Is Google playing fair with competitors search results?

I’m not going to say much here, so I’ll let you decide for yourself. I have talked about Google and their monopolistic power previously. Google is still totally dominant in the global search market. You’ll see from this graphic below that they have 67.78% of total search share compared to the next biggest Bing with only 13.27%. That’s over five times the share. In the Uk, this is 86.6% for Google and only 8.88% for Bing, which is over ten fold.

Share of search market April 2016
Share of search market April 2016

So you would expect that their results would be completely above reproach wouldn’t you? They’d play fair as they are in such an obvious monopolistic position right?

Wrong.

I wanted to understand how seller ratings worked in Bing. Were they any different to those in Google? Was there anything else I needed to know?

So an obvious search term produced the following results in Google with no sign of Bing on the whole of the first page.

Bing Seller ratings search results in Google
Bing Seller ratings search results in Google

And in Bing, quite different results here with their own two useful articles in first and second place as you’d expect.

Bing Seller ratings search results in Bing
Bing Seller ratings search results in Bing

So based on my search intention of trying to find more information about ‘Bing Seller ratings markup’, which produced the most useful results?

This does look remarkably like a playing field that is not at all level. Naughty Google.

Since I wrote this earlier today, Google have been all over BBC news for their alleged abuse of power with Android too.

 

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The best theme park in the world – Puy du Fou

Puy Du Fou

As I work with some great theme parks, I am a member of the Themed Entertainment Association.  One of the benefits of membership is their organisation of visits to some of the best the world has to offer, to see what they do and how they do it. And I have just come back from Puy du Fou, and can safely say that it is, without doubt, the best theme park in the world.

It’s a total one of a kind and without any of the conventional rides you associate with other theme parks. It draws in the local community, trains all its own staff through its academy,  creates everything internally (even the shoes and costumes) and delivers spectacular, emotive and beautiful shows that you have to see to believe.

It’s been created by Phillippe de Villiers, the father of Nicolas de Villiers who runs it today (and who showed us around). The control Nicolas still exercises is phenomenal. It’s not like any other brand.  If anything it’s a little like Google in the way they controlled their growth in the early years but this has lasted for 35 years already. He even interviews the shortlisted kids for the academy and watches every Cinescenie to be able to feed back to the managers where they could do the show even better. The level of detail they manage is unbelievable and even the back stage areas are immaculate.

We had a totally jam packed 48 hours and got to see behind the scenes of nearly every show. Here’s a summary of the best of them.

The Vikings

The first show I saw there and an amazing introduction to life at Puy du Fou. It’s filled with eagles, horned beasts, vikings and marauders, all backed up with huge explosions, gigantic flames and boats magically appearing from stage left and under the water, with the performers disappearing with it. Animals everywhere and a large cast. It’s an amazing start and an even bigger ending.

The Knights of the Round Table

It’s a story of Excalibur with Merlin, mermaids, sword fights in the water, horses walking out of the huge hidden caverns underwater and probably the simplest of the whole lot we saw. It’s great fun, has the best safety warning I have ever seen (hilarious) and I saw it twice.

The Secret of the Lance

This is a huge show that just keeps on growing. Spectacular horse riding, massive sword fights and jousting and flames everywhere. Then a disappearing castle, another HUGE castle that moves and rotates and amazing sounds and effects everywhere. There are things going on all over the place and we were lucky enough to get to see behind the scenes here. It was sooooo good, that a few times during the show I felt myself becoming a bit emotional.

Triumph’s Sign

This is a huge great roman spectacular played out in a purpose built amphitheatre that seats over 7,000 people. Again, it starts off quite small and then just grows and grows. The cast is huge and varied and whilst the story is their own version of history, it’s still truly amazing. Just look at the pictures.

