Which US sites gained the highest Google visibility in 2015?

choice hotels visibility

We recently looked at the UK sites that made the biggest SEO gains in 2015, but now it’s time to cross the pond to see which US sites did the best last year.

Juan González the SEO & Country Manager at Sistrix spent a considerable amount of time last week evaluating 200 domains, and has given us an exclusive look at the top 100.

Please note, we haven’t included any adult-entertainment websites in this list – of which there were only three. Also, as there were no major Google updates in 2015, most of these problems were “home-made by the website operators.”

The insights below each domain are from Juan himself, so a massive thank you for his input.

1) Choicehotels.com

In May 2015 Choice Hotels consolidated all of its domains – comfortsuites.com, qualityinn.com, comfortinn.com and many more – into the main domain of choicehotels.com.

The redirects are sound but the only hazard may be the fact the consolidated domains still return a 200 status code when a Googlebot useragent visits. It might be a good idea for them to fix this potential cloaking problem soon.

2) Quora.com


We’ve already looked more closely at Quora in our UK review.

Basically, Quora has cornered the market when it comes to Q&A sites, and has very impressive URLs like https://www.quora.com/Can-I-burn-an-audio-CD-on-a-DVD-R-and-have-it-behave-as-a-CD-R-so-I-can-play-it-in-all-cars-and-players which themselves rank for almost 100 Keywords on Google:

3) Groupon.com

groupon visibility

Groupon managed to massively build up their /coupons/stores/ directory during 2015, so that now a good 33% of the top 10 keywords for the entire domain are generated in this directory.

Looking at the top keywords for the entire domain, there are 65,338 top 100 keywords but only 2,545 top 10 keywords, so there’s quite a bit of room for improvement.

groupon visibility

4) Angieslist.com

angieslist search visibility

The crowd-sourced local business review site may be massive when it comes to indexed pages (more than 30 million), though it seems that its quality is not what Google wants.

Out of more than 30 million indexed pages, we found only about 32,000 URLs in the Top 100 results, with less than 1,300 URLs making it into the Top 10.

angieslist search visibility

5) Zomato.com

Again, a domain which we covered in our UK review. Zomato provides exactly the kind of information that Google looks for when it serves localised results to searchers – restaurant reviews, user ratings, photos and menus.

zomato visibility

Much of its improved visibility was down to Zomato’s purchase of urbanspoon.com, the content of which redirected to zomato.com from June 2015.

Here’s the Top 20 US domains that increased in Google visibility in 2015:

  • choicehotels.com 397.81%
  • quora.com 394.40%
  • groupon.com 195.09%
  • angieslist.com 189.35%
  • zomato.com 185.29%
  • macmillandictionary.com 147.24%
  • etsy.com 136.76%
  • academy.com 132.74%
  • weather.com 130.98%
  • cambridge.org 129.74%
  • washingtonpost.com 123.25%
  • burlingtoncoatfactory.com 119.02%
  • wayfair.com 106.22%
  • authoritynutrition.com 103.99%
  • skyscanner.com 100.06%
  • mentalfloss.com 99.85%
  • instagram.com 98.93%
  • express.com 96.79%
  • cinemablend.com 95.22%
  • sears.com 86.87%
  • Search engine bias: an analysis from the index

    information retrieval system

    In a recent article right here on SEW, Christopher investigated the manipulation of UK political party autosuggest queries, but what exactly is search engine bias?

    Search engine bias is the unfair skewing of results and it sits within the intermediary mechanism of search systems (see diagram below) and biases can be split into three parts:

    1) Non-neutral search engine technology

    Years ago studies focused exclusively on search software. Soon people realised that the user interface is of equal importance to any algorithm, as this is the view we get of the system and our successful use of it.

    Now, this is where it gets even more interesting, the presentation of results influences free-thought which powers interaction. As a result, all search engines are bias because of the design and user interface.

    We have two types of result inspection bias: quality and trust.

    Quality bias means that the searcher will subconsciously take into account surrounding results and if they’re not relevant our behaviour can change, we may decide to retype our query or inspect a site we otherwise would not have dreamt of.

    This is precisely the reason why engines have quality scores for their paid search systems, if paid results are irrelevant this can mess with organic result inspection.

    For the most part search algorithms are generally very effective at presenting us with relevant results so we trust the engine, this is known as trust bias.

    Personalisation through cookies and the creation of 3D cubes are used to increase relevancy.

    While there are many advantages of personalisation, personalisation restricts results and is a form of search engine bias.

    2) Result manipulation

    Political and social bias came to the fore in 2002 when Google was temporarily blocked in China and since then, with the USA’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, indexes and results have always been filtered to comply a little better with the law.

    Let’s now take this the other way around, is search engine coverage biased along national lines?

    In short, yes. Engines do not have proportional coverage of a particular group of websites or regions. But why is this? Well, country population differences and internet penetration cause unintentional bias.

    Bloggers make up PageRank, a two-fold mathematical and human-centric algorithm. If a country has more bloggers they are more likely to link to fellow blogs within that country. Throw in personalisation, in which geographic location is taken into account, this further reinforces country specific blogger-linked networks.

    This is why .com ccTLD’s rank more than other ccTLD’s and why many marketers and business people alike want .com domains over other ccTLD’s. This is a classic example of success-breeds-success whereby the US has the upper-hand due to the fact of it being an early adopter of the web.

