Google Helpouts: Bring an expert to your desk, kitchen, couch, wherever

Helpout Real People 131105

Can you remember how you obtained answers to questions in the pre-Internet world? You could travel to the local library to find a reference book. Or more likely, you turned to a person you knew and whom you thought might have the information. You would phone them or visit them or if you were lucky find them sitting in the same room as you. Knowledge was transferred person to person.

The Internet placed trust in search engines over people

Then the Internet age dawned and with it search engines. Search engines gave us the ability to find information, answers to questions and solutions to problems as quickly as we could enter a search term into a browser. And when we did, a set of search results would be delivered to our browser. Choose the result we liked or trusted most, and we had our answer.

Information became instantly accessible. But it also became disconnected from the the human source we trusted. In effect, we transferred our trust to the search engine and its algorithm.

Continue reading…

What I want from Search: Content that's meaningful to me

GoogleAn assertion by Ravit Lichtenburg in a post on ReadWriteWeb caught my eye. “The issue Google solved so magically — content find-ability — will become all but moot in the coming years. Instead, content relevance and quality will become the key focus.”

Web Search has transformed my life. Thanks to Google, I can find content about virtually anything. I search for topics, addresses, words, people, companies. Online search is my first reference for everything.

Still, Search continues to be a blunt instrument. All too often I find myself clicking through search results to find content that is meaningful to me. What’s relevant to the vast majority of people may not be what I’m looking for.

TwitterAnd that’s where social media comes in. Through social media – blogs, Twitter, Facebook – I find and follow people whose interests intersect with mine and whose perspective I find interesting.

I’m a communicator who cares about community, communication, business, PR and marketing. And I’m Canadian. So, over time I’ve assembled lists of RSS feeds, Twitter IDs and Facebook friends that speak to these interests and place. And very often, I find myself clicking on links and reading content recommended to me by the people I follow.

Does this mean that I live in a bubble of me-too thinkers? Not at all. I don’t subscribe to people because they agree with me. I subscribe to people because they say something that provokes me to think further about a topic or opens a new perspective on it. This leads me to new things as well as new perspectives on familiar issues.

What am I looking for? Search results that are relevant to me and reflect a higher quality of thought.

What I want is a tool that bringsĀ  all three together for me. And that will do the same for you. And for everyone. To do this, it will need to recognize each of us as an individual and take into account not just what we search for but also what we’ve linked to, what we’ve commented on and what we’ve said.

Is someone out there working on this now? When, I wonder, will I see a tool that will do this?

Technorati and Me

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that a longstanding relationship with a friend has withered to the point that it’s really just a memory. We cling to those memories of better time even though we don’t see one another day to day. TechnoratiAnd when we do, it’s just not the same.

That’s the way it is with Technorati and me.

There was a time when I would visit Technorati several times a day. I would regularly refer to Technorati to learn about a new blog I’d discovered. What author had registered ownership of the blog? How many inbound links came to it and from whom?

A blog’s Technorati Authority would provide a quick indicator of whether a blog was being paid attention to and by whom.

The Technorati search engine provided me with a unique view of content. Not only could I find the most recent posts on any topic, but I could also filter them by the Technorati Authority – selecting posts from all blogs, those with a little authority, some authority or a lot of authority.

And Technorati first introduced me to the concept of persistent search. It was the first search engine I found that enabled me to define a search and then subscribe to the results in my feedreader – telling me right away about new content that satisfied my search criteria without having to regenerate the search terms.

I registered ProPR on Technorati and followed the increase of my own authority (Yes, I visited daily just to watch the number increase.) I even registered my Twitter stream with Technorati and was delighted to see its authority climb as others linked back to my Twitter ID.

I could even rely on Technorati’s then-CEO, David Sifry, to post a quarterly analysis of the state of the blogosphere/ live web.

So, Technorati meant a lot to me. It was a search engine, a reference point to assess the relative weight of blogs and a source of analysis and insight into the growth of social media.

But….

A relationship is only strong so long as both parties are committed to it. And over time, I began to feel abandoned by Technorati. Management changes, money problems, a loss of focus, failed partnerships, service outages – all took their toll. I began to rely less and less on Technorati.

