Posts tagged Google’s

Excited about Google’s new map ads? You should be!

Google Maps ads are changing to help local businesses become more visible. Columnist Will Scott discusses the four features you should be most excited about.

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Google’s power of censorship: who controls the controllers of the internet?

Imagine a world where Google has no secrets, where all search engines play fair, and where SEO doesn’t have to be synonymous with “page one.” Sound like a fairy tale?

The Internet is often cast as the great democratizer, and Google its noble gate-keeper. There’s no doubt that search engines help us easily navigate the web, but we have to remember that Google is a corporation, not a public service.

Our faith in its wisdom and guidance is based on little more than a carefully planned PR scheme. Behind that curtain, few of us really have any idea what’s going on. That kind of blind trust may be dangerous for content creators and consumers alike, both in terms of what we see and what we get.

In a recent column for U.S. News & World Report, artificial intelligence expert Dr. Robert Epstein detailed 10 different ways Google uses blacklists to censor the Internet. Some of them seem perfectly within reason – noble, even: banning weapons sales through its shopping service, for instance, or blocking payday loan sharks from AdWords.

Few are going to argue with these measures. In fact, it’s nice to see a little corporate responsibility every once in awhile.

At the same time, though, how can we know when and where to draw the line? At what point does “corporate responsibility” become a catch-all phrase for “Google does what Google wants”?

toy robots

The point Epstein makes is that with virtually every case of good Samaritan censorship practiced by the “do no evil” company, similar tactics have been used to justify some pretty blatant power grabs or downright bullying.

When media sources in Spain began demanding that aggregators pay fees for content, for example, Google News simply pulled out of the country altogether, and Spanish-based digital news sources have taken a serious hit since.

Consider too, the case of E-Ventures Worldwide, an SEO service website that had all 365 pages of its site blacklisted from search engine results because Google deemed them “pure spam.”

True, these revelations are not shocking for people who deal in SEO. Our line of work more or less entails tracking and following every algorithm-scented footprint or bit of guano we can find that might lead us to the keys of Google’s ranking systems, even while we live in constant fear of punishment from its all-knowing servers.

It comes as no surprise that Google harbors a tremendous power to influence, say, the results of a certain upcoming political election, or even to sway public opinion on the latest Taylor Swift/Kanye West escapade. The question is – and it’s a contentious one – where does it all end?

At what point (and sooner or later, there must come a point) will the authorities and powers-that-be have to reign in Google’s master controls over internet content and searchability?

After all, the FCC’s net neutrality ruling last year made internet service practically a public utility – in regulation, if not in name. And after broadband service providers, no one has more influence and control over the flow of the web than Google does.

“If Google were just another mom-and-pop shop with a sign saying ‘we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone’, that would be one thing,” Epstein writes. “But as the golden gateway to all knowledge, Google has rapidly become an essential in people’s lives – nearly as essential as air or water. We don’t let public utilities make arbitrary and secretive decisions about denying people services; we shouldn’t let Google do so either.”

The day of reckoning for Google may come sooner than you might think.

Despite a long line of similar cases that have, without exception, ruled in Google’s favor – giving them free range to rank and rate content in whatever way they please – the E-Ventures case in Florida is actually making some headway.

Back in May, the federal judge on the case ruled that Google had “anti-competitive, economic” motives for blacklisting E-Ventures’ pages: the better SEO companies are at their jobs, after all, the less businesses need to pay for AdWords, which is how the search engine makes most of their revenue. It’s not, as Google argues, simply a matter of “free speech” anymore.

On a larger scale, the European Union is also trying to crack down on Google’s Internet monopoly.

Google claims 90% of the search engine market across the continent (compared to just 64% in the US), and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, the European Commission’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, says the company is unfairly using that leverage to promote its own advertising materials over that of the competition’s.

This is the third shot the EU has fired at Google in less than two years. Previously, Vestager & co. have filed antitrust complaints against the company over their search engine dominance and over the mandatory Google apps that come pre-loaded with every Android phone. “Google’s magnificent innovations don’t give it the right to deny competitors the chance to innovate,” Vestager says.

All three charges will likely come to a head before the summer’s through. So far, Google has, of course, denied any wrongdoing. But if the Commission succeeds in making a case, Google may have to pay as much as 10% of its revenue (i.e., in the neighborhood of $7 billion per annum) to the European Union to foster a more open, inclusive market.

google stat

It all begs the question: what would an SEO world look like where Google wasn’t necessarily the prime target of our efforts? Furthermore, what would happen to SEO analytics if Google’s criteria was for page rankings were completely transparent?

