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Tag Archives: Danny Sullivan

What Type Of Furniture A Company Should Buy For Its Employees

Office furnitureEmployees, equipment and even clients rely on the furniture that is in an office or other work setting every day. Chairs, desks, tables and filing cabinets contribute to productivity and comfort during working hours. It is not always easy to choose the furniture for an office. Many companies must decide between different features in order to find the right balance of size, comfort and functionality. Every business should look a few key features when choosing furniture for employees.

Adjustable

The furniture that employees use in an office or other setting should be adjustable. This means that tables or workstations can be raised or lowered as needed. Chairs should be adjustable as well. Chairs that have adjustable armrests and the ability to tilt in different directions will fit the shape and size of any body. Additionally, adjustable furniture is important in order to prevent workplace injuries that result from poor ergonomic positioning. Employees who are forced to operate in an awkward or uncomfortable position will be less productive and might even require regular medical attention for aches, pains and conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Comfortable

Comfort is very important. This is especially true for employees who will be using a few pieces of furniture for an entire day. Uncomfortable furniture will create problems that lower morale and that could affect performance. An uncomfortable metal chair will force employees to stop working and stand up or walk around frequently. An uncomfortable desk with hard edges and an overly high surface will make it difficult to stay organized. Some poorly designed furniture might even contribute to injuries because of hard edges and surfaces. Comfortable furniture will allow employees to focus exclusively on work.

Environmentally Friendly

Many offices are looking for ways to become greener. Part of this is done to lower the environmental impact of the business. It is also done to help the surrounding community and to address the environmental concerns of customers. Businesses should purchase green office furniture whenever possible. These are pieces made from sustainable materials like bamboo or recycled materials like steel or plastic. This reduces the footprint of the business. It will also encourage employees to follow good recycling and energy conservation practices while working.

Mobile Or Modular

The furniture that employees use needs to be functional and flexible. Modular office furniture is becoming increasingly popular for this reason. Modular furniture allows employees to assemble several small components into a single desk, workstation or cubicle. Employees can change the design of an area to meet personal needs and preferences. Mobile or lightweight furniture is also useful. This makes it possible to rearrange an office quickly or to move items to a new area in order to accommodate seasonal workers or construction.

 

Easily Repaired And Cleaned

Businesses will benefit from furniture that is easy to maintain and clean. Employees will be using the furniture constantly every day. This can wear down even the most durable chairs and cabinets. Furniture that has simple connections and solid construction will last for a long time and can be repaired in a few minutes when necessary. Pieces of furniture that are easy to clean because of the materials or the design are very convenient. This prevents spilled coffee or other accidents from ruining the appearance of the piece.

Featured images:
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: depositphoto.com

Eleanor Parson is a blogger and suggests Coopers Office Furniture for employers looking to build or improve their office space.

 

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Mixing Business With Pleasure: The World’s Top 5 TED Events

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Beginning in 1984 as an invite-only event in California’s Silicon Valley, the TEDx phenomenon has grown to become a worldwide movement of public discussion and presentation. TED events the place to be seen if you want to be perceived as knowledgeable and interested, and will provide you with enough engaging small talk to last until next year’s conference. But, with TEDx conferences popping up everywhere, it can be hard to know which ones to attend and which ones to skip.

If you’re after a unique and insightful experience, here are the top five TED events that every TED devotee should make the pilgrimage to.

TED Long Beach

The original and, arguably, the best. The original TED event moved from Silicon Valley to Long Beach in order to accommodate increased audience interest, but will be moving to Vancouver, Canada in 2013. This is a series of talks for people who are interested in TED’s core vision: Technology, Education, Design. However, at $US7500 a ticket, the original TED talk is a major investment, even for its greatest devotees.

TEDx Broadway

The TEDx Broadway event discusses the future of New York’s premiere theatre district. The event aims to bring together the best of the best in theatre to consider the implications of falling ticket sales on the Great White Way, as well as the proliferation of musical theatre into other media. Performance is a topic close to the hearts of many A-list celebs, so if you’re in the mood to starspot, TEDx Broadway will not disappoint. Last year, star of the stage and screen, Neil Patrick Harris was one of the presenters.

TEDMED

TED’s medicine forum has a reputation for bringing the best minds in medicine together for three days in Washington D.C. The most interesting aspect of the conference, however, is the application process to attend. Every member of the audience has been deemed to be an important person in the field of medical research, so the people sitting in the stalls are often just as important as the people on stage. But, if you’re not an up-and-coming medical researcher: don’t worry. TEDMED is one of the few TED events that is wholly simulcast to institutions across the world free of charge.

TEDx Sydney

The interesting thing about TEDx Sydney is that it is one of the few TED events around the world that reflect a national opinion. While there are other TED events in Australia, none come close to the size of TEDx Sydney. Set on Sydney’s beautiful harbour inside the iconic Opera House, a trip to TEDx Sydney is a great idea for tourists and locals alike.

TEDx Boston

Boston is the central city to many of the US’s most prestigious universities. Harvard, Cambridge, MIT: they are all surrounding this otherwise rather dull city. But, what does that mean? It means that when an ideas juggernaut comes to town, the academic folk of Boston get pretty excited. If you are at TEDx to be intellectually challenged by some higher-level ideas, Boston is the event for you.

Frances Ward is a TEDx devotee from Sydney who loves watching TED to fill her mind with information on topics as diverse as business finance and neuroscience.

