Still doing guest blogging? Keep these 4 tips in mind

A lot of people still rely on guest blogging as an ongoing part of their link-building strategy.

If you think about it, getting links through guest blogging is much easier than getting links through some other channel.

So it’s no wonder that a lot of bloggers and SEO experts still favor this method. The main question is, are these guest post links still safe and viable?

The answer is yes.

It is still possible to build our link portfolio by contributing on authoritative websites. However, there are certain rules that we need to follow in order to avoid any issues with Google.

Guest blogging 101

One of the beautiful things about guest blogging is that it gives us the opportunity to score some great links from high-tier websites.

To be honest, we probably couldn’t have gotten those links with any other method. This is why guest blogging is always worth bearing in mind as a link-building strategy.

But, we need to be very selective when choosing the websites we guest post for.

Although guest blogging can be carried out on a large scale, you should probably avoid it. This method is optimal in small dosages while cooperating with the biggest domains.

Google trusts authoritative domains. If they notice that your links are coming only from reputable sources, they will not impose a penalty. However…

1) Careful not to overdo it!

The biggest problem with guest blogging is that people tend to overdo it.

Your articles should be coming from various sources, with different anchors. If your only source of inbound links is from guest articles, Google will notice this pattern and you will soon get into trouble.

Instead, you should choose your battles carefully. You need to diversify your link profile.

If you already decide to do some guest posting, make sure it counts. Otherwise you’ll waste all that time you spent building up relationships and writing your posts – with only a Google penalty to show for it.

2) Focus on quality

This is where most people go wrong.

Google assesses the articles from which you are getting links. If the article is of high quality, your link will also be regarded as a quality one.

This makes sense, right? After all, why would anyone bother creating a great piece only to place crappy links throughout?

So when you put together a guest post, make sure it’s a good one.

After creating their own article, people try to promote it by writing guest posts. These guest posts will usually be of much lower quality and they will have the same regurgitated content which you published on your own blog.

By doing this, not only are you getting a devalued link, but you are also endangering your original piece. Google will flag up the regurgitated versions of your article as possible duplicate content. And because there are any number of similar, low-quality pieces out there online, it may conclude that your article is low-quality as well.

Everything you create has to be unique and to provide value to the reader. When you write a guest post, ask yourself: would I link to this piece?

If the answer is yes, you are in the clear.

3) Add images, links and formatting

As I mentioned, each guest post you make needs to be distinctive. Even if you are employing this strategy on a larger scale, at least make sure that everything you create is a separate entity.

One of the best ways to differentiate articles is by using varied formatting.

Blogs always have use different fonts and that is something you have no control over. But you have the ability to break up paragraphs and add things like bullet points, subheadings, block quotes and more. These increase the readability of your piece, and also make it easier for search engines to crawl it and interpret the content.

Another way to improve the look and layout of your text is to add images and other media.

Do not be shy and don’t wait for the website editor to insert them for you. Instead, be proactive and use your own images. Add a couple of them if necessary. If they make sense and the text looks better because of it, the editor will be more inclined to ask you for additional guest posts.

You can even go the extra mile and write titles and alt text to optimize the images for SEO – the editor will thank you, as it will save them the effort, and it will improve the overall SEO value of your piece.

Lastly, we come to links.

Now, editors usually allow one link in your bio, or one link within the article. Most of them do not like it when an author writes a piece with a lots of links pointing to different websites.

However, if the editor allows it, make sure to add some highly relevant links that will make the article even more authoritative.

4) Vary your anchor text

You are trying to rank for a certain keyword. In an attempt to rank, you try to spam the same anchor text over and over.

This strategy is pretty much obsolete. Instead, just as with everything else that we’ve mentioned so far, make sure to diversify things.

Anchor text should vary.

When people place links with purely editorial value, without trying to cynically rank for a specific keyword, they will rarely link with the exact same phrase every time. This is highly unnatural behavior and can get you in trouble.

Instead, make sure to use different phrases. Place links in different sentences, with different anchors. Focus on writing naturally and place your link accordingly.

Conclusion

Guest blogging is NOT dead. As far as we know, there is no Google system or algorithm that will penalize the creation of such articles.

Nevertheless, it is better to be conservative. Like always, it comes down to whether your link profile looks natural. There should be no indication that you are purposely trying to push a keyword (even if you are).

People usually think about guest blogging in terms of links. However, you should observe it from a different perspective. By using this strategy, not only should you get links, you should also get some good exposure.

Your articles should promote your skills well as your blog.

By placing emphasis on this, you will be able to accomplish much more with guest posts and as a result, links will start coming from various sources without you forcing them.

How often do you guest post? Have you ever had problems due to it? Share it in the comment section below!

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

Similarweb

Search marketers rely on tools to make sense of what it is a very complex, fluid environment. With the increasing importance of mobile, the list of tools grows even longer. Which platforms should search marketers use to devise a mobile-first SEO strategy?

While we await the launch of Google’s mobile-first index, search marketers are aiming to capitalize on the growing quantity of searches made on smartphones.

We spent a long time anticipating the ‘mobile era’, but for many businesses it has been a reality for some time now.

The numbers certainly tell their own story. Mobile searches now outnumber desktop queries, and mobile advertising spend is projected to exceed $100 billion worldwide this year.

(Source: Statista)

Of course, this means that the ranking signals for mobile are different to those used for desktop results. That stands to reason; smartphones are used for different purposes and they provide Google with different data sets to calculate its rankings.

Mobile websites often differ from their desktop counterparts too, so marketers need to be sure that their online presence is prepared for a mobile-first world.

Recently, we wrote that there are three areas that really matter for mobile SEO performance:

  • Context: How many people search for your products online? When and where do they tend to search?
  • Speed/accessibility: How quickly does your mobile site load? Are there differences in the internal linking structures of your mobile and desktop sites?
  • User engagement signals: How well does your site render on a mobile device? Are you tracking the right metrics for mobile performance?

These are complex questions, but there some tools that can help us arrive at quantitative answers. The list below highlights 5 of the best tools to shape and measure your mobile SEO strategy.

SimilarWeb

For on-the-spot digital consumer research, SimilarWeb is a fantastic place to start. SEO does not exist in isolation, so it is very helpful to have an overview of how consumers are discovering a website across all channels and devices before we zoom in.

SimilarWeb uses proprietary, anonymized data from its own customers along with clickstream data to understand how people access sites, how long they stay, and where they go next.

This ecosystem incorporates apps too, which are of prime importance as we consider a mobile-first strategy. The mobile web is merging with the app world, with Google pushing both progressive web apps and Android Instant Apps.

SimilarWeb is excellent for competitor research too, making it a great all-rounder for any digital marketer as they start plotting a mobile strategy.

How SimilarWeb can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Consumer insights across all channels, devices and territories
  • Helpful for mobile SEO keyword research
  • Includes app analysis alongside mobile web statistics
  • In-depth competitor analysis reveals other sites’ strengths and weaknesses

SEMrush

SEMrush packs in an impressive amount of features for both organic and paid search. Most importantly for the scope of this analysis, it contains a host of mobile-specific SEO charts and graphs that provide insight into any website’s performance.

By identifying the frequency with which a website shows up within their index of search results, SEMrush provides an overview of the mobile rankings and traffic a brand receives. This serves as a useful barometer of current performance, and the competitor analysis features provide further reference points.

