Episode 63 / December 10, 2018

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Welcome to The Redirect Podcast, where the BlackTruck team shares recent insights and takeaways from the world of search marketing.

In this week’s episode:

  • With more and more emphasis being placed on transparency and disclosing what information is being tracked online when you use an app or website, we ask the question nobody else is: Do people really care? Dive deep as we talk about how intricate marketers can get with user tracking and how much users might actually know or not know when they click that “Accept” button (begins at 1:13).
  • We talk about filter bubbles and whether search engines favor and group elements based on the bubble you live in (begins at 16:52).
  • Finally, we get back to basics with a statement from Google’s John Mueller on the usage of keywords in your URLs (begins at 22:01).

Do Users Care That You Track Them Online?

The New York Times released an investigative article today breaking down how our phones’ apps are tracking us wherever we go and recording the data to market to us in a timely and efficient manner. This is more of a follow-up to a conversation we had here on the Redirect back in Episode 54 and is part of a conversation that we digital marketers have regularly.  

My (Patrick’s) first reaction to this article (and the coinciding podcast on NYT’s The Daily) was “duh,” as those in the digital marketing industry are fully aware this is happening. But as we consider the average lay person, it’s sometimes difficult to separate ourselves from our understanding of the tech side, and that not everyone knows that stopping this from happening can be as simple as just toggling off a switch in the OS user settings in your Android or iOS device. It is estimated that there are 1200 Android apps that are using tracking features, and about 200 iOS apps that are tracking.

And while the Times, and other sources who publish similar stories, seem to think they’re exposing something huge and earth-shattering…we really think most users don’t care.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

The big focus from the article was the use of the data, how the collectors sell it, and into whose hands the data points end up. An excerpt:

“To evaluate location-sharing practices, The Times tested 20 apps, most of which had been flagged by researchers and industry insiders as potentially sharing the data. Together, 17 of the apps sent exact latitude and longitude to about 70 businesses. Precise location data from one app, WeatherBug on iOS, was received by 40 companies. When contacted by The Times, some of the companies that received that data described it as ‘unsolicited’ or ‘inappropriate.’”

That’s 40 companies that now have your data, as collected by a weather app.

The article also covered the concepts of security, tracking your path, and data mining to determine location habits—and how criminals could use this data to breach a system. While there is potential for information to get into the hands of those who don’t need it, shouldn’t have it, or won’t use it responsibly, this is the reality of the hyper-connected world in which we live. And the truth is, the data helps make good, honest marketers even better marketers by helping us deliver ads to consumers who are much more likely to be interested in what we’re selling.

Tune into the audio for more insights from our conversation.

Does Google Create Filter Bubbles?

We’ve talked in the past about filter bubbles and how easy it can be to get caught up in them as an internet user—most prominently via social media, but also as search engines are making it easier to choose the sources you interact with (e.g. the Google Feed discussed in Episode 9). This has also come up in conversation around how search results can be displayed in a certain way for any given user—also known as “personalized search.”

As many people know, the search engine DuckDuckGo is built around the notion of privacy in search, in terms of not having any personalized data tied to your search behavior. Much of their platform seems based in criticizing Google—which can certainly have its place depending on the subject being debated. DuckDuckGo recently came out with a study titled: “Measuring the ‘Filter Bubble’: How Google is influencing what you click.” The summary of findings states that most participants in the study of particular Google searches “saw results unique to them.”

Check out Google’s response, covered by Search Engine Roundtable, which includes a series of Tweets from Google.

Google has come back and defended themselves, saying, “results can differ, but usually for non-personalized reasons,” and, “we do not personalize search results based on demographic profiles nor create such profiles for use in Google Search…” Note this is in relation to organic search, entirely separate from the detailed targeting options available for paid search ads.

Two People Getting Different Results Doesn’t Mean it’s Shady

Of course, there is the reality of Google using your “account-based activity” (i.e., search history) to “give you faster searches, better recommendations, and more personalized experiences in Maps, Search, and other Google services.“ This can be disabled in your Google account if you so desire.

Other factors that can result in two people searching for the same thing to have different results: A searcher’s location, language, the data centers being accessed, the time of the search, and the device used. These can be a factor whether you’re a logged in user or not.

Bonus: It appears that DuckDuckGo’s study has backfired on itself, as other industry pros have found that the DuckDuckGo engine returns results similar to what it was criticizing. Read more in the Twitter thread from Danny Sullivan.

Do Keywords Matter in URLs?

If you’re super geeky into SEO like we are here, then you probably follow some of the industry folks closely, like Google’s webmaster trends analysts John Mueller and Gary Illyes—just like we did with Matt Cutts years ago.

A subject has surfaced again and again for those working on technical on-page SEO, and that’s the question of keywords and/or word usage in the URL. Are they important?

In response to someone’s question on URL lengths and keyword usage, John Mu tweeted this:

Keyword Usage in URLS – Tweet from John Mueller

Read more on Search Engine Roundtable.

While John might be correct—at least we’ll agree with him 50/50 on the statement—words used in the URL might not matter to a user, and in many cases are not even viewable on a browser…but from a search-perspective, we’ll disagree.

Having phrases or “words” in your URL can give it a proper structure, and in many cases it’s the only logical way to set up pages with their directory and subdirectories established. While these elements might not matter to a user according to John, placing some thought into structuring the site in a logical flow carries a lot of weight for those who have to manage, organize, and optimize.

Now, we’re not saying everyone should keyword stuff those URLs, but it still remains best practice to have keywords in your URL that match up with the theme of the content that can be found on that page. Keep in mind, if it doesn’t read properly and feels dirty…it probably is, and you should avoid it.

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