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)

Google will devalue sites with mobile pop-ups and interstitials.
Starting next year, Google will begin to rank sites with mobile interstitials and pop-ups lower than sites without them. This update also targets fake interstitials, which many sites turned to avoid earlier penalties. Sites with desktop pop-ups will not be targeted. Some types of interstitials like cookies notice and age verification will not be targeted either. While having interstitials will lower the rank of a site, other ranking signals are still much stronger. Don’t expect a huge reshuffling of the SERP.

Google Penalizes Interstatial Ads


Google dropping the Mobile Friendly Tag.
Google has found that 85% of pages in their mobile search results are now mobile friendly, making the mobile-friendly tag unnecessary. To reduce in the search results, Google will be removing the Mobile-Friendly label. Though Google is removing the tag, they are definitely still keeping their mobile-friendly ranking boost. A benefit of the removal is that SEOs will have more room for their meta descriptions in the search results, now that the tag is not taking up room.

WordPress 404 to 301 Plugin injecting spam links on sites.
Users discovered that the WordPress 404 to 301 Plugin is placing paid links (only visible to search engines) on the websites that use this plugin. If Google notices, your site may get hit with a manual action penalty for cloaking. The paid links script was intentionally added to the plugin by its creators. There is even language in the GNU that states this. If you are using this plugin, update to the newest version to have the ads removed. Alternatively, avoid this plugin altogether and probably any others created by the publisher.

Index Status Report in Google Search Console Broken.
Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that the index status report within Google Search Console is broken. However, Google engineers are already working on fixing it.

Google explains reasoning Keyword Planner changes.
Google has been tightening access to the keyword planner tool within Adwords. Only those with active campaigns above a certain threshold receive the exact keyword estimates. Others will have to be satisfied with wide, estimated traffic ranges. Google posted in their help thread, that the changes have been made to prevent “bots” and other services from abusing the keyword planner. Obviously, there will be differing opinions on Google’s motives in the search community.

WordPress version 4.6 available.
WordPress has released ‘Pepper’, their new version 4.6 of the content management system. There are a number of useful features included in the update. There is now a broken link checker built directly into the CMS, which alerts you of errors as you insert links in the site content. Content is also now saved in your browser as you are typing it, allowing for auto recovery. The CMS will also use the native fonts already located on your access device. This will make WordPress more efficient, increasing its speed. There are a number more updates included in the new release. Read their official announcement.

Google again testing thumbnail images in organic, mobile results.
Dan Smullen posted a screenshot of the Google again testing thumbnail images alongside search results for mobile users. A couple years ago, Google had tested and then dropped thumbnail images from the search results.

Google ‘not provided’ increases after HSTS Switch.
Google recently made the switch to HSTS for google.com. This resulted in even less keyword data being provided in Google Analytics. Previously, ‘not provided’ would account for roughly 93% of keywords in Google Analytics. After the switch, that percentage is closer to 98%. While the report was essentially useless before, HSTS just buries the coffin in which the last nail had been driven. SEOs will have to rely on the keyword data provided by the Google Search Console.

Moz lays off 28% of staff to better realign with search.
Moz posted a blog that explains their current effort to better align with search. As part of the effort, Moz will be cutting the staff on their Content, Community and Followerwonk teams. These cuts ad up to 28% of their current staff or roughly 60 people. The cut is also an effort to make Moz cash flow positive. Their team was too large and costing too much.

Raven Tools releasing rebuilt, standalone Site Auditor tool.
Raven Tools is refocusing on search optimization and releasing a completely rebuilt version of its Site Auditor. Raven Tools had built out a whole suite of tools over the years but due to Google shielding keyword data and a crowded SEO market, Raven began to struggle. In response, it is strengthening its core identity again.

Google does not support Rel Canonical for images.
John Mueller responded to a question, in a Google+ hangout, by explaining that Google does not support rel=canonical tags in image files for redirection. However, you should still be able to add the canonical to the http header sent from the content delivery network (CDN).

Google supports Rel Canonical in PDFs but not images.
John Mueller clarified on Twitter that Google does support rel=canonical for PDFs in web-search but it does not support rel=canonical for images in image-search.