SEMRush_mobile

The new Sensor feature (in BETA) monitors search results page fluctuations across devices, in a welcome development that reflects the constant flux of ranking positions in 2017.

Too many rankings platforms provide a static position on a weekly basis and, while it would be impossible to measure the true volatility of rankings, this new feature from SEMrush is at least a step in the right direction.

Users can set this up to monitor specific keywords for both mobile and desktop, and it will provide a daily update on the differences noted across the relevant results sets. SEMrush_SensorSEMrush’s focus on both organic and PPC provides a more holistic overview of search results pages, too. This combination of functionalities puts it just ahead of its competitors, which include BrightEdge, SearchMetrics, and SEO Monitor, for mobile SEO research.

How SEMrush can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Identify target keyword groups
  • Track keyword performance over time
  • Analyze competitors
  • Monitor SERP volatility
  • Overview of both paid and organic search performance

Google Mobile Site Tests

Google’s mobile-friendly test tool was launched with the aim of helping site owners get their house in order for the mobile age.

Users can enter a URL into the test, which will then tell them if their site is fit for purpose when rendered on a smartphone:

CBMobile

The mobile-friendly test creates a list of the issues found in loading the page, which can be assessed and addressed with the web development team.

Site owners have had plenty of warning and plenty of time to align themselves with Google’s mobile-friendly guidelines, so the next priority is speed. This has been no secret, with initiatives like Accelerated Mobile Pages making it abundantly clear where site owners should be placing their focus.

Google provides another essential resource to support marketers’ efforts with its site speed test, which has improved quite significantly this year. What had previously been quite a rudimentary tool that returned vague platitudes about “Compressing images” is now a much more sophisticated and thorough analytical tool.

CB_Google

Tests are performed using a simulated 3G connection to mimic the majority of global smartphone traffic today and Google even estimates how much traffic a site is losing due to slow loading times.

The free report can be emailed to a user (it usually arrives within an hour), with plenty of actionable details to help improve performance.

Given the paucity of great mobile-specific web tools out there, it really is an essential guide for search marketers aiming to get their site in line for the mobile-first index.

How Google’s Mobile Site Tests can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Quick snapshot of any mobile site issues
  • The estimate of lost traffic is great for demonstrating to senior leaders how important mobile SEO is
  • Option to download a detailed, free report
  • Clear, actionable tips to improve site speed
  • New competitor analysis shows how you fare against the industry standard

Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is a technical SEO analysis tool that will quickly crawl and analyze a website across a range of important factors. For a snapshot of site-wide adherence to Google best practices, it remains a central part of any SEO’s toolkit.

From a mobile perspective, these technical factors are of great significance. Many sites are rendered slightly differently depending on the user agent, so marketers need to be aware of what these differences are for their URLs. As we move to a mobile-first index, those differences could affect vital ranking positions.

SF

In particular, elements including internal links, multimedia assets, and structured data may differ when rendered on mobile versus desktop.

Screaming Frog provides some valuable insight into these factors, along with standard SEO considerations like meta descriptions and title tags.

For enterprise-level businesses, Botify and DeepCrawl are great paid solutions for ongoing technical SEO. However, for smaller sites or one-off spot audits, Screaming Frog remains the go-to tool.

How Screaming Frog can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • A quick and effective way to analyze technical SEO performance
  • Can help identify areas that are holding back site performance
  • Some visualizations of issues such as overly long meta descriptions
  • Very useful for a site-wide look at mobile SEO elements

Google Analytics; Google Search Console

I am cheating a little bit here to squeeze these two into the list, but they are complementary and pretty important for any mobile-first SEO strategy.

Google Analytics allows users to filter their data by device and by channel, making it very easy to isolate mobile SEO performance data. This can be compared to desktop and to other channels to see how SEO fares. Given the growing impact of user engagement signals on SEO rankings, marketers should really be focused on ensuring their content is meeting user demand. The metrics in Google Analytics provide the ideal starting point for this assessment.

It is possible that sub-par mobile SEO performance is related to lower rankings on mobile devices, which is where Search Console can start to prove its worth.

Google Search Console provides some good insight into mobile search volumes (found in the Impressions column), along with the ranking positions for each query.

Search Console is far from the full package for SEO, but we should expect Google to add more and more new features as the industry changes. In particular, I would anticipate the release of more mobile- and voice-specific filters to reflect the changing landscape.

mobile-issues-SC

The Page Analytics Chrome extension is the perfect complement to these, allowing users to analyze user interactions at a page level while browsing their own site. As we continue to see the convergence of UX, CRO and SEO, these considerations should be foremost for anyone aiming to create a mobile-first strategy.

And to add one more Google tool in and complete the set, Data Studio is a user-friendly way to create mobile-specific performance dashboards using metrics from a range of analytics platforms. Once a mobile strategy has been devised and implemented, these Google tools will allow SEOs to monitor the impact closely.

How GA and GSC can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Accurate reflection of session-level interactions with a mobile site
  • Insight into mobile search volumes and ranking positions
  • Clear comparison with performance on other channels and devices
  • Great way to track performance for core business metrics.

Does your website need an SEO audit?

Websites are like cars: they need maintenance. That may come in the form of updating the CMS, security or plugins. The same goes for SEO.

A great SEO strategy will always need reviewing and constant scrutiny of analytics, in order to ensure that you remain on the intended path.

To garner the most success from search engine traffic, a fully-fledged campaign is the best bet, where an individual or team can dedicate the correct amount of time to deliver results.

SEO audits are a slightly different beast. Audit. A word associated with redundancies or the tax man knocking at your door. It’s a word devoid of happy connotations.

But don’t be afraid, they can be very helpful. So where do they fit into the SEO ecosystem, and how can you tell if your website needs one?

What’s involved in an SEO audit?

Carrying on with the car metaphor, not all cars are the same.

The fundamentals might be the same: cylinders, internal combustion, suspension, gears, wheels. But a Lamborghini is not the same as a Skoda.

In the same vein, not all SEO agencies are the same, and SEO audits can differ greatly between agencies in their complexity and depth. The results will therefore differ according to the content of the audit. However, let’s presume that an SEO audit will look at:

Overall keyword strategy
On-site optimization
Website user flow
Content strategy
Backlink profiles
Analytics

The aim? To give an overview of the health of your website with regard to SEO. You should also get a multitude of actionable points according to the strategy, which either you or the agency should implement.

An SEO audit can act as a first point of call for developing an SEO strategy if you don’t already have one, or if you do, as a valuable second opinion that potentially flags up critical issues with your existing strategy. Let’s look at how an SEO audit could benefit your business in each scenario.

Starting from scratch

You have a website, but you don’t feel that you’re getting much in the way of traffic or conversions via search engines. You may or may not have conducted SEO work in the past, but you definitely want to be making more of the potential that search engine optimization offers.

Great! An SEO audit is a fantastic starting point and will provide you with an initial strategy to implement.

It should be noted that the first weeks of an SEO campaign will cover a lot of what would be included in an SEO audit, so you don’t necessarily stand to lose out. The audit should cover the major points of an SEO strategy, leaving you to either implement it yourself or continue the work with an agency.

