Search Beyond The Desktop

This post first appeared on MediaPost Search Insider on December 8, 2010.

My last installment of Search Insider contained a list of columns that I’ve written over the last several years that pertained to search and Web design. In this installment, I’m going to discuss and list more of my columns that may hopefully cause you to think about search in different ways.

While it is easy to pigeonhole and skew the search process into a sort of linear, “searcher conducts search, searcher makes purchase” type of mentality, I’ve long prodded Search Insider readers to consider the possibilities of search beyond the simple text box, and beyond the desktop. To the contrary, and from both a technical and neural perspective, search engines can be as complex as human beings themselves. So here are a few of my own favorite columns from the last few years — and why I think they may be worth a reread.

Google Bombing and SEM is Evolving into ‘Search Engine Activism’: By checking out the motives and tactics of online activists, the value of search is expanded beyond direct response and branding. This column includes a list of some of the earliest search activism campaigns, and a basic definition of the concept.

Perspectives Of The Search Engine Activist: Ethan Zuckerman and Chris Bowers both indulged me on their perspectives of activism in the search engines. While many of the tactics may be similar to search marketing, their definition of a “conversion” is changing your mind, and/or capturing your attention.

Deconstructing Search Engine Bias: Any discussion of search “bias” is somewhat linked to that of “SEM tactics” (natural and paid). My discussion starts with legal professor Eric Goldman’s paper on the topic of search engine bias. I expand his one PageRank example to include other optimization methods that are well known to marketers, but can also be handy for the average searcher to think more critically about results.

Google Trends: The 2008 Democratic Texas/Ohio Primary Post-Analysis: Google search popularity is often touted as a “political oracle” in that it can mirror election outcomes. In this nonscientific analysis, I proved that search popularity does not necessarily equal a corresponding election outcome.

Keyword Analysis of The McCain And Obama Acceptance Speeches: After reviewing a Wordle tag cloud in the New York Times that seemed to be lacking a few key concepts, I decided to run the speeches through an old-fashioned keyword frequency tool. The results offer interesting insights into the subconscious overtones of the candidates’ messages.

If Search Engines Could Talk: Confessions Of A ChaCha Clickstream: I put this engine to a test for the term “bass,” it was amusing, to say the least. If an engine could talk back in 2007, it might sound like this.

The GoogleBalt’s Great American Road Trip: Five Street-View Optimization Tips: In light of Google’s brilliantly surreal and unprecedented experiment in deploying a physical search engine, it occurred to me that we now need to start optimizing ourselves and our property. Street View Optimization (SVO) is born.

The Death Of Street View Optimization: Less than a week after I invented Street View Optimization (SVO), word is leaked back to Mountain View, and Google mounts a campaign to nip this one in the bud, lest they have another pesky SEO-like problem to deal with.

20 Funny, Clueless, Weird, and Existential Google Keyword Searches: Sometimes the topics of my column find me in odd ways. This one started with a lost set of keys.

Search Engines In The Physical World: Over the last few years, it has become very apparent that the search engines we are used to dealing with — those being mostly cerebral, via desktop search — are beginning to morph into something entirely different when considered in a mobile environment (mobile, in this case, meaning any situation that doesn’t require the user to be chained to a desk to conduct a search). While many marketers are still just getting a basic grasp of SEO and PPC, things are skewing at a rapid pace into other areas away from the desktop, like branches sprouting from two trunks growing out of the same tree.

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Brands As Publishers On Google+

This post first appeared on MediaPost Search Insider on November 9, 2011.

Just in case you haven’t heard by now, Google has launched its pages for Businesses, a complementary offering to Google+ personal profiles. Janet Driscoll Miller covered some of the basics in yesterday’s Search Insider, so I will cover some of the implications of Business pages, and what they mean to your content strategy, search strategy, and social engagement strategy.

I’m currently writing from Pubcon in Las Vegas, where I am speaking on two search and social panels (kudos to my co-panelists @joehall and @krisjones for their truly insightful presentations today). It is fair to say that search and social — the discipline of combining the two together — is the hot topic of the event, no doubt spurred to even greater heights by Google’s launch of Google+ in June. Pubcon is the event attended by cutting edge SEOs, as it has been since its inception, and it is revealing that much of the dialogue is focused on engagement, as opposed to pure page publishing and SEO tactics. Of course there is plenty to discuss about tactics, and SEO is by no means dead. As Joe Hall stated today on the panel, traditional SEO is still at the core of any well-thought-out search and social strategy.

