Switching to HTTPS: Is it really worth it?

Ever since Google made the announcement that HTTPS is a ranking signal, there has been a lot of discussion around whether that extra ‘s’ is really worth the hassle.

There are clear benefits to obtaining that sought-after green padlock, but there is also a lot of nervousness around actually making the switch.

The apprehension is understandable; as with any big change to a website, mistakes have the potential to be extremely costly – both to the user experience and to search visibility. Any risk of a drop in rankings has SEOs quivering in their boots.

However, this is not reason enough to avoid the change. There has been an almighty push towards creating a more secure web. There is a pressure for website owners to take responsibility for the security of their sites; those who do will be duly rewarded by Google.

What does HTTPS actually mean?

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure; not that this will help you understand it any more than you did a few seconds ago.

As Google explains, HTTPS “protects the integrity and confidentiality of data between the user’s computer and site.” This involves three layers of protection: encryption (goodbye eavesdroppers), data integrity (goodbye corrupt data) and authentication (goodbye attacks).

In short, HTTPS is essential for ensuring a safe and secure experience for users of a website. This is of paramount importance in an age where internet security is coming under increasing threats from all angles.

Having said all that, it is worth mentioning that HTTPS does not make your site an impenetrable fortress. Even with the best security in the world, a site can still come under attack.

That’s just an unfortunate reality of our digital age – look at the recent ransomware attacks across the globe. Nevertheless, HTTPS sure does help.

Benefits of HTTPS

First and foremost from an SEO perspective, Google considers site security to be a ranking signal and will favour websites with HTTPS. Although it is currently only a ‘lightweight’ ranking signal and will therefore only affect a very small number of search queries, we expect this to evolve.

Much like the shift towards mobile-friendly websites, which started gaining momentum and then suddenly slapped us in the face with the (albeit underwhelming) #mobilegeddon and mobile-first indexing, it is only a matter of time before secure sites become more of a priority. In addition, we love the theory of marginal gains so every little helps!

The effectiveness of a move to HTTPS will likely be determined by the type of website. For example, ecommerce sites will certainly benefit the most from a switch to HTTPS. Where payment or the exchange of sensitive data is involved, security becomes critical.

Migrating to HTTPS may not yet be as important as high quality content or link-building prowess but it would be foolish to dismiss its importance on these grounds.

There are further benefits, too, in the realm of user experience; visitors will be more trusting of your website and confident in its ability to provide a safe browsing experience for them. Plus, let’s not forget the peace of mind it will bring you knowing that your site is protected with that little ‘s’.

Concerns with HTTPS

But – and there’s always a but. Just the thought of migrating from HTTP to HTTPS is enough to strike fear into those responsible for the move. What if I accidentally block important URLs in robots.txt? What if it slows the speed of my site? What if my web applications aren’t compatible with HTTPS? What if I mess up the redirects and canonical tags? What if the rankings of my site plummet, never to return? What if my website just DISAPPEARS off the face of the digital ecosystem?

These are (mostly) legitimate concerns but they should not stop you. Here at Yellowball, we recently decided to make the move.

We had similar concerns, especially that we might see an initial drop in rankings and weren’t sure how long this would last. But alas, we made sure that those responsible for the move knew exactly what they were doing and we followed the best practices (getting to these shortly).

So, did anything terrible happen? We have seen a slight drop in rankings but these are already climbing back to normal and we expect to see an overall improvement in the long run. So no, nothing bad happened and now we can all relax in the knowledge that the big move is done.

HTTPS migration checklist

Mistakes can be made during a migration, so it’s important that you do your research and ensure the process is handled correctly. If you follow this step-by-step checklist and enlist the help of someone who knows their stuff, you’ll be just fine.

  • Obtain a security certificate (usually referred to as an SSL certificate). Ensure you choose a high-level security option: Google recommends a 2018-bit key. You can get these certificates from a certificate authority but we recommend buying one from your hosting company, as they will usually help you install it.
  • Set up redirects to ensure that all of your old HTTP pages redirect to the new HTTPS pages. There may only be one tiny difference of an ‘s’ but this still makes the URLs completely separate. Create a URL map that lists all of the old URLs with their corresponding new ones. If you have been wanting to make any tweaks to your URL structure for a little while then now is the opportune time to do it. Be sure to use permanent 301 redirects (rather than temporary 302 redirects).
  • Update internal links so that these all point directly to the new HTTPS pages, rather than having to redirect.
  • Update all other resources including images, downloads and other scripts, as these will all need to point to the correct HTTPS locations too.
  • Avoid blocking your HTTPS site from crawling using robots.txt and avoid the ‘noindex’ tag.
  • Reindex your site via Google Search Console and submit your new sitemap. Note that you will have to create a new property, due to the different URL. You cannot just submit to the old property and expect it to work.
  • Test all is working correctly using this SSL Server test. If there are any technical issues then get in touch with your host or a developer to resolve problems quickly.
  • This is not a comprehensive list so it is worth enlisting the help of an expert. Remember that you can check the data in your Google Search Console to find out whether there are any URL or crawl errors.

    Conclusion

    All in all, it is clear to us that the benefits of migrating to HTTPS outweigh the potential pitfalls. Having a secure site will only become increasingly important and there’s every possibility that we will eventually face the HTTPS equivalent of mobilegeddon (securigeddon?).

    Having said that, there are times where making the move may not be necessary. For example, if you run a personal blog, get only a small number of website visitors and don’t expect this to increase dramatically in the new few years.

    However, if you are expecting to see a rise in traffic, or if you already see high volumes of traffic then our advice is to make the switch.

    In short, Google says so. So do it.

    How to optimize your content for Q&As

    Google is perpetually improving its understanding of natural language. Google Featured Snippets and the rise of voice search optimization has made optimizing your content for question based queries more important than ever.

    You may have seen these Featured Snippets pop up in position zero after asking or typing a question in Google’s search bar. The benefit of earning a snippet is now clear to businesses and brands. In fact, Google Featured Snippets have an estimated worth of $3 million dollars, according to snippet research presented by Rob Bucci.

    We all know what a snippet is…

    How do you get a snippet for your site, product, service, or blog content?

    The quick answer: Optimize your content for Q&A’s. However, there are no guarantees – even Google noted that there is no simple way to mark a page for a Featured Snippet:

    Google’s Featured Snippet support page explains that, “What’s different with a featured snippet is that it is enhanced to draw user attention on the results page. When we recognize that a query asks a question, we programmatically detect pages that answer the user’s question, and display a top result as a featured snippet in the search results.”

    People are searching with more LSI question-based queries to find exactly what they want answers for. Knowing where to find the questions your target audience is asking, and how to answer those questions to help Google choose your content for position zero, is essential.

    Let’s take a deeper look into the “HOW” behind Q&A content optimization for your next Featured Snippet.

    1. Use Google to Your Advantage

    Finding the questions searchers want answers for is simpler than you may think. In fact, Google will often provide a nice selection of alternatives when you search a query you think your target audience might use.

    Remember this snippet from above? Sometimes, but not always, Google will display a list of “People will also ask” questions for you to draw from.

    This is an excellent starting point for your question-based query research. As you click on each of these results, new questions may appear, until Google runs out of that cluster of related question data.

    Another way you can use Google to help find appropriate questions around is to look at the LSI keywords at the bottom of SERPs.

