Email Marketers Wake Up To Ideograms

January 24th, 2012 by Chris Silver Smith

I was noticing in my email this morning that a few different pieces of spam had much more eye-catching, decorative subject lines:

Special Characters in Subject Lines for Email Marketing

As you can see above, one email note for “magicJack Plus” included a little telephone symbol, while another one for printer ink included a little fountain pen nib symbol at the begining of its subject line.

It appears that spammers have woken up to the same concept that I wrote about in “Special Characters Are Lucky Charms for Twitter“. In a list of text titles or status updates, adding a little icon-like picture to just a few lines is very eye-catching.

Of course, if this becomes too common, the notes won’t stand out at all, and they’ll risk Read the rest of this entry »

Google’s Geology Logo

January 11th, 2012 by Chris Silver Smith

I thought the Google logo commemorating the birthday of Nicolas Steno, popularly known as “The Father of Geology”, was a particularly effective logo treatment:

Google Nicolas Steno Geology logo

The 3-D letters which are made to communicate the concept of cut-away views of earth sections to show layers of rock and sediment were effortless-seeming in their execution. This is a really great example of typography and graphic art — it’s very nearly an infographic — and, it does all this without losing the recognizability of the Google name (which some of their special logos have done).

Very cool!

Wendy’s New Burger Is Fatter – Product Development In The Wrong Direction

December 2nd, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

Wendy's Fat Logo VersionIn September, Wendy’s apparently formally launched their new line of hamburgers – cheeseburgers, in fact – after working for around two years on evolving their product recipe, according to news reports. Not normally prone to following or reading news about fast food, my first discovery of the new “Project Gold Hamburger” was a negative interaction with my local Wendy’s staff. I’ve researched a bit further, and I think their product redesign was bad. The burgers can make you fatter and more unhealthy.

Let me say right here: I’ve long been a fan of Wendy’s food, not only because of the cheap menu items which still are of excellent quality, but because they have a handful of really healthy options. I am also never, ever rude to fast food workers, and I’m sympathetic to how difficult it is to work inside of huge corporations and how there’s always some friction with customers when familiar products are changed.

Even so, I have to take Wendy’s corporation to task for how they chose to change their product, and the marketing decisions involved which resulted in my negative interaction at my local Wendy’s. It was quite clear to me that my negative experience was NOT the fault of the local fast food workers, but due to the decisions which came down from their headquarters in Dublin, Ohio. I’m writing this because I have been a longterm, very pleased customer of Wendy’s, and I have expertise in marketing — I’m hoping they understand very clearly how their direction of product change has negatively affected me, and how it’s likely to cause them increasing problems down the road. Read the rest of this entry »

New Google Maps Ads Bad For All Constituents: Consumers, Businesses & Advertisers

November 21st, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

Google Maps has introduced “bubble ads” which feature an advertiser in the info bubble/tooltip that appears above pinpointed locations in the map interface. Mike Blumenthal points these out with a “rogue’s gallery” of inappropriate ad placements. I believe these must be the “big changes” alluded-to in Google insider rumors I reported upon a few weeks ago.

It’s not hard to find instances of ads which arguably should not be allowed to be displayed smack along with a business’s listings. Here’s one I just grabbed showing an ad below a local doctor’s listing — the ad urges consumers and potential patients to “Check for disciplinary action”, and has parsed the doctor’s name into the ad itself — casting an implicit aspersion upon the doctor, and potentially damaging the doctor’s conversion rate if the advertiser’s site has some sort of negative information about the doctor:

Bad Ad Placements in Google Maps

As Mike points out in his post, there are many cases of inappropriate ads showing up with these — and, it’s hard for me to find a whole lot of cases where an ad might be considered “appropriate” from the perspective of businesses “graced” with oddball ads. I can see where such ads would make sense for some landmarks and other non-business places, but for business listings themselves, such ads are at best distracting and at worst they are actually damaging to businesses’ referral rates.

From the perspective of small businesses, the new ads are far worse than having nearby competitors appearing on their profile Place Pages — these ads are visible at a higher level in the consumer research cycle, and interfere with the potential for users to move any deeper in clicking through to read more details about the business’s information. The related listings showing and ads which have been displayed on Place Pages are shown lower on the page and are not as prominent in the cycle as consumers seek provider information.

One has to wonder how Google can keep a straight face in claiming that the advertising side of the house is separated by a “firewall” from the search engineering side at this point!

One also wonders how Google intends to spin this to local businesses — it feels very extortionary — “you’d better advertise on your own listing, or we’ll let someone else take it hostage!”

This appears to be yet another of many instances where Google does a poor job in designing the online user-experience due to an obstinate refusal to do any sort of user experience testing or focus group testing for local business owners — which are one of the major constituent audiences which makes use of Google Maps. Not only does this new ad presentation *not* improve or avoid detracting from the user experience, it damages how Google is perceived in the eyes of millions of small businesses.

How is it helpful to Google Places to make local businesses feel downright hostile to your company?

The Occupy Protesters Google-Bombed Maps

November 9th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

The Atlantic Wire reported that Occupy Oakland protesters managed to get the name of Frank H. Ogawa Plaza to be changed in Google Maps to “Oscar Grant Plaza” — the name they dubbed it in remembrance of a man killed by BART police on New Years in 2009.

After media began noticing the unofficial name appearing in Google Maps, Google apparently corrected the error. I just did the search, and the plaza is showing the official name within the map, although you can see from the tooltip that some user had been encouraging people to post ratings under the protesters’ nickname for the place:

Oscar Grant Plaza in Google Maps

A Google spokesperson admitted that the name came from user-submitted edits, and that it shouldn’t have been approved, but should have been allowed as a “search reference”. I’ll translate: Google should not have pasted the name on the map as an official place-name, but should have allowed it to be added to their synonym database so that people searching on the name could easily find the location it refers to. As you can see from my screen-grab, it is now functioning as a search reference.

