Google TV – A Slap in the SEO Face

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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.

Alan Bleiweiss
Alan Bleiweiss is a Forensic SEO audit consultant with audit client sites consisting of upwards of 50 million pages and tens of millions of visitors... Read Full Bio
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  • alxG

    What a vague, strange post. I think your own sentence in the last paragraph actually describes the post itself, “Because honestly, the information provided so far is mostly marketing hype with some basic, VERY dangerous recommendations for site developers.”

    • alanbleiweiss

      @alxG what's vague about my post? Google so far has only put out limited information. The information that I have directly commented on is accurate and my comments on that information are accurate. The questions I ask are valid given that Google has yet to communicate about these issues.

      • Michael Martin

        I would argue against stating Google TV provides a poor web experience as I have gotten an early preview as well many employees of Sony & Qualcomm here in San Diego have been using it their homes for months now – especially when used in tandem with an Android phone.

        As far as SEO affect I think it will closely parallel that for mobile devices in that you must prepare for a different user intent and search habits along with proper device rendering.

        In device rendering I feel Google will be pushing the rel=”alternate” tag for both mobile & TV versions in the upcoming conferences, as they had for nofollow & canonical previously, being a failsafe for these devices.

      • alanbleiweiss


        Thanks for chiming in on this. Of course I was pushing the journalistic envelope when comparing it to WebTV, yet the way Google describes the need to adapt web content sure makes it sound like a lot is going to need to be done. While that's been the case for mobile, this goes in a completely different direction – bigger rather than smaller. How many sites will the average business be able to afford creating?

        I definitely agree with your perspective on search and the new mind model – that's an excellent take on it and when I read that, it made complete sense.

        How do you see the rel=alternate factor play though? I mean – would there be any conflicts with rel=alternate for both mobile and TV? I admit I have yet to research this…

  • Moe Bedard

    My understanding is that this will now be a visual web and a new era that we will have to learn to adapt quickly to. The SEO factor will be the same, but for video. The reality is that there is a lot of crap video and content producers who produce quality GoogleTV will be the pioneers of internet TV.

    In addition, tricks and SEO knowledge will have much less factors in users viewing your channel. Creativity and quality visuals will garnish viewers, links and success.

    I am excited about the opportunities and happy to be pioneer in this new frontier.

    • alanbleiweiss


      I understand the video analogy, however it's different in that Google TV users will have a Chrome browser and access to the entire web. Entire Google TV specific sites are being created. Where I need to get a better understanding is in how those are going to show up in the regular index, and how challenging it will become to optimize entire GTV enabled sites.

  • Hugo

    Think apps more so than websites, Alan.

    SEO for apps is where it will be at IMHO (it's already a nice cottage industry for folks publishing phone apps for the iPhone for example).

    • alanbleiweiss

      that makes sense Hugo. As far as the apps goes. but what of the people who will inevitably use their GTV Chrome browser to surf and search? Google's billing this as a device that includes search as a primary aspect. Surely real world users aren't going to limit themselves to app search

    • Michael Martin

      I think we will be talking more & more about AEO (Application Engine Optimization) in the coming years, especially with a further refined Android Market as it has many more factors of rankings beyond purchase rates of the App Store.

  • Alex Dsouza

    I believe the journal like search engine hires authors to write just for the sake of adding fresh content no matter they make sense or not. Sometimes, the site publishes interesting story while many times it does not.

    @Alan Bleiweiss
    Talking about Google TV optimization? C'mmon, optimization does not work in all Google's products. Do you think Google's TV is made of algorithm or electrical chips and wires? Its time to write something that make sense.

    • alanbleiweiss


      What part about “Chrome Browser” and in Google's own words “It’s an adventure where TV meets web, apps, search, and the world’s creativity” says that search isn't a factor? Please. Enlighten me and our readers.

  • Steve Jobs

    I’d rather not dwell on Google TV optimization, if ever there will be because I believe there won’t be. But in any case, How many people will actually get Google TV? In what countries will it be available? There are still so many questions needed to be answered before thinking of SEO for Google TV.

    • alanbleiweiss

      Yes – still many questions. Maybe it doesn't fly and they quash it. Maybe it does. Time will tell…

  • DocSheldon

    I think your comparison to WebTV is very apt, Alan. And I can agree that it appears to present some real SEO issues at this point.

    But look at the bright side… what do you REALLY think the chances are, that it'll still be around in 6 months? 😉

    • alanbleiweiss


      Given the number of major players that are flocking to it like moths to a light (a myth by the way – moths don't actually fly toward the light, it confuses their directional sense, but for fun, analogous references, it works), I expect a good number of people will buy it. Think Twitter in the early days.

  • ppiklz

    google might just make things work

  • KevinP

    I think your freaking out with little facts or reason. I browse the web on my TV with Opera (via Wii) and it handles the aspect ratios from the web just fine. Most people have wide-screen TV's and computure monitors so don't see what the bid deal is?

    I also feel those companies making a “Google TV version” of the site are doing so because people the organization is already paying people to. Instead of sitting around and do nothing, they have to have little projects to work on to justify them.

    I would be shocked if Google came up with a new index for the TV. I'm assume they could put filters on their index to display sites that meet certain TV criteria, but doubt they would waste the resource of their current index, and all the data that comes with it.

    • alanbleiweiss


      Thanks for the concern over my reactionary state of health. Fortunately, I'm not actually freaking out. It's my job to write about important topics in a way that gets people to think and for dialogue to ensue. So it appears I've succeeded.

      I think they'd come up with a GTV version of the index if GTV ever reaches the level mobile does, though I doubt it will get that big. It is a concept I consider however simply because one of the ways we in our industry can stay on top is to be forward thinking. It doesn't mean I'd act on that thinking without more information, just that I'd be prepared to turn on a dime if needed.

  • Tsetsaf

    This entire article presumes that Google will be able to create a meaningful market niche. If there is one thing history has shown it is that Google is horrible at marketing anything. Apple tried the TV deal and made little headway, Microsoft too. Google will go nowhere with this whole thing because they miss the boat on customer service. Sure tech savvy folks at Qualcomm in San Diego might get it but the average American can barely program a Tivo or VCR… good luck.

  • Tony

    The privacy concerns are valid. The design concerns are not. The failure of web designers and software engineers to address readability issues of vision impaired people – and eyestrain generally – is mind boggling. Tiny fonts are annoying as heck. If the merging of television and internet results in websites becoming bubbly and cartoonish, that's a small compromise for increased readability. Besides, that is Web 2.0. The crisp layout of art and fashion magazines just is not compatible with emissive displays.

  • pavlicko

    I agree with Hugo and Martin on this. I also see a big bump in display advertising when this launches – along with a giant increase in display advertising CPM, depending on how many people sign on for this.

    If Google's smart, they'll find a way to subsidize the cost of the set top box – the current $299 price point is too high, IMO.

    Regarding the flash aspect, it makes perfect sense. Flash is also setup for TV delivery without too much extra work – and font embedding doesn't make that big a difference in most cases, especially over high speed internet. I doubt that we'll see the return of all flash sites though.

  • Stephen Cronin

    keep in mind that font embedding, which relies on Flash, will be slower than other methods

    Umm, font embedding doesn't rely on Flash…

    You may be thinking of text replacement techniques such as sIFR, which does use Flash, but that's so 2008-ish…

    Font embedding is when the font file is downloaded to the browser via the @font-face CSS construct. It might add one more http request and an extra 20KB or 30KB to the page, but that's less than an image in most cases.

    • alanbleiweiss


      Actually that's a direct quote from Google TV's developer page. Personally I've got no clue about font embedding as I'm not a developer or designer.