All posts by Clark Boyd

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What will the future of Google search results pages look like?

Recently, we took a nostalgic, infographic-based look back at the history of Google search results pages.

In the past 20 years, Google has gone from a university project called Backrub to a global powerhouse that continues to shape how we search for, and discover, new information.

And yet, these are still early days for Google. In fact, the rate of change is only increasing, with driverless cars and augmented reality on the horizon.

Some of Google’s core business focuses, like hyperlocal targeting and personalization, remain largely untapped opportunities and, with heightening competition from Apple, Amazon, and Facebook, the pace of progress will continue to accelerate.

In 2017 alone, for example, we are about to see an ad-blocker built into Chrome, a mobile-first index, and the increased uptake of voice search.

Google defines itself as “machine-learning first” in its approach, so we are entering an era of unprecedented – and mildly unpredictable – possibilities. If Google can integrate its Assistant software into our everyday lives, the humble search results page as we know it may soon be a thing of the past.

In our latest infographic, we have looked into a future where context will define the form and content of the search results pages we see.

You can view a high-resolution version of the image by clicking on the image below.

 

Infographic created by Clark Boyd, VP Strategy at Croud, and graphic designer Chelsea Herbert. Click here to read the blog post by Croud on The Future of Google Search Results Pages.

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Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

Google’s Home device was launched in November 2016 in the US, and as recently as April 6 2017 in the UK.

As a direct rival to Amazon’s Echo in the battle to gain control of the intelligent digital assistant market, Home has made great strides already. Some sources estimate that Google may already have an installed base one-third the size of Amazon’s Echo, which launched in late 2014.

Ultimately, the more effective and useful hardware will gain the public’s vote. What makes the hardware useful will be the software that powers it – and more specifically, the functionality that it provides.

Google has increased the number of Actions available via Home, and third parties are encouraged to get involved and develop novel uses for Google’s voice-enabled assistant.

It feels as though we are at something of an inflection point for this technology.

As such, it seems timely to take stock of where we are, showcase some innovative uses of Actions, and also look at how marketers can start to profit from this largely untapped opportunity.

Google ‘Actions’ = Amazon ‘Skills’

Google Home is powered by Google Assistant, which has recently been rolled out across all Android devices. Assistant responds to voice commands, and can perform an increasing number of actions.

Actions are Google’s equivalent of Amazon’s ‘skills’ on Alexa; the full list of Actions can be accessed and enabled from the Google Home app.

Amazon has undoubtedly stolen a march in this regard, with over 10,000 skills already available. Most observers estimate there to be between 100 and 130 Actions available on Home.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

A further 20 Actions were added last week by Google – but we are really just starting to scratch the surface of what this technology can achieve.

Google has opened this up to third-parties and has also provided a comprehensive guide to help developers get up and running.

The aim here is to move from a fairly one-dimensional interaction where a user voices a command and Google’s Assistant responds, to a fluid and ongoing conversation. The more interactions a user has with a digital assistant, the more intelligent the latter will become.

Actions: The fun and the functional

We can broadly separate the list of actions into two categories: the fun and the functional.

Some of the more frivolous features of digital assistants do serve to humanize them somewhat, but their use rarely extends beyond the gimmick phase. Just say “Ok Google, let’s play a game”, and the assistant will tell a joke, make animal noises, or speculate on what lies in your future.

On the side of the functional is an integration with If This Then That, which opens up a potentially limitless list of possibilities.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

If This Then That integrates with over 100 web services, so there is plenty of room for experimentation here.

There are also a number of integrations with Google products like Chromecast and YouTube, along with third-party tie-ins with Spotify and Uber, for example.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

One new – and innovative – use of Google Actions was released by Airbnb last week. The Airbnb Concierge Action serves as an information repository that is unique to each property.

The host can leave tips or prompts with the Assistant, which will then be relaid on to the guest when the correct voice command is made. Guests can also leave recommendations on local restaurants, for example, for the benefit of future visitors.

Marketers should pay attention to this. This is a clear example of a brand understanding that a new medium brings with it new possibilities.

Simply transposing an already existing product onto this new medium would be significantly less effective; we need to view digital assistants through an entirely different lens if we are to avail of their potential.

We have also seen a novel – if slightly mischievous – use (or abuse, depending on your perspective) of Google Home by Burger King this month. Burger King used a television ad slot to interact with Home and ask about one of its burgers, triggering the digital assistant to list the ingredients in a Whopper.

Although Google have moved swiftly to prevent this happening again, brands are clearly seeing Home as an opportunity to experiment and generate some publicity.

Digital assistants provide fertile ground for brands, as they create a new platform to connect with existing or potential customers. Moreover, with only 100 or so Actions available, there is ample room to engage with this now before the market inevitably becomes saturated.

For marketers interested in playing nicely with Google on this, you can sign up here to be informed of any partnership opportunities.

Monetizing voice-enabled assistants

This task is rather straightforward for Amazon, in the short term at least. Users can interact with Alexa to purchase from a selection of millions of items and have them delivered to their door by Amazon.

For Google, it is more complex. Their money-spinning AdWords business has depended on text-based search and a visual response. That input-output relationship is thrown off entirely by a voice-enabled digital assistant.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

However, the smart money is on Google to find a way to integrate paid placements into their Home product, even if it takes some trial and error to find a solution that does not diminish the user experience.

During Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) fourth-quarter earnings call in 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai informed investors, “[Home] is the core area where we’ve invested in for the very long term.”

