Monday, October 31, 2011
We can expect a launch of the Google music store by mid-November at the latest, according to The Wall Street Journal, who cites multiple sources familiar with the matter. The music store won't just be integrated with the Google Music (Beta) service, however. It will also be deeply ingrained into the Google+ social network.
Google+ users will be able to share songs via the social network. Their friends can then listen to the song completely one time. Afterward, they will be given the option to buy the track, presumably for the standard $0.99 figure.
However, at the time of launch, Google will likely have a limited selection of music. While it's probable that an official deal with EMI Group will be complete prior to launch, it's uncertain whether Universal Music Group will officially license to Google in time. Additionally, both Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment have yet to reach a satisfactory point in negotiations with Google.
As these four music companies hold the rights to 87 percent of label-published music, winning these partnerships is important. However, Google is struggling with both Warner and Sony; Warner says the Google deal simply isn't profitable enough while Sony fears potential piracy due to the "music locker" concept. (The music locker would match uploaded songs with songs in Google's official store, allowing users to play back a higher quality version of said song than the version the user uploaded.)
Independent labels seem more willing to join with Google. Two groups that represent smaller labels are also in negotiation with Google, according to sources familiar with the matter.
While Google has yet to make an official announcement of the music store, multiple label executives as well as others familiar with the matter have given news of Google's license negotiations. These licensing deals were assumed to be a part of the Google Music (Beta) program, and were set as a way to both open an MP3 store and establish an online music locker.
Google had previously attempted to open a music locker, without success, largely due to concerns over potential piracy. Given the ongoing struggle between Google and music labels (largely centered around YouTube), it's unsurprising that we see some friction here.
However, the industry climate is changing. Similar music services are now being launched by Apple ("iCloud") and Amazon ("Cloud Drive"). Additionally, Facebook's ventures into music with Spotify have shown high levels of interest in socially-driven music; with three million Facebook users registered for the Spotify cloud-based music subscription service. In this cloudy climate, labels are far more likely to partner with Google – assuming Google's offer is lucrative enough.
Paid search or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can yield substantial returns on investment, but also needs careful control to keep budgets in check.
To make sure you maximize your ROI but minimize your risk, consider the following.
Here are a few things to bear in mind from the outset - and to make sure your campaign is built on a firm base.
1. Know Your Sector
If this is a client, make sure you understand their business as much as possible. Maybe even suggest going through a company training or induction program to quickly get you up to speed.
Check what your competitors, partners, suppliers and customers are doing, and adjust your bids accordingly. Keep a watchful eye on competitors bidding on your brand name and avoid losing potential customers.
2. Start Small, Scale Up
Identify a number of target keyword areas and bid across these. But don’t spread you budget too thin, start off slowly with a restricted campaign and then scale it up.
This helps to test the water across a variety of brand names, descriptive terms and competitive keywords to see which perform best.
3. Measure, Measure, Measure
It’s amazing how many campaigns I’ve seen which have failed to setup basic conversion tracking.
Make sure you put effort into getting this correct from the start. That way you can have a long-term approach, where you can learn average conversion rates and revenues, allowing you to estimate the performance of future keyword bids.
4. Include Plurals
Your PPC platform of choice may automatically account for differing singular and plural forms of keywords, but double-check this.
If not, test which performs better - singulars or plurals - and adjust your bids and ad copy accordingly.
5. Be Logical
The more logical you are in your approach to your campaign, the easier it will be to see what's working.
Give your bids time to come good, as early poor performance may average out over time - but don't send good money after bad. Make sure you use a logical campaign naming structure and organization too, that way it makes it easier if someone else has to help out with managing the campaign.
Managing Your Bids
Keep your campaign in close check and you can make sure it is up to date and giving you the ROI you need.
6. Know Your Target CPA
Depending on your PPC platform, budgets may be set as maximums, averages or some other target figure.
Know how to set yours at a level that suits your overall budget, and make sure you are achieving your target ROI. If you know your average customer value and target CPA’s you can then find the optimum budget to maximize revenue and profit from your campaign.
7. Be Pragmatic
It is easy to expect a massive ROI when you appear up top on a competitive search term, but be realistic.
Not everyone will click your ad, and not everyone who does will make a purchase. As long as your ROI remains positive, that's the main thing. Just make sure you learn from your mistakes and keep things improving.
8. Use Google’s Tools
Google’s tools have improved greatly over the last couple of years. And bidding tools such as Conversion Optimiser can be a great way of ensuring you maximize the performance of a campaign by focusing on bidding for high-quality, converting clicks – as opposed to traffic volume.
9. Use the Search Query Report
Most PPC platforms will offer in-built data reporting, but be sure you can segment paid search traffic in your website's analytics to show the exact keywords which are sending you traffic.
You can then measure keyword performance and by using the AdWords search query report you can find converting long-tail keyword variations to add to your campaign – and likewise, non-converting keywords to add as negative matches.
10. Learn to Adapt and Keep Testing
There are countless other PPC marketers out there with their own campaigns.
If somebody starts fiercely bidding on your preferred keywords to the point that it’s not profitable, refocus your attention and avoid a bidding war. And with all campaigns, keep testing. Small increases to CTR, quality scores and conversion rates can have a huge impact to a campaigns overall performance.
Optimize Your Ad Copy
Keep your message clear and compelling, and your ad revenues should rise accordingly. PPC ads are brief, so avoid confusion as much as possible.
11. Tweak Your Titles
Just like on-page headlines, the titles of your ads are the most eye-catching elements.
Marketers will tell you to "make them pop", so be concise but highlight your unique selling point or special offer.
12. Your Body is a Temple
Ensure your body text is concise, relevant to the terms you are bidding on, and highlights your USP or special offer.
Avoid clichéd advertising phrases and focus on clear descriptions - words are at a premium, so make them count.
13. Be the Strongest Link
Links matter. The URL of your ad is likely to appear in the results, so avoid meaningless numerical page addresses and get those keywords highlighted in bold.
A keyword-optimized URL helps to demonstrate relevancy and could secure more traffic as a result.
14. Identify Your MVPs
The five or ten best performing keywords or ads in your campaign are your most valuable players.
Keep them at the center of your plan of attack, and arrange your broader paid search activities around them. The 80/20 rule is often very true in search campaigns, so find out where your converting traffic comes and ensure you get everything you can out of those keywords and ad variations.
15. Discover the Niches
In the most crowded of PPC markets, there are effective key terms that have been overlooked.
Be original in your bids and you may manage to stumble upon one of these neglected goldmines.
Target Your Ads
Targeting ads is different from optimizing the ad copy itself. Optimization is about driving click-through rates whatever your audience; targeting is about knowing who your customers are, and writing with them in mind.
16. Write for an Age Group
Age and gender are classics of demographic targeting, and are as relevant as ever.
Write for your chosen target demographic and you raise the perceived relevance of your product for those individuals.
17. Judge Your Prestige Level
In advertising copywriting, there's a world of difference between 'value for money' and 'cheap'.
