The November 2020 Search & Digital Marketing News Round Up

Roughly a year after it was first announced, Google’s new page experience tool received a confirmed launch date some time in May 2021. The new tool brings with it the ability to highlight search results that have a great page experience even going so far as to provide a “visual indicator that highlights pages in search results that have great page experience,” the company noted Tuesday. In other words, SERP users will be able to avoid pages which don’t have Google’s stamp of UX approval – be warned!

Google also began testing Snippet Results with multiple contextual links – meaning featured snippets for search terms can now include additional information from 3rd party sites. Although Google has confirmed it is still testing contextual links within Snippets, this new update has sparked criticism – in the past Google has been accused of simply scraping websites and displaying hard won content as its own, which is… totally fair TBH. With this latest Snippet update, Google is in effect creating its own content from multiple sources without giving credit to those who wrote it, which understandable is frustrating for those who have already put in the hard work.. 

Google Pushes Local Business Tools & Services

Offline, you may have noticed plenty of Google branded Local Business ads on television recently. No surprise then that during November, Google has been making a big push for its Local Service Ads. Google maps will now include features such as “Google Guaranteed” and “Google Screened” badges for map listings – initial results seem to show a higher CTR% for local businesses within the Map Pack. However, being guaranteed by Google doesn’t come for free – these certifications can cost up to £600 per year. Is this further evidence that Google is trying to monitise it’s currently free Google My Business services?

In another piece of good news for small businesses, Google’s new Small Business Advisors Program offers individual consulting sessions for SME’s. Currently only available in the USA, and priced at $39.99 per session, the aim of the program is to train small businesses how to become better marketers on Google, offering individual 50 minute training sessions on products such as Google Analytics and YouTube. Expect to see it rolled out across Europe soon!

Bored with Broad Match?

For some time now, using Broad match keywords in your Google Ads campaigns has been a game of chance as Google has increasingly opened up it’s keyword match criteria. Even with Broad Match Modified keywords, we’ve seen the creep of increasingly irrelevant keywords in Search Term Reports across a range of clients. However, Google is on a Broad Match Charm offensive for those who use smart Bidding; rolling out a new tool to suggest Broad Match keyword recommendations

The tool will use smart signals such as user behaviour and historic data to suggest new recommendations for switching your current keywords to broad match versions in Google Ads. Unsurprisingly, Google’s goal here is to encourage advertisers to move towards greater automation of accounts, but you’re right to feel skeptical – especially since Google doesn’t have a great track record of identifying user intent.

XML Marks the Spot

One of the most basic aspects of website optimization, an XML sitemap acts as a roadmap of your website, highlighting to Google where your important pages are located, and how to reach them! However, site maps can be overlooked as websites grow and change.  John Mu – Google’s very own “Search Advocate” – highlighted the importance of XML site maps, considering them “the minimum you should be doing for a serious website.”  

Next, Google’s rival search engine DuckDuckGo hit 60 million queries per day –  a possible blow for Google’s dominance, proving that competitive search engines with USP’s can claw traffic back from the search monster. With increasing demand, it might not be too long until we see SEO’s making considerations for search engines other than Google!

Social Shopping Media Updates

Instagram upped it’s shopping ante with recent interface updates designed to replace traditional notification buttons with in-app ecommerce tabs. 

The Shop tab gives you a better way to connect with brands and creators and discover products you love.” said the Company. 

Clearly, Instagram’s updates offer a great opportunity for ecommerce businesses, allowing yet another way to get your products in front of targeted audiences. However, user feedback has been less than glowing with many complaining that the changes are confusing and increase the amount of time it takes to actually see or post new content.

Finally, Twitter introduces Fleets, for the moments you thought about Tweeting, but didn’t.

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The October 2020 Search & Digital Marketing News Round Up

Google has unveiled a completely new version of Google Analytics, which it first introduced with a beta version last year. The tech giant has left no feature or methodology untouched, giving marketers even great insights into user behaviours on their site.

“…With major shifts in consumer behavior and privacy-driven changes to longtime industry standards, current approaches to analytics aren’t keeping pace.”

Included in the newest version of the analytics platform we can expect to see new ways of gathering data (Streams), easier integration between Analytics and Google Tag Manager, automatic tracking of features such as Scroll Depth and Clicks and the bringing together of Data Studio elements into existing analysis tools. As with all of Google’s current updates, Machine Learning & AI are at the heart of the new Google Analytics – meaning that we might be able to expect even more exciting features in the future!

