12 companies hit with a Google manual penalty

washington-post google penalty

Just in case you’re ever tempted to try a few black-hat practices to manipulate your search positions in Google, here are 12 tales to persuade you otherwise.

Whether using cloaking, unnatural paid-for links, doorway pages, spam or hidden links, Google is swift and brutal with a manual penalty. Even if the transgression isn’t necessarily your own fault.

In fact for some of the following well-known brands, they’re merely guilty of not paying enough attention or not being educated enough when it comes to what Google cracks down on.

There’s some great advice here about what to do when hit with a manual penalty, but for now, let’s check out the circumstances of 12 high profile cases and the damage meted out by the penalty.

For more information, you can check out the full infographic and blog post from Digital Third Coast.

Please note: the following ‘present-day’ traffic loss predictions were calculated using SimilarWeb’s data by Digital Third Coast.

The Washington Post

In October 2007, The Washington Post was caught selling links on their blog without adhering to Google’s best practice when included paid-for links. The paper’s PageRank value dropped from PR7 to PR5 and was likely restored after a couple of months.

Today this penalty would lead to a potential loss of traffic of around 76.4 million.


In March 2005, WordPress was penalised for the use of doorway pages. These are webpages used for spamming a search engine by creating multiple pages for specific high-value phrases but they just send visitors to the same destination.

WordPress hosted 168,000 articles about high-cost advertising keywords, written by a third-party, and were penalised by Google for two days. During this period, WordPress didn’t rank for its own name and its PageRank was reduced to zero.

wordpress penalty

Today this penalty would lead to a potential loss of traffic of around 10.08 million.


In March 2013, the BBC was penalised for unnatural links on a single page, although the details haven’t been confirmed. Rumour suggests it wasn’t the BBC’s fault, rather a RSS feed scraper. The page was downgraded by Google in rankings.


Today this penalty would lead to a potential loss of traffic of around 3.52 million for one day.


In February 2006, BMW was caught manipulating search results for the term ‘used car’ by redirecting searchers to the regular BMW company page when they clicked through.

For this, the site was completely removed from search results for three days.


Today this penalty would lead to a potential loss of traffic of around 71,600.


In April 2013, Mozilla was penalised for hosting a webpage with 12mb of spam from 21,169 user comments. This isn’t Mozilla’s fault, but it’s a lesson to us all to make sure any user generated content in comment sections is cleaned up.

The page was downgraded in rankings, and Mozilla ended up removing the offending page all together.


Today this penalty would lead to a potential loss of traffic of around 1.25 million for one day.


Back when Genius was known as Rap Genius, the company was very publicly penalised by Google for asking bloggers to provide lyrics in exchange for unnatural links promotion.

This led to a 10 day ban, where Rap Genius didn’t rank for its own name and suffered a drop in PageRank.


Today this penalty would lead to a potential loss of traffic of around 3.8 million.


This one is a little mysterious, as neither eBay nor Google has confirmed the details, but in 2014 the company received a manual penalty and an unspecified drop in rankings.


Today this penalty would lead to a potential loss of traffic of around 6.11 million for one day.


In February 2011, Overstock offered discounts to schools in exchange for links back to their own sire and artificially raise their rankings for specific products.

This led to a two month ban on the company ranking for its own brand name.


Today this penalty would lead to a potential loss of traffic of around 12.17 million.

JC Penney

Showing that a penalty isn’t necessarily the fault of the company, but rather an errant SEO using black hat tactics, JC Penney suffered a huge drop from the first SERP for multiple search terms thanks to ‘copious paid links’ found on unrelated sites. This lasted two months.


Today this penalty would lead to a potential loss of traffic of around 12.33 million.

The Home Depot

In 2012, The Home Depot asked its partners to link to their site with recommended anchor text. If this wasn’t bad enough they also suggested that these links could be hidden (i.e. using white text on white background, placing text behind an image).

This led to a two month drop from the first SERP for many of its product pages.


Today this penalty would lead to a potential loss of traffic of around 37.13 million.

But who punishers the punisher?

Well it may surprise you to learn that the answer to this question is Google.

Google really isn’t shy of making an example of itself, based on the following self-transgressions…

Google Chrome

Google was guilty of buying links to promote its own browser in January 2012. Although they claimed this was accidental, Google still penalised itself with lowered rankings for the Chrome homepage for a two month period.


Google AdWords

Google AdWords was found guilty of cloaking in July 2010. A spokesperson stated that, “some Google support pages were inadvertently showing different content to the Google crawler than to users.”

So again, this is more of an accident, but to set an example Google still punished itself with degraded ranks for an unknown period of time.


Instagram content best practice: winning examples from global brands


This month saw the release of the 2016 cross-border business handbook: Going global with Facebook. It is a good body of research for budding social media marketers looking to use such services to connect with consumers across international regions.

What with the data in the report having been collected by Facebook and the title of the document seemingly only referring to Facebook, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the research covered anything other than Mark Zuckerberg’s flagship service.

But it is the Instagram-related trends buried deep in the latter pages which I wanted to cover today.

After all, there’s more to social media than Facebook.

Mercedes-Benz share how they’re organizing things neatly

In order to promote their new compact SUV, the handbook details how Mercedes-Benz recently took to Instagram to leverage its rich visual functionality and highlight the space-saving design of the GLA vehicle.

