How to compete on the new Google SERP

london hotel Google Search

Recent changes made to the Google SERP have taken many by surprise.

Google has eliminated the sidebar ads that once appeared to the right of the results. They have also increased the number of ads allowed above the results, now showing up to four ads.

This has marketers talking because, with four sponsored results, there are fewer slots available for organic results above the fold. Some queries might not have any organic results appear without the user having to scroll down.

One of the main questions on everyone’s mind, is how these changes are going to affect paid and organic search…

What marketers need to know

The impact of the new layout on organic search will come from two main sources: changes in marketing strategy and the layout itself.

First, we must explore how the changes are impacting PPC marketing.

Although the new layout has increased the number of ads that appear at the top of the SERP for most queries, the removal of the sidebar ads means that there will still be less ads overall on the page.

The ads that are along the top of the page have been designed by Google to be more natural (more native) looking. Given the increased competition for these more coveted ad spots, it is likely that the new layout will drive up prices for paid ads.

The increase in price and competition may then force some brands, particularly those with smaller marketing budgets, to shift gears.

Some will begin to focus on lower cost keywords and others will turn their focus more towards organic search performance optimization. This may result in more brands paying attention to their organic search results.

The content marketing industry has already seen an increasingly competitive playing field as brands have begun to pay attention to the success that others are having. This will only increase the amount of competition, and therefore the necessity to ensure organic and content strategies are built for maximum performance.

How marketers can make their content stand out

Making your content stand out in the new SERP means taking a comprehensive view of your customers and your content.

You’ll want to think of your entire brand reputation. Your content will see organic search success when you are the brand that customers already trust when they type in a query.

Reaching this point means producing high-quality content that answers the needs of customers. Brands need to write what their customers find interesting.

This starts by identifying what topics are in demand. Produce a variety of types of content, including videos, articles and infographics, to address the questions of these users.

Track your success with each piece of content, watching engagement rates and conversion rates, and see the types of content that are best serving the needs of customers at each stage of the customer journey.

In addition to producing the content that people will appreciate, you will also need to take the time to develop a strong social media presence. This will provide you with multiple opportunities:

  • you can interact directly with your potential customers through the social media platforms
  • you can answer people’s questions, helping to establish yourself as an authority
  • you can share and promote your content, growing your audience
  • as you attract more attention to your content, you will help to raise the ranking through backlinks, traffic rates and engagement. This is how content, search and social work together

Your comprehensive outlook also needs to stretch beyond what you put online. Providing customers with an outstanding experience can help you improve your reputation and bring new customers to your door.

With the popularity of review sites like Yelp, customers can easily learn about the most popular and least popular companies. An excellent customer experience will help you improve your reputation through these sites and word-of-mouth.

Local and Places

You also need to make sure that your content is completely optimized. Now that ads are so prominently featured in the SERPs, you need to make sure that your results can compete with them aesthetically.

Ads are likely to become increasingly visual and engaging as the industry continues to evolve, and you need to make sure you use all your available resources to remain relevant.

This means using meta tags and schema when possible so that your website is accurately represented and that any opportunities for rich snippets are seized.

Optimization also means looking at your available options from all angles. For example, local optimization might not be the first priority for a business that does the majority of their business online, but if you have an actual location, it can be a valuable resource. Our BrightEdge research has indicated that this optimization can help you improve your traffic by 21 percent.

Five steps to succeeding on the new Google SERP

  • Use data to identify highly desirable content and develop material that provides the user with what they need. Remember to create a variety of different types of content and regularly track customer reactions to see what people respond to best at different points in the buyer’s journey.
  • Do not neglect optimizing for Local and Places.
  • Use the content, search and social trifecta to promote your content, attract attention and improve quality metrics, such as engagement rates and backlinks. While on social media, actively engage with your audience so that you improve your reputation as a trusted authority.
  • Make sure the content is marked up with meta tags and schema so that you can attract as much attention to it as possible. It is likely that ads are going to continue to evolve and become more visually appealing, so make sure that your content answers the same need.
  • Measure your results and make adjustments as necessary. Monitor your rank position, your click-through rate and engagement rates to see how this SERP change has impacted your success.
  • There are benefits and drawbacks to the new Google SERP layout, for marketers, the primary priority should be learning how to succeed in the new system.

    Keep in mind the importance of a positive customer experience with every interaction with your brand while also optimizing your content to maximize your appeal against the ad results. Working smarter and creating comprehensive search and content strategies will improve performance.

    How to market your mobile site or app without spending a fortune on ads

    muckfest_ms_cz9[1]

    Making the most of what you’ve got: email, SMS, social media, brochures, packaging, SEO and ASO and optimizing your mobile site design to make the most of them.

    If you want to avoid spending the majority of your project budget on advertising and public relations (PR), it is essential to start planning how you will use organic methods to promote your mobile-friendly site or app early and incorporate this strategy into your mobile design and build.

    There are four categories of marketing media:

  • Paid media – i.e. advertising
  • Earned media – e.g. press and blog coverage (generally achieved via PR)
  • Owned media: digital and physical – e.g. email and packaging
  • Shared media – e.g. social media
  • The previous column discussed paid media and public relations and introduced the concept of distribution-driven development.

    This week, it’s the turn of shared and owned media, including search engine optimization (SEO) and app store optimization (ASO) and testing your campaign.

    Plus Jim Hennessey, director of consumer marketing for the hit US Multiple Sclerosis fundraising event, MuckFest, gives us a masterclass on digital and social media marketing.

    “Three years ago, the MuckFest MS social channels were a silo, far away from being a component of our marketing and revenue generating programs. In 2013 we had no event registrations attributed to social media. In 2015, more than 35% of our registrations were from social media.”

    Find out MuckFest did it, below.

    Owned media – physical

    Depending on the type of business there will be a wealth of ‘free’ vehicles for promoting your mobile site or app.

    These include brochures, business cards, product packaging store/office posters and placards including the store window, as in this case study from Adidas Neo:

    • All of these physical media should promote, overtly or subtly, your mobile venture, by including a short URL and/or QR (quick response) code to the mobile-friendly site or app store listing for native apps.
    • Plan ahead to ensure that the next design and print run of each marketing material will include a hyperlink.
    • Co-ordinate marketing efforts so the campaign is backed up with a unique landing page with information on the mobile site.
    • Don’t just advertise the fact that you have a mobile site or app, give people a reason to visit such as to check out nutritional information, enter a competition or place an order.

    The following Burger King menu recently dropped through the letter box (ignoring the No junk mail notice), which drives people to online ordering with a QR code and URL.

    Note the use of both give the recipient the choice – don’t assume everyone has a smartphone or knows how to scan a QR code.

    As part of its commitment to deliver nutritional information about its products, Nestlé has committed to add QR codes to product packaging that link to more information about nutrition on the mobile-friendly site.

    This was stated in the Nestlé Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2014, and reiterated in 2015.

    nestle_qr_commitment_cz9

    Owned media – digital

    Companies have a number of digital media channels – email, SMS and social media – at their disposal. All of which should be use to drive mobile users to your mobile site with a simple click on a hyperlink.

    Use of mobile email is growing rapidly, with more than half of marketing emails opened on a mobile device, according to Adestra.

    email_mobile_client-2015cz9

    Social media has become synonymous with mobile – at the beginning of 2016, Facebook had 1.44 billion mobile monthly active users, out of 1.59 billion total monthly users.

    SMS is often forgotten by marketers amid trendier media. This is shortsighted, considering SMS is a uniquely mobile media, ubiquitous to all mobile phones and still very popular with consumers.

    Plan how you will use these channels to target the most relevant subscribers. A quick checklist:

    • Aggressively recruit target users to your CRM programs with incentives.
    • Check the right permissions are in place to deliver marketing messages.
    • Ensure that your marketing emails and social media messages are mobile friendly.
    • Segment the subscriber base so only the relevant are targeted. Only promote your iPhone app to known iPhone users.
    • Analyze message content and timing to maximize response rates.
    • Schedule messaging. Tools such as Hootsuite and Buffer allow the scheduling of social media posts.
    • Plan to incorporate your promotion into your existing messaging schedule to avoid over-burdening your clients with extra messages.
    • Remember your customers won’t be as excited about your upcoming iPhone app as you are, so don’t start emailing until it’s ready.

