Digital travel and SEO: how Skyscanner dominates the SERPs

holiday search terms

The digital travel market has grown rapidly over the last decade. Sales in Western Europe totalled $152 billion in 2015, with the worldwide figure more than $533 billion.

Taken from PI Datametric Digital Travel Report, here are some stats on digital travel and SEO, as well a look at the organic search dominance of Skyscanner in this market.

What do people search for and when?

Here are the major search terms by volume. As we can see ‘holidays to..’ and ‘flights to..’ dominate.

There are key seasonal trends here too. Searches tend to peak in January and July, the times when people are most likely to be planning ahead for the summer, or looking to pick up last minute deals.

SkyScanner’s dominance

One thing which comes out of the research is that Skyscanner is picking up much of the organic visibility around search terms in this sector, especially for flight-related terms.

The chart below uses the most valuable search terms in the online travel sector and looks at which sites are most visible across the range.

As we can see, Skyscanner is by far the most visible brand. TripAdvisor comes second, while British Airways is the only flight operator to make the top 10, the rest being aggregators.

digital travel val search terms

The chart below shows a number of key terms where Skyscanner (mainly) tops the organic rankings, on Bing and Google.


It also has a large number of backlinks to its pages:

skyscanner backlinks 2

Here are the links to the Skyscanner New York flights page, for which it ranks at number one. Plenty of exact anchor text links there:

skyscan links NY

For comparison, here are the links to some of the rival sites for this term:

skyscanner backlinks

The caveat here is that organic dominance doesn’t necessarily mean that you become the most visible site. This is a sector where paid search plays a big role.

Indeed, though Skyscanner tops the organic rankings for many terms, it is often driven below the fold.

The recent removal of right hand side ads from desktop results and the addition of an extra paid result has made organic results less visible in competitive SERPs like these.

For the term below (flights to New York) Skyscanner has the top organic result, but has been pushed down by four paid ads and Google’s own comparison service.

skyscanner serps

According to Sam Silverwood-Cope from PI Datametrics:

“When you’re looking at individual markets (rather than just ambiguous total visibility scores, which is almost pointless), Skyscanner is possibly the best performer we have seen across any market in organic search. They own the flight sector and have near omnipresence. They’re obviously doing a fantastic job, and it’s up to the competitors to replicate their best practice and the elects behind success.”

Google Expanded Text Ads: 10 things you need to know

expanded text ads in adwords

Expanded Text Ads are coming to Google AdWords. Are you excited? But more importantly, are you ready?

Expanded Text Ads were one of several huge AdWords changes Google announced recently – if not the biggest. I still can’t believe that Google will soon actually increase its ad text limits by 2x!

So what exactly is changing? Here are 10 things advertisers need to know about Expanded Text Ads.

1. What are Expanded Text Ads?

Expanded Text Ads are 2x bigger than current text ads. The new ads are designed to maximize your presence and performance on mobile search results with a bigger headline and an extra long description. (And with a mobile-first mindset, whatever works on mobile is going to get applied to desktop too.)

Expanded Text ads will show across all devices – desktop and mobile – and will wrap automatically based on device size.

Google began testing Expanded Text ads in Q2 of 2016.

2. Why is Google making this change?

Google is calling this the biggest change to text ads since AdWords launched 15 years ago.

Several months ago, Google began thinking about what an AdWords ad would look like if they created AdWords in today’s mobile-first world, where more than half of the trillions of searches conducted on Google per year are done via a mobile device.

Google’s first move toward creating a unified experience across devices came in February when it killed off right side ads on desktop. Now with the constraints of desktop right-side ads gone, this change seems like a natural progression from the super-sized headlines introduced in 2011.

3. How much bigger are these expanded ads?

Expanded text ads are 2x bigger (math nerd alert: technically 47 percent bigger) from today’s AdWords text ads.

You now have a total of 140 characters of ad copy space to use, marking the end of the current 25-35-35 limits. No comment from Twitter as yet about their thoughts on Google adopting a 140-character limit. Here’s a little more info on the changes from the AdWords blog:

expanded text ads details

So make all those extra characters count. Create eye-catching and emotional ads that searchers can’t resist clicking on.

4. What do the new Expanded Text Ads look like?

Here’s a before and after of what the ads will look like on mobile and desktop:

Expanded Text Ad example

And here’s what Expanded Text Ads will look like in the AdWords interface:

Expanded Text Ad example

5. How much are headlines expanding?

Advertisers will have two 30-character headlines when Expanded Text Ads become available later this year.

Advertisers currently are limited to a 25-character headline.

That’s means our headlines will soon increase by 140 percent!

6. How much will descriptions expand?

Advertisers will have one 80-character description line.

Advertisers currently are limited to two 35-character description lines.

That means descriptions will increase by 14 percent.