Why is this a good option? Well, it means that you can test the waters. It is unfortunate that the SEO world is somewhat marred by the presence of black hat practitioners, making the paying client somewhat wary of engaging with an agency, especially if their knowledge is limited or they have previously had their fingers burnt.

The SEO audit should allow them to review the quality of the work produced by said agency and decide whether the working relationship is worth following. In certain scenarios, implementing thorough on-site SEO can result in a jump in rankings* therefore acting as something of a litmus test or a less costly alternative for the budget-conscious.

*This is not to say that an audit will produce the same results as a full campaign. It should, however, (if properly completed and implemented) demonstrate value.

Second opinion: In-house & agency

At Yellowball we like to use the metaphor of the coal face. It is a difficult task when you are at the coal face to take a step back and take a breath. We see this with really good websites. The client will look at it on a daily basis for months which inevitably results in them getting bored of the designs, regardless of whether the new business that they want to attract thinks it looks great.

On the other side of the coin, you can be so involved with something (i.e an SEO campaign) that it is very difficult to take a sense check. Confirmation bias can creep into analytics reviews, and data-driven decisions can turn into more emotional decisions due to the time you’ve already invested into the campaign.

An audit provides a fresh set of eyes. It can bring new ideas or a slight tweak to the strategy that can refresh the campaign and deliver increased results. Depending on whether your SEO strategy is executed by an in-house team or an external agency, there are a couple of ways this can play out:

Audits for in-house teams

The eternal battle between in house teams that know the company and industry inside out compared with agencies that have arguably more up to date SEO knowledge and techniques. Audits can upskill in house teams or refresh an ageing strategy.

Audits for agencies

Monthly retainers put pressures on agency teams to fulfil what was laid out in the proposal. Campaigns often roll on past the original proposal length without pause for breath. An audit will provide an agency with the time to review the campaign’s successes and failures, the original strategy and make amendments.

Depending on how long the campaign has been running this audit can provide valuable insight and amendments which in turn become greater results as you move forward.

Regardless of whether your SEO campaign is run in-house or outsourced to an agency, it is worth considering an audit as a sort of half-time break. A period where you can make your substitutions, change formation and go out into the second half to win the game… Sorry about my excessive use of metaphors.

Second opinion: Audits can solve critical issues

Let’s take a look at a situation where things are not going right. Ditch the rose tinted glasses. Not the easiest situation to be in but one that requires action and one that definitely happens:

You are a business that has been running an SEO campaign in house or with an agency. Great. Except for the fact that it ain’t working. How can an audit help you here?

Close the skills gap

Sometimes there are critical issues which are caused directly by a skills gap. The individual or the team running the campaign just don’t have what it takes. That might be in the form of writing truly awesome content. It might be their ability to approach other websites to provide value and gain links. It may even be a developer who doesn’t have the technical skillset to implement all of the onsite optimization required. Whatever it is, you know that it is holding you back.

This is where you can give very specific instructions to those conducting the audit. They should be able to provide a strategy, guidance or even the specific skillset to solve this critical issue. Solve the problem and the results from the campaign could be drastically different!

Dare we say it, get you out of an expensive contract

This point is likely to be pretty controversial, but we would be lying if we said that the SEO industry was squeaky clean. There are pirates out there. The reality is that digital marketing agencies are a dime a dozen.

As a byproduct, a portion of those businesses that instruct an agency will make the wrong choice. They will go with an agency that promises the world and under-delivers. Worse, they spam the website. The business wants to pull the ejector, but there is a 12 or 24 month contract which they themselves have signed.

Hopefully the contract will dictate the work that was supposed to be carried out on your site, and an audit will provide the evidence to show that this work has not been completed to a satisfactory standard, therefore making the contract void.

It’s not something that we like to talk about, but important nonetheless, and potentially very useful.

So there you have it. An audit can set the initial strategy, provide second opinions for in-house teams and agencies, or even help solve critical issues.

If you can see the value in audits, we would highly recommend scheduling one in; they should be viewed as a positive step to a more lucrative SEO campaign!

6 lesser known tools to power your content marketing

Cloudup

It seems like a small selection of tools just keeps traveling from article to article these days.

Opening a freshly-published article on a popular blog, I feel like I’ve already read it, because I know all the listed tools.

To celebrate “undercover” tools in the marketing industry, I picked six tools I use which I seldom or never see mentioned in other people’s articles. I think they totally deserve to be in the spotlight because they are as good as (or in most cases even better than) more discussed alternatives.

1. Cloudup to store your drafts and images

I hate to think that anyone reading this isn’t using cloud storage for work. It makes your life so much easier, allowing you to access your work from anywhere in the world as well as giving you tools to easily share your content with other team members, like editors and designers.

There’s no denying that Google is the Internet master for a reason, and their Drive service is hard for anyone to beat. But plenty of people choose not to entrust Google with their private docs for privacy reasons. Even if that’s not you, it’s never smart to put all your eggs in one basket. If your business 100% relies on Google, it’s time to change your business model.

Cloudup is a great alternative to both Dropbox and Google Drive giving you 200 GB (or up to 1000 items) of free storage which makes the service one of the largest free file sharing and storage options.

You can upload and share files, create docs and spreadsheets, use a huge number of tools and extensions, communicate with your team, and more. And it is all free up to 200 GB. You can find more alternatives here.

2. Drip to power your email marketing

It is no secret that I am not a big fan of MailChimp. I find their system overly bulky and difficult to use, while their policies are so unclear you can violate them by accident.

Drip is a nice alternative to better-known email marketing systems, giving you a lot of nice features for a comparatively low price.

drip

It has a powerful content automation feature that lets you reach your reader at exactly the time they are likely to take an action.

3. Cyfe to publish and schedule social media updates

Hootsuite

Cyfe is one of those tools you can use for anything under the sun. It’s like a Swiss knife that has a widget for anything, including:

  • invoicing (through FreshBooks and others),
  • performance monitoring (through Pingdom to monitor Uptime),
  • content analytics (through Google Analytics, Alexa and many others),
  • social media analytics (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, you name it!)

Additionally you can create and add custom widgets or embed anything using iFrame (for example, I embed my spreadsheets).

Their recent update has added social media publishing into the mix allowing you to schedule your social media updates right from your business monitoring dashboard. I was really excited by the move because now I don’t to have to pay for an extra social media management solution!

Cyfe publishing widget

4. Topvisor for content optimization and competitor research

Do you have an up to date content inventory? Probably not, because creating one is a time consuming and exhausting process and tools out on the market are expensive, clunky and rarely give you an accurate inventory to work from.

Topvisor was made to solve that problem. It is a fully customizable and extensive search engine optimization solution. They have monthly plans starting at just $29. I love their page change tracking tools that allow me to monitor my competitors and what they do to rank their content higher in search engines:

Topvisor

It’s incredibly affordable compared to similar tools and it will keep you or your team accountable for on-page SEO of every content asset that gets published on behalf of your brand.

It also integrates with Google Analytics to give you a more flexible content analytics dashboard.

5. Salesmate to organize and verify your leads

If you are using (or plan on using) any sales management platform to organize your leads, give Salesmate a try. It’s very affordable and incredibly reach in features. Easily integrating into any imaginable content marketing tool, Salesmate offers all kinds of features aimed at improving your sales process.

Salesmate

Set up sales pipelines and watch your leads go from step to step to easily analyze where the process can be improved or which sales magnets your site needs.

