High-level search marketing: How to keep your momentum from the holiday season going

Businesses tend to have a huge marketing push right before, and often during, the holidays, but often times these marketing campaigns fizzle out after the new year.

It’s easy to dial back your marketing efforts and budget after a busy season, but if you’re smart you’ll keep that momentum up well into the first months of the new year.

Here’s how you can keep up your push in marketing efforts in 2018.

Start email marketing campaigns early and target right

If you played smart during the holidays, your email leads should’ve increased significantly. The best practice is to act fast. Your new leads may have purchased their holiday gifts already, but that doesn’t mean they’re done shopping. Understand that your customers want to hear from you, so it’s best to act fast.

This starts with targeted email campaigns. Instead of doing the hard work yourself, use the help of marketing automation software to determine which content fits each audience. For example, automation software looks at the previous purchases of customers and prompts emails for similar products.

Keep in mind that you don’t want to overdo it with the emails. This will turn your customers away quicker than they came. Offer valuable content in your emails early on and you’ll keep your customers coming back.

Some ways to add value to your email marketing campaign:

Reach out to customers who purchased their products as a gift. Use similar product suggestions for future gift purchases
Contact customers who left an abandoned cart. Customers often use their shopping carts as a “wish list” of sorts. Reach out to those customers to see if they plan to complete their purchase
Offer a discount to entice customers to purchase. Free shipping adds tons of value. Make your discount exclusive to email subscribers to further add value.
Continue to use paid ads

You already have your paid ad campaign underway from the holidays. Don’t let those ads go stagnant as you start the new year.

Leading up to (and during) the holidays, ads from all over are competing. That energy slows down as the holidays end. Take advantage of both lower competition and less expensive ads during the aftermath of the holidays.

This is a new year, which means it’s the right time to switch up your strategy. You’re no longer in holiday mode, but laying out the foundation for the rest of the year.

Do you normally bid second position keywords throughout the year? Change your strategy and look for keywords that are first position. The holiday campaign may have busted your budget, but that doesn’t mean you should pull back on your paid ads. You’ll actually spend more money in the long run, and completely kill your momentum from the holidays.

Keep your paid ads running throughout the year, so you’re not halting traffic and trying to build it back up after you run your ads again.

Take advantage of keywords around new year’s resolutions

“New year, new me” is the mantra for most people after the holidays are finished. A new year means a fresh start, and regardless of your market, customers focus on improving their health and well-being. Use these trends to benefit your business. This means creating impactful content that’s valuable to customers and their goals for the new year.

Use your content to promote your products and services in a way that appear useful to your customers. How can you portray your products as a tool for achieving customer goals? This tactic is possible to spin no matter what industry you’re in.

For example, let’s say you’re a company that specializes in green cleaning products. Cater your content towards improving health and keeping chemicals out of the home.

You know keyword choice is imperative when working on your search marketing campaign. Take advantage of new year resolutions by choosing keywords that match. For instance, words like “get healthy” and “get organized” are keyword phrases that tend to pop up as the new year approaches.

Look at last year’s organic keywords. Which were the best performing, and which could you stand to ditch?

Take a peek at your competitors’ keywords, too, to see what they’re ranking highly for. Incorporate these keywords into your blog posts and social posts to drive traffic to your company’s website.

Review your data and strategize for the upcoming year

No doubt about it, the months of January and February are slow months for everyone, no matter your industry. The best way to push forward is to take a look at what worked and didn’t work during the holiday season.

It’s also a great time to learn more about your new customers. This gives you great leverage to start working on your campaigns throughout the new year.

Look at things like your timing and segments. Who responded well to specific emails? Which groups brought you the most ROI? How was the timing of your campaign? When looking at your new customers, figure out which of these groups fit well for your business.

As far as your website goes, A/B testing will tell you which pages of your website responded well with your customers. Test your non-holiday specific landing pages and compare them to your holiday pages.

Notice the shift between the two and apply those shifts to your new year campaign. Take this information and tweak the things that didn’t work and apply those changes to your upcoming campaigns.

The takeaway

After the surge of the holidays, most SEOs and marketers feel they’ve exhausted their resources and budget. This doesn’t have to be the case. The success of a holiday campaign should continue well into the new year. Keep these things in mind during your slow months and you’ll keep the momentum up to prepare you for spring and busier selling seasons.

How do you keep your momentum going into the new year? Let us know what has worked for you in the comment section below.

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.

How to make sure your social media marketing is on track for 2018

A new year brings new challenges in social media marketing. Luckily, this is the best time of the year to review your social strategy.

2018 is officially here and this means that we need to plan our social media strategy for the year ahead. Every new year requires the necessary adjustments to ensure that we’re still using every social platform effectively.

If your social media marketing didn’t go as planned in 2017, this is the perfect opportunity to analyse what went wrong.

If you had a successful year with your social strategy last year, then you can still explore new ideas and achieve further success in 2018.

We’ve created a checklist to help you review your social media marketing and keep on top of the latest trends.

1. Analyze audience

Are you reaching the right audience? A closer look at Audience Insights on each platform can help you understand if you need to expand or narrow down your reach.

2. Analyze the platforms that you’re using

Use your insights from the past year to assess the effectiveness of each platform in reaching your goals. You don’t have to be active on every social network if it isn’t working for you – now is a good time to assess if you want to dial it back on certain platforms, or even stop using them altogether.

3. Measure your existing ROI

What’s your current social media ROI? Is it where you need it to be? Analyse your return on investment and get ready to set your expectations for 2018.

4. Review KPIs

Do your KPIs fit your goals for 2018? Now is a good time to update your KPIs if you want to change your social media marketing and strategy. Use your last year as a benchmark and aim for more ambitious, yet still realistic, targets.

5. Organize your new social calendar

It’s the right time to plan ahead and update your social calendar with the upcoming campaigns. Save time during the year by keeping an overview of what’s coming up.

6. Review the frequency of your social posting

Are you creating enough content? Do you create too much? Explore whether you need to focus on quality rather than quantity.

For example, Twitter may need more content than Facebook or Instagram, but you should still test whether your posts lead to the desired level of engagement. If not, reducing their frequency might lead to more people interacting with the posts you do make.

7. Mix up your content

Are you creating different content types? Maybe you can make 2018 the year that you invest in video, or experiment with GIFs in your brand marketing. Mixing up your content types can liven up your social presence, as well as taking advantage of the trend towards more visual content on the web.

It doesn’t have to create more work for you – some smart repurposing of your existing content can convert it into different formats without much additional effort.

8. Align social media with UX

As social media marketing becomes more complicated, a good user experience to the pages that you’re promoting becomes more important. If you want to bring new people to your landing pages you need to make it as easy as possible for them to navigate and proceed to the next steps.

9. Optimize your social content for SEO

Social media may not be an official ranking factor for SEO, but it can still contribute to your authority. Build your social presence, aim for engagement and add genuine value to your content.

10. Involve social media in your marketing funnel

As social reporting becomes more advanced, it’s easier to analyse whether social media brings you any conversions. Add to your new year’s resolutions to improve your ROI and improve the number of conversions that come from social media. A closer look at the leads’ journey will help analyse how social media contribute to your marketing goals.

11. Align social media with your business goals

Is your social presence reflecting your goals? If your marketing strategy is focusing this year more on engagement rather than awareness, how can you use social media towards this goal?

