7 more tips to improve your content creation

The rise of content marketing has made content creation a key focus for businesses, and the issue of how to improve their content and its performance is at the forefront of many marketers’ minds.

At the Summit on Content Marketing earlier this summer, I gave a presentation on “15 ways to improve your content writing”. In Part 1 of this article, we covered eight of those tips, including creative brainstorming, grabbing the reader’s attention, content length, layout and formatting.

Here are seven more ways that you can improve your content creation and see better performance from your content marketing.

Pick the best headline

A headline is probably the first thing that someone notices about your content. Whether people discover your content in search results, social media, or a homepage, a title contributes to their decision to click on the link.

What are the elements of a great title?

  • Clarity: Your headline should be clear and descriptive. Any confusion can only keep the readers away from it.
  • Brevity: A headline doesn’t have to be long to offer the right context. From an SEO perspective, a title doesn’t have to be more than 60 characters. Thus, you only have up to 60 characters to offer the right preview to your topic. That’s even half the limit to what Twitter allows you!
  • Relevance: Not everyone is aiming for relevance when crafting a title and this may be part of an attempt to entice people to click on a post. “Clickbait” techniques are usually not helpful in a long term basis, especially if your actual content has nothing to do with the headline. Be as relevant as possible.
  • Emotional appeal: How does emotional appeal affect the click rate on a headline? We are all human beings and this makes us susceptible to powerful language that offers an emotional appeal.

You don’t have to create an exaggerated headline to convey the right emotional element, but you can still think of how words can facilitate a reader’s decision towards your content.

My favorite tool to analyze the possible performance of different headlines is CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer. This is a free tool that grades your headlines, while it also offers useful tips on how to improve them.

Its analysis of word balance and the use of words gives the user insights into the science of an effective headline, and it has been a useful ally for me when thinking of my next topic.

Aim for simplicity

It’s good to aim for simplicity in your content writing, as this will make your content accessible to a wider audience and improve its ease of readability and parsing. There’s no need to use overly complicated words to make a point.

Here are some examples on how to simplify your writing:

in order to –> to

ways by which –> which

despite the fact –> although

leverage –> use

Proper spelling and grammar, of course, are still important in any type of content.

Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:

Avoid passive voice

Your copy gets stronger when focusing on the subject. Passive voice can create a distance between your message and the readers, while an active voice is direct and clear. It can engage and motivate your readers, making your copy interesting and stronger.

Avoid using unnecessary adverbs

Adverbs don’t always contribute to the clarity of your content. It’s better to use them only when they make sense. Think of removing the ones you’ve already used, and test whether your copy can still stand out without them.

Write what comes naturally

There’s no need to shoehorn in buzzwords to impress your audience. It’s common in marketing content to think that jargon enhances your message, but in fact, it only makes your content seem trite and predictable. Think like your readers, and create content that they’ll enjoy reading.

Be consistent with verb tenses

Longer sentences can end up confusing your readers. There are also more chances to mess up the tenses that you’re using. Pay attention to each sentence, and you’ll find the consistency of the tenses that will improve your copy.

Don’t ignore SEO

Search traffic can be a powerful ally in your bid to increase your audience through content writing. While it might seem like a lot of extra work to think about SEO as you’re creating content, it actually fits fairly naturally into the content creation process.

Here are some things to bear in mind:

Title

The title helps search engines understand what your content is about. There needs to be a combination of relevance and brevity. It has to be useful, both for readers, but also for search crawlers.

Keywords

Keywords can be very useful as part of your text, provided that they are added naturally in the right context. There’s no need to overuse a keyword simply to make sure that a crawler discovers your topic (an old tactic known as ‘keyword stuffing’). In fact, this may lead to negative results.

Headings

As we covered in the previous part of this article, headings are a key part of clear content structure and formatting. They’re also important to SEO, as they give search engine crawlers an idea of what you’re covering.

A good rule of thumb can be to add your focus keyword at least once in a heading, as this makes it easier for search engines to understand the main topic.

Meta description

A meta description is a short summary of a topic. It’s the text that shows up right after the title in search results. This makes it the second most important part after your headline, and it may affect whether users click on your page.

For an SEO-focused guide on how to write good meta descriptions, check out ‘How to write meta descriptions for SEO (with good and bad examples)‘.

Improve readability

Readability refers to the level of comprehension for your text. This encompasses things like language, the writing style, the use of sentences, or even the words that you choose.

In a more scientific explanation, the measurement of readability takes into account: the speed of perception, the visibility, the effort required for reading speed, the eye movements and the fatigue in reading.

How can you increase the readability of your content?

  • Pay attention to the font. Pick a clean and simple font and make sure that the size makes your text legible without further effort.
  • Allow enough space for your content. Whether it’s the number of paragraphs you’re using or the line height, they all contribute to the concept of readability
  • Use simple writing, avoid jargon or complicated words. It’s tempting to use an improved vocabulary, but it’s also important to ensure that the content is still understood by your audience.
  • Avoid long sentences. Aim for clear and simple structure. As with the use of words, simplicity is appreciated. Moreover, it also reduces the chances of getting your readers tired while reading.

Think of social optimization

A good indication of content success is its performance on social media, the number of likes, shares, or comments it receives.

The chances of social success can be improved by working on social optimization. Social optimization is the process that reminds you the importance of social media in a content’s journey. If you want to reach a wider audience, then you need to make sure that your content is as optimized as possible for social media.

Here are 5 quick tips on how to focus on social optimization:

Think of the headline

As with SEO optimization, your headline will determine whether social users find your content interesting enough to click on. However, beware of employing clickbait techniques such as withholding key information from the headline in order to attract clicks – it may see your content penalized by social platforms, and your readers won’t thank you either.

Pay attention to the images you’re adding

Use a featured image that’s large enough to be shared on all social networks. Every social platform has its own dimensions, so a large image will still be clear and eye-catching regardless of the platform. Moreover, an image may be the first thing that someone notices about your social post.

Adjust the description

As with SEO, the description helps readers get an overview of your post. Optimizing both for search engines and social media requires the right balance between keyword optimization and personal appeal. Be creative and spend some time devising the best way to describe your content in just a couple of sentences.

Add sharing buttons

It may sound obvious nowadays that we need to include sharing buttons in our content. However, it’s still a good reminder when we’re thinking of social optimization to consider that readers will be more likely to to share our content if we make it easier for them to do so. Make sure you’re including the sharing buttons in the right place on your page.

Encourage likes and shares

Except for the default sharing buttons, there are many plugins and tools that encourage readers to show their social approval for a post. For example, a Facebook like button can be more appealing than a “share to Facebook” button, as it involves a faster process to show your social approval.

Think like a user

This is a combination of blending user experience with psychology, in an attempt to produce the right content for the right audience.

Google Analytics can help you monitor your readers’ habits. From the length of their visits to the most popular posts, or even the pages with the highest bounce rate, you can start understanding which pieces of content are most effective.

What made these pages more effective? Was it the value, the language, or even the images that you used? How about the content that wasn’t effective?

This is where user experience can offer very interesting insights.

You don’t need technical knowledge to understand how user experience affects your content.

For example, here are three quick ways to test whether your content has a user-centric design:

Mobile optimization

As smartphones dominate our lives, content tends to get more consumed in mobile devices. Not everyone creates content with mobile users in mind, and this may be a good opportunity to start thinking of it.

Responsiveness

Your content and your pages have to be responsive enough to allow readers to use them as much as possible. An error or a non-functional plugin may lead to a missed opportunity of converting a new reader. Usability, accessibility and page performance are three key areas for your readers and the way they see your content.

Conversion rates

The user experience has to be smooth enough to help readers move through your pages. This increases the chance of turning them into loyal readers and even customers. A combination of design and content strategy can improve your content appeal to your new readers.

The user experience honeycomb by Peter Morville shows us seven facets of a good user experience. A good user experience then has to be useful, desirable, accessible, credible, findable, usable, and valuable.

Using free tools

There are so many tools out there to help improve our writing, and luckily many of them are free, so here are a few to try out.

