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Welcome to the Weekly SEM Rundown, where I recap the past week’s major SEM news and provide insights.

The news for each week is broken up between:

SEO (search engine optimization)

Bug in Links to Your Site report in Google Search Console.
There was a bug within the Links to Your Site report. For many users “no data available” was being displayed. Google fixed the bug and data should have returned to users (by 8/5/16).

Google fined $7MM by Russia for anticompetitive app pre-install rules.
Last year, Yandex filed a complaint against Google in the Federal Antimonopoly Service of the Russian Federation (FAS). The FAS found that Google was in violation of its competition law, by requiring phone makers to pre-install selected Google apps on Android, as part of accessing the Google Play store. While Google can appeal the decision, it is unlikely to be successful.

Bing will comply with Right to Be Forgotten searches in the EU.
Bing updated its Right to Be Forgotten (RTBF) policy, explaining that the search engine will use location-based signals to remove targeted URLs on all versions of Bing. Previously, Bing had been targeting specific countries by limiting results in France on bing.fr; in the United Kingdom on bing.co.uk, etc.

Google will most likely penalize BlogDash.
After being called out on Twitter about BlogDash, John Mueller tweeted back that the webspam team was aware of BlogDash and is taking the right actions. It is likely that BlogDash will receive a manual penalty.

Blogdash Tweet

 

Google Chrome will block Flash in December.
In December, Chrome 55 will make HTML5 its default experience, removing Flash except for sites that only support Flash. While Flash played an important role in the adoption of video, gaming and animation on the Web, HTML5 is now preferred due to its improved security, reduced power consumption and faster page load times.

Google Trends Explore tool is updated.
The tool has received some new features and the appearance has been modified, for easier navigation and viewing of data. Archived trends can now be viewed by individual days and users can compare search terms by sub region on a single map. Multiple search terms can be filtered by geography and time. The data in the trend interface can be exported as a CSV file and mobile versions of charts for embedding is available. The News & Forecast buttons have been removed as has the Trending over time Map.

Google Trends adds comparison and export features.
Google refreshed their Google Trends tool and added a couple of new features. Search trends can now be compared by geographic location and historical data by day. Search term filtering, a mobile embed option and an export-to-excel were also added.  

Google testing carousel for ‘the people also ask’ feature on desktop searches.
Google has been testing a carousel in mobile searches that displays other related user queries/questions. Google has expanded this test to desktop searches. Google had previously been testing a different format, using expandable text boxes.

People also ask Carousel

 

Google testing AMP results in main mobile results.
Last week, Google said they would begin to display AMP results in the main search results for mobile users. However, there was no timeline for this test. Individuals have already seen this AMP test appearing in search results.

Webmasters receiving Preview AMP Presence messages in Google Search Console.
Google has started sending notifications to webmasters with AMP pages. The notifications suggest the webmasters preview the public experience of their pages using the AMP Developer Preview site. A screenshot of the message was posted on Twitter by Alan Bleiweiss.

Google displays amp error messages in search results to site owners.
Similar to Google’s efforts with mobile friendly warnings, Google displays a small AMP Error warning underneath your site in search results. Jon Henshaw saw and tweeted and example of this.

Amp Error Preview

 

Google now supports JSON-LD format/schema for breadcrumbs.
Google’s current documentation does not say that Google supports the JSON-LD format for bread crumbs. However, John Mueller tweeted that Google does support JSON-LD breadcrumbs and that the documentation will soon be updated.

Google allows users to opt out of trending searches in the Google Search App.
Due to user complaints, Google has added an option for users to opt out of trending searches. The option is found in the settings: Google Now > Menu (three-bar icon) > Settings > Autocomplete > Show trending searches.

Google working to support Schema Version 3.1
In a Google+ Hangout, John Mueller responded to a question about the new schema format by explaining that the Google team is getting ready to make updates to support Schema Version 3.1. No timeline for implementation was given.

