The Google Speed Update: Page speed will become a ranking factor in mobile search

Google today announced a new ranking algorithm designed for mobile search. The company is calling it the “Speed Update” and it will only impact a small percentage of queries, Google reiterated to us. Only pages that “deliver the slowest experience to users” will be impacted by this update, the company says.

The update goes live in July 2018, so webmasters have time to prepare their web pages.

Google recommends you use the new updated PageSpeed report and tools like LightHouse to measure page speed and make improvements.

Google’s Zhiheng Wang and Doantam Phan wrote:

The “Speed Update,” as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries. It applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.

The issue with the PageSpeed Insights report is that, because it’s using data from the Chrome Browser, it doesn’t have enough data to reliably measure smaller sites, so the speed portion of the report is unavailable for those users. Optimization scores are still available, but that’s not enough to allow sites to tell if they have slow pages or not.

Back in 2010, Google said page speed was a ranking factor but it “was focused on desktop searches” only. Now, in July 2018, it will look at how fast your mobile pages are and use that as a ranking factor in mobile search. Google has been promising to look at mobile page speed for years now and it is finally coming.

It’s not yet clear whether these ranking factors will also be applied to desktop searches, but we’re checking with Google and will update when we receive additional information.


SEO trends and Google changes to expect in 2018

We’re already over a week into 2018, and the start of a new year is a great time to check in and see where we stand as an industry — and how things might change this year.

Prepare for fake news algorithm updates

Back in 2010, Google was getting beaten up in the media for the increasing amount of “content farm” clutter in the search results. That negative press was so overwhelming that Google felt it had no choice but to respond:

[We] hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content.

Soon after that, in February 2011, the Google Panda update was released, which specifically targeted spammy and low-quality content.

Why do I bring this up today? Because the media has been hammering Google for promoting fake news for the past year and a half — a problem so extensive that search industry expert Danny Sullivan has referred to it as “Google’s biggest-ever search quality crisis.”

Needless to say, these accusations are hurting Google’s image in ways that cut far deeper than content farms. While the problem of rooting out false information is a difficult one, it is one that Google has a great deal of motivation to solve.

Google has already taken action to combat the issue in response to the negative press, including banning publishers who were promoting fake news ads, testing new ways for users to report offensive autocomplete suggestions, adjusting their algorithm to devalue “non-authoritative information” (such as Holocaust denial sites), and adding “fact check” tags to search results.

Of course, the issue of trustworthy search results has been on Google’s radar for years. In 2015, researchers from Google released a paper on Knowledge-Based Trust (KBT), a way of evaluating the quality of web pages based on their factual accuracy rather than the number of inbound links. If implemented, the Knowledge-Based Trust system would ultimately demote sites that repeatedly publish fake news (although there is a potential for it to go wrong if the incorrect facts become widely circulated).

Whether the Knowledge-Based Trust method is enough to combat fake news — or if some version of it has already been implemented without success — is difficult to say. But, it’s clear that Google is interested in making truthfulness a ranking factor, and they’ve never had a stronger motivation to do so than now.

Voice search and featured snippets will grow hand-in-hand

One in five mobile search queries currently comes from voice search — a number that is likely to rise as Google Assistant-enabled devices such as Google Home continue to grow in popularity. And as voice search grows, we can expect to see an increase in featured snippets, from which Google often sources its voice search results.

Indeed, there is already evidence that this growth is taking place. A study released by Stone Temple Consulting last year confirmed that featured snippets are on the rise, appearing for roughly 30 percent of the 1.4 million queries they tested.

If this trend continues, featured snippets may even begin to rival the top organic listing as the place to be if you want to get noticed. (For more on featured snippets and how to target them, check out Stephan Spencer’s excellent primer on the subject.)

Artificial intelligence (AI) will power many more aspects of search

It’s now been over two years since we were first introduced to RankBrain, Google’s machine-learning AI system which helps to process its search results. Since its introduction, it’s gone from handling 15 percent of search queries to all of them.

Google’s interest in AI extends much further than RankBrain, however. They have developed the Cloud Vision API, which is capable of recognizing an enormous number of objects. Indeed, Google has so much machine-learning capacity that they are now selling it as its own product.

But perhaps most interestingly, Google has now built an AI that is better at building AI than humans are. This was a project by Google Brain, a team that specializes specifically in building AI for Google.

Unfortunately, AI is not without its issues. AIs tend to get stuck in local minima, where they arrive at a “good enough” solution and are unable to climb out of it in order to discover a better solution. They also have a tendency to confuse correlation with causation; one might even call them “superstitious” in that they draw connections between unrelated things. And since the developers only program the machine-learning algorithm, they themselves don’t understand how the final algorithm works, and as a result, have even more difficulty predicting how it will behave than in the case of traditional programs.

As Google continues to embrace AI and incorporate more of it into their search algorithms, we can expect search results to start behaving in less predictable ways. This will not always be a good thing, but it is something we should be prepared for.

