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How to Make Your Website User Friendly by Reading Glossy Fashion Magazines

Lots of differnet vogue magazines. The most visible cover features Rihanna on its cover wearinga veil and a hat like in the roaring twenties.

This is a contribution by Daniel Bishop, freelance writer and editorial consultant. I added some text formatting, added the images and edited the post a bit for clarity.

Over the past decades, the emergence of websites, online journals and magazines has made printed media occasionally seem like something obsolete and out-of-date. However,

as much as 69 percent of Americans still read actual printed newspapers on a regular basis. In UK, this number climbs up to 74 percent.

Furthermore, paper ads provoke greater emotional reactions in readers than the digital ones and people generally tend to trust printed media more.

Therefore, print is still far from being dead and it has been around for so long that it’s safe to assume that there are some tricks to learn from it.

Indeed there is a whole lot digital media could learn from the rules and practices applied by their printed counterpart.

This goes for

  • writers
  • columnists
  • editors
  • designers

and everyone involved in the creation and development of digital content.

More specifically, we will take a look at how user experience of the websites can be improved by studying what’s done right in good old glossy fashion magazines.

In spite of the fact that these are very different media in terms of

  • approach
  • form
  • revenue models

there’s several important lessons taught by traditional magazines that can improve user experience in the digital realm as well.

Lots of lossy magazines lying around probably dozens of copies each. They mostly seem to deal with style and fashion.

Strict editorial policy

The first advantage of printed magazines over digital ones is the simple quality of content.

For the former, there’s a limited amount of articles and stories that will make the cut on a certain week or month, while in the digital world such a limit is basically non-existent for most media.

Always think twice before publishing a blog or a guest post. It will bring some traffic to your website, but you should ask yourself if it delivers any value to your site or your readers.

Too much content can make the website look too confusing, cluttered and overwhelming.

This sort of hyper-production may do more harm than good and a few clicks you’re about to get just aren’t worth it. Therefore, avoid excessive and irrelevant content.

Consistency

What’s typical of traditional fashion magazines is that they look coherent and consistent from page one all the way to that shampoo ad on the back cover, as if every article and every image tells a specific aspect of the same story.

This consistency is what makes their readers loyal and committed, and makes the whole brand that’s built around the magazine look solid and reliable.

Uniformity of this sort should be delivered on many levels – from layouts and typefaces to terminology, voice and overall approach.

A printed magazine looks like a coherent, logically ordered entity, which ensures that the readers know what’s coming next and thus feel like home while reading.

Simplicity

Just like you need your content carefully filtered and refined, you need to do the same with your visual identity as well.

When it comes to design, sometimes less is more and this is much more obvious in most of the printed magazines.

Too often websites are clogged with banners, recommendations, call-to-action buttons, native ads and all sorts of distractions. This is likely to chase away a lot of visitors.

Printed magazines are usually designed to look clean and neat, which is something that top graphic design agencies are trying to implement in websites they work on as well.

White space

An integral part of clean design is the proper use of white space.

Again, websites are too often packed with excessive design elements and ads, which can be quite overwhelming and not pleasant at all for the users.

White space gives them some breathing space, gives their eyes a place to rest and makes the content more legible and easy to scan.

Do you want your visitors to have an enjoyable experience while roaming around your website or reading an article?

Then balancing out the positive and negative space the way it’s done in print can be a great strategy.

Colors

The power and symbolism of colors doesn’t change too quickly, so turning back to fashion magazines to see how they used decades of experience to deal with it is not a bad idea.

Choosing and combining the right colors for the message you want to convey and the impression you’d like to leave can be vital.

Neutral colors usually go well with a simple and elegant design, but depending on your niche and overall style, going for brighter colors can be absolutely fine, especially for fashion web magazines.

Make sure you get familiar with the psychology of colors.

For example, when you want to provoke the feeling of growth and success you could go for green!

In case you need something that reminds people of joy and happiness choose yellow, while adding purple to the mix can suggest luxury or romance.

Hierarchy

Another crucial aspect of user experience is clearly and obviously highlighting the most important pieces of information.

This is something that has been perfected in printed media for centuries now. The content ought to be organized in a logical and predictable manner.

You should try employing visual and typographic hierarchy to direct the reader’s vision around the focal points of the page.

Let people get the gist of an article just by quickly scanning through.

Using

  1. headings
  2. subheadings
  3. different font sizes

properly is crucial in order to achieve this.

The fact that users can quickly find out whether they’re interested in the article and whether they should look into it more thoroughly is something that enhances their experience significantly.

 A visual hierarchy can save them a world of time and effort.

A huge newsstand selling literally dozens if not hundreds of fashion magazines.

