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FCC repeals net neutrality by party line vote


As expected, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted 3 to 2 along party lines to repeal net neutrality. This happened despite widespread public opposition, comment fraud by repeal supporters and the last-minute request of Republican Sen. Susan Collins to delay the vote.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, has mocked and called net neutrality supporters’ dire predictions “hysterical.” His claims, that repeal won’t impact consumers or access to content and will instead boost investment and help the economy, are dubious and are contradicted by past evidence.

The repeal of the 2015 rules, passed during the Obama administration, now permits telcos and ISPs to create fast and slow lanes to prioritize or discriminate against content types or publishers. It will also likely reinforce the dominance of big companies who can afford to pay for their content to be expedited and harm smaller publishers and startups that don’t have the resources to do so.

While the precise impact still remains to be seen, although there are plenty of indicators (past bad behavior, dysfunctional international markets), we can now expect the internet to look a lot more like cable TV, with content bundles and “premium” packages.

ISPs lobbied aggressively and spent heavily on campaign contributions for the repeal. That effort dovetailed with the Trump administration’s philosophical and policy shift from protecting consumers to promoting the interests of large corporate entities.

Beyond the freedom to extract more money from publishers and consumers — the FCC claims it’s restoring “internet freedom” — the ISPs seek to create tiered and bundled pricing because they have not been able to make money from internet advertising and their cable businesses are faltering.

As cable TV subscriptions declined in favor of OTT content access, the ISPs and telcos weren’t going to stand by and allow the transfer of cable TV subscription and ad revenues to Netflix, Google and Amazon.

The battle now moves to the courts, where plaintiffs (potentially state attorneys general, consumer groups and some private companies) will argue that a political-ideological shift in the composition of the FCC doesn’t justify the rule change by itself. The irregularities and fraud in the comment process may also make their way into the litigation.

If litigation doesn’t succeed in stopping the repeal, then the ballot box is the next battleground.

[This article originally appeared on MarTech Today.]

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Bing announces AI-powered new ‘intelligent search’ features


At Microsoft’s AI event yesterday in San Francisco, the company showcased its vision for AI-enabled computing, as well as its AI differentiation strategy. The latter essentially boils down to three big ideas: making AI-supported software broadly accessible to people to improve “everyday” experiences, the seamless combining of work and personal functionality in the same tools and the intention to be an ethical AI company.

Microsoft showed how AI and machine learning are now supporting its marquee products, from Windows to Office 365 and Bing. The most impressive demonstration of the day (from a self-interested perspective) featured AI-guided and automated design suggestions in PowerPoint.

There were several Bing-centric AI announcements, all under the heading of “intelligent search“:

  • Intelligent Answers
  • Intelligent Image Search
  • Conversational Search

Intelligent Answers

Think of this as a kind of “next-gen Featured Snippets.” But what is different and interesting is that Bing is often summarizing or comparing multiple sources of information rather than just presenting a single answer.

If there are competing perspectives on an issue, for example, Bing will present them. It will also provide a “carousel of intelligent answers” if there are multiple answers to a question. This is intended to replace “blue links” and provide quick access to relevant information.

Below is a Bing-provided example of a comparison involving two different content sources on the question, “Is kale good for you?”

Intelligent Image Search

Here Bing is essentially doing what Pinterest announced in 2016 with “visual search” and object recognition. Bing is seeking to make virtually any image “shoppable.” Right now, that capability is focused on fashion and home furniture.

Users can “click the magnifying glass icon on the top right of any image to search within an image and find related images or products.” The example below illustrates how it works.

Bing can also detect and identify buildings and landmarks in user photos or in image search — though not yet in the real world.

Google Lens offers visual search for objects and places in the real world (so does Amazon, for products). I would anticipate that soon Bing will introduce a similar Lens-like capability through Cortana or its search app.

Conversational Search

Bing is taking search suggest/autocomplete to a new level with what it’s calling “conversational search.” From a very general or vague query, Bing will help with query refinement suggestions:

Now if you need help figuring out the right question to ask, Bing will help you with clarifying questions based on your query to better refine your search and get you the best answer the first time around. You’ll start to see this experience in health, tech and sports queries, and we will be adding more topic areas over time. And because we’ve built it with large-scale machine learning, the experience will get better over time as more users engage with it.

