Over the past two weeks, several of the largest online ad platforms have taken swift steps to address problems with advertisers attempting to profit by stoking fears during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and YouTube have all responded in unique ways to stop the flow of misinformation, prevent profiteering, and provide new resources to protect public health.

Google Ads Blocks Advertisers Capitalizing on Crisis

This week, Google Ads updated its Inappropriate Content policy to specifically disallow content which:

“…potentially capitalizes on or lacks reasonable sensitivity towards a natural disaster, conflict, death, public health emergency, or other tragic event.”

The new regulation specifically cites price gouging, selling essential supplies that are in high demand but scarcely available, or ads that use sensitive keywords to manipulate their click-through rate.

For more details about which strategies to avoid and what keywords to be careful about using during this time, check out the full help page Google Ads has created for advertisers.

Google and Bing Block COVID-related Ads

Initially, Google had introduced a policy which entirely disallowed advertising products or services related to coronavirus across the entire platform. However, recent reports suggest they have internally revised this policy to make an exception for trusted organizations like hospitals, medical providers, or other major organizations attempting to provide reliable information to the public.

The search engine is also blocking the sale of face masks on its ad platform, following similar policies from Facebook.

Bing has taken similar steps by blocking all ads related to COVID-19, except those coming from trusted sources.

As a Microsoft spokesperson explained:

“Microsoft Advertising has taken precautionary measures to block ads for delivery related directly to COVID-19 under the Microsoft Advertising Sensitive advertising policy. This precaution also applies to some COVID-19 related medical supplies. We will only allow Public Service Announcements from trusted sources, such as official Govt. agencies, to promote COVID-19 content.”

Facebook and Instagram Block COVID-19 Ads, Create New Resources

Since March, both Facebook Ads and Instagram have been blocking the sale of face masks on their platforms. The policy has since been expanded to include hand sanitizer, surface disinfecting wipes, and COVID-19 testing for children.

At the same time, Facebook has created several new resources for both businesses and the general public, many of which can be found in the new “Marketing for Uncertain Times” deck which contains industry playbooks and general advice for staying informed.

Twitter Gives Advertisers Leeway

After originally banning any and all ads which mentioned “coronavirus” or “COVID-19”, Twitter has revised its ad policies to allow some advertisers to mention the virus.

As the company explains:

“In response to the shifting advertising landscape, and in order to support helpful causes during this time, we’re now allowing managed clients and partners to advertise content containing implicit or explicit reference to COVID-19 in certain use cases, with restrictions.”

The specific cases Twitter will be allowing are:

  • Adjustments to business practices and/or models in response to COVID-19
  • Support for customers and employees related to COVID-19

Despite this, Twitter says it will continue to block ads which include:

  • Distasteful references to the virus
  • Content that may be sensational or likely to incite a panic
  • Inflated prices or products related to the virus
  • Ads for face masks, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, supposed vaccines, or treatments.

TikTok and Pinterest Partner With WHO and Red Cross

TikTok and Pinterest have taken similar steps as others by blocking ads which “reference coronavirus, including when promoting products or services, to create a sense of fear, or to cause widespread offense”, as a TikTok spokesperson said.

In addition, these platforms have also been working with major health organizations around the globe to help spread relevant information and prevent misinformation.

Pinterest has been redirecting any searches on the platform to official content provided by the WHO to prevent the chance of delivering custom results which could be difficult to monitor for disinformation.

TikTok has taken similar steps by donating in-feed ad space to notable organizations including the WHO and Red Cross to ensure users have access to helpful information.

YouTube Blocks COVID-19 Ads Except From Trusted Sources

YouTube’s ad policies have largely been in-step with Google’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initially, the platform would not allow any form of monetization on content relating to the coronavirus, citing “sensitive topic guidelines.”

Since then, the company has taken some steps to loosen that policy by allowing news organizations and reputable creators to produce videos about the issue in a sustainable way.

In a letter to the community, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki explained:

“In the days ahead, we will enable ads for content discussing the coronavirus on a limited number of channels, including creators who accurately self-certify and a range of news partners. We’re preparing our policies and enforcement processes to expand monetization to more creators and news organizations in the coming weeks.”

Despite this allowance, the company stresses it will continue to remove content that violates its policies or spreads misinformation.

In light of a limited workforce and the unique needs of people during the COVID-19 pandemic, Google says it will be temporarily removing some features from Google My Business to better prioritize important updates for the time being.

“During the unprecedented COVID-19 situation, we are taking steps to protect the health of our team members and reduce the need for people to come into our offices. As a result, there may be some temporary limitations and delays in support as we prioritize critical services.”

For the foreseeable future, these Google My Business features may be limited or removed.