On top of this, we have also seen some exciting announcements for PPC marketers this month around Google Ads – including updates to activate real-time alerts, and improvements to streamline the creative process – meaning faster creation of campaigns and ad-copy. Google Shopping also got some nifty new features including price tracking & price comparison tools.

Elsewhere in the paid landscape, Google announced a range of new and improved ways to reach audiences with changes to its Programmatic Guaranteed systems on Display & Video 360. Highlights include integration with Google Audiences, more efficient reach for your budget & expanded access to premium inventory across the platform. All of this means that you can more accurately reach the audience most likely to respond to your ads, increasing your ROAS.

Tracking without the cookies?

As part of Google’s long term objectives for its advertising platforms we’ve also been introduced to the new “Consent Mode”. Simply put, Google has thrown down the gauntlet to data-protection authorities in Europe by introducing two new tag setting for advertisers – allowing automatic customisation of advertising consent based on an individual user’s preferences without the use of cookies!

What does all of this mean? Well, Google’s aim here is clear; to help advertisers effectively measure conversions, while respecting consent choices for ad and analytics cookies.

Ultimately, cookie-less conversion tracking is now theoretically possible with Google Analytics, changing the post-GDPR tracking landscape once again.

More Links than Hyrule

In other news, we learned during October that Google has a “stupidly high” limit on the number of links it can read on your page according to work undertaken by Techmeme. This is a departure from the 2014 party-line, when Google claimed there was no limit at all to the number of links it could handle on a specific page. As if anticipating the question from SEO’s, Google quickly followed this up by saying there is no optimal number of links you should have on your page.

Google’s John Mueller has suggested that just a handful of slow-loading pages on an otherwise speedy website can impact how Google bots interpret your website. Clearly, this sounds worrying – but Google’s reasoning is pretty logical; if Google is unable to accurately measure the speed of your pages, it’ll place greater emphasis on the signals it can measure. In other words, if Google is unable to measure your fastest loading pages, but it HAS measured a slow loading page with a similar URL structure, it’ll assume that the unmeasured URL is slow too, until a second crawl proves otherwise.

A new player has entered the game?

If the rumours are to be believed, Apple might be preparing to launch it’s own rival to Google Search on iOS systems. This would be a massive shake up to online search engines, and could be the first real challenge to Google’s dominance of the space. Those who remember the Apple Maps debacle of 2012 may not be getting too excited just yet though…

Across at Microsoft, there were reports that Bing had suffered from some indexing issues throughout October 2020, but is working quickly wioth CloudFlare to fix the issues that have been reported. Fabrice Canel from Microsoft offered some advice to Microsoft Bing users to ensure they’re being correctly indexed by Bing:

The Bite-Sized News

Chrome is blocking intrusive push notifications -although it remains unclear what impact this might have for users.

Google has been tweaking  dictionary & encyclopedia results in an attempt to increase content quality.

Webmasters shared thier Black Friday best practices for 2020 – including getting your page set up as early as possible!

Finally, happy birthday to Google Ads, which turn 20 years old in October! Where would we be without you?

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The September 2020 Search & Digital Marketing News Round Up

Yet another massive digital marketing news month, and the cake-topping story was the revelation that UK advertisers will foot the bill for the 2% Digital Sales Tax (DST) intended for Google, Facebook, and other tech giants to pay. Response has been mixed, with some advertisers reducing their budget to account for the rise, and others maintaining budgets as-is, taking the additional charge on the chin.

Google News, Google News & More Google News

In equally concerning news, Google announced it would reduce the visibility of search terms shown in reports for advertisers. Initial estimates from a number of agencies suggested up to 30% of ad spend will be impacted by the change, hugely limiting the potential to manage out poor quality queries. Google’s motivations are – as yet – somewhat unclear. In comments to Search Engine Land Google advised the search terms report will

“only include terms that were searched by a significant number of users.”

What does “significant” mean? Nobody knows. Google stated the motivation for the change is

“to maintain our standards of privacy and strengthen our protections around user data.”

Some industry pundits are (correctly) noting that Google’s general direction of travel is towards campaign automation, so it’s no surprise to see this happen, but set against declining growth in Google’s core search business – could this be a revenue play first, privacy second? Only time will tell.

Google introduced more ad features for businesses with physical locations including Smart Bidding for in-store sales, “Pick up later” for Local Inventory ads, and more. Gift Cards are being nixxed from Google Merchant Centre starting 30 September. 

