Author’s Note: As digital marketers, one of the most common questions we get from clients is “What’s new in digital marketing?” We recognize it can be difficult to stay on top of the latest trends, and handle day-to-day job duties, so, beginning this month, the Northwoods Digital Marketing team will start publishing monthly digital marketing updates. This is our first update and focuses on the top updates from the summer of 2019 (so far.) Be sure to subscribe to our blog to stay on top of the latest digital marketing news.
If, like me, you’ve been especially busy this summer, you may have missed all of the changes, news and updates that have rolled out in the digital marketing world – and there have been a lot.
Don’t worry though, because I’m here to catch you up. Here is all of the latest and greatest in digital marketing, and tips on how to respond (or take advantage of) the latest updates.
SEO, Organic Search and Google News
June Google Algorithm Update
What It Is: On June 3, Google rolled out a core algorithm update. (And, in an unusual move, they actually announced the update before it happened.) It finished rolling out the update June 8. While Google didn’t provide any insights regarding what they were targeting with the update, we do know the search giant typically tries to improve their overall search experience with each algorithm update.
What This Means for Marketers: Not much, honestly. Google rolls out several updates a year. Although Google doesn’t (usually) provide warning before making a core algorithm change, it’s important to continue to create content aimed at users and providing unique, helpful content overall.
How You Should Respond: Although data are still coming in about the types of websites most likely to be impacted by the update, it appears to have impacted sites with a lot of ads as well as a few major media outlets, like The Daily Mail, a U.K. tabloid.
New Robots.txt Rules
What It Is: On July 1, Google announced it was spearheading an effort to make the Robots Exclusion Protocol (more commonly known as the roboots.txt file for a website) an internet standard. For the most part, this change adds work for developers who parse robots.txt files, but it does have some SEO implications for marketers as well.
What this Means for Marketers: For marketers, this change will primarily impact any no-index directives included in your robots.txt folder. (This directive is used if you don’t want your pages indexed by Google or other search engines.) On Sept. 1, 2019, Google will retire all code related to unsupported rules, like noindex. Instead of using a noindex directive in your robots.txt file, Google recommends:
- Including a noindex directive in your robots meta tag
- Redirecting old pages with a 404 or 410 status code. This will help remove old pages from Google’s index
- Using a password to protect pages you don’t want included in Google’s index (or the index of another search engine)
- Leveraging Disallow in your robots.txt, rather than noindex. (Disallow means the page won’t be crawled by search engines.)
- Temporarily removing the URL from Google’s index in Google Search Console using the Remove URL tool
How You Should Respond: If you’re concerned about the contents of your robots.txt file, it’s best to test it yourself. To do this, visit www.yourdomain.com/robots.txt and see what appears there. If you have any no-index directives, be sure to remove them. (If you’re a Northwoods client, you should know we typically have not included a no-index directive in our robots.txt files. However, if you have one, feel free to reach out to your account director or digital marketing teammate, and we’ll be happy to address it for you ASAP.)
Google My Business Updates
What It Is: The team at Google My Business has been rolling out lots of updates this summer. Most of are aimed at improving business listings to better serve the ever-growing mobile, location-based search market. The biggest GMB changes include:
- Short URLs for Reviews: GMB reviews are extremely valuable for businesses and can impact rankings. However, it can be difficult to ask customers for reviews if you have to provide them with a long URL. In June, Google officially rolled out short URLs you can share with customers to solicit reviews. (For some businesses, this change rolled out in April.) To do this, create a short name for your business (more on that here). Once your short name is approved, use the URL g.page/yourshortname/review/ to solicit reviews from happy customers.
- Welcome Offers: Offering new customers a discount has been a marketing tactic for years. However, it’s been difficult to translate those offers to new, digital customers. With GMB’s new welcome offers feature, you can offer new GMB followers a discount (such as 20 percent off an oil change). These offers will only be available to individuals who recently started following your GMB profile. Learn how to set up welcome offers here.
- Product Editor Updates: The GMB Product Editor gives small and medium sized businesses an opportunity to highlight products directly on their GMB listing. (Note: if your business is part of a larger organization or chain, you should use local inventory ads to showcase your products.) When set up correctly, users will see a Products tab on your GMB listing. From there, they’ll be able to see specific products you’ve added, view their details, contact you for more information about the product and provide feedback or other information about individual products. You can learn about setting up your product editor here.
- Near Real Time Post Insights: Posts are one of the most powerful GMB features. In June, Google announced it will provide real time data insights about the effectiveness of posts. This will give you an opportunity to review how many views and clicks your posts receive as users engage with your content.
What This Means for Marketers: Even if you aren’t a traditional location-based business, like a restaurant, it’s still important to pay attention to your Google My Business listing. As the number of mobile searches continues to increase, Google continues to return nearby results first, making local SEO a necessity for all organizations.
How You Should Respond: If you aren’t actively managing your Google My Business listing, you should be. Verify your business right away and start optimizing your profile. If you are actively managing your GMB listing, focus on using these new features (especially those that make sense for your organization) to improve your listing and boost local rankings.