I asked today’s attendees if any were cynical about the impact of social signals on search, and no one raised a hand (with about 125 in the audience). This is very different from various conference attendees I’ve informally polled over the last few years, who in the beginning were predominantly skeptical. If a room of hardcore SEOs are convinced that social signals are a cornerstone of natural search influence, then the rest better get on board as well.

Which brings us back to Google+ pages for Businesses. Many are still wondering if it is worth the effort, given that Google “only” has 40 million plus users, including Gord Hotchkiss, who wrote a column about this a few weeks ago. My answer is yes. If you’ve read my corner of Search Insider over the last three years, you know that I’ve covered a number of issues related to the rise of real-time search, and also the implication of algorithms on social networks. A major shift has occurred, and Google+ is the manifestation of search and social together in a truly robust form. Google+ is still in its infancy, and is rolling out more and more new features. A little bit of marketing is in order for Google, as pulling in key network influencers will be key to gaining critical mass. Google+ doesn’t have to be Facebook or Twitter to be successful. It just has to maintain a substantial user base sharing fresh content on a regular basis, and that of course is meaningful to the people who use it.

I’ve written and spoken this statement many times, but it is worth repeating again: If you care about your search presence on Google, you need to get active on Google+ by building up your network, and publishing regularly. You need to engage in conversation, as conversation is content. The same is true for any other network where your audience target may be engaging in conversation about your brand or generic topics of interest.

I am speaking again today on “navigating the complex social world.” Search and social is a big part of the marketing story now, and to use Gord’s word, it is fully crystallized in the form of Google+ for businesses. Proactive marketers should be watching this story develop. Getting active now will give you a jumpstart on being a “search and social” marketer in the truest sense.

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Social Relevance: Google+’s Algorithmic Implications On Networks

This post first appeared on MediaPost Search Insider on August 17, 2011.

It has been over six weeks since the launch of Google+, and we are just now beginning to see the effects of what is to become Google’s own proprietary social network, competing with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Google has also done something incredible here that may ultimately leave their other social competitors strategically in the dust, and that is to build an effective human social layer that complements the depth of their technical domination in search.

Those in the social networking area will be greatly challenged to compete in terms of providing a robust algorithmic layer, in terms of sheer power, scale and relevancy. And this isn’t just about search. This is about social relevancy, or in other words, using technology to improve one’s social networking experience in a highly meaningful way. Social relevance considers the context of a user’s authority and theme, as well as the network relationships around them, and also amplifies the data both objectively and subjectively. These are basic tenets that go back to the beginnings of Web search, and have yet to be fully developed in the network realm.

In this column, and in countless presentations I have given over the last few years, I have gone into great detail about the importance of marrying robust search technology with the human social network, often referring to it in the context of “social relevance.” I previously wrote that Google should buy Twitter in order to provide the cutting edge of recency to complement their Web crawling capabilities, and also about what an algorithmic view of a status-based network like Twitter might look like. Twitter and other status-based networks have historically shown that real-time-sharing brings more of an edge to information delivery, particularly in terms of what is happening “right now”. Both Google and Bing have since hitched onto Twitter’s open fire hydrant of data, and have used it to provide that human layer to the search experience.

Google has since pulled off something that many digital prognosticators – myself included – were not sure could be done. They finally created a network that was proprietarily “social” and has been embraced by a large number of people in a short period of time. So while Google may have temporarily switched off the Twitter fire hose, it is only a matter of time before the Google+ stream is added, thereby creating Google’s own real-time layer to its search results (though some elements of Google+ have already been added into the results at this time).

Sparks already shows assets that are ranked in Google+ by sharing popularity at the keyword level, similar in a way that we saw “Top Links” in real-time search, trending topics in Twitter, as well as top stories emailed in LinkedIn. So the basic implication for marketers is to get active and get sharing in Google+ in a meaningful and engaging way. As we saw in the development of real-time search, queries that showed velocity across networks required a QDF (“query deserves freshness”) adjustment in the primetime Web results. In layman’s terms, this means that the main Google Web results might be showing new real-time results without the searcher even being aware of it.

Applying social relevancy and robust algorithms to networks should be a wake-up call for Google’s network competitors.

Perhaps the biggest weakness exposed in the release of Google+ was how truly far behind both Twitter and Facebook are in terms of applying algorithmic relevancy to the social experience.

After five years, Twitter still greatly lags in terms of applying meaningful context and relevancy to its massive data stream, relying on its “reverse chronological order is best” philosophy, which still leaves much to be desired.

