Tag Archives: Industry

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What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

Google has released a new, feed-based mobile homepage in the US, with an international launch due in the next two weeks.

This is perhaps the most drastic and significant update of the Google.com homepage (the most visited URL globally) since Google’s launch in 1996.

The upgraded, dynamic entry point to the world’s biggest search engine will be available initially on mobile devices via both the Google website and its mobile apps, but will also be rolled out to desktop.

Let’s take a look at what’s changing and how, as well as what it might mean for marketers.

What’s different about the new homepage?

Google’s new homepage allows users to customize a news feed that updates based on their interests, location, and past search behaviors.

On the Google.com website (via a mobile device), there are now four icon-based options: Weather, Sports, Entertainment, and Food & Drink.

The ‘Weather’ and ‘Food & Drink’ options can be used straight away, as they take the user’s location data to provide targeted results. The ‘Sports’ and ‘Entertainment’ options require a little more customization before users can benefit from them fully. Without this, Google will just serve up popular and trending stories within each category.

In the example below, I tapped on the ‘Sports’ icon, then selected to follow a baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. Based on this preference, Google then knows to show me updates on this team on my homepage. The results varied in their media format, with everything from Tweets to GIFs and videos shown in my feed.

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

This means that rather than encountering the iconic search bar, Google logo, and the unadorned white interface we have all become accustomed to, each user’s feed will be unique. As I start to layer on more of the topics I am interested in, Google gains more information with which to tailor my feed.

On the Google mobile app, based on my selection above, my homepage looks as follows:

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

This is quite a big departure and is an experience we should expect the Google.com website to mirror soon. For now, the latter retains enough of the old aesthetic to be recognizable, but the app-based version is more overt in its positioning of suggested content.

The trusty search bar is still there, but users are encouraged to interact with their interests too. The interface is designed for tapping as well as typing.

Sashi Thakur, a Google engineer, has said of the launch,

“We want people to understand they’re consuming information from Google. It will just be without a query.”

It is essentially an extension of the functionality that has been available in Google’s Android app since December. Google will also continue to use push notifications to send updates on traffic, weather, and sports, based on the user’s set preferences.

Why is Google launching this product now?

Google has struggled to find a significant commercial hit to rival its hugely lucrative search advertising business. That business relies on search queries and user data, so anything that leads users to spend more time on Google will be of significant value.

The same motive has led to the increased presence of Google reservations, which now allow users to make appointments for a range of services from the search results page.

As Google stated in their official announcement, “The more you use Google, the better your feed will be.”

Users type a query when they have an idea of what they want to find; Google is pre-empting this by serving us content before we are even aware of what exactly we would like to know. By offering a service that will increase in accuracy in line with increased usage, Google hopes users will get hooked on a new mode of discovering information.

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

This also allows Google to incorporate a number of other initiatives it has been working on, such as fact-checking and Google Posts.

You’d be forgiven for wondering whether Google is trying to find its way into social media again. After the demise of the short-lived Google+ platform, Google has seen Facebook grow as a credible threat in the battle for digital advertising dollars.

Facebook’s algorithmic news feed has been a significant factor in its rise in popularity, and with Google Posts incorporated into this news feed, there are certainly elements reminiscent of a certain social network in Google’s new homepage initiative. Readers may also recall the launch of iGoogle in 2005, a similar attempt to add some personalization to the homepage.

That said, it seems more likely that these changes have been rolled out in response to recent launches from Amazon than as a direct challenge to Facebook.

Amazon has made an almost dizzying amount of product announcements and acquisitions of late. As a pure-play ecommerce company, their rapid growth will have been cause for consternation at Google and there is a need to respond.

Of particular interest in relation to the new Google feed is the very recent launch of Amazon Spark, a shoppable feed of curated content for Amazon Prime members. It is only available via the iOS app for now, but it will be launched on Android soon too.

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

Spark is a rival to Instagram in some ways, with its very visual feed and some early partnerships with social media influencers. It is also similar to Pinterest, as it encourages users to save their favorite images for later and clearly tries to tap into the ‘Discovery’ phase that Pinterest has made a play for recently.

Amazon has also launched its ‘Interesting Finds’ stream, which works in a noticeably Pinterest-esque fashion:

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

Google has taken aim at Pinterest with its ‘Similar items’ feature and its revamped visual search technology, which feeds the new Google Lens.

In Google’s announcement of the new homepage, they make use of the verbs “discover” and “explore”. Both Amazon and Pinterest have tried to shape and monetize these phases of the search-based purchase journey; Google evidently thinks its homepage needs to take on a new life if it is to compete.

Will it open new opportunities for marketers?

Almost certainly. We should view this as a welcome addition to the elements of current search strategies, with a host of new opportunities to get in front of target audiences.

Google is not launching this product because of any existential threat to its core search product, which still dominates Western markets:

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

Source: Moz/Jumpshot

The update should encourage a shift in user behavior. As people get used to the new experience, they will interact with Google in new ways and marketers need to be prepared for this.

From a paid perspective, we can expect to see new options open to advertisers, but not in the immediate future.

Amazon has two innate monetization mechanisms within Spark: users have to sign up to Prime (for an annual fee) to get access and, when they do, they are served a shoppable list of results. It comes as no surprise when we are on Amazon that we will be asked if we want to buy products.

That is not always the case on Google, where the initial purpose of the news feed is to gain traction with users and encourage them to spend more time within the site.

Options for sponsored content and (almost inevitably) paid ecommerce ads will come later, once a large and engaged user base has been established.

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How to effectively combine online and offline lead generation

We have two primary forms of leads: online and offline. This article talks about how to combine online and offline marketing for more efficient lead generation.

In today’s world we are mostly narrowing in to online leads, thanks to the Internet essentially opening up the entire world for us to peruse. But offline leads should still be a factor we consider moving forward.

Looking at the two it is easy to see that online leads are going to be the more important source of generation. It produces the most, after all.

That isn’t an excuse to ignore the harder work involved in offline lead curating, as that will ramp up your marketing benefits by leaps and bounds. Especially in terms of B2B interaction – something that we should all be trying our best to take advantage of.

Bringing offline and online lead generation together

Finding ways to combine offline and online leads isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds. Actually, the two really help the other to succeed.

Here are some ways you can start making each work for the other, making your marketing strategy more effective than ever before.

Online lead generation helps more informed offline marketing decisions

Cold calling has got too old. Online marketing has turned the things around: These days you can make sure your lead is ready (and even waiting) for your sales call. Here are a few examples of how your online lead generation efforts can lead to more “offline” deals.

Leadfeeder lets you identify companies behind your website logs and provides you with detailed contact information for you to build that connection further. Normally, a combination of online and offline relationship building works best. For example, you can engage with the lead on social media and then bring that connection offline by giving them a call.

Offering free downloads or a free product prior to getting in touch could be even more powerful. For example, at Internet Marketing Ninjas, we give away free case studies and whitepapers and have a nice private dashboard where we can see what exactly was downloaded by a particular lead. This helps our sales team to put together a more targeted proposal before giving this lead a call.

