Shareable Google News badges for your favorite topics

On Google News, the average reader of political news has read 20 articles about politics in the last six months. Where do you stand?

Starting today, in the U.S. edition of Google News, you can see how voracious a news reader you are by earning Google News badges as you read articles about your favorite topics. The more you read, the higher level badge you’ll receive, starting with Bronze, then moving up the ladder to Silver, Gold, Platinum and finally, Ultimate.

We have more than 500 badges available, so no matter what kind of news you’re into, there’s a badge out there for you. Here’s a taste:

Your badges are private by default, but if you want, you can share your badges with your friends. Tell them about your news interests, display your expertise, start a conversation or just plain brag about how well-read you are. You can also add custom sections by hovering on a badge and clicking “add section” to read more about your favorite topics. To get started with badges, visit Google News from a signed-in account with web history enabled and then visit this page on our Help Center for instructions.

This is just the first step—the bronze release, if you will—of Google News badges. Once we see how badges are used and shared, we look forward to taking this feature to the next level.

In the spirit of continually trying to improve Google News, we have heard loud and clear from the many of you who asked us to separate our Sci/Tech section into two distinct sections. We are happy to report that we have now done this for all English editions, with more languages coming soon. We also combined some personalization settings from the “News for you” and News Settings menu into one handy sidebar at the top right corner of the home page, so you can easily tell us what you want to read on your Google News.

We hope you’ll badge up on Google News to keep track of what you’re reading, read more of what you love and share your passions with your friends.

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Submit video topics for mid-2011

Sometime soon I’m planning to record some new webmaster videos. I created a Google Moderator page where you can post video suggestions and vote topics up and down.

Instead of short 1-2 minute video answers to quick questions, I’d like to try something new this time. I’d like to move toward making tutorials about how Google works and–more importantly–why Google works that way. I think videos that dive deeper like this video about robots.txt can be really helpful. So if there’s a meaty topic that you’d like to hear more about, please head over to the Google Moderator page and ask about it!

Just a reminder: please ask your questions on Moderator, not in the comments here. When you suggest a topic on the moderator page, people can vote for the questions and I can see which questions people are most interested in.

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What Do You Love?

A while back, a few of us wanted to make a little tool that we could use to show just about anybody more of what Google makes. That led to some simple ideas, and then a few more ideas and ultimately, to a challenge: how we could connect people to products they might not know about and may find useful, but make the discovery relevant to them and keep it fun.

Playing about with that challenge produced a website—What Do You Love?—that we hope meets at least some of the challenge by demonstrating how different Google products can show you different things about any particular search query. Like always, you’re the judge, so give it a go. Type in something that you love—polar bears, space travel, pickup trucks, Lady Gaga, early Foghat—whatever strikes your fancy (for some reason, the results for cheese always crack us up, so try that if you’re momentarily stumped). No matter what it is, we’ll give you back something that will let you get even more into what you love.

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Seeking the Americas’ brightest young minds for a spot at Zeitgeist Americas 2011

This year, we’re mixing up our annual Zeitgeist conferences with the launch of Young Minds, a competition hosted by youth engagement agency Livity, supported by Google and hosted on YouTube. Starting this week, we’re searching for 12 inspirational young people who are making an impact on their world to attend Zeitgeist Americas 2011—our annual gathering of 400+ businesses and thought leaders from across the continent held each year in Paradise Valley, Ariz.

The winners will be invited to the two-day event, where they’ll take part in a series of tailored master classes hosted by Google and meet some of the most powerful and thought-provoking people on the planet. We want the pioneers, changemakers and leaders of tomorrow to take their place alongside the greatest minds of today and use Zeitgeist as a springboard from which they can continue to do amazing things to make the world a better place.

The Young Minds competition is open to people aged 18-24 from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. For your chance to win a slot at Zeitgeist Americas 2011, before August 25 and upload a video that shows us how you’re making a positive impact on the world.

Update 7/8: Although previously stated that this competition was open to all of the Americas, please note that it is only open to people from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

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“Download map area” added to Labs in Google Maps for Android

One way we bring you new product features is through Google Labs—a collection of fun, experimental features you can turn on if you’re interested in the functionality. In fact, Google Maps itself started as a lab. In addition to our desktop Maps Labs, Google Maps for Android has a few tricks you can try out right from your phone. We’d like to introduce you to one new experimental feature, “Download map area,” but also remind you of two other ones we already have: “Scale bar” and “Measure.”

Download map area
When you’re visiting an unfamiliar location, Google Maps for mobile is great for getting an idea of how close you are to your destination, where streets and landmarks are in relation to each other, or just for getting “un-lost.” But what if you don’t have a data signal, or you’re abroad and don’t have a data plan? We say that if you use Google Maps for mobile, you’ll never need to carry a paper map again. The “Download map area” lab in Google Maps 5.7 for Android is a step in making that statement true even when you’re offline.

