Thursday, July 27, 2017

What will Google’s expanded policy on harmful content mean for SEO companies?

Google recently announced that it will be expanding its hate-speech policy for publishers that use the company’s ad network.

It’s an effort to address concerns about ads funding inappropriate content online. While Google is constantly updating its policies, this particular update could have a significant impact on the way digital marketers select clients.

It also raises an important question for SEO companies: do we have a role to play in combating harmful content online? And how should we go about navigating Google’s new policies if so?

Google’s new harmful content guidelines

Google made the decision to change its policies for a number of reasons, one of the biggest being the early 2017 Youtube controversy. In an effort to guard against “explicit” content with its restricted mode, the company mistakenly targeted multiple LGBTQ+ creators.

In its original response to the issue, YouTube said the mode was only applied to LGBTQ+ issues that also addressed mature subjects such as sexuality and politics. But as more creators, including musical duo Tegan and Sara, Tyler Oakley, and others began to speak out, it became clear that innocent creators were getting swept up into the “explicit” content list.

And, of course, the spread of “fake news” in search results and social media forced Silicon Valley titans to confront some thorny issues. In the months since these two big issues, The Hill reported that Google banned more than 200 publishers from its search results.

According to Rick Summers, who oversees the development and implementation of Google policies impacting publishers, the new policy additions are geared toward creating a safer, more positive Internet.

Specifically, Google’s new policies will “address a more divisive and toxic online environment, where an increasing amount of content is frankly right at the edge of what we consider traditionally to be hate speech,” Summers told Recode in April.

In addition, these changes will effectively broaden Google’s definition of hate speech. Now, it will include populations such as immigrants and refugees under its discriminatory language guidelines. It will also address more directly those pages that, for example, deny the Holocaust or advocate for the exclusion of select groups of people. Previously, the policy was more selective (in the United States, at least).

According to Recode, the previous policy addressed “speech that was threatening or harassing against defined groups, including ethnic and religious groups, and LGBT groups and individuals.”

A Google spokesperson said that while the changes will be global, they will also take time to implement on such a large scale. Google’s top business executive, Philipp Schindler, penned a blog post in late March in an effort to better outline Google’s up-and-coming policy changes.

In his blog, Schindler tells readers that Google “[has] a responsibility to protect this vibrant, creative world—from emerging creators to established publishers—even when we don’t always agree with the views being expressed.”

The post goes on to discuss the controversies mentioned earlier, as well as a list of upcoming policy changes and their goals. These policies, Schindler says, will both respect the values of Google and the creators who depend on it, and help advertisers reach the audiences they need to.

But what does that mean for SEO companies?

Ultimately, it means some digital marketers may choose to be more selective when accepting new clients. It’s hard to help someone rank if they’re being excluded from Google search results.

But that also begs the question, how do SEO companies decide what defines a “good” client? Should companies even be applying ethical judgments like this to clients? If so, is the decision dependent on each company’s individual code of ethics, or is it up to Google to decide?

You know you’ve stepped into a minefield when you have to use this many rhetorical questions in a row.

The resources out there for clients seeking SEO services are practically limitless, but the same isn’t necessarily true for SEO companies seeking clients. Google has even released official guidelines for companies searching for the right SEO company:

Clients looking for reputable SEO services are often told to follow Google’s guidelines if they want to find a reputable company. Fortunately, SEO companies can also utilize that practice to vet potential clients.

Take HubShout, for instance. Here, following Google’s AdWords guidelines essentially takes the decision out of our hands. While we have values as a company, following these policies to the letter allows us to select only what Google deems “good” clients. This also ensures that no personal or political biases influence our decision making. In short, as long as a potential client meets our policy — not in violation of Google AdWords, not unethical, small business — we will take them on.

Prohibited content, according to Google, includes content that markets counterfeit products, dangerous products or services such as recreational drugs or firearms, and content that enables dishonest behavior.

In addition, content including “bullying or intimidation of an individual or group, racial discrimination, hate group paraphernalia, graphic crime scene or accident images, cruelty to animals, murder, self-harm, extortion or blackmail, sale or trade of endangered species, [or] ads using profane language,” is considered inappropriate by Google’s standards.

But as we discussed earlier, those policies may be updated in the near future, providing SEO companies with an even more extensive resource for determining which clients to take on. In the end, Google and other search engines often serve as the standard by which the vast majority of digital marketing companies must operate.