Also making its debut was the new Performance Max campaign type. Running across all of Google’s inventory, Performance Max marks a significant further move towards aforementioned automation and is designed to complement search campaigns.

For a bit of really good news, Google Shopping is now rolling out free globally, following a roll out to the US. Make sure you’re opted in to the programme. Google also launched new Schema for retailer shipping data allowing shipping costs and expected delivery times to be displayed in search results. The shop-ability of search results increases again…how long until you can buy exactly what you need, directly from Google? Tick tock, tock….that’s the sound of the ticking clock.

Google is giving certain publishers a new content ‘Showcase’ on News, Search, Discover. Launching as a partnership with over 200 publishers in Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, the U.K. and Australia, the new platform is designed to address some of the concerns news publishers have about the movement of advertising spend to Google and the other tech giants. To sweeten the deal, Google is committing over $1billion of investment in publishers over the next three years, and is providing tools for news outlets to curate, format and display their content how they wish.

Clicked the Facebook ad on Monday, had another look on Tuesday, I had it in my cart on Wednesday*….

Facebook is ditching its 28-day attribution window, starting 12th October, defaulting your attribution window to 7-day. Spurred in no small part by Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention measures, the change will impact on advertisers who experience a longer lead-time for purchases. The contrarian view: with its wealth of data Facebook knows that most purchases from ads happen within a 7 day window, and this is simply a far better way to measure performance. Could it be that simple? Possibly.

Instagram and Facebook Messenger have now merged replacing the old Instagram Direct service with Messenger. This represents a continuation of the vision to unite all of their (somewhat disparate) messaging platforms under one system.

This shift comes with the launch of ‘Facebook Business Suite’, a new mobile app and desktop interface aimed at SMBs combining Facebook and Instagram (with Whatsapp added within a year) publishing, messaging and analytics in a single dashboard. The tool doesn’t yet include Pixel, Ads Manager or Advanced Audiences, but for the millions of SMEs that rely on Facebook, it’s a simpler and arguably more pragmatic solution than Business Manager.

* apologies to Craig David

The Bite-Sized News

Snapchat is floating a new advertising offering called Platform Burst. Campaigns start at ~£100k – as yet no known takers in the UK.

A helping hand: SEMrush put together an evergreen content guide.

Ever wondered which CMS is the fastest? This study helps answer that

And it should come as no surprise that paid search and social media spend are growing fastest in 2020. 

Finally, a good watch, ‘SEO mythbusting’, with Google’s ever-colourful Martin Splitt and the multi-talented Lily Rae.

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New Website & Digital Positioning for Brightsolid

We’re delighted to reveal our latest work for long-standing client Brightsolid: a brand new web site and digital positioning that supports the company through its strategic move into the managed cloud and AWS space.

Screenshot of Brightsolid website.

The site blends a bespoke theme with the truly legendary content management capabilities of WordPress, augmented by Beaver Builder’s page editor, giving Brightsolid a significant update from the website we produced for them in 2018, which in turn was a significant evolution from the site we created in 2017. Naturally, the site is hosted on the client’s AWS environment, and we’ve enjoyed working with the infrastructure team to learn all about the platform and the incredible capabilities it brings. We’re excited to see how the team at Brightsolid takes the message on AWS and its benefits out to market  which – given current circumstances – seem more relevant than ever.

Linda King, Chief Marketing Officer at Brightsolid said: “We’re delighted with our brand new website – we wanted something new and fresh to reflect our changing business and our credibility as a hybrid cloud managed service provider. We set out to create a site that focused on our business value, keeping it simple and avoiding technical jargon!. The ‘environment’ theme brings the site to life, and the use of video on our key pages is impressive. Also, as an AWS Consulting Partner, we were also pleased to be able to host our site on AWS, using a dynamic compute solution. We’ve already had great feedback on our site, and we’ve all really enjoyed working with the team at Mackerel Media over the last few months to deliver this!”

Have a browse here: https://www.brightsolid.com

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Google Further Extends Same-Meaning Close Variants

Over the last few years the technical definition of Google Ads’ keyword match types has shifted massively, but the naming conventions have remained almost identical. With the upcoming addition of close variants, are we seeing a final nail in the coffin of precise keyword and search query management?

How are keyword Match Types Changing?

