Google’s Paid Search is a ‘sakedown’ says Jason Fried, Basecamp founder and CEO

CNBC: Jason Fried Basecamp @Work event 190402-001

This article originally appeared on CNBC and was written by Cindy Ord for CNBC.

Do a Google search for Basecamp, a web-based project management tool company, and you might see one or more ads for competitors show up in results above the actual company.

Basecamp CEO and co-founder Jason Fried sounded off against the practice Tuesday, calling it a “shakedown” and saying it’s like ransom to have to pay up just to be seen in results.

“When Google puts 4 paid ads ahead of the first organic result for your own brand name, you’re forced to pay up if you want to be found,” he tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a shakedown. It’s ransom. But at least we can have fun with it. Search for Basecamp and you may see this attached ad.”

Jason Fried

@jasonfried

When Google puts 4 paid ads ahead of the first organic result for your own brand name, you’re forced to pay up if you want to be found. It’s a shakedown. It’s ransom. But at least we can have fun with it. Search for Basecamp and you may see this attached ad.

View image on Twitter

The tweet includes the screenshot of an ad for Basecamp, reading “Basecamp.com | We don’t want to run this ad.” The copy says “We’re the #1 result, but this site lets companies advertise against us using our brand. So here we are. A small, independent co. forced to pay ransom to a giant tech company.”

Fried’s complaint comes as regulators are increasingly scrutinizing Google’s dominance in certain areas, including search and advertising. The Justice Department is reportedly looking into Google’s digital advertising and search operations as authorities prepare an antitrust review of tech giants’ market power, and more than 30 states are considering their own antitrust investigations. The company could stand to face billions of dollars in fines, as it from competition authorities in Europe, or even be forced to spin off business units like YouTube.

In an interview with CNBC, Fried said the company hadn’t previously advertised on Google but started doing so since Basecamp would sometimes show up fifth in search results under advertisements, “even though we’re the first organic result and it’s our brand.”

For instance, when searching for Basecamp on Google, a user might see an ad for Monday.com positioning itself as a Basecamp alternative. Monday.com didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

This practice, called “conquesting,” is a common way for brands to show up when potential customers search for a competitor, and is common on many different platforms other than Google — for instance, if you search for one brand on Amazon, you might see a slew of products from other brands before you find what you were searching for.

Fried also said it can be tough for the average consumer to discern whether a listing is an ad since Google’s “Ad” qualifier is so small.

“It’s so easy to miss,” he said. “The ads look more and more like organic results.’”

“It just seems completely unfair,” Fried said. “You basically have to pay protection money to Google to even have a chance.” He said the company is running the ad to stand up for small businesses having these kinds of problems with Google.

Fried also said the company has filed complaints about trademark violations with Google for ads that use Basecamp’s name, but said ads of that kind keep popping up.

In a statement, a Google spokeswoman said the company prohibits the use of trademarked terms in the text of an ad if the owner files a complaint. “Our trademark policy balances the interests of users, advertisers and trademark owners, ” the statement said. “To provide users with the most relevant ads, we don’t restrict trademarked terms as keywords. We do, however, restrict trademarked terms in ad text if the trademark owner files a complaint.”

The CEO of Shopify, Tobias Lutke, shared and weighed in on Fried’s tweet.

“It’s totally crazy for google to get away with charging what’s basically protection money on your own brand name,” he wrote. ”‘Nice high intend traffic you got there, would be a shame if something were to happen to it.’”

Tobi Lütke

@tobi

It’s totally crazy for google to get away with charging what’s basically protection money on your own brand name. “Nice high intend traffic you got there, would be a shame if something were to happen to it” https://twitter.com/jasonfried/status/1168986962704982016 

Jason Fried

@jasonfried

When Google puts 4 paid ads ahead of the first organic result for your own brand name, you’re forced to pay up if you want to be found. It’s a shakedown. It’s ransom. But at least we can have fun with it. Search for Basecamp and you may see this attached ad.