AI doesn’t change much in the way of long-term SEO strategies. Optimizing for AI is essentially optimizing for humans, since the goal of a machine-learning algorithm is to make predictions similar to those of humans.

Manipulative guest posting is likely to take a hit

In May, Google warned webmasters that using article marketing as a large-scale link-building tactic is against its guidelines and could result in a penalty. Since this is already well known in the SEO community, Google’s announcement likely signals that an algorithm update targeting manipulative guest posting is on the horizon.

What counts as manipulative guest posting? To me, the most vital piece of information from Google’s guidelines has always been the recommendation to ask yourself, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

Guest posts that don’t expand brand awareness or send referral traffic aren’t worth doing, except for the possibility that they will positively impact your search engine rankings. The irony of taking that approach is that it isn’t likely to work well for your search engine rankings either — at least not in the long term.

I’m not saying anything that isn’t common knowledge in the SEO community, but I have a feeling that a lot of people in this industry are fooling themselves. All too often, I see marketers pursuing unsustainable guest posting practices and telling themselves that what they are doing is legitimate. That is what a lot of people were telling themselves about article marketing on sites like EzineArticles back in the day, too.

‘Linkless’ mentions

Bing has confirmed that they track unlinked brand mentions and use them as a ranking signal — and a patent by Google (along with observations from many SEO experts) indicates that Google may be doing this as well.

As AI begins to play a bigger part in rankings, it’s not unreasonable to expect “linkless” mentions of this type to start playing a bigger role in search rankings.

The tactics used to earn brand mentions are, of course, not much different from the tactics used to earn links, but since the number of people who mention brands is much higher than the number of people who link to them, this could provide a good boost for smaller brands that fall below the threshold of earning press.

This highlights the importance of being involved in conversations on the web, and the importance of inciting those conversations yourself.

An interstitial crackdown may be on the way

The early 2017 mobile interstitial penalty update was a sign of Google’s continued battle against intrusive mobile ads. The hardest hit sites had aggressive advertising that blocked users from taking action, deceptive advertising placement and/or other issues that hindered use of the interface.

However, columnist and SEO expert Glenn Gabe noted that the impact of this penalty seemed… underwhelming. Big brands still seem to be getting away with interstitial ads, but Google may decide to crack down on these in the near future. The crucial factor seems to be the amount of trust big brands have accumulated in other ways. How all of this shakes out ultimately depends on how Google will reward branding vs. intrusive advertising.

Mobile-first indexing

It’s been nearly three years since Google announced that mobile searches had finally surpassed desktop searches on its search engine — and just last year, BrightEdge found that 57 percent of traffic among its clients came from mobile devices.

Google is responding to this shift in user behavior with mobile-first indexing, which means “Google will create and rank its search listings based on the mobile version of content, even for listings that are shown to desktop users.” Representatives from Google have stated that we can expect the mobile-first index to launch this year.

In other words, 2018 very well may be the year where signals that used to only impact searches from mobile devices become signals that impact all searches. Sites that fail to work on a mobile device may soon become obsolete.

Be prepared for this year

Google has come a long way since it first hit the scene in the late 1990s. The prevalence of AI, the political climate and efforts and warnings against manipulative guest posts and distracting advertisements, all signal that change is coming. Focus on long-term SEO strategies that will keep you competitive in the year ahead.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


5 content distribution strategies for 2018

I personally feel that the most overused digital marketing phrase is “Content is king.”

Yes, content is important. Google loves quality content. Your visitors love content. But writing content for the sake of writing content simply makes no sense. If your marketing department has a mandate that you must write x number of blog posts per month, you need to change direction — and here’s why.

On WordPress alone, 86.4 million blog posts are published every month. That’s a lot of content! Sadly, most of the content that’s posted is not well written and will never see the light of day — much less the first page of Google’s search results.

Simply put, there are only a few spots on the first page of Google, and the chances of each of your blog posts making it on the coveted first page of Google for the keywords you’re targeting are slim to none. This is especially true for brands that have invested tons of resources into creating content but few into promoting or distributing it.

That being said, content is what makes the internet what it is. The internet needs content. So, how do you prioritize your workload to spend the right amount of time writing and promoting content that will rank well on search engines? You need a content distribution strategy.

The content balancing act

For years, most digital marketers have been told to produce content — and lots of it. However, savvy marketers preach something a little different. Instead of creating tons of content, you should do more with the content you create.

You can’t solely rely on Google or Facebook for all your traffic. You need to get traffic from a variety of sources: paid media, niche channels, online directories, user groups, social communities, forums, social media and so on. That means you need to distribute and promote your content through a variety of channels.

Instead of solely focusing on your content creation strategy, you need to spend time thinking about your content distribution strategy. What channels are relevant to your audience, and how can you repurpose existing content so that it’s optimized for these channels?

