Smart shopping season checklists: Mobile and desktop, content and SEO

Constantly changing consumer behaviors and the demand for more personalized, meaningful experiences have retailers facing huge challenges this year.

Competition in the SERPs is stiff, but winning the click is still no guarantee that the consumer is invested in your shopping experience.

More than half of retailers (source: Soasta.com) have a bounce rate greater than 40%, and just one second in increased page load time can have a 50% impact on your mobile bounce rate. Today’s consumer has zero patience for a poor online experience and will pull the trigger instantly if your brand can’t deliver.

The holidays provide plenty of opportunities to create more personalized content and provide smart content and intelligent experiences both in-store and online. How can you best get in position this holiday season to not only be found, but to engage and delight consumers all the way through, from search to checkout?

Below, I share some tips to help marketers in the coming weeks to get their SEO and content in shape for the holidays (and beyond).

Smart holiday shopping

The holiday shopping season provides a great opportunity for marketers to get smarter about the way they develop and promote content. As SEO and content marketing disciplines converge, the need for smart content has become mission critical. Smart content is discoverable, optimized from the point of creation, and ready to be activated across channels and devices, making it both profitable and measurable.

New research (disclosure – carried out by my company, BrightEdge) shows that ecommerce behavior changes dramatically on major shopping days Black Friday and Cyber Monday. On these days, conversion spikes. Interestingly, online conversion rates increase across desktop, tablet and mobile increase from Thanksgiving to Black Friday and into Cyber Monday. Going into the holiday season, it is good to know that:

On Black Friday and Cyber Monday, conversion is double what it normally is
Cyber Monday conversion is higher than Black Friday conversion by 10%
Desktop takes 67% of overall conversions during the holiday season, with desktop traffic converting at a significantly higher rate than mobile visits.

When it comes down to making that final decision, consumers still like to see what they’re buying, and all of the information surrounding it, on a larger screen.

It is important to note though that our data suggests an earlier holiday shopping season, too, and that consumers were making their big purchase on Thanksgiving and then using discounts to buy things they would have purchased already but with big discounts. Hence the higher conversion rates for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Read the full report (ungated) for more findings from our research.

As you get ready for the holiday shopping season, make sure that you:

Create content that meets your customers’ needs at various points in their journey
Develop SMART content and engage audiences with plenty of content about upcoming deals and specials, holiday wish list must-haves and similar content published on your website or blog
Ensure that your mobile configuration is correct
Add images, icons, buttons and specific (seasonal offerings) calls-to-action as part of the experience
Set up your mobile analytics so it reports key metrics separately from desktop data
Maintain rank for your high value keywords by creating helpful, consultative evergreen content
Double-check your SEO strategy to make sure your content is optimized for organic discovery. Start with these 5 aspects of technical SEO you can’t neglect
Ensure that optimize desktop, mobile and tablet strategies and connect them along the buyers journey – from discover and engagement through to final purchase.
Maximize your organic presence throughout the holiday season

Schema markup helps you structure your on-page data in a way that it can be better understood by search engines. As we all know, Google’s #1 goal is to provide searchers the best answers to their needs. Schema helps you show Google all of the ways in which your site content is the best answer for relevant queries.

Schema can help you win extra visibility in the SERPs, too, with expanded results and extra features like Google’s Quick Answers box. It can help you add compelling content like ratings and other rich information that convince searchers to convert to site visitors. At the very least, check these off your list in your pre-holidays marketing prep:

Optimize key pages for Quick Answers and mark up accordingly
Mark up events you’re hosting in-store and online for inclusion in the Google Events SERP feature
Use structured data markup to define business attributes including your NAP (name, address, phone), business type, hours, latitude and longitude, and more
Make sure your product pages are marked up so reviews show in the SERPs. This is critical, as 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision, and 63% of shoppers are more likely to buy if there are product reviews (iPerceptions)
Put the most important ecommerce attributes to work for you. Add pricing and availability to your rich snippets, to help consumers make a decision quickly and avoid in-store or online store disappointment after the click
Check for common schema errors like typos or incorrect capitalization, and use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure you’ve implemented your markup correctly.
Supplement your SEO strategy and deliver a relevant holiday shopping experience

Your PPC and SEO budgets shouldn’t be pitted against one another during holiday season, each fighting it out for their share of the pie. Organic search drives 51 percent of all visits to B2B and B2C websites, and it is important to use PPC to support your SEO efforts; to fill in the gaps in organic coverage and further your conversion opportunities for specific time sensitive promotions.

Ad extensions can give your ads greater functionality and more visibility, while targeting options like dayparting and device targeting reduce waste and get you in front of your ideal audiences when it matters most. And remember, when it comes to site visits, desktop dominates on Cyber Monday, mobile on Black Friday, and tablets on Thanksgiving Day.

These insights can help you tailor your ads and bids to the most receptive audiences on each major shopping day this season. How else can you improve your PPC game in time for the holidays?

Accelerate conversions and sales with targeted campaigns aligned with your content strategy or featured products
Focus your organic search efforts on aligning with consumer intent, and use PPC to tap into queries that indicate imminent purchase behavior
Take advantage of the second holiday shopping rush by advertising post-holiday sales over the holiday week, when many people are off work and traveling
Use social PPC (Facebook and Twitter Ads) to get your ads in front of super granular, targeted audiences in the moments that matter most
Make best use of each of the Bing Ads and Google AdWords features available to you, including targeting options and various ad formats that can help you stand out in the SERPs
Deliver an optimal experience after the click by following through on the promise of ads with a seamless shopping experience.
Optimize for experience to improve conversion

Your number one priority in conversion optimization this holiday season has to be mapping your content to the customer journey, then aligning this to the days that matter most for revenue. It’s not all about Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday; Thanksgiving Day might actually be your best day for revenue generation.

Run through this checklist in the holidays lead-up to turn more of your lookers into buyers:

Test and analyze your shopping cart and checkout experience via a mobile device
Use your category pages to guide users, who are often undecided about the exact product they’ll purchase, towards your product pages and ultimately, a decision
Address user uncertainty on-page by answering frequently asked questions where it actually matters: on category and product pages. Consumers won’t go digging for information on shipping, return policies, etc.
Provide social proof by way of embedded reviews on product pages. Consumers want to see what types of experiences others are having with your brand and products before they’ll commit to purchase
Examine conversion rates by page speed, and optimize for a more efficient shopping experience. Load only your best converting image on page load and use interaction triggers to add other items as needed.

The holiday shopping season provides great opportunities to create more personalized content and provide intelligent experiences both at the store and online.

To maximize performance, marketers need to focus on understanding and creating smart content and shopping experiences to attract, engage and convert customers at the right time and on the right device.

Black Friday SEO: Last-minute tips for the holiday season

black_friday_searches

Black Friday kicks off a shopping season that lasts through Christmas each year, with online retailers vying for the profitable attention of consumers. With spending expected to rise by 47% this year, competition will be fierce.

