Google TV – A Slap in the SEO Face

Well this one has been a long time coming.  Thanks to the brilliant minds at Google, WebTV has been resurrected from the ashes, and transformed from surfing on the web over your TV to, well, surfing on the web over your TV.   Except instead of a really crappy web experience on your TV due to design limitations, you’re now going to have a, well, really crappy web experience due to design limitations.  Google is saying otherwise, of course, but that’s because they’re really good at marketing spin…

Is it a TV? Or a Computer?

Google TV will deliver television experiences through a custom “device” that allows you to watch television and simultaneously surf the web through the Chrome OS, and run apps (it’s built on the Android platform).  Oh good.  Millions of people can now be the mayor of their living room…

Forget Winning Hearts And Minds – Think “Owning Minds”

Several months ago, when I visited Google’s San Francisco offices in my latest in-person meeting with our Google AdWords team (no, we’re not special – we just happen to manage over a half million dollars a year in PPC, so they invite us over once in a while to see how they can get more money), one of the people I met with was Pete Merriman, an account exec with the Google TV ads unit.

Mind you that’s not the Google TV unit – instead, it’s the group responsible for getting clients to run ads on REGULAR TV channels. Which in itself means that they’ve been thinking outside the computer, and even outside the mobile phone, to capture as much user data as they can from anywhere they can, for quite a while now.

And all I could think of was – wow – they really want to own the user mindset.  I mean think about it –  If they can tap into the television market, that’s a lot more data to mine.

Google TV – A Whole New Level

Sure, Apple has had Apple TV for a little while now.  Except this is Google we’re talking about.  Not a company keen on innovative design, a company built on mining user data to sell more ads.  And now, a whole lot more…

With this new “device” Google can do what Nielsen could never do.  Instead of just tracking TV view habits and coming out with extrapolated data on viewer eyeballs then selling that data, Google would own it.  They’d going to be able to push their own ads, sell the rights to broadcast on it, the whole nine yards.

Trouble Coming Down The Road

According to the new Google TV marketing site:

It’s an adventure where TV meets web, apps, search, and the world’s creativity.

And that means a whole lot of trouble coming down the road.  For a whole lot of people…

Beyond the Hype – What Google TV Means To Us

Now that the first generation of Google TV is upon us, here’s the reality.  I mean the reality beyond the fact that Google is making a major move to further own user, publisher and advertiser revenue.

Since this is a brand new device, everyone and anyone who wants to publish content for it has to create special Google TV only versions of their web sites.  And the biggest factor is that this is essentially a television replacement.  (Or it’s supposed to be).  So the “monitor” is now across the room.  According to the Google TV optimization guidelines:

When designing for TV screens, you should:

  • Avoid highly saturated and very bright colors.
  • Make UI elements slightly larger, specifically:
    • Keep the sections of the screen over-sized.
    • Add more padding to your elements.
    • Make buttons and other click targets larger.
  • Take advantage of the wide screen.
  • Design for 1280×720 and 1920×1080 resolutions.

More Complex Web Design

The Google TV browser zooms a webpage to fit the width of the screen. So you can design a page for the 720 pixel resolution, and it will work just as well in 1080 pixel resolution. However, if your page uses many images, it’s best to create two separate versions to avoid scaling the images.

Let’s Slap SEO in the Face with Text Issues

Just when you thought all you had to do was deal with colors, resolutions and image issues, Google slaps you upside the face regarding content.

Google TV currently supports only the Droid Sans and Droid Serif font families, but you can use font embedding techniques to create a more customized appearance. However, keep in mind that font embedding, which relies on Flash, will be slower than other methods.

  • Break text into small chunks that can be read at a glance.
  • Keep line length at about 5–7 words per line. Never go shorter than 3 or longer than 12.

That’s insanity of course.  Because the whole idea of a high quality web experience has always been about content that when appropriate, includes lots of depth in text.  Of course, minimalist marketers and designers are going to love this limitation.

Flash?  Seriously?

So they’re saying if you want to use any fonts other than Google’s own fonts, you have to use Flash methods.  And this is where we bring it full circle back to the future of SEO and Google TV.

But What About SEO?

All sorts of major brands are scrambling to create Google TV friendly versions of their sites.  Amazon, Netflix, the NBA, and a host of others are already on board.  That’s all good and fine, but you get the Chrome browser with this thing, so you can surf the web as well. And that’s where all heck breaks out when I think about the issues from an SEO perspective…

How many sites are going to be designed by Flash fanatics who want that visual control, where those sites ultimately can’t be given proper SEO treatment?

Will Google allow people using Google TV to search the regular Google index, and if so, does that mean that if you want your content viewable on a Google TV that you have no choice but to have a Google TV version of the site ready to serve up based on detecting that they’re coming to your site via their Google TV?

Or is Google going to come up with some new proprietary tagging you’ll need to implement that addresses some of these issues? And if this thing really takes off, how many small and mid-size businesses are going to be left in the dust once again?

More Questions Than Answers

I’ve got a host of questions beyond what I’ve mentioned here, but I think a lot of it is going to have to just be a wait-and-see thing.  Because honestly, the information provided so far is mostly marketing hype with some basic, VERY dangerous recommendations for site developers.  And once again, we’re going to need to have to eventually deal with sites that are created without SEO in mind. And sites that will need yet one more custom version, for this new “device”.  Just when I was starting to wrap my head around mobile…
Thanks Google.  For keeping me on my toes.

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