Google kills Right Hand Side Ads: what does this mean for marketers and users?

london hotel Google Search with right hand side ads

As we reported over the weekend, Google has removed all PPC ads from the right-hand side of the search engine results page with immediate global effect.

There’s been a great deal of speculation on what this means for businesses, advertisers and users alike, with many postulating that the top-of-the-page paid search is going to become even more cutthroat (and expensive), organic listings will be pushed even further off the first SERP (Google will start to show four ads at the top instead of three for “highly commercial” search terms) and that Product Listing Ads will gradually take over the SERP (PLAs are still allowed on the right-hand side).

The change has already happened.

Here’s a search for ‘london hotel’ carried out two days ago…

And here is the same search today…

There are now four paid search results at the top, with nothing on the right. It looks oddly blank now, and worryingly the entire above the fold space is entirely filled with ads.

However there is one slightly positive change. There are more organic results below the fold. In fact there are nine blue links and two news stories, which is an improvement. But this is still probably a case of ‘too little too low-down’.

Google’s decision appears to be entirely commercially driven, it would be naive to think otherwise, but has Google gone too far in sacrificing its own user experience for the searcher?

Or will we eventually get to the point where the entire first SERP is filled with ads and we instinctively click straight to the second page, in the same way we skip past YouTube pre-rolls?

We asked some experts from the search community what they thought of the matter.

Thank you to Julia Logan (SEO consultant at IrishWonder.com), Kevin Gibbons (Managing Director at BlueGlass), Sam Silverwood-Cope (CMO at Pi Datametrics) and Larry Kim (Founder of Wordstream) for answering the following questions…

Why has Google decided to drop ads on the right hand side of search results? Is this a way to extract more revenue from top ads?

[Julia Logan] I would suppose so, given the eye tracking studies, and with reports of typical non-technical users hardly distinguishing between ads and organic results, this step tends to blur the line for such users even more – after all, sidebar ads stood out clearly as ads.

However, I was trying to look into the history of sidebar ads and found this article proving this is not their first attempt to ditch sidebar ads, although the previous one did not involve increasing the number of ads above the organic results.

[Kevin Gibbons] The obvious answer is revenue and I’m sure that is a big factor of course. But I think it’s likely to be a balance between this, and a more modern, perhaps centered, search experience which reflects mobile vs. desktop and tablet results. Ultimately changes like this have to be beneficial to the search experience, otherwise Google ends up chasing short-term revenue instead of long-term market share.

[Sam Silverwood-Cope] My Dad asked me the other day, “How come Google is free?” Well Dad, this is how it makes money. If some people don’t realise the top advert spots are actually advertising (like my dad), I think most are aware that the right-hand side are paid positions. Most people do not click on PPC ads for general searches.

So not content with the existing two or three adverts, plus the Google shopping results, plus any other self-promoting comparison widget they put up, Google in its wisdom, has decided to expand the real estate of PPC in the main bulk of the SERPs at the cost of an organic spot.

new york flights Google Search

What does this do for organic search? What should site owners and SEOs do in response?

[Julia Logan] We could of course panic and bemoan the death of above-the-fold organic SERPs but this may not necessarily be the case. With the rise of adblockers, whatever anybody is doing with their ads can potentially become irrelevant.

Assuming the worst case scenario, site owners and SEOs should do what they have always been doing – compete against paid ads. If you rank for a commercially meaningful keyword, make sure you do everything in your power to make your organic listing stand out – metatag optimisation (yes I do realise this is 2016 now), Schema and other options suitable for your particular site. Ads will evolve, becoming more interactive and visually attractive – this means you should not be left behind.

[Kevin Gibbons] My advice is to aim high. We’ve definitely see a significant shift in first page clickthrough rates over the last couple of years especially in organic search. Ranking on page one is often not good enough anymore, every term is different – but I’d recommend that you really should be aiming top three now, otherwise there’s likely to a big drop-off in clickthrough rates.

Also, become the brand that people think of before they even get to typing a query into Google. Whether it’s paid listings, competitors, vertical search or anything else that may get in the way of potential customers visiting your site, try to make sure they get to you first and then remember who you are, so that they come straight back the next time.

[Sam Silverwood-Cope] Despite my moaning, and hankering for the good old times, I think it makes things quite interesting for SEO. The additional PPC spot is supposed to be for premium terms (for now). These terms are highly expensive per click, so it’s up to the vendor to decide whether the top spot is worth it, or whether it would be an interesting bidding war to lose and then to vie for the organic spot above the fold.

A good strategy would be to push organic and take a lower PPC position. With the right tracking tool, alerts can be used on organic positions to react accordingly for the bidding. This blended search approach will be won by the most competent, well equipped digital teams.

Does this improve or harm the user experience?

[Julia Logan] If the user’s goal is to find whatever they are looking for, the answer will largely depend on whether the AdWords algorithm is better than the organic algorithm, and also whether businesses spend money on ads thoughtlessly and run ads with poor targeting.

[Kevin Gibbons] The jury’s out on this one; the negative could be that searchers want to see the natural listings rather than too many ads at the top, and the positive could be a cleaner layout and improved experience. I have to try and look at this from a non-SEO perspective, and as much as I’d like to see the organic results as high as possible, if I’m honest I think the new layout might improve the experience.

I would add that this isn’t an overnight change and I don’t expect this to be the last experiment we see either.

[Sam Silverwood-Cope] Like a young rock band committed to making quality music and “never selling out” then chasing the mainstream buck with the third album, Google doesn’t seem to prioritise its legacy of organic quality any more.

“In Google we Trust” meant we used this superb search engine above the basic or advertised-burden competition. Too many adverts, and especially poor adverts, will eventually turn the user off. But this will only happen when there is a competent viable competitor.