Respect the differences

Obviously, you should always have in mind that the two media we’re dealing with here are very different.

The above mentioned tricks will definitely make your users’ stay at your website much more comfortable. However, not everything that works for printed media works in the digital world and vice versa.

The biggest discrepancy comes from the way each of these make money. To be fair, this is what directs editors’, owners’ and designers’ behavior at the end of the day.

At the end of the day you should try learning from glossy fashion magazines without merely copying everything.

Just be careful when implementing what you learned from them and take into account the specific features and peculiarities of each of the media in question.

 

Daniel Bishop is a full time editorial consultant for small businesses.

He started off as a freelance writer on a couple of blogs and in a few years began leading his own small team based in Europe. Eventually he became a consultant for all editorial issues.

The post How to Make Your Website User Friendly by Reading Glossy Fashion Magazines appeared first on SEO 2.0.

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Can a Google Partner Help With SEO?

LEGO stormtrooper an a black background. He looks quite shady as he is half hidden in the shade.

In recent years most former SEO agencies have become Google Partners that is they buy enough Google Ads to be eligible for that badge in the first place.

Can they actually help you with your organic search reach aka SEO though? Aren’t they just “alleging a special relationship with Google”? Let’s find out!

For more than a decade Google has a helpful page for starters called “Do you need an SEO?“. One of the crucial parts of it has been the “No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.” warning:

The “guaranteed rankings” and the “priority submit” expressions are pretty dated SEO lingo by now. They stem from the ancient past. You can ignore those.

Nobody is stupid enough to use such phrases anymore to lure Internet newbies. The “special relationship” – an expression introduced by Google – is more than relevant today though.

In a bizarre twist of events now Google itself offers special relationships to Internet marketing agencies when they buy lots of Google Ads.

How to become a Google Partner? Pay Google!

Google Partner requitements screen shot. Most importantly you need to buy at least 10.000$ worth of Google Ads each quarter.

For many years we were told not to claim to be buddies with Google as that would be misleading potential clients. Sounds like common sense. Yet Google changed that credo.

In recent years this is what exactly happened on a large scale. You can now easily align yourself with the ever growing Google empire.

A few years ago it was still a badge that would say “Google Adwords certified” or something similar. That distinction has gone lost after Google introduced the Google Partners program.

Most business people who visit agency sites might not be aware of the fact that Google Partners are in no way supported by Google when it comes to organic search aka SEO (search engine optimization).

Yet on most agency sites that’s exactly what is alleged. I have found a good example of this wide spread practice on SEO.com (full disclosure: I have been an affiliate of SEO.com in the past):

SEO.com advertises themselves on their homepage as a Google Partner with access to "specialized" Google tools and to a Google employee.

It’s a win win situation for both Google and Internet marketing agencies. Google gets a steady stream of money and agencies can brag about their special connection to the Internet giant.

The only ones who don’t really benefit are the clients who want to have their website optimized for search engines – which nowadays means mostly Google.

The partial screen shot I have posted above is taken from SEO.com as you can see. It’s the highest ranking search engine optimization company on Google (currently #5 from here).

It’s right there on the SEO.com homepage and the wording they use is strikingly similar to what the Google article asking “Do you need an SEO?” says. I highlighted it in red.

They are in no way an exception though. You see those badges all over the place. Even agencies I considered very trustworthy sport them in a misleading way by now.

You can’t solely blame agencies of course. It’s very hard to place a Google Partner badge on your site without making the impression this partnership also applies to your SEO services.

For Google it’s simply a good way to keep Google ads budgets high and make sure agencies are dependent on them for their reputation.

What are Google Partners experts on? Google Ads.

Screen shot from Google's Partner page. Partners specialize in several kinds of ads. No SEO mentioned.

Aren’t Google Partners more knowledgeable and able to connect with Google employees to fast track their clients to the top of search results? Not really. They can and do buy ads though.

The Google Partners clearly explains the currently five options Google Partners specialize in (see also screen shot above):

  1. Search Advertising
  2. Mobile Advertising
  3. Video Advertising
  4. Display Advertising
  5. Shopping Advertising

What the screen shot does not state is also self-evident. We only talk about buying ads on Google services not with other vendors.

What those agencies mostly do is setting up a largely automated system of taking your money and using it to buy Google Ads on a regular basis. The more it remains intact the better for them.

Star Wars robot R2D" is moving alone on a sandy path which looks like part of a desert planet, maybe Tatooine.

Effectively you just pay the agency for a bot that spends your money on autopilot most of the time. Yet the agency gets a significant amount of the budget itself. On the other hand

It’s about making your website visible and findable on the actual search results themselves. They are called organic because you don’t have to pay Google for such reach.

