Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Googling for brands: Is BBC weather really more popular than porn?

Interested by the recent Experian / Hitwise release which reports that 88% of UK Internet searches in May 2008 were for branded search terms (up from 65% in 2005) with ‘facebook’ topping the list (accounting for 1 in every 72 searches).

So, why should this be the case? Robin Goad (co-author of the report) is clearly right in saying that "much of this branded search is navigational in nature – people type a brand name into a search engine or browser toolbar with the clear intention of navigating to a particular site", but why? Do most UK internet users genuinely not know the difference between their browser address bar and search box (perhaps a forgivable mistake in light of recent developments) or are we just tired of playing URL roulette when Google can confirm our desired destination in a fraction of a second? Most likely a mixture of the two.

Another reason is the sample size; absent from the headline but present in the main body of the release is the fact that this percentage was drawn from an analysis of the top 2,000 UK search terms. In other words, the long tail is missing; a long tail which I suspect contains a higher percentage of non-branded search terms.

Another potential omission is adult search terms which invariably get filtered from these sorts of rankings (if you want to see the frightening reality of what people are searching for in real-time, check out Dogpile SearchSpy). Google Trends (Google having an 87% market share of UK search) certainly suggests that 'porn' is a much more common UK search term than 'bbc weather' (see chart). It also places 'google' above most of the search terms in the Hitwise Top 10 (see chart), although I'm not entirely sure what that tells us.

So, what are the takeaways from this report? Brand searches certainly appear to be becoming more prevalent, at least at the head of the curve. One possible response is to actively target your competitors keywords through sponsored links, as Sky are currently doing for some key BBC brands like EastEnders, to try and take advantage of the 8.7% of searches for one of the top 100 online brands in the UK which result in a visit to a website owned by someone other than the brand owner (something Hitwise charmingly refers to as "brand leakage").

Another option is to try and harness these popular search terms via optimisation for natural search. Whilst you'd need to have a hell of a lot of googlejuice in the bank to come anywhere near page one of the results for these terms in isolation, when coupled with one or more other keywords, you could be in the money (one of the most consistently viewed posts on this blog is my Top 10 best Facebook applications, despite being over a year old).

A couple of other takeaways:
- Don't assume users will dutifully type in the URL you've spent thousands of pounds marketing - they'll probably just Google your brand.
- Try to take account of possible misspellings, colloquialisms and phonetic interpretations of your brand in your SEO strategy (note 'youtube' and 'you tube' at numbers 4 and 5 in the below table and the cautionary tale of Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment).

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Radio Pop: for BBC Radio

Just wanted to add my congratulations to my old colleagues in BBC Audio & Music Interactive on the launch of Radio Pop, a "social radio listening" prototype from the small but perfectly formed BBC Radio Labs team which promises to do for BBC Radio what does for music (i.e. scrobbling your listening, connecting you to friends, letting you favourite/bookmark - a.k.a. "pop" - and generating lots of pretty graphs and charts). It's replete with RSS feeds, APML data and some tasty extras: embeddable badge (below), Mac Dashboard widget, and integration with real-world radio Olinda.

It's a bit unfair requesting new functionality less than a week after launch, but hey, if you don't ask you don't get :-)

Radio Pop feature wishlist:
- Flash streaming (please don't make me download RealPlayer on my MacBook Air!)
- 'Now playing' info
- Details of "popped" tracks (linked to the BBC Music beta, natch)
- Recommendations based on your listens/pops
- Cross-scrobbling to
- iPhone version
- Chumby version (ok, maybe a little bit niche)

Read more on Radio Pop on the BBC Radio Labs blog and on the personal blogs of creators Tristan Ferne and Chris Bowley and their boss, James Cridland. Great job guys.