    The following untargeted email was sent out in January 2016 to subscribers to the Quartz daily news service.

    quartz_untargeted_email_cz9

    Sharing – social media, email, SMS

    An engaged social media following can have a big impact on web traffic: when fans share content they tend to do so with a link which drives additional visits.

    The social media strategy should influence site design and content strategy in a number of ways:

    • Facilitate sharing, by having the right tools embedded into the site in the right place: see best practices for sharing buttons .
    • Monitor what content is shared by readers of rival sites using tools such as BuzzSumo.
    • Provide excellent content that is easy to share e.g. images, video.
    • Provide compelling/exclusive offers that people will want to share.
    • Encourage sharing, by promoting user-generated content on your site and social channels.
    • Reward the most active and influential fans with flattery and special offers.
    • Record and analyze all results to optimize content and engagement strategy.

    MuckFest MS case study

    MuckFest MS is a muddy 5K fun run with obstacles that takes place in 11 cities in the US and has raising over $20 million to date to help fight Multiple Sclerosis.

    The digital and social strategy is run by Jim Hennessey:

    In 2013 we had no event registrations attributed to social media. In 2015, more than 35% of our registrations were from social media.

    What changed?

    • We developed an overall marketing strategy that emphasizes the reciprocal benefits of all digital marketing efforts to each other – for example, social media integrated with email communications and website – both web content and user experience (UX).
    • Invested in audience-building efforts on key social channels (Facebook, Twitter) to reach viable prospect audiences in our event markets.
    • Integrated keyword strategy across all channels.

    In 2015, more than 55% of our customers used mobile as their access point, and 80% of those customers say social media is one of the top three daily smartphone activities.

    So we re-imagined website UX – including the visual style and the messaging flow from social media to the site.

    The site is not simply “responsive.” It is designed to be mobile first, using ‘cube based coding’ which allows each cube of copy to stack and be prioritized by platform.

    This is done by coding during the development process to deliver a better UX for our audiences. Check out how our city pages on different devices.

    MuckFestMS.com uses social content as a primary component for our site’s messaging. For example, we use curated social content for customer reviews and endorsements.

    Another key component is the ability to quickly highlight viral social content on the MuckFest.com, such as when in January 2016 BuzzFeed’s The Try Guys made a MuckFest video.

    What’s next?

    • Creating on-going engagement with our active social media community and leverage them to accelerate our digital messaging efforts. See: The MuckSquad.
    • Continue to evolve use of digital video, with more videos, using different types of content and various lengths that can be used in either paid or non-paid. See: David’s Story.

    Search engine optimization (SEO)

    Virtually all successful websites are reliant on search for a large proportion or majority of their traffic. Mobile sites/web apps are no different.

    The only change is that mobile users may search for different things. Location, proximity and immediacy may be more important to a mobile user than a desktop searcher.

    SEO is not a dark art. Search engine spiders mimic the behavior of mobile users, so the key to SEO is to anticipate what mobile users want and optimize the content and navigation accordingly.

    One of the first steps in the development process should be an extensive audit of the existing web properties, evaluating customer search behavior and the performance of competitors.

    Let this influence site design, content and marketing strategy (outlined in this article). Clearly this will be more effective than using some SEO/keyword tools shortly before launch and jamming some keywords and metatags into irrelevant content.

    Most importantly, the better the SEO, the less you need to spend on paid search advertising. But as website traffic influences rankings, advertising will be unavoidable for newcomers.

    Andrew Martin, senior inbound marketing executive, Cambridge University Press:

    Evaluating search behavior is crucial. If you’re going to re-launch your site to be mobile first, then your desktop old site will be generating a ton of search data in your Google Search Console. You can filter this data by device to see the split for desktop, mobile, or tablet, and the kinds of things that you rank (well or badly) for already.

    If you’re taking a phase approach to your development, this information will be particularly useful, by showing you your existing mobile search performance, and therefore allow you to prioritise site or content areas that you’re doing well in already, or show aspirational areas where you need a boost to improve your position and CTR.

    Obviously, if you’re a mobile user, you want to see a mobile site – not some tiny text, broken or restricted desktop site. Note that the majority of searches now take place on mobile devices.

    Consequently, if you’re a mobile site owner you want to feed that hungry, curious audience, with your most relevant content.

    google_web_device_split_cz9

    App store optimization

    App store optimization (ASO) is the equivalent of SEO for native apps. It is partly about how the app ranks when people search the store of a relevant app and partly about how compelling it appears to the user.

    • App store rankings are believed to be influenced by numerous things including title, description, keywords, popularity – downloads and continued use – reviews and frequency of updates.
    • Users are influenced by icon, title, description, including quality of screenshots and videos used, and reviews.

    Done effectively, app store optimization should deliver better long-term results than paid advertising.

    Gary Yentin, CEO and Founder, App-Promo, Toronto:

    Currently, ASO has the best return on investment (ROI) but that is over time. For immediate impact, paid media delivers the best ROI.

    However ROI of paid advertising varies. It depends both on what the life-time value (LTV) of the customer is, and when the paid media campaign is launched.

    Paid media acquisition costs vary with supply and demand and tend to be higher in Q4 (during the holiday season).

    ASO tends to deliver better ROI since rates and inventory are not subject to this fluctuation and it delivers longer term results.

    itunes_top20_feb_2016_cz9

    Test, test and test again

    Digital marketing is an imprecise science because every situation is different. This makes it essential that marketing programs are constantly measured and tweaked to maximize optimal results.

    Gary Yentin:

    It’s important to plan early and have a sufficient budget allocated, and test, test, test. It not terrible to make a mistake. If the budget allows for testing, you can then learn and make changes towards a successful campaign.

    A straight-forward methodology to trialing different approaches is A/B testing, sometimes called split-testing. Marketers should be familiar with using A/B testing for digital ads, where two slightly different versions of an ad are shown alternatively to different website visitors and the results recorded.

    But A/B testing can be applied to most marketing channels. The key is to come up with a hypotheses – would it improve X if we changed Y? (X is a desired result and Y is a variable).

    • Web – track how conversions, e.g. sales, click-throughs, social media shares; change as headlines, keywords, content, links, navigation or positioning of buttons is altered. See this article from Crazy Egg http://blog.crazyegg.com/2015/06/02/ab-testing-google-analytics/
    • Email – track how open, click-through, purchase rates change as subject lines, from line, content and send times are varied. See this article from MailChimp http://kb.mailchimp.com/campaigns/ab/about-ab-testing-campaigns
    • Social media – track how likes, shares, click-through rates change as content types and descriptions, hashtags and posting times and frequency are altered. See this article from Hootsuite http://blog.hootsuite.com/how-to-use-social-media-for-ab-tests/

    This is the ninth part of the ClickZ ‘DNA of mobile-friendly web’ series.

    Here are the others:

  • Six mobile strategy questions.
  • How to identify your mobile audience.
  • Why prioritize mobile-friendly web.
  • Web apps: advantages of native apps in a web browser.
  • How to test the viability of your mobile project.
  • Assessing the technical and operational feasibility of your mobile project.
  • Show me the money: proving your mobile site or app will deliver ROI.
  • Formulating the go-to market strategy for your mobile project.
  • Andy Favell is ClickZ columnist on mobile. He is a London-based freelance mobile/digital consultant, journalist and web editor.

    Contact him via Linkedin or Twitter at @Andy_Favell.

    This article was originally published on our sister site ClickZ, but it’s so helpful we thought we’d share it here too.

    Is blogging still key to search engine ranking?

    widgets-wordpress

    A blog can still take you to the top. If you do it right.

    Everyone loves free information. And free information reels in customers. That’s why blogging is one of the best ways to do content marketing. How else are you going to bombard customers with a steady stream of content without scaring them away?