 

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How Businesses Can Take Advantages Of QR Codes

QR codes (aka Quick Response Codes) can help you provide customers and potential customers with instant access to your services online. QR codes are often displayed in magazines, newspapers, mail, and even some retail establishments. The idea of a QR code is to complement your ad and allow your customer to learn more or to complete a speficic action (e.g. redeem a coupon, join a mailing list, place a purchase, etc…).

Benefits of QR Codes

These computer-generated images are basically direct links to particular mobile websites that you set up to coincide with the message of your QR code. Using QR codes minimises the time spent on typing in web addresses or URL’s. Potential customers are able to scan QR codes with their smartphones, and are directed to the intended online destination. When scanning the QR code the customer is presented more information about upcoming events sponsored by your campaign, provided more information about your services or offered more information about your product.

How it works

By placing QR codes in the right locations, your proposal, service, or offering will attract more leads or customers. Using their smartphone’s QR code scanner application, they simply scan the image, and the desired information is displayed almost instantly on their smartphone. One thing that you should not do, while using QR codes as your way of advertising, is to cluster the images any and everywhere without purpose or cause. Use QR codes to allow your audience to take a specific action.

Placement is one of the most important aspects of QR codes. You should make sure that people that will be most interested in your products, services or offers are viewing your content. Your marketing campaign is used to persuade your audience, as well as to inform them of any upcoming promotions or events.

Actions

As we said before, putting a QR Code randomly in your ad with no purpose will likely result in very few amount of people actually scanning it. If you want to maximize your returns, ask people to scan the QR code for a specific reason (aka incentive). Example: let them know that the only way they can redeem a coupon or take advantage of a special offer is by scanning the code.

QR codes on Pinterest

While many teachers have already learned the value of QR codes on Pinterest for their classrooms, the business community is quickly catching up. Pinterest is one of the fastest growing social media forums. On Pinterest you are allowed you to deliver significant images and videos to your supporters, and increases your ability to set up or grow a social network. QR codes give your customers a direct link to whatever messages you are trying to give. While you are extremely limited in the amount of words you can use on Pinterest, you should try to explain to your audience exactly what the QR code will link them to and the benefits of scanning it.

Growing a Mailing List

If you are trying to grow an email list, a QR code may be the perfect answer for you. This feature is ideal for your marketing campaign. These QR codes allow supporters and customers to join mailing lists by using their mobile devices decoder application. More people than ever before are using their mobile phones to surf the web so do not overlook the potential of marketing in this way. Once the customer scans the QR code they can become members of your email list and receive newsletters and other valuable information.

Increase your Fanbase with QR Codes

Directing supporters and potential supporters to your website using QR codes saves you time and is a quick way to obtain likes and followers, on popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter. A QR code can be used as a direct link to your Facebook and Twitter page and This is a direct link to your campaign and gives supporters and inquirers a chance to view any posts, images, or uploaded videos on your Facebook or Twitter page.

When using QR Codes as part of your marketing, it is important to use your imagination to come up with a way to seamlessly integrate the code within your ad. Check out some great examples of QR Code usage here.

Featured images:
  •  License: Image author owned

Marie Maslow is a tech enthusiast that enjoys writing about technology and marketing.

 

 

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7 Excel Tips For Making Spreadsheets Beautiful

excel_imageEveryone looks to spreadsheets to provide easy to read data, but can they also be beautiful? With a few tips and tricks they can be! Try a few of these tips in your next sheet to make it stand out from the crowd.

 

1. Use Color… But Not Too Much

Excel gives you access to thousands of colors you can use to jazz up your cells. Take advantage of the colors available, but be sure to exercise some restraint. You do not want to overwhelm your reader with bright, contrasting colors. Instead, use a background color on title cells and switch the font to a contrasting, easily readable shade. This will make your title cells pop without unintentionally blinding your reader.

2. Add a Background

Adding a background image will give your spreadsheet depth and interest. Just like with coloring, though, it’s easy to go too far. Use a simple background behind your data. A slight tint or a gradation is sufficient. Make sure it complements the colors used in your title cells and charts. Always check for readability when using a background image – avoid using anything that will make it difficult for your readers to see the data.

3. Align Your Data on the Left

Many spreadsheets use a center alignment for data. Avoid doing this. Despite popular opinion, center aligned data is not easier to read. The eye has to work harder to follow the line of text, slowing down comprehension. It also gives the data an unsightly, ragged silhouette. Align your data with the left side of the cell to create a smooth edge. This makes the spreadsheet look better and makes it easier to take the data in.

4. Use a Graph

Graphs add interest to your sheet and give your reader a different way to think about the data you are providing. You can use the graph making tool integrated into Excel to quickly and easy turn your data into a graph. When creating this visual representation of data, keep in mind the color scheme you are using in the rest of the spreadsheet. Choose colors that allow your graph to pop without clashing with the rest of the design scheme.

5. Zebra Striping

Line after line of data can make your readers go cross-eyed. Make it easy to read each line of text by adding zebra striping. Zebra striping refers to adding a background color to every other row. As with most other aspects of designing spreadsheets, it is easy to go overboard with this tool. Use a very slightly tinted shade to add contrast without overwhelming the eye.

6. Using Headers

Headers can help break up your data, making it easier for your readers to find the information they need. They can also add visual appeal. Do something different with your headers that you use nowhere else in the spreadsheet. This could mean making them bold, in all caps, italicized, or anything else that you prefer. They will be effective as long as they look different from the rest of the sheet.