Also, if your business needs to improve sales, how can you use social media to make it the first point of contact for potential leads? If you start aligning your social media marketing with your business goals, you can reduce the likelihood of wasting your time with your social posts.

The major social media trends of 2018

If we had to predict the biggest trends in social media for 2018, then we’d focus on these:

The (continuing) rise of Instagram Stories

Instagram has seen great growth in 2017, and all the latest features indicate that it’s gearing towards an even more successful year. As it’s already one of the most popular platforms for users, brands are flocking there to make the most of its engagement.

Appealing visual content will be crucial, especially after Instagram’s decision to get rid of the chronological news feed. This means that brands need to try harder to show up in users’ newsfeeds.

The biggest bet of the year for Instagram is Stories and their impressive growth over the past year. There have been more than 300 million daily active Stories users and many brands have already experimenting with campaign promotion through Stories.

What makes this feature even more interesting now is the fact that Instagram has recently introduced “Highlights”, which allows users to retain their Stories for more than 24 hours. For marketers, this means that if you feel that a particular story could be used for a longer period, whether it’s for engagement, product promotion, or a live coverage, then you can highlight it to showcase it on your profile.

As Stories were designed as an ephemeral feature, it will be interesting to see if their popularity remains now that is no longer the case. However, for brands, Highlights provide a great opportunity to benefit from this engaging feature over a longer period of time.

Video marketing

Video content has been used quite extensively on social platforms during 2017. As more tools show up to simplify the creation of video content, 2018 is a great year to be investing in video.

The best videos combine eye-catching visuals and an engaging narrative to grab the user’s attention and keep it for a longer period than text and even images can achieve. However, just because you’ve produced a video doesn’t necessarily mean you can achieve this.

It’s important to keep in mind that most successful videos are:

    • Short
    • Use captions
    • Capture the audience’s attention from the first seconds
    • Tell a story to keep the audience interested

Moreover, it might be a good idea to experiment with videos of different lengths to test what works better for each platform. Different social audiences respond to different types of content, and you don’t have to post the same video on every single network.

How about creating a full-length video and splitting it accordingly for every social platform?

Augmented reality as part of social media

During 2017, we’ve seen the rise of Augmented Reality in social media, with Snapchat and Instagram investing in filters and fun yet engaging features. Snapchat is already monetizing its AR Lenses by making them available to brands, and Instagram is sure to quickly follow suit.

Moreover, we predict that 2018 will be the year that it becomes much easier to create AR content. Facebook has already introduced AR Studio, and Snapchat has launched their own Lens Studio, in a bid to facilitate the creation of AR content on their platforms.

Both are aiming to make AR content accessible to a wider audience, increasing the opportunities for engaging content. As with Pokemon Go, more brands are ready to explore how AR can improve their digital strategy and we’re expecting more successful use cases during 2018.

Chatbots for customer service

Facebook’s chatbots have also seen growth in 2017, with more than 100,000 monthly active bots now in use across the site.

Despite some initial concerns by marketers as to whether a bot can be used as part of a social strategy, more brands have quickly realised that a successful bot can improve customer service. Whether it be to provide information, answer questions, or allow customers to more easily place an order, there are several ways to involve a bot in your digital strategy.

However, while bots can save you time and be helpful, it’s equally important to maintain a human element in your interactions. Many brands have seen success with a hybrid strategy of letting bots deal with straightforward queries, and passing the interaction on to a human agent if it requires more intricate handling.

Overview

All in all, social media marketing in 2018 is a much more complicated beast, a far cry from the days when we would count likes as an indication of success.

From social video to ephemeral content, augmented reality to intelligent chatbots, the components of social media marketing are unlike any other marketing channel, and as such they require a thorough knowledge of the overarching trends and how to apply them, an understanding of the different platforms, specific goals and dedicated tracking of the important metrics.

A closer look at the latest trends now will save you time spent trying to decide where to focus your efforts further down the line. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t pivot and readjust your priorities at a later stage. Take advantage of the start of the year to get ready for another successful year in your social media marketing efforts.

CES 2018: Google ramps up Assistant with smart displays, native podcasts, recipes and news

Amazon Echo and its voice assistant, Alexa, might be the current market leaders in voice-activated smart technology, but recent announcements from the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show have shown that Google fully intends to challenge Amazon for that crown.

The past few days have seen some big developments – and a couple of even bigger teasers – for the future of Google’s smart assistant, the imaginatively-named Assistant.

On Tuesday, the first day of CES 2018, Google published a post to its official blog announcing partnerships with more than a dozen electronics companies to produce Google Assistant smart speakers – some with a very significant upgrade.

The blog post also highlighted the breadth and depth of “Actions”, the name given to built-in apps and integrations for the Google Assistant. At the same time, Search Console users began receiving notifications that their podcast, recipe and news content was eligible to be included in a new ‘Actions directory’, which is being rolled out over the next few days.

This appears to be part of an increased focus on what can be accomplished with Assistant, shifting its emphasis from finding information (Google’s long-time speciality) to carrying out tasks.

There’s a lot of news to unpack, so let’s look at what exactly these developments involve, and what they mean for SEOs and the wider industry.

SEOs using structured data are first to the Google Assistant party

While a comparatively smaller development than the flashy revelations of major electronics partnerships and smart displays, Google’s introduction of native support for podcasts, recipes and news to the Assistant is nevertheless big news for SEOs.

I owe a hat tip to Aaron Bradley of SEO Skeptic, whose post to the Semantic Search Marketing Google+ group first tipped me off to this development. In turn, he was tipped off by SEO consultant Dan Shure, who tweeted about a Google Search Console alert he’d received inviting him to “improve discovery” of his podcast in the Google Assistant:

Whoa… just got this new search console notification I’ve never seen before about making Podcasts more discoverable in Google Assistant pic.twitter.com/PfrMYLkChe

— Dan Shure (@dan_shure) January 9, 2018

Google is gradually rolling out a browsable directory of Actions for the Google Assistant, allowing users to more easily discover what the Assistant is capable of.

Podcasts, recipes and news will be the first wave of content added to this directory – though only content published with AMP, or marked up with structured data such as Schema.org, will be getting the nod.

This means that webmasters and SEOs who have been marking up their content with structured data are already ahead of the curve in making that content available via voice – while those who haven’t must hop on the structured data (or AMP) bandwagon if they want to be eligible.

Structured data has long been touted by its fans as a great way to get search engines to better surface content from your site, particularly in the form of things like rich snippets or Quick Answers. But it can be time-consuming to add and maintain, and the immediate benefit isn’t always so obvious.

This new use case, however, shows that there is a huge potential advantage to “future-proofing” your website by adding structured data markup. If Google continues to make Assistant a primary focus going forward, then this could be the key to content optimization and discovery in a voice-driven world.

Hey, Google – look what I can do!

As discussed, Google is clearly keen to shift the focus of its voice capabilities away from information discovery towards actions.

To this end, it’s heavily promoting “Hey, Google” as the slogan for the Google Assistant, placing it in huge letters on top of its CES installation, and creating a #HeyGoogle Twitter hashtag (complete with a unique Assistant emoji) to accompany their Assistant-related updates.

