Here’s a new content marketing strategy documentation map

Content marketing strategy document map

The majority of enterprise content marketers don’t have a documented strategy, according to recent research. The CMI found that almost two thirds of professional content folk haven’t yet bothered to write down their strategy.

In some circles that’s akin to not having a strategy at all, but I don’t find it particularly surprising. Plenty of experienced, established teams seem to work without documentation in place, but it seems to me that content marketing has evolved to the point where it’s really easy to lose focus.

I’m currently going through the process of establishing a content strategy from scratch and thought I’d share what I’m doing, which I’ve summarised in the visualisation below. I guess each of these areas could be a chapter heading in a handy reference guide for the team.

All pretty top level, you understand, but I’ll explain a bit about each area below.

What do we mean by ‘document’?

There’s no standard template for this, so far as I know. In any event, what’s right for me might be wrong for you. But I would say that your ‘documentation’ should amount to more than a simple mission statement.

Big picture strategy slogans are one thing, but to actually make things happen, you need a lot of detail. Your team needs to know where to look – or who to look to – when they want something.

If you don’t have proper documentation in place, then they will look to you, and you will turn into a repetitive answer machine. Heavy bummer.

It might be that a lot of the supporting documentation already exists, in some shape or form. It’s just that it is unfinished, or out of date, or unstructured, and very possibly unshared. Why not put some time aside to get things together?

Assembling a collection of useful documents – alongside a goal-orientated series of targets – will help you to keep things on track. Your team will thank you for it, especially newcomers.

Let’s go through the four key areas to think about (Goals, Tactics, People, Processes), and the three others that are loosely filed under productivity (Assets, Tools and Tech).

In business, everything revolves around goals, unless you’re batshit crazy, so I’ll start there.

Goals

Content marketing teams exist to support all kinds of businesses goals. Some are more important than others. Goals can be strategic, tactical or based around task completion. Macro, micro, nano. Company, department, team member. Or mission, campaign, task.

Goals should be written down and ideally visible across teams, since you rarely work in a vacuum. Performance stats should be visible too, because transparency is a winning ticket.

Note that you always, always, always need a feedback loop, to measure what works and what doesn’t. Without that you cannot hope to function properly, nor maximise your chances of success. Nor, for that matter, demonstrate ROI (or the lack of it).

When it comes to goals, there are three main things to sort out…

Mission statement. This is your elevator pitch, and can probably be condensed into a sentence or so. You want to cram as much meaning and clarity in these few words as possible, to quickly answer questions such as “why are we investing in content marketing?”

Targets. You can use tools to set, assign and monitor goals, or just put something together in Google Docs and share it with whoever needs to see it.

Metrics. Once clearly defined goals and targets have been set you can take some measurements and track metrics as you move forwards. Set up your analytics reports and monitor performance as you progress.

Tactics

Once you know what your goals are, you can figure out how to go about achieving them. This is where tactics come into play.

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Research. Gut feel is a fine place to start, but tactics should be based around insight, rather than opinions. This calls for some research. Use whatever sources of data and information you can to build up a picture of the world according to your target audience.

Audience research. Figure out needs, where they like to hang out, what makes them tick, what they respond to, which competitors they talk about, who their friends are, who they respect… that kind of stuff.

Customer research. You need to know who your existing customers are before finding similar people. How do customers interact with your brand? What works?

Competitor research. It’s worth having a sniff around but there’s no need to obsess over competitor activity. Worry about your own game. Planning is a natural extension of worrying.

Personas and user journeys. Put together some personas, user stories, customer journeys, and make sure everybody is aware of the paths you want visitors to take.

Keyword research. This is rather more audience-centric than the foundational technical SEO basics, such as making your site fast. Search queries reflect consumer intent, and it is your job to create the kind of content that ranks well for target phrases.

Keyword research works best when it is truly strategic, with content mapped to specific business goals. Your content comes only after you have defined and prioritised your keyword wishlist. Or you’re doing it wrong.

Incidentally, I pretty much live by Dan Shure’s brilliant article on using the Keyword Planner in a creative way.

Funnel. How do your customers actually become customers? Understand the various journeys through the funnel. See what’s working, and think about how your content can play a role at each stage.

Content mapping. Great, you’ve mapped content throughout the funnel, but happens after somebody has become a customer? Increasing retention and customer advocacy are two of the best things you can do in business, and your content can go a long way in supporting these primary business goals. Take ownership, if necessary.

Content mapping - funnel

Formats. After you’ve done your homework, you can start to think about the actual content. Thoughts will turn to the type of content you might create, and the formats you can use. What is possible, given your team, your budget and your platforms?

Distribution. Hold up, cowboy. Don’t let the tail wag the dog. In this case the tail is content. And the dog, well, that’s distribution. Simply put, why are you making a video when you haven’t given a moment’s thought to YouTube? And what feeds YouTube? Ah yeah, reddit does.

These channels are potentially going to be the difference between a small win in local circles and a global viral. Why wouldn’t you want to optimise your distribution channel strategy?

How will people find your article? What’s your social strategy? Are you going to do any paid distribution? How are you going to nail down some excellent Google placements?

Figure out how to get the best out of your main channels, and you’ll get way more bang for your buck from each piece of content.

SEO. The devs probably need to be informed about your preferred search setup. Right?

Once you’ve got this together it becomes much easier to direct your efforts, and change tack if necessary.

The main success factor will be linked to the quality of content you create, and that’s something that you can also provide documented guidance on. Share internal and external knowledge, and make it easily accessible across teams.

People

You may know who everybody is and why they matter, but does the rest of your team? Think about the various people who stand to benefit from your success, and always remember the ones who took on some risk when you started out.

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Stakeholders. Not just the boss, but heads of other teams that will be affected by your efforts. Who are they? What do they need to be effective in their jobs? How can content marketing support their primary goals? Also, what have you promised? Make the business case readily available to your team so they know what is expected of them. Share presentations and team goals.

Content team. Who’s in the dream team? Who is your star player? What is everybody focusing on? How does everybody communicate? That might be as straightforward as sharing a simple organogram and a bunch of invitations to Slack.

Other teams. Who do you ask for a new button to be designed? Where do the company mugshots live? Is there a shared Dropbox folder? What are the guidelines around using this stuff?

External talent. Maybe you hired a PR agency, who should be kept in the loop about major content campaigns on the horizon. Maybe you have three freelance writers who don’t work in our office. And that weird guy who makes kickass videos from a shady basement. How will these people work together and where do their contact details live for when somebody needs something?

Influencers. This is really important: know who you want to get friendly with. These community-annointed leaders of tribes can help you in a big way. What can you do to attract their attention? I tend to store influencers (including media lists) in a spreadsheet. Other people’s Twitter Lists can be a goldmine.

Processes

This is where the action happens. What are the things to do before and after publication? What do you need to do to get a piece of content over the line?

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Brainstorming. Where do we store our ideas? How often do we get together? What tools do we use? What’s the formula for deciding what kind of content to create? Whiteboard sessions and mindmaps all play their part.

Workflow. How do we operate as a team, and as team members? How should we work with other teams? What is the process for submitting work?

What tools do we use? I’ve played around with Trello to Basecamp to Google Docs but have never settled on one goal-orientated platform (so I’m actually building one). People use tools differently and there is often some kind of protocol to follow, otherwise your world looks like to-do list spaghetti.

Taxonomy. What’s that you say about metadata? What is the common vocabulary for labels, tags and categorisation? Should I write Ecommerce or ecommerce or e-commerce or E-commerce or eCommerce? How does the tech work to support this kind of thing? If you have some rules in place, then you should police them.

Checklists. What needs to be done prior to publication? Or sign off? What boxes need to be ticked? Did you sense check everything?

Sign Off. Is there a sign off process? Who has final say? Do we really need to run everything past the PR agency? Who has publishing rights? Who is allowed to edit?

The Other Stuff

Assets, tech and tools pretty much sit between the three key areas and the goals. I see these things as being very much in the heart of the practical, and used, referenced and updated during the production phase.

Assets are things like brand guidelines, which should cover all of the dos and don’ts you need to know before publishing even the smallest status update. Authors must know your brand inside out before they represent it, right?

You’ll also need a house style guide, for content creators and editors. And ideally some pointers about things like when to publish, or how to write amazing headlines.

You’ll also be primed for success if you go to the trouble of creating (and maintaining) a schedule, be a that a shared calendar or loose, spreadsheet-based plan of action. Put some dates in the diary, get some targets in place, and watch out for the things on the verge of falling off the radar (or worse, the dreaded blockers).

Tech covers off the various platforms you will use (owned, earned, rented, paid, etc). That might mean a blog, a YouTube channel or a paid media channel. It’s probably all three.

Tech also points to your kit, and how the tech team can help improve efficiency and performance. For example, if you’re blogging, what are your CMS needs? How could the editing interface be improved? How should you report bugs? This might mean JIRA tickets, or something similar, so let your team know about how best to wave flags.

Platforms and technology can be optimised, which is where UX comes into play. Content lives at the heart of UX, but there are obviously factors outside of the content team’s control. Be sure to bang the drum if your site is slow, or if something is broken.

UX also covers persuasion, which is something of an artform among switched-on content marketers.

Then we have Tools, which primarily sit between people and process, and should help you to get things done. Pretty self-explanatory.

In summary

It’s worth pausing for thought if you are part of an existing team and you don’t have the right documentation in place. Where should I look for that style guide? Exactly what kind of person am I writing for, and why? Who should sign this off? These are questions that no right-minded team leader wants to answer on a daily basis.

