SES San Francisco – Searching for Successful Search Strategies

Technology Report will be featuring coverage of SES San Francisco, though we’re not sure yet if we’ll be there live or just virtually.

SES San Francisco (formerly “Search Engine Strategies”) is one of the world’s oldest and for many the top online marketing conference series.

Social media continues to shake up the search landscape as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other key large social media sites have become a key focus of online marketing campaigns.   A key focus, but not necessarily a

For more about the upcoming SES San Francisco visit the site and review the Conference Agenda Online.

Key conference keynotes:

  • Design Your Own Search Engine: Lessons from Tough Calls on Content at Google
    What would you do if you were charge of your own search engine? In an interactive panel, Google’s Patrick Thomas walks through some of the tough calls and difficult policy decisions you would need to think about as you try to organize trillions of web pages online.

    Keynote Speaker:    Patrick Thomas, Policy Specialist, Google

  • Running the Gauntlet: Driving Strategic Change in Your Business

    Jeffrey Hayzlett’s Running The Gauntlet is a rough-and-tumble guide for running and driving change through the business gauntlet. In this keynote, Hayzlett addresses what every marketing leader must face: Getting Ready, Getting Going, and Creating and Sustaining Momentum.

    Keynote Speaker:    Jeffrey W. Hayzlett, Best-selling Author, Business Change Agent & Marketing Expert, Hayzlett.com


    Creating Campaigns that Count: The Impact of Converged Media

Mike Grehan, Publisher, ClickZ & Search Engine Watch, Producer, SES Conference & Expo

Speakers:
Duane Forrester, Senior Program Manager, Bing
Daina Middleton, Global Chief Executive Officer, Performics
Adam Singer, Product Marketing Manager, Google Analytics
Conference first timers will want to note that SES San Francisco  is pretty fast and furious, a proverbial firehose of information.

Review the materials carefully before the show and pick a few topics and speakers you’ll want to hear and be sure to attend those talks.  Ask a question or introduce yourself to the speakers afterwards.    Some of the best search insights I’ve ever had were from talking to speakers at social gatherings or in the hall.

SES Parties:   As search industry has matured so have the participants, but you’ll want to keep your eyes open for party opportunities with the many exhibitors at the Conference.  Unfortunately the amazing “Google Dance”, held at the close of SES on the Google campus in Mountain View, is no longer the internet party highlight of the year.

EVOLUTION OF THE ANDROID OS

EVOLUTION OF THE ANDROID  OS  –  A Technology Report Guest Post

By Charlie O’Hay

Released in September 2008, the Android OS has gone through an abundance of incarnations—ever increasing its functionality and flexibility—though not all of the transitional versions were made commercially available.  Here, we’ll trace the Android OS timeline and define the features and advantages of each version available to consumers.

Version 1.0

Released in September 2008, this version was designed for the HTC Dream / T-Mobile G1, but ended up not being used on any commercially available device.

Version 1.1

This version tweaked 1.0 and was commercially released exclusively for the HTC Dream (T-Mobile G1) in October, 2008. Adjustments resolved some of the bugs experienced with version 1.0. Features included web browser, Gmail synchronization (with app), Google Search, Google Maps, Google Calendar, Google Contacts, Google Talk, instant messaging, text messaging, and media player.

 

Version 1.5

Released in April 2009 and codenamed “Cupcake” by Google, this version was the first major release to be made available in a range of devices. Features included camcorder support to record and watch videos, easy upload of images and videos to websites like Picasa and Youtube, Bluetooth enhancements, animation on screen transitions, and an on-screen keyboard with predictive text.

Version 1.6

Nicknamed “Donut,” this September 2009 release included new camera, camcorder, and photo gallery interfaces, improved voice search technology, Google navigation, text-to-speech engine, multi-touch gesture support, and Virtual Private Network support.

Versions 2.0 and 2.1

Version 2.0 (October 2009) was quickly followed in January 2010 by Version 2.1, consequently 2.0 appears in few devices. Version 2.1 (nicknamed “Éclair”) has proven quite successful, owing largely to its improved user interface, enhanced speed, improved virtual keyboard, Contact and Account improvements, and an array of camera enhancements—including flash, digital zoom, white balance, scene modes, and macro zoom.

