Google is making several tweaks to its shopping-related search results to make it easier to find the products you want locally and choose the pickup method you are most comfortable with. 

As the country gradually returns to our normal in-store shopping habits, many are making adjustments to ensure the safest trips to the store. 

For example, Google says that searches for “curbside pickup” and “safe shopping” have increased tenfold over the past few months and remain heightened. 

Making this more difficult, many businesses remain closed after mandatory shutdowns have passed, while others are struggling with inventory due to shipping disruptions around the world. 

With all this in mind, Google has announced three significant updates to shopping search results which make it easier for shoppers to know who’s open, what’s in stock, and how they can most safely make a purchase. 

Filter By What’s Available Locally

When looking for a specific type of product, searchers can now limit their search results to only products available nearby. 

This can be done in two different ways. 

  • Users can tap on the “Nearby” filter when looking at results within the Shopping tab.
  • Users can add “near me” to product searches to automatically find products available nearby.

“Want to see an item in person before purchasing, or can’t wait for shipping and delivery?

Whatever you’re looking for, whether it’s a new laptop for working from home, a baby jacket for fall or a grill for backyard barbeques, Google makes it easy for you to see what’s available locally.”

Compare Local Hours, Locations, and Inventory

Making a trip to the store only to discover they are out of what you are looking for or the store is closed was already frustrating before the COVID-19, epidemic. 

To help solve this issue, Google is making it easier to compare the stock of local shops and see which businesses are open now. 

These details will be shown when searching “[product] near me” in a carousel of images and pricing details.

Find Convenient and Safe Pickup

Since the onset of the pandemic, Google has been prioritizing retailers who offer safe pickup options including contactless delivery or curbside pickup. 

Now, the company is introducing new ways to find safe purchase options with new labels in shopping searches. 

Along with these details, the listings will include a direct link to Maps directions so you can quickly and easily find the stores nearby. 

At the same time, Google emphasizes that calling to speak with someone is the most accurate way to check the inventory of products in real-time.

Google Ads is reducing the amount of information it provides advertisers according to recent alerts many account managers have seen in the past week.

The company says it will soon stop giving advertisers data about search queries triggered when there is not “significant” data.

As the alert says:

“We are updating the search terms report to only include terms that were searched by a significant number of users. As a result you may see fewer terms in your report going forward.”

Why Google is Doing This

According to a statement to Search Engine Land, the search engine made this decision to protect user privacy.

“In order to maintain our standards of privacy and strengthen our protections around user data, we have made changes to our Search Terms Report to only include terms that a significant number of users searched for. We’re continuing to invest in new and efficient ways to share insights that enable advertisers to make critical business decisions.”

What This Means For Advertisers

On one hand, the opinion could be made that Google is streamlining its reports and preventing advertisers from being able to identify users or personal information based on individual queries.

For example, it is not unheard of for advertisers to see search terms made a single time or driving a single click in ad reports. That is likely to go away in the coming days, removing outliers and better protecting users.

On the other hand, many advertisers have expressed frustration over the lack of transparency. The decision to remove this information entirely means advertisers know less about where their money is going.

Additionally, Google hasn’t been entirely clear on what “significant” means, making many wary of what this shift will look like. If it just removes queries with single impressions, then advertisers are likely to accept it and move on. Still, there are countless low-volume queries with no risk to privacy which could be removed if Google decides to use a higher threshold. 

As COVID-19 continues to be a major concern for people across the country, Facebook is introducing a new way for businesses and creators to monetize online events on the platform. 

Critically, the company says it will not collect any fees for paid events held on the platform to help businesses and individuals struggling during the pandemic. 

“Pages can host events on Facebook Live to reach broad audiences, and we’re testing paid events with Messenger Rooms for more personal and interactive gatherings.

In testing, we’ve seen businesses use Facebook to host expert talks, trivia events, podcast recordings, boxing matches, cooking classes, intimate meet-and-greets, fitness classes, and more.”

While Facebook is far from the first to offer a way to deliver paid events that are entirely streamed to attendees, their service is unique is the all-in-one nature. Facebook can handle not just the streaming, but payment, advertising, and organic word-of-mouth. 

To put it another way, a person can see the ad for your performance in their feed, make a payment, and view your event without ever leaving Facebook. The company is also one of the only services which does not take a cut of ticket sales. However, purchases made on Apple devices or through the iOS Store are still subject to Apple’s 30% fee. 

Prohibited Content

As with all content shared on Facebook, live events must stay within the Community Standards, Partner Monetization Policies, and Content Monetization Policies.

