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Airbnb recently hosted their SEO Meetup in San Francisco, where we were able to meet a number of interesting people and discuss the current state of search. Of the many conversations that we had, perhaps none were as interesting as the one we had with Dennis Goedegebuure, head of SEO for Airbnb, about Google data strategies and the future of search. Dennis has been working in the SEO industry for over a decade and has a unique perspective on the current state of search, Google, and the ways in which our online and offline existence will coincide in the future.

During their interview, Murray Newlands and Dennis took the opportunity to talk about all of these topics and more, sharing their experiences and insights and offering an interesting look into the future of search.

To find out more, watch the full interview below:

These are the key takeaways from the video:

The undeniable hot topic of the night was Google data collection, how the company is using its data, and what the potential results of this could be for business in the United States. Dennis openly admitted that he chooses to use an iPhone because he is aware that Google is collecting data and tracking Android users, and he is wary that the search giant is collecting too much data and knows too much about customer profiles.

Dennis says the overwhelming trend in search right now is personalized search, which undeniably ties back into the need for consumer behavior data collection and enables personalized search to work the way that it does currently. Dennis suggests that because of the focus on personalized search, sites such as Google+ could play important roles in SEO in the future.

The second trend Dennis talked about was the correlation between data collection, personalized search, and our online and offline lives. Dennis predicts that in the future, everything will culminate in one overarching experience that ties our digital and real world lives together. He gives the example that one day we will be riding in self-driving Google cars and need gas, milk or other goods, and pull over to the “most relevant” store to get those items. It’s lead generation in a very real way, and that’s what Google’s data collection strategies are leading to, according to Dennis. “It’s all about the direct response model. It’s the Internet of things that’s bringing your offline experience, using technology to bring it online lead generation to bring more foot traffic into retail stores,” he explained.

Please visit SEJ’s YouTube page for more video interviews.

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Google Search Data Can Help Pinpoint Covid

While watching yourself and loved ones for symptoms of COVID-19, you might not want to forget about your gut. Gastrointestinal issues can be both an early symptom of COVID-19 and one that remains long after others have gone, researchers find. One team from Massachusetts General Hospital considered whether Google searches for GI issues might be a way to spot COVID-19 hotspots early.

“GI symptoms are only one part of COVID-19,” says Kyle Staller, a coauthor of the paper, which was published in July in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. But they’re notable, he says—certainly, people notice if they have diarrhea or vomiting. He and his colleagues think public health specialists might be able to use a technique that was successfully employed in 2009′s H1N1 pandemic: looking at Google Trends data, which is widely available and anonymized, to see where searches for GI symptoms spike.

The team looked at Google Trends data for searches on a range of symptoms that dated from January 20 to April 20 of 2023. They found that searches for ageusia (loss of taste), loss of appetite, and diarrhea correlated with COVID-19 case numbers in states with high early infection rates like New York and New Jersey, with an approximate delay of four weeks. The signal was less clear for other symptoms.

“I think it’s important as a caveat to say that Google is not good, true, boots-on-the-ground epidemiology,” says Staller. But he and his colleagues maintain that Google Trends search data might be useful in looking for signs of a second COVID-19 wave.

Early research into COVID-19, a bulk of which came from Chinese hospitals, suggested that gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting were also common symptoms. The reason—scientists believe—is that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, targets ACE2 receptors which are found on the surface of many cells including those in the lungs, arteries, and throughout the digestive tract.

But in the few months since Staller’s paper was published, says University of Pennsylvania gastroenterologist Shazia Siddique, “The one thing that has changed is that perhaps GI symptoms are not as common as we previously thought.”

Siddique, who was not involved with the current research, recently authored a meta-analysis of 118 papers on COVID-19 for the American Gastroenterological Society that found fewer than 10 percent of patients in the combined studies experienced diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, or abdominal pain. In the 10 percent of patients who did experience GI distress, those symptoms were joined in 1 to 5 days by other COVID-19 symptoms.

