Proposed EU consumer rules to force ‘marketplaces’ to reveal ‘default ranking criteria’

Any internet company or platform that collects user data will reportedly come under the jurisdiction of new European Commission consumer protection rules. This is part of a forthcoming “major overhaul of EU consumer rules.”
One aim of the revision is to create more transparency for consumers around free internet services, which is parallel to what’s required under the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The new consumer rules will also require “online marketplaces to inform consumers about how they rank different search results” — in other words, why results are presented in a specific order.
Here, “marketplace” would include Amazon, eBay and others that sell a range of products they don’t manufacture themselves. Marketplaces will also need to inform consumers whether the product being purchased is coming from the marketplace provider itself or a third-party seller on the platform — answering the question: What is the product’s source?
There’s an analogous effort in Europe to get search engines and big platforms

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Google stops showing zero search results for time, calculations & conversions

Google has stopped showing zero search results, i.e., only the answer, followed by a button to “show all results” for searches related to time, calculations and conversions. The blue search results links are now back.
Google began this global experiment a week ago today and has now concluded that “the condensed view experiment should stop for now.”
Danny Sullivan, Google’s search liaison, wrote on Twitter:
We have enough data and feedback — which is appreciated — to conclude that the condensed view experiment should stop for now. The team will look at improving when and how it appears.
Here is what this “condensed view” looked like:

Google said originally this was only an experiment but one that was visible globally to all searchers. Google said it will look at the feedback and see if there are ways to improve how it appears.
Here is Sullivan’s tweet about the test:

Update! We have enough data and feedback — which is appreciated — to conclude that

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Google working to integrate AMP benefits into future open web standards

Google continues to make major investments in improving the performance of and user experience on the web. This has been primarily through the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) framework, which was first launched in 2015 and has been aggressively developed, promoted, and integrated into publishing platforms ever since.
Initially viewed as another proprietary format (even though it is open source), in addition to only providing a limited feature set at launch, the AMP framework has struggled with widespread adoption. Support for AMP across the entire web currently stands at less than .1%.
However, sites that have adopted AMP have seen encouraging gains in site performance and conversions (which presumes a correlating better site user experience). These and other noted benefits have led Google to begin working toward taking the technologies utilized by AMP and folding them into open web standards.
From the announcement today:
“The standardization work motivated by AMP is well under way through various WICG projects. Google’s goal is to

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Study: 80% of Google Home results come from snippets

Digital agency ROAST has released a Voice Search Ranking Report (registration required), which seeks to categorize and understand how Google processes and responds to voice queries. It also tries to determine when Google Home uses featured snippets/Answer Box results and when it does not.
The company used keyword analytics to compile a list of “616 key phrases in the UK featuring snippet answer boxes.” It then determined the top phrases by query volume across a range of verticals (e.g., medical, retail, travel, finance). The tests were run in November and compared Google Home and traditional search results.
The study sought to answer the following questions:

How many of the key phrases were answered [on Google Home]?
Do the answers given match the answer boxes’ results?
Which key phrases prompt Google not to user answer boxes?
Can we compare visibility on voice search to answer boxes? Is there a difference?

In the majority of cases, the Google Home result mirrored the snippet/Answer Box, according to the

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Survey: Smart speaker ownership steals time from smartphones, TV, radio

In a follow-up to mid-2017 research on US smart speaker ownership, NPR and Edison Research have released new findings indicating that nearly 40 million Americans now own the devices. That number is roughly double what it was in July 2017 and shows the impact of 2017 holiday sales on the market.
The new survey was conducted in two parts, online and by telephone, in November and then in late December. It reflects that satisfaction with these devices is high, and people are using them more frequently and gradually expanding the use cases. Another striking finding is that smart speaker ownership is impacting (read: decreasing) usage of other media and devices.

