Wednesday, September 4, 2019

“Your new shop window is not a shop window... - Estate Agent Today” plus 4 more

“Your new shop window is not a shop window... - Estate Agent Today” plus 4 more


Your new shop window is not a shop window... - Estate Agent Today

Posted: 04 Sep 2019 06:05 AM PDT

In the old days an agent would procure clients based upon their position in the high street, the size of the window display and how many pages they took in the local rag. That was then.

Do you think that people's search habits may have changed a bit in the past decade or so?

Well, let me tell you that the increase in people searching for things via Google, Bing etc (your business sector included) has risen to over 60,000 searches via Google per second. That's 5.6 billion searches a day.

In comparison to 2009 at 792 billion searches in that year, the world searches online 2.1 trillion times a year now – up by 265%.

No longer are consumers attracted to you solely because of your bright sign-lights and the fact that you sit next to Barclays Bank. Or because your office is a few inches wider than your competitors'.

Currently in the UK there are about 20,000 estate and letting agency branches and, frankly, to the consumer they all look the same.

There's precious little differentiation with fees, propositions and methods all rather indistinct. Yes, the online fraternity had a good go at 'being different' but as we (and certainly I) now know, that's not worked out so well whereby the initial exciting honeymoon has evolved into the equivalent of sitting at dinner ignoring one another. As often these things do.

However, to continue the bored marriage analogy for a bit, there is a way of spicing things up somewhat and becoming attractive again…

The internet is, apparently, good for such things and is not only the place that your customers are looking for you but accordingly, also the means of making sure that your brand is found.

Approximately 10,000 people search for the term 'online estate agents' each month. More still search for the likes of 'best estate agent [insert any town or city]'. What the person searching expects to find is relevant and appropriate information based on that search.

As such, Google will make sure that the results that they generate are indeed the most relevant possible. But how do they know who is the best estate agent in Aylesbury or the greatest online estate agent in the UK?

The easy answer is that they don't. But they know who does, sort of.

This is where mentions of your business, you and or your brand are key. The formula that Google and Bing use is of course strictly secret – their Penguin and Pelican and whatever algorithms change frequently but the essence is the same – authority.

Authority is the test that Google applies to whether they rank you well, or not, in search terms and that authority is gleaned from those other websites that Google already knows are great such as the BBC, The Times, Huffington Post and, of course, the inimitable Estate Agent Today.

All websites have a 'Domain Authority' ranking number placed upon them by Google. The BBC's is 95 out of 100; The Huffington Post is 98 and so on (Estate Agent Today is a decent 48).

With me so far?

What Google thinks is 'If the BBC mention [your brand] and even better if they hyperlink to your website, then if they think you're ok, so do we'.

This is the world of SEO (search engine optimisation). In the past, this has been a dark art or rather, 'black-hat' as it's been termed. In years gone by, you could seek to boost your domain authority and therefore your prowess in Google's eyes by buying links. Google quickly got wise to this and so imposed penalties that saw your website ranked at the bottom of page 10 or so for a few months.

Emoov suffered one of these back in 2013 as did BMW and others. The consequence was that our spend on Google adwords (or PPC) skyrocketed.

Yes, Google ads. The source of most of Google's $150 billion annual revenue. This is the cheat that Google wants you to employ.

Spending money with them on ads and which gradually become more and more expensive as competition increases. Again, at Emoov, at one point we were spending £300,000 per month on Google ads, which we had slept-walked into thinking that 'growth at all costs' as dictated by our strategy to get to IPO, would excuse such a huge cost.

What became interesting was when we switched the Google ads off and…it hardly dented our leads or our revenue.

And that's because we had inadvertently built such a domain authority and digital reputation via media mentions online, links etc. that our natural search ranking was so high as to compensate, indeed circumvent, the need for huge ad spend on the search engines. We'd built defensibility.

How?

Since 2014 I had run PR in-house with James Lockett, my co-founder here at Properganda and, quite honestly, we smashed it – gaining over 2,000 press mentions each year.

These mentions became the breadcrumbs that Google used to signal that we were an authority for all of the things that we had as key-phrases on our website – 'online estate agents'; 'sell my house online'; 'value my house [town/city/village'.

By the end of 2018, Emoov ranked for 699 individual key-phrases on page one of Google, including at position one. Our 'organic' web traffic was over 50% of our total site visitors, far more than our big competitors, who by this time (you know who you are) were shovelling money at Sergey and Larry in ever more eye watering amounts in order to keep their brands in consumers' minds.

Don't give all your money to Google. They have quite enough. If you are clever and want to be found naturally and at zero cost, engaging a digital PR strategy that is both qualitative and quantitative is not only desirable, your business could very well depend on it eventually.

*Russell Quirk is Co-Founder of Properganda PR

How to Improve Your Keyword Rankings in Google - Search Engine Journal

Posted: 08 Aug 2019 12:00 AM PDT

Improving your keyword rankings in search isn't as straightforward as it once was.

With all of the recent Google algorithm changes we have seen, traditional tactics like keyword research and targeting, page tagging optimization, and on-page content updates don't have the impact that they used to.

More importantly, every website is unique. This means that using a certain tactic doesn't guarantee a specific result for your website.

The same change could impact websites differently, which is why it's important to make continuous improvements, test new strategies, monitor performance, and adjust as needed.

improving keyword rankings

In today's evolving search landscape, we need to think beyond traditional keyword ranking factors and look at the big picture.

This involves focusing on the overall experience of a website, optimizing content for both users and search engines, building inbound links the right way, and much more.

Here are several ways to improve your keyword rankings in Google by looking at your site more holistically.

1. Measure Your Rankings

The first, and probably the most obvious, place to start is measuring your rankings.

Without having a solid understanding of your baseline keyword performance, you won't know how far you've come and how much you've improved.

I'd highly suggest exporting all of this valuable keyword data and keeping it on file to reference in the future.

Some of us may have learned the hard way, but you never know when things will change in any given tool – whether it's how the data is reported, what information we have access to, etc.

Google Search Console

Export keyword data from Google Search Console and landing page traffic (organic and total) from Google Analytics.

Analyzing this data will give you a good idea of:

  • What your most valuable keywords/landing pages are.
  • Where the most immediate opportunities for improvement are.
  • What keywords/landing pages are underperforming.

As far as the top areas for improvement, focus on keywords that are ranking in positions 5 through 15 (where you're teetering at the bottom of Page 1 or top of Page 2 on Google).

For these terms, ranking at the top of the first page on Google is very likely, and will give you some quick wins to share with your client or boss.

2. Target the Right Keywords

To ensure your keyword targets are aligned with overarching business objectives and offer real value, it's important that you understand both the search intent behind them and the difficulty of ranking.

While terms have a particular meaning to you, they could take on an entirely different meaning in Google and vice versa.

Knowing the type of intent, whether it's informational/educational, transactional or navigational, will help you understand what stage users are at in the sales funnel.

Doing a thorough SERP analysis will be essential. Look at what's currently ranking in the top search result for your core keyword targets including:

  • Related searches
  • People also ask
  • Google autocomplete suggestions
  • Other advanced search features
SERP Features

Knowing what is required to rank for a particular keyword will help you draw conclusions about what content development efforts will be required and come up with a plan for creation.

SEMrush's SEO Content Template is really great for this type of analysis.

You simply enter a keyword, and the tool will analyze what's showing up in Google's top results to provide recommendations for SEO-friendly content.

