I’ve found that most of my clients know a little something about SEO, but they’re not exactly sure how to make it work for them as well as it should. Teaching SEO to clients should be part of the client management services that you provide during SEO sales presentations.
SEO is a broad topic that covers a lot of ground. The challenge lies in how to explain SEO is communicating all the ways that you can enhance SEO in terms that clients can understand so that it doesn’t seem so much like a foreign language.
I’ve found that my clients have a better understanding of the value of SEO when I can help them understand its significance in today’s digital marketing plans and speak to them about it without being too technical with the terms.
I’ve found some effective ways on how to pitch SEO services and with their help, I develop a custom SEO plan that’s designed for success. The points shared below will help you convey a lot of crucial information to your clients.
Why SEO is necessary for your business
When teaching new clients about SEO and demonstrating how to show SEO value, I keep three things in mind:
- Explain SEO using a language they’re familiar with
- Demonstrate that SEO is still relevant today
- Explain the value of SEO in the simplest way possible
In getting acquainted with my clients, I like to start by explaining that SEO is a vital tool for success as a jumping-off point to a more pointed conversation about how to show SEO value.
Clients who don’t hurry to embrace SEO unless they fully understand one simple thing – online is the new offline. Virtually every business is now present online and people are used to doing everything online, too.
Why do SEO? Customers should focus on SEO because people go to Google to explore almost everything, from medical symptoms to new restaurants. This re-emphasizes that online is the new offline. Organiс search is the primary source of the traffic to most websites, and your online visibility depends heavily on how high you rank on Google. If you decide that you want to go out for dinner to a nice Italian restaurant this evening, you’ll browse online and find restaurants in your area in Google Maps, take a look at the pictures, the menu, and read the reviews.
Important points to refer when explaining why SEO is important
- Organic search is the primary source of web traffic
- SEO builds trust in your products and company
- SEO improves the buying cycle because it puts your business where the audience is
While most clients know what SEO means, they’re not usually as familiar with related terms. I try to gauge their knowledge base of SEO as quickly as I can, so I can help fill in their gaps in knowledge.
Why educate clients about SEO?
Providing SEO services isn’t just about getting results, although, that’s a big part of it. Our society is more tech-savvy than they used to be. It’s important to give our clients credit for what they know and educate them on the “behind the scenes” factors that are at work with SEO.
SEO is a valuable tool and when we can help our clients better understand how it works, they can more easily see its value. Our credibility, and livelihoods as SEO professionals, depend on our ability to explain and demonstrate value.
I also recently had a conversation with Eugene Levin, CSO of SEMrush, who believes that it’s important to educate the leadership in companies.
Here’s what he said
“We do our best to educate both our employees and our clients. Each of our employees should understand SEO and know how to use SEMrush and all its tools. While with the clients we often meet in person to find some tailored tactics that would help them increase online visibility and drive sales. We meet with companies’ SEO teams and figure out even more efficient ways to boost online rankings.”
Giving client education a deeper thought
SEO skills are important but don’t overlook the importance of assuring your clients that you have worth as a specialist who can help them take their business from good to great. Your clients aren’t going to be satisfied with you sending them links on marketing blogs, videos, or informational emails alone. It requires time, work, and energy to educate clients, but your client management skills will eventually pay off.
As you spend more time with your clients, they will learn a little more from you each time about SEO which will bolster their trust in you as their SEO advisor and create a stronger mutual trust between you. While you are the SEO expert, don’t forget that they are the expert on their business. Their input during collaborations is a vital component of their ultimate success in SEO campaigns.
1. Clarify goals and expectations
I make sure the goals and workflow are clear, so the report ties in with monthly deliverables. These are the details that prove how hard you are working behind the scenes for your clients.
2. Share reports
During the course of planning for improving SEO results, clients will learn that much more time goes into it than they probably thought. To help them realize this, I always share reports as the ones mentioned below:
- Reporting in calls
- Reports with custom KPIs
3. Make SEO easy to understand for your clients
While I educate my clients as well as I can when I meet up with them, I supplement my teachings with blogs on my website that correlate to different aspects of SEO as resources if they’re interested in understanding more about a particular aspect of SEO. Over time, they will come to rely on my site for the latest information in SEO, which is a great way to reuse your content. They will probably even share it with others, which will help to expand your business.
Every client is in a different place in understanding their digital marketing needs, so I try to cater my teaching to their level of understanding.
My process of educating clients involves one or more of the following steps:
- Learning how much the client knows about SEO and the internet
- Determining their learning style
- Breaking down the meaning of SEO and what it does
- Choosing an analogy that has meaning for them
4. Gauge your client’s understanding levels
When having discussions with clients, I make eye-contact with them. If I start getting puzzled looks when I mention things like search engines and backlinks, it helps me pick signals whether I need to explain some of the technical terms or whether I can offer a simple definition and move on.
5. Understand and choose an ideal learning style for your client
I know that there are three main learning styles – verbal, visual, and physical. Using one or more of these styles helps drive home certain points.
I know that some of my clients do well when we have discussions in person or on the phone. Other clients need the help of a chart, diagram, or a simple drawing. Physical learners need me to demonstrate the concept. The best way to do this is by giving them an analogy or showing them an example on the computer.
Clients that are new to technology may need to understand what SEO is, so I like to start by explaining that the acronym, search engine optimization is. I also explain what optimization means and how it helps to rank websites higher on a page and how authority gives the search engine a way to rank its importance.
6. Use analogies to make SEO relatable
Finally, an analogy is always a great teaching tool because it gives my clients a way to compare a challenging concept. In the course of the discussion, I usually grab onto a comment they made. If they mentioned they were late because they had to meet with their insurance agent – I present an example using the same context in which I can show how an insurance agent can use SEO to rank high on a web page.
His insurance agent has a website. Most likely the agent has a blog and some testimonials. The more content the agent has, the higher the site ranks. Ranking higher will mean that the agent’s site takes advantage of titles, product descriptions, and summaries. It will have photos and videos and it will link to other pages. Because the agent is looking for local business, he or she will target customers within a certain radius of the office. The agent may also have a target audience of married people who are homeowners, so it’s important for them to advertise in places that will attract that market rather than online locations that attract millennials.