Giving away freebies (free services or products) is another effective option here, and it can be less work than you may think. As an example, SE Ranking allows marketing companies to install a lead generation widget for visitors to request a free report. The free report will be generated, white-labeled and sent to the prospect automatically by SE Ranking and as a result you have a qualified lead with no work done (apart from attracting that visitor with your content).

From here on out, you can get in touch with the customer by phone and hopefully get a deal:

How to effectively combine online and offline lead generation

Salesforce provides more ways to qualify your leads automatically before you reach out to them offline. Once leads begin to respond to nurturing efforts and their scores increase, you can automatically assign them to sales for follow up.

How to effectively combine online and offline lead generation

Use social media listening to better under understand your customers

Social media provides a lot of opportunities for businesses to understand their customers better and thus build their offline lead generation strategy accordingly. What questions do your customers ask on social media? What do they think about you or your competitors? How can you design their offline experience to serve them better?

Brand24 is one of the most powerful social media listening platform allowing you to find online leads, identify where to promote your products and find customers before they find you. It provides one of the most powerful sentiment analyses on the market – and lets you snatch leads from your competitors by being the first to engage with their unhappy customers.

It also integrates nicely with Slack allowing your whole team to better engage with social media leads more efficiently (and learn more about your customers too!).

How to effectively combine online and offline lead generation

Make your offline marketing materials link to your online assets

Let’s say you create a stack of physical brochures that you are giving out at a trade show. You don’t want to make people work to find you online… make it easy for them! Or maybe you have business cards to give out. Your website should be right there, easy to see, the URL clear.

Businesses have been utilizing this marketing tactic for ages now. Yet, many of them still need a reminder. Here’s an old Mashable post encouraging businesses to design social-media-friendly business cards, for example.

Canva is an easy way to design online marketing materials which you can also re-use offline:

How to effectively combine online and offline lead generation

Social media pages are also a great inclusion, as it ties in all your sources of leads nicely. If you give out other promotional items, such as pens, magnets, keychains, etc., make sure they also reflect your online presence.

Start looking for community outreach opportunities

Recently there was a local art fair put on downtown in my city. The booths were mostly local companies and artists, but among them were some huge names in the telecom, financial and medical business. They were giving away free items, holding contests and answering questions from people visiting their booths.

I have seen these same brands at other community events such as library gatherings, unveilings, and charity auctions. All of them promoted those appearances heavily online ahead of time and used the chance at being face to face to take photos and run social media contests. It is great PR.

To get you inspired, here’s a neat example of an “offline” event utilizing Twitter marketing: in 2015 Pubcon organized “Pregame Twitter Tailgate Party” contests, giving away prizes for the best tweets promoting the conference.

Online tools provide a great way to organize and funnel those leads before you reach out to invite them to become part of your competitor. I use Salesmate to organize leads that integrate well with my favorite online apps:

How to effectively combine online and offline lead generation

Get to those conventions on social live feeds

This is my favorite tip on this list. Social media sites like Youtube, Twitter and Facebook allow you to livestream. So the next time you are at a big convention or floor show, make sure you are showing your followers.

Hype up a hashtag to follow for a couple of weeks in advance, take questions or run interviews and show your followers what is going on. It is a great way to catch some attention where otherwise you might have been ignored. Plus it shows people at the convention who you are, as well.

There’s a great guide over at Convince and Convert on how brands are using streaming video for conference marketing. As an example, Nissan streamed the launch of its 2016 Maxima at the New York auto show and Dunkin Donuts summer music effort across seven platforms, including Periscope and Spotify.

Beautiful together

Online and offline lead generation are not at odds. They are a chance to combine your efforts for greater value! Start including both in your marketing campaigns and you will be amazed at how much more productive those efforts will be.

Have a tip for combining online and offline leads? Let us know in the comments!

Matt McGee Is Also Leaving The Search Industry

Matt McGee has announced and posted on Twitter he is leaving the search industry, including Third Door Media and its properties, Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today.

After 9 yrs...

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Five important updates to Google semantic search you might have missed

What is semantic search? Broadly speaking, it’s a term that refers to a move towards more accurate search results by using various methods to better understand the intent and context behind a search.

Or as Alexis Sanders very eloquently explained it on the Moz Blog,

“The word “semantic” refers to the meaning or essence of something. Applied to search, “semantics” essentially relates to the study of words and their logic. Semantic search seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding a searcher’s intent through contextual meaning. […] Semantic search brings about an enhanced understanding of searcher intent, the ability to extract answers, and delivers more personalized results.”

Google is constantly making tweaks and changes to its documentation and features linked to semantic search. Many of these involve things like structured data and Schema.org, rich results, Knowledge Graph and so on, and the vast majority go unannounced and unnoticed – even though they can make a significant difference to the way we interact with search.

But there are some eagle-eyed members of the search community who keep tabs on changes to semantic search, and let the rest of us know what’s up. To aid in those efforts, I’m rounding up five recent important changes to semantic search on Google that you might not have noticed.

100% of the credit for these observations goes to the Semantic Search Marketing Google+ group (and specifically its founder Aaron Bradley), which is my source for all the latest news and updates on semantic search. If you want to keep in the loop, I highly recommend joining.

Videos and recipes are now accessible via image search

Earlier this week, Google made a telling addition to its documentation for videos, specifying that video rich results will now display in image search on mobile devices, “providing users with useful information about your video.”

A mobile image search for a phrase like “Daily Show Youtube” (okay, that one’s probably not going to happen organically, but I wanted to make the feature work) will fetch video thumbnails in among the grid of regular image results, which when selected, unfold into something like this:

You then need to select “Watch” or the title of the video to be taken to the video itself. (Selecting the image will only bring up the image in fullscreen and won’t redirect you to the video). So far, video rich results from YouTube and Wistia have been spotted in image search.

Google’s documentation for recipes also now features a similar addition: “Rich results can also appear in image search on mobile devices, providing users with useful information about your recipe.” So now you can do more than just stare at a mouthwatering picture of a lasagna in image search – you might be able to find out how it’s made.

Google’s documentation gives instructions on how to mark up your videos and recipes correctly, so that you can make sure your content gets pulled through into image search.

Rich cards are no more

RIP, rich cards. The term introduced by Google in May 2016 to describe the, well, card-style rich results that appear for specific searches have now been removed from Google Developers.

As identified by Aaron Bradley, Google has made changes to its ‘Mark Up Your Content Items’ on Google Developers to remove reference to “rich cards”. In most places, these have been changed to refer to “rich results”, the family of results which includes things like rich cards, rich snippets and featured snippets.

Five important updates to Google semantic search you might have missed

There’s no information as to why Google decided to retire the term; I think it’s usefully descriptive, but maybe Google decided there was no point making an arbitrary distinction between a “card” and a “non-card” rich result.

It may also have been aiming to slim down the number of similar-sounding terms it uses to describe search results with the addition of “enriched search results” to the mix – more on that later.

Google launches structured data-powered job postings in search results

Google has added another item to the list of things that will trigger a rich result in search: job postings.

This change was prefigured by the addition of a Jobs tab to Google’s ‘Early Access and partner-only features’ page, which is another good place to keep an eye out for upcoming developments in search.