6. EpicBeat to monitor trends

EpicBeat isn’t just a trend monitoring tool. It is a dashboard that empowers your marketing with those trends. It takes what is hot and gives you a blueprint for incorporating it into your campaigns and promotional efforts.

EpicBeat

It also had hot topics that you can go through, which is one of my favorite ways to find content ideas when I am running dry. Simple, effective and easy to use, it is one of my favorites on this list.

Bonus: Scoop.it content marketing resources

There are a few very popular content marketing resources out there everyone tends to recommend. However I think Scoop.it content marketing center is the best out there, yet you won’t see it mentioned too often.

Scoop.it has built a major hub for resources related to content, providing a ton of tools for you to enjoy for free. In the analytics category they have two ebooks and three extensive posts explaining various facets of improving your SEO strategy when it directly coincides with your content publications.

That includes maximizing your ROI, finding leads, looking at the “right” KPI’s and more. On top of these resources you can also sign up for their dashboard, which is also about generating and converting more through content marketing. They have one for individuals, marketers and enterprises, with the first level being free.

One more bonus: more alternatives!

To celebrate people offering to spotlight less discussed alternatives, here are a few more roundups which inspired this article:

  • Best Android Apps: Less known alternatives to Evernote
  • Capterra: Alternatives to Trello
  • Small Biz Trends: Alternatives to Google Analytics

Do you have some tools you think deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments.

Pinterest, Google or Bing: Who has the best visual search engine?

visual culture

Visual search engines will be at the center of the next phase of evolution for the search industry, with Pinterest, Google, and Bing all announcing major developments recently.

How do they stack up today, and who looks best placed to offer the best visual search experience?

Historically, the input-output relationship in search has been dominated by text. Even as the outputs have become more varied (video and image results, for example), the inputs have been text-based. This has restricted and shaped the potential of search engines, as they try to extract more contextual meaning from a relatively static data set of keywords.

Visual search engines are redefining the limits of our language, opening up a new avenue of communication between people and computers. If we view language as a fluid system of signs and symbols, rather than fixed set of spoken or written words, we arrive at a much more compelling and profound picture of the future of search.

Our culture is visual, a fact that visual search engines are all too eager to capitalize on.

Already, specific ecommerce visual search technologies abound: Amazon, Walmart, and ASOS are all in on the act. These companies’ apps turn a user’s smartphone camera into a visual discovery tool, searching for similar items based on whatever is in frame. This is just one use case, however, and the potential for visual search is much greater than just direct ecommerce transactions.

After a lot of trial and error, this technology is coming of age. We are on the cusp of accurate, real-time visual search, which will open a raft of new opportunities for marketers.

Below, we review the progress made by three key players in visual search: Pinterest, Google, and Bing.

Pinterest

Pinterest’s visual search technology is aimed at carving out a position as the go-to place for discovery searches. Their stated aim echoes the opening quote from this article: “To help you find things when you don’t have the words to describe them.”

Rather than tackle Google directly, Pinterest has decided to offer up something subtly different to users – and advertisers. People go to Pinterest to discover new ideas, to create mood boards, to be inspired. Pinterest therefore urges its 200 million users to “search outside the box”, in what could be deciphered as a gentle jibe at Google’s ever-present search bar.

All of this is driven by Pinterest Lens, a sophisticated visual search tool that uses a smartphone camera to scan the physical world, identify objects, and return related results. It is available via the smartphone app, but Pinterest’s visual search functionality can be used on desktop through the Google Chrome extension too.

Pinterest’s vast data set of over 100 billion Pins provides the perfect training material for machine learning applications. As a result, new connections are forged between the physical and digital worlds, using graphics processing units (GPUs) to accelerate the process.

pinterest object detection

In practice, Pinterest Lens works very well and is getting noticeably better with time. The image detection is impressively accurate and the suggestions for related Pins are relevant.

Below, the same object has been selected for a search using Pinterest and also Samsung visual search:

Pinterest_Samsung

The differences in the results are telling.

On the left, Pinterest recognizes the object’s shape, its material, its purpose, but also the defining features of the design. This allows for results that go deeper than a direct search for another black mug. Pinterest knows that the less tangible, stylistic details are what really interest its users. As such, we see results for mugs in different colors, but that are of a similar style.

On the right, Samsung’s Bixby assistant recognizes the object, its color, and its purpose. Samsung’s results are powered by Amazon, and they are a lot less inspiring than the options served up by Pinterest. The image is turned into a keyword search for [black coffee mugs], which renders the visual search element a little redundant.

Visual search engines work best when they express something for us that we would struggle to say in words. Pinterest understands and delivers on this promise better than most.

Pinterest visual search: The key facts

  • Over 200 million monthly users
  • Focuses on the ‘discovery’ phase of search
  • Pinterest Lens is the central visual search technology
  • Great platform for retailers, with obvious monetization possibilities
  • Paid search advertising is a core growth area for the company
  • Increasingly effective visual search results, particularly on the deeper level of aesthetics

Google

Google made early waves in visual search with the launch of Google Goggles. This Android app was launched in 2010 and allowed users to search using their smartphone camera. It works well on famous landmarks, for example, but it has not been updated significantly in quite some time.

It seemed unlikely that Google would remain silent on visual search for long, and this year’s I/O development revealed what the search giant has been working on in the background.

google lens

Google Lens, which will be available via the Photos app and Google Assistant, will be a significant overhaul of the earlier Google Goggles initiative.

Any nomenclative similarities to Pinterest’s product may be more than coincidental. Google has stealthily upgraded its image and visual search engines of late, ushering in results that resemble Pinterest’s format:

Google_Image_Search

Pinterest_image_search

Google’s ‘similar items’ product was another move to cash in on the discovery phase of search, showcasing related results that might further pique a consumer’s curiosity.

Google Lens will provide the object detection technology to link all of this together in a powerful visual search engine. In its BETA format, Lens offers the following categories for visual searches:

  • All
  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Handbags
  • Sunglasses
  • Barcodes
  • Products
  • Places
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Flowers

Some developers have been given the chance to try an early version of Lens, with many reporting mixed results:

Lens_BETA

Looks like Google doesn’t recognize its own Home smart hub… (Source: XDA Developers)

These are very early days for Google Lens, so we can expect this technology to improve significantly as it learns from its mistakes and successes.

When it does, Google is uniquely placed to make visual search a powerful tool for users and advertisers alike. The opportunities for online retailers via paid search are self-evident, but there is also huge potential for brick-and-mortar retailers to capitalize on hyper-local searches.

For all its impressive advances, Pinterest does not possess the ecosystem to permeate all aspects of a user’s life in the way Google can. With a new Pixel smartphone in the works, Google can use visual search alongside voice search to unite its software and hardware. For advertisers using DoubleClick to manage their search and display ads, that presents a very appealing prospect.

We should also anticipate that Google will take this visual search technology further in the near future.

Google is set to open its ARCore product up to all developers, which will bring with it endless possibilities for augmented reality. ARCore is a direct rival to Apple’s ARKit and it could provide the key to unlock the full potential of visual search. We should also not rule out another move into the wearables market, potentially through a new version of Google Glass.