Siddique also questioned the search terms that Staller and his colleagues associated with gastrointestinal symptoms. “Technically, loss of appetite is kind of more of a systemic response,” she noted.

The core idea of the paper—using Google Trends data to help detect hotspots—is “great,” says Siddique. “For most of us as physicians, we like to think that our patients tell us as soon as they’re feeling ill, and that we have a pulse on exactly the moment they start to develop symptoms, but I think we all know the reality that patients do turn to WebMD and Google before coming into our offices.”

While most COVID-19 patients don’t experience gastrointestinal systems, a percentage do. If you’re experiencing symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, or nausea and vomiting, and you’re concerned that you may have been exposed to COVID-19, check yourself for other symptoms and get tested. In the meantime, make sure to mask up and, if you’re able, consider isolating until you’ve got more information.

“Sometimes the only early presentation is the GI symptoms and then the respiratory symptoms come later,” notes Siddique’s coauthor Shahnaz Sultan, a University of Minnesota gastroenterologist. Sultan notes that she and her colleagues found that people who had GI symptoms also took more time to seek care. Both of these facts offer tantalizing glimpses at the real picture of the relationship between COVID-19, GI symptoms, and treatment, but there’s certainly much more to uncover.

Google Social Search; The Lost Update

Can you imagine there being a change at Google that pre-dates Panda, (and subsequent incarnations) the +1 button, the attribution algo updates and few if any in the SEO world had noticed? I mean, it makes one helluva trivia question don’t it? Not as much fun as; What does Archie comics have to do with the early history of search. But it’s fascinating none-the-less.

Hey gang… long time no chat! Dave here… long lost SEJ writer and all around search geek. Can we talk or what?

February 17th 2011; the day it all changed

First off, those of you familiar with my ranting and ramblings on this topic, are excused. It’s unlikely we’ll be covering much new for my faithful SOSGs (no that’s not talking dirty, it’s; Seriously Obsessed Search Geek m’kay?). It simply needs to be repeated for a larger audience.

Those still wondering what this mad rambling Gypsy is on about, walk with me…

Over the years we’ve seen many changes to Google that had some interesting if not far reaching implications for the fastidious search optimizer. Odd, I’ve never optimized a search engine. What’s up with that? Anyway, getting lost again. We’ve had the rise of personalization (and general flux), the timeliness of the QDF (query deserves freshness), finding our way with deeper localization and general madness in what we call universal search. The list is ever-growing it seems over the last few years.

Many times during these evolutions SEO types weren’t always grasping the value right out of the gate. At least though there were some that caught it and generally some form of awareness within short order.

I mean, this is the group of folks that traditionally go a little mental each time there is a Google toob bar PageRank update… (like this);

What happened some 4 months ago, while extremely noteworthy, has gone almost entirely un-noticed or at very least, below the radar of those covering the industry.

The 2011 Google Social Search Update

For starters, is it unsurprising this went largely unnoticed? In retrospect, no. If we consider that back in 2008 we caught a glimpse of the Google social graph work and ultimately user profiling, which few seemed interested in, then no. If we consider the madness that ensues with shiny bobbles like the +1 button, then ok, yes… it does give one pause to say WTF?

And on a side note, some have suggested that SEOs like the thought of the +1 having ranking weight because…well… then they can manipulate it. Another story tho… we’ll get back to that.

Here’s the short version of what went down (Googly post here);

Ok, seems kinda unremarkable on the surface right? NOT. This is something fairly significant in the world of search.

Now, a few notes of interest;

Google accounts are on the rise (think Android)

It pulls from the social graph

It is another form of personalization

Does an end-around on problematic explicit feedback

Uses primary and secondary contacts

It re-ranks (search) listings

Catch that last one? It RE-RANKs the listings in the SERP. Anyone that’s been around long enough remembers how we drooled on the new short-cuts to the front page when various verticals gained prominence (aka universal SERPs). This is no different.

