An in-depth guide to Google ranking factors

In SEO, Google’s ranking factors are the stuff of legend.

There are rumored to be more than 200 signals which inform Google’s rankings (although this statistic originated in 2006, so it’s probably safe to say things have changed a bit since then), and the exact factors which make up this list, as well as their order of importance, is the subject of perennial debate.

While we at Search Engine Watch can by no means lay claim to a complete list of Google ranking factors (and anyone who says they can is lying to you – yes, even if they’re from Google, probably), we’ve delved into the subject a fair bit.

Last year our intrepid editor Christopher Ratcliff wrote a ten-part series examining a number of important Google ranking factors in detail. This guide will summarize the key insights from that series for your referencing convenience, with links to the full explanations of each ranking factor.

From content freshness to content quality, internal links to backlinks, we’ve covered off the major points that you need to hit for a solid Google ranking, and how to hit them.

So without further ado, let’s get started.

Jump to:

Part 1: On-page factors
Part 2: Keywords
Part 3: Quality content
Part 4: Content freshness
Part 5: Duplicate content and syndication
Part 6: Trust, authority and expertise
Part 7: Site-level signals
Part 8: Internal links
Part 9: Outbound links
Part 10: Backlinks
BONUS: RankBrain

Part 1: On-page factors

The first part of our guide to Google ranking factors looks at the simple, technical elements that Google uses to rank your page: title tags, H1 tags and meta descriptions.

These are all elements that you have total control over, and have a significant effect both on how Google ranks your site and how your site appears in the SERP. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to learn how to optimize them properly.

Some key points on how to optimize your title tags, H1 tags and meta descriptions for search:

Include any keywords you want to rank for in the title tag. The closer to the start of the tag the keyword is, the more likely that your page will rank for that keyword
With that said, make sure your title tags are written for humans – that means they still need to make logical sense and not just be stuffed full of keywords
Don’t duplicate title tags across your website, as this can negatively impact your visibility
Your target keywords should also be in the H1 tag, but your H1 can differ from your title tag
You can generally only use one H1 tag per page, but H2 and H3 tags can be used to break up your content further
While meta descriptions are not strictly a ranking signal, a good meta description can vastly improve click-through rate, so make sure you use it wisely!

For even more depth on how to write title tags and meta descriptions for SEO, check out our two separate guides:

How to write meta title tags for SEO
How to write meta descriptions for SEO

Part 2: Keywords

Part 2 of our ranking factors guide looks at that eternal subject of SEO discussion: keywords.

Although the role of keywords in SEO has changed greatly since the early days of search, with the evolution of long-tail keywords and natural language search, the humble keyword is still one of the fundamental building blocks of search optimization, and an important Google ranking signal.

But as we covered in the last section, just because keywords are important doesn’t mean you should stuff them in like crazy. Here are some highlights from our guide to Google ranking factors about how to use keywords wisely:

Keyword relevancy and placement is far more important than frequency. Your keyword or key phrase should appear in the first 100 words of your page, if not the first sentence
Google prioritizes meta information and headers first, then body copy, and finally sidebars and footers
Try to ensure the key phrase is an exact match to what the searcher will type into a search engine. This means phrasing your keywords in a conversational fashion if you want to optimize for natural language search queries
Excessive repetition of keywords, and using keywords that are irrelevant to the rest of your content, are likely to earn you a penalty
Having keywords in your domain URL can also give you a small SEO boost.

Part 3: Quality content

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase “quality content” thrown around as a way to get your blog or site ranked highly by Google: “Produce quality content”.

Well, that’s all very well and good, but what does it mean in practical terms? How can you know if the content you’re producing is high-quality enough for Google?

In Part 3 of our guide to Google ranking factors, we give 14 tips for gauging the quality of your content, covering everything from spelling and grammar to readability, formatting and length. Here are a few of our pointers:

As we’ve covered previously, make sure your content is written to appeal to humans, not just algorithms, and don’t saturate it with keywords
Check the readability score of your content with the Flesch reading ease test, and aim to get above 60%
Keep your sentences and paragraphs short, and break them up with line breaks (white space makes much for a much nicer reading experience on mobile) and subheadings
While you want your sentences and paragraphs to be short, your overall content can be as long as you fancy – in-depth content is a big indicator of quality.

Part 4: Content freshness

Continuing with on-page content signals, how recently your webpage was published is also a ranking signal – but different types of searches have different freshness needs, such as searches for recent events, hot topics, and regularly recurring events.

Google’s algorithms attempt to take this all into account when matching a search with the most relevant and up-to-date results.

Last year, Moz published a comprehensive look at how freshness of content may influence Google rankings, which forms the basis of our insights in Part 4 of the guide to Google ranking factors. Some key takeaways include:

A web page can be given an immediate “freshness score” based on its date of publication, when then decays over time as the content gets older. Regular updates to the content can help to preserve that score
An increase in the number of external sites linking to a piece of content can be seen as an indicator of relevance and freshness
Links from “fresh” sites can help pass that freshness on to your content
The newest result isn’t always best – for less newsworthy topics, an in-depth and authoritative result that’s been around longer may outrank newer, thinner content.

Part 5: Duplicate content and syndication

When is it acceptable to republish someone else’s content on your website, or to re-use your own content internally? The SEO community has a shared horror of accidentally running afoul of a “duplicate content penalty”, and advice abounds on how to avoid one.

To be sure, stealing and republishing someone else’s content without their permission is a terrible practice, and doing this frequently is an obvious sign of a spammy, low-quality website. However, as Ann Smarty explains in her FAQ on duplicate content, there is no such thing as a “duplicate content penalty”. No-one from Google has ever confirmed the existence of such a penalty, and nor have there been any “duplicate content” algorithm updates.

So what are the dangers with publishing duplicate content? In short, they concern search visibility: if there are multiple versions of the same post online, Google will make a call about which one to rank, and it will likely have nothing to do with which was published first, but rather with which site has the highest authority.

In the same vein, if you have multiple versions of the same internal content competing for rankings (this includes separate desktop and mobile versions of the same site), you can wind up shooting yourself in the foot.

How can you avoid all of this? Part 5 of our Google ranking factors article covers how to manage duplicate and syndicated content to make sure that Google only indexes your preferred URL. Some points include:

Setting up a 301 redirect if you have duplicate content on your own site, to make sure Google indexes your preferred page
Using a responsive website instead of a separate mobile site
Using a rel=canonical tag or a meta noindex tag on syndicated content to tell Google which article is the original.

Part 6: Trust, authority and expertise

We know that websites with a high level of authority carry greater weight, particularly when it comes to link-building campaigns. But exactly how does Google evaluate your website’s levels of trust, authority and expertise?