    You can usually find one or more question queries to investigate there. For instance, clicking on “what is seo and how it works.”

    This will return another SERP Google Featured Snippet with even more question based queries.

    This takes you even further down the Featured Snippet rabbit hole, allowing you to build a healthy list to use as a foundation for creating ‘snippable’ content.

    But Google isn’t your only resource . . .

    2. Use Other Tools and Platforms

    Google is not the only place to find Q&As to optimize content around. There are a few other useful sites and platforms that will assist you in building your question based query list.

    Quora

    Quora is all about asking and answering questions. You can use this online platform to see what people really want answer for in your niche. It is also extremely easy to use.

    First, type in your niche in the search bar . . .

    This will take you to your niche’s board.

    You will see the number of people following the topic and have more options listed for you to browse questions your target audience may be asking. You can also simply scroll down and get an idea of the latest questions being asked.

    Create a database of potential questions on Quora that you can answer on your own website.

    BloomBerry

    Another useful online platform for finding questions for Q&A content optimization is BloomBerry.

    You can use this tool to find questions in your niche, questions people are asking about products that may be similar to yours, as well as questions people are asking about your competitors.

    Now that you have a few online spaces to find the questions your audience wants answers for, it is time to begin optimizing your Q&A content marketing initiative.

    3. Optimize Content Around Popular Question Words

    For obvious reasons, you want to begin your content using the question you aim to answer. This tells Google that you are indeed offering up an exceptional answer that is worth a Featured Snippet.

    The How, What, Where, When, Who, and Why words need to be in your heading tags. Why? Google likes snippable content easy and concise.

    If you are wondering which question keywords you should focus on, those question based queries beginning with “How” and “What” have the highest search volumes.

    4. Optimize Content with a FAQ Page

    You may have content optimized for Google Featured Snippets, but you simply aren’t getting the position zero results you hoped for. One way you can improve your chances is to improve search with a FAQ page.

    Chances are, you are answering key questions your audience wants answers for. By creating a FAQ page with these timely questions can add value to your overall user experience, as well as maximize position zero chances.

    Round up the articles that answer question based queries and create a FAQ landing page with outbound links to each of those articles.

    Google can also draw snippable content from your FAQ page like this example from Stanford University . . .

    And its corresponding Google Featured Snippet . . .

    5. Snippable On-Page Optimization

    If you still haven’t started your snippet campaign quite yet, there are a few important on-page optimization techniques you can easily employ to boost your position zero success.

    Heading Tags

    When developing your content for a Featured Snippet, begin with headings. Your Question based query should be in an h1 or h2 tag.

    Paragraph Tags

    Next is your body text under the question based query heading. This text should be in a paragraph (

    ) tag.

    Word Count

    Research on Google Featured Snippets has found a correlation between word count and position zero. An analysis by SEMrush found that 40 to 50 words is the sweet spot for snippets.

    Try Different Formats

    Google Featured Snippets come in a variety of formats. There is the traditional paragraph snippet, as well as bulleted snippets, table snippets, numbered snippets, “steps” and “rules” snippets, and even charts and graphs.

    Charts and graphs

    In the chart above, Brilliance created a simple diamond size chart to show the difference between MM size and Carat weight, which Google picked up the first few rows.

    Numbered format

    In the example above, Yoas has a number list with simple, short items, and people can click on “More items” to view the rest.

    You get the idea. Paragraph snippets are often the easiest, but if you have a great step-by-step article you would like to optimize for Q&A content, give it a try.

    Are You Ready to Optimize for Position Zero?

    Intelligent marketers will start creating a Q&A optimization strategy, given the trend towards natural language processing, voice search, and Google’s quest to bring the world’s knowledge to people’s fingers right from the search results page.

    By earning the snippet, you are giving people the information they want right away, which results in them clicking through to learn more and gaining trust over your information. It’s a powerful strategy that all marketers should be bringing into their mix.

    7 things to consider when choosing an ecommerce platform

    Ecommerce has been growing steadily in popularity for the last 10 years. Online sales jumped up nearly 15% last year across the board, and they’re predicted to only increase in the future. If you’re starting a business and selling products and/or services, an ecommerce site is crucial in order to capitalize on this explosive online sales growth.

    While you could hire a web developer to get your business started, those costs can inhibit your ability to grow rapidly. Opting for an already-developed ecommerce platform saves you time as well as money.

    The double-edged sword, however, is that there are tons of options available to you—how do you know you’re choosing the right one? This article outlines some things you’ll need to consider when you’re looking for the best ecommerce platform for your business.

    1. Pricing and Payment

    The first thing you should consider when searching for an ecommerce platform is the price. Whether you’re a small business just getting started or an already established brick & mortar business moving online, you need to know exactly what you’ll be paying.

    Almost all platforms will have a monthly fee. Depending on the type of platform you get (self-hosted vs. hosted) the costs may vary. You should also consider the processing fees that will be associated with the platform. Don’t sacrifice the things you’ll definitely need for a cheaper price. Try to weigh the pros and cons of each to get the best for your budget. Below is a great chart of just a few of the top platforms from Ecommerce-Platforms:

    You should also consider how your customers will be paying. Some platforms don’t offer the ability to pay via third party vendors (such as PayPal). This could end up being a huge inconvenience for your customers – a frustration which can lead to shopping cart abandonment. Don’t take this risk; decide which forms of payment you’ll accept first and remember this when you’re looking at the different software.

    2. Integrations

    Another factor you should consider when looking at ecommerce platforms is their integrations and plugins. Most platforms, such as Shopify, will have plenty of tools for you to run your business. Your business needs will be a determining factor when deciding on the plugins that will work best for you. When looking at the different platforms, think of what tools you’ll need or already use for your business. Here are some of the most popular types of plugins that you should look out for:

    • Accounting plugins to help with sales, taxes, revenues, and profits
    • Email marketing tools to help you keep in contact with your customers
    • A platform that helps you reward your customers for using your products
    • Apps to help with shipping your products

    3. SEO Friendliness

    Ecommerce businesses are not exempt from working on their SEO. In fact, it can be highly beneficial to have your store rank high in search results. You want your customers to find you when they’re searching for products like yours.

    Some of the most important factors when looking for an SEO friendly platform include:

    • The ability to add a blog to your website
    • The ability to use your own domain name
    • The ability for customers to leave reviews

    You can learn more about SEO for an ecommerce website here.

    4. Mobile Friendliness

    Did you know nearly 60% of searches are done from mobile devices? Often those searches continue on to a purchase from a mobile device. This means its important to look for platforms that allow customers to easily access your website as well as make a purchase on their mobile device. Below is a great example from Shopify:

    5. Customer Service

    A key aspect of any business is its customer service. As the experience provided by traditional brick-and-mortar businesses is based in a physical store, they typically have more control over how smoothly their business runs.

    Ecommerce is a whole different ballgame; software outages and server downtimes are often out of your control, and will prevent any of your customers from accessing your business. Odds are that at one point your servers will crash at the worst possible moment. This can affect both your revenue and your brand image.

    Having someone to call at any time to help you get things up and running again is a huge factor when you’re looking at ecommerce platforms. Take a look at each platform’s customer service—are they available 24/7? How are you able to reach them? How many levels of support are offered, and what does each cost? Think about these questions and make sure you ask them before you decide on your platform.

