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Earlier this week we reported on a recent study highlighting the growing influence of online reviews, and there is no service as closely associated with online reviews as Yelp. Of course, Yelp agrees and they’ve commissioned a new study from Nielsen survey data to show it is the most frequently used, most trusted, and even the highest quality local reviews site. But, many are skeptical of their findings.

The study used a sample of just over 1,000 US users of review sites, including competitors such as Angie’s List, Citysearch, OpenTable, TripAdvisor, YP, and Zagat. The survey consisted of 22 questions in all and the sample was weighted for age and gender to be representative of Nielsen’s NetView audience. In a blow to the credibility of the survey however, it seems only a few of the results were released – presumably the results which favored Yelp.

Out of what was released, the survey showed that 78 percent of consumers use review sites to find local businesses and help make purchase decisions, with Yelp taking the lead in several categories such as “most influential,” “most trustworthy,” and “best quality reviews.”

Another source of apprehension for this study was the decision not to include Google or Facebook. When asked, Yelp told Greg Sterling:

Our findings specifically around review sites came after we included Google and Facebook in a question on what sites people use to find local businesses, but those sites aren’t solely focused on local business discovery. We dug deeper into those sites that are.

That led Sterling to the conclusion that Google and Facebook likely exceed Yelp as a source for local business information, but it isn’t dishonest to exclude them from a study focusing specifically on “local business discovery” because both platforms have such broad usage.

The study isn’t completely invalid because of these inconsistencies. It goes without question that Yelp is at the forefront of local business discovery and reviewing and several other studies show that Yelp is in fact influential in local purchasing decisions. This study reinforces the fact that Yelp is a major player in these categories, but obviously it should be taken with some skepticism.

You can see the graphic displaying Yelp’s findings below:

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SEO and online marketing have changed drastically over just the past couple years, especially with the rise of social media and huge changes to how search engines are able to analyze and rate websites for users. However, some things have stayed the same through it all, such as the importance of email marketing.

It could be easy to think that social media would usurp the place of email marketing in building a relationship between consumers and your brand by gradually letting potential customers see who you are and what you represent. However, you would be wrong as emails still hold their place by offering a direct line to interested users that even social media can’t match.

The majority of businesses realize this, judging by the continued prevalence of email signups and calls-to-action deliberately designed to get visitors onto an email list. What some of those companies may not understand is that they may be missing out on some of the potential of their email list by marketing to the wrong device.

A new report from Movable Ink’s Q1 2014 US Consumer Device Preference Report shows that email opens are continuing to migrate away from desktop to tablets and smartphones. At this point, desktop opens are actually the minority compared to mobile devices.

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Greg Sterling has an analysis of the data from the report, but to me the findings show that a large amount of email marketing is missing the mark by targeting users sitting at a desktop computer browsing through a day’s worth of email. This may have been the norm a few years ago, but today the majority of emails are opened while out and about and emails should be designed to fit this purpose and be able to catch users’ attention from the smaller screen.

You can start making your email marketing strategy more mobile friendly by making your emails explicitly mobile friendly as well as the associated landing pages these emails direct to. In a day-and-age when the majority of people are checking their emails and doing browsing from smartphones there is no excuse to be sending users emails they can’t easily view or sending users to landing pages that require non-iPhone friendly Flash plug-ins.

Mobile Ad Impressions

Android phones may be outselling the iPhone, but proof that iOS users are more engaged with their devices just keeps coming. The latest confirmation that iPhone users are on their devices more often with more engaged usage comes from a third-quarter “Global AdMetrics” report from mobile DSP and ad buying platform Adfonic. Their study claims that in Q3, on a global basis, Android and Apple devices accounted for 95 percent of all add impressions on mobile devices.

However, Apple and Android weren’t as close as you would normally think. Apple claimed nearly two-thirds of all mobile ad impressions, while Android only received 32 percent, a 6 percent decline from the previous quarter. This wouldn’t be so interesting, except Android has a huge advantage over Apple in the global market share. According to Greg Sterling at Marketing Land, around 80 percent of all global smartphone shipments in Q3 were Android devices.

