December 17th, 2013.
Love them or hate them, almost all of us these days use Google as our default search engine, and for increasingly other services beyond that, from email to analytics, document storage to translation. Some strange few even use their social media offerings.
But are Google ‘good’ as a company? There is plenty of deserved criticism surrounding privacy and tax avoidance amongst other things. supposedly Google still work on the simple premise of ‘Don’t be evil’, although many would claim that this ethos went out of the window a long time ago. Even Eric Schmidt has since come out and said that the claim was stupid.
However, Google do do a lot of ‘good’. Here are ten of the best examples of ‘good guy Google’, and of the search engine giant doing things that, while not driving their profits higher, help to benefit – potentially – all of mankind. And no, this isn’t a paid Google post..
Google.org is perhaps the best example of Google doing good, as it exists purely to develop technology with a positive social impact.
Projects range from Google’s role in advertising and coordinating crisis response efforts, to heavily subsidised (or free) versions of Google’s commercial products for use by non-profit organisations.
Most impressive of all, however, are the Dengue and Flu Trends services, which detect the earliest indications of an outbreak of flu or dengue fever based on the number of people searching for symptoms and treatments.
These can predict epidemics even before doctors have noticed a significant increase in patients presenting with the relevant symptoms, allowing production of the right medicines and vaccines to be scaled up in preparation.
Search for ‘suicide‘ and you might expect the usual helplines and support services for your country or location to be among the top results anyway.
However, Google go further than that – in the UK, you’ll receive a specific message (which, admittedly, still appears below rather than above the sponsored links) telling you to call the Samaritans for help.
In the US, you’ll be presented with an equivalent message for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, while in either country, the organic and sponsored results alike are packed with organisations who can offer advice and support to those going through troubled times.
Perhaps more than any other big brand, Google work to open doors – figuratively speaking – in developing countries, in order to give people there access to information on as much a free a basis as possible.
The company itself is physically present in over 60 countries worldwide, and the majority of its search results are served to non-US customers.
Google Search itself is available in over 130 different languages, while Google Translate translations can be manually improved by international readers to give a better version of the text than is possible through automated translation.
This is helping to make every web page – regardless of its original language – accessible to web users worldwide, putting all countries and nationalities on a level footing in terms of their access to knowledge and information.
When Google’s homepage logo changed to a ‘Doodle’ – originally a stylised version of the logo that paid homage to a famous person born on that date, or some other such achievement – it used to be big news.
These days, Google Doodles appear much more often, and are much more complex, often involving some kind of game or other interaction.
However, they also serve to raise awareness of scientific achievements, independence days and cultural celebrations, helping to unite people all over the world every time they make a search.
In rare instances, Google will also add a text message below the main search box on their homepage – they did this, for example, as a mark of respect to Apple innovator Steve Jobs upon his death – and this is a further means by which they can raise awareness, as well as showing a little of their human side on what is otherwise a sleek corporate homepage.
The Return of Authorship
It’s worth taking a moment to look at some of the more recent ‘good things’ Google have done specifically for the way the web works.
For instance, since introducing their own Google+ social network, Google have made it possible for authors to effectively connect their work directly with their Google+ profile.
This in turn allows seasoned professionals to be given added significance in the search results by placing their author image alongside their work.
The web has often been portrayed as the enemy of traditional journalism, with print news publications finding it difficult to compete with real-time ‘news’ via social networks, and to maintain editorial standards in the face of bloggers who are often not subjected to the same levels of scrutiny on grammar and spelling.
In February 2013 though, Google took the first plainly visible steps towards overcoming that (outside of simply carefully selecting the sources of content that are included in the Google News search index).
A total of eight students from 2,300 applicants were selected for fellowships at seven different organisations with links to journalism, from research centres and training facilities, to action groups that aim to protect investigative journalists while they carry out real-world research.
The response to the scheme was so great, Google had to extend the application review period by a full week, and received an application every two minutes on the last day of the deadline; the chosen students will also spend a week working at Google, and learn about how the worlds of journalism and technology can overlap in the years to come.
Safer Internet Day
Each year, on Safer Internet Day, Google make efforts to raise public awareness of online security – particularly among those users who might not be so experienced at using computers or searching from smartphone handsets.
The brand’s commitment to security is built into its products – Google Chrome automatically updates to apply any new security patches, while both Google Search and Gmail transmit data only via encrypted connections.
But its public awareness efforts go beyond automation, encouraging best practices among human users of its services, and of the kinds of technology on which those services are delivered.