In a nutshell, Phrase & Broad Match Modified keywords will follow Exact match in triggering your ads for queries which share the same meaning or intent as your targeted keyword. This differs from the ‘close variant’ matches rolled out in 2014 which included “misspellings, singular or plural, stemmings, abbreviations and accents” for keywords. Instead, Google will now use its machine learning algorithms to identify if a users search query has the same intent as your targeted keywords.

Broad match modifier keyword

In Google’s own example, we can see that not only does BMM now match to queries in any order, but individual targeted keywords can be entirely replaced by queries with a similar meaning – notice that ‘+mow’ is matched with ‘grass cutting’ and ‘cut your grass’.

Phrase Match keywords will soon also match for queries with a similar meaning – however unlike Broad Match Modified above, keyword order will be preserved. The example below shows “lawn mowing” matching “grass cutting” and “lawn cutting” then followed by “service” and “services” as expected.

Phrase match keyword

What is still unclear is whether or not these upcoming changes to BMM and Phrase match targeting will use the same ‘implied information’ targeting that Exact match keywords have taken advantage of since last November. Exact “Implied Intent” matching allows Google’s machine learning algorithms to identify and match search queries containing additional longtail information to keywords in your account which you do not actively target. You can see an example of Mackerel Media’s own below:

We can see that while Mackerel Media only actively target [digital marketing edinburgh] Google’s Exact Match now ‘intelligently’ understands the intent of the query is relevant to the exact match keyword we targeted. Thats why our ads would trigger for ‘digital marketing agency Edinburgh Scotland’, ‘online digital marketing agency’ and ‘digital marketing agency Edinburgh’ – because the additional information is implied by the the keywords we target.

Avoiding Competing Keywords

At this point, you might be thinking “But what if I’m already targeting a keyword that is intelligently matched by Google – won’t this mean I’m competing against my own keywords?”.

Well, you’d be right – and Google knows it. To stop keywords that match a query from competing against each other and costing you more money, Google plans to introduce a change to it’s keyword selection process: 

“If a query currently matches to an exact, phrase, or broad match modifier keyword that exists in your account, we’ll prevent that query from matching to a different phrase or broad match modifier keyword that’s now eligible for the same auction as a result of this update.”

In other words, if you are already actively targeting a keyword that Google’s algorithms intelligently identify as part of a same-meaning close variant, only your actively targeted keyword will be eligible to trigger an ad. 

Why is Google Making These Changes?

Google claims that 15% of all search queries are new, and this means that advertisers are missing out on customers because the tightly controlled nature of the traditional Keyword Match Types means there is no real way to target every possible variation of a keyword. 

Ultimately, the changes are an excuse for Google to flex their evolving Machine Learning capabilities. By using AI to infer intent and fill in the gaps between targeted keywords & user queries, Google hopes to reduce the vast numbers of keywords digital marketers have to create to get their ads to trigger for relevant search queries.

As a counterpoint to this: consider a company we spoke to today, who spends a generous monthly sum on Google Ads but focuses on – wait for it – three keywords. Three. 3. Troi. Drei. 1-2-3. Three in total. Those are the only ones that convert for them, and the only ones that have ever converted profitably, in years of advertising. What will this change mean for them? More negative keyword management, more wasted budget and probably a harder job to keep their account KPIs on track.

What Can We Expect?

Unsurprisingly, Google expects advertisers to see a 3-4% increase in clicks for Broad Match Modified and Phrase Match keywords. In addition to this, Google claims that 85% of those clicks will come from keywords that advertisers do not actively target. 

In our opinion, this means that while clients can expect to receive more clicks to their site than ever before, keeping a close eye on the source of these clicks will be vital – checking and updating negative keyword lists will become a fundamental part of daily account management, ensuring that Ad Groups remain as focused and relevant as possible.

Consider also the halcyon days when exact match meant exact match, and nothing more. We spent a couple of weeks on the overhaul of a huge ad account with over 100k exact match and long phrase-match keywords, building out combinations upon combinations…but safe in the knowledge what we were bidding on is what we would get. Can you imagine doing that now? Clue – the answer is almost certainly “No!”

How Did Google Ads Change in 2018?

Today is our first day back in the Mackerel Media office following the Christmas break. So what better time than now to look back at some of the biggest changes Google brought us in the past 12 months – and what they could mean for 2019?

No More Google AdWords

Ever since its launch in October 2000, Google’s core advertising platform has always been known as Google AdWords. However, in July 2018, we were introduced to the platform’s new moniker – the much more streamlined Google Ads. While a simple change in name may not seem all that impressive in itself, Google also introduced us to a new version of DoubleClick known as Google Marketing Platform and revealed Google Ad Manager, a shiny new programmatic platform for large publishers and businesses.