Taking influence from the widely-used #ThingsOrganizedNeatly hashtag, the brand did just that. They used the GLA’s custom cargo mat on which to organize items relevant to trips that potential customers would make. These sponsored posts were also cross-targeted with users on Facebook.

The campaign resulted in a 14 point lift in recall for Mercedes-Benz Instagram ads, a 54% increase in site visits from both Instagram and Facebook ads, as well as a 580% increase in site visits when combined with Facebook direct response ads.

Qantas use seasonal photo and video imagery to engage emotionally

Shaping marketing campaigns around the seasons is nothing new, but airline Qantas looked to Instagram to connect with a younger audience itching to travel and returning home this summer.

According to the report, Qantas are the first Australian brand to run a video and photo campaign on the service. They sought to present ‘quintessentially summer moments’ such as surfing, cricket and going on road trips with additional 15 second video clips of real people reuniting at airports during the season.

In response, the brand saw a 30 point lift in ad recall and a 4 point lift in message association.


CCTV News re-appropriate existing content to give it a new lease of life on Instagram

The Chinese broadcaster successfully used Instagram to recycle the best of their existing content and to reach a US audience.

By curating memorable moments from a range of CCTV News documentaries and films into 15 second Instagram blips, The handbook details how they managed to portray themselves as a destination for quality and wide-ranging world news with a unique perspective.

The videos really connected with the younger end of the US audience, reaching 3.7m people and seeing a 6 point lift in ad recall among 25-34 year-olds as well as a 4 point lift in brand awareness.

Birchbox jump on the unboxing trend

Beauty product subscription service, Birchbox, have also recently used short video clips on Instagram to drive engagement and promote their boxes.


The brand adopted the recent online video trend of ritual unboxing and showed their actual staff members receiving boxes and trying out the products they contain. The videos also reflected the tropes established in “let me show you” style blog posts.

As a result of the campaign, Birchbox saw a 12 point lift in brand awareness and a 26 point lift in ad recall.

Instagram best practice

The above examples were just a few of the brands featured in the report which have successfully made use of Instagrams’ specific content-led functionality. The handbook also cites what it considers to be best practice for using the service…

  • On brand: Those who are doing best on Instagram have best identified their brand’s unique point of view and are ensuring that the content they create quickly reflect the brand – either via “a logo, an iconic brand element, or a brand colour.”
  • Consistent: Users need to be able to scan a brand’s Instagram page and quickly identify a message from a selection of photos and video stills. Consistent messaging “across both paid and organic content” is really important.
  • Concept driven: All of the brands succeeding on Instagram according to the handbook have concept driven campaigns. This can be “a specific visual treatment, or a theme” and some which we’ve seen work really well reflect trends already proving popular on social media such as hashtags and unboxings.
  • Well crafted: Bold uncluttered imagery that is well-considered works well on Instagram. Quality composition and style can be achieved with careful planning and without the need for big budgets. Remember, Instagram is something of a product of high-resolution mobile screens – so ensure any content works in this context.

Five tips to maximise content ROI for every industry


An effective content marketing strategy needs to be customised to the demands of each industry. Here are five tips to increase your ROI.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach in content marketing, especially when it involves different industries. Content creation and distribution depends on the particular audience for each occasion, and that’s why each industry has its own “rules” to follow.

TFM and BuzzSumo have conducted a research based on the analysis of 150,000 articles, trying to get a better understanding of what makes an effective content strategy in ten different industries.

“The Science of Content” led to many interesting insights, and here are the best tips to consider.

Chasing viral content

It’s common for businesses to invest in content marketing hoping that their content will go viral, but as BuzzSumo and TFM confirmed, this is rare and it only occurs in a small number of posts for every industry.

Instead of chasing big viral hits, it may be more effective to focus on the right tips that will boost all your content efforts.

Pick the right social networks

Facebook is the most popular choice for most of the industries, with its domination changing from one industry to another.

For example, automotive companies rely almost exclusively on Facebook (97.6% of their social efforts), while the figure for the marketing industry in general is 25.4%.

Moreover, fashion companies enjoy using Pinterest (24.9%), finding it more appropriate for their content and their audience. Twitter seems to be very popular for consumer electronics (33.7%) and LinkedIn is the network of choice for many pharmaceutical companies (43.1%).


These results serve as a great reminder for every business to be aware of its audience before heading to a social platform to ensure that its content efforts can be effective. B2B companies seem to make a perfect fit for LinkedIn, while Pinterest seems to be used more by B2C companies.

However, it doesn’t mean that a fashion company cannot find success on LinkedIn, or that an automotive company cannot go beyond Facebook. Experimentation may lead to surprisingly impressive results.


Decide on the ideal length of content

There isn’t a general agreement on the ideal length of content among all industries, as it depends on each company’s needs and goals when creating a new piece of content.

Most industries seem to prefer longer posts, reaching up to 10,000 words, although the automotive industry for example has a preference over shorter posts of up to 1000 words.

Charity and fashion sites also seem to pick shorter posts, mostly going up to 2000 words, as they may also rely on visual content to support their content marketing strategy.


Find the right types of content

Every industry finds success with different types of content, ranging from instructional “how-to” posts and lists, to infographics and video content.

List posts work well in automotive, consumer electronics and fashion sites, with the last ones finding great success on Pinterest.

Video content works impressively well for news media (especially after the rise of native Facebook videos), while the automotive industry does not find it particularly useful on its content efforts.


How-to posts are dominant in the financial advice industry, while infographics seem to be highly appreciated by the marketing industry.

