As March wraps up, hopefully your SEO efforts are going strong into the next quarter. Lots of interesting news this month, from voice ads in the home to digital retail struggles and everything in-between. Let’s jump right in with all of this month’s most noteworthy news:
Right Said Fred? Wut?
Although we are not a fan of non-empirical propaganda based on useless data and needless fearmongering, we have to admit, that there is is something broodling in the SERPs these past few weeks, as also indicated by SERPWoo (they have awesome data).
— SERPWoo (@SERPWoo) April 5, 2017
There is a huge thread on BHW that discusses the whole shabang. Some call it the ‘Fred’ update and propagate, that it targets PBNs and other well-performing links, while others think it simply targets on-site issues and ad-heavy websites.
Make up your own mind, but don’t believe anything you read online right away. Look at your own data first and make conclusions based on that.
Google Home Introduces Ads (but Don’t Call Them Ads)
Both the animated and live-action versions of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast feature the classic song “Be Our Guest.” But Google Home found themselves in the doghouse after sending out what many called an unwelcome ad.
Reddit and later Twitter spread this story. The first report was likely this Reddit post:
“This morning while I was getting ready for work, I did my usual ‘Okay Google, good morning.’ After information about the time and weather, my google home said something along the lines of ‘By the way, Beauty and The Beast opens in theaters today. In this version, Belle is the inventor. Sounds more like it to me.’”
People were pretty outraged. “Why would I ever pay someone else to advertise to me, in the privacy of my own home no less?” and “…at least I know that Apple will never inject her with ads” were some representative responses — and some of the cleaner ones, too.
Google arguably made things worse with their statement to Business Insider:
“This isn’t an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.”
Certainly not the smoothest response, PR-wise, and there was a substantial social media backlash. Google had to then release a second statement:
“This wasn’t intended to be an ad. What’s circulating online was a part of our My Day feature, where after providing helpful information about your day, we sometimes call out timely content. We’re continuing to experiment with new ways to surface unique content for users, and we could have done better in this case.”
Ads are probably coming to intelligent assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo. But nobody knows exactly how or when. Ad or not, the Beauty and the Beast… “timely content” provoked a strong backlash.
Our guess is the next steps exploring ads in this area will be a bit slower and subdued. Still, advertising through intelligent assistants is a wide open field we’ll be keeping an eye on.
The Mobile World Congress: All about Video
This month saw the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, a massive four-day event of speeches, discussions, product demonstrations and more.
What was everyone talking about? Mobile Video.
Keynote speakers included major media producers with a heavy interest in original video. Vice, Netflix, Discovery and more.
On top of that, brands in attendance were also all about mobile video. Shell, Red Bull, Lufthansa, and others were all exploring branding opportunities.
This is the second month in a row we’ve seen major praise for mobile video. Last month Mark Zuckerberg told shareholders that Facebook was going “video-first.” “Video is a megatrend on the same order as mobile,” he said.
The popularity of mobile video is growing month to month. Definitely a trend we’re keeping a close eye on.
Target is an Effective Online Retailer (but There’s a Catch)
Good news and bad news for Target, according to a recently released report. Internet Retailer’s The Best Digital Marketers in E-Commerce says Target is the most effective marketer in online retail.
The report scored major online retailers based on how well they marketed themselves across email, paid search, organic search, and social media marketing. Target did well in general and excelled in their use of marketing tools and use of customer data.
The bad news is Target’s stock is at a two and a half year low. They’ve missed several earnings expectations. Target isn’t drawing enough shoppers into their stores. Plus, they had to cut into their margins when developing their marketing engine.
While maybe this isn’t the best time if you own Target stock, this is a great time if you’re interested in digital marketing. They’re a large company doing a lot of things right – always a nice resource to be aware of.
Google Posts Make a Surprise Return
Remember Google Posts? Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of them. Google Posts were originally launched last year during the US presidential election. Then they disappeared for a while. Now they’ve returned.
So, what are they? Posts are like a limited version of Google+. Brands or individuals can use the Post as a one-way social platform. Audience engagement is pretty much read only, with no way to like or comment. Each time Posts reappear they look and act a bit different than before.
Posts have been seen in a few different industries, including small business and charter schools. In this latest appearance, they’re in professional sports, with the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees both showing Posts in the search results page.