In Part 6 of our Guide to Google Ranking Factors, we examine the factors that make up your site’s Page Quality Rating, as well as how Google calculates authority, trust and expertise. Some key points include:

Content quality, content amount, and website information are all factors in your Page Quality Rating
A logical site architecture can help with a higher level of authority
Starting a blog can help showcase that your business is relevant and trustworthy – as well as helping with content freshness
Negative customer reviews won’t necessarily impact your Page Quality Rating, particularly if you have a high number of total reviews. Google tends to check reviews for content, rather than the actual rating.

Part 7: Site-level signals

Moving away from on-page content, Part 7 of our Guide to Google Ranking Factors looks at site-level signals.

What factors does Google take into account at a site level that can affect your ranking? Here are a few…

HTTPS: Google announced in 2014 that it was starting to use HTTPS as a “very lightweight signal”. While it’s unknown whether it has strengthened since then, using HTTPS is also just good practice generally, particularly if your website handles financial transactions
Mobile-friendliness: Mobile-friendliness has been a significant factor in Google search results ever since the initial “mobilegeddon” update of 2015, and the signal has only strengthened since then
Site speed: Take the time to assess and optimize your site speed, particularly on mobile, and you are likely to find that your search ranking improves.

Part 8: Internal links

Parts 8, 9 and 10 of our ranking factors guide all deal with the nervous system of the internet: links. How do different types of links help your site rank well in search?

First: internal links. According to Jason McGovern of Starcom, internal linking is one of the few methods we can use to tell Google (and visitors) that a particular page of content is important. So how should you go about linking internally to other pages of your website?

Part 8 covers off how internal links can help your site improve its metrics and user experience, including “hub pages” and how to build them.

Once you’ve digested the important points, be sure to check out our full guide to Internal Linking for SEO: Examples and Best Practices.

Part 9: Outbound links

Outbound, or external, links are links pointing outwards from your site to another website. They pass along some of your own site’s ranking power (without any detriment to you, unless the links go to a super spammy website) to the site you’re linking to.

But how does this benefit you? Why should you be giving out what are essentially link juice freebies to other sites?

In actual fact, as we reveal in Part 9 of our Guide to Google Ranking Factors, outgoing links to relevant, authoritative sites benefit your ranking. Other key points about outbound links and SEO include:

Pagerank retention is a myth – it’s not possible for your site to ‘leak’ link juice by having more external than internal links
In fact, outbound links count as a trust signal – if you’re linking to references to back up your data and research, you’ve clearly done your work properly and can be trusted
Affiliate links are also fine, but make sure you use a nofollowmeta tag in accordance with Google best practice.

Part 10: Backlinks

Why are backlinks (links from a third party back to your site) important to SEO? Well, as we just covered, external links from your own site to another website pass along some of your ranking power – so the reverse must also be true.

Links back to your site from elsewhere online are an important way to improve your search ranking; in fact, as revealed by Andrey Lipattsev, Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google Ireland, last year, links pointing to your website are one of the top three ranking factors.

Small wonder, then, that there is a booming trade around link-building in SEO – both in advice on how to build links, and in buying and selling links themselves. However, paid link-building is considered black hat SEO and is likely to incur a penalty.

Google has clamped down on different types of paid links, such as links on blogs exchanged for free gifts, at various times. This has made many SEOs wary of the practice of link-building altogether. But Google has nothing against link-building in principle – on the contrary, Google relies on links to know what websites are all about, and how much preference to give them in certain searches.

So how can you go about earning backlinks the right way? Here are some pointers from Part 10 of our Guide to Google Ranking Factors:

Needless to say, the number of individual domains referring to your website is an important factor in Google’s algorithm – but so is their authority. Having fewer, authoritative backlinks is worth more in terms of SEO value than having lots of low-quality links (except in local SEO, as Greg Gifford will tell you).
Backlinks from relevant sites in your niche are also worth significantly more than irrelevant sites or pages
Links from a diverse range of websites are good, as too many links from the same domain can be seen as spammy
Links within long-form, evergreen content are also more valuable than links in short, news-based posts.

BONUS: RankBrain and SEO

While not an official part of our Guide to Google Ranking Factors, I thought I’d include Dan Taylor’s excellent guide to RankBrain and SEO as part of this round-up, as Google has officially named RankBrain as one of the three most important signals that contribute to a website’s ranking.

In his guide, Dan Taylor breaks down and untangles how RankBrain works, as well as what machine learning is, and the concepts that underpin Association Rule Learning (ARL).

He then explains “optimizing” for RankBrain (hint: it’s not as complicated as you might believe) and how RankBrain differs from “classic algorithms” like Panda and Penguin.

Customer reviews: The not-so-secret SEO tactic

No matter what industry you’re in or what your business does, you want to be as close as possible to the top of a search engine results page (SERP).

And of course, SEO is what gets you there, taking into consideration more than 200 ranking signals, such as the quality of your content, backlinks, mobile optimization, and keywords.

While these traditional SEO tactics have dominated strategies since the formation of Google, customer reviews are another ranking signal hot on their heels, now making up 7% of Moz’s localized organic ranking factors. Reviews provide search marketers with a huge opportunity to go above and beyond. But how do they enhance SEO?

You could say that customer reviews piggyback on one of the most important ranking factors: the ‘freshness’ of your website content.

By providing your business with a continuous supply of fresh, unique user-generated content (UGC), webcrawlers know your site is active, driving your website listing higher, achieving Google organic stars, and increasing website conversions.

Content produced in association with Feefo.

Obtaining organic stars

But just having reviews isn’t enough. Ideally, your business should show Google organic stars, the recognizable rich snippets that help your website stand out in search listings. These stars have been proven to increase click-through rate (CTR) by up to 30%, according to Search Engine Land.

In order to achieve that seal of Google approval, your website must be marked-up appropriately with the correct schema: code that helps algorithms return more informative results about websites. There are three key types, focused on homepages, specific products and a business’ individual locations.

Coupled with the right schema, your reviews could also appear in Google’s Knowledge Panel the box that appears on the right of search results with relevant business information.

So even if you have reviews, you still won’t show those stars without the correct schema markup on your website.

Fighting fake reviews

Reviews may add credibility, but what if they’re fake? It’s not uncommon to see fraudulent review-writing services advertised, despite crackdowns (and lawsuits) against prolific offenders.

Consumers are practical; they know that nothing is truly perfect and are skeptical of products and services with uniformly positive feedback. Often believing five-star reviews may be too good to be true, people are more likely to be influenced by ratings between 4.2 and 4.5 out of 5, according to GetApp.

Invitation-only platforms negate the threat of fake reviews by only soliciting them from genuine customers who have purchased products from their clients, rather than leaving it open for anyone to leave a review. When people know that your reviews have all been left by genuine customers, the power of that relationship will help you build confidence and sales.

Reviews and revenue

Most people factor online reviews into their buying process. According to Fan and Fuel research from December 2016, 92% of consumers hesitate to make a purchase if a product doesn’t have any reviews. Similarly, BrightLocal found that 88% of consumers trust online reviews just as much as recommendations from people they know.

