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Facebook Advertisers Panicking over Apple Tracking Options

Retargeting was fun while it lasted, right? … interesting time for online marketing.

Facebook advertisers, in particular, have noticed an impact in the last month. Media buyers who run Facebook ad campaigns on behalf of clients said Facebook is no longer able to reliably see how many sales its clients are making, so it’s harder to figure out which Facebook ads are working. Losing this data also impacts Facebook’s ability to show a business’s products to potential new customers. It also makes it more difficult to “re-target” people with ads that show users items they have looked at online, but may not have purchased.

Source: Facebook (FB) Advertisers Impacted By Apple (AAPL) Privacy iOS 14 Changes – Bloomberg

Google’s Take on Our Hybrid Workplace Future

I need a cellophane balloon wall robot in my life.

If a meeting requires privacy, a robot that looks like the innards of a computer on wheels and is equipped with sensors to detect its surroundings comes over to inflate a translucent, cellophane balloon wall to keep prying eyes away.

Source: The Googleplex of the Future Has Privacy Robots, Meeting Tents and Your Very Own Balloon Wall – The New York Times

Trying Out Neeva

“…advertising income often provides an incentive to provide poor quality search results.”

– Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in a 1998 research paper while they were doctoral students at Stanford

I’ve been trying out the search engine service Neeva lately. You can read more about the founding of the company by ex-Googler Sridhar Ramaswamy here (it’s a fascinating story).

I come from the time when the web was still in its primordial stage. Thought technologies such as web browsers and search engines were still young and completely exhilarating. I paid for Netscape (and I was amazed when I got to college in 1996 and walked into the computer lab with 8 machines running Netscape, WordPerfect, Office, and the Corel suite). Browsers and search engines and minute-based access to the web were something you paid for (unless you stockpiled AOL disks like I did).

Neeva is definitely a different service. I’m still wrapping my head around it, but it feels like a good mix of “old school web” and what we’ll eventually get to once we exit this period of advertising-based “free” services that have been the predominate business model on the web for the last 15 years.

The search interface is clean and fast. There are no ad trackers. The company is looking to make money by offering subscriptions. That’s intriguing for me. I’ve never been a big fan of the saying “if you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product” and all, but it does ease my mind to exchange money for what I consider valuable services on the web (Pinboard for bookmarking comes to mind).

Google is such an intimate part of all of our lives, whether we care to admit it or not. Our memories, correspondence, social graphs, birthday reminders, calendars etc are all wrapped up in the service (at least… much more than that for “power users” like myself). But we need alternatives.

I’ll continue experimenting with Neeva to see if it’s one of the dandelions that pops up to spread seeds across the ecosystem of the web or if it’s just a one-season deal. But it “feels” like it has staying power. And for that, I’m excited. Will report back here about my usage as it accumulates in the coming weeks.

Tag Your WordPress Posts, People!

I stress to clients that they have to tag and categorize their posts on WordPress. It’s one of the easiest ways to increase your organic traffic and discoverability in Google, but it also helps the web find you.

So tag your posts, people!

Also, good checklist here for setting up a WordPress website on a hosting platform…

If you’re not already on board, keep reading; a client of mine gets 100,000 unique visitors per month. More than 3% of those are referred to by tags listed in the SERPs.

Tag recommendations:

  • Limit your tagging to relevant topics you covered in the post.
  • Not every post needs to be tagged.
  • Keep tags short and sweet; no more than two words.
  • Delete overused and underused tags monthly.

SEO benefits:

  • Improved user experience.
  • Increased engagement.

Via Search Engine Journal: Don’t Launch a WordPress Site Before You Go Through This 17-Step Checklist

Tech companies freezing political spending and why tech still matters

This is the death knell of PACs for tech companies with activist employees,” one source told Axios. “This is the final straw.”

via Axios

This is a really fascinating development. First Microsoft and now Facebook are suspending PAC (Political Action Committee) spending in Washington. They’re joining financiers Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Citigroup, along with Marriott, Blue Cross Blue Shield (caveat — our insurance co), Boston Scientific, and Commerce Bank. Bank of America (caveat — one of the banks we do business with), Ford, and AT&T, CVS, Exxon Mobil, and Wells Fargo are considering pulling their political monies.

This hits politicians where it really hurts.

For years, many of us in the “tech world” have decried these PACs and looked at them as a unnecessary evil that needed to be banned or done away with for a number of reasons.

