The ultimate guide to choosing keywords for ROI

Let me say this first – keyword research is hard! Every SEO has done it, but few will ever master it completely.

This is not supposed to be just another keyword research post. This post is about going beyond raw search volume data, using metrics which will help you choose keywords which deliver the best ROI for you right now.

To start with I am going to assume you have carried out your keyword research already, and are starting off with a comprehensive list (if not, our complete guide to keyword research for SEO will help you do this).

The more keywords, the better: you want to start with a massive data set and then use the below points to whittle down your keywords.

Here is the full list:

1. Get Cost Per Click data

Cost Per Click, or CPC data is invaluable to SEOs. Why should we have to test one keyword’s effectiveness against another’s when the PPC guys have already got it figured out?

If marketers aren’t spending money to appear on the keyword, it’s clearly not commercially viable. We want to be using CPC data to exclude keywords.

Any keywords with less than 50p CPC clearly isn’t commercially viable, so ditch them from your list, and prioritize all those keywords with over £1 CPC.

2. Focus on what you already rank for

This point is about prioritizing short term goals. There is no point focusing on a keyword, no matter the search volume, if you don’t rank for it.

Moving a keyword which isn’t ranking to page 1 is going to take time, and will only start delivering traffic right at the end. Moving a keyword from position 11 to position 9 can take no time at all, and you will see the traffic coming through instantly from managing to get on the first page of Google.

Below is the classification we use at Zazzle Media to secure short-term wins for our clients and to help them to manage their expectations too. The position range column refers to the ranking position of each keyword on Google.

Position Range
Opportunity Group
2 – 4
Short Term
5 – 20
Quick Win
21 – 39
Medium
40+
Long Term

Click-through rate studies all show that it’s page one or nothing, and as ‘Short Term’ and ‘Quick Win’ all sit on page 1 & 2, the vast majority of your traffic will be coming from these.

Long term keywords should not be ignored, especially if they can deliver significantly more traffic than other keywords, however your keyword optimisation strategy should reflect the effort-to-benefit ratio which the above classification will identify.

3. Choose the easy options

SEO is not done in a vacuum. For every campaign you invest in, there is always going to be a competitor out there investing more than you.

Ranking above a bigger brand is hard, very hard! If you’re not up for going toe-to-toe, budget-wise, with the big players in your field, then you’ll need to go after the easier keywords.

You can outrank more authoritative sites with more specific, more engaging content. However, as a rule of thumb we use referring domains as a signal of competitiveness on the keyword.

We use Majestic’s Open Apps to get referring domain data at scale. However, any backlink audit tool is sufficient. It’s best to look both at domain and URL level with this, with extra weight put on URL level (a 75/25 split).

Compare the average difficulty score for your keyword set against the URL on your site you wish to target the keyword on, and rule out any keyword massively out of reach.

4. Focus on traffic, not search volume

So, if I’m searching for a fashion item… I type in ‘dresses’ only to see that the results page is full of women’s dresses – this isn’t what I wanted! I then have to change the search to ‘men’s dresses’ to get the desired result. Think about the thousands of other men in my position!

But seriously, some keywords will have more clicks per search, some less. Did you know the clicks per search for the phrase ‘Chelsea Boots’ is only 0.64? This means that out of every 100 searches, it only results in 64 clicks.

A search volume of 25,000 looks absolutely massive, but a clicks per search of only 16,236 massively reduces what was a huge keyword.

We get this information from Ahref’s keyword explorer, and it really is impossible to do it any other way. You can get a lean towards how strong a keyword is through inspecting the SERPs and seeing the conformity of the ranking URLs. Are all the websites similar? Or are we seeing informational mixed with commercial results, mixed genders, etc.?

Google is all about delivering the best results for its users, and a mixed bag of results is a quick indicator that it doesn’t know what the user wants, so we’d anticipate lower click volume. It’s impossible to do it this way at scale, but will help you choose between a few keywords.

5. Use seasonal data/trends

Lots of businesses rely on seasonal traffic, which will completely invalidate average search volumes. Make sure your traffic estimates are based on when you are busiest, and focus your strategy on delivering growth at that point in time.

This means on-page and technical changes made months in advance, before consolidating link equity to key pages when they need it most.

Equally so, Google trends is your friend; go after keywords with an upward trend (obviously), don’t prioritize a dying keyword. You can get exports of your top keywords and use a SLOPE formula to determine whether your keyword is increasing or decreasing.

This is especially handy for your long-term keywords, to determine their true value.

6. Focus on keyword categories, not individual keywords

When completing keyword research, your keywords should be tightly categorized and mapped to individual URLs or directories. This allows us to see opportunity at a grander scale, helping you redraw the boundaries, and think more naturally about optimization.

Optimizing for individual keywords is so far outdated – content marketing helps us move beyond this and optimize for topics (this guide will help you do so). This helps us to be more informative and more comprehensive than our competitors. By grouping keywords by tight semantic relationships, you will not only have the head term, but also all the queries people have.

Think about it: what is more relevant and more authoritative than a directory/website that has great, in-depth content for every stage of the funnel?

Focusing on groups of keywords is not only more natural, but will deliver more opportunity for traffic growth as your supporting content ranks for keywords in its own right. If you have done enough to capture the right keywords, you can get conversions through bottom of the funnel, informational keywords.

The above six points will help you to have a more strategic approach to your initial keyword research, which enables you to get the best out of the resources you have – and get above the competition.

Google Shopping: What do marketers need to know about the latest updates?

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In the battle with Amazon, Google is betting on its Shopping services to attract merchants and customers alike. A raft of product announcements has arrived just in time for the holiday season, including new ad formats and AdWords reports.

What do marketers need to know, and will these new products be enough to take market share back from Amazon?

Google has announced a variety of upgrades to its Shopping offering with a clear focus on improving the mobile experience, utilizing automation technologies to synchronize product information, and uniting voice search with ecommerce.

The search giant quite correctly pointed to “rising consumer expectations” as a driving force behind these innovations, especially as the Amazon juggernaut continues to gather pace.

Shopping seems the most suitable vehicle to compete with Amazon as an ecommerce business, but recent months have brought both successes and controversies for Google in this area, including:

  • The hefty fine doled out by the EU to Google for antitrust violations.
  • New partnerships with both Walmart and Target, with the aim of monetizing the growing voice search market.
  • Rumors that a direct rival for the Amazon Echo Show is in the works and may even launch this year.

There is a lot for Google to figure out here, but the news that Amazon has become the number one starting point for product searches requires a reaction.

The survey results below provide useful context as we analyze the latest Google Shopping updates. The areas where Amazon excels (choice, seamless payment and shipping, price) are arguably areas of weakness for Google Shopping.

(Source: Power Reviews)

To compete with Amazon means removing some of the friction from Google Shopping payments, providing more choice, and creating a model that promotes value for the consumer over aggressive bidding by advertisers.

