MIDWEEK SEM RUNDOWN (9/21/16–10/11/16)

Welcome to the Weekly SEM Rundown, a recap the past week’s major SEM news. The original Rundown is found here.

The news for each week is broken up between:

  • SEO (search engine optimization)
  • PPC (pay-per-click) Advertising
  • Local Search
  • Social Media Marketing

SEO (SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION)

Google releases Penguin 4.0
Google finally launched the algo update after SEOs waited over a year for its release. Google’s Gary Illyes said on October 7th that the Penguin rollout was nearly finished. By now, it should have been completely rolled out. If you thought your site had a Penguin penalty, hopefully you saw a lift. Otherwise, you may be out of luck. There were concerns after the rollout that blackhat spam techniques would now be easier to test and become more popular. This may also be true of negative SEO attacks. However, Google does not seem very worried. Webmasters also had concerns about the purpose of the disavow file now that Penguin was live. Rather than Penguin demoting sites that have spammy backlinks, those backlinks are devalued.

So should webmasters even bother with the disavow file? John Mueller answered that the role of the disavow file has not changed and that webmasters should still continue to use it. Lastly, Google has not increased the crawl rate of Googlebot as part of the Penguin rollout. Penguin 4.0 is good news for those sites with poor backlink portfolios, the live Penguin algo will make it easier for you to recover quickly (if you put the time in).

Google’s AMP will override app deep links.
Announced at SMX East by Adam Greenberg (head of Global Product Partnerships at Google), AMP pages will override app deep links for the foreseeable future. This means that even after a user has installed a publishers app, if they search in Google mobile results what they will find will be the AMP pages above links to the App. Clear preference will be given to AMP pages as they provide the better experience, at least according to Google.

Google only displays 8.5 blue links instead of 10. 
Searchmetrics released a study that demonstrated changes to the Google user interface. One of the results of the changed SERP is that Google will often only show 8.5 blue links on average. The other 1.5 links are pushed off the first page in favor of showing other supplemental results like featured snippets, knowledge panels, images, etc. This is bad news for traditional SEOs. The good news is that these supplemental results are not paid, which means your site can be displayed in the new space. Learn how to optimize your site for features like rich snippets.

Google Analytics updates its desktop UI.
Google made adjustments to their desktop version of Google Analytics. If you don’t see these updates, it is because Google is rolling out the changes over the next few weeks. In an effort to simplify the UI Google has updated its navigation, removing the “Home Customization Reporting Admin” and allowing the user to resize the nav. The customization elements will now all be placed in one container appropriately called “Customization”. Users can easily switch to different accounts, properties from anywhere in GA with a new header format. Google has also removed Intelligence Events and placed custom alerts in the customization section. Automated Insights will soon replaced Intelligence Events. Lastly, In-Page Analytics have been removed, though you can see similar data using the Chrome Extension.

WordPress adds new SEO features. 
WordPress’ new SEO features provide basic organic SEO functionality webmasters have previously relied on plugins to provide (unless you were on wodpress.com which doesn’t allow widgets). Webmasters can now add customized titles and meta descriptions to site pages. WordPress also allows you to preview your titles and meta descriptions in the WordPress.com reader, a Google search result snippet, a Facebook post and a Twitter card.

Google adds RGB to Hex tool in search results. 
Similar to its calculator and weather tools, Google has now added a tool for users to convert RBG to Hexadecimals. Users searching “rgb to hex” can use to the tool to either choose values from a sliding color scale or place the exact RGB values directly into the tool.

Google gives voice to Google Now, calling it “Google Assistant”.
While Google Assistant is not very human sounding, it functions much in the same way as Siri, Cortana and Echo. Google Assistant has a female voice like the others, though I would find it hilarious if Google had John Ratzenberger voice their product. Google Assistant will also answer questions similarly to the other assistants. However, Google has a serious advantage with direct answers because of their extensive knowledge graph. Google Assistant will available in a number of different devices including Google Home.

Google Home announced.
Google Home is Google’s competing product to Amazon Echo. It looks like a smaller version of Echo with a softer color palette (primary colors and white vs. Amazon’s black and orange). Home functions very similarly to Echo, answering user questions with direct answers. Unlike Echo, Google is able to leverage Google’s huge knowledge graph to give a greater range of direct answers. The product will retail at $129 and be available at the Google Store, Best Buy, Target and Walmart.

Google labels your site’s links. 
The backlinks on your website are given labels that help Google’s manual action team to better understand your site and whether or not they have to dig deeper. Three types of labels the team might use are: “Penguin real time”, “footer” and “disavow”.

Some Google algos look at the the history of your site. 
During Webmaster Office Hours, John Mueller confirmed that the history of a page or website can influence how Google’s algorithm interacts with it. Unfortunately, Mueller was not specific in his explanation. However, content, links, past penalties, and any spammy behavior are apparently recorded to some extent. For those blackhats out there burning and rebuilding sites, make sure you get clean domain names each time and start from scratch (also use different host, provider, who is info). Otherwise, Google will likely be on to you. Or you can just go white hat.

