U.S. border officials are increasingly denying entry to travelers over others’ social media – gpgmail


Travelers are increasingly being denied entry to the United States as border officials hold them accountable for messages, images and video on their devices sent by other people.

It’s a bizarre set of circumstances that has seen countless number of foreign nationals rejected from the U.S. after friends, family, or even strangers send messages, images, or videos over social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp, which are then downloaded to the traveler’s phone.

The latest case saw a Lebanese national and would-be Harvard freshman denied entry to the U.S. just before the start of the school year.

Immigration officers at Boston Logan International Airport are said to have questioned Ismail Ajjawi, 17, for his religion and religious practices, he told the school newspaper The Harvard Crimson. The officers who searched his phone and computer reportedly took issue with his friends’ social media activity.

Ajjawi’s visa was canceled and he was summarily deported — for someone else’s views.

The United States border is a bizarre space where U.S. law exists largely to benefit the immigration officials who decide whether or not to admit or deny entry to travelers, and few protect the travelers themselves. Both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike are subject to unwarranted searches and few rights to free speech, and many have limited access to legal counsel.

That has given U.S. border officials a far wider surface area to deny entry to travelers — sometimes for arbitrary reasons.

On a typical day, U.S. Customs & Border Protection processes 1.13 million passengers by plane, sea and land and deny entry to over 760 people. Sometimes a denial is clear, such as a past criminal conviction or the wrong documentation. But all too often, no specific reasons are given, and there are no grounds to appeal.

A U.S. immigration form describing why a traveler was denied entry to the U.S. (Image: Abed Ayoub/Twitter)

CBP also claims to have what critics say is broadly unconstitutional powers to search travelers’ phones — including those of U.S. citizens — at the border without needing a warrant. Last year, CBP searched 30,000 travelers’ devices — close to four times the number from three years prior — without any need for reasonable suspicion.

Complicating matters, the Trump administration in June began to demand that foreigners who apply for U.S. visas disclose their social media handles and profiles. Some 15 million are expected to fall under the new rule.

Summer Lopez, senior director of free expression programs at PEN America, a human rights nonprofit, said in a statement that the immigration policy on social media “demonstrates all too well the damage these ill-conceived policies can do.”

“That should not be the price of entrance to the U.S., let alone that one’s friends should have to censor themselves as well,” said Lopez.

But Ajjawi’s denied entry is not an isolated case.

Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said device searches and subsequent denials of entry had become the “new normal” over the past year.

“We hear about this happening to Arab students and Muslim students coming into the U.S. today,” he told gpgmail. Although all travelers are subject to having their devices searched, Ayoub said the government was “holding [the Arab and Muslim] community to a different level” than other backgrounds.

Ayoub said he’s had clients that have been turned away at the border for content found in their WhatsApp messages.

“It’s probably the most popular app in the Middle East,” he said. Because WhatsApp automatically downloads received images and videos to a user’s phone, any questionable content — even sent unsolicitedly — under a border official’s search could be enough to deny the traveler entry.

In one tweet, Ayoub posted a photo of an expedited removal form from one of his clients — also a student with U.S. visa — who was denied entry for an image he received in a WhatsApp group. The student strenuously denied any personal connection to the images and argued it had been automatically saved to his phone. The border official wrote that as a result of the device search the student was “inadmissible” to the U.S. The student was only a couple of semesters away from graduating, but a rejection meant the student can no longer return to the U.S.

“This is part of the backdoor ‘Muslim ban’,” Ayoub said, referring to a controversial executive order signed by President Trump in January 2017, which barred citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries entry to the U.S.

“We don’t hear of other other individuals being denied because of WhatsApp or because of what’s on the social media,” he said.




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After a breakout year, looking ahead to the future of podcasting – gpgmail


2019 has been a breakout year for podcasting. According to Edison Research’s Infinite Dial report, more than half of Americans have now listened to a podcast, and an estimated 32% listen monthly (up from 26% last year). This is the largest yearly increase since this data started being tracked in 2008. Podcast creation also continues to grow, with more than 700,000 podcasts and 29 million podcast episodes, up 27% from last year.

