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Monthly Archives: January 2021

You can now give Facebook’s Oversight Board feedback on the decision to suspend Trump

January 31, 2021 No Comments

Facebook’s “Supreme Court” is now accepting comments on one of its earliest and likely most consequential cases. The Facebook Oversight Board announced Friday that it would begin accepting public feedback on Facebook’s suspension of former President Trump.

Mark Zuckerberg announced Trump’s suspension on January 7, after the then-president of the United States incited his followers to riot at the nation’s Capitol, an event that resulted in a number of deaths and imperiled the peaceful transition of power.

In a post calling for feedback, the Oversight Board describes the two posts that led to Trump’s suspension. One is a version of the video the president shared the day of the Capitol riot in which he sympathizes with rioters and validates their claim that the “election was stolen from us.” In the second post, Trump reiterates those views, falsely bemoaning a “sacred landslide election victory” that was “unceremoniously & viciously stripped away.”

The board says the point of the public comment process is to incorporate “diverse perspectives” from third parties who wish to share research that might inform their decisions, though it seems a lot more likely the board will wind up with a tidal wave of subjective and probably not particularly useful political takes. Nonetheless, the comment process will be open for 10 days and comments will be collected in an appendix for each case. The board will issue a decision on Trump’s Facebook fate within 90 days of January 21, though the verdict could come sooner.

The Oversight Board specifically invites public comments that consider:

Whether Facebook’s decision to suspend President Trump’s accounts for an indefinite period complied with the company’s responsibilities to respect freedom of expression and human rights, if alternative measures should have been taken, and what measures should be taken for these accounts going forward.

How Facebook should assess off-Facebook context in enforcing its Community Standards, particularly where Facebook seeks to determine whether content may incite violence.

How Facebook should treat the expression of political candidates, office holders, and former office holders, considering their varying positions of power, the importance of political opposition, and the public’s right to information.

The accessibility of Facebook’s rules for account-level enforcement (e.g. disabling accounts or account functions) and appeals against that enforcement.

Considerations for the consistent global enforcement of Facebook’s content policies against political leaders, whether at the content-level (e.g. content removal) or account-level (e.g. disabling account functions), including the relevance of Facebook’s “newsworthiness” exemption and Facebook’s human rights responsibilities.

The Oversight Board’s post gets very granular on the Trump suspension, critiquing Facebook for lack of specificity when the company didn’t state exactly which part of its community standards were violated. Between this and the five recent cases, the board appears to view its role as a technical one, in which it examines each case against Facebook’s existing ruleset and then makes recommendations for future policy rather than working backward from its own broader recommendations.

The Facebook Oversight Board announced its first cluster of decisions this week, overturning the company’s own choice to remove potentially objectionable content in four of five cases. None of those cases pertained to content relevant to Trump’s account suspension, but they prove that the Oversight Board isn’t afraid to go against the company’s own thinking — at least when it comes to what gets taken down.


Social – TechCrunch


Xiaomi teases over-the-air wireless charging, but it’s not coming to its devices this year

January 31, 2021 No Comments

Xiaomi, the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, today unveiled “Mi Air Charge Technology,” which it says can deliver 5W power to multiple devices “within a radius of several metres” as the Chinese giant invited customers to a “true wireless charging era.”

The company said it has self-developed an isolated charging pile that has five phase interference antennas built-in, which can “accurately detect the location of the smartphone.”

A phase control array composed of 144 antennas transmits millimeter-wide waves directly to the phone through beamforming, the company said, adding that “in the near future” the system will also be able to work with smart watches, bracelets and other wearable devices.

A company spokesperson said Xiaomi, which has previously introduced 80W and 120W wireless charging tech, won’t be deploying this new system to consumer products this year.

Here’s how the company has described the mechanics of its new tech:

On the smartphone side, Xiaomi has also developed a miniaturized antenna array with built-in “beacon antenna” and “receiving antenna array”. Beacon antenna broadcasts position information with low power consumption. The receiving antenna array composed of 14 antennas converts the millimeter wave signal emitted by the charging pile into electric energy through the rectifier circuit, to turn the sci-fi charging experience into reality.

Currently, Xiaomi remote charging technology is capable of 5-watt remote charging for a single device within a radius of several meters. Apart from that, multiple devices can also be charged at the same time (each device supports 5 watts), and even physical obstacles do not reduce the charging efficiency.

News site XDA-Developers reported on Friday that a Motorola executive also demonstrated a prototype remote charging system that appears to deliver power over the air. No word on when its tech will hit consumer devices either.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Opinion News Found By Machine Learning at Google

January 30, 2021 No Comments

Opinion News in Top Stories Earlier this year, I wrote a post about news stories that are shown in carousels in Google Top Stories Are Chosen By Importance Scores The patent I wrote about in that post told us that Google may attempt to show opinion pieces related to topics that were being identified as … Read more

The post Opinion News Found By Machine Learning at Google appeared first on SEO by the Sea ⚓.


SEO by the Sea ⚓


Extra Crunch roundup: Edtech VC survey, 5 founder mistakes, fintech liquidity, more

January 30, 2021 No Comments

Edtech is so widespread, we already need more consumer-friendly nomenclature to describe the products, services and tools it encompasses.

I know someone who reads stories to their grandchildren on two continents via Zoom each weekend. Is that “edtech?”

Similarly, many Netflix subscribers sought out online chess instructors after watching “The Queen’s Gambit,” but I doubt if they all ran searches for “remote learning” first.

Edtech needs to reach beyond underfunded public school systems to become more sustainable, which is why more investors and founders are focusing on lifelong learning.

Besides serving traditional students with field trips and art classes, a maturing sector is now branching out to offer software tutors, cooking classes and singing lessons.

For our latest investor survey, Natasha Mascarenhas polled 13 edtech VCs to learn more about how “employer-led up-skilling and a renewed interest in self-improvement” is expanding the sector’s TAM.

Here’s who she spoke to:

  • Deborah Quazzo, managing partner, GSV Ventures
  • Ashley Bittner, founding partner, Firework Ventures (a future of work fund with portfolio companies LearnIn and TransfrVR)
  • Jomayra Herrera, principal, Cowboy Ventures (a generalist fund with portfolio companies Hone and Guild Education)
  • John Danner, managing partner, Dunce Capital (an edtech and future of work fund with portfolio companies Lambda School and Outschool)
  • Mercedes Bent and Bradley Twohig, partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners (a multistage generalist fund with investments including Forage, Clever and Outschool)
  • Ian Chiu, managing director, Owl Ventures (a large edtech-focused fund backing highly valued companies including Byju’s, Newsela and Masterclass)
  • Jan Lynn-Matern, founder and partner, Emerge Education (a leading edtech seed fund in Europe with portfolio companies like Aula, Unibuddy and BibliU)
  • Benoit Wirz, partner, Brighteye Ventures (an active edtech-focused venture capital fund in Europe that backs YouSchool, Lightneer and Aula)
  • Charles Birnbaum, partner, Bessemer Venture Partners (a generalist fund with portfolio companies including Guild Education and Brightwheel)
  • Daniel Pianko, co-founder and managing director, University Ventures (a higher ed and future of work fund that is backing Imbellus and Admithub)
  • Rebecca Kaden, managing partner, Union Square Ventures (a generalist fund with portfolio companies including TopHat, Quizlet, Duolingo)
  • Andreata Muforo, partner, TLCom Capital (a generalist fund backing uLesson)

Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


In other news: Extra Crunch Live, a series of interviews with leading investors and entrepreneurs, returns next month with a full slate of guests. This year, we’re adding a new feature: Our guests will analyze pitch decks submitted by members of the audience to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

If you’d like an expert eye on your deck, please sign up for Extra Crunch and join the conversation.