View image on Twitter

Other companies in recent weeks have discussed issues with Google ads. IAC said in early August it had seen an unanticipated increase in the cost of customers from Google, its largest source of traffic. The company said “users arriving through paid search results were up substantially, but considerably more expensive.”

Booking Holdings, the parent of Booking.com, Priceline and Kayak, has also long counted on Google for traffic, spending billions of dollars a year on ads and search engine optimization. But last month the company said it has “observed a long-term trend of decreasing performance marketing returns on investment (‘ROIs’), a trend we expect to continue” and had shifted some of its marketing spending from search to other means of advertising.

They Call it Domain Diversity

by Barry Schwartz and first posted on Search Engine Roundtable.

Google Change Restricts Two Listings From Same Domain For Most Search Results

Google announced last night, as I covered in detail at Search Engine Land, that they released another update earlier this week that finished rolling out yesterday. This update restricts how many times a search results listing can show in the Google search results for most queries.

In short – Google said for most queries, they will begin only showing up to two listings per domain in the top search results. This does not meant Google will only show two listings from that domain for all search results pages but rather for queries they think is makes sense to show more diversity from different domains for a query. Branded queries may show more than two, and you get the point.

Google Site Diversity in Search

Here is where Google said they have launched this update:

Google SearchLiaison

@searchliaison

Have you ever done a search and gotten many listings all from the same site in the top results? We’ve heard your feedback about this and wanting more variety. A new change now launching in Google Search is designed to provide more site diversity in our results….

562 people are talking about this

Two Results Max For Most Queries

Google said they generally won’t show more than two results from the same domain in the top Google search results. Google may still show more than two results if they determine a searcher would benefit from it and it is relevant for the query.

Google SearchLiaison

@searchliaison

This site diversity change means that you usually won’t see more than two listings from the same site in our top results. However, we may still show more than two in cases where our systems determine it’s especially relevant to do so for a particular search….

75 people are talking about this

Subdomains & Root Domains Are The Same

For the most part, Google will treat subdomains as part of the main root domain. So blog.domain.com would count towards domain.com being listed in the top search results. Of course, there are examples when Google won’t consider them to be part of the same domain, like some hosting platforms will use subdomains to host unique sites – and Google will consider those separate.

Google SearchLiaison

@searchliaison

Site diversity will generally treat subdomains as part of a root domain. IE: listings from subdomains and the root domain will all be considered from the same single site. However, subdomains are treated as separate sites for diversity purposes when deemed relevant to do so….

57 people are talking about this

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

Say previously you had 3 listings from root.domain, 3 from a.root.domain and 3 from b.root.domain. We’d now generally those as all the same site and show up two in total from them all, rather than up to two per domain or subdomain (and thus six total). But….

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

In some cases, we may decide to treat the subdomains as their own sites, if it seems really relevant to. And none of this involves ranking. We don’t mix the domains together or anything. It’s just about the roll-up when we decide for display.

See Danny Sullivan’s other Tweets

John-Henry Scherck@JHTScherck

I took it as a hint towards platforms that issue subdomains to users, like http://WordPress.com  subdomains from random users. Those shouldn’t impact rankings for http://WP.com , they are totally different sites and should be treated as such.

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

Yes.

See Danny Sullivan’s other Tweets

Different From June 2019 Core Update

Google said this is different and unrelated to the June 2019 core update that launched on June 3rd and was big for some sites.

Google SearchLiaison

@searchliaison

Finally, the site diversity launch is separate from the June 2019 Core Update that began this week. These are two different, unconnected releases.

91 people are talking about this

Diversity Update Started On June 3rd Also

Danny Sullivan said this update started rolling out two days ago and finished yesterday, so technically it overlapped with the June 2019 core update rollout. We don’t know if the June core update is done rolling out but the diversity update is and of course, this can be confusing for SEOs to properly track.

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

It started a little bit about two days ago but went fully live today. Personally, I wouldn’t think of it like an update, however. It’s not really about ranking. Things that ranked highly before still should. We just don’t show as many other pages.

