Google+ is being shut down four months earlier than initially announced after a second data breach, according to a new announcement by Google. Additionally, all Google+ APIs will be shut down within the next 90 days.

Originally, Google announced it would be shutting down the service in August 2019. The decision came shortly after it was discovered the platform had experienced a data breach affecting 500,000 users.

In November, it was revealed a significantly more serious data breach had occurred, affecting more than 52 million users.

Now, Google+ is scheduled to be shut down in April 2019.

While the data breaches appear to have affected a relatively large number of users, the company says there is no need for concern because there is no evidence of misuse by third-parties.

“No third party compromised our systems, and we have no evidence that the developers who inadvertently had this access for six days were aware of it or misused it in any way.”

Even if third-parties did gain access to the information made public, the company says breached data only included profile information which had been set to not-public. No financial or highly sensitive information was breached.

According to Google, the bug in the API which led to the data breach would not have given anyone access to data which could be used for fraud or identity theft.

“The bug did not give developers access to information such as financial data, national identification numbers, passwords, or similar data typically used for fraud or identity theft.”

YouTube is changing how it previews videos on its home tab by making all videos silently autoplay by default.

The new “Autoplay on Home,” as it is being called, is expected to roll out to all mobile users on iOS and Android devices within the coming weeks.

If you are a subscriber to YouTube Premium, you may already be familiar with the feature. YouTube has given its premium subscribers access to the feature for the past six months.

As the company explains in the announcement, the change was made based on user feedback. Many have been clamoring for a way to better preview videos before clicking, especially as many thumbnail images may be misleading.

“Previewing videos helps you make more informed decisions about whether you want to watch a video, leading to longer engagement with videos you choose to watch!”

While the videos will have the audio turned off by default, captions will be shown when they are available. If you have created any of the more than 2 billion videos on YouTube without captions, this will add even more motivation to create transcripts for your videos.

Thumbnail images will still be shown for a short time when users are scrolling through their feed, meaning thumbnails will still be a powerful way to grab attention or entice users to watch videos. However, the autoplay feature will prevent uploaders from sharing videos with misleading or false preview thumbnails.

If you are worried about your data usage or simply don’t like autoplay videos, Google is giving you a few options. Within the settings menu, you can turn off autoplaying videos or set autoplay to only activate when you are connected to WiFi.

While Google is never going to reveal their “secret recipe” that is used to rank the billions and billions of web pages around, the company still wants to help you ensure your site is performing as well as possible.

To help with this, Google has launched a new tool designed to evaluate your website and rate how it follows the company’s SEO best practices and guidelines.

The tool is currently in open beta, but is available to all webmasters at web.dev.

According to the search engine, the tool is the end result of more than 10 years of learning and iteration.

“As the bar for high-quality experience continues to rise, users are quickly disappointed in a web experience that doesn’t deliver. And then they’re gone.

“We believe, however, the web now has the capabilities to overcome that challenge—to give all users the best possible experience wherever they are.”

The most useful part of the tool for most webmasters will be its SEO assessment, but it also includes audits for performance, accessibility, and more.

Specifically, web.dev can evaluate a website’s:

  • Performance: Audits for metrics like first paint and time to interactive to determine lag.
  • PWA: Assesses your page against the baseline Progressive Web App Checklist.
  • Best Practices: Looks for everything from HTTPS usage to correct image aspect ratios.
  • SEO: Checks for best practices to ensure your site is discoverable.
  • Accessibility: Checks for common issues that may prevent users from accessing your content.

All you have to do to evaluate your own site is enter the URL.

Along with some simple images rating your site’s performance, you will also be given a list of recommended improvements you can make, listed in order of how important they are. The recommendations at the top of the list will have the biggest impact on your site, while those at the bottom as more minute changes that will have little effect on your ranking – though they may improve your site’s overall performance.

Web.dev also provides detailed downloadable reports which can be printed or digitally shared with site owners, providing an easy-to-understand breakdown of your site’s performance on Google.

The tool generates an up-to-date report on a daily basis, so you can also quickly see how any changes you make affect your site’s performance.

While most companies won’t tell you the exact science behind their search engines, Facebook has decided to take a different route.

As part of their recent push to be more transparent about how the site uses content from users across its platform, Facebook has released a short video explaining how its search results work.

How Facebook Search Works

Posted by Facebook on Tuesday, November 20, 2018

How Facebook Search Works

According to the video, Facebook relies almost entirely on users’ activity on the platform to evaluate its search engines. Users’ activity outside of Facebook has no influence on the search results.

Specifically, Facebook ranks results based on recent activity on Facebook and the activity of the overall community related to that search.

