Host Erin Sparks and Studio Creative Director Jacob Mann along with Mordy Oberstein, Wix’s SEO Liaison, cover the rise of digital ad taxes who pays the ultimate price, some incredible SERP upgrades on the Bing search engine, and why some sites are seeing their rich results disappear into thin air. And while Mordy is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, it appears a good portion of his hair has been canceled. All this and more is what you’ll find in this week’s news roundup, episode 400 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast!


Maryland’s ad tax is here, and advertisers should look to their European counterparts for how to deal with it 

From George Nguyen on Search Engine Land we see Maryland’s ad tax is here, and advertisers should look to their European counterparts for how to deal with it. Last year, Google passed digital service taxes onto advertisers in the UK, Turkey and Austria, and it’s likely to do the same in the U.S. as well.

  • Erin Sparks: Taxing digital advertising is a fairly recent thing, and Maryland is the first state in the US to do it. The tax will apply to digital ads shown in the state of Maryland and will only be levied on companies earning at least $100 million a year in revenue from selling digital ads, so the companies in question would be Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook. The tax rate would range anywhere from 2.5-10% depending on their annual global revenue. Given that Google earns $15 billion from ad revenue in a year, it will be taxed at the full 10%. Maryland estimates year one of the tax will bring in around $250 million to the state’s coffers. The funds are currently earmarked for schools. How will Maryland know what digital ads are being shown in their state?
  • Mordy Oberstein: I have no idea. IP addresses? One thing that makes mad about this is this “feel-good” idea of using the money for schools. I can pretty much guarantee that the kids in Baltimore’s inner city schools are never going to see any of that money. Another thing is that obviously Google is going pass this cost on to advertisers, many of which are small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). So the optics look good because it looks like they’re going after the tech giants, but they really aren’t because the tech giants will pass the cost on to a lot of SMBs who will be hurt by this. It’s not going to help anyone except Maryland’s budget shortfalls from the pandemic.
  • Erin Sparks: eCommerce is already complicated enough around adjusting online shopping carts for all the different tax schemes by state and in some cases even by municipality. Assuming other states will want to jump on the digital ad tax bandwagon, companies will now have to layer in a whole new round of cost factoring based on each state’s tax rate on digital ads just so they know what the advertising is going to cost them. Without factoring all that in, you won’t know your true CPA or ROI. 
  • Mordy Oberstein: Yes, that’s inevitable and annoying, but it’s nothing compared to the fact that everyone knows this is going to end up hurting small and medium-sized businesses. So, do they really want to be hurting SMBs during a pandemic?
  • Erin Sparks: Interestingly, in Europe Facebook decided to NOT pass the cost on to advertisers and as a result the tax authorities have held them at the very lowest rate possible in their system.
  • Mordy Oberstein: Right, and the tax authority has these companies over a barrel because if the tech giant does pass the cost on to advertisers, then they look like the bad guys, but the real bad guy is the tax authority who know darn well who this tax will hurt.


Microsoft Bing Rolls Out 5 Upgrades to Search Results

On Search Engine Journal from Matt Southern, we learn that Microsoft Bing Rolls Out 5 Upgrades to Search Results. Microsoft Bing is rolling out five upgrades to search that combines text-based information with visually rich imagery. 

  • Erin Sparks: The five key Bing features being updated include intuitive highlighting of content, integrated visual search, expandable carousels, infographic-like SERPs, and richer results for local queries. The one that interested me most was the infographic approach to the SERP, and the article had a great example of it. It’s visually so much better than regular search results. It’s almost like a way more creative, visually-oriented version of a Google knowledge panel. But this begs the question of who is creating that content in order to present it that way? Is really drawn automatically from the knowledge graph or is Microsoft creating custom imagery for particular search terms?
  • Mordy Oberstein: I really like how the infographic approach looks. And frankly, since something like 70% of people are visual learners, this makes a lot of sense and Bing just raised the bar with this relative to Google’s flat presentation of information.
  • Erin Sparks: But how are they going to consistently make it look that good across all search topics? 
  • Mordy Oberstein: Yes, it seems they have to be doing this level of intentional graphic design themselves, though I can’t imagine how they’re going to scale that across all topics. That’s crazy. Because a lot of the elements are in fact clickable to go out to pages with the full information. Teachers are going to love this compared to Google.


Rich Results Disappear? Google Says It Might Be A Site Wide Quality Issue 

From Barry Schwartz on Search Engine Roundtable: Rich Results Disappear? Google Says It Might Be A Site Wide Quality Issue. Google’s John Mueller listed a few reasons why your site may not show rich results in the Google Search Results. One of the three reasons is that sometimes Google does not trust the site enough, on the site level, for Google to warrant that the site shows rich results.

  • Erin Sparks: On one level this makes total sense. If Google’s quality algorithms see red flags around site quality, why would it give the site coveted real estate space on the SERP? It’s also significant that this is following on the heels of a huge decline in the number of featured snippets appearing in search results. It’s almost as if Google is suddenly having major trust issues with a lot of sites, or at least rethinking how trustworthy sites need to be to get into those top-of-SERP areas with featured snippets and rich results. 
  • Mordy Oberstein: It’s a site’s structured data that tells Google what to surface for rich results, but Google has to figure out if what you’re putting in structured data properly corresponds to what’s actually on the site. Aside from that, part of the big-picture point Google is trying to make lately is that it’s not just about what’s happening at the page level. Your whole site matters, and so it’s significant that John was talking about site-wide quality issues. The page that lost rich results might be perfect, but what about the rest of the site? It matters.
  • Erin Sparks: Google is also now bringing its “full coverage” news feature into the web searches on “timely topics” to gives users a carousel of trusted, citable sources on the topic. And Google is making these choices. The story on this is by Barry Schwartz on Search Engine Land here
  • Mordy Oberstein: These developments just continue to show that what Google wants to highlight on any SERP is the most trustworthy information from the most trustworthy sources, so it’s raising the bar, and a lot of sites simply aren’t going to make the cut.
  • Erin Sparks: But should Google be in total control of who makes the cut and doesn’t?

On tap this week for SEO Chat is Topic Clusters, which is a great thing to talk about in terms of building site authority and identity, and helping lead the discussion is Chima Mmeje. Join the discussion on Twitter by tuning in to #SEOchat on Thursday at 1:00 pm eastern time.