By Cyrus Shepard

Happy new year, readers! We’re back with a brand new season of Whiteboard Friday episodes for your viewing pleasure.

First up: Moz SEO expert Cyrus Shepard shares his top 21 tips for successful Google SEO in 2021, including what to prioritize and what to look out for in the year ahead. He’s also included a bunch of helpful resources for your reference in the transcription below!

Watch and enjoy, and as always, leave your questions and your own suggestions in the comment section.



21 Smart SEO Tips for 2021


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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Cyrus Shepard. Today, so glad that you can join us. We are talking about 21 smart Google SEO tips for 2021. We’re getting ready for a new year, a new year of SEO strategies. These are 21 practical tips that you can implement that should, hopefully, move the needle on your organic traffic.

These are some of the best tips that I’ve collected over the past year. Many of them that I’m going to use myself in my own SEO strategies.

Now we have four categories: increasing clicks, content/on-page SEO tips, technical SEO, and a little bit of link building. There are 21 of these. These are going to go fast. We’re trying to do 10 to 12 minutes, so we don’t get to spend a lot of time on each one. But don’t fret. We’re going to link to appropriate resources in the transcript below so that we can keep along and explore a little bit more. All right. Ready to dive in?

Increasing clicks

Let’s start with clicks, specifically earning more clicks from Google without actually ranking higher, because that’s one of the great things about SEO. You don’t actually have to rank higher to get more traffic if you can get more clicks from the rankings that you already have. So let’s talk about some specific strategies for getting more clicks without increasing rankings.

1. Favicon optimization

First, favicon optimization.

Now I’m surprised more people haven’t talked about this in 2020. Google displays favicons in mobile search results, and they can influence your click-through rate if they’re high contrast, if they’re visible or not visible. Having a good favicon can make a few percentage points difference, very minor, but it does make a difference if you can get it right. Aaron Wall, SEO Book, wrote one of the very few posts about that.

2. Breadcrumb optimization

While we’re optimizing our favicons, let’s take a look at breadcrumb optimization. Google displays breadcrumbs in both desktop and mobile search results. They can be keyword-rich breadcrumbs, which can influence your click-through rate. Now Google gets their breadcrumbs from a lot of places. That can be your URL, your schema markup, your actual breadcrumbs on the page.

What you want to do is make sure Google is displaying the breadcrumbs that you want them to display, using those keywords that you choose. The best way to do that, make sure that you have breadcrumbs actually on your page with links, that you’re using schema markup. Ideally, it would match your URL structure, but that isn’t always necessary. So a great breadcrumb optimization audit.

3. Meta descriptions

Let’s optimize those meta descriptions. This is so old-school SEO. But a recent study shows that 30% of websites don’t even use meta descriptions. Now that’s understandable because another study shows that 70% of the time, Google will rewrite the meta description, usually because it’s not using the keywords that the user is searching for. But if we write a well-crafted meta description, it can compel users to click, and that means using keyword-rich descriptions that people are actually searching for, so when Google does use your meta description, it’s encouraging those clicks and acting as marketing copy for your website.

4. Numbers in titles

Along with meta descriptions, titles. Just shared a study recently showing that dates added to titles increased rankings for a particular brand. Numbers are generally one thing that I always test in title tags that usually produce pretty consistent results. Specifically, dates in title tags are often a winner, January 2021.

Don’t be spammy about it. Don’t include it if it doesn’t make sense and don’t fake it. But if you can include a number, it will often increase your click-through rate for any given query.

5. <Title> boilerplate

How about doing a boilerplate audit for your title tag? Tip number five. What’s boilerplate? Boilerplate are the parts of your title tag that repeat every single time.

For example, here at Moz, we put “Moz,” our brand name at the end of every title tag. We used to put “Whiteboard Friday” at the end of every Whiteboard Friday until we tested it and found out that we actually got more clicks and higher rankings when we removed it. So boilerplate, you want your titles to be unique, provide unique value. So I would encourage you to experiment with your boilerplate and see if removing it actually increases your rankings.

Sometimes it’s not going to. Sometimes you need that boilerplate. But do the test to find out.

6. FAQ and how-to schema

Tip number six: schema, specifically FAQ and how-to schema. Google gave us a huge gift when they introduced these in search results. FAQ schema gives you a lot of SERP real estate. You can’t always win it, and you can’t always win the how-to schema, but when you do, that can definitely increase or influence people to click on your result, expand those FAQ schemas out.

It’s not appropriate for every page. You want to make sure that you actually have those FAQs on your pages. But it is one way, in appropriate situations, that you can increase clicks without increasing your actual Google ranking. All right.

Content/on-page SEO

Let’s move on to some content and on-page tips.

7. Relaunch top content

All right, number seven. This is the year I want you to look into relaunching your top content.

Content can go stale after a few years. So we launch content. You have a blog, you launch it, and you share it on social media. Most people forget about it after that. So go back, look at your top content over the last two to five years or even 10 years, if you want to go back that far, and see what you can relaunch by updating it, keeping it on the same URL. In some cases, you can see gains of 500% to 1,000% just by relaunching some of your old content with some updates.

So do a relaunch audit in 2021.

8. Increase internal linking

Number eight: increasing internal linking. Now a lot of top SEO agencies, when they need to quickly increase rankings for clients, there are generally two things that they know are the easiest levers to pull. First, title tags and meta descriptions, what’s getting more clicks, but second is increasing the internal linking.

You know that you can increase internal links on your site, and there are probably some opportunities there that you just haven’t explored. So let’s talk about a couple easy ways to do that without having too much work.

9. Update old content with new links

Number nine is updating your old content with new links. This is a step that we see people skip time and time again. When you publish a new blog post, publish a new piece of content, make sure you’re going back and updating your old content with those new links.

So you’re looking at the top keyword that you want to rank for, and going in Google Search Console or checking tools like Keyword Explorer to see what other pages on your site rank for that keyword, and then adding links to the new content to those pages. I find when I do this, time and time again, it lowers the bounce rate. So you’re not only updating your old page with fresh content and fresh links and adding relevance. You’re adding links to your new content. So make sure, when you publish new content, you’re updating your old content with those new links.

10. Remove unnecessary links

Number 10, remove unnecessary links from your content. Now this is a form of PageRank sculpting. PageRank sculpting is a dirty word in SEO, but actually it works to a certain extent. It’s not nofollow link page sculpting.

It is removing unnecessary links. Do you really need a link to your team page on every page of your website? Do you need a link to your contact form on every page of your website? In many cases, you don’t. Sometimes you do. But if you remove the unnecessary links, you can pass more link equity through the links that actually count, and those links are a major Google ranking signal.

11. Mobile link parity audit

Number 11, need you to do a mobile link parity audit. What is that? What is a mobile link parity audit? That is ensuring that the links on your mobile site are the same as the links on your desktop site. Why is that important? Well, the last couple of years Google has moved to a mobile first index, meaning what they see on your mobile site, that’s your website.

That’s what counts. So a lot of sites, they have a desktop site, and then they reduce it to their mobile site and they’re missing links. They get rid of header navigation, footer links, and things like that. A recent study showed that the average desktop page has 61 links and the average mobile page has 54 links. That means on the web as a whole there are seven fewer links on mobile pages than desktop pages, meaning a lot of link equity is being lost.

So do a study on your own website. Make sure you have mobile link parity between your desktop and your mobile site so you’re not losing that equity.