I often spend some time on my clients’ websites before a scheduled appointment. That gives me additional opportunities to apply some of the concepts we’re discussing to the work that we can begin doing together.
I never anticipated that teaching would be part of my job as a digital marketer. What I enjoy so much about the client management aspect of my job is that I’m continually finding out new information about SEO and it makes me eager to share it with my clients. It’s rewarding for both of us to share details that will help them to become a success.
Which of these tips would you practice to help educate clients about SEO? Feel free to share your thoughts, experiences, and tips in the comments section.
Karina Tama is a contributor for Forbes, Thrive Global and the El Distrito Newspaper. She can be found on Twitter @KarinaTama2.
The post How to educate clients about SEO and earn their trust appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
A few years ago I started a website and to my delight, the SEO efforts I was making to grow it were yielding results. However, one day I checked my rankings, and got the shock of my life. It had fallen, and badly.
I was doing my SEO right and I felt that was enough, but I didn’t know there was more. I hadn’t paid attention to my website security, and I didn’t even know that it mattered when it comes to Google and its ranking factors. Also, there were other security concerns I wasn’t paying attention to. As far as I was concerned back then, it didn’t matter since I had good content.
Obviously I was wrong, and I now know that if you really want to rank higher and increasing your site’s search traffic, then you need to understand that there is more to it than just building links and churning out more content. Understanding Google’s algorithm and it’s ranking factors are crucial.
Currently, Google has over 200 ranking factors they consider when they want to determine where to rank a site. And as expected, one of them is about how protected your site is. According to them, website security is a top priority, and they make a lot of investments all geared towards enduring that all their services, including Gmail and Google Drive, use top-notch security and other privacy tools by default all in a bid to make the internet a safer place generally.
Unfortunately, I was uninformed about these factors until my rankings started dropping. Below are four things you can do to protect your site.
Four steps to get started on website security
1. Get security plug-ins installed
On average, a typical small business website gets attacked 44 times each day, and software “bots” attack these sites more than 150 million times every week. And this is for both WordPress sites and even for non-WordPress websites.
Malware security breaches can lead to hackers stealing your data, data loss, or it could even make you lose access to your website. And in some cases, it can deface your website and that will not just spoil your brand reputation, it will also affect your SEO rankings.
To prevent that from happening, enhance your website security with WordPress plugins. These plugins will not just block off the brute force and malware attacks, they will harden WordPress security for your site, thus addressing the security vulnerabilities for each platform and countering all other hack attempts that could pose a threat to your website.
2. Use very strong passwords
As much as it is very tempting to use a password you can easily remember, don’t. Surprisingly, the most common password for most people is still 123456. You can’t afford to take such risks.
Make the effort to generate a secure password. The rule is to mix up letters, numbers, and special characters, and to make it long. And this is not just for you. Ensure that all those who have access to your website are held to the same high standard that you hold yourself.
3. Ensure your website is constantly updated
As much as using a content management system (CMS) comes with a lot of benefits, it also has attendant risks attached. According to this Sucuri report, the presence of vulnerabilities in CMS’s extensible components is the highest cause of website infections. This is because the codes used in these tools are easily accessible owing to the fact that they are usually created as open-source software programs. That means hackers can access them too.
To protect your website, make sure your plugins, CMS, and apps are all updated regularly.
4. Install an SSL certificate
If you pay attention, you will notice that some URLs begin with “https://” while others start with “http://”. You may have likely noticed that when you needed to make an online payment. The big question is what does the “s” mean and where did it come from?
To explain it in very simple terms, that extra “s” is a way of showing that the connection you have with that website is encrypted and secure. That means that any data you input on that website is safe. That little “s” represents a technology known as SSL.
But why is website security important for SEO ranking?
Following Google’s Chrome update in 2017, sites that have “FORMS” but have no SSL certificate are marked as insecure. The SSL certificate, “Secure Sockets Layer” is the technology that encrypts the link between a browser and a web server, protects the site from hackers, and also makes sure that all the data that gets passed between a browser and a web server remains private.
A normal website comes with a locked key in the URL bar, but sites without SSL certificates, on the other hand, have the tag “Not Secure”. This applies to any website that has any form.
According to research carried out by Hubspot, 82% of those that responded to a consumer survey stated that they would leave a website that is not secure. And since Google chrome already holds about 67% out of the whole market share, that is a lot of traffic to lose.
Technically, the major benefit of having Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) instead of Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is that it gives users a more secure connection that they can use to share personal data with you. This adds an additional layer of security which becomes important especially if you are accepting any form of payment on your site.
To move from HTTP to HTTPS you have to get an SSL certificate (Secure Socket Layer certificate) installed on your website.
Once you get your SSL certificate installed successfully on a web server and configured, Google Chrome will show a green light. It will then act as a padlock by providing a secure connection between the browser and the webserver. For you, what this means is that even if a hacker is able to intercept your data, it will be impossible for them to decrypt it.
Security may have a minor direct effect on your website ranking, but it affects your website in so many indirect ways. It may mean paying a little price, but in the end, the effort is worth it.
The post Why website security affects SEO rankings (and what you can do about it) appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
In this new, short video on Hero Academy Hanapin’s Senior Project Manager, Lauren Rosner, will further explain why naming conventions matter and break down some of the best ways to set it up.
Read more at PPCHero.com
I had the great pleasure of being able to ask Dr. Marie Haynes a few questions about E-A-T. What it is and how you can improve it.
Dr. Marie Haynes is a well-known SEO expert from Ottawa, Canada. She speaks a lot about Google penalties, algorithm changes such as Panda, Penguin, and also Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines.
Paul Lovell: What is E-A-T?
Dr. Marie Haynes: E-A-T stands for “Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust”. Google mentions E-A-T many times in its Quality Raters’ Guidelines. Google also mentioned E-A-T in a whitepaper recently published, saying, “Where our algorithms detect that a user’s query relates to a “YMYL” topic, we will give more weight in our ranking systems to factors like our understanding of the authoritativeness, expertise, or trustworthiness of the pages we present in the response.