Richelieu’s Musketeer

I saw this one twice too. It’s the only inside show and simply massive. Perhaps a little hard to follow in french, but I found it far more enjoyable to just watch the show and ignore the story. It’s breathtaking but you aren’t allowed to take photos, so this is a sneaky one of the set, just as the flamenco dancers start going crazy. It’s quite reminiscent of Riverdance with horses and water and swords and explosions and…..

Puy du Fou has a huge indoor show called Richelieu's Musketeer with a massive stage and even bigger cast.
Puy du Fou has a huge indoor show called Richelieu’s Musketeer with a massive stage and even bigger cast.

The Phantom Birds’ Dance

Now this was a real highlight. Again I saw it twice from two different seating positions. The first time from down in the pit gave a great view, but the second time, right at the back at the sides gave you far closer access to the birds. The show itself is incredible with beautiful, haunting music and a cast of over 170 birds. If you are going to sit at the very back, it’s probably best to shuffle forwards just a little so you don’t get pooped on by a vulture, like I did. There is simply noting like this anywhere in the world. It is totally breathtaking.

 The Organs of Fire

This was the first night show I saw and can only be described as breathtaking (I’ve used that a lot haven’t i!). It starts with a lone violinist emerging, her dress lighting up and her floating around the lake playing music until she meets the pianist, who does the same. The orchestras appear, huge fountains emerge and an even bigger organ suddenly appears to add to the music and the gigantic party. I thought it was the biggest show I’d ever seen, but I hadn’t seen Cinescenie at this point!

The Cinescenie

Now this show breaks record after record. It’s the largest permanent show in the world with a nightly cast of 1,500, all of whom are volunteers. None of them get paid. There are 3,400 of them trained to play their roles and it’s held 28 time per year in front of a crowd of 14,000. For the volunteers, it’s a huge social and cinematic event and they train all year. It’s so popular that there are over 1,000 on the waiting list to volunteer and you can’t buy tickets for the event for another year. I won’t say too much about it but it is simply massive, incredible and beautiful (and hard to photograph). I have again, never seen anything like this. It started at 10.45 pm and went on until well after 12.15, so it’s a good long show too. It’s worth it for the fireworks alone.

The TEA Team

Being with the TEA gave us an all access pass to the whole site and the team that created it. It was a huge privilege and worth the membership in its own right. For only three days away it was completely exhausting, but to be able to get to see this place was worth it and i’ll be back to do it again.

A few relaxing drinks after with the TEA party
A few relaxing drinks after with the TEA party
The Land Train that takes you around the park
The Land Train that takes you around the park

Are you watching Nottingham?

It does however make me sad when I see references to knights, castles and even Robin Hood himself that my home City of Nottingham, can’t even get an attraction out of the ground to recognise our most famous son. The French have delivered a genius show that would draw in millions of visitors if it was created here.  Nottingham still hasn’t delivered a single thing. So, Nottingham, please take note. Puy du Fou turns over €74m and is very profitable, filling every hotel for miles around with it’s 1.9 million visitors per year. A little of this would go a long way.

Where we stayed

The accommodation offer is quite new, but growing fast. They may look like simple tents, but they house a fabulously well equipped four poster bedroom with wet room, two bunks for kids and even decent wifi.

The tented village at Puy du Fou which is a beuatiful hotel room in disguise
The tented village at Puy du Fou which is a beautiful hotel room in disguise

Summary

If you have kids you have to come here. If you don’t come anyway. It’s amazing, awe inspiring and unique. It’s the best kept secret and the best theme park in the world. And it’s my new favourite.

The problem with Google Certified Shops Programme

google certified shop badge

When Google started in 1998, they had the aim of ‘organising the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’. This was backed up by the mantra or brand value ‘Don’t be Evil’. Over recent years however they seem to have concentrated more on the former and slightly less on the latter.

Their new ‘Certified Shops Programme‘, whilst not evil in concept, does seem to wrestle even more power under their control. So what is it?