    According to Neil Patel, “Companies with blogs typically receive 97% more leads than companies without blogs.” Customers might ignore your ad, but your blog? That’s something they want to read. Blogging creates a human side to your website or company or organization.

    And blogging is most definitely a way to keep your face in front of current and potential customers.

    Use WordPress

    Matt Cutts, SEO guru and chief spam buster at Google, has said that WordPress is the best platform for optimized blogging. He uses it himself.

    WordPress is easy. It’s free. And it handles search engine optimization like a pro.

    It solves 80-90% of your SEO problems. And that’s saying a lot, because SEO is a many-faceted thing.

    WordPress has a permalink setting that you can set to Post Name so that when you write a blog, it will be www.coolblog.com/dog-collar-fashion-trends instead of www.coolblog.com/?=123. Guess which one the Google robot is going to like the best?

    It also has plugins for almost everything. Some SEO must-haves are a sitemap generator, a webmaster toolkit, and a meta/SEO tool.

    A sitemap will make it easier for search engines to find all your pages and posts, which will help you move up in search results. The webmaster tools will help you spot problem areas with your site. And the meta/SEO tools will make it easy for you to keep your site optimized for more exposure to the masses.

    What’s more, WordPress can make you look good with a few clicks. If you suck at web design, you can still have a fantastic-looking blog, thanks to WordPress’s almost endless lineup of premium themes.

    Quality, quality, quality

    Search engine bots are looking for sites with authority and trust.

    They want to know that your site knows what it’s talking about and that the online neighborhood agrees. In case you’re wondering, the neighborhood is the collection of other sites, business, social media influencers, and the like that are in your field or area of interest. If they’re sharing your content, the search engines take notice.

    What’s your bounce rate? Do visitors click and leave or are they staying long enough to read all of your amazing blogs? The length of engagement matters (and marriage is around the corner).

    Use normal language. If your blog sounds like an elementary school child or someone with English as a second language wrote it, Google will know. And so will your site visitors.

    Google bots will also know if your site has duplicate, repetitive, or mass-produced content. When it comes to content, quality is better than quantity.

    Keep it fresh… and keep it coming

    Google and Bing bots love fresh content.

    They score the freshness factor of a web page from the date it was first discovered by the bots or the date it was last updated substantially enough to warrant notice.

    Content needs to be fresh – not wilted, stale, outdated content that’s been on your site since 1999. To solve this dilemma, you can repurpose existing content. Or you can create new content via your blog. A new blog = a new page on your site. You’ll score some points with the search engines for that.

    But don’t just churn out robotic content. Switch it up every so often. If your site is starting to sound predictable: why you should make papier-mâché… blah, blah… how often you should make papier-mâché… blah, blah… when you should make papier-mâché… you need a new angle, a new idea, a new topic – something!

    A blog is an excellent platform for all manner of content – articles, infographics, podcasts, videos, news updates, how-to-guides, white papers, case studies, memes – anything that keeps you in front of the faces of current and potential customers.

    Don’t ever let them forget you’re alive.

    Linking – a fine line

    Every good blogger knows that a site with multiple, quality links is going to gain kudos with the web crawlers.

    However, due to link schemes (a practice where links are used to manipulate search engine rankings) links coming into your site (backlinks) are scrutinized by the search engine bots.

    Where are your links coming from? Are they coming from trusted sites? Or are they coming from seedy neighbors, such as link farms?

    You can build quality links by guest posting on sites with a high authority (or high trust) rating. Just make sure they’re in your your industry or niche. For instance, if your site is about bird watching, look for home and garden sites, wildlife blogs, and the like.

    You can also build relationships with other webmasters by placing outbound links in your on-site blog posts. Here again, make sure every link is on-topic i.e., don’t link to a page on catnip if you’re writing about luxury cars, unless you’re actually writing about the relationship between luxury cars and catnip.

    Blogging is about building quality relationships – both with your readership and with websites in your neighborhood.

    Commit to the long haul

    Blogging won’t necessarily get you to the top of Google and Bing overnight. It’s a long-term strategy to build trust, value, and momentum. There is no McBlogging shortcut.

    While not every blog post may be sensational, every post does need to provide value to the reader. Ultimately, that’s what you’re after. Because more engagement and more shares lead to higher rankings, more visibility, and more customers.

    What have you got to lose?

    Six of the most interesting SEM news stories of the week

    london hotel Google Search

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

    This week, a slightly less tumultuous one then last week, but there’s still some juicy stats, intriguing updates and hot gossip.

    AdWords CTR increases as Right Side Ads dropped

    Possibly surprising nobody, Google dropping ads from the right sidebar has meant that the click-through rate has increased on paid search results at the top of the screen.

    Mainly because that’s all we see now.

    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).

    adwords-right-ads

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

    According to Accuracast this is understandable, “as the third ad unit used to sit just above the organic search results. Now it’s in the middle of a block of ads, and is more likely to be skimmed over.”

    Position 4 is the new position 3.

    Facebook to favour live videos over recorded videos in the News Feed… kind of

    In an announcement this week, Facebook has stated that its recently rolled out Facebook Live Videos service has received an update where live streaming videos uploaded via the service are more likely to appear higher in the News Feed when they are actually live, as opposed to after they’re available as pre-recorded videos.

    According to Facebook:

    “People spend more than 3x more time watching a Facebook Live video on average compared to a video that’s no longer live. This is because Facebook Live videos are more interesting in the moment than after the fact.”

    It doesn’t necessarily mean ALL live videos will rank higher than ANY standard video, but it is an interesting change.

    Smash cut: one year from now, all the actors from Star Wars Episode VIII having to do a live reenactment of the trailer every time a Facebook user scrolls through their feed.

    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.

    You can learn lots about Snapchat in this helpful guide over at ClickZ.

    The Dress: one year on #DoomedToRepeatHistory

    Yes that’s right, this week saw the anniversary of the global incident that has come to be known as The Event – no wait that was a toxic cloud – The Dress!

    And in honour of this occasion Moz and Fractl have released as study on the impact of PR stunts.

    The research takes into account press mentions, organic traffic, and backlinks, based on seven companies that appeared in the news between February 2015 and February 2016.

    You can see seven different PR stunt examples in the online flipbook but for ‘old time’s sake’ here are some stats from The Airborne Toxic Event… sorry The Dress…

    • Roman Original’s, the makers of #TheDress, received a 560% increase in global sales within one day of media coverage.
    • Negative stories received 172% more headlines and 176% more social shares.
    • Large companies’ traffic and backlinks saw less dramatic increases after the media frenzy, even though these brands were mentioned in 148% more headlines.

    roman-originals-results-infographic

    Head of Wikimedia resigns over search engine plans

    As we’ve covered recently in the news round-up, Wikimedia may or may not be developing its own rival search engine to Google. There’s an excellently detailed account of the affair so far here: everything you need to know about the Knowledge Engine – and the latest gossip is that the executive director of the Wikimedia foundation, has resigned.

    According to The Guardian, this follows a “row within the community over leaked plans” which were indeed to build a Google-rivalling search engine.

    Tretikov wrote in her resignation letter:

    “I am both inspired by, and proud of, the many great things we have all accomplished at the Foundation over the last two years, most significantly reversing the loss of our editorial community … I remain passionate about the value and potential of open knowledge and Wikimedia to change the world.”

    And that’s probably the closest we’ll get to TMZ.

    Everything you need to know about Wikimedia’s ‘Knowledge Engine’ so far

    If you’ve been following the news about Wikipedia over the past few weeks, you might have heard about ‘Knowledge Engine’, the secret search engine project that was supposedly going to take on Google.

    The idea of a “transparent search engine” created by the Wikimedia Foundation has definitely been nixed, as we reported in our round-up of key SEM news stories last Friday week.

    Contrary to repeated insistences by those at the top, however, there was such a project in development at one point. It served as a flashpoint in a crisis which is still taking place at the heart of Wikimedia, resulting in the resignation of its Executive Director, Lila Tretikov, last week.

