May. 11, 2010 | by Nuria Sadurni An unobtrusive model of “gross national happiness”

There is a lot of research around the happiness topic and which is the country that holds the highest index of happiness. I have read different research studies which normally provide different results and obviously different rankings.

Facebook has published a Gross National Happiness Index where you can track levels of happiness across different countries. Users rate their happiness as positive or negative. I found this at least interesting but of doubtful methodology although 400 million of Facebook users is a fair sample.

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May. 10, 2010 | by Liz Ayers Google Gets a Facelift

Google has been introducing a new user interface, improving the look and functionality and I have been seeing it from my PC at home over the past week or so, but today I can see it at the office. Initially I didn’t like the look of it but the more I have explored the functionality improvements it has grown on me.

New Look
The most obvious difference is the look of the search bar which has been modernised. I thought it looked a bit like a “fake” Google branding attempt, but with time I seem to be getting used to it.

I think the new look is better than the old interface and it almost makes the rest of the SERP, which has not been updated, look a little dated.

At the bottom of the SERP, the related links are now listed in two columns of four, rather than the previous four columns of two.

A prominent left hand navigation with different search options has now been introduced to the SERP. The majority of these search options in this panel have been available for some time, but were only visible once “show options” has been selected, so it is likely that they may appear new to a lot of users.

You can see here all the search options which are available in the left panel, not all are initially visible and there are links to expand the list to view all. The top half of the panel displays different mediums of results within a SERP and the bottom half of the panel filters the standard SERP.

Depending on the search query different search options are displayed without needing to expand the option list. Looking into this with a variety of search queries it is becoming apparent that for a high percentage of searches the top half of the panel reflects the types of universal results within the SERP. For example if a search for ‘hotel in London’ displays normal listings as well as news results, a map and images then the panel will automatically show the filters for those types of results and the filter for blogs, books and updates etc are only visible once the “More” expanding list is selected. The bottom part of the panel also reflects the type of results which are displayed, if there is a recently indexed result then usually something within the “Any time” list is displayed. The “Standard view” section of the left panel however has foxed me for the time being.

The ‘pages from the UK’ radio button that was once under the search query field is now in this left panel and the navigation options at the very top right hand side of the page can now also be seen in the left panel with visual icons.

I believe that the new left panel will increases users knowledge and use of other Google functionality rather than just the basic search function.

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Apr. 29, 2010 | by Nilhan The Evolution of Search

The Evolution of Search

The last eighteen months saw some of the most significant changes to the way Google produces its natural search listings. While Google updates its ranking algorithm almost on a daily basis, inclusion of entirely new signals are rare.

Since the launch of Google in 1998, back link analysis determined the credibility and relevance of a webpage. This worked well in 96 but by 2007, the very thing that helped Google dominate was also becoming its Achilles heel. As the SEO industry battled for the first page, links were getting far too noisy to provide the signal of quality they once represented.

The introduction of user data

In 2009 we saw the introduction of user data in the form of the Vince Update. It was characterised by  the dominance of brands across highly competitive search real-estate, even when they were not specifically optimised in the traditional sense.

While the SEO community complained Google was favouring brands – our research into Vince showed a strong correlation between  user data and better semantics. The sites doing well had a lot in common – they were all highly searched-for in their category and they were also synonymous with their core category keywords on the web.  For example, many people search for ‘British Airways’ following a query for ‘flights’, and the words ‘British Airways’ and ‘flights’ also appeared on the same pages a lot. As a result of this, Google has judged that ranking BA high for a search on ‘flights’ will provide a better user experience, regardless of whether the word appears on its site.

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Apr. 23, 2010 | by Simon Social Media and the Law event

On Wednesday this week, iCrossing hosted a brief talk on Social Media and the Law. The main speaker was Tom Cowling from media law specialists Swan Turton, but he was ably backed up by our own Antony Mayfield, and – probably somewhat less ably – by myself.

Photo credit: CC Flickr user no3rdw

Thanks to Tom for condensing so much information into his short speaking slot, and for sticking around to answer questions afterwards. Thanks also to Wired Sussex, and to everyone who turned up – we hope you all found it useful.