Google updates its algo in overlapping cycles. 
Google has roughly 200 ranking signals it uses to determine its organic rankings. In Webmaster Office Hours, John Mueller said that these ranking signals all had their own cycles of refreshes and did not update simultaneously. While this may seem obvious, it is still worth knowing more clearly how Google’s algo works.

Google displaying flight and hotel costs in search results. 
For vacation searches [caribbean vacations], Google is displaying a box at the top of search results that lists four different options for your query with flight and hotel costs. The box also has a ‘More destinations’ link which brings users into Google Trips. SEOs can expect organic search space to continue to shrink as Google reaches its greedy fingers into new verticals.

Google treats 301 redirects to your home page as soft 404s.
John Mueller of Google explained that when webmasters 301 redirect many if not all of their old internal pages to the home page, Google treats these redirects as soft 404s. Soft 404s have their linke value demoted if not ignored entirely. The loss of PageRank in these instances could very negatively affect a site’s rankings. Don’t let your developer be lazy in a site migration. 301 redirect from page to new related page on a one-to-one basis.

Google warns against directory links. 
Both John Mueller and Gary Illyes tweeted warnings about directory link building. Gary was specific and said, “Directories are very often not the right way to build links. Make sure you know what you’re doing & remember that there’s manual actions too.” For those still using directories for link building, make sure they are legitimate, niche directories (think Chambers of Commerce, Industry associations, etc).

Google releases study on use of mobile. 
Google published a study on searchers use of mobile. While the data shared was not surprising, it did reinforce the dominance of mobile. On a typical day 80% of people use a smartphone and 57% use more than one device, while only 27% only use a smartphone and only 14% only use a computer. Cross-device targeting is becoming increasingly more important. Now, we just need a method for cross-device customer tracking.

Google adds structured data & schema support for science datasets.
Google added a new supported data type called “Science Datasets”. This markup can be used for sciences, earth science, materials sciences, as well as for civic and government data. The dataset requires a table or CSV file with a proprietary format that contains data. A structured object with data and image capturing the data is also required.

Don’t add structured data to category pages. 
In a recent Webmaster Office Hours it was explained that webmasters should only be marking up individual product pages rather than category or other broad pages. Not following this rule will most likely result in a manual action penalty for spammy structured markup. Be careful you are not accidentally breaking Google’s guidelines.

Google almost immediately accounts for new links. 
In the Google Webmaster Office Hours, John Mueller explained that when Google crawls a new link to your site, they almost immediately take the new link into account for determining search rankings. This could potentially be delayed if the link was from an unknown site where Google would have to crawl the unknown site as well to determine authority.

PPC (PAY-PER-CLICK) ADVERTISING

Google displaying more Adwords Local 4-Packs. 
Google is displaying an increased number of Adwords Local 4-packs in the search results. The 4-pack lists ads for four different businesses in the format of the local business listings, complete with star ratings. These ads push down the organic results. They also replace the traditional advertising that displays on the SERP. Fortunately, the local 3-pack is displayed below the Adwords 4-pack. This is bad news for those who worked hard to rank in the local 3-pack, but it is good news for those who don’t rank well in the local results but are willing to pay for a similar placement.

New Search ad features announced by Google at SMX East. 
During the keynote discussion of the conference Google’s Jerry Dischler, VP of search ads, and Babak Pahlavan, senior director of product management, announced several new search ad functions. Advertisers will now be able to setup cross-device remarketing campaigns to target the same users across devices. Advertisers will also soon be able to set up their RLSA ads at the campaign level. Demographic targeting for search ads will be rolling out. The targeting lets advertisers target by gender, age and household income. Similar ad audiences are also now in open beta.

Google Adwords Editor v11.6 launches.
Google has launched version 11.6 of its Adwords editor. The new version brings support for various ad formats and adds new device bidding options for desktop, tablet and mobile. Universal app campaigns can be created/edited and single promotion and image templates for Gmail can be created in the Editor. The updated editor is available fordownload.

Google changes product listing ads to carousel format on desktop. 
Google has updated the format of their product listing ads on desktop. Previously, four to five ads were displayed in a static format on the top or side of the page. Now a scrollable carousel displays the ads at the top of the search results page. This allows users to see many more ads on the same page. This may provide relief for advertisers who were unable to competitively bid for the first page before the change. Edit: The scrollable carousel does display but some searches also display the old static format as well. Google currently uses both formats.

Google introducing cross-device remarketing. 
Google’s new cross-device remarketing is meant to “close the loop” for advertisers targeting users on multiple devices. The new remarketing in the Google Display Network and Doubleclick Bid Manager allows advertisers to target the same users as they move across devices. You can still control the frequency of advertising displayed to your target. This new functionality will become available over the next few months. Google also made a couple other improvements to its remarketing campaigns. Advertisers can hold users in their remarketing lists for up to 540 days and will now be able to set up remarketing at the campaign level.

Adwords testing click-to-text business option.
Google is testing an option in its mobile advertising that allows users to click-to-text rather than click-to-call businesses. This could be helpful way for businesses with automated texting setup to respond to customers when there is no one at the business to pick up the phone (closed hours).