Also the wide spread click fraud does not apply to organic results. Studies show that more than half of ads are never even viewed by a human being.

No matter whether the click has been done by a human or a bot you have to pay for it. Google claims to ignore fake clicks but it does often not work.

Join the rebel alliance!

In a way traditional search engine optimizers like myself are the rebels who bug the seemingly omnipotent Google empire. We don’t let us dominate by the search engine and its business model.

In the beginning we weren’t meant to just convince people to buy ads from Google. We were striving to allow website owners to exist without the need to pay for traffic.

Personally I consider buying ads and optimizing for organic search reach a conflict of interest – like being your taxi driver and driving instructor at the same.

Why would I shoot myself in the foot and teach you how to drive when you can pay me instead for driving you around on a regular basis? That would be idiotic.

There is no incentive to optimize a website for organic reach when you can get easy money by solely being the middleman between business owners and Google Ads.

I also do not use Google Analytics anymore because I do not want to support Google data collecting and sharing policies. They track you all over the Web using multiple means.

I use the self-hosted open source solution Matomo instead. It’s focused on privacy and you don’t send the data to the actual company at all.

4 LEGO Star Wars rebels are standing there ready for anything, Chewbacca on the right among them.

I am a bit of a radical even among the rebels though. In the early days we didn’t have Google Ads yet and SEO was about helping people to optimize their actual website.

Even later on when Google started pushing Ads it was just a temporary means of getting traffic until the actual optimization worked.

Many search engine optimizers also used Google’s then called Adwords for keyword research to find out whether Google’s keyword tools actually disclosed useful numbers. They often did not.

Long story short SEO has never been is still is not about buying traffic from Google. Pay Per Click ads are just a means to make Google rich and to remain dependent on the gatekeeper.

When you decide to buy traffic from Google you actually waste funds you could have used on search engine optimization. Like a drug user you will always have to pay to stay high on Google.

You can optimize your website to make it rank instead. When investing in SEO you could actually improve your

or create content in the first place. Your product descriptions are not content. Something that has value by itself is actual content not simply packaging. Think bottle vs liquid inside.

Live by the Google, die by the Google!

LEGO Darth Vader kills a storm trooper by applying the force.

Search engine optimization the way I practice it not only helps you with search but also with social media and direct traffic.

It’s also important to make sure that the people who arrive on your site actually find what they seek and do what they should do like

  • subscribe
  • sign up
  • buy

When you solely rely on Google Ads you may end up broke sooner or later. That’s one of the main reasons startups fail. They mainly buy traffic from the gatekeepers Google and Facebook.

They fail to establish their brand, build an actual audience of regular users because they trick themselves into believing that they can ask Google and Facebook to deliver fresh traffic forever.

Your “target audience” is finite though in many cases, especially when you offer a highly specialized SaaS (Software as a Service) product.

When you push your ads to the same people over and over you’ll get ignored after a while. You need to establish

  • authority
  • credibility
  • trust

by sharing, engaging and outreach or in short SEO. Yes, that’s the explanation of the modern SEO acronym to me. I’ll elaborate on that in another post.

The same thing applies to small businesses that have only a local reach. After a while everybody knows you in one way or another.

Who are you in the eyes of search users? Are you that company that has to use ads to get people to visit them or are you a company you already like and others recommend as well?

When I use search I tend to click familiar sounding names in the results. The same applies to ads on a side note. I’m not alone, even Neil Patel relies on brand building.

Reliance on fresh traffic from Google is a recipe for disaster in the long term. You live by the Google and you die by the Google.

For many small business the “1000 true fans” business model is perfectly sufficient. You don’t always need a steady stream of new people.

Of course I refer to faithful customers. For example I am with the same barber for more than a decade. I don’t need to look up Google every time I want a new haircut.

Are you a friend of the Google empire?

Search results for [google partner seo] showing many companies claming they are Google Partners when it comes to SEO.

In general it’s not a good sign when someone’s main selling point is being a friend of the Google empire. In the middle ages it was called nepotism.

Nowadays it’s a bit like being a doctor who is partnering with the pharma industry. Who is s/he really working for? What’s her or his goal?

I’d rather look for someone who is truly independent and does not have to resort to such alleged relationships. It’s self-evident really isn’t it?

Of course there are still some knowledgeable SEO experts working for agencies that are Google Partners but you can never know as on outsider.

Also the incentive to keep a client paying for ads for years might be more tempting than ensuring the long term success of organic SEO efforts. Thus

some ethical agencies have stopped offering both Google ads and organic reach optimization at the same time.

They have either split and run two separate agencies now depending on the business model – just like you would split up a company offering taxi fares and driver’s licenses.