Look…. this is logged out;

And this is logged in;

WOW. We have a new way of ranking and SEOs aren’t talking about it? Did you know that there are a few thousand freaking articles on the +1 button (which doesn’t re-rank anything) but outside of ol Rand (who recently discovered it apparently) and yours truly (tho mine has been a little obsessive ROFL) there has been very little on this one?

Consulting the crystal ball

This is all about looking into the future. We are seeing (over the last few years) an evolution to search that will most certainly be around for years to come. It started with real-time search and has grown out of control since then. Google has had a stated goal of deeper personalization for many years. One of the problems has always been the inherent issues with implicit/explicit feedback.

The social graph is a VERY effective way to gain deeper personalization beyond the traditional signals and matches well with the way the web is growing. In short; it makes sense.

Regardless of how much value you see in it now, this is an important development at Google. Did you get spanked by the Panda? Then maybe paying closer attention to the evolution of search could have prevented it. Don’t drop the ball again.

Some food for thought

Ok, enough rambling. I simply wanted to abuse the hallowed halls of SEJ to try and get the word out one last time on this. A few thoughts before I go….

They have a good grasp on you social circle (see here); they likely weren’t doing that just for fun right?

Google has long been interested in social profiling, known at the time as ‘friend rank’. The road map has been in front of us the entire time, if you’re looking.

And what about the latest foray? Google Plus. It sure seems that what we’ve seen in the last few years is all moving in a concerted direction. I can see MANY ways that this social search update can play nicely with Google Plus. Consider the simple fact that Google Profiles are now wrapped up in Plus. I had originally lamented that they needed better management, which seems to be happening now.

Point being, this is a major vision of where search and social are likely headed. If you, like many, haven’t really been looking at this… it really is time that you did.

If you don’t…. you may find yourself left out of the loop in the real near future

Msn + Google = Netscape : The Search Engine Wars

The search engine war between Google and MSN is generating some nasty tactics reminiscent of the Microsoft vs. Netscape battle of the mid ’90’s. Those who remember that battle will recall the almost surgical methods used by Microsoft to all but destroy Netscape. Today, Netscape is a shell of its former self, kept in a dull corner of the Time Warner empire and denied the attention or funding it needs to reemerge as a viable entity in the browser market. Many will also remember the tactics used by Microsoft to destroy Netscape generated years of anti-trust litigation and almost led to the break-up of the world’s richest corporation and largest software maker. At the end of the day of course, Microsoft got off with a wrist slap and the knowledge that the US Government will not kill a goose that lays golden eggs (and whose products run much of the national infrastructure). Microsoft is obviously feeling free to resort to some its old tricks and the search engine wars are about to go mainstream, possibly becoming public entertainment. Remember the film, Pirates of Silicone Valley? This script promises to be even more interesting.

According to yesterday’s New York Times, Microsoft has officially turned its great eye on Google and is specifically targeting Google and its employees. Microsoft recruiters are said to be calling Google staff at home, telling them that MSN’s new search tool will bury Google and that they had better defect north to Redmond Washington as soon as possible before their jobs and soon to be stock options are worthless. Executives from both companies were seen watching each other like hawks at last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland. Wherever a Google representative went, a MSN exec was steps behind, and vica versa. Meanwhile, back in the United States, Microsoft employees are examining Google patents looking for potential weaknesses to exploit. Microsoft is obviously playing for keeps and appears to be preparing to head off the inevitable legal battles that will stem from the introduction of Microsoft’s new operating system, Longhorn, currently in development and scheduled for release early next year.

Longhorn and Search

Longhorn is the code-name for the new operating system from Microsoft. When it is released early next year, Longhorn is expected to change the way we relate to searching for information by integrating the function of search directly into the operating system itself. According to the hype, systems running Longhorn will treat any information ever viewed by machine-specific users as a searchable document. For example, if you receive an email regarding Blue Widgets, research Blue Widgets and write a review of Blue Widget products, you would have three documents consisting of 1 email, 1 website, and 1 Word doc. Two of the three information sources are stored on your hard-drive and one is stored on the web. All three are likely to be found through Longhorn’s search function. By changing the parameters of search technology, Microsoft is laying heavy money on the safe bet that users will quickly become dependent on Longhorn’s search tool. This is basically the same tactic used against Netscape when Internet Explorer was bundled into Windows95(v2.0) in 1996.

