Twitter’s World: Click … or Clique?

Twitter traffic:  dominateed by a tiny fraction of users.
Half of all tweets are generated by fewer than one-half of one percent of Twitter accounts.
What’s happening these days with Twitter? The micro-blogging service continues to light up the newswires every time there’s a civil disturbance in a foreign land, because of how easily and effectively it facilitates planning and interaction among the dissidents.

But what we’re also finding out is that Twitter is overwhelmingly dominated by just a small fraction of its users.

In fact, Cornell University and Yahoo recently published results of an evaluation of ~260 million tweets during 2009 and 2010, which found that ~50% of the tweets were generated by just 20,000 Twitter users.

That is right: Fewer than one half of one percent of Twitter’s user base accounts for fully half of all tweet activity.

Just who makes up this “rarified realm” of elite users? It turns out that they fall into four major groups:

 Media properties (e.g., CNN, New York Times)
 Celebrities (e.g., Ashton Kutcher … Lady Gaga)
 Business organizations (e.g., Starbucks)
 Blogs

Even more interestingly, these “elite” users aren’t interfacing with the rest of us “regular Twitter folk” as much as they are simply following each other: Celebs follow celebs … media companies follow other media companies … bloggers follow other blogs.

The Cornell/Yahoo research report, titled Who Says What to Whom on Twitter, can be found here.

But one wonders if the report should be retitled Much Ado About Nothing?

What’s Happening with Web Search Behaviors?

Search EnginesMore than 460 million searches are performed every day on the Internet by U.S. consumers. A new report titled 2010 SERP Insights Study from Performics, an arm of Publicis Groupe, gives us interesting clues as to what’s happening in the world of web search these days.

The survey, fielded by Lancaster, PA-based ROI Research, queried 500 U.S. consumers who use a search engine at least once per week, found that people who search the Internet regularly are a persistent lot.

Nine out of ten respondents reported that they will modify their search and try again if they aren’t successful in their quest. Nearly as many will try an alternate search engine if they don’t succeed.

As for search engine preference, despite earnest efforts recently to knock Google down a notch or two, it remains fully ensconced on the top perch; three-fourths of the respondents in this survey identify Google as their primary search engine. Moreover, Google users are less likely to stray from their primary search engine and try elsewhere.

But interestingly, Google is the “search engine of choice” for seasoned searchers more than it is for newbies. The Performics study found that Google is the leading search engine for only ~57% of novice users, whereas Yahoo does much better among novices than regular users (~36% versus ~18% overall).

What about Bing? It’s continuing to look pretty weak across the board, with only ~7% preferring Bing.

The Performics 2010 study gives us a clear indication as to what searchers are typically seeking when they use search engines:

 Find a specific manufacturer or product web site: ~83%
 Gather information before making a purchase online: ~80%
 Find the best price for a product or service: ~78%
 Learn more about a product or service after seeing an ad elsewhere: ~78%
 Gather information before purchasing in-store or via a catalog: ~76%
 Find a location for purchasing a produce offline: ~74%
 Find coupons, specials, or sales: ~63%

As for what types of listings are more likely to attract clickthroughs, brand visibility on the search engine results page turns out to be more important than you might think. Here’s how respondents rated the likelihood to click on a search result:

 … If it includes the exact words searched for: ~88%
 … If it includes an image: ~53%
 … If the brand appears multiple times on the SERP: ~48%
 … If it includes a video: ~26%

The takeaway message here: Spend more energy on achieving multiple high SERP rankings than in creating catchy video content!

And what about paid or sponsored links – the program that’s contributing so much to Google’s sky-high stock price? As more searchers come to understand the difference between paid and “natural” search rankings … fewer are drawn to them. While over 90% of the respondents in this research study reported that they have ever clicked on paid sponsored listings, only about one in five of them do so on a frequent basis.

Newspapers crash … Online news soars.

The latest annual News Users report by Outsell, Inc. predicts additional declines in print newspaper circulation as consumers continue to gravitate to online news. It is the third annual report issued by this marketing and communications research firm, which is developed from findings gathered in consumer surveys.

Outsell projects that Sunday newspaper readers will drop to ~43 million by 2012. That would represent a decline of some 20 million readers from Sunday papers’ circulation heights in the 1990s.

But what’s even more noteworthy is the continuing evolution in online activities. Today, nearly 60% of consumers report that they go online for “news right now.” That’s up from 33% just a few years ago.

And where are people going for their online news? By a large margin, it’s to aggregator sites like Google News, Yahoo and Drudge Report rather than to newspaper sites. As an example, 44% of the people who go to Google News scan the headlines there, without clicking through or accessing the newspapers’ individual sites.

Other key findings from the Outsell survey:

One in five consumers now go to online news aggregators for their “first in the day” news, up from 10% three years ago. TV/cable still leads with 30%, but that margin has been shrinking dramatically.

Paid online content is not a picking up the slack for newspapers, with participation rates of no more than 10% of consumers.

Newspapers retain strengths in reporting local topics (e.g., local news, sports and entertainment), even as national topics have gone pretty much all-digital.

That being stated, if a valued local online news site were to put up a pay wall – or require a paid subscription to the print paper in order to gain free online access – three out of four respondents claimed they would go somewhere else to find the news free of charge. (That’s despite the fact that good alternative news sources at the local level are usually not so numerous.)

The Outsell study found that consumers continue to believe printed news is worth paying for … but they expect the news they get online to be free of charge.

The big problem: It looks like it’s too late for publishers to “transition” reader willingness to pay for print news over to now paying for that same content online.

Nope, that train’s already left the station.