And finally let’s hear from Larry Kim, who offers the following optimistic advice to Paid Search marketers…

I had a good chuckle reading some of the doomsday predictions this morning.

We did some actual analysis here and what I can tell you is that Side Ad and Bottom ads account for 14.6% of total click volume (this is looking across thousands of accounts). Keep in mind that ‘Bottom of Page Ads’ aren’t going away. So, for starters, we’re talking less than 14.6% of clicks impacted by the change.

top-vs-side-desktop-clicks-2

Now, those “lost” impressions and clicks can more than be made up by A) the addition of the new fourth ad spot B) 78% of SERPS have fewer than 4 ads above the organic results – there’s plenty of room for that to go down and C) the addition of up to four ads below the organic search results. It’s like we just re-organized the naming of ad positions.

As a result, I see no impact on AdWords auction dynamics (clicks, impressions, CPCs, etc.). The only ‘loser’ is organic search which is completely gone from above the fold space on desktop for any commercial query.

There are also incremental benefits to paid search from the change, for example, now all ads can use call-out extensions, sitelink extensions, location extensions, etc., which were previously only a benefit of top-of-page ads. And the ads appear ‘more native’ which may have additional benefits.

In quantifying the impact of this, I should also add that the change is for desktop only, which accounts for less than half of searches. So we’re talking 14.6%/2 = 7.3% of queries impacted.

Basically, keep calm. This is a net positive for paid desktop search.

Google to close its financial comparison service

Google compare serps

Google is to shut down Google Compare, its financial comparison service, from March 23. The service will be closed in both the UK and US.

On the face of it, the news will have competitor comparison sites jumping for joy, as Google Compare constituted a major threat to their own business models.

When Google introduced the service, there was plenty of concern from existing players in the market that it was a conflict of interest.

This was understandable, given the prominence Google affords it in some very high value searches.

According to a letter obtained by Search Engine Land, Google told Compare Partners that “the Google Compare service itself hasn’t driven the success we hoped for.”

In addition:

“…we’ve decided that focusing more intently on AdWords and future innovations will enable us to provide fresh, comprehensive answers to Google users, and to provide our financial services partners with the best return on investment.”

I asked Digital Consultant Carl Hendy for his thoughts on the news:

Why do you think Google is closing Compare?

Its a little too early to know why they shut down Google Compare and we shall probably never find the real reason why.

It would be nice to think that Google decided that it was unfair to favour its own products in the search results and pressure of ‘unfair advantage’ from various country governments resulted in Google backing down.

However the cynic in me and the coincidental timing of the new Four Adwords listings for commercial queries makes me believe that Google will financially be better off whilst at the same time keeping those large financial and travel Adwords spenders happy.

Will other insurance sites/competitors be opening the champagne today? Or will Google have other plans?

I wouldn’t open the champagne too soon. Google has a habit of misdirecting everyone.

It has collected vast amounts of data through these compare tools and I can’t see Google not monetising that data.

Everyone celebrated when Google penalised the acquisition of BeatThatQuote (a site which does not exist anymore) only for Google to then release its own comparison tools fairly soon afterwards.

In summary

The news will be welcome for some, in the short-term at least. For one thing, we may see a little more of the organic results in this vertical.

However, I imagine that Google has only made this move as it believes more can be made through ads than its own comparison service. It also avoids any scrutiny over unfair competition.

Six unusual steps for a successful Twitter lead generation campaign

twitter-ads-conversion-tracking

Do you want more qualified leads?

Twitter can generate qualified leads at a lower cost than most of the other major ad platforms. It’s true! But not if you follow Twitter’s instructions.

Why? Because Twitter’s advice for creating lead generation cards is completely wrong.

In this post, you’ll discover my unusual six-step strategy for using Twitter lead generation cards for ludicrously successful lead gen.

Please note: this article was first published on the Wordstream blog last week, and it was so darn helpful that we wanted to share it here.

Step 1: Set up Conversion Tracking. Just do it!

This is kind of buried in the user interface, but it’s actually the most important thing you need to do. Without conversion tracking set up you’re blind.

All the major platforms, except for Twitter, have a “universal tag” – where you put in one tag on your site so you can figure out the conversions just by typing in the URL.

But on Twitter you have to create different JavaScript tags for each thank you page. Each one gets a name and you can categorize the type (download, purchase, sign-up) so that you can report on it later.

I’m blown away how many people forget this critical step. Basically you need to define a different conversion pixel for every goal completion on your site so that you can track whether everything is working.

Step 2: Choose your Twitter Ads campaign type wisely

There are six pay-per-performance campaign types, depending on your marketing objective. You specify the most you’re willing to pay for each type of campaign.

Why not just specify $0.01 as your cost per action? Well, basically if you set the bids too low, you’ll get no impressions. It’s an auction. Chances are other Twitter advertisers are willing to pay more than a penny.

The more you’re willing to pay, the more likely your ads will be shown. You have to figure out what it’s worth to you; Twitter will figure out how much quantity you’ll get for that amount.

As for the campaign types, even though tweet engagements are the most popular type of ad campaign, they offer the absolute worst ROI. Avoid like the plague!

Why? Twitter charges per “engagement.” This includes engagements such as a person viewing your profile page, expanding your image, expanding the tweet from the tweet stream, or clicking on a hashtag. Twitter will love taking your money, but these campaigns won’t help you achieve any of your marketing objectives as you waste your budget.

What you should really be interested in paying for is website clicks, app installs, followers, leads, or actual video views.

