Microsoft and Apple find common purpose as they gang up on Google

Apple versus Google in mobile warsHead on over to the official Google blog and you’ll find a very interesting article posted yesterday (August 4th 2011) entitled “When Patents Attack Android” that went on to spark a very pubic and very bitter argument  between the technology giants.

Chief Legal Officer at Google, David Drummond, used the original post to launch a highly critically attack on Microsoft, Apple & others for buying up mobile technology patents with the direct intention of limiting innovation and forcing up prices for handsets using the Android operating system.  In Drummond’s own words

“Android’s success has yielded…a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents”

This is what seems to have happened.   A group of companies (Rockstar) led by Apple and Microsoft have acquired a number of old patents previously held by Novell & Nortel that cover mobile operating software.  They were purchased for the princely sum of $4.5 billion, 5 times more than the pre-auction estimate.  A hefty investment and one seemingly made to inflict maximum pain on Google’s ambitions for the mobile space.

In doing so they are now able to levy a $15 licensing fee against every handset that uses the Android system.  They’re taking violations of these patents very seriously and have already launched suits against Samsung, HTC and Motorola.

Google have hit back and called upon the US Department of Justice to look into this purchase citing it as anti-competitive.   Google claim that the Rockstar group are both stifling innovation and limiting consumer choice and that rather than competing “by building new features or devices, they are fighting through litigation“.

At this point  Microsoft’s General Counsel Brad Smith disputed Drummond’s version on the Novell patent issue on Twitter.

“Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no,” Smith tweeted in response to the blog.

And so it seems to go on with executives from both sides taking shots at each other over the issue.  But with the mobile market continuing to expand and the prize of dominating the (non-Apple) mobile OS space being granted to the winner of this fight we think it’s going to get much worse for both sides.

To read the original Google blog post go to

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/when-patents-attack-android.html

 

 

 

 

Business issues you should consider before you launch your website

Website launch party imageAt The Levels we agree with the mantra that it’s all in the planning!  Every now and again we’re asked what we think are the most important business issues to consider when launching a website and we keep coming back to that mantra.

Write your business plan, consider your customer, understand your market and your place within it.  Once you’re confident you have a great product, you’ve engaged with a web development agency and you’re about to hit the “Go Live”  button stop for a minute.   Take a look at the site afresh and go through the following check list.

1. SEO AUDIT

Run a full SEO technical audit of the site: However good (& or expensive!) your web development agency is, it’s vital that you take another look at the site from Google’s perspective.  It doesn’t matter how powerful your content is or how numerous your site back links may be, if you don’t have a clean & searchable site you’ll struggle to place well at Google and the other search engines.  An SEO audit of your test site will allow you to fix any major issues before you launch.

2. ANALYTICS
In order to measure the success of your site and to spot any usability issues it’s vital that you’ve deployed an appropriate web analytics tool.  Spend some time with your provider or your web development agency configuring the tool to measure  the success metrics applicable to your business and to flag any usability issues that might present themselves after launch. If you’re spending any money marketing the site then ensure that your agency or marketing department is using your analytics tool to track these campaigns as well.
3. eCRM PROCEDURES & POLICIES
We all hope that no one will ever be critical of our site or the business we run but in reality everyone likes to complain some of the time!  Before you launch you need to understand exactly how you will deal with negative comments or complaints.  Have a clear & documented eCRM policy in place.  Ensure  that everyone in the organisation is aware of this and understands escalation policies. 
4. CONTENT POLICY,  CHECKLISTS & TRAINING
If you have a team of writers or contributors adding to the content at your site you need to establish the ground rules.  Work with them to establish a tone of voice and brand identity that will colour all of the content you deliver to your users. It’s also vital that they’re considering how their content will be consumed on-line.  Are they trained to write for the web? Are they aware of SEO considerations when uploading content?  Have they been fully trained on your content management system?  If you’re running a content heavy site it’s worth considering a “Writing for the Web” training course to refresh even the most experienced journalist on the latest trends and techniques.  

5. CHANGE MANAGEMENT
As with any business it’s vital that everyone involved in the launch and development of the site has clear sight of the change management responsibilities and procedures.  You must have well defined & documented sign off polices in place and quality checking on any changes that effect the user experience.  Many a great website has been ruined by a lack of change management. 
6. TEST, TEST & TEST AGAIN
Before you launch you need to test every element of the user experience again and again. Have you delivered a site that meets the needs of your users or the assumptions you have made about them?  If you have the resources to run lab tests to observe users travelling through your site then do it.  If your launch budget doesn’t run that far then ask your friends, family and colleagues to play with the test site and let you know what they make of it.  It’s better to delay the launch of a site which subsequently meets the expectations of your customers  than to launch with a substandard product.  TEST, TEST & TEST AGAIN

Google takes on Facebook’s Like Button and gets a little more sociable

Google social

“The web’s a big place so sometimes it helps to have a tour guide”.

