Episode 156 contains the notable Digital Marketing News and Updates from the week of Apr 10-14, 2023.

1. Microsoft Ads Launches PLA Extensions – PLA Extensions are the first fully integrated retail media solution from Microsoft allowing brands to serve product ads both onsite and offsite with a single budget while automatically optimizing for the best balance of performance and reach.

What are onsite and offsite ads? Advertising your products on a retailer’s website (known as “onsite”) is a strategy with a proven return on investment (ROI)—but advertising only onsite can limit your reach. Onsite advertising has genuine advantages, such as increase awareness of your products with a retailers loyal shoppers, as they’re already shopping (with high intent to make a purchase) on the retailer’s website. However, reaching only shoppers that are already searching for your products on a retailer’s site limits your reach.

PLA Extension allows you to place product ads both onsite and offsite with a single budget, while automatically optimizing for the best balance of performance and reach. While previously limited by ad supply constraints onsite, you can now reach significantly more in-market shoppers offsite. With PLA Extension, you’ll have unified reporting and attribution without any heavy lifting. This feature unlocks omnichannel attribution in an automated and scalable way, enabling you to measure the impact of your onsite and offsite ads and see a more complete view of the shopper’s journey.

When you opt to use PLA Extension—if an onsite campaign is underspending—the feature will automatically extend your product listing ad to offsite product placements powered by the Microsoft Search Network and the Microsoft Audience Network, optimizing performance and reach across on and offsite product ad placements.

For example, suppose John is searching for a new pair of boots on his favorite retailer’s website. He sees your ad for a particular brand of boots but becomes distracted before adding them to his cart and leaves the website without making a purchase. Later that evening, he’s browsing online and sees your ad again on Bing. He clicks through the ad on Bing and is taken to your product page on the retailer’s website, and this time, makes a purchase. Meanwhile, Sandra, another shopper in need of new boots who isn’t familiar with your brand, has also seen your ad on DuckDuckGo and clicks through to make a purchase as well. Thanks to the PLA Extension feature, you’ve reached in-market shoppers both on and off the retailer’s site with a single PLA campaign.

PLA Extension drives awareness of your brand and points prospective customers back to your product landing page, growing your audience, and increasing the likelihood of sales.

The introduction of this feature in the Microsoft PromoteIQ solution is just one of the ways Microsoft is solidifying its vision to build the most complete omnichannel retail media stack.

2. GA4 Gives You The Ability To Change How You Count Your Conversions – Google Analytics 4 (GA4) now allows users to modify the counting method for conversions, introducing a “once per session” option, which is similar to how Universal Analytics (UA) operated. There are two different counting methods that you can select for a conversion event: 

  1. The “Once per event” (Recommended) setting means that Google Analytics 4 properties count an event as a conversion every time it occurs. This option is recommended because it reflects the behavior of users on your site or app, and allows you to distinguish between sessions where multiple conversions occurred and sessions where only one conversion occurred. For example: A user completes 5 conversions in one session. This setting counts 5 conversions.
  2. The “Once per session (Legacy) This setting means that Google Analytics 4 properties count an event as a conversion only once it occurs within a particular session. Once per session is how Universal Analytics properties count goals. Select this option if it’s important for your GA4 conversion count to closely match your UA conversion count. Otherwise, select Once per event. For example, A user completes 5 conversions in one session. This setting counts 1 conversion. 

A session is a group of user interactions with your website or app that take place within a given time frame. In Analytics, a session initiates when a user either opens your app in the foreground or views a page or screen and no session is currently active (e.g. their previous session has timed out). 

By default, a session ends (times out) after 30 minutes of user inactivity. However, you can adjust the session timeout period. There is no limit to how long a session can last. An engaged session is a session that lasts longer than 10 seconds, has a conversion event, or has at least 2 pageviews or screenviews.

If you don’t make a choice, Google Analytics will automatically use the default counting method. The default depends on how conversion events were created. 

i. “Once per session” is the default counting method for all conversions that were created from Universal Analytics goals:
 1. in an automatically created Google Analytics 4 property
2. using the goals migration tool in the Setup Assistant after April 2023
ii. “Once per event” is the default counting method for all other conversions

You can quickly tell which counting method each of your conversion events uses by going to the Conversion events table in Admin > Conversions. Any conversion with an  icon next to it has the Once per session counting method. If there’s no icon in the Conversion name column, then that conversion event uses the Once per event.

To change the conversion counting method, you need to have at least an “Editor” role on the property.

3. In U.S Search Ads Accounted For 40.2% Of All Digital Ad Revenue In 2022 – According to the 2022 IAB’s Internet Advertising Revenue Report, search ads accounted for $84.4 billion of the $209.7 billion in U.S. digital advertising revenues.  In 2021, search ads accounted for $78.3 billion of the $189 billion spending.

The IAB report pointed out that the growth of search revenues wasn’t as strong as other formats – it lost 1.2 percentage points in total revenue share. That’s because display revenues were up 12%, digital video was up 19.3% and digital audio was up 20.9%, year on year. With 40.2% of all digital ad revenue in 2022, paid search is still the leading format.

After rebounding in 2021, social media saw its smallest level of growth in 10 years, according to the IAB. In 2022, revenue from social platforms was $59.7 billion, up from $57.7 billion in 2021. Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature was cited as one key reason for stalled growth.

You can view the entire report here (note: the report is free, but you must log in or create an account to download it).

4. Google Released 2022 Web Spam Report – Every year Google releases its web spam report showing how much better the search company got at fighting search spam. Google has named its machine learning based systems for spam identification with its own name – SpamBrain. SpamBrain is Google’s AI-based spam-prevention system that it launched in 2018 but never spoke about externally as SpamBrain until 2021.

