Episode 193 contains the Digital Marketing News and Updates from the week of Jan 01-05, 2024.

1. Google’s Shift Away from Third-Party Cookies has Started – On January 4, 2024, Google embarked on a significant change in the digital marketing landscape by initiating the first stage of its strategy to remove third-party cookies. We have mentioned in our previous episode that it will begin in January 2024. However, I did not expect it to start so soon. 

Third-party cookies have long been a staple in digital marketing, allowing businesses to track users’ browsing habits across different websites and deliver personalized advertising. Google’s decision to phase out these cookies is part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative, which aims to balance user privacy with the needs of online businesses. Initially, this change will impact 1% of Chrome users globally, equivalent to about 30 million people.

The impact of Tracking Protection’s rollout is yet to be fully realized, but it’s clear that advertisers need to be ready for a cookie-less future. This shift will cause issues for sites that depend on third-party cookies. 

Third-party cookies have traditionally provided vital insights for targeted advertising. With their removal, Google will categorize users into anonymized topic listings, allowing brands to target subsets of users but without the granular data previously available. This change is expected to lead to less effective advertising campaigns and, consequently, reduced revenue for web publishers. It also signifies increased costs for businesses in targeting ads.

For small business owners, this shift represents a significant challenge and opportunity. The removal of third-party cookies means that the traditional methods of targeted advertising, which rely on detailed user data, will become less effective. Instead, Google plans to categorize users into anonymized topic listings. While this still allows for targeted advertising, it will be less specific than before, potentially leading to less effective campaigns and reduced revenue for web publishers. Additionally, the cost of ad targeting is likely to increase for many businesses.

Google’s move also reflects a broader trend in the digital world towards prioritizing user privacy. This trend is not only driven by tech giants like Google and Apple but also by regulatory changes in regions like the European Union. As a result, digital marketers are entering a phase of trial and error, learning to utilize new tools and strategies to maximize their advertising effectiveness in a privacy-focused online ecosystem.

Business owners must adapt their digital marketing strategies to align with these new privacy standards. This adaptation involves exploring new tools and methods for reaching audiences in a way that respects their privacy while still achieving marketing goals.

2. The Community’s Verdict on Buying DR & DA Services: More Harm Than Good – As a small business owner, you might be tempted to quickly boost your website’s Domain Rating (DR) and Domain Authority (DA) by purchasing services from platforms like Fiverr. DR and DA are metrics developed by SEO companies to estimate a website’s likelihood of ranking well in search engine results. While these metrics can be useful indicators of a site’s health and link profile, they are not direct factors used by search engines like Google for ranking websites.

The allure of these services is understandable: they promise quick, significant improvements in your website’s perceived authority. However, it’s crucial to understand the potential risks and downsides.

  • Quality of Links: Many services offering to boost DR and DA do so by creating a large number of backlinks to your site. However, these links are often from low-quality or irrelevant sites. Search engines have evolved to recognize and penalize such artificial link-building tactics, which can harm your site’s long-term SEO health.
  • Short-term Gains, Long-term Risks: While you might see a temporary increase in your DR or DA, these gains can be short-lived. Search engines continuously update their algorithms to provide the most relevant search results, and they may penalize sites that engage in manipulative link-building practices.
  • Misalignment with SEO Best Practices: The best SEO strategy focuses on creating high-quality content and obtaining backlinks naturally from reputable websites within your industry. Purchasing DR/DA boosting services often goes against these organic practices and can lead to a misalignment with Google’s guidelines.
  • Cost vs. Benefit: While the cost of these services might seem low compared to other marketing efforts, the potential damage to your site’s reputation and ranking can be much more costly in the long run.

The Reddit SEO community strongly advises against purchasing services to artificially boost Domain Rating (DR) and Domain Authority (DA) from platforms like Fiverr. Here are some key takeaways from their responses:

  • Toxic Backlinks: Many users pointed out that the backlinks provided by these services are often “toxic” and flagged by search engine algorithms. One user stated, “because the backlinks are usually toxic (spammed and flagged by algos), flagged or have no actual power no matter what their DA says.”
  • Irrelevance of DR and DA: Several comments emphasized that DR and DA are third-party metrics and not Google metrics. They are often seen as “vanity metrics” with no real value in SEO. A user mentioned, “Because DR and DA are irrelevant third party metrics when it comes to SEO.”
  • No Impact on Rankings: Users highlighted that an increase in DR and DA does not translate to an increase in search engine rankings. One comment read, “Because it doesn’t work and an increase in DR and DA (not even Google metrics) doesn’t mean there will be an increase in rankings.”
  • Potential Harm to Site: There’s a consensus that these services can harm your site’s SEO health. One user warned, “Worst case scenario: you severely damage your backlink profile in Google.”
  • Low-Quality Links and PBNs: Several comments noted that these services often use low-quality links and private blog networks (PBNs), which are frowned upon by Google. A user shared, “They sell the same shit to everyone who orders these. Lots of low quality backlinks using the same PBN.”
  • Misleading Metrics: Users agreed that DR and DA are easy to manipulate and do not reflect a site’s actual authority or relevance. A comment stated, “DR/DA are useless when it comes to link quality.”
  • Short-Term Gains, Long-Term Losses: The community believes that any short-term gains from these services are outweighed by long-term losses in rankings and credibility.