Finally, the company also announced the integration of Reddit content (answers/opinions) into Bing. Tim Peterson wrote about that in more detail yesterday. In short, however, Bing is going to show snippets of Reddit content or conversations when it believes that’s the best source of information.

Microsoft will also promote AMAs in search results and in knowledge panels: “On Bing you can discover AMA schedules and see snapshots of AMAs that have already been completed. Simply search a person’s name to see their AMA snapshot or search for ‘Reddit AMAs’ to see a carousel of popular AMAs.”

It’s unlikely that any of these changes will move the needle on market share in the short term. However, collectively they show an AI-driven acceleration of changes in search overall. Google will probably be compelled to answer a couple of the new Microsoft features.

If Microsoft truly wants to convert more users, it will need to be even bolder with features, content and UI changes. And the company is in a fairly strong position to be disruptive because it doesn’t rely on search-ad revenue to the extent that Google does.

The post Bing announces AI-powered new ‘intelligent search’ features appeared first on Search Engine Land.

How to calculate your marketing budget


Determining a marketing budget can be frustrating. Are you investing enough? Are your marketing dollars being applied in the most efficient way? How do you know if what you’re doing is working?

There are subjective answers that are easily disprovable from one budget period to another. What worked last year isn’t necessarily going to work this year. What works for one type of client may not work for another.

Lou Covey, principal of Footwasher Media Agency, has decades of experience helping clients hit that marketing budget “sweet spot.” In this Agency Perspective from SharpSpring, he shares two simple equations that can take a lot of the guesswork out of the budgeting process. Get it now to learn:

  • how to use these equations for your own marketing efforts.
  • why it’s important to factor in more than just expenditures.
  • how much you should be spending to ensure steady growth.

Visit Digital Marketing Depot to download “The Secret Formula for a Marketing Budget.”

The post How to calculate your marketing budget appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Google adds price tracking features to flight search, hotel search and Google Trips


Google announced it has added features to help you plan your trips, flights and hotel stays for your vacations or business trips. Many of the features are around how you can save money or track prices for a travel destination. Google has been testing many of these features over the past month, so they may not appear new to some of our readers.

Google is showing new “tips” under the flight search results to show you ways to save money for that trip. Google says it uses “machine learning and statistical analysis of historical flights data, Flights displays tips under your search results, and you can scroll through them to figure out when it’s best to book flights.” Here is a screen shot:

Google may also display a new tip above search results when room rates are higher than usual, or if the area is busier than usual due to a holiday, a music festival, or even a business conference, Google added. You can also subscribe to email price alerts by opting into Hotel Price Tracking on your phone:

And Google released this price slider for hotel search filters on both desktop and mobile:

For more details on these new features, check out the Google Blog.

The post Google adds price tracking features to flight search, hotel search and Google Trips appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Google: Fundamentals of writing meta descriptions don’t change with longer search snippets


Earlier this month, Google confirmed they have extended the search results snippets from 160 characters all the way to a maximum of 320 characters long. Google told Search Engine Land that even though the snippets can be longer, the “fundamentals of writing a description tag” have not changed.

Google may or may not show 320 characters; Google may or may not show your meta description; and Google may or may not show content from your page. A lot of how Google decides what search result snippet to show is based on the searchers’ query and the content on your page. A Google spokesperson told us “there’s no need for publishers to suddenly expand their meta description tags, if they feel their current ones are adequate. … We now display slightly longer snippets, which means we might display more of a meta description tag.”

In short, if you are happy with the way your meta descriptions show to your searchers, then leave them. If you are not, you can try changing them. Either way, meta descriptions do not play a role in search rankings, they do play a role in what searchers see in the Google search results and can have an impact on your click-through rate from the Google search results.