Or maybe, like me, you’re starting something up, or you have a new client and a blank page. It’s tempting to jump straight into content creation, but in the long run it’s going to be way better to put a well-documented plan of attack in place, with goals and supporting assets all neatly lined up.

Either way, it’s worth regularly reviewing your strategy and updating your documentation, especially when adjusting course. To that end, I created The Content Strategy Canvas to help you get together a top level picture of what you have going on (click the pic for a big, hi-res version).

Content Strategy Canvas - half

The canvas appears overly simplistic, but it is meant to be that way. It is a visual tool to help quickly communicate the key aspects of strategy on one page. No fluff required. The other documentation you might assemble having read this post will fill in the gaps.

And lo, you will become a cherished hero.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at. I’ll share a few specific content marketing templates in the future. I’d certainly love to hear any feedback and other approaches, so do leave a comment below or get in touch.

Food Tube: How video storytelling led to 2m YouTube subscribers

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What’s the secret for Food Tube’s successful YouTube presence and how can you create unique content in the food industry?

Food Tube is part of the Jamie Oliver Media Group and it was launched in 2013, as a new way to present food recipes, both in an informative and entertaining angle, hoping to transform the traditional format that we’ve known from Jamie Oliver since then.

Thus, Food Tube became the food channel that combined recipes, tutorials, funny videos and guest collaborations, leading to 2.3 million followers and 210.577.027 views (as of May 10th)

How did it attract such an engaged audience and what can we learn from its success?

Please note: Richard Herd, Head of Food Tube, will also be speaking about YouTube and video storytelling at our Shift event in London on May 25.

The power of YouTube

Video content has seen a significant rise over the years and according to Cisco, video traffic will be 80% of all consumer Internet traffic in 2019.

YouTube has significantly contributed to the trend of video consumption and more specifically, the food industry was among its most popular categories. According to a report by Tubular Labs and Google, food videos generated almost 11 billion views on YouTube last year, as it was the biggest platform for food content, while Facebook was second.

Focusing on the medium

When creating content for YouTube, it is important to focus on the specific medium and the challenges may be even bigger when transitioning from TV content to digital content.

Despite the numerous available recipes for TV, Jamie Oliver and his team had to adapt to YouTube and the different expectations its audience has.

Videos had to become shorter, more appealing and more diverse, in order to maintain the audience’s interest.

The numerous available online options for food lovers make it harder for every online foot network and that’s when creativity is required to keep the subscribers engaged with the channel.

Treating recipe like a story

The art of storytelling can be powerful on social media and Food Tube quickly realised how a story can transform any type of content. Thus, it started treating each recipe like a story, creating a unique perspective, adding the needed authenticity, but also the personal element that will make the content relevant to the audience.

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A modern digital channel should not just deliver what is expected from it, but rather try to produce content that will make it stand out from the rest.

Storytelling offers to every channel the ability to differentiate from its competitors and thus, prove whether it can attract a bigger audience.

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Reaching a younger audience

Food Tube is focusing on YouTube to reach a younger target group, as a recent Tubular report indicates that 71% of the food audience on YouTube is aged between 18 and 34.

tubular youtube report

What’s more, a research by Millward Brown Digital, Firefly, and Google reports that people aged between 18 and 34 watch 30% more food content on YouTube compared to other demographics, which proves why many publishers seek for the attention of this loyal and highly engaged audience.

Mixing content

food tube videos

A successful YouTube channel should focus on providing interesting and valuable content in order to maintain the highly sought engagement.

There is no strategy that fits every channel and that’s why Food Tube keeps experimenting with several topics for its videos, while it also keeps several established categories as the most frequent ones (1 minute tips, 15 minute meals, Jamie’s super food, etc).

What’s more, Food Tube focuses on the most popular holidays and celebrations to provide relevant content, from Easter and Halloween, to Father’s Day, or Pancake Day.

This ensures that there is always fresh and unique content which may fit to a bigger category, without being boring or repetitive.

Creating collaborations

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YouTube may be a large network on its own, but it still relies on its social side and many successful YouTube channels relied on collaborations to keep growing.

Food Tube wanted to ensure that it provides a constant stream of content to its channel and this led to the pursuit of the right collaborations that could add an additional aspect to its existing content.

Every collaboration showcases everyone’s unique personality and this helped Food Tube evolve its idea of storytelling with strong characters, such as Gennaro, Kevin Bacon, Alfie Deyes, etc.

By building bonds with food lovers all over the world, Food Tube strengthened its presence, both on Youtube, but also on other social networks, which ultimately boosted its reach, with people linking back to the videos.

foodtube 7

Seizing the power of other social networks

YouTube may be a very popular social network for food lovers, but Facebook is approaching its popularity in the food industry year-by-year, which means that every publisher should ensure that a channel’s social presence is aligned with the rest.

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Even if there is a clear preference on a specific social network and its priority on the new content, it is still important to create a solid social presence on other social networks, with Food Tube having a digital footprint on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Its social presence in numbers:

  • Facebook: 542,561 likes
  • Instagram: 281k followers
  • Twitter: 56.2k followers
  • Youtube: 2,317,797 subscribers

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Despite the clear domination of its YouTube channel, it still ensures it updates all the social networks consistently, using them as a way to lead traffic back to YouTube, while they also serve as a useful way to increase its exposure and appeal to a wider audience.

Takeaway: how to appeal to the food lovers of YouTube

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Food Tube may serve as a great example on how to succeed on YouTube with food videos, as it reminds us that:

  • Authenticity is always appreciated
  • Storytelling may be the emotional trigger that will attract users to your site
  • Engagement is not easily maintained
  • Every platform has its own rules and the content should be created accordingly
  • Collaborations should reflect the unique personalities to the content
  • Diversity in terms of content types ensures that users will stay longer on your channel
  • Cross-platform promotion in other social networks can be beneficial

Richard Herd, Head of Foodtube, will be speaking about Youtube and video storytelling at our Shift event in London on May 25.

Understanding the mobile customer journey

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This is a brief guide to the definitions, distinctions, methods and use of some oft-confused, but very useful methodologies for understanding mobile customers.

Where marketing, web, design, UX and development collide there is bound to be a confusing mishmash of terminology and confusion of definitions. One of the best (or worst) examples of this is the mobile… customer journey, user journey, path to purchase, use cases, user stories etc.

Done properly, with research and analysis, leading to careful mapping and descriptions these techniques are really useful ways of:

  • Focusing attention – of the business, project team etc. – on the customer/user
  • Understanding how they use their mobile devices to get things done, including interacting with and purchasing from organizations/businesses.
  • It’s also an excellent way to help justify investment in mobile to business people.

    As user experience expert Paul Boag says:

    If you need to convince management that digital transformation is required — map your customer journeys.

    Whether it is customer journeys or user journeys, it’s clear the concept and methodology is taking root with big business. The Royal Bank of Scotland takes this so seriously that it has employs specialists in mobile journeys. A role we’ve not seen elsewhere… yet.

    Martin Young, senior mobile journey manager, Royal Bank of Scotland tells ClickZ:

    The mobile journey makes up part of the overall omni-channel. Lines are becoming ever more blurred as our customers are starting to demand fulfilment and self-service capability regardless of the touch point they interact with.

    To quote our CEO Ross McEwan “Our busiest branch in 2014 was the 7:01 from Reading to Paddington – 167,000 of our customers use our mobile banking app between 7am and 8am on their commute to work every day.”

    The mapping of the customer journey within mobile is continually evolving as operating platforms change user behavior and device types grow. As these habits change so will the way our customers interact. An example of this was the Apple Watch, as it’s an extension of the iPhone the question was how the Banking App would translate onto the watch face.

    Staying continually engaged and in touch with your customer is the best way to carry out research. You are almost letting them drive and guide you in your decisions. Data plays an important part but if you torture it long enough it will confess to anything. It’s important to build a balanced view taking all areas into account before moving forward.

    The need for definition

    In the business context, a problem arises where all these terms – customer journey, user journey, path to purchase, use cases, user stories – are used differently, wrongly or interchangeably by business, marketing, designers and developers.

    This isn’t surprising considering that the definitions for these terms tend to be a little fluid. One person’s customer journey maybe another’s user journey, is another’s…. you get the idea. (This problem certainly isn’t reserved to mobile).

    To avoid confusion within mobile project teams and between the team and business, it is important to decide on what terms/methods you are going to use, define them, and explain how you are going to use them and what using them will achieve.

    Customer Journey

    The easiest way to think about the customer journey is as the big picture of the customer relationship with the business/brand. The important thing is to work out where mobile fits or could fit into the picture.

    The customer journey is a favorite with marketers. It is often associated with following five stages or a variation thereon:

    Awareness -> consideration -> purchase -> retention/loyalty -> advocacy…

    In a multichannel world, mobile could play a part at any or all stages, influencing purchase if not actually fulfilling the transaction:

    • Awareness – exposed to brand/product by a mobile ad or social media.
    • Consideration – researching for reviews or price comparison.
    • Purchase – m-commerce; redeeming m-voucher or paying by mobile instore.
    • Retention/loyalty – special offers by email, notification, encourages re-engagement.
    • Advocacy – posting reviews or sharing the love by social media.

    As Ross Sleight, chief strategy officer, Somo advised in a previous column:

    Identify what your customer journey is – from awareness to consideration, research, purchase, post purchase and servicing. Identify where mobile is used on this journey by customers, and where it could be used, as well as how mobile interacts with other platforms (e.g. research a purchase on mobile, then buy on desktop or in store).