7. What’s changing with display URLs?

AdWords will automatically extract the domain from the final URL.

Advertisers can then add up to two paths to enhance the display URL (using up to 15 characters).

8. Will this improve CTR?

Yes! More text means greater visibility. Early reports indicate that Expanded Text Ads are seeing CTR increase by as much as 20 percent.

At WordStream, we’ve observed CTR increase by around 12 percent by adding ad or call extensions to mobile text ads – so we expect increasing the character counts of headlines and description should result in more clicks.

Regardless, you can bet we’ll be closely tracking the performance of this new ad format as it becomes more widely available.

9. When will the new ads roll out?

Google hasn’t officially revealed when all advertisers will have access to Expanded Text Ads. Keep an eye out and we’ll update when we know more details.

10. What should you do to prepare for Expanded Text Ads?

Raise your Quality Scores now! Quality Score is already the most important metric in your AdWords account, but it’s about to become even more important.

Businesses that occupy the top spots will take up the most valuable SERP real estate – especially for commercial queries. It could make anything below position 2 or 3 on mobile devices irrelevant!

Additionally, you’ve got a lot of ad text optimization ahead of you. You’ll need to make sure your text ads are all rewritten to take advantage of this new format. Google is giving you 2x more space with Expanded Text Ads – so be ready to use it to your advantage!

Find out how you’re REALLY doing in AdWords!

Watch the video below on our Free AdWords Grader:

Visit the AdWords Grader.

Warning: Don’t fall victim to content strategy’s biggest mistake

content strategy mistake

If you think content strategy and content marketing are independent of each other, your content doesn’t stand a chance. Here is why:

Content strategy vs. content marketing

Yes, the two concepts are drastically different from each other, but understanding that you can’t successfully do one without the other is a must.

Think of content strategy as a whole hamburger, with content marketing being the bun that holds that strategy together. A content strategy would fall apart if it didn’t have the support of content marketing, so why do we separate the two?

In its most basic form, content strategy provides answers to the Four W’s: Who? What? Where? Why? Content marketing answers how it will reach the target audience.

The problem many content strategists run into is that they think their job is done once they have provided answers to the Four W’s.

They wipe their hands clean and then rely on the content marketer—whether that’s an SEO expert, outreach specialist, or CRO professional—to take it from there.

This is a mistake.

Working with a content marketer throughout the entire process is the only way to take a good content piece and make it great.

Knowing what type of content to create

Content strategists who work in conjunction with content marketers will create content designed with the user in mind. They understand that a solid marketing strategy is all about delivering the right message, in the right format, to the right people, at the right time.

They also understand that a piece designed specifically for social media shouldn’t look the same as a piece that will be delivered via email campaigns.

Groupon has mastered the art of delivering the right content, in the right format, to the right people. Take their website content and their email marketing content, for example.

It’s evident they understand that while the two should convey the same message, it has to be delivered in different formats to gain any traction.

Their email campaigns provide just enough detail to get the consumer interested, without overwhelming them with information.

content groupon2

The website, on the other hand, is packed with information and answers nearly every question a customer could have.

These are prime examples of what can go right when a content strategist and a content marketer work together to deliver a message across different digital channels.

Creating content isn’t enough. It has to be seen

Have you ever come up with an idea you just know will take the internet by storm, yet it falls flat on its face? You’re not alone. In fact, in 2013 it was reported that roughly 70% of all content was never seen.

This brings us back to the idea that working together is the best way to create effective marketing campaigns.

As a content strategist, you should work with the content marketer from the get-go to determine not only who the content piece is for, but how to get that content in front of the target consumer. Content marketers are typically more immersed in an industry, working more directly with your target audience. They know where your target customer is and how to reach them.

Take, for example,, a startup website that’s trying to break into the well-established insurance industry. One approach taken was to review top auto and home insurance companies, not a new concept within any B2C industry. But incredibly effective.

Their reviews of Allstate auto insurance, The General, and more were quickly picked up and gained consistent traffic thanks to backlinks from top consumer websites.

The success they saw came from having a content marketing plan in place to help support the strategy. This allowed the content marketer to get the right content in front of consumers who were in the shopping phase of their purchase decision.

content analytics

If the content marketing plan had not been in place, the time and research that went into creating those pages could have all been for naught.

Content marketing explains ROI

At the end of the day, content strategists create content that aims to do something:get social shares, earn email addresses, make a sale, etc. And while a content strategist can dig into analytics and find page conversions, without working with the content marketer they can’t answer the how.

Let’s say you have a page that gets 20,000 visitors a month. Content strategists must work with the content marketer to be able to answer how that traffic was gained. With Facebook now sending more traffic than Google to sites, using SEO to explain the how is no longer the only viable option.

