Three ways to protect your business from ad-blockers

rise of ad blocking chart

New guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission have many marketers worried about the future of native advertising.

As is the case with any new regulation, there are some who are opposed to the restrictions. The Interactive Advertising Bureau says it is “concerned” about some of the wording in the new guidelines and has asked the FTC for clarification.

The chief revenue officer of Forbes Media, Mark Howard, is worried the new rules will limit creativity:

“As soon as you start to standardize things and put guidelines around things, you limit the level of creativity and innovation that is able to occur. If you put out stringent guidelines, are you going to put people back in the box?”

Another concern for marketers is the growing use of ad-blocking software by consumers.

According to GlobalWebIndex, 38% of computer users currently use ad-blockers. And just months after Apple started allowing iOS users to block ads, a whopping 30% of US mobile users report using ad-blockers.

Throwing even more fuel onto the fire, there is also concern that as they become more and more sophisticated, more ad blockers could begin to block native ads than those already being reported.

There’s still debate as to the actual financial impact of ad blockers. WPP’s Martin Sorrell contends that there’s been no noticeable effect on advertisers thus far, while Adobe and PageFair claim that more than $22 billion in global ad revenues were lost in 2015 due to ad blockers.

At any rate, the increasing popularity of ad blocking software is a very real threat to marketers, whether they’re already feeling the pinch or not. With rates for PPC based on the popularity of the host website, you could be paying top dollar for page views that few will ever see.

It’s time for marketers to shift focus. A smart organic search engine marketing strategy will help make the most of your marketing budget this year.

We’ve identified three of the smartest ways brands can keep their marketing dollars from going down the drain.

Earn your place in prime media outlets

While it can be a tougher nut to crack, “earned media” (through public relations outreach) is a great way to gain visibility across media outlets where your target audiences spend their time.

Identifying ways you can highlight your brand in news features could connect you with prospects and add to the positive listings consumers uncover as they research brands to make informed purchasing decisions.

Work to identify queries and channels your audience is using to connect with your brand presently, and expand your search to identify additional outlets your audience members are actively engaging with where your brand might find a warm reception as a resource.

Earned media coverage may be looked favorably upon by search engines and can help create a diversified channel for leads that are not dependent on ad spend.

Inspect search engine results for third-party placement opportunities

Beyond the scope of earned media, there are rich opportunities to take advantage of with third-party consumer websites like ConsumerAffairs.com or Yelp, where brands can build quality business listings and even showcase customer feedback to build increased consumer trust.

customer reviews chart

Many third-party review sites already rank highly for coveted root and consumer-focused queries, so using these listings to present a positive and transparent brand experience is one of the most cost-effective ways to climb the ranks and increase SERP (search engine results page) real estate quicker than more traditional SEO efforts.

Brands who invest wisely in quality third-party listings, actively monitoring and engaging with their customers and prospective customers, benefit from being in the best position possible to reach consumers who are using these sites to select the right products and services for their needs.

While an ad may reach the right person at the wrong time, consumers who use review sites are by and large using review websites to actively research before a purchase (70% according to an internal survey conducted by ConsumerAffairs).

Finding prospects who are further along in the sales cycle gives brands the opportunity to convert quickly and reach more highly qualified leads, making marketing spend in this channel incredibly effective.

Keep up with compliance, but always deliver on quality content

If your team is incorporating native campaigns in your marketing efforts, focus on delivering quality content that actually offers consumers a worthwhile, notable experience.

Beyond just a pitch to buy, a great content experience can create a positive association with a brand without a single sales-focused sentence. What does your target audience love that you can deliver through native efforts? Where can you step outside of sales messaging and craft content that shows consumers the voice and spirit of your brand?

Compliance will always be a key part of demonstrating a commitment to ethical business practices toward consumers. While the temptation to use trickier language to present native content is felt by many, brands will ultimately benefit from being transparent about their paid marketing efforts to earn the respect of savvy consumers.

Consumer trust is built on a foundation of customer voices backing up the message your paid advertising sends.

Finding opportunities where a target audience could organically encounter information about or from your brand remains one of the most valuable ways marketers can reach more eyes and avoid connecting with consumers whose ad blocking software has blocked native content efforts.

These three tactics will help build a marketing strategy guaranteed to last as more consumers look to organic search for solutions to their needs.

Danica Jones is Marketing Manager for ConsumerAffairs for Brands.

Pump up the volume: six ways PPC can boost your promotions

furniture-sample-ad

Sometimes, you need a little extra boost for certain products or services – be it a product with excess inventory, a new service or simply something you want to catapult into the spotlight.

PPC tactics can help get the word out, and I’m going to show you how in six steps.

