Google Launches “What do you love?”

30 06 2011

What do you love?

While the introduction of Google+ took center stage this week, Google was quietly rolling out a new product, What Do You Love? (WDYL) behind the scenes.  Its clean and aesthetically pleasing design delivers a useful conglomeration of a number of their products.  Appealing to people’s sense of fun and personal interests, WDYL lets people search for things they “love”, while showcasing a wide array of Google’s lesser known (and well known) products in one centralized dashboard.  A brilliant stab at marketing, really.  It delivers as a dashboard  mash-up of Google’s products (potentially disguised as a marketing vehicle).  However, the results are nonetheless intriguing and an interesting tool for some off the cuff competitive research.

What is WDYL? – Initial Thoughts

With no formal announcement regarding the new WDYL service by Google, the intended purpose and functionality has yet to go public.  WDYL allows users to search for something you love (bonus points for the cute heart “search button”) and serves a dashboard of results containing the thing you love, conveniently placed in a “call to action” for one of Google’s many products.

  • The merging of people’s “loves” (similar to “likes” as Facebook provides) with each product is a clever way of utilizing things people are passionate about and associating those things with a Google product.
  • Each Google product module headline on the dashboard contains a “call to action” to use that Google product to find out more about what it is the user loves.  A few of these include (using an example search for “mac and cheese”):
    • Google Maps: “Find mac and cheese nearby”
    • Google Image Search: “See pictures of mac and cheese”
    • Google Earth: “Scour the earth for mac and cheese”
    • Google Alerts: “Alert me about mac and cheese”
    • Google SketchUp: “Explore mac and cheese in 3D”
    • YouTube: “Watch videos of mac and cheese”
  • To do any of the above actions requires that the user actually use the Google product.
  • Google has done a good job of integrating familiar products (Maps, YouTube) with the unfamiliar (SketchUp, Moderator) which may be a good long-term strategy for keeping users interested long enough to gain visibility for their other more obscure products.
  • Additionally, with each search a new order and placement of each of Google’s product modules is displayed.  So users are not always seeing Images or News at the top of their dashboard.  Patent Search or Moderator may secure the top of the dashboard, high visibility location.

What do you love?

So, if WDYL is successful at promoting some of these lesser known products and gaining users, would Google failures like Wave (among others) have had a chance to shine?  Or, is this just a fun exploration tool to use on rainy days?  Bigfoot followers might be interested to see the Google Earth result that implores them to “Scour the earth for bigfoot”.

There are definitely kinks to work out, as many searches miss the mark.  The templatized style of WDYL doesn’t meld together well with every single search, or fit into the same warm and fuzzy “what do you love?” category.  With relevancy being at the core of Google’s mission, I’m surprised that they haven’t found a clever way to combat more negative searches such as “suicide”, which returns a Google calendar result with a “Plan your suicide events” headline.  These types of unintelligent results could be a turnoff for searchers.

It will be interesting to see how these standalone products can work together and how successful or unsuccessful WDYL is in the coming months.  It’s too soon to tell if WDYL has staying power, or if it fade eventually fade into obscurity.   In the meantime, how do you plan to use Google’s “What Do You Love” service?

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Google May Finally Have Social Legs with Google+

30 06 2011

google plus

Tuesday was a big day for Google.  The long anticipated social network from Google, speculated and leaked for the past year on all the major tech blogs, finally made its debut.  Google+ is the latest effort by the search giant to gain a foothold in the space currently dominated by Facebook.  Google’s previous attempts with Wave (lots of potential but too buggy and slow) and Buzz (failed from the start with privacy concerns) were utter failures.  This time, there is an entire set of products within the service, each designed to bring social connections to Google in different ways:

  • Google+ Circles: At the heart of Google+ is Circles.  To counter the Facebook and Twitter philosophy of openness, Google+ users have to group their contacts into specific circles right from start.  Twitter does have Lists, but they’re optional, and Facebook makes grouping friends too complicated. Plus, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg thinks Facebook users just don’t want to do that.  From initial accounts, Circles are easy to set up with drag-and-drop and attractive animations.
  • Google+ Stream: Your home base will be the Stream.  But it’s not much different from the Twitter feed or Facebook Newsfeed.
  • Google+ Sparks: Sparks is a topical search engine, where users can find content (blogs, videos, etc) on theirinterests in one central location.  Users can bookmark their favorite items, share with friends, and comment as well.
  • Google+ Hangouts: The first truly unique feature to Google+ that could really give it a leg up on competition is Hangouts.  It’s essentially an open-ended group video chat that friends in your Circle can join at anytime they see a Hangout happening.  Whoever is talking, Hangouts will automatically make their window the biggest.  Friends can also share content with each other during the chat.
  • Google+ Huddle: The other big feature that could help grow Google+ is Huddle, a group-messaging feature that spans Android, iOS, and SMS.  Blackberry’s BBM users are very familiar with group messaging and the latest version of iOS (5) will also have a similar messaging feature.
  • Instant Upload: Using the Google+ Android app, users can upload photos or videos quickly to their Google+ Stream.  But oddly enough, photos uploaded here are not uploaded to Picasa, the major Google photo service.
  • Location: Users can check-in to Places and geo-tag their updates.

Pretty much all the tech blogs got an early invite.  These first looks have included positive reactions, talk about ease of use, and eye-catching aesthetics.  People like this latest social effort and want to keep coming back.  However, Google is being very cautious right now, insisting on calling it a “project” and not a finished “product”.  It’s in a very limited test run, and invites are slowly rolling out.  Whether Google+ outlives Wave or Buzz is yet to be determined, but it looks like for now Google finally has a social product to build and nurture.  We’re certainly excited to test it out, but if you’ve have been lucky enough to get one, give us your take.  What do you think of Google+ ?





Google Playing with Hotel Price Ads…Again

14 04 2011

Google is, again, testing hotel prices in the search results. This first surfaced back in June/July of 2010. Google began to include prices in Google Maps/Local search results for hotels. I thought this was cool and interesting back then, but my how my mind has changed since this feature has resurfaced.

So Google tested this feature for a few months, then it disappeared. Well, now they are back again, as was noted in this Search Engine Land article written by Matt McGee. This time, instead of the hotel prices residing just in Google Maps, the pricing is being included in the “7 Pack”, “O Pack” and the OneBox. as seen in the following images (taken from the same Search Engine Land Article).

This is groovy for consumers seeking to find the best hotel prices quickly, without having to visit the multitude of OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) in their initial searches. At first thought, I assumed the OTAs wouldn’t be very happy, but this actually gives several OTAs a nice boost in visibility. I see Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com and Priceline popping up the most. A user just simply needs to click on the price and you are whisked away to that hotel’s “profile” page on that particular site. OK, that’s great from a consumer/OTA perspective, but what I’m concerned about is the affect this feature will have on each hotelier if this feature actually moves out of beta and is rolled out.

This feature could potentially cost hoteliers a lot of money. Each hotel that sells rooms through an OTA has to pay a significant “commission” on every room/night booked. These can range from 10%, all the way up to 20%. This is a big chunk of change for hotels to give up. Now, the argument could made that without the OTAs these hotels wouldn’t reach full capacity (marketing themselves), and maybe that’s true, but if the large majority of consumers are purchasing rooms via OTAs, and not direct through the hotel’s website, the hotelier is dropping a lot of cash (and usually at discounted rates) which affects bottom lines and revenue. When searching for hotel rooms the user would generally click through to the hotel’s website from the search results (talking specifically about the local search results), but with this new feature Google is directing users from the search results directly to the OTAs if they click on the price dropdown. The hotelier’s website is included in the dropdowns, but it does not include price, and it’s always listed at the bottom.