Step 3: adjust your Twitter Ad targeting options

At the basic level, you can simply target Twitter users by location, gender, and language.

twitter-ads-basic-ad-targeting

Twitter also provides somewhat more advanced options:

twitter-ads-advanced-ad-targeting

These advanced targeting options include:

  • Keywords: You will target specific searches or users who use with certain keywords in tweets.
  • Followers: You will target accounts of people with interests similar to followers of those accounts. For example, entering @SMExaminer will target people who are likely to be interested in social media.
  • Interests: You will target users interested in any categories you enter.
  • Tailored audiences: This is the crown jewel of Twitter advertising. Remarketing and custom lists are so powerful. Spend here first! Tailored audiences offer the best ROI because you have certainty over who you’re targeting. People who are more familiar with your brand are more likely to buy – it’s your lowest-hanging fruit.
  • TV targeting: You will target people who are interested in a specific program, TV network, or TV genre.
  • Behaviors: You will target users who share specified online and offline behaviors and characteristics.
  • Tweet engager: This is a brand new option – it’s kind of like remarketing for Twitter. It’s targeting people who interacted with your tweets in the last few days. If you have a business where you need to get lots of people really excited about something (like a political party trying to energize the base ahead of an election), then this can be a powerful type of targeting.
  • Event targeting: You will target people who are interested in global or regional events.

Step 4: Create your ad – But DON’T use Twitter lead generation cards!

Now it’s time to create your lead gen ad. Twitter tells you to use a lead generation card. WRONG!

Never, ever use Twitter’s Lead Generation Cards for lead generation. I have run thousands of campaigns and the lead generation cards consistently lose and lose badly.

Even though it has a nice layout with customizable call-to-action buttons like “buy now” and all sorts of fancy bells and whistles, it looks more like an ad. Twitter people are allergic to advertising; when they see a Twitter ad it makes them want to click on it less!

If something looks like an ad on Twitter, users will ignore you! That means lower engagement and 2-4x higher costs.

never-use-twitter-lead-generation-cards

Instead you should just attach a funny photo. Use images that have done well organically to save money.

Go nuts on the image you choose. Don’t be afraid to be a bit snarky or goofy. Use funny images or memes, even if it means going a bit off-brand. Twitter is a place where you’ll be rewarded if your brand shows it can have a bit of fun (within good taste, of course), or you’ll be ignored if you go all corporate.

And of course, use emojis to further increase engagement rates by 30%.

Step 5: Set Bids – No Automatic Bidding Allowed

Okay, first: Never ever use Twitter’s Automatic Bidding. It’s for suckers.

Automatic bidding will make sure your budget is spent very quickly. Sure, it helps you win ad auctions, but you don’t really have to or want to win every auction.

Keep in mind it’s not like search advertising where you’re bidding on rare priceless keywords that get searched on 10 times per year. This is display advertising and there are plenty of ad spots available to buy.

Always use maximum bidding. For most companies doing lead generation, it’s not the end of the world if the lead comes in tomorrow vs. today.

The only time you would use automatic bidding is if you need to promote something heavily and you need those ad impressions today (e.g., you have a 24-hour sale) or if you’re targeting a very tight audience, maybe 1,000 people. In these cases, then you do have to use auto bidding – or just bid really high.

automatic-bidding-twitter-ads

Okay, so how the heck do you set bids? It’s seriously complicated – it’s pretty much rocket science.

You need to use The Force.

Basically, you’re trying to get as many impressions as you can for as little money as possible. If you bid too low your ads won’t show. But if you bid too high your budget will die.

When you bid too high, you’re essentially paying for premium next-day air service when usually (99% of the time) a regular postage stamp will suffice. You’re paying much more for the same clicks in order to be delivered faster.

Twitter has a tool that shows how your reach changes based on different maximum bid amounts.

twitter-lead-gen-estimated-reach-calculator

Ignore! Ignore! Ignore! It’s completely wrong. Even when it says I will get no impressions, I get millions of impressions. It is just trying to get you to raise bids.

I’ve reverse-engineered the Twitter ad auction. Basically Twitter determines if your ads show or not based on your effective CPM. (Your max bid times applicable predicted engagement rate). So if your bid is $1 per click and you’re doing a click campaign using an ad that is averaging a 1% click-through rate, then your predicted effective CPM is $10.

To win more ad auctions, you have two choices: either bid more or post higher engagement stuff.

I love promoting high engagement tweets (15%+ engagement rates) with very low maximum CPCs (5-10 cents). The higher the engagement, the less you’ll need to bid for your ads to be eligible to show.

Step 6: Report. Rinse. Repeat

Your last step is to figure out how things did. You can get detailed information about exactly what happened after spending money on Twitter ads: clicks, retweets, followers, conversions, etc.

twitter-lead-gen-cards-reporting

In the above campaign you can see that we were able to generate 440 downloads for just $6.50 per action. That’s extremely cost-effective compared to other marketing channels. In comparison search ads in this vertical can cost closer to $5 per click (not per download).

Delete campaigns that aren’t working. Double down on stuff that works. Repeat.

Conclusion

Twitter can be very powerful. For example, Twitter ad campaigns can deliver a great return on your investment once you master the Twitter ads quality score algorithm.

But you have to avoid the pitfalls (hello, Tweet Engagement campaigns!). When it comes to advice, Twitter can’t be trusted. Forget everything Twitter has tried to tell you about lead generation. Ignore Twitter’s ‘best practice’ advice on bidding, creative, audience targeting, campaign types … and pretty much everything else.

Instead, do Twitter lead generation my way. The RIGHT way. 🙂

What will Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) mean for marketers?

Two screenshots comparing the regular mobile web version of The Guardian news site with the Accelerated Mobile Pages version. The AMP version of the site is on the left. The URL bar at the top of the AMP version displays "Google.co.uk" and shows slightly better visual quality. The non-AMP version has extra sharing buttons and slightly more visual clutter.