Version 2.2

Nicknamed “FroYo” and released in November 2010, version 2.2 allowed tethering to as many as eight WiFi “hot spots” or connection via USB. Other enhancements included camera improvements, multi-lingual keyboard support, quicker app access and faster browsing, Bluetooth improvements, and Microsoft Exchange.

Version 2.3

“Gingerbread,” as it was called, was released in December 2010 and offered an improved user interface, a faster and more intuitive virtual keyboard, copy/paste capability, improved power usage status and power management, internet phone calling, Near-Field Communication support and tagging, new download manager, front and rear cameras, and support for barometer, gravity, gyroscope, linear acceleration, and rotation.

Version 3.0

Released in February 2011, “Honeycomb” was the first Android OS to target the large-screen tablet devices. Features geared to tablet users included a new system bar, action bar, a customizable home screen, and a list of recently used/downloaded apps. The keyboard was again streamlined and the copy, cut, and paste functionality improved. Other features included Bluetooth tethering, support for physical keyboards, multi-core processor support, 2D and 3D graphics support, and applications for larger screens including browser, camera, gallery, contact and email.

Version 3.1

This June 2011 update retained the nickname “Honeycomb” included improvements for tablet users—including navigation and animation improvements essential for entertainment purposes and playing Android games. USB support for a more varied array of accessories (including keyboard, mouse, and digital camera), support for joysticks and gamepads, improved WiFi networking stability, expanded recent apps list and updated set of standard apps (browser, gallery calendar, contacts, and email).

Version 3.2

Still called “Honeycomb,” this July 2011 version continued to provide enhancements for tablet users—including compatibility zoom for fixed-sized applications, direct application access to SD card file system, and extended ability to handle different screen sizes.

Version 4.0

Released in October 2011, “Ice Cream Sandwich” merged the phone-based design of the second generation with the tab-centered design of the tablet-friendly third generation.  The user interface and apps selection were again redesigned, and users could now save often used items in home folders and a favorites tray. Other improvements included resizable widgets, lock screen, network data control, and faster call response. Users also benefitted from camera/camcorder improvements (including image stabilization, the ability to take still shots during video, and photo editing). The browser could now deliver full-sized web page appearance, and this version featured improved email, NFC-based sharing, and WiFi-direct suppotrt.

Version 4.1

Released in July 2012, “Jellybean,” as it was called, included even more user interface enhancements (including improved touch response and transitions; expandable, actionable notifications; and adaptive keyboard). Other popular features included the ability to instantly review photos, external Braille input and output via USB, enhanced voice search capability, photo sharing, USB audio, and Google Wallet.

Version 4.2

The most recent Android OS version to date maintains the “Jellybean” name and allows multiple users for tablets, a PhotoSphere feature that allows 360º images, keyboard gesture typing, Daydream feature to display info while a user’s device is isle or docked, and the ability to beam photos or videos to another device.

This is a guest post by Charlie O’Hay, a tech expert & Big Fish Android games enthusiast.

 

Google’s Ray Kurzweil on Google’s role in the Future of Artificial Intelligence

Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil is generally regarded as one of the world’s top engineers working on Artificial Intelligence, and he’s certainly the world’s top *evangelist* for AI, arguing that general AI, or thinking machines, will inevitably arise, and fairly soon, as another step down the evolutionary path of the human species.    His book  “The Singularity is Near”, is the key popular work addressing what many believe will become the biggest technological theme in history – the creation of an intelligent computer that is capable of human-like thought processes.

Bill Gates has called Ray Kurzweil the leading thinker in the area of artificial intelligence.

Google very recently hired Kurzweil as Director of Engineering, promising a marriage of his ideas with the company that is probably best suited to fund and deploy general AI applications.

Here, in an interview at Singularity Hub, Kurzweil discusses Google’s role in the advancement of AI:

Ray Kurzweil On Future of AI at Google:

http://singularityhub.com/2013/01/10/exclusive-interview-with-ray-kurzweil-on-future-ai-project-at-google/

Google Instant … changing search for the better?