Let’s say later you’re visiting Bordeaux during a trip to France. If you were to open Google Maps for mobile and zoom into Bordeaux without data coverage or wifi, you’d see the image on the left:

That’s not particularly useful when you’re trying to find out how close you are to the Cathedrale St. Andre. But a little advance planning and “Download map area” can help. Before you take your trip, while you still have access to WiFi or data coverage, you can open up any Places page in the world, click “More” to get the Place page menu, and download Google’s maps for a 10-mile radius.

The download can take as little as a minute or two. This download stores only the base map tiles and the landmarks on the map, so you still need a data connection to see satellite view and 3D buildings, search for Places and get directions. But we hope the level of detail available will help you find your way!

All your downloaded map areas can be managed in your Google Maps cache settings so you can delete maps you no longer need or if you want to free up storage. After 30 days, all downloaded map areas will be removed from your cache; they can be re-downloaded any time.

Scale bar
Google Maps has approximately 20 different zoom levels that range from a 2,000 mile scale to a 20 foot scale. With finger gestures making it really quick and easy to zoom in and out, sometimes it’s not always clear what zoom level you’re at. What might be just a few streets away can be quite a long walk depending on the scale. To help with this, you can turn on a scale bar, which updates based on your zoom level.

If you ever need to know the distance between San Francisco and New York (about 2602 miles) or between any other two points on the map, the “Measure” lab can help you out. Once it’s enabled, you’ll notice a tape measure icon just above the zoom buttons. After clicking that icon, you’ll be prompted to tap two points on the map and Google Maps will calculate the straight distance between those points (this direct distance is “as the crow flies”).

To access Labs on your phone, press your phone’s menu button once in Google Maps, choose “More” and select Labs. On a tablet, click the menu button in the upper-right corner of Maps. The “Download map area” lab requires Android 2.1+ and the latest version of Google Maps. We look forward to bringing you more experimental features soon and hope you enjoy trying out Labs in Google Maps for Android.

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Google Maps 5.7 for Android introduces Transit Navigation (Beta) and more

Today we’re releasing Google Maps 5.7 for Android. From Bangkok to Baltimore, we’ve added Transit Navigation (Beta), updated access to directions, better suggested search results and a photo viewer to Place pages—all of which can help you whether you’re traveling to an unfamiliar part of town or visiting a city across the world.

Transit Navigation (Beta)
Google Maps Navigation (Beta) currently provides over 12 billion miles of GPS-guided driving and walking directions per year. Now, GPS turn-by-turn (or in this case, stop-by-stop) navigation is available for public transit directions in 400+ cities around the globe with Transit Navigation.

Transit Navigation uses GPS to determine your current location along your route and alerts you when it’s time to get off or make a transfer. This is particularly helpful if you’re in a city where you don’t speak the language and can’t read the route maps or understand the announcements. After starting your trip with Transit Navigation, you can open another application or put your phone away entirely and Google Maps will still display an alert in your notification bar and vibrate your phone when your stop is coming up.

Now you can spend more time enjoying the sights out the window and less time worrying about how many stops are left, where you are along the route or whether you missed your stop. Since Transit Navigation relies on GPS signals, we recommend using this feature for above-ground transit.

Updated Directions
Now that we’ve improved our directions services, we wanted them to be incredibly easy to pull up on your screen. If you select the driving or walking icon and your route is supported by Google Maps Navigation, the Navigation icon will automatically appear so you can get access to step-by-step directions in one click. Note: this change is currently only in place for driving and walking and does not appear for public transit.

We’ve also streamlined how you access directions from within a Place page. Before, clicking directions in a Place page would bring up options for “Driving Navigation,” “Walking Navigation” and “Directions.” Now, you’ll be taken straight to the map and see the new directions box shown above.

Improved Search Suggest
We’ve made two changes to search suggestions that improve their quality and speed. First, we’ve added category icons, so instead of all search suggestions displaying the same icon, the icon next to the listing will reflect the type of result. You’ll see a pin for a Google Places listing, a star for a starred Place or location, a clock for a previously used search term, a person for contacts and a magnifying glass for “anything else.”

Also, any place you got directions to or called directly from its Places page will be included as a suggestion for a relevant search. For example, if you recently received directions to the U.S. Post Office on Wilshire Boulevard, afterward, when you begin a search with [p] or [bou], that U.S. Post Office would appear as a search suggestion.

Photo viewer for Place pages
Since we released business photos for Place pages last October, millions of photos have been added to Place pages around the world. To enable you to view these photos on the run, a slick new photo viewer has been added so you can browse photos while deciding where to go.

To start using Google Maps 5.7 for Android, download the update here. This update requires an Android OS 2.1+ device and works anywhere Google Maps is currently available. Learn more at our help center and have fun exploring, whether it be by car, transit, bike or foot.