  • Hemingway: Hemingway App helps you improve the clarity in your text by identifying long, complex sentences and common errors. It makes your writing bold and clear by suggesting the parts of text you need to improve.
  • Grammarly: Grammarly is another useful tool to instantly check for more than two hundred types of grammatical, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. I find very handy the Chrome plugin when creating online content, as it may even turn out useful when adding additional spaces or unknown words.
  • Buzzsumo: Buzzsumo helps you analyse what content performs best for any topic or competitor. It’s one of my favourite tools to test the “virality” (if that’s the proper term in that case) of my content, as it offers an insight on the most shared posts. For example, I can search for my name as an author, or the most popular posts in the sites that I’m writing on, and I can get a great overview of the content that got the highest number of shares on social media.
  • Readable: Readable is one of the apps that help you monitor your content’s readability score, along with keyword density, sentiment analysis. Time to cut out the noise.
  • CoSchedule’s Headline Analyser: This is my favourite tool to explore the art of an effective headline. You even get a score for the suggested headlines you’re adding. It’s useful when you’re trying to understand the overall headline quality and its ability to result in social shares, increased traffic, and SEO value.
  • Writefull: Writefull is an app that gives feedback on your writing by checking your text against databases of correct language. Did you use the right phrase? Should you change it? You may be surprised with the results.
  • StayFocusd: StayFocusd is a productivity extension for Google Chrome that helps you stay focused on work by restricting the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting websites. Yes, this mainly refers to social media and it’s a very useful plugin for every writer.

Overview

You don’t have to be a professional writer to create online content. What’s important is to set clear goals for the reasons you’re creating content, while considering your target audience.

Improve your content by focusing on:

  • the writing process
  • different content types you can create
  • the length of your content
  • its structure and
  • formatting
  • headline
  • the language you’re using
  • along with SEO
  • readability
  • social optimization
  • user experience

It’s all about understanding how content works and what opportunities it can unlock for your business.

After all, if the goal is to create content that your readers will love, you’re the only person who knows the best way to achieve it.

This is Part 2 of a two-part series on how to improve your content creation. For a recap of Part 1, read ‘8 tips for improving your content creation‘.

For the full presentation on ’15 ways to improve your content writing’ from the Summit on Content Marketing, check out the slides on SlideShare.

8 tips for improving your content creation

The rise of content marketing has brought content creation to the forefront for all businesses. This makes it more important than ever to explore the best ways to create effective content.

The definition of effective content for every business may be different, but in general, it still has to bring you closer to your goals.

That’s why effective content has to resonate with your target readers.

Earlier this summer, I gave a presentation entitled “15 ways to improve your content writing” at the Summit on Content Marketing. Here are the first eight of those tips.

Set a writing process

A structured writing process can help you save time and become more productive. As there’s an increasing need for content nowadays, it’s important to find the best process that can help you focus on content creation.

For example, it might be helpful to dedicate a set block of time on your calendar for content writing, putting aside all distractions.

If you start to get stuck, it may be a good idea to stay away from the copy for a while and either take a break or have someone else read it for a fresh perspective.

Creative brainstorming

It’s not always easy to come up with a new content idea, and this can sometimes require some creative brainstorming moments with other team members.

Keeping a content calendar or notebook can help you organize all your ideas, ranked from best to worst – any of these can offer a new perspective on your content goals.

If you’re still struggling for content ideas, take a look at our 21 quick ways to find inspiration for creating content to help you with your next great post.

Grab the reader’s attention

Although the widely-reported ‘fact’ that we now have an attention span of 8 seconds has been called into question, internet users are more discerning with their time than ever before. There is a huge abundance of content available online, and your content needs to be able to grab the user’s attention, and hold it, in order to succeed.

In the digital world, there is any number of competing demands on the user’s attention. Our attention shifts from one task to another as we open new tabs or check multiple screens. Why should the user keep reading – or watching, or listening to – your content? You need to hook their attention and keep it there.

Explore different types of content

One way to convince users to pay more attention to your content marketing is to mix up your formats. The last few years have seen an explosion in the types of content available to create and host online, with each one serving a different purpose.

Images

Images are the most popular type of visual content. They offer a powerful impact on a message and they certainly create a memorable experience. It is easier for the human brain to actually process an image and this increases the chances for your copy to be remembered.

As 65% of people are visual learners, there is more chance your readers will notice your content if you pair it with the relevant images.

Infographics

Information graphics, or infographics, are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly. The use of graphics enhances our ability to see patterns and trends, which makes complex information more appealing and shareable.

Readers tend to spend more time processing an infographic, compared with a written text, and that’s what makes them engaging, especially when they are added as part of a blog post. They’re also more shareable than other types of content. In fact, infographics are shared and liked three times more than any other visual content.

This makes them a very useful addition to the promotion of your content, and it’s no surprise that marketers are using them more and more in their content marketing strategy.

Video

Video content has taken the lead as the most popular visual type of content over the last two years, a trend which has been boosted by social media. According to Cisco, videos will make up 80% of all internet traffic by 2019. This highlights how video content is going to become even more important. Even if we don’t use it as our primary form of content, it is still a powerful medium to support our message.

For example, we can use a short video to:

– share tips and “how-to” ideas

– build trust

– increase engagement

– add value

Live video is another emerging trend, and it offers an immediacy that online users seem to enjoy quite a lot. Marketers and business owners have placed video among their top priorities for 2017 in an attempt to create more appealing and effective content.

Remember, it’s not always necessary to hire a video producer to create short and entertaining videos that offer value to your audience.

GIFs

A GIF, which stands for Graphics Interchange Format, is a type of an animated image that was developed more than 30 years ago. It may not be new, but it’s a popular form of media with online users, as a quick way to share visual content that straddles the line between an image and a video.

According to Giphy, there are currently around 150 million original GIFs out there online. They can be more powerful than an image, but they are also smaller in size than a video. Although GIFs are usually funny and informal, they can still fit with your content strategy, provided that you know how to use them in the right context of course.

For example, how about using a GIF to explain a process in a “how-to” post? Or how about using a funny movie quote in an attempt to show your casual side while trying to show a more personal approach?

GIFs can help you to:

– show your brand’s personality

– divide large chunks of text

– explain a process

– tell a story

What all of these types have in common is the creative way to present content, reaching people who like consuming content in different ways.

For example, if you want to explain a complicated concept, you can use an infographic to make the process easier for your audience. You can still create a blog post, and integrate the infographic with the rest of the written content.

This increases the chances for your audience to stay engaged and enjoy what you have to offer.

Decide on the ideal length for your content

Content marketers often wonder whether long-form content is dead in the era of ‘bite-sized’ content. It may seem logical to assume that readers prefer shorter content, but this isn’t always the case.

According to Orbit Media Studios, blog content is actually getting longer year by year. In 2016 the average blog post length was 1054 words – up from 887 words in 2015.

This means that readers still value long-form content – provided that it’s interesting of course.

Of course, length alone won’t guarantee the success of your content.

However, the length of your content can indicate the depth of the topic you’re covering. If the goal of your copy is to increase awareness, build trust and offer value, then the length may be a key part of your success.

You just need to find a balance between quantity and quality.

Aim for clear structure

Your readers will appreciate a piece of content that is clear and organized. There’s no need to suffocate your writing with big chunks of sentences.

Another point to consider is how people consume content through different devices. Not everyone accesses your content through the same screen, which means that your content has to be optimized for all devices.

This includes its layout. What seems like a small paragraph on a desktop may turn out to be a really big paragraph on a mobile device. And that’s a good reason to test your content on all devices before you publish it.

Moreover, you can organize your thoughts using bullet points, which has the dual benefit of being direct and practical, while also being more clearly readable, helping readers to focus on the most important aspects of your message.

Bullet points can be useful at the end of a piece of text as an overview of what you’ve covered. This is a quick way to allow readers to get back to the things they need to remember from what they’ve just read.

Beware, though – too many bullet points can produce the exact opposite result.

Spend time on formatting your content

How does formatting differ from structure? This has to do more with the way you present your actual content, rather than the way you organize the sentences. However, they are both important in their own way, with the ultimate goal being to convince readers to spend more time on your content.