    Next, identify where problems, barriers and friction lie for customers today and where these occur in your business and processes. Map these to the customer journey and prioritize to (a) improve customer experience (b) generate greater efficiency/ROI for your business. This gives you a roadmap for mobile.

    There is no set methodology for mapping that journey (as illustrated below). It will be based partly on customer research, such as surveys, web analytics, social media listening and partly on conjecture, perhaps assisted by the creation of empathy maps.

    An image search on “mobile customer journey mapping” on any search engine will reveal the lack of consensus around meaning and mapping methodology. The following screenshot is from Google (the rights to all images belong to their owners):

    Path to purchase

    Path to purchase and customer journey are commonly used interchangeably. One of the few explanations of the difference (assuming there is one) comes from Brandify.

    The Path-to-Purchase refers to series of channels that customers use or are exposed to in order to convert into a ‘purchase’. These channels include everything from emails, apps, search engines, brands’ websites, loyalty programs, review channels and social networks.

    The Customer Journey refers to the experience consumers have in the process of purchasing an item from a brand. We are referring to the customer’s actions within these channels that influence them to either proceed or drop off from the journey they are on.

    An image search on “mobile path to purchase map” or “mapping” reveals a notable lack of path-to-purchase mapping, just marketing materials from tech vendors and repeats of customer journey maps.

    The following screenshot is from Google (the rights to all images belong to their owners):

    google_mobile_pathtopurchase_map_cz18[1]

    Touchpoints and moments of truth

    The points where the consumer is exposed, interacts or could potentially interact with the brand on the path to purchase is often referred to as a touchpoint.

    This is the point where the business should be making that right time, right place offer, based on contextual relevance – e.g. a known user, conducting a mobile search, using key terms, in a retail environment.

    Marketers will also refer to touchpoints as moments of truth. This term moments of truth or “zero moment of truth” may be reserved for touchpoints where the user is very close to purchase.

    User stories

    User stories, use cases and user journeys are much more closely associated with design, user experience and development (than the customer journey or path to purchase).

    These focus on how the consumer interacts or could potentially interact with this specific channel i.e. the website, app, service that is being designed, developed, tested and/or is under review.

    The user story is commonly used in agile development methodologies such as Scrum, which is commonly used in mobile/digital projects. The user story is a simple description, articulated by business or in business terms, of who will use this service, and in what circumstances. A designer will typically use a storyboard to illustrate this.

    Typically the user story boils down to:

    • As a [persona/role]
    • I want to [goal/task]
    • So that I can [benefit/value]

    An image search on “mobile user story map” again reveals a variety of approaches to user stories. The following screenshot is from Google (the rights to all images belong to their owners):

    google_mobile_user_story_map_cz18

    The user story will be partly based on knowledge about the customer and partly on conjecture. It is a hypothesis that needs to be tested out with potential users.

    Start by showing people the storyboard and asking if they understand and relate to the scenario. Then test the hypothesis using surveys, A/B testing and user testing.

    Use case

    The use case is the detailed technical description of the user story.

    There is still considerable discussion even within the development community, from whence the terms originated, as to the precise differences between use case and user story.

    This is how the useful Usability.gov (from the US department of Health) defines use case:

    A use case is a written description of how users will perform tasks on your website. It outlines, from a user’s point of view, a system’s behavior as it responds to a request. Each use case is represented as a sequence of simple steps, beginning with a user’s goal and ending when that goal is fulfilled.

    An image search on “mobile use case” well illustrates the considerable difference in approach between the user story or customer journey. The following screenshot is from Google (the rights to all images belong to their owners):

    google_mobile_use_case_cz18

    User journey

    The user journey takes the user and their goal as specified in the user story and use case and tracks/plots the progress of the user through the site/app as they strive to complete their task/achieve their goal.

    The user journey is usually depicted as flow diagram showing the users progression through the site, perhaps including details of:

    • Source of entry e.g. referring site, search engines, online/offline ad, social media, email click-through.
    • Known or hypothesized behavior and context prior to point of entry.
    • Point of entry i.e. landing page.
    • Pages visited, products viewed.
    • Points of interest and interaction on page.
    • Method of navigation from one page to the next.
    • Items placed in basket.
    • Forms filled.
    • Check-out.
    • Purchase, method of purchase.
    • Known or hypothesized post purchase behavior e.g. review written.

    The user journey is routinely evaluated and improved, from concept, through design, development and testing, and throughout the lifetime of the service.

    Evaluation of the user journey aims to establish three things:

  • Did the user achieve the goal? If not, why not?
  • Was this achieved with ease and efficiency? This is “usability”. If not, where were the pain points?
  • Was the experience enjoyable and rewarding? This is “user experience”. If not, why not?
  • Per Holmkvist, Chief Digital Officer & EVP | Zmarta Group, a leading Nordic online marketplace for bank and insurance services.

    At Zmarta, we work hard to simplify the user journey with a mobile first approach (2/3 of our customers come via mobile devices). For example, working in close cooperation with Swedish banks and lenders over 15+ years, we have gradually reduced the number of fields required when a customer applies for a loan from 35-40 down to just 17. This is a cumbersome task when each change needs to be agreed with over 20 banks. But it is important because simplifying the flow, reducing words and clutter and fewer words to input all makes for a better experience, not least on mobile.

    We also work on moving our “moment of truth” closer to the start of the user journey, to reduce share of drop-outs. Our moment of truth at Zmarta is the initial part of the loan or insurance application, this now occurs after just a few fields. Everything else, such as employment or living info comes later, when the customer is already well on the way to conversion.

    Being mobile first also means minimizing the number of fields a customer needs to fill in using a mobile keyboard. If analyzing the data shows that for every 10 options 50% of customers choose option A, 15% B, 10% C and 25% other, rather than having to type the common responses, we want to give them the opportunity to just tap button A, B, C or other. Using data to anticipate probable choices, simplifies and reduces the time spent on the user journey and thus increases the chance of conversion.

    zmarta_user_journey_cz18

    An image search on “mobile user journey map”, ignoring the false results, gives a few variations on the flow diagram approach used by Zmarta. The following screenshot is from Google (the rights to all images belong to their owners):

    google_mobile_user_journey_map_cz18

    This is Part 18 of the ClickZ ‘DNA of mobile-friendly web’ series.

    Here are the recent ones:

    • Getting to grips with mobile design methods and lingo: empathy maps and storyboards
    • Why user testing should be at the forefront of mobile development
    • Formulating the go-to market strategy for your mobile project
    • How to market your mobile site or app without spending a fortune on ads
    • The pros, cons and politics of hybrid mobile apps
    • Digital transformation: what it is and why it was the unofficial theme at MWC
    • Connected cars offer valuable opportunities for marketing your brand today
    • Everything you need to know about building apps for connected cars
    • The key ingredients of mobile design and UX methodology

    Adopting a consumer mindset for your SEO strategy

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    Search engines continue to adjust algorithms to better match how consumers actually conduct their searches. How should this affect our optimization efforts?

    Consumers aren’t born in a vacuum, nor do they live in one. They’re inundated with a brand’s messages, ideas, discussions, and controversy across all of their digital and offline encounters.

    As businesses and marketers, we must not only educate novice buyers on the benefits of a product, but also engage educated potential customers who already have some knowledge of their choices and are making final decisions between products.

    Identify consumer needs

    The first step in this process is identifying the needs of the consumer at each of the stages where they’ll be searching for products.

    What drives their curiosity? What is creating their need? A strategic response to this question can be pursued in several different ways.

    A good way to begin is surveying your website visitors.

    Onsite surveys can be a powerful way to gain an understanding of customers and what information they’re after. Think of engaging ways to talk to your audience in this way, putting them on their journey to being a customer.

    Customer tracking

    You may have already started tracking visitor activities in your analytics platform – analytics that you can tie to a stage in your customer’s lifecycle.

    In the B2B sector, this can mean a visitor downloading a whitepaper that gives some entry-level explanation of your product category, or, on the B2C side, could include a customer adding a specific product to his shopping cart on your website but not completing the purchase.

    These are all opportunities to re-engage audiences by understanding how they arrived at their current stage.

    The next step is employing a marketing automation system that helps communicate with customers throughout their journey. Revising and fine-tuning this system can pay extensive dividends. Take the time to review your customer touchpoints and make sure customers at every leg of the journey are getting the information they need at that stage.

    Competitor analysis

    You should also take time to understand your competitors’ offerings, how they are presented, and decipher how they are interpreting the customer journey.

    Through awareness and insight into your competitors, you can really recognize communication opportunities for those educated consumers that have a keen understanding of the marketplace.

    From there, you can offer them valuable resources that may not be available anywhere else.

    Content and the customer journey

    So you now have all of these data points, and can identify needs and curiosities across your customer journey – how does that play into a search engine optimization strategy?

    The next phase is evaluating your content and aligning it to the customer journey. This should uncover any gaps in your content where adding helpful resources will likely prove beneficial to your consumers.

    Are there pieces of content that would make your customers’ decision process quicker or smoother? These resources may provide value simply by giving your customers more assurance that they are making the right decision (remember that competitor analysis you did?).

    With content gaps identified, is there a variation of that content theme that prospective buyers are searching for more than something else? This is where you start your keyword research.

    Search Console Content Keywords

    As you are working through that keyword research, though, always keep customer intent in mind. Just because a keyword has a high search volume and low competition does not necessarily mean that the related content is right for your audience.

