Mobile Friendliness and Search Results

Early last year was yet another update from Google for its search engine algorithm; this time specifically focused on mobile friendliness. Industry term coined was Mobilegeddon. We have been discussing about search algorithms and updates in last few posts. Here are some of the updates we discussed so far --

In the last post, we briefly touch based on what app indexing is how important it is? Last year, in April; Google updated the algorithm component (mobile-friendly algorithm update aka Mobilegeddon) to consider mobile friendliness / app indexing as a search ranking signal. Inclusion of factors involved in mobile friendliness to show the search results of normal websites was also part of this update. Mobile friendliness is captured on a page by page basis. So you will not be penalized at a website level if some of web pages are not mobile-friendly. It's just that only mobile-friendly web pages have better chance of showing up with a better search rank compared to non-mobile friendly pages. Also it has affect only on mobile search; not the usual desktop based searches.

How are doing with mobile friendliness?

If you would like to see how well you are doing in terms of mobile friendliness from Google's PoV, do check out this tool - Mobile-Friendly Test (though take this with a pinch of salt since some results may be flawed). A better approach would be to go through all your issues in Google Webmaster tools especially starting with mobile usability feature. Another option to see if you have a mobile friendly site is to search for the website directly in your mobile. If the search results show a prefix - 'Mobile Friendly'; it means you are good! Google claims even using Chrome's autocomplete feature puts you in a better chance (!!!)

What this update means from a SEO perspective?

Unfortunately, there is no easier fix for this. It goes to core of web design. You have to choose between high level decisions of having a responsive design to having a separate mobile website. Here is a great guide on Mobile SEO and design from Distilled. Google also provides some of the mistakes folks make while trying to be more mobile friendly. Another potential that can be undertaken is to follow the template. This also helps from a semantic search perspective.

Does only Google cares about mobile-friendliness?

No. Bing has also been making updates to its algorithm to factor in mobile friendliness. Bing also uses a 'Mobile Friendly' tag to notify users that a web page is mobile friendly.

Book Review Ad Serving Technology by Gregory Cristal

Ad Serving Technology: Understand the Marketing Revelation That Commercialized the Internet by Gregory Cristal is one of the best books I read recently on digital advertising. There aren't many books and literature on this complex domain makes the book even more attractive. The author does a great job of covering the basics of how display ads get displayed, how a trafficker set up the campaigns, and reporting capabilities.

Just short of 600 pages, the book is roughly divided into four parts. The first one gives a good understanding of how the whole domain of online advertising, vendors, platforms and workflows work. The second part dives into campaign set up and trafficking. Then he discusses about reporting capabilities and analytics available in ad server. Finally, he very briefly discusses about the more complex vendors and topics like programmatic and re-targeting. As the author rightly comments in the book; the online advertising industry is seeing changes so dramatic that a concept or thought today may not be relevant at all in near future. One personal example I could relate to was Facebook Atlas ad server's come back. 2.0 version of the ad server has shown some promising capabilities and especially features like a closely knitted integration with Facebook campaigns make it attractive.

Now let's play a devil's advocate. One place where I felt the book fell short was its technical depth. Trying to be an ad server agnostic literature, author failed to give a full picture of set ups. For example, he covers in depth how to track other channels like affiliate, email or search in an ad server from a theoretical perspective; but didn't show how an actual implementation will work. Another drawback I saw was, he was circling back again and again to the the topics discussed already instead of giving more meat.

Overall I believe the author has done justice to introduce the beast of ad serving domain in under 600 pages. These are they five things you will learn if you read the book --

  1. Overview with some decent depth on online advertising industry
  2. How digital advertising campaigns get developed, tracked and analyzed in the industry
  3. How ad trafficking works
  4. Reporting capabilities and attribution techniques prevalent in the industry
  5. Brief overview of channels, vendors and upcoming (at the time of writing :)) changes in the industry and how it all tie back to an ad server

Two things I wish author could have done even better for reader are

  1. Provide more robust examples covering the technical depth
  2. Reduce theoretical circling in writing

Having said that, this book is a great asset for anyone in the in the industry. Some of the diagrams are very informative and easy to understand. I believe some playing around with ad servers after reading the book will give the reader a strong foundation in this domain.

Understanding Omni-channel marketing

Cross-Channel, Omni-Channel, Multi-Channel -- all these are jargons you here in today's world especially when the discussion is around digital space. Often when we say omni channel or cross channel, we refer to the various digital  channels available for promotion of content. A recent discussion with one of the leading market players in omni-channel customer experience domain poked my interest to learn more about this industry.

What is Omni-Channel customer experience?

