Google’s core algorithm update: Who benefited, who lost out, and what can we learn?

Google's Broad Core Algorithm Update - Pi Datametrics test 1

There’s been much talk recently about Google implementing a broad core algorithm update.

A couple of weeks ago, webmasters started to notice changes to their search rankings which many suspected were due to an update to Google’s core algorithm. Google subsequently confirmed this via a tweet to its Search Liaison account, manned by former Search Engine Land editor and Search Engine Watch founder Danny Sullivan.

Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused around specific improvements. Some are broad changes. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these routinely several times per year….

— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) March 12, 2018

Google has suggested that this update has nothing to do with the quality of content, and instead focuses on improving the quality of the SERPs. At SMX West, Nathan Johns, a search quality analyst at Google, stated in an AMA session that the core update was designed to “reward under-rewarded sites” rather than award penalties.

At Pi Datametrics, our data on organic search rankings would tend to confirm this, as the only real losses we’ve seen – while dramatic – were generally short-lived, and occurred in the run-up to the update itself.

However, if Google wasn’t testing quality, what exactly were they testing?

I turned to the SERPs to have a look, going back in time to the period just before, during and after the recent update. I asked Google a relatively simple question, then analyzed the results to detect any rumblings or suspicious flux.

Testing the Google broad core algorithm update

Google Query: What’s the best toothpaste?

Google's Broad Core Algorithm Update - Pi Datametrics test key 1

I’ve focused primarily on content that was visible on page 1 or 2 at the start of this year.

We can clearly see that all these pages dropped out of the top 100 then reappeared on the same day. This occurred multiple times over a five week period.

Seven websites all performed pretty well (visible on page 1 and 2), with a further two sites appearing mid-way through the shake-up, that had no previous visibility (Expertreviews [dark pink] and Clevelandclinic [dark blue]).

The obvious shake-up started on 24 January, roughly five weeks before the algorithm was said to have fully rolled out (Sunday 4th March).

What we have here is a pattern we’ve seen many times before, something that is only visible with access to daily data on the entire SERPs landscape. It looks like a period of testing pre-full rollout, which is only to be expected.

Here’s the same chart, zoomed in from 01 February:

Google's Broad Core Algorithm Update - Pi Datametrics test 2

In the chart above we can see the flux continuing from February 5 onwards. Every site involved experienced almost the exact same pattern of visibility loss.

Things finally settled down on March 8. At first glance, it looks like all sites regained their original positions.

However, on closer inspection we can see that all came out slightly worse off, by an average of just over two positions; the smallest drop being one position (which can be painful on page one) and the largest being six.

Knowing when to act and when to sit tight

If this chart says one thing, it is DON’T PANIC if you drop out of the top 100 for a term you care about!

Just keep monitoring the SERPs every day. If you’ve ruled out content cannibalization, it could well be a period of algorithm testing – as with the broad core update.

If you’ve put the searcher first and created the kind of rich content that will satisfy them, then the chances are you will recover from these testing times.

Or maybe, like the Expertreviews site above (following the injection of a long-form, socially popular and recently updated piece of content into their ecosystem), you could even move from nowhere to position three, nudging all others down a peg.

Content that matched user intent was safe

The only two websites entirely unaffected by all of this were Reviews.com and Which.co.uk, proving that the combination of first mover advantage, relevance and fantastic authority ensures high visibility and algorithmic stability:

Google's Broad Core Algorithm Update - Pi Datametrics test 3

Google's Broad Core Algorithm Update - Pi Datametrics test 3

So, the immediate questions are – who has benefited from this shake-up? What happened in the gaps between the spikes? Who’s lost out and why? Are we now seeing a SERP more aligned with the intent of the searcher?

Who benefited from the early shake-up?

It wasn’t Expertreviews or Clevelandclinic. They benefited later.

Let’s introduce some of the the momentary winners who gained visibility during the downtime of all either sites:

Google's Broad Core Algorithm Update - Pi Datametrics test 4

Google's Broad Core Algorithm Update - Pi Datametrics test key 4

Wins for Business Insider, Colgate and Amazon

  • Businessinsider.com benefited from the initial shake-up. It has some great content, but it’s not been updated since October 2017. It has been indexed all this time, but only really became visible when Google pushed the previously well positioned sites out. Result? It survived the shake-up and ended on page one.
  • The same happened to the Colgate page. Note its /en-us/ TLD. Arguably, it shouldn’t be visible in the UK anyway. This page only provided a list of toothpaste types e.g. ‘Fluoride’ or ‘Tartar control’ etc. This didn’t answer my question or match my intent. Result? Ended up dropping back to page five after the shake-up.
  • The Amazon page simply displays a list of its bestsellers in toothpaste. From a content perspective, it’s not that inspiring. Result? Ended up dropping back to page three.

So the question is – if I were searching for “What’s the best toothpaste?” which of these new pages would I prefer?

All pages are mobile friendly, but if I really wanted to know what the best toothpaste was, I’d definitely prefer to read the Businessinsider.com page – coincidentally the only page that moved up to page one following the shake-up and stayed there.

In other words, the only one to satisfy my intent was in fact the only page that remained visible post shake-up. This page, to me answers my question perfectly.

What do these insights tell us about the core update?

Based on our testing, we can deduce that this algorithm is concerned with optimizing search results to support user intent, rather than to audit quality.

Why?

  • Losses were not drastic, meaning we can rule out a penalty of any kind.
  • Of all winners, none appeared to rise as a result of content updates.
  • Some sites with strong, relevant content seemingly lost rankings in Google UK, as they were intended for the US market. This suggests that Google was auditing relevancy factors beyond just content (i.e. location / tld), to serve the best results and satisfy user intent.
  • In this respect, Google’s core update was concerned with the nature rather than the quality of content.

    What better way to test the match of nature with intent than by shaking up the SERPs for a couple of weeks to determine user reaction?

    Should you panic when your content visibility nosedives?

    If your content visibility drops, it’s always necessary to carry out checks to ensure you have done everything within your power to mitigate the issue.

    In the face of an algorithm update (like the recent broad core update), however, the best advice is to do nothing but monitor the SERPs closely.

    If it is algorithmic testing, you most certainly won’t be the only one involved. Other sites will follow the exact same pattern down to the day. That’s a big clue that it’s algorithmic rather than isolated. Talking to others within the SEO and webmaster communities can help you to affirm that yours isn’t an isolated incident, and that you aren’t on the receiving end of a penalty from Google.

    Google has confirmed that sites that experienced ranking drops as a result of the broad core update aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong. As I stated at the beginning of this article, the losses that we did observe were short-lived and not drastic.

    If you want to make sure that your content is insulated against future updates of this kind, focus on creating content that puts the searcher first and will satisfy user intent. But above all: don’t panic.

    A version of this article was originally published to the Pi Datametrics blog.

    Keyword research: 5 ways to find great long-tail keywords

    The SEO landscape is changing.

    RankBrain, Latent Semantic Indexing and voice search have placed a heavy hand of friendly persuasion on the SEO industry, resulting in a shift towards solution-led (rather than keyword-led) content.

    For years, short-tail and transactional keywords were the primary focus of SEO campaigns and, to an extent, they still tend to dominate the communication channels between agencies and clients. However, there is a clear acknowledgement on both sides of the fence with regards to the power of long-tail keywords.

    Evangelism by the likes of Rand Fishkin and Neil Patel, along with the popularity of ‘content marketing’, has no doubt helped fuel this adoption.

    The complexity of Google’s search algorithm means that they/it (/he/she?!) has a stronger grasp of the intent behind a search, rather than simply looking at the keyword strings that make up said search term. This has had a direct effect on how we plan our content and attract our target audience.

    Does that mean that keyword research is dead? Not at all. In the ever increasingly competitive and complex world of search, it means that research is more important than ever.

    But how do we adapt keyword research in relation to this focus on identifying great long-tail keywords?

    First: focus on searcher intent

    This should underpin all of your activities – research, creation and distribution. What is the searcher really trying to achieve and how is your content helping them reach this goal?

    Ultimately, the tools listed below are there to help you speed up this process and to provide ideas, but you can’t fully rely on them to produce an outstanding long-tail keyword strategy.

    Take the time to understand your target market, the length of the sales cycle or what factors influence their purchasing/conversion decisions. Subsequently, you will be able to understand the type of search terms that can be targeted to provide the most value for your users. Better yet, you can understand the intent behind relevant searches and provide solutions.

    Google’s Keyword Planner

    Often the first port of call for many when it comes to keyword research, albeit somewhat restricted by the necessity of a minimum AdWords spend to access more accurate data.

    The Keyword Planner may have less specific data in comparison to the former ‘Keyword Tool’, but it does have some useful additions to help you with identifying valuable long-tail keywords.

    The ‘Keyword ideas’ and ‘Ad group ideas’ function provides related search terms, helping you save time thinking of all the different variations. Sift through the tabs (there were 700 keyword ideas in this example) to gain data on potential long-tail keyword ideas.

    Even if you don’t find the perfect match for your strategy you should be able to acquire new idea ‘streams’ which should lead to more fruitful long-tail keywords.