12. Invest in long-form content

Number 12: need you to invest in long-form content. Now I am not saying that content length is a ranking factor. It is not. Short-form content can rank perfectly well. The reason I want you to invest in long-form content is because consistently, time and time again, when we study this, long-form content earns more links and shares.

It also generally tends to rank higher in Google search results. Nothing against short-form content. Love short-form content. But long-form content generally gives you more bang for your buck in terms of SEO ranking potential.

13. Use more headers

When you’re doing that long-form content, make sure you do number 13: use more headers. I’m talking about H2 and H3 tags.

Break up your content with good, keyword-rich header tags. Why? Well, we have research from A.J. Ghergich that shows that the more header tags you have, generally you rank for more featured snippets. Sites with 12-13, which seems like a lot of header tags, rank for the most featured snippets of anything that they looked at in their most recent study.

So make sure you’re breaking up your content with header tags. It adds a little contextual relevance. It’s a great way to add some ranking potential to your content.

14. Leverage topic clusters

Number 14, leverage topic clusters. Don’t just launch one piece of content. Make sure you write about multiple pieces of content around the same subject and link those together. When you do that and you link them intelligently, you can increase engagement because people are reading the different articles.

You can add the right contextual inner links. I have a great case study that I want to show you in the transcript below, where someone did this and produced amazing results. So look into topic clusters for 2021.

15. Bring content out of tabs

Finally, bring your content out of tabs. If you have content that is in accordions or drop-downs or you have to click to reveal the content, study after study after study shows that content that’s brought out of tabs and brought into the main body, so people don’t have to click to see, generally performs better than content that’s hidden in tabs.

Now to be clear, I don’t believe that Google discriminates content in tabs. They seem to be able to index and rank it just fine. But I think people generally engage with content when it’s out of tabs, and maybe some of those signals help those pages to rank a little better.

Technical SEO

All right. Just a very few technical SEO tips. We’re going fast.

16. Core Web Vitals

Number 16: this is the year to invest in Core Web Vitals. These are some of the page experience signals that Google is bringing to the forefront in 2021. It’s going to be an actual ranking factor very soon. We’re talking about cumulative shift layout, hard word to say. Generally, we’re talking about site speed and delivering great page experience. Now some of these things are very technical, and Google has some tools, like Lighthouse, to try to help you to figure them out.

One tip I like to share, if you are on WordPress, I highly recommend using Cloudflare, in particular their APO for WordPress. It’s a great way to speed up your WordPress website and help you score better for some of these Core Web Vitals. It’s very low cost, it’s easy to implement, and it’s a great way to speed up your WordPress website.

17. Limit sitemaps to 10,000

Number 17: sitemaps. Sitemaps, you’re allowed to have 50,000 URLs per sitemap. This is always a question in every SEO quiz. How many URLs per sitemap are you allowed? Instead, if you have a large site and you have indexing issues, tip number 17, limit your sitemaps to 10,000 URLs. You don’t have to use all 50,000.

We have some evidence that using smaller sitemaps, compressing those into a limited URL set can actually improve your crawlability of those. It’s kind of like Google might prioritize those in some way. The data seems to support it. You also get a little bit better data out of Google Search Console. You can see what’s being indexed and what’s not.

18. Leverage dynamic sitemaps

Also, leverage dynamic sitemaps. Our friend Oliver Mason shows — that I’ll link to in the transcript below — that a dynamic sitemap is a sitemap that changes based upon what you want Google to crawl. So if you have a large corpus of URLs that you want Google to crawl, put the high priority ones in their own special sitemap.

Maybe you limit it to one thousand URLs. As Google crawls and discovers those, remove them and put in additional high priority URLs that you want Google to discover. Keep the sitemap small and tight, and let Google know that those are the ones that you want them to pay attention to.

Link building

Let’s quickly talk about link building tips for 2021, because everybody loves link building.

No, kidding. Everybody hates link building. Link building is so hard. There are some professionals and there are some great people in the industry who do love it, who are great at it. Personally, I’m not that great at link building, but I still am able to build a lot of links.

19. Passive link acquisition

One way that I’m able to do that is number 19: passive link acquisition. What passive link acquisition means is creating content that passively earns links as people discover it in the SERPs.

It means I don’t have to outreach to people. It means that when they find it, when journalists find it, when bloggers find it, they naturally want to link to it. You do that by creating the types of content that journalists and bloggers and web creators are looking for. These are generally data, guides, definitions, how to, such as this video. When you create that kind of content, it generally earns a lot of links as people find it. Passive link building is one of the most sustainable ways to earn links over time.

20. Page-level link intersect

Number 20, page-level link intersect. When you do have to do outreach, you want to do outreach to the pages most likely to link to you. Now we’ve known for a long time one of the top SEO tips for link building is find websites that link to your competitors but not to you.

I like to make that a little more specific and find web pages that link to at least two of my competitors but not to me. That means that they are generally a resource page, if they’re linking to multiple competitors but not to me, and more likely to link to me if I ask them. We have a great tool here at Moz, Link Explorer, that does page-level link intersect. I think it’s the best tool for this specific task in the SEO industry, not because I’m biased, because I actually use it.

21. Be the last click

Tip number 21 for 2021, be the last click. What do I mean by that? I mean satisfy your users. Once you earn the first click, you want to get that first click that people click, but you also want to be the last click. That means they found what they are looking for. User satisfaction is ranking signal number one. Your goal with all of this is to satisfy the user, to give them what they search for.

That’s the magic of SEO. They’re searching for something, and you’re delivering it to them at the exact moment they search for it. When you can be the last click, you’re almost guaranteed to rise in rankings and get the traffic that you deserve.

All right, those are 21 tips. That’s your roadmap for 2021. Hope you enjoyed it. Please share this video and share your tips for 2021 in the comments below.

Thanks, everybody.

By Cyrus Shepard

Cyrus Shepard is the founder of Zyppy, an SEO consulting and software company. He writes/tweets about Google ranking signals, SEO best practices, experiments, tactics, and industry updates.For the latest, follow Cyrus on Twitter, or check out more of his posts on Moz.

Sourced from MOZ

By Jodi Harris

Over the years, Google hasn’t always been forthcoming about tweaks to its algorithm. But when it is, it usually causes a ripple of panic across the marketing world.

Google detailed two changes this year:

  • A new set of ranking signals – Core Web Vitals – to more accurately measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with web pages as part of its page experience update
  • The block of third-party cookies on the Chrome browser as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiatives

Will these decisions be destabilizing forces that send your search traffic spiralling out of your brand’s control?

Paxton Gray, CEO of marketing agency 97th Floor and 2020 Content Marketing World speaker, says no. In his view, these shifts are just a call to take a fresh look at the power of data.

Content marketers may think they need to appease Google’s algorithm to achieve success. But Paxton contends that there’s a more powerful way to view the search equation: Make Google work for you.

“The more personally resonant and deeply satisfying your content experiences are, the more motivated Google will be to serve them up for users to find and engage with,” he says.

The more personally resonant your #content experiences are, the more motivated @Google will be to serve them up for users, says @PaxtonMGray via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In a recent conversation with CCO magazine, Paxton explains Google’s latest moves and outlines an approach to help you deliver the kinds of content experiences searchers want to click.

Google’s page experience update is a non-issue

Google will measure a set of three additional ranking signals (i.e., its Core Web Vitals) as part of its latest page experience update:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – how long it takes the biggest element or piece of content on your page to load. Google sets the standard at 2.5 seconds or less. If your website doesn’t load quickly, you could see a decrease in rankings.
  • Input delay – how long a site takes to respond to a visitor’s tap or click on an element. It needs to be less than 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative layout shift – the distance that buttons and links move as the website loads. Ideally, you want no movement, so users don’t click on a button but mistakenly get taken to a different destination because the button moved as other page features finished loading.

