How to effectively combine online and offline lead generation

Leadfeeder

We have two primary forms of leads: online and offline. This article talks about how to combine online and offline marketing for more efficient lead generation.

In today’s world we are mostly narrowing in to online leads, thanks to the Internet essentially opening up the entire world for us to peruse. But offline leads should still be a factor we consider moving forward.

Looking at the two it is easy to see that online leads are going to be the more important source of generation. It produces the most, after all.

That isn’t an excuse to ignore the harder work involved in offline lead curating, as that will ramp up your marketing benefits by leaps and bounds. Especially in terms of B2B interaction – something that we should all be trying our best to take advantage of.

Bringing offline and online lead generation together

Finding ways to combine offline and online leads isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds. Actually, the two really help the other to succeed.

Here are some ways you can start making each work for the other, making your marketing strategy more effective than ever before.

Online lead generation helps more informed offline marketing decisions

Cold calling has got too old. Online marketing has turned the things around: These days you can make sure your lead is ready (and even waiting) for your sales call. Here are a few examples of how your online lead generation efforts can lead to more “offline” deals.

Leadfeeder lets you identify companies behind your website logs and provides you with detailed contact information for you to build that connection further. Normally, a combination of online and offline relationship building works best. For example, you can engage with the lead on social media and then bring that connection offline by giving them a call.

Offering free downloads or a free product prior to getting in touch could be even more powerful. For example, at Internet Marketing Ninjas, we give away free case studies and whitepapers and have a nice private dashboard where we can see what exactly was downloaded by a particular lead. This helps our sales team to put together a more targeted proposal before giving this lead a call.

Giving away freebies (free services or products) is another effective option here, and it can be less work than you may think. As an example, SE Ranking allows marketing companies to install a lead generation widget for visitors to request a free report. The free report will be generated, white-labeled and sent to the prospect automatically by SE Ranking and as a result you have a qualified lead with no work done (apart from attracting that visitor with your content).

From here on out, you can get in touch with the customer by phone and hopefully get a deal:

Seranking lead generation

Salesforce provides more ways to qualify your leads automatically before you reach out to them offline. Once leads begin to respond to nurturing efforts and their scores increase, you can automatically assign them to sales for follow up.

Salesforce

Use social media listening to better under understand your customers

Social media provides a lot of opportunities for businesses to understand their customers better and thus build their offline lead generation strategy accordingly. What questions do your customers ask on social media? What do they think about you or your competitors? How can you design their offline experience to serve them better?

Brand24 is one of the most powerful social media listening platform allowing you to find online leads, identify where to promote your products and find customers before they find you. It provides one of the most powerful sentiment analyses on the market – and lets you snatch leads from your competitors by being the first to engage with their unhappy customers.

It also integrates nicely with Slack allowing your whole team to better engage with social media leads more efficiently (and learn more about your customers too!).

Brand24

Make your offline marketing materials link to your online assets

Let’s say you create a stack of physical brochures that you are giving out at a trade show. You don’t want to make people work to find you online… make it easy for them! Or maybe you have business cards to give out. Your website should be right there, easy to see, the URL clear.

Businesses have been utilizing this marketing tactic for ages now. Yet, many of them still need a reminder. Here’s an old Mashable post encouraging businesses to design social-media-friendly business cards, for example.

Canva is an easy way to design online marketing materials which you can also re-use offline:

Canva

Social media pages are also a great inclusion, as it ties in all your sources of leads nicely. If you give out other promotional items, such as pens, magnets, keychains, etc., make sure they also reflect your online presence.

Start looking for community outreach opportunities

Recently there was a local art fair put on downtown in my city. The booths were mostly local companies and artists, but among them were some huge names in the telecom, financial and medical business. They were giving away free items, holding contests and answering questions from people visiting their booths.

I have seen these same brands at other community events such as library gatherings, unveilings, and charity auctions. All of them promoted those appearances heavily online ahead of time and used the chance at being face to face to take photos and run social media contests. It is great PR.

To get you inspired, here’s a neat example of an “offline” event utilizing Twitter marketing: in 2015 Pubcon organized “Pregame Twitter Tailgate Party” contests, giving away prizes for the best tweets promoting the conference.

Online tools provide a great way to organize and funnel those leads before you reach out to invite them to become part of your competitor. I use Salesmate to organize leads that integrate well with my favorite online apps:

Salesmate apps

Get to those conventions on social live feeds

This is my favorite tip on this list. Social media sites like Youtube, Twitter and Facebook allow you to livestream. So the next time you are at a big convention or floor show, make sure you are showing your followers.

Hype up a hashtag to follow for a couple of weeks in advance, take questions or run interviews and show your followers what is going on. It is a great way to catch some attention where otherwise you might have been ignored. Plus it shows people at the convention who you are, as well.

There’s a great guide over at Convince and Convert on how brands are using streaming video for conference marketing. As an example, Nissan streamed the launch of its 2016 Maxima at the New York auto show and Dunkin Donuts summer music effort across seven platforms, including Periscope and Spotify.

Beautiful together

Online and offline lead generation are not at odds. They are a chance to combine your efforts for greater value! Start including both in your marketing campaigns and you will be amazed at how much more productive those efforts will be.

Have a tip for combining online and offline leads? Let us know in the comments!

The 2-step guide to driving sales with Pinterest

There are millions of people on Pinterest, searching, pinning, and sharing – so it’s important to recognize its potential for building awareness and filling the top of the funnel, particularly for ecommerce companies.