Experts have been saying for years that SEO strategies should be thinking outside the Google search box, but few other engines have been able to make so much as a dent in the web.

Bing, by comparison, is still only a tiny blip on the radar, with 14 billion indexed pages to Google’s 45 billion. The fastest-growing search engine on the scene is DuckDuckGo, a service that brags enhanced privacy and security.

While they manage to pull in 100 million visits every month, it’s still not much compared to Google’s 100 billion. Meanwhile, social media is trafficking more content than ever, and other search services like Yelp and Flickr have cornered markets where Google lags behind.

If the European Union has its way, more competing search engines might be able to increase their power, size, and scope – and forever change the internet landscape as we know it.

The bottom line: There is a world outside of Google. But will we know what to do with it once we’re there?

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Google’s Smart Bidding will soon include ability to set Target CPA by device in AdWords

Smart Bidding reporting is getting more robust, and the bid automation tool will continue to take more conversion signals into account, says Google.

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Google’s ban on payday & high-interest loan ads going into effect now

After a week’s delay, the ban on predatory lending ads for AdWords advertisers is beginning to roll out.

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Google’s Keyword Planner tool just became even more inaccurate

You’re probably familiar with the Keyword Planner tool, which is one of the best sources we have to spot opportunities and make the business case for an investment into paid or organic search campaigns.

One of the things it provides is guidance on the volume of searches for any given query. The numbers reported in the tool have always been somewhat vague. They are rounded up and numbers end with at least one zero. A pinch of salt has always been required when digesting the data.

It turns out that these numbers are now even more imprecise.

Jennifer Slegg spotted that Google has started to combine related terms, pooling them all together and reporting one (bigger) number.

No longer can you separate the data for keyword variants, such as plurals, acronyms, words with space, and words with punctuation.

As such it would be easy to get a false impression of search volumes, unless you’re aware of the change. No sudden jump in search queries, just an amalgamated number. Be warned.

Here are a couple of examples…

Bundling together anagrams and regional spellings

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 11.10.33

Lumping together plurals and phrases without spaces

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 11.08.47

The problem could be exacerbated by third party tools. Jennifer says:

“For those that don’t notice the change – or worse, pulling the data from tools that haven’t updated to take into account the change – this means that some advertisers and SEOs are grossly overestimating those numbers, since many tools will combine data, and there is no notification alert on the results to show that how Google calculates average monthly searches has been changed.”

So yeah, this isn’t exactly good news. In fact, I can’t think of any benefit to the end user, but Google has a history of obfuscating data, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

That said, it once again pushes the focus towards relevance and context rather than pure volume. Advertisers and content creators would do well to focus on optimising clickthrough rate and landing page performance, rather than just shotgun marketing.

Guesstimated data aside, you can use Search Console to make sense of actual performance. Map your page impressions to organic (or paid) positions and you’ll get a sense of how accurate the Keyword Planner data is for any given term.

It’s also worth remembering that there are seasonal factors at play with the reported data. Volumes shown are an approximate figure based on 12 months search data. You might get a better idea of more accurate monthly figures if you cross-reference data from with Google Trends, which will show seasonal spikes (February is a big month for flowers).

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 10.48.33

Keyword Planner replaced Google’s Keyword Tool and Traffic Estimator about three years ago. Users of the old tools initially complained about missing the broad match and phrase match options. Now, they’re going to miss even more detail around keywords and data.

Proceed with caution, as ever.

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Google’s Joris Merks on the importance of leadership for digital transformation

Joris Merks is Head of Digital Transformation, Northern Europe at Google, and works with companies to embed digital-first thinking into their strategies.

He’ll be participating in a Google Squared webinar tomorrow (June 30), looking at how to drive a culture of innovation in your company.

Can you tell us a little about your role at Google?

I am EMEA Head of Curriculum design in the Google Digital Academy team. That means I work with a team and vendors to build workshops and education initiatives that help Google’s advertisers understand what the impact of digital is on their business and help the feel equipped for digital transformation.

What does digital transformation mean to you?

I look at digital transformation as a chain reaction of experiments that continuously helps companies to understand how to make the best use of new technology.

In this way they stay in tune with their customers, who are also using digital technology, keeping their businesses ready for the future.

What should the first steps be in a process of digital transformation?

It starts with a clear vision from company leaders of where technology is going and how that could affect the business.