7. Embrace the White Space

While you’re demonstrating your Excel skills, make sure you don’t go a little too far the eye candy. You may have formatted your cells so they are just big enough to fit the information that is in them. This helps include more information into one space, but it also makes the spreadsheet look cramped. Unless you are trying to save on printing costs, there is no reason not to give your sheet a little room to breathe. Add just enough height and width to the cells so the data stands out clearly.

There is no reason that spreadsheets can’t be functional and attractive. Even a little bit of time spent beautifying your next sheet will create a great impression on whoever looks at it.

Featured images:
  •  License: Image author owned

Sarah Jackson is a business writer and Associate Editor at Proformative.

 

 

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The Conscious Consumer: How Charitable Is Your Spending?

image0151The Conscious Consumer: How Charitable is Your Spending?

Much of society was raised to believe that it is far better to give than to receive. While that may have switched to a different focus beginning with the 1980s, by the 1990s things began to shift once more toward responsible living. Included in this trajectory has been a focus upon supporting more charitable organizations that work to enhance society.

Conscious Consuming

There are many ways to contribute and give back without making sizable cash donations. For instance, becoming a conscious consumer means paying attention to how, why and where financial resources are spent. When purchases need to be made, one great tactic is to look into finding the most just, durable and sustainable options that work within the budget. Many organizations offer tips on how to buy responsibly, as well as provide information about how companies get and use their resources.

Socially Responsible Businesses

Companies such as Monkey insurance company in the UK regularly support organizations like the Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust in Zambia for advancing education. Therefore, choosing from their insurance comparison services is a great way to get the lowest prices from over 120 insurance firms, while helping a favorite charity.

Many companies in the U.S. routinely contribute to charitable organizations. For instance, Kroger gives back to local communities through its Community Rewards Program, which allows schools and non-profit organizations to earn millions of dollars each year.

By shopping at companies like Kroger for groceries, any consumer can automatically contribute back to their communities, without spending any more than their budget allows. In reality, it costs nothing to engage in this type of conscious living and the rewards are infinite for individuals, families, societies as a whole and the entire world.

Another way to contribute is to designate credit card rewards points toward charitable efforts. In fact, most credit card companies double or triple cash donations to the charity of the donor’s choice. Many people do this on a regular basis to organizations such as the Red Cross, as well as for special relief efforts after major ‘Act of God’ events.

A Helping Hand to Enhance Health

In addition to the benefits associated with the sheer joy of giving, there is now scientific evidence that demonstrates how people connected to their communities have less illness. The theory behind this is that giving promotes more oxygenated blood. As a result, the immune system gets an instant booster, making people less susceptible to illness in general.

Also, people who have suffered from chronic pain have reported decreased intensity of depression episodes and other disabling conditions after reaching out to others in pain. Studies have reported a reduction in pain of around 13 percent in these cases. Similar to exercise and other physical activity, scientists have surmised that this is owed primarily to the release of endorphins, which seems to explain the phenomenon.

The more sustainable spending options become readily available, the easier it becomes to make purchases that make one feel good. The truth is, there are many ways to give back to communities, more than most people realize. If everyone gives just a little, then more people will not have to give quite so much. Thus, giving is good for community development, the environment and each generous person’s overall health.

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Being an advocate of conscious consumerism enables Nadine Swayne to write this article. Companies that give back, like Monkey Insurance in the UK, have an ever growing presence in society. Today, businesses are revered by consumers for their charitable givings and awareness of the plight of the downtrodden in our world.

 

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The Pros And Cons Of Business Cards For Small Businesses

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The traditional business card harkens from an era where a firm handshake and a “call me tomorrow to discuss” paved the way to a signed contract. Despite today’s proliferation of digital communications, for some businesses a traditional card still makes sense. Weighing whether to go digital to stick with the paper? Here are some pros and cons for leaving an impression with a printed business card.

 

The Pros

For many small business owners, marketing doesn’t come naturally. A business card is a simple and established way to network and get your small business known in the community. Here are some other advantages:

  • Deliver Important Information: A business card is meant to provide vital information about your business, including phone number, address and website. These details can help prospective customers find your business easily.
  • Create a Positive First Impression: Delivering a very practical and convenient marketing tool, the business card can help you make a great and lasting first impression.
  • Save Time: Handing over a business card takes less time than writing down your phone number, address and website.
  • It’s Inexpensive: Ordered in large quantities, business cards deliver some of the most inexpensive marketing tools you can find today. A business promotion expense, the printing and design fees can be written off on your taxes and paid for using your company’s business prepaid debit card.
  • It’s Effective: Although digital business cards are becoming more popular, many business owners prefer having something physical to hand out to potential customers they face to face. Business cards are especially effective if you’re in an offline or creative industry. Graphic design firms, arts and crafts companies, and painting services can showcase their unique talent and service in the design of a printed business card.

 

A Few Cons

You’ve worked hard to start your own business and are no doubt excited to promote it any way you can. It’s important to consider the appropriate channels to promote your business, and business cards may not always be the best solution.

 

  • Cost: It’s true that business cards are inexpensive, especially when ordered in large quantities. However, small businesses typically don’t need thousands of business cards at one time. Ordering business cards in small quantities can make them quite expensive. Additionally, there are situations when business information changes. This implies additional costs because you have to replace your old business cards with new ones. Business cards that stay in boxes whether because of excessive quantity or outdated information are simply a wasted expense.
  • Accessibility: Another essential drawback consists of the fact that you may forget to take your business cards with you. In this case, the only thing you can do is to write your telephone number and address on a piece of paper, which is quite unprofessional.
  • Organization: Consider your card recipient’s preferred way of networking. As people adopt digital forms of saving contact information, the business card may become a cumbersome requirement of time and file organization.

