6 common international SEO fails and how to avoid them

If you already run an international website or have international expansion on your road map, there are several common SEO issues which can hold back your success.

In this article we’ll look at six international SEO mistakes that you could be making, to help you look out for and avoid them on your site.

Domains

One mistake we see with people taking their first step into an international market is not considering the current domain they have.

If you have a .co.uk domain name, for example, you will need to consider getting a new domain for each market you go into, as a .co.uk won’t perform as well in international search engines as it is a UK-focused ccTLD.

IP serving

This is something which, from a development point of view, sounds like the perfect fix. Automatically redirecting people to the correct international version of your website based on their IP address, and so location, does sound really useful.

In its truest form, IP serving cannot be overwritten and a user in a specific country will always be redirected to the site for that country. There are, however, a number of reasons why this isn’t always the right approach to take.

Firstly, you can’t assume that all users in a particular location are from that country. If your IP serving can’t be overwritten by a user, this will mean that anyone in a particular country will be forced to use the site in that language/currency, which doesn’t then take into consideration someone who is travelling or not native to the country in question. This isn’t a great user experience.

The second issue of IP serving is that it will affect your SEO, as search engines aren’t able to crawl your site from every country you may cover. As a result, you will find that your international sites won’t perform as well in the search engines as you would expect.

On many occasions I’ve seen websites with IP serving being used which have real issues in their visibility, with the wrong website appearing in the search results. Google in particular, has real issues with this and I’ve seen local and US sites swapping in the search results on a weekly basis.

I’ve also seen brands who use IP serving, having to buy local language ads in a market to make up for the fact that their local language site doesn’t show up in the search results.

Below is an example of the US Calvin Klein website showing as the top search result for a brand search in Sweden. This is because they use IP serving, and Google is following this to the US site only.

Assuming English is OK

Another big issue for people taking the first steps into an international market is assuming English is OK for certain markets. Common assumptions in this area include assuming that English is OK for the Scandinavian countries, because they all speak English right?

Depending on what the purpose of your website is, this approach might not work. For example, B2B brands looking to encourage people to make a large financial commitment, or high-end retailers, might want to avoid doing this. Generally, the more people are spending the more they will want to see content in their own language, they are investing in you, so you should invest in them.

The other issue with this assumption is that the users in your international markets are more likely to be searching in their local language and not in English, so even if they are comfortable purchasing from you in English, they might not find your site as they will be searching for your products or services in their local language.

Automatic translation

Moving on from using English, some people think the easiest way to implement translation on a website is to use some form of automated translation tool. This is not recommended.

Firstly, these translations, while often dictionary perfect, don’t necessarily reflect how people in any given market speak, they may also miss the nuances of search behavior which could result in you losing out on using words on your website which potential customers are using.

For example, the dictionary correct German word for tickets (such as attraction tickets) is ‘Karten’ but we find there is often more search volume around this topic using the English word ‘Ticket’ in the German market.

Another note on Google Translate as a plugin on your site; although the Google translate tool is super useful it doesn’t change anything on your website which Google the search engine will see.

This means that the translated content it creates in every possible language, isn’t indexed in Google’s results and so does not help you to become findable in the search results when someone searches for you in Brazilian Portuguese, for example.

Getting the language wrong

This is the worst-case scenario, and thankfully something I’ve only seen a handful of times to it’s worst extent. This is the process of completely missing the language you should be using.

A few years back I was reviewing a website which was looking to promote its business into Hong Kong. The website was well put together, and all their SEO was in place and working well. The images were showing local people and the content was all in Chinese.

The issue was that the content was all in Simplified Chinese. Simplified Chinese is used in mainland China. For Hong Kong, the target market of this website, the language should have been Traditional Chinese.

Smaller less dramatic examples of this are forgetting that sometimes users are separated by a common language. Everyone knows the trite “differences” between English for the US and the UK (use of S or Z in some words and whether or not there is a U present in other words).

There are other differences which you need to be aware of depending on the products you are selling. For example, Egg Plants vs Aubergines and Football vs Soccer.

Hreflang tags

This is one of the biggest areas where people experience problems with their international website strategy. In fact, John Mueller from Google said in February that Hreflang tags are hard!

I’ve seen some humorous attempts at getting the tags right in my time, including people making up countries (Arabia for example) or trying to target an English language .eu domain to every country in Europe with something like 23 individual tags!

There are number of things to watch out for with these tags, mainly around making sure you format the code correctly, don’t make up language and country combinations and that you aren’t linking through to pages which are different from those in your canonical tag, or broken pages!

These are just some of the biggest fails I’ve seen over the years, but hopefully enough to give you a clue as to what you should be avoiding with your website.

Like all SEO, when going international it’s important to make sure that things are right from day one but to keep an eye on things to make sure no issues creep in over time. Your international websites can help your brand grow and get more business, but only if they are set up correctly and nurtured.

7 Google Tag Manager courses to prioritize in 2018

If you love data (and what marketing expert doesn’t?), then learning Google Tag Manager should be high on your priority list this year.

Unfortunately, many spend so much time on Google Analytics that GTM gets pushed to the wayside. Google Tag Manager (GTM) is a powerful, versatile tool that helps you track and manage your own website data.

Since understanding analytics is increasingly important for businesses of all sizes, there’s no better time to start learning GTM than right now.

So what exactly does Google Tag Manager do for you? In a nutshell, this tool lets you easily add snippets of code called tags to your site. These tags track things your visitors do.

For instance, you could set up tags to track how many people download a specific file, which channels bring visitors to your site, and even how quickly visitors scroll through your pages. The tags then send your information to your third-party sites of choice, such as Google Analytics or Bing Ads.

The GTM web interface is easy to use and requires no in-depth coding skills, so you can stay on top of your tracking without relying on your web developer to do everything for you.

Getting started with Google Tag Manager isn’t always an intuitive process. You’ll probably want to seek out some training instead of trying to figure things out as you go.

Whether you’re brand-new to this tool or you have some basic knowledge about it already, here are seven courses that will help you get the hang of GTM and take charge of your data.

1. The 2018 Google Analytics Bootcamp on Udemy

If you’re not sure where to start learning GTM, the 2018 Google Analytics Bootcamp on Udemy is a great place to begin. I’ve found that this course is unique among the many other Google Analytics courses out there because it doesn’t just teach you the basics of Google Analytics – it also shows you how to combine that tool with Google Tag Manager.

GTM is essential for making the most of Google Analytics, yet many marketers don’t learn it until long after they’ve mastered the GA basics. Learning both together is a smart way to ensure you make quick progress right out of the gate.

The 2018 Google Analytics Bootcamp on Udemy will get you up to speed with both Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager

If you know a little bit about Google Analytics already, but you want to start getting more out of it, you will most likely find this course helpful. You’ll learn how to set up a Google Analytics property the right way, read and understand reports, and track different kinds of data using Google Tag Manager.

If you’re an intermediate-level marketer, some of this course’s Google Analytics information may be familiar to you already, but it’s still a great introduction to GTM.

I was able to get this course during a Udemy sale for less than the original cost, and with the course you’ll get lifetime access to three hours of instructional videos, several supplemental resources, and a certificate of completion.

Udemy has frequent sales, so if this price is a little steep for you now, keep an eye on the course – you may be able to snag it at a discount later.

2. Google Tag Manager Fundamentals course by Google

If you’re just getting started with Google Tag Manager, why not go straight to the source for information?

Google’s own course provides a solid and comprehensive overview of using GTM. And like Google’s other analytics courses, this course is free. Just keep in mind that you’ll probably want to combine this course with at least one other.

This will ensure you get a well-rounded perspective on GTM.

After you finish the Google Tag Manager Fundamentals course, you can brush up on your skills with some of Google’s other free courses

3. Google Tag Manager Essential Training on Lynda.com

If you’ve ever browsed through Lynda.com’s extensive library of tech-related videos, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that they offer a Google Tag Manager course.

This course is just over two hours long and provides an overview of the most important aspects of using GTM, from creating containers to understanding the data layer.

Google Tag Manager Essential Training on Lynda.com

If you don’t already have a Lynda.com subscription, prices start at $25/month. You may also be able to get free access to the site through your workplace, school, or public library.