“You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.” Sam Levenson (1911 – 1980)

Lessons for Google

Netscape was floored by the sudden switch of alliance in browser users and failed to adapt quickly enough. After being purchased at the height of the chúng tôi bubble by AOL, Netscape released it’s infamous (and doomed) version 6.0 which was full of bugs and did not even approach the versatility of Internet Explorer. The rest is pretty much history for Netscape and opportunity for Microsoft. IE now holds over 92% of the browser market with Netscape scraping less than 4%. The same phenomena may happen with Google, especially after the the recent Florida algorithm update in November and the recent Austin update seen in late January. While Google watchers continue to speculate on the what’s, where’s and whys of Google’s recent update, we all agree on at least one basic thing, Google is trying to create a better search tool in order to compete with MSN and Yahoo. Unfortunately for Google, the effect of the recent updates is highly reminiscent of Netscape v6.0, an obvious attempt to build a better mouse-trap that produced a product inferior to its predecessor.

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience.” George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)

Arguments Over The Future Of Openoffice.org

Don’t expect Oracle’s donation of the code of chúng tôi to The Apache Software Foundation to settle anything about the troubled office suite. If the situation does improve, it will be small thanks to Oracle.

According to Oracle, the donation is proof that “Oracle continues to demonstrate its commitment to the developer and open source communities. Donating chúng tôi to Apache gives this popular consumer software a mature, open, and well established infrastructure to continue well into the future.”

However, from the way that the donation was done, and the situation it leaves the project in, it looks very much like a last spiteful gesture toward the rival Document Foundation, the project that develops LibreOffice, the chúng tôi fork. The result is a future that leaves the future as troubled as the present. At the very least, to some observers it appears to show a disdain for the community that borders on arrogance.

If that sounds like an over-statement, consider the history. Some of the chúng tôi project members were dissatisfied for years with Sun Microsystem’s stewardship. When Oracle acquired Sun and its assets in early 2010, the dissatisfaction intensified. Many people pointed to Oracle’s lackluster treatment of other free software projects as an indication of what lay in OpenOffice.org’s future.

On 28 September, 2010, this dissatisfaction culminated in the creation of The Document Foundation. Organized by employees of Novell, Red Hat, and other corporations involved in chúng tôi The Document Foundation announced a fork called LibreOffice, and immediately attracted a large number of people who had previously worked on OpenOffice.org.

Although The Document Foundation invited Oracle to join its ranks, relations between chúng tôi and LibreOffice appeared to deteriorate when Oracle declared involvement in both projects a conflict of interest and insisted that LibreOffice supporters resign from their positions on the chúng tôi Community Council.

Almost immediately, The Document Foundation proved it had more momentum than chúng tôi with more discussion and proposals on its mailing lists. Within weeks, major distributions such as Ubuntu were deciding to ship with LibreOffice rather than OpenOffice.org.

Yet, despite such setbacks, Oracle’s previous assertion that it was committed to chúng tôi made most people believe that the rivalry would continue indefinitely.

At the time, the announcement was greeted with cautious optimism. But, since then, Oracle employees working on chúng tôi have been laid off, including long-time community manager Louis Suarez-Potts. Most of the project’s mailing lists shut down, and the last development patch was submitted on April 18. For all practical purposes, chúng tôi was dead, leaving dozens to wonder what was going on.

According to Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, the donation to The Apache Foundation was made with the encouragement of IBM, which develops Lotus Symphony, another chúng tôi fork.

From a corporate viewpoint, you can imagine several reasons why the donation makes sense. As an umbrella organization of nearly one hundred projects, The Apache Foundation resembles a corporation more than most free and open source software (FOSS) organizations, no doubt making it easier for Oracle to deal with. It is also well-established and unlikely to disappear, so chúng tôi has a permanent home.