Here are some high level numbers that Google shared in its 2022 report:

  • SpamBrain detected 5 times more spam sites in 2022 compared to 2021 
  • SpamBrain detected 200 times more spam sites in 2022 compared to when SpamBrain first launched in 2018
  • SpamBrain was incorporated in the December 2022 link spam update
  • 10 times improvement in hack site detection
  • SpamBrain can detect spam during crawling, so a page doesn’t need to be indexed to be found to be spammy

5. Google Updates Policy For Video Thumbnails In Search Results – On April 13, 2023 Google published in Search Central Blog that they have made a change so that video thumbnails only appear next to Google search results when the video is the main content of a page. This will make it easier for users to understand what to expect when they visit a page. 

Previously, they showed video thumbnails in two different ways. For pages where the video was the main content of the page, the video thumbnail appeared at the beginning of a listing: This remains unchanged. 

The other format was for when a video was present on a page but not the main element of a page. In that case, the thumbnail appeared after a listing: This second format is going away. According to Google during their experiments phase,this change has had minimal impact on overall engagement for publishers.

This change will impact search appearance reported metrics for videos in the performance report in Search Console. There will be annotations in the video indexing report and the video enhancements report.

In my own experiments, I noticed that instead of video thumbnails, Google is replacing it with an image.

To learn more about video indexing best practices, check out the video best practices guide.

6. Google Warns Against Cloaking HTTP Status Codes – Cloaking is a simple method to hide a website’s natural appearance from search engines. This technique gives search engines a version of the webpage (or different content) that is different from what website visitors actually see when they visit the website. Black Hat SEO practitioners use cloaking to try to help improve a website’s ranking in search engines like Google.

Now during Google’s April 2023 SEO Office Hours, a website owner asked Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, whether giving Googlebot a different HTTP status code from the one served to human visitors would be acceptable. Specifically, the site owner wanted to serve an HTTP status code of 410 (Gone) to Googlebot while giving users a 200 (OK) status code. An HTTP status code of 410 informs search engines that a page has been deleted for good and needs to be removed from their index. In contrast, an HTTP status code of 200 means the request worked and the desired resource was successfully given. Giving different HTTP status codes to search engines and users is also considered as “cloaking.”

In response to the website owner’s question, Illyes strongly advised against cloaking status codes, stating it’s risky. He explained that multiple serving conditions could lead to potential issues, such as the site getting de-indexed from Google. Instead, Illyes recommends using a “noindex” robots meta tag to remove specific pages from Google Search. This approach is more straightforward and safer than setting up potentially problematic serving conditions.

Cloaking is considered a direct violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines.

7. Google: No SEO Reason To Delay Release Of Thousands Of Pages – Google’s John Mueller was asked if it makes sense to publish 8,000 new pages at once or slowly publish them over time. Like, would publishing them all at once cause some of SEO issue with Google Search.

The answer is no, go ahead and publish the 8,000 pages at once. But John Mueller said on Twitter, “If it’s great content that the internet has missed and which users have been waiting for, why would you artificially delay it?”

Basically, if you created thousands of great pages, just release them. If they are not great pages, then why release any of them? The number of pages doesn’t necessarily matter, what does matter is if they are good pages. You know, the quality over quantity thing…

8. Google: How To Investigate A Sudden Ranking Drop – Gary Illyes from Google during the latest Google SEO office hours said that it would be “really uncommon that you would completely lose rankings for just one keyword.” 

The question asked was, “Is there a way that my site was deleted from SERP for one certain keyword? We were 1st and now we are absent completely. Page is in the index.”

Gary said if you do see that happen, it “usually” means you were “out-ranked by someone else in search results.” Your competitors might have improved their content or implemented better SEO strategies, leading them to outrank your website for the targeted keyword.

But what happens if you really did disappear for that one keyword phrase? Gary’s recommendation is to check the following:

  • Check to make sure that this is not a regional thing where you rank well in one region but you don’t rank in another region. “I would check if that’s the case globally.” “Ask some remote friends to search for that keyword and report back. If they do see your site then it’s just a glitch in the matrix,” he added. You can accomplish the same on your own using a virtual private network (VPN) to change your location and simulate searches from different countries. This will allow you to see if your website’s ranking is consistent across various locations. And I would like to remind you that Search results can be influenced by a user’s location and search history. If a website’s disappearance for a specific keyword is limited to a particular region or individual users, it could be due to geo-targeting or personalization factors. If your site is consistently absent from test searches, you may have a more significant problem.
  • Check to see if you “did anything that might have caused it.” Such as, did you change the internal link structure or page layout or acquired more links? Or did you use the disavow tool recently? Each of these may have some effect on ranking. So going through the check list is probably going to help.

At times it is a technical issue: Crawling or indexing issues can cause your website to disappear from search results. This could be due to problems with your robots.txt file, sitemap, site structure or issues like broken links, duplicate content, or slow page load times.

9. Are Backlinks Still Relevant In 2023? – Google’s John Mueller said that when it comes to links SEO make to manipulate search rankings and gain ranking position in Google, those links are mostly ignored by Google Search. This is a line Googlers have been saying since Penguin 4.0 came out in 2016 and continues to say.

John said on Twitter, “Of course — most of those links do nothing; we’ve spent many years ignoring that kind of thing.” This was when he was asked, “Most of the Seo practitioners make backlinks for just manipulating search results and gain positions. If private tools like Semrush and Ahrefs can detect those IPs which are building backlinks, doesn’t google track them?”

So there you have it again, Google says they are excellent at ignoring links that are links designed to try to manipulate Google Search rankings. But as a reminder, Google does not demote but rather devalues those links.

P.S: Demotes would mean that it would lower the rankings of a website for doing something bad. Devalues means it would likely ignore the link spam and not downgrade the rank of the web site.