Being aware of the disadvantages related to business cards, more and more business owners opt for digital business cards, which deliver a fantastic way to showcase products and services. However, experts advise businesspeople to use these alternatives only to complement the paper business card, which remains the most valuable tactile reminder of a company.

Marilyn Smith specializes in covering the latest news of interest to small business owners, including business prepaid debit cards.

 

 

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iPhone & iPad Users To Get Google Now, As It Comes To iOS

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Previously Android-only, Google’s “predictive search” tool Google Now is now available for the iPhone and iPad. It’s part of an updated Google Search App for iOS.

Google Now for iOS had been anticipated since March, when Engadget discovered a promotional video suggesting it would make the leap. Until its release this morning, Google Now had been available exclusively on devices running Android 4.1 (“Jelly Bean”) or higher.

We’ve written multiple times about Google Now in the past. But, if for some reason you’re unfamiliar with it, Google Now is the company’s “search assistant,” offering “predictive” or “anticipatory” search by combining dynamic contextual information with structured data, presented on nicely formatted “cards.”

Danny Sullivan has written a companion article, The Amazing “Google Now” — When Google Searches Before You Think To, which provides additional background and a reintroduction to the service.

The images immediately below are screenshots provided by Google illustrating how Google Now results will look on the iPhone — essentially identical to the Android version.

Google Now for iOS Image 2

Google Now cards offer information on traffic, weather, sports scores, nearby places, currency conversions, movie showtimes, package tracking and considerably more. It’s a growing list of categories and data sources. Google Now will even prompt you to continue searching on previous search topics (e.g., flights to Kona). The chart below shows the full range of content and information available via Google Now.

Because we didn’t get early access to the app, we don’t know whether Google Now will operate differently on iOS vs. the Android version. It’s a safe bet, however, that you won’t be able to “swipe up” from the bottom of the iPhone (or iPad) screen to launch Google Now. (But, see postscript below.)

As a general matter, in the iOS version, Google Now will provide essentially the same content and functionality that Android users have been enjoying. The major difference is that the full range of information “cards” won’t be immediately available for iOS. We understand they will eventually come over, however.

Google Now comparison iOS vs. Android

Source: Google

Google Now is a compelling product and has improved since its launch last year. It also illustrates how the future of search will be different from its past. The combination search/Web history, data and context enable Google Now to give users lots of personalized information about lots of things without having to ask for any of it.

Back in 2010, Marrisa Mayer (then at Google) was promoting the idea of “contextual discovery,” which would “push information to people” based on their location and what they are doing. Before that, in 2009, she was talking about “the perfect search engine” as one that would have a more holistic understanding of user needs and would be able to deliver data or content in an “informative and coherent way.”

Google Now embodies both of those sets of aspirations. However one question is whether iPad and iPhone owners will actually use it.

An online survey I conducted in June of last year (n=503 iPhone 4S owners) found that most people either searched from the Safari toolbar (using Google as the default engine) or went to Google.com on the mobile Web. Just under 20 percent of respondents said they used the search app.

Which of the following do you use MOST OFTEN to search the web on your phone?

  • I visit Google.­com to search: 44.9 percent
  • I use search in the Safari toolbar: 26.4 percent
  • I use the Google mobile app: 19.3 percent
  • I use Siri to search the web: 11.1 percent
  • I use Bing and/or Yahoo: 6.6 percent

These survey responses shouldn’t be seen as definitive, but merely indicative, that most iOS users don’t currently use the search app as their primary way to access Google. In that context, Google Now for iOS can be seen partly as a bid to get iOS users to both sign in (which is a requirement) and search more.

Beyond all the “under the hood” capabilities, Google Now translates the otherwise basic mobile search experience into a richer and more dynamic app-based experience.

 

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Keeping Up With Google: Bing Launches New “Search Quality Insights” Series

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Want to understand better how Bing creates its search results? Bing has announced a new “Search Quality Insights” series to provide a more behind-the-scenes look at its search engine. You know, like “Search Quality Highlights” series that Google launched last December. What’s going on with these? And how does Bing’s latest post help Google on anti-trust grounds?

Google Seeks Transparency

In Google’s case, I view the Search Quality Highlights series as Google trying to deal with accusations, especially by those on the anti-trust front but even from places like the New York Times, that Google Search is some type of black box that’s all designed simply to favor Google’s own properties.

Of course, Google said nothing so explicit when it launched its series last December. Rather, it spoke generally about being transparent:

 For years now we’ve been blogging about significant algorithmicupdates like Panda and our recent freshness update. So, why do we need yet another blog series? 

We’ve been wracking our brains trying to think about how to make search even more transparent. The good news is that we make roughly 500 improvements in a given year, so there’s always more to share.

With this blog series, we’ll be highlighting many of the subtler algorithmic and visible feature changes we make. These are changes that aren’t necessarily big enough to warrant entire blog posts on their own.

The series actually had a soft-launch last November, before being formalized in December. Since then, we’ve been getting a monthly laundry-list of changes that Google’s made to its search algorithms, changes that weren’t deemed big enough to warrant their own blog posts by Google, though some might disagree.

For example, in Google’s latest post at the end of February, Google announced the latest of itsPanda Updates (anything Panda is generally big news), that it had dropped a method of link analysis (sparking all types of discussions among SEO folks about what was dropped) and added that its SafeSearch algorithm had been changed to make “irrelevant adult content” less likely to appear.

