SASCon: The conference you need to be at!

SAScon BETA conference is a spin off event from the main conference. The aim of the event is to showcase innovative, cutting edge practice and thinking in the current digital market.  The low delegate cost of SAScon BETA conference ensures it is accessible to all who wish to attend. The theme for the event will be to create a wholly immersive experience unlike any other conference currently in the industry.

SAScon is one of the UK’s finest Search, Analytics and Social Conferences and takes place each May / June in Manchester. Now in its sixth year, this three day not for profit event organised by the digital community for the digital community, features some of Europe’s leading search and social speakers and attracts an audience of over 200 digital marketing professionals.

The SAScon BETA conference will feature two inspirational keynotes, unmissable solo presentations and panels interspersed with networking opportunities including a post conference drinks session.

SAScon BETA gives you the opportunity to test new ideas and make predictions for the future!

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If you are interested in speaking at SAScon please complete our speaking submission form

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LATEST NEWS

How to cope when Google ignores your “Click to expand” content

Google is ‘discounting’ content held in hidden, ‘click to reveal’ sections of a page. There is a danger that the general SEO industry response will be an over-simplistic “don’t use, it’s bad for SEO” position. Alternatively, we could treat this as an opportunity to take a more sophisticated and long-term approach to content.

The background

Users at Webmaster World noticed that content hidden on a page in tabs or with a “click to reveal” link is not being highlighted in snippets when searched for.

This suggests Google is recognising the content as hidden and treating it differently to visible content. This was almost confirmed by John Mueller in a Hangout where he stated:

“…if we can recognise that the content is actually hidden then we’ll just try to discount it….we kind of see that it’s there but the user doesn’t see it so it’s probably not something that’s critical for this page. So that includes the click to expand, the tabbed UIs, [and other tabbed content].”

Google Webmaster Hangout  Start at 11 minutes

I say “almost” because the word “discount” is slightly ambiguous here. In this context it could mean ‘ignore completely’ or it could mean ‘diminish the effect of’.

Testing

I’ve tested a number of cases and my feeling is that Google might be diminishing the relevance signals or simply not showing in snippets rather than ignoring the content completely. I’ve been able to find pages by searching for content (using quotes) which is only found in ‘click to expand’ sections. Most of the time, despite returning the page, the text does not appear in bold within the search snippet as you would normally expect. This is consistent with comments from John Mueller that users feel “misled” when they can’t find the content that they’ve seen in a snippet.

My tests have been inconsistent though, I’ve found some sites where hidden text does appear in snippets and I don’t know if that’s a result of it not being crawled since Google’s changes or some other anomaly. Regardless, we have confirmation that Google is treating hidden content differently to visible content and that’s enough.

Thinking like a search engine not how to trick one

SEOs sometimes provide decent advice without really understanding why it works. For years, the text which appears at the start of a page (or keywords at the start of a title) have been considered a stronger signal for relevance than those at the end and we’ve recommended using clean, keyword rich URLs which reflect the directory hierarchy.

The reason that these recommendations align well with good user experience is that search engines find and use signals which indicate that users will get a good experience from a site or page for their query. Search Engines, let’s not forget, are trying to provide their users with the pages which best answer their queries.

There’s no point in trying to reverse engineer an algorithm when we know what it is trying to achieve.

By considering what search engines are trying to achieve and delivering sites and pages which best fit that profile, we end up creating better pages which rank well naturally. From an SEO point of view, an additional win is that working this way, we are taken more seriously and become able to integrate more seamlessly with broader digital marketing strategy.

Old SEO v’s future-proof SEO solution

Given that Google is ‘discounting’ hidden content, the old SEO reaction would be to introduce an over-simplistic rule such as ‘Click to reveal content is bad for SEO and should never be used.’ This thinking, whilst it might avoid the pitfalls of losing out on relevance signals, unnecessarily puts SEO in direct conflict with content, designers, UI, UX and developers who are never going to accept that the page must always be created long and linear with a single layer.

In our new integrated, transparent, strategic SEO world we need to treat this as a user experience issue.