Word of mouth certainly holds weight, but seeing online reviews generally comes across as more varied and impartial, granting them equal value. Any way you look at it, people trust people.

That trust increases confidence, which often comes with more traffic and more more sales. Since HomeFuels Direct, an oil and gas company based in Northern England, started displaying organic stars on their website, sales have increased by 69% year-over-year.

And it’s not just positive reviews that help. Reviews are obviously powerful for SEO, but something many marketers don’t realize is that negative reviews can be just as beneficial in contributing to consumer trust.

Volume and variety counts for a lot. Displaying positive and negative reviews shows you have nothing to hide. The positive reviews speak for themselves, while those that are negative provide a great opportunity to show off your customer service skills.

Giving consumers a transparent view of the way you handle negative feedback can certainly endear your business to them. In a world where everything is getting more automated by the day, that personal touch really adds to your overall value.

Skate Shop

To sum up

Consumers today have literally all the choice in the world, which makes the need for transparency to help your business stand out against competitors that much more important.

Collected and displayed correctly, and coupled with the correct schema, your business can use reviews as a fundamental SEO tactic and a means to show Google organic stars. Most importantly, reviews can be influential in building trust with your customers, reassuring them that they can buy through you, with confidence.

To further understand how verified feedback will help you obtain organic stars, improve CTR and increase sales, read Feefo’s report: Improve search engine performance with ratings and reviews.

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

5 steps to making your content smarter

The convergence of SEO and content has been a driving force in marketing for the past few years.

A recent survey conducted by my company, BrightEdge, found that 97% of marketers view these two areas as converged disciplines.

Given that 51 percent of the traffic arriving on your website is likely from organic search, I believe that the growing understanding of the integration between these two formerly separate silos is an essential transition.

Despite this rise in understanding, however, a prominent problem remains: many marketers still struggle to get their content consumed by their target audience. BrightEdge found that a full 71 percent of marketers report that less than half of their content has been used by their target audience.

This problem not only causes tremendous frustration for brands, it also results in countless wasted work hours as well as unnecessary spending. It is time for marketers to take a more intelligent, smart approach to content marketing.

Smart content is:

  • Discoverable: Easily found
  • Optimized: From point of creation
  • Profitable: Measurable
  • To improve content performance, brands need to stop producing content for content’s sake and instead produce smart content: content that is better suited to what users want to read, and is prepared for the SERP so those targeted users can find and engage with the material.

    Smart content improves the effectiveness and ROI of the material produced by making itself more discoverable and consumable.

    The data marketers gather from search can provide invaluable information about what target audiences search for and what they want to read. Through looking at this data, marketers can identify trends as well as consistently popular topics that their target audience will want to engage with in posts and articles. Data provides key insights on consumer intent and the topics marketers need to produce content that serves this audience.

    When content is optimized for SEO before it goes live on the web, it will be prepared for searchers and rank higher on the SERP from the moment of publication.

    This improves its overall performance and therefore the worth provided for the brand. During the content creation process, data provides insights into the customer discovery process and what different types of content are most likely to be consumed.

    Smart content in context

    Smart content is about taking the financial investment that companies make in their content development and channeling it towards a more effective and data-driven strategy. It is different to the content that brands already produce, because it builds off of brands’ improved awareness of customer intent signals and how site visitors interact with the content that organizations produce.

    Over the past few years, the technology and capabilities involved in marketing have increased tremendously. Even on the SERP itself, we can see an impressive improvement in the ability to understand the types of content that users likely want to see, from videos to Quick Answers to images.

    The better brands can similarly interpret these intent signals, the easier it becomes to produce the content that will rank highly and drive the ROI that marketers want to see.

    Smart content allows marketers to publish material that is ready for the search engines right from the moment it hits the web, and propelling more traffic, engagement, and profitability. Marketers who learn how to integrate this strategy into their content creation process will have an improved understanding of what the customer wants to read, integrating their efforts across all facets of marketing.

    The content will also be optimized from the moment of its creation, and therefore, the content will perform. Brands will be able to engage their readers across devices and channels, driving revenue and building the organizations.

    5 steps to smarter content

    1. Understand who

    Make sure you know exactly who you will target with your content. Smart content revolves around creating precisely the right content for the right audience at the right time.

    To tap into the immense wealth found in the consumer and market data that will allow you to accomplish this goal, you must first know exactly whom you want to target so that you can identify and develop the topics and ideas that will interest them.

    2. Know what

    Know what they want to read. Once you have identified your target audience, you next need to accurately gauge what they want to read. Look at what the search data tells you about topics of interest and rising trends.

    3. Bake in optimization

    Develop SEO-enabled content from creation that is ready to deliver across all devices.

    With SEO and content converged into a single portion of the digital marketing process, all content produced should be optimized right from production so that no content needs to be re-optimized later, empowering it to rank as highly as possible from the first time it is crawled. This will increase the effectiveness and impact of the material created.

    4. Measure

    Measure everything about your content, aligning KPIs with your business goals and see how customers interact with your material. Data and measurement remains a key capability for successful smart content creation. Know the goal you want to accomplish with your content, such as visitor rates, rankings, or conversions, and define KPIs that will allow you to measure impact.

    5. Adapt and repeat

    Focus on the content that drives performance, adjusting strategies to better align with your predetermined goals as the metrics are measured. Smart content means improving effectiveness and efficiency.

    Content and topics that consistently do not drive value should be reduced in the content plan while the content that does perform well is rewarded with expansion. Use the metrics to better understand how your individual customers react to the content and use those insights to drive content strategies.

    Following these five steps will help you produce the right amount of content that delivers the right results.

    How indie publishers can monetize in the shadow of Facebook and Google

    With multinational technological companies Google and Facebook conquering the field of online advertising revenue, many smaller companies and indie publishers are left wondering where they’ll end up in the digital world – if they’ll end up anywhere at all.

    According to data recently released by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, digital advertising revenue in the U.S. increased by 20% in the past year. This puts the American digital ad revenue at a record of $72.5 billion.

    Unfortunately for smaller companies, the vast majority of online advertising revenue is coming from tech giants Google and Facebook.

    The duopoly of the digital advertising industry

    Because the specific ad-only revenues of Facebook and Google aren’t disclosed, the exact calculations of revenue aren’t available. However, Jason Kint of Digital Content Next, a publishing industry trade group, reported in June 2016 that Google and Facebook accounted for a grand total of 89% of the digital ad growth.

    Additional calculations made by Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser indicate that the percentage of digital ad growth consumed by Google and Facebook may very well be closer to 99%.

    In either case, Google and Facebook together are proving to be a concern for the U.S. digital ad market. With Google and Facebook out of the picture of beneficial growth, Wieser said, “the average growth rate for every other company in the sector was close to 0.”

    “The big point is that if Google and Facebook are the primary interfaces to buyers, over the long-run they own the relationships and the related data. Every partner they work with is subservient.”