Here are my personal convictions:

  1. The PAC system reinforces the existing system of graft and corruption that so many Americans claim to abhor.
  2. PACs favor the privileged both socio-economically and relationally. It’s a blight on a Democratic Republic and shouldn’t be seen as a “necessary evil” to doing business in the United States. Whatever your sector.
  3. Tech boomed in the late 90’s and then again in the early ’00s because it was seen as a disruptor. From Google to Tesla to Uber (well, maybe they aren’t a great example but they did usher in a transportation paradigm shift) to even Twitter, the tech sector excited us with the promise of something different and more democratic to challenge the status quo. However, as the going got weird, the weird turned pro and put on suits. I want a return to the weird disruption tech that spurred creativity and a hope for a better representation to the powers that be. We’re not so far gone that it can’t happen in light of #metoo, BLM, LBGTQ+, trans rights, accessibility emphasis, and recognition of differently abled persons. Real revolutionary tech that can change the world… I still believe. PACS stand in the way of that.

So as we continue to process and deal with the terrorist insurrection on our Capitol last week, let’s take a second to recognize what these companies are doing by restricting or redirecting their PAC monies and how we can all do our part to not just “unify and move forward” but to cause real change.

Google Shopping Gift Guide and Importance of Trending vs Popularity

Google’s annual Shopping Gift Guide is out for 2020. While it’s a handy tool for personal shopping, it also has some incredibly helpful stats for marketing and messaging.

The trick is to focus on trending items using data. The same is true for Instagram… the hashtags that you should be incorporating into your posts for more exposure and likes (and follows) are the ones that are trending but not necessarily popular.

So, if you’re looking for some fun market research in your business’ sector, don’t pass up these sorts of insights:

  • Monitors and headsets with microphones both saw 450%+ spikes in searches.

  • Searches for streaming increased 33% this year.

  • Searches for ring lights are at their all-time high, as they provide ideal lighting for video recordings and meetings.

The Google Shopping Gift Guide provides a helpful list of products rising in popularity based on Search trends in the US.

Source: Google Shopping Gift Guide

Friday, November 13, 2020

It’s been a week but still relevant:

Here in South Carolina, I’m seeing a mix of responses to the spiking Covid rates. Some of our friends (especially parents of young children) are full of despair and “over it” to put it lightly. I also have clients in-town who seemed confused when I say “No, I can’t come to your office for that meeting. We’re still hunkering down and trying to avoid indoor spaces when possible.” But, there’s a general feeling that we know the worst is yet to come and people are taking masks seriously (distancing not so much) in public spaces and in grocery stores etc. Let’s keep it up. We won’t see a vaccine for months (if that), so it’s on us to not have “pandemic fatigue.”

Business wise, there are many small businesses, nonprofits, and churches (big and small) that I know are hurting. I find it astonishing we don’t have something like a second federal stimulus package. To leave it up to cities and states seems like a complete hand-washing from our federal representatives. We need another stimulus package. I’ve done more pro-bono work for church and nonprofit clients in the last couple of months than I should have, but it’s heartbreaking to hear the constant stories of pure budget fallouts (along with volunteer hours etc).

Be kind to each other out there.

Today’s big puzzle has been trying to figure out how to display post time (not just date) on a WordPress post… there has to be a PHP function for that and I’m completely blanking on it. I’ll blame it on being Friday. But I’ll figure it out.

What I’m Thinking About Today:

Maybe it’s the pandemic and my Aunt passing away last week, but death and dying has been on my mind a good deal recently. I had an email yesterday about my life insurance policy, so that didn’t help change my brain. We have so much work to do with rethinking and reconditioning how we think about the process of death in our country. Particularly from the balance between spiritual development and scientific/medical understandings, there seems to be a real need for people to find balance. I highly recommend reading the Emanuel piece above. Good stuff.

Big Sur hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts. I always caution friends and clients these days to wait a little while before installing the new iOS or iPadOS or macOS update because Apple has proven time and again that launch day is a precarious time if you’re running updates. It’s a fantastic operating system, though. Once things get ironed out, make sure you update if you have a modern Mac (you know, if you don’t mind your computer phoning home and compromising your security and all).

It turns out that in the current version of the macOS, the OS sends to Apple a hash (unique identifier) of each and every program you run, when you run it. Lots of people didn’t realize this, because it’s silent and invisible and it fails instantly and gracefully when you’re offline, but today the server got really slow and it didn’t hit the fail-fast code path, and everyone’s apps failed to open if they were connected to the internet.