Thanks very much for reading! I hope you have a fantastic weekend — we’ve all earned it.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

13 investors say lifelong learning is taking edtech mainstream

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Rising African venture investment powers fintech, clean tech bets in 2020

After falling into yesterday’s wild news cycle, Alex Wilhelm returned to The Exchange this morning with a close look at venture capital activity across Africa in 2020.

“Comparing aggregate 2020 figures to 2019 results, it appears that last year was a somewhat robust year for African startups, albeit one with fewer large rounds,” he found.

For more context, he interviewed Dario Giuliani, the director of research firm Briter Bridges, which focuses on emerging markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Talent and capital are shifting cybersecurity investors’ focus away from Silicon Valley

A road sign that says "Leaving California."

Image Credits: MCCAIG (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

New cybersecurity ecosystems are popping up in different parts of the world.

Some of of that growth has been fueled by an exodus from the Bay Area, but many early-stage security startups already have deep roots in East Coast cities like Boston and New York.

In the United Kingdom and Europe, government innovation programs have helped entrepreneurs close higher numbers of Series A and B rounds.

Investor interest and expertise is migrating out of Silicon Valley: This post will help you understand where it’s going.

Will Apple’s spectacular iPhone 12 sales figures boost the smartphone industry in 2021?

On Wednesday, 20 January, 2021, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Image Credits: NurPhoto (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Today’s smartphones are unfathomably feature-rich and durable, so it’s logical that sales have slowed.

A phone purchased 18 months ago is probably “good enough” for many consumers, especially in times of economic uncertainty.

Then again, of the record $ 111.4 billion in revenue Apple earned last quarter, $ 65.68 billion came from phone sales, largely driven by the release of the iPhone 12.

Even though “Apple’s success this quarter was kind of a perfect storm,” writes Hardware Editor Brian Heater, “it’s safe to project a rebound for the industry at large in 2021.”

The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder

Boy Standing with Dropped Ice Cream Cone

Image Credits: Randy Faris (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Finmark co-founder and CEO Rami Essaid wrote a post for Extra Crunch that candidly describes the traps he laid for himself that made him a less-effective entrepreneur.

As someone who’s worked closely with founders at several startups, each of the points he raised resonated deeply with me.

In my experience, many founders have a hard time delegating, which can quickly create cultural and operational problems. Rami’s experience bears this out:

“I became a human GPS: People could follow my directions, but they struggled to find the way themselves. Independent thinking suffered.”

Dear Sophie: How can I sponsor my mom and stepdad for green cards?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I just got my U.S. citizenship! My husband and I want to bring my mom and her husband to the U.S. to help us take care of our preschooler and toddler.

My biological dad passed away several years ago when I was an adult and my mom has since remarried.

Can they get green cards?

— Appreciative in Aptos

Check out the amazing speakers joining us on Extra Crunch Live in February

Extra Crunch Live February Schedule: February 3 Gaurav Gupta Lightspeed Venture Partners Raj Dutt Grafana Labs February 10 Aydin Senkut Felicis Kevin Busque Guideline February 17 Steve Loughlin Accel Jason Boehmig Ironclad February 24 Matt Harris Bain Capital Isaac Oates Justworks

Next month, Extra Crunch Live returns with a lineup of guests who are extremely well-qualified to discuss early-stage startups.

Each Wednesday at noon PPST/3 p.m. EST, join a conversation with founders and the investors who backed their companies:

February 3:

Gaurav Gupta (Lightspeed Venture Partners) + Raj Dutt (Grafana Labs)

February 10:

Aydin Senkut (Felicis Ventures) + Kevin Busque (Guideline)

February 17:

Steve Loughlin (Accel) + Jason Boehmig (Ironclad)

February 24:

Matt Harris (Bain Capital) + Isaac Oates (Justworks)

Also, we’re adding a new feature to Extra Crunch Live — our guests will offer advice and feedback on pitch decks submitted by Extra Crunch members in the audience!

10 VCs say interactivity, regulation and independent creators will reshape digital media in 2021

Photo of a young woman watching TV in the bedroom of her apartment; eating sushi and enjoying her night at home alone.

Image Credits: Aleksandar Nakic (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Since the pandemic disrupted the social rhythms of work and school, many of us have compensated by changing our relationship to digital media.

For instance, I purchased a new sofa and thicker living room curtains several months ago when I realized we have no idea when movie theaters will reopen.

Last year, podcast sponsors spent almost $ 800 million to reach listeners, but ad revenue is estimated to surpass $ 1 billion this year. Clearly, I’m not the only person who used a discount code to buy a new product in 2020.

At this point, I can scarcely keep track of the multiple streaming platforms I’m subscribed to, but a new voice-activated remote control that comes with my basic cable plan makes it easier to browse my options.

Media reporter Anthony Ha spoke to10 VCs who invest in media startups to learn more about where they see digital media heading in the months ahead. For starters, how much longer can we expect traditional advertising models to persist?

And in a world with hundreds of channels, how are creators supposed to compete for our attention? What sort of discovery tools can we expect to help us navigate between a police procedural set in a Scandinavian village and a 90s sitcom reboot?

Here’s who Anthony interviewed:

  • Daniel Gulati, founding partner, Forecast Fund
  • Alex Gurevich, managing director, Javelin Venture Partners
  • Matthew Hartman, partner, Betaworks Ventures
  • Jerry Lu, senior associate, Maveron
  • Jana Messerschmidt, partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners
  • Michael Palank, general partner, MaC Venture Capital (with additional commentary from MaC’s Marlon Nichols)
  • Pär-Jörgen Pärson, general partner, Northzone
  • M.G. Siegler, general partner, GV
  • Laurel Touby, managing director, Supernode Ventures
  • Hans Tung, managing partner, GGV Capital

Normally, we list each investor’s responses separately, but for this survey, we grouped their responses by question. Some readers say they use our surveys to study up on an individual VC before pitching them, so let us know which format you prefer.

Does a $ 27 billion or $ 29 billion valuation make sense for Databricks?

Data analytics platform Databricks is reportedly raising new capital that could value the company between $ 27 billion and $ 29 billion.

By the end of Q3 2020, Databricks had surpassed a $ 350 million run rate — a $ 150 million YoY increase, reports Alex Wilhelm.

