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Microsoft’s AI Ad Plans Revealed Through New App Deal

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Microsoft's AI Ad Plans Revealed Through New App Deal

Microsoft Advertising has announced a new partnership with Baidu Global, the international division of Chinese tech company Baidu.

The partnership will enable Microsoft to bring sponsored content recommendations powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to Baidu’s mobile keyboard app, Baidu Global Keyboard.

This is accomplished by integrating Microsoft’s Chat Ads API into the Chat AI feature of Baidu Global Keyboard, allowing advertisers on Microsoft’s platform to reach keyboard app users.

Keyboard App Offers Valuable New Channel for Brands

According to Microsoft, integration with Baidu Global Keyboard allows brands and advertisers to engage younger demographics, mainly Gen Z users.

Additionally, because Baidu Global Keyboard customizes features based on the app environment a user is in, brands can reach users with relevant ads across multiple platforms. This context can drive increased purchase intent and conversion rates.

AI Could Enable More Personalized Experiences

Microsoft hinted at the potential for richer ad personalization and relevance for desired audiences.

While not confirmed, the AI powering the ad recommendations may look at full context, like message content, user interests, location, and time of day.

This could allow for ads tailored to a user’s needs. For example, the AI might detect a user messaging about dining spots and serve a relevant restaurant ad.

However, the specifics of the AI capabilities and contextual factors it can leverage still need to be confirmed. If the integration enables real-time ad adjustment based on usage context, personalized ad delivery would be an advancement.

Launch Planned For Early 2024 In Key Markets

Microsoft expects the integration to roll out later this year, with an official launch in early 2024. The partnership will launch in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia.

For advertisers, Microsoft noted that they can take advantage of the opportunity by ensuring their Microsoft Advertising campaigns are set up to target the entire network and have positive mobile bid adjustments in place.

Microsoft Looks To AI to Transform Advertising

In its announcement, Microsoft positioned the deal as part of its broader vision for AI in advertising.

The Baidu Global Keyboard integration is the latest move to bring more engaging, personalized AI-powered ad experiences to new platforms and audiences.

The company plans to evolve conversational ad products based on advertiser feedback.

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


Featured Image: Danishch/Shutterstock

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

There’s one thing standing between you and several days of SEO, socializing, and Singaporean sunshine: your boss (and their Q4 budget 😅).

But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Here are 5 arguments (and an example message) you can use to persuade your boss to send you to Ahrefs Evolve.

About Ahrefs Evolve

  • 2 days in sunny Singapore (Oct 24–25)
  • 500 digital marketing enthusiasts
  • 18 top speakers from around the world

Learn more and buy tickets.

SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. Between AI Overviews, Google’s rolling update schedule, their huge API leak, and all the documents released during their antitrust trial, it’s hard to keep up. What works in SEO today?

You could watch a YouTube video or two, maybe even attend an hour-long webinar. Or, much more effective: you could spend two full days learning from a panel of 18 international SEO experts, discussing your takeaways live with other attendees.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve speakers from around the world.

Our world-class speakers are tackling the hardest problems and best opportunities in SEO today. The talk agenda covers topics like:

  • Responding to AI Overviews: Amanda King will teach you how to respond to AI Overviews, Google Gemini, and other AI search functions.
  • Surviving (and thriving) Google’s algo updates: Lily Ray will talk through Google’s recent updates, and share data-driven recommendations for what’s working in search today.
  • Planning for the future of SEO: Bernard Huang will talk through the failures of AI content and the path to better results.

(And attendees will get video recordings of each session, so you can share the knowledge with your teammates too.)

View the full talk agenda here.

There’s no substitute for meeting with influencers, peers, and partners in real life. 

Conferences create serendipity: chance encounters and conversations that can have a huge positive impact on you and your business. By way of example, these are some of the real benefits that have come my way from attending conferences:

  • Conversations that lead to new customers for our business,
  • Invitations to speak at events,
  • New business partnerships and co-marketing opportunities, and
  • Meeting people that we went on to hire.

There’s a “halo” effect that lingers long after the event is over: the people you meet will remember you for longer, think more highly of you, and be more likely to help you out, should you ask.

(And let’s not forget: there’s a lot of information, particularly in SEO, that only gets shared in person.)

The “international” part of Evolve matters too. Evolve is a different crowd to your local run-of-the-mill conference. It’s a chance to meet with people from markets you wouldn’t normally meet—from Australia to Indonesia and beyond.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve attendees by home country.

If you’re an Ahrefs customer (thank you!), you’ll learn tons of tips, tricks and workflow improvements from attending Evolve. You’ll have opportunities to:

  • Attend talks from the Ahrefs team, showcasing advanced features and strategies that you can use in your own business.
  • Pick our brains at the Ahrefs booth, where we’ll offer informal 1:1 coaching sessions and previews of up-coming releases (like our new content optimization tool 🤫).
  • Join dedicated Ahrefs training workshops, hosted by the Ahrefs team and Ahrefs power users (tickets for these workshops will sold separately).