Google Instant is a new feature at the search giant, and as it catches on it’s likely to change the way people interact with search as well as the way advertisers strategize to collect more eyeballs for their websites.

Google Instant presents you with many more options than before, and they are based on the initial letters / words you type into the search query box.   It’ll take some time for all of us to decide if we *like* the idea of constant prompting for search refinements, but it’s usually a good idea to assume the Google routine is smart – smarter than we are at determining the best sets of searches to drill down to what we need to find.  Obviously you don’t have to choose from the options presented, but it’s best to assume that the results you get from these options will form a more relevant list of results than if you choose otherwise.

It’s this last aspect of “Google Instant” that may create some interesting new issues and  opportunities for advertisers and SEO specialists, as Google’s searchmeister Matt Cutts pointed out over at his blog.

As search becomes more personalized – using input from social networks, user created content, past searches, and other personal information collected over time – we are likely to see shifts in the way advertisers try to reach us, and hopefully in the appropriateness of the advertising appeals.

More on Google Instant from … Google.

Yahoo / Bing Search Alliance Update

Below is a quick summary of the most recent update from Yahoo regarding the Bing (Microsoft Search) / Yahoo advertising alliance, an attempt by both companies to stem the tide of Google’s search dominance.   Yahoo’s history of bad search decisions makes me a bit worried that they may try to compromise Bing’s (pretty good) search quality in favor of paid listings, further eroding the credibility gap between Google and Yahoo/Bing search.

Ironically Google search is probably more vulnerable than ever to the advent of a new, great search engine  thanks to Google’s current tendency to   1.  Elevate old and well SEOd (Search Optimized) websites above newer, better ones   2. Avoid proper policing big players like Ebay / Amazon who often appear high in paid and sometimes even organic rankings despite no/thin content about the query.  3. Maintain unreasonably high per click charges on many terms, effectively favoring the big money / big box  advertisers over small businesses.   4.  Not use enough social media feedback to help rank sites (they use some and I’d guess are slowly integrating this, but nobody has made the breakthrough that will come from clever “crowdsourcing” about websites.        5. THROUGH 10.      LACK OF TRANSPARENCY!       Google remains very opaque when it comes to website rankings, and Yahoo in their infinite lack of cleverness 3 years back missed a golden opportunity to come to the rescue of advertisers, webmasters, and most importantly users by creating a more level field with a lot more information about how rankings work combined with public identification of site owners, webmasters, and spammers/ abusers.    Creating this type of transparency would solve many of the problems that currently plague the search game, most importantly the problems that come from webmasters trying to please Google rather than create new, innovative sites.    Best single example is the fiasco of Google’s insistence on “Nofollow” links, which have seriously distorted the entire search landscape to favor cleverly optimized / costly sites over new mom and pop operations.

You see this often  in the travel space where large, thin sites outrank rich, local sites that are newer and don’t have the link base of the older sites.     With Google as pretty much the only search in town, new links will flow mostly as a function of  the rank of the website, so we have a circular system where the “rich get richer”.     [for the record this aspect of the algorith benefits me in the case of some of my very old websites, so this is not a “sour grapes” rant as much as a critique of the approach].

However I’m not holding my breath on Bing Yahoo taking up much of Google’s market share.    As we’ve noted before Google remains an excellent tool, and it took hold of people’s search consciousness at the time they were developing their online habits, so even a superior search would have trouble hurting Google’s dominance, and to Google’s credit I think they continue to approach things more from a quality side than a revenue one.

From Yahoo:

Assuming our testing continues to yield high quality results, we anticipate that our organic search results will be powered by Bing beginning in the August/September [2010] timeframe.

This appears to be a good sign that they will not compromise organic quality in favor of elevating paid listings, a move that would probably lead to significant loss of their current (low) market share.

From Yahoo:

Compare your organic search rankings on Yahoo! Search and Bing for the keywords that drive your business, to help determine any potential impact to your traffic and sales.