    But why has Wikimedia’s ‘Knowledge Engine’ been so controversial, and what bearing does the search project still have on the future of the Wikimedia Foundation?

    Wikimedia in meltdown

    It hasn’t been a good year for the Wikimedia Foundation – and it’s barely even March. In just a couple of months, the non-profit which hosts Wikipedia has seen numerous resignations from key staff members, a vote of no confidence in a recently-appointed Board member, and the resignation of its Executive Director.

    Wikimedia has been seeing walk-outs from key staff members ever since late 2014, but things have undeniably accelerated over the past several weeks. Former Deputy Director of Wikimedia Erik Möller, who left in April 2015, described the recent situation as “very much out of control” and “a crisis.”

    The Wikimedia Foundation’s internal crisis has resulted in the resignation of its Executive Director, Lila Tretikov, after less than two years in the position

    Trust has been steadily eroding between Wikimedia’s community of volunteer editors and its Board of Directors, who are seen as moving too much towards a ‘Silicon-valley’-style focus on technological projects, and away from the organisation’s culture of transparency, integrity and openness.

    Things came to a head with the secrecy and confusion surrounding the ‘Knowledge Engine’, a project which many of those in charge insisted was not and never had been a search engine, even when all evidence began to point to the contrary.

    Jimmy Wales’ search history

    Though we now know that the ‘Knowledge Engine’ project, officially called ‘Discovery’, is not going to be a search engine in its own right, it wouldn’t have been the first time that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales had struck out into the world of search.

    He has a history of two previous search engine ventures: ‘Wikiasari’, in 2006, and ‘Wikia Search’ in 2008. Neither project lasted very long, but Wales wrote in a blog post after Wikia Search folded that, “I will return again and again in my career to search, either as an investor, a contributor, a donor, or a cheerleader.”

    So it isn’t that surprising that when details about Wikimedia’s ‘Knowledge Engine’ surfaced online, people jumped to the conclusion that Wikimedia and its founder were making another “return to search.”

    Not least because in a September 2015 announcement, the Knight Foundation, which provided a grant of $250,000 to fund Wikimedia’s ‘Knowledge Engine’, described the project as “a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet.”

    Now, that might not necessarily mean a search engine, but it does sound a lot like one, and Wikimedia wasn’t awfully forthcoming with information to clarify what the project was, if not a search engine.

    On 11th February, Jimmy Wales publicly refuted the notion that the Knight Foundation grant was “in any way related to or suggestive of a google-like search engine”, adding that, “no one in top positions has proposed or is proposing that WMF should get into the general ‘searching’… It’s a total lie.”

    But that same day, Wikimedia Foundation published the original Knight Foundation grant agreement, containing its own description of the project as “the Internet’s first transparent search engine”. It also draws contrasts between Wikipedia’s approach to knowledge access and that of “commercial search engines”, setting out the intent to “create an open data engine that’s completely free of commercial interests.”


    A series of conceptual designs for the Wikipedia front page, from a Discovery presentation in November 2015, greatly resemble a search engine in layout and focus.
    By WMoran (WMF) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

    On top of this, the Signpost – Wikipedia’s own community-written and edited newspaper – revealed details of three internal documents which had been leaked to the paper but not made public.

    Dating back to April 2015, the documents delve deeper into the priorities of commercial search engines and how these skew the information which is presented to users, contrasting them with a “Wikipedia Search” which would be “Private and secure” with “Transparent results rankings”, “Locally relevant information” and “Global representation in all languages and cultures.”

    They also feature mock-ups of what a Wikipedia search engine could look like, drawing results from across Wikimedia’s projects as well as external sources like Fox News.

    The case for Wikipedia Search

    You might be thinking, so what if Wikimedia does want to go into search? And there are definitely reasons why it would be an attractive idea. Wikipedia has seen a lot of traffic dropping off recently as Google instead displays key information from its articles directly on the results page.

    A screenshot of Google search results for 'Isaac Newton', which show Wikipedia as the top search result, but also display a brief biography drawn from Wikipedia on the right hand side, giving information on his occupation, birth and death dates, and influences.

    Wikipedia is still the authoritative source of information, but it’s being deprived of visitors to the encyclopaedia itself, making it even less likely that people will click through to other articles on the site, make edits to them, or see calls for donations from one of its funding drives.

    So if Wikipedia is going to dominate the top results for any given Google search, why not create a search engine which sends users straight there? And it’s not just about Wikipedia, either – Wikimedia presides over a diverse range of knowledge projects covering e-books, travel, science, data and more. Any search system which properly interlinks its different projects would be a source to be reckoned with.

    The grant agreement with the Knight Foundation poses the question, “Would users go to Wikipedia if it were an open channel beyond an encyclopedia?” By making Wikipedia (or Wikipedia’s ‘Knowledge Engine’) a one-stop-shop for the world’s knowledge, along with other incentives like ad-free and transparent search results, Wikipedia might have been able to reclaim the traffic it has been losing to Google and redirect it across its own various sites.

    The winners and losers of ‘mobilegeddon’ in the UK

    twitter mobile visibility

    Our good friend Juan González from Sistrix has taken a look at the winners and losers of Google’s 2015 mobile friendly update.

    Last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona had the dawning of AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) firmly on the agenda, and this coupled with the following evaluation of 200 domains, really hits home that one of the largest mistakes you can make is not having a mobile friendly website.

    Take for an example The British Monarchy. Royal.gov.uk does not offer a mobile-friendly version of its site, which means its mobile-visibility is 37% lower than their desktop counterpart.

    When Sistrix looked at the amount of keywords they rank for, there were 50% fewer mobile keywords (1,063 mobile keywords vs 2,054 desktop keywords). This means that for those 991 mobile keywords some other domain will have taken the place of Royal.gov.uk for a smartphone search on Google.

    Here are some more winners and losers…

    Winners

    1) Twitter.com

    The beleaguered social network actually had the largest gain in mobile visibility. Twitter.com ranks for 211,660 keywords for a desktop search and 272,368 keywords for mobile searches. A huge difference of nearly 60,000 keywords, (28%).

    Twitter ranks for 78% more top 10 keywords on mobile than on desktop-searches.

    Clearly partnering with Google and allowing its tweets to be indexed has led to this triumph.

    2) Msdmanuals.com

    The domain for Merck, the healthcare manual provider, has roughly the same number of mobile and desktop keywords (12,393 vs. 11,600), with a slight edge of 6,5% for the mobile keywords.

    If you only look at the keywords within the top 10 search results, the mobile version ranks for 1.110 keywords while the desktop version only ranks for 744 keywords, an increase of nearly 50% between the mobile and desktop top 10.

    3) Tripadvisor.com

    Tripadvisor.com managed to gain 17.26% in their mobile visibility, which is a lot for a domain of its size, though they might want to check if this increase is not hurting Tripadvisor.co.uk as the following chart suggests.

    Losers

    1) Huffingtonpost.co.uk

    Huffpo lost 87.24% of its mobile visibility on Google.co.uk. The reason for this decrease is the simple fact that the mobile version of Huffingtonpost.co.uk is hosted on the domain Huffpost.com.

    If we compare the desktop version of Huffingtonpost.co.uk, with the mobile version of Huffpost.com, we see that mobile visibility is 70% larger than the desktop counterpart.

    huffpo comparison

    2) Etymoline.com

    The online etymology dictionary managed to lose 50% of its keyword rankings between desktop and mobile searches. The loss in the top 10 is even more pronounced (70%) because it simply doesn’t have a mobile version.

    3) Mousebreaker.com (and 17 Hays.co.uk)

    If a specific page is not available it should return a status code 404 (page not found) instead of just redirecting the user to the home page, regardless of the desktop or mobile version. All these redirects to the home page constitute soft-404 errors which have a negative impact on the site.

    Mousebreaker.com (-67%), for example, redirects many of its pages which are not optimized for mobile use – because many of their products use Adobe Flash – to their mobile home page.

    For instance: http://www.mousebreaker.com/games/bookworm/playgame redirects to m.mousebreaker.com when accessed with a smartphone, instead of returning a 404, as it should.