    Don’t be afraid to test content and get feedback from your customers (and even from your potential customers). Understanding how your audience uses and digests your content will help inform the shape that your future content should take.

    Use your analytics to continually gauge the effectiveness of your content. Try changing up headlines, where the links to content pieces are located, and which pieces of content get priority placement on the page.

    All of these tests can expose those hidden gems of design wisdom that make your site the resource your potential and existing customers turn to when they need answers.

    The bottom line

    You need to really get to know how your customers think, develop content that they need across their entire journey, and test to see what works best at each stage.

    Your success will come not only from customers that experience satisfying visits to your site, but also from delivering better experiences for potentially your most influential site visitors of all – the search engines.

    Kevin Gamache is Senior Search Strategist at Wire Stone, an independent digital marketing agency.

    How Nordstrom strategically beat Zappos in Google Search

    visibility-index-zappos.com-vs-nordstrom.com_.png

    Five years ago, in April 2011, Zappos’ market share in Google was more than three times as large as Nordstrom‘s.

    Today, Nordstrom has twice the market share on Google as Zappos.

    During the time between April 2011 to December 2012, Zappos.com managed to increase its market share by 51% (going from a visibility score of 42.9 to 63.42 points), while Nordstrom increased their visibility 13 points to 54.9. A huge jump in market share by 302%.

    At this point, they became a direct competitor to Zappos, with both domains having 50% of their keywords in Google in common.

    In September 2013, Nordstrom.com took off, leaving Zappos.com in the dust. Since then, Nordstrom.com has continuously increased its market share, climbing by 65% from September 2013 until today, with a visibility score of 90.78 points.

    During the same time, Zappos.com continuously lost market share and ended up at a -37.32% loss, dropping from 63.42 to 39.75 points.

    What happened?

    If I see something like the above, I like to quickly compare both domains. You can run such a comparison in the Toolbox by simply typing the domains into the search bar, separated by a comma: zappos.com,nordstrom.com

    We can see that links are not a problem for Zappos. They actually have nearly a million and a half links, from about 5,000 domains, more than Nordstrom.

    zappos vs nordstrom

    Competitive comparison of Zappos.com and Nordstrom.com

    The thing that quickly catches the eye is the large discrepancy in the amount of indexed pages for both domains. Zappos has a whopping 56 million pages indexed and that can be a huge problem.

    If we look at the number of keywords for which Zappos has a Top 100 ranking (17,000) and compare it to the number of indexed pages, we get a ratio of 3,310 indexed pages for every keyword in the Top 100.

    If we compare this number to some other domains, we see how inefficient this is:

    • Wikipedia has a ratio of 107
    • Walmart has a ratio of 135
    • Nordstrom has a ratio of 182
    • Amazon has a ratio of 250
    • Zappos has a ratio of 3,310

    Take a look at this:

    Comparing the indexed pages for a specific product

    Comparing the indexed pages for a specific product

    This huge number of indexed pages is a big problem for Zappos’ crawling and indexing budget. The real enemies of both the crawling and indexing of large websites are web developers, JavaScript and chaos in general.

    Let me show you some additional examples:

    Zappos has quite a large number of product pages in the Google index which are not available anymore. At the same time, these pages are set to index/follow.

    zappos see robots no follow

    Ironically, they also have popular products, which ARE available, set to noindex/follow.

    products set to noindex/follow

    All these problems together will cause Google to crawl unnecessary URLs, which will deplete the crawl-budget for the domain. And this crawling power will be sorely missed, especially for such extensive projects.

    Additionally, this crawling budget will define how often Googlebot crawls the first few levels of the domain and how often a deep crawl will take place.

    We see something similar with the indexing budget: this budget decides on the maximum number of URLs which will be added to the Google index.

    It is important to keep in mind that only URLs which are crawled regularly will stay within the index.

    It could all be so easy. In theory, every piece of content should have a unique, logical, easy to understand URL, which stays exactly the same over the decades.

    Sadly, this utopia does not hold up to the real world: web developers decide on creating the third print version of a page, Googlebot learns a bit more JavaScript and suddenly invents completely new URLs and the website gets its third CMS-relaunch in two years, which leaves the original URL-concept in tatters.

    All of this will end the same way: Google will crawl unnecessary URLs and waste the domain’s crawling budget.

    Conclusion

    We can see that Nordstrom decided to compete with Zappos on about 50% of its keywords. For quite a while, both domains competed directly at the same level of visibility. Though in the end, Zappos’ onpage problems and a change in user behaviour has let to a stark contrast in visibility for both Domains.

    If we look at which keywords both domains rank for, we notice that, in the beginning, Nordstrom only ranked for 23% of the keywords which Zappos had. Only three years later, Nordstrom already managed to rank for 50% of Zappos’ keywords.

    This change shows us that Nordstrom actually decided to actively work on competing with Zappos. Today the tables have turned and Nordstrom directly competes on 67% of Zappos’ keywords.

    Number of keywords which Zappos.com and Nordstrom.com have in common

    Number of keywords which Zappos.com and Nordstrom.com have in common

    When we talk about user behaviour, we mean that, if the user has a choice between both a result on Nordstrom and Zappos, they will decide to go to Nordstrom.com. We can see this thanks to Google Trends. The user interest for both domains part ways in Mid 2012, just as direct competition started.

    This post was originally published on the Sistrix blog, reprinted by permission.

    Search marketing in China: the rise of so.com

    baidu serp

    Baidu, the leading Chinese search engine, is the third most popular search engine in the world, despite being mostly concentrated in and around China. That speaks clearly to the immense size and power of the Chinese market.

    An estimated 507 million Chinese use search engines. This is an enormous marketplace for companies who want to grow overseas and engage with new prospective customers.

    Although Google dominates much of the search engine traffic in North America and Europe, in China it is one of the least popular search engines.

    Instead, Baidu, and its rising competitor Qihoo 360, control the landscape. Those interested in doing business in China will need to make sure they understand these search engines if they want to compete.

    How is the Chinese market changing? – So.com

    The market in China is quickly changing and evolving. Baidu has long dominated the search engine sphere, and they still control an estimated 54% of the search engine market share. Over the past few years, however, there has been a fast rising competitor that is seizing an increasing percentage of the search volume.

    Qihoo 360 was developed by a security software company and its search engine so.com. It was only launched in 2012, but by 2015 it controlled an estimated 30% of the Chinese search market.

    Its popularity has likely been influenced by the growth of mobile. By Q3 in 2014, mobile devices were the leading source of searches and revenue for Chinese search engine marketing, and Qihoo 360 has been responsible for building the most popular app store in China.

    How is search engine marketing different in the APAC region than in the US?

    Brands who want to expand overseas into the APAC region need to be familiar with the local ranking factors and how to conduct SEO for the popular search engines, particularly Baidu and so.com as optimizing for one site will allow you to improve your rankings on both.

    Tips for SEO in China:

    Do not try to get a website ranked by using automatic translators or just students of the language. Using a native speaker will provide you with an infinitely superior site, as you will be able to avoid major grammatical errors, have the content flow more naturally, select more relevant keywords and use vocabulary that resonates better with the local audience. Your site will fit better overall into the framework of the Chinese digital ecosystem. Translation issues can hurt your reputation and cause you to rank lower on the SERPs.

    When setting up a website, you want to try and get a .CN domain. If that is not possible, then seek a .COM or .Net. You website should also be hosted in China and you should secure an ICP license from the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Avoid having multiple domains or subdomains.

    It is imperative that you know the list of blacklisted words that cannot be posted online. Inclusion of these words can cause your site to be de-indexed and even taken down. Remember that your website can not criticize the government in any way.

    As you build the website, keep your title tags under 35 characters in Simplified Chinese and your meta descriptions below 78 characters in Simplified Chinese.

    Website speed is highly valued. Regularly test your site to make sure it loads quickly. Inbound links are also viewed as valuable for search rankings, so finding opportunities to build a strong backlink profile can be very helpful.

    All of the links you create should be in plain HTML. In general, avoiding Javascript is preferred, because sometimes content in that format is not indexed.

    The Chinese search engines value fresh content. So regularly publishing on your page will help boost your reputation and success. You should submit your blog posts to the Baidu News Feed, which will help you attract new readers to your material.

    For businesses interested in expanding into Asia, understanding how the local search engine market is evolving and changing can be critical to creating sites that rank well on the local search engines.

    For business expanding globally outside of the US, make sure you optimize for premium search engines for key regions such as Naver (South Korea) and Yandex (Russia) also!

    Google Search Console: a complete overview

    Search Console Dashboard

    The Search Console (or Google Webmaster Tools as it used to be known) is a completely free and indispensably useful service offered by Google to all webmasters.

    Although you certainly don’t have to be signed up to Search Console in order to be crawled and indexed by Google, it can definitely help with optimising your site and its content for search.

    Search Console is where you can monitor your site’s performance, identify issues, submit content for crawling, remove content you don’t want indexed, view the search queries that brought visitors to your site, monitor backlinks… there’s lots of good stuff here.

    Perhaps most importantly though, Search Console is where Google will communicate with you should anything go wrong (crawling errors, manual penalties, increase in 404 pages, malware detected, etc.)

    If you don’t have a Search Console account, then you should get one now. You may find that you won’t actually need some of the other fancier, more expensive tools that essentially do the same thing.

    To get started, all you need is a Google sign-in, which you probably already have if you regularly use Google or Gmail, and visit Search Console.