On the surface it looks simple. It’s a programme that puts some standards into the sellers so that the buyer can buy with confidence from any online retailer that displays their symbol. It’s free to the seller and free to the buyer. They even offer you £1,000 of buyer protection, in case things go wrong. That’s brilliant. It’s a total win, win right?

Wrong.

Here’s my thinking – which is only conjecture and my opinion.

For the retailer

  • Signing up will become a necessity if you want to sell via the Google platform and with over 90% of the search market in the UK, you will not be able to trade without it.
  • Mediation of any issues is handled by Google, they decide what is right and wrong in the transaction and act as judge and jury.
  • You cannot deal with the irate or happy customer at all. You are allowing Google to negotiate any issues on your behalf.
  • If you disagree, you lose seller status and in the worst cases, they could put a manual penalty on your search position. This could kill your business overnight.
  • You have to hand over all of the transaction details of your customer to Google. As the customer has to sign in on a Google account to participate in the buyer protection, they are handing over ALL of their previous search behaviour too.
  • Google then have the right to speak to your buyer directly and ask them about their experiences with you and with others online, it’s in their terms and conditions.
  • Google can then build a perfect behavioural picture of ALL of your customers and who else they have shopped with, or ever considered shopping with.
  • With this profile of buyer behaviour they can feed this into their AdWords and PLA advertising algorithms, so all of your precious keywords and hard earned click/conversion behaviour are essentially made available to everyone else in the market if they are prepared to bid more for it than you are.
  • Google focus the seller power into fewer and fewer sellers as not all will have the sales figures to qualify for the Certified Shops Programme, and they control those sellers’ access to market. Maybe not evil, but certainly wielding an enormous amount of power over the market, maybe even monopolistic power.
  • You no longer own any element of your customer relationship, Google do. You signed it over without noticing. They can just cut you out of the deal next time and sell any access to your customers to the highest bidder.

But that’s okay as the buyer is protected right?

  • The £1,000 buyer protection is a lifetime figure. if you make a claim up to this limit, you lose out going forward, you can never be protected again.
  • You have 60 days to claim and they make it very clear that this is no form of warranty.
  • Buying on a credit card offers far greater protection, without any of the data sharing. The retailer pays the transaction fee.
  • By sharing all of the buyer and search behaviour you have ever done over to Google, you are allowing them to read every one of your emails and feed you tailored advertising and promotions.
  • Google now have the power to limit the searches you see. because they know you through studying all of your behaviour online, they can choose what they allow you to see. Maybe this is taking it too far, but they could genuinely only allow you to see sellers THEY approve rather than the ones who may be more up your own ethical or behavioural street.

So in summary, as yet it’s too early to say, where Google may take this, but it’s certainly a huge programme and one that could wreak total havoc on the seller environment and begin to affect all of our buyer behaviour online.

PS, if you ever want to trick the system try the difference between a logged in search in Google Chrome and then one that you do in private browsing mode in Safari or Firefox. You’ll find quite a difference in the results you see in search.

There’s nothing wrong with Google Glass, but they defined their audience wrongly

Google Glass courtesy of Fast Company
Google Glass courtesy of Fast Company

One of the most important elements of creating a brand is deciding who your audience is. Most of us think we know intuitively. And yet for me, really putting the work in here is often overlooked. The more you understand the needs, thoughts, desires and motivations of your REAL audience, the more fully you can wrap the brand around them. You create something they need before they realise they need it, rather than reacting to others.

So, in the last few weeks, Google have just admitted with Google Glass that they got this audience definition completely wrong at launch. It was aimed at techies and geeks. All of us have probably laughed at someone at a trade show talking to their glasses whilst recording everything they see?

So whilst there has been some celebration in it being scrapped as it has been unpopular with consumers for reasons of privacy invasion, its real use was in a professional environment.

With the need for medical staff to both protect themselves from litigation and bring in external help when they need it, Glass is perfect. It allows a paramedic at a scene to call upon external expertise in an instant. Who would laugh at that? And it also allows a doctor to record every part of a procedure and log it with a patient’s records, in case anything goes wrong, or more positively if anything unexpectedly goes right and they can refer back as to why.