While these guidelines include the obvious things you might expect, such as banning hate speech, inciting violence, or “sexualized content”, the social network’s content policies prohibit some areas you may not expect. 

For example, promoting health products including medical masks and hand sanitizer is currently banned on Facebook. 

Other restricted categories include:

  • Debated social issues
  • Conflict or tragedy
  • Objectionable activity
  • Sexual or suggestive activity
  • Strong language
  • Explicit content
  • Misinformation
  • Misleading medical information
  • Politics and government

In addition to restricting these types of content, monetized events cannot include these some specific media:

  • Static videos
  • Static image polls
  • Slideshows of images
  • Looping videos
  • Text montages
  • Embedded ads

In the announcement, Facebook says the paid events will be available to brands and individuals for at least one year. After that, they may introduce new fees or even remove the service.

Google is dropping its commission fees for retailers selling their products using the Buy on Google platform.

The company announced the decision late last week, while also revealing that it would be adding integration for third-party services like Shopify and PayPal to make using the platform easier than ever. 

For now, the commission-free program is starting with a pilot test which will be expanded to all U.S. retailers by early 2021. 

Why It Matters

When paired with Google’s recent decision to include free product listings in search results, it is clear that the search engine is hoping to make it convenient and easy for businesses to transition to online sales. 

The decision also gives Google a leg up on many other online sales services, such as Amazon. The massive name in online shopping typically charges retailers between 8% to 15% in fees per item sold. 

With the ongoing wave of COVID-19 infections occurring across America, the removal of fees could open the door to an alternate revenue stream for many small businesses that are struggling at the moment. 

Focus on Small Businesses

Speaking of small businesses, Google will also be adding a filter to the Google Shopping tab which will allow shoppers to specifically buy from SMBs. 

“While we still have much work ahead of us, our goal is to make digital commerce more accessible for retailers of all sizes all around the world, giving consumers more choice and more ways to find the best products, stores, and prices,” Bill Ready, Google’s president of commerce, said in the announcement

Brands around the world can now easily advertise on one of the fastest growing social networks, as TikTok announced this week it is rolling out its new self-serve advertising service to all. 

With the new service, advertisers in every country can create and publish their own ads without the need for contacting a representative or signing a contract.

In the announcement, Blake Chandlee, Vice President of Global Business Solutions for the company said:

“TikTok’s immersive, short-form videos give businesses a platform to participate and engage with a community known for its creativity, ingenuity, and joy. As our marketing solutions scale and evolve, we’re continuously building for the future and aiming to meet the growing needs of our partners. We’re excited to continue supporting our community by providing the tools and resources for SMB owners to navigate these challenging times.”

The service includes built-in tools for creative, targeting, and flexible budgeting. In the future, the company says it will also be creating business accounts which provide access to more in-depth tools. For now, details are limited on when this might occur or what the tools may offer.

What TikTok Has To Offer Brands

Although TikTok has been around for a few years now, brands have been slow to show interest in the platform for a variety of reasons. Like Snapchat, TikTok’s users have tended to be younger and thus had little to no disposable income. 

Over the past two years, however, that has changed. 

TikTok has exploded in users, especially within the highly desirable over-25 age group. Even more interesting, analysis suggests that TikTok users have money to burn. More than a quarter (37%) of users have a combined household income over $100,000.

Back to Business Ad Credits

At the same time TikTok announced its ad service, the company also revealed a new initiative to give $100 million in advertising credits to small businesses who may have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Interested users can apply in the Business portal.

What Ads Are Available

Currently, TikTok offers five different types of ads for brands. They range from the standard post-type ads which can appear in the “For You” area of the app to branded hashtags and image effects. 

The ads currently available include:

TopView Ads – Up to 60 second long video ads which appear immediately as a user opens TikTok.

Brand Takeovers – Shorter video or image ads which function similarly to TopView Ads but are only shown for up to 5 seconds. 

In-Feed Ads – Traditional ad units which appear for up to 60 seconds and function like standard posts, including the ability to comment and share.

Branded Hashtag Challenges – Want to take over a specific hashtag? Here’s your place. The ad unit allows you to create a unique aggregated feed of user content all related to a single branded hashtag for up to 6 days.

Branded Effects – In a challenge to Snapchat’s Lenses, TikTok is introducing a number of camera effects, filters, and stickers users can apply on their own pictures and videos.

What is the California Consumer Privacy Act?

The CCPA or California Consumer Privacy Act is a law recently enacted in California which extends privacy protections for residents.