1. Sitelinks strategy

I’ve talked before about using your ad extensions strategically, and sitelinks is one of those extensions that can help get the word out in your ads.

And I’m not just talking about using the appropriate sitelinks for a particular ad group (e.g. a dog sweater ad with a dog sweater sitelink). Consider this: a furniture client of ours had a product line they wanted to start promoting on their own after they ended an affiliate program.

We placed a sitelink that led to that product line’s landing page in every campaign we could.

Because the rest of the ad was strategically constructed to be as relevant as possible, this was simply an added bonus and highlighted one of the product lines they thought people might like to know about.

2. Remarketing campaigns

Remarketing is a powerful advertising tool. So consider using it to boost conversions on the product or service you want to promote.

Going back to our furniture client example, we typically ran remarketing campaigns on AdWords for specific types of furniture (loungers, deep seats, etc.), but for this promo, we wanted to set up a campaign specifically for the collection they were trying to sell more of – so any type of furniture in that collection.

Anyone who landed on any page in that section of the client’s site would now be put into a new remarketing campaign with ads specific to the collection. This gave the line more visibility as shoppers browsed the Web.

p.s. If you want tips on optimizing your remarketing campaign once it’s up and running, check out an earlier post I wrote about optimizing AdWords remarketing campaigns.

3. Bing Ads

The Bing Ads network has been known to have less competition and a lower cost per click across many categories. Plus, Bing has a nice share of the pie when it comes to search engine rankings, as reported by comScore.

I always say, if it can bring in more paid search revenue, why not spend some time and effort there?

Typically, we’d take our best performers on AdWords and import them over to Bing Ads. But, if you’re trying to promote a service or product, go on and create a new campaign just for that on Bing and see how it fares. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.

4. Look into trends

It never hurts to look into the actual queries that are driving conversions within any particular ad group to see if there are more opportunities to build out new ads and target new keywords.

Peep into your AdWords Search Terms report or Google Analytics Search Queries to view the keywords that are converting that you may not have thought of.

This is a small step you can do to grab even more visibility in the search results and boost those promotions further.

5. Video ads

Video ads are gaining ground and provide an engaging, low-cost way for people to learn from and interact with a brand. In fact, Forrester predicts that spend on video ads for desktop will grow 21% annually until 2019.

When we wanted to promote our client’s furniture collection, we refocused their current video budget to create new ads specifically for that.

But, reality check: Video ads are not easy or cheap to make (when done well), so some brands may not have the budget to create and then advertise video. But, you can see clicks as low as $0.09 (what we’ve seen with some retail clients who are experimenting with TrueView ads) – not bad.

If you’re going to go down this road, think about creative ways your video can add value or entertainment versus just highlighting product or service features.

Maybe you take the opportunity to teach your audience something new in a how-to video ad (by the way, how-to video searches are hot) or incite humor in some way.

6. Review differentiators

Your promotion can fall flat if your competition is offering nice little perks above and beyond what you do. Take a critical eye to your value-added services and make sure to build those into your ads so they really stand out.

For example, do you:

  • Have a good return policy?
  • Offer free shipping?
  • Give samples of whatever you’re selling, before a shopper buys?

Little things like this can ensure your ad gets the click, not someone else’s.

PPC is a great channel to help you advertise your promotions, whatever they may be. I hope the ideas in this article inspire you just a little to use all the great features that AdWords and Bing Ads can offer to help spread the word about your promotional products and services.

Google is killing off PageRank from its Toolbar

As confirmed by Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller, Google is removing PageRank from its Toolbar.

So if you’ve been using the extension to see all the juicy PageRank data from any website you visit, I’m afraid you won’t have access anymore.

@szymonslowik @methode @rustybrick Yes, it’s true. https://t.co/5iohiJ6wjQ has some comments from us. Do you use the toolbar?

— John Mueller (@JohnMu) March 9, 2016

Before we all get too excited, Google has explained that it will still be using PageRank internally within its ranking algorithm. It’s just that regular people like you and me (assuming you don’t work in the upper echelons of Google) won’t be able to see it.

But… did being able to see PageRank even make that much of a difference for SEOs?

The metric hasn’t actually been updated for years, so the data isn’t exactly the most pertinent way to judge a site’s ranking. In fact if you look at our own history of publishing articles on SEW about PageRank, they all basically say the same thing – PageRank is dead. And we’ve also learned recently that CTR may well beat PageRank as a signal anyway.

As John Mueller confirmed in an article in The SEM Post featured in the tweet above:

“As the Internet and our understanding of the Internet have grown in complexity, the Toolbar PageRank score has become less useful to users as a single isolated metric. Retiring the PageRank display from Toolbar helps avoid confusing users and webmasters about the significance of the metric.”

