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)

Verizon purchases Yahoo for $4.83B
Verizon and Yahoo announced a deal in which Verizon will purchase Yahoo for $4.83 billion. This not expected to be challenged by regulatory committees.  The deal will allow Verizon (with its 100 million wireless customers and ownership of AOL) to leverage Yahoo’s improved advertising capabilities. With Google having data from search to build ads, and Facebook having data from social users to develop advertising, Verizon may now use its mobile phone data to become a third big ad player. While the CEOs, including Marissa Mayer, tout this acquisition as a success, it is a good reminder that Microsoft offered $44.6B to acquire Yahoo in 2008. Yahoo rejected Microsoft’s 2008 offer.

New Google Analytics design appears to be rolling out.
Several users (including myself), have had their Google Analytics interface slightly updated. The only real difference is a change in the look and feel of the head navigation. This may be the starting point of a slow, continuous roll-out of updated Google Analytics designs.

Google Analytics Redesign


Potential SinglePlatform errors in Google Local Box.
Eric Wu noticed that many Google local knowledge box results have links to SinglePlatform pages that have no information provided. SinglePlatform is the technology that powers the menus for Google’s (restaurant) menu results. But, these menu links are being displayed for non-restaurant searches like ‘alpha floral santa barbara’. When the link to the menu is clicked the user is brought to an empty SinglePlatform page. This may be a bug in Google’s system.

Single Platform Errors


Google testing sponsored boxes for flight results.
For search queries like “New York to Houston”, Google displays a grid of flights from different airlines, showing flight times and prices. However, Conrad O’Connell posted an image on Twitter of new sponsored boxes that display a city image along with the information of one flight option to the city. This may be a new feature Google is testing, perhaps for locations with few flight options or general/ambiguous locations (Arizona vs. phoenix).

Sponsored boxes in flight searches


High Court of Paris rules search engines don’t have to censor “torrent” searches.
An entertainment industry group (SNEP) brought suit against Google and Bing in the High Court of Paris. SNEP demanded that Google and Bing filter their search results to remove any search results with the word “torrent” as well as any domains with “torrent” in their name. SNEP lost the case. The judge reasoned that ‘torrent’ refers to a neutral communication protocol and not necessarily to infringing content. Such a wide filter would block completely legal torrent sites.

Make high quality site content a priority over webspam issues.
John Mueller said that site’s suffering from manual action penalties should first worry about the quality of their site content before worrying about the webspam. I disagree with John. Having the manual action penalty lifted needs to be the priority. Then improve the content quality of your site. Only having the penalty removed will not guarantee ranking. However, great content that is penalized will not rank at all.

Competitors reporting your site as spam doesn’t guarantee ranking drops.
John Mueller noted that sites whose competitors consistently report them for spam are not affected by these consistent reports. Only if a Google reviewer identifies your site as spam will it be penalized. The continuous competitor reports do not affect the decision. Instead, if a competitor consistently cries wolf, their spam reports will be considered less trustworthy.

No PageRank lost in redirects.
Both John Mueller and Gary Illyes said that no PageRank is lost in a 30x redirect. 30x redirects include 301 (permanent), 302 (temporary) or 307 (temporary) redirects. They also stated that it does not matter which type of redirect you choose. Just choose the right one for your site. I will push back a bit here and say that in terms of Google crawling it doesn’t matter which you choose. However, a 302 allows the old page to still exist in the Google index (at least temporarily). If in doubt, use a 301 redirect.

Google tells webmasters what to do about expired site pages.
During the last English/Hindi Google Webmaster Office Hours, Aaseesh Marina (of Google) answered a question about expired site pages that may return in the future. Marina offered a number of solutions. If the page is not going to return for a number of months, then it can be no indexed from Google. If the page will only be gone for a few months, placeholder text like “coming soon” can be placed on the page. A soft 404 can also be used on the page if it will be gone for a few months. The soft 404 page can include details of past deals so it is useful to users. For product pages that have product out of stock, keep the page live and indexed. In the schema markup, note that the product is currently out of stock. Marina also offered an odd solution. She said webmasters can take the page down and report a server error request to Google. Google will assume temporary maintenance issues and return to index the page later. I am not sure if that last suggestion is a great idea, but you can try it.


