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Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Snapchat copies Instagram Story rewinds, adds augmented background lenses

Now the copying is going the other direction, as Snapchat clones Instagram Stories’ rewind feature. But Snapchat is still innovating on the augmented reality features it popularized, plus adding new ways to share.
Today’s Snapchat update for iOS and Android introduces World Lenses. While its well-known Selfie Lenses change the way you look with dog ears and flower crowns, World Lenses change your surroundings. For example, you can add a sleepy cloud that rains down rainbow puke if you point your camera at the sky. Some World Lenses will actually animate your face too, and can have different effects depending on if you use your front- or rear-facing camera.
The new World Lenses will be available alongside the Selfie Lenses you can swipe through once you tap on the camera screen. Snapchat tells me “World Lenses will help Snapchatters decorate the world around them in even more fun and creative ways.” It already showed one off with a “Go Vote” airhorn this Sunday, and has now added flashlight, snow, floating hearts, and other World Lenses.
You can imagine how World Lenses could be fun to play with on Snapchat’s upcoming Spectacles sun glasses. Since you’ll be looking at your environment as you navigate through your day, and can’t really shoot selfies with Spectacles, World Lenses could help you spice up what your Specs capture.
Snapchat is readily preparing for the Spectacles launch. Just yesterday I spotted adds for the glasses in the security bins at LAX airport. And now there’s an option in the Snapchat app’s menu for pairing your Spectacles. You’ll just have to press the button on your Spectacles while pointing them at a special QR Snapcode on your app.
With new Lenses and Spectacles coming, you might see Stories that are too cool to keep to yourself. Luckily now there’s the option to tap on a friend’s Story or Live Story and send it as a snap to someone else. You could already do this with Discover stories by now every Story can be shared.
Finally, Snapchat is co-opting perhaps my favorite feature of Instagram Stories — the ability to rewind. Now you can tap on the left side of the screen to rewind one snap, and swipe left to go back to the start of the Story you’re watching. Previously you’d have to dig down into your already-watched Story list to rewatch something you missed. So if something awesome slips by, now you can rewind and share it with friends.
Re-sharing is important for Snapchat creators because there’s no good way to discover them in the app since it lacks any suggestions of who to follow or an Explore page like Instagram. While that does avoid Snapchat dictating what’s cool, it also makes it tough for creators to build an audience. Those creators are who keep fans coming back to Snapchat, so building features to assist them could boost their loyalty at a time when they might be tempted to post Instagram Stories.
World Lenses let you add weather and other crazy effects to your surroundings
Though it doesn’t have enormous financial backing like Instagram, Snapchat has built a strong lead in mind share, becoming synonymous with augmented portraits even though Facebook bought its own selfie mask startup MSQRD.
This kind of rapid product development will be essential for Snapchat now that it’s competing with Instagram Stories. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom admitted to me his app’s version of Stories was directly taken from Snapchat and “They deserve all the credit.” But with 100 million people already using Instagram Stories, origin might not matter as much as which app executes best.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Google’s 3rd Most Important Ranking Factor & Why You Should Care

Back in November 2015, and during UAE Innovation Week, I presented about the future of search. One of the areas I covered was Google’s “RankBrain“.
Google has confirmed that RankBrain is one of the top three ranking factors for search engine results placement. The first and second most important, not in order, are content and links. The third most important ranking factor, RankBrain is one that poses significant challenges to designers, content creators, and marketers who are trying to design content specifically for ranking purposes. RankBrain, an artificial intelligence system that learns user search behavior and evaluates website content, is – according to a March 2016 Q&A with a Senior Strategist at Google – the third most important ranking factor out of the hundreds they use to rank and place search results.
In October 2015, Bloomberg reported on RankBrain and included some key information about the AI factor as provided by one of Google’s senior research scientists. This information included the statement that RankBrain was the third most important ranking factor in search results, so the March 2016 statement is simply a confirmation of what we’d already been told by a senior Google staffer. RankBrain is still in third place officially, but the position is “hotly contested” as it jockeys for better placement against content and links in the top three ranking factors.

Why care?

Why does RankBrain challenge designers who are focusing on SERP placement? Because it isn’t a static algorithm component that you can easily define and design around or for. It learns and evolves with every one of the billions of user queries and thousands of indexed web pages it encounters each day. RankBrain also doesn’t replace the many different elements of Google’s algorithm, it is just one small cog in the massive algorithm machine that Google officially named Hummingbird in mid-2013. Now, after you’ve optimized your online content for as many verified ranking factors as you can find, you have to contend with a factor that may be just as unpredictable as user search behavior.
Before you start fretting about your SEO strategies, you should know that RankBrain does not handle all search queries performed on Google, which sees millions of queries every second. Most of the searches that RankBrain processes are those that have never been entered into a search query box before. While you might think that there isn’t much Google hasn’t seen yet, keep in mind that it receives three billion search queries every single day. Approximately 15% of those queries – or 450 million – are searches never before entered by any human being.
The ability to analyze and interpret as-yet-unknown and ambiguous searches is a huge step forward in the search industry because, completely new queries aside, searchers are asking questions or looking for information with more conversational words and phrases than ever before, too. Voice searches on mobile devices have opened the doors for this practice to a large degree, and users are taking advantage of the convenience of speaking their query rather than typing it.
While you might think this has little to do with your marketing strategies, RankBrain does have an impact on your SEO. It means you will have to start doing what you should have been doing all along – designing your content for users, not search engines. Some of the ways you can do this include:
  • Using more conversational search phrases as your keywords.
  • Including long-tail keywords in your content to make it more relevant to user searches.
  • Applying user experience design (UXD) tips to your websites, pages, and content.
The March 2016 Q&A that confirmed the top three ranking factors also provided a bit more insight into how Google’s algorithm works. The Senior Strategist for Google said that, in essence, different parts of the algorithm have more or less weight depending on the search queries entered and the search results provided. One set of results may show that a dozen specific algorithm factors dominate the determination of SERP placement, while another set of results doesn’t take any of those same factors into account when assigning rank position. This adds one more dynamic factor to the way designers, marketers, and content creators have to shift their focus toward an optimal user experience rather than an experience created for an algorithm.

Closing thoughts…

If you have been tailoring your online content to meet the wants, needs, and demands of your audience all along, you likely have little to worry about when it comes to RankBrain or any other Google algorithm component. Keep your focus on creating the most valuable and engaging experience for your users and they will repay you with continued traffic, leads, and a return on your investment that a search engine can never provide.
This post was originally published on Sandstorm Digital FZE