Content marketers are responsible for answering if paid media was utilized, what metrics were used for a social campaign that sent referring traffic, if it was part of a link-building campaign, and more.

most recent

Knowing the how will allow content strategists to make more informed decisions for the next piece, ultimately allowing them to be more successful and provide better content to the user.

“There is no content strategy without measurement strategy. Before embarking on a content initiative, irrespective of medium or platform, it’s important to know what you want to achieve.” -Rebecca Lieb, Principal at Conclomotron LLC

The end goal is the same

The good news is that both disciplines share the same objective, and should ultimately want what is best for the consumer. Then all it takes is an open line of communication.

Utilize kick-off meetings for each new project that address who the content is being created for, why it needs to be created, and how it’s going to get into the right hands. If you prefer tools to help you fully visualize the strategy and marketing of projects, I recommend Divvy, Kapost, and Marketing-AI.

At the end of the day, working together in a more seamless fashion will not only make both disciplines more successful, but will result in a better customer experience from start to finish.

How to actually engage influencers on Facebook


Being the largest social media network in the world, Facebook is a natural choice when it comes to nurturing connections and building relationships with industry influencers.

Influencer reach is undeniable. It isn’t the simple matter of getting popular people to talk about you. It is building relationships that lead to other relationships, and so on and so forth. This is both on the B2B and B2C end, and applicable regardless of industry.

So how to use Facebook for influencer outreach? Here are a few actionable ideas!

Research what works for your competitors

Any strategy starts with brainstorming and continues with competitor research which is supposed to improve and expand your initial ideas.

There are not many tools allowing for a competitive research on Facebook but here the two I am aware of…

BirdSong Analytics provides an indepth engagement report for any Facebook page you provide. My favorite part is day-of-the-week and time-of-the-day report showing time slots when your competitor’s followers engage with them on Facebook:

Another cool report here is the list of the competitor’s posts sorted by engagement:

Fanpage Karma is nnother great tool for Facebook competitor research: it shows the list of most engaged page supporters. These are people you may want to start building relationships with too:


For monitoring your own Facebook pages and different types of engagement, nothing comes close to Cyfe.

The beauty of the tool is that you can monitor several pages and various types of engagement metrics (likes, comments, views, etc.) within one Cyfe dashboard which is incredibly time-saving:


It’s a good idea to set up the monitoring dashboard prior to starting your influencer campaign on Facebook to see the trend and estimate your growth.

Make influencers a part of the content

If you are doing Facebook marketing right, it is closely integrated into your content marketing. So the influencer marketing campaign should involve both too.

Including an influencer in an article is the most powerful way to engage anyone in sharing the piece. So why not make the influencers a direct part of the content to sweeten the deal? Ask them to contribute to posts, or link to their work in the text of a blog post.

Or do what so many others have found success doing and create an expert roundup post. Come up with a question that is relevant to your readers. Then ask various experts (i.e. influencers) to share their opinion on the matter.

Apart from an expert roundup, you can invite an influencer to:

  • Get interviewed on your blog
  • Appear in a Blab video or a podcast
  • Host an exclusive webinar for your customers (This could be a paid gig)

Here’s a great example of an influencer interview as part of the main landing page:


Tool alert: SERPstat is a great way to come up with popular questions on any topic to engage more influencers.

Just type your core word, then click [Search suggestions] and from there [Only questions]


Once your article featuring an influencer goes live on your blog, make sure to share it on your Facebook page and tag the influencer(s).

Here’s an example of the recent expert roundup I was featured in when posted to Facebook:


[I got both an email and a Facebook notification of this mention which is incredibly hard to miss. Additionally, I am getting a Facebook notification on each new comment on the post I am tagged in. This means I get reminded of this mention again and again and I am most likely to like, comment and share it]

A word on Facebook name tagging…

Now, since Facebook tagging is such a huge part of Facebook influencer marketing, let’s clarify how it works:

To tag anyone on Facebook, use @ and then start typing their name until you see them in the drop-down:


You won’t be able to tag anyone on Facebook using a third-party app (like Hootsuite or Mavsocial). You’ll need to share the post using Facebook interface.

You will only be able to tag a person if you are friends on Facebook. Most influencers have business pages on Facebook which you’ll be able to tag instead:


I think it’s a bug but you won’t be able to tag a business page using the native Facebook mobile app: You’ll have to share the post from desktop.

How are you engaging influencers on Facebook? Please share your tips!

Where do the biggest brands spend their marketing dollars?


Different retailers have different priorities when it comes to their marketing budgets, but the most valuable brands – Amazon and Apple – are banking on search.

We all know Amazon is the undisputed king of ecommerce. From November 2014 to November 2015, the company raked in more than $71 billion in online sales, which is more than Walmart, Apple, Macy’s, The Home Depot, Best Buy, Costco, Target, Gap Inc., Williams-Sonoma, Sears and Kohl’s sold. Combined.