If this feature does roll out, I think there are going to be many, many upset hoteliers as they’ll be dishing out lots of cash to the likes of Expedia, Hotels.com, etc. I didn’t even touch on those hotels that don’t participate with the OTAs because it is just too expensive for them. What does this mean for them? If a price dropdown isn’t next to their name, will that hurt credibility and reduce clicks to their sites? I guess we’ll see, but I don’t like this feature if I’m a hotelier.





Google Search Heads Social

30 03 2011

Google has just released a new feature called Google +1.  This new feature gives users the ability to +1(Like) or add a tally to search results, which in turn will help add a socially shared relevancy measurement for search results.  Developers will also have the ability to add the +1 buttons to website pages which in turn will feed your pages overall tally.  Currently users will only be able to see the +1 tally’s from their contacts within their Gmail (or Google Talk) chat list, “My Contacts” group in Google Contacts and People they’re following in Google Reader and Google Buzz.

Google has hinted that they will monitor participation with +1, which in turn could affect its involvement in future search algorithm changes(Think Hotpot for organic).  This feature is being rolled out as I write this, so you will have to opt-in through Google Labs/Experiments if you currently aren’t seeing it.





Google Social Search Evolves Again

17 02 2011

The days where everyone using Google sees the same 10 search results for a particular keyword have slowly passed us by.  Google has managed to integrate video, image, and product information in the search engine results page (SERP) over the past few years. Local search results through Google Places and products like Google Boost have had a huge influence for our clients.  And in 2009, Google introduced Social Search to the world.  If you were logged in to your Google account and scrolled down to the bottom of the SERP, you would see how your social connections related to that search query, whether it be a shared link or blog post of theirs.

Well just this morning Google announced they are pushing the search results envelope even further.  Now, social search results will be mixed in the main organic section based on relevance.  These social results don’t just appear when you friend on Twitter coincidentally shared the same article that’s in the #1 spot.  According to Google’s Product Management Director of Search Mike Cassidy, these social connections may actually influence the rankings you see in Google.

Google Social Search

The other major difference was that with the old version of Social Search, you only saw results from your social network only when they created or shared something through their Google profile.  Now Google can match up information from your friends on Twitter, Flickr, Quora and potentially even more in the future.  This creates an even greater potentially for each and every Google user to have their own unique SERP.  Facebook is the one major platform that is not included in this announcement and Cassidy was a little more vague on. However, Facebook is Bing’s territory and search results there can be influenced by your Facebook friends.

So where does this leave small business and site owners?  We’ve always believed that social networks like Twitter and Facebook can be valuable tools when you listen to your audience and create genuine relationships, not spammy sales pitches every hour. Providing valuable content and interactions with your audience now have the greater potential to affect their search results.  Plus, it sounds like Google has algorithms for these search results to weed out overtly spam content too.  The news today reminds us that you shouldn’t obsess over being #1 for all your relevant keywords, as we all now know everyone’s search results can be drastically different.  Instead, try to focus on your bottom line – driving qualified traffic that will interact with your site and convert well.

Do you like what Google is doing with Social Search?  Tell us your thoughts below.





Lessons From JC Penney’s Black Hat Controversy

14 02 2011

The New York Times on Saturday published an in-depth investigative report about retail company J.C. Penney’s seemingly amazing organic search results. For a wide variety of product category keywords, JC Penney was appearing number 1 in the organic results area.  It was even besting some websites of product manufacturers.  And all of this was happening during the holiday season, which is one of the most important times for online retailers.