    6. Security

    No one want to enter their credit card information on a sketchy website, which is why security is becoming one of the biggest concerns among consumers. While most software today will have robust security as standard, always check to make sure your platform supports HTTPS/SSL for a safe and secure checkout for your customers.

    Also, make sure that any platform you choose is PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant. BigCommerce explains more here, and below is a screenshot that gives you a taste of what it takes to become compliant:

    7. Scalability

    All business owners hope their business will grow in the future, but you may not know to what extent. Nonetheless, it’s important to look for a platform that will scale along with your business.

    You don’t want to pay for features and storage that you’re not using when you first start out. You also want to keep up with higher demands as your business takes off. Choose a platform that you can scale to your business size and that won’t charge you outrageous fees for doing so.

    The Takeaway

    Starting any new business is challenging, but moving away from the traditional store front to an online version can be a little daunting—especially with so many options for you to start with—which is why choosing an ecommerce platform is so difficult for many business owners. Figuring out what your store will need as you grow and keeping up with trends is a challenge, but it is well worth it in the end to create processes that work and will scale with your business. Knowing what to look for ahead of time makes choosing a platform an easier process and can help you find success!

    What features do you look for in ecommerce software? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

    Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for HigherVisibility, a full service SEO agency, and a contributor to SEW. You can connect with Amanda at AmandaDiSilvestro.com.

    6 ways to market your local business online (beyond Google maps)

    dirjournal

    Local businesses have lots of great opportunities to use digital channels to their advantage. Here are a few actionable ways to promote your local business online apart from the most important (and the most obvious) one: Getting verified on Google Maps.

    Most of the time I try to avoid making very general statements when it comes to small companies. That is because the ways that businesses market to their audiences are not held back by expectation; they have every opportunity to apply innovation and creativity to their efforts.

    However, I do feel able to make at least one sweeping statement: online visibility is crucial for local businesses. While you can also focus on IRL advertisements, your efforts will be far less impressive than the online equivalent.

    Evidence for the effectiveness of online visibility comes from Google’s findings that 50% of all Google smartphone users who searched for a local business went there within 24 hours. In spite of this, as many as 60% of small businesses don’t have a website, with half of those feeling they are too small to need one… what?!

    This is a huge mistake. Businesses should be spending more time than ever marketing online, not just on Yelp or Google Maps, either. Here are six areas to focus on if you want to see real results.

    1. Show off your knowledge of the local landscape

    Writing local guides is perfect for showing your knowledge, getting social media shares and promoting your local business to an audience that cares about the city you live in.

    A local second hand clothing shop near me is well known for creating local guides that tie into their brand. For instance they create top lists for things like “Best Places in [City] to Find Second Hand Clothes That Are Like New” and “Top 10 Most Incredible Thrift Shop Finds”, using photos of items found by their customers.

    Another shop that sells outdoors gear regularly writes blog posts about the best hiking, camping, fishing, nature walk trails and more. It is a never ending list of relevant ideas that catch people’s attention and make them want to share.

    Useful resource: Starting a blog may still be quite an overwhelming undertaking for local businesses. There are too many steps involved. This downloadable cheatsheet is a nice way to get you through the process safely.

    2. Get listed in popular local directories

    Many people use local directories to discover local businesses and read their ratings. And Yellow Pages is not the only option here! Here are a few examples of traffic-heavy local directories that will give your business some visibility:

    • Dirjournal Local
    • BizJournals
    • Angie’s List
    • Yellowbook

    3. Find local bloggers and journalists

    Connections are everything and today’s technology allows you to find bloggers nearby or journalists covering your area.

    Twitter is the perfect medium for finding and connecting to local voices:

    • Use Twitter lists to closely monitor and engage with those local Twitter profiles
    • Help them by sharing their articles regularly
    • Develop those relationships by inviting them to your Twitter chats or local meetups

    There are a few powerful Twitter bio search tools that allow you to find those Twitter profiles to connect to.

    Featured tool: Twiangulate is best free tool to search Twitter for bios. You can set the location name to be mentioned in the bio along with the keyword that represents your prospecting purposes.

    Twiangulate

    For example, you can search for journalists located in Albany, New York:

    Twiangulate search results

    Search results include Twitter users who have indicated the city both in the bio and the “Location” section of the profile.

    4. Monitor and market local hashtags

    Hashtags have long become part of our life. People use them freely on both Twitter and Instagram and online tools make it easy to monitor the sentiment.

    Local hashtags are a goldmine for customer research and outreach:

    • Learn what people in your area are doing on the weekends, what they think about local entertainment, where they donate money and volunteer;
    • Discover hyper-local events that other marketers haven’t tapped into;
    • Find local holidays and special occasions
    • Identify more local influencers to connect to

    Featured tools:

    Use Keyhole to identify related hashtags and influencers tweeting your local hashtag:

    Keyhole

    Cyfe is a great way to monitor hashtags that won’t overwhelm you. It allows you to create multiple widgets, each for one hashtag you want to track. It will also archive results for you to dig deeper if you miss a few days of monitoring:

    Cyfe

    Sprout Social is a multi-feature social media marketing platform that allows you to monitor non-local hashtags which were published in your area:

    Sprout Social

    5. Monitor local competitors & peers

    Keeping an eye on other businesses nearby is a great way to discover more marketing opportunities. And it’s not just about competitors: Keep an eye on those nearby brands that can become your partners or simply can inspire some marketing tactics that can be applied to your industry too.

    Featured tool: SE Ranking is a powerful platform allowing to monitor hyper-local Google search results. This will allow you to spot rising competitors to analyze their tactics. For each city/zip code you will get separate list of your competitors (you can ad them to a separate list and start monitoring them) and get total visibility score for each and every one of them. This helps with building marketing strategy based on the deep competitor research intelligence:

    SE Ranking local

    6. Invest in local social media ads

    Here’s the most obvious – yet surprisingly still the most ignored – bit of advice: be active. Social media is not a passive pursuit and social advertising is only a small part of the equation.

    Facebook pages now give an average time for communication responses as well as a measurement of how active a page is. Twitter is an open community where going a single day without posting can mean death for a profile. Instagram is ever growing and should only be ignored at great risk.

    Both platforms offer an opportunity to reach (hyper-)local customers through their social media advertising offering. You can set your local targeting as specific as you want and create relationships with local Facebook users through regular interactions.

    Facebook hyperlocal

    The same targeting feature is available for Twitter:

    Twitter local targeting

    Regular social media interaction – both for customer service and brand promotion – will greatly improve your visibility and engagement. Constant monitoring is necessary, but it may be worth hiring someone part-time to manage social profiles and engage with customers. Otherwise you risk a dead space where your social marketing should be!

    Do you have any tips to add for local businesses struggling to improve their online marketing? Let us know in the comments!

    Does it matter what department your SEO team is in?

    Whether in an agency environment or inside a business, your SEO team is affected by where it’s placed within the organization.

    But first, a caveat: there isn’t one correct answer for how every company or agency should do things. With that said, understanding the influences in play with certain organizational placements can help you make wiser decisions as you look at the logistics of categorizing an SEO team.

    So what are the options for where you locate your SEO team?

    Separate SEO department

    We’ll start with the obvious answer. Let SEO be its own department. This works for medium to large teams that are able to have their own leadership structure and growth opportunities.