As one might expect, smart speakers tend to be placed in the living room and then the kitchen. Other research found that smart speaker ownership triggered smart home appliance and fixture purchases. In the NPR survey, a significant percentage (31 percent) of owners reported that they had “controlled household devices with

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Google says Assistant now on more than 400 million devices

Google said in a blog post this morning, “The [Google] Assistant is now available on more than 400 million devices.” When Google says “devices” it’s including Android smartphones, tablets, TVs, headphones . . . and Google Home smart speakers.
What we don’t get from the post is how many Google Home, Mini and Max speakers were sold in 2017. Four hundred million is a massive number but it’s going to be mostly Android smartphones. If Google were really psyched about the Home figures it would have called them out specifically.
We can make a crude estimate of how many Google Home devices there are in US households. Based on a review of data from NPR, Strategy Analytics and Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, it appears that Google Home has roughly a 25 percent share of the US smart speaker market. Specifically, Strategy Analytics estimated that Google’s share of Q4 smart speaker sales was 24 percent.
Walker Sands (“Future of Retail 2017“),

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Google again showing third-party reviews in local results

Google is integrating third-party reviews into the Knowledge Graph for hotels. It apparently has been happening since 2016 and is entirely opt-in for the provider.
Google works directly with the third-party review source (e.g., TripAdvisor) to integrate the content. In the example below, TripAdvisor reviews for Southern California hotel Terranea are available under the “view Google reviews” link in the Knowledge Panel.

Google got into trouble roughly seven years ago for “scraping” and incorporating third-party review content from sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp into Google Places without permission. Yelp saw the move as a kind of antitrust “extortion” and mounted a vigorous campaign against it.
One of the provisions of Google’s 2012 antitrust settlement with the FTC was that the company would allow publishers to block Google from including third-party reviews in “vertical search offerings” without their being excluded from the general index. According to the FTC statement announcing the settlement:
Google also has promised to provide all websites the option to

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Have a question about Will Ferrell? Google may show you a video response directly from him

Curious if Will Ferrell can actually play the drums? Or if Tracee Ellis Ross can sing? Now, when you ask Google a question about a specific celebrity, you may get a self-recorded video from them answering your question.
“When you search for your favorite personalities, whether they’re rising stars or well-known celebs, their answers will appear in the form of selfie-style videos with a uniquely personal, authentic and delightful touch,” according to Google’s The Keyword blog.
Google has taken the most often asked questions about a select number of celebrities and had the celebrities record their answer so that they can now be served up for mobile searches related to the query.
The new feature is currently only available in the US and only works on mobile. It also applies to a very select list of well-known personalities. Google says it is piloting the feature with self-recorded video answers from the following list of celebrities:

Priyanka Chopra
Will Ferrell
Tracee Ellis Ross
Gina Rodriguez
Kenan

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Google brings local lead generation to Google Assistant and Google Home

Google is bringing new forms of local search to the Google Assistant and Google Home. The company announced it’s working with local home service providers “like HomeAdvisor and Porch.”
On any platform where Google Assistant is available, users will be able to ask for contractors (e.g., “Ok Google find me a plumber”). That initiates a structured interaction which generates a lead or contact with a local service provider.
In the case of IAC-owned HomeAdvisor, which now also owns Angie’s List, users can ask to be connected by phone at the end of the process to a contractor or receive a list of relevant, pre-screened contractors. The following graphic depicts part of the user experience and the structured Q&A that’s used to refine the lead.
This is a highly structured local search and lead-generation experience that will bypass conventional search results (i.e., business listings). Google said the new functionality would be rolling out in the next week or so.

Google itself offers local lead generation for contractors

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Google adds a donate button directly into search for US-based nonprofits

As we near the holidays, Google is making it easier to support your favorite nonprofit organization by adding a donate button directly in search.
The new feature was announced yesterday. Google says a number of US-based nonprofits now have the “Donate” option available so that when you search for organizations like Direct Relief, you’ll be able to make a donation straight from the search results page.
In the example above, the screen shot to the right is the organic result that appears with the new “Donate” button after scrolling past the ads that appear in the screenshot shown on the left.
Google says that when you tap the donate button, “… you’ll see an easy donation flow that lets you give to your favorite organization as easily as you can look up its history, phone number, or website.”
The organizations currently using the donate button represent a variety of causes and locations across the US. According to Google, they were able

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