This blog will discuss a couple of recommended targeting types within Pinterest to help fill the top of the funnel and essentially build up your audience. From there, once your audience is built out, we’ll run through how to actually capitalize on these new users to drive sales.

Let’s jump in.

Use Pinterest to fill the funnel

Pinterest has some specific features that are highly effective for building your audience. These include:

Keyword targeting

You can leverage user intent by targeting specific keywords that users are searching within Pinterest.

For example, if you are a trendy clothing brand that sells sweaters, you may want to target “trendy sweaters” and have your ad (in Pinterest lingo, your promoted pin) show up in the search results and related pins.

Interest targeting

Pinterest will determine a user’s interest based on the pins they have engaged with and saved. Your ad (promoted pin) will show up in the user’s home feed or relevant topics feed.

A Promoted Pin on Pinterest

“Actalike” targeting

This is similar to Facebook’s lookalike targeting; you can upload a customer list and Pinterest will target audiences similar in behaviors, traits, and characteristics as that customer list. Our recommendation is to start off with your top customers – for example, your highest-LTV or AOV audiences.

I would initially recommend prioritizing the Actalike and keyword targeting as they tend to be more effective at getting in front of highly relevant audiences. But by leveraging any or all of the targeting options, you’re discovering and engaging with new, relevant audiences and driving them to your site.

That said, make sure your expectations are aligned. You should not expect to see Pinterest as a lever for immediate purchases, but more as a longer-term play where you’re developing an awareness and building your audience to hit later via a few different methods below to actually drive the sale.

That said, let’s talk about how to…

Convert Pinterest engagement into sales

Now that you’ve engaged with your audiences via Pinterest, you should be capturing those audiences for remarketing purposes.

First, to be smart with your remarketing efforts and truly understand the value of Pinterest, you should make sure every link on your Pinterest ads include a tag that labels it as Pinterest. You can use UTM parameters or anything else, but essentially you want to make sure that you can identify these audiences that have come through from Pinterest and segment them out.

You can then create specific audiences within both Google and Facebook (for example) that have come in through Pinterest. (E.g. url contains ‘utm_source=pinterest). Now you can separate out these audiences, and as you use them in your retargeting strategies, you can understand if the Pinterest audiences you have built are actually converting into sales.

Speaking of converting, I’d recommend the following methods:

RLSA (remarketing for search ads)

Layer your Pinterest audiences onto existing search campaigns and add a higher bid modifier. These audiences have already visited your site and developed a familiarity with your brand. If they end up searching for your product, you want to make sure your ad appears high in the search results to remind them of your brand, pull them to your site, and entice them to convert.

One RLSA strategy I’d recommend is to create a separate “broad” RLSA campaign where you can bid on head terms, and broader but still relevant terms that you normally wouldn’t be able to afford.

For example, you typically may not bid on a term like “womens clothing” because it is so generic and has heavy competition, but given the user has already visited your site, you can create an RLSA campaign, layer your Pinterest audiences, and bid on the term.

The thought behind this is that by serving your ad on this more generic keyword, you are reminding them that you sell women’s clothing. Since the users have been to your site, they’ll have a sense of if it’s worth visiting. Essentially, this is way of getting in front of relevant eyes without doing significant harm to overall efficiency.

Dynamic remarketing

You can do this on both Facebook and GDN where ads include the product the user has visited on the site (as well as other relevant products). The usual segmentation caveats apply; you want to make sure you’re segmenting by time lapsed since the visit and depth of site pages reached and bid accordingly.

Remarketing for shopping

Make use of your audience list by layering it onto your shopping campaigns. Again, the goal here is to bid more aggressively so you can ensure your ad shows up for the audiences who have engaged with your Pinterest ad, visited the site, and developed familiarity with the brand. You’ll typically see higher CVRs for these types of audiences.

The main takeaway here: if you’re not investing in Pinterest, you’re missing out on engaging a robust, potentially high-ROI audience. The platform itself has come a long way in adding marketing-friendly features and reporting capabilities to position itself as a long-term player. Get on board now; the traffic’s not getting any cheaper.

Good luck!

For more on how to integrate Pinterest into your sales strategy, check out our visual guide to Pinterest advertising.

Semantic Search: What it Means for SEO in 2017

The combination of semantics (the science of meaning in language) with search engines that process billions of queries seems a very natural one.

Semantic search has been effective, too; by understanding the intent of a query and the context of the user, the accuracy of results on search engines like Google and Bing has increased significantly.

Search engine results pages today look markedly different to their earlier iterations and, with improvements in local search, voice recognition, and machine learning, they will continue to change over the next few years too.

There is a lot of fascinating theory behind all of this, but we can sometimes focus on this to the detriment of our work today.

Significant algorithm updates like Hummingbird, or the more recent launch of RankBrain, have a big impact on users. As marketers, we need to know exactly what this means for our strategy, our expectations, and our campaign measurement.

As such, this article will focus on some real-world examples of semantic search and provide a practical framework to help marketers avail of the opportunities it brings.

Semantic search in action

Let’s start with a simple example to shed light on how semantic search works. We’ll use a common, everyday search query like [will smith]. This screenshot is what I see above the fold on desktop:

When Google processes this query, it recognizes instantaneously that I am searching for the actor and all-round entertainer Will Smith, but also that the intent of my search is unclear. Therefore, it serves a varied array of options for me to click on. I may want to read news about the Fresh Prince, I may want to see his filmography, I may want to see if he has any new albums in the pipeline. Perhaps I want to see all three.