Google fixes glitch in “Links to Your Site” report.
Last week, users noticed a glitch within the Google Search Console. The “Links to Your Site” report was blank. However, Google has corrected the issue and restored the missing data.

Google continue to face antitrust investigations.
Google is already dealing with complaints in the EU and recently lost an appeal in Russia for a similar investigation. Now, South Korean officials have launched their own antitrust investigation against Google. If these different cases go against Google, it could be paying tens of billions of dollars in fines.

Google does not follow links in SVGs.
John Mueller answered a question on Twitter about Scalable Vector Graphics (SVGs). SVGs are an XML-based vector image format for 2dimensional graphics. SVGs may contain xlink:href links. While Google does crawl and index SVGs, Google does not follow the links within SVGs.

John Mueller Tweet on SVG


Google gives tips on getting started with AMP for Ecommerce.
Google posted a detailed description of the journey a developer may have in creating an AMP e-commerce website. The post goes through the development of the site from homepage to checkout, AMP to PWA, explaining the necessary steps in building a complete AMP website.

Interesting Google command “**” for viewing local business websites.
Users on Reddit in the r/Google community have been discussing an interesting find. If you search for “**” (without quotations) you receive a list of websites of businesses physically nearby your location.


PPC (pay-per-click) ADVERTISING

Bind Ads adds Enhanced CPC.
Bing has rolled out its first bid strategy, Enhanced CPC. Enhanced CPC adjusts your bids in real time in order to optimize for conversions. The strategy allows your campaign to bid up to 30% higher for users likely to convert and 100% lower for users less likely to convert. To use the setting, you will need to the Universal Event Tracking (UET) code and have enough conversion data recorded. Even with Enhanced CPC set on the campaign level, ad groups and keywords can still be set to manual CPC bidding.

Campaign drafts and experiments now available for Google Display.
Google posted on Google+, that campaign drafts and experiments are now available for display campaigns. Drafts and experiments let advertisers test changes made by measuring results and applying winning changes to the account. Drafts and experiments had previously been available for Adwords since February, but Google is now expanding them to Display.

Adwords testing new Campaign Goups for cross-campaign goal tracking.
Google Adwords is testing a feature called “campaign groups”. Campaign groups allow advertisers to track a common goal across multiple campaigns. The test was spotted by Ariana Wolf. To see if you have access to the test, navigate in adwords to the “all campaigns,” “all drafts” menu.

Arianna Wolf Tweet


Bing accepting businesses in their pilot Expanded Text Ads (ETAs).
In response to Google’s announcement of Expanded Text Ads (ETAs), Bing has also announced add support for its own longer text ad format. Interested advertisers can apply to be part of the pilot. If accepted into the pilot, it will take around a week to have the ETAs activated in your account.

Google beta testing “account health score” in Adwords.
Within the opportunities tab of Google Adwords, a new feature is being tested in beta. An “account health score for search” is provided to advertisers. The score is based on a 0-100% scale and gives an overall rating for how well advertisers’ search network campaigns are configured. An individual score is given to each campaign and suggestions are provided on how to improve it.

Google confirms new Adwords interface rolling out to users.
Google stated that the new Adwords UI has started rolling out to advertisers and will continue to rollout over several months. No explanation given as to which users will receive the updated UI first.

Adwords Call-Only ads automatically displaying business name.
Josh Liebner spotted that Google Call-Only ads are pulling the business name and placing it in the headline of the ad. Advertisers should be aware of how their ads may be displayed with the complete business name.  

Google Adwords Preview tool allows users to share results.
Google created a new feature in their Preview tool that allows advertisers to share displayed results. A button on the top right of the page, labeled “share this result” provides a URL that can be emailed so others can see the results.  

Adwords Express rolls out Scheduling, Call Tracking & Map Actions.
Google Adwords Express has added a number of new features. Ad scheduling allows advertisers to choose what time of day their ads will run. Call Tracking has been improved and will include additional customer details like area code, time and date, and the duration of the call. Map Actions provide details about who viewed an ad and then clicked through to see the business listing in Google Maps.