Know which description suits the prestige level of your product, and stick to it for on-message ad copy.
18. Mind Your Surroundings
Knowing your local customer base is important even on the World Wide Web.
Tweak your ad copy for geographical markets, and target those regions in your campaign settings.
19. Vary Your Calls to Action
Just as you target different key phrases, be sure to vary your ad copy accordingly.
A selection of different ad texts gives you the opportunity to see what works for a given bid term.
20. Research the PPC Markets
Targeting does not have to take place within a single campaign.
Different PPC platforms may reach different or specialized audiences; place ads on the most appropriate ad network.
The Next Level
Once you've mastered the basics, it's time to get serious. Here are five of the things that professional paid search campaign managers deal with on a daily basis.
21. Improve Your Landing Page Tests
Learn how to conduct detailed A/B and MANOVA tests, allowing you to tweak two or more variables in your landing pages ad copy.
Quantifiable results will help you to make more informed decisions about campaign changes, so use Website Optimiser and measure every small change to improve performance. Make sure you produce relevant landing pages to support your ads. This way, you can define funnels that guide individuals from being searchers, to prospects, to converting customers.
22. Find Negative Keywords Via Social Media Monitoring
Set up a social media monitoring service, Google Alerts is fine, and track which keywords are listed alongside your top keywords and brand terms.
This way, you can make sure that anything irrelevant, which you may not have thought of previously, can be blocked using negative matches.
23. Go Global
Target the same keywords in your PPC campaigns as in your on-page optimization and inbound link-building efforts.
This builds on the tip above to help demonstrate to your prospects that the page is tailored to their needs.
24. Schedule Your Campaigns
Schedule new ads for specific dates to make the most of seasonal opportunities and consider budget changes to reflect an increase in search demand and buying intent.
This can also help to keep your campaigns moving when you are out of the office yourself.
25. Keep Things Moving
However well your campaign is performing, there are new audiences to reach and better keywords to bid on.
Be a leader, not a follower, and drive your campaign to the next level.
Web developers are great: without them, we wouldn't have, well… the web! But unfortunately, a lot of developers can have a bit of a blind-spot when it comes to SEO. While some on-site SEO features almost always come as standard now (ability to edit meta tags, image alt properties, etc.), there are some important areas under the hood that often get missed. Let's have a look…
Analytics (Google or Otherwise)
A decent analytics package is essential for any web marketing effort, both for measuring results and gaining insight into how your site is being found and used. Plus, as any marketeer knows, access to historical data from a site at the beginning of a campaign is almost priceless. And yet, it's amazing how many sites, big and small, are launched without analytics. Get it on there from the get go and get it set up properly!
A semantic URL is essentially an address for a page that is human-readable and conveys useful information. An example for a page on "blue widgets" would be:
However, all too often we see pages with addresses such as this:
The reason we see this latter version so often is that it is much easier to implement. The trouble is that it's a disaster for SEO! Although on-page factors are not that important compared to link building, by and large, having keywords in the URL is the single most important part of on-page optimization.
Make sure your developer implements semantic URLs on your site and gives you control over each page's URL – no excuses! Although you don't get penalized for using a non-semantic URL structure, you're missing out on a big opportunity… and changing it after the site has gone live can be a big headache.
Sitemaps don't have a great impact unless your site is on the large side, but they're easy to set up and cost nothing, so are always worth using. It's not a problem to generate these manually (there are several free tools for doing this), but if your site is dynamic or updated often, this can become a real pain pretty quickly.
It's much better for the site's CMS to update the site map automatically whenever the site changes. A lot of packages will do this natively or with the aid of a plugin, but if you're having a custom CMS written, make sure the developer includes this facility.
If you have a large site, Google will almost never index your entire site: they have a percentage cap of the number of your pages that they will keep in the index. Now, discussing how much of the site they decide to index and upon which pages they bestow the honor of indexation is a post for another time, but suffice to say for now that although you definitely can't tell Google which pages to index, you cantell them which pages you definitely don't want indexed. You do this with this meta tag in the head of the page:
- [meta name="robots" content="noindex,follow" /]
Again, if you've got a small or static site, this isn't a problem to set up manually, but for larger sites you'll need to be able to control this through the CMS. You may even want to develop a strategy for noindexing pages automatically – if they're not getting search traffic anyway, for example. Ideally, yes, we'd like never to have to do this kind of thing, but if Google are only going to index a part of your site anyway, you'd better make sure it's the part that counts.
Honestly, could this be more important? Unfortunately, a lot of developers don't think so.
If you're migrating from an old site, making sure that pages from the old version are redirected to the new is vital (assuming that the page names or URL structure has changed), but it's also important that your new CMS creates 301s automatically if you remove or change the URL of any page – something that you'll inevitably end up doing if you work actively on your site.
Again, some CMSs do this natively or through plugins, but many don't. If you're having something custom written or your developer is using something off the shelf, make sure it handles 301s for changed pages properly.
Sorting out canonicalization of URLs from the start is another must – you don't want Google to see duplicate content on your site even for an instant, or it'll be reminding you of it through Webmaster Tools for evermore.
The first step is www versus non-www canonicalization. From an SEO perspective, it doesn't matter which you choose, but you have to choose one and stick to it. Implementing it involves just a simple 301 redirect rule and is easy for your developer to do.
The second step is making sure that your CMS, e-commerce package or other platform isn't generating multiple URLs for each page, and isn't adding a lot of extraneous data to URLs. This might sound like a no-brainer, but Magento, for example, makes each page available by three different URLs by default. Checking to see if you have this problem is relatively straightforward – use a tool such as Xenu's Link Sleuth(yes, it's a crazy site) to check the number of pages on your site. If it's way higher than you were expecting, you've got a problem. If you've not fixed this problem before the site goes live, that means a lot of 301 redirects to set up as you rationalise the URL structure.
Lastly, implement the canonical tag itself. At it's most basic level, this tag tells Google what the definitive URL of a page should be. If your CMS definitely isn't generating multiple URLs per page, it is still worth implementing, as it will help prevent potential problems caused by incoming links with extra URL data in them (e.g., tracking tags from mailing list software, etc.). The canonical tag is dead easy to implement and should appear on every page. It looks like this:
- [link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page.html" /]
Google is expanding the remit of this humble tag over time as well, so it's worth keeping an eye on what you can and should be doing with it – it all helps with Google's indexation of your site.
If all that sounds pretty technical… well, it is. Luckily, you don't need to understand how to do it – you just need to ask your developer to look after it for you. If they're not already on the ball with site speed, a number of free tools will audit a site's performance and make recommendations for improvement, such as the Google's Page Speed suite. You may also want to ask your developer about using a content delivery network such as CloudFlare. Going to town on your site's speed really can make a surprisingly big difference!
Making sure that your developer gets these basics sorted right from the beginning will get your on-site SEO running like clockwork, leaving you free to concentrate on building links and great content. None of them are optional!