4. Google Tag Manager YouTube Series by Weboq

YouTube can be a great place to learn about almost anything, including Google Tag Manager.

If you’re a beginner or intermediate-level marketer, you may find Weboq’s GTM playlist very useful, even though it’s not a course per se. This playlist starts with the basics and tackles more complex topics later on.

If you want to learn to do something specific with GTM – like installing Hotjar or remarketing with AdWords, for instance – you’ll find plenty of specific, step-by-step how-tos here.

Weboq’s Google Tag Manager YouTube playlist starts with the basics

5. Google Tag Manager Tutorials on YouTube by Measureschool

Measureschool’s channel is another good resource for learning about Google Tag Manager on YouTube. There’s a lot of content here, directed towards a wide range of skill levels – beginners as well as advanced users will be able to find something helpful.

This channel is updated with new videos regularly, so if you like the material, check back for fresh GTM tips and tutorials every week or two.

Measureschool publishes new Google Tag Manager tutorials on YouTube regularly

6. Master the Fundamentals of Google Tag Manager by CXL

This results-oriented course, led by marketing expert Chris Mercer, is designed to take you from beginner to proficient in GTM in just eight classes.

Starting from the very first class, which walks you through setting up a tag, you’ll practice essential hands-on GTM skills. This course also gives you access to 10 video lessons that explain the more conceptual side of GTM, such as understanding what tags, triggers, and variables are.

After you finish the course, you’ll get a certificate of completion. This course is on the pricey side at $299, but if you’re motivated and want to see results ASAP, it may be worth the cost.

CXL’s beginner-level Google Tag Manager course will get you up and running in eight classes

7. Google Tag Manager Workshop by LunaMetrics

Online classes are convenient and accessible, but sometimes, the ability to ask questions and discuss new concepts in person is priceless.

If you learn best in a real-life classroom environment, LunaMetrics’ in-person GTM training sessions might be ideal for you. These day-long workshops are offered in major cities across the U.S., from Los Angeles to Boston.

Cities where LunaMetrics holds training sessions for Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, and more. Source

Prices start at $799 for a one-day workshop. While this isn’t a cheap way to learn Google Tag Manager, keep in mind that you’re also getting a unique opportunity to network with other marketers and collaborate while you learn – something that’s hard to replicate over the internet.

Wrapping up

Google Tag Manager is a must-have tool for every marketer and data-savvy webmaster out there. While it has a bit of a learning curve, GTM opens up tons of possibilities for tracking and improving your site’s performance, so it’s well worth putting in the time and effort to learn how to use it.

Which of these Google Tag Manager courses are you going to focus on this year?

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

Experts agree: Social media is ineffective in local link building

As anyone who’s tried to develop links to a local business will know, the link building game for local SEO is a very different beast to standard link building.

For a start, Domain Authority isn’t as critical as local relevance. Then there’s the realization that nofollow links are actually fine and really do count towards brand awareness.

When working on local link building, you notice that the biggest successes can be achieved by establishing connections in the local community; something that has the added, knock-on effect of improving how the local business looks in the eyes of the community.

These are things that are tried and tested, but now also verified in BrightLocal’s latest survey of local SEO experts on link building. The company asked 20 leading lights in the local SEO industry which local link building tactics worked for them, along with a host of other questions designed to give the wider industry an insight into best practices.

Links in social profiles count for nothing, nada, zip, zilch

(Respondents were allowed to pick their top three link sources)

A lot of what was found reinforces reasonably common knowledge. For example, it was unanimously agreed that links from social profiles don’t count a jot towards search rankings (see above).

Here we can see that the most active and regularly updated community and news sites are seen as the most valuable by the panel of experts. High domain authority sites are obviously helpful but it’s clear that this element isn’t as important to rankings as local relevance.

Although links from citation sites weren’t seen as particularly important to rankings, it’s worth noting that accurate citations are very much a ‘table stakes’, foundational element of local SEO. The links might not count as much toward rankings as they used to, but for reach, awareness, visibility, and getting into the places people look for local businesses, they’re still critical.

Among the reinforcement of common knowledge, there were also several surprises in the survey results. For me, personally, the biggest shock came from seeing how little these experts valued social media in the outreach process.

Don’t share, care

Here’s where things get really interesting. As you can see above, 60% of the panel of 20 experts agreed that sharing on social media is ‘not very valuable’ when trying to build backlinks to local business sites.

This comes as a bit of a surprise, as social media is now one of the key ways that content creators and PR people can get their work into the hands of influencers in the local community, so I would imagine this would work as a tactic for local link building.

After seeing these results, though, I’ve reconsidered my position. This is again an area where local link building differs from standard link building, and it’s all down to the people you’re trying to get links from.

With non-local link building, you can generally assume that the people you’re trying to connect with will view social media as as relevant a communications channel as networking or email.

However, if you’re trying to build links to a local business, the sorts of places you’ll be trying to get links from (smaller, community websites, church groups, local charities) are more likely to be a bit ‘old-school’ and prefer a knock on the door, an in-person meeting, a phone call or an email over the more impersonal use of social media.

Instead, you can see above that that sponsoring charities and organizations is considered the number one strategy for local link building. So the takeaway is simple: don’t share, care.

Want to succeed with local link building outreach? Go old-school

(Respondents were allowed to pick their top three link sources)

The assumption that local community sites prefer non-social forms of contact is firmly backed up by what the local SEO experts said were the most effective forms of link building outreach. As you can see above, relatively few felt that Twitter and LinkedIn outreach was effective, and Facebook outreach was an absolute non-starter.

Instead, the survey found that short, personal emails (closely followed by more detailed, personal emails) were the most effective way to do outreach for local links. In the middle we have other, more traditional outreach tactics like slow-burn relationship building, relationships through events, and phone outreach.

It’s funny to think that what matters here is not so much the content of the outreach message, it’s the platform. You could feasibly write exactly the same short, personal message in an email as in a Twitter direct message or LinkedIn InMail, but these apparently won’t be as effective as writing it in an email.

Of course, the content plays a huge part, but when the experts agree that email is the way to go, it’s hard to conceive of a reason to use social media over email when embarking on an outreach campaign.

Quality trumps quantity

Finally, I’d just like to touch on link traits. A question many ask is whether quality or quantity of links is more important when it comes to link building. In the above chart, we can see that quality of links trumps quantity in a big way. In fact, 90% of respondents agreed that quality or authority of links are ‘highly valuable’ when local link building.

Of course, quality is a big factor when it comes to non-local SEO, too, but it’s interesting to see that diversity of link sources (root domains) isn’t seen as quite as important, while in non-local SEO the diversity of your linking root domains is a critical factor.

This is just another way that those experienced in non-local SEO need to adapt their strategy when tackling the more niche practice of local link building.

Conclusion

I’ve discussed some of the things I found most surprising in this research, but there are plenty of other areas covered that should give local SEOs pause. For example, all experts agreed that local link building will not get any easier in the coming year.

One thing to take away, for sure, is that local SEOs shouldn’t be putting too much focus on using social media to get backlinks to local business websites, and instead they should be focusing on developing real, personal relationships using the comparatively ‘old-school’ method of email.

It looks like it may well be a tricky year for local SEO, but hopefully, with the raft of updates Google is making to Google My Business, and the renewed focus the search engine has on local SEO, it could also be very interesting, too!

5 advanced Google AdWords features to enhance your PPC

click-to-call

Google AdWords is a highly effective marketing channel for brands to engage with customers.

The auction-based pay-per-click (PPC) model has revolutionized the advertising industry, but beneath the seductive simplicity of this input-output relationship lies a highly sophisticated technology.

Within this article, we round up five advanced features that can help you gain that vital competitive advantage.

Google AdWords has undergone a host of changes over the past 12 months, some cosmetic and some functional. Google’s prime revenue-driver has a new, intuitive look and feel that makes it even easier for marketers to assess performance and spot new opportunities.Under the hood, AdWords is home to some increasingly sophisticated machine learning technology. Everything from bid adjustments to audience behavior and even search intent is now anlyzed by machine learning algorithms to improve ad targeting and performance.

All of this is changing how we run search campaigns, largely for the better.

Meanwhile, there are broad trends that continue to converge with search. Voice-activated digital assistants, visual search, and the ongoing growth of ecommerce all center around Google’s search engine.