    Use Google’s suggestions

    Do not underestimate how useful Google’s own suggestions within the SERPs are. They are unlikely to be the central pillar in your strategy but they can certainly contribute.

    When we are searching for those high value long-tail keywords, Google rather helpfully suggests related search terms according to what you are inputting into the search bar:

    Once you have entered your search, Google also displays related searches to help you find the right information:

    BuzzSumo, Answer the Public, Keywordtool.io & others

    As SEOs in 2018, we are spoilt by the amount of tools available to help us draw insights into what the most effective strategy will be. Keyword research is no different. We have progressed from simply looking at average monthly search volume to being able to utilize BuzzSumo to understand what the most shared type of content is in relation to your topic.

    We can use Answer the Public to be instantly displayed within a plethora of long-tail search terms in a visual ‘who, what, why, when, how’ type format.

    Or use Keywordtool.io to have greater access to Google Suggest and Autocomplete, therefore accessing 750+ keywords at a time rather than the more granular method mentioned previously.

    I am absolutely not doing justice to the value just these three platforms represent, but there are reasons as to why I have not dived into using the tools:

    • I don’t want to spoil the surprise
    • This article would become far too long!
    • There are lots of really good platforms out there which have not been mentioned
    • (Most importantly) these tools are there to facilitate ideas and structure. In my opinion they do not complete the job for you.

    Identify the value

    Uurrggghhh. Value. Please Mr. Value, come and join the throng of other overused buzzwords.

    Whatever terminology you use, this is the most important point that will be made in this article.

    The tools listed above will only get you so far in creating the highest performing content strategy possible. Like with any keyword research, the suggestions and data are great starting points.

    However, there are other variables at play which will dictate which search terms you target and the content you produce. Some examples of which may be:

    • Relevance to your product or service
    • Demographic
    • In house expertise and ability to create content on a specific subject
    • Buyer persona’s buying processes
    • Competition
    • Time decay

    In my opinion, it is madness not to check the SERPs before signing off on a keyword and subsequent content strategy. Not only do the SERPs give you great insights into what Google perceives as the user intent behind any one search, but they also show you how competitive each search term is.

    If you are investing time and money into content creation and targeting longer tail search terms, you want to make sure that you are targeting the ones with highest ROI. That doesn’t mean the highest search volume – it means the ones that will deliver the greatest results in relation to the amount of work required.

    High search volume keywords are great and if you can target them then fantastic, go ahead. Be aware, though, that there are quicker wins.

    Using your keyword research, you should be able to sift through the SERPs to understand which ones have results which could be improved. Perhaps you do not feel like the searcher’s intent has been completely satisfied, or that new information has come out which makes the other results dated.

    Whatever the reason, spotting these opportunities and using the SERPs to influence your content strategy is critical in a truly efficient campaign.

    Why Google Shopping is dominating retail search marketing

    As Google has scaled up its Shopping products in recent years, there has been a growing consensus in the retail search marketing space that Shopping ads are one of the most effective ways to win valuable consumer clicks.

    This is especially true of the non-branded, broader search terms that are typical of the early stages of the customer journey.

    During this phase, Google Shopping ads – commonly referred to as Product Listing Ads, or PLAs – are considered to be a key means of engaging consumers early, and boosting new customer acquisition.

    If the trends that we are currently seeing continue, 2018 will be a year of increased investment in Google Shopping ad formats across product-based search.

    While text ads are still the most popular advertising format in many categories, retail-specific categories tell a very different story, with spend on Google Shopping ads far outstripping text ads in retail categories.

    A new study by AI-powered search intelligence platform Adthena, analyzing 40 million search ads from more than 260,000 retailers, has shed light on the extent to which Google Shopping ads have come to dominate retail search marketing.

    In this piece, we will look at some of the key findings from the report, explore the causes of Google Shopping’s phenomenal expansion, and consider what retailers can do to “future-proof” their search marketing strategy against upcoming shifts in the market.

    Content produced in collaboration with Adthena.

    The growth of Google Shopping

    The Google Shopping ad unit has evolved considerably over the past few years, with increased attention and prominence afforded to Shopping ads in the search results page. This has resulted in a rise in clicks and impressions that has fueled the growth of Google Shopping ads in retail categories.

    As of Q1 2018, Google Shopping ads are driving 76.4% of retail search ad spend in the US, and 82% of retail search ad spend in the UK – an overwhelming majority in both instances.

    Adthena’s research found that in the US, this 76.4% of search spend was responsible for 85.3% of all clicks on AdWords or Google Shopping ads between January and February 2018. In the UK, the 82% of retail search ad spend invested in Google Shopping ads was responsible for 87.9% of clicks.

    These figures confirm that Google Shopping ads are still offering good value to retailers in terms of spend/click ratio, and suggest that the value of Google Shopping ads has not (yet) reached saturation point, with room for growth in some key areas.

    Mobile is one of these: according to Adthena’s research, although shopping ads on desktop generate a slightly greater share of clicks, Google Shopping ad spend on mobile now matches that of desktop, supporting evidence that mobile search is serving as a crucial touchpoint for product purchasing decisions.

    Presently, Google Shopping ads on mobile are driving 79% of device ad spend in the US, and win 87.9% of clicks. With Google shifting more and more emphasis onto mobile search, this is likely to become an increasingly important area for retailers to invest in, and we may yet see these numbers grow further.

    However, how much longer can Google Shopping continue its rise before the market eventually becomes saturated? To answer that, we need to understand what has fuelled Google Shopping’s dominance of the retail search market in the first place.

    What is fueling Google Shopping’s retail dominance?

    Ashley Fletcher, VP of Marketing at Adthena, believes that prominence and reach are the two key factors that have driven the rise of Google Shopping ads in retail search marketing.

    Google’s introduction of a carousel for desktop Shopping ads in October 2016 was the first major change which gave increased prominence to Google Shopping ads. Since then, the ad unit has only developed further, with even more different formats for advertisers to benefit from.

    “The unit has evolved both in terms of prominence on the page and in terms of ad features,” says Fletcher. “It’s also very rich in content – particularly on mobile – with multiple variants of the unit available to advertisers.”

    In the US and the UK, the number of ads in the desktop carousel has even doubled as of February 2018 to surface 30 paid listings. This may go some way to explaining the particular dominance of Google Shopping ads in the US and UK – as we saw from the statistics in the previous section.

    Then there’s reach: as Fletcher explains, in the past year, Google Shopping Ads have begun influencing users higher up the purchase funnel through far broader terms, appearing for much more generic product searches than before.

    “In the last year, Shopping ads have started to trigger on a lot of the upper-funnel, generic terms – like “red dress”, or “black dress”. This is really driving users into a brand experience around those generics: it encourages the user to start drilling into those terms, and conduct longer-tail keyword searches off the back of that.

    “These are very high-volume terms, keywords with a lot of traffic – so mastering that could be a challenge for search marketers, but you now need to be present at the top of that funnel, as well.”

    While these developments have spurred a huge surge of growth in Google Shopping ads over the past two years, Fletcher believes this expansion won’t continue for long.

    “In 2018, we’ll get closer to saturation point,” he says. “I don’t think there’s much room for further growth.

    “Then I think we’ll get into the space we were in with text ads, where advertisers will be limited on spots, margins are going to be squeezed – meaning CPCs are going to increase – and it will come down to marginal gains: how can you optimize performance, as growth slows down?”

    What can retailers do to get the most out of their ad spend in that environment?

    “First and foremost, being able to manage at scale is a must-have,” says Fletcher.

    “Secondly, master your categories. If you are a retailer, then knowing that you’re winning in – for example – men’s board shorts, and getting down to that level of knowledge with your categories, is essential.

    “If you don’t do that, then you’ll have a very blinkered view of what’s going on.

    “If you’re a department store retailer, for example, and your products reach more than 200 different categories, there is a dependency on knowing how well you’re performing in each of these categories. You’re going to have different competitors in each one: the challenge is knowing that, and making sure you are still winning there.”

    Adapting for the future of search marketing

    The rapid uptake of Google Shopping ads as the most significant part of retail ad spend budgets reveals how quickly search marketers adapt to new formats and opportunities.

    As search advertising practices continue to change and new formats are introduced, advertisers will need to maintain this agility in order to keep ahead of the game.

    “Google Shopping can be quite daunting for some advertisers when they take their first steps into it,” says Fletcher. “But if you do that with enough research, and enough context about what’s going on in each of your retail categories, you’ll have a far better chance of surviving.

    “If you don’t follow the trends, adopt early, and understand these channels, you will get left behind.”

    Amazon Shopping, for example, is a growing force in the retail search landscape which Fletcher believes will only play a bigger role in years to come, threatening to erode the dominance that Google Shopping currently enjoys.

    Even as they take steps to future-proof their search marketing campaigns in the realm of Google Shopping, search marketers should investigate the opportunities presented by Amazon, in order to ensure the longevity of their search marketing strategy going forward.

    For more insights from Adthena’s study and analysis of 40 million search ads, click here to download Adthena’s Q1 2018 search advertising report, The Rise of Google Shopping.

    The merged approach: How combining traditional and digital brings marketing success

    Digital is vital to the success of any marketing strategy. Or is it?