That SafeSearch change was directly responsible for causing searches on “santorum” at Google to no longer show a long-standing site defining “santorum” as a by-product of anal sex. It was a big change, worth of its own blog post I’d say, but instead it was relegated to being a bulletpoint.

Still, at least we did know some of the things going on, which is welcomed. And now we’re going to know more from Bing.

Bing Goes After Visiblity

Over at Bing, we’re told:

Today we are launching a new blog series we’re calling “Bing Search Quality Insights” aimed at giving you deeper insight into the algorithms, trends and people behind Bing. 

This blog is the first in a series that will take you behind the search box for an up close view into the core of the Bing search engine.

Quality improvements in Bing are often subtle but often those little changes are the result of years of research. In the coming weeks and months, you will hear from members of my team on a range of topics, from the complexities of social search and disambiguating spelling errors to whole page relevance and making search more personal.

We will also highlight the ideas and projects we have collaborated with colleagues from Microsoft Research and academia to advance the state of the art for our industry. We hope this will not only be useful information for our blog readers, but that they will spark conversations that help us all move the search industry forward.

Unlike Google, Bing doesn’t really have an anti-trust transparency issue to deal with. Rather, Bing has an invisibility issue. Bing seems largely invisible to those who are wanting to search the web. Bing can (and does) have some of the same problems that will launch a million blog posts about Google. But no one cares, if they happen on Bing.

As for consumers in general, while Bing has grown its market share, that’s come mainly by pulling people away from Bing’s partner Yahoo, not from Google. Perhaps the new series will help focus more attention from consumers on Bing, which would be good. Bing’s an excellent search engine that should be considered.

Bing’s First Post Helps Google

Ironically, the first post in Bing’s series — about “Whole Page Relevance” — will also help Google on the anti-trust front. It explains how Bing “blends” results from its vertical search engines like Bing Video, Bing News, Bing Maps and Bing Images along with web listings and direct answers through a system called “Answer Ranking.”

Google does exactly the same thing, though a system it calls “Universal Search.” Google’s system has come under intense pressure over the past two years as somehow “favoring” Google over its competitors, including attacks by Microsoft-backed FairSearch.

Now we’ve got a blog post from Microsoft explaining how it does exactly what Google does, something both Google and third-parties such as myself have pointed already. That makes it harder for some to attack Google over Universal Search, especially when Microsoft finally puts a name to what its own system is called.

 

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Google: Bing Is Cheating, Copying Our Search Results

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Google has run a sting operation that it says proves Bing has been watching what people search for on Google, the sites they select from Google’s results, then uses that information to improve Bing’s own search listings. Bing doesn’t deny this.

As a result of the apparent monitoring, Bing’s relevancy is potentially improving (or getting worse) on the back of Google’s own work. Google likens it to the digital equivalent of Bing leaning over during an exam and copying off of Google’s test.

“I’ve spent my career in pursuit of a good search engine,” says Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow who oversees the search engine’s ranking algorithm. “I’ve got no problem with a competitor developing an innovative algorithm. But copying is not innovation, in my book.”

Bing doesn’t deny Google’s claim. Indeed, the statement that Stefan Weitz, director of Microsoft’s Bing search engine, emailed me yesterday as I worked on this article seems to confirm the allegation:

As you might imagine, we use multiple signals and approaches when we think about ranking, but like the rest of the players in this industry, we’re not going to go deep and detailed in how we do it. Clearly, the overarching goal is to do a better job determining the intent of the search, so we can guess at the best and most relevant answer to a given query.

Opt-in programs like the [Bing] toolbar help us with clickstream data, one of many input signals we and other search engines use to help rank sites. This “Google experiment” seems like a hack to confuse and manipulate some of these signals.

Later today, I’ll likely have a more detailed response from Bing. Microsoft wanted to talk further after a search event it is hosting today. More about that event, and how I came to be reporting on Google’s findings just before it began, comes at the end of this story. But first, here’s how Google’s investigation unfolded.

Postscript: Bing: Why Google’s Wrong In Its Accusations is the follow-up story from talking with Bing. Please be sure to read it after this. You’ll also find another link to it at the end of this article.

Hey, Does This Seem Odd To You?

Around late May of last year, Google told me it began noticing that Bing seemed to be doing exceptionally well at returning the same sites that Google would list, when someone would enter unusual misspellings.

For example, consider a search for torsoraphy, which causes Google to return this:

In the example above, Google’s searched for the correct spelling — tarsorrhaphy — even though torsoraphy was entered. Notice the top listing for the corrected spelling is a page about the medical procedure at Wikipedia.

Over at Bing, the misspelling is NOT corrected — but somehow, Bing manages to list the same Wikipedia page at the top of its results as Google does for its corrected spelling results:

Got it? Despite the word being misspelled — and the misspelling not being corrected — Bing still manages to get the right page from Wikipedia at the top of its results, one of four total pages it finds from across the web. How did it do that?

It’s a point of pride to Google that it believes it has the best spelling correction system of any search engine. Google even claims that it can even correct misspellings that have never been searched on before. Engineers on the spelling correction team closely watch to see if they’re besting competitors on unusual terms.

So when misspellings on Bing for unusual words — such as above — started generating the same results as with Google, red flags went up among the engineers.

Google: Is Bing Copying Us?

More red flags went up in October 2010, when Google told me it noticed a marked rise in two key competitive metrics. Across a wide range of searches, Bing was showing a much greater overlap with Google’s top 10 results than in preceding months. In addition, there was an increase in the percentage of times both Google and Bing listed exactly the same page in the number one spot.