Oof. Must read for the “APPLE IS MORE SECURE THAN OTHER OPERATING SYSTEMS!” crowd and the rest of us.

Radiant now sells a stripped-down Samsung smartwatch as a social distance monitoring tool. When an employee wears the watch, it constantly searches for other similar devices worn by other employees, and estimates their distance based on how strong that signal is. If a strong signal is detected for more than 15 minutes, the interaction is recorded and uploaded to the cloud for the company to reference later if a worker tests positive. In addition, an employer can opt to use the device to monitor the specific location of individual employees.

I don’t ever want to work in an office building “for” a company again. I fear this sort of thing will become much more mainstream during and (eventually) after Covid.

The year 2020 has been kind to Turchin, for many of the same reasons it has been hell for the rest of us. Cities on fire, elected leaders endorsing violence, homicides surging—­­to a normal American, these are apocalyptic signs. To Turchin, they indicate that his models, which incorporate thousands of years of data about human history, are working. (“Not all of human history,” he corrected me once. “Just the last 10,000 years.”) He has been warning for a decade that a few key social and political trends portend an “age of discord,” civil unrest and carnage worse than most Americans have experienced. In 2010, he predicted that the unrest would get serious around 2020, and that it wouldn’t let up until those social and political trends reversed. Havoc at the level of the late 1960s and early ’70s is the best-case scenario; all-out civil war is the worst.

Turchin is certainly a polarizing figure. I admit that I’m a passive fan of megahistories (being a mostly-white male and all), but I do think there’s something to the idea of applying mathematics to history and liberal arts. Maybe I’ve read too much Asimov.

I can’t stress this enough and tell my clients this all the time… make sure you have your Google My Business listing set up and connected to a GMail or Google Suite/Workplace account that you trust and will keep for a while. Don’t just assume that you don’t have to do this. Google is placing a high amount of energy, time, and resources to developing and promoting My Business, and if you run or are a part of a business, group, church, organization etc… make sure to claim and keep up with yours.

In this Best of Whiteboard Friday edition, Tom Capper explains how the sessions metric in Google Analytics works, several ways that it can have unexpected results, and as a bonus, how sessions affect the time on page metric (and why you should rethink using time on page for reporting).

Good video here on Sessions in Google Analytics… my clients typically are suprised when I show them how useful having an understanding of Sessions can be for their overall digital marketing campaigns.

The platform saw a spike in users, doubling from roughly 4.5 million members last week to about 8 million this week, and surging to 4 million active devices from 500,000 two weeks ago, according to Parler chief operating officer Jeffrey Wernick. He added that daily active devices are up approximately tenfold and session growth is up 20 times on the app.

I’ve been monitoring Parler (Twitter alternative), MeWe (Facebook alternative), and Rumble’s (YouTube alternative) growth over the last few months. There’s also banned.video that was created by InfoWars / Alex Jones after he was banned from most mainstream social media platforms. The growth on all of these “conservative-friendly” social platforms is astonishing and a sign of virality. I know a number of prepper and Q themed groups jumped over to these and that’s only accelerating. Will they have sticking power? That depends on a number of variables from how the transition of administrations occurs, whether Parler figures out its own internal bugs and advertising, and if Trump manages to congeal a media empire and stay relevant in the coming months.

To be updated throughout the day

ZOOM and Google Calendar

Just received this email from ZOOM regarding changes to how Google Calendar allows for default conferencing options…

ZOOM Google Calendar

Many of us in the post-Corona Virus world have learned to love the integration between Google Calendar and ZOOM available in Google Suite / Workplace. Google evidently has noticed that and is pushing out a change that makes its rebranded Meet product the defacto option in scheduling calls and chats within the Google Calendar interface.

It’s not deal-breaking or a huge deal necessarily, but it does show that Google is noticing how important conferencing has become. For many of us, the default is ZOOM, and it’s obvious Google wants to use the (very) popular Google Calendar platform to push more of us towards using Meet. Which is totally appropriate since it’s their playground and all.

I’ll be interested to see if Meet actually takes off in popular usage now.

About the Microsoft and Walmart Acquiring TikTok Deal

The idea would be to help turn TikTok U.S. into more of an e-commerce app for creators and users, much like what TikTok parent company ByteDance does with a similar app in China.

Source: Microsoft working with Walmart on TikTok deal – Axios

One of the main reasons TikTok has taken off with influencers, soccer moms, niche businesses, and aspiring dance stars here in the US is that it “feels” like an indie app that isn’t owned by Facebook or Google.