Furthermore, Vaughan-Nichols writes that Oracle is contractually obliged to IBM to ensure the continued development of chúng tôi If that is so, then you do not need to be a tactician to understand why Oracle might donate where IBM wanted it to. You might also view the donation as a peace offering after clashes with The Apache Foundation over various issues about Java.

As for the free office suite community, donating to Apache at least superficially satisfies requests that the code be turned over to a neutral, FOSS-friendly organization. Until yesterday, the community was planning to petition Oracle to donate the code (I know, because I drafted the petition), but the donation suddenly makes the effort moot.

Even The Document Foundation officially announced that “we welcome Oracle’s donation of code that has previously been proprietary to the Apache Software Foundation.” Superficially, at least, everyone sounds pleased about the donation.

So why is the donation less than ideal? One answer is that The Apache Foundation has more experience with projects that involve servers and infrastructure than desktop appliances. If chúng tôi is going to thrive, then the Foundation needs to learn, and quickly.

Another reason is that the donation means that most of the chúng tôi code is now licensed under the Apache License, rather than the previous GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL). That means that some parts of the existing code are now incompatible with the main license, and may need to be discarded or rewritten.

The difference in licenses also reflects a difference in FOSS cultures, since the Apache License does not prevent the code being used under a proprietary license. For at least some of the OpenOffice.org-LibreOffice community, this license is likely to be objectionable.

However, by far the largest problem is that what the Apache Foundation has been passed is a project with few, if any members. This leaves the situation much as it was with Oracle, with official title to the code controlled by one organization, and most of the development and innovation being done by another — The Document Foundation.

What makes this development especially unfortunate is that, in the last couple weeks, the members of this joint community have been edging towards reunification.

The mutual distrust between Oracle and The Document Foundation, it appears, was largely on the organizational level. In the community, working relationships seem to have been at least partly preserved.

For example, Louis Suarez-Potts went out of his way to point out that he and Florian Effenberger, a member of The Document Foundation’s Steering Committee, work for the same company and have “sought to maintain cordial and even friendly relations since last year.” Similarly, Charles-H. Schulz, another member of The Document Foundation’s steering committee, emphasizes that “We have here one community and two projects.”

True, the Document Foundation has indicated a willingness to work with the Apache Foundation, and states that it has received an email from Jim Jagielski, “who is anticipating frequent contacts between the Apache Software Foundation and The Document Foundation over the next few months.” So there is at least the possibility of a diplomatic reunification occurring in the near future.

But, for now, the community’s efforts, if not its individuals, remain divided in a way that is harmful to all parties. Schultz tells me that a project on the scale of chúng tôi under Sun requires ten million Euros a year. Alternatively, it needs to mobilize volunteer contributors on a massive scale. Yet, even if Apache can find the cash or volunteers, that still means a duplication of efforts that is wasteful and inefficient.

Furthermore, Schultz argues, reunification can only serve the greater good. It would restore confidence among corporate and private users, and remove any uncertainty about Open Document Format, the ISO standard for office files that both LibreOffice and chúng tôi offer as an alternative to Microsoft Office’s file formats.

Still another problem is branding. Although chúng tôi was not as well known as proprietary rivals such as Microsoft Office, over the course of ten years it had developed a certain name recognition. By contrast, in the seven months of its existence, LibreOffice has yet to achieve comparable recognition. In fact, as a new brand, LibreOffice is sometimes regarded with suspicion by users outside the free software community.

Specifically, Schulz argues for reunification under LibreOffice. His argument is that LibreOffice has already proven itself better able to attract community developers than chúng tôi ever was. “In seven months, we have attracted twenty times more developers than the chúng tôi project, [and] we have extended the number of contributors to a bigger size than the chúng tôi project ever had.” The strength of this argument only increases when you consider that the Apache version of chúng tôi will probably need a month or two to organize, assuming that it become a going concern in the first place.