For example, if you want to make your content more appealing, then you need to add images throughout the text. It’s usually suggested we add the images in a way that they separate the longer paragraphs. If you want to make a point through a series of paragraphs, then break those up with an image that supplements your content, giving the readers’ eyes a break.

When it comes to formatting, one of the most important tips is to pay attention to headings.

Headings allow you to divide your content into logical sections, each one headed up by a catchy title. Spend a decent amount of time thinking up each heading – and don’t be afraid to use plenty of them.

Ranging in terms of importance (and font size), headings span from H1 to H6. You can use a range of different header sizes if you want to label certain sections of your content with subheadings, or you can stick with just a couple throughout.

It’s also useful to keep in mind that headings contribute to SEO and the way search engines discover your content. As crawlers, the magic bots that search for content, access your writing, headings make your content structure easier to parse, and help to highlight the important bits.

Thus, if your headings are relevant and interesting, you’re also going to help your content rank well in search.

Set a goal for your content

Before you dive into content writing, it’s useful to set a goal of what you want to achieve with your content.

There are many ways to use your content. Not every post should serve the same goal and in fact, it’s useful to have a variety of content with different purposes.

For example, your latest post can promote your new product, but it’s probably not a good idea to do that with a series of ten posts in a row.

Readers don’t like overt promotion via content, but you can still create valuable content that happens to also be promotional. Just ensure that your content serves a genuine purpose beyond promoting whatever you want to draw attention to. Ask yourself: What would I, as the reader, be able to learn from this?

While setting a goal for your content, make sure you’re not turning your content into an automatic machine of business jargon. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of the outcome more than the actual process before it. If you’re only thinking of the goal and not the copy, then you risk losing your unique brand voice and your readers along with it.

Set a goal, then start writing, leave the goal aside and focus on your content. Once your post is published and you’re tracking metrics, you can return to the initial goal and see whether you’ve come close to achieving it.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of this post, where we’ll look at seven more tips that can improve your content marketing.

How to optimize for user intent in search

User intent. Also known as searcher intent, it is a theory that unashamedly stands up to the more primitive pre-Penguin and Panda tactics of optimizing purely for keywords.

User intent and optimizing for it has come into being via a combination of three key factors:

  • Latent Semantic Indexing, Hummingbird, Rankbrain. All have fantastic and mysterious sounding names but all underpinned by the fact that Google’s algorithm is not exactly made up of high school algebra. Google is clever, real clever. The algorithm understands more than just the specific keywords that a user types into the search bar.
  • As a result of the aforementioned ability, people trust Google. They may not trust them as a business that will pay their fair share of tax but they trust the search engine to understand their query and as such will ask more complex questions rather than utilising pure keywords. To ‘Google’ is a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary!
  • The internet and Google (among other search engines) have made unfathomable amounts of information accessible to the masses. As a by product, Google is often the first port of call for more than just purchasing actions. More on this later.

Voice search has further stamped on the throttle for user intent with more and more never before seen searches due to the conversational nature of voice search. As such, if you are still basing your SEO strategy around keywords you should probably start to think a little bit deeper around user intent.

Finally, and this is an important one. Optimizing for user intent is not just about providing solutions or using synonyms. The majority of SEO campaigns are built around driving revenue and whilst rankings are great and indicative of campaign success, in reality you won’t retain clients without providing ROI.

Fully optimizing for user intent requires an understanding of how your potential customers buy via your inbound marketing channels. As a result, make sure that you have identified these sales funnels as they are crucial for capitalizing on optimizing your website for user intent in search.

User intent: An overview of the basics

What is user intent? In short it is the reason why someone is searching for something in Google. What are they actually trying to achieve as a result of typing (or saying) that search term?

Traditionally, the intent has been categorized as either navigational, informational or transactional although some like to define commercial intent or use different terminology such as ‘to buy something’, ‘to do something’, ‘to find something’, ‘to learn something’, ‘to go somewhere’ and so on.

These questions or intents can then help to you to identify your Buyer Personas and the stage that they are at within your inbound funnels. Again, various inbound funnels utilize different terminology, but I am a fan of Hubspot’s methodology:

Image credit: Hubspot

How do you figure out what the user intent is behind a search term? Honestly, it’s pretty easy. Just about everyone uses Google. Put yourself in the searcher’s shoes and ask yourself, “if I used that search term, what would I be looking to do?”

Also look at the types of search results that Google returns for a given search term; this is a great indicator of the user intent that Google itself attaches to that particular query.

Focus on VALUE for the user

Even if you don’t read on, here is a very simple tip that should permeate your entire SEO strategy. Ask yourself this question:

Does what I’m doing here add value for the user and if so, how can I make it as valuable as possible?

If you are taking into account what your user is looking to achieve and therefore providing as much value for the user as possible (forget SEO and rankings for one second), you will put yourself in a great place to have a successful campaign both now and into the future.

It is the primary focus for Google as a search engine, so you should make it your focus as well!

An easy place to start is evaluating each piece of content that you are writing. Does it complete the journey that the user is taking? If not, are there quick call to actions to pages that will? Your content will preferably be the former, providing solutions and value directly to the searcher.

In addition, if you continue to put the user first (instead of being keyword-focused) you will naturally create better, deeper, more complex and solution led content, thus satisfying the aforementioned LSI, Hummingbird and Rankbrain. Write for search engines first and you run the risk of lowering the content quality, in turn lowering the quality of your results.

How to align your SEO strategy with user intent

Targeting transactional search terms

For years SEOs have focussed on the sharp end of the funnel. and for good reason: the search terms with transactional intent bring in revenue. Let’s be clear, these search terms should remain a staple of any website focussed on ROI.

However, there are a few optimization tips associated with transactional search terms. As above, they are all focused around value for the user:

  • How easy is it to make a purchase from that specific page?
  • Are the call to actions clear?
  • Have you provided the user with all the information required to make that purchasing decision?
  • Is the language used focused around the purchase?

As SEOs, we have to make it abundantly clear to Google that if someone types in a purchase based search term, that our page is the very best result for that search term.

I hate to hammer it home, but it is the webpage that will complete the desired outcome for the user and therefore offer the most value.

Targeting informational search terms

This is where a sit down with the team and the drawing up of a content strategy that is aligned to your user intent (and therefore inbound funnels) can unlock serious content marketing magic.

Real results you say? Surely informational searches only result in you giving away free information? Exactly.

Let me take you all the way back to the inbound methodology and the fact that people use Google as a source of information. Creating great informational content can have the following impact:

Providing value earlier in the consumer buying process

They may be wanting to research a product or service prior to making that buying decision. The more awesome information you give them the more aligned with your brand they become. When the time comes for that purchasing decision guess who they will lean more favorably towards? Of course there is a little caveat in that all other things are equal.

Earning links

Even if no sales come as a result of your informational content (unlikely), if it is good enough it will earn links as people reference the content…funnily enough to provide further value for their own users. These links will subsequently improve the authority of your website and help you rank for transactional search terms. It’s a warped digital version of karma.

Understand your user flows

This is particularly relevant for transactional and informational search terms. Top notch SEO incorporates more than just onsite optimization, content creation and link building. It should pull in all marketing channels, including design. It’s all well and good generating traffic, but it counts for nothing if the website does not convert them.

Identify your key user flows and actions that you want your users to complete on your site according to where they are in the funnel. Are they an informational searcher? The website needs to encourage them to continue their hunt for information on your website or start to transition them further down the funnel to a purchasing decision.

Really understanding user intent and user flows will only help you with your conversion rate optimization.

Adjust your appearance in search

In the same vein as design supporting CRO, your appearance in search should be aligned with the user intent. The two standard influencers here are your title tag and meta description, although additional factors such as schema markup can also be implemented.

For example, if the search term is transactional make sure that the metadata is enticing and using purchase driven vocabulary. Whereas if the search term is informational make sure that it hints towards how the information on the corresponding web page will solve the searchers’ problem.