Thanks to this growing listener base, big companies are finally starting to pay attention to the space — Spotify plans to spend $500M on acquisitions this year, and already acquired content studio Gimlet, tech platform Anchor, and true crime network Parcast for a combined $400M. In the past week, Google added playable podcasts to search results, Spotify released an analytics dashboard for podcasters, and Pandora launched a tool for podcasters to submit their shows.

We’ve been going to Podcast Movement, the largest annual industry conference, for three years, and have watched the conference grow along with the industry — reaching 3,000 attendees in 2019. Given the increased buzz around the space, we were expecting this year’s conference to have a new level of energy and professionalism, and we weren’t disappointed. We’ve summarized five top takeaways from the conference, from why podcast ads are hard to scale to why so many celebrities are launching their own shows.

Rise of celebrity podcasters boosts listenership

We’ve officially entered the age of celebrity podcasters. After early successes like WTF with Marc Maron (2009), Alec Baldwin’s Here’s The Thing (2011), and Anna Faris’ Unqualified (2015), top talent is flooding into the space. In 2017, 15% of Apple’s href=””https://www.allaccess.com/net-news/archive/story/172268/apple-podcasts-charts-top-20-most-downloaded-podca”> top 20 most-downloaded podcasts of the year were hosted by celebrities or influencers — this jumped to 32% of the top 25 in 2018. And of all the new shows that launched in 2018, 48% of the top 25 were celebrity-hosted.

Screen Shot 2019 08 21 at 1.21.50 PMThough podcasts are undermonetized compared to other forms of media, talent agents now consider them to be an important part of a well-rounded content strategy. Dan Ferris from CAA tells his clients to think of podcasting as a way of connecting with fans that is “much more intimate than social media.” Podcasts also help celebrities find a new audience. Ben Davis from WME said that while his client David Dobrik has a smaller audience on his podcast than on YouTube (1.5M downloads per episode versus 6M views per video), the podcast helps him reach a new group of listeners who stumble upon his show on the Apple Podcast charts.

While some podcast veterans grumble about the rise of celebrity talk shows, famous podcasters are good for the industry as a whole. Advertisers are drawn to the space by the opportunity to get to access A-list talent at lower prices. One recent example is Endeavor Audio’s fiction show Blackout, which starred Rami Malek, who was fresh off an Oscar win. Endeavor’s head of sales Charlie Emerson said brands might have to sign a “seven or eight figure deal” to advertise alongside Malek’s content in other forms of media. Other podcasters also benefit from new listeners brought into the medium by their favorite stars — a Westwood One survey in fall 2018 found that 60% of podcast listeners report discovering shows via social media, where celebrities and influencers have huge existing audiences to push content to.

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Creator backlash against “walled garden” apps

Paid listening apps represent a fairly small percentage of podcast listenership, with production platform Anchor estimating that Apple Podcasts and Spotify control more than 70% of listenership. A venture-backed company called Luminary is trying to change this — it raised $100M to launch a “Netflix for podcasts” this spring. Consumers pay $7.99/month to access Luminary-exclusive shows alongside podcasts that are free on other apps. Because podcasts have RSS feeds, distributors like Luminary can easily grab free content and put it behind a paywall. The platform, not the creator, benefits from this monetization.

Within days of Luminary’s launch, prominent podcasters and media companies (The New York Times, Gimlet, and more) requested their shows be removed from the app. It’s interesting to note that YouTube has a similar premium plan — for $11.99/month, users can access and download ad-free videos. Unlike Luminary, however, YouTube, pays creators a cut of the revenue from these subscriptions based on how frequently their content is viewed.

Unsurprisingly, creator sentiment is more positive toward platforms like Spotify and Pandora . Though these companies do make money from premium subscribers who listen to podcasts, creators can choose whether or not to submit their shows. And podcasters benefit from making their shows discoverable to the existing user base of these platforms, which already dominate “earshare.” Spotify alone has 232 million MAUs, which dwarfs the 90 million people in the U.S. who listen to a podcast monthly.

Screen Shot 2019 08 21 at 1.46.24 PM

Industry anxiety around maintaining quality at scale

Podcast ad revenue has been scaling quickly, with $480M in spend last year and a projected $680M this year. Over the past four years, ad revenue has scaled at a 65% CAGR, and this growth is expected to continue. In its early days, the podcast ad market was largely been driven by D2C brands — you’ve probably heard hundreds of Casper, Blue Apron, and Madison Reed ads. However, bigger brands are also starting to enter podcasting (Geico, Capital One, and Progressive made the top 10 list for June 2019) due to the growing audience scale and increased precision around targeting and attribution.