As is highlighted on the right-hand side in the knowledge panel, Google can retrieve all of this information from its index of 808,000,000 Will Smith-related results, but also from its own vast database of information about noteworthy people and institutions.

I can help Google out here by refining my search. Next, I ask [who is he married to]:

As we can see, results are pulled to the top of the results to highlight his current and former spouse.

This is a demonstration of conversational search in action.

Just like a person would in a conversation, Google knows the ‘he’ in my question refers to Will Smith. I don’t need to state this again. Google also needs to know what the connection is between ‘he’ and both Jada Pinkett Smith and Sheree Zampino.

These may seem like minor changes, but they hint at a fundamental shift in how Google works. Factor in voice search and it is easy to see how important this conversational element is.

If we extend this out to ask about Will Smith’s music, we can start to conceptualize just how complex Google’s network of interconnected entities is:

Asking what an artist’s best song is strays into the realm of subjectivity, so Google pulls the track listing from Will Smith’s greatest hits. Or at least, I hope that’s what’s happening here. If Google genuinely thinks ‘Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble’ is Will Smith’s best song, I’ll lose faith in them.

In terms of natural language processing, however, this search query is now quite convoluted. In this last instance, Google has had to keep track of who we’re asking about, having deviated once already to ask who his spouse is; then pull an indirect, best-fit answer to my question about Will Smith’s best song.

Let’s try one more, then we’ll give Google a break:

You get the idea.

We’ve come an awfully long way from the exact keyword matching of just a few years ago.

Furthermore, all of this serves an important illustrative purpose and it’s one that matters for anyone that wants to rank via SEO in 2017.

Why does it matter for brands?

The technology that underpins the above answers is utilized for all queries, so it is very significant for brands. Just launching a page on a website and ‘optimizing it for SEO’ clearly isn’t going to cut it any more.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that I run a peanut butter e-commerce site. Logic dictates that I will want to rank first in organic search for [peanut butter]. The results from my location look like this:

We can see the same principle applied to the earlier Will Smith query, but with very different results – both in their format and their content.

I may want to rank for [peanut butter] with my e-commerce site, but unless I have a physical store I can use to rank via local listings, the chances look slim. There are a few organic results above the fold (an anomaly these days), but only one brand that actually produces the product. There is a recipe with an accompanying image, however, and a link to more images, so perhaps these formats would be a more appropriate, achievable way to get onto page one.

At the bottom of this search results page, Google actually provides some strong clues about what people are really looking for when they search for peanut butter:

These related searches are more specific and give us a good idea of which topics we should cover on our site. There is a nice variety of different topics here, all of which are worthy of more investigation.

To pick one, we’ll go with the ‘peanut butter ingredients’ route. If I search for [what is in peanut butter?], Google serves the following results:

We can already sense some opportunities for an e-commerce site either to branch out is content strategy to answer questions, or potentially to partner with a site that already ranks well for these queries.

The ‘People also ask’ list is a fantastic resource for users and SEO marketers, but we should be aware of just how dynamic that list is. It take on a concertina effect and expands based on our interactions with it.

Once more, the need to approach SEO in 2017 with an open mind is evident. We can’t control how this list will function at scale; all we can do is put ourselves in the best possible position to answer common questions.

In the screenshot below, there are two examples of how the list changes based on the questions a user clicks on. On the left-hand side, I have clicked on a protein-related question and, therefore, Google provides more protein-based questions below the original list of four. On the right-hand side, I have initially clicked on ‘Is eating peanut butter good for you?’

The ‘People also ask’ box ends up looking completely different in these two instances, which both began with the exact same query.

Note that a lot of similar questions are phrased slightly differently, but Google knows that the underlying meaning is essentially the same. As such, we don’t need to slavishly devote ourselves to answering the exact questions that receive the most searches in order to rank.

This brings with it opportunities and challenges, outlined in the four-step process below.

Four steps to rank via semantic search

We can’t control exactly which queries we will rank for, but we can certainly increase the probability that we will improve our organic visibility if we work through these four stages.

Research

Google provides a lot of useful information via suggested search, ‘People Also Ask’, and related searches. You could use these to collect a list of direct questions that you can be certain people are asking, as a starting point.

Although keyword-level search volumes are impossible to obtain with any serious degree of accuracy now, there are still some useful tools that provide insight into search trends. Google’s own keyword planner is quite limited for SEO nowadays, but you can use PPC-based insights to help shape your content strategy.

There are also tools like Moz’s keyword planner, which are very helpful for shaping broader SEO strategies while still keeping an eye on where the search volume is.

Personally, I find Answer the Public to be a useful guide when trying to figure out all the interrelated questions and pain points consumers have when thinking about a product or service.

Collate a list of all the navigational, informational, and commercial queries related to your site, then sub-categorize them by their semantic links to each other.

From here, you can start thinking about how to structure this to ensure maximum SEO visibility.

Structure

Site structure is a fundamental aspect of semantic search performance.

You should think of your products or services as entities that each contain a multitude of connotations and associations. Build those connotations in vertically to cover a range of user needs, and link them to other entities horizontally in the site taxonomy. By mapping keyword groups or common questions to landing pages, you can ensure that each URL on your domain has a defined purpose.

Changes to site structure normally require buy-in from multiple stakeholders, so I would advise visualizing your proposed site taxonomy as early as possible.

How you present this will depend on your intended audience and how they think. For more logical thinkers, Writemaps is a great way to produce simple but effective site structure visualizations.