Friday, October 28, 2011
With over a billion pageviews per day, Google Image Search can be an excellent source of traffic. Of course, one has to ask themselves whether this traffic is beneficial or not and if so, then followup with an understanding of how to get their images to rank.
Why Would You Want To Rank On Image Search?
For some businesses, ranking for their images would mean nothing more than taking on the inconvenience of having to monitor those results for theft. For others it's a great source of traffic and potential leads. For yourself, the first question to answer is: "is ranking your images beneficial to your bottom line?"
A lawyer for example would likely not want their images ranking for image search. For said lawyer, it is virtually inconceivable that they would attract converting traffic from images however because they have to set an example on copy and content ownership, they would have to take the time to insure that their images aren't taken. Ranking for images then would produce a net negative ROI as they won't reap any benefits yet have to expend resources insuring that their images aren't used elsewhere.
On the other hand, there are many sites/companies who do benefit from ranking their images. A few examples here are:
- Photographers: While photographers have rightfully complained about having their work taken and used without permission, ranking images is an opportunity to get their craft in from of potential buyers.
- Image Sales Sites: For sites that sell images it's obviously beneficial to get those images in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
- Ad Driven Sites: I learned this lesson from my eldest son who built himself a Pokemon site at 9 years old. After he asked me how he could make it generate money we dropped some AdSense on it. While the vast majority of his traffic came from image search he quickly surpassed the ad revenue generated from the Beanstalk site and attained upwards of 5,000 unique visits per day.
So think to yourself: How can I benefit from image search? What types of image-based phrases would I benefit from rankings for? And of course, how can I monetize those rankings? Once you've got these determined, it's time to get them optimized.
Optimizing Your Images For Rankings
Before we delve into optimizing the images for rankings, let's first get them optimized for their size (which, one could well argue, will impact their rankings and even the rankings of your site as a whole). There are a variety of easy-to-use tools on the web to help you with this process. You can find a few of the better ones listed by Bryan Eisenberg on the recently updated Website Testing Tools site.
Now that you've optimized your images for size, improving their load times and reducing their impact on your server, it's time to try to get them displayed more often. There are a few core areas that need to be directly optimized, let's discuss them one by one.
Image Name: After downloading images from your digital camera you'll likely end up with them alpha-numerically named with little to identify their contents. This would see them uploaded to and references from your hosting environment with location such as www.yourdomain.com/images/dsc000043.jpg. All this location would really tell Google is that it's an image. If you had an image on, say, Google image search you'd do well to place it to that location as www.yourdomain.com/images/google-image-search.jpg. With this you've described the image and named it in the URL.
Alt Tags: Adding alt tags to your images serves two optimization functions. The first is to associate the image directly with a set of text. The second is to give the engines a set of information to use as quasi-anchor text if the image is used as a link.
Now let's discuss a couple of the other factors involved with ranking your images highly.
The Title Tag: The title attribute applied to a picture will appear when one hovers over the image. There are arguments whether this attribute actually has an effect on the ability of images to rank however it's most certainly not going to hurt and there are those who believe it does hold image-based ranking value. At the end of the day, it will serve the visitor and even if it doesn't hold direcct SEO value today, that doesn't mean it won't in the future. Better to apply the attribute now than to try to play catchup later or wonder why your traffic dropped.
Page Copy: Similar to Google reading your page for traditional SEO relevancy, so too do they read it to determine the relevancy of the images on that page. If you've got an image gallery, make sure to add copy around the image and a title and heading to the page to help reinforce the image content. This will allow Google to put your image in context. Matt Cutts discusses the use of page copy in the following video:
Additional Notes About Image Results:
Note One: As we touched on earlier, there are some issues with ranking your images. The biggest issue is theft. Depending on the application, you'll want to watermark your photos and graphics. While you may want to keep images such as your logo free for use (always nice to have some free branding) if you're a travel blogger, professional photographer, etc. you may want to watermark your images with your domain, name or company. They may still be taken but they'll certainly be easier to find and if they are, at least you're getting some free publicity.
Note Two: The second issue with image search is competition. If you sell an assortment of blue widgets, be sure to take your own pictures and not rely on the manufacturer's. Google may not be perfect yet but they're getting better at image detection and if we learned nothing from the Panda Update it's that they don't like duplicate content. If you want your images to rank in the future, make sure they're unique.
Note Three: We are in the process of comparing the relative strength of links (both internal and external) to images vs. embedding the images on pages (again, both internally and externally). While the results are as-of-yet inconclusive as to which carries more weight, there is indication that both appear to be signals. I would skew the results by listing them here at this time but once completed I will be doing a followup article on linking and embedding strategies for image optimization.
A plethora of articles have been written about the convergence of SEO and PPC, most of them fairly elementary. I think everyone understands that, at least from a keyword level, each channel can (and should) inform and reinforce the other. That idea of "reinforcement" is a bit tricky, however.
Some studies have shown largely a reinforcing effect between organic and paid listings, except on brand queries where cannibalization is more likely to occur. These searches are often navigational in nature, so users are more liberal about clicking on paid results since they already know which brand they're interested in.
The basic SEO and PPC integration points written about usually encompass the following:
- Use PPC keyword data to inform the organic content and optimization strategy. Use organic referral data to inform the creation and optimization of new PPC ad groups.
- Leverage PPC ad copies in organic snippet text to optimize click-through rates. Much easier to test what's working in paid campaigns, which always put relevant messaging and a call-to-action forward, than to iterate and refine in organic placements.
- More visibility is better. A bigger footprint in search wins. Etc.
These are all useful points to think about. But to realize a competitive advantage, and to really integrate learnings from each channel, we need to dig a little deeper.
Toward an Understanding of Practical SEO & PPC Integration
Much of this is still being discovered. There aren't best practices developed around PPC and SEO synergies, aside from the fact that companies know the two sides need to talk to each other.
Conferences often have "SEO vs. Paid Search" sessions which, to be honest, are pretty silly. This isn't a topic you can simply throw pointed remarks at, like "SEO is way better than paid search!" or "PPC is SO much more awesome than SEO." Each is a unique, and complementary, online marketing channel.
Paid search spend doesn't have to "take away" anything from organic search budgets. If there's positive ROI, then there shouldn't be a budget anyway (would you put a limit on giving Google $10 if they gave you $11 in return each time?).
Conversely, organic search doesn't necessarily suffer because its ROI is inherently more difficult to capture. With solid strategy, benchmarking, and reporting, the ROI should be self-evident. Sure, it's not as clean, but the data is there if you know how to get it.
Because organic search has traditionally taken the lion's share of clicks on any given SERP (up to 80 percent, depending on the query and who's doing the talking), recent trends show Google experimenting with the interface to encourage more clicks in paid results.
You can see where we're headed: toward a more "organic" paid search experience (to borrow a phrase from the articles just cited). It’s in the best financial interests of Google to move click share towards the paid listings, which is in essence creating increased competition for attention on organic results.