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Google Serve 2011: Giving back around the world

Over the last month, more than 7,700 Googlers helped serve their communities across 400 different projects as part of GoogleServe, an employee-driven initiative organized almost entirely by volunteers. Through partnerships with nonprofits, schools and local governments, Googlers from 119 cities in 36 countries helped communities in need with projects ranging from educating youth about online bullying to cleaning up local rivers and parks.

GoogleServe began in 2008 and has become an annual company tradition. Giving back to our communities not only revitalizes and strengthens our connections with the cities and towns in which we live and work, it also brings us closer together as a global team. Each year the event has grown in size and scope and this year’s GoogleServe was our largest yet. Here’s a sampling of some of the projects we participated in this time around:

  • In New York, we led resume writing workshops and provided career coaching to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America members seeking employment.
  • We helped Mountaineering Ireland construct drains in order to maintain a stretch of trail along the Dublin Mountains Way.
  • We facilitated a strategic planning session for staff from the Post Prison Education Program in Seattle.
  • We conducted an online tools workshop for NGOs in Singapore with the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre.
  • We fixed up bikes with Free Ride in Pittsburgh, which will be donated to local nonprofits and residents.
  • At the Punjabi Bagh Central Market area in West Delhi, we cleaned and removed old, decayed posters with the help of “Lets do it Delhi,” an organization which has taken up the initiative to minimise abuse of public property.
  • We provided one-on-one consultations with high potential, low income women starting their own businesses with the Women’s Initiative for Self Employment in San Francisco.
  • We ran a bookmaking workshop for elementary school children with 826LA in Venice, CA.

While GoogleServe is an annual celebration of community service, employees donate both time and money to organizations and causes throughout the year. You can find opportunities to serve your local community at All For Good.

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Beyond PageRank: Graduating to actionable metrics

Like any curious netizen, I have a Google Alert set up to email me whenever my name is mentioned online. Usually I get a slow trickle of my forum posts, blog posts, and tweets. But by far the most popular topic of these alerts over the past couple years has been my off-handed mention that we removed PageRank distribution data from Webmaster Tools in one of our 2009 releases.

The fact that people are still writing about this almost two years later—usually in the context of “Startling news from Susan Moskwa: …”—really drives home how much PageRank has become a go-to statistic for some webmasters. Even the most inexperienced site owners I talk with have often heard about, and want to know more about, PageRank (“PR”) and what it means for their site. However, as I said in my fateful forum post, the Webmaster Central team has been telling webmasters for years that they shouldn’t focus so much on PageRank as a metric for representing the success of one’s website. Today I’d like to explain this position in more detail and give you some relevant, actionable options to fill your time once you stop tracking your PR!

Why PageRank?
In 2008 Udi Manber, VP of engineering at Google, wrote on the Official Google Blog:

“The most famous part of our ranking algorithm is PageRank, an algorithm developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who founded Google. PageRank is still in use today, but it is now a part of a much larger system.”

PageRank may have distinguished Google as a search engine when it was founded in 1998; but given the rate of change Manber describes—launching “about 9 [improvements] per week on the average”—we’ve had a lot of opportunity to augment and refine our ranking systems over the last decade. PageRank is no longer—if it ever was—the be-all and end-all of ranking.

If you look at Google’s Technology Overview, you’ll notice that it calls out relevance as one of the top ingredients in our search results. So why hasn’t as much ink been spilled over relevance as has been over PageRank? I believe it’s because PageRank comes in a number, and relevance doesn’t. Both relevance and PageRank include a lot of complex factors—context, searcher intent, popularity, reliability—but it’s easy to graph your PageRank over time and present it to your CEO in five minutes; not so with relevance. I believe the succinctness of PageRank is why it’s become such a go-to metric for webmasters over the years; but just because something is easy to track doesn’t mean it accurately represents what’s going on on your website.

What do we really want?
I posit that none of us truly care about PageRank as an end goal. PageRank is just a stand-in for what we really want: for our websites to make more money, attract more readers, generate more leads, more newsletter sign-ups, etc. The focus on PageRank as a success metric only works if you assume that a higher PageRank results in better ranking, then assume that that will drive more traffic to your site, then assume that that will lead to more people doing-whatever-you-want-them-to-do on your site. On top of these assumptions, remember that we only update the PageRank displayed on the Google Toolbar a few times a year, and we may lower the PageRankdisplayed for some sites if we believe they’re engaging in spammy practices. So the PR you see publicly is different from the number our algorithm actually uses for ranking. Why bother with a number that’s at best three steps removed from your actual goal, when you could instead directly measure what you want to achieve? Finding metrics that are directly related to your business goals allows you to spend your time furthering those goals.

