How to Turn Low-Value Content Into Neatly Organized Opportunities – Next Level

Posted by jocameron

Welcome to the newest installment of our educational Next Level series! In our last post, Brian Childs offered up a beginner-level workflow to help discover your competitor’s backlinks. Today, we’re welcoming back Next Level veteran Jo Cameron to show you how to find low-quality pages on your site and decide their new fate. Read on and level up!


With an almost endless succession of Google updates fluctuating the search results, it’s pretty clear that substandard content just won’t cut it.

I know, I know — we can’t all keep up with the latest algorithm updates. We’ve got businesses to run, clients to impress, and a strong social media presence to maintain. After all, you haven’t seen a huge drop in your traffic. It’s probably OK, right?

So what’s with the nagging sensation down in the pit of your stomach? It’s not just that giant chili taco you had earlier. Maybe it’s that feeling that your content might be treading on thin ice. Maybe you watched Rand’s recent Whiteboard Friday (How to Determine if a Page is “Low Quality” in Google’s Eyes) and just don’t know where to start.

In this edition of Next Level, I’ll show you how to start identifying your low-quality pages in a few simple steps with Moz Pro’s Site Crawl. Once identified, you can decide whether to merge, shine up, or remove the content.

A quick recap of algorithm updates

The latest big fluctuations in the search results were said to be caused by King Fred: enemy of low-quality pages and champion of the people’s right to find and enjoy content of value.

Fred took the fight to affiliate sites, and low-value commercial sites were also affected.

The good news is that even if this isn’t directed at you, and you haven’t taken a hit yourself, you can still learn from this update to improve your site. After all, why not stay on the right side of the biggest index of online content in the known universe? You’ll come away with a good idea of what content is working for your site, and you may just take a ride to the top of the SERPs. Knowledge is power, after all.

Be a Pro

It’s best if we just accept that Google updates are ongoing; they happen all.the.time. But with a site audit tool in your toolkit like Moz Pro’s Site Crawl, they don’t have to keep you up at night. Our shiny new Rogerbot crawler is the new kid on the block, and it’s hungry to crawl your pages.

If you haven’t given it a try, sign up for a free trial for 30 days:

Start a free trial

If you’ve already had a free trial that has expired, write to me and I’ll give you another, just because I can.

Set up your Moz Pro campaign — it takes 5 minutes tops — and Rogerbot will be unleashed upon your site like a caffeinated spider.

Rogerbot hops from page to page following links to analyze your website. As Rogerbot hops along, a beautiful database of pages is constructed that flag issues you can use to find those laggers. What a hero!

First stop: Thin content

Site Crawl > Content Issues > Thin Content

Thin content could be damaging your site. If it’s deemed to be malicious, then it could result in a penalty. Things like zero-value pages with ads or spammy doorway pages — little traps people set to funnel people to other pages — are bad news.

First off, let’s find those pages. Moz Pro Site Crawl will flag “thin content” if it has less than 50 words (excluding navigation and ads).

Now is a good time to familiarize yourself with Google’s Quality Guidelines. Think long and hard about whether you may be doing this, intentionally or accidentally.

You’re probably not straight-up spamming people, but you could do better and you know it. Our mantra is (repeat after me): “Does this add value for my visitors?” Well, does it?

Ok, you can stop chanting now.

For most of us, thin content is less of a penalty threat and more of an opportunity. By finding pages with thin content, you have the opportunity to figure out if they’re doing enough to serve your visitors. Pile on some Google Analytics data and start making decisions about improvements that can be made.

Using moz.com as an example, I’ve found 3 pages with thin content. Ta-da emoji!

I’m not too concerned about the login page or the password reset page. I am, however, interested to see how the local search page is performing. Maybe we can find an opportunity to help people who land on this page.

Go ahead and export your thin content pages from Moz Pro to CSV.

We can then grab some data from Google Analytics to give us an idea of how well this page is performing. You may want to look at comparing monthly data and see if there are any trends, or compare similar pages to see if improvements can be made.

I am by no means a Google Analytics expert, but I know how to get what I want. Most of the time that is, except when I have to Google it, which is probably every second week.

Firstly: Behavior > Site Content > All Pages > Paste in your URL

  • Pageviews – The number of times that page has been viewed, even if it’s a repeat view.
  • Avg. Time on Page – How long people are on your page
  • Bounce Rate – Single page views with no interaction

For my example page, Bounce Rate is very interesting. This page lives to be interacted with. Its only joy in life is allowing people to search for a local business in the UK, US, or Canada. It is not an informational page at all. It doesn’t provide a contact phone number or an answer to a query that may explain away a high bounce rate.

I’m going to add Pageviews and Bounce Rate a spreadsheet so I can track this over time.

I’ll also added some keywords that I want that page to rank for to my Moz Pro Rankings. That way I can make sure I’m targeting searcher intent and driving organic traffic that is likely to convert.

I’ll also know if I’m being out ranked by my competitors. How dare they, right?

As we’ve found with this local page, not all thin content is bad content. Another example may be if you have a landing page with an awesome video that’s adding value and is performing consistently well. In this case, hold off on making sweeping changes. Track the data you’re interested in; from there, you can look at making small changes and track the impact, or split test some ideas. Either way, you want to make informed, data-driven decisions.

Action to take for tracking thin content pages

Export to CSV so you can track how these pages are performing alongside GA data. Make incremental changes and track the results.

Second stop: Duplicate title tags

Site Crawl > Content Issues > Duplicate Title Tags

Title tags show up in the search results to give human searchers a taste of what your content is about. They also help search engines understand and categorize your content. Without question, you want these to be well considered, relevant to your content, and unique.

Moz Pro Site Crawl flags any pages with matching title tags for your perusal.

Duplicate title tags are unlikely to get your site penalized, unless you’ve masterminded an army of pages that target irrelevant keywords and provide zero value. Once again, for most of us, it’s a good way to find a missed opportunity.

Digging around your duplicate title tags is a lucky dip of wonder. You may find pages with repeated content that you want to merge, or redundant pages that may be confusing your visitors, or maybe just pages for which you haven’t spent the time crafting unique title tags.

Take this opportunity to review your title tags, make them interesting, and always make them relevant. Because I’m a Whiteboard Friday friend, I can’t not link to this title tag hack video. Turn off Netflix for 10 minutes and enjoy.

Pro tip: To view the other duplicate pages, make sure you click on the little triangle icon to open that up like an accordion.

Hey now, what’s this? Filed away under duplicate title tags I’ve found these cheeky pages.

These are the contact forms we have in place to contact our help team. Yes, me included — hi!

I’ve got some inside info for you all. We’re actually in the process of redesigning our Help Hub, and these tool-specific pages definitely need a rethink. For now, I’m going to summon the powerful and mysterious rel=canonical tag.

This tells search engines that all those other pages are copies of the one true page to rule them all. Search engines like this, they understand it, and they bow down to honor the original source, as well they should. Visitors can still access these pages, and they won’t ever know they’ve hit a page with an original source elsewhere. How very magical.

Action to take for duplicate title tags on similar pages

Use the rel=canonical tag to tell search engines that https://moz.com/help/contact is the original source.

Review visitor behavior and perform user testing on the Help Hub. We’ll use this information to make a plan for redirecting those pages to one main page and adding a tool type drop-down.

More duplicate titles within my subfolder-specific campaign

Because at Moz we’ve got a heck of a lot of pages, I’ve got another Moz Pro campaign set up to track the URL moz.com/blog. I find this handy if I want to look at issues on just one section of my site at a time.

You just have to enter your subfolder and limit your campaign when you set it up.

Just remember we won’t crawl any pages outside of the subfolder. Make sure you have an all-encompassing, all-access campaign set up for the root domain as well.

Not enough allowance to create a subfolder-specific campaign? You can filter by URL from within your existing campaign.

In my Moz Blog campaign, I stumbled across these little fellows:

https://moz.com/blog/whiteboard-friday-how-to-get-an-seo-job

https://moz.com/blog/whiteboard-friday-how-to-get-an-seo-job-10504

This is a classic case of new content usurping the old content. Instead of telling search engines, “Yeah, so I’ve got a few pages and they’re kind of the same, but this one is the one true page,” like we did with the rel=canonical tag before, this time I’ll use the big cousin of the rel=canonical, the queen of content canonicalization, the 301 redirect.

All the power is sent to the page you are redirecting to, as well as all the actual human visitors.

Action to take for duplicate title tags with outdated/updated content

Check the traffic and authority for both pages, then add a 301 redirect from one to the other. Consolidate and rule.

It’s also a good opportunity to refresh the content and check whether it’s… what? I can’t hear you — adding value to my visitors! You got it.

Third stop: Duplicate content

Site Crawl > Content Issues > Duplicate Content

When the code and content on a page looks the same are the code and content on another page of your site, it will be flagged as “Duplicate Content.” Our crawler will flag any pages with 90% or more overlapping content or code as having duplicate content.

Officially, in the wise words of Google, duplicate content doesn’t incur a penalty. However, it can be filtered out of the index, so still not great.

Having said that, the trick is in the fine print. One bot’s duplicate content is another bot’s thin content, and thin content can get you penalized. Let me refer you back to our old friend, the Quality Guidelines.

Are you doing one of these things intentionally or accidentally? Do you want me to make you chant again?

If you’re being hounded by duplicate content issues and don’t know where to start, then we’ve got more information on duplicate content on our Learning Center.

I’ve found some pages that clearly have different content on them, so why are these duplicate?

So friends, what we have here is thin content that’s being flagged as duplicate.

There is basically not enough content on the page for bots to distinguish them from each other. Remember that our crawler looks at all the page code, as well as the copy that humans see.

You may find this frustrating at first: “Like, why are they duplicates?? They’re different, gosh darn it!” But once you pass through all the 7 stages of duplicate content and arrive at acceptance, you’ll see the opportunity you have here. Why not pop those topics on your content schedule? Why not use the “queen” again, and 301 redirect them to a similar resource, combining the power of both resources? Or maybe, just maybe, you could use them in a blog post about duplicate content — just like I have.

Action to take for duplicate pages with different content

Before you make any hasty decisions, check the traffic to these pages. Maybe dig a bit deeper and track conversions and bounce rate, as well. Check out our workflow for thin content earlier in this post and do the same for these pages.

From there you can figure out if you want to rework content to add value or redirect pages to another resource.

This is an awesome video in the ever-impressive Whiteboard Friday series which talks about republishing. Seriously, you’ll kick yourself if you don’t watch it.

Broken URLs and duplicate content

Another dive into Duplicate Content has turned up two Help Hub URLs that point to the same page.

These are no good to man or beast. They are especially no good for our analytics — blurgh, data confusion! No good for our crawl budget — blurgh, extra useless page! User experience? Blurgh, nope, no good for that either.

Action to take for messed-up URLs causing duplicate content

Zap this time-waster with a 301 redirect. For me this is an easy decision: add a 301 to the long, messed up URL with a PA of 1, no discussion. I love our new Learning Center so much that I’m going to link to it again so you can learn more about redirection and build your SEO knowledge.

It’s the most handy place to check if you get stuck with any of the concepts I’ve talked about today.

Wrapping up

While it may feel scary at first to have your content flagged as having issues, the real takeaway here is that these are actually neatly organized opportunities.

With a bit of tenacity and some extra data from Google Analytics, you can start to understand the best way to fix your content and make your site easier to use (and more powerful in the process).

If you get stuck, just remember our chant: “Does this add value for my visitors?” Your content has to be for your human visitors, so think about them and their journey. And most importantly: be good to yourself and use a tool like Moz Pro that compiles potential issues into an easily digestible catalogue.

Enjoy your chili taco and your good night’s sleep!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Listen to MozPod, the Free SEO Podcast from Moz

Posted by BrianChilds

We’re marketers. We know from firsthand experience that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to get done. And that’s even more true once you commit to leveling up and learning new skills.