It’s interesting to examine all the types of content that each industry uses, as it provides an overview of how each company may find success with content marketing for a particular industry.

However, as with the decision of which social networks to use, there’s no need to fall into the trap of following the well paved path in your industry, as it may not lead to the desired results.


The power of an effective headline

A headline offers the first impression for your content and it determines whether your content will be read by a larger audience. It has to be short, clear, relevant, appealing, and even the use of words may affect the clicks to your content.

According to “The Science of Content”, these are some of the most popular words in the headlines for every industry:

  • Marketing: “how to use”, “need to know”, “how to create”, “ways to use”
  • Travel: “photo of”, “things to do”, “best places to”, “where to eat”
  • Automotive: “the new”, “the best”, “Aston Martin”, “Telsa”, “Porsche”
  • Financial advice: “how to”,”small businesses”, “discount codes”, “voucher codes”
  • News: “Donald Trump”, “Hilary Clinton”, “Bernie Sanders”, “Brexit”, “European referendum”
  • Charity: no pattern in commonly used words, although the most shared content included the name of the charity in the title
  • Consumer electronics: “how to”, “need to know”, “iPhone 7”, “Galaxy S7”
  • Pharmaceutical: “services”, “patient”, “FDA approves”, “cancer drug”
  • IT: “you need to know”, “big data”, “open source”, “machine learning”, “Windows 10”
  • Fashion: “New York”, “must have”, “spring summer”, “celebrities”, “outfit”, “Instagram”

What’s the best day of the week to publish your content?

Weekdays seem to be preferred by all industries for content publishing and distribution, with Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday being the most productive ones for everyone.


However, there is also a content opportunity during the weekend, as there’s less competition and more chances to be noticed.



A content marketing strategy should closely monitor the trends of the industry it is focusing on, along with the specific target audience.

Each one of the tips above focused on a different parameter that affects the success of a content plan and when they are all taken into consideration, they may lead to great results.

There’s no need to imitate the trends of your target industry though, as it’s always a good idea to try out new ideas, until you find the perfect fit that gets your content noticed while reaching all the set goals.

Five solid Google AdWords insights from analyzing half a billion dollars in ad spend


In which I set out to look at fresh Performance Grader data to get a sense of what is changing in terms of the overall AdWords ecosystem.

Back in late 2013, we did a similar analysis and found that small businesses in particular were leaving a lot of opportunities (and money) on the table, by committing fatal errors like low account activity and failing to optimize for mobile search.

So, have things gotten better, or worse?

Let’s take a look at the updated AdWords advertising statistics.

A quick note on the ad data sources: I looked at 30,000 reports from advertisers who ran WordStream’s AdWords Performance Grader for the first time in the last six months. I focused on small and medium-sized businesses with average spend between $10 and $5000 per month, with accounts world-wide.

1. Quality score is more important than Eever

Since my analysis in 2013, impression-weighted Quality Scores are up! As of 2016, the average impression-weighted Quality Score for SMB’s is around 6.5. What does it mean? Has everyone gotten better at creating unicorn ads?

Not necessarily. It’s not that there are fewer low Quality Score keywords out there. There are plenty of donkey keywords with Quality Scores of 1, 2, 3 and 4. But these irrelevant, low-QS keywords are now less likely to ever get impressed to a user.

What’s happening here is that with the rise in mobile search and the loss of right side ads, there are fewer ad spots overall, so Google has to be pickier in terms of deciding which ads to show.

Not surprisingly, they are increasingly preferring to run higher-quality ads over donkey ads. Since low-QS keywords don’t even earn impressions now, the average impression-weighted Quality Score is up overall.

Key Takeaway: CTR (the biggest component of Quality Score) matters more than ever, and continues to trend up. If your keywords have very low Quality Scores (1-4) they’re just not as likely to ever be seen – as though you’re not even running an ad campaign to begin with (i.e. why bother setting them up in the first place?)

2. About those CTRs: what’s a good Click-Through Rate in 2016?

CTRs this year are trending higher than ever.

When I look at account-wide CTRs (average click-through rate for search) the average SMB account ad CTR across all positions is 3.23%. We’ve been tracking this number for a while, and that is up from 2.7% just a year earlier. That’s a big change!

There’s a lot of things going on but the biggest two factors behind this increase are:

  • AdWords is less likely to run crappy ads (with low CTR and low QS) in the first place, raising average account CTRs.
  • Bigger, more prominent ads (AKA Expanded Text Ads) are more likely to be clicked on. Our internal tests have shown that moving to ETA’s can increase CTR by up to 400%!

One thing to point out here is that there’s tremendous leverage in ad text optimization. The top 10% of accounts (the unicorns) are doing more than 3X better than everyone else (the donkeys).

3. Negative keywords are still a missed optimization opportunity

OK, let’s recap what we’ve found so far:

  • The AdWords auction is increasingly likely to favor high Quality Score ads. Low-CTR ads aren’t showing up as much as before.
  • QS is a relative measure based on how your CTR compares with other ads in similar spots, devices, location, etc.
  • CTRs across the board are going up.
  • Which means: You’re going to have to raise your CTR just to keep your current spots, and raise it even more to get ahead. How?

    One of the biggest missed opportunities (in terms of big impact for little effort) that my research uncovered was a chronic underuse of negative keywords.


    People aren’t using them as much as they should. Half of accounts didn’t add a single negative keyword in the last month. That’s a lot of wasted money.