By no means did Bing have exactly the same search results as Google. There were plenty of queries where the listings had major differences. However, the increases were indicative that Bing had made some change to its search algorithm which was causing its results to be more Google-like.

Now Google began to strongly suspect that Bing might be somehow copying its results, in particular by watching what people were searching for at Google. There didn’t seem to be any other way it could be coming up with such similar matches to Google, especially in cases where spelling corrections were happening.

Google thought Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser was part of the equation. Somehow, IE users might have been sending back data of what they were doing on Google to Bing. In particular, Google told me it suspected either the Suggested Sites feature in IE or the Bing toolbar might be doing this.

To Sting A Bing

To verify its suspicions, Google set up a sting operation. For the first time in its history, Google crafted one-time code that would allow it to manually rank a page for a certain term (code that will soon be removed, as described further below). It then created about 100 of what it calls “synthetic” searches, queries that few people, if anyone, would ever enter into Google.

These searches returned no matches on Google or Bing — or a tiny number of poor quality matches, in a few cases — before the experiment went live. With the code enabled, Google placed a honeypot page to show up at the top of each synthetic search.

The only reason these pages appeared on Google was because Google forced them to be there. There was nothing that made them naturally relevant for these searches. If they started to appeared at Bing after Google, that would mean that Bing took Google’s bait and copied its results.

This all happened in December. When the experiment was ready, about 20 Google engineers were told to run the test queries from laptops at home, using Internet Explorer, with Suggested Sites and the Bing Toolbar both enabled. They were also told to click on the top results. They started on December 17. By December 31, some of the results started appearing on Bing.

Here’s an example, which is still working as I write this, hiybbprqag at Google:

and the same exact match at Bing:

Here’s another, for mbzrxpgjys at Google:

and the same match at Bing:

Here’s one more, this time for indoswiftjobinproduction, at Google:

And at Bing:

To be clear, before the test began, these queries found either nothing or a few poor quality results on Google or Bing. Then Google made a manual change, so that a specific page would appear at the top of these searches, even though the site had nothing to do with the search. Two weeks after that, some of these pages began to appear on Bing for these searches.

It strongly suggests that Bing was copying Google’s results, by watching what some people do at Google via Internet Explorer.

The Google Ranking Signal

Only a small number of the test searches produced this result, about 7 to 9 (depending on when exactly Google checked) out of the 100. Google says it doesn’t know why they didn’t all work, but even having a few appear was enough to convince the company that Bing was copying its results.

As I wrote earlier, Bing is far from identical to Google for many queries. This suggests that even if Bing is using search activity at Google to improve its results, that’s only one of many signals being considered.

Search engines all have ranking algorithms that use various signals to determine which pages should come first. What words are used on the page? How many links point at that page? How important are those links estimated to be? What words appear in the links pointing at the page? How important is the web site estimated to be? These are just some of the signals that both Bing and Google use.

Google’s test suggests that when Bing has many of the traditional signals, as is likely for popular search topics, it relies mostly on those. But in cases where Bing has fewer trustworthy signals, such as “long tail” searches that bring up fewer matches, then Bing might lean more on how Google ranks pages for those searches.

In cases where there are no signals other than how Google ranks things, such as with the synthetic queries that Google tested, then the Google “signal” may come through much more.

Do Users Know (Or Care)?

Do Internet Explorer users know that they might be helping Bing in the way Google alleges? Technically, yes — as best I can tell. Explicitly, absolutely not.

Internet Explorer makes clear (to those who bother to read its privacy policy) that by default, it’s going to capture some of your browsing data, unless you switch certain features off. It may also gather more data if you enable some features.

Suggested Sites

Suggested Sites is one of likely ways that Bing may have been gathering information about what’s happening on Google. This is a feature (shown to the right) that suggests other sites to visit, based on the site you’re viewing.

Microsoft does disclose that Suggested Sites collects information about sites you visit. From the privacy policy:

When Suggested Sites is turned on, theaddresses of websites you visit are sent to Microsoft, together with standard computer information.

To help protect your privacy, the information is encrypted when sent to Microsoft. Information associated with the web address, such as search terms or data you entered in forms might be included.

For example, if you visited the Microsoft.com search website at http://search.microsoft.com and entered “Seattle” as the search term, the full address http://search.microsoft.com/results.aspx?q=Seattle&qsc0=0&FORM=QBMH1&mkt=en-US will be sent.

I’ve bolded the key parts. What you’re searching on gets sent to Microsoft. Even though the example provided involves a search on Microsoft.com, the policy doesn’t prevent any search — including those at Google — from being sent back.

It makes sense that the Suggested Sites feature needs to report the URL you’re viewing back to Microsoft. Otherwise, it doesn’t know what page to show you suggestions for. The Google Toolbar does the same thing, tells Google what page you’re viewing, if you have the PageRank feature enabled.

But to monitor what you’re clicking on in search results? There’s no reason I can see for Suggested Sites to do that — if it indeed does. But even if it does log clicks, Microsoft may feel that this is “standard computer information” that the policy allows to be collected.

The Bing Bar

There’s also the Bing Bar — a Bing toolbar — that Microsoft encourages people to install separately from Internet Explorer (IE may come with it pre-installed through some partner deals. When you install the toolbar, by default it is set to collect information to “improve” your experience, as you can see:

The install page highlights some of what will be collected and how it will be used:

“improve your online experience with personalized content by allowing us to collectadditional information about your system configuration, the searches you do, websites you visit, and how you use our software. We will also use this information to help improve our products and services.”

