Google’s ‘More Results’ button: a search marketer’s POV

I have written extensively about how Google is continually making its SERPs richer, more feature-led, and increasingly intuitive.

Of course this is happening on desktop, but how the SERPs are being displayed across mobile devices deserves special attention from marketers. It’s a space that presents its own challenges and opportunities. It is also highly competitive and evolving in a unique way.

One such change to Google’s mobile SERPs in recent months is the launch of its ‘More Results’ button (MR). I spoke to Adthena‘s Ashley Fletcher about the MR tweak, his reaction to it, and how he sees mobile search changing throughout 2018 and beyond.

Competitive intelligence

Fletcher’s interest in the evolving landscape of the SERPs goes back 13 years to when SEO was in its infancy. Since then, he has worked within agencies, on the client side at Criteo and Beatthatquote, at Google itself (launching its insurance comparison tools in the US and UK), and now at Adthena as VP of marketing.

Adthena specializes in competitive intelligence – using artificial intelligence (AI) and gathering unparalleled levels of data about the SERPs. “There’s so many moving parts in paid search campaigns at scale,” Fletcher tells me. “Retailers might have 1000 product lines. That’s 1000 battlegrounds. AI and tech helps give a clear picture of these battlegrounds.”

Decluttering the SERPs

The quest for clarity amid the SERPs is not exclusive for companies like Adthena and its clients however. Google’s decision to include the MR button could well be partly attributed to cleaning up the mobile search space. This is something Fletcher agrees with, and it is in keeping with other tweaks from the search giant.

“It’s quite a subtle change,” he says. “But there’s such an influx of ad units on mobile SERPs, it is quite cluttered. It seems the MR button is part of a bigger move by Google to streamline the mobile SERPs.”

Better usability

We know that user experience is high on Google’s agenda. A more efficient UX on the SERPs gets us to the information we desire, the product we want, or the destination we want to visit as soon as possible. This keeps us satisfied and keen to return to Google again, and again, down the line.

Fletcher notes more than a passing resemblance between the MR button and the way content is navigated by users on social media. “We’re seeing Google trying to encourage a sort of infinity loop,” he says. “It’s a single page UX more like what we see on the Facebook newsfeed or on Instagram. Users – and mobile users especially – are now very used to scrolling the same page forever rather than clicking through numerous pages.”

This is a curious realization. The notion of Google wanting users to ‘scroll forever’ is surely counter to the overarching agenda of keeping things as efficient as possible.

But as Fletcher highlights, sometimes the SERP doesn’t do the job and the MR button is a faster way of perusing other search results. It is more in-keeping with dominant trends of mobile navigation, and thus more accepted. There is now no need to load page two of the SERPs. “Page 2 is a graveyard anyway,” Fletcher says.

Impacts: clicks, rankings and happier users

The MR button is quite a subtle design change on Google’s mobile SERPs, but Fletcher and Adthena are already noticing a change in CTRs.

“We’re expecting CTRs to climb on paid and organic listings,” Fletcher says. “It’s what we’re seeing in our latest Paid Search Benchmark report and I would think it will continue.”

Indeed, Adthena’s recently published benchmark is already seeing average CTRs up 10% toward the end of 2017, compared to around 3% for desktops. As the report states, it’s “a measure of the robustness of paid search, and an indicator that advertisers are continuing to get value from the channel”.

If it continues, this will be welcome news to search marketers and SEOs who are striving to ensure their content is getting clicks and keeping users engaged.

“Google rewards pages with good high CTRs and low bounce rates,” Fletcher adds. “And the overall result is simpler SERPs and happier users.”

Takeaways: mobile search is still a battleground

While the MR button has – in effect – eliminated the second page (and beyond) of mobile SERPs, it will still be best practice for marketers to want to be visible above it in the same way page one is still favoured on desktop.

As Fletcher points out: “Beyond the ‘more results’ button is still a graveyard. Search advertisers know this, and they know that they still have to keep up to retain visibility above the fold.”

With the addition of features such as the MR button, the number of battlegrounds that search marketers need to have an understanding and clear view of is not going down – whether across mobile or desktop, more numerous key phrases, within paid search, in organic listings, or across maps on a local and even hyperlocal level.

The SERPs are continuing to diversify, but ultimately, the users are reaping the benefit. With tweaks like MR, Google as a tool is even more efficient and intuitive. The power of mobile search – even with the limitations of the small screen – is being further refined to meet its capabilities.

SEW Interview: Clark Boyd on visual search

We recently caught up with Clark Boyd, a visual search expert and regular contributor to Search Engine Watch. We discussed camera-based visual search – that futuristic technology that allows you to search the physical world with your smartphone – what it means for the way search is changing, and whether we’re going to see it become truly commonplace any time soon.

In case any of our readers aren’t up to speed on what ‘camera-based visual search’ actually is, we’re talking about technology like Google Lens and Pinterest Lens; you can point your smartphone camera at an object, the app will recognize it, and then perform a search for you based on what it identifies.

So you can point it at, for example, a pair of red shoes, the technology will recognize that these are red shoes, and it’ll pull up search results – such as shopping listings – for similar-looking pairs of shoes.

In other words, if you’ve ever been out and about and seen someone with a really cool piece of clothing that you wish you could buy for yourself – now you can.

First of all – what’s your personal take on camera-based visual search – the likes of Google Lens and Pinterest Lens? Do you use these technologies often?

I have used visual search on Google, Pinterest, and Amazon quite a lot. For those that haven’t used these yet, you can do so within the Google Lens app (now available on iOS), the Pinterest app, and the Amazon app too.

In essence, I can point my smartphone at an object and the app will interpret it based on what it sees, but also what it assumes I want to know.

With Google, that can mean additional information about landmarks pulled from the Knowledge Graph or it might show me Shopping links. On Pinterest it could show recipes if I look at some ingredients, or it can go deeper to look at the style of a piece of furniture, for example. Amazon is a bit more straightforward in that it will show me similar products.

I suppose that visual search is best summarized by saying it’s there when we don’t have the words to describe what we want to know. That could be an item of clothing, or we could be looking for inspiration – we know what the item is, but we aren’t 100% sure what would go with it.

Recently, I have been both decorating a house and planning my wedding. As a colorblind luddite with more enthusiasm than taste, I can use visual search to help me plan. Simply typing a text search for [armchairs] is going to lead me nowhere; scanning a chair I like to find similar items and also complementary ones is genuinely useful for me.

At the moment, this works best on Pinterest. It uses contextual signals (Pins, boards, feedback from similar users) to pick up on the esthetic elements of an object, beyond just shape and color. Design patterns and texture are used to deliver nuanced and satisfactory items in response to a query.

What’s interesting is that camera-based searches on Pinterest deliver different results to text-based searches for similar items. Basically, visual search can often lead to better results on Pinterest. That’s not the case on Google yet, but that’s where they are aiming to get to.

And that’s the key, really: in some contexts, visual search adds value for the user. It’s easy to use and can lead to better results. There are now over 600,000,000 visual searches on Pinterest every month, so it seems people are really starting to engage with the technology.

To my mind, that is what will give visual search longevity. It mimics our thought process and augments it, too; visual search opens up a whole new repository of information for us.

Camera-based visual search has some fairly obvious applications in the realm of ecommerce, for example where you can see something while you’re on the go and instantly pull up search results showing you how to buy it. But do you think there are any other big potential uses for visual search?