Finally, we have one last rhetorical question, and it’s a big one: Will Google’s new and improved policies actually create a safer, more accepting internet, or will they simply tuck away the dark corners of the web we don’t want to see?

Fortunately, digital marketers aren’t philosophers; it’s not our job to answer these big questions. It’s our job to help clients get onto those crucial Search Engine Results Pages.

And if there’s less hate speech and inappropriate content along the way, then hopefully the internet will become a better place to work.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How to tell if your website is due a redesign

Designing a functional website doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and energy (and sometimes, a lot of money) to get your site in working order.

Like any other technology, the internet changes at a rapid rate. Users are utilizing various devices to view websites. For your users to maneuver through your website, you need to constantly update and adapt.

Plus, Google algorithms are constantly changing – your website’s usability affects your Google search rankings.

In short, you may not know that your website needs an overhaul. It’s tricky to keep up with the constant changes that take place behind the scenes. Thankfully, there are signs that your website needs a facelift.

Here are some of the signs that your website needs redesigning.

High bounce rate

The analytics of your website show more than how users navigate through your website. They also show whether or not you should be optimizing your website’s design.

One of the biggest analytics you should be looking at is your bounce rate. Below is a screenshot of where you can find this on Google Analytics under the Traffic Section found in “Acquisition”:

Your bounce rate is the rate at which users are leaving your website. What would cause a user to leave a website? Some factors include:

Slow loading pages

Google promotes high-quality content and pages for their users. Their algorithms rank pages with faster loading times higher than those who have slower loading times. A faster website is not only good SEO practice, it also affects how your users navigate on your page. If a user encounters a slower website, they won’t stick around.

You can check the speed of your website with the PageSpeed Insights tool, shown below. This doesn’t necessarily mean your site needs a total redesign (a few things just may need to be improved), but it can be a contributing factor.

For more tips for getting a handle on your site speed, check out Ann Smarty’s comprehensive piece, ‘All you need to master your site speed without getting overwhelmed‘.

Technical errors

Notice that your bounce rate is all of a sudden super high? Take a look at how long users are on your page. If they’re only sticking around for a few seconds, you may have a 404 issue.

Take a look at your site from your visitors’ point of view (use different browsers, as this can also be the issue). You can also use Google’s Search Console to check the Crawl Errors.

Poor user experience (UX)

Have you ever been to a website with so many popups you couldn’t find the actual content? Google punishes those types of websites, and the average user won’t stick around if they can’t find the content they’re looking for.

This also contributes to difficult navigation, causing the user’s experience to drop significantly. Make sure that your website’s map is coherent and flows comfortably for the average user.

Mobile friendly websites

You’ve heard that more and more users are utilizing their mobile devices to access the Internet. In fact, nearly 60% of searches are carried out on mobile devices. Make sure that your website’s buttons are easy enough to access via a mobile device. Ensure that your landing pages are accessible via a mobile phone.

Google has an excellent free tool that allows you to test how well your website responds on devices like smartphones and tablets. Simply enter in your website’s landing page, and let the tool tell you how well it performs on mobile devices. The tool searches on a standard operating level (3G). For example, we did a sample search for Google’s website just to give you an idea of how it works.

The tool shows how many seconds (or heaven forbid minutes) it takes to load your website on a mobile device. It also shows you the estimated percentage of visitor loss you experience due to your loading time. You also have the option to pull up a free report that shows how you can fix any issues that affect mobile loading time.

For a more in-depth exploration of how to test for issues with your mobile site speed, don’t miss Andy Favell’s column, ‘How to optimize your mobile site speed: Testing for issues‘.

Outdated web design

Have you ever heard that by the time you purchase a brand new computer, it’s already outdated? The Internet works the exact same way. By the time you update your website, it’s already depreciating.

Remember the websites of the 90s? Blinking buttons, grayscale and neon colors, and lots of graphics? While many of those websites are still functioning, they’re not enticing the modern user to visit them. For example, take a look at www.ifindit.com.

First impressions mean everything, and this goes for websites as well. You not only lose credibility with poor web design, you lose visitors. Haven’t updated your website in a while? Here’s a quick primer on one of the most current trends in web design:

Modular design

Stemming from the simplicity of newer websites, modular design is becoming more popular. The basic principle behind modular design is to use a single, flexible template that can be adapted to different kinds of content, rather than a custom-made template tailored to each specific content type. It’s the design equivalent of the intelligent content trend in content marketing.

While modular design isn’t always appropriate for 100% of cases, in many of them it is more efficient, less resource-intensive and is an easy design for users to navigate.