Google also hinted at the addition during this year’s Google I/O, when it announced the launch of a new initiative called ‘Google for Jobs’. In a lengthy blog post published on the first day of the conference, Google CEO Sundar Pichai explained the advent of Google for Jobs as forming part of Google’s overall efforts towards “democratizing access to information and surfacing new opportunities”, tying it in with Google’s advances in AI and machine learning.

“For example, almost half of U.S. employers say they still have issues filling open positions. Meanwhile, job seekers often don’t know there’s a job opening just around the corner from them, because the nature of job posts—high turnover, low traffic, inconsistency in job titles—have made them hard for search engines to classify. Through a new initiative, Google for Jobs, we hope to connect companies with potential employees, and help job seekers find new opportunities.”

The new feature, which is U.S.-only for the time being, is being presented as an “enriched search experience”, which is another one of Google’s interesting new additions to semantic search that I’ve explored in full below.

And in a neat tie-in, reviews of employers are now due to be added in schema.org 3.3, including both individual text reviews and aggregate ratings of organizations in their role as employer.

Google introduces new “enriched search results”

Move over rich results – Google’s got an even better experience now. Introducing “enriched search results”, a “more interactive and enhanced class of rich results” being made available across Google.

How long have enriched search results been around? SEO By the Sea blogged about a Google patent for enriched search results as far back as 2014, and followed up with a post in 2015 exploring ‘enriched resources’ in more detail.

However, in the 2014 post Bill Slawski specifically identifies things like airline flights, weather inquiries and sports scores as triggering an enriched result, whereas in its Search Console Help topic on enriched search results, Google specifies that this experience is linked to job postings, recipes and events only.

According to Google:

“Enriched search results often include an immersive popup experience or other advanced interaction feature.”

Google also specifies that “Enriched search enables the user to search across the various properties of a structured data item; for instance, a user might search for chicken soup recipes under 200 calories, or recipes that take less than 1 hour of preparation time.”

Judging by this quote, enriched search results are a continuation of Google’s overall strategy to achieve two things: interpret and respond to more in-depth search queries, and make the SERP more of a one-stop-shop for anything that a searcher could need.

We’ve seen Google increasingly add interactive features to the SERP like new types of rich result, and Google Posts, while also improving its ability to interpret user intent and search context. (Which, as we established earlier, is the goal of semantic search). So in the recipe example given above, a user would be able to search for chicken soup recipes with under 200 calories, then view and follow the recipe in a pop-up, all without needing to click through to a recipe website.

Needless to say, this could be bad news for website traffic and click-throughs – even more than featured snippets, answer boxes, the knowledge graph, quick answers and other rich results already are.

Google makes a whole host of changes to its structured data developer guides

Finally, Google has made a wide-ranging set of changes to its structured data developer guides. I recommend reading Aaron Bradley’s post to Semantic Search Marketing for full details, but here are some highlights:

  • Guides are now classified as covering the following topics: structured data, AMP, mobile friendly design
  • Structured data has a new definition: it is now defined by Google as “a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content.” The old definition called it “a text-based organization of data that is included in a file and served from the web.” This one definitely seems a little clearer.
  • Twice as many items now listed under “Technical guidelines”, including an explanation of what to do about duplicate content
  • There is now less emphasis on the Structured Data Testing Tool, and more on post-publication analysis and testing – perhaps Google is trying to get users to do more of their own work on structured data markup, rather than relying on Google’s tool?
  • All content types are now eligible to appear in a carousel.

If you enjoyed this post, don’t miss Clark Boyd’s exploration of what semantic search means today in the wider context of the industry: ‘Semantic Search: What it means for SEO in 2017‘.

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The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

Since 1998, Google has used its homepage to host an invariably inventive ‘doodle’.

The Google Doodle actually began its life as a humorous out-of-office message for the company’s co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. To let everyone know they had gone to the Burning Man festival, they placed the festival’s icon behind the second ‘o’ on their own company’s logo.

It is fitting that what has become a forum for sophisticated artistic and technical expression began life as a stick figure. We can trace the Doodle’s development over time from a simple stick man to an interactive multimedia hub that educates and entertains on a variety of subjects.

Google began experimenting with Doodles to mark historical events soon after the original Burning Man example and, such was its popularity, the Doodle became a daily fixture on the Google homepage.

Undoubtedly, Google has taken a few knocks recently. The record fine levied against it by the E.U. made global headlines, the Canadian government ruled that Google must de-index specific domains entirely, and its AI company DeepMind’s deal with the National Health Service in the UK has been ruled “illegal.”

That’s not the kind of damage a doodle can undo. These are important cases that raise probing questions for all of us.

Nonetheless, it is still worth reflecting on the positive side of Google’s contributions to society. That’s where the humble, charming Doodle comes in.

These sketches showcase Google at its best. They are a microcosm of the search giant’s philanthropic side, an insight into a company that (until recently) proudly held the mantra “Don’t be evil” at the core of its code of conduct.

A company with so much power over the public consciousness uses its homepage to highlight overlooked historical figures, educate the populace about important scientific theories, or just give us some really fun games to play.

For that, we should be grateful.

You can take a look through the expansive repository of over 2,000 Doodles here.

Within this article, we have selected just 10 of Google’s most amiable animations from through the years.

1. Claude Monet (Nov 14, 2001)

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

For the first few years of the Doodle’s existence, it tended to appear sporadically – often to mark national holidays. That all changed in 2001 with the depiction of the Google logo in an Impressionistic style to celebrate 161 years since the French painter Claude Monet’s birth.

The shimmering effect of light in the letters and the presence of waterlilies underneath serve as elegant echoes of Monet’s trademark style. Importantly, this marked a shift in direction – both thematically and aesthetically – for the Doodle.

Other noteworthy homages to artists include Wassily Kandinsky, Carlos Mérida, Gustav Klimt, and Frida Kahlo.

2. Harriet Tubman (Feb 1, 2014)

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

Harriet Tubman’s extraordinary life was celebrated by Google in February 2014. The Doodle features her image and a lamp, to highlight both her escape from slavery and her daring missions to rescue others from the same fate.

This feature is notable for a few reasons. In 2014, a study revealed the lack of diversity in Google’s Doodles. Although just a simple design on a search engine landing page, this was a clear reflection of the social impact Google can have. In fact, over half of all Doodles to this point were of white men.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

Google took this seriously and did strike a 50/50 gender balance in 2014, giving increasing prominence to non-white historical figures too. There is a notable effort to provide a broader spectrum of historical events and figures within Google’s Doodles, beginning with Harriet Tubman.

3. Alexander Calder (July 22, 2011)

The sculptor Alexander Calder is known best as the inventor of the nursery mobile. These structures sway in the wind, changing form depending on the antecedent forces that come into contact with them.

This made Calder the perfect subject for the first Doodle to be constructed entirely using the HTML5 standard. Internet browsers had been incapable of rendering such a complex media format until this point, and this design required the work of a team of engineers, artists, and illustrators.

The Doodle, to mark what would have been Calder’s 113th birthday, lulls satisfyingly when a user clicks or hovers over its component parts.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

This is therefore a particularly important piece of Doodle history, ushering in a new age of innovation and experimentation.