I think there are lots of potential uses, yes; in fact, even the ecommerce example really only scratches the surface.

Where visual search comes into its own, and I think goes beyond the realm of the purely novel, is when it suggests new ideas that people have not yet thought of.

Pinterest’s Lens the Look tool is a great example. I could search for shoes and find the pair I wanted, but Pinterest can also suggest an outfit that would go with the shoes too. This then becomes more of an ongoing conversation.

The new app from fashion retailer ASOS will likely go in this direction too, and I expect sites like Zara and H&M to follow suit. IKEA has its AR-tinged effort too, which allows people to see how the furniture will look. Although in my experience, it will lie in a million pieces for days until I figure out how to put it all together!

We should always consider that visual search exists at a very clear intersection of the physical and the digital. As a result, we should also think about the ways in which we can make it easier for people to enhance their experience of our stores through visual search.

We have seen things like QR codes linger without ever really taking off here, and Pinterest has launched Pincodes as a way to try and get people to engage.

Google has started adding features like this to its Lens tool, and the recent announcement about voice-activated Shopping through Google Express is another step in that direction.

The core of this is really to get people on board first and foremost, and then to introduce more overt forms of ecommerce.

Beyond that, visual search can allow us to take better pictures. Google has demonstrated forthcoming versions of Lens that will automatically detect and remove obstructions from images, and input Wifi codes just by showing the camera the password.

What we’re really looking for are those intangibles that only an image can get close to capturing. So anything related to style or design, such as the visual arts or even tattoos (the most searched for ‘item’ on Pinterest visual search), will be a natural fit.

Search has been a fantastic medium when we want to locate a product or service. That input format limits its reach, however. If search is to continue expanding, it must become a more comprehensive resource, actively searching on our behalf before we provide explicit instruction.

We’ve seen a lot of development in the realm of visual search over the past couple of years, with tech companies like Google, Pinterest and Bing emerging as front-runners in the field. Google acquired an image recognition start-up, and Pinterest hired a new Head of Search and started more seriously developing its search capabilities. What do you think could be coming next for visual search?

First of all, the technology will keep improving in accuracy.

Acquisitions will likely be a part of this process. Pinterest’s early success can be put down to personnel and business strategy, but they also bought Kosei in 2015 to help understand and categorize images.

I would expect Google to put a lot of resource into integrating visual search with its other products, like Google Maps and Shopping. The recent I/O developers conference provided some tantalizing glimpses of where this will lead us.

Lens is already built into the Pixel 2 camera, which makes it much easier to access, but it still isn’t integrated with other products in a truly intuitive way. People are impressed when their smartphone can recognize objects, but that capability doesn’t really add long-term value.

So, we will see a more accurate interpretation of images and, therefore, more varied and useful results.

To go back to the example of my attempts to help furnish an apartment, I don’t think where we are today is by any means the fulfillment of visual search’s promise. I can certainly imagine a future where I can use visual search to scan the space in my living room, take into account the dimensions and act as my virtual interior designer, recommending designs that fit with my preferences and budget. AR technology would let me see how this will look before I buy and also save the image so I can come back to it.

The technologies to do that either exist or are getting to an acceptable level of accuracy. Combined, they could form a virtual interior design suite that either brands or search engines could use.

A gap still remains between the search engine and the content it serves, however.

For this to function, brands need to play their part too. There are plentiful best practices for optimizing for Pinterest search and all visual search engines make use of contextual signals and metadata to understand what they are looking at.

One way this could happen is when brands team up with influencers to showcase their products. As long as their full range is tied thematically to the products on show, these can be served to consumers as options for further ideas.

In summary, I think the technology has a bit of development still to come, but we need to meet the machine learning algorithms halfway by giving them the right data to work with. Pinterest has used over one billion images in its training set, for example. That means taking ownership of all online real estate and identifying opportunities for our content to surface through related results.

The advertising side of this will come, of course (and Pinterest is evolving its product all the time), but for this to come to fruition it also requires a shift in mindset from the advertisers themselves. The most sophisticated search marketers are already looking at ways to move beyond text-based results and start using search as a full-funnel marketing channel.

We’ve been talking about visual search mostly in the context of smartphones, as currently that’s the technology most immediately suited to searching the physical world, given that all smartphones these days have built-in cameras.

But what about other gadgets? We’re seeing a lot of companies at the moment who are developing smart glasses or AR glasses – Snap, Intel, Toshiba came out with a pair just a few months ago – could visual search find a natural home there?

I’m not sure we’ve seen the end of Google Glass, actually. I really don’t think Google is finished in that area and it does make sense to have visual search incorporated directly into our field of vision.

The most likely area to take off here in terms of usage in the short-term is actually for the visually impaired. There are smart glasses that use artificial intelligence (AI) to perform visual searches on objects and highlight immediately what they are seeing.

Those are from a company called Poly, who are doing a range of interesting things in this space.

We think of devices that we wear or actively use, but that may not even be the long-term future of visual search. Poly has also developed visual search technology that works in stores. It can keep track of inventory levels automatically, but also detects who is in the store by linking with the Bluetooth connection in their phone.

Things like face IDs on smartphones along with Apple/Google Pay really help to create this potential use.

So the visual search exists at a higher level, it detects who is in the store, and it adds items to their basket as they pick them up. When the person leaves, they are charged via Apple/Google Pay or similar. So a bit like the Amazon Go stores, but using visual search to scan the store and see who is there and what they buy.

The cost for doing this has reduced dramatically, so it would now be possible for smaller stores to engage with this technology. Where that has potential to take off is in its introduction of a friction-free shopping experience.

That’s just one potential use, but it highlights how visual search can lead to much bigger opportunities for retailers and customers.

How close we are to that reality depends on people’s proclivity to accept that level of surveillance.

The most futuristic technology in the world is no good if no-one is using it, and we’ve seen much-vaunted tech advancements flop before – speaking of smart glasses, Google Glass is a good example of that. So what would you say are the immediate barriers to the more widespread adoption of visual search? What kind of timeline are we looking at for visual search entering the mainstream – if indeed it ever does?

With voice search, it was always stated that 95% accuracy would be the point at which people would use the technology. I don’t think there have been excessive studies into visual search yet, but that should come soon. With increased accuracy will come widespread awareness of the potential uses of visual search.

The short-term focus really has to be on making the technology as useful as it can be.

Once the technology gets closer to that 95% accuracy mark, the key test will be whether novelty use turns into habit. The fact that over 600,000,000 visual searches take place on Pinterest each month suggests we are quickly reaching that point.

It also has to be easy to access visual search, because the moments in which we want to use it can be quite fleeting.

From there, it will be possible for retailers, search engines, and social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest to build out their advertising products.

As with any innovation, there is a point of critical mass that needs to be reached, but we are starting to see that with voice search and the monetization of visual search sits rather more naturally, I think.

We want to understand the world around us and we want to engage with new ideas; images are the best way to do this, but they are also a difficult form of communication.

Our culture is majoritively visual and has been for some time. We need only look at the nature of ads over the past century; text recedes as imagery assumes the foreground in most instances.

Whether the Lens technologies are an end in themselves or just a stage in the development of visual search, we can’t be sure. There may be entirely new technologies that sit outside smartphones in the future, but image recognition will still be central.

I would still encourage all marketers to embrace a trend that only looks likely to gather pace.