If the content is important for the journey from a search engine, why is it hidden? The answer might be ‘Because it contains keywords, we don’t really want users to read it’. That response should be like a red rag to a bull for a modern SEO.

Content isn’t about having a place to stuff keywords, it’s what people come to the site for and should be treated as an opportunity to confirm to them that they found the right page, answer their query and inspire them to take further action. Thinking about SEO in this way will allow you to create content which performs better (in search and for conversion) than the old alternative. By talking in those terms, you’ll also find that user experience and content people warm to you and solutions become easier to find. Occasionally they’ll even find you.

So what should I do today?

It’s not a sudden change so there’s no need to immediately recommend changing page layouts etc. Anything that’s been ranking for a while isn’t going to drop now, but it might not be ranking as well as it could, depending on what content is hidden. So, it’s a longer term consideration which should fit into an overarching content and/or user experience strategy.

Rather than developing rules or heuristics around ‘hidden’ content or simply recommending that it’s ‘not good for SEO’, we need to treat this as a user experience issue and ask the question of whether the page provides the best experience to users who have been referred from organic search, in its current state. To answer the question for any site, consider the bigger picture of who they are and how they search – which keywords, what intent, what type of device?

Thanks for reading this far, here’s a final thought…

Google treating ‘click to reveal’ content differently opens up some other cans of worms which I haven’t yet considered properly (although the above suggestions give a good starting point.)

Google is moving towards a world where pages with good mobile device experiences will have more visibility in relevant mobile device results. Given that the mobile display often involves responsively hiding some of the desktop content, this is likely to become a major consideration in future. Additionally, how is it treating content that it finds by executing AJAX or which uses the hashbang system ?

The Webmaster Tools Fetch and Render tool is going to prove very useful in the coming months and years.

Listen to the author of this blog, Richard Falconer from Digitas LBi discuss Search in more detail at the upcoming SAScon Beta on 2nd December


DO YOU KNOW WHAT DATA YOU ARE GIVING AWAY?

 

As digital professionals we’d like to think we’re better informed than the average citizen about the data we generate online. From searches on Google to tweets and Facebook status updates, we’re more keenly aware than most about the dangers of personal data shared too freely.

But there is a lot of data that we generate online, subsequently used by companies for all kinds of purposes, which I reckon not all of us know about let alone exercise any control over. And sometimes we think we’re giving data to one business, only to discover that the same data is being collected by another company altogether through a slightly different method.

Below I’ll list a few types of personal data that online companies are harvesting right now, which you might not necessarily feel entirely comfortable about.

 

1. Emails

Many of us know that emails are monitored all the time, especially email metadata. This metadata doesn’t actually reveal the contents of the email, but it does give away a lot of other potentially embarrassing details.

Email metadata can be harvested fairly easily because it travels across the internet in unencrypted plain text format. Anyone with access to a mail router could in theory harvest vast amounts of email metadata, such as:

  • Sender’s name, email address, and IP address
  • Recipient’s name and email address
  • Email subject line
  • Mail client login records
  • Date, time and timezone
  • And much more…

This sort of information can give a very thorough picture of someone’s online activities without even a single sentence from the actual email being revealed.

And then of course we now see email providers like Google’s Gmail actively data-mining emails to help law enforcement, as in this case.

Even if you use a secure email client yourself, the people you email probably don’t, so all this information is up for grabs…

 

2. Web browsing

We all should know by now that our browsing habits online are being tracked. Through use of cookies, our visits to websites can be recorded for all kinds of purposes.

It’s not just visits to a single website – our browsing behaviour across the web is tracked through third-party cookies, for example from advertising networks like Google’s DoubleClick. When we visit a website that shows Google ads, a cookie is placed to identify our visit. If we then visit a different website that also uses Google’s ad network, this cookie allows the ad network to connect it with our earlier visit.

These ad networks follow us around the web with these tracking cookies, which could potentially help someone build up a clear picture of what we do online. That’s very useful information for advertisers, to say the least.