TikTok very much has that Instagram feel from about 2013 (I remember when an 8th grader first showed Instagram to me and explained why it was so much better than Facebook or Twitter and wasn’t owned by a big company).

With the ongoing speculation that Oracle is somehow involved in the attempts to acquire TikTok from the Chinese company ByteDance at our current administration’s behest, the CEO resigning last night, and now the two COOLEST brands in the United States… Microsoft AND Walmart!… I just don’t see how TikTok retains that feeling. Especially if this odd consortium of mega-companies turns it into an “e-commerce app for creators and users.”

I think we’ll look back on this period a few years from now and use it as a cautionary tale for huge companies looking to make a play in a hot space.

Yes, there are some previous examples of successful transitions for creative-focused apps and services that kept the mojo after being gobbled up, such as when Google acquired YouTube for $1billion in the mid-2000’s. But then, Google wasn’t quite the behemoth it is now, and YouTube sorely needed the backing of a Google to stay on the web given the legal and logistical load it was rapidly taking on. But then consider services like Flickr or Tumblr that had a diehard communities before being subsumed into the Yahoo! debacle and mismanaged into oblivion.

All that to say, I don’t see how Oracle / Microsoft / Walmart pulls this off and pivots TikTok into a successful “Made in America!” platform while keeping the hotness of the app.

Rise of OnlyFans, Decline of Influencer Marketing

Interesting dynamics for the marketing world (something I’ve been arguing for since “influencer marketing” became a thing years ago) as we continue to see re-evaluations of things like Google Ads and social media marketing as well. The landscape is changing rapidly and I’ve been on a ton of strategy calls with clients lately trying to help them make sense of it all.

Contributing to the rise of OnlyFans is one harsh new reality: the “influencing era” is ending. Travel influencers can’t travel, lifestyle influencers can’t live lavishly, and fashion influencers aren’t being sent clothes without any place to wear them. The economic downturn has caused companies to dial back marketing budgets usually spent on sponsored content and, during a global disaster, followers are craving authenticity over “picture-perfect” life.

Source: OnlyFans, Influencers, and the Politics of Selling Nudes During a Pandemic

Facebook Launches Messenger Rooms to Go After ZOOM’s Market Boom

Interesting play that was pretty predictable. But I do wonder if Facebook’s presence with nonprofits, churches, and small businesses will mean that Messenger Rooms takes off on a steep path of adoption? I think it just might because so many people in those areas are “already on Facebook” and comfortable with the platform as opposed to say, ZOOM or Google Meet.

It should be interesting to watch the adoption curve…

Of everything announced today, Messenger Rooms promises to be the most significant. The feature, which Facebook says will be available in the company’s products globally sometime in the next few weeks, will allow up to 50 people to join a call. The room’s creator can decide whether it’s open to all or lock it to prevent uninvited guests from joining. You’ll be able to start a room from Messenger and Facebook to start. Later, rooms will come to Instagram Direct, WhatsApp, and Portal. Guests can join a room regardless of whether they have a Facebook account.

Source: Messenger Rooms are Facebook’s answer to Zoom and Houseparty for the pandemic – The Verge

Google Slashing Marketing Budget

Read the tea leaves, folks. Things aren’t “re-opening” anytime soon. This is a long term situation and those at the top of the food chain are very much aware of the coming choppy waters…

Google is slashing its marketing budgets by as much as half for the second half of the year, according to internal materials viewed by CNBC.

Source: Google to cut marketing budgets, hiring freeze expected

When companies like Google start slashing marketing budgets, it’s a direct pointer to the tightening of belts and awareness of bad things ahead.

Buckle up.

Google’s Ads Updates in Search Results

We manage a number of Google Ads campaigns for clients. We’ve definitely noticed an uptick in desktop CTR’s since the updates (same as what happened with mobile last year). But a Google Ads campaign is only as good as the conversions it drives. If the quality tanks b/c of more junk clicks, ad spends will go elsewhere. All that to say, I don’t view this as cynically as the article here states:

Last week, Google began rolling out a new look for its search results on desktop, which blurs the line between organic search results and the ads that sit above them. In what appears to be something of a purposeful dark pattern, the only thing differentiating ads and search results is a small black-and-white “Ad” icon next to the former. It’s been formatted to resemble the new favicons that now appear next to the search results you care about. Early data collected by Digiday suggests that the changes may already be causing people to click on more ads.