    Then follow this complete guide which will take you through every tool and feature, as clearly and concisely as possible.

    Please note: we published a guide to the old Webmaster Tools service, written by Simon Heseltine, back in 2014. This is an updated, rewritten version that reflects the changes and updates to Search Console since, but much of the credit should go to Simon for laying the original groundwork.

    Quick Links:

    • Add a property
    • Verification
    • Dashboard
    • Settings
      • Search Console Preferences
      • Site Settings
      • Change of Address
      • Google Analytics Property
      • Users & Property Owners
      • Verification Details
      • Associates
    • Messages
    • Search Appearance
      • Structured Data
      • Data Highlighter
      • HTML Improvements
      • Sitelinks
      • Accelerated Mobile Pages
    • Search Traffic
      • Search Analytics
      • Links to Your Site
      • Internal Links
      • Manual Actions
      • International Targeting
      • Mobile Usability
    • Google Index
      • Index Status
      • Content Keywords
      • Blocked Resources
      • Remove URLS
    • Crawl
      • Crawl Errors
      • Crawl Stats
      • Fetch as Google
      • robots.txt Tester
      • Sitemaps
      • URL Parameters
    • Security Issues
    • Other Resources

    Add a property

    If you haven’t already, you will have to add your website to Search Console.

    Just click on the big red Add a Property button, then add your URL to the pop-up box.

    add property in search console

    Verification

    Before Search Console can access your site, you have to prove to Google that you’re an authorized webmaster. You don’t have be in charge, but you do need permission from whoever is.

    There are five methods of verification for Search Console There’s no real preference as to which method you use, although Google does give prominence to its ‘recommended method’…

    1) The HTML file upload: Google provides you with a HTML verification file that you need to upload to the root directory of your site. Once you’ve done that, you just click on the provided URL, hit the verify button and you’ll have full access to Search Console data for the site.

    verify your site in search console

    There are also four alternative methods if the above doesn’t suit…

    alternate methods of uploading to Search Console2) HTML tag: this provides you with a meta tag that needs to be inserted in the section of your homepage, before the first section.

    If you make any further updates to the HTML of your homepage, make sure the tag is still in place, otherwise your verification will be revoked. If this does happen, you’ll just have to go through the process again.

    3) Domain Name Provider: here you’re presented with a drop down list of domain registrars or name providers, then Google will give you a step-by-step guide for inserting a TXT record to your DNS configuration.

    4) Google Analytics: assuming you’re using Google Analytics and your Google account is the same one you’re using for Search Console, then you can verify the site this way, as long as the GA code is in the section of your home page (and remains there), and you have ‘edit’ permission.

    5) Google Tag Manager: this option allows you to use your own Google Tag Manager account to verify your site, providing you’re using the ‘container snippet’ and you have ‘manage’ permission.

    Now that you’re verified, you’ll be able to see your site on the Home screen. (As well as any sites you’re also a webmaster for). Here you can access the site, add another property and see how many unread messages you’ve received from Google.

    Search Console Home

    if you click on your site, you will be taken to its own unique Dashboard.

    For the purposes of the following walk-throughs, I’ll be using my own website Methods Unsound, which means you can see all the things I need to fix and optimise in my own project.

    Dashboard

    Here’s where you can access all of your site’s data, adjust your settings and see how many unread messages you have.

    Search Console Dashboard

    The left-hand Dashboard Menu is where you can navigate to all the reports and tools at your disposal.

    The three visualisations presented on the Dashboard itself (Crawl Errors, Search Analytics, and Sitemaps) are quick glimpses at your general site health and crawlability. These act as short-cuts to reports found in the left-hand menu, so we’ll cover these as we walk-through the tools.

    Also note that Google may communicate a message directly on the dashboard, if it’s deemed important enough to be pulled out of your Messages. As you can see I have errors on my AMP pages that need fixing, but we’ll look at this when we get to the Dashboard Menu section further down.

    First let’s take a look at settings…

    Settings

    Clicking on the gear icon in the top right corner will give you access to a variety of simple tools, preferences and admin features.

    search console preferences

    Search Console Preferences

    This is simply where you can set your email preferences. Google promises not to spam you with incessant emails so it’s best to opt-in.

    Search Console Preferences - email

    Site Settings

    Here’s where you can set your preferred domain and crawl rate.

    site settings

    • Preferred domain let’s you set which version of your site you’d like indexed and whether your site shows up in search results with the www prefix or without it. Links may point to your site using http://www.example.com or http://example.com, but choosing a preference here will set how the URL is displayed in search.Google states that: “If you don’t specify a preferred domain, we may treat the www and non-www versions of the domain as separate references to separate pages” thus cannibalising your search visibility.
    • Crawl rate lets you slow down the rate that Googlebots crawls your site. You only need to do this if you’re having server issues and crawling is definitely responsible for slowing down the speed of your server. Google has pretty sophisticated algorithms to make sure your site isn’t hit by Googlebots too often, so this is a rare occurrence.

    Change of Address

    This is where you tell Google if you’ve migrated your entire site to a new domain.

    Search Console Change of Address

    Once your new site is live and you’ve permanently 301 redirected the content from your old site to the new one, you can add the new site to Search Console (following the Add a Property instructions from earlier). You can then check the 301 redirects work properly, check all your verification methods are still intact on both old and new sites, then submit your change of address.

    This will help Google index your new site quicker, rather than if you just left the Googlebots to detect all your 301 redirects on their own accord.

    Google Analytics Property

    If you want to see Search Console data in Google Analytics, you can use this tool to associate a site with your GA account and link it directly with your reports.

    Search Console Google Analytics Property

    If you don’t have Google Analytics, there’s a link at the bottom of the page to set up a new account.

    Users & Property Owners

    Here you can see all the authorized users of the Search Console account, and their level of access.

    Search Console Users and Property Owners

    You can add new users here and set their permission level.

    • Anyone listed as an Owner will have permission to access every report and tool in Search Console.
    • Full permission users can do everything except add users, link a GA account, and inform Google of a change of address.
    • Those with Restricted permission have the same restrictions as Full permission users plus they only have limited viewing capabilities on data such as crawl errors and malware infections. Also they cannot submit sitemaps, URLs, reconsideration requests or request URL removals.

    Verification Details

    This lets you see the all the users of your Search Console account, their personal email addresses and how they were verified (including all unsuccessful attempts.)

    Search Console verification details

    You can unverify individuals here (providing you’re the owner).

    Associates

    Another Google platform, such as a G+ or AdWords, can be associated (or connected) with your website through Search Console. if you allow this association request, it will grant them capabilities specific to the platform they are associating with you.

    Here’s an example direct from Google: “Associating a mobile app with a website tells Google Search to show search result links that point to the app rather than the website when appropriate.”

    If you add an associate, they won’t be able to see any data in Search Console, but they can do things like publish apps or extensions to the Chrome Web Store on behalf of your site.

    Search Console associates

    Here’s where you’ll find all your reports and tools available in the Search Console.

    Search Console Dashboard menu

    Let’s look at each option one-by-one.

    Messages

    Here’s where Google communicates with webmasters.

    Search Console All Messages

    Again, you won’t get spammed here as Google promises not to bombard you with more than a couple of messages a month. You do need to pay attention when you do receive one though as this is where you’ll be informed if your site’s health is compromised.

    This can be anything from a rise in 404 pages, to issues with crawling your site, or even more serious problems like your site being infected with malware.

    Search Appearance

    If you click on the ? icon to the right of ‘Search Appearance’ a handy pop-up will appear. Search Appearance Overview breaks down and explains each element of the search engine results page (SERP).

    Search appearance Dashboard

    By clicking on each individual element, an extra box of information will appear telling you how to optimise that element to influence click-through, and where to find extra optimisation guidance within Search Console.

    Search Console Dashboard explainer

    Structured Data

    Structured data is a way for a webmaster to add information to their site that informs Google about the context of any given webpage and how it should appear in search results.

    For example, you can add star ratings, calorie counts, images or customer ratings to your webpage’s structured data and these may appear in the snippets of search results.

    captain america civil war review rich snippet

    The Structured Data section in Search Console contains information about all the structured data elements Google has located on your site, whether from Schema markup or other microformats.

    structured data in search console

    It will also show you any errors it has found while crawling your structured data. If you click on the individual ‘Data Types’ it will show you exactly which URLs contain that particular markup and when it was detected.

    If you click one of the URLs listed, you can see a further breakdown of the data, as well as a tool to show exactly how it looks in live search results. Just click on ‘Test Live Data’ and it will fetch and validate the URL using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.

    Search Console Structured Data test

    Data Highlighter

    Data Highlighter is an alternative to adding structured data to your HTML. As the explainer video below says, it’s a point and click tool where you can upload any webpage then highlight various elements to tell Google how you want that page to appear in search results.

    There’s no need to implement any code on the website itself and you can set the Data Highlighter so it tags similar pages for you automatically.

    To begin, click on the big red ‘Start Highlighting’ button…

    Search Console Data Highlighter

    Then enter the URL you wish to markup…

    Search Console Data Highlighter upload

    Then start highlighting and tagging…

    structured data highlighter

    After you hit publish, Google will take your added structured data into account once it has recrawled your site. You can also remove any structured data by clicking ‘Unpublish’ on the same page if you change your mind.

    HTML Improvements

    This is where Search Console will recommend any improvements to your meta descriptions and title tags, as well as informing you of any non-indexable content.

    Search Console HTML Improvements

    This is a very handy, easy-to-use feature that gives you optimisation recommendations that you can action right away.