I asked our own in-house SEO expert Abishek Jeyaraj, about the removal, and he suggested that PageRank was “primarily used for backlink acquisition purposes” and was no longer important.

This makes sense in a world where machine learning and UX are becoming more and more integral to ranking algorithms, and link-building is – possibly – becoming less of a signal.

Tessa Wegert on the latest content marketing trends of 2016 [podcast]

ClickZ has released a new podcast series called the ClickZ Digital Marketing Podcast, featuring some of the experts who contributed to our Digital Trends 2016 report.

It features interviews with Tessa Wegert, Brian Clifton, Kelvin Newman and Parry Malm, looking at key trends for 2016.

Here we’ll be showcasing Tessa Wegert’s episode on content marketing.

Tessa is a business and tech reporter, former media strategist, and branded content developer. She contributes to such publications as Adweek, and The Content Strategist, and has worked with Audi, Audible and Shutterstock.

In Tessa’s podcast we hear about her background in content marketing, what she felt were the big trends of 2015 and which content marketing trends Tessa is really excited about in 2016 and why.

Branded magazines

Something that was brought to every marketer’s attention in 2015, but will expand to full potential this year are ‘brand magazines’ according to Tessa.

Major brands have begun to heavily invest in both digital and print magazines. AirBnB came out with Pineapple, Uber launched Momentum, Marriot’s Traveller magazine… All high quality, high calibre magazines.

“This is interesting to me as it ties into the storytelling trend, but also indicates that brands are recognising that consumers are still willing to look at longer form content.”

Something which happily goes against the wrongly held assumption that our attention spans are getting shorter. We’re just getting more picky, because there’s a lot more choice out there.

The key is making sure that your branded content is as genuinely useful as possible, and is delivered in an appropriate, timely manner.

Social ecommerce

Another trend that Tessa is very excited about is the ability to shop direct from social channels, with Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram all experimenting with ‘buy now’ functionality of some kind.

“Although very much at the experimental stage, brands are really keen to join the dots between their social efforts and sales.”

And what better way to truly measure the effectiveness of social on conversion then by cutting out the need for an ecommerce store all together and giving power directly to the consumer through whatever device and channel they want.

You can hear lots more tips and examples around these subjects in the full length podcast, available here: ClickZ Digital Marketing Podcast.

How understanding psychology can help increase ecommerce sales

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There is a constant struggle for ecommerce brands to identify the consumers’ needs and fill them in the most appropriate way, therefore any strategies to achieve it are always welcome.

It’s not a new method to turn to human psychology to create a better design and user experience, as it offers valuable insights about a brand’s target audience, its thinking and its criteria for purchasing decisions.

Image by Gerd Altmann, CC0

Every human being may be unique, but we can still observe how a series of psychological triggers affect a consumer’s purchasing habits.

How do we decide which brand to trust in a web that is full of options?

The analysis of several different ecommerce sites helped us determine the most common psychological patterns that may lead to increased sales, provided that they are used in an appropriate way.

Urgency

The fear of missing out (also known as F.O.M.O.) is real and it creates an urge to stay up-to-date, even at unrealistic levels. Ecommerce sites often use the psychological trigger of urgency, in order to speed up a user’s purchasing decision.

When there’s a countdown of existing stock, or an offer for a limited time, consumers feel the need to hurry up and claim the deal before it disappears.

It’s the loss aversion that leads to an increase of sales, provided that it’s presented in a timely, relevant way.

Social Proof

Human beings are social by nature and tend to rely on the power of the community.

As consumers tend to adopt a natural distrust towards branded promotion, it turns out to be more effective to promote a site, a product, or an offer with the help of a social ambassador, or even a group of everyday people that want to share their experience with others.

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Ecommerce sites should embrace the social recognition and the influence a consumer’s opinion may stimulate, by showcasing reviews, endorsements, or any opinion that may increase trust.

Reviews don’t have to be perfect, as this is not necessarily convincing the user to rely upon them. In fact, a review that even mentions a negative point is considered more realistic, and thus, it’s more appreciated by users.

Authority

As with social proof, the trigger of authority builds trust between a brand and a user, this time by focusing more on the experts’ opinion and their reviews for a product.

The opinion of an expert may serve as the push for a hesitant user and that’s why an ecommerce site should seek for such endorsements.Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 13.29.05

What’s more, it is often common for ecommerce sites to increase trust by displaying the logos of their prestigious collaborations, which makes it even better when the logos are easily recognisable and appreciated among users.

Reciprocation

Engagement is a long sought goal for brands and it’s not easy to achieve it without being appealing (and relevant) to users.