This is an open topic, one that will continue to evolve. It's also an area I'm keenly interested in exploring over the next few months. Here are a few areas that are of particular interest to me right now:
1. Landing Page Snippet Text in PPC Ad Copy
Google was recently spotted testing the display of snippet text from landing pagesin paid ads.
That text was taken directly from the landing page, directly tying PPC to SEO techniques. With the interface blending paid and organic together more than ever, and with changes such as the above showing where we're headed, it's only a matter of time before more PPC tactics are necessary for SEO (page load times anyone?).
Google placing organic snippet text in PPC ad text.
2. Focusing on Competitive Search
It’s amazing how little discipline is put toward reporting on branded and non-branded search as distinctly separate segments, with different implications.
On the PPC side of the fence, it seems pretty simple and clear that branded (often navigational) search is already 'owned' by the brand, so should not be leaned on too heavily when calculating the success of the campaigns. Sure, branded search is usually an important revenue driver. It just needs to be cleanly separated and tracked so as not to cloud the overall view.
Non-branded (what we call “competitive”) search is where the true game is played. While branded search is largely driven by offline efforts, with little to no leverage to obtain more, competitive search is driven by demand in the category itself. As such, sales are largely incremental.
Slicing out a company's competitive search share is often an excellent way to judge the healthfulness of their search marketing efforts. In fact, looking at the following data points represents an interesting opportunity for companies to find opportunities:
- For PPC spend, does the competitive search slice fall within efficiency targets?
- Does steady growth exist, in both SEO and PPC, for competitive search sales volume? It's not enough for your SEO campaigns to drive traffic. They have to drive relevant traffic that converts. And the true mark of success, in my opinion, is incremental increases in competitive (i.e., non-branded) search traffic.
- Is there growth in the competitive slice as a percentage of site sales? In other words, how are site sales for competitive PPC and SEO segments faring as a percentage of total site sales? For large, established brands, you don't necessarily want the PPC slice to be too high (every click costs you). But you also don't want to be too dependent on SEO, especially if there are unsustainable tactics in play (algorithm changes happen!).
- How is growth in new customer acquisition through these segments?
There are several interesting insights that can come from these analyses. And going deeper to a more granular level, you can even look at terms being bought in PPC campaigns that don't have strong visibility in organic search. And vice versa, you can identify competitive terms that have strong organic visibility but aren't being actively bid in paid campaigns. I have yet to see this kind of gap analysis performed well, probably because the greatest insights will happen at scale and getting to that data is a tough problem.
3. Understanding Traffic Value
SEO can learn a lot from PPC, including how valuable unique queries are to the business and how efficient they are within organic campaigns. For example, does it make sense to rank No. 1 for "shoes" if the resource cost to get there is significant? There is much unknown and hard to quantify about SEO. How much spillover is there for head terms such as “shoes” to revenue from other queries, even brand related?
Paid search: traffic value doesn’t significantly vary by position.
For PPC, this is easy. Since traffic value doesn't vary by position, as posited by Hal Varian and Google (and also discovered through RKG's own testing), this is measurable and predictable.
Sure, the CPC landscape itself is highly mutable and impossible to predict. But we should be able to know, and predict, the value of traffic bid at an efficient cost.
Well, if traffic value in the organic results mirrors this behavior, and doesn't vary by position, then can we place a marketing efficiency on queries like they’re PPC bids? If we know, for example, that when we spend $1 per click for “green mens wide running shoes” we get $3 in sales in our PPC campaigns, can we apply this to the organic segment as well?
Certainly, SEO work takes a long time to bear fruit. But there must be some sort of projection to justify the resource cost and apply a revenue estimate to the efforts.
I’m not positing that we should apply a PPC approach to SEO. On the contrary, actually, what I'm proposing is that we apply more rigor around the accountability of our SEO recommendations and the tracking of results.
This is really a technology problem. It isn't a conceptual or strategic problem to be solved: we all know that this data would be powerful to have!
One problem is that we don't really know anything about impression data in organic search. Sure, Google Webmaster Tools gives us a fleeting taste of impression data, for a sample set, but I'm a bit skeptical of its accuracy based on everything else we get from GWT. The toolset is fantastic. I only question the accuracy of the data provided, based on Google’s own disclaimers.
Wouldn’t this be sweet integrated into Google Analytics, and trended, for all organic search traffic?
At a minimum, SEOs should be applying the fundamentals around testing PPC ad copy to snippet text in the organic results. These directly influence CTR, which is certainly tracked (among other behavioral signals) by Google's algorithms.
So Much More
I could keep going.
I could talk about using PPC to build visibility for high-quality resources and content pieces, which can drive traffic and links.
I could talk about gathering user behavior signals, such as bounce rate, time on site, and average pages per visit, from PPC campaigns and applying that to improve the quality of the site (which should improve its SEO).
I could even talk about building out extensive long-tail campaigns for PPC, and how that keyword data can be fed into related link modules on a site (for content that already exists), or fed into a strategy to develop said content.
But I'll stop here.
There's an exciting field of study in the interplay of organic and paid listings. Hopefully this will help further the dialogue. Looking forward to hearing your comments.
Google announced that several products will be shut down by January 15, 2012. This includes Google Buzz, Code Search, the University Research Program for Google Search, iGoogle social features, Jaiku, and several APIs associated with these services.
The Products Slated for Closure
Google is continuing its trend of narrowing focus with the announcement of a "fall sweep." In this case, what's being swept away is a number of products that haven't been popular enough for Google to warrant continued support and development. As mentioned above, those products include:
- Google Buzz. This is certainly the most noteworthy shutdown, although far from the least predictable. Buzz was introduced in February of 2010 and garnered lots of early attention, but failed to gain traction or long-term support. Buzz will be shut down in the next "few weeks."
- Code Search. This niche search tracked down open source code, but both it and its API will be closed for business on January 15th, 2012.
- University Research Program for Google Search. This program gave academic researchers API access to search results, but will discontinue on January 15th, 2012.
- iGoogle social features. While iGoogle will continue as normal, all features that gave social capabilities will be closed in favor of Google+ on January 15th, 2012.
- Jaiku. This social updating feature acquired by Google in 2007 will be shut down on January 15th, 2012.
Those who actively use any of the above-listed products should still be able to retrieve their information before shutdown. Several of the services include a built-in export feature, which will continue to work as normal until the shutdown date, while Google Takeout can be used to download your Buzz information.
The Significance of the Shutdowns to Google's Strategy
The biggest announcement on this list is the imminent shutdown of Google Buzz, a service long considered dead in the water but that Google held to anyway. Especially with the marketplace presence of Google+, a social network that's actually succeeding, it's only logical to shut Buzz down.
As Bradley Horowitz, the Google VP for Google+, puts it, "Changing the world takes focus on the future, and honesty about the past." So, while Google "learned a lot from products like Buzz," it's still time to lay the service to rest. The same applies to all of Google's other small social forays which haven't been folded into Plus just yet.
We previously discussed what seemed to be Google's "Strategy of Everything", and the insustainability of that tactic. It seems that in the Larry Page / Plus era of Google, the company agrees with those concerns.