The significance of those words cannot be understated. Google is, like any privately-held company, under pressure from its shareholders to deliver ever greater profits.

Selling hardware alone is unlikely to bring the profits Google needs to keep growing from its already dominant position, so there are clearly plans to monetize their Assistant in an ongoing capacity.

That level of fierce competition will bring advantages for consumers, as the products will improve and prices may even drop.

The advantages for marketers are potentially even greater, should they be willing to take some risks and work to get the most out of this still nascent technology.

google-homes.png

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

Google’s Home device was launched in November 2016 in the US, and as recently as April 6 2017 in the UK.

As a direct rival to Amazon’s Echo in the battle to gain control of the intelligent digital assistant market, Home has made great strides already. Some sources estimate that Google may already have an installed base one-third the size of Amazon’s Echo, which launched in late 2014.

Ultimately, the more effective and useful hardware will gain the public’s vote. What makes the hardware useful will be the software that powers it – and more specifically, the functionality that it provides.

Google has increased the number of Actions available via Home, and third parties are encouraged to get involved and develop novel uses for Google’s voice-enabled assistant.

It feels as though we are at something of an inflection point for this technology.

As such, it seems timely to take stock of where we are, showcase some innovative uses of Actions, and also look at how marketers can start to profit from this largely untapped opportunity.

Google ‘Actions’ = Amazon ‘Skills’

Google Home is powered by Google Assistant, which has recently been rolled out across all Android devices. Assistant responds to voice commands, and can perform an increasing number of actions.

Actions are Google’s equivalent of Amazon’s ‘skills’ on Alexa; the full list of Actions can be accessed and enabled from the Google Home app.

Amazon has undoubtedly stolen a march in this regard, with over 10,000 skills already available. Most observers estimate there to be between 100 and 130 Actions available on Home.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

A further 20 Actions were added last week by Google – but we are really just starting to scratch the surface of what this technology can achieve.

Google has opened this up to third-parties and has also provided a comprehensive guide to help developers get up and running.

The aim here is to move from a fairly one-dimensional interaction where a user voices a command and Google’s Assistant responds, to a fluid and ongoing conversation. The more interactions a user has with a digital assistant, the more intelligent the latter will become.

Actions: The fun and the functional

We can broadly separate the list of actions into two categories: the fun and the functional.

Some of the more frivolous features of digital assistants do serve to humanize them somewhat, but their use rarely extends beyond the gimmick phase. Just say “Ok Google, let’s play a game”, and the assistant will tell a joke, make animal noises, or speculate on what lies in your future.

On the side of the functional is an integration with If This Then That, which opens up a potentially limitless list of possibilities.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

If This Then That integrates with over 100 web services, so there is plenty of room for experimentation here.

There are also a number of integrations with Google products like Chromecast and YouTube, along with third-party tie-ins with Spotify and Uber, for example.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

One new – and innovative – use of Google Actions was released by Airbnb last week. The Airbnb Concierge Action serves as an information repository that is unique to each property.

The host can leave tips or prompts with the Assistant, which will then be relaid on to the guest when the correct voice command is made. Guests can also leave recommendations on local restaurants, for example, for the benefit of future visitors.

Marketers should pay attention to this. This is a clear example of a brand understanding that a new medium brings with it new possibilities.

Simply transposing an already existing product onto this new medium would be significantly less effective; we need to view digital assistants through an entirely different lens if we are to avail of their potential.

We have also seen a novel – if slightly mischievous – use (or abuse, depending on your perspective) of Google Home by Burger King this month. Burger King used a television ad slot to interact with Home and ask about one of its burgers, triggering the digital assistant to list the ingredients in a Whopper.

Although Google have moved swiftly to prevent this happening again, brands are clearly seeing Home as an opportunity to experiment and generate some publicity.

Digital assistants provide fertile ground for brands, as they create a new platform to connect with existing or potential customers. Moreover, with only 100 or so Actions available, there is ample room to engage with this now before the market inevitably becomes saturated.

For marketers interested in playing nicely with Google on this, you can sign up here to be informed of any partnership opportunities.

Monetizing voice-enabled assistants

This task is rather straightforward for Amazon, in the short term at least. Users can interact with Alexa to purchase from a selection of millions of items and have them delivered to their door by Amazon.

For Google, it is more complex. Their money-spinning AdWords business has depended on text-based search and a visual response. That input-output relationship is thrown off entirely by a voice-enabled digital assistant.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

However, the smart money is on Google to find a way to integrate paid placements into their Home product, even if it takes some trial and error to find a solution that does not diminish the user experience.

During Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) fourth-quarter earnings call in 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai informed investors, “[Home] is the core area where we’ve invested in for the very long term.”

The significance of those words cannot be understated. Google is, like any privately-held company, under pressure from its shareholders to deliver ever greater profits.

Selling hardware alone is unlikely to bring the profits Google needs to keep growing from its already dominant position, so there are clearly plans to monetize their Assistant in an ongoing capacity.

That level of fierce competition will bring advantages for consumers, as the products will improve and prices may even drop.

The advantages for marketers are potentially even greater, should they be willing to take some risks and work to get the most out of this still nascent technology.

google-homes.png

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

Google’s Home device was launched in November 2016 in the US, and as recently as April 6 2017 in the UK.

As a direct rival to Amazon’s Echo in the battle to gain control of the intelligent digital assistant market, Home has made great strides already. Some sources estimate that Google may already have an installed base one-third the size of Amazon’s Echo, which launched in late 2014.