Google visual search: The key facts

  • Google Goggles launched in 2010 as an early entrant to the visual search market
  • Goggles still functions well on some landmarks, but struggles to isolate objects in crowded frames
  • Google Lens scheduled to launch later this year (Date TBA) as a complete overhaul of Goggles
  • Lens will link visual search to Google search and Google Maps
  • Object detection is not perfected, but the product is in BETA
  • Google is best placed to create an advertising product around its visual search engine, once the technology increases in accuracy

Bing

Microsoft had been very quiet on this front since sunsetting its Bing visual search product in 2012. It never really took off and perhaps the appetite wasn’t quite there yet among a mass public for a visual search engine.

Recently, Bing made an interesting re-entry to the fray with the announcement of a completely revamped visual search engine:

This change of tack has been directed by advances in artificial intelligence that can automatically scan images and isolate items.

The early versions of this search functionality required input from users to draw boxes around certain areas of an image for further inspection. Bing announced recently that this will no longer be needed, as the technology has developed to automate this process.

The layout of visual search results on Bing is eerily similar to Pinterest. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Pinterest should be overwhelmed with flattery by now.

Bing_Pinterest

The visual search technology can hone in on objects within most images, and then suggests further items that may be of interest to the user. This is only available on Desktop for the moment, but Mobile support will be added soon.

The results are patchy in places, but when an object is detected relevant suggestions are made. In the example below, a search made using an image of a suit leads to topical, shoppable links:

Bing_Suit

It does not, however, take into account the shirt or tie – the only searchable aspect is the suit.

Things get patchier still for searches made using crowded images. A search for living room decor ideas made using an image will bring up some relevant results, but will not always hone in on specific items.

As with all machine learning technologies, this product will continue to improve and for now, Bing is a step ahead of Google in this aspect. Nonetheless, Microsoft lacks the user base and the mobile hardware to launch a real assault on the visual search market in the long run.

Visual search thrives on data; in this regard, both Google and Pinterest have stolen a march on Bing.

Bing visual search: The key facts

  • Originally launched in 2009, but removed in 2012 due to lack of uptake
  • Relaunched in July 2017, underpinned by AI to identify and analyze objects
  • Advertisers can use Bing visual search to place shoppable images
  • The technology is in its infancy, but the object recognition is quite accurate
  • Desktop only for now, but mobile will follow soon

So, who has the best visual search engine?

For now, Pinterest. With billions of data points and some seasoned image search professionals driving the technology, it provides the smoothest and most accurate experience. It also does something unique by grasping the stylistic features of objects, rather than just their shape or color. As such, it alters the language at our disposal and extends the limits of what is possible in search marketing.

Bing has made massive strides in this arena of late, but it lacks the killer application that would make it stand out enough to draw searchers from Google. Bing visual search is accurate and functional, but does not create connections to related items in the way that Pinterest can.

The launch of Google Lens will surely shake up this market altogether, too. If Google can nail down automated object recognition (which it undoubtedly will), Google Lens could be the product that links traditional search to augmented reality. The resources and the product suite at Google’s disposal make it the likely winner in the long run.

The last word on Fred from Google’s Gary Illyes

This month’s Brighton SEO delegates all hoped for Google’s Gary Illyes to enlighten them on the major talking points in search this year. They weren’t disappointed.

Google algorithm updates are frequently on the minds of SEOs and webmasters, and have been a hot topic for years. We are always on tenterhooks, waiting for the next change that could damage our site’s rankings.

We are never able to rest, always at risk of being penalized by the next animal to enter Google’s zoo of updates.

Past assumptions about Google Fred

Back on March 7th 2017, many webmasters reported unexpected fluctuations to rankings. The name Google Fred then began to circulate following a chat on Twitter between Barry Schwartz and Google’s Gary Illyes where Gary joked about future updates being named Fred.

sure! From now on every update, unless otherwise stated, shall be called Fred

— Gary “鯨理” Illyes (@methode) March 9, 2017

We safely assumed there was an adjustment to the algorithm as Google confirmed there are updates happening every day. As usual, Google did not confirm any details about this particular update, but analysis of affected sites suggested it focused on poor quality content sites that were benefiting from monetization tactics.

As this update felt larger than the normal day-to-day algorithm changes, it seemed only natural it should be worthy of a name. As a result, the name “Google Fred” officially stuck, despite Gary Illyes intending his tongue-in-cheek comment to refer to all future updates.

So how can we tell the difference between the Fred update in March and other updates?

What is Google Fred, really?

In a Q&A session at September’s Brighton SEO, Google Fred was brought up once again, and we got the final word on Fred from Gary Illyes himself. Here’s what Fred’s creator had to say:

Interviewer: Let’s talk about Fred.

Gary Illyes: Who?

Interviewer: You are the person that created Fred. So Fred is basically an algo that…

Gary Illyes: It’s not one algo, it’s all the algos.

Interviewer: So you can confirm it’s not a single algo – it’s a whole umbrella of a bunch of different changes and updates that everyone has just kind of put under this umbrella of “Fred”.

Gary Illyes: Right, so the story behind Fred is that basically I’m an asshole on Twitter. And I’m also very sarcastic which is usually a very bad combination. And Barry Schwartz, because who else, was asking me about some update that we did to the search algorithm.

And I don’t know if you know, but in average we do three or two to three updates to the search algorithm, ranking algorithm every single day. So usually our response to Barry is that sure, it’s very likely there was an update. But that day I felt even more sarcastic than I actually am, and I had to tell him that.

Oh, he was begging me practically for a name for the algorithm or update, because he likes Panda or Penguin and what’s the new one. Pork, owl, shit like that. And I just told him that, you know what, from now on every single update that we make – unless we say otherwise – will be called Fred; every single one of them.

Interviewer: So now we’re in a perpetual state of Freds?

Gary Illyes: Correct. Basically every single update that we make is a Fred. I don’t like, or I was sarcastic because I don’t like that people are focusing on this.

Every single update that we make is around quality of the site or general quality, perceived quality of the site, content and the links or whatever. All these are in the Webmaster Guidelines. When there’s something that is not in line with our Webmaster Guidelines, or we change an algorithm that modifies the Webmaster Guidelines, then we update the Webmaster Guidelines as well.

Or we publish something like a Penguin algorithm, or work with journalists like you to publish, throw them something like they did with Panda.

Interviewer: So for all these one to two updates a day, when webmasters go on and see their rankings go up or down, how many of those changes are actually actionable? Can webmasters actually take something away from that, or is it just under the generic and for the quality of your site?

Gary Illyes: I would say that for the vast majority, and I’m talking about probably over 95%, 98% of the launches are not actionable for webmasters. And that’s because we may change, for example, which keywords from the page we pick up because we see, let’s say, that people in a certain region put up the content differently and we want to adapt to that.

[…]

Basically, if you publish high quality content that is highly cited on the internet – and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding, crap like that.

[audience laughter]

Then, I shouldn’t have said that right? Then you are doing great. And fluctuations will always happen to your traffic. We can’t help that; it would be really weird if there wasn’t fluctuation, because that would mean we don’t change, we don’t improve our search results anymore.

(Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity)

So there we have it: every update is a Fred unless otherwise stated. The ranking drops in March may well have been triggered by the “original” Fred update, but so will all fluctuations, for they are all Fred.

How can we optimize for Fred?

