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’s Keyword Planner now combines the search volume of similar keywords. Variants of the same keyword are included in the estimated search volume provided by the tool. These variants include plurals with non-plurals, acronyms, long hand versions, stemming variants (-er, -ing, -ized…), words spelled with or without a space, and words with or without punctuation.
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While this should not affect PPC specialists (since Adwords targets keyword variations in their ads) it is bad news for SEO professionals. They will no longer be able to get the exact volume for keywords. For example ‘Kids toys’, ‘Kid toy’,  ‘Kid’s toy’ all have the same 22,000 monthly US searches in the keyword planner tool. This does not mean there has been a combined 66,000 monthly searches for these search terms. The 22,000 number provided by the tool is the combined traffic for all three of these keywords and other variations similar to them.

This is an easier method, compared to previous tools, for quickly checking your AMP pages. I tested both tools on my website and I personally like the ease of use of the chrome extension.

  • Speaking about bots, Amazon has added new ‘skills’ for its Echo personal assistant and placed them into 20 browsable categories. Echo skills are similar to apps with different capabilities: news skills, game skills, etc.
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This Amazon’s organization of their skills makes browsing them immensely better. Amazon will need to quickly build out Echo as a solid choice for a personal assistant as well as a dedicated following. This will provide them the groundwork to fend off Google’s digital assistant which Google boasted of a few months back.

  • Gary Illyes from Google said, at SMX Advanced, that 30% of Google search results are now HTTPS.
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As HTTPS protocol adoption increases, the protocol will become a stronger signal in Google’s search algorithm. While it currently is viewed as a slight advantage it will eventually become a necessity for SEO. I recently switched my site  over to HTTPS using Let’s Encrypt’s free SSL Certificate. If you have not developed a plan for making the transition I would recommend it.

  • John Mueller confirmed that websites banned from AdSense should not see a direct relationship between their AdSense ban and a drop in Google rankings.

The Google organic manual actions team is not alerted of site Adsense bans. There is also no programmatic association between the ban and Google search algorithm. You should still get try and have that ban lifted though.

  • Google ended its authorship program two years ago. Gary Illyes from Google recently said it is now safe to remove authorship markup from web pages. Until a few months ago, Gary had been advising webmaster to leave the markup on their sites, because Google may still use it. Gary claims that Google reads the content and author of a page without issue and no longer needs the authorship tag.
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I do think Google can identify the author of a page without the markup. However, I would recommend leaving your authorship tag on your site for the moment. It looks like Google is finally finished with the tag, but they have flip flopped on this issue several times. Unless the markup is going to have a negative effect on your site (it shouldn’t) wait a few months before removing it.

  • At SMX Advanced, Gary Illyes noted that although the Panda algorithm is continuously updating, it takes months to roll out after assigning Panda scores to your pages. 
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If you have been suffering from an apparent Panda algorithmic penalty it will takes months for Panda to push your webpage scores, to the main algorithm, after it crawls your updated content. You will need to be patient. Don’t promise your clients a fast result.

  • In Gary Illyes’ closing remarks at SMX Advanced he noted that webmasters should prepare for AMP and assistants/bots.
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Google is investing a lot into AMP and heavily promoting it. Its adoption will soon spread beyond news sites. Watch out for personal bot assistants, especially as Google develops its own to compete with the likes of Siri, Cortana and Amazon Echo.

  • Partnering with Measurement Lab, Google is testing an internet speed test widget in their search results. This development is probably in response to Bing’s similar speed test widget they released earlier this year.
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Sounds like bad news for Ookla, but convenient for users.

  • Google signed an agreement with LyricFind (the same company Bing uses) to begin displaying full song lyrics in their search results. Google previously displayed lyrics in their search results, but never in a consistent manner. Song writers and publishers will earn money for each time their lyrics are displayed in search. The functionality will first begin in the U.S.
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Farewell to lyrics websites, but I doubt anyone will miss them.

  • Amazon is still beating Google as the starting point for product searches. PowerReviews conducted a study of 1,000 US consumers and found that for product search 38% of consumers started with Amazon, 35% with Google, 21% with a Brand or Retailer Site and 6% with other eCommerce Marketplaces. When asked for their chief reasons for why they started on Amazon, consumers listed variety of products, free shipping and better deals as their top 3 motivators. For the 35% of consumers who started with Google, 52% clicked on Google Shopping Results while 41% clicked on an Amazon link. Amazon is still clearly dominating the online product marketplace.
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If you are a product seller make sure you are on both Amazon and Google (but especially Amazon). Free shipping should be part of your pricing/marketing strategy.