Decide if you’d like to modify your paid search campaigns to compensate for any changes in organic referrals that you anticipate
Review the Bing webmaster tools and optimize your website for the Bing crawler, as Bing results will be displayed for approximately 30%* of overall search query market share after this change

This on the other hand seems a little more alarming, suggesting that people may want to pony up to maintain their ranks after the Bing transition.      Over the coming weeks there will be a lot of Bing quality testing by other SEO centric websites and we’ll try to summarize that in a later post.      We’ll also be blogging the upcoming SES San Francisco (Formerly SES San Jose) search conference – the most influential search gathering  in the world, and have more on the Bing Yahoo changes.

———–  Full Text of Yahoo’s Note ———-

Dear Advertiser,

As we continue to work closely with Microsoft to implement our search alliance, we wanted to provide you with an update on our progress, as well as call out some important, upcoming milestones to help ensure you are prepared for the changes to come.

Transition with Quality
Our goal remains providing a quality transition experience for advertisers in the U.S. and Canada in 2010, while protecting the holiday season. We’ve continued to make good progress against this goal, and we regularly evaluate our progress. However, please remember that, as we continue to go through our series of checkpoints, if we conclude that it would improve the overall experience, we may choose to defer the transition to 2011.

Organic Search Transition
To date, we’ve focused most of our communications to you on the paid search transition to adCenter. However, another key aspect of the Yahoo! and Microsoft Search Alliance is the transition of Yahoo! organic search results (those found on the main body of the page). Assuming our testing continues to yield high quality results, we anticipate that our organic search results will be powered by Bing beginning in the August/September timeframe.

If organic search results are an important source of referrals to your website, you’ll want to make sure that you’re prepared for this change:

Compare your organic search rankings on Yahoo! Search and Bing for the keywords that drive your business, to help determine any potential impact to your traffic and sales
Decide if you’d like to modify your paid search campaigns to compensate for any changes in organic referrals that you anticipate
Review the Bing webmaster tools and optimize your website for the Bing crawler, as Bing results will be displayed for approximately 30%* of overall search query market share after this change

For more specifics on the organic search transition, please refer to the Self-service Advertiser FAQs on the Yahoo! Transition Center.

Organic and Paid Search Testing
To help us deliver on our goal of transition with quality, we are conducting the necessary tests to ensure that all of the many complex, logistical pieces are in place. While there’s nothing you need to do to prepare for testing, please keep in mind the following:

Though much of our testing is already happening offline, this month we’ll also test the delivery of organic and paid search results provided by Microsoft on live Yahoo! traffic
Testing volumes will fluctuate during this period, with paid search volume in particular kept low enough to help minimize any potential impact to your account

Editorial Guidelines
Yahoo! and Microsoft have created joint editorial guidelines that will begin taking effect for both Yahoo! and Microsoft paid search advertisers in early August. We encourage you to review these now, so that you understand any potential impact to your ads or keywords. Notable changes include new guidelines for gambling and contests, and disallowed content. For a detailed overview of the editorial policy changes that will soon take effect, please read the New Editorial Guidelines article.

We are committed to making this transition as seamless and beneficial for you as possible. We appreciate your business, and look forward to bringing you the benefits of the Yahoo! and Microsoft Search Alliance.

Sincerely,
Your Partners at Yahoo!

Disclaimer:   Joe has Yahoo Stock.   Not that he’s happy about that fact.  Nope, not happy at all.

SEO Insights from two top experts

Two of the sharpest tools in the Search Engine Optimization “SEO” shed talk about the evolution of SEO in an April 2009 interview of Ralph Tegtmeier by Aaron Wall at Aaron’s excellent blog  “SEO Book“.

Although I don’t endorse some of the SEO tactics they discuss, it’s important that everybody has a better understanding of what very advanced folks are doing to adapt to the many changes in search over the past several years.    Also very interesting is the discussion about SEO morality.    I’m not as critical of Google as Ralph is in this interview but I do agree that Google’s dominance has severerly distorted the way the internet would ideally assign rankings to sites.    The best example of this in my view is the overzealous use of “NoFollow” tags, which are allowing older, inferior, highly SEOd content to trump fresh, high quality, new content because the incoming links to that content are too often nofollowed, coming in from Twitter, Facebook, WordPress,  Flickr, and other major sites that are automatically nofollowing links.