PPC (pay-per-click) ADVERTISING

Google launches expanded text ads.
Google announced that they had made expanded text ads available for all advertisers. In addition, they will be discontinuing the use of the regular text ad format later this year. After October 26, 2016 advertisers will no longer be able to create or edit standard text ads. The extended format adds about 50% more ad text with two headlines of 30 characters and a single 80 character description. The move to expanded text ads is part of a larger effort to continually improve the mobile user experience. Advertisers should look into rolling over their current campaigns into the new format.

Google Expanded text ads


Google announces Target CPA by device as part of Smart Bidding.
Google introduced ‘Smart Bidding’, its updated automated bidding strategies. These updated strategies include Target CPA (cost-per-acquisition), Target ROAS (return-on-ad-spend) and Enhanced CPC in Adwords and DoubleClick Search. Google will also be adding the ability to set different target CPA goals by device for both search and display campaigns. The new device target CPA should roll out in the coming weeks. Smart bidding options can be setup in real time and are being made available to all advertisers. The automated modeling works best for advertisers with 30+ conversions in the past 30 days for Target CPA and 50+ for Target ROAS.

Google rolls out its payday load ad ban.
Two weeks ago, Google announced that they would be banning ‘payday’ loans that required repayment within 60 days and had interest rates above 35 percent. More specifically the high-APR personal loans are banned in the US only, while short-term personal loans are banned globally. Google was slow in implementing this ban, but they updated their ad policies and will no longer be accepting new payday loan advertising. Over the next couple weeks, they will be removing any current ads that don’t follow new policies.

Google truncating ad headlines.
Google has started to truncate titles in search results that are too long. The cutoff length of title tags is actually based on the number of pixels displayed in the search results. However, Google commented that advertisers can best avoid truncation by keeping ad character count to 33 characters across headlines 1 & 2 and double checking in the ad preview tool. This was spotted and tweeted about by Mark Kennedy.

Truncated Google text ads


Google adds imported call conversions.
Over the next few weeks Google will be rolling out the ability for advertisers to import call conversion data into Adwords. Importing call conversion information into Adwords will allow advertisers to track phone calls that lead to sales or other actions. In order for the function to work, Google forwarding numbers are required. You can now see ad groups, ads and keywords that lead to calls resulting in sales. The calls can only be tracked when they come from mobile, not from tablet or desktop.

Google Announces Cross Device Conversion as default.
Beginning on August 16, 2016, all new Adwords accounts will have cross-device conversions in the Conversions column by default. This was previously a setting that had to be turned on. Google is trying to create a more complete view of performance of ads, especially across mobile.

Google removing “Converted Clicks” from Adwords.
Say goodbye to converted clicks. Google will be removing the original metric, fully replacing it with the improved “Conversions” metric. Advertisers will have until September 21, 2016 to make the switch to Conversions. After that date, converted clicks will no longer be supported. The transition can be done manually, but Google will also be emailing affected advertisers a migration tool to make the switch. In September, Google will also make cross-device conversions automatically group in the Conversions column.  Any historical data from converted clicks will be lost in September as well. Advertisers will need to download the data before then.

Adwords Converted Clicks option


Google explains the ad approval process.
Google released a one page document that details the ad approval process, providing 6 different scenarios advertisers may run into.

IAB study shows 26% of desktop users turn on Ad Blockers.
The Interactive Ad Bureau (IAB) recently published a report that shows 26% of desktop users and 15% of mobile consumers use Ad Blockers when on publisher websites. The study dug into the age groups of those using Ad Blockers as well as their reasoning. Insights included that animated, moving or autoplay ads irritated consumers who used ad blockers the most and a number of people blamed ads for making websites slower.