The updates outlined below are certainly aimed at achieving these complex goals.

Showcase shopping ads

Showcase ads are targeted at the “exploration phase” of the purchase journey, in an allusion to the land Pinterest has been aiming to grab of late.

Google’s research has found that 40% of search queries exhibit a broad purchase intent, for example in searches such as [men’s shoes]. These queries could imply a range of different intents, from the informational to the transactional.

This new, swipe-able ad format gives brands significantly more space to highlight their products and benefits. It is therefore a fitting update for advertisers that want to capitalize on those broader search intents.

Google is encouraging advertisers to display lifestyle images that encourage users to further consider their products. This is a far cry from the pure, direct response model that underpins AdWords, but it is in keeping with the search industry’s attempts to broaden its horizons.

The official announcement from Google provides some clear insight into the functioning of these ads:

A Showcase Shopping ad appears on Google when someone searches with a more general term, such as “backpacks”. Then, Showcase Shopping ads show relevant products together with lifestyle images that you choose to represent your brand or business.

When someone clicks a Showcase Shopping ad, it expands revealing your products that are most relevant to the search terms they’ve used, which you connect to the ad using product groups. You can advertise a few dozen products or a whole category of your inventory with your Showcase Shopping ad.

We recommend that you start with a larger set of products (hundreds) first, and then create smaller groups as you see what works. To see how many products are targeted in a Showcase ad group, use the Products active column on the Product groups page.

Showcase Shopping ads use maximum CPE bidding, which means that you set the highest amount that you’re willing to pay for an engagement. Specifically, you’re charged when someone expands your Showcase Shopping ad, and spends 10 seconds within the ad or clicks a product or link in the expanded ad before then.

This new ad format will also be integrated with DoubleClick Search, Kenshoo and Marin, as well as AdWords.

Local inventory via Google Assistant

Google’s strategy has always been to get the products right and then find ways to make money from them once they know they have a hit with consumers. With regards to anything search-related, it has been pretty successful in this regard.

Voice search brings with is a whole new set of monetization challenges, but Google has kept its focus on getting the experience right before tackling these.

Google Assistant, the AI-driven and voice-enabled digital assistant at the core of so many Google products, can now be synced to the inventory of local stores. A consumer can therefore ask the Assistant where they can purchase a product nearby and Google can fetch the most relevant results, then display the locations via Google Maps. AdWords Device local inventory

These are some important initial steps for Google as it grapples with the slick purchasing experience offered by Amazon’s Alexa assistant. Creating a seamless link between the Google Assistant and store inventory levels will start to bridge this gap and encourage some consumers to start their voice search journey with Google rather than Amazon.

Again, the idea is to encourage greater adoption of the Assistant rather than force mechanisms that could drive a short-term profit.

As long as brands have created a local inventory feed, their results could start showing up in these listings soon.

Automated pricing and product availability

Google has acted to resolve one of the seemingly minor, but persistent, frustrations with Shopping. In the past, it was possible for a consumer to see one price in the Google listing, then see another altogether when they arrived at the merchant’s website. Even worse, sometimes the product would be sold out by the time the consumer clicked through to buy it.

Launched on October 31st, automated pricing and product availability will ensure consistency between the ad and the merchant’s website. Advertisers will no longer need to add Schema.org mark-up to keep this in check.

Combined with a new payment system known as Pay with Google (first announced at Google I/O earlier this year), these innovations should create a much more seamless experience for consumers and a more insightful platform for advertisers. Furthermore, we should expect Pay With Google to integrate with the Google Assistant to make purchases even simpler for consumers.

Image result for pay with google

Store visits measurement

Accurate measurement of the impact of online advertising on offline behaviors, and vice versa, has long been an ambition for Google and many other tech companies. We are slowly moving towards making this a reality, however, and Google has announced new measurement options for display advertisers.

The aim of this update is to tie impression-based data with store visits and therefore arrive at a conclusion about the effectiveness of display marketing campaigns.

Users who have opted into Location History measurement will share their data with Google, allowing more accurate reporting within AdWords and DoubleClick.

Three new reports will be available for advertisers:

  • Time lag report — Shows the time between an ad click and a store visit
  • Demographic report — Users can add store visits as a column to existing demographic reports
  • New vs. returning customer report — This will show how many of store visits come from repeat customers.

Key takeaways

There is still a long way to go if Google Shopping is going to provide a better ecommerce experience than Amazon, but Google certainly has the resources and the ambition to do so.

All of these updates go some way to addressing existing issues with Shopping for consumers and advertisers, while also building on Google’s inherent advantages. Consumer behaviors can change quickly, as we have seen in the transition from Google to Amazon as the go-to destination for product searches.

If Google can encourage users to engage with its new hardware and its AI Assistant, that trend could certainly reverse in the near future.

With the holiday season soon upon us, we won’t have long to wait to see whether Google’s new Shopping products have their intended effect.

AdWords Auction Insights report: A key to understanding the competition

People have a natural tendency to care about what others are doing around them as a means of validating themselves.

This is true in our personal lives when the Joneses come home with a new sports car, but also in paid search when brands want to outrank their competitors.

In our personal lives, it does not often do us much good to compare to others, but in business, it is more important to be aware so that you can take advantage of opportunities.

In paid search, Google has given advertisers a great tool to help understand how your brand’s ads compare to your competition: the Auction Insights report in Google AdWords. The data can be pulled for both search and shopping campaigns.

Let’s take a look at some of the data it can provide, and how you can use it.

How to pull the Auction Insights Report

Select whatever level of data you want to review across campaigns, ad groups, or keywords. You can pull this data for one specific group or across multiple. Once you select the keywords you want, the Auction Insights report option pops up as shown below. Select this option and you are on your way.

What data is available in the Auction Insights Report?

There are 6 data points you can see inside this report. They are:

  • Impression Share: The percentage of times your brand’s ad shows up in the auction
  • Average Position: The average rank of that ad
  • Overlap Rate: How often another advertiser’s ad received an impression in the same auction that your ad also received an impression
  • Position Above Rate: how often another advertiser’s ad in the same auction shows in a higher position than your own, when both of your ads were shown at the same time
  • Top of Page Rate: How often your ad (or the ad of another advertiser, depending on which row you’re viewing) was shown at the top of the page in search results
  • Outranking Share: How often your ad ranked higher in the auction than another advertiser’s ad, or if your ad showed when theirs did not.
  • These data points can then be cut by time, as well as device by clicking the circle graph icon.

    How can this data be used?

    Estimating a competitor’s budget

    I know this point isn’t exact given quality score, bidding strategy, etc., but it is directionally correct. If you know your impression share is 50% and another competitor’s is 75%, you can estimate they are spending 50% more than you.

    Understanding strategy at the device level

    One of the big things brands are struggling with is how to value mobile traffic, especially since most transactions still occur offline or when they do happen online via desktop. You can use the device-level cut of data to understand how your competitor’s brand is performing on mobile.