In 2013, for instance, the Safer Internet Day campaign from Google focused on issues like locking and password-protecting PCs, laptops and mobile phones, to prevent unauthorised access.
Scrolls and Santa
In December 2012, Google made two announcements with close links to Christmas – one of which was a frivolous bit of fun, while the other was a major archaeological advance.
Once again, the search engine ran its annual ‘Santa Tracker’ service, giving people worldwide the ability to “see where Santa’s headed next” on services like Google Earth, and on devices ranging from PCs and laptops with the Chrome browser installed, to Android-powered mobile devices.
Around the same time, Google unveiled the further digitisation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, putting 5,000 images of the scrolls online, and with detailed information for 900 individual manuscripts.
Google provided the storage for the data – which includes colour images at 1,215 dpi resolution, along with infrared scans – and added supporting information through Google Maps, their own imaging technologies, and even YouTube integration.
Whatever your religious beliefs (and that extends to non-religious beliefs like atheism too), Google strive to cater for cultures and communities of all kinds through these kinds of projects, whether they are academic in nature, or simply a fun way to celebrate an important date on the calendar.
In 2009, Google stopped using noisy, air-polluting lawnmowers to clear the grass and brush from the hills around their Mountain View headquarters (a necessary task to reduce the risk of a grass fire close to the building).
They instead hired a herd of goats to come and eat their way across the hillside, clearing vegetation as they went.
‘Mowing’ using goats takes the company about a week each summer, and has the dual benefits of reducing carbon emissions while also naturally fertilising the land – and for approximately the same cost as using petrol-powered industrial mowers.
Did you mean…/search instead for…?
YES, of course I meant that! – And If I left a vowel or a connective out because unlike you I am not a robot & I like to use computer-speak, then so be it. The bottom line is you knew what I meant – so did you have to be as condescending as that and point out the mistake I made?
Really Google? Finishing the search before I have written it? I mean c’mon – it’s one thing that you’re arrogant enough that you feel you need to tell me the speed in which you gathered my results, now you’re finishing my sentences for me like we’re in a marriage?
I’m at work, I’m signed into Google. I search a keyword phrase I’m using in Google Adwords & bingo – I’m ranking number 3 on the 1st page! That’s weird, yesterday I was on the 5th page, I haven’t upped the bids in-fact – I haven’t made any changes, but I’m not complaining at all, instead I sit & wait for the money to roll in. I get home from work and quickly carry out a query and sit back waiting to see my site turn up on the first page for that particular keyword and… hold on, it’s not there? I click to the next page and nothing. I carry on until get to page 5 and there my ad is. I find and ask an SEO expert why this has happened & I’m told that when I’m signed into Google, the results differ from when I am signed out. I feel as though I’ve been living in the Matrix. *sigh*
Google seasonal/holiday/anniversary/event themes
I know its Christmas when the streets are paved with sleet and debris and every shop I go into leaves me that little less well off than I was before I walked in. I know its May-Day when I get that extra day off of work, I know its election day when people lie to me about which policy I ought to be interested in because the amount of tax I pay will go down. Nevertheless, Google wants in on the reminders too. I guess its okay, but sometimes I just don’t want to care. I’m sorry.
Google Chrome’s Sloth
Look. I want a *extremely mild expletive* homepage button on the interface without having to go into the settings and put one there! Is that too much to ask? – Surely not if Firefox and IE understood it.
Sorry, we own YouTube so you can’t sign in without us knowing
Now, they may say a change is as good as a rest but I beg to differ. I’ve been signing in with the same username & password since I opened a YouTube account but Google wants more of a direct approach. Now you cannot access your settings unless you sign in via your Gmail account, which is reasonable enough – but what if you have multiple Gmail accounts? I don’t really have a problem with this one, but imagine if Google started buying up everything on the internet enforcing this same sign in rule or else no access. While it may not be that bad, it’s the principle…
…Oh well, as Google grows stronger by the query, I’m sure there will be more to add to this list soon!
September 22nd, 2008.
Being based in the UK I find that SEOs on this side of the pond have to get very familiar with website geo-location factors. It’s an unfortunate quirk of search engines that one of the main criteria that search engines use to determine a websites location is the location of its webhost.
If you’re looking to target a specific locality, then it’s vital that your site is recognised by search engines as being from that territory. Local websites are featured more prominently in local versions of the search engines, there are also surfers are given the option to see only pages from their location excluding foreign based sites.
Up until fairly recently UK hosting tended to be fairly expensive in comparison to our US cousins. For this reason many UK based sites found themselves running into problems when they tried to save costs by hosting their sites in the USA.