What is Amazon doing that the others aren’t?

According to Fractl, a Florida-based content marketing agency which analyzed the marketing spend of these massive retailers, search gets the lion’s share of Amazon’s budget. During that year period, the ecommerce giant spent $8 million on TV and radio, a number that sounds very high in isolation. However, Amazon spent $54 million on print and $1.35 billion on search.

Among the other retailers, only Apple – called the most valuable brand in the world last year – and Etsy prioritize search to such a degree. Apple spent far more on TV and outdoor advertising than Amazon, though search still made up 86 percent of its spend. Search was an even higher percentage for Etsy: 91 percent, with 1.39 million going to search and $90,000 to other digital channels.

The Etsy finding was the most interesting to Lillian Podlog, project manager at Fractl, who noted that Etsy doesn’t have the same juggernaut status as Apple and Amazon.

“With Amazon and Apple, you can ask what came first, their success or where they put their marketing dollars. Maybe at this point, they can do anything, but Etsy has the same tactic and if you look at organic search rankings, it’s doing really well,” she says.

Etsy saw among the highest ROI in the study. For every $1 spent on marketing, the online marketplace saw $1,600 in sales. Additionally, Etsy, along with Apple and Amazon, had a disproportionately high SEMrush rankings compared with the others, which means they saw higher organic traffic.

That’s a common correlation among the brands analyzed by Fractl. Most of those with larger search spends have higher SEMrush rankings.

“So many people use ad blockers, so many people have blindness to display ads. Investing in search, whether its paid or building your SEO, requires you to really think about what kind of content you’re putting on the Internet that would appeal to users and boost your SEO,” says Podlog. “It requires you to be more thoughtful and considerate about what the customer really wants.”

Among the only exceptions to that rule are Williams-Sonoma and The Home Depot. Digital makes up 51 percent of sales – and 57 percent of the marketing budget – for the former. Nearly a quarter of that budget goes to search, but Williams-Sonoma still doesn’t rank particularly high. On the other hand, The Home Depot does, despite only spending 11 percent on search, instead prioritizing TV and radio.

Where do some of the other major players put their money?

  • Best Buy puts the majority of its dollars in TV and digital, favoring network channels and display advertising over cable and search.
  • Costco, on the other hand, largely eschews TV. Instead, the warehouse retailer allocates 57 percent of its marketing dollars to display and nearly all the rest to magazines and newspapers.
  • Macy’s is another one with a heavy print focus. The brand spends $16 million on display and $32 million on search, which sounds like a lot of money, but is just a drop in the bucket by comparison. Macy’s spends 5.5 times as much on TV and more than 8 times as much on
    “Macy’s is one of those companies that has an established name and an established consumer base, but if it wants to take some of Amazon’s chunk of online retail, it has to invest more in those other channels,” says Podlog. “Macy’s has been around for so long, but I personally think that unless it changes the shape of its spending, it’s going to suffer.”
  • Nordstrom’s priority is similarly on print – $27 million on magazines, compared with $6 million on search, $4 million on display, $5 million on TV and $2 million on outdoor – but the strategy is a bit different from that of Macy’s. While Macy’s spends most of its money on newspapers, Nordstrom goes for magazines, a medium that meshes better with the brand’s luxury focus.
  • Netflix, despite being heralded as one of the premier digital disruptors, doesn’t spend nearly as much money on digital advertising as one would assume. The streaming giant spends $1 million each on display and online video, and $17 million on TV with a particularly heavy focus on network. It makes to sense to Podlog, who points out that “people are watching TV, they’re not on Netflix.”
  • Target’s marketing budget is probably the most balanced. The retailer spends 46 on TV, 22 on print and 28 percent on digital. The majority of that digital spend is allocated to search, but $23 million is still set aside for online video.

Five of the most interesting search marketing news stories of the week

health adwords

It’s Friday, and time for our weekly round-up of the week’s news in search marketing.

Today we have the most expensive AdWords keywords, a new site testing tool from Google, and a look at whether Google factors in anchor text in internal links.

Google’s next mobile update will factor in page speed

Mobile page speed isn’t currently used as a ranking factor by Google, but that will change with the next mobile friendly update.

Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed this at a recent Search Marketing Summit in Sydney. Though he wasn’t giving dates away, it appears this update is a matter of months away.

What are the most expensive keywords in the US?

Our columnist Chris Lake has compiled a list of the most expensive AdWords keywords in the US. (We have the same list from the UK too).

What have we learnt? Well, the US keywords are much more expensive than those in the UK. The top US keyword is upwards of four times more expensive than the equivalent across the Atlantic.

Also, whereas gambling terms dominate in the UK, it’s legal keywords in the States. 78% are legal terms, including nine of the top ten.

A new mobile-friendly testing tool

Google has just launched this tool, based upon the Page Speed Insights tool.