    It’s a bold statement but one that is only true if combined with traditional marketing, to really allow brands to effectively dominate the advertising space within their market place, regularly targeting and connecting with the consumer.

    Before the technology and social takeover, brands were able to gently position themselves in front of the audience using traditional techniques such as newspaper ads, TV appearances or radio mentions – all mediums that had the ability to direct customers to a brand.

    However, with the growing need for immediate information, and the changing ways in which consumers access it, brands have been forced to react, needing to dominate every advertising platform possible just to remain visible.

    With this comes a marketing strategy overhaul, marrying the simplicity and effectiveness of traditional techniques with the instant value brought through digital channels.

    The change in the customer approach, and in turn the sales journey, has caused brands to move forcefully into the digital world, whether ready to or not.

    Although digital now makes up around 60% of marketing efforts, according to oursocialtimes.com, 13% of marketers still rely heavily on traditional methods, adamant they still achieve the desired results. It is studies such as this that prove the value of merging both traditional and digital techniques, to create a well-rounded, data led approach to customer engagement and brand positioning.

    While we recognize the value of introducing and focusing on digital, one brand took this idea too far, reducing all activity to create just a digital strategy.

    Social only: Pepsi’s near-death experience

    Pepsi, one of the most recognized brands on the planet, made the controversial decision to remove all traditional elements from their marketing, instead relying entirely on social media to engage with their customers and position themselves against their biggest rival, Coca-Cola.

    Pepsi previously had a solid strategy based on television advertising, showing their commercials during prime time viewing to gain the widest appeal. After 23 years of running ads during the Super Bowl, this was pulled with the budget moved entirely into social media.

    External agency relationships were severed and the brand took on all marketing in-house in order to stay closer to the brand’s message. This was a radical move that left marketers across the globe horrified and taking bets on just how long the brand would stick with this strategy before relenting.

    Image by Mike Mozart, available via CC BY-2.0

    They didn’t have to wait long. Within a matter of months, the repercussions became clear as a large proportion of their audience were no longer targeted with the brand relying on a heavy social following to continue to market themselves. This one-dimensional strategy was short lived, and Pepsi quickly made a reappearance on television screens.

    Despite the upset that stemmed from the now infamous Kendall Jenner advert, the brand is once again back in front of the target consumer.

    As Pepsi struggled with the conflict between digital and traditional marketing methods, its biggest rival, Coca-Cola, was instead leading the way in a combined marketing strategy successfully launching a campaign that covered online and offline channels.

    Showing them how it’s done

    In 2013, Coca-Cola launched their ‘Share a Coke’ campaign that was a perfect blend of traditional and digital techniques designed to increase brand engagement and product sales.

    Offline, customers were able to purchase personalized bottles, with more names available online, encouraging users to visit the website. The campaign was a success from the very beginning with consumers determined to collect every bottle they saw that had their name on it.

    The campaign was consistently shared across social channels and social engagement resulted in 998m Twitter impressions and 235,000 tweets containing the hashtag, ‘Share a Coke’.

    It is vital to nail your marketing strategy or you quite simply put your brand in jeopardy. The biggest lesson to learn from both Pepsi and Coca-Cola is that knowing your audience is key, something that Pepsi clearly didn’t, while Coca-Cola adopted multiple ways to actively address and engage with key members of their demographic.

    Whatever your approach may be, you need to clearly identify what is going to work for your consumer, not just for you.

    Digital is at the forefront of marketing right now as brands really see it as a way to directly target members of their audience, in so many different ways.

    Owning the influencer game

    Taking the digital approach that one step further, brands like Daniel Wellington and ASOS are focusing their efforts on using key players in the world of fashion and celebrity to help build their brand identity and to ultimately, drive sales.

    The tactic is simple. Identify the influencers that speak directly to the audience, asking them to post regularly across social channels (predominantly Instagram) about a number of products. Sit back and wait for the demographic to build brand recognition and loyalty causing the orders to roll in.

    Influencers have a lot of control over their followers, as the ordinary person becomes focused on attempting to emulate everything from what they wear, the places they visit, even adopting their views in some extreme cases. The passion that followers have for their ‘influencers’ of choice is at the heart of this marketing approach and the very reason for its success.

    Daniel Wellington is now a key player within the watch market and has developed its brand identity through the use of carefully selected influencers, establishing themselves in the marketplace as a high-end watch designer favoured in celebrity circles.

    As part of the brand’s approach, influencers and ‘celebrities’ such as the cast of Love Island and TOWIE, are paid to deliver regular Instagram posts about the watches, while offering followers money-off discounts with individual codes (a great way for the brand’s marketing team to identify which celebrity is most successful at turning followers into customers).

    Instagram posts by Kendall Jenner and Carissa Smart, a fashion, lifestyle and flat lay photographer

    Although this strategy may seem simple, there are still pitfalls. Are you sure you know your audience? Is Instagram really where they are? Are you using the right influencers/celebrities?

    A lot of consumer research and data needed to take place before the strategy was implemented, to make sure that Daniel Wellington, a relatively new brand, was catapulted into the limelight for all the right reasons.

    The approach has certainly paid off, however, with 1.3 million Instagram posts now using #danielwellington while the brand’s own account now has over 3 million followers. They also recently opened their first flagship store.

    ASOS have followed suit, throwing themselves into the influencer game, having recently created ‘ASOS Insider’. A small number of fashion influencers are offered their own ASOS Instagram accounts, enabling them to regularly post ‘outfit of the day’ pictures, tagging the brands to allow followers to recreate their looks.

    Cleverly, the post will also include links back to the ASOS website, serving as another gentle push for consumers to purchase the products.

    ASOS use influencers that already have a strong following to grow a natural audience around the brand, easily growing the brand’s reach.

    Both brands have executed the influencer approach perfectly and are now reaping the rewards for doing so, but this is not a one size fits all approach and it can be a difficult strategy to implement.

    Before reaching out to the likes of the Kardashians or other reality TV heavyweights, however, you need to consider the following:

    1. Identify your audience and be where they are

    Identifying who your audience is, not just who you want them to be, is at the centre of the influencer strategy. How can you talk to them if you don’t know who they are and importantly, where they are?

    2. Use influencers who will perfectly represent your brand and be able to speak directly to your demographic

    Don’t just use high profile influencers or celebrities in the hope of gaining attention if they are not an advocate of your brand principles, or do not have the ability to speak directly to your targeted demographic.

    3. Love and share user-generated content

    Consumers like to feel valued, and recognized, by their favourite brands and the best way to do this is to encourage them to create their own content and recognize it across branded social platforms. This is something Daniel Wellington does well with its ‘pick of the day’ campaign.

    4. Convert followers into customers – track use of discount codes, promotions, time of posts versus time of orders

    Be sure to regularly track the performance of the campaign to really know if it is working. Influencer marketing can be pricey and you want to make sure you are getting a good ROI and importantly improving the performance of your business.

    The type of marketing approach you take very much depends on who your demographic is, which will affect how they can be reached and encouraged to respond.

    While more and more brands are becoming affiliated with digital marketing campaigns, there are still instances where traditional marketing is the only way to target the consumer – as Argos found out.

    Taking it back to the old-school

    Argos are a unique case in terms of the form of marketing they adopt. Typically, it is the brand that decides how they position themselves in their market place, taking either a traditional or digital approach to really get the attention of the target customer. This is not the case for the retail giant.

    Argos are known for their catalogs: the physical database of the enormous number of products they sell, something that is really aligned with more traditional marketing techniques alongside all printed paraphernalia.

    In 2012, Argos made the decision to stop their catalogs, instead encouraging customers to visit the website which naturally serves as an online version of the long-adored catalog. The customer base quickly revolted and Argos were forced to backtrack.

    In late 2017, the brand began a second attempt at entering the digital space and started to test consumer demand in relation to the catalogs – as expected, this wasn’t very well received.

    Save the Argos catalogue! #argoscatalogue #savetheargoscatalogue https://t.co/ClL5SV9isZ

    — Maddie Parnell (@maddieparnell1) September 7, 2017

    For Argos, the voice of their consumer was so loud that they were forced to sit up and take note. The consumer had a direct impact on the brand’s business model and the way in which they engaged with new and existing customers.

    There will always be room for traditional techniques within modern marketing, and any savvy marketer will be aware of this. But what are the best ways to incorporate traditional within any strategy, in a modern, digital focused world?

    1. Decide what works based on who you’re targeting

    Whether it’s print-based adverts, press releases, or events, if it works for your demographic and can deliver your brand message, then don’t rule it out.

    2. Don’t be afraid to give your brand a face

    Networking is one of the oldest tactics, but also one of the most successful. Getting out there and meeting and greeting people can raise brand awareness and give your business a personality – ultimately gaining consumer trust.

    3. Think about ROI

    Traditional marketing can deliver a suitable ROI at a faster rate than digital, which is a big consideration for some brands, particularly start-ups and those with slightly smaller budgets.

    Below are some examples of traditional techniques that still work!

    • Press releases
    • Networking/Speaking engagements
    • Cold calling
    • Print ads
    • Event marketing
    • Direct mail
    • Business cards

    As much as Argos wanted to fully immerse themselves in the digital space, they were unable to. Which begs the question, do consumers prefer the valued traditional methods?