Visual search is still quite an abstract concept for most of us, so is there anything practical that marketers and SEOs can do to prepare for it? Is it possible to optimize for visual search just yet? If marketers want to try and keep ahead of the visual search curve, what would be the best way to do that?

Any time we are dealing with search, there will be a lot of theory and practice that can help anyone get better results. We just don’t have the shortcuts we used to.

When it comes to visual search, I would recommend:

Read blogs like Pinterest engineering. It can seem as though these things work magically, but there is a clear methodology behind visual search
Organize your presence across Instagram, Google, Pinterest. Visual search engines use these as hints to understand what each image contains.
Follow the traditional image search best practices.
Analyze your own results. Look at how your images perform and try new colors, new themes. Results will be evermore personalized, so there isn’t a blanket right or wrong
Consider how your shoppable images might surface. You either want to be the item people search for or the logical next step from there. Look at your influencer engagements and those of your competitors to see what tends to show up
Engage directly with creative teams. Search remains a data-intensive industry and always will be, but this strength is now merging with the more creative aspects. Search marketers need to be working with social media and brand to make the most of visual search
Make it easy to isolate and identify items within your pictures. Visual search engines have a really tough job on their hands; don’t make it harder for them
Use a consistent theme and, if you use stock imagery, adapt it a bit. Otherwise, the image will be recognized based on the millions of other times it has appeared
Think about how to optimize your brick-and-mortar presence. If people use products as the stimulus for a search, what information will they want to know? Price, product information, similar items, and so on. Then ensure that you are optimized for these. Use structured data to make it easy for a search engine to surface this information. In fact, if there’s one thing to focus on for visual search right now, it is structured data.

Check our Clark’s presentation on visual search here.

Four ways you can use AI to optimize your AdWords campaigns

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms are mainstreaming in a way that was never before possible, and these changes are having a significant influence on the way in which marketers need to approach search advertising.

In addition to AdWords itself incorporating AI into its framework, new opportunities are arising that can give marketers an edge over their competitors, or automate lower-level tasks, freeing up more time for strategy.

Here are four ways you can start taking advantage of AI to make the most of your AdWords campaigns.

Automated bidding

Automated machine learning as a solution to the decision of what price to bid on paid advertising is becoming an increasingly popular option as the necessary technologies become available to more firms.

Bidding too low means missing out on opportunities to reach leads, while bidding too high means sacrificing ROI.

Google’s internal automated bidding, on top of being identical to what everybody else is using, doesn’t have access to the information it needs in order to maximize your ROI. Reaching that goal also requires knowing consumer trends, purchase behavior, seasonality, demographics, customer lifetime value, and more.

A successful automated bidding model must:

Estimate the price elasticity of each ad by using statistical inference based on previous bids
Factor in the actual value expected by a click from each individual ad based on previous clicks
Iterate in response to new data
Recognize changes in the bidding landscape or the performance of visits and adapt quickly, rather than falsely assuming past performance will predict future performance in all circumstances.

There are, however, some things to look out for:

Models that don’t know what’s happening on your site will make bad inferences. For example, if you test a new landing page and it turns out to lower your ROI, your model could start bidding lower on those keywords. After replacing the landing page with a better one, the model may still get stuck bidding low on the keywords, because there isn’t enough new data available to push the bids back up
Models that rely too heavily on statistical significance may test a losing strategy for too long, but models that fail to incorporate statistical significance can throw away good opportunities while propping up flukes.
Watch out for feedback loops in your model. For example, you wouldn’t want your model to bid more on an ad with a high conversion rate if the only reason the conversion rate is high is because the high bids are increasing the conversion rate. These types of conflicts should be controlled for.
Pausing poorly performing ads

The quickest way to lose money in AdWords is to continue bidding on an ad that isn’t producing any ROI. When the clicks roll in but the sales don’t, this can be a disaster.

Similarly, when an ad is getting the bids but not the clicks, your quality score will suffer, and ultimately your ROI will follow suit.

A well-built machine learning algorithm will understand when it is necessary to pause an ad in order to avoid hurting your ROI or quality score.

Here are some important considerations your model must account for:

The model must not be so sensitive that it abandons ads before they have a chance to show ROI. It must use statistical inference to estimate potential losses and gains based on previous performance
Rather than pausing the full ad outright, the model should factor in individual segments that can be paused, such as traffic from mobile devices, certain browsers that are not producing revenue, times of day or days of the week that repeatedly do poorly, or ad variations that aren’t performing well.
Dynamic ads

AdWords’ Dynamic Search Ads are one piece of machine learning technology that currently come built-in with the platform, allowing anybody who is using AdWords to take advantage of it.

Dynamic Search Ads automatically generate headlines to capture a searcher’s attention. After uploading a list of landing pages that you want Google to generate dynamic ads for, Google will identify searches that are a good fit for your landing pages, then automatically generate ad content using phrases from your pages.

Google is also generating ad suggestions based on machine learning. These recommendations use models of prior performance to suggest changes to your ads that should boost your results.

But the possibilities for dynamic ads don’t end with what is native to AdWords.

Machine learning approaches can be used to create dynamic ad content that incorporates the following:

Mixing and matching copy, image, and audience with multivariate testing and evolutionary algorithms
Incorporating the influence of external factors such as the weather or time of day.

A few platforms experimenting with this kind of control include Sentient Ascend, IBM Watson, Zalster, and Refuel4.

Available platforms

The previous insights might make it sound like you’ll need data scientists and developers on your team in order to take advantage of what AI and machine learning have to offer, but this isn’t necessarily the case. While full-time dedicated AI staff are a good idea for big businesses, small and medium businesses can still take advantage of these emerging technologies with emerging products.

Here are just a few examples:

Acquisio: This machine-learning platform is designed to improve performance in AdWords, Bing, and Facebook ads by cutting CPC and CPA while raising clicks and conversions
Cognitiv: Uses deep learning to predict where best to spend your money, self-customizing for each brand based on historical data
Frank: In addition to AdWords and Facebook ads, Frank is connected to millions of publishers. It launches campaigns automatically and optimizes them by target audience, creative, and channel
Magnetic: Designed to automatically match audiences to inventory while optimizing bids and cracking down on fraudulent clicks
Quarizmi: One of few AI platforms that specifically bills itself as being for AdWords. The platform automates keyword discovery, creative, bids and campaigns
Trapica: Identifies audiences, matches them to creatives, optimizes bidding, and scales your campaigns.

No matter the platform, use the insights discussed to make informed decisions about what will work best for you.

Conclusions

As AI becomes mainstream within the PPC industry, marketers will need to begin shifting their areas of expertise away from micromanaging keywords and bid prices, and towards higher-level strategy. In the meantime, the techniques and platforms discussed still aren’t in use by the majority of your competitors, and taking advantage of that gap would be a wise move.

ClickZ enterprise SEO tools Buyers Guide: BrightEdge review

Search Engine Watch sister publication ClickZ has launched an innovative new series of buyers guides, created with the aim of cutting through the complexity of the technology landscape to help our community of readers to make better decisions about vendors.

The second guide in the series is dedicated to enterprise SEO tools.

With $80 billion predicted to be spent on SEO services annually by 2020, these software packages play a vital role in helping marketers derive insights from masses of data.

The core component (60%) of the ClickZ SEO tools vendor guide scoring comes from our customer survey, which received over 1200 responses and evaluated technologies across the following six areas:

Scores were awarded across 36 sub-categories, with six grouped under each of the categories highlighted in the image above.