The tool tests and gives a score for these three things:

  • Mobile friendliness
  • Mobile speed
  • Desktop speed

Google will also send you a report detailing the reasons for your scores and suggestions for improvement. Looks like Google needs to work on that desktop score 😉

Does Google count anchor text in internal links?

Shaun Anderson from Hobo Web carried out an interesting experiment looking at whether the anchor text used in internal links is used as a ranking factor by Google.

The answer seems to be yes. Please read Shaun’s blog for the full details, but he essentially linked to a page on his site which didn’t contain the keywords used in the anchor text linking to it.

The page then ranked for that keyword, and stopped ranking when the link was removed.

hobo web screenshot

A useful recap of Google I/O

There was lots to digest from Google I/O and Google has helpfully listed and explained the various announcements on the Webmaster Central Blog.

They are:

  • Rich cards
  • New Search Console reports
  • Real-time indexing
  • More detail on Accelerated Mobile Pages
  • A new and improved Structured Data Testing Tool
  • App Indexing’s migration to Firebase
  • App streaming
  • A revamp of developer documentation

And finally, the launch of ClickZ Intelligence…

Last week saw the launch of ClickZ Intelligence, a new service providing a range of reports aimed at digital marketing pros.

There’ll be some dedicated SEO and PPC reports further down the line, but for now we have reports on social customer service, ecommerce checkout, customer journeys, mobile ads, AI, and mobile commerce (see Rebecca Sentance’s look at this report from a search perspective).

What does Meeker’s Internet Trends report tell us about voice search?

voice search queries

This week saw the publication of Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report, packed full of data and insights into the development of the internet and digital technology across the globe.

Particularly of interest to us here at Search Engine Watch is a 21-page section on the evolution of voice and natural language as a computing interface, titled ‘Re-Imagining Voice = A New Paradigm in Human-Computer Interaction‘.

It looks at trends in recognition accuracy, voice assistants, voice search and sales of devices like the Amazon Echo to build up an accurate picture of how voice interface has progressed over the past few years, and is likely to progress in the future.

So what do we learn from the report and Meeker’s data about the role of voice in internet trends for 2016?

Voice search is growing exponentially

We know that voice is a fast-rising trend in search, as the proliferation of digital assistants and the advances in interpreting natural language queries make voice searching easier and more accurate.

But the figures from Meeker’s report show exactly to what extent voice search has grown over the past eight years, since the launch of the iPhone and Google Voice Search in 2008. Google voice queries have risen more than 35-fold from 2008 to today, according to Google Trends, with “call mom” and “navigate home” being two of the most commonly-used voice commands.

Tracking the rise of voice-specific queries such as “call mom”, “call dad” and “navigate home” are an unexpected but surprisingly accurate way to map the growth of voice search and voice commands. As an aside, anyone can track this data for themselves by entering the same terms into Google Trends. It’s interesting to think what the signature voice commands might be for tracking the use of smart home hubs like Amazon Echo in a few years’ time.

Google is, of course, by no means the only search engine experiencing this trend, and the report goes on to illustrate the rise in speech recognition and text to speech usage for the Chinese search engine Baidu. Meeker notes that “typing Chinese on a small cellphone keyboard [is] even more difficult than typing English”, leading to “rapidly growing” usage of voice input across Baidu’s products.

Meeker also plots a timeline of key milestones in the growth of voice search since 2014, noting that 10% of Baidu search queries were made by voice in September 2014, that Amazon Echo was the fastest-selling speaker in 2015, and that Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist at Baidu, has predicted that by 2020 50% of all searches will be made with either images or speech.

While developments in image search haven’t been making as much of a splash as developments with voice, it shouldn’t be overlooked, as the technology that will let us ‘search’ objects in the physical world is coming on in leaps and bounds. In April, Bing implemented an update to its iOS app allowing users to search the web with photos from their phone camera, although the feature is limited to users in the United States, as they’re the only ones who can download the app.

The visual search app CamFind, which has been around since 2013, also has an uncanny ability to identify objects in the physical world and call up product listings, which has a huge amount of potential for both search and marketing.

voice search timeline

Why do people use voice?

The increase in voice search and voice commands is not only due to improved technology; the most advanced technology in the world still wouldn’t see widespread adoption if it wasn’t useful. So what are voice input adopters (at least in the United States) using it to do?

The most common setting for using voice input is the home, which explains the popularity of voice-controlled smart home hubs like Amazon Echo. In second place is the car, which tallies up with the most popular motivation for using voice input: “Useful when hands/vision occupied”.

reasons to use voice

30% of respondents found voice input faster than using text, which also makes sense – Meeker observes elsewhere in the report that humans can speak almost 4 times as quickly as they can type, at an average of 150 words per minute (spoken) versus 40 words per minute (typed). While this has always been the case, the ability of technology to accurately parse those words and quickly deliver a response is what is really beginning to make voice input faster and more convenient than text.