    Another example is Hays.co.uk (-46%), which only has a homepage that’s mobile optimised. Every URL is therefore redirected here when accessed from search on a smartphone.

    hays-desktop-to-mobile

    And here’s a final example of where domains can really mess up, from further down the chart…

    46) Monarch.co.uk

    Google has stated it won’t tolerate the use of full-screen mobile app ad interstitials and it’s clear from Monarch.co.uk that this is ringing true. Monarch has lost 36,40% of its visibility thanks to its use of interstitials.

    For a complete list of the top 30 winners and losers visit the original post at Sistrix.

    14 KPIs and metrics Google can use to measure the purge of Right Hand Side Ads

    london hotel Google Search

    You’ll have no doubt read about Google’s recent jettisoning of its sidebar ads, in favour of more ads placed at the top of the page. This is going to have a number of effects that search marketers will need to contend with.

    It’s also going to affect users, as people may adjust to the ad-heavy new look. I thought it might be interesting to think about how Google might measure the changes.

    Here are 14 KPIs and metrics that will reveal how the new layout – and the demoted organic results – impacts on revenue and user behaviour.

    No doubt there are some others that I’ve missed, so do leave a comment below if you have anything to add.

    1. Total revenue

    This is the big one, the primary KPI, and I dare say the reason for the change.

    Google continually tests all manner of tweaks and changes to its algorithm, its page layouts and its user interface. As a commercially-focused entity it will only willingly release changes that generate more revenue for its shareholders to marvel at.

    Presumably this KPI has increased. Fewer ads on the page, but more prominent ads, and more competition among advertisers. That probably means more clicks, and higher keyword prices.

    In 2015 Google generated a whopping $67bn in ad revenue. It is facing some big challenges with regards to protecting and growing mobile ad revenues. Let’s see how 2016 shapes up…

    2. Average revenue per user

    Is Google generating more money across the board?

    I’d have thought that ARPU would also have increased, at least initially, but longer term I wonder about how much additional revenue Google can squeeze out of its search users, especially those who know the difference between an ad and an organic result.

    3. Conversion rate

    This can be a dangerous metric to focus on, for a number of reasons. It’s pretty simple to boost your conversion rate, but it needs to be done in a meaningful way.

    We might assume that four big ads at the top of the page result in a higher click rate on ads. I think that’s probably the case. Mission accomplished, for Google.

    But then again four ads might not be as good as 10-13, as far as the volume of clicks is concerned. Conversion rate will have dropped, if total ad clicks have reduced.

    Google won’t be too bothered about this so long as the additional competition and keyword inflation results in revenue growth.

    4. Total ad clicks

    Following on from above, exactly how many ads are being clicked on?

    This is where Google makes its money, and it will want this number to increase, but the supercombo of in your face ads and higher PPC fees might offset a decline in clicks.

    I’m keen to see whether there is an overall decline in click quality for poorly-targeted ads, not that it will affect Google in the short term. Advertisers will need to keep their wits about them.

    5. Total clicks on organic results

    Are users chasing the organic listings down the page, or are they blindly clicking the ads instead? This is the one billion dollar question (at least!).

    A couple of weeks ago Moz reported that more than a third of the SERPs had four ads. Many of these pages require the user to scroll in order to see any organic results.

    For non-commercial queries that return four top ads, the user experience is going to start to suck. The irony is that if this were another website Google might give it a page quality penalty (too many ads, not enough visible content).

    Anyway, something’s got to give. Either the user needs to get into the habit of delving deeper into Google in order to find what they are looking for, or, simply click on one of the links in the paid ads.

    6. Clicks per search query

    In theory, one quick post-query click is the ideal. That indicates that the algorithm is doing its job by presenting the most relevant result at the top of the page.

    The trouble is that Google is allowing advertisers to control what appears top for many queries. More paid results means less algorithmically-determined relevancy. Relevancy appears to have taken a back seat.

    I’m inclined to suggest that users trust the algorithm more than they trust advertisers (not that they always know the difference between the two things).
    If users dive in and out of the top ads (as they often do with organic results, yo-yoing in and out of websites) then average clicks per query are going to rise, and advertisers may become dissatisfied.

    Advertisers certainly need to be on top of their targeting game to avoid curiosity clicks, where users casually click on the results.

    7. Average time to click

    How long are people hanging around for?

    For a lot of websites it pays to have a sticky site, but for a search engine the opposite is true. A sign of quality on a search engine is a short average browse time, assuming the user clicks on a result. Ideally, the first result you’re shown would be the one you want to see, and the one you click on. Good search engines are somewhat automagic in this respect.

    But if people are spending longer on Google it could be a sign of confusion (“why is Google showing me all these ads?”), or maybe the paid results at the top of the page are not perceived as being relevant.

    Forcing the user to scroll down the page to see the organic results will also cause a short delay.

    Any which way you look at it, if average time to click rises it would indicate that the user experience has worsened. Google is not immune to people feeling that things have changed for the worse. Here be dragons.

    8. Pages per session

    How many people are clicking to the next page to see relevant results?

    This is linked to browse time, and as Google skews search results towards commercial pages, we may see more people wading into page two to find what they’re looking for.

    Indeed, it is said that the second page of Baidu has become a new battleground for SEOs, after it loaded up its first page with ads.

    @lakey @danbarker I have read somewhere that click through rates are much higher on the second page of Baidu, as users have adapted to ads.

    — Manley (@LordManley) February 28, 2016

    It makes sense. Users may become conditioned to clicking beyond page one to see organic results. That could prove to be an opportunity for search marketers. Imagine having to de-optimise your pages to achieve positions #11-15!

    It’s also worth saying that additional clicks to discover the content is a pain in the ass for users.

    9. Bounce rate

    Still haven’t found what you’re looking for?

    I suspect most people stick around to unearth the right kind of links. It’s the nature of search, after all: find and seek. But if the top results are all ads then the immediacy vanishes, and perhaps, over time, people will start to tune out, or look elsewhere for pointers.

    Immediacy is a big deal. The instantaneous ‘here’s what you’re looking for’ factor should not be underplayed: it’s a big reason why people use Google. It’s also mirrored in the interface, as Google proudly displays the time it took to return the results.

    Maybe the interface needs a flashing arrow pointing down the page, or a jump link…

    10. Average searches per session

    Users may start to finesse their queries to try to see the organic results, or just to make the ads vanish.

    It’s a bit like ‘time to click’ – this is a not something a search engine wants see go up.

    For most sites, an increase in usage is a good thing, but for a search engine the goal is to help people find what they need with the minimum amount of friction.

    11. Average monthly searches per user

    If this starts to fall it could be a sign that users are bailing out. Warning bells should sound at Google HQ.

    12. Visitor loyalty

    Say hello, wave goodbye?

    If monthly searches per user starts to dip then is it linked to loyalty? Trouble, if so.

    Will users react unfavourably to a visible page of ads? I guess it depends on what they’re looking for. But certainly this is something that could hurt Google in the long run.

    Also, where do we go next? What’s the natural extension of a full screen of ads? A full page of ads? Two pages? Pop-ups? Autoplay video ads?
    Users will run for their lives…

    It seems crass to suggest that Google, which is synonymous with search, would fade into irrelevance as a search engine. Consumers can be fickle, and they may feel that Google is becoming a smarter version of the Yellow Pages.

    Weirder things have happened in business, and certainly in tech.

    13. Clicks by device

    What’s the breakdown of clicks for desktop users, mobile users, etc?

    The single column lends itself to mobile, and perhaps Google wants to unify the search experience. Will desktop clicks fall or rise?
    I have a big monitor, and there’s a hell of a lot of white space on my desktop. Might we expect to see an upwardly-responsive multi-column layout soon?

    Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 09.28.21

    14. Satisfaction

    A firm as big as Google must surely measure user satisfaction. It’s rather different to measuring customer satisfaction, which is somewhat easier, but there are implicit and explicit metrics (including some of the above) that will help it figure out sentiment. No doubt it runs focus groups and audience surveys too.