So, good on Google for admitting their mistake and repositioning. It’s not often a product that was given such a big launch and failed is given a second chance. In the longer term, I can see this, or its derivative, becoming standard headwear for anyone who has to deal with the general public.

 

This is Google, before Google was invented

I had the absolute pleasure of listening to Dame Wendy Hall on the BBC Podcast ‘A Life Scientific‘ Yesterday and she referred to a 50 minute TV programme from 1990 by Douglas Adams called Hyperland. They also played a small clip, where the ‘Software Agent’ played by Tom Baker came out with the following quote

“I’m a software agent and I only exist as what we call an application in your computer. I have the honour to provide instant access to every piece of information stored digitally, anywhere in the world. Any picture or film, any sound, any book, any statistic, any fact, any connection between anything you care to think of. You have only to tell me and it will be my humble duty to find it for you and present it to you for your interactive pleasure”

That’s Google, but before Google.

You can see it in full here 

But this just proves what a genius Adams was and that Google certainly weren’t the first to come up with the idea for what they do, they just came in and did it better than everyone else. There’s lots to learn from that.

The new rule of SEO

Matt Cutts - The new rules of SEO I have spent lots of time working on SEO strategies over the last few months. For years it was getting more and more complicated, but now it looks like it’s getting simpler again with the latest article by Matt Cutts of Google which puts an end to pretty much all external link building. So, how do you continue to rank your sites when Google have so much power and how do you try and force your way up the SERPS (search engine results pages)? The simple answer is that you don’t. What you have to do now is build a brilliant product or service, gather great reviews and then encourage social traffic through all of the main channels (including Google+). It’s a slow process, but the old saying ‘grow slow, grow strong’ is now 100% correct for SEO too.

Amazon’s dirty tricks – Best Branding Books

Sick Life for Amazon - sit on their arses and watch where their traffic is coming from.
Sick Life for Amazon – sit on their arses and watch where their traffic is coming from.

You may have noticed on this blog that I have a list of the best branding books. It has been built up over the years by reading the books and deciding which ones are the most relevant based on 22 years of running a branding and design agency and being involved with thousands of different businesses.

Well for some time now, if you put the search term ‘best branding books‘ into Google I have been at number One. This is partly I think because it’s a good list and partly because I have been doing some SEO experimentation on this page to see what can be achieved by using social media, page titling and some neat URL rewriting.

What you may not realise is that if anyone buys any of the books from the list, then I get a small commission from Amazon (normally 5% or so). It amounts to a few quid a month, sometime as high as £20, so not big beer, but a great test bed for me and an interesting experiment.

Well Amazon have had enough of that commission and now forced their own list to the top of the search. It’s not very good either. Produced by a man called Nick Wreden from Atlanta, it’s more a list of general business books.

It MAY be a complete coincidence, but it does seem remarkable that as I have been doing more and more work on the page to get it to the top of the search and Amazon notice all the extra traffic from my domain on one specific search term and they want a piece of my rather measly action. Hmmm.

Picture by and © Ruby Lyle. Thanks Duck.

Internet Usability and the $300m button

Please will you be my new online best friend?

A little while ago, I read this article called the $300m button. Whilst I took some of it with a pinch of salt, it made me think and change the way I advise clients on their Internet and social media behaviour.

But I’ve now discovered that I am living it myself. I have stopped wanting to become friends with organisations online, unless they are amongst my very few special online friends.

So there is a very simple lesson for all of us involved with brands, websites and social media strategies. Stand in your own shoes and see how you behave.

I probably don’t want to be your mate. if I do, I want it to build slowly and get to know you first, before I commit long term.

Ooh, that sounds rather like building a normal relationship doesn’t it?