    The digital advertising industry controls much of what Internet users see online, which is what helped spur what’s been called the fake news crisis. Both Facebook and Google were allegedly used by a propaganda group called Internet Research Agency based in St. Petersburg to place various fake news articles around Facebook news feeds and above YouTube channel videos.

    The power these two tech giants have is reflected in the fact that many marketing agencies are still reluctant to pull their advertising from Facebook and Google despite questions of brand safety, credibility, and ad placement.

    “The entire advertising world is very anxious,” said Mike Paul, an independent expert, to NBC News. “But few will admit publicly that the negative news is affecting Facebook because it is the 800-pound gorilla globally for ad and media buyers.”

    Regardless of the high rates of success in digital ad revenue, Facebook CFO David Wehner has warned that the company’s own ad revenue growth will slow in the second half of this year. This is because, Wehner says, Facebook will eventually run out of places to set digital advertisements in its online feed.

    However, any significant decrease in online advertising revenue is unlikely.

    Facebook has been investing recently in video content for both Facebook and Instagram. The company has also been working to increase revenue based on its messaging apps, which are currently the most popular messaging platforms internationally with WhatsApp hosting up to 1 billion users every day and Facebook Messenger hosting 1.2 billion users every month.

    What’s more is that Facebook’s ad spots have been increasing in price despite the lack of ad placement options. “As Facebook’s ad inventory becomes more constrained,” said Jan Dawson, a principal analyst at Jackdaw Research, “the price of ad slots on Facebook is going up.”

    How publishers can survive in the war for online advertising revenue

    With Google and Facebook essentially swallowing the vast majority, if not all, of digital ad revenue growth, publishers have to look elsewhere to earn revenue. Fortunately, publishers have a great place to monetize: Organic traffic.

    The secret is well known at this point. Many businesses have experienced substantial growth using organic promotion and search engine optimization. Those who wade into this strategy start by creating very high-quality content and onsite optimization. They soon learn that promotion needs major attention. One specific technical aspect of SEO, backlinking, requires extra special effort.

    Getting good backlinks is where many companies hit a brick wall in the SEO process. This is especially true after the Penguin updates of 2013, when many websites saw large drops in rankings as Google “cleaned house” and penalized sites with poor backlink profiles.

    The fear of Google’s SEO updates may be valid, and caution is wise, but Google assured us in 2016 that link-devaluing will now be done in “real-time,” guaranteeing that Google won’t build and then destroy a business.

    The solution to the “backlinking problem”

    The key to growing organic traffic and surviving SEO updates is to promote your website in the most natural way possible. But what does that really mean? Google is notoriously vague on this and issues statements of “intent” in their Webmaster Guidelines. Specifically, your primary intent needs to be providing valuable and informative content to your audience, not manipulating the search engine results.

    This means that the quality — and often the quantity — of backlinks are important signals to Google. Google relies on trust. Betraying that trust by taking shortcuts on quality makes your website appear spammy and unhelpful.

    To improve your SEO ranking by earning backlinks, consider Google’s official backlink guidelines. Opt out of tactics like using irrelevant keywords, writing scraped or unoriginal content, and using crafty redirects. Instead, consider making your web page user-friendly with high-quality content and don’t try to trick your users.

    Build relationships with high-authority websites that will naturally reference each other when publishing. Position your brand as a go-to resource that people want to share with others. If you do outsource link building, be sure you know what they are doing and they meet your standards.

    Conclusion

    With Google and Facebook consuming nearly all digital ad revenue in 2016, the pressure being placed on indie publishers to find ways to survive in the digital marketing world is cumbersome. And the idea of using organic strategies to promote a business website in the shadow of Google’s success may seem daunting.

    But if indie publishers promote their websites using high-quality strategies as well as by following Google’s guidelines, they will have little fear that Google will bring the hammer down.

    Digital ad revenue may not be as high for indie publishers as it is for Google and Facebook, but the chance of survival in the digital world for these publishers isn’t completely lost as long as they heed Google’s guidelines.

    Pinterest moves into paid search: What you need to know

    Pinterest has announced its long-awaited move into the self-serve paid search space, after a period of trial campaigns with select partners. With innovative visual search technology and an ambition to corner the ‘discovery’ phase of search, this could prove an enticing complement to AdWords for many brands.

    So, how does Pinterest PPC work, how does it differ from other paid search options, and how can advertisers get started?

    Pinterest Ads Manager is now open to all businesses who have opened an account and uploaded at least one Pin. In what is a fiercely competitive space, Pinterest is hoping that its offering can both provide something new and still deliver on the core performance metrics marketers have come to expect from Google AdWords.

    This announcement comes at the end of a lengthy campaign to get the product right, with early partners including eBay, Target, and bid management platform Kenshoo. The newly released self-serve paid search platform provides the same experience these early partners have enjoyed, without the need to go through Pinterest or a third party to get started. The Ads Manager allows brands to create and optimize their promoted Pins and will also track and report on campaign performance.

    Pinterest has been clear in its desire to monetize the discovery phase of search, when a user does not yet have a defined product in mind but is open to suggestions. The uniquely visual nature of this social network makes it ripe for this approach, but it brings with a host of accompanying challenges.

    As a result, Pinterest has invested heavily in image recognition and object detection technologies, culminating in the launch of the impressive Pinterest Lens visual search tool.

    Feedback on their advertising offering has been positive so far, but this will be put to a much more rigorous test now that advertisers can launch and optimize their own campaigns through the Ads Manager.

    Why should advertisers take notice of Pinterest PPC?

    Although some will be keen to trial Pinterest paid search in the hope of gaining the early adopter’s advantage, others may require some convincing before they view this social network as a genuine platform for selling their products. Nonetheless, Facebook faced the same resistance and ultimately, the numbers will do the talking.

    For now, Pinterest is understandably touting some statistics to try and get advertisers excited. We covered many of these benefits in our visual guide to Pinterest advertising, but some of the key points are:

    • 97% of Pinterest searches are non-branded
    • There are now over 200 million Pinterest users (up from 150 million in 2016)
    • More than 2 billion searches take place on Pinterest each month
    • 75% of all Pins saved by users come from businesses

    In an era of ad blockers and decreasing consumer trust in brands, Pinterest aims to offer a native feel to its promoted Pins. Through highly targeted ads that fit both aesthetically and conceptually alongside organic posts, brands can potentially attract much higher engagement rates.

    Pinterest_Ads_2

    In fact, the official announcement of self-serve Pinterest ads promises more sophisticated targeting than the competition, both in terms of its keyword options and the granularity of its audience data.

    Moreover, it is not a significant enough departure from AdWords to require a completely new set of skills to get the most out of Pinterest PPC campaigns. That may entice some advertisers to trial the platform, which will give Pinterest the opportunity to prove its worth.

    Some ideas borrowed from AdWords

    The tech giants are not shy about borrowing each other’s ideas, and it would be fair to say that Google’s own image search interface has become more Pinterest-esque this year.