Here is Google’s official statement on the snippets change:

The fact that our snippets have gotten longer doesn’t change the fundamentals of writing a description tag. They should generally inform and interest users with a short, relevant summary of what a particular page is about. We now display slightly longer snippets, which means we might display more of a meta description tag. However, we never had a limit on meta description tag length before, as we covered earlier this year. So, there’s no need for publishers to suddenly expand their meta description tags, if they feel their current ones are adequate. As a reminder, our snippets are dynamically generated. Sometimes, they use what’s in a meta description tag. More often, they are generated by showing content from the page itself and perhaps parts of the meta description tag, as is appropriate for individual queries. For more guidance on meta description tags and snippet generation, we recommend publishers read our recent blog post on the topic, our help page and the “Create good titles & snippets” section of our SEO starter guide that was just updated this week.

John Mueller from Google also commented about this in detail in a recent Google Hangout at the 29:41 mark in that Hangout. Here is what he said:

There’s a lot of talk about expanded and meta descriptions but people are split on whether or not SEO should update existing metas or let Google expand them for us. What’s your take?

So I saw some discussion around this I don’t know what what people have been discussing.

So in general what one of the things we’ve been experimenting with [is] showing longer descriptions in the search results and I believe that’s something that more and more people are seeing.

So for the descriptions that we show we try to focus on the meta description that you provide on your pages but if we need more information or more context based on the user’s query perhaps then we can take some parts of the page as well. Essentially from from a purely technical point of view these descriptions aren’t a ranking for anything. So it’s not the case that changing your descriptions or making them longer or shorter or tweaking them or putting keywords in there will affect your site’s ranking. However it can affect the way that users see your site in the search results and whether or not they actually click through to your site. So that’s kind of one one aspect there to keep in mind.

And with that aspect sometimes it does make sense to make sure that the description that you’re providing to search engines, that’s perhaps being shown to users when they search for normal things on your website. That description is something that explains what your service is where your page offers, maybe the the unique proposition that you have on your page. That kind of encourage[s] people to click through to your page that probably makes sense for a lot of cases. And sometimes it makes sense to say well I know how to describe this best, therefore I’ll write it up in the description and if Google can show this then my hope that people will see my site is being clearly superior to all other ones and click on my site rather than some of the other ones that are ranking in the same search results page.

So with that in mind. It’s not a ranking factor. It can affect how your site is visible in the search results. So with that I definitely see see it as something legitimate where you might say well I want to make sure that my my kind of proposition is out there in full and therefore I’ll try to write something a bit longer and show that in my meta description.

The one thing to kind of keep in mind there is that we adjust the description based on the user’s query. So if you’re doing a site query and seeing this in your search results for your site that’s not necessarily what a normal user would see when they see a search as well. So make sure to check in search console and search analytics what the top queries are that are leading to your pages and try those queries out see what your site search results look like. And if you want to change the snippet that’s shown for your site for individual pages on your site then by all means go off and do that.

So check out your analytics, look to see if you can improve your click-through rates on your popular pages in search and see if it makes a difference to your bottom line.

The post Google: Fundamentals of writing meta descriptions don’t change with longer search snippets appeared first on Search Engine Land.

SearchCap: Bing & Reddit, Google travel pricing & meta descriptions


Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

From Search Engine Land:

Recent Headlines From Marketing Land, Our Sister Site Dedicated To Internet Marketing:

Search News From Around The Web:

The post SearchCap: Bing & Reddit, Google travel pricing & meta descriptions appeared first on Search Engine Land.

SEO in 2018: Optimizing for voice search


Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller recently asked for feedback on why webmasters are looking for Google to separate voice search queries in Search Console. If you, like me, want to see voice searches in Google Search Console, definitely submit your feedback on Twitter as John requested.


I lived through the very beginnings of mobile SEO, where many people thought mobile search behavior would be completely different from desktop search behavior only to find that much of it is the same. So I see why Mueller and others don’t necessarily understand why Search Console users would want to see voice queries separately. Some queries are the same whether they’re typed into a computer at a desktop or spoken across the room to a Google Home.

That being said, there are some very good reasons to want voice search data. Optimizing for voice search requires some slightly different tactics from those for traditional SEO, and having insight into these queries could help you provide a better experience for those searching by voice.

Not convinced you should care about voice search? Here are three reasons I think you should:

1. More visibility on featured snippets

One of the interesting things about Google Home is that when it answers a question with information from the web, it will cite the source of the information by saying the website’s name, and it will often send a link to the searcher’s Google Home app.