At the intersection of Google and these emerging trends, paid search will evolve and new ways to reach audiences will arise.

Though this future-gazing reveals just how exciting the industry is, marketers also need to keep one eye firmly on the present.

As it stands, AdWords provides a vast array of features, all of which can impact campaign performance. Though automation is taking over more aspects of the day-to-day running of an account, there is arguably more need than ever before for seasoned paid search experts how know how to get the most out of the platform.

Below are five advanced AdWords features that can boost any PPC campaign.

Demographic targeting

For all of AdWords’ virtues, it has not been able to rival Facebook in terms of sheer quantity of demographic targeting options.

As part of Google’s ongoing shift from a keyword focus to a customer-centric approach, demographic targeting has improved very significantly.

This feature now allows advertisers to target customers by income and parental status, along with gender and age. Targeting by income is only available for video advertising and is restricted to the U.S., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand for the moment.

Nonetheless, this is a noteworthy update and provides an advanced feature that many brand will welcome.

The available options now include:

Demographic targeting for Search, Display or Video campaigns:

  • Age: “18-24,” “25-34,” “35-44,” “45-54,” “55-64,” “65 or more,” and “Unknown”
  • Gender: “Female,” “Male,” and “Unknown”

Demographic targeting for Display or Video campaigns can include:

  • Parental status: “Parent,” “Not a parent,” and “Unknown”

Demographic targeting for Video campaigns can include:

  • Household income (currently available in the U.S., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand only): “Top 10%,” “11-20%,” “21-30%,” “31-40%,” “41-50%,” “Lower 50%,” and “Unknown”

Combined with the improved user interface, this can lead to some illuminating reports that highlight more detail about audiences than we have ever seen in this platform.

It’s not perfect yet and has some drawbacks in practice, as creating audiences can be quite labor-intensive when combining different filters. Nonetheless, demographic targeting is improving and will be an area of focus for Google this year.

Our previous article on demographic targeting goes into more detail on how to set this feature up.

Click-to-call

A very natural byproduct of the increase in mobile searches has been an explosion in the number of calls attributed to paid search.

In fact, BIA/Kelsey projects that there will be 162 billion calls to businesses from smartphones by 2019.

click-to-call

Search forms a fundamental part of this brand-consumer relationship, so businesses are understandably keen to ensure they are set up to capitalize on such heightened demand.

Click-to-call can be an overlooked opportunity, as it does require a little bit of setup. If advertisers want to add call extensions, report specifically on this activity, and even schedule when these extensions appear, it is necessary to do this manually within AdWords.

reporting

Helpfully, it is now possible to enable call extensions across an account, simplfying what was once a cumbersome undertaking.

This is becoming an automated process in some aspects, whereby Google will identify landing pages that contain a phone number and generate call extensions using this information. However, some manual input will be required to get the most out of this feature.

Our step-by-step guide contains a range of handy tips for marketers who woud like to enable click-to-call campaigns.

Optimized ad rotation

Google made some very notable changes to its ad rotation settings in the second half of 2017.

In essence, ad rotation constantly tests different ad variations to find the optimal version for your audience and campaign KPIs.

Google’s machine learning technology is a natural fit for such a task, so it is no surprise that Google wants to take much of the ad rotation process out of the hands of advertisers and turn it into a slick, automated feature.

Perhaps this focus on the machine learning side of things has led advertisers to beleive that the process now requires no input from them.

A recent study by Marin Software across their very sizeable client base found that many ad groups contain fewer than three creatives:

Ad rotation

This is very significant, as Google recommends providing at least three ads in every ad group. Their official stance is, “The more of your ads our system can choose from, the better the expected ad performance.”

Creating a range of ads provides the resources Google needs to run statistically significant tests. No matter how sophisticated the machine learning algorithms are, with only one or two ads in each group there is very little they can do to improve performance.

There is a broader lesson to be taken here, beyond just getting the most out of this AdWords feature.

Even the most advanced technology requires the right quantity and quality of inputs. Although more and more elements of AdWords management can be automated, this doesn’t mean we can leave the machines to their own devices.

There are plentiful best practices that we still need to follow. Optimizing your ad rotation by including at least 3 ads in each group certainly counts as one of these.

Custom intent audiences

Google is clearly making a play for more of the traditionally ‘top of funnel’ marketing approaches.

The launch of more granular custom intent audiences with the Google Display Network is part of a wider strategy to take on the likes of Facebook by providing greater control over target audiences.

Google’s guidelines provide clear definition over how this recently launched feature works:

For Display campaigns, you can create a custom intent audience using in-market keywords – simply entering keywords and URLs related to products and services your ideal audience is researching across sites and apps.

In-market keywords (Display campaigns)

  • Enter keywords, URLs, apps or YouTube content to reach an online audience that’s actively researching a related product or service.
  • It’s best practice to add keywords and URLs (ideally 15 total) that fit a common theme to help AdWords understand your ideal audience.
  • Avoid entering URLs that require people to sign in, such as social media or email services.
  • Include keywords related to the products and services that this audience is researching; these will be used as the focal point for building the custom intent audience.

Custom intent audiences: Auto-created (Display campaigns)

To make finding the right people easy, Google uses machine learning technology to analyse your existing campaigns and auto-create custom intent audiences. These audiences are based on the most common keywords and URLs found in content that people browse while researching a given product or service.

For example, insights from existing campaigns may show that people who’ve visited a sporting goods website have also actively researched all-weather running shoes. AdWords may then auto-create a new ‘waterproof trail running shoes’ custom intent audience to simplify the process of reaching this niche segment of customers.

Once more, we see the addition of machine learning into a core Google product.

These automated audience lists are generated based on activity across all of your Google marketing channels, including YouTube and Universal App Campaigns, along with Search and the Google Display Network.

Although this does not yet provide the level of targeting that Facebook can offer, custom intent audiences do dramatically improve the product and they move Google closer to a truly customer-centric approach.

Sophisticated advertisers will find thata this advanced feature improves performance for both prospecting and remarketing.

Smart bidding

Smart bidding has some crossover with the other AdWords features on our list. In a nutshell, smart bidding uses machine learning to asses the relationships between a range of variables and improve performance through the AdWords auction.

It is capable of optimizing bids to ensure the best possible return on investment against the advertiser’s target KPIs. Smart bidding does this by looking at the context surrounding bids and isolating the factors that have historically led to specific outcomes. Based on this knowledge, it can automatically bid at the right level to hit the advertiser’s campaign targets.

These targets can be set based on a target CPA (cost per acquisition), ROAS (return on ad spend), or CPC (cost per click).

The latest option available to brands is named ‘maximize conversions’ and this will seek to gain the optial number of conversions (whatver those may be for the brand in question) against their set budge.

As we have noted already, these algorithms require substantial amounts of data, so this is a feature best used by this with an accrual of historical AdWords performance data.

Smart bidding is also not quite a ‘set and forget’ bidding strategy. Some marketers will still prefer the control of manual bidding and it would be fair to say that smart bidding levels the playing field somewhat across all advertisers.

Nonetheless, it is a hugely powerful AdWords feature and can create multiple account performance efficiencies.

Google provides some thorough detail on smart bidding on the Google Support blog.

How to plan and create evergreen content for SEO

Understanding evergreen content is important for search engine marketers and jobbing professional writers alike.

In a previous piece for Search Engine Watch, my colleague Graham Charlton covered the power of evergreen content for SEO with some comprehensive Google Analytics stats to back up his claims. This post, however, seeks to explore evergreen articles from the content creation perspective.

How can I ensure this piece I am writing is evergreen?
And how can I ensure it will help with SEO?
Nailing down your evergreen subject

Deciding on what your new piece of evergreen content is going to be about is not an exact science.

In simple terms, such articles (of course, other types of content are also available) are expected to have enduring appeal on into the future. You want your subject to be relevant in the weeks, months, and potentially years to come.

With that in mind, I think it’s important not to view evergreen content as separate from things like pure news. Rather, it’s better to view how potentially evergreen a piece of content is on a scale – with things like news releases at one end, and informative pieces about the most universally enduring subjects at the other.

How-to guides and beginner’s guides

How-to guides and beginner’s guides are great examples of evergreen content. These are valuable educational resources, providing authority and giving the reader information to assist them in a task.

