What We Learned in November - The Digital Marketing Month in a Minute

While a lot of this month’s stories focus on Google, one story about Facebook has dominated the headlines, in both the tech landscape and the wider news. Fake stories appearing on news feeds have prompted questions about the legitimacy of Facebook’s journey to become a news provider, and even made some ask if the problem has affected the US Presidential elections. Read on for more on this story from our CEO Will Critchlow, and plenty of other digital marketing news.

Main news Stories

“Fake news” controversy engulfs Facebook

In the aftermath of the US presidential election, various publications highlighted the extent of the problem of “fake news” on the Facebook platform. The unbundling of publications into individual stories (or even into just headlines and sharing “cards”) has made it easy to decouple the judgement of the trustworthiness of a story from the trust readers have in the parent company publishing it. In addition, the replacement, for many people, of centralised arbiters of editorial decisions with a circle of often-like-minded friends has made it easy for such stories to spread like wildfire.

There is clearly a problem with outright-fabricated stories purporting to be news, but in many ways this simply shines a light on filter bubbles more generally. It is becoming increasingly easy to cocoon yourself among like-minded people, and it’s very easy for that to tip over into distrust for anything from outside the group.

It’s not obvious what Facebook should do about this, however, given their immense power, but also their precarious position in keeping people engaged with the platform largely by showing them what they want to see. Ben Thompson of Stratechery argues that it would be dangerous for Facebook to become the arbiter of truth. It seems clear, though that their algorithm is not neutral, and so they are already effectively making some of these kinds of determinations. Apparently they are working on a plan - possibly largely in response to employee unease (see also Mark Zuckerberg’s comments on the subject).

On a purely technical level, this problem is non-trivial. Danny Sullivan talks about some of Google’s struggles with similar challenges. Meanwhile the Washington Post carried some fairly breathless coverage of some students who have apparently “fixed” the problem - something I find somewhat hard to believe given the challenges in defining what “fake news” is. Does misleading news count? What about mismatches between headlines and content? It’s easy to define the ends of the spectrum but far harder to tease apart the shades of grey, and we have seen the outcry that happens if the efforts appear to be at all skewed - a fear that apparently cramped the desire to do anything about this in the run-up to the election.

Whatever the technical challenges, and whatever the ethical concerns, I suspect that we are going to hear a lot more about this, and there will be a lot of pressure on Facebook to make real progress. The biggest thing I hope for through the process is transparency from the company on their progress and plans, and in the actual suppression itself.

Will Critchlow

Google to move to mobile-first indexing

It’s no secret that Google has been putting a lot of effort into mobile, and it’s now taken a step that will cement this commitment; it has announced it will roll out a mobile-first index, meaning it will rank its search listings based on the mobile content of a website. Google has said it wants the ranking changes to be minimal, but it’s something to pay close attention to.

Read the full story (Search Engine Land)

Google AI invented its own ‘universal language’

In September, Google turned on it’s Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) system to help it improve its responses on Google Translate.  What it didn’t anticipate is that the GNMT would be able to ‘reasonably’ translate languages even if it had never been shown or studied one of the languages.

Read the full story (Wired)

How good are Snap Spectacles?

Snapchat recently announced its latest product, a pair of sunglasses with a camera attached. The idea is to allow you to record the world around you without making you a bystander holding a phone. In one of the first reviews, The Verge determines it works as intended (and achieves a lot more).

Read the full story (The Verge)

AMP is now reporting in Search Console

Google's Search Analytics report will now show how AMP pages are performing in the rich cards section versus how they are performing in the core mobile results. This added functionality allows you to take a more granular look at how well your AMP strategy is working.

Read the full story (Search Engine Land)

Why Twitter must be saved

Twitter might be struggling with dwindling share prices and a number of failed potential acquisitions from other tech companies. However, Ben Thompson of Stratechery argues that, partly because of the Facebook fake news dilemma, Twitter must not be allowed to die.

Read the full story (Stratechery)

Distilled News

We’ve now announced all 20 speakers for SearchLove San Diego, while early bird tickets are available for both San Diego and SearchLove Boston. A previous SearchLove speaker and well-known industry voice, Jono Alderson, has joined the Distilled team as a Principal Consultant. On the Distilled blog, CEO and Founder Will Critchlow has been exploring where the next trillion searches will come from, while PPC Account Manager Luke Stednick has taken a look ahead to 2017, with a focus on mobile PPC. Over on the Moz blog Consultant Tom Capper has laid out the rules for competing for local queries when you don’t have physical premises.

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