First Thing Monday 8 Dec 14

This week: Over half of ad impressions not seen; A Way to Improve User Experience; Google Updates Local Guidelines; Has Your Site Been Penalised? Santa Tracker; & more…

  1. Google study: Over half of ad impressions are not seen
  2. A Way to Improve Your Website Visitors’ User Experience
  3. Google Updates Guidelines for Local Pages
  4. Has Your Site Been Penalised by Google?
  5. Mindshare develops real-time search trend marketing tool
  6. Santa Tracker: The Countdown is On

The latest news about web marketing, SEO, PPC Advertising & Web Analytics. But only the stuff that matters from a New Zealand perspective. Less noise, more signal!

1.Google study: Over half of ad impressions are not seen

If an ad is served on a webpage but no-one sees it, was there actually an ad impression? That’s a question that has become a concern for advertisers, who are increasingly buying display ads not by impressions served, but by viewable impressions.

In March this year the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) determined that a “viewable” impression occurred when 50% or more of an ad’s pixels were on screen for a second or more.

For a year now, Google has made it possible to buy ad inventory on the Google Display Network based on viewability. The company has also been revamping its DoubleClick ad platform to allow advertisers and publishers to “value, buy, sell, serve and optimise to viewable impressions”.

Now a new Google study reveals that over half the digital ads served on its platforms are never actually seen.

Interested in understanding what affects an ad’s viewability, Google analysed over a week’s worth of ad impression data from its DoubleClick for Publishers, DoubleClick Ad Exchange and Google Display Network platforms. While average publisher viewability rate was 50%, a small number of publishers serving the majority of non-viewable impressions meant that overall 56% of ads were not seen.

The study looked at display ads across web browsers on desktop and mobile devices. Not surprisingly, the study concluded that page position is important as is ad size. Best placement? Right above the fold (but not at the top of the page). Best ad size? The most viewable are vertical units, with 120 by 240 (the Google AdSense vertical banner) the top performer.

Viewability varied widely by content verticals, with reference and online community sites (sites Google says are “associated with more captive engagement”) emerging as the leaders.

Why should you care?

Google is an advocate for making viewability a basis for buying, selling and measuring media and guidelines jointly agreed by the IAB and Media Rating Council (MRC) are an important first step to a more open and transparent marketplace.

If you pay for all your display media on a cost per click (CPC) basis you’re probably wondering why anyone would pay per impression (CPM). But brands wanting exposure not just traffic know that on many popular sites you can only get reach by buying impressions. They are increasingly likely to only want to pay for viewable impressions and Google’s findings can help them get more from their display campaigns.

2.A Way to Improve Your Website Visitors’ User Experience 

You may not know them by name, but you’re bound to have struck them and on occasions been frustrated trying to use them. We’re talking about “CAPTCHAS”. Those cryptic and often difficult to read boxes of distorted text websites sometimes require you to decipher and then retype to prove you’re a real human.


Annoying as they are, they exist for a good reason. It’s to protect websites from being hammered by robots and abusive scripts which can slow them down and detrimentally impact website performance for legitimate visitors, i.e. real humans.

Google recognise that CAPTCHAS frustrate a lot of web users & can be especially difficult for people using mobile devices. The latter is a real issue, given the fact that within the next 6 months or so more website visits will come from mobile devices than desktop devices due to the global growth in smartphone and tablet adoption.

The other issue is that advances in Artificial Intelligence can now solve almost all CAPTCHAS, meaning that the current CAPTCHA technology is redundant.

In response Google has come up with a new spin and last week announced the release of their “reCAPTCHA” API. If users visit a site using this system it simplifies things because the great majority of people will now not be required to complete a CAPTCHA. Instead they’re simply asked to click a button to confirm they are not a robot.


The system can do this because it has some very sophisticated backend monitoring that activity considers a users entire engagement with the CAPTCHA – before, during, & after – to decide if they are human. If the behaviour is considered that of a human, then the single click option shown above is presented. But if there’s any doubt, then a CAPTCHA with an image of text or numbers is presented which the user is asked to read and retype. And if the user is on a mobile device, instead of needing to retype text which can be fiddly on a phone, especially with autocorrect, they simply need to click on images which match a clue like the example below. Much easier!


Snapchat, WordPress and other sites have started using Google’s new reCAPTCHA API and seen great results. For example last week apparently more than 60% of WordPress users who previously would have been required to solve a CAPTCHA didn’t have to, meaning they had a better experience and got to sites faster.

Why should you care?

If your website currently utilises traditional CAPTCHAS then you might want to consider implementing this new system from Google. Anything that improves users experience and reduces frustration is bound to be beneficial. To get reCAPTCHA go to the Google reCAPTCHA site.

3.Google Updates Guidelines for Local Pages

Ranking in Google’s local “7 pack” results can provide local businesses with high visibility and consequently deliver a lot of website visitors. The problem is that Google local search has been in a state of flux as Google seemingly struggles to get it right. Many businesses are understandably confused as to what is going on. Not only has Google changed what it calls local search (Google Maps; Google Places; Google+ for Business; and now Google My Business), but what it takes to rank well in local results has been changing.

local 7 pack

Back in July Google rolled out a significant algorithmic update for local search called “Pigeon” and this resulted in major ranking changes for both local pack and localised search results. Frustratingly in the 6 months since Pigeon’s rollout the 7 pack local results for some local business categories seem to change almost daily, with some sites appearing then disappearing for no apparent reason.