    While the answer isn’t as simple as just a straight yes or no, it’s clear that consumers still appreciate the traditional approach. This suggests that while brands need to be considerate of digital, they must be able to straddle both principles in order to really fulfil the purpose of marketing; targeting and appealing to the consumer to ultimately make for a successful business.

    The golden child of marketing

    In 2013, 02 brought us the ‘Be more dog’ campaign, a prime example of how to combine traditional and digital techniques to really deliver a message. The campaign meant the brand fought off strong competition from competitors, saw it win countless awards and most importantly, got people talking for all the right reasons.

    Although there was little relevance between the campaign idea and mobile phones (in fact, there was no real connection) it was the unique angle that made it stand out and promote perfectly the relaunch of the brand’s new priority app.

    There was no escape from this campaign – adverts ran across televisions and in cinemas, while users were targeted through geo-located mobile phone ads and YouTube and MSN had their homepages overtaken by a Ginger Cat attempting to ‘be more dog’. Its success was in its simplicity and the clever ways in which every possible consumer was targeted.

    What can we learn from 02, and how can this approach be adopted within every business’ marketing plan?

    1. Don’t be afraid to stand out

    A big campaign can seem overwhelming, and the results are not always guaranteed, despite the weeks and months of planning that goes into them.

    But, if done right, the rewards can be more than worth it. 02 chose a campaign idea that had little to do with mobile phones or indeed apps, but they executed something that got attention and the rest fell into place.

    2. Think big – make it shareable

    Content needs to be unique, shareable, something that will allow people to see your brand and understand the message trying to be delivered.

    In this case, 02 wanted to be cool, edgy and vibrant, all of which were achieved within a matter of hours of the campaign launching – generating almost half a million YouTube views in the first 48 hours.

    3. Again, where are your consumers?

    02 understand that their consumers, both new and old, are everywhere and they needed to make sure that ‘be more dog’ was visible to them all. To do this, they cleverly combined both traditional and digital tactics to make sure no one was missed.

    4. Look beyond the usual channels

    Your current marketing strategy may be hugely successful, but at the same time, it might not be working.

    It is easy to get stuck in a rut with either outcome, so don’t be afraid to consider all channels, and as recommended, merge the two disciplines to give your brand a broader platform when attempting to speak to the demographic.

    Summing up

    We’ve moved into an era where traditional and digital marketing methods have the ability to complement each other, allowing brands to increase the ways in which they reach the consumer.

    However, it is so important to pick an approach that works for the consumer, rather than one that fits in with an ideal. Marketing’s very purpose is to allow brands to position themselves in front of the target demographic and if they are unreachable, or switched off to certain platforms, the marketing strategy becomes pointless.

    We have seen some big brand names either get it absolutely right or spectacularly wrong, and each offers valuable lessons for those looking to dominate their marketplace.

    Three ways to up your video marketing game

    Video rich snippets

    Video marketing has been getting huge for a few years now.

    Videos allow companies to reach a wider audience (thanks to the popularity of powerful video marketing platforms) and to increase sales and conversions (videos have been found to be the easiest way to explain your selling points).

    But how easy it is to really see ROI from your video marketing campaigns?

    These days, every other company is implementing video marketing tactics in some way or another. Whether it’s publicizing video testimonials and reviews or creating educational video resources (in the form of webinars or courses), there’s a lot of brand-owned video content floating around.

    But how many of those companies have achieved real tangible results from those video production efforts? And what exactly is ROI when it comes to video marketing? Does it all come to investing huge budgets into video production and promotion?

    Not exactly. Here are three ways to up your video marketing game before you decide to invest more into it:

    1. Start with defining your goals

    It’s astounding how many video creators don’t quite understand why they are doing video in the first place. The usual arguments “My competitors are doing that” and “It seems to be a thing now“often come into play here.

    It’s never good to do anything just for the sake of doing it, not just in marketing, mind you. The question “What I am trying to achieve here” always comes first.

    For marketing and business purposes, here are a few long-term goals you may want to consider:

    Manage your reputation

    Videos work great for bringing your point across. You can use videos to tell more about your company, its story, the team behind it, your success stories, etc.

    Build loyalty and turn your company into a niche knowledge hub

    I’ve written previously for Search Engine Watch about how to turn your website into a niche knowledge hub; videos can help with this a great deal, as they’re the easiest way to explain complex things and show off what you are good at.

    Create monetization opportunities

    Let’s get back to that question I asked earlier: “And what exactly is ROI when it comes to video marketing?”

    As you can see from my previous two points, video marketing cannot always be measured. It’s difficult to put a price on things like reputation, authority and loyalty.

    But that doesn’t mean video marketing can’t be turned into an additional income source, immediately affecting your bottom line. Videos can be monetized in many ways: They can drive money from ads, you can offer sponsorship opportunities, you can provide video creation services and you can use videos to put together paid content upgrades, like video courses and premium on-demand video channels.

    That being said, your goals may differ and there’s no preventing you from setting several objectives (both short- and long-term) behind your video marketing strategy to try and achieve many goals. In fact, it’s the smartest way to go.

    2. Plan your video marketing strategy as well as each of the campaigns properly

    Now, depending on your goals, here are a few ways to approach strategic planning behind your video marketing:

    Manage your reputation

    Online reputation management is tricky. To put it simply, there’s never “enough” here: No matter how solid your reputation looks like at this very moment, you may always want to do more.

    The thing is, the more popular your brand becomes, the higher the risk that someone will want to build their name by trying to ruin yours. Strong brand has lots of benefits: With it comes loyalty, return visitors and buyers, word-of-mouth and more. But there’s one risk that comes with that online popularity that you always need to keep at the back of your mind: There may always be people and businesses that may want to get known by attacking your brand.

    Videos are a great way to solidify your online reputation because they tend to be easy to rank for all types of navigational queries and they also attract a good deal of attention in search results thanks to video rich snippets.

    [Even if any negative reviews pop up in top ten for your brand-name-related queries, you can always rest assured that more attention will be paid to your brand-owned video listing because it usually enjoys that rich snippet treatment from Google]

    To use videos for reputation management, plan out a year-worth content editorial around your product launches, conferences, team meetings and customer inetractions, for example:

    • Use Animoto or Animatron to put together video lists of your products (e.g. gift ideas), turn your customers’ written testimonials into a video presentations with the background music or create fun viral videos for big holidays
    • Use tools like Blue Jeans to video-interview your niche influencers or bloggers and even stream your interview to Facebook or Youtube
    • Play with many more video creation tools that will give you many more video content ideas.

    For planning and timing purposes, create a clear roadmap of everything you are going to publicize. Here’s an example of my video roadmap including a video idea for each holiday or company milestone:

    Video roadmap

    [One video a month video roadmap: Notice how each video idea it timed up to a big holiday or a company milestone or sometimes even both]

    Build loyalty and turn your company into the niche knowledge hub

    For a SaaS company and influencer looking to establish themselves as an industry knowledge hub or a niche authority, video content is an excellent medium to do so.

    If you decide to engage in creating educational videos, there’s always much more to it than publishing your tutorials on Youtube. In my older tutorial on re-packaging videos for more results, I shared this flowchart on how we tend to plan an educational video campaign for it to become a solid video course in the end:

    Video course

    [If you keep this flowchart in mind when even starting your video campaign, you’ll be able to brainstorm more suitable topics and produce a finalized product in the end]

    Create alternative traffic and monetization sources

    From the flow-chart above, you can see that Youtube is just one step in the process: I never advise limiting yourself to Youtube only. There are a few reasons for that:

    • Youtube is getting too crowded: It’s next to impossible to get noticed there these days
    • Youtube has been limiting users’ monetization freedom for years. Even Youtube stars complain that their income from Youtube’s own monetization has dropped dramatically. And with the recent update, Youtube has blocked newer and less established video creators from their monetization program.
    • Finally and most importantly, it’s never advisable to put all eggs in one basket and rely on third-party platforms: Take full ownership of your own content and your own community!

    So what’s the solution?

    You own the video content you are creating: So make sure you have one place where you can take advantage of it, i.e. your own website.

    This is especially true for video tutorials that tend to take a lot of time and effort. Make sure you put that effort into a better, bigger use, i.e. ultimately putting together a course which you can then use to monetize your video creation efforts, build a separate community of your own and establish yourself as a niche authority.

    I used to be a vocal supporter of Udemy for this purpose but their recent moves in limiting my rights as a creator (dictating pricing strategy, excluding free courses from their search, etc.) have prompted me to look for a better option for consolidating my video tutorials.

    I’ve been recently looking at Uscreen.tv as a flexible and reliable hosting and managing solution for my video tutorials. Uscreen.tv allows to put together a video course, control your pricing model (subscription or one-time), easily build awesome landing pages, email your students with your updates and so much more.

    You can use your custom domain and customize your courses to match your brand which was the biggest selling point to me.

    Uscreen.tv

    [If you create educational videos of any kind, consider packaging and selling your content using tools like Uscreen.tv]

    For more context on all the possibilities of this and similar platforms, read this awesome Social Media Today piece which is where I discovered Uscreen.tv from.