A further 20% of the scoring came from the ClickZ expert advisory board, which features representatives from Vodafone, LEGO, GroupM, and Macy’s.

The author attended interview sessions with all six vendors in the guide, along with at least one other member of the advisory board. The output of these interviews were scores that make up the final 20% of the results seen in the guide.

Across all aspects of our technology review, BrightEdge consistently impressed as a leader in the enterprise SEO field and the company’s innovation roadmap looks set to ensure that it will retain this position.

Content produced in collaboration with BrightEdge.

BrightEdge: Company profile

BrightEdge is an established player in the enterprise SEO space, boasting over 50% of the Fortune 100 as current clients. The technology has developed significantly as of late, evident through the introduction of functionalities that address the needs of SEO practitioners beyond rank tracking. Central to this strategic focus have been the development of the company’s proprietary data and the application of machine learning to uncover automated performance insights.

In 2014, the company launched Data Cube, which was the most commonly-cited highlight of the platform by current customers, followed by the strategic insights the technology unveils.

In 2015, the successful launch of its content performance marketing methodology helped shift the ways marketers approached the convergence of SEO and Content Marketing.

The following year, they introduced DataMind, a deep learning technology that powers the prescriptive page optimization recommendations, technical SEO audit and automated new content topic insights.

Recently, the company has taken an AI-first approach that is driven by products like Data Cube and DataMind (deep learning technology that is natively integrated into the platform) and launched an SEO automation application called BrightEdge Insights. This brings together data driven insights into an intuitive interface and presents just a few well vetted actionable recommendations each week. The company provides dedicated customer success manager for every customer, which was reflected in the very high scores the company received in this section of the survey.

BrightEdge covers almost all the bases in our report and covers them very well.

Overall, BrightEdge is the most comprehensive solution in our review for enterprise-level SEO.

BrightEdge: The ClickZ customer survey results

The three areas in which BrightEdge received its highest scores from current customers were innovation, data, and strategic insights. These aspects came through as highlights during the vendor interviews, too. All of the vendors take a slightly different perspective on the future of organic search, with BrightEdge placing emphasis on the importance of AI in deriving maximum value from SEO and content marketing data.

This has led to an extensive innovation roadmap that should see its customers avail of the benefits of both automation and deep learning algorithms.

BrightEdge has invested heavily in its content marketing offering, resulting in the launch of ContentIQ and the deep learning engine, DataMind. As a result, this vendor scored highest for its integration of these content marketing technologies with the core SEO features in the platform. This means that content is tied back to performance metrics, aided by the scope of the company’s index of URLs. BrightEdge was highlighted as a very strong performer when it comes to generating insights to create more effective content.

This vendor has also developed a robust backlink index that drew praise from customers for the competitive insights it provides. Driven by integrations with MajesticSEO and Moz, BrightEdge’s index tracks link activity and ties this back to keyword, traffic, and conversion performance. In particular, customers from larger businesses gave high scores to BrightEdge in this category for its ability to synthesize backlink data with other information sources within one interface. It is also possible to manage backlinks by assigning them a status and delegating the activity to other users within the organization.

BrightEdge also hosts a range of community events, which allow users to meet and discuss newly-launched features, and this contributed to very positive feedback in the customer experience category. Some customers did note that, while the technology is thorough and impressive, it can be expensive if users want to track a lot of keywords across locations and devices. Once more, this decision will ultimately come down the each brand’s perception of the value they receive for their investment.

Combined with the insights drawn from its deep learning technology and the widespread use of automation in the platform, BrightEdge provides a very comprehensive reporting solution. Analytics integrations are also available for all major technology providers. No vendor performed particularly well in the cross-channel insights, which was interesting to note given the increased prominence SEO has assumed in digital marketing strategies.

In summary, BrightEdge performed impressively in both the ClickZ customer survey and in the vendor interviews across the core elements of a modern SEO strategy. It remains the market leader in the enterprise SEO space.

To find out more information about BrightEdge you can download their ebook ‘How Smart is Your Content?’ here.

The future of search

SEO is one of the most fast-paced industries out there; constantly kept on our toes, it’s one of the reasons we love it so much. But thinking about what the future holds for the industry can be both exciting and a little frightening. Will artificial intelligence (AI) ultimately make search better or worse? Is the future SERPless? And what are the ramifications for SEOs? Plenty of questions and speculation abound.

In this article, we take a look at just a few of the key themes that come up when considering the future of search.

Artificial intelligence

Right now, AI seems to be all people can talk about, and it’s not going anywhere. In fact, it’s anticipated that AI will have a significant impact on all things marketing.

RankBrain

We have already been experiencing the effects of AI in search for some time, since Google released its RankBrain algorithm. In short, the aim of RankBrain is to help search engines acknowledge the context of the query, better understanding what the user actually wants and not just processing each individual word of the query. This is particularly important given the rise of voice search, which uses more natural language.

Data dreaming

AI is inherently linked with big data; it’s the data that enables AI to function and for machine learning to transform the way we search. Humans are only capable of processing a limited amount of data, which is where AI comes in –to do things that humans can’t, or are inherently bad at doing. This is where AI in search is heading, gradually replacing and improving on tasks that humans cannot complete (or at least complete to a high quality). We are looking to use the significant processing power of binary to our advantage.

We’ve already seen bots attempting to write content, and it was good enough to make it past the first round of screening for a national literary prize in Japan. While it’s not as good as something an experienced copywriter or journalist could manage, it’s just the beginning. In a few more years, bot-written content will probably be a very viable option for businesses looking to create content as part of an SEO campaign.

Bridging the human gap

AI will make the SEO process smoother, quicker and more automated, leaving humans to add the creative icing on the cake. We can try to give bots as much sentiment and emotional intelligence as possible but at the end of the day, they’re simply not human.

We’ve already seen some of the issues with the new algorithms. Take, for example, the proliferation of fake news across the web in recent times – as smart as these algorithms are, bots still can’t distinguish between what’s real and what’s not. That takes careful human judgement. As long as this is still the case, humans will remain an essential part of any marketing or SEO campaign.

What AI means for SEO

Whether we like it or not, AI will change the face of SEO over the next few years. There will always be concerns around campaigns led by AI and not humans – – from fears around spun content to an over-reliance on automated campaigns. But in a way, automation will only serve to make the campaigns more human.

AI is capable of crunching huge amounts of data and is constantly getting better at learning and understanding user intent. Combine this deep understanding of search users with big data and you’ve got a sure-fire way of creating a campaign that is hyper-targeted to the right audience, knowing exactly what they want and what they are looking for. In other words, a campaign that will really work.

What does this mean for search marketers?

The increasing use and sophistication of AI means we are going to see priorities change over the next few years, in terms of which tasks we dedicate the most time to. With the data-led tasks more likely to be automated, it will allow us to focus on the more creative aspects, as well as mediating the bot versus human conundrum.

We need to be prepared for the content creation process to change and for the prospect that not all blog content will be human-produced in future. This may be a cause for concern for some, but people will always want to read content written by humans so we don’t see this being an all-encompassing step. At the very least we will likely see content researchers replaced by our software counterparts.

Voice search

According to comScore, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. Voice search is gaining in popularity at a rapid rate and its effect on search will be noticeable. According to Gartner, approximately 30% of all searches will be done without a screen at all by 2020 – in just 18 months’ time. Just imagine how this could change in 5–10 years. We could be looking at a SERPless future.

What does this mean for search marketers?

