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The United States Department of Justice is filing a sweeping antitrust lawsuit against Google today. The suit comes after years of investigations and accusations that Google and it’s parent company Alphabet have unfairly stifled competition to maintain its leading place in online search. 

The complaints further allege that Google then used this leverage and dominant position to sell more search ads across its platform. 

The suit will be joined by 11 state attorneys general from Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas. 

Some have pointed out that all involved attorneys generals are Republicans, though criticism of the search engine giant has been a bipartisan issue over the years. Democrats like Elizabeth Warren have called for similar lawsuits and breaking up the tech giant, and left-leaning states like California are reportedly pursuing similar investigations against the company. 

Notably, an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission in 2013 ended without charges, though a leaked document later revealed staff recommended a number of charges on several grounds. 

In the press conference, the DOJ said the search company has violated Section 2 of the Sherman Act by maintaining unlawful monopolies in markets for “general search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising.”

Google has also received criticism for its anti-competitive practices, including over $9 billion in fines from the European Union. Still, this marks the first time similar charges have been filed in the company’s home country. 

Concerns About Anti Competitive Practices

The lawsuit focuses on a number of business moves made by Google over the years, including using massive contracts and agreements to block competition. 

For example, Google and Apple reached a multi-billion dollar agreement to use Google’s search engine as the default on Apple mobile devices, preventing users from using other search engines by default. 

Despite these factors many say the lawsuit is far from a cut-and-dry case and could stretch on for years. Meanwhile, it could also signal the start of an avalanche of legal problems for Google is other states follow suit.

Google announced recently that it is requiring advertisers to provide documentation of their identity and geographic location to be eligible to run ads on the platform.

The new policy is an expansion of similar restrictions put in place in 2018 requiring the advertisers behind political ads to provide identification verification.

How Advertisers Verify Their Identity

Google is rolling out the new policy in phases and will be selecting certain advertisers to verify themselves first. Specifically, Google says it will prioritize those who do the following across its Ad Network:

  • Promotion of products, goods, and services.
    • Examples: Retail, media and entertainment, travel, B2B, technology, etc.
  • Promotion of informational, advisory, or educational content.
    • Examples: Content promoting educational resources, research and statistics, free health or financial advice, charitable or social causes, etc.
  • Promotion of content related to regulated industries.
    • Examples: Gambling and games, financial products or services, healthcare products or services etc.

If selected, an advertiser will be required to provide documentation to verify their identity within 30 days. Accepted documentation will include:

  • Personal identification methods
  • Business incorporation documents
  • Possibly other items to verify who they are
  • Operating geography

If documentation is not provided within the 30 day limit, all ads will be stopped until the issue is resolved.

Google also says it will begin the program in the United States before rolling out globally. The new requirements will apply to every aspect of Google’s multi-faceted advertising platform, including Search, Display, and YouTube ads.

Currently, the company expects that it will take a few years to fully implement the program.

Notably, the information currently available suggests that Google is specifically focusing on the individuals or companies running the ads, not necessarily the individual managing the ads. This means your ad agency will likely be asked to verify your identity on your behalf.

New Disclosures For Ads

Part of the reason Google is requiring this information, is that it is beginning to add new disclosures about the identity of advertisers when displaying paid ads.

The disclosures are available below the “Why this ad?” option when clicking for more details.

The disclosure will include information about the advertisers’ name, country location, and will provide an option to stop showing ads from that advertiser.

Why Is Google Doing This?

As the company explained in its announcement, the new program is part of a larger effort to “provide greater transparency and equip users with more information about who is advertising to them.”

Director of Product Management for Ads Integrity, Jack Canfield, elaborated by saying:

“This change will make it easier for people to understand who the advertiser is behind the ads they see from Google and help them make more informed decisions when using our advertising controls. It will also help support the health of the digital advertising ecosystem by detecting bad actors and limiting their attempts to misrepresent themselves.”

For more information, read Google’s announcement here or explore their additional guidance on the program here.

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.

Unless you are regularly keeping an eye on your site’s analytics, you might never know when you suddenly lose a ton of traffic or clicks. That is somewhat changing, however, as webmasters can now be notified to sudden drops in clicks through Google’s Search Console.

Search Console is now sending alerts to webmasters when it detects a “substantial drop” in clicks compared to your past week’s data.

Google is doing this by reviewing your week-over-week data in the Performance report for your site. If this week’s data is drastically different, it will send a notification to verified property owners in Search Console to alert them of the problem.

The new notification was first noticed by Vance Moore III who shared a screenshot of the notification on Twitter:

It is unclear exactly how large of a drop it takes to trigger the notification. In the case above, Moore experienced nearly a 50% drop in clicks.

Of course, the tool has some obvious limits. The first is that it only compares week-to-week data. That means slower downward trends will likely not trigger a notification. Additionally, the notification appears to only be triggered by clicks but does not account for traffic or bounce-rates.

The best course of action will always be to regularly check your analytics data to properly assess your site’s performance. There, you will find everything from your click performance, to conversions, traffic, and even demographic info about your visitors.

Still, it always helps to have an extra alert in place for when sudden changes happen to your site. That way you can respond to any new issues and quickly remedy any issues that could have led to your drop in clicks.

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.”

 

Business owners can now see exactly what search terms people are using to find their Google My Business listings with Search Query Insights, giving you an opportunity to see where your listing is succeeding and what areas may need to be better optimized.

The search query information is being added to the Insights tab and includes the most common terms and search trends that helped people find your business.