Here are five ways you can repurpose your content for distribution across new channels/media. While you may not see a direct SEO benefit from each of these content distribution channels, more traffic to your content means stronger user signals, more links to your website and (hopefully) more conversions.

1. Turn your blog post into an e-book

Creating an e-book used to involve hiring a design firm or taking your in-house designers away from a pressing client project to create a beautiful finished product. Thanks to technology, making e-books just got easier for us everyday folks. Designrr is a tool that makes it incredibly easy to take a blog post you’ve written and turn it into a visually stunning e-book that you can use as a lead magnet.

Make ebooks With Designrr

On the landing page for your e-book, be sure to use all the relevant keywords you want to rank for and write content that pertains to the contents of the e-book. Make sure you include social media share buttons to make it easy for visitors to share your e-book link with their colleagues and friends.

2. Video marketing made easy

If you’re not creating videos, you need to get on the bandwagon — fast. Did you know that turning your blog post into a video is an easy way to repurpose great content and get kudos from Google and YouTube? Using tools like Lumen5 or Content Samurai, you can copy and paste your blog post content into the tool, add images, narration or music, transitions, videos and more. Before you know it, you’ll have a video that’s ready to optimize and upload to your YouTube channel!

Content Samurai

Google has been known to include video results for relevant search queries, and the competition for those video spots may even be lower than for the organic listings. Targeting other areas of the SERP — such as videos, images or news — can be a great way to grab a spot on page one when an organic listing is out of reach.

3. Make your content extra sharable with infographics

One way to get more attention for your content from visitors is to create a long-form blog post (of approximately 1,500 words) and create an easy-to-share infographic that presents the most important points of the post in a visually compelling way.

Infographic Canva

There are several high-quality infographic tools that are relatively easy to use (and affordable). Canva and Vennage are two of my favorites.

Vennage Infographic Software

Again, be sure to include social media sharing options so that your readers can easily share your amazing infographic with their fans. This is a great way to get some links and traffic back to your site.

If you optimize the image well, you also have a chance at ranking in image search results for your target keywords.

4. The power of email

First, if you’re not collecting email addresses from your visitors, shame on you. The myth that “email is dead” is just that: a myth. Sending emails to your customers or clients is still one of the best ways to keep them engaged with your brand — and keep them buying what you have to offer.

Using email to distribute and promote your content should be a no-brainer. Here are a few things you can do to turn your email marketing into a content distribution powerhouse.

First, send out a link to your email list telling them about your latest piece of content. If your list isn’t very big, reach out to another person in your industry (or an industry organization or association) and see if they would be willing to share a link to your blog post to their email distribution list. Now, sometimes you will have to pay for this type of distribution, but if they have the right distro list, you just might hit gold and get more visitors than you ever dreamed of.

As long as we’re talking about email, think outside the box and think of all the emails you send out every day. Your own email signature is a great place to promote your content. Every time you create a new piece of content on your site, include a link to that piece in your email signature. You can say something as simple as, “Check out our latest blog post: XXXXX,” or make it even more enticing by posing a question like, “Want to know 5 ways you can get more traction from your content?”

Oh, and if you happen to mention any companies or influencers in your blog post, send them a personalized email letting them know that you included their name or company in your article, and politely ask if they’d be willing to share the link to your post on their social media channels or to their email list.

5. Have you Reddit?

Reddit (and similar content-sharing sites) is a great way to promote your content and show the search engines that you’re active online. If you don’t have a Reddit account, what are you waiting for?

Sign into your Reddit account, and then do a search to find a subreddit that has an audience that would be interested in your content. Once you find the right subreddit, submit a link to your content.

Find a Subreddit

Sites like this can help with rankings and indexing of your content — just make sure you’re getting your content listed on quality content sharing sites.

What are YOU doing to distribute your content?

These are just a few of the ways you can leverage your content to get more mileage out of the pieces of content you create. What other things are you doing to take your content further?


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


What the development of visual search will mean for SEO

The arrival of the Pinterest Lens and Google Lens has ignited a battle for visual search engine supremacy. Beyond opening up a new revenue stream for e-commerce stores, visual search could completely alter consumer habits and purchasing decisions.

In a world driven by instant gratification, visual search can open the door toward “snap and surf” purchasing, streamlining the search interface. This provides a promising outlook for e-commerce stores that develop their product listing ads (PLAs) and online catalogs for the visual web.

While still in its infancy, optimizing for visual search could greatly improve your website’s user experience, conversion rate and online traffic. Yet images are often given very little attention by SEO experts, who generally focus more on optimizing for speed than for alternative attributes and appeal.

While visual search won’t displace the use of keywords and the importance of text-based search, it could completely disrupt the SEO and SEM industry. I’d like to discuss some of the fundamentals of visual search and how it will affect our digital marketing strategy moving forward.

What is visual search?