At the time, he described the company as “an obvious IPO candidate” with “broad private-market options.”

Which begs the question: “Can we come up with a set of numbers that help make sense of Databricks at $ 27 billion?”

End-to-end operators are the next generation of consumer business

Tourist route to the top of the mountain. Rope bridge in the clouds. Crimea. Ai-Petri

Image Credits: Natalia Timchenko (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Rapid shifts in the way we buy goods and services disrupted old-school marketplaces like local newspapers and the Yellow Pages.

Today, I can use my phone to summon a plumber, a week’s worth of groceries or a ride to a doctor’s office.

End-to-end operators like Netflix, Peloton and Lemonade take a lot of time and energy to reach scale, but “the additional capital required is often outweighed by the value captured from owning the entire experience.”

Unpacking Chamath Palihapitiya’s SPAC deals for Latch and Sunlight Financial

On January 25, Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya tweeted that he was making two blank-check deals.

Enterprise SaaS company Latch makes keyless entry systems; Sunlight Financial helps consumers finance residential solar power installations.

“There are nearly 300 SPACs in the market today looking for deals,” noted Alex Wilhelm, who unpacked both transactions.

“There’s no escaping SPACs for a bit, so if you are tired of watching blind pools rip private companies into the public markets, you are not going to have a very good next few months.”

Fintechs could see $ 100 billion of liquidity in 2021

Long exposure spillway shines water and light. Copy space.

Image Credits: dan tarradellas (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

On Monday, we published the Matrix Fintech Index, a three-part study that weighs liquidity, public markets and e-commerce trends to create a snapshot of an industry in perpetual flux.

For four years running, the S&P 500 and incumbent financial services companies have been outperformed by companies like Afterpay, Square and Bill.com.

In light of steady VC investment, increasing consumer adoption and a crowded IPO pipeline, “fintech represents one of the most exciting major innovation cycles of this decade.”

Drupal’s journey from dorm-room project to billion-dollar exit

Dries Buytaert, co-founder and CTO at Acquia

Image Credits: Acquia

On January 15, 2001, then-college student Dries Buytaert released Drupal 1.0.0, an open-source content-management platform. At the time, about 7% of the world’s population was online.

After raising more than $ 180 million, Buytaert exited to Vista Equity Partners for $ 1 billion in 2019.

Enterprise reporter Ron Miller interviewed Buytaert to learn more about his 18-year journey.

“His story is compelling, but it also offers lessons for startup founders who also want to build something big,” says Ron.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


How to create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google

January 30, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • A sitemap is one of the technical sides of SEO.
  • A sitemap doesn’t boost your SEO traffic but helps search engines index your web pages faster.
  • It’s very easy to create an XML sitemap and doesn’t require any coding knowledge.
  • Once a sitemap is created, you need to submit it to Google.
  • Through your Google Search Console dashboard, you can see detailed index coverage reports and fix any technical errors if present.
  • Founder of WPMyWeb.com, Jyoti Ray guides you through the process of creating an XML sitemap using different tools and details on how you can fix existing sitemap errors.

When it comes to SEO, there are over hundreds of Google ranking factors you need to master as well as execute them in order to increase your search engine visibility. Believe me, it’s lots of work – generating content ideas, keyword researching, creating high-quality content, building backlinks, auditing your website, etc. And working on each of the techniques is time-consuming and requires lots of effort. Fortunately, there are some SEO techniques that are easier to perform but have a huge impact on SEO. One of them is – submitting an XML sitemap to Google.

Although a sitemap is one of the parts of “technical SEO”, it doesn’t require any technical knowledge, and most importantly, it’s free and easier to create.

Even, in just 10-15 minutes, you can create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google.

So, in this article, we will first explain what is an XML sitemap, why do you need a sitemap, and then show you how to create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google. Let’s get started.

What is an XML sitemap?

A sitemap is a list of a website’s URLs. It’s a roadmap of a website that tells Google what information is available and where to find it. A sitemap contains important information about each URL, such as – when a post or page was last updated, how often do you change, etc.

The best part of a sitemap is that you can specify what pages, posts, or media files to be indexed by search engines crawlers.

Sitemaps are specially written for search engines, not for humans. So, it would be hard for us to understand if not seen before.

Here’s how an XML sitemap looks:

XML sitemap example

Source

Why do you need a sitemap?

Search engines use crawlers to find and index all the information on the web. While crawling a page, they use both internal and external links to discover new content.

However, if a new webpage hasn’t linked from other known pages, crawlers find it difficult to discover new pages on a website, and as a result, the indexing process gets delayed.

That’s where a sitemap comes.

A sitemap doesn’t only contain a bunch of valuable links but also helps Search Engine crawlers to discover new information faster.

Once you submit your XML sitemap file to Google, you can see that all new posts/pages you are publishing are available somewhere on Google search results (after a couple of minutes). It’s because of the sitemap file.

When do you need to use a sitemap?

Not everyone needs a sitemap. Google has its own complex algorithm to schedule crawling.

Google officially stated when a webmaster needs a sitemap:

  • Your website is really large
  • Your website is brand new and has few external links pointing to it
  • You don’t build internal links

However, in most cases, having a sitemap could be beneficial in a few ways.

Now I know the basics of a sitemap, let’s see how to create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google.

How to create an XML sitemap

Creating a sitemap is very simple. You can use an online tool to generate an XML sitemap and for WordPress sites, there are plenty of plugins available.

I will show both of them.

1. Creating a sitemap in WordPress

More than 35% of the total websites are powered by WordPress.

If you run a WordPress site, you can create a sitemap using a plugin.

There are several WordPress plugins available that allow you to create an XML sitemap, such as Yoast SEO, Rank Math SEO, etc.

Method 1, Create a sitemap using Yoast SEO

Yoast is one of the best SEO plugins for WordPress. Yoast plugin helps you to optimize your page titles, meta descriptions, SEO analysis, etc.

It also has an option to create an XML sitemap.

If you are not using the Yoast SEO plugin, download and install it from the WordPress plugin directory.

Follow the steps below

From your WordPress admin panel, go to Plugins > Add New and search for “Yoast SEO”.

Creating an XML sitemap using the Yoast plugin

Once activated, go to SEO > General > Features. Click on the Question icon to reveal the sitemap URL.

Yoast SEO Sitemap

Method two – Creating a sitemap using Rank Math SEO

If you are using the Rankmath SEO plugin, you can generate a sitemap like the way you created using the Yoast SEO plugin.

But, I prefer using the Rank Math plugin because it gives more advanced options that are missing in Yoast SEO.

First, log in to your WordPress dashboard and go to Plugins > Add New.

Search for “Rank Math” and install it.

Rank Math

Upon activation, go to Rank Math > sitemap Settings.

From there, you can set how many links you want per sitemap page, exclude URLs, images in posts, etc.

