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 confirms that Google Search Console reverification emails were a bug.
On Thursday evening, webmasters (including myself) received numerous reverification notices from Google search console for their different profiles. Google’s John Mueller confirmed that these emails were probably due to a bug, but he did recommend checking your domain owner settings.

John Mueller Tweet Search Console


Removed users being accidentally reauthorized in the Google Search Console.
Due to  to the verification email bug mentioned above a potential issue has arisen for older Search Console accounts that had removed users but not removed their verifications. In this case these removed users could have received the verification emails and reverified themselves. Double check who has access to your Google Search Console account. In the future when you remove a user, make sure that their verification is also removed.

John Mueller tweet on search console reverification


Google antitrust Europe case continues.
Regulators at the European Commision (EC) are preparing a “supplementary statement of objections” to add to the current antitrust matter against Google. This particular case is in regards to Google’s shopping search. Google also faces a second antitrust front in Europe over Android-OEM contracts and may soon have a third complaint over Adwords publisher agreements. So far, Google has come away from these proceedings relatively unscathed. However, a loss in any of these cases could result in billions in penalties for Google.  

Privacy Shield will replace Safe Harbor agreement
Safe Harbor was the 15-year agreement that allowed for the transfer and processing of data on servers between the US and Europe. The agreement was invalidated by the European court when Edward Snowden revealed domestic-spying by the US. In order to protect the information (of Europeans) transferred to the US, a new agreement, called Privacy Shield, was announced in February. There is still much skepticism around the new agreement and privacy advocates will most likely test the legislation in court.

Bing to hold agency awards in September.
On September 15th in New York City, Bing will be holding an awards ceremony for the top agencies working with Bing Ads. Agencies can nominate themselves for as few or as many categories as they would like. Nominations will be considered based on quality and depth of Bing engagement (be detailed in your submission). There are 12 different awards up for grabs.

Bing Agency Awards 2016


Google Penguin 4.0 has not happened yet.
This past week, John Mueller shared that Google Penguin 4.0 still has not been released. He also did not have a release date. So much for that December ’15 deadline.

Google testing removing the results estimate from search results.
Google has been removing the estimated results from their search results page. While SEOs find this number useful it is a very soft estimate. It is not helpful for finding the actual number of results. However, it can be helpful as trends indicator, especially when analyzing the indexation of your own website.

Derek Edmond tweet


Bing testing rating percentage next to search results.
Both Bing and Google add stars in the search results for local businesses with the proper markup. Google has tested having a percentage next to the stars, but the percentage was in a light gray that does not call attention. Bing is now testing (on a handful of sites) a bright orange percentage placed right next to their bright orange stars. If the test expands this is definitely of note for Local SEO. Bing also has another variation where they place points out of ten next to the stars.

Bing Search Result with percentage next to stars

Bing search results with point out of ten by review stars


Google adds 3 new features to Google Now on Tap.
Android Marshmallow users of Google Now on Tap can now translate any text on their screen to their native language (including in apps, Google Maps, etc.). A “Discover” button has also been created. The button provides a stream of visual content related to what is on screen. This feature is designed for browsing and discovering new information rather than for searching. Tap users can also get helpful related cards when they scan barcodes and QR codes. These innovations by Google are all part of its overarching goal to be the one-stop source for information.

Google on tap translate


Google is using line separators for some of its first search results.
Spotted by Glenn Gabe, Google has begun using line separators to call attention to the first search result for queries when the search result is highly relevant. This occurs when there are news listings above the official site. This may just be a test.

Glenn Gabe Search Result


Google testing new layout for Google Analytics.
On what appears to be a limited test, Google has been testing a cleaner, block layout for its Google Analytics platform. Antonino Bologna, tweeted a screenshot of the new layout. A cleaner design could aid what many consider a messy and difficult to navigate platform. The use of blocks may indicate a unifying between mobile and desktop experiences.

New Google Analytics Layout


For Manual Actions the site disavow file needs to be on the canonical version.
John Mueller said this past week that if your site receives a manual action penalty then you need to submit a disavow file for the canonical version of your site. If you are unsure of your canonicalized version, submit a disavow file to all the variation of your site (https, non-https, www, non-www) in the Google Search Console.

Google Keyword Planner gets search estimates based on organic search data.
After a back and forth that began with a question incorrectly answered by Glenn Gabe on Twitter, Google clarified that the Keyword Planner tool does use organic search data and does not display only for queries where ads are present. *A followup to this may be upcoming.

There is no Google Penalty for not outlinking.
John Mueller noted that there is no penalty for not linking out to other websites. However, linking out can improve how Google views the quality of a page. Best practice should be link to sites that would be helpful to your users. Nofollow your blog comments and nofollow any links that may toe the line of Google’s Quality guidelines. Does outlinking bring any positive SEO benefit? Google has said no in the past, but SEO studies beg to differ.