  • China is requiring search engines to identify and report sites that contain banned content and verify advertisers’ qualifications. This is arising out of the death of Wei Zexi, who died after following a bogus cancer treatment he found advertised in Baidu search results. Apparently, many people in China were unaware that the top of search results are advertisements.  Previously, China was not regulating claims made in search ads.
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PPC (pay-per-click) ADVERTISING

  • Google announced new Google Partner specializations. These specializations allow professionals to differentiate themselves in Google Partners by earning specializations in Search, Mobile, Video, Display and Shopping. To earn a specialization Partners need at least one certified individual and a history of consistent product performance. In the same announcement, Google also released their Premier Google Partner badge. The badge recognizes Partners who manage a substantial portfolio and deliver great results to customers.
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If you have certified individuals in your agency and are above the $10,000 spend check your partner portfolio for specialization markers. You can check on your progress toward earning specializations in the Specializations sections of your Partner account under the ‘Partner Status’ link.

  • It appears that Google added video ad metrics to the Google Adwords Report Editor. You can now see metrics that include: views, view rate, YouTube Earned Views, Video played to 25%, Video played to 50%…
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This should make it more convenient for users of the Report Editor to get a quick overview of their video campaigns. If you are unfamiliar with the Reports Editor, here is a good starting point.

  • After a long wait, Bing Ad Editor is now available for Mac. US, English-speaking users can sign up for their beta version. The Mac version is very similar to the newly redesigned PC version, including the faster processing speed, multiple-account sign in and cross-account cut-and-paste.
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You probably have been waiting on this update for years, but it is finally here. If you have been using the PC version, you should not have any issues making the transition.

  • It appeared that Google had made it a requirement that users of the keyword planner need to have an active adwords campaign. However, they have backtracked on this statement and instead called this a bug. While having an active campaign is not a requirement, you are still required to have an adwords account in order to use the keyword planner.
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If you are dealing with the ‘bug’ of needing an active campaign in order to access the keyword planner, set one up and lower your CPC as low as possible. You can also lower your bid adjustments to -100% to essentially incur no costs (and still access the tool). Google should hopefully be fixing this issue soon.

  • Google is extending the Customer Match feature to Shopping Campaigns. Retail marketers will be able to target/exclude customers with product listing ads for both web and image search results. Advertisers can upload a list of segmented emails, which are matched to signed-in users on Google, and advertise to their custom list. This is building off the current ability advertisers have in Search, Gmail and YouTube. Google will be adding this feature later this summer but advertisers can sign up for the beta.
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If you are a retailer selling products and you have a list of dedicated, niche customers (e.g. premium bike frames being sold to biking enthusiasts) this would be worth the time to setup.


  • Last week Google announced ads would be coming local 3-pack. They are now testing local 3-pack ads in mobile searches. The ads displayed are situated above the map in the local 3-pack. They are also formatted very similarly to the organic 3-pack results, making it unclear to users that these are ads. The ads also have a directions option, something the organic 3-pack results lack. The link in the ads takes the user directly to the advertiser’s website while the link in the organic 3-pack results brings users to the google business page.
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Ads in the 3-pack is part of Google’s larger push to monetize their search results (particularly in Mobile). You can expect free site traffic from Google to continue to diminish in the coming years. If you want your ad to display in the 3-pack you need to have local extensions setup in your Adwords ads. Your business will also need to be within a certain proximity of the user. The proximity appears to be variable depending on the type of query and the number of businesses within the immediate vicinity of the user.

  • Google is rolling out a Google Maps feature that displays the business type along with business name when users are scanning Google Maps. The feature will first roll out in Japan.
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Make sure that the category you have listed in Google My Business is correct and makes sense to users. This is especially true for companies who do not fit perfectly into any category provided by Google. You will have to try and pick a category that best suits your industry best practices but is also understandable to users.

  • A study run by Local SEO Guide in conjunction with The University of California Irvine’s Center for Statistical Consulting provided insights about the Factors behind high ranking Google My Business Pages. Top ranking factors (based on correlation) in order of importance were:
    1. Website backlinks
    2. On-site factor like use of keywords
    3. GMB listing signals like reviews, photos and keywords in the business name
    4. Citations – after making sure business has a consistent NAP and is placed on the top citation sites there is very little benefit to building additional citations.
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Insight I have given a very bare bones overview of the study and would recommend you read through the whole thing.

  • Yelp has announced “Yelp Knowledge”, a program that expands the number of companies with direct access Yelp’s complete reviews data. Previously the only partner was Sprinklr. Now Medallia, Reputology and Revinate have access. Yelp hopes that businesses will use their data alongside social media channels to better understand customer feedback.
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For companies who need to better understand their customer feedback, particularly business with multiple locations, the Yelp Knowledge program may provide the needed insight.


