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Don’t Let Lockdown Loosen Your Ad Spend

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The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly influenced the global ad spend trends. Where’s the nearest click and collect? What time does our local store close in light of the latest COVID-19 restrictions? Where can I order that toy car he/she wanted for Christmas?

Our bet is Google is your first port of call for an answer to any of these questions.

If it is, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s estimated that Google processes 5.8 billion user searches per day. And, even though there are other search engines out there, like Bing and Yahoo, it is by far the most popular.

So, with so many potential customers – because let’s face it, of those 5.8 billion there are bound to be a few thousand searching for your specific products or services – businesses simply cannot overlook advertising on Google. And even more so now thanks to restrictions on physical stores across the world being put back in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

In this article, I explain how you can get the most out of your Google advertising activities.

The first round of lockdowns during the spring and early summer saw many businesses with physical outlets grind to almost a complete halt. Going digital was the only option for many in order to have some chance of survival.

This saw restaurants offering online order services, more retailers moving into e-commerce and professional services conducting remote meetings via video calls.

Despite some easing of restrictions, many have kept digital their focus. For example, video meetings such as Microsoft Teams, which grew by 894% between February to June in 2020, are now prevalent as the office’s new best friend. And restaurants for instance, have advanced their minimal contact table service, allowing customers to order and pay for food on their phones by scanning a QR code or downloading an app.

But now, with lockdown restrictions being re-enforced in Britain and many other parts of the world, businesses looking to maximize their sales and earnings ahead of the Christmas period, and before the New Year begins, can’t ignore the advertising opportunities available on Google.

PPC

PPC advertising is perhaps the most obvious opportunity. It’s the best way to guarantee that your brand is put in front of an audience and can help generate a spike in traffic and leads.

Paid Search identifies “buyers” immediately. People who have typed in and are clicking a specific keyword tend to already be in buying mode, even if only at the research stage of the journey, which is so powerful compared to the rest of the marketing mix

This is because searchers seek convenience. We have come to expect the first listing on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) to provide an answer to our query. If it doesn’t, we are more likely to change our search than scroll through pages and pages of results.

Therefore, getting your brand on that all-important first page is crucial for success on Google, which is exactly why paid advertising is beneficial. Not only can it promise a guaranteed spot here, if, the price is right for you, but it could also, potentially, provide you with the number one position.

As well as SERPs, ads can be created for the display network, utilizing visual aids in the form of graphics and videos to attract leads on the Google Shopping network, which is particularly beneficial for e-commerce businesses looking to increase sales.

However, to ensure your ads are shown to people who will add value to your business, PPC activity must be strategically mapped out and effectively managed. Account set-up, keywords and bidding strategies must be considered, monitored and then adjusted to ensure your activity is effective and a return on your investment is achieved.

This requires dedicated personnel, time and budget – for both ad spend and management practices for either training, wages or outsourcing the task to an agency.

But, despite the capital required to get started, there are a number of ways to ensure you yield results that make it worthwhile. For example, remarketing can help minimize lost leads and maximize budget by targeting potential customers who have already shown an interest in your product or service.

Automation strategies are another. Bidding and ad copy can be altered automatically, depending on factors including the time of day, location and the user’s specific query wording, for instance. This lessens the chance of clicks from users with little intention of purchasing or submitting an enquiry, and, consequently, reduces wasted budget. Another common way to get more out of search advertising is to replicate campaigns across Microsoft Ads, where there is typically less competition, cheaper clicks, and a better return on investment, albeit lower search volumes.

Local Strategy

One of the greatest benefits of the internet is its ability to connect businesses and customers no matter the physical distance between them. And, with lockdown enforcements, an online offering presents an opportunity to reach an even wider customer base than a shop or physical facility that is restricted by location.

However, the internet is a big, old place. It houses greater competition than what many businesses are used to in the physical realm and, as result, it’s easy to become lost, especially if you are in the early stages of establishing an online presence.

So, no matter whether you’re a retailer offering click and collect or running business as usual albeit remotely, keeping things local is your best bet for online success.

In fact, Google uses a Relevance, Distance and Prominence model to determine search results. Those most relevant, the closest in distance to the searcher and most prominent or popular are more likely to be ranked higher on results pages.

In order to maximize your chances of ranking highly for those searching for your products and services in your local area, you should make the most of tools, such as Google My Business and reviews.

As well as providing potential customers with vital business information, such as your address, contact details and COVID-adjusted opening hours, you can also instill trust and confidence in them by presenting a business that appears to be well established and organized. This is particularly important as those consumer sentiments have declined due to the pandemic.

So far, businesses have done well in adapting their processes to changing customer needs in such a short amount of time and under incredibly difficult circumstances at that.