“If you’re already managing these elements of the website experience (and you should be), these updates won’t affect you too much,” says Paxton.

But some marketers think they need to respond to every single detail of Google’s updates, when they should be focusing on how to use Google to understand their customers better, overall.

You don’t need to respond to every Google update. Use @Google to understand your customers better, says @PaxtonMGray via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

“As marketers, all of our decisions should revolve around the experience our users have when engaging with our assets – from the first ad they see to the landing page, the call to action, the thank-you email, and to whatever else happens after they purchase and beyond. That should be the centre of our universe, not necessarily just optimizing content for leads and conversions, which is often where we end up focusing all of our attention,” he says.

“If you focus on the bigger picture of what your consumers want to experience when engaging with content found on search, the small things will usually take care of themselves.”

Focus, not tracking, is the problem

Audience research conducted through search won’t be affected much by the loss of cookies, Paxton says. But tracking your audience’s behaviours and personality characteristics at touchpoints of your content experience will get more challenging. Tools that use other methods to track those critical customer insights can be used to create correlations among those insights that deepen your understanding of who your customers really are.

Content marketers can realize a big competitive advantage in this area. But, Paxton says, a cognitive shift needs to happen:

Marketers commonly view consumers as markets – entities that match a particular persona or profile description – so that’s how they speak to them. But these are people with personal lives and life experiences that run far deeper than what their buying habits or consumption behaviours may reveal.

Your audience may be similar in ways that have nothing to do with their profession or the persona they most closely resemble. Paxton contends that if you use data to reveal what those similarities might be – like the kinds of bands they love or their favourite vacation destinations, for example – you can engage them in more personally resonant ways. “That’s how we cut through all of the noise and deliver the complete, desirable content experiences Google plans to favour,” he says.

3 ways to mine for more powerful insights

To reach this level of personal detail, Paxton recommends focusing on three research techniques: keyword research, social media monitoring, and semantic analysis. His approach focuses on the context of your audience’s inquiries – learning about how, not just what, they search.

Focus on three research techniques to mine insights: keyword research, social media monitoring, and semantic analysis, says @PaxtonMGray via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Keyword research should already be a core component of your content strategy. The real trick is to go beyond targeting the most popular keywords and examine the larger behaviour patterns happening behind those searches (more on that in a minute).

Monitoring and analysing social media conversations is another rich source of useful audience insights. Don’t look only for brand-related conversations but also for opportunities to deliver on your audiences’ needs and distinguish your content from that of your competitors, Paxton says.

Consider what fintech company Acorns has done. The company specializes in micro-investing, though it competes with companies like Betterment geared to bigger investments.

“If you break down the social media activities of their community members, you can find some key differences between the two groups,” says Paxton. “Betterment’s users are likely to follow Wall Street, big traders, and high-profile advisors like Jim Cramer … but the people on Acorns, they’re following Etsy. They follow WordPress, they follow YouTube creators – people with side hustles or those who are just starting their own small businesses and are looking for a different kind of financial advice.

“Acorns’ content isn’t going to be competitive against the high-finance topics Betterment can dominate, like estate tax laws or economic trend forecasts. But it can win with content geared toward side hustlers, small businesses, and micro-investors – such as how to hire your first employee or set up a shop on Etsy,” he says.

To get to this level of audience insight, look at your social and search data through a different lens – one that considers how they talk about those topics.

This leads us to the third technique: semantic analysis.

A big reason for Google’s page experience updates is to provide the most complete content possible so someone can search, click, and be done. Semantic analysis can bring you closer to this ideal by uncovering areas where your existing body of content may be incomplete – topics and considerations, related concepts, or core knowledge or areas of expertise.

Google’s algorithms know what subjects are associated with the keywords you already found. Paxton says you can take your keyword research to the next logical step by performing a TF-IDF analysis.

TF-IDF analysis is a process for identifying, analysing, and reverse-engineering the conditions that may cause Google to rank competing content higher than your content for your chosen keywords. It surfaces semantically related terms that your audience expects to see when researching a topic of interest. “Including those terms in the content you create around that subject will bring more weight and authority to your conversations – in the eyes of both Google and your audience,” Paxton says.

Semantically related terms in your #content bring more weight and authority in the eyes of @Google and your audience, says @PaxtonMGray via @CMIContent. #SEO Click To Tweet

Paxton shares a personal example of the impact of this technique: “I’m about to go backpacking, and I’m looking for a jacket that provides the durability I need for my trip. As I sort through the top articles listed on my keyword search for ‘jackets for backpacking,’ I see the first one talks about the warmth of the jacket, but not its durability. So, I have to go back and sort through multiple results until I find one that talks about durability.

“If the first article had covered everything about the jacket that I care about, such as its materials, the climates and terrains it’s best suited for, etc., I would immediately have been more satisfied with my search experience – and more interested in engaging with the brand that made that possible.”

Quick-start guide to semantic analysis

While software tools can be used to expedite the semantic analysis process, Paxton asserts that it can also be done manually – though you’ll still need to use a word counter (here’s one for free) and some spreadsheet software.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Pull up the top 10 results on Google for a keyword you want to rank for.
  2. Copy/paste all the words in the first result into a text editor or Word document. Count how often each word appears (you can exclude words like “the,” “and,” “but,” etc.) and how many words appear in total on that page.
  3. Repeat the second step for the remaining pages.

See which terms are used in the highest concentrations – not just how often they’re used, but their percentage of the entire body of content. These are topics semantically related to your keyword term. Explore them for your content experience to be considered complete in the eyes of Google.

Now, run the same analysis on your brand’s body of content that would likely rank for that keyword and compare your results, looking for any terms that may be missing from your brand’s content conversations. Create content on those topics and your rankings should start to go up like clockwork.

Give Google no choice

Google wants to provide a good experience for users and needs great content to do that. Instead of planning your content around Google’s algorithmic expectations, use the power of search to find hidden opportunities to write for your audience in more personally resonant ways. Create content that’s so great Google has no choice but to rank it as a complete, unique, and highly desirable experience.

Feature Image Credit: Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

By Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is the director of editorial content and strategy at Content Marketing Institute and serves as editor-in-chief of its digital magazine, Chief Content Officer. Follow her on Twitter at @Joderama.

Sourced from Content Marketing Institute


Google will roll out an option in the coming weeks that allows users to opt out of having their Gmail, Chat, and Meet data used to offer “smart” features like Smart Compose and Smart Reply.

Gmail permissions are being featured by Google as the next privacy setting. Whatever the choice users make, “Google ads are not based on your personal data in Gmail, Maalika Manoharan, product manager at Google, wrote in a blog post.

Earlier this year, Google advertisers gained the option to buy Product Shopping ads and Showcase Shopping ads for Gmail campaigns in March. They are reported in the Google Display Network.

Standard Shopping campaigns will automatically run on Gmail, when marketers opt in to Gmail, Discover, and YouTube campaigns.

Manoharan explains that automated algorithms, not manual review, make it possible for Google to offer the new privacy feature. A toggle disables the background data processing that makes it possible to collect and use the data, Manoharan explained Monday.

Users remain in control of their data, whether they are an individual Gmail user or a Google Workspace administrator.

The new option will roll out in the coming weeks.