SEO Content Template

Cross-referencing your organic keyword research with paid advertising data can also help uncover new opportunities and fill gaps.

Don't ignore long-tail queries. While they may have lower search volume, you could be missing out on extremely targeted audiences that are ready to buy.

3. Fix Technical Issues

Setting a solid foundation for your website involves resolving any technical issues that may diminish your organic keyword visibility.

Site pages should be both easily found and navigated by search engines and users.

If your website is difficult for users to navigate and search engines to crawl, your keyword rankings will likely be negatively impacted.

And, vice versa – if you're website is intuitive for both users and Google, your rankings are bound to see positive increases.

Make sure that your site has a solid website structure, fix any broken links, and resolve any duplicate content issues.

Conducting a thorough technical SEO audit is necessary to ensure all priority technical issues are addressed.

4. Focus on the User Experience

User experience and brand equity are important when it comes to driving organic search visibility.

While user experience may not be a direct responsibility of a search engine marketer, it's important that user experience and SEO work together.

Here are some of the key elements that present an opportunity to improve UX and SEO:

  • Keyword research: Confirm that you're targeting keywords that have the right search intent and are aligned with the language that your target audiences use.
  • Page tagging: Ensure page tagging is engaging and encourages clicks to your website (title tags, meta descriptions, main headings).
  • Content optimization: Keep users on the page and provide them with another logical destination or next step. This involves everything from the navigation to the copy, internal cross-linking, and call-to-actions on your site.
  • Page speed: Give users the content they are requesting quickly and seamlessly across devices. Compress images, be mobile-friendly, clean up your code, and speed up your server.

5. Optimize for Users & Search Engines

Many of us get so fixated on optimizing content for Google that we forget what the end game is – to reach a highly targeted set of humans.

While search engines and humans have a different way of reading and digesting content, there are certainly commonalities that will help ensure we are creating content with both in mind.

Both robots and humans want us to be:

  • Be clear and concise.
  • Provide accurate information.
  • Avoid jargon.
  • Cover related subtopics.

This is important to keep in mind from the start of your content creation process.

As we are thinking about ways to make our content easier to read for both users and search engines, header tags are key.

Not only will proper header tags improve the overall readability of your content, but they will also ensure search engines can follow the hierarchy of what is most important on the page.

Images should also be a consideration, as providing more engaging imagery can make all the difference for users. It also presents the opportunity to further optimize for search engines through ALT text and file naming.

6. Create Eye-Catching & Engaging Titles

Dare I say that title tags are the most important SEO element of a webpage?

Not just because it's an SEO best practice, but also because it's the first thing that users see in search results and on social media.

The title tag is your biggest opportunity to catch the eyes of a user and encourage them to click into the page.

Determine the page that you want to rank for the keyword target at hand, and then figure out a way for your title to stand out from all the others.

Yes, the keyword target should be included towards the beginning of the title tag, but how else can you encourage users to click?

BuzzSumo analyzed 100 million headlines and learned that:

  • Emotional headlines drive interactions.
  • Curiosity and voyeurism gain engagement.
  • List posts and the number 10 in headlines are extremely powerful.

While meta descriptions don't have a direct impact on rankings, they should work closely with your title tags. Incorporate the keyword if possible, as well as a clear call-to-action for users.

The goal of your title tag and meta description should be to explain the benefit to users, provoke emotion, and trigger engagement, all while applying SEO best practices.

7. Stay on Top of Algorithm Updates

Why should you care about Google's most recent algorithm updates?

Because good SEO professionals stay on top of that stuff. Among many other reasons, it helps ensure your keyword rankings are not only steady, but they're constantly improving.

Knowing when an algorithm update first hit and when it officially ended is useful for tracking purposes, and will allow you to trace back keyword and traffic fluctuations to the root cause.

This will help you uncover potential reasoning for how/why a site was hit by an update, or certain keyword rankings and pieces of content that may have been impacted by it.

As we have experienced recently, when multiple algorithm updates happen over a short stretch of time, figuring out why certain site changes have occurred and analyzing the impact of a specific update is extremely difficult.

8. Provide Answers to the Questions People Are Asking

It's clear that Google is on a mission to provide users with answers.

Just look at all of the new and increased SERP features we have seen over the past couple of years:

  • Featured Snippets (or Answer Boxes).
  • People Also Asked
  • Knowledge Cards
  • Dictionary Definitions.
  • And the list goes on.
Search Features

Optimizing for Featured Snippet results and People Also Asked features around your priority keyword targets is now becoming an essential part of SEO strategy.

While there is certainly a great deal of debate over the direct value that ranking in "position zero" of search results offers a business, ultimately, I pose this question:

Would you rather have your competitor rank in the Answer Box for that search query?

As far as we know, the Featured Snippet result isn't going away anytime soon, and not ranking in it could mean lost visibility to your competitor, or even your "frenemy" Google.

9. Build Valuable Inbound Links

Start by looking for opportunities on your own website to cross-link to assets from keyword-rich anchor text. This will help drive users to relevant content, and build keyword association.

Unfortunately, crafting a strong internal link strategy is only half of the battle. The other half is generating highly authoritative and valuable inbound links from third-party websites.

This can seem overwhelming, but there are some key tactics to hone in on:

  • Create link-worthy content that is based on your keyword research and analysis of what is ranking in top search results to help generate inbound links and improve keyword rankings.
  • Monitor mentions of your brand for some quick-win opportunities to gain a inbound link from websites that are already talking about you.
  • If you want other websites to link to you, remember to link to other websites. You only get as much as you give.
  • Leverage social media to support link building. Interact with your targets beforehand to help build relationships prior to reaching out about a link building opportunity.

These are just a few tactics to get you started; however, there are certainly more advanced link building tactics to be successful in today's extremely competitive landscape.

10. Promote Your Content Strategically

I mention this briefly above, but it's also important to leverage non-SEO channels in an effort to drive visibility to your assets and support your link building efforts.

The more eyes that you get on your content, the more opportunity you have to:

  • Generate inbound links.
  • Drive social media shares.
  • Gain traction to the piece.
  • Rank better.
Content Distribution

While different promotional tactics may apply to different types of content, creating a checklist is always helpful. This way, when it comes time to promote an asset, you have a list of all possible tactics.

This could include:

  • Distributing across social media channels.
  • Pushing out an email to subscribers.
  • Letting internal team members know to encourage shares.
  • Reaching out to those mentioned in the asset.
  • Setting up Google Alerts to monitor conversations around the topic.
  • Sharing directly with certain experts or influencers.
  • Answering related questions on Quora, or other forums.
  • Advertising on social media.
  • Identifying existing internal cross-link opportunities.
  • Creating a SlideShare presentation, or repurposing the asset in other forms.

11. Continuously Optimize & Improve Content

It doesn't stop there. We know that search engine results are constantly changing, and this means that you need to make continuous optimizations and improvements to your content.

For example, just because you've gained the Featured Snippet result for a particular keyword or phrase, does not mean that you will stay there.

Refreshing your content will ensure that you're offering users with the best (and up to date) information, and driving increased keyword visibility.

If content is out of date, you will likely see the associated keyword rankings decline.

On the other hand, if you're always looking for opportunities to refresh your content and provide users with the best material, you will likely see keyword ranking increases.

Content optimization should never be one-and-done, especially if you aren't seeing the results that you want. If an asset isn't ranking, re-optimize it for relevance, search intent, engagement, and readability.

Your goal should be to offer users a piece of content that is better than everything else being displayed for the given query.