Screen Shot 2019 08 21 at 1.48.00 PM

While many attendees were excited by the massive growth in ad revenue, others worried that it may kill what makes podcasting special. They’re particularly concerned that podcasts may go the way of online video, with annoying, generic, low CPM ads. Podcast hosts typically read their own ads, and are often true fans of the product — they share personal stories instead of reciting brand talking points. This results in premium CPMs compared to most digital media — AdvertiseCast’s 2019 survey found an average CPM of $18 for a 30-second podcast ad and $25 for a 60-second ad, more than 2x the average CPM on other digital platforms.

Screen Shot 2019 08 21 at 1.49.12 PM

While these ads are effective, they’re time-consuming and expensive to produce. Big brands interested in podcast ads often expect to reuse radio spots — they aren’t used to the process of crafting and approving a host-read ad that may only reach 10,000 listeners. Podcasters, meanwhile, value their trust with listeners and don’t want to spam them with loud, unoriginal radio ads. The tension between maintaining the quality of ads while scaling quantity was an underlying theme of most monetization discussions, and industry veterans disagree on how it will play out.

Despite the growth in ad revenue and relatively high CPMs, the industry is significantly undermonetized. Using data from Nielsen, IAB, and Edison, we calculated that podcasts monetize through advertisements at only $0.01 per listener hour — less than ten times the rate of radio. Podcast monetization per listener hour has increased over the past year, up 25% by our calculations, but still substantially lags all other forms of media.

Screen Shot 2019 08 21 at 2.01.56 PM

Why are podcasts so undermonetized? Unlike many other forms of media, the dominant distribution platform (Apple Podcasts) has no ad marketplace. Creators have historically had to approach brands themselves or sign with podcast networks to construct custom ad deals, and the “long tail” of podcasters were unable to monetize. This is finally changing. Anchor, which reported in January that it powers 40% of new podcasts, has an ad marketplace that has doubled the number of podcasts that are running ads. Other popular platforms like Radio Public have launched programs for small podcasters to opt-in to ad placements.

The second major hurdle in monetization is attribution. Podcasts have historically monetized through direct response campaigns — a podcaster provides a special URL or promo code for listeners to use when making a purchase. However, many people listen to podcasts when exercising or driving, and can’t write down the promo code or visit the URL immediately. These listeners might remember the product and make a purchase later, but the podcaster won’t get the attribution. Thomas Mancusi of Audioboom estimated that this happens in 50–60% of purchases driven by podcast ads.

Startups are trying to bring better adtech into podcasting to fix this issue.Chartable is one example — the company installs trackers to match a listener’s IP address with a purchaser’s IP address, allowing podcasters to claim attribution for listeners who don’t use their URL or promo code. Chartable currently runs on 10,000 shows, and the early results are so promising that ad agencies expect to see higher CPMs and significantly more spend in the space.

Podcast fans of the future ≠ podcast fans today

As podcasting grows, the listener base is diversifying. Edison Research looked into data on “rookie” listeners (listening for six months or less) and “veteran” listeners (listening for 3+ years), and found significant demographic differences. Only 37% of veterans are female, compared to 53% of rookies. While the plurality of veterans (43%) are age 35–54, 54% of rookies are age 12–34. Rookies are also 1.6x more likely to say they most often listen to podcasts on Spotify, Pandora, or SoundCloud (43% versus 27% of veterans). And social media is an important way that rookies discover podcasts — 52% have found a podcast from video and 46% from audio on social media, compared to 41% and 37% for veterans.

Screen Shot 2019 08 21 at 1.41.53 PM

These new listeners will have a profound impact on the future of podcasting, in both the type of content produced and the way it’s distributed. Industry experts are already noting significant new demand for female-hosted podcasts, as well as audio dramas that appeal to young people looking for a fast-paced, suspenseful story. They’re advising podcasters to share clips of their content on social media, and to leverage broader listening platforms like YouTube and Soundcloud for distribution.