Google avoids any specifics about RankBrain in their AMA.
The Google Brain team hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit. However, during the AMA, little to nothing was actually explained about RankBrain. Google is being very secretive RankBrain, something they claimed was Google’s third largest ranking factor.

Very difficult to restore rankings after a Google Penalty.
John Mueller made a comment during a Google+ hangout that a site will almost restore their previous ranking state after recovering from a penalty. This makes sense as signals that had benefited the site previously had to be pruned away to recover from the penalty. After the recovery, the site has a lot of work ahead to build new links, content, etc.

Googles Ignores the HTML Lang Attribute.
For a number of years Google has ignored the language tag: <html lang=”en-gb”>. This is because webmasters were copying and pasting boilerplate HTML and using it to create new web pages. This copy and pasting made the tag inaccurate and essentially useless. Google does however pay attention to the hreflang tag.

Sitemaps don’t help Google display rich snippets.
In a Google+ Hangout, John Mueller explained that although sitemaps help Google find and update site content, it doesn’t bring any benefit to Rich Snippets. If Google has crawled the webpage, a sitemap does not help with rich snippets displaying in the Google SERP.

Offering downloadable PDF of web content is not problem for SEO.
On Twitter, John Mueller explained that having a download PDF that matches the current webpage visitor is on is not a problem for SEO. If it is beneficial to the users, then “go for it”. To be sure, you can use canonical tags to let the Google crawler identify the original content source.  

HTML5 is not a Google ranking factor.
In a Google+ hangout, John Mueller explained that the use of HTML5 has no direct impact on SEO. While using clean code may create a faster, more user-friendly website, Google gives no ranking advantage to websites using the new standard.

Be careful when switching between www & non-www.
In the Webmaster Office Hours, John Muller said that if webmasters choose to move their site between www and non-www, they need to be careful. Webmasters should treat the process like a normal site migration and follow all of Google’s tips. Mueller also suggested considering moving the site from http to https. While Google claims that 301 redirects lose no PageRank, there are a number of other considerations to make. The indexation of the new site may cause some ranking drops, the new redirects may slow down load time to your site. Be careful if you decide to migrate your site, even if just from www to non-www.

PPC (pay-per-click) ADVERTISING

Google Removes Data from Google Keyword Planner for Low Budget Users
Last week, Google began displaying data ranges, rather than exact data numbers, for advertisers without any campaigns in Adwords. This week they begun displaying data ranges for non-advertising users and users with low budgets. This was initially thought to be a bug, but was apparently intentional. Google is cutting off users and essentially charging for data that has been free for the past 16 years. This will make it much more difficult for small businesses and SEOs to have an accurate picture of keyword data. I suppose you could set up a high-price campaign to access the tool. Grab all the data you need and then end the campaign before you are charged anything. Has Google lived long enough to see itself become the villain?

Google will show null quality scores for low volume keywords in Adwords.
Beginning on September 12, 2016, Google will show null quality score values for keywords that have insufficient click or impression data. Null Quality Scores will be automatically excluded from reports, filters and rules. In order to include them users must select keywords with a quality score of ‘- – ‘.  Users should review reports, filters and rules in Adwords that rely on Quality Scores before September 12.

Null Quality Score in Adwords

 

Google introducing AMP Ad Landing Pages (ALP).
Google announced that Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) will now have AMP Ad Landing Pages (ALP). The Ad Landing Pages are designed to be fast, matching the AMP experience. The URL of the landing page is preloaded in the ad and the landing page is forced to use the AMP HTML protocol. By using this pre-connect along with pre-fetch, Google Cache URL delivery and zero redirects, the ad loads very quickly, making it appealing to consumers of AMP content.

 

Bing Ads releases Upgraded URLs globally.
In an effort to catch up to Google’s Upgraded URLs, Bing has released a similar function. Upgraded URLs allow users to alter tracking parameters in existing ads without affecting the ad history or serving. In the new setup there will be a separate field for URLs and parameters which include: Final URL, Shared Tracking Template and Custom Parameters. Advertisers using Destination URLs will eventually need to transition to the Upgraded URLs by sometime in 2017. Bing has provided instructions on how to make the switch.