Use your outreach skills

I thought we were talking about content here? Yes, on the whole we are but there are opportunities within link building as well. Some users will turn to Google not simply to provide them with the best result, but also a list of the options available to them. Common examples of how a small change to the wording can result in this alteration to user intent are as follows:

Tailor London > Best Tailor London

Or

Tailor London > Tailors London

The addition of an adjective or the plural version of a keyword can often result in lists being supplied by Google. Not all of the results will be these lists, but for those not already in the top results they do offer an opportunity.

Contact these sites to get listed – we saw a considerable increase in conversions by doing this for a software platform client recently.

Don’t forget local search

Mobile search vs desktop search is a mainstream conversation nowadays, with some stats showing that mobile search has a 75% chance of action being taken by the user.

With this in mind, don’t forget to optimize your local listing in order to sweep up all of the traffic (over 50% globally now) using Google via mobile devices.

Some useful tools

Keyword research is critical in identifying valuable search terms, whatever the corresponding user intent is. We have listed a few options below, hopefully you are already using these tools alongside Google’s Keyword Planner, Moz’s Keyword Explorer or whichever tool you use to look at traffic. These tools can provide content ideas that will drive your campaign:

Answer The Public

Using a who, what, when, why, how style format, Answer The Public will give you a list of search terms. Use these prompts to create content ideas.

Keywordtool.io

In a similar vein to Answer the Public, Keywordtool.io will display search volumes (if you pay for it) and commonly asked questions that relate to your keywords.

Buzzsumo

Buzzsumo allows you to view the most shared pieces of content via social for a given subject. Don’t just rely on data fed to you, check how popular these subjects are in real life!

Google Autosuggest

Use Google’s own user oriented functionality to understand the commonly asked questions and search terms for a given subject. Start typing and let Google do the rest.

Impressions via Search Console

We always warn against purely using Search Console and Google Analytics data as the basis for decision moving forward, purely because it is reactive data.

However, you can look at search terms for which you are gaining impressions but potentially a low CTR and adjust the content accordingly. It may be as simple as making your metadata more attractive in the SERPs.

Horses for courses

The base theories will have to be adapted slightly to suit your particular needs. Some businesses may focus on impulse buys where others are deemed comparison goods and will benefit more from informative, longer sales processes. It is a ‘horses for courses’ scenario.

If you understand what you are trying to achieve via your SEO campaign, the journey taken by your user during the buying process, the various relevant searcher intents and align your strategy accordingly, it will place you in a great position to increase organic traffic and also your conversion rate.

What does visual search mean for ecommerce in 2017?

Since the early 2010s, visual search has been offering users a novel alternative to keyword-based search results.

But with the sophistication of visual search tools increasing, and tech giants like Google and Microsoft investing heavily in the space, what commercial opportunities does it offer brands today?

Visual search 101

There are two types of visual search. The first compares metadata keywords for similarities (such as when searching an image database like Shutterstock).

The second is known as ‘content-based image retrieval’. This takes the colour, shape and texture of the image and compares it to a database, displaying entries according to similarity.

From a user perspective, this massively simplifies the process of finding products they like the look of. Instead of trying to find the words to describe the object, users can simply take a photo and see relevant results.

Visual search engines: A (very) brief history

The first product to really make use of this technology was ‘Google Goggles’. Released in 2010, it offered some fairly basic image-recognition capabilities. It could register unique objects like books, barcodes, art and landmarks, and provide additional information about them.

It also had the ability to understand and store text in an image – such as a photo of a business card. However, it couldn’t recognize general instances of objects, like trees, animals or items of clothing.

CamFind took the next step, offering an app where users could take photos of any object and see additional information alongside shopping results. My tests (featuring our beautiful office plant) yielded impressively accurate related images and web results.

More importantly for brands, it offers advertising based on the content of the image. However, despite the early offering, the app has yet to achieve widespread adoption.

A Pinterest-ing development

A newer player in the visual search arena, image-focused platform Pinterest has what CamFind doesn’t – engaged users. In fact, it reached 150m monthly users in 2016, 70m of which are in the US with a 60:40 split women to men.

So what do people use Pinterest for? Ben Silbermann, its CEO and co-founder, summed it up in a recent blog post:

“As a Pinner once said to me, “Pinterest is for yourself, not your selfies”—I love that. Pinterest is more of a personal tool than a social one. People don’t come to see what their friends are doing. (There are lots of other great places out there for that!) Instead, they come to Pinterest to find ideas to try, figure out which ones they love, and learn a little bit about themselves in the process.”

In other words, Pinterest is designed for discovery. Users are there to look for products and ideas, not to socialize. Which makes it inherently brand-friendly. In fact, 93% of Pinners said they use Pinterest to plan for purchases, and 87% said they’d bought something because of interest. Adverts are therefore less disruptive in this context than platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where users are focused on socializing, not searching.

Pinterest took their search functionality to the next level in February 2017 with an update offering users three new features:

Shop the Look allowed users to pick just one part of an image they were interested in to explore – like a hat or a pair of shoes.

Related Ideas gives users the ability to explore a tangent based on a single pin. For example, if I were interested in hideously garish jackets, I might click ‘more’ and see a collection of equally tasteless items.

Pinterest Lens was the heavyweight feature of this release. Linking to the functionality displayed in Shop the Look, it allowed users to take photos on their smartphone and see Pins that looked similar to the object displayed.

In practice, this meant a user might see a chair they were interested in purchasing, take a photo, and find similar styles – in exactly the same way as CamFind.

Pinterest Lens today

What does it mean for ecommerce brands?

Visual search engines have the potential to offer a butter-smooth customer journey – with just a few taps between snapping a picture of something and having it in a basket and checking out. Pinterest took a big step towards that in May this year, announcing they would be connecting their visual search functionality to Promoted Pins – allowing advertisers to get in front of users searching visually by surfacing adverts in the ‘Instant Ideas’ and the ‘More like this’ sections.

For retail brands with established Pinterest strategies like Target, Nordstrom, Walgreens and Lululemon, this is welcome news, as it presents a novel opportunity for brands to connect with users looking to purchase products.

Product images can be featured in visual search results

Nearly 2 million people Pin product-rich pins every day. The platform even offers the ability to include prices and other data on pins, which helps drive further engagement. Furthermore, it has the highest average order value of any major social platform at $50, and caters heavily to users on mobile (orders from mobile devices increased from 67% to 80% between 2013-2015).

But while Pinterest may have led the way in terms of visual search, it isn’t alone. Google and Bing have both jumped on the trend with Lens-equivalent products in the last year. Both Google Lens and Bing Visual Search (really, Microsoft? That’s the best you have?) function in an almost identical way to Pinterest Lens. Examples from Bing’s blog post on the product even show it being applied in the same contexts – picking out elements of a domestic scene and displaying shopping results.

One interesting question for ecommerce brands to answer will be how to optimize product images for these kinds of results.

Google Lens, announced at Google’s I/O conference in May to much furore, pitches itself as a tool to help users understand the world. By accessing Google’s vast knowledge base, the app can do things like identify objects, and connect to your WiFi automatically by snapping the code on the box.

Of course, this has a commercial application as well. One of the use cases highlighted by Google CEO Sundar Pichai was photographing a business storefront and having the Google Local result pop up, replete with reviews, menus and contact details.

The key feature here is the ability to connecting a picture taken with an action. It doesn’t take too much to imagine how brands might be able to use this functionality in interesting and engaging ways – for example, booking event tickets directly from an advert, as demonstrated at I/O:

The future

Many marketers think we’re on the brink of a revolution when it comes to search. The growing popularity of voice search is arguably an indicator that consumers are moving away from keyword-based search and towards more intuitive methods.

It’s too soon to write off the medium entirely, of course – keywords are still by the far the easiest way to access most information. But visual search, along with voice, are certainly still useful additions to the roster of tools we might use to access information on the internet.

Ecommerce brands would be wise to keep close tabs on the progress of visual search tools; those that are prepared will have a significant competitive advance over those that aren’t.

This post was originally published on our sister site, ClickZ, and has been reproduced here for the enjoyment of our audience on Search Engine Watch.