Here’s an example of a modular website design by Waaark design studio:

The takeaway

Think of your website as a brick and mortar business. If the shingles are falling off and your windows are boarded up, no one’s going to stop in. Sometimes it takes a little revamping to get things going again. When you’ve spent time and money designing your website, parting with the old and accepting the new is difficult.

Chances are, you aren’t aware that your website needs fixing. If your website needs an upgrade, the signs are right in front of you. Take a look at your website’s analytics – are there issues that can be improved? Adapt to the changing times and get your website mobile friendly.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try something new with your web design. Overhauling your website may sound daunting, but taking the plunge will be worth the risk.

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for NoRiskSEO, a full service SEO agency, and a contributor to SEW. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn, or check out her services at amandadisilvestro.com.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pump the brakes: SEO and its sweeping statements

The following article is an opinion post written by a guest author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Search Engine Watch.

Knee-jerk reactions are rarely based on sound judgement. Instead they are driven by emotion. In such scenarios, you would be better off giving due consideration prior to taking action.

The problem is that this advice is lost upon what would appear to be a worryingly large portion of the SEO world. At critical points, the SEO community has proven that they are prone to not only making knee-jerk reactions, but then vehemently defending these reactions long after the dust has settled.

It is somewhat excusable though. Search Engine Optimization is an imperfect science. Google is continually changing their fiendishly complex algorithms and will often neither confirm or deny such changes.

It’s a poker game where everyone wears masks and keeps their cards very close to their chest – and no-one shows their cards for free. Add to this the threat of your website being heavily sanctioned by one of Google’s many bizarrely-named updates due to ‘spammy’ techniques, and you can see why people are on edge.

To add to this, the amount of ‘how to’ SEO articles on the web is staggering, and can be intimidating even for those working in the industry every day. It can be a challenge to decipher which research to trust or whose advice to take. As a direct result, SEOs tend to hang on every last word released by Google.

Filter this down and the recognized names in the industry – the likes of Rand Fishkin, John Mueller, Danny Sullivan and Neil Patel, among others, hold considerable sway over how the industry acts.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s the knee-jerk nature of reactions to news or statements made by Google or the aforementioned industry experts. The community treats these like a call to arms, without considering the individualistic nature of any SEO campaign or the often countless other factors that should be taken into account.

Matt Cutt’s denouncement of spammy guest blogging in 2014 was one such example:

“Guest blogging is dead!”

In January 2014 Google’s very own leader of the crusades against spam, Matt Cutts, posted an article on his blog titled “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO”, a strongly-worded commentary on how the SEO community had used guest blogging as a manipulative SEO technique. They had ignored the distinction made by Cutts himself between high quality and low quality guest posting, a distinction that was central to the point he was making.

What followed was a deluge of articles warning readers not to engage in any sort of guest blogging. That guest blogging was “dead” and would fetch heavy penalties – irrespective of whether you were contributing heavily researched articles to major media outlets, that were then engaged with and shared on the web hundreds or thousands of times.

The reaction was so one-sided that Cutts had to add a final paragraph to his blog stating that he was not “throwing the baby out with the bath water” and that high-quality guest blogging was acceptable; marketers just needed to make sure it was of the right quality.

However, the myth of “dead” guest blogging has persisted, and you’ll still find people who fail to make the distinction.

“SEO is dead!”

Following the sudden release into the wild of Google’s pet Panda and Penguin earlier this decade, there was a surge in statements that “SEO is dead”. Many despaired, while others sought quick fixes – but there were some who realized that in fact, only the old spammy version of SEO was dead.

The quality, relevance and user driven SEO environment was actually more important than it ever was. Speaking to Josh Steimle on the subject, he had the following commentary:

“We get sweeping statements about the state of SEO because it’s human nature–we want quick fixes, easy solutions, and above all, we want safety and predictability. It’s easier to say that guest post blogging is dead, don’t do it, than it is to say that some guest post blogging is good, some is bad, and that you have to consider each situation on its own merits to determine what’s what.

“The good news, at least for SEO experts and companies who use SEO wisely, is that alarmist commentary helps separate the professionals from the amateurs, which gives an advantage to those who keep a cool head and do the work required to truly understand SEO.”

Don’t deviate from the path

The fact is that yes, technical SEO can be pretty darn complex and there are a lot of factors to consider. But isn’t that the same with any campaign, or indeed any business venture?