The concept that, "if it's not broke, don't fix it" certainly applies here.

For example, if you are ranking in the first position on Google for an extremely competitive and highly searched for keyword, you don't want to risk losing that.

In that case, I would not recommend changing the title tag or anything that could have a negative impact.

However, there could be opportunities to make the asset that is ranking more conversion-friendly and encourage users to stay on your site.

Final Thoughts 

Don't get me wrong – I'm not saying that tactics like page tagging and on-page content optimizations aren't important anymore. But, it's also essential that SEOs look at the 10,000-foot view of their website.

If you aren't driving the results you need from certain ranking tactics, it may be time to take a step back and look at your website more holistically.

And, remember, it may take some testing, failing and testing some more to find the tactics that will have the biggest impact on your unique site.

Hopefully, this article has provided you with some new ideas and considerations to help improve your keyword rankings on Google.

More Resources:


Image Credits

In-Post Image: Created by author, August 2019
All screenshots taken by author, August 2019

FTC fines Google $170 million for violating children's privacy on YouTube - CBS News

Posted: 04 Sep 2019 12:01 PM PDT

Google will pay a record $170 million fine to settle a lawsuit filed by federal and state authorities that charged the internet giant with violating children's privacy on YouTube, the Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday.

The settlement requires Google and YouTube to pay $136 million to the FTC and $34 million to New York state for violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, by collecting personal information from children without their parents' consent.

The FTC and the New York attorney general alleged in a complaint that YouTube gathered children's personal information by using "cookies," or personal identifiers, that track users online. According to the suit, YouTube earned millions of dollars by using the information to deliver targeted ads to kids. 

Trending News

COPPA requires online websites to obtain parental consent prior to collecting kids' online usage information. The FTC and New York Attorney General Letitia James said that, while YouTube claimed it caters to a general audience, many of its online channels are aimed at children under the age 13. That requires the service to comply with COPPA guidelines. 

"YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients," FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. "Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids." 

Kid influencers: Few rules, big money

For example, a toymaker with a YouTube channel could track people who viewed its videos to send ads for its own products that are targeted to children. The FTC said in its complaint that Google and YouTube told toymaker Mattel that YouTube "is today's leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels." It also said that the companies told Hasbro that YouTube is the "#1 website regularly visited by kids."

But when it came to advertisers, the FTC alleged that YouTube told at least one marketer that the video-search company need not comply with COPPA, as it did not have users under the age of 13 on the platform. 

Prior to Google's settlement, the largest civil FTC penalty for a children's data-privacy case was a $5.7 million for a case in February involving social media app TikTok. But critics say Wednesday's settlement still amounts to a drop in the bucket for Google, whose parent company Alphabet was sitting on $121 billion in cash and securities at the end of June. 

YouTube response

YouTube responded to the FTC charges Wednesday in a blog post outlining the data privacy changes it will make on its video search platform starting in about four months. The tech company said it will treat data from anyone watching children's content on the website as "coming from a child, regardless of the age of the user." 

The company also said it will stop delivering personalized ads on children's content entirely. It will also hide some features on kid's channels, such as "likes" and notifications that could influence children's usage. Content creators will also be required to specify whether their content is for children. And YouTube said it will use artificial intelligence to identify videos that target children with markers such as toys, kids' characters or games. 

"We'll continue working with lawmakers around the world in this area, including as the FTC seeks comments on COPPA," YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in the corporate blog post. "And in the coming months, we'll share details on how we're rethinking our overall approach to kids and families, including a dedicated kids experience on YouTube."

"Walled garden" 

The settlement follows a complaint filed in April with the FTC by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy and 18 other privacy and consumer-protection groups, asking the federal agency to crack down on YouTube's data collection practices for kids.

YouTube is the best-known brand among kids aged 6 to 12, beating out the Disney Channel, McDonald's and Lego, according to an eMarketer study. The study also estimated that nearly half of kids aged under 11 watch the platform.

Parents concerned internet-connected toys put kids' privacy at risk

Josh Golin, executive director at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, commends the settlement for targeting behavioral advertising, which he called the "most insidious form of advertising" for children who are cognitively ill-equipped to contend against algorithms from tech giants like Google tracking their online behavior. 

But he also said the consumer group is concerned the fine is not large enough to deter future violations. He also said the settlement places too much of the burden of compliance on content creators, and not the platform itself, to police videos. Under the settlement, YouTube is only required to notify creators if their channels target children. Channels are not allowed to track user information for children without parent consent, and kids cannot comment on videos without parent consent. 

Instead, Golin suggested that all content for children be moved off the main general-audience platform onto YouTube Kids, creating a supervised "walled garden" for kid-friendly content.  

Google emerges as target of a new state attorneys general antitrust probe - The Washington Post

Posted: 03 Sep 2019 10:43 AM PDT


(Alastair Pike/AFP/Getty Images)

More than half of the nation's state attorneys general are readying an investigation into Google for potential antitrust violations, scheduled to be announced next week, marking a major escalation in U.S. regulators' efforts to probe Silicon Valley's largest companies.

A smaller group of these state officials, representing the broader coalition, is expected to unveil the investigation at a Monday news conference in Washington, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a law enforcement proceeding on the record, cautioning the plans could change.

It is unclear whether some or all of the attorneys general also plan to open or announce additional probes into other tech giants, including Amazon and Facebook, which have faced similar U.S. antitrust scrutiny. The states' effort is expected to be bipartisan and could include more than 30 attorneys general, one of the people said.

Over the past year, regulators around the country have grown increasingly wary of the power wielded by Silicon Valley, questioning whether the industry's access to vast amounts of proprietary data — and deep pockets — allow companies to gobble up rivals and maintain their dominance to the detriment of consumers. Two federal antitrust agencies have opened probes targeting the industry broadly, while lawmakers in Congress have grilled executives from Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google about the business practices. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Outside of the nation's capital, however, state officials also have started questioning the growing influence of big tech. Attorneys general in multiple states have threatened that competition probes could be on the horizon, The Post first reported in March, and states such as Louisiana and Mississippi have sharply criticized Google for its handling of users' personal information and its algorithms for surfacing search results. Those states did not respond to requests for comment.

Texas officials have raised similar concerns. They have also said that Google may be violating state consumer-protection laws if political bias at Google resulted in the censorship of conservative viewpoints. A spokesman for the attorney general there also did not respond to a request for comment.

Over the summer, some attorneys general met privately with officials from the Justice Department, which announced its own broad review into big tech, to discuss their antitrust concerns. The agency's antitrust leader, Makan Delrahim, later said at a conference in August that the federal government is coordinating with state leaders, which he numbered at more than a dozen, but declined to offer further details about the agency's plans.

It is unclear whether the Justice Department will join the states at the event, and a spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"Google's services help people every day, create more choice for consumers, and support thousands of jobs and small businesses across the country," spokesman Jose Castaneda said in a statement. "We continue to work constructively with regulators, including attorneys general, in answering questions about our business and the dynamic technology sector."

The states' looming antitrust investigation of Google threatens to saddle the company with years of regulatory scrutiny, even though the federal government has the most powerful tools at its disposal — including the ability to try to break up a business for violating competition laws.

But state attorneys general can contribute to federal action. For example, in the 1990s, the states helped build a broader case against Microsoft after rivals complained that it leveraged its Windows monopoly as it entered new markets and used it to erect barriers to competitors.