SEO can make a significant ecommerce contribution; some final tweaks can make the difference between rising to the top of results and languishing at the bottom of page one.

The holiday season begins in earnest for ecommerce companies with the Black Friday weekend, bookended by Black Friday (November 24) and Cyber Monday (November 27).

Black Friday (the day retailers traditionally go ‘into the black’ due to the bumper sales) follows Thanksgiving in the US and kicks off a spending spree that typically continues through the Christmas period. The digital revolution has facilitated huge growth in spending worldwide, even spawning the online-focused Cyber Monday counterpart to satiate consumers’ desire to pick up a bargain.

Although dwarfed by China’s equivalent, known as ‘Singles Day’, which recently posted $12 billion in sales on Alibaba alone within just 2 hours, Black Friday holds particular significance for retailers in the US and beyond.

For context, the following statistics should paint a clear picture of the importance of this period for online stores:

  • 2017 spending is predicted to rise by 47% over the same period in 2016
  • Shoppers in the US spent $3.39 billion on Cyber Monday last year and $3.34 billion on Black Friday
  • The Black Friday week brought sales of £6.5 billion in the UK in 2016
  • The average American consumer will spend $745 over the Black Friday weekend
  • Target sold 3,200 TVs per minute during the first hour of Black Friday last year.

Brands have been planning for the holidays for a long time already, so the focus will now turn to any last-minute changes that can help tempt consumers to their site and provide a seamless transaction experience when they get there.

SEO is quite rightly considered a long-term investment and strategies take time to come into effect, but some fine-tuning can still reap dividends in the immediate short term.

The tips below are intended to give ecommerce sites an SEO performance boost – just in time for the holiday period.

Focus on keyword groups with a high ROI

All brands are aiming to maximize revenues over the holidays, which leads to an increase in activity as their marketing strategies kick into action.

Search demand patterns change too, as consumers seek inspiration across a range of digital media.

This opens opens up new opportunities; search results are affected by these forces and they change in response to the surrounding stimuli. Intelligent targeting of the right queries at the right moments can see brands move into top positions and capitalize on demand peaks.

Historical data from Google Trends or Keyword Planner can highlight the types of queries that tend to increase around this time of year. Typically, modifiers including ‘best’, ‘gift’, ‘deals’, or ‘cheap’ will be popular with shoppers on the lookout for the right present.

There’s nothing revolutionary about that, but adding these terms to basic SEO elements like internal links, title tags and meta descriptions can make all the difference.

Our guide to advanced keyword research is a great place to start this process, as it helps marketers to isolate short-term opportunities and strategize accordingly.

Use existing landing pages for high-volume terms

It helps if you are using an authoritative page to target profitable queries at the most competitive time of year. With only a couple of weeks until Black Friday, it would be a pretty tall order to launch a brand new page and rank in positions 1-3 for the most important terms,

And yet, many brands do exactly this every year. Rather than having one static Black Friday page and another for Cyber Monday that can be updated every year, they launch a new page every time the holidays roll round.

After all, the trend is predictable; we know searches for [black friday] are about to take off:

The retailers that make the most of this will have had a Black Friday page in place for years already, which benefits from the backlinks that have been sent to the site every year. Small updates, such as adding the year 2017 into the copy and title tag, will help the page gain relevance for this year’s searches.

Once the holidays pass, update the content to move shoppers to more relevant deals and allow the page to accrue SEO value until next year.

Add new content to cover new SEO opportunities

There are less obvious trends to make use of, too.

Recent analysis of BrightEdge data by Eugene Feygin revealed a very significant increase in the number of rich snippets returned for ecommerce queries over the past year. In fact, the research found that there has been an increase in the number of rich snippets of over 26% within the last five months.

Unsurprisingly, Amazon has benefited to a greater degree than most:

BrightEdge_QA

But the same opportunity exists for all retailers.

Given the prominence that is afforded the these quick answers, in what has come to be known as ‘position zero’, it seems too great a prize to ignore.

The question, then, is how to format content to increase its likelihood of being pulled programmatically as a rich snippet.

There are no black-and-white rules to this, but there are steps we can take to help our chances. For example, using Schema.org mark-up to provide Google with structured data about product features or prices will help greatly, and tools like Moz Keyword Explorer can help identify popular questions.

Repurpose old content to create gift guides

According to Google’s trend report from 2016, more than 70 percent of digital shoppers started their holiday shopping without something particular in mind that they wanted to buy.

The search journey doesn’t end when someone clicks through to a website, of course. With user engagement factors continuing to play a pivotal role in SEO successes, we need to understand the consumer’s intent and match that up to the experience they receive when they land on the site.

Walmart provides a good example of how this can be achieved. They have a range of gift guides, which are categorized by the type of gift the consumer is thinking of, and also for whom they are planning to buy.

walmart seo

It is possible to go further still, through segmentation of content by the consumer’s level of certainty about the product they want to buy. The site can ask these questions to use as prompts to personalize the experience, with live chatbots playing an ever greater role in this area.

This must be complemented by an oft-overlooked aspect of ecommerce SEO: optimization of internal search. A report by Visualsoft found that 17% of UK retailers do not pay attention to the effectiveness of their internal search engine, but this should be taken into account by all ecommerce sites. To do so means making use of autocomplete searches, product recommendations based on search history, and personalized results.

These points require the refinement and adaptation of existing assets for most brands, so they can still be considered quick win activities for the holidays.

Optimize for speed

Back in 2012, Amazon calculated that just one second of slowdown in page load speed costs them $1.6 billion in lost sales, a number that can only have grown in the intervening years.

The aforementioned report from Visualsoft made blunt a point of which we are all aware: when providing a great ecommerce experience, speed matters. It also highlighted how far a lot of online retailers are from meeting the benchmarks expected of them by their customers:

Page_loading

Source: Visualsoft

In addition, new research from BrightEdge (full report here) has highlighted the peak traffic days across devices:

brightedge

This data shows that while mobile traffic peaks on Thanksgiving, it is desktop that takes the lion’s share of visits on Cyber Monday. Moreover, BrightEdge’s research found that desktop takes 67% of overall conversions in the holiday season, as its traffic converts at a significantly higher rate than mobile visits.

Marketers need to be in prime position to move these consumers through to their intended transaction, as they research on one device and come back to convert on another.

Therefore, if there is only one area of on-site experience that SEOs can contribute towards, it should be page load speed. Improved speed can help rankings directly, but it is also a proven way to improve conversion rates on mobile, desktop, and tablet.

The road to achieving this will depend on the website in question, but some best practices would be:

  • Minimize the number of HTTP requests required to load the page
  • Reduce the number of redirects needed to arrive at the final URL
  • Compress or re-size images.

Optimize mixed media assets

It stands to reason that with so many shoppers seeking inspiration, images and videos are essential components of an SEO strategy for the holidays.