4. Charlie Chaplin (Apr 16, 2011)

To celebrate the 122nd anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s birth, one of Google’s resident doodlers donned a moustache and hat to pay tribute to the great comic genius of the silent movie era.

This was the first live action Doodle and it really comes across as a labor of love from the Google team. Replete with heel clicking, cane waving and bottom kicking, this 2 minute black and white film is the perfect tribute to Chaplin.

It also marks the beginning of an era of ambitious Doodles that aren’t afraid to request the audience’s attention for longer than just a few seconds. As such, the Chaplin Doodle is an essential link between the stylized Google logos that were prevalent up to 2011 and the sprawling experiences that would come thereafter.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

5. My Afrocentric Life (Mar 21, 2016)

Since 2009, Google has been running its Doodle 4 Google competition. The competition encourages elementary school kids (initially in the US, but this has now expanded internationally) to design a Doodle based on the people and issues that matter most to them.

Akilah Johnson was the US winner in 2016 with her entry, ‘My Afrocentric Life’, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Chosen from over 100,000 student submissions, Johnson created the Doodle over the course of two weeks using pencils, crayons and markers.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

This initiative is a great way for Google to communicate with a younger generation, and it also shows the company’s willingness to give voice to political messages.

6. Ludwig van Beethoven (Dec 17, 2015)

The greatest composer of all time was given the fitting honor of Google’s most engrossing, intricate, classical music Doodle.

Created to celebrate the 245th anniversary of Beethoven’s baptism (his exact birthdate is unknown), this interactive game showcases events in the great artist’s life (both highs and lows), and invites us to piece together movements from his most famous works.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

This Doodle makes the list for various reasons. It develops a sustained narrative and invites the viewer to interact. It also features some of the greatest art in European history.

But primarily, it takes what is sometimes seen as a difficult or impenetrable form of art and makes it accessible. This is an example of Google at its enlightening, playful best.

An honorable mention should also go to the Debussy Doodle in this category.

7. St Patrick’s Day (Mar 17, 2015)

Google has an illustrious history of producing Doodles to coincide with national holidays. Everywhere from America to Algeria to Australia has been given the Doodle treatment.

However, for sheer fun, the St Patrick’s Day iterations are hard to beat. 2015 was a vintage year, featuring a family of fiddle-playing clovers designed by Irish artist Eamon O’Neill.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

What makes these Doodles special is Google’s commitment to celebrating such a wide range of holidays worldwide every year. For their brave use of color, the Holi festival animations are particularly worth a look.

8. International Women’s Day (Mar 8, 2017)

Google has been honoring International Women’s Day on its homepage for many years, but in 2017 it went the extra mile to provide a comprehensive look at 13 pioneers that have shaped our everyday lives.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

What makes this most interesting is Google’s desire to go beyond the names we all already know, to give light to some unseen or hidden stories.

The slideshow gives prominence to Egypt’s first female pilot and Korea’s first female lawyer, for example. Moreover, it encourages us to do our own research to learn more about each person, instead of simply spoonfeeding us a few quick facts before we move on.

9. PAC-MAN (May 21, 2010)

The Pac-Man Doodle was a phenomenal success. It deserves an article of its own, really.

Said to have cost the economy $120 million in lost labor time, it tapped into our nostalgia for one of the most popular video games of all time.

Created for PAC-MAN’s 30th anniversary, the first-ever playable Doodle replicates the experience of the old arcade game.

It was initially launched for a two-day period, as Google expected it to surpass the popularity of your everyday Doodle. The fervent response was a little more than they had anticipated, however.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

Luckily, you can still play the game here.

Also worthy of mention are the immensely popular Les Paul Doodle, which now has its own standalone page, and the Doodle Fruit Games, created for the 2016 Olympics.

10. Oskar Fishinger (Jun 22, 2017)

The most recent entry on our list – and perhaps the most expansive in its ambitions – was created to mark the birthday of filmmaker and visual artist Oskar Fishinger.  He was fascinated by the links between music and vision, which he saw as inextricable.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

Google’s interactive take on this is an immersive experience, opening with a quote from the artist before offering us the opportunity to create our own ‘visual music’ using a range of instruments.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

The Fishinger Doodle is arresting, both visually and sonically. The perfect celebration of Fishinger’s work, in other words.

It is an enticing glimpse of the pleasant surprises we can all expect as we log onto Google every morning, as its Doodles grow evermore sophisticated, charming, and instructive.

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What we learned from SEO: The Movie

Have you ever wished for a nostalgic retrospective on the heyday of SEO, featuring some of the biggest names in the world of search, all condensed into a 40-minute video with an admittedly cheesy title?

If so, you’re in luck, because there’s a documentary just for you: it’s called SEO: The Movie.

The trailer for SEO: The Movie

SEO: The Movie is a new documentary, created by digital marketing agency Ignite Visibility, which explores the origin story of search and SEO, as told by several of its pioneers. It’s a 40-minute snapshot of the search industry that is and was, focusing predominantly on its rock-and-roll heyday, with a glimpse into the future and what might become of SEO in the years to come.

The movie is a fun insight into where SEO came from and who we have to thank for it, but some of its most interesting revelations are contained within stories of the at times fraught relationship between Google and SEO consultants, as well as between Google and business owners who depended on it for their traffic. For all that search has evolved since Google was founded nearly two decades ago, this tension hasn’t gone away.

It was also interesting to hear some thoughts about what might become of search and SEO several years down the line from those who’d been around since the beginning – giving them a unique insight into the bigger picture of how search has changed, and is still changing.

So what were the highlights of SEO: The Movie, and what did we learn from watching it?

The stars of SEO

The story of SEO: The Movie is told jointly by an all-star cast of industry veterans from the early days of search and SEO (the mid-90s through to the early 2000s), with overarching narration by John Lincoln, the CEO of Ignite Visibility.

There’s Danny Sullivan, the founder of Search Engine Watch (this very website!) and co-founder of Search Engine Land; Rand Fishkin, the ‘Wizard of Moz’; Rae Hoffman a.k.a ‘Sugarrae’, CEO of PushFire and one of the original affiliate marketers; Brett Tabke, founder of Pubcon and Webmaster World; Jill Whalen, the former CEO of High Rankings and co-founder of Search Engine Marketing New England; and Barry Schwartz, CEO of RustyBrick and founder of Search Engine Roundtable.

The documentary also features a section on former Google frontman Matt Cutts, although Cutts himself doesn’t appear in the movie in person.

Each of them tells the tale of how they came to the search industry, which is an intriguing insight into how people became involved in such an unknown, emerging field. While search and SEO turned over huge amounts of revenue in the early days – Lincoln talks about “affiliates who were making millions of dollars a year” by figuring out how to boost search rankings – there was still relatively little known about the industry and how it worked.

Danny Sullivan, for instance, was a newspaper journalist who made the leap to the web development in 1995, and began writing about search “just because [he] really wanted to get some decent answers to questions about how search engines work”.

Jill Whalen came to SEO through a parenting website she set up, after she set out to bring more traffic to her website through search engines and figured out how to use keywords to make her site rank higher.

