*UPDATE* – The roller coaster continues. Late Saturday, President Trump told reporters he approved of a deal which would see TikTok’s US operations taken over by Oracle and Walmart.

“I have given the deal my blessing,” said Trump as he left Washington for a North Carolina rally. “I approve the deal in concept.”

Following the news, the US Department of Commerce said it is delaying the upcoming removal of TikTok from American app stores in “light of recent developments.”

Now, the department says TikTok will remain available on US iOS and Android stores until September 27th, unless a deal is finalized and approved.

*Original Article*
It is official. TikTok will be formally banned from Android and iOS within the United States starting Sunday, September 20, 2020.

This means that people within the US will be unable to download the app from trusted app stores.

Those who have the app already downloaded can continue to use the app, however, they will be unable to download any updates released in the future.

Following this, an effective ban of the platform will go into effect starting November 12, at which time the app will be completely unreachable in the US.

The announcement from the US Department of Commerce also stated that any workarounds to access TikTok will also be banned.

The announcement came as somewhat of a shock, as TikTok had made visible efforts to sell its US operations which would satisfy the conditions issued by the Department of Commerce.

As the department said in the announcement of the effective ban:

“The President has provided until November 12 for the national security concerns posed by TikTok to be resolved. If they are, the prohibitions in this order may be lifted.”

According to President Trump, who signed the ban into effect via Executive Order on August 6, 2020, TikTok and WeChat – owned by the same company – pose a threat to national security.

The Department of Commerce elaborated on this:

“Today’s announced prohibitions, when combined, protect users in the U.S. by eliminating access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality…

Each collects vast swaths of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories…

This combination results in the use of WeChat and TikTok creating unacceptable risks to our national security.”

TikTok spokesperson responded to the news in a statement which called the move “unprecedented”:

“In our proposal to the U.S. Administration, we’ve already committed to unprecedented levels of additional transparency and accountability well beyond what other apps are willing to do, including third-party audits, verification of code security, and US government oversight of US data security.”

It should be noted that the United States is not the only country to express concerns about TikTok or even to ban it from their country. India banned the app starting in July of this year, while others including Japan have openly considered banning the service.

Google appears to be testing the idea of “upgrading” Google My Business profiles with a special “Google Guaranteed” badge for a $50 monthly fee.

Twitter user Tom Waddington shared a screenshot for a promotional page within the GMB dashboard offering the profile upgrade.

What Is Google Guaranteed?

The search engine has been playing with the “Google Guaranteed” badge since last year, though it has typically been used in Local Service Ads for home services businesses. 

To be eligible for the badge, businesses must meet a number of criteria including certification, licensing, and background checks. 

The idea appears to be to inspire more confidence in brands listed in Google’s local results by highlighting those who have been vetted. 

Why Would Anyone Pay For This?

On its face, the idea of paying $50 a month for what amounts to a stamp of approval sounds a little silly. However, the badge comes with some backing which may help customers feel more at ease.

Along with the Google Guarantee badge, businesses which pass the screening process are also backed with a customer satisfaction guarantee. If a customer finds your business through the search engine and is not satisfied with the results, Google will refund the amount paid up to $2,000.

Along with this aspect, there is always the issue of getting ahead of your competition. Any little advantage can be the key to standing apart from your competitors.

Just an “Experiment” … For Now

When asked about the program via email, a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Journal:

“We’re always testing new ways to improve our experience for our advertisers, merchants, and users. This experiment will show the Google Guaranteed badge on the business profile. We don’t have anything additional to announce right now.”

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.

YouTube is launching a new tool to help small businesses with limited budgets or means create short, stylish promotional videos.

The company is releasing a beta version of the tool ahead of schedule in recognition that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made it unsafe to shoot in-person videos for businesses.

“Because businesses of all sizes are strapped for time and resources and in-person video shoots are no longer practical in many countries, we are accelerating the next stage of Video Builder availability.”