As a manager myself, there are two questions I need answered when approving expenses:

  • Is this a reasonable cost?
  • Will we see a return on this investment?

To answer those questions: early bird tickets for Evolve start at $570. For context, “super early bird” tickets for MozCon (another popular SEO conference) this year were almost twice as much: $999.

There’s a lot included in the ticket price too:

  • World-class international speakers,
  • 5-star hotel venue,
  • 5-star hotel food (two tea breaks with snacks & lunch),
  • Networking afterparty, and
  • Full talk recordings to later share with your team.

SEO is a crucial growth channel for most businesses. If you can improve your company’s SEO performance after attending Evolve (and we think you will), you’ll very easily see a positive return on the investment.

Traveling to tropical Singapore (and eating tons of satay) is great for you, but it’s also great for your team. Attending Evolve is a chance to break with routine, reignite your passion for marketing, and come back to your job reinvigorated.

This would be true for any international conference, but it goes double for Singapore. It’s a truly unique place: an ultra-safe, high-tech city that brings together dozens of different cultures.

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Little India in Singapore

You’ll discover different beliefs, working practices, and ways of business—and if you’re anything like me, come back a richer, wiser person for the experience.

If you’re nervous about pitching your boss on attending Evolve, remember: the worst that can happen is a polite “not this time”, and you’ll find yourself in the same position you are now.

So here goes: take this message template, tweak it to your liking, and send it to your boss over email or Slack… and I’ll see you in Singapore 😉

Email template

Hi [your boss’ name],

Our SEO tool provider, Ahrefs, is holding an SEO and digital marketing conference in Singapore in October. I’d like to attend, and I think it’s in the company’s interest:

  • The talks will help us respond to all the changes happening in SEO today. I’m particularly interested in the talks about AI and recent Google updates. 
  • I can network with my peers. I can discover what’s working at other companies, and explore opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing.
  • I can learn how we can use Ahrefs better across the organization.
  • I’ll come back reinvigorated with new ideas and motivation, and I can share my top takeaways and talk recordings with my team after the event.

Early bird tickets are $570. Given how important SEO is to the growth of our business, I think we’ll easily see a return from the spend.

Can we set up time to chat in more detail? Thanks!

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Google’s Statement About CTR And HCU

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Google's Statement About CTR And HCU

In a series of tweets, Google’s SearchLiaison responded to a question that connected click-through rates (CTR) and HCU (Helpful Content Update) with how Google ranks websites, remarking that if the associated ideas were true it would be impossible for any new website to rank.

Users Are Voting With Their Feet?

Search Liaison’s answer was to a tweet that quoted an interview answer by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the quote being, “Users vote with their feet”.

Here is the tweet:

“If the HCU (Navboost, whatever you want to call it) is clicks/user reaction based – how could sites hit by the HCU ever hope to recover if we’re no longer being served to Google readers?

@sundarpichai “Users vote with their feet”,

Okay I’ve changed my whole site – let them vote!”

The above tweet appears to connect Pichai’s statement to Navboost, user clicks and rankings. But as you’ll see below, Sundar’s statement about users voting “with their feet” has nothing to do with clicks or ranking algorithms.

Background Information

Sundar Pichai’s answer about users voting “with their feet” has nothing to do with clicks.

The problem with the interview question (and Sundar Pichai’s answer) is that the question and answer are in the context of “AI-powered search and the future of the web.”

The interviewer at The Verge used a site called HouseFresh as an example of a site that’s losing traffic because of Google’s platform shift to the new AI Overviews.

But the HouseFresh site’s complaints predate AI Overviews. Their complaints are about Google ranking low quality “big media” product reviews over independent sites like HouseFresh.

HouseFresh wrote:

“Big media publishers are inundating the web with subpar product recommendations you can’t trust…

Savvy SEOs at big media publishers (or third-party vendors hired by them) realized that they could create pages for ‘best of’ product recommendations without the need to invest any time or effort in actually testing and reviewing the products first.”

Sundar Pichai’s answer has nothing to do with why HouseFresh is losing traffic. His answer is about AI Overviews. HouseFresh’s issues are about low quality big brands outranking them. Two different things.

  • The Verge-affiliated interviewer was mistaken to cite HouseFresh in connection with Google’s platform shift to AI Overviews.
  • Furthermore, Pichai’s statement has nothing to do with clicks and rankings.

Here is the interview question published on The Verge:

“There’s an air purifier blog that we covered called HouseFresh. There’s a gaming site called Retro Dodo. Both of these sites have said, “Look, our Google traffic went to zero. Our businesses are doomed.”