The trigger of reciprocation is about rewarding people that turn into customers with further special offers and gifts that will motivate them to create a bonding with a brand. After all, every business is looking for a serious and long-term relationship with customers and loyalty is the key to the success.

gap

Commitment is an additional trigger that entices people to try out a brand’s product, whether it’s a free trial or an offer, with the hope to turn the trial into a sale.

The user acknowledges that the acceptance of a gift, or a sample, is the first step to potential commitment, providing that the product meets the expectations.

zappos

Thus, there is reciprocation once again, with the satisfied customer feeling the need to give back to the brand, either by buying a product, or by promoting it through social media. In either case, it’s a win for the brand.

Community spirit

People are naturally seeking to be part of a community, a group sharing the same interests, beliefs, and ideas with them and this sense of inclusion makes them feel more confident about their perception of the world.

This psychological trigger helps people feel closer to a brand that understands them and makes it easier for them to invest in its products.

Weekend Society for example is a clothing company which heavily relies on its community and everyone fascinated by the idea of wanderlust.

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According to its about section:

“Weekend Society is devoted to the wanderers, the wild ones, and those who believe there is still a bit of mystery in the world.”

The trigger gets even stronger when signing up to the newsletter, by calling for all the weekenders to find their “weekend state of mind.”

At that point, a visitor who wants to feel part of the community will subscribe to the newsletter, feeling happy to be part of this group of people.

Offering the right number of choices

It’s easy to present an unlimited number of products, waiting for people to pick their favourite ones, but it’s easier to make consumers feel paralysed by the large number of choices, which will lead them to abandon the purchasing process.

People are not comfortable with decisions that involve numerous options and a complicated process, and that’s why it’s important to focus on the psychology of the user and the design which will enhance the consumer’s experience as much as possible.

See for example the page below. There are so many psychological triggers in just one page that the results may not be as effective as they hoped they’d be.

currys

How about mastering one strategy at a time instead of applying them altogether?

Test, test, and test

A brand will only understand the consumer’s psychology through constant testing, examining all the parameters that could increase the sales in the most organic and effective way.

Even if a trigger seems to work at some point, its success may be temporary, which creates the need to further investigate the nature of the human psychology and the methods it can be studied in order to benefit an ecommerce business.

forever 21

Going beyond psychology

The application of psychology to ecommerce marketing and design may lead to impressive results, but this doesn’t mean that it’s capable of increasing sales with a magical wand.

It is important to integrate psychological triggers to the wider user experience and marketing efforts, always placing consumers at the centre of attention.

Thus, it’s a proper understanding of the target audience, along with the right use of all necessary triggers, that will gradually lead to an increase in sales.

Presidential candidates, here’s how to win (at search marketing)

where to vote google trends

It’s the season of primaries, which means there’s a mad scramble by the American people to find answers to the following queries…

  • If they’re registered to vote
  • Where the nearest polling place is
  • What time the polling place is open
  • There’s nothing like a heated presidential election to spur some patriotic search behavior.

    It appears that Hillary Clinton’s marketing team is tapping into our nation’s steadfast loyalty to Google in the hopes of earning some of that allegiance for herself.

    Somewhere in the Hillary campaign office sits a search marketer, likely the graduate of a behemoth ad agency, who took her training on the zero moment of truth and made it work for Hillary.

    As a Massachusetts resident, searches for ‘where to vote’ and all sorts of modifications (e.g. ‘where do I vote MA’, ‘voting in MA’, even ‘polling locations’) surfaced this handy little ad at the top of the Google search results page:

    Here we see the beginnings of a clever and timely search campaign, courtesy of the marketing minds behind Hillary Clinton.

    Through four simple steps, we see the pillars of search marketing come to life:

    Step 1: Be where your audience is

    Bidding on ‘where to vote’ keywords, which will generate more than 20,000 searches this month, will ensure that Hillary is the first result a searcher sees. You’ll notice that nobody else seems to be bidding on these terms.

    Step 2: Focus on the searcher’s intent

    Starting the ad with, ‘Find your voting location’, prioritizes the true intent of the search, leaving the ‘Hillary’ branding for the tail end.

    Step 3: Provide an experience that is simple to use (and mobile friendly!)

    Upon clicking the ad, you immediately get a handy piece of information: the date of your primary. And if somehow the ad got your location wrong, a dropdown on the top-right allows you to toggle to a different state.

    confirm your voting location

    A beaming Hillary faces the only object on the page: a simple address form awaiting your input. No crazy slogans, no campaign promises, just a form.

    [Note: I tested this experience as a logged-in user to Gmail and then logged out. The only difference is that as a logged out user, the form includes a field requesting an email address. I don’t love this addition; mostly because it interrupts an experience that until this point had been purely focused on the user’s needs… but fair enough, Hillary.]