There is no Google ranking boost for using XML & HTML sitemaps.
John Mueller noted that while the XML sitemap is useful to let Google know of site changes (an RSS feed or ATOM feed can do the same thing), an HTML sitemap has no direct impact in search. Google’s ability to crawl well-structured sites has continually improved and site user rarely visit HTML sitemaps anymore. It may be unnecessary to have an HTML file on the site, though still best practice to have one. The only time a HTML sitemap would be truly beneficial is if your site has a poorly structured navigation that is difficult to crawl for spiders and navigate for users.

John Mueller reminds webmasters that one URL = one piece of content.
John Mueller, of Google, tweeted a reminder that each URL should have its own unique piece of content. Do not duplicate content over multiple URLS on the same website or across domains. Also don’t target too many different pieces of content on the same URL. If you are writing about a new topic for your website, place it on a new page. If you are creating a new website do not scrape content from your old websites. Pretty simple.

John Mueller tweet about site content


Contact Information is not an organic ranking signal.
John Mueller clarified that while missing the contact information on a website can lead to a poor user experience it does not directly affect organic search rankings.

Short articles won’t penalize your site.
In a Google Hangout, John Mueller noted that short content will not give websites a Google penalty. Both short and long content can rank well in Google. What is important is the quality of your content. Think about creating a great user experience, whether it be through short or long content.

Only disavow problematic links, not unrelated links.
In a google hangout, John Mueller explained that the disavow tool should only be used with truly problematic links that you do not want associated with your site. Links that were acquired in the past, but that are no longer relevant to the site content should be left alone. These links help build the authority of your site, even if they are not directly related. So don’t bring a machete to your disavow project, pruning shears will do.

Search Engines may not see pages that have a hash (#) in the URL.
John Mueller commented that many search engines do not support a hash symbol (#) in the URL. For those webmasters using Angular, instead turn on HTML5Mode() to use normal URLs with HTML5 history API.

Google cannot read href lang or rel-canonical tags in broken headers.
John Mueller noted that if the head section of your website is improperly formatted (broken) then Google will not recognize any code that exists there. This includes any tags that have placed like the href lang or rel-canonical tags.

No search benefit to removing old site content.
In the last week’s Google Webmaster Office hours, John Mueller of Google was asked a question about removing old site content for ranking benefits. Mueller responded that there is no direct ranking benefit from removing old site content. He provided two caveats. If the old site content is poor quality, then removal or updating could be beneficial. Also, if a site has an overwhelming number of pages, such that new pages are not properly being crawled, a technical fix or removal of old content may be beneficial. But, old content does not mean bad rankings. Many old pieces of content rank well in Google. Check analytics to view traffic and user interaction on old pages to determine their value before having them removed.

Google is always making changes to its search algorithm.
John Mueller reminded webmasters in a Google hangout that the Google engineers are always making changes to the search algorithm. In a related article it was noted that 25,000 Google software developers make 16,000 code changes a day to the Google codebase. Just because there haven’t been recent algo update announcements, does not mean changes are not happening.

Google plans new Nexus-branded, assistant powered smartwatches.
Google plans to release two new smartwatches, which will be the first “in-house” Android Wear devices. The devices should also be equipped with “the Google Assistant”. Users can expect some small improvements in Google’s voice search, better location based search and additional notifications. While not directly related to search, this acts as a reminder that digital marketers will constantly need to innovate to stay on top of new search mediums.

FTC shames Warner Brothers for failing to disclose social influencer payments
The US Federal Trade Commision (FTC) reached a settlement with Warner Bros. over their promotion of the video game, “Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor”. Warner Bros. had paid social influencers to promote the game in the form of reviews without disclosing the payment to audiences. This is disingenuous to viewers who believe that they are receiving an authentic promotion and review of the product when in reality they are viewing a paid advertisement. Such influencer marketing efforts are essentially a form of native advertising that must be disclosed to viewers. The FTC has also gone after other companies using similar efforts. As more businesses are pushed to native advertising formats due to the rise of Ad blocking, expect the FTC to continue to strongly police influencer marketing.

Mozilla building Context Graph – a crowd-sourced content recommendation.
Mozilla is building Context Graph, a content recommend system that will live in the Firefox browser. The goal is help searchers find information based on their current context. An example of this would be showing a searcher all the most popular links pointing to a video that contains a repair tutorial. The use receives highly related, connected information at their fingertips. Alternatively a new ‘forward button’ could be added which would recommend highly related content to a current search. This would help guide users forward, rather than having them search on their own. The essence of the idea is content discovery based on what other users find useful or interesting. Context Graph is currently in development and uses a number of other Mozilla tools within it.