    3) Impartiality

    Search engines may think of themselves as being objective but like any other media company, editorial judgements are made and are factored into automated operations. Engines trust certain sources more than others.

    On Google, Wikipedia has been regarded as a trustworthy source. This may be because Wikipedia contains up-to-date, current and reliable information that answers a question through well-researched, referenced, thus reliable, content. As a result it often features in the top results.

    what is impartiality

    If the top results do not satisfy the searcher, the search is unsuccessful. Since each unsuccessful search diminishes search engine perception, search engine bias is often towards trustworthy sources.

    This is why Wikipedia will not disappear anytime soon and it also explains why Google’s quick answer boxes are at the top of results – to answer a query even quicker and to increase an engine’s performance perception.

    So there you have it, our results are skewed because of search engine bias.

    Biases singlehandedly have the biggest impact on results because they encompass user interface and influence over result inspection; personalisation; and finally ranking algorithms (which is part mathematical part human edited).

    Please note: this particular article took into account bias from an index perspective. Another important angle to take is from a keyword perspective. Which search engines are pro-life if you type in euthanasia, for example?

    Further classic studies:

    • Information Retrieval from the Internet: an Evaluation of the Tools
    • Search Engine Bias and the Demise of Search Engine Utopianism
    • Search Engine Coverage Bias: Evidence and Possible Causes

    How to optimize images for SEO

    black and white cat stretched out on the floor

    There are many ways to make your articles easier to read on the web – lots of paragraph breaks, short snappy sentences, headings, sub-headings, Gifs of Kanye West’s mood swings – but one of the key ways to make your content look attractive is by using lots of lovely images.

    And the best thing about images, is that they can be used to bring in organic traffic via search engine image results.

    But in order for this to happen, they need to be optimised accordingly.

    Here’s a guide to make you aware of the key things you need to be doing when it comes to uploading images to your site, which a surprising number of people often ignore.

    Choosing images

    It’s important to use images related to the text of the article. This is mainly from a user experience point of you, as you don’t want to baffle people with an obtuse choice of image.

    Cute, for sure, but Otis the Cat doesn’t belong here (although try telling him that).

    Your images need to be of a good quality, in the correct aspect ration, with good resolution and of a size large enough to be visible across devices.

    Another thing to consider is your use of ‘stock-photos’.

    We introduced a strict ‘no stock photos allowed’ policy when I took up the position as Editor of SEW. Stock photos are the worst. They make your website look like a marketing brochure for a characterless business that ‘leverages thought-leadership into hot leads’ or some such rubbish. They’re also hackneyed, over-used and cheesy as hell.

    And expensive.

    Be really careful, even if you think an image is copyright free, the original owner could still be Getty, or Shutterstock, and you may find yourself presented with a £500 invoice months down the line.

    I’ve made this mistake before when I used an image of Justin Timberlake that had already been memed to death and I therefore assumed it was ‘fair usage’. I was wrong.

    It’s also very difficult right now to give you an example of a stock photo without incurring a fee so I’ll just show you one we have paid for in the past.

    Look at those Millennials. They’re just like you and me right?

    Stop paying for stock photos. Instead pay for your own photographer to take images for you, or get out there and do it yourself.

    You should also be creating your own graphs, charts and visual designs too.

    But if you don’t have the time or resources to do that – and frankly who does? – there are plenty of free and easy-to-use resources out there…

    Free image resources

    Google image search – usage rights

    When you search for an image, you can filter out the results that are copyrighted. Just click on Search Tools, then Usage Rights and select Labeled for Reuse.

    Google image search for cats that look like kylo ren

    You won’t always strike gold here, but there may be something interesting that nobody else has used before.

    Flickr Creative Commons

    Flickr is an awesome resource for photos, and you can use any that are labelled with a Creative Commons licence.

    It’s an alternative to full copyright, you just have to make sure you give full credit and link to the Flickr profile of the person who took the photo.

    Be careful when you use Flickr Creative Commons, as there are various licences available, for instance some photographers only allow their images to be used for non-commercial purposes.


    One of my favourites, Unsplash images are all copyright free, you just need to credit and link to the photographer. Occasionally they border on ‘stock photo’ but they are all of a much higher quality than your standard ‘model looking at iPhone and smiling’ images.

    Other handy tools

    Gif grabber

    Available for the Mac, Gif Grabber is the best way to make so many wonderful Gifs for free. You can capture anything within your desktop or laptop screen, and resize and trim the finished product.

    Awesome screenshot

    This is a Chrome extension that allows you to take screenshots of your browser window (either partial or the whole web page) very easily, and you can also annotate before downloading it to your browser.


    One of the most popular data visualisation tools, Piktochart is free, simple to use and has loads of great templates for infographics and other creatives.

    I made the following Gif of how to use Piktochart using Gif Grabber…

    how to use piktochart

    Optimising images for search

    Once you’ve found or created your desired image. You’re then ready to upload to your site.

    Image size

    You’ll definitely want to resize your photo so it’s not such a massive file. It’s very easy to overlook the fact that most iPhone photos can be in excess of 3,000 pixels wide (which can be 2,500 pixels bigger than you really need).

    Huge image files can drag the page-load time of your site down and directly affect your rankings on search engines, so be sure to resize them before you upload.