Adwords can now link accounts with Salesforce. 
Adwords has had a feature in beta that allows marketers to import conversion data from Salesforce. The feature is now coming out of beta and is available to everyone. The option can be found under the Linked accounts section. The Google Click ID (GCLID) passes to Salesforce whenever a conversion is completed on the site. Milestones selected in Salesforce are then automatically imported into Adwords and logged alongside the corresponding conversion events.

Updated Google Adwords Anroid & iOS apps.
Google’s Adwords Android and iOS apps have received a number of updates.

Android Updates
– Favorites. Access your AdWords accounts faster by tagging the ones you most frequently use in your manager account
– Notifications. Receive important notifications about the status of your ads, budget and billing for all of your active accounts
– Search and filter. Search and filter your account for specific campaign, ad groups or keywords so you can quickly drill into the areas that need your attention
– Quality Score. Use the Quality Score column under Keywords to get an estimate of the quality of your ads and landing pages
– Expanded text ad data. View performance statistics for your expanded text ads:http://goo.gl/y6U99m

iOS Updates
– Manager accounts. Easily navigate your manager accounts (previously known as My Client Center)
– Notifications. Receive important notifications about the status of your ads, budget and billing for all of your active accounts
– Quality Score. Use the Quality Score column under Keywords to get an estimate of the quality of your ads and landing pages
– Expanded text ad data. View performance statistics for your expanded text ads [http://goo.gl/y6U99m]

Adwords adds support for display URLS in Unicode characters.
Display URLS in Unicode characters will be displayed as Unicode characters regardless of the user’s Google language preference. Previously unicode was only displayed if the characters matched the user’s language preference.

Google makes call conversion tracking easier. 
Google has made call conversion tracking with Adwords easier. The new method requires only one dynamic piece of code per landing page and Google will dynamically serve the right number (that you assign in Adwords). This is a clear improvement of creating a unique javascript tag for each different landing page. This method only works well if you only need one phone number per page.

Bing Ads device bidding pilot testing. 
After Google’s move back to separate device bidding, Bing is making its own move. Bing is separating tablets from desktops in the bid adjustments and allowing mobile and tablet to be raised to 900 percent, up from 300 percent. Desktop bids can only be set as low as 0. The current changes are being tested in a pilot. For those interested in being part of the test email: bingads-pilots@microsoft.com.

Apple rolling out search ads in their App Store.
The beta period for these ads is ending and the format is being opened to all publishers and developers for the iPhone and iPad in the US. The main goal of the advertising is to aid in App discovery and is Apple’s response to Google’s Search Ads in the their Play store. In Apple’s setup, only one ad will be displayed per search and developers will be able to set a max daily budget and an overall campaign budget. The familiar second price auction will be used in bidding. Apple is providing a $100 credit for developers starting their first campaign.

Google announces new ad unit design for Adsense. 
For Adsense text & link unit ads, Google is updating the look with a new “minimalist design” to bring focus to the content. The new ad has text left justified with a clean white background and button placed in the right corner. These newly designed ads are stillcustomizable.

Bing Ads adds support for Shopping campaigns.
Bing Ads Editor v11.4 has added the ability to create new Shopping campaigns and edit existing campaigns directly from the editor. The new Shopping settings tab is found in the editor panel where advertisers can set Store ID, region of sale and campaign priority. The Type, Bid, and Destination URLs for products can be adjusted in the editor. If you are still using Bing Ads Editor version 10 you will need to download version 11 seperately.

LOCAL SEARCH

Google testing advanced verification to prevent spam in local results. 
Google is testing a new “advanced verification” process for locksmiths and plumbers in San Diego. If businesses in these two categories do not complete the advanced verification process by November 10th, they will have their listings removed. Google is using a third party company (Pinkerton) to do run the verification. The process takes two weeks to complete. Here are the steps. Hopefully, this will help cleanup these spammed industries.

Google adds features in v3.1 of its My Business API. 
Google My Business API Version 3.1 is out and comes with a few updates. The update includes: subscription for push notifications of new reviews, Google Maps URLs being included in location responses, additional location states indicating when a listing was published, a reopen flag that indicates closed locations that can be reopened, support for URL and Enum attributes and a list of supported categories for country and language (replaces csv files).

Google adds “Fom the menu” section in local results. 
Google now displays a “From the menu” section in the local knowledge panel for restaurants. The section shows pictures of food that people have taken at the restaurant. The photos are being crowdsourced and users can add additional photos by clicking on the small blue photo icon in the top right of the local knowledge panel. The new section only seems to appear in mobile search results.

Google My Business adds recommendations for dealing with Local SEOs.
Google has added helpful guidelines in their Google My Business help page for businesses working with local SEOs. Google gives five best practices for making sure you are getting the best return for your local SEO work.
These are:
– Be selective
– Work with one at a time
– Educate yourself
– Trust experience
– Evaluate your performance
Each of these best practices have more specific recommendations. There are also warnings to protect businesses from deceptive behavior.

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