Google I/O wraps up today, and now it’s opportune to highlight the coincidences of trends and announcements that Google is trumpeting in their Google gloryfest. My approach is to examine each of the highlights from their 3-hour keynote (!) and point out, from a business and web user perspective, what’s missing. Google has had their I/O… now, I get my Google I/O/U.
With assets such as annual revenues larger than that of all states except New York and California and Google Chrome’s 750M active users, Google is becoming the steward of your future. (“Good morning to the Senator from the great state of Google!”)
Google leverages their wealth of data and huge ad revenues to provide web users worldwide with free services. Americans are quite familiar with this revenue model. News comes in a free form, but you will be force-fed ads to earn the right to consume it.
In an effort to keep a clean balance sheet, it’s time to consider, “What does Google owe me?” and “What do I owe Google”?
Unification of Google Services
Microsoft Office Suite. Adobe Creative Suite. User Experience has vaulted thanks to some of the most-visible integrations of programs and cloud support. Uniting apps and functionality common to a vertical is old news. (We won’t even go into the controversy of ‘subscription-based software’ in the cloud). But it’s easy to see the wisdom behind merging Google+ and other Google services. User interfaces have undergone cosmetic changes that make them much more consistent across services. The integrations must go well beyond superficial, and that behind-the-scenes sharing of data has begun. Sharing of data within Google is well within their Terms of Service, so there is no protest. But has their integration efforts gone far enough? Most think not, if you read the forums and comments.
Google I/O/U: More effective options to combine accounts for improved cross-functionality and User Experience. Merge Google+ Local (formerly Places), Gmail, YouTube, etc. Put users in control of how the merging works.
Google I/O/U: While I am at it, let me state that Google services require better interfaces. Across the board. Most users I consult with on a daily basis have the same disregard (and sometimes, disrespect) for Google User Interfaces and User Experience. They suck. The level of simplicity and cosmetic appearance has improved, but have they become more intuitive? Many think not.
Big Data is a Big Deal
Google has earned their seat at the Big data table (Hadoop, anyone?), as advertisers push the edge of peta-scale data accumulation and synthesis. Some appreciate the targeted advertising that results. Some are horrified by the creepiness of so much ‘personal’ data being shared and sold and acted on.
The lack of debate about whether this is creepy or cool, the technology industry has been ranked the world’s most-trusted for the seventh consecutive year, according to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer.
At the same time, Android developer Dan Nolan of Australia found that Google provides programmer access to personal identity of app buyers, reviewers and trials.
Google I/O/U: There is nothing more valuable than User Trust. Earn it. Don’t burn it.
Google+ has a lovely, new layout on the desktop that has been described as being more like Pinterest. More columns. Wow. More data visible at once on the screens of a dying race of desktop machines. Zzz.
Google I/O/U: Mobile experience of Google+ on iOS is only fair at best. It needs better profile edibility, for one thing. Make it so.
Cards are a visual nicety, that ‘flip’ over to reveal more data on the reverse (shades of MacOS ‘Widgets’). This plays on a visual metaphor that is familiar to consumers, and provides a framework for greater use of that convention. Cards come in six ‘flavors’ and mix your habits, searches, commuting routes and more into an ever-tightening web of useful information.
Google I/O/U: Droid Voice Search and Cards have invaded iOS. How long before advertisers have the option to use the reverse of these cross-platform cards to flip to reveal Ads? Better still, ads that use all of the Circles, Search and other data to be tightly targeted, at massive scale?
Related Hashtags emerged from Google I/O as Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr and other Social Networks ride Twitter’s coattails to parlay content keywords into an ecosystem that enables better-informed Search, brand messaging and tracking of trends. google’s version will likely leverage their hoary old content analysis algorithm to discern keywords, and then their AI backend of search queries and subsequent search queries and personal preferences to add Related Keywords in the form of #hashtags. Excellent integration of a maturing user convention is on the horizon. Whether this becomes reflexive or intrusive depends on implementation, thus, it’s a crapshoot, but worth the gamble.
Google I/O/U: Bottle that Related Hashtag ability. Make it a form of metadata (similar to Facebook’s pervasive OGP) to reside in the Social Media, or, as an App that can be added. Open Graph Protocol affords Facebook an eye into one’s off-network web activities, provides authentication services, and records Likes and other forms of interaction. Could Google drive in the harpoon to leverage a similar inside job on Facebook and other Social Media? If so, Google’s own ability to provide incisive hashtagging could also feed those instances into search for general consumption. The mind reels at the possibilities. Better perception of social mentions for Google. Better and more immediate social monitoring for users, right there in their Search. For free, the Google way.