This is how Google describe their +1 technology, a recommendation system that allows you to  flag interesting or relevant pages within search results, sharing these recommendations with people you’re connected to through Google.  As Facebook carries on it’s relentless expansion this is another move from our friends at the search giant to make their results and services ever more “social”.    It’s simple, elegant, easy to execute from a users perspective and in time will give a deeper more human feel to search results.   What’s not to love about this.

A Google account’s required to use this new feature and allows users to share their recommendations through Gmail, Google Chat, Google Reader and Buzz. Currently, the button is only available on the search results page, but in the future Google has plans to provide this button to companies so users can +1 their site without ever having to leave the page.    You’ll also be able to +1 Google Ads that you find beneficial.

In Google’s own words:

“Say, for example, you’re planning a winter trip to Tahoe, Calif. When you do a search, you may now see a +1 from your slalom-skiing aunt next to the result for a lodge in the area. Or if you’re looking for a new pastarecipe, we’ll show you +1’s from your culinary genius college roommate. And even if none of your friends are baristas or caffeine addicts, we may still show you how many people across the web have +1’d your local coffee shop.”

And here’s where things get interesting from an SEO perspective; look again at the last line “And even if none of your friends are baristas or caffeine addicts, we may still show you how many people across the web have +1’d your local coffee shop”.

Matt Cutts recently went on record saying that one of the best things you can do to improve your ranking is to get “social”.  So, together with this statement we can see just how vital a carefully executed social media strategy is to search optimisation going forward. Getting people to +1 your content is going to deliver more organic traffic and better results.  We’re also hoping that’ll deliver cheaper paid traffic too if +1 ranking is incorporated into their data.

So all in all this seems like a great move all round.  An elegant and useful service for the user and a simple way to improve Google’s results based on the service and reputation of the sites it’s indexed.

We’re now sitting back and waiting for the multitude of “Get more +1’s at low low prices” emails from every black hat spammer out there!

To read the original Google post to go:

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/1s-right-recommendations-right-when-you.html

Is the Facebook v Google battle about to get interesting?

Google vs Facebook imageThis weekend the rumour mill went into overdrive at SxSW as Google once again refused to comment on their plans to take on Facebook with a social product. A Google spokesperson told The Next Web blog “We do not speculate on rumor and speculation”.

But despite the lack of any firm information it’s looking more and more likely that a big announcement will happen this year’s I/O developers’ conference in May.  Back in September Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt confirmed that a “social layer” was coming to all of their products  and we’ve seen this start to materialise as search results become more social and location based reviews are added to Google Maps.

We at the Levels are very excited by the possibility to this launch if the rumours are correct.  It’s thought that the product will be called Google Circles and that it is being developed in line with the thoughts of the ex-Google social technology researcher Paul Adams.

In a number of essays and presentations Adams says that what’s wrong with Facebook and many of the other social networks is that there’s no context given to your contacts and the information you publish.  We all operate in life with many different personas; work, friends,parent etc but when it comes to social networking all of our friends are lumped into one bucket making it impossible to target messages and communication to different social groups.   If Google find a solution to this, letting us publish and share with our different Circles of friends it will be a major step forward both in terms of use but also the privacy of information held within social environments.

After the failure of Buzz and Wave Google must be hoping that this will be third time lucky for them.  They need to crack the nut primarily in order to maintain their advertising revenues but we at The Levels would like to see an alternative to Facebook that’s driven by respect for privacy and a greater understanding of the complexity of human relationships.

What has been Facebook’s response to this? Well Mr Adams now works for them!

To read the article at The Next Web http://thenextweb.com/google/2011/03/11/google-reportedly-to-launch-google-me-in-may/

For Paul Adams presentation The Real Life Social Network go to http://www.slideshare.net/padday/the-real-life-social-network-v2

Google recruit us to help in their battle against the content bandits

Google versus the content farms imageGoogle have taken yet another step forward in their war against the content farms who fill up their ( & our) results with spammy nastiness. Writing on the official company blog last night Amay Champaneria and Beverly Yang, Search Quality Engineers for the search giant revealed new functionality that allows you to block the sites you don’t want to see.

This functionality isn’t aimed at sites that don’t quite meet your expectations in terms of the search you’ve made, but rather at the sites that you find offensive, pornographic or in their words “generally low quality” ie the content farms chasing traffic by writing about subjects purely because they’re popular search terms.

You’ll need to be signed into your Google account to use the new features, but once you have and you click on a result and return immediately to Google you’ll be asked if you want to block all results coming from that domain.  Click yes and you’ll receive a confirmation message as well as the option to undo your block.  Once you make a new search these results will magically disappear!  You’ll be notified by a message either at the top or bottom of your results that pages have been blocked.