    Step 4: Give the people what they want

    What you get after submitting your email is a clean Google map of your polling location with the option to get directions and information about what times the polls are open.

    You also have the option of emailing yourself all that good location information, looking up a new address and making a plan to vote (e.g. a message that says, “I will vote in the afternoon at XYZ location and will take public transit” will appear in your text messages).

    map to voting station

    For brands trying to understand how they can be relevant when it matters most, here’s a case study to emulate. Anticipating the moment that searches for voting information would peak in different states, Hillary’s campaign figured out a way to own a piece of the conversation.

    But she could have stopped there.

    Hillary could have bought that top paid ad and driven users to a simple landing page full of words of encouragement to get out and vote.

    Instead, Hillary’s team created an experience that spoke to the true nature of what people came to Google for in the first place.

    While the conversion rate of site visits to primary votes for Hillary is impossible to guess, she swept up in the presidential search marketing category. Judging by the MA presidential primary results, this may have been just the edge Hillary needed.

    You can also learn how presidential candidates are now being given access to publish direct to Google SERPS here.

    Special thanks to Cara Guappone for sharing her experience of figuring out where to vote.

    What should I do when my site has been hit with a Google penalty?

    Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 11.06.11

    Google penalties are the one thing that are universally feared in the digital industry. They can be devastating and take an age to recover from.

    What should you do when you’ve been on the receiving end of an algorithmic change, or, heaven forfend, a manual action? As with everything, it depends on the type of penalty, the scale of the problem and your ability to sort things out.

    After you’ve stopped freaking out, there are a bunch of things that you should – and shouldn’t – do to try to identify and fix the problem. Here’s a top level overview of what you need to take a look at.

    1) Avoid panic

    Sure, your heart may race a little faster, but keep a cool head and figure out what’s going on. You can normally spot the most likely reason for the penalty within an hour or two.

    Once you’ve determined the source of your stress, there are a few things that you need to do…

    2) Figure out if you have a manual penalty

    Check in with Webmaster Tools. If you’ve been given a penalty by Google’s Webspam team then you should see a warning under Search Traffic/Manual Actions.

    This could be a site wide issue, or a partial issue. If there’s nothing showing up, then it’s likely to be related to a wider Google update (which is much preferable, in terms of your ability to recover). Big updates to the algorithm normally come in one of two flavours of animal beginning with the letter ‘P’.

    3) See if there has been a change to the algorithm

    No manual action? Breathe a huge sigh of relief.

    The penalty has to be algorithmic, and as such yours will not be the only site affected. There has been a change, big or small, and it has hit your website, for whatever reason. This, believe it or not, is good news.

    It could be related to onsite factors (likely to be Panda) or offsite (likely to be Penguin). This is something to figure out.

    You can reference Moz, which does a great job of tracking major Google updates. Compare spikes and dips in traffic referred by your organic results with the dates of the updates. Be aware that sometimes there might be a delay before your site is affected by an update.

    4) Measure how big the problem is

    Dive into Google Analytics (or whatever measurement platform you use) and compare the fall in your traffic with the updates.

    You should take a long term view here, in case you missed a previous drop. If things sync, then you’ve found the issue.

    5) Do your homework

    Algorithmic changes often need a little time to settle before we really know what’s going on, although the early warning signs are often there well in advance of a global rollout.

    In any event, figure out what the changes mean, and where you might be going wrong. Prepare to do some reading. Wise up!

    6) Search for terms that your homepage used to rank for

    Some of the worst penalties are where Google ignores your major, non-specific landing pages. You definitely have a problem if your homepage has seemingly dropped out of the index for keyword queries that you used to own.

    If your website has vanished for your brand terms then you’ll be forgiven for breaking open the gin.

    7) Review your SEO strategy

    Not just your current one, but also the things you have done in the past. Have you conveniently forgotten about the things that have come back to haunt you?

    Google penalties are often linked to legacy tactics. Those links you bought. The duplicate content you relied on. The thousands of low rent pages you created. It all seemed like a good idea at the time, I’m sure.

    It is imperative that you have a strong understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong, when it comes to the algorithm. Remind yourself of Google’s quality guidelines if you’re unsure.

    8) Undertake some backlink analysis

    If you think the penalty relates to your link profile then brace yourself for a (potentially slow and boring) spring clean.

    Use backlink analysis tools to spot dodgy links en masse. Prioritise and start the disavowing process.

    9) Audit your website

    Maybe your link profile looks ok. You don’t have a million links using the same anchor text from a million sketchy websites. So what else can it be?

    If that’s the case, the problem is most likely going to be related to onsite factors. That probably means your content or your technical setup, or both. The good news is that all of this is under your direct control.

    In the past, onsite SEO often came second to link building, but nowadays Google is taking a lot more notice of your website structure, your content, and your user experience. If you’ve been standing still then you may be able to make a business case for a shiny new website/strategy on the back of this penalty.

    10) Ask your agency WTF just happened

    If you’ve spotted the penalty before they did then alarm bells should ring.

    Your agency should know if there has been a Google update, and will be a good source of insight into what that means for you. If they haven’t spotted your penalty and are in the dark about an update then you should seriously consider changing your agency.

    That being said, do not blame your agency. You signed off the SEO strategy, remember?

    11) Sense check your content

    Gazillions of thin pages or reams of duplicate content do not make for wondrous search rankings.

    I bet that you’ll instinctively know if your content is up to scratch or not. Do you have competitor jealousy? Are you embarrassed about your pages? Is your content team pushing out half-assed content? Does your bounce rate give you The Fear?

    If you can answer ‘yes’ to any of the above then perhaps it’s time for a rethink? And a cleanup. Google’s advice is to not worry about deleting pages, but to just focus on producing better quality pages. I personally think you need to do both.

    If you can’t figure this stuff out yourself then I’d recommend bringing in some expert help, be that an agency or consultant. It’s really important.

    12) Sort out your problems in a structured way

    This means spreadsheets and documentation.

    It applies for things like link removal campaigns, for disavowing links, for fixing up problem pages, and for sorting out technical issues. Line up your ducks before shooting them.

    You should be methodical and thorough, and you’ll probably be working with others to clean things up, so a collaborative environment is essential. Google Spreadsheets is as good as anything.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 11.04.18

    13) Pull your head out of the sand

    I can assure you that this won’t fix itself. You need to do your research and to take control. Form a plan of attack and mobilise the troops (it may be a slog, and you will probably need some help).

    14) Get your tech team onboard

    If you’re taking a good hard look at your website then you’re going to need some major buy-in and support from the techies. Make them aware of the reasons behind your suggested changes, and the impact of the penalty on the business.

    15) Make people aware of the problem

    That probably means your boss, key business stakeholders, your online trading team, your sales and marketing teams, and any relevant agencies.

    Sometimes a penalty occurs simply because Google has changed the goalposts, and you didn’t see it coming. Other times you might have lobbied to futureproof your business, but were ignored.

    For example, your expensive Flash website might have seemed like a wonderful idea back in the day but now it doesn’t work for mobile users, and Google has de-ranked it as a result. This penalty is now an opportunity for you to make a little noise and fortify your own position (but be careful about pointing fingers and saying “I told you so.”)

    What did I forget? What else is there? Do leave your suggestions below…

    Customer journey from search to landing page: UK supermarkets

    dawn-of-the-dead

    In which we take a look at the experience of searching for a brand or product, looking at a brand’s organic and paid search reach and its subsequent landing page. All from the point of view of the customer.

    This week let’s take a look at UK supermarkets.

    How loyal are we to our regular supermarket?

    First of all, I’d like to answer one related question: Just how loyal are people to their regularly used supermarket?

    I used to live in Leytonstone, and despite my liberal pro independent-retailer leaning wooliness, my wife and I used to shop at Tesco. Why? Because it was the nearest. That’s all. Just pure laziness disguised as brand loyalty.

    Now we’ve moved further east, we no longer have a supermarket within walking distance to frequent. So we decided to brave the world of online grocery shopping. After all with home delivery, you’re no longer tied down to such trifling matters as distance, opening hours and having to change out of your pyjamas.

    After some moderate research, we picked Ocado, and we’ve been getting our weekly online shop from the Waitress affiliated service ever since. And do you know why we chose Ocado? Because they offered us a £30 off our first shop and because all our settings, personal details, payment details and previously bought items were saved with them, we couldn’t be bothered to switch. Again, laziness disguised as brand loyalty.

    But, there is one other very important thing at play here: Ocado’s customer service was very good. Or should I say, not so bad that it made us go through the rigmarole of signing up to another supermarket.

    We even abandoned our Tesco Clubcard and all its totted up, vaguely meaningless points, which we thought we cared about… but it turns out we don’t.

    And this lack of loyalty is reflected around the UK. According to The Grocer 40% of families with children under the age of 10 have switched supermarkets in the last year.

    The main reason for the switch is down to cheaper prices (42%) the second is the promise of a better loyalty scheme elsewhere (36%).

    In terms of price, it’s an increasingly level playing field. With many stores offering price-matching and competitor aware discounts, gone are the days when you would consider one to be cheaper than the other (I’m referring to the bigger brands here, rather than Aldi or Lidl).