Rae Hoffman started out in the ‘long-distance space’, making modest amounts from ranking for long-distance terms, before she struck gold by creating a website for a friend selling diet pills which ranked in the top 3 search results for several relevant search terms.

“That was probably my biggest ‘holy shit’ moment,” she recalls. “My first commission check for the first month of those rankings was more than my then-husband made in a year.”

Rand Fishkin, the ‘Wizard of Moz’, relates the heart-rending story of how he and his mother initially struggled with debt in the early 2000s when Moz was still just a blog, before getting his big break at the Search Engine Strategies conference and signing his first major client.

The stories of these industry pioneers give an insight into the huge, growing, world-changing phenomenon that was SEO in the early days, back when Google, Lycos, Yahoo and others were scrambling to gain the biggest index, and Google would “do the dance” every five to eight weeks and update its algorithms, giving those clever or lucky enough to rank high a steady stream of income until the next update.

Google’s algorithm updates have always been important, but as later sections of the documentary show, certain algorithms had a disproportionate impact on businesses which Google perhaps should have done more to mitigate.

Google and webmasters: It’s complicated

“Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] were fairly antagonistic to SEOs,” Brett Tabke recalls. “The way I understood it, Matt [Cutts] went to Larry and said… ‘We need to have an outreach program for webmasters.’ He really reached out to us and laid out the welcome mat.”

Almost everyone in the search industry knows the name of Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s webspam team who was, for many years, the public face of Google. Cutts became the go-to source of information on Google updates and algorithm changes, and could generally be relied upon to give an authoritative explanation of what was affecting websites’ ranking changes and why.

What we learned from SEO: The Movie

Matt Cutts in an explanatory video for Google Webmasters

However, even between Matt Cutts and the SEO world, things weren’t all sunshine and roses. Rand Fishkin reveals in SEO: The Movie how Cutts would occasionally contact him and request that he remove certain pieces of information, or parts of tools, that he deemed too revealing.

“We at first had a very friendly professional relationship, for several years,” he recollects. “Then I think Matt took the view that some of the transparency that I espoused, and that we were putting out there on Moz, really bothered him, and bothered Google. Occasionally I’d get an email from him saying, ‘I wish you wouldn’t write about this… I wish you wouldn’t invite this person to your conference…’ And sometimes stronger than that, like – ‘You need to remove this thing from your tool, or we will ban you.’”

We’ve written previously about the impact of the lack of transparency surrounding Google’s algorithm updates and speculated whether Google owes it to SEOs to be more honest and accountable. The information surrounding Google’s updates has become a lot murkier since Matt Cutts left the company in 2014 (while Cutts didn’t formally resign until December 2016, he was on leave for more than two years prior to that) with the lack of a clear spokesperson.

But evidently, even during Cutts’ tenure with Google, Google had a transparency problem.

In the documentary, Fishkin recalls the general air of mystery that surrounded the workings of search engines in the early days, with each company highly protective of its secrets.

“The search engines themselves – Google, Microsoft, Yahoo – were all incredibly secretive about how their algorithms worked, how their engines worked… I think that they felt it was sort of a proprietary trade secret that helped them maintain a competitive advantage against one another. As a result, as a practitioner, trying to keep up with the search engines … was incredibly challenging.”

This opaqueness surrounding Google’s algorithms persisted, even as Google grew far more dominant in the space and arguably had much less to fear from being overtaken by competitors. And as Google’s dominance grew, the impact of major algorithm changes became more severe.

SEO: The Movie looks back on some of Google’s most significant updates, such as Panda and Penguin, and details how they impacted the industry at the time. One early update, the so-called ‘Florida update’, specifically took aim at tactics that SEOs were using to manipulate search rankings, sending many high-ranking websites “into free-fall”.

Barry Schwartz describes how “many, many retailers” at the time of the Florida update suddenly found themselves with “zero sales” and facing bankruptcy. And to add insult to injury, the update was never officially confirmed by Google.

Fast-forward to 2012, when Google deployed the initial Penguin update that targeted link spam. Once again, this was an update that hit SEOs who had been employing these tactics in order to rank very hard – and moreover, hit their client businesses. But because of the huge delay between one Penguin update and the next, businesses which changed their ways and went on the metaphorical straight and narrow still weren’t able to recover.

“As a consultant, I had companies calling me that were hit by Penguin, and had since cleaned up all of their backlinks,” says Rae Hoffman.

“They would contact me and say, ‘We’re still not un-penalized, so we need you to look at it to see what we missed.’ And I would tell them, ‘You didn’t miss anything. You have to wait for Google to push the button again.’

“I would get calls from companies that told me that they had two months before they were going to have to close the doors and start firing employees; and they were waiting on a Penguin update. Google launched something that was extremely punitive; that was extremely devastating; that threw a lot of baby out with the bathwater… and then chose not to update it again for almost two years.”

These recollections from veteran SEOs show that Google’s relationship with webmasters has always been fraught with difficulties. Whatever you think about Google’s right to protect its trade secrets and take actions against those manipulating its algorithms, SEOs were the ones who drove the discussion around what Google was doing in its early days, analyzing it and spreading the word, reporting news stories, featuring Google and other search companies at their conferences.

To my mind at least, it seems that it would have been fairer for Google to develop a more open and reciprocal relationship with webmasters and SEOs, which would have prevented situations like the ones above from occurring.

Where is search and SEO headed in the future?

It’s obviously difficult to predict what might be ahead with absolute certainty. But as I mentioned in the introduction, what I like about the ‘future of search’ predictions in SEO: The Movie is that they come from veterans who have been around since the early days, meaning that they know exactly where search has come from, and have a unique perspective on the overarching trends that have been present over the past two decades.

As Rae Hoffman puts it,

“If you had asked me ten years ago, ‘Where are we going to be in ten years?’ Never would I have been able to remotely fathom the development of Twitter, or the development of Facebook, or that YouTube would become one of the largest search engines on the internet.”

I think it’s also important to distinguish between the future of search and the future of SEO, which are two different but complimentary things. One deals with how we will go about finding information in future, and relates to phenomena like voice search, visual search, and the move to mobile. The other relates to how website owners can make sure that their content is found by users within those environments.

Rand Fishkin believes that the future of SEO is secure for at least a few years down the line.

“SEO has a very bright future for at least the next three or four years. I think the future after that is more uncertain, and the biggest risk that I see to this field is that search volume, and the possibility of being in front of searchers, diminishes dramatically because of smart assistants and voice search.”

Brett Tabke adds:

“The future of SEO, to me, is this entire holistic approach: SEO, mobile, the web, social… Every place you can put marketing is going to count. We can’t just do on-the-page stuff anymore; we can’t worry about links 24/7.”

As for the future of search, CEO of Ignite Visibility John Lincoln sums it up well at the very end of the movie when he links search to the general act of researching. Ultimately, people are always going to have a need to research and discover information, and this means that ‘search’ in some form will always be around.

“I will say the future of search is super bright,” he says. “And people are going to evolve with it.

“Searching is always going to be tied to research, and whenever anybody needs a service or a product, they’re going to do research. It might be through Facebook, it might be through Twitter, it might be through LinkedIn, it might be through YouTube. There’s a lot of different search engines out there, and platforms, that are always expanding and contracting based off of the features that they’re putting out there.