Facebook’s mission to turn the world into one big fishbowl is strategically void of any meaningful algorithms that might actually help the social experience in terms of privacy, sharing and personal segmentation of audiences. With the release of Google+, Facebook’s shine has worn off for many, and it seems that their greatest asset is not technology, but rather the fact that they currently have a massive user base. But history has proven time and time again that Internet users are fickle, and an exodus could occur when the next big thing comes along. Robust social relevancy is that next big thing.

Marketers will need to get active in Google+ in a meaningful way

Let’s leave aside the argument of Google+ vs. Facebook vs. Twitter vs. LinkedIn for a moment, and consider the search implications of Google+. If you care about staying fresh and sending Google the social signals that will contribute to your bottom line search returns, then marketers must get active on Google+ (pending brand and business deployments in Google), whether its number of users is 2 million, 20 million or 2 billion. More than ever, search and social duties are tied directly together, and nothing is going to change with this relationship in the foreseeable future. It is simply going to be woven tighter together.

Though the story of Google+ and social relevance is still being written, I’ll leave you with a few considerations about Google+:

· Yes, brands should plan to become active in Google+.

· Google+ should be treated as a primary top-tier social network, in line with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

· Social presence and network signals in Google+ will have an impact on standard Google Web search.

· Social engagement and outreach programs will be critical to Google search.

· Content production and promotion will be critical to success in Google+ and Google Web search.

· Natural search tactics are critical to social for extending opportunities in networks.

· Search and social practitioners must become fully literate in both search and social to be successful.

· Google+ is about search and social, and this will be a core theme in marketing strategy for some time to come.

· Continue to watch the Google+ story develop — this is just the beginning, and it will continue to change.

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My last column hit the front page of Digg

After publishing my column on MediaPost’s Search Insider a couple of weeks ago (“Google Share of Search To 72%; Yahoo, MSN Continue to Tank”), I went over to Digg to read the headlines, and to my suprise, the column had went popular and was on the front page.

Without going into all the details on my research of watching the story propogate, the Digg frontpage hit is the equivalent of a snowball turning into an avalanche, as least as far as how quickly the story link got passed through social networks.

Currently the article has 512 diggs, and 80+ comments.

Flash optimization, URL rewriting, and duplicate content are still important to SEO

My last column for Search Insider was posted on Sept. 24, and titled, “Despite What Google Says, Flash, Dupe Content And URLs Are Still Major SEO Issues.”  In it I detailed a pattern of what I beleive is is flawed SEOadvice, or at least advice that is creating some uniintentional confusion with marketers and IT professionals.  The Google Webmaster Central blog has been publishing some info that is simply not correct, and of course, every time this happens, the whole SEM industry has to go back and reassure their clients that they are not violating any rules that could get them penalized.  The jury is still is out whether this is some kind of Sun-Tzu-confuse-thy-enemy-type-mojo coming from the Googleplex, but one thing is for sure: The more confusing the search landscape becomes with this kind of info, the more important a search marketer’s role becomes.

Demographic search engines

My latest column on demographic search engines is up at MediaPost (“Thoughts on Demographic Search Engines”, registration required.  I am intrigued about several aspects of this new approach coming from IAC, with the first one called

SES San Jose 2008, SEMPO Institute Training session

Back in Big D after almost a week at the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose.  I was there to co-present an eight hour session on the SEMPO Insititute’s Insider’s Guide, along with SEMPO Institute dean Terry Plank, and MSN’s Jorie Waterman.   

One other highlight was attending the Google Dance at Google headquarters in Mountain View.  The theme was “Glow in the Dark”, and the place was very lit up by night fall.  There must have been at least three thousand people there.  I took some interesting pics on my phone, and I will get those posted soon.

I also had the opportunity to judge the first SES awards.  Overall, a great show.

North Texas SEM’s spend over $100,000,000 in search engine advertising

Needless to say, everyone in the local search engine marketing industry is a bit surprised at Google’s decision to close their Dallas office.  The DFW SEM association posted a formal response on Business Wire, which is starting to get picked up on various search blogs.

This $100,000,000 estimate does not take into account all of the SMB’s in the area, which we expect would push the actual spend up considerably higher.  It also doesn’t take into account the spends in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio.  In addition to the twenty people from the Dallas office, Google be thinking about adding 100 more to serve this market, and also consider a more localized approach. 

As local SEM’s, we were very pleased to have the Google office in the area.  Yes, they serviced accounts nationally, but Dallas people were also present and highly visible at local interactive marketing associations such as DFWSEM, the DFW IMA, and The Dallas Ad League.

I certainly wish them all the best.

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