Many may complain that Google moves the goalposts but in actual fact, the fundamentals remain the same. Avoiding manipulative behavior, staying relevant, developing authority and thinking about your users are four simple factors that will go a long way to keeping you on the straight and narrow.

The Google updates are inevitable. Techniques will evolve, and results will require some hard graft. Every campaign is different, but if you stick to the core principles of white-hat SEO, you need not take notice of the sweeping statements that abound in our corner of the marketing world. Nor should you have to fear future Google updates.

The irony is not lost on me that I have made some rather wide-ranging statements of my own in this post. Nevertheless, I urge you to stop and take a breath before reacting to the next piece of revolutionary news that comes up in your Google alerts.

SEO will continue to be a critical marketing function for years to come, and abiding by its core pillars will prevent you from having to lose the metaphorical baby when dispensing of its bathing water.

Monday, July 24, 2017

5 essential aspects of technical SEO you cannot neglect

Eighty-eight percent of B2B marketers now report using content marketing in their promotional strategies, according to the Content Marketing Institute.

Developing content and using SEO to drive rankings and traffic has become a fundamental part of digital strategies, not just for the thought leaders of the industry, but it has become standard across the spectrum.

Thanks in large part to this massive development of online content, there are now more than one billion websites available online.

This tremendous growth has resulted in an increasingly competitive online market, where brands can no longer find success through guesswork and intuition. Instead, they must rely on more sophisticated strategies and means of enticing new customers.

The art of SEO lies in helping customers find your relevant, helpful content when it would benefit them and then creating a pleasant experience for them while they visit your website. Hence, it is vital that marketers do not neglect their technical SEO.

Sites still need to be built and structured well so they can be found, crawled, and indexed, hopefully to rank well for relevant keywords. There are a few technical SEO strategies in particular that we believe brands should be paying close attention to get their site in front of their competitors.

How does technical SEO impact the bottom line?

According to research performed at my company, BrightEdge, over 50 percent of the traffic on your site is organic. This means that the majority of the people visiting your page arrived there because they thought your listing on the SERP appeared the most relevant to their needs.

Those who neglect their technical SEO will find that this can damage the rankings their pages receive on the SERPs as well as the engagement on the actual site. In other words, not applying these core technical SEO concepts will negatively impact the number of visitors received, and thus revenue for the brand.

Customers have reported that how well the site runs greatly impacts their decision about whether or not to make a purchase. More than three quarters of customers – 79 percent – report that when they encounter problems with a site’s performance, they are less likely to buy from them again.

These customers also hold sites to a high standard, with a single second delay in page loading lowering customer satisfaction by 16 percent. Other common consumer complaints about websites include sites crashing, poor formatting, and error notifications.

Technical SEO makes it easier for users to find the website and then navigate it. It has a direct impact on rankings and traffic as well as the overall user experience. It should be clear, therefore, the tremendous impact that poor technical strategies and orphan pages can have on the bottom line for any organization.

5 essential aspects of technical SEO that cannot be neglected

1. Site accessibility

Site owners should periodically verify that the site is completely accessible for both search engine spiders as well as users. Robots.txt, for example, can be useful at times when you do not want a page to be indexed, but accidentally marking pages to block the spider will damage rankings and traffic.

Brands should also look closely at their Javascript coding to ensure that the vital information for the website is easily discoverable. Since customers also regularly complain about error messages and sites failing to load, brands should be checking for 404 pages and related errors.

Given that more searches now occur on mobile than desktop, and the impending switch to a mobile-first index on Google, brands should also ensure that any content published is constructed for mobile usage.

When speaking about the user experience, visitors themselves also pay a considerable amount of attention to load speeds. Brands should optimize for load speeds, watching site features such as cookies and images, that can slow down pages when not used correctly.

Things to do to improve your site’s accessibility:

  • Check that robots.txt is not blocking important pages from ranking
  • Make sure the robots.txt contains the sitemap URL
  • Verify that all important resources, including JS and CSS are crawlable
  • Find and fix any 404 errors
  • Check that all content, including videos, plays easily on mobile
  • Optimize for load speed

2. Site structure

Navigation throughout the website should also be a main priority. Look at the organization of the site’s pages and how easily customers can get from one part of the site to another. The number of clicks it takes to get to a desired location should be minimized.

Many sites find it to be convenient to build websites using a taxonomy hierarchy. Creating clear categories of pages can help websites organize their content while also reducing the number of steps that visitors must go through to adequately engage with the brand.