They are evergreen because people are always coming online to search for such resources – whether they are beginners, intermediates, or professionals.

Certain how-to or beginner’s pieces will have more evergreen potential than others as the need for people to have different types of skills come and go.

For example, baking bread is a very enduring skill, especially in comparison to something like using Microsoft Excel 2016 – but a how-to or beginner’s guide about Excel 2016 would certainly still be towards the evergreen end of the scale.

Other subjects have evergreen potential too

Even if the subject might appear time sensitive, a piece can still be written in such a way that it will have value down the line.

Trends pieces might on the surface seem quite short-term, but can have evergreen potential if they are looking at data over a long period of time, or if updates to the data are not expected soon. Case studies and more in-depth reflections on news events can be approached in the same way.

Curatorial pieces (such as examples of good or bad practice) might reflect on timely moments but can be given more longevity if written in regards to the wider historical context. They may also be easy to add-to down the line. The same can be said for listicles – despite their throwaway nature.

Even seasonal pieces can come back around.

Like I said, it’s not an exact science. Just because a piece of content discusses news doesn’t mean it isn’t evergreen. And just because something is a how-to guide doesn’t mean it definitely is.

Audience comes first, even when writing evergreen content for SEO

To quote Graham Charlton:

‘If done properly, content that works for your audience can also be the content that works for search engines.’

Titles and introductions should be descriptive, rather than clickbait-y and/or stuffed with keywords.

They should be true to the content that follows.

It is typical for evergreen articles to be more in-depth and informative to your audience than things at the other end of the scale such as quick news stories or press releases which provide little more than the bottom line.

Remember, if presenting a reader with a longer piece, make use of plenty of whitespace and sub-headings to break up large pieces of text.

Evergreen pieces may take more time to write. But in the long run they are likely to give more value to a wider audience and will provide more returns to your site.

So is it SEO-friendly?

Of course, evergreen content is great for appealing to future readers, but also good for building authority on search engines.

Best practice with title tags, URLs and image alt text should all reflect your keywords.

Internal links to other relevant pages on the same domain also point search engines to other bits of content relating to your piece – giving weight to the page you are linking out to, but also showing your piece to be part of the conversation. Of course, readers appreciate further reading too.

As we touched upon earlier, some of the best examples of enduring subjects to write about have no doubt been of interest to readers for a long time and will likely to continue to be.

Baking bread is a good example – but of course, an article titled simply: ‘How to bake bread’ is not likely to do your website any favours with search engines. The competition for that topic would be immense.

More visibility is possible, though. Exploring a niche aspect of a bigger subject is a good option for a new piece of evergreen content. For example, ‘How to bake bread without an oven’ has just as much evergreen potential as ‘How to bake bread’ and although it has a smaller potential audience, it would be far easier to rank for in the SERPs.

Exploring alternative approaches to the way a question might be posed is another way to potentially stand out on Google.

For example, ‘A beginner’s guide to mixing flour, kneading dough, and making great bread’ might be a worthwhile alternative to ‘A beginner’s guide to baking bread.’ This type of headline, though wordy, will potentially appear for a greater range of search queries such as ‘How to knead dough’ and ‘How to make great bread’.

A checklist for creating evergreen content

In the interest of ensuring that the points raised in this piece are actionable, I thought I’d sum up with a checklist:

Does the subject have evergreen potential?
Does it seek to answer a question and establish authority?
If it relates to news or trends, can it be written in a more evergreen way?
Is the title and introduction descriptive and informative for the audience?
If the piece is long, is it separated with white space, sub-headings, bullets and pictures?
Are keywords reflected in title tags, URLs, alt. text etc.?
Are there internal links to other articles on the same domain and do articles from the domain link back?
Should the piece explore a niche or does it need alternative wording in the title to stand out?

Evergreen content can require more effort than other types of content, but will ultimately pay off in the long run. The key is to take time in choosing your subject, planning your angle and potentially spending a little longer writing or creating it.

The resulting piece will not necessarily produce immediate traffic spikes and quick authority, but will be invaluable for your readers and your SEO visibility over time. Understanding how to produce evergreen content is a great additional tool in your search and content marketing kit.

Here are the key metrics and templates you need to create a PPC report

PPC data can be overwhelming. The more you dive into it, the more complicated it can get.

And when creating a PPC report to present your campaign results to others at your company, you need your data to be as easy to understand as possible.

What’s most important when putting together your first PPC report is to understand why you are adding the specific data points to your report. That’s why you need a PPC report that fits your goals and the KPIs that you want to measure.

A PPC report needs to reflect your goals to ensure that you’re measuring what matters most to your business.

Here are four steps to follow that will guide you through the process of creating your PPC report, and some examples of templates that you can use as a basis for your report.

1) Decide on your objectives

The first step to creating your own PPC report is to agree on the company’s objectives for a paid search campaign. By understanding what the company wants to achieve through future campaigns, you are able to create a useful report that only focuses on the most important metrics.

For example, if your company wants to increase awareness through ads, then you will probably want to focus on metrics like reach and impressions. However, if your company is looking for new clients, then you’ll want to measure conversions and how much acquiring them will cost.

Every graph or table that you’re adding to your report should be directly relevant to the goals you’ve set and whether they have been met.

By aligning company objectives with your report, you will be able to present a relevant report that will facilitate your reporting during the campaign. It will also help your stakeholders to understand how your work contributes to the objectives that have been set.

A good idea is to add a summary or an overview of your report to highlight the objectives and whether you were able to meet them as part of your work. This is the best way to measure the success of a campaign, but also to prove how your work contributes to the company’s overall success.

2) Find your key metrics

This is the most important step when creating a PPC report. It’s time to add the metrics that matter most to your business in your report. It’s good to remember that not everyone has the same experience with you in the realm of PPC, so try to strike a balance between your technical knowledge and a more general report that makes sense to your stakeholders.

You need to include metrics that will reflect your key objective in a clear and structured way.

In general, the most common metrics that a PPC report includes are:

  • Impressions
  • Clicks
  • Cost
  • Conversions
  • Cost per conversion
  • Ad performance
  • Keyword performance

Moreover, if you’re running different campaigns, you need to provide the metrics that will measure their performance:

  • Overall campaign metrics
  • Cost per campaign
  • Device performance
  • Channel performance
  • Best performing ads and keywords
  • Lessons learned for future campaigns

In addition to these, if you’re creating a report that goes beyond the past month, you can also include:

  • Month-over-month data (change in conversions, impressions, clicks, etc)
  • What worked (and what didn’t work)
  • Lessons learned
  • Benchmarking to compare the success of your work

In general, your stakeholders will want to know:

  • The overall PPC performance
  • How your work has contributed to an increased awareness
  • How many conversions you’ve generated
  • The cost for each conversion
  • What worked and what didn’t
  • Your next steps towards meeting more objectives

Add context to your data

A PPC report is not just a series of metrics all added in one spreadsheet. You need to make sure that the metrics are presented in a way that makes sense to everyone.

It’s the time to add context to the metrics that you’re going to focus on. This procedure will help you understand whether your PPC work has been successful, but also on how to present the results to the stakeholders. It helps you simplify the data to the extent that you’ll be able to explain it to everyone.

A good way to explain your data is to provide answers to these questions:

  • What are the goals of your PPC ads?
  • What changed from this period to what you were doing before?
  • How many campaigns did you create?
  • What were the results of each campaign?
  • How would you summarize the metrics?
  • Has there been a positive or negative change in the results?
  • Did you try anything different this time?
  • What’s next for your PPC work?

The answers to these questions will make your data more relevant and your report more appealing.

Create a template for your PPC report

Creating your own PPC report template can be helpful for two main reasons:

  • Efficiency: Once your report template is set up, you can use to quickly create new PPC reports without having to start from scratch each time.
  • Customization: By creating your own template, you can explain the data in the way that is more relevant to your business.

Here are some templates that could serve as useful examples for different types of PPC report:

Monthly PPC report

This is a quick way to create an appealing monthly PPC report that fits many companies and they way they present their PPC performance.

Source: Wordstream

Monthly high-level PPC report

If you want a different approach in the way you’re presenting your PPC data, then this template can make your analysis more visual while focusing on the high level data.