But wait, you might be thinking – isn’t “OK Google” the wake phrase for the Assistant?

Yes, Google has been a bit unclear on this point, but it seems that “Hey, Google” has been an alternative wake phrase for the Assistant for a while now. In late 2016, the website Android Police reported that the Google Home responds to both “OK Google” and “Hey, Google”, but Google voice search (e.g. on mobile) responds only to “OK Google” – making it possible to differentiate if you have multiple devices within earshot.

Now, as Google moves its focus away from search and towards actions, “OK Google” is out and “Hey, Google” is in.

We’re introducing a new way to talk about all you can do with your #GoogleAssistant: Actions. It’s the simplest way to get things done. Explore over a million Actions with #HeyGooglehttps://t.co/fNQmaeFGeU pic.twitter.com/NrB4eyTO7s

— Google (@Google) January 9, 2018

Compare the messaging in Google’s tweet above with this video which introduced Google Assistant in late 2016:

While both videos show what can be done with the Assistant, the 2016 video emphasizes “finding” things, linking the Google Assistant directly and visually with the Google search bar, and positioning it as “your own personal Google” – like a search engine for your life.

By contrast, Google’s new messaging focuses on the many things the Google Assistant is capable of, emphasizing the availability of “over a million Actions”.

We in the industry have known for a while that Actions were the Google Home’s answer to Amazon Echo’s Skills, but this is their big debut to consumers, with Google writing that “Since the Assistant can do so many things, we’re introducing a new way to talk about them. We’re calling them Actions.”

This is not to say that Google has abandoned searching via Assistant, however; it made sure to develop powerful natural language search capabilities as its first order of business, with CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrating their potential at Google I/O in 2016. But now, Google is getting serious about challenging rivals Amazon, Microsoft and Apple for dominance of the smart assistant and smart device arena.

If Google continues to make either structured data markup or AMP a prerequisite for content being discoverable with Assistant, then this will mean SEOs must invest in either one or the other if they want to be competitive in this space.

Smart displays: coming soon to Google Assistant

Finally, we have the very exciting news that Google has partnered with a range of electronics manufacturers including iHome, LG, Lenovo and Sony, to produce Assistant-powered smart speakers – some of which will include a screen.

Google has put out the following video to showcase what a screen-enabled Assistant will be able to do:

This is Google’s response to the Echo Show, Amazon’s new smart speaker with an inbuilt touchscreen, which was released in the US in June 2017.

Crucially for Google, it will be able to make use of its YouTube ownership to one-up Amazon, after withdrawing YouTube support on the Echo Show and the Fire TV late last year. Google’s smart display speakers will also offer video conferencing via Google’s video calling app, Duo.

Conclusion

In short, the key takeaways from the last few days are that Google is going all-in on its bid to be Amazon’s main competitor in the smart speaker space. What this means for marketers and SEOs in the long run mostly remains to be seen, however.

In the short term, it will be interesting to see how marketers with podcasts, recipes, and news get on with Google’s new Assistant Directory. Google is keen to get their opinions as well, with John Mueller tweeting that he would “love to hear any feedback on the process”.

Have you had any Search Console notifications about content being included in the new Assistant Directory? Will you be investing in structured data or AMP, if you haven’t already, in order to be eligible for Google Assistant? Leave a comment with your thoughts on the latest developments.

The 2018 guide to B2B Sales, Part 1: Demand gen and demand capture

If you’ve ever made the switch from B2C or ecommerce to B2B marketing, you know there’s a world of difference.

B2B offerings are generally much more expensive, with a very long lead-to-close time, and marketing needs to be addressed in a different and strategic manner.

In B2B marketing, you must reach users at every point of the funnel – and keep educating them in stages along the way.

Through a series of blogs, I will discuss strategies for how to generate demand, drive qualified leads, master content delivery, and essentially close the sales loop via paid media. In part 1 of this series, we’ll talk about how to generate new demand and capitalize on the intent that already exists.

Let’s jump in.

Use both search and social to get in front of the right audiences

You’ve got more than a few powerful levers to pull to get in front of qualified buyers. I recommend you start with your two biggest: paid social and paid search.

Paid social allows you to get in front of relevant audiences and let them know you and your product/service exist. This is a demand generation play – reach highly targeted audiences who would likely purchase your product/service, educate them on your brand/product/service, and ideally drive them to your site to push them into the funnel.

Paid search capitalizes on the intent that already exists. People are searching for what you have to offer, so leverage paid search to ensure you are capturing that interest.

Paid social strategy

For paid social, I would recommend the following channels and strategies:

Facebook
Make use of lookalike targeting! Take your customer list and, rather than uploading the entire list, segment your top (highest-LTV) customers and create lookalikes based on that group.
Use Facebook’s native targeting capabilities to segment and address audiences based on different titles, companies they are employed with, etc.
Use 3rd-party data companies (e.g. Axciom and Datalogix), which allow you to target businesses of different sizes, specific roles, decision makers, etc.
LinkedIn

With LinkedIn, you are able to truly hone in on your target audience by leveraging a mix of the right industries, functions within those industries, seniority type, and company size. LinkedIn’s CPCs are considerably higher than those of other channels, so you must be willing to pay a premium price for the first click to bring the user onto your site – this way you can introduce them to your brand and educate them on your offerings.

After the leads are in your funnel, you can market to them through other channels, significantly cheaper channels to push them through the funnel (which we’ll address in another post).

Twitter

Twitter is another great social platform to find relevant audiences. Although volume is not as large as that of the other platforms, you can still leverage some of their targeting capabilities to get in front of the right eyes.

Lookalikes: very similar to the strategy used on Facebook
Targeting by followers:
Build out conquesting campaigns to target users following your competitors
Target followers of industry thought leaders and publications

Paid search strategy

Paid search is expensive – but extremely effective. Users looking for your brand, product, or service are already exhibiting intent that positions them closer to sale, so these are users you must target.

Our paid search strategy at 3Q has two main components. The first is to implement the Alpha Beta campaign structure, based on single-keyword ad groups and a mixture of negative, exact, and broad match that allows you to capture and control your top keywords while testing new keywords. If you need a refresher on how the Alpha Beta campaign structure works, a quick Google search should help fill you in.

The second is to develop competitor conquesting campaigns that capitalize on the intent that our competitors have built. Note: if your competitors are bidding effectively on their own brand terms, you’ll likely pay a pretty penny to compete, but it can be a very effective shortcut.

Use landing pages strategically

For both paid search and paid social, it is crucial to segment the audiences and keywords appropriately to be able to send these different audiences and appropriate keywords to the most relevant landing page/piece of content.

For prospecting campaigns, you need to get a sense of what each audience is looking for and serve them content that not only gives them an overview of what your business is at a high level, but also offers them value and true insight into your business – this may be a whitepaper, a demo, etc.

Think about the keyword or the type of audience you are targeting. For example, if you’re targeting audiences from specific industries (e.g. finance, retail, food and restaurant, etc.), send them to landing pages specific to that industry if available.

If you’re targeting more senior-level executives, think about the right content to deliver to them, something more high-level discussing key impacts to the business, value props, etc., that your service or offering would bring. If you’re targeting those whose job this would directly impact, highlight the more technical specifics.