The YouTube Video Builder makes it easy to create videos between 6-seconds and 15-seconds long using an array of templates and aesthetics.

Importantly, you don’t need to have any existing video footage. Businesses are just asked to provide their own images, text, and logos which are then animated into a video.

You can customize the colors, fonts, and even music thanks to Google’s royalty-free audio library.

Once finished, you are free to share the videos anywhere you like. The obvious choice would be to use it to promote your brand on YouTube. However, you can also share it on Facebook, your website, or anywhere else you choose.

You can see an example of what a finished ad using Video Builder looks like below:

How To Use The YouTube Video Builder

As the tool is in beta access, you will need to sign up before you can get use the tool for the time being.

Once you’ve gotten access, creating a video is a simple process – as shown in the video below:

In the video, YouTube recommends creating your short video by taking these steps:

  • Select a layout suited for your goal
  • Upload your logo and select a color
  • Upload images and add copy
  • Select a font
  • Pick a music track from Google’s library
  • Click “create video” to see a preview of the finished video
  • Save the clip and upload it to your channel, website, and social media pages

The tool will save any videos you have created as a template so you can also iterate upon your finished product for several similar videos with small tweaks.

Finished videos can also be immediately used to create a YouTube or Google Ads campaign if you like, though it is not required.

For more information about using the YouTube Video Builder, check out the official help document.

After gradually applying its “mobile-first” algorithm to qualified sites over the past few years, Google is signaling it will be expanding the indexing system too all sites within a year – whether they are ready or not.

As reported by Twitter user @KyleW_Sutton and Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz, Google has begun sending out Search Console notices to sites who have yet to be included in the mobile-first index describing why their site is not ready.

Within the alerts, the company says “Google expects to apply mobile-first indexing to all websites in the next six to twelve months.”

What Is Mobile-First Indexing

Recognizing that more searches were beginning to come from mobile devices rather than desktop computers, in 2016 Google announced it was launching a new ranking system which prioritized sites that had taken steps to be “mobile-friendly.”

For example, sites with responsive mobile designs, fast loading speeds, and had removed Flash would be prioritized over those which had issues rendering on mobile devices in search results.

Initially, this took the form of an entirely separate indexing system for search results exclusively on mobile devices. However, the company has been working to create parity by making mobile-first indexing the primary method of crawling all sites.

The announcement that mobile-first indexing will be applied to all sites within a year marks the opening of the final chapter in the years-long effort to ensure all search results will load well whether you are at an office computer, using a phone on-the-go, or lounging with a tablet.

What This Means For You

If you have received this email or alert, it is a major warning sign that your site isn’t ready for a huge number of modern devices. Depending on what issue is present, it could mean something as small as an issue with a specific image presenting errors or as bad as your site being entirely unable to render on smartphones.

Either way, there is a large chance the issues present on your site are already affecting your rankings by preventing mobile-searchers from finding your site in search results. This will only get worse as Google moves forward with applying mobile-first indexing to all sites unless steps are taken to resolve the issues Google has observed.

Google is making some changes to its image search results pages by removing details about image sizes and replacing them with icons indicating what type of content the image is taken from.

For example, images pulled from recipes show an icon of a fork and knife, those from product pages show a price tag icon, and pictures pulled from videos include a “play” icon.

Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan says the change is coming later this week for desktop search results and shared a few examples of what the icons look like in action:

As you can see, by mousing over the icons users can get additional details including the length of a video.

Where To Find Image Size Details

To make room for these new icons, Google is removing the traditional image dimension information provided in the search results.

However, the information is still available to users after clicking on a specific thumbnail and mousing over the larger image preview.

Sullivan also shared an example of this:

Licensing Icons In Beta

Along with the announcement, Sullivan provided an update on a test to include licensing information alongside photos.

Currently, the company is beta testing the ability to pull licensing information from structured data on a website, though it is unclear if or when this feature will be widely available. Interested image owners can find out more about how to mark up your images in Google’s guide.

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.