At the last minute, brands are likely to have their media strategies set in stone, but SEO can always help to attract more traffic to these assets.

As such, we should be thinking about optimization for search engines like Pinterest and YouTube, and not just Google and Bing.

That said, Google’s universal results provide an excellent opportunity to draw more traffic if images and videos are optimized for the right queries.

Therefore, SEO research for the holiday season should aim to identify the keyword categories and types for which images and videos are returned in the SERPs. Keyword tools like BrightEdge and SEMrush provide a way to do this at scale, helping marketers to evaluate the best areas to apply their efforts.

Take lessons from other digital marketing channels

With such limited time left to test SEO changes, retailers should look to paid media channels to find quick, substantial lessons to apply to organic search. PPC ad copy can be a goldmine for these insights, as is reveals the triggers most likely to appeal to consumers when they are searching. Take the best-performing ad copy variations from paid search and incorporate these into SEO messaging to draw a higher click-through rate.

Recent research into social media ad performance also found that informal, conversational language works best. People tend to be in a different mindset when on social media compared to search, which is driven by their underlying intent and the different natures of the platforms. However, this tone of voice could still be worth testing within PPC ads to see if it helps brands stand out and connect.

That said, we need to bear in mind that consumers don’t think in terms of SEO, PPC, or social media when they are shopping for gifts. They move between these channels and expect a consistent tone in their interactions with a brand.

SEOs should look to broader consumer surveys to understand the role their channel can play to ensure that this consistency is achieved.

One such study from Astound Commerce asked, “Which of the following will most likely prompt you to visit a retailer online this holiday season?”

Consumers, who were prompted to select all of the responses that applied to them, revealed just how many factors can potentially come into play:

Black_friday_1

This is a complex set of interconnected communications, but there are a few clear takeaways for SEO. For example, promotions are a key driver of traffic, so we should add any relevant deals into on-page copy and meta tags.

Make sure your servers are ready

The SEO team at any retailer has important responsibilities on the technical side of things over the holidays.

If all goes to plan, there should be a significant surge in the number of visitors to the site over a short period of time, which can play havoc with servers. Downtime is particularly disastrous at this time of year, so take steps to prepare.

It is worth visiting the site’s error logs to see if there is anything you can fix in advance of the traffic increase, and make sure you have a dedicated point of contact on stand-by if any issues should arise over the holiday season.

Here’s how to get executives excited about SEO

As an SEO expert at your company – maybe the SEO expert – you may find yourself needing to persuade executives to invest more in your company’s SEO practices.

Championing SEO means successfully selling the right company leaders on the benefits, demonstrating the effectiveness and wisdom of your specific SEO strategy, and, more often than not, including a few convincing facts about why it will make them look good.

Here are four practices you should use to your advantage when trying to win executive support for your SEO proposals:

1) Understand your executive audience before you even step in the room

When you enter the executive meeting to present your SEO plan, know exactly what you’re getting into. Is this a group discussion, or are you going in one-on-one? What will keep the attention of this particular individual or group, and what are the expectations for this meeting on the other side of the table?

In presenting your plan, it’s important to tell executives everything they need to know in order to say yes. This means explaining the very specific goals that your SEO proposal will help the business achieve. Clearly explain any costs and risks as well, so that executives have the information to make a fully informed decision.

Remember that they may even have to sell what you’re proposing at the level above them. If it’s possible to tailor what your asking for and how you present it to align well with current budgeting and company strategy, do so.

Overall, try to hand executives the ready-made case they need to fully convince both themselves and others how a greater investment in SEO will positively affect the bottom line.

2) Prepare a presentation that’s focused, powerful, and to the point

Take the time to practice and refine your presentation, focusing on a tight collection of points that you want – and need – to make. It also doesn’t hurt to use a few tricks from the advertising world, from plain old flattery to the bandwagon approach.

Make it clear that a proper focus on SEO is what smart companies are doing to succeed, and that this focus will serve to increase exposure for the tremendous work being done by creative and other teams. Also explain how “everyone else is doing it,” especially through presenting information that highlights where competitors have superior SEO practices and are beating your company in search rankings.

A little competitive spirit and FOMO can help put the push for SEO in perspective and get executives animated about how your company can respond – a response plan you ought to have ready as well.

3) Stick to terminology your audience can understand

Remember that the executives in your audience probably don’t understand SEO terminology at an expert level. That said, you shouldn’t hesitate to provide specific examples and information that will help draw them in; just be sure to avoid SEO jargon with which non-experts aren’t familiar.

For example, you may want to talk about metadata and KPIs, but your audience may need a bit of guidance to navigate these terms. You can accomplish this with rephrasing, such as changing metadata to “how searchers view your result on the search engine results page”, and KPIs to “specific data points that matter.”

4) Present those specific data points that matter

When weaving the narrative you present to executives as to how an investment in SEO will achieve intended results for your company, ensure that they take it as more than a fairy tale: ground everything in actual data.

From an internal execution standpoint, this means getting specific with the costs, personnel, and bandwidth required. It also means setting target goals the potential visibility and profit your company’s SEO efforts will deliver.

Don’t be afraid to dive into the real metrics that your proposal has been crafted to improve. This will likely include specific information like customer acquisition cost (CAC), the marketing percentage of CAC, the ratio of customer lifetime value to CAC, the time to payback the CAC, and the marketing originated/influenced customer percentages.

If your presentation can convincingly demonstrate how your SEO efforts will return favorable numbers for these metrics, there’s a good chance that executives would be smart to listen to you – and that they will.

Kevin Gamache is Search Strategist at Wire Stone, a digital marketing agency part of Accenture Interactive.

A search marketer’s guide to using paid social media

The battle between those who specialize in certain marketing practices is prevalent throughout the industry. Individuals, departments and indeed agencies are all involved.

After all, they are often competing for the same budget, beating their chests and promoting their own channel as the most valuable. It is understandable. We all need to make a living.

But in reality they should all be working together to deliver economies of scale. Fully integrated campaigns can deliver far better results than the sum of its component parts.

SEO and social media would at first appear to be very different practices, especially when taking into account paid social advertising. However, there are significant SEO benefits to be gained from utilizing social media advertising as both an outreach platform and also as an analytics platform. Let’s jump straight into it.

We are assuming a certain level of knowledge when it comes social media advertising. For those not ‘in the know’, you can be pretty darn specific in regards to your demographics when advertising on major platforms such as Facebook.

Make the most of your content

For years now content has been one of the major focal points of SEO campaigns, giving birth to potentially the most irritating and overused saying in SEO: “Content is King”! Jayson Demers noted back in 2015 that SEO is now synonymous with content marketing and that as a result SEO teams are investing heavily in content creation.

Let’s assume you are doing all the right things. You have a solid grasp of your buyer personas and inbound funnels. You have thoroughly researched content opportunities within your specific market, using this research to help influence your strategy. You’re also ensuring that your on-site optimization for each article is top notch so that you attract that ever growing portion of traffic from long tail keywords.

