Is Facebook Listening In On Me Through My Phone?

How many of us have felt like Facebook is listening to our phone conversations? I swear I just mentioned these new Kendra Scott earrings to my friend and now I’m seeing them in my news feed? Disturbing! Right? Or is it just effective?

It is absolutely unnerving. You feel like you just mentioned to a friend, or even just thought about an item and then you go on Facebook and there it is right in your News Feed. You are not alone in this feeling, almost everyone who uses Facebook has some variation of this happening and has had the same feeling of being spied on. So, Facebook must be listening in on us in some way, right?  If not, how is this happening, and for so many people?

Let’s begin with the facts. Facebook clearly says that they are not listening. In fact, they have outright denied this claim and have said they are not using your phone’s microphone to show you relevant ads. They say they only access your microphone if you have given the app permission AND if you are actively using a specific feature requiring that audio.

There are other sources that say it isn’t so as well. CNET did a study specifically trying to prove Facebook is listening in and came up short on any conclusive evidence. The test wasn’t overly scientific, but they did settle on the fact that it was data points and not listened to conversations that led to the ads they received.

Are you convinced? Although the test doesn’t 100% disprove the idea, there have been more tests and security experts trying to prove Facebook listens in on our phone but they too come up short in finding any evidence.

What does Mark Zuckerburg have to say about all of this? Well, when he was directly asked this question by Congress last year he gave an emphatic “No.” He said, “No. Let me be clear on this: You’re talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what’s going on through your microphone and use that for ads,” Zuckerberg replied. “We don’t do that.” He said no, yet the conspiracy theory continues to thrive on social media with many still unsure of the truth.

One of the main reasons the conspiracy theory is so believable is because the ads truly do appear to be THAT accurate and targeted. So, if they are not listening in, how are they getting the targeting so right?

The answer is complex. There are in fact a tremendous amount of other ways for Facebook to come up with targeting options. For example, have you taken a quiz on Facebook? Have you posted anything on Facebook? Have you checked in somewhere? Have you “liked” something? Do you have “friends” on Facebook? Have you shared any information online? Have you opted into apps and websites and just clicked “I agree” to terms and conditions? Likely you have, and the digital eye in the sky is watching our every move. It doesn’t even have to be on Facebook, you just have to go online and or have a phone.

Tracking pixels are constantly in motion in the background, raining down with every click and measuring our activity. What sites are we looking at? What are we clicking on? What sites are we lingering on longer? What sites do we bounce off immediately? Millions of data points are consistently and constantly being tracked and connected behind the scenes to determine our online behavior.  This technology allows us to be put into targeting categories that define our demographics, interests and behaviors so advertisers can easily and sometimes eerily market ads to the right person. Ads can be hyper-targeted because tech companies know what websites we are visiting.  Online activity is constantly tracked which allows not only Facebook to track our likes and dislikes, but Google and many others as well.

It is not just online.  The technology also knows were we go, places we frequent often, maybe even the brand of coffee we drink. How? Through our geolocation data. Consider this example, most days of the week I leave my house around 7:50 am and drive my two kids to school, oftentimes, I stop and grab a coffee at my local Starbucks. I don’t check in anywhere or report to anyone where I am going, but my phone does, and it is always with me. I pull through the carpool line at the high school. My phone is pinging my latitude and longitude location and bouncing off cell towers. My Bluetooth is on, of course, how else would I take a call but through my car connection? I repeat this activity a few times in the morning and I’ve now put myself into a category of “parent of high school aged child.” Why? Simply because I am near the school most weekday mornings at a certain time.  I move along, I hit Starbucks on my way to elementary school, my phone is still reporting my location and I also paid with my app, so not only my location is recorded but also my exact purchase. I move onto elementary drop off and put myself into the “mom of elementary age child” category, and the saga continues.

Technology can report what we have recently purchased. Stew on this for a moment.  It has also been reported that Google knows about 70 percent of all payment card purchases in the US. 70%! That is a huge number. So that dress I purchased online yesterday? I’m going to see ads for dresses online today.

This type of data exists on all digital consumers and their friends. Even if you’ve never searched for a certain product online, if your friends have, you’re much more likely to see ads for that. The same goes for just being in the same location as someone else. Despite all of these facts, the conspiracy theory does still exist and it does make people nervous. If you fall into that category, consider the fact that it would be completely illegal for an app like Facebook to listen in without your permission. If they were in fact secretly recording people’s conversations and using that information for targeting ads, they would be breaking the Wiretap Act, and if caught violating its billions of users, they would be subject to trillions of dollars in liabilities.

Frankly, listening is not even needed for ad targeting, that’s so 2010!

Voice Search is Here: Is Your Business Ready for It?

When Apple’s Siri first came out back in 2011 the technology was a novelty.  It was cool to test out and sometimes provided informative results, but often the results were laughable.  Not many people predicted voice search would become a major digital trend of the future.

Voice search is defined as a speech recognition technology that allows users to search by saying terms aloud rather than typing them into a search field. Some examples of programs that have voice search capabilities are Google Assistant, Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa.  The proliferation of smart phones and other small, web-enabled mobile devices has spurred interest in voice search.

Three years ago, Google said that 20% of all searches were initiated by voice.  While they haven’t updated that statistic yet, with more than a billion devices globally that feature the Google Assistant, it’s very likely that the percentage of searches initiated by voice has increased dramatically.

In fact, there’s so much interest that 41% of adults (and 55% of teens) use voice search daily. Also, by 2020, Comscoresays that 50% of all searches will be voice searches.  With the projected growth with this tool many businesses are questioning how to stay ahead.  A new study from Uberall, says 96% of businesses are not voice search ready.   Are you part of that group?  If you are, it’s time to make some changes.