As Andrew Ng said, in a quote that is reproduced on page 117 of the report, “No one wants to wait 10 seconds for a response. Accuracy, followed by latency, are the two key metrics for a production speech system…”

The third-most popular reason for using voice input, “Difficulty typing on certain devices”, is a reminder of the important role that voice has always played, and continues to play, in making technology more accessible. The least popular setting for using voice input is at work, which could be due to the difficulty in picking out an individual user’s voice in a work environment, or due to a social reluctance to talk to a device in front of colleagues.


Meeker’s report also looks into the usage of one digital assistant in particular: Hound, an assistant app developed by the audio recognition company SoundHound, and which was also recently used to add voice search capabilities to SoundHound’s music search engine of the same name.

What’s interesting about the usage breakdown for Hound, at least among the four fairly broad categories that the report divides it into, is that no one use type dominates overwhelmingly. The most popular use for Hound is ‘general information’, at 30%, above even ‘personal assistant’ (which is what Hound was designed to do) at 27%.

Put together with the percentage of queries for ‘local information’, more than half of voice queries to Hound are information queries, suggesting that many users still see voice primarily as a gateway into search. It would be interesting to see similar graphs for usage of Siri, Cortana and Google’s assistants to determine whether this trend is borne out across the board.

A tipping point for voice?

Towards the end of the section, Meeker looks at the evolution and ownership of the Amazon Echo, which as a device which was specifically designed to be used with voice (as opposed to smartphones which had voice capabilities integrated into them) is perhaps the most useful product case study for the adoption of voice commands.

Meeker notes on one slide that computing industry inflection points are “typically only obvious with hindsight”. On the next, she juxtaposes the peak of iPhone sales in 2015 and the beginning of their estimated decline in 2016 with the take-off of Amazon Echo sales in the same period, seeming to suggest that one caused the other, or that one device is giving way to the other for dominance of the smart device market.

iphone vs echo

I’m not sure if I would agree that the Amazon Echo is taking over from the iPhone (or from smartphones), since they’re fundamentally different devices: one is designed to be home-bound, the other portable; one is visual and the other is not; and as I pointed out above, the Amazon Echo is designed to work exclusively with voice, while the iPhone simply has voice capabilities.

But it is interesting to view the trend as part of a shift in the computing market towards a different type of technology: an ‘always-on’, Internet of Things-connected device specifically designed to work with voice, and perhaps that’s the point that Meeker is making here.

Meeker points to the fast movement of third-party developers to build platforms which integrate the Alexa voice assistant into different devices as evidence of the expansion of “voice as computing interface”. While I think we will always depend on a visual interface for many things, this could be the beginning of a tipping point where voice commands take over from buttons and text as the primary input method for most devices and machines.

Hopefully Meeker will revisit this topic in subsequent trends reports so that we can see how things play out over the next few years.

A seven step B2B AdWords tracking audit

AdWords conversion actions

Conversion tracking can be the bane of a PPC professional’s existence. And that’s because there are so many variables.

Every business has a different website and CMS, a different thing they want to track, a different web development team with different proficiencies. All these different variations make this part of PPC one of the hardest parts to implement.

Though tricky, conversion tracking is essential. Because AdWords tracking gives you the data you need to be able to make smarter decisions about where you’re spending your advertising dollars, and when to optimize your PPC account.

In this post, I’ll outline seven steps you can take to audit the status of your PPC conversions …

1. Find out what the business is already tracking

The first thing you can do is find out what the business is tracking today.

Go to your AdWords dashboard > Tools > Conversion actions, where you can see conversion status.

2. Check your conversion actions

Check that the web pages jive with the conversion set up by looking at the “webpages” section.

This will show you the website pages that are reporting conversions.

For B2Bs, you can usually tell that it’s a proper conversion page if it ends with .com/thanks or .com/confirmation—or any type of page that renders after a visitor completes an action.

In the image above, the white paper URL is only tracking people that go to the white paper download page, not the people who have actually downloaded the white paper. This is a good example of tracking the wrong thing.

3.Verify the tracking tag is set up correctly

Verify that the AdWords tracking tag is set up on the right page (the thank-you or confirmation page), and set up correctly.

You’d be surprised at how easy it is to goof this step—even if you have developers or technical people working on it.

First, find the tracking tag for individual conversion actions by going to the AdWords dashboard > Conversions actions, and click on the one you are interested in viewing.

You’ll then see something like this:


Then, go to the actual web page and right click to view page source. Once the HTML side of the page is visible, you can quickly look for the code by searching on the HTML page for the conversion ID number, using the information you retrieved from your AdWords dashboard (like in the image above).