SEOs should account for voice search in their keyword strategy – think longer-tail, more conversational search queries – and implement schema markup to ensure you occupy some of those rich snippets and answer boxes, as these are the most popular options for voice search.

Consider the implications of not being able to drive as much traffic to your website through the SERPs; we may need to start thinking about how our sites appear ‘verbally’, not just visually.

Digital personal assistants

As an extension of the above point about voice search, it’s important to also think about voice assistants. Digital personal assistants, such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa, are not just there to answer direct queries. The aim is for them to provide answers without us even having the need to ask. Google co-founder, Sergei Brin, himself said in 2013: “My vision when we started Google 15 years ago was that eventually you wouldn’t have to have a search query at all”.

These devices are constantly collating real-time data from conversations listened to, geographic locations, search histories, daily routines and even biometrics. With this information and a sprinkling of AI, devices will be able to perform searches without you even having to ask. It’s both creepy and clever. More importantly though, this could have an immense impact on SEO as we know it.

What does this mean for search marketers?

SEOs and marketers should create content that explicitly answers potential questions or queries; for example, as a comprehensive FAQs page or within blog content. As with general voice search, think conversational – avoid broad short-tail phrases as these would not be spoken naturally.

Focus on the people behind the searches and less on the searches themselves. It’s about approaching user intent in a new way, getting less hung up on the individual words being typed into the search engines and more about the person and their needs.

Integration

The future of search is integration across all devices and the Internet of Things. Search engines are already well on the way to being omnipresent. This is only set to continue growing, increasing in personalization and leveraging every ounce of data the search engines can obtain.

What does this mean for search marketers?

Ultimately, we won’t have to work as hard at reaching people on multiple platforms, as it will mostly be done for us. But we will have to work harder to ensure that websites and content are optimized for all types of search, not just Google. Think Amazon Alexa, smart watches, Facebook search and Apple Spotlight.

Conclusions

These are just a few predictions for the future of search, which only scratch the surface of the possibilities. It’s an exciting time for search marketers, as we look to leverage new technology and big data to further enhance the campaigns we run for clients.

The future is bright, if not a little less human.

Is WordPress a good choice for SEO?

Powering over 30% of all the websites existing over the Internet, WordPress has certainly come a long way since its release on 27 May 2003, by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little. It’s 2018 and WordPress remains to grow, steadily yet magnificently.

Talking of the steady growth, the last decade has seen a surge in the importance that has been given to SEO. In order to make their business discoverable and in a pursuit to stay atop the search engine result pages (SERPs), individuals and brands are relying on SEO powered web-based website building platforms.

WordPress is definitely one of their favorite choices. But the question is whether it is a good choice for accomplishing the SEO goals that you have been trying to achieve so let’s find out what WordPress has to offer.

‘Snap-at-your finger’ optimization

What makes WordPress a great choice for your SEO goals is its quick setup and configuration. Also, when you are logged in with your site’s dashboard and are actually filling in the SEO-powering fields of your posts’ editor, you can stay assured that things will not take a lot of time off your schedule.

If you are new to blogging, you will definitely take your own time to get used to the several fields that prompt you to add the ‘Meta description’, ‘Tags and Categories’, ‘Meta Data’, ‘Keywords’, ‘Excerpt’ etc. Once you are there, optimizing will truly be a ‘snap-at-your finger’ thing.

If you are able to save some time there, you will create much better content which is always a step forward in your content optimization journey.

Search-engine friendly URL

Otherwise known as permalinks, the chosen URL for your website posts is a crucial determinant of how search engines will perceive your content. If your URL carries the power keyword from your content, that is definitely an icing on the cake.

With WordPress, you can either choose to go with the generated permalink that is based on ID number or you can create your own URL. Just before you publish your post through your WordPress editor, you can choose to customize the permalink as per the summary of the post. This is a great SEO booster as the visitors as well as the search engines will be better able to understand what to expect before they even start going through the content of the post.

Super-powerful SEO plugins

If you know someone who is a WordPress fanatic, we bet that you have heard them rambling about how awesome WordPress plugins are. In case of SEO, the development is similar.

The Yoast SEO plugin and the All-in-One SEO Pack plugin are the undisputed market leaders when it comes to WordPress SEO. Their premium versions offer a set of even more powerful features than the free ones. Here are some of the amazing features offered by the free versions of each of them.

Yoast SEO

Lets you write killer content
Full control over site breadcrumbs
Snippet preview
Google Preview
Advanced XML Sitemaps functionality
Canonical URLs
Readability check and much more.

All-in-One SEO

Fine tune your SEO optimizations
XML Sitemap support
Image XML Sitemap for Image SEO
Google AMP support and Google Analytics support
Advanced Canonical URLs
SEO Integration for e-Commerce sites, including WooCommerce
Automatic META tags and a lot more.
Optimization served on a generous platter

Another great thing about WordPress being an SEO facilitator is its generosity when you are using its powerful SEO plugins. If you are just a beginner, you can still nail it down all by yourself through directives and tutorials provided. You can review website builders offered by other platforms to make a comparative study of the complexity of the tasks involved.

The very descriptive plugin functions help you figure out what goes where. If you bump up a rock, you can always head to the WordPress Codex to know more.

Auto-sharing features and plugins

To complement your SEO efforts through the dashboard, you need to make sure that you are marketing your website updates well and in a timely manner. This would involve sharing these updates through your social media channels so that your followers can stay in touch and have a nerve of whatever’s buzzing with your website and business.

However, with the abundance of social channels, manual execution of these updates can take up a lot of time. Thanks to the other plugins from the WordPress repository that help you auto-share your site updates with the audience.

Some of these Social media sharing plugins are:

Sassy Social Share
Blog2Social: Social Media Auto Post & Scheduler
Revive Old Posts
Social Auto Poster – Premium WordPress Plugin.
Speedy content turn-around

If you are a website owner or a blogger, you know that search engines rank those websites well which turn around content speedily or in a regular manner. By saying so, we mean that a schedule posting mode is well-rewarded when it comparatively comes to other SEO efforts.

WordPress has a simple yet powerful text editor that lets you create killer content which is engaging and informative at the same time. With Plugin such as the Editorial Calendar that let you schedule your content and its SEO strategy well in advance, we bet that the WordPress CMS will turn out to be a great choice for SEO of your website.

Faster loading time

The most important element of an optimized website is its loading speed. If a website takes more than 2-3 seconds to load, a high percentage of visitors tend to abandon the site right at that unfortunate moment. Even if you are doing everything as directed by your site’s SEO strategy and yet fail to take measures that make your website speedy, you are in for a huge loss.

With WordPress speed optimization plugins, you can tuck away the worries.

SEO-friendly themes

WordPress also lets you download and configure SEO-friendly themes that have been optimized for speed and performance. Check out some of the best SEO-friendly themes for 2018.

Conclusion

With the pointers furnished in the blog post above, one can definitely arrive at the conclusion that WordPress is indeed a great choice for SEO. The way it has been developed and its open-source nature have helped the platform grow as a website builder for the SEO fanatics.

Lucy is an experienced developer at WPCodingDev and a blogger by passion.

Using the new Google AdWords dashboard

Back in 2012, Lisa Raehsler wrote an article on 6 Super Time-Saving Tips to AdWords PPC Management, in which she presented some of the new time-saving features of AdWords. In the last 6 years, there have been many changes to the AdWords dashboard and a revolution in the other tools and software you can use to save time when managing your account(s).