Reviews and Q&A

Perhaps the most noticeable change for businesses and customers alike is that GMB will no longer be publishing new reviews, review replies, or new Q&A responses until further notice. However, existing reviews and Q&A’s will remain visible on your listing.

Although the company hasn’t clarified, most take this to mean that any reviews, replies, or questions submitted during this period will be held until Google has the resources and available workforce to properly review these updates.

New Listings or Verification

Google My Business has instructed its team to prioritize critical health-related businesses when reviewing new listings, claims, and verification for GMB listings.

This means that while new listings for non-health-related businesses will still be processed, they may be delayed in favor of more critical updates or listings.

Business Listing Updates

Similarly, Google will be prioritizing healthcare-related listings when reviewing edits to existing business listings.

This includes edits relating to:

  • Changes to open and closed states
  • Special hours
  • Temporary closures
  • Business descriptions
  • Business attributes

GMB says it is working to keep customers updated about all business changes during this time, though it must focus on those to health-related businesses.

Google Posts

Although Google has not made any official comments about Google Post functionality during the coronavirus epidemic, many have noticed extreme delays when publishing new Posts. This may lead to issues with updating customers about new hours, product shipments, or new services like delivery or curbside service. Instead, Google appears to be allowing businesses to temporarily add these details to their business name.

As Joy Hawkins explained in a recent Local Search Forum post, “Google said that they are fine with restaurants adding ‘Delivery Available’ or ‘Takeout Available’ to their business names during these crazy times.”

Reddit is launching a new ad type which allows brands to “takeover” the discussion site’s trending section.

The new “Trending Takeover” ads let companies run prominent ads on both the desktop and mobile feeds of the Trending Today area for 24 hours. The ads will be slotted in the second position of one of the site’s most popular areas and will be identified with a simple “promoted” text in bold letters.

 

When clicked on, the ads take users to a landing page featuring the latest conversations, posts, and communities related to keywords specifically selected by you.

Due to the high-profile and limited nature of the ads, Trending Takeover promotions are sold on a reservation basis by contacting Reddit Advertising.

The ads signal the latest push by the platform to be more friendly to brands and advertisers, joining several other recent ad formats. As Vice President of Ads Product and Engineering, Shariq Rizvi said:

“With millions of searches taking place every day and over one-third of users coming to Reddit’s Popular feed daily, brands can now be part of where cultural trends are born online — Reddit. For Reddit, a large focus for 2020 is about maximizing new and premium opportunities for brands to authentically engage with Reddit users.”

Still, brands will need to pay close attention to the site’s communities and only highlight the most engaging content to reach the typically ad-averse audience.

Google Chrome, one of the leading web browsers available, is using its built-in ad blocker to block “annoying” or “intrusive” video ads.

The browser has been using an ad blocker to intervene when sites serve ads that are considered to be disruptive or problematic based on standards established by the Coalition for Better Ads.

Yesterday, the Coalition updated its Better Ads Standards to include new information about ads shown with online videos. As such, Google says it will be expanding its ad blocking features to block ads within videos less than 8 minutes long which are disruptive in any of the three following ways:

Disruptive ads - pre-roll

Image Source: The Coalition for Better Ads

  • Pre-roll ads: Long, non-skippable pre-roll ads or groups of ads longer than 31 seconds that appear before a video and cannot be skipped within the first 5 seconds.
Disruptive Ads - Mid-roll

Image Source: The Coalition for Better Ads

  • Mid-roll ads: Ads of any length which appear in the middle of a video.
Disruptive Ads - Image or Text

Source: The Coalition for Better Ads

  • Image or text ads: Ads that appear on top of a playing video and are in the middle ⅓ of the video player window or cover more than 20 percent of the content.

To be clear, these issues only apply to videos that are less than 8 minutes long. Longer videos can continue to include pre-roll or mid-roll ads without being affected.

For now, both Google and the Coalition for Better Ads are recommending removing any ads in videos which violate these standards within the next four months.

Starting August 5, 2020, Google’s Chrome browser will begin blocking these ads on sites. Sites which repeatedly run problematic ads of this sort can also be blocked from showing ads entirely.

Importantly, Google specifically states these standards will also apply to YouTube ads:

“It’s important to note that YouTube.com, like other websites with video content, will be reviewed for compliance with the Standards. Similar to the previous Better Ads Standards, we’ll update our product plans across our ad platforms, including YouTube, as a result of this standard, and leverage the research as a tool to help guide product development in the future.”

Google says it is walking back a significant recent redesign of its desktop search results after widespread negative reaction.

Earlier this month, the company released an update which brought desktop search results closer to the current mobile results, including changing how ads appeared in the results.