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Apr. 23, 2010 | by Doug Platts 5 Reasons to use Google Places

One of the handy things about having US offices is that when a new developments happen in Search, they are usually launched over in the States and then filter out to the rest of the World up to 6 months later. This happens with Search Engine updates such as Vince and the launch of new Search Engines such as Bing.

Most recently is the launch of Google Places to replace Google Local Business Listing on Tuesday of this week.

So what’s new in Google Places:

  • Service areas: Businesses that travel to their customers can now specify which geographic areas they serve and be eligible to show in search results for queries in those areas. Also, if a business doesn’t have a physical street address, its address can remain private.
  • Tags: For a flat fee of $25/month, businesses can enhance their listings with a yellow Maps icon that displays a customizable line of text describing any aspect of the business.
  • Business photo shoots: Businesses can already upload photos of their locations to their Google Place page. Now Google is offering to do a free interior photo shoot of the business as well.
  • QR codes: From its Place page dashboard, a U.S. business can now download a QR code, that if scanned by a user’s capable smartphone, will direct that user to the mobile version of that business’s Place page.
  • Favorite Places: Google plans to mail window decals with QR codes to 50,000 businesses around the U.S. to use in advertising at their locations.

Below is some handy advice from Eric Sidone (@esidone) our Natural Search Strategist in the Phoneix Office of iCrossing.

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Apr. 20, 2010 | by Tamsin Hemingray Content strategy: the new social media or the old web editing?

Content Strategy is lining up to be “the next big thing” to happen online, if you are to believe the hype.

The queen of content strategy Kristina Halvorson wrote this post in February which argued that: “Content strategy is more or less on the same trajectory as social media was three years ago”.

There does seem to be a growing interest. Google trends data show search volumes for content strategy and related terms in March 2010 running at about twice the rate as January 2007 (taking into account the growth in overall search volumes). Searches specifically for “online content strategy” have risen 70% during that time.

It’s a compelling story. And being honest, as Content Director at iCrossing, it has really helped when talking to people about what we want to do with content to help them to reach their business goals. No one wants to be missing out on “the next big thing”, do they?

But this post isn’t about the “sellability” of Content Strategy as a project or service.

It’s about the idea that this is a new discipline.

Charlie Peverett and I went to a stimulating and well-attended event last week in London’s fashionable Shoreditch. Content Strategy, Manhattan Style invited attendees to meet “three of New York’s finest content strategists… for an evening of informal discussions, socialising, and perhaps a little drinking”. Most interestingly for me, the event blurb suggested that this was “the place to be if you want to learn more about the business value, opportunities, and practical application of this emerging field of practice” [my emphasis].

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Apr. 20, 2010 | by Mark Higginson Social Media Analytics: one size fits no-one

I was quoted in an article in last week’s issue of NMA entitled Social Media Analytics. Sadly a subscription is required to read the whole thing; I wonder how much traffic they actually get to older features? Be very interesting to know whether it is really worth locking all that content away. I digress, here’s what the article covered:

“As people spend increasing amounts of time conversing on social networks, monitoring what they’re saying about your brand is crucial. So what tools are there to help you listen in?”

Here’s what I said:

‘Another popular paid-for product is Brandwatch, favoured by Mark Higginson, Head of Social Media at search agency iCrossing, for being one of the most cost-effective solutions available. He says iCrossing tweaks the network of sites crawled and reported on to match its sector knowledge, combining this with analysis. ”We call our quantitative and qualitative research a ’stories and numbers’ approach. It’s through this narrative we ascertain what content to create for which audience and who it’s best to approach in those networks in order to gain the greatest share of available attention.”‘

It’s interesting to read what other people had to say, particularly those that favoured Radian6. They’ve revamped their dashboard since I last tried it out; all well and good but I remember being pretty unimpressed with the quality of the actual data collected, although given how quick they are at responding to blog posts about them there must be something to be said for it. Andrew Girdwood of Bigmouthmedia is quoted as saying:

‘… that the data supplied by Radian6 is “pretty rudimentary” and comparable to that from some of the free tools, but its front end is “sexy”. “If you’re preparing social media reports to show someone else, there’s a lot to be said for a package that will wrap it up and can be presented to the board. Sometimes you’re paying for that.’