    For example, in the below example you can see the difference between this competitor’s performance on desktop and mobile. On desktop our brands compete very often, and we rarely outrank this brand. However, on mobile we compete significantly less often and outrank the competitor brand much more frequently.

    You can therefore infer that our mobile strategy differs and our brand values the mobile channel more by bidding more aggressively.

    Trending over time

    Your brand may have an influx in budget, or see a change in performance. As you make your own strategy decisions, it is valuable to see how this impacts your competition. For example, below you can see this competitor hardly ranking in the first week, but over the course of a few weeks their impression share triples and our overlap rate does as well.

    However, as they participate in more auctions they have reduced their average rank, essentially wanting more traffic, but at a reduced rate given the lower position.

    Conclusion

    Over time, Google has continued to make more data available to help advertisers get smarter about their business. I think this is one of the best attempts yet, with so much direct data where competitors are identified by name.

    With this data, you can really help benchmark your own performance. The one warning I would give to everyone, however, is to not overreact based on your competitors. You can’t manage your business purely based on what someone else is doing.

    However, having a reference point for what is happening around you can only help to make you a smarter paid search marketer.

    How to stop Google AdWords campaigns from failing

    Disruptive Advertising recently outlined the main reasons that AdWords campaigns succeed or fail, based on an audit of more than 2000 AdWords accounts.

    They found the following causes of failure:

    Incomplete conversion tracking
    Poor conversion rates
    Ad spend inefficiency
    Wasted ad spend

    Looking at these reasons, it became clear to us that they all have one thing in common – they all stem from a business’ inability to understand the real value of each touchpoint in their customers’ path to purchase.

    In other words, the AdWords campaigns that failed were not properly attributing the role of each keyword in the conversion path.

    So, how do you prevent problems like this occurring?

    Content produced in partnership with Fospha.

    The benefits of data-driven attribution

    Attribution is defined as the process of ‘accurately assigning value to each digital marketing touchpoint across the complete user journey, providing a great understanding of what combination of events drove conversions’.

    Most ‘out-of-the-box’ models attribute a customers’ conversion to arbitrary metrics like the first or last step in their journey.

    However, a data-driven, multi-channel attribution model uses unique, machine learning algorithms to consider each step in the journey in relation to the others. In doing so, it assigns the most accurate value to each touchpoint.

    And how can attribution help with AdWords?

    To answer this question, let’s take a look at the problems flagged by Disruptive Advertising, and see how a data-driven attribution model is instrumental in overcoming them.

    1. Conversion tracking

    Disruptive Advertising discovered that, of the 57.7% of AdWords accounts with conversion tracking, half had such a poor set up that they might as well not be tracking anything at all.

    It shouldn’t come as much surprise that data-driven attribution can eliminate this problem for marketers. Attribution models work off a rich data set that is fed from a Customer Data Platform – which integrates all customer data sources, both online and offline, and across multiple sessions, devices and channels, into a single customer view.

    This view provides granular visibility on the entire end-to-end customer journey. Working off this rich data source, attribution models are able to tell marketers exactly what is happening before and after a click.

    2. Conversion rates

    A second finding for Disruptive Advertising was that the median conversion rate for an AdWords account was 2.18%. This demonstrates that, even though customers may be clicking on a keyword, this rarely results in a conversion.

    Again, the solution can be found in accurate attribution – if you aren’t tracking your keywords properly, how can you know how many clicks are leading to conversions?

    Proving this, Disruptive Advertising found that the top 10% of accurately tracked AdWords account had a conversion rate of at least 20%. Data-driven attribution modelling provides marketers with much-needed visibility of which keywords are contributing to conversions, and which are simply a drain on their budget.

    3. Ad spend efficiency

    The more money spent on search terms that don’t convert, the less effective your ad spend is. So how does data-driven attribution prevent this?

    By nature of the fact this model looks at every single step in your customer journey, it is able to tell you exactly which individual keywords have resulted in 0, or next to 0, conversions. This insight is clearly invaluable to marketers who are trying to work out which keywords are bringing in a high ROI, and which are simply a waste of their money.

    By figuring out which keywords are not increasing conversions, marketers can redistribute their spend in order to increase lead generation from keywords that are bringing in results, or those that have the potential to but have not been invested in.

    4. Wasted ad spend

    Disruptive Advertising found that 61% of ad spend in their audit was wasted. When you consider the above scenario – where keyword bidding was optimized incorrectly – these results are hardly surprising.

    And, as we already touched on, when you employ a data-driven attribution model to provide you with the much needed visibility of you keyword performance, it is incredibly simple to stop spending money on keywords that just aren’t bringing in customers, and to redistribute it to those that will.

    From that quick overview, it is clear that the answer to ‘why do some AdWord campaigns fail’ is the fact that these AdWords account simply aren’t taking advantage of data-driven attribution.

    By implementing this model, marketers can quickly gain a clearer understanding of exactly how their keyword campaigns are performing, and which ones are simply a waste of time and money.

    Indeed, Fospha have seen a similar situation with one client with inefficient ad spend who, having employed a data-driven attribution model to reduce their wasted keyword spend, found that 50% of their keywords didn’t contribute to a conversion in any way. As a result, ROI was increased by 30%.

    Click here to read the full case study on how Fospha enabled a client in online learning to make a success of its ad campaigns with a Customer Data Platform.

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

    Beyond Google Analytics: 10 SEO analytics and reporting tools

    Analytics and reporting are a critical part of any SEO campaign.

    As well as ensuring that you prove your worth to your clients, analytics are also essential in helping you make iterative improvements to the campaign as you go along.

    Yet SEO reporting can be a bit of a minefield. With a myriad of available data, countless online tracking tools and making sure that the client actually understands what on earth you are talking about, it’s difficult to know where to turn.

    Naturally, Google Analytics is a great place to start, especially for traffic overviews and conversion tracking, but it most certainly shouldn’t be where you stop.

    When looking for an analytics and reporting tool, it is also important to remember that the focus should never just be on rankings. Sure, we all like to see ranking improvements – clients especially – but these are ultimately just vanity metrics. Serious SEO professionals need tools that dig deep and show the results in a way that is tangible and in line with business objectives.

    In this post, we’ll cover a handful of the best free and paid tools available for SEO reporting and analytics. Plus we also look outside of the traditional SEO realm of analytics and into wider marketing metrics. Keeping the focus only on SEO can be limiting – we are interested in the bigger picture.

    Free tools
    Search console

    Okay, so it’s another Google tool but it would be remiss of us not to mention Search Console. Your first port of call for identifying site errors, crawl errors, structured data, HTML improvements and security issues.

    Also particularly useful for exploring the search analytics for a given site. Gain an understanding of the most popular search terms being used to find a website and the corresponding click-through rates. Data is useful as a guide but not comprehensive enough to be relied upon as a standalone tool. In short, it’s free – so use it but don’t depend on it.