There are currently three different visual search processes being employed by major search companies:

  • Traditional image search that relies on textual queries.
  • Reverse image search that relies on structured data to determine similar characteristics.
  • Pixel-by-pixel image searches that enable “snap and search” by image or by parts of the image.

In this article, I’m focusing mainly on the third type, which allows consumers to discover information or products online by simply uploading or snapping a picture and focusing their query on the part of the image they’d like to research. It’s essentially the same as text search, just with an image representing the query that’s being matched to it.

TinEye provided the first visual search application, which is still in use today. This form of image search matched the image to other images on the web based on similar characteristics, such as shapes and colors. Unfortunately, TinEye provided a limited range of search applications by failing to map out the outlines of different objects in an image.

Today’s image recognition technology can actually recognize multiple shapes and outlines contained within a single image to allow users to match to different objects. For example, Microsoft’s image search technology allows users to search for specific items pictured within a larger image.

Microsoft is even working on detecting when the selected portion of the image has a shopping intent, showing “related products” in these instances. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s visual search is fairly limited to a few verticals, such as home appliances and travel.

Right now, this technology is limited. What companies like Pinterest, Microsoft and Google are investing in is a visual search application powered by machine learning technology and deep neural networks.

The idea is to get machines to recognize different shapes, sizes and colors in images the same way the human brain does. When we look at specific pictures, we do not see a sea of points and dotted lines. We immediately identify patterns and shapes based on past experiences. Unfortunately, we still barely understand how our minds interpret images, so programming this into a machine presents some obvious complications.

Visual search engines have come to rely on neural networks that utilize machine learning technology to improve upon its process. Companies like Google benefit from their wealth of information that allows its Lens application to constantly improve upon its search functionality. Google Lens is not only able to identify different objects within pictures but is also able to match them to locations near you, provide customer reviews and sort listings by the same principles that govern its own search algorithms.

Implications and future

So, what does this technology entail for users and businesses? Imagine being able to snap a picture of a restaurant and have a search engine tell you the name of the restaurant, the location, peak demand times and menu specials for the night. This technology could feasibly be used to snap a picture of a pair of shoes from a magazine or from a stranger and enable you to order them right there.

For e-commerce stores, visual search puts people very high in the funnel. With some unique images, product reviews and a good product description, you can entice buyers to make a purchasing decision on the spot.

This will also open up the field of competition a little bit. The Pinterest visual search engine is by far one of the most disruptive on the market. However, Pinterest’s search engine only redirects pinners to posts on Pinterest, meaning you’ll need to develop a presence on this platform to reach those audience members.

With the rise of voice search and natural language processing (NLP) accompanying this trend, this technology could help kick-start the trend of interface-free SEO. (Although I suspect that keywords and text-based search will still retain its importance, even for shopping and purchasing decisions.)

Potential strategies

In terms of optimizing for visual search, some of the most fundamental SEO practices will still apply. Structured data remains incredibly important, especially for visual search algorithms like Microsoft’s that still rely on it to match characteristics.

It’s important that images are displayed clearly and free of clutter so that visual applications have an easier time processing them. Beyond this, you should stick to the basics of image-based search optimization:

  • Add descriptive alt-text to images for indexation.
  • Submit images to an image sitemap.
  • Optimize image titles and alternative attributes with targeted keywords.
  • Set up image badges and run them through a structured data test.
  • Optimize for ideal image size and file type.
  • Utilize appropriate schema markup for images and content pages.
  • Optimize images to render on mobile and desktop displays.

Conclusion

Visual search will provide a new revenue stream for e-commerce stores and vastly improve the user’s shopping experience. This could have a major impact on SEO and paid media, bringing back a renewed focus on image optimization, which has long been ignored by SEO practitioners. This new frontier of search will only reinforce existing strategies for SEO and make the need to optimize for mobile search and your visual web presence more prescient.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


How much will privacy regulation disrupt the local search market in 2018?

Most marketing professionals don’t give much thought to the regulatory climate. In the US, unlike Europe, privacy laws are largely industry-specific and targeted toward healthcare and financial services. Thus, marketers have largely been able to rely on lawyers to provide privacy disclosures and then go on to business as usual.

Yet there are a number of indications that a tipping point may be near, giving way to new regulations that demand significant changes in business practice. These changes can have a disproportionate impact on small and medium-sized local businesses. And varying standards across state lines means that companies with local operations in different states may have to make multiple adjustments.

Below, I take a look at the current environment and indicators that major changes are due in 2018. Then I cover seven ways changing privacy laws will impact the local search market.

Deregulation on federal level driving changes on state level

With all the news on Net Neutrality last month, you may have forgotten that earlier this year, Republicans killed federal privacy rules adopted by the FCC that would have required your Internet Service Provider to obtain permission before collecting and selling certain types of personal data (such as web browsing and app usage data). While the general perception is that such deregulation means fewer privacy laws, the practical impact may be more regulation.