Auto-Enhance. OK, welcome to the club. Auto-Awesome. Better. Auto-Animations. All bets are off. The claim is that image processing and AI can store and examine all of your photos (those that you don’t hide from Google) and integrate portions to arrive at a better result (described as gathering all smiling faces from a series of group portraits to amalgamate one image where every subject is smiling. Other features include Collages (which any graphic software can do), Animations (AniMoto and other web services have done this for years), Panoramas (heck, my daughter’s Fuji digicam does that during shooting), Collections (from masses of uploaded photos). The good news and the bad news are simply two sides of the same coin. Yes, it’s automated. And, yes, it happens without you.
Google I/O/U: Control, Privacy — ask first. Give users an editing environment so they can have the fun. They will endorse the result better when they have put their fingerprint on it. Sharing will likely increase as a result. Oh, and please retrain all of those artists and photographers.
Google Talk Voice Search
Better than Siri? This could be the case, as Google sells the public back Google’s accumulated knowledge of themselves (G+, Google Search, Gmail, etc.).
Google I/O/U: Conversing with a personal digital assistant (RIP, Steve Jobs) is fun and all. Give me the rest of the robot.
Music to My Ears
All Access, Google’s newly-announced $9.99 monthly streaming music service provides interest-based ‘radio station’ playlist suggestions (patent issues, anyone?). It also enables local ‘storage’ of songs. Great. Rdio and Spotify must be quaking in their boots. Owing to the service’s ubiquity, iTunes may develop a small tremor.
Google I/O/U: Wired magazine described the Netflix contest to inspire a better algorithm to surface “content suggestions” for movie-watchers. This is a huge challenge. Will it be any easier for All Access to stimulate users to more listening based on recorded interests?
A Google developer advocate announces that they, “want the whole world to play together”. Development APIs come and go, morph and change, but their own Play developer API is now open and platform-agnostic. This goes beyond the “Open Garden” concept of moving one’s gameplay fluidly from a tablet to a laptop. Games developed on this platform can be platform agnostic. Droid devices can play games against iOS devices and other platforms.
Google I/O/U: Riveting games.
On the desktop, more usable screen area will be devoted to map. Then, Google will now scatter data all over the Map. Connections. Nearby. Search data.
Google I/O/U: Be graceful in the visual interface. Some users will not appreciate clutter on the maps they are trying to see.
Google Fiber did not make it to the list of Keynote highlights. As their noble experiment proceeds, to provide connection speeds 100 times faster than most of today’s broadband internet access, are consumers excited over the prospect of instant downloads and high-def communications? The tech industry, media execs and others in industry have been following the progress as it rolls out to more cities (experiment, or slow roll-out?). Yet, as disruptive as this could become, where is the hoopla? I recall a time recently, when networks ran to keep up with CPU speed. Now, CPU speeds offered by mobile devices and a faltering desktop PC industry will race to chase new throughput speeds. Whoa. Paradigm shift.
Google I/O/U: Testimonials. Consumers need to tell America whether Google Fiber has been a life-changing experience, or not.
Google’s efforts to entwine ‘products’, combine knowledge bases, share user profiles, and cross-pollinate are well-received. This is a welcome attempt to make strategic sense of how, “Google’s own services have been fragmented or confused at times”, according to Google Android Leader Sundar Pichai.
After-the-fact, ad hoc hybridization is a sloppy, inefficient process. In addition to opportunity, it creates development dead-ends and evolutionary cul-de-sacs (anyone recall the duck-billed Platypus?). But that process is organic and evolutionary. God would have a plan. Google has a process. It burgeons, however inefficiently, into the future. Skynet, anyone?
Google I/O/U: Continue innovating, but for goodness’ sake, don’t be evil. Have a plan, and share it.
Should my brand be using Google+? That is a question posed to many SEO and online marketing professionals by business owners who are novices to online practices. Coincidentally, I read a post this morning, calling social’s benefit to business into question. Google’s social media platform is still very young; the passing of time will help us better assess its true value, but immediately, considering the platform allows for brand pages, it’s another source for online marketing in the least.
