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.

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”.

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.

Google is some small changes to Google My Business Posts that could affect visibility.

Google Posts Go to the Bottom

A number of people have observed that Google Posts have been moved within knowledge panels, getting shifted down reviews and other business information.

Barry Schwartz gave an example of just how significantly the change demotes Posts within the knowledge panel on Search Engine Roundtable. The first picture shows his Google My Business listing in 2017, with a Google Post directly below the address information:

In the second screenshot, the latest Post is all the way at the bottom, only placed ahead of other search suggestions:

New Post Length Limits

Additionally, it appears Google My Business is changing how it limits the length of Google Posts.

In the past, Google required a minimum of 100 words per post with a maximum of 300 words per post.

Now, the company is changing to limit posts to 1,500 characters, rather than limiting the length based on words. There appears to be no minimum length for Posts.

If anything, the change will make Posts shorter for most businesses, since 1,500 words roughly equate to 250 words. Given, this depends on the length of the specific words a person uses.

Not long ago, it seemed like every business website had a “Testimonials” page filled with reviews and references from either past-customers or fellow members of their industry. If you have a keen eye, though, you might have noticed these pages are slowly falling out of use in favor of posting your Google, Yelp, and other online reviews on your site.

The practice has led to some confusion, as many experts claimed putting your own online reviews from across the web on your site could be potentially dangerous for search engine optimization. There have even been suggestions it could lead to Google penalties.

Now, you can breathe easy and share your online reviews with pride, as Google webmaster trends analyst John Mueller has confirmed that it is totally fine to highlight your reviews on your company website – with one exception.

While posting your reviews on your website is acceptable, Mueller warns that you can not use review structured data on these reviews.

As Mueller explained on Twitter:

“From a Google SEO point of view, I don’t see a problem with that. I imagine the original is more likely to rank for that text, but if you use that to provide context, that’s fine (it shouldn’t be marked up with structured data though).”

Mueller then went on to explain that review structured data is intended for reviews “directly produced by your site” and using them on third-party reviews on your own site would go against Google’s guidelines.

Google's New Ad Strength Indicator

Google is giving advertisers a new tool to predict how their ads will perform before they start running.

The new ad strength indicator evaluates responsive and display ads, then rates them on a scale from “Poor” to “Excellent”.

The tool also gives specific tips on how you can improve your ads to improve their rating and improve performance.

When evaluating ads, the tool assesses a number of factors including relevance, quantity, and diversity of ad copy.

To help prepare for the rollout of the tool, Google provided a few bits of guidance:

  • For responsive search ads: Provide as many headlines and descriptions as makes sense for your business. At least five headlines are recommended.
  • For responsive display ads: Provide up to 15 images and five logos, headlines, and descriptions per ad.

The tool will roll out in stages and will likely take until early next year to be fully available.

First, the ad strength indicator will begin appearing when constructing responsive search ads within the next few weeks. Then, in early September the tool will be given its own column in the Google Ads interface. Finally, the ad strength indicator will be brought to responsive display ads in “several months.”

Along with the announcement of the ad strength indicator, Google also rolled out a number of several updates to responsive search ads.

The biggest change is that advertisers can now preview ad combinations as you are building them, letting you see several possible combinations while you work. This can help shape your ads to ensure ads will always be relevant and readable.

Google is also providing more information about responsive search ads in search reports, including data for headlines, descriptions, and top combinations.

These changes to responsive search ads are already rolled out and available to all advertisers.

Google Veterans

Google is releasing a new label for Google My Business listings highlighting when a business is owned or led by a veteran.

Sean O’Keefe, data scientist at Google and a former Staff Sergeant in the US Army announced the new attribute this week while also highlighting the millions of American businesses that are owned by veterans.

“More than 2.5 million businesses in the U.S. are majority-owned by veterans, and one way that I stay connected to the veteran community is by supporting those veteran-owned businesses. It’s something I can do all throughout my day, whether I’m grabbing a coffee or recommending a local restaurant to a friend.”

The tag is easily enabled and will highlight veteran-owned businesses in both Google Search listings and map results.

The label is similar in appearance and function to other attributes like “Has Wifi” or “Outdoor Seating.”

Currently, there is no verification process. All a veteran business owner has to do is follow a couple steps to enable the “Veteran-led” attribute for their own listing:

  • Sign into your Google My Business account
  • Select the location you are managing
  • Select “Info” from the menu
  • Find the “Attributes” section and select the Pencil icon
  • Search or select the “Veteran-led” attribute
  • Select “Apply”.

The new attribute is just one of many steps Google is taking to provide support for veterans, including curating search results for veterans looking for jobs and encouraging IT training. You can find out more about the initiative here.

Google is testing making Posts from Google My Business listings more prominent in search engines, with a unique tab that can appear directly within local search results.

The tab will appear when you either search for a specific business or keyword that includes businesses that have created Google Posts.

As many smaller businesses with Google My Business have yet to take advantage of Google Posts, the new tab gives those who are sharing Posts a spotlight to shine with engaging content and high-quality images.

Likewise, I expect Google is hoping for the inclusion of Posts within the search results will boost the number of listings who are creating and sharing posts through GMB.

The feature is obviously in early testing as some have noticed changes to how the Posts can appear within the tab.

While Matt Southern from Search Engine Journal was able to view two separate carousels (one horizontal and one vertical) of images when viewing the Post tab, others (including myself) are only being shown a single vertical feed of Posts.

The tab is also currently limited to mobile searches and does not show up on desktop versions of Google.