    Now, Google says Negative Keywords don’t impact QS (because it’s calculated based on exact-match keywords). But I’m not so sure about that (more in this case study, if you’re curious).

    However, even if they don’t impact Quality Score, negative keywords are critical for high ROI because you’re eliminating wasteful spend (clicks from people who aren’t going to buy anything) and re-routing that money to more useful campaigns – all good things.

    Periodically review your search query reports and set low- or non-converting keywords as negatives.

    4. Keep the End Goal in Mind: Conversions

    Who cares about CTRs and QS? The whole point of optimizing for these metrics is to increase your conversions in the end!

    Unfortunately, less than half of small business advertisers have conversion tracking turned on.


    This makes me sad. Because these advertisers (and we’re talking millions of advertisers, if you extrapolate these results to all the companies using AdWords out there) are kind of missing out of the best feature of direct response marketing: the ability to track results and make optimizations and adjustments based on your data.

    It’s also why I’ve gone on record saying that Smart Goals aren’t that dumb (for many small businesses). Some form of conversion tracking is better than nothing.

    5. What’s a Good Conversion Rate in 2016?

    Of the approximately 15k accounts that did have conversion tracking on, we found little change in average conversion rates and conversion rate distributions.

    Whatever you’re selling on the internet, the median conversion rate was 2.9%. Previous studies we’ve done have shown average conversion rates to be in the 2.5-3.5% range.

    Honestly, I suspect it would be even lower if the 54% of advertisers not using conversion tracking turned conversion tracking on – because businesses that aren’t tracking conversions are probably making a lot of mistakes.


    What do we make of this data? A couple of my theories include:

    • Mobile traffic is converting indirectly. The pathways are increasingly indirect – for example, cross-device conversions and calls introduce conversion attribution leakage. This is why call tracking is so important.
    • CRO is basically a ton of BS.

    One important takeaway is that the top 10% of advertisers (unicorns) continue to crush everyone else with conversion rates 3X higher than the donkeys – they see conversion rates of 8% or more! Reach for the stars.

    Where businesses need to focus their attentions in AdWords right now

    Based on these insights, I think it’s clear where advertisers (and agencies) should be focusing when it comes to optimizing their campaigns for the changing AdWords landscape:

    • Excellent ad performance – Google is only showing strong performers these days. Low-quality, under-optimized ads won’t even get impressions (especially on mobile). Take advantage of every extra feature you can. Be an early adopter. Write compelling, emotional ads.
    • Better measurement – For the love of all that is decent and holy, start tracking conversions. Cut non-converting keywords out of your account. AdWords works incredibly well for businesses that take the time to measure the effects of what they’re doing, so they can funnel more money into the ads that drive the most business value.

    This is an adapted version of an article published on WordStream: AdWords ad data. It’s reprinted with permission.

    10 websites to help promote your app or tool


    Building a cool tool or an app is half of the battle. Marketing it is even harder and more overwhelming. Here’s a handy guide for you to use.

    App marketing is on the boom. Lots of ecommerce companies launch apps these days to build loyalty and create additional source of traffic and sales.

    Finally, after months of hard work, your app or tool is complete. You have gotten past the initial design, the coding, the testing, the flaw discoveries, the retesting, more flaw discoveries, the pre-beta, and now you are ready. It is time to release your baby out into the world, and hope it becomes the next big tech sensation.

    But where do you launch it?

    Everyone who has started a venture knows that word of mouth (or the internet equivalent) is crucial. That landing page with its email subscription form can only take you so far – especially when you are competing against a seemingly never ending list of brand new startups trying to jostle their way to the top. It can be frustrating just trying to be seen.

    Don’t worry, it isn’t impossible. Plenty of places exist that cater only to those new startups that are wanting attention on launch.

    Before you start

    App marketing is all about PR and media coverage but before you get into that, make sure you have covered the basics.

    Start a website

    Your website should be the central point of all your marketing efforts. Here’s a neat checklist on setting one up to keep you from getting overwhelmed and handy guide to everything to check on a website before launch.

    Do your keyword research

    Serpstat is my go-to tool when it comes to keyword and competitor research. You can run your site and see which keywords are missing, which related terms may be added and which questions are being asked in your micro-niche.

    On top of that, you can do your site audit, check your backlinks and monitor your rankings, all within one dashboard.

    Set up social media profiles

    Social media presence is essential even if you app is a side project for you. I set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page for every, even minor project I am launching. Tools like DrumUp will help manage multiple social media profiles within one account.

    10 websites to promote your app

    These are 10 sites for promoting your app or tool, so you can get those early adopters you so crave.

    1) Facebook Ads

    Facebook Ads

    Facebook has put a lot of work into their advertising structure, which is why they remain the most stable of social advertising platforms on the market.

    You can narrow down your ads to target certain demographics, and it is a pay by reach system that gives you control over your daily budget.

    This is also a great way to A/B test your promotional ads, by looking at patterns of engagement with each campaign.

    2) Product Hunt

    Product Hunt

    Product Hunt is a well known promoter of new tools and apps. They give you a featured page with all the information you need about your service.

    Then they let you interact directly with interested customers, answering questions and communicating with them one on one. Products then go on a list, where people can find them later on based on categories and tags.

    3) BetaList


    Similar to Product Hunt, BetaList features both apps and startups. All features are free, but they offer a paid ad that gets a lot more attention on the front page for only $129.