As you explore your site navigation, also verify how well the pages have been interlinked so that prospective customers engaging with one piece of content are easily led to other material that they will likely enjoy. Check also for orphan pages and other content that might be hard to find. The key to a strong site structure is to consider the user experience so that useful material can be found intuitively.

Things to do to ensure your site structure is optimized:

  • Create a hierarchy that ensures important pages are 3 clicks from the home page or less
  • Uncover orphan pages and either delete them or add them to the site hierarchy
  • Check links for broken or redirects and repair them

3. Schema markup

Schema markup provides search engines with even more information about the pages on your site, such as what is available for sale and for how much, rather than leaving it open for interpretation by the spiders and algorithm.

Although Google does tend to be relatively accurate about the purpose of websites, schema markup can help minimize the potential for any mistakes. In a increasingly competitive digital ecosystem, brands do not want to leave themselves open to errors.

Schema has also been attracting attention because of its potential to help brands trying to gain extra attention on the SERP in the form of Quick Answers and other universal content. Brands that want events included in the new Google Events SERP feature, for example, should use schema to call the search engine’s attention to the event and its details.

Things to do to make sure your site has the correct level of schema markup:

  • Markup pages that have been optimized for Quick Answers and other rich answers
  • Markup any events you list on your page or transcripts for videos
  • Check for common schema errors including spelling errors, missing slashes, and incorrect capitalization
  • Use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to ensure the markup has been completed correctly

4. Site tags

As sites become more technical, such as developing content in multiple languages for overseas versions of the site, brands will similarly need to pay closer attention to the markup and tags used on the pages. Correctly-used hreflang tags, for example, will ensure that the content is correctly matched with the right country.

Although Google might be able to tell that a website has been written in English, an hreflang tag can help ensure that it shows the UK version to the English audience and the US version to those in the United States. Displaying the wrong version of the websites to the audience can damage the brand’s reputation and ability to engage with the audience.

Many brands will also find canonical tags to be highly useful. Using these tags will signify to Google which version of any particular content is original, and which is the distributed or replicated version. If a marketer wants to publish syndicated content on another website, or even create a PDF format of a standard web page, canonical tags can help avoid duplicate content penalties so that weaken content visibility.

Things to do to ensure your site content is tagged correctly:

  • Use hreflang tags to ensure that Google knows which country and language the content is intended for
  • Verify that hreflang tags use proper return tags
  • Use only absolute URLs with hreflang tags
  • Use canonical tags to avoid duplicate content when necessary

5. Effective optimization

While this might appear to be rudimentary SEO, it remains one of the most important steps as well. As we create this spectacular content that is tailored for specific user intents and lives on a well-constructed website, it still remains that the page itself must be well optimized.

If the page does not have the right keywords, then it will be a challenge for the search engines to understand where the content should be ranked and placed. Carefully determine keywords through keyword research, and then construct sentences that link the terms and long-tail keywords together to make your topic and expertise clear to the search engines and those considering consuming your content.

Things to do to improve technical SEO today:

  • Use keyword research to find important and in-demand search topics
  • Create sentences that effectively link different keywords together to show context
  • Place keywords in the page title, H tags, URL, and naturally in the content

Even as the industry matures with micro-moments and data-driven strategies, technical SEO remains critical to successfully building strong websites.

We believe that all brands should ensure that these five areas of technical SEO are a part of their digital strategy.

Friday, July 21, 2017

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

Google has released a new, feed-based mobile homepage in the US, with an international launch due in the next two weeks.

This is perhaps the most drastic and significant update of the Google.com homepage (the most visited URL globally) since Google’s launch in 1996.

The upgraded, dynamic entry point to the world’s biggest search engine will be available initially on mobile devices via both the Google website and its mobile apps, but will also be rolled out to desktop.

Let’s take a look at what’s changing and how, as well as what it might mean for marketers.

What’s different about the new homepage?

Google’s new homepage allows users to customize a news feed that updates based on their interests, location, and past search behaviors.

On the Google.com website (via a mobile device), there are now four icon-based options: Weather, Sports, Entertainment, and Food & Drink.

The ‘Weather’ and ‘Food & Drink’ options can be used straight away, as they take the user’s location data to provide targeted results. The ‘Sports’ and ‘Entertainment’ options require a little more customization before users can benefit from them fully. Without this, Google will just serve up popular and trending stories within each category.