    3. Diversify, diversify, diversify

    While planning is important and there’s never such a thing as too much organization, diversifying is key to your cross-channel video marketing success.

    The thing is, you cannot really come up with one single video format that will work for every audience: some people will respond better to long educational content while others will need quick bit-sized videos explaining your point.

    Similarly, some types of videos will work better for explaining and selling your product, while other video formats will be needed to generate social media engagement and spreading the word.

    Keeping your long-term goals in mind, try to come up with different tactics for achieving them:

    • Brainstorm viral video roundups to try and pick up some solid engagement (this one is especially powerful on Facebook)
    • Invite prominent Youtubers to get interviewed on your channel (this one works for showing up in Youtube suggested videos)
    • Put together video reviews and tutorials to be able to control more search results for your brand navigational results
    • Create solid explainer videos to explain your nicher terms and ultimately put together a video course
    • Create beautiful video slide shows for your holiday special offers or social media contests (to offer bloggers and social media users more assets to promote them)
    • Live-stream your company events or conferences using simple devices like tablets and even mobile phones.
    • Use Instagram or Snapchat to create and market stories

    Likewise, experiment with length, background music and topics. There’s a huge variety of things you can do and easy tools you can use these days, even without the need of hiring a professional video creator or buying expensive video software.

    Have you been creating and marketing videos lately? Share your own tips!

    How to drive more traffic to your WordPress blog

    WordPress is a beloved Content Management System and blogging is a highly idolized profession.

    The two are millennial-favorite elements of the modern online world, and when combined, can help people monetize their passion. As of some Internet reports, there are currently more than 440 million blogs in the world. That’s a lot, right?

    The figure also points towards the mammoth online competition faced by all the existing blogs and even the new ones coming up. Since the viewership is divided among so many online resources, earning your blog’s fair share of traffic can be a tough task.

    Driving traffic to a blog has never been an easy or low-cost (whether in terms of money, time, or effort) endeavor. Some of the world’s most amazing blogs follow a full-fledged guide in order to drive traffic to their WordPress blogs.

    We have the guide for you, right here.

    Make your blog blazing fast

    By this time, probably everyone knows that if your blog/website doesn’t load within three seconds, the blog abandonment ratio will be high, and that isn’t favored by search engines.

    A fast loading speed will make sure that your blog’s dwell time is substantial and that people readily visit your posts again and again.

    Regular blogging is the key

    Successful bloggers make sure that they put up stuff for their audience to see on a regular interval, as promised. When loyal readership begins to build on your blog, you will have to be disciplined by bringing up new content every time.

    If you are someone who has a hard time maintaining uniformity, WordPress’ Editorial Calendar plugin can be your solution. This plugin helps you schedule your next blog post and if need be, you can have a look at whatever you have planned for the next week or month.

    Publishing new blog content regularly will engage your followers when they come back to your blog looking for new stuff.

    Produce rich content

    Every other effort of bringing traffic to your WordPress blog will fail if your content isn’t worth the audience’s time and online attention. You need to master your niche and come up with good blog posts, videos, infographics etc. that are unique to their core.

    Even if you are going to talk about something which has been excessively presented before by other blogs, make a point to strategize well in advance, produce rich content, use high-quality images and videos to garner attention and induce visual stimulation.

    Incorporate internal linking

    When your blog visitors land on a specific post or page of your blog, they might take away the information from that specific resource and leave your website.

    Incorporating internal links, which point to other pages and content on your blog, will encourage visitors to follow those links instead and spend longer browsing your blog. This also boosts page views of your blog, helps your blog crawl and get indexed – improving your page rank.

    You can also put up ‘Featured Posts’ on your blog’s homepage which is a great way of promoting an existing post that already has a high number of page views and comments. Since this particular post on your blog has its fair share of popularity, you can as well cash it a bit more.

    ‘Related Posts’ are another great way of encouraging internal linking on your blog, where the audience gets to read content related to a specific topic.

    For example, if you just published a post ‘The best photo editing software in 2018′, you can link it to related posts such as the best free photo sharing websites and tips to edit your photos for free. WordPress’ Contextual Related Posts plugin is a great one to use for this: it automatically displays posts that are related to the current post, based on the post title and content.

    Focus on your blog’s user experience

    There is no denying the fact that the user-experience of a blog or any other online resource should be the top priority of a website/blog owner. Only when your visitors glide through your pages, will they really mean to value the integrity of your resource.

    Here are a few pointers to help you upscale your blog’s user experience.

    1. Breadcrumbs

    You can set up a page navigation hierarchy on your blog pages so that blog visitors are able to figure out their location on your blog and the way back to where they started to surf.

    2. Don’t pester your audience with dead links and pages on your blog

    These are plainly irritating and mess up with the impression of your online resource, no matter how amazing it is. Dead links are a big turn-off for the audience.

    3. Keep testing

    Keep testing your blog for any shortcomings, so that you can figure them out before your blog audience does.

    4. Make your navigation seamless

    Make navigation seamless so that your audience can move ahead with your blog the way you want them to. Hassle-free navigation ensures that your visitors will stay on your blog for longer, instead of getting frustrated and giving up.

    5. Be smart with categorization

    Let’s consider a scenario. If you are a lifestyle blogger, you will definitely be blogging about several niches under this large umbrella. It is always a good idea to not put up everything in a messy manner; instead, categorize it under different pages such as ‘Latest fashion’, ‘Celebrity favorites’, ‘Make-up’, ‘Latest trends’ etc.

    6. Use a responsive design

    Make your blog responsive so that users can access it from all of their mobile devices. FYI, 60% of all internet access is made through mobile devices. You can tap into a larger share of online traffic by using plugins such as WPtouch that create a mobile-friendly version of your blog.

    Actively interact with your audience

    If you want a loyal reader base for your blog and also sustain the existing traffic, make sure that you interact with your active blog audience regularly. The comment section on your blog posts is the biggest source of audience downpour. Whenever they drop by to put forward their opinion, provide a feedback, or simply praise your latest piece of work, always post a reply.

    This is doubly applicable if one of your readers sends you an email or a query – don’t put off the reply. It will give your blog a big advantage if you’re seen as responsive and approachable, making your readers much more likely to share and recommend your blog.

    Make an attempt at guest blogging

    There are several debates pertaining to the success rate of guest blogging in driving traffic to a blog or website. Some think it’s worthwhile, others that it doesn’t work.

    However, the fact remains that guest blogging earns your blog authentic backlinks. These backlinks will benefit your blog’s SEO, leading to increased visibility and traffic, and can also boost your reputation among your blogger peers.

    Build an amazing email list and segment it well

    A blog is driven by its subscribers and finding the right ones is quite a task. Building an email list is the right way to go about it.

    For starters, create an amazing sign-up form and put it up on a landing page so that people know what they are expected to do. Once you have leads, you can review email marketing services available in the market and make a selection.

    Once you have made the choice, you can begin your email marketing campaign to drive in traffic and leads.

    Promote your posts

    Once you have put up all the blocks in the right places, the next crucial step up the ladder is the quest to promote your posts for good.

    A great promotion strategy involves well-rounded coverage in online spaces where your audience is present. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Announce your new posts through all your social media handles
  • Send it personally to the people you know in IRL
  • Create amazing landing pages to announce special blog posts
  • Update and re-publish old blog posts
  • Engage with other blogs and collaborate with their respective bloggers
  • Enable sharing on all social media channels
  • SEO is the game-changer

    Driving traffic to a blog is mainly about playing nice with search engines, and that could be done only through a well-thought-out SEO strategy. If you are new to it, installing the Yoast SEO plugin or the All-in-one SEO plugin can be your saving grace.

    Don’t forget to target the right keywords and use them naturally in the context of your content. Incorporating low-competition keywords is a good strategy if you can, but don’t go out of your way to crowbar these in, as it can easily mark your blog out as spammy and earn a penalty.

    Take-away:

  • Optimize each and every element on your page/post: Meta tags, title, categories, meta description, SEO title, slug, alt image text, image optimization etc.
  • Do not purposely over-stuff your blog with keywords – this is a black hat SEO technique that will get you on the wrong side of Google, and is irritating for your readers as well.
  • Make your blog trustable

    Developing a trust factor with your audience always plays to your blog’s advantage in the longer run. A secure blog is better trusted by users and is open to monetizing opportunities. Installing an SSL certificate will provide that extra edge and secure your blog even more.

    You can use the WordPress AkismetAnti-Spam plugin to fight spam so that users don’t have to put up with rubbish and absurd comments when they are going through it.

    Badges and certificates are a great way to populate your blog’s trust factor amongst the online audience. They are reputation boosters and uphold your blog’s importance in the online viewpoint.

    Understand how your visitors use your blog

    Only when you understand how your visitors interact with your blog, will you be able to take corrective steps for anything that isn’t working for your blog or is bringing down your traffic.

    Google Analytics helps you gain a complete understanding of the customer experience, search engine optimization, and marketing processes.

    Keep learning

    Most importantly, the vitality of your online blog is highly dependent upon the content that you put out for your audience to consume. It is not stupid if you run out of ideas or concepts.

    To prevent this from happening, keep learning and looking for new ways to drive traffic by presenting amazing content. Content is king – always!

