Another excellent post (long, but worth the read) from Aaron Wall, discussing the ever-growing impact of Google on businesses – no matter how big or small – that markets themselves online (ie just about every business). Scary times.
The always awesome Aaron Wall lets loose with another blistering rebuke of Google’s regular business practices.
When Google complains about censorship, they are not really complaining about what may be, but what already is. Their only problem is the idea that someone other than themselves should have any input in the process.
It’s a tricky area for me, since in large part I make my living dealing with both the good and bad of Google. The pendulum swings both ways of course, but in recent years they’ve swung firmly into evil territory.
“Bad guys are fundamentally lazy, like the rest of us. They’re looking for the highest return with the least amount of effort.”
“They want the weakest link, and we will never have Chrome be the weakest link.”
There’s a lot to agree with in this approach, after all most predators tend to pick on the vulnerable (even serial killers) and you can often survive using the ‘slightly faster runner’ tactic (ie the old joke about surviving a tiger attack: “I don’t have to be the fastest runner, I just have to be faster than you.”)
But there’s another factor to this, and that’s opportunity size. Microsoft Windows was (and probably still is) a much more secure operating system than Mac. But the sheer size of the install base meant that Windows was always the preferred target. It was more difficult, but the rewards were much higher.
And with Chrome’s market share now dominant, they are going to be the preferred target for hackers, no matter how much weaker their competitors might be.
Are “bad guys fundamentally lazy”? Probably. But the really, really bad guys aren’t. They’re extremely hard working.
Always funny to see these thing play out. Google announces a new (yes, yet another one) tool for reporting scraper sites, and the interwebz responds with a clear message: Google is the biggest scraper site of all.
I’ve started getting a few questions from clients and friends about it, so I thought I’d put together a simple collection of recommended links, and finish off with some of my thoughts. There’s been tons of discussion of course, but for a good summary of the main points, the following 4 or 5 posts will serve you well:
Aaron Wall has a good overview of the announcement and summary of the main effects (and if you are an SEObook member a very detailed analysis inside) as well as some interesting thoughts in the comments. Primarily it seems as though the changes are profit motivated, wrapped up in a ‘it’s faster and saves time’ ribbon.
Matt McGee provides a good analysis of the user experience, covering what kinds of searches work well and which don’t, as well as how it works (it’s localised and personalised) and how to disable it.
John Ellis covers probably the main concern of SEOs: that Google Instant will reduce the number of long tail searches (ie searches with 4 or more keywords). His post – Will Google Instant Kill the Long Tail? is pretty much on the money as far as I’m concerned.
Danny Sullivan has a great post – SEO is here to stay, It will never die – where he answers the inevitable ‘does this mean SEO is irrelevant now’ questions. Answer, no. Danny also puts Google Instant through the George Carlin ‘seven words’ test in this post.
Geordie Carswell clarifies how impressions are counted. Initially some advertisers were worried that their impression counts would be based on the instant search keystrokes. But as per the Google AdWords help, impressions are only counted when a user clicks, presses enter, selects a predicted query or results are displayed for 3+ seconds.
That 3 second rule… BTW here’s a possible gotcha – type a keyword term and hold the Enter key for 3 seconds. When you release you’ll be taken auto-magically to the first result (this result will be the first paid result if some are listed, otherwise the first organic result). Yep – in a competitive field, someone might be getting a bunch of unexpected clicks if they are in the first ad position. This could be good and bad. Good in terms of raising your CTR, bad in terms of sending you possibly inappropriate clicks. [Hat tip to the SEOBook forums (where I’m a member) for first discussing this issue.]
SEOmoz – strangely, no post from Rand on the Google Instant release…
Here’s the obligatory Introducing Google Instant video, complete with ‘zetabyte barrier’ and ‘magic’ references as well as footage of people being astounded by how useful Google Instant is – ‘oh look at that… I like that’.
To be fair, Google Instant is pretty cool. The impressive part is how they’ve managed to scale this out. As many have pointed out, the technology itself is not that innovative – Long Zheng had a similar concept he dubbed The Real Live Search (based on the Bing APIs) working over a year ago. And Yahoo had their own Instant Search plans as far back as 2005.
Instead what is impressive with Google Instant is how they are providing the results plus advertising so quickly. It’s a massive undertaking.
My experiences so far
Personally, as a user, I quite like the experience.
But putting my SEO and AdWords hat on, what are the effects?
It’s only early days so it’s not yet clear how big an impact this is going to have on SEO and PPC. In the private forums I’m a member of, the jury is still out, with people having varied experiences. With that caveat, I thought I’d share some of my own observations based on my own sites, and some of my clients’ sites.
The summary (thankfully) appears to be that there’s only minimal changes on both organic and paid fronts:
After a week I’m relived that our revenue producing sites have experienced little impact. Our organizing site for example has had a small decrease in organic traffic, mostly in long tail terms (which we rank really well for). This is understandable given that Google Instant is encouraging shorter keyword phrases. Users are getting results immediately – they get distracted and don’t bother finishing the longer phrase they might have otherwise entered (as discussed earlier).