The learning curve for developing digital marketing skills can be steep, and staying informed as things evolve and change (thanks, Google) can feel like a full-time job. Our Moz Training has classes to help accelerate the learning process, but as startup folks ourselves, we understand the importance of multitasking.

Learn SEO on the go

We’re thrilled to introduce MozPod, an SEO podcast focused on sharing lessons from digital marketing experts. Episodes are led by instructors from Moz Academy and we discuss a wide variety of digital marketing concepts, from common terminology to recent changes and best practices.

Check it out on iTunes

Where can I listen in?


Upcoming episodes

Our first series covers conversion rate optimization, PageRank, and link building:

Ep. 1: The Science of Crawling and Indexing

Guest: Neil Martinsen-Burrell of Moz

Dr. Neil Martinsen-Burrell shares his perspective as a statistician on the development of Page Authority and Domain Authority. Great data and interesting stats.

Ep. 2: What’s a Good Conversion Rate?

Guest: Carl Schmidt of Unbounce

Carl discusses the Unbounce Conversion Rate Benchmark Report and what SEOs can learn from an analysis of over 74 million landing page visitors. Great for content writers.

Ep. 3: Link Building Fundamentals

Guest: The PageOnePower team

MozPod interviews PageOnePower about how search engines place value on links. Collin, Cody, and Nicholas share the personal wisdom they’ve gained from working at a link building company.


Want to be a guest on MozPod?

If you’d like to share your recent SEO analysis or have a topic you think MozPod listeners would find valuable, please send us your ideas! MozPod is a place for our community of SEOs and digital marketers to learn. We’d love to hear from you.

Simply fill out this form to share your idea: Be on MozPod


Give it a listen and let us know what topics you’d like to hear about in the comments!