Gary says that 95-98% of updates are not actionable for webmasters. With two or three updates a day, that accounts for a lot of updates each year! So what do we do?

The answer is simple – do what you were doing before. Build great websites, build your brand and produce high quality content aimed to satisfy the needs of searchers whilst adhering to the Webmaster Guidelines.

As Simon Ensor wrote in his recent article on the SEO industry and its sweeping statements, SEOs shouldn’t fear algorithm updates from Google:

“Many may complain that Google moves the goalposts but in actual fact, the fundamentals remain the same. Avoiding manipulative behavior, staying relevant, developing authority and thinking about your users are four simple factors that will go a long way to keeping you on the straight and narrow.

The Google updates are inevitable. Techniques will evolve, and results will require some hard graft. Every campaign is different, but if you stick to the core principles of white-hat SEO, you need not take notice of the sweeping statements that abound in our corner of the marketing world. Nor should you have to fear future Google updates.”

What does it mean for SEOs?

Sage advice aside, this explanation from Gary Illyes may still leave SEOs feeling slightly frustrated. We appreciate that not every small update warrants a name or set of webmaster guidelines, but we still have a job to do and a changeable industry to make sense of.

We have stakeholders and clients to answer to and explain ranking fluctuations to. It doesn’t help us to put all updates under the carpet of Fred.

Of course we would find it really useful if each major update came with clear guidelines immediately, not leaving us for days in the dark, figuring it out and stabilizing our rankings.

But maybe – as Gary may have been alluding – where would the fun be if it were that simple?

To read the full transcript of the Q&A with Gary Illyes or watch a recording of the interview, check out this blog post by iThinkMedia.

5 things that Bing does better than Google

I have to be honest. When approaching this article, my initial reaction was something along the lines of, ‘Ha! Bing doesn’t do anything better than Google!’.

But on brushing aside my Google superiority complex and after a bit more considered thought and research, I came to the realization that Bing does do some aspects of search better. Quite a few things actually.

Let’s first take a look at the market share between the two rivals. In the US, Bing occupies a third of the market. A third! That’s pretty high given that ‘Google it’ is now a heavily used phrase by the masses, whereas have you ever heard anyone say ‘Bing it’? Probably not. In the UK, Bing isn’t far behind with a 26% share of the market. It is, however, worth noting that worldwide Bing only has 5% of the desktop search engine market share, whereas Google has 87%. That’s a big discrepancy.

Bing is undeniably still a key player in the search engine rivalry contest and it has many enviable features. So back to the question in point. What does Bing do better than Google?

1. Image search

Probably one of the most well-known advantages of Bing is the image search, offering sharper and higher quality images in the results page. Bing was also the first to introduce the ‘infinite scroll’ to evade the need to painfully click through the various pages of image results. Google has since caught onto this ingenious function so Bing no longer has the advantage here.

However, Bing does still maintain the advantage when it comes to filters. Unlike in Google, you can search for different image layouts – tall, wide or square. Aside from this functionality, Google generally has most of the same filter options that Bing has, although you have to dig a little deeper to find them.

One noticeable example is the licensing information of images – most people probably don’t even know that Google offers this data because the filter is pretty hidden. On Bing it is wonderfully obvious; nobody likes digging, accessibility please.

The only downside of Bing image search is that it does not yet offer GIF images in the results pages. You’ll have to resort to Google for those. A minor point though and one that I hardly think will be a deal breaker for most people, so Bing still wins on image search overall.

2. Video search

I know what you’re thinking. Google owns YouTube, so how could Bing’s video search possibly be superior? It’s all in the display, and Bing have really nailed it with their video search results. Presented as a grid of thumbnails, users can watch videos without even leaving the SERPs.

Hover your mouse over the thumbnail for a handy preview and view a higher number of videos without the need for scrolling. Let’s be honest, we are inherently lazy when it comes to internet usage, so we’ll take any time reductions on internet browsing.

3. Free stuff

You heard, Bing gives you free stuff for using Bing. Akin to a loyalty card in your local cafe, Bing offers a similar reward scheme using a points system. Sure it’s not a technical reason to use Bing, but there’s nothing like a bit of bribery to win people over!

Called Microsoft Rewards, it works by awarding you points every time you search. These points can be redeemed for a whole variety of outlets, from Starbucks to Amazon and everything in between. Okay, you don’t get a huge amount of points for a single search, but it all adds up. And let’s face it, you are essentially earning money from something you’d already be doing.

In short, Google doesn’t pay you, Bing does. Tempting!

4. Social media integration

When it comes to social media integration with the SERPs, Bing is the clear winner. It would have been remiss of Bing not to take advantage of the deals between parent company Microsoft and Facebook and Twitter. With more access to social data, Bing results feature trending news from social media in the news search results.

Google originally only had Google+ to rely on in terms of social networks (need I say more?). However, following Google’s firehose API with Twitter that now ensures tweets are displayed in the SERPs, Google is no longer as far behind Bing on the social media integration front.

5. Overall look

There is a general consensus among search engine users that Bing simply looks better. Although the main search results look very similar, other types of searches such as news tend to fare considerably better in the Bing results.

Partially due to the social integration mentioned above, Bing’s results look less cluttered and enticingly cleaner. It may be a minor difference and a relatively small point in the grander scheme of search technicalities but user experience is important and looks inevitably play a big part in this.

Still can’t decide?

Admittedly, it’s a tougher call than we thought between the two search engines. For us, Google is still our preferred search engine, but Bing certainly has its merits, and ultimately it’s about personal preferences. If you’re big on image and video search then you may want to consider a switch to Bing (also if you like free stuff).

As for the quality of the search results, there is no longer much discrepancy between the two. If you’ve got yourself way too invested in the Google vs Bing conundrum and you need a further helping hand in pushing you to a decision, then there’s a tool for helping you compare. Aptly called ‘Bing It On’, it will directly compare the results for any given search query from both search engines side by side.

Now you can compare and contrast until your heart’s content.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our analysis of how Bing’s voice search compares with its biggest rivals: How does Bing’s voice search compare to Google’s?

Or if you want to know which search engine is best for PPC, check out: Bing Ads vs Google AdWords case study: Which offers the better value?

The collision between PR, content, and SEO: How to make it work for you

The full power of the digital marketplace was realized less than a decade ago. Suddenly, customers had seemingly limitless access to engage with brands –– to voice their criticisms and critiques, or to become super fans.

The importance of a website presence, blogging, social media posts and the other aspects of building an online brand seemed to sound the death toll for traditional communications and marketing strategies, like public relations.

However, we are nearing the second decade of the 21st century, and public relations continues to prove itself as an essential element of marketing communications. Like other aspects of marketing, it’s a discipline that has morphed and evolved to fit into the changing digital ecosystem, in which the value of appearing at the top of the search engine results page is arguably equitable with yesteryear’s goal of a front page headline.

Brands attuned to these changes and the importance of integrated, hybrid marketing will find that public relations, SEO and content marketing now heavily influence each other. Successfully leveraging this trio can help build strong brands that drive traffic, customers and revenue.

The digital brand trifecta

A consistent theme throughout the ages, branding – the practice of crafting measured messaging around a product to guide public perception – has always been a pillar for marketing communications.

Simply put, a strong and positive brand image drives customer awareness, recognition and action. The most effective brands, while simple at the surface, conjure complex responses; consider that 90 percent of purchase decisions are made subconsciously.