Again, I’ve bolded the key parts. The Learn More page about the data the Bing Bar collects ironically says less than what’s directly on the install page.

It’s hard to argue that gathering information about what people search for at Google isn’t covered. Technically, there’s nothing misleading — even if Bing, for obvious reasons, isn’t making it explicit that to improve its search results, it might look at what Bing Bar users search for at Google and click on there.

What About The Google Toolbar & Chrome?

Google has its own Google Toolbar, as well as its Chrome browser. So I asked Google. Does it do the same type of monitoring that it believes Bing does, to improve Google’s search results?

“Absolutely not. The PageRank feature sends back URLs, but we’ve never used those URLs or data to put any results on Google’s results page. We do not do that, and we will not do that,” said Singhal.

Actually, Google has previously said that the toolbar does play a role in ranking. Google uses toolbar data in part to measure site speed — and site speed was a ranking signal that Google began using last year.

Instead, Singhal seems to be saying that the URLs that the toolbar sees are not used for finding pages to index (something Google’s long denied) or to somehow find new results to add to the search results.

As for Chrome, Google says the same thing — there’s no information flowing back that’s used to improve search rankings. In fact, Google stressed that the only information that flows back at all from Chrome is what people are searching for from within the browser, if they are using Google as their search engine.

Is It Illegal?

Suffice to say, Google’s pretty unhappy with the whole situation, which does raise a number of issues. For one, is what Bing seems to be doing illegal? Singhal was “hesitant” to say that since Google technically hasn’t lost anything. It still has its own results, even if it feels Bing is mimicking them.

Is it Cheating?

If it’s not illegal, is what Bing may be doing unfair, somehow cheating at the search game?

On the one hand, you could say it’s incredibly clever. Why not mine what people are selecting as the top results on Google as a signal? It’s kind of smart. Indeed, I’m pretty sure we’ve had various small services in the past that have offered for people to bookmark their top choices from various search engines.

Google doesn’t see it as clever.

“It’s cheating to me because we work incredibly hard and have done so for years but they just get there based on our hard work,” said Singhal. “I don’t know how else to call it but plain and simple cheating. Another analogy is that it’s like running a marathon and carrying someone else on your back, who jumps off just before the finish line.”

In particular, Google seems most concerned that the impact of mining user data on its site potentially pays off the most for Bing on long-tail searches, unique searches where Google feels it works especially hard to distinguish itself.

Ending The Experiment

Now that Google’s test is done, it will be removing the one-time code it added to allow for the honeypot pages to be planted. Google has proudly claimed over the years that it had no such ability, as proof of letting its ranking algorithm make decisions. It has no plans to keep this new ability and wants to kill it, so things are back to “normal.”

Google also stressed to me that the code only worked for this limited set of synthetic queries — and that it had an additional failsafe. Should any of the test queries suddenly become even mildly popular for some reason, the honeypot page for that query would no longer show.

This means if you test the queries above, you may no longer see the same results at Google. However, I did see all these results myself before writing this, along with some additional ones that I’ve not done screenshots for. So did several of my other editors yesterday.

Why Open Up Now?

What prompted Google to step forward now and talk with me about its experiment? A grand plan to spoil Bing’s big search event today? A clever way to distract from current discussions about its search quality? Just a coincidence of timing? In the end, whatever you believe about why Google is talking now doesn’t really matter. The bigger issue is whether you believe what Bing is doing is fair play or not. But here’s the strange backstory.

Recall that Google got its experiment confirmed on December 31. The next day — New Year’s Day — TechCrunch ran an article called Why We Desperately Need a New (and Better) Googlefrom guest author Vivek Wadhwa, praising Blekko for having better date search than Google and painting a generally dismal picture of Google’s relevancy overall.

I doubt Google had any idea that Wadhwa’s article was coming, and I’m virtually certain Wadhwa had no idea about Google’s testing of Bing. But his article kicked off a wave of “Google’s results suck” posts.

Trouble In the House of Google from Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror appeared on January 3;Google’s decreasingly useful, spam-filled web search from Marco Arment of Instapaper came out on January 5. Multiple people mistakenly reported Paul Kedrosky’s December 2009 article about struggling to research a dishwasher as also being part of the current wave. It wasn’t, but on January 11, Kedrosky weighed in with fresh thoughts in Curation is the New Search is the New Curation.

The wave kept going. It’s still going. Along the way, Search Engine Land itself had several pieces, with Conrad Saam’s column on January 12, Google vs. Bing: The Fallacy Of The Superior Search Engine, gaining a lot of attention. In it, he did a short survey of 20 searches and concluded that Google and Bing weren’t that different.

Time To Talk? Come To Our Event?

The day after that column appeared, I got a call from Google. Would I have time to come talk in person about something they wanted to show me, relating to relevancy? Sure. Checking my calendar, I said January 27 — a Thursday — would be a good time for me to fly up from where I work in Southern California to Google’s Mountain View campus.

The day after that, Bing contacted me. They were hosting an event on February 1 to talk about the state of search and wanted to make sure I had the date saved, in case I wanted to come up for it. I said I’d make it. I later learned that the event was being organized by Wadhwa, author of that TechCrunch article.

A change on Google’s end shifted my meeting to January 28, last Friday. As is typical when I visit Google, I had a number of different meetings to talk about various products and issues. My last meeting of the day was with Singhal and Cutts — where they shared everything I’ve described above, explaining this is one reason why Google and Bing might be looking so similar, as our columnist found.