Source: Supermetrics

In-depth PPC report

A PPC report can become more detailed through a series of graphs and data that offer additional insights. This is an example of a report that can offer a further analysis to your PPC work for anyone interested in diving into more details.

Source: Supermetrics

Monthly campaign report

This is a good way to present your monthly metrics when it comes to PPC campaigns. It’s an overview of the performance with all the data that will explain its success.

Source: Shimon Sandler

Monthly PPC report focusing on conversions

If you’re looking for a quick PPC report that provides an overview of the month while focusing on conversions, then this template can give you an idea of the data that you’ll need to include. It also serves as a good example of the visual representation that you can add to the data.

Source: ByDataBeDriven

AdWords comparison report

This is a sample AdWords report that focuses on comparisons and trends. It provides a historical performance overview along with further details on month-over-month and year-over-year comparisons. This is a useful way to present your work in longer periods, especially when you’re trying to prove how PPC can contribute to the wider business goals.

Source: Jumpfly

Overview

Remember, a good PPC report tells a story in a way that everyone can understand. This will make your job easier and your work more visible.

Creating a template for your PPC reports can make your work more efficient and your stakeholders happier. There’s no such thing as the perfect template, but you can build a spreadsheet that works best for your needs.

Once you create your first draft of your template, you can revisit it anytime. This will serve as a time-saver template that can lead to many different variations. Whether it’s a monthly report or an analysis of a particular campaign, it is still useful to invest time in creating your customized template in order to lend consistency to your reports.

What’s most important is to align your business goals with your PPC performance to make sure that the presented data will be valuable to everyone at your company.

Google brings AMP to email: What does this mean for email marketing?

Have you ever counted the number of premature obituaries you’ve read for email? The platform has taken some flak in recent years, but as a method for communicating with consumers it’s stronger and more effective than ever.

That view was reinforced earlier this month with Google’s announcement that it would bring the ‘Accelerated Mobile Pages’ open source project to the platform.

The move signaled the internet giant’s plan to redevelop its Gmail service and turn email into a ‘dynamic, up-to-date and actionable’ service, in line with its long-held desire to make the internet faster. In short, it wants to make it more interactive and more efficient.

Right now, most organizations consider an open rate of above 25% and a click-through rate (CTR) of more than 5% impressive, and Google wants to improve that by radically altering the make-up of each individual email.

The Silicon Valley giant has recognized the impressive longevity and adaptability of email. Despite the abundance of browsing data being collected online every day, it remains one of the most pervasive and effective forms of direct marketing; according to the Direct Marketing Association in the US, the median email marketing ROI (122%) is four times higher than any other channel.

So, Google has tasked its creative minds with revamping and progressing its email platform, with this the immediate result.

What will this mean in the short term?

Your favorite brands will now be able to integrate new interactive tools into email, such as the ability to browse websites, RSVP to events and complete forms without you leaving the platform.

Initially available as a ‘preview’ version to developers, the company plans to roll out support for the service to Gmail later in 2018. The service will continue to evolve, and in the future we’re likely to see entire transactions taking place within the body of an email.

Relatively mundane consumer tasks such as booking flights, writing reviews, ordering new clothes and browsing the wider web will all take place through one interface, removing the need for consumers to waste time navigating individual sites or search engines and creating a unified experience.

What’s driving this move?

There appear to be three main drivers on Google’s part: improved UX, more access to consumer data, and an increased scope to sell digital advertising. By providing a more streamlined service which facilitates commercial transactions online, Google will have greater scope to expand its offering to advertisers.

This will be based on the detailed insights gained from witnessing millions of consumer transactions within its Gmail platform, with this data used to build a more comprehensive digital persona for each individual user.

What are the benefits for consumers?

Google will undoubtedly be a beneficiary, but the company promises that consumers will benefit most from the change. Central to this is the promise of an improved experience of ecommerce when navigating the web. This will happen through a more direct relationship between consumers and their favorite brands, and fewer laborious administrative stages to complete a transaction or make an appointment.

By integrating live data into the platform, emails will be able to demonstrate a brand’s inventory in real time – so no more outdated discount offers, or appointments showing as available which have already been filled.

The move will also help refresh the occasionally cumbersome format of certain marketing communications. Email newsletters for example will be given a new dimension, giving consumers far more succinct and actionable content, while landing pages with extensive web capture forms will be phased out as brands collect further information on email and other sources.

How will Google’s position be strengthened?

As with any format change, it will take some time for AMP to be fully integrated into Gmail, so don’t expect any radical changes any time soon. Once integrated, it will also take time for brands to get on board and realize the ROI they will get from their spend. Moreover, as the change will be limited to Gmail only, we’re unlikely to see the entire format of email revolutionized overnight.

Nonetheless, it will be fascinating to see how Google’s competitors respond to the introduction of the AMP format. Many are keen to prevent the company’s hold over the web from growing, and will no doubt push forward with alternative propositions to AMP.

Facebook’s ‘Instant Articles’ service, for example, has long been viewed as an alternative platform for ‘snackable’ content, and was launched as long ago as the spring of 2015 – a year prior to the launch of the AMP.

Email’s enduring success has traditionally been ascribed to its simple format, so it’ll also be fascinating to see what kind of response there is from consumers.

Historically, they prefer communications which are less invasive and don’t interrupt their day to day activity, as can be the case with other direct marketing platforms. Many also prefer to retain their freedom of choice when it comes to purchasing, rather than follow a recommendation from a dispassionate algorithm. But the opportunity is there for marketers to rise to raise the bar when it comes to driving email engagement.

What does this mean for marketers?

From a practical perspective, AMP is likely to see a change in the performance metrics used by marketers when reviewing the success of any given campaign. CTRs in particular may be replaced by an alternative measure, given consumers will no longer need to exit an email to complete a transaction.

From a more long-term, strategic perspective, Google needs to put personalization at the heart of this change to make it successful. If the content offered in each email isn’t highly personalized to each individual user – based on the extensive raft of data Google already possesses – then consumers will turn away from the platform in favor of a more holistic marketing experience.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will undertake a large part of this work. Indeed, AI marketing tools are already widely available and have been deployed by some of the world’s biggest brands to help deliver personalization in their email marketing campaigns.

To date, these technologies have largely been deployed to help with execution, but in future, expect to see AI take care of every aspect of an email, right down to the send time, design, subject line and body of text, including bespoke offers for each individual recipient.

It will be particularly crucial when it comes to creativity, which has been absent from email for many years due to the predominance of the ‘static’ HTML format. Marketers have struggled to create engaging content within the platform previously, as emails have had to rely on basic content – straightforward written copy and primitive designs/imagery – to ensure they reach target recipients.

With AMP, however, technology is finally catching up with the promise of marketing. Email marketers will need to get their creative juices flowing and use the change to embrace more engaging content strategies, as more simplistic email formats with limited scope for interaction will no longer entice customers.

The email platform continues to evolve, adapt and reinvent itself, despite premature predictions of its demise, and it looks set to form an integral part of direct marketing strategies for the foreseeable future.

Remember what I said about premature obituaries? Well, to reinvent the age-old proverb: email is dead. Long live email.

How to master copywriting for SEO

In 2018, you need to understand copywriting and SEO – and a whole lot more – to write content that will rank well and return a great ROI.

If you have a head for marketing, UX and research, too, you’ll be in a commanding position. As our discipline evolves in response to a changing search engine landscape, demarcation lines become blurred, and it’s been difficult not to venture into featured snippets, schema and other on-page aspects of SEO.

Instead, with proper focus, you’ll need to know about your audience and how they’ll read your content, what they will be looking for, the continuing role of high quality, in-depth content, where offline historic copywriting skills still live on today, why you should still be using key phrases, and why structure is important.

How will your audience read your content in 2018?

Google’s recent announcement of the first set of sites being migrated to mobile-first indexing reflects the fact that the majority of searches worldwide are carried out on mobile devices. My direct experience is that the move to mobile is very much in the B2C space; less so in B2B, where people are still at their desks with their laptops or desktops.

And then, we see the start of an explosion in voice search and devices – our smartphones and home devices from Google, Amazon and Apple – reading content to us.

Of course, we’re still seeing how voice pans out, and its implications for SEO copywriting, but I’d say if you stick to simple language and shorter sentences within a well-structured piece (think about making the main points right up front in case the listener’s attention wanders).

High-quality, in-depth content

However your audience interacts with your work, it needs to be excellent. Make your content unique, high quality and written to professional standards. Google will reward you. Buying 300-500 spun monstrosities, while never being a great thing, had better not even pass through your mind today. They’ll kill your SEO and content marketing ambitions stone dead.

While we’re thinking about copy lengths, one popular strategy recently has been to write a longer piece than those above you in the rankings. Theirs is 2,000 words? Then leapfrog them by writing 2,500!

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Take a look at the webpages above you in the SERPs. How good are they? Are they well-written? Do they answer the questions customers are asking? Do they understand searcher intent and how to respond to it?

If the 2,000-worder in your sights fails on any or all of these factors, you may be able to kick the ball out of the park with a shorter, tighter, laser-targeted 1,500-worder.

Writing shorter pieces for mobile’s smaller screens may be tempting. Don’t, though. You’ll lose out to those more extensive pieces, written without such an artificial restriction. Instead, leave it to your UX people, designers and developers to get the presentation right.

Write for people

Now that Google can understand the words on a page, you have to raise your writing game. Get your grammar and stylistic chops up with the best and Google should reward you for it. But don’t forget your audience. Deliver them precisely what they’re looking for.

Before you start writing, ask yourself:

Who is your audience?
Where is their pain?

Put yourself in their mind; imagine how they will react to your content.

You may want to go the whole hog and spend time developing Personas. Personally, I’m happy to use them if there’s the budget and someone else to do most of the donkey work. Otherwise, I find I can usually visualize the target group more easily than the series of sometimes-unconvincing individuals that can come out of the Persona-building exercise.

Bridging the offline past with the online present

Let’s see how the long-established rules of copywriting work in today’s SEO copywriting environment.

Do your research: Advertising industry king, David Ogilvy, stressed the fundamental importance of research in producing great copy some 50 years ago – decades before the age of keyword research or the internet. Don’t you forget the keyword research, though – more on that later .
Write an attention-grabbing headline based on related key phrases from your research.
Involve the reader further with subheads – don’t skimp on them, either.
Make it easy for the reader: In addition to inserting subheads, write in short paragraphs and short sentences. And ensure you put spaces between paragraphs.
Calls to action: No matter how good your copy, you’ll need a CTA to see the full return on your investment, through sign-ups, purchases or other goal fulfilments.
Treat editing as separate from writing: Get some time between the two processes and see your work with new eyes. If you’re writing more than a couple of screens of copy, consider printing out your work. You’ll see it entirely differently.
Get someone else to read your work: They’ll notice your mistakes and pick out where you’re unclear.
The key phrase is alive and well and living in the best copy

Don’t listen to people who say ‘Key phrases are dead’. They are very much alive. And they will remain so all the time we use the paradigm of typing or speaking language into a search engine. But their use in digital marketing today has changed.

While you’re doing your research, think audience and marketing. How big is the online audience (market)? Where are they? What can we find out about their demographics? What should my content be about?

If you’ve got it right, and have used the right tools (at the core of my toolset are SEMrush and Keywordtool.io), you should have the most important answers you need to write the copy.

With my main key phrases selected, I look for questions and semantically related key phrases to flavour and shape what I’m writing. I find Answer the Public invaluable here.

Talk to your client and/or customers: Find out about problems, solutions, products and services
Build a list of seed key phrases
Do your research
Select your key phrases: Be sure why they’re relevant to your audience
Assemble your questions and semantically connected key phrases
Write for your audience

You can’t sidestep key phrase research. It’s still at the core of copywriting for SEO and the framework for everything you write.

Don’t let key phrase density hang on

Back in the day, before Google understood semantics and had AI, copywriting for SEO was many times more difficult than it is today. The trick was to use the key phrases precisely as they appear in the research (give or take a stop word or two), the requisite number of times or density to help the search engine understand your content. And it all somehow had to read as if a human had written it for another human!

But why am I talking about key phrase density in 2018? It’s nothing to do with my greying beard and pathological need to relate stories about the past (honest). It’s about WordPress.

The WordPress CMS powers more than 28% of the sites on the Internet. And its most popular SEO plugin, Yoast SEO is getting millions of content producers, both site owners and professional writers to adjust their key phrase densities via Yoast’s traffic light system.

If you’re making this mistake, for everyone’s sake turn off the traffic lights and write according to the rules and advice here. You should start seeing better results.

Structure and tags

Another area that people say has passed into history. I say otherwise. We’re recognizing the growing importance of UX (user experience). As a writer, UX isn’t something you can ignore, thinking it’s the domain of designers and developers. An enjoyable, involving read will be a better experience than a dry academic paper in a learned journal.

If natural, professional writing is a prerequisite for success, so is having a page that’s easy to read and understand. Think about the reader again. A big headline is the most important (use h1 tags), and a hierarchy from next biggest down to smallest (h2 to h6). So use them to make content’s structure clear and easy to navigate.

I’ve got through this entire piece without saying ‘Content is King’. To be honest, I’m not sure it is.

SEO is a much more wide-ranging game in 2018 than it was even a year or two ago. Just writing copy is unlikely to bring all the results you’re looking for. So you must consider SEO copywriting as a part of your digital marketing armory. A fundamental part, of course, but remember the lines are increasingly blurred.

An introduction to advanced audience targeting in AdWords

A topic that is hugely important for any marketer is that of targeting – making sure your budget gets spent on the people most likely to buy from you.

With all the features available to us across digital advertising platforms, we’ve never had it so good.

Yet most marketers I speak to at events are unaware of the options available to them, and are unfortunately still wasting a lot of their click spend on irrelevant people who simply don’t convert.

In this article, I will explore how to carry out advanced audience targeting in Google AdWords, which features you can use to make your marketing budget work a lot harder, and how to use them.

Search audiences

When you talk about AdWords and/or PPC, most people first think of search ads, so we’ll also start there. The audience options on the Google Search Network are a good place to begin thinking about how you will adapt spend towards the people most likely to purchase or inquire.

These days it isn’t as simple as choosing a suitable bid for any given keyword. For half a decade we have been able to use bid modifiers to optimize the best performing parts of an account and automatically spend more money there. Advertisers can automatically weight budget and bids depending on a few criteria:

Location
Device type
Time (which can be the time of day, or the day of the week)

You can ask Google to apply a higher bid of up to 300% more than you would normally spend if certain criteria are met, or reduce bids by up to minus 100% (i.e. turn it off).

I am yet to meet a business that can’t improve their PPC spend by considering these factors.

Ask yourself questions like:

Does the location of where a search is made influence the likelihood of conversion?
Is someone using a mobile device worth more or less than someone on a desktop?
Are you happy spending as much on traffic during the evenings as you are during the day?

One way or another, each of these should influence how you spend your money.

As an example, if you are a retailer with high-street stores and an ecommerce site, then bid adjustments need serious consideration.

If someone is searching on their phone, within walking distance of one of your stores during opening hours, then they are probably worth bidding more for. Send them into the store where they will probably have a higher average spend than they would online.

If you take away one of those factors (it’s now an out of hours search, or they are on a desktop at home) then lower the bid and send them to the ecommerce site.

It is important to understand the difference in value for each type of search and reflect that in your bidding strategy.

A more recent addition to this is demographic bidding. You can now also choose to modify bids depending on:

Age
Sex

Is your target market younger males? Then bid more for them, and lower bids if searches are performed by females or older people. This allows you to bid on more broad keywords that you may have avoided before, as you can be more certain of the person clicking.

For example, a clothing company targeting men can bid on broad keywords like “skinny jeans”, which would traditionally have attracted more clicks from females, but that audience can now be excluded.

Display audiences

Before looking at the really interesting audience targeting options here, I want to talk about the basics.

Even though a frankly outrageous sum of money gets spent on Google search ads every single day, people don’t actually spend that much time searching. We spend the majority of our time online doing other things like reading news articles and special interest blogs, watching videos, chatting in forums etc.

PPC advertisers can also use Google AdWords to appear here, on the Google Display Network (GDN) with videos, banners and text ads.

Targeting options are plentiful. To start, you can use Placements and Keywords. Placements are the websites you hand-pick for showing your ads, whereas keyword targeting is based on the text showing on web pages, which you might want to appear against.