While the act is big news for those living within California, many of us outside the state had not heard about the law until it recently went into effect. 

Specifically, the law requires businesses to disclose what personal information they collect and how that information will be used in relatively clear language. The CCPA also requires businesses to provide easily accessible ways to opt-out of having their information collected. 

Lastly, the law provides for Californian citizens to ask for the data which a company has collected on that person, what it has been used for, and have that information deleted upon request. 

Does The Law Apply To You?

The bad news about the law is that it does not only apply to businesses based in California. It can be applied to any businesses collecting or selling data of Californians. 

The good news is that the CCPA provides for exceptions for smaller businesses who do not primarily collect or sell data. To be affected by the law, your business must:

  • Earn more than $25 million per year.
  • Collect data on more than 50,000 persons.
  • Make more than half of its revenue from the sale of personal data.

What is unclear is how this will apply to the number of social networks based in California who sell targeted both inside and outside California. 

How Facebook and Instagram are Responding

Facebook (which owns Instagram and operates a large portion of Instagram’s advertising) has announced a new feature which automatically limits the data used to target ads – especially those targeted to Californians.

The Limited Data Use flag acts as a pixel to control how Californians’ personal information is collected and used. This means businesses can easily implement the flag for campaigns targeted in the state. 

To allow time for businesses to implement the flag, the company is automatically limiting data for a limited time on all events in California by default.

A growing number of brands are hitting pause on their Facebook ads for the month of July as part of the Stop Hate for Profit boycott. 

The advertisers, including some of the biggest brands on earth like Coca-Cola, Pfizer, and Unilever, are part of a movement which argues that Facebook has been allowing hate speech, racism, and violence run rampant while the company has also “turned a blind eye toward voter suppression on the platform.”

Who Is Involved

Currently, more than 500 companies are taking part in the boycott. For the exhaustive list of brands, check out this spreadsheet which is being updated as more brands join in.

Here are many of the most recognizable brands involved in the boycott:

  • Acura
  • Adidas
  • Artlogic
  • Ben & Jerry’s
  • Best Buy
  • Birchbox
  • Boston University
  • Campbell Soup Co.
  • Chobani
  • CityAdvisor
  • CLIF BAR
  • Clorox
  • Coca-Cola
  • CVS
  • Dashlane
  • Denny’s
  • Dockers
  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Eddie Bauer
  • Ford Motor Company
  • Fossil
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Henkel
  • Herschel Supply Co.
  • Honda Motor Company
  • HP
  • J.M. Smucker Co.
  • Kay Jewelers
  • LEGO
  • Levi Strauss
  • Lululemon
  • Magnolia Pictures
  • Mars, Inc.
  • Merck
  • Merrell
  • Microsoft
  • Mike’s Hard Lemonade
  • Mozilla
  • OBEY
  • Patagonia
  • Patreon
  • Pepsi
  • Pfizer
  • Pop Sockets
  • PUMA
  • Reebok
  • Siemans
  • Six Flags
  • Starbucks
  • Target
  • The North Face
  • UnileverUSA
  • Vans
  • Verizon
  • Volkswagon
  • White Castle
  • Wingstop
  • Zoe’s Kitchen

Facebook’s Response

In response to the boycott and increasing pubic pressure, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a statement promising to make significant changes to how content is handled on the platform, such as:

  • Providing voting information and helping register people to vote
  • Preventing “new forms of potential voter suppression.”
  • Banning “any content that misleads people on when or how they can vote,” including removing “false claims about polling conditions in the 72 hours leading into election day.”
  • Preventing voter intimidation on the platform
  • Rejecting ads which include “claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity, or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health, or survival of others.”
  • Labeling content from public figures which would typically violate content policies. 
  • Removing content, regardless of the source, “if we determine that content may lead to violence or deprive people of their right to vote.”

In the statement, Zuckerberg emphasized that the company was attempting to balance “public health and racial justice while maintaining or democratic traditions around free expression and voting.”

So far, the public seems to feel this response is too little and vaguely worded. Since the release of the statement, at least two hundred companies have joined the boycott.

Google is launching a new way to promote your brand with smart campaigns in Google Maps called Promoted Pins – and they are free for advertisers through September. 

Until the end of September 2020, advertisers running smart campaigns who also have a GMB listing will not be charged for any clicks, calls, or sales generated from these pins. 

Promoted pins help showcase specific or unique services your business offers, like curbside service, delivery, or pickup. 