Adwords reduction in keyword planner data applies to MCC accounts.
MCC accounts manage multiple Adwords accounts and people were setting these up in the hope to escape Google’s recent limitation of keyword data in the Adword’s keyword planner tool. Unfortunately, this won’t work. Even with an MCC account, accounts with low ad spend will still be unable to see exact keyword traffic. Instead they will receive wide keyword traffic ranges, which are essentially useless.

Open in Report Editor feature added to Adwords.
Adwords reports now let you open up a report in the Adwords Report Editor rather than just downloading it or opening it in Google Sheets. Kim Clinkunbroomer tweeted a screenshot of the new feature.

Some users receive access to the new Google Adwords interface.
A number of different users have posted screenshots of their access to the new Google Adwords interface. Apparently, Google started providing access to a limited number of accounts (who were not in any beta program) back in June.

Google Adwords New Layout

 

LOCAL SEARCH

Old GMB Hour format no longer supported.
Last November, Google had warned local search professionals that the old business hour spreadsheet format would soon be unsupported. On August fourth, Google announced the update. Users will now be forced to adopt the new format.

Google unifying interface and improving insights of Google My Business & My Business List (bulk).
Google has been updating Google my Business and My Business List (bulk) to create a more intuitive and consistent user experience. A new navigation was launched several weeks ago and they have recently updated the Info Panel. Google is also slowly rolling out a new Insights Platform. Expect more updates to come.


google-my-business-interface-1

 

Google allows any publisher to apply for “Critic Reviews”.
Critic Reviews can now be displayed by any local business. Critic reviews are text based reviews that are displayed within the local one box for a business, both on desktop and on mobile. The initial Google Partners who could leave ‘critic reviews’ were: 10best.com, Travel & Leisure, Michelin, UrbanDaddy, and Zagat. Google posted instructions in the developer reviews section for other publishers to apply.

Google testing new Local Pack design.
Spotted and tweeted by Sergey Alakov, Google is testing a new Local 3 Pack design that leaves a large white space above the maps. Many are speculating about what the space could potentially be used for.

Google Three Pack Test

Google testing more aggressive calls to action in Mobile Knowledge Panel.
Mike Blumenthal noted that Google has been testing a version of the Mobile Knowledge Panel that has two additional button calls to action. The two buttons prompt users to write a review or add a photo for the business.

Yelp surprises with $173.4M in Q2
Yelp had better than expected quarterly earnings of $173.4 million (analysts had expected only $170 million). This represents a 30 percent year-over-year revenue growth and 78 percent revenue retention.

SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING

Facebook claims they are beating adblockers.
Facebook made improvements in the way they deliver ads that should confuse desktop adblocking technology. Facebook will also be rolling out new ad controls that allows users to remove specific interests from their ad preferences and disable ads from companies that have them on custom audience lists.

AdBlock Plus boasting they have already beat Facebook’s new restrictions.
Only a couple days after Faceboook’s announcement of new software to help eliminate ad blocking, AdBlock Plus announced that their developers had added plugs in their software to circumvent Facebook’s efforts. Expect Facebook’s coders to react with their own update.

FTC tightening restrictions on Influencer Marketing disclosures.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is placing stricter rules on marketing with social media influencers. The commission will be increasing the requirements for disclosure of sponsored posts, with the burden falling on advertisers rather than the influencers. Influencers must provide spoken disclosure in the video or the notice must appear on screen. #ad must come before any other post text and cannot be replaced with other abbreviations like #sp or #spon. If users won’t readily see and understand what an advertising hashtag means then expect it to be disqualified.

Twitter opening ‘Moments’ to everyone.
In the coming months Twitter will open up the ability for anyone on Twitter to string tweets together into a narrative.  This new feature, very similar to Snapchat’s ‘Stories’, is called ‘Moments’. Users can subscribe to Moment chains to ensure they receive the next tweet.