Currently, Google Home and Google Assistant read snippets from sites that are ranked in “position zero” and have been granted a featured snippet. This is why more people than ever are talking about how to optimize for featured snippets. If you look at the articles published on the topic (according to what Google has indexed), you’ll see that the number of articles about how to optimize for featured snippets has grown 178 percent in the past year:

Understanding voice search queries could help us better understand the types of queries that surface featured snippets. As marketers, we could then devote time and resources to providing the best answer for the most common featured snippets in hopes of getting promoted to position zero.

This helps marketers drive credibility to their brand when Google reads their best answer to the searcher, potentially driving traffic to the site from the Google Home app.

And this helps Google because they benefit when featured snippets provide good answers and the searcher is satisfied with the Google Home results. The better the service, the more consumers will use it — and potentially buy more Google Home units or Android phones because they think the service is worthwhile.

If bad featured snippets are found because no one is trying to optimize for those queries, or no featured snippets are found and the Google Home unit must apologize for not being able to help with that query yet, Google potentially loses market share to Amazon in the smart speaker race and Apple in the personal assistant race.

So this one is a win-win, Google. You need more great responses competing for position zero, and we want to help. But first, we need to know what types of queries commonly trigger featured snippets from voice search, and that’s why we need this data in Search Console today.

2. Better way to meet consumer demand and query intent based on context

We saw two major things happen in the early days of mobile SEO when we compared desktop and mobile queries:

  1. Searchers often used the same keywords in mobile search that they did in desktop search; however, certain keywords were used much more often on mobile search than desktop search (and vice versa).
  2. Whole new categories of queries emerged as searchers realized that GPS and other features of mobile search could allow them to use queries that just didn’t work in desktop search.

An example of the first point is a query like “store hours,” which peaks in volume when shoppers are headed to stores:

An example of the second is “near me” queries, which have grown dramatically with mobile search and mostly occur on mobile phones:

The mode of search therefore changes search behavior as searchers understand what types of searches work well on mobile but not on desktop.

Consider this in the context of voice search. There are certain types of queries that only work on Google Home and Google Assistant. “Tell me about my day” is one. We can guess some of the others, but if we had voice search data labeled, we wouldn’t have to.

How would this be useful to marketers and site owners? Well, it’s hard to say exactly without looking at the data, but consider the context in which someone might use voice search: driving to the mall to get a present for the holidays or asking Google Home if a store down the street is still open. Does the searcher still say, “Holiday Hut store hours?” Or do they say something like, “OK Google, give me the store hours for the Holiday hut at the local mall?” Or even, “How late is Holiday Hut open?”

Google should consider all these queries synonymous in this case, but in some cases, there could be significant differences between voice search behavior and typed search behavior that will affect how a site owner optimizes a page.

Google has told us that voice searches are different, in that they’re 30 times more likely to be action queries than typed searches. In many cases, these won’t be actionable to marketers — but in some cases, they will be. And in order to properly alter our content to connect with searchers, we’ll first need to understand the differences.

In my initial look at how my own family searched on Google Home, I found significant differences between what my family asked Home and what I ask my smartphone, so there’s reason to believe that there are new query categories in voice search that would be relevant to marketers. We know that there are queries — like “Hey Google, talk to Dustin from Stranger Things” and “Buy Lacroix Sparkling Water from Target” — that are going to give completely different results in voice search on Google Home and Assistant from the results in traditional search. And these queries, like “store hours” queries, are likely to be searched much more on voice search than in traditional search.

The problem is, how do we find that “near me” of voice search if we don’t have the data?

3. Understanding extent of advertising and optimization potential for new voice-based media

The last reason to pay attention to voice search queries is probably the most important — for both marketers and Google.

Let me illustrate it in very direct terms, as it’s not just an issue that I believe marketers have in general, but one that affects me personally as well.

Recently, one of my company’s competitors released survey information that suggested people really want to buy tickets through smart speakers.

As a marketer and SEO who sells tickets, I can take this information and invest in Actions on Google Development and marketing so that our customers can say, “OK Google, talk to Vivid Seats about buying Super Bowl tickets,” and get something from Google Home other than, “I’m sorry but I don’t know how to help with that yet.” (Disclosure: Vivid Seats is my employer.)