As such, if a site wants to rank well for Your Money or Your Life queries, it is very important that it has all three elements of E-A-T.
PL: How does the Quality Rater Guidelines, help website owners?
DR M H: Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines were created as a guideline to teach human quality raters how to assess high and low-quality issues on websites. In early 2017, we noticed at MHC (Marie Haynes Consulting) that many sites coming to us for site audits after seeing traffic drops were sites that were generally technically sound, but were being outranked by businesses that had all of the components of E-A-T as described in the QRG.
Google has said that the QRG do not exactly reflect Google’s algorithms, but that they fundamentally show us what they want the algorithm to do. We believe that if something is in the QRG as a sign of high or low quality, it is something we should be assessing for our clients.
PL: How can you improve E-A-T?
DR M H: Because E-A-T has many components, there are many things that can be worked on in order to see improvements in this area. Expertise is a tough one to improve upon, but we have seen some cases where we felt it helped by simply adding more “braggy” information on expertise on the homepage and about the page in an effort to show potential readers why this website is an expert on its topics.
We believe authority is heavily tied to links. The QRG talks about how important it is to have other experts recommending you as an expert. In other words, do you have people linking to you because they truly want to recommend your content, your business, or anything else? If you have true recommendations from authoritative places, this contributes to the “A” in E-A-T.
The “T” in E-A-T is the most interesting to me. There are so many elements of trust that we believe Google is measuring. These may include your online reputation, whether or not you have easy to find contact information, whether your refund policy is available online, whether you quote medical sources appropriately, and also, for medical sites, whether you write on topics that contradict general scientific consensus. There are many other elements as well.
What we have found is that the key to recovery for a site that has seen an E-A-T related hit is to determine where the issues are, and then find ways to improve upon them. If people are distrusting your site because perhaps it is too ad-heavy, removing some ads could potentially help. If your nearest competitor has thousands of authoritative mentions, where you have tens of them, this is an area to work on.
PL: What is the best signal for website owners to work on first?
DR M H: I’m going to give an SEO answer here and say that this really depends. First, don’t get too stuck on just E-A-T. If your site has dropped in traffic or rankings, it could be due to technical issues, or perhaps because a competitor is simply outranking you. It doesn’t always mean something is wrong.
With that said, however, one area where we seem to be seeing some significant gains repeatedly is in disavowing large volumes of links that were made for SEO purposes alone. Our thought is that link quality is tied in to “T” in E-A-T.
PL: What does YMYL mean?
DR M H: Most sites we analyze are “Your Money or Your Life” sites. If people make important decisions by reading your site, or if you are spending money on this site, no matter how small the amount, then it is likely YMYL.
PL: How can you track if your E-A-T is rising?
DR M H: There is no “E-A-T metric” or signal to track. But, in our experience, if a site is negatively affected at the time of a core quality update, there is likely an E-A-T issue. What we have seen is that if we can make enough improvements in E-A-T, the real benefit comes with the next core update. That’s usually our barometer for improvement.
Google has updated its algorithm many times over the last few years. Which updates would you say have been more focused on EAT and why?
I personally believe that almost, if not all, of the core updates since early 2017 are focused on some element of E-A-T.
Don’t forget to share your thoughts on E-A-T in the comments. If you wish to stay up to date with Marie you can do so on Twitter @Marie_Haynes or head over to mariehaynes.com.
Paul Lovell is an SEO Consultant And Founder at Always Evolving SEO. He can be found on Twitter @_PaulLovell.
The post Interview with Marie Haynes: What you need to know about E-A-T appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
In today’s brand landscape, consumers are rejecting traditional advertising in favor of transparent, personalized and most importantly, authentic communications. In fact, 86% of consumers say that authenticity is important when deciding which brands they support. Driven by this growing emphasis on brand sincerity, marketers are increasingly leveraging user-generated content (UGC) in their marketing and e-commerce strategies.
Correlated with the rise in the use of UGC is an increase in privacy-focused regulation such as the European Union’s industry-defining General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the along with others that will go into effect in the coming years, like the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), and several other state-specific laws. Quite naturally, brands are asking themselves two questions:
- Is it worth the effort to incorporate UGC into our marketing strategy?
- And if so, how do we do it within the rules, and more importantly, in adherence with the expectations of consumers?
Consumers seek to be active participants in their favorite companies’ brand identity journey, rather than passive recipients of brand-created messages. Consumers trust images by other consumers on social media seven times more than advertising.
Additionally, 56% are more likely to buy a product after seeing it featured in a positive or relatable user-generated image. The research and results clearly show that the average consumer perceives content from a peer to be more trustworthy than brand-driven content.
With that in mind, we must help brands leverage UGC with approaches that comply with privacy regulations while also engaging customers in an authentic way.
Influencer vs user: Navigating privacy considerations in an online world
To be successful in a fast paced, ever changing, and competitive market, it is imperative for brands to think beyond just CPC, CPA and ROAS in the short term. Instead they should be equally aware of their brands position in the attention amongst their prospective customers, AND increasing the customer lifetime value of their existing customers.
Read more at PPCHero.com
16 new jobs have been posted to PPC Hero’s Job Board, including new positions open at The Walt Disney Company, The Shade Store, and Workshop Digital. Here’s a brief look at just a few of the newly posted positions: The Walt Disney Company New York, NY Role: Paid Media Strategy Manager (Onsite Only) Disney Streaming […]
Read more at PPCHero.com
Further details have emerged about when and how much Facebook knew about data-scraping by the disgraced and now defunct Cambridge Analytica political data firm.
Last year a major privacy scandal hit Facebook after it emerged CA had paid GSR, a developer with access to Facebook’s platform, to extract personal data on as many as 87 million Facebook users without proper consent.
Cambridge Analytica’s intention was to use the data to build psychographic profiles of American voters to target political messages — with the company initially working for the Ted Cruz and later the Donald Trump presidential candidate campaigns.