Unfortunately, not all was as it seemed.  With the help of a SEO firm, the Times discovered that the Penney website was benefiting from a black-hat paid link scheme.  Many of the links were coming from unrelated, “spammy” sites with just the perfect anchor text.   Penney is denying they had any knowledge and has since fired their SEO firm SearchDex, and some of the links appeared to have been created through a site called TNX.net.  The scheme is probably more complex than what the Times discovered, but it’s a great reminder for small business website owners to be more proactive and diligent in their online efforts:

  • If you’re completely new the concept of SEO, read through Google’s own beginner’s guide to Search Engine Optimization.  It contains all the basics including how to promote your site the right way.
  • Conduct white-hat link development methods including valuable content creation (so people will naturally want to link to it), niche directory submission, press release optimization, or article marketing.
  • Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools.  Use it to track how search engines are viewing your site and see inbound links pointing to your site.  Bing also offers a similar product, and both are essential in proactive site management.
  • If a SEO agency handles your optimization efforts or are looking for one, be sure that they are credible and transparent with their link building efforts.  If it’s true that JC Penney didn’t know SearchDex was participating in black-hat efforts, then they didn’t do their due diligence.

Another reason to stay pro-active in your site and monitoring inbound links, is that it’s plausible that your competitors could sign up for these spam link schemes and send the links directly to your site.  If your site is caught and penalized like JC Penney, your competitors come out on top.  According to the article, on Feb. 1 JC Penney has an average organic ranking of 1.3.  On February 8 it was down to average position 4, and just 2 days later it was 52 (6 pages deep in Google’s search results!).  Large, multi-national companies have other revenue streams that could make up for penalized search results for a while.  But for small businesses owners, oversights like that could lead to huge ramifications.





7 SEM Trends for 2011

8 02 2011

After spending the last month reading list after list making SEM predictions for 2011 I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring.  When you truly look at predicting anything, the best case scenario is you’re right and the worst case scenario, well at least you made an effort.  So, without further ado, here are my top 7 SEM predictions for 2011:

1.  Above the Fold Content Becomes Less Crucial

One of the biggest things to take away from the infographic craze is that users are willing to scroll if you have engaging content.  Virtually every mouse has a scroll feature; create amazing content so I want to use it.



2.  HTML5 and CSS3 Will Begin to Go Mainstream

The general population is afraid of change.  Most tech people are early adopters and embrace change.  Now we just need the people building sites for clients that are still using IE6 to let them do it the right way.  Listen to Smashing and start using HTML 5 and CSS3 today.

3.  The Death of Foursquare: As big players integrate location-based services better, the smaller pioneers will fade.

Let me start by saying I’ve never been into letting people know where I’m at so they can go to my house and kidnap my dog while I’m out drinking.  Therefore, I may not be the authority on any this issue.  However, I do hate having to juggle four different apps in order to let everyone know what I’m having for dinner, where I’m having it, that I just became the Mayor and that I checked in to save 20% on appetizers.

4.  Google’s Disdain for RSS Will Continue to Grow

With rumors already swirling about Google moving resources away from Google Reader, it’s likely that support for RSS will fade overall.  Personally, I used to be into RSS as it’s an excellent way to keep abreast to the latest news and industry blogs, however that all went away when Twitter became my professional social vehicle and Facebook became my personal social vehicle.  Using Twitter and using it right helps to filter out all the fluff and only read content that is valued by people who know more than I do.

5.   Blekko Will Become an Important FREE Tool for SEO Professionals

Blekko has already made efforts to supply SEO data to users.  I think the next step in the process is to allow the data to be exported and manipulated.  Stay Tuned…

6.  Local Search Will Drive More Customers to Brick & Mortar Stores

Yelp reported that in December of 2010 35% of all searches on Yelp.com came from a mobile app. Please take into account that this number doesn’t even include the people who go directly to the site through their mobile browser instead of using the app.  People are searching locally and on the go because they want to spend locally.  Looking at Google’s shift towards local content only reinforces the fact.

7.  Customer Reviews Will Take Center Stage

One of the biggest obstacles working with companies that are just now jumping on the local bandwagon is that it’s difficult to get an influx of reviews.  As local businesses begin to optimize for local search, expect to be asked to review a business more and more as you’re walking out the door with your lunch.

In the end, there were a million different predictions I could have thrown out there. Check back next year and we’ll see how I did.

 

What are your thoughts/predictions for 2011 and beyond?








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