See Danny Sullivan’s other Tweets

He thinks this shouldn’t confuse SEOs:

Barry Schwartz

@rustybrick

but yet you announced it so this change will be “noticeable” and thus impact analytics and search console data, right? it would be nice if you would have held off a week to let the June update roll out more before doing this, right? feedback for the team.

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

We launch things almost every day. Sometimes several in a single day. This is far enough out from the core update release that any stat changes can probably be distinguished.

See Danny Sullivan’s other Tweets

Remco Tensen@RemcoTensen

This effects rankings. For one: you’re awared less slots. That’s direct loss of rankings. Two: less chances to seduce is less interactions with the site. This should impact your site’s rankings. Three: less results for your site shown, means more SERP competition. Esp. on mobile.

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

No, it potentially affects traffic. If you had four different pages all doing the right things in terms of content and quality to reach the top page, then your ranking efforts are on the right track. And this doesn’t mean they aren’t as good. It just means we won’t show as many.

See Danny Sullivan’s other Tweets

Only Impacts Core Web Results

So this only impacts the ten blue listings, the core web results. It does not stop you from showing more than twice because of featured snippets, local listings, images, and other search features according to Danny Sullivan:

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

It’s about the main listings, not various other displays on the search results.

See Danny Sullivan’s other Tweets

Marie Haynes

@Marie_Haynes

Sounds like the diversity update will only affect regular organic results and not affect features like featured snippets, people also asks, etc.

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

Replying to @MichelleRobbins and 4 others

It’s about the main listings, not various other displays on the search results.

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

Yes. This is only about the main web search listings. It not including things like featured snippets, map listings, etc.

See Danny Sullivan’s other Tweets

Domain Based, Not Content Based

This is strictly related to domains and doesn’t look to see if the content is the same across different domain names. This is not a duplicate content thing…

Ben Cook@BenjaminCook

How about searches where all of the results are different sites but all powered by the same database of products?

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

As said in the tweets, it’s focused around domains.

See Danny Sullivan’s other Tweets

It Is Not Perfect

Google said this is not perfect and Google will make updates to it over time:

Tom Waddington@tomwaddington8

How about 8?

View image on Twitter

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

It’s not going to be perfect. As with any of our releases, we’ll keep working to improve it. You might also try it the way someone in Tustin would do it — “nail salons” or “nail salons near me” or “nail salons tustin.” If you’re in Tustin, you know you’re in CA 🙂

See Danny Sullivan’s other Tweets

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

It’s not going to be perfect. As with any of our releases, we’ll keep working to improve it. You might also try it the way someone in Tustin would do it — “nail salons” or “nail salons near me” or “nail salons tustin.” If you’re in Tustin, you know you’re in CA 🙂

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

Oh, and I see one of the screenshots has some of those examples! But as said, things hopefully have improved for a variety of searches, and we’ll keep looking to improve.

See Danny Sullivan’s other Tweets

David Carralon@DavidCarralon

Great news, though it doesn’t seem to work in some verticals, eg: jobs. See my search for a specific job in Google UK, VPN geotargeted to London. I get 4 Indeed listings for irrelevant locations to a Uk user. @JohnMu something to look into maybe?

View image on Twitter

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

Those are completely different domains. Same company; different geo domains. But it’s a good point. I’ll pass this feedback on. We expect to keep improving on the change.

See Danny Sullivan’s other Tweets

Bolocan Cristian@bolocancristian

@searchliaison what do you say about this query from Romania? On first page, first 9 results are http://emag.ro , best brand from Romania.https://prnt.sc/nuvugy 

Screenshot

Captured with Lightshot

prnt.sc

Danny Sullivan

@dannysullivan

We’ll be looking to improve. I’ll pass this on.

See Danny Sullivan’s other Tweets

Google Has Done This Before

Google has updated their domain diversity filters or weights many many times before. We covered it before but Google has done this update countless times – most of the time not telling us.

Sarcasm

And Gary Illyes weighs in:

Gary “鯨理” Illyes

@methode

More diversity in the search results (10 blue). Unrelated to core algo update.
If you lost traffic because of this, please tweet @JohnMu . If you gained traffic, feel very free to tweet at me. kthxbai

Google SearchLiaison

@searchliaison

Have you ever done a search and gotten many listings all from the same site in the top results? We’ve heard your feedback about this and wanting more variety. A new change now launching in Google Search is designed to provide more site diversity in our results….