Estimates and theories can only get your brand so far; maybe viewing the traction of other brands first is a good place to start. Fair enough? That makes sense, right? Why don’t you keep track of how the Cadbury brand fares in using the Google+ platform?
Is your brand preparing to launch a new product or service? Such efforts could cut into your marketing budget, but your brand can use social media to facilitate a launch, such as the Cadbury brand did, saving money, but not cutting corners when it comes to exposure.
What I thought was additionally savvy was the leveraged dynamic between multiple social media sites. Cadbury has accumulated over 900,000 Facebook fans; the former using accrued fans to facilitate the success of the Google+ page launch. The process seems to be working well; the endeavor fielded over 500 likes and 181 comments and counting…
The cost of such a process has to be little to nothing (the cost of in-house resources uploading an image and orchestrating the Google+ page?). I encourage all business owners to track the development of this Cadbury campaign; take notes and consider using some of the same practices in your own efforts.
In addition, the new candy bar’s wrapper is infused with Blippar technology, a new application for smart phones. Whoa, the Cadbury brand has been doing its homework; maybe they learned by surveying the trials of other brands; you can too!
Are you on team Edward or team Jacob? Oops wrong drama; I meant, are you on team Google or team Twitter? I’m on team “user experience” myself; I always had to blaze my own trails. If you have been vacationing on Mars the last few days, there’s been some talk in the SEO world regarding Google’s modification to its Google+ social platform. There’s no need to reiterate a multitude of Google+/Twitter information you can read on the topic popping up here, there, and everywhere on the Web. What I would like to call attention to is my disappointment as a user.
A Safe Assumption?
What is the Web? I always thought it was a place to secure information – relevant, authoritative, objective information. How can I access that coveted information? I must use a SE (search engine). Google, as everyone knows, is the leading search engine (right now). Okay, Google is the big kid on the playground; as a user, I’ll assume the best, objective info is on that SE, especially considering it continuously modifies algorithms and unleashes a Panda on “naughty” Web masters, right?
As most eyes have read, Danny Sullivan wrote about what we should expect from an SE. It should transcend business and the self-serving sentiments of mortals. Search engines should be more like Santa, a selfless champion of goodwill for all. Would Santa leave a few battery-operated presents under my tree, purposely omitting the batteries so I need to buy them from Santa’s Electronic Boutique? Not my Santa!
I think Google is in the middle of an identity crisis. Ultimately “Google” is ONE brand, playing several roles. Google is a search engine provider, the biggest (and best?). Also, Google is a provider of additional products and services, like the Google+ platform. Hey, Google staffs a lot of smart people; I’m continuously impressed by the technology and level of thought produced from the brand. However, if you’re producing goods and services (and making partnerships with other businesses producing services and products), then leveraging your OWN search engine to offer them, there’s going to be a noticeable conflict, yes? Do I blame Twitter, Facebook, SEO experts, novices, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers for calling, “Shenanigans!”? No, I don’t.
Why am I not on team Google or Twitter? Why remain neutral, like Switzerland, in this debate? Because like you, the reader, I’m ultimately a browser, one who desires great service from (any) search engine. Twitter and Google are in a tiff over Twitter’s availability in “Your World” results and otherwise. Google raised a good point in reminding them of a previous business understanding. A “business” understanding, ah, perhaps that’s where the issue lies. Twitter raised a good point, we the people do use the service very often, depending on the platform to deliver real-time information. Shouldn’t a search engine experience most definitely include such a popular, widely used and effective service? I think so. Do you?
We the Users
If we all agree, why are we, the users, punished for such business-related conflicts? If Google and Twitter cannot work this out, if Google can’t cure its identity crisis, understanding it might not be able to juggle multiple personalities at once, what suffers more than the revenue streams of these respective brands? The ultimate online experience suffers, as well as we the browsers – plus one for business, plus zilch for users.
One of your new, enthusiastic SEO clients, especially one who owns a local business, searches Google for one of his keywords only to see one of his pages ranking very well. Only a week into his campaign, he frantically calls his project manager to relay the awesome news only to learn the truth: his search results are just that, his.
After several whadayamean‘s and long pauses, a history lesson begins on how Google personalizes results. He did his search from his home computer, which is just a mile from his business. He was also logged in to his Gmail account, has a Google+ profile and visits his website several times a day, usually from Google.To make it easy to understand, let’s visit each layer of search personalization.