Once you see that the code is actually on the page, verify it’s placed in the right area on the web page. This help file from AdWords showcases where to place it, and here’s a marked-up image:


4.Use the ‘Tag Assistant’ extension to verify tracking codes

I love the “Tag Assistant” Google Chrome extension to validate tracking on any given web page.

From the Google help files, the following shows the status messages you’ll see from it:


Be aware that you may get recommendations from the extension, even when the code is implemented correctly. This is usually because there are additional details you could implement to make the tracking more robust.

You can grab the extension here.

5. Check the AdWords conversion data with internal conversion data

Check the last month’s conversion data, and then ask your client (or if you’re in-house, your team) if the numbers are consistent with their internal tracking (like in or their own internal tracking system).

Sometimes the company may be reporting more or less conversions than what you’re seeing, and if it’s within range, there’s nothing to worry about. But if you start to see huge differences, that’s when you want to dig in and find out more.

6. Compare with Google Analytics data

Now this step is an extra step that not every business has implemented. We always track conversions using both types of code, the AdWords tracking tag and the Google Analytics tracking code.

Some businesses prefer the Google Tag Manager product, which is a simplified version for adding and updating conversion tracking and additional items (presumably without bugging the web developer every time you need something).

In Google Analytics, we’re also looking for similar numbers to the AdWords conversions. They’re never going to be completely the same because the two platforms report differently (this Google help file clarifies the difference). If something is off in a big way, time to start researching.

And sometimes the issue goes deeper than just looking at the numbers. For example, say a website visitor has three things to do on the site: fill out a request, sign up for a newsletter and sign up for a webinar.

What can happen is the business may be tracking all three in AdWords, but they only have one form set up to track in analytics. So be sure to understand what conversion actions are represented in both tracking systems.

7. Go through the conversion process yourself

You can verify the conversion tracking is correct by taking the action on the website yourself. Start by doing a search online using the desired keyword, click the ad and fill in the form.

I like to use some easy identifier when I’m first performing the search (e.g., “personal injury lawyer Pauline test”), so that you can easily find your conversion.

To sum up: Yes, conversion tracking can be a pain in the you-know-what, but it’s the only way you can make sound decisions about your AdWords account on a daily basis. Take the time to see if your PPC client or your business is doing it right by following the steps in this article.

10 things you need to know about the new Google Maps Local Search Ads

new google maps local search ads

Last week was quite eventful for PPC marketers. Google announced a number of changes coming to AdWords and Analytics during the Google Performance Summit, with mobile being the huge focus.

Google revealed several incredible mobile statistics. We were introduced to Expanded Text Ads. We got a sneak preview of the new Google AdWords interface. And so much more.

Another big change was what Google described as “the next generation” of local search ads.

So what exactly are these new Google maps ads? What’s changing?

Here are answer to the top 10 questions you’re asking (or should be asking!) about the new Google Maps local search ads.

1. How are Local Search Ads on Google Maps changing?

The new Google Maps ads are designed to help businesses be more visible at moments when consumers are searching online (especially on a mobile device) for somewhere to eat or shop.

In the coming weeks and months, Google will be revealing several new Maps ad formats and features that are designed to drive more foot traffic to your physical location. These include Promoted Pins (including brand logos), in-store promotions, customizable business pages, and local inventory search.

Google’s goal is to optimize the Google Maps experience so that users actually see the ads but without going so far as to become obtrusive and become a distraction to users who may be driving (e.g., there are no plans for interstitials or audio).

Google introduced local ads to the Google Maps app in 2013.

2. Where will the new ads be shown?

The new local search ads will appear within the Google Maps app, on the Google Maps mobile, desktop, and tablet sites, and on Expanded Maps results.

google maps app ads

In the Google Maps app, which has more than 1 billion downloads, a single ad with a purple ad label will be featured in the top spot above the organic results.

desktop google maps ads

For searches within Google Maps, Google will show a maximum of two ads with a purple ad label at the top of the search results.

google expanded maps ads

For location-related searches (officially known as Expanded Maps Results), users who click on the “More places” link at the bottom of the Local 3-Pack will first see a Google Maps ad in the top position with a yellow ad label, above the other map results.

3. Why is Google making these change?

During the Summit, Google revealed some insane statistics that should make all marketers stand up and take notice.

google maps ads new

Here are seven mind-blowing mobile stats that explain why you must bridge the gap from the mobile world to the physical world:

  • Around 90 percent of all global sales will happen in stores, as opposed to online.
  • Nearly a third of mobile searches are related to location.
  • Location-related searches have been growing 50 percent faster than mobile searches overall in the past year.
  • Over a billion people now use Maps.
  • Google searches (on and Maps) guide consumers to 1.5 billion destinations every year.
  • 84 percent of consumers conduct local searches.
  • Three out of every four people who search for something nearby using their smartphone end up visiting a store within a day, and 28 percent of those searches result in a purchase.