Some agencies simply offer only Google ads by now. This way the wrong impression of being buddies with Google does not mislead potential SEO clients.

Others simply focus on organic reach via search engine optimization and alternative ways of improving your organic reach. Think social media and direct traffic.

You might want to consider such a step when you won an agency or work at one before your online reputation might suffer.

Do you depend on Google Ads?

Ideally one day you can run your website yourself without continuous ad spend and only occasional or low level SEO activity unless you pay for

Those tasks can be performed by your team though without an external agency once you have taught them social media and content best practices or they’ve read the above linked guides.

Your website is well optimized and the evergreen content is good enough to earn links when the SEO is done holistically and with due diligence.

I had clients a decade ago who still benefit from my link magnets to this day. What did I do? I just created evergreen content and well optimized pages that still rank high.

Of course you still depend on Google when solely relying on organic traffic from the search giant but you can embrace other means of gaining traction as well.

Optimization for search, social media and direct audiences is not mutually exclusive. Often it’s the same people using different tools.

Buying ads sadly often means not optimizing your site at all. At best dedicated landing pages will be created that are just trying to convert one time visitors.

Visitors who return and thus so called retention are the ones to look for and after. Forcing new people down the sales funnel can ostracize them for good.

The post Can a Google Partner Help With SEO? appeared first on SEO 2.0.

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Brands vs Ads

About 7 years ago I wrote about how the search relevancy algorithms were placing heavy weighting on brand-related signals after Vince & Panda on the (half correct!) presumption that this would lead to excessive industry consolidation which in turn would force Google to turn the dials in the other direction.

My thesis was Google would need to increasingly promote some smaller niche sites to make general web search differentiated from other web channels & minimize the market power of vertical leading providers.

The reason my thesis was only half correct (and ultimately led to the absolutely wrong conclusion) is Google has the ability to provide the illusion of diversity while using sort of eye candy displacement efforts to shift an increasing share of searches from organic to paid results.

As long as any market has at least 2 competitors in it Google can create a “me too” offering that they hard code front & center and force the other 2 players (along with other players along the value chain) to bid for marketshare. If competitors are likely to complain about the thinness of the me too offering & it being built upon scraping other websites, Google can buy out a brand like Zagat or a data supplier like ITA Software to undermine criticism until the artificially promoted vertical service has enough usage that it is nearly on par with other players in the ecosystem.

Google need not win every market. They only need to ensure there are at least 2 competing bids left in the marketplace while dialing back SEO exposure. They can then run other services to redirect user flow and force the ad buy. They can insert their own bid as a sort of shill floor bid in their auction. If you bid below that amount they’ll collect the profit through serving the customer directly, if you bid above that they’ll let you buy the customer vs doing a direct booking.

Where this gets more than a bit tricky is if you are a supplier of third party goods & services where you buy in bulk to get preferential pricing for resale. If you buy 100 rooms a night from a particular hotel based on the presumption of prior market performance & certain channels effectively disappear you have to bid above market to sell some portion of the rooms because getting anything for them is better than leaving them unsold.

Dipping a bit back into history here, but after Groupon said no to Google’s acquisition offer Google promptly partnered with players 2 through n to ensure Groupon did not have a lasting competitive advantage. In the fullness of time most those companies died, LivingSocial was acquired by Groupon for nothing & Groupon is today worth less than the amount they raised in VC & IPO funding.

Most large markets will ultimately consolidate down to a couple players (e.g. Booking vs Expedia) while smaller players lack the scale needed to have the economic leverage to pay Google’s increasing rents.

This sort of consolidation was happening even when the search results were mostly organic & relevancy was driven primarily by links. As Google has folded in usage data & increased ad load on the search results it becomes harder for a generically descriptive domain name to build brand-related signals.

It is not only generically descriptive sorts of sites that have faded though. Many brand investments turned out to be money losers after the search result set was displaced by more ads (& many brand-related search result pages also carry ads above the organic results).

The ill informed might write something like this:

Since the Motorola debacle, it was Google’s largest acquisition after the $676 million purchase of ITA Software, which became Google Flights. (Uh, remember that? Does anyone use that instead of Travelocity or one of the many others? Neither do I.)

The reality is brands lose value as the organic result set is displaced. To make the margins work they might desperately outsource just about everything but marketing to a competitor / partner, which will then latter acquire them for a song.

Travelocity had roughly 3,000 people on the payroll globally as recently as a couple of years ago, but the Travelocity workforce has been whittled to around 50 employees in North America with many based in the Dallas area.

The best relevancy algorithm in the world is trumped by preferential placement of inferior results which bypasses the algorithm. If inferior results are hard coded in placements which violate net neutrality for an extended period of time, they can starve other players in the market from the vital user data & revenues needed to reinvest into growth and differentiation.