Listen to MozPod on iTunes

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Virtual Real Estate

Wrastlin With The News The current presidential cabinet includes a WWE co-founder & this passes for modern political discourse: #FraudNewsCNN #FNN pic.twitter.com/WYUnHjjUjg— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017 CNN promised vengeance. Something To Believe In The pretense of objectivity has been dropped: These reporters aren’t ideologues. They’re just right-thinking people who lean left. Somewhere along the line, they stopped pretending to be objective about Trump. … People don’t just disagree with each other. They can’t imagine how a decent caring human being could disagree with their own view of race or the minimum wage or immigration or Trump. Being a member of the virtuous tribe means not only carrying the correct card in your wallet to reassure yourself. You have to also believe that the people carrying any other card are irrational, or worse, evil. They’re not people to engage in conversation with. They are barriers to be ignored or pushed aside on the virtuous path to paradise. This intolerance and inability to imagine the virtue of the other side is the road to tyranny and chaos. It dehumanizes a good chunk of humanity and that in turn justifies the worst atrocities human beings are capable of. The WSJ, typically a right-leaning publication, is differentiating their coverage of the president from most other outlets by attempting to be somewhat neutral. The news is fake. Even historically left-leaning people are disgusted with outlets like CNN. “I think the president is probably right to say, like, look you are witch-hunting me. You have no smoking gun, you have no real proof.” – CNN supervising producer John Bonifield “When you do shitty reporting like CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times & Rachel Maddow especially. When you do that & it is revealed to be bullshit, what you’re doing is building up Trump. There’s no greater way to build up Trump than to falsely report on him. There’s no better way to build up Trump than to make him the victim.” – Jimmy Dore “Rachel Maddow was given the facts, she ignored them, & she kept right on going. That’s MSNBC, that’s CNN, that’s the New York Times, the Washington Post – they’re all horrible. That’s why we had the Iraq war. That’s why we have the Syria war. That’s why we are still in Afghanistan. That’s why we had Libya. That’s why we have the biggest income disparity since the gilded age. Meanwhile we are spending more on the military than the rest of the world.” – Jimmy Dore And, since people need something to believe in, there are new American Gods: “A half hour of cable news delivers enough psychic trauma for a whole year. The newspapers are talking of nothing but treason, espionage, investigations, protests.” … “Stocks are rallying because of how little faith we have in the government. The Mega Blue Chip Corporation is the new Sovereign.” Current Headwinds for Online Publishing I struggle to keep up with the accelerating rate of change. A number of common themes in the current ecosystem are: We are moving toward a world where more things are becoming fake (only accelerated by the demonetization of neutrality & the algorithmic boost associated with reliably delivering confirmation bias in an algorithmic or manual fashion) risk keeps being radiated outward to the individual while monopoly platforms capture the spoils (forced-place health insurance purchases where the insurance company arbitrarily drops the sick member on the policy even though that is supposed to be illegal, more temp jobs where people don’t get enough hours to get health insurance through their employer, under-funded pensions, outsourcing of core business functions to sweatshops where part-time workers don’t get paid for dozens to hundreds of hours of required training & get to watch beheading videos all day) the barrier to entry keeps increasing (increased marketing cost due to brand bias, heavy ad loads on dominant platforms, & central platforms making partners do “bet the farm” moves in how they adjust distribution to drive adoption of proprietary formats & temporarily over-promote select content formats) the increasing chunk size of competition is making it much harder for individuals to build sustainable businesses. (Yes the tools of the trade are improving quickly, BUT the central platforms are demonetizing the adjacent fields faster than publishing tools & business options improve.) In Europe publishers are aggressively leaning on regulators to try to rebalance power. Some of this stuff is cyclical. About a decade ago the European Commission went after Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer. Google complained about the monopolistic practices to ensure Microsoft was fined. And we’ve went from that to a web where Google syndicates native ads that blend into page content while directly funding robot journalism. And then Google is ranking the robot-generated crap too. Speaking of robot journalists, check out the top 3 results for this query. All 3 are auto-written by automated insights (AI software). Yikes pic.twitter.com/ltFGFXHNiF— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) July 8, 2017 But to keep the ecosystem clean & spam free, Google is also planning to leverage their web browser to further dictate the terms of online publishing. Chrome will block autoplay audio & will automatically reroute .dev domains to https. Cutting edge developers suggest using a web browser other than Google Chrome to prevent proprietary lock in across the web. Is this a test, @Google? pic.twitter.com/V9FZ2hL2cA— TNW (@TheNextWeb) September 5, 2017 While Google distributes their Chrome browser as unwanted bundleware, other web browsers must display uninstall links front & center when trying to gain awareness of their product using Google AdWords. Microsoft Edge is coming to Android, but without a BrowserChoice.eu screen it is unlikely most users will change their web browser as most are unaware of what a web browser even is, let alone the limitations of any of them or the tracking embedded in them. If you go back several years, there was celebration of the fact that the cost of doing a startup was so low. You didn’t have to pay Oracle a million dollars for a server license any more. You didn’t even have to rack your own hardware. Now you can just dial it up on Amazon. But there are now these gatekeepers and toll-takers. Back in 2004, you had the wide-open internet. – Jeremy Stoppelman The Mobile Revolution If you are an anti-social work at home webmaster who has dual monitors it is easy to dismiss cell phones as inefficient and chalk most mobile usage up to the following. Russian man visited Chinese click farm.They make fake ratings for mobile apps and things like this.He said they have 10,000 more phones pic.twitter.com/qE96vgCCsi— English Russia (@EnglishRussia1) May 11, 2017 The reality is cell phones are more powerful than they seem if you are strictly consuming rather than working. Deflationary impact of technology: everything in this Radio Shack flyer from 1991 adds up to $3,285.12 and can be done today on a smartphone pic.twitter.com/ONh3waWVgq— Jeffrey Kleintop (@JeffreyKleintop) June 23, 2017 And that is how the unstoppable quickly becomes the extinct! 10 years ago. pic.twitter.com/ZCWfHfpedi— Harry Tucker (@harrytuckerr) September 11, 2017 Many people the world over are addicted to their cell phones to where viral game makers are self-regulating before regulators step in: “From Tuesday, users below 12 years of age will be limited to one hour of play time each day, while those aged between 12 years and 18 years will be limited to two hours a day, Tencent said.” While China is using their various tools to clamp down on Honour of Kings, Tencent is bringing the game to the west, which makes blocking VPN services (with Apple’s help – they must play along or have the phones reduced to bricks) & requiring local data storage & technology transfer more important. Anything stored locally can be easily disappeared: “China’s already formidable internet censors have demonstrated a new strength-the ability to delete images in one-on-one chats as they are being transmitted, making them disappear before receivers see them.” China has banned live streaming, threatened their largest domestic social networks, shut down chat bots, require extensive multimedia review: “an industry association circulated new regulations that at least two “auditors” will, with immediate effect, be required to check all audiovisual content posted online” AND they force users to install spyware on their devices. In spite of all those restrictions, last year “Chinese consumers spent $5.5 trillion through mobile payment platforms, about 50 times more than their American counterparts.” In the last quarter Baidu had Â¥20.87 billion in revenues, with 72% of their revenues driven by mobile. People can not miss that which they’ve never seen, thus platform socialism works. Those who doubt it will be tracked & scored accordingly. History, as well, can be scrubbed. And insurance companies watch everything in real-time – careful what you post. The watchful eye of the Chinese pre-crime team is also looking over every move. Last quarter Facebook had revenues of $9.164 billion, with 87% coming from mobile devices. pic.twitter.com/JlPBSlmKlw— banksy (@thereaIbanksy) September 16, 2017 Simulacrum has ALMOST been perfected: “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.” … “Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.” … “Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.” pic.twitter.com/QBLBXIDDLK— banksy (@thereaIbanksy) August 24, 2017 The web is becoming easier to get addicted to due to personalization algorithms that reinforce our worldviews even as they make us feel more isolated and left out. And the barrier to entry for consumers into one of the few central gatekeeper ecosystems is dropping like a rock due to the falling cost of mobile devices, coupled with with images & video displacing text making literacy optional. As we become more “connected” we feel more isolated: “Social isolation, loneliness or living alone was each a significant factor contributing to premature death. And each one of these factors was a more significant risk factor for dying than obesity. … No one knows precisely why loneliness is surging, threatening the lives of many millions of people, but it does seem that the burgeoning use of technology may have something to do with it. Personally, I would contend that technology may be the chief factor fueling it.” The primary role of the big data mining companies is leveraging surveillance for social engineering Unsettling that according to Mark Zuckerberg purpose of Facebook is forced social engineering. From “World Without Mind” by Franklin Foer: pic.twitter.com/CHRnefg9m2— Murtaza Hussain (@MazMHussain) October 8, 2017 App Annie expects the global app economy to be worth $6.3 trillion by 2021. The reason those numbers can easily sound fake & mobile can seem overblown is how highly concentrated usage has become: “over 80 percent of consumer time on mobile devices is now spent on the apps, websites and properties” of just five companies: Facebook, Google, Apple, Yelp and Bing. Maslow 2.0 pic.twitter.com/X1OguQG8Gq— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) October 7, 2017 eMarketer stated Google will have more mobile ad revenue than desktop ad revenue in the US this year. They also predicted Google & Facebook will consume over 2/3 of US online ad spend within 2 years. The central network operators not only maintain an outsized share of revenues, but also maintain an outsized share of profits. When the home team gets a 30% rake of any sale it is hard for anyone else to compete. Even after buying and gutting Motorola Google bought part of HTC for $1.1 billion. The game plan has never changed: commoditize the compliment to ensure user data & most of the profits flow to Google. Put up arbitrary roadblocks for competing services while launching free parallel offerings to drive lock-in. For the last YEAR I’ve been battling App Store rejections – we made an app called Animoji with animated emojis…now I know why. https://t.co/jKJXfLMGj2— Ryan Jones (@rjonesy) September 9, 2017 Central data aggregators can keep collecting more user data & offer more granular ad distribution features. They can tell you that this micro moment RIGHT NOW is make or break: it’s intended to create a bizarre sense of panic among marketers – “OMG, we have to be present at every possible instant someone might be looking at their phone!” – which doesn’t help them think strategically or make the best use of their marketing or ad spend. The reality is that if you don’t have a relationship with a person on their desktop computer they probably don’t want your mobile app either. If you have the relationship then mobile only increases profits. Is iOS 11 specifically designed to make your older iPhones unusable and drain your battery so you have to upgrade to the newest phones?— Eric Jackson (@ericjackson) October 7, 2017 Many people attempting to build “the next mobile” will go bust, but wherever the attention flows the ads will follow. Those with a broad & dominant tech platform can copy features from single-category devices and keep integrating them into their core products to increase user lock-in. And they can build accessories for those core devices while prohibiting the flow of data to third party devices to keep users locked into their ecosystem. Smaller Screens, Shallower Attention People often multi-task while using mobile devices. Powerful stuff …An very fucking true pic.twitter.com/enP98Z6B7r— Nev (@LFCNev) July 13, 2017 When multi-tasking it is easier to accidentally click an ad. This happens 10s of billions of times a year: This year, in-app mobile ad spend will reach $45.3 billion, up $11 billion from last year, according to eMarketer. And apps are where the money is at for mobile advertising, comprising 80 percent of all U.S. media dollars spent on mobile. But multi-tasking means doing almost everything else worse. The “always on” mode not only increases isolation, but also lowers our ability to focus: “while our phones offer convenience and diversion, they also breed anxiety. Their extraordinary usefulness gives them an unprecedented hold on our attention and vast influence over our thinking and behavior. … Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens. … when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills decline. … As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased. … Anticipating that information would be readily available in digital form seemed to reduce the mental effort that people made to remember it. … people are all too quick to credit lies and half-truths spread through social media by Russian agents and other bad actors. If your phone has sapped your powers of discernment, you’ll believe anything it tells you.” Further, the shallow attention stream makes it easy to displace content with ads: 4 Ads 3 map carrousel results 5 organic results 4 Ads Then “see more results” 4 more Ads 5 organic results 4 more Ads On desktop devices people don’t accidentally misclick on ads at anywhere near the rate they fat thumb ads on mobile devices. Desktop ad clicks convert to purchases. Mobile ad clicks convert to ad budget burned: “marketers are still seeing few shoppers purchasing on mobile. The 52% of share in traffic only has 26% share of revenue.” For traditional publishers mobile users drastically under-monetize desktop users due to drastically lower conversion rates (true for almost everyone in ecommerce outside of Amazon perhaps) limited cross-device tracking (how do you track people who don’t even hit your site but hit a cached page hosted via Google AMP or Facebook Instant Articles?) lower ad load allowed on publisher sites due to limited screen size aggressive filtering of fat thumb ad clicks on partner sites from central ad networks For the central network operators almost all the above are precisely the exact opposite. higher ad CTR by making entire interface ads (& perhaps even disappearing the concept of non-ads in the result set) great cross-device user tracking higher ad load allowed by the small screen size pushing content below the fold more lenient filtering of fat thumb accidental ad clicks If you look at raw stats without understanding the underlying impact, it is easy to believe the ecosystem is healthy. Assumption: Google’s ads are more prominent, so organic must be dying.Reality: As of Oct. 2016, 20X more organic clicks than paid ones. pic.twitter.com/FaEBpBZWSw— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) July 1, 2017 However the huge number of “no click” results are demonetizing easy publisher revenues, which have traditionally helped to fund more in-depth investigative reporting. Further, much of the direct navigation which happened in the past is now being passed through brand-related search result pages. You can argue that is an increase in search traffic, or you can argue it is shifting the roll of the address bar from navigation to search. The first page is nothing but ads Yep, and here they are in Philly. Home service ads, then AdWords traditional ads, then the local pack (way down below). 🙂 pic.twitter.com/VOVZPWWHsg— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) July 17, 2017 On mobile so is the second, and most of the third Hey, only 2.5 screens before you get to the 10 blue links. A full 4 screens if you cannot crack the top 2 organics. pic.twitter.com/bbm1pz8hyF— Jeremy Bochenek (@J_Bochenek) July 17, 2017 If a search query has lots of easy to structure crap around it, a user might need 6 or 7 scrolls to get to an organic result Very interesting Google SERP for GoT. One barely visible organic result after >70% scroll depth. Oh my… #seo #GameOfThones pic.twitter.com/Z6j7VvJMI4— Bastian Grimm (@basgr) August 24, 2017 Then if third parties go “well Google does this, so I should too” they are considered a low quality user experience and get a penalty. Emailed a client one month ago when I picked up ultra-aggressive ads (especially on mobile). They just received an ad experiences warning. pic.twitter.com/QLLZci1xKW— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 25, 2017 31% ad coverage on mobile website is excessive / spam / low quality user experience for a publisher, while 301% coverage is reasonable for the central network operators. Google not only displaces the result set, but also leverages their search suggestion features & algorithmic influence to alter how people search & what they search for. Ads are getting integrated into mobile keyboards. The standard keyboard on the HTC 10 has begun showing ads [X-Post from r/mildlyinfuriating] https://t.co/FuXDJzilZ6 #blog pic.twitter.com/VriK54dBHb— Android Facts (@manatweets) July 16, 2017 And when a user finally reaches the publisher’s website (provided they scroll past the ads, the AMP listings, and all the other scrape-n-displace trash) then when they finally land on a publication Google will overlay other recommended articles from other sites. Whoa -> While you’re reading a page on the Google app for iOS, you’ll now see suggestions for related content https://t.co/n6FjkNqx82 pic.twitter.com/DZYTt8T7fI— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 19, 2017 That feature will eventually end up including ads in it, where publishers will get 0.00% of the revenue generated. Remember how Google suggested publishers should make their websites faster, remove ads, remove clutter, etc. What was the point of all that? To create free real estate for Google to insert a spam unit into your website? Continuing coverage of Google’s new content recos. I’m sure Best Buy is thrilled to see Amazon show up while someone is on their page. Ouch. pic.twitter.com/qpDyGKPyYh— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 24, 2017 This wouldn’t be bad if mobile were a small, fringe slice of traffic, but it is becoming the majority of traffic. And as mobile increases desktop traffic is shrinking. Even politically biased outlets that appear to be nearly perfectly optimized for a filter bubble that promotes identity politics struggle to make the numbers work: “As a result of continued decline in direct advertising, [Salon’s] total revenue in the fiscal year 2017 decreased by 34% to $4.6 million. Following the market trend, 84% of our advertising revenue in fiscal year 2017 was generated by programmatic selling. … [Monthly unique visitors to our website