How are businesses using Google Posts?

Google has recently debuted a new feature giving individuals and organisations a new platform for communicating with the wider public.

Dubbed ‘Google Posts’ by most commentators – although Google has indicated that the feature does not have an official name yet – the new platform appears as a carousel of ‘card’ style updates within a search engine results page.

The feature was originally introduced as part of the U.S. Presidential Elections, as a way for presidential candidates to deliver a personal message to the public via Google. Later on, some sharp-eyed searchers noticed that Posts had been rolled out to a very limited number of local businesses in the US, and was being given a prominent billing on search results pages.

Google has been fairly quiet about the new feature’s existence so far. Search Engine Land managed to confirm with the company that this was an official test, which has been rolled out to a “few dozen” local businesses.

Of these, only three seem to be widely known about: a day spa and massage therapist, a comic book store, and a jeweller’s specialising in engagement and wedding rings. So how are these lucky few making use of Google’s newest innovation, and what can we take away for when the feature is rolled out more widely in future?

Andrews Jewelers

Andrews Jewelers was the first business to be spotted using the new feature, by local search expert Mike Blumenthal as he searched for engagement rings in Buffalo, New York.

Searchers who enter the right keywords on Google.com are presented with a miniature carousel of the most recent few posts by the business in the search results page. Each has a time stamp, and a share button which allows the posts to be republished on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and (in weirdly meta fashion) Google+.

Although the posts are showcased prominently in search results, businesses using Google Posts don’t seem to be artificially boosted to the top of the results page. Rather, the Posts carousel will appear directly below the business’s highest entry on the search results page, whether it be the top search result or the fourth.

Clicking on the company’s logo takes you to a feed of published posts by that company which is presented on, in Blumenthal’s words, “a slimmed-down Plus like page”. The resemblance to Google+ (and the fact that well, it is a Google creation) has caused many to speculate that the new feature could eventually be phased in as a replacement for Google+, which has noticeably been stripped out of branded searches as of late.

As a retail business, Andrews Jewelers has made use of the strong visual element of Google Posts to show off its products, with eye-catching images of their diamond rings and custom designs.

Andrews Jewelers’ updates on Posts are slightly more evergreen compared with something like its Twitter feed, promoting longer-lasting content like a diamond-buying guide, a post on the importance of prong maintenance, and current trends and styles in the jewellery world.

The business is good at linking up its various different channels, drawing attention to five-star Google reviews and encouraging readers to visit its Google+ Page.

Most interestingly, company founder Andy Moquin published a longer piece to his business’s Posts page, addressing an “ongoing debate in the jewelry industry” about gemological laboratories and diamond grading.

I’m on the fence about whether Google Posts makes the best platform for this kind of piece. The no-frills platform interface makes text posts very readable, but without an image, a text post is only given a few lines of preview in the main feed, and is very easily overlooked between the more attention-grabbing visual posts.

A screenshot showing two large and prominent Google Posts updates with eye-catching images, and in between them, an almost overlooked snippet of text.I almost missed the text post here when scrolling through the feed.

Then again, when you’re one of the first businesses ever to make use of a new Google platform, anything is a good idea from a visibility standpoint. It’s cool to see businesses experimenting with different types of post on the new platform, and hopefully there’ll be plenty of room to find out what works when the feature is rolled out more widely.

Escape Pod Comics

Another local New York business, Escape Pod Comics in Huntingdon, NY, has also been spotted using Google Posts.

Escape Pod has a good mix of posts going on in its feed, using images, video, GIFs and text posts to promote the business, spotlight individual artists and highlight upcoming events. As a comic book retailer, it uses visual posts to great advantage, using GIFs to showcase a creator’s distinctive style ahead of a signing, or to show off products within the store every Wednesday (the day new comic books are released).

A Google Posts update showing a photograph of comic books on shelves in Escape Pod Comics, with a text explanation that every Wednesday in the store is New Comic Book Day, and these are some of the products that the store has on its shelves this NCBD.

The page features some cross-promotion of Escape Pod’s blog, as well as a post which makes use of a screenshot from the store’s Instagram. With posts dating back to 29th February, Escape Pod Comics is also our earliest adopter of the three Google Posts businesses, as the other two feeds both date back to 1st March.

I found it entertaining that, when searching for Escape Pod Comics on Google.com (Google Posts currently only appear in search results for Google.com and not any of the localised Googles), Google has already begun to make associations between searches for the different businesses who are using Google Posts.

A screenshot of a search for "escape pod comics". In the drop-down box of search suggestions below it, the top suggestion is "A healthy choice spa", one of the other businesses known to be testing Google Posts.

A Healthy Choice Spa

Our third Google Posts business is based in Lincoln, Nebraska, which promptly did away with my theory about whether the businesses that Google has chosen to debut Posts had any geographical link.

A Healthy Choice is our most frequent updater on Posts, often publishing two or three posts per day. The updates tend to be short and simple, containing just a single line of text, an image or GIF, and a link.

At this stage, it’s impossible to say whether updating more frequently on Google Posts could be an advantage, a disadvantage, or not really make a difference. In a situation where most or all businesses on Google have their own Posts feed, it’s conceivable that Google could boost the more active publishers higher up the search results, but this could also turn out not to be a factor at all.

Currently, the most that it affects is the number of recent posts which show in the ‘carousel’ on the search results page, which seem to have a cut-off period of about one week; the more posts which have been published in the past week, the more will be displayed in the carousel.

A screenshot of the ‘carousel‘ of recent posts published by A Healthy Choice Spa, each featuring an image and a simple text description such as "Find your happy place" with a link to the spa‘s website. The earliest is time stamped 6 days ago.

As well as updates promoting its business and the health benefits of massages, A Healthy Choice uses its feed to support and promote local events, history and causes. This isn’t unusual for social media, but when publishing to a platform which feeds directly into search results pages, I wonder if it’s such a good idea.

On the one hand, it looks good for a business to be seen promoting its local area, and building trust and respect with the nearby community is always important for local businesses.

On the other hand, with Posts from businesses appearing directly within search results, businesses might have to put on a search engine ‘hat’ and consider how to deliver the most useful information to searchers who are looking up their business on Google.

I can see it going either way, but as with most things, it will be up to businesses to refine what works when Google Posts is rolled out on a larger scale.

A Google Posts update from A Healthy Choice Spa, showing a conductor frozen in the middle of conducting an orchestra. Underneath the text reads, "Supporting music for all our community", with a link.What’s next for Posts?

It’s difficult to speculate too much about what Google plans for Posts, given that Google itself has kept so quiet about the whole project. None of the businesses taking part in the initial, experimental testing stages seems to have made an announcement about being approached or selected, leaving searchers to stumble across these early users by accident.

The homepage for Posts on Google definitely implies a wider implementation of the platform, calling it an “experimental new podium” which will allow people to “hear directly from the people and organisations [they] care about on Google.”

“Verified individuals and organisations can now communicate with text, images and videos directly on Google,” it proclaims. Anyone who is a “public figure or organisation” who would like to publish on Google can join the waiting list, though noticeably, the form doesn’t require anyone to specify why they are significant or even what organisation they represent in order to sign up.

A screenshot of the waitlist form from Google Posts. The form only has three fields: Name, Email and Additional Notes. The first two fields are marked by an asterisk as being compulsory; the third is not.

Based on what we’ve seen of Posts so far, Google’s new feature seems like a halfway house between a new social media outlet and a publishing platform. Certainly, the early adopters seem to be using it that way.

But I think there’s potential here for Posts to become something completely new altogether. As I mentioned before, the fact that Posts are published directly into search results means that publishers will have to bear searchers in mind as their audience with their presentation and the information they provide.

The key thing setting Google Posts apart from social media (and blogging platforms) is the lack of interactivity. You can share posts, but not otherwise comment on or interact with them. That could always change in future, but I think it’s a statement of intent as to where Google is going with this feature.

Speculation about replacing Plus aside, I don’t think Google is setting out to create a self-contained social network with its own ecosystem, but something that extends more seamlessly from existing Google search. It’s not just another social network or another publishing platform – both of which Google already owns.

But combining elements of both with the huge ‘audience’ that Google (as the world’s most popular search engine) commands makes using Posts a very attractive prospect indeed, at least from a business perspective.

I think the next big consideration will be whether users find it beneficial, or whether it will be seen as just another level of clutter trying to draw their attention away from the information they’re searching for.

Is a brutal approach to content migration best for SEO?

I read a great article over at Boagworld about the pain of content migration, a term that will send shivers down the spine of anybody unfortunate enough to have been through such a process.

Written by Paul Boag, it explains some of the common problems with migrating vast amounts of content. Notably, the reorganising of content in a way where lots of mismatches occur, breaking navigation and links, ending up with wonky URL structures and – as a result – lots of frustrated users and too many 404 pages being shown.

Paul suggests that you need to tackle the issue head on, by pruning your website.

“Failing to address content in a redesign means that your shiny new website inherits the problems from your old one. You will have a bloated website full of redundant, out of date or trivial content. Content that you should be removing.”

He says that a redesign is the best opportunity you’ll have to remove content, and he’s right. Content owners and other stakeholders can be very precious about old content. They’re emotionally attached to their work and don’t want to see your grubby fingers hovering over the Delete key.

So what to do? The solution is brutal.

Cut everything

Instead of removing content, maybe the mindset should be about adding content…

“What if you started from scratch? What if instead of deciding what to remove you removed everything? You then don’t have to audit what you already have. Your political fights are less too. After all everybody is receiving equal treatment. Everybody is having their content removed.”

An intriguing thought, and one that is probably backed up by the data.

“Take a moment to look at your analytics. I bet the vast majority of traffic only hits a fraction of your pages. I also bet that if your site is big there is an enormous proportion of pages that are rarely if ever viewed. In truth 80% of your audience only needs 20% of your content. So cut the rest. At least to start with. You can always add content back in later if there is a proven case.”

This is certainly a hardcore approach to a site redesign, but it makes sense. Everybody involved will understand that it’s not just the design that is being overhauled, but the content too. From there it’s about what is added back to the site.

Caution: SEO

While I like this bold approach, and I agree that it’s wise to get everybody on the same page when undertaking these large projects, there are some alarm bells ringing in my head.

Firstly, let’s consider SEO, given that any content-rich site will probably attract the lion’s share of its traffic from organic search, if the team and technology are doing the right things.

Removing so many pages might seem like a good idea if they all have low amounts of traffic, but content clustering is important from a Google perspective.

It’s generally a good idea to have a sense of how similarly themed pages contribute to your overall rankings, even if they don’t appear to do much for your business on the face of it.

For example, it might be risky to remove them if they have lots of internal links to related pages, hero pages and hub pages.

Also, some of these pages may rank for the niche terms that contribute greatly to your business, even if the volume isn’t there…

Alert: high value visitors

The data doesn’t lie, does it? No, but it depends on what you’re looking for.

If you axe 80% of pages based on visits or – worse – impressions, then I fear that the axe may swing around in your direction.

Low-traffic pages can attract some of the most interesting visitors, either by accident or design.

Sometimes a page will rank for something so specific, either by way of a highly descriptive anchor text link or on-page content (or more often some combination of the two), that it will attract a very specific type of visitor.

Some of the best conversion rates live in the long tail. If only we could scale it!

Niche content has its place, and the user flows from these landing pages to key conversion areas of your website can be really valuable. Pages that are positioned prominently for high intent, multi-phrase terms should be your bread and butter.

Plan ahead

Finally, it’s crucial to spend some time figuring out taxonomy, metadata and vocabulary upfront when starting afresh with content (or undertaking a migration). It will save you so many headaches down the line, and it will help your techies to make sense of your content, when undertaking a migration.

If a redesign and content migration is looming then you have my sympathies. It’s a stressful time for all involved.

The key to getting it right is all in the planning, before and after you launch. That means a proper audit of your content, your search analytics, and your tech. Good luck!

Do share your content migration horror stories (and tips!) below.

Three early results of Google removing right-hand side ads

impression changes

About a month ago, Google introduced what now seems like a very obvious change to its results pages: it removed paid search ads from the right-hand side.

Apparently Google made this change based on years of testing. These tests showed that no one was really clicking on these ads and it would better align with the mobile experience if they simply weren’t there.

The impact of this means there will be less inventory, and ranking at the top of the page is potentially even more important than ever before.

So now that we are a few weeks into this change what is the impact? Did everything the industry predicted come true?

To understand the impact I ran a keyword level report that included the Top vs. Other segment, looking at three weeks post and prior to the change.

There are three things to note:

1) Inventory is down

As expected, with no more ads on the right-hand rail there are less ad spots available. As a result we are seeing a 19% decrease in total inventory. The majority of that reduction is within the Other bucket.

2) Traffic shifts

You can see from the data below that traffic for positions below the organic listings has shifted up significantly and dropped in lower positions due to inventory restrictions. You also see an increase in traffic to positions 3 & 4 in the Top ads. While the increase is still noticeable, it is still

The rise of ‘Micro-Moments’ and how to optimise for ‘near me’ search queries

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 08.37.11

In the past year or so Google has published numerous articles and research around the topic of ‘Micro-Moments’, which it describes as “the new battleground for brands”.

Let’s look at a top level overview and then we’ll explore a few ideas around how to optimise one particular micro-moment.

So what are ‘micro-moments’, exactly?

Google says they are “critical touch points within today’s consumer journey, and when added together, they ultimately determine how that journey ends.”

It points to the use of mobile as a key driver of searches that reflect a consumer’s micro-moment, and it says brands need to be ready for them.

“These I-want-to-know, I-want-to-go, I-want-to-buy, and I-want-to-do moments are loaded with intent, context, and immediacy.”

All of which sounds marvellous, if you know your search onions.

There are numerous stats to help focus minds, should you need to convince colleagues or clients. These stats come from a survey Google conducted in the US last August (they undoubtedly reflect wider trends in the more mature mobile markets).

  • 91% of smartphone users turn to their phones for ideas when in the middle of a task
  • 90% are not certain of the brand they want to buy from
  • 82% use their phones to check on prospective in-store purchases
  • 65% look for the most relevant information to their query, regardless of the company that provides the answer
  • 51% have discovered a new company or product when searching on their phone
  • 33% have purchased from a different brand than the one they had in mind, because of the information provided

In summary, when it comes to finding answers, mobile searchers are a) very active and b) not brand loyal.

This is a huge opportunity, especially as the mobile search land-grab is still underway, with many firms lagging behind due to poor mobile user experiences.

The advice? It’s all about anticipation, relevance and ease of use…

An example of ‘Be There’ would be around location.

Consider the growth in ‘near me’ searches. These are when the user adds ‘near me’, ‘nearby’ and nearest’ in their queries. Google says that ‘near me’ searches have doubled in the past year.

If you look back a little further, it would appear that these searches have skyrocketed since 2013, with ‘near me’ growing 15-fold.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 13.09.03

Google Trends needs to be taken with a little pinch of salt, not least because it the volumes indicated are relative rather than absolute, but any which way you look at it, that’s huge growth.

How to optimise for ‘near me’ searches

I won’t go into too much detail here, but you can dig into these seven areas for starters.

Do the basics

As in, have a properly structured, highly usable website, with some excellent content and technically optimised for the search engines. Make sure it you create a frictionless user experience across all devices. If you run an ecommerce operation then this is a very good read.

Optimise your existing footprint (or create a new one)

Google looks for a bunch of basic information about your business to display within its local listings. Things like contact information (address, phone number, email), a map (e.g. Google Maps), opening hours, customer reviews, and so on. Use schema markup for extra brownie points.

Set up local business listings

Moz Local can prove helpful in this respect a lot. In fact, David Mihm’s slides from last September’s Brighton SEO event are a goldmine of insight in this area.

Get lots and lots of reviews, and then get some more

Google is increasingly paying attention to reviews, and with good reason. A Brightlocal survey on the subject last August found that only 11% of consumer don’t take any notice of them. Quality and velocity matter. I feel that most brands – especially offline companies – don’t do enough to secure customer feedback, even when we know it is a crucial part of Google’s local search algorithm. I also think that Google will uprate social ranking signals in the years to come.

Undertake a local search audit

There are a number of tools that you can use to analyse local rankings, to figure out how to get one over your competitors.

Get more local links

Make friends with the community! There are plenty of ways of attracting links from local sites. Think about events, directories, local news sites, awards, schools and colleges, non-competing companies, and so on.

Add ‘near me’ copy on your pages

Does this really work? Colleen Harris at CDK Global investigated whether this would help by undertaking a study of 82 auto dealers over a five month period. She found that those that added ‘near me’ content increased clickthroughs by 81%, compared with those that didn’t (8,833 clicks vs 4,365 clicks). Impressions increased too, though by just 15%. Good enough!

In summary

Google is going big on micro-moments, and there are a ton of articles and studies to explore over at its Think With Google site.

It’s true that many companies have a lot more work to do in terms of understanding the consumer journey, and that the mobile user experience on many sites leaves a lot to be desired. But there’s a lot to play for, and the guidance issued by Google – as well as the countless algorithmic and search UI tweaks – suggests that it is now essential to get on top of this stuff.

Have you had any success with optimising your site for micro-moments? Do leave a comment below…

2016 guide to free online SEO training courses

google doc

All of the SEO knowledge with NONE of the expense.

Online education is big business. That includes the digital marketing space. Scores of people are pushing online training programs promising to turn students into ‘SEO Rockstars’.

Here’s the good news. You can learn most, if not everything, taught in these courses for FREE. I’ll even share the ‘secret sauce’ that nobody ever tells you about. Here it is: Being successful online takes a LOT of HARD work. It requires having an understanding of how SEO works, then taking the time to develop and execute a strategy. On the plus side, most SEO skills are non-technical in nature. These skills can be acquired over time and at your own pace.

Following is a syllabus that I have created for the development of Organic Search Specialists at my own company, Measurable SEO. Individuals could use this knowledge to secure a job in SEO or to optimize their own website(s). Companies looking to develop an in house marketing team could also follow this plan.

Introduction to SEO

In the US, Google enjoys roughly double the market share of Bing and Yahoo combined. No one understands Google better than Google itself, so the best place to begin is by reading and understanding the 32 page Google SEO Starter Guide. This guide was originally developed as an internal document for Google employees and later released for the benefit of webmasters.

Some other good beginner guides:

  • Moz’s The Beginner’s Guide to SEO
  • Wordstream’s SEO Basics: Complete Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization
  • Buffer’s The Complete Beginner’s Guide to SEO

Website Performance

Google has developed a Website Performance Optimization MOOC. In this short course, you’ll learn how to optimize any website for speed. The introduction of the accelerated mobile page project (AMP) and the use of website speed as a ranking factor are signals that speed is an increasingly important factor for achieving online success. Looking for a quick tutorial instead? Check out A Beginner’s Guide to Website Speed Optimization.

amp pages copy

User Experience

The User Experience for the Web (WebUX) MOOC provides an overview of the general principles of online user experience. Students will learn about the techniques and tools used to create a great UX and how user-centric design fits into the software development cycle.

For those interested in learning more about Mobile optimization, there is a UX Design for Mobile Developers course. Invest six hours per week to finish this course in approximately six weeks.

Technical SEO

As mentioned previously, most SEO is non technical, but one cannot ignore the fact the web is a technical platform. There are certain rules and best practices to follow when building and auditing websites. This module, from Distilled U, explains how search engines interpret pages. This knowledge will help you in diagnosing problems and understanding how to improve websites. You will need to sign up for a Demo account, which permits you to experience up to three modules for free.

Keyword Research

A Google search for the phrase ‘keyword research’ returns nearly 7 million results. This is probably the most written about topic in all of SEO, so where do you begin? In terms of a simple, yet comprehensive and effective approach, I like the 19 Step Keyword Research Process. This exercise is designed to help you find relevant and highly searched keyword phrases with low competition.

keyword-research-preview

On Page Optimization

The basics are covered well in the Google Starter guide. A number of free tools are available to assist you. One ‘advanced’ optimization technique, marking up content with schema, is detailed in this Quick Start Guide . Once you’ve finished optimizing your site, analyze it using the free Microsoft SEO Toolkit.

Writing for the Web

This Writing for the Web course emphasizes the differences between online writing and print writing. Without understanding that difference, it is difficult to effectively communicate across the web. Due to the interactive nature of the internet, the course emphasizes the importance of user behavior. You will learn how web design, writing style, structure and search engine optimization can impact that behavior.

Content Strategy

Creating an Effective Content Strategy for Your Website is an online course which teaches you how to develop a strategy that utilizes a variety of media (text, images, videos, and infographics) across multiple channels.

In this course, the instructor will show you how to transform an outdated, text heavy website into a multimedia powerhouse. Learning how to create a content inventory, gap analysis, and content matrix will help you form the foundation for a strategy. This will require signing up for a 10 day free trial at Lynda.com. Since the course is only two hours long, you should be able to easily complete it within the trial period.

Creating an Effective Content Strategy for Your Website Lynda.com

If you prefer a written tutorial, as opposed to an online video, check these out:

  • From Moz: A Content Strategy Template You Can Build On
  • From Hubspot: How to Create a Content Strategy That Actually Drives Organic Traffic

Link Building

There has been a lot of chatter on the web that links aren’t as important as they once were. I have written several articles explaining why that isn’t the case. The mere existence of the Penguin algorithm and manual link penalties sends a clear message that links still have a profound impact on search rankings. This was most recently confirmed on March 23, 2016 in a Google Q&A where the three most important ranking signals were revealed.

Link-Building is a ranking signal

The key takeaway is to be in compliance with Google webmaster guidelines pertaining to link building and to stay away from link schemes. The follow guides will get you started:

  • Beginner’s Guide to Link Building
  • Link Building With Ahrefs: A How-To Guide
  • The Essential Guide to Effective Link Building Outreach
  • Link Building – How to Build Links for Free

Google Search Console

Formerly known as Webmaster Tools, the data, provided by Google, in the console, helps you monitor a website’s health and visibility within Google Search results. The search console offers insight as to how Google views a website and helps one optimize for peak performance in the SERPs. Learn about Search Console by navigating to Search Console Help

Google Analytics

Many are intimidated by Google analytics, but there’s no need to be afraid when you can become a pro for free. Google teaches analytics via online courses at Analytics Academy. Choose from a wide array of self-study programs, including:

  • Digital Analytics Fundamentals
  • Ecommerce Analytics
  • Google Analytics Platform Principles
  • Google Tag Manager Fundamentals
  • Mobile App Analytics Fundamentals

By taking these courses, you will learn the key principles of digital analytics and specifically how to get started with Google’s own Analytics.

Analytics Academy

Run a Digital Marketing Campaign

After you have studied all of this material, it will be time to run a digital marketing campaign. This course teaches you how to assemble and organize different online marketing channels into a cohesive, profitable campaign. This 10 hour course touches on everything from design and how it can influence customer decisions to calculating ROI, measuring marketing channels and knowing what to focus on.

In Summary

Despite the overwhelming volume of digital marketing resources available on the web, much of it is outdated, or in some cases, really bad. If you study all the course material presented here, you will have a better understanding of SEO than many of the so called SEO rockstars.

Just keep in mind that digital marketing is very fluid and ever changing. The famed cinematographer Conrad Hall probably sums it up best, “You are always a student, never a master. You have to keep moving forward”.

Google has redesigned AdWords: what does this mean for you?

adwords-redesign

Adwords has been around for a long time. When the first 350 users logged in, they were greeted by a stripped-back, spreadsheet-based display very similar to the one we see today. They were also possibly listening to ‘Bootylicious’ (but not on their phones).

The world, the ad market, and Google itself have all changed dramatically in the past 15 years, and it’s fair to say that AdWords is beginning to show it’s age.

A big part of this is down to design. Devices, interfaces and availability have all fundamentally changed the way people find things online.

According to Google’s own announcement:

“The days of predictable web sessions have been replaced by numerous short bursts of digital activity throughout the day, primarily on mobile. In these micro-moments, consumers expect ads to be helpful and relevant – whether that’s showing product details, directions to the nearest store, a phone number to call, or additional information about the business they’re interested in.”

The glimpses of the redesign that have surfaced so far all point to a focus on the visual, with material design elements throughout, and clearer graphing that should surface insights that would have required spending time with pivot tables in the past.

Will it be more useful?

It’s such an inbuilt part of our everyday workflows that it’s easy to forget just how important AdWords actually is. With revenue in excess of $70 billion last year, this is the money-printing machine that allows Google to exist. Building robotic cars and cardboard Lawnmower Man headsets are minor hobbies by comparison. If there’s one thing Google can’t afford to do, it’s upset AdWords users.

Looking at the new ‘Overview’ screen, things are undoubtedly simpler:

The most relevant metrics are front-and-centre here: Clicks, Conversions, Cost and CTR. While further down, graphs display the ad groups that are performing best, and a nice graph displaying your split across devices.

It’s also nice to see a simplified navigation menu, which should mean less time messing around in settings to find location data.

The core functions do not seem to be affected (although Google has admitted that it will keep ‘tweaking and testing’ the new design as it rolls out over the next year or so), but this clearly underlines Google’s commitment to a unified design system across all of it’s products, and a focus on usability.

Currently AdWords is very hands-on, which (as with Google Analytics) can be a good thing when you have a specific question in mind, but can otherwise be a little overwhelming.

Here there’s a fundamental understanding of how people use AdWords day-to-day, and a focus on making the most important numbers fast and easy to find. This fits nicely with the philosophy we saw with Google’s new 360 suite, where different data sets are more readily available, allowing the user to interrogate data more easily.

How important is this?

The answer isn’t clear. It looks nicer, it should save you a bit of time. At its core though, AdWords is relatively unchanged. It does seem that Google is making the service a little more ‘marketer-friendly’. In an interview with FastCoDesign, Google Head of UX Greg Rosenberg underlined this:

We want these [insights] to pop out to people, and we don’t want people to have to read the UI.

Essentially this is making the service more approachable, which should be good news for the thousands of smaller businesses who utilise AdWords and may not have formal training or dedicated staff running their campaigns.

For the rest of us, it’s no major shakes, but it could be read as a further indicator of a shift in focus; away from ‘words’, and towards ‘behaviors’.

Digital transformation: are you asking the right questions?

Barclays_Pingit

Twitter turned 10 last week. This post isn’t about Twitter, but it made me realise how long I’d been working in the social media field (it’ll be nine years next week).

I’m reasonably convinced I got my first social role because I just happened to be doing social when the whole thing became popular. This happens a lot in marketing. Something new comes along and we all hop on board, until everyone is doing it and it’s gradually subsumed by another area of marketing. In Twitter’s case a slightly wonky mix of PR and CRM.

Digital transformation is probably the biggest of those ‘new, shiny things’ to hit the marketing world in the past five years, and it’s unusual in that it actually attempts to connect marketing up with other parts of the business.

It has become the teenage sex of the digital world; Everyone is talking about it, but you’re never quite sure how far anyone has really gone. Hundreds of articles and whitepapers now exist (I wrote a few of them myself), focused on the three key areas of DT: people, processes and technology.

As with social media though, there comes a point when people start to realise that, hey, maybe we should have a clear goal in mind here?

A great deal of resource is being put into transformation projects, some are successful, but in a lot of cases they are slightly disjointed. Getting the new tech is probably the easiest part. Putting the new processes in is time-consuming but can be done with regular training and a step-change approach.

The people part is probably most difficult, because it not only requires new skills, but often a cultural change as well.

And here’s the rub. The differentiation that makes companies into successful digital enterprises.

As an example, let’s have a look at Barclays.

Image via VisMedia

Barclays has invested heavily in digital, with a multichannel and multi-platform approach. And just so you know this isn’t me slighting the company, it has done a very good job. I can now easily access my finances via any device; I rarely need to visit a branch. I no longer receive paper updates, and I can easily send payments directly from my phone. Services and resources are delivered successfully in a variety of formats.

But there is a gap. And in the case of financial services it has allowed a new wave of digital-first fintech enterprises to fill a gap in the market.

Companies like ZhongAn, Wealthfront, Klarna and Ebury. All have something in common. They all offer fast, tailored solutions. And tailoring means you are forced to really dig into your available customer data, and act on it quickly.

Traditional business structures exist for a reason. They allow any given business to deliver its services to the customer in at least a semi-acceptable fashion. But too often when we approach digital transformation, our goals are to expand on existing business, rather than exploit new opportunities.

We are using digital to deliver our services in a more efficient way, but that doesn’t mean the services themselves are actually better.

Customer-centricity is a term that gets bandied around a lot, and personally I believe it’s largely a result of culture. Actually caring about what you are doing and what people think of it goes a long way. And that isn’t to say that businesses attempting to transform themselves don’t care. Only that their focus is often on the wrong thing.

Size has something to do with this. Start-ups in particular do have certain luxuries available to them. If I start a business then I can, within reason, cherry-pick the exact tools I want to run my business, and hire the people I feel are the best fit to help me run it. People who already have ideal skill-sets. But much of this can be offset by investment, so it has to come down to attitude.

According to Cisco research, some 45% of businesses have boards that are not concerned with digital disruption.

In finance in particular this seems to be compounded. Research suggests that a majority of senior banking execs have not even heard of the biggest fintech startups, let alone become concerned about them.

In short, they see no reason to change.

But the startups of this world know that they are no longer dealing with single-channel audiences who insist on having their emails printed out. Services need to be delivered easily across multiple interfaces, in line with customer intent. They have to find out what a new type of customer wants, and give it to them quickly.

Conversely, they also have the luxury of time. If you are starting from scratch, then there’s plenty of room to prototype products, test them, launch MVPs and reiterate.

Businesses that are dealing with an existing model have none of this. They have busy people who are already struggling with deadlines. Who has time to take a step back and really think about how services are delivered? This becomes compounded where there’s a focus on short-term bottom line. It takes a rare individual to stand in front of the board and say with confidence: We are going to lose money for the next six months. But after that our income will increase dramatically.

This kind of leadership seems to be sadly lacking in many sectors, but there is evidence that things are changing. The best digital leaders tend to have a few common traits and chief among them is the being able to see value in unexplored areas.

A few years ago I had a conversation where I was told vociferously that Twitter could not make any money for my business. Because there is nowhere to input credit card details on Twitter. That’s an extreme case, and I hope, one that’s changed (Incidentally, Twitter brought in just shy of a million pounds in that particular year) as these new types of business leader have come to prominence.

It doesn’t always involve the type of full pivot that many startups take. I do not expect Barclays to turn into Uber at any point, but it does involve really understanding customer feedback at speed, and at scale.

There are so many factors in play here that this is threatening to turn into a novel already, but I think the key consideration here is that when implementing new processes, tools – and yes, people – it should all be done with one eye on the customer. Data and anecdotal evidence from user tests should be constantly collected and used.

Digital transformation is about making your business fit for purpose so whether you are setting goals or already implementing, don’t be afraid to start afresh. Digital should improve your services, but first ask yourself: Are these the services my customer really needs?

This article was originally published on our sister site ClickZ. We’re republishing a handful of their recent articles over the Bank Holiday weekend. Go give them some love.

Want to know more about the challenges and benefits of digital transformation? Make sure you check out Shift, our new event in London this May.

20 excellent examples of on-site search

site search examples

In this post, I’ll show a range of examples of site search from various sites, inspired by this week’s #ecomchat discussion on Twitter.

For the uninitiated, #ecomchat is a weekly Twitter chat hosted by ecommerce luminaries James Gurd and Dan Barker. If you haven’t followed it this far, it’s well worth joining in.

So, here are some suggestions of retailers and sites in general that use site search effectively. Some may have faults, but one or two notable features which are worthy of a mention.

So, here are 20 of the suggestions from the discussion. I’ve tried to credit people where possible…

Discogs.com

This and the next example were suggested by @AndrewDoesSEO and are both interesting choices.

I’m guessing that Andrew chose this for the excellent and very comprehensive filtering options, though the predictive search here is also very useful.

MySpace

Yes, it still exists. This has excellent visual search suggestions which enable you to find related content and pages at a glance.

Dawson’s Music

This and the next four examples are from @kevsparks.

I like Dawson’s a lot. Great visual autocomplete when you begin to search:

dawsons ss

Excellent presentation of site search results too.

Dawsons ss 2

Swarovski

This ticks a lot of boxes. Good range of refinement options, elegant presentation of results, and this mouseover effect which shows a bigger image.

swarovski ss

Hobbycraft

Nice big site search box, visual cues on the autocomplete, and very specific product suggestions make this a great example.

Hobbycraft

Kurt Geiger

A well presented set of site search results from Kurt Geiger, along with good filtering and sorting options.

(The ‘Dizzy’ boots on the right are brown, if you’re wondering about the accuracy of the results).

KG ss

Obi.de

A comprehensive list of autocomplete suggestions here:

Obi site search

Fat Face

Suggested by @lakey, Fat Face presents its site search results well.

It also uses infinite scrolling so that users can see all the results without having to click on the next page.

Fat Face site search results

Wiggle

Wiggle’s site search uses autocomplete, and many searches will lead to categories like this, with buyer’s guides.

Wiggle site search

In addition, images are nice and big, while sorting options are comprehensive.

This, and the next two examples, were suggested by @dkoblintz, who works at Wiggle.

Waitrose

This is a great example thanks to its ‘jotter multi search’ feature, which allows shoppers to search for lots of items from their shopping list at once.

waitrose multi search

The results are then presented on one page so shoppers can work their way through the items and choose the variety or brand they prefer.

It’s an excellent idea, which removes a lot of the hard work from online grocery shopping.

Waitrose site searchchoo

Sweaty Betty

A good all-round site search function here, with autocomplete when you search, and attractive presentation of results.

There are plenty of ways to filter and sort results, as well as an alternative view and ‘buy now’ options when you mouse over on search results.

sweaty betty site search

AO.com

Suggested by @s1m0nc, AO.com gets a lot right online, and site search is no different.

There’s lots of detail within the search results to help persuade customers. Social proof in the form of reviews, key product features are listed, and the excellent delivery proposition is highlighted.

AO site search

Next

Suggested by James Gurd…

@ecomchat Next is good in some things, e.g. filtering longer searches to provide accurate matches e.g. mens grey zipped hoody #ecomchat

— James Gurd (@JamesGurd) February 15, 2016

next site search filters

House Of Fraser

This always works well. The key here, for a department store retailer, is effective filtering of results as some searches can return hundreds of matches.

HOF

Kohl’s

Great use of autocomplete for merchandising here.

kohls autocomplete

Dune

Great use of autocomplete and well presented results with lots of detail. Dune does everything well here.

dune site search

Screwfix

This and B&Q were suggested by @robwatts.

This site stocks a lot of products for the trade, and so the site search needs to work well to be effective.

When customers are often in a hurry, saving them clicks and extra work is essential, which is where autocomplete suggestions like this can help.

screwfix nails

B&Q

B&Q’s site search is great visually, with accurate results and comprehensive product filters.

Note that it also shows non-product searches on a separate tab.

B&q

Amazon

Amazon had lots of mentions, both positive and negative, during the Twitter chat.

A lot of things it gets right, such as dealing with misspellings well, and having a large search box to accommodate lengthy product searches.

However, it does fall down a little when searches return lots of results. At this point it can be hard to use.

For example, this search for a macbook charger returns more than 27,000 results.

It’s very hard to narrow down the product selection to find the relevant results, so customers have to work very hard to find the correct charger.

amazon site search results

Lush

Lush presents its site search results differently. Product and non-product results are shown, the sizes are variable, and the filtering options are hidden.

However, the results are accurate, the images are great, and it works.

lush site search

Which sites have you seen with great site search? Which features do you find useful? Let me know below…

EcomChat is a weekly ecommerce discussion on Twitter covering a new topic each week, run by @jamesgurd and @danbarker. To find out more on the latest chats, head to ecomchat.com.

This article was originally published on our sister site ClickZ. We’re republishing a handful of their recent articles over the Bank Holiday weekend. Go give them some love.

29 most interesting SEM stats from March 2016

post right hand side ads purge ctr

As we leave March behind and look forward to the comparatively warmer weather of April, let’s continue to stay indoors while looking at a laptop screen and revisit the most interesting online stats of the last four weeks because it’s probably going to rain today anyway.

Grumpy weather humour! Let it not be in any doubt that the editor of this website is British.

Mobile ad spend overtakes desktop for the first time

According to Marin in an analysis of $7.8bn of annualised ad spend, mobile has overtaken desktop for the first time, with more than 50% of budgets spent on mobile ads.

  • Social ads accounted for three-quarters of clicks and 71% of spend
  • Three out of five display conversions took place on a smartphone, a 30% increase on last year
  • Click-throughs on search ads were more than three times higher than social and display
  • Search ads on desktop still attract more impressions and conversions, however, smartphones continued to dominate year-on-year growth, with clicks and spend rising 13% and 11%, respectively.

First week results of Google killing Right Hand Side Ads – CPC

Kenshoo published new research revealing some early results from Google’s recent removal of Right Hand Side Ads.

Among the key revelations from the first week the change happened:

  • A one penny (or roughly 1%) decrease in CPC
  • Average position improved by 0.2, moving ads closer to the top of the page on average
  • Week-over-week changes to click and spend volume were ultimately within normal weekly variance, with a small increase in clicks and a smaller increase in spending due to the drop in average CPC

First week results of Google killing Right Hand Side Ads – CTR

Possibly surprising nobody, the click-through rate has increased on paid search results at the top of the screen.

Accuracast has taken a look at the CTR during the 7-day period before and after the change in ad placements on Google desktop search.

It shows a large increase of 18.2% for ads in position 4, and substantial increases for position 1 and 2 (8.4% & 7.7% respectively).

Interestingly, the only ad position where the CTR dropped after the change, has been for position 3.

Nearly three-quarters of online buyers use mobile to shop

According to a survey of 9,142 online consumers in the US and Canada by Bizrate Insights, 73% of online buyers use mobile devices to shop online.

However, only one in five (21%) use mobile devices to assist their in store shopping experience.

  • 63% who use mobile devices in store are looking for competitors’ coupons and prices.
  • 53% compare a retailer’s in store and online prices and coupons
  • 39% check that an item is in stock before visiting a local store

Google stats on mobile-centric search

In a Think With Google post this month, Lisa Gevelber offered up loads of juicy stats and guidance on where to begin with mobile search, particularly for luxury brands.

Here’s a quick run-down:

  • Mobile makes up 88% of all ‘near me’ searches, with those mobile searches growing at 146% year over year.
  • For automobiles, the most popular mobile-centric searches are for luxury car price enquiries. For instance ‘Tesla price’, ‘Maserati price’ and ‘Audi R8 cost’. These grew nearly 90% on mobile from 2014 to 2015.
  • For jewellery, the most popular mobile search is for ‘promise rings’. These related mobile searches grew by 77% from 2014 to 2015 and tended to spike around the holidays and Valentine’s Day.
  • For hotels, data from Hotels.com states that 74% of mobile bookings are made for same-day check-in. The most popular mobile-centric hotel search themes include ‘near me’, ‘cheap’ and ‘price’.

Only 20% of iOS apps and 30% of Android apps support app indexing

Brands are missing out when it comes to enabling deep linking in their apps, which allows Google to crawl its content beyond the mobile web.

According to Searchmetrics, in a study of the 100 most visible websites in Google US searches, it’s been found that although 84% offer an Android App, only 30% of these had implemented app-indexing.

app indexing for android

And then of the 88% that offer an iOS app, just 19% were found to be support app-indexing.

ios app indexing

Digital ad spend to surpass television in 2017

According to eMarketer, total digital spend will surpass TV for the first time next year.

In 2017, TV ad spending will total $72.01 billion, or 35.8% of total media ad spending in the US.

Meanwhile, total digital ad spending in 2017 will equal $77.37 billion, or 38.4% of total ad spending.
By 2020, TV’s share of ad spending will drop below one-third.

‘Peak content’ has been reached for brands

As Chris Lake reported this month, a recent TrackMaven report has looked at the content marketing activity of almost 23,000 brands and their 50m published pieces of content.

It turns out that the average brand publishes more than 2,000 pieces of content a year, and in 2015 this increased by 35% compared to the previous year.

Although there were a total of 75.7bn interactions, the average engagement actually decreased by 17%.

The chart below shows the widening attention gap, based on the volume of shares on social platforms vs response rates.

output vs engagement

For more detailed analysis, check out the report.

Investment in mobile app ads drives 196% increase in installs

Kenshoo has published a new report on mobile app advertising detailing a few interesting industry trends, including…

  • Total spend on mobile app install ads increased 155% year-over-year (YoY)
  • Mobile app installs increased 196% YoY
  • Cost per install decreased 14% YoY
  • App install ads on Instagram delivered more than 20% of all app install ad
    clicks
  • Once consumers click on a gaming app ad, they are much more likely to install compared to consumer apps (39% vs. 11%) resulting in a drastically reduced cost per install (CPI) ($1.73 vs. $2.70)

Snapchat now boasts 8 billion video views per day

It was only in January when Snapchat stated it had 7 billion video views per day. Now, barely more than a month later, you can add another billion to that number.

This is even more impressive when you consider that Snapchat had ‘just’ two billion daily video views in May 2015.

According to Recode Snapchat is serving the same number of daily video views as Facebook.

Content marketing: nine tips for herding your stakeholder cats

herd cats

As content marketing types, we’ve all been there. After all that ideation and PM and creativity, it turns out that just getting your content reviewed and approved can be the hardest part of the whole process.

Check out these tips for herding your stakeholder cats…

Image credit: Rich Bowen on Flickr.

Marketing professionals cite ‘chasing feedback’ as the biggest barrier to getting content live, according to our most recent survey of the UK’s culture of content.

But when it comes to engaging with those all-important content stakeholders, common sense, courtesy and dash of kidology can get you a surprisingly long way…

Don’t see stakeholders as the enemy

It’s tempting to demonise your content reviewers and approvers, to see them as heartless crushers of creativity and editorial intuition. But they have a job to do, and often a very important one, like preventing your company being sued, minimising product misinformation or protecting the brand.

Seeing these people as colleagues or collaborators in the content process is a much more constructive mindset.

See them as users or customers instead

Learn to live with the idea that your stakeholders are one of your audiences. This means understanding how they tick and what their needs are.

It doesn’t mean you start writing everything in turgid compliance-speak or non-plain legalese, but it does mean realising that if you need someone’s approval of your 30-page product microsite, expecting them to turn that round in half an hour on a Friday afternoon is unrealistic and possibly even a tad disrespectful.

Work out your stakeholder journey map

Apply the idea of customer journey mapping to your internal sign-off process.

Look back at the last substantial piece of content that you got signed off, and work back through all the interactions with stakeholders that were required to get it out the door.

Where were the inefficiencies? What could you have one differently? What can you learn for next time?

Establish your critical stakeholder set and sign-off path

When you plan your next piece of content, work out who actually needs to see it and sign it off – not everyone who might ‘have a view’, but everyone who has to have seen the content on a business-rule basis.

Then it’s worth spending some time at the outset with these people understanding what they need from you to help make this happen as smoothly as possible.

What sort of timeframe do they need? Can they review raw content or do they need to see final proofs? What are the key issues they’ll be looking out for?

Q: Which of your stakeholders has the most negative impact on content quality?

Bring your stakeholders on the journey

It follows from the above that there’s a lot of value in engaging stakeholders up front, getting them up to speed at the outset about the idea behind what you’ll doing. This often works much better than just throwing them content executions for review at the last minute, when they have little context and time is pressing.

We’ve also found that stakeholders often have valuable insights at the outset about what is likely to be a sticking point and what will sail through, so saving lots of time and effort further down the line.

And marketers are sometimes pleasantly surprised in these conversations to find that some things they’d assumed would be a problem, actually aren’t.

Have a clear, well-documented brief

Early stakeholder interactions are important. But it’s vital too that you’ve circulated a detailed brief explaining what you’re aiming to do.

Getting feedback on this doc and making sure that all key stakeholders have seen it helps to crystallise all that initial goodwill that comes from proactively engaging with reviewers and approvers, and it can of course avoid a lot of misunderstandings later on.

Tell stakeholders it’s OK to find nothing wrong with the content

Sometimes reviewers add stuff because you asked for comments, and they feel they’re not doing their job if they don’t find something to say.

But you can use those initial engagements to explain that the content you’ll be presenting them will be in a finished state, not a work in progress, so unless there’s something essential it’s more than fine if they have nothing to add from their side.

Also, make it clear that you only need people to speak from their area of expertise – the legal person, for instance, doesn’t need to weigh in on use of commas or tone of voice (unless these have legal ramifications).

Stop asking for feedback

Rather than apologetically asking, ‘Please can I get your thoughts by Thursday?’ – thereby implying you expect there’ll be loads of things that need changing in your work – present your work with pride and confidence.

Tell your reviewers you’re very happy with it and you’re looking forward to seeing it live. If they have any comments, give them a realistic but strict deadline when you need to hear back from them.

Says Sticky Content founder Catherine Toole:

Watch the wording of your cover emails carefully. Tell the stakeholders you are satisfied with the quality of the content, that you have checked it and think it ready to go live. (If you aren’t, don’t circulate it.)

Ask stakeholders to sign off, not just comment. In one example we know of, a content professional working in a large, hierarchical not-for-profit was able to reduce amendments by 80% by following this simple advice.

Offer some education

Sometimes things don’t get signed off because reviewers don’t get why you’ve done something in a certain way.

A heading feels prosaic to them but to you it incorporates a valuable keyphrase, for instance. Or you’ve stripped back the language because you’re thinking about optimising for mobile.

Or you’ve highlighted benefits (not features) using bullets and bold because they’re a proven aid to scannability (and because users tend not to care about features).

Because they come from very different domains, stakeholders may very well not be aware of the nuances of digital content best practice. But they’re often keen to find out more and grow their understanding of what everyone understands to be an essential area of business knowledge.

We’ve seen some great results – in terms of both positive sentiment and streamlined sign-off processes – from running initial digital best-practice workshops designed to give stakeholders a better idea of what good looks like here, and so help make sure that their feedback supports rather than fights this.

This article was originally published on our sister site ClickZ. We’re republishing a handful of their recent articles over the Bank Holiday weekend. Go give them some love.