Following the repeal of the FCC privacy rules, at least 21 states and the District of Columbia filed state versions of the FCC privacy rules as a direct response. Two states passed those bills into law, while others deferred the issue to 2018 or passed bills to study the issue further. And even though bills in a number of states died at the end of their 2017 legislative sessions, it is likely that many will reintroduce those in 2018.

The broader application is that deregulation on the federal level is causing states to take more action, which causes a number of problems. While state versions may all address the same topic, they are not identical. They are similar but contain differences unique to each state, such as different notice requirements, disclosures, consent or use requirements and enforcement mechanisms. Even using similar but different terms to describe the same principle creates problems regarding uniformity.

Lack of uniformity amongst states means more complexity. And more complexity results in greater uncertainty, risk and cost.

The state reaction to the repeal of FCC privacy rules is just one example of how federal deregulation trickling down to state levels can create major headaches for business.

The mother of all data breach cases: Equifax

Major data breaches almost seem to be yesterday’s headline with the prevalence of the problem. Yet the Equifax data breach may finally push us over the edge in demands for regulatory action. Let’s review how bad the Equifax case was and still is:

  • Data thieves stole private information on over 145 million Americans from Equifax.
  • Data stolen was the most sensitive kind: personal and permanent information including names, addresses, social security numbers, dates of birth and drivers’ license numbers.
  • Equifax discovered the breach on July 29, 2017, yet didn’t announce the breach until September 2017.
  • Equifax executives sold millions of dollars of stock days after the breach was discovered and before the public announcement.
  • Equifax claimed that top executives of a company whose business is protection of personal data didn’t know about the breach.
  • Equifax was notified in March 2017 by the Department of Homeland Security that there was a critical vulnerability in its software.
  • Equifax relied on a single employee to alert the company (he didn’t) to the risk of a data breach affecting 50 percent of all Americans.
  • Equifax sent customers needing more information about the breach to a fake phishing site.
  • That fake site clearly disclosed it was a fake in its headline and contained a tongue-firmly-in-cheek link to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” music video.
  • Equifax is profiting from its screw-up: Concerned consumers are purchasing third-party credit monitoring services that frequently utilize Equifax services. So money spent due to Equifax’s problem is paid back to Equifax.

Yes, all of the above really happened. It seems it can only be a matter of time before cases like this force legislators on both sides of the aisle to take regulatory action tightening privacy and data protection laws.

Categorizing personal information to include marketing info

But it’s not just highly sensitive personal information that lawmakers are seeking to protect. While protection against breaches that cause economic harm or risk serious personal threats such as identity theft is justified, proposals are reaching beyond financial and health data.

States have introduced legislation that imposes reporting and notice requirements upon a data breach of personal information. But broad definitions of “personal data” have included what is typically considered to be marketing data, including search history and location information.

The argument against the broad regulation of consumer data is that there are different risks and expectations of privacy for credit card numbers compared to shopping history for a phone case or search history for coffee shops.

Yet broad regulation impacting all such information has been pushed through by state legislators, sometimes only being stopped by a governor’s veto.

Location data is being targeted

Location data that so many local search marketers rely on for targeted campaigns has, in turn, become a favorite target for privacy activists. Recent legislation specifically calls out geolocation information derived from mobile devices as requiring express consent before it may be collected, used or disclosed.

Several states introduced similar legislation in 2017 requiring affirmative express consent after clear and prominent disclosure as follows:

  • Notice that the geolocation information will be collected, used or disclosed.
  • Information about the specific purposes for which such information will be collected, used or disclosed.
  • Provision of links to access other disclosure information.

Failure to comply is deemed to be a violation of and subject to enforcement provisions of the state consumer protection laws. It is likely that some states will reintroduce bills that were vetoed or that died in committee, while others have carried the bill over to 2018.

Europe is redefining consent

Europe has already passed sweeping privacy regulation, titled GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which takes effect in May 2018. For example, the personal data subject to protection is defined as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person.” That’s as broad as it gets.

The GDPR also makes major changes to rules surrounding transparency and consent before personal data can be used. Consent will be an especially complex issue for businesses to figure out, as conditions for obtaining consent are much tighter. Issues will include the form of consent, the specificity of consent and what downstream matters that consent applies to.

Some of the restrictions include prohibitions on making services contingent upon consent and on obtaining consent for multiple purposes. Consent must also be separately given, as opposed to being one clause in a lengthy terms and conditions agreement. Further, the ability to revoke that consent must be as easy to do as it was to give it.

The impact on local search

The above are all factors that seem to be culminating toward significant movement and changes in privacy regulation that will have a dramatic impact in the marketplace. Below are seven ways in which privacy will become a disruption to the local search and marketing industry:

1. The cost of marketing data will rise

Increased privacy regulation means all businesses will have to spend more resources to comply. It also raises the exposure to liability and increases risk of public enforcement and of private lawsuits. Potentially, there could also be a decrease in the supply of marketing data if consumers respond to the notice requirements and consent requests by not giving permission to collect or use their profile information.  All of these changes would make collecting, acquiring, using or buying marketing data more expensive.