    They don’t guarantee sign ups, but they do say that startups average 50 – 500 subscribers and a lot of initial traffic. So if you want a good early boost in customers, this is a good place to get them.

    4) The Startup Pitch

    The Startup Pitch

    The Startup Pitch is a unique place, because it is all about content. It was originally started so new startups could share news about their product, launch, etc., without having to have their site up and running to link to. It evolved from there.

    Now you can post pitches about your company, alerting their active user base about what is coming.

    5) Launching Next

    Launching Next

    A database of startups with an attached blog, Launching Next is a great site that has a loyal fanbase and a great design. They also have a daily newsletter where they connect with people right in their inbox.

    You can have your startups featured in that newsletter, taking advantage of the many benefits of email marketing. Plus they have an area for trending startups on their site, so the more attention you get, the more hype will build.

    6) Hacker News

    Hacker News

    Pretty much everyone in the tech world, hacker or otherwise, is on Hacker News. They are an incredibly supportive community, very active, and they like to have their finger on the pulse of all things new on the world wide web.

    Looking for early adopters here is always a solid move, especially if you want a vocal group that will provide plenty of feedback. You may notice on the front page that startups are frequently voted up to the top spots.

    7) AppGratis


    AppGratis works by offering a paid app every day for free. You can take advantage by offering a 24 hour free period on your own app.

    Will you miss out on some profits? Maybe, but it is a way to get out there and find some people who will perhaps be willing to recommend you to others. So if you have a mobile version of your app, make sure to submit to them. They even have a newsletter.

    8) App Storm

    App Storm

    App Storm is a curation site for content based on different apps for different platforms. They frequently do lists and pieces about different apps, which can been pitched to them through their site.

    They have a good user base of regular readers, so one blog post from them can generate a lot of traffic. Since they aren’t a database it isn’t great for conversions, but it will get them to your site to work your magic.

    9) R/Startups


    Reddit is a difficult platform to utilize for a lot of reasons. For one thing the community can be a bit hostile. But it can also be extremely supportive if you are in the right subreddits, and r/Startups is one of them.

    The people there are wonderfully positive, and willing to give genuine constructive feedback. Plus, they are often happy to share your app, or to make connection that might help you both later on. It is a must-stop-shop for all entrepreneurs.

    10) Springwise


    Springwise is their own service. But they have a Springwatch and newsletter service that tells their customers about other apps they should be keeping an eye on.

    You can suggest your own business with a pitch on their site, and often they will publish it if they think your tool has what it takes. You will be facing some competition, but if you explain yourself well you will have a chance.

    No one is going to know who you are in the beginning. You have to get your name out there, and get people looking at your product from the first day it launches.

    These sites will help you do that, though you have to take special care to stand out from the crowd. With any luck, your app will be enough to do that based on the idea behind it.

    Google AMP is coming to organic search results – Update!

    mobile amp organic search

    Update: Google’s Rudy Galfi, Google’s lead product manager for AMP, has revealed to Greg Sterling from Search Engine Land that the global rollout of AMP in mobile organic search would be complete by the end of the year.

    In further remarks posted on SEL, Galfi clarified that having AMP enabled still wouldn’t affect ranking signals though.

    Six months ago, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages initiative was only available in the ‘Top Stories’ carousel of it search results. Then in August, Google announced that AMP support will be rolled out across the entire organic search results page.

    In a blog post, Google previewed exactly how this new layout will look. In fact, if you’re currently on a mobile you can just click on the following link for a live demonstration: AMP Demo

    And it totally works. Here’s my mobile search for ‘finding dory review’. Check out the middle result from The Guardian…

    As you can see from the above, being AMP enabled doesn’t automatically make a page rank higher, in fact Galfi reiterated today that AMP is not a ranking signal.

    Google AMP is specifically designed to improve the mobile user experience offering stripped down versions of web pages that load instantly, have minimal navigation, are uncluttered with ads (for now) and require very little network power.

    Personally I now seek out pages with the little lightning symbol when I’m on my mobile… there’s just no other more satisfying way to find out the lyrics to Will Smith’s ‘Miami’ when on the move.


    Don’t panic

    Today’s confirmation is designed to be an early warning (much like its previous ‘head’s up’ regarding its mobile friendly algorithm change) before it rolls out the feature more broadly by the end of the year.

    Google states:

    “We want to give everyone who might be interested in “AMPing up” their content enough time to learn how to implement AMP and to see how their content appears in the demo.”

    Google developing a sense of humour there that can only be described as ‘dad-like’.

    To date there are more than 150 million AMP docs in Google’s index, with more than 4 million new ones being added every week. You still have time to implement AMP if you haven’t already, but you’d better get your lightning fast skates on!

    A version of this article was previously published in August 2016.

    How SK-II blends ecommerce and social for improved brand perception


    JD.com’s Joey Bian outlines how cosmetic giant SK-II blended data from two of China’s biggest ecommerce and social sites to improve both brand perception and ROI.

    Earlier this year, SK-II was one of a number of global brands selected to trial a new targeted advertising tool for the Chinese market, which draws on data from online retailer JD.com’s 188 million active purchase customers and the 800 million monthly active users (MAU) of Tencent’s social messaging app WeChat.

    Alibaba has been the country’s dominant ecommerce player with its C2C and B2C online marketplaces Taobao and Tmall.

    However Tencent is making moves to disrupt Alibaba’s lead through an increasing number of commerce features on its WeChat social messaging application, including wallet capabilities, and the strategic partnership it formed with JD.com in 2014. (Tencent currently holds an 18% share in JD.com).