In conclusion, the Reddit SEO community strongly advises against buying DR and DA boosting services. These services offer short-term, superficial gains at the expense of long-term SEO health and credibility. For small business owners, the focus should be on building organic backlinks, creating quality content, and following best SEO practices for sustainable growth and success.

3. Revamp Your Website Without Losing SEO: Essential Tips from John Muller – Google’s John Mueller highlights the critical importance of careful planning in website revamps to avoid SEO pitfalls. This topic is particularly relevant for small business owners who are considering updating their website’s user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).

UI and UX are fundamental aspects of a website, influencing how visitors interact and their overall satisfaction. Changes in these areas, along with adding new pages, can significantly impact a site’s SEO performance. This is because these changes can affect everything from how Google crawls and understands a page to the on-page ranking factors. Here is what he mentioned:

One complexity is that a relaunch can mean so many different things, from just shifting a website to a new server and leaving everything else the same, to changing domain names and all of the content as well. First, you need to be absolutely clear what’s changing on the website. Ideally map out all changes in a document, and annotate which ones might have SEO implications. If you’re changing URLs, we have some great guidance on handling site migrations in our documentation. If you’re changing the content or the UI, of course that will affect SEO too. If you’re unsure about the effects, I’d strongly recommend getting help from someone more experienced – it’s easy to mess up a bigger revamp or migration in terms of SEO, if it’s done without proper preparation. Even with everything done properly, I get nervous when I see them being done. Fixing a broken migration will take much more time and effort than preparing well. In any case, good luck!

We also recommend that you discuss your needs with a reputable, competent SEO professional.

Here are some key steps to consider:

  • Crawl the Website: Use tools like Screaming Frog to crawl your site before and after changes. This helps identify issues like missing pages, broken links, or misconfigured meta elements.
  • Create a Backup: Always have multiple backups of your website. This is a safety net against various potential issues that could arise during the update process.
  • Stage the Website: Use a staging environment to test new changes. This is a duplicate version of your site where you can identify and fix technical bugs or errors before they go live.

For small business owners, understanding and implementing these steps is crucial. A well-planned website revamp can enhance user experience and SEO performance, while a poorly executed one can lead to significant setbacks in site visibility and user engagement. Therefore, it’s not just about making the site look better; it’s about ensuring that these improvements align with SEO best practices to maintain or enhance your site’s ranking on search engines.

4. Importance of a Website’s Homepage in Google’s Eyes – Historically, the homepage was deemed the most important page due to the prevalence of directory and reciprocal links pointing to it. However, the focus shifted to inner pages as link-building strategies evolved, targeting content-rich pages for better ranking in search results. Despite this trend, recent statements from Google’s Gary Illyes and John Mueller suggest a resurgence in the importance of the homepage.

Illyes, in ep#66 of the Search off the Record podcast, emphasized that from Google’s perspective, the homepage is the most important page of a site. Here is what he said :
… I can’t speak for other search engines, obviously, but from Google’s perspective, the homepage is the most important page on the site,…

This statement is significant for business owners, as it implies that Google pays special attention to the homepage for indexing and understanding a website’s structure. Mueller echoed this sentiment, noting that Google uses the homepage as a starting point for crawling and gauging the importance of other pages. He explained that pages linked directly from the homepage are often considered more important, influencing their weight in search results.

This renewed focus on the homepage does not negate the value of inner pages but highlights the homepage’s role as a gateway to the rest of the site. For business owners, this means ensuring that your homepage is not only well-designed and user-friendly but also strategically links to key inner pages. This approach can enhance the visibility and ranking of your website in Google’s search results.

In summary, while the importance of individual pages varies, the homepage holds a special place in Google’s indexing and ranking process. As a small business owner, prioritizing your homepage’s content and structure can significantly impact your website’s overall performance in search results. This understanding is essential in today’s competitive digital landscape, where a well-optimized homepage can be a game-changer for your online presence.