If your business has a physical location and you want to grow, then it’s extremely important that you make it ridiculously easy for people to find you online when they pull out their smartphone to search for what you sell.

4. What are Promoted Pins?

Google will soon bring Promoted Pins to Maps. These branded pins are designed to help your business stand out to people who are nearby or who will walk or drive right by your business. It’s your opportunity to be a unicorn in a sea of donkeys.

For example, if you run a restaurant, your ad might convince someone passing by to grab a bite to eat. Or if you want people to stop at your gas station, your Promoted Pin could convince people to pull in and fuel up.

Here’s what Promoted Pins look like:

google maps promotion pins

So if you were in need of a pharmacy, Walgreens’ ad might appear at the top of your search results (assuming there is one near you). In addition to highlighting details about Walgreens, you’ll see an in-store promotion ($3 off contact lens solution).

The right promotion could help your business drive more store visits.

For example, let’s say you’re on your way back from successfully buying contact solution at Walgreens. There’s a Starbucks a couple blocks away and you’re a regular customer. To entice you to visit, Starbucks might use a Promoted Pin on Google Maps to offer you $1 off any beverage if you use your rewards card.

5. How does Google Maps choose which ads to show?

There could be hundreds of stores near your location but only a few precious ad spots. How does Google know which listing is the most relevant to the searcher?

Google says it is using a “variety” of signals, including:

  • Query context.
  • Location.
  • Search/browsing history.
  • Interests.
  • Behaviors.
  • Time of day.
  • Demographics.

What Google Maps is doing is similar to the ad serving used on the Google Display Network.

So if Google knows that you don’t often go to Starbucks, Google Maps won’t show you Starbucks ads. Pretty smart, eh?

6. What else is changing with Google Maps?

Local pages are getting a new look, all designed to increase foot traffic to your store.

new google local business pages

When someone taps on a local search ad, they’ll be taken to a page that advertisers can customize. The local pages will include important business details such as store hours, phone number, address, and driving directions.

Businesses can also highlight offers that are unique to that promoted location (e.g., 10 percent off an item) and allow people to search for items in your store’s local inventory. Google will only show local inventory if it is relevant to your business.

7. How can I display local inventory?

According to Google data, one in four people avoid visiting stores because they don’t know whether a specific product is in stock. That’s why you should bring local inventory information into your customizable local page, along with ability to search through that inventory.

How do you display that information? You need to provide Google with your inventory feed. You can see Google’s specifications here.

8. How much will the new local search ads cost?

Advertisers are currently charged on a cost-per-click basis for Google Local Search ads. These clicks include:

  • Get location details.
  • Get directions.
  • Click-to-call.

9. When will the new local search ads roll out?

The new local search ads are currently in beta. Google hasn’t revealed an exact date when the ads will become more widely available, but it’s a safe bet they will start rolling out to more advertisers within the next three months.

10. What do location-based businesses need to do?

While you wait for access to the new ads, there are a couple things you can do now.

First, and most important, you must enable location extensions. Only ads with location extensions enabled will be eligible to show. Location extensions are proven to positively impact your performance.

You can advertise on Google Maps right now. Just check that all your information in Google My Business is complete, accurate, and up to date. Any inaccurate information will make it that much harder for people to find you when they’re ready to buy. Which could be right now.

Google launches tool to test your site’s mobile friendliness and speed

SEW test

Announced on the Google Small Business blog yesterday: a new tool to test how your site works across different devices.

It seems to be a combination of the mobile friendly and page speed tools, though it is useful to have these tests in one place.

According to Google:

On average, people check their phones more than 150 times a day, and more searches occur on mobile phones than computers. But if a potential customer is on a phone, and a site isn’t easy to use, they’re five times more likely to leave.

To avoid losing out in these crucial moments, you need a site that loads quickly and is easy to use on mobile screens. The first step is seeing how your site is performing. We can help by scoring your site for mobile-friendliness, mobile speed, and desktop speed.

It’s a simple tool to use. Just enter any URL and results are returned quickly. Here are the scores for this site. Could do better:

In addition, Google will send a detailed report showing the reasons behind the scores and suggested fixes. I’m still waiting for mine though.

It’s a good way to quickly check your mobile-friendliness and page speed, and since some aspects can be fixed relatively easily (such as optimising images) it could be very useful for small businesses.

There are other complimentary tools too, such as Mobilizer, which shows how your site looks across a range of devices.

With page speed set to be a factor in Google’s next mobile update, its also a good way to check on mobile speed.

Our score isn’t great, and the same applies to other publishers. Indeed, I couldn’t find a publisher with anything but a ‘poor’ score.

forbes speed forbes speed

In fact, it’s hard to find any site with great scores here, apart from this one: