The Empire Strikes Back

Google acts fast to smack down spammy, cheap, AI-generated schlock. Is this the fix it desperately needed to stay at the front of the pack? Or is it too late?

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The Empire Strikes Back

Google acts fast to smack down spammy, cheap, AI-generated schlock. Is this the fix it desperately needed to stay at the front of the pack? Or is it too late?

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SEARCH • Google Hitting Spam Sites Hard (Yay!)

The big Google update meant to fix a lot of the crappy search results lately has been out for not even a week, and already the company is handing out plenty of yellow flags.

The big anti-spam update rolled out Tuesday. It’s aiming specifically at a few things, notably automated low-effort AI blog posts which has been like 90% of my Google searches in the last six months.

And while the algorithm is hopefully knocking back some of these sites, human beings employed by Google are also manually penalizing the bad ones. This is something Google has always done — they call them Manual Actions.

Google issues a manual action against a site when a human reviewer at Google has determined that pages on the site are not compliant with Google's spam policies. Most manual actions address attempts to manipulate the Google search index….

Google has been busy issuing manual actions… In fact, many SEOs and site owners are saying their sites are no longer showing in the Google Search index, even for a site command, after receiving the manual actions.

Indeed, pour one out for this guy…

…who runs a whole army of AI-generated blogs.

This is one of his sites

He uploaded this YouTube video, saying getting clapped by Google has cost him $13,000 in revenue monthly. (What is that they say about tiny violins?)

So the ‘cheap content’ policy and the ‘abuse of expired domains’ policies went into effect this week.

In a couple of months, Google will start enforcing the third leg of the update: ‘Site reputation abuse.’ So maybe soon a glorious end to the trend of major publications being turned into massive cheap affiliate marketing sites.

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SOCIAL • Engagement Does Not Equal Link Clicks

So you’ve got a product you want to sell and have some information up on your web site. What’s a surefire way of getting people to read your product page? The solution, for many years, has been to generate as much engagement on a social media post linking to that page, since high engagement means more people will click to read it.


Well, not any more — if that even was ever true.

A new report from the p.r. platform Memo has failed to find a connection between how much engagement a post gets on social media vs. how many people actually go on to read that post.

Their study was about news articles, rather than product pages, but certainly there’s similarity.

Across all the articles and topics we analyzed, we found no clear connection between social engagement and actual readers of the news.

Does that mean that social media is useless for websites looking to drive traffic?

Well, no, as the brand awareness benefits would still be significant, while there would still be some correlation between exposure and link clicks, even if it is more minor than expected. But the data does suggest that the connection between post reach and CTR is not as direct as you might hope.

…While fewer people are engaging with content in-stream, more are now sharing links in message threads.

One finding they confirmed, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone — “social engagement was higher per article among negative articles.” (I know, shocker.)

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PAYMENTS • PayPal Rolls Out ‘Tap to Pay on iPhone’

More options opening up for small businesses to take payment digitally in-person.

Paypal today announced that “Tap to Pay on iPhone” is now available for all Venmo business profile and PayPal Zettle users in the U.S.

This lets small businesses accept contactless card and digital wallet payments directly on their iPhones with no additional hardware.

Consumers are increasingly going cashless.

More than 40 percent of Americans surveyed say that none of their purchases are made with cash in a typical week, and that trend is expected to continue.

As a result, accepting card and digital wallet payments in person is increasingly table stakes for small businesses, but until recently, businesses have had to purchase and manage card readers to do so.

Merchants can also set up the system to add taxes, accept tips, send receipts, and issue refunds. Funds from sales will settle into a business's Venmo or PayPal Zettle account.

Buyers do not need a Venmo account to take advantage of this.

For every transaction, PayPal charges a fee of 2.29% plus 9 cents flat.

This comes two years after its competitor Stripe teamed up with Apple as the first payment partner for Tap to Pay. Stripe also offers Tap to Pay on NFC-equipped Android devices. Unlike PayPal's transaction fee, Stripe charges 10 cents per Tap to Pay transaction, with additional fees for card and digital wallet payments.

MORE: for Venmo business profile users and for PayPal Zettle users. 

CREATIVE • Adobe Finally Adding GenAI to Express

Adobe will soon bring a huge update to its mobile Express app — its graphic design tool that competes with Canva. That update: Generative AI.

This week, Adobe added AI to the beta versions of their app.

They are definitely playing catchup with Canva, which introduced a whack of AI tools last year.

Once it rolls out more fully, users will get:

  • a “Text to Image” generator

  • A “Generative Fill” feature to insert or change an existing image

  • A new “Text Effects” feature to make text look a bit more interesting.