2. Targeted marketing becomes harder

If the supply of marketing data is throttled, accuracy declines. For example, if fewer people share their location, getting a sufficient volume of leads from targeted marketing will require casting a broader net.

The effectiveness of targeted marketing is further hurt by the ability to determine those target audiences. Less data regarding behaviors that predict specific purchase or online actions makes forecasting less accurate. Attribution would likewise be harder to pinpoint.

3. The competitive edge shifts back to larger companies

I’ve written recently about how having the right data is the new competitive edge over traditional economies of scale. Good data means that smaller businesses can more equally compete against larger companies.

But tougher privacy laws benefit larger businesses that have resources to adjust to mandated changes. Also, they will have better access to data as it becomes more expensive and potentially less available.

4. Google and Apple will become even more powerful

Google and Apple have great leverage over user privacy choices via their mobile operating systems. They embed many functions and apps that have a huge user base and that are critical to local search into those systems such as maps, media and search engines. Consumers frequently treat these apps and functions as essential services and defer to Google or Apple terms for access and use.

Android and iOS also serve as a gateway to third-party apps and control how users grant app permissions or consent to collection and use for data such as location.

5. Brands who control first-party data will hold premium ad inventory

Brands have direct contact with consumers and sufficient reach such that they are able to offer advertising solutions to third parties, especially those related to the brand’s product or service.

For example, Honeywell offers a software upgrade for its WiFi thermostats that will optimize thermostat settings. The offer to help save its customers $71 to $117 a year off of their energy bills means many opt in. Users get customized reports with insights into energy use, comparison to similar homes and tips to help track and improve energy efficiency. Those “tips” will likely include some referrals to vendors such as insulation companies, solar energy vendors and HVAC contractors or other marketing offers.

Brands are well-positioned to reach their customers within the confines of privacy regulations, and targeted audiences they can reach should demand premium ad spend.

6. The GDPR bleed-over effect

The GDPR will affect local businesses and marketers even if they don’t have European customers. Larger companies that already have to deal with tighter European regulation may find it difficult to segment different policies for American and European customers. As a result, they may adopt uniform privacy policies companywide.

Local businesses that rely on third-party data or do business using services of those global companies may be forced to follow stringent privacy policies as conditions of terms of use. And as discussed above, that could involve some major changes to business operations.

7. Regulatory hurdles used as a competitive barrier to entry

The other potential consequence of larger companies voluntarily adopting stricter privacy policies is that they would be less resistant to privacy regulations that mirror those internal policies. In other words, they may not oppose legislation, or even publicly support legislation, undercutting the position of those who are against it.

Some may even push for those regulations knowing that it may give them an advantage over competitors who haven’t adopted such privacy policies. Regulation that raises the cost of doing business or requires some catch-up changes may serve as a barrier to entry for new startups or others seeking to add business outside their core service area.

Closing thoughts

Understanding the issues and potential impacts will help identify when action is needed and provide some guidance to thinking through a business strategy.

It’s also important to get involved on the issue. The breadth and details of legislative policy may seem overwhelming, but there are groups that will help keep you up to date and work on your behalf. Chambers of commerce, business associations and trade groups represent wide business interests in policy issues like privacy. So get plugged into a group that can support you and your business.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


Report: Amazon in discussions with consumer brands about ads on Alexa [company denies it]

According to a report on CNBC, Amazon is in talks with several large consumer product companies, such as Procter & Gamble, about advertising and sponsorship opportunities through Alexa and voice search. However, Amazon has denied the story saying it has no plans to introduce ads on Alexa (see postscript below).

According to the report:

The e-tailer has been in talks with several companies about letting them promote products on the best-selling Echo devices, which are powered by the Alexa voice assistant, according to several people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. Consumer companies, including Procter & Gamble and Clorox, have been involved in these talks, according to the people. Some of the early discussions have centered on whether companies would pay for higher placement if a user searches for a product such as shampoo on the device, similar to how paid searches work in Google.

The report also says that there may be a range of promotional opportunities on Alexa. One is reportedly a product suggestion on behalf of a brand tied to purchase history. “Alexa may suggest to a shopper who previously bought Clorox’s Pine-Sol to consider buying its disinfecting wipes,” CNBC says. Consumer shopping data, in the aggregate and by individual, could be used here very effectively to target ads.

Hypothetically, general questions or informational queries could also yield product ads related to content (e.g., “How do I get red wine out of a carpet?”). Currently, Alexa doesn’t answer that question (though Google Home does). A real example comes if you ask Alexa to purchase a product: “Alexa, I’d like to buy some paper towels.” The machine currently responds: “OK, I can look for a brand like Bounty, what would you like?”