"If multiple states — and I mean not just Democratic attorneys general but Republican attorneys general as well — are all looking into potential antitrust violations, one of the biggest effects might be to pressure the federal government to do a deeper dive," said Doug Gansler, the former attorney general of Maryland and a top lawyer at the firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

For Google, the states' heightened interest comes about six years after the U.S. government formally studied the tech giant's search-and-advertising business but opted against slapping it with significant penalties. The inaction in the United States came to stand in stark contrast with Europe, which later issued a series of stinging, multibillion-dollar fines against the company for the way it displays search results and manages its Android smartphone operating system.

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission's broad reviews into big tech could evolve into more formal probes of Google and its Silicon Valley peers. Senate lawmakers on Tuesday announced they would hold a hearing focused on tech giants that acquire smaller rivals.

Newsletter: A search for answers in the sea - Los Angeles Times

Posted: 04 Sep 2019 05:00 AM PDT

One focus of the investigation of a deadly boat fire off Santa Cruz Island is on the vessel's design.

TOP STORIES

A Search for Answers in the Sea

What caused the fire that engulfed the 75-foot dive boat Conception and why was it so deadly? Those are among the key questions as investigators search for answers in one of the worst maritime disasters in modern California history, with 34 people — most apparently from the Bay Area — presumed killed. A growing focus of the investigation is on the limited escape routes available to those in the sleeping quarters below deck: two exits, which officials believe were blocked by fire. "With 30-plus people dying, the investigation could lead to changes in the way vessels are designed or protected, depending on the findings," says one former marine safety official. Meanwhile, remembrances of some of those presumed dead are beginning to emerge, including five family members celebrating the father's birthday.

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They Can't Say No

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has twice funded robust presidential campaigns almost exclusively with small online contributions. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has largely succeeded, as well. The other Democratic candidates for president, not so much. So after all the promises that fundraising-as-usual was behind them, many spent summer wooing the wealthy.

More Politics

— The Pentagon has approved using $3.6 billion in funding from military construction projects to build 175 miles of President Trump's border wall.

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— A top aide to Vice President Mike Pence is defending Pence's decision to stay at one of Trump's properties while in Ireland amid criticism by Democrats that he is enriching Trump at taxpayers' expense.

Today's Lesson: Money Talks

Speaking of big-money donors, a cache of emails made public Tuesday as part of the college admissions scandal case shows how USC officials flagged children of wealthy and influential families for special consideration in the application process and discussed donations they might make to the university. USC insists admissions decisions were not influenced by donations.

Fearmonger or Truth Teller?

Dr. Bob Sears' office in Capistrano Beach is a modest place. His practice caters to parents the public largely labels as anti-vaxxers: people who no longer trust the scientists, doctors or government representatives who say vaccines are safe and that the risk of disease is far greater than the chance of an adverse reaction. Amid a measles outbreak afflicting nearly 1,200 people nationwide, he is portrayed as either reckless or resolute. Here is a closer look at Sears.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

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On this date in 1781, the city of Los Angeles was founded near present-day Olvera Street. To mark the occasion in 1964, a multi-day celebration featured dancers at City Hall, and "a group of gaily garbed troubadours serenaded downtown crowds."

Sept. 2, 1964: Dancers perform at City Hall during a kickoff celebration of the 183rd anniversary of the founding of the city of Los Angeles.

Sept. 2, 1964: Dancers perform at City Hall during a kickoff celebration of the 183rd anniversary of the founding of the city of Los Angeles.

(Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)

CALIFORNIA

— The state Assembly has approved a bill to tighten the school immunization law, putting the measure one step closer to reaching Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk. But Newsom's office said in a message posted on Twitter that the governor wants a few "technical — but important" revisions.

— Authorities say two men have been accused of setting a blaze at a homeless encampment that grew into a 30-acre brush fire and prompted evacuations in Eagle Rock and Glendale late last month.

— The suspect in a 2018 shootout at a Trader Joe's in Silver Lake will stand trial for the murder of a store manager killed by an LAPD officer's bullet.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— Los Angeles Opera has promised to conduct a "thorough and independent investigation" into sexual harassment allegations against its general manager, Plácido Domingo. Typically, such investigations bring questions, not answers.

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— Roman Polanski's "J'accuse (An Officer and a Spy)" and Nate Parker's "American Skin," the two most contentious titles to screen at this year's Venice International Film Festival, are each structured around a trial. Film critic Justin Chang says only one is worth seeing.

— TV critic Robert Lloyd explores the Netflix series "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance" and its sinister appeal.

NATION-WORLD

— Bahamians rescued victims of Hurricane Dorian with Jet Skis and a bulldozer as the U.S. Coast Guard, Britain's Royal Navy and a handful of aid groups tried to get food and medicine to survivors and take the most desperate people to safety.

— The extradition bill that sparked 13 weeks of protest and political crisis in Hong Kong has been withdrawn.

— British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost his one-vote majority in Parliament when a fellow Tory defected to the Liberal Democrats, a smaller pro-Remain party. The polarizing premier's insistence that Brexit must happen on Halloween, deal or no deal, has prompted rebellion within his own party.

— A Palestinian student denied entry to the U.S. to attend Harvard last month has now been allowed into the country in time to start classes.

Walmart will stop selling handgun ammunition and publicly ask customers not to openly carry guns in its stores, even where state laws allow it.

BUSINESS

— More than half of American state attorneys general plan to open an antitrust investigation of Google as soon as next week, two people familiar with the matter say.

— What's in a name? A trade secret, according to Uber and Lyft. That's what the ride-hail giants argued in fighting a public records request in Chicago, saying they shouldn't have to disclose the names of their drivers lest competitors try to hire them away.

Ariana Grande sued Forever 21 after declining an endorsement deal with it, saying it went ahead and hired her lookalike as a model and used other copyrighted material in a social media campaign.

SPORTS

— A shocker on the tennis court: Roger Federer was ousted by No. 78 Grigor Dimitrov in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

— When the Rams signed six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle last March, his contract included an inventive incentive clause: It ties wins to ice cream.

— Days after her brother was arrested on murder charges, champion gymnast Simone Biles has offered her condolences and asked for privacy. "My heart aches for everyone involved, especially for the victims and their families," she said in a statement.

OPINION

— From substandard conditions in immigration detention to abuse to due-process concerns, the results of a new survey show the Trump administration is not abiding by the law, writes Tom K. Wong, the director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at UC San Diego. And it may get worse. "Cruelty, after all, may very well be the point."

— Why are L.A. voters so clueless about electing sheriffs? A century's worth of history shows it's only recently that those elections brought real options, real policy debates and real consequences, Robert Green writes. Voters are still warming up to their new responsibilities.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Oil-rich Maracaibo used to be the Dallas of Venezuela. But today, its exodus and collapse could portend the country's future. (Spiegel)

— Her title is home health aide. But her job is that of a social worker, housekeeper, dietitian, diaper changer, case manager and more. Her wages? About $10 an hour. It's one of the fastest-growing jobs in America, and among the most demanding and worst paid. (New York Times)

ONLY IN L.A.

For a glimpse into San Pedro's past and a hint at its future, you could do a lot worse than spending an afternoon driving around it with native son Mike Watt, the bassist whose Minutemen were Southern California's most distinctive punk rock band, and whose sense of working-class solidarity still infuses his DIY "jamming econo" ethos. That's what food writer Jesse Pearson did, in the Ford Econoline van Watt calls "the boat." (Hence the term "econo.") Find out why Watt still thinks that "Pedro really is bitchin'."