Bing Ad Revenue up 16%.
Microsoft announced that the revenue from Bing is up 16% year-over-year, as of last quarter. The revenue increase was in large part due to Microsoft’s newly captivated audience. Windows 10 users using the voice assistant, Cortana are forced to use Bing for search. The result was that 40% of all Bing ad revenue came from Windows 10 users this past June. Bing has had a good year, but then again so has Google, which saw a 16% increase in search revenue in the first quarter of 2016.

Bing Ads added exceptions/rejections on group level.
Bing announced that users can request ad exceptions or ad rejections on the whole group level rather than on individual ads. This allows users to make exceptions to a large number of ads much more quickly.

Bing Exception at group level


Hulu, among others ignore Do Not Track requests.
Do Not Track is an option found in browser settings that asks companies to not track the user when off the company site. Hulu updated its privacy policy, informing users that it now ignores Do Not Track requests. This means they will drop cookies on a user visiting their site and track their activity when off site. Many, if not most companies ignore the Do Not Track request, probably because they are not legally bound to do so. There are no penalties for ignoring user requests. Other companies that ignore Do Not Track requests include Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Microsoft. There are a few companies out there like Medium, Pinterest and Reddit that will honor the request.

Spotify using music playlists for better ad targeting.
Spotify announced it will offer programmatic advertising for the 70M users of its free platform. Advertisers can buy audiences in real-time bidding based on demographics, listening habits, playlists and genres. This adds to Spotify’s earlier advances in display and video advertising it began adding back in March.



Google My Business adds spreadsheet import summary screen.
For users uploading listing to Google My Business, via a spreadsheet, in bulk form, Google now displays an import summary screen. Before submission completion, the summary screen lists any possible errors, the name of the uploaded file, a bar chart of changes, a summary of affected locations and download details. This allows users to double check everything before final submission of their changes.

Google My Business Review Summary


Google confirms new Google My Business email verification.
Last week, webmasters were posting screenshots of a new feature that allowed for listing verification through email. Google confirmed the new feature is being provided to select businesses.

Google rolling out image display carousel in business listings.
Google is beginning to display an updated image carousel for business listings. The display is linked to from the Local Finder but not yet fully integrated in the knowledge Panel. The image carousel shows the profile photo of the business, additional photos including interior shots and integrates with the street view. The change was spotted by Sergey Alakov.

Google Image Display Carousel


Google adds additional methods for user Map edits.
As part of Google’s efforts to crowd source the correcting of their notoriously incorrect business listings, they have added new ways for users to make edits. Users can add or edit current business by ‘suggesting an edit’ from the search results local block or by adding missing places from the maps view. Users can also verify edits made by others.

Google Map edits


New Android Google Maps has WiFi mode and mass transit delays notifications.
The new Android version of Google Maps lets users set Google Maps to WiFi mode, helping save their cellular data. The option is called “Wi-Fi only” and can be found in the settings screen on the second line. The update also includes mass transit delays which add customizable notifications users can set to be alerted only for transit lines they care about. Both WiFi mode and mass transit delays are believed to be on a staged roll out. So, you may need to wait to see the features on your device.



Facebook adds new methods for app install advertising.
Facebook added dynamic ads for app installs and in-app purchases. Dynamic app install ads are displayed to users who show interest in a particular product on a website. Users are displayed an ad that allows them to purchase the product after downloading the site app. Advertisers can reach users interested in purchase (who are more likely to download the app). Advertisers can also create more immersive ad experiences using Canvas.

Periscope adds replay highlights, tweet embeds and live autoplay.
Periscope introduced three new features for their users. ‘Highlights’ automatically generate a short trailer for every Periscope broadcast allowing users to quickly catch up on what they missed. Users will also now be able to embed Periscopes anywhere on the web by embedding the tweet. Lastly, on Android, live broadcasts will autoplay in the Watch Tab and Global Feed without sound.