So, back to Farmer and the content bandits.  At the bottom of the blog post Amay and Beverly write “while we’re not currently using the domains people block as a signal in ranking, we’ll look at the data and see whether it would be useful as we continue to evaluate and improve our search results in the future.” In other words they’re recruiting us to help them get rid of the spammers.

As marketeers how do we respond to this?  Well the good news is that you don’t need to hire the editorial team from The Times!  But you should be producing original and high quality copy that’s rich and useful to your readers, subscribers and visitors.  If you’d like to know more about Farmer and how to craft website content that actually benefits from this update then give us a shout at lucy@the-levels.com and we’ll get back to you.

To read the original Google post go to http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/hide-sites-to-find-more-of-what-you.html

 

The future looks bright for Google as US kids opt for Android

iphone v. android imageGoogle the guys we love to hate have delivered another set of bad news for the mighty Apple.

New research from Nielsen suggests that the future is looking very good for them as they make even further strides in the battle of the Smartphones.  In the US 18-24 year olds were significantly more likely to purchase a phone with an Android operating system than iOS or Blackberry.  27% of all active phones in the US are still iPhones but it’s the change in taste of the youth market that’s very telling.

This is great news for the publishers who’re  still facing the imposition of the 30% Apple tax and also for the techno-liberals (like us Levellers) who object to the closed wall garden approach taken by Apple and Blackberry.

We think that this is only Round 1 of an epic battle and we’re looking forward to the benefits delivered to the consumer as these mighty Krakens of the technology world go head to head in the mobile wars.

Google take on the content farms with new update

image of a farmerYesterday ( Feb 23rd 2011) Google announced a major algorithmic change.  Although they haven’t given this one an official name many in the SEO space have nicknamed it “Farmer” (more of that later).   Google  admit the change will have a significant affect on the search results we see, impacting almost 12% of their US queries.  So, why the change?

In the company blog post Matt Cutts writes “this update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.”  In our analysis this looks very much like they’ve declared war on the content farms.

Content farms produce articles based on keywords that are highly trafficked.  They respond to the changes in search behaviour and churn the stuff out.  Generally, it’s badly written filler guff that’s only there to grab the attention of the search engines and offers no real or tangible value to the readers.   In other words it’s spammy as hell!

This has been a long time coming, some insiders report that Google engineers have been working on this update for over 18 months.  With a initial roll-out to the US announced we’re hoping that this will eventually roll out to the rest of the world.

Cutts adds, “we’re very excited about this new ranking improvement because we believe it’s a big step in the right direction of helping people find ever higher quality in our results.”

So, lessons to take from this?  Invest in the content at your site, get your staff blogging, find an advocate and give them a voice.  Think about how you’re going to deliver useful, vibrant and search friendly content that’s a true resource for your customers and will serve you well in the future.

Using a content farm might seem like a convenient and cheap alternative but remember when we used to say that about buying links back in the day?

If you’d like to talk to us at The Levels about putting together a content strategy and delivering  training your staff to write effectively for search then just give us a shout at lucy@the-levels.com.

To read the blog post in full go to http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/finding-more-high-quality-sites-in.html

Google Search Results Get More Social

Google social imageGoogle is taking its biggest step yet toward making search results more social.

Yesterday Google announced that it’s search results would now incorporate much more information from your friends and colleagues across your social networks.   Although Google remains by far and away the most dominant search engine in the UK this move comes as we are increasingly looking to our social networks for advise and validation.

“Relevance isn’t just about pages — it’s also about relationships,” Mike Cassidy, a Google product management director, and Matthew Kulick, a product manager, wrote in a Google company blog post this week as they discussed the new functionality.

Google has had a version of social search since 2009 but only a small percentage of people used it. Now, they’re enabling you to get even more information from the people that matter to you, whether they’re publishing on YouTube, Flickr or their own blog or website.

If you decide to switch social search on then these search results will now be mixed throughout your results based on their relevance, results (so only if you’re logged in to your Google account and have connected your social networking accounts).  The results will also be more comprehensive and will add notes for links people have shared on Twitter and other sites.  Google have also given you more control over how you connect accounts, and made connecting accounts more convenient by added a new option to connect accounts privately via your Google Account.

But how relevant is this move when Facebook results will be excluded?  The company blog post says social results will appear only “if someone you’re connected to has publicly shared a link.” As we know, Facebook posts are generally private, and Facebook in the past has made it almost impossible for Google to import social information.

So, thank you Google a nice move but how many people will bother to use this when by far the biggest social network isn’t taking part?  We’ll wait and see.

To read the full blog post:

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/update-to-google-social-search.html