The number one factor contributing to low voice search scores is inaccurate business information across online directories.  Here are some of the areas of error:

  • Hours of operation
  • Website links
  • Location name
  • Addresses

Understanding what consumers are searching for with voice search is important.  According to a Google survey people want to get information about deals and sales, personalized tips, information about upcoming events, customer support and more, all of which are important to any business:

How does Voice Search Impact SEO Rankings?

Since the point of SEO is to rank websites accurately so users can find the best information for their search as quickly as possible, user experience is ultimately, at the forefront of search engine optimization (SEO).  Because of that, search engines are placing a higher emphasis on voice search. Keep in mind that voice search SEO and traditional website SEO are different.  Therefore, some factors that affect one, may not affect the other.  For example, voice search SEO is more conversational resulting in long sentences showing up in search queries, such as “Where can I find a plumber in Phoenix” rather than typed Google searches, which tend to be shorter like “plumbers in Phoenix”.

Does Voice Search Drive Website Traffic to My Website?

The answer is yes.  Voice Search works the same way as traditional SEO.  Since that’s the case, you still want to ensure that your business shows up in the search results.

So now that you know all of this, how does your business get found in Voice Search?  Here’s a quick overview of areas of focus:

  1. Get to position zero AKA “featured snippets”
  2. Google My Business listing
  3. Long tail keywords & questions
  4. Page speed
  5. Directory Listings

Voice search is here and we’ve included it in all our SEO offerings for our partners, including search through Amazon.   For most local businesses, 90% of their traffic is from Google, and a very small percentage is from Amazon.  Our optimization is platform agnostic, which means we are doing good things for websites, regardless of the search engines.  Amazon does have an immediate impact on local business with voice search, and our SEO plans and recommendations account for that.

Considering that nearly all the steps you can take to optimize for voice search are beneficial to your Search Engine Marketing efforts overall, the decision to focus on voice optimization should be an easy one.  Incorporating this strategy has several benefits businesses are rewarded with, including:

  • Increase in website traffic
  • Increase in brand awareness and visibility
  • Connect better with consumers
  • Enhances customer engagement
  • Can provide a higher scope of conversions and sales

Voice search offers so many opportunities.  It can change the way that we connect with and communicate with our customers.  Having your business ready for it can prove to be an efficient method to improve customer relationship management.

Why Your Marketing Plan Should Include More Than Just PPC

PPC, Pay Per Click, Google AdWords and now Google Ads are all different names for paid text ads on google search returns. They generally appear at the top of your search reruns or at the bottom and in some instances in the first position in the “snack pack” returns (the listing under the map image).

They can be an important part of a business marketing strategy, but just because people understand what PPC is, does not mean this should be the ONLY digital strategy you should include.

PPC can deliver a message to an audience looking for something in particular that they type in, but what about that other set of the universe, that has not searched yet? Or what created the need for the search to begin with?

Studies have shown that 94% of users skip search ads and head straight to organic results. And this is just the people that are being targeted by search, but in the world of the internet, there is so much more to digital than just search. As digital consumers, we consume and use online tools in many ways. We use mobile apps, buy items online, find out news, research, order items for store pickup, listen to music, watch how-to videos, check Facebook feeds, text, buy and trade stocks, online bank and so much more.

So, yes Google is a great tool, but it is not the only way to reach people online. As a matter of fact, PPC does not create demand it merely captures it. So as marketers we must also create the need, the want and desire. Investing in one strategy is never going to solve all your marketing goals and challenges.

How do we create the demand and what tools can we use?

It starts with your sales funnel and understanding what strategy aligns well with your goals. As consumers we are in and out of various stages of the buying cycle. And each level plays a role in buying decisions.

In building a brand, you need awareness.  70% of consumers will click on a business that they know. Some digital tactics that work well in building brands are OTT, video pre-roll, Native & Display by targeting online behaviors. Ask us about these solutions and how they can help your business!

Why Do Digital and Traditional Media Work Well Together?

You have heard the phrase, opposites attract. Well the same holds true for your media mix. Traditional media like radio and television work hand in hand with digital. Digital marketing can include tactics like SEO, online display or native and social media across all online devices.

First, it is important to understand your audience and to realize there are many ways to reach them. Traditional marketing like radio and TV can be great for brand awareness as well as reach and frequency. Some may categorize traditional media as a more passive marketing approach, while digital is more active and can be extremely targeted. The combination of these strategies can really complement each other and work together to solve your marketing goals.

Consumers sit at various levels of a sales funnel and a great media mix can help close the loop on conversions and sales. Traditional media efforts can create the awareness of a need and digital can convert the need or want into action.

We also live in a busy and connected world. And consumers stay very connected in multiple ways. In 2016, it was reported that the average household has more than 7 connected devices. And it is forecasted that by 2021, there will be 13 networked or connected devices per person.

And the ability for consumers to adapt and receive messages from multiple places has almost become commonplace. One can be surfing the internet on his or her laptop, checking out a Facebook newsfeed on their phone, with the TV on a program and have Alexa streaming audio all at the same time.

According to a custom survey of Nielsen’s Media Enthusiast Community, 45% of respondents watch TV while using digital devices very often or always.

Digital devices are often used in tandem with TV and audio to augment users’ overall experience. 71% of respondents said they have looked up information related to the TV content they were viewing, while 51% did the same for audio. There are also e-commerce opportunities as 35% of TV viewers and 25% of audio listeners have shopped for the products and services advertised on the main platform.

In that busy and connected world, comes a flood of activity and advertisements. So the importance of being relevant and targeted and where consumers are is a necessity.  The best way to reach prospective customers is to target them wherever they are – on any device!