While it’s far too early to think about using Posts for your own site, their latest version is always interesting to check out. They don’t always stick around very long, so Google either of those teams soon if you want to see them in action.
No one knows when posts are due for a full-fledged roll-out. All we do know is they’ve been appearing with more frequency this year than last. Plus, they’re showing up across many different industries, which might suggest testing for wide release.
We’ll let you know if Posts show up anywhere else in the upcoming months. Let us know if you find any!
Breitbart Ad Buys Cause More Controversy
Last year, a group of major brands discovered their ads were being displayed alongside the “alt-right” website Breitbart News. Facing intense public outcry, brands such as Kellogg, U.S. Bank, and the Anti-Defamation League pulled their ads from the controversial site.
The problem is the result of programmatic advertising. Buying and selling ads online can be automated, and that has some unintended consequences.
Unfortunately, the same basic thing happened in the UK this month. Many British advertisers found their ads next to content related to a controversial Islamist preacher, a different preacher banned in the UK due to hate, YouTube videos of white nationalists in America and more.
While the brands in the US were big, those affected in the UK are arguably even bigger. The Guardian newspaper, Channel 4 and even the British government itself were among those who found their ads next to the objectionable content.
Isba, which represents 450 British advertisers, has called on a policy review from Google. But that’s not the biggest repercussion. The Cabinet Office has summoned Google for discussions on how government money is being spent on advertising.
If your brand buys advertising through any similar system, you’ll want to check where your ads are appearing.
Google Home Arriving in the UK
Google Home launched in the US last November. Next month is the U.K’s turn as Google’s intelligent assistant arrives in April.
Along with Google Home comes Google’s own Wi-Fi service in the U.K., which hopes to provide a more consistent wireless connection throughout the home.
Google Home, like Amazon’s Echo, handles a variety of smart home functions and answer questions large and small. Translations, weather, traffic, news and more can be delivered right to your home.
According to a post by Google’s Suveer Kothari, Google Home operates by a combination of:
- Natural language processing
- Machine learning
- Voice recognition expertise
So, is Google Home U.K. just the same as the US version? Google says the U.K. version has a few hidden “British treats.” While they didn’t specify, they suggested asking about Google Home about its favorite foods and hobbies. Hopefully, Google Home U.K. doesn’t tell you its favorite hobby is reading the start times for Beauty and the Beast.
Starting April 6, Google Home will be available at Argos, John Lewis, Dixons Retails, and Maplin Electronics. Each unit is £129. Google Wi-Fi is also available that same day, at an additional £129.
Facebook is Allowing GIFs in the Comments
Have you ever had the perfect GIF for a Facebook comment, and been frustrated it wasn’t allowed? GIFs have been welcome inside Facebook Messenger for a while now but banned from comments in the News Feed.
According to news from TechCrunch, that’ll change by next month. April will see testing of GIFs in Facebook comments. The test pool is just a small group of users, so you might have to search around to see Facebook GIFs in action.
Using the gifs is as simple as opening a provider, like Giphy, and tapping on a GIF. You can’t share GIFs as a post in the News Feed, but you can use them in comments. So, the upside is, they’re easy to use.
The downside is a potentially chaotic newsfeed. Will there be a cascade of movie and TV clips throughout the majority of comments sections? Facebook has long had the capacity to allow GIFs, but they’ve been concerned about how GIFs might distract from content.
Technically, you’ve been able to use GIFs in Facebook through workarounds. This is the first official use, however, and should be exciting to watch develop throughout the year. If Facebook’s past attitudes towards GIFs are any guide, we expect them to move slowly but steadily here.
Medium Introduces New Subscription Plan
Medium is a popular online publishing platform. Users can find original reporting, essays, fiction and other written works. Until recently, users could find all that for free.
A new subscription service was recently announced. For a monthly $5 U.S., subscribers will be upgraded to better content and an improved reading experience.
Subscribers will get access to a “carefully curated” selection of stories chosen by experts from a diverse array of fields.
The reasons behind the subscription plan seem motivated more by ideology than finance. Revenue from all founding members – those who subscribe within the first few months – goes directly to the writers and independent publishers creating the content.