If you require a more conceptual approach to emphasize semantic relationships, or even the amount of internal link value you want to send to each area of the site, you can use word cluster software like Smartdraw to get your point across.

Implement

The next step is to populate your site structure with content that meets user needs. This is an effective way to think about this, because consumer needs and desires remain relatively constant, and the ideal functioning of a search engine will always seek to satiate those underlying motivations. So if you can create content to cover every aspect of the typical consumer journey, you will be rewarded.

Bear in mind what we have seen from the example above, too. Multimedia results are hugely significant, so try to include a range of assets that fit users’ (and Google’s) expectations. Most rank tracking software providers now contain products that allow us to see which types are most prevalent for different types of queries, so use these to guide your efforts.

Measure

Measurement has become a significant challenge, viewed through the lens of our old performance indicators like ranking positions, for example. It is very difficult to track individual ranking positions, as they are never static. Search results pages act like living organisms now, so we need to take a broader perspective on measurement.

Track the metrics that matter most to your business, rather than just looking at rankings. The aim should always be to use SEO to affect those metrics anyway, so incorporate them within your campaign tracking.

Moreover, the bigger ranking software companies have created their own metrics to measure SEO visibility which, when combined with what you see in your analytics dashboard, will provide a lot of insight into whether your strategy is working.

We can’t approach measurement like we used to, but we can still tell when SEO is making a positive contribution.

For more on semantic search and its ever-changing impact on the SERP, check out our round-up of five important updates to Google semantic search you might have missed.

Five important updates to Google semantic search you might have missed

What is semantic search? Broadly speaking, it’s a term that refers to a movement towards more accurate search results by using various methods to better understand the intent and context behind a search.

Or as Alexis Sanders very eloquently explained it on the Moz Blog,

“The word “semantic” refers to the meaning or essence of something. Applied to search, “semantics” essentially relates to the study of words and their logic. Semantic search seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding a searcher’s intent through contextual meaning. […] Semantic search brings about an enhanced understanding of searcher intent, the ability to extract answers, and delivers more personalized results.”

Google is constantly making tweaks and changes to its documentation and features linked to semantic search. Many of these involve things like structured data and Schema.org, rich results, Knowledge Graph and so on, and the vast majority go unannounced and unnoticed – even though they can make a significant difference to the way we interact with search.

But there are some eagle-eyed members of the search community who keep tabs on changes to semantic search, and let the rest of us know what’s up. To aid in those efforts, I’m rounding up five recent important changes to semantic search on Google that you might not have noticed.

100% of the credit for these observations goes to the Semantic Search Marketing Google+ group (and specifically its founder Aaron Bradley), which is my source for all the latest news and updates on semantic search. If you want to keep in the loop, I highly recommend joining.

Videos and recipes are now accessible via image search

Earlier this week, Google made a telling addition to its documentation for videos, specifying that video rich results will now display in image search on mobile devices, “providing users with useful information about your video.”

A mobile image search for a phrase like “Daily Show Youtube” (okay, that one’s probably not going to happen organically, but I wanted to make the feature work) will fetch video thumbnails in among the grid of regular image results, which when selected, unfold into something like this:

You then need to select “Watch” or the title of the video to be taken to the video itself. (Selecting the image will only bring up the image in fullscreen and won’t redirect you to the video). So far, video rich results from YouTube and Wistia have been spotted in image search.

Google’s documentation for recipes also now features a similar addition: “Rich results can also appear in image search on mobile devices, providing users with useful information about your recipe.” So now you can do more than just stare at a mouthwatering picture of a lasagna in image search – you might be able to find out how it’s made.

Google’s documentation gives instructions on how to mark up your videos and recipes correctly, so that you can make sure your content gets pulled through into image search.

Rich cards are no more

RIP, rich cards. The term introduced by Google in May 2016 to describe the, well, card-style rich results that appear for specific searches have now been removed from Google Developers.

As identified by Aaron Bradley, Google has made changes to its ‘Mark Up Your Content Items’ on Google Developers to remove reference to “rich cards”. In most places, these have been changed to refer to “rich results”, the family of results which includes things like rich cards, rich snippets and featured snippets.

There’s no information as to why Google decided to retire the term; I think it’s usefully descriptive, but maybe Google decided there was no point making an arbitrary distinction between a “card” and a “non-card” rich result.

It may also have been aiming to slim down the number of similar-sounding terms it uses to describe search results with the addition of “enriched search results” to the mix – more on that later.

Google launches structured data-powered job postings in search results

Google has added another item to the list of things that will trigger a rich result in search: job postings.

This change was prefigured by the addition of a Jobs tab to Google’s ‘Early Access and partner-only features’ page, which is another good place to keep an eye out for upcoming developments in search.

Link returns a 404 right now, but this suggests a Google pilot for marking up job listings is coming (likely using #schema.org/JobPosting) pic.twitter.com/de6QxZnkLt

— Aaron Bradley (@aaranged) February 9, 2017

Google also hinted at the addition during this year’s Google I/O, when it announced the launch of a new initiative called ‘Google for Jobs’. In a lengthy blog post published on the first day of the conference, Google CEO Sundar Pichai explained the advent of Google for Jobs as forming part of Google’s overall efforts towards “democratizing access to information and surfacing new opportunities”, tying it in with Google’s advances in AI and machine learning.