If you buy the product through Alexa, that fact could then be reported back to the advertiser.

CNBC flags this last example not merely as a helpful suggestion but as a promotion currently being tested. The only problem, if it is in fact an ad, is that there’s no disclosure of that fact. Undisclosed ads potentially run afoul of FTC prohibitions against “consumer deception.” The analogy is the labeling of sponsored slots in search results. If it sounds like an organic result but is really an ad, it would probably be a violation of FTC rules.

Alexa can send search results back to the Alexa app on users’ phones, creating additional “inventory” for ads there as well. The Amazon Echo Show also has a screen (Google is also reportedly working on a virtual assistant device with a screen). The screen creates additional visual and video advertising opportunities. It’s not clear how well the Show sold over the holidays; the most popular Alexa device by far was the ultra-cheap Echo Dot.

In May of last year, voice analytics firm VoiceLabs launched audio ads for Alexa devices but subsequently shut it down because of Amazon disapproval. At the time, CEO Adam Marchick told me that there was “a lot of advertiser demand from CPG companies, to prompt people to add products to their shopping carts.” He added that the audio ads saw a high degree of consumer acceptance.

Amazon’s ad sales topped $1 billion in Q3 of 2017, according to company financial data. Due to Amazon’s strength as a product search engine and in the virtual assistant market, it is poised to grow ad revenue significantly in 2018.

It’s clear that use of voice interfaces and voice search have taken hold over the past 18 months. Google, in May of 2016, said that 20 percent of mobile queries were voice-initiated (probably a conservative estimate). And comScore has famously projected 50 percent of search queries will come from voice by 2020.

Amazon dominates the virtual assistant market today, with anywhere from 70 to 75 percent of device market share. Amazon probably maintained or increased its lead during this past holiday shopping season; we’ll have to wait for the numbers. It’s now fair to say (and forgive me for this) that Alexa has become “the Google of virtual assistants.”

Postscript: An Amazon spokesperson contacted me by email this afternoon and denied that the company was intending to introduce advertising on Alexa: “There are no plans to add advertising to Alexa.”


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.

18 link resolutions for 2018

Oh, the resolutions keep coming! Based on last year’s 17 link resolutions for 2017, I give you my 18 link resolutions for the new year. Here’s to a great start for all your marketing efforts!

1. Educate yourself more about link metrics

I’ve seen so many people referencing link metrics, such as Moz’s Domain Authority or Majestic’s Citation Flow, as if they came from Google — and that’s not good. These metrics are attempts at measuring links, and while they can be very useful, you need to look at more than just those numbers.

Take Domain Authority from Moz, for example. It’s a prediction for how well a site will rank. My clients love Domain Authority and tend to insist on a minimum number, but I see plenty of well-ranked sites with low Domain Authority that would be fantastic linking partners. I also see emails where websites are openly selling links, with these emails going to everyone on the planet, and they have good Domain Authority despite my not being able to find them anywhere in the SERPs.

Majestic’s Citation Flow is another one that clients throw at me. It also predicts how influential a site may be.

These link metrics are very useful, and I’m in no way downplaying them, but I do not believe they can be used by themselves, with nothing else taken into consideration. Keep that in mind.

2. Don’t go overboard with disavowals

You shouldn’t disavow every domain that links to you just because it doesn’t have the metrics you want. That’s just crazy!

It’s important to manually evaluate each link before disavowing — for example, just because you get a link on a new page of a new site, that doesn’t mean the link is spammy. You also don’t need to freak out if you have 100 links and 20 of those are from sites with a Domain Authority of 30 or below.

3. Pay attention to your 404s

Most sites experience the occasional 404 error, but what if you notice your site getting hundreds? Excessive 404s can trigger a bad user experience. They’re not good to have when Google crawls your site, either — that’s why Google provides a list of 404 errors in Search Console.

I don’t care how you deal with them, but I do think you need to deal with them. You could have a fantastic site linking to a 404 on your site and be losing out on a lot of good traffic, for example.

4. Stop using the same email outreach template for everything

Our team uses a fairly generic starting template that’s customized based on the client. We have a general template for finance clients, and it does not work for fashion clients. We use one template when we’re trying to get a link on a resource page of a big site and another when we’re trying to get a link on a local blog.

I love templates to start with, but I think you need to personalize them, or you’ll never hear back from anyone.

5. Test your templates

Maybe this template works well in one industry but not in another one. I’ve previously not been so quick to check this, but we once had a new employee who was getting nothing. No responses. Though his template looked great, I figured we had nothing to lose by trying a different one. So we did — and he started getting responses.

We’ve tested including a URL in the initial outreach. We’ve tested different phrasings for the same basic request. It’s fun to test, but it can also really help improve your link success.

6. Proof your general email outreach (again!)

Please, proofread your outreach emails! Have someone else check, too. I routinely look at the outreach emails my team sends, and occasionally, I will see something, whether it’s a typo I missed or poor punctuation. I do think that an email that does not look perfect looks very unprofessional. I wouldn’t respond to that.