The goal is to truly cater content towards the individuals you are targeting; this will make the clicks you’re driving much more effective.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series, in which I’ll discuss building audiences, smart segmentation, and leveraging the right content for mid-funnel remarketing and your overall nurture.

How the latest Google Analytics updates will benefit marketers

Google has announced a range of significant new updates to its Analytics product, all of which should help marketers to understand their individual customers at a deeper level. Below, we assess the impact each of these four enhancements will have on search marketing analysis.

The ongoing implementation of machine learning into all Google products has benefited GA, with the addition of Analytics Intelligence a particular highlight from the last 12 months.

Simultaneously, Google wants to provide site owners with insight into the impact of their marketing activities across all channels. This has always been the aim, but it is a challenging one from a tracking perspective. The partnership between GA 360 and Salesforce is a reflection of Google’s willingness to work alongside other companies to achieve this goal and ensure it keeps its dominant position.

The four latest updates to GA all exhibit some elements of these trends, with machine learning and user-level analysis never far from the foreground.

Users in standard reports

The underpinnings of the standard report dashboard have been adapted to include more insight into user-level behavior.

This is a significant shift from the historical focus on sessions, as an individual user could have multiple sessions even within the same day. The implications of this hierarchical system (User>Session>Hit) were discussed in a previous post, where we assessed some common GA misunderstandings.

Marketers will undoubtedly welcome the default option to analyze users alongside sessions and we should expect Google to continue improving the accuracy of user-level data. As it does so, more options for assessment and targeting will follow.

How marketers can use this feature:

  • Go to Admin > Property Settings in your GA account, then select the option for Enable Users in Reporting.
  • Combine with other (relatively new) features like Cohort Analysis to get a clearer picture of how groups of users arrive at – and interact with – your site.

User Explorer: Lifetime metrics and dimensions

User Explorer, which allows marketers to isolate user behavior down to the session level, has huge potential as an analytical tool. It is already available in all GA accounts and draws its data from the lifetime of a user’s cookie.

Google has recently revamped this feature with the addition of lifetime metrics and dimensions for individual users.

As can be seen in the screenshot below, this is displayed in a dashboard that contains a variety of information about past, present, and predicted future behaviors.

Taken in isolation, this level of granularity may appeal to little more than our curiosity. However, the ability to scale this and identify patterns across a large set of Client Id numbers could reap significant rewards for marketers. Once we group together similar users, we can tailor our marketing activities and messaging, both for prospecting and remarketing.

How marketers can use this feature:

  • Identify patterns in the channels that lead valuable clients to arrive at your site. This can be of use when prospecting for new customers who share the same attributes.
  • Maximize the value of current customers with a high projected lifetime value, through remarketing and tailored messaging.

Audience reporting

This is a logical and much-needed update to Analytics, making it a particularly welcome addition. Users can now create audiences within GA and then publish them within the platform for analysis.

Up to now, we have been able to create audiences and publish them to other Google properties, such as AdWords. This has been very useful for remarketing, but it was not possible to create a report for these audiences within GA.

This new feature uses ‘Audience’ as its primary dimension and permits users to compare performance across different segments.

For example, we could create an audience for customers that have purchased more than 5 times in the last 6 months, and compare this group with visitors that consume a lot of our content but do not make purchases.

How marketers can use this feature:

  • Create audiences based on the behaviors that matter to your business and monitor their interactions over time. These can then be compared to derive insights about the characteristics of our most valuable customers.
  • Given that these same lists can be uploaded to AdWords, we can draw a more direct line from analysis to action. If we notice trends within specific customer groups that we would like to enhance or reverse in our GA reports, we can do this seamlessly by targeting that same audience group through AdWords.
  • Use audience lists as the basis for conversion rate optimization tests.

Conversion probability

This is perhaps the most exciting of the four updates and has the highest potential to have a positive impact on marketers’ ROI.

By analyzing your site’s historical data and automatically identifying the patterns between variables within sets of high-value customers, Google can identify the recent site visitors with the highest probability of a future conversion.

This has been achievable in the past through a variety of means, notably through the use of Google Analytics Premium data, logistic regression analysis, and Google BigQuery. Many paid media management platforms also employ this type of machine learning to help with bid management, as does Google AdWords.

However, by incorporating this technology into the standard Google Analytics platform, a much wider user base will now have access to predictive analytics about their customers.

Combined with the updates listed above, we can see how this fits into the broader picture. Google uses machine learning to identify future customers, which site owners can then use to create audiences for analysis and remarketing.

This feature is rolling out to all accounts in beta over the next few months, so it is worth looking out for.

How marketers can use this feature:

  • Identify the quality of traffic that is driven by your marketing activities. The ‘Average % Conversion Probability’ metric will reveal this within your Conversion reports.
  • For remarketing, Google offers a few pointers of its own:

The advantages are clear: Marketers can create remarketing lists that target users who have a high likelihood to purchase and then reach those users through either advertising campaigns in AdWords and DoubleClick or site experiments in Optimize.

Viewed together as a group of updates, the key takeaway here is self-evident: Google is at pains to use its machine learning capabilities to create a deeper understanding of individual users. The field of predictive analytics can be a particularly profitable one, especially for a company with targeting technology as effective as Google’s.

The latest enhancements to GA should see these capabilities extended to a much wider audience than ever before.

Mobile-first indexing in 2018: 3 things SEO professionals should do right now

As an SEO expert or agency, you’ve spent years attempting to navigate the murky waters of helping your clients find customers online using algorithms, link building hacks, on-page and off-page technique.

And when you thought you were finally making good progress, BOOM! Paradigm shift and the game changes.

The mobile revolution happens.

Google announces its interest in improving user experience and making search results more useful by making its index mobile-first.

According to the Google Webmasters Blog:

To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

What this big paragraph means is pretty simple:

Henceforth, Google will use the mobile version of your site to rank it on Google (for both mobile and desktop search).

That means if you have a site optimized for mobile, you’ll rank well on both mobile and desktop. But, if your site doesn’t perform well on mobile, it will tank your rankings on both mobile and desktop.

While a definite timeline for the roll-out of the mobile-first index has not been fixed, a lot has been said about its implementation happening early this year. At SMX Advanced last June, Google’s Gary Illyes pinpointed 2018 as the likely deployment year for the mobile-first index.

And seeing as 2018 is now upon us, there is a need to prepare for the upcoming update (if you have yet to do so). Here are three things you need to do immediately to prepare for a mobile-first index and help your site, or your clients’ sites, weather the storm.

1. Responsive design

This is one of the most important things you would need to do to rank well on the mobile-first index. Responsive websites that change based on the needs of the users and the device that they’re viewing it on are mandatory.

Responsive sites not only offer an optimized browsing experience, they are also offering a two-for-one value. They rank well on both mobile and desktop because the design changes to fit the size of the user’s screen.

Before I talk about some of the steps involved in turning a static website into a responsive one, let’s go over the basics of a responsive design which includes:

Fluid site grid with proportionate instead of fixed measures
Flexible texts and images
Implementing design changes to ensure usability for non-desktop devices
Using CSS media queries to define breakpoints for design changes

I’ll give some standard tips on how to turn a static website into a responsive masterpiece, but please note that while the principles stay the same, your theme might be built differently, so consider these only as broad strokes. You might have to do some custom work for your own site.