    So then, what did I miss? Does Google actually have anything to worry about or is it too big to fail? Do let me know in the comments below…

    Money on the table: how search data can reveal new revenue opportunities

    make up palette

    Search data is a mine of insights about customers’ needs that can translate into new revenue. Here’s an example from my own experience…

    Recently, my beloved Urban Decay Naked Basics eyeshadow palette went from looking like this:

    To something a bit more deteriorated:

    This isn’t uncommon or unexpected: I knew that the uneven ‘wear and tear’ was inevitable. And so, I did what any normal 21st century consumer would do: I turned to Google.

    I started my search journey with the utmost optimism. ‘Naked palette refill’, I demanded of Google. Scanning the page, I frowned at the lack of relevant results but persisted.

    ‘Empty urban decay naked palette’; ‘replace urban decay palette eyeshadow’; ‘refill naked eyeshadow venus’…

    I furiously modified my search query, hopeful that the increased precision of the keyword would return the golden ticket result I was looking for. I tried synonyms (replace, refill, replenish), I tried different branding (urban decay, naked palette, UD naked, urban decay naked), I even tried describing what exactly was empty (eyeshadow palette, pan, bucket, vessel).

    Every new search and surge of hope was quickly demolished by a wave of doubt – refilling that empty eyeshadow pan was starting to look like a pipedream.

    I knew I couldn’t be the only one with this problem. Turns out, roughly 180 customers each month turn to Google in the hopes of refilling their Urban Decay Naked eyeshadow palette:

    Keyword
    Monthly Searches
    naked palette refills
    40
    urban decay bootycall refill
    40
    urban decay empty palette
    30
    naked palette refill
    20
    urban decay refills
    10
    urban decay eyeshadow refill
    10
    urban decay empty eyeshadow palette
    10
    empty naked palette
    10
    urban decay empty palettes
    10

    The people conducting these searches are in the “Buy” part of the purchase funnel. They’re searching for something very specific, often indicating that they want to accomplish a task (i.e. buy a product). These long tail queries occur less frequently than broader queries (e.g. there are 2,400 every month for ‘eyeshadow palettes’) but typically have a much higher conversion rate.

    long tail sweet spot

    Source: http://reliableacorn.com/invest-in-the-long-tail-it-will-pay-off/

    These long tail searchers are your brand’s biggest fans. There’s almost nothing they could do to more clearly demonstrate their desire to buy from you again. They’ve bought your product, you’ve won them over, their loyalty is steadfast. They plead with Google to guide them to a satisfying answer – a place to make a purchase – but come up emptyhanded. Their demand is evident, but the product just doesn’t exist.

    To quantify the value of refilling one empty eyeshadow pan, we can look at the price of Urban Decay’s single-color eyeshadows, which come in the same colors as those in the palette and in the same 0.05 ounce unit. These singles are sold in small, round cases for $19.

    Assuming a 95% conversion rate, the 180 searches for Urban Decay Naked palette refills represent $3,078 in lost sales for one month. Multiplying out over a full year, the 2,160 searches for Urban Decay palette refills represents $38,988 left on the table.

    This may be chump change for a brand that probably has a marketing budget in the millions. But consider how this missed opportunity impacts the future purchase decisions of those loyal customers.

    Upon discovering that refilling the empty pan in their eyeshadow palette is impossible, they think through the next-best scenario: buying the single-color eyeshadow is an option, but that would mean carrying around two separate eyeshadow compacts – kind of defeats the point of having a palette. And once they’re faced with the decision of buying something that won’t even fit into the palette they own, $19 seems a little steep.

    Suddenly, your biggest fan, your repeat buyers, are surveying the goods of your competitors. Oh look, there’s something in almost the same color I finished but $7 cheaper! It won’t fit in the palette I own, but at least I’m saving money.

    This is the exact scenario I found myself in: I found a single palette produced by a different makeup brand, almost identical to the color I wanted to replenish.

    The $39K is a miss, but the loss of brand loyalists to competitors is far tougher to swallow.

    These estimates represent the missed opportunity of converting the people searching on Google – they don’t even take into consideration the people who start their search on another site like Amazon*, Bing or the Urban Decay website itself.

    Also excluded are the people who don’t seek answers from a search engine in the first place, like those who go directly to a cosmetics store. The demand is probably much larger than the roughly 2,000 annual consumers we can identify from the long tail search data. Considering that there are 90,500 monthly searches for just the term ‘naked palette’ – almost 1.1 million searches every year – the opportunity cost is likely many multiples of $39K.

    What does this mean for your brand?

    Search data offers unfiltered access to what people want and the way users perceive your brand. The external factors that might influence someone’s behavior in a focus group or a user study are absent. Such clean, unobstructed data like this is rare, making it all the more worthy of your time. After all, there are so many applications for using this data:

    • Understand sentiment: What do users really think about your brand? If a central pillar of your company is offering exceptional customer experience but you’re seeing a lot of search queries around your brand + poor service, there’s probably a gap to investigate.
    • Product positioning: What are the qualities of a product that your customers care about? Analyzing the words people use to search for specific products (e.g. inexpensive, easy-to-use, lightweight, etc.) can signal what features are most important to a potential customer. Speaking the same language and giving weight to the things they care about can give users confidence that they’re making an informed decision.
    • Product naming: There is no lack of creativity when it comes to the things people search for. At minimum, looking at search language can spark a new idea or a direction for a product that perhaps hadn’t occurred to your branding team.

    Ask yourself: what words or products do searchers regularly associate with your brand? Do you meet the demand? Could you meet the demand? Sometimes, your best customers don’t want shiny and new. Sometimes, a simple refill is enough.

    *A recent study conducted by BloomReach concluded that 44% of respondents said they go directly to Amazon to start their product searches.

    Laurel Marcus is Sr. Manager, SEO & Digital Experience at Tank Design. You can follow Laurel on Twitter.

    A comprehensive guide to advertising on Facebook

    Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 12.18.25

    Social media introduced a brand new world of advertising to brands and they’ve enjoyed exploring this affordable and highly targeted solution.

    Facebook is the perfect example to showcase the success of social advertising, in a way that makes both advertisers and consumers happy.

    Facebook isn’t new to advertising, but it seems to be moving in a very interesting direction by launching many new features that would benefit both brands and of course, its own revenue.

    According to its latest report, Facebook now counts 1.59 billion monthly active users, which is exactly the reason that brands experiment with Facebook advertising to reach a wider audience.

    How News Feed ads changed Facebook

    Facebook loves tweaking the News Feed experience, but up to now, it was clear that advertising is not disrupting the user’s experience. Facebook wanted to make sure that loyal users remain active on the site as much as possible, and this also extended to advertising.

    Native ads started appearing on the News Feed, but always balancing the users’ needs with its advertising model. The fact that the ads didn’t necessarily annoy the users helped the brands realise that Facebook is becoming a very interesting platform to explore and its latest features indicate that it’s more serious than ever to create an even more profitable model.

    What makes Facebook advertising special

    • Targeted ads: Facebook excels in helping a brand reach the right audience, with many targeting options that appeal to a selective audience. This means that if you know how to create the perfect ad, you are reducing the chances of simply wasting your money with the wrong audience.
    • Affordability: Social advertising is cost-effective compared to other advertising types and many brands were initially tempted to try it out due to this factor.
    • Receptive audience: Facebook managed to integrate advertising in a way that isn’t annoying for the audience, by “training” them to be more receptive to ads, provided that they’re appealing and relevant to them.
    • Numerous advertising options: In order to make an ad appealing and relevant, Facebook offers several advertising options, depending on the brand’s goal, the audience’s needs and the formats that tend to be more successful.

    If we had to pick the most interesting trends in Facebook advertising, both from a brand’s and a user’s point of view, we would focus on the following ones:

    Canvas is the future of Facebook advertising

    Facebook launched Canvas as a new type of full-screen mobile format, which aims to show more engaging ads that load 10 times faster than a standard mobile website.

    The concept is similar to Instant Articles, allowing advertisers to feel creative and embrace an interactive experience, without missing their initial goals.