    If you want to learn more about WeChat, this short video gives an introduction to China’s social commerce landscape with an excellent overview of the app and why western tech companies are now trying to emulate it.

    Joey Bian, head of ad tech strategy and innovation at JD.com says a key challenge for brands in China, is how to leverage ecommerce with social platforms to improve brand perception and marketing ROI simultaneously. Here’s how SK-II implemented the JD.com /Tencent tool during a Chinese New Year campaign in February 2016.

    Case study: SK-II

    SK-II is a mature brand in China. It had two objectives when piloting the Tencent / JD.com brand and marketing tool:

    1. Maintain its loyal customer base

    2. Convert prospective customers into purchasing customers

    This four-step methodology was used to achieve this.

    1. Define the target

    SK-II’s two target groups were:

    • Loyalists. These were consumers who had purchased SK-II products over the previous year on JD.com.
    • Prospects. These were consumers who had had interaction with the SK-II brand on both the JD.com and Tencent ecommerce and social platforms.

    2. Create relevant experiences for each segment

    Data from JD.com was used to identify which consumers had purchased an SK-II product in the past 12 months – these users were placed in the loyal consumer segment group. The data was then used to go a step further, by identifying who in the loyal consumer segment group was visiting and searching for SK-II product pages on the JD.com site in preparation for a possible next purchase.

    These users were then targeted with an add unit in their WeChat moments feed. The add featured a six-second video and also gave the consumer the opportunity to join the brand’s official WeChat account.

    Here’s how the ad was served in the WeChat Moments feed:

    And here’s the video displayed within the WeChat app.

    Data sets from JD.com and Tencent were used in a similar way to identify prospective customers – those who had had ‘interactions’ with the brand on either of the platforms but were yet to be converted. These consumers were shown a video in their moments feed which had a greater emphasis on brand education and led to a push for them to follow the brand’s official WeChat account.


    3. Build connections with the right tools

    Chinese users are busy, but they open the WeChat app more times in a day than any other app, says Bian. Therefore, WeChat had a stronger percentage of probability in reaching these SK-II consumers because this target group opens the app a lot more often than say a news app. Disseminating the two video ad units on WeChat was deemed one of the best tools for the brand to build connections.

    To reach a younger consumer segment, the same methodology was also applied to users on Tencent’s QQ messaging service.

    4. Measurement

    ROI for the two segments – loyal consumers and prospective consumers – were measured differently. For the SK-II loyalists, the metric was conversion rates. The conversions for repurchasing of the loyal consumer group was five to six times more than for those loyal consumers who had not been exposed to a video ad unit.

    The prospective customer campaign saw SK-II gain 20,000 new followers on its official WeChat account in just a number of days – a process which would have taken two months without the campaign, says Bian.

    Case study 2: LeEco

    In April, Chinese handset brand LeEco used the JD.com / Tencent tool to launch its LeEco Le 2 device.


    *Image: LeEco Le 2 as featured on the LeTV mobile store.

    The device was launched on April 26, but a prelaunch campaign began a week earlier. Using the combined data of JD.com and Tencent’s WeChat, ads and targeted messages could be sent to ‘high potential’ audiences. When it came to launch day, LeEco sold 50,000 phones in 10 minutes. A further 250,000 units were sold in the following 15 days after the launch.

    What’s special about social commerce in China?

    Brands in China are continuously trying to use social platforms for brand education, says Bian. “The challenge is how do you prove the value of that brand education because usually brand education takes a long time and you don’t always have control over your customers on social platforms. You know that they follow you but you don’t know if they are loyalists or are just following you for some other reason,” he says.

    Combining the data of an ecommerce platform with that of a social site, empowers brands to target specific consumer groups for any number of objectives whether that is for a product launch (in the case of LeEco), loyal customer retention, cross sale or upsell, to preventing attrition.

    Bian’s advice to newcomers to the Chinese is market is do your research.

    “Do your research before you even start thinking about product positioning, targeting and budgeting. In the first place, look at the marketing niche or category you are trying to enter – what’s the competitive landscape of it, what’s the historical performance of foreign brands in China and what can you learn from them,” he says.

    Three points to consider for China market entry:

    1. Differentiation. How do you differentiate yourself? How are you different from existing brands in China?

    2. Once you have figured out your positioning you need to define your target audience and you need to create a brand strategy in order to convince people that they should choose you and stay with you.

    3. Finally, budgeting matters. You always want to be able to be nimble. As a new brand in China you probably don’t have that much brand recognition. You want to be able to see the ROI of each channel investment you make.

    *To learn more about social commerce in China and the marketing opportunities around this, join us at ClickZ Live Shanghai on September 20-21 at the Andaz, Xintiandi, where Joey Bian is a keynote speaker. Click here for more information or contact Polly Hochio at polly.hochio@clickz.com to receive a copy of the agenda and secure your spot.

    *Featured image: SK-II’s official store on JD.com.

    What’s next for Adblock Plus and its Acceptable Ads Platform?


    Adblock Plus made a major announcement last week that it would create its own RTB platform and get into the ad business.

    Adblock Plus’s new service is called the ‘Acceptable Ads Platform’. It is a natural evolution of the‘Acceptable Ads Initiative” – effectively working as a SSP (Supply Side Platform).

    It hoped this would establish itself as an important player in the advertising technology ecosystem.