But employees at Facebook appear to have raised internal concerns about CA scraping user data in September 2015 — i.e. months earlier than Facebook previously told lawmakers it became aware of the GSR/CA breach (December 2015).
The latest twist in the privacy scandal has emerged via a redacted court filing in the U.S. — where the District of Columbia is suing Facebook in a consumer protection enforcement case.
Facebook is seeking to have documents pertaining to the case sealed, while the District argues there is nothing commercially sensitive to require that.
In its opposition to Facebook’s motion to seal the document, the District includes a redacted summary (screengrabbed below) of the “jurisdictional facts” it says are contained in the papers Facebook is seeking to keep secret.
According to the District’s account, a Washington, DC-based Facebook employee warned others in the company about Cambridge Analytica’s data-scraping practices as early as September 2015.
Under questioning in Congress last April, Mark Zuckerberg was asked directly by congressman Mike Doyle when Facebook had first learned about Cambridge Analytica using Facebook data — and whether specifically it had learned about it as a result of the December 2015 Guardian article (which broke the story).
Zuckerberg responded with a “yes” to Doyle’s question.
Damian Collins, the chair of the DCMS committee — which made repeat requests for Zuckerberg himself to testify in front of its enquiry into online disinformation, only to be repeatedly rebuffed — tweeted yesterday that the new detail could suggest Facebook “consistently mislead” the British parliament.
— Damian Collins (@DamianCollins) March 21, 2019
The DCMS committee has previously accused Facebook of deliberately misleading its enquiry on other aspects of the CA saga, with Collins taking the company to task for displaying a pattern of evasive behavior.
The earlier charge that it mislead the committee refers to a hearing in Washington in February 2018 — when Facebook sent its U.K. head of policy, Simon Milner, and its head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, to field DCMS’ questions — where the pair failed to inform the committee about a legal agreement Facebook had made with Cambridge Analytica in December 2015.
The committee’s final report was also damning of Facebook, calling for regulators to instigate antitrust and privacy probes of the tech giant.
Meanwhile, questions have continued to be raised about Facebook’s decision to hire GSR co-founder Joseph Chancellor, who reportedly joined the company around November 2015.
The question now is if Facebook knew there were concerns about CA data-scraping prior to hiring the co-founder of the company that sold scraped Facebook user data to CA, why did it go ahead and hire Chancellor?
The GSR co-founder has never been made available by Facebook to answer questions from politicians (or press) on either side of the pond.
Last fall he was reported to have quietly left Facebook, with no comment from Facebook on the reasons behind his departure — just as it had never explained why it hired him in the first place.
But the new timeline that has emerged of what Facebook knew when makes those questions more pressing than ever.
Reached for a response to the details contained in the District of Columbia’s court filing, a Facebook spokeswomen sent us this statement:
Facebook was not aware of the transfer of data from Kogan/GSR to Cambridge Analytica until December 2015, as we have testified under oath
In September 2015 employees heard speculation that Cambridge Analytica was scraping data, something that is unfortunately common for any internet service. In December 2015, we first learned through media reports that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica, and we took action. Those were two different things.
Facebook did not engage with questions about any of the details and allegations in the court filing.
A little later in the court filing, the District of Columbia writes that the documents Facebook is seeking to seal are “consistent” with its allegations that “Facebook has employees embedded within multiple presidential candidate campaigns who… knew, or should have known… [that] Cambridge Analytica [was] using the Facebook consumer data harvested by [[GSR’s]] [Aleksandr] Kogan throughout the 2016 [United States presidential] election.”
It goes on to suggest that Facebook’s concern to seal the document is “reputational,” suggesting — in another redacted segment (below) — that it might “reflect poorly” on Facebook that a DC-based employee had flagged Cambridge Analytica months prior to news reports of its improper access to user data.
“The company may also seek to avoid publishing its employees’ candid assessments of how multiple third-parties violated Facebook’s policies,” it adds, chiming with arguments made last year by GSR’s Kogan, who suggested the company failed to enforce the terms of its developer policy, telling the DCMS committee it therefore didn’t have a “valid” policy.
As we’ve reported previously, the U.K.’s data protection watchdog — which has an ongoing investigation into CA’s use of Facebook data — was passed information by Facebook as part of that probe, which showed that three “senior managers” had been involved in email exchanges, prior to December 2015, concerning the CA breach.
It’s not clear whether these exchanges are the same correspondence the District of Columbia has obtained and which Facebook is seeking to seal, or whether there were multiple email threads raising concerns about the company.
The ICO passed the correspondence it obtained from Facebook to the DCMS committee — which last month said it had agreed at the request of the watchdog to keep the names of the managers confidential. (The ICO also declined to disclose the names or the correspondence when we made a Freedom of Information request last month — citing rules against disclosing personal data and its ongoing investigation into CA meaning the risk of release might be prejudicial to its investigation.)
In its final report, the committee said this internal correspondence indicated “profound failure of governance within Facebook” — writing:
[I]t would seem that this important information was not shared with the most senior executives at Facebook, leading us to ask why this was the case. The scale and importance of the GSR/Cambridge Analytica breach was such that its occurrence should have been referred to Mark Zuckerberg as its CEO immediately. The fact that it was not is evidence that Facebook did not treat the breach with the seriousness it merited. It was a profound failure of governance within Facebook that its CEO did not know what was going on, the company now maintains, until the issue became public to us all in 2018. The incident displays the fundamental weakness of Facebook in managing its responsibilities to the people whose data is used for its own commercial interests.
We reached out to the ICO for comment on the information to emerge via the Columbia suit, and also to the Irish Data Protection Commission, the lead DPA for Facebook’s international business, which currently has 15 open investigations into Facebook or Facebook-owned businesses related to various security, privacy and data protection issues.
An ICO spokesperson told us: “We are aware of these reports and will be considering the points made as part of our ongoing investigation.”
Last year the ICO issued Facebook with the maximum possible fine under U.K. law for the CA data breach.
Shortly after, Facebook announced it would appeal, saying the watchdog had not found evidence that any U.K. users’ data was misused by CA.
