18 months down the line, what has Google AMP really achieved

In early 2016, Google launched Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for publishers who wanted to have their content loaded in a flash on mobile devices at a much faster rate.

At the point of writing this article, 65% of all traffic in Asia (and this is higher for developer countries) is on the mobile. A bulk of these users are on mobile data networks which may not be as fast as a steady broadband connection.

What Google did therefore was to launch a series of initiatives, Weblight and now AMP that would help the search engine load the publisher’s content faster for the user.

Google is focusing on the user

The rationale that Google gave to publishers was that it focused on the user’s experience. If a user is doing a Google search on a choppy data connection, the search results might be presented in the blink of an eye, however, because the publisher’s site was taking too long to load, the user would get a bad experience … or worse, the user would say that Google is too slow!

With Google Weblight, what the organization did was to load the content on an interim site (which was Weblight) and display the content there. This created two problems –

  1. Publishers lost traffic, and Ad Revenues
  2. Publishers lost control on the format of their content and their style guides

Both reasons were strong enough for a lot of publishers to stay away from Weblight.

AMP gets introduced in the mix

To give some control of the content formats back to the user and also to incorporate both analytics and ad scripts into the publisher’s content, Google created another mark-up language. This is AMP.

AMP allows the publisher to present the content on their own site, in a style that’s acceptable to the publisher. It may not have too much flexibility, but at least the publisher is free to design that style instead of the Weblight approach.

This may not be an ideal situation, but atleast it ensures that users are shown the content they are search for the fastest.

Have people embraced AMP?

Well, it’s a bit hazy there. For those of us who were on existing Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress or Joomla it was much easier to transition. It just meant having to install some plugins and do the configuration.

However, the folks who have made their own web apps and products, they are completely clueless as to how to go about implementing AMP.

The sad part is that a lot of the product developers that I have spoken to, are of the opinion that AMP is just a new thing that “SEO folks” have to do. Add to the mental model of SEO being perceived as a much lower the value chain task – that pretty much means that developers are simply not aware about the benefits of AMP.

What irks me is that people’s individual bias is used to mask their ignorance about how to make their products perform better on search.

So, if you are leading a product team or are working on building products, then definitely head on to the Accelerated Mobile Pages project.

As a publisher who has embraced AMP, how does that impact me?

It surprisingly does not help me much with acquiring more traffic. The website is shown a bit differently in the search engine results, and that perhaps is getting me a bit higher click through rates. However, the numbers are not significantly high enough for me to assess based on the data provided.

One major problem with all new initiatives that Google is doing with Search is their stubbornness on keeping things completely opaque.

Not a single publisher is in the loop when it comes to knowing what was the exact payoff of any of the optimization activities they did. It is left for these teams to dig in and figure it out themselves before they are able to attribute the success of this activity. I believe that’s a major deterrent for a lot of product managers to make this choice of embracing AMP.

All human beings are equal

For the West and East, it is common to have different value systems and beliefs. However, this video by Arnold Schwarzenegger on the recent issues faced by the US just goes to show that there are some universal values that everyone identifies with and stands by. This stance is similar to the one that Swami Vivkenanda took when he addressed the Chicago convention.

Treating everyone as equal instead of bringing in our perceived values and judgement when speaking to different people is one such value.

Easy guide to Keyword Research

Keyword research sounds like such a daunting task. What’s the point of researching a keyword anyway? Shouldn’t your natural marketing instincts tell you which keywords are most relevant to your business. Not quite… Without quality keywords, found through effective keyword research, your search marketing campaigns (paid AND organic) will be completely misguided. If people aren’t…

via The Big, Easy Guide to Keyword Research for Businesses — Wordstream Blog Feed

If you have heard about Unicorns and Start-ups, then you probably would know of Larry Kim and Wordstream.

Linked the above post on why is Keyword Research important and how can a business go about doing keyword research both from a Search Campaign point of view and from a Content Marketing point of view.

If you are concerned with search, then this is a must read.

Data anomalies in Search Console

In the past 5-6 years or so, a lot of online businesses, especially the ones who are hungry for growth have relied on organic traffic as one of their key sources. Now growth could mean an increase in pure numbers (traffic, sessions, users) … or it could mean an increase in more tangible business parameters (revenues, profits). One of the things that I have learnt is that depending on which success metrics we chase, our own identity undergoes a shift.

Search as a major source of traffic

The major contributors to organic traffic are search and social. Wherever there is a site which has great and unique content by the loads, there is a chance for driving organic traffic.

At different points in time, I have been skeptical about Social Media and me-too posting that most brand pages do on platforms such as Facebook. However, Search for me has always been fascinating and I still have faith in Search :).

SEO can’t be a method

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has evolved over a period of time and I have blogged about it on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, the number of times the algorithm changes and the rate of evolution of what Google (the market leader in this space) construes as quality content ensures that you can’t have a steady SEO “process”.

Having said that, SEO involves a fair amount of design thinking.

The reason behind this statement is because the problem behind search visibility (and the factors that control that) keep changing. It’s a wicked problem. Design thinking can solve such kind of problems because of its test and iterate mechanism.

Data to drive Design Thinking

This is where having the correct data to decide on next steps is crucial. Having a data driven design thinking approach would entail that there are periodical reviews of what kind of data we have available to make the right choices.