At the top, you can see your sitemap URL which looks like:

“https://www.website.com/sitemap_index.xml”

Rank Math Sitemap

Now, you are ready to submit to Google Search Console.

2. Creating a sitemap without a CMS

If you are not using any CMS, you can still generate a sitemap.

For this case, Screaming Frog would be a great option. Screaming Frog is a desktop-based program (available on Windows & Mac) that crawls your website. The software comes both in free and premium versions.

If your site has less than 500 URLs, you can start using the free version of Screaming Frog to generate a sitemap.

Follow the steps given below

Once downloaded and installed, open the software on your computer.

At the top of the screen, enter your website URL and click on Start.

Using Screaming Frog for creating an XML sitemap

It will start crawling your site and may take a few minutes to finish.

Once the crawl is finished, take a look at what pages are being crawled.

If the number is below 500, then you are good to go.

From the top of the menu section, click on sitemap > XML sitemaps.

Screaming Frog Sitemap

You can also include or exclude any options that you want in your sitemap file, such as Noindex pages, last modified date, Paginated URLs, PDFs, Images, etc.

I recommend keeping this default, however, you are free to make any modifications.

Once done, hit on the Export button and save the file on your computer.

Your XML sitemap file is ready to use.

3. Creating a sitemap in Wix

If you are using Wix, then you don’t need to manually create a sitemap.

Wix does it automatically.

You can view your sitemap file by going to “your-wix-site.com/sitemap.xml”.

However, in Wix, you wouldn’t have much control over your sitemap.

If you want to exclude a page from the sitemap, simply go to the “SEO (Google)” settings tab under page settings and turn off “Show this page in search results”.

Creating a sitemap on Wix

Note: Wix recommends that you submit your sitemap each time you make any changes.

4. Creating a sitemap in Squarespace

Like Wix, Squarespace also creates a sitemap automatically.

You can view your sitemap by adding “/sitemap.xml” at the end of your website’s URL, which is “your-website.com/sitemap.xml”.

You can’t manually edit your sitemap in Squarespace, however, you can exclude pages from search results.

To perform this, go to Page setting and check “Hide this page from search engine results” in the SEO tab.

Squarespace Sitemap

5. Creating a sitemap in Shopify

Shopify automatically generates an XML sitemap file for you. You can view your sitemap file by going to “your-website.com/sitemap.xml”.

The generated sitemap contains all the products, collections, blogs, and webpages. The sitemap files automatically updated when made any changes.

Now your sitemap file is ready for submission.

Suggested read – How to optimize your Shopify site for SEO

How to submit an XML sitemap to Google

Now you have just created an XML sitemap file, it’s time for submitting to Google.

For this, you will need to connect your Google Search Console account with your website. Here’s the step by step procedure by Google.

Once connected, log in to your Google Search Console account and select your website.

From the dashboard, click on the sitemaps.

You will see the option “Add a new sitemap”. Enter your sitemap URL in the blank field, and hit the Submit button.

Google Search Console Submit Sitemap

That’s it. Now, sit back and relax. Google will take care of the rest.

Fixing your sitemap errors to improve SEO

Generally, if your site consists of one or more technical errors, it’s really hard to figure it out. However, in most cases, it’s not even detectable unless you use a paid site auditor tool.

But, there is good news for you.

If you have submitted your sitemap to Google, you can see detailed index coverage reports to check if there is any technical error present on your site.

Log in to your Google Search Console account, and click on Coverage.

Then click on the Error, Valid with a warning, Valid, and Excluded tab to get the details.

Google Search Console XML Sitemap Coverage

From there, you can check pages for:

  • Indexed but blocked by robots.txt
  • Pages that have a server error (5xx)
  • Excluded by ‘noindex’ tag
  • Crawled but not indexed
  • Not found (404)
  • Page with redirect
  • Blocked by robots.txt, and many more

Google Search Console Sitemap Coverage Error Details

Click on each of the error pages to check what you need to fix. Once done, you can request Google to mark it as fixed by clicking on Validate Fix.

Once you fix all the technical errors with the help of your XML sitemap file, you can see a significant improvement in your search traffic.

Conclusion

Creating an XML sitemap is very simple and doesn’t require any technical skills. If you are using WordPress, you can create a sitemap using SEO plugins in just a few clicks. It’s also easier if you are not using any CMS.

There is no evidence that a sitemap boosts your website’s SEO, but it helps Google to find and index your website’s content faster. I also recommend you use a sitemap.

Submitting a sitemap to Google is just a tiny part of the full SEO game.

Jyoti Ray is the Founder of WPMyWeb.com. He writes about blogging, WordPress tutorials, hosting, and affiliate marketing.

The post How to create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Search Engine Watch


Eight simple steps to write epic product descriptions that boost conversions

January 29, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • Issues with increasing your site’s organic traffic may be attributed to low organic CTRs.
  • Creative title tags helps your site create a positive first impression.
  • Limit your meta description to under 160 characters to avoid truncation.
  • A well-optimized, keyword-rich URL can increase organic CTRs by 45%.
  • Leverage the power of rich results to steal SERP real estate from your competitors.

Product descriptions are an integral part of your sales funnel. By infusing creativity and perfect optimization, you not only can improve your marketing copy but also boost your ecommerce conversion rate. 

Since online buying doesn’t allow customers to have a tactile buying experience, ecommerce store owners have to put in extra effort to prove that their product is the right fit for the customers. 

The biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is they write product descriptions for the sake of describing their product features only. However, the fact is that marketers should create descriptions that help them accentuate their product pages.

Ideally, your product descriptions should represent a unique value proposition alongside offering the perfect solution to an annoying problem. 

Online sellers that don’t overlook the significance of creative product descriptions witness lower bounce rates and better ecommerce conversion rate than stores that don’t get this step right.

In this article, you’ll learn how to write epic product descriptions that boost conversions. So without any further delay, let’s get started.

What is a product description?

A product description is a marketing copy that contains information about key product features and benefits. The goal of the product description is to provide customers with information and specifics to encourage them to want to invest their money in your products and services.

As a general rule, your descriptions should provide answers to the following questions:

  • “What problem does your product solve?”
  • “What does your buyer gain from using this product?”
  • “What sets your product apart from the rest of the competition?”

Essentials of a good product description

Before we highlight the eight simple steps to writing compelling product descriptions, we’re going to have a quick look at some of the essentials you should incorporate in your descriptions to convince shoppers to reach their credit cards and make a purchase.

Keyword enrichment

Keywords keep your product descriptions visible in front of search engines. Integrating the right mix of keywords into your product copy helps Google deliver results that direct potential customers to your product pages.

Here the key is to maintain the perfect balance as too little optimization leaves you unnoticed, while too much appears as keyword stuffing.

Customer engagement

A winning product description should demonstrate how your product fills a need in the customer’s life.

A description that only highlights product features cannot engage the reader or boost ecommerce conversions. Why? Because it is focusing on generic elements only instead of providing a real-time solution to the customer’s problems. 