    And again, with distance and opening hours meaningless, if one was to make the leap to online shopping, there’s very little reason why you would necessarily stick with the digital version of your previously favoured bricks and mortar store.

    So this means that supermarkets have to differentiate in different ways, and not to hammer home a point that you will have heard many times on this site already, that differentiator is customer experience. How is a supermarket going to make it as pleasurable and convenient as possible to shop with them?

    Make sure your website is as easy to use and navigate as possible, have a super quick checkout process, add your customer’s purchased items automatically into a favourites list that’s simple to edit, offer a wealth of delivery options and times, and stick to them!

    Great customer service can be invisible; working behind the scenes to retain a person’s loyalty. But in order to be even get to that point, a supermarket has to cut through the competition with as much visibility as possible…

    And of course this begins where almost every online journey begins…

    Search

    Let’s assume you’re brand new to online grocery shopping and you’re taking your first steps to find out which supermarket is for you. What do you type into the search box?

    Well using a little keyword research I’ve found a few popular terms. Let’s start with…

    ‘supermarkets near me’

    If you’re searching for an online grocery experience, you’re probably not going to look for ‘supermarkets near me’, but the search term has an average of 18,000 monthly searches so it’s definitely a query to optimise for.

    supermarkets near me Google Search serp

    A supermarket won’t have much control over this SERP when it comes to organic results, save for making sure its Google My Business page is up to date with local opening hours and location. This is certainly important for smaller grocers who wish to be seen next to the bigger guns.

    However there are no paid search ads here, and perhaps this could be an easy win for a supermarket to make an impact with a relevantly tweaked PPC ad.

    ‘online supermarkets’

    The organic space for ‘online supermarkets’ is dominated by comparison sites, or news publisher articles comparing various online supermarkets. So it makes sense for any supermarket to take out paid ads here, as they’re otherwise not going to make an impact on the SERP.

    online supermarkets Google Search serp

    So here you can see three ads from three of the biggest UK supermarkets offering home delivery. You’ll also notice the word ‘groceries’ highlighted as a search term, which is a testament to Google’s improved handling of synonyms.

    Although there’s very little to differentiate these three (especially with the aggregated customer scores), there are a few minor ‘persuasive differences’…

    Ocado probably has the least practical info, but it makes up for it with attractive, white-space-creating sitelinks each promoting a different money saving opportunity. But most obviously of all is the fact that Ocado is the only one here offering cold-hard discount on your first shop.

    It’s difficult to argue with this, and you may as well take advantage of the opportunity even if you never use Ocado again.

    The key to succeeding with this strategy though is offering exceptional customer service with this first shop to ensure customer’s think twice about going elsewhere.

    As for the landing page the ad leads to, it’s a winner…

    Ocado landing page

    As well as the bid amount, Google uses a quality score to gauge which adverts are shown in the most prominent position, and a fundamental part of this is whether the linked-to landing page is relevant to the ad itself.

    Ocado’s does the job perfectly with its prominent discount message. Ocado has also included simple steps to how to use the voucher and a clear ‘start shopping’ CTA.

    Iceland offers a strong ad here, especially in terms of detail and an impressively low free delivery threshold. Perhaps this would be better placed in the blue linked headline though.

    Where Iceland’s ad excels and the others do not is remembering that searchers may not necessarily be looking to do an online shop right away and maybe just want some store details. Iceland therefore offers details on its nearest store, with an address, opening hours and phone number (which is click-to-call from mobile results).

    The landing page is fairly functional, but clearly laid out and unfussy…

    Iceland landing page

    It could perhaps do with using a single clear CTA, as it’s indistinct what I should do first, register or sign in?

    There’s also an argument to suggest that ‘register or sign in’ isn’t the best messaging either, as it feels like its presenting an immediate barrier. Would ‘begin shopping’ or ‘let’s get started’ be far more persuasive?

    Tesco has the weakest ad of the three. Choosing not to offer a discount, detail a free delivery threshold or offer info on a nearest store. In fact the text of the ad itself offers four fairly boring, meaningless proposals (1hr Delivery Slots – how is this different to the competition?).

    The only thing in its favour is the ‘Free Next Day Click + Collect’ offer, but if I’m looking for online shopping, I’m probably not interested in physically visiting your store any time soon.

    Tesco’s landing page is the most functional of the lot. But it doesn’t matter as long as it works properly and is easy to navigate…

    tesco landing page

    The text here could be much larger and darker to help with readability, and the multiple blue CTAs don’t help to ease navigation. But the ‘how to get started’ instructions offer clarity for any newcomers. Perhaps this could be much higher on the page, and have more navigation options integrated into each step, in case anyone landing here isn’t a first-timer.