You get digital product shelves at a super market instead of actual ones. Customers scan the product they want using QR code. At the end of shopping, the products are delivered automatically at the cash counter! That's omni channel customer experience. You think this is a fiction? Check this video of how Tesco created a virtual supermarket in South Korea.

So Omni channel is not (just) the regular digital marketing; its about utilizing digital platforms for enhancing customer experience - be it store experience, promotional channels, post sales encounters. As you might have guesses, retail is the industry that has spearheaded this notion. With mobile becoming the new platform for everything starting from purchase to social networking; Omni-channel marketing has paved way for retailers to creatively engage with customers  and induce purchase behavior. True omni-channel marketing may start from analyzing present customer purchase behavior to call center integration to comprehensive using integrated marketing communications channels to in-store/kiosks based options. The core to managing an omni channel marketing is setting up a foundation for data flow through-out.

How do you design an omni-channel customer experience?

Starting point is to chart our the customer journey. Moments of truth or consumer touch points along the journey is another factor to bring in. Understanding the touch points is crucial to tweak the expeiecnce a consumer may encounter with (it may be technical as a mobile app or very old attitude of store manager!) Social and digital channels have moved away customer journey from a linear path to a convoluted one.  The second aspect to omni-channel marketing is providing a consistent experience through out - be it the messaging or branding. Clubbing online and offline channels to complement each other is the key. I consider omni-channel marketing to be a culmination of personalization, digital and offline experience.

Book Review Who are you really and what do you want ?

Who are you really and what do you want ? is a self help book written by Dr. Shad Helmstetter. Once again, the jazzy title of the book attracted me to read the book; but I wasn't disappointed. It's a light read written in simple language without much beating around the bush.

This book don't directly talk about finding your passion, being positive etc; but indirectly tries to convey the same message. The core aspect the author tries to bring forward is that we can achieve our dreams through proper goal setting and with the help of a coach.

Essentially, the author talks about three pillars to success --

1.    Fine tuning our self talk. Understanding how our own sub conscious self talk is affecting us - positively or negatively. One third of the book is devoted on how to listen actively to our self talk, how to make it productive/positive to ourselves and do away with negative thoughts. This step is considered as the foundation step to understand what you want and how to achieve them. What I really liked is that some of the ideas he mention like the questionnaire to find out where we stand, writing down what we self-think, trying to reword or counter the negative self talk etc. If you have read Prof.Sreekumar Rao's Are You Ready to Succeed; this is similar to the mental models he talks about.

2.    Active goal setting. Second part of the book is devoted to making goal setting the right way. I believe the discussion points are standard ones that you may see in other goal setting literature. Having said that, if you are actively thinking about improving your goal setting; this book would be the only one required. Some of the points, author stresses are - writing down the goals, putting time lines, obstacles etc. He has put out a good framework of eight steps to identify if the goal is the right one. The author also provide a list of ten areas and sample goals in each for the reader to consider taking up.

3.   Finding a mentor or coach. The last part of the book emphasize on the importance of professional coaching and finding the right mentor. While reading this part, I felt it more marketing coaching services; but in a way I agree that having a buddy, mentor or coach helps in fine tuning our path and achieve the goals - be it personal or professional. I really liked the questions he provides in this part as those which may come from a coach.

Overall , a good book and I recommend it. A word of caution that you may find the principles repetitive if you are an avid reader of self help literature (also most of the online resources mentioned in the book are not accessible)

Digital Marketing Trends in 2016

This is the time when everyone talks about what to expect in 2016 - be it Stock Markets, Business or Astrology! Predictions, suggestions, thoughts and cautionary notes come out. Here are my five top things, which I think will dominate in the marketing world….what do you think?

Accelerated Content Marketing

This is nothing new; from inbound to content - content has become the driving factor when it comes to online marketing. I believe this will continue to be the area of thrust with Digital Marketers continuing to invest in creative content deliveries to attract customers.

Focus on Influencer Marketing

Again not a new concept (and perhaps a subset of content marketing); but for sure to explode in 2016. Influencer Marketing (or Brand Advocates or whatever jazzy name you give) will be something businesses will need to concentrate more and careful selection for the platforms - be it YouTube, Snapchat or something will be critical to success (dirtying your hands on all may not be the right way to go).

Increased Mobile Focus

I remember in my previous company, we used to go behind Mobile as a holy grail; I believe that will continue and Mobile may become the de facto standard for businesses to start with - be it an app, mobile site, or advertising. This will be even more important with search engines giving importance to mobile over desktop (with app indexing etc.)


I remember the first days of sending personalized emails (it was a great feeling!). Today personalization has reached to a new level. We can have personalized campaigns, messaging and what not - that too at scale. Personalization is not just limited to emails or eCommerce (where you see the recommendations based on purchase or browsing behavior), it can be creatively used anywhere - be it your website or during offline events. Accelerated use of mobile devices also helps in personalizing content.