So, the new lesson i’m sharing everywhere is that you mustn’t expect people to create a unique user name and password to buy, comment or login to your site. keep it simple, keep it slow and let them log in with their Facebook, Twitter or Google identity and you will make far more friends and build a far more active community. When they show they want to get to know you, that’s when you think about moving the relationship up a gear.

The X Factor effect and how brands need to recognise the changes in youth behaviour

The X Factor effect and how brands need to recognise the changes in youth behaviour
The X Factor effect and how brands need to recognise the changes in youth behaviour

I’m 44 years old and grew up in a village outside Plymouth in Devon. Having moved there from Oxford, it never felt like to most cosmopolitan place but I don’t think my childhood years were that different to millions of others of my age.

But young people today are totally different in some of the things they think are normal.

When I was on holiday recently I was talking to a good friend of ours Chris Bentley who lives in Kent.

What we noticed was that when we were kids, if you wanted to speak out loud in a language lesson (only French and German in those days) and try to put on the best accent you could, then you were seriously weird.

But now kids seem to love languages. Listening to my 12 year old son taking care of all the ordering for us on holiday and priding himself on the Spanish accent would never have happened when we were kids. Just use English louder was far more normal behaviour.

And then there’s singing and dancing.

I recently went to an School X Factor event where 13 finalists, who had been whittled down from many more entrants, were prepared to stand in front of all their peers and sing their hearts out. The standard was amazing.

Again, if you danced at a school disco as a lad, you would have been lynched.

But any brand needs to address these changes. Staying cool is tricky at the best of times, as tastes and norms change so completely over long periods. Even Google is being pegged back by the US investment market as it is not showing the growth it once was and is being overwhelmed by Twitter and Facebook in many areas.

Apple are now the most valuable brand according to the same Fortune article, but can even they keep it up for another generation?

So whilst looking at how your brand presents itself, sometimes it’s not just a design change that’s needed, it’s a cultural, brand definition change.

And that’s far more scary.

It’s not about branding – it’s the product

Malcolm Gladwell chooses between Pepsi and Coke?
Malcolm Gladwell chooses between Pepsi and Coke?

I think we can all get a little distracted by brands and branding. Convinced of our own brilliance and self glorifying world that creating a quirky little logo will have the punters pouring in.

Well I’m here to dispel that rumour. It won’t.

A good logo on its own will not win you a single customer. Not one.

A bad one can however, stop you even being considered for calling up.

Bad logos are hateful, every designers worst nightmare and we love the glow from great work. Peer respect is important in almost every industry and we all feel good when our work is rated.

But it’s the product that really matters, branded or not.

If the product works and people feel comfortable with owning in – no proud to own it – no even delighted to give you their custom and eulogise to their friends about how great it is, then you know you have a potential winner.

So here’s one for you. Which search product is better?

Bing – Microsoft’s new baby
Google – the worlds most dominant search provider
Yahoo – yeah, remember them?

Well now you can see, in a blind test. Judging only by the efficacy of the product. How quickly did it give me exactly the answer I was looking for, how efficiently my problem was solved or how painless the experience was.

Try it for yourself with this Blind search tool.

It comes from a very clever man called Michael Kordahi who has his own blog here.

It means the branding is irrelevant and you have to choose on the results.

Now I will add the caveat here that blind testing is not always a faithful predictor of what you are going to do in future. Martin Lindstrom in his book Buyology massively disproved that, but it will make you think.

Now Pepsi also tried this with their own taste tests. For years they proclaimed that people preferred the taste of their brown fizzy water over Coke’s but it still didn’t translate into long lasting sales. (although it did prompt the launching of ‘New Coke’ if Roger Enrico the former Pepsi CEO is to be believed.) Latest thinking shows this is more to do with it being a sweeter drink (which is easier to like in small quantities) than it actually being preferred as a long term brand ‘friend’.

Anyway, try it for yourself. See which you think really works, brand or no brand.

Thanks to Niall Kennedy, for the use of the Malcolm Gladwell (my hero) Pepsi v Coke image