5. Brand Over Keywords: John Mueller’s Advice on Domain Names for SEO – In the realm of SEO, the choice of a domain name is a critical decision for any business owner. And the idea of using keyword domain name keeps on coming up. In a now deleted reddit post, John Mueller, Google’s Search Advocate addressed a common query: Do keyword domain names offer an SEO advantage? His response was clear and straightforward. He advised against relying on keyword-specific domain names for long-term SEO strategy, stating that such a domain name does not provide a significant SEO advantage on Google. This advice is particularly relevant for businesses planning for long-term growth and online presence.

The rationale behind Mueller’s advice is twofold. First, keyword-focused domain names can limit brand recognition. They may pigeonhole a business into a narrow niche, making it challenging to expand or diversify offerings in the future. Second, these domain names can be restrictive when targeting other keywords, thereby limiting the website’s ability to adapt to new products, services, or market trends.

Mueller’s insights reflect a shift in SEO trends, emphasizing the importance of building a strong, recognizable brand across various channels. This approach aligns with omnichannel marketing, where consistency in branding across different platforms is key to connecting with customers. In today’s digital landscape, brand recognition and quality content are increasingly significant in achieving SEO success.

In conclusion, Mueller’s advice for 2024 and beyond is to focus less on keyword-centric domain names and more on developing a comprehensive, brand-focused online presence. This strategy not only aligns with current SEO trends but also ensures versatility and adaptability for businesses in the ever-evolving digital market. For small business owners, this means investing in a domain name that reflects your brand’s identity and values, rather than just targeting specific keywords. This approach will help in building a lasting and flexible online presence, crucial for long-term success in the digital world.

6. Facebook’s New Link History Feature: Implications for Targeted Advertising – On January 3, 2024, Facebook introduced a significant update affecting digital marketing: the global archiving of all users’ link history on both Android and iOS devices. This is particularly relevant for small business owners who utilize Facebook for targeted advertising.

The new feature, which is enabled by default, allows Meta to use the collected data from users’ link history for targeted advertising. This means that Facebook will keep track of the websites visited by users within its mobile browser over the last 30 days. However, it’s important to note that links visited in Messenger chats are not included in this history.

The feature could provide a valuable source of data for reaching high-value consumers, especially as the industry moves towards a cookieless future and faces stricter privacy laws. On the other hand, the reliance on such data could be temporary, and there are concerns about user privacy and the potential backlash.

Users have the option to opt-out of this feature. To disable it, they can select any link within the Facebook app, launch Facebook’s mobile browser, click on the three dots in the bottom right corner, select browser settings, and then toggle the switch next to “Allow Link History.”

A Facebook spokesperson stated, “You can choose to turn link history on or off at any time. When you turn link history off, we will immediately clear your link history, and you will no longer be able to see any links that you’ve visited. Additionally, we won’t save your link history or use it to improve your ads across Meta technologies.”

7. LinkedIn Ad Prices Surge Amid Advertiser Boycott of Platform X – As of January 2, 2024, LinkedIn has experienced a significant surge in ad prices, a development crucial for small business owners to understand. This change, is attributed to increased demand following an advertiser boycott of another major platform, referred to as “X.”

The cost of ads on LinkedIn, a Microsoft-owned platform, has risen by as much as 30% in some cases. This increase is a direct result of advertisers shifting their focus from Platform X to LinkedIn. Leesha Anderson, Vice-President of Digital Marketing and Social Media at Outcast Ad Agency, noted that most of their clients have moved away from Platform X and are now focusing on LinkedIn.

Despite the steep increase in prices, marketers are reporting substantial returns on their investments in LinkedIn ads. Advertisers are seeing up to 20% ROI, meaning for every $100 spent, they are generating profits of $120. This high ROI is particularly noteworthy given the increased costs of LinkedIn campaigns compared to those on Meta’s platforms, where the cost per 1000 impressions can be as low as $10 to $15.

LinkedIn’s ad prices are determined by an auction system based on market demand. The greater the demand, the higher the ad price. This system has led to the current surge in prices due to the influx of advertisers from Platform X.

The platform’s annual ad revenue soared by 101% year-on-year in 2023, reaching almost $4 billion. Insider Intelligence forecasts that this growth will continue, with an additional 141% increase expected in 2024.

Penry Price, LinkedIn’s Vice-President of Marketing Solutions, attributed the increased investment in LinkedIn ads to the platform’s unique targeting capabilities. LinkedIn claims to have twice the buying power of the average web audience, with four out of five members driving business decisions.

For small business owners, this information is vital. While LinkedIn presents a solid alternative for advertising, especially in light of the boycott of Platform X, the increased costs must be considered. The platform’s robust targeting capabilities and high ROI potential make it an attractive option, but businesses must carefully assess their budgets and advertising strategies to ensure the best use of their resources.