Google Blog SearchAnd just when my faith in Technorati was being challenged, Google enticed with its own social media search engine. I began to hang out more often with my new Google friend.

As I divided my loyalties, I noticed that the results from Google Blog Search was finding posts and content that Technorati was missing.

But my emotional attachment with my old friend Technorati kept me coming back. I’d continue to routinely set up persistent searches on both Google Blog Search and Technorati.

On top of this, Technorati was failing to maintain its innovation leadership. Technorati authority was the bluntest of instruments. But it had its own authority, being widely cited and incorporate in indexes like the AdAge Power150. But despite the fact that its many users criticized the basic methodology, Technorati failed to improve. It left the field wide open to startup AideRSS to make the big advance with its PostRank algorithm.

And so it ends…

Finally, I am throwing in the towel on Technorati. I no longer receive benefits that justify the time to go to the site and conduct a search. Google blog search reliably provides me with more complete results. So, why spend the time setting up and reviewing search results from a second service that has proven itself so unreliable?

And as I have come to doubt the completeness of Technorati’s search results, I’ve grown ever more reluctant to place any reliance on Technorati Authority.

So, at the end of the day, I find myself rarely going to Technorati.

The only time I use it now is when I am doing social media monitoring for a client. Why? Because as superior as it is, Google isn’t perfect. And Technorati is still better than the field of also-rans (Ice Rocket anyone?). And when I’m doing work for a client, i need a “second dip” to be sure that I haven’t missed anything. So, for now, I turn to Technorati as backup. A far humbler fate for Technorati than I had once expected for it.

How about you?

Are there social media tools and apps for which you once had high hopes that you now find yourself using and visiting less often? Tell us about it.

To get the ball rolling, I’m asked Dave Fleet, Bob LeDrew, Mitch Joel, Colin McKay and Shel Israel to tell us about a social media tools with which they once had a warm and deep relationship with that has now lapsed.

Credit where credit’s due

This post was inspired by Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson‘s discussion of Technorati’s unreliability on the FIR podcast 373.

Linkworthy – Ma.gnolia, Gnomedex, Budget surprises

Why Ma.gnolia is one of my favorite social bookmarking tools

LinkworthyThomas Vander Wal’s post caused me to take a second look at Ma.gnolia as my preferred social bookmarking tool. Thomas says,

“In the past year or less [Ma.gnolia has] become more social in insanely helpful and kind ways. Not only does Ma.gnolia have groups that you can share bookmarks with but there is the ability to have discussions around the subject in those groups. Sharing with a group is insanely easy. Groups can be private if the manager wishes, which makes it a good test ground for businesses or other organizations to test the social bookmarking waters. I was not a huge fan of rating bookmarks as if I bookmarked something I am wanting to refind it, but in a more social context is has value for others to see the strength of my interest (normally 3 to 5 stars). One of my favorite social features is giving “thanks”, which is not a trigger for social gaming like Digg, but is an interpersonal expression of appreciation that really makes Ma.gnolia a friendly and positive social environment.”

Chris Pirillo reflects on Gnomedex past and future

I attended my Gnomedex for the first time this year. And like many others, I found it was a fantastic conference on the basis of the quality of the participants and the interactions in the hallways and lobbies. An eclectic group of smart, interesting people.

The experience in the conference proper was something different. It had some fantastic highs – Darren Barefoot, Guy Kawasaki, Gregg Spiridellis – mixed with some sessions that just didn’t cut it. So, a very uneven program.

Chris Pirillo (who has poured his heart and soul into giving people a great experience) has a very thoughtful post about this year’s conference and how to build on the experience to deliver a relevant, challenging conference next year. Chris’ intelligence in looking at the larger picture and his penchant for looking at things from a fresh perspective make me want to attend Gnomedex again next year. Even if you’ve never been to Gnomedex, link over to his post. I think the odds are that, when you do, you’ll find yourself subscribing to his feed. To read even a smattering of Pirillo makes you want to read more.

How to avoid budget over-runs

One of the worst experiences for both a creative firm and the client alike is to have a budget exceeded. It’s unpleasant to have to raise this with the client and definitely unpleasant to receive a call about this. The Canadian Marketing Blog offers some practical advice on how to lay the groundwork in advance to ensure that budgets don’t get blown away.