International markets also represent an enormous opportunity for growth. Most podcast listeners today live in the U.S. or China, but content producers are starting to see significant demand elsewhere. Castbox’s Valentina Kaledina said that many fans abroad have resorted to listening in their non-native language, with the top 100 shows in each country comprising a mix of English and local language. Adonde Media’s Martina Castro, who recently conducted the first listener survey on Spanish-language podcast fans, said that 53% of the survey’s 2100 respondents reported listening to podcasts in English — and only 20% of them use Apple Podcasts.

Screen Shot 2019 08 21 at 1.43.21 PM

Larger podcast producers are beginning to translate shows for non-English-speaking markets. Wondery CEO Hernan Lopez announced at the conference that the company’s hit show Dr. Death is now available in seven languages. Lopez noted that it was an expensive process, and he doesn’t expect the shows to generate profit in the near future. However, he believes that Wondery will eventually see a significant return from investing in the development of new podcast markets — and if they do, other podcast companies will likely follow in their footsteps.




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US legislator, David Cicilline, joins international push to interrogate platform power – gpgmail


US legislator David Cicilline will be joining the next meeting of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and ‘Fake News’, it has been announced. The meeting will be held in Dublin on November 7.

Chair of the committee, the Irish Fine Gael politician Hildegarde Naughton, announced Cicilline’s inclusion today.

The congressman — who is chairman of the US House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee — will attend as an “ex officio member” which will allow him to question witnesses, she added.

Exactly who the witnesses in front of the grand committee will be is tbc. But the inclusion of a US legislator in the ranks of a non-US committee that’s been seeking answers about reining in online disinformation will certainly make any invitations that get extended to senior executives at US-based tech giants much harder to ignore.

Naughton points out that the addition of American legislators also means the International Grand Committee represents ~730 million citizens — and “their right to online privacy and security”.

“The Dublin meeting will be really significant in that it will be the first time that US legislators will participate,” she said in a statement. “As all the major social media/tech giants were founded and are headquartered in the United States it is very welcome that Congressman Cicilline has agreed to participate. His own Committee is presently conducting investigations into Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple and so his attendance will greatly enhance our deliberations.”

“Greater regulation of social media and tech giants is fast becoming a priority for many countries throughout the world,” she added. “The International Grand Committee is a gathering of international parliamentarians who have a particular responsibility in this area. We will coordinate actions to tackle online election interference, ‘fake news’, and harmful online communications, amongst other issues while at the same time respecting freedom of speech.”

The international committee met for its first session in London last November — when it was forced to empty-chair Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who had declined to attend in person, sending UK policy VP Richard Allan in his stead.

Lawmakers from nine countries spent several hours taking Allan to task over Facebook’s lack of accountability for problems generated by the content it distributes and amplifies, raising myriad examples of ongoing failure to tackle the democracy-denting, society-damaging disinformation — from election interference to hate speech whipping up genocide.

A second meeting of the grand committee was held earlier this year in Canada — taking place over three days in May.

Again Zuckerberg failed to show. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also gave international legislators zero facetime, with the company opting to send local head of policy, Kevin Chan, and global head of policy, Neil Potts, as stand ins.

Lawmakers were not amused. Canadian MPs voted to serve Zuckerberg and Sandberg with an open summons — meaning they’ll be required to appear before it the next time they step foot in the country.

Parliamentarians in the UK also issued a summons for Zuckerberg last year after repeat snubs to testify to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee’s enquiry into fake news — a decision that essentially gave birth to the international grand committee, as legislators in multiple jurisdictions united around a common cause of trying to find ways to hold social media giants to accounts.

While it’s not clear who the grand committee will invite to the next session, Facebook’s founder seems highly unlikely to have dropped off their list. And this time Zuckerberg and Sandberg may find it harder to turn down an invite to Dublin, given the committee’s ranks will include a homegrown lawmaker.

In a statement on joining the next meeting, Cicilline said: “We are living in a critical moment for privacy rights and competition online, both in the United States and around the world.  As people become increasingly connected by what seem to be free technology platforms, many remain unaware of the costs they are actually paying.