If I don’t track my PageRank, what should I be tracking?
Take a look at metrics that correspond directly to meaningful gains for your website or business, rather than just focusing on ranking signals. Also consider metrics that are updated daily or weekly, rather than numbers (like PageRank) that only change a few times a year; the latter is far too slow for you to reliably understand which of your changes resulted in the number going up or down (assuming you update your site more than a few times a year). Here are three suggestions to get you started, all of which you can track using services like Google Analytics or Webmaster Tools:

  1. Conversion rate
  2. Bounce rate
  3. Clickthrough rate (CTR)

Conversion rate
A “conversion” is when a visitor does what you want them to do on your website. A conversion might be completing a purchase, signing up for a mailing list, or downloading a white paper. Your conversion rate is the percentage of visitors to your site who convert (perform a conversion). This is a perfect example of a metric that, unlike PageRank, is directly tied to your business goals. When users convert they’re doing something that directly benefits your organization in a measurable way! Whereas your PageRank is both difficult to measure accurately (see above), and can go up or down without having any direct effect on your business.

Bounce rate
A “bounce” is when someone comes to your website and then leaves without visiting any other pages on your site. Your bounce rate is the percentage of visits to your site where the visitor bounces. A high bounce rate may indicate that users don’t find your site compelling, because they come, take a look, and leave directly. Looking at the bounce rates of different pages across your site can help you identify content that’s underperforming and point you to areas of your site that may need work. After all, it doesn’t matter how well your site ranks if most searchers are bouncing off of it as soon as they visit.

Clickthrough rate (CTR)
In the context of organic search results, your clickthrough rate is how often people click on your site out of all the times your site gets shown in search results. A low CTR means that, no matter how well your site is ranking, users aren’t clicking through to it. This may indicate that they don’t think your site will meet their needs, or that some other site looks better. One way to improve your CTR is to look at your site’s titles and snippets in our search results: are they compelling? Do they accurately represent the content of each URL? Do they give searchers a reason to click on them? Here’s some advice for improving your snippets; the HTML suggestions section of Webmaster Tools can also point you to pages that may need help. Again, remember that it doesn’t matter how well your site ranks if searchers don’t want to click on it.

Entire blogs and books have been dedicated to explaining and exploring web metrics, so you’ll excuse me if my explanations just scrape the surface; analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik’s site is a great place to start if you want to dig deeper into these topics. But hopefully I’ve at least convinced you that there are more direct, effective and controllable ways to measure your site’s success than PageRank.

One final note: Some site owners are interested in their site’s PR because people won’t buy links from their site unless they have a high PageRank. Buying or selling links for the purpose of passing PageRank violates our Webmaster Guidelines and is very likely to have negative consequences for your website, so a) I strongly recommend against it, and b) don’t be surprised if we aren’t interested in helping you raise your PageRank or improve your website when this is your stated goal.

We’d love to hear what metrics you’ve found useful and actionable for your website! Feel free to share your success stories with us in the comments here or in our Webmaster Help Forum.

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Evolving the Google design and experience

Starting today, you might begin noticing that things look a little different across Google products. We’re working on a project to bring you a new and improved Google experience, and over the next few months, you’ll continue to see more updates to our look and feel. Even our classic homepage is getting a bit of a makeover:

The way people use and experience the web is evolving, and our goal is to give you a more seamless and consistent online experience—one that works no matter which Google product you’re using or what device you’re using it on. The new Google experience that we’ve begun working toward is founded on three key design principles: focus, elasticity and effortlessness.

  • Focus: Whether you’re searching, emailing or looking for a map, the only thing you should be concerned about is getting what you want. Our job is to provide the tools and features that will get you there quickly and easily. With the design changes in the coming weeks and months, we’re bringing forward the stuff that matters to you and getting all the other clutter out of your way. Even simple changes, like using bolder colors for actionable buttons or hiding navigation buttons until they’re actually needed, can help you better focus on only what you need at the moment.
  • Elasticity: In the early days, there was pretty much just one way to use Google: on a desktop computer with an average-sized monitor. Over a decade later, all it takes is a look around one’s home or office at the various mobile devices, tablets, high-resolution monitors and TVs to see a plethora of ways to access the web. The new design will soon allow you to seamlessly transition from one device to another and have a consistent visual experience. We aim to bring you this flexibility without sacrificing style or usefulness.
  • Effortlessness: Our design philosophy is to combine power with simplicity. We want to keep our look simple and clean, but behind the seemingly simple design, use new technologies like HTML5, WebGL and the latest, fastest browsers to make sure you have all the power of the web behind you.

Constant revision and improvement is part of our overarching philosophy. For example, last year we introduced an updated look and feel to our search results, and if you compare the original Google homepage to today’s version, you’ll see that a makeover every so often can certainly be refreshing:

Starting today and over the course of the next few months, look for a series of design improvements across all our products, including Google Search, Google Maps and Gmail.

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