Technorati and David Sifry – never say die

TechnoratiI use Technorati. And I use Google. Each is good for different things. As a blogger, Technorati still gives me a better indicator of who is linking to me. Yes, I think that Technorati’s notion of “Authority” is nothing more than popularity. And in my business I know that profit is not the same as success (success is much bigger and broader than simply being profitable.) But, it’s still the best, most available indicator to me of whether my blog is having any influence, as measured by the people who think enough of my posts that they link to them.

So, as a tribute to Technorati’s relevance, I offer this set of links to posts about David Sifry’s departure from Technorati – as recorded by Technorati at 8:26 PM on August 17.

Sifry’s alert

David Dalka’s take

TechCrunch is less than sympathetic

alarm:clock posits several theories for what happened

Jason Calacanis’ assessment from a person who has been there done that.

Mathew Ingram‘s perspective

Brian Oberkirch gets the last word.

Google Finance in Canada – A question of timing

The Official Google Blog announced tonight that Google Finance Canada will offer “a localized version of Google Finance tailored specifically, as you might guess, for Canadian investors.

And what’s the first thing that grabs your attention at the top right corner of the page? This graph, showing the index trends for the July 31 trading day.
A question of timing
Yep. A good day to for an announcement. That kind of trend should draw people like moths. It’s a bit like having a water depth gauge on the deck of the Titanic. You just can’t look away.

Getting your podcast seen as well as heard

To find information, most people search for a term on Google, Yahoo or MSN. And these Search engines don’t really care about sound. They care about text.

So, how do you, as a podcaster get Google to notice you?

Julien Smith-1 That’s the question that Julien Smith provided a practical, straightforward answer to this question in his presentation at Podcasters Across Borders.

First, podcasters need to become more than just a podcaster. You need to be Web producers. That means communicating through a blog, communicating through Twitter, through forums, through a variety of channels and media.

Second, you must pay attention to the keywords that people are using to find you. Subscribe to sites like SEOBook and SearchEngineLand to learn basic Search Engine Optimization techniques.

Don’t forget to post show notes for all of your podcasts. Use key words that describe your content.

Julien has many more tips. But, he only had 30 minutes for his presentation. So, if you get a chance to attend a session with Julien, grab it. You’ll learn a lot.

Yahoo's Hunter Madsen will speak at Third Tuesday

Hunter MadsenYahoo!‘s services are close to the heart of every blogger. Flickr, del.icio.us, Upcoming. They provide us with means of finding, publishing and sharing information as we connect to and build our online communities.

And we wonder about their future. What plan does Yahoo! have for their social media services? Will they improve and offer new features that we can use to better connect with our communities? And for some of us, how can Yahoo! help us to generate revenue from our blogging efforts?

On April 24th., we’ll have a chance at Third Tuesday to talk about these and other issues with Hunter Madsen, Yahoo! Canada’s Head of Marketing.

Third TuesdayThis promises to be a good event. So, if you want the latest scoop on what’s happening at Yahoo! and their plans for social media, jump over to the Third Tuesday Meetup site and register to attend the event with Hunter Madsen.

Yahoo! Canada issues a call to action for the Canadian SEM/SEO industry

Martin Byrne of Yahoo! Canada issued a call to action on behalf of the Canadian Search Engine Marketing/Optimization (SEM/SEO) industry. Byrne was a panelist at a session on SEM in Toronto this morning along with reps of Google and Microsoft

According to Byrne, Canadians love the Web. We spend more time sitting in front of a computer on the Web than do citizens of any other G7 country. This time is being drained from other media. And the online share of the total Canadian advertising spend has increased from less than 1% five years ago to over 6% this year. Byrne predicts that the Canadian SEM business will rise to approximately $400 million in 2007.

Against this background, he feels that Canadian businesses are missing the boat. Less than 36% of Canadian companies who do online advertising incorporate SEM/SEO in their programs. And they spend less than 18% of their online budgets in this area. Contrast this with the 79% of US online advertisers who engaged in SEM in 2006.

Why this low rate of adoption in Canada? One reason, low awareness. Recent research showed that 47% of online marketing decision makers were unaware that they can target Canadian users through Search Engine Marketing.