Define default zoom
Set fluid element widths and heights
Resize website images to make sure our images are automatically scaled according to screen size
Implement breakpoints that are more design (than device) specific
Create a mobile menu
Adapt font sizes and style

Now because responsive design is not about making things fit on a screen, it’s also about keeping your site usable. As a last step, it’s a good idea to test your site in terms of usability on different devices and also test in multiple browsers to make sure your content renders properly.

2: Invest in a mobile-optimized website builder

Think of it as investing in accessibility for your customers. Unless you live under a rock, it is common knowledge that digital screens are getting smaller and more mobile.

Isn’t it then wise to ensure your full website is enjoyed irrespective of the gadget being used? Ensuring your clients’ customers get the best experience is all you’re here for as an SEO practitioner.

A mobile optimized website builder makes your website responsive to mobile gadgets: i.e., it detects what your visitor is using (a smartphone or a tablet) and automatically adjusts the layout of your website to fit the size of the gadget being used.

Unsure of where to begin your search for a website builder? Consider using a Google Preferred website builder – website builders which adhere to Google’s best practices for creating lightning-fast web experiences. Specifically, I want to highlight one noteworthy option if you want to prioritize speed: Duda, which bills itself as the only Google Preferred builder fully optimized for PageSpeed.

Having a well-designed and responsive website isn’t the only goal of mobile optimization. Speed is also crucial – even on mobile, visitors expect pixel-perfect images coupled with split-second rendering time.

A fast website encourages more sessions online, more customer conversions, lower bounce rate, and higher engagement. Usefully, Duda’s widget builder also allows web developers to add elements that are not native to its platform.

Don’t be caught waiting till the algorithm updates to start making big moves. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile, take that step today.

3: Mobile-optimized content

Mobile devices follow you everywhere, which has made them a first-class cure for boredom. But it takes more than a responsive design to make your website mobile-ready.

To ensure your content is as responsive and mobile-friendly as the rest of your optimized website, you have to understand user behavior and preferences as well as available solutions.

Although most mobile users have a short attention span, if you serve valuable content, no matter the length, your visitors will consume it voraciously as long as your content is engaging.

Articles, movies, TV shows will be read and watched on mobile. Follow the following tips to ensure your content is optimized for mobile:

Take advantage of mobile applications to encourage engagement beyond your website. An interesting article or an amazing deal on an item will probably go far if your visitors share it on Facebook or Twitter. Use it!
Develop high-quality content that tells stories. As long as your content is great, mobile users are willing to spend long sessions on your website. How many times have you opened a link and spent longer time than you intended to on a website? Great content will do that to you.
There are various forms of contents; GIF, infographics, Meme’s, articles, high-quality images, videos, use them all. Your business/website caters to visitors of various interests, to avoid ostracizing any of them, ensure that you cover every angle.
Shorter headlines get users reading faster. Yes, a strong headline is important but you must also remember that you have only about 5 seconds to convince your visitor to keep reading. Do you really want to waste it on an overly long headline? Keep it strong and short.

Lastly, regardless of the amount of work you have put into your content, feedback is key. You need to know which of your content your visitors engage with the most. Stay on top of it all.

Preparing your SEO strategy for the year ahead: 5 key checks

The New Year is upon us, full of personal plans made with the best intentions.

It also represents a time for businesses and teams to take stock and plan for the coming year; the difference being that unlike personal plans, business plans cannot remain unfulfilled.

Many of you will be looking to 2018 with a renewed vigor for your SEO strategy. Strategies will vary depending on a number of factors including the complexity of the campaign, the length that your team has been working on it and the work completed thus far.

However, there is a fundamental checklist that we have here at Yellowball that is applicable to all campaigns:

1. Review the previous year

Blue sky thinking and creative ideas for the year ahead are fantastic; fear not, they will come. In the meantime, it is critical that we learn from previous actions by reviewing 2017.

If you set goals at the beginning of the year, you can use these as benchmarks to understand your successes, and also pinpoint where the campaign experienced hurdles.

Break the campaign down into major component parts and be self critical about the outputs from your team within these components. The results (rankings, traffic, conversions) are the obvious end goals; remember that these results come as a consequence of actions and this review should be focused on learning points that will influence the SEO strategy for 2018.

Agencies should speak to their clients to get input from their perspective. These feedback sessions are essential in understanding where processes and communication can be improved to create a more efficient campaign.

Finally, from experience it is valuable to keep these reviews as objective as possible. On one hand a review can get overly optimistic celebrating successes of the previous year, brushing over the hurdles. On the other hand, make note of hurdles, learning points and subsequent actions for 2018 but avoid an overly pessimistic outlook.

SEO is a mid to long term investment – if your processes and actions are in line with strategy, then trust in these; the results will come.

2. Revisit your research

Do not underestimate the value in revisiting your research and initial strategy. Not only are markets and behavior in a constant state of flux, but with another year under their belts, your team will have additional insight that may influence future strategy.

Go further than just keyword research; reassess your buyer personas and inbound funnel. Loop in individuals that are not at the coal face of the project. They are often able to give a fresh perspective on items that can be invaluable to the ongoing success of the campaign.

You may well find that everything checks out, but it is worth the exercise just to refresh your memory on the strategy. You may even uncover some gems!

3. Set targets

Targets and KPIs. In a world where results can seem like a mirage in a baking desert, it is all too easy to bypass targets in favor of a more output oriented strategy when in fact the two go hand in hand. Don’t be afraid to set targets – the numbers should be available to you.

If it is traffic-related, this can be targeted through average search volumes vs current and target positions. If it is conversions you can utilize traffic in conjunction with present conversion rates.

These targets will give you clarity and focus on the actual day to day planning of your SEO strategy in 2018. For example, if you wanted to increase your conversions by x% in 2018, this target could result in:

An assessment of minimum rankings required to achieve the traffic (and therefore conversions) using your current conversion rate.
Highlighting that conversion rates need to be improved and that the web design and UX/UI team need to be more involved in the campaign.
A realization that your content may not be aligned with the sharper end of your sales funnel, indicating that the content strategy needs revisiting.
An analysis that dictates your user acquisition strategy needs to expand, according to rankings, potential traffic and desired conversion rate.

Once you have your targets identified, don’t just file them away on your desktop. Share them.

For in-house teams, share targets with any team member that will be involved in the project and the powers that be. For agencies, build your client relationships by delivering these targets face to face with detailed explanation and any requirements from their side. Everyone should be aligned to their responsibilities in achieving these goals.

4. Brainstorm

We’ve all been there. The relative grace period at the beginning of the year is short-lived, as the never ending pile of daily tasks rears its head again. Teams can find it difficult to set aside the time to get together and have extended brainstorming sessions (over and above the regular ones that should be occurring), so make the most of your time now.

Fresh off the back of your analysis (and hopefully a relaxing Christmas break), teams have had time to take a step back and look at the campaign from a slightly different point of view. Again, a larger brainstorming session may kick up new ideas compared to the last one conducted.

5. Planning

As a result of your actions in steps 1-4, you should have a clearer idea of the campaign’s framework for the coming year. Itemizing and scheduling every single granular detail of a campaign for an entire year is highly unlikely, so schedule key milestones and any major items.

It is important that you allow the flexibility to remain agile in your processes without facilitating a campaign requiring more structure.

