Google Search, Amazon, Wikipedia, what do these companies have in common ? They’re web giants, they were created at least 15 years ago, and they’ve all showed a very conservative approach to web design.
While social-related services such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter have greatly evolved in terms of design in the past ten years, Google, Amazon and Wikipedia have showed little aesthetic improvement. Obviously though, their services have greatly involved:
- Google Search’s algorithm became so sophisticated that the smartest engineers are not able to fully understand it, and Google is now a global web player that dominates the online industry way beyond search;
- Amazon enriched its online sales power through new features and developped a winning online retailing strategy;
- Wikipedia developped a great, vibrant community, it now exists in almost all the languages used by humankind, and it contains tens of millions of well-documented pages, all-the-while maintaining its free and open policy.
But that stuff lies under the hood for the most part. What the user see hasn’t changed much in the past 15 years. Which brings the question : Is a plain, generic design the key to a stronger brand on the web ? If an entrepreneur had big ambitions with a new kind of online service, should he try to make his design as groundbreaking as possible, or should he stick to the Craigslist-like list of links and plain text ?
A Google engineer would remind me at this point that Google spends a whole bunch of money testing its design on user groups to ensure it gets it right. And while you can hardly argue with scientifically-proven facts, it seems that web design has made lenghty progresses in the past 15 years (HTML5 held the promise of a greater, more interactive web for example), thus it would seem logical that those big companies should have followed this lead to remain attractive. They haven’t, and yet they keep prospering.
Content is king; Design doesn’t matter, content does; Build great content and they will come. You better believe those statements are true as Google, Amazon and Wikipedia are proving it right. These companies are showing that users are attracted and retained through simple interfaces and easy to understand ergonomies. So if you think you have a great idea for a new web service, try to design it as plain as Google, Amazon or Wikipedia. If it looks useless and leaves you clueless, then there’s a great chance that your idea is not that great after all.
In an odd but expected way, some of us suddenly understand the concept of “ereputation” the moment some dirt pops up when people google our name. All of a sudden, we realize how much of an impact an algorithmically-generated SERP can have on our lives: Everyone knows what you did last summer! Everyone!
Having your life mistakes on display front and forward on the number one used Website in the world is a bit embarrassing, and (psychologically) unacceptable if it jeopardizes your personal and/or professional life. And that’s where I come in: My day-time job primarily consists in cleaning up the dirt on the SERPs of those who can afford it and who desperately need our services.
The anatomy of an ereputation SERP
Say you’d like to find a website where you can print your pictures and have them delivered to you: you type “print pictures online“, and the results are 10 Websites that are most likely to fulfill your photo-printing needs, ie online photo-printing service providers. When you type somebody’s name in Google, the results are profile pages, staff members’ pages, personal websites and blogs, news items, photos/videos, and dirt.
Dirt can be anything: illegal activity, cult, sexual act (or erotic photos), deviant behavior, anything that raises a flag usually lands on that first page
I recently realized the “about hyveup” page was ranked 3rd in Google with the keywords “Web Influence“, and 1st with “Influence web“. I was really impressed by the rewards of my SEO efforts, so I thought I would share it with you:
What I love about this specific first rank situation, it’s the keywords: Web influence. it’s pretty cool to find that your company’s name is the closest match that Google could find for that specific query. In case you are wondering, there is not an amazing amount of incoming clicks coming from there. I guess ranking first on some keywords is just pure branding.
Twitter is the happening success story that everyone is twittering about. The funny thing about Twitter’s market is how all of its competitors in the microblogging space just died: Google acquired Jaiku, to let it slowly die, and Pownce was bought like a t-shirt on a flee market by Six Apart. Pownce was not working all that well, despite the fact that it was launched by popular tech entrepreneur Kevin Rose. On the other hand, Jaiku was experiencing a nice growth curve, and creating quite some enthusiasm in the tech sphere. This could lead to believe this was the reason Google was interested in Jaiku. However, Google never seemed really interested to use Jaiku.
All those acquisitions benefited none other but Twitter. I think it is time to start asking ourselves: Did Google acquire Jaiku to make leeway for twitter?
A few points could confirm this theory:
- First Pownce was never an interesting candidate as it missed the point of instant communications and live search features
- Jaiku was a real risk, as popular tech figures like Leo Laporte were starting to openly declare their love for Jaiku
- Twitter was going through a lot of down times, making early-adopters unsatisfied.
- Twitter’s Founders sold Blogger to Google, which implies they are well-connected with the Mountain View company.
So why would Google back Twitter? For that famous feed that represents the first enactment of the live Web. Twitter knew where the Graal was, Google organized the crusade. Since the microblogging company is so interconnected with Google, it makes sense for the two companies to plot an aggressive market strategy together.
Also, one may wonder if Google is really interested to ever acquire Twitter. The Jaiku experience shows that when Google acquires a microblogging platform, it dies. As long as it is independent, its feed is golden, which is all the best for Google if they tap in it for the quality of their search experience.
So could we stipulate on the nature of the deal between Twitter and Google? I would assume that Google will have access to Twitter’s feed for a bargained price (compare to what Microsoft will have). This way, Twitter can remain independent by dealing with any company out there, but Google keeps kicking Microsoft’s ass by spending less on the same data.
It’s been rumored and unofficially confirmed, but now Google just made it official on their blog: Google Ventures launched.
During its unofficial confirmation, concerns rose around the impact that a VC like Google could have on the Web economy. Will it completely Googlize the Web entrepreneurship? Will the venture favor profitable schemes, or simply Google-friendly schemes?
By judging from the two VCs that lead the venture, there are hints on the types of ventures that Google is ready to embark into for the moment:
- Bill Maris has a serious expertise in Neuroscience, healthcare and biotechnology.
- Rich Miner has a serious expertise in mobile technologies.
I think it is a safe bet to say that any startup that develops something along those lines will get Gooogle Ventures’ attention.