Technology Overtake

Technology will be the driving factor and continue to change the landscape. Sometimes while interacting with media planning teams, I wonder whether I talking to marketers to technologists :) Industry experts also predict, we can continue to see a lot of consolidation in the market. Hoping to see a lot less cluttered lumascapes!

Finally here are two articles on the same topic which I believe covers a lot of depth asks some thought-provoking questions.

Happy New Year!

And thus ends yet another year. 2015 was truly a roller coaster ride with too many twists and turns. Though it was an eventful and a stressful one, it had its own fun moments too! It was a low on professional front, and a decent one on personal front. Hoping for a great year ahead.... 

2015 took me closer to analytics, data science and what not....hoping to fine tune the focus a bit on that in 2016. More on it in future posts. 2016 will mark 9 years of entering workforce, 6 years of association with IIMB, 5 years with marketing, 3 years as an MBA and 3 years of married life :)

After its start in 2010, this blog went to a sleep mode for some time, before I started blogging with full pace again this year. PGSEM is no more; and is being re-branded to PGPEM (with a complete makeover of program structure itself). The theme of the blog has shifted from a B School diary to more on digital marketing. I am hoping to keep my writing on business and marketing this year with few ones on MBA and B School in between.

Hope you all had a good year and enjoyed the holidays. Wishing you all a very happy and prosperous new year! May all your wishes come true in 2016!

Bing it on! Comparing Bing Snapshot with Google Knowledge Graph

When we check the search engine market share, Google clearly dominates the market. At a global level, Google is expected to enjoy around 58%, while the second player is China’s Baidu with around 29% market share. Bing takes the third spot with close to 8% share. Considering Baidu is predominantly focused on Chinese market; Bing could be considered the second most preferred search engine at a worldwide level. If we consider the US market, Google enjoys around 68% share and Bing enjoys close to 19% share.

We have been discussing about Google algorithm updates in the last few blog posts. A natural question that will arise is does Bing  or other search engines also follow a similar algorithm update exercise and  technology ? In this post, let’s try to understand briefly about these questions from Bing’s point of view!

Bing was launched in 2009 as a successor of Microsoft Live Search. While still not a great contender to Google, Bing offers most of the features Google offer if not more. Bing has
The search engine – Bing (like Google search engine)
  • Bing Maps (like Google Maps)
  • Bing Local (like Google + places)
  • Bing Satori (like Google Hummingbird)
  • Bing Snapshot (like Google Knowledge Graph)
  • Bing Cortana (like Google Now)

The biggest difference (read USP) of Bing when compared to Google is the integration of social element. I consider the social component to be having two parts – an active one in which enables you to login to your Facebook account and a social sidebar is activated while you do the search in Bing. You can use this feature to search for friends near your locality while traveling or ask for suggestions and so on. The passive component of social element provides Facebook results, twitter, quora, and other social platform based options in Bing search results (for example Pin It option in image search! Or showing klout or other community Q&A results in Bing search results). Unfortunately, some of these feature are not available worldwide (for example Bing tags are available only for US users).

Since we have been discussing about entity search in last few blog posts; let’s try to understand how Bing compares with Google’s Knowledge Graph arsenal. Like Hummingbird, Bing powers its entity search engine with the help of a technology called Satori. As explained in the blog post on Knowledge Graph, Bing Satori or Google Knowledge Graph tries to understand the search queries (whether person, place, thing and so on) as an ‘entity’ that has several different possible connections with other ‘entities’ in the web world. Thus ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ as an entity can be considered to be related to ‘India’ entity as the relationship – ‘Father of Nation'; related to ‘Kasturba Gandhi’  entity as ‘wife'; related to ‘Jawaharlal Nehru’ entity as a ‘Indian freedom fighter’ and so on. The beauty of Bing Satori is that it brings in the social angle. Thus you need not be a celebrity to get into Bing Snapshot as opposed to Google Knowledge Graph.

If are to look straight on between Snapshot and Knowledge Graph, both looks pretty much the same. However one cool feature I liked in Bing was, as soon as you search for something and if Bing recognizes the entity relationships, it shows a preview in the search suggest itself! Moreover, we can click on the links in preview to go directly onto an another information if that interest you more. For example, consider the search query – ‘actors in bangalore days’ below. Without looking into the actual search results, Bing offers an option to directly goto the search result for ‘Fahadh Faasil’!

We can do a head to head comparison of search results in Bing viz. Google. I will leave it out to you…isn’t it fun?  :)

Here I will try to provide some examples where Bing provides a better result compared to Google. Let’s start with ‘Search Suggest’ option. Provided below is an example of a search query – ‘Java’. I am logged in to both Google and Microsoft accounts. I believe relation to Java software could be in association to my search history (instead of Java as a place!). However the interesting piece is Bing provides internal web page links in the suggest area if it understand the entity relationship! Isn’t that cool…?