After the animosity, expecting Oracle to donate anything to The Document Foundation is probably asking too much of human nature. All the same, reunification seems a sensible goal, even if not necessarily under The Document Foundation.

But instead of listening to the community, Oracle has chosen a solution that not only threatens to preserve the existing divisions, but also ignores the wishes of the community by making reunification more difficult. The unsettledness of the solution seems a direct contradiction of Oracle’s high-minded statements about supporting FOSS.

This story is unfolding rapidly. Rumors are that another twist or two are expected later this week. In addition, another petition is being contemplated by some members of the community — this time, to The Apache Foundation, requesting that it turn its new assets over to The Document Foundation.

Such a move may not be strictly necessary. It may be enough for Apache to show a willingness to cooperate by joining The Document Foundation. If that happens, efforts would still be duplicated when resources are scarce, but at least some degree of cooperation might happen in a way that was impossible under Oracle.

Maybe then chúng tôi could finally be free to become a true community project of the sort that many have dreamed about for years. After Sun’s and now Oracle’s mismanagement, such an outcome seems long overdue. Let’s hope that Apache shows a greater concern for contributors and users than its predecessors.

Yahoo & The Future Of Mybloglog?

Yahoo acquired the blogging analytics program and social network MyBlogLog in January which was a smart and exciting move on their behalf. But what are they doing with MyBlogLog now?

History of MyBlogLog

As a quick recap of MyBlogLog, the analytics program was grouped with a simple Social Networking offering which lets members upload their photos. Then, when blog owners run the MyBlogLog script, they can not only track their basic referrals and blog traffic, but also measure WHO visits their blogs, via MyBlogLog profiles.

But the defining point of MyBlogLog is the formation of communities and the MyBlogLog FaceRolls (ReaderRolls). The FaceRoll adds more of a personal touch to any blog running it by showing the last 5 to 10 readers and their avatar who visited the blog.

Given its personalization and networking aspects for bloggers, MyBlogLog was an early darling of the blogging community (MyBlogLog Search Engine Journal Community), and although the service is still popular, if Yahoo! doesn’t make some changes soon, who’s to say it won’t become yesterday’s news?

The Future of MyBlogLog?

Not to say that Yahoo has to overhaul the service, but updating MyBlogLog to a better service would be nice.

Why then, can Yahoo not build something as easy as a feed reader? Why do they spend their time and expenses creating flashy MyYahoo homepages with limited feed integration technology when 80% of their employees could probably hack a very good Yahoo! Reader over the course of one day. And imagine what they could turn out over the course of one Hack Day!

Yahoo! MyBlogLog Reader

Enough ranting, the next logical step for MyBlogLog is the launching of a Blog Reader which is preprogrammed with the feeds of the blog communities we have already joined.

For example, I’ve been a member of MyBlogLog for about one year. I belong to 15 communities which are all run by blogs I enjoy reading on a daily basis.

Yahoo! launches their MyBlogLog reader and suddenly my Reader is propopulated with the blogs I enjoy, along with suggestions of other blogs which members of the communities I belong to and my MyBlogLog friends read.

I’d be easily hooked and would seriously, if the reader were done right, probably ditch the other feed reader services I belong to.

And it is to my understanding that MyBlogLog has this technology ready to roll, and has been sitting on it for a good while now. So they should Beta test it, make fixes, then Alpha launch it immediately.

Other Next Steps for MyBlogLog

David Dalka attended the SOBcon conference in Chicago yesterday where MyBlogLog Community Manager Robyn Tippins spoke about more upcoming changes, including the rebranding of MyBlogLog.

The biggest news is that there will be a rebranding of MyBlogLog. The exact timing and new brand were not revealed. (YahooBlogLog or MyYahooLog? Time will tell.)

A complete site redesign is on the way!

A new “Widget 2.0? is coming with some hover features.

Yahoo! is hard at work to remove the offensive photos so that MyBlogLog would be palatable to more conservative business blogs.

Some sort of method to turn off your presence for some types of sites will be added.

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