Medium CEO Evan Williams is also a co-founder of Twitter. He referred to these content creators on Medium as “those who have hard-won expertise, do exhaustive research, and think deeply. … Those who maximize our understanding of the world, but don’t necessarily maximize clicks.”
So, is Medium now promoting itself as a news source? Even the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have faced issues when trying to charge for content. Will Medium find a new revenue model here?
Sophisticated Phishing Attack Targets Gmail Users
Even pros were falling for this one! WordPress security company Wordfence uncovered most of the details on this attack, which has been targeting Gmail users for the past few months.
First, the target receives an email from a known contact. Inside is an image of an attachment which appears to be legit.
The browser’s location bar displays “accounts.gmail.com” and users are lead to what looks like Google’s sign-in page. Once credentials are entered – you guessed it – the account is compromised.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve fallen for this one. Wordfence CEO Mark Maunder said a lot of experienced technical pros were hit.
Last month, Google announced they’d be using Security Key enforcement and other additional steps to protect customers against phishing.
Although we’re still early in the year, cyber crime in 2017 is proving to be increasingly sophisticated. Phishing and social engineering will likely continue to be common methods of entry.
Google Calls Out Company for Selling Links
Companies which sell links understand the potential penalties they face but rarely (if ever) are link selling companies calling out publicly. In late March, Google’s Gary Illyses sent out a Tweet which read “ @webdirectlinks , how much for a link?”
The period before the company name ensures all of his followers saw the tweet. The site itself doesn’t contain much information, but who knows what’s going on behind the scenes. Google tweeting about a company selling links is an unusual development and something we’ll keep an eye on.
LinkedIn Rolls Out Trending Storylines
LinkedIn is making some interesting moves so far this year. This month they released their Trending Storylines, which offer curated feeds of stories related to the user’s industry.
Each user’s Storyline is unique. They’re created through both algorithms and LinkedIn’s editorial team. Users see info from their own network as well as industry news sources and experts.
Members connect to each other through the use of hashtags. Each storyline has a unique hashtag which allows people to follow and comment.
Storylines are still in-development. Eventually, users will be able to follow both people and topics they learn about in a Storyline.
We haven’t mentioned LinkedIn in a while, but this could be a big year for them. The consensus among SEO pros is that LinkedIn is re-positioning themselves. They want to become a one-stop shop with tools and content for business professionals.
You probably already know about this transition if you’re heavily involved in LinkedIn. But if you haven’t checked in on the platform recently, you might want to drop by during the year and see what’s new.
Google Introduces Tappable Shortcuts
Search is moving away from voice in interesting new ways. Aside from the increased acceptance of voice search, which we covered in last month’s Round Up, users will soon be able to use tappable shortcuts.
The official name is Shortcuts in Search. Users can access quick answers with simple one-touch operation. Info is available for local services, restaurants, entertainment and similar.
The service is currently only available for Google app users in the U.S. The latest version of the app is required.
Voice-less search is going to be big. By the end of the year, some aspects of search could look a lot different from how they look now.
Baidu Launches AI Audio Transcriber
Have you heard of Baidu? In essence, they’re the Google of China. For a few years, they’ve been making waves in the field of artificial intelligence.
They’re already off to a big start for 2017. This month they launched SwiftScribe. This is a web-based audio transcription app.
In a post from Baidu which accompanied release, SwiftScribe was described as “a breakthrough in AI-powered transcription software.” Transcription time can be up to 40% faster.
AI developments in China fly under the radar for many SEO professionals. But there’s some interesting stuff going on at Baidu. We’ll keep you posted.
Amazon Buys Souq
In other international news, the Middle East’s largest online retailer was bought by Amazon. Souq, which sells over eight million products to customers throughout the Gulf and Egypt, will keep their current branding. The exact cost of the deal is unknown, but CB Insights pegs the sale at more than $1 billion.
Amazon has long had on eye on major expansion into the Middle East. As Amazon senior vice president Russ Grandinetti told CNN, “We’ve been serving customers in the Middle East for many years, but this, of course, allows us to do it in a way that it takes it to a whole new level, that it’s local service, local delivery speed.”
Amazon Completes First U.S. Drone Delivery
Amazon has completed their first drone delivery demonstration on U.S. soil. An autonomously-operating Prime Air quadcopter delivered a four-pound box of sunscreen. Delivery involved both a successful landing and takeoff.