7. Stop hounding people

I will absolutely forget to respond to someone and need a follow-up. However, I do not need five follow-ups. Follow up once, maybe twice (maybe) but that really needs to be the end of it. People are very busy, and they’re only getting busier.

8. Have more patience with webmasters

It’s hard to maintain a successful website. You never know what is going on in their lives. We had a really terrible experience where a link builder kept following up with a webmaster because they’d negotiated a link that didn’t go live. After a couple of weeks, the webmaster responded to say he’d been in the hospital after being hit by a car. And yes, he gave us the link.

9. Have more patience with link builders

It’s hard work building links. You may think it’s a piece of cake, but there are days when my team doesn’t get any links. There are times when there are 20 emails back and forth, and a link then doesn’t work out. There are times when we do discovery for three days without finding any good sites that meet our guidelines. Nothing good comes easy, I suppose.

10. Don’t discount webmasters’ opinions

You may approach a webmaster with a specific link request, but it’s important to be open to alternatives. We have had webmasters respond to us and say they’d love to link to our client but not as we’d asked, so we go back to the client with the webmaster’s ideas. Maybe they know of a better page. Maybe they see a better page on our client’s site to link to. It is very rare for the client to say no, as generally, the webmasters know their audience and their site better than we do.

11. Stop being so set on anchor text

Anchor text is obviously important, but the focus on it remains crazy. We’ve worked with a couple of clients who have turned down the opportunity for a good link because the webmaster wouldn’t link with their chosen anchor text (although that’s been rare). No one knows what their users might like more than the webmasters, in my opinion.

12. Stop constantly running numbers and changing everything

So, you’ve built five links with Anchor Text A. Even though it’s still how most people would naturally link to you, you start building links with only Anchor Text B.

Or you now have 10 links pointing to one of your subpages, so obviously you need to back off drawing attention to it and focus on another subpage, whereupon you will get 10 links and move on to another page.

While it’s good to be conscious of link diversity, constantly changing focus is not good — especially when it consumes you.

13. Don’t think that just because it’s working for your competitors, it’s going to work for you

A competitor might have a successful blog that gets a lot of attention, but maybe it’s a really small space, and there’s just not room for you to do the same thing. They may have 100 linking domains, while you have 85. Getting 15 more is not the only answer for you.

14. Read Google’s guidelines for yourself

Don’t believe every crazy thing you’re told. Recently, a webmaster told us that Google would penalize any site using branded anchor text. Not true. Google updates the guidelines regularly. Read them regularly.

15. Stop looking at the rankings 10 times a day and freaking out

Sometimes there is a lot of volatility, and you’ll see your site on page 2, then page 10, then page 3. If it’s bouncing around that much, you’re better off just not looking for a bit.

16. Pay close attention to Google Analytics and Search Console

We still get clients who haven’t set these up. If Google is giving you information for free, you need to take advantage of it. You can integrate the two and get some powerful data that can help you figure out where your problems are and how to fix them.

17. Don’t forget to pursue other avenues of traffic

We have clients who do really well in Bing. My site’s main source of traffic is referrals from this very column. Some sites get their main business from Facebook. Even if you do rank really well in Google, it’s wise to try to do well elsewhere, whether that means referrals from other sites, other search engines or social.

18. Remember your SEO fundamentals

Links can be the answer, but they aren’t always. Even with a great link-building program in place, it can be difficult to rank well if your on-site SEO isn’t properly done.

What’s on your list of resolutions?


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


New Year’s Day 2018 Google doodle brings in the new year with a bright sunrise

Today’s Google doodle ends its illustrated holiday doodle series, showing the penguins who have been featured in all the images back on a snowy landscape watching the sunrise.

Since the first doodle shared on December 18, the penguins have made plans to visit their tropical bird friends in warmer weather, celebrated the New Year’s Eve among palm trees, and now return home to witness a bright new day for the start of 2018.

“After closing out the holidays with a bang, our penguin pals watch as the sun rises on a brand new year and look forward to what’s ahead,” writes Google on the Google Doodle Blog.

The first two doodles in series that appeared on December 18 and December 25 led to searches for “December global festivities.” The doodle posted yesterday led to a search for “New Year’s Eve 2017,” and today’s doodle to “New Year’s Day 2018.”

All four of the doodles in the series included a slide show of illustrated images, with new images added for each new doodle. Here are all the illustrations in the order they appeared:

December global festivities doodle from December 18

December global festivities doodle from December 25

New Year’s Eve 2017 doodle

New Year’s Day 2018 doodle

In addition to the holiday doodle series that started on December 18, Google also posted a doodle for the Winter Solstice on December 21 and one to honor Marlene Dietrich on December 27, marking what would have been the actress’ 116th birthday.

Search Engine Land wishes all of its readers a happy New Year!