Periscope updates


Facebook announces webinar business series.
The webinar series details the latest strategies for businesses using the Facebook, Instagram and Audience network. Topics range from marketing strategy for performance marketing to video creation.

Facebook increases live video streaming to 4 hours.
As part of a roll-out of updates, Facebook now allows People and Page administrators to broadcast live streams up to 4 hours per sessions in both full screen and video-only mode. Facebook live was previously limited to 2 hours. The update should roll-out “in the coming weeks”.

Facebook Live adds features.
> As noted above, Facebook Live streams will be increased to a new 4 hour limit.
> Comments and reactions to live streams can now easily be turned on and off with a swipe by both publishers and viewers.
> Viewers can now watch in full-screen mode as well as the original square mode.
> A couple weeks ago Facebook added the ability for continuous live streaming.
> Facebook had also previously made a change that allowed for “geogating”. Publishers can allow only their target users to view the add by restricting users based on location, age and gender.

Snapchat developing object recognition capabilities.
Snapchat has applied for patents that make it appear they are working on an ad product that recognizes images to identify ‘real-world’ objects in users’ snaps. This recognition would allow advertisers to serve these users related filters, ads and coupons.  

Facebook ends another test on a Snapchat like feature.
Facebook has continuously been trying to mimic Snapchat’s disappearing news style. Their first failed iterations were ‘Poke’ and ‘Slingshot’. They had recently been testing ‘Quick Updates’. Quick Updates, were 24-hour updates that users could share with select friends. The feature apparently failed testing and will not be launched. Expect Facebook to test a new iteration of the idea. The company is looking for ways to persuade users to share more personal content on the siet, following the recent decline in original content sharing on Facebook.

Twitter adds weekly MLB, NHL games to its own “Sports Center”.
Twitter signed a deal with Major league Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) to livestream MLB and NHL games. Once a week Twitter will air a live MLB and a live NHL game anyone can view. However, people will only be able to view “out-of-market” games that don’t feature their home team. The games will include some of the advertising from their regular TV counterparts. The split of ad revenue between Twitter and the MLBAM is undecided. Twitter will also air its own nightly, 120-minute “Sports Center” show called “The Rally” which will be a live sports show that will highlight clips from different sports talking heads. Twitter hopes their foray into sports will bolster their general goal to make Twitter about “all things live”.

Twitter beats financial expectations but falls short on revenue.
Twitter beat the financial expectations Wall Street had for the company’s second quarter. It increased earnings per share by $.13, higher than the $.10 expected. However total revenue for the second quarter totaled $602M, lower than the expected $607M. Twitter has fallen into the background as Facebook takes center stage with a number of newer social platforms sprinting after it. However, it has increased its user base by 3million users over the past 3 months to a total of 313 million users and continues to see a number of smaller successes. As Twitter moves forward it will need to continue refining what the company’s model is and what future development plans contain.

Twitter launches campaign to define itself.
CMO, Leslie Berland announced a new campaign to better explain to nonusers exactly what Twitter is and why people should be on it. The slogan of the campaign, “See what’s happening” is an effort on the company’s part to make it the go-to for all things live. The campaign should hopefully clarify the confusion that has surrounded the consumer’s view of Twitter for a decade.

Twitter Campaign


Twitter testing new collection of pinned tweets.
Twitter is testing a “Featured Tweets” tab that allows brands and publishers to pin multiple tweets to the top of their profile. Twitter is also testing an additional line below the profile description which tells users how quickly an account responds to tweets. The features are being tested on both desktop and Twitter mobile apps.

Twitter testing new tweet composer format in its iOS app.
The new format moves the app’s tweet composer (along with camera icon) to the top of users’ timelines. The app composer is normally a separate part of the app. The new design puts the app more in line with Twitter’s website.

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