    Neil Patel’s SEO Analyzer

    Neil Patel’s SEO Analyzer is a handy tool for acquiring a quick indication of a website’s overall SEO performance. It provides much the same metrics as you would get from other free SEO tools, including onsite issues, backlinks and keyword analysis.

    The tool provides recommendations which are categorised by priority: high, medium or low. Tips are quite general and not particularly mind-blowing, but are nevertheless useful.

    It is therefore handy for obtaining a top line overview, although if you are looking for analytics which are a touch more compelling then you may have to part with some cash (see next section). It’s the way the world works.

    Seoptimer

    Similar to the previous tool, Seoptimer provides an overarching set of analytics presented via a clear and simple grading system. The grades are divided into five sections to help the user identify any key problem areas: SEO, usability, performance, social and security.

    Seoptimer lists all the key points of analysis and provides commentary on how well the site is doing for each point with a simple tick/cross system. Again, much like the other free tools, Seoptimer is useful for quick insights and analytics. Quick and actionable takeaways presented in a user friendly manner.

    Paid tools
    Woorank

    Although there is a free version of WooRank available, it is somewhat limited in the results provided. The paid tool offers a comprehensive website review that covers a wide spectrum of on-site requirements.

    What sets this tool apart from other more basic ‘website checker’ tools is that WooRank also provides tailored tips for increasing traffic and boosting conversions. Given that increased conversions are the ultimate end goal of most SEO campaigns, any tool that offers a way of improving this metric is a winner in our books.

    WooRank also enables the user to set goals, which is a handy way of setting performance benchmarks for reporting. It is almost always more effective having goals to work towards, especially when it comes to involving the client in the reporting process.

    Clients can often feel alienated by the plethora of data and SEO terminology, but WooRank is about tangibility, both for the teams working on the campaign and for the client.

    SEMRush

    SEMRush is a fantastic all-round SEO tool that provides a myriad of different services. In terms of reporting, users can take advantage of in-depth analysis, from position tracking to the onpage SEO checker. SEMRush provides detailed insights and corresponding recommendations so that you can take immediate action.

    Plus, the reporting tool allows you to quickly create ‘drag and drop’ reports. These can be tailored to each client, resulting in detailed and bespoke reports that take only a small amount of time to create.

    Majestic SEO

    If you want to take your link-building reporting to a new level, then Majestic is the answer. Deep dive into link analytics, including their popular metrics of trust flow and citation flow, as well as backlink history, backlink breakdown and anchor text analysis.

    Majestic has the largest commercially available backlink index so you can bet on the analytics being fairly accurate and comprehensive. As a stand-alone analytics and reporting tool, Majestic falls short of the competition. But if you want to hone in on link analytics then you need look no further.

    Raven Tools

    Let’s be honest, manually creating SEO reports every month is a time-consuming pain, and is another hurdle in creating teams that can scale quickly. Sure, seeing the incredible results your team have pulled off is exciting but actually getting it all down on paper in a clear, digestible manner can be frustrating.

    Enter Raven Tools.

    Raven allows you to create automated marketing reports which both look fantastic and deliver all the goods. Reporting aside, it can also help you to identify any problems with your SEO and consequently fix them. The Raven tool can even access Moz and Majestic link data, which is a pretty inviting prospect.

    Not so great for keyword rank tracking, but the reports themselves look enticing and have the capability of pulling data from a range of sources.

    Moz Analytics

    As with all Moz tools, there is a user friendly interface that looks uncomplicated, appealing and comprehensible. Some SEO tools can look overwhelming or daunting but with fantastic data visualization, Moz always manages to make SEO accessible.

    Of course we are all familiar with domain authority, spam score and the wider Open Site Explorer link metrics available through Moz. These are all useful as a performance benchmark for an ongoing SEO campaign and are important to refer back to at certain intervals to check progress.

    However, Moz is notoriously slow at picking up new backlinks, which can be frustrating and it is therefore wise not to rely solely on Moz.

    Wider marketing tools

    Let’s not forget that SEO is ultimately just one aspect of the marketing mix. Although SEO reporting and analytics tools can be extremely useful, it is important not to disregard the wider marketing output and results.

    As long as your SEO goals are aligned to the overall business objectives, then a successful SEO campaign should have a knock-on effect on other marketing channels, such as social media, email marketing and website performance.

    We therefore figured it would be handy to include a couple of additional reporting ideas below to really get the most out of your campaign.

    Hotjar

    Hotjar allows you to gain a better understanding of how users are navigating your site by using heatmaps, recordings, form analysis and conversion funnels. Sure, SEO may help to get users to your site, but the customer journey does not end there. No way. The next step is giving them a gentle but firm shove through conversion funnel and into a loyal, happy and paying customer.

    Use as an extension of your SEO reporting tools to work out where customers are converting and where they are leaving. You can then utilize this information in your SEO campaign, to allow you to focus on the high-converting pages.

    Social reporting tools

    SEO and social media may not be directly linked, but they work alongside each other and results are often correlated. If an SEO campaign is being executed, it is always best practice to ensure that comprehensive social media management is also taking place simultaneously.

    Ultimately, any marketing campaign is about increasing brand presence across the entire marketing spectrum, and so it is important to cover all these bases in your reporting.

    Some of the paid tools, such as SEMRush, include social analytics integration so you can keep all of your analytics in one place. Failing that, it is always worth keeping a check on the built-in analytics tools native to each social platform.

    Summary

    There are a myriad of other SEO tools available, such as Advanced Web Ranking and Authority Labs, but these tend to have more of a focus on keyword and rank tracking.

    Although this is useful, it is not nearly as helpful as those tools which provide actionable recommendations and a more in-depth reflection of conversions. Start with our above recommendations and you’ll be producing stellar reports in no time.

    Evolving past last-click attribution in paid search

    “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

    That famous quote applies to the many marketers who default to last-click attribution, even with its well-documented failure to take the entire customer journey into consideration.

    During ClickZ’s latest Masterclass on paid search optimization, in association with Fospha and Kenshoo, we surveyed 800 marketers on their greatest challenges. 36% cited maximizing return on their advertising spend, while an additional 24% consider “accurately attributing value to each marketing channel” to be their biggest struggle.

    From this, it’s clear that marketers want to go beyond last-click and adopt a more effective attribution model. But faced with more channels, more data and more opportunities to experiment than ever before, they don’t always know how to go about implementing one.

    Here are four takeaways from the webinar:

    1. Understanding the problem

    The fact that marketers struggle with measurement isn’t surprising, given how many different channels and devices go into the path to purchase. “Increasingly, expensive marketing decisions are based on more limited windows into the customer journey,” says Sam Carter, Sales and Marketing Director at multi-touch attribution specialist Fospha.

