How Dynamic Search Ad campaigns could unlock SEO success

With marketers increasingly focused on integrated performance, it’s important for agencies, SEO consultants and paid search specialists alike to have a greater sense of data sharing in order to deliver the most efficient digital campaigns that tie back to overall client KPIs.

This article aims to cover just one of the ways to use PPC Dynamic Search Ad (DSA) data alongside SEO metrics, the range of exports you need to combine, and the questions you need to ask of your data to uncover optimization opportunities for SEM.

DSA: a brief ovierview

As you may know, DSA are auto-generated by Google, matching a user’s search query with the content or product offering of your site. This means that, although you can have incredibly well-oiled ad groups and campaigns set up, a DSA campaign can run alongside this to pick up relevant traffic from longer-tail queries, auto-generating an ad without the need to constantly update your campaign keywords (which is still super important).

By Google’s own admission, DSA ads are populated by Google matching the user query and “AdWords will use these titles and phrases to select a landing page and generate a clear, relevant headline for your ad”. Therefore, there is a clear opportunity to use DSA data to help inform your SEO strategy.

Which reports do you need to export?

The data we need to begin our SEM analysis piece is in the search query report (SQR) for the DSA campaign in question, including the final URL in the export. Google provides information on how to pull this report here.

Once the SQR is downloaded, the next step is to pull the organic ranking information for the search terms listed – note that these terms are only those that have resulted in at least one click and don’t include those that haven’t received any traffic.

When pulling the ranking information, it may also be useful to tag each search term to a category or topic for further data analysis.

The next step is to export data from Google Analytics (or another web analytics solution) to understand the organic performance of these pages for SEO. The key metrics to pull information for are bounce rate and site speed metrics by URL. To get this data in Google Analytics, select page timings under behavior and site speed from the left-hand sidebar, and insert an organic filter on the data to pull this information specifically for SEO.

Once we have the DSA URLs and organic landing pages, we can pull in relevant technical information about these URLs, focusing on:

  • Response code
  • Page title
  • H1
  • Average word count.

This should leave four exports that can be combined into one Excel file, under four different tabs.

Under a new master sheet tab, we can stitch the data together at both search term and landing page level, giving us something like this:

Search term-led:

Landing page-led:

NB. Due to the time frame for which we pulled the data, the previous status 200 URLs had changed to 301s and 404s.

SEM analysis and findings

Now that you have your DSA information and corresponding organic data, you can take a closer look at how Google understands the content on the site, the associated cost for PPC, and the potential SEO optimizations.

Landing page mapping

Understand how Google reads your website by examining the query and returned landing page:

  • Are there any inconsistencies between the URL you want to rank for organically, and the URL Google is pulling through?
  • Does this correlate with any historical ranking decreases you may have seen?
  • Does the body content match the ranking URL that differs from the DSA search term?
  • What about deviances between SEO Page Titles and the dynamically-generated headline?

High-cost, low conversion queries

This is where we can lean on our analytics data to understand whether anything on page is causing issues:

  • Is the landing page bounce rate high?
  • Is the page speed above the norm for that vertical and/or your closest competitors?
  • What is the mobile versus desktop split for that page and are we optimized accordingly?

High-cost, high ranking queries

These are the queries where we can begin testing with PPC spend and look at the impact on SEM:

  • Is there scope for exclusion of these terms?
  • Can the account be run more efficiently?
  • Are there sections of the site that we can exclude on a landing page basis, such as where traffic is being driven heavily to contact pages? Is there scope for rich snippet implementation organically?

High-cost, low click

This is where we need to understand the on-page elements that aren’t performing for DSA:

  • Check the H1 optimization of the page – does the body copy match the query intent?
  • Cross-reference against SEO ranking to understand whether Google is indicating that content isn’t relevant here through increased CPCs.

Low-cost, low ranking

This is where we may need to investigate the importance of these terms against the business’ overall KPIs:

  • Are these terms worth up-weighting?
  • Does SEO need to prioritise this section of the site from a business objective point of view?
  • Is new content needed or do we need to amend body copy?

Conclusions

By looking at the above five areas you can start to unlock how Googlebot is reading and understanding the content on your site. This can also be built on when looking at wider metrics such as page speed by URL to contextualize any hypotheses or theories emerging from the data – which may be the beginning of the SEM synergy strategy – and get you and your teams on the way to combining the efforts of both paid and owned to bolster your online strategy.

Technical SEO: why it matters and seven tweaks to give you an edge

When it comes to SEO, the importance of good quality content and relevant, authoritative links is generally recognized. When asked about the three most important ranking factors, Google search quality senior strategist Andrey Lipattsev mentioned three things:

Content
Links
RankBrain

The SEO world went agog with this revelation, and much emphasis has since been focused on these three signals.

However, another equally important factor is technical SEO which important that if you don’t get it right, the three most important ranking factors might not make much of a difference in helping you get ranked.

For example, if you have poor technical SEO your website could be uncrawlable, unindexable, and inaccessible. As a result, no matter how great your content is the search engines won’t be able to access or index it. With this understanding, not only is it clear that technical SEO is essential, but also that it is even more important than all the other ranking factors.

The following seven tweaks will give you an edge and help your search rankings when it comes to technical SEO.

Enable HTTPS for your website

Many businesses still do not have HTTPS enabled for their websites. Many of those who advocate enabling HTTPS make a business and conversions case, including arguments that it will show that secure padlock and a green bar in users’ browsers, which makes them trust websites and conversions. While that’s good enough reason to enable HTTPS, SEO is another equally important reason.

Enabling HTTPS is one of the few technical SEO tweaks that will take just a few minutes of your time yet yield significant results for your rankings. Google itself has come out to admit that it uses HTTPS as a ranking signal — although, at the time it made the revelation it said its impact isn’t that much, however, others have found out over time that Google tend to give prominence to HTTPS-enabled websites.

In a case study tracking performance in search rankings after enabling HTTPS on its site, SEO Hacker reported a 480% increase in keyword rankings compared to its closest competitor during the same period.

Pay special attention to your web host

There has been quite a bit of debate over the years on the subject of web hosts and their impact on search rankings, but it is a fact that your web host will affect your rankings with real consequences.

Your web host affects your rankings in so many ways. For one, website speed is another technical ranking factor, and your server specification and configuration, determined by your web host, will influence your site speed.

Server downtime will also affect your rankings: while an unusual one-day downtime won’t have the biggest difference, intermittent downtimes caused by a poor host will. When giving people SEO advice, I always advocate avoiding bad hosts.

Prepare for mobile-first indexing

Studies have shown that there are more mobile internet users than desktop internet users, and also Google has said the majority of web searchers on their platform are mobile users. As a result, after experimenting for a period of 18 months, Google announced its intention to start to roll out mobile-first indexing for web users.

Here’s where this can become a problem for you:

If your site isn’t optimized for mobile readers your rankings will suffer
If the mobile version of your site is poorly-optimized compared to the desktop version, your rankings will suffer.

To prepare for this change, it is best to have a responsive website that adapts to all devices. Alternatively, you can design a separate version of your site for mobile users. Regardless of your approach, do not neglect mobile visitors.

Confirm that your content is being indexed

Search engines will only rank content that they index. If your content isn’t being indexed, or if it isn’t being properly indexed, it won’t be ranked.

Another technical SEO tweak is to check and ensure that your content is actually being indexed. To do this, go to Google (or any other search engine of your choice) and search for “site:yourdomain.com” (without the quotes, of course!).