Search Engine Rankings: Page 1 is Where It’s At

All the hype you continually hear about how important it is to get on Page 1 of search engine result pages turns out to be … right on the money.

In a just-released study from digital marketing company iCrossing, nearly 9 million “non-branded” search queries conducted on Google, Yahoo and Bing were analyzed, with the clickthrough percentages from the first, second and third pages of the search engine results (SERPs) tallied.

It turned out that more than 8.5 million clickthroughs were made from the first page of results – a whopping 95% of the total. The rest was just crumbs: Clicks off the second page came in under 250,000, while third-page clicks clocked in at a paltry ~180,000.

The results were essentially the same for the three major search engines (all at 95% or 96%) – so it’s a clean sweep across the board and clearly behavior that fits all across the spectrum.

What this suggests is that when searching on generic or descriptive terms, most people will not go past the first page of results if they can’t find a site link that interests them. If they don’t hit paydirt on the first page, they’re far more likely to try another search using different keywords or phrases until they find a site on Page 1 that does the trick.

Comparing this newest iCrossing study with research from a few years back reveals that Page 1 clicks represent an even higher proportion today; earlier studies from a few years back had it pegged at 80% to 90%.

The implications of this study are be clear: if you’re looking to attract visitors to your site via generic or descriptive subject searches, you’d better make sure your site is designed so that it achieves first-page ranking … or your web efforts will be for naught.

That being said, the recipe for success in ranking hasn’t changed much at all. Despite all of the tempting “link juice” tips and tricks out there, the main keys to getting high rankings continue to be creating loads of good web content … speaking the same “language” as searchers (however inaccurate that might be) … and maintaining lots of good links to and from your site to increase its “relevance” to search engines.

No doubt, it’s getting tougher to achieve Page 1 ranking when there’s so much competition out there, but it’s well worth the effort.

$100 cost-per-click on Google AdWords? It’s already here.

How much is one clickthrough to your web site worth? If you’re a legal firm specializing in bringing mesothelioma cases to court, it turns out it’s worth a lot.

In fact, the search term “mesothelioma” was the highest-priced keyword in the U.S. during the third quarter of 2009. That’s according to a recently-released AdGooroo Search Engine Advertising report.

Just how expensive? For Google’s AdWords program, the highest price paid for a #1 ranking on that search term was a whopping $99.44 per click. (Over at Yahoo, the high figure for this paid search term was a little less rich: $60.68 per click.)

One wonders how many times the advertisers have actually had to pay out this king’s ransom. Whether it’s for a few or many clicks, it’s clear that some legal firms recognize a highly lucrative revenue opportunity in filing mesothelioma lawsuits related to asbestos and lung cancer.

Interestingly, the highest paid search term in Bing’s paid search program isn’t “mesothelioma,” but rather “auto insurance comparison.” At $55.20 per click, the dollars aren’t as high, but it would seem like the potential payoff isn’t nearly as great, either. After all, there’s a pretty big difference between a multi-million dollar legal verdict and the value of an automotive insurance policy.

But beyond the eyebrow-raising stats of these extreme examples, the larger issue is how much more costly search advertising has become in recent times. A few short years ago, it was common to talk about search terms costing an advertiser 50 cents or $1.00 per click. Now, those same terms are far more likely to cost $2.50 or more.

Google, being the 500-pound gorilla in search engine marketing (SEM), has certainly contributed to the price inflation. That’s one reason why many are rooting for alternative search options like Bing to succeed (dream on).

More fundamental to the increase in keyword click pricing is the realization that advertising to people at the precise time they’re searching for particular goods and services is a far more effective way to engage customers and prospects and drive actual sales.

And that’s even more the case compared to trying to get their attention or otherwise “intrude” on them when they’re online for other purposes. The abysmal clickthrough rates experienced for banner advertising bear this out.

But paying $100 per clickthrough? That does seem excessive – even for ambulance-chasing lawyers!

Search … and destroy? Nah.

New statistics published earlier this month by Hitwise show that Google continues merrily on its way to even greater heights of dominance in the search engine field.  Despite the Don Quixote-like efforts of other search engines like MSN, Ask and Yahoo to take a run at Google’s position, the latest stats show that Google’s search engine is as popular as ever.

More popular, in fact.  The numbers reveal that Google’s share of search activity has now risen to 72% versus 67% a year earlier, whereas the others continue to decline.  Yahoo is in second position, but getting 21% of search share is about on par with H. Ross Perot’s vote percentage in the 1992 presidential election – all hat and no cattle.

More startlingly bad is MSN’s performance at around 7% of search activity, because they’ve been trying hard to make a dent in Google’s position. Keep on trying, gents.  Maybe you’ll break 10% share before long, although I doubt it.

Does any of this come as a surprise?  After all, people are creatures of habit. And when a habit gets as big as this, it’s really hard to break.

Also, most people typically take the path of least resistance. And when it comes to search, isn’t Google the easiest path?  Simple visual layout … easy to use … robust results.  What’s the point of going anywhere else?

UPDATE4/1/09 – As if on cue, another search engine bites the dust.  Wikia has announced it is closing down its Wikia Search project.  Introduced to great fanfare last year, Wikia was intended to be a user-generated, open search engine.  The problem?  Wikia Search was simply not generating any sort of worthwhile volume.  In fact, traffic was running about 10,000 unique users per month.  That’s just a blip on the screen — and certainly disappointing considering the success of other initiatives like Wikipedia and Wikia Answers.  Further proof that to be first in cyberspace with a good idea and good execution is a huge advantage … and to be fourth or fifth is considerably more difficult, even fruitless.