Taking it a stage further, you can also bid demographically (not only sex and age, but on the GDN you can also choose parental status). This isn’t a situation where you have to choose one or the other; instead, you can layer these options to really refine your audience.

For example, if you are launching a new range of baby clothes, then you may choose to advertise to females who are in their 20s and showing as parents, choosing only to place adverts on baby-related websites and on pages where your competitors are named or where certain target words are present.

Affinity audiences

The first of the more advanced targeting options that you can choose to implement, as well as or instead of the above, is affinity audiences.

Google refer to these as “TV-like audiences” and they are based around topics of interest. Data is collected as users engage with pages, applications, channels, videos and content across YouTube and the GDN. This information is then collated and used to build a profile of who they are, and what advertisements can be tailored to their personality and preferences.

You should view an affinity audience as a group of individuals who have a general, long-standing interest in a specific subject.

As advertisers, we can take advantage of Google analyzing someone’s overall interests, passions and lifestyle to get a better sense of their identity. If you think about your browsing behavior, there will be certain themes and patterns that are easy to spot and brands can choose to advertise to you and everyone else with the same interests.

If the ready-made audiences like “beauty mavens” or “running enthusiasts” aren’t quite specific enough for you, then you have the ability to build your own.

Custom Affinity Audiences can be created, where you give AdWords a list of keywords that detail the area of interest and also websites that would be frequented by your audience (authority news sites and strong rivals are good starting point) and then it creates a theme for you.

In-market audiences

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you knew someone was just about to buy a product in your market? Well now you can. AdWords can qualify someone as being “in-market” for a specific product or service, i.e. they are further down the conversion funnel and are actively considered purchasing a product or engaging with a service that is similar to what you offer.

In-market audiences take into account clicks on related ads and subsequent conversions, along with the content of the sites and pages that a person visits, as well as the recency and frequency of the visits.

You should view in-market audiences as individuals who are temporarily interested in a specific segment. For example, if I am not a car enthusiast and I don’t read a lot of automotive publications then I won’t be in the automotive affinity audience, but for a short period of time, every once in a while, I would fit into an automotive in-market audience when making a new car purchase, showing this intent by researching and comparing cars online.

I often get asked how accurate this is and, from the campaigns we’ve run, we have seen good results. This is down to a lot of effort from Google where AdWords examines repeated patterns of behavior, sets personalized algorithms and updates in real-time, so people not interested or who have already spent their money soon drop out.

Whilst you are able to target pre-defined in-market audiences, you may want to consider segmenting existing affinity audiences in order to re-engage with users already aware of your brand. This increases effectiveness and gives you full control of moving that user through the conversion funnel and toward your products or service.

At this point in the process, your marketing messages should showcase exactly what your brand has to offer and how it differs, alongside any promotions. Make use of all sales tools at your disposal here as these people are looking to spend now and may not be back for a while, if at all.

Life events

Very similar to in-market audiences is an additional type of targeting that came out last year – the ability to advertise to people just before or just after a few big events that take place in their lives. Namely:

Graduating from college
Getting married
Moving house

Even though there are just three options to choose from, there are huge industries that surround each one. Take someone moving home, for example: there are property lawyers, estate agents, removal companies, furniture retailers, kitchen fitters, and many more that should all be considering this audience and factoring it into their advertising strategy.

Remarketing audiences

So, when you’ve done all of this work and now have all of these well-targeted people visiting your site, the sobering reality is that most of them still won’t do what you want them to.

The stats show that you should expect over 90% of people to leave your site without converting, 70% of people to abandon your shopping cart without purchasing, and 2-3 visits before someone crosses the line. You need to have a remarketing strategy in place to start turning these stats around and getting visitors back to convert.

Remarketing works after a cookie is placed into the browser of website users and it gives you the ability to show different ads to people depending on the actions they have (or often more importantly, have not) performed when on your site. It’s powerful – Google data tells us that people on one of your remarketing list are twice as likely to convert as a regular visitor.

To make the most of this, think about what you’d say differently to someone who purchased your most expensive product, versus someone who purchased your cheapest. For the former you may use ads to invite them into a VIP club or ask them to refer a friend, whereas the latter you may just try to upsell.

What about someone who abandons the shopping cart? Could you entice them back with a discount? In this situation you could even layer up your targeting with in-market audiences – when someone who previously visited but didn’t buy from you now shows signs that they are close to purchasing, it is time to bring out your strongest offer.

Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA)

When remarketing was first launched in AdWords, it was available across the Google Display Network, but the search side of things was left out. However, a few years ago we saw the launch of Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs), which allows advertisers to also remarket on the search network.

This opens up huge new options for advertisers, as you can display different ad copy and choose different bids and landing pages for your Google search ads if the people searching are on your remarketing lists.

A good example of how game-changing this can be is in the retail sector. If I have a shop that sells gifts online and want more purchases at Christmas, then traditionally I would have had to be very careful with the keywords I bid on, making sure I only cover searches specific to my products.

Broad keywords like “presents” and “gifts for men” ordinarily would not be profitable and would just burn through my budget. RLSAs let me target those keywords, only showing to people who had purchased gifts from me last Christmas.

As I know they are far more likely to convert, I can afford to out-bid the other advertisers and can write ad copy that rewards repeat custom. You can think in a completely different way and have the freedom to almost abandon traditional PPC rules when someone is on your remarketing lists.

Customer match

If you have a database of customers and prospects that you want to advertise to, perhaps to get them to repeat purchase, or to get them to actually purchase for the first time, then you can use Customer Match to speak to these audiences.

Your email lists can be uploaded into AdWords and you can then approach these people in a similar way to how you’d remarket them. When they are logged in to Google you can show them unique adverts and use different bids across Search, Shopping, YouTube, and Gmail advertising.

The big win here is that it works cross-device, as people tend to be signed in to their Google accounts on phones, tablets and desktops. This is where remarketing often fails, due to the cookie being device- (and even browser-) specific.

This can be powerful for cross-selling (e.g. if someone bought a flight with you, use this to sell them car hire) and it is great for informing existing customers of new releases and any special limited-edition runs.

It is also quite a safe environment to test out new sales offers, as you already have a relationship of some kind with these people so can judge how well things are received here before rolling them out to unknown audiences.

Similar audiences

Remember that for remarketing to work really well, you need to be as granular as possible, meaning that by their very nature, the lists often aren’t huge. But if your remarking lists are performing strongly and you’d love the chance to have more traffic just like them, what can you do? This is where something called Similar Audiences comes into play.

If you have used lookalike targeting on Facebook or the prospecting tools within many of the programmatic platforms then this will be familiar. It’s where you ask Google to look at the audiences within your remarketing lists and go find more people just like them.

Available on both the search and display networks, this is a simple way to find new, prequalified users and often returns additional audiences around 5 times the size of your remarketing ones. It automatically updates, so when someone clicks on an ad and joins your site, they become a remarketing list member and are removed from the similar audience list.

Google data shows that brands typically experience a 41% uplift in conversions here. In our work for clients in retail and finance in particular, we’ve seen this go even higher.

Start your audience strategy

If you are keen to try out these features but don’t know where to start, take a look in your Analytics data.

Begin to identify the types of people coming to your site and those that convert. Where are they located? What devices are they using? What times are conversions highest during the day or week?

Bring those themes into your search and display targeting and use the tools within AdWords to find out where these people hang out online, what topics they are passionate about. Additionally, start thinking about how you’d show them different offers once they’ve already been to your site. You’ll be glad you did.

Google’s updated SERP snippet length: What should be your SEO strategy now?

On December 1st, 2017, Barry Schwartz reported on Search Engine Land that Google had officially confirmed a change to how it displays text snippets in Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

Barry wrote,

“A Google spokesperson told us: ‘We recently made a change to provide more descriptive and useful snippets, to help people better understand how pages are relevant to their searches. This resulted in snippets becoming slightly longer, on average.’

These snippets are the blurbs of text displayed in Google’s SERPs along with the clickable blue text and the page URL.

A quick Google search corroborates this – let’s use the query “how were the pyramids built” as an example:

In the screenshot above, you can see that where Google would previously display a snippet approximately 150-165 characters long including spaces (give or take, you can see it varies now and it varied before Google made the change too), but now they’re much longer.