The Bing Snapshot is more feature rich compared to Knowledge Graph in certain situations. For example if the search query is related to audio (Eg: ‘Indian national anthem’), a link to listen is provided; similarly if the celebrity have spoken at TED, the Snapshot provide link to the talks and so on. Bing Snapshot also aims to be a true knowledge provider. For example try searching ‘dolphin’. The amount of information provided by Bing Snapshot is way superior to Google Knowledge Graph!. Having said that, it fails in lot of search queries (for example , try ‘fermentation’).

Overall, I believe Bing provides some interesting ‘information’ when it comes to entity search and it could very well be a good competitor to Google in future. However with the strong position Google enjoys and the inertia of moving away from ‘Google it’ psyche, Bing has a long way to go…

What do you think…?

Google Hummingbird update and the opening up of entity search

Unlike Penguin and Panda updates that we discussed in the previous posts, Google hummingbird is an update to the search platform itself. It was released in September 2013. Hummingbird is considered to be first of its type update since 2000’s. In essence, hummingbird tries to add intelligence to the whole search phrase by considering the meaning of the phrase. If PageRank was the buzzword in 2000’s hummingbird and entity search is the buzzword today. In my opinion, this was not an overnight change, but an experiment and improve approach starting with the introduction of Knowledge Graph.

Before we dive deep into Hummingbird, let’s focus very briefly on two associated concepts for this blog post.

Google PageRank
If you are in the search industry for at least some time, you know this the ABC of how Google works. PageRank was and may still be the holy grail of how Google search engine works. Having said that, various studies have indicated PageRank is just one of the over two hundred components or ‘signals’ as they call it in deciding the search results. At the very basic level, PageRank is an algorithm component in which links to a website/page is considered votes and in turn used to decide the relevancy and credibility of that web page. Though the caveat here is, the quality of links is also considered; thus the mere high number of inbound links won’t get you a better PageRank. Provided below are two articles that explain the topic exhaustively.

Google Caffeine Update
Caffeine was an infrastructure update to Google ecosystem in 2010 unlike a search algorithm change. Before Caffeine update, the crawling and indexing was based on a batch mode.  So irrespective of how large the batch is, all web documents were pushed to live after the complete indexing procedure. With the caffeine update, Google is able to crawl the page and looks into the index and push live all in a matter of microseconds! This enormously improves searcher’s experience. It is also expected that the storage capacity and index size was increased with this infrastructure update. Haven’t you seen the search results changing on the fly while we type in int Google? Thanks to caffeine update!

Google Knowledge Graph
We discussed about Knowledge Graph in the last blog post. In short, Knowledge Graph tries to provide information about search queries rather than mere links to web pages that talks about the search query. It tries to consider data as entities and defines relationships between these entities. 

Read the blog post to understand better what Knowledge Graph offers you today.
Today, we are moving away from the concept of search based on documents and links to search based on data and relationships. Knowledge Graph is the back bone. While introduction of Knowledge Graph was to make the search engine results more facts and information; Hummingbird opens up  the world of semantic and entity search. It is the beginning of conversational search. Conversational search tries to give direct answer to search queries like ‘what is’, ‘when is’ and ‘what for’ types. In short Google tries to understand the intent of your search. For example are you trying to understand about a newly launched mobile phone or are you trying to compare between models or are you looking to buy one now. The search results vary depending on how Google interprets the intent of your query. Some of the factors that Google could use to giving meaningful search results could be
  • Synonyms of keywords
  • Keyword location / substitution and analysis of co-occurring terms to gauge the meaning
  • Geo location
  • Search device

Last leg of hummingbird update is the incorporation of voice search, especially in mobile devices and how search results are shown in mobile devices (no surprise there since factors like geo location can be better identified and thus personalizing the search result).
We will look into entity search in detail in another blog post. However let’s look into one of the foundation component which drives this showcase of facts and information. It’s all about making and utilizing structured data; And schema is one way to achieve it. Schema is a markup which provides meaning to the web page components. For example if you are talking about reviews in your website – you can use the mark up to identify the section as Reviews so that a search engine can pick up the rating directly for an associated search query. Schema allows you to define entities. For example, a Product, its specifications, its reviews , price and so on. Another example being the the rich snippets that we discussed in the blog post about Knowledge Graph is powered by schema. Schema is not the only markup, we have others like RDFa, microdata and so on. Thus we could consider markups being the underlying requirement for semantic search.

Stay tuned for more on the world of semantic search…