquiries and 68 percent consider their paid search marketing efforts successful.

Among the participants’ chief concerns, most cited the common misconceptions of cost, time and complexity as major hurdles to conducting search marketing campaigns for their businesses. Other key insights included the following:

* Nearly nine in 10 (89 percent) feared keywords may become too expensive.

* Eighty-one percent questioned if paid search marketing is the best use of their marketing budgets.

* One quarter of respondents believe paid search marketing is too complex.

* Twenty-one percent thought it would be too time-consuming.

* Thirty-five percent felt they would need an agency to help set up a search marketing campaign.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft’s take is that more small business owners should engage in paid search campaigns. Nonetheless, those who are experts in Internet marketing outline a number of equally effective, less expensive strategies that can achieve the same results.


Yahoo on Data Retention and Privacy

In our increasingly interconnected world, many people are concerned about their online privacy. Companies that serve those who participate in Internet marketing campaigns understand the need for (at minimum) aggregated information about users, but those same companies also need to be sensitive to the consumer concerns.

Yahoo! recently announced a new initiative in the form of a 90-day data retention policy – one that it hopes achieves the proper balance between accessible information and privacy. According to a statement released by the company:

This new policy strengthens Yahoo!’s relationship of trust with its 500 million users world-wide and enhances its longtime leadership on privacy.

Under the new policy, Yahoo! will anonymize user log data within 90 days with limited exceptions for fraud, security and legal obligations. Yahoo! will also expand the policy to apply not only to search log data but also page views, page clicks, ad views and ad clicks.

“In our world of customized online services, responsible use of data is critical to establishing and maintaining user trust,” said Anne Toth, Yahoo!’s Vice President of Policy and Head of Privacy. “We know that our users expect relevant and compelling content and advertising when they visit Yahoo!, but they also want assurances that we are focused on protecting their privacy.”

It went on to say:

To protect users and our business partners, there will be some specific and limited exceptions to the anonymization policy. In order to fight fraud and preserve system security, Yahoo! will retain system specific data in identifiable form for no more than 6 months — but only for this purpose. Yahoo! may have to retain data for longer periods to meet other legal obligations.


Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft: The Debate Over Net Neutrality

As the result of an article recently published by the Wall Street Journal, the concept of net neutrality is once again making headlines. This is a major issue for those engaged in Internet marketing and advertising efforts, so it’s definitely worth revisiting.

For the uninitiated, net neutrality is the concept that broadband services shouldn’t be able to give some Internet users the edge over other Internet users. The analogy that’s often used is that service providers are like phone companies, in that phone companies can’t (and shouldn’t) let people pay a higher rate so that their calls go through more quickly than calls from people who pay a normal rate.
On the other side are those who say that the exponential increase in bandwidth used over the past couple of years requires infrastructure upgrades, and that the way to pay for those upgrades is to allow some people to pay more for faster access or for some companies to pay more to have their content delivered to end users more quickly. An analogy for this argument is one of freeways versus toll roads. Theoretically, toll roads will get you from point A to point B more quickly.

The problem with the toll road analogy is that access to the Internet is perceived as a choice or a luxury. Those who favor net neutrality (not favoring some content over other content or some users over other users) see the Internet as a necessity. Dividing society into information “haves” and “have-nots” doesn’t serve us well, since it disenfranchises people and stifles innovation.

After all, one of the great things about the Internet is that, theoretically at least, it’s a level playing field. We all know that companies with money have more influence and generally come out on top, but there are many enterprises that have taken traditional business models, turned them upside down, and made it online.

There are many other issues related to net neutrality that are more technical in nature, like edge caching and colocation, but what has been making the news are rumors that players like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have changed their positions from supporting net neutrality to supporting “pay to play” schemes.

Yahoo and Microsoft haven’t weighed in, but Google posted a blog entry in response to the WSJ article that reiterates their support of net neutrality. To quote, “Google remains strongly committed to the principle of net neutrality, and we will continue to work with policymakers in the years ahead to keep the Internet free and open.”


Yahoo! Getting Social

Those who are in the forefront of Internet marketing are often the most vocal in their criticisms of Yahoo, noting that the company is frequently a Johnny-come-lately to trends sweeping the Internet. Well, the company is finally hopping on the social networking bandwagon, and recently announced major changes to Yahoo Mail, My Yahoo, Yahoo Toolbar, and Yahoo Updates. Here are the highlights from the company’s press release:

* Yahoo! Mail – Yahoo! Mail’s smarter inbox focuses on streamlining access to a user’s most relevant and useful information. The new Welcome Page surfaces email messages, information and activity from people users care about most, and the integration of relevant third party applications will allow users to be more productive, all from within their inbox.

* My Yahoo! – My Yahoo! users can enhance their personal start pages by adding applications created by third-party developers. These interactive “apps” will range from productivity tools to games, and will infuse My Yahoo! with new social relevance. A new My Yahoo! Theme API lets third-party designers create and share their own look and feel for My Yahoo! pages, giving users access to an even wider range of creative backgrounds and styles.

* Yahoo! Toolbar – The new Yahoo! Toolbar will provide constant access to essential online tasks and up-to-the-minute news from the sources that matter most.

* Yahoo! Updates – In addition to surfacing friend updates in the new Yahoo! Toolbar and Mail, Yahoo! will begin sharing relevant updates within Yahoo! Music and Yahoo! TV. Yahoo! The Yahoo! Updates platform is also available as an open API, allowing any site on the Web to submit activities into it.


Yahoo! Settles Lawsuits from Pension Funds

Yahoo CEO Jerrry Yang is on his way out, and part of his legacy is being put to rest. Yahoo! recently settled investor lawsuits over the “poison pill” severance plan Yang put in place to stave off a buyout from Microsoft. The settlement outlines an agreement to revise employee severance plans so that they wouldn’t be a deal breaker in an acquisition. Too little, too late, say those who follow the Internet marketing and advertising industry. Better late than never, say investors.