    If you’re using a Mac, it’s easy to resize, just open the picture, navigate to Tools then select Adjust Size.

    how to resize an image on a mac

    You can also use Photoshop if you have it, or you can use one of many online resizing tools, such as Picresize.

    Alternatively if you’re on a PC, you can use Paint.

    Yep, good old MS Paint. Just open up Paint, then click Open, choose the picture you want to resize and open it. Then on the Home tab, under Image group, click Resize.

    Warning about using iPhone images

    If you are uploading iPhone pictures to a WordPress site there is a bug that can become very annoying. When you’ve taken a picture of something with your iPhone in portrait, it can appear as landscape once your article is live. It doesn’t happen for everyone and it depends on what generation iPhone you use and your WordPress template.

    You can avoid this by only taking photos in landscape (with the volume button facing down) or there are various fixes available in this forum topic.

    File/Title name

    Before you upload the image to your site, make sure you give it an accurate file name.

    Again to use the iPhone photo example, these tend to be called something generic like IMG_6056. So do yourself a favour and rename it, this won’t necessarily help your SEO, but it will help if you ever need to search for it in the back-end of your site.

    In WordPress and other sites, the image’s file name will automatically be used as its title.

    So not this…

    wordpress image title example of what not to do

    But this…

    wordpress example of title input


    Most important of all is how you describe your image in the Alt section (can be known as Alt-tags or Alt-text). Google can’t ‘see’ your images, but it can ‘read’ them and what it reads is what you write in the alt-attribute.

    Alt-text should be clear, descriptive, concise and not stuffed with keywords. Alt-text is also what’s used by screen reader software to describe images to people with visual impairments.

    In fact the one rule I always use when it comes to alt-text is write as if you’re describing it to a person with a visual impairment. So the above example I would write ‘black and white cat asleep on a purple pillow’.

    The alt-text is also what shows up in the text box that appears when you hover over an image.

    Description & Caption

    In WordPress you will also see fields for Description and Caption. These don’t necessarily add any SEO value to your images, but they can be useful for other reasons.

    The Description can be used to add a lot more extra detail, such as how the picture was taken, when it was taken and any other interesting elements.

    The Caption will show up underneath the image on the live article. It’s up to you whether you use one or not. It can be helpful to describe or comment on the image.

    wordpress photo upload highlighting caption and description

    Image reclamation

    Occasionally you may feel the need to check that your own self-created images aren’t being rampantly used throughout the internet without proper credit.

    You can do this by using an automated reverse search tool, such as Image Raider.

    Just add your images to the catalogue, then it will alert you any time another site uses your image. If that site hasn’t given you proper credit, you can get in touch and ask them to do so.

    You don’t have to be an intimidating jerk about it though, as it was probably done by accident.

    11 reasons why your Facebook ad measurement is messed up

    A recurring theme I hear among paid social pros is the measurement discrepancy between Facebook and Google Analytics.

    People seem to have a really hard time matching up what’s happening with campaigns on Facebook and subsequent engagement, as measured by their analytics platform of choice (including – but not limited to – Google Analytics).

    Some people go as far as claiming that this is systematic click fraud perpetrated by Facebook. This is highly unlikely, for all kinds of obvious reasons. However, there is a clear problem.

    The good news is that you can do something about it.

    Third party tools use different measurement techniques, so aligning two platforms perfectly is pretty much impossible. But you can get much closer.

    If your data looks way off, then it’s probably linked to at least one of the following reasons. Check and doublecheck to see if you narrow the measurement gap.

    Do let me know if there are other reasons for the discrepancies in the comments section below, or if any of these things help you.

    1) Your measurement window is screwy

    By default Facebook sets the window to one-day after an ad was viewed, or a 28-day post-click window. If this isn’t what you want to track, then you should change your settings.

    2) You’re measuring conversions on a last click basis

    This isn’t how Facebook does it, so you’re measuring different things.

    Facebook says:

    “Third-party platforms capture conversions that resulted from a direct referral. Even if you created a campaign using URL parameters to track the link used in your ad, third parties identify those last-clicks, or linear conversions, where the user clicked an ad and immediately converted.”

    Facebook aside, it’s definitely time to start attributing performance across channels, rather than focusing on the last click in the user journey.

    3) You have pixel implementation issues

    Perhaps your tech setup isn’t working properly? Facebook points at the following possible issues and tests to try:

  • Check whether your raw pixel fires match.
  • If you’re using conditional firing, expect a small discrepancy.
  • Check your currency, decimal places and other variables in your purchase event codes.
  • Use the Pixel Helper tool to check for duplicate pixel fires
  • Check that you’re not “pixel piggybacking on existing tag managers”.
  • 4) You’re comparing clicks with apples

    Total ‘clicks’ as reported by Facebook includes a whole bunch of stuff that you may not be aware of. You might think a click is all about the link in the ad, but you’d be wrong.

    For example, as well as the links in your ads, Facebook clicks include things like expanding descriptions, clicking to read comments, page likes, as well as post likes, comments and shares. There are others too.

    As such, focusing on clicks is perhaps not the best measure of direct engagement and campaign performance.

    5) You’ve got cross-device tracking issues

    Conversions on mobile devices aren’t always tracked by cookie-based analytics platforms. Mobile apps and browsers often refuse to cooperate with one another when it comes to cookies.