Highlighting specifics

Poorly-written descriptions are generally boring and unappealing. Most of the time, they contain duplicate content (that you get from your manufacturer).

The information you provide regarding product benefits and features should address potential customer’s queries (even before they’re asked).

Frequent updates

Your product pages constantly evolve based upon different factors, including page conversions, bounce rates, and the latest trends. Just ensure you keep tracking changes and adjust your product copy accordingly for the best results. 

Eight simple steps to writing epic product descriptions that boost conversions

1. Focus on your target audience

You’ll have to know your target audience before you write product descriptions for your e-commerce store. 

Trying to write a copy with a huge crowd of customers in mind will result in descriptions that are not targeted. 

Also, the tone and vocabulary you should use in descriptions solely depend on the type of audience you’re writing for. For example, if you run a toy store online, your descriptions should sound fun and humorous. Similarly, if you sell fitness pills or any other type of medicine, you should keep your tone professional.

The process starts by imagining your ideal buyer. Try to find out the best words and phrases that your target audience appreciates and uses regularly.

2. Sell an experience

The biggest ecommerce store mistake owners make is they only focus on individual product benefits and features. 

But did you know your potential customers are more interested in the perks of each feature separately? Here, the key is to highlight the advantages of each of your product features. Talk about specs that will help your buyers feel more productive and happy.

Remember, your goal as a marketer is to sell an experience and not just a product. 

3. Do not include “yeah-yeah” phrases

Writing creative product descriptions isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a creative skill that requires owners to create a copy that instantly grabs their customer’s attention. 

Sadly, the majority of online sellers write descriptions because they feel it’s a part of the entire process. Especially when they’re stuck with words, they try to incorporate filler words and phrases, such as, ‘premium-quality products’, ‘top-rated products’,  and the like.

These phrases are called the ‘yeah-yeah’ phrases in the ecommerce world. As soon as a website visitor goes through such words and phrases, they think, yeah, yeah, that’s pretty obvious. After all, nobody ranks its product quality as below-average or bad. 

To avoid this reaction, you must stick to the basics. Try to be as specific as possible and highlight technical aspects instead of just bragging about your product quality and benefits.

4. Provide specific proof

Superlatives mean nothing unless you have the proof to back them up. Make sure you have evidence to prove why your product is the best.

For instance, if you deal with electronic products, you can talk about patents, their construction, quality certifications, etc.

The idea is to give your readers the impression that there is something special about your offer. If you don’t have the references to prove that your product is a real deal, you must tone your copy down. Alternatively, you can also quote a customer testimonial to show that there are people who think your product is the best thing they have experienced so far.

5. Include sensory words

Research suggests that sensory words engage more brain processing power and help improve the ecommerce conversion rate.

What are Sensory Words?

Sensory words are descriptive. They explain how we experience the world using our five senses.

Let’s suppose you run a chocolate store online. You can use more sensory adjectives like smooth, crunchy, velvety, sweet, aromatic, and crisp to your descriptions to dazzle your readers.

Similarly, people tend to trust brands that have high-quality images included in their products. 

Words, such as ‘you’, ‘new’, ‘guaranteed’, and ‘free’ are Power words that make your descriptions sound more effective and help your customers experience your copy while reading. 

6. Use a scannable design

Instead of throwing words in front of your customers, make sure you spend time and energy in creating descriptions that look more organized and professional.

Use white spaces, headlines, and bullets to highlight each product benefit separately. The more readable your product descriptions are, the better your customers will comprehend the associated benefits.

If you sell smartphones, you’ll want to convert specs into a checklist or bullet points for an easy read. Don’t forget to use the right font to improve readability and increase conversions.

7. Split test it

No matter how professional your product descriptions look at first glance, you must always split test them for different factors.

Split testing, also known as A/B testing, enables owners to compare two different variants of the same thing to determine which performs better. 

Test your descriptions for different formats, lengths, fonts, and more. With this info at hand, you can better optimize your product pages and boost ecommerce conversions.

8. Include all the details

The goal of writing a compelling product description copy is to provide your potential customers with all the relevant details, specs, and info they might need to make a purchase.

For example, if you sell footwear or apparel online, your product page should include every possible detail, including size charts, care instructions, material info, and other details to help your customers choose the right product for themselves.

Similarly, if you sell any food items, you must highlight allergen details and ingredients to improve the user experience

Bonus tips

Write your own product descriptions

Never copy/paste descriptions you get from your manufacturer. The same manufacturer supplies products to multiple stores, and if they’re also using similar descriptions, your store will have difficulty getting its due place in SERPs. 

Also, you’ll be at higher risk of getting penalized due to duplicate content. 

It’s crucial to understand that product descriptions provide ecommerce store owners with an opportunity to show the creative side of their business. It’s your chance to prove to your potential customers that your products offer the best value for their money.

If you think writing compelling product descriptions isn’t your cup of tea, you can also hire a creative copywriter to do this job for you. 

Use online tools

Also, if hiring a copywriter isn’t an option currently, you may also leverage different tools available online. 

You can also hire someone from online academic writing services to create descriptions. 

Basic tools, such as Grammarly, Cite It In, etc will help you refine your descriptions. Also, you can use keyword research tools to determine the most appropriate keywords you can use for your descriptions. 

Optimize your descriptions for better conversions

Whether it’s your product descriptions, the About Us section on your website, or your blogs, you have to ensure that every content piece available on your website is optimized for SEO.

Again, there are different online tools available for this purpose. The idea is to find out keywords that are relevant to your product. For example, if you dropship cosmetics online, you can choose keywords like ‘MAC highlighters’, ‘Maybelline Red Lipsticks’, and more. 

Here, it is crucial to understand that the unnecessary use of keywords is going to ruin your ranking.  

Here are a few tips you must consider before you write SEO-optimized product descriptions for your e-store:

  • Include keywords in headings/subheadings
  • Do not write for search engines
  • Leverage LSI keywords
  • Optimize product images and videos
  • Avoid keyword stuffing at any cost

Use the right tone

Your tone of voice says it all. With the right tone, you can target customers who are truly interested in your product range.

As mentioned above, your tone should be in line with the type of products and services you’re selling online. Those selling life vests or coffins cannot use a casual tone. Similarly, those selling fun products, like swimming pools, fashion accessories, or costumes must stick to a tone that is lively and engaging.

All in all, your descriptions should represent the unique personality of your business. It’s also crucial to keep your brand tone in mind before you write descriptions for your business

Spell check your work

Carefully go through your descriptions to ensure there are no grammar mistakes and typos. 

Key takeaways

There you have it – Eight simple steps to write epic product descriptions that boost conversions.

The good thing about these steps is that they’re all tried and tested, meaning you can implement them right away without worrying about the results. 

Have questions or are looking to add something valuable to this list? Drop your feedback in the comments section below. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Ricky Hayes is the Co-Founder and Head of Marketing at Debutify – free Shopify theme, helping drop shippers build high-converting stores in minutes. He is a passionate entrepreneur running multiple businesses, marketing agencies, and mentoring programs.