The Privacy Checkup tab allows users to control whether the data in Gmail, Meet, and Chat can offer smart features in the tabbed inbox for Smart Compose and Smart Reply in Gmail, as well as a reminder when bills are due in the Google Assistant and restaurant reservations in Google Maps.

Google’s engineers at the Google Safety Engineering Center in Europe developed the setting, which may have been based on the Global Protection Data Regulations (GDPR).

Auto-delete was introduced as the default to give consumers greater control of their data.

The ability to turn on and off some individual smart features is not new. The setting, which now gives users a choice whether or not the data can be used, is designed to reduce the work of understanding and managing that process.

As with all Google products, Gmail, Manoharan writes, Meet and Chat are secure-by-design to help protect consumer data and safeguard privacy.



Sourced from MediaPost

By JC Torres

The US government is preparing to make its case in courts over Google’s alleged anti-competitive practices, particularly on the Internet. While it may already have its arguments prepared, the Justice Department may still be considering what steps it will require Google to take, presuming it wins its case. One of those may be to split up the company, which is already just a subsidiary of the bigger Alphabet, which includes selling off the most-used web browser in the market, Chrome.

The DOJ’s upcoming antitrust lawsuit against Google really revolves more around its alleged monopoly and unfair advantage in digital advertising, a position recently echoed by the House Judiciary Committee. As part of its preparations, it has asked feedback from rivals and third-parties on what fixes have to be made to curb Google’s immense power. One such step would be to split it up and Chrome’s name came up as one of those properties outside of advertising that needed to go.

While not directly involved in Google’s advertising business, it’s hard to deny that Chrome contributes immensely to Google’s position and influence on the Web. As the most-used browser today, websites have to pretty much play by the rules Google imposes through Chrome features as well as through “industry-wide” campaigns and coalitions. This, in turn, helps Google push its own advertising platform forward as the reference implementation of how ads should behave.

That said, the DOJ’s case, which is expected to be formally filed within the next few weeks, won’t be an easy one, especially if state attorneys general feel the government is still unprepared for a legal battle with the tech giant. The court of popular opinion, at least among regulators and lawmakers, does seem to at least side with the general view of how Big Tech may have overstepped their boundaries.

Google will also face an uphill battle, especially if the proposal to sell off Chrome comes up. It could, however, argue how disrupting this part of its operations could prove destructive to the Web, considering how many businesses, apps, and services have been tied not just to the Chrome web browser but to Chrome OS as well as its open source Chromium base.

By JC Torres

Sourced from SlashGear


In a TEDx Talk, consultant David Mitroff explains when and why you can call yourself an expert.

Do you think of yourself as an expert in your industry? You may be more of one than you realize. In an engaging TEDx Talk, marketing consultant, Google mentor, and psychology PhD David Mitroff picks apart the question of what it takes to be an expert at something and when you should start saying that you are — because if you don’t, no one else will.

Mitroff began thinking about this after he gave a talk and two old men came up to him and said, “You’re really funny. You should be a standup comic.”

He wasn’t so sure, but he looked up the definition of a standup comic, and read that it was someone who interacts with the audience and is dynamic and fun. “I do that,” he thought. So he decided to put “standup comic” in his LinkedIn profile. After all, he figured, people who eat ice cream and post about it call themselves food bloggers, so why not?

The town where he’d met the old men asked him to return and give a second talk. On the basis of his previous talk and his LinkedIn profile, they promoted this new event calling him a consultant and standup comic. The presentation went well and the audience laughed. But an old friend of Mitroff’s called him up insisting that he couldn’t call himself a standup comic because he hadn’t performed at places like The Improv. Mitroff pointed out that if you Googled the name of the (small) town where he’d spoken and the term “standup comic,” results one through 10 were about him, on account of the promotion for his talk.

“So when are you an expert?” Mitroff asks. “Is it when others say you are? Is it when two old guys say you are or your friend says you’re not? Is it when you say you are?”

We all know the reasons for not calling ourselves an expert. There’s imposter syndrome, the feeling that your accomplishments are the result of luck and that you’re in constant danger of being exposed as a fraud. If you believe this, then claiming to be an expert only increases your danger of being called out as a fake.

More rationally, you may also be concerned about the Dunning-Kruger effect, a well-known and widespread phenomenon in which people believe themselves to be more expert than they are. “As you start learning something more and more, you realize you know less and less and less,” Mitroff says. “You’ve got to learn more and more skills about it.”

Mitroff is not suggesting that you should declare yourself an expert on fly-fishing, for instance, after one successful fishing trip. Instead, he says, if you want to become an expert at something, do these three things:

1. Spend three years learning your topic.

“After a lot of research, and a lot of time and pain, I believe it takes three years to become an expert,” he says. (He’s leaving aside fields where there’s a set certification path, for instance the four years of medical school followed by a residency required to become a physician.)

“Now does that mean you just wait three years and then say, ‘OK, I’m an expert now’? No, you actually have to do stuff,” he says. Begin by acquiring knowledge, and then keep on learning. “The research shows that experts continue to learn and educate themselves more and more and more, and they surround themselves with other people to become even more expert,” he says. “You don’t just become an expert and stop learning.”

Think about the smartest people you know. I’m willing to bet most of them do just this. Or think about some of the smartest and most iconic entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. They spend much of their time reading, studying, and talking to other experts to continue expanding their expertise. If, after decades of constant learning, these guys still don’t know everything they need to, chances are you won’t either.

2. Build your confidence.

Being an expert won’t do you much good if you never tell anyone about it. “You have to believe in yourself,” Mitroff says. “You have to believe in your product, or believe in your service. You have to believe in your community, and you have to believe in what you’re doing.”

If you’ve followed the first step and put in the time to learn your topic and practice your skills, then you’ve already gone at least some of the way to becoming an expert. Being an expert doesn’t mean that you’re never wrong, it doesn’t mean you know absolutely everything, and it doesn’t mean that other experts will always agree with you. It means you’ve put in the time and work to learn as much about your topic as you can, and that you’re continuing to learn more every day.

So if you’ve put in that time and you’ve learned a lot, own it! Declare yourself an expert. Don’t let naysayers like Mitroff’s friend get inside your head and shake that confidence.

3. Take action.

Your expertise will be of no use to anyone if all you do is sit around saying what an expert you are. So put your expertise to practical use.

As a marketing consultant, Mitroff made an astute observation: Most people who are nominated for awards don’t win them, but the mere fact of being nominated brings them visibility and prestige. Armed with that knowledge, he began nominating his clients and other people he knew for awards in their fields. “Why not?” he says. “They might accidentally win sometimes, but if they don’t win it doesn’t matter.”

Others began nominating Mitroff for awards in return, and he also began nominating himself. Along the way, he got nominated for an award as a changemaker in the city of Oakland, California, a nomination that made sense because, he says, he’s given free presentations to aspiring entrepreneurs and small-business owners at Oakland City Hall more than 60 times.

Did he win the award? No. But, he says, that nomination may have led directly to his being chosen for the very TEDx Talk he was now giving.

Feature Image Credit: Getty Images


Sourced from Inc.

By Marc Bain.

Groceries and cleaning supplies aren’t the only things Amazon is selling during the pandemic.

The e-commerce giant is peddling plenty of advertising space to companies hoping to give their items prime placement in front of Amazon’s legions of shoppers. The demand has kept Amazon’s ad sales strong amid Covid-19, even as its big tech competitors in digital advertising, Google and Facebook, suffer slowdowns.