In the example below, I tapped on the ‘Sports’ icon, then selected to follow a baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. Based on this preference, Google then knows to show me updates on this team on my homepage. The results varied in their media format, with everything from Tweets to GIFs and videos shown in my feed.

This means that rather than encountering the iconic search bar, Google logo, and the unadorned white interface we have all become accustomed to, each user’s feed will be unique. As I start to layer on more of the topics I am interested in, Google gains more information with which to tailor my feed.

On the Google mobile app, based on my selection above, my homepage looks as follows:

This is quite a big departure and is an experience we should expect the Google.com website to mirror soon. For now, the latter retains enough of the old aesthetic to be recognizable, but the app-based version is more overt in its positioning of suggested content.

The trusty search bar is still there, but users are encouraged to interact with their interests too. The interface is designed for tapping as well as typing.

Sashi Thakur, a Google engineer, has said of the launch,

“We want people to understand they’re consuming information from Google. It will just be without a query.”

It is essentially an extension of the functionality that has been available in Google’s Android app since December. Google will also continue to use push notifications to send updates on traffic, weather, and sports, based on the user’s set preferences.

Why is Google launching this product now?

Google has struggled to find a significant commercial hit to rival its hugely lucrative search advertising business. That business relies on search queries and user data, so anything that leads users to spend more time on Google will be of significant value.

The same motive has led to the increased presence of Google reservations, which now allow users to make appointments for a range of services from the search results page.

As Google stated in their official announcement, “The more you use Google, the better your feed will be.”

Users type a query when they have an idea of what they want to find; Google is pre-empting this by serving us content before we are even aware of what exactly we would like to know. By offering a service that will increase in accuracy in line with increased usage, Google hopes users will get hooked on a new mode of discovering information.

This also allows Google to incorporate a number of other initiatives it has been working on, such as fact-checking and Google Posts.

You’d be forgiven for wondering whether Google is trying to find its way into social media again. After the demise of the short-lived Google+ platform, Google has seen Facebook grow as a credible threat in the battle for digital advertising dollars.

Facebook’s algorithmic news feed has been a significant factor in its rise in popularity, and with Google Posts incorporated into this news feed, there are certainly elements reminiscent of a certain social network in Google’s new homepage initiative. Readers may also recall the launch of iGoogle in 2005, a similar attempt to add some personalization to the homepage.

That said, it seems more likely that these changes have been rolled out in response to recent launches from Amazon than as a direct challenge to Facebook.

Amazon has made an almost dizzying amount of product announcements and acquisitions of late. As a pure-play ecommerce company, their rapid growth will have been cause for consternation at Google and there is a need to respond.

Of particular interest in relation to the new Google feed is the very recent launch of Amazon Spark, a shoppable feed of curated content for Amazon Prime members. It is only available via the iOS app for now, but it will be launched on Android soon too.

Spark is a rival to Instagram in some ways, with its very visual feed and some early partnerships with social media influencers. It is also similar to Pinterest, as it encourages users to save their favorite images for later and clearly tries to tap into the ‘Discovery’ phase that Pinterest has made a play for recently.

Amazon has also launched its ‘Interesting Finds’ stream, which works in a noticeably Pinterest-esque fashion:

Google has taken aim at Pinterest with its ‘Similar items’ feature and its revamped visual search technology, which feeds the new Google Lens.

In Google’s announcement of the new homepage, they make use of the verbs “discover” and “explore”. Both Amazon and Pinterest have tried to shape and monetize these phases of the search-based purchase journey; Google evidently thinks its homepage needs to take on a new life if it is to compete.

Will it open new opportunities for marketers?

Almost certainly. We should view this as a welcome addition to the elements of current search strategies, with a host of new opportunities to get in front of target audiences.

Google is not launching this product because of any existential threat to its core search product, which still dominates Western markets:

Source: Moz/Jumpshot

The update should encourage a shift in user behavior. As people get used to the new experience, they will interact with Google in new ways and marketers need to be prepared for this.

From a paid perspective, we can expect to see new options open to advertisers, but not in the immediate future.

Amazon has two innate monetization mechanisms within Spark: users have to sign up to Prime (for an annual fee) to get access and, when they do, they are served a shoppable list of results. It comes as no surprise when we are on Amazon that we will be asked if we want to buy products.

That is not always the case on Google, where the initial purpose of the news feed is to gain traction with users and encourage them to spend more time within the site.

Options for sponsored content and (almost inevitably) paid ecommerce ads will come later, once a large and engaged user base has been established.