Issue #2 Late November 2021

Issue #2 Late November 2021

I know what you're thinking; "Wow, that month went quickly". Well, it turns out that a month is a long time in the world of publishing and another update felt needed.  I'm going to experiment with doing a mid-month issue when there is enough news to warrant it.

Before I start though: Thank you to those who shared Issue#1. Readership is definitely still a very exclusive club, but it was great to see new subscribers arrive from referrals. Thank you! (and please feel free to forward this email or share the web version again - I've heard that every share gives an Angel it's wings).

In this issue...

  • Poll results : How are publishers doing in Q4
  • Question of the month: Are you building first party data?
  • Google's 2-for-1 algo updates
  • ...and another big search change coming
  • GDPR pop-ups aren't just annoying, they breach GDPR too
  • US takes aim at filter bubbles... and misses
  • Outages, hacks and vulnerabilities aplenty
  • Open Bidding for all (almost)
  • And because even an extra issue doesn't cover everything happening in the crazy world of publishing, I wrapped up more stories in short at the end
  • Wrapping up

Poll results : How are publishers doing in Q4

Thanks to everyone who answered our poll regarding revenue expectations for Q4. The results paint a surprising, and oddly symmetrical picture. More than half of respondents predicted that Q4 revenues would be significantly different to last year, with that split evenly between positive and negative predictions.

Question of the month*: Are you building first party data?

It turns out that my clever embedded polls were blocked by almost everyone's email provider last month, so I'll try something a little more old-school. Please click the image below to answer this months 1 Question anonymous poll. Every answer is greatly appreciated! Results will be included in the next issue of Powered by Ads.

*OK, you are right. Now technically "Question of the bi-month, but that sounds weird. I'll work on a better name for the next issue"

Google's 2-for-1 algo updates

Publishers hoping to benefit from organic traffic in the November/December peak weeks have not one, but two Google search algorithm updates to worry about. The first was a spam update that took a week to rollout, starting November 3rd. Less than a week after the spam update was complete a Broad Core Update began.

Core updates are particularly concerning for publishers hit with ranking drops, as recovering takes more than just "a fix". The timing, immediately before Black Friday and the Christmas buying season, will be unpopular with many. Google's advice around Core updates can be found here, but boils down to little more than "Do better".

…and another big search change coming

If two end of year search updates weren't enough SEO work for you to keep on top of, there is also a big update coming to desktop search in Q1. User experience already plays a small, but meaningful, part in ranking results on mobile searches. From February user experience will have a similar impact on desktop search results.

In real terms this means that the three Core Web Vitals metrics, HTTPS security and the absence of "intrusive interstitials" will be factors on both desktop and mobile results. Mobile results additionally are influenced by "Mobile friendliness". Time to check pagespeed insights on desktop. More from Google on the Search Central blog.

GDPR pop-ups aren't just annoying, they breach GDPR too

Having annoyed all of our European (and UK) users with consent pop-ups for the last few years, it now turns out that they are as effective at obtaining legitimate consent as they are fun to experience 100 times a day.

Advertising consent pop-ups use the Transparency and Consent Framework, an industry work-around for the problem of consent for personalisation run by IAB Europe. According to a press statement from the IAB, the Belgian Data Protection Authority is on the cusp of giving IAB Europe just 6 months to clear the whole mess up.

It might be tempting for publishers to remove their TCF solution as it would seem to offer little legal support. I'd advise holding back on that change until SSPs respond as currently many will not bid if consent is not in place and the cost to CPMs would likely outweigh the gain in UX.

US takes aim at filter bubbles... and misses

US lawmakers have taken aim squarely at big-tech with a bill to limit personalisation, or "secret algorithms" as they have called it. The Filter Bubble Transparency Act (FBTA) would require that platforms make a non-personalised version of their service available, triggering "AltaVista flashbacks" in some internet old-timers like me.

Filter bubbles, and the echo chambers they create, have certainly been damaging in recent years and warrant scrutiny. Critics are keen to highlight that the bill is both confusing and naïve in its current form. The Verve have a good article on this.

In it's current state, the proposed law will only directly impact the largest of publishers (most of us falling comfortably below the minimums of 500 employees, $50 million revenue or those gathering data 1 million users per year). The secondary impact in terms of search and social traffic could potentially be significant though.

Outages, hacks and vulnerabilities aplenty

It's been a rough month on web reliability too, with millions of websites impacted by a number of high profile incidents, including:

  • An outage with mega-host SiteGround saw websites offline for 4 days and temporarily dropped from Google results. SiteGround host approximately 2 million domains.
  • Another million websites affected by an XSS vulnerability in the popular Astra WordPress themes (including Elementor, Gutenberg & Beaver Builder plugins). Check your WordPress installations for updates now!
  • Big websites affected too. Snapchat, Discord, Spotify and many less well known websites taken down by an issue with Google Cloud Networking  

Open Bidding for all (almost)

Publishers using the small business version of Google Ad Manager can now get access to one of the better features usually reserved for paying GAM 360 users; Open Bidding. Open Bidding (OB), formerly called Exchange Bidding via Dynamic Allocation (EBDA)  then Exchange Bidding (EB), is Google server to server bidding solution. EB allows you to add additional bidders server side, creating additional auction pressure.

Open Bidding is a standard feature of GAM 360, but was previously only available on a restricted closed Beta in the free version of Ad Manager. It is now available as a beta feature on application from your Google Account Manager. More from Google here.

Other stories of interest that I have run out of space for.

  • Google updates policy center for publishers. More
  • YouTube hides dislike counts on all videos. The button remains, but the count gets hidden from view to counter harassment. More
  • Apple accused of using publisher's own ad space to poach user subscriptions. More
  • Google loses appeal against EU's 2.42billion Euro antitrust fine relating to price comparison shopping. More
  • Google accused of deliberately throttling speed of ads not served to AMP page. More

Wrapping up

Wow, you made it this far down the updated. Thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or ideas for this (now) twice-monthly update, I'd love to hear them. I can be reached at or on LinkedIn here.