Even if you use private browsing or have an advertising blocker plugin installed, that doesn’t mean you can’t be tracked. Google is reportedly working on a cookie-less tracking technology that would circumvent a lot of privacy-enabling systems such as adblockers and cookie-protection plugins like Ghostery.

On top of that, third-party advertising cookies are just part of the story. Facebook is another pervasive presence on the web, with many websites having Facebook Like boxes on their site.

When you’re logged into Facebook and you visit a website that has a Like box, Facebook knows you visited that website. It can use that data to show you targeted advertising in your Facebook news feed. And because Facebook knows so much about you, including your age, gender, education, friends, interests, etc, it’s presumably only a matter of time before they’ll allow third parties to use that same information for their own commercial benefit.

 

3. Location

It’s not just who you email and what websites you visit that are being recorded and monetised. Even where you are in the real world is a data point worth collecting.

Your computer’s IP address is the obvious first data point because it relates to the network you’re using to access the internet and so is a fairly accurate measure of your physical location. But IP addresses are for rookies – who needs them when you carry one of the most accurate geolocation devices right in your pocket, almost everywhere you go?

Exactly: your mobile phone is the real culprit here, with your entire location history being recorded automatically for all sorts of uses. If you have an Android phone, Google knows exactly where you are all the time. They use this to show you relevant local search results and, of course, relevant local ads. Apple also keeps track of iPhone users’ locations.

Even if you turn location tracking off, your mobile phone will still reveal your location simply by virtue of being connected to the cellular network. Law enforcement agencies have been using mobile antenna triangulation for years to locate phones and their owners.

 

4. Documents

Cloud storage is the solution to all our document storing and sharing problems. No need to send bulky attachments or despair when your hard disk dies – with cloud storage all your files will be safely stored online.

But that online storage comes at a price. Some cloud storage providers tend not to encrypt your online documents, which gives hackers easy access. But even when your documents are stored with encryption, the storage provider still has a master encryption key that allows them to unlock your files when officially requested to do so. The only way around this is to encrypt files securely on your own computer before they are uploaded to the cloud – something which immediately makes you a suspect in the eyes of law enforcement agencies.

As with email, the actual contents of your documents isn’t the only risk: since metadata can also be quite revealing. Data points like filenames, file extensions, last modified dates, filesize, etc, can be used in conjunction with other information to paint a thoroughly revealing picture of your official (and unofficial) business.

 

5. Physical data

The online and offline realms are increasingly overlapping, and nowhere is this more evident than in the burgeoning sector of wearable tech.

New gadgets like fitness trackers, smart watches, and augmented reality glasses are paving the way for a full integration of cyberspace with the real world. But this too comes with an abundance of risks and potential negative consequences.

Take fitness trackers for example. These increasingly sophisticated devices keep track of your activity levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and other measures of physical wellbeing. While this data can of course be used to help you lead a healthier life, it can also be used for all kinds of alternative uses.

Many fitness trackers already give you a wee reminder to move around more when you’re having a particularly restful day, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Combine fitness data with location information and online shopping preferences, and you will be notified at exactly the right time towards the end of your jog to visit that healthy juice bar to reload on proteins.

Perhaps your jogging route will even be adapted on the fly through subtle ‘nudges’ from your devices to bring you in closer proximity with that juice bar in the first place, increasing the chance you’ll actually buy that banana shake at the end of your workout. That’s neuromarketing nirvana, right there.

 

The rabbit hole goes deeper…

Where wearable tech and neuromarketing intersect, interesting things happen. And by ‘interesting’ I mean ‘very dangerous’. If you want to learn all about the dangers posed by the emergent Internet of Things, come to SAScon BETA and hear Barry from Polemic Digital talk about the Silicon Prison.


PAUL MADDEN’S TIPS FOR SEARCH

paulmadden

Paul Madden is co-founder of LinkRisk, a link management software suite. A link builder for over a decade with a history of working at scale, Paul is also a partner at Marketingsignals.com and is well placed to cover any issue relating to Google’s biggest ranking signal, links.

At SAScon, Paul will be holding a penalty removal and link clean-up workshop. In the run-up to the conference, what tips does he have for the search and social industry?

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