    However just 24 hours later those plans appear to lie in tatters.

    Adblock Plus (ABP) has an impressive user base and product, so what’s holding it back? We’ll take a look at what happened after the announcement and its implication for publishers and advertisers.

    Adblock Plus and its rollercoaster week

    From its origin, ABP has frustrated publishers and advertisers alike. Adblockers started out as an esoteric, fringe activity but have become more mainstream, attracting 26% of all adults in the US (emarketer 2015), powered by rapid uptake in Asia, and mobile (accelerated by Apple’s release of iOS 9 last June which enabled browser plug-ins on mobile devices).

    On Tuesday at the DMEXCO conference ABP announced its intention to become a grown-up player in the global ad-tech industry. Today that dream appears to have been quashed by two of the tech giants that ABP have spent years trying to undermine.

    Since ABP has not historically had a great relationship with many publishers, it has partnered with an Israeli ad-tech company called Combotag which has an established network of publishers.

    Combotag sees it as beneficial for the web user to be able to have better quality ads and an enhanced web experience.

    The partnership with Combotag allows online publishers and bloggers to choose from a “marketplace of pre white-listed ads” to be served on their sites.

    The other party at the table is the advertisers, and Combotag has an existing relationship with Google and AppNexus to serve ads which are bought via their DSP (Demand Side Platform).

    In theory this should allow publishers to monetise ad inventory which is otherwise blocked, and allows advertisers to reach users who would normally be unreachable and ABP take their cut along the way.

    Within hours of the announcement Google and AppNexus terminated their relationship with Combotag and have gone on to express their disdain for the model with Google saying,

    “Ad blocking is a symptom of bad ads online and that’s why we believe the industry needs to align around a standard – backed by data and insights from conversations with real consumers – for what constitutes a better ads experience online.”

    Appnexus similarly pulled no punches:

    “AppNexus does not work with companies like Eyeo; we regard their business practices as fundamentally harmful to the ecosystem. Essentially, Eyeo, via its Adblock product, erects toll booths on a public road and siphons off advertising dollars that should be going directly to publishers. We hold that practice in low regard.”

    With 500m downloads across the globe, ABP claims a mandate to fight on behalf of users to achieve a better web experience for all.

    ABP is still engaged in an arms race with Facebook, who continually try to circumvent ABP and in effect block them, followed by counter-measures from ABP.

    ABP have tried to take the moral high ground by claiming that Facebook is ‘anti-user’. But it is hard to take the moral high ground and talk about putting users’ needs first when many of their users see this latest move as effectively undermining ABP’s own raison d’etre, “So, the program that is supposed to block ads is going to be showing ads…. It will be uninstalled” (Comments on ABP’s blog).

    Further attempts to commercialise their platform by selling ads can only alienate their base further, and negatively impact their ongoing user growth. Having irked Google and Facebook, who together control two thirds of the world’s ad inventory, it is unclear where ABP will go from here.

    On paper ABP has some valuable assets, such as:

    • More than 500m downloads – although what proportion are active users is unclear.
    • An internationally recognised brand name that is synonymous with the product category.
    • A treasure trove of data of how users behave.

    If I were an investor in Eyeo, the German company behind ABP that was founded in 2011, I would want to see a plan that shows how to start monetising this year.

    It can’t be cheap to fight all the legal battles with publishers, nor constantly be developing new releases to counteract blocking moves from publishers with deeper pockets like Facebook.

    As a consequence ABP are attempting to reach out to both Publishers and Advertisers with more conciliatory language and opportunities to participate through Acceptable Ads.

    The critical element that ABP is missing is trust

    In addition to making enemies of some powerful players they have exacerbated the negative perception of adblockers amongst the publisher and advertising community and now their own users.

    forbes adblock

    They are still seen as being subversive, or at best mercenary. They’ve got a long way to go to convince highly reputable publishers and advertisers that they are a dependable and long term partner.

    ABP solved a problem very successfully, now they have to decide whether to remain outside the advertising establishment as an ad-blocker continuing to solve that problem for their users or try to become an advertising technology company serving publishers and advertisers. They cannot do both with their existing brand and business model.

    This article is adapted from a post originally published on our sister site ClickZ: What’s is blocking AdBlocker Plus’s ambition?

    Have your say on the future of online advertising and take our 5 minute survey looking at some of the challenges faced by publishers and advertisers. Take the survey now.

    Are your emails personal enough?


    When it comes to email content, we know that data is key to ensuring messages are relevant and engaging for those who are receiving them.

    Return Path’s new report in partnership with Ascend2: Strategies and Tactics for Data-Driven Marketing delves into the goals of B2C marketing influencers and how they are using data to improve their email strategies.

    A great majority of email marketers are certainly using data to make email (and related) content more personal, but is enough value being placed on email personalization? And is simply making emails more personal effective enough?

    Personalizing the customer experience is now the most important goal for many marketers

    Return Path’s latest research asks more than 200 B2C marketing influencers what they consider the most important goals are for their data-driven marketing strategies.

    A massive 72% of those cite personalizing the customer experience as the most important, ahead of acquiring new customers (41%) and measuring ROI (37%).

    But why is personalization so important?

    Return Path’s research points to two key reasons why personalization is proving so important to data-driven marketers.

    Reason one is its fast-improving effectiveness, with 96% of those asked saying they are seeing personalization effectiveness increasing. Customers want content to be tailored to them and businesses are seeing such content have a positive impact.