    True marketing effectiveness requires integrating as much consumer data as possible to create a single user profile. A multi-touch attribution model assigns value to every touchpoint, eliminating the notion that the last thing someone clicked on is the catalyst for conversion. This often results in marketers having inaccurate perceptions of their best-performing keywords.

    2. Starting small

    To implement full-scale optimization overnight is an impossible task. Carter recommends starting with a few key foundational data sets, such as paid search cost data and revenue data from your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform.

    “When the cost is tied to a visit or conversion, you’re able to shine a light on costly keywords that aren’t playing any role in conversions,” says Carter, adding that this method saved Procter & Gamble $140 million in a single quarter (without any reduction in growth rate).

    3. Combining complementary platforms

    Once you’re comfortable with your understanding of the role keywords play in each step of the customer journey, it’s helpful to take your data and “let it breathe” by utilizing another tool, such as a bid management platform that’s more focused on optimizing paid search campaigns.

    Using technologies in tandem can help improve accuracy, something of significant importance to 64.5% of our webinar attendees.

    “Kenshoo can take any attributed data source and create a bid policy that uses a custom calculation,” explains David Bowen, the platform’s director of client success. “Similar to the Stock Market, we use a system of machine learning to look at how all the keywords are working together and make predictions based on the outcome of a bid change.”

    4. Dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s

    According to Darral Wilson, Director of Solutions at Kenshoo, one of the most crucial elements of dynamic attribution is attention to detail. Is everything tagged? Do you unknowingly have duplicate keywords that are competing?

    “If there are gaps in the data or if your search campaign isn’t structured properly, you won’t get as much from it as you possibly could,” he says.

    Wrapping up

    Your data is only as valuable as what you do with it. The last click may have been an instrumental element of a conversion—but not necessarily, and that common attribution model doesn’t paint a clear enough picture.

    Understand why measurement is an issue and tackle it piecemeal. Eventually using powerful platforms together will then allow you to obtain the data and operationalize it, making the most of your keywords, improving your attribution and making your marketing more effective.

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

    What do you need to know about Chinese search engine Sogou?

    A person's hand poised over a tablet showing the Baidu search engine homepage.

    A few days ago, the news emerged that Chinese search engine Sogou (搜狗) is aiming to raise up to $585 million in a U.S. Initial Public Offering.

    Sogou, which is owned by internet company Sohu, Inc., announced the terms for its proposed IPO on Friday.

    The news has caused a stir among those keeping an eye on the Chinese tech space, as Sogou is backed by Chinese tech giant Tencent, the company behind the hugely popular messaging apps WeChat and QQ.

    But for those of us who might not be up on the state of search in China, what do you need to know about Sogou, and how does its IPO play into the wider search landscape? And could there be any potential knock-on effects for the rest of the industry?

    What is Sogou?

    Sogou (whose name, 搜狗, literally translates as “searching dog”) is a Chinese search engine that was launched in 2004, and is currently the third-largest search engine in China.

    Well, depending on who you ask. As tends to be the case with all things China, the statistics can vary from source to source.

    Baidu, China’s largest search engine, is the undisputed king of search in China, but lower down the rankings things get a little murkier. In a January article, Bloomberg stated that “some surveys” have Sogou as China’s second-largest search engine, and it is often referred to as China’s second-largest mobile search engine, with 16.9% market share based on mobile queries (iResearch – Chinese-language source).

    Meanwhile, statistics from China Internet Watch put Sogou’s overall share of the Chinese search market at just 3.31% as of May 2017 – fourth behind competitors Baidu, Shenma, and Haosou.

    Baidu is the undisputed king of search in China

    But regardless of its exact ranking, Sogou is still widely agreed to be a key contender in the contest for Chinese search dominance. Crucially, it’s backed by Tencent, the world’s fifth-largest internet company in terms of revenue, and is the default search engine for Tencent’s QQ mobile browser and on QQ.com, giving it prime access to QQ’s close to 900 million active users.

    Other Sogou facts are that it has a web browser, launched in 2008, and is the company behind Sogou Pinyin, China’s most popular pinyin input software. (Pinyin is the official romanization system for Chinese characters).

    Sogou Pinyin makes use of Sogou’s search techniques to analyze and categorize the most popular words and phrases, and could be a major advantage in Sogou’s future plans for getting the edge in search – more on that later.

    So is Sogou the Bing to Baidu’s Google?

    If Baidu is the top dog in Chinese search, and Sogou is a smaller contender (albeit with the backing of a huge tech company) trying to make its mark, does that make Sogou the Bing to Baidu’s Google?

    Well, not exactly. As you’ll have gathered from the previous section, things are a little more complicated than that.

    While the Chinese search market is as unequivocally dominated by Baidu as the western search market is by Google, there are several contenders for the number two spot. These include Shenma, a “mobile-first” search engine by the titan of Chinese ecommerce, Alibaba; and Haosou (formerly known as 360), a search engine by Chinese security company Qihoo 360.

    (If you’re wondering where the heck Google itself is in all this, it holds a paltry 1.84% search market share in China, according to China Internet Watch. Google and China do not have the happiest of histories).

    Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are three of leading internet companies in China – as well as the world – which means that the battle for search dominance for China has become a face-off between some of the biggest players in its tech industry.

    This is not unlike the way in which the voice search and visual search spaces have become a battleground between major tech companies such as Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Pinterest.

    And while Qihoo 360, with an annual revenue of $1.39bn as of 2014, may not be in the same league as three of the world’s largest internet companies, it’s still a force to be reckoned with. Qihoo 360 led a group of investors which purchased most of Opera Software, the company behind the Opera browser, in 2016.

    It has also entered into strategic partnerships with Sina (the company behind Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo), Google, and even Alibaba at different times, and in 2013 reportedly considered purchasing Sogou for around $1.4 billion.

    So how does Sogou plan on setting itself apart against its heavyweight competitors in the Chinese search market – and can it succeed?

    Artificial intelligence and natural language search

    Sogou announced in August that it was planning to focus on artificial intelligence and natural language processing in its bid to build a next-generation search engine, with the aim of becoming an “innovator and pioneer in artificial intelligence in China”.

    It also plans to shift its emphasis from more traditional keyword-based search to answering questions, in line with the trend towards natural language search prompted by the rise of voice search and digital assistants.

    Sogou has joined major search players such as Bing/Microsoft, Baidu and of course Google in investing in artificial intelligence, but its small size may put it at a disadvantage. A huge search engine like Baidu, with an average of more than 583 million searches per day according to SmartInsights, has access to reams more data with which to teach its machine learning algorithms.

    But Sogou has an ace up its sleeve: it is the only search engine formally allowed to access public messages on WeChat – a massive source of data that will be particularly beneficial for natural language processing.

    Plus, as I touched on earlier, language is something of a specialty area for Sogou, as Sogou Pinyin gives it a huge store of language data with which to work.

