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Click fraud service discovered to be using Google trademark and advertising on YouTube

click-fraudJuly 29, 2014

Online security expert Brian Krebs recently discovered a scam in which a Russian hacker is not only defrauding Google AdWords customers but actually using Google’s trademark, advertising the scam in instructional YouTube videos, and corresponding with customers using Gmail accounts.

The scam is a click fraud service known as GoodGoogle and its aim is to block competitors’ ads and/or run down the budgets of competitors’ ads.

GoodGoogle’s promise

GoodGoogle has drawn many customers into its scam since as early as January of 2012 by offering this promise: “Are you tired of the competition in Google AdWords that take your first position and quality traffic? I will help you get rid once and for all competitors in Google AdWords.”

For an upfront payment in virtual currency, GoodGoogle will block from three to ten competitors ads for 24 hours for $100 each. The price goes down to $80 per ad when the advertiser orders GoodGoogle to block between 15 and 30 ads for up to 24 hours. Or for a flat fee of $1,000, GoodGoogle will block a handful of competitors’ ads indefinitely. Both a la carte and subscriptions are offered. Whoever is running GoodGoogle actually offers a three week warranty.

Krebs reached GoodGoogle via instant message, but said the person answering would not discuss how the product works. Instead he pointed Krebs to a forum where he “could find dozens of happy customers to vouch for the efficacy of the service.”

How the scam has eluded Google’s detection

How has this click fraud service avoided Google’s detection for at least two and a half years? Researcher Nicholas Weaver of the International Computer Science Institute and the University of California at Berkeley speculates that they’ve escaped Google’s anti-fraud systems by using two components: a botnet, which is a private network of computers dedicated to automated clicking, and software that controls the clicking of the bots to make their clicking appear as if it is organic from search results.

Krebs predicted it is only a matter of time before Google shuts down GoodGoogle and locates the individual who is behind it all, since this individual is using Gmail accounts and posting videos to YouTube.

Yahoo’s share of US desktop searches falls below 10 percent

bing-yahooJuly 22, 2014

The gap is widening between Bing and Yahoo, which are the second and third most popular search engines, respectively.

In comScore’s recently released data for June 2014 for desktop searches in the US, Yahoo’s share fell to 9.8 percent, which is its lowest percentage ever. The Yahoo share was expected to fall below 10 percent for the June report, since it fell .1 percent from March 2014 to April 2014 (from 10.1 to 10 percent) in the comScore report.

Mobile searches, which now account for about 30 percent of Internet traffic in the US, are not included in these numbers.

The Search Alliance holds steady, but Bing is growing

Microsoft’s (Bing’s) share grew to 19.2 percent in the June 2014 report. The Bing-Yahoo Search Alliance held at 29 percent from the previous report, which means that Bing appears to have grown at the expense of Yahoo. The combined share of Bing and Yahoo has never risen above 29 percent since the Search Alliance was announced in July 2009.

Things have done a complete 180 for Bing and Yahoo over the last 5 years. In the July 2009 comScore report, Yahoo held a 19.3 percent share while Bing had 8.9 percent. But perhaps in a foreshadowing of what was to come, Yahoo’s share had fallen .3 percent (from 19.6) from the previous month, while Bing’s share grew .5 percent (from 8.9) from that same June 2009 data.

Both Bing and Yahoo are still a distant second and third to search engine giant Google, which still holds the lion’s share of the desktop search market in the US at 67.6 percent.

Where Yahoo DID grow

While Yahoo is losing its share of the desktop search market in the US, it did grow in the area of paid searches for the second quarter of 2014. Yahoo reported a 5 percent increase in paid search revenue from the second quarter of 2013 (up to $403 million from $385 million)

Yahoo is still second in US mobile search share with 9.3 percent, according to StatCounter. Google is a runaway first at 85 percent and Bing is third at 5.5 percent.

Google Mobile Results warns users when sites use Adobe Flash

adobe_flash_logoJuly 15, 2014

As of July 15, Google is presenting warnings to mobile searchers when the results turn up a web site that uses Adobe Flash, which is a multimedia technology not supported by many mobile devices.

Now when Google’s algorithms detect a site that runs using Adobe Flash and those sites turn up in search results on a mobile device such as iOS devices or on Android, the searcher will receive a warning that says: “Uses Flash. May not work on your device.” At the end of the warning, Google provides an option for users to click either “Try anyway” or “Learn more.”

Google rolled out a similar warning in June for faulty redirects, which send mobile searches to the smartphone home page instead of the page they wanted.

What is the alternative to Adobe Flash?