Previous reports have shown that iPhone users are more likely to purchase, spend more time with their devices, and are more engaged with their device when using it. It is obvious that there is a large difference between the types of people purchasing mobile devices, and their needs certainly aren’t uniform. Android may have the lead on sales, but it can be assumed that many of their customers simply choose an Android phone without the intention to utilize all of its capabilities, while iPhone users are more likely to desire a phone they can rely on for all of their mobile and online needs.

It is hard to ignore how quickly mobile traffic has grown to become an essential part of how people access the internet, but there are still a fair amount of brands burying their heads in the sand and pretending nothing has really changed. It is almost astounding to see how many are stuck in the past and refuse to invest in going mobile. With some brands estimating that half of their traffic comes from mobile devices, it is clear that brands who refuse to step-up are going to begin suffering very soon.

We know how popular smartphones and tablets are now, but we don’t actually know how much of all online traffic comes from these devices. Some analysts estimate as low as 15 percent of all traffic is coming from mobile devices, while others have said that as much as a third is coming from non-desktop devices. With such a large range, it has difficult to discern what the exact amount of mobile traffic is, but these studies do give us insight into the direction things are going.

Mobile Traffic Report

For example, Greg Sterling reports that public relations firm Walker Sands released their latest quarterly index of mobile traffic to their clients’ websites, and they estimate 28 percent of their clients’ traffic is coming from smartphones and tablets. The problem is their sample is too small for their estimate to be very relevant when dealing with the big picture. However, because of how regularly they compile and release this data, we can use their report to see the direction the market is going, and the market is largely going mobile.

Walker Sands actually found a small drop from 29 percent of traffic coming from mobile devices to 28 percent, but those numbers are a big leap from 17.5 percent at this time last year, and a one percent drop in mobile traffic isn’t large enough to draw any conclusions that mobile traffic is faltering.

It becomes even more apparent that mobile is becoming a hugely important consideration for online marketing when you consider that Facebook currently estimates that a third of their users access the site strictly from mobile devices and Yelp says that 59 percent of their searches are now coming from mobile.

The big takeaway, as Sterling points out, is that marketers are doing themselves a massive disservice by ignoring mobile traffic or even by just treating mobile traffic as secondary. Every marketer should be taking mobile traffic seriously, and not treating it as secondary. For some markets, it may even be best to put mobile ahead of desktop in their priorities.

Do you remember last year when Bing aggressively marketed their “Bing It On” challenge? Back then, Bing also made the claim that searchers prefered Bing in the blind test 2:1. Now, a recent study from the “Freakonomics” blog harshly disputes Bing’s claims as well as strongly critiquing their marketing of the study as possibly constituting deceptive advertising.

Law and economics professor Ian Ayers explained the study and says the claims made by Bing came from a small sample of only 1,000 participants, too few to be a reliable sample of the population. He attempted to replicate the study at Yale Law School where he teaches:

I set up a similar-sized experiment using Microsoft’s own BingItOn.com site to see which search engine users prefer. We found that, to the contrary of Microsoft’s claim, 53 percent of subjects preferred Google and 41 percent Bing (6 percent of results were “ties”)…

The thing is the results of this study still aren’t too bad for Bing. Yes, it shows that Bing’s claims may have been disingenuous, and Google could very possibly still be the more favored search engine. However, Bing still came out with a very respectable number of people favoring their search engine. This could be a sign that Bing could very feasibly grow their market share further than they have. They currently take 18 percent of the market, compared to Google’s static 67 percent.

