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.

Has Safari’s Anti-Tracking & Full Third-Party Cookie Blocking Impacted Digital Marketing?

Apple has always been at the forefront of the Privacy Revolution, and the company has often held a user’s online privacy up as being one of its most important ideals. But has Apple gone too far with it’s latest attempts to protect user privacy online?

Back in 2017, Apple first announced its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) features for Safari & iOS devices, and we’ve seen a number of key ITP updates since then – the most recent back in April 2020. 

Previously, ITP allowed advertisers some unintentional wiggle-room; that is to say enough data could be gathered to allow for some tracking across the web. However, with the ITP updates back in April, these loop-holes are now firmly closed. 

With iOS 14 being released in September, all Apple devices & Safari browsers are now able to block all cookies from third-party websites, and prevent third-party advertisers from targeting you based on your browser history and online habits. How has this impacted the world of digital marketing? 

A Brief History of Cookies

There are two types of cookies a website may pass onto your browser, known as party and third-party. Both types of cookies contain the same pieces of information, and can perform broadly similar functions. The real difference between first-party & third-party cookies is how and where this information gets used.

First-party cookies are always used by the website you are currently visiting. In general, first-party cookies are considered to be useful – and Apple doesn’t have an issue with websites deploying them. They allow experience-enhancing functions on-site, but also let website owners collect analytics data about how you’ve interacted with their website.

On the other hand, Third-party cookies are created by domains other than the one you are currently active on – usually an advertising provider. However, whether or not third-party cookies are “good” or “bad” is a slightly greyer area.

Apple correctly argued that third-party cookies are mainly used for cross-site tracking and advertising purposes, but they also allow website owners to provide additional useful services – such as live chats or social media buttons.

Third-party cookies which are set by an advertiser are accessible on any website you visit which also loads the third-party servers code, such as ads.doubleclick.net. By recognising the cookie created on a previous website, ads are able to use your information to provide tailored content across multiple websites based on your browsing history.

Years Ahead of Google Chrome?

Apple’s push for privacy is an important milestone for web privacy advocates, and it puts Safari officially two whole years ahead of Google’s own browser – Chrome. 

Unsurprisingly, Google itself has a lot more to lose from this move towards total online privacy than Apple, as so much of its earnings depend on the deployment of third-party cookies and advertising through DoubleClick, Google Ads and the Google Display Network.

Despite this clear and present danger to Google’s bank account, Google said back in January 2020 that it would begin the process of phasing out third-party cookies and expected third-party cookies to be fully blocked by 2022. 

So is Google biding its time, working out what their next move is? 

We’ve already seen some interesting cookie workarounds coming from the tech giant in the past month, with its recently announced “Consent Mode” being far less reliant on the deployment of cookies for tracking. 

Watch this space.

Has Full Third-Party Cookie Blocking Affected Digital Marketing?

With 93.1% of iPhone users opting for Apple’s Safari, and 37.9% of Mac users browsing the web on Safari, ITP can potentially account for a lot of lost traffic to your website. Neither Apple nor Google has made any official statement about how ITP impacts Google Analytics, there is some evidence of the implications of blocking third-party cookies. 

Reviewing Safari traffic of our longest standing clients, we can draw an interesting conclusions to the impact of Apple’s push for privacy:

The primary impact Mackerel has identified is a clear jump in “New” Safari users visiting the site from April 2020 when ITP 2.0 was introduced:

We can see clear increases in “New Visitor” from Safari & iOS devices during May & October 2020. This strongly suggests that Apple’s updates to ITP (introduced one month before both the May & October spikes) have cleared the Google Analytics cookies stored on a users browser which would have previously identified the user as “returning” to the site. While a simple test, this information does allow us to understand that Apple’s ITP third-party cookie blocking does have an impact on the data we are seeing. More concerningly, this “refreshing” of a users data can impact any A/B tests advertisers are running – with a real potential that a single user could be placed into multiple experimental groups.

The impact of this discovery is that data for Safari devices may not be as accurate as pre-ITP times. However, as with all data interpretation, digital marketers need to be aware of the bigger picture – how are the trends on other devices shifting, and what can we learn from the data that IS available to us?

In addition to this, other digital marketing authorities eCPMs on Safari inventory are around 30% lower than Chrome due to identifying data on Safari audiences being stripped out – although this has not been verified by Mackerel Media.

Are There Any Benefits to the Introduction of ITP?

Since the rollout of ITP 1.0 Apple has faced a fierce backlash from the digital ad industry – which also relies heavily on tracking cookies to advertise. There’s no doubt that Apples’ push for user privacy on Safari has led to significant losses in advertising opportunities since it’s launch.

However, the most recent versions of ITP might actually be beneficial to digital advertisers by forcing marketers and agencies alike to focus on information that can be learned from first-party cookies only. 

Knowing what a user is most interested in on your website, where critical drop-off points occur and how buyers interacted with your business as a whole can lead to a more meaningful sales experience than a procedurally generated advert for a product 6 months after a user visited your site. 

By focusing on how best to optimise your wider digital marketing strategy and on-site user experience, you could argue that Safari’s ITP updates are actually beneficial to your businesses online presence.

And let’s not forget – Google isn’t going to take Apple eating into its bottom line lying down.