Value plays see their stocks crash as growth slows or goes in reverse. With the exception of startups frunded by Softbank, growth plays are locked out of receiving further investment rounds as their growth rate slides.

Startups like Hipmunk disappear. Even an Orbitz or Travelocity become bolt on acquisitions.

The viability of TripAdvisor as a stand alone business becomes questioned, leading them to partner with Ctrip.

TripAdvisor has one of the best link profiles of any commercially oriented website outside of perhaps Amazon.com. But ranking #1 doesn’t count for much if that #1 ranking is below the fold.

TripAdvisor shifted their business model to allow direct booking to better monetize mobile web users, but as Google has ate screen real estate and grew Google Travel into a $100 billion business other players have seen their stocks sag.

Google sits at the top of the funnel & all other parts of the value chain are compliments to be commoditized.

  • Buy premium domain names? Google’s SERPs test replacing domain names with words & make the domain name gray.
  • Improve conversion rates? Your competitor almost certainly did as well, now you both can bid more & hand over an increasing economic rent to Google.
  • Invest in brand awareness? Google shows ads for competitors on your brand terms, forcing you to buy to protect the brand equity you paid to build.

Search Metrics mentioned Hotels.com was one of the biggest losers during the recent algorithm updates: “I’m going to keep on this same theme there, and I’m not going to say overall numbers, the biggest loser, but for my loser I’m going to pick Hotels.com, because they were literally like neck and neck, like one and two with Booking, as far as how close together they were, and the last four weeks, they’ve really increased that separation.”

As Google ate the travel category the value of hotel-related domain names has fallen through the floor.

Most of the top selling hotel-related domain names were sold about a decade ago:

On August 8th HongKongHotels.com sold for $4,038. And the buyer may have overpaid for it!

Google consistently grows their ad revenues 20% a year in a global economy growing at under 4%.

There are only about 6 ways they can do that

  • growth of web usage (though many of those who are getting online today have a far lower disposable income than those who got on a decade or two ago did)
  • gain marketshare (very hard in search given that they effectively are the market in most markets outside of China & Russia)
  • create new inventory (new ad types on Google Maps & YouTube)
  • charge more for clicks
  • improve at targeting by better surveillance of web users (getting harder after GDPR & similar efforts from some states in the next year or two)
  • shift click streams away from organic toward paid channels (through larger ads, more interactive ad units, less appealing organic result formatting, etc.)

Wednesday both Expedia and TripAdvisor reported earnings after hours & both fell off a cliff: “Both Okerstrom and Kaufer complained that their organic, or free, links are ending up further down the page in Google search results as Google prioritizes its own travel businesses.”

Losing 20% to 25% of your market cap in a single day is an extreme move for a company worth billions of dollars.

Thursday Google hit fresh all time highs.

“Google’s old motto was ‘Don’t Be Evil’, but you can’t be this big and profitable and not be evil. Evil and all-time highs pretty much go hand in hand.” – Howard Lindzon

Booking held up much better than TripAdvisor & Expedia as they have a bigger footprint in Europe (where antitrust is a thing) and they have a higher reliance on paid search versus organic.

The broader SEO industry is to some degree frozen by fear. Roughly half of SEOs claim to have not bought *ANY* links in a half-decade.

Long after most of the industry has stopped buying links some people still run the “paid links are a potential FTC violation guideline” line as though it is insightful and/or useful.

Ask the people carrying Google’s water what they think of the official FTC guidance on poor ad labeling in search results and you will hear the beautiful sound of crickets chirping.

Where is the ad labeling in this unit?

Does small gray text in the upper right corner stating “about these results” count as legitimate ad labeling?

And then when you scroll over that gray text and click on it you get “Some of these hotel search results may be personalized based on your browsing activity and recent searches on Google, as well as travel confirmations sent to your Gmail. Hotel prices come from Google’s partners.”

Zooming out a bit further on the above ad unit to look at the entire search result page, we can now see the following:

  • 4 text ad units above the map
  • huge map which segments demand by price tier, current sales, luxury, average review, geographic location
  • organic results below the above wall of ads, and the number of organic search results has been reduced from 10 to 7

How many scrolls does one need to do to get past the above wall of ads?

If one clicks on one of the hotel prices the follow up page is … more ads.

Check out how the ad label is visually overwhelmed by a bright blue pop over.

Worth noting Google Chrome has a built-in ad blocking feature which allows them to strip all ads from displaying on third party websites if they follow Google’s best practices layout used in the search results.