Evoking the right perception of a brand can make an enormous difference in conversions and revenue – this is where public relations plays a role by subtly inserting brand messaging into external sources that consumers today are more likely to consume and engage with than pushed advertising.

The expansion of the digital world and rise of the separate disciplines SEO and content marketing as a means of reaching consumers through targeted content has resulted in the consolidation of the roles of SEO and content.

The role of public relations has emerged from this phenomenon quite naturally; while content marketing and SEO traditionally focus on on-site content, public relations is the impetus for third party content that drives brand messaging and digital traffic.

Customers today hold brands to high standards: 60 percent of millennials say they expect to have a consistent experience with organizations across the various platforms. Customers expect to be able to interact with brands whenever they want and wherever they want. To meet these needs, organizations themselves need to understand how to integrate their various disciplines to create a uniform voice.

How content marketing, SEO, and public relations overlap

At its core, public relations is essentially about creating excellent professional content that appeals to quality publications, while positioning the brand at the top of readers’ consideration sets.

These goals intertwine tightly with those of content marketing. It is estimated that we now produce more data in two days than has existed for the entirety of the human experience up until 2003, and 39 percent of B2B brands plan on increasing content budget in the next year. The online world has become saturated with content.

However, where we excel in quantity, we lack in quality. Today, consumers demand material that addresses them and their needs while also offering guidance and help. In other words, those in content marketing need to pay equally close attention to the value they are offering and how it satisfies the needs of consumer intent.

SEOs role in companies has always been to boost the rankings of the content the brand produces to get the brand site and name in front of people performing searches on the search engines. By optimizing material for particularly relevant queries, SEOs can help draw the appropriate audience back to the website where leads can be nurtured and converted.

When used correctly, public relations can be a helpful asset in accomplishing these SEO goals. Many popular media outlets, for example, rank highly on the SERP thanks to a strong domain authority.

Brands that find smart ways to insert themselves into these sites –– often via a combination of news coverage and contributed articles –– have the opportunity to establish their presence for particular keywords that may struggle to rank from their own site. This provides an opportunity for brand recognition and to create a brand impression from a place of authority.

Knowledge is the key to the digital brand trifecta of employing public relations, content marketing and SEO to work together and build the brand’s reputation online. Below are steps teams can take to begin to bring these elements into successful harmony.

Aligning SEO, content development and public relations

1. Develop common target personas

Personas remain the key to any successful marketing campaign. They also serve as the cornerstone for successful collaboration between teams.

Generally, public relations professionals will have a general idea of what they want to promote and to whom, while SEO and content marketing professionals may have their own ideas about who they want to target.

Joining the research and considerations that went into developing the target personas on both sides can strengthen them for the brand and ensures that everyone understands the target for particular campaigns.

2. Obliterate working siloes

To achieve maximum success with public relations, you should develop common campaigns that will use principles from both SEO and PR. Combine the resources that each team utilizes to see how they might benefit each other.

For example, the material produced by the public relations team should be appropriately optimized by the SEO team and reviewed by the content team to ensure a consistent voice and to ensure that it ranks for the keywords the organization wants to target.

The public relations team can also work with the SEO and content teams to secure contributed columns and backlinks from reputable publications. Remember that content marketing is not just about producing content, it also needs to incorporate distribution. Coordinating with public relations can ensure that this piece is not overlooked.

3. Collaborate on content

Although SEO, content marketing and public relations teams will have different central goals, they should run their campaigns using a common base. Keywords that the SEO team targets, for example can also be incorporated into press releases to boost brand recognition.

If there are words that the domain struggles to rank for, creating press releases for well-regarded publications can help capture these rankings.

Reputable publications speaking about important research or releases that your brand has can lend greater credibility to these announcements, making it easier for your on-site announcements to gain traction and engagement.

4. Measure your progress and success

As with any marketing effort, brands need to measure every step of their collaboration between these three key teams. Look at KPIs that let you see how well customers engaged with material, the amount of traffic and leads being driven from press releases and how having a strong PR campaign impacts the engagement and conversion metrics across other aspects of the marketing strategy.

Look at the numbers before and after the efforts have been used, as well as the impact across different buyer personas and stages of the buyer’s journey. The greater the insight and understanding you have, the easier it will be to identify strengths and weaknesses of the campaign.

In sum, public relations is far from dead. Its value has grown to become one of three essential digital marketing elements. The marketing efforts that brands must use to build their organization’s name and shape the reputation of their brand online continue to remain of critical importance.

The difference now, however, lies in the means of this self-promotion. Public relations now has the strongest impact when it finds a strategic home with SEO and content marketing. The closer you can align these different departments, the easier it will be to see how public relations can be helpful in boosting your brand.

How to use demand generation channels to effectively expand your reach

As Q4 approaches, it’s crucial that you plan to capitalize on all the traffic that comes with it.

We all know how effective search is, but it’s also limited to those already in the hunt for what you’re offering.

To continue to scale, you need to effectively get in front of audiences that aren’t yet interested – but could be! – in your service/product. That’s where demand generation comes in, and marketers have more (and better) options for demand generation than ever.

As we head full-steam into Q4, here’s a list of demand generation channels, considerations of when to make use of them to expand your reach, and best practices we’ve honed across clients of all budgets.

Google Display Network

Once rather maligned, the GDN provides a number of targeting options that allow you to leverage the thousands of data points they collect on users across the web. Among the most effective targeting options when it comes to both demand generation and direct response are:

Keyword contextual targeting

Choose your top 10-15 keywords and let Google place ads accordingly.

My strong recommendation is to start off with content-based keyword targeting first; this gives you more control over what is being targeted (websites relevant to your keywords). When you select “audience”-based keyword contextual targeting, you end up targeting a significantly larger group of users where the targeting is not only websites relevant to your keywords but also audiences who may be interested.

This gives Google a lot of power to find users – but it also opens you up to more risk. By starting out with content, you are taking a low-risk approach to GDN. As you see success and build up conversion history, feel free to experiment with audience targeting.

In-market audiences

Based on audience behavior, Google determines users who are currently shopping for different products/categories. The feature combines search intent with display’s reach, and it’s definitely worth testing.

Custom affinity audiences

If you provide Google with competitor websites or industry-relevant domains, CAA will analyze the types of audiences visiting those sites (demographics, interests, website topics) and target audiences similar to them. I recommend that you test by starting off with your top 5 competitors.

As you build conversions – about 40+ conversions is a good benchmark – I would strongly recommend switching your bidding style to CPA optimizer and allowing Google to leverage its thousands of data points and optimize towards your target CPA. We’ve had a lot of success with this option.

Facebook/Instagram

The Facebook/Instagram duo offers powerful audience targeting capabilities. We’ve seen two strategies work consistently:

Make use of lookalike targeting and base your seed lists off your customers

Rather than taking your full customer list, however, segment by identifiable characteristics. I typically recommend high LTV or high AOV, or segmenting by category/type depending on the product or business. If you have a big enough seed list, start by testing a 1% audience, as those users will be most similar to your existing customers.

Use interest/behavior targeting and insights from the platform’s Audience Insights tool

Upload your top customers to Audience Insights and analyze the valuable demographic, interest-based data. Now begin building various personas of audiences you want to target (each ad set should represent a different persona).