In addition to the shut-downs mentioned above, numerous other Google products have been shut down. That includes Google Labs, which saw official closure on October 14th, and Boutiques.com and Like.com, both of which now redirect to Google Product Search.
So now the fun question, and an opportunity for major betting pools: What will Google shut down next?
Google is continuing its implementation of cleaner, crisper designs with a new Gmail look and a streamlined Google Reader. While Gmail is getting some added functionality, Reader is losing many of its social features in favor of Google+ integration.
Gmail's New Look and Capabilities
While the general look and feel of the updated Gmail has been available in a preview format for several months, the actual update is just around the corner – and it goes well beyond the preview. As indicated by a leaked video (which has since been blocked by Google), Gmail will soon:
- Allow users to resize different panes within Gmail (including the chat and label panes).
- Automatically adjust to fit any screen or window size.
- Choose between three levels of compactness for their layout.
- Pick one of several high-resolution themes.
- Use an all-new conversation structure.
- Have a new search pane that allows for easier access to advanced search options.
As noted by PCWorld, the new look does also bring a new ad into the mix. That ad will appear directly below the "reply" field when you're looking at an email conversation.
Since this content was leaked, there's no sure way to know when we can expect an official release. However, given the current state of readiness and the three months since the preview's launch, speculation says we're looking at a November release.
Reader Sheds Some Weight, Gets Cleaner
Google Reader will soon look and act quite differently, according to a post on the Google Reader blog. While users can expect the same sort of clean look and feel that's been implemented elsewhere, Google's also sweeping out several functions.
Notably, Google will "be retiring things like friending, following and shared link blogs." Instead, users will be able to share Reader content easily through Google+ integration. To help those who want to migrate to alternative RSS services instead of getting started with Google+, Reader's subscription export will now allow this social data to be exported as well.
No specific date has been given on these changes, although Google Software Engineer Alan Green stated they would be coming "very soon."
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Blogger users now have the option to switch their Blogger profiles over to Google+. Google is also testing a one-touch Add to Circles button in selected users’ search results, as well. Google is trying to get more users onto the Google+ platform, but the Blogger integration, in particular, may not be for everyone. In other Google+ news, Larry Page is finally master of his own domain.
Optional Google+ Blogger Integration Coming Out to All Users Within Weeks
A pop-up on the Blogger in Draft dashboard aims to entice users to make the switch with the promise of access to upcoming Google+ features in Blogger. If you switch your Blogger profile to a Google+ profile, people in your social network will see your blog posts in their search results. Google says this will “give your readers a more familiar and robust sense of who you are.”
What if you don’t necessarily want readers to be all that familiar with you? People who write under pseudonyms won’t want to switch to a Google+ profile for their blogging persona until pseudonyms are accepted on the social network, which is in the works. The option to switch is currently available to Blogger in Draft users and will roll out to all Blogger users in the coming weeks.
In their FAQs, Google states the benefit of making the switch: “Linking your blogs to your Google+ profile is a way to maintain one identity across the web, and you’ll have one less profile to manage and update.”
As we reported earlier this week, Google is now a certified Identity Provider and it remains to be seen how verified identities may be used within the federal applications for which Google is an approved provider. It does seem that Google is actively trying to get more users into their identity ecosystem and this is another means to that end.
Google Testing One-Click Circles in SERPs
Google is testing another new way to get users on to the Google+ platform: showing an Add to Circles button on search results, TechCrunch reported. If the publisher is already in your Circles, it indicates this in the results, perhaps enticing you to stop and read if you missed it in the social network.
The test seems limited to a small number of users right now, though it is appearing to users in the U.S. and Canada.
Larry Page Steals Mark Zuckerberg’s Google+ Crown
Google CEO Larry Page has finally surpassed Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg as the most often Circled person at Google+. As of this writing, Page had 613,026 people who added him in Circles to Zuckerberg’s 599,978.
Meanwhile, there’s no race at all over on Facebook. Zuckerberg has over 8.8 million subscribers; the Larry Page-page has under 5,000 followers and if he has a personal account, it’s not easy to find.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Review Summary: Sony packs its latest digital ideas into the Sony HX9V, a 16-megapixel, 16x pocket long zoom, offering high-resolution stills and Full HD video. The result is a versatile digital camera with a wide zoom range and plenty of tricks to get great shots in difficult conditions.
Pros: Excellent optical quality; High resolution; High-resolution Panorama mode; Good video quality; Good grip; Fast autofocus.
Cons: Sluggish user interface and Full HD video mode; Heavy noise suppression; GPS is sometimes slow to sync.
Price and Availability: Shipping as of April 2011, the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V carries an MSRP of US$350, and comes in Black only.
Sony HX9V Overview
The Sony Cyber-shot HX9V is a prototypical pocket long zoom digital camera, a breed of camera that's noticeably smaller than a DSLR, but more capable than a point-and-shoot. Sporting a thin, rectangular frame, the HX9V's 16x zoom lens and diverse snapshot-oriented feature set yields high-resolution stills, 3D panoramas, and Full HD video with stereo audio. Along with 16.2-megapixel files and a 3.0-inch LCD screen, the Cyber-shot HX9V delivers performance, automation, and a photo-savvy design, making it a viable point-and-click or more affordable alternative to interchangeable lens systems.
Sony HX9V User Report
Priced at $349.99, the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V presents a feature-laden compact digital camera with a blend of DSLR controls, setting versatility, and ease-of-use that makes it a strong option for photography enthusiasts on the go. Backed by a 16.2-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and optically-stabilized 24-384mm (equivalent) zoom lens, the pocketable Cyber-shot HX9V records full 1080/60p HD video, stereo audio, 3D stills, and instant panoramas. At full speed, the camera can snap burst sequences at 10 frames per second (fps), and exhibits strong autofocus for a non-DSLR. For the price and versatility, the SD-enabled Sony Cyber-shot HX9V packs a strong value for point-and-shooters and photo enthusiasts alike.
Look and Feel. Cloaked in a matte black finish, the Cyber-shot HX9V assumes a somewhat thick, rectangular design that resembles a point-and-shoot with more of a grip than usual. Though it's long, the lens' prowess is concealed within the pocketable body of the HX9V, which makes it easy to transport and slide into your pocket. Pocketable, of course, is relative; this won't fit into tight jeans, and is noticeable in slacks, but fits well in cargo shorts or jacket pockets.
The weight of the Sony HX9V is distributed well throughout its chassis, with the camera resting comfortably against the user's palm. Sony intelligently places a small wedge of rubber on the back on the HX9V, opposite the vertical handgrip, to rest your thumb and stabilize the camera when shooting with just one hand. With the thin camera body and lens barrel, the solid grasp you are able to achieve on the camera is particularly important for telephoto shots.
External controls are well placed across the body. In shooting position, the user's hand and fingers naturally form something of a backwards "G" shape. The right index finger falls comfortably over the circular shutter release with easy access to the rotating zoom control that's formed around it. Users can intuitively adjust exposure settings using a jog dial on the back of the camera.