The result of this is that I’ll probably start focussing on optimising for some of the shorter terms again – something I haven’t put a high priority on lately – as shorter terms in our niches tend to have lower buyer intent.
On client sites that have focussed on shorter terms there has been a slight rise in traffic. This is pleasing but isn’t significant enough to say is definitely Google Instant having an impact – it may just be seasonal fluctuations at play. It’ll take a few months to see whether the trends really pan out.
On the other side of the page (ie the paid results via AdWords) we’ve seem an increase in both impressions and clicks. Again this is understandable because in our AdWords campaigns we tend to be top heavy in the shorter terms. Our average CPC is also slightly up. As our campaigns mature the terms head more to longer tail but when I’m experimenting and looking for new terms to target the terms are usually shorter (and broad match even!). Google Instant means I’ll probably be keeping short terms in campaigns longer…
I don’t run any local campaigns on my own sites, but I do manage them for clients – and this has been one area of noticeable improvement. The click through rate on location based ad groups started increasing on 12 September (a few days after Google Instant was released) – I assume as it started rolling out by default to Australian users. I’ve had specific location keywords jumping from less than 1% CTR to up to 20% in some cases. CPCs are slightly down also, so this is a great result… but I suspect this window of opportunity won’t last long as most PPC managers cotton on to it.
Overall then, the Google Instant changes haven’t had a major negative effect on my SEO or PPC efforts, and there’s even some positive opportunity in the local side of things. So, Google Instant will affect my approach in some areas going forward.
But What About Bing?
Does Google Instant mean I should focus more on Bing?
This shouldn’t really change your attitude to Bing. Because basically, if you haven’t been targeting Bing yet, then you definitely should be! But not because of Google Instant. Instead you should be targeting Bing because it’s now heading to the number 2 spot, and commands close to a quarter of all US searches.
I get asked all the time how to target Bing over Google. It’s not a simple question to answer of course, but when forced I usually mention that Bing tends to favour fresh links – so if you’ve got a blog that’s regularly updated and getting freshly linked to, that’s a nice advantage to have (over a static web site that has an aging link graph). Just sayin’.
Google’s patent awarded last week for using location in advertising is interesting news (patent details here via VentureBeat). Not because of the dramatic effect (dun, dun, dah) it might have on the industry . No, the key point here is they submitted the patent for consideration back in September 2003.
This is significant because it shows the foresight Google has.
Sure, the concept of location isn’t new – people have been talking about it (or at least claiming to have talked about it) for more than a decade. And recently the talk has reachedmainstreamdiscussion. But most of that talk (myself included) has been about location enabled services.
Google on the other hand – with patents like the one mentioned above – was proactively making monetization plans seven (7) years ago. To put this in perspective time-wise, this is around the same time they launched AdWords.
This is another indication of the gulf between Google and its competitors (Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Apple, etc) when it comes to search. Google has been working on these concepts for so long now, it’s difficult to see how any of their competitors can catch up (especially when we see how primitive Steve Ballmer’s ‘insights’ remain – discussed later).
By the way, don’t get worried about Foursquare, Yelp and other location enabled services, they won’t be affected (contrary to what some blogs misunderstood) since this patent is about using location in advertising delivery. They’re safe. Rather, it’s the companies that use location in their advertising services that should be feeling uncomfortable – for example if Opera uses location information to alter inserted ads in the compressed pages they return.
Aside: Location versus Local Search
BTW, a little clarification on location in search versus local search (since they are often confused). Both are surprisingly complex but here’s a simple overview:
Local search is when a user searches for something specific to a location eg ‘sydney airport parking’ and the results that are returned take the location terms (‘sydney airport’ in this case) into account.
Using location in search is about search engines using your current location to tailor the results you get eg searching for ‘nearest hospital’ would be a situation where you’d experience this. The search engines have done this for years based on broad location (eg IP address based) and are constantly refining it based on other factors (eg GPS, Wi-Fi and cellular triangulation). And obviously, mobile devices are a particularly appropriate platform for this.
The two can overlap eg when you are physically at Sydney airport and search for ‘nearest parking’ you’ll likely get similar results – often referred to as the ‘where I am versus where I am going’ overlap.
But the big opportunity is when it comes to advertising. Advertisers want maximum control over where and how their ads are shown, and under what circumstances (eg based on the searcher’s specific location, and what they are searching for). Plus in most markets the location will be used for non included keywords (eg searching for ‘nearest dominos pizza’ can return results for other vendor’s locations as well – not just other vendor’s ads).
OK, so we know that location is important, right? Google obviously saw the dollar potential back in 2003.
It’s foresight like this that makes me wonder what Google is working on and patenting now.
By the way, I’ve been following Eric Schmidt a lot more lately. Not that I think he’s particularly charismatic, but I do think he’s fucking smart – even if he still doesn’t get privacy :-).
No matter what he’s questioned on, he brings an interesting perspective. Take his off-hand comments about Twitter (recorded a year ago) (thanks to Matt Cutts for the link). Most people think about social interaction. Eric thinks about storage and identity. Google is, at it’s core, a data company, and they approach Twitter in terms of data. I wonder what patent they’ve got in play there…
What about Microsoft?