The post Eight simple steps to write epic product descriptions that boost conversions appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Search Engine Watch


Coffee Talk Has Become a Quiet Success in a Turbulent Year

January 29, 2021 No Comments

It’s the one-year anniversary of players creating custom drinks and having conversations with vampires, werewolves, and more in this narrative-driven game.
Feed: All Latest


How to Use Video Ads to Build Consumer Trust in Your eCommerce Company

January 29, 2021 No Comments

Learn how your eCommerce company can project competence, knowledge, and empathy with video ads to earn your prospects’ trust!

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero


Five hacks to enhance your organic CTR and rankings in SERPs

January 28, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • Issues with increasing your site’s organic traffic may be attributed to low organic CTRs.
  • Creative title tags helps your site create a positive first impression.
  • Limit your meta description to under 160 characters to avoid truncation.
  • A well-optimized, keyword-rich URL can increase organic CTRs by 45%.
  • Leverage the power of rich results to steal SERP real estate from your competitors.

Appearing in Google search engine results pages (SERPs) is a must-have for any business looking to further their online presence and increase their market share. But if your goal is to grow your website traffic or increase sales, merely appearing on the first page isn’t enough. With Google progressively changing from a search engine into an answer engine, more and more search users are completing their search without leaving the SERPs. To win in today’s zero-click era, it’s become paramount for businesses to occupy more real estate in SERPs and be more visually engaging to search users. If your website is having little luck with increasing its organic traffic, your troubles may be attributed to low organic click-through-rates (CTR). Improving click-through performance is an essential facet of ensuring long-term online success, both on and off Google. 

So what can you do to improve your site’s organic CTR?

Whether you run an e-commerce shop, operate a cooking blog, or manage your client’s site, these five well-tested CTR enhancing techniques will positively boost your organic CTRs, driving more targeted traffic to your site.

And the best part? All of these techniques are easily actionable and are all within your control.

Let’s get started.

1. Get creative with your title tags

A traditional organic SERP listing has three main elements:

Headline: A blue clickable link that denotes the title of the page.

Description: A brief snippet of what contents can be found on the page.

URL: The internet address of a specific web resource.

Your search listing’s title tag (the headline) has significant importance to both the search engine and its users. As an HTML element, search engines use your title tag to understand better the information contained within the page.

Search visitors, on the other hand, use the title tag found in SERPs to make a first impression about your business. Because it’s displayed in a prominent blue color, how you craft your title tag can be a make-or-break factor in its clickability, impacting organic CTR.

But search results aren’t the only places where title tags are used. Because the <title> tag element is found in your page’s HTML code, your title is also displayed at the top of your web browser’s tab and when your content is shared across social media networks.

So how should you write title tags to make them irresistible to search visitors?

Here are five fundamentals to apply to your title tag writing

Aim for a title tag length of 35-55 characters

According to research performed by Backlinko, title tags between 15 and 40 characters have the highest CTR. A title this short, however, can provide a challenge – how do you fit your keywords in and make the title tag compelling? 

In my experience, the sweet spot for a title tag is 35-55 characters in length. A length in that range keeps the title tag short and punchy and ensures it does not truncate in search results, which generally happens at around 60 characters or 600 pixels.  

Use tools like SERP Simulator and SERP Preview Tool to check title tag length.

Place your primary keyword closer to the beginning

Frontloading your title tag with your target keyword increases that keyword’s prominence, giving more weight to its importance. Plus, most users typically only see the first two words of any given headline. Placing your keyword at the beginning helps to make the keyword more obvious, and thus appear more relevant to users scanning the SERPs.

Never keyword stuff

While keyword placement is essential, avoid titles that are just filled with irrelevant keywords or variations of your target keyword. Title tags stuffed full of keywords are unappealing to search users and are CTR killers.  

Add emphasis on capitalization

Capitalizing the first letter of every word in your title tag is general copywriting best practice. To make your title tag stand out even more and add emphasis to high-impact words, consider capitalizing the occasional odd word.

Minimize the use of stop words

Stop words like “a”, “the”, “on”, “or”, and, “etc.”, can add unnecessary length to your already restricted character limit. To better position your title tag, use high impact, power words like best, exclusive, insane, and so on.

Once you’ve mastered the art of title-tag writing, it’s time to move on to the next step.

2. Meta descriptions

The snippet below the headline in the SERPs is commonly (but not always) pulled from your page’s meta description. In addition, an HTML element, the purpose of a meta description is to summarize a web page’s content.

And like your page title tag, a well-written meta description can positively influence CTRs. 

These 155 characters can influence 43% of search users to click on your site. And with nine out of ten search users clicking on organic search results vs paid advertisement, meta descriptions are your opportunity to draw some attention to your site.

How to write the perfect meta description

When it comes to writing the most compelling meta description for search results, start by researching SERPs. Having oversight on what your competitors are doing will help you better assess what descriptions are click-worthy among your target audience.

Here’s a quick checklist you can use to ensure your meta description is highly clickable:

  • Stick to Google’s optimal length

To optimize your meta description, be sure to keep the page’s summary under 160 characters and 130 characters for mobile searches. 

  • Add your most important keywords

Be sure to include your target keyword(s) in the description so they get highlighted in bold within search results.

  • Write descriptive copy

To further create snippets that entice search users to click, avoid generic descriptions as much as possible.

  • Don’t duplicate descriptions 

The pages of your site should have unique meta descriptions. Duplicating descriptions can cause Google to penalize your site.

  • Include a call-to-action
  • To add value to your description and entice more clicks, write your description with advertising in mind. 

If you have a lot of pages on your site, just focus on optimizing the most important pages. Why is this you would ask? 

Because Google ignores the meta description tag for 63% of queries. Focussing your efforts on pages getting little SERP visibility is not worth the time, especially when Google’s descriptions perform equally well, and sometimes better than custom descriptions.

Now that title tags and meta descriptions have been addressed, it’s time to turn our attention to URLs.

3. Use descriptive URLs

The third element of a traditional search listing is your page URL. And studies have shown that a well-optimized, keyword-rich URL can increase organic CTRs by 45%.

After all, when it comes to URLs in search results, wouldn’t you prefer to click on example.com/blog/ten-tips-for-seo-success rather than example.com/index.php?=5754225=t44=?p=987?

So what are the steps necessary to craft click-worthy SEO-friendly URLs?

The first step is to include the exact keyword you’d like to target in your URL.

When writing out your URL, avoid using special characters, stop words, and numbers. Special characters like the ampersand or “&” and numbers are best suited for your page title tag or header tag. Be sure also to only use lowercase letters and hyphens to separate words rather than underscores.

Lastly, keep your URL length short. Some studies have shown there is a correlation between shorter URLs and higher rankings. The average URL length of top-ten ranking pages is 66 characters.

Now that you grasp the basic SERP strategies to increase CTR performance let’s take a look at two advanced techniques you can start using on your site.