A date for the hearing of the appeal set for earlier this week was canceled without explanation. A spokeswoman for the tribunal court told us a new date would appear on its website in due course.
This report was updated with comment from the ICO.
Yes Mark, you’re right; Facebook turns 15 next month. What a long time you’ve been in the social media business! We’re curious as to whether you’ve also been keeping count of how many times you’ve been forced to apologize for breaching people’s trust or, well, otherwise royally messing up over the years.
It’s also true you weren’t setting out to build “a global company”. The predecessor to Facebook was a ‘hot or not’ game called ‘FaceMash’ that you hacked together while drinking beer in your Harvard dormroom. Your late night brainwave was to get fellow students to rate each others’ attractiveness — and you weren’t at all put off by not being in possession of the necessary photo data to do this. You just took it; hacking into the college’s online facebooks and grabbing people’s selfies without permission.
Blogging about what you were doing as you did it, you wrote: “I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of some farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive.” Just in case there was any doubt as to the ugly nature of your intention.
The seeds of Facebook’s global business were thus sown in a crude and consentless game of clickbait whose idea titillated you so much you thought nothing of breaching security, privacy, copyright and decency norms just to grab a few eyeballs.
So while you may not have instantly understood how potent this ‘outrageous and divisive’ eyeball-grabbing content tactic would turn out to be — oh hai future global scale! — the core DNA of Facebook’s business sits in that frat boy discovery where your eureka Internet moment was finding you could win the attention jackpot by pitting people against each other.
Pretty quickly you also realized you could exploit and commercialize human one-upmanship — gotta catch em all friend lists! popularity poke wars! — and stick a badge on the resulting activity, dubbing it ‘social’.
FaceMash was antisocial, though. And the unpleasant flipside that can clearly flow from ‘social’ platforms is something you continue not being nearly honest nor open enough about. Whether it’s political disinformation, hate speech or bullying, the individual and societal impacts of maliciously minded content shared and amplified using massively mainstream tools you control is now impossible to ignore.
Yet you prefer to play down these human impacts; as a “crazy idea”, or by implying that ‘a little’ amplified human nastiness is the necessary cost of being in the big multinational business of connecting everyone and ‘socializing’ everything.
But did you ask the father of 14-year-old Molly Russell, a British schoolgirl who took her own life in 2017, whether he’s okay with your growth vs controls trade-off? “I have no doubt that Instagram helped kill my daughter,” said Russell in an interview with the BBC this week.
After her death, Molly’s parents found she had been following accounts on Instagram that were sharing graphic material related to self-harming and suicide, including some accounts that actively encourage people to cut themselves. “We didn’t know that anything like that could possibly exist on a platform like Instagram,” said Russell.
Without a human editor in the mix, your algorithmic recommendations are blind to risk and suffering. Built for global scale, they get on with the expansionist goal of maximizing clicks and views by serving more of the same sticky stuff. And more extreme versions of things users show an interest in to keep the eyeballs engaged.
So when you write about making services that “billions” of “people around the world love and use” forgive us for thinking that sounds horribly glib. The scales of suffering don’t sum like that. If your entertainment product has whipped up genocide anywhere in the world — as the UN said Facebook did in Myanmar — it’s failing regardless of the proportion of users who are having their time pleasantly wasted on and by Facebook.
And if your algorithms can’t incorporate basic checks and safeguards so they don’t accidentally encourage vulnerable teens to commit suicide you really don’t deserve to be in any consumer-facing business at all.
Yet your article shows no sign you’ve been reflecting on the kinds of human tragedies that don’t just play out on your platform but can be an emergent property of your targeting algorithms.
You focus instead on what you call “clear benefits to this business model”.
The benefits to Facebook’s business are certainly clear. You have the billions in quarterly revenue to stand that up. But what about the costs to the rest of us? Human costs are harder to quantify but you don’t even sound like you’re trying.
You do write that you’ve heard “many questions” about Facebook’s business model. Which is most certainly true but once again you’re playing down the level of political and societal concern about how your platform operates (and how you operate your platform) — deflecting and reframing what Facebook is to cast your ad business a form of quasi philanthropy; a comfortable discussion topic and self-serving idea you’d much prefer we were all sold on.
It’s also hard to shake the feeling that your phrasing at this point is intended as a bit of an in-joke for Facebook staffers — to smirk at the ‘dumb politicians’ who don’t even know how Facebook makes money.
Y’know, like you smirked…
Then you write that you want to explain how Facebook operates. But, thing is, you don’t explain — you distract, deflect, equivocate and mislead, which has been your business’ strategy through many months of scandal (that and worst tactics — such as paying a PR firm that used oppo research tactics to discredit Facebook critics with smears).
Dodging is another special power; such as how you dodged repeat requests from international parliamentarians to be held accountable for major data misuse and security breaches.
And here you are again, ironically enough, mansplaining in a newspaper; an industry that your platform has worked keenly to gut and usurp, hungry to supplant editorially guided journalism with the moral vacuum of algorithmically geared space-filler which, left unchecked, has been shown, time and again, lifting divisive and damaging content into public view.
The latest Zuckerberg screed has nothing new to say. It’s pure spin. We’ve read scores of self-serving Facebook apologias over the years and can confirm Facebook’s founder has made a very tedious art of selling abject failure as some kind of heroic lack of perfection.
But the spin has been going on for far, far too long. Fifteen years, as you remind us. Yet given that hefty record it’s little wonder you’re moved to pen again — imagining that another word blast is all it’ll take for the silly politicians to fall in line.
Thing is, no one is asking Facebook for perfection, Mark. We’re looking for signs that you and your company have a moral compass. Because the opposite appears to be true. (Or as one UK parliamentarian put it to your CTO last year: “I remain to be convinced that your company has integrity”.)
Facebook has scaled to such an unprecedented, global size exactly because it has no editorial values. And you say again now you want to be all things to all men. Put another way that means there’s a moral vacuum sucking away at your platform’s core; a supermassive ethical blackhole that scales ad dollars by the billions because you won’t tie the kind of process knots necessary to treat humans like people, not pairs of eyeballs.