    For instance, if I click on the ‘Short meta descriptions’ link, I’ll be able to see the 14 URLs and their respective meta descriptions. I can then go into each one of these pages in my own CMS and add lengthier, more pertinent text.

    Search Console HTML Improvements meta descriptions

    Title tags and meta descriptions should be unique for each page and fall within certain character lengths, so for the purposes of both user experience and keeping Google informed about your site, this is a worthwhile report.

    Sitelinks

    Sitelinks are the subcategories that appear under the main URL when you search for a brand or a publisher.

    sitelinks example

    Sadly you can’t specify to Google which categories you want highlighted here, but if you’re popular enough and your site’s architecture is solid enough then these will occur organically.

    However in the Sitelinks section of Search Console, you can tell Google to remove a webpage that you DON’T wish to be included as a sitelink in your search results.

    Search Console Sitelinks

    Accelerated Mobile Pages

    This is a brand new tool, as Google’s AMP programme has only been available since earlier this year. AMP is a way for webmasters to serve fast-loading, stripped down webpages specifically to mobile users. Site speed and mobile friendliness are considered ranking signals so this is an important feature, although some SEOs are slow to adopt it.

    As you can see from the report below, we’ve just started introducing AMP to our webpages and making a bit of a hash of it…

    Search Console Accelerated Mobile Pages report

    Accelerated Mobile Pages lets you see all the pages on your site with AMP implemented and which ones have errors. If you click on the error, you can see a list of your URLs with errors. Then by clicking on the URL, you will be recommended a fix by Google.

    Search Console Accelerated Mobile Pages fix

    Clearly we have some custom JavaScript issues on our site that need addressing. If you click on the ‘Open Page’ button, you can see exactly how your AMP content appears on mobile.

    Search Traffic

    Search Analytics

    Search Analytics tells you how much traffic you get from search, revealing clicks and impressions delivered on SERPs. It will also work out your click-through rate (CTR) and reveal your average organic position for each page.

    And here’s the *really* good stuff… you can also see the queries that searchers are using in order to be served your site’s content.

    Search Console Search Analytics

    The data for this is collected differently from Google Analytics, so don’t expect it to tally, however what this feature is really useful for is seeing which keywords and phrases are driving traffic to your site, as well as individual traffic-generating pages.

    You can toggle between a variety of options, filters and date-ranges. I highly recommend looking at Impressions and CTR, to see which pages are generating high visibility but low click-through rate. Perhaps all these pages need is a tweak of a meta-description or some structured data?

    Links to Your Site

    Here’s where you can see the domains that link to your site and its content the most, as well as your most linked webpages.

    Search Console Links to Your Site

    This isn’t an exhaustive list, but a good indicator of where your content is appreciated enough to be linked. Clicking on the URLs on the right hand-side will show where they’re being linked to individually.

    Internal Links

    Here is where you can see how often each page on your site has been internally linked. Clicking on each ‘Target page’ will show a list of URLs where the internal link occurs.

    Search Console Internal Links

    There is a limit to how many ‘Target pages’ Search Console will show you, but if you have a small number of pages you can reverse the sort order and see which target pages have zero internal links. You can then go into your site and give these pages an internal link, or redirect them to somewhere else if they’re old legacy pages.

    Manual Actions

    This is where Google will inform you if it has administered a manual action to your site or specific webpage.

    GWT Manual Actions

    Google will offer any recommendations for you to act upon here, and will give you the chance to resubmit your site for reconsideration after you’ve fixed any problems.

    Here’s a guide to what Google will most likely give you a manual penalty for and how you can avoid it.

    International Targeting

    Here you can target an audience based on language and country.

    Search Console International Targeting

    • Country: If you have a neutral top-level domain (.com or .org), geotargeting helps Google determine how your site appears in search results, particularly for geographic queries. Just pick your chosen country from the drop-down menu. If you don’t want your site associated with any country, select ‘Unlisted’.
    • Language: If you manage a website for users speaking a different language, you need to make sure that search results display the correct version of your pages. To do this, insert hreflang tags in your site’s HTML, as this is what Google uses to match a user’s language preference to the right version of your pages. Or alternatively you can use sitemaps to submit language and regional alternatives for your pages.

    Mobile usability

    As mobile has overtaken desktop for searches this year, obviously your site has to be mobile-friendly, otherwise you’re providing a poor user experience to potentially half your visitors.

    This report tells you of any issues your site has with mobile usability. And you’ll really want to be seeing the following message, as Google explicitly states you’ll otherwise be demoted.

    Search Console Mobile Usability

    Possible errors that will be highlighted by Search Console here include:

    • Flash usage: mobile browsers do not render Flash-based content, so don’t use it.
    • Viewport not configured: visitors to your site use a variety of devices with differing screen sizes so your pages should specify a viewport using the meta viewport tag.
    • Fixed-width viewport: viewports fixed to a pixel-size width will flag up errors. Responsive design should help solve this.
    • Content not sized to viewport: if a user has to scroll horizontally to see words and images, this will come up as an error.
    • Small font size: if your font size is too small to be legible and requires mobile users to ‘pinch to zoom’ this will need to be changed.
    • Touch elements too close: tappable buttons that are too close together can be a nightmare for mobile visitors trying to navigate your site.
    • Interstitial usage: Google will penalise you if you’re using a full-screen interstitial pop-up to advertise an app when a user visits your mobile site.

    Google Index

    Index Status

    This lets you know how many pages of your website are currently included in Google’s index.

    Search Console Index Status

    You can quickly see any worrying trends from the last year (for instance that little dip in May 2015), as well as any pages that have been blocked by robots or removed.

    Content Keywords

    Here you can see the most common keywords found by the Googlebots as they last crawled your site.

    Search Console Content Keywords

    If you click on each keyword, you’ll be able to see the other synonyms found for that keyword, as well as the number of occurrences.

    As Simon Heseltine suggests, look out for unexpected, unrelated keywords showing up as it’s an indication your site may have been hacked and hidden keywords have been injected into your pages.

    Blocked resources

    This section lets you know of any images, CSS, JavaScript or other resources on your site that’s blocked to Googlebots.

    Search Console Blocked Resources

    These are listed by host-name, then by specific pages, which you can follow steps to diagnose and resolve.

    Remove URLs

    Where essentially you can make your content disappear from Google.

    remove urls search console

    This only acts as a temporary fix, but by the time you’ve done this and either deleted your offending webpage or 301 redirected it elsewhere, there theoretically should no longer be a record of it.

    Just enter the URL then select whether you want it removed from the search results and the cache, just from the cache or if you want an entire directory removed.

    Be warned: this request can take between two to 12 hours to be processed.

    Crawl

    Crawl Errors

    This report shows all the errors that Google has found when crawling your site over the last 90 days.

    Search Console Crawl Errors

    Site errors: the top half of the screen shows three tabs, where if you click on each you can see any past problems with your DNS, your server connectivity or whether a crawl had to be postponed. (Google will postpone a crawl rather than risk crawling URLs you don’t want indexed).

    URL errors: the bottom half of the screen shows URL errors for desktop, smartphone and feature phone (a phone that can access the internet, but doesn’t have the advanced features of a smartphone).

    You’ll likely see reports for the following on all three device types:

    • Server error: Google can’t access your site because the server is too slow to respond, or because your site is blocking Google.
    • Soft 404: this occurs when your server returns a real page for a URL that doesn’t actually exist on your site. You should replace these pages with 404 (Not found) or a 410 (Gone) return codes.
    • Not found: these are all your 404 pages that occur when a Googlebot attempts to visit a page that doesn’t exist (because you deleted it or renamed it without redirecting the old URL, etc.) Generally 404 pages are fine and won’t harm your rankings, so only pay attention to the ones related to high-ranking content.

    Crawl Stats

    This section shows the progress of Googlebots crawling your site in the last 90 days.

    Search Console Crawl Stats

    You can see how fast your pages are being crawled, kilobytes downloaded per day and average time spent downloading pages on your site.

    Spikes are perfectly normal, and there’s not very much you can do about them. But if you see a sustained drop in any of these charts then it might be worth investigating to see what’s dragging it down.

    Fetch as Google

    Here you can check how any page on your website is seen by Google once its been been crawled.

    You can also submit these webpages for indexing. You may find this is a quicker way to be crawled and indexed then if you were to let Google find the page automatically.

    Search Console Fetch as Google

    • When you ‘Fetch’ a page, Google will simulate a crawl and you can quickly check any network connectivity problems or security issues with your site.
    • ‘Fetch and Render’ does the same as the above, but it also lets you check how the page itself looks on mobile or desktop, including all resources on the page (such as images and scripts) and will let you know if any of these are blocked to Googlebots.

    Remember the crawler is meant to see the same page as the visitor would, so this is a good way to get a direct on-page comparison.

    If the page is successfully fetched and rendered, you can submit it to the index. You are allowed 500 webpage fetches per week, but you can only submit a webppage and have Google crawl ALL the pages linked within it, 10 times per month.

    robots.txt Editor

    A robots.txt file placed within the root of your site, is where you can specify pages you don’t want crawled by search engines. Typically this is used because you don’t want your server overwhelmed by Googlebots, particularly if you want them to ignore script or style files, or if you want certain images not to appear in Google Image Search.

    Here is where you can edit your robots.txt and check for errors. The bottom of the page reveals your errors and warnings.

    robots.txt editor search console

    Sitemaps

    Sitemaps are hosted on the server of your website and they basically inform search engines of every page of your site, including any new ones added. It’s a good way to let Google better crawl and understand your website.