Those two companies have dominated the online ad market, accounting for roughly 61% of digital ad spending by one estimate. But Amazon has been making inroads in recent years, and Covid-19 has pushed companies to devote more dollars to retail media, according to market research firm Forrester.

“Retail media—which, in its simplest form, refers to digital ad placements on eCommerce websites bought by consumer goods brands to influence the customer at the point of purchase—is booming during the pandemic,” the firm said in an Aug. 12 report. “In fact, Amazon’s advertising revenue didn’t miss a beat in Q2, growing at 41% year over year, while Facebook recorded its slowest ad revenue growth since going public and Google’s ad revenue declined for the first time ever.”

Amazon doesn’t report advertising revenue separately, but it does report “other” sales that it explains “primarily includes sales of advertising services, as well as sales related to our other service offerings.” In the quarter ending June 30, those sales jumped to $4.2 billion, while Facebook’s and Google’s ad businesses struggled over the same period.

Amazon has defied a broader slowdown in digital advertising as companies in hard-hit industries such as travel cut their expenses and marketing budgets.

In its report, Forrester pointed to retail media benefiting from factors that include e-commerce adoption, the large budgets consumer packaged goods companies maintain for retail marketing, and the fact that more retailers are offering media platforms. CVS, for example, is said to be readying its own ad network, and Walgreens is testing digital displays on the doors of coolers in its stores.

Whether the shift of ad dollars toward retail continues may depend on how e-commerce fares as the pandemic plays out, and on advertisers’ willingness to move money out of Google and Facebook.

For now, at least, it’s another way that Amazon looks poised to emerge even stronger than before.

By Marc Bain.

Sourced from Quartz


YouTube’s non-advertising subscription revenue will boom and emerge as a bigger driver of Google stock valuation, says one analyst.

Bank of America analyst Justin Post says subscription revenue will become a bigger part of the unit of Google-parent Alphabet (GOOGL).

“Based on an increasing, but still small, share of paid TV and music subscribers plus price increases, we estimate YouTube non-advertising subscription revenue can grow at a 28% five-year compound annual rate from $5.2 billion in 2020 to $17.6 billion by 2025,” Post said in a report to clients.

He added that for YouTube, “A key question is profitability.”

Alphabet disclosed more YouTube subscriber metrics when it reported earnings in April. Google reports second-quarter earnings on July 30.

In the March quarter, YouTube’s overall revenue rose 23% to $4.4 billion. Most of that came from advertising.

Google Stock: YouTube TV Fee Increased

Google stock gained 3.1% to close at 1,563.84 on the stock market today.

YouTube had more than 20 million music and premium paid subscribers and 2 million TV paid subscribers at the end of 2019, Google said in April.

“The recent YouTube TV fee increase to $65 per month has raised optimism that Google is looking to drive positive margins,” Post added. He noted that “Spotify (SPOT) had 130 million subscribers, 26% gross margins, and was roughly break-even in the first quarter of 2020.”

Google stock is not in a buy zone. It trades 10% above a cup-with-handle entry point of 1,415.63.


Follow Reinhardt Krause on Twitter @reinhardtk_tech for updates on 5G wireless, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and cloud computing.

Sourced from Investor’s Business Daily

By Alex Bider

Using Google My Business successfully is like wielding any other digital power tool. With the right application, you can build a listing that’ll get found by the right people. With the wrong application, you could do some lasting damage to your online presence.

In 2020, the first page of Google search results is one of the environments where successful marketing can be found. Appearing at the top of page one gives automatic authority to a website. Google My Business results typically display at the top of page one, above the organic results.

Properly optimizing your Google My Business listing can be enough to make you appear frequently in local search results, and there are many ways you can monetize the traffic you’ll get as a result.

How To Create A Google My Business Listing

Log in to the Google account you want to use, and go to https://www.google.com/business/. Click on “Manage Now,” and then enter the information as prompted, starting with your business name.

Note: You only need to enter an address if you have a store, office or other location where you meet customers face to face. If your business provides goods or services to a specific area, you’ll be classified as a service area business. If that’s the case, make sure you tick the corresponding box at the bottom of the form. If you have a service area business, this is also where you’ll specify which areas you serve.

Lastly, choose your business category, and add your contact information. Then select “Finish” to move on to verification.

Many businesses will have to verify via postcard, which can take up to two to four weeks to arrive. But some will get the option to verify by phone or email — be sure to check if you qualify for these speedier options.

How To Audit And Optimize Your Account

Once your business is verified, there are a number of ways to improve your odds of showing up in Google search results. Make sure you’ve filled out all the information fields possible, covering the keywords and topics relevant to your business. It’s also good to mention any special features or benefits that your business brings to the table. Are you bilingual? Mention it in your description!

You’ll also want to add a profile photo and upload a few other pictures that either display your location or give an idea of what you do. Current customers love to be able to see a business making progress, and showing that you’re actively evolving can help to attract new clients.

Double-check that everything is correct, and consider making a post or two to get things started. Google My Business posts can include images, text and call-to-action button links. They’re a great way to feature sales, draw more attention to your content or just get people clicking through to your website.

What You Need For Ongoing Success

Succeeding on Google My Business is a pretty simple formula, but it requires creativity and dedication to execute correctly. Here are some tips:

• Appealing images are a must. Make them at least 720 x 720 pixels and either JPGs or PNGs.

• Quick and open responses to customer reviews (whether positive or negative) will go a long way.

• Checking your GMB insights at least once a week will keep you up to date on how different tactics and trends affect your business.

How To Stand Out From The Crowd

Keeping consistent with both the quantity and quality of your posts will set you apart from other businesses that allow their listings to languish. Pointing links from websites and other social platforms to your GMB listing should also help to improve your ranking.

Most brands don’t put enough effort into their GMB listings, so if you run a special promotion for your audience there, you’ll be more likely to get and maintain a potential buyer’s interest.

Final Thoughts On Optimizing Google My Business

When you manage to rank in the top three GMB listings for a local search term, it increases your exposure and your inherent authority significantly. This won’t just increase your traffic; it will increase your targeted buyer traffic. People who have money to spend and only a few minutes to make a decision will trust you based on your ranking, reviews, easy-to-comprehend descriptions and appealing images. When they click through to your website, the rest is up to you.

Feature Image Credit: Getty

By Alex Bider

Alex Bider is the CEO and Senior Internet Marketing Consultant at 2Marketing.com.

Sourced from Forbes





Again, Google has said that it does not look at [Google] Analytics bounce rate data for ranking web sites.

John Mueller of Google said in a webmaster hangout video at the 25 minute mark, “I think there’s a bit of misconception here that we’re looking at things like the analytics bounce rate when it comes to ranking websites, and that’s definitely not the case.”

Here is the video embed at the time he said this:

Google said this in 201720182019 and 2020. Google said bounce rates are not good signals, in 2008 Google said it is a noisy signal and also in 2008 said click data is not used for rankings. This is a myth Google said but then you have people at Google misspeaking causing more confusion.

Forum discussion at YouTube Community.


Sourced from Search Engine Roundtable

By Nathan Hurst

The Faustian bargain that has us trading private data for free services from the likes of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google is finally getting attention from regulators and lawmakers.

Cambridge Analytica. Russian hackers and election meddling. The Equifax data breach. Fake news. Twitter and Instagram harassment. Facebook mining our personal data and—best-case scenario—unabashedly using it to sell us stuff.