You can now use a combination of the following techniques/features:

  • Functionality within the main AdWords dashboard
  • Features in the shared library within your AdWords account
  • Creating and using a My Client Center account (MCC) for managing multiple accounts
  • Other Google tools such as Google Editor (3), AdWords App and Google Data Studio
  • Use of third party scripts, tools and software (free and paid).

This article will just focus on how to save time by using the features and functionality of the AdWords dashboard, though some of these features may also be available at the MCC level.

Time-saving functionality within the AdWords dashboard

The updated AdWords dashboard was rolled out through the later months of 2017. During this process, many features were gradually moved across from the old dashboard. Currently, it is still possible to switch between the old and new interface; however, the old dashboard is expected to be retired by the end of 2018.

The new dashboard (shown above) has received a mixed response from long-time users. However, it does have the advantage of some new functionality, which was added in the first half of 2018, such as:

  • To provide better insight and analysis for users (e.g. the new Overview Tab)
  • The incorporation of machine learning or functionality to automate and speed up a lot of routine tasks (e.g. the new Recommendations Tab, which replaces Opportunities in the previous dashboard).

The time-saving functionality can be divided into three areas:

  • Displaying and analysing data
  • Creating and/or editing campaign elements
  • The Recommendations Tab.
  • Displaying and analyzing data

    Using the new Overview sheet for insights

    The new Overview tab replaces the old Home tab. It has a number of summary cards, each with a link allowing you to click through to more information.

    The cards are based on information that Google thinks will be useful, rather than saved filters from your account, which were used to create the old Home tab. The cards are also more graphical than the tabular data of the old Home tab.

    Here are examples of cards from the new Overview tab, with data taken from a number of different accounts.

    Summary graph by date with four main metrics (each one can be added to the graph):

    Unusual activity today, e.g. increases or decrease in clicks

    Biggest changes – increases and decreases with the ability to choose from 10 metrics, e.g. cost or conversions

    Campaigns – summary in a table with cost, clicks and CTR

    Search keywords – summary table with cost, clicks and CTR (you can choose from a total of 12 metrics for each column)

    Search terms (or words) – search term n-gram with the ability to hover over and see impressions, clicks, conversions and costs

    Most shown search ads – with summary of impressions clicks and CTR (you can choose from 10 metrics)

    Auction insights graph – with your position versus major competitors, plotted for impression share versus top of the page rate

    Devices – bar graph split by three devices with data for costs, impressions and clicks

    Networks – bar graphs split by network with data for clicks, costs, and average CPC

    Day and hour – plotted as tiles with color coding for 16 different metrics (pick one from a drop-down list)

    Comparison of the old and new dashboard (for the keyword tab)

    In the two screenshots below, we have compared the features and marked the same features in each version of the dashboard (using color-coding). The old dashboard uses a lot of text links, while the new dashboard relies on more graphical icons or symbols.

    From this comparison, you can see that some of the functionality does not seem to appear in the new screen (e.g. the Edit button). However, once you select (or tick) keyphrases, then additional options appear in the form of a blue action bar:

    Methods to display data to aid analysis

    Use of filters is similar functionality to the old dashboard and can be found using the funnel symbol. There are now over 100 metrics to filter.

    Use of segments and dimensions combines the segment and dimensions tab functionality in one place and can be found using the bar chart symbol.

    The Dimension tab appears to have disappeared from the dashboard, but it is hidden within the reports icon at the top right of the dashboard – as a ‘Predefined report’.

    Use of standard and customized column has similar functionality to the old dashboard and can be found using the 3 vertical columns symbol. Although there are over 100 metrics to choose from, not all have been copied over from the old dashboard.

    More features within the main display panel

    The remaining symbols are as follows:

    • The down arrow is the symbol for downloading your data and is the same as the old interface
    • The two lines with an arrow compresses the rows
    • The square sign allows you to toggle between a full screen of data or having the side menus visible
    • The symbol with three dots has additional useful features that vary depending on which tab you are on. This hides some of the time-saving features of the old dashboard, such as automated rules, diagnose keywords and the new notes panel. These are described in more detail below
    • The final symbol is an arrow that allows you to show or hide the graph.

    More features (three-dot symbol)

    On the campaign and ad group tabs

    On the keyword tab


    Create an automated rule

    Notes (for whole account, campaigns and ad groups)

    This is a new functionality only available in the new dashboard. Once you open the notes panel you can see any existing notes or create a new one.

    Keyword diagnosis

    The first part of a test is to define the test conditions (language, location and device), which is the same as the old dashboard.

    The second part is new and allows you to define the format of the file for your results. This is also different in that the results can be saved and are not live in the dashboard.

    In the old dashboard you could filter the results as shown below:

    The downloaded report can be found in the reports tab (using the small graph symbol in the top right corner).

    Below is an example of a downloaded Diagnosis report with examples of different keyword status.

    Creating and making changes

    Editing

    The Editing function on each of the main tabs has changed quite a lot. The biggest difference is the need to select a row before the edit function will show (as a new blue bar) and the removal of bulk editing functionality.

    If you want to copy and paste individual elements (like a keyword or ad), you will need to select the individual row and the new blue edit bar will appear allowing you to edit. You can click paste from here and then go to the campaign or ad group where you wish to paste the items. There is a paste option in the more menu (with three dots).

    Comparison of the editing functionality between the old and new interface


    Old dashboard
    New dashboard
    Campaign tab



    Ad group tab


    Keyword tab


    Ads tab

    Bulk editing

    The bulk editing facility is no longer within the Edit functionality on the main pages (see old versus new screen shots above). There is now a separate section in the main heading called Bulk actions (see the next section).

    In addition to the bulk action area in the main header, it is also possible to upload a sheet for editing by pressing the symbol with three dots, when on the other tabs (i.e. the campaign, ad group, keyword and ads tabs).


    Bulk actions (replaces Bulk operations)

    The previous interface had a Bulk operation section, which was found in the left-hand sidebar beneath the shared library. This had four operations (see below).

    ‘Bulk actions’ is the name for this functionality within the new interface. It currently has three operations; Rules, Scripts and Uploads. There have been a couple of changes in the new version:

    • The Bulk edits screen is no longer available – this screen used to show a log of any bulk edits that had been made in other areas of the account; for example, a bid change across multiple keywords
    • Uploads replaces some of the bulk editing functionality.

    Rules

    The Rules screen will show a log of all the Rules that are currently active, who created the rule, the frequency that they run and any scheduled emails. It is also possible to create new rules from this screen.

    There are currently 12 Rules categories and each typically has four to six types of rules (such as pause, enable, send email, change bids). You can see some examples in the table below.


    Examples of Rule categories


    Scripts

    Scripts can be used to automate a range of tasks. By clicking on the Scripts feature, you can see any scripts that you are currently running, or you can create a new one.

    Scripts require a working knowledge of JavaScript and should not be added to automate your account without some prior research or training. However, you will not necessarily need to create a script from scratch, as you can find free scripts at sites like Free AdWord Scripts, or reviews of scripts.

    In addition, many PPC management tools (such as Optymzr.com) provide a range of free scripts as part of their monthly package.

    Uploads

    Uploads can be accessed from the individual tabs by selecting the three dots or from the Bulk Action menu in the top.

