12 valuable marketing lessons from Snapchat’s success

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Snapchat is turning into a very appealing platform for brands, while the engagement of its users keep increasing. How did it become the new trending social platform?

Snapchat has surprisingly evolved into a very interesting social network, both for the users, but also for the brands that start exploring its numerous opportunities for increased engagement, curated content and new creative directions.

It has shaped a new form of mobile-focused marketing that combines engagement, (playful) creativity, uniqueness and fun filters and Snapchat has achieved to measure a significant growth, counting more than 100 million daily active users and we are expecting this number to rise very soon.

Which marketing lessons can we extract from its successful case then?

Start with a narrow audience

A small and engaged group of people can be very useful at the initial stage of your platform, in order to examine what needs to be adjusted, depending on the users’ habits.

There is no need to chase the larger audience yet, or at least, until you’re confident that you can really make a difference.

Pick the right early adopters

Snapchat’s decision to focus on a young target audience seemed to be among the reasons it skyrocketed its fame, as it managed to win over the most demanding users.

A brand’s early adopters are the influencers that will affect its future, which means that if you pick the right ones, then you already have an advantage from your competitors.

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Spot a trend (the ephemerality of social media)

Social media has been popular for the direct communication and the instant reactions from users. The increase of content in our feeds highlighted the ephemerality of our posts, which were still available if you searched for them though.

Snapchat decided to take the ephemerality of posts to the next level by setting an expiry date to them, reminding us that if we want to enjoy what our friends post, we need to visit the platform daily.

It’s interesting to observe the stats below, as Snapchat users seem to really like their temporary posts, with 35% of them considering it the reason they use the platform.

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Source: Variety

Boost engagement with psychology

Snapchat users spend an average of 25-30 minutes on the platform every day and this impressive level of engagement was created by blending the idea of ephemerality and the right psychological triggers, in order to keep the users coming.

The fact that the posts disappear after 24 hours makes users visit the platform several times during the day, in order to beat the dreadful social F.O.M.O (Fear Of Missing Out).

This creates a sense of urgency that is very effective as a way to boost the engagement and I believe that Snapchat’s level of engagement will increase even more in the next months.

Every new platform should seek for the right way to encourage engagement, as this is the only way to turn the product into a habit that will hook users to keep using it and eventually expand its audience.

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Seize the mobile power

As the mobile domination continues, so do the chances of success when a product is launched in a mobile-focused approach.

Snapchat relied on the way we use our mobile devices to make instant communication easier, while it encouraged us to curate real-time content as part of the global stories, changing the idea of real time coverage.

Thus it managed to:

  • use the mobile power
  • turn users into publishers
  • create a new type of live coverage

and what we can learn is that there is always the need to come up with new ideas to create an appealing product, by analysing the current trends, but even predicting the next ones.

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Think locally

Global success may come through focusing on the local element and this also occurs to Snapchat and its decision to highlight all the local stories that matter to users.

Now that users turn into publishers, they also want to contribute with their content into the right context and Snapchat’s micro-stories helped to measure a significant increase of content during the past year.

Hence, what we can learn from this approach is the importance of maintaining the local focus when trying to engage with users, as this will keep them interested in the platform, until they decide to add their own public content.

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Disrupt communication

Snapchat was initially used as a private (and ephemeral) method of communication, which was mostly relevant to teenagers who couldn’t stop using the fun platform.

By the time it managed to win the most demanding demographic in terms of communication, Snapchat knew that it’s ready to think of bigger plans and come up with new ideas on how to attract a wider audience.

It’s no secret that Snapchat aims to replace Facebook’s Messenger as our main platform of communication and the introduction of Chat 2.0 proved that it seems to be on the right direction.

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The introduction of audio and video calls proved that Snapchat is going beyond its favourite (young) audience and tries to stand out as a reliable platform for our daily instant communication.

It may be too early yet to tell whether it can grow that big to compete with Facebook’s Messenger (and this also depends on the audience’s loyalty towards the biggest social network), but at least Snapchat seems to be trying hard to expand its features (or else, to imitate what works better on other platforms).

Provide new creative directions

Snapchat succeeded in providing a new creative direction, a more colourful and playful one that allowed both users and brands to experiment with a more engaging visual content.

In fact, it was more challenging to persuade brands to adjust to the new type of content, as it looked from the beginning more appealing for instant communication and fun posts, rather than what we know as branded content.

When your platform is able to influence brands on their creative direction, then you know that you’re one step closer to monetising your idea.

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Think of expansion

Snapchat has reportedly acquired Bitstrips for $100 million, a popular app that includes personal emojis, the so-called bitmojis, which seem to fit perfectly to Snapchat’s idea of fun snaps.

This is a proof that a trending platform needs to consider new paths to maintain its relevance and provide more features to its demanding audience. It’s easy to lose your popularity just as fast as you earned it, so it’s important to never rest on your laurels.

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Create effective advertising (the trend of vertical videos)

Snapchat knew that its growth plans can’t be viable without an effective form of advertising and the idea of vertical videos turned out into its secret weapons for further growth, as it created a new trend in content.

Full-screen vertical videos seem to work very well lately on Snapchat, with Facebook imitating the idea with the introduction of Canvas, as users seem to be up to 9 times more willing to watch a full ad, comparing to other types of videos.

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As the time spent watching an ad is a significant measurement, Snapchat knows that the concept of vertical videos has been very successful and that’s what makes many brands find the idea of advertising on its platform appealing.

And since the measurement of a campaign matters to all brands, Snapchat promises to expand its measuring capabilities soon with the collaborationwith “industry-leading measurement partners to help advertisers understand who their ads are reaching and what impact they are having”.

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Showcase brand opportunities

Brands were cautious at first to join Snapchat and once they did, many of them were unsure whether it could be part of their marketing strategy.

Except for the big brands that joined its Discover section from the early stages, others wanted a solid proof that this network can be taken seriously in terms of effectiveness for their business.

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2016 was certainly the year that brands realised that they cannot overlook Snapchat’s success, as its users keep increasing, the engagement is not expected to be reduced, while its video views rose 400% since last year.

Video keeps growing as an appealing part of a brand’s marketing strategy, which means that Snapchat’s popularity (and its new form of creativity) makes more brands flocking to try out the new vertical content.

Snapchat’s success may attributed to the fact that it has become appealing both to users, but also to brands and this favors the chances of growing even more, provided that it manages to maintain the balance between the two different audiences.

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Stay fun (but effective)

Yes, Snapchat still manages to maintain a balanced focus between users and brands (even favouring user), but its growth may require a reconsideration of its priorities and this will be a challenge, which might affect its future.

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Its fun and creative approach towards content and instant communication has contributed to its impressive engagement rates and this can serve as a useful lesson for any brand trying to grow in the digital landscape.

Users should always be a brand’s main focus and this approach may help you build a solid platform, which will effectually attract brands and facilitate the process of monetisation.

Of course, there’s no secret formula that will help any platform turn into the “next Snapchat”, but still, we can all learn some valuable marketing lessons by understanding what led to the success of Snapchat and how a business may use it.

Seth Godin: Nobody makes a purple cow by sticking with what’s safe

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Yesterday’s over. Being different is what’s going to help you win tomorrow – not simply repeating your previous success.

A century ago, Henry Ford made headlines with what seemed like an outrageous decision to double minimum wage. Instead of the standard $2.34, Ford workers would take home an unprecedented $5 for each working day.

It was a great move for the brand, as its workers were suddenly able to afford its products. However, Seth Godin – the legendary marketer, author and speaker who delivered the opening keynote at ClickZ Live New York this morning – pointed out that you can’t just make one great decision and then coast on it. Because the world never stops changing.

“The idea of the assembly line is that we codify the work. We figure it out step-by-step and figure out what [workers] did yesterday to make the KPIs go up and make things more efficient,” said Godin, adding that managers inevitably want more.

“The challenge of that four-letter word is simple. Mass leads to average products for average people,” he continued. “If you want to reach everyone, you better have something everyone wants to buy, which leads to average, which means the same thing as mass.”

Opening keynote with Seth Godin @alt_MBA #CZLNY pic.twitter.com/GgdxIQVMDy

— Tetyana (@mitetyana) April 12, 2016

The point there is that just because something worked, doesn’t mean you should just stick with it indefinitely.

Ford is still around today because the brand didn’t achieve success and then rest on its laurels. Ford recognized that having the best factory is ultimately not what brought on the brand’s prosperity.

“You don’t win because you have the better factory,” said Godin. “You win because you were connected because people were loyal, because people are interested in hearing you.”

Godin added that all of the brands who have thrived in the last decade or so hasn’t followed the status quo of what’s worked for brands in the past. The Airbnbs, Zappos and Lululemons of the world have, instead, focused on being purple cows.

The title of one of Godin’s 18 books, the term “purple cow” refers to the idea that you can drive through Texas and see thousands of cows, not noticing any of them. But if you see a purple cow, you’ll not only look twice, but probably stop your car to Instagram it.

“You know what a purple cow is? Remarkable. You know what that is? Something worth making a remark about,” said Godin. “Almost all marketing pain is caused by organizations who don’t have the guts to make something remarkable, instead trying to use money to solve a problem.”

The thing that’s remarkable isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But it’s going to appeal to the right people. For example, there are roads everywhere, but people still fly out to Hawaii and pay thousands of dollars to participate in the Ironman. Why? They feel like they’re a part of the tribe.

To put this example visually, Godin said that nobody gets a Suzuki tattoo. (On Twitter, someone commented that actually, yes, they do, but the Harley-Davidson logo generally adorns far more people’s bodies.)

Closing out his keynote, Godin put one of his favorite photos onscreen. It shows the attendees of a long-ago Solvay Conference, a periodic meeting for the best and brightest in the world of physics. People in the photo included Albert Einstein and Marie Curie; 17 of the 29 people pictured have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

“You didn’t get invited [to the Solvay Conference] because you won the Nobel Peace Prize. You won the Nobel Peace Prize because you got invited,” said Godin. “You need to be in the room where it happens and then you get to decide what to do about it.”

What you can do is stop being afraid and just do something different. You can choose to redefine your industry, rather than being a cog in the system. And you can choose to matter.

“You have the dials, the levers, the trust and the privilege to take responsibility,” said Godin. “What people are saying to you, as clearly as they can, is they need you to lead them.”

The key ingredients of mobile design and UX methodology

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Mobile projects can live or die on design. This column looks at the importance of design methodology, with a blow-by-blow account of the digital design process at the UK mapping agency, Ordinance Survey (OS).

While mobile development is rooted in methodologies inherited from web and software development – Waterfall or Agile; Scrum and Kanban – there is no industry-standard methodology for the design stage of your mobile project.

When you consider how important design and user experience (UX) is to the success of mobile projects – it’s crazy that companies and agencies have had to develop their own procedures… and it’s understandable that too often these prove inadequate.

The design and UX stage is the process by which the mobile project – or new iteration of the mobile project – goes from great idea to something the developers can get to work on.

Steps in this process include:

  • Visualization of the project – often drawn on paper as a storyboard.
  • Testing that on the target audience, then refining it.
  • Getting agreement from stakeholders, then refining it.
  • Giving the project its structure, look and feel and user interface – on paper or digital, using wireframes.
  • Test again, refining and getting agreement.
  • Creation of a prototype – usually digital.

There’s a variety of design and UX techniques and tools that companies/agencies might use to achieve this – some of which we will examine in detail in successive columns.

These include storyboards, user journey mapping, mind maps, personas, wireframes, prototyping and minimum viable product.

Waterfall or Agile or neither?

The traditional methodology for software development, usually referred to as Waterfall, is a linear process of defined stages: research -> design -> development -> test -> deploy (or similar).

While this makes design just a stage in a development process, the advantage is that actual development can’t start until design is completed and signed off.

In web and particularly mobile development, there is a need for speed, a requirement to work on different parts of the project concurrently, for regular scheduled testing and to continually enhance and upgrade.

This has led to the evolution of, and widespread adoption of so-called Agile development methodologies such as Scrum or Kanban, where research (including viability studies and audience identity and needs), design, development, testing and deployment – on different aspects of the project – could all be going on at the same time.

One of the best illustrations of Waterfall and Agile, is the following from US (New Hampshire)-based web-design agency CommonPlaces. However this agency, like many, actually uses a hybrid of the two approaches.

While agility brings many advantages, there is a danger that the design process can become squeezed, rushed, overlooked or, if outsourced, cause lack of continuity and delays. This makes it all the more important that companies put in place a design methodology. This shouldn’t just be a subset of a development process, but a methodology in its own right.

Bespoke v off-the-shelf design methodology

As previously stated, there is no commonly accepted methodology for designing mobile projects, no equivalent of developer processes, such as Scrum or Kanban. But many companies and agencies have developed their own in-house methodologies, some have gone to share these with others.

One of these is a lean UX methodology that mobile design expert Greg Nudelman, CEO of design agency DesignCaffeine calls the $1 Prototype. This process has been used on mobile projects for Intuit apps, Wells Fargo, USAA and Oracle and is the basis for his UX design courses.

N.B. $1 is not the price of the book, this is the price of two packs of sticky notes. Nudelman argues, convincingly, that sticky notes are the most important tool for storyboarding and wireframing mobile projects. The image below shows a mobile project sketched out by some of Nudelman’s students using this method.

We will look at the value of pen and paper – and sticky notes – in the digital design process in future columns.

Design methodology in practice: Ordinance Survey Maps

It is increasingly common for businesses to employ digital creatives with an agency background, as these come with a design methodology honed through years of client work.

Ordinance Survey, the UK’s mapping service, recruited Ben Scott-Robinson, a co-founder of the pioneering UK agency We Love Mobile, to found its internal agency to deliver its digital products and services.

This is Ben Scott-Robinson, head of The Agency at Ordnance Survey’s summary of design process for OS digital projects:

The OS Agency team runs a design sprint at the start of the project. We start with a narrative that outlines the emotional engagement we are looking to achieve with our customer, and use that as a basis for starting to work through the user journeys.

With OS Maps, for example, we focused on creating an experience called Emotive Mapping. We asked:

  • How can we take the emotional resonance people have with paper maps in general, and OS in particular into the digital space?
  • How can we product maps that are more than functional, but clearly crafted to give a positive emotional engagement?
  • How can we take people from a concept of ‘location’ to a concept of ‘place’?

This focus was driven by existing customer engagement with traditional OS paper maps, and the sense of belief and reassurance around understanding their immediate environment, rather than just knowing where they are.

From here we work in a relatively standard way; we:

  • Create a list of potential benefits that fulfill the narrative, and do card sorts among representatives of the audience types.
  • Taking those benefits, we create user journeys and storyboards around them. These tend to be scamped.
  • Test the journeys among the audience types again (always testing against criteria established around the narratives) and then start divergent thinking around interfaces.
  • Research interface types, then start sketching interfaces.
  • Create clickable prototypes from these sketches, using Marvel and use remote testing, such as usertesting.com usually, to test which works.
  • Start creating detailed prototypes of specific experiences in Axure (mapping apps tend to be multiple interaction single screen experiences which requires a pretty sophisticated tool).
  • Validate with the developers to check if our designs are possible or not!
  • Test remotely, again, to cut the chaff; then test with audience type for more detailed feedback.
  • Start stitching together the experiences into a product – again using Axure –and start simplifying and aligning interactions.
  • Then the visual designers get involved and we start creating design patterns and whole screen designs, which are included into the prototypes. We also look at the design of transitions and animations.
  • Test and test again, then we bring the developers in to start building the design.
  • A UX and visual designer is seconded to the development team to work with them in the Agile process, being involved in the planning, and supporting questions, providing revisions on the fly, and working through edge cases. OS tends to take a more Kanban approach rather than Scrum, as this is more flexible, and less of a planning overhead on the development team.
  • os_maps_app_cz16

    This is Part 16 of the ClickZ ‘DNA of mobile-friendly web’ series.

    Here are the recent ones:

    • 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

    Is Google testing out green labels for PPC ads?

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    Google looks to be testing out a new colour of ‘ad’ label for its PPC ads in Europe today.

    I noticed this tweet in my timeline earlier today, from a user who’d noticed these green ad labels in the UK.

    Looks like Google is testing green Ads. Anyone else seeing this? #Adwords #ppc pic.twitter.com/bX5YquqGJF

    — James Whitelock (@jaywhitelock) April 14, 2016

    It appears to be a European thing, as this user in Sweden is seeing similar results:

    I’m seeing all green ads in Google today. pic.twitter.com/eTQ0OIEjQy

    — Per Pettersson (@per_p) April 14, 2016

    At a moment, it appears to be just a chosen few users who are seeing this. Here’s a quick reminder of what the labels usually look like:

    So why is Google (maybe) going green?

    First of all, these may just be tests, and we may never see these green labels in common use.

    Normally, in UX testing, different colours will be tried out to determine which are most effective as calls to action.

    In this case though, the motives are likely to be different. Google’s aim is to deliver clicks for its advertisers and thus more revenue for itself.

    It’s hard to see a reason for the green colour, other than that it blends in more easily with the green text showing the URL, thus making it look less like an ad.

    If users think results are organic, will they be more likely to click on them? Perhaps that’s Google’s thinking. That’s the reason for removing right hand side ads, according to some opinion.

    The top 100 most expensive keywords in the UK: new research

    The Top 100 Most Expensive Keywords in the UK

    Back in the day, around 2003, somebody asked me a question regarding paid search: “Do you know what the most expensive keyword is on Google Adwords, and how much it costs?”

    I made a bunch of guesses, gradually increasing the amount I thought it might be acceptable to pay every time somebody clicks on an ad. £20? No? £30? Surely not!

    The grand reveal was that I was horribly wrong, and that some advertisers were paying “about £70 a click” for the term ‘mesothelioma’, which is a type of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. It was immediately apparent that legal firms would spend that kind of money because they were hunting for big ticket compensation lawsuits.

    Roll forward to the present day and I wondered how things had changed, as Google’s revenues have grown to more than $67bn globally and keyword inflation is a big deal in a lot of sectors.

    The good folks at SEMrush provided me with a huge list of the most expensive keywords in five countries, and for my first piece of research I’ve focused on the UK.

    I had 2,000 keywords to analyse (from its database of 12m in the UK) and here are the top results…

    Highlights

    Gambling dominates
    Betting-related terms account for 77 out of the 100 most expensive keywords, and 22 out of the top 25. How Google must wish that online gambling becomes legal in the US!

    Price range
    The most expensive keyword term cost £148.51, for ‘play live blackjack’. The least expensive in the top 500 cost £54.92.

    Typos
    Three of the top 25 target people who can’t spell ‘roulette’. Typos are regularly spotted in the top 500 results, and beyond.

    Search volume
    The top 500 keywords represent 217,530 searches a month. That’s more than 2.6m searches a year. Remember that the long tail is very long…

    Maximum spend opportunity
    As well as looking at keyword prices I calculated the maximum possible spend, by multiplying CPC prices with search volume.

    There are more than 3.6m annual searches for the word ‘casino’, and with an average cost per click of £70.40 gaming firms could spend more than £27m on that term alone (assuming the impossible – a 100% click rate).

    Six sectors pay the big money
    As well as gambling, there are four other sectors that appear in the top 100. Companies in these categories need deep pockets to buy ads on Google. They are as follows:

    • Technology [10/100]
    • Finance [8/100]
    • Legal [3/100]
    • B2B [2/100]

    In the top 500 most expensive keywords we also see a couple of Health-related terms, though no mention of ‘mesothelioma’ in the UK (it remains one of the most costly keywords in the US).

    Let’s look at the top keywords across these sectors…

    Caveats

    The SEMrush data is derived from a variety of publicly available and internal sources which makes it unique, but still very similar to authoritative sources such as Keyword Planner. The prices shown are averages. Prices paid may differ, as advertisers pay different prices at different times of the data.

    Nevertheless, these prices are certainly indicative of the sums advertisers are willing to pay to attract new customers via Google.

    You can download large versions of these images via EmpiricalProof.

    What do you think? Any surprises? Do leave a comment below…

    How will online advertisers and retailers benefit from Google AdWords redesign?

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    In this mobile-first world, Google is continuously monitoring the growth of usage on mobile devices and looking for ways to improve advertiser’s ability to adapt to this new multichannel behaviour.

    That is why the search engine giant, shortly after revealing a new layout for its SERPs, has redesigned the AdWords interface which is where online marketers and merchants display copy on its search engine and manage their campaigns in one place.

    When the interface was first created in 2001, it was exclusively for text-based ads but now it includes a variety of features including the management of Google Shopping ads and display-based campaigns.

    Google also worked closely with advertisers and listened to their feedback so they could tailor these changes specifically to their needs.

    Here are some of the key areas Google has focused on in the redesign of AdWords:

    • Focused approach on business objectives: AdWords, instead of focusing on features, is now more in tune to manage marketer’s campaigns according to their business goals. For retailers, this could be for example increasing traffic to their e-commerce website or increasing sales.
    • Easy to access, relevant data: Google AdWords, now offers easy access to insight and data which are relevant to the company’s business goals. With this new version advertisers will now be able to find out the percentage of traffic coming from mobile for example or even find out the campaign which results in the most profit for the business.
    • Do more in less time: Updates to Google AdWords support will help online advertisers to be more efficient with their time by helping them manage the most important settings more easily. This includes building reports and even managing ad extensions all from the same dashboard location.
    • Graphical view of clicks and conversions: Advertisers will be able to see the evolution of their clicks and conversions over one month. This new version will be easier to read than the current one.
    • Overview of top ad groups: just under the graph from the overview screen, the new design shows the top five ad groups, with their cost, number of conversions and impressions.AdWords users will see at a glance which of their ad groups perform best. For retailers, this could be a good way to quickly know their most popular product categories on AdWords.
    • Performance by device: the overview will also show the performance for each device (desktop, tablet, smartphone) according to three KPIs: clicks, impressions and cost. This data was accessible in the older version of AdWords through much more clicks. With this new view, Google recognises the importance of advertising on multiple channels.
    • Key settings are more visible: Access to data via mobile, tablet and desktop is much faster and more easily accessible. These were hidden in the earlier versions of the tool but these can now be accessed from the left sidebar: Location, Ad Schedule, Devices.
    • Personalisation: From the first preview of the interface, we can expect that, like in Google Analytics, there will be enhanced personalisation options including a custom dashboard with the most relevant metrics for advertisers.

    So what are the key benefits these changes provide to advertisers?

    The thinking behind the Google AdWords redesign was to allow advertisers to manage the complexity of online advertising.

    It aims to answer online advertiser’s needs, whilst also adapting according to the sheer complexity of managing a variety of different advertising campaigns and several formats including video, display, Shopping and AdWords.

    With more Google searches now taking place on smartphones than on computers, the redesign also allows advertisers to refine their advertising strategy for each device.

    Retailers will be able to improve their performance to reach consumers in their “micro-moments”, which happen whenever they need information.

    In terms of the visual look and feel, it is the same design which is used in other native Google products. As such, retailers who are already using Gmail or Google Maps will be familiar with the platform (unlike the current version, which looks quite complicated for a beginner), thus they will feel much more at ease to start using AdWords if they don’t already.

    The new interface also simplifies access to the most relevant tools in order to reach specific aims. For beginners the interface becomes more accessible and “user-friendly”, and there is no need for a wider practical knowledge of AdWords tools.

    It will also be useful for the more experienced users as it will help them save time in their daily workflow management. More information and settings in less clicks.

    The KPIs are also easily accessible with the new interface and allow advertisers to keep an eye on performance and make the necessary adjustments quickly. With this new interface, advertisers will have a better understanding of the key performance indicators, and have more powerful tools at their fingertips to manage their campaigns of any device.

    As a result, we can expect this redesign to help optimise advertiser campaigns at a base level and improve the ROI of their advertising spend in the long term.

    Below is a snapshot of what the new interface will look like:

    preview-adwords-new-design

    It’s worth keeping in mind that this redesign will not happen overnight. The change will be a long process, so don’t be surprised if you continue to see the original AdWords interface for a few more months.

    Initially, Google will provide access to certain areas of the redesign to a select group of advertisers so that they are given the opportunity to test out these new features and provide immediate feedback to the development team.

    However, the redesign and updated look and feel will be made available to all advertisers by the end of 2017 and shouldn’t affect the overall structure of your performance campaigns.

    The new design is already available in the AdWords mobile app (Android version released last year, iOS launched in January 2016), allowing advertisers to access their data on smartphone and tablet.

    It will be interesting to see if Google continues to roll out more feature sets and changes, as it continues to enhance the AdWords experience to its advertiser user base throughout 2016 and into 2017.

    Mobile marketers are missing out on hyperlocal: report

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    Despite the opportunity to target customers based on their locations, just 22% of marketers agree that they are exploiting hyperlocal advertising to its full potential.

    It works too, so many advertisers are missing out on one of the best tactics to use.

    This is one of the findings from our State of Mobile Advertising 2016 report, produced in association with Search Optics.

    The hyperlocal opportunity

    With the near ubiquity of smartphones, and their growing use to access digital content, the opportunity to target based on location has never been greater.

    However, of the hyperlocal tactics for targeting consumer we asked about, there wasn’t a majority of respondents using a single one.

    The most popular tactic (customer match) is used by a mere 35% of advertisers, while at the bottom end of the scale the use of specific locations such as shopping malls is only used by 10%.

    Respondents using hyperlocal targeting are reporting great results from these tactics. For every single hyperlocal tactic, the vast majority of respondents who have used them report ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ ROI.

    For client-side respondents, more than 90% said that retargeting by unique device, competitor businesses and their own business name results in ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ effectiveness.

    Just 22% of all respondents said they were using hyperlocal targeting to its full potential.

    However, it seems we’re at an early stage for hyperlocal targeting, and the positive results enjoyed by the marketers using such tactics should ensure that more will focus on geo-targeting in the near future.

    For more on mobile advertising, download our free report: The State of Mobile Advertising 2016.

    30 quick and easy SEO tips for small businesses

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    For the uninitiated, SEO can seem to be a complex and foreign landscape, but it doesn’t have to be too complicated.

    Indeed, there’s a lot that small businesses (and anyone) can do without any great SEO knowledge, and without spending too much money.

    With the help of some search experts, I’ve compiled a list of tips (in no particular order)…

    1. Set up a Google My Business account

    Set this up and get all of your business details uploaded. It’s totally free and will enable you to appear in local search results for queries specific to your area of operation.

    Even broad queries with large volumes are now showing local results which is something small business owners can capitalise upon.

    2. Build a fast, mobile-friendly website

    Developing mobile sites can now be done easily with simple plugins for your CMS, such as WordPress, meaning that making all of your content mobile-friendly can be done quickly and cheaply.

    Optimising it for fast load-speed (again through plugins where available) will help you stand out from the competition in terms of performance.

    3. Conduct extensive keyword research to identify gaps in the market

    Targeting the same keywords as your bigger competitors won’t see you make much ground as they are more established and have more coverage online.

    Using keyword research tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner to spot gaps in the market will enable you to capitalise upon these – they may even convert at a better rate too.

    Tips 1-3 by Jamie White, Head of Technical SEO at Search Laboratory.

    4. Start using Google Search Console

    It’s a free tool that gives a wealth of information about your website’s performance in Google search, as well as any errors on your site and issues you should address.

    Improving your website without Search Console is like running a marathon without any shoes on. With Search Console you can find out what keywords Google thinks your website is relevant for, whether there are problems crawling your website, if your site is mobile friendly, and much more. It’s the starting point for most of your improvement efforts.

    5. You need to understand your online audience through and through

    Who is your typical online customer? What are they looking for? How do they spend their time online? What kind of content do they like to consume?

    When you completely understand your audience, you will understand what you need to do online to grab their attention.

    If your audience spends a lot of time on Facebook, you should focus effort there. If your audience reads online tutorials about topics relevant to your niche, maybe you need to produce your own tutorial content.

    Without a thorough understanding of your audience’s needs and requirements, you won’t be able to make effective use of the online channels at your disposal – you’ll just be trying out different things at random, and that’s a terrible waste of your precious resources.

    6. Look at how search engines are displaying results in your niche

    Too often, small businesses have no idea who or what they are actually competing with in search.

    For example, if you want to focus on a keyword that has a lot of huge international companies ranking on the first page, you should realise that perhaps your expectations need to be tempered.

    Another example: if search engines show a lot of images or videos in their results for keywords you want to be visible for, you should consider producing that sort of content rather than just focus purely on text.

    Also, often search engines will show local business results – if that’s the case, your efforts need to be adjusted to focus on achieving visibility in those types of results.

    Tips 4-6 by Barry Adams, Polemic Digital

    7. Get ScreamingFrog and check your site for possible onsite issues

    Watch for security issues too – Sucuri site check is free and while it won’t be able to see all possible issues it can catch some of the most widespread ones.

    This may seem unrelated to the topic of this article but compromised sites do lose their traffic and visibility.

    8. Claim your physical address on Google Maps

    If it’s a local business which a physical location and offline customers, make sure you claim your physical address on Google Maps.

    9. Whatever you do, be genuine

    Hiring somebody on the cheap to run your Twitter account or build links for you may seem like a tempting idea but it can – and probably will – backfire.

    If you haven’t got much of a marketing budget, take one step at a time but do it yourself as nobody knows your business and your customers better than you. Connect with them personally, do not count on somebody else spamming them on your behalf resulting in any positive outcome.

    Tips 7-9 by Julia Logan, Irish Wonder

    10. Beware of agencies that promise the earth

    Unless you’re prepared to buy PPC ads, then there is no way to guarantee a page one listing (even then it can be tricky on competitive terms).

    If an agency or salesperson promises you this, ignore them. They’re lying and will likely do a lot of damage to your long-term search visibility.

    page one guaranteed

    Also, if you’re just getting started, you don’t necessarily need an agency to improve your SEO efforts. See what you can do yourself first.

    11. If you do hire an agency, keep an eye on them

    Agencies using the wrong methods can do a lot of damage.

    Often by dodgy link-building which may achieve some short-term results but will expose your site to the risk of penalties long-term.

    12. Keep up with industry news

    Things can change fairy quickly in SEO, so things that work for a while can become against Google’s rules over time.

    As with the recent penalties for bloggers reviewing products, Google will rarely spell things out. It will give advice and hints, but it won’t contact you. You’ll often only know you’ve done something ‘wrong’ when you login to Google Search Console and receive a notice like this:

    Google penalty

    13. Try not to rely too much on Google

    Yes, it’s well worth working to improve your rankings, and search traffic is valuable, but don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

    Google can change the way it ranks sites, the way it display results at any time, in ways which could adversely affect your search traffic.

    Look to build email lists, use social media etc so that you’re attracting customers from a range of sources.

    14. Launch a blog / create content

    Content is what will help you rank for your target terms. This means content on product pages, homepages and everywhere around the site, but a blog can also help.

    It shouldn’t be done just for SEO reasons, as blogs present an opportunity for you to talk about your product and services and the issues around them.

    It means you can create the kind of content that people interested in your product or service would appreciate, and begin to build an audience.

    15. If you blog, do it regularly

    You don’t have to write five articles a day, but regular updates mean your visitors have something to read, and you’ll also be creating fresh content for the search engines.

    16. But don’t go keyword-crazy

    Yes, you want to target the terms that your customers are likely to search for, but you have to write for humans first of all, or your content will be weak.

    17. Aim for evergreen content

    Look to create quality content that addresses customers issues and has a longer shelf-life. This ‘evergeen content’ is more likely to achieve search rankings over a longer period of time.

    evergreen

    18. Use a clear URL structure

    People should be able to guess the topic of a page just by looking at the URL.

    19. Use internal linking to optimise your site

    Effective internal linking is about linking topics and themes together in a more sensible way, for readers and for search engines.

    For example, if you are providing cake-decorating services, you’ll have lots of articles using that phrase. They’re not all going to rank for that, so choose the page you’d most like to rank for that term and point the links at that.

    It can be very effective, as this internal linking example from the Daily Mail website shows.

    David Cameron landing page

    20. Use your site search data to find terms to target

    You can view the terms your visitors search for on site by looking into your analytics data.

    You can learn a lot from this site search data, which can help in many ways.

    For search, the keywords that people use on your site could be terms that you aren’t currently targeting via SEO or PPC.

    If so, analysing site search data is a great way to find more relevant terms to target. They also tell the the kind of language that customers use.

    /IMG/908/333908/clickz-site-search-usage

    21. Encourage reviews

    Reviews will help to drive conversions but, from an SEO perspective, they help to drive your local SEO visibility.

    /IMG/955/335955/chicago-rest

    22. Optimize images

    In this article, SEW Editor Christopher Ratcliff explains how to optimize images for SEO, with the help of his cat.

    wordpress photo upload highlighting caption and description

    23. Set up Google Analytics

    It’s free and it’s essential for you to understand customer behaviour, traffic sources and more.

    Here’s a beginner’s guide to Google Analytics.

    Google Analytics app

    24. Think about UX

    For one thing, after mobilegeddon, your mobile ranking depends on factor related to UX.

    Site speed is just one. Use tools like Google’s pagespeed insights to learn about your site and how to improve it.

    25. Optimize your Google My Business profile

    The basics should be there – if you have a physical store, provide opening times, directions and other useful information.

    Don’t leave it at that though. Add images, regular updates and more.

    26. See who is linking to you and learn from it

    You can view the links you receive through tools like Majestic and others. Are you attracting links from relevant sites? If so, which kinds of content / pages are attracting these links?

    backlinks

    27. Write a unique title for every page

    On Google, you have around 55 characters to make the topic of a page clear to searchers and search engines.

    page titles google

    28. Don’t expect results too quickly

    The tips here will produce results, but don’t expect overnight success. Good SEO can take time, so be patient and stick with the process.

    29. Use a little PPC

    If you have the budget, PPC can deliver traffic more quickly.

    It can also inform your SEO efforts – you can see which keywords work best for conversions and can help you to improve your landing pages.

    30. Write your own product page copy

    If you’re selling products that other sites will also have, unique product descriptions can help your site to stand out.

    They’re also better for conversions, as the manufacturer descriptions will not have been tested for effectiveness, whereas you can try variations and see what works best for your site

    duplicate-product-copy

    What have I missed? Add your tips below…

    Everything you need to know about natural language search

    Search engines like Google, Bing and others are making efforts to bring searching for information in line with everyday conversation with a type of search called ‘natural language search’.

    This development is a move away from the type of searching that has dominated the web since the advent of search engines in the 1990s. It is part of an attempt to make searching faster and more effective by understanding searcher intent and more complex, multi-part queries.

    Natural language search is also key to a number of advancements currently taking place in technology, including voice search, digital assistants and smart home hubs. But what exactly is it, and how is it going to affect the way that we look for information online?

    What is natural language search?

    Natural language search is search carried out in everyday language, phrasing questions as you would ask them if you were talking to someone. These queries can be typed into a search engine, spoken aloud with voice search, or posed as a question to a digital assistant like Siri or Cortana.

    This is as opposed to keyword-based search, which is what most people who are used to using web search engines still default to. Keyword-based search is an attempt to break down a query into the most important terms, getting rid of unnecessary connecting words like “how”, “and”, “the”, and so on.

    So if you wanted to know how high the Empire State Building was, a keyword-based search query for that information might be “Empire State Building height”. But if you were searching using natural language, you would phrase your query as, “How high is the Empire State Building?”

    “Don’t speak in these weird haikus.” CollegeHumor’s ‘If Google Was a Guy’ series satirises keyword-based search queries by placing them in a life-like context.

    Natural language search has always been around – think of Ask Jeeves, the 1990s search engine which encouraged users to phrase their queries in the form of a question. But Ask Jeeves was ahead of its time; keyword-based searching was the norm then, and Jeeves found itself out-competed by more powerful keyword engines like Google.

    Several years too late for Ask Jeeves, search trends are coming back around towards natural language search. This is the result of a number of different developments in search and technology coming together.

    The trend towards natural language

    First of all, search engines – particularly Google – have improved their search capabilities so much over the years that people expect to find exactly what they’re looking for on the first try.

    There’s a reduced patience for sitting and trying different keyword combinations; people are searching on their mobiles, on the go, and they want to be able to ask a question, get the answer, and move on. And search engines have worked hard to meet this expectation, so that people will feel satisfied with the service they provide instead of frustrated by it.

    Secondly, search technology has improved to the point where we can begin to teach search engines to understand longer, more complex queries, with different components that modify each other and can’t operate independently.

    Google recently published a blog post welcoming “complex questions” and illustrating how its search engine can now understand superlatives (tallest, largest, oldest) and “ordered items”, such as a list of the largest cities in a given state, in order of area.

    Google now also has an improved ability to interpret specific dates, and complex, multi-part queries like “Who was the U.S. President when the Angels won the World Series?”

    You’ll notice from the screenshot that Google doesn’t just aim to serve the right answer to that question, but to display it within the Knowledge Graph at the top of the screen, eliminating the need to even click on another site in order to find the answer.

    The third key component contributing to the development of natural language search is the rise of voice search and digital assistants. As Rob Kerry noted in his presentation on the future of search at Ayima Insights digital marketing conference, “It’s becoming a lot more common for people to search by talking into their phone.”

    Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Now – these AI assistants are being adopted more and more widely, and their voice activation capabilities increasingly integrated into technology.

    The technology might have had its stumbling blocks at first, but as with Google, it’s improving steadily, leading people to become much more used to speaking commands and queries aloud in everyday, natural language and expect an accurate response in return.

    Will Oremus of Slate put the progression to natural language search best when he described it as a move from us speaking the language of computers in order to communicate with them, to us teaching them our language.

    “In the beginning, computers spoke only computer language, and a human seeking to interact with one was compelled to do the same. First came punch cards, then typed commands such as run, print, and dir.

    The 1980s brought the mouse click and the graphical user interface … the 2000s, touch screens; the 2010s, gesture control and voice. It has all been leading, gradually and imperceptibly, to a world in which we no longer have to speak computer language, because computers will speak human language—not perfectly, but well enough to get by.”

    It’s not just Google

    As the world’s most popular search engine, it’s not really a surprise that Google is leading the pack in natural language search advancements. But it hasn’t been the only search engine to do so by any means.

    In 2014, Microsoft made updates to Bing smart search which improved its parsing of natural language queries. A few months later, it developed on this even further by introducing the ability to “continue the conversation” after asking a question in search. In other words, you can ask a follow-up question which depends on the previous one for context, and Bing will understand what you mean.

    This works, and it’s quite impressive – ask Bing who the “President of America” is, and then in a separate query, ask “how tall is he?” and you’ll get the right answer, with the height of the First Lady and a couple of other presidents thrown in just in case.