You won’t see ads on websites that have poor ad experiences, like:

  • Too many ads
  • Annoying ads with flashing graphics or autoplaying audio
  • Ad walls before you can see content

When these ads are blocked, you’ll see an “Intrusive ads blocked” message. Intrusive ads will be removed from the page.

The following 4 are all true:

And, as a bonus, to some paid links are a crime but Google can sponsor academic conferences for market regulators while requesting the payments not be disclosed.

Hotels have been at the forefront of SEO for many years. They drive massive revenues & were perhaps the only vertical ever referenced in the Google rater guidelines which stated all affiliate sites should be labeled as spam even if they are helpful to users.

Google has won most of the profits in the travel market & so they’ll need to eat other markets to continue their 20% annual growth.

Some people who market themselves as SEO experts not only recognize this trend but even encourage this sort of behavior:

Zoopla, Rightmove and On The Market are all dominant players in the industry, and many of their house and apartment listings are duplicated across the different property portals. This represents a very real reason for Google to step in and create a more streamlined service that will help users make a more informed decision. … The launch of Google Jobs should not have come as a surprise to anyone, and neither should its potential foray into real estate. Google will want to diversify its revenue channels as much as possible, and any market that allows it to do so will be in its sights. It is no longer a matter of if they succeed, but when.

The dominance Google has in core profitable vertical markets also exists in the news & general publishing categories. Some publishers get more traffic from Google Discover than from Google search. Inclusion in Google Discover requires using Google’s proprietary AMP format.

Publishers which try to turn off Google’s programmatic ads find their display ad revenues fall off a cliff:

“Nexstar Media Group Inc., the largest local news company in the U.S., recently tested what would happen if it stopped using Google’s technology to place ads on its websites. Over several days, the company’s video ad sales plummeted. “That’s a huge revenue hit,” said Tony Katsur, senior vice president at Nexstar. After its brief test, Nexstar switched back to Google.” … “Regulators who approved that $3.1 billion deal warned they would step in if the company tied together its offerings in anticompetitive ways. In interviews, dozens of publishing and advertising executives said Google is doing just that with an array of interwoven products.”

News is operating like many other (broken) markets. The Salt Lake Tribune converted to a nonprofit organization.

Many local markets have been consolidated down to ownership by a couple private equity shop roll ups looking to further consolidate the market. Gatehouse Media is acquiring Gannett.

The Washington Post – owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – is creating an ad tech stack which serves other publishers & brands, though they also believe a reliance on advertiser & subscription revenue is unsustainable: “We are too beholden to just advertiser and subscriber revenue, and we’re completely out of our minds if we think that’s what’s going to be what carries us through the next generation of publishing. That’s very clear.”

We are nearing many inflection points in many markets where markets that seemed somewhat disconnected from search will still end up being dominated by Google. Gmail, Android, Web Analytics, Play Store, YouTube, Maps, Waze … are all additional points of leverage beyond the core search & ads products.

Google is investing heavily in quantum computing. Google Fiber was a nothingburger to force competing ISPs into accelerating expensive network upgrades, but beaming in internet services from satellites will allow Google to bypass local politics, local regulations & heavy network infrastructure construction costs. A startup named Kepler recently provided high-bandwidth connectivity to the Arctic. When Google launches a free ISP there will be many knock on effects causing partners to long for the day where Google was only as predatory as they are today.

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AMP'd Up for Recaptcha

Beyond search Google controls the leading distributed ad network, the leading mobile OS, the leading web browser, the leading email client, the leading web analytics platform, the leading mapping platform, the leading free video hosting site.

They win a lot.

And they take winnings from one market & leverage them into manipulating adjacent markets.

Embrace. Extend. Extinguish.

AMP is an utterly unnecessary invention designed to further shift power to Google while disenfranchising publishers. From the very start it had many issues with basic things like supporting JavaScript, double counting unique users (no reason to fix broken stats if they drive adoption!), not supporting third party ad networks, not showing publisher domain names, and just generally being a useless layer of sunk cost technical overhead that provides literally no real value.

Over time they have corrected some of these catastrophic deficiencies, but if it provided real value, they wouldn’t have needed to force adoption with preferential placement in their search results. They force the bundling because AMP sucks.

Absurdity knows no bounds. Googlers suggest: “AMP isn’t another “channel” or “format” that’s somehow not the web. It’s not a SEO thing. It’s not a replacement for HTML. It’s a web component framework that can power your whole site. … We, the AMP team, want AMP to become a natural choice for modern web development of content websites, and for you to choose AMP as framework because it genuinely makes you more productive.”

Meanwhile some newspapers have about a dozen employees who work on re-formatting content for AMP:

The AMP development team now keeps track of whether AMP traffic drops suddenly, which might indicate pages are invalid, and it can react quickly.