How Location Affects Search Results
Where you are in the world helps to determine which search results Google will display. More accurately, Google will use the IP address of your computer to assume your location. But why does Google care where you are? Well, that depends on the intent of your query.
According to an internal Google document meant to train human quality raters, Google is looking to figure out if you want to do something (such as visit a restaurant), know something (think Wikipedia) or go to a specific brand’s website (such as Sony).
OK, so what does this have to do with your location? Well, if you’re looking to check out that new Italian restaurant near your apartment (a new one opens in my town every 5 minutes), then you probably don’t want to see restaurant results from all over the country.
This level of search personalization is active for all users, whether they are signed in to Google or not. Additionally, searching for something that returns a variety of places will actually change the layout of the Google result page.
How Web History Influences Search Results
In 2007 Google really started to personalize search results with Web History, which could track your movement from page to page via the Google Toolbar with the PageRank meter turned on. In 2009, Google increased personalization further by giving precedence to certain pages based on your behavior as well as listings created from your online social network.
Google’s search algorithm originally gave pages a rank based on how many links it received, where the links came from and the relevance of the linking pages. Now, Google adds a human element to the calculation. If you follow X person online, you must consider this person an authority on some level. If X person visits Y page, and a connection can be made between you and person X for a related query, Google may assume that this page will provide value to you as well.
For example, if Jack visited the website for Pizza Place A and you are friends with Jack online, Google may want to show you that same page even if that page would not normally rank based on the original Backrub algorithm.
How Google Plus Personalizes Search Results
On January 10, 2012, Google did what most Internet marketing professionals expected them to do: fully integrate personalization and search with Google Plus. Read Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land post regarding Search Plus Your World to see what’s in this latest update. (Hint: you’re going to see more stuff from Google Plus in your search results.)
So what does this all mean?
As a business owner with a website and an online marketing campaign it can be frustrating to know that what you see when you search isn’t what the rest of the world sees. The good news is that some level of personalization has existed for years. So if your SEO campaign has continued to be successful, your SEOs have already helped your website adapt to personalized searches by utilizing the power of social media.
The bad news is that Google has changed the game yet again to promote one of their services. And now it seems that adding a Google Plus page for your business to your social media portfolio is almost mandatory if you want to stay ahead of the competition. At least until Facebook opens its data to Google.
For now, Search Plus Your World should probably be called Search Plus Your Google Plus Minus Your Facebook.
Social media popularity is already believed to affect Google’s search results (for Bing, this is fact), but Search Plus Your World takes social signals to a whole new level.
Prior to Google+ entering the social media market, businesses (both large and small) had 4 major platforms including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube to market their business. The release of Google+ for business gives marketers and advertisers some additional features that are not available on other social media platforms. Noteworthy features include Circles, +1 integration, and Analytics. Here’s a look inside the new features and why they are beneficial:
Circles: Groups of contacts can now be segmented to specific groups or “circles”. This added feature allows users to classify contacts so that specific resources (posts, articles, links, etc.) can be sent directly to the right circle. This deeper segmentation allows marketers to target groups directly and create a unique experience, one that other social media platforms do not offer.
Why we like it: It’s every marketers dream come true to segment their cliental into specific groups. This added feature allows just that.
+1: When Google released their +1 tab, the company came right out and said it… “This is similar to Facebook’s ‘like’ and Twitter’s ‘tweet’ button.” When fellow contacts +1 a site, link, ad, and photo, they are giving their seal of approval. The deep integration with +1 provides a recommended list that contacts find useful. For business pages, this helps establish credibility by giving a seal of approval to pages they believe their contacts may view as useful.
Why we like it: Businesses can establish a deeper connection and further interaction with contacts. For example, a search engine optimization firm might +1 a news article that applies to a specific clients industry. Deeper connection and credibility is the focus here.
Analytics: Evaluating and reviewing content and its effectiveness is key. Site administrators are given an in-depth analytical platform that evaluates the strength of the Business page and includes key metrics such as amount of visitors, unique visitors, time on site, geographic data and more. Currently, Facebook offers “insights” however Google’s background in analytics gives them the sure edge.
Why we like it: Evaluating performance is the only way to see if the page is useful and is worth the time. Visitors and time on site are key metrics that will illustrate just how well your company is leveraging the business page, and clearly illuminates areas for improvement.