If your site is being indexed, the result should show a number of pages proportional to the number of pages on your site. If it shows nothing or fewer pages than are available on your site, you might want to check that you’re not preventing search engines from crawling and indexing your site. You should also take a look at your sitemap to ensure it is functioning.

Pay attention to your sitemap

Search engines keep advancing and will try to find most of your links somehow, but not having a sitemap will often result in them missing a lot of your content. At the same time, having a sitemap that is outdated is tantamount to not having any at all.

If you don’t have a sitemap, create one and submit it to the search engines or link to it where it could be seen and crawled. If you have a sitemap, make sure it is automatically updated on a regular basis.

Audit links from your site

You also want to perform regular audits of links from your site: whether it is external sites you are linking to or internal links to other pages on your site, you want to ensure the following:

Regularly check for and remove dead links or broken links to other sites
Regularly check to ensure that internal links to other pages on your site are properly done
When you redirect a page on your site, you should make sure that the redirection is properly done: use the 301 redirect for permanent redirects, and 302 for temporary redirects
Perform regular audits to identify orphan pages on your site — in other words, you want to look for pages that are not linked to from any other page on your site (thereby making them difficult to find and crawl by the search engines) try to have them linked to.
Enable Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools)

Perhaps one of the best things you will do to give you an edge when it comes to technical SEO is enabling Google Search Console. The Search Console is a dashboard provided by Google that allows you to monitor the health of your website. It will regularly notify you about technical issues related to your website that could negatively impact its rankings: this includes crawling issues, indexed pages returning 404 errors, how Google sees your website from a security perspective, mobile usability errors related to your site, etc.

If you can only take one advice from this article, let it be this: install Google Search Console and regularly follow its advice to ensure your site is technically compliant.

John Stevens is the CEO of Hosting Facts.

Facebook’s ‘Clear History’ could be a boon for organic search marketing

Dubbed “Clear History,” a Facebook Newsroom post by vice president and chief privacy officer Erin Egan said that the upcoming feature will “enable you to see the websites and apps that send us information when you use them, delete this information from your account, and turn off our ability to store it associated with your account going forward”.

The ability to limit the amount of data gathered by third parties is nothing new. Google Chrome’s Incognito mode will be 10 years old at the end of 2018, and other major browsers have a long history with their own “private” browsing modes. In addition, Google offers a tool that allows you to delete some or all of the data Google has collected about you.

Facebook probably won’t be able to reach the level of privacy that Google and other web browsers achieve. After all, users have to be logged in to Facebook to access the platform.

However, by adding Clear History to help users protect their privacy, Facebook has taken a positive step to address the concerns raised in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The outlook for marketers who use Facebook, though, seems less positive — for now.

Who took the cookies?

Internet browsers do not track or save cookies and site data when users enter private or incognito mode. Based on Facebook’s announcement, Clear History will work in a similar fashion. Facebook says that it gathers user and device data via cookies for many purposes, from security and user experience to analytics and ad-targeting.

Depending on how many Facebook users take advantage of Clear History to erase and prevent data collection, Facebook advertisers and social media marketing companies may lose the ability to precisely target consumers based on narrow geographic and demographic criteria. However, it seems unlikely that Facebook will allow Clear History to disrupt its multi-billion-dollar stream of ad revenue.

Facebook may be taking a calculated risk that the vast majority of consumers will never take the time to use Clear History. And Facebook may believe that users who do try Clear History will not do it again once they realize how it negatively impacts the user experience.

But, should a significant number of Facebook users choose to Clear History, advertisers will need to find alternative marketing options to capture attention, drive website traffic, and generate leads.

Facebook is seemingly caught between two sets of expectations. The clarion call among privacy advocates and regulators for better security and privacy is louder than ever. Meanwhile, advertisers still push for access to data that improves ad performance.

In light of recent events, Facebook is giving priority to the former camp’s demands. Should marketers see diminished ROI for ad campaigns as a result of these changes, organic search marketing provides a viable alternative for several reasons.

An alternative approach to analytics

Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics show similar sets of data about user traffic and interactions with websites and pages, respectively:

The amount and quality of data in Facebook Analytics, Ads Manager, and other reports may change with the launch of Clear History. Marketers will already be facing difficulties in ad targeting due to the removal of interest, behavior, demographic, and psychographic data from third parties as Facebook starts its shutdown of Partner Categories on the advertising platform.

Marketers will only see the true impact on reporting once Clear History launches. But, as you can see, Google Analytics tracks some of the same metrics, enabling marketers to get audience insights outside of Facebook. These include data on specific user actions, including repeat visits to the website, pages they access, referral sources, and device types.

In addition, query data in Google Search Console (which can be connected with Analytics) provides insight into the terms users enter into a search engine when looking for brands, services, and products.

By analyzing these organic search queries, you can identify trends in browsing and buying behaviors. These characteristics can inform both organic and paid campaigns in search as well as display and online video advertising and social media marketing strategies.

Building on branded search

The presence of significant search queries for the name of a business signals that consumers respond to the brand and actively seek it out. Similarly, if most search queries center on non-branded terms (pain points, solutions, etc.), this also presents an opportunity for businesses to present themselves as the answer or the authority on their industry.

You can access this information for free in platforms like Google Analytics and Search Console. What’s more, the data originate from everyday user interactions in organic search results, rather than activities within an insular social networking platform that gives users the ability to limit the availability of data to third parties.

Link earning for the socially inclined

Engagement on Facebook is tied to features that might be displaying significantly less data in the future. Cookies drive just about all aspects of personalization, data gathering, and advertising on the platform, and Clear History is poised to let users erase vast amounts of it. The corollary to engagement in SEO circles, on the other hand, is backlinking, which has considerably bigger impact than a series of likes.

Instead of relying on Facebook users to disseminate content, marketers who pivot their strategy to drive other users and websites to link to their site, not just share it, increase the likelihood of better rankings and results. In addition, Google’s increasing emphasis on local search means that locally relevant backlinks and traffic are critical to marketing success.

Consistently high traffic from genuine users is a positive ranking signal, especially in local search results. Facebook might give you access to an entire global audience, but success within organic local search results is becoming more and more influenced by the actions of users within your area.

Combining SEO and social media marketing

The true impact of social media on SEO results is a longstanding debate. Google principals have contradicted each other on the matter, and the advent of a tool that limits Facebook data to marketers is not going to provide any clarity.

That’s why effective online marketing requires more than just social media advertising. As a marketer you must find ways to engage with potential customers on their terms. If those terms mean you have access to less data to target ads effectively, organic social media engagement can help.

Managing a Facebook page or other social media account requires customer service skills and a deft balance between self-promotion and community engagement; not every business owner will excel at this. But marketers can close the attribution gaps between social media and website traffic and lead generation results through tactics like UTM codes, dedicated call tracking numbers for social engagement, and a well-defined strategy that emphasizes diligent tracking and measurement.

By making your website a destination for multiple marketing campaigns, you communicate to Google and Bing that you deserve to stand out in search rankings that bring new users to your website. With Facebook and other social media platforms serving as conduits to drive new and repeat visitors to your website, you will be able to draw on data from a host of ongoing marketing efforts — without becoming too reliant on data gathered directly by Facebook or any other social networking website.

Dan Goldstein is president and owner and Adam Rowan is content specialist Page 1 Solutions, LLC.