If you like this newsletter, please share it with friends. Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.

“Your new shop window is not a shop window... - Estate Agent Today” plus 4 more


Your new shop window is not a shop window... - Estate Agent Today

Posted: 04 Sep 2019 06:05 AM PDT

In the old days an agent would procure clients based upon their position in the high street, the size of the window display and how many pages they took in the local rag. That was then.

Do you think that people's search habits may have changed a bit in the past decade or so?

Well, let me tell you that the increase in people searching for things via Google, Bing etc (your business sector included) has risen to over 60,000 searches via Google per second. That's 5.6 billion searches a day.

In comparison to 2009 at 792 billion searches in that year, the world searches online 2.1 trillion times a year now – up by 265%.

No longer are consumers attracted to you solely because of your bright sign-lights and the fact that you sit next to Barclays Bank. Or because your office is a few inches wider than your competitors'.

Currently in the UK there are about 20,000 estate and letting agency branches and, frankly, to the consumer they all look the same.

There's precious little differentiation with fees, propositions and methods all rather indistinct. Yes, the online fraternity had a good go at 'being different' but as we (and certainly I) now know, that's not worked out so well whereby the initial exciting honeymoon has evolved into the equivalent of sitting at dinner ignoring one another. As often these things do.

However, to continue the bored marriage analogy for a bit, there is a way of spicing things up somewhat and becoming attractive again…

The internet is, apparently, good for such things and is not only the place that your customers are looking for you but accordingly, also the means of making sure that your brand is found.

Approximately 10,000 people search for the term 'online estate agents' each month. More still search for the likes of 'best estate agent [insert any town or city]'. What the person searching expects to find is relevant and appropriate information based on that search.

As such, Google will make sure that the results that they generate are indeed the most relevant possible. But how do they know who is the best estate agent in Aylesbury or the greatest online estate agent in the UK?

The easy answer is that they don't. But they know who does, sort of.

This is where mentions of your business, you and or your brand are key. The formula that Google and Bing use is of course strictly secret – their Penguin and Pelican and whatever algorithms change frequently but the essence is the same – authority.

Authority is the test that Google applies to whether they rank you well, or not, in search terms and that authority is gleaned from those other websites that Google already knows are great such as the BBC, The Times, Huffington Post and, of course, the inimitable Estate Agent Today.

All websites have a 'Domain Authority' ranking number placed upon them by Google. The BBC's is 95 out of 100; The Huffington Post is 98 and so on (Estate Agent Today is a decent 48).

With me so far?

What Google thinks is 'If the BBC mention [your brand] and even better if they hyperlink to your website, then if they think you're ok, so do we'.

This is the world of SEO (search engine optimisation). In the past, this has been a dark art or rather, 'black-hat' as it's been termed. In years gone by, you could seek to boost your domain authority and therefore your prowess in Google's eyes by buying links. Google quickly got wise to this and so imposed penalties that saw your website ranked at the bottom of page 10 or so for a few months.

Emoov suffered one of these back in 2013 as did BMW and others. The consequence was that our spend on Google adwords (or PPC) skyrocketed.

Yes, Google ads. The source of most of Google's $150 billion annual revenue. This is the cheat that Google wants you to employ.

Spending money with them on ads and which gradually become more and more expensive as competition increases. Again, at Emoov, at one point we were spending £300,000 per month on Google ads, which we had slept-walked into thinking that 'growth at all costs' as dictated by our strategy to get to IPO, would excuse such a huge cost.

What became interesting was when we switched the Google ads off and…it hardly dented our leads or our revenue.

And that's because we had inadvertently built such a domain authority and digital reputation via media mentions online, links etc. that our natural search ranking was so high as to compensate, indeed circumvent, the need for huge ad spend on the search engines. We'd built defensibility.

How?

Since 2014 I had run PR in-house with James Lockett, my co-founder here at Properganda and, quite honestly, we smashed it – gaining over 2,000 press mentions each year.

These mentions became the breadcrumbs that Google used to signal that we were an authority for all of the things that we had as key-phrases on our website – 'online estate agents'; 'sell my house online'; 'value my house [town/city/village'.

By the end of 2018, Emoov ranked for 699 individual key-phrases on page one of Google, including at position one. Our 'organic' web traffic was over 50% of our total site visitors, far more than our big competitors, who by this time (you know who you are) were shovelling money at Sergey and Larry in ever more eye watering amounts in order to keep their brands in consumers' minds.

Don't give all your money to Google. They have quite enough. If you are clever and want to be found naturally and at zero cost, engaging a digital PR strategy that is both qualitative and quantitative is not only desirable, your business could very well depend on it eventually.

*Russell Quirk is Co-Founder of Properganda PR

How to Improve Your Keyword Rankings in Google - Search Engine Journal

Posted: 08 Aug 2019 12:00 AM PDT

Improving your keyword rankings in search isn't as straightforward as it once was.

With all of the recent Google algorithm changes we have seen, traditional tactics like keyword research and targeting, page tagging optimization, and on-page content updates don't have the impact that they used to.

More importantly, every website is unique. This means that using a certain tactic doesn't guarantee a specific result for your website.

The same change could impact websites differently, which is why it's important to make continuous improvements, test new strategies, monitor performance, and adjust as needed.

improving keyword rankings

In today's evolving search landscape, we need to think beyond traditional keyword ranking factors and look at the big picture.

This involves focusing on the overall experience of a website, optimizing content for both users and search engines, building inbound links the right way, and much more.

Here are several ways to improve your keyword rankings in Google by looking at your site more holistically.

1. Measure Your Rankings

The first, and probably the most obvious, place to start is measuring your rankings.

Without having a solid understanding of your baseline keyword performance, you won't know how far you've come and how much you've improved.

I'd highly suggest exporting all of this valuable keyword data and keeping it on file to reference in the future.

Some of us may have learned the hard way, but you never know when things will change in any given tool – whether it's how the data is reported, what information we have access to, etc.

Google Search Console

Export keyword data from Google Search Console and landing page traffic (organic and total) from Google Analytics.

Analyzing this data will give you a good idea of:

  • What your most valuable keywords/landing pages are.
  • Where the most immediate opportunities for improvement are.
  • What keywords/landing pages are underperforming.

As far as the top areas for improvement, focus on keywords that are ranking in positions 5 through 15 (where you're teetering at the bottom of Page 1 or top of Page 2 on Google).

For these terms, ranking at the top of the first page on Google is very likely, and will give you some quick wins to share with your client or boss.

2. Target the Right Keywords

To ensure your keyword targets are aligned with overarching business objectives and offer real value, it's important that you understand both the search intent behind them and the difficulty of ranking.

While terms have a particular meaning to you, they could take on an entirely different meaning in Google and vice versa.

Knowing the type of intent, whether it's informational/educational, transactional or navigational, will help you understand what stage users are at in the sales funnel.

Doing a thorough SERP analysis will be essential. Look at what's currently ranking in the top search result for your core keyword targets including:

  • Related searches
  • People also ask
  • Google autocomplete suggestions
  • Other advanced search features
SERP Features

Knowing what is required to rank for a particular keyword will help you draw conclusions about what content development efforts will be required and come up with a plan for creation.

SEMrush's SEO Content Template is really great for this type of analysis.

You simply enter a keyword, and the tool will analyze what's showing up in Google's top results to provide recommendations for SEO-friendly content.

SEO Content Template

Cross-referencing your organic keyword research with paid advertising data can also help uncover new opportunities and fill gaps.