…Is that the right outcome here in all of this — that the people who care so much about video games or air purifiers that they started websites and made the content for the web are the ones getting hurt the most in the platform shift?”

Sundar Pichai answered:

“It’s always difficult to talk about individual cases, and at the end of the day, we are trying to satisfy user expectations. Users are voting with their feet, and people are trying to figure out what’s valuable to them. We are doing it at scale, and I can’t answer on the particular site—”

Pichai’s answer has nothing to do with ranking websites and absolutely zero context with the HCU. What Pichai’s answer means is that users are determining whether or not AI Overviews are helpful to them.

SearchLiaison’s Answer

Let’s reset the context of SearchLiaison’s answer, here is the tweet (again) that started the discussion:

“If the HCU (Navboost, whatever you want to call it) is clicks/user reaction based – how could sites hit by the HCU ever hope to recover if we’re no longer being served to Google readers?

@sundarpichai “Users vote with their feet”,

Okay I’ve changed my whole site – let them vote!”

Here is SearchLiaison’s response:

“If you think further about this type of belief, no one would ever rank in the first place if that were supposedly all that matters — because how would a new site (including your site, which would have been new at one point) ever been seen?

The reality is we use a variety of different ranking signals including, but not solely, “aggregated and anonymized interaction data” as covered here:”

The person who started the discussion responded with:

“Can you please tell me if I’m doing right by focusing on my site and content – writing new articles to be found through search – or if I should be focusing on some off-site effort related to building a readership? It’s frustrating to see traffic go down the more effort I put in.”

When a client says something like “writing new articles to be found through search” I always follow up with questions to understand what they mean. I’m not commenting about the person who made the tweet, I’m just making an observation about past conversations I’ve had with clients. When a client says something like that, they sometimes mean that they’re researching Google keywords and competitor sites and using that keyword data verbatim within their content instead of relying on their own personal expertise and understanding of what the readers want and need.

Here’s SearchLiaison’s answer:

“As I’ve said before, I think everyone should focus on doing whatever they think is best for their readers. I know it can be confusing when people get lots of advice from different places, and then they also hear about all these things Google is supposedly doing, or not doing, and really they just want to focus on content. If you’re lost, again, focus on that. That is your touchstone.”

Site Promotion To People

SearchLiaison next addressed the excellent question about off-site promotion where he strongly asserted focusing on the readers. A lot of SEOs focus on promoting sites to Google, which is what link building is all about.

Promoting sites to people is super important. It’s one of the things that I see high ranking sites do and, although I won’t mention specifics, I believe it feeds into higher rankings in an indirect way.

SearchLiaison continued:

“As to the off-site effort question, I think from what I know from before I worked at Google Search, as well as my time being part of the search ranking team, is that one of the ways to be successful with Google Search is to think beyond it.

Great sites with content that people like receive traffic in many ways. People go to them directly. They come via email referrals. They arrive via links from other sites. They get social media mentions.

This doesn’t mean you should get a bunch of social mentions, or a bunch of email mentions because these will somehow magically rank you better in Google (they don’t, from how I know things). It just means you’re likely building a normal site in the sense that it’s not just intended for Google but instead for people. And that’s what our ranking systems are trying to reward, good content made for people.”

What About False Positives?

The phrase false positive is used in many contexts and one of them is to describe the situation of a high quality site that loses rankings because an algorithm erroneously identified it as low quality. SearchLiaison offered hope to high quality sites that may have seen a decrease in traffic, saying that it’s possible that the next update may offer a positive change.

He tweeted:

“As to the inevitable “but I’ve done all these things when will I recover!” questions, I’d go back to what we’ve said before. It might be the next core update will help, as covered here:

It might also be that, as I said here, it’s us in some of these cases, not the sites, and that part of us releasing future updates is doing a better job in some of these cases:

SearchLiaison linked to a tweet by John Mueller from a month ago where he said that the search team is looking for ways to surface more helpful content.

“I can’t make any promises, but the team working on this is explicitly evaluating how sites can / will improve in Search for the next update. It would be great to show more users the content that folks have worked hard on, and where sites have taken helpfulness to heart.”

Is Your Site High Quality?

Everyone likes to think that their site is high quality and most times it is. But there are also cases where a site publisher will do “everything right” in terms of following SEO practices but what they’re unaware of is that those “good SEO practices” that are backfiring on them.

One example, in my opinion, is the widely practiced strategy of copying what competitors are doing but “doing it better.” I’ve been hands-on involved in SEO for well over 20 years and that’s an example of building a site for Google and not for users. It’s a strategy that explicitly begins and ends with the question of “what is Google ranking and how can I create that?”

That kind of strategy can create patterns that overtly signal that a site is not created for users.  It’s also a recipe for creating a site that offers nothing new from what Google is already ranking. So before assuming that everything is fine with the site, be certain that everything is indeed fine with the site.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Michael Vi



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