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Google: Zero Click Claims Are Misleading

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Google: Zero Click Claims Are Misleading

Google published an article aiming to debunk claims by SparkToro that only 35% of searches resulted in a click. Google contradicted those assertions with facts about the real-world context of searches today, stating that the findings about zero click searches are misleading.

An inconvenient truth that SparkToro might not have known about is that, rather than “steal” visits to websites, Google has yearly increased the number of visitors it sends to websites.

SparkToro claims that less clicks are going to websites. Google shared that they have increased the number of visitors to websites every year.

“We send billions of visits to websites every day, and the traffic we’ve sent to the open web has increased every year since Google Search was first created.

…we’ve seen that as we’ve introduced more of these features over the last two decades, the traffic we’re driving to the web has also grown — showing that this is helpful for both consumers and businesses.”

Mixed Reactions in Search Marketing Community

SparkToro’s claims that Google is sending less percentage of visitors to websites every year  is seemingly incompatible with the fact that Google is sending more visitors to websites every year.

But the search marketing community was divided in its reaction to the “facts” presented by Google.

Search marketing expert Ammon Johns (@Ammon_Johns) commented on Facebook:

“Usually Google are a lot better than this at spinning BS. I’m disappointed.

Nothing in the piece in any way denies or counters the valid observation that despite overall search traffic increasing, including outward, Google have continually worked tirelessly on capturing and owning an ever larger share of it, and actively worked on multiple measures to have an ever increasing proportion of searches never leave Google or a Google owned property.

This ludicrously obvious article, in attempting to switch from proportional to absolute numbers as if we wouldn’t notice, is frankly patronizing, and offensively so.”

Another member of the search community said that it’s within the realm of possibility that zero clicks are up and that Google sends more visitors every year, but that it’s not valid to say that Google is “stealing” traffic.

SparkToro Claims Are Misleading

Google called the SparkToro Zero Click claims misleading:

“To set the record straight, we wanted to provide important context about this misleading claim.”

Significant Problems with SparkToro “Research”

SparkToro made waves in 2019 with a research study claiming that less than 50% of searches resulted in a click and the idea was promoted from the search industry all the way to the halls of Congress where it was held up as evidence against Google.

But there were many problems with that 2019 report.

One of the many flaws was that the data contained Google App searches that are not tracked and therefore they could not know if the search result was clicked or not.

There are more flaws but I’ll set those aside for now because I want to highlight what a professional statistician said about those earlier claims because the flaws she pointed out in the 2019 report may carry over to the latest SparkToro research.

According to a professional statistician Jennifer Hood, the 2019 SparkToro research reached a flawed conclusion (Do We Have the Math to Truly Decode Google’s Algorithms?).

She pointed out that the 2019 SparkToro research suffered from Availability Bias.

Availability Bias is a cognitive bias that results in believing that something is representative of most things when in fact it is limited in scope.

A website about different biases offers this definition of availability bias:

“A distortion that arises from the use of information which is most readily available, rather than that which is necessarily most representative.”

This is what the professional statistician said about the 2019 SparkToro findings about the so-called Zero Click search results:

“Rand says he estimates that Jumpshot’s data contains ‘somewhere between 2-6% of the total number of mobile and desktop internet-browsing devices in the U.S., a.k.a., a statistically significant sample size…’ Rand would be right about statistical significance IF the Jumpshot data were a truly random and representative sampling of all Google searches.

From what I could find, [Jumpshot] harvested all their data from users who used Avast antivirus… This set of users and their data likely differs from all Google users.

This means that the sample Jumpshot provides isn’t random and likely not representative enough – a classic sampling error usually referred to as Availability Bias.”

This same bias may affect the current 2021 research in that it does not represent a true random sampling because it represents data from the SimilarWeb’s “proprietary panel of tens of millions of users who have installed” their apps (according to the SimilarWeb FAQ about the origins of their data).

Statistics Without Context are Problematic

Another issue that the statistician raised with the 2019 research that also plagues the 2021 research is a lack of context.

A problem she cited with the 2019 SparkToro zero click research is a lack of context.

“Statistics without context should always be taken with a grain of salt.

This is why there are analytics experts to raise questions and give context. What types of questions are people asking, and how have these maybe changed?”

She is making reference to the kinds of searches that lead to zero clicks and asks if there is a legitimate reason for not having a click.

Examples are searches for a phone number or the lyrics to a song. These are contexts of searches and if these contexts are things that are changing because more people rely on mobile devices then the conclusion that Google is stealing clicks fails to hold up.

And that is one of many problems with both the 2019 and the 2021 research that Google called “misleading.”

SEO Community Questions Validity of SparkToro Zero Click Research

It’s not just Google that pulled the curtain aside on the research. Members of the search community stood up to question it as well.

Glenn Gabe questioned the research specifically because it lacked context, which is what the statistician found problematic about the previous research.

Rand Fishkin disagreed.

Google Calls SparkToro Report Misleading and Lacking in Context

One of the criticisms Google raised with the SparkToro report was a lack of context. The author (Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan) also raised the issue that people use search differently than in the past and that can result in search queries that require an instant answer but do not need a click.

Here is what Google published:

“…this claim relies on flawed methodology that misunderstands how people use Search.

In reality, Google Search sends billions of clicks to websites every day, and we’ve sent more traffic to the open web every year since Google was first created.

And beyond just traffic, we also connect people with businesses in a wide variety of ways through Search, such as enabling a phone call to a business.”

That last part is an important point. People use search to connect with businesses in ways that go beyond clicking to a website, like connecting through a phone call.

Phone related searches should arguably have been filtered out. But when questioned by Glenn Gabe about filtering out legitimate informational searches, Rand Fishkin doubled down on not filtering for context.

Google Offers Four Examples of Context

Google’s Danny Sullivan offered as examples four contexts for why a search would not result in a click.

  • People reformulate their queries
  • People look for quick facts
  • People connect with a business directly
  • People navigate directly to apps

Danny further explained how Google connects users with websites, products and businesses:

“Over the years, we’ve worked to constantly improve Google Search by designing and rolling out helpful features to help people quickly find what they’re looking for, including maps, videos, links to products and services you can buy directly, flight and hotel options, and local business information like hours of operation and delivery services.

In doing so, we’ve dramatically grown the opportunity for websites to reach people. In fact, our search results page, which used to show 10 blue links, now shows an average of 26 links to websites on a single search results page on mobile.”

Search Community Divided But Generally Agrees With Google

The response to Google’s rebuttal was fairly unanimous in agreeing with Google.

Ryan Jones tweeted:

Others cast doubt on the SparkToro methodology:

More Signal Less Noise

The Internet has been plagued by clickbait and the meme-ification of information. The SEO industry has fallen victim to those trends as well. Search result correlation studies with dubious results have been a feature of the SEO community for many years.

The search community is beginning to stand against that kind of misleading information.

Citations

Google Search Sends More Traffic to the Open Web Every Year

Do We Have the Math to Truly Decode Google’s Algorithms?

Searchenginejournal.com

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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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Student writing on computer

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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