Don't ignore long-tail queries. While they may have lower search volume, you could be missing out on extremely targeted audiences that are ready to buy.

3. Fix Technical Issues

Setting a solid foundation for your website involves resolving any technical issues that may diminish your organic keyword visibility.

Site pages should be both easily found and navigated by search engines and users.

If your website is difficult for users to navigate and search engines to crawl, your keyword rankings will likely be negatively impacted.

And, vice versa – if you're website is intuitive for both users and Google, your rankings are bound to see positive increases.

Make sure that your site has a solid website structure, fix any broken links, and resolve any duplicate content issues.

Conducting a thorough technical SEO audit is necessary to ensure all priority technical issues are addressed.

4. Focus on the User Experience

User experience and brand equity are important when it comes to driving organic search visibility.

While user experience may not be a direct responsibility of a search engine marketer, it's important that user experience and SEO work together.

Here are some of the key elements that present an opportunity to improve UX and SEO:

  • Keyword research: Confirm that you're targeting keywords that have the right search intent and are aligned with the language that your target audiences use.
  • Page tagging: Ensure page tagging is engaging and encourages clicks to your website (title tags, meta descriptions, main headings).
  • Content optimization: Keep users on the page and provide them with another logical destination or next step. This involves everything from the navigation to the copy, internal cross-linking, and call-to-actions on your site.
  • Page speed: Give users the content they are requesting quickly and seamlessly across devices. Compress images, be mobile-friendly, clean up your code, and speed up your server.

5. Optimize for Users & Search Engines

Many of us get so fixated on optimizing content for Google that we forget what the end game is – to reach a highly targeted set of humans.

While search engines and humans have a different way of reading and digesting content, there are certainly commonalities that will help ensure we are creating content with both in mind.

Both robots and humans want us to be:

  • Be clear and concise.
  • Provide accurate information.
  • Avoid jargon.
  • Cover related subtopics.

This is important to keep in mind from the start of your content creation process.

As we are thinking about ways to make our content easier to read for both users and search engines, header tags are key.

Not only will proper header tags improve the overall readability of your content, but they will also ensure search engines can follow the hierarchy of what is most important on the page.

Images should also be a consideration, as providing more engaging imagery can make all the difference for users. It also presents the opportunity to further optimize for search engines through ALT text and file naming.

6. Create Eye-Catching & Engaging Titles

Dare I say that title tags are the most important SEO element of a webpage?

Not just because it's an SEO best practice, but also because it's the first thing that users see in search results and on social media.

The title tag is your biggest opportunity to catch the eyes of a user and encourage them to click into the page.

Determine the page that you want to rank for the keyword target at hand, and then figure out a way for your title to stand out from all the others.

Yes, the keyword target should be included towards the beginning of the title tag, but how else can you encourage users to click?

BuzzSumo analyzed 100 million headlines and learned that:

  • Emotional headlines drive interactions.
  • Curiosity and voyeurism gain engagement.
  • List posts and the number 10 in headlines are extremely powerful.

While meta descriptions don't have a direct impact on rankings, they should work closely with your title tags. Incorporate the keyword if possible, as well as a clear call-to-action for users.

The goal of your title tag and meta description should be to explain the benefit to users, provoke emotion, and trigger engagement, all while applying SEO best practices.

7. Stay on Top of Algorithm Updates

Why should you care about Google's most recent algorithm updates?

Because good SEO professionals stay on top of that stuff. Among many other reasons, it helps ensure your keyword rankings are not only steady, but they're constantly improving.

Knowing when an algorithm update first hit and when it officially ended is useful for tracking purposes, and will allow you to trace back keyword and traffic fluctuations to the root cause.

This will help you uncover potential reasoning for how/why a site was hit by an update, or certain keyword rankings and pieces of content that may have been impacted by it.

As we have experienced recently, when multiple algorithm updates happen over a short stretch of time, figuring out why certain site changes have occurred and analyzing the impact of a specific update is extremely difficult.

8. Provide Answers to the Questions People Are Asking

It's clear that Google is on a mission to provide users with answers.

Just look at all of the new and increased SERP features we have seen over the past couple of years:

  • Featured Snippets (or Answer Boxes).
  • People Also Asked
  • Knowledge Cards
  • Dictionary Definitions.
  • And the list goes on.
Search Features

Optimizing for Featured Snippet results and People Also Asked features around your priority keyword targets is now becoming an essential part of SEO strategy.

While there is certainly a great deal of debate over the direct value that ranking in "position zero" of search results offers a business, ultimately, I pose this question:

Would you rather have your competitor rank in the Answer Box for that search query?

As far as we know, the Featured Snippet result isn't going away anytime soon, and not ranking in it could mean lost visibility to your competitor, or even your "frenemy" Google.

9. Build Valuable Inbound Links

Start by looking for opportunities on your own website to cross-link to assets from keyword-rich anchor text. This will help drive users to relevant content, and build keyword association.

Unfortunately, crafting a strong internal link strategy is only half of the battle. The other half is generating highly authoritative and valuable inbound links from third-party websites.

This can seem overwhelming, but there are some key tactics to hone in on:

  • Create link-worthy content that is based on your keyword research and analysis of what is ranking in top search results to help generate inbound links and improve keyword rankings.
  • Monitor mentions of your brand for some quick-win opportunities to gain a inbound link from websites that are already talking about you.
  • If you want other websites to link to you, remember to link to other websites. You only get as much as you give.
  • Leverage social media to support link building. Interact with your targets beforehand to help build relationships prior to reaching out about a link building opportunity.

These are just a few tactics to get you started; however, there are certainly more advanced link building tactics to be successful in today's extremely competitive landscape.

10. Promote Your Content Strategically

I mention this briefly above, but it's also important to leverage non-SEO channels in an effort to drive visibility to your assets and support your link building efforts.

The more eyes that you get on your content, the more opportunity you have to:

  • Generate inbound links.
  • Drive social media shares.
  • Gain traction to the piece.
  • Rank better.
Content Distribution

While different promotional tactics may apply to different types of content, creating a checklist is always helpful. This way, when it comes time to promote an asset, you have a list of all possible tactics.

This could include:

  • Distributing across social media channels.
  • Pushing out an email to subscribers.
  • Letting internal team members know to encourage shares.
  • Reaching out to those mentioned in the asset.
  • Setting up Google Alerts to monitor conversations around the topic.
  • Sharing directly with certain experts or influencers.
  • Answering related questions on Quora, or other forums.
  • Advertising on social media.
  • Identifying existing internal cross-link opportunities.
  • Creating a SlideShare presentation, or repurposing the asset in other forms.

11. Continuously Optimize & Improve Content

It doesn't stop there. We know that search engine results are constantly changing, and this means that you need to make continuous optimizations and improvements to your content.

For example, just because you've gained the Featured Snippet result for a particular keyword or phrase, does not mean that you will stay there.

Refreshing your content will ensure that you're offering users with the best (and up to date) information, and driving increased keyword visibility.

If content is out of date, you will likely see the associated keyword rankings decline.

On the other hand, if you're always looking for opportunities to refresh your content and provide users with the best material, you will likely see keyword ranking increases.

Content optimization should never be one-and-done, especially if you aren't seeing the results that you want. If an asset isn't ranking, re-optimize it for relevance, search intent, engagement, and readability.

Your goal should be to offer users a piece of content that is better than everything else being displayed for the given query.