The text snippet Google shows in the SERP is *supposed* to be (more on this later) the contents of the meta description tag in the HTML of the page – let’s check each of these page’s actual meta descriptions and their lengths.

Here they are, in the same order as above:

  • There are no photographs of the pyramid being built, and the engineers didn’t leave detailed blueprints. [Length:109]
  • The ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids may have been able to move massive stones by transporting them over wet sand. [Length:122]
  • No meta description specified in the HTML
  • No meta description specified in the HTML
  • Here’s everything you need to know about the incredible Egyptian pyramids. [Length:74]

Two things jump out right away.

  • Google is not displaying the page’s actual meta description as the SERP snippet for these specific listings for this specific query, even when the meta description is specified in the HTML, but instead is being pulled directly from the text that appears at or near the top of the page.
  • The length of the snippets is longer than the length that Google previously displayed, congruent with Google’s confirmation that they’re showing longer SERP snippets.
  • Here’s how that breaks down for the above query, again in the same order as the SERP listing screenshot above:

    • The first sentence of the text is used as the SERP snippet
    • The first sentence of the text is used as the SERP snippet
    • The H1 page headline, followed by ellipses ( … ), followed by the second, third, and fourth sentences on the page in the first paragraph (skipping the first sentence in the first paragraph) are used as the SERP snippet.
    • The first and second sentences, and part of the third, are used as the SERP snippet
    • The first and second sentences, the image ALT attribute (or the image caption, they’re both the same text), plus text via HTML code associated with the image, “Getty – Contributor” (Getty – Contributor)

    Checking a number of other queries returned similar observations about what Google is using as the SERP snippet, but note that some SERP snippets were indeed taken from the actual meta description.

    For example, in the SERP for a query for musician “Todd Rundgren”, this SERP snippet is obviously taken directly from the meta description:

    For many other queries I performed, both commercial and non-commercial in query intent, it turned up a mix of SERP snippet sources – primarily either text on the page or the actual meta description specified in the HTML, and in some cases via image ALT attribute, and occasionally from some other bit of code in the HTML.

    On mobile devices, the SERP snippets were very similar, in many cases the same as on desktop.

    The SERP orders were slightly different, so yes, there’s going to be ranking variations based on various factors (it’s well known that Google can and will alter the SERPs you see based on your search history, geo-location, query type, your previous interaction with SERPs, etc.).

    However, the overall scheme of the SERP snippets remained constant – text was taken mostly from either the first paragraph of the page, or the meta description, and in some cases the image ALT attribute, and occasionally from other text in the HTML code.

    Dr. Pete Meyers over at Moz conducted research late last year on 89,909 page-one organic results.

    Pete noted that the average SERP snippet was 215 characters long with the median length at 186, and he was quick to point out that, “big numbers are potentially skewing the average. On the other hand, some snippets are very short because their Meta Descriptions are very short”.

    Pete also noted no significant differences between desktop and mobile snippet lengths, sometimes seeing mobile snippets longer than desktop snippets.

    For sure the actual SERP snippet you see, and the length, will vary by query type.

    What is going on here?

    Google is trying to satisfy searchers.

    Yes, traditionally the idea was that Google would pull the SERP snippet from the meta description, but for years now Google has been using whatever text its algorithms determine makes the most sense based on the user’s query.

    Not all sites – for example, Wikipedia and another we saw above – don’t even make use of the meta description tag in the HTML of their pages, so what’s a poor search engine to do in that case?

    Similarly, what if the meta description is badly written, or spammy-sounding with lots of keyword stuffing, or doesn’t well-reflect the page’s theme and topic(s)?

    So that’s what’s going on here – Google evolved over time to use whatever it deems makes the most sense to a user performing a certain query.

    Wait: What the heck is a meta description, anyway?

    Meta descriptions are HTML code that Google understands, and that is meant to provide a synopsis of the page.

    Here’s an example:

    This code goes between the tags of the HTML and is not displayed on the visible content that a user would see.

    Do meta descriptions impact SEO?

    Meta descriptions will not impact rankings.

    But, if Google does use a page’s meta description as the SERP snippet, that can impact click-through from the SERP.

    That’s because a well-written meta description that is compelling, relevant to the page, and relevant to the query or queries for which the page is ranking, can impact organic traffic.

    And that can have a downstream impact on conversions (the desired actions you want website visitors to take – fill out a form, buy something, and so on).

    Poorly written meta descriptions, if used as the SERP snippet, can have the opposite effect and discourage the user to click through to your page, and instead go to your competitors.

    So, what should be your strategy now that Google has increased the SERP snippet length?

    In summary, you could do any of the following:

    • Do nothing at all
    • Rewrite longer meta descriptions for all your pages
    • Rewrite longer meta descriptions for some of your pages (e.g. your top ten or twenty organic landing pages, or some pages you determine have low click-thru rates)
    • Delete all your meta descriptions
    • Audit your site’s content to ensure that the first text on your page is compelling, uses keywords congruent with how someone would search for your content, ensure the first paragraph contains at least 300-350 characters of text including spaces, and front-load the first 150 characters in case google changes back to shorter snippets in the future.

    What you decide to do (or not do) will at least in part hinge upon resources you have available to make changes.

    Don’t take a “set it and forget it” attitude with your website’s content and your meta descriptions. It’s common for businesses to put in a fair amount of work into their website, then just let it go stale.

    A good recommendation here would be to cycle through this stuff on a regular basis – think quarterly or a couple times per year. Once per year at a minimum.

    Here’s what I recommend

    First, it should be obvious that your page’s textual content is for humans to consume, and that should always be your primary consideration.

    You’ve heard the phrase “dance like no one’s watching” – well, write like Google doesn’t exist. But Google does exist, and their mission is satisfied users (so that people continue to use their service and click on ads) – Google is chasing satisfied users and so should you.

    The refrain of “write great content” has been used ad nauseum. The only reason I’m mentioning the whole “write for your users” thing is simply because often people focus primarily on “how do I SEO my pages?” instead of “what’s good for my users?”.

    Okay, with that out of the way and forefront in your mind, here’s what I recommend. Adjust this according to your specific needs – your industry, your users – don’t just take this as a cookie-cutter approach.

    And, do this on the time frame that makes the most sense and works for you and the resources you have available to you to make changes to your site. If you haven’t looked at your page content and meta descriptions in a year or more, then this is a higher priority for you than if you refreshed all that 60 days ago.

    Meta descriptions

    • Make them about 300-320 characters long, including spaces
    • Make the meta description super-relevant to the page text
    • Front-load the first 150-165 characters with your most-compelling text – compelling to your users who might see the text as a SERP snippet (just in case Google decides to shorten them again)
    • Use a call to action if applicable, but don’t be a used car salesman about it – and as appropriate, use action-oriented language
    • Remember WIIFM – what’s in it for me – as applicable, focus on benefits, not features
    • Don’t be deceptive or make promises your page content can’t keep

    Keep in mind that Google may not use your meta description as the SERP snippet and may instead use content from your page, likely from the first paragraph.

    With that in mind:

    Review & refresh your content

    • Make sure the H1 page headline is super-relevant to the page’s topic
    • Include an image (as applicable) that is super-relevant to the page (not one of those dumb, tangentially-related stock images) and craft an excellent and page-relevant image ALT attribute
    • Ensure that your opening paragraph is enticing and practically forces the reader to keep reading – that way if it’s the text used as the SERP snippet, that will capture people’s attention.

    Summary

    My summary is that if you if you haven’t already, please go back and read the whole article – I promise you it’ll be worth it. But I will add one more piece here and that is that ostensibly the type of content you’re creating is going to dictate how you configure your meta descriptions, H1 page headlines, and especially the opening text on the page.

    In some cases, it makes sense to use the “how to feed a (Google) hummingbird” technique where you pose the topic’s question and answer it concisely at the top of the page, then defend that position, journalism style, in the rest of the text under that.

    Similarly, you may be shooting for a SERP featured snippet and voice-assistant-device answer using bullet points or a numbered list at the top of your content page.

    The point is, the guidelines and recommendations I’ve provided for you here are not a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach to your meta descriptions and your content. SEO experience, switching your brain into the on position, and a willingness to test, observe, and adjust are all mandatory to achieve the best results.