    Facebook provides ‘cross-device reports’ that will help improve visibility in this area, but the likelihood is that there are always going to be issues.

    6) You’ve got Google (or other) Analytics issues

    It’s always worth sense checking your analytics setup whenever discrepancies show up. Is everything working as it should be?

    Sometimes a simple website change that nobody told you about can lead to a savage skewing of your numbers. Advertising is occasionally the canary in the coal mine.

    7) You’re not tracking your links properly

    It goes without saying that you’re probably using Google’s URL builder to help track campaigns. If you’re not, then take a look at how it works.

    It’s worth adding that I share these butt ugly links on a daily basis on channels that they are not attributed to, so this is also an imperfect solution.

    For example, people post links on Twitter that are often appended with 100+ characters of tracking code. This is all very well, until you see ‘medium=email’ or some other non-social campaign identifier in there.

    View post on imgur.com

    The starting point in the above example appears to be a daily email newsletter. The end point, as far as my click is concerned, was Twitter.

    As such I’m increasingly questioning how these links are actually attributed. We need to understand how these links are shared, and to stop overstating the performance of email (and similar ‘campaign’ channels).

    Supersized doses of salt are needed when tracking performance in this manner. The smartest people in the room take a wider view on attribution.

    8) You’ve got a slow-ass website

    If your site takes an age to power up then you’re going to lose people between the ad click and the page loading. The longer it takes, the more people will bail out.

    If your analytics tags don’t fire immediately then there’s going to be a reporting discrepancy.

    In addition, some users might click on an ad twice if all they see is a blank loading page the first time around (and then press the back button, and try again). Double trouble.

    9) Your users are disabling JavaScript en masse

    Ok, so they’re probably not, but this will account for some of the measurement gap.

    A couple of years ago the GDS found that 1.1% of web users weren’t running JavaScript, either by accident or design. Since most analytics platforms use JavaScript it could account for a small discrepancy.

    10) Your time settings are not in sync

    You might want to check that both Facebook and your analytics platform are both set to the same time zone and reporting period.

    11) You’re using filters

    Analytics tools allow you to ignore certain data. Make sure that you’re not excluding a large chunk of people who engage with your advertising, whether that’s on Facebook or elsewhere.

    What else is worth testing? Any other comments or suggestions?

    Eight of the most interesting SEM news stories of the week

    super bowl second screening

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

    It’s a bumper week full of search data, stats on mobile shopping use and a rollercoaster-ride of social channel improvements. Some good, some bad.

    Actually a rollercoaster is a terrible analogy, it’s all good on a rollercoaster. I’ll rephrase… some improvements are like being stuck for ages at the top of a rollercoaster due to a mechanical fault, with neither getting off or going backwards a possible option. Boom, hashtag analogy!

    82% of Super Bowl ad searches happened on mobile

    According to Google, there was a 12% rise in Super Bowl TV ad related searches on mobile during last weekend’s big game. 11% percent of searches happened on desktop and seven% on tablets.

    Overall, Super Bowl ads drove more than 7.5 million incremental searches for advertisers with big pockets, which 40% higher than during last year’s game.

    The biggest winning brand being Audi, with Acura second and the new Jason Bourne film coming third. Note for advertisers next year: more Matt Damon beating the holy heck out of people.

    There’s more information on the Super Bowl winners and losers in search here.

    70% of mobile shoppers say the website/app experience can be improved

    Facebook IQ and GfK conducted a study of more than 2,400 adult “omni-channel shoppers” (or multichannel if you prefer) and found that 56% had made a purchase on a mobile device because they were already using it, and 55% said they used mobile because they can shop anywhere, anytime.

    60% of shoppers said they’ll either start purchasing or purchase more on their smartphones in 2016, and 64% anticipate doing more shopping research on their smartphones.

    But the report goes on to suggest that mobile needs to work harder to emulate the desktop and in-store experience. Shoppers cited a preference to desktop because of its bigger screens, and that they also prefer to touch items in-store and would rather not wait for purchases to be shipped. So remember that next time you go into a store, you’ll be surrounded by impatient, far-sighted people who can’t keep their hands to themselves.

    facebook mobile insghts

    The weekly Twitter death spiral

    This one will not have failed to get your attention… Twitter is rolling (or rolled for some of you already) out a new algorithm-based timeline.

    “We want to make it even easier and faster for people to discover and catch up on what’s happening right now,” a Twitter death knell blog post states.

    Upon opening Twitter, tweets you’re “most likely to care about” will appear at the top of the timeline. The rest of the Tweets will then be displayed directly underneath in reverse chronological order.

    You can choose to turn this option on or off in your iOS, Android and web settings, before we all totally lose our minds with blind rage. Oh too late.

    Digital place-based (DPB) surpassed $1.2 billion revenue in 2015

    DPB ads are the ones you find on screens outside your home, on the high street, shopping malls, airports etc. According to AdExchanger these are expected to grow at a rate of 10-12% annually.

    The DPAA and Prohaska Consulting also estimates that 30-40% of DPB ad sales will be conducted programmatically within the next three years, generating $15-$20 million in incremental revenue yearly for DPB networks.

    Yet another nail in the Flash coffin

    Google will officially drop support for Flash-based ads in January 2017. Instead it will favour HTML5 ads.