    Here’s where you can access all of the information about any sitemaps either submitted manually or found by Search Console. The blue bar represents pages or images submitted, the red bar represents actual pages and images indexed.

    sitemaps search console

    You can test a sitemap by clicking the ‘Add/Test sitemap’ button, and if it’s valid you can then add it to Search Console.

    URL Parameters

    As Simon Heseltine has previously commented, this section isn’t used much anymore since the introduction of canonical tags.

    However you should use URL Parameters if, for instance, you need to tell Google to distinguish between pages targeted to different countries. These preferences can encourage Google to crawl a preferred version of your URL or prevent Google from crawling duplicate content on your site.

    URL parameters

    Security Issues

    Although any security issues will be communicated with you in the Messages section and on the Dashboard screen, here’s where you can check on problems in more detail.

    Search Console Security Issues

    There’s also plenty of accessible information here about how to fix your site if it’s been hacked or been infected with malware.

    Other Resources

    Here’s where you can access all the tools provided by Google, outside of Search Console. Including the Structured Data Testing Tool and Markup Helper, which we went into greater detail about in earlier sections.

    Search Console Other Resources

    Other helpful resources here are the Google My Business Center, where you can use to improve your business’s local search visibility and the PageSpeed Insights tool, which will tell you exactly how well your site is performing on mobile and desktop in terms of loading time, and how to fix any issues.

    Local SEO: Key challenges and tips from #ClickZChat

    In previous ClickZChat sessions we’ve largely covered content and platforms, but seeing as it’s a Twitter event held by both ClickZ AND Search Engine Watch, it seemed only right that we spend some time looking at search in more depth.

    This week we took to Twitter for an hour to ask our followers for their local SEO challenges and solutions. Here’s everything we learned:

    Alright everyone, get your Local #SEO thinking caps on – it’s time for today’s #ClickZChat pic.twitter.com/jIhuZ0XkH8

    — ClickZ (@ClickZ) May 4, 2016

    Question 1: What are the biggest challenges you face when optimizing for local search?

    Let’s get cracking – Q1: What are the biggest challenges in optimizing for local SEO? #ClickZChat pic.twitter.com/xRzRPCV6IN

    — Search Engine Watch (@sewatch) May 4, 2016

    SPAM

    Several users (including me) mentioned spam being a much bigger issue for local ranking, with maps being particularly open to abuse, and Search Engines slower to act on this than in other cases:

    A1. Maps are still open to a lot of manipulation through fake reviews, fake offices, etc. #ClickZChat

    — District Knockout (@DistrictKO) May 4, 2016

    Not until Google is more responsive to queries from legitimate parties. Not happening now. #ClickZChat https://t.co/2br4odVBhv

    — Kevin Reichard (@kreichard) May 4, 2016

    Citations

    Many people also felt that citations were a hassle for a variety of reasons.

    @sewatch incorrect citation cleanup.

    — Тихомир Петров (@t1sh0_) May 4, 2016

    A1. Citation management requires media spend. It’s more obvious what you get for that spend through AdWords/paid social #ClickZChat

    — Stephen Kenwright (@stekenwright) May 4, 2016

    Resources

    Indeed, the issue of keeping up to date was seen as a major challenge. Data is often fragmented and many organisations with several locations do not have the time or resources to roll out best practice – or even standard practice – to all location listings, with local stores and outlets being left to fend for themselves:

    @sewatch #clickZchat main challenges are data management, forming policies to be followed across locations and organisational management

    — Anshika Srivastava (@anshikamails) May 4, 2016

    This issue is compounded when you consider the lack of SEO expertise on site. In many cases it simply isn’t considered an issue.

    A1: I think a big challenge is the lack of awareness and knowledge. Many people don’t know even the basics #ClickZChat #localSEO

    — Andrew Warren-Payne (@agwp) May 4, 2016

    .@sewatch Q1. Getting clients to understand why it’s local is important, who your local competition is &claiming pages! #ClickZChat

    — JaroG4 (@JaroG4) May 4, 2016

    With that said, it was also felt that this state of affairs meant there were big opportunities for those businesses that are getting it right, with small changes making a big difference

    A1: Schema’s becoming more important for rankings & reviews. Get higher ranking potential w/ rich snippets for on-page reviews #ClickZChat

    — Hillary Humphrey (@hilph) May 4, 2016

    Q2: What are the absolute essentials for a decent local SEO presence?

    Q2: What are the absolutely essential basics for decent local #SEO? #ClickZChat pic.twitter.com/OUWfq50mkA

    — ClickZ (@ClickZ) May 4, 2016

    This is where those quick wins we mentioned really come into their own. As our own Graham Charlton mentioned, not enough businesses are taking time to claim their Google Business listings:

    Q2 – Google My Business listing. Easiest and cheaper way to increase your profile. #ClickZChat

    — Graham Charlton (@gcharlton) May 4, 2016

    Of course, once you do start claiming listings, you need to have a consistent data structure in mind. Google will focus on listings that are formatted correctly in multiple locations:

    A2 cont. Too many business assume address and opening hours (and a map) are enough for a location page #ClickZChat

    — Stephen Kenwright (@stekenwright) May 4, 2016

    Once you have your listings in order, there’s also a big case to be made for (you guessed it) content. While there’s no doubt that technical optimisation plays a huge part, it is worth remembering that with so many local searches taking place on mobile devices, user intent is the primary motivator.

    @sewatch Q2. From a content perspective, focusing on relevant events can also play a significant role in getting noticed #ClickZChat

    — JaroG4 (@JaroG4) May 4, 2016

    Reviews

    This of course brings us into the realm of reviews, a hugely important component for local business. Even if you lack the resources to optimise your listings properly, this can still make you stand out to a certain extent:

    @sewatch @RobinHeed Simply concentrate on great customer service. SEO will come naturally as a bi-product of customer feedback/engagement.

    — Bradley King (@BradleyKing1980) May 4, 2016

    A2: 3rd party reviews are a ranking factor, too, so be aware of whats being said & ALWAYS respond to pos. & neg. comments. #ClickZChat

    — Hillary Humphrey (@hilph) May 4, 2016

    Finally our very own Andrew Warren-Payne mentioned this useful list from Moz, very helpful if you want to get organised:

    A2: This checklist on @Moz is a good place to start https://t.co/p5HrYZP9li #ClickZChat #SEO pic.twitter.com/1NsimO9II3

    — Andrew Warren-Payne (@agwp) May 4, 2016

    Q3: What one local SEO tip has proven the most successful for you?

    We had a rush of great suggestions to this question, so I’ve pulled them into a quick reference list of ‘Golden rules for Local SEO’ for you:

    1: Build on your past success
    Use existing product content. Marketing reaches across the isle to customer success. ‪#SEO improves ‪ via @colincrook

    ‬2: Be as focused as you can on the needs of the local customer
    We created separate web pages for each of the locations, with unique content & optimised them with local keywords – @anshikamails

    3: Good local SEO takes time. Make time to maintain it
    Build citations. An oldie but a goldie. – @Lexx2099

    4: But just doing what you can will help
    In some areas, just the basics of listings and data are enough if your competitors aren’t up to speed. ‪#ClickZChat – @gcharlton

    5: Remember that Google services are linked together. Focus on the bigger picture
    Google business page creation and posting in G+ page. – @shaileshk

    Be sure to publish FROM Google+ TO OTHER platforms.. ‪#ClickZChat – @steveplunkett

    6: Get your data in order
    Site 1st with NAP for all locations, Category, Description, Social, reviews, schema & repeat in citations ‪#ClickZChat ‪#ClickZChat – @rajnijjer

    7: And make sure you never stop learning
    SEO changes so fast that it’s hard for anything to be easy! :p Best advice: stay aware & current on industry trends! – @hilph

    8: Remember why people are searching in the first place

    @sewatch #ClickZChat #TopTip “Be Unique”, interesting and offer some value

    — Anshika Srivastava (@anshikamails) May 4, 2016

    And of course, we can always rely on Search Engine Watch’s editor to chime in with some useful advice…

    @ClickZ This guy renamed an island ‘Busta Rhymes’ with a simple geotag in Google Maps. He’s winning. https://t.co/6KefA65DEh #ClickZChat

    — christopher ratcliff (@Christophe_Rock) May 4, 2016

    That’s it for this week. A huge thank you as always to everyone who took part. We’ll be holding another chat this Wednesday at 12 noon Eastern Time.

    For more on Local SEO, check out Graham Charlton’s handy list of 30 quick and easy SEO tips for small businesses.

    Seven most interesting search marketing news stories of the week

    A column graph showing awareness of AMP among SEOs surveyed, with 21% of SEOs aware of AMP "in passing", 35% "have done SOME research" into AMP, 18% "have done A LOT of research" into AMP, while 25% are "not aware" of AMP.

    Welcome to our weekly round-up of all the latest news and research from around the world of search marketing and beyond.

    This week we have a bountiful collection of news, a heaving trove of stats and a swollen haul of insight from the last seven days.

    These adjectives will make more sense in about one headline’s time.

    Google AI is improving its conversational skills with… romance novels

    Yep.

    According to Buzzfeed – YES that’s where we get our intel from – for the past few months, Google has been feeding text from romance novels into its AI engine because the’ve determined that “parsing the text of romance novels could be a great way of enhancing the company’s technology with some of the personality and conversational skills it lacks.”