Google encourages web site creators to use HTML5, which is supported by almost any device. That includes both mobile phones and desktop computers. On Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, Software Engineer Keita Oda and Webmaster Trends Analyst Pierre Far announced the development of two resources for webmasters to use in building their sites that will work on all devices: Web Fundamentals and Web Starter Kit.

A responsive web design is recommended

Google recommends a responsive web design to achieve a search-friendly site, and this can be achieved by using Web Fundamentals. It is also recommended that when building a web site, webmasters should not block any Googlebot crawler so that Google’s algorithms can identify how your site’s responsive design is configured and give it the appropriate treatment. In other words, Google’s algorithms need to know that your site is supported by whatever device you are using so that it will not issue a warning when the site comes up in search results.

The Webmaster tools includes a feature known as Fetch as Google that “lets you see a page as Google sees it.” In other words, when you use the Fetch as Google tool, you can test your site to see exactly how it appears to Google’s algorithms and make adjustments if necessary.

Yahoo announces shutdown of user-generated content platforms

writerJuly 8, 2014

As part of a mission to “make the world’s habits more inspiring and entertaining,” Yahoo announced on July 2 that it would be eliminating two user-generated content platforms, Voices and the Contributor Network.

The announcement came via Tumblr from Jay Rossiter, Senior Vice President of the Cloud Platform Group, in an article titled “Furthering Our Focus.” The removing of these two Yahoo features is part of a series of forthcoming changes Rossiter spelled out in the article.

What are Yahoo Voices and the Yahoo Contributor Network?

The Yahoo Contributor Network (contributor.yahoo.com), which started in 2005, is a platform that allows a network of authors to publish articles, videos, images, or audio on any topic they choose. The content published on the Contributor Network is available for viewing by Yahoo’s daily online audience of more than 600 million users. Yahoo Voices became the digital library for the Yahoo Contributor Network.

Yahoo Voices (voices.yahoo.com) began in 2011 as a continuation of a publishing site known as Associated Content, which Yahoo purchased in 2010. At the time, Associated Content was publishing as many as 10,000 articles per week submitted by users.

Victims of Google Panda?

Google’s Panda algorithm, which searches the web for “thin content” or low-quality content sites, is believed to be what motivated Yahoo to remove these platforms. While Yahoo did not specifically point to Panda or discuss how it has impacted Voices and the Contributor Network, the discontinuation of these sites is an indicator that the heyday of user-generated content that is mass-produced has come and gone.

Around the same time that Yahoo purchased Associated Content, Google launched Panda to identify low-quality content sites that were sweeping across the web. Associated Content was hit hard, claiming that two-thirds of its content was affected. Yahoo shut down Associated Content in 2011 and removed about 75,000 of its articles while relocating the remaining content to the newly-created Yahoo Voices to start anew.

Rossiter said in the recent announcement that Voices will shut down on July 31, and the Contributor Network will cease operation sometime in late August.

Google makes voice search easier for Android users

android-phone (Johan Larsson-Flickr)July 1, 2014

Google announced on June 26 that all mobile devices powered by Android will perform searches from Google’s search app or home screen with a mere “OK, Google” voice command.

For instance, if you are using Google’s search app on your Android device and want to check the weather in Los Angeles, just say, “OK, Google, what is the weather in Los Angeles?” and it will display the information you are seeking. Once you have what you need, just tap the back button to return to what you were doing.

Anywhere, anytime

You can use the “Ok, Google” command from anywhere, anytime.

The “Ok, Google” command will work from any screen if you set it up to do so. And it will work even if your mobile device is charging. The user can even use “Ok, Google” if lock screen is enabled.  It won’t work when the screen is turned off, however.

If you are not using Google’s search app or if you are using an app that doesn’t actively support the microphone, “Ok Google” will still work. It will give you the data you are looking for and allow you to perform other actions, such as:

  • Checking email
  • Placing a call
  • Setting an alarm

Not all Android phones will be able to use “Ok, Google” immediately, since Google is rolling it out on a phone by phone. Previously only Moto X Androids supported the “Ok, Google” feature.

To enable ‘Ok, Google’ for use with any screen. . .

If you have an Android device that runs KitKat and you have installed Google’s updated search app (version 3.5), click the Google Settings icon, then follow this path of links: Search & Now, Voice, “OK Google” Detection. Then check the box next to “From any screen.”

You can even train your device to better recognize your voice by turning on your audio history and repeating “Ok Google” three times. When the Google server starts to recognize your voice, it can further personalize your searches.

Experts predict that voice searching will eventually become the main method for users to interact with their Android devices.