Of course, Microsoft has responded to the study already. They issued a formal statement from Matt Wallaert, behavioral scientist at Bing, which read:

The professor’s analysis is flawed and based on an incomplete understanding of both the claims and the Challenge. The Bing It On claim is 100% accurate and we’re glad to see we’ve nudged Google into improving their results. Bing it On is intended to be a lightweight way to challenge peoples’ assumptions about which search engine actually provides the best results. Given our share gains, it’s clear that people are recognizing our quality and unique approach to what has been a relatively static space dominated by a single service.

There was also a much more extensive response to the Ayers study in the form of a post on the Bing Blog.

And of course, Matt Cutts from Google couldn’t help but share his two cents on Google+:

Freakonomics looked into Microsoft’s “Bing It On” challenge. From the blog post: “tests indicate that Microsoft selected suggested search words that it knew were more likely to produce Bing-preferring results. …. The upshot: Several of Microsoft’s claims are a little fishy. Or to put the conclusion more formally, we think that Google has a colorable deceptive advertising claim.”

I have to admit that I never bothered to debunk the Bing It On challenge, because the flaws (small sample size; bias in query selection; stripping out features of Google like geolocation, personalization, and Knowledge Graph; wording of the site; selective rematches) were pretty obvious.

So yes, Bing’s study had a fair amount of problems, and their critics seem poised to take action about deceptive marketing, but there is an upshot for Bing. The search engine still performed very well in the results and could gain a fair amount of searchers in the future. But, it also confirms something Bing may have been more worried about. As Greg Sterling points out, “the Google brand and not necessarily search quality is now what sustains Google’s dominance in search.”

Brands looking to extend their user engagement and find new ways to reach out to the public may have a new avenue out of an older web property. Yahoo has totally revamped their Answers site, attempting to bring it back to relevancy and making it more social and mobile friendly.

Answers used to be a thriving Q&A network, but over time it has really fallen in terms of quality, reliability, and general usage. Greg Sterling argues that it is still the most successful “help engine” though in my opinion that is questionable. One issue that led to Answers’ downfall was lack of quality control.

Either way, the years have not been kind to the property, just like numerous other Yahoo properties. Now CEO Marissa Mayer has decided to update and revive Yahoo’s products and Answers is the most recent to get the treatment.

The new features on Answers build in more social aspects, as well as making the site mobile friendly. Users will notice they can now add images and videos to their posts. The hurdle they have to overcome now is curating and improving the quality of the property.

If Yahoo follows through with quality control, Answers may very well offer some lucrative opportunities for audience outreach. One of the best services a brand can offer online consumers is to answer their questions reliably and honestly. It builds trust in the brand as well as cementing your reputation in your field.

It still remains to be seen if Answers will prove to be valuable, but it is something to keep an eye on.

Yahoo Answers Screenshot

It’s been a week since Microsoft dropped their “Scroogle” attack ads aimed at Google, but they are still running their “Bing It On” challenge trying to convince searchers that Bing is superior to Google. Yet, all of Microsoft’s attempts don’t seem to be working. Despite Microsoft saying Bing It On testers preferred Bing 2:1, Google continues to claim well over half of all searches.

This has Greg Sterling from Search Engine Land wondering why no one believes Microsoft’s and other competitor’s “Better Than Google” claims. Is Google’s brand just that strong? Does it come out of habit?

The most obvious reason people don’t buy Bing’s campaign is they are blatantly aware it is all marketing. They used the same principle as a blind taste test, but those types of tests don’t come off as explicitly biased as a website “blind” test. Just to get to the test you have to go to a website with Bing in the name.

No one is going to trust Bing’s statistics when they are that blatant about the test. There is nothing blind about going to “Bingiton.com“. It also doesn’t help that there is a big disclaimer at the bottom of the search page explaining how the test doesn’t use the full search capabilities of either engine.

Bing It On

Google believes part of the reason users aren’t responding to Microsoft’s negative marketing is customers respond better to companies that “focus on building good products” rather than slinging mud. While Google remained as silent as possible on the “Scroogle” ads while they ran, now that they have been stopped, Google search chief Amit Singhal finally spoke about the issue at a SXSW conference, when taking questions from Twitter. “We focus on our users.”