“The Internet has also become concentrated, less open, and growingly hostile to innovation. This is a problem that transcends borders, and it requires multinational cooperation to craft solutions that foster competition and safeguard privacy online. I look forward to joining the International Grand Committee as part of its historic effort to identify problems in digital markets and chart a path forward that leads to a better online experience for everyone.”

Multiple tech giants (including Facebook) have their international headquarters in Ireland — making the committee’s choice of location for their next meeting a strategic one. Should any tech CEOs thus choose to snub an invite to testify to the committee they might find themselves being served with an open summons to testify by Irish parliamentarians — and not being able to set foot in a country where their international HQ is located would be more than a reputational irritant.

Ireland’s privacy regulator is also sitting on a stack of open investigations against tech giants — again with Facebook and Facebook owned companies producing the fattest file (some 11 investigations). But there are plenty of privacy and security concerns to go around, with the DPC’s current case file also touching tech giants including Apple, Google, LinkedIn and Twitter.


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Axios’ Dan Primack on ‘the most polarizing startup that exists’ – gpgmail


Hello and welcome back to Equity, gpgmail’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week was a bit special. Instead of meeting up at the gpgmail HQ to record the episode, Kate and Alex met up in muggy Boston at Drift’s office, where we linked up with Axios’s Dan Primack. And since we were feeling chatty, we went a bit long.

After checking in with Primack (he has a newsletter and a podcast), we first dealt with the latest from Tumblr. In short, Verizon Media is selling Tumblr to Automattic for a few dollars. How did Verizon wind up owning Tumblr? Ah. Well, Yahoo bought it. Later, after Verizon bought AOL, it bought Yahoo. Then it smushed them together and called it Oath. Then Verizon decided that it didn’t like that much and renamed the group Verizon Media. But Verizon doesn’t want to own media (besides gpgmail, of course), so it sold Tumblr to Automattic, a venture-backed company best known for operating WordPress.

That’s a lot, I know. What matters is that Yahoo bought Tumblr for more than $1 billion. Verizon sold it for around $3 million. Now, Automattic now has a few hundred new employees and a shot at juicing its userbase before it goes public.

After that, we lamented that the WeWork S-1 had yet to appear. This was a tragedy, frankly. We had expected to spend half the show riffing on WeWork’s financials, alas…

So we turned to some normal material, like Ramp’s recent $7 million raise to take on Brex, and, SmartNews’s recent round, which gave it an eye-popping $1.1 billion valuation.

We ran a bit long because we were having fun, fitting in some conversation surrounding the notes from the SEC regarding the now-dead and then-fraudulent Rothenberg Ventures. More on that here if you want to get angry.

And finally, Vision Fund 2. It’s been a big source of interest for everyone on the show, and we expect whatever the second-act Vision Fund winds up becoming to be a big damn deal. The fund will invest in more than just consumer marketplaces, in fact, it’s eyeing more AI businesses and even biotech. That should be interesting.

All that and we have a lot more good stuff coming. Thanks for listening to the show, and we’ll be right back.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.




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Facebook contractors said to have collected and transcribed users’ audio without permission – gpgmail


Reset the counter on “number of days since the last Facebook privacy scandal.”

Facebook has become the latest tech giant to face scrutiny over its handling of users’ audio, following a report that said the social media giant collected audio from its users and transcribed it using third-party contractors.

The report came from Bloomberg, citing the contractors who requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.

According to the report, it’s not known where the audio came from or why it was transcribed, but that Facebook users’ conversations were often matched against to see if they were properly interpreted by the company’s artificial intelligence.

There are several ways that Facebook collects voice and audio data, including from its mobile devices, its Messenger voice and video service, and through its smart speaker. But the social media giant’s privacy policy makes no clear mention of voice . Bloomberg also noted that contractors felt their work was “unethical” because Facebook “hasn’t disclosed to users that third parties may review their audio.”

Facebook has since stopped the practice.

We’ve asked Facebook several questions, including how the audio was collected, for what reason it was transcribed, and why users weren’t explicitly told of the third-party transcription, but did not immediately hear back.

Facebook becomes the latest tech company to face questions about its use of third-party contractors and staff to review user audio.

Amazon saw the initial round of flak for allowing contractors to manually review Alexa recordings without express user permission, forcing the company to add an opt-out to its Echo devices. Google also faced the heat for allowing human review of audio data, along with Apple which used contractors to listen to seemingly private Siri recordings. Microsoft also listened to some Skype calls made through the company’s app translation feature.