    It is therefore not surprising that Pinterest’s move into PPC advertising involves some familiar concepts from AdWords. Google has mastered the art and science of delivering a great search experience and making a lot of money from the data, so AdWords is an obvious reference point for a new entry to the PPC market.

    For example, the keyword targeting options are broad match, phrase match, and exact match. Advertisers can define their list of negative keywords that they do not want to be shown against, and can download a search query report to see how they have performed on a keyword level. This approach has served Google very well, so perhaps we should not expect a smaller player to waste resources by trying to improve on it.

    It is also possible to move a keyword-based account structure from other PPC platforms directly into Pinterest Ads Manager, although the social network does not advise this due to the different nature of user search behavior on the platform.

    The new features announced last week include an autotargeting option, which will automatically place ads for relevant keywords, even if they are not within the brand’s keyword target list. Imagine AdWords’ Dynamic Search Ads on Pinterest and you’ve pretty much got the gist of it. Autotargeting is driven by the Taste Graph, which contains over 100 billion Pins and employs machine learning technologies to identify patterns and trends, which in turn help improve the accuracy of search results.

    Pinterest will be hoping its proprietary features and the unique nature of its database will suffice to differentiate it from Google’s advertising behemoth.

    What will make Pinterest paid search successful?

    Pinterest is in an enviable position, in some senses. The paid search market is mature enough now to provide plentiful data on consumers and the competition. By hiring two senior engineers from the Google image search team, as Pinterest did last year, they have also been able to tap into some of the most extensive knowledge the industry has to offer.

    In addition, Pinterest can approach the market with a challenger mindset. Google and Facebook can almost be viewed as victims of their own success, with advertisers craving new options for their digital budgets.

    Simply mimicking these two giants would reap little reward, so Pinterest is sticking to its inherent USPs. As a social network, it functions rather differently to Facebook and, as a search engine, it is distinct from Google. The combination of a new slant on the saturated social network space and the technology to capitalize on such a vast quantity of search data could be a winning one.

    Pinterest_Ads_3

    Pinterest Lens sits at the heart of this strategy. The visual search technology turns a user’s smartphone into a discovery tool, identifying objects and serving related search results. In our recent comparison of the best visual search technologies out there right now, Pinterest emerged the clear winner.

    Conversely, Pinterest is late to the party, and the onus will be on them to prove that the platform can deliver a positive return on ad spend. Creating a self-serve product with similarities to AdWords may ease the transition for new users, but it also sets their expectations at a high level. AdWords, after all, remains unsurpassed as a means of generating online revenue.

    Pinterest ads require a blend of creativity and analytical nous, which will demand collaboration between paid search and social media teams to make the most of the opportunity. People use this platform differently; advertisers need to tailor both their creative assets and their targeting strategies to reflect this.

    There is a fine line to be trod here, of course, and there are few guarantees of success.

    However, if Pinterest can deliver on the twin promises of creating a new, sophisticated form of PPC advertising and delivering great results against essential metrics like cost-per-acquisition, it could allow advertisers to capitalize on a previously untapped stage of the search purchase journey.

    It will be fascinating to see the early results now that the self-serve platform is open to all marketers.

    What are the best free SEO resources online?

    Whether you are a fresh-faced SEO newbie just starting to learn the ropes, or an SEO veteran who can recite the ins and outs of every Google update ever, it is safe to say that we can all agree on one thing: SEO is a complex subject.

    Sure, the basics of SEO aren’t difficult to grasp. The issue lies in the fact that there is no exact formula for achieving that coveted number one spot.

    Everything we know is based on the small amount of guidance provided by Google, a good dose of speculation, a healthy amount of testing and the general consensus from the SEO community.

    With so much information about SEO available online, compounded by a fair amount of conflicting opinions, it can be difficult to know where to turn for the most accurate guidance.

    In this post, we share our pick of the best free SEO resources. These resources have been chosen for their accuracy, reliability and ease of understanding.

    The Big G

    What better place to find out what Google wants than from… well, Google? It therefore makes sense to kick off our list with the Big G themselves, as they have a number of resources available for keen SEOs.

    For anyone new to SEO, you may be wondering why on earth you would need to look elsewhere for learning resources, when Google is surely the most reliable source. The trouble is that Google doesn’t give that much away. Google’s SEO Starter Guide is a great place to begin, as is their help center on How Search Works.

    More of a video person? You’re in luck, because there’s even a Google Webmaster YouTube channel.

    Google may be head honcho in the search engine world, but it’s certainly not a lone wolf. It would be remiss of us not to also give a shout out to Bing’s webmaster guidelines for SEO and Yahoo’s website ranking help page. They are not quite as detailed as Google’s offering, but it is still worth familiarizing yourself with the approaches of each search engine, albeit very similar ones.

    Moz

    Although Google provides a lot of helpful information, it is not always particularly easy to digest. Written by the uber nerds at Google, the information does not often translate smoothly to the layman. This is where Moz excels.

    Having been around for 13 years, Moz is the go-to resource for many SEO practitioners. It is run by SEO super guru Rand Fishkin, who has a knack for explaining things so as to not make you feel like an idiot. He also has a completely wacky but utterly endearing range of shirts.

    As well as providing wonderfully useful and actionable information, it is presented in a way that is genuinely easy to understand. Start with the Beginner’s Guide to SEO for a solid grounding and then explore the plethora of other handy info.

    A particular favourite of mine is the Whiteboard Fridays. In our Yellowball office, we take ten minutes every Friday afternoon to gather around and watch the latest Whiteboard Friday. Popcorn optional but encouraged.

    Backlinko

    If link-building is the absolute bane of your life, then Backlinko is for you. Run by link-building mastermind Brian Dean, he provides clear link-building strategies, advice and case studies to help you break through the inertia of building backlinks.

    Utilizing a healthy combination of text and videos, the content is engaging and extremely useful. His suggestions are clever and make absolute sense but are not difficult to understand. You’ll come away wondering why on earth you didn’t think of it.

    Okay so it’s not completely “free” in that you do have to provide an email address to unlock the content. But trust me, it’s so worth it.

    Quicksprout

    A great all-round resource for SEOs and marketers alike, Quicksprout is run by Neil Patel – certified online marketing wizard. His most handy learning resource to date is The Advanced Guide to SEO. Formatted as an infographic, it looks good, it’s detailed and it’s highly useful. What’s not to love!

    Neil Patel is also a big advocate of longer form content, often posting articles in the 5000+ word range, diving into a subject head first and emerging with actionable points. These in-depth pieces can be particularly useful if you are looking for more information on a specific aspect of SEO.

    Search Engine Watch

    Okay, so we may be a little biased here, but we couldn’t not mention our own free SEO resource. With a range of highly talented and in-the-know contributors (ahem), the articles cover a range of topics within the expansive SEO universe.

    From addressing simple how-tos for beginners through to tackling the more complex issues that nobody wants to talk about but everyone wants to learn about, Search Engine Watch is a treasure trove of handy resources. You’re welcome!