What will Google’s expanded policy on harmful content mean for SEO companies?

Google recently announced that it will be expanding its hate-speech policy for publishers that use the company’s ad network.

It’s an effort to address concerns about ads funding inappropriate content online. While Google is constantly updating its policies, this particular update could have a significant impact on the way digital marketers select clients.

It also raises an important question for SEO companies: do we have a role to play in combating harmful content online? And how should we go about navigating Google’s new policies if so?

Google’s new harmful content guidelines

Google made the decision to change its policies for a number of reasons, one of the biggest being the early 2017 Youtube controversy. In an effort to guard against “explicit” content with its restricted mode, the company mistakenly targeted multiple LGBTQ+ creators.

In its original response to the issue, YouTube said the mode was only applied to LGBTQ+ issues that also addressed mature subjects such as sexuality and politics. But as more creators, including musical duo Tegan and Sara, Tyler Oakley, and others began to speak out, it became clear that innocent creators were getting swept up into the “explicit” content list.

And, of course, the spread of “fake news” in search results and social media forced Silicon Valley titans to confront some thorny issues. In the months since these two big issues, The Hill reported that Google banned more than 200 publishers from its search results.

According to Rick Summers, who oversees the development and implementation of Google policies impacting publishers, the new policy additions are geared toward creating a safer, more positive Internet.

Specifically, Google’s new policies will “address a more divisive and toxic online environment, where an increasing amount of content is frankly right at the edge of what we consider traditionally to be hate speech,” Summers told Recode in April.

In addition, these changes will effectively broaden Google’s definition of hate speech. Now, it will include populations such as immigrants and refugees under its discriminatory language guidelines. It will also address more directly those pages that, for example, deny the Holocaust or advocate for the exclusion of select groups of people. Previously, the policy was more selective (in the United States, at least).

According to Recode, the previous policy addressed “speech that was threatening or harassing against defined groups, including ethnic and religious groups, and LGBT groups and individuals.”

A Google spokesperson said that while the changes will be global, they will also take time to implement on such a large scale. Google’s top business executive, Philipp Schindler, penned a blog post in late March in an effort to better outline Google’s up-and-coming policy changes.

In his blog, Schindler tells readers that Google “[has] a responsibility to protect this vibrant, creative world—from emerging creators to established publishers—even when we don’t always agree with the views being expressed.”

The post goes on to discuss the controversies mentioned earlier, as well as a list of upcoming policy changes and their goals. These policies, Schindler says, will both respect the values of Google and the creators who depend on it, and help advertisers reach the audiences they need to.

But what does that mean for SEO companies?

Ultimately, it means some digital marketers may choose to be more selective when accepting new clients. It’s hard to help someone rank if they’re being excluded from Google search results.

But that also begs the question, how do SEO companies decide what defines a “good” client? Should companies even be applying ethical judgments like this to clients? If so, is the decision dependent on each company’s individual code of ethics, or is it up to Google to decide?

You know you’ve stepped into a minefield when you have to use this many rhetorical questions in a row.

The resources out there for clients seeking SEO services are practically limitless, but the same isn’t necessarily true for SEO companies seeking clients. Google has even released official guidelines for companies searching for the right SEO company:

Clients looking for reputable SEO services are often told to follow Google’s guidelines if they want to find a reputable company. Fortunately, SEO companies can also utilize that practice to vet potential clients.

Take HubShout, for instance. Here, following Google’s AdWords guidelines essentially takes the decision out of our hands. While we have values as a company, following these policies to the letter allows us to select only what Google deems “good” clients. This also ensures that no personal or political biases influence our decision making. In short, as long as a potential client meets our policy — not in violation of Google AdWords, not unethical, small business — we will take them on.

Prohibited content, according to Google, includes content that markets counterfeit products, dangerous products or services such as recreational drugs or firearms, and content that enables dishonest behavior.

In addition, content including “bullying or intimidation of an individual or group, racial discrimination, hate group paraphernalia, graphic crime scene or accident images, cruelty to animals, murder, self-harm, extortion or blackmail, sale or trade of endangered species, [or] ads using profane language,” is considered inappropriate by Google’s standards.

But as we discussed earlier, those policies may be updated in the near future, providing SEO companies with an even more extensive resource for determining which clients to take on. In the end, Google and other search engines often serve as the standard by which the vast majority of digital marketing companies must operate.

Finally, we have one last rhetorical question, and it’s a big one: Will Google’s new and improved policies actually create a safer, more accepting internet, or will they simply tuck away the dark corners of the web we don’t want to see?

Fortunately, digital marketers aren’t philosophers; it’s not our job to answer these big questions. It’s our job to help clients get onto those crucial Search Engine Results Pages.

And if there’s less hate speech and inappropriate content along the way, then hopefully the internet will become a better place to work.

How to tell if your website is due a redesign

Designing a functional website doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and energy (and sometimes, a lot of money) to get your site in working order.

Like any other technology, the internet changes at a rapid rate. Users are utilizing various devices to view websites. For your users to maneuver through your website, you need to constantly update and adapt.

Plus, Google algorithms are constantly changing – your website’s usability affects your Google search rankings.

In short, you may not know that your website needs an overhaul. It’s tricky to keep up with the constant changes that take place behind the scenes. Thankfully, there are signs that your website needs a facelift.

Here are some of the signs that your website needs redesigning.

High bounce rate

The analytics of your website show more than how users navigate through your website. They also show whether or not you should be optimizing your website’s design.

One of the biggest analytics you should be looking at is your bounce rate. Below is a screenshot of where you can find this on Google Analytics under the Traffic Section found in “Acquisition”:

Your bounce rate is the rate at which users are leaving your website. What would cause a user to leave a website? Some factors include:

Slow loading pages

Google promotes high-quality content and pages for their users. Their algorithms rank pages with faster loading times higher than those who have slower loading times. A faster website is not only good SEO practice, it also affects how your users navigate on your page. If a user encounters a slower website, they won’t stick around.

You can check the speed of your website with the PageSpeed Insights tool, shown below. This doesn’t necessarily mean your site needs a total redesign (a few things just may need to be improved), but it can be a contributing factor.

For more tips for getting a handle on your site speed, check out Ann Smarty’s comprehensive piece, ‘All you need to master your site speed without getting overwhelmed‘.

Technical errors

Notice that your bounce rate is all of a sudden super high? Take a look at how long users are on your page. If they’re only sticking around for a few seconds, you may have a 404 issue.

Take a look at your site from your visitors’ point of view (use different browsers, as this can also be the issue). You can also use Google’s Search Console to check the Crawl Errors.

Poor user experience (UX)

Have you ever been to a website with so many popups you couldn’t find the actual content? Google punishes those types of websites, and the average user won’t stick around if they can’t find the content they’re looking for.

This also contributes to difficult navigation, causing the user’s experience to drop significantly. Make sure that your website’s map is coherent and flows comfortably for the average user.

Mobile friendly websites

You’ve heard that more and more users are utilizing their mobile devices to access the Internet. In fact, nearly 60% of searches are carried out on mobile devices. Make sure that your website’s buttons are easy enough to access via a mobile device. Ensure that your landing pages are accessible via a mobile phone.

Google has an excellent free tool that allows you to test how well your website responds on devices like smartphones and tablets. Simply enter in your website’s landing page, and let the tool tell you how well it performs on mobile devices. The tool searches on a standard operating level (3G). For example, we did a sample search for Google’s website just to give you an idea of how it works.

The tool shows how many seconds (or heaven forbid minutes) it takes to load your website on a mobile device. It also shows you the estimated percentage of visitor loss you experience due to your loading time. You also have the option to pull up a free report that shows how you can fix any issues that affect mobile loading time.

For a more in-depth exploration of how to test for issues with your mobile site speed, don’t miss Andy Favell’s column, ‘How to optimize your mobile site speed: Testing for issues‘.

Outdated web design

Have you ever heard that by the time you purchase a brand new computer, it’s already outdated? The Internet works the exact same way. By the time you update your website, it’s already depreciating.