    The benefits of having this team operate independently include being able to segment the department into functional groups, such as technical SEO, content marketing, link building, etc.

    Another benefit is that SEO processes are not biased by another department’s focus. When recommendations come from the SEO department, the purposes behind them are clear and specific.

    Strategy department

    The strategy department, when present in a company or agency, is responsible for driving customer persona development and business insight research, and then turning those data points into actionable initiatives that will drive the business forward.

    Having the SEO team under this department can be a symbiotic relationship. Since the strategy department is often on the leading edge of initiatives, having SEO as part of the department can ensure that SEO is being considered from the beginning. The strategy department also benefits from the insights derived from organic search audits and competitive analysis.

    Tech department/developers

    This is the team responsible for setting up domains, coding the website(s), maintaining the webpages, and more.

    Being part of this department allows the SEO team to help direct optimizations and have better visibility into site content before it’s launched. This also has the benefit of making SEO part of the ongoing maintenance process.

    The SEO team also gains visibility into the tech backlog, and a solid understanding of the implementation time available for testing and optimization.

    Digital marketing/advertising

    The digital media buying and marketing department has components that align directly with SEO – specifically, Pay-Per-Click (PPC) or Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaigns.

    Continuous coordination between PPC and SEO allows for building search engine results page visibility, and an understanding of where both PPC and SEO efforts should be enhanced to maximize conversion opportunities. Ensuring that top of page placements for relevant terms are achieved by the best methods possible can increase revenue, and lower ad costs.

    Creative/copywriters

    Google’s algorithm changes around ranking websites based on content and design factors has increased the need for collaboration in executing an organization’s creative and SEO processes.

    The coordination between copywriting and SEO has been very well documented and continues to be required for optimal results. However, a lesser known opportunity is available in collaborations involving site design and SEO. The visual treatment of content is now a key factor given Google’s updated ranking algorithm.

    With this new factor in play, housing SEO within the creative department can create a seamless collaboration between SEO, copy, and design, which will ultimately enhance search engine rankings.

    Analytics

    The analytics department holds the keys to the data warehouse, and enables the organization to understand how customers are interacting with the site when they arrive via organic search results.

    Data points are the basis of great search engine optimization. Without analyzing data before and after the optimization process, the SEO team is wading into murky unknown waters. Even when launching a brand-new site, the SEO team needs to work directly with the analytics department to make sure the data they need is there when they need it once the site launches.

    Having this close and constant interaction helps increase the opportunity to make smart changes that drive conversions.

    Place a relevant expert in each key department

    Given the needs for specificity in SEO implementation mentioned above, another option is to embed a relevant SEO expert within each of the departments where they ought to have influence.

    Because SEO touches upon so many specialties, distributing expertise across the organization can offer a host of advantages. Housing experts that can help guide optimizations in the relevant departments increases not only smart implementations, but can foster a testing culture in each of those departments, as they bounce ideas and discussions off each other while working together.

    Other departments that need the SEO team’s ear, and vice-versa
    UX

    The UX department (sometimes placed within creative or tech departments) needs to work closely with SEO experts in developing how a user interacts with the site, and the user experience once visitors arrive from search engines.

    Social

    SEO experts, now more than ever, need to understand the conversations happening among their customers. What are they saying about their needs and issues? How can create content address those needs and communicate solutions to them?

    Social strategists can help the SEO team understand those dialogues, and connect the right content with the right customers.

    Sales/Resourcing

    When providing SEO services to the organization, or to an outside party in the case of an agency, ensuring that SEO tasks are accounted for from the beginning and properly resourced is vital to success. Confirming that the SEO team is on the same page as far as the tasks being performed and the level of engagement involved also means scheduling adequate time to capitalize on the identified opportunities.

    Final thoughts

    Regardless of where your SEO team is housed, the key to this team’s success is constant communication. Keeping them in the loop on pertinent initiatives and ideas will allow them to head off any potential SEO issues, and to offer up implementations that will help the organization reach or exceed its goals.

    Kevin Gamache is Senior Search Strategist at Wire Stone, an independent digital marketing agency for global Fortune 1000 brands.

    A world without “(not provided)”: How unlocking organic keyword data leads to a better web

    Beginning in 2011, search marketers began to lose visibility over the organic keywords that consumers were using to find their websites, as Google gradually switched all of its searches over to secure search using HTTPS.

    As it did so, the organic keyword data available to marketers in Google Analytics, and other analytics platforms, slowly became replaced by “(not provided)”. By 2014, the (not provided) issue was estimated to impact 80-90% of organic traffic, representing a massive loss in visibility for search marketers and website owners.

    Marketers have gradually adjusted to the situation, and most have developed rough workarounds or ways of guessing what searches are bringing customers to their site. Even so, there’s no denying that having complete visibility over organic keyword data once more would have a massive impact on the search industry – as well as benefits for SEO.

    One company believes that it has found the key to unlocking “(not provided)” keyword data. We spoke to Daniel Schmeh, MD and CTO at Keyword Hero, a start-up which has set out to solve the issue of “(not provided)”, and ‘Wizard of Moz’ Rand Fishkin, about how “(not provided)” is still impacting the search industry in 2017, and what a world without it might look like.

    Content produced in association with Keyword Hero.

    “(not provided)” in Google Analytics: How does it impact SEO?

    “The “(not provided)” keyword data issue is caused by Google the search engine, so that no analytics program, Google Analytics included, can get the data directly,” explains Rand Fishkin, founder and former CEO of Moz.

    “Google used to pass a referrer string when you performed a web search with them that would tell you – ‘This person searched for “red shoes” and then they clicked on your website’. Then you would know that when people searched for “red shoes”, here’s the behavior they showed on your website, and you could buy ads against that, or choose how to serve them better, maybe by highlighting the red shoes on the page better when they land there – all sorts of things.”

    “You could also do analytics to understand whether visitors for that search were converting on your website, or whether they were having a good experience – those kinds of things.

    “But Google began to take that away around 2011, and their reasoning behind it was to protect user privacy. That was quickly debunked, however, by folks in the industry, because Google provides that data with great accuracy if you choose to buy ads with them. So there’s obviously a huge conflict of interest there.

    “I think the assumption at this point is that it’s just Google throwing their weight around and being the behemoth that they can be, and saying, ‘We don’t want to provide this data because it’s too valuable and useful to potential competitors, and people who have the potential to own a lot of the search ranking real estate and have too good of an idea of what patterns are going on.

    “I think Google is worried about the quality and quantity of data that could be received through organic search – they’d prefer that marketers spend money on advertising with Google if they want that information.”

    Where Google goes, its closest competitors are sure to follow, and Bing and Yandex soon followed suit. By 2013, the search industry was experiencing a near-total eclipse of visibility over organic keyword data, and found itself having to simply deal with the consequences.

    “At this point, most SEOs use the data of which page received the visit from Google, and then try to reverse-engineer it: what keywords does that page rank for? Based on those two points, you can sort of triangulate the value you’re getting from visitors from those keywords to this page,” says Fishkin.

    However, data analysis and processing have come a long way since 2011, or even 2013. One start-up believes that it has found the key to unlocking “(not provided)” keyword data and giving marketers back visibility over their organic keywords.