All this adds expense, though. There are setup, development and maintenance costs associated with AMP, mostly in the form of time. After implementing AMP, the Guardian realized the project needed dedicated staff, so it created an 11-person team that works on AMP and other aspects of the site, drawing mostly from existing staff.

Feeeeeel the productivity!

Some content types (particularly user generated content) can be unpredictable & circuitous. For many years forums websites would use keywords embedded in the search referral to highlight relevant parts of the page. Keyword (not provided) largely destroyed that & then it became a competitive feature for AMP: “If the Featured Snippet links to an AMP article, Google will sometimes automatically scroll users to that section and highlight the answer in orange.”

That would perhaps be a single area where AMP was more efficient than the alternative. But it is only so because Google destroyed the alternative by stripping keyword referrers from search queries.

The power dynamics of AMP are ugly:

“I see them as part of the effort to normalise the use of the AMP Carousel, which is an anti-competitive land-grab for the web by an organisation that seems to have an insatiable appetite for consuming the web, probably ultimately to it’s own detriment. … This enables Google to continue to exist after the destination site (eg the New York Times) has been navigated to. Essentially it flips the parent-child relationship to be the other way around. … As soon as a publisher blesses a piece of content by packaging it (they have to opt in to this, but see coercion below), they totally lose control of its distribution. … I’m not that smart, so it’s surely possible to figure out other ways of making a preload possible without cutting off the content creator from the people consuming their content. … The web is open and decentralised. We spend a lot of time valuing the first of these concepts, but almost none trying to defend the second. Google knows, perhaps better than anyone, how being in control of the user is the most monetisable position, and having the deepest pockets and the most powerful platform to do so, they have very successfully inserted themselves into my relationship with millions of other websites. … In AMP, the support for paywalls is based on a recommendation that the premium content be included in the source of the page regardless of the user’s authorisation state. … These policies demonstrate contempt for others’ right to freely operate their businesses.

After enough publishers adopted AMP Google was able to turn their mobile app’s homepage into an interactive news feed below the search box. And inside that news feed Google gets to distribute MOAR ads while 0% of the revenue from those ads find its way to the publishers whose content is used to make up the feed.

Appropriate appropriation. 😀

Thank you for your content!!!

The mainstream media is waking up to AMP being a trap, but their neck is already in it:

European and American tech, media and publishing companies, including some that originally embraced AMP, are complaining that the Google-backed technology, which loads article pages in the blink of an eye on smartphones, is cementing the search giant’s dominance on the mobile web.

Each additional layer of technical cruft is another cost center. Things that sound appealing at first blush may not be:

The way you verify your identity to Let’s Encrypt is the same as with other certificate authorities: you don’t really. You place a file somewhere on your website, and they access that file over plain HTTP to verify that you own the website. The one attack that signed certificates are meant to prevent is a man-in-the-middle attack. But if someone is able to perform a man-in-the-middle attack against your website, then he can intercept the certificate verification, too. In other words, Let’s Encrypt certificates don’t stop the one thing they’re supposed to stop. And, as always with the certificate authorities, a thousand murderous theocracies, advertising companies, and international spy organizations are allowed to impersonate you by design.

Anything that is easy to implement & widely marketed often has costs added to it in the future as the entity moves to monetize the service.

This is a private equity firm buying up multiple hosting control panels & then adjusting prices.

This is Google Maps drastically changing their API terms.

This is Facebook charging you for likes to build an audience, giving your competitors access to those likes as an addressable audience to advertise against, and then charging you once more to boost the reach of your posts.

This is Grubhub creating shadow websites on your behalf and charging you for every transaction created by the gravity of your brand.

Shivane believes GrubHub purchased her restaurant’s web domain to prevent her from building her own online presence. She also believes the company may have had a special interest in owning her name because she processes a high volume of orders. … it appears GrubHub has set up several generic, templated pages that look like real restaurant websites but in fact link only to GrubHub. These pages also display phone numbers that GrubHub controls. The calls are forwarded to the restaurant, but the platform records each one and charges the restaurant a commission fee for every order

Settling for the easiest option drives a lack of differentiation, embeds additional risk & once the dominant player has enough marketshare they’ll change the terms on you.

Small gains in short term margins for massive increases in fragility.

“Closed platforms increase the chunk size of competition & increase the cost of market entry, so people who have good ideas, it is a lot more expensive for their productivity to be monetized. They also don’t like standardization … it looks like rent seeking behaviors on top of friction” – Gabe Newell

The other big issue is platforms that run out of growth space in their core market may break integrations with adjacent service providers as each want to grow by eating the other’s market.