However, many said the change made it difficult to distinguish between paid advertisements and organic search results.

This isn’t the first time Google has been accused of making it difficult to tell ads from organic results, however it is the first time the company has agreed to backtrack on the changes.

In a Tweet, the company said: “Last week we updated the look of Search on desktop to mirror what’s been on mobile for months. We’ve heard your feedback about the update. We always want to make Search better, so we’re going to experiment with new placements for favicons.”

Despite the negative response, Google says initial tests of the change were positive and cited the warm response to similar mobile search results designs.

Read the full statement below:

“We’re dedicated to improving the desktop experience for Search, and as part of our efforts we rolled out a new design last week, mirroring the design that we’ve had for many months on mobile. The design has been well received by users on mobile screens, as it helps people more quickly see where information is coming from and they can see a prominent bolded ad label at the top. Web publishers have also told us they like having their brand iconography on the search results page. While early tests for desktop were positive, we are always incorporating feedback from our users. We are experimenting with a change to the current desktop favicons, and will continue to iterate on the design over time.”

Twitter is launching a unique new ad unit which lets brands take over a section of the Explore tab – giving you massive reach with nearly every Twitter user.

The Explore tab is where users can find the latest trending topics and other popular Tweets, making it one of the most visited sections of the site.

In fact, Twitter users might recognize the Promoted Trend Spotlight ads as the same ad format used by Disney shortly before the launch of Disney+. The media giant was given early access to the ad format to help drive early awareness of their streaming platform.

Twitter Promoted Trend Spotlight Ad

While the ad format has now been expanded to all advertisers in the US, UK, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, and Thailand. However, running the ad still requires contacting a Twitter Partner to ensure consistently high-quality ads on such a prominent area of the site and manage scheduling.

When running a Promoted Trend Spotlight, all users who visit the Explore tab on a given day will see the ad on their first two visits to the tab. After those two visits, they can still see the ad in the standard Promoted Trend ad placement.

Based on their own early data, Twitter says the new ads are a powerful tool to get more attention to your ad and better drive awareness:

“[P]eople spent 26% more time looking at the Promoted Trend Spotlight as compared to the standard Promoted Trend unit. These longer dwell times generated impact throughout the funnel: from +113% higher ad recall and +18% higher brand consideration to +67% lift in stated likelihood to use a brand in the future. In addition, according to internal Twitter data, people were three times more likely to click through an ad in the Spotlight unit than the standard Promoted Trend.”

 

YouTube is rolling out new privacy restrictions which affect how creators can advertise or use data from children under the age of 13.

The new policies are in response to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which bars companies from collecting data from children under the age of 13.

Although this policy has been in place for some time, Google and YouTube were found to be noncompliant  by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and given a hefty fine in 2019.

What This Means For YouTube

The most notable change for the platform in the is that targeted ads will no longer be shown with videos aimed at children – no matter the viewer’s age.

To better comply with COPPA regulations, YouTube will now treat all personal data from anyone viewing videos aimed at children as coming from a child. As such, the company is also unable to show any form of targeted ads.

As for what exactly constitutes children’s content, YouTube says:

“According to the FTC, a video is made for kids if it is intended for kids, taking into consideration a variety of factors. These factors include the subject matter of the video, whether the video has an emphasis on kids characters, themes, toys or games, and more.”

While some channels have “self-identified” themselves as being children’s content in their channel settings, YouTube will also use machine learning to identify other content intended for children.

What If You Are Wrongly Affected

The biggest concern for many brands and advertisers since the announcement of this policy is how it will affect those who could be wrongly identified as “children’s content”. For example, many gaming-related channels are not inherently targeted at children but could be labeled as “children’s content” under YouTube’s new policies.

Now, YouTube says creators will be able to override YouTube’s decision to label content as being for children so long as they do not detect signs of abuse. This means creators will be able to continue showing targeted ads and receiving revenue from them so long as they are clearly not aimed specifically at children.

Google has been slowly shifting its online customer support from social platforms like Facebook and Twitter to solely using an online form. Now, the company is making it final.

Starting on January 1, 2020, Google says that it will no longer provide support through direct messaging on Google Ads’ Facebook and Twitter accounts. Instead, customers seeking support will be directed to the online support form.

Why This Matters

In the past, many brands and advertisers had preferred to receive support through Google Ads’ social pages because they tended to be quick and allowed for easy clarification of issues that could arise.

The company says the decision to eliminate these support options was intended to streamline the process and improve security or spam risks.

“Customer security and success is paramount. Due to the growing global concern around spam and phishing, we are making an effort to resolve all Google product customer questions via 1:1 communication through direct email, phone or chat,” a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land. “Streamlining these channels will provide faster and more secure responses for all global customers.”