Then these leaders need to give strong signals to people in the company about which challenges need to be fixed and a culture that rewards experimentation and entrepreneurship needs to be created.

Without this culture, people aren’t very likely to invest in new experiments. This is because any experiment with new technology is always more work and more risk compared to just doing what you always did. People won’t be wiling to pick up more work and risk if there is nothing in it for them or if they might even risk losing their job or bonus when an experiment fails.

Should companies centralise digital functions, or should these be distributed across various teams/departments? What are the pros and cons?

I think it depends on the stage of development a company is in and on the type and size of company. Companies with a digital-focused business model obviously should have centralised digital functions.

Smaller companies tend to have functions where digital and traditional marketing are embedded in the same teams.

Large companies that have heritage in the offline world and are in transformation tend to start out with specialized digital teams, which is good to make sure you ramp up fast enough. However, at some point in the digital transformation new and old teams must break through their silos because they are in the end serving the same customer and should provide a seamless journey across channels.

I believe eventually the differentiation between the two worlds will go away and all marketers will have a digital mindset. For the sake of ramping up fast it can however make sense to have a period where digital is a separate skill set in the organization.

How much of digital transformation is about technology and how much is about culture?

I’d say it is equally important and next to technology and culture there are also factors such as creativity, knowledge, organisational structure and strategic processes.

For example, if new technology arises, creative people are needed to find out what cool and useful things you can do with that technology.

The people that are our creatives and the people that understand tech are however often not the same type of people, so the art is bringing them together to come up with new ideas to experiment with.

The big trap with digital is that it can be treated too much as a technological development and that focus is a lot on data. With that focus digital will always stay a specialism in the company and the company will never have a fully digital mindset.

There are many obstacles facing brands as they examine new digital tactics and technology (e.g. legacy systems). How do you drive digital transformation in such an environment?

I think sometimes big tough decisions need to be made in many areas at the same time. That is definitely true for legacy systems.

For instance brand and digital departments might be using different tools to manage their campaigns. That means you can never have a single view on the customer, which again means you can never be customer friendly in your advertising.

Someone then needs to make the decision to go for one holistic approach. That will require short term investments of time and money but is a crucial decision in order to be ready for the future and not lose your business in the long run.

Those decisions typically require strong leadership and vision. Without that it is very easy to keep focusing on those things that deliver you short term business without making the efforts needed to keep your long term business.

Which companies do you see as great examples of businesses which have embraced digital? What are the common factors in their approaches?

There are many of such examples. I think the key thing they all have in common is strong visionary leaders.

If people we work with find it get stuck in digital transformation, that is almost always because the way they are incentivised, their targets, their bonuses and career opportunities are driven too much by short term business results.

Those are the companies that will one day get an extreme wake up call because a new competitor will come out of nowhere with a new business model using new digital technology in smart ways and winning customers at high speed.

Where does data fit into digital transformation?

Despite the fact that I think the focus has been too much on technology and data, data definitely is becoming more important. I think no one can deny that.

I always advocate the balance between data, mind and heart. Data to measure everything you can measure, mostly the proven successes so you can optimise them further.

Mind is needed to look ahead into the future, assess how your business may be affected by new developments and craft the right experiments to be ready for that future.

Data isn’t very good at helping you with that because data is always based on the past. Even when models make predictions they are always based on past data.  The heart is needed to recognise the moments when someone comes up with a great creative idea of something cool you can do with new technology.

On those moments you shouldn’t ask how much money you will earn from it. If the idea is fundamentally different from anything you tried, you can’t know. If, however, your heart starts pounding, that probably means it is a great idea worth exploring. You can bring the measurement in afterwards, but don’t kill the idea upfront due to lack of good data.

Joris will be taking part in a Google Squared webinar tomorrow, looking at the five fundamental limitations of data that create challenges in digital transformation. You can sign up for the webinar here

Joris-Web-Banner

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SearchCap: Google’s internet speed testing tool, Landy Awards call for entries & more

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

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Google’s Sundeep Jain on the Expanded Text Ad roll out, device bidding, similar audiences & more

During a keynote discussion at SMX Advanced, Jain shared insights on how Expanded Text Ads will roll out and what advertisers should be working on ahead of the holidays.

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#SMXAdvanced keynote: Google’s Gary Illyes talks RankBrain, Penguin update & more

Day one of SMX Advanced concludes with the traditional Google keynote conversation covering the biggest issues in SEO.

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