What you should be able to plan is your resourcing. With your goals and overarching strategy identified, you should have a plan of action for your implementation – implementation that will most likely require man hours and/or budget.

Resourcing additional hands, whether that be via recruitment or freelancer networks, should be planned well in advance. For those that have internal structures requiring sign-off on budgets, present them and gain sign-off before that budget is reassigned!

Hopefully these 5 steps will provide an overarching structure for your preparation of a refreshed (or brand new) SEO campaign for 2018. The nuances and minutiae are dependent on your own style, business set-up, resources and strategy.

6 AdWords metrics you should optimize for better ROI

Google AdWords plays an important role in the success of businesses, and companies should optimize their AdWords campaign to the greatest possible extent.

This is often easier said than done, however, because running such a campaign can be a time-consuming and expensive process.

But there is a way to achieve this despite a limited budget and resources, and it involves focusing on the right metrics instead of all of them, and making the right tweaks to optimize AdWords campaigns.

Wondering how you can figure out the “right” ones? Well, we’ve done away with all the complex analytics and numbers, and hand-picked six choice AdWords metrics that can help you achieve better return on investment (ROI) by:

  • Getting you more clicks
  • Optimizing landing pages
  • Decreasing cost per acquisition.

Take a look at the list below:

1. Quality Score

Think about the keywords you chose – are your ad and landing page relevant enough compared to them? Look at the Quality Score to figure out the answer. Use this metric to estimate ad quality.

Quality Score depends on three factors:

  • Ad relevance
  • Quality of landing page
  • Possible click-through rate (CTR)

Consider each of these factors individually for a positive outcome. For example, in the case of ad relevance, play it smart when building your AdWords campaign structure.

Improve your landing page experience as much as possible. If the status reads below average, optimize your landing page by adding a few A/B tests.

Expected CTR determines how likely your ads are to get clicked. Change your ad text if your status is below average. Use magnet words (powerful words that drive conversions, like “free” and “cheap”) as a substitute for improved CTR.

2. Reach

Analyze reach metrics to estimate the number of people who saw your ads. If they are performing more poorly than expected, place your ads carefully. And this time keep the Display Network separate from the Search Network. Why? Because when you choose Search Network with Display Select in email marketing software, they show:

  • On related partner sites
  • Results of searches done by someone

That is not something you want. Carry out proper optimization, even though it is a more protracted process. Sure, there are other campaign types that affect reach, but these are the two types that really matter.

3. Wasted spend

Check how much money you’re wasting by paying for clicks that never convert. Avoid this sort of ROI killer by limiting wasted spend via the use of negative keywords to filter out traffic that is unnecessary to your business and does not convert. Create negative keywords to prevent ads from showing search queries containing the specified keyword.

Use a tool like the Negative Keywords Tool from WordStream to find out which negative keywords will be the most impactful. For instance, we did a little analysis on “get investment advice”.

Once you’re done, introduce the negative keywords in your campaign and you’ll be good to go. In a short while, you will notice a drastic reduction in wasted spend.

4. Conversion Rate

Marketing goes beyond AdWords. For example, look closely at conversion rate improvements you can achieve by improving your landing pages.

Keep your conversions up by building quality landing pages that are:

  • Mobile compatible
  • Quick-loading
  • Relevant

Focus on speeding up your website for users. Utilize tools like Yandex Metrica to find out the reception of your visitors towards your landing pages as well as how they scroll.

5. Labels

Labels are not exactly “metrics” but they do work in a similar manner, and help group entities for quicker, simpler analysis. Keep an eye on these labels for smoother optimization and more ROI.

Labels depend upon keywords, ads, and campaigns. Specifically, limit the number of keywords used in each of your ad groups for simpler management of campaigns.

According to Google, 5 to 20 keywords should suffice, but there are marketers who use a single keyword per Ad group (SKAG). Follow this simple concept which puts one keyword in each Ad Group, and the same keyword is then used in the description as well the headline.

6. Conversion

Achieve more conversions by knowing which keywords facilitated the conversion in the first place. Also, avoid a drop in conversion rate by knowing which ones were not up to task. A conversion tracking code can help you keep track of these statistics. Avoid negative keywords as well as the ones that lack any value.

Installing a tracking code is simple. Just go to “Tools”, and select “Conversions”. Then you simply need to select “+ CONVERSION”.

Once you’re done installing it, choose the source of the conversions you wish to track.

Choose Website as the source and set a conversion value. It is possible to select a dynamic value.

Place the code between tags.

Install this code correctly, and your Target CPA bidding method also becomes enabled. This automatically bids on your behalf.

The abovementioned metrics need to be optimized if you wish to enjoy greater success and financial returns on your business. The processes described above might be a little time-consuming, but considering how much they benefit your company, they are well worth it.

Which is the best search engine for finding images?

Google Images advanced search result for the term PC, from www.makeuseof.com or www.pcmag.com

Images make the web beat. And human beings process visuals faster than they do text. In the last decade, the number of images uploaded on the internet has exploded.

Finding the perfect image to feature on your website, blog post or marketing email can be crucial to grabbing the audience’s attention, livening up a page, or illustrating a point. (And if you optimize it properly, it can also be beneficial to your SEO). To do that, you of course need a good search engine.

The web has plenty of different options for image search, from general search engines with an image search function to dedicated search engines for browsing and indexing images. But which offer the best experience?

In this post, we’re going to compare the best search engines for conducting three categories of image search on the web.

Category 1: General image search

Ever searched for [word + image] on the web? This is the basic type of image search people do on the internet and it comes in handy for day-to-day searches.

The top search engines for performing general searches are as follows:

Google Images

Google remains the go-to source for information, not only because of its large database but simply because its interface is one of the best. You can use several filters for your searches and also search for images by voice.

Using its advanced search options, you can filter images by size, color, type of image (photo, clip art, etc) and you can also search for images on a specific site. For example, you could search for images of a PC solely from makeuseof.com or pcmag.com.

Unfortunately, the advanced search option isn’t visible on the landing page, so to reach it, searchers will need to select ‘Settings’ and then ‘Advanced search’. This will navigate you to a separate page where you can input your desired parameters before being taken to image search results.

Images also appear as thumbnails and don’t enlarge on hover, so you have to click through to get a full view of the images. If you’re wary of Google’s all-seeing eye, then you may be interested in some alternative search engines, which will be discussed below.

Bing Images

Bing is Google’s top contender when it comes to search, and image search is no different. Whereas Google’s interface can appear bland to some people, Bing’s interface is rich and colorful. As Jessie Moore wrote in her recent article, image search may be one of those things that Bing does better than Google.

Similar to Google, searchers can filter photos by color, type, layout, image size, and – crucially to people looking for Creative Commons licensed images – license. Unlike Google, Bing’s filter options are available on the search results pages so you don’t have to navigate away from the page. The only real drawback to Bing’s image search is that you can’t search for images by voice.

Yahoo image search

Though Yahoo might seem a bit passé to many of our readers, for image search, Yahoo is genuinely one of the best options. Its ownership of image-sharing site Flickr comes in really handy here, as photos from Flickr are integrated in image search results, making it a go-to source for custom, user-generated images. Flickr users also have the option to simply save images from their searches to their Flickr account.

