In Q4 2018, there were several noteworthy updates to the digital marketing landscape, including shifts in local search behaviors, a decline in image results, new social media ad unit options, and greater transparency with users.
Here’s What Happened In Q4
During the last quarter of 2018, there were several industry updates to search engines and major social networks, reminding marketers that they always need to stay on their toes. While Google continues its quest for Internet dominance by enhancing search engine result pages (SERPs) and result types, social networks are focused on living up to previous promises. Updates strive to provide greater transparency between advertisers and users, increase user privacy, accurately measure content performance, and enhance user experiences.
It’s Rumored That Nearly 46% Of Searches Have A Local Intent
During a “Secrets of Local Search” conference this past October at Google’s Headquarters, a company rep stated that 46% of searches have local intent. The information was shared via Twitter by an event attendee; however, Google did not publicly confirm this stat. Although Google has not commented, the number doesn’t seem too far-fetched as more than 50% of searches on the engine are on a mobile device. Either way, the ultimate point here is clear: local SEO continues to rise in prevalence and is something that should not be ignored during strategic planning.
New Format For Google Sitelinks Shows More Site Content In Search Results
In October, Google began testing a new look for sitelinks in search results. The facelift now presents sitelinks in a similar way to the “people also search for” boxes, featuring a clickable arrow that expands the box to display more information. The addition of site content right in the search results page could reduce the amount of time it takes for a user to get desired information. And if a brand can give users what they need almost instantly, there’s an opportunity to lift perception and industry authority among consumers.
However, while this update could lift a user’s brand perception, their experience is still happening on a Google result page. This could cause a decrease in site traffic, clicks, onsite engagement, and more. Google has long been working to enhance the SERP experience, trying to keep users on their pages for as long as possible. Knowledge graphs, an expanded “people also ask” section, Google Posts, and now auto-play live streaming are all features added with the goal of making Google the ultimate online powerhouse. SEOs will need to shift their measurement strategy and definition of success as more and more searchers get information on the SERP over a brand website.
Google Updates Local 3 Pack With New Features
At the end of October 2018, Google introduced 2 new display features:
These new features allow users to see products and services available or book an appoihntment directly in the SERP. This is another push by Google to keep users on its results pages. The updates provide users with a high-quality experience, but may reduce the need for users to click through to a website and use its tools/convert, which could ultimately hinder performance.
Time, Conversions, And Math Search Results Displayed In Position Zero On Google
Google is now displaying “zero” search results for queries pertaining to time, conversions, and math. Position zero, a result type that has been around for some time now, appears at the top of a SERP, often providing users with the information they need without having to navigate to a webpage. Putting time, conversions, and math results in position zero makes Google results pages that much more valuable to searchers by eliminating the need to use calculators and tools housed on a different domain.
Although the update creates a more positive user experience, sites that offer those tools will likely see a decrease in traffic.
Google Shows Fewer Videos Boxes In Search Results
In mid-November, Google decreased the amount of video boxes that appear in results, and congruently increased the number of image carousel and box results by nearly 30%. Google frequently tests how results appear, and at what frequency, so it’s difficult to say whether or not this update will have lasting effects. However, it could lead to lifts, or losses, in traffic to video/image heavy pages, as well as make it harder for text-heavy pages to rank on page 1.
Google Lens + Image Search Increases Importance Of Image Optimization
Google Lens now allows users to make queries using images. This means that instead of users trying to describe what they see to a search engine in hopes that it will understand, they can simply upload a photo to Google and it will identify what’s in the image, as well as display other similar photos.
Google uses “machine learning and computer vision” to analyze image search results and connect learnings with the Knowledge Graph to understand what’s in a picture. Although there are still some hiccups in properly identifying image content, Google is constantly training the algorithm to better understand subjects, especially when they are taken at obscure angles or are a low-quality image from a phone.
Taking it one step further, Google has also trained Lens to read and serve as a home style or fashion inspiration tool. Users can take a photo of a business card and add it to their contacts or take a picture of a recipe and add the ingredients to shopping lists. Users can also take a picture of an outfit or object they like and want to buy, then right in the Lens tool they can find similar products and get information like prices and reviews.
These new capabilities take the Lens user experience to the next level. They also reinforce how image search contributes to website impressions and traffic, and remind SEOs of the importance of unique images with optimized meta data.
Q&A Schema Launched By Google
Google recently launched a Q&A page schema to support rich snippet results for Question & Answer pages. This provides more opportunity to rank at the top of page 1 as a rich snippet, as well as drive more traffic to ranking pages. An important caveat to this update, however, is that it is not a mark-up for FAQ pages. This is a markup that should only be used for web pages in a question and answer format, meaning one questions followed by its answer.
According to Google’s John Mueller, this mark-up is also ideal for ranking for voice search.
Google Search Now Supports Live Streams
Google has introduced a new schema, Livestream structured data, and opened its Indexing API (the same API used for job posting URLs) to start showing livestreams in video carousel search results. Videos include a “Live” label in the top-left corner. Google says this mark-up is ideal for sporting events, awards shows, and influencer video games. However, any brand that plans to live stream content should take this schema into consideration when setting up the event.
Social Media Updates
Facebook’s ‘Premieres’ Videos Now Available To All Global Pages
Premieres, a feature that was previously only available in Groups, has rolled out to Pages. Now page admins can schedule pre-recorded content up to a week in advance and label it as a Premiere. A scheduled Premiere creates a placeholder post on a Page’s Timeline. The post type is aimed at building hype, giving users the ability to request a reminder for when the video goes live, and sharing the post with friends.