Don’t take it for granted that by hosting with a UK based company that their servers will also be based in the UK. Many UK hosting companies locate their servers overseas including one very well known host that bases their servers in Germany. I’m sure this is the case the world over. When signing up for hosting contracts, if location is an issue for you, always check that the servers are located geographically where you would expect them to be.
There are several factors that are theorised that effect the location of a site in terms of search engines. This list tends to include,
- The top level domain extension (.co.uk, .fr, .de)
- The location (IP address) of the website host
- The geographic location of the domain registrar
- The language that the site is written in
- The location of incoming links
- On page factors (addresses, telephone numbers)
- Registering with Google Local
Obviously some of these factors hold more importance than others, some I theorise are used marginally, others I believe not at all, or their effect is too minimal to test.
Using The Correct TLD (Top Level Domain)
This is your best case scenario. You have a site that you’re targeting to UK consumers, holding a .co.uk site will pretty much guarantee that you’ll be found in the UK search results, even if you choose to host out of the country. For example the server for whois.co.uk is based in the US, but the site is still returned in the UK only version of a Google search.
Website Host Location
There are of course many instances of websites that are targeted to a specific country but are using a generic top level domain such as a .com or .net. In these cases simply ensuring that your hosts servers are geographically located in your marketplace should ensure that the site is recognised as being local. The Datadial site for example is using a .net TLD, but as its host is located in the UK is still appears for UK only queries. ASP.net which is located in the US does not appear for the equivalent query.
Geographic Location Of The Domain Registrar
I feel this is a factor that is sometimes overlooked by many webmasters, but as Google has access to the geographic location such as the location of the domain registrar it would make sense for them to make use of this as well. This along with other registrar information such as Whois data could well be used as a ‘tie-breaker’ when country-specific TLDs are hosted elsewhere. For example many country specific TLDs such as .fm, .cc, and .tv are now being used because of the brandability of the domain extension. In cases such as these where the TLD extension is indicating one location and the hosting location indicating another then it would be a logical step to make use of the information available from the domain registrar.
Obviously as well as it making sense to make sure your site is written in the language of the search visitors that you’re looking for, it may well be one of the factors that a search engine may use to help determine the location of a site. It certainly isn’t a defining factor though as it’s relatively easy to find foreign language sites within the UK only search results.
Location Of Incoming Links
As above, the idea is that a search engine can use the location of incoming links to determine the site location. Again, I’m sceptical if this is any more than of marginal importance. I have seen lots of sites with low quality link profiles that consist of largely overseas located links and of course news sites with very few links seem to have little problem get geographically placed before backlinks have had a chance to develop.
Site Addresses/Telephone Numbers
Again, it’s just good practice to have local contact details for local markets. There is also speculation that this may be used to place a sites location. Again this is difficult to test but I’m doubtful if this is would be anything more than of marginal importance.
Registering With Google Local
Again, hard to test, but it would make sense for Google to make as much use of all the information that was made available to them. Yahoo and MSN also have similar local services.
Going back to our original list I would place the factors in the following order of importance,
- TLD extension
- Hosting location
- Domain registrar
- Google local registration
- Incoming links
- Site language
- On page addresses/phone numbers
Of course, many of these factors are very difficult to test on their own as it’s difficult to isolate individual factors on their own. Certainly the first three seem to influence the outcome the most.
Site Targeting In Google Webmaster Tools
Last year Google added an option in Webmaster Tools to define a geographic location for a website. Unfortunately this is only an option if you site is already on a non-specific TLD.Â Vanessa Fox wrote on SearchEngineland,
If your domain is a location-specific TLD (such as the .fr example above), Google will show you the country that your site is associated with but won’t let you specify something different. However, if your domain is not country specific (such as a .com or .net), you can indicate the location of the site…
You can provide information at a more granular level than country. For example, if your site is for a pizza restaurant in Seattle, you can specify up to the street address (although you can input any granularity that makes sense for your business such as city or state).
One of the most useful things about this tool is that it lets you specify different locations for each subdomain. This can be extremely helpful for large corporates which could save them from having to purchase domains and/or source hosting in many different localities.
The SEOMoz Geo-detection tool is is a useful way of checking how well a website is targeted to a specific country or market.
Get Elastic – Location Targeting In Google
Webmaster Central Blog – Better Geographic Choices For Webmasters
Search Engine Journal – On Site Geotargeting And SEO
Search Engine Land – SEO And SEM Outside The US
June 24th, 2008.