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project is due to launch at the end of February, taking a huge stride towards Google’s stated goal of a “better, faster mobile internet.”

But just what will AMP consist of, and what will it mean for the marketing industry?

Last October, Google announced the introduction of its Accelerated Mobile Pages project, a new open-source initiative aiming to “dramatically improve the performance of the mobile web.”

This latest move towards a more mobile-friendly web is Google’s answer to Facebook’s Instant Articles and Apple News. But while both of those initiatives require entering into a dedicated partnership with Facebook or Apple, anyone can get on board with Google’s AMP and use it to create web pages.

In the months since the announcement, we’ve seen a lot more information released about what AMP will consist of, its key features and how it will alter the experience of the mobile web.

With a full launch of AMP due by the end of the month, now is the perfect time to get to grips with how AMP works, and how it can work to your advantage in a marketing context.

What is AMP, and what does it do?

Simply put, Accelerated Mobile Pages is a stripped-down version of the mobile web which runs on a reinvented version of the language used to create web pages: HTML.

This reimagined version of HTML, known as AMP HTML, strips out most of the elements which cause web pages to load slower on mobile, like JavaScript and third-party scripts.

The AMP version of a Guardian news article (left) vs. the regular mobile version (right)

Google boasts that a page created with AMP HTML can load anywhere from 15 to 85% faster than the non-AMP version of that page. They’ve also made it easy for web publishers to get started in AMP with a tutorial that walks you through the creation of an AMP page.

Sounds good so far. However, by stripping down the experience of using the mobile web, Google is stripping out a lot of the infrastructure advertisers and marketers currently depend on to deliver impactful brand messages to users.

But don’t despair just yet.

While some aspects of AMP will require a new approach to advertising on mobile, there are a number of other reasons why getting on board with AMP could be a good idea.

Accelerated Mobile Pages get a boost in search rankings

Since the advent of Google’s ‘Mobilegeddon’ algorithm last year, we’ve known that mobile-friendliness is a factor in search rankings, with sites that pass Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test appearing higher up the search results, and ‘unfriendly’ pages banished to the bleak wastelands of the second and third results pages.

So it follows that Accelerated Mobile Pages, which are specifically designed to load quickly and provide a great user experience on mobile, would get a serious search ranking boost. We can also see from Google’s demo of AMP search that AMP sites are highlighted with a little green lightning-bolt, inviting users in to experience these lightning-fast mobile pages.

A screenshot of the Accelerated Mobile Pages search demo, showing results for the search term "mars". Top news stories are highlighted in a carousel at the top, with a little green lightning bolt symbol and the letters "AMP" denoting that they are AMP sites.

Faster rendering equals more pageviews and more ad views

According to Kissmetrics, 40% of web users will abandon a page if it takes longer than three seconds to load, a waiting time which is likely to be exacerbated on mobile by signal issues.

So faster-loading mobile pages would seem to be in everyone’s interest – no-one is going to see an advert or read a brand message if they abandon a page before it loads.

Google’s AMP will require some re-conceptualising of digital adverts on mobile, but they won’t be going away. Google of all companies recognises the importance of online advertising. Faster-rendering pages mean more pageviews per session, which means users see more ads as a result.

And speaking of pageviews, Google is making sure that AMP traffic can be quantified and analysed just like regular web pages. AMP will have in-built native support for Google Analytics, but you’ll also be able to make use of partners such as Chartbeat, comScore and Adobe Analytics for user traffic and behaviour data.

Fine-tuning ad control

Google’s January announcement about advertising and AMP also contained some interesting details about how AMP ads will work and what publishers will be able to do with them.

“When AMP launches on Google Search in February, it will include important, basic functionalities. These include the ability to traffic ads with ad servers of your choice, support for multiple demand sources and formats (including native ads), full control over ads placements, and viewability measurement.”

This is an incredibly useful set of tools and functionalities for anyone involved in advertising, and perhaps goes to show how keen Google really is to court advertisers with the AMP project.

Google is also keen for it to be known that “20+ ad tech vendors” are already on board with AMP, including the likes of Outbrain, Taboolah and AOL.

Google is determined that ad content on AMP should be fast, secure and beautiful

But while Google is content to let publishers and marketers have control over numerous aspects of advertising, there are some parts of the ad experience that it is adamant about dictating.

In its blog post, Google sets out four “key principles” that guide its approach to advertising on AMP: it should be fast, beautiful, secure (use of HTTPS will be mandatory) and involve co-operation across the industry. The company is insistent that working according to these principles will be the key to unlocking the “next $50 billion” of advertising revenue on mobile.

In short, with the launch of Accelerated Mobile Pages, Google is very much expecting marketers to dance to its tune, and conform to its own vision of what a better mobile web should look like in order to reap the rewards.

But with faster loading speeds and better user engagement on mobile, combined with AMP’s built-in features and the clout that Google wields in the internet arena, it looks like hopping on board with AMP is a worthwhile move – as well as a relatively painless one.

Google is removing all Right Hand Side Ads on SERPs worldwide

london hotel Google Search with right hand side ads

As reported and confirmed by numerous sources, Google will no longer be showing AdWords ads on the right hand side of its search results pages.

Beginning Friday 19 February, ads will now only show ads at the top and bottom of the SERP. Although it may increase the number of ads from three to four if the search query is “highly commercial.”

Here today, but not tomorrow.

This roll-out will effect users worldwide in all languages and will bring the desktop experience closer to the mobile experience, although whether the amount of ads shown to mobile users will increase hasn’t been confirmed.

So what does this mean for marketers and users alike?