Ultimately, the more effective and useful hardware will gain the public’s vote. What makes the hardware useful will be the software that powers it – and more specifically, the functionality that it provides.

Google has increased the number of Actions available via Home, and third parties are encouraged to get involved and develop novel uses for Google’s voice-enabled assistant.

It feels as though we are at something of an inflection point for this technology.

As such, it seems timely to take stock of where we are, showcase some innovative uses of Actions, and also look at how marketers can start to profit from this largely untapped opportunity.

Google ‘Actions’ = Amazon ‘Skills’

Google Home is powered by Google Assistant, which has recently been rolled out across all Android devices. Assistant responds to voice commands, and can perform an increasing number of actions.

Actions are Google’s equivalent of Amazon’s ‘skills’ on Alexa; the full list of Actions can be accessed and enabled from the Google Home app.

Amazon has undoubtedly stolen a march in this regard, with over 10,000 skills already available. Most observers estimate there to be between 100 and 130 Actions available on Home.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

A further 20 Actions were added last week by Google – but we are really just starting to scratch the surface of what this technology can achieve.

Google has opened this up to third-parties and has also provided a comprehensive guide to help developers get up and running.

The aim here is to move from a fairly one-dimensional interaction where a user voices a command and Google’s Assistant responds, to a fluid and ongoing conversation. The more interactions a user has with a digital assistant, the more intelligent the latter will become.

Actions: The fun and the functional

We can broadly separate the list of actions into two categories: the fun and the functional.

Some of the more frivolous features of digital assistants do serve to humanize them somewhat, but their use rarely extends beyond the gimmick phase. Just say “Ok Google, let’s play a game”, and the assistant will tell a joke, make animal noises, or speculate on what lies in your future.

On the side of the functional is an integration with If This Then That, which opens up a potentially limitless list of possibilities.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

If This Then That integrates with over 100 web services, so there is plenty of room for experimentation here.

There are also a number of integrations with Google products like Chromecast and YouTube, along with third-party tie-ins with Spotify and Uber, for example.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

One new – and innovative – use of Google Actions was released by Airbnb last week. The Airbnb Concierge Action serves as an information repository that is unique to each property.

The host can leave tips or prompts with the Assistant, which will then be relaid on to the guest when the correct voice command is made. Guests can also leave recommendations on local restaurants, for example, for the benefit of future visitors.

Marketers should pay attention to this. This is a clear example of a brand understanding that a new medium brings with it new possibilities.

Simply transposing an already existing product onto this new medium would be significantly less effective; we need to view digital assistants through an entirely different lens if we are to avail of their potential.

We have also seen a novel – if slightly mischievous – use (or abuse, depending on your perspective) of Google Home by Burger King this month. Burger King used a television ad slot to interact with Home and ask about one of its burgers, triggering the digital assistant to list the ingredients in a Whopper.

Although Google have moved swiftly to prevent this happening again, brands are clearly seeing Home as an opportunity to experiment and generate some publicity.

Digital assistants provide fertile ground for brands, as they create a new platform to connect with existing or potential customers. Moreover, with only 100 or so Actions available, there is ample room to engage with this now before the market inevitably becomes saturated.

For marketers interested in playing nicely with Google on this, you can sign up here to be informed of any partnership opportunities.

Monetizing voice-enabled assistants

This task is rather straightforward for Amazon, in the short term at least. Users can interact with Alexa to purchase from a selection of millions of items and have them delivered to their door by Amazon.

For Google, it is more complex. Their money-spinning AdWords business has depended on text-based search and a visual response. That input-output relationship is thrown off entirely by a voice-enabled digital assistant.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

However, the smart money is on Google to find a way to integrate paid placements into their Home product, even if it takes some trial and error to find a solution that does not diminish the user experience.

During Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) fourth-quarter earnings call in 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai informed investors, “[Home] is the core area where we’ve invested in for the very long term.”

The significance of those words cannot be understated. Google is, like any privately-held company, under pressure from its shareholders to deliver ever greater profits.

Selling hardware alone is unlikely to bring the profits Google needs to keep growing from its already dominant position, so there are clearly plans to monetize their Assistant in an ongoing capacity.

That level of fierce competition will bring advantages for consumers, as the products will improve and prices may even drop.

The advantages for marketers are potentially even greater, should they be willing to take some risks and work to get the most out of this still nascent technology.

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Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

Google’s Home device was launched in November 2016 in the US, and as recently as April 6 2017 in the UK.

As a direct rival to Amazon’s Echo in the battle to gain control of the intelligent digital assistant market, Home has made great strides already. Some sources estimate that Google may already have an installed base one-third the size of Amazon’s Echo, which launched in late 2014.

Ultimately, the more effective and useful hardware will gain the public’s vote. What makes the hardware useful will be the software that powers it – and more specifically, the functionality that it provides.

Google has increased the number of Actions available via Home, and third parties are encouraged to get involved and develop novel uses for Google’s voice-enabled assistant.

It feels as though we are at something of an inflection point for this technology.

As such, it seems timely to take stock of where we are, showcase some innovative uses of Actions, and also look at how marketers can start to profit from this largely untapped opportunity.

Google ‘Actions’ = Amazon ‘Skills’

Google Home is powered by Google Assistant, which has recently been rolled out across all Android devices. Assistant responds to voice commands, and can perform an increasing number of actions.