The concept that, "if it's not broke, don't fix it" certainly applies here.

For example, if you are ranking in the first position on Google for an extremely competitive and highly searched for keyword, you don't want to risk losing that.

In that case, I would not recommend changing the title tag or anything that could have a negative impact.

However, there could be opportunities to make the asset that is ranking more conversion-friendly and encourage users to stay on your site.

Final Thoughts 

Don't get me wrong – I'm not saying that tactics like page tagging and on-page content optimizations aren't important anymore. But, it's also essential that SEOs look at the 10,000-foot view of their website.

If you aren't driving the results you need from certain ranking tactics, it may be time to take a step back and look at your website more holistically.

And, remember, it may take some testing, failing and testing some more to find the tactics that will have the biggest impact on your unique site.

Hopefully, this article has provided you with some new ideas and considerations to help improve your keyword rankings on Google.

More Resources:


Image Credits

In-Post Image: Created by author, August 2019
All screenshots taken by author, August 2019

FTC fines Google $170 million for violating children's privacy on YouTube - CBS News

Posted: 04 Sep 2019 12:01 PM PDT

Google will pay a record $170 million fine to settle a lawsuit filed by federal and state authorities that charged the internet giant with violating children's privacy on YouTube, the Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday.

The settlement requires Google and YouTube to pay $136 million to the FTC and $34 million to New York state for violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, by collecting personal information from children without their parents' consent.

The FTC and the New York attorney general alleged in a complaint that YouTube gathered children's personal information by using "cookies," or personal identifiers, that track users online. According to the suit, YouTube earned millions of dollars by using the information to deliver targeted ads to kids. 

Trending News

COPPA requires online websites to obtain parental consent prior to collecting kids' online usage information. The FTC and New York Attorney General Letitia James said that, while YouTube claimed it caters to a general audience, many of its online channels are aimed at children under the age 13. That requires the service to comply with COPPA guidelines. 

"YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients," FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. "Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids." 

Kid influencers: Few rules, big money

For example, a toymaker with a YouTube channel could track people who viewed its videos to send ads for its own products that are targeted to children. The FTC said in its complaint that Google and YouTube told toymaker Mattel that YouTube "is today's leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels." It also said that the companies told Hasbro that YouTube is the "#1 website regularly visited by kids."

But when it came to advertisers, the FTC alleged that YouTube told at least one marketer that the video-search company need not comply with COPPA, as it did not have users under the age of 13 on the platform. 

Prior to Google's settlement, the largest civil FTC penalty for a children's data-privacy case was a $5.7 million for a case in February involving social media app TikTok. But critics say Wednesday's settlement still amounts to a drop in the bucket for Google, whose parent company Alphabet was sitting on $121 billion in cash and securities at the end of June. 

YouTube response

YouTube responded to the FTC charges Wednesday in a blog post outlining the data privacy changes it will make on its video search platform starting in about four months. The tech company said it will treat data from anyone watching children's content on the website as "coming from a child, regardless of the age of the user." 

The company also said it will stop delivering personalized ads on children's content entirely. It will also hide some features on kid's channels, such as "likes" and notifications that could influence children's usage. Content creators will also be required to specify whether their content is for children. And YouTube said it will use artificial intelligence to identify videos that target children with markers such as toys, kids' characters or games. 

"We'll continue working with lawmakers around the world in this area, including as the FTC seeks comments on COPPA," YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in the corporate blog post. "And in the coming months, we'll share details on how we're rethinking our overall approach to kids and families, including a dedicated kids experience on YouTube."

"Walled garden" 

The settlement follows a complaint filed in April with the FTC by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy and 18 other privacy and consumer-protection groups, asking the federal agency to crack down on YouTube's data collection practices for kids.

YouTube is the best-known brand among kids aged 6 to 12, beating out the Disney Channel, McDonald's and Lego, according to an eMarketer study. The study also estimated that nearly half of kids aged under 11 watch the platform.

Parents concerned internet-connected toys put kids' privacy at risk

Josh Golin, executive director at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, commends the settlement for targeting behavioral advertising, which he called the "most insidious form of advertising" for children who are cognitively ill-equipped to contend against algorithms from tech giants like Google tracking their online behavior. 

But he also said the consumer group is concerned the fine is not large enough to deter future violations. He also said the settlement places too much of the burden of compliance on content creators, and not the platform itself, to police videos. Under the settlement, YouTube is only required to notify creators if their channels target children. Channels are not allowed to track user information for children without parent consent, and kids cannot comment on videos without parent consent. 

Instead, Golin suggested that all content for children be moved off the main general-audience platform onto YouTube Kids, creating a supervised "walled garden" for kid-friendly content.  

Google emerges as target of a new state attorneys general antitrust probe - The Washington Post

Posted: 03 Sep 2019 10:43 AM PDT


(Alastair Pike/AFP/Getty Images)

More than half of the nation's state attorneys general are readying an investigation into Google for potential antitrust violations, scheduled to be announced next week, marking a major escalation in U.S. regulators' efforts to probe Silicon Valley's largest companies.

A smaller group of these state officials, representing the broader coalition, is expected to unveil the investigation at a Monday news conference in Washington, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a law enforcement proceeding on the record, cautioning the plans could change.

It is unclear whether some or all of the attorneys general also plan to open or announce additional probes into other tech giants, including Amazon and Facebook, which have faced similar U.S. antitrust scrutiny. The states' effort is expected to be bipartisan and could include more than 30 attorneys general, one of the people said.

Over the past year, regulators around the country have grown increasingly wary of the power wielded by Silicon Valley, questioning whether the industry's access to vast amounts of proprietary data — and deep pockets — allow companies to gobble up rivals and maintain their dominance to the detriment of consumers. Two federal antitrust agencies have opened probes targeting the industry broadly, while lawmakers in Congress have grilled executives from Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google about the business practices. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Outside of the nation's capital, however, state officials also have started questioning the growing influence of big tech. Attorneys general in multiple states have threatened that competition probes could be on the horizon, The Post first reported in March, and states such as Louisiana and Mississippi have sharply criticized Google for its handling of users' personal information and its algorithms for surfacing search results. Those states did not respond to requests for comment.

Texas officials have raised similar concerns. They have also said that Google may be violating state consumer-protection laws if political bias at Google resulted in the censorship of conservative viewpoints. A spokesman for the attorney general there also did not respond to a request for comment.

Over the summer, some attorneys general met privately with officials from the Justice Department, which announced its own broad review into big tech, to discuss their antitrust concerns. The agency's antitrust leader, Makan Delrahim, later said at a conference in August that the federal government is coordinating with state leaders, which he numbered at more than a dozen, but declined to offer further details about the agency's plans.

It is unclear whether the Justice Department will join the states at the event, and a spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"Google's services help people every day, create more choice for consumers, and support thousands of jobs and small businesses across the country," spokesman Jose Castaneda said in a statement. "We continue to work constructively with regulators, including attorneys general, in answering questions about our business and the dynamic technology sector."

The states' looming antitrust investigation of Google threatens to saddle the company with years of regulatory scrutiny, even though the federal government has the most powerful tools at its disposal — including the ability to try to break up a business for violating competition laws.

But state attorneys general can contribute to federal action. For example, in the 1990s, the states helped build a broader case against Microsoft after rivals complained that it leveraged its Windows monopoly as it entered new markets and used it to erect barriers to competitors.