    Of course, it depends on the first question being one that Bing can answer, which mostly restricts it to simple “who is…” or “how is…” questions. Still, not even Google, which always treats individual searches as a new query, can do this, and it’s a big step towards the kind of frictionless, conversational searches that natural language search aspires to.

    Newer search engines are also making natural language search capability their goal. Plonked, a niche business-focused search engine which launched in March, aims to provide its users with a natural language interface in order to keep up with the level of searching offered by Google and other major search engines.

    I also made an unexpected discovery when researching this article, which is that Ask Jeeves is not the only natural language question and answer service left over from the 90s. START is a “natural language question answering system” developed by the InfoLab Group at MIT, and it has been online since 1993.

    START functions more like a reference book than a search engine, designed to give factual answers to questions in fields like geography, science, history and culture.

    It also might be a little out of date. But it has an ability to puzzle out the different components of a complex query in a way that Google could stand to learn a thing or two from – and by the look of things, has been doing it for much longer than Google has.

    A screencap of a query from the START Natural Language Question Answering System, showing the query "When was the constitution adopted in the most populous country in Africa?" START reasons the answer as follows: " know that the most populous country in Africa is Nigeria (source: The World Factbook). Using this information, I determined when the constitution was adopted in Nigeria: Constitution: several previous; latest adopted 5 May 1999, effective 29 May 1999; amended several times, last in 2012 (2016)"

    Where next for natural language search?

    We’ve published a number of articles on where Google is going with search, from using Hummingbird to better understand searcher intent, to employing RankBrain to guess at the meaning of never before seen questions, to making strides towards semantic search.

    Natural language search is bound up with all of these, since these are all capabilities that would allow Google to better interpret and respond to search queries in everyday language. So I think it’s fair to say that we can expect much better and more accurate natural language responses from Google as these algorithms learn, develop and have their limits tested.

    But as we’ve established, it’s not just about Google. There’s a possibility that we’ll see natural language search developing in a few different directions as Bing furthers its ‘conversational’ search style, and other search engines play to their own strengths.

    The kinds of natural language search queries that a niche engine like Plonked needs to interpret and respond to could be very different from those put to a general search engine, which could lead to some interesting advances in unexpected areas.

    An image of two smartphones side by side, one an iPhone running SIRI, and the other a Windows phone running Cortana.
    Screen capture via GV Commerciais

    There are even bigger developments taking place in the ‘digital assistant’ field, which is heavily tied together with voice and natural language search as digital assistants handle search queries along with a myriad of other tasks. Siri, Cortana, Alexa and others are all threats to Google’s dominance of search, and there are rumours that Google is planning to develop its own voice-controlled assistant device to take on Amazon’s Echo in the smart home space.

    Natural language search is not only a direction that search engines are overwhelmingly moving in in order to better understand the goals and desires of searchers online, but also a key component of some of the most important – and, let’s be honest, futuristic – developments currently happening in the field of technology.

    Google manual action penalties were due to links for freebies

    Google penalty

    A month ago, we reported that Google had issued warnings to bloggers over providing links in return for free products to review.

    Now it seems that the penalty actions reported over the weekend were directly related to Google’s warning last month.

    Google advised bloggers reviewing goods they’d received free of charge to nofollow any links pointing readers to sites where they can buy the products.

    As reported by SER, Google’s Webmaster Central Help Forum contains plenty of questions from bloggers who have received penalties over the weekend, like this one:

    The post by Sammi Penni in relation to the penalty notice shown above has been replied to by John Mueller,Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google.

    John confirms that the penalty is related to the warning about nofollowing links:

    There’s absolutely no need to nofollow every link on your site! However, those that are there because of an exchange (such as a product or service for a review) should have a rel=nofollow on links to the product, to their sales pages, and to any social media profiles that are linked because of the review. Also, it’s always a good idea to clearly label these kinds of posts for your readers too.

    There are other, similar exchanges in which John advises that the penalised sites should unfollow links which may have been added in return for free products.

    The entries also reveal that the bloggers in question seem to have been unaware of any need to unfollow links, and several said that they hadn’t received any payment for links.

    As with warnings over guest blogging for links and other such instances, these pieces of advice are often followed by a penalty. I guess it’s a way for Google to show it means business, and to send a wake up call to others.

    As SEO Barry Adams pointed out to SEW recently:

    In addition to the blog post, we should expect Google to start dishing out penalties to bloggers that have obvious link placements. A few high profile penalties should suffice to instill an overpowering fear of linking to companies among bloggers, at which point Google’s work is done.

    Google doesn’t actually have to figure out the difficult bit of algorithmically identifying commercial link placements; they just plant the seeds of doubt, and let the blogosphere’s inevitable panic do the rest.

    The question here is how much Google knows about the relationships between brand and blogger in these instances. I can see plenty of unfollowed product links in these blogs, but I’ve no idea of the relationship behind them.

    Maybe Google knows something here, and hopes the resultant panic will be enough to deal with the issue.

    However, for hobby sites who are reviewing products for fun and adding links because that seems to be the natural thing to do for readers, it seems they’ll have to tread carefully.

    As Barry also pointed out, this has implications for what brands can do:

    Google is now clearly redrawing the lines of how a company’s promotional efforts are allowed to influence the link graph. It seems Google interprets any promotional activity that results in links as an attempt to manipulate its search results, which begs the question what a company is actually allowed to do in Google’s eyes to boost its online profile.

    Inevitably, bloggers will follow Google’s advice rather than risk a penalty.

    Google clearly has no way to police such links on a large scale, so it is relying on bloggers to unfollow links. Many links will be unfollowed, whether they’re genuine or not.