Well for regular users, the right-hand space will still be utilised for Product Listing Ads (PLAs) as well as Knowledge Graph Boxes, so you probably won’t notice much of a difference there. However the continual ‘pushing down’ of organic listings will certainly be an issue for many.

For businesses this will mean the organic space is even more precious will therefore lead to an even bigger focus on SEO

For Paid Search advertisers the change will certainly drive up average CPCs as the competition for the top slots increases.

So why limit the amount of space for advertisers on its SERPs?

According to The Media Image (one of the first to break the story) the reason for this may well be because “Google has determined the average click-through-rate for Right Hand Side Ads is poor across verticals, and the expected CPC inflation from this major change is projected to more profitable in the long run.”

The “complete and permanent” roll-out will be finalised on 22 February.

If you have anything to add to the story please comment below…

Which US sites lost the most amount of Google visibility in 2015?

the find visibility

Earlier this week, we looked at the US sites that made the biggest SEO gains in 2015, but now it’s time to find out who the losers were.

Again, a huge thank you to Juan González from Sistrix who spent his time evaluating 200 US domains to give us this exclusive research.

Here’s Juan’s insight for each of the bottom five:

1) Thefind.com

Thefind also headlined our UK losers list. When we look at the rocky landscape of Thefind.com it becomes clear that the domain managed to rush headlong into numerous Google updates, over the years. Such an erratic visibility is a sign that the page did not show the necessary quality signals where Google’s algorithms are concerned, nor did it manage to live up to users’ expectations.

The abrupt end for Thefind.com in 2015 came at the hand of Facebook, who bought the company in a bid to incorporate it into Facebook’s advertising engine.

2) Cupertino.org

Looking at Cupertino.org we see an interesting spike in January 2015. The same spike can be found for other city websites, such as lakewood.org and austintexas.org.

I spent some time digging into this and found that between 12/22/2014 and 01/16/2015 all three domains were ranking for “department of community services“, “parks department“, “community parks“, “parks and recreation department“ and “city of parks and recreation“.

Parks and Recreation is also, of course, a television sitcom, which aired its finale in February 2014.

Looking at Google Trends, US users seem to be quite interested in “parks and recreation“ from December to June. But we also notice an unusual spike for the keyword “parks in recreation“ from the middle of December 2014 to January 2015. (The final season aired from January 13, 2015 to February 24, 2015.)

Maybe because the show was ending, its fans started to search for information about Parks and Recreation and Google overreacted with the QDF (‘Query Deserves Freshness’) for this and related keywords.

3) Chow.com

The domain Chow.com now redirects to Chowhound.com, the name of the former forum for the site.

chow visibility

While the redirects seem to be solid, it seems as though Google does not trust the user-generated content on the new domain as much as before, leaving an overall loss of visibility of nearly 50%.

chowhound visibility

This is a little sad as Chow.com actually managed to come out of Panda quite well and even managed to gain visibility thanks to the Phantom update, before the domain name change.

4) Espnfc.com

The case of ESPNs soccer page, espnfc.com, is quite interesting.

espnfc visibility chart

When we look at the visibility history for espnfc.com and espnfc.us, we see a rather typical up and down which often hints at duplicate content issues. On 08/24/2015 this all changes and the espnfc.us page comes out on top.

espnfc visibility chart 02

When we look at the sourcecode of both pages we notice a canonical combined with a hreflang attribute. While the canonical always points to the .com version of the page, the tells Google to show the .us version in the Google.com SERPs.

hreflanf tag examples

This setup may come back to bite them later as it can confuse the Googlebot. As John Mueller from Google has noted:

“If the URLs are really fully equivalent, then using a rel=canonical like that is fine (eg if you have an informational page on a site, which doesn’t mention local currencies or local addresses). On the other hand, if the pages are not fully equivalent (eg different titles, currencies, addresses, etc), then I would not use a rel=canonical. The difference is very subtle and because of that, hard to implement at scale”.

5) Businessweek.com

While Businessweek did not make the top five in our UK losers list, it did get an honourable mention.

Visibility-of-Businessweek.com_

Businessweek was bought by Bloomberg back in 2009 but kept its own domain until last year, when it became part of bloomberg.com on http://www.bloomberg.com/businessweek.

When we compare the visibility for Businessweek.com with the /businessweek directory on Bloomberg.com, we find that the magazine did not pass it’s visibility on to the new directory.

Businessweek.com visibility

The reasons here are, once again, soft-404 problems when redirecting each page to the new directory. When we look at the redirects from http://www.businessweek.com/technology/ through URI Valet, for example, we see the first 301 redirect to http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/technology/, next we get a 302 redirect from http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/technology/ to the start page http://www.bloomberg.com/, which constitutes the soft-404. That’s the problem.

Others interesting ‘losers’

Guitaretab.com

Another interesting domain on the losing side is guitaretab.com. They lost nearly all their visibility in the week of 01/04/2016. This looks like a manual de-indexing penalty as the indexed pages during this week also went down to 0.

guitar tab visibility

We could speculate that the copyright removals might have played their part.

Right now, the domain is only ranking for brand keywords and not much else.

Microsoft

It also seems that Microsoft is using the same SEOs for all of their domains, as many of their service-domains show up on our losers list: Windowsphone.com, Technet.com, Msdn.com and Bing.com

Six of the most interesting SEM news stories of the week

facebook video metrics update

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

This week we have a couple of updates from Facebook, an emphatic ‘no we’re not going to take on Google’ from Wikipedia, what times of day you can bug the support team at AdWords and swearing.

Facebook adds new video metrics to Page Insight

From this week, Facebook’s Page Insights has been redesigned and now includes new video metrics much demanded from publishers.