Or maybe I could convince my company to invest resources in custom content, as Disney and Netflix have done with Google. But am I really going to do it based on this one data point? Probably not.

As with mobile search in 2005, we don’t know how many people are using voice search in Google Home and Google Assistant yet, so we can’t yet know how big the opportunity is or how fast it’s growing. Voice search is in the “innovators and early adopters” stage of the technology adoption life cycle, and any optimizations done for it are not likely to reach a mainstream audience just yet. Since we don’t have data to the contrary from Google or Amazon, we’ll have to stay with this assumption and invest at a later date, when the impact of this technology on the market will likely mean a significant return on our investment.

If we had that data from Google, I would be able to use it to make a stronger case for early adoption and investment than just using survey data alone. For example, I would be able to say to the executives, “Look how many people are searching for branded queries in voice search and getting zero results! By investing resources in creating a prototype for Google Home and Assistant search, we can satisfy navigational queries that are currently going nowhere and recoup our investment.” Instead, because we don’t have that data from Google, the business case isn’t nearly as strong.

Google has yet to monetize voice search in any meaningful way, but when advertising appears on Google Home, this type of analysis will become even more essential.

Final thoughts

Yes, we can do optimization without knowing which queries are voice search queries, as we could do mobile optimization without knowing which queries are mobile queries; yet understanding the nuances of voice search will help Google and marketers do a better job of helping searchers find exactly what they’re looking for when they’re asking for it by voice.

If you agree, please submit your feedback to John Mueller on Twitter.

The post SEO in 2018: Optimizing for voice search appeared first on Search Engine Land.

How much should SEO cost?


How much should you be paying for SEO services?

This subject can be a real minefield, so we first recommend some quick background reading of Jayson DeMers’ commentary from 2015 on how much time SEO should take, and also Clark Boyd’s recent article on choosing the right SEO agency.

All read up? Great, let’s get cracking.

Determining a price for a service like SEO is unlike buying a product with a set amount of industry standard component parts and an easily distinguishable utility, which tends to allow for a tighter range of pricing.

The price associated with an SEO campaign can be determined by a significant amount of factors: what work has been conducted previously? What internal resources are available to support the campaign? How competitive is the industry? What are the goals of the campaign?

These are but a handful of the types of factors involved. As a result, putting a cost on SEO can sometimes feel akin to a ‘how long is a piece of string’ scenario.

(Twice half its length, in case you were wondering).

In an attempt to give some quantifiable measures, Jason DeMers estimated that SEO campaigns could require between 12 and 104 hours per month, which is a rather large range, especially with no indication of price per hour.

It is the unfortunate truth that it would be irresponsible to give an exact answer as to how much you should be paying for SEO: the real answer is that no one size fits all. This is demonstrated by the range of pricing shown by North Star Inbound’s survey into enterprise SEO.

We therefore need to ask key questions which will allow us to hone in on a range of pricing for an SEO campaign, from which you should be able to make a more educated decision.

Is SEO a viable marketing channel for you?

According to research by BrightEdge in 2014, more half of the traffic to an average brand’s website comes from organic search. But you don’t need a study to tell you that. You probably use a search engine every single day.

As such, there is a decent chance that SEO is indeed a viable marketing channel for you. However, you should still do some initial calculations to understand if you should be investing in SEO. This is particularly poignant for businesses that are either trying to create a market, or are operating in a fledgling industry where there may not be established search traffic.

Use a combination of keyword research tools, click through rate percentages, conversion rates and net margins to understand what the likely monetary benefit would be if you were to gain your coveted relevant top spots in the SERPs.

This exercise will also demonstrate a maximum budget at which point (purely from a revenue generation point of view) the investment will not deliver an ROI or will start to result in diminishing returns, at which point layering in alternate marketing channels to your strategy may become a better option.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Are you being offered £200 per month with guaranteed first place rankings in a competitive industry quickly? Sure.

The problem is that the phrase ‘do it cheap, do it twice’ doesn’t quite explain the potential impact of this situation. The result of bad SEO doesn’t stop at lost marketing budget and time.