“Creating awesome content that’s easy to find, that’s technically set up correctly and that reverberates through the internet… That’s the core of what search is about.”

SEO: The Movie is definitely an enjoyable watch and at 40 minutes in length, it won’t take up too much of your day. If you’re someone who’s been around in search since the beginning, you’ll enjoy the trip down Memory Lane. If, like me, you’re newer to the industry, you’ll enjoy the look back at where it came from – and particularly the realization that there some things which haven’t changed at all.

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Everything you need to know about visual search (so far)

Visual search is one of the most complex and fiercely competed sectors of our industry. Earlier this month, Bing announced their new visual search mode, hot on the heels of similar developments from Pinterest and Google.

Ours is a culture mediated by images, so it stands to reason that visual search has assumed such importance for the world’s largest technology companies. The pace of progress is certainly quickening; but there is no clear visual search ‘winner’ and nor will there be one soon.

The search industry has developed significantly over the past decade, through advances in personalization, natural language processing, and multimedia results. And yet, one could argue that the power of the image remains untapped.

This is not due to a lack of attention or investment. Quite the contrary, in fact. Cracking visual search will require a combination of technological nous, psychological insight, and neuroscientific know-how. This makes it a fascinating area of development, but also one that will not be mastered easily.

Therefore, in this article, we will begin with an outline of the visual search industry and the challenges it poses, before analyzing the recent progress made by Google, Microsoft and Pinterest.

What is visual search?

We all partake in visual search every day. Every time we need to locate our keys among a range of other items, for example, our brains are engaged in a visual search.

We learn to recognize certain targets and we can locate them within a busy landscape with increasing ease over time.

This is a trickier task for a computer, however.

Image search, in which a search engine takes a text-based query and tries to find the best visual match, is subtly distinct from modern visual search. Visual search can take an image as its ‘query’, rather than text. In order to perform an accurate visual search, search engines require much more sophisticated processes than they do for traditional image search.

Typically, as part of this process, deep neural networks are put through their paces in tests like the one below, with the hope that they will mimic the functioning of the human brain in identifying targets:

The decisions (or inherent ‘biases’, as they are known) that allow us to make sense of these patterns are more difficult to integrate into a machine. When processing an image, should a machine prioritize shape, color, or size? How does a person do this? Do we even know for sure, or do we only know the output?

As such, search engines still struggle to process images in the way we expect them to. We simply don’t understand our own biases well enough to be able to reproduce them in another system.

There has been a lot of progress in this field, nonetheless. Google image search has improved drastically in response to text queries and other options, like Tineye, also allow us to use reverse image search. This is a useful feature, but its limits are self-evident.

For years, Facebook has been able to identify individuals in photos, in the same way a person would immediately recognize a friend’s face. This example is a closer approximation of the holy grail for visual search; however, it still falls short. In this instance, Facebook has set up its networks to search for faces, giving them a clear target.

At its zenith, online visual search allows us to use an image as an input and receive another, related image as an output. This would mean that we could take a picture with a smartphone of a chair, for example, and have the technology return pictures of suitable rugs to accompany the style of the chair.

The typically ‘human’ process in the middle, where we would decipher the component parts of an image and decide what it is about, then conceptualize and categorize related items, is undertaken by deep neural networks. These networks are ‘unsupervised’, meaning that there is no human intervention as they alter their functioning based on feedback signals and work to deliver the desired output.

The result can be mesmerising, as in the below interpretations of an image of Georges Seurat’s ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte’ by Google’s neural networks:

Everything you need to know about visual search (so far)

This is just one approach to answering a delicate question, however.

There are no right or wrong answers in this field as it stands; simply more or less effective ones in a given context.

We should therefore assess the progress of a few technology giants to observe the significant strides they have made thus far, but also the obstacles left to overcome before visual search is truly mastered.

Bing visual search

In early June at TechCrunch 50, Microsoft announced that it would now allow users to “search by picture.”

This is notable for a number of reasons. First of all, although Bing image search has been present for quite some time, Microsoft actually removed its original visual search product in 2012. People simply weren’t using it since its 2009 launch, as it wasn’t accurate enough.

Furthermore, it would be fair to say that Microsoft is running a little behind in this race. Rival search engines and social media platforms have provided visual search functions for some time now.

As a result, it seems reasonable to surmise that Microsoft must have something compelling if they have chosen to re-enter the fray with such a public announcement. While it is not quite revolutionary, the new Bing visual search is still a useful tool that builds significantly on their image search product.

Everything you need to know about visual search (so far)

A Bing search for “kitchen decor ideas” which showcases Bing’s new visual search capabilities

What sets Bing visual search apart is the ability to search within images and then expand this out to related objects that might complement the user’s selection.

Everything you need to know about visual search (so far)

 A user can select specific objects, hone in on them, and purchase similar items if they desire. The opportunities for retailers are both obvious and plentiful.

It’s worth mentioning that Pinterest’s visual search has been able to do this for some time. But the important difference between Pinterest’s capability and Bing’s in this regard is that Pinterest can only redirect users to Pins that businesses have made available on Pinterest – and not all of them might be shoppable. Bing, on the other hand, can index a retailer’s website and use visual search to direct the user to it, with no extra effort required on the part of either party.

Powered by Silverlight technology, this should lead to a much more refined approach to searching through images. Microsoft provided the following visualisation of how their query processing system works for this product:

Everything you need to know about visual search (so far)

Microsoft combines this system with the structured data it owns to provide a much richer, more informative search experience. Although restricted to a few search categories, such as homeware, travel, and sports, we should expect to see this rolled out to more areas through this year.

The next step will be to automate parts of this process, so that the user no longer needs to draw a box to select objects. It is still some distance from delivering on the promise of perfect, visual search, but these updates should at least see Microsoft eke out a few more sellable searches via Bing.

Google Lens

Google recently announced its Lens product at the 2017 I/O conference in May. The aim of Lens is really to turn your smartphone into a visual search engine.

Everything you need to know about visual search (so far)

Take a picture of anything out there and Google will tell you what the object is about, along with any related entities. Point your smartphone at a restaurant, for example, and Google will tell you its name, whether your friends have visited it before, and highlight reviews for the restaurant too.

This is supplemented by Google’s envious inventory of data, both from its own knowledge graph and the consumer data it holds.

All of this data can fuel and refine Google’s deep neural networks, which are central to the effective functioning of its Lens product.

Google-owned company DeepMind is at the forefront of visual search innovation. As such, DeepMind is also particularly familiar with just how challenging this technology is to master.

The challenge is no longer necessarily in just creating neural networks that can understand an image as effectively as a human. The bigger challenge (known as the ‘black box problem’ in this field) is that the processes involved in arriving at conclusions are so complex, obscured, and multi-faceted that even Google’s engineers struggle to keep track.

This points to a rather poignant paradox at the heart of visual search and, more broadly, the use of deep neural networks. The aim is to mimic the functioning of the human brain; however, we still don’t really understand how the human brain works.

As a result, DeepMind have started to explore new methods. In a fascinating blog post they summarized the findings from a recent paper, within which they applied the inductive reasoning evident in human perception of images.

