While the “Scroogled” efforts don’t reach the level of a Super-PAC funded campaign, Microsoft is displaying its going-negative chops in two effective ways:
1. It is defining an issue that few Google users know about — in a way that will make anything Google does in response seem defensive.
2. Instead of launching the campaign last May when Google’s policy came to light, Microsoft has chosen to launch it during the holiday retail-centric season, but after the height of the Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday coverage.
Ironically, I agree with everything he writes, except one: the title. So this isn’t a negative reaction, or even a disagreement with what he writes. Just that title.
He should have titled it, “Google’s secret plan to kill domain names” as, in a clever “wink-wink, how can I say something without really saying it, throw-away line, he writes: “Note to self: Start a conspiracy about that.” Note to Ev: If you’re the creator of Twitter and Blogger.com and former Googler, you get lots of tea-leaf-studiers and conspiracy-theorists analysis when he you say something like that.
But I digress. Back to the non-conspiracy starting parts of his post.
He writes, “While I’m still a sucker for a clean .com, it does seem less important, and it will continue to become less important, for at least five reasons.”
His reasons are (and you need to click over to his blog to read his explanations):
1. Google (is how we get to lots of sites)
2. Auto-complete address bars (guess what you’re typing in, anyway)
3. Mobile web browsers and hidden address bars
5. Alternative success stories for non .com domains
The top four reasons are certainly factual, nothing to disagree there. The fifth reason is sort of off-topic because the post was about “domain names” and not .com domain names, but still, no question what he says is a fact.
I even agree completely with his Conclusion:
“Names are more important than domain names. While a good .com name is still worth a lot, it’s not as crucial to success on the internet as it used to be. And the forces that have made it less important will continue to make it less important over time (especially the mobile-related ones). I’d still opt (and pay up) for a nice, clean .com if I could get one, but I wouldn’t consider it a must have. Product and brand names, on the other hand, are just as important as ever (or more so in an increasingly crowded internet). Too many startups have suffered a stupid name to get the domain that fit. Hopefully, entrepreneurs will feel less pressure to do that as the world becomes more auto-complete/app/mobile driven and less-dot-com biased.”
What I don’t agree with is that title.
Those five points don’t add up to domains not being very important.
Here’s what I mean.
I often forget my wife’s phone number because I have it on speed dial, but does that mean she doesn’t need a phone number? What about all those people who don’t have her on speed dial?
If I sold flowers and I couldn’t get 1-800-FlOWERS, should I not get a phone number? No, having a phone number would be very important. Even if, say, 80% of my business came online, wouldn’t I still want as good and memorable a phone number as possible for the 20% who want to call me.
Like I said, I agree with everything Ev says — I think things are heading that way (however, much slower than those of us who use technology on the edge think).
So, I’ve decided to list (without much explanation) five reasons domains are still very important — non-controversial reasons that, we can all agree on (except Google), but that argue why we don’t want domains to go away — or, indeed, why they won’t.
1. A domain name provides you with control over your identity and destiny (not like pointing people to your Twitter account)
2. Domain names can be adapted to provide all sorts of marketing and administrative gateways to your business, like, for example: business.twitter.com or blog.twitter.com or status.twitter.com. And just think, as great as Twitter is, using a domain name allows Twitter to use three different platforms (including Blogger.com, which Ev created), to communicate with users who think they are going to the same place.
3. Auto-filled address bars won’t send you to blog.twitter.com unless you visit blog.twitter.com a lot.
4. Apps need domain names if you want to sell plush toys like Angry Birds does.)
5. When domains are dead, the biggest winner is Google (although Twitter and Facebook could come in a close second and third
This isn’t a post for my tech and new media friends.
Rather, it’s a post for my friends who do NOT obsessively follow developments related to the intersection of media, technology and marketing: in other words, nearly everyone I know away from the office.
I’m writing this for you, because it’s about something Google announced today that I think is pretty great — but you could easily think it’s very creepy. So, here goes.
If you have a Google account (translation: you probably do, even if you don’t think you do — a Gmail account works), and you are logged into Google (translation: If you see Google in the classic, plain way, click on that “Sign in” link up in the right hand corner) and you go to the effort of setting up a Google profile and add links to your Twitter and other social networking accounts, when you google something, you’ll start seeing little pictures of your online connections and their links to topics relevant to what you’ve searched for.