In the help page for the new feature, Google suggested: “these queries should help you create better Posts with Google and even Ads to engage your customers.”

However, the data won’t be a comprehensive list of every search term that led to your listing. It will just contain the terms used most often.

“Search queries focus on the terms that your customers used to find your business on Local Search and Maps.”

Business owners or page managers can also filter the queries based on those used within the last week or the past 28 days.

The feature will be available to all Google My Business listings soon, but Google has not provided an estimate of how long the rollout will take. Currently, some are reporting seeing search query data in their Insights tab, while it is absent for others. I would expect most will have access to the information by the end of the week, if not sooner.

If you operate a website that is frequently creating or changing pages – such as an e-retail or publishing site – you’ve probably noticed it can take Google a while to update the search engine with your new content.

This has led to widespread speculation about just how frequently Google indexes pages and why it seems like some types of websites get indexed more frequently than others.

In a recent Q&A video, Google’s John Mueller took the time to answer this directly. He explains how Google’s indexing bots prioritize specific types of pages that are more “important” and limit excessive stress on servers. But, in typical Google fashion, he isn’t giving away everything.

The question posed was:

“How often does Google re-index a website? It seems like it’s much less often than it used to be. We add or remove pages from our site, and it’s weeks before those changes are reflected in Google Search.”

Mueller starts by explaining that Google takes its time to crawl the entirety of a website, noting that if it were to continuously crawl entire sites in short periods of time it would lead to unnecessary strain on the server. Because of this, Googlebot actually has a limit on the number of pages it can crawl every day.

Instead, Googlebot focuses on pages that should be crawled more frequently like home pages or high-level category pages. These pages will get crawled at least every few days, but it sounds like less-important pages (like maybe blog posts) might take considerably longer to get crawled.

You can watch Mueller’s response below or read the quoted statement underneath.

“Looking at the whole website all at once, or even within a short period of time, can cause a significant load on a website. Googlebot tries to be polite and is limited to a certain number of pages every day. This number is automatically adjusted as we better recognize the limits of a website. Looking at portions of a website means that we have to prioritize how we crawl.

So how does this work? In general, Googlebot tries to crawl important pages more frequently to make sure that most critical pages are covered. Often this will be a websites home page or maybe higher-level category pages. New content is often mentioned and linked from there, so it’s a great place for us to start. We’ll re-crawl these pages frequently, maybe every few days. maybe even much more frequently depending on the website.”

Google has been testing the waters with putting autoplay videos in search results for a few weeks, and today they made it official. The company announced a less intrusive (and less annoying) version of autoplay videos are being rolled out to search results starting today.

The videos will take the place of the static images that have been shown as a “preview” for video search carousel results, such as when YouTube videos are shown in the results.

You can see what this looks like in action in the GIF below:

As the company explains in the announcement, the autoplay videos will help users get a better idea of what videos contain before they decide to click.

”…you now have access to video previews directly in search results, giving you a better idea of what you’re about to watch before you tap.”

If you’re worried about the new feature eating up your data plans on mobile devices, you can breathe a sigh of relief. The search engine says autoplay video previews will only play when you are connected to wi-fi, unless you decide to enable the feature on mobile networks within the settings menu. You can also completely opt-out of the autoplay videos in the same place.

For now, only some using the Google Search or Chrome apps for Android will be able to see the autoplay videos in their searches. The feature will be rolling out to all of these users over the coming week and is expected to be expanded to other devices and search apps in the future.

When it comes to mobile users and the internet, there is nothing more important than speed. Every step between the first click and the final conversion gives users the opportunity to set their phone down, get a call, or just get bored.

That’s why Google is doing everything it can to help businesses streamline the process, including this week’s launch of new “action buttons” that allow people to take action with your business straight from your Google My Business listing.

The new buttons allow you to add links to specific actions, including a variety of options for businesses from a number of industries – most notably service industries like restaurants and retailers. These links will then appear on your GMB listings anytime users see them in the search results.

Possible action URLs can include:

  • Booking an appointment
  • Placing an order
  • Reserving a table
  • Searching for items
  • Viewing the menu

Adding an action button to your own GMB listing is easy and just takes a few steps:

  • Sign in to Google My Business.
  • Choose the listing you want to edit.
  • Click into the URLs section.
  • Enter your URLs in the appropriate fields.
  • Click Apply.

There is only one minor catch to these buttons. Google says in some cases it will add non-editable, third-party links into these listings when the link relies on a third-party system. The search engine says these links are added because “Google works with select third-party providers that provide booking and ordering services for local businesses.”

In most cases, these links are completely unable to be edited or removed. Google says you can reach out directly to the third-party provider and request the link be changed or removed, but I’d imagine they will be unlikely to comply.

Do you have a search box or form on your website? Are you still using HTTP for your site? If so, you may want to begin the process of switching to HTTPS sooner rather than later.

Google says it is preparing to launch new efforts within their Chrome browser to encourage webmasters to migrate to HTTPS, the newer, more secure security certificate for websites. Beginning I October, the browser will begin showing warning messages to visitors on pages with search boxes or forms.

As Google says, “[in] October 2017, Chrome will show the ‘Not secure’ warning in two additional situations: when users enter data on an HTTP page, and on all HTTP pages visited in Incognito mode.”

You can preview what the warning will look like in the gif below:

 

The warnings are just the latest effort by Google to encourage the adoption of HTTPS. Just recently, Chrome warned webmasters that pages with logins are now required to use HTTPS.

The end goal for Google is to mark any web page using HTTP as insecure, but it could be a lengthy process.