61 people are talking about this

So there you have it – that is everything we know about this specific update – which you do or don’t have to call an “update” if you don’t want it. Call it a “change” or “feature” or whatever you want.

Early Signs Of A Google Search Ranking Algorithm Update

by Barry Schwartz and first appearing on Search Engine Roundtable.

I am seeing very early signs of a Google search ranking update that started last night and has been fluctuating in and out this morning into the various Google data centers. The automated tracking tools aren’t really showing much yet but the WebmasterWorldforums has some early chatter from the SEO community.

Again, this is really early and it might be just a test or a blip in Google. Google is yes, always updating, there are always people complaining about changes to their rankings. But when I see a change in activity of those complaints, I like to report them to you as a sign that potentially something bigger happened. To be fair, most of the updates we report on go unconfirmed, but the ones that do end up being confirmed one way or another are first reported here.

That being said, here is some of the early chatter:

G has been running a 24hrs on and off test for some days now.Example: I’ll get a 60% boost in organic traffic at say; 11am, then get a 60% drop at exactly 11am the next day. The boost will last for 24hrs, the drop will last for 24hrs.

This has been happening for some days now, has anyone noticed this same pattern?

Same. Saw an insane traffic surge from Google for a few hours and then it just turned off.

Seeing huge changes again today. Looks like G is up to something again at our end…….. ¬_¬

Agreed. Some huge fluctuations indeed. There was huge traffic surge at the beginning today then all of a sudden traffic didn’t drop just became zero in some cases.

Here are the tracking tools:

Mozcast:

click for full size

SERPMetrics:

click for full size

Algoroo:

click for full size

Advanced Web Rankings:

click for full size

Accuranker:

click for full size

RankRanger:

click for full size

Cognitive SEO:

click for full size

SEMRush:

click for full size

Are you noticing any changes across your clients or your own web sites in Google search? Let us know.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

Google tells some advertisers it will handle their campaign management

By:  and originally posted on SearchEngineLand.

In seven days, the email says, Google Ads reps will start making changes to advertiser accounts if advertisers don’t opt out.

This article has been updated with additional details and a statement from Google.

“We’ll focus on your campaigns, so you can focus on your business.” That’s the headline in an email some advertisers have begun receiving from Google Ads this week.

Why you should care. Google has steadily introduced automation to just about every area of campaign creation and management (Ads Added By GoogleSmart Campaigns, Local Campaigns, Universal App Campaigns, Responsive Search Ads, Smart Bidding Strategies — you get the idea). But this effort is ostensibly human-powered. Google is bringing in “Google Ads experts” to manage campaigns “behind the scenes.” One can assume, however, that the changes the experts make will be largely influenced by Google’s machine-powered recommendations engine. This kind of program will have immediate implications for the advertisers that have this service turned on, but there are longer term implications for the broader ecosystem of agencies, consultants, clients and paid search practitioners.

Auto opt-in. Better check your email. Unless they opt out, advertisers will be added to the program automatically after seven days of receiving the email. However, Google notes it is possible to opt out later at any point.

What will these experts be doing? According to the email, they’ll identify “key changes that can help you get more out of your ads, from restructuring your ad groups and modifying your keywords to adjusting your bids and updating your ad text.” That’s structure, keywords, bids, ads. They’ll also offer “setup and ongoing activation of advanced features” and “ensure the right features are being activated at the right moment.” What they say they don’t touch are budgets.

Aaron Levy, director of PPC at Elite SEM, tweeted the email Google is sending out to some accounts.

Is Google undercutting agencies and consultants? Google has long had account reps and teams that reach out to advertisers (and agencies) with optimization recommendations and account consultations. It is also not uncommon for agencies to complain that Google reps have reached out to their clients that clearly have accounts under the agency’s management.