The top 10 tools for getting an insight into your website analytics

Your website’s data matters. By tracking your site’s most important metrics, you can get a valuable look at how well your SEO strategy is working; what a typical customer does on your site; and even what your competitors are doing differently. To understand your web analytics, you need the right tools – and there are plenty of powerful tools out there. Here’s a round-up of ten analytics tools that you may wish to consider using.

1. Google Analytics

A display in Google Analytics

When it comes to web analytics tools, Google Analytics is the gold standard. It’s simple to set up, customizable, and provides all the basic information you could want about your site. With Google Analytics, you can collect data on your audience (such as age, location, and devices), and observe how visitors find, interact with, and leave your site. As it’s so popular, Google Analytics tends to be easy to integrate with other platforms. If you aren’t sure which web analytics tool is right for you, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Price: Google Analytics is free for most users. Businesses that need a large amount of data can also look into Google Analytics 360, the paid enterprise version of the tool. Cost varies based on each company’s individual needs, but expect the price to be steep – third-party sources estimate that GA 360 starts at $150,000 per year.

2. Crazy Egg

Crazy Egg’s heatmaps and scroll maps make this tool popular among data lovers.

Crazy Egg is a comprehensive but easy-to-use web analytics tool. One of its most useful features is its ability to generate heatmaps and scroll maps. These show you exactly how people are scrolling through your site and where they’re clicking most frequently. You can also use Crazy Egg to run A/B tests on your site.

Price: Crazy Egg offers four pricing plans. The most basic costs $29 per month, while the pro version goes all the way up to $189 per month. You can use Crazy Egg for free for 30 days before you commit to a plan.

3. Clicky

Keep an eye on your data in real time with Clicky.

Clicky is a powerful, flexible web analytics tool that’s often compared to Google Analytics. However, Clicky has a few features that GA doesn’t. The Big Screen feature lets you see exactly what’s happening on your site – how many visitors you have, what they’re doing, and when they’re leaving – in real time. Clicky also has a Twitter analytics feature that lets you search for mentions of your business on Twitter.

Price: You can use Clicky for free, but to unlock all the features that make this tool unique, you’ll need to spring for the paid version. Prices start at $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year.

4. Kissmetrics

Capture all the customer data you need with Kissmetrics.

If you want to gather data on each customer’s journey through your sales funnel, Kissmetrics might be the perfect analytics tool for you. This people-focused tool tracks individuals through multiple visits to your site (something Google Analytics doesn’t do), which helps you understand how and why they make purchasing decisions. Kissmetrics also has email marketing functionality built in, so you can send automated emails to leads based on how they behave on your site.

Price: Kissmetrics starts at $500 per month.

5. Chartbeat

Chartbeat is designed to capture and track data related to your content.

Chartbeat is an analytics tool that monitors how people interact with your content. If you publish a lot of content of any type, Chartbeat might be an ideal way to gather all your data into one place.

Price: Chartbeat doesn’t disclose their prices on their website, but third-party sources estimate that their pricing starts at $7000 per year.

6. Optimizely

Optimizely helps you improve your site through experimentation.

Testing your site is crucial for good UX, but running experiments without the help of specialized software can be slow, unwieldy, and error-prone. Optimizely was created as a solution to this problem. This tool helps you easily run A/B tests on your site so you can optimize based on data, not guesswork.

Price: Optimizely doesn’t publish prices on their site, so you’ll need to contact their sales team for a quote. However, other sources estimate that their prices start around $36,000 per year.

7. SEMrush

Ever wish you could spy on your competitors’ top-performing keywords? SEMrush will help you do just that.

SEMrush is an all-in-one marketing and analytics tool. While it comes with standard SEO- and PPC-tracking functionality, its standout features are its keyword research and competitive analysis tools. SEMrush shows you which keywords are sending your competitors traffic, which can help to inform your own keyword strategy. The tool also helps you find new keywords of your own, regardless of what your competitors are doing.

Price: SEMrush starts at $99.95 per month. Businesses and agencies that need more features can expect to pay up to $399.95 per month.

8. Matomo

Matomo is a more private alternative to Google Analytics.

Matomo, formerly known as Piwik, is a popular open-source alternative to Google Analytics. Unlike GA, Matomo is hosted on your own server, and you own all of your data. Matomo is also highly customizable – if you need more features, you can search its library of 70 plugins. Matomo is a great analytics tool for companies that care about privacy.

Price: Matomo is free, but some of the plugins cost.

9. Mixpanel

Mixpanel lets you specify which events you want to monitor on your site.

Mixpanel is an analytics platform similar to Google Analytics. Event tracking is one of this tool’s main features – thanks to Mixpanel’s intuitive interface, users can specify events to track without having to code those events by hand. Mixpanel also offers excellent customer service to all users, regardless of which plan they’re using.

Price: Mixpanel offers free accounts with limited functionality. To unlock the full power of the tool, prices start at $999 per year.

10. Heap

Monitor everything that happens on your site with Heap.

Heap offers users two main benefits – it’s simple to use, and it’s extremely thorough. This tool captures everything that happens on your site – every click, form submission, page view, and search. If you want a granular look at exactly how visitors are using your site, Heap might be the perfect tool for the job.

Price: Heap is free if you have fewer than 5000 visitors to your site every month. If you need more data than that, you’ll have to contact Heap for a quote, but third-party sources estimate that the paid version of Heap starts at $500 per month.

Conclusions

There are tons of analytics tools out there to choose from. To decide which one is right for your company, think carefully about which metrics you want to measure on your site and how simple (or technical) you want your tools to be. If your budget allows for it, there’s no reason you have to limit yourself to a single analytics tool – using more than one can give you a better-rounded picture of what’s going on with your site. Use this list as a starting point for your own research, and you’re sure to find an analytics tool that fits your needs perfectly.

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for No Risk SEO, an all-in-one reporting platform for agencies. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn, or check out her content services at amandadisilvestro.com.

Mary Meeker’s Report 2018: the internet trends to watch out for

All the latest trends are part of Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report every year and we couldn’t ignore the changes digital in media usage, mobile consumption, voice search and all the innovations that change our lives.

Here’s an overview of the stats that caught our attention.

Increasing digital media usage

There has been a growth of 4% in the digital media usage, reaching 5.9 hours per day. Mobile digital media usage as reached 3.3 hours, while the desktop usage has slightly decreased in 2.1 hours per day. Despite the growth of mobile media consumption, we still see a stable use of other devices, while desktop usage is still present.

This stat can be useful for brands and publishers who try to understand their audience and how the rising mobile consumption can affect their next campaigns.

How innovation drives product improvements

Innovation takes place in many forms and trends and the most interesting stats have to do with the rise of messaging, voice search and video.

According to Mary Meeker’s Report, messaging is expanding and we’ve already noticed the increased number of monthly active users among all the popular platforms. Messaging platforms become more useful every day for users and brands are already exploring the best ways to include them in their digital strategies.

Mobile adoption keeps increasing for video usage and there is no prediction that this growth will end soon. As mobile consumption increases, more users are watching video content through their phones. This makes more companies evaluate their existing marketing strategies and how their publishing habits can adjust to this trend.

Voice services have seen an impressive growth with Amazon Echo reaching an impressive adoption rate. Except for the usage, there has also been an improvement in the service and the skills, which justifies the rise in sales. As voice technology matures, more consumers are ready to try it out. Its improved accuracy makes it more appealing and the growth from one year to another proves this trend that becomes mainstream.