Search data has always been plagued with incomplete information. Starting from the 2011 encrypted search announcement, where a bulk of the data in Google Analytics was being reported as (not set). There have been ample approaches to clarify this data, unfortunately, as Google Search goes more towards handhelds and as digital privacy increases, the percentage of data where there is clear visibility will keep going down.

This can’t be helped. What can be done is take these “anomalies” into account and factor those in while doing your analysis.

So what kind of Data anomalies in Search Console do we expect to find?

Google Support has compiled this list. They keep updating their data reporting logic and keep updating this page as well.

One of the major changes that you can see is that last month, they started reporting more data in Google Webmaster Tools. Please bear in mind that this is just a change in the data that is being reported and not the actual search traffic that is on your site.

The link also explains why there is data disparity between Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools and any other third party tool that you could be using to generate keyword data.

So, my data is incomplete, what to do?

Don’t panic.

Work with the list of data anomalies and identify which ones are impacting you the most. Having visibility on which parts of data are not available to you is also better than not knowing anything and assuming that the data you have is complete.

In iterations, the first comparison is always your previous state. In both cases the data being made available to you is pretty much the same. Hence, a week on week comparison report is much more valuable as opposed to a comparison report with your closest competitor.

As long as the measures of success is on the same tool, the data anomaly should be cancelled out. Please bear in mind that for most of our data work, we do not need precise data but can work with coarse data.

A simple approach to identify this would be – if you work with charts and graphs more, then you can work with coarse data and absorb the anomalies. If you work with more than 4 decimals, then you might want to add 3-4 lines of disclaimer below your data.

ḷ.com, one more shenanigan in Referral Spam

Spamming the Analytics data of websites is now an old practice. It’s better known as Referral Spam, and I have written about this in the past at multiple times. Purely a black hat practice, I doubt whether it would give great returns.

Yes, it would give traffic to the spammer, but how does that really translate into revenue. Or is the tactic hoping to drive gullible folks by the hordes?

The referral spam industry for some reason also loves to send the geographical position as Samara. For those of you who are noticing this now, here’s how the tactic works.

How Referral Spam works

  1. The bot hits a particular site for multiple times in the day
  2. The analyst sees his Google Analytics account, and gets surprised by a spike in traffic. Who wouldn’t mind seeing such a spike :)
  3. The obvious report to check this out would be the Source / Medium in the Acquisition section.
  4. There staring at you in all glory is the spamming domain
  5. The analyst gets curious, and visits the site

The rest, would not be history, it would be a scam.

How should I combat this?

Raven Tools has a comprehensive article on combating Referral spam. They have listed multiple methods to ensure that this spammy data is not accounted for in your analytics data.

Personally, I allow the data to reside in my Master Data View. The reason behind that is – since I do not look at aggregate data anyways (I prefer lots and lots of custom segments), I am not too bothered with that data! I do however, mark it as a annotation on my GA. That’s the advice I would give to anyone.

RJ Malishka, the BMC and the underlying breach of our freedom

If you have been listening to Red FM channel in Mumbai, then one of the celebrity RJs they have is Malishka. As part of a radio jingle, she made up this video –

Everyone knows that in Mumbai, rains wreck everything. This year, in fact we have yet to see a day where the entire city has come to a stand still. Having said that, there are a lot of gaps that BMC needs to address. The video was made as a satire, since then, it has had more than 3M views.

So what’s the big deal?

Instead of acting on this creative complaint, what BMC officials chose to do was extremely childish. They organized a “raid” on RJ Malishka’s place and supposedly “found” dengue mosquito larvae.

Then the local Shiv Sena team created a spoof video of this song and BMC went on to file a 500 Cr INR defamation case against the RJ.

All this over a silly jingle that was created. Yes, it was aired, and many people heard it and saw the video.

The big deal is that an individual’s freedom of expression, and the freedom of press is being trampled with here. I don’t know whether I would classify this video under press or under entertainment, but what I do know – is that there is more than a grain of truth to the song.

By reacting like a bully, the BMC has shown how it takes feedback. The next time Shiv Sena talks about giving the marathi manus a voice, think again. It’s all talk.

Is there a point to Social Media Management?

Life is short. It is time to point out an ugly truth, and to be the brave person that you are, the intelligent rational assessor of reality that you are, and kill all the organic social media activity by your company. All of it. Seems radical, but let’s take it one step at a time.…

via Stop All Social Media Activity (Organic) | Solve For A Profitable Reality — Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik

Any Social Media Marketer would take this as an affront, but the wealth of insights based on pure data that’s being shared by Avinash in the above article is something to think about.

Social Media Platforms are not to be confused as Owned Platforms

There are platforms which we build (such as our very own discussion forum) or a blog. These are Owned Platforms … and then there are platforms where people exist and we simply establish our brand’s presence on those platforms. Such as any Social Media sites e.g Facebook, Twitter.

In such cases, your brand’s outreach is subject to the policies dictated by that platform. Zuck’s Death Spiral (ZDS) is one such example that Avinash is talking about.

Shouldn’t brands adopt Social?

By all means adopt social and engage with your customers online. However, keep in mind that when in Rome, you do as the Romans do. That means, on Facebook – you follow the rules that Zuck lays out. Ergo, the same rinse repeat formula of posting 4-5 Social Media posts a day may not work.

What is required instead, is a concerted effort to truly wow your fans. If you do not wish to do that and want to instead rely on the same well worn formula of doing selfies of your brand, then your social media team is doing you a grave injustice.