    The old and new screens are shown below:

    Old

    New (from top menu)

    New download template

    Excel template example

    Drafts, experiments and new ad variants

    The drafts and experiments functionality are like the old feature, which was previously in the left-hand menu bar above the shared library.

    Drafts can be used to create test versions of campaigns before putting them live. Experiments can be used to test changes on a proportion of the traffic, for example a new ad or bidding option.

    In addition to these legacy features, there is a new functionality called Ad variations, which is only available in the new interface. This is designed to test new elements of ad and apply across your whole account or selected campaigns. This makes ad testing much easier.

    The Recommendations Tab: using Google to identify Opportunities and changes

    The Recommendations tab replaces the old opportunities feature, but there have been additional cards that have been added.

    There are around 20 recommendations at the account level and even more at the MCC level. These are divided into different categories:

    Account level

    MCC level

    Examples of Recommendations









    Conclusions

    The new AdWords interface has many features that can help users save time when managing their PPC account. Some of these are completely new and not available in the old dashboard.

    As the old dashboard will be retired by the end of 2018, it may be worth implementing the new dashboard as soon as possible, in order to benefit from these many new features.

    The conscientious searcher: how useful is Ecosia in a world dominated by Google?

    In my recent research for alternatives to Google here at Search Engine Watch, Ecosia was one search engine that caught my eye.

    The eco-friendly choice for search certainly seems to serve a purpose. We might forget it, but there is an environmental cost to our digital activities – including Googling.

    So let’s dig a little deeper. Should we be more mindful of the effect our search queries are having on the environment and is Ecosia a viable alternative in a world where Google commands more than 90% of market share?

    What is Ecosia?

    Launched in 2009, Ecosia is a CO2-neutral search engine. With every search made, the social business uses the revenue generated to go towards its tree-planting scheme.

    On average, 45 searches are needed to plant a single tree. Users can keep a tally of the number of searches they make thanks to a handy counter in the top corner of the Ecosia homepage.

    Another ticker underneath the search bar boasts the collective number of trees planted by all Ecosia users, currently standing over 29 million trees.

    Is Googling bad for the environment?

    As more of our computing moves into the cloud, users are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of day-to-day digital activities.

    Journalists, artists and researchers are facilitating this awareness. Joana Moll is one such artist and researcher and created an online visualization CO2GLE shows the real-time amount of CO2 produced by the search giant.

    The notion that search has an impact on the environment is not particularly surprising. But performing a search is such a quick and simple task that we don’t turn our thoughts to the pollution we’ve just caused.

    When we can quantify and visualize what that impact is, we can really begin to process things. It’s amazing to see the CO2GLE ticker creep up to around 100,000 Kg in just a few minutes.

    is that each search produces 10g CO2. This is down from Google’s own estimate in 2009 that each search produces around 20g. Estimates from other sources have varied too but what matters is that more people are making searches more often than ever before. And each search we make is a polluter.

    How Ecosia compares with Google and Bing for usability

    At first sight, Ecosia is very similar to Google. SERPs are delivered with blue links on a white background, green URLs appear alongside them, as well as short descriptions of each page.

    Much of the engine itself is powered by Bing, although you need to make a search and scroll to the foot of the SERPs to discover this. Bing accounts for the ads that appear on the service, while both Bing and Ecosia have a part to play in the organic algorithm.

    An example search for ‘car’ sees all the above-the-fold results on Ecosia being accounted for by ads (three in position 0 and three in the right-hand sidebar).

    Interestingly, this is quite different to the SERPs allocation on Bing which reserves sponsored listings for the foot of the page and favours a rich knowledge graph on the right-hand side – far more similar to what we see on Google.

    While Ecosia still uses Bing results and ads, it lags behind both Bing and Google for intuitive rich SERPs.

    There’s something a little odd about using a search engine which is so environmentally virtuous, but which is also so ad-heavy. Although, with further searches made across all three engines the difference between ad quantity becomes less noticeable. That said, Ecosia still has some work to do in competing with Bing and Google’s rich features, such as ‘Shop for…’ image packs when focusing in on sponsored results alone.

    Is it helping make Google cleaner?

    Thanks to competitors such as Ecosia, it puts increased pressure on Google to keep its environmental cost in check. In 2016 Google celebrated their tenth year of being carbon neutral. They also announced they would buy enough renewable energy in 2017 to match 100% of their global consumption for operations.

    Environmental concerns and sustainability are touted as core values for the search giant. Their most recent Environmental Report also highlights the market-leading efficiency of Google data centers, proclaiming: ‘on average, a Google data center uses 50% less energy than a typical data center.’

    It seems that Google has been proactive in improving its environmental impact since before the launch of Ecosia. It has also been increasingly transparent as writers and researchers have become more probing about the environmental impact of data.

    Google’s self-reflection on its carbon footprint and efficiency should be lauded – but perhaps where competitors like Ecosia and tools like CO2GLE are important are in highlighting the environmental impact of searches and search users, rather than the impact of the businesses running the engines.

    Is Ecosia a viable competitor?

    Users aren’t going to get as rich and efficient a search experience using Ecosia compared to Google or even Bing. But, arguably, its differences aren’t massively noticeable to the casual user – particularly if that user is used to seeing ads and not too familiar with the plethora of rich features Google increasingly offers.

    In terms of hard market share, Ecosia doesn’t make a dent in global terms. Nor even can it be seen to take a chunk of things in its domestic market Germany where Google, Bing, Yahoo!, DuckDuckGo, t-online and Yandex are all favoured by users, figures by StatCounter have shown.

    While it might be tempting to think Ecosia’s user base is tiny, the company itself boasts of having more than 7m active users – a number which is not to overlooked.

    Promoting the collective impact of searches, searchers and search engines

    Ecosia succeeds in reminding its users that curbing the environmental cost of data and digital activities is not the sole responsibility of search engines.

    Google are, in business terms, getting better at improving their efficiency and being transparent about their environmental impact. But it is not obvious to Google’s users, when they are making searches, what the cost of those searches are.

    This could be a positive next step for Google. Although tree-planting wouldn’t necessarily be feasible at Google’s scale and a simple ticker akin to CO2GLE would risk deterring users, there is an opportunity for the engine to make each search a positive for the environment rather than a negative.

    That Ecosia still exists in relative obscurity nearly a full decade since its launch may be surprising to some users, but it does provide a functional tool to turn digital activity into positive real-world action. It still does a good job in highlighting the steps we need to take as individuals, and collectively, to counter the environmental impact of our digital lives.

    Three factors to consider when building a local presence

    Over the past few years, local SEO has become one of the biggest buzzwords in the marketing world.

    Studies have found that nearly half of all Google searches are local. As more and more businesses recognize that optimizing for these searches is a requirement, the prospect of ranking is becoming very competitive.

    As you know, SEO is a field that changes by the hour and there are very few guarantees. However, it’s almost a certainty that the importance of local search will continue to grow.

    There are a number of key factors to consider with local search, so as you continue to build your presence, be sure to keep them in mind.

    Widespread adoption of voice search

    Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will know how popular voice search is becoming. Combining the advancements in mobile technology, virtual assistants, and voice activated home devices, it’s estimated that 50% of all searches will be done with voice by 2020.

    There are a number of takeaways from this rising trend. Most importantly, there will be a much bigger emphasis on long-tail keywords and hyperlocal searches. You can learn a lot more about user intent based on voice queries.