Product discovery and search

Search has become an important part of the process of discovering a new product. Amazon seems to be the first option when it comes to product discovery, but search engines seem to come second at a percentage of 36%. This serves as a great reminder of the power of SEO for e-commerce businesses and how search can lead to consideration and sales.

Amazon may be the primary choice for product finding, but we cannot ignore how SEO can play a critical role in affecting consumers’ decisions for their next purchases.

An interesting journey is presented in the slide below, showing how the process of product finding takes place through search. An organic search can help a user move into a paid search to find the right product. This can move to Google Shopping and Product Listing Ads and the journey is complete with a shopping action.

This is a great visual representation which reminds us of the role SEO and PPC can hold in a digital strategy that seeks for increased sales.

Social media contributing to product discovery

Another interesting observation has to do with the role of social media in product discovery. Facebook, Instagram and also Pinterest can play a key role in the stage of awareness and consideration. Brands can involve social media in their funnel to help move users in their next stages that lead to a sale.

What’s important to understand is that a conversion cannot be achieved without the crucial previous stages, starting from the awareness and, moving to consideration before the actual purchase. Thus, every channel, including social media, can play a key role in a multi-channel world.

The rise of Internet advertising spend

There has been a growth of 21% in the Internet advertising spend in the US with a growing allocation of the budget going to mobile ads.

As mobile usage increases, advertisers adjust their strategies to reach their audience. We are expecting an even bigger budget on mobile advertising within the next years, although it’s still important to create ads for different devices.

The rise of e-commerce related advertising revenue

A closer focus at the advertising spend shows a growth of the advertising revenue for Google, Amazon and Facebook. This growth is related to the rise of e-commerce and how it is combined with ads to increase the sales.

Google saw a 3x increase of engagement with its focus on mobile product listings, while Amazon noted a 42% YoY increase in its advertising revenue.

Although the advertising spend is split between the big players in the industry there is still an indication that more advertisers are willing to invest in e-commerce growth to maintain a viable business.


The rise of data-driven personalization in search

One of the most important changes in search the last few years has to do with the increase of personalization. The more data search engines access, the higher the chances of successful personalization. The key to success, in this case, is the effective combination of data and UX to provide the best search results.

People seek relevant and fast answers to all their questions, while proximity is also an important matter for them. Thus, there has been a query growth of 900% from 2015 to 2017 to the results that include ‘near me’ as more users search for local results. This also means that local marketing and local businesses can benefit from this trend, which highlights another big trend in marketing. There’s no need anymore to create generalized content as personalization and local marketing can lead to more successful results.

What’s next?

As innovation brings more exciting opportunities, marketers and advertisers are facing the challenge of keeping up with the trends. The stats above indicate:

  • A growing mobile usage
  • The rise of voice services
  • The domination of video content
  • The stable trend of messaging
  • The use of search for product discovery
  • The explosive growth of personalized search queries.

All these observations can be really helpful, especially when your team is ready to look ahead to plan the strategy and the upcoming campaigns. Any of these trends can bring a business closer to its customers, provided that it embraces its potential in the most relevant way.

A beginner’s guide to paid search

In 2017, it was predicted that $92.4billion would be spent globally on paid search. This figure has grown year-over-year, proving its effectiveness as a platform that advertisers are continually keen to invest in.

In this beginner’s guide to paid search we will share:

  • A detailed explanation of the fundamentals of paid search
  • Tactics used by some of the world’s most successful digital marketers
  • The five most common pitfalls when using paid search and how you can avoid them
  • How you can predict your likely results before you even spend any money.

What is paid search?

Paid search is a form of digital marketing where search engines such as Google and Bing allow advertisers to show ads on their search engine results pages (SERPs).

Paid search works on a pay-per-click model, meaning you do exactly that – until someone clicks on your ad, you don’t pay. This makes it a measurable and controllable marketing channel compared with more traditional forms of advertising.

Ad formats include text ads, which are shown at the top or bottom of the organic search results, or shopping ads shown above the search results.

A quick note on the organic search results: if your website appears here, you will not pay for a click to your website and you cannot pay to appear in the listings either.

What can paid search do for you?

Every second, tens of thousands of people are searching on Google for products, services and solutions.

This presents an incredible opportunity for you to promote your business to a relevant and engaged audience that is actively looking to research or purchase products or services.

Some other forms of advertising, such as banner ads, are known as ‘interruption marketing’, meaning that the person who sees the ad may not actually be in the market to buy something at this stage. Where paid search has the edge, is that by typing something into a search engine we know that the user has the intent to research or purchase.

Avoid pitfall #1: Not tracking return on investment

The first mistake new advertisers make is forgetting to track return on investment. The great thing about online advertising is that everything can be measured. In addition to being able to see how many people have clicked on your ads, and how much it has cost you, you can easily see how many people then take action (i.e. how many conversions you have).

Examples of conversions you could track include:

  • Contact form submissions
  • Online sales
  • Live chat engagements
  • Phone calls.

This means you can easily see how many leads or how much revenue your ads have generated for you. All websites should have conversion tracking set up in Google Analytics so that you can measure which of your marketing activities bring the best returns.

PPC terminology

There are some common terms used across paid search platforms – some more self-explanatory than others.

  • Click: when a user clicks on one of your ads
  • Impression: when your ads are shown. It is important to note that this does not meant that users have seen your ads. An impression will still be counted if your ad is shown at the bottom of the search engine results and a user does not scroll all the way down to see it
  • Click-through rate (CTR): the percentage of impressions of your ads that result in clicks – the higher the better
  • Average cost-per-click (CPC): how much on average a click has cost
  • Average position: where on the results page your ads have shown (position one being the highest)
  • Cost/conversion: the amount you have spent on paid search, divided by the number of conversions generated. The lower the better
  • Conversion rate: the percentage of users who completed a conversion after clicking on your ad. The higher the better.

How does paid search work?

Most paid search platforms work in the same way.

Step 1. Choose your location settings

You can choose to show your ads in specific countries, cities and zip codes.

Step 2. Select your keywords

Keywords are search terms that people type into search engines such as Google, for example “womens shoes”, “tv repair shop near me” or “best sushi restaurant”.

Finding the right keywords

Google’s free tool, the Google Keyword Planner, allows you to discover what words people are using throughout the world to find products or services like yours. Bing has its own as well, and there are plenty of other third party tools available.

These tools will show you a range of potential keywords, plus how many people per month are searching for them, how much competition there is, and how much they’re likely to cost-per-click.

Step 3. Choose the correct match types

In paid search, there are four different keyword match types that impact when your ads are shown.

  • Exact match – where keywords are represented like this: [womens shoes]. By using exact match keywords, your ads will only be shown when someone searches for that exact term. It will also pick up plurals and spelling mistakes, so [womens shoes] would also show ads for [women shoes]
  • Phrase match – where keywords are represented like this: “womens shoes”. This keyword would trigger your ads if a user searched for the exact phrase, but with words before and after (e.g. ‘red womens shoes’ or ‘womens shoe stores’)
  • Broad match – where keywords are represented like this: womens shoes. This keyword would trigger your ads if a user searched for this phrase in any order, and with synonyms too (e.g. ‘cheap womens shoes’, ‘womens blue shoes’ or ‘ladies shoes’)
  • Modified broad – where keywords are represented like this: +womens +shoes. This keyword would trigger your ads if a user searched for this phrase in any order, without synonyms (e.g. ‘womens training shoes’ or ‘shoes for womens running’).
  • There is also a fifth keyword match type: negative keywords. Negative keywords can be added into your campaigns to stop your ads from running on searches that are not relevant to your business.