PPC (pay-per-click) ADVERTISING

Bing expands keyword planner access.
Bing Ads recently expanded access to their keyword planner to users in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Bing also added a new targeting feature that finds keyword suggestions based on product categories.

Google Adwords Express advertising dashboard breaks.
This past week several users of Adwords Express saw that their dashboard was broken. Instead of showing accurate numbers, zeros were displayed. Google is aware of the issue and said their technical team is working to correct the issue.

Google is testing rating percentage instead of stars for text ads.
Peter Lavelle, from Pure FX, sent a screenshot to Search Engine Land, that showed Google is testing a grey rating percentage in place of the yellow stars for their text ads. While this may make it easier for users to skim through search results, it takes less emphasis off of Google’s ads. If users start skipping over the ads, I doubt Google will expand the test.

Google text ad percentage test


Google adds cloud-based online video tools with acquisition of Anvato.
Last Thursday, Google announced that it had acquired Anvato. The acquisition provided automated encoding, editing, publishing and secure distribution of video content across multiple platforms. These features were added to the Google Cloud Platform improving its edge against competing services like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. Expect intense competition as these companies battle it out in the growing ad category of digital video advertising.

Google announces several updates to shopping, product listing ads and hotel ads.
In preparation for the fall and winter marketing and travel seasons, Google announced a host of mobile search design updates.

Hotel searches will have added filters that allow users to search for specific ratings or price ranges with just a tap on their phones. This feature is currently available in the US and will roll out globally later in the year.
>Google recently added a green “Deal” label to hotel search. The label is created by algorithms when a significant reduction in price is noted. Google claims that the “Deal” label brings twice as many bookings to hotels with the label.
>‘Tips’ will also be added to the mobile search. Tips are informational popups that let a searcher know how they could save money by slightly moving their booking dates. Both deals and tips are currently rolling out and will be global in the next few months>
>Searchers will be able to opt in to price/fare change alerts, which will let them know when the price for their flight has changed significantly up or down. Searchers will be notified by email and Google Now cards. The feature will be made available in the next few weeks for all 26 countries where Google Flights is available.

Google flights and travel

Shopper Discovery & Exploration:
Google is adjusting the search experience for users searching for broad item terms like “women’s athletic clothing”. In the past, they have displayed specific product ads in the search results. To improve the experience, Google will begin to display a showcase of shopping ads in a carousel format. When an individual card in the carousel is clicked users will have a large showcase of items related to their search. Users can swipe down in their mobile phone and view the various options. All merchants in the US, UK and Australia will be eligible for Showcase ads in the coming weeks. A Premium version may be created to allow merchants to curate the experience.

Easier Youtube Shopping
TrueView for Shopping was introduced last year to make it easier for viewers to get information and click to buy from watching video ads. Two new features will be added to the product. An interactive Companion banner will be added next to the video that allows users to scroll through products while the video pays next to the scroll.
Product picker lets advertisers choose and prioritize which of their products are featured as cards in a TrueView for shopping campaign. Both Product picker and Companion banner will be rolled out later this month.

Shopping Across Borders
Google is testing a currency conversion tool in Australia, Switzerland, Canada and the UK. The feature allows advertisers to convert the currency in their product data to match that of the searcher. This allows advertisers to use their existing website and landing pages without making any changes. The feature will roll out in the coming weeks.

Google shopping across borders


Google links to images from image search within Knowledge Graph profiles.
In what appears to be a test, Google has begun linking to their image search when users click on the profile photo within the Knowledge Graph profile. Normally, clicking on the photo would bring the user to other photos uploaded by the business. This test appears to only occur for local small to medium businesses and not for large brands or hotel Knowledge Panel images. If this becomes more than a test, small businesses will unfortunately have to put more effort into their SEO efforts to better control the image search results.

Google displaying local inventory link in Knowledge Panel and Map Listings.
Google has begun displaying local inventory ads in Knowledge Panels and Map Listings in the form of a text link, “Search items at this store”, placed next to a Products label. This is currently only occurring for large brands.

Local inventory in knowledge graph

Google created and then removed a help page for creating a direct link for customers to write reviews.
Google created a help page that explained in detail how to use the Google Maps API to generate a URL for customers to leave a business reviews. The help page was later removed, although businesses claim that the method still works. The direct URL did not work in all browsers or all devices. If google corrects rather than nixes this link, it would be a huge improvement over the current methods businesses use in soliciting Google Reviews. For the exact method visit Mike Blumenthal’s post.

Google releases new feature allowing for crowd sourced business photos.
A year ago, google added Google Photos for visually graphing the world. Now Local guides can have photos taken of businesses automatically matched to business local listing where the photo is added. In order to have the feature work, the backup and location features need to be turned on in Google Photos.