Remember the websites of the 90s? Blinking buttons, grayscale and neon colors, and lots of graphics? While many of those websites are still functioning, they’re not enticing the modern user to visit them. For example, take a look at www.ifindit.com.

First impressions mean everything, and this goes for websites as well. You not only lose credibility with poor web design, you lose visitors. Haven’t updated your website in a while? Here’s a quick primer on one of the most current trends in web design:

Modular design

Stemming from the simplicity of newer websites, modular design is becoming more popular. The basic principle behind modular design is to use a single, flexible template that can be adapted to different kinds of content, rather than a custom-made template tailored to each specific content type. It’s the design equivalent of the intelligent content trend in content marketing.

While modular design isn’t always appropriate for 100% of cases, in many of them it is more efficient, less resource-intensive and is an easy design for users to navigate.

Here’s an example of a modular website design by Waaark design studio:

The takeaway

Think of your website as a brick and mortar business. If the shingles are falling off and your windows are boarded up, no one’s going to stop in. Sometimes it takes a little revamping to get things going again. When you’ve spent time and money designing your website, parting with the old and accepting the new is difficult.

Chances are, you aren’t aware that your website needs fixing. If your website needs an upgrade, the signs are right in front of you. Take a look at your website’s analytics – are there issues that can be improved? Adapt to the changing times and get your website mobile friendly.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try something new with your web design. Overhauling your website may sound daunting, but taking the plunge will be worth the risk.

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

Pump the brakes: SEO and its sweeping statements

The following article is an opinion post written by a guest author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Search Engine Watch.

Knee-jerk reactions are rarely based on sound judgement. Instead they are driven by emotion. In such scenarios, you would be better off giving due consideration prior to taking action.

The problem is that this advice is lost upon what would appear to be a worryingly large portion of the SEO world. At critical points, the SEO community has proven that they are prone to not only making knee-jerk reactions, but then vehemently defending these reactions long after the dust has settled.

It is somewhat excusable though. Search Engine Optimization is an imperfect science. Google is continually changing their fiendishly complex algorithms and will often neither confirm or deny such changes.

It’s a poker game where everyone wears masks and keeps their cards very close to their chest – and no-one shows their cards for free. Add to this the threat of your website being heavily sanctioned by one of Google’s many bizarrely-named updates due to ‘spammy’ techniques, and you can see why people are on edge.

To add to this, the amount of ‘how to’ SEO articles on the web is staggering, and can be intimidating even for those working in the industry every day. It can be a challenge to decipher which research to trust or whose advice to take. As a direct result, SEOs tend to hang on every last word released by Google.

Filter this down and the recognized names in the industry – the likes of Rand Fishkin, John Mueller, Danny Sullivan and Neil Patel, among others, hold considerable sway over how the industry acts.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s the knee-jerk nature of reactions to news or statements made by Google or the aforementioned industry experts. The community treats these like a call to arms, without considering the individualistic nature of any SEO campaign or the often countless other factors that should be taken into account.

Matt Cutt’s denouncement of spammy guest blogging in 2014 was one such example:

“Guest blogging is dead!”

In January 2014 Google’s very own leader of the crusades against spam, Matt Cutts, posted an article on his blog titled “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO”, a strongly-worded commentary on how the SEO community had used guest blogging as a manipulative SEO technique. They had ignored the distinction made by Cutts himself between high quality and low quality guest posting, a distinction that was central to the point he was making.

What followed was a deluge of articles warning readers not to engage in any sort of guest blogging. That guest blogging was “dead” and would fetch heavy penalties – irrespective of whether you were contributing heavily researched articles to major media outlets, that were then engaged with and shared on the web hundreds or thousands of times.

The reaction was so one-sided that Cutts had to add a final paragraph to his blog stating that he was not “throwing the baby out with the bath water” and that high-quality guest blogging was acceptable; marketers just needed to make sure it was of the right quality.

However, the myth of “dead” guest blogging has persisted, and you’ll still find people who fail to make the distinction.

“SEO is dead!”

Following the sudden release into the wild of Google’s pet Panda and Penguin earlier this decade, there was a surge in statements that “SEO is dead”. Many despaired, while others sought quick fixes – but there were some who realized that in fact, only the old spammy version of SEO was dead.

The quality, relevance and user driven SEO environment was actually more important than it ever was. Speaking to Josh Steimle on the subject, he had the following commentary:

“We get sweeping statements about the state of SEO because it’s human nature–we want quick fixes, easy solutions, and above all, we want safety and predictability. It’s easier to say that guest post blogging is dead, don’t do it, than it is to say that some guest post blogging is good, some is bad, and that you have to consider each situation on its own merits to determine what’s what.

“The good news, at least for SEO experts and companies who use SEO wisely, is that alarmist commentary helps separate the professionals from the amateurs, which gives an advantage to those who keep a cool head and do the work required to truly understand SEO.”

Don’t deviate from the path

The fact is that yes, technical SEO can be pretty darn complex and there are a lot of factors to consider. But isn’t that the same with any campaign, or indeed any business venture?

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.

The irony is not lost on me that I have made some rather wide-ranging statements of my own in this post. Nevertheless, I urge you to stop and take a breath before reacting to the next piece of revolutionary news that comes up in your Google alerts.

SEO will continue to be a critical marketing function for years to come, and abiding by its core pillars will prevent you from having to lose the metaphorical baby when dispensing of its bathing water.

5 essential aspects of technical SEO you cannot neglect

Eighty-eight percent of B2B marketers now report using content marketing in their promotional strategies, according to the Content Marketing Institute.

Developing content and using SEO to drive rankings and traffic has become a fundamental part of digital strategies, not just for the thought leaders of the industry, but it has become standard across the spectrum.

Thanks in large part to this massive development of online content, there are now more than one billion websites available online.

This tremendous growth has resulted in an increasingly competitive online market, where brands can no longer find success through guesswork and intuition. Instead, they must rely on more sophisticated strategies and means of enticing new customers.

The art of SEO lies in helping customers find your relevant, helpful content when it would benefit them and then creating a pleasant experience for them while they visit your website. Hence, it is vital that marketers do not neglect their technical SEO.

Sites still need to be built and structured well so they can be found, crawled, and indexed, hopefully to rank well for relevant keywords. There are a few technical SEO strategies in particular that we believe brands should be paying close attention to get their site in front of their competitors.

How does technical SEO impact the bottom line?

According to research performed at my company, BrightEdge, over 50 percent of the traffic on your site is organic. This means that the majority of the people visiting your page arrived there because they thought your listing on the SERP appeared the most relevant to their needs.

Those who neglect their technical SEO will find that this can damage the rankings their pages receive on the SERPs as well as the engagement on the actual site. In other words, not applying these core technical SEO concepts will negatively impact the number of visitors received, and thus revenue for the brand.

Customers have reported that how well the site runs greatly impacts their decision about whether or not to make a purchase. More than three quarters of customers – 79 percent – report that when they encounter problems with a site’s performance, they are less likely to buy from them again.

These customers also hold sites to a high standard, with a single second delay in page loading lowering customer satisfaction by 16 percent. Other common consumer complaints about websites include sites crashing, poor formatting, and error notifications.

Technical SEO makes it easier for users to find the website and then navigate it. It has a direct impact on rankings and traffic as well as the overall user experience. It should be clear, therefore, the tremendous impact that poor technical strategies and orphan pages can have on the bottom line for any organization.

5 essential aspects of technical SEO that cannot be neglected
1. Site accessibility

Site owners should periodically verify that the site is completely accessible for both search engine spiders as well as users. Robots.txt, for example, can be useful at times when you do not want a page to be indexed, but accidentally marking pages to block the spider will damage rankings and traffic.

Brands should also look closely at their Javascript coding to ensure that the vital information for the website is easily discoverable. Since customers also regularly complain about error messages and sites failing to load, brands should be checking for 404 pages and related errors.

Given that more searches now occur on mobile than desktop, and the impending switch to a mobile-first index on Google, brands should also ensure that any content published is constructed for mobile usage.