    Buzzfeed also reports that the plan this seems to be working. “Google’s research team recently got the AI to write sentences that resemble those in the books.”

    So expect your next Google search for a well reviewed local restaurant to include at least 12 synonyms for ‘throbbing’.

    AdWords will launch redesigned AdWords on May 24th

    And you can watch the launch live, if that’s the sort of thing you like doing with your time.

    AdWords is being being redesigned for the mobile-first market and aesthetically will fall into line with its recently launched 360 suite.

    Here’s a sneak peek:

    Redesigned AdWords

    You can get an early demo during the Google Performance Summit livestream on May 24th at 9:00am PT/12:00pm ET, which you can sign-up for here.

    Seats are booking up fast though, so hurry.

    Jk, it’s on the internet. You just need to nudge the cat off the sofa.

    Half of SEOs are either unaware of AMP or only have a “passing awareness”

    As Rebecca Sentance reported this week, SEOs have been slow to implement Google’s accelerated mobile pages (AMP) in the two months since its official launch, despite the promise that AMP is an important ranking signal.

    A survey, carried out by SEO PowerSuite, looked at awareness and uptake of AMP among 385 SEO professionals in North America and Europe. Of the respondents surveyed, less than a quarter (23%) had implemented AMP for their mobile sites.

    Although general awareness of Accelerated Mobile Pages was high – 75% of the SEO professionals surveyed were aware of AMP – 21% said they were only aware of it “in passing.”

    Of those SEOs who hadn’t yet begun to implement AMP on their mobile sites, only 29% said they would do so in the next six months, and 5% of respondents said they had no intention of supporting AMP on their mobile sites whatsoever.

    180% increase in websites being hacked in 2015

    This week we reported on Google’s fight against webspam in 2015, revealing the following info:

    • An algorithmic update helped remove the amount of webspam in search results, impacting 5% of queries.
    • Google sent more than 4.3 million messages to webmasters notifying them of manual actions it had imposed on sites affected by spam.
    • Google saw a 33% increase in the number of sites that went through a spam clean-up “towards a successful reconsideration process.”

    Most worrying of all was the massive 180% increase in hacking from 2014. If you haven’t already, it’s time to seriously think about the security of your website.

    Google is moving all blogspot domain blogs to HTTPS

    This week, Google has introduced a HTTPS version for every blogspot domain blog, meaning that visitors can access any blogspot domain blog over an encrypted channel.

    https

    Google has also removed the HTTPS Availability setting and all blogs will automatically have a HTTPS version enabled. So you don’t have to do a thing, and you may even get a little traffic boost as secure servers are seen as a ranking signal.

    Google has taken action against sneaky mobile redirects

    To tackle the trend of websites redirecting mobile users to spammy, unrelated domains Google has taken action on sites that sneakily redirect users in this way by issuing manual penalties.

    sneaky mobile redirects

    If your site has been affected, Google offers help on getting rid of these redirects to clean up your site and hopefully avoid further action.

    Moz has introduced a new, free to use, keyword research tool

    The new Keyword Researcher launched by Moz this week, can help take you all the way through the keyword research process. It has a variety of useful metrics including estimating the relative CTR of organic results and it surfaces results from almost all popular sources used by SEOs.

    And best of all, you can run 2 free searches per day without logging in, another five with a free community account, and if you’re a Pro subscriber you already have full access.

    keyword explorer

    Six fictional search engines we wish existed

    A screen capture of Finder-Spyder being used on a television show. The search page is blue, with FINDER-SPYDER at the top in serif font. In the search bar someone has input "crime figure, The Balkan, New York"

    With every new development in search technology, search engines are becoming more and more futuristic.

    With voice search and digital assistants letting you talk to search engines, and natural language search turning searching into a conversation, real-life search engines increasingly resemble something we used to only see in sci-fi films.

    But there are still so many things that we’d love to be able to search for, which are unfortunately beyond the bounds of what is physically possible. Here, then, are six sadly fictional search engines that we only wish existed.

    Where The Hell Are My Keys?

    We’ve all been there. You’re running late for an Important Event, and are just about to make a frantic dash out of the door when you realise you’re missing something vitally important.

    Photograph by Iain Farrell, made available via CC BY-ND 2.0

    Where the hell are your keys? Or maybe it’s your work pass, Oyster card, wallet or something else equally indispensable that you can’t leave the house without. Whatever it is, this object always picks the absolute most inconvenient moment to play hide-and-seek around the house, causing you to waste another 15 minutes frantically emptying drawers and upending furniture until you realise it was in your damn pocket all along.

    Wouldn’t it be so much easier if there were a specialised search engine dedicated to finding important objects you’ve mislaid? A two-second search, and boom. “They’re on the kitchen counter.” “It fell down the back of the sofa.” “They’re still on top of your head.” So much time saved, so many crises averted.

    Bonus points if the search engine becomes more powerful the more frantic you are about finding what you’ve lost.

    Lost Childhood Objects

    Much like the ‘Where The Hell Are My Keys?’ search engine but more powerful, the Lost Childhood Objects search engine would be able to locate cherished childhood keepsakes from across the years that have been swallowed by the mists of time and that miniature Bermuda Triangle that lurks under your bathroom sink.

    A photograph of a bedraggled blue toy rabbit with a ribbon around its next, affixed to a black fence or gate in the foreground of what looks like a graveyard. One ear is hooked around the top of the gate.Photograph by Jeffrey, made available via CC BY-ND 2.0

    From well-loved teddy bears to those rare Pokémon cards you hid and forgot about, the Lost Childhood Object search engine can find any old, beloved item that has since been misplaced. Simply enter the name and description of your Childhood Object, the year you last remember having it and the rough geographical area you lost it in, then let the search engine work its magic.

    Just remember that it might not be in quite the same condition that you left it in.

    Finder-Spyder

    This one is an actual search engine… sort of. Finder-Spyder is the go-to search engine that characters in TV programmes from Bones and Breaking Bad to Dexter and The X-Files all rely on.

    Presumably powered by a friendly rogue web crawler, Finder-Spyder is your search engine ex machina for every plot point that requires retrieving some bit of sensitive or private information. Walled gardens? No problem! Encrypted information? Not an issue! Security and ethical restrictions fall before Finder-Spyder’s mighty scuttle. It can even crawl the dark web!

    The only limits to its abilities are television writers’ imaginations and the needs of whatever script the search engine is being written into. If this search engine existed, solving murders and supernatural mysteries would be a piece of cake.

    If Fynder-Spyder isn’t your cup of tea, an intrepid fan has recreated the fictional search engine Chumhum from the TV series The Good Wife over at chumhum.co.uk – powered by DuckDuckGo. Alternatively, you can use the real fake search engine Querioo for your own film and TV purposes.

    Memory retrieval

    A hand holds a magnifying glass up to a head in profile which is made of interlocking cogs.Image by geralt via Pixabay

    If only our brains could be indexed and searched in the same way as the World Wide Web. How useful would that be? No more struggling to recall that one crucial piece of information, or wishing you could better recall the fantastic summer trip you went on five years ago.

    It also works on ideas and dreams, so you don’t have to worry any more about forgetting that bolt of inspiration you had right before falling asleep (seriously, so annoying) or that fantastic dream you had during the night. Naturally, you can search with your thoughts, using a fleeting mental image or a vague recollection as search terms. Forget keywords, this search engine is pure user intent.

    This would only be usable by the individual person, of course, or things start to become dangerously Inception-ish. Even handier would be if your mind functioned like a browser and you could delete its history to get rid of any unpleasant memories or nightmares. Or if you could enable Incognito Mode for things you really won’t want to remember later.

    Google as a guy

    A grumpy, balding middle-aged white man with a beard and glasses sits behind a desk with his hands folded. A nameplate on the desk reads "Google".

    If you’ve seen CollegeHumor’s ‘If Google was a guy’ video series, then you’ve probably imagined how hilarious it would be if Google really were a grumpy, balding, all-knowing bloke who side-eyes your X-rated searches, laughs at you for using Google Glass and makes fun of Siri.

    Okay, so the wait to get into his office wouldn’t be all that fun, but it would be worth it to see him paint himself like Jackson Pollock, glare at the NSA for spying on searches, yell at vaccine conspiracy theorists and dorkily enthuse about the benefits of Google Plus.

    And if the wait ever becomes too long, you can trot over to the perpetually unloved Bing, who makes up for what he lacks in accuracy with sheer earnestness (and a much nicer office).

    A smiling Asian man in his 30s sits behind a desk in an airy, light office with a large window behind him. A nameplate on his desk reads 'BING'.“Soon. They’ll come soon.”

    Snarky Comeback Search

    If we can’t have a snarky Google, how about a snarky retort search engine? You’d never need to be lost for words again. With Snarky Comeback Search, you can enter the put-down you need to respond to and the search engine will trawl its vast index of comic quips, Shakespearean insults and ‘yo mama’ jokes for the best response. Or hit ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ for a hilarious non-sequitur.

    A search engine search bar with the words of a Shakespearean insult: "Thou art like a toad; ugly and venomous."

    The Snarky Comeback algorithm ranks results by level of burn, and favours comebacks with creative metaphors and clever pop-culture references, while issuing penalties for clichés and responses that sound too petulant.

    You can enable an ‘always listening’ mode, which uses voice search capabilities to detect when someone disses you and automatically search for a response, enabling on-the-spot snappy comebacks. Alternatively you can have the search engine’s digital assistant, Cortana, chirp the response for you in her sassy robotic voice.

    The future of search, in a nutshell.