Oracle launches largest B2B audience data marketplace in world.
Oracle has developed their own data marketplace for B2B audiences. The data is provided from Oracle-owned Datalogix, BlueKai and AddThis as well as from other Data Partners. The huge data marketplace comes with pre-built filters allowing users to segment their audience. Both companies that use Oracle technology and those who do not, will be able to access the data. Oracle had previously provided B2B data through LinkedIn-owned Bizo. However, Bizo shut down and LinkedIn was purchased by Microsoft. So Oracle built its own B2B offering which is relatively unique in a marketplace where most data is built for B2C.



Google testing ‘Post Directly to Search’ with Small Businesses.
Google is expanding a test it, giving access to thousands of small businesses. These small businesses will be given the ability to create cards with short messages, text, links, pictures and videos that are displayed at the top of search results, when a user searches for the business by name.



Instagram rolling out events video channels.
Instagram’s new event video channels collect live events and video into a single stream and tailors the stream to each individual user. Instagram’s new feature is very similar to Snapchat’s Live Stories but adds the benefits of channel personalization. Event video channels are available to users in the US and will later roll out to those outside the US.

Facebook increases the number of videos and images in carousel ads.
Facebook has doubled the number of images and videos included in their carousel ads from five to ten. While the documentation has not been updated, ten is now the official limit.

Instagram rolling out business profiles.
Instagram announced its new set of business tools back in May and now they are rolling out. The roll out includes a new business profile, very similar to Facebook’s business pages. The profiles have business information, a contact button and come with tools on the backend. The tools include analytics like audience behaviors and demographics. Businesses can also promote popular images to particular demographic segments. The feature should roll out globally by the end of the year.

Snapchat buying Vurb, looking into personalized search?
Snapchat is finalizing a deal to purchase the personalized search and recommendation app, Vurb, for over $100 million. Vurb compiles data from different apps to create a personalized mobile search function. Vurb is more than just a search function though. It allows users to read reviews, use Google Maps for directions and request Uber rides all through the App. Verb also allows users to follow the recommendations of influencers and friends helping build a community based on user interests. Searched results are also personalized based on user preferences, location, time and weather. The app functions in a very similar way to Google Now and Siri. What exactly is Snapchat’s plan for the technology? We will have to wait and see.

Twitter indirectly fighting abusive users.
Twitter is providing additional options that will help users to fight abuse. Users can limit notifications to only people they follow on Twitter, and add a quality filter that limits displayed tweets based on account age and user behavior. This is a step forward, but Twitter still needs to take on the balancing act between freedom of speech and eliminating harassment.

Twitter Notifications in navigation


Pineterest launches click-to-play, mobile-only video ads.
Last week, Pinterest released its newest update on digital video ads. Pinterest will begin inserting a Cinematic Pin that plays sound-free frames from the video as people scroll by it. Users will need to tap on the teaser to see the full video, which will play in Pinterest’s native video player atop the screen. The videos can last up to five minutes and be formatted horizontally, horizontally or square. Brands will have to pay for the ads based on CPM (thousand impressions), even if no one clicks on them. These new ads are currently restricted to US & UK advertisers with their own sales reps. The ads should eventually be added to Pinterest’s self-serve ad buying tool and be made available through its API.

Pinterest adds three new features.
Pinterest has added three new updates to user sharing, searching and account management. Pinners can opt out of Pinterest’s recommendation tool. This tool provides the “Picked for You” pins. Pinners can now also send pins, boards and user profiles in additional apps, including Twitter, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Pinners can also send messages and invitations to others, even if the two are not following each other.

Pinterest Opt Out


Pinterest acquiring Instapaper to strengthen its media presence.
Pinterest announced its acquisition of Instapaper, a software people use to save articles on the web to view later. Instapaper as an individual service will remain available to users. Instapaper’s article saving capability will probably be added into Pinterest, where users already save images. Pinterest is becoming a blend of a bookmarking website and a social media platform. Hopefully it can continue to differentiate itself.

Facebook adding new capabilities to their Slideshow video ads.
Slideshow advertising by Facebook was created to make it cheaper to create video ad units and make them accessible in emerging markets with slow data connections. Facebook recently added a number of new features. Advertisers can add text, select templates and choose colors for their videos. Audio tracks can also be selected and soon advertisers will be able to upload their own tracks. Slideshow videos can be created “on the go” and are now fully integrated with Facebook’s stock image database. Lastly, advertisers can translate existing video automatically into image montages for slower connections.

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