    Avoid pitfall #2: Running on all broad match keywords

    One of the most costly mistakes that new advertisers make is to only use broad match keywords because this is the default match type.

    As a result, ads are shown when people search for the advertiser’s specific keywords, but also hundreds or even thousands of other variations, some more relevant than others. Advertisers then blow through their budgets quickly and don’t see any sales or enquiries.

    Make sure you think about which match types to use and create a good negative keyword list before you begin.

    Step 4. Create your ads

    You will create ads to show when a user searches for one of your keywords.

    Text ads have three primary elements:

  • Headline 1, 30 characters
  • Headline 2, 30 characters
  • Description, 80 characters.
  • However, there are a number of things your ads cannot contain, including but not limited to:

    • All caps (e.g. FREE DELIVERY)
    • Symbols to draw attention to your ads (e.g. ***Free Delivery***)
    • Additional spacing (e.g. F r e e D e l i v e r y)
    • Trademarked terms
    • Exclamation marks in the headlines.

    What makes a good ad?

    Ads should engage your audience, guiding them to choose you over the other ads or organic listings on the page. A good ad will contain:

    • Words and phrases that are relevant to your keywords
    • Unique selling points
    • Calls to action.

    Step 5. Set your bids

    You set how much you want to pay for a click on one of the ads showing for your keywords. This is called a ‘Bid’ or ‘Max. CPC’. Every keyword can have a different bid.

    Paid search platforms give you a guide on how much you should bid, but ultimately it’s down to you. If Google is recommending a bid of $2.50 but you only want to bid $2.00, that’s fine – it may just mean your ads show lower down the page or less frequently.

    How do search engines decide where your ad appears?

    When someone searches for one of your keywords, your ads are entered into an auction. There are two factors that are taken into account and define where your ad appears on the page. These two factors are combined to give you an ‘ad rank’. The advertiser with the highest ad rank in the auction will appear in the first result. These two factors are bid and quality score.

    Quality score is the score from 1–10 that paid search platforms assign every keyword in your account, 10 being the highest. This is calculated based on three factors: expected click-through rate; ad relevance to your keywords; and landing page experience.

    Quality score was introduced to stop advertisers from simply paying the most to appear at the top on search terms that their website isn’t relevant to. Now paid search platforms reward higher quality advertisers – and not just those with the deepest pockets.

    Step 6. Add ad extensions

    Ad extensions are additional pieces of information about your business you can show alongside your ads. In addition to providing a better user experience, they can also increase the quality score of your ads and help your ads take up more space on the results page.

    Some of the ad extensions available are:

    • Sitelinks – links to additional pages on your website
    • Callouts – additional text about your business
    • Location – show your business address
    • Call – show your phone number. This also gives users on a mobile the option to click-to-call
    • Price – show different services or products along with the costs
    • Seller ratings – these are automated snippets that may show if your business has reviews on sites like Google My Business or TrustPilot. This does not work with all review platforms so be sure to check first.

    There are more ad extensions available.

    Step 7. Launch your ads

    Typically your ads will start showing within a few hours and you can see the results in your paid search accounts. You can pause your campaigns at any time.

    How do I pay for paid search?

    Every paid search platform is slightly different when it comes to billing. When you create your account, you enter your credit card or direct debit details. You are charged either after a certain threshold has been met or every 30 days, whichever comes first. It is normally possible to get some free credit applied to your account – it’s worth a quick search to find out.

    Avoid pitfall #3: Focusing on activities not outcomes

    Most marketing campaigns that fail do so because they haven’t started with the end result in mind. Before you begin your paid search campaigns, it’s vital that you think about what you want to achieve.

    What are your goals?

    There are two very important questions you should ask yourself:

  • How many new customers do you want?
  • How much are you willing to pay for them?
  • You might respond with “as many as possible for as little as possible”, but is that really true? Could your business handle 1000 enquiries in 1 day?

    Campaigns without specific goals are inevitably going to waste money. Without setting a target, how will you optimize your campaigns? If your cost/conversion is $50, how do you know if that’s good?

    Avoid pitfall #4: Not calculating the conversion rate required

    Once you have set your goals, you can work out whether they are achievable by calculating the conversion rate required. The average website converts at around 2%.

    Safer:

    If you are happy to pay $50 per conversion and you know the CPC is $1, then 1 in every 50 clicks will need to convert. The conversion rate required for this is 2% (1/50).

    Riskier:

    However, if you were only happy to pay $5 per conversion, 1 in 5 clicks would need to result in a conversion, meaning the conversion rate required is 20%. This is much less likely to happen.

    Simply divide your target cost per conversion by your expected CPC to work it out. Many advertisers set out on paid search campaigns without doing this calculation and learn that a campaign is not viable the expensive way.

    Once you’ve done your keyword research, calculate the average CPC. Then look at your desired cost per conversion. From this you can calculate the conversion rate required. Below is a conversion benchmark for most brochure websites:

    • Low risk: 0–2%
    • Medium risk: 2–8%
    • High risk: 8+%.

    Expensive keywords

    One of the common myths about paid search is that it is too expensive; I bet you’d be horrified to learn that a click on the keyword “car insurance quotes” could cost $132.59.

    Remember this is set by the market, which means one of your competitors is happy to pay this amount per click, which means they are either making money, or running an unprofitable campaign – and it’s more likely to be former than the latter.

    Before you rule a keyword out, you need to consider what the conversion rate required is. For example, let’s say that an insurance firm is happy to pay up to $4000 for a new customer once they take into account cross-sell opportunities and lifetime value.

    By dividing the target cost-per-conversion by the CPC, we can calculate that 1 in 30 people who visit the website need to become a customer, which is just below a 3% conversion rate, meaning it’s competitive but possible to compete and make a good ROI on this keyword.

    Avoid pitfall #5: Not forecasting your likely results before you begin

    By using some clear thinking and making some well-reasoned assumptions, you can predict potential outcomes before you invest.

    Use the Google Keyword Planner to see how many people search for terms relating to your business.

    This relatively quick calculation means that before we even begin our campaigns, we can predict whether the results are likely to meet the goals we set earlier. You can also use the ClickZ CPM Calculator to get an idea of the cost of a campaign.

    Most advertisers who claim that paid search doesn’t work have not done these two basic things:

  • Set your goals: what do you want to achieve?
  • Forecast: how likely are you to achieve them?
  • Basic paid search optimization

    A couple of important checks and changes you should be doing include:

    Bid adjustments

    You can adjust your max CPC at any time. Increase bids on keywords that generate a high volume of conversions at a low cost/conversion to get more clicks. Reduce bids on keywords with a high cost/conversion. You can also pause keywords that are not delivering results.

    Check the search term report

    The search term report shows you exactly which words users typed into the search engine and saw your ads. If you are using broad or phrase match keywords, make sure you are doing this regularly. Where you find irrelevant search terms, add them as negative keywords.

    Paid search versus organic search engine optimization

    It’s often asked which is better; paid search or SEO? SEO is the process of increasing your website’s rankings in the organic search results. You cannot pay Google or other search engines to increase your ranking.

    On the face of it, SEO sounds like a better option: once your website ranks in position one, the clicks you get are free, and more users click on organic listings than paid ones. But the important thing to remember is that there is a CPC to SEO as well.

    SEO takes time. If your website is very new, and you want to rank for very competitive keywords such as ‘insurance’ or ‘buy a car’, it can take years of work before your site will even rank in the top 10 results.