Instagram will start testing the removal of “Like” counts in the US as early as this week, the company’s CEO announced recently.

 

The company has already been testing eliminating the “Like” counts from view for users in Canada, Brazil, Japan, and Australia. However, this is the first time they will be testing the concept for American users.

Notably, in these tests, Instagram has not totally removed the presence of Likes or the ability to view your total likes. Instead, the site has hidden the total number of Likes from other users viewing a person’s post on desktop or viewing a person’s profile. This makes it so that only account owners can view the number of Likes a post receives.

If Instagram proceeds to remove Likes entirely from public view, it could have a significant impact to how users interact with content and how online success is measured.

For instance, influencers and marketers will likely stop relying on Likes as a measure of their posts success. Instead, they might shift to other, deeper engagement metrics such as clicks, comments, or shares.

For now, Instagram is just testing removing likes. Given that they have slowly been expanding this feature around the world, however, it seems likely that the platform is seriously considering hiding your Likes from public view for good.

Google announced this week it is bringing ad extensions – similar to those that appear in search ads – to YouTube ads.

The new extensions expand the capabilities of traditional ads by offering unique call-to-actions or additional information for users.

Specifically, the new YouTube ad extensions allow advertisers to include directions to brick-and-mortar store locations, show lead generation forms, or use a number of CTAs that better fit your niche.

Currently, the extensions are only available for TrueView in-stream or non-skippable video ads, though the company says it will be expanding the feature to 6-second bumper ads later this year.

Google is already exploring ways to bring more ad extensions for YouTube’s TrueView ads, and will continue to do so in the future.

For example, the company is already beta testing sitelink ad extensions which would add a series of relevant links underneath a video ad.

In the announcement, Google says the new features are aimed at driving more clicks and conversions. In a beta test with 30 advertisers, extensions like sitelinks increased conversions by more than 20% and doubled the number of clicks.

Google has announced that it will begin blocking web pages with mixed content in its Chrome web browser starting December of this year. Considering that Chrome is used by more than half of all internet users, this could be a major issue that you may not even know is lurking on your site.

What is Mixed Content?

Mixed content refers to when secure webpages using the HTTPS security protocol include scripts, styles, images, or other content that is delivered through the less secure HTTP protocol.

Even linking to sites still using HTTP can be seen as delivering mixed content on your site.

As Google explains:

“Mixed content degrades the security and user experience of your HTTPS site …Using these resources, an attacker can often take complete control over the page, not just the compromised resource.”

How Google Chrome Will Handle Mixed Content

When the next update for Chrome is released in December, Google will begin doing one of two things when it encounters sites with mixed content:

  1. If an HTTPS version of that resource exists, Google will automatically upgrade that content to the newer secure version.
  2. When no such resource exists, Google will soft block the page. This will include a warning about the security risks of mixed content and an option to access the page despite the risk.

The warning screen may not deter all of your potential customers, but it can disrupt a significant chunk of your traffic, leads, and sales.

Beginning in January of 2020, Google will start taking an even stronger stance by removing the unblock option and completely blocking webpages with insecure content.

How To Check Your Site for Mixed Content

Depending on the size of your site and what platform it is built on, there are a number of free and paid options for scanning your site for mixed content.

JitBit SSL Checker

JitBit SSL Checker is a free online tool that can review up to 400 pages of your site for mixed content.

WordPress Tools

If your site is built on WordPress, you can use the Really Simple SSL Plugin to migrate your content to SSL while also checking for and fixing mixed content.

For those who have already migrated their site to SSL, there is also the SSL Insecure Content Fixer WordPress Plugin. This can scan your site for insecure resources while providing suggestions for fixing these problems.

Tools for Large Sites

Websites with a large number of pages will likely have to use paid tools to check their site. One option is Screaming Frog, which can crawl massive sites and provide insights to a wide variety of issues. One drawback, however, is that while it can pinpoint potential problems on your site, it can not directly assist you in fixing them.