The new video unit also adds more video inventory to Facebook’s dwindling available space; a problem it has been struggling with since mid-2016. Mid-roll ads will appear periodically through the video with the number of ad breaks determined by the length of the video.
Premiere videos are visible on all global pages, as well as in Facebook Watch.
Google Plus To Shutter Early Due To Second Data Breach
In early October 2018, Google announced the closing of its social network Google Plus after a data breach that exposed the data of over 500,000 people. The original plan was to sunset the network by August 2019. Then a second breach occurred: on December 12, 2018, Google announced more user data – including user’s names, emails, and job information – had been accessed, increasing user vulnerability from half a million to 52.5 million. This led to the decision to close the network 5 months earlier than originally planned. So as of April 2019, Google Plus will be no more.
Data breach aside, the announcement to close the social network doesn’t come as a surprise to or dismay marketers and users, as many had long ago abandoned their profiles.
Facebook Offers More Transparency Around Brand-Influencer Relationships
Facebook is making strides towards greater transparency with users through the rollout of a new branded content tag. The update’s goal is to give more context to relationships between brands and influencers. Previously, paid partnerships were highlighted with a simple “paid” label. Now, the label reads “paid partnership” and ads have a clickable icon that gives users more information about the brand-influencer relationship. Brands who are partnering with influencers for content promotion should be sure to incorporate the new feature in future posts.
Agencies Must Confirm Client Relationship Before Enabling Facebook Pixel And Event Sets
Transparency concerns were top of mind at Facebook in Q4 2018. In addition to the new paid partnership labels, Facebook now requires agencies to confirm their relationship with a brand before placing pixels and event sets. As the previous update gives visual details of a relationship, this rollout is not a tangible addition that users can see. Rather, it brings more trust to the ad targeting process, especially for ads using retargeting pixels. Because relationships must now be disclosed, it’s less likely users will be targeted with ads from untrustworthy sources.
This means that brands will have to assign their agency as an “advertising partner” in order to run retargeting campaigns. The new confirmation process could lead to campaign launch delays if relationships are not initially defined in Business Manager when an engagement begins.
Facebook Begins Rolling Out Analytics For Instagram Accounts & Expanded Page Analytics
The long-awaited introduction of more robust Instagram analytics finally arrived this past November. This gives marketers a deeper look into various engagement metrics, such as retention rate and the lifetime value of those who interact with their account, as well as the ability to create segments around engaged audiences. In addition to new Instagram analytics, improvements were made to Facebook Insights. Now the impact of a Page can be assessed through more valuable event tracking, such as Page follows/unfollows, likes/unlikes, and more.
The analytics updates are slowly rolling out to all users. Pages will get an update in their dashboard once access is available.
Instagram Testing New Promoted Stories Ad Option For Business Accounts
Similar to how Facebook boosts work, Instagram stories can now be promoted in user feeds using Business Manager. The social network has seen large success with its Stories feature, reporting that 400 million users view one every day. So, Instagram wanted to find a way to give more marketers an opportunity to capitalize on the format’s success – specifically brands with smaller budgets.
Nearly 80% of Instagram users follow a brand, making the channel a key avenue for reaching fans where they live online. No official announcement has been made around pricing for Stories promotion, but many suspect it will be similar to the structure of Facebook boosted posts where marketers can promote something for as little as $5.
LinkedIn Company Pages Get A Refresh
The new and improved LinkedIn Company Pages make management more efficient and resourceful when engaging with both customers and employees. Now admins searching for content to share with followers can filter down content topics by location, job function, or seniority level. With more than 2 million unique pieces of content created on the channel each day, this new filter tool will greatly trim down the amount of time it takes to find brand/industry-relevant content.
Additionally, admins can compare their Page’s metrics to all other Pages on LinkedIn to see how they stack up. Lastly, a new “Share with Employees” feature makes it seamless to share content to employee feeds, as well as respond to or re-share content when an employee mentions a brand.
LinkedIn’s New Privacy Setting Prohibits Marketers From Exporting Emails
Another new LinkedIn feature from Q4 2018 is geared towards improving user privacy by giving users the ability to block their emails from being downloaded by marketers on LinkedIn. Previously, there was not a privacy setting pertaining to email downloads. Now the default setting is “no” and users have to manually change the setting to “yes.”
Not every brand on LinkedIn takes advantage of the email download option, but those that typically do will need to take alternative approaches to building qualified audiences in the future. Leveraging targeting options like job titles, location, ages, and more will be crucial. Those who will likely feel the greatest impact from the update are influencers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses.
Facebook Starts Testing Ads In Search Results
Facebook’s latest addition to its ad unit inventory is single image and carousel ads on both Facebook and the Marketplace search results pages. A small group of advertisers in the automotive, ecommerce, and retail industries have the option to select the placement when building campaigns to test performance. Those who use the placement will not be charged for it during the initial test.
The placements are currently an extension of what’s available for existing ads, as creative is repurposed from other News Feed ads. Additionally, there’s not yet an option for advertisers to target specific keywords or phrases during the beta.
Although there’s been no mention of this from Facebook, the addition of search result ads could lead to shifts in what users see in their Timelines. We can assume that advertisers will be able to retarget users who engage with a search ad. If users engage with the retargeted ad they’re served, they could then start to see a shift in what’s organically displayed on their home feed. This is somewhat of a stretch correlation, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.
Conclusion // What Marketers Need To Know
Digital marketing continues to change quickly. The search and social landscape makes rapid changes and updates every day. It’s crucial to stay up to date as we continue to plunge forward into the digital era of smart speakers, wearables, AI, data privacy scandals, political manipulation, and more. Continue following the Nina Hale blog and subscribe to our newsletter below to stay in the know.