Microhoo “Post-Mortem Post” – Part 3: Delusions of Scale

The ups and downs of the Micro-hoo saga continue unabated, with renewed Carl Icahn intrigue being the flavor of the week. The noose that irate shareholders have been verbally tying around Jerry Yang’s neck seems to be getting tighter all the time.

But this time even usually stalwart Micro-hoo cheerleader Michael Arrington of TechCrunch is saying that Microsoft may be going too far in its Machiavellian machinations to want to feast on Yahoo’s carcass.

Meanwhile David Kirkpatrick, senior editor of Fortune Magazine, argues that Microsoft will inevitably buy Yahoo, making the case that it has gotten personal for Redmond ever since Google wrested the crown of perceived "greatest and most powerful tech company" away from them.

But in arguing that Microsoft desperately needs Yahoo’s scale, Kirkpatrick falls into the same "scale will solve things" thought trap that is deluding Microsoft, and plenty of commentators throughout the blogosphere in both posts and comments as well.

Currently Google’s monetization advantage vs. Yahoo (confirmed, and likely similar vs. MSN/Live Search), that comes from their focused execution is somewhere around 50-100%. And it has NOTHING to do with "scale".

It has everything to do with the advertisers being able to afford higher average bids due to higher average conversions. Period.

Conversion is the only thing that ultimately matters to an advertiser. Scale is a straw-man. If YHOO or MSFT had equal or better conversion numbers for the same keywords, then advertisers would jump on that. The individual advertiser could care less about the total query share numbers, or total number of clicks, they only care about their ads converting when they are being shown and clicked on.

If you mail a direct response ad, do you care what total percentage of the region or nation that mailing list reaches? No way. You care about the conversion numbers, because if an ad doesn’t convert you can’t long afford to mail/run it. In search ads, if you fail to convert the clicks you get, as a small business you can be bankrupt before you know it. It’s that simple.

The total volume of searches or even clicks for a keyword on Google, Yahoo, or MSN/Live has little or nothing to do with it. It’s simply that at lower conversion rates on Yahoo or MSN/Live, advertisers have a harder time making the economics work for them.

Steve Ballmer should change his tune at the next Microsoft company meeting:

Conversion, conversion, conversion…

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Microhoo: The “Post-Mortem Post” – Part 2

OK, this isn’t the post I meant to write, but the (pseudo-)developments are simply happening too fast to catch one’s breath.

Today, Microsoft apparently walked away from a Yahoo deal more thoroughly than they previously had, which in itself makes little sense and proves how much Ballmer and Co. have kept themselves in suspended animation during this ongoing saga.

Now, as far as Yahoo was concerned, we knew that they wouldn’t get a lot done given the continued wheeling and dealing by billionaire investor Carl Icahn. Despite Jerry Yang’s pleading with the troops to keep their noses to the grindstone, there is simply no way that Yahoo has not been deeply affected:

I was at Sprint in a former life at the time when the proposed merger with WorldCom was going on, which ultimately, and it turns out mercifully, was blocked by the DOJ. And I can tell you from that experience that very little of substance beyond basic maintenance mode happened inside Sprint for well over 6 months.

All eyes, minds, and water-cooler conversations were cued on the proposed deal and its ramifications. And that was under relatively amicable circumstances mind you.

So, with the pronouncements by MSFT today, Yahoo’s stock taking a big hit, and Yahoo in turn announcing that a deal to outsource search ad serves to Google may be happening as soon as today, someone might be tempted to say: The nightmare is over.

Or Is It?

Despite all of the "titillation", the Icahn back-and-forths, the rumor, the innuendo, and the inflated/bruised egos, let’s take a step back and look at the fundamentals of this:

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