What’s a society to do? Ours has begun clamoring for boycotts and regulation, even for breaking up the biggest tech giants. For a decade (or two), the tech industry, led by the largest, most successful companies, has painted attempts to regulate it as stifling innovation; an impediment to the new, utopian “tech will solve everything” system these benevolent founders seek to build. Maybe that’s true, but considering the aforementioned abuses, the “Don’t be evil” edict seems to hold less water, and #deletefacebook might finally be having its moment.

Presidential candidates have made trust-busting a part of their platforms. Europe and California have instituted legislation designed to allow citizens greater control over their personal data and how it’s used. Other states are following suit, buoyed by bipartisan support. It feels like major tech regulation is coming, but whether it’s a culmination of decades of regulatory decisions or just a step on the path is unclear.

‘Free’ Isn’t Free

You probably know some of the basics of how internet advertising targets its viewers. Sometimes, ads might seem a little too relevant, leading you to wonder whether your phone is listening to your conversations. You feel uneasy about it, even as you admit that you’d rather see ads for stuff you like than for something completely uninteresting to you. From the advertisers’ perspective, it’s much more efficient to target just a few people and make sure those people see their ads rather than waste time and money putting ads in front of people who don’t need or care about what they’re selling. The companies that do this can even track whether a user who has seen a particular ad then visits the store in question.

We’ve settled into a “freemium” model: In exchange for our data, we get to use free services, including email and social media. This is how companies such as Facebook make money and still provide us with the services we enjoy (although research has shown that spending more time on Facebook makes you less happy, rather than more).

facebook logo and locks(Image: Ink Drop/Shutterstock.com)

But there’s more than one reason to be concerned about letting our personal data be sucked up by tech companies. There are many ways the wholesale gathering of data is being abused or could be abused, from blackmail to targeted harassment to political lies and election meddling. It reinforces monopolies and has led to discrimination and exclusion, according to a 2020 report from the Norwegian Consumer Council. At its worst, it disrupts the integrity of the democratic process (more on this later).

Increasingly, private data collection is described in terms of human rights—your thoughts and opinions and ideas are your own, and so is any data that describes them. Therefore, collection of it without your consent is theft. There’s also the security of all this data and the risk to consumers (and the general public) when a company slips up and some entity—hackers, Russia, China—gets access to it.

“You’ve certainly had a lot of political chaos in the US and elsewhere, coinciding with the tech industry finally falling back to Earth and no longer getting a pass from our general skepticism of big companies,” says Mitch Stoltz, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “If so many people weren’t getting the majority of their information about the world from Facebook, then Facebook’s policies about political advertising (or most anything else) wouldn’t feel like life and death.”

Policy suggestions include the Honest Ads Act, first introduced in 2017 by Senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar, which would require online political ads to carry information about who paid for them and who they targeted, similar to how political advertising works on TV and radio. This was in part a response to the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2016.

Cambridge Analytica Blows Up

It’s easy to beat up on Facebook. It’s not the only social network with questionable data-collection policies, but it is the biggest. Facebook lets you build a personal profile, connect that profile to others, and communicate via messages, posts, and responses to others’ posts, photos, and videos. It’s free to use, and the company makes its money by selling ads, which you see as you browse your pages. What could go wrong?

In 2013, a researcher named Aleksandr Kogan developed an app version of a personality quiz called “thisisyourdigitallife” and started sharing it on Facebook. He’d pay users to take the test, ostensibly for the purposes of psychological research. This was acceptable under Facebook policy at the time. What wasn’t acceptable (according to Facebook, although it may have given its tacit approval, according to whistleblowers in the documentary The Great Hack) was that the quiz didn’t just record your answers—it also scraped all your data, including your likes, posts, and even private messages. Worse, it collected data from all your Facebook friends, whether or not they took the quiz. At best guess, the profiles of 87 million people were harvested.

Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill, April 2018 (Photo by Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Kogan was a researcher at Cambridge University, as well as St. Petersburg State University, but he shared that data with Cambridge Analytica. The company used the data to create robust psychological profiles of people and target some of them with political ads that were most likely to influence them. Steve Bannon, who was Cambridge Analytica’s vice president, brought this technique and data to the Trump 2016 campaign, which leveraged it to sway swing voters, often on the back of dubious or inflammatory information. A similar tactic was employed by the company in the 2016 “Brexit” referendum.

In 2017, data consultant and Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on the company. This set off a chain of events that would land Facebook in the hot seat and Mark Zuckerberg in front of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees.

Giving this the best possible spin, it’s a newer, better version of what President Obama’s campaign did, leveraging clever social-media techniques and new technology to build a smoother, more effective, occasionally underhanded but not outright illegal or immoral political-advertising industry, which everyone would be using soon.

A darker interpretation: It’s “weaponized data,” as the whistleblowers have called it; psyops that use information-warfare techniques borrowed from institutions like the Department of Defense to leverage our information against us, corrupting our democratic process to the point that we can’t even tell if we’re voting for (or against) something because we believe it or because a data-fueled AI knew just what psychological lever to push. Even applied to advertisements, this is scary. Did I buy a particular product because its manufacturer knew just how and when to make me want it? Which decisions that we make are our own?

 The irony is that Facebook was sold to its early users as a privacy-forward service. 

“You might say ‘Well, what happened before the last election—that was pretty darn malicious,’” says Vasant Dhar, a professor of data science at the NYU Stern Center of Business. “Some people might say, ‘I don’t know—that wasn’t that malicious, there’s nothing wrong with using social media for influence; and besides, there’s no smoking gun, there’s no proof that it actually did anything.’ And that’s a reasonable position too.”

The irony is that Facebook was sold to its early users as a privacy-forward service. You might remember how MySpace faded into oblivion after Facebook arrived. That wasn’t an accident; Facebook intentionally painted itself as an alternative to the wide-open world of MySpace.

Zuckerberg and co-founder Chris Hughes in 2004. (Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)Zuckerberg and co-founder Chris Hughes in 2004. (Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)

At this time, “privacy was … a crucial form of competition,” researcher Dina Srinivasan, a Fellow at the Thurman Arnold Project at Yale University, wrote in her Berkeley Business Law Journal paper, “The Antitrust Case Against Facebook.” Since social media was free, and no company had a stranglehold on the market, the promise of privacy was an important differentiation. You needed a .edu email address to sign up for Facebook, and only your friends could see what you were saying. Facebook made this promise initially: “We do not and will not use cookies to collect private information from any user.” In contrast, MySpace had a policy in which anyone could see anyone else’s profile. Users, deciding they favored privacy, decamped en masse.

How Things Went Wonky

thumb down(Image: Daniel Chetroni/Shutterstock.com)

Later, as Facebook gathered market share—outlasting, outcompeting, or just buying other services—it tried to roll back some of those privacy promises. In 2007, the company released Beacon, which tracked Facebook users while they visited other sites. And in 2010, it introduced the “Like” button, which enabled the company to track users (whether or not they clicked on the button) on pages where it was installed.

By 2014, after buying Instagram and with a record-setting IPO under its belt, Facebook announced publicly that it would be using code on third-party websites to track and surveil people—thus reneging on the promise it had used to establish market dominance in the first place. In 2017, Facebook paid a $122 million fine in Europe for violating a promise it made not to share WhatsApp data with the rest of the company, which it then did.