saw] a decrease of 23%. We attribute the decline primarily to the changes in the algorithms used by Facebook.” I knew the last year was bad for online publishing, but the Salon 10K shows *just how bad* pic.twitter.com/oyH7pdCDNI— josh laurito (@joshlaurito) June 26, 2017 The above sorts of numbers are the logical outcome to this: we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content”above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward. Especially when combined with this: As you scroll through it, you are then given travel ads for flight options through Google Flight search, hotels through Google Hotel search and restaurants through Google Local results. Then towards the bottom of the knowledge graph card, all the way at the end in a small grayish font, you have a link to “see web results.” Bad news for TripAdvisor. Google has squeezed out SEO for travel. PCLN/EXPE SEM $ spend and higher conversion is a massive competitive advantage. Bad news for TRIP. pic.twitter.com/39QkxuN780— modest proposal (@modestproposal1) April 17, 2017 And amongst the good news for Expedia, there’s also a bit of bad news for Expedia. The hotels are fighting Airbnb & OTAs. In travel Google is twice as big as the biggest OTA players. They keep eating more SERP real estate and adding more content behind tabs. On mobile they’ll even disappear the concept of organic results. Room previews in the search results not only means that second tier players are worth a song, but even the new growth players propped up by aggressive ad buying eventually hit a wall and see their stock crash. As the entire ecosystem gets squeezed by middlemen and the market gets obfuscated with an incomplete selection it is ultimately consumers who lose: “Reservations made through Internet discount sites are almost always slated for our worst rooms.” The New York Times pitched Yelp as a pesky player holding a grudge: “For six years, his company has been locked in a campaign on three continents to get antitrust regulators to punish Google, Yelp’s larger, richer and more politically connected competitor. … Yelp concluded that there was no better way to get Google’s attention than to raise the specter of regulation. … something [Mark Mahaney] calls the Death of Free Google. As the internet has migrated to mobile phones, Google has compensated for the smaller screen space by filling it with so many ads that users can have a hard time finding a result that hasn’t been paid for.” In spite of how quick The New York Times was to dismiss Yelp, the monopoly platforms are stiffing competition & creativity while bundling fake reviews & junk features into their core platforms. People can literally switch their name to “Loop dee Loop” and leave you terrible, fake reviews. Google’s lack of effort & investment to clean up trash in their local services department highlights that they don’t feel they need to compete on quality. Pay for core search distribution, throw an inferior service front & center, and win by default placement. As AI advancements make fake reviews look more legit Google’s lack of investment in creating a quality ecosystem will increasingly harm both consumers and businesses. Many low margin businesses will go under simply because their Google reviews are full of inaccurate trash or a competitor decided to hijack their business listing or list their business as closed. To this day Google is still egregiously stealing content from Yelp: Yelp said it investigated and found that over one hour, Google pulled images from Yelp’s servers nearly 386,000 times for business listings in Google Maps, which Google exempted from its promise to not scrape content. Yelp then searched Google for 150 of the businesses from those map listings and found that for 110 of them, Google used a Yelp photo as the lead image in the businesses’ listings in search results. Stealing content & wrapping it in fake reviews is NOT putting the user first. Facebook has their own matching parallel shifts. The aggregate quality of mobile ad clicks is quite low. So as mobile becomes a much higher percent of total ad clicks, those who don’t have scale and narrative control are reduced to taking whatever they can get. And mainstream media outlets are reduced to writing puff pieces so the brands they cover will pay to promote the stories on the main channels. As programmatic advertising, ad blockers, unpatched Android-powered botnets & malware spread each day gets a little uglier for everyone but the central market operators. It is so bad that some of the central market operators offer surveillance apps which claim to protect user privacy! Other app makers not connected to monopoly profit streams monetize any way they can. The narrative of growth can be sold (we are launching a new food channel, we are investing in our internal video team, we have exclusive real estate listings, and, um, we acquired a food channel) but the competition is a zero sum game with Google & Facebook eating off the publisher’s plates. That’s why Time is trying to shave $400 million off their expenses & wants to sell their magazine division. Newspaper companies are selling for $1. It is also why Business Insider is no longer chasing growth & the New York Times is setting up a charitable trust. The rise of ad blocking only accelerates the underlying desperation. I have some thoughts about why news orgs are finding that people won’t read long articles: pic.twitter.com/G8Zh6GTA6w— Ben Chase (@bbchase) July 4, 2017 I feel terrible for journalists who invest time and effort into doing a hard job well only to have it presented like this. pic.twitter.com/jIZxuJqVAq— Jeff Long (@banterability) October 5, 2017 As long as news websites make their own customer experience worse than what can be found as a cached copy on the monopoly platforms there is no reason to visit the end publisher website. That is why the proprietary formats promoted by the monopoly platforms are so dangerous. They force lighter monetization & offset the lack of revenue by given preferential placement: click through rate from Google search went from 5.9% (Regular) to 10.3% (AMP), and average search position went from 5.9 (Regular) to 1.7 (AMP). Since then, we have deployed AMP across fifteen of our brands and we have been very pleased with the results. Today, AMP accounts for 79% of our mobile search traffic and 36% of our total mobile visits. As long as almost nobody is using the new proprietary, ghetto lock-in format the math may work out there, but once many people adopt it then it becomes another recurring sunk cost with no actual benefit: the only voices promoting AMP’s performance benefits are coming from inside Google. … given how AMP pages are privileged in Google’s search results, the net effect of the team’s hard, earnest work comes across as a corporate-backed attempt to rewrite HTML in Google’s image. Even if you get a slight uptick in traffic from AMP, it will lead to lower quality user engagement as users are browsing across websites rather than within websites. Getting a bit more traffic but 59% fewer leads is a fail. No amount of collaborative publisher partnerships, begging for anti-trust exemptions, or whining about Google is going to fix the problem. “The only way publishers can address this inexorable threat is by banding together. If they open a unified front to negotiate with Google and Facebook-pushing for stronger intellectual-property protections, better support for subscription models and a fair share of revenue and data-they could build a more sustainable future for the news business. But antitrust laws make such coordination perilous. These laws, intended to prevent monopolies, are having the unintended effect of preserving and protecting Google and Facebook’s dominant position.” Wait a minute. Wasn’t it the New York Times which claimed Yelp was holding an arbitrary grudge against Google? The following sounds a lot more desperate: newspapers that once delivered their journalism with their own trucks increasingly have to rely on these big online platforms to get their articles in front of people, fighting for attention alongside fake news, websites that lift their content, and cat videos. Well maybe that is just smaller publications & not the gray lady herself “the temperature is rising in terms of concern, and in some cases anger, about what seems like a very asymmetric, disadvantageous relationship between the publishers and the very big digital platforms.” – NYT CEO Mark Thompson In unrelated news, there’s another round of layoffs coming at the New York Times. And the New York Times is also setting up a nonprofit division to expand journalism while their core company focuses on something else. Apparently Yelp does not qualify as a publisher in this instance. Or does it? The Times is backing the move for what is called an anticompetitive safe haven, in part, Mr. Thompson said, “because we care about the whole of journalism as well as about The New York Times.” Ah, whole of journalism, which, apparently, no longer includes local business coverage. You know the slogan: “news isn’t news, unless it isn’t local.” The struggles are all across the media landscape. The new Boston Globe CEO lasted a half-year. The San Diego Union-Tribune resorted to using GoFundMe. The Chicago Sun-Times sold for $1. Moody’s issued a negative outlook for the US newspaper sector. As the industry declines the biggest players view consolidation as the only solution. These struggles existed even before the largest brand advertisers like P&G cut back on low & no value ad venues like YouTube: In the fourth quarter, the reduction in marketing that occurred was almost all in the digital space. And what it reflected was a choice to cut spending from a digital standpoint where it was ineffective: where either we were serving bots as opposed to human beings, or where the placement of ads was not facilitating the equity of our brands. Google & Facebook are extending their grip on the industry with Google launching topical feeds & Facebook wanting to control subscription management. Best of luck to journalists on the employment front: The initiative, dubbed Reporters and Data and Robots (RADAR), will see a team of five journalists work with Natural Language Generation software to produce over 30,000 pieces of content for local media each month. Hopefully editors catch the subtle errors the bots make, because most of them will not be this obvious & stupid. The Guardian does not seem to know what a 40 is https://t.co/m7Gm1YrbXC pic.twitter.com/Y0sK9r0ltJ— Shuja Haider (@shujaxhaider) July 26, 2017 The cost of parasitic content recycling is coming down quickly: In a show of strength last year, Microsoft used thousands of these chips at once to translate all of English Wikipedia into Spanish-3 billion words across five million articles-in less than a tenth of a second. Next Microsoft will let its cloud customers use these chips to speed up their own AI tasks. Voice search makes it even easier to extract the rewards without paying publishers. Throwing pennies at journalists does nothing to change this. If Google is subsidizing robotic journalism they are thus legitimizing robotic journalism. As big publishers employ the tactic, Google ranks it. Checking some Heliograf articles (AI-written) reveals once again they do rank well. Google is in a tough position here. It’s inevitable… pic.twitter.com/g0Etcx3rFj— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 16, 2017 It is almost impossible to compete economically with an entity that rewrites your work & has zero marginal cost of production. YouTube has perhaps the worst comments on the web. Some mainstream news sites got rid of comments because they couldn’t justify the cost of policing them. That in turn shifts the audience & attention stream to sites like Facebook & Twitter. Some news sites which are still leaving comments enabled rely on a Google filter, a technology Google can use on YouTube as they see fit. Any plugins publishers use to lower their costs can later disappear. It looked like FindTheBest was doing well financially, but when it was acquired many news sites quickly found out the cost of free as they now have thousands of broken articles in their archives: “Last month, Graphiq announced that features for news publishers would no longer be available after Friday.” Driving costs toward zero by piling on external dependencies is no way to build a sustainable business. Especially when the central network operators are eating the playing field: “Between fast-loading AMP articles from major news brands hosted in its domain, full pages of information scraped from outside sites that don’t require you to visit them, basic shopping functions built into ads, YouTube, and a host of other features, the Google-verse is more of a digital walled garden than ever. … If Google continues to choke these sites out, what incentive will there be for new ones to come along?” Unprofitable partners which were buying growth with artificially cheap pricing eventually find out investors want profits more than growth & either reprice or go away. The longer you use something & the more locked in you are to it the more aggressively it can afford to reprice. Symbiotic relationships devolve into abusive ones: “for every pound an advertiser spends programmatically on the Guardian only 30 pence actually goes to the publisher.” – Mediatel “Google wants to cut out the middlemen, which it turns out, are URLs.” – MobileMoxie “[AMP is] a way for Google to obfuscate your website, usurp your content & remove any personal credibility from the web” – TheRegister “Though the stated initiative of ads.txt is to stop inventory resale, it achieves this by establishing ‘preferred’ channels, which naturally favors the industry’s most influential companies” – Ad Exchanger That Apple does extra work to undo AMP says a lot. Those who think the central network operators are naive to the power structure being promoted by the faux solutions are either chasing short-term goals or are incredibly masochistic. Arbitraging brand is the core business model of the attention merchant monopoly. we’ve found out that 98% of our business was coming from 22 words. So, wait, we’re buying 3,200 words and 98% of the business is coming from 22 words. What are the 22 words? And they said, well, it’s the word Restoration Hardware and the 21 ways to spell it wrong, okay? Publishers buying the “speed” narrative are failing themselves. The Guardian has 11 people working on AMP integration. And what is Google doing about speed? Google shut down Google Instant search results, often displays a screen or two full of ads which mobile users have to scroll past to find the organic search results AND is testing auto-playing videos in the search results. Facebook is also promoting fast loading & mobile-friendly pages. To keep bleeding clicks out of the “organic” ecosystem they don’t even need to have explicit malicious intent. They can run a thousand different tests every month (new vertical sitelink formats, swipable sitelinks, showing 8 sitelinks on tiny mobile devices, MOAR sitelinks, message extensions, extensions on call-only ads, price discount labels, frame 3rd party content inline, dramatically ramp up featured snippets +QnA listings, more related searches, more features in ad units, larger ad units, ad units that replace websites & charge advertisers for sending clicks from Google to Google, launch a meta-search service where they over-promote select listings, test dropping URLs from listings, put ads in the local pack, change color of source links or other elements, pop ups of search results inside search results, etc.) & keep moving toward whatever layout drives more ad clicks, keeps users on Google longer & forces businesses to buy ads for exposure, claiming they are optimizing the user experience the whole time. They can hard-code any data type or feature, price it at free to de-fund adjacent businesses, consolidate market power, then increase rents after they have a monopoly position in the adjacent market. And they can fund research on how to remove watermarks from images. Why not make hosting free, get people to publish into a proprietary format & try to shift news reading onto the Google app. With enough attention & market coverage they can further extort publishers into accepting perpetually worse deals. And free analytics & business plugins which are widely adopted can have key features get pushed into the paid version. Just look at Google Analytics – its free or $150,000+/yr. The above sorts of moves can be done in isolation, or in a combinatorial approach. Publishers aloof of the ecosystem shifts may use microformats to structure their content. They’ll then find it is integrated in Google’s new image search layout, where Google copies the content wholesale & shows it near other third party images framed by Google. How about some visually striking, yet irrelevant listings for competing brands on branded searches to force the brand ad buy. And, of course rounded card corners to eat a few more pixels, along with faint ad labeling on ads coupled with vibrant colored dots on the organic results to confuse end users into thinking the organic results are the ads. While Google turns their search results into an adspam farm, they invite you to test showing fewer ads on your site to improve user experience. Google knows best – let them automate your ad load & ad placement. What is the real risk of AI? Bias. “It’s important that we be transparent about the training data that we are using, and are looking for hidden biases in it, otherwise we are building biased systems,” Giannandrea added. “If someone is trying to sell you a black box system for medical decision support, and you don’t know how it works or what data was used to train it, then I wouldn’t trust it.” And how does Google justify their AI investments? Through driving incremental ad clicks: “The DeepMind founders understand that their power within [Alphabet], and their ability to get their way with [Alphabet CEO] Larry Page, depends on how many eyeballs and clicks and ad dollars they can claim to be driving” No bias at all there! Truth: Google killed publishing in 2015. What you’re reading now is detritus + new junk posted by crazies walking around empty offices— 11 (@searchsleuth998) August 1, 2017 SEOs who were overly reliant on the search channel were the first to notice all the above sorts of change, as it is their job to be hyper-aware of ecosystem shifts. But publishers far removed from SEO who never focused on SEO are now writing about the trends SEOs were writing about nearly a decade ago. Josh Marshall recently covered Google’s awesome monopoly powers. few publishers really want to talk about the depths or mechanics of Google’s role in news publishing. Some of this is secrecy about proprietary information; most of it is that Google could destroy or profoundly damage most publications if it wanted to. So why rock the boat? … Google’s monopoly control is almost comically great. It’s a monopoly at every conceivable turn and consistently uses that market power to deepen its hold and increase its profits. Just the interplay between DoubleClick and Adexchange is textbook anti-competitive practices. … Is your favorite website laying off staff or ‘pivoting to video’. In most cases, the root cause is not entirely but to a significant degree driven by the platform monopolies His article details how Google owns many points of the supply chain So let’s go down the list: 1) The system for running ads, 2) the top purchaser of ads, 3) the most pervasive audience data service, 4) all search, 5) our email. … But wait, there’s more! Google also owns Chrome, the most used browser for visiting TPM. He also covers the price dumping technique that is used to maintain control In many cases, alternatives don’t exist because no business can get a footing with a product Google lets people use for free. And he shared an example of Google algorithms gone astray crippling his business, even though it was not related to search & unintentional: Because we were forwarding to ourselves spam that other people sent to us, Google decided that the owner of the TPM url was a major spammer and blocked emails from TPM from being sent to anyone. If the above comes across as depressing, don’t worry. The search results now contain a depression diagnostic testing tool. Categories: internet from SEO Book http://www.seobook.com/virtual-real-estate via IFTTT from Local SEO Guru http://localseoguru.tumblr.com/post/166227650323 via IFTTT