Twitter Moments

 

Google announces Duo, a video-calling competitor to FaceTime.
Google announced Duo at Google I/O. The new app will essentially be a cross-platform competitor to FaceTime. Duo is being built for the global market and will work on both iOS and Android, even with slow connections. Duo may also be used as an enticement to lure iPhone users to Android. The new app will also replace Google Hangouts for consumers. Hangouts will eventually become a B2B-focused product.

Google Duo

 

Google Hangouts moving from Google+ to Youtube.
On September 12, users will no longer be able to schedule Hangouts on Air on Google+. The events will need to be scheduled through Youtube Live. Instructions are provided by Google on how to setup the events on Youtube Live and how to direct users to the Live Streaming Events in the Creator Studio.

Facebook releases two new tools for 360 videos.
Facebook is rolling out two new tools: Guided Tours and Heatmap Insights. Guided Tours highlight points of interest in the 360-degree video experience. By default, viewers will be taken to points you select. Viewers can leave the Guide to enter explore mode if they choose. The new Heatmap Insights provides a visual heatmap of the user 360 experience, letting you know what points people spend the most time on.

Pinterest ads CPM bidding.
Pinterest has opened up the opportunity for advertisers to pay for ads based on impressions rather than engagement. Advertisers can bid on a CPM (cost-per-thousand impressions). The ads are performance based, which is an improvement over the fixed-prices Pinterest previously offered. This should bring a greater reach to advertisers’ campaigns at a lower cost.

Facebook’s messenger bots can send promo messages within 24-hour window.
Facebook has decided to restrict the amount of time Messenger bots have to respond to users down to 24 hours. The 24-hour limitation puts pressure on businesses to create more responsive bots if they hope to send promotions. Businesses will be able to send one follow-up message after the 24-hour window, which refreshes each time a user interacts with the bot. Messenger bots will also be able to avoid the limitation with the use of subscription-based messaging. There are a number of other exceptions.

Facebook adds 3 new video metrics.
As part of Facebook’s push of video advertising they have added three helpful video metrics for marketers: audience demographics, live video engagement, views from shares and cross-posting. Audience demographics allow advertisers to see minutes viewed by age, gender and geographic location. The Live Video Viewer Engagement provides viewer behavior metrics for reactions, comments and shares. The last metric allows marketers to compare breakdowns of views and minutes viewed in the original post with the shared and cross-posted views and minutes viewed.

Facebook Video Metrics

 

Facebook updating news feed to make it more informative.
Facebook is again updating their news feed algorithm. A few weeks ago they had updated it to make it more personal. Now they are updating it to make it more “informative”.  More specifically, the algorithm attempts to display pages that the user will find most informative to them personally. What qualifies is subjective, which leads to a lot of algorithm tweaking. There are two factors that determine “informative” news: feedback – what Facebook’s test users marked as informative on a scale of 1-10; revelance – based on a user’s personalization factors like relationship to a page, Facebook will determine if a potential article is relevant.

Twitter allows companies to use branded stickers.
Twitter is allowing advertisers to place an ad directly onto a photo they post via branded stickers. Users who see these branded stickers can click on them to see photos from other people who included it. For now, Twitter is only allowing certain brands, with their own Twitters sales reps, to use Promoted Stickers, with Pepsi being the first.

twitter-stickers

 

Snapchat allowing more Brands to run ads between Friends’ stories.
Snapchat had previously rolled out a native video ad format which has ads appear between friends’ snaps and stories. Snapchat is now expanding the pilot program to include more advertisers. However, Snapchat limits each of its users to three ads between friend’s stories per day, to avoid running the user experience.

Instagram using Facebook algorithm and data to sort Stories.
Instagram rolled out Stories last week. Stories allows users to share multiple photos and videos in a slideshow. The order of Stories that appear on the Instagram app news feed is determined by data and an algorithm from Facebook.

Pinterest starts ad webinar series.
Business started a new webinar series to help marketers and businesses understand how Pinterest Ads. The webinars will cover best practices on how to use promoted pins, using Pinterest to connect with people who matter most to the business and other related topics.

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