    How to unlock “(not provided)” keywords in Google Analytics

    “I started out as a SEO, first in a publishing company and later in ecommerce companies,” says Daniel Schmeh, MD and CTO of SEO and search marketing tool Keyword Hero, which aims to provide a solution to “(not provided)” in Google Analytics. “I then got into PPC marketing, building self-learning bid management tools, before finally moving into data science.

    “So I have a pretty broad understanding of the industry and ecosystem, and was always aware of the “(not provided)” problem.

    “When we then started buying billions of data points from browser extensions for another project that I was working on, I thought that this must be solvable – more as an interesting problem to work on than a product that we wanted to sell.”

    Essentially, Schmeh explains, solving the problem of “(not provided)” is a matter of getting access to the data and engineering around it. Keyword Hero uses a wide range of data sources to deduce the organic keywords hidden behind the screen of “(not provided)”.

    “In the first step, the Hero fetches all our users’ URLs,” says Schmeh. “We then use rank monitoring services – mainly other SEO tools and crawlers – as well as what we call “cognitive services” – among them Google Trends, Bing Cognitive Services, Wikipedia’s API – and Google’s search console, to compute a long list of possible keywords per URL, and a first estimate of their likelihood.

    “All these results are then tested against real, hard data that we buy from browser extensions.

    “This info will be looped back to the initial deep learning algorithm, using a variety of mathematical concepts.”

    Ultimately, the process used by Keyword Hero to obtain organic keyword data is still guesswork, but very advanced guesswork.

    “All in all, the results are pretty good: in 50 – 60% of all sessions, we attribute keywords with 100% certainty,” says Schmeh.

    “For the remainder, at least 83% certainty is needed, otherwise they’ll stay (not provided). For most of our customers, 94% of all sessions are matched, though in some cases we need a few weeks to get to this matching rate.”

    If the issue of “(not provided)” organic keywords has been around since 2011, why has it taken us this long to find a solution that works? Schmeh believes that Keyword Hero has two key advantages: One, they take a scientific approach to search, and two, they have much greater data processing powers compared with six years ago.

    “We have a very scientific approach to SEO,” he says.

    “We have a small team of world-class experts, mostly from Fraunhofer Institute of Technology, that know how to make sense of large amounts of data. Our background in SEO and the fact that we have access to vast amounts of data points from browser extensions allowed us to think about this as more of a data science problem, which it ultimately is.

    “Processing the information – the algorithm and its functionalities – would have worked back in 2011, too, but the limiting factor is our capability to work with these extremely large amounts of data. Just uploading the information back into our customers’ accounts would take 13 hours on AWS [Amazon Web Services] largest instance, the X1 – something we could never afford.

    “So we had to find other cloud solutions – ending up with things that didn’t exist even a year ago.”

    A world without “(not provided)”: How could unlocking organic keyword data transform SEO?

    If marketers and website owners could regain visibility over their organic keywords, this would obviously be a huge help to their efforts in optimizing for search and planning a commercial strategy.

    But Rand Fishkin also believes it would have two much more wide-reaching benefits: it would help to prove the worth of organic SEO, and would ultimately lead to a better user experience and a better web.

    “Because SEO has such a difficult time proving attribution, it doesn’t get counted and therefore businesses don’t invest in it the way they would if they could show that direct connection to revenue,” says Fishkin. “So it would help prove the value, which means that SEO could get budget.

    “I think the thing Google is most afraid of is that some people would see that they rank organically well enough for some keywords they’re bidding on in AdWords, and ultimately decide not to bid anymore.

    “This would cause Google to lose revenue – but of course, many of these websites would save a lot of money.”

    And in this utopian world of keyword visibility, marketers could channel that revenue into better targeting the consumers whose behavior they would now have much higher-quality insights into.

    “I think you would see more personalization and customization on websites – so for example, earlier I mentioned a search for ‘red shoes’ – if I’m an ecommerce website, and I see that someone has searched for ‘red shoes’, I might actually highlight that text on the page, or I might dynamically change the navigation so that I had shades of red inside my product range that I helped people discover.

    “If businesses could personalize their content based on the search, it could create an improved user experience and user performance: longer time on site, lower bounce rate, higher engagement, higher conversion rate. It would absolutely be better for users.

    “The other thing I think you’d see people doing is optimizing their content efforts around keywords that bring valuable visitors. As more and more websites optimized for their unique search audience, you would generally get a better web – some people are going to do a great job for ‘red shoes’, others for ‘scarlet sandals’, and others for ‘burgundy sneakers’. And as a result, we would have everyone building toward what their unique value proposition is.”

    Daniel Schmeh adds that unlocking “(not provided)” keyword data has the ability to make SEO less about guesswork and more substantiated in numbers and hard facts.

    “Just seeing simple things, like how users convert that use your brand name in their search phrase versus those who don’t, has huge impact on our customers,” he says. “We’ve had multiple people telling us that they have based important business decisions on the data.

    “Seeing thousands of keywords again is very powerful for the more sophisticated, data-driven user, who is able to derive meaningful insights; but we’d really like the Keyword Hero to become a standard tool. So we’re working hard to make this keyword data accessible and actionable for all of our users, and will soon be offering features like keyword clustering – all through their Google Analytics interface.”

    To find out more about how to unlock your “(not provided)” keywords in Google Analytics, visit the Keyword Hero website.

    8 ways of using collaborative tools to effectively manage remote teams

    Vector graphic depicting world time zones

    The remote workforce is growing exponentially. Corporate global companies and first year startups are all turning to remote teams to get the job done.

    The question, however, is how do you manage your remote team as effectively as your in-office team?

    This is a question many CEOs, directors, and managers are facing more often as workers want remote possibilities. In fact, a Gallup survey found that 43 percent of Americans already did some remote work in 2016. This number is up from 39 percent in 2012.

    Much of the shift toward remote working can in many ways be attributed to the continued rise of the mobile workforce. The advancements in mobile technology has made remote working seamless for companies and workers alike. From smartphones to tablets, remote working has become easier than ever.

    The benefits of managing remote teams effectively

    The value for companies taking the remote approach is also very enticing, especially when it comes to the bottom line. Most remote teams are more efficient, put in more work hours, and can decrease company overhead by millions.

    Did you know that American Express saves $10 to $15 million annually in real estate costs alone due to their remote workforce?

    What’s the secret? How can you build an effective and productive remote workforce of your own? They answer lays, unsurprisingly, with emerging tech that facilitates the management of remote teams. “It works best when a company has developed a plan, including the best technology to use,” Alina Tugend of The New York Times explained.

    Let’s take an insider techie look at what up-and-coming collaborative technologies you can integrate into your remote plan for growth and success.

    1. Use Slack

    Bringing the office to your remote teams is easy with Slack. Even though Slack is a messaging app, it can serve up big time communication benefits that ultimately boost team efficiency and productivity.

    Having a Slack virtual office space allows you and your remote teams to discuss projects and tasks that are organized and prioritized just for them. Your remote team can also share files, and has the capability to sync other tools with it as well. Brent Freeman, CEO of YogaClub, shares how using Slack has enabled him to outsource work to freelancers effectively, saving significantly on overhead costs.

    2. Remote team Slack apps

    Slack certainly has a lot to offer when it comes to managing your remote teams. Another efficiency tool they offer for the remote workforce is team dedicated Slack apps.

    You can install internal integrations exclusive to your remote teams, make messages actionable, thus increasing productivity, and define your own permission scopes for each app and user. It is also fairly easy to build a Slack app.