“Every month, over 1 billion people use Google Maps to see what’s around them, search for businesses, and find directions. Promoted pins on Google Maps help your business stand out during these moments by displaying a prominent, square-shaped Google Maps pin.”

The company says the decision to make the ad unit free came from wanting to help small businesses get back on their feet after the nation-wide lockdowns. 

Promoted pins have already started rolling out to smart campaign advertisers and should be fully available within the next few weeks.

Google released a few sneaky updates to their advertising policies which could have a dramatic impact on many advertisers in the near future.

Among the announcements are new regulations which allow the platform to pause ad accounts under investigation and significant revisions to its Misrepresentations policy.

Pausing Ad Accounts

While giving an update about plans to verify advertisers on the platform, Google included a statement suggesting they may pause accounts believed to be breaking rules.

As the statement says:

“We may temporarily pause accounts to conduct investigations if we identify potentially harmful advertiser behavior. Paused accounts cannot run any ads.”

While this is in line with Google’s past policies, the surprising addition is a note that the company will take the same action for ad accounts which do not complete the identity verification process after it rolls out.

Changes To The Misrepresentation Policy

Another big change to Google’s ad policies is an extension to what types of ads are blocked for “misrepresentation.”

Beginning in July, these policies will be amended to include a “Clickbait Ads” policy which intends to prevent ads from using sensationalized imagery or text which is purposely vague to drive engagement.

Specifically, Google says it will block ads including these types of clickbait text or imagery:

  • Claims of secret or scandal revelations
  • Language that implies the click will give context (i.e. “click here to find out” or other similar phrases)
  • Imagery featuring altered body parts, mugshots and disaster photos
  • Before and after imagery of the human body

Additionally, the company will block ads using negative life events to evoke emotion, such as:

  • Ads related to potentially traumatic events like accidents, illnesses, bankruptcy, arrests, and more.
  • Ads using imagery to provoke extreme emotions like fear or shock.

What This Means For You

The result of these announcements is relatively limited to a few specific industries – specifically those which provide support or solutions during major negative life events. Under the new rules, ads for bail bonds, diet pills, funeral services, and even law firms will be very tricky – if not outright impossible – to run.

Additionally, the announcement that Google will pause ad accounts which are not verified or are under investigation ups the stakes for failing play by Google’s rules.

Following the appearance of COVID-19 in America in March, Facebook put in place a number of restrictions which entirely banned the sale of face masks. Now, as most states are reopening and chances of a medical supply shortage are lessening, the company is relaxing some of these rules on non-medical face masks.

Why Non-Medical Face Masks

While medical professions are still seeing a limited supply of face masks, demand for KN95 or other medical-grade masks has fallen. Instead, many are opting for cloth coverings which are considered acceptable by many health experts. 

This has created an increased demand for these non-medical face masks while reducing the overall demand for non-medical masks. 

Medical Masks Vs. Non-Medical Masks

Under these newly relaxed guidelines, advertisers can now start selling non-medical masks. According to facebook, these include masks which are:

  • Non-medical grade
  • Not promoted with medical or health claims
  • Handmade or fabric masks
  • Designed to be reusable
  • Made of refashioned materials

Phased In Restrictions

To prevent a tidal wave of advertisers all trying to sell face masks en mass or an increase in bad actors, Facebook is lifting the ban in phases. For now, advertisers wishing to promote their masks will have to meet a few specific requirements:

  • Advertisers must be in good standing with Facebook ads, having no violations or disabled ads due to policy violations
  • Ad accounts must have an advertising history of at least 4 months. This means those who created an ad account a year ago but have not used it would not be eligible, while those who have been running ads for at least 4 months will be. 
  • Ad accounts cannot be from a country with unusually high rates of ad policy violations for selling masks during the bad, including Cameroon, China, Indonesia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

What Can Be In The Ads

Additionally, Facebook is still mandating a few restrictions to ensure that advertisers only promote non-medical masks. 

For instance, absolutely no medical or health claims can be made in the ad, including the mention of disease prevention or protection of the respiratory system. 

Any mention of community benefits of wearing masks can not include health mentions or overstate the benefits of masks.

To give an idea what this looks like in practice, Facebook provided an example in their policy guidance:

“‘We’ve pivoted our business to making masks to help keep our community healthy’ would be allowed, but stating ‘We’re stopping the spread of COVID-19 by making masks’ would not be allowed.”

Facebook Policy

Notably, while Facebook is reducing the restrictions on masks, they are still banning ads promoting hand sanitizers, surface wipes, COVID-19 test kits, and other related medical products.