    Sogou also has ambitious plans to bring foreign-language results to Chinese audiences via its translation technology, which will allow consumers to search the English-speaking web using Mandarin search terms. These will be automatically translated by Sogou, and the resulting content translated back into Chinese for the user.

    What this all means for the Chinese search market

    Sogou has reportedly been flirting with the possibility of an IPO since 2015. So what’s significant about its timing in seeking an IPO now, and what could it mean for the wider search industry in China?

    While Baidu may unquestionably be the dominant force in Chinese search, the company is not immune to scandal, and last year it was hit by a big one. A 21-year-old college student named Wei Zixi died after pursuing an unsuccessful cancer treatment at a hospital which was promoted to him on Baidu, sparking outrage over Baidu’s perceived valuing of profit over safety.

    Baidu’s shares dropped almost 14% following the scandal, and regulators quickly clamped down on medical advertising in search results pages, which accounts for some 30% of Baidu’s online ad revenue.

    This was by no means the first time that Baidu had come under fire for the commercialization of healthcare. Baidu’s history with dodgy medical advertising dates back as far as 2008, and includes a number of controversies in which Baidu sold off several of its health support communities to private hospitals, leading to a widespread public backlash and an apology by Baidu’s CEO.

    A screenshot of Baidu's hemophilia forum, or tieba. At the top of the screen is a banner advertising World Hemophilia Day 2016.

    The Baidu support forum for hemophilia, which Baidu was accused of selling off to a private hospital, sparkling public outcry and a public apology from the search engine’s CEO in January 2017.

    Up until now, disaffected users haven’t had any viable alternatives for search engines to use if they want to boycott Baidu, which is increasingly gaining a reputation for being untrustworthy and profit-driven.

    But search engines like Haosou and Sogou have been slowly but surely eating into Baidu’s market share, and if Sogou’s investment into AI and natural language pays off, it could shape up into a serious competitor.

    How could a Sogou IPO affect search outside China?

    What do these shifts in the Chinese search market mean for the world outside of China?

    At the moment, unless you’re a business looking to invest in or optimize for search in China, not a whole lot. Even if you are looking for a way into the Chinese market, optimizing for Baidu is still your best bet, as Baidu is unlikely to lose its total market dominance overnight.

    But these developments are worth keeping an eye on. A successful IPO for Sogou could be a big win for Tencent in the war for supremacy over rivals Baidu and Alibaba, all three of whom are global powerhouses with investments in media, entertainment, ecommerce, gaming, social networking and more.

    And with a reported 731 million internet users in China, any search engine which can capture a significant portion of that market wields some serious clout.

    So keep Sogou on your radar; it will be worth seeing how this one plays out.

    What is keyword clustering, and who cares? (Hint: you should!)

    Keyword grouping in Excel

    Are you still optimizing for “keyword strings”? You are not alone!

    The problem is, the industry is moving on, so don’t fall behind and learn to implement a smarter approach to keyword research: Keyword clustering.

    Single-keyword SEO has been a staple for a long time. Remember how we used to have a separate page for every tiny variation of a keyword? At that time we’d optimize for [restaurants in Italy] and [Italy restaurants] using two different pages, one for each keyword string. It is how we all probably got our start and saw (and still see) our traffic flourish and ranking climb.

    It was a fun time, but deep down I am glad it has passed.

    Google’s search algorithm has outgrown that method of optimization. Sure, it may still work. In fact, most of the newest and most popular WordPress SEO plugins are still based on that “single-string” method, so most bloggers rely on it. But the more sophisticated algorithms expanded beyond the scope of a single-topic focus.

    Even keyword research that finds the perfect sweet spot between popularity and saturation is no longer a guarantee for success. In-depth content covering a variety of related concepts and entities is winning more and more often these days.

    More and more we are seeing the use of keyword clustering from sites that are making it beyond the scope of mediocre search results and traffic margins. In other words, the big guys are bringing out the big guns, and we should be following in their footsteps.

    What is this keyword clustering?

    OK, so this isn’t really new. I for one described a tactic of keyword grouping back in 2007. Back then, however, I didn’t know the term “keyword clustering”, and used Excel instead of much easier tools.

    A better way of explaining it would be that it is gaining traction with more people (and growing buzz terms around itself).

    So what is it?

    Simply put, it’s keyword grouping categorized by (1) a common secondary keyword modifier which is how most tools approach it or (2) Google’s search engine results similarity (which is something I’ll describe below).

    At the heart of it, keyword clustering is what it sounds like: you are taking relevant keywords and clustering them together into groups. Those groups work together to give your website a more thoroughly categorized theme, which in turn helps to establish its purpose and attract those crawlers that tell Google that page is one they should bump up the list.

    It’s easier when you look at an example

    Let’s say your core term is healthy diet plan, which is pretty tough to compete for. So you run it through keyword research tools and come up with the list of hundreds of “long tail” “keyword strings” that make your head spin:

    Strings

    How on earth are you going to optimize your content for all of these phrases?

    Don’t worry, figuring this list out doesn’t have to be a manual process. There are some keyword grouping tools out there that make it much easier to get through.

    I personally use Serpstat because it provides one of the best SEO tools in the market in my opinion. [Disclaimer: Because I blog on them so much, Serpstat reps approached me and gave me free access to their PRO tools]. However, other providers such as Wordstream and Spyfu offer keyword grouping tools, so choose the option which fits best with your existing tools and workflow.

    With Serpstat, you can copy-paste the keywords into their clustering tool and it groups the list for you:

    Serpstat clustering

    It is a keyword clustering automated system that does a lot of the work for you. But unlike most other tools, it doesn’t bog you down with centralized terms that impact your clusters.

    Instead of simply grouping the keywords by the centralized term (like most clustering tools do, and like I did in my Moz article from 2007 referenced above), Serpstat also uses their own “connection strength” metric which looks at how many identical URLs those multiple search queries trigger.

    You can choose between soft and hard clustering to determine how closely related terms should be within one group – a very unique approach to clustering keywords. To get into more detail about how the tool works, read this article describing their method.

    How should you optimize your content now?

    Let’s make it clear: No, you don’t need to take one of these groups and fill your content with all the keywords from within it.

    What you can do instead: Look at those keywords and take main concepts to cover in your content. Each group can become your separate guide, or it can be a subheading within a more comprehensive article.

    Keyword clustering isn’t the optimization technique, nor does it bring anything fundamentally new into a SEO strategy. You still need to create high-quality well-researched content targeting users’ demand.

    What keyword clustering does is help you make sense of your keyword strings and turn them into meaningful concepts.

    How can this method help me?

    Any time you cluster your keywords, you are improving your SEO, period. Instead of trying to compete with a single phrase, you will be targeting keywords page by page based on a collection of phrases for each theme.

    How this helps you is pretty obvious: better ranking and more traffic. Specifically, it is better ranking and more traffic against competitors who are almost certainly already using this method of SEO, which is one of the reasons they are doing better than you are.