    All of that work costs money regardless of whether you pay an agency to do your SEO, pay an employee to do it, or even do it yourself. Every hour invested into organic optimization costs money.

    You can factor in these costs versus the increase in traffic the activity generated. Let’s say you run an SEO campaign, costing $2000 in agency/consultant fees, and this campaign increases your ranking from position 10 to position 2. This ranking increase looks to generate an extra 4000 organic clicks. Therefore, you could say that your organic CPC in this scenario is $0.50. You can then compare this to your paid campaigns to see what’s providing better value.

    Next steps

    This article is just an introduction to the world of paid search. There is much more to be learned and tested, and new features are being added to the platforms all the time. Some good next steps for increasing your knowledge include:

    • Account structure and ad groups
    • Ad extensions
    • Ad scheduling
    • Device bid adjustments
    • Location bid adjustments
    • Shopping campaigns.

    When done properly, paid search can grow businesses exponentially. Set your goals, forecast your outcomes and avoid the pitfalls we’ve listed in this article, and you will benefit from the results.

    Do remember that success will often depend on the quality of your website in relation to others who are also running ads on the same keywords. Conversion is king and sending traffic is only half the job.

    By Fountain Partnership, a Google Global Award Winning Paid Search Agency. All images provided by Fountain Partnership.

    What data do you need to find, pitch and win new SEO clients?

    For SEO agencies and independent consultants looking for new business, a two-step strategy might be all you need to demonstrate your efficacy and separate from competitors. First, identify prospective clients that are well-suited to your offering. Second, send them a pitch that unequivocally communicates the potential results they can achieve from your services. The key to both is data and, conveniently, the same data that you use to recognize great potential clients in the first step can also be used to make a powerful case as to what your services can deliver for them.

    Identifying your ideal SEO clients

    The businesses you probably want to approach are those that are tuned in to how SEO works and have already invested in it, but that still have a veritable need for your services in order to achieve their full SEO potential. Naturally, a brand that has already climbed to the top of the most relevant search engine results pages (SERPs) isn’t a great candidate because they simply don’t need the help. Nor is a business with no SEO experience and no real SERP presence; they might require a particularly hefty effort to be brought up to speed, and perhaps won’t be as likely to invest in – and commit to – an ongoing SEO engagement.

    While investigating potential business opportunities within this desired Goldilocks Zone of current SEO success, you might also be looking to target companies in the industries that your agency has previously done well in – both to leverage those past successes and demonstrate relevance to prospective clients with an adjacent audience. This makes it easy for prospects to see themselves in the shoes of those clients you’ve already helped, and for you to apply and repeat your tried-and-tested techniques.

    Putting this advice together, you can begin the client search process by looking at keywords important to industries you’re familiar with. You will probably want to explore companies within the mid-range SERPs (ranks 10–30) that could contend for the top spots if they had better professional assistance. You can then perform an analysis of these sites to determine their potential for SEO improvement. For example, a potential client that derives a great deal of its traffic from a keyword in which it still has room to grow and move up in the SERPs is ideal.

    Use data to make your pitches irrefutable

    While a slick email pitch can go a long way toward winning over new clients, it’s hard to beat the power of data-driven evidence (of course, your pitch can succeed on both style and substance). Be sure to use specific insights about the client’s SEO performance in your pitch – adding visuals will help make your case more clear and digestible. Also, consider using an SEO case study focused on your success in an overlapping space to offer an example of the results they could expect. Your pitch should culminate with a call-to-action for the potential client to get in touch to go deeper into the data and discuss how to proceed.

    There are a number of approaches to framing your pitch. Here are four examples of different appeals you can use:

    • Show how you can increase the client’s share of voice for a high value keyword
    • Tell the business about keywords they’re missing out on
    • Show where the client could (and should) be building backlinks
    • Explain technical SEO issues the client has and how to fix them.

    Show how you can increase the client’s share of voice for a high value keyword

    In SERPs, holding a top ranking is often exponentially superior. For example, it’s not unusual to see the top result capture 30% of all traffic (or ‘share of voice’) for a given keyword, while the tenth result receives a mere 1%.

    Craft a pitch that pairs a result like this with data on how much traffic the keyword actually delivers to the company’s site, and the vast potential to multiply that traffic by improving their share of voice for that keyword becomes clear.

    Tell the business about keywords they’re missing out on

    Where a client has gaps in their keyword strategy, demonstrating your ability to fill them and deliver traffic the prospect didn’t realize they could be earning goes a long way towards proving your agency’s expertise and value. These keywords can be found by examining sites that share an audience overlap with the potential client, and then studying the keywords they rank highly on. This investigation may yield unexpected results, reinforcing that your agency can drive results in areas the client never would have thought of without your expertise.

    Show where the client could (and should) be building backlinks

    Discover gaps where a potential client’s competitors are outmaneuvering and outperforming them when it comes to establishing links from other sites – and then report these within the framework of a strategy that will close these gaps at every level. If a client clearly isn’t pursuing this strategy (i.e. if the average competitor has multiple times their backlinks), be sure to communicate the value of competing on this front.

    Explain technical SEO issues the client has and how to fix them

    To use this approach, perform an audit of the potential client’s site to identify opportunities to improve its SEO practices. This is especially important if your firm specializes in these services.

    Providing specific tips and guidance serves as a substantial upfront gesture, and clearly demonstrates the value of an ongoing relationship.

    Conclusions

    Conveying the specific remedies and additions that you would pursue to optimize a client’s site and search strategy serves as a strong introduction and major first step toward becoming indispensable to the client as the one hired to execute a winning SEO game plan. Be sure to personalize your pitches as much as possible to stand out from competitors, while ensuring that compelling data makes up the crux of your appeal and the proof that you’re the firm to help that business achieve its full SEO potential.

    Kim Kosaka is the Director of Marketing at Alexa.com, which provides insights that agencies can use to help clients win their audience and accelerate growth.

    Where we’re going, we won’t need websites 

    As voice becomes the dominant force in search and people spend more time consuming content via social media, the future for the humble home page looks very bleak.

    If comScore is correct and half of all searches by 2020 are made via voice, a crucial question arises: will we still need websites?

    Even if the research is over-egged and the tipping point is reached a year or two later, the question still remains.

    As consumers increasingly get used to asking Alexa, Siri or Google for the news headlines, a dinner recipe or flight options for a weekend away, answers will not be provided by ten blue SEO links. Rather, the options will be weighed up by an algorithm before what is considered to be the best answer is read out.

    Remember Lycos and AltaVista?

    New technology can always delight early adopters, but as it becomes more mainstream, seasoned observers know some huge names may become casualties as the public adopts new behaviors. Remember AltaVista, AskJeeves and Lycos, as well as when Yahoo! was a force in search? Read these names out loud and you may be less inclined to wonder whether voice will have an impact and shift focus to picking winners and losers.

    Make no mistake, this is happening: a tide of disruption heading for search. Canalys estimates 56.3 million smart speakers will ship this year alone. The Amazon Echo has first-mover advantage and so has a 69% share. Google is in second spot with 25%.

    However, given the core function of these speakers (beyond playing audio) is to perform voice searches, it would take a brave digital marketing executive to bet against Google closing the gap and even coming out on top – eventually.

    Brands rush to the call of Alexa

    To get an idea of how this impacts search, as well as consumers’ interaction with their favorite brands, one need only look at the early rush to set up Alexa skills.