Google would say this is necessary to avoid the kind of manipulations that don’t serve users, but I remain skeptical this approach has done more good than harm, and certainly Google’s “very low transparency” working philosophy has stunted the growth of quality content.    I know this for a fact because my own decisions in developing content have changed greatly over the years knowing that quality is often not  rewarded, and site downrankings are so confusing that it leads one to abandon sites rather than improve them.

Social media gives us a wonderful opportunity to use human input to screen out junk, and I think better use of this by Google would open up newer, better sites that currently fall well under the radar screens.

Google Places

In what appears to be an effort to support local business, build a more robust travel database, and stem the tide of other sites in this arena, Google is expanding it’s “Business Center” feature to integrate with the place pages feature launched last year.   The combined effort is called “Google Places” and it’s a very good idea that appears to have the backing of Google’s massive promotional / advertising / search juggernaut.     Today in “Introducing Google Places“, over at the official Google blog, John Hanke of the development team writes:

we want to better connect Place Pages — the way that businesses are being found today — with the tool that enables business owners to manage their presence on Google.

Google is adding several feature to the site, such as free photo shoots of business interiors (a clever idea!), real time business updates, and $25 business advertising.

I remember talking with Google several years ago at a search conference about how they were struggling with ways to support and expand their local business features.    They could not hire an army of salespeople and wanted to partner with sites that were working the local angles.    Luckily for Google most businesses now have broadband and a much higher level of internet savvy and acceptance, so Google can effectively bypass partnerships with intermediaries and work directly and scalably with local business.    Seems like a winner for everybody but the intermediary sites like Yelp, CitySearch, and TripAdvisor, all of which offer similar features.   This may be good for most but will diminish the value of sites that will need to compete with Google Places for the attention of people and advertisers.

Google and China

One of the highest stakes games in technology is playing out right now as Google decides whether it will continue to maintain major Google China operations or retreat to the USA where the rules regarding censorship and government control over content are considerably more … progressive.

Reuters Reports on the latest Google v China cyber conflict

Today the Chinese Government actually warned Google about conducting itself in ways favorable to China policy *even if they leave the country* in what presumably is a threat to block Google search, effectively ceding almost all China searches to Baidu, China’s search giant which very ironically has a far more capitalistic bent than Google search.    On Baidu, companies can buy their search presence without Google’s higher levels of separation of advertising and natural search results.

The opportunity here for Baidu, and perhaps Microsoft Bing, may be extraordinary as Google’s search presence has been unassailable in the USA where it now appears they may throw in the towel in China, leaving the world’s largest and most potentially lucrative search market up for grabs even though it should be noted that currently gaming is a much bigger online market than search in Asia.   Also that Asia search portals are not nearly as lucrative as in the USA.     However this is likely to change as China’s newfound influence and affluence blossoms.

Google Social Circle

Google labs is testing a very interesting new feature within the Google search results which lists and ranks content from people that have connections to your own social networks, websites, blogs, etc.   It’s called Google Social Circle and I think this approach has a lot of potential.

Google labs writes:

We’ve taken steps to improve the relevance of our search results with personalization, but today’s launch takes that one step further. With Social Search, Google finds relevant public content from your friends and contacts and highlights it for you at the bottom of your search results. When I do a simple query for [new york], Google Social Search includes my friend’s blog on the results page …

Filtering the massive oceans of content is what Google has been doing so effectively for some time, but the social media explosion has created a new kind of relevance Google’s basic ranking system has not been taking into account.    The content of trusted friends and associates is often going to be more relevant to us than that of, say, internet marketeers in a foreign country.     If, for example, my pal has travelled to Morrocco I’m going to trust his stuff – and probably be more interested in it – than information from strangers.    Google Social Circle will incorporate that relevance into the search results, and I think by doing this they may succeed where Facebook and Twitter have pretty dramatically failed.    Facebook’s search system and layout – in my experience – makes it very hard to search for information.  It can even be difficult to find a person you know, let alone find content they have created that is relevant to your search.    Twitter lists are something of a step in the right direction of targeting for relevant information, but Twitter search is severely lacking and I don’t even know if they they are particularly interested in providing the kind of contextual content mapping Google is testing with Social Circle.