    Best SEO blogs

    SEO is constantly changing and if you want to stay ahead of the game then you have to keep learning. This is why it is crucial to stay up to date on the latest updates and trends. Below we share our favorite blogs for staying tuned in to the strange inner workings of the SEO industry:

    Ahrefs Blog
    SEMRush Blog
    Google Webmaster Central Blog
    Quicksprout Blog
    Yellowball SEO Glossary
    Kissmetrics Blog
    Search Engine Roundtable
    Moz Blog

    There are loads more authoritative blogs on the topic of SEO and if we were to provide an exhaustive list then we’d be here all day. And so would you. Knowing you’re a busy person, the above blogs are a useful place to start and you’ll soon work out your own favorites for staying up to date.

    Twitter accounts to follow

    Sometimes it can be difficult to stay afloat of all the latest news and insights across all the various SEO blogs. So why not follow the best SEO practitioners on Twitter and absorb your daily SEO insight whilst mindlessly scrolling through your Twitter feed? Here are the ones to follow:

    Rand Fishkin – Founder of Moz
    Barry Schwatrz – Founder of Search Engine Roundtable
    Aleyda Solis – International SEO Consultant
    Danny Sullivan – Founding Editor of Search Engine Land & Marketing Land
    Neil Patel – Co-Founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar & KISSmetrics
    Jon Cooper – Expert Link Builder
    Julie Joyce – Owner of Link Fish Media and Co-Founder of SEO Chicks
    Matt Cutts – Former head of the Webspam team at Google
    Practice makes perfect

    You can read all the free SEO resources in the world but if you’re not putting what you’ve learnt into action then you’re not going anywhere. SEO is a fine art. Trying, testing and reiterating are all necessary in order to improve on your strategy and success rates.

    You can’t master SEO overnight, but with a little resourcefulness and dedication, you’ll soon be taking your place among the SEO professionals. Practice makes perfect; there’s nothing better than learning from experience.

    4 common mistakes that tank responsive mobile conversion

    About a decade ago, almost everyone who accessed the internet used a desktop computer. Just two screen sizes accounted for 77% of all web usage in 2006.

    This pattern has completely shifted. Research by mobify.com found that today, ten screen sizes – different laptops, tablets, smartphones, monitors, netbooks and web-enabled TVs – account for 77% of web usage.

    Interestingly, none of the screen sizes have over 20% of market share each. Today, when designing a website, marketers must plan for all kinds of mediums accessing the web grid, from smart TVs to heavy-weight iMacs down to the cheapest Android device out there.

    The solution for a digitalized planet where smartphone and tablet users expect rich and intuitive web experiences as found on desktops will be responsive mobile design.

    But responsive mobile design isn’t a magic bullet. It might solve the screen-size layout problem, but there are other intrinsic problems with the responsive approach that a lot of marketers skim over.

    Below are some common mistakes that could affect your responsive mobile conversion.

    Mistake #1: Bloated images

    Images pose a leading responsive conversion problem. Because a responsive website makes use of a single markup across devices, it’s important to ensure that only large, attractive images are served to Retina iPad displays, whilst old smartphones acquire lesser low-resolution images that will load fast.

    For image-rich websites, their woes begin with mobile page speed due to size of high-res images rendered to the wrong device. In addition, the cost of the wasted bandwidth used in sending weighty images to the wrong devices is basically throwing away money.

    Paul Gian, marketer at Beyond4C’s recommends the following ways for optimizing images for all screen sizes and resolutions:

    Running images through Imagemagick (back-end process) for an optimal size.
    Using Lossy Compression to completely reduce the image size while maintaining depth.
    Rendering images through multiple servers, Amazon Cloudfront CDN preferably.

    With these hacks, Beyond4C’s saw a 135% increase in mobile conversion as the hacks guarantee that you can constantly send the right images to the right devices.

    Mistake #2: Slow page load time

    Web pages with slow loading times have a major problem because mobile users are very irritated with slow web pages. The typical U.S. retail mobile site loads in 6.9 seconds in July 2016.

    But, according to the Akamai study, “40% will abandon a web page if it takes more than three seconds to load”. And “64% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with their site visit will go somewhere else to shop next time.”

    Web visitors have a tendency to get aggravated if they have to wait too long to see your web content. In his book Usability Engineering, Jakob Nielsen says people can handle up to 10 seconds of load time before they leave, but even a few seconds’ delay is enough to create an unpleasant user experience.

    A number of the world’s largest companies understand that site performance and placing importance on their users’ time can be a competitive advantage in the market. It’s a big part of Google’s philosophy.

    And Facebook’s design team has this to say:

    “We value our user’s time more than our own. We recognize faster experiences are more efficient and feel more effortless. As such, site performance is something our users should never notice. Our site should move as fast as we do.”

    Mistake #3: Long forms

    Nobody enjoys having to fill out long forms on desktop sites; however, this becomes even more loathsome when you have to type several details with your thumbs on mobile.

    Avoid the use of long, tiresome forms that make users type a lot. Long forms do not only frustrate your users, but also hurt your conversion rates when you use them for any kind of transaction. Take for instance Expedia, who lost $12 million dollars in revenue because they were making use of an unnecessary form field that confused their users.

    By reducing their form fields from four to three, HubSpot improved their conversion rates by 50%. When it comes to forms, shorter is always better, particularly on mobile.

    Mistake #4: Ignoring mobile user intent

    Another common mistake that hurts responsive mobile conversion is the assumption that responsive design will fix all problems. Though a responsive design takes care of many mobile UX issues, it doesn’t necessarily take user goals into consideration.

    According to smartinsights.com, there’s a 270% gap between desktop and mobile conversion rates, because people get mobile websites all wrong.

    On desktop computers, long titles and many words have an effect that is sometimes totally opposite to mobile devices. More text on mobile devices will hide the page and push away the user from accessing their goal, which is most of the time the call to action.

    Aside the menu bar, always focus on helping your visitors to navigate your web page easily, especially the call to action buttons. When designing your site, have mobile device users in mind and make their journey through your website much simpler, targeting your conversion rate.

    Conclusion

    Mobile media usage is growing faster than desktop, TV, radio, and print. More people are using mobile devices to access the internet more than ever before, so, it is of the essence to design mobile sites that are simple and pleasant to use. Sites that are difficult to navigate infuriates mobile users, making them leave your sites and locate other sites.

    If you don’t make your website truly mobile-friendly, your visitors won’t complete your forms, will abandon their shopping cart, leave your site, and transact business with your competitors. This of course, would go a long way to adversely affecting your conversion rate.

    Killer demand gen strategy, Part 1: Personas and creative development

    When embarking on demand generation channels such as Facebook and Google Display Network, it is important to first ensure that you understand your core audiences and how to best speak to them.

    The first two initiatives that you should prioritize during the set-up phase is determining the types of audiences and personas you want to target – as well as crafting the right creative and messaging strategy.