Within the dial is a selection button that toggles between ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture settings in Manual mode. The integration is quick and easy to adjust between shots. My only gripe here is that the exposure compensation adjustment, used in Program mode, is buried within the menu. Answering that gripe is the Custom button on the top of the camera, which can be set to bring up Exposure Compensation, ISO, and White Balance adjustments.
Viewing. Sony went with size over framing versatility with the HX9V, excluding an optical viewfinder for a smaller overall form factor, something most manufacturers have done in recent years, particularly in the long zoom format. A large 3.0-inch 921k-dot LCD screen serves as the viewfinder and playback monitor on the camera. The screen is bright, with good contrast and a wide angle of view. You can adjust the brightness in 5-steps.
I did, however, take some exception to the color accuracy of the LCD monitor. Warm colors -- red tones in particular -- appear vastly oversaturated on screen, skewing your immediate impression of the captured file. Stained wood appears a vivid reddish orange.
Lens. The optic is the ultimate backbone of the camera. A long telescoping lens extends from the front, close to the center of the camera body. The 16x optical zoom lens covers an equivalent zoom range of 24-384mm in its native 4:3 aspect ratio. The lens is stabilized by Sony's Optical SteadyShot image stabilization system, which integrates a gyro sensor to detect and compensate for handshake. The IS system is particularly important for telephoto shots with the small camera, and does an adequate, if not impressive job in use.
Varying the focal length on the Cyber-shot HX9V's lens is achieved by rotating a ring around the shutter release button. The motorized zoom is smooth across the lens' wide focal range, while remaining sensitive enough to facilitate subtle alterations when gently depressed.
The shortcoming of the lens is that only two apertures are available: f/3.3 and f/8. At telephoto, this changes to f/5.9 and f/14. We think this is because the Sony HX9V uses the neutral density filter to simulate its smaller aperture, rather than offering an actual smaller aperture.
Interface. Sony is adept in designing a clean, usable graphic interface across its products, and the Cyber-shot HX9V is no different. The menu structures are well organized and easily accessed through the Menu button on the back of the camera. The settings are displayed over a live feed of what the camera sees, immediately showing the effect of the potential White Balance and aspect ratio alterations as you scroll through the available setting options.
Menu headings in Shooting modes are intelligently organized in a vertical array on the left side of the screen, with specific options sprawled out horizontally across the frame. Sony uses white text over a semi-transparent black overlay. The text is clear and easy to read in nearly any condition. Menu options will vary slightly depending on the shooting mode the camera is using. There are three display settings to control how much information is displayed on the live composition (Off, On, and Detailed Info). There's also an In-Camera Guide that comes in very handy given the camera's generous feature set.
Modes. The Sony Cyber-shot HX9V stocks a number of still capture modes ranging from basic exposure settings (Program, Manual, Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto, and Scene Selection) to more experimental options (such as 3D shooting, Background Defocus, Handheld Twilight, Anti Motion Blur, Panorama, and Memory Recall).
Sony provides more incremental control over the HX9V's shutter speed, enabling you to control whether to freeze a subject or allow some blur to show motion. As I mentioned, there are only two apertures available at any given focal length.
Movie Modes. Sony, like Canon and Panasonic, has extensive camcorder lines that inform the video functionality in its digital cameras. Previously tagged hybrid recorders, most cameras today by these manufacturers capture Full 1080 HD video at 60p, with smooth transitions and startling video clarity. The bit rate varies automatically, impacting the total recording time and ultimate video quality to some extent.
Videos recorded with the HX9V can be viewed on a compatible PC, or on an HDTV directly via the camera's HDMI port (you'll need a cable that adapts from Type C Mini HDMI to HDMI, which is not included).
MP4 video looks more highly processed, with a very watercolor appearance. AVCHD video looks better with smoother motion, but the camera slows down considerably in this mode. It takes 3-5 seconds for video recording to begin, and several seconds for it to stop as well.
Stereo Audio. Video quality is strong for a pocket camera, handing quick motion and mixed lighting with consistent success. Sony also takes audio into consideration on this camera (by no means a common practice among digicams). The camera has two small microphones on the front deck, just above the lens opening, to capture stereo audio. Although the microphones are placed extremely close together, the distinct left and right channels give the audio a sense of dimensionality. Audio is recorded in two formats depending on which video encoding you use: AVCHD uses Dolby Digital (AC-3) and MP4 uses MPEG-4 AAC-LC.
There is also a Wind Noise Reduction filter that's engaged within the capture menu. While this is a great inclusion, the WNR filter produces more hope than results. It's a nice touch, nonetheless.
Ultimately, the audio design and implementation surpass the sound quality that's captured; compared to other cameras out there, the audio recorded by HX9V offers a bit fuller, less treble-dominant sound. However, it does still retain a bit of the signature, tin-like sound of digital camera audio.
3D Shooting and Viewing. 3D Shooting captures images in industry-standard .MPO format for playback on a 3D capable TV. In the HX9V user manual, however, Sony cautions that users may “experience discomfort in the form of eye strain, fatigue, or nausea” with prolonged use, and notes that the feature is not necessarily good for children with developing vision.
Group Burst (Viewing). Within the Playback Menu, users can elect to view burst sequences as individual images or as a 3-dimensional composite. Selecting the Group view allows users to tilt the camera to move around the dimensional composite frame in Playback mode.
iSweep Panorama. While Panorama modes are common these days, Sony's integration of the feature stands tall above other iterations. Directions flash on screen once you switch into the mode -- intuitively placed on the mode dial -- that instruct you to pan the camera across the intended composition while holding the shutter button. A white frame scrolls across a black letterbox as a timeline, indicating movement and progress as the panoramic is captured. Once all of the dark frames are traced, the camera flashes a "Processing" message and immediately stitches all of the independent frames together into a smooth, cohesive panoramic photograph.
Instant Panorama. Panning the camera across the landscape is all it takes to capture the full scene.
High Resolution Panorama. You can make a 43-megapixel panoramic image in High Resolution mode. Just hold the camera vertically and pan fairly quickly. The resulting image measures 10,480 x 4,096 pixels!
There are three Panorama formats available: Standard, Wide, and High Resolution (HR). All of the settings sport a widescreen-like format, with the height of the panoramic image dependant on the selected setting. Standard and Wide modes require a lateral pan of the camera in its natural, horizontal position, while the High Resolution panoramic is created by a lateral pan of the camera in a vertical position. Both orientations are smooth and nearly effortless. The user will have to scroll at a pace dictated by the camera, but the feature is very simple to use. It's the best implementation of a Panoramic mode that I've seen; it makes me question why it would be designed any other way.
