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August 9, 2011

Simpler Ways of Connecting Online May Leave You Vulnerable to Hackers

It's hard to imagine the digital world pre-Facebook and Google, but as I remember it that time was filled with usernames and passwords. When I was in high school I remember having a piece of notebook paper that listed all of my secret codes; it told me what I needed to log into my Netscape email and my Disney account, among a list of other websites. If that piece of paper was lost, access to my little online world went with it.

Times have changed though. Now when visiting new websites, more often than not, you can simply sign in with your Google or Facebook username and password. No more guessing games to see if a username is already taken or tying every combination of 'johnny4799,'? 'Johnny040799,'? and 'joHnNy4799'? to remember the right password. Now it's one and done.

Logging into a website with Facebook (aptly called Facebook Connect) makes life so much simpler. Not only is it one fewer password to remember, but it makes sharing content with friends all that much easier too. Love an article? Hit the 'like'? button and it goes right to your friends' newsfeeds. Are you on Google+ too? Give an article a +1 and it goes right to your account!

The idea of connecting to websites through Facebook began in 2008, and by 2009 over 60 million people a month were doing it and over 80,000 websites and devices had this option available. Google+ has joined that ranking too with an estimated 10 million users in July alone, giving them the ability to hit the +1 button (similar to a Facebook 'like'?).

I've lost my little piece of notebook paper but the simplicity of signing into multiple accounts with one username has made it unnecessary. Still though, the ease at which people can compromise my identity because of this is alarming. With so many users connecting to websites with their Google and Facebook passwords it's easy for things to get compromised. Sure it's easier for you to remember your password if it's your name and birthday, but it's just as easy for someone else to guess your login too. If you've connected to several websites with your Facebook or Google account and that password gets compromised, it's not just that account that's in trouble, but the rest of them too!

To address this issue, several new guidelines have been put in place to protect your many identities online. Some of the tips include:

  • Do not use any words, numbers or phrases associated with you as your password. That means the name of your dog and the year you were married are not the smartest options.
  • Include a combination of upper and lowercase letters as well as numbers and basic punctuation. That means a password such as 'Car0L!n3s'? will make a better choice.
  • Make your password at least nine characters long.

Tougher passwords to crack may make your accounts safer but Mark Burnett, author of the book Perfect Password, says as long as a password is longer than 15 characters it no longer matters how random it is. Extremely long passwords have so many additional characters, the time it takes to hack increases compared to that of a smaller and more complex password.

So next time you check out a new website should you feel comfortable signing in with your Facebook or Google account? Probably. Unless of course your password is 'johnny0781.'?

June 29, 2011

I Know You 'Like'? Me, But Can I Get a '+1'??

Getting a '+1'? doesn't only apply to guest lists anymore. Google recently launched its new social sharing button, which will compete against Bing's recent partnership with Facebook and the 'Like'? button. While Facebook is one of the most popular sites on the Internet, Bing still doesn't compare to Google in terms of search engine user percentage. Even after last year's Bing/Yahoo! merger, the two engines combine to make up only about 14% of the total market share in the United States (Google has an impressive 85%). So even though Facebook activity may be influencing Bing's organic search results, the Bing user base is still relatively small for the partnership to have shown great impact thus far.

With unsuccessful past social media experiments of their own, Google is using their new +1 button as a means of influencing their own search algorithm. The social aspect of +1 comes from the fact that users need to be logged into a Google account (Gmail, YouTube, Webmaster Tools, or other Google powered channels). From there, Google users can see which of their friends liked certain content, whether it's displayed on a link from a search engine results page, or an actual piece of content from a website.

A recent study showed that 90% of online consumers trust recommendations from people they already know, and 71% of online consumers admit that reviews from family members and/or friends influence purchase decisions (Econsultancy July 2009, Harris Interactive June 2010). This data, coupled with the growing popularity of Gmail, and the worldwide popularity of YouTube should help get the +1 button to penetrate the psyche of a large amount of Internet users.

I mentioned above that the +1 button can be applied to pieces of content and search listings, but the +1 button isn't only limited to organic listings. Paid listings can also benefit from the button. Google separately monitors which people clicked the +1 button sildenafil using a color coded display, which shows whether a user clicked the button on an organic listing, a paid listing, or on a website. The implementation versatility of the +1 button, combined with the social experience could have a great impact on click through rates for both organic and paid listings.

Google has also rolled out detailed tracking solutions to support the +1 button. In Google Webmaster Tools, a user will soon be able to track detailed +1 activity, search impact, and demographic data. In Google Analytics, users will soon be able to track visits that were affected by social media engagement, which will pull data from all social media sites (Facebook, Twitter'?¦etc).

It remains to be seen if the Google +1 button will catch on with Internet users, but if it does, the tools are in place to revolutionize the Google algorithm and bring social based search to the mainstream.

April 4, 2011

Thoughts from the Search Desk: Google +1

Social media scored big points yet again last week as Google announced the new +1 feature to its search listings. Essentially, this is their response to Facebook's 'Like'? as it integrates social signals into their search results.  Searchers will be able to select a +1 button listed next to paid and organic search results (and in the future can be placed by webmasters next to content a la Facebook connect) for listings deserving of positive feedback. Why is this important? It indicates Google's continued transition toward weighting personalization and actual user feedback into their results beyond algorithm based indicators such as inbound links.  It is also a direct counter move to Microsoft's Facebook integration into their Bing search results.  Yet it moves one step further in enabling +1 on both paid and organic search listings.

At this point distribution of +1 is extremely limited (less than 1% of searches) but will expand over the coming weeks. Initially, my thoughts surround a few topics.

  • How should advertisers respond? The bottom line remains the same. It's rather simple actually - create value for the customer. Provide relevant, fresh content and a quality user experience and you will be liked, +1nd, retweeted, friended, shared and rewarded.
  • Paid search: For advertisers we've relied on CTR as a measure of relevance, adding the +1 feature will help provide insight into consumer perceptions of messaging. Advertisers will be able to leverage this data in their search copywriting. As for other measures, according to Google, Quality Score will not be impacted. Campaigns should therefore be monitored for performance variations as the +1 buttons are distributed more widely.
  • Organic Search: Google's evolution toward personalization is a good thing in my opinion and should be encouraged. Yet, whenever they make changes to their algorithm there are always those that are going to try to beat the system. We can expect a whole new suite of black hat SEO tactics to surface. While I certainly do not condone these antics, they should be acknowledged and monitored.

Some general items to note:

  • Google +1 is currently available only by the opt-in method by using the Google Experimental link: http://www.google.com/experimental/index.html
  • A Google profile must be activated. Full +1 functionality will be available when a user is logged into a Google account; When logged out ' users will be able to see the total of +1 votes without the user names
  • Search Results:
    • Paid Search:  All Adwords listings will get +1 buttons. Advertisers will not be able to shut them off; quality score will not be affected.  Advertisers should monitor impact on CTR.
    • Organic: +1 feature will influence search engine rankings based on activity within an individual's social network
  • Reporting: Google Webmaster Tools will be able to provide stats behind both organic & non-paid listings
  • For Webmasters: +1 buttons (similar to Facebook 'Like'? Buttons) next to content are expected to roll out within months and should be added to content
  • Privacy: By enabling the +1 feature, Google will take note of the following: Gmail/Google chat contact lists, Google Contacts, and people you follow on Google Buzz/Google Reader

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