    Conclusion

    Building up a blog readership and (more importantly) sustaining it takes time. It can be frustrating at times, too.

    But instead of being put off this amazing passion-driven profession, it is important to look for the right pieces of this jigsaw puzzle and precisely fit them together.

    We hope our ‘tell-all’ guide helps you drive the right amount of traffic to your WordPress blog so that you can monetize the opportunity well and be successful in the blogging sphere.

    Lucy is an experienced Web Developer and passionate blogger, currently working at WPCodingDev. Reach out to her for any query regarding WordPress website customization.

    Participating in the conversation: 10 ways to generate traffic WITHOUT Google

    Back in 2014 my colleague Chuck Price published The 10 Best Ways to Generate Traffic WITHOUT Google here at Search Engine Watch.

    Much like the world of search and the perpetually updated algorithms of Google, the landscape of non-Google marketing sees techniques, platforms and priorities change over time.

    What hasn’t changed is the importance of understanding how to generate traffic without Google. Google is big, but it is not good to concentrate all your efforts into just one referrer.

    Recent data (from Shareaholic) sees search engines account for around 40% of website referrals. This compares to around 20% for social media – a smaller but notable chunk of potential traffic. These percentages are always fluctuating. And, of course, there’s more to non-Google traffic than social.

    I thought I’d use today’s post to update Chuck’s 10. As you’ll see, some methods are still around, some are absent, and others are more important than they were four years ago.

    I also want to throw in a new over-arching theme, by way of a question I believe is more important for content and search marketers now than it has ever been:

    Am I participating in the conversation?

    In short, you should be. The key to succeeding with the following 10 non-Google traffic sources is by honest participation and engagement, as opposed to spamming and dropping links to your website around the internet. It is a question we’ll return to throughout.

    1. Blogs

    Blogging?! Nothing new here! I hear you say.

    Perhaps, but I want to deal with blogs first because for me they are the first step to ‘participating in the conversation.’ And, today, there is more to blogging than simply having a part of your website dedicated to regularly updated posts.

    Onsite

    Blog posts on your site are great for non-Google traffic of course. You can publish at will and with more authorial control than you might get from an offsite blog. You can then use that content to entice visitors to come and read your posts via social channels etc.

    Guest posts

    Blog-writing is not a skill that only serves your own blog, though. Guest blogging is still a good way to further establish authority in your industry and to potentially get visitors of those blogs to click through to your site.

    Offsite blog platforms

    Offsite blogging platforms such as Medium are ever-improving the ways they promote articles (via email digests and at the foot of article pages) to users depending on the topics they choose to follow. Follow authors related to your niche and participate in the communities that exist there.

    Comments

    Don’t have time to write a full post? You can also ‘participate in the conversation’ by adding to blog comments. Be sure to prioritize adding value to the page over merely leaving a link.

    The commenting engine we use on SEW, Disqus, allows commenters to have a weblink visible within their user profile when readers click their username. I’d argue it’s better practice to use this than dropping a URL in the comment itself.

    2. Facebook

    So you have a great piece of content – perhaps a blog post – on your website. Where are you going to share it?

    Facebook is still the biggest social referrer online. According to Shareaholic, more than 18% of website referrals were from Facebook in the latter half of 2017. This is a drop from the year before, but the wedge is still huge. There are more than 2.1b monthly active Facebook users globally.

    As Chuck notes, useful and fun content is the best type to share on the platform. And the best time to share on Facebook traffic-wise is around 12:00pm according to Revive Social.

    3. YouTube

    Although not as big on the social referral numbers as Facebook, I’ve included YouTube because it is still the second biggest social networking site globally with 1.5b monthly active users.

    Like Google, YouTube uses a vast number of factors when deciding how to rank videos. These include keyword relevance in titles and descriptions, number of views, comments, likes, shares, and backlinks.

    Going back to our participating in the conversation mantra, our ‘best practice’ aim with any YouTube content needs to focus on ensuring videos are valuable to those interested in your niche – whether from an entertaining or an educational standpoint (or both).

    Traffic-wise, it is expected for users to be able to click-through to additional relevant information via links in the description under YouTube videos. And it can be a great referrer.

    4. Instagram

    I’m highlighting Instagram because in recent years it has risen to become the third most popular social channel (800m monthly active users) and it is still growing significantly as a referrer (up 890% between 2016 and 2017 according to Shareaholic).

    Of course, Instagram really lends itself best to brands with the potential to produce strong visual content.

    There is a heap of truth in the cliché that the platform is awash with pictures of food. It is an ideal place for chefs and restaurants to show-off their skills, use hashtags to align their posts with similar images, and to persuade viewers to click through to their website to find full recipes or directions to their establishment.

    It works for other brands too. And is a great platform for inviting your audience to participate.

    5. Pinterest

    Pinterest, like Instagram, is highly visual.

    Again, for certain niches it can drive a lot of traffic. Shareaholic actually ranks it as the second best social referrer with 7.53% share in the second half of 2017.

    A majority of people who come to Pinterest are looking for shopping ideas – including for fashion, events and holidays. So it is a great platform for ecommerce sites in particular. You can even incorporate buy buttons directly into pins.

    From a traffic perspective it is clearly working too. Brands can embed URLs at the top of their profile page. Participation is also fundamental to the mechanics of the site, with users re-pinning each other’s pins to their own curated boards.

    6. Twitter

    Twitter still holds its own as a leading social network and a key referrer of traffic.

    It remains a great place to follow and converse with others who occupy your niche. If the tweets you send are a valuable mix of insight, retweets, links to other relevant content and occasional links to your own site – then you should find yourself able to generate good traffic when you do the latter.

    But, again, valuable participation is key. Users will not follow you if your timeline is simply a stream of URLs to your site. Add to the conversations that occur there. And be sparing with self-promotion.

    7. Reddit

    Reddit continues to be a great place to interact with relevant communities related to many sectors.

    How accepting the site is to redditors’ own links depends on the relative rules of each community and their moderators – with some being fairly open to it, others accepting a percentage of posted content to link out, and others not allowing it at all.

    I’d argue that the best subreddits are those that are more strict about not letting users flagrantly post links. I prefer the conversational/forum elements over the bookmarking aspect.

    New users need to devote time to adding to these communities and learning how they operate before even considering posting links back to your own site. But traffic can certainly be obtained from Reddit, particularly if the content you produce appeals to the unique wants of its users.

    8. Forums

    Like Reddit, forums are also great places to share your knowledge and to participate in the conversation.

    And like Reddit, you need to spend some time engaging with other users and learning about the protocol for linking out to relevant content before tentatively offering links to your own site.

    That said, forums can be great for gaining traffic. Fundamentally, users are not visiting such sites to be sold and marketed to – but many conversations do occur around looking for more information on products, services and answering questions. Does the content on your site offer such information?

    9. Quora

    Of course, questions and queries posted by web users can be a good opportunity for you to participate in the conversation and to offer up your expertise.

    Users aren’t just asking questions on Google and Facebook. Specialist Q & A sites such as Quora see users ask hundreds of questions and the community offer even more answers.

    See if your niche is being discussed, set up a profile page with a link to your site, and if you start answering these big questions knowledgeably and honestly, you might see users wanting to click through to know more about what you do.

    Again, participation should be the priority. Authority and visibility in your niche is a great win, and any traffic is a bonus.

    10. Email

    Email remains a significant traffic source and is continually improving as a way to let your most engaged customers know about products, services, and new content that is increasingly tailored to them.

    It differs from some of the other methods already mentioned because if users are already signed up to your mailing list, it is likely they are more engaged with your product or brand – especially compared to, for example, someone you might be chatting to in a forum or on Twitter.

    Of course, you still need to offer value – and it’s best practice to do so at the outset of your message to not waste their time before enticing them to click through to your freshest and most relevant content.

    And this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be…

    Participating in the conversation

    All the methods I’ve listed are great opportunities to share value with the online ecosystem. It is very likely that your business has a niche of followers online chatting and seeking information across a range of platforms.

    It is also very likely that you may have some unique perspective or insight about that industry which others will find of value.

    Participating in the conversation is good practice for ranking in Google, as well as driving traffic from other sources. And the more diverse the platforms you use, the more visibility you have across the board.

    How to implement semantic markup using Google Tag Manager

    Structured data is, at this point, a core SEO tactic.

    Not only does it remove a layer of ambiguity for search engines (they don’t have to infer what a piece of data is; you’re telling them outright), it’s also the engine that drives rich results, which are taking up an increasing amount of real estate in the SERPs.

    The advent of voice-enabled search is making structured data an even more important part of the search marketer’s toolset. In much the same way that structured data enables search engines to extract and reproduce rich data in the SERP, that same entity extraction and reproduction is at the core of voice search results.

    Unfortunately, implementing structured data via semantic markup can be time-consuming and frustrating. Until relatively recently, the only way to implement semantic markup was to do so inline, by adding HTML attributes from Schema.org to the existing HTML of a page.

    To do so at scale, this historically required making changes to page themes or templates, which could be a big development ask depending on the site’s setup.