These include:

  • Minutes Viewed: The total minutes of watch time spent on the video. This is one of the most requested video metrics from publishers, and we’re excited to make it available today.
  • 10-Second Views: The number of times the video was viewed to 10 seconds. If the video is shorter than 10 seconds, this metric refers to the number of times people viewed at least 97 percent of the video.
  • Sound-on vs. Sound-off: A breakdown between views with sound and views without sound is available for both Views and 10-Second Views.

According to the announcement, “the updated design also makes it easy for publishers to access more granular video performance data by clicking through individual metrics on the updated Insights view.”

Facebook’s Instant Articles will be opening up to all publishers

Instant Articles allow publishers to upload full articles to Facebook, with various interactive features, high quality video and images and 10 times faster loading speed than standard mobile web.

Previously this had only been available to a select few hundred (Buzzfeed, Slate, National Geographic) but as of April 12th this feature will be available to every publisher big or small.

Wikipedia is NOT building a global web-crawling search engine. Honest!

Although reports earlier in the week seemed to suggest that a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation for something known as the ‘Knowledge Engine Project’ would lead to “the world’s first transparent search engine”, Wikipedia has now stated that’s not the case…

“What are we not doing? We’re not building a global crawler search engine… Despite headlines, we are not trying to compete with other platforms, including Google. As a non-profit we are noncommercial and support open knowledge. Our focus is on the knowledge contributed on the Wikimedia projects.”

Instead Wikimedia will use the grant to research how exactly people use, interact and find information on Wikipedia and use this to make “improvements to discovery.”

Google AdWords support now available 24 hours

We’re now offering support through our English AdWords Twitter, G+, Facebook, and YouTube pages 24 hours a day, Monday – Friday! #AskAdWords

— Google AdWords (@adwords) February 11, 2016

But no, you can’t ring them at 3am and ask why your advert for cheap sheds isn’t appearing properly. It will instead be available through social channels from Monday to Friday on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and YouTube.

Rich media achieves the highest completion rates on mobile

As reported by WARC, a new benchmark has found that the most effective way of reaching mobile consumers is through mobile rich media and interactive in-stream, as these achieve the highest completion rates.

This is according to RhythmOne’s 2015 Mobile Advertising Benchmarks Report which also found the following from its study of US-based mobile programs, spanning 20 advertiser categories and encompassing five ad formats:

  • Mobile Rich Media (93.7%) and Interactive In-Stream Video (87.4%) garner the highest video completion and engagement rates with consumers.
  • Mobile Full Page ads are ideal for driving engagement on tablets (14.2%), and
  • Mobile Rich Media units are ideal for driving engagement on smartphones (10.7%).
  • Adding an interactive element to :15 second In-Stream Video can significantly decrease consumer drop-off.
  • Increased video length (:30 seconds versus :15 seconds) negatively impacts VCR for a number of advertiser categories.

Swear words in email subject lines increases open rates by 28.6%

Have you wondered how swearing can affect whether a recipient opens your email or not. Well, wonder no flipping more…

New research from Mailjet has found that British people are almost 30% more likely to open an email if the subject line includes a swear word.

However, the same cannot be said for American recipients.

  • British people responded well to swearing in the subject line opening 27% of emails, compared to only 17% being opened in America
  • British people responded best to ‘old fashioned’ swear words, such as ‘numpty’ which increased open rates by 26%
  • Even ‘soft’ swear words had a negative effect on an American audience with a 30% decrease in open rates when the subject line included a curse word

aubrey plaza swearing in scott pilgrim

Heck yeah!

Kelvin Newman on the major search trends of 2016 [podcast]

Today sees the release of the ClickZ Digital Marketing Podcast series, 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 taking a look (sorry, listen) to Kelvin Newman’s episode on search marketing.

Kelvin is one of the best known figures in the world of search marketing in the UK, being the founder of Rough Agenda and organiser of Brighton SEO.

In Kelvin’s podcast we hear what initially attracted Kelvin to search, where he sees the biggest opportunities for marketers entering the industry today and which search marketing trends Kelvin is really excited about in 2016 and why.

SEM in 2016

Kelvin believes there are two main areas that will influence search marketing in 2016. The first being the technology that search engines use and how we as search marketers need to respond to it. In particular machine learning.

Machine learning is used to find patterns and trends in data-sets. Previously it was fairly straightforward for search marketers to use technical on-page SEO to influence ranking factors.

However now, as algorithms become more complex and machine learning becomes more practical, the systems that search engines use to rank websites becomes even less transparent than before.

The upside of this only benefits the user…

“As marketers we just have to concentrate on making our websites better, the experiences we provide, looking at who is performing well and learning from our competitors, rather than taking a ‘tick-box approach’ to search engine marketing.”

And the second major factor that will influence search in 2016 is how search marketers are perceived within organisations and the business of search marketing itself…

“There’s a greater need for any marketing professional to ensure that any of their recommendations and strategies are not only right but that they are implemented, so your role as a marketing professional is not only to understand social media or CRO or SEO, your job is to deliver business change.”

For search marketers it’s important to remember the traditional skills that would otherwise be forgotten if there wasn’t a search engine advocate, but also to be the “advocate of web best practice.”

Seven excellent tips for making the most of Gmail Ads

gmail-ads-examples

Gmail Ads are one of the more intriguing opportunities Google has given advertisers to reach people where they spend a lot of their time online – in their inboxes.

I’ve been obsessed with mastering them lately and today I’m going to reveal what I’ve learned.

Please note, this article was originally published earlier this month on the WordStream blog.

What Are Gmail Ads?

Gmail ads target users based on the account activity of their personal Gmail accounts and appear within the Promotions tab.

Formerly known as Gmail Sponsored Promotions, they’ve been around since 2013 and finally became available to all advertisers (for the second time, no less) in 2015.