    3. Keep up with time zones

    Having remote workers or remote teams spread out all over the world can make keeping track of everyone’s time zone challenging. Luckily, you can track time zones a lot easier with online platforms like EveryTimeZone and Freckle.

    These little time tech platforms allow you to quickly view the time zones of your remote teams, and the time zones of your clients. This allows you to see who’s schedule fits a client in England, or if you need to have a virtual meeting with your remote team in Spain.

    4. Get Glip

    Increasing productivity can often seem daunting for managers of remote teams. After all, how do you bring the in-office workflow to the virtual space? Like Google Docs, Glip can facilitate this.

    It allows you and your remote teams to share documents, set up deadlines via shared calendars, share documents with clients, start a group chat, and even annotate images. Glip is also compatible with Outlook and Google Calendar.

    5. Monitor your remote team

    With so much on your plate as a CEO, director, or manager, managing your remote teams effectively can be difficult. What is going on with your developers in Bangladesh? What about the marketing team in Buenos Aires?

    To keep track and monitor everyone you can use Hubstaff. It is hailed as one of the best remote management tools on the market. You can monitor specific team member, or entire teams in just one app.

    From tracking hours worked in real time to viewing a few screenshots every so often, you can ensure productivity is at its highest. Since it is an app, you can monitor while you are mobile as well.

    6. Enhance remote collaboration

    When it comes to remote work, collaboration can be tough. Your team is everywhere in the world, on different schedule, living in different time zones, how can you make collaboration happen?

    Using platforms like Quip is one option. Like Google Docs, but with far more collaboration capabilities. Compatible with Android and iOS, it is great for your mobile workforce as well.

    You and your remote teams can mention one another in tasks and they will be pinged instantly. Team members can also collaborate via chat right in the document, making switching screens a thing of the past.

    7. Delegate with Asana

    Asana offers up some exceptional delegation opportunities for managers of remote team members. You can create projects and organize them for specific teams. This is very helpful if you don’t feel like staying up late to send a project to your SEOs in the Philippines.

    You can also use Asana with Google Docs and Dropbox to make file, image, and video sharing even easier. You can also track team progress on projects as well. There is a free option with Asana, but the paid platform may meet larger business needs better.

    8. Keep everything secure with LastPass

    Have you ever had a remote worker need access to a platform you use in a hurry? Did you have that user and password handy? Probably not, and this is a big issue for many remote teams.

    You can have a long-winded excel sheet of usernames and passwords vulnerable to a potential cyber security attack. Or you can use LastPass. You can generate unique passwords for your remote teams and keep you and your clients’ projects safe.

    There are numerous emerging technologies available online to make managing remote teams easier. The key is to find the ones that work best for you, your team, and your business. What remote management tools work best for you?

    How brands’ domination of paid and organic search has changed with the evolution of search

    It’s been about 18 months since Google stopped serving paid ads on the right rail of desktop searches.

    It’s also been another rapid year of mobile and voice search. With mobile search now accounting for 60% of total search volume and 20% of searches coming from voice, it is easy to say the last few years have really escalated things in the search realm.

    One of the things I have been tracking for the last 8 years is the overlap in brands in both the paid and organic listings. Data from multiple studies has always shown an increase in traffic for those brands who rank in both paid and organic. Understanding how well brands have coordinated their strategy in search has always given some unique insight.

    This year was no different, and with all the changes in the landscape, it is more important than ever to understand how your brand’s strategy aligns.

    Industry swings and roundabouts

    After a brief dip last year, the data this year shows the highest amount of brand overlap ever at 25.7% (25.6% in 2015 was the previous high). This data validates two things in my mind:

  • As search becomes more established as an industry and tactic, brands have become more aware of the value of coordinating their strategies.
  • The changes in how search listings appear favor those bigger brands who have larger paid search budgets and deeper SEO technical and content capabilities.
  • What was maybe a little more surprising was the big swings in retail and financial services industries. Financial services took a big jump with heavy overlap from terms like “Home Equity Loan” and “Car Insurance.” These terms are some of the most expensive, and therefore only big brands can play right now for these head terms.

    For retail, this drop was related to the decrease in actual paid listings and being replaced with Google Shopping ads (which we did not count in brand overlap). However, you can see below that Google Shopping ads appeared for 100% of searches we did in the study.

    Google has amped up their shopping ads especially since they work well for both Google and brands by driving higher CTR and conversion rates than traditional paid search ads. Google shopping is really the 3rd piece of the Google search results page puzzle that brands show be mindful of when optimizing.

    Brand presence in local search

    The other piece of data (and the 4th piece of the Google search results page puzzle) we are going to start watching and trending over time is how frequently the Local Map Pack appears.

    With mobile phone growth, many consumers are seeing local results because the intent signal that location provides is so high. Retail again lead the way for these terms; however, it is worth noting that all categories other than pharma had some presence of local listings.

    Brands need to consider their location data management strategy to improve their eligibility for this part of the search results page. If our experience is anything like yours, this is a spot most companies don’t understand, but progress can be made with some dedicated resources.

    In summary, the search results page has more components to it than ever. Next year, we will even be reviewing the knowledge graph and structure answers that will be read by voice assistants.

    It’s key that your brand monitors these changes and understand how the various pieces of the Google search puzzle come together. Each piece has value on its own, but having a collective strategy that helps you dominate the page is vital.

    Mobile SEO: The 3 areas that really matter for SEO performance

    With the upcoming launch of Google’s mobile-first index, digital marketers are preparing for a proliferation of “micro-moments”.

    There has been a lot of noise around this seemingly seismic shift, but this trend was set in motion years ago and we have plenty of data to hand on what makes or breaks a mobile SEO campaign.

    Undoubtedly, mobile SEO is distinct from its desktop counterpart in significant – sometimes very subtle – ways. As mobile usage continues to grow, user behaviors and expectations change too. Simply resizing the desktop site for a smaller screen won’t do.

    Moreover, the evidence that the desktop and mobile algorithms must function based on different factors is right in front of us.

    We can see from these screenshots of mobile results (above) and desktop results (below) for the query [credit card], taken from a collocated laptop and smartphone, that there are many differences across the two devices:

    Looking at this from the cold austerity of a rank tracking dashboard might not highlight just how different these experiences are. The order of the listings is very similar across devices, but they way a user experiences and interacts with them will vary.

    This example is purposefully taken from a finance search query, less prone to location-based variations that we would see for a term like [coffee shop near me]. And yet, the mobile results page contains enough embellishments to distinguish it from the desktop version.

    Rather than try to break down Google’s algorithms into the comforting-but-illusory format of a list of ranking factors, we should focus our efforts on what actually helps websites get more mobile traffic.

    Based on experience of what a successful mobile SEO campaign entails in 2017, we can distil this into three categories: Context; Speed and Accessibility; and User Engagement Signals.

    Within this article, we will first assess the reasons that mobile SEO stands apart, before delving into some practical tips in each category that can help all marketers drive improved performance via organic search.

    1. Context

    Smartphones contain an array of sensors that allow them to understand our environment. Everything from an accelerometer to a magnetometer to a proximity sensor is contained within the average mobile device nowadays.

    Mobile phones create a huge amount of data and smartphone companies aren’t afraid to capture and use it. We shouldn’t be surprised; even our vacuum cleaners are mapping out our homes, hoovering up data along with dust.