The potential ramifications of cheap, spammy SEO are much worse. Not only may you have to undo all of the work previously conducted but should you feel the fury of, say the salty cold slap of a Penguin-related Google penalty, your website may become near invisible in the SERPs for a considerable amount of time.

Scaremongering over.

Speak to more than one agency

In the end, as with a lot of things in the world, you can pay whatever you want to. As an example, most coffee shops charge in the region of a couple of pounds for a coffee but there are those that charge hundreds of pounds for a single cup of the brown stuff. It is the same for SEO.

That is why it is important to speak to a number of agencies so that you are able to get an understanding of the price ranges and also what each agency is offering in return for your money. It’s also just good due diligence.

Ignorance is not bliss

Another unfortunate fact about the SEO industry: people get their fingers burnt by agencies all the time. That may not be a popular statement to make, but it is the truth. Don’t get me wrong – there are lots of awesome agencies out there, but making sure you instruct one of the awesome ones can be tricky.

We would highly recommend ensuring that someone in your business has a solid understanding of SEO basics so that the correct questions can be asked during the tender process. Identifying what you are trying to achieve and what is required in order to provide an ROI is a good starting point, from which you can dive into the campaign strategy with your prospective agencies.

Over the course of your tender process you should get a clearer understanding of what the general consensus is for your campaign strategy and also highlight red flags if they appear. For a concise list of questions to ask, please see Clark Boyd’s article.

Select what’s right for you

One thing is for sure: good SEO ain’t cheap. The aforementioned survey from North Star Inbound demonstrated that campaigns can range from below $1000 per month to $20,000+ (with over a quarter of those surveyed in the $20,000+ per month bracket).

The point is though that for some businesses paying over $20k per month would be suicide; the search market may not be large enough to warrant such expenditure or the business might not have sufficient marketing budget set aside.

On the other hand, for a business that requires a $20,000+ monthly retainer in order to get the required results, paying $2000 per month just won’t cut it. To fall back on yet another phrase, it’s horses for courses.

So where does that leave us? Hopefully closer to a process by which you can assess how viable an SEO campaign would be for your business.

You may not have an exact price upon which to go out to the market, but as I mentioned earlier, SEO isn’t quite that simple. What this article should help you do, along with other articles on Search Engine Watch, is identify which bracket you sit in according to your own requirements and subsequently narrow down selecting an an agency to work on the campaign.

The price range will likely provide you with a floor at which it is clear that you would not get the desired results, and also demonstrate where the point of diminishing returns is.

Google bringing the Assistant to tablets and Lollipop Android phones


Google is rolling out the Assistant to more devices. It will soon be available on Android tablets running Nougat and Marshmallow, and smartphones running Lollipop.

Tablets in the US running English will be the first to get access. However, a wide array of Android 5.0 smartphones (Lollipop) will get the Assistant: Those operating in English in major markets and in Spanish in the US, Mexico and Spain; and Lollipop smartphones in Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Korea.

Google is pushing the Assistant out to more devices as the market becomes more competitive and AI development accelerates.

A July 2017 report from Verto Analytics found that 42 percent of US smartphone owners used virtual assistants, in the aggregate, on average 10 times per month. That translated into more than 70 million smartphone owners and almost 1 billion hours per month in the US. The numbers are likely somewhat higher now.

Personal Assistant Usage Numbers & Demographics

Source: Verto Analytics (5/17)

Siri was the most used (largest audience), but Cortana and Alexa were the fastest-growing assistants, according to Verto.

Separate research has found that virtual assistants are used much more frequently on smart speakers, which makes sense because of the general absence of screens: almost three uses per day vs. less than one for smartphones.

The post Google bringing the Assistant to tablets and Lollipop Android phones appeared first on Search Engine Land.

SearchCap: Top Google searches, more data in Search Console & Google Assistant expands


Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

From Search Engine Land:

Recent Headlines From Marketing Land, Our Sister Site Dedicated To Internet Marketing:

Search News From Around The Web:

The post SearchCap: Top Google searches, more data in Search Console & Google Assistant expands appeared first on Search Engine Land.