It’s been over a year since Facebook last had a chief security officer in the wake of Alex Stamos’ departure.

Read more:


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Avoid high bounce rates – gpgmail


Advice on content marketing always talks about getting people to your blog.

But, what about once they’re there — how do you get them to then buy from you?

That’s the conversion half of content marketing, and that’s what I’ll cover: converting your readers into paying customers.

First, they read. Then, they buy.

When visitors arrive on your blog, three things should happen:

  1. First, they must start reading — instead of bouncing.
  2. Next, keep should keep reading until at least halfway through.
  3. Finally, they should be enticed to read more or convert: sign up, subscribe, purchase, etc.

Demand Curve’s data shows that when readers complete this full chain of events — as opposed to skipping step #2 — they’re more likely to ultimately buy from you.

Why? People trust your brand more after they’ve consumed your content and deemed you to be high quality and authoritative.

We’ve optimized tens of millions of blog impressions, and we have three novel insights to share in this post. Each will hopefully help compel readers to stick around and buy.

Let’s conquer high bounce rates — the bane of content marketers.

Entice visitors to start reading

First, some obvious advice: Getting visitors to read begins with having a strong intro.

A good intro buys goodwill with readers so they keep reading — and tolerate your boring parts.

There are three components to a good intro:

  1. Have a hook. Read about hooks here.
  2. Skip self-evident fluff. Read about succinctness here.
  3. Tease your subtopics to reassure visitors they landed in the right place.

The web’s biggest blogs include tables of contents at the top of their posts to reassure readers. It not only benefits SEO, it also improves read-through rates.

Image via Getty Images / z_wei

Keep them reading once they’ve started

Once visitors begin reading, you have three tactics to retain them:

  1. Drop-off optimization.
  2. A/B testing.
  3. Exit rate analysis.

This is how we’ll improve our read-through and conversion rates.

Drop-off optimization

Sometimes, when I write a post on Julian.com, I find few people actually finish reading it. They get halfway through then bounce.

I discover this by looking at my scroll-depth maps using Hotjar.com. These show me how far down a page an average reader gets. Then I pair that data with the average time spent on the page, which I get from Google Analytics.

Whenever I notice poor read completion rates, I spend ten minutes optimizing my content:

  1. I refer to the heatmaps to see which sections caused people to stop reading.
  2. Then I rewrite those offending sections to be more enticing.

This routinely achieves 1.5-2x boosts in read-through rates, which can lead to a similar boost in conversion.

You see, I never just publish a blog post then move on.

I treat my posts the same way I treat every other marketing asset: I measure and iterate.

For some reason, even professional content marketers publish their posts then simply move on. That’s crazy. Not spending 10 minutes optimizing can be the difference between people devouring your post or not being able to get halfway through.

Specifically, here’s the process for rewriting a post’s drop-off points to get readers to continue reading.

How to perform drop-off optimization

Screenshot 2019 08 06 20.34.53

Image via Julian Shapiro / Julian.com

First, record a scroll heatmap of your blog post. Any heatmap tool will do. I use Hotjar.com.

Next, whenever you see, say, 80% of readers getting midway into your post but only a fraction then make it to the end, you know you have a problem in the back half of your post: it’s verbose, uninsightful, or off-topic.

Your job is to find these drop-off points then rewrite the offending content using four techniques:

  • Brevity: Make the section more concise: Cut the filler and switch to a bullet list like the one you’re reading now. Or, delete the section altogether if it’s not interesting.
  • Inject insights: Perhaps your content is self-evident and boring. Rewrite it with novel and surprising thoughts.
  • Make headlines enticing: Make the next section’s headline more enticing. Perhaps readers bounce because they see that the next section’s title is boring or irrelevant. For example, instead of titling your next section “Wrapping up,” re-write it into something more eyebrow-raising like, “What you still don’t know.”
  • Cliffhangers: End sections with a statement like “Everything I just told you is true, but there’s a big exception.” Then withhold the exception until the next section. Keep them reading.

Once you’ve ironed out drop-off points, perhaps 35% of your readers finish the post instead of 15%. This reliably works, and it’s the highest-leverage way to achieve conversion improvements on your posts.