The types of activity that can influence search results include:

  • What your friends share with you
  • Pages you follow
  • Groups you’ve joined
  • Events you’ve liked or followed
  • Things you’ve interacted with in your News Feed
  • Information you’ve listed on your profile
  • Places where you’ve been tagged
  • Previous searches you’ve done

Facebook’s search results also consider the overall activity it is seeing across Facebook, including how popular the search topic is and the medium of the content. For example, videos hosted on Facebook’s platform may be prioritized over links to blog posts that are hosted off-site.

Google My Business is now letting businesses specify their service area. This is particularly big news for companies that service a wide area or tend to work in an area aside from their physical location.

In the past, the search engine automatically specified a listing’s service area based on their physical location. That could be a major problem if your business was located out of your house or a building in a suburb but largely provided service in the nearby city (or vice-versa).

Starting this week, Google My Business is finally giving listings more control over their service location, with a new separate field. Now, your physical address and service area are entirely separate fields.

This also allows businesses who don’t provide services at their physical location to leave that information blank and just input their service area.

However, Google has created a small restriction on these settings. Businesses can no longer edit the radius of their service areas. In the past, the service area would be a controllable radius. Most businesses opted for a radius of 25 miles from their physical address. This is largely unnecessary now, as you can specify exactly what your service areas are.

If you have previously set a distance around your business as a service area, that setting will continue to stay in effect for now, but you won’t be able to change it in the future. It is likely this data will disappear once the majority of listings have updated their service area information.

Rather than using radius information, the new settings allow you to specify your service area at the region, city, or ZIP level.

To update your own service area information in your Google My Business listing, just follow these steps:

  • Sign in to Google My Business.
  • Select “Info” from the menu.
  • Select “Edit” from within the service area section.
  • Enter your business’s service area information based on region, city, or ZIP code.
  • Click “Apply”.

Pinterest Promoted Carousel Ads

Pinterest has launched a new ad format that gives advertisers the ability to promote up to 5 different products with a single ad.

The new “Promoted Carousel” ads combine 5 normal ad posts into a single ad unit, which will let viewers swipe through products or different ad experiences.

The format is built with unique slides, where each can have its own image, title, description, and landing page.

The most obvious benefit of these ads would be to highlight several different products at the same time, but advertisers could also craft these ads around highlighting different aspects of a single product.

Pins in these Promoted Carousel ads appear like any other pin, but users can swipe through each image and enlarge a specific card for a full-screen experience.

In the announcement, Pinterest says the new ads can help brands effectively raise awareness of their products and improve ad performance with better traffic results and conversions.

“This format can present a product’s numerous features, drive additional purchases by showing multiple items in a Pin or increase awareness with a multi-image brand story.”

Those given early access to Promoted Pins affirm this, saying they have seen improvements in:

  • Brand awareness
  • Ad awareness and association
  • Ad performance
  • Engagement Rates

Promoted Carousel ads began rolling out late last week and are now available for all businesses utilizing Pinterest’s self-serve ad platform.

When Twitter announced it was doubling the length limit for tweets from 140 to 280 characters, there was a lot of speculation about how it would affect the platform. Now, a year later, we finally have hard data about the effects of the new character limit, and some of the findings are surprising.

Tweets Are Not Getting Longer

Despite the extra space to say your piece, the majority of Twitter users haven’t actually taken advantage of the extra length. In fact, the average length of English language tweets has actually decreased by one character to 33 characters per tweet.

Additionally, Twitter says only 12% of English tweets are longer than the previous 140 character limit, and just 1% hit the newer 280 character limit.

Twitter Users Are Becoming More Polite

Twitter may have a reputation for rude and hateful users, but the increased tweet length may actually be subtly making the platform a nicer place to be. Twitter’s statistics indicate that users have begun using more polite phrases since the change.

Specifically, the company’s data shows that 54% more tweets include the word “please” and 22% more tweets use “thank you” since the change.

Fewer abbreviations

Another interesting shift is that the increased character limit has led to users fully writing out words instead of using abbreviations. Usage of “gr8” has dropped 36%, while “great” is up 32%. Similarly, usage of “b4” is down 13% while “before” has risen 70%.

What this means for you

The biggest takeaway is that the new character limit hasn’t drastically altered Twitter. Short thoughts are still the norm, while longer tweets are still regularly broken up into “tweetstorms” to help segment them for easier reading or dramatic flair.

What has changed is the actual content of the discussions. Writing has become more natural and user engagement is rising. These are all positive results for the social platform who has struggled in recent years to retain its identity and bring more depth to the conversations on its platform.

A new survey shows just how prominent voice search is becoming in the journey from shopping to purchase.

According to the latest survey from Chatmeter, approximately 90% of smartphone owners say they use their device’s virtual assistant. More importantly, a large group of those are specifically using voice search to look for local business information.