With the coronavirus crisis far from over and many facing an online future, the only thing we can be certain of at this point is that businesses and retailers must act now to grasp the opportunity.

By utilizing platforms such as Google and Microsoft, business owners are not simply making the best of a bad situation but are more so positioning their brand at the forefront of their chosen industry, gifting a significant advantage when markets reopen in their newly digital-focused form.

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Google to pay $391.5 million settlement over location tracking, state AGs say

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Google to pay $391.5 million settlement over location tracking, state AGs say

Google has agreed to pay a $391.5 million settlement to 40 states to resolve accusations that it tracked people’s locations in violation of state laws, including snooping on consumers’ whereabouts even after they told the tech behemoth to bug off.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said it is time for Big Tech to recognize state laws that limit data collection efforts.

“I have been ringing the alarm bell on big tech for years, and this is why,” Mr. Landry, a Republican, said in a statement Monday. “Citizens must be able to make informed decisions about what information they release to big tech.”

The attorneys general said the investigation resulted in the largest-ever multistate privacy settlement. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat, said Google’s penalty is a “historic win for consumers.”

“Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects, and there are so many reasons why a consumer may opt out of tracking,” Mr. Tong said. “Our investigation found that Google continued to collect this personal information even after consumers told them not to. That is an unacceptable invasion of consumer privacy, and a violation of state law.”

Location tracking can help tech companies sell digital ads to marketers looking to connect with consumers within their vicinity. It’s another tool in a data-gathering toolkit that generates more than $200 billion in annual ad revenue for Google, accounting for most of the profits pouring into the coffers of its corporate parent, Alphabet, which has a market value of $1.2 trillion.

The settlement is part of a series of legal challenges to Big Tech in the U.S. and around the world, which include consumer protection and antitrust lawsuits.

Though Google, based in Mountain View, California, said it fixed the problems several years ago, the company’s critics remained skeptical. State attorneys general who also have tussled with Google have questioned whether the tech company will follow through on its commitments.

The states aren’t dialing back their scrutiny of Google’s empire.

Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was filing a lawsuit over reports that Google unlawfully collected millions of Texans’ biometric data such as “voiceprints and records of face geometry.”

The states began investigating Google’s location tracking after The Associated Press reported in 2018 that Android devices and iPhones were storing location data despite the activation of privacy settings intended to prevent the company from following along.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich went after the company in May 2020. The state’s lawsuit charged that the company had defrauded its users by misleading them into believing they could keep their whereabouts private by turning off location tracking in the settings of their software.

Arizona settled its case with Google for $85 million last month. By then, attorneys general in several other states and the District of Columbia had pounced with their own lawsuits seeking to hold Google accountable.

Along with the hefty penalty, the state attorneys general said, Google must not hide key information about location tracking, must give users detailed information about the types of location tracking information Google collects, and must show additional information to people when users turn location-related account settings to “off.”

States will receive differing sums from the settlement. Mr. Landry’s office said Louisiana would receive more than $12.7 million, and Mr. Tong’s office said Connecticut would collect more than $6.5 million.

The financial penalty will not cripple Google’s business. The company raked in $69 billion in revenue for the third quarter of 2022, according to reports, yielding about $13.9 billion in profit.

Google downplayed its location-tracking tools Monday and said it changed the products at issue long ago.

“Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said in a statement.

Google product managers Marlo McGriff and David Monsees defended their company’s Search and Maps products’ usage of location information.

“Location information lets us offer you a more helpful experience when you use our products,” the two men wrote on Google’s blog. “From Google Maps’ driving directions that show you how to avoid traffic to Google Search surfacing local restaurants and letting you know how busy they are, location information helps connect experiences across Google to what’s most relevant and useful.”

The blog post touted transparency tools and auto-delete controls that Google has developed in recent years and said the private browsing Incognito mode prevents Google Maps from saving an account’s search history.

Mr. McGriff and Mr. Monsees said Google would make changes to its products as part of the settlement. The changes include simplifying the process for deleting location data, updating the method to set up an account and revamping information hubs.

“We’ll provide a new control that allows users to easily turn off their Location History and Web & App Activity settings and delete their past data in one simple flow,” Mr. McGriff and Mr. Monsees wrote. “We’ll also continue deleting Location History data for users who have not recently contributed new Location History data to their account.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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5 Tips to Boost Your Holiday Search Strategy

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With the global economic downturn, inflation, ongoing supply chain challenges, and uncertainty due to the Ukraine war, this year’s holiday shopping season promises to be very challenging. Will people be in the mood to spend despite the gloom? Or will they rein in their enthusiasm and save for the year ahead?