    The below is a very much redacted list of factors Google uses to shape mobile search results (taken from a patent approved way back in 2013):

    • Current time,
    • Current date,
    • Current day of the week,
    • Current month,
    • Current season,
    • A current, future, and/or past weather forecast at or near a location of a previous event in which a user and/or a user’s friends participated,
    • Information on user’s calendar, such as information regarding events or statuses of a user or a user’s friends,
    • Information accessible via a user’s social networking account,
    • Noise level or any recognizable sounds detected by the mobile platform and/or a monitoring device,
    • Health statistics or characterizations of a user’s current health

    Even without reviewing the unabridged Ulysses-length list, we can get a clear sense of what’s going on here. Tech companies know a lot more about us than ever before, and they get a lot of this information from our phones.

    Changes to how Google designates the centroid for a search have made a difference, too. The user’s phone now acts as the centroid, fundamentally shifting the notion of local search to a hyper-personalized level.

    This applies to the local listings within Google Maps, but can also affect the content shown in ‘traditional’ SEO listings.

    Combined with advances in semantic search, it is now essential for marketers to understand a user’s context if we are to satisfy their search query.

    In spite of the absence of clear rules to follow across the board, there are still some practical ways that we can use context to improve SEO performance.

    • Split out search volume by device type. This will help you understand which queries tend to occur predominantly on either mobile or desktop. Knowing this will allow you to create content that caters for the preferred user experience. Desktop content is typically one-third longer than mobile content, for example.
    • Download a user agent switcher to view your content as it looks on a variety of different devices. You can get the extension for Chrome here, or for Firefox here. If you need to get really specific about the phone dimensions or location, try Mobile Phone Emulator.
    • Create content that responds to user needs, rather than just matching their search query. That may mean using image-heavy content, for example, rather than sticking with strictly text-based pages. Tracking universal search results will allow you to pinpoint these queries.
    • Track ranking performance across devices, territories, and media formats. This will give a truer picture of how frequently your domain is showing up in search results. You can achieve this through Google’s Search Console and Data Studio, combined with your rank tracking software.

    2. Speed & Accessibility

    SEO isn’t just about having the most relevant, thorough answer anymore. You also need to be the quickest site to provide it, or run the risk that users will simply go elsewhere.

    Source: Google

    This is more important than ever, with Google’s quick answers pulling responses into the search results pages directly, and its Android Instant Apps project allowing consumers to use an app without installing it.

    Google has given significant backing to its Accelerated Mobile Pages initiative too, and the evidence so far suggests it is paying off. AMP pages were introduced in early 2016 and run on a stripped-back version of HTML that very significantly decreases page load times. They also use a lot less data to load, so the benefits for users on the go are plentiful. A recent survey corroborated this, with over 60% of respondents saying that they would seek out AMP results due to the faster, lighter experience they provide.

    AMP pages were initially seen as a boon for publishers (about 70% of Google News stories are AMP-enabled now), but retailers like eBay have started to adopt this standard too. In fact, publishers have had challenges in monetizing these light-touch formats, while ecommerce sites look likely to be the long-term beneficiaries. With AdWords and AdSense support for AMP continuing to increase, there is really no option other than to get on board with AMP if you want to maximize your content’s mobile opportunity.

    Add in Facebook’s Instant Articles or Twitter Moments and the picture is clear: speed is of the essence.

    This is not just a matter of removing assets to strip down individual pages, however. Websites are more than just the sum of their parts, so we need to ensure that our site structure is sound and, of course, that our content is accessible by Google, Facebook, Apple, et al.

    • Mercifully, Google has upgraded the Mobile Site Testing Tool, which now generates reports with recommendations you can send to your development team.
    • Remove any interstitial pages that stand between a user and access to the page they want to see. Google’s position on this has grown more severe over time; from mildly humorous posts through to an algorithmic penalty to dissuade sites from using interstitials in early 2017.
    • Android Instant Apps is a clear indication of the direction the industry is going in. People don’t want to install and load separate apps; this initiative allows them to enjoy the benefits of apps without the drawbacks they typically bring. It is open to all developers now, so it is worth getting started if you haven’t done so already.
    • The AMP Project website contains a host of useful tutorials that will get developers up to speed in no time. There are also plug-ins available for content management systems like WordPress, so you don’t even necessarily need to know AMP code in order to use it.
    • Use AMP for AdWords landing pages. Google provides plenty of handy advice on this and it is essential to adopt this practice early.
    • Google lists its mobile SEO best practices, in a rare example of olive branch extension to organic search marketers. However, these are quite basic tips that will get your site indexed. They won’t make a huge difference is such a competitive market.
    • Consider what you are willing to sacrifice in the name of faster loading times. AMP HTML provides a great solution, but there is a further temptation to minimize JavaScript to improve loading times further. This can come at the cost of user experience, so be sure to weigh up the pros and cons of removing each element before you do so.
    • Don’t just think of accessibility in technical terms. Your content needs to be accessible for the right audience once it loads; tools like Readable.io can help ensure that you are writing with an appropriate level of complexity.

    3. User engagement signals

    The shift to mobile devices has caused Google to change the methodology behind how it indexes and ranks websites. This has proven to be a much more complex task than many expected. As a result, Google has delayed the launch of the mobile-first index and is now prepared to launch on a website-by-website basis.

    Google’s Gary Ilyes said of the mobile-first index at SMX West earlier this year:

    “Mobile sites don’t have a lot of the metadata that desktop sites have. We’re aiming for a quality-neutral launch. We don’t want users to experience a loss in quality of search results. We need to replace the signals that are missing in the mobile web.”

    This is a significant statement for SEO practitioners. Google wants a quality-neutral launch, but it has to do so by replacing some signals it has traditionally used to rank results. No wonder the mobile-first index is taking some time to get right.

    Aside from the reduction in the quantity of metadata that mobile sites have versus desktop sites, we also need to bear in mind that links become less important on mobile. People share content via messaging apps much more frequently, which poses a problem for a search engine that has typically relied on links to navigate the web.

    Other reinforcement signals for Google’s algorithms are harder to pin down in the mobile age too. One of Google’s most celebrated engineers, Jeff Dean, said in an interview with Fortune last year:

    “If a user looks at a search result and likes it or doesn’t like it, that’s not that obvious.”

    The advent of RankBrain in late 2015 was driven by a desire to do exactly this; to understand whether a user is satisfied with search results or not. Google now assesses whether a user stays on a website (known as a ‘long click’) or if they return to the search results page to find a more suitable result (a ‘short click’). A high click-through rate alone won’t suffice – we need to focus on what users do once they’ve landed on the site.

    A SearchMetrics study last year summed this up quite nicely:

    “User experience factors that improve mobile sites are related to better SEO rankings; external links continue to decline in importance.”

    Links do still matter on mobile, of course; just not to the same extent. That’s a good thing – links can be manipulated (even bought), but it’s harder to falsify user engagement factors over a long period of time.

