May has arrived. And in many parts of the U.S. — including HubSpot’s hometown of Boston — that means it’s the season for sunshine, a countdown to summer, and getting used to a major update by Google …
And for Google, the weeks leading up to May were, well, beaming. It wasn’t a tremendously busy month for the search engine giant in terms of announcement volume, but something major did happen: A new Gmail was announced.
On top of that, a new natural language processing (NLP) tool was unveiled, allowing users to “talk” to Google’s virtual library of 100,000 books. And finally, a new initiative was launched to help publishers make up for revenue loss caused by blanket ad-blockers.
We’ve put together another list of the major highlights from Google — this time, for the month of April. Read on for the full recap.
April News About Google
1. There’s a Whole New Gmail
On April 25, Gmail Product Manager Matthew Izatt penned an official blog post announcing a whole new version of Google’s email client. The changes would be fully rolled out within a few weeks, he wrote, but could be taken for a test drive by personal Gmail users immediately by selecting “Try the new Gmail” in their settings.
For those who use Gmail for the workplace, the new Gmail experience is only available through the G Suite Early Adopter Program (EAP) and must be enabled by an administrator.
For Personal Gmail Users
In Izatt’s announcement, one of the first headlines reads, “Do more without leaving your inbox.” That ongoing idea and theme, as it were — to keep users within a Google product instead of forcing them to go elsewhere to accomplish a task or seek information — seems to generally align with many of the changes Google has made over time.
Take the featured snippet, for example, and the entire idea of voice search. These features were designed to help users discover an answer to their questions without having to visit numerous site to find the information they want — or without having to click on any website at all. Instead, the answer appears in a Knowledge Card or is spoken through a smart speaker.
Now, Gmail is moving in a similar direction, mostly by allowing users to accomplish more email-related tasks within their inboxes.
One way of doing that is by introducing the snooze feature, which allows you to set a reminder about an email for a date and time of your choice — while also marking it as “read” and preventing it from being added to a growing queue of unread, increasingly neglected emails piling up in your inbox. (Don’t worry — we’ve all been there.)
But even if you do let those unread emails pile up, the new Gmail also comes with a “nudge” feature that lets you know when it might be time to respond.
And finally, among other “do things quickly and natively” features, the new experience also comes equipped with “Smart Reply” enabled for desktop: a previously mobile-only feature that uses artificial intelligence to determine the nature of the email and provide pre-determined quick responses that can be automatically composed and sent.
From what we have seen, the new Gmail experience for workplace accounts doesn’t contain much that’s different from the new personal use case — though it is positioned somewhat differently in a separate blog post, replete with this timely reminder:
” … we do not scan Gmail for the purposes of targeting ads, and there are no ads shown in Gmail for G Suite customers.”
The professional, G Suite version will also come with an option to work within in Gmail while offline, by allowing users to search for emails, compose or delete them even without an internet connection. These capabilities, the announcement reads, will be available “in coming weeks.”
Google has been moving in the “do more without leaving Gmail” direction for some time now. One of its first features within this realm was the introduction of the easy unsubscribe button in 2014 that allows users to remove themselves from email subscriptions without having to navigate elsewhere.
A similar feature has been introduced in this new experience, in which users will receive suggestions on which email subscriptions to forego based on such messages that they might not be engaging with.
But in tune with the aforementioned reminder that Gmail does not scan email content for advertising purposes, data security seemed to make its way into some of these features — though how long ago they were conceptualized isn’t clear.
One such feature is “confidential mode,” which lets users remove any recipient’s ability to forward, copy, download, or print a message — which is particularly helpful when transmitting things like credit reports or tax returns.
The confidentiality feature also allows users to assign an expiration date to such sensitive emails, which disallows anyone from accessing them after a certain date and time.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see more privacy-related features coming to Gmail in the near future, especially given recent events concerning personal data.
2. Machine Learning by Way of Books
Once in a while, we’ll come across a new tech initiative that not only has the potential to be helpful, but is also just plain cool. Google’s new “Talk to Books” feature is one of them.