Let’s move on to Microsoft. How will location, mobile advertising and Google’s patent affect them. In fact, how is Microsoft responding in general to the moving target that is Search. Perhaps Steve Ballmer can bring us up to speed…
This could have been *the* opportunity for Microsoft to give us some confidence about their search initiatives; some insights into how they’re going to change the game. But no. Instead Steve trotted out much of the same stuff he spoke about at MIX 08 (yes, two years ago). At the time I’d been impressed with his perspective, today I’m wondering what else he’s going to do… because passing references to personal search, social search, cash back, alluding to game-changer, and an understanding that the ‘search market is still young and we see opportunities’ won’t cut it.
Admittedly, part of the problem was Danny Sullivan’s questions – they were *soft hitting* to say the least. The main problem though is that Microsoft is so far behind the game, and Steve knows they need to focus on growing search share as their highest priority. Perhaps talking about any innovation they’ll be making in search would be construed as them getting ahead of themselves?
But I could hope couldn’t I? Hope to hear about them embracing key growth areas (eg location based search on mobile). Instead we were ‘treated’ to a discourse into regulation, anti-trust issues against Google and advertiser lock-ins before moving onto a few comments about the China situation. Sheesh! At least Steve rightly referred to them as ‘sideshows’. I thought we were here to learn about Microsoft’s insights into Search, not their response to agendas set by Google!
Towards the end of the chat, Danny finally gives Steve the gift question when he asks: What is the biggest opportunity in search?
The floor’s yours Steve. Please deliver. Please redeem yourself. Please give us hope.
Despair. Steve answers with a platitude: ‘The biggest opportunity is helping people get done what they need to get done’. Worse, he then outlines some of the problems he personally runs into when searching. Yes, Steve, but what are you doing about it? How are you solving this problem? Give us some substance. Details. Anything that would give us pause to consider moving to Bing. Anything but the stunning insight that you ‘see this as an opportunity’…
This, from the company that will be Google’s biggest competitor in search (as they will be once the Yahoo search deal completes later this year).
Back to that patent
And so we return to Google’s recently awarded patent. Should we be worried? Yes, we should.
Platitudes as the response from their nearest competitor
then we can be reasonably confident/scared they are only going to get stronger.
To this observer it seems that Microsoft is attempting to compete with the Google of 2005. And in the next five years they may even make some in-roads… At which stage they’ll be fighting a Google that is 10 years ahead of them.
It’s easy to think of search (ie searching on Google or Bing) as simply a (boring) research activity. And in turn, to think that all the innovation in search is about providing a ‘better’ result. But what does ‘better’ mean when it comes to search?
Joseph Pine’s TED talk on what consumers want is a good insight into how the search game is changing (and hat tip to Michael Gray for the link and thought). Joseph’s talk is from 2004, but his point is relevant now. It’s essentially this: people want an experience. And they want an experience with authenticity.
Consider how the UX and designer communities have grown in the last few years and you’ll have in an insight into how people want to interact with their programs/gadgets/sites… even their line of business (LOB) apps. They want a pleasurable experience. Something that they can relate to.
Why should search be any different? When searching, we want an experience. It’s why Bing added pretty pictures, flyouts and visual search, and why Google is pushing things like personalised search and social search (to name just a few examples – the rate of innovation in the engines is huge). It’s more than just the results. It’s how we relate to the results that matters.
Bing’s new Finance updates are nice. I guess. Here’s a search for ‘msft’ on Bing.
Click on the Investor Data button and you’ll see this:
Yep, that’s a charting error. But let’s assume that little issue will be resolved soon (and it may even be something on my machine – there’s a bit of beta stuff installed I have to admit). Clicking on OK gets us to the details:
A nice layout and links to the relevant analysis I’m interested in. You can click through to more details on MSN Money.
Here’s a comparison with the Google experience:
Clicking through to Google Finance gives this:
The big difference is the charting abilities. You can compare stocks, indexes and timeframes very simply. I much prefer the Google interface.
Finally, though a lament at the lack of localised updates. The Bing shots above are based on me choosing US as the location. Searching as an Australian, here’s all I see:
No Investor data, Yahoo Finance gets the top billing and even the sponsored results are lame.
The true test of any company, product or service is in their Christmas message right? (I’m joking).
So let’s consider how Microsoft adCenter and Google AdWords stack up against each other. I spend a fair bit of money with each, so it’s reasonable to expect something useful in the Inbox at Christmas time.
First up, Microsoft adCenter. Here’s the message I received a few days ago:
Cool, perhaps there’s a voucher or discount coupon waiting for me. I click the button and am taken to this page:
After a good 20-30 seconds of loading, I finally experience this delight:
Lame. But it gets lamer. Shaking the globe (wow – it’s interactive! – all designed in Flash of course) unleashes this tosh:
The wankery continues with:
And concludes with this masterful ‘Spread the Cheer’ call to action:
No voucher of course! No actual benefit. No actual gift. Instead a waste of my bandwidth and time. What’s really tragic is that some galah in marketing was paid to spend time and money getting this rubbish prepared.
Moving on to Google now, and here’s the email I received (at the address I use with AdWords):