    Although that might still be a year away, bear in mind that on 30 June 2016 Flash ads can no longer be uploaded on the Google Display Network.

    Included purely so I could use some old Flash comic covers…

    death of flash comic


    Loyalty schemes find their home on mobile

    According to Juniper Research’s new Mobile & Online Coupons report (pay to download), 3 billion loyalty cards will operate as mobile-only or be integrated into mobile apps by 2020, up from 1.4 billion in 2015.

    Also by 2020, beacon technology woill be used to send 1.6 billion coupons to smartphones. The current figure is 11 million.

    There’s also some interesting examples of retailer loyalty app adoption on both sides of the pond…

    In the UK, 40% of Nectar Card holders had downloaded its loyalty app by the end of 2015, but less than 4% of Tesco Clubcard holders had done the same.

    In the US, 61% of Walgreens card holders had linked their card to its app, but just 27% of Target cardholders.

    Fashionistas, food bloggers and narcissists rejoice!

    Instagram makes it easier to switch between accounts.

    No longer do you have to sign out of your personal account, then spend ages trying to remember your username and password for your anonymous Potatoes that look like Taylor Swift account.

    Starting this week, you can quickly switch between up to five accounts on Instagram.

    Go to options, scroll to the bottom, click Add Acccount, then you’re all set. Whenever you want to switch, just hold down on your little profile picture on the bottom right of the screen and it will bring up your other profiles.

    methods unsound instagrammethods unsound instagram

    At last, a victor in the age-old battle between fruits and flowers

    AdGooroo examined paid search advertising on 2,140 flower and mail-order gift keywords on Google, on the run-up to Valentine’s Day between 1-9 February. It found that fruit-bouquet(!?) retailers Edible Arrangements and FruitBouquets.com came at the top of the pack, with nearly 21% of all clicks on the keyword group.

    The research also shows:

    • Flower retailers ProFlowers.com (6.52%), 1800Flowers.com (6.12%) and ftd.com (5.10%) rounded out the top five in click share
    • ‘Flowers’ and ‘flower delivery’ topped the keyword rankings in spend, with $779,000 and $442,000 generated on desktop, respectively
    • Fruit is well-represented in the top 10 – two variations each of ‘edible arrangements’ and ‘chocolate covered strawberries’ collectively generated
      $413,000 and $250,000 in spend

    There you go, fruits are better than flowers. Presumably because you can eat them.

    Although I’ve been wrong before.

    homer eating flowers

    Introducing Shift, our brand new London event, 24-25 May

    Shift London topics

    All the experts, analysts and geeks here at Search Engine Watch and ClickZ are very proud to present Shift, a new two-day event taking place at 155 Broadgate, London on 24 – 25 May 2016.

    Shift is all about altering the minds and business models disrupted by digital, and recognising the imperative need to transform.

    At the event, 500+ senior business and digital marketing strategists from a huge array of global brands will meet to compare notes, source suppliers, get quick answers, sharpen their strategies, help each other and discuss the impact of digital on the future shape of business. Your business!

    What can you expect from Shift?

    Two days jam-packed with best practice advice, new research, challenging opinions and relevant, up-to-the-minute case studies. The idea is simple: Shift is all about turning the tables to take disruption head-on.

    There’ll be 50+ speakers, all in top echelons of the C-suite from brands as diverse as BBC, Travelex, Etsy, Heathrow, Vodafone, Nissan. They’ll be delivering guidance and insight across our three concurrent streams – Customer Acquisition, Customer Experience and Retention, Digital Transformation – covering the following topics:

    The Industrial Revolution lasted 100 years. By that measure, the Digital Revolution has 85 more years of fast and furious disruption coming our way, but the opportunities are limitless if you are ready to step up and face transformation head on.

    Come meet the drivers of digital change. Book your place today.

    Fixing 404 Error Pages with Google Analytics

    enabled built in variables

    There have been multiple blog posts written over the years on how to use Google Analytics to identify and fix 404 Error Pages.

    I have even written one myself and it’s a common slide in many of my talks. But with the newest features that are available within Google Analytics, these blog posts are due an update.

    Custom Variables vs Events

    The first question is whether to capture details of the 404 Error Page within page level customisations or as an event. My approach is to capture more information about the page using page level customisation. Since viewing a 404 Error Page is not an event, it should not be treated as one.

    Google Analytics tracking

    Step one in the GA tracking for Error Pages is to rename the page name to /error-page/404-error. This means all views of this page are grouped together, making them easier to identify and analysis becomes significantly easier.

    There are two key pieces of information to capture on each 404 Error Page. The first is the URL of the page and the second is the referrer to the page.

    Both are available as default Variables within GTM and so no developer support is required to capture them. The L3 Analytics approach is to capture the Page URL as a Content Grouping and the Referrer as either a Content Grouping or a Hit scoped Custom Dimension.

    Previously I would have stopped at that tracking, but an Error Page view should now also be captured as a Custom Metric. It will provide an easy way to see the total number of Error Page views for the website or broken down by any session/user dimension.

    Google Analytics configuration Previously, we always recommended creating a Goal for View Error Page. It is useful to know if visitors are seeing 404 Error Pages and if this metric ever exceeds a certain value (e.g. 2%) for this to trigger an immediate action.