This is great, genuinely it is. Although are you missing a trick by not integrating additional marketing channels into your content strategy? Email is awesome at disseminating content to both prospective and current clients, but what of social media advertising?

To paint an industry with an awfully large brush, content creation is sometimes too heavily focused on gaining traffic directly from search engines due to the user intent associated with those actively searching, and the fact that often this is what the client is basing payment of their invoice on!

However, taking a quick step back, if this content is aligned to your conversion funnel then surely getting in front of as many eyes as possible (via other channels) should therefore still have a significant benefit. SEO teams can utilize social media advertising platforms to push this content to users that fall within their buyer persona profiles which should ultimately produce conversions (it may require a few more touch points, but you get the point).

Of course the advertising spend would have to be included in your cost per acquisition calculations but hopefully the following points show how you can use social media advertising to make your investment into content pay a higher rate of dividends.

Keep them coming back

Inbound marketing often works best through multiple touch points during the buyer’s journey. If your traffic is converting to customers directly from a single piece of content then that’s awesome, good for you! For the rest of the world that aren’t unicorns we need to keep our readers coming back in order to help them find their way down our own sales funnels.

Re-targeting the traffic to your website via social media with awesome content is one such tactic to keep your traffic returning. Use retargeting tools on social media to maintain your touch points with users, building brand authority and trust.

Some friendly persuasion

Sometimes people just need a little nudge. Ultimately you don’t want people clicking on your retargeting posts, consuming your content and then leaving time and time again. That can be a costly ego boost. Eventually you want them to convert!

Assess how your content strategy aligns with your sales funnel. Do you have set pieces of content that lead on from one another which will help you become more specific with your retargeting? Does this pathway eventually lead to a conversion?

Your conversions may not be in monetary form. They may involve the user providing some additional contact information in order to download a brochure or them signing up to a free trial. Whatever that conversion looks like, don’t be afraid to ask the question. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. When the time is right, your social retargeting campaigns should include conversion related posts that relate to said individual’s status in your sales funnel.

We all love a good link

We covered the benefits that social media provide for a link building campaign in a recent article, so jump over there for a deeper look.

Suffice to say that again, if you are investing heavily in content, then why not use social media to spread the net even wider and potentially earn links? Paul Shapiro had an interesting tactic for Marketing Land of targeting employees at specific publishing companies as a link building tactic!

Gain analytics insights!

When it comes to analytics tools for SEO, data from the website and SEO specific platforms steal the limelight. The likes of Google Analytics, Search Console and those offered by Moz, SEMrush and Majestic may be the first ones off the tongue but we should also be using analytics gained from other channels in our decisions. You guessed it, social media advertising can be particularly useful in this respect.

In fact, you don’t even need to be using social advertising to get these insights but the specific demographic targeting within social advertising should help provide a higher level of actionable data.

Understanding how to drive clicks

In much the same way as Google Adwords, via Facebook Insights or other social media analytics tools, you can view your click-through rate per post. Whilst this is also influenced by other factors such as time of post, engagement or demographic targeting, you can also draw insights into what content is proving most popular with your audience.

Is the subject matter performing or does the content strategy need to be revisited?
Are titles really attention grabbing or lack the ability to drive enthusiasm?

This type of data can be used to influence your content strategy, even if it is as simple as creating article titles that increase click through rates.

Just starting out?

Some content pieces can be spectacularly well researched and written but receive far less traffic than expected. There are additional factors that will dictate the ability of your website’s content to rank in search engines including the overall authority of your website, the link profile of that article or load speed.

More often than not a lack of traffic will mean that the analytics associated with that content piece becomes less reliable, subsequently preventing you from really fine tuning your content strategy.

Social media advertising can be incredibly valuable in driving ‘pay per play’ traffic to your content and therefore allowing you to capture that all important data. It doesn’t need to be specific to your content either. Conversion rate optimization is an important part of any digital marketing campaign so you can also capitalize on social traffic to help identify opportunities within your website’s user flow.

So there you have it. Yet another reason to make sure that your social media and SEO teams are working together.

Of course, you don’t need to try to implement of the above points at once – in fact we would advise taking them one step at a time. The most important point? Move away from marketing channels operating within their own silo.

Integrate your marketing, share data, use content across multiple channels and collaborate to increase your results across the board!

Killer demand gen strategy, Part 2: Google Display Network targeting

This is Part 2 of my blog series on crafting and executing killer demand gen strategies.

In Part 1, I discussed building out various personas to target, as well as how to craft the right creative. Now let’s chat through how to actually target these personas!

Both Google Display Network and Facebook have great audience targeting capabilities that allow you to get in front of your target audiences and the personas you have built out. Full disclosure: I was planning to wrap the GDN and Facebook together for this post, but both have so many features that they warrant their own edition.

So let’s dive into how to target your personas and audiences on the GDN, and save Facebook for Part 3.

Keyword contextual targeting (KCT)

Keyword contextual targeting is where you bid on keywords and Google will match you to pages relevant to your terms. You’ll notice two options when it comes to KCT:

  • Content – shows ads on relevant webpages, etc.
  • Audience – with this option, the ad will show on relevant pages and to people who might be interested in these keywords (so basically you are giving Google more control to do its thing).
  • My recommendation is to start off with Content, because you know exactly what you are getting into; don’t give Google control right away and make it hard to understand true performance. Content will have a lot less reach, but you have full visibility into things. As you begin seeing results, you can always adjust accordingly.

    My general recommendation is to start off with your top 10-15 performing search terms – and then, of course, layer on demographic age and gender information so you are getting in front of the most relevant eyes.

    Additionally, think about the personas you developed. In Part 1, I gave the example of a persona that loved celebrity fashion and gossip; building terms around those interests to get onto those pages is another way to get in front of the right eyes.

    Custom Affinity Audiences

    With Custom Affinity Audiences, you can input domains and Google will look at the types of users visiting those domains – makeup, demographics, topics of sites they visit, etc. Then Google crafts an audience similar to those users, which you can target.

    With Custom Affinity Audiences, I recommend creating different audiences to target based off of:

  • Competitor domains
  • Industry-relevant websites
  • Persona-relevant websites (think of the personas you have created and the types of websites they would visit)
  • In-Market Audiences

    With In-Market Audiences, Google identifies people who are actively shopping for certain products and services. This is pretty clear-cut – choose In-Market Audiences relevant to your business.

    Don’t forget to leverage the audience insights that Google gave you when developing your personas; those typically showcase other products/services that your core audience is typically in market for!

    Refine your targeting to get closer to your target personas

    For both KCT and In-Market Audiences, I recommend that you further refine your targeting by applying demographic layering onto those campaigns to get closer to your target personas. (With Custom Affinity Audiences, Google already incorporates demographic information from the data they pull as they analyze the audiences visiting the sites you enter.)