Those who look at SaaS business models through the eyes of a seasoned investor will better understand how markets are likely to change:

“I’d argue that many of today’s anointed tech “disruptors” are doing little in the way of true disruption. … When investors used to get excited about a SAAS company, they typically would be describing a hosted multi-tenant subscription-billed piece of software that was replacing a ‘legacy’ on-premise perpetual license solution in the same target market (i.e. ERP, HCM, CRM, etc.). Today, the terms SAAS and Cloud essentially describe the business models of every single public software company.

Most platform companies are initially required to operate at low margins in order to buy growth of their category & own their category. Then when they are valued on that, they quickly need to jump across to adjacent markets to grow into the valuation:

Twilio has no choice but to climb up the application stack. This is a company whose ‘disruption’ is essentially great API documentation and gangbuster SEO spend built on top of a highly commoditized telephony aggregation API. They have won by marketing to DevOps engineers. With all the hype around them, you’d think Twilio invented the telephony API, when in reality what they did was turn it into a product company. Nobody had thought of doing this let alone that this could turn into a $17 billion company because simply put the economics don’t work. And to be clear they still don’t. But Twilio’s genius CEO clearly gets this. If the market is going to value robocalls, emergency sms notifications, on-call pages, and carrier fee passed through related revenue growth in the same way it does ‘subscription’ revenue from Atlassian or ServiceNow, then take advantage of it while it lasts.

Large platforms offering temporary subsidies to ensure they dominate their categories & companies like SoftBank spraying capital across the markets is causing massive shifts in valuations:

I also think if you look closely at what is celebrated today as innovation you often find models built on hidden subsidies. … I’d argue the very distributed nature of microservices architecture and API-first product companies means addressable market sizes and unit economics assumptions should be even more carefully scrutinized. … How hard would it be to create an Alibaba today if someone like SoftBank was raining money into such a greenfield space? Excess capital would lead to destruction and likely subpar returns. If capital was the solution, the 1.5 trillion that went into telcos in late ’90s wouldn’t have led to a massive bust. Would a Netflix be what it is today if a SoftBank was pouring billions into streaming content startups right as the experiment was starting? Obviously not. Scarcity of capital is another often underappreciated part of the disruption equation. Knowing resources are finite leads to more robust models. … This convergence is starting to manifest itself in performance. Disney is up 30% over the last 12 months while Netflix is basically flat. This may not feel like a bubble sign to most investors, but from my standpoint, it’s a clear evidence of the fact that we are approaching a something has got to give moment for the way certain businesses are valued.”

Circling back to Google’s AMP, it has a cousin called Recaptcha.

Recaptcha is another AMP-like trojan horse:

According to tech statistics website Built With, more than 650,000 websites are already using reCaptcha v3; overall, there are at least 4.5 million websites use reCaptcha, including 25% of the top 10,000 sites. Google is also now testing an enterprise version of reCaptcha v3, where Google creates a customized reCaptcha for enterprises that are looking for more granular data about users’ risk levels to protect their site algorithms from malicious users and bots. … According to two security researchers who’ve studied reCaptcha, one of the ways that Google determines whether you’re a malicious user or not is whether you already have a Google cookie installed on your browser. … To make this risk-score system work accurately, website administrators are supposed to embed reCaptcha v3 code on all of the pages of their website, not just on forms or log-in pages.

About a month ago when logging into Bing Ads I saw recaptcha on the login page & couldn’t believe they’d give Google control at that access point. I think they got rid of that, but lots of companies are perhaps shooting themselves in the foot through a combination of over-reliance on Google infrastructure AND sloppy implementation

Today when making a purchase on Fiverr, after converting, I got some of this action

Hmm. Maybe I will enable JavaScript and try again.

Oooops.

That is called snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

My account is many years old. My payment type on record has been used for years. I have ordered from the particular seller about a dozen times over the years. And suddenly because my web browser had JavaScript turned off I was deemed a security risk of some sort for making an utterly ordinary transaction I have already completed about a dozen times.

On AMP JavaScript was the devil. And on desktop not JavaScript was the devil.

Pro tip: Ecommerce websites that see substandard conversion rates from using Recaptcha can boost their overall ecommerce revenue by buying more Google AdWords ads.

As more of the infrastructure stack is driven by AI software there is going to be a very real opportunity for many people to become deplatformed across the web on an utterly arbitrary basis. That tech companies like Facebook also want to create digital currencies on top of the leverage they already have only makes the proposition that much scarier.

If the tech platforms host copies of our sites, process the transactions & even create their own currencies, how will we know what level of value they are adding versus what they are extracting?

Who measures the measurer?

And when the economics turn negative, what will we do if we are hooked into an ecosystem we can’t spend additional capital to get out of when things head south?

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