If you’re a Creative Cloud member, you’ll be able to work on assets from Photoshop and Illustrator.

And the Express app also has some direct publishing tools to social platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

If you want to try it out now, while it’s still in beta, Android users find it in the Google Play store. iOS users need to sign up to get access.

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LINKEDIN: Will Try to Predict Your Next Job

Some interesting additions to LinkedIn’s career tools are launching.

First, something it calls “Next Role Explorer” — this will visualize potential promotions or job title upgrades members could aim for, based on their stated skills and career goals.

Say an employee is a data analyst, but wants to transition into a different area of the company.

We’ll recommend new roles based on people who have made a similar job change and provide a personalized curriculum of content to start learning hard and soft skills relevant to the job.

Or, if someone wants to be promoted in their current role, we can help by recommending the skills needed to advance to the next stage.


As Andrew Hutchinson noted in his coverage of this over at Social Media Today, this isn’t their first whack at such an idea.

LinkedIn has also tried to show college students their likely career progression with its “LinkedIn University Finder” element, which it retired several years back…

LinkedIn’s actually been working on variations of this for years, but has seemingly never been able to get it right, on a broader scale at least.

I assume both of these activations weren’t entirely accurate for most people, which is why they didn’t stick around, but maybe this more confined version of the same, utilizing more specific insights among colleagues, will prove more directly valuable.

Also, somewhat hilariously, Andrew notes that 460 people list themselves as employees of his web site — something which is nowhere near accurate — but they can’t remove those people because LinkedIn doesn’t provide anyway to disavow people, like you can disavow links in Google.

LINKEDIN: ‘Who’s Viewing’ Gets Creepy-Helpful

Speaking of LinkedIn, who among us can say we’ve never checked out that “Who’s Viewing Your Profile” page. It’s pretty basic if you don’t pay for their Premium service, but still just as creepy.

Now, that tool is about to get more helpful. Or, more creepy, depending on your perspective.

Added to the filtering options, like date and company, is a new one called “Interesting Viewers.” It will show you people it thinks can help you get a job, which ones are LinkedIn influencers, which ones work at a company you follow, and a couple of others.

It’s not really at all clear how it’s coming up with these buckets. When I tried filtering for people who could help me get a job, it actually removed HR recruiters from my list. There’s also no clarity on what makes someone qualify as an “influencer.”

Still, a nice upgrade, if your creepy self has this in your daily bookmarks.

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INSTAGRAM • The Hidden Retro Game Within

Have you found it yet? Instagram quietly added a secret game to its app which you’ll find in your DMs.

It’s an old-school game like Breakout — you move your finger across the bottom to keep an emoji up in the air. When you miss, the game ends.

To play it, go to your DMs and send someone an emoji. It doesn’t matter which one, just as long as that’s the only thing you send — one single emoji. Then tap on that emoji and you’ll get into the game.

The person you sent that emoji to will indeed see the emoji, without any context, so just heads-up on that.

Two more related items:

  1. I lost after the first screen.

  2. Shut up.

Not everybody has this — it’s not clear if it’s only going to some people, or if it’s just a slow rollout. Instagram wouldn’t say.

META ADS • Temu Spending $2B, But Not Profitable

Temu apparently spent so much money on Meta ads last year that Meta staffers joked that they should literally send them a card.

How much gets you a card from Meta? Temu is said to have spent nearly $2 billion on ads last year.

According to The Wall Street Journal, this makes them Meta’s top advertiser in terms of revenue for 2023.

For its part, Temu denied the figure, but wouldn’t say how much they spent. The company is privately owned by a Chinese holding firm, so it doesn’t have any public reporting obligations.

It is clear, though, that they have deep pockets. The company bought Super Bowl ads this year and last year.

Analysts believe the company is not profitable, with Goldman Sachs estimating its marketing spend alone contributed to an average $7 loss per order last year.

While its strategy to bombard shoppers with ads and woo them with low prices seemed to pay off initially as customers flocked to the app, data suggests that Temu may be losing momentum.

Observed sales for Temu fell 12.5% month-on-month in December and 4.8% in January, per Bloomberg Second Measure data.

The data showed that the number of Temu users in the US was also declining.

Business Insider

Pivot to enshittification mode in 3…. 2…

THREADS • Camera and Draft Is Now Working

Threads is finally rolling out two of the most requested items on users’ wish lists.

First, if you leave a post without finishing it, you’ll get an option to save that as a draft.

Second, the camera function finally works, so you can upload a photo by taking one right then and there, rather than choosing an existing photo from your gallery.

Both new features are limited, though — for now, you can only store one draft post, and only upload one camera photo per post.

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