Whenever pushed on this, Google’s response is that it partners closely with agencies and consultants — through its partner programs, outreach and other efforts. With this program, the thinking goes, agencies and consultants that have advertisers participating in the program could dedicate more time to strategy and spend less time on tactical workaday tasks.

Pilot program. A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land, “Our sales teams are always looking for ways to help customers get the best results from Google Ads. We are rolling out a pilot program that we believe will help businesses optimize their accounts. As always, we build customer feedback into the final product. Customers are in full control of the account and can accept or reject recommendations as they desire.”

Advertisers in the program will be notified of suggested optimizations and new features via email and can opt-out at any point.

It’s not clear what experience or training the Google Ads experts who will be optimizing campaigns have. Google does tout the knowledge it has gleaned from “optimizing over 800,000 Google Ads accounts.” The company has millions of advertisers, and again it’s unclear what kinds of accounts these are and what kind of hand Google has had in optimizing them.

Google is careful to say that advertisers are still responsible for the results of their campaigns and shouldn’t put blind faith in its optimization efforts. In a disclaimer (posted by Levy) the company says it “doesn’t guarantee or no promise any particular results from implementing these changes” made by its experts. Advertisers are still encouraged to “monitor your account regularly so you understand what’s happening and can make campaign adjustments.”

It should also be noted that if the recommendations have a negative impact on results, Google may offer refunds to advertisers.

A copy of the email message is below.

 

The death of re-marketing and its repercussions on e-commerce

Written by Niamh Reed and originally posted on DigitalDoughnut.

Google has been taking steps to end re-marketing. A bold move, perhaps, and a worrying one for advertisers. Google has recently introduced an addition to their ad-blocking capability that allows consumers to block all your re-marketing ads.  Nor has the organisation stopped there: Google is still developing their ad blockers as you read this.

But does this mark the end of re-marketing, and if so, what does that mean for your e-commerce marketing practices and your business?

The ‘what’s and ‘why’s of re-marketing

Everyone has experienced re-marketing – probably without even realising it initially. Re-marketing refers to those adverts that follow you around the web, reminding you of products that you were browsing the other day.

For customers, it’s a creeping reminder that you might still need to buy that pair of orange wellies you were looking at yesterday. For businesses, it’s a highly cost-effective tool, increasing their sale of orange wellies and decreasing cart abandonment.

Re-marketing isn’t actually marketing at all. It’s a sales tactic. Mike Michalowicz

Re-marketing can be incredibly effective. In fact, a website visitor who’s been retargeted with a display ad is 70% more likely to convert. It works by creating multiple impressions of the product, making it stick in the customer’s mind until they decide to buy.

Google – re-marketing’s killer?

As useful as re-marketing may be, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to rely on. Brands, prepare: Google is going after your adverts.

On January 25 Google announced an addition to their ad blocking capabilities that allowed customers to block re-marketing ads. They’re providing your prospects even more ways of resisting your attempts to court them through re-marketing.

And it’s not just the particular ad that happened to annoy the customer getting blocked. It’s you. Every advert you direct at that customer is now being blocked by Google for 90 days. Plus, Google is continuing to fine-tune its ad blockers, and your ads aren’t just being blocked on one device, but across all the customer’s devices.

Blessing in disguise?

Of course, re-marketing has always come with its cons. There is a question as to whether the overuse of re-marketing technology and tactics comes at the expense of annoyed customers. After you’ve seen the same ad for ages, for a product you’ve already bought, it can be grating to still have it shoved in your face.

Evidently, Google agrees that repetitive re-marketing ads have a negative impact on user experience. Could Google even be doing businesses a favour?

It certainly is the case that the inability to rely on re-marketing encourages a better customer experience on site – after all, it’s just become much harder to tempt them back again. Besides, re-marketing was only annoying if you overused it. For companies that use it well, this new Google move might not be such a painful one.

Google won’t automatically block your adverts (for now). So, if customers like your adverts (or at least, don’t find them annoying), you’ve nothing to worry about. Except, there’s no way to guarantee that.