When selecting your targeting options within Facebook, layer in demographic data from the Insights tool to make these audiences more relevant.

Pinterest

I recommend this fast-growing channel more for ecommerce than B2B. Remember that Pinterest is somewhat intent-driven, as users are typing in keywords to look for relevant pins. Start off with your top keyword list and test from there, and focus on strong creative that can stand out among the many other pins.

Your Pinterest creative should be eye-catching, high quality, and include compelling images of the product. Write detailed descriptions highlighting the most compelling aspects of the product and inviting users to click on ad, and leverage text overlays on your pins to help any core message stand out.

Twitter

Twitter tends to perform well for B2B or more technical businesses. I recommend that you leverage lookalike targeting on your top-performing customer segments; you can also try targeting followers of certain influencers who may be core to your brand or followers of competitors in the industry.

Last general recommendation: begin leveraging these options ASAP so you can build up a retargeting audience to engage when purchase motivation is higher. Cast a wide net now, and you’ll have more fish to land in the holiday season.

How does Bing’s voice search compare to Google’s?

bing-it-on-1347020038

Google remains the dominant player in search marketing, but the industry is changing very rapidly and the old certainties may erode. Does voice search provide a platform for Microsoft to compete?

A study earlier this year revealed that Microsoft’s speech recognition technology demonstrated only a 5.1 percent word error rate in Switchboard, a conversational speech recognition task. This shows impressive development and shows that Microsoft is more than competitive in this domain, but it is only part of the picture.

Speech recognition and voice recognition are significantly different. The former extracts words and comprehends what is said; the latter also understand who said it. We could frame this as content and context.

Context will be the defining factor in who becomes the dominant player in voice search, with an increasing amount of internet-enabled devices providing the opportunity for a seamless, conversational experience.

No doubt, search is at the very heart of this battle.

Bing has positioned itself as simply a more effective search engine, with campaigns like Bing It On aimed at showing users the quality of its results compared to those of Google.

Occasionally we see stories of impressive user growth for Bing, but never quite enough to suggest a significant threat to Google’s totemic stature. Latest estimates from Smart Insights put Google’s global share of the search market at 77%, with Bing on about 8%.

The signs so far suggest that Google will remain the dominant search player in the West, but the sands are shifting and it is increasingly difficult to predict where the industry will go. With a newly-announced partnership with Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft is clearly not going to give up the fight.

So, if search is the glue that holds this together, what is Microsoft’s strategy to compete with Google? We know Microsoft’s speech recognition technology is effective, but how do its voice search capabilities stack up?

Microsoft voice search: the key details

Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, is embedded into Windows-enabled devices and into Microsoft’s Edge internet browser. That provides access to over half a billion users, once we factor in Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles.

Cortana has a multitude of uses. It helps users navigate the Windows interface and can respond to a multitude of wider queries, powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine, for example.

Of course, mobile is a core focus and therefore Cortana is available via a range of Microsoft mobile hardware and software.

Like other digital assistants, Cortana is always ready to answer queries on a Windows device. It now prompts users to test its broadening functionalities by pushing notifications like “Ask me to remind you to buy eggs next time you’re at the supermarket” or “Would you like to know which song is playing?”

It can be a bit creepy and intrusive, but for the most part users will only really notice Cortana when they need to use it. The list of prompts is quite formulaic and Cortana simply searches a query on Bing when it can’t understand what the user wants.

All of this functionality is at its best when a user is logged in across a range of Microsoft devices, however. The same is true of any digital assistant, but the the respective cases of Apple and Google this is simply more likely to occur.

This means that Cortana misses out on vital context, not through any technological shortcoming, but rather through the lack of mass adoption of Microsoft’s hardware.

On the software front, Microsoft fares better. There are now over 100 million monthly users of Cortana via Windows 10, and the latest edition of the Edge browser continues to bring voice search to the fore.

This is still not quite enough to make a significant dent in Google’s lead, however. One of the most searched-for technology-based phrases on Bing is [google], after all.

Microsoft’s voice search strategy

The challenge for Microsoft has always been to gain enough of the valuable mobile software market to compete with Apple and Google.

Where Apple controls a very profitable section of both the hardware and software ecosystems, Google has historically focused on its Android OS as a Trojan horse to ensure continued use of its products on a wide range of devices.

With Google Home, the Google Pixel smartphone, and Google’s soon-to-be-completed purchase of Taiwanese smartphone company HTC, the focus has shifted to hardware as the Internet of Things comes of age.

Microsoft’s Invoke smart speaker ensures it has a seat at the table, but it is the partnership with Amazon’s highly successful Echo speakers that should increase usage numbers for Cortana.

Invoke

Microsoft has always fared well in the enterprise market (albeit under increasing competition from Apple and Google here, too), but the personal smartphone market has been harder to break.

Further integrations with popular platforms such as Spotify, to go along with Microsoft’s ownership of Skype, could start to position Cortana as an appealing alternative to the walled garden approach of Apple.

How does Microsoft voice search differ from Google voice search?

Although both function in similar ways, there are some core areas of differentiation:

  • Speech recognition: Cortana does this fantastically well and, although Google Assistant is still very accurate, small margins do matter in this arena. Although only a sample size of one, I can also attest that Cortana comprehends my Irish brogue much more accurately than Google Assistant.
  • Business task management: Cortana can be a huge timesaver with commands like “Pull up the latest version of my task tracker.” With full access to the Windows OS, it can locate documents quite easily and reduce time spent on laborious document searching.
  • Context: When a user is logged in across Windows products, Cortana can serve accurate contextual results. See below for an example of the same phrase searched by voice on a Windows laptop using Cortana and Google:

Cortana-Leeds

The differences are slight, but telling. Cortana knows that I am currently in Spain (I am using a Windows laptop), and therefore provides the kick-off in my local time. Google is not privy to this information and serves the result in Eastern Time, as my account is based in the US.

When results default to Bing, it all gets a little hairier.

I follow up by asking who will be in the starting lineup and receive a bizarre result about the USA soccer team, a news story about a Leeds starting lineup from three years ago, and some news about the Leeds music festival.

Leeds line-up

Google does a better job of this, but both lack the immediacy that integration with a social media feed would provide:
Google Leeds

This same pattern plays out across a wide range of travel, weather, and commercial queries. When Cortana can pull an immediate answer, it does so very capably; when it resorts to providing a list of search results from Bing, the quality varies. Google therefore represents a much more consistent, reliable option.

The new partnership with Amazon may open a range of avenues for Microsoft to reach a wider audience, which will only help to refine these recommendations. For the moment, Google’s superior search experience remains its trump card in the battle for digital assistant supremacy.

In summary

A graphic comparing the voice search capabilities of Microsoft and Google, respectively. Under the Microsoft section, the pros are listed as: speech recognition, ecommerce offering via Amazon, and Skype integration. The cons are listed as: voice recognition, lack of third-party integrations, and Bing search results. The devices which support Microsoft voice search are listed as: Microsoft devices, Windows 10 and Microsoft Edge. Under the Google section, the pros are listed as: context recognition, linked to all Google products, and Google search. The cons are listed as: speech recognition is flawed, shopping offering is a work in progress. The devices which support Google voice search are listed as: Android devices, Google Chrome and Chromebooks.

Image created by Clark Boyd