Actions are Google’s equivalent of Amazon’s ‘skills’ on Alexa; the full list of Actions can be accessed and enabled from the Google Home app.

Amazon has undoubtedly stolen a march in this regard, with over 10,000 skills already available. Most observers estimate there to be between 100 and 130 Actions available on Home.

A further 20 Actions were added last week by Google – but we are really just starting to scratch the surface of what this technology can achieve.

Google has opened this up to third-parties and has also provided a comprehensive guide to help developers get up and running.

The aim here is to move from a fairly one-dimensional interaction where a user voices a command and Google’s Assistant responds, to a fluid and ongoing conversation. The more interactions a user has with a digital assistant, the more intelligent the latter will become.

Actions: The fun and the functional

We can broadly separate the list of actions into two categories: the fun and the functional.

Some of the more frivolous features of digital assistants do serve to humanize them somewhat, but their use rarely extends beyond the gimmick phase. Just say “Ok Google, let’s play a game”, and the assistant will tell a joke, make animal noises, or speculate on what lies in your future.

On the side of the functional is an integration with If This Then That, which opens up a potentially limitless list of possibilities.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

If This Then That integrates with over 100 web services, so there is plenty of room for experimentation here.

There are also a number of integrations with Google products like Chromecast and YouTube, along with third-party tie-ins with Spotify and Uber, for example.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

One new – and innovative – use of Google Actions was released by Airbnb last week. The Airbnb Concierge Action serves as an information repository that is unique to each property.

The host can leave tips or prompts with the Assistant, which will then be relaid on to the guest when the correct voice command is made. Guests can also leave recommendations on local restaurants, for example, for the benefit of future visitors.

Marketers should pay attention to this. This is a clear example of a brand understanding that a new medium brings with it new possibilities.

Simply transposing an already existing product onto this new medium would be significantly less effective; we need to view digital assistants through an entirely different lens if we are to avail of their potential.

We have also seen a novel – if slightly mischievous – use (or abuse, depending on your perspective) of Google Home by Burger King this month. Burger King used a television ad slot to interact with Home and ask about one of its burgers, triggering the digital assistant to list the ingredients in a Whopper.

Although Google have moved swiftly to prevent this happening again, brands are clearly seeing Home as an opportunity to experiment and generate some publicity.

Digital assistants provide fertile ground for brands, as they create a new platform to connect with existing or potential customers. Moreover, with only 100 or so Actions available, there is ample room to engage with this now before the market inevitably becomes saturated.

For marketers interested in playing nicely with Google on this, you can sign up here to be informed of any partnership opportunities.

Monetizing voice-enabled assistants

This task is rather straightforward for Amazon, in the short term at least. Users can interact with Alexa to purchase from a selection of millions of items and have them delivered to their door by Amazon.

For Google, it is more complex. Their money-spinning AdWords business has depended on text-based search and a visual response. That input-output relationship is thrown off entirely by a voice-enabled digital assistant.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

However, the smart money is on Google to find a way to integrate paid placements into their Home product, even if it takes some trial and error to find a solution that does not diminish the user experience.

During Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) fourth-quarter earnings call in 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai informed investors, “[Home] is the core area where we’ve invested in for the very long term.”

The significance of those words cannot be understated. Google is, like any privately-held company, under pressure from its shareholders to deliver ever greater profits.

Selling hardware alone is unlikely to bring the profits Google needs to keep growing from its already dominant position, so there are clearly plans to monetize their Assistant in an ongoing capacity.

That level of fierce competition will bring advantages for consumers, as the products will improve and prices may even drop.

The advantages for marketers are potentially even greater, should they be willing to take some risks and work to get the most out of this still nascent technology.

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What’s new with Earth? First impressions of the relaunched Google Earth

Google has just re-designed, revamped and re-launched its Earth product, and it has certainly been worth the two-year wait.

Earth is now built into Chrome, so there is no longer a need to download a cumbersome desktop app to access this global repository of images, videos, and knowledge cards.

The Android app has been updated too, with support to follow soon for mobile browsers and iOS.

So what’s new?

A lot.

First impressions of Earth are simple: this is a hugely impressive feat, one that truly celebrates the world – both natural and man-made – by capturing its farthest corners in finite detail.

So, let’s get started. We begin with a zoomed-out view of the planet, before a short introduction from Google on some of Earth’s upgraded features.

These features work in a cumulative fashion, each adding to the last and building up to three-dimensional, customizable, multimedia experience of our planet.

First up, the search function. The foundation of any great Google product, this deceptively simple search bar leads to any location in the world:

What’s new with Earth? First impressions of the relaunched Google Earth

This is given extra potency when combined with Google’s vast inventory of knowledge cards about cities, rivers, buildings, and basically just about any landmark you can think of.

These are typically pulled from Wikipedia and appear as a clickable carousel, although other resources are cited on infrequent occasions.

What’s new with Earth? First impressions of the relaunched Google Earth

It is possible to zoom in to the level of Google Street View to get a closer look at the palace in this screenshot, as has been available via Earth and Maps for some time now. This is labeled the ‘Photo Sphere’.

Added to this is the “I’m Feeling Lucky” feature, which takes the user to a random point on the map and works like the button of the same name in traditional Google search.

My first trial of “I’m Feeling Lucky” took me from Lagos to Legoland in just one click. It can be quite a dizzying trip, depending on your screen size and propensity for motion sickness, but the speed of flight can be adjusted in the settings menu.