    Plus, inline markup is by its very nature bound to the presentation layer: you couldn’t mark up pieces of data that weren’t on the page (with the exception of judicious meta tag use), and if two pieces of information weren’t close together on the page, it could be difficult, if not impossible, to link them together within a single itemScope tag.

    Happily, the days of struggling to wrangle our data into easily-marked-up forms are behind us: it is now possible to add structured data in mere minutes using JSON-LD. This markup is now fully supported by Google and Bing; in fact, Google recommends adding structured data via JSON-LD instead of inline for Merchant Center accounts.

    In the interest of clear and effective illustration, we’ll be using a fairly simple use-case in this first “Static JSON-LD section”. We’ll get more advanced once we arrive at “Dynamic JSON-LD”.

    Know that even the more advanced example is just the tip of the iceberg; almost nothing is off limits when it comes to the level of complexity that Google Tag Manager-injected structured data can support.

    Static JSON-LD

    Static JSON-LD can be added to the of the relevant page, or inserted using a plugin, but the easiest (and most flexible) way to implement it, in my opinion, is through Google Tag Manager (GTM).

    Step one: Write the JSON-LD

    If you’re unfamiliar with JSON-LD, you may want to do some reading or take a quick tutorial to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts. Google’s Introduction to Structured Data is a good place to start. Depending on the schema type you’re using, schema.org may also have examples of JSON-LD markup for that item type.

    Example JSON-LD for the Event item type on schema.org

    After the initial script tag, which tells the browser “this is a JSON-LD script”, you can see the hierarchy of our script:

    • “@context” specifies what semantic vocabulary (this of it as a shared dictionary for machines) we’re linking our data to – in this case, to the schema.org vocabulary.
    • “@type” is the specific schema, or entity type, within schema.org that we’re referencing. It’s the equivalent of “itemtype” in inline markup.
    • From there, we can directly reference specific properties within the schema by name. This is the equivalent of “itemprop” in inline markup.

    Note that when we’re referencing sub-types such as Place, we need to call that @type separately, and put that sub-type in its own set of brackets to indicate which nested properties belong to said sub-type.

    Don’t forget to put a comma after each property except the last one before an end bracket, or your code won’t parse properly (and it’s annoying to hunt through your code to find the missing comma)!

    Once you have your code written, test it in Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure everything looks good and you don’t have any missing required properties.

    Step two: Create a trigger

    In Google Tag Manager, we want to create a trigger so that our JSON-LD markup tag will fire on the page we want it to fire on – in the example above, it would be on the page for the Typhoon with Radiation City event.

    Create the trigger:

    • Type: Page View
    • Fire on: Some page views
    • Fire this trigger when: Page path equals the URL of your target page

    Here’s what the trigger setup should look like

    Step three: Create the tag

    Now it’s time to create the tag that will fire on our target page and inject our JSON-LD structured data.

    Create the tag:

    • Type: Custom HTML
    • HTML: Paste in the JSON-LD code, making sure to include the opening and closing script tags.
    • Triggering: Use the trigger from step 2.

    Here’s what the tag setup should look like

    Step four: Publish and test

    Once you’ve published the tag, put the page URL back through the Structured Data Testing Tool to verify that Google can parse and understand it.

    Voila, you’re done!

    Dynamic JSON-LD

    If you’re not adding new pages to your site every day, and the pages that are there don’t change that often, structured data via static JSON-LD may be all you need.

    For sites like e-commerce sites, which may have thousands of products whose price and availability may be subject to change, however, static JSON-LD just isn’t scalable. We need to get a little bit fancy.

    Step one: Create variables by CSS selector

    Since we want this script to be dynamic, we’ll need to make use of GTM variables to find the pieces of data we need and give them names our script can understand.

    Create a new (user-defined) variable. In this example, we’re creating a variable to grab the product name:

    • Give the variable a distinctive name, like “dataPoint – Product Name”; you’ll refer back to it later by this name.
    • Type: DOM Element
    • Selection Method: CSS Selector
    • Element Selector: The unique CSS selector for the element. In this example, the element’s class is product-name, so the selector is .product-name.

    Repeat this step for each property you need to pull in to make your structured data validate.

    Step two: Pull together in a function expression

    Unfortunately, we can’t just pop our variables into our JSON-LD code and call it a day. Google Tag Manager inserts JavaScript to return its variables, and that JavaScript will invalidate our code.

    Instead, we need to wrap our JSON-LD IN a function expression that will pull out our variables first, then merge theminto a JavaScript object, and finally insert a completed JSON-LD script tag into the head of the page.

    The finished script in the Custom HTML tag (in GTM) should look something like this:

    It may take a bit of tweaking and fiddling to get this to pull out your data exactly the way you want it; fortunately GTM’s Preview functionality will let you test as much as you need to before you deploy.

    JSON-LD markup and AMP

    Unfortunately, you can’t use GTM to inject JSON-LD structured data into AMP pages. GTM containers for AMP, like most things for AMP, are stripped-down versions of themselves. They don’t support the Custom HTML tag, or custom JavaScript variables, because they can take too long to load.

    If your site is using AMP, you may want to consider inline markup after all.

    Once you get this methodology under your belt, you’ll find that implementing structured data has gone from a time-consuming slog of adding inline markup and bothering your developers, to something you can create and deploy in minutes.

    Best of all, markup with JSON-LD fully validates, earns rich snippets, and is now supported by Bing as well as Google – so if you think it will work for your site, there’s no reason not to try it.

    How to set up event tracking in Google Analytics

    Event tracking is one of the most useful features in Google Analytics.

    With just a little bit of extra code, you can capture all kinds of information about how people behave on your site.

    Event tracking lets you monitor just about any action that doesn’t trigger a new page to load, such as watching a video or clicking on an outbound link. This data can be invaluable in improving your site.

    There are two different ways you can set up event tracking in Google Analytics. One way is to add the code manually. The other is to set up tracking through Google Tag Manager.

    Both methods are doable without a developer, although you may find it easier to use Google Tag Manager if you have no coding experience.

    How to set up event tracking manually

    What exactly is an event? Before you start tracking events, it’s important to understand how they’re put together. Each event is made up of four components that you define. These are category, action, label, and value.

    Category

    A category is an overall group of events. You can create more than one type of event to track in the same category “basket.”

    For instance, you could create a category called Downloads to group a number of different events involving various downloads from your site.

    Action

    An event’s action describes the particular action that the event is set up to track. If you’re tracking downloads of a PDF file, for instance, you might call your event’s action Download PDF.

    Label

    Your label provides more information about the action taken. For instance, if you have several PDFs available for download on your site, you can keep track of how many people download each one by labeling each separate event with the PDF’s title.

    A label is optional, but it’s almost always a good idea to use one.

    Value

    Value is an optional component that lets you track a numerical value associated with an event. Unlike the first three components, which are made up of text, value is always an integer.

    For instance, if you wanted to keep track of a video’s load time, you would use the value component to do so. If you don’t need to keep track of anything numerical, it’s fine to leave this component out of your event.

    A table of the four components of an event. Source: Google Analytics

    Step one: Decide how to structure your reports

    Before you dive into tracking your events, come up with a plan for how you want your data to be organized. Decide which categories, actions, and labels you’ll use, and choose a clear and consistent naming pattern for them.

    Remember, if you decide to change the structure of your event tracking later, your data won’t be reorganized retroactively. A little thought and planning up front can save you a lot of hassle down the road.

    Step two: Connect your site to Google Analytics

    If you haven’t done so already, set up a Google Analytics property and get your tracking ID. You can find your tracking ID by going to the admin section of your GA account and navigating to the property you want to track.

    Once you have your ID, add the following snippet right after the tag of each page:

    window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || [];
    function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);}
    gtag('js', new Date());

    gtag('config', 'GA_TRACKING_ID');

    This code snippet enables Google Analytics to track events on your site. Replace GA_TRACKING_ID with your own tracking ID. Source: Analytics Help

    Step three: Add code snippets to elements you want to track

    Here is the format for an event tracking code snippet:

    ga('send', 'event', [eventCategory], [eventAction], [eventLabel], [eventValue], [fieldsObject]);

    After filling in the information that defines the event you want to track, add this snippet to the relevant element on your webpage. You’ll need to use something called an event handler to do so.

    An event handler is a HTML term that triggers your tracking code to fire when a specific action is completed. For instance, if you wanted to track how many times visitors clicked on a button, you would use the onclick event handler and your code would look like this:

    Example Button Text

    You can find a list of common event handlers, as well as a more in-depth explanation on how they work, here.

    Step four: Verify that your code is working

    Once you’ve added event tracking code to your page, the final step is to make sure it’s working. The simplest way to do this is to trigger the event yourself. Then, check Google Analytics to see if the event showed up.

    You can view your tracked events by clicking “Behavior” in the sidebar and scrolling down to “Events.”

    Your tracked events can be found under “Behavior” in Google Analytics.

    How to set up event tracking with Google Tag Manager

    Google Tag Manager can be a little tricky to navigate if you aren’t familiar with it. However, if you’ve never worked with code before, you might find tracking events with GTM easier than doing it manually.

    If you have a large site or you want to track many different things, GTM can also help you scale your event tracking easily.