Google’s right, customers don’t respond to negative marketing campaigns against well established brands as well as they respond to the new and innovative products Google is producing.

But, what about independent studies? A recent study by Butler University found that not only did Bing have better quality answers according to their criteria, but so did ChaCha, Ask.com, Bing, and Yahoo. Why has this type of study not put a huge thorn in Google’s side? One reason is Google’s incredibly strong brand. There is also the “Google Habit” or the comfort with the interface, but more than anything it is personal experience.

ChaCha may have better answers, but most users will agree it is not convenient enough for when you need to make a quick search and find a simple answer. Bing has been making users uncomfortable with their blatant attack ads, and any survey that puts Ask.com ahead of Bing, Yahoo, and Google will be heavily doubted in this age. The website lost its reputation years ago as other search engines grew, and it never regained it, just as Yahoo has steadily lost its market share to Google.

The only companies that can compete against Google are equally strong brands such as Amazon and Apple. Google is so well established in the American market, that it is hard to believe any study reporting that there are a handful of “better” ways to search. But, Google didn’t just install itself into ourcollective hive mind. Google is trusted because they offer a search engine users are pleased with, and they are constantly innovating new and exciting products. If they ever stop innovating, Bing might have a shot. Until then, attack ads and over the top marketing campaigns aren’t going to do much.

Source: Flickr

With the new year come new reports about the way we searched the internet in 2012. The Search Agency posted their “State of Paid Search Report” for the last quarter of the previous year, and while it is mostly confirming what other reports have already shown, there were a few notable discoveries.

Every report of the past few years has found that searches from smartphones and tablets have been growing significantly now claiming 25-percent of all search clicks. But, what wasn’t expected was The Search Agency’s announcement that the growth in mobile searching does not come at the expense of desktop browsing.

“Desktops computer searches remained level from Q3 2012 to Q4 2012, while mobile experienced an increase in search share. This demonstrates the industry’s steady growth and good health,” states their report.

Greg Sterling has the full breakdown from the report over at Search Engine Land, but the facts are that mobile browsing has no intention of slowing its growth, and tablets are at least partially responsible for the continued interest.

New data from ad network Chitika compares click through rates (CTRs) and query lengths on the different desktop and mobile browsers among the millions of impressions on their network. The results show Opera browser users as the highest demographic of click-through’s compared to other browser users.

Generally, Opera users are considered to be more tech savvy, so it is interesting that they would have the highest CTR rate. The second highest demographic are mobile Safari users.

Greg Sterling from Marketing Land has all the data from the report for more information.

 

Want to know what features and capabilities consumers are wanting from mobile websites? Google has released the results of a recent survey and, while the findings aren’t anything earth shattering, they also included data that could be beneficial to you.

The results have reaffirmed that smartphone users want sites to be optimized for their smaller screen, and they will leave those that aren’t, but Google also took the time to collect data on what users want in their experiences with mobile sites. Google used two independent research firms to survey over 1,000 adults in the US, who were also involved in focus groups and required to keep journals of their mobile activites throughout the third quarter of this year.

So what are users wanting from mobile sites? According to Google, users expect websites to load in less than five seconds. They also want mobile websites to allow them to act immediately. Seventy-six percent of smartphone owners want to use their phones to get locations for businesses and sixty-one percent like businesses to allow customers to contact them at the time.

Most want information available within a few clicks, with buttons large enough for their fingers. Other widely desired features were conveniently placed search bars, “click to call” buttons, unidirectional scrolling (up-down or left-right), and interestingly many desire the ability to go to the full non-mobile site. Google even gathered data on what users are looking for in sites for specific industries. Greg Sterling at Marketing Land has a break-down for these individual industries, if you’re interested.

Most of these findings are inline with what you would expect, but they also show how the expectations of mobile users are quickly getting higher. If you don’t raise your own standards to meet those of your customers, your business will not fare well in the future.