So why is this so important to advertisers that it is the first item in our 2018 lookback?

Well, the AdWords re-branding symbolises Google’s ambitions to move away from simple text and keyword based responsive advertising and into smart, AI-driven searches which can be triggered by user behaviour, interests and even physical location. Offline, we’re seeing Google strongly push their Smart Speaker and Hey Google technology, giving us some idea of how Google expects us to perform searches in the future.

To put it another way, Google AdWords doesn’t need ‘words’ to advertise anymore. The time of Google Ads is now.

New Google Ads Interface

Along with the Google Ads name change came the introduction of an overhauled Google Ads UI – and boy, did it divide opinions in the digital marketing industry! Now, six months on, I can take a more objective view of the new interface and can report… I really like it!

The new interface isn’t without its flaws – but overall the platform is vastly improved over the old, which had been mostly unchanged for 10 years. From a practical standpoint, the new interface gives equal weighting to all campaigns types which we felt was lacking in the old UI – finding Smart Shopping Campaigns and working on them is as easy now as working on your Search campaigns, which again hints at Google’s advertising ambitions in the future.

Better Reporting

One of the most useful features of the new Ads interface is the ability to quickly find and report on information that is most relevant to your digital marketing campaigns. As well as being able to surface potential optimisation strategies, the new Google Ads interface has introduced a number of easy-to-reach reports, which for the most part have always been beneficial in our day-to-day management of accounts. These new reports include a highly detailed breakdown of Ad Position and Rank, as well as competitor activity comparisons – both of which can provide great in-sight for clients.

On the Google Analytics side, Session Quality and Conversion Probability reports are beginning to apply machine learning to web analytics data, which in turn helps marketers define high quality audiences and include them in Smart Lists and Smart Goals for marketing campaigns. This suggests that in 2019 Google will continue to put greater emphasis on the importance of using Google Ads & Analytics together to optimise your account, as well as a possible hint that one day these may not be seen as separate tools at all…

Intelligent Targeting & Smarter Keywords

By now, it might be obvious, but 2018 was the year that fully Google embraced Artificial Intelligence.

From the introduction of Smart Shopping campaigns (which can intelligently adjust bids and product recommendation in the Google Shopping format based on user history and intent), to the introduction of responsive, dynamic ad-creative formats and automated Impression Share Targeting – Google has spent the past 12 months introducing us to new, intelligent ways of getting our ads in front of the right people at the right time.

For most advertisers, Goal Based Campaigns have been one of the most interesting additions to Google Ads in the past 12 months. Simply by picking the results you want to achieve – such as increased leads, greater brand awareness or higher conversions – Google Ads can now provide you with a greater understanding of which Google Ads campaign types will perform best for you and your budget, while it’s powerful Machine Learning can provide countless automatic bid and placement optimisations.

However, one of the most shocking changes of the past 12 months was Google’s announcement that it has applied its AI technology to one of the core staples of modern PPC marketing – the [Exact Match] keyword. From September, Google’s machine learning has meant that close variants of keywords which show “intent” – such as implied queries and paraphrasing – can trigger the previously fixed [Exact Match] keyword type. According to Google, testing has shown that advertisers see approximately 3% more clicks and conversions using this technology, however many have reported that this has just resulted in less relevant queries triggering keywords.

Updates to Ad Formats

From the roll-out of non-skippable TruView YouTube bumper ads to the introduction of a third text-ad Headline, we have seen some significant changes to the formats advertisers can use in 2018. And, unsurprisingly, Google’s AI algorithms played a huge roll here too during the past 12 months.

The most useful of these updates has undoubtedly been the introduction of Responsive Search Ads – an updated version of Dynamic search ads – which uses machine learning to match user intent to ad-creative from a pool of up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions, individually tailoring the message a user sees to their initial search query as well as their historical search behaviour and in-market intent to increase ad engagement and CTR%.

What Does 2019 Hold for Google Ads?

I hope by now you’ve noticed a recurring theme in this blog post; Google is pushing AI in a bid to capitalise on non-traditional methods of online advertising. In 2019 expect to see the introduction of tools designed to target people using voice search technology, as well as an increased reliance on Machine Learning and AI to allow you to better target the audience that matters most to you.


What does 2019 hold for your digital marketing? If you want to find out, drop us a quick email to hello@mackerelmedia.co.uk.