“For example, almost half of U.S. employers say they still have issues filling open positions. Meanwhile, job seekers often don’t know there’s a job opening just around the corner from them, because the nature of job posts—high turnover, low traffic, inconsistency in job titles—have made them hard for search engines to classify. Through a new initiative, Google for Jobs, we hope to connect companies with potential employees, and help job seekers find new opportunities.”

The new feature, which is U.S.-only for the time being, is being presented as an “enriched search experience”, which is another one of Google’s interesting new additions to semantic search that I’ve explored in full below.

And in a neat tie-in, reviews of employers are now due to be added in schema.org 3.3, including both individual text reviews and aggregate ratings of organizations in their role as employer.

Google introduces new “enriched search results”

Move over rich results – Google’s got an even better experience now. Introducing “enriched search results”, a “more interactive and enhanced class of rich results” being made available across Google.

How long have enriched search results been around? SEO By the Sea blogged about a Google patent for enriched search results as far back as 2014, and followed up with a post in 2015 exploring ‘enriched resources’ in more detail.

However, in the 2014 post Bill Slawski specifically identifies things like airline flights, weather inquiries and sports scores as triggering an enriched result, whereas in its Search Console Help topic on enriched search results, Google specifies that this experience is linked to job postings, recipes and events only.

According to Google:

“Enriched search results often include an immersive popup experience or other advanced interaction feature.”

Google also specifies that “Enriched search enables the user to search across the various properties of a structured data item; for instance, a user might search for chicken soup recipes under 200 calories, or recipes that take less than 1 hour of preparation time.”

Judging by this quote, enriched search results are a continuation of Google’s overall strategy to achieve two things: interpret and respond to more in-depth search queries, and make the SERP more of a one-stop-shop for anything that a searcher could need.

We’ve seen Google increasingly add interactive features to the SERP like new types of rich result, and Google Posts, while also improving its ability to interpret user intent and search context. (Which, as we established earlier, is the goal of semantic search). So in the recipe example given above, a user would be able to search for chicken soup recipes with under 200 calories, then view and follow the recipe in a pop-up, all without needing to click through to a recipe website.

Needless to say, this could be bad news for website traffic and click-throughs – even more than featured snippets, answer boxes, the knowledge graph, quick answers and other rich results already are.

Google makes a whole host of changes to its structured data developer guides

Finally, Google has made a wide-ranging set of changes to its structured data developer guides. I recommend reading Aaron Bradley’s post to Semantic Search Marketing for full details, but here are some highlights:

  • Guides are now classified as covering the following topics: structured data, AMP, mobile friendly design
  • Structured data has a new definition: it is now defined by Google as “a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content.” The old definition called it “a text-based organization of data that is included in a file and served from the web.” This one definitely seems a little clearer.
  • Twice as many items now listed under “Technical guidelines”, including an explanation of what to do about duplicate content
  • There is now less emphasis on the Structured Data Testing Tool, and more on post-publication analysis and testing – perhaps Google is trying to get users to do more of their own work on structured data markup, rather than relying on Google’s tool?
  • All content types are now eligible to appear in a carousel.

PPC 102: Seven tips to improve your paid search campaigns

Once you’ve got the basics of PPC down, how can you improve on those efforts further? Here are seven tips to take your campaign to the next level.

We recently gave eight tips to help beginner search marketers get their first campaigns off the ground, with our article ‘PPC 101: Eight tips to get started‘. This is the sequel to that course, PPC 102, with seven more tips to help you improve on what you’re already doing.

You don’t have to be a PPC expert to create a successful campaign with strong ROI. All you need is the time to understand how PPC works and to improve your efforts in a series of small but effective steps.

Set up conversion tracking

It’s really important to be able to measure your PPC efforts and this can be achieved by setting up the tracking pixels on your pages. Right before you start with PPC ads, you can add a conversion code to your site to be more prepared for the analysis of your campaigns.

This will allow you to understand which ads work better for your audience, bringing you closer to conversions. It can be extremely useful for PPC beginners to learn what counts as an effective PPC ad and whether their first attempts can bring them closer to ROI.

Conversion pixels make analysis of your campaigns more specific by offering the right insights on the ads that make leads and sales easier.

Focus on quality keywords

Keyword research is among the first steps to take when planning a PPC campaign. The end result of this can be a long list of keywords to explore, but do you really need to test them all? It’s tempting to try all of them until you find the most successful ones for your business, but it’s usually more effective to focus on the most important ones for your goals.

Quality keywords are not the same for every business or even every campaign, and this depends on what you want to achieve. These may not even be the most popular, but they will probably have more chances of converting than the rest.

Focus on what you define as quality keywords, even this is quite a limited pool. This will save you both time and budget.

Learn more about your audience

As we mentioned in PPC 101, it’s important to find your audience before you set up a PPC campaign. This tip is helping you take the understanding to the next level. Once you do find the ideal audience for your ads, it’s good to spend the right time to learn as many things as possible about them.

It might be useful to develop personas that help you understand your audience’s habits to be able to create more effective ads that lead to higher conversion rates.

Once you understand your audience, it’s time to analyse how they function in all the stages of your funnel. Where does your target audience sit as part of your sales cycle? How does that affect your ads and your set goals?

For example, it’s different targeting new prospect leads comparing to past customers you want to retarget and this can be reflected in your planning for your next PPC ads.

Set a landing page that matches your ads

Every PPC ad should lead to a relevant landing page to ensure that the audience is exposed to the right details after clicking on an ad. This may include more information about the product, answering questions, offering options for the next steps and most of all, speaking the same language as the ad.