    This also diversifies your tactics. Where once consistency in a single model was key, things have changed. That more sophisticated algorithm mentioned above means better, more complex strategies are needed to keep up.

    My favorite way to put it: Grouping keywords helps you get a better grasp of your niche. It forces you to cover more concepts and answer more questions within one page than you’d think of without going through the process, so the most important benefit of keyword clustering is that it makes your content (and hence) your site better, more useful, more trustworthy and more comprehensive.

    Know a tool that should go on this list? Let us know in the comments!

    Google videos vs. YouTube: Which is the best video search engine?

    Video is booming as a content marketing medium.

    People love watching videos online, and producing great video content is quickly becoming one of the most surefire ways to command attention and grow a following. In fact, by 2019, video is expected to drive an astonishing 80% of all internet traffic.

    Clearly, it’s important for businesses to start working on their video content sooner rather than later. And while producing great content is essential, that’s only half the battle. For your videos to benefit your business, people have to be able to find them, and that involves optimization.

    So which video search engines should you focus on optimizing for? This article will explore the differences between YouTube and Google Videos, the two biggest video search engines on the web.

    Keep reading to learn more about the types of traffic these search engines will bring you – and why your videos might rank well in one but not the other.

    How do people find your videos?

    There’s no shortage of video search engines and video hosting sites on the Internet. YouTube, of course, is the web’s video giant, with 300 hours of new video uploaded every minute. Other video hosting sites like Daily Motion and Vimeo also get a significant amount of traffic.

    Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat incorporate short video into their platforms as well. Social videos are gaining steam, and they may become a threat to YouTube in the future. For now, though, YouTube still dominates the online video world the way that Google dominates other search engines.

    And while plenty of video searches happen through Google, most of them return YouTube videos. If you produce video content, there’s a good chance your watchers are finding you either through YouTube’s built-in search function or through Google Videos searches.

    Google Videos returns mostly (but not exclusively) results from YouTube. This search for “video content marketing” also returned a video from lynda.com.

    Comparing YouTube and Google Videos searches

    If you search for the same keyword on YouTube and Google Videos, how similar will your results be? Not that similar, as it turns out. Take a look at the following example. Here are the first few results from a Google Videos search for “how to improve video SEO”:

    The top Google Videos results for the query “how to improve video SEO”

    And here are the first few results for the same query on YouTube:

    The top YouTube results for the query “how to improve video SEO”

    In this case, there’s no overlap at all between the top four results. Clearly, these two search engines don’t use the same criteria for ranking videos.

    “Wait a minute,” you might say. “Doesn’t Google own YouTube?” Yes it does. In fact, Google has owned YouTube for more than ten years. However, the two sites serve distinct purposes. Someone who visits YouTube probably isn’t looking for the same thing as someone who types a question into Google.

    Thanks to this difference in user intent, Google Videos and YouTube don’t use the same algorithms to rank videos, so it makes sense to think about them as two different search engines.

    Why YouTube and Google Videos display different results

    Earlier this year, Stone Temple released a study that found that YouTube and Google Videos return different top results for the same query more than half of the time. In fact, the more YouTube results show up in a Google Videos query, the more dramatically Google’s results differ from YouTube’s.

    Stone Temple found that the more YouTube videos appear in Google Videos results, the more results for that query vary between the two search engines. Source

    The study goes on to explore the reasons behind these differences. In a nutshell, it comes down to both user intent and monetization.

    Google as a video search engine

    Specific searches

    When someone goes to Google, they tend to be looking for something specific. They want to find out how to do something, track down a particular fact, or research the difference between several options. Google is most often used as a tool for finding other things, not as a medium in itself.

    Immediate resources

    The videos Google displays tend to be to-the-point and useful. Google’s video results tend to favor how-tos and other specific, immediate resources. Videos made for entertainment purposes are probably less likely to rank highly in Google, although of course this is dependent on the search query and the individual video.

    Quality results

    Google also places a great deal of importance on user satisfaction, since that’s what keeps people coming back. Thus, they’re likely to favor higher-quality videos over lower-quality ones, even if the creators of those lower-quality videos are bidding higher in AdWords than their competitors.

    Of course, “quality” is a vague and somewhat subjective metric, and Google is famously tight-lipped about how their algorithm determines quality. The important thing to understand, though, is that Google won’t sacrifice good results for more ad money.

    YouTube as a video search engine

    Entertainment-focused

    On the whole, people go to YouTube to find entertainment. Google wants to solve people’s problems and send them on their way as quickly as possible, but YouTube wants to keep users watching.

    This is partly because view time is an indicator of a video’s quality. If people stick around and watch a whole video, it’s a good sign that that video is interesting, useful, or entertaining. View time also tends to be correlated with user satisfaction. People who find and watch lots of enjoyable, high-quality videos will probably keep coming back to YouTube.

    Longer videos favored

    For YouTube, view time is also linked to making money. The longer someone watches a video, the more ads YouTube gets to show them. This is also why YouTube tends to favor longer videos over shorter ones in its rankings.

    These differences shed some light on why Google Videos and YouTube use different algorithms, but unfortunately, we still don’t know exactly what the differences between those algorithms are. Considering how closely Google guards its secrets, we’re not likely to find out anytime soon, either.

    In the meantime, though, it’s important not to forget that the two search engines often have a lot of overlap in their results, even though they’re not exactly the same. Thus, it stands to reason that there are some general principles for ranking well in both places.

    How to rank well on video search engines

    First, and most obviously, create great content. Your bounce rate says a lot about the quality of your videos. If a lot of people hit the “back” button within the first ten seconds of a video, YouTube and Google will both assume it’s not very good. So do your best to start each video with a compelling opening, and then give people a reason to keep watching.

    Include plenty of text-based information with your video. Search engines can’t watch a video and determine what it’s about, but they can read the accompanying text. Your title is important – it should be descriptive and use your main keyword, preferably at the beginning.

    Take the time to write an in-depth description of your video as well. Captions and transcripts aren’t necessary to include, but they improve accessibility, and they could give you a keyword boost. Finally, tag your video with some useful and relevant tags.

    Getting views and comments will help your rankings, but don’t be tempted to purchase these. YouTube has gotten smarter about figuring out when views and comments are fake. Promote your content through social media to get more engagement, and be patient – if you do great work, people will discover it in time.

    So, which is better: YouTube or Google Videos?

    At the end of the day, it’s hard to say whether YouTube is “better” than Google Videos, or vice versa. The two search engines tend to be used differently, but both of them are very popular, and both of them are valuable sources of traffic if you optimize your videos correctly.

    The type of content you create could have an impact on your rankings in each search engine. For instance, if you make short videos geared towards answering specific questions, you might have an easier time gaining traction in Google. If you make longer, more entertainment-focused videos, you might see better results from YouTube. This is far from a hard-and-fast rule, though.