What’s new with Earth? First impressions of the relaunched Google Earth

Layer by layer, this builds up to Voyager, the section most likely to keep users engaged with Google Earth.

Voyager contains a wealth of curated content from sources as diverse as Sesame Street and the BBC, but we should expect many more publisher partnerships in future.

This is significant, as it takes Google into the realm of visual storytelling and opens up a host of new opportunities for publishers willing and able to get on board.

What’s new with Earth? First impressions of the relaunched Google Earth

There is already a good variety of content on here, including city guides, nature trails, and the work of specific architects like Frank Gehry. That said, this is an inexhaustible resource that will play host to a lot more experimentation soon.

One highlight is the ‘Revealing the Center of Life’ tour, which takes us on a journey underwater to explore coral reefs.

What’s new with Earth? First impressions of the relaunched Google Earth

As an educational center, this offers unparalleled scope for exploration and will undoubtedly spark much healthy discussion. Some of these knowledge cards are accompanied by videos and behind-the-scenes features too, providing further context to the images.

The implications for marketers

Brands should really be thinking about how to avail of the storytelling possibilities that this brings. For travel and tourism companies the opportunity is perhaps a little more obvious than for other industries, but in truth there is an opening here for almost everyone.

The Argentinian artist Federico Winer has partnered with Google to create a photographic series on airports, for example.

What’s new with Earth? First impressions of the relaunched Google Earth

There is also a history tour that traces the steps of characters in the novels of Charles Dickens, and another that visits some of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite haunts.

With consumer attention spans at an all-time low, Google Earth should now be viewed as an incredibly powerful, engaging tool, should publishers have the imagination to avail of its potential.

In perhaps more prosaic terms, local search remains just as vital as it has been for some time now – perhaps even more so.

Typical searches like the one below for [book store near me] will bring up an interactive 3D map of the local area with some options, so it is vital to have business names, addresses, opening hours, photos, and phone numbers up to date.

What’s new with Earth? First impressions of the relaunched Google Earth

Customizing Google Earth

And it doesn’t stop there. Users can import KML (Keyhole Markup Language) files to overlay images and charts onto Google Earth. Google even provides an example of this in action, with an overlaid image of Mount Etna erupting.

KML is based on the XML standard and provides a few extra functionalities, like paths and polygons, that are particularly useful for Google Earth.

Google provides a sample file and comprehensive guide to get started, although this should be pretty familiar to anyone accustomed to creating custom Google Maps.

What’s new with Earth? First impressions of the relaunched Google Earth

In summary

The new Google Earth is more than the sum of its features; at its best, it can both distort and inform our perception of space and time.

A historical echo of this project would be the eighteenth-century Encyclopédie, a Herculean effort by Denis Diderot, Jean le Rond d’Alembert, Voltaire, and many others, to catalogue and categorize all human knowledge.

Combine that persistent thirst for knowledge with the technology at Google’s disposal and the product is something as engrossing and enlightening as the new Google Earth.

It seems fitting to give the final word to Google:

What’s new with Earth? First impressions of the relaunched Google Earth

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How can marketers optimize for Google’s new “similar items” feature?

Google has announced that “Similar items” is now available globally in image search on mobile and in its Android app.

Similar items will suggest related products based on a user’s search query and their interactions with the resultant images.

At first, the feature will only be available for shoes, sunglasses, and handbags. Google does, however, expect to roll this out across a much wider set of products this year, starting with furniture, homeware, and potentially some other apparel categories.

What does this mean for marketers?

Retailers of all stripes should keep a very close eye on this and start thinking about how to optimize for Similar items.

One essential step is to add Products Schema to any items you want to be eligible for this feature. Google provides some clear guidelines on this; but as a summary, the following elements should be tagged:

How can marketers optimize for Google’s new “similar items” feature?

There is also the option to opt out of this altogether, should you wish to avoid having your images show up in Similar items.

Aside from these essential technical details, optimizing for Similar items does bring with it new questions for marketers.

Links between products can be based on their shape, style, color, or any one of a number of factors, as we can see in this diagram from TechCrunch outlining how the technology functions at a very high level:

How can marketers optimize for Google’s new “similar items” feature?

Although not typically the domain of search marketing, we will need to be involved with the selection of imagery for client websites to maximize the opportunity to appear in these new results.

From a pay-per-click perspective, this is a product ripe for monetization.

Tellingly, Google ended its announcement of the new feature with:

“We’re excited to help users find your products on the web by showcasing buyable items. Thanks for partnering with us to make the web more shoppable!”

The long-term aim will, quite clearly, be to offer new targeting options to advertisers based on other items their current or prospective customers have perused.

How can marketers optimize for Google’s new “similar items” feature?

As such, we should certainly expect a raft of new advertising options this year from Google. Pinterest has launched a (thus far) tentative foray into this market in tandem with Kenshoo, so Google will want to nip any progress in the bud on that front.

Google’s take on the launch

Google made the following statement as part of their announcement:

“The “Similar items” feature is designed to help users find products they love in photos that inspire them on Google Image Search. Using machine vision technology, the Similar items feature identifies products in lifestyle images and displays matching products to the user.”

Haven’t we heard something like this before?

A “Similar item to this” feature already exists over on Pinterest. We have written extensively in the past about Pinterest’s suite of visual discovery tools, most notably the new Lens tool, which allows Pinners to point-and-shoot with a smartphone camera. Pinterest then deciphers the image and suggests complementary items.

How can marketers optimize for Google’s new “similar items” feature?