    Canvas ads look like a typical Facebook post and once you click them the screen turns into a full-screen display ad, which can be a mix of images, text, videos, or CTA buttons.

    The idea of it was to win the mobile users’ attention through an immersive experience, with the brands having the creative freedom to narrate their stories or promote their products in the most appealing way.

    cocacola canvas

    Apparently Facebook considered the idea of full-screen mobile ads in a vertical format from Snapchat and its full-screen experience, which turned out to be a success lately. After all, a brand cannot ignore Snapchat’s stats on vertical videos that have a nine time bigger completion rate compared to horizontal mobile videos.

    Moreover, the News Feed algorithm remains as it is, which means that Canvas ads will be displayed as the usual ads, with no priority on the users’ News Feeds. The focus is still on the user experience and ads will still be served depending on the user’s interests and the level of engagement.

    Thus, Canvas ads remind us of a micro site, providing useful information to the user (by reducing the needed clicks this time), while they focus on:

    • mobile appeal
    • relevance
    • flexibility
    • loading speed
    • engagement

    If you are interested in trying them out for your business, Canvas ads are now available for everyone through Power Editor and several brands have already created their first ads.

    burberry canvas

    According to early results, Canvas ads have an average view time of 31 seconds, with the most successful ads reaching a view time of 70 seconds.

    Coca-Cola and Burberry were among the first brands to experiment with the Canvas ads, while Wendy’s took its creativity to the next level by encouraging users to swipe the images to discover all the ingredients of their popular cheeseburger.

    wendys ad

    ASUS also decided to create a Canvas ad for the Christmas period, which led to an increase of 42% in ad clicks and an average view time of 12 seconds, with 70% of users clicking at the ad to visit the brand’s site.

    asus canvas

    The success of native video ads and the automatic captions

    Facebook users watch more than 100 million hours of videos on Facebook every day, while it numbers 8 billion daily video views, which is double the views it had last April.

    As Facebook seems to favour videos in our news feeds, brands understand how important it is to embrace native video advertising on the platform, as a way to use an interactive format to tell their story.

    According to Quintly, 65% of all the brand video posts are native videos and they seem to perform 4 times better than any other video format.

    FacebookNativeInteractions

    Facebook’s dedication to boost video ad formats by maintaining the user engagement and the relevance led to a significant ad revenue growth, which isn’t expected to slow down this year.

    Facebook adds automatic video captions

    It’s common for Facebook users to be annoyed by the sudden sound a mobile video may play and according to Facebook’s own research, 80% of users react negatively on such ads and even blame the brands for it.

    Facebook has decided to find a solution to this problem, without reducing a video’s effectiveness, by introducing automatic video ad captioning, in order to maintain a brand’s message without annoying the users.

    As 41% of videos are meaningless without sound, this solution may keep the user engaged enough to keep watching a video, which will ultimately make the user decide whether to use the sound or not.

    What’s more, as brands started wondering how they can measure the exact number of people that were genuinely interested in their ad, Facebook has stated that it will provide them with the percentage of people that watched their ad with the sound on, in order to analyse the ad’s success.

    sedal sunsilk

    Sedal Sunsilk created a series of video tutorials to promote its brand to the Brazilian audience and the use of text was clever enough to make the audience watch more of it. In fact, the average view duration was 21 seconds and the campaign met the expectations of boosting the brand awareness.

    The rising trend of carousel format ads

    Facebook ads in carousel format are a flexible way to promote your business or your products, by showing multiple images and links in one ad.

    It was just a few months ago when Facebook announced the introduction of videos to carousel ads, which means that you can now create a mix of images, videos, and links, in order to showcase your products and services in the most creative way.

    carousel ad

    Carousel format is a growing trend in Facebook advertising and according to Kinetic Social, it drives 10 times more traffic to a brand’s site comparing to other types of ads.

    An effective ad with a series of images and links helps to:

    • Lower the cost-per-click (CPC)
    • Increase the click-through rate (CTR)
    • Boost engagement
    • Provide more information about the brand’s products
    • Lead traffic to the site

    Foodpanda used the carousel format to promote its app and measured an increase of CTR by 180% and reduced the cost per install by 39%.

    11057025_479741758842785_1461790909_n

    How lead ads bring quality leads

    Lead ads were introduced only a few months ago as a more effective way for a brand to collect relevant leads.

    A lead ad is a great choice for a business that wants to reach a target audience and provide them with more information about a product, hoping to keep them engaged and eventually sign up. Although it may require extensive testing, in order to approach the audience in the best possible way, it still brings high quality leads at a low cost, which makes it ideal.

    12521799_728660377267801_707211582_n

    It’s been observed that people are more willing to sign up when they are learning more about the service, and of course, nobody likes to click from one page to another to obtain the desired information. Thus, Facebook introduced the context card, an additional card in lead ads which provides the users more details on what they are about to sign up to.

    This helps both users and brands, as they both maintain their desired relevance, both at a personal and professional level.

    Mazda was happy to try out Facebook lead ads, as they brought five times more leads to the site, with a cost per lead dropping by 85%.

    12521779_215047838840351_1682672970_n

    Moreover, The Skimm tried the idea of the context card when it was encouraging users to sign up to its daily newsletter and it led to a lead quality increase of 22%.

    Ads coming to Messenger?

    According to the latest rumours, Facebook is considering ads for Messenger, the popular messaging app which now counts more than 800 million monthly active users.

    Techcrunch reports that a leaked document indicates that ads are expected in Messenger during Q2 2016 and this would be an important change both for Facebook, but also for any business trying to reach its audience.

    Facebook is not directly commenting on this rumour, but it wants to reassure users that they won’t be disrupted by annoying ads while chatting with their friends. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s not considering creative ways to bring the business opportunities into the popular app.

    Understanding the challenges of Facebook advertising

    All the advertising types mentioned above may be very effective for a brand, but success is not always guaranteed.

    There are several complaints regarding the effectiveness of a Facebook ad and this concern is increased when an ad is created without the proper optimisation.

    It is very important to target the right audience, as this is the best way to see a successful return to any effort.

    Yes, Facebook has a big audience, but this is not necessarily positive when you want to narrow it down.

    In order to stand out from the crowd you need to use creativity and data testing to create the perfect formula that will help you reach your desired goals.

    After all, according to Facebook, the virality of the ads (and the criteria for displaying them to a larger audience on their news feed), depends on the relevance, the visual appeal and the engagement it creates with each user.

    This is probably the best advice we need to keep in mind when creating the next Facebook ad.

    Going over to the duck side: a week using DuckDuckGo

    A row of rubber ducks against a backdrop of a bright blue sky and what could be a green hedge, sitting on a mirrored surface reflecting the blue sky. One of the ducks is wearing a Stormtrooper helmet from Star Wars.

    I’ve heard about DuckDuckGo a few times over the years, mostly as a name uttered in hushed whispers behind closed doors – “You don’t have to use Google. There is another way.”

    As far as I knew, it was a small, scrappy start-up that had nevertheless managed to make its mark in the world of search, dominated as it is by the vast and all-knowing Google.

    Going over to the duck side…
    Image by JD Hancock, some rights reserved.

    Frustration with Google might be at a high at the moment with tax-dodging, increasing dominance of search (and now the mobile web) and removing ads on the right hand side at the expense of organic search results.

    Therefore I was intrigued by the comments from DuckDuckGo fans on Jason Tabeling’s article on whether you should be paying more attention to DuckDuckGo, urging people to switch to DuckDuckGo and discover the ‘real internet’. How would searches from such a small engine stack up against Google’s, in everyday situations? Would using DuckDuckGo be an exercise in frustration, or a revelation?

    I decided to test the waters, using it as my ‘go-to’ browser every day for a week.

    Privacy and customisability

    The first thing I did was to install the app on my phone. DuckDuckGo has native apps for both iOS and Android, and compared to most apps which oblige you to sign away your first-born child before installing, its requirements are refreshingly simple.