Approximately 40% of smartphone users specifically say they “use voice search to ask for directions, an address, or business hours for a nearby location.” Additionally, more than a quarter of consumers say their “number one use for their voice device is to find a local restaurant, show, or business.”

This reinforces recent statements from prominent figures in the world of search, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who said: “local mobile searches are growing faster than just mobile searches overall, and have increased by almost 50% in the last year.”

One of the biggest uses for virtual assistants is also making in-person purchases or to visit new businesses, with almost 90% of users saying they turn to virtual assistants for driving directions.

While the rise of voice search will likely have huge ramifications for how we understand and optimize for online searching, these findings actually reinforce the importance of optimizing local listings on both desktop and mobile devices.

For example, a business’s Google My Business listing is responsible for providing all of these types of information, including giving directions, facilitating phone calls, and providing business hours.

Google My Business is already an essential part of establishing your business within your local industry and finding new customers nearby. Now, it is also becoming a necessity for helping voice search users find your business when they are ready to take action.

Yesterday Twitter revealed that it has lost approximately 9 million monthly users in its latest quarterly report.

In most cases, such a drop would be considered a huge red flag. However, the company was not only anticipating the decrease in users but sees it as a sign that the platform is improving.

Since its earliest days, Twitter has been notorious for spam and bot accounts. The huge number of inactive, fake, or malicious accounts has been so bad that Twitter users have even created nicknames for these types of accounts. The most popular sobriquet is simply calling these accounts “eggs” for the original default profile picture on Twitter.

Notably, the company removed the egg profile picture in an attempt to shake off the nickname, though the term still lingers to describe accounts that are inactive, suspicious, or spammy.

Earlier this year, Twitter launched a new initiative aimed at removing these types of bad accounts and preventing the creation of new accounts for spammy or suspicious accounts.

Based on the news that Twitter’s active monthly account number has fallen from 335 million to 326 million in the third quarter of this year, it appears the company is making significant headway in reducing the number of low-quality accounts.

As part of the initiative, Twitter says it expects to continue seeing decreases in monthly active users through the next quarter. CEO Jack Dorsey describes the move as a positive act to improve the long-term health of Twitter.

Dorsey’s perspective may not be far off, as the company has seen consistent gains in daily users and revenue. The company reported a 9% increase in daily active users year over year. Revenue is also high enough for the company to turn a profit the past quarter, marking the first full-year period the company has seen profitability.

Twitter still has significant hurdles to overcome to prevent stagnation or loss of inertia. While these types of steps are likely to increase users’ overall satisfaction with the platform, there are still widespread issues of abuse, spam, and manipulation of the like and retweet functions on the site. If Twitter really hopes to continue to grow in sustainable ways, it will eventually have to confront these complicated issues and make some hard decisions about the direction it wants to grow.

Facebook is cracking down on brands using its advertising platform to mislead or trick users with “malicious advertisements”.

As the social network announced this week, it is reducing how often it shows ads it believes are “clickbait” or mislead users, if not outright rejecting them.

As Facebook’s self-serve ad platform has grown, it has encountered growing issues with misleading or sensational ads – including political news spreading fake news. Now, it is working to remedy the problem and ensure users can trust ads shared across the largest social network existing today.

Specifically, Facebook has announced it will be cracking down on these types of troublesome ads:

Ads that withhold information:

Facebook Bad Ads - Withholding

Clickbait has become a popular way to get clicks, but it is universally hated because the actual content on the page often doesn’t live up to what the sensational headlines promise. This has grown into deliberately sharing vague ads that often start with “You’ll never believe…” or “You’ll never guess…” Now, any ads using this strategy will be demoted or disallowed.

Engagement bait:

Facebook Bad Ads - Engagement Bait

Another popular tactic to get the ever-important likes and shares on Facebook is to specifically use ads to drive these kinds of engagement without delivering any actual content with value. Facebook has already taken steps to prevent this type of advertisement, but it has continued to run rampant across the platform. However, the company says these ads will now be disallowed or receive reduced visibility.

Sensationalized language:

Facebook Bad Ads - Sensationalized Language

Over-the-top headlines may make people more likely to click, but it leaves a bad taste in their mouth when the content is not nearly as “MIND-BLOWING” as the ad suggests.

Pages that use these strategies regularly:

To reinforce its stance on clickbait or misleading advertising, Facebook is also taking aim directly at the pages which rely on these ads. As the company explains, “multiple ads flagged with low-quality attributes may impact the performance of all ads” from any offending advertiser.

All of these types of ads have become increasingly popular because they drive engagement and traffic, but these types of engagement are arguably worthless because they don’t come from real engagement or appreciation of the ad content.