FAQ Structured Data
What It Is: Earlier this summer, Google rolled out support for FAQ structured data (or schema, as it is sometimes called). This means you can now add structured data mark-up to your pages that highlight FAQ and Google may include the content on a SERP.
Example of FAQ structured data on a SERP.
What This Means for Marketers: As a SEO trend, structured data are nothing new. However, this type of structured data have already proven to be especially popular among marketers since many websites already have FAQs on them. It’s also a great way to capture informational searchers and drive additional awareness and potential clicks.
How You Should Respond: If you already have FAQs on your site, consider adding structured data mark-up to those pages. (You can follow these instructions from Google.) One thing to keep in mind, though: structured data, and featuring content on SERPS (like FAQs) usually results in users getting their answers from a Google SERP, instead of clicking to your website to find content. As such, adding structured data to your site could actually reduce your site’s organic traffic. Our advice? It’s best to add the structured data to your site and see how your traffic responds. In many cases, we have found that the structured data (especially for more in-depth, informational-intent focused queries) doesn’t have too much of an impact on organic search. If your organic traffic does take a nose dive, however, you can always remove the structured data from your site.
More Focus on Images / Images in SERPs
What It Is: If you’ve been paying attention to Google lately, you’ve likely noticed their increased focus on images. For example, Google spent a lot of time talking about images during Google I/O, and, on July 25, they officially announced a Swipe to Visit, a mobile feature powered by AMP, that makes it easier for users to preview websites when they do an image search. We’ve also started to see more images appear on SERPs, even if the user didn’t conduct a Google image search.
Example of increased images on a non-image search SERP, including on a PAA (people also ask) question.
What This Means for Marketers: Google has made it clear that images are going to play an increasingly important role in search in the coming years. This means you should start paying more attention to your images.
How You Should Respond: If you aren’t already incorporating images into your SEO strategy, that should change right away. Start thinking about images the way you do about your content overall: is this image valuable? Does it clearly communicate a message? Does it help answer a users’ question or query? Additionally, if you aren’t using alt tags on your images, you should start ASAP. (This also helps with accessibility.)
You can, of course, also take advantage of some of the new image-centric features Google is rolling out, like Swipe to Visit.
Social Media News
What It Is: Instagram is rolling out some new advertising features this summer. In June, the company began offering branded content ads. This means companies will have the opportunity to add their brand to “organic” content created by other users (like influencers). Ads will also start appearing in the explore section of the app.
Example of a branded content ad on Instagram.
What It Means for Marketers: Facebook (who owns Instagram) is clearly trying to get more revenue from its extremely popular photo site. With the addition of these new ad types (and more that will likely come soon, I’m sure) marketers have new ways to reach their target audience.
How You Should Respond: If you already have an influencer-marketing campaign, leveraging the branded content ads is a no-brainer. If you are already running Instagram ads, consider experimenting with the explore ads to see how they perform.
Ads, Privacy and Tracking Updates
What It Is: Facebook recently announced that users will be able to Clear History. They also recently expanded options so that users can get more information about why they’re seeing certain ads and how businesses decided to target them. (For example, users can now find out if a business uploaded their contact information for an advertising campaign, and if that information was shared with anyone else.)
What It Means for Marketers: If you’ve been paying attention to the news for the past few years, the fact that Facebook is increasing its transparency shouldn’t come as a surprise. As the company continues to navigate its record-setting $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, expect to see more of these changes roll out and (potentially) impact your social ad campaigns.
How You Should Respond: Stay on top of Facebook’s data and privacy focused updates and adjust your ad campaign accordingly. (Their blog is a great resource) Although there is not a lot of evidence (yet!) that users are turning off their Facebook tracking in high numbers, it could potentially decrease the effectiveness of your social media campaigns as your ability to target users decreases. Thankfully, for most advertisers, we’re not there (yet, anyway).
Misc. Updates: Privacy and Data
Increased Browser Privacy Protections
What It Is: Both Apple and Firefox rolled out privacy and security updates at the beginning of the summer.
As of June 4, Firefox blocks most third-party cookies, like those from advertisers, by default for new users. (The change will be rolled out for existing users, also by default, over the next couple of months.) Users will be able to see the feature in action when they visit a URL and see a shield icon in the address bar and the small “I” icon. (You can get more details about this feature on the Firefox blog)
Apple rolled out a similar feature called Intelligent Tracking Protection 2.2 for its Safari browser. As part of this feature, first-party cookies that act like third party cookies (like those coming from Google and Facebook) have a 24-hour life. (Learn more about this feature here.)
What It Means for Marketers: Although digital marketing still offers more targeting options than traditional marketing, in some cases, it’s going to become increasingly difficult for marketers to attribute KPIs to digital marketing efforts. For example, with the new ITP 2.2 protocol, if a user engages with an ad for your product or service but doesn’t actually make a purchase for two or three weeks, it’s going to be nearly impossible for marketers to attribute to the purchase to your ad campaign.
How You Should Respond: Since these changes are outside of marketers’ control, it’s important to start adjusting your attribution model (and attribution expectations) now. We’re expecting to see more of these updates in coming months, so staying on top of this type of news is key for marketers going forward.
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