Real-time conversions

So, what do you need to do to convert amid the death of re-marketing? You need to focus on converting your online shoppers while they are live on your page, browsing your digital store. The adage goes that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and the same goes for your customers. A customer in your store (or on your page) is worth two on the street (or scrolling through Google).

The death of re-marketing means that there needs to be an increased emphasis on proactive, real-time service when your customers are browsing your page. With tools such as live chat software, you can provide your customers with real-time, on-site support that encourages them to stay on your website. Because they don’t need to wait for answers to queries, customers are less inclined to leave your site before making their purchase – your team can put any worry to bed. It’s the equivalent of an attentive customer service employee in a retail store.

Convert, convert, convert

With Google making it harder for you to stalk your customers once they leave your site, you need to place your focus on optimising the customer experience while you have their attention.

For brands, the death of re-marketing needn’t be the death of conversions. Refocus your efforts on providing proactive, real-time support for your website prospects, and on continually enhancing their experience.

Don’t rely on stalking consumers through re-marketing – Google may well just stop you in your tracks.​

A case study: Do Google Posts impact ranking?

This article was written by Joy Hawkins and first appeared on Search Engine Land.

A few months ago, I teamed up with Ben Fisher from Steady Demand to test whether Google Posts have any influence on ranking in the local results (the “3-pack”).

The methodology

We picked two different businesses to test this on. One was a garage flooring company that had been struggling to rank for their main keywords in the 3-pack. The second was my church, which does not have any SEO or marketing efforts going on. The team at Steady Demand made two posts every seven days in Google My Business from August 11, 2017, to October 1, 2017.

Case 1: Garage flooring in Vancouver

For this business, we saw their ranking in the local results increase one position on “garage flooring Vancouver.”  It moved up from position four to position three, winning them a spot in the 3-pack, less than a week after they started posting.

For just “garage flooring” (implicit search), they increased from position seven to two about four days after the posts started. I double-checked to make sure they didn’t receive any new reviews a few days prior to the increase, since they did receive a few new reviews during the course of the test.

Case 2: Church in Keswick, Ontario

For my church, we were mainly tracking how they ranked for “church” keywords. They increased from position five to position three for “church keswick, on” but did so gradually after the posting started.

Unlike the garage flooring company, the posts on the church’s listing also drove a significant amount of traffic to the website. We used UTM codes to track the traffic in Google Analytics. Most of it came from mobile, and about half the traffic came from within the target area (the rest was out-of-state).

The post responsible for the largest amount of traffic was actually a bio/spotlight of one of the pastors. Google My Business showed zero engagement on the post despite its driving 74 new users to the website.

Conclusions:

  1. Based on what we’re seeing for this case and others we’re testing, I think Google Posts do have a mild impact on ranking. These tests were purposely done in non-competitive industries, so it might not be enough to produce movement in some scenarios.
  2. Google Posts are low-impact, low-effort tasks. They should be combined with other tasks to help improve Local SEO for a small business.
  3. The rankings maintained themselves weeks after we stopped posting on the listings. This is different from what has been observed about posting on social platforms such as Google Plus.
  4. Google My Business Insights are wrong. You need to use UTM codes on your URLs to get proper insights on these in Google Analytics.

Google Posts have been surprisingly underutilized by businesses and agencies, partly due to the past inability to schedule posts. With the recent feature addition to create and update posts via the Google My Business API, this is an opportunity for people to start using Google Posts more.

Google Ignores rel=shortlink Link Attribute

This was originally posted on Search Engine Roundtable and with authorship rights to Barry Schwartz.

Google’s John Mueller said on Twitter that Google ignores the rel=shortlink link attribute.

Th proposed usage of this is by adding rel=”shortlink” to a hyperlink, a page indicates that the hyperlink may be used for space constrained and/or manual entry (e.g. printed or spoken) applications and that the destination of that hyperlink carries the same meaning (even if formatting such as sort order and highlighting is lost). Typical use cases include pasting links into microblogging services such as Twitter and anywhere manual entry is required (e.g. printed or spoken URLs).

 

 twitter

 

Either way, if you want Google to pass signals from your short URLs, make sure they 301 to the main URL.