Essentially, Canada has been a one provider marketplace until recently. Consequently, there has been a lack of education and promotion of the channel in Canada. There is also a desperate shortage of talent and skills in Search Engine Marketing/Search Engine Optimization. In fact, in Ontario, you cannot obtain formal educational certification in this area.

SEM agencies have had a harder time establishing themselves in Canada. They have long sales cycles, small budgets and limited campaign opportunities. By contrast, the SEM agency business in the US has been expanding rapidly. Byrne warns that if we do not stimulate the industry in Canada, the indigenous companies may not be able establish themselves and the larger US-based companies may simply move into Canada.

Byrne suggests an aggressive action agenda to turn this situation around. SEM Agencies need to get together. Canadian rsearch/case studies must be developed and distributed. Client education channels and opportunities must be created and expanded, especially for small and medium businesse. Standards for policing of traffic quality must be developed. ‘Black hat” vendors should be shut down. And the seach engines need to step up and shepherd the industry to success.

What is Yahoo! Canada doing? They came late to the party with their Canadian platform, but they have launched here now. And they will soon be launching a platform in Quebec. They have located a comprehensive management and client service team in Canada. They are working aggressively to assemble a network of Canadian publishers.

According to Byrne, Yahoo! Canada sees their own success as depending on: supporting SEM education for Canadian businesses, building a stronger SEM industry and growing the SEM business.

All in all, Byrne’s presentation showed that Yahoo! Canada understands the value of being part of and giving to the community. With this approach, watch for them to break out in awareness and profile in the Canadian market this year.

 Jason Dailey of Microsoft Canada focused on the adCenter product that Microsoft has just launched in Canada. Dailey suggested that conversion rates for clients using adCenter are increasing substantially. For one client, conversion rates have increased from 1/2 to 1% to 5 to 5 1/2%. 

Some search issues: The average time from query to answer is 11 minutes. Nearly 50% of complex queries go unaswered. Only 50% of the web is searchable. And currently search is a destination, not fully integrated into our routine processes. Microsoft  is attempting to leverage their platform and technology to expand the number of touchpoints for search capabilities.

 Eric Morris from Google Canada pointed to the free tools and services provided by Google. YouTube and Google Video are a great way to generate great traffic for your company. Google Sitemaps provide you with visibility about which of your pages are in the Google Index and how the crawler is finding you. Google Maps provides businesses with a means of being searched geographically by uploading company information through Google Base.

According to Morris, the two most important factors in search engine marketing are targeting and reach. Google provides advertisers with the ability to reach over 85% of Canadians in any month – either through Google sites directly or partner sites.

Google’s contextual advertising appears in Gmail. Google believes that contextually relevant ads in email are useful to users and effective for advertisers. However, Morris did acknowledge in response to a question that, in the aggregate, contextual ads yield a much lower click through rate than on search pages.

Google has added a display advertising program to keyword and contextual ads to provide a full range of advertising opportunities.

Finally Google Analytics provides users with the data they need to understand and fine tune the performance of their sites to achieve their marketing objectives.

Julie Batten of non-linear creations rounded out the morning by focusing on organic search. She presented four tactics in this area.

Social media marketing (SMM) should be used to encourage interaction and information sharing. An example of this done right is the Google Pain Relief letter -
Google sending a letter and headache tablet to a blogger who had complained about the large number of recent changes in Google. An example of social media marketing gone wrong: The Coke Score Flog. Bloggers punished Coke with negative posts about this fake blog.

Link Baiting. An example of a success: How Much is Your Blog Worth? This simple widget generated more than 42,000 links and raised the host blog to # 25 on Technorati.

Personalized search. Search engines now encourage users to create personal profiles so that their home search page can be personalized to reflect their preferences and behaviour. This can be a challenge for marketers. They can respond by incorporating elements that will support users to incorporate the information of most interest into their personal profiles. Include product information, buttons to tag and local information.

RSS marketing. As RSS feeds are attached to more and more current content, the Web usage patterns are changing. Companies should harness this trend by adding RSS feeds to their content.

All in all, this morning’s session provided an interesting contrast between the style and approach of the three major search engines in the Canadian market.

Now, I’m looking forward to Dave’s next session in March, Digital Advertising – What’s Next?