    ‘best online supermarkets/grocery shopping’

    Let’s wrap this up by checking if any supermarkets have been savvy enough to bid for search queries that are used by people actively trying to seek advice from third party sites…

    And yes, as expected the organic results are dominated by comparison sites and ‘Which’-type publications, but Ocado, Asda, Tesco and Iceland have all taken out ads here too.

    best online grocery shopping Google Search

    In fact, Google has decreed this search term as particularly ‘lucrative’ because it has served four PPC ads here, as it stated it would since the removal of Right Hand Side Ads.

    Now that the paid search space completely dominates the fold here, is there any point in supermarkets bothering to rank organically for this or similar search terms using SEO or content marketing? Probably not.

    Better get your cheque book out then supermarkets.

    Google gives presidential candidates a prime slot in search results

    Hillary posts

    Google has announced the launch of a new feature, which allows (for the moment) presidential candidates to post directly into search results.

    It allows the candidates to ‘communicate with text, images and videos directly on Google’.

    It’s a feature which is currently available only to candidates, though there are plans to expand its use to ‘other prominent figures and organisations’.

    You’ll see this for searches on Google.com related to the various candidates. As you can see, Google has given this a prominent position.

    For more general searches, such as the candidate’s name and ‘policies’ or ‘issues’, you’ll see a list of topics like this.

    From there, you’ll can click each issue to see a summary of policies, as well as related news links.

    The blue tick indicates content that the candidate or their team has written for the feature.

    cruz pokicies

    We can see this for Cruz, Sanders and Clinton, though the versions for Rubio and Trump just show news stories. I’m sure we’ll see more from them once they realise how prominently Google is featuring this.

    trump issues

    These posts take up the majority of the space above the fold, and therefore have the effect of making the candidates’ own sites and other pages less visible.

    You could look at this in a couple of ways: yes, their own web properties and social links are now less visible, but so are potentially negative news stories and sites.

    Some sites, including The Verge, have spotted that results for Andrews Jewelers show similar content, though in a less prominent position than the presidential candidates’ versions.

    It’s an interesting move, and makes sense in election year to offer people a quick overview of policies.

    If it’s rolled out to other prominent figures and organisations, it raises interesting questions.

    Study suggests that ‘peak content’ has been reached for brands

    Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.37.58

    TrackMaven’s recent research into the state of content marketing for brands makes for some difficult reading if, like me, you’re planning a content strategy for 2016.

    The study looked at the content marketing activity of almost 23,000 brands, covering a staggering 50m pieces of content across six primary channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and blogs.

    It turns out that the average brand publishes more than 2,000 pieces of content a year, and if 2015 is anything to go by the tide is rising, as output increased by 35% compared to the previous year.

    The response by readers and viewers was huge: there were a total of 75.7bn interactions. That’s truly massive engagement, but average engagement actually decreased by 17%.

    It seems that there’s only so much people can actually consume, process and share. As TrackMaven says:

    “Despite the fact that engagement continues to fall, brands are hell­bent on content and publishing.”

    The chart below shows the widening attention gap, based on the volume of shares on social platforms vs response rates. Note that the engagement ratio is pretty much consistent.

    In terms of distribution, brands narrowed their focus on Facebook, which was 60% noisier than the previous year. The amount of content published on Twitter also grew, by 31%.

    Rich content is a big area of focus for brands. The amount of video posts more than doubled on Instagram, with images not far behind.

    Meanwhile, Pinterest was highlighted as a platform that appears to be on the wane, with engagement down 49% year on year.

    In terms of platforms, Facebook is still king, with organic engagement for brands three times greater than Twitter. Facebook is not immune to noise pollution though, and interactions per post actually dropped by around 15% in 2015.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.43.22

    It’s not all about reach though. The platform with the least amount of average content shared by brands is LinkedIn, but it has the most consistent engagement ratio (and one that is growing). A sign of quality? Certainly for B2B brands it is a great platform. I’ve previously found that LinkedIn engagement is worth 10 times that of Facebook, in terms of attributed revenue.

    Blogs are still highly popular among brands, though content output declined by 16% in 2015. Despite this, social sharing for blog content “held steady.”

    Overall, the suggestion seems to be that ‘peak content’ has been reached. TrackMaven said that it is possible to measure the effects of content overload on engagement rates:

    “When content output spiked in October 2015, engagement levels took the sharpest downturn. There is a limit to how much content can be consumed, liked, shared, etc, and brands and social networks alike are competing for their share of engagement.”

    What do you think? Is it time to turn down the dial a little? Or should brands increase the volume of content being produced to win the output wars?