This took place in Palm Springs, California during the Amazon-hosted MARS 2017 conference. MARS stands for machine learning, automation, robotics, and space exploration – although we were kind of hoping the “S” stood for “sunscreen.”
In December, a commercial drone delivery was successfully completed in the U.K. So this U.S. delivery wasn’t particularly historical, although the drone did get temporary FAA approval. Still, what’s a delivery of sunscreen today can be city-wide grocery delivery before you know it.
YouTube Captions Sound Effects [APPLAUSE]
YouTube’s had captions since 2007, but only for speech. This month they announced automatic detection and transcription of a few sound effects. The project is a collaboration with their Sound Understanding and Accessibility teams.
Soon, you’ll start to see effects, with [APPLAUSE], [MUSIC], and [LAUGHTER] expected to be the most common. Sound effects can be labeled with no human input.
YouTube Software Engineer Noah Wang published a post with additional detail. “At the heart of the work,” he wrote, “utilising [sic] thousands of hours of videos to train a deep neural network model to achieve high quality recognition results.”
This platform will almost certainly be developed further this year. Expect to see efforts towards more sophisticated captions including recognition of barking, knocking and ringing.
Uber Leaving Denmark
March is the last full month for Uber in Denmark. The car hire firm is leaving the country behind in the rearview mirror, completely shutting down on April 18.
The reason? New taxi laws which require all drivers to have both seat sensors and fare meters.
Uber has operated in Denmark for just under three years. The company says they employ around 2,000 drivers and have given rides to about 300,000 riders.
In a statement, Uber said, “For us to operate in Denmark again the proposed regulations need to change. We will continue to work with the government in the hope that they will update their proposed regulations and enable Danes to enjoy the benefits of modern technologies like Uber.”
Uber is certainly a company which has been difficult not to watch recently. At the end of last month, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was caught on tape in a heated argument with an Uber driver. Not even 30 days later, Uber president Jeff Jones announced his resignation. So far Uber is shaping up to be one of the most dramatic companies of the year. Hopefully, they can turn this bumpy ride around soon.
Periscope to Include Pre-Roll Ads
For a few Round-Ups now we’ve been following Twitter’s rough times finding monetization. They took a big step towards new revenue generation recently with the addition of pre-roll ads within video on Periscope.
If you’re familiar with the user experience for Twitter video, the additions to Periscope will seem very familiar. Before the actual video is viewed users will see a branded video. These pre-rolls apply to both live and replay videos.
These ads are a win for Twitter, brands, and broadcasters. Twitter and broadcasters each get a cut of the profits while brands have a new market. Of course, Periscope users weren’t exactly demanding advertising. We’ll have to see user response as the ads roll out over the next few months.
Amazon Introduces Car-Side Food Deliver
Amazon seems to be always on the lookout for ways to connect online commerce with physical sales. They recently announced the test launch of Amazon Fresh Pickup.
How does it work? Users place grocery orders online then drive to a physical store. But you don’t have to get out of your car. Your grocery order is delivered to your car with curbside delivery.
Currently, the service is available in two stores, both located in Seattle. Amazon employees have been test customers up until now. When the store opens to the public, pickup service will be available for free to Amazon Prime members.
The company’s landing page details the groceries available. There’s everything you’d expect to find at any traditional U.S. grocery store including free produce and meats.
You might remember at the end of last year when Amazon opened Amazon Go. This was a different type of grocery store without cashiers. Instead, items were automatically scanned, and users billed via a mobile app. Amazon Go got a lot of press at the time, but the public opening has been delayed.
Regardless, Amazon clearly wants to be in the grocery business big-time. While both their offerings have a very limited service area, we can expect to see a wider launch eventually. With two grocery store projects in less than six months, Amazon’s grocery ambitions are worth checking out.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day
Finally, we end this month’s Round-Up with a notable Google Doodle from March. We decided on March 17th’s St. Patrick’s Day Doodle. As in years past, it was cheerful and heavy on the color green.
The Doodle included some travel advice, info on native animals and a brief biography of the patron saint himself.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, with good luck for all of your SEO efforts! Check back soon for news and updates.
What stories caught your eye in March? What do you think April has in store for our ever-changing industry? 2017 is shaping up to be an exciting year for internet marketers!