    In travel, Expedia and Kayak can find flights and trips via voice search; an Uber or Lyft ride can be hailed too. Capital One lets users check out their balance and Vitality has recipes and health advice available. If that sounds too healthy for a Friday night, both Pizza Hut and Domino’s are set up to receive an order via Alexa. On the other hand, Vitality allows users to find their own recipes and discover a workout to shift the calories.

    Then, of course, there are the weather, travel and news travel updates that can be handled via voice rather than a visit to a website.

    VR keyboard, anyone?

    It isn’t just voice. Canalys is predicting that this is the year when VR headset sales will increase five-fold as the sector moves towards shipping almost 10 million units per year by 2021.

    It’s hard to imagine VR users typing a search enquiry into a virtual keyboard in the air. Even harder to imagine that they will scan through a list of blue links to no doubt pick out a text-heavy page.

    Results will be aggregated through a dominant source of information in the each vertical: taking a tour of your next house will likely be made possible by Zoopla, or a similar aggregator; picking out a hotel via a VR version of Expedia; test-driving your next car perhaps via something like AutoTrader. Content would be coming from multiple sources, but will likely be accessed through a single aggregator: no need to type in a query and certainly no blue links to choose which home page to visit.

    Is the home page already dying?

    This is already starting to happen in news and media. Alarm bells no doubt started to ring when a chart for the New York Times showed how bad things had got with direct traffic.

    Source: New York Times.

    The dates are old, but that underlines how this trend for news sites to lose direct traffic has been developing for at least 5 years.

    Look at the latest figures for two British newspapers, The Times and The Telegraph, and the trend seems very clear. Even though the sites are subscription-based (presumably giving users an impetus to get the most from their monthly fee and bookmark the home page), direct traffic accounts for one third and one fifth of all visitors respectively. This is dwarfed by search, with social bringing up the rear.

    Source: SimilarWeb

    If you then compare these paid-for sites with two free resources, The Mirror and Independent.co.uk, the trend becomes even more notable. When people have no need to validate paying a monthly fee to get their money’s worth, both sources of free news sink to just one in five visitors arriving direct. Here social is far closer to direct traffic in importance, with search still way out ahead as the number one source of visitors.

    Source: SimilarWeb

    Putting the data to one side and asking consumers where they get their news results in a huge spike in favor of social media. GlobalWebIndex results from 2017 revealed nearly half, or 44%, say they get news from social media while 37% said they go direct to a news website. This 37% is matched by those who reveal they get their news via referrals from ‘somewhere else’ and a news aggregator service. The overall percentage exceeds 100% because of mixed behaviors.

    People say they access news mostly through social, but the traffic-monitoring data says mostly through search. Either way, going direct to the home page is a habit the majority of people no longer have.

    The mobile factor

    It’s also clear that mobile websites’ importance is beginning to fade. App usage has now overtaken the mobile web, suggesting that although people still use mobile sites, they have favorite apps for brands or key tasks.

    It’s perfectly reasonable to assume this behavior will tap in to the trend for brands to make their content voice-friendly. If a consumer has a preference to book hotels on Expedia and dinner with Domino’s, they will likely ask Alexa or Google to look for a Paris weekend deal or a two-for-one pizza offer through these favored brands. No need for a home page, though the app might be required to give an order reference or calendar reminder for peace of mind.

    No more home pages?

    If you look at the direction of travel, the future of the home page appears bleak.

    Within 2 years we’ll hit a tipping point in voice search and this year should see a spike in sales of VR headsets – the former having far more immediate effect on search than the latter.

    Also, in a mobile-first world, consumers are steering towards apps where they already know which brand they want to interact with, or trust an aggregator to come up with the right offer.

    I’d suggest this means the home page will still limp on for a few years, providing information to voice search algorithms, as well as being a resource for information and ecommerce.

    Ultimately, the job of a search marketer is going to shift towards getting their clients’ products and services in front of consumers via voice, and perhaps VR. There is no need for a home page here and we’re already seeing, particularly in news, how home pages are increasingly not the first port of call.

    Consumers are increasingly looking for the simplicity of using voice and brands must adapt to find the best ways to make their ‘skill’ used for those searches or to craft their data so it becomes the top answer.

    This will mean websites will eventually fall into disuse and become redundant. Not so much a fall off a cliff, but a long march into obscurity.

    Four ways Google is making SEO easier

    One of the easiest ways to understand SEO’s importance to the marketing mix is to pay attention to what Google says and does. Google is very keen on good SEO because it makes the internet a better place for users. If the internet is a better place for users, then Google can sell more ads.

    Here are four things Google has said and done to help marketers improve SEO that you may not be aware of.

    Google added an ‘SEO’ audit to its Lighthouse extension

    Google is actively giving developers advice on how to improve the sites they work on: its Lighthouse auditing tool now has an SEO component that can analyse any page for basic SEO competency and tell you how to make it better.

    This is a nice change for search marketers, who have for a long time made up for Google’s radio silence with research and educated guesswork. Some of the tips offered by the audit extension are fairly obvious and well known (tile tag exists, canonicals not broken, etc.), but others give an interesting insight into how Google assesses a page – such as the importance of making sure your text is big enough. Beyond being useful to marketers, it’s interesting to see how many different factors contribute to a positive user experience and correlate with a higher search engine ranking.

    Google made significant improvements to Search Console

    Search Console – formerly known as Webmaster Tools – helps you understand what’s going on beneath the hood of your website. It’s a comprehensive piece of software that, in its latest beta version, allows you to immediately index blogs and view up to 16 months of data in the search analytics (Performance) report.

    For search marketers, this is particularly important; just think back to the days before ‘(not provided)’ was your most common GA keyword. Now you have a rich bounty of keywords, just waiting to be incorporated into your search strategy.

    It’s worth mentioning that Google is taking Search Console seriously: it’s actively asking for suggestions and potential improvements, and even implementing some of them.

    Google has revamped its SEO guide

    By relaunching its SEO starter guide, Google is offering newbies an easy way to improve the quality of their websites. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a bit beyond starter guides, but it never hurts to brush up on the basics, especially when they’re directly from the horse’s mouth – after all, who knew text size was such a big deal?

    It’s a useful primer for anyone looking to brush up on their on-site optimization, and a strong indicator that Google is taking organic search as seriously as ever. With content, for example, it dedicates a whole section to advice on organising topics, understanding readers’ desires, optimising copy, images, and headlines for users (not engines), writing link text, and generally creating blogs and web pages that your target audience actually wants to read.

    Google has hired a new public search liaison

    Finally, Google’s hiring of a public search liaison suggests not only that organic search is here to stay, but that the company is willing to be more open and transparent about it.

    When Matt Cutts – who led Google’s WebSpam team and served as a kind of unofficial liaison between the company and the SEO community – resigned in 2016, search marketing professionals started communicating with Google in a number of different ways. They popped up in Google hangouts with engineers, asked questions in official Google Threads, and turned up to conferences where Google’s employees were present.

    Google, in turn, started communicating more with them via the Google Security Blog, the Google Chrome blog, the general Google blog, the Google Webmaster Central Blog, the Google Analytics blog, and the Google Search blog. It then appointed its first public liaison for search in October 2017: Danny Sullivan, a former SEO journalist and analyst.

    No doubt he’ll prove a useful resource for the SEO and marketing communities. But more importantly, perhaps, is what Sullivan’s appointment says about Google’s shifting philosophy to search marketing. If it was once obscure and opaque about organic search, it’s now open and consultative.