Yes, they wanted the news to be out before the Bing event happened — an event that Google is participating in. They felt it was important for the overall discussion about search quality. But the timing of the news is being so close to the event is down to when I could make the trip to Google. If I’d have been able to go in earlier, then I might have been writing this a week ago.

Meanwhile, you have this odd timing of Wadhwa’s TechCrunch article and the Bing event he’s organizing. I have no idea if Wadhwa was booked to do the Bing event before his article went out or if he was contracted to do this after, perhaps because Bing saw the debate over Google’s quality kick off and decided it was good to ride it. I’ll try to find out.

In the end, for whatever reasons, the findings of Google’s experiment and Bing’s event are colliding, right in the middle of a renewed focus of attention on search quality. Was this all planned to happen? Gamesmanship by both Google and Bing? Just odd coincidences? I go with the coincidences, myself.

[Postscript: Wadhwa tweeted the event timing was a coincidence. And let me add, my assumption really was that this is all coincidence. I’m pointing it out mainly because there are just so many crazy things all happening at the same time, which some people will inevitably try to connect. Make no mistake. Both Google and Bing play the PR game. But I think what’s happening right now is that there’s a perfect storm of various developments all coming together at the same time. And if that storm gets people focused on demanding better search quality, I’m happy].

The Search Voice

In the end, I’ve got some sympathy for Google’s view that Bing is doing something it shouldn’t.

I’ve long written that every search engine has its own “search voice,” a unique set of search results it provides, based on its collection of documents and its own particular method of ranking those.

I like that search engines have each had their own voices. One of the worst things about Yahoo changing over to Bing’s results last year was that in the US (and in many countries around the world), we were suddenly down to only two search voices: Google’s and Bing’s.

For 15 years, I’ve covered search. In all that time, we’ve never had so few search voices as we do now. At one point, we had more than 10. That’s one thing I love about the launch of Blekko. It gave us a fresh, new search voice.

When Bing launched in 2009, the joke was that Bing stood for either “Because It’s Not Google” or “But It’s Not Google.” Mining Google’s searches makes me wonder if the joke should change to “Bing Is Now Google.”

I think Bing should develop its own search voice without using Google’s as a tuning fork. That just doesn’t ring true to me. But I look forward to talking with Bing more about the issue and hopefully getting more clarity from them about what they may be doing and their views on it.

 

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This is why I never felt comfortable putting all my eggs in the Google basket …

Keyword “Not Provided” By Google Spikes, Now 7-14% In Cases

by Daniel Waisberg

 

Google’s new encrypted search for logged in users now appears to be blocking a much higher percentage of search terms than when it initially rolled out two weeks ago. In some cases, it might even be higher than the 10% or less figure that the company initially predicted might be impacted.

Blocking Search Queries

Two weeks ago Google announced that it would start encrypting search sessions of anyone signed in to Google.com. In practice, this means that Google stopped passing the organic keywords that referred traffic to websites whenever users are logged in Google and conducting searches.

This change caused strong reactions, both in the web analytics industry (as this means that organic search becomes less trackable) and also in terms of whether Google was protecting privacy fully (since advertisers still receive this information).

Single Digit Impact Predicted

Google predicted that the change would impact 10% or less of searches:

Google software engineer Matt Cutts, who’s been involved with the privacy changes, wouldn’t give an exact figure but told me he estimated even at full roll-out, this would still be in the single-digit percentages of all Google searchers on Google.com.

In fact, the week the changes started rolling out, various reports put the “Not Provided” percentage — which is what those using Google Analytics see if terms are blocked — at around 2% to 3%.

High Single Digit To Above 10% Now Happening

However, as of October 31, we have seen a very significant increase on the Not Provided figure here on Search Engine Land. It’s not just us, either. Looking at data from several websites across industries, we see a range of 7% to 14% of total organic keywords now being blocked.

Below you see how the “Not Provided” figure has suddenly spiked for Search Engine Land:

 

Below you can see how the percentage of Not Provided for the total organic keywords for November 1st to the site is above 10%, 12.87% in all:

 

The figure is even more dramatic, however, when you consider it as a percentage of Google-driven keywords. In other words, the 12.87% figure above means that for ALL keywords from ANY search engine to Search Engine Land, 12.87% of them were blocked.

As this blocking is only happening by Google, what’s the percentage of only keyword traffic from Google? That works out to 14.2%.

Of course, one might expect Search Engine Land to have a higher percentage of search-driven traffic than other sites. But as said, we’ve also looked at sites beyond Search Engine Land.

Danny Sullivan’s personal blog, Daggle, had 13.65% of its Google-driven keywords blocked. One non-tech site had 7.1% of its Google-driven queries reporting “Not Provided.” Another non-tech site we know of had 8.83% of all its keywords reporting as “Not Provided.”

We’d love to hear what others are finding — please comment below, if you’d like to share your figures.

Rollout Still Happening; Percentage Could Get Higher

The rollout was supposed to take place over the course of several weeks. The process is still happening, and it seems as if it was suddenly enabled for more users on October 31.

Google wouldn’t confirm that, nor say how complete the rollout is at this point. In general, the company said:

As we noted, this change will occur over the next few weeks. Traffic figures will naturally vary depending on a website’s audience. What we provided was an estimate.

If there are significantly more people not yet being included in encrypted search, the percentage of Not Provided queries would likely grow over the coming weeks.

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