It’s not just about creating effective PPC copy for your ad – it’s equally important to maintain consistency between the ad and the landing page your audience visits. This increases the chances for more conversions, as users can feel that the message resonates throughout all the pages.

Focus on the image of your ad

A successful PPC ad consists of compelling copy, but also an appealing and relevant image. As the internet becomes more visual year by year and people become accustomed to visual content, an image can significantly aid the effectiveness of your search ads.

Pick carefully the image you’ll use in every ad, aiming for:

visual appeal
relevance
high quality

It would be ideal if an image could create an association with a product or a company, as this could increase the chances for a long-term experience.

Be careful though, as the image still has to be relevant to the ad. Visual appeal on its own cannot increase conversions if the image is irrelevant to the ad.

Optimize your ads for mobile

As more and more users increase the time they spend on mobile devices, they are exposed to more advertising on mobile. We often talk and think of mobile optimization in terms of optimizing mobile websites, but optimizing your mobile ads is just as important.

According to Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report 2017, internet advertising saw a growth of 22% the last year, with mobile advertising contributing significantly to this increase.

This serves as a good reminder of why all PPC campaigns should be mobile-optimized to target a growing audience.

The process of mobile optimization for a PPC ad includes paying special attention to:

ad copy
ad image
habits of mobile users
landing page

Once your campaign is underway, an analysis of the conversions can tell whether mobile users found the ad interesting enough to click on it.

Explore PPC ads holistically

PPC advertising can be very useful by itself, but it’s still more effective to consider as a component part of your entire digital marketing strategy.

It’s not just about launching a successful PPC campaign to reach the desired results, as these will still be aligned with your broader marketing and sales goals.

For example, a PPC campaign can lead to more improved results when it’s aligned with SEO strategy, social media marketing and email marketing.

A multi-channel approach is more popular among marketers these days, as it is more reflective the way people consume content and sees ads through multiple channels and devices.

The acquired data from a holistic approach to your marketing allows you to see how other channels interact with your PPC ads. It also helps you to understand your audience and create even more effective PPC ads in the next campaign.

Overview

Here are some tips to keep in mind when improving your PPC campaign:

Install a conversion pixel before you start your campaign
Only focus on quality keywords
Learn as much as possible about your audience
Make sure your landing page matches the expectations that your PPC ad sets
Pick the right visual for your ad
Create mobile optimized PPC ads
Think of PPC holistically.

7 subtle on-site issues no SEO should miss

Your on-site SEO could be broken without you realizing it.

We all know some of the basics. Content is king. Users come first. Avoid thin content, keyword stuffing, above-the-fold advertising, etc.

But not all on-site SEO issues are so obvious.

Here are seven on-site issues that are very easy to miss.

1. Excessive listing (Not, not this kind)

You are currently reading a “list post.” List posts grab attention. Survey research by Conductor suggests that headlines with list numbers are preferred over others. Likewise, CoSchedule analyzed 1 million headlines and found that list posts were by far the most likely to get shared.

So don’t stop making list posts.

But there’s a particular kind of listing that can just trash your site’s rankings.

In 2013, Matt Cutts from Google had this to say on how listing can be interpreted as keyword stuffing:

“Keyword stuffing is almost like a grab bag term to describe a lot of different things…You can be repeating…You can use different words. You know: so you’re talking about ‘free credit cards,’ ‘credit cards,’ ‘weight loss pill,’ you know, all sorts of stuff…it can even be almost gibberish-like…”

So while a list of facts, statements, or opinions draws shareability, simply listing a series of short phrases in succession can be harmful. Avoid long lists of phrases, whether separated by commas or in a numbered list. Search engines expect some degree of elaboration.

As with almost any rule, there are exceptions. Just be aware of the pitfalls, put UX first, and use discretion.

2. Accidental cloaking (even if users can see it)

Cloaking is bad, bad, bad.

Harry Potter may use an invisibility cloak for good, but as far as search engines are concerned, cloaking is inherently evil.

Google explicitly forbids cloaking, defining it as follows:

“…the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines…”

It should be obvious why. If a search engine is suggesting a URL based on content that the user can’t see, the user is bound to be disappointed.

But cloaking doesn’t always happen on purpose.

Here are a few ways cloaking can happen by accident:

Poorly formatted CSS places content off-screen, where users can’t see it
Text foreground and background colors are identical, or nearly so
Content is hidden or covered up by JavaScript.

I always recommend against giving search engines the benefit of the doubt. For example, avoid matching foreground and background colors, even if the text is visible to the user due to other formatting elements. Google can misinterpret it, or rightly consider it cloaking on devices that can’t handle the additional formatting.

Also, avoid this related issue: “sneaky redirects”. Google defines them as:

“It’s a violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines to redirect a user to a different page with the intent to display content other than what was made available to the search engine crawler.”

I’ve seen way too many sites unintentionally cloak content in this way. There are only two ways you should redirect a URL: with a 301 or, if it’s legitimately temporary, with a 302. Anything else runs the risk of being dependent on the device or the user-agent, which runs the risk of being seen as cloaking.

Don’t do it.

3. Links with no anchors

This is just another form of accidental cloaking, but it’s so common and so easy to miss that I’m placing it in its own section.

This is an easy mistake to make. You type an “href” link in html and you forget to include the anchor text. Or maybe you intend to update the anchor text, delete it, and forget to add the new anchor text.