This is so self-evident yet no one does it for some reason.

And we’re only just starting. There’s another, more effective technique for optimizing your content: A/B testing paragraphs. Whereas drop-off optimization irons out the kinks in your article, A/B testing is how you take your read-through rates to a new tier.

Before we begin, follow along

As we explore the tactics below, you’re welcome to visit two blogs that incorporate these techniques:

If you need a primer on SEO before continuing, see my other gpgmail article on the topic here and this orientation here.

A/B testing content


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BuzzFeed CTO joins men’s health startup Ro – gpgmail


Ro, a two-year-old startup known for its online pharmacy of men’s health products, has named BuzzFeed’s Todd Levy its chief technology officer.

Levy first joined BuzzFeed in 2014 as the digital media company’s vice president of engineering; he was named CTO in 2016. Prior to BuzzFeed, Levy co-founded and led link management tool bit.ly. Levy begins his new role Wednesday, August 14.

We’ve reached out to BuzzFeed for comment.

Ro, valued at $500 million earlier this year, has raised $176 million in venture capital funding from Canaan Partners, FirstMark Capital, BoxGroup, Initialized Capital, General Catalyst, SignalFire and others. The fast-growing startup poised to enter the unicorn club in the next year represents an opportunity for Levy to get back in the business of early-stage startups.

The news comes months after BuzzFeed announced its largest layoffs to date. Despite having raised $500 million over the last decade, the site has struggled to find a path to profitability. BuzzFeed chairman Ken Lerer, a prolific media investor, stepped down this June.

Former BuzzFeed CTO Todd Levy.

In an email announcement to staffers, Ro co-founder Saman Rahmanian said the new hire will help usher the business into a new phase of growth: “First and foremost, we needed a great team builder – someone who cares about team spirit not just the code,” Rahmanian wrote:

Given the high growth state of our business, we also needed a leader who has seen or led the scaling of an engineering team like ours into the next stage (from 30 engineers to 200). We also needed someone with a strong technology background who has gone through the ranks and is fluent in modern software architecture. And equally as important, we needed someone that was the right fit for Ro – someone who will provide strong mentorship, who is excited about a distributed team, and who will evangelize the engineering team inside the business as well as outside of Ro to attract top talent.

New York-based Ro was founded in 2017 and has quickly become a leader in the direct-to-consumer health and wellness movement. The company competes with Hims, another online service for health products, as well as Numan, Manual and Thirty Madison, which have raised capital recently.

Ro was started by a trio of entrepreneurs: Rob Schutz, the former vice president of growth at Bark&Co; Rahmanian, a co-founder of the WeWork-acquired business Managed by Q; and chief executive officer Zachariah Reitano, who previously co-founded a Y Combinator -backed startup called Shout.

The startup initially launched under the name Roman, which became its flagship brand when the business adopted the umbrella name Ro last year.

In a 2017 interview with gpgmail’s Josh Constine, Reitano said he began experiencing ED at 17 years old: “I think in a good way I’ve become numb to the embarrassment,” he said. “I remember the embarrassment of having the condition with no solution, and that’s much worse than sharing the fact that I had it and was able to fix it myself.”

Roman offers men a $15 online doctor’s consultation and access to an instant prescription for Viagra, Cialis or generic drugs that can be filled at Roman’s in-house cloud pharmacy. The company also sells hair loss, cold sore medication and more under the Roman brand.

Ro also operates Zero and Rory, purveyors of a quit smoking kit and a line of women’s health products, respectively.


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Google adds playable podcast episodes to search results – gpgmail


Google is making it easier to find and listen to audio content specific to your search interests, with playable episodes surfaced in results that start rolling out today.

Playable podcasts will show up in results when you use “podcasts” as a keyword in your search, in combination with other terms. It’s intended to deliver you relevant results freed from the confines of a dedicated podcast player, and Google also intends to extend this search feature to queries that don’t even specify “podcast” in future as it refines its algorithms.

Google is also going to be rolling out this inline playable results feature for the search function in Google Podcasts on the web, and for Google Assistant. If you’re logged in, it’ll also sync your results so that you can pick up from wherever you left off in the dedicated Google Podcasts app.