You don’t design against negative consequences or to pro-actively avoid terrible impacts — you let stuff happen and then send in the ‘trust & safety’ team once the damage has been done.
You might call designing against negative consequences a ‘growth bottleneck’; others would say it’s having a conscience.
Everything standing in the way of scaling Facebook’s usage is, under the Zuckerberg regime, collateral damage — hence the old mantra of ‘move fast and break things’ — whether it’s social cohesion, civic values or vulnerable individuals.
This is why it takes a celebrity defamation lawsuit to force your company to dribble a little more resource into doing something about scores of professional scammers paying you to pop their fraudulent schemes in a Facebook “ads” wrapper. (Albeit, you’re only taking some action in the UK in this particular case.)
Funnily enough — though it’s not at all funny and it doesn’t surprise us — Facebook is far slower and patchier when it comes to fixing things it broke.
Of course there will always be people who thrive with a digital megaphone like Facebook thrust in their hand. Scammers being a pertinent example. But the measure of a civilized society is how it protects those who can’t defend themselves from targeted attacks or scams because they lack the protective wrap of privilege. Which means people who aren’t famous. Not public figures like Martin Lewis, the consumer champion who has his own platform and enough financial resources to file a lawsuit to try to make Facebook do something about how its platform supercharges scammers.
Zuckerberg’s slippery call to ‘fight bad content with more content’ — or to fight Facebook-fuelled societal division by shifting even more of the apparatus of civic society onto Facebook — fails entirely to recognize this asymmetry.
And even in the Lewis case, Facebook remains a winner; Lewis dropped his suit and Facebook got to make a big show of signing over £500k worth of ad credit coupons to a consumer charity that will end up giving them right back to Facebook.
The company’s response to problems its platform creates is to look the other way until a trigger point of enough bad publicity gets reached. At which critical point it flips the usual crisis PR switch and sends in a few token clean up teams — who scrub a tiny proportion of terrible content; or take down a tiny number of fake accounts; or indeed make a few token and heavily publicized gestures — before leaning heavily on civil society (and on users) to take the real strain.
You might think Facebook reaching out to respected external institutions is a positive step. A sign of a maturing mindset and a shift towards taking greater responsibility for platform impacts. (And in the case of scam ads in the UK it’s donating £3M in cash and ad credits to a bona fide consumer advice charity.)
But this is still Facebook dumping problems of its making on an already under-resourced and over-worked civic sector at the same time as its platform supersizes their workload.
In recent years the company has also made a big show of getting involved with third party fact checking organizations across various markets — using these independents to stencil in a PR strategy for ‘fighting fake news’ that also entails Facebook offloading the lion’s share of the work. (It’s not paying fact checkers anything, given the clear conflict that would represent it obviously can’t).
So again external organizations are being looped into Facebook’s mess — in this case to try to drain the swamp of fakes being fenced and amplified on its platform — even as the scale of the task remains hopeless, and all sorts of junk continues to flood into and pollute the public sphere.
What’s clear is that none of these organizations has the scale or the resources to fix problems Facebook’s platform creates. Yet it serves Facebook’s purposes to be able to point to them trying.
And all the while Zuckerberg is hard at work fighting to fend off regulation that could force his company to take far more care and spend far more of its own resources (and profits) monitoring the content it monetizes by putting it in front of eyeballs.
The Facebook founder is fighting because he knows his platform is a targeted attack; On individual attention, via privacy-hostile behaviorally targeted ads (his euphemism for this is “relevant ads”); on social cohesion, via divisive algorithms that drive outrage in order to maximize platform engagement; and on democratic institutions and norms, by systematically eroding consensus and the potential for compromise between the different groups that every society is comprised of.
In his WSJ post Zuckerberg can only claim Facebook doesn’t “leave harmful or divisive content up”. He has no defence against Facebook having put it up and enabled it to spread in the first place.
Sociopaths relish having a soapbox so unsurprisingly these people find a wonderful home on Facebook. But where does empathy fit into the antisocial media equation?
As for Facebook being a ‘free’ service — a point Zuckerberg is most keen to impress in his WSJ post — it’s of course a cliché to point out that ‘if it’s free you’re the product’. (Or as the even older saying goes: ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’).
But for the avoidance of doubt, “free” access does not mean cost-free access. And in Facebook’s case the cost is both individual (to your attention and your privacy); and collective (to the public’s attention and to social cohesion).
The much bigger question is who actually benefits if “everyone” is on Facebook, as Zuckerberg would prefer. Facebook isn’t the Internet. Facebook doesn’t offer the sole means of communication, digital or otherwise. People can, and do, ‘connect’ (if you want to use such a transactional word for human relations) just fine without Facebook.
So beware the hard and self-serving sell in which Facebook’s 15-year founder seeks yet again to recast privacy as an unaffordable luxury.
Actually, Mark, it’s a fundamental human right.
The best argument Zuckerberg can muster for his goal of universal Facebook usage being good for anything other than his own business’ bottom line is to suggest small businesses could use that kind of absolute reach to drive extra growth of their own.
Though he only provides a few general data-points to support the claim; saying there are “more than 90M small businesses on Facebook” which “make up a large part of our business” (how large?) — and claiming “most” (51%?) couldn’t afford TV ads or billboards (might they be able to afford other online or newspaper ads though?); he also cites a “global survey” (how many businesses surveyed?), presumably run by Facebook itself, which he says found “half the businesses on Facebook say they’ve hired more people since they joined” (but how did you ask the question, Mark?; we’re concerned it might have been rather leading), and from there he leaps to the implied conclusion that “millions” of jobs have essentially been created by Facebook.
But did you control for common causes Mark? Or are you just trying to take credit for others’ hard work because, well, it’s politically advantageous for you to do so?
Whether Facebook’s claims about being great for small business stand up to scrutiny or not, if people’s fundamental rights are being wholesale flipped for SMEs to make a few extra bucks that’s an unacceptable trade off.