As well as being the United Kingdoms most used search engine with almost a 90% search share, Google also spend a considerable amount of time developing and making available free tools that will help a small business owner to develop and market their website. Below is a rundown of the more useful tools, an overview of how they work, and links to more in-depth tutorials and analysis.
Google Sitemaps (Webmaster Tools)
What is it? Google Sitemaps, recently renamed to Google Webmaster Tools is a control panel that enables you to access a multitude of information about your site and how it performs in the search engines. You are able to check when Google has visited your site, if there were any errors found while trying to index your pages, you are also able to submit a sitemap, download lists of internal and external links pointing at your pages, view search queries that people used to find your content, set a geographic location and a preferred domain. Signing up to this really is a must considering the extra data and functionality that it gives you access to.
Key Benefits: Quickly diagnose indexing problems with the site, add a sitemap.
Google Webmaster Tools – A Quick Start Guide
Google Webmaster Tools – A Comprehensive Guide
What is it? A good way to comparatively track keyword search volume over time. Not sure which keywords people search for more? Just enter them into here and you’ll know within seconds. Data is also given about the geographic regions that search for terms the most and also how often they appear in Google news.
Key Benefits: A quick check to ensure that you’re targeting the correct keywords.
Using Google Trends For Search Engine Optimisation
Using Google Trends To Help Guide Your SEO
Using Google Trends To Research Your Brand
Google Trends For Sites
What is it? A very similar tool to Google Trends, though this can be used as a competitive analysis tool. You can check to see traffic levels for sites as well as some basic visitor data such as geographic location, top searches and additional visited sites.
Key Benefits: Competitive analysis
Google Trends For Websites
A New Layer To Google Trends
Google Trends Comes To Websites
Google AdWords Traffic Estimator
What is it? Another good way of seeing how much traffic certain keywords can potentially send. Although this is aimed at people using the Google PPC service, you can also use it to estimate how many visitors you will receive from the natural results.
Key Benefits: Access to Google keyword search data
The Traffic Estimator
Google AdWords Traffic Estimator Explained
What is it? A free web traffic analytics package. By adding a short snippet of code to your page Google will track important visitor data including metric such as visitor numbers by date and time, referring sites, keyword data, geographic location and content analysis amongst others. In terms of gathering important marketing data about your site getting this installed is a must.
Key Benefits: Access to important visitor metrics
Google Analytics Setup Guide
Google Analytics Video Tutorials
Advanced Use Of Google Analytics
Google Analytics Relaunched
What is it? Google alerts monitors the web for mentions of a keyword that you define, and then sends you an email when it picks up on mentions of this keyword. Where this comes into it’s own for a business is you can define your business name, products, brand names and key staff as keywords and then monitor your companies reputation online and take action if there is any negative publicity, or simply monitor what people are saying about you. How about also monitoring your competitors to see what they’re up to?
Key Benefits: Instant notification of brand mentions
Using Google Alerts For Intelligence Gathering
Google Alerts Tutorial To Help You Stay Ahead Of The Curve
8 Unique Ways To Use Google Alerts To Capture New Customers
What is it? As well as being an ingenious way of finding your way around, getting directions and spying on the neighbours, Google Maps can also be used to find local business and therefore have people find you. Go here to assign a geographic location for your business. These also show up in the main Google search results.
Key Benefits: Have people find your website while doing geographic location searches.
How Do I Add My Business To Google Maps?
Google Maps – A Primer For Small Business
What is it? Don’t use RSS feeds to keep up-to-date with your industry news? Then you’re missing a trick. RSS feeds provide a great way of saving time by having news come directly to you rather than having to go to websites to read it yourself. Most websites these days offer RSS feeds, simply copy the RSS feed URL, add it to Google reader and every time a website is updated you’ll know about it instantly.
Key Benefits: Industry news sent directly to you as it happens.
How To Get Started With Google Reader
A Beginners Guide To RSS And Google Reader
Get More From Google Reader
What is it? Acquired by Google last year, Feedburner is a tool that enables you to track subscriptions to your RSS feed – if you publish one on your website. It also offers some nice stats and good ways of promoting your feed.
Key Benefits: Understand more about your feed subscribers
Feedburner Help Centre
What Is Feedburner And Why Should I Use It?
The Beginners Guide To Using And Building Traffic With Feedburner
Google Website Optimiser
What is it? This gives you the ability to fine-tune your website, comparing the performance of different content and pages, A/B testing these page versions and then offering results and reporting.
Key Benefits: Ensuring that your pages are generating the highest possible conversion rates
Quick Start Guide
A First Look A Google Website Optimiser