This should be good for discoverability, since it means that a much broader potential audience can stumble across your podcasts then would be possible with existing tools, and sample them on the spot. But Google still plans to roll out finer controls for publishers, that mean you can specify where people can listen to them, and presumably where they can’t.

It’s yet another sign that podcasts are slowly and surely becoming more prevalent and mainstream than ever, and that Google is very interested in making sure that it doesn’t fall behind on ensuring this content is part of its overall search index and not the exclusive domain of other, more closed ecosystems that exist outside its sphere of influence.

Google is going to be rolling this out gradually beginning today, with initial availability open to U.S. users searching in English.


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PodcastOne is launching LaunchpadDM, a free hosting platform for independent podcasters – gpgmail


PodcastOne, the celebrity podcasting network from the founder of radio powerhouse WestwoodOne, is launching a free hosting platform for podcasters.

The Los Angeles-based syndicated podcasting platform, which counts athletes, politicians, talk radio, and reality television stars like Adam Carolla, Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Austin, Kaitlyn Bristowe, Dan Patrick, Spencer and Heidi Pratt, Jim Harbaugh, Ladygang, Dr. Drew, Chael Sonnen, Rich Eisen, Barbara Boxer, is angling to get insight into potential new talent through the venture. 

We will see which podcasts are performing well and offer them the opportunity to partner and grow with PodcastOne, and provide them with all the resources the network offers, including production, talent booking, promotion, a dedicated sales team and more,” said PodcastOne chief executive, Peter Morris, in a statement. “As the leading ad-supported podcast network, we are embracing the over 700,000 podcasts out there, and are here to support the long-term growth of independent podcasters.”

Called Launchpad Digital Media, the new hosting service is pitching podcasters a free platform including unlimited hosting; access to analytics including listenership, geography, and device data; total ownership of direct monetization channels for a podcast’s subscriber base, and complete control over how podcasts are distributed via Apple, Spotify or other services.

The company is also billing itself as a discovery platform, offering free promotion for the services various podcasts across its own network of popular podcasting talent.

“Over the years, people have shared with us how hard it can be out there in the desert of independent podcasting: you have to pay to host and get your podcast heard; you get no help in discoverability; you’re scared to leave and stop paying your hosting platform because you might lose your subscribers; and it’s virtually impossible to get noticed by a major podcast network who can help you take your hard work to the next level,” said Morris, in a statement. “Launchpad was built with the independent podcaster in mind. We wanted to help solve these problems… for free.”

Since nothing is actually free, and since PodcastOne wants to get paid, the catch is the company’s own ability to insert pre- and mid-roll advertising into podcasts that are hosted on the new service.

So podcasters can manage their direct advertising, but they give PodcastOne the ability to slot in ads that the company chooses across any of the podcasts that agree to be hosted on the service. It gives the company access to both marquee talent for high value, big spending advertisers, and a way to flood other podcasts with whatever ads the company wants.

Ads that LaunchpadDM inserts won’t be longer than two total minutes per episode and podcasters can determine the location of the midroll spot when uploading the episode.


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Facebook sues two app developers for click injection ad fraud – gpgmail


Facebook has filed lawsuits against two app developers accused of generating fraudulent revenue using the social media giant’s advertising platform.

The company announced the legal action in a blog post Tuesday.

“The developers made apps available on the Google Play store to infect their users’ phones with malware,” said Jessica Romero, director of platform enforcement and litigation. “The malware created fake user clicks on Facebook ads that appeared on the users’ phones, giving the impression that the users had clicked on the ads.”

The scheme uses a technique known as click injection, which relies on apps fraudulently generating ad clicks without the user’s knowledge to artificially inflate the amount of ad revenue. It’s a problem previously noted by security researchers. Often, developers create junk or easy-to-make apps which get downloaded millions of times, while in the background they’re clicking on invisible ads without the user’s knowledge.

Facebook said in this case two developers, LionMobi — based in Hong Kong, and JediMobi — based in Singapore — generated “unearned payouts” from the social media giant’s advertisement system.

By our count, the app developers have seen more than 207 million installs to date. The apps remain on Google’s app store. Google did not immediately comment.

The social media giant said it refunded impacted advertisers.

A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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