(Now, my new media and tech friends probably have Google profiles, etc., so that’s one of the reasons why this post isn’t for them.)
Those “social search” results could include a link a friend or news-source you follow has shared on Twitter — or perhaps a link and notation you’ve added to Google Reader (a reason to have an account).
The news today is that those social search results are now going to be integrated into web search results and not broken out as a separate category at the bottom of the Google search results page. (The video I’ve embedded above explains the feature quickly and much more understandably than my attempt, so watch it.)
Now, I think that’s a great way to personalize and customize search for a better experience. Say, if I search for a restaurant and Google knows everyone with whom I have some connection, they can then include as front-page results (in theory) links to Yelp reviews from people I know. I think that’s great — however, I totally understand why many people will think that’s creepy. For some reason, some people don’t like Google knowing everything they’ve ever done and every place they’ve ever visited and every sentence they’ve ever written about any topic.
As I understood that was part of the deal about 15 years ago when I started posting things on the web, I guess I built into my expectations that one day, all of those things could be found in the context of when people wanted to find them.
But I digress.
This is a pretty big deal for it is a clear reward for people who spend time curating links for their followers on Twitter. It’s also going to be a pretty interesting experiment to watch if you’re a student of search.
I think, however, that it may cause people who follow thousands of people on Twitter to consider pruning such lists as links from all of those people will now show up in their results. (That’s a guess on my part, I haven’t seen the results.)
If this does sound creepy to you, here’s all you need to do to keep your tweets, etc., from showing up: Don’t log into Google when you search, and if you’re really freaked out, de-couple all of your public pages from your Google profile.
But I suggest you not be afraid of this. It’s actually one of the good things the internet can do for you.
“When you read the enormous list of sites with Penney links, the landscape of the Internet acquires a whole new topography. It starts to seem like a city with a few familiar, well-kept buildings, surrounded by millions of hovels kept upright for no purpose other than the ads that are painted on their walls.”
“Don’t do anything you’d be embarrassed to read about on the front page of the newspaper,” is one of those truisms I picked up early and used a lot back two decades ago when I used to run a PR firm and needed to have such quips in my back pocket.
As the work my colleagues and I at Hammock provide our clients (custom media, content strategy and management) has evolved over the past 20 years, a growing percentage of our work must be created in the context of how people use the Internet. As Google has become the front door to the Internet for a large portion of the audience our clients want to reach, our company has devoted more-and-more resources to understanding and responding to how Google works, a practice popularly termed Search Engine Optimization.
While I’m firmly in the “good content is the best search engine strategy” school of theory and practice, I nonetheless hang onto every word uttered by such people as Matt Cutts (Google’s Ambassador of Good SEO-ness) and Danny Sullivan, the all-knowing editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land. From them, and through years of study and practice, I know that it is not just good content that Google likes. It’s good content organized and structured and tagged and linked to that Google likes.
I know all about good (white hat) SEO practices and bad (black hat) SEO practices — and I know there are things some people want to call gray hat practices. And I know that, despite claims to the contrary, the forces of darkness (at least, gray and black) are constantly undermining and devaluing the entire currency on which the Internet is supposed to rest: the hyperlink.
When you read it, think about that “Don’t do anything…” truism because I’ve found myself using it more and more in response to SEO-related questions like, “Is it okay to participate in a link-exchange program.” (My answer is, “Probably not, but show me precisely what you are talking about…and Don’t do anything…”)
Read the article and ask yourself, “If JC Penny is spending $30 million a year in Google paid advertising, how much is it costing them to practice a black-hat “paid links” strategy that is probably generating more revenue for the company? (Penny’s executives try to devalue organic search in the article, but conventional wisdom and supporting research suggests “conversion rates” are higher for organic search results than paid search results).
SEO — or, more precisely in this context, where a link to the seller of a product ends up on the first Google “Search Engine Results Page” (SERP) when a potential buyer uses Google to find the product — is the foundation of a large part of the online economy.
Until good content actually is good search, we’re all lost.
Later: Perhaps I should have mentioned that in the article, J.C. Penny denies knowledge of the paid-link strategy (plausible deniability or bold-face lying, take your pick) and fired their SEO agency.
Bonus link: On Search Engine Land, former Googler Vanessa Fox breaks down the New York Times article and explains what J.C. Penny’s now-fired SEO consultants were doing.