    The above strategies are well worth testing out as you look to get in front of the right eyes and scale your business.

    In part 3, we’ll dive into Facebook and how to best leverage its advanced targeting capabilities to get in front of your personas and target market!

    How to use your data to supercharge paid search

    In today’s marketing climate, data is key. Indeed, more data is generated in a 24-hour period than ever before, with 2.5 quintillion bytes of data being created daily across the globe (IBM, 2017).

    The challenge lies in being able to harness this data to optimize marketing activities. After all, without an understanding of what your customers are doing, it is almost impossible to increase conversions and ROI.

    One of the key channels for marketers is paid search. Indeed, this is rapidly becoming the most powerful digital marketing channel, with over 2.3 million searches occurring per day. With all these interactions, marketers are paying a premium to get their brand, reflected in the fact that pay-per-click advertising costs are sky rocketing.

    Marketers can gain visibility on their paid search activities, and overcome the rising cost of customer acquisition and retention in this channel, by taking control of their customer data.

    In my previous article on how to stop Google AdWords campaigns from failing, I looked at how businesses can use a Customer Data Platform to gain a holistic overview of customer conversion, and properly attribute the role of each keyword in the conversion path.

    In this article, I’ll expand on how data-driven attribution and the use of a Customer Data Platform can supercharge your paid search activities.

    Content produced in partnership with Fospha.

    Step 1: Integrate

    The key challenge of the rise in multi-channel and multi-device customer journeys is the fact that businesses store this multitude of data in disparate silos, as illustrated in Figure 1.

    The result? No unified view of the customer journey, and no understanding of how they are interacting with various marketing channels and campaigns. Businesses must therefore look to integrate their various data sources, using a Customer Data Platform, to provide this granular single customer view.

    As well as integrating customer data, a Customer Data Platform will stitch data together, and link typically anonymised data with known identifiers. In doing so, multiple visits – across numerous sessions, channels and devices – are linked to one individual, so marketers can begin to understand who specific customers are, where they came from, what they viewed, and how they interacted with marketing channels on their path to purchase.

    Once this view is in place, marketers are better equipped to understand the role of specific marketing channels – in this instance, paid search activities – in relation to customer conversions, as they have a full view of where customers interacted with their business before purchase.

    Step 2: Attribute

    Once your customer data is integrated and providing a clearer picture of what your customers are doing, marketers must then look to accurately attribute the role of their paid search channels in customer conversions.

    For this, a data-driven attribution model – defined as ‘accurately assigning value to each digital channel marketing touchpoint across the complete user journey’ – is key. This model uses advanced algorithmic modelling to help marketers understand the real value and cost associated with each of their marketing touchpoints.

    With these insights, you can identify where marketing activity in a particular channel plays little to no role in driving conversions. Marketers can then drill down into their paid search channel, to understand which individual keywords are leading to these conversions.

    With this in-depth view, and the granular data source from the Customer Data Platform, marketers gain a much more comprehensive understanding of which keywords are a drain on resources, and which are bringing in high ROI. With this knowledge, they can redistribute spend to help accelerate growth without a drop in leads.

    Step 3: Operationalize

    Once marketers have access to these insights, the final step in supercharging their paid search activities is being able to operationalize at scale and in real-time. A Customer Data Platform can integrate directly with bid management platforms – which are already great at optimizing and automating PPC campaigns – to boost their efforts.

    The granular understanding of keyword performance, derived through the Customer Data Platform’s rich data and attribution modelling layer, is pushed directly into a bid management platform, like Kenshoo or Marin, to automatically optimize the algorithms that inform their bidding.

    This data-driven approach, executed in an automated and frictionless way, helps marketers optimize their paid search channel at scale.

    Once you have taken these steps to optimize your paid search channels, you can use your Customer Data Platform to tackle other priority channels – to reduce costs and boost ROI – simply by integrating that data source into your Customer Data Platform and applying the same data-driven attribution modelling.

    Content produced in partnership with Fospha. Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Search Engine Watch.

    A search marketer’s guide to using paid social media

    The battle between those who specialize in certain marketing practices is prevalent throughout the industry. Individuals, departments and indeed agencies are all involved.

    After all, they are often competing for the same budget, beating their chests and promoting their own channel as the most valuable. It is understandable. We all need to make a living.

    But in reality they should all be working together to deliver economies of scale. Fully integrated campaigns can deliver far better results than the sum of its component parts.

    SEO and social media would at first appear to be very different practices, especially when taking into account paid social advertising. However, there are significant SEO benefits to be gained from utilizing social media advertising as both an outreach platform and also as an analytics platform. Let’s jump straight into it.

    We are assuming a certain level of knowledge when it comes social media advertising. For those not ‘in the know’, you can be pretty darn specific in regards to your demographics when advertising on major platforms such as Facebook.

    Make the most of your content

    For years now content has been one of the major focal points of SEO campaigns, giving birth to potentially the most irritating and overused saying in SEO: “Content is King”! Jayson Demers noted back in 2015 that SEO is now synonymous with content marketing and that as a result SEO teams are investing heavily in content creation.

    Let’s assume you are doing all the right things. You have a solid grasp of your buyer personas and inbound funnels. You have thoroughly researched content opportunities within your specific market, using this research to help influence your strategy. You’re also ensuring that your on-site optimization for each article is top notch so that you attract that ever growing portion of traffic from long tail keywords.

    This is great, genuinely it is. Although are you missing a trick by not integrating additional marketing channels into your content strategy? Email is awesome at disseminating content to both prospective and current clients, but what of social media advertising?

    To paint an industry with an awfully large brush, content creation is sometimes too heavily focused on gaining traffic directly from search engines due to the user intent associated with those actively searching, and the fact that often this is what the client is basing payment of their invoice on!

    However, taking a quick step back, if this content is aligned to your conversion funnel then surely getting in front of as many eyes as possible (via other channels) should therefore still have a significant benefit. SEO teams can utilize social media advertising platforms to push this content to users that fall within their buyer persona profiles which should ultimately produce conversions (it may require a few more touch points, but you get the point).

    Of course the advertising spend would have to be included in your cost per acquisition calculations but hopefully the following points show how you can use social media advertising to make your investment into content pay a higher rate of dividends.

    Keep them coming back

    Inbound marketing often works best through multiple touch points during the buyer’s journey. If your traffic is converting to customers directly from a single piece of content then that’s awesome, good for you! For the rest of the world that aren’t unicorns we need to keep our readers coming back in order to help them find their way down our own sales funnels.

    Re-targeting the traffic to your website via social media with awesome content is one such tactic to keep your traffic returning. Use retargeting tools on social media to maintain your touch points with users, building brand authority and trust.

    Some friendly persuasion

    Sometimes people just need a little nudge. Ultimately you don’t want people clicking on your retargeting posts, consuming your content and then leaving time and time again. That can be a costly ego boost. Eventually you want them to convert!