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Wrastlin With The News The current presidential cabinet includes a WWE co-founder & this passes for modern political discourse: #FraudNewsCNN #FNN pic.twitter.com/WYUnHjjUjg— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017 CNN promised vengeance. Something To Believe In The pretense of objectivity has been dropped: These reporters aren’t ideologues. They’re just right-thinking people who lean left. Somewhere along the line, they stopped pretending to be objective about Trump. … People don’t just disagree with each other. They can’t imagine how a decent caring human being could disagree with their own view of race or the minimum wage or immigration or Trump. Being a member of the virtuous tribe means not only carrying the correct card in your wallet to reassure yourself. You have to also believe that the people carrying any other card are irrational, or worse, evil. They’re not people to engage in conversation with. They are barriers to be ignored or pushed aside on the virtuous path to paradise. This intolerance and inability to imagine the virtue of the other side is the road to tyranny and chaos. It dehumanizes a good chunk of humanity and that in turn justifies the worst atrocities human beings are capable of. The WSJ, typically a right-leaning publication, is differentiating their coverage of the president from most other outlets by attempting to be somewhat neutral. The news is fake. Even historically left-leaning people are disgusted with outlets like CNN. “I think the president is probably right to say, like, look you are witch-hunting me. You have no smoking gun, you have no real proof.” – CNN supervising producer John Bonifield “When you do shitty reporting like CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times & Rachel Maddow especially. When you do that & it is revealed to be bullshit, what you’re doing is building up Trump. There’s no greater way to build up Trump than to falsely report on him. There’s no better way to build up Trump than to make him the victim.” – Jimmy Dore “Rachel Maddow was given the facts, she ignored them, & she kept right on going. That’s MSNBC, that’s CNN, that’s the New York Times, the Washington Post – they’re all horrible. That’s why we had the Iraq war. That’s why we have the Syria war. That’s why we are still in Afghanistan. That’s why we had Libya. That’s why we have the biggest income disparity since the gilded age. Meanwhile we are spending more on the military than the rest of the world.” – Jimmy Dore And, since people need something to believe in, there are new American Gods: “A half hour of cable news delivers enough psychic trauma for a whole year. The newspapers are talking of nothing but treason, espionage, investigations, protests.” … “Stocks are rallying because of how little faith we have in the government. The Mega Blue Chip Corporation is the new Sovereign.” Current Headwinds for Online Publishing I struggle to keep up with the accelerating rate of change. A number of common themes in the current ecosystem are: We are moving toward a world where more things are becoming fake (only accelerated by the demonetization of neutrality & the algorithmic boost associated with reliably delivering confirmation bias in an algorithmic or manual fashion) risk keeps being radiated outward to the individual while monopoly platforms capture the spoils (forced-place health insurance purchases where the insurance company arbitrarily drops the sick member on the policy even though that is supposed to be illegal, more temp jobs where people don’t get enough hours to get health insurance through their employer, under-funded pensions, outsourcing of core business functions to sweatshops where part-time workers don’t get paid for dozens to hundreds of hours of required training & get to watch beheading videos all day) the barrier to entry keeps increasing (increased marketing cost due to brand bias, heavy ad loads on dominant platforms, & central platforms making partners do “bet the farm” moves in how they adjust distribution to drive adoption of proprietary formats & temporarily over-promote select content formats) the increasing chunk size of competition is making it much harder for individuals to build sustainable businesses. (Yes the tools of the trade are improving quickly, BUT the central platforms are demonetizing the adjacent fields faster than publishing tools & business options improve.) In Europe publishers are aggressively leaning on regulators to try to rebalance power. Some of this stuff is cyclical. About a decade ago the European Commission went after Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer. Google complained about the monopolistic practices to ensure Microsoft was fined. And we’ve went from that to a web where Google syndicates native ads that blend into page content while directly funding robot journalism. And then Google is ranking the robot-generated crap too. Speaking of robot journalists, check out the top 3 results for this query. All 3 are auto-written by automated insights (AI software). Yikes pic.twitter.com/ltFGFXHNiF— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) July 8, 2017 But to keep the ecosystem clean & spam free, Google is also planning to leverage their web browser to further dictate the terms of online publishing. Chrome will block autoplay audio & will automatically reroute .dev domains to https. Cutting edge developers suggest using a web browser other than Google Chrome to prevent proprietary lock in across the web. Is this a test, @Google? pic.twitter.com/V9FZ2hL2cA— TNW (@TheNextWeb) September 5, 2017 While Google distributes their Chrome browser as unwanted bundleware, other web browsers must display uninstall links front & center when trying to gain awareness of their product using Google AdWords. Microsoft Edge is coming to Android, but without a BrowserChoice.eu screen it is unlikely most users will change their web browser as most are unaware of what a web browser even is, let alone the limitations of any of them or the tracking embedded in them. If you go back several years, there was celebration of the fact that the cost of doing a startup was so low. You didn’t have to pay Oracle a million dollars for a server license any more. You didn’t even have to rack your own hardware. Now you can just dial it up on Amazon. But there are now these gatekeepers and toll-takers. Back in 2004, you had the wide-open internet. – Jeremy Stoppelman The Mobile Revolution If you are an anti-social work at home webmaster who has dual monitors it is easy to dismiss cell phones as inefficient and chalk most mobile usage up to the following. Russian man visited Chinese click farm.They make fake ratings for mobile apps and things like this.He said they have 10,000 more phones pic.twitter.com/qE96vgCCsi— English Russia (@EnglishRussia1) May 11, 2017 The reality is cell phones are more powerful than they seem if you are strictly consuming rather than working. Deflationary impact of technology: everything in this Radio Shack flyer from 1991 adds up to $3,285.12 and can be done today on a smartphone pic.twitter.com/ONh3waWVgq— Jeffrey Kleintop (@JeffreyKleintop) June 23, 2017 And that is how the unstoppable quickly becomes the extinct! 10 years ago. pic.twitter.com/ZCWfHfpedi— Harry Tucker (@harrytuckerr) September 11, 2017 Many people the world over are addicted to their cell phones to where viral game makers are self-regulating before regulators step in: “From Tuesday, users below 12 years of age will be limited to one hour of play time each day, while those aged between 12 years and 18 years will be limited to two hours a day, Tencent said.” While China is using their various tools to clamp down on Honour of Kings, Tencent is bringing the game to the west, which makes blocking VPN services (with Apple’s help – they must play along or have the phones reduced to bricks) & requiring local data storage & technology transfer more important. Anything stored locally can be easily disappeared: “China’s already formidable internet censors have demonstrated a new strength-the ability to delete images in one-on-one chats as they are being transmitted, making them disappear before receivers see them.” China has banned live streaming, threatened their largest domestic social networks, shut down chat bots, require extensive multimedia review: “an industry association circulated new regulations that at least two “auditors” will, with immediate effect, be required to check all audiovisual content posted online” AND they force users to install spyware on their devices. In spite of all those restrictions, last year “Chinese consumers spent $5.5 trillion through mobile payment platforms, about 50 times more than their American counterparts.” In the last quarter Baidu had Â¥20.87 billion in revenues, with 72% of their revenues driven by mobile. People can not miss that which they’ve never seen, thus platform socialism works. Those who doubt it will be tracked & scored accordingly. History, as well, can be scrubbed. And insurance companies watch everything in real-time – careful what you post. The watchful eye of the Chinese pre-crime team is also looking over every move. Last quarter Facebook had revenues of $9.164 billion, with 87% coming from mobile devices. pic.twitter.com/JlPBSlmKlw— banksy (@thereaIbanksy) September 16, 2017 Simulacrum has ALMOST been perfected: “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.” … “Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.” … “Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.” pic.twitter.com/QBLBXIDDLK— banksy (@thereaIbanksy) August 24, 2017 The web is becoming easier to get addicted to due to personalization algorithms that reinforce our worldviews even as they make us feel more isolated and left out. And the barrier to entry for consumers into one of the few central gatekeeper ecosystems is dropping like a rock due to the falling cost of mobile devices, coupled with with images & video displacing text making literacy optional. As we become more “connected” we feel more isolated: “Social isolation, loneliness or living alone was each a significant factor contributing to premature death. And each one of these factors was a more significant risk factor for dying than obesity. … No one knows precisely why loneliness is surging, threatening the lives of many millions of people, but it does seem that the burgeoning use of technology may have something to do with it. Personally, I would contend that technology may be the chief factor fueling it.” The primary role of the big data mining companies is leveraging surveillance for social engineering Unsettling that according to Mark Zuckerberg purpose of Facebook is forced social engineering. From “World Without Mind” by Franklin Foer: pic.twitter.com/CHRnefg9m2— Murtaza Hussain (@MazMHussain) October 8, 2017 App Annie expects the global app economy to be worth $6.3 trillion by 2021. The reason those numbers can easily sound fake & mobile can seem overblown is how highly concentrated usage has become: “over 80 percent of consumer time on mobile devices is now spent on the apps, websites and properties” of just five companies: Facebook, Google, Apple, Yelp and Bing. Maslow 2.0 pic.twitter.com/X1OguQG8Gq— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) October 7, 2017 eMarketer stated Google will have more mobile ad revenue than desktop ad revenue in the US this year. They also predicted Google & Facebook will consume over 2/3 of US online ad spend within 2 years. The central network operators not only maintain an outsized share of revenues, but also maintain an outsized share of profits. When the home team gets a 30% rake of any sale it is hard for anyone else to compete. Even after buying and gutting Motorola Google bought part of HTC for $1.1 billion. The game plan has never changed: commoditize the compliment to ensure user data & most of the profits flow to Google. Put up arbitrary roadblocks for competing services while launching free parallel offerings to drive lock-in. For the last YEAR I’ve been battling App Store rejections – we made an app called Animoji with animated emojis…now I know why. https://t.co/jKJXfLMGj2— Ryan Jones (@rjonesy) September 9, 2017 Central data aggregators can keep collecting more user data & offer more granular ad distribution features. They can tell you that this micro moment RIGHT NOW is make or break: it’s intended to create a bizarre sense of panic among marketers – “OMG, we have to be present at every possible instant someone might be looking at their phone!” – which doesn’t help them think strategically or make the best use of their marketing or ad spend. The reality is that if you don’t have a relationship with a person on their desktop computer they probably don’t want your mobile app either. If you have the relationship then mobile only increases profits. Is iOS 11 specifically designed to make your older iPhones unusable and drain your battery so you have to upgrade to the newest phones?— Eric Jackson (@ericjackson) October 7, 2017 Many people attempting to build “the next mobile” will go bust, but wherever the attention flows the ads will follow. Those with a broad & dominant tech platform can copy features from single-category devices and keep integrating them into their core products to increase user lock-in. And they can build accessories for those core devices while prohibiting the flow of data to third party devices to keep users locked into their ecosystem. Smaller Screens, Shallower Attention People often multi-task while using mobile devices. Powerful stuff …An very fucking true pic.twitter.com/enP98Z6B7r— Nev (@LFCNev) July 13, 2017 When multi-tasking it is easier to accidentally click an ad. This happens 10s of billions of times a year: This year, in-app mobile ad spend will reach $45.3 billion, up $11 billion from last year, according to eMarketer. And apps are where the money is at for mobile advertising, comprising 80 percent of all U.S. media dollars spent on mobile. But multi-tasking means doing almost everything else worse. The “always on” mode not only increases isolation, but also lowers our ability to focus: “while our phones offer convenience and diversion, they also breed anxiety. Their extraordinary usefulness gives them an unprecedented hold on our attention and vast influence over our thinking and behavior. … Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens. … when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills decline. … As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased. … Anticipating that information would be readily available in digital form seemed to reduce the mental effort that people made to remember it. … people are all too quick to credit lies and half-truths spread through social media by Russian agents and other bad actors. If your phone has sapped your powers of discernment, you’ll believe anything it tells you.” Further, the shallow attention stream makes it easy to displace content with ads: 4 Ads 3 map carrousel results 5 organic results 4 Ads Then “see more results” 4 more Ads 5 organic results 4 more Ads On desktop devices people don’t accidentally misclick on ads at anywhere near the rate they fat thumb ads on mobile devices. Desktop ad clicks convert to purchases. Mobile ad clicks convert to ad budget burned: “marketers are still seeing few shoppers purchasing on mobile. The 52% of share in traffic only has 26% share of revenue.” For traditional publishers mobile users drastically under-monetize desktop users due to drastically lower conversion rates (true for almost everyone in ecommerce outside of Amazon perhaps) limited cross-device tracking (how do you track people who don’t even hit your site but hit a cached page hosted via Google AMP or Facebook Instant Articles?) lower ad load allowed on publisher sites due to limited screen size aggressive filtering of fat thumb ad clicks on partner sites from central ad networks For the central network operators almost all the above are precisely the exact opposite. higher ad CTR by making entire interface ads (& perhaps even disappearing the concept of non-ads in the result set) great cross-device user tracking higher ad load allowed by the small screen size pushing content below the fold more lenient filtering of fat thumb accidental ad clicks If you look at raw stats without understanding the underlying impact, it is easy to believe the ecosystem is healthy. Assumption: Google’s ads are more prominent, so organic must be dying.Reality: As of Oct. 2016, 20X more organic clicks than paid ones. pic.twitter.com/FaEBpBZWSw— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) July 1, 2017 However the huge number of “no click” results are demonetizing easy publisher revenues, which have traditionally helped to fund more in-depth investigative reporting. Further, much of the direct navigation which happened in the past is now being passed through brand-related search result pages. You can argue that is an increase in search traffic, or you can argue it is shifting the roll of the address bar from navigation to search. The first page is nothing but ads Yep, and here they are in Philly. Home service ads, then AdWords traditional ads, then the local pack (way down below). 🙂 pic.twitter.com/VOVZPWWHsg— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) July 17, 2017 On mobile so is the second, and most of the third Hey, only 2.5 screens before you get to the 10 blue links. A full 4 screens if you cannot crack the top 2 organics. pic.twitter.com/bbm1pz8hyF— Jeremy Bochenek (@J_Bochenek) July 17, 2017 If a search query has lots of easy to structure crap around it, a user might need 6 or 7 scrolls to get to an organic result Very interesting Google SERP for GoT. One barely visible organic result after >70% scroll depth. Oh my… #seo #GameOfThones pic.twitter.com/Z6j7VvJMI4— Bastian Grimm (@basgr) August 24, 2017 Then if third parties go “well Google does this, so I should too” they are considered a low quality user experience and get a penalty. Emailed a client one month ago when I picked up ultra-aggressive ads (especially on mobile). They just received an ad experiences warning. pic.twitter.com/QLLZci1xKW— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 25, 2017 31% ad coverage on mobile website is excessive / spam / low quality user experience for a publisher, while 301% coverage is reasonable for the central network operators. Google not only displaces the result set, but also leverages their search suggestion features & algorithmic influence to alter how people search & what they search for. Ads are getting integrated into mobile keyboards. The standard keyboard on the HTC 10 has begun showing ads [X-Post from r/mildlyinfuriating] https://t.co/FuXDJzilZ6 #blog pic.twitter.com/VriK54dBHb— Android Facts (@manatweets) July 16, 2017 And when a user finally reaches the publisher’s website (provided they scroll past the ads, the AMP listings, and all the other scrape-n-displace trash) then when they finally land on a publication Google will overlay other recommended articles from other sites. Whoa -> While you’re reading a page on the Google app for iOS, you’ll now see suggestions for related content https://t.co/n6FjkNqx82 pic.twitter.com/DZYTt8T7fI— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 19, 2017 That feature will eventually end up including ads in it, where publishers will get 0.00% of the revenue generated. Remember how Google suggested publishers should make their websites faster, remove ads, remove clutter, etc. What was the point of all that? To create free real estate for Google to insert a spam unit into your website? Continuing coverage of Google’s new content recos. I’m sure Best Buy is thrilled to see Amazon show up while someone is on their page. Ouch. pic.twitter.com/qpDyGKPyYh— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 24, 2017 This wouldn’t be bad if mobile were a small, fringe slice of traffic, but it is becoming the majority of traffic. And as mobile increases desktop traffic is shrinking. Even politically biased outlets that appear to be nearly perfectly optimized for a filter bubble that promotes identity politics struggle to make the numbers work: “As a result of continued decline in direct advertising, [Salon’s] total revenue in the fiscal year 2017 decreased by 34% to $4.6 million. Following the market trend, 84% of our advertising revenue in fiscal year 2017 was generated by programmatic selling. … [Monthly unique visitors to our website saw] a decrease of 23%. We attribute the decline primarily to the changes in the