Another interesting – some would say sinister – aspect of this approach by Google is to create internet environments filled with “trusted online information sources” that have been endorsed by different networks of friends.    Clever use of the data flowing in will allow Google to better screen sites based on human input, which is much harder to spoof than manipulations commonly done as part of aggressive “Search Engine Optimization” tactics.

The Social Circle reminds me of an advanced version of “del.icio.us”, a tagging and bookmarking service aquired (and largely abandoned?) by Yahoo a few years ago.  Delicious allowed users to tag and label sites and content, creating link lists of things relevant to them and giving them the ability to share these links with others.    By automating that process and using their brilliant search algorithm to slice and dice individual information, Google has pushed us one step closer to the holy grail of search – a system that shows us exactly what we want/need to see even if we cannot clearly state exactly what we want or need.

Online Marketing: Beware of Bad Statistics

One of the cornerstones of good internet marketing is knowing your statistics, and you’d think with all the elaborate, inexpensive and free measurement and analytical tools everybody would have a great sense of how their sites stack up to the competition.

But you’d  be wrong.

In fact even many large companies are struggling with high quality analysis even as the tools get better and the measures s-l-o-w-l-y are reaching some level of standardization.     For most small companies metrics are, literally, more misses than “hits”. Webmasters routinely report or misinterpret or misrepresent website “hits” as viable traffic when hits often are simply a measure of the number of total files downloaded from the site.    Graphics or data intensive websites can see hundreds of hits from a single web visitor.

Even when the analysis is good the reporting is often opportunistic or manipulative, and it’s often done by the same team that is accountable for the results.     This is a common problem throughout the business metrics field.  Executives are well advised to have independent auditing of results by unbiased parties for any business critical measurements.

Consider learning and using analysis packages like Google Analytics – a brilliantly robust and free tool provided by Google to anyone.

A while back Peter Norvig, one of the top search experts over at Google (also a leading world authority on Artificial Intelligence), published a little study indicating how unreliable the Alexa Metrics were with regard to website traffic.  (Thanks to Matt Cutts for pointing out the Peter paper.

The results here demonstrates that Alexa is off by a factor of 50x (ie an error of five thousand percent!) when comparing Matt Cutts’ and Peter’s site traffic.

Although this is just an anecdotal snapshot indicating the problem, and perhaps Alexa is better now, I’d also noted many problems with comparisons of Alexa to sites where I knew the real traffic.   50x seems to be a spectacular level of error for sites read mostly by technology sector folks.   It even suggests that Alexa may be a questionable comparison tool unless there is abundant other data to support the comparison, in which case you probably don’t need Alexa anyway.

Of course the very expensive statistics services don’t fare all that well either. A larger, and excellent comparison study by Rand Fishkin over at SEOMOZ collected data from several prominent sites in technology, including Matt Cutts’ blog, and concluded that no metrics were reasonably in line with the actual log files. Rand notes that he examined only about 25 blogs so the sample was somewhat small and targeted, but he concludes:

Based on the evidence we’ve gathered here, it’s safe to say that no external metric, traffic prediction service or ranking system available on the web today provides any accuracy when compared with real numbers.

It’s interesting how problematic it’s been to accurately compare what is arguably the most important aspect of internet traffic – simple site visits and pageviews. Hopefully as data becomes more widely circulated and more studies like these are done we may be able to create some tools that allow quick comparisons.  Google Analytics is coming into widespread use but Fishkin told me at a conference that even that “internal metrics” tool seemed to have several problems when compared with the log files he reviewed.  My own experience with Analytics have not been extensive but the data seems to line up with my log stats and I’d continue to recommend this excellent analytics package.