“Millions” of jobs suggestively linked to Facebook sure sounds great — but you can’t and shouldn’t overlook disproportionate individual and societal costs, as Zuckerberg is urging policymakers to here.
Let’s also not forget that some of the small business ‘jobs’ that Facebook’s platform can take definitive and major credit for creating include the Macedonia teens who became hyper-adept at seeding Facebook with fake U.S. political news, around the 2016 presidential election. But presumably those aren’t the kind of jobs Zuckerberg is advocating for.
He also repeats the spurious claim that Facebook gives users “complete control” over what it does with personal information collected for advertising.
We’ve heard this time and time again from Zuckerberg and yet it remains pure BS.
Yo Mark! First up we’re still waiting for your much trumpeted ‘Clear History’ tool. You know, the one you claimed you thought of under questioning in Congress last year (and later used to fend off follow up questions in the European Parliament).
Reportedly the tool is due this Spring. But even when it does finally drop it represents another classic piece of gaslighting by Facebook, given how it seeks to normalize (and so enable) the platform’s pervasive abuse of its users’ data.
Truth is, there is no master ‘off’ switch for Facebook’s ongoing surveillance. Such a switch — were it to exist — would represent a genuine control for users. But Zuckerberg isn’t offering it.
Instead his company continues to groom users into accepting being creeped on by offering pantomime settings that boil down to little more than privacy theatre — if they even realize they’re there.
‘Hit the button! Reset cookies! Delete browsing history! Keep playing Facebook!’
An interstitial reset is clearly also a dilute decoy. It’s not the same as being able to erase all extracted insights Facebook’s infrastructure continuously mines from users, using these derivatives to target people with behavioral ads; tracking and profiling on an ongoing basis by creeping on browsing activity (on and off Facebook), and also by buying third party data on its users from brokers.
Multiple signals and inferences are used to flesh out individual ad profiles on an ongoing basis, meaning the files are never static. And there’s simply no way to tell Facebook to burn your digital ad mannequin. Not even if you delete your Facebook account.
Nor, indeed, is there a way to get a complete read out from Facebook on all the data it’s attached to your identity. Even in Europe, where companies are subject to strict privacy laws that place a legal requirement on data controllers to disclose all personal data they hold on a person on request, as well as who they’re sharing it with, for what purposes, under what legal grounds.
Last year Paul-Olivier Dehaye, the founder of PersonalData.IO, a non-profit that aims to help people control how their personal data is accessed by companies, recounted in the UK parliament how he’d spent years trying to obtain all his personal information from Facebook — with the company resorting to legal arguments to block his subject access request.
Dehaye said he had succeeded in extracting a bit more of his data from Facebook than it initially handed over. But it was still just a “snapshot”, not an exhaustive list, of all the advertisers who Facebook had shared his data with. This glimpsed tip implies a staggeringly massive personal data iceberg lurking beneath the surface of each and every one of the 2.2BN+ Facebook users. (Though the figure is likely even more massive because it tracks non-users too.)
Zuckerberg’s “complete control” wording is therefore at best self-serving and at worst an outright lie. Facebook’s business has complete control of users by offering only a superficial layer of confusing and fiddly, ever-shifting controls that demand continued presence on the platform to use them, and ongoing effort to keep on top of settings changes (which are always, to a fault, privacy hostile), making managing your personal data a life-long chore.
Facebook’s power dynamic puts the onus squarely on the user to keep finding and hitting reset button.
But this too is a distraction. Resetting anything on its platform is largely futile, given Facebook retains whatever behavioral insights it already stripped off of your data (and fed to its profiling machinery). And its omnipresent background snooping carries on unchecked, amassing fresh insights you also can’t clear.
Nor does Clear History offer any control for the non-users Facebook tracks via the pixels and social plug-ins it’s larded around the mainstream web. Zuckerberg was asked about so-called shadow profiles in Congress last year — which led to this awkward exchange where he claimed not to know what the phrase refers to.
EU MEPs also seized on the issue, pushing him to respond. He did so by attempting to conflate surveillance and security — by claiming it’s necessary for Facebook to hold this data to keep “bad content out”. Which seems a bit of an ill-advised argument to make given how badly that mission is generally going for Facebook.
Still, Zuckerberg repeats the claim in the WSJ post, saying information collected for ads is “generally important for security and operating our services” — using this to address what he couches as “the important question of whether the advertising model encourages companies like ours to use and store more information than we otherwise would”.
So, essentially, Facebook’s founder is saying that the price for Facebook’s existence is pervasive surveillance of everyone, everywhere, with or without your permission.
Though he doesn’t express that ‘fact’ as a cost of his “free” platform. RIP privacy indeed.
Another pertinent example of Zuckerberg simply not telling the truth when he wrongly claims Facebook users can control their information vis-a-vis his ad business — an example which also happens to underline how pernicious his attempts to use “security” to justify eroding privacy really are — bubbled into view last fall, when Facebook finally confessed that mobile phone numbers users had provided for the specific purpose of enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) to increase the security of their accounts were also used by Facebook for ad targeting.
A company spokesperson told us that if a user wanted to opt out of the ad-based repurposing of their mobile phone data they could use non-phone number based 2FA — though Facebook only added the ability to use an app for 2FA in May last year.
What Facebook is doing on the security front is especially disingenuous BS in that it risks undermining security practice by bundling a respected tool (2FA) with ads that creep on people.
And there’s plenty more of this kind of disingenuous nonsense in Zuckerberg’s WSJ post — where he repeats a claim we first heard him utter last May, at a conference in Paris, when he suggested that following changes made to Facebook’s consent flow, ahead of updated privacy rules coming into force in Europe, the fact European users had (mostly) swallowed the new terms, rather than deleting their accounts en masse, was a sign people were majority approving of “more relevant” (i.e more creepy) Facebook ads.
Au contraire, it shows nothing of the sort. It simply underlines the fact Facebook still does not offer users a free and fair choice when it comes to consenting to their personal data being processed for behaviorally targeted ads — despite free choice being a requirement under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
If Facebook users are forced to ‘choose’ between being creeped on or deleting their account on the dominant social service where all their friends are it’s hardly a free choice. (And GDPR complaints have been filed over this exact issue of ‘forced consent‘.)