    Personas

    Let’s begin with persona development. This is a must when it comes to being smart about your demand generation efforts.

    First off, who are your core customers? What types of audiences would be interested in your product or services? What is their makeup (interests, demographics, behaviors, etc.)?

    For a starting point, make use of any and all internal customer data to develop these personas.

    As an example of what a persona may look like, let’s say you manage the digital marketing for a luxury home décor site. A persona for that site might be something like:

    Female

    Age: 30-40

    Interests: home décor, fashion, fine dining

    Lifestyle: affluent

    Now based on your full set of internal data, build out your personas. You can then gain audience insights from both Facebook and AdWords; both offer the option to upload your customer list and learn additional information about the makeup of these lists such as HHI, affinities, the types of different website topics they visit, their overall likes, education level, etc.

    Here’s what that looks like in the platforms:

    Facebook Audience Insights Tool

    Google Audience Insights (Google AdWords UI > Shared Library > Audiences > Converters)

    To take things one step further, rather than uploading your entire customer list, think about segmenting that customer list into groups of identifiable characteristics. For example: high LTV, mid LTV, low LTV, high AOV, various category purchases, etc.

    This information will help you in understanding what differentiating characteristics these audience segments have – as well as the potential personas that may pertain to each audience type.

    Overall, these digital insights can not only help you refine your personas, but also develop additional ones.

    Ad creative and messaging

    Now that you have your personas built out, you need to craft the right creative and messaging to elicit direct response, especially for ecommerce and B2C businesses.

    Creative for ecommerce

    The most fundamental truth of good ecommerce creative is that it truly showcases the product. A couple of recommendations here:

  • Showcase your top-selling product
  • If you have multiple products, showcase the variety of your products
  • Determine the products on your site that are most viewed/clicked on as they have garnered interest from being eye-catching (something we want in our ads to pull people into our site)
  • Include any deal-related or incentive messaging. People aren’t necessarily searching for you, so the goal is to intro your product and ‘sell it’ at the same time.
  • Creative for B2C

    One of the most important things when it comes to GDN ads in general is making sure you are as transparent as possible; this becomes even more important in B2C and B2B when your business might not be as obvious as ecommerce.

    Make sure your ads are clear and concise – when someone sees your ad/messaging, they should know exactly what you do and understand your business offer.

    The last thing you want is to have an ambiguous ad, entice people to click on it, and bring them to a site that turns out to be totally irrelevant. By being upfront with our messaging, we are “prequalifying” them.

    Additionally, consider testing out incorporating people on your ads as this makes your business seem more personable.

    And of course, with any creative, don’t forget to include a call to action!

    In the second part of this two-part series, now that we know the personas we want to get in front of and have our ads ready to go, I’ll be covering how to actually use both Facebook and the GDN’s targeting capabilities to get in front of these audiences.

    Stay tuned!

    Duplicate content FAQ: What is it, and how should you deal with it?

    SE Ranking

    There are a few questions that have been confusing the SEO industry for many years. No matter how many times Google representatives try to clear the confusion, some myths persist.

    One such question is the widely discussed issue of duplicate content. What is it, are you being penalized for it, and how can you avoid it?

    Let’s try to clear up some of the confusion by answering some frequently-asked (or frequently-wondered) questions about duplicate content.

    How can you diagnose a duplicate content penalty?

    It’s funny how some of the readers of this article are rolling their eyes right now reading the first subheading. But let’s deal with this myth first thing.

    There is no duplicate content penalty. None of Google’s representatives has ever confirmed the existence of such a penalty; there were no algorithmic updates called “duplicate content”; and there can never be such a penalty because in the overwhelming number of cases, duplicate content is a natural thing with no evil intent behind that. We know that, and Google knows that.

    Still, lots of SEO experts keep “diagnosing” a duplicate content “penalty” when they analyze every other website.

    Duplicate content is often mentioned in conjunction with updates like Panda and Fred, but it is used to identify bigger issues, i.e. thin or spammy (“spun”, auto-generated, etc.) and stolen (scraped) content.

    Unless you have the latter issue, a few instances of duplicate content throughout your site cannot cause an isolated penalty.

    Google keeps urging website owners to focus on high-quality expert content, which is your safest bet when it comes to avoiding having your pages flagged as a result of thin content.

    You do want to handle your article republishing strategy carefully, because you don’t want to confuse Google when it comes to finding the actual source of the content. You don’t want to have your site pages filtered when you republish your article on an authoritative blog. But if it does happen, chances are, it will not reflect on how Google treats your overall site.

    In short, duplicate content is a filter, not a penalty, meaning that Google has to choose one of the URLs with non-original content and filter out the rest.

    So should I just stop worrying about internal duplicate content then?

    In short, no. It’s like you don’t want to ignore a recurring headache: it’s not that a headache is a disease on its own, but it may be a symptom of a more serious condition, so you want to clear those out or treat them if there are any.

    Duplicate content may signal some structural issues within your site, preventing Google from understanding what they should rank and what matters most on your site. And generally, while Google is getting much better at understanding how to handle different instances of the same content within your site, you still don’t want to ever confuse Google.

    Internal duplicate content may signal a lack of original content on your site too, which is another problem you’ll need to deal with.

    Google wants original content in their SERPs for obvious reasons: They don’t want their users to land on the same content over and over again. That’s a bad user experience. So Google will have to figure out which non-unique pages they want to show to their users and which ones to hide.

    That’s where a problem can occur: The more pages on your site have original content, the more Google positions they may be able to appear at throughout different search queries.

    If you want to know whether your site has any internal duplicate content issues, try using tools like SE Ranking, which crawls your website and analyzes whether there are any URLs with duplicate content Google may be confused about:

    How does Google choose which non-original URLs to rank and which to filter out?

    You’d think Google would want to choose the more authoritative post (based on various signals including backlinks), and they probably do.

    But what they also do is choose the shorter URL when they find two more pages with identical URLs:

    Duplicate content

    How about international websites? Can translated content pose a duplicate content issue?

    This question was addressed by Matt Cutts back in 2011. In short, translated content doesn’t pose any duplicate content issues even if it’s translated very closely to the original.

    There’s one word of warning though: Don’t publish automated translation using tools like Google Translate because Google is very good at identifying those. If you do so, you run into risk of having your content labeled as spammy.

    Use real translators whom you can find using platforms like Fiverr, Upwork and Preply. You can find high-quality translators and native speakers there on a low budget.

    Translation

    Look for native speakers in your target language who can also understand your base language

    You are also advised to use the hreflang attribute to point Google to the actual language you are using on a regional version of your website.

    How about different versions of the website across different localized domains?

    This can be tricky, because it’s not easy to come up with completely different content when putting up two different websites with the same products for the US and the UK, for example. But you still don’t want Google to choose.

    Two workarounds:

    • Focus on local traditions, jargon, history, etc. whenever possible
    • Choose the country you want to focus on from within Search Console for all localized domains except .com.