In 2019, the FTC announced a $5 billion settlement with Facebook for a variety of privacy violations, including Cambridge Analytica and lying about its facial-recognition software. And in January of this year, Facebook said it would not limit political ads, even false ones. And it won’t fact-check ads or prevent them from targeting particular groups, which is precisely what happened with Cambridge Analytica. Currently, the company is facing intense criticism over its proposed cryptocurrency, Libra.

human being symbol(Image: vchal/Shutterstock.com)

To scholars like Srinivasan, this is a classic example of a monopoly leveraging its power to make more money at the expense of consumers—not a fiscal expense, since the service is free, but by delivering a worse product; in this case, a product offering less privacy. Market share in social media doesn’t work quite like it does in other industries: The network effect creates a positive feedback loop where, as a site gathers users, it becomes more attractive because of those users, making it particularly hard for a competitor to gain traction. While a company’s size isn’t an indication that it has abused its power, we put up with privacy invasions from Facebook because we don’t have alternatives.

“I want to be a subscriber to a social network, like Facebook, which has more people,” says Nicholas Economides, a professor of economics at the NYU Stern School of Business. “Big size is rewarded. If some company manages to really [gain] big, big market share, like Facebook, or Google in its own area, then it gets big benefits. Consumers really like to be with them. That means they have abilities to control the market.”

At this point, Facebook had so much of the market that third parties such as news sites couldn’t very well uninstall their Like buttons—they needed them to drive traffic.

Big Tech’s Version of Monopolies

Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer in 2000Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer in 2000 (DAN LEVINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Now that we’re talking about monopolies, it’s time to bring in Microsoft. In 1995, sensing that controlling how people moved across the internet might be even more valuable than the operating systems it already installed on everybody’s computers, Microsoft bundled the Internet Explorer browser into its Windows OS, thus making sure that every computer came with a ready-to-go default browser — Microsoft’s own.

The Department of Justice sued Microsoft, and after a long trial and lots of testimony, a judge ruled that Microsoft be broken up into one part that runs the Windows operating system and another part that does everything else. An appeals court later reduced the penalty, but weakening Microsoft paved the way for a period of technological innovation that gave us Google, Facebook, Amazon, and a renewed Apple. Many economists say that this was the last major antitrust action.

In the 1980s or so, an economic theory known as the Chicago School began to gain favor among lawmakers and judges. It takes a laissez faire approach to antitrust law, limiting the definition of harm to consumers to price increases and claiming the market will sort everything else out. When the price of your social media network, email system, or video hosting is free, it’s near impossible to bring an antitrust suit under this theory. But we need to stop thinking about the users as the customers, according to NYU’s Dhar. “Customers are the people paying them, and users aren’t paying them,” he says. “The users are just supplying them the data that they’re using for the advertising.”

“The tech industry confounds a lot of the antitrust orthodoxy that is applied in the courts and the government enforcement agencies … because competition works differently,” says the EFF’s Stoltz. “Instead of having multiple similar products competing, you have different products, but they compete with one another for access to data, for customer loyalty, and for venture capital.”

In spite of this, states are beginning to take action. A coalition of 50 attorneys general, led by Ken Paxton from Texas, have announced an investigation into Google over its dominance in advertising and how it uses data to maintain that, and others have begun pursuing Facebook over allegations of anti-competitive advertising rates and product quality. The House Judiciary Committee and Antitrust Subcommittee have been hearing arguments about the role of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple to decide whether the companies have abused their market power. And politicians at the national level, particularly during candidacy, have threatened specific actions, including splitting Instagram from Facebook.

To some degree, this is self-interest, says NYU’s Economides. Facebook’s News Feed and Google News reach a large enough portion of Americans that those platforms can have a big impact on what we see, intentionally or not. Most people probably won’t scroll past their first page of results after a search, so what bubbles to the top (and what doesn’t) is hugely important. “That gives a tremendous amount of power to these companies to shape the political debate … and it’s very hard to take it away,” says Economides.

 In 2011, FTC staff concluded that Google had used anticompetitive practices and abused monopoly power. 

Google has faced several antitrust investigations. In 2011, FTC staff concluded that Google had used anticompetitive practices and abused monopoly power, including skewing search results to favor its own shopping, travel, and finance sites, and copying content from other sites only to leverage it against them—and threatening to remove them from search if they complained. In 2013, following some concessions by Google but no promises to stop the worst offenses, FTC commissioners voted unanimously to end the investigation. Then in 2019, the FTC fined Google $170 million for tracking the viewing histories of children on YouTube.

Also in 2019, Google partnered with Ascension, a health care operator across 21 states, to obtain lab results, doctor diagnoses, hospitalization records, medications, medical conditions, radiology scans, birth dates and names, addresses, family members, allergies, immunizations, and more from millions of patients without notifying them or their doctors, much less obtaining their consent. This was not a violation of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), as Google was providing AI software to help suggest better care options for patients. But Google has also sought FTC permission to buy Fitbit, which would give the company even more data on user health, such as sleep schedules, exercise, and heart rate. The Ascension partnership plus the proposed purchase have sparked privacy concerns among lawmakers (the Fitbit deal has not yet been approved).

woman works out while wearing Fitbit Ionic Fitbit Ionic (Image: Fitbit)

Amazon, meanwhile, has captured its market on the back of years of operating at a loss, focusing on growth over profits, predatory pricing, and vertical integration that allows it to exert price pressure on competitors or even leverage its delivery and distribution network against them. Often this has resulted in unfriendly takeovers, like the case of Diapers.com. Amazon tracked prices for diapers on competitor diapers.com, maintained lower prices, and offered promos and discounts in a newly introduced “Amazon Mom” program, only to cut the discounts once Diapers.com’s parent company was forced to sell to Amazon.

“Amazon is exploiting the fact that some of its customers are also its rivals,” concludes Lina Khan, author of a 2017 Yale Law Review article on how Amazon has confounded traditional antitrust understandings.

Amazon boxes on a conveyor belt in a warehouse(Photo by Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The company watches third-party sellers for success stories only to offer similar products under its AmazonBasics brand, at a lower price. Furthermore, the company sets prices variably, depending on several factors, often many times per day. The company has said it does not show different prices to different customers, but the practice makes it hard to prove predatory pricing.

There are consumer benefits to Amazon’s business model. Amazon makes lots of products widely available, and in the case of popular items, very cheap. Its drive for growth over profit has allowed it to woo customers and revolutionize e-commerce. Amazon Prime, for instance, doesn’t exist to make money; its purpose is to get people to shop only on Amazon.

The Value of Data

Data comes into play here, too. Amazon has its own troves, especially related to consumer behavior, which is especially valuable to advertisers. It can trace who has bought what, and when, and from whom (and what you’ve asked Alexa), even things you’ve browsed but not purchased or how long something sat in your cart.

Amazon holds onto data you voluntarily give it, including contacts, images and video you’ve uploaded, special-occasion reminders, playlists, watch lists, wish lists, and more. And the company automatically collects your location, app use, and what websites you visit before and after coming to Amazon.com. In Amazon Go stores and stores that use its Just Walk Out technology, video and deep-learning AI to track who grabs what.

Amazon Go store (Image: VDB Photos/Shutterstock.com)(Image: VDB Photos/Shutterstock.com)

This kind of data collection is not only done by the tech giants. For instance, weather apps track your location even when you’re not using the apps, unless you opt out. That’s ostensibly to provide instantaneous access to weather information wherever you are, but many of them sell your location information to third parties, a practice for which the City of Los Angeles sued The Weather Company.

Some apps are sharing very sensitive information, such as an individual’s sexuality or HIV status. And even though Grindr said it would quit sharing HIV status, Google allows third parties to learn what apps you use—and if advertisers know you use Grindr, they can make a pretty safe guess as to your sexual orientation. If you’ve filled out an OkCupid profile, you’ll remember how it asks you personal questions about your drug use, political party, sexual proclivities, and what side of the bed you like to sleep on. This info is used to help select matches for you, but the company is also sending that information to an adtech company called Braze.