Another bonus link: This is a link to a page on Search Engine Land that is called, How to use google to search. I’m adding the link to help demonstrate how linking to a post can help push up the results of even the most obvious type of question. It will be a part of a future article written by Danny Sullivan regarding the way Content Farms work.
I’ve often said on this blog, if the first place you learn the inside story about a new technology-related product is the New York Times, then it’s likely doomed. The reason (for those of you who aren’t among the 12 people who read this blog) is that great technology-related products need time to “iterate” in obscurity. “Iterate” is a nice way of saying what has been proven so many times, it may as well be fact: New stuff sucks and needs time to become something other than what the creators thought it was going to be when they created it.
However, there is an exception to every rule, and today, you can see one: Google has allowed a New York Times fashion writer to break the story of perhaps the most ambitious new product I’ve seen from Google since Google Maps (no kidding): Boutiques.com. And, since it’s apparent to anyone who knows me that I know nothing about fashion, it’s safe to assume I’m talking about the underlying technology of Boutiques.com, and not the content.
Before getting into the product itself, and why I’d compare it to something as uniquely great as Google Maps, let me explain briefly why Google gets a pass on the “New York Times Rule”:
1. it’s not a tech story, it’s a fashion story. (see related point #3)
2. It’s a search product and what you’re seeing is the result of lots of iterations (see: Froogle). Granted, while not new, what you’re seeing today is rather radical iteration of “search” for Google: a different search interface paradigm that’s something other than typing words into a query box. (But, in other words, because it’s a search product, it’s a Lucy Google product and not a Pigpen Google product.)
3, Someone at Google (I’m guessing Marissa Mayer) has made the ultimate sacrifice a marketer will make: relinquishing personal ego (or in this case, corporate ego) and allowing something to be rolled out free from “the way we always do things.” In other words, there is no way engineers in Mountain View, California, no matter how rich and successful they are, will know anything about fashion marketing — so admit it. And to prove how much someone at Google admitted it, at about 7 a.m. today, there was still nothing about the launch of Boutiques.com on Techmeme.com the aggregator of all things the Bay-area-centric tech world considers significant. Had TechCrunch broken this story, I would say it had no hope of being successful as a “fashion product.” (Note, however, that the Google Voice iPhone App dominated that “space.”)
As for the product, itself, here are some quick things to note:
1. It’s not branded Google. Anywhere. There’s not even an “About Us” link to say who’s behind it. (Clicking on “Help” takes you to recognizable Google-territory.)
2. It uses a URL and brand name that challenges the theory of thousands of internet marketing gurus who use “Google” as their poster child for not needing a name that “means something.”
3. While I know nothing about fashion, I do know this: Timing is everything when it comes to fashion. To succeed, the algorithms powering Boutiques.com need to be fine-tuned to pick up the newest, the latest, the trendiest — as well as the cheapest, most classic and best looking. Whatever Google is learning and using on this front is going to be very valuable on several other fronts.
4. Unlike the confusing term “social search” (one of those terms that means so many different things, it means nothing), there are features on Boutiques.com that are what could be called “curated search.” For example, the “Bloggers” tab leads to results that are curated by blogging fashionistas. (Some people might, at least I do, see some comparison between this and a website like The Hype Machine that surfaces music being blogged about.
Bottomline: Consider how far Google’s approach to search has come since the original query box in white space. “Search” on Boutiques.com is about images, not words. Rather than using a “box,” it pushes you to start a search query based on a taxonomy unique to a specific niche. It recognizes that “page rank” is not the algorithm suited for personal choice and whim of the day. I have no idea whether or not this fashion site idea will work — but I think the underlying ideas about search and commerce that are on display here will be around, no matter what happens with this particular site.
And one more thing: This is such a radical departure from Google’s core search, it will be entertaining to see how SEO blackhats try to hack it.
And the last, last thing: Longterm, this technology will likely be more valuable for sourcing parts for manufacturing than finding the latest designer handbags.
Best crack ever about this blog: One of those people on the internet just let me know that, “Someone who knows nothing about technology or fashion shouldn’t write about them.” Boutiques.com, this person informed me, is simply a re-skinning of Like.com, a Google acquisition. Rather than waste time tracking down links from previous posts to debate something not worth debating, I’ll gladly concede: I know nothing about either tech or fashion.