    Of course, this is DuckDuckGo’s main ethos: it “doesn’t track you”, as the desktop version of the search engine likes to remind you, and protecting your privacy is front and centre of its concerns. The mobile app has a straightforward and flexible set of privacy settings, including an option to enable Tor (this requires installing a proxy app like Orbot).

    Compare this with Google’s rather lacklustre ‘Accounts & privacy’ settings:

    The desktop version also boasts a range of privacy options, including the option to prevent sharing your search with sites you click on (a shame for anyone who tracks analytics, but great for privacy-focused users) and the ability to save your settings anonymously to the cloud.

    DuckDuckGo lets you customise it in a whole variety of other ways, including changing the theme and modifying different parts of the appearance, which I had fun playing around with. You can even opt to turn off ads, and DDG helps you to make up for this by giving you ways you can spread the word instead.

    I couldn’t help thinking that Google tries to customise your experience of using its search engine by gathering vast amounts of data and trying to intuit what you want, whereas DuckDuckGo simply lets you choose.

    Fun with features

    So now that I was all set up, how did it deliver with search? The first test came when I wanted to look up more information about a story a friend had mentioned on Facebook, about a baby dolphin dying after it was pulled from the ocean and passed around for selfies.

    I couldn’t quite believe it was true, but a quick Duck (DuckDuckGo’s equivalent of the verb ‘Google’, though I’m not sure whether this one is going to catch on) confirmed that it was:

    A screenshot from DuckDuckGo search results on desktop for the term "baby dolphin selfies". The screenshot shows a carousel of recent news stories with headlines telling the story of a baby dolphin who died after being pulled from the ocean and passed around by tourists to take selfies. The search results below show more similar news stories from different sites.

    DuckDuckGo aims to win users over by being helpful without being intrusive. So it won’t amass vast stores of data in order to be unerringly, creepily accurate in predicting what you’re after, but it will, say, present you with a carousel of recent news stories on the topic you just searched.

    One such useful feature is Instant Answers, which highlights information designed to give you a quick answer to your search query at the top of the page, similar to Google’s Knowledge Graph or Bing’s Snapshot Search and Autocomplete.

    It’s a great idea in theory but falls down a little in its coverage of topics. A search for “Who is Thomas Jefferson”, for example, summons a little Wikipedia bio and a huge range of ‘related topics’ at the side, ranging from “burials at Monticello” to “American deists”; whereas a search for “what is a leap year” just returns a regular results page.

    A screenshot of the DuckDuckGo instant answers result for "Who is Thomas Jefferson?" In a grey box at the top is a photograph of the man accompanied by a biography from Wikipedia. Below are search results (including an ad for a book about Thomas Jefferson on Amazon) while to the right is a long list of Related Topics.

    DuckDuckGo is an open source project, so Instant Answers, like many of its features, is community contributed: if you spot an area that doesn’t have an Instant Answer associated with it, you can get involved and add it yourself.

    This has its advantages and disadvantages; on one hand, it gives users a practical way to improve the search engine in ways that are relevant to them. On the other, it requires Instant Answers to be added and refined one by one, which takes time and can be frustrating for users who just want to access the information they need in that moment, with the minimum of effort.

    I didn’t get to truly put many of DuckDuckGo’s features through their paces with just a week of using the search engine, but it gave me a sense of how most of them could be used.

    I enjoyed the way that search results scroll vertically into infinity instead of requiring you to click onto the next page to see more. It feels effortless and gives the impression of diving deeper into a topic, instead of the stigma which tends to surround ‘the second page of results’ on Google.

    Then there are ‘!bangs’, a much-touted DuckDuckGo feature, which mystified me when I first saw the little exclamation point next to the search box in DuckDuckGo’s mobile app.

    By typing an exclamation mark and a keyword – usually the website name – followed by your search term, you can search directly within a site from DuckDuckGo. So searching for “!ebay teapot” will take you straight to the search results for “teapot” on eBay.

    It’s a neat little time-saver which has benefits for DuckDuckGo as well, as it collects a commission from eBay and Amazon for anything that you purchase from those sites after visiting them through DuckDuckGo.

    !bangs work with many more websites than just those two, of course; the list of !bangs is currently over 7,800 sites long, and you can add any site that isn’t already covered by filling in a form. It’s unclear how long these take to process, though – after discovering that Search Engine Watch wasn’t on the list, I submitted it as a !bang, but at the time of writing it isn’t yet up and running.

    A screenshot of a filled-in form to submit a new DuckDuckGo !bang for Search Engine Watch, in the Tech category under Blogs. (There really weren't any better categories available).

    Where DuckDuckGo falls down

    When it comes to search engines that aren’t Google, I definitely consider DuckDuckGo to be ahead of the flock. With its unwavering emphasis on privacy, fine-tuned customisation and strong community, it has something genuinely different to offer users instead of just playing catch-up to Google with its features.

    But it’s still a search engine that isn’t Google, and in spite of DuckDuckGo’s best efforts to offer a “smarter search”, it’s not able to match Google for sheer accuracy and intuition. A number of times as I researched articles throughout the week, I resorted to Googling something rather than waste any more time trying different keywords on DuckDuckGo.

    A photo of a cuddly toy yellow duck which has fallen over onto its sideWhere DuckDuckGo falls down

    Part of the problem is likely to be that as a lifelong Google user (except for a brief fling with Ask Jeeves in the very early days), I’ve moulded my search habits to fit with what I know works on Google, and I expect Google’s uncanny levels of accuracy in return.

    The best example of this came up while I was researching a piece on what to consider before jumping on a new social media bandwagon for ClickZ. I couldn’t remember what the account verification icons on Vine, the equivalent of Twitter’s ‘blue tick’, were called. So I searched for “Vine green tick” on DuckDuckGo.

    After several frustrated attempts and pages of nonsense results about grape vine pests and the comicbook superhero ‘The Tick’, I searched Google for “Vine green tick”. It immediately returned this as the top result:

    A screenshot of Google search results for "vine green tick", showing the autocomplete results "how to get Vine verified", "Vine verified hack", "Vine verification code" and "Vine verified emoji". The image results show a number of pictures of vine leaves and one of Vine video screenshots. Below, the top search result reads "Vine quietly adds verified badges for high-profile users".
    Google: you have to admit, it gets results.

    Whether Google used its semantic search techniques to know that I had been spending a lot of time on social networks and reading articles about social media to give the correct context to my search, or whether it was able to use its vast stores of data on what previous users had searched to intuit the right result, it was able to find in one search what DuckDuckGo couldn’t manage in four or five.

    The question is, am I indignant enough about Google’s knowledge of my browsing habits (and everyone else’s that feed its all-knowing algorithms) to trade the convenience of instantly finding what I’m after for that extra measure of privacy online?

    My assessment of DuckDuckGo after spending a week in the pond is that it’s a search engine for the long term. To get the most out of using it, you have to make a conscious change in your online habits, rather than just expecting to switch one search engine for another and get the same results.

    Many of its features require you to actively contribute to the search engine to help make it better; you have to put in what you expect to get out. And you have to sacrifice some of what Google has trained you to expect from a search engine in order to ease yourself out of the filter bubble.

    A photograph of a poster (said to be from one of the Google cafeterias) reading "GOOGLE IS WATCHING YOU" with "Google" being the Google logo. The logo also has two eyes in the Os.Does this bother you enough to change your search engine?
    Photo by Patrick Barry, some rights reserved.

    A lot of people are already bothered enough by what Google (and other huge, omnipresent online entities) has been doing to make the switch. As for me, while I’m not sure whether I’m ready to make the break with Google just yet, I’m listening.

    I do think that DuckDuckGo is the only search engine offering something substantially different enough to challenge Google. It’s not backed by a huge corporation, but it doesn’t need to be. Actually, that would defeat the object of it.

    Unlike most major search engines whose main offering is, let’s face it, ‘basically Google but slightly worse’, DuckDuckGo offers users genuine privacy, control, customisation, a certain amount of hipster street cred and an opportunity for endless duck puns.

    And if you’re still not convinced, take a look at our mega list of alternative search engines to find your favourite.