That does distinguish it from Google’s offering, but perhaps only temporarily. We can infer from a patent review on SEO by the Sea that Google has something very similar in production.

Of additional note within the Google statement above, from a business strategy perspective, is the use of the verb ‘inspire’, which has been a hallmark of Pinterest’s public communications over the past few months. There can be little doubt that Google is positioning itself to nudge Pinterest further to the fringes if it can.

A similar item (belonging to a more direct competitor) also exists on Amazon’s mobile app, powered by their FireFly technology.

Amazon’s app allows shoppers to search via images, with the e-commerce giant using this data to provide further shopping recommendations. We know that online shoppers are increasingly going to Amazon first, a trend that Google will be unlikely to tolerate without putting up a fight.

So is Google a little late to the party?

Probably not. Google still holds two very distinct advantages in this arena: a huge user base, and an intuitive, integrated, proven suite of advertising products.

Pinterest has yet to crack either of these, and it should be noted that they also cater to very different demographics in very different states of mind.

Amazon continues to go from strength to strength and is diversifying its portfolio of products is evermore interesting ways, but its paid advertising offering is not yet equipped to take on AdWords.

It has been known for quite some time that Google has been working tirelessly on its machine learning-based image search technology. Problems that a sentient being can deal with rather intuitively (distinguishing a sneaker from a loafer, for example) have historically been close to insoluble for machines.

How can marketers optimize for Google’s new “similar items” feature?

Things have progressed markedly in the last decade, but issues still linger with machine vision technology.

This helps to explain why so many other Google products have been launched before this one. It is not because of its lack of importance, but rather the converse; Google is keen to get this one right, as it is a hitherto untapped revenue stream.

In summary

Ours is a visual culture largely mediated by images, so this is a natural step for any search engine or social network. There is not necessarily a cap on the amount of suggested products that can be provided either, so long as there is an ongoing increase in image-based searches.

We may see a decline in traditional text-based searches as this e-commerce mechanism takes hold, however, and that will require Google and its advertisers to change their way of working.

This is not the finished product from Google, of that we can be certain. Through the rest of this year, we should expect improvements in the technology, accompanied by a slew of new advertising options.

If it wasn’t already, image search should be one of our core considerations for any search strategy.

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How To Use Facebook Reactions To Create Brand Affinity by @clarkboyd

Here are some practical tips to help you get the most out of Reactions and increase brand affinity.

The post How To Use Facebook Reactions To Create Brand Affinity by @clarkboyd appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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Google launches Fact Check in search results worldwide

After a tentative launch in October 2016, Google has released its Fact Check feature in search results worldwide.

Google provided the following examples of Fact Check in action:

We can see clearly the format taken: What the claim is, who made the claim, and whether the claim is verified by a reputable source. Two early sources that are set to meet this standard, as shown in the screenshot above, are PolitiFact and Snopes.

There is also an option for users to provide feedback just below the listing, if they have any qualms about the veracity of the claims made.

This is an important point to note, as Google has explicitly stated that, “The entire process is conducted programmatically; human intervention only occurs when user feedback is filed.”

Will Fact Check show up next to all News stories?

No. The first step towards Fact Check showing up alongside your results is to add ClaimReview Schema.org tags to your page’s source code, as in the example below from Snopes:

Google launches Fact Check in search results worldwide

A full list of the guidelines can be found on the Google Developers blog, but I have summarized some of the most important aspects below:

  • Fact checks associated with news articles can be shown in either News results or the combined search results view; all other fact checks can appear only in combined search results view.
  • A single page can host multiple ClaimReview elements, each for a separate claim. (This occurs frequently on Snopes, for example.)
  • If different reviewers on the page check the same fact, you can include a separate ClaimReview element for each reviewer’s analysis.
  • The page hosting the ClaimReview element must have at least a brief summary of the fact check and the evaluation, if not the full text.
  • You should host a specific ClaimReview on only one page on your site. Do not repeat the same fact check on multiple pages, unless they are variations of the same page (Mobile and Desktop, for example.)

In essence, if your site makes a claim that you believe to be verifiable and true, add this markup and Google will take it into consideration.

Even with these tags applied accurately, it is still far from guaranteed that Fact Check will kick into action. There is another, more substantial, bar to clear before you can gain the Fact Check tag.

Which sites are eligible for Fact Check?

Google has stated that only publishers that are “algorithmically determined to be an authoritative source of information” will be eligible to display the tags.

This seems a little perplexing, if we dig just slightly beyond the surface.

Some publishers will undoubtedly welcome the opportunity to substantiate their claims, believing that their articles contain the truth, as in this mildly humorous example provided by Google:

Google launches Fact Check in search results worldwide

But what of the hyperbolic news outlets that profiteer from making polemical – but clickable – claims?

Would they be so willing to add these tags and jeopardize their traffic volumes, should the results show their news to be false? This seems unlikely.

Therefore, would a site like PolitiFact have to reference those claims – and show them to be false – in order for the truth to surface in search results? This is essentially what PolitiFact and Snopes already endeavor to do, so it seems improbable that Fact Check will convert the unbelievers by dint of showing the same findings in Google results.

Accusations of bias have already been leveled at both PolitiFact and Snopes, so it seems we will all have to arrive at a universal definition of what a fact is before this takes hold across the political spectrum.

Moreover, Google has stated, “if a publisher or fact check claim does not meet [our] standards or honor [our] policies, we may, at our discretion, ignore that site’s markup.”