The Yahoo search interface is also sleek and straight to the point. Like the Bing interface, all image filters are available on the search results page, so users can set their preferences easily to fine-tune the results.

Category 2: Reverse image search

Ever found a picture of a strange animal or building and wanted to learn more about it? That’s where reverse image search comes in. Although this search method is relatively new, it has increasingly become popular. And it comes in really handy for webmasters and content creators.

Here are some of the benefits of reverse image search:

  • Verifying the source of an image. With reverse image search, you can trace the original source of an image and how the image has changed over time. It is particularly effective for authenticating people profiles, news stories, and images of events.
  • Tracking copyrighted images. Photographers and content creators (e.g. of infographics) can use reverse image search to learn how their content is used on the internet. If you create your own images, this can help you keep track of who is using your images without attribution.
  • Finding similar images. Reverse searching images can help you find better shots or options for an image.
  • Now that you know the benefits of reverse image search, here are three of the best search engines for getting the job done:

    TinEye Reverse Image Search

    Tineye is the pioneer when it comes to reverse image search engine. The service was launched in 2008, three years before Google included an option for reverse search.

    Users can either upload an image to the site or provide the image’s URL and the site finds similar images from its over 24 billion image repository. File sizes are limited to 20MB, and the image has to be in JPG, PNG or GIF formats. Users can sort their results by best match, most changed, biggest image, and so on.

    TinEye comes in a free and premium version. With the free version, users can perform a maximum of 150 searches per month. For more advanced features, you have to pay for the premium version at $200/year.

    Google reverse image search

    Unsurprisingly, Google is another leader in reverse image search, which was launched as a feature in June 2011. Unlike Tineye, there is no limit to the size of images that can be uploaded to Google.

    Chrome users can simply right click on an image anywhere within Chrome and select “search the web for this image”. The search returns a “best guess for this image” description, as well as pages that include matching images.

    Pinterest visual search tool

    This tool is best for Pinterest users because you need a Pinterest account to use it. With this tool, users can crop a specific area of an image to search for instead of searching for the entire image. The feature was announced in November 2015 and is perfect for heavy Pinterest users.

    Once a user clicks on the image search button, results of similar images are shown almost immediately.

    Category 3: Free-to-use images

    As you must have noticed, most of the images from the first two categories are normally subject to copyright, and you can’t simply pluck the image and use it on your own blog or website.

    So what if you run a blog and are looking for free images for your website?

    There’s a third category of image search engines that only search for free photos on the web. These photos are licensed under creative commons and are pulled in from several stock photo sites.

    It is important to note that the big search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo also allow users to search for free images via their “license” filter. By setting the license to Creative Commons, you can find free images on all three search sites.

    Here are some other useful search engines for finding Creative Commons licensed images:

    EveryPixel

    EveryPixel indexes 51 paid and free stock image sites including Shutterstock, Pixabay, Unsplash and lots of others. Searchers can filter images by source, orientation, color and image type.

    Librestock

    Librestock allows you to “search the best 47 free stock photo websites in one place”. Unlike the first two sites, Librestock indexes only images licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0), i.e. public domain images, which means you can use the photos freely without attribution for any legal purpose.

    The downside is that there aren’t many pictures available, and there are no filters.

    Creative Commons (CC) Search

    CC Search is not a search engine in its own right, as is clearly stated on the site, but rather an interface that allows users to search several free photo sites without leaving the CC search page. Image sources include Flickr, Pixabay, Google Images and Wikimedia Commons. The site also includes options for finding media such as sound and video.

    Conclusion: Which is the best search engine for images?

    Search engines make life easier and come in handy for image search. So which is the best search engine for running image searches?

    There’s really no single “best” search engine; each search engine has its perks and downsides depending on which type of search you’re carrying out. Google is a versatile option, combining a powerful general and reverse image search in one.

    However, with its attractive visual interface and easy-to-find filtering options, Bing is a strong contender for general image searches, while TinEye offers more fine-tuning and often better suggestions than Google’s reverse image search.

    Google, Bing and Yahoo all have options for searching by Creative Commons-licensed images, with Yahoo having the advantage of integration with Flickr, but a dedicated stock image search engine like EveryPixel will give you a wider choice of suitable images.

    Ultimately, there are a lot of great tools out there for finding images depending on your needs, and by using them in combination, you can track down the perfect image.

    Which image search engines do you use?

    How to get mobile SEO for voice search right

    Voice search and mobile usage are both on the rise and look set to shape the SEO industry for some time to come. Nonetheless, 62% of marketers have no specific plans for voice search in 2018.

    How can marketers take action today to tap into two of the most important trends in the industry?

    As mobile usage continues to grow, more and more users are comfortable with speaking to their devices rather than typing their queries.

    Of equal importance are the advances in speech recognition technology that have allowed the likes of Google, Amazon, and Apple to offer a satisfying voice search experience.

    There is plentiful context to make marketers aware of these emerging trends, with both mobile and voice search set to shape the future of the industry:

    • Voice-enabled personal assistants are installed by default on all smartphones
    • Google has revealed that more than 20% of searches on an Android device are voice searches
    • The Amazon Alexa app recently topped the app store charts. The Google Home app occupied second position
    • The Amazon Echo was once again the best-selling item on Amazon this holiday season
    • Speech recognition accuracy is now north of 95% for all of the major technology providers
    • Google’s mobile-first index is rolling out and will soon be applied to all sites
    • comScore predicts that 50% of all searches will be by voice in 2020.

    Though the two are not perfectly aligned, there is a clear correlation between the growth of voice search and the ongoing rise of mobile.

    As the Internet of Things takes off, voice will be one of the most important unifying factors across all hardware. Whether at home, in the car, or at work, there will always be a voice-enabled device close to hand.

    And yet, a recent study by BrightEdge reported that 62% of marketers are unlikely to implement a specific strategy for voice search over the next 12 months.

    This is not due to a lack of awareness of the trend, but rather a lack of direction when it comes to preparing for its implications.

    In a clear indication of how significant the shift to voice-based searches will be, Google recently released a new set of Search Quality Rating Guidelines for the Google Assistant.

    Though specific to the Google Assistant, we can safely assume that the same rules and objectives underpin the functioning of other digital assistants too.

    As such, this document can prove both illuminating and instructive as we look to move beyond the hype that voice search brings and arrive at some tips to direct our mobile SEO efforts.

    The findings in Google’s official guidelines for voice search evaluation, along with the best practices we already have for mobile SEO, can help us create a hybrid set of tips to improve any site’s chances of ranking in this new landscape.

    This begins with some technical considerations, then moves on to a more nuanced understanding of how consumers are using voice to interact with their devices. Finally, we must create the right content to fit our target contexts, and find a way to measure our progress.

    Technical SEO for mobile devices

    As with so many aspects of SEO, crawlability is the foundation upon which a mobile SEO strategy for voice search must be built.

    Put simply, if a search engine cannot access and understand your content, your chances of appearing in search results are slim. This has always been important, but it takes on a new level of significance when viewed through the lens of voice search.

    Often, voice search removes the traditional search engine results page (SERP) and instead aims to provide one answer in response to a query. This is a search engine’s first port of call; it is only when one answer cannot conclusively answer the query that a more traditional list of results will be displayed.