So what do we really know about these native Gmail Ads? Quite a lot now, actually.

After collecting massive amounts of data for more than a year from spending a few million dollars on this ad format, this post summarizes my top seven most exciting findings on Gmail ads and my best recommendations for making the most of this AdWords format.

Gmail Ads tip #7: Raise CTR & QUALITY SCORE!

Hi, my name is Larry Kim, and I’m obsessed with Quality Score. We’ve researched the heck out of it – for AdWords, the Google Display Network, Twitter, and Facebook.

Guess what! Quality Score absolutely exists in Gmail Ads!

Gmail Ads doesn’t actually show you the Quality Score. In search ads, you can view the keyword-level Quality Score, whereas in Gmail you can’t see it. But even though you can’t see it, a Gmail Ads Quality Score still exists.

Here’s an example, looking at the Cost Per Click vs. Click-Through Rate (email open rate) for one particular campaign:

gmail-ads-cost-per-click

It’s not linear, but there are clearly huge rewards for high open rates and huge penalties for low open rates. Put simply:

Higher CTR = Much Lower CPC

Lower CTR = MUCH higher CPC

You absolutely have to maximize your open rates because the Gmail Ads Quality Score will give you huge rewards. It’s the difference between $0.10 clicks vs. $1.15 clicks, based on the awesomeness or terribleness of your subject lines.

So what do we do about this? Write irresistible email subject lines, duh! But how?

Gmail Ads tip #6: Use existing email marketing campaign data

Email marketing is the most popular lead generation channel. Most companies do email marketing – 87% of them, according to a survey by Chief Marketer:

chief marketer's most popular lead generation

So how can you use your existing email marketing campaigns to improve your Gmail Ads?

Even if you haven’t done Gmail Ads before, you should have a library of emails you’ve sent out before and the ability to figure out whether they did well.

Log into your email marketing system (we use Marketo, but use whatever you have, whether it’s Constant Contact, HubSpot, Salesforce, or something else). Pull an email performance report. Sort by the open rate.

email performance report

Will emails that have done well for you organically do well in a sponsored email ad format? It’s very likely. Sorting by open rate will reveal your unicorns. Don’t bother promoting the garbage ones because no one’s going to open them to begin with – and when they do it will cost you an arm and a leg.

I can’t share all my secrets, but our best performing email by open rate is over 40% and the subject line is: ‘Quick Question’.

You’d be crazy to not use your existing treasure trove of email subject lines when doing Gmail Ads.

Gmail Ads tip #5: Use emojis

You knew this was coming! It’s really true. Emojis increase open rates.

emojis-in-gmail-ads

This is a bit crazy, but you get the idea.

Inboxes are such a competitive area to get people’s attention. Emojis really make subject lines pop – especially on mobile, where about half of email opens occur (though there is substantial variance in this figure, as it depends heavily on audience and industry).

It makes no sense not to use emojis. Almost any business in any industry can find a creative reason to include an emoji in the subject line. (OK, maybe not if you’re in an uber-serious business like a funeral home.) Otherwise, you should feel pretty confident that adding emojis to your subject line will increase open rates by around 30%.

Just make sure your emojis are topically relevant – don’t just use a smiley. If you’re advertising a doughnut shop, use a doughnut emoji; if you’re advertising a pizza special at your restaurant, include a pizza emoji.

Gmail Ads tip #4: No remarketing? Do keyword targeting!

Remarketing works so incredibly well because past browsing history is a great predictor of future commerce activities. Think about your email marketing. Even if you have a huge list of half a million opt-in emails, aren’t you better off focusing on people who have interacted with your emails sometime within the last few months? Yes! Why?

remarketing

People lose interest. Some hot prospects go cold. Someone who signed up a year ago, but hasn’t opened any emails in more than six months, probably is no longer in the market for your thing now.

So how do you target people who have shown recent interest in your stuff in Gmail Ads?

Unfortunately, the most common display ad options of remarketing and ‘In Market Segments’ are not available targets within Gmail Ads and likely won’t be in the future, due to regulations around personally identifiable information related to email marketing.

BUT there is a clever trick to get around this problem. You can do keyword targeting as a substitute for remarketing.

When people enter our funnel, we send them emails as part of marketing automation drip campaigns that contain the word WordStream, which end up in their Gmail accounts. So I can target with recent interest from WordStream by targeting my own trademarks.

Why target people who are already familiar with you and in your funnel?

Well, let’s say your emails have an open rate of 15 or 20%. That means 75 to 80% of people in your funnel aren’t interacting with those emails. So there’s plenty of upside of targeting them with Gmail Ads, even if they’re already in your funnel.

Targeting people who are familiar with your brand will also increase CTR and Quality Score, thereby lower CPCs.

Gmail Ads tip #3: Go nuts with competitor keywords

Why stop at your own trademarks? Why not also target people who have recently shown interest in the things your competition sells?

In addition to targeting your own brand terms, you can also be keyword targeting your competitors’ brand terms with Gmail Ads. People who are in the market for your competitor’s products are getting emails from your competitors that mention their brand terms right now.

Targeting the trademarks of your competitors is a clever way for you to potentially steal some sales! The fact that they’re in market for a competing solution will dramatically increase Quality Score and lower CPCs.

Gmail Ads tip #2: Don’t forget deep click analytics

Open rates are obviously important, but you still need to check what people do after they open the Gmail Ad.