There will undoubtedly be some sites upset by their lack of inclusion, casting, as it does, serious aspersions on their reliability as a news provider.

Truth versus interpretation

Facebook recently tackled the same issue in a slightly different manner, by trying to educate its users on how to spot a false story.

Google launches Fact Check in search results worldwide

Given the nature of both the Google and Facebook platforms, they are in a tricky position. Pressure has been applied at government level to push them into action over ‘fake news’, but with millions of pieces of content going live every minute, this is not a simple task.

Furthermore, is it the place of a technology company to decide on our behalf what is true or false?

Google is understandably cautious about this launch and made the following statement:

”These fact checks are not Google’s and are presented so people can make more informed judgements. Even though differing conclusions may be presented, we think it’s still helpful for people to understand the degree of consensus around a particular claim and have clear information on which sources agree.”

We can see here an attempt, echoing Facebook’s recent launch, to place some responsibility on users to “make informed judgements”.

Fact Check is a step in the right direction – but this is not a battle that Google can win on its own.

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“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

These are interesting times for voice search, both in terms of its adoption among consumers and its technological development.

We have moved beyond seeing voice search as a futuristic concept with rather limited and stilted realization, to viewing it as an increasingly integral part of our interactions with home and handheld devices.

However, voice search brings with it a lengthy list of questions for technology providers, consumers, and marketers alike.

If we are indeed at something of a crossroads for this technology, it seems a good time to address these questions, giving particular thought to how the landscape will change over the next few years.

These questions include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • What types of queries are best suited to voice search?
  • What do people use voice search for?
  • How will voice search be monetized?
  • How will voice search performance be tracked?
  • Is voice search really the end-game for Google, Amazon, et al? Or is it rather a means to an end?

Unfortunately, neither Siri, Alexa, nor Google Now were of much assistance when I posed them these questions, so we will endeavor to answer them the old-fashioned way.

Let’s start with a quick recap of where we are today.

Voice search: Some background

Voice search allows users to speak directly to a search engine via their mobile or desktop device. The search engine then looks for data that responds to the user’s query based on the voice command.

Voice search providers understand a user’s intent not just through what question is being asked, but also through geo-information, browsing history and past behavior, with the goal of instantly answering that query.

At its apotheosis, this technology should be able to alert us of – and resolve – queries and issues before we even become consciously aware of them. Push notifications from Google Now on Android devices provide a glimpse of just how effective this could be.

Voice search has actually been around for well over a decade, but until recently it has been subordinate to its text-based counterpart, hindered by hilarious but damaging bloopers.

Verbal communication, of course, predates written language and, as such, it feels more natural for us to hold a spoken conversation.

However, when it comes to searching for and retrieving information online, we have experienced this development in reverse, starting with written language and progressing to verbal communication.

As a result, marketers have often been left with the unenviable task of inferring user intent from the simple phrases typed into search engines.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

This has come with benefits, too. One of the real defining elements of search marketing has always been the predictability of search queries and volumes.

We set budgets aside based on these numbers, we forecast performance taking these numbers as facts, so it will affect us if search trends are imbued with the inherent fluidity and transience of speech patterns.

That said, it has taken the collective might of Google, Amazon, Baidu, Microsoft and Facebook to get us to a point where voice search is now a viable (and sometimes preferable) way of requesting information, and there is still some way to go before the technology is perfected.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

There are many reasons for this staggered roadmap.

First of all, the task of taking meaningful spoken units (morphemes) from a person, converting them to text units (graphemes) on a computer, and finding the corresponding information to answer the original query, is an incredibly complex one.

As such, the list of possible voice commands for a search engine still looks something like this:

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

We shouldn’t expect such formulaic constructions to remain as the standard, however.

Industry developments like Google’s Hummingbird algorithm have moved us closer to true conversational search than we have ever been before. Voice search therefore seems, logically, to be the area that will develop in tandem with advances in conversational search.

And for us search marketers, developments like the addition of voice queries within Search Analytics mean we can soon report with at least a modicum of accuracy on our campaigns.

So, as natural language processing improves, the anthropomorphic monikers given to digital assistants like Alexa and Siri will make a lot more sense. They will engage us in conversation, even ask us questions, and understand the true intent behind our phrases.

We are already seeing this with Google Assistant. This technology has the ability to ask questions to the user to better understand their intent and perform actions as a result, for example to book train tickets.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

This is a fascinating and impressive development that has implications far beyond just search marketing. When combined with Google’s integration of apps into its search index, we can gain a clearer view into just how significant voice search could be in shaping user behavior.

It also moves us a few steps closer to query-less search, where a device knows what we want before we even think to ask the question.

It must be said, nonetheless, that Google is far from monopolizing this territory – Amazon, Apple, Baidu and Microsoft are all investing heavily and there is an ongoing land-grab for what will be very fertile territory.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

Why is voice search so important?

We know that voice recognition, natural language processing, and voice search are of strategic importance to the world’s biggest tech companies, and a recent quote from Google reveals exactly why:

“Our goal in Speech Technology Research is twofold: to make speaking to devices around you (home, in car), devices you wear (watch), devices with you (phone, tablet) ubiquitous and seamless.”

To be both ubiquitous and seamless means being driven by a unified software solution.

Digital assistants, powered majoritively by the technology that underpins voice search, can be the software that joins the dots between all of those hardware touchpoints, from home to car to work.

As Jason Tabeling wrote last week, this is a growing hardware market and the onus is on securing as much of this market as possible.

