Six most interesting search marketing news stories of the week

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Welcome to our weekly round-up of all the latest news and research from the world of search marketing and beyond.

This week, we’ve got a bumper crop of stories from the search and marketing industry, including the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative’s acquisition of an AI-powered search engine, new ad-targeting features on YouTube, the most popular emoji on Instagram, and the news that mobile search and YouTube are leading growth in Alphabet’s fourth quarter earnings.

Also, you’ll never guess who one of Google’s most prolific advertisers is – it’s Google.

Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative acquires AI-powered search engine, Meta

The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, the $45 billion philanthropic organisation founded by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, has made its first acquisition – of a search engine. Meta is an search tool which uses artificial intelligence to make connections between scientific research, making it easier for researchers to search through and link together more than 26 million scientific papers. The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative intends to make Meta, which was previously partly subscription-based, free for everyone to use after spending a few months enhancing the product.

“But wait!” I hear you cry. “Didn’t Search Engine Watch already run a story recently about a scientific search engine powered by AI?”

You’re absolutely right, astute reader – as Adam Stetzer reported earlier this month, Semantic Scholar is an AI-powered search engine for scientific research which is already free to use. While there’s no reason why the world can’t have more than one AI-powered science search engine, it will be interesting to see how the two different projects interact over the coming months and years.

The Meta search engine logo, with the Chan Zuckerberg initiative logo in the corner.

YouTube adds new ad-targeting features

One of the biggest weapons in Google’s advertising arsenal is the sheer amount of data that it is able to collect about users’ search and browsing histories, in order to better target ads in their direction. Last Friday, it was revealed that Google is bringing that scary amount of knowledge to bear on YouTube by allowing advertisers to target users based on their Google account activity.

A blog post on the Google Inside AdWords blog explained:

Now, information from activity associated with users’ Google accounts (such as demographic information and past searches) may be used to influence the ads those users see on YouTube. So, for example, if you’re a retailer, you could reach potential customers that have been searching for winter coat deals on Google and engage with them with your own winter clothing brand campaign at just the right moment.

Al Roberts reported on the news for ClickZ this week and examined why Facebook could be the driving force behind Google’s decision to give advertisers more flexibility in how they target users on YouTube.

Instagram is making Stories more appealing to brands

In August of last year, Instagram debuted Stories: a new feature on its social network devoted to posts which disappear after 24 hours, and a direct and unashamed copy of the Snapchat feature of the same name. Despite a bit of mockery at first, response to Stories has been positive, with 150 million users enjoying the feature daily – and some saying that Instagram Stories has all but replaced Snapchat for them.

Now, Instagram is bringing in some additions to make Stories a more appealing prospect for brands, with new Business Insights available to users with business profiles, and full-screen photo or video ads appearing in between Stories.

Ads will be initially tested with 30 clients around the world, including Capital One, Buick, Maybelline New York, Nike, Yoox, Netflix, and Qantas.

Instagram Stories Ad

These are 2016’s most popular emoji on Instagram

We’ve got a two-for-one special on Instagram stories this week, with a study by Quintly which has revealed exactly how and how often emoji have been used on Instagram.

Quintly analysed  20,000 Instagram profiles and 6.2 million posts during 2016 to observe how emojis have been used on the platform over the last year. Among its findings were the fact that 56% of Instagram profiles have used emoji so far, and there has been a 20% increase in their use during 2016 alone.

Also, the most popular emoji on Instagram is the camera 📷 – commonly used as a way of attributing photos, which might speak to the amount of pictures on Instagram which aren’t created by the accounts who uploaded them.

Instagram emojis 1

 One of Google’s most prolific advertisers is… Google itself

Google is the single biggest recipient of digital ad spend, with its well-oiled ad machine generating tens of billions of dollars of revenue every year. Now, an analysis by the Wall Street Journal and SEMRush has revealed that “ads for products sold by Google and its sister companies appeared in the most prominent spot in 91% of 25,000 recent searches related to such items. In 43% of the searches, the top two ads both were for Google-related products.”

Al Roberts took a look at the study’s methodology and findings over on ClickZ, and considered what this means in terms of conflicts of interest from the internet’s biggest search engine.

Mobile search and YouTube lead Alphabet’s revenue growth

Yesterday, Google’s parent company Alphabet announced its fourth-quarter earnings for 2016. Quartz reported that Wall Street was expecting Alphabet to post revenue of around $25 billion, but it in fact exceeded this prediction with more than $26 billion in revenue, up 22% over the same quarter the previous year.

A purple column graph showing Alphabet's revenue trending upwards, from roughly $7 billion in 2010 to $26 billion at the end of 2016.
Source: Atlas

In a press release, Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat said that the company’s “exceptional” growth was “led by mobile search and YouTube.” While this is interesting news for the search industry (especially ahead of Google’s mobile-first search index – coming soon to a search engine near you), the earnings report revealed that Alphabet’s non-search prospects haven’t been doing so well. Nearly 99% of Alphabet’s revenue came from Google, while its “Other Bets” – the other projects it is pursuing to diversify its revenue streams – posted a loss of roughly $1.1 billion.

Google is still finding ways to increase its revenue, and the company is by no means struggling to bring in the money. But thus far, its parent company hasn’t been too successful in shifting the focus away from the search and advertising it is best known for.

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