Google has been attacking the local market in a big way – “Places” is an attempt to compete directly with Yelp in the local business review market, and their Groupon clone is rolling out slowly across the country as well. While many observers dislike Google’s philosophy of “buy it or copy it” (in addition to creating a near-clone of Yelp in Places, Google Offers is a straight riff on Groupon, which Google failed to acquire last year after offering billions), the company’s ubiquitous presence means that nearly anything they launch should be watched carefully.
Google is serious about making Places the go-to service for local reviews, and they’ve built a local presence in many markets to promote it. Here in Austin, both Places and Offers are receiving heavy promotion on social media, and it’s interesting to see Google’s enthusiasm for promoting their own services rub up against their public fight against web spam and junk content. In its aggressive promotion of review writing for Places, Google is essentially encouraging the creation of low-quality content to boost the service’s own ranking.
This promotion popped up last week: looks innocuous enough, and there’s a quick aside to discourage you from posting spam. But by holding contests to get users to post as many reviews as possible in a very short amount of time, Google cannot be serious about quality – quantity is the goal here, because more reviews beget better rankings.
If Google cared about review quality, they certainly wouldn’t encourage users to write reviews as quickly as possible. It calls into question the whole purpose of the service, and indeed Google’s attention to content quality in general. How can you downgrade content farm sites globally while at the same time encouraging a content farm mentality for services where you’re trying to build market share on your own?
Google’s webmaster guidelines for content quality suggest asking yourself “Does this help my users?” when considering the content you create and publish. In the case of contests to quickly create business reviews in as short amount of time as possible, I think the answer is clearly no.
In a previous post, we tackled the problem of SEO for promotional products and why it’s so difficult. Today, Google’s Matt Cutts released another video that addresses this problem directly. A webmaster asks if they will be penalized for offering the same product on three different domains, and it’s worth watching Cutts’ response in its entirety here.
The problem here, as it relates directly to promotional products, is that the vast majority of web sites selling promotional products contain identical products. There are two reasons for this: First, there are hundreds of thousands of products in the industry and it’s nearly impossible for anyone operating a website to customize and manage all those products, so most sites simply take a “product data feed” from suppliers or data aggregators (like ASI, SAGE, or Distributor Central) and display that product data. Therefore, most promotional products websites display the exact same data, product numbers and pricing information.
Second, even a fraction of that massive selection of products is difficult to manage. We recommend very strongly that our clients only showcase 3000-5000 products on their sites from the top suppliers, but even a selection that small is tough for most small businesses to customize and maintain.
So what should you do? If you use a platform like storeBlox, we offer automated tools for making every product unique, using a variety of techniques such as URL customization and custom SKU creation. These tools are not silver bullets, but they help solve the primary problem of a product on your site looking exactly like a product on your competitor’s. To find out more about the storeBlox e-commerce platform and how it can ease the burden of SEO, please visit eBlox.com.
Is Google+ actually going to make our lives (and privacy) more organized and compartmentalized? That seems to be its primary appeal. Where Facebook bolted on group management as an afterthought, Google+ encourages you to approach your online socializing via distinct circles from the very beginning. For those who are already well-organized and mindful of privacy and sharing, neither service offers much advantage over the other one in terms of real privacy protection. Google+ may be easier (and a lot more fun) to manage and setup, but both offer control over what you share and whom you share it with.
A few years back, when Facebook saw a rising threat from Twitter, they responded with numerous changes to make users’ status feeds real-time and to encourage widespread sharing by default. In other words, Facebook wanted you to tell the world about the pancakes you just made, as opposed to just your friends. This backfired, and Facebook has, in various ways, been twisting in the wind when it comes to privacy ever since then.
Managing privacy on Facebook is a lot like trying to organize your very messy home by going to the Container Store to find boxes to sort and store everything. It’s feasible, but it’s a pain, and you wish you had been more organized in the first place. Google+ forces you to go to the Container Store and buy those boxes before you even move in. You can’t bring your stuff into the house until you’ve decided how to organize it.
That’s fabulous — Google has approached privacy from the ground up, as opposed to tacking it on after the fact as Facebook has done. There’s a catch, though: If you’re disorganized and you don’t care about messes, forced organization isn’t going to change that. You can organize everything in boxes before you move in to your house, but if you’re a messy person, within a month or two you’ll have crap all over the house again. Structure imposed up front can be as ineffective as structure imposed after the fact – if you’re allergic to structure, it’s useless. I’ve watched Hoarders.
All us geeks over here with our GTD methodologies and EFF memberships eat up this structured privacy stuff. And you could argue that the “Circles” concept itself is a more accurate and relatable metaphor for human interaction, and could encourage non-techies to think a little harder about what they’re posting online. There’s no shortage of interesting research on this topic; it’s odd, though, that the primary researcher behind Circles left for – you guessed it – Facebook.
Technology enthusiasts reside in a massive echo chamber. The “consumerization” of technology may be progressing rapidly, but that doesn’t mean that your mom or your cousin understand that online privacy isn’t an all-or-nothing game. Most people tend to share or they don’t; if selective sharing were an important feature for the average user, Twitter wouldn’t have over 100 million users.
Creating circles is one thing. Maintaining them, as Kevin Cheng notes in a perceptive post here, is entirely another. Google should be applauded for making privacy a focus of its new social network, but it remains to be seen whether Circles will be useful for the long term management of the real mess of human relationships.