Drawing on the rich history of cognitive psychology (rich, at least, in comparison with the nascent field of neural networks), scientists were able to apply within their technology the same biases we apply as people when we classify items.

DeepMind use the following prompt to illuminate their thinking:

“A field linguist has gone to visit a culture whose language is entirely different from our own. The linguist is trying to learn some words from a helpful native speaker, when a rabbit scurries by. The native speaker declares “gavagai”, and the linguist is left to infer the meaning of this new word. The linguist is faced with an abundance of possible inferences, including that “gavagai” refers to rabbits, animals, white things, that specific rabbit, or “undetached parts of rabbits”. There is an infinity of possible inferences to be made. How are people able to choose the correct one?”

Experiments in cognitive psychology have shown that we have a ‘shape bias’; that is to say, we give prominence to the fact that this is a rabbit, rather than focusing on its color or its broader classification as an animal. We are aware of all of these factors, but we choose shape as the most important criterion.

Everything you need to know about visual search (so far)

“Gavagai” Credit: Misha Shiyanov/Shutterstock

DeepMind is one of the most essential components of Google’s development into an ‘AI-first’ company, so we can expect findings like the above to be incorporated into visual search in the near future. When they do, we shouldn’t rule out the launch of Google Glass 2.0 or something similar.

Pinterest Lens

Pinterest aims to establish itself as the go-to search engine when you don’t have the words to describe what you are looking for.

The launch of its Lens product in March this year was a real statement of intent and Pinterest has made a number of senior hires from Google’s image search teams to fuel development.

In combination with its establishment of a paid search product and features like ‘Shop the Look’, there is a growing consensus that Pinterest could become a real marketing contender. Along with Amazon, it should benefit from advertisers’ thirst for more options beyond Google and Facebook.

Pinterest president Tim Kendall noted recently at TechCrunch Disrupt: “We’re starting to be able to segue into differentiation and build things that other people can’t. Or they could build it, but because of the nature of the products, this would make less sense.”

This drives at the heart of the matter. Pinterest users come to the site for something different, which allows Pinterest to build different products for them. While Google fights war on numerous fronts, Pinterest can focus on improving its visual search offering.

Admittedly, it remains a work in progress, but Pinterest Lens is the most advanced visual search tool available at the moment. Using a smartphone, a Pinner (as the site’s users are known) can take a picture within the app and have it processed with a high degree of accuracy by Pinterest’s technology.

The results are quite effective for items of clothing and homeware, although there is still a long way to go before we use Pinterest as our personal stylist. As a tantalising glimpse of the future, however, Pinterest Lens is a welcome and impressive development.

Everything you need to know about visual search (so far)

The next step is to monetize this, which is exactly what Pinterest plans to do. Visual search will become part of its paid advertising package, a fact that will no doubt appeal to retailers keen to move beyond keyword targeting and social media prospecting.

We may still be years from declaring a winner in the battle for visual search supremacy, but it is clear to see that the victor will claim significant spoils.

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Google fined $2.7 billion by E.U. in anti-trust ruling

Google has been fined a record $2.7 billion for a breach of E.U. anti-trust rules.

The search giant was charged with giving “illegal advantages” to another Google product within search results in a case that started more than seven years ago. The case relates specifically to Google Shopping, Google’s increasingly profitable shopping comparison engine.

This fine dwarfs the previous record fine for the abuse of a monopoly, doled out to Intel in 2009.

The E.U. commission arrived at the figure by taking a percentage of Google’s revenue from its Shopping product across the 13 European countries in question since 2008.

Should Google fail to comply with the terms set by the E.U. within 90 days, they will be fined 5 percent of the daily turnover of parent company, Alphabet.

“What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on their merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation,” stated Margrethe Vestager, the E.U. competition commissioner.

The wider implications of this ruling

The bigger questions now surround the precedent that this sets. There is a general consensus that the industry requires independent regulation, but that will be a lot trickier than it seems. Google would be loathe to reveal its closely guarded algorithms.

Moreover, we are moving into an era where they may start to lose full transparency over the inner workings of their products.

With Google – and all of its main competitors – moving their focus towards unsupervised machine learning algorithms, how exactly will they comply with these regulations? It may become impossible to prove the non-existence of bias in such a complex system in constant flux.

The likes of Facebook and Amazon will surely see this as the E.U. making an example of Google. However, they may have cause for concern too.

Google’s position as a search engine sets it apart, as consumers trust that the results have been ranked based on their quality. A 2014 study in India showed the persuasive power that Google holds, and this is one it is adjudged to have abused to the detriment of European consumers.

Facebook and, in particular, Amazon, strive to dominate the e-commerce advertising market. Any potential abuses of their increasingly strong positions will be watched very closely, by both the E.U. and Google.

Although companies like Amazon operate on different business models to Google, they are still moving towards a ‘machine learning first’ approach and will want to solidify their dominant position as the number one online shopping destination.

With the E.U. taking such a firm stance now, it seems unlikely they will relent and accept that their algorithms are making unbiased decisions.

What happens next?

Google has the right to appeal, which could extend the case by another 5 to 10 years. Intel, for example, is still fighting its fine from 2009 in European courts. However, even if Google should choose to appeal, it will still need to provide proof that it has changed its business practices in line with the court’s ruling within 90 days.

Google remains under investigation by the E.U. for giving similar advantages to two other Alphabet products, Android and AdSense.

 

For more Google vs. the EU, check out our previous news story: When is a search engine not a search engine? When it’s Google, says the EU

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Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report 2017, one of the most-anticipated annual events in the world of digital, was released a few weeks ago. 

The 355-slide report covers the major shifts we are currently seeing in the internet and the digital economy, and is considered something of a barometer for the state of digital across the globe, as well as a forecast for what is likely to come.

Some notable sections have focused on the rise of interactive gaming in all its forms and what that means for digital, the evolution of customer support in social media, and the state of the internet in China and India.

Meeker also focused a 69-page section on developments in online advertising and commerce, examining the pervading trends and what they mean for the industry. Here are some key highlights.

The rise of mobile advertising

The growth of online advertising is increasingly made up of growth in mobile advertising. An increase of 22% year-on-year indicates that the future of advertising is mobile.

This is a good reminder for marketers and advertisers of the need for mobile-friendly content, be that articles or ads, as the rise of the mobile audience along with the increasing spend on mobile advertising brings new opportunities for success.

Moreover, it also highlights the importance of creating mobile-friendly pages, taking into account all the factors that may affect a site’s speed or performance.

Google and Facebook dominate advertising growth

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

A closer look at the changes of advertising year-on-year shows a monopoly in advertising growth between Google and Facebook. Google saw a year-on-year increase of 20% from 2015 to 2016, while Facebook saw even greater success, with a year-on-year increase of 62%.

These two combined are responsible for 85% of advertising growth–and this percentage is expected to increase even more in future years.

These are useful figures for marketers exploring the best platforms in which to invest their advertising budget, and a good reminder of how Google and Facebook ads can lead to successful results.

Facebook has invested heavily over the past year in improving its advertising platform to make it more appealing, and its numerous advertising options have won many marketers over. Moreover, its focus on the growing trend of visual content (images and videos), along customized advertising options, has offered new creative avenues for advertising.