    Luke Budka is director at integrated marketing agency TopLine Comms.

    Five ways to use predictive analytics

    The era of graphs and spreadsheets as a way of thinking about analytics is beginning to approach its end. Predictive analytics, along with associated artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, are changing the way in which we deal with data. These tools are becoming more accessible, and ‘big data’ thinking is no longer limited to firms with billion dollar budgets.

    Predictive analytics provides a glimpse into the future, as well as access to strategic insights that can open up new opportunities. Here are five ways you can put predictive analytics to use, and how you can change the way you think about data.

    Qualifying leads

    According to Forrester research, predictive analytics has found three main use cases for dealing with leads. Specifically:

    Predictive scoring: This method analyzes how leads are responding to your marketing attempts and how likely they are to take action based on that information. In this way, you can more quickly identify which leads to focus more resources on and which to divert resources from.
    Identification models: This use case is an approach that focuses on comparing leads to customers who have taken actions in the past. In doing so, you can divert resources to those leads who are most promising based on previous actions they have taken, as well as identify new markets that you weren’t previously aware of.
    Personalization: In concert with predicting which leads are most likely to take which actions, the same data can be used to determine which leads respond best to which types of messaging. This advanced form of segmentation can take things deeper than simply splitting leads into groups – instead sending them much more personalized messages.

    One prominent example of this was covered in the Harvard Business Review, detailing how a Harley Davidson dealership increased sales leads by 2930% using an AI named Albert.

    The AI crunched CRM data to identify characteristics and behaviors of previous buyers. It then split them into micro-segments based on those characteristics. For each segment, it tested different combinations of headlines, visuals, and other elements to determine which worked best for each segment.

    The value of your lead qualification is highly dependent on the value and quantity of your data. No matter how good your statistical models are, their abilities are still very limited without access to the information that they need to learn about your customers.

    In the digital space – particularly if you are not using a CRM – the best place to start with predictive analytics will almost certainly be an integration of Google Analytics and Google BigQuery.

    Modeling customer behavior

    While lead qualification and conversion is the most obvious use-case for predictive analytics, and likely the one worth looking into first, it’s far from the only marketing application of this emerging technology. But virtually any use is going to have customer modeling at its core.

    You can divide customer modeling into three basic types: cluster models, propensity models, and collaborative filtering.

    Cluster models

    Clustering is a way of segmenting customers into groups based on many variables. A cluster model looks for correlations between various attributes and identifies a number of equilibria in which certain types of attributes tend to accumulate. What makes clustering special, compared with traditional segmentation, is the sheer number of variables involved. Clusters often use 30 variables or more, far more than would be possible if you were manually segmenting customers, or even if they were manually segmenting themselves.

    Clusters come in three forms:

    Product clusters: These are clusters of customers who tend to only buy specific types of products, ignoring other things in your catalog
    Brand clusters: These customers tend to buy from a specific collection of brands
    Behavioral clusters: These are segments of customers with a specific collection of behaviors, such as frequent buyers who place small orders, or customers who prefer the call center over the checkout cart.

    What’s important to recognize about these clusters is that they enable predictions about which clusters people belong to – even with limited information. If they buy one product with a specific brand, your brand cluster can predict what other brands they may be interested in, rather than just the more obvious recommendation of simply offering everything else by the same brand.

    Propensity models

    A propensity model is one that makes future predictions about customer behavior based on correlations with other behaviors and attributes. This may be accomplished using regression analysis or machine learning. A good propensity model controls for as many variables as possible so that correlations aren’t confused for causes.

    Here are a few examples of propensity models:

    Propensity to unsubscribe: A model like this allows you to determine the appropriate email frequency, weighing the possibility that a recipient will unsubscribe against any possible positive outcome
    Propensity to churn: These are customers who are likely to move on if you don’t take action, but who may be high value otherwise
    Lifetime value: Modeling the lifetime value of a customer can help you make strategic marketing decisions if it leads you to customers with more lifetime value, or leads to behaviors that extend lifetime value.

    Other propensity models include predicting how far through somebody’s lifetime value you are, and how likely they are to convert or buy.

    Collaborative filtering

    If you’ve seen Amazon’s “customers who liked this product, also liked…” recommendations, you know what type of model this is. At first glance collaborative filtering might sound similar to product-based cluster models, but collaborative filtering is a bit different. Rather than grouping customers by the types of products they are likely to buy, collaborative filters make recommendations based on aggregate behavior.

    In other words, this is less about the user’s product preferences and more about the behaviors that products tend to cause for users.

    There are three types of collaborative filters:

    Up-sell recommendations. These are recommendations for a higher tier version of a product before the sale is made
    Cross-sell recommendations. Also offered before the sale is made, this is a recommendation for a product that is often bought at the same time as the initial one
    Follow-up recommendations. These are recommendations for products that people tend to buy a certain time period after buying a prior product, such as replacing a product that runs out, or buying dishes after buying a table.
    Connecting the right product to the right market

    Working backwards from customer modeling, it’s possible to identify markets for your products that you may not have been aware of. Here are just a few examples of how this use case can play out:

    Incorporate referral sources into your cluster models. This will allow you to identify which traffic sources correlate with which types of products, brands, or behaviors. From this, you can immediately identify a new market for these products or brands
    Incorporate referral sources into your lifetime value propensity models. This will allow you to determine which locations to invest more of your marketing resources into, since you roughly know what the ROI will be
    Look for correlations between traffic sources and success with up-sells, cross-sells, and follow-up recommendations
    Look for correlations between keywords and your customer models
    Analyze the attributes that are strong predictors of buying specific types of products and brainstorm other markets that might share those attributes that you have not yet targeted
    Investigate high performing outliers where limited data is available and investigate whether expanding in those markets is a good option.
    Connecting the right users to the right content

    There are a number of ways that you can leverage your customer models to connect prospects with content in ways that move you toward your goals, some of them more obvious than others. Here are a few examples:

    Matching content related to products or brands based on the appropriate clusters
    Matching users to conversion copy when propensity models predict they are most likely to buy
    Recommending content to users that improves their propensity scores
    Recommending content to users that enhances their likelihood of responding well to an up-sell or cross-sell
    Matching traffic sources to the content that tends to produce high propensity scores for each particular traffic source.

    As you can see, the number of approaches you can take here grows pretty quickly. Think strategically about how best to put your models to use and make the most of your models.

    Discovering strategic marketing insights

    While some predictive analytics tools can automatically streamline your marketing process and generate results (like Albert did for Harley Davidson), it’s important to remember that human decisions still play a very important part in the process.

    Where predictive analytics and related AI tools often fail is in a propensity to ‘over-fit’ the data. They can get stuck at local maximums and minimums, incapable of making the leap to new terrain.

    Escaping from traps like these, and making the most of these tools in general, requires you to find strategic insights from within your predictive analytics models.

    For example, suppose you discover that a specific piece of content has a tendency to raise your prospects’ propensity scores; any automation you have in place can be applied to customize how your users are marketed to, and push them toward that piece of content. But what predictive analytics can’t tell you is whether there might be other traffic sources you haven’t tried yet that would be a good fit for that content. Using your experience and brainstorming capabilities, you can identify other potential markets for that content, feed them into your model, and see how the exposure changes things.

    Your goal in working with these kinds of models must always be to find insights like these and test them to see if the results are as expected. If your model runs on autopilot it will not discover any new opportunities alone.