Hopefully things will start to stabilise with the news last week from Google that they have just updated and clarified their quality guidelines for local pages. It’s a complete rewrite – guidelines are clearer than before and Google provides helpful examples to illustrate precisely what they want.

A key change is that descriptors of any sort can now NOT be added to the business name field used in Google My Business listings. Previously you were allowed to “include a single descriptor that helps customers locate your business or understand what your business offers”. The change means that if your business is called “Widgets R Us” & located in Auckland you can no longer use “Widgets R Us Auckland” as your name – instead it must just be “Widgets R Us”. Business categories is another key area with big changes.

Why should you care?

If local search is important to your business then you need to ensure you are playing to Google’s new rules. Ignoring these changes could potentially hurt your rankings in local search results.

4.Has Your Site Been Penalised by Google?

Seven weeks ago Google rolled out a refresh to “Penguin” which is the name of the penalty algorithm they use to catch sites manipulating links to improve rankings in Google.  Old news – so why are we reporting this again?

Well last weekend many sites started reporting seeing sudden improvements in their Google rankings and traffic – whilst other website owners reported drops and were left scratching their heads wondering what they’d done to offend the Google Gods.Google subsequently confirmed the reason was due to Penguin. The surprise was they confirmed that more than 6 weeks after the start it is was still being cautiously rolled out. Sites previously penalised and who’ve cleaned up their acts securing Google forgiveness have recovered, whilst new sites Google’s discovered manipulating links have been hit.

Why you should care?

If your site has been hit with a Penguin penalty you’ll certainly care. A drop in traffic from Google can have a devastating effect on the financial viability of most commercial websites, especially this time of year. Here’s how to check.

Use Google Analytics or whatever web analytics program you have to check if your site has experienced a sudden unseasonal drop in organic search referral traffic from Google.

If it has, check to see if any drop coincides with the known dates of Google Panda or Penguin updates. If they don’t, then Log into your Google Webmaster Tools account (you really should have one) to check Google hasn’t hit you with a dreaded “manual” penalty – you’ll see a notification if they have.

If you’ve not been hit with a manual penalty be very happy. Now check to see if the drop in traffic was only from mobile visitors. If it was, then your site may not be considered mobile friendly – Google are now using this as a ranking factor – and your site may have simply dropped in mobile rankings, resulting in less traffic.. You can readily confirm this using a report in Google Analytics or checking search results on your mobile (look for the “mobile friendly” tag). If that isn’t the issue check what other changes you’ve made to the site that may have had a detrimental impact.

If your drop in traffic does coincide with a Penguin update then you may have been hit with a Penguin penalty. Penguin is predominantly a backlink-related over-optimization algorithmic penalty and  it can take months to recover. To fix it you have to conduct an exhaustive link audit, identify and remove bad links, and then wait for the algorithm to be re-run against your site.

Obviously prevention is better than cure, so ensure neither you nor your SEO firm are engaging in link building practices that contravene Google’s policies. If you get caught, the price you’ll pay is a big one.

5.Mindshare develops real-time search trend marketing tool

Mindshare, a WPP agency, has announced Search As Signal, a new real-time marketing tool, developed in collaboration with Google.

Updating an earlier version used by Mindshare client Kleenex to track flu-related searches, the application identifies what people are searching for on Google, the devices used and locations.

Search As Signal is intended to help brands focus their ad budget to locations where consumer search trends reveal a receptive audience.

Kleenex first used the tool two years ago, reporting a 40 percent lift in sales after increasing UK TV ad spend in the areas responsible for over 95 percent of flu-related searches during flu season.


Mindshare’s clients can also see how searches have trended over time globally, and get more specific information on locations and device types. While Google clearly helps to benefit from an increase in geo-targeted ad spend, these clients can adjust their entire media buy accordingly.

Why you should care?

Google and Mindshare have not revealed any plans to make Search As Signal available to advertisers who are not Mindshare clients. However, although lacking real-time data, Google Trends provides good insights for advertisers wanting to see historical trends for searches by locations.

If your business is a seasonal one, Google Trends data will likely confirm established sales patterns. However, the data can also be useful in understanding the relative popularity of one search term over another, both over time and by location. This might be useful information, for instance, when creating website content or naming a new product line.

6.Santa Tracker: The Countdown is On

Really? Is it that time already? Yes, the holiday season is once again upon us and the countdown has started. If you’re reading this on Monday (as you should be) there are just 16 days until Santa starts his epic 24-hour journey around the globe.

santa tracker

For impatient tots and their frazzled parents, Google has once again unleashed its Santa Tracker, available on the web, as an Android app and chrome extension. Google promises “Santa surprises throughout the month” as well as daily elf games, candy cane cartography, holiday tradition tests and even JavaScript courses.

Why should you care?

If you’re the bah humbug type, you won’t of course. But if you’ve little ones in your family, here’s an opportunity to delight some young imaginations. In the process you too may remember wondering when Santa would arrive and how it was he managed to get to every house in the world in one night, even with the help of all those elves and reindeer.

OK, that’s what we think. We’re keen to hear your thoughts on any of the above – please comment below. 

Click here to read previous editions of “First Thing Monday” web marketing news.

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About the Author Jeremy Templer & Mark Sceats

Jeremy and Mark are two of the partners behind SureFire Search. Despite their deceptively youthful appearances, both have worked in search marketing for many years. To put that in context, Google didn't even exist when Jeremy started.