Background Defocus. Telephoto shots with a wide aperture and narrow depth-of-field have become a distinguishing look of digital SLRs that is not necessarily feasible for point-and-shoots to recreate. The Sony Cyber-shot HX9V attempts to compensate for this by offering a digital approximation of the feature, tagged "Background Defocus." The setting will allow you to zoom in on an object in the frame, and ultimately blurs the background. The HX9V creates this effect with electronics, while DSLRs achieve it through optics. There is a hefty trade-off here; users shouldn't expect the “DSLR effect” they've become accustomed to seeing, but the setting does come fairly close.
Sony includes three settings to control the degree of blurring that's applied to the background: Lo, Mid, and Hi. Unfortunately, there is little differentiation between the “Defocus Effect” in the three settings. Sony is likely trying to show the difference between a stop or two, approximately between f/1.8 and f/2.8. However, the visual distinction is minimal at best. Nonetheless, most snapshooters will be well served by the effect in certain situations.
More ambitious shooters who like to edit their images in a software application may be better served shooting the photo without any effect and creating a blur in Photoshop or a similar program. Users looking for a more immediate alternative, however, will be fairly well served by this simulation.
Backlight Compensation HDR -- Backlight compensation HDR is a Scene Mode designed to combat one of the most difficult photographic situations: shooting a dim subject in front of a much brighter background. Due to the limited dynamic range of all cameras, the typical (and generally disappointing) result is a decent exposure of the background, with the subject dramatically under-exposed and concealed in shadows.
Conventionally, most photographers would solve this problem by switching the metering mode to “Spot” and exposing the image for the subject, letting the background get blown out. However, the Sony HX9V's Backlight Correction HDR (High Dynamic Range) Scene mode opts for a more advanced solution, combining three bracketed shots, captured seemingly simultaneously, within the camera to reduce the contrast and optimize for three different tonal ranges. The result is an even exposure across the entire image.
Storage and Battery. Unlike earlier Cyber-shot models, the Sony HX9V accepts Secure Digital memory cards (SD, SDHC, SDXC), along with its proprietary Memory Stick media (Memory Stick PRO Duo and Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo). SD media is a bit more convenient for most potential consumers, who likely already own SD cards. Be aware, however, the 16.2-megapixel images consume a lot of storage space; I recommend at least a 4 GB card for most outings. According to Sony, the Cyber-shot HX9V can capture 335 full-resolution images, or 9 minutes of AVC HD 28M (PS) video, on a 2 GB card. Sony recommends at least Class 4 SD cards or Mark2 Memory Stick Pro Duo cards for HD recording.
My biggest disappointment with the Cyber-shot HX9V is the omission of RAW file format. This will likely take away from the camera's appeal to pros and photo enthusiasts looking for a travel camera, though it's not an issue if you don't intend to edit your images.
Sony fits the Cyber-shot HX9V with a proprietary NP-BG1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The 3.6V battery cell is thin and relatively light, though it's paired with an unnecessarily blocky USB-to-wall converter and that serves as the charger. The interface enables you to plug the USB cable to a computer, which will allow the camera to draw power from the computer, or directly to the USB converter plugged into a standard AC outlet.
The battery held its charge fairly well during shooting, continuing for over 450 shots in my outings. It's CIPA rated for 300 shots (50% with flash) per charge.
It's also worth noting that the camera also sports a mini HDMI port to view images, 2D video, and 3D images directly on an HDTV.
Shooting. The performance of this camera falls into two distinct categories: image quality and usability. The design of the camera is optimized for a range of shooters, from point-and-shooters to more engaged photographers. Principally, the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V serves to accommodate quick, high-caliber, on-the-go snapshots. The long, optically-stabilized lens, HD video with stereo audio, and handful of well-considered modes work to distinguish this camera from its competitors.
The Sony HX9V is responsive when shooting, quickly locking focus, with very little shutter lag before capture. Its AF speed is nothing short of remarkable, turning in AF times as fast as the fastest digital SLRs: 0.15 second at wide angle and 0.13 second at telephoto. Amazing. Shot-to-shot speeds are about average, although there is an impressive 10-shot burst feature that can capture 10 full resolution images in roughly one second. The HX9V's download speed may initially get overlooked, but the camera's quicker transfer rate will speed the larger 16-megapixel files from the camera to the computer.
Sluggishness. Not everything about the HX9V is fast, though. The first time you enter Playback mode after re-inserting a card, it can take 7-8 seconds for the camera to re-familiarize itself with the card; after that, switching between Playback and Record mode takes about 2 seconds. The Sony HX9V is slow to give you a full display after power-on, including the basic onscreen data and selected AF areas. This can also take about seven seconds. As mentioned previously, Full HD movie recording is also slow to start and stop. Finally, Zoom is slow to register, especially if you've just captured an image. You really have to adjust your timing to work with the HX9V, and plan ahead.
GPS. The Sony HX9V also integrates a GPS radio, which we found remarkably effective at tagging our location when it was enabled, and though we didn't have it on for most of this review, coordinates recorded matched reasonably well when we looked them up in Google maps. Some coordinates were closer than others, but the user guide says triangulation error is about 98 feet (30m), and the error we saw was more like 30 feet.
It takes three to five minutes for a sufficient number of satellites to lock on, but you can go to a special screen to see a graphical representation of the satellites as they appear. You can also connect the camera to a computer with the supplied PMB software to download GPS Assist data that will speed up satellite acquisition. As with any GPS, you get better reception out in the open, away from tall trees and buildings.
GPS status is reported via a small satellite icon on the LCD screen with three bars to show signal strength. Just left of that is a small compass rose, whose red end points north.
The detailed Playback display shows you the coordinates recorded for each photo, and your orientation on the compass when you snapped the photo. You can tell the camera to set its clock by satellite if you like, and have it set your location information, adjusting the clock by time zone as needed.
For Windows users, the Picture Motion Browser (PMB) software includes a Map View mode, which summons Google maps to show your photos overlaid on a map of where you shot them. See the Sony Support video that demonstrates the feature if it's important to you. Mac users will have to employ another solution for mapping, like GPSinfo, Adobe Lightroom, or Picasa.
Image Quality. Assessing the proverbial nuts-and-bolts of the HX9V's photo quality, it's clear that its G-series lens is a high-quality optic for a point-and-shoot camera, though not without its shortcomings. The lens shows relative softness in the corners of the frame (particularly at wide angle), which is not too surprising given its 16x zoom and its aggressive 24mm wide setting. In terms of distortion -- at both ends of its focal range -- the HX9V does very well, showing very little geometric distortion. There is a good amount of chromatic aberration, however, that shows in the form of a glowing blue outline, particularly near blown-out areas of an image. The aberrations are not uncommon in digital cameras, though the size and bright bluish pixels in shots with the HX9V can be distracting in telephoto shots. In all, the lens' general strength, along with its backside illuminated CMOS sensor, is its ability to deliver high-resolution images with consistent sharpness from the optics, sensor, and image stabilization.