    Assess how your content strategy aligns with your sales funnel. Do you have set pieces of content that lead on from one another which will help you become more specific with your retargeting? Does this pathway eventually lead to a conversion?

    Your conversions may not be in monetary form. They may involve the user providing some additional contact information in order to download a brochure or them signing up to a free trial. Whatever that conversion looks like, don’t be afraid to ask the question. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. When the time is right, your social retargeting campaigns should include conversion related posts that relate to said individual’s status in your sales funnel.

    We all love a good link

    We covered the benefits that social media provide for a link building campaign in a recent article, so jump over there for a deeper look.

    Suffice to say that again, if you are investing heavily in content, then why not use social media to spread the net even wider and potentially earn links? Paul Shapiro had an interesting tactic for Marketing Land of targeting employees at specific publishing companies as a link building tactic!

    Gain analytics insights!

    When it comes to analytics tools for SEO, data from the website and SEO specific platforms steal the limelight. The likes of Google Analytics, Search Console and those offered by Moz, SEMrush and Majestic may be the first ones off the tongue but we should also be using analytics gained from other channels in our decisions. You guessed it, social media advertising can be particularly useful in this respect.

    In fact, you don’t even need to be using social advertising to get these insights but the specific demographic targeting within social advertising should help provide a higher level of actionable data.

    Understanding how to drive clicks

    In much the same way as Google Adwords, via Facebook Insights or other social media analytics tools, you can view your click-through rate per post. Whilst this is also influenced by other factors such as time of post, engagement or demographic targeting, you can also draw insights into what content is proving most popular with your audience.

    Is the subject matter performing or does the content strategy need to be revisited?
    Are titles really attention grabbing or lack the ability to drive enthusiasm?

    This type of data can be used to influence your content strategy, even if it is as simple as creating article titles that increase click through rates.

    Just starting out?

    Some content pieces can be spectacularly well researched and written but receive far less traffic than expected. There are additional factors that will dictate the ability of your website’s content to rank in search engines including the overall authority of your website, the link profile of that article or load speed.

    More often than not a lack of traffic will mean that the analytics associated with that content piece becomes less reliable, subsequently preventing you from really fine tuning your content strategy.

    Social media advertising can be incredibly valuable in driving ‘pay per play’ traffic to your content and therefore allowing you to capture that all important data. It doesn’t need to be specific to your content either. Conversion rate optimization is an important part of any digital marketing campaign so you can also capitalize on social traffic to help identify opportunities within your website’s user flow.

    So there you have it. Yet another reason to make sure that your social media and SEO teams are working together.

    Of course, you don’t need to try to implement of the above points at once – in fact we would advise taking them one step at a time. The most important point? Move away from marketing channels operating within their own silo.

    Integrate your marketing, share data, use content across multiple channels and collaborate to increase your results across the board!

    4 safe search engines for kids

    Young children are using the internet to search and find content more than they ever have before—but we can all understand some of the trade-offs that come with this technological advancement.

    Typical search engines (think Google, Bing, etc.) do not default to kid-friendly settings, and it takes a lot of adult monitoring to make sure that nothing is appearing and getting clicked on that isn’t age-appropriate.

    Luckily in recent years, more and more safe search engines for kids have been emerging. Today we are going to talk about four of the most popular safe and kid friendly search engines, and why they should be on your radar if you are a parent, teacher, or child development professional.

    1. Kiddle

    Kiddle.co is a “safe visual search engine for kids” developed by Google. It has all of the power and resources of Google, with all of the safe search filters that parents and educators need.

    In addition to traditional web and image searches, they also have “Kimages” or popular kid images, and “Kpedia”, a kid’s version of Wikipedia. In addition, there is also a video search feature, a news search feature, and resources for parents and educators.

    The bottom toolbar also has more information on kids’ safe search and keyword blocking, making the platform a very transparent and understandable alternative search option.

    What is really awesome about platforms like Kiddle is that there are very different approaches to how content is displayed, depending on the word. For example, typing in the word “boob” will give kids this error message:

    We can understand how this is limiting (what if a kid is genuinely curious about body parts in a scientific or sociological way?) However, as pointed out by Mashable, not all terms have this “oops, try again” landing page.

    In fact, when the word “transgender” is searched there are definitions, “kids of trans” resources, and other helpful information for kids that may have first hand experience with transgender communities, or may just be genuinely curious about the term and people who identify as trans.

    2. Wacky Safe

    The Microsoft version of a kid-oriented safe search engine is called Wacky Safe, and it comes in the form of an app that is specially made for PCs and Android phones. I’m sure you will not be surprised to find out that it is rated E for everyone.

    It claims to provide an “ultra-safe” environment so that parents and educators can be worry-free about children surfing the web. As with other safe search sites for kids it blocks inappropriate content and images, uses strict keyword filtering, and allows for searching of information that is “kid-friendly.”

    The app also blocks and filters harmful websites that would typically be blocked by parental controls.

    3. KidRex

    KidRex has to be one of my favorites—if for no other reason than because the home page contains a wonderfully drawn image of a T-rex.

    This search engine, which is also powered by Google, is an independent organization that claims to be kid-centric with their “safe search for kids, by kids slogan.”

    The organization (a division of Brent Media) was founded in 2016, and as you would expect, it addresses all of the parent/educator concerns that are associated with children searching online.

    4. Safe Search Kids

    You may think you’re experiencing deja vu at this point, but here is yet another available safe search engine that is geared toward kids and utilizes the power of…you guessed it…Google! (Seriously, can any company come out swinging and outshine Google in this area?).

    Safe Search Kids is a download that is also available as an app, and can deliver filtered search results when your kids use the internet. This search tool automatically activates Google Safe Search—and ultimately helps to keep kids from landing on websites that contain inappropriate content.

    Some extra considerations

    It is fantastic that these tools are available and that there are increasingly more ways for parents, educators, and child development professionals to be proactive in what their kids are seeing online.

    With that said, these search engines are not foolproof (ever) and there are some things to consider as a parent or educator who is letting their children absorb all of the wonderful information that is available online.

    Blocking out keywords could potentially block out useful or educational content

    There is no good solution to this, but by hyper-filtering the internet, you could also be filtering and screening out some valuable and educational information. Think human reproduction, cultural genocide, or other historical events that could easily be erased from a G-Rated search.

    Ultimately, there is no replacement for parents and educators supervising and teaching children how to use the internet. These tools can help, but they are not the ONLY solution to enhance children’s experience online.

    Who is hand-picking?

    Safe search that is geared towards children has always had to answer the question: who picks the inappropriate keywords? Who decides what content is child-friendly?

    It should be no surprise that not all parents agree on what is appropriate, let alone different cultures, religions, and other social positions.

    In other words, what Google or other search engines feel is appropriate or inappropriate does not necessarily capture every parent’s wishes. This makes it all the more important for parents and educators to continue to be proactive, even with these powerful tools.