As for Google, its focus on mobile growth and understanding of how advertising should evolve has brought new options for marketers seeking the best ways to promote their products through the most relevant search results.

The challenge of measuring ROI

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

The measurement of social ROI seems to remain a big challenge for marketers. Despite the evolution of social marketing and advertising, it remains a major challenge for marketers to effectively measure the success of their efforts.

When surveyed about the metrics they focus on when defining social ROI, 56% of advertisers picked engagement as their main measurement, while 21% chose conversion and revenue and 15% picked amplification and brand awareness. (Source: SimplyMeasured State of Social Marketing Annual Report)

The diverse goals marketers have for their social media rely on different metrics, which is why it’s still challenging to decide on the best ROI. Although engagement still remains marketers’ means of tracking success, conversion or brand awareness cannot be overlooked.

New ways to target and measure ads

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

The rise of online advertising and its constant evolution can be attributed to the creative and effective ways that all online platforms help advertisers reach their goals.

There has been an interesting improvement in targeting and measurement across all of the popular platforms in the last year, which may serve as proof that the advertising competition among platforms can lead to more options for marketers.

  • Product listing ads (Google): Google’s idea to highlight product listing ads was successful, with a stable increase in clicks over the past few years. This has allowed the company to capitalize on its new concept, while ecommerce companies have found an enhanced source of revenue through targeted listing.
  • Targeted pins (Pinterest): Pinterest decided to become serious about advertising and it officially became on of the favourite platforms for ecommerce companies to promote their products. Pinterest was well known for being a popular platform for product discovery, as users tended to pin the products they liked. This changed the last year, as it has also become a platform of purchases, doubling the number of people who base their purchasing decisions on the pins they come across.
  • Goal-based bidding ads (Snapchat): Snapchat created a new type of ad, with its unique mobile platform focusing on engagement. Goal-based bidding ads were aiming to make users spend more time on the creative ads, grabbing their attention in the most engaging ways. For example, users may swipe through the ad to play a game, which makes a clever way to appeal to them without relying on traditional advertising methods.

Right ad at the right place at the right time

One of the most successful ways for Google and other platforms to increase their revenue was the focus on the users and their input on each platform.

Google now counts a $679B market capitalisation with its focus on user-typed input, words that help ads become more targeted.

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

Snapchat already counts a $25B market capitalization in just two years and this can be attributed to its focus on user-uploaded input, the images that make ads more relevant for their audience.

The analysis of data and the idea of having users be the central focus of the platform to create more targeted ads is expected to grow advertising options even further. From a user’s point of view, this increases the chances to make the ads more relevant and less annoying, which is still important in an online world full of irrelevant noise.

The future of voice search

Voice search was a major feature of last year’s Internet Trends Report, and the 2017 Report builds on this. Since 2016, voice has increasingly entered into the consciousness of search experts and marketers, but we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what it can do.

The rise of mobile has made voice searches more popular in turn, and it’s interesting to note that 20% of mobile queries are made via voice. This indicates that voice search is becoming increasingly a part of our everyday habits.

Moreover, it has been observed that almost 70% of requests in Google Assistant are carried out in natural language, which serves as a good reminder on the way that voice can replace typing on several occasions.

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

Moreover, voice recognition has shown great signs of improvement in recent years, with Google’s machine learning reaching an accuracy rate of 95%.

There is a big challenge ahead for voice search providers to equal the accuracy of text-based searches, in order to convince people to trust voice functions even more.

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

Smart home hubs with in-built voice assistants have also seen great growth in the last year. A closer look at Amazon Echo’s installed base over the last two years indicates that consumers are exploring how voice can become an integral part of their daily lives.

It is expected that the applications of voice will expand even more in years to come, with communication, shopping and entertainment being key areas of growth.

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

Overview

As advertising giants search for new ways to maintain their growth, marketers should keep seeking the best methods to reach their target audience.

The variety of ad platforms nowadays brings an opportunity for more creative advertising and it’s important to consider how the use of data, the domination of mobile and new types of advertising can lead to the most effective results.

Measuring ROI on these new forms of advertising is still a challenge, but the fact that most of the industry is aware of this issue brings us closer to a time where this problem will be solved.

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Top 4 mistakes ecommerce marketers are still making

The digital ink spilled over ecommerce and product remarketing best practices is pretty prolific, but we still frequently see major opportunities being missed when we take over new client accounts.

In this post, I’ll break down four mistakes I see all too often and explain why ecommerce marketers should look to remedy them ASAP.

Without further ado…

Lack of proper brand vs. non-brand segmentation in Google Shopping

If you have a strong brand presence (high volume/well-known brand) and see significantly more efficient CPAs/ROIs on this traffic (which is likely), you will want to segment your campaigns in order to properly capitalize on it while ensuring you are not overpaying.

In order to do this, you will want to duplicate your Shopping campaigns and designate one “brand” and the other “non-brand”.

You will then want to set the priority of your brand campaign to low (yes, this is the opposite of what you might assume!) and add all of your brand keywords as negatives into your non-brand campaign.

Give your brand campaign higher bids in order to get maximize impression share for those terms; this allows you to stay efficient on your branded terms while capitalizing on traffic/impression share.

Leveraging only dynamic product ads for remarketing

Many ecommerce marketers tend to rely only on dynamic product ads (whether on Facebook or the Google Display Network) when remarketing to their audiences.

Yes, these ads are a very efficient way to remind audiences about products or products similar to the ones they were viewing and get them back on the page to convert.

However, it’s important to remember that you can and should still take advantage of standard remarketing ads on both Facebook and the GDN.

With Facebook especially, standard ads better allow you to speak to your customers and to test different messaging and creative regarding value props, credibility, and overall themes. In addition, you can easily test how offering discounts or incentives like free shipping may help increase conversions.

Minimal segmentation of RLSA audiences

Many ecommerce marketers only segment audiences by site visitors and add-to-cart users who haven’t converted.

While this is a good way to identify high-intent and low-intent audiences, you are not capitalizing on advanced segmentation techniques that can advance your marketing from a standard RLSA/remarketing approach to a strong strategic approach.

Build audience lists based on where in the site users visited and which products and product categories they’re interested in. Leverage Google Analytics data to segment audiences based on time on site, number of pages viewed, etc.

After segmenting these various audiences, I recommend that you apply them to your search campaigns with no bid modifiers. Allow Google to collect data and show you how these audiences perform, then apply bid modifiers to push hard where appropriate.

Using only Google and Bing Shopping

Don’t forget that although Google and Bing are the biggest shopping comparison engines, they’re not the only ones available. It’s important to capitalize on other shopping engines, which in aggregate are the most powerful tool in the ecommerce marketer’s belt.

Top 4 mistakes ecommerce marketers are still making

Although these other CSEs may have much lower volume, they still contribute to incremental purchases usually with less competitive CPCs that bring the prospects of good efficiency and ROI.

If you’re making any of the mistakes described above, you’re leaving revenue and ROI on the table. Drop a comment if you have questions, but otherwise make it a priority to shore these up and get the funnel flowing.

Good luck!