Earlier this year, the FCC fined major cell phone providers $200 million for selling consumers’ real-time location data to third parties. The New York Times obtained one file of such data, which it used to discover cell phone users’ addresses and places of work, including public officials and political protesters. “They can see the places you go every moment of the day, whom you meet with or spend the night with, where you pray, whether you visit a methadone clinic, a psychiatrist’s office or a massage parlor,” the Times reported.

The Business of Selling Data

So who’s buying that information? It’s not advertisers, at least not at first. A shadowy network of hundreds (or maybe thousands) of third parties known as “data brokers” (or sometimes the “adtech” industry, though the two are not precisely interchangeable), collect and process data from many distinct sources, including credit reporting, ID verification, public records, smartphone data, browser history, loyalty programs, social media, credit card transactions, connected devices, information scraped from websites, market research, and so on. Some of it is publicly available, and some of it is purchased.

These are companies you probably haven’t heard of. They use a unique identification number to collate huge parcels of information on us. They’ve built a virtual profile of you not unlike what Cambridge Analytica did. So you’re influenced by factors you’re unaware of but that the data brokers know all about: They know which buttons to push or levers to pull and when to get you to do what they want.

Those ads that make it seem like your phone is listening, but perhaps they’re so good at understanding you that they are actually predicting what you’ll be talking about. This isn’t as far out as it sounds. If their profile of you is inclusive of your interests, an AI with sufficient data can likely infer many of your topics of conversation.

 It’s not just about selling you things; it’s also about persuading you to do things, which happens to be buying what an advertiser wants you to buy. 

Remember, this all rides on big data. It’s not that at one time you bought this thing and you posted your mood about it and therefore they think maybe you’ll be interested in this other thing. It’s aggregating all the places you’ve gone and all the things you’ve bought to make predictions of your consumer behavior. Then that gets sold to advertisers. It’s not just about selling you things; it’s also about persuading you to do things, which happens to be buying what an advertiser wants you to buy.

Your data is often sold to advertisers, but data brokers can also sell to other parties, including credit scoring and insurance companies. And because two individuals won’t see the same ads, it’s difficult to spot price discrimination, disinformation, and other exclusions. The brokers put together lists that potential advertisers might be interested in, such as homeowners, runners, or video gamers—but sometimes it can get much darker, as in 2013, when data broker MEDbase 200 was caught offering lists of rape victims, alcoholics, and sufferers of erectile dysfunction. And in 2017, Facebook allowed housing advertisers to ensure that ads for housing were not shown to African Americans, and boasted to other advertisers the ability to target teens who felt insecure, worthless, anxious, useless, and more.

Once an entity has bought your data, there’s a bidding war. From the time you click on a page to when the ads load on that page, potential advertisers use automated tools to bid on how much they are willing to pay for you to see an ad, and the results of that real-time bidding are then added to your profile.

Amazon, for example, does not sell the data it collects (which you can see and control here). But it does allow third parties that serve ads to install cookies, which they can use to gain information about you, including your IP address and more. And Amazon does buy data from data brokers, in what’s called “pseudonymized” form—your name is replaced with a different identifier, like a random number—which can then be paired with your profile to target ads. As the Times found, it’s easy for parties that have some portion of your data to match it to other bits, to create those robust, predictive profiles.

What Are Lawmakers Doing About This?

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Several recent major pieces of legislation have tackled the privacy problem, and more are forthcoming. The EU, in 2018, implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which applies standards for keeping data secure, a legal liability if companies fail, and required practices if a hack should occur. It also gives citizens the right to access their personal data and to ask the companies holding it to delete it.

In 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) took effect, which is similar in some ways to the GDPR, allowing internet users to request the data that has been collected on them (and learn where it was sold), to request that it be deleted, and to opt out of future collection. Facebook, Google, and many others revamped their privacy pages, allowing users to toggle what the companies could and could not collect, and what they could and could not do with what they collected. The law applies to data brokers too, but you have to contact each one yourself, assuming you can find them. So a startup called DoNotPay has begun offering an automated service that contacts data brokers on your behalf and demands that they delete your info.

In the absence of a national policy, other states are building their own legislation. A number of states, from Florida to Washington state, considered consumer privacy bills this year, but few gained any real traction, in part due to COVID-19 restrictions. In Congress, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has proposed the Data Protection Act, which would create an independent federal agency to oversee data privacy and security.

Privacy groups and tech companies have pointed out flaws in some of these regulations, including loopholes (companies may reject user requests for data, for example, saying they require identity confirmation). Remember that real-time bidding war you set off when you click on a link with ads? If you decline to allow companies to sell your data, as CCPA allows Californians to do, that bidding happens without the bidders knowing as much about you, and the ad is less valuable. But Google has found a way to turn this to its advantage: When a user opts out, Google does not allow other parties to bid at all, restricting it to its own, in-house bidders.

woman on phone(Image: Trismegist san/Shutterstock.com)

And these laws are new enough that it’s unclear how effectively they’ll be enforced, and to what extent. Legislation can have unintended consequences, points out Ashutosh Bhagwat, a constitutional law professor at the University of California–Davis. Any policy that undermines the basic business model of an industry needs to offer an alternative unless we intend to live without social media altogether. (Not likely.) And paying for services rather than relying on advertising can accentuate the “digital divide,” denying social media to people around the world who can’t afford it.

“I think the privacy concerns are somewhat legitimate, but I think they’re a little overblown. There’s a lot of, ‘the sky is falling’ kind of stuff going on, and I don’t think we’ve quite got to that point yet. Maybe facial recognition will be the technology that’s the killer app for privacy,” says Bhagwat. “People vastly exaggerate how easy it would be to solve this [privacy] problem.”

Although the current COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the media cycle, some of these issues are coming to a head behind the scenes as people work from home and spend more time online. Online meeting software Zoom was busted, and then sued, for sending information—including device, operating software, carrier, time zone, IP address, and more—to Facebook without permission via the “Login with Facebook” SDK. (Zoom has since removed the SDK.)

 Although the current COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the media cycle, some of these issues are coming to a head behind the scenes 

Meanwhile, governments around the world have been using a variety of phone data to track and combat the disease, including enforcing social distancing and mapping the spread. Many have raised concerns about sacrificing privacy during a crisis, only to never get it back, but the response in Taiwan, where the government installed location trackers on the phones of people suspected of having COVID, has been positive because policies there have been so effective at stopping the spread. Kinsa Health has been cheered for its ability to quickly spot potential outbreaks—sometimes weeks ahead of the CDC—based on the body temperatures of its users sent to the company by its smart thermometers.

Google has launched a site that offers community mobility reports, which uses location information to show public health officials (or anyone who wants to look) where people are and aren’t going. Google says the information is collected in aggregate and won’t show actual numbers, just percent change. Through it all, Congress has been moving forward with the EARN IT Act, which would eliminate end-to-end encryption (as used in messaging apps like WhatsApp or Signal) in the name of fighting child exploitation.

Still, some sort of privacy regulation is necessary, says the EFF’s Stoltz. “Broadly, they take the right approach to privacy, in that they start from a framework of privacy being a human right, not something that a person can sell or trade away,” he says. “We really do need both baseline privacy rules … [and] robust antitrust law that says the concentration of economic power is harmful, just like concentrations of political power are harmful.”

Feature Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

By Nathan Hurst

Sourced from PC