Beyond optics, the Cyber-shot HX9V packs a wide range of sensitivity settings, equipping the camera with ISO selections up to 3,200. Typically, non-DSLRs have difficulty maintaining strong image quality beyond ISO 1,600 because of the small sensors they are built around. Images shot at ISO up to 800 are usable and hold relatively high image quality; however, the overwhelming noise and internal noise reduction system are so strong at ISO 1,600 and 3,200 that almost all fine detail is lost from the image. This is compounded by the built-in flash's mediocre performance -- boosting the ISO too high -- and slow recycle times.
Default color reproduction from the HX9V is solid, though it shows a typical point-and-shoot bias of oversaturating extreme warm and cool tones (particularly reds & yellows, blues & cyans), opting for a punchier look, rather than a more tone-neutral representation. This look will be pleasing to most consumers, helping to create a more startling look without editing the photos post-capture. Alternate color modes are available, including "Real" which dials-back colors, as well as Vivid, Sepia and B&W. There are also 3-step saturation, contrast and sharpness settings.
Color balance on the camera is consistent with most cameras in its class. The auto white balance setting casts a bit of a warm glow under incandescent light, while the manual setting overcompensates slightly and yields a slight bluish-green cast. Neither color cast is really problematic.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Slightly soft at upper left
Tele: Slight blurring at center
Tele: Mild blurring, upper left corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V's zoom shows some blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, though the effect is minimal and doesn't extend far into the image area. At telephoto, performance is similar, though results at center are also a little soft.
Wide: Slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
Tele: A tiny amount of pincushion distortion, barely visible
Geometric Distortion: There is surprisingly little barrel distortion at wide-angle (<0.1%), and almost no perceptible distortion (~0.03% pincushion) at telephoto. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V's processor does a good job here.
Wide: High and bright
Tele: Also high and bright
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderately high in terms of pixel count, and pixels are fairly bright. At telephoto, distortion is stronger, with brighter blueish pixels covering a large portion of the black target lines.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V's Macro mode captures good detail throughout most of the frame, with fairly good definition. However, blurring is strong in the corners of the frame and extends fairly far into the frame (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Minimum coverage area is 3.00 x 2.25 inches (76 x 57mm), which is on the larger side. The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens, resulting in a very strong shadow and a hot spot in the upper left.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V Viewfinder Accuracy
Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor
Viewfinder Accuracy: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V's LCD monitor showed about 100% coverage at wide-angle and about 101% at telephoto, which is pretty good.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V Image Quality
Color: Overall color looks fairly accurate and natural, though bright reds and blues are a bit oversaturated (blues much more than reds). Hue inaccuracies show up in colors like yellow, orange and cyan, the latter of which has the biggest discrepancy. Dark skin tones show a large push toward orange, while lighter skin tones are closer to accurate, if a little pink. Overall, pretty good performance.
A little too red
Too warm and yellow
Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting best overall, as the Auto setting produced a red cast and the Incandescent setting came out too warm. Results at Manual do have a very slight greenish/cool tint, but still look good overall.
Horizontal: 2,000 lines
Vertical: 2,000 lines
Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,000 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,750 lines per picture height.
Tele: Fair, but slightly dim
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) doesn't work well at wide angle when the reported distance goes beyond 16 feet, because that takes the camera out of the main lab, so the wide-angle result is inconclusive at 18.4 feet (ISO 320). The telephoto test came out just a little dim, despite a big ISO boost to 800 at 9.8 feet.
Auto flash produced fairly bright results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining some of the ambient light by using a shutter speed of 1/60 second, and raising ISO to 250. At this shutter speed, you shouldn't have any major issues with subject or camera motion blur, especially since the HX9V has image stabilization, as well as motion detection. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is good at ISO 100 and 200, with some visible softening beginning at ISO 400. Chroma (color) noise is fairly well controlled, though luminance noise is more evident as the sensitivity increases. By ISO 1,600 and 3,200, details are just about obliterated by noise suppression, though the suggestion of detail remains. See what this means for printed images in the Printed section below.
Print Quality: ISO 100 images make good 16x20-inch prints, though with noticeable digital artifacts in areas, especially in green leaves. I preferred the 13x19-inch prints, where the artifacts were much less noticeable.
ISO 200 shots also look good printed at 13x19 inches, though with slightly less fine detail.
ISO 400 images look good at 13x19, but shadow detail starts to look oddly blurry, with blotches here and there. Reduction to 11x14 helps quite a bit.
ISO 800 files are usable at 13x19, but again the blotches in shadowy areas look better at 11x14.
ISO 1,600 shots have enough high-contrast detail for printing at 11x14, but fine detail is lost in a blur. This doesn't look better until reduction to 8x10 inches.
ISO 3,200 images don't make a passable 8x10, unfortunately, thanks to overly aggressive noise reduction, looking instead like a watercolor painting. Reducing size to 5x7, though, brings it all back to acceptable.
Depending on the subject, the Sony HX9V's noise suppression is a little too aggressive, making certain types of detail look more like watercolor brush strokes instead of photographic elements, reducing the above print-size estimates by at least one. Otherwise, print quality is good, producing a good 5x7 from all ISO settings, including 3,200.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V Performance
Startup Time: The Sony HX9V takes about 2.1 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's pretty good for a pocket long-zoom, but it's much slower at activating the display (up to about 7 seconds).
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is extremely fast, at 0.15 second at wide angle and 0.13 second at full telephoto. That rivals the fastest of SLRs we've tested. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.018 second, also very fast.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is fair, capturing a frame every 1.7 seconds in single-shot mode. Burst mode however is very fast, rated at up to 10 frames-per-second for 10 frames at full resolution.
Flash Recycle: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V's flash recycles in about 8 seconds after a full-power discharge, on the slow side of average.
Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just above the 1/4 foot-candle light level without AF-assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.
USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V's download speeds are very fast. We measured 10,128 KBytes/sec.
In the Box
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V comes packaged with the following materials:
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V camera body
- USB-to-wall converter
- USB-to-camera cable
- Battery pack
- Battery cap
- CD ROM
- Wrist strap
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC or Memory Stick Pro Duo card. These days, 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. You'll need at least a Class 4 SD or Mark2 Pro Duo card to record HD movies.
- High-Speed Mini HDMI (Type C) to HDMI cable
- Camera case
Sony HX9V Conclusion
The 16.2-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot HX9V serves an overlapping market of consumers. Outfitted with an optically-stabilized 24-384mm equivalent lens, this compact digital camera is able to capture wide views, smooth zoom transitions, and HD video seamlessly across its 16x zoom range.
It delivered good-quality stills at sensitivities up to ISO 800 and exhibited impressive autofocus and tracking for a non-DSLR. Ironically, however, it's the camera's seemingly more gimmicky features that ultimately prove its worth. The panorama mode, burst & stitch features, and instant HDR composites come through on their ambitions and produce stylized snapshots worthy of consideration among enthusiasts. However, enthusiasts should note that noise suppression on the HX9V is quite aggressive, often resulting in a watercolor look. We don't think this will bother most users, but those cropping or looking for more crisp images won't be as happy with Sony's rendering, especially since there is no RAW capture mode.
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