Add to that, as we said at the time, Facebook’s GDPR tweaks were lousy with manipulative, dark pattern design. So again the company is leaning on users to get the outcomes it wants.
It’s not a fair fight, any which way you look at it. But here we have Zuckerberg, the BS salesman, trying to claim his platform’s ongoing manipulation of people already enmeshed in the network is evidence for people wanting creepy ads.
The truth is that most Facebook users remain unaware of how extensively the company creeps on them (per this recent Pew research). And fiddly controls are of course even harder to get a handle on if you’re sitting in the dark.
Zuckerberg appears to concede a little ground on the transparency and control point when he writes that: “Ultimately, I believe the most important principles around data are transparency, choice and control.” But all the privacy-hostile choices he’s made; and the faux controls he’s offered; and the data mountain he simply won’t ‘fess up to sitting on shows, beyond reasonable doubt, the company cannot and will not self-regulate.
If Facebook is allowed to continue setting its own parameters and choosing its own definitions (for “transparency, choice and control”) users won’t have even one of the three principles, let alone the full house, as well they should. Facebook will just keep moving the goalposts and marking its own homework.
You can see this in the way Zuckerberg fuzzes and elides what his company really does with people’s data; and how he muddies and muddles uses for the data — such as by saying he doesn’t know what shadow profiles are; or claiming users can download ‘all their data’; or that ad profiles are somehow essential for security; or by repurposing 2FA digits to personalize ads too.
How do you try to prevent the purpose limitation principle being applied to regulate your surveillance-reliant big data ad business? Why by mixing the data streams of course! And then trying to sew confusion among regulators and policymakers by forcing them to unpick your mess.
Much like Facebook is forcing civic society to clean up its messy antisocial impacts.
Europe’s GDPR is focusing the conversation, though, and targeted complaints filed under the bloc’s new privacy regime have shown they can have teeth and so bite back against rights incursions.
But before we put another self-serving Zuckerberg screed to rest, let’s take a final look at his description of how Facebook’s ad business works. Because this is also seriously misleading. And cuts to the very heart of the “transparency, choice and control” issue he’s quite right is central to the personal data debate. (He just wants to get to define what each of those words means.)
In the article, Zuckerberg claims “people consistently tell us that if they’re going to see ads, they want them to be relevant”. But who are these “people” of which he speaks? If he’s referring to the aforementioned European Facebook users, who accepted updated terms with the same horribly creepy ads because he didn’t offer them any alternative, we would suggest that’s not a very affirmative signal.
Now if it were true that a generic group of ‘Internet people’ were consistently saying anything about online ads the loudest message would most likely be that they don’t like them. Click through rates are fantastically small. And hence also lots of people using ad blocking tools. (Growth in usage of ad blockers has also occurred in parallel with the increasing incursions of the adtech industrial surveillance complex.)
So Zuckerberg’s logical leap to claim users of free services want to be shown only the most creepy ads is really a very odd one.
Let’s now turn to Zuckerberg’s use of the word “relevant”. As we noted above, this is a euphemism. It conflates many concepts but principally it’s used by Facebook as a cloak to shield and obscure the reality of what it’s actually doing (i.e. privacy-hostile people profiling to power intrusive, behaviourally microtargeted ads) in order to avoid scrutiny of exactly those creepy and intrusive Facebook practices.
Yet the real sleight of hand is how Zuckerberg glosses over the fact that ads can be relevant without being creepy. Because ads can be contextual. They don’t have to be behaviorally targeted.
Ads can be based on — for example — a real-time search/action plus a user’s general location. Without needing to operate a vast, all-pervasive privacy-busting tracking infrastructure to feed open-ended surveillance dossiers on what everyone does online, as Facebook chooses to.
And here Zuckerberg gets really disingenuous because he uses a benign-sounding example of a contextual ad (the example he chooses contains an interest and a general location) to gloss over a detail-light explanation of how Facebook’s people tracking and profiling apparatus works.
“Based on what pages people like, what they click on, and other signals, we create categories — for example, people who like pages about gardening and live in Spain — and then charge advertisers to show ads to that category,” he writes, with that slipped in reference to “other signals” doing some careful shielding work there.
Other categories that Facebook’s algorithms have been found ready and willing to accept payment to run ads against in recent years include “jew-hater”, “How to burn Jews” and “Hitler did nothing wrong”.
Funnily enough Zuckerberg doesn’t mention those actual Facebook microtargeting categories in his glossy explainer of how its “relevant” ads business works. But they offer a far truer glimpse of the kinds of labels Facebook’s business sticks on people.
As we wrote last week, the case against behavioral ads is stacking up. Zuckerberg’s attempt to spin the same self-serving lines should really fool no one at this point.
Nor should regulators be derailed by the lie that Facebook’s creepy business model is the only version of adtech possible. It’s not even the only version of profitable adtech currently available. (Contextual ads have made Google alternative search engine DuckDuckGo profitable since 2014, for example.)
Simply put, adtech doesn’t have to be creepy to work. And ads that don’t creep on people would give publishers greater ammunition to sell ad block using readers on whitelisting their websites. A new generation of people-sensitive startups are also busy working on new forms of ad targeting that bake in privacy by design.
And with legal and regulatory risk rising, intrusive and creepy adtech that demands the equivalent of ongoing strip searches of every Internet user on the planet really look to be on borrowed time.
Facebook’s problem is it scrambled for big data and, finding it easy to suck up tonnes of the personal stuff on the unregulated Internet, built an antisocial surveillance business that needs to capture both sides of its market — eyeballs and advertisers — and keep them buying to an exploitative and even abusive relationship for its business to keep minting money.
Pivoting that tanker would certainly be tough, and in any case who’d trust a Zuckerberg who suddenly proclaimed himself the privacy messiah?
But it sure is a long way from ‘move fast and break things’ to trying to claim there’s only one business model to rule them all.