algorithms used by Facebook.” I knew the last year was bad for online publishing, but the Salon 10K shows *just how bad* pic.twitter.com/oyH7pdCDNI— josh laurito (@joshlaurito) June 26, 2017 The above sorts of numbers are the logical outcome to this: we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content”above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward. Especially when combined with this: As you scroll through it, you are then given travel ads for flight options through Google Flight search, hotels through Google Hotel search and restaurants through Google Local results. Then towards the bottom of the knowledge graph card, all the way at the end in a small grayish font, you have a link to “see web results.” Bad news for TripAdvisor. Google has squeezed out SEO for travel. PCLN/EXPE SEM $ spend and higher conversion is a massive competitive advantage. Bad news for TRIP. pic.twitter.com/39QkxuN780— modest proposal (@modestproposal1) April 17, 2017 And amongst the good news for Expedia, there’s also a bit of bad news for Expedia. The hotels are fighting Airbnb & OTAs. In travel Google is twice as big as the biggest OTA players. They keep eating more SERP real estate and adding more content behind tabs. On mobile they’ll even disappear the concept of organic results. Room previews in the search results not only means that second tier players are worth a song, but even the new growth players propped up by aggressive ad buying eventually hit a wall and see their stock crash. As the entire ecosystem gets squeezed by middlemen and the market gets obfuscated with an incomplete selection it is ultimately consumers who lose: “Reservations made through Internet discount sites are almost always slated for our worst rooms.” The New York Times pitched Yelp as a pesky player holding a grudge: “For six years, his company has been locked in a campaign on three continents to get antitrust regulators to punish Google, Yelp’s larger, richer and more politically connected competitor. … Yelp concluded that there was no better way to get Google’s attention than to raise the specter of regulation. … something [Mark Mahaney] calls the Death of Free Google. As the internet has migrated to mobile phones, Google has compensated for the smaller screen space by filling it with so many ads that users can have a hard time finding a result that hasn’t been paid for.” In spite of how quick The New York Times was to dismiss Yelp, the monopoly platforms are stiffing competition & creativity while bundling fake reviews & junk features into their core platforms. People can literally switch their name to “Loop dee Loop” and leave you terrible, fake reviews. Google’s lack of effort & investment to clean up trash in their local services department highlights that they don’t feel they need to compete on quality. Pay for core search distribution, throw an inferior service front & center, and win by default placement. As AI advancements make fake reviews look more legit Google’s lack of investment in creating a quality ecosystem will increasingly harm both consumers and businesses. Many low margin businesses will go under simply because their Google reviews are full of inaccurate trash or a competitor decided to hijack their business listing or list their business as closed. To this day Google is still egregiously stealing content from Yelp: Yelp said it investigated and found that over one hour, Google pulled images from Yelp’s servers nearly 386,000 times for business listings in Google Maps, which Google exempted from its promise to not scrape content. Yelp then searched Google for 150 of the businesses from those map listings and found that for 110 of them, Google used a Yelp photo as the lead image in the businesses’ listings in search results. Stealing content & wrapping it in fake reviews is NOT putting the user first. Facebook has their own matching parallel shifts. The aggregate quality of mobile ad clicks is quite low. So as mobile becomes a much higher percent of total ad clicks, those who don’t have scale and narrative control are reduced to taking whatever they can get. And mainstream media outlets are reduced to writing puff pieces so the brands they cover will pay to promote the stories on the main channels. As programmatic advertising, ad blockers, unpatched Android-powered botnets & malware spread each day gets a little uglier for everyone but the central market operators. It is so bad that some of the central market operators offer surveillance apps which claim to protect user privacy! Other app makers not connected to monopoly profit streams monetize any way they can. The narrative of growth can be sold (we are launching a new food channel, we are investing in our internal video team, we have exclusive real estate listings, and, um, we acquired a food channel) but the competition is a zero sum game with Google & Facebook eating off the publisher’s plates. That’s why Time is trying to shave $400 million off their expenses & wants to sell their magazine division. Newspaper companies are selling for $1. It is also why Business Insider is no longer chasing growth & the New York Times is setting up a charitable trust. The rise of ad blocking only accelerates the underlying desperation. I have some thoughts about why news orgs are finding that people won’t read long articles: pic.twitter.com/G8Zh6GTA6w— Ben Chase (@bbchase) July 4, 2017 I feel terrible for journalists who invest time and effort into doing a hard job well only to have it presented like this. pic.twitter.com/jIZxuJqVAq— Jeff Long (@banterability) October 5, 2017 As long as news websites make their own customer experience worse than what can be found as a cached copy on the monopoly platforms there is no reason to visit the end publisher website. That is why the proprietary formats promoted by the monopoly platforms are so dangerous. They force lighter monetization & offset the lack of revenue by given preferential placement: click through rate from Google search went from 5.9% (Regular) to 10.3% (AMP), and average search position went from 5.9 (Regular) to 1.7 (AMP). Since then, we have deployed AMP across fifteen of our brands and we have been very pleased with the results. Today, AMP accounts for 79% of our mobile search traffic and 36% of our total mobile visits. As long as almost nobody is using the new proprietary, ghetto lock-in format the math may work out there, but once many people adopt it then it becomes another recurring sunk cost with no actual benefit: the only voices promoting AMP’s performance benefits are coming from inside Google. … given how AMP pages are privileged in Google’s search results, the net effect of the team’s hard, earnest work comes across as a corporate-backed attempt to rewrite HTML in Google’s image. Even if you get a slight uptick in traffic from AMP, it will lead to lower quality user engagement as users are browsing across websites rather than within websites. Getting a bit more traffic but 59% fewer leads is a fail. No amount of collaborative publisher partnerships, begging for anti-trust exemptions, or whining about Google is going to fix the problem. “The only way publishers can address this inexorable threat is by banding together. If they open a unified front to negotiate with Google and Facebook-pushing for stronger intellectual-property protections, better support for subscription models and a fair share of revenue and data-they could build a more sustainable future for the news business. But antitrust laws make such coordination perilous. These laws, intended to prevent monopolies, are having the unintended effect of preserving and protecting Google and Facebook’s dominant position.” Wait a minute. Wasn’t it the New York Times which claimed Yelp was holding an arbitrary grudge against Google? The following sounds a lot more desperate: newspapers that once delivered their journalism with their own trucks increasingly have to rely on these big online platforms to get their articles in front of people, fighting for attention alongside fake news, websites that lift their content, and cat videos. Well maybe that is just smaller publications & not the gray lady herself “the temperature is rising in terms of concern, and in some cases anger, about what seems like a very asymmetric, disadvantageous relationship between the publishers and the very big digital platforms.” – NYT CEO Mark Thompson In unrelated news, there’s another round of layoffs coming at the New York Times. And the New York Times is also setting up a nonprofit division to expand journalism while their core company focuses on something else. Apparently Yelp does not qualify as a publisher in this instance. Or does it? The Times is backing the move for what is called an anticompetitive safe haven, in part, Mr. Thompson said, “because we care about the whole of journalism as well as about The New York Times.” Ah, whole of journalism, which, apparently, no longer includes local business coverage. You know the slogan: “news isn’t news, unless it isn’t local.” The struggles are all across the media landscape. The new Boston Globe CEO lasted a half-year. The San Diego Union-Tribune resorted to using GoFundMe. The Chicago Sun-Times sold for $1. Moody’s issued a negative outlook for the US newspaper sector. As the industry declines the biggest players view consolidation as the only solution. These struggles existed even before the largest brand advertisers like P&G cut back on low & no value ad venues like YouTube: In the fourth quarter, the reduction in marketing that occurred was almost all in the digital space. And what it reflected was a choice to cut spending from a digital standpoint where it was ineffective: where either we were serving bots as opposed to human beings, or where the placement of ads was not facilitating the equity of our brands. Google & Facebook are extending their grip on the industry with Google launching topical feeds & Facebook wanting to control subscription management. Best of luck to journalists on the employment front: The initiative, dubbed Reporters and Data and Robots (RADAR), will see a team of five journalists work with Natural Language Generation software to produce over 30,000 pieces of content for local media each month. Hopefully editors catch the subtle errors the bots make, because most of them will not be this obvious & stupid. The Guardian does not seem to know what a 40 is https://t.co/m7Gm1YrbXC pic.twitter.com/Y0sK9r0ltJ— Shuja Haider (@shujaxhaider) July 26, 2017 The cost of parasitic content recycling is coming down quickly: In a show of strength last year, Microsoft used thousands of these chips at once to translate all of English Wikipedia into Spanish-3 billion words across five million articles-in less than a tenth of a second. Next Microsoft will let its cloud customers use these chips to speed up their own AI tasks. Voice search makes it even easier to extract the rewards without paying publishers. Throwing pennies at journalists does nothing to change this. If Google is subsidizing robotic journalism they are thus legitimizing robotic journalism. As big publishers employ the tactic, Google ranks it. Checking some Heliograf articles (AI-written) reveals once again they do rank well. Google is in a tough position here. It’s inevitable… pic.twitter.com/g0Etcx3rFj— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 16, 2017 It is almost impossible to compete economically with an entity that rewrites your work & has zero marginal cost of production. YouTube has perhaps the worst comments on the web. Some mainstream news sites got rid of comments because they couldn’t justify the cost of policing them. That in turn shifts the audience & attention stream to sites like Facebook & Twitter. Some news sites which are still leaving comments enabled rely on a Google filter, a technology Google can use on YouTube as they see fit. Any plugins publishers use to lower their costs can later disappear. It looked like FindTheBest was doing well financially, but when it was acquired many news sites quickly found out the cost of free as they now have thousands of broken articles in their archives: “Last month, Graphiq announced that features for news publishers would no longer be available after Friday.” Driving costs toward zero by piling on external dependencies is no way to build a sustainable business. Especially when the central network operators are eating the playing field: “Between fast-loading AMP articles from major news brands hosted in its domain, full pages of information scraped from outside sites that don’t require you to visit them, basic shopping functions built into ads, YouTube, and a host of other features, the Google-verse is more of a digital walled garden than ever. … If Google continues to choke these sites out, what incentive will there be for new ones to come along?” Unprofitable partners which were buying growth with artificially cheap pricing eventually find out investors want profits more than growth & either reprice or go away. The longer you use something & the more locked in you are to it the more aggressively it can afford to reprice. Symbiotic relationships devolve into abusive ones: “for every pound an advertiser spends programmatically on the Guardian only 30 pence actually goes to the publisher.” – Mediatel “Google wants to cut out the middlemen, which it turns out, are URLs.” – MobileMoxie “[AMP is] a way for Google to obfuscate your website, usurp your content & remove any personal credibility from the web” – TheRegister “Though the stated initiative of ads.txt is to stop inventory resale, it achieves this by establishing ‘preferred’ channels, which naturally favors the industry’s most influential companies” – Ad Exchanger That Apple does extra work to undo AMP says a lot. Those who think the central network operators are naive to the power structure being promoted by the faux solutions are either chasing short-term goals or are incredibly masochistic. Arbitraging brand is the core business model of the attention merchant monopoly. we’ve found out that 98% of our business was coming from 22 words. So, wait, we’re buying 3,200 words and 98% of the business is coming from 22 words. What are the 22 words? And they said, well, it’s the word Restoration Hardware and the 21 ways to spell it wrong, okay? Publishers buying the “speed” narrative are failing themselves. The Guardian has 11 people working on AMP integration. And what is Google doing about speed? Google shut down Google Instant search results, often displays a screen or two full of ads which mobile users have to scroll past to find the organic search results AND is testing auto-playing videos in the search results. Facebook is also promoting fast loading & mobile-friendly pages. To keep bleeding clicks out of the “organic” ecosystem they don’t even need to have explicit malicious intent. They can run a thousand different tests every month (new vertical sitelink formats, swipable sitelinks, showing 8 sitelinks on tiny mobile devices, MOAR sitelinks, message extensions, extensions on call-only ads, price discount labels, frame 3rd party content inline, dramatically ramp up featured snippets +QnA listings, more related searches, more features in ad units, larger ad units, ad units that replace websites & charge advertisers for sending clicks from Google to Google, launch a meta-search service where they over-promote select listings, test dropping URLs from listings, put ads in the local pack, change color of source links or other elements, pop ups of search results inside search results, etc.) & keep moving toward whatever layout drives more ad clicks, keeps users on Google longer & forces businesses to buy ads for exposure, claiming they are optimizing the user experience the whole time. They can hard-code any data type or feature, price it at free to de-fund adjacent businesses, consolidate market power, then increase rents after they have a monopoly position in the adjacent market. And they can fund research on how to remove watermarks from images. Why not make hosting free, get people to publish into a proprietary format & try to shift news reading onto the Google app. With enough attention & market coverage they can further extort publishers into accepting perpetually worse deals. And free analytics & business plugins which are widely adopted can have key features get pushed into the paid version. Just look at Google Analytics – its free or $150,000+/yr. The above sorts of moves can be done in isolation, or in a combinatorial approach. Publishers aloof of the ecosystem shifts may use microformats to structure their content. They’ll then find it is integrated in Google’s new image search layout, where Google copies the content wholesale & shows it near other third party images framed by Google. How about some visually striking, yet irrelevant listings for competing brands on branded searches to force the brand ad buy. And, of course rounded card corners to eat a few more pixels, along with faint ad labeling on ads coupled with vibrant colored dots on the organic results to confuse end users into thinking the organic results are the ads. While Google turns their search results into an adspam farm, they invite you to test showing fewer ads on your site to improve user experience. Google knows best – let them automate your ad load & ad placement. What is the real risk of AI? Bias. “It’s important that we be transparent about the training data that we are using, and are looking for hidden biases in it, otherwise we are building biased systems,” Giannandrea added. “If someone is trying to sell you a black box system for medical decision support, and you don’t know how it works or what data was used to train it, then I wouldn’t trust it.” And how does Google justify their AI investments? Through driving incremental ad clicks: “The DeepMind founders understand that their power within [Alphabet], and their ability to get their way with [Alphabet CEO] Larry Page, depends on how many eyeballs and clicks and ad dollars they can claim to be driving” No bias at all there! Truth: Google killed publishing in 2015. What you’re reading now is detritus + new junk posted by crazies walking around empty offices— 11 (@searchsleuth998) August 1, 2017 SEOs who were overly reliant on the search channel were the first to notice all the above sorts of change, as it is their job to be hyper-aware of ecosystem shifts. But publishers far removed from SEO who never focused on SEO are now writing about the trends SEOs were writing about nearly a decade ago. Josh Marshall recently covered Google’s awesome monopoly powers. few publishers really want to talk about the depths or mechanics of Google’s role in news publishing. Some of this is secrecy about proprietary information; most of it is that Google could destroy or profoundly damage most publications if it wanted to. So why rock the boat? … Google’s monopoly control is almost comically great. It’s a monopoly at every conceivable turn and consistently uses that market power to deepen its hold and increase its profits. Just the interplay between DoubleClick and Adexchange is textbook anti-competitive practices. … Is your favorite website laying off staff or ‘pivoting to video’. In most cases, the root cause is not entirely but to a significant degree driven by the platform monopolies His article details how Google owns many points of the supply chain So let’s go down the list: 1) The system for running ads, 2) the top purchaser of ads, 3) the most pervasive audience data service, 4) all search, 5) our email. … But wait, there’s more! Google also owns Chrome, the most used browser for visiting TPM. He also covers the price dumping technique that is used to maintain control In many cases, alternatives don’t exist because no business can get a footing with a product Google lets people use for free. And he shared an example of Google algorithms gone astray crippling his business, even though it was not related to search & unintentional: Because we were forwarding to ourselves spam that other people sent to us, Google decided that the owner of the TPM url was a major spammer and blocked emails from TPM from being sent to anyone. If the above comes across as depressing, don’t worry. The search results now contain a depression diagnostic testing tool. Categories: internet from SEO Book http://www.seobook.com/virtual-real-estate via IFTTT from Local SEO Guru http://localseoguru.tumblr.com/post/166227650323 via IFTTT
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Yes, Competitors Can Edit Your Listing on Google My Business