Conversational marketing is one of those next-big-things on the tech frontier that we’re always keeping our eyes on. It has implications for AI, machine learning, and the way users interact with brands.
A big part of the science behind that is the concept of natural language processing (NLP), which Google has paired with machine learning to create Talk to Books. When the user enters search criteria, this program searches 100,000 books to find a sentence that would that would likely follow.
Here’s what it looks like:
A perfect science, it is not yet quite. But it’s fun to play with, and an interesting exercise in natural language processing: one that could encourage users to discover and look into new books.
And as Google itself points out, Talk to Books isn’t meant to be a replacement or alternative search engine. Rather, it says on a “Semantic Experiences” page, “it’s simply a demonstration of research that enables an AI to find statements that look like probable responses to your input rather than a finely polished tool that would take into account the wide range of standard quality signals.
It continues: “You may need to play around with it to get the most out of it.”
We know what we’ll be doing next time we’re stuck in a waiting room.
3. A New Answer to Ad Blockers
In June 2017, Google announced that it would be penalizing sites that contained what it called intrusive ads: those that loudly start playing audio or feature a countdown before you can actually access the content you visited the site to see, for example.
By doing so, the company hoped, users would feel less motivated to apply blanket ad blockers to their browsers that suppress all advertisements — even those that aren’t intrusive, or that news sites depend on for revenue.
Google says it’s taken that idea a step further — not only by discouraging the display of intrusive ads in the first place, but also by letting users with ad blockers know that the site they’ve visited has a “good” ad experience.
The reasoning behind this, the company says in its AdSense blog, is that publishers with non-intrusive ads that satisfy Google’s better ads requirements are still losing revenue, due in large part to such ad blockers.
“When people encounter annoying ads, and then decide to block all ads,” the statement writes, “it cuts off revenue for the sites you actually find useful.”
That’s why Google introduced Funding Choices last year, which are tools (still in beta) made available to advertisers around the same time these new penalties were announced. The feature displays text to ad-blocking users that looks like this, which publishers can customize according to the copy they wish to use:
Funding Choices displays boxes like the gray one above, allowing website visitors to opt for seeing the non-intrusive adds on the site or choose another method of funding — like buying an ad-removal pass through Google Contributor.
(If that sounds familiar, many music-streaming sites like Spotify and Pandora provide similar ad-free premium membership options.)
Participating sites can choose their own pricing methods for ad-removal passes.
And even though Funding Choices is still in beta, Google says that since its inception, it’s been seen by more 4.5 million visitors in the last month alone — who did select to see options and leading to what the company estimates to be “over 90 million additional paying page views for those sites.”
And given this success, Google says it will bring Funding Choices to 31 additional countries — the full list can be seen here.
4. More Additions to the Featured Snippet
Toward the end of April, marketer David Gray pointed out on Twitter that he had noticed something new within featured snippets: sections within the knowledge card, depending on the query, that went far beyond a simple answer or definition.
— David Gray (@iamdavidgray)
April 28, 2018
His query, “garage conversion,” yielded more than just a featured snippet with an explanation of what such a project entails. It went on to include information about the cost of a garage conversion, as well as logistical and legal items like the physical construction and permitting issues.
This expanded information within the knowledge card might be one form of Google’s recent announcement of plans to display double featured snippets, in order to better address the nuances of queries that could have multiple meanings.
At the moment, this expanded knowledge card only seems to appear on mobile search engine results pages (SERPs). And when I tried this query myself, it yielded no featured snippet at all, suggesting that it’s being tested for a subset of users.
However, when I tried a query in a similar vein — “how to build a shed” — I did receive single-tap options for different categories of shed-building according to things like size and budget.
Until Next Month
As always, we’re watching all things Google. We’ll continue to pick out top news items, algorithm updates, and trends that can aid your marketing.
And until June arrives — have a great May.
Featured image credit: Google