    Step one: Enable built-in click variables

    You’ll need GTM’s built-in click variables to create your tags and triggers, so start by making sure they are enabled. Select “Variables” in the sidebar and click the “Configure” button.

    Enabling built-in click variables, step one

    Then make sure all the click variables are checked.

    Enabling built-in click variables, step two. Source

    Step two: Create a new tag for the event you want to track

    Click “Tags” on the sidebar. Then click the “New” button. You’ll have the option to select your tag type. Choose “Universal Analytics.”

    Creating a new tag in Google Tag Manager

    Step three: Configure your tag

    Set your new tag’s track type to “Event.” Fill in all the relevant information – category, action, label, etc. – in the fields that appear underneath, and click “Continue.”

    An example of how to configure a new tag in Google Tag Manager. Source: Analytics Help

    Step four: Specify your trigger

    Specify the trigger that will make your tag fire – for instance, a click. If you are creating a new trigger (as opposed to using one you’ve created in the past), you will need to configure it.

    Types of triggers that you can choose in Google Tag Manager

    An example of how to configure a trigger. This one fires when a certain URL is clicked. Source: Johannes Mehlem

    Step five: Save the finished tag

    After you save your trigger, it should show up in your tag. Click “Save Tag” to complete the process.

    A tag that is ready to go. Source: Analytics Help

    The takeaway and extra resources

    Event tracking is one of the most useful and versatile analytics techniques available – you can use it to monitor nearly anything you want. While this guide will get you started, there’s a lot more to know about event tracking with Google Analytics, so don’t be afraid to look for resources that will help you understand event tracking.

    Courses like the 2018 Google Analytics Bootcamp on Udemy (which I used to help write this article) will give you a solid grounding in how to use Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, so you’ll be able to proceed with confidence.

    12 SEO tips for large ecommerce websites

    Approaching SEO for large ecommerce sites can be overwhelming.

    With more pages than you can even get your head around and issues like product variants, complex filtering systems and expired products, SEO for ecommerce sites requires a different kind of SEO strategy.

    Let’s be clear: all of the same keyword research and onsite optimization practices apply to ecommerce sites as they would for your standard brochure site. That’s the first step in the process, and we won’t cover those points here.

    However, for ecommerce sites, it’s necessary to take things a step (or ten) further. In this post, we share our SEO tips for large ecommerce sites. Optimization for ecommerce takes time, but we’ll also provide tips to help streamline the process without scrimping.

    Here goes…

    Ensure your site is on HTTPS

    Safety first! Although this falls under general optimization for all sites, switching to HTTPS is particularly important for ecommerce sites. With exchanges of personal details and users trusting you with highly sensitive payment information, security is of the utmost importance.

    As well as ensuring that your SSL certificate is correctly implemented, make sure to be transparent in communicating your security compliance to users.

    Provide detailed information on the steps you have taken to offer utmost levels of security, and display any relevant logos to demonstrate that you comply with certain security standards.

    Optimize category pages

    Now that your website is more secure than Fort Knox, it’s time to focus on optimizing those all-important category pages. These are the pages on which to target those top-level keywords and should be high traffic generators.

    Category pages often flop due to issues with thin content. Text is frequently left by the wayside in favor of showcasing the products. However, this approach is potentially catastrophic in terms of rankings. It always pays to have at least a solid paragraph of copy to describe the category.

    To further bolster the ranking potential of your category pages, try to focus your link-building campaign on generating links to them. Since the category pages serve as gateways to your products, it is a good idea to prioritize these in your site optimization efforts.

    Optimize product pages

    Product pages can cause a real headache for optimization. The same issues often occur for the products pages as they do for the category pages – except there are tons more product pages to deal with. Think thin content, duplicate content, and non-existent metadata.

    A good place to start is with the product descriptions. Get into the habit of writing unique descriptions for each product. It can be tempting to copy and paste the description from the manufacturer, but this means placing duplicate content on your site. And that’s SEO suicide.

    SEO aside, don’t forget that these descriptions are fundamental in actually selling the product and increasing conversions. Try to tell a story with the description – make it interesting, enticing and in line with your brand personality. Speed up the process by devising a format for the product descriptions.

    For example, one format could specify a title, short description, bullet point list of features, and a final note on the product. This will ensure consistency and also speed up the content creation process for your writers.

    Consider including user-generated content on the product pages, including social media mentions and reviews. This will provide social signals, as well as helping to increase conversions and bring further unique content to the page.

    Don’t forget to write unique title tags based on careful keyword research. Again, it’s worth creating a standard format for these titles, for ease and consistency. Enticing meta descriptions may not help you rank higher but they will increase click-throughs from the SERPs. Try to include popular, eye-catching words or phrases, such as ‘free delivery’, ‘buy now’ ‘sale’, ‘reduced’ or ‘new’.

    If you have thousands of products then you’ll need to prioritize. You may be an SEO whizz, but you’re not Superman/Wonder Woman/insert superhero of choice. Adopt a top-down approach and start by optimizing the most popular products first.

    Product variants

    One of the questions we get asked a lot is what on earth to do about product variants. By this we mean different styles, sizes, colours and models of one product. If flicking between these different options generates a new URL for each variant, then you’ll be running into some serious duplicate content and keyword cannibalization issues.

    So what’s the fix? The best approach is to display options where the user can change the color, size or model but without the URL changing in the process. The exception to this would be if different colors or other variables are crucial to the product and will rank separately in the SERPs.

    Ultimately, though, you don’t want these pages to be competing with each other. If you do have different product variants, then be sure to canonicalize the main product version.

    ‘Purchase intent’ keywords

    We’re not going to provide a complete guide to keyword research in this post. But what we will say is this: be sure to include plenty of purchase intent keywords, e.g. ‘Buy [insert product]’.

    Users typing in such search terms are likely to be further down the sales funnel and therefore more likely to convert. Remember that SEO is not just about driving traffic; it’s about driving conversions, and therefore revenue.

    Images

    Let’s not forget the images: humans are visual animals at the end of the day. Deploy only the highest quality images to entice potential customers. Ensure product images are not too large or they could slow the page speed.

    Plus, don’t forget the importance of image search – add appropriate alternative text to all images.

    Be wary of filters

    The vast majority of ecommerce sites have some form of filtering system to help users find the products most relevant to them. Although these are super handy for the user, the trouble is that some filtering systems generate unique URLs for every type of filter search.

    What’s so bad about that? Well, it means that one site could have thousands and thousands of indexed pages, all with duplicate content issues. As a result, it can make your site look frighteningly like a content farm in the eyes of Google’s pet Panda.

    Check Google Search Console to see how many pages have been indexed for your site. If the number is unfathomably high then the best solution is to add a meta robots tag with parameters noindex, follow to the filtered pages. It will lead to these pages being dropped from the index, and you’ll no longer have to lose sleep over them.

    Expired or out of stock items

    One of the key issues with ecommerce sites is that products come and go a lot. There’s no need to remove out of stock items from the site, as you could be missing out on valuable search traffic.

    Instead, leave the product page live, but specify when the product is due back in stock and provide similar options in the meantime.

    If a product expires and will no longer be sold then you’ll need to remove the page. However, do not forget to redirect the page! Set up a permanent 301 redirect for a newer version of the product, a similar product, or to the relevant category page.

    Site architecture

    Providing seamless internal navigation is essential not only for good user experience but also to help Google crawl and index your site. Ensure that categories are linked to from the homepage and that products are linked to from the category pages.

    Provide links to products in blog content in order to continue the user journey and funnel them towards making a purchase. Try to link any new products from the homepage, as it will increase their chances of being indexed quicker by Google and getting found faster by users.

    Breadcrumbs are also an important addition, as they ensure that every part of the user’s path is clickable. This helps users navigate back to parent categories as quickly and easily as possible. Plus, they also appear in Google’s search results, giving users an immediate overview of the site structure.

    Pay attention to URLs

    With large ecommerce sites, it’s all too easy for URLs to get overly complex. Keep them clean and ditch parameters to ensure they are devoid of jumbled, nonsensical characters.

    Be neat and tidy by sticking to lower case letters, utilizing hyphens instead of underscores and keeping them short but sweet.

    Schema for product pages

    Adding schema markup to your product pages is absolutely crucial for improving the appearance of your site in the SERPs. Enhanced results means greater click-throughs.

    There are two types of schema that you should add to your products: product schema and review schema.

    Each product page should use the same template and therefore have a consistent layout. This means you can add schema markup to the template using microdata and the schema will be generated for each new product page.

    Just make sure that you regularly test your schema using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool, and if you’re new to it all, then utilize Google’s Markup Helper.

    Monitoring

    As with any SEO strategy, you need to be continually monitoring and analyzing the results. This is even more important for ecommerce sites, due to the scale and constant changing of products.

    Stay on top of identifying broken links and error pages. Analyse what’s working and what’s not, note popular keywords and pages, and address those not performing well for organic search. For the best results, it’s always worth engaging in some A/B testing – whether this is for keywords, product description formats or images.

    There’s no doubt that SEO for large ecommerce sites is time-consuming. That’s why so many ecommerce sites don’t have the level of optimization they should, which presents a fantastic opportunity for those who are willing to put in the grind. Small, incremental changes can make a big difference.