    This should be set up as a Custom Alert within Google Analytics to notify you when visitors are experiencing an excessive number of 404 Error Pages.

    To investigate the cause of 404 Error Pages, a Custom Report is required. It’s fairly simple, the report is filtered to only include data from 404 Error Pages and the dimensions are the Page URL and the Referrer.

    The metrics in this example are Pageviews and Unique Pageviews (basically error counts) although you can now use the Custom Metric of Error Page Views.

    There are two tabs within this Custom Report with the dimensions simply reversed in the second tab. When the report is run, it displays URLs which trigger the 404 Error Page, allowing you to click through to see the referrer to this page.

    edit custom report

    Switching to the second tab flips these two dimensions, displaying the referrers that trigger 404 Errors and allowing you to click through to view the URLs of the error pages. While this doesn’t solve everything, it allows you to identify the source of 404 Error Pages and where they are sending traffic to in error.

    You could search the page source for these URLs or it might be obvious from their structure why there is a problem. There was one occasion on which we really had to dig deep into the data to identify the cause of a 404 Error Page; have a look at our real-life example here.

    How LEGO’s #Kronkiwongi campaign drove customer engagement

    the lego movie will ferrell

    Last week the SEW team were at Connect, our two-day search event in Miami. Here’s the third in a series of posts summarising a few of our sessions, covering either organic engagement or paid search innovation.

    Here we’ll be taking a brief look at an excellent presentation from The LEGO Group’s Head of Global Search Marketing Luis Navarrete, covering how LEGO used the power of social, search and old-school PR to make a success of its Kronkiwongi campaign.

    Let’s start with an insight into your childhood:

    Start feeling both bad and good about yourselves, 98% of you reading this right now were creative geniuses at the age of three years old, “Our brains were constantly looking for different opportunities and solutions,” stated Luis.

    What happened people? Only 2% of us now have retained these levels of creativity.

    Here’s another insight:

    Some parents perceive LEGO products as a “collection of predefined sets with prescriptive instructions” rather than “stimulating free creativity, imagination and endless possibilities to play”.

    Ah, it’s a tale as old as The LEGO Movie.

    To challenge this attitude, LEGO set out to “reveal and celebrate the universal potential of children’s creative play.” To show parents that LEGO bricks can help inspire the builders of tomorrow; to increase the 2%.

    This is where Kronkiwongi came in

    To demonstrate the power of children’s imagination, LEGO asked children from around the world to build something that doesn’t exist.

    LEGO’s first choice of channel to embark on this project was Facebook, a key network for mums in particular as it’s the place where they connect to things they care about the most.

    It’s worthwhile noting that LEGO achieved all of the following in-house, it didn’t use a media or creative agency, instead it used a strong sense of co-creation from all levels of the organisation from strategy to execution.

    Voice of the consumer

    LEGO used its own young users to speak for the brand in a three part series of videos covering ‘What is a Kronkiwongi?’, ‘What is its story?’ and ‘How can a Kronkiwongi help?’

    These assets were then adapted and used for the website and social networks, with landing pages pulling in children’s own Kronkiwongi creations.

    Journalists (yes, those grumpy old curmudgeons) and bloggers were then invited to build their own Kronkiwongis with their own specially delivered kits.

    lego journalist packs

    The results

    • Reached 80% of mums on Facebook in targeted markets (24 million) plus 3.3 million organic reach (total reach 27 million).
    • One of the lowest CPV’s in Europe for the mum market.
    • Significant uplifts in all markets in brand connection to imagination and creativity for consumers who viewed >10 sec (average of 8-points uplift).
    • 92% of video views on mobile phones.
    • Engagement rate (likes, clicks, comments and shares) was up by 61% across the LEGO Facebook page.

    The moral of the LEGO story? The Value of Digital ≠ Sales. Holistic campaigns can drive brand value @Luis_Navarrete#KronkiWongi#connectSEW

    — Christi Olson (@ChristiJOlson) February 5, 2016

    So get building your own Kronkiwongi!

    Voice search: the death of the keyboard?


    Once upon a time, search engines took marketers by storm, as many of the top brands struggled to stay ahead of the digital world, first came search engines, then came social media, now we have a mobile and voice search experience.

    As of 2014 we know 55% of teens and 41% of adults use voice search on a daily basis. Now with virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa and voice recognition technology from Shazam and SoundHound, the number of users adopting voice search is only increasing, and the technology for understanding humans is advancing as well.

    What is Voice Search?

    Before we get too deep into the implications of voice search, let’s go through a quick run through on what it is and how it works.

    Google’s Voice Search uses a combination of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Text-to-Speech (TTS) to understand a user’s voice search request. This is then processed in a powerful database which aims to match the question with an answer which is then returned to the user, rather than a list of search results as you see with Google & Bing.

    NLP technology’s role is to determine the intent behind the user’s voice request based on searchers query history and context behind the phrase. The more customers use voice search, the more powerful the technology will become.

    Apple’s Siri, Window’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa and other up and coming voice-activated search technology are following a similar technology, which will return a direct result rather than a search result page.

    Four ways to capitalize on the growth of Voice Search through your website

    In order for your brand to benefit from Voice Search, various SEO techniques should be employed so as to enable search engines or other app technologies to easily extract ‘answers’ from your brand’s ecosystem.