    Fortunately, there are some guidelines we can follow to increase the likelihood of our content ranking via voice search:

    • Schema markup: By adding schema markup, we can help to add structure to our website’s data. For example, we can alert search engines to elements that relate to events, prices, and people – among many others. When a search engine is trying to locate a response to a voice search, this extra information can prove invaluable.
    • XML sitemaps: Having a clearly structure sitemap that can be navigated easily both by people and by search engines will increase the likelihood that your information can be sourced quickly in response to a query.
    • Site structure: The structure of a website should mirror the journeys that users typically take when considering and making a purchase. For example, faceted navigation on an ecommerce site should aim to match common query strings.
    • Carry out a mobile SEO audit: Before embarking on any of the more innovative aspects of voice search, conduct a full mobile SEO site audit to ensure that you are in a solid position.
    • It is also worth reviewing the basics of mobile SEO to keep in mind the distinctions that set it apart from traditional SEO.

    Understanding context

    All language is contextual. The exact same query, at surface level, can in fact mean many different things based on how, when, where, and by whom it is said.

    This is not a new discovery, but it is only recently that search engines have been able to understand the context of a query.

    In part, this has been due to more sophisticated algorithms like Google’s Hummingbird update, which brought the concept of semantic search to life.

    However, the biggest source of contextual information is the smartphone. Our phones are constantly sending and receiving data, all of which can be processed to comprehend our past, present, and even our future behaviors.

    Now, when a user searches for a term like [canon cameras], a search engine can use smartphone data to understand the implied intent of the query:

    This implicit intent, now known to a search engine, can help to shape and personalize the results that the user sees.

    There are other effects of this deeper understanding.

    Varied queries can ultimately express the same underlying intent. For example:

    sunny

    The expression of the response may differ, but all variations are ultimately answering the same question. The user wants to know what the weather will be like tomorrow.

    This is helpful, as it allows us to see that we don’t need to answer every single possible query that is out there. Many guides on voice SEO suggest creating FAQ pages as a way to grow traffic, but this seems a stop-gap solution when we can do better. SEO needs to move away from creating “SEO pages” on websites that serve no real purpose other than to attract organic search clicks.

    Thus far, our industry has focused mainly on what has been said by searchers. We pull a list of keywords with search volumes, difficulty scores and so on, and we map those to our pages. Where a page does not exist for a group of keywords, we create one.

    A further level of nuance can be added by segmenting the keywords by purchase stage: informational, navigational or transactional, for example. These can also be categorized as ‘Know’, ‘Go’, and ‘Do’ moments.

    That is useful, but it is overly simplistic. What we often end up with is a comforting illusion; a spreadsheet that smooths over the rough edges to provide a digestible view of what people search for, cell by cell.

    Reality does not fit so readily into neat compartments.

    In a presentation given last year, Tom Anthony of Distilled mapped out what the new ecosystem looks like, based on the huge amount of data a smartphone both sends and receives:

    tom_anthony

    Even this is a reduction, but it does at least provide insight into the broader picture.

    What this means is that when working on a mobile SEO strategy, we should identify the contexts in which our content could rank.

    These contexts can be strung together to create a map of the typical user journey.

    This can be informed by demographic data, as there are telling differences between the generations. In particular, we should note that younger generations are more comfortable with voice search and use it in very different situations to their older counterparts.

    voice_search_today

    Stone Temple Consulting produced an excellent, in-depth study that goes further still to segment this data by income. In the chart below, all figures are in US Dollars:

    voice search seo incomeSource: Stone Temple Consulting

    What we find through this report is that there are notable variations at every level of analysis. By location, gender, device, income level, and age, we find that people use voice search differently.

    Marketers would do well to perform research of their own to pinpoint the right contexts for their business to target, through qualitative research and quantitative analysis.

    Creating the right content at the right time

    Once we have plotted out the potential contexts in which we could communicate with our audience, we need to create the content that will hopefully help us rank via voice search.

    Though this is a nascent field, there are already some useful studies that can guide us in this process.

    Voice queries tend to be longer, due to their closer relationship to natural speech patterns. This provides a significant amount of data for us to analyze, compared with the shorter queries we have grown accustomed to.

    Where once he had to infer a consumer’s intent based on feedback signals (click-through rate, bounce rate, conversion rate), we can now start this process much earlier.

    We should also bear in mind the anticipated input-output relationship between the consumer and the device. For example, a spoken query that prompts a spoken response will need to be fed by content that is clear, concise, and conclusive.

    Google’s Research Blog offers the following areas for assessment when it comes to this kind of voice search:

    • Information Satisfaction: the content of the answer should meet the information needs of the user.
    • Length: when a displayed answer is too long, users can quickly scan it visually and locate the relevant information. For voice answers, that is not possible. It is much more important to ensure that we provide a helpful amount of information, hopefully not too much or too little. Some of our previous work is currently in use for identifying the most relevant fragments of answers.
    • Formulation: it is much easier to understand a badly formulated written answer than an ungrammatical spoken answer, so more care has to be placed in ensuring grammatical correctness.
    • Elocution: spoken answers must have proper pronunciation and prosody. Improvements in text-to-speech generation, such as WaveNet and Tacotron 2, are quickly reducing the gap with human performance.

    This insight should flow directly into the site experience. If we know which task our consumer is trying to complete, we can make this process and seamless and as painless as possible.

    There are some points that apply to any site aiming to create content for voice search:

    • Remember that a voice search is only the start of the user journey. If your mobile site experience does not match the user’s intent, they will complete the journey elsewhere. Use a user-agent switcher or a site like http://mobiletest.me/ to see how your mobile experience matches up.
    • Create content that responds to the most common conversational queries. Provide clear information that can easily be picked up by a search engine as it tries to provide one, true answer for each voice query. Tools like Answer the Public are useful for this task, but try to assimilate this information naturally into your content rather than creating a host of FAQ pages.
    • Map this content to a logical site hierarchy that is crawlable for search engines and useful for consumers.
    • Google is preparing to add voice queries to Search Console, so we will soon be able to assess and track our voice search performance.

    Local SEO

    Given that voice searches on a mobile device are frequently completed on the go, it should not be surprising that users often want help with navigation.

    Interestingly, the growth in the number of ‘near me’ searches has slowed as people have come to expect Google to understand this implied intent.

    Google uses its own Maps product to respond to these queries, so we can optimize our own Maps listings to help search engines and people to navigate better. There are a few tips to keep in mind when working on a voice search strategy for local SEO:

    • Ensure that names, addresses and phone numbers are accurate across all locations.
    • Consider using a specialist platform to manage your local listings and monitor your local search performance. There is a growing range of mobile SEO tools that can help with these tasks.
    • Make it easy for consumers to act on their intentions. This means adding in clear calls to action and directions to further information.

    What’s next for search?

    It is important to understand Google’s vision for the future of search.

    The technology has improved dramatically, but it is still some distance from fulfilling the ambitions of Google and Amazon. When this technology reaches its potential, there may be no need for a query at all, as the digital assistant will be able to pre-empt our actions.

    For now, marketers need to assist the assistants in the manner outlined above.

    In essence, technology is enabling behaviors that have their basis in pre-existing states of intent. The industry is growing in complexity, but simultaneously it is developing into a more realistic representation of how people want to search.

    Through better understanding of both people and technology, marketers can create a voice search strategy that will stand the test of time.