    There’s another old video from Matt Cutts which explains this issue and the solution:

    Are there any other duplicate-content-related questions you’d like to be covered? Please comment below!

    Do you need a PPC management expert?

    The eternal question for businesses both large and small: should you run your marketing in-house, or should you hire an expert?

    There are numerous factors to take into account including level of expertise, the complexity of the campaign, existing internal resources and the management fee of said expert.

    We’ll come clean. Most of these types of articles are written by an agency of some sort and will therefore naturally have a tendency to be biased towards the benefits of external help. Some would call it bias, some would call it scaremongering.

    This article has also been written by an agency, but one looking to give as objective a view as possible. The truth is that both options are completely viable when everything goes to plan. In turn, both options can have significant downsides when those cogs do not turn quite as smoothly as intended.

    Note: We previously explored this topic on Search Engine Watch back in 2014. I will include some of the points made in the aforementioned article, as well as adding some new ones.

    Cost effectiveness

    On the face of it, one of the main points of the argument boils down to cost effectiveness. For a business, the obvious question is: why would you pay a potentially hefty management fee if you could find the time in-house and do it yourself? Especially when PPC is just a bidding system, and does not require design or development skills.

    Dig a little deeper, though, and there are key questions that you need to ask yourself on both sides of the coin.

    Using an agency
    How does the management fee stack up against the actual PPC spend and subsequent ROI offered by the campaign?
    More importantly, what is the risk profile of the agency not hitting the expected ROI and as such their management fee actually removing all of the margin in the campaign?
    Managing the campaign in-house
    Do you actually have the in-house resources to properly manage a campaign, or are you just going to try (unsuccessfully) to squeeze more time out of an already busy team? How will this impact other critical daily tasks within the business (i.e. opportunity cost)?
    If you are hiring a new person to run the campaign, what are their total costs? Basic salary is an initial indicator but what about benefits, pension, increased desk costs?
    Furthermore, is this something that you are committed to for the mid to long term? Hiring someone is easy, but if this is their sole responsibility, they may become an unnecessary part of your cost base should you not continue with the campaign. In the UK and EU especially, you can’t then just get rid of this unfortunate soul without going through a somewhat arduous process which will likely involve additional costs such as redundancy pay.

    As you can see above, assessing the cost effectiveness of agency vs in-house involves a whole swathe of variables. No two businesses are the same, and as such, applying a standard equation to this situation is simply not possible.

    Hopefully you will have enough information available to put together your own version of this equation and come to a decision with regards to the cost effectiveness of a PPC expert.

    It all depends on the level of knowledge

    Knowledge is power, or in the case of PPC, knowledge and experience will result in a campaign that outperforms one managed by a beginner. You might get lucky, but as with most things in life, the more experienced practitioner will come out on top.

    Taking this into account when looking at how to manage a PPC campaign (agency or in-house), you must first look at the level of knowledge within your team.

    The fundamentals of a bidding system and focusing on search terms that deliver ROI for the business are easy to grasp. However, to really squeeze the benefits of your spend on PPC you simply need to know what you are doing. Of course this required level of knowledge is only likely to increase with more complex campaigns.

    As mentioned in the previous blog post on this topic, having an expert conduct the initial research and set up the campaign is often a cost effective method of making sure that the campaign gets off on the right foot. Much like an initial SEO audit, gettting an expert to set up the campaign could provide you with a sufficiently stable foundation to then manage the campaign in-house.

    Again, we have seen a plethora of pretty decent campaigns that have been set up by business owners after doing their own research so it still comes back to the level of knowledge (and time) available to you.

    How far do you want to go?

    There is a reason why different marketing campaigns have different associated costs. Some are very simple, single product localised campaigns whereas others may involve national or international coverage with thousands of individual products.

    Generally speaking, the more complex the campaign, the higher the budget, and therefore the higher the risk liability of an underperforming campaign. It doesn’t just come down to bid adjustments.

    Great digital marketing campaigns break down the barriers between departments and channels. Teams now communicate with one another instead of remaining in their silos, combining to generate greater results than the sum of their individual parts.

    As mentioned back in 2014, using an agency does give you access to more than just PPC experts at the top of their game. An awesome PPC campaign will also pull in web design experts, taking into account UX/UI, conversion rate optimization, content writing and remarketing (among others).

    In sport it is often referred to as ‘marginal gains’, although you’ll find that an overhaul of your website’s user flow could deliver far more than just a marginal gain. Access to multiple disciplines is what you potentially turn your back on when running a campaign in house and it can make or break a campaign.

    The core functions apply to the aforementioned single product campaign just as much as they do to the international campaign; it’s just that the latter has more to lose. As campaigns increase in complexity, there comes a point where you need to fully commit to the process and give the campaign the very best chance of success.

    In this case, it is worth handing it over to a team that specializes in PPC.

    Money talks!

    In the end, the likelihood is that if you put an agency’s campaign next to one that has been run in house you would imagine that the additional level of expertise and experience would mean that the agency’s campaign would produce better results. All other things being equal you would choose the agency nine times out of ten.

    The elephant in the room is of course the agency fees.

    Yes, you could argue that in-house teams have a higher level of industry knowledge, or that a PPC expert will be able to make sense of the campaign dashboard and utilize some of the more advanced tools. But you already know this. That argument is pretty clear (and well covered!).

    It all comes down to money. In basic terms, how much money will you get in return for the corresponding costs?

    Agencies often have a minimum fee associated with PPC campaigns. Therefore if your budget for PPC is particularly modest, for the sake of argument let’s say £500 per month, you will probably find that the agency fees will exceed the margin made from the campaign.

    Remember to look at your internal margins rather than revenue! In this case it is likely that having an expert set up the campaign initially will be the only option that would produce a meaningful ROI.

    On the other hand, if the agency fee is only a small percentage of the total budget spend and in turn, the margins from the campaign exceed the agency fee then it makes sense. As the Americans love to say, “if it makes money it makes sense”. The agency provides a higher level of expertise, and may also allow you the flexibility to stop the campaign at any moment.

    One size doesn’t fit all

    Hopefully my ramblings have shown that this not a one size fits all argument. There are simply too many variables.

    My advice would be to base your decision on real world facts. For example, we often see business owners try to run campaigns themselves (or ask one of their team to do it) without seriously considering the time expenditure required. Trust us when we say that if you don’t have the time, it won’t get done. You’ll end up spending a chunk of money for three months and then giving up without making any adjustments.

    On the other hand, if you do have the time you could find yourself getting to grips with the campaign and increasing your sales as a result. It may even mean that you can reduce spend on other marketing channels, all without having to pay an agency fee.

    Consider your options before making a decision. Don’t just do PPC for the sake of doing it; there should be a real business case put forward which will provide real data as to whether hiring a PPC expert is going to be a viable option.

    If it transpires that running the campaign in-house is going to work in the real world, then great, go for it! Be flexible, be realistic and you should find yourself making the right decision. Remember – both options can work.