When speaking about the user experience, visitors themselves also pay a considerable amount of attention to load speeds. Brands should optimize for load speeds, watching site features such as cookies and images, that can slow down pages when not used correctly.

Things to do to improve your site’s accessibility:

Check that robots.txt is not blocking important pages from ranking
Make sure the robots.txt contains the sitemap URL
Verify that all important resources, including JS and CSS are crawlable
Find and fix any 404 errors
Check that all content, including videos, plays easily on mobile
Optimize for load speed
2. Site structure

Navigation throughout the website should also be a main priority. Look at the organization of the site’s pages and how easily customers can get from one part of the site to another. The number of clicks it takes to get to a desired location should be minimized.

Many sites find it to be convenient to build websites using a taxonomy hierarchy. Creating clear categories of pages can help websites organize their content while also reducing the number of steps that visitors must go through to adequately engage with the brand.

As you explore your site navigation, also verify how well the pages have been interlinked so that prospective customers engaging with one piece of content are easily led to other material that they will likely enjoy. Check also for orphan pages and other content that might be hard to find. The key to a strong site structure is to consider the user experience so that useful material can be found intuitively.

Things to do to ensure your site structure is optimized:

Create a hierarchy that ensures important pages are 3 clicks from the home page or less
Uncover orphan pages and either delete them or add them to the site hierarchy
Check links for broken or redirects and repair them
3. Schema markup

Schema markup provides search engines with even more information about the pages on your site, such as what is available for sale and for how much, rather than leaving it open for interpretation by the spiders and algorithm.

Although Google does tend to be relatively accurate about the purpose of websites, schema markup can help minimize the potential for any mistakes. In a increasingly competitive digital ecosystem, brands do not want to leave themselves open to errors.

Schema has also been attracting attention because of its potential to help brands trying to gain extra attention on the SERP in the form of Quick Answers and other universal content. Brands that want events included in the new Google Events SERP feature, for example, should use schema to call the search engine’s attention to the event and its details.

Things to do to make sure your site has the correct level of schema markup:

Markup pages that have been optimized for Quick Answers and other rich answers
Markup any events you list on your page or transcripts for videos
Check for common schema errors including spelling errors, missing slashes, and incorrect capitalization
Use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to ensure the markup has been completed correctly
4. Site tags

As sites become more technical, such as developing content in multiple languages for overseas versions of the site, brands will similarly need to pay closer attention to the markup and tags used on the pages. Correctly-used hreflang tags, for example, will ensure that the content is correctly matched with the right country.

Although Google might be able to tell that a website has been written in English, an hreflang tag can help ensure that it shows the UK version to the English audience and the US version to those in the United States. Displaying the wrong version of the websites to the audience can damage the brand’s reputation and ability to engage with the audience.

Many brands will also find canonical tags to be highly useful. Using these tags will signify to Google which version of any particular content is original, and which is the distributed or replicated version. If a marketer wants to publish syndicated content on another website, or even create a PDF format of a standard web page, canonical tags can help avoid duplicate content penalties so that weaken content visibility.

Things to do to ensure your site content is tagged correctly:

Use hreflang tags to ensure that Google knows which country and language the content is intended for
Verify that hreflang tags use proper return tags
Use only absolute URLs with hreflang tags
Use canonical tags to avoid duplicate content when necessary
5. Effective optimization

While this might appear to be rudimentary SEO, it remains one of the most important steps as well. As we create this spectacular content that is tailored for specific user intents and lives on a well-constructed website, it still remains that the page itself must be well optimized.

If the page does not have the right keywords, then it will be a challenge for the search engines to understand where the content should be ranked and placed. Carefully determine keywords through keyword research, and then construct sentences that link the terms and long-tail keywords together to make your topic and expertise clear to the search engines and those considering consuming your content.

Things to do to improve technical SEO today:

Use keyword research to find important and in-demand search topics
Create sentences that effectively link different keywords together to show context
Place keywords in the page title, H tags, URL, and naturally in the content

Even as the industry matures with micro-moments and data-driven strategies, technical SEO remains critical to successfully building strong websites.

We believe that all brands should ensure that these five areas of technical SEO are a part of their digital strategy.

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

Google has released a new, feed-based mobile homepage in the US, with an international launch due in the next two weeks.

This is perhaps the most drastic and significant update of the Google.com homepage (the most visited URL globally) since Google’s launch in 1996.

The upgraded, dynamic entry point to the world’s biggest search engine will be available initially on mobile devices via both the Google website and its mobile apps, but will also be rolled out to desktop.

Let’s take a look at what’s changing and how, as well as what it might mean for marketers.

What’s different about the new homepage?

Google’s new homepage allows users to customize a news feed that updates based on their interests, location, and past search behaviors.

On the Google.com website (via a mobile device), there are now four icon-based options: Weather, Sports, Entertainment, and Food & Drink.

The ‘Weather’ and ‘Food & Drink’ options can be used straight away, as they take the user’s location data to provide targeted results. The ‘Sports’ and ‘Entertainment’ options require a little more customization before users can benefit from them fully. Without this, Google will just serve up popular and trending stories within each category.

In the example below, I tapped on the ‘Sports’ icon, then selected to follow a baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. Based on this preference, Google then knows to show me updates on this team on my homepage. The results varied in their media format, with everything from Tweets to GIFs and videos shown in my feed.

This means that rather than encountering the iconic search bar, Google logo, and the unadorned white interface we have all become accustomed to, each user’s feed will be unique. As I start to layer on more of the topics I am interested in, Google gains more information with which to tailor my feed.

On the Google mobile app, based on my selection above, my homepage looks as follows:

This is quite a big departure and is an experience we should expect the Google.com website to mirror soon. For now, the latter retains enough of the old aesthetic to be recognizable, but the app-based version is more overt in its positioning of suggested content.

The trusty search bar is still there, but users are encouraged to interact with their interests too. The interface is designed for tapping as well as typing.

Sashi Thakur, a Google engineer, has said of the launch,

“We want people to understand they’re consuming information from Google. It will just be without a query.”

It is essentially an extension of the functionality that has been available in Google’s Android app since December. Google will also continue to use push notifications to send updates on traffic, weather, and sports, based on the user’s set preferences.

Why is Google launching this product now?

Google has struggled to find a significant commercial hit to rival its hugely lucrative search advertising business. That business relies on search queries and user data, so anything that leads users to spend more time on Google will be of significant value.

The same motive has led to the increased presence of Google reservations, which now allow users to make appointments for a range of services from the search results page.

As Google stated in their official announcement, “The more you use Google, the better your feed will be.”

Users type a query when they have an idea of what they want to find; Google is pre-empting this by serving us content before we are even aware of what exactly we would like to know. By offering a service that will increase in accuracy in line with increased usage, Google hopes users will get hooked on a new mode of discovering information.

This also allows Google to incorporate a number of other initiatives it has been working on, such as fact-checking and Google Posts.

You’d be forgiven for wondering whether Google is trying to find its way into social media again. After the demise of the short-lived Google+ platform, Google has seen Facebook grow as a credible threat in the battle for digital advertising dollars.

Facebook’s algorithmic news feed has been a significant factor in its rise in popularity, and with Google Posts incorporated into this news feed, there are certainly elements reminiscent of a certain social network in Google’s new homepage initiative. Readers may also recall the launch of iGoogle in 2005, a similar attempt to add some personalization to the homepage.

That said, it seems more likely that these changes have been rolled out in response to recent launches from Amazon than as a direct challenge to Facebook.

Amazon has made an almost dizzying amount of product announcements and acquisitions of late. As a pure-play ecommerce company, their rapid growth will have been cause for consternation at Google and there is a need to respond.

Of particular interest in relation to the new Google feed is the very recent launch of Amazon Spark, a shoppable feed of curated content for Amazon Prime members. It is only available via the iOS app for now, but it will be launched on Android soon too.

Spark is a rival to Instagram in some ways, with its very visual feed and some early partnerships with social media influencers. It is also similar to Pinterest, as it encourages users to save their favorite images for later and clearly tries to tap into the ‘Discovery’ phase that Pinterest has made a play for recently.