Pokémon Go brings the next step in digital marketing.
Pokémon Go has become a rapid craze with millions of app downloads. With so many people on the app, marketers are already thinking how to monetize the experience. Pokémon Go is a world overlayed on a Google Map where users can visit locations to catch Pokémon and collect items. Ads will eventually make it into the game and more clever marketers will integrate their business in other ways. The new app reminds us of the ever-changing world of digital marketing. Virtual reality has been much hyped with headsets and now Pokémon Go. Will virtual reality take off in a wider context?

Pokemon Go



Yahoo has released a host of new Facebook Messenger bots.
Yahoo released new Facebook Messenger bots designed to provide pertinent information on world news, financial news and weather. Many have stopped thinking of Yahoo as a search location and more of an information hub for daily news. These new bots leverage that mentality.

Facebook tests redesigned desktop page without right-hand ads.
Facebook has been testing a redesigned page for desktop users that removes the right-hand ads. This is one of several ads-free layouts the company is evaluating. Removing the ads from pages is not a signal that ads will be removed from profiles or feeds. It may be a move to help focus pages more on the business or celebrity it represents. These right-hand ads also account for a small percentage of its desktops ads, while all desktop ads account for 18% of FB ad revenue.

Facebook page without right-hand ads


Case against Facebook for possible tax evasion continues.
In 2010, Facebook transferred its assets for its global business outside of Canada and the US to Ireland (where there are lower corporate tax rates). The US Department of Justice claims that Facebook understated the value of assets transferred and is seeking the release of internal FB documents. Facebook like many other tech companies has been accused of tax avoidance by moving taxable assets to ‘tax havens’ in Europe.

Facebook continues getting more of publishers ad campaigns.
Video has increasingly become a more valuable and coveted advertising space and Facebook has been the go-to for video advertising in social media. 50% of publishers have used video ad campaigns on Facebook, 31% on Youtube, 17% on Twitter and the number continues to diminish with other social platforms. One of the primary reasons Facebook is doing better than Youtube is that videos can be targeted toward signed-in audiences rather than relying on cookies. With half of traffic coming from mobile, cookie tracking is more unreliable than it has ever been. This unreliability makes the exact attribution of signed in Facebook accounts more appealing.

Facebook testing disappearing messages in Messenger.
Facebook Messenger has been testing a new message format where users can control how long the message stays visible after being sent. The messages will be encrypted and disappear on both the sender’s and receivers’ devices. It looks like a text version of Snapchat.

Facebook now supports multiple accounts and account switching in iOS.
The new feature allows users to switch between messenger accounts without singing out. The feature was added because as many as 31 percent of Facebook users share their device with another person. iOS users can find the ‘Switch Account’ feature in their app settings. This same feature has been available to Android users since February.

Instagram adds an account moderation option for its new business pages.
The new feature allows business to remove all comments that Instagram deems offensive. There are currently no adjustment options to the moderation but this will provide instant relief to business dealing with swearing, slurs, spam, etc. in their comment reels.

Instagram comment moderation

Instagram shares advice on getting the most from dynamic ads.
Instagram launched dynamic ads last month to help advertisers promote relevant products to shoppers. In a recent, short post, Instagram provided some tips and real examples of businesses successfully using dynamic ads.

Twitter providing more information to brands about who sees their tweets, visits their sites.
Twitter opened up Gnip’s Audience API last Tuesday. Any brand can now access demographic and interest data for users who see their tweets or visit their site. All the data will be anonymized and aggregated, requiring a grouping of at least 500 Twitter users. Twitter had released an earlier, more limited version of the API in October 2015. The tool will allow for the creation of audience segments of anyone who was shown a brand’s unpaid tweet within the past 90 days. The data can also be pulled from Twitter’s database by using a list of email addresses, phone numbers or advertising IDs. Some of the audience information brands will have access to include: gender, language, interests, TV, location, device and wireless network.

Twitter strikes deal for 3 Bloomberg weekday shows to display live on Twitter.
Bloomberg will syndicate three of its TV shows: “Bloomberg West”, “What’d You Miss?” and “With All Due Respect” on Twitter at the same time the shows are on TV. This is part of Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey’s vision of making Twitter synonymous with live media and information.

Twitter increases maximum GIF size.
Twitter has increased the maximum size of GIFs to 15 megabytes (from the previous 5mb). The increase is only available via the web.

Snapchat introduces saved snaps and stories called ‘Memories’.
Over the next few months, Snapschat will be selectively rolling out the ‘Memories’ feature. Memories allows users to re-share old Snaps, which can be stored in a private ‘My Eyes Only’ section.


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