    Image Source

    For example, let’s say you run a computer repair store in Denver, Colorado. If someone needs your service, a text query would probably look something like “Computer repair Denver”. On the other hand, a voice query might look like “Where can I get the hard drive for my Lenovo computer fixed in the LoDo neighborhood?” With this type of information, you can build out customer profiles based on the questions being asked to deliver more accurate messaging.

    Furthermore, as you can imagine the widespread adoption of voice search will require you to modify the SEO on your website content in a much more conversational tone. Most voice searches start with who, what, where, when, why, and how. Keep in mind, when it comes to creating web content around voice search, it’s about building context that answers the pressing questions. For this purpose, tools like Long Tail Pro is designed to help you discover highly profitable long-tail keywords.

    Image Source

    You can even add in your domain and discover the keyword difficulty you should be targeting to make your content more focused around certain questions.

    Businesses should also ensure they have structured data integrated with the listings on their website. Structured data, or schema markup, is one of the signals used to power search results. Building this microdata around voice keywords can do a lot to help the search engine crawlers better understand your website and rank it for local queries.

    Voice search is more than just a futuristic fad; it’s here now and consumers are head-over-heels in love with it. If you want to “future proof” your local SEO strategy, voice needs to play a big role.

    Customer sentiment around local keywords

    As marketers, we are incredibly lucky to live in a time with such great resources at our disposal. The internet gives people a voice that can be heard around the world. Furthermore, brands can harness this phenomenon to gauge the sentiment they are getting across the web.

    Monitoring relevant online conversations and interactions around local keywords is a crucial strategy to understand the way people interact with your brand and content online. With this valuable insight you can spot trends, identify issues, and learn the patterns with regard to users’ relationships with local keywords.

    Tools such as Synup allow you to easily manage your business location data and online reputation. It provides analytics from listings on sites like Facebook, Google, and Bing, and keeps tabs on all relevant interactions on social media and the major review platforms like Yelp and Google Reviews. From the dashboard, you can get a quick analysis of your online reviews and respond as needed.

    Image Source

    Synup allows you to automate your collection process, gather feedback, increase CTR, and ultimately, improve your organic results.

    If you have multiple locations, you will need to track your online visibility in all relevant local markets. Similar to gauging voice search, monitoring social interactions and reviews gives you the ability to pinpoint the local keywords and topics creating buzz in your business or industry. With this knowledge, you can craft content in accordance with the local keywords being used.

    Building a local presence is all about playing to the trends of the area. If you aren’t using a program to monitor online mentions and customer sentiment for this, you might be falling behind your competitors.

    Consistent reviews

    Local reviews are some of the most powerful variables in your SEO strategy. Everyone knows how influential online reviews are to customers. In fact, many people base the majority of their purchasing decisions around these tidbits of opinionated information.

    Unsurprisingly, the search engines have wised up to this trend and factor local reviews into your rankings. Always remember, the number one goal of the search engines is to place the best possible content in front of users. This type of user-generated content holds a lot of weight in local markets. Obviously, a higher number of positive reviews will make you look more credible in the eyes of the users and the search engines, while negative reviews will do the opposite.

    Plain and simple, if you want to build up your local presence, you need to have a strong system in place to collect and display online reviews on a consistent basis.

    According to the 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors Report by Moz, the reviews signals (which are the quantity, frequency, and diversity of your reviews) are among the top factors that determine your local rankings.

    Image Source

    As time goes on, the role of online reviews in local search is likely to keep growing and shaping the new algorithms. Investing your time and focus into this area is no longer an option: it’s a must.

    Conclusions

    Developing a local presence takes a great deal of time, effort, and consistency. You cannot expect giant results overnight. In reality, this is a never-ending process. Keeping tabs on the types of queries bringing your most valuable traffic, monitoring local sentiment, and managing customer reviews all need to be habitual tasks.

    While these three factors are certainly not the only variables to consider when developing a local presence, they definitely need to be on your radar for years to come.

    Closing the knowledge gap: how do you ensure paid search transparency?

    As the debate around programmatic transparency rages on and the traditional agency model of media markups and kickbacks crumbles, very little is said about transparency across other marketing channels.

    Take paid search, for example. With many mid-tier brands spending considerably more on PPC than programmatic, there are often fundamental gaps or flaws in the data and information that is passed between agencies and advertisers.

    We’re not talking about financial or commercial transparency (though there was a time when Google was giving agencies kickbacks on PPC spend) – but transparency in relation to campaign management, activity and performance.

    This lack of transparency can have a significant negative impact on an advertiser’s performance in the channel.

    Here are some practical steps that agencies and advertisers can take to achieve a more transparent paid search relationship and therefore greater return.

    Open data is the foundation

    Long gone are the days when clients should be waiting for a report to land in their inbox – the report should be ready for the clients whenever they choose to access it.

    Advertisers should have instant access to all the same data their agency has access to, in a format that works for them. This open approach to data really is the foundation of a transparent paid search relationship – enabling an analyst and client to work closely together, accessing the same data, and optimizing daily to improve performance and outmaneuver the competition.

    Financially and operationally, it shouldn’t be a challenge to take this approach. Through using Google Sheets and relatively cheap tools like Supermetrics, you can build a real-time, auto-updating report that pulls data from Adwords, Bing, Google Analytics, Search Console and, in fact, just about any other advertising or analytics platform.

    Transparent attribution of sales

    There are several ways of looking at attribution and the thought behind which model should be used is unique to each advertiser. What should always be made clear, however, is whether a cross-channel or intra-channel model is being used.

    An intra-channel model for paid search, such as those available from within AdWords, looks only at users’ paths within paid search. These models certainly have their merits such as showing the value of different areas of that account, which in turn can help inform where to focus budget within AdWords.

    The potential issue with an intra-channel model is that they ignore any touchpoints from other channels and can cause duplication in the sales being reported. This may inflate the figures a particular channel is reporting, which, although great for the egos of those running the channel, is not going to help a client plan budgets effectively and drive the best return.

    A cross-channel model is more relevant for holistic reporting purposes as it will give you a more transparent view of the worth of each channel.

    Man or machine?

    Automation and machine learning are playing an increasingly important part in the world of PPC. But there’s often little transparency about the technology that’s being used.

    There’s often a strong case for technology to do much of the heavy-lifting associated with the management of paid search, but there’s still significant value associated with hands-on and experienced analysts driving strategy, optimization and testing.

    There is no one-size fits all approach, however, so as with anything in PPC – testing is crucial. Auto-applying technology regardless of campaign context or need is rarely wise.

    What’s crucial for a client is to have complete transparency regarding the relationship between man and machine – what impact is the technology having, what is the cost associated and therefore what value is it adding.

    Future of search

    There is a huge amount of discussion about voice search at the moment, but in practice, there is almost no transparency about how this changing user behavior is impacting paid search activity.

    Therefore, there are no data for analysts to optimize towards the long-tail, question-based search queries which come naturally to those speaking to Siri, Cortana or Alexa. It is reminiscent of not being able to change bids independently across desktop, tablet and mobile.

    It’s therefore key for an agency to be transparent with their clients and have open conversations about the development of these emerging trends, devoting test budgets to better understand their potential future impact.

    Still progress to be made

    While paid search offers greater transparency than many other advertising channels, it’s clear there is still progress to be made, particular in regards to the sharing of data, attribution, technology and new behaviors like voice search.

    As an industry, we must continue to always drive transparency across all channels. The more open we can be with data, technology and practices the better, as this leads to deeper insight, stronger relationships and ultimately, better results.