    Below are four ways to set up your digital ecosystem for success:

    1) Maximize Schema markup opportunities

    Schema is a markup language – an add-on to the HTML coding onto a webpage that provides further information to the search engine’s to help them understand the contents behind a web page. The more context being presented to the search engines, the better they’ll be able to understand the content.

    2) Readable feeds (location data, prices, etc)

    XML Sitemaps, location data and other micro-data are vital components that the search engines use to provide quick answers to the searchers requests. 40% of adults use voice search to get directions, making location specific data readable on the webpage absolutely critical in order to be found through voice-activated search.

    3) Humanize content; use conversational phrases

    As NLP technology advances, it will fall in line with the users search query focusing on the meaning behind the query rather than a set of query keywords. Re-evaluating the content and changing the tone to be more conversational by focusing on natural phrases and sentence structures, rather than keyword, will help the visibility in voice-activated search.

    Using adverbs such as “Who”, “What’, “Where” and “Why”, which are common terms used at the beginning of voice search queries will help humanize the tone of the content.

    4) Making the search experience quicker

    Voice-activated search users are looking for direct answers to trivia questions. This makes FAQ content crucial, in helping the search engines identify quick answers for popular requests or questions.

    What media opportunities exist for brands?

    Right now, there’s isn’t a huge paid opportunity that exists around Voice Search. Google has been trying to figure out a way to monetize and Jerry Dishler, VP of Adwords Product Management said that voice search is an emerging platform that Google continues to work on:

    “I have long-term plans for advertising,” he says, adding that voice search volumes continue to rise, and Google has ideas for the future when the queries become “pure voice dialog.”

    Outside of Google, Shazam and SoundHound are leading the monetization of Voice Search by serving display ads within their apps. It’s estimated that Shazam has over 100 million monthly users (+34% YoY) and SoundHound with around 15 million. Both currently allow the purchase of various display, video & text ad units within their apps.

    The future of Voice Search?

    Unfortunately we don’t have a crystal ball that can foresee the future for us, but no need to fear, we have something better, it’s called… speculation.

    We know from the Northstar Research study that 45% of teenagers that use voice search wish this technology would be able to order their pizza. Domino’s has reported $4 Billion in global digital sales, which is attributed to both their website and mobile app, which features hands-free ordering through voice search.

    Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Shazam, SoundHound, Google, and most, if not all, major TV manufacturers are all heavily investing in voice recognition technology. It’s only a matter of time before voice input starts catching up with keyboard entry, especially on mobile devices.

    In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Only you can control your future”. Sadly, in the world of digital, it’s the search engines and machine-learning technology that controls ours.

    Jos Smyth, VP, SEO, National Lead, contributed to this story.

    29 super useful PPC tools you need to try this year


    Since the dawn of mankind – and since the dawn of pay-per-click marketing – we have been inventing new tools to help us survive and overcome challenges. All our tools began as very primitive and basic, but have evolved greatly as time went on.

    Now in 2016, tools are essential for professional marketers. The right PPC tools will save you time, provide crucial insights, inspire you, and ultimately make more money for your company or your clients.

    If you’re ready to take an evolutionary leap of your own, check out this list of 29 amazing PPC tools you need to try this year.

    Note: These are all tools that I use and recommend. Some I use daily, others less often or I have used in the past, but each tool on this list is valuable and useful. None of the creators of any of these tools asked to be included on this list or paid for the privilege.

    PPC management

    1. AdWords Editor

    If you regularly work on large campaigns or campaigns across multiple accounts in Google AdWords, then you need AdWords Editor. It has almost everything you need for bulk edits and optimizations. Although it looks similar to the AdWords you’re used to online, the desktop version is probably about three to five times faster. Essential!

    2. Bing Ads Editor

    If you’re using Bing Ads (and you should be), then Bing Ads Editor is a must-have. It’s a solid all-in-one tool for managing your Bing Ads campaigns.

    3. Optmyzr

    At the U.S. Search Awards, Optmyzr won for having the “Best PPC Management Software” and for good reason. Optmyzr offers a variety of tools (optimization suggestions, data visualizations, advanced reporting, and scripts) to help you manage AdWords and Bing Ads campaigns. Plans start at $116 a month, and you can try it out for free for 14 days.

    4. Free AdWords Performance Grader

    Get a thorough audit of your AdWords account in 60 seconds or less with the Free AdWords Performance Grader from WordStream. Full disclaimer: I’m the CTO of WordStream. So seriously, don’t take my word on it. Here’s an actual review from Sharon H. on G2Crowd:

    “WordStream makes sense out of Adwords and goes a long way to eliminate the frustration and cost. WordStream gives me important feedback on critical performance factors, and makes it easy to adjust and improve campaigns.”

    5. AdEspresso

    AdEspresso is a great tool for Facebook advertisers to create, optimize, and analyze campaigns. You can check it out for free with a 14-day trial; monthly pricing starts at $49.

    Keyword and competitor research

    6. SEMrush

    Need to gain insight into your competition? SEMrush is one of the best tools to find valuable, detailed keyword and domain data. It costs $58 per month if you sign up for their annual plan.

    7. Spyfu

    SpyFu has some really cool features other tools lack, such as the ability to download all of your competitors’ keywords. It also has a slick interface with plenty of important at-a-glance information easily available. Annual plans start at $49.