Unfortunately, an innocent mistake like this will result in a link to a URL that is invisible to the user, but visible to the search engines.

You know what that means…it’s cloaked.

Keep an eye out for this one.

4. Excessive bolding and other formatting

Shoving your keywords into “bold” or “strong” tags doesn’t exactly happen by accident, but it’s the kind of thing that is encouraged often enough that otherwise innocent webmasters might do it, thinking that it’s just standard or even best practice.

It’s not.

You can find plenty of correlative studies showing an association between bolded keywords and rankings, but you need to keep something else in mind.

Bolding is often used as a feature of content structure.

If your content is structured around specific ideas, it’s only natural that you will have bolded subheadings that feature keywords related to that idea, in much the same way that it will show up naturally in h2 or h3 tags.

This does not mean that you should parse your content and bold your keywords.

Bolding and italicizing certainly play a role within primary content, but it is for emphasis (see?) or to make the content easier to skim. It should not be used to simply bold your keywords wherever they appear.

Need evidence?

Brian Chang tried putting his keywords inside “strong” tags. The result? His rankings tanked a few pages. Want to take a stab at what happened when he removed them? That’s right. His rankings recovered.

Inspired by this, Sycosure ran an experiment and saw similar results. Their rankings plummeted, although they did recover before removing the formatting.

In short, while results are unpredictable, bolding your keywords is unlikely to improve your rankings by any significant amount, but it is likely to hurt your website in a way that makes it not worth the risk.

5. Frames

Frames and iframes display content from other URLs on a single page, with one URL for each frame. This breaks the entire conceptual framework of the web: one page for each URL, one URL for each page.

Google warns webmasters not to use frames and iframes:

“Google supports frames and iframes to the extent that it can. Frames can cause problems for search…Google tries to associate framed content with the page containing the frames, but we don’t guarantee that we will.”

Google’s support subdomain goes on to recommend that if you must use frames, you should place alternate content within the NoFrames tag, but I would strongly recommend avoiding them altogether. Frames break web standards and are likely to cause problems that extend even beyond SEO.

6. Links to penalized sites

Matt Cutts has stated quite explicitly that “Google trusts sites less when they link to spammy sites or bad neighborhoods.”

Unfortunately, it’s not at all obvious when you’ve linked to a bad neighborhood or a penalized site.

You may have linked to a site that appears authoritative but that uses a lot of spammy SEO tactics. You might have linked to a site that used to be trustworthy but was since acquired by nefarious people, or that otherwise went downhill. Or you may have simply been careless and used the first source you could find to support an argument, without realizing that the site was spam nirvana.

Whatever the reason, innocent webmasters end up linking to bad neighborhoods more often than they realize.

Google can be forgiving here but, as I keep saying, don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. They won’t always do the same for you.

This tool can help you catch links to bad neighborhoods on your site.

I also recommend taking these very important steps:

Except for your own social media profiles, the standard of quality for site-wide links in your navigation should be extremely high
Don’t allow trackbacks on your blog
Your on-site content guidelines should be very concrete about the standards needed for citation. Specifically, only cite authoritative or primary sources
Review your site’s external links periodically.

That said, do not remove all outbound links on your site. This is a very bad idea. A case study by Reboot Online makes it very clear that authoritative outbound links are good for your site. Your site should not be a dead end for links.

7. Nofollow

Don’t confuse the nofollow and noindex tags!

I see this one a lot.

Most sites will need to hide some pages from the search engines for one reason or another: to prevent duplicate content issues, to hide paywall content, to hide back-end content, for split tests, and for any number of other case by case issues where content needs to be there for users but where it will be problematic for search engines.

Always, always, always use this if you have to block your own content from search engines:

<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”>

Never, never, never use this on your own content:

<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”>

Remember how I said earlier that almost all rules have exceptions? This one doesn’t.

The “nofollow” tag tells search engines not to pass PageRank through the links. It does not prevent PageRank from being divided by the number of links on the page, and you cannot stop the PageRank damping factor.

When you use “noindex, nofollow” you are telling Google to throw away all the PageRank that flows into the noindexed page. When you “noindex, follow” you are telling Google not to index the page, but to pass the PageRank forward so that the links back to your site inherit that PageRank.

Likewise if you “nofollow” a link to one of your own pages instead of using “noindex.” Don’t do it!

So there you have it. Have your own on-site issues to share? Let’s hear them in the comments.

AdWords Editor 12: Everything you need to know

Google has launched AdWords Editor 12, the latest upgrade to its essential software for sophisticated PPC practitioners.

Complete with a new look and a raft of useful features, it is a welcome upgrade and marks the biggest improvement to the platform since version 11.0 launched in 2014.

Below, we have summarized everything you need to know about AdWords Editor 12 and also delved into what this update tells us about Google’s current and future strategy.

What is AdWords Editor?

AdWords editor is a free, downloadable application that allows users to edit campaigns in minute detail outside of the AdWords platform. This has the advantage of providing more control over edits, but also the very significant ability to work on campaigns even when a user is offline.

Originally released in 2006, the pace of improvement has relented a little of late. AdWords Editor 11.0 was released way back in 2014, bringing with a raft of much-requested changes like the ability to make bulk updates to multiple ad groups or campaigns at once.

We have seen helpful improvements since then all they way up to version 11.8, particularly the ability to connect up to five AdWords accounts to one email address, added late last year.

Nonetheless, we have been kept waiting until now for an update worthy of the version 12 moniker.

So, what’s new in AdWords Editor 12?