Google has all these Gmail-specific campaign metrics that aren’t even turned on by default! It’s critical to enable and monitor these (forwards, saves, clicks to website) to track the health of your campaigns:

gmail-ads-metrics

Gmail Ads tip #1: Mix it pp with four different ad formats

Gmail Ads offers four different ad formats to choose from:

  • Gmail image template
  • Gmail single promotion template
  • Gmail multi-product template
  • Gmail catalog template

gmail-ads-templates

Use them all. You might find that different types of offers work best with different Gmail ad formats. For example, having more stuff to click on might increase the chances of people finding something interesting to click on, especially if you’re promoting products. The multi-product template ad looks similar to the marketing emails that Etsy sends out.

Notice what’s missing from the list? Customer Match

Why isn’t the new Customer Match on this list? You know, the amazing new feature that lets you target Gmail Ads based on user email addresses? Weird, right?

The reason: I’m struggling with it.

For whatever reason, even when I upload a huge list of emails, we’re having trouble accruing a large number of ad impressions. We’ve seen this on quite a few accounts. For example, we did a campaign where we uploaded a gigantic list with 100,000 email matches and we were only getting several thousand impressions. We don’t know why.

Hopefully, we’ll soon see the very promising Customer Match feature reach its full potential for advertisers.

Final thoughts on Gmail Ads

Google presents many interesting opportunities to advertisers so they can make the most of the Gmail Ads format – you can reduce costs by optimizing several aspects of your campaign, reach your own (and a new) audience, and measure post-open success.

Yet there are quite a few restrictions and limitations unique to Gmail Ads which are above and beyond the normal limitations in search ads. Hopefully we’ll see Google open up Customer Match feature a little bit more in the future and relax some of the ad policies.

AdWords: six simple techniques to save you money

all campaigns continental

We are all constantly trying to squeeze as much as we can from our AdWords budgets and we never seem to quite have enough.

So we have compiled some advice that could save you money on a monthly basis!

IP exclusions

How many times would you say you look at your own ads? 10-20 times a month?

Unwillingly you are increasing impressions, which can decrease your click-through rate and have a negative knock-on effect on your quality scores.

Ultimately, your cost-per-click could increase due to general maintenance on your account.

Unfortunately, we have experienced the same issue with some of our own clients who love our ads so much that they have the recurring urge to click on them. Although, for some, this is only a few pounds here and there, others are wasting up to £30 on just two clicks. This is not good for our end of month reports when cost-per-conversion has increased.

Therefore, as part of the new client set up, we now ensure that our IP address and clients IP addresses are excluded. We use the Ad Preview Tool to view our ads and even send this to our clients.

Google Search Partners

Search partners extend the reach of search ads to hundreds of non-Google websites, as well as Google Maps, YouTube and other Google sites. This is great in some cases; however, we often find that it ends up being a costly avenue and a waste of budget.

Note: Your ads are set to show on the Google Search Partners network as default.

To find out how Google Search Partner traffic is affecting your campaign simply find the Segment drop down tab and select Network (with Search Partners). This will divide your traffic into Google only and Search Partners, so you can see if it is profitable to you.

To stop showing yours ads to this traffic simply un-tick the option within the campaign settings.

Location reports

You will be amazed at the difference in click costs on a city by city basis. City centres are generally more expensive than towns and rural areas. London, of course, lives up to its reputation as normally the most expensive city to target in the UK.

Paying continual attention to your location reports can save you a lot of money in click costs. For each Campaign, within the Settings tab, you can break down the United Kingdom (or any country) in to a range of geographic criteria.

County, City and Postal Code are the criteria that I use the most and each can be used to breakdown the prior further i.e. if a certain city is performing well, I will then break the city into postcodes.

I can then see if there are any that have a good cost-per-conversion or see if they are draining my budget, in which case they will then be excluded.

However, most of the time, I will set a Bid Adjustment before excluding a location as this will allow me to see if I can generate a good cost-per-conversion at a lower cost-per-click before completely disregarding that location.

Likewise, if I think I have room to up spend in a location to gain a better ad position and more conversions then I will increase the bid adjustment on that location.

Ad scheduling

AdWords allows you to schedule your ad to run at specific times and on specific days. This provides the opportunity to save budget by stopping your ads from showing at times when customers are not likely to convert. This is normally in the early hours of the morning or for most B2B businesses at the weekend.

Google Analytics provides an entire section allowing you to find out what the most popular times are for your customers to convert through AdWords.

Within the Acquisition tab, under AdWords there is a section titled Hour of Day which allows you to see important statistics on clicks, conversions and conversion rate for Day of Week and Hour of Day. From this you can start to restrict the times you want your ads to show and begin to optimise your spend.

Devices

Your AdWords campaigns can be customised to target specific devices, namely desktop, tablet and mobile. Within the Settings tab there is a Devices section which allows you to see the breakdown of traffic by clicks, average position, conversions, etc.

From this information you can then decide how you should allocate budget based on the bid adjustment system. Unfortunately, this cannot be applied to tablet devices, only mobile. But this does provide the opportunity to exclude mobile traffic if you find that it is wasting your budget.

Use this guide to mobile tracking on Google Analytics to discover if your mobile traffic can benefit from ad scheduling or if particular pages convert better on mobile devices.

Enhanced CPC

At the moment, by default, Google opts your campaigns into Enhanced CPC (ECPC), a bidding feature that raises your bid for clicks that seem more likely to lead to a sale or conversions on your website.

This is based on Google’s past data or the data in your account, but, if that past data is not relevant to your account or your account does not have a lot of data, the tool can quite often be inaccurate.

Google loves to spend your money and we want to take that power out of Google’s hands and put it back into our own. Therefore, I would highly suggest removing the Enhanced CPC feature in your campaigns settings to save your budget.

These six money savers can make a great difference to your AdWords budget, allowing you to allocate that budget to the areas that deserve it most. You will notice the all important cost-per-conversion figure will improve on a month by month basis as you continually manage these areas.

Happy saving!