    While these tools are incredibly powerful and can allow children to be much more curious and independent online, there is really no substitution for parent and teacher involvement when it comes to learning about the internet and the power of search engines.

    By teaching kids HOW search engines work, what they can do, and the kind of content that is fully at their fingertips, kids can feel empowered to research and learn in ways they never had imagined!

    What are your thoughts on these safe search engines for kids? Have you tried any as a parent or teacher? Let us know in the comments section below!

    Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for NoRiskSEO, a full service SEO agency, and a contributor to SEW. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn, or check out her services at amandadisilvestro.com.

    What factors should you consider before choosing a web crawler tool?

    The goal of any business serious about SEO is for prospective customers to find them through search. The reason is simple: these leads are more qualified, and are already looking for what the business has to offer.

    But SEO is a many-headed beast. There are just too many rules, guidelines and things to look out for. From off-page elements to on-page elements, covering all aspects of SEO can easily become a Herculean task, especially when dealing with large websites.

    That is why a tool that crawls your website on a regular basis and brings back reports on what needs to be fixed is a must-have.

    A good web crawler tool helps you understand how efficient your website is from a search engine’s point of view. The crawler basically takes search engine ranking factors and checks your site against the list one by one. By identifying these problems and working on them, you can ultimately improve your website’s search performance.

    Before, webmasters had to perform these tasks manually, usually using several tools for different functions. As you might expect, the process was laborious and webmasters would end up with several discrete reports they needed to make sense of. Today, there are all-in-one tools that can perform these functions in a matter of seconds, presenting detailed reports about your website search performance.

    These tools come under a variety of names and perform varying functions. That is why you should give some thought to the process of selecting a tool for your business.

    What exactly do you need to be looking out for?

    First, identify your needs

    Start from your own end. In your search for a web crawler tool, are there specific errors on your site that require a fix?

    What are these things? Non-indexed pages? Broken links?

    Take a look at your website features. The needs of a small website differ significantly from that of a large website such as The Huffington Post or Wikipedia. A small website can get by with a free tool such as Screaming Frog and achieve reasonable results. For a large site, however, free tools won’t cut it.

    Most software comes with a free plan for a limited number of features/queries. But prices can quickly hit the roof when the size of the pages to be crawled and the details required increase.

    That is why you should factor in your budget, decide on minimum and a maximum number of pages to be crawled, and then choose a tool that provides the best value for your money.

    Basic features to look out for

    A good web crawler tool must be able to perform the following basic functions:

    Detect robot.txt file and sitemap

    This is the very least a web crawler should do. Not only should it be able to detect these files, it should also detect non-indexable pages. These pages are not indexed by search engines due to restrictions from your hosting, for example, specific instructions in the robot.txt file.

    Uncover broken pages and links

    Broken pages and links cause a bad experience for your website users. That is why Google recommends checking your site regularly for broken links.

    A good crawler immediately detects the broken links and pages on your website. Some even provide an interface where you can directly update the links right there in the software’s dashboard. You should put all these into consideration before paying for a software.

    Identify redirect problems, HTTP, and HTTPS conflicts

    Redirects are commonplace on the web. A good crawler should not only detect faulty redirects but should also give you the options to audit them.

    With security as a factor in search engine rankings, your website definitely needs to switch to HTTPS. For sites with several pages and posts, making sure that every link directed at your website reflects the new status can be daunting. That is why a good SEO crawler should be able to detect these conflicts and give you easy options for updating them.

    Advanced features

    While the features mentioned above are the basic features you need to look out for in a good SEO crawler, you should also consider software that comes bundled with the following extra packages:

    Ability to detect mobile elements

    Mobile friendliness is now compulsory on the web, and although you may have implemented the necessary changes by switching to a responsive theme or implementing AMP, hitches can still occur.

    Certain areas or functions on your website may not render well on mobile. An SEO crawler that is able to detect these problem areas is worth considering.

    Ability to connect with Google Analytics

    Google Analytics has rightfully earned its place as one of the favorite tools of any webmaster. It’s the hub where you monitor just how well your efforts are paying off and what you might need to change.

    Therefore, choosing a crawler that integrates with Google Analytics would make your job easier, as you will have visibility over all of your reports in one place.

    Options for keyword tracking

    Keywords are the soul of SEO. The name of the SEO game, even in 2017, is to identify and rank for the keywords that your customers are searching for.

    That is why an SEO tool that allows you to track how you are performing on keywords, or even uncover untapped keywords can be a gold mine. If these are features you’d love to have, then you should go for a tool with keyword tracking options.

    User interface

    Your aim with an SEO crawler is to your improve your website performance in search. Therefore, an SEO tool should be able to show you, at a glance, what is wrong and what needs to be improved. It shouldn’t complicate your life even further.

    When choosing your web crawler, go for one that presents reports in a clean, clear and uncluttered way so that you can cut time spent figuring out what really needs to be done.

    Conclusion

    A good web crawler will help you to streamline your SEO efforts, ensuring that you get the best value for your money. The best software for your business ultimately depends on your specific needs and the features you require.

    On a basic level, an SEO crawler should be able to analyze your site for broken links/pages, faulty redirects, HTTP and HTTPS conflicts, and non-indexable pages.

    You may also consider crawlers which can detect faulty mobile elements, integrate with Google Analytics (or other marketing tools) and have options for tracking keywords.

    Finally, be sure to choose a crawler with a user-friendly interface so that you can take in at a glance what works, what needs fixing, and what you need to monitor.

    Image optimization 101: How to rank higher in image search

    SEO is not only about optimizing written content.

    The increasing dominance of visual content online has brought with it new opportunities for increasing a site’s search traffic by optimizing videos and images.

    Optimizing your images gives your website an additional chance to be found via image search, and a good logo or some eye-catching graphics can be just as effective at attracting visitors to your website as your written content.

    But even if you’re highly familiar with optimizing written content for search, you may not know where to begin with optimizing images. What factors do you need to bear in mind? Does keyword usage still apply?

    In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about optimizing for image search.

    N.B.: This is an updated version of a guide by Dave Davies that we originally published in 2013: Image Optimization: How to Rank on Image Search

    Image size

    The size of your images can have a big impact on your overall site speed (which is an important search ranking factor), and big, heavy images are one of the biggest culprits for slowing down websites – particularly on mobile.

    However, because you also want your images to look good and be eye-catching, especially if they’re the first part of your website that people see in image search, you also don’t want to sacrifice quality. Thus, finding a balance is necessary.

    Matt Owen’s article on how to optimize your page images to increase site speed gives some useful pointers here, particularly with regard to not uploading images which are larger than the user will ever see, as this will just slow down your site with no benefit to you or the user.

    Which file types are going to be most helpful here? GIF, JPEG and PNG are the three main image file types, which make up 96% of the Internet’s image traffic.