Amazon and Google won’t always want to invest so heavily in the hardware business, however.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

It would be far more sustainable to have other hardware makers incorporate Amazon and Google’s software into their devices, increasing the reach of their respective virtual assistants much more cost-effectively.

For now, winning the hardware race is a sensible Trojan horse strategy to ensure that either Google or Amazon gains a foothold in that essential software market.

Who is using voice search?

Predominantly younger generations, although this trend is even more deeply entrenched in China than in the West, due to the complexity of typing Chinese phrases and a willingness to engage with new technologies. As such, Baidu has seen significant growth in the usage of its voice search platform.

Google voice search and Google Assistant are increasing their recognition accuracy levels significantly, however, which has previously been one of the important barriers to widespread uptake.

In fact, the difference between 95% and 99% accuracy is where use goes from occasional to frequent.

These margins may seem relatively inconsequential, but when it comes to speech they are the difference between natural language and very stilted communication. It is this 4-point increase in accuracy that has seen voice search go from gimmick to everyday staple for so many users.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

Certain types of queries and searches are likely to require more than just one instant answer, as they require a visual element; for example, planning a trip, or deciding which winter coat to buy.

It is imperative that businesses do not over-optimize for voice search without thinking this through, as voice search does not yet lend itself so readily to these more complex answers.

The graph below shows the different ways in which teens and adults have reported using voice search:

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

This generational gap is telling, as it strongly suggests that voice search will become more prevalent over time; not just because of the improved technology at consumers’ disposal, but also because of an increased number of people who have grown up with voice search and are accustomed to using it.

It is still noteworthy that so much of this increased usage relates to informational queries, nonetheless. The $37 billion per year search industry is predicated on the notion of choice, mainly within commercial queries.

There may be one true answer to ‘What time is it?’, but ‘What should I buy to wear to the party on Saturday?’ opens itself up to any number of possibilities.

Monetizing this new landscape

The biggest challenge facing voice search providers as they try to monetize the increasing demand is that the interface simply doesn’t lend itself to advertising.

We saw this very recently with the Beauty and the Beast ‘ad’ controversy, which was seen as invasive, primarily because if there is only one answer to a question, users are unwilling to accept an advertisement in place of a response.

That issue aside, other questions remain unanswered. If users do start to conduct commercial queries and the response is multifaceted, the traditional SERP seems a much more fitting format than a single-answer interface.

The question of how to monetize voice search has been raised repeatedly at Google’s quarterly earning meetings, so we can surmise that they will find a solution.

We can expect Google to continue experimenting with ad formats for however long it takes to devise the right formula, while hopefully keeping its huge user base content along the way.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

Is augmented reality the answer?

One prediction is that Google and Amazon will use the advent of augmented reality to provide multiple options in response to a voice-based query.

This would be in keeping with the nature of this more futuristic interaction, as it would feel disjointed to speak to a digital assistant and simply see four PPC ads on a phone screen as the response.

By creating an augmented reality-based search results page, search engines can sell advertising space and keep users satisfied.

We have seen signs that this could be tested soon, with Amazon said to be exploring the possibility of opening augmented reality homeware stores.

The irony of Amazon, they slayer of so many traditional stores, now taking a seemingly retrograde step by opening stores of its own, will not be lost on most in the industry.

These will be much more than just traditional brick-and-mortar presences for the online giant, however, and will be more in line with its forays into grocery shopping.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

Now if we bring voice search and the Alexa digital assistant back into the frame, this all starts to fit together rather nicely.

Voice search suddenly becomes a vehicle to showcase and provide a wide range of products and services, from timely reminders about appointments, to contextual ad placements in response to commercial queries.

The more data is fed into this machine, the more accurate it becomes and – should privacy concerns be allayed or bludgeoned into submission – the happier the consumer will be with the results.

In summary

Voice search is not, on its own, the future of the search industry.

One real, if slightly lofty, ambition is to arrive at query-less search, requiring neither a text nor a voice prompt for a digital assistant to spring into action.

Another, more tangible and realistic goal, will be to use voice search to unify the varied touchpoints that make up the average consumer’s day. Though tangible and realistic in technological terms, this goal will remain tantalizingly out of reach if consumers use a variety of hardware providers and data is not shared across platforms, of course.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

Making all of this a “ubiquitous and seamless” experience will be hard for consumers to resist and will make it even harder for them to move to another provider and start the process over again. This will be the bargaining chip used to persuade consumers to stay loyal with Apple or Google products from home to car to work.

Key points and predictions

  • Search will adopt a more natural, conversational approach.
  • We will be able to report on voice queries through SQR reports and Search Analytics, with digital assistants sharing their data.
  • Long-tail keyword terms will become the focus of content strategy, as voice queries tend to be longer and more detailed.
  • Content will provide direct answers to questions – but the focus will be on accuracy, rather than just brevity.
  • The importance of being the one, correct answer to an informational query will grow.
  • Optimized videos will see a rise in the search results, as this medium fits well with the voice search results interface.
  • Google will experiment with new ways to monetize its Home product, albeit in subtler ways than the Beauty and the Beast faux-pas.
  • Amazon, in particular, will use augmented reality to tie together its offline stores with its e-commerce experience.
  • Google may experiment with augmented reality to provide a voice search interface that allows for paid ads.

We will see the continued rise of query-less search, where digital assistants answer our questions pre-emptively. Think Google Next, rather than Google Now.