With these issues in mind, here are five considerations to support your search engine optimization strategy this holiday shopping season:

1. Start early.

Rising prices are likely to mean shoppers will start researching their holiday spending earlier than ever to nab the best bargains. Therefore, retailers must roll out their holiday product and category pages — and launch any promotions — sooner to ensure their pages get crawled and indexed by search engines in good time.

Some e-commerce stores manage to get their pages ranking early by updating and reusing the same section of the website for holiday content and promotions, rotating between content for Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine gifts, Fourth of July sales, etc. This approach can help you retain the momentum, links and authority you build up with Google and get your holiday pages visible and ranking quickly.

2. Make research an even bigger priority.

With all the uncertainty this year, it’s vital to use SEO research to identify the trending seasonal keywords and search phrases in your retail vertical — and then optimize content accordingly.

With tools such as Google Trends you can extract helpful insights based on the types of searches people are making. For example, with many fashion retailers now charging for product returns, will prioritizing keywords such as “free returns” get more search traction? And with money being tighter, will consumers stick with brands they trust rather than anything new — meaning brand searches might be higher?

3. Make greater use of Google Shopping.

To get the most out of their holiday spending, consumers are more likely to turn to online marketplaces such as Google Shopping as they make it easier to compare products, features and prices, as well as to identify the best deals both online and in nearby stores.

Therefore, take a combined approach which includes listing in Google Shopping and at the same time optimizing product detail pages on your e-commerce site to ensure they’re unique and provide more value than competitors’ pages. Be precise with product names on Google Shopping (e.g., do the names contain the words people are searching for?); ensure you provide all the must-have information Google requires; and set a price that’s not too far from the competition. 

4. Give other search sources the attention they deserve.

Earlier this year Google itself acknowledged that consumers — especially younger consumers — are starting to use TikTok, Instagram and other social media sites for search. In fact, research suggests 11 percent of product searches now start on TikTok and 15 percent on Instagram. Younger consumers in particular are more engaged by visual content, which may explain why they’re embracing visually focused social sites for search. So, as part of your search strategy, create and share content on popular social media sites that your target customers visit.

Similarly, with people starting their shopping searches on marketplaces such as Amazon.com, optimizing any listings you have on the site should be part of your strategy. And thankfully, the better optimized your product detail pages are for Amazon (with unique, useful content), the better they will rank on Google as well!

5. Hold paid budget for late opportunities.

The greater uncertainty and volatility this holiday season mean you must keep a close eye on shopper behavior and be ready to embrace opportunities that emerge later on. Getting high organic rankings for late promotions is always more challenging, so hold some paid search budget back to help drive traffic to those pages — via Google Ads, for example. Important keywords to include in late season search ad campaigns include “delivery before Christmas” and “same-day-delivery.” For locally targeted search ads, consider “pick up any time before Christmas.”

The prospect of a tough, unpredictable holiday shopping season means search teams must roll out seasonal SEO plans early, closely track shoppers’ behavior, and be ready to adapt as things change.

Marcus Pentzek is chief SEO consultant at Searchmetrics, the global provider of search data, software and consulting solutions.

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Google Home App Gets an Overhaul, Rolling Out Soon

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Google Home app

Google refreshes its Home app with a slew of new features after launching a new Nest gear. This makes it faster and easier to pair smart devices with Matter, adds customization and personalization options, an enhanced Nest camera experience, and better intercommunication between devices.

This revamped Home app utilizes Google’s Matter smart home standard – launching later this year – especially the Fast Pair functionality. On an Android phone, it will instantly recognize a Matter device and allow you to easily set it up, bypassing the current procedure that is often slow and difficult. Google is also updating its Nest speakers, displays, and routers – to control Matter devices better.

Google Home App New Features

  • Spaces: This feature allows you to control multiple devices in different rooms. Google has listed a few things by room: kitchen, bedroom, living room, etc., although it’s pretty limited right now. Spaces let you organize devices how you see fit. For instance, you can set up a baby monitor in one room and set a different room’s camera to focus on an area the baby often plays. With Spaces, you can categorize these two devices into one Space category called ‘Baby.’

Google Home app Spaces

  • Favorites: This one is pretty self-explanatory. It allows you to make certain gears as a favorite that you frequently use. Doing so will bring those devices into the limelight within the Google Home app for easier access. 

Google Home app

  • Media: Google adds a new media widget at the bottom of your Home feed. This will automatically determine what media is playing in your home and provide you with the appropriate controls as and when needed. There will be song controls if you listen to music on your speakers. There will be television remote controls if you’re watching TV. 

Google probably won’t roll out this Home app makeover anytime soon. But you can try it for yourself in the coming week by enrolling in the public preview, available in select areas.

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