Source: Google’s ads just look like search results now – The Verge

YouTube and “Reinforcing” Psychologies

“The new A.I., known as Reinforce, was a kind of long-term addiction machine. It was designed to maximize users’ engagement over time by predicting which recommendations would expand their tastes and get them to watch not just one more video but many more.

Reinforce was a huge success. In a talk at an A.I. conference in February, Minmin Chen, a Google Brain researcher, said it was YouTube’s most successful launch in two years. Sitewide views increased by nearly 1 percent, she said — a gain that, at YouTube’s scale, could amount to millions more hours of daily watch time and millions more dollars in advertising revenue per year. She added that the new algorithm was already starting to alter users’ behavior.

“We can really lead the users toward a different state, versus recommending content that is familiar,” Ms. Chen said.”

via “The Making of a YouTube Radical” by Kevin Roose in the New York Times

The Sublime and Silicon Valley

The sublime—whether a feature of the natural world, or of UFOs, or of religious experience—is a sense of our own vanishing smallness before something impossibly vast: a mountain range, a churning ocean, the universe, God. What we get in return for being so existentially demeaned is freedom from the tyranny of our own personalities, a sort of liberating oblivion. But data-extracting platforms don’t sublimate our personalities; they multiply and magnify them. And the Data Sublime, far from making the internet feel thrillingly big, has conspired to make it feel smaller, claustrophobic, and profoundly boring. As Facebook and Google metastasize, the more interesting destinations on the internet are dying off; recent sweeping media layoffs were also largely the result of Facebook, Google, and Amazon’s stranglehold on advertising revenue. The sublime promises a sort of redemptive immensity, but Silicon Valley strives to compress all of digital experience into a single, monotonous feed, mainlining capital into the pockets of billionaires.

— Read on thebaffler.com/latest/close-encounters-of-the-tech-kind-harnett

The Apps You Should Really Be Concerned About with Your Privacy

After examining maps showing the locations extracted by their apps, Ms. Lee, the nurse, and Ms. Magrin, the teacher, immediately limited what data those apps could get. Ms. Lee said she told the other operating-room nurses to do the same.“I went through all their phones and just told them: ‘You have to turn this off. You have to delete this,’” Ms. Lee said. “Nobody knew.”

Source: Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret – The New York Times

Everyone is afraid of what Google and Facebook “know” about them and how much information they’re sharing with these services because of poor media coverage.

While those two services need to be investigated and questioned, it’s the “bottom half” of the advertising industry connected to seemingly innocent apps that you install on your mobile device to give you the weather or locations of gas or local sports scores that are really the most alarming in how they treat your personal location data.

Good report here by the NY Times (we need more of this type of journalism in the tech-sphere).

Will the internet split in two?

Not to mention the impact that artificial intelligence will have on the web and our daily lives within the next decade (which China is investing in much more heavily than the US Government)…

Speaking at a private event hosted by Village Global VC yesterday night, tech luminary and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicted that the internet will bifurcate into Chinese-led and US-led versions within the next decade.

— Read on www.cnbc.com/2018/09/20/eric-schmidt-ex-google-ceo-predicts-internet-split-china.html

Do Facebook Ads Really Work?

Within the advertising industry, the debate about whether advertising works on Facebook is not new. A survey last year showed over 60 percent of small business owners felt advertising on Facebook was ineffective. The lawsuit takes it a step further, saying Facebook is misleading advertisers.

Source: Does Facebook Really Work? People Question Effectiveness Of Ads : NPR

Like anything else, you do need some expertise to make Facebook or Instagram or Snap or Google or Pinterest ads work. We are finishing a period where these advertising companies have held that “ANYONE CAN DO IT! IT’S SO EASY! JUST SIGN UP AND TELL US WHO YOU WANT TO TARGET!” with regards to their ads and effectiveness.

But that’s simply not true. I could probably re-roof our home. But I’m not going to spend the time, effort, and money trying to do that job myself. I’m going to hire someone who knows what they are doing.

Same with social media advertising and marketing. That’s how I pay our mortgage (and for our new roof) every month!

Links Are (Still) Dead

I first wrote that “Links Are Dead” in 2006, and pretty much got shouted out of the blogosphere. I kept up the mantra over the years. Looks like Google agrees with me now…

But over time, URLs have gotten more and more difficult to read and understand. As web functionality has expanded, URLs have increasingly become unintelligible strings of gibberish combining components from third-parties or being masked by link shorteners and redirect schemes. And on mobile devices there isn’t room to display much of a URL at all.

Via “Google Wants to Kill the URL” – Wired