    Reason two comes from the report’s finding that out of numerous data-driven marketing tactics, personalizing the customer experience is also one of the more straightforward techniques to implement.

    Compared to making CX more personal, marketers are more likely to come across barriers with acquiring new customers, measuring ROI, integrating data across platforms and enriching data.

    How are influencers using data to make email content personal? And are they focusing on the right areas?

    In email marketing, using data to increasingly personalize content and messaging is being implemented via a range of tactics.

    Making email messages personal is understandably a key technique, with 42% of marketing influencers considering it most effective. Additionally, using contact data to segment out email lists for targeting is of course well-used – with 35% of marketing influencers saying this is the most effective tactic.

    But data-driven personalization is also important to consider for content beyond the email messages themselves. In fact, 45% of marketing influencers consider targeted landing pages to be the most effective data-driven marketing personalization tactic to be used and 38% say the same of web content personalization.


    Certain tactics are often more difficult to implement than others, though. Web content personalization and lead intelligence collection are considered the hardest to use according to 41% and 45% of marketing influencers respectively.

    On the flipside, targeted landing pages are far less likely to be considered challenging, with just 22% of marketing influencers saying they are most difficult to use. Additionally, just 26% cite email message personalization as the most difficult data-driven tactic to implement.

    Using data to improve email personalization is certainly important

    Consumers respond well to digital content that is shaped to fit them and it makes sense that such personalization is implemented as seamlessly as possible across channels and messages.

    This latest research shows marketing influencers are increasingly reporting that their in-email personalization is getting more effective and there is a strong case that the tactic is one of the more straightforward ways to take quite simple data about customers and to use that to make emails more relevant and engaging for them.

    But Return Path’s report also does a good job at separating out data-driven tactics and where efforts to improve content personalization and targeting are worth being made beyond simply the emails themselves.

    According to the marketers they surveyed, we can see that those looking to use data to improve content around the email journey should be looking to implement targeted landing pages if they are not doing so already. Additionally, using data to personalize on-site content is also a tactic which leans toward higher effectiveness and lower difficulty.

    To sum up simply…

    Emails may well be personal enough and marketers are right to use their data to make every effort to keep such messages as targeted and relevant as possible. But the wider journey in which email is inevitably a part of must be considered too, as there may well be even more effective personalization opportunities just one click away that are so far being overlooked.

    Bing Ads vs Google AdWords case study: which offers the better value?

    google adwords vs bing ads

    As an agency, we use both Google AdWords and Bing Ads for our clients as standard practice.

    We see mixed result across both platforms, depending on the account we’re working on, so it’s difficult to identify trends in the differences between the two networks, when we’re trying to optimise campaigns.

    Because both networks are treated differently, unless using an ad-exchange, it’s rare that like-for-like campaigns across the networks mirror each other in terms of set-up.

    So, when a new client shared their concerns about Bing advertising proving expensive from them in the past, I recommended that we trialled a new campaign structure that was identical to those that were already working on Google.

    Once this was agreed, three campaigns were created in Bing which mirrored the three that were enabled in Google AdWords.

    This approach doesn’t always work, however it was a good starting point in this case as the Bing activity was failing to meet its objectives. After running all campaigns simultaneously for 45 days, the results were analysed and the difference between the two networks was significant.

    The scenario

    The trial ran for 45 days between the 28th July 2016 and 10th September 2016. There were three campaigns in each of the networks which were identical in their set-up, bidding strategy and landing page experience.

    The only noticeable difference was the spend on each of the campaigns. The objective of the trial was to lower the CPA from Bing Ads activity, and match what was being achieved by Google.


    Conversions: 1. Tracked phone call, 2. Online form submission.

    Despite the sizable difference in the spend across all campaigns, the cost to generate conversions saw Bing prove itself to be a significantly more economical network.

    Overall, it was 63.23% cheaper to gain a conversion on Bing compared to Google. After the trial was running for the first 10 days, the results were exceeding expectations, however the concern was whether this performance could be maintained.

    Not only was this the case, but I found that that the performance became more consistent throughout the time period.


    Why the difference in CPA performance?

    When reviewing standard advert metrics such as CPC, average position and CTR, there were only slight differences, suggesting that ‘where’ and ‘how’ the ads were positioned on the SERPs had little impact on the CPA.

    It was the conversion rate when users arrived at the website which was so influential.

    The overall conversion rate for the three Google campaigns was 5.96% compared to Bing which returned a rate of 8.78%. As the same landing pages were used across both networks, it would appear the characteristics and behaviours of Bing users was substantially different from those who used Google.

    This suggestion isn’t something new as we see performance differences across both networks all the time. However, the results gained from this trial were not even close, and I personally I have yet to come across a case where the difference in performance has been this wide.

    Going forward, I will be extending the trail over a 90-day period which I hope will provide conclusive evidence of the difference in performance between the two networks for this case study.


    During this trial, Bing produced a far more economical performance than Google, but we know that this isn’t always the case.

    I, like many PPC managers, have had scenarios where Google has proved to be the most cost-effective network. However, the key takeaway is not to dismiss Bing Ads before giving it a chance.

    Despite having a much smaller search engine market share, and a less advanced interface than Google’s, I strongly believe it’s worth investing the time and effort in running some Bing Ad activity. You might gain similar, or even better, results.

    Owen Gill is a Digital Marketing Executive at the Nottingham UK based agency, Hallam Internet.