I would recommend in the strongest possible terms that you spend your budget on human analysis and insight over an expensive tool with weak data but pretty charts. At iCrossing our reports are generally bespoke, the size of client we deal with means we need to be flexible enough to fit in with existing reporting and a self-serve dashboard just doesn’t serve that need. Also, as I say above, this analysis does not exist in a vacuum; it needs to be acted on and that requires it to be substantiated.

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Apr. 14, 2010 | by Liz Ayers Speed up to keep up with Google’s new ranking factor

A while ago Google said they were going to be looking at a site’s performance speed as a ranking factor and at the end of last week (Friday April 9th) this was confirmed to now be in place in the US results, yet to be rolled out internationally.

Google aims to give a great user experience by delivering users information more quickly and webmasters now play a role with responsibility to contribute towards this by developing sites with good performance. By prioritising sites which can deliver their content quickly whilst also being relevant, Google steps again in the direction in achieving their goal.

This new ranking factor is still one in hundreds, effecting a nominal amount of search queries and is still marginal in comparison to ‘relevancy’, so don’t down tools and change strategies. It is recommended to continue focusing on relevancy and providing valuable accessible content, but do not neglect looking at site performance speed to fine tune your rankings.

There are a number of free tools to use to diagnose your site performance issues and amongst those is ‘Site Performance’, an experimental Google labs feature which can be accessed through Google’s Webmaster Tools. From here you can find out latency information about your site and find some recommendations on how to make improvements.

If not for your rankings alone, it is worth considering page load performance for onsite usability to increase your conversion rate!

Apr. 08, 2010 | by Doug Platts 7 Search & Social Synergies

1) Video content & Personalised SERPs

When creating a video or TV ad, reference your web site – and not just with the URL but also with “Search for …”. Not only with this aid in the viewer of the video remembering more easily how to navigate to your site, or even a specific web page, but also it can help influence viewers personalised searches within Google.

Through understanding Social Media platforms and understanding the networks your target audience live in you can seed these videos effectively for maximum exposure.

With personalised search now by default within Google, brands need to think how they can maximise on their audiences search history. Instead of suggesting at the end of the video or TV ad to search for just the brand name, consider incorporating non-brand terms into the call to action as well, i.e. “Search for brand product/service“. This can then build you brands relation to these non-brand terms and influence your rankings for these terms as well.

Of course this has huge potential if the videos created are useful, engaging, easy to share and of course have that ‘je ne sais quoi’ element that makes videos go viral.

Photo credit: CC Flickr user dan_taylor

But be aware, if executed poorly like the Orange ‘I am’ campaign you open yourself up to a lot of criticism. Orange promoted “I am” through their commercials & billboards, initially it  was a fail (it still is.. they rank #3 currently) as their site wasn’t ranking for the keyword in Google natural search and industry experts criticised them for their poor implementation.

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Apr. 06, 2010 | by Chris Eden Sticky Bits – Graffiti for geeks

I didn’t go to SXSW this year, in fact i’ve never been :(, but like many I’ve been reading the news about what’s expected to do well this year.

One of the start-ups that caught my attention among the buzz was Sticky Bits.

Sticky Bits is a new startup. It’s a way of digitally tagging real world objects, kind of like graffiti for geeks only more socially acceptable.

“Every place and object in the world has a secret past: who lived there, who passed by, who touched it. The secret lives of objects are filled with such details. If only you could make them talk.”

Sticky Bits Vs QR

A few of us at iCrossing are quite interested/excited about the rise in popularity of QR codes in the west, hoping it will gain similar popularity that it has in countries such as Japan. I’ve seen QR codes being used more in offline advertising such as on the back of products (Pepsi cans), in pieces of DM and on some billboards too.  However, it still seems to be taking off very slowly. I think there are 3 reasons for this;

  1. Lack of access to QR code scanners (a popular one is QuickMark, the ‘Lite’ version is free on the iPhone)
  2. Unfamiliarity with QR codes (we are far more used to seeing barcodes)
  3. Limitations of media you can attach to a QR code (typically a link to a website)

I think Sticky Bits has addressed a few of the issues above, increasing its chances of takeoff.

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