"If multiple states — and I mean not just Democratic attorneys general but Republican attorneys general as well — are all looking into potential antitrust violations, one of the biggest effects might be to pressure the federal government to do a deeper dive," said Doug Gansler, the former attorney general of Maryland and a top lawyer at the firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

For Google, the states' heightened interest comes about six years after the U.S. government formally studied the tech giant's search-and-advertising business but opted against slapping it with significant penalties. The inaction in the United States came to stand in stark contrast with Europe, which later issued a series of stinging, multibillion-dollar fines against the company for the way it displays search results and manages its Android smartphone operating system.

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission's broad reviews into big tech could evolve into more formal probes of Google and its Silicon Valley peers. Senate lawmakers on Tuesday announced they would hold a hearing focused on tech giants that acquire smaller rivals.

Newsletter: A search for answers in the sea - Los Angeles Times

Posted: 04 Sep 2019 05:00 AM PDT

One focus of the investigation of a deadly boat fire off Santa Cruz Island is on the vessel's design.

TOP STORIES

A Search for Answers in the Sea

What caused the fire that engulfed the 75-foot dive boat Conception and why was it so deadly? Those are among the key questions as investigators search for answers in one of the worst maritime disasters in modern California history, with 34 people — most apparently from the Bay Area — presumed killed. A growing focus of the investigation is on the limited escape routes available to those in the sleeping quarters below deck: two exits, which officials believe were blocked by fire. "With 30-plus people dying, the investigation could lead to changes in the way vessels are designed or protected, depending on the findings," says one former marine safety official. Meanwhile, remembrances of some of those presumed dead are beginning to emerge, including five family members celebrating the father's birthday.

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They Can't Say No

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has twice funded robust presidential campaigns almost exclusively with small online contributions. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has largely succeeded, as well. The other Democratic candidates for president, not so much. So after all the promises that fundraising-as-usual was behind them, many spent summer wooing the wealthy.

More Politics

— The Pentagon has approved using $3.6 billion in funding from military construction projects to build 175 miles of President Trump's border wall.

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— A top aide to Vice President Mike Pence is defending Pence's decision to stay at one of Trump's properties while in Ireland amid criticism by Democrats that he is enriching Trump at taxpayers' expense.

Today's Lesson: Money Talks

Speaking of big-money donors, a cache of emails made public Tuesday as part of the college admissions scandal case shows how USC officials flagged children of wealthy and influential families for special consideration in the application process and discussed donations they might make to the university. USC insists admissions decisions were not influenced by donations.

Fearmonger or Truth Teller?

Dr. Bob Sears' office in Capistrano Beach is a modest place. His practice caters to parents the public largely labels as anti-vaxxers: people who no longer trust the scientists, doctors or government representatives who say vaccines are safe and that the risk of disease is far greater than the chance of an adverse reaction. Amid a measles outbreak afflicting nearly 1,200 people nationwide, he is portrayed as either reckless or resolute. Here is a closer look at Sears.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

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On this date in 1781, the city of Los Angeles was founded near present-day Olvera Street. To mark the occasion in 1964, a multi-day celebration featured dancers at City Hall, and "a group of gaily garbed troubadours serenaded downtown crowds."

Sept. 2, 1964: Dancers perform at City Hall during a kickoff celebration of the 183rd anniversary of the founding of the city of Los Angeles.

Sept. 2, 1964: Dancers perform at City Hall during a kickoff celebration of the 183rd anniversary of the founding of the city of Los Angeles.

(Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)

CALIFORNIA

— The state Assembly has approved a bill to tighten the school immunization law, putting the measure one step closer to reaching Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk. But Newsom's office said in a message posted on Twitter that the governor wants a few "technical — but important" revisions.

— Authorities say two men have been accused of setting a blaze at a homeless encampment that grew into a 30-acre brush fire and prompted evacuations in Eagle Rock and Glendale late last month.

— The suspect in a 2018 shootout at a Trader Joe's in Silver Lake will stand trial for the murder of a store manager killed by an LAPD officer's bullet.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— Los Angeles Opera has promised to conduct a "thorough and independent investigation" into sexual harassment allegations against its general manager, Plácido Domingo. Typically, such investigations bring questions, not answers.

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— Roman Polanski's "J'accuse (An Officer and a Spy)" and Nate Parker's "American Skin," the two most contentious titles to screen at this year's Venice International Film Festival, are each structured around a trial. Film critic Justin Chang says only one is worth seeing.

— TV critic Robert Lloyd explores the Netflix series "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance" and its sinister appeal.

NATION-WORLD

— Bahamians rescued victims of Hurricane Dorian with Jet Skis and a bulldozer as the U.S. Coast Guard, Britain's Royal Navy and a handful of aid groups tried to get food and medicine to survivors and take the most desperate people to safety.

— The extradition bill that sparked 13 weeks of protest and political crisis in Hong Kong has been withdrawn.

— British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost his one-vote majority in Parliament when a fellow Tory defected to the Liberal Democrats, a smaller pro-Remain party. The polarizing premier's insistence that Brexit must happen on Halloween, deal or no deal, has prompted rebellion within his own party.

— A Palestinian student denied entry to the U.S. to attend Harvard last month has now been allowed into the country in time to start classes.

Walmart will stop selling handgun ammunition and publicly ask customers not to openly carry guns in its stores, even where state laws allow it.

BUSINESS

— More than half of American state attorneys general plan to open an antitrust investigation of Google as soon as next week, two people familiar with the matter say.

— What's in a name? A trade secret, according to Uber and Lyft. That's what the ride-hail giants argued in fighting a public records request in Chicago, saying they shouldn't have to disclose the names of their drivers lest competitors try to hire them away.

Ariana Grande sued Forever 21 after declining an endorsement deal with it, saying it went ahead and hired her lookalike as a model and used other copyrighted material in a social media campaign.

SPORTS

— A shocker on the tennis court: Roger Federer was ousted by No. 78 Grigor Dimitrov in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

— When the Rams signed six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle last March, his contract included an inventive incentive clause: It ties wins to ice cream.

— Days after her brother was arrested on murder charges, champion gymnast Simone Biles has offered her condolences and asked for privacy. "My heart aches for everyone involved, especially for the victims and their families," she said in a statement.

OPINION

— From substandard conditions in immigration detention to abuse to due-process concerns, the results of a new survey show the Trump administration is not abiding by the law, writes Tom K. Wong, the director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at UC San Diego. And it may get worse. "Cruelty, after all, may very well be the point."

— Why are L.A. voters so clueless about electing sheriffs? A century's worth of history shows it's only recently that those elections brought real options, real policy debates and real consequences, Robert Green writes. Voters are still warming up to their new responsibilities.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Oil-rich Maracaibo used to be the Dallas of Venezuela. But today, its exodus and collapse could portend the country's future. (Spiegel)

— Her title is home health aide. But her job is that of a social worker, housekeeper, dietitian, diaper changer, case manager and more. Her wages? About $10 an hour. It's one of the fastest-growing jobs in America, and among the most demanding and worst paid. (New York Times)

ONLY IN L.A.

For a glimpse into San Pedro's past and a hint at its future, you could do a lot worse than spending an afternoon driving around it with native son Mike Watt, the bassist whose Minutemen were Southern California's most distinctive punk rock band, and whose sense of working-class solidarity still infuses his DIY "jamming econo" ethos. That's what food writer Jesse Pearson did, in the Ford Econoline van Watt calls "the boat." (Hence the term "econo.") Find out why Watt still thinks that "Pedro really is bitchin'."

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