  • Facebook announced four new advertising features.
    1. Facebook will be upgrading its Canvas ads, making them easier to design, create, share and learn from. Marketers will have more detailed metrics and there will be a new feed unit designed to increase engagement.
    2. An Audience Insights API is being tested by Facebook (with large brands) and will be made widely available next year. The API gives advertisers better insights into their served audience including anonymous demographics, psychographics, topic data and reports from Facebook IQ.
    3. Facebook will be adding the ability to create slideshow ads from mobile devices, audio and text overlay, and add integration with Facebook’s Pages and Shutterstock photo libraries.
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Facebook has shown that it is serious about its advertising tools. Expect the toolset functionality and ease of use to continue to improve.

  • Facebook is further limiting when a page post will be displayed in user newsfeeds. A page post will now need to be shared, liked and commented on several times by friends of a user before it will begin displaying in their news feed. Facebook is making this change to make sure that the newsfeed is still “friends and family first”. Facebook has been seeing large drops in personal posts and is worried that users may shift to another platform to stay up to date with their friends and family.
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This update makes it more difficult for advertisers to get unpaid placements in the newsfeed. You will need your content to be more widely shared before it will begin to display. Think about how to encourage ‘word-of-mouth’ social sharing before you make your post, otherwise it will have a limited audience.

  • Twitter introduced a new Dashboard tool to provide businesses with a single, comprehensive management suite. When businesses login into the tool Twitter guides them through the tool, helping them choose the most relevant data. Twitter also helps setup an ‘about you’ stream of tweets to give businesses a stream for reputation management (without using 3rd party tools). The tool even allows for tweet scheduling.
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TI am excited about the dashboard and hope that Twitter continues to build on it. I run my own twitter for personal branding and always had to rely on 3rd-party tools. I am sure that much is still lacking in the dashboard, but it is a start.

  • Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live have been dominating the space as the go-to live streaming platforms. While Youtube has had a live streaming platform for years, it has required technical skills and wasn’t available on Mobile. Youtube is now enabling live-streaming within its mobile-apps. Their live-streaming service is very similar to Periscope and Facebook Live but Youtube claims their superior architecture alllows for greater reliability.
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I am surprised that Youtube has let other platforms grow for as long as they have, but I am glad they are getting in the game. Youtube can probably come up with a better streaming tool that is supported by Youtube’s static video capabilities. But, the challenge they will face will be pulling the popular reigns away from Periscope which has made a name for itself.

  • Youtube is rolling out an online version of its Brand Partner Program. The online program is targeted at agencies and is an updated version of the original Brand Partner Program, which was targeted at marketers. Agencies can enroll in the program and take online lessons from Youtube stars on how to produce videos, work with Youtube stars and run ads. The program is in beta. Interested agencies can contact their Youtube reps to sign up.
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I am generally a late adopter when it comes to training programs. Early adopters may gain a small competitive advantage but I prefer to wait for the training programs to work out their kinds before I participate. After the program has been fleshed out I may try and get the agency I work for in on it.

  • Pinterest is making continued headway in becoming a monetized platform. The platform recently rolled out a number of eCommerce features including a cross-platform shopping cart and merchant profiles. Users can add items from different merchants to a shopping cart they can access from any device. More exciting, Pinterest has continued to work on their visual search tool, adding computer vision. Computer vision is a program that allows Pinterest’s computers to identify objects in a photo and provide similar items to users.
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Pinterest is transforming into a unique shopping platform. Instead of searching for individual items, users can browse images from across the web pinned to the platform and purchase items found in the images. If handled correctly, Pinterest may grow to take on large competitors like Amazon and Google. But, it is still a long way off.

  • LinkedIn will start auctioning its desktop-only display ads and focus more of its attention on sponsored content advertising. Advertisers can still buy these display ads directly from the LinkedIn sales team, but that will most likely not be an option in the future. Instead, advertisers can programmatically buy the adspace by placing bids in open auctions (which lump Linked ads with other sites) or through private auctions (ads only on LinkedIn, including its homepage). Advertisers using private auctions can use their own data or LinkedIn data but will not be able to use both simultaneously. 4,000 brands have already been whitelisted to advertise in these display ads. Other interested advertisers can contact their LinkedIn sales rep who will connect them with the appropriate automated adbuying tool. Ads on LinkedIn will have to be safe for work.
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This is a great opportunity for B2B businesses to run advertising at a lower cost through the automated auctions. While display advertising is not receiving the focus of other mediums it still does represent a worthwhile investment, particularly for increasing brand recognition.

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