4. Turn your title tag donkeys into CTR unicorns

While it may be tempting to simply write a title tag and forget it, to get the very best results from your organic listing, you need to constantly optimize your title tags. As Larry Kim shows, this requires testing new variations and measuring their performance. 

The best way to fully optimize your title tags is to determine your site’s worst performers. These title tags we’ll call your donkeys. The best way to assess which title tags are underperforming is by going to Google Search Console and downloading your query data.

Once you have your query data, plot a graph that compares your Click-Through-Rates vs. Average Position for any queries you rank for in organic search. Add a trend line to your graph.

Now that you have your graph, target the keywords below the graph’s curve. These are your site’s biggest donkeys, the pages with the highest number of impressions but deliver lower than expected CTR for their ranking position.

To maximize your efforts, rather than testing new title tags and comparing their performance over time, consider doing some Google Ads “blitz testing.”

Blitz testing requires you to create a set of ads for the page you’re optimizing and testing at least 10 different headlines. 10 headlines are the bare minimum for blitz testing because it gives you a better chance at finding the headline that resonates best with your audience.

When you find your statistical unicorn from the Google Ads test, use that headline as your title tag on your re-optimized page.

The last hack we’ll be looking at will not only bring more visibility to your listing, but it has also been shown to bring in 2.7x more traffic from organic search.

5. Rich results

Leveraging the power of rich snippets allows your listing to occupy more SERP real estate and improve the visual elements of your SERP result, helping your site increase its organic CTR while satisfying search intent.

To experience success with rich snippets from organic search, it pays to know the most common schema types. While there are dozens of different rich snippets available, not every single one can be adapted for your business. Some are event industry-specific like flight information.

The most common schema types that will work for the majority of businesses competing in the SERPs include:

  • Review snippets: Displays a star and numeric rating below the meta description.
  • Recipe rich data snippet: Provides a step-by-step overview of a specific recipe.
  • How-To snippets: Provides step-by-step instructions for a specific task.
  • Sitelinks: Adds navigational links to key pages on your site below the meta description.
  • Search box snippet: Displays your site’s internal search box within SERPs.
  • Product snippet: Displays product information (price, reviews, stock availability) in SERPs.
  • Video snippet: Displays video information (thumbnail URL, upload date, transcript, etc.) in SERPs.
  • FAQ snippet: Presents commonly-asked questions and answers in the search results.

Now that you have a clearer understanding of the type of rich snippets available to you, follow this seven-step process to publish structured data onto your site:

  • Visit Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.
  • Select the snippet type you’d like to create.
  • Paste your URL or HTML source to the markup helper.
  • Highlight the page elements you want to be included in the structured data.
  • Click the Create HTML button.
  • Copy and paste your generated structured data onto your page HTML.
  • Preview and test your new rich snippet in Google’s Rich Results Test.

Once you run your test, your schema markup will create a report that states the eligibility of your rich snippet. The information will also show any issues or warnings that will need to be fixed before your page can be published.

It should be noted, though, that having validated structured data in your page’s code doesn’t automatically guarantee that your search listing will display a rich snippet. Google will always provide the search user with the best search experience which, at times, may not require a rich snippet.

Now it’s your turn

By using the strategies above, your site can start to experience more organic traffic. This can significantly contribute to greater overall online success and, ultimately, increased site conversions. What’s more, the strategies provided here increase site traffic without creating more content or building more links.

With organic click-through-rates already on the decline, adapting these tips and tactics to your site will allow your brand to remain competitive in the current zero-click search landscape.

And the best part? All of the strategies mentioned here can also be used by any business, regardless of SEO experience or marketing budget.

Karl Tablante is Inbound Marketing Manager at SEO Sherpa.

The post Five hacks to enhance your organic CTR and rankings in SERPs appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Search Engine Watch


TikTok is being used by vape sellers marketing to teens

January 27, 2021 No Comments

TikTok has a vaping problem. Although a 2019 U.S. law made it illegal to sell or market e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 21, TikTok videos featuring top brands of disposable e-cigarettes and vapes for sale have been relatively easy to find on the app. These videos, set to popular and upbeat music, clearly target a teenage customer base with offers of now-unauthorized cartridge flavors like fruit and mint in the form of a disposable vape. Some sellers even promote their “discreet” packaging services, where the vapes they ship to customers can be hidden from parents’ prying eyes by being placed under the package’s stuffing or tucked inside other products, like makeup bags or fuzzy slippers.

Interest in flavored, disposable vapes that appeal to teens and young adults, in particular, has been growing in the wake of the FDA’s Juul crackdown.

In February 2020, the FDA first began to take enforcement action against illegally marketed e-cigarette devices, including those offering flavors besides tobacco or menthol, as well as those targeted towards minors — an action that was designed to target Juul.

As a result, disposable vapes like Puff Bar were adopted by some young people who were still in search of flavors like bubblegum, peach, strawberry and others. These cheaper disposables were easy to find, and continued to be available at convenience stores and gas stations.

But they’re also all over TikTok, ready to be shipped with anyone with a way to pay.

What’s more, when this content is reported to TikTok, it’s not always taken down.

TechCrunch found vape sellers marketing on TikTok who have been using the app to communicate with customers through both videos and comments. They also direct viewers to what appear to be illegally operating websites. Their TikTok videos often show off the seller’s current inventory of vapes, including disposables like Puff Bar in teen-friendly flavors.

Essentially, the sellers are using TikTok as a way to create vape advertisements they don’t have to pay for that are capable of reaching young consumers — an audience whose interest in vaping hasn’t necessarily declined because of the FDA’s action.

According to nonprofit tobacco control organization Truth Initiative’s latest study, use of Juul decreased between 2019 and 2020, but it remains the most popular e-cigarette brand among 10th and 12th graders who were current vapers at 41%. The report also found that disposable products such as Puff Bar (8%) and Smok (13.1%) have gained during this time.

“Taken together, the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) and the new e-cigarette sales data report illustrate how the current federal policy enabled youth to quickly migrate to menthol e-cigarettes (especially Juul menthol pods) when mint-flavored products were removed from the marketplace, and for inexpensive, flavored disposable e-cigarettes such as Puff Bar to soar in popularity,” Truth stated in September 2020.

“With kid magnet names like cotton candy and banana ice, the market share of disposable products nearly doubled in just 10 months from August 2019 to May 2020,” it said.

The scale of the problem on TikTok is also significant.

Today, U.S. teens account for an estimated 32.5% of TikTok’s U.S. active users, according to third-party estimates published by Statista. The company has around 100 million monthly active users in the U.S., it said last year.

Meanwhile, videos tagged with popular vape and e-cigarette brands and keywords have racked up hundreds of millions of views.

For example, the hashtag for leading vape brand Juul (#juul) has 623.9 million views on TikTok, as of the time of writing.

Puff Bar, the maker of a single-use vaping product with Chinese origins, has 449.8 million views for the hashtag #puffbar. Other brands have some traction, as well. #NJOY has 55.3 million views, #smok has 40.1 million views, and British Tobacco’s #Vuse has 5 million views.