Posted by JoyHawkins

I decided to write this article in response to a recent article that was published over at CBSDFW. The article was one of many stories about how spammers update legitimate information on Google as a way to send more leads somewhere else. This might shock some readers, but it was old news to me since spam of this nature on Google Maps has been a problem for almost a decade.

What sparked my interest in this article was Google’s response. Google stated:

Merchants who manage their business listing info through Google My Business (which is free to use), are notified via email when edits are suggested. Spammers and others with negative intent are a problem for consumers, businesses, and technology companies that provide local business information. We use automated systems to detect for spam and fraud, but we tend not to share details behind our processes so as not to tip off spammers or others with bad intent.

Someone might read that and feel safe, believing that they have nothing to worry about. However, some of us who have been in this space for a long time know that there are several incorrect and misleading statements in that paragraph. I’m going to point them out below.


“Merchants are notified by email”

  1. Google just started notifying users by email last month. Their statement makes it sound like this has been going on for ages. Before September 2017, there were no emails going to people about edits made to their listings.
  2. Not everyone gets an email about edits that have been made. To test this, I had several people submit an update to a listing I own to change the phone number. When the edit went live, the Google account that was the primary owner on the listing got an email; the Google account that was a manager on the listing did not.

Similarly, I am a manager on over 50 listings and 7 of them currently show as having updates in the Google My Business dashboard. I haven’t received a single email since they launched this feature a month ago.

“Notified […] when edits are suggested”

Merchants are not notified when edits are “suggested.” Any time I’ve ever heard of an email notification in the last month, it went out after the edit was already live.

Here’s a recent case on the Google My Business forum. This business owner got an email when his name was updated because the edit was already live. He currently has a pending edit on his listing to change the hours of operation. Clearly this guy is on top of things, so why hasn’t he denied it? Because he wouldn’t even know about it since it’s pending.

The edit isn’t live yet, so he’s not receiving a notification — either by email or inside the Google My Business dashboard.



Edits show up in the Google My Business dashboard as “Updates from Google.” Many people think that if they don’t “accept” these edits in the Google My Business dashboard, the edits won’t go live. The reality is that by “accepting” them, you’re just confirming something that’s already live on Google. If you “don’t accept,” you actually need to edit the listing to revert it back (there is no “deny” button).

Here’s another current example of a listing I manage inside Google My Business. The dashboard doesn’t show any updates to the website field, yet there’s a pending edit that I can see on the Google Maps app. A user has suggested that the proper website is a different page on the website than what I currently have. The only way to see all types of pending edits is via Check the Facts on Google Maps. No business owner I’ve ever spoken to has any clue what this is, so I think it’s safe to say they wouldn’t be checking there.

Here’s how I would edit that original response from Google to make it more factually correct:

Merchants who manage their business listing info through Google My Business (which is free to use) are notified when edits made by others are published on Google. Sometimes they are notified by email and the updates are also shown inside the Google My Business dashboard. Google allows users (other than the business owner) to make edits to listings on Google, but the edits are reviewed by either automated systems or, in some cases, actual human beings. Although the system isn’t perfect, Google is continually making efforts to keep the map free from spam and malicious editing.


Do you manage listings that have been edited by competitors? What’s your experience been? Share your story in the comments below!