It should be noted that while Google will first direct customers to an online form, this tool then provides a number of ways to contact the company including by phone or email.

Instagram is cracking down on influencers and brands publishing content relating to a few controversial topics.

While the company has had policies restricting branded content related to vaping, tobacco products, and weapons, the company is introducing a new policy which will more vigorously enforce these restrictions.

 

The ramp up of enforcement will come over the coming weeks, giving brands and influencers a small amount of time to plan their future marketing efforts.

Instagram also says it will be enacting more rules related to branded content promoting alcohol and diet supplements in the coming year.

Details on the initiative are limited, but the company says it is building new tools to help enforce age-based content restrictions which will help creators ensure adult content is not seen by minors.

While the site may be restricting a few types of branded content, the company says its overall goal is to help creators grow and connect more with their audiences.

As the policy announcement concludes:

“Creators on Instagram are a vital part of our community, and we will be investing even more resources in 2020 to help them build their businesses on Instagram.”

If there is anything that has remained true about online marketing over the past decade, it is that online marketing is always changing. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that Google makes around 9 changes to their search engine algorithm every day.

To stay ahead of the curve, businesses can’t just understand where online marketing and SEO is today. They have to be able to look forward to predict the next wave of updates they can expect in the coming months and years.

With that in mind, I wanted to spend some time today talking about some of the biggest trends you can expect to see in 2020 and beyond:

1) Snippets Become The New “Number 1 on Google”

For years, Google has been using Featured Snippets to highlight quick information that may answer your query without ever having to click on a search result. You can see these when you search for recipes, look for lyrics to your favorite songs, or ask questions with relatively simple answers like “How big is the sun?”

Brands have long avoided targeting these snippets which typically appear above all other search results, believing that they reduce the chance of a person clicking onto their website or otherwise converting. However, growing evidence suggests snippets actually drive higher click-through rates and engagement by quickly establishing a single site as the authority.

Over the next year, the competition for these snippets is likely to continue rising, making them the next big fight for search engine results dominance.

2) Mobile Really Comes First

We’ve been talking about this moment for years. We officially use our smartphones and tablets to access the internet more desktop devices.

As such, Google has announced that its ‘Mobile-First Index” would become its primary search index. That means Google is now looking at the mobile version of your site before it ever considers the desktop version when ranking search results.

With this in mind, having a stripped-down mobile version of your site or not having a mobile site is no longer a viable option if you want to succeed online.

Site speed will also continue to be a major ranking factor because of its importance when accessing sites on the go from mobile devices.

3) Visual Search Gets Serious

Visual search has existed as a novelty in online marketing for some time now, slowly improving with each iteration. Now, we are reaching the point where visual search is becoming a major player in search.

While we don’t have statistics from Google Lens or Bing’s Visual Search, Pinterest’s Lens has been a revealing foray into the viability of visual search.

Within a single year of launch, Pinterest Lens was receiving more than 600 million visual search queries every month. This September, the company announced the tool was able to identify over 2.5 billion unique objects within the fashion and home industries.

With this in mind, it is easy to imagine a day in the near future when people regularly find it easier to snap a quick picture than come up with a precise text query when trying to find a specific item online.

4) Voice Search

Speaking of convenience, people are quickly turning to their Alexas, Echos, Siris, and Dots for their casual search needs – whether it is checking the weather or quickly ordering a product.

Out of all the coming changes, this may have the largest effect on how brands optimize their websites and content. This is because voice queries tend to be almost completely different than the types of queries we make when typing into a browser form.

With some estimates suggesting voice search could account for nearly half of all searches by the end of 2020, brands will have to begin optimizing for more conversational “long-tail” search queries and the unique capabilities of voice assistants.

5) Video Rules The Content Landscape

This is another online marketing trend that has been growing for years, but shows absolutely no signs of slowing down in the coming years.

The simple truth is that videos are more engaging than almost any other form of media, providing both audio and visual information in a quickly consumable package. Thanks to faster internet speeds and improved search indexing, they have also been an increasingly effective tool for sharing your content and driving actual engagement.

To give you an idea, some statistics suggest that videos can increase engagement by more than 80% compared to sharing the same information in simple text or audio clips.

Despite this, many brands have still avoided investing in video marketing because they believe it is inherently expensive or ineffective in local markets. Ironically, most users say they often enjoy videos shot using “authentic” methods like shooting selfie-style using a smartphone as much or more than slickly produced commercial videos.

 

Waiting for the “next big thing” to blow up before you jump in is a surefire way to always be a step behind your competition online. You don’t have to invest in every whim or indulgence of the digital marketing landscape, but focusing on these five surefire trends is sure to have you starting 2020 at the head of the pack.