    The main thing to remember? High-quality videos have a good chance of doing well in both search engines, regardless of other factors. We don’t know exactly which metrics Google Videos and YouTube use to determine rankings, but we do know viewers prefer well-made, informative, and entertaining videos.

    Focus on making the best video content you can, and you’ll probably find that your rankings take care of themselves.

    Have you noticed a difference in your videos’ rankings between different video search engines? Share your observations in the comments!

    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 are the SEO benefits of social media?

    How does using social media benefit your efforts with SEO?

    Back in 2008, Search Engine Watch published the article ‘Social Media and SEO – Friends with Benefits‘, and I’d highly recommend reading it back now for a stark reminder of how far the digital world has progressed in the last nine years.

    Some of the key statistics and points featured in the article (although contemporary at the time) may seem somewhat archaic in 2017:

    Facebook having 140 million active users (when they are now over 2 billion)
    LinkedIn having 30 million users (less than 10% of their current user base)
    Popularity of now defunct social platforms like Digg (which sold for just $500,000 back in 2012)
    MySpace being mentioned in the same breath as Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit and Twitter (ha!)
    Use of ‘SEO friendly’ anchor text when linking from social profiles (ahem… ‘money keywords‘)

    Nobody could have guessed what social media would become in such a short amount of time. Nearly a decade later and Facebook is nothing short of a social media superpower, Instagram has grown from zero to over 700 million users in the space of just seven years, MySpace has fallen out of popularity into the depths of dated pop-culture references, and using ‘SEO friendly’ anchor text is a very dangerous game to play in light of Google’s almighty Penguin updates.

    It’s safe to say that everything is very different now, and as the social media landscape changes so too does its relationship with search engines and SEO practices. But what exactly is this relationship in 2017?

    Social media and SEO: It’s complicated

    In the past, Google have made contradictory statements regarding the role of social media in their ranking algorithm. On the one hand, they have stated that social media pages are indexed in the same manner as other web pages, and that social links therefore count as links.

    But on the other, they have stated that social metrics do not constitute direct ranking factors. Over at Microsoft, the guys behind Bing have said that they too consider the authority of social media profiles (e.g. Twitter profile metrics) and mentions across numerous social platforms in their search engine.

    As per usual, Google keeps their cards close to their chest. Research from the likes of Neil Patel show what Matt Cutts referred to in 2014 as a correlation but not necessarily a causation.

    All very confusing indeed.

    Can we 100% say that social metrics have a direct impact on search engine rankings? Probably not. However, if we look at the potential of social media’s influence on search engine rankings the story is different.

    My personal opinion is that we should not be worried about whether links from social media platforms are valued in the same way as a link from a high quality and highly relevant website. Instead we should look at the benefits of utilizing social media to help boost ranking signals that we know search engines care about.

    We should also bear in mind the impact of social media on the landscape of the search engine results pages (SERPs).

    Focusing on any one particular ‘SEO metric’ is as old school as MySpace. SEO has evolved into far more than just keywords and links. Great SEO acts as a core function to any holistic, integrated digital marketing campaign.

    We should consign the days of marketing departments operating independently to the history books and focus on the often significant benefits of integrated campaigns. Having said that, there are a few SEO metric-specific boosters that social media can provide.

    Link earning

    The holy grail of any link-building campaign. Link earning has the power to gain multiple links from a single piece of content compared with the individual links gained from more one at a time traditional guest posting tactics.

    It is link-building on steroids, but unless your website’s content has a large amount of visitors or subscribers your link earning potential is significantly reduced.

    Enter stage left: social media.

    The great thing about social media in 2017? Almost everyone you know will have a profile, most likely with hundreds of connections. This provides a platform through which promotion of content can not only be distributed instantly to hundreds of people, but the more people engage and interact with your content, the more people outside of your direct network see your content.

    Viral. How I hate that word. It sets often unrealistic expectations. Viral to me means millions of views, akin to the hard to grasp concept of Gangnam Style’s frankly insane popularity and near 3 billion views on Youtube.

    It’s great if your content does go viral, but you don’t need millions of views and tens of thousands of shares on social for social media to have an impact on search rankings. Quality over quantity, my dear.

    If you have even tens or hundreds of people engage with your post and content via a platform such as LinkedIn you can bet that the quality of those engagements is pretty high. If done correctly, those views of your content on social media will result in other content creators citing your content in their articles. Your content has just earned links, which has a direct impact on search rankings.

    Front of mind: Co-citation and co-occurrence

    As a brief follow-on to link earning, your dissemination of content via social will provide touch points with your brand across multiple platforms. To use another word that falls into my dislike category, your brand remains ‘front of mind’.

    In turn, this can lead to mentions across the web in what is likely to be highly relevant content, therefore increasing your co-citation and co-occurrence metrics.

    Brand authority and CTR

    Social can be utilised to build not only awareness but also brand authority. Sure people are more wary about fake information and news on social media compared with a few years ago but that does not mean that engaging in a well thought out, high quality social media campaign will not develop your brand in the eyes of the public.

    Guess what? When they go to search for a product they may even search directly for your brand name or associated search terms which are directly related to your brand. Failing that, if your brand name is the one result that they know within the search results, it can increase your click-through rates from search.

    Social media in search results

    Social media profiles are delivered within the SERPs, along with tweets due to Twitter’s provision for Google to access their “firehose” of real-time tweets. As a result, your social media presence does have an impact on your SERP presence.

    Admittedly, the majority of social links within the SERPs appear for branded search terms, but this should not be discounted. If we are in fact looking at marketing as a more holistic practice in the digital age, then we have to ensure that your branded search terms result in high click-through rates from search.

    Ever been freaked out by a company or individual’s lack of social presence? This can be especially poignant for newer businesses or non-household names. In today’s society where follower numbers, likes and shares have a real impact on authority, the fact that social media results appear in branded searches should not be underestimated, not only in click-through rates from SERPs but also future conversions.

    Will social metrics ever be a direct ranking factor?

    From our research, it is clear that there are some pretty large problems associated with search engines using social metrics as a direct ranking factor. These include limited access for robots to crawl the platforms and therefore understand social authority, and the prevalence of fake profiles or ‘bought likes’ which are likely to be viewed in the same light as paid links.

    In short, there is currently too much provision for manipulation of these metrics for search engines to bank on them. Will this change in the future?

    Considering that Google and Facebook are two of the largest companies in the world, vying for the attention of us all, we don’t see them joining hands, opening their doors and singing Kumbaya around a campfire together any time soon.

    Social media has its own benefits

    Whether or not Google or Bing count social metrics as direct ranking factors is somewhat of a moot point. Social media and SEO should be working together, sharing content or utilizing engagement metrics as data for future content creation.

    Lest we forget, businesses can benefit from revenue generated directly from social media regardless of its influence on search rankings. Social media campaigns should be focused primarily on generating their own success, with SEO considerations as a secondary (but still important) consideration.