    PNG offers a good combination of compression ratio and image quality, and as such is usually your best bet. JPEG can have a compression rate of up to 10x more than the other two formats, but is a lossy format – meaning that it reduces the quality of your images as it compresses them, so consider whether this is a sacrifice you need to make.

    Saving your image as a GIF won’t result in a loss of image quality, but it can sometimes reduce color detail, making GIFs most suited to animated images, logos and any other small, simple images.

    Google’s PageSpeed Insights offer some more guidelines on how to optimize your images for maximum site speed.

    Image name

    The name of your image file can help search engines discover your content in context. This is where keywords enter the picture (as well as in the alt attributes, which we’ll cover below).

    If you’re uploading a photo of nature photography, a relevant filename like nature_photography.png has a better chance of ranking well in search than than DSC_1977.png. If it’s possible to be even more specific, such as Hong-Kong-botanical-gardens.png, then that’s even better for SEO.

    If you don’t enter a separate title for your image upon upload, the filename will also serve as the image title, which makes it all the more important to be clear and accurate with your filename.

    For more on how to optimize your image title text and alt text, read on to the next section.

    Alt attributes

    Alt attributes are the text alternatives to your image which will appear if your image fails to load, or if the user is accessing your site with an assistive device such as a screenreader. Because web crawlers don’t have eyes, they’re also what search engines “see” instead of an image, making them important for both accessibility and SEO.

    As such, the alt text and title text tag fields are the best place to put any keywords relevant to your image, BUT: do not keyword-stuff! This is a poor practice in image SEO just as in text-based SEO, and will do the screenreader users accessing your website no favors.

    Title text

    The title text is effectively the name of your image, and as such serves a very similar purpose to your image filename. The main difference is that it needs to be human readable as well as machine readable – so use spaces to separate the words in your image, not underscores or dashes (or nothing at all).

    There are certain circumstances in which title text is all you need to substitute for your image – if the title text alone describes the image, you don’t always need alt text.

    For example, if the image is a headshot of a person, their name alone is sufficient for title text – as it tells both people and search engines what the image is of – and no additional details are necessary in the alt text. Alt attributes are important, but you don’t need to go overboard!

    Alt text

    This is the field that describes what your image depicts. Alt text can help search engines work out not just the content of an image but the topic of the surrounding text – so it’s important to get it right.

    If possible, at least one image on your page should contain your focus keyword, but it’s important not to shoehorn it in. Image alt text should be clear, descriptive, and written in natural language. Imagine it as if you were telling someone who couldn’t see the image what it was about. Which key details would you highlight?

    Some guides will place a recommended length on alt text, such as 80 or 150 characters, but in truth the alt text should be as long as it needs to be in order to get the image content across. Try to be succinct, but don’t sacrifice necessary details for the sake of length.

    Here is an example of an article graphic (courtesy of Shutterstock) that we uploaded for a recent article, ‘Beyond Google Analytics: 10 SEO analytics and reporting tools‘. The WordPress backend clearly indicates where to input title and alt text:

    The alt text we input for this image is as follows: Image of a person typing on a laptop with paper and pens by the side, and a variety of different analytics icons sketched above it, such as graphs, charts and a clipboard.

    Page URL and domain authority

    The URL of the page that the images are hosted on can affect the image search traffic. If an image is hosted on an optimized page URL on a page which contains quality and relevant content, your chances of image SEO success will be much higher.

    Along with the page URL, the page’s domain authority that also can affect an image’s performance in Google Image Search. If a domain already has a reputation for offering quality and relevant content, your image will do better in search. Image SEO is no different to text-based SEO in this regard.

    Surrounding content around images

    Image optimization doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As such, the copy that surrounds an image on your page is also important for SEO. The relevance of the content, its quality, and the keywords that are used can all affect how the image ranks in search.

    The most important copy is the text that immediately surrounds the image. This might be an introductory sentence which precedes the image (for example, “Below is a graph showing the results of a survey carried out among 500 marketers…”) and/or a caption below it which gives some additional context.

    Search engines like Google will use this copy to determine how well the image matches the topic of the page. For example, if the focus of the content is on plumbing, an image of a tree has decreased chances of ranking high for the keyword “plumbing examples” (and is likely to confuse your users to boot).

    In addition to this, Google’s image recognition AI has become much more sophisticated in recent years, to the point where it can often identify whether the image subject matches up with the rest of your content.

    Stock photography

    There has been a long discussion over the years on whether using stock photography has a negative effect on your ranking. Google’s Matt Cutts went on the record back in 2013 to state that stock photos do not harm your search rankings, and therefore there is no difference in using them instead of original photos, SEO-wise.

    However, there are a couple of caveats to this. One is that stock images are by their nature generic, and so the visual experience of your website will be a lot more generic as a result, particularly if you use a lot of them. This will also not help your image stand out in search results, and a stock image is unlikely to grab the user’s attention – unless of course you’re a stock photography vendor.

    The second thing to bear in mind is that there will be countless other copies of the same image as yours out there on other people’s websites. As Dave Davies pointed out in the 2013 version of this guide, “Google doesn’t want to rank multiple copies of the same image any more than they want to rank multiple copies of the same content. If you’re using the same image that’s been found on a hundred other sites before you, why should yours rank?”

    For example, if you’re writing about your company’s business culture, you can either pick a stock photo of happy people in an office environment, or simply upload a high-quality photo of your own office with your team members during a meeting. The latter is personal, relevant and interesting, and gives users a sense of what your company is really like.

    Content quality is also important in images as it is in text. Matt Cutts pondered in 2013 whether original images might be used as a future quality signal to indicate a trustworthy website, leading to a higher search ranking:

    “Who knows – maybe original image sites might be higher quality, whereas a site that just repeats the same stock photos over and over again might not be nearly as high quality.”

    While we don’t have concrete confirmation as to whether Google went on to use this as a quality signal in image search, the impression on the user is worth taking into account.

    Image engagement and popularity

    Search engines value content with high engagement. This means that if you have a high-quality, relevant and original image that starts becoming popular among users, you have more chances of seeing it higher on search results. As with any text post, the popularity of your content can help it reach higher on the SERPs.

    The principles of link-building also apply to image search: the more people link to your image, the higher the chances of increased search traffic coming from it. This can also be facilitated by the use of sharing buttons alongside your images. Once your image gets shared on many sites, its popularity will contribute to its success in search.

    The popularity of an image can derive from clicks to your site, embeds and shares on other pages, or even social shares. All of them make the image more popular, while also indicating its relevance to the topic it describes. This ultimately makes search engines pay more attention to it.

    Overview

    In summary, here’s how you can optimize your images to rank higher in search results:

    • Try to reduce the weight of your images, but not to the detriment of quality
    • Pick a relevant filename
    • Use alt attributes to describe your content as accurately as possible
    • Pay attention to the content that’s surrounding your images
    • Try to use original graphics or photography
    • Aim for engaging images that will encourage sharing