    This leads us to a few valuable points to bear in mind when optimizing for user satisfaction:

    • Data analysis should be the cornerstone of your SEO efforts. Assess how customers access your site, what they do when they get there, and where the primary exit points are. This should all be built into your analytics dashboard to give you real-time access to invaluable user information. You can be pretty sure that Google is utilizing similar metrics to see if your site satisfies a user’s request.
    • Look at how your landing pages have performed since the launch of RankBrain to see if there are any correlations between user engagement metrics (such as time on page, bounce rate, and so on) and your SEO rankings. Often, you will notice that your best performing pages from a UX perspective have seen a notable SEO boost too.
    • Links still matter. We should just think of them differently. Consider whether the links you attract will actually drive qualified traffic to your site, rather than just adding to antiquated metrics like external link volume.
    • Encompass UX and CRO within your SEO campaigns. Without improving your site experience, any SEO rankings improvements you achieve may lack staying power.

    Google’s constantly evolving search experience – and how it changes the game for local SEO

    The importance of local SEO cannot be understated when you consider the dominance of mobile as a device and the sky-high user expectations of being shown the most relevant results.

    Google clearly recognizes this, and is continually investing in improving their search experience.

    There are algorithm updates like Possum (rolled out in September 2016) that are focused on improving the quality and relevancy of search results for queries that contain local intent. But it’s not just changes to the 3-pack and Local Finder (i.e. Google Maps results) – Google has been striding out into local search, taking some interesting steps to hook people into its ecosystem and capture more data points.

    For example, the search giant has begun moving into sectors such as recruitment, with the launch of Jobs by Google, as well as the beauty sector by allowing users to book spas and beauty salon appointments direct via local listings.

    And then you also need to consider the role of personal assistants, or chatbots, and how this will influence the future of the search landscape. So let’s explore these recent local developments in a bit more detail, using examples from the fields of recruitment and the beauty sector.

    How has local search changed?

    Before we look at local changes in detail, it’s important to understand how Google tracks your location:

    • The IP location of your device
    • Location specified in your Gmail account
    • Your browsing history, e.g. searches for news or weather in your local area
    • Use of a geo-modifier in your search query e.g. “car dealers in Watford”

    It is important that Google can identify your location accurately so it needs a variety of different sources to calculate this. Accuracy is essential to confidently serve results relevant to your locality. There may also be other sources considered by Google but we can assume that your location can be quite accurately calculated using this information alone.

    In fact, if you have an Android device with your location tracking set, you can explore your timeline of where you have visited and when – which can be creepy or interesting, depending on your outlook!

    Google My Business and real time chat

    Google has experimented a lot with its local product and, after playing with it for more than 10 years, it appears it is finally taking this product to the next level. Let’s recap those key changes now.

    Timeline

    2004: Google Local launched

    2005: Launch of Google Maps

    2010: Google Places Launches

    2012: Google+ local replaces Google Places

    2014: Google+ local merged into Google My Business

    2015: Local packs update – decreased the number of local results in SERPS

    August 2016: Analytics for business launched

    September 2016: Features to allow multiple users to manage listings

    November 2016: Bulk editing enabled for businesses with more than 10 listings

    December 2016: Insights for photos and ability to add more information about the facilities such as Wi-Fi and wheelchair access

    April 2017: More insights around footfall and popular times

    May 2017: Introduced Highlights Icons and price labels

    June 2017: Google Posts goes live enabling local businesses to promote their offers directly in search results. Small businesses can also set up a mobile-optimized website through GMB.

    July 2017: A pilot program was launched in 2016 to enable customers to message businesses using SMS and Allo. This is now out of beta and being rolled out in a few countries.

    Looking at the development timeline, you will notice a flurry of activity in the last few months. This reveals the priority level of local search right now, Google is launching Allo in July 2017, which allows the functionality to chat with customers via Google My Business.

    This is an interesting move because, on one hand, it creates opportunities for businesses to answer queries in real-time but, on the other hand, it also hooks people into using Google’s Personal Assistant.

    Google has been working on a number of messaging apps including Duo Hangouts, which somewhat highlights the need to streamline and simplify its offering of the messaging apps to avoid fragmenting their user base across many different apps.

    But Allo has the potential to be a particularly powerful and valuable feature, as it’s supporting a direct interaction between a searcher and a business. So I’m confident that this Google My Business feature is very likely here to stay, in some form or another.

    Jobs by Google

    Over the years, Google has introduced a number of widgets in its search results pages for various industries, including Travel and Finance. And, in May 2017, Google I/O conference Sundar Pichai introduced Google for Jobs:

    You can read more in this Google webmasters blog post but, in a nutshell, Google for Jobs will pull listings from sites like LinkedIn, Monster, Glassdoor, Facebook, and CareerBuilder and company’s own websites directly into the SERPs.

    Clearly, this has potential to disrupt the £35.1 billion industry in the UK, having a serious impact on the likes of Indeed and other job portals. By contrast, networks like LinkedIn may be less likely to see an immediate impact because these platforms offer value beyond just job searches.

    Taking a closer look at jobs sector, there is a lot of search volume for queries with geo-modifiers e.g. “jobs in London” has a UK average monthly search volume of 33,100. Even in the absence of geo-modified queries, recruitment related keywords are likely to return local results which is quite similar to food and restaurant industry. See this example below:

    Note: Searched from Watford

    In fact, whether you add a geo-modifier to your queries or not, Google’s focus is on returning local listings. So I envisage the Google Jobs interface will be quite similar to results in the travel sector but, for now, you can also see how these results are currently being surfaced in Allo:

    Aside from serving results local to you, Google Jobs also features valuable filtering based on user needs, such as commute time. Google’s Jobs search API has the ability to measure distance and allow candidates to filter their job search based how long it’ll take you to get to and from work. This is pretty nifty because commute time is such an influential factor when searching for new roles.

    To further support Google Jobs, it’s probably no surprise to hear that Google now have specific job posting schema. Obviously, those recruitment sites that adopt this schema effectively should expect to benefit from this move by the search giant into their territory.

    However, it appears not many recruiters are prepared yet, with very few recruitment sites having implemented the job schema – and it is these sites that are then most at risk at losing market share due to Google Jobs.

    And, flying in the face of all this, it’s interesting that Monster in the USA have created their own job search engine to rival Google. So it’s certainly an interesting time to be in recruitment!

    Google Reserve: Spa and beauty salon appointments

    Another interesting development in local search is that Google will now allow you to book spa and salon appointments with search and maps, via Google Reserve. This is currently being tested in the US and we are not sure when this might be rolled out in the UK and other markets. But it clearly presents a threat to the likes of booking sites like Treatwell and Groupon.

    Google will be able to provide insights on footfall and how many people have engaged with the photos of your store or business. This means Google will be able to have a 360 degree view on a customer journey, creating an ecosystem of touch points which allow Google to predict your actions, negating the need for you to search on your phone at all.

    This is akin to having a personal assistant who not only helps you to book an appointment but also finds the best local salon, on your payday every month. This is the ultimate experience Google is trying to create – a seamless experience that reduces the need to search, once you are in the Google ecosystem – and these recent updates are a step into making this a reality.

    Move with the times

    Considering the high degree of personalization when searching, businesses should act quickly and take advantage of recent developments such as Google Jobs and Google Reserve.

    These changes can be capitalized on, but that’s dependent on sites taking active steps such as adopting relevant schema, and so those that fail to act may get left behind.

    Ultimately, regardless of how search interface continues to develop over time, search engines will always be looking for an authentic source of information. So it’s even more important for marketers, SEOs, developers and user experience experts to ensure we are creating trustworthy, authentic and accessible sources to fuel search engines and help to deliver the best quality results for humans.