Amazon has also launched its ‘Interesting Finds’ stream, which works in a noticeably Pinterest-esque fashion:

Google has taken aim at Pinterest with its ‘Similar items’ feature and its revamped visual search technology, which feeds the new Google Lens.

In Google’s announcement of the new homepage, they make use of the verbs “discover” and “explore”. Both Amazon and Pinterest have tried to shape and monetize these phases of the search-based purchase journey; Google evidently thinks its homepage needs to take on a new life if it is to compete.

Will it open new opportunities for marketers?

Almost certainly. We should view this as a welcome addition to the elements of current search strategies, with a host of new opportunities to get in front of target audiences.

Google is not launching this product because of any existential threat to its core search product, which still dominates Western markets:

Source: Moz/Jumpshot

The update should encourage a shift in user behavior. As people get used to the new experience, they will interact with Google in new ways and marketers need to be prepared for this.

From a paid perspective, we can expect to see new options open to advertisers, but not in the immediate future.

Amazon has two innate monetization mechanisms within Spark: users have to sign up to Prime (for an annual fee) to get access and, when they do, they are served a shoppable list of results. It comes as no surprise when we are on Amazon that we will be asked if we want to buy products.

That is not always the case on Google, where the initial purpose of the news feed is to gain traction with users and encourage them to spend more time within the site.

Options for sponsored content and (almost inevitably) paid ecommerce ads will come later, once a large and engaged user base has been established.

Google Posts: Growing under the radar

Google Plus has risen from the dead! No we’re only joking, that’s highly unlikely.

Google have now rolled out their Posts function for small businesses with a Google My Business account.

No idea what Posts are? You’d be forgiven for being confused, managing your business information on Google calls for some deciphering of the difference between Google My Business and Google+, which can lead to some serious head scratching.

Hence why we are taking the time to explore what Google Posts are and what they mean for small businesses (and celebrities, big businesses and Twitter).

Google has also refrained from making a big song and dance of Posts – so the amount of information out there is particularly limited on this occasion. To add to the confusion, the term ‘Google Posts’ or ‘Posts on Google’ is not actually the official name given to this feature, as per some of the Google search algorithm updates, Posts has been named as such by the wider community.

The term Google Posts was presumably born out of the language used by Google when describing the feature, e.g ‘post with Google’.

Let’s start from the beginning: What are Google Posts?

Originally tested during the 2016 US elections, Posts offered candidates the ability to submit updates that would appear directly in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and Google Maps.

These posts were also categorized with dropdowns, further helping users to access critical information. In 2016, selected businesses and individuals, including musicians, were used to trial Posts. Apparently these test results were good enough for a wider roll out in 2017.

The posts appear as cards in the SERPs with various calls to action including ‘more’ and social sharing to Facebook, Twitter and Google.

The big G state that:

“Posting on Google is a new way to share relevant, fresh content with the people who are searching for you. Use image, videos and even animated GIFs to engage your audience, and ad inline links to drive traffic to specific content. This enhanced format allows searchers to hear directly from the primary source – you – and complements existing results from across the web.”

How to use Google Posts

First things first, if you’re based in London like us, Google haven’t fully rolled posts out to everyone so you have to join the waiting list. In our opinion it is definitely worth registering.

Once you have been approved, the format appears to be reasonably simple. Simply log on to your GMB account, select ‘Create a Post’ and follow the options.

Image credit: Google. (Very telling that Google are using mobile screenshots, reinforcing their mobile first approach)

You can use Google Posts in a variety of formats including events (with dates and times), image based, video, animated GIFs and text based posts.

Google say that each post will be removed after 7 days, after the date for an event has expired “to ensure that posts are timely”

Impact on SEO

Click-Through Rate

In a case study last year on Search Engine Watch, Rebecca Sentance noticed that Google Posts were appearing for search terms such as ‘engagement rings Buffalo’, i.e non branded search terms. This was particularly exciting, however upon investigation it would appear that Google has now backtracked on this decision to have Posts.

Probably a good thing – it would be a safe bet that the underbelly of the SEO world would look to spam Posts should they appear for transactional terms. Regardless, as discussed in a previous blog post, SEO is more than just onsite, content and links.

Great SEO also takes into account the whole user flow, including improving click-through rates from results pages, which Posts should contribute to.

We will have to wait for a wider roll out to see the real effect that Google Posts will have on CTR. However, it does not take a huge leap of faith to bet that, if used properly, Posts will draw the eye and add to credibility and subsequently improve CTR.

The fact that you can incorporate autoplay GIFs into Posts that appear in search adds another dimension to your appearance in the SERPs. We believe that early adopters could gain a critical edge over competition in the SERPs, especially for those in 2nd, 3rd or 4th place who could differentiate their listing from those above them.

Finally, let’s face it, Google has an assumed level of authority with most internet users. That’s what makes them so profitable – people trust Google’s search results. They may not trust them as a brand, but that’s slightly different.

Accompanying your Google Posts is a nice blue tick next to your name, giving your brand a boost in terms of social verification. Google has endorsed you. If that doesn’t have an effect, then we can all forget about the influence of status in all walks of life.

Mobile vs desktop

This is where there is a big difference for Posts. The long and short of it is that Posts are almost immediately viewable when scrolling on mobile (just under the maps result) whereas for branded search on desktop they are on the right hand side Knowledge Graph, below all of your other GMB information.

Desktop:

Mobile:

With Google’s push towards mobile-first indexing and AMP, Posts take a prominent position in the SERPs on mobile. Does this dictate that they will be considered a ranking factor? Not necessarily. However, expect businesses to receive higher levels of engagement and CTR from mobile when compared with desktop, especially for branded searches.

On the other hand, this advantage could be neutralized for non branded searches where the Post carousel is appearing directly beneath the search result, rather than under the business’ GMB profile.

How do Google Posts influence your ranking?

Considering the almost stealthy roll-out of Posts, we do not expect Google to comment on whether Posts will be taken into account as a ranking factor in search. For the moment, therefore, we would recommend concentrating on utilizing them as a feature to improve CTR, and therefore traffic, to content.

Posts are certainly not a social network in the traditional sense, when compared with the major platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Furthermore, we only need look at the ambiguous information out there on how social media may or may not affect ranking ability to guess that Google will not be commenting on the influence of Posts on SERPs for some time – if ever.

Are posts a spin off of Google Authors?

Posts appear to be somewhat of a spin off of the now defunct Google Authorship experiment, but with more functionality, i.e. the ability to advertise events in Posts. Much like Google Authorship, Posts will provide almost instantly indexable content and another dimension to search results.

Businesses will be able to drive traffic through search results to specific pieces of content or key calls to action from Posts, adding further options for users compared with the more standard main search link or associated sitelinks.

Top stories and Twitter carousel

Again, we will need to see this roll out fully to see the impact on search results, but it is an interesting conundrum for Google. Currently big brands will tend to have Google’s ‘Top Stories’ and a Twitter carousel appear in search results. Add Posts to this equation and it raises interesting questions. Which takes priority? Content published directly to their GMB page, or Twitter/news outlets?

One would imagine that Google would look after their own interests, but their recent record €2.4 billion fine by the EU for essentially providing biased Google shopping results may influence their decisions on this matter.

Posts do seem to compete more directly with the Twitter carousel due to their time-sensitive nature, which is not exactly great news for the already presumably very sweaty and sleep deprived team at Twitter. Especially considering the language used on Google’s page explaining Posts: “Your Presence on Google, Fresher than Ever”.

Moving forward

We are actually quite excited about the potential of Posts. It adds another dimension to our role as SEOs, and we can see early adopters using it to significantly boost content marketing efforts.

Interestingly – and a topic which has been briefly touched upon by Search Engine Watch – the way in which businesses utilize Posts could be a substantial influencing factor on their effectiveness. Businesses will have to be conscious of whether they use it to promote new products, events, provide key information (e.g guides), or a blend of content.

First impressions count, even before the user has clicked on your search result. Subsequently, early adopters should look to define their strategy for Posts quickly rather than being an early adopter for the sake of it.