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Getting SEO Value from rel=”nofollow” Links – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Plenty of websites that make it easy for you to contribute don’t make it easy to earn a followed link from those contributions. While rel=nofollow links reign in the land of social media profiles, comments, and publishers, there’s a few ways around it. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand shares five tactics to help you earn equity-passing followed links using traditionally nofollow-only platforms.

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How to get SEO value from rel="nofollow" links

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about how you can get SEO value from nofollowed links. So in the SEO world, there are followed links. These are the normal ones that you find on almost every website. But then you can have nofollowed links, which you’ll see in the HTML code of a website. You will see the normal thing is a href=somewebsite in here. If you see this rel=nofollow, that means that the search engines — Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. — will not count this link as passing link equity, at least certainly not in the same way that a followed link would.

So when you see these, you can see them by looking in the source code yourself. You could turn on the MozBar and use the “Show nofollow links” on the Page button and see these.

What sort of links use rel=nofollow?

But the basic story is that you’re not getting the same SEO value from them. But there are ways to get it. Recently you might have seen in the SEO news world that Inc. and Forbes and a few other sites like them, last year it was Huffington Post, started applying nofollow tags to all the links that belong to articles from contributors. So if I go and write an article for Inc. today, the links that I point out from my bio and my snippet on there, they’re not going to pass any value, because they have this nofollow applied.

A) Social media links (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)

There are a bunch of types of links use this. Social media, so Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, which is one of the reasons why you can’t just boost your linked profile by going to these places and leaving a bunch of links around.

B) Comments (news articles, blogs, forums, etc.)

Comments, so from news articles or blogs or forums where there’s discussion, Q&A sites, those comments, all the links in them that you leave again nofollowed.

C) Open submission content (Quora, Reddit, YouTube, etc.)

Open submission content, so places like Quora where you could write a post, or Reddit, where you could write a post, or YouTube where you could upload a video and have a post and have a link, most of those, in fact almost all of them now have nofollows as do the profile links that are associated. Your Instagram account, for example, that would be a social media one. But it’s not just the pictures you post on Instagram. Your profile link is one of the only places in the Instagram platform where you actually get a real URL that you can send people to, but that is nofollowed on the web.

D) Some publishers with less stringent review systems (Forbes, Buzzfeed, LinkedIn Pulse, etc.)

Some publishers now with these less stringent publishing review systems, so places like Inc., Forbes, BuzzFeed in some cases with their sponsored posts, Huffington Post, LinkedIn’s Pulse platform, and a bunch of others all use this rel=nofollow.

Basic evaluation formula for earning followed links from the above sources

Basic evaluation formula for earning followed links from the above sources

The basic formula that we need to go to here is: How do you contribute to all of these places in ways that will ultimately result in followed links and that will provide you with SEO value? So we’re essentially saying I’m going to do X. I know that’s going to bring a nofollowed link, but that nofollowed link will result in this other thing happening that will then lead to a followed link.

Do X → Get rel=nofollow link → Results in Y → Leads to followed link

5 examples/tactics to start

This other thing happening can be a bunch of different things. It could be something indirect. You post something with your site on one of these places. It includes a nofollow link. Someone finds it. We’ll just call this guy over here, this is our friendly editor who works for a publication and finds it and says, “Hmm, that link was actually quite useful,” or the information it pointed to was useful, the article was useful, your new company seems useful, whatever it is. Later, as that editor is writing, they will link over to your site, and this will be a followed link. Thus, you’re getting the SEO value. You’ve indirectly gained SEO value essentially through amplification of what you were sharing through your link.

Google likes this. They want you to use all of these places to show stuff, and then they’re hoping that if people find it truly valuable, they’ll pick it up, they’ll link to it, and then Google can reward that.

So some examples of places where you might attempt this in the early stages. These are a very small subset of what you could do, and it’s going to be different for every industry and every endeavor.

1. Quora contributions

But Quora contributions, especially those if you have relevant or high value credentials or very unique, specific experiences, that will often get picked up by the online press. There are lots of editors and journalists and publications of all kinds that rely on interesting answers to Quora questions to use in their journalism, and then they’ll cite you as a source, or they’ll ask you to contribute, they’ll ask you for a quote, they’ll point to your website, all that kind of stuff.

2. Early comments on low-popularity blogs

Early comments especially in, I know this is going to sound odd, but low-popularity blogs, rather than high-popularity ones. Why low popularity? Because you will stand out. You’re less likely to be seen as a spammer, especially if you’re an authentic contributor. You don’t get lost in the noise. You can create intrigue, give value, and that will often lead to that writer or that blogger picking you up with followed links in subsequent posts. If you want more on this tactic, by the way, check out our Whiteboard Friday on comment marketing from last year. That was a deep dive into this topic.

3. Following and engaging with link targets on Twitter

Number three, following and engaging with your link targets on Twitter, especially if your link targets are heavily invested in Twitter, like journalists, B2B bloggers and contributors, and authors or people who write for lots of different publications. It doesn’t have to be a published author. It can just be a writer who writes for lots of online pieces. Then sharing your related content with them or just via your Twitter account, if you’re engaging with them a lot, chances are good you can get a follow back, and that will lead to a lot of followed up links with a citation.

4. Link citations from Instagram images

Instagram accounts. When you post images on Instagram, if you use the hashtags — hashtag marketing is kind of one of the only ways to get exposure on Instagram — but if you use hashtags that you know journalists, writers, editors, and publications of any kind in your field are picking up and need, especially travel, activities, current events, stuff that’s in the news, or conferences and events, many times folks will pick up those images and ask you for permission to use them. If you’re willing to give it, you can earn link citations. Another important reason to associate that URL with your site so that people can get in touch with you.

5. Amplify content published on your site by republishing on other platforms

If you’re using some of these platforms that are completely nofollow or platforms that are open contribution and have follow links, but where we suspect Google probably doesn’t count them, Medium being one of the biggest places, you can use republishing tactics. So essentially you’re writing on your own website first. Writing on your own website first, but then you are republishing on some of these other places.

I’m going to go Forbes. I’m going to publish my column on Forbes. I’m going to go to Medium. I’m going to publish in my Medium account. I’m going to contribute Huffington Post with the same piece. I’m republishing across these multiple platforms, and essentially you can think of this as it’s not duplicate content. You’re not hurting yourself, because these places are all pointing back to your original. It’s technically duplicate content, but not the kind that’s going to be bothersome for search engines.

You’re essentially using these the same way you would use your Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, where you are pushing it out as a way to say, “Here, check this out if you’re on these platforms, and here’s the original back here.” You can do that with the full article, just like you would do full content in RSS or full content for email subscribers. Then use those platforms for sharing and amplification to get into the hands of people who might link later.


So nofollowed links, not a direct impact, but potentially a very powerful, indirect way to get lots of good links and lots of good SEO value.

All right, everyone, hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and we’ll see you again next week. Take care.

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New Findings Show Google Organic Clicks Shifting to Paid

Posted by Brian_W

On the Wayfair SEO team, we keep track of our non-branded click curves: the average click-through rate (CTR) for each ranking position. This helps us accurately evaluate the potential opportunity of keyword clusters.

Over the last two years, the total share of organic clicks on page one of our e-commerce SERPs has dropped 25% on desktop and 55% on mobile.

For the ad-heavy non-local SERPs that we work in, paid ads are likely now earning nearly the same percentage of clicks as organic results — a staggering change from most of the history of Google.

Organic CTR loses 25% of click share on desktop, 55% on mobile

Looking at 2015 vs 2017 data for all keywords ranking organically on the first page, we’ve seen a dramatic change in CTR. Below we’ve normalized our actual CTR on a 1–10 scale, representing a total drop of 25% of click share on desktop and 55% on mobile.

Organic receives 25% less desktop CTR and 55% less mobile CTR compared to two years ago.

The much larger drop on mobile is particularly relevant because we’ve seen large traffic shifts to mobile over the last two years as well. The overall percentage drop plays out somewhat similarly across the first page of results; however, the top four were most heavily impacted.

The first four organic results were most heavily impacted by the CTR shift from organic to paid.

About the data

It’s important to note that this type of CTR change is not true for every SERP. This data is only applicable to e-commerce intent search queries, where ads and PLAs are on nearly every query.

We gather the impression, click, and rank data from Search Console. While Search Console data isn’t quantitatively correct, it does appear to be directionally correct for us (if we see clicks double in Search Console, we also see organic Google traffic double in our analytics), site improvements that lead to meaningful CTR gains appear to be reflected in Search Console, we can roughly verify impressions via ad data, and we can confirm the accuracy of rank. For purposes of this data pull, we excluded any keywords that Search Console reported as a non-integer rank (such as ranking 1.2). We have thousands of page one keywords, including many large head terms comprising millions of combined clicks, which gives us a lot of data for each ranking position.

We remove all branded queries from the data, which hugely skews click curves.

It’s important to note that paid ads are not getting all the clicks that organic is not. In addition to the small number of people who click beyond the first page, a surprising number do not click at all. Our best guess is that all ads combined now get about the same percentage of clicks (for our results) as all organic results combined.

Why is this happening?

It’s no secret to SEOs who work on transactional keywords why we no longer gain as large a share of clicks for our best rankings. We suspect the primary causes are the following:

  • Ads serving on more queries
  • More ads per query
  • Larger ads, with more space given to each ad
  • Google Shopping (which show up on more queries, list more products per query, and take up more space)
  • Subtler ad labeling, making it less obvious that an ad is an ad

At Wayfair, we’ve seen Google Shopping results appear on more and more search queries over the last year. Using Stat Search Analytics, we can track the growth in queries serving Google Shopping results (modified by search volume to give a qualitative visibility score) across the 25,000 keywords we track daily on mobile and desktop. The overall share of voice of Google Shopping has grown nearly 60% in the last year.

Number of transactional queries serving Google Shopping has grown nearly 60% in the last year.

On top of this, we’re often seeing four PPC ads for a typical non-branded commercial term, in addition to the Google Shopping results.

And with the expanded size of ads on mobile, almost none of our queries show anything other than ads without scrolling:

This great image from Edwords shows the steady growth in percent of the desktop page consumed by ads for a query that has only three ad results. We go from seeing five organic results above the scroll, to just one. In more recent years we’ve seen this size growth explode on mobile as well.

At the same time that ads have grown, the labeling of ads has become increasingly subtle. In a 2015 study, Ofcom found that half of adults don’t recognize ads in Google, and about 70% of teenagers didn’t recognize Google ads — and ad labeling has become substantially less obvious since then. For most of its history, Google ads were labeled by a large colored block that was intuitively separate from the non-ad results, though sometimes not visible on monitors with a higher brightness setting.

2000 – Shaded background around all ads:

2010 – Shaded background still exists around ads:

2014 – No background; yellow box label next to each ad (and ads take up a lot more space):

2017 – Yellow box changed to green, the same color as the URL it’s next to (and ads take up even more space):

2017 – Green box changed to a thin green outline the same color as the URL:

What to do about it

The good news is that this is impacting everyone in e-commerce equally, and all those search clicks are still happening — in other words, those users haven’t gone away. The growth in the number of searches each year means that you probably aren’t seeing huge losses in organic traffic; instead, it will show as small losses or anemic growth. The bad news is that it will cost you — as well as your competitors — more money to capture the same overall share of search traffic.

A strong search marketing strategy has always involved organic, paid search, and PLA combined. Sites optimizing for all search channels are already well-positioned to capture search traffic regardless of ad changes to the SERPs: if SEO growth slows, then PLA and paid search growth speeds up. As real estate for one channel shrinks, real estate for others grows.

If you haven’t been strongly invested in search ads or PLAs, then the Chinese proverb on the best time to plant a tree applies perfectly:

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

With a similar percentage of clicks going to paid and organic, your investment in each should be similar (unless, of course, you have some catching up to do with one channel).

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