Concerningly, this incident supports what I have been saying, along with others, that Google Maps is particularly prone to Google-bombing from user-submitted content (“UGC”) edits. As I illustrated recently from Mike Blumenthal’s experiment to flag Google HQ as closed, some types of edits can result in businesses getting their listings defaced with false claims that they’re no longer open, and in even worse cases business Place Pages could get forced to rank for obnoxious terms, and labeled with descriptive terms that sabotage business referrals.

I could argue that it’s actually improper for the plaza to be made to rank for the unofficial name in this place, under the condition of a purposeful Google-bombing exploit. I can also argue that it’s useful and helpful for users to be able to search for places under their common nicknames and alternative spellings. But, I bend more towards this being an inappropriate association in this case. The edits were a type of vandalism intended to hijack place-names in maps in order to convey a political message represented by what was probably a relative minority (assuming the Occupy Oakland protest was a part of the nationwide protest movements sparked by Occupy Wall Street, it’s hard to fathom what a police killing in 2009 has to do with the outrage against corporate corruption and economic problems, other than perhaps some desire to kick up the drama a notch or to appeal to a subset of protesters who desire to associate themselves with a sort of iconic martyrdom).

Considering how there are relatively few checks and balances in place, it’s really not surprising that a mob of people can hijack a place name in Google Maps and change it to communicate their political message. This sort of thing is happening on a much smaller scale to hundreds and thousands of businesses which are unfairly harmed by similarly applied user edits.

While it’s great that consumers have a greater voice in this Business 2.0 age, I think some more balance needs to be brought back to “The Force” by way of limiting the easy manipulation of Google Places and it’s vulnerability to such exploits.

Infogroup’s New Directory Poses SEO Challenge To IYPs

November 9th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

Infogroup - data aggregator for local business listingsInfogroup‘s Monday announcement of enhancements for their Express Update service mainly focused upon how they could help businesses claim their listings, optimize through an expanded set of data points, and submit their information to the Infogroup database. But, the press release also contained an unhappy surprise for Internet Yellow Pages companies: declaration that Infogroup is also launching an online directory in tandem with the improved Express Update service.

Here’s the key part:

“Express Update will also create public online profile pages for every business in the Infogroup Business Database. This new feature essentially gives all businesses — whether they have a website or not – a visible online presence.”

For IYP companies, this cannot be a good thing. Quite a number of Yellow Pages sites receive business listings data from Infogroup, as well as many other types of online directories such as reviews sites, local social media services, mobile directory apps, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

Google’s Jack-O’-Lantern Logo Celebrating Halloween

October 31st, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

Google’s Jack-O’-Lantern logo celebrating Halloween this year is particularly cool:

Google's Jack-O-Lantern Logo for Halloween

It combines two-dimensional logo design, sculpting, and performance art, since it is a video showing the Google team sketching their designs on the jumbo-sized pumpkins, carving them, hanging out with each other, and then the jackolanterns are lit as dusk is falling, until you ultimately see only the carved letters glowing with flickering candlelight in the dark of night.

Not only is the logo fun, but it perfectly encapsulates the experiential nature of the traditional pumpkin-carving experience, and a bit of the feel of Halloween festivals here in America. The extra-large pumpkins are set on bales of hay in the central courtyard of what appers to be the Googleplex (Google’s headquarters cluster of buildings) in Mountain View, California.

I like that they designed this variation of their logo while still including the basic nature of the letters, so it’s still readable as the word while also capturing the spirit of Halloween.

Will Google Use Spelling & Grammar As Ranking Factors?

October 5th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

Google’s Webmaster Help video by @MattCutts about spelling and grammar is quite interesting:

In it, Matt answers the question of whether spelling/grammer matter to them when they evaluate a site’s quality for ranking purposes.

I wrote about this exact thing in “Google Penalty For Low-Quality Writing?” over a year ago, and some commenters thought the concept of Google analyzing text to detect bad grammar and misspelling was too farfetched to believe possible. However, I’ve read some of the books on corpus linguistics, and it has seemed to me that it’s well within the realm of possibility.

Fast-forward to now, and Matt has essentially stated that some within Google have done some work on Read the rest of this entry »

Whole Foods’ Sponsored Corn Field Maze

September 30th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

I’ve written a few times about corn field mazes which can be seen using Google Maps – enter the newest “skyvertisement” promoting Whole Foods at P Bar Farms:

Whole Foods corn field maze ad

The Whole Foods corn field maze advertisement

It’s not the first time “crop art” or corn field maze designs have been used to promote a company. Read the rest of this entry »

Google Maps: New Changes, New Errors

September 30th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

Matt McGee’s news piece on SEL caught my eye this morning, reporting that Google Maps now sports a new look and feel. The change was apparently announced late yesterday on the Google LatLong blog (I have to agree with Matt’s aside, their blog redesign is not an improvement).

The change comes after a few weeks of observed changes to Google Place Search and rumors and speculation about “big changes coming to Google Maps” followed by increasing buzz around place editing bugs and map interface errors.

Could this be what all the hubbub was about?!? At first glance, most of the changes seem relatively superficial.

This likely does explain some of the errors I encountered yesterday when attempting to do some searches and driving directions requests – that was likely during their code propagation. However, it still seems to me that there could be other changes on the horizon for when Google Plus for businesses rolls out.

Unfortunately, I can immediately see errors in the code that was just rolled out. For instance, the tooltips which appear when moused-over contain encoding errors, rendering various special characters like ampersands and apostrophes into gobbledygook:

Google Maps tooltip title display error

Read the rest of this entry »