    8. iSpionage

    ISpionage is easy-to-use competitive intelligence tool. It provides accurate, up-to-date competitive intelligence information and is a great way to size up competing websites and their online marketing efforts. Plans start at $59 per month.

    9. Google Keyword Planner

    I’d be shocked if you aren’t already using Google’s Keyword Planner. It’s an essential PPC tool for keyword research.

    10. Google Trends

    Search trend data can be incredibly valuable when adjusting campaigns to match seasonal demand. Google Trends is an essential free data source smart PPC marketers should be consulting.

    Google Trends

    Call tracking, analytics, and conversion rate optimization

    11. Invoca

    Phone calls are incredibly valuable to businesses. You need to understand who is calling and why. Invoca provides an solution to capture, manage, and track those all-important calls. It integrates with 30 platforms. Pricing starts at $1,000 per month.

    12. Twilio

    Twilio is a great option for call tracking and analytics. You can cheaply and easily buy phone numbers (local or toll free) and record phone calls to those numbers. Pricing is on a pay-as-you-go basis.

    Call Tracking

    13. Call Rail

    CallRail is another option for phone call tracking, recording, and analytics. CallRail features Google Analytics and AdWords integration. Pricing starts at $30 per month, with a 14-day free trial.

    14. Google Analytics

    Google Analytics provides everything you need to track the effectiveness of your PPC campaigns and website performance. It’s free, but there is a Premium option for large enterprises.

    15. Twitter Analytics

    Twitter Analytics provides a wealth of data. I won’t lie, I’m a bit obsessed with Twitter Analytics data. You can discover how many people are really seeing and engaging with your tweets, whether your campaigns are effective, and all sorts of valuable demographic data about your followers.

    Twitter Analytics account overview

    16. Certified Knowledge

    Brad Geddes has a nice suite of tools at Certified Knowledge that will help you analyze data, create tons of ads; and optimize your quality score. Prices start at $79 per month.

    17. Unbounce

    Need to build a landing page? Meet Unbounce, which offers more than 80 templates for just about every type of landing page you need (products, sales, lead generation, eBooks, etc.). Pricing starts at $49 per month, but you can sign up for a free trial.


    18. LeadPages

    LeadPages offers a simple landing page builder, as well as dozens of landing page and minisite templates to choose from. Yearly packages start at $25.

    PPC ad copy inspiration

    19. BuzzSumo

    BuzzSumo is all kinds of awesome. It shows you the most shared content. Catchy article headlines (the type that get tons of shares and links) will also make catchy PPC ad headlines! BuzzSumo plans start at $99 per month.

    20. Ubersuggest

    You can get some good keyword ideas from Ubersuggest. This popular free keyword tool offers thousands of suggestions based on the keywords you type in.

    Display ad image inspiration and creation

    21. Share as Image

    Share as Image is mainly touted as a tool for content marketers, but you can also use it to quickly create awesome display ads. Just be sure to check image copyrights before taking your ad live! Share as Image offers a free account, as well as a monthly plan starting at $8.

    share as an image

    22. Canva

    Canva is another tool that you can use to easily create striking display ads with their drag-and-drop interface. Upload your own assets to work with (for free), or pay a small fee to use images from their library.

    23. Pinterest

    Need some inspiration for display ad images? Spend some time browsing on Pinterest. It’s a fantastic tool for saving, organizing, and discovering amazing visuals to get your creative juices flowing.

    24. Facebook Text Overlay Tool

    Facebook has a frustrating rule that your ad (images and video thumbnails) can’t contain more than 20 percent text. To make sure you’re compliant so your ads can run on Facebook (and Instagram), use the Facebook Text Overlay Tool. If your text spills into 6 or more boxes of their grid, you’ll have to edit your ad and check it again until you get it right.

    25. gifntext

    Gifntext is so baller – and non-obvious. You can use it to create amazing GIFs for use in social and display ads! I almost hate to give this one away because I love that nobody is using it. So seriously, don’t use it. 🙂


    PPC Automation

    26. AdWords Scripts

    Love AdWords Scripts? Who doesn’t? Scripts let you automate nightmarishly time-consuming tasks. Daniel Gilbert and Brainlabs have an insanely awesome collection of AdWords scripts – everything from advanced A/B testing, to close variant matching, to competitor tracking. Amazing stuff here!


    27. Google AdWords App

    If you ever need to do some AdWords campaign management in a taxi/Uber/whatever, you’re in luck. This beautiful and fast app for Android and iOS lets you adjust keyword bids, enable/disable AdWords objects (e.g., campaigns, ads, ad groups), and act on various recommendations from AdWords. You can’t create new text ads or campaigns or add keywords manually, however.

    28. Facebook Ads Manager App

    The Facebook Ads Manager App (for iOS and Android) lets you manage your campaigns. You can track the performance of your ads, edit ads, adjust your budgets, and even create new ads – all from your mobile device.

    29. Google Analytics App

    The Google Analytics is a bit limited – and by a “bit” I mean a “lot”. But if you’re on the go and need to quickly check on your stats or reports, this app will let you do just that.

    Google Analytics app

    What’s your favorite tool?

    What PPC tools from this list do you use and love? Any tools I missed? Share your recommendations in the comments.