These are just the views associated with the hashtag itself. For every search, there are multiple variations. For instance, #puffbars, #puffbarplus and #puffbardealer have 66.8 million views, 9.6 million views and 8.9 million views, respectively. Tags like #juulgang (590.4 million views) have become popular enough that anti-vaping content creators have adopted them as a means of counter-programming against vaping content.

These trends are particularly concerning given the large, young demographic that uses TikTok. A third of its U.S. users may be 14 or under, in fact.

In the U.S. App Store, TikTok is rated for ages 12 and up and on Google Play, its content rating is “Teen.” But while TikTok has modified the default privacy settings for young people’s accounts and has been quick to block other controversial hashtags in the past (like those around U.S. election conspiracies), it has allowed vaping-related content to remain easy to find.

In addition to the popular vaping hashtags prevalent on TikTok, we uncovered numerous vape sellers operating under obvious account names such as “@puffsonthelow,” “@PuffUniverse” and “@Puffbarcafe,” for example. Their pages were filled with vape videos boldly marketing their current selections, hashtagged with vape-related terms like #puffbarchallenge, #puffplus, #vapetricks and others.

In some cases, we found vape sellers had even tagged their videos with #kids and other trending tags.

Knowing that their target market is often teenage vapers, many videos depicted how the seller could package the vape inside another product or hide it in the stuffing so parents wouldn’t find out. We saw videos of vapes packaged underneath candy, inside makeup bags, inside socks, underneath other lager products, and more.

Through links published to the account’s profile or referenced in the videos, TikTok users are redirected to the sellers’ websites or even Discord channels where they would only sometimes be presented with an age verification pop-up.

Often, they could just add items to a basket and check out. Many sellers also directed their customers to pay using PayPal, Venmo and/or Cash App, instead of accepting standard credit card payments.

None of this is legal, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a leading American nonprofit focused on reducing tobacco consumption, particularly among youth.

“It’s illegal to market these products or to engage in marketing that appeals directly to anybody under the age of 21,” Matt Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, told TechCrunch. “And it’s illegal to actually conduct a sales transaction without age verification.”

Image Credits: TikTok screenshot

Plus, he adds, clicking a box on a website that says “I’m over 21,” does not qualify as a legal age verification for making these sales.

The FDA hasn’t issued specific guidance around online retail, but the law is clear that checking IDs is required to ensure retailers aren’t selling to underage users. That’s not happening with a pop-up box, and often there’s no box at all.

In addition, the FDA reminded TechCrunch that Congress recently established new limits on the mailing and delivery of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products through the United States Postal Service and through other carriers, which should limit access to these sorts of products through online retail purchases.

Myers, however, points out that the current FDA guidelines have made enforcement of this sort of “social” vape marketing more difficult than necessary.

“The images you’re seeing, the use of influencers, and the kinds of offers you’re seeing are governed by a federal standard by the FDA, which is very broad and very general,” Myers says. “The FDA’s failure to articulate clear, specific guidelines means that everyone is in a constant what I call ‘whack-a-mole.’”

Enforcement, then, often depends on the FDA stepping in, which Myers says happens “on a very sporadic basis.”

“In many respects, the behaviors, the actions and the things you’re seeing do violate the law. But the mechanisms for implementing it that were put in place under this past administration are woefully weak and inadequate,” he says.

Image Credits: screenshots of TikTok

Another complicating factor is that public health groups — like the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, for instance — don’t have a relationship with TikTok, as they do with other social networks.

Over the last couple of years, over 100 public health groups came together to ask leading social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to clamp down on tobacco-related content and the use of influencers in marketing. As a result of these efforts, Facebook and Instagram implemented new rules to prohibit social media influencers from promoting tobacco-related products and developed algorithms to pick up on that sort of content.

Overall, the health organizations have reported seeing a reduction in tobacco and vape content on top social platforms, but these efforts have not yet included TikTok.

The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids has not given TikTok a comprehensive review, Myers admits, due to the app still being relatively new.  But from what the organization has seen so far, TikTok is of growing concern.

“We’ve seen some of the most egregious marketing, use of influencers, direct offers of sale to young people [which] appear to be gravitating over to TikTok,” Myers says. “And we don’t see any evidence that TikTok has actually done anything.”

TikTok can’t claim ignorance of the problem, either.

Image Credits: TikTok screenshot

When a vape seller who unabashedly advertised “no ID check” was reported to TikTok through its built-in reporting mechanism, TikTok’s content moderation team said the content didn’t violate its guidelines. This same response was given when other vape sellers were reported, as well. (See below.)

TikTok claims this shouldn’t be happening. The company told us that it will remove accounts dedicated to posting vaping or e-cigarette content as soon as it becomes aware of them, and will reset account bios that link to off-platform tobacco or vaping sites.

It also says its Community Guidelines prohibit content that suggests, depicts, imitates, or promotes the possession or consumption of tobacco by a minor, and content that offers instruction targeting minors on how to buy, sell, or trade tobacco. And it doesn’t permit tobacco ads.

Image Credits: screenshots of TikTok reports

Reached for comment over whether it was aware of the problems on TikTok, an FDA spokesperson said it does not discuss specific compliance and enforcement activities.

However, the spokesperson said the agency will closely monitor retailer, manufacturer, importer, and distributor compliance with federal tobacco laws and regulations and take corrective action when violations occur. In addition, the FDA said it conducts routine monitoring and surveillance of tobacco labeling, advertising and other promotional activities, including activities on the internet.

What’s been making matters more confusing is that the FDA has been accepting premarket applications for flavored vape devices, but has so far refused to list which companies — Puff Bar or otherwise — may have filed for these. That means health organizations don’t know which products the FDA has under review.

But the Agency told TechCrunch that regardless of whether a premarket application has been submitted, it’s enforcing lack of marketing authorization for any product where the manufacturer “is not taking adequate measures to prevent youth access to these products.”

That statement would then include these online Puff Bar retailers and their TikTok marketing efforts.

The FDA added that it has taken action against Puff Bar, specifically, in recent days.

It sent a warning letter to Cool Clouds Distribution, Inc. d/b/a Puff Bar, last July, notifying the company that it was marketing new tobacco products that lacked marketing authorization and that such products, as a result, were adulterated and misbranded.

Earlier this month, as part of an ongoing joint operation with the FDA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 33,681 units of e-cigarettes, which included disposable flavored e-cigarette cartridges resembling the Puff Bar brand, including Puff XXL and Puff Flow, we’re told.

TikTok confirmed the activity we’re documenting is in violation of its guidelines and policies, but could not explain why there’s been such a disconnect between that policy and its enforcement actions.

“We are committed to the safety and well-being of our TikTok community, and we strictly prohibit content that depicts or promotes the possession or consumption of tobacco and drugs by minors,” a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We will remove accounts that are identified as being dedicated to promoting vaping, and we do not allow ads for vaping products.”


Social – TechCrunch