First impressions are, as is so often the case, guided by aesthetics. Editor has a new look that aligns it with the rest of Google’s product suite, which is a surprisingly late alteration for a company so committed to consistent cosmetics.

The importance of this contemporary mien is confirmed by Google’s own announcement, which led with: “AdWords Editor 12 offers a fresh look and new features.”

But let’s dig deeper and get to those “new features”, as there is a lot below the surface that is worthy of examination too.

Maximize conversions bidding support:

The ‘maximize conversions’ bidding option was released last month on the web version of AdWords, so this is hardly a surprising launch in version 12. Even so, it is still very welcome and provides the option for users to allow Google’s advanced machine learning technology to set bids automatically within real-time bidding auctions. This means advertisers can get as many of their defined ‘conversions’ as possible for their daily budget.

Available at the campaign level within Editor, maximize conversions is found within the ‘Bid strategy’ drop-down list:

Small screenshot of the Bid strategy dropdown list, with Manual CPC ticked at the top and Maximize conversions highlighted further down.

Custom rules:

AdWords Editor now includes a host of custom rules, designed to ensure advertisers follow Google’s lengthy list of best practices. Editor will now let users know if their campaigns fall below Google’s standard before they are uploaded to AdWords. This is a pretty handy insight into what Google expects and wants to see from ad campaigns.

A list of the rules included are listed in the screenshot below and, as the name suggests, there is plenty of room for customization.

New fields for responsive ads:

A slew of new, editable fields have been added for responsive ads, including logos, promotion text, price prefixes, and CTA text.

Increased multimedia UAC support:

Universal App Campaigns make great use of Google’s machine learning technology. Advertisers can upload their creative assets and Google automatically generates the most appropriate video or image to promote the app to users across its range of products, including the Google Display Network, Search, and YouTube. Support is now provided for up to 20 videos or images within AdWords Editor 12, a significant upgrade.

We can expect to see version 12.1 sometime very soon, so we should really view this as the beginning of a process rather than a finished product.

Evolution, not revolution

That said, there is still a sense that, for all its launch has been heralded, version 12.0 hasn’t delivered the newsworthy, paradigm-shifting features of its predecessor.

There are commonalities across the updates in Editor 12, nonetheless, and they are representative of Google’s wider business strategy.

The phrase “machine learning” invariably crops up in any Google update now and it appears in abundance in relation to the newest AdWords Editor. The application provides more control to advanced users, no doubt, with its customizable fields and filters.

This sense of control for account managers becomes evermore illusory, however, as the essential workings of the machine reside on Google’s side of the fence.

Universal App Campaigns and Maximize Conversions serve as ideal harbingers of a new, AI-led approach to bidding, targeting, and personalization. Google provides access to these features, for a price, which levels the playing field for a wider group of advertisers. The differentiating factor between these campaigns will likely come down to the human element, often led by the meticulous work done in AdWords Editor.

In that sense, this update is a very significant marker of where the industry stands in 2017. The opportunities to gain a competitive advantage through old-fashioned PPC expertise are more valuable than ever, as machine learning tightens its grip over all aspects of paid search, from account structure to creative delivery.

AdWords Editor 12 may not have introduced these notions, but it certainly serves to solidify them.

Here’s how RankBrain does (and doesn’t) impact SEO

In the past couple of weeks there has been a reinvigorated fervor surrounding artificial intelligence, with “AIO” (Artificial Intelligence Optimization) rearing its head on agency websites and blogs.

HTTPS and mobile first seem to be cooling as topics, so attention is turning to RankBrain.

The reality of this however is that artificial intelligence optimization is seemingly a paradoxical notion. If we imagine that Google is a child, when the child goes to school and reads a book, we want the child to learn and understand the information in that book. If the book isn’t “optimized” for the child to learn – structured information, images, engaging, positive user experience etc. – then the child won’t learn or understand the content.

I think most SEOs can optimise for rankbrain, they know how to do it for reals, it’s just it’s too simple so they invent something crazy

— Gary Illyes ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ (@methode) June 27, 2017

Optimizing for RankBrain isn’t something new, or complicated. The tweet above from Google’s Gary Illyes on June 27 2017 echoes this. So why is there this need to turn RankBrain optimization into a product of its own, when the practices aren’t anything new?

In this post I’m going to explore exactly what RankBrain, and isn’t, as well as how the pre-existing concepts and practices of good SEO (as outlined by Google’s guidelines) apply to RankBrain.

What is RankBrain?

RankBrain uses a form of machine learning and is used by Google to process unfathomable amounts of qualitative data (written content) into quantitative data (mathematical entities), vectors that the algorithm and other computers can understand.

15% of all queries that Google processes are new, so it’s common for RankBrain to encounter a query or phrase it hasn’t seen before. Using previously processed data in vectors and shards, RankBrain looks to make an intelligent guess based on similar queries, and similar meanings.

The number of new queries has reduced from 25% in 2007, but volume has increased exponentially thanks to the rise of smartphones and increased internet penetration rates globally.

Simply put, RankBrain:

Interprets the user query
Determines search intent
Selects results (items) from the databases
What is machine learning?

Machine learning is a computer science and was defined in 1959 by Arthur Samuel as follows: “Machine learning gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed”. Samuel conducted the initial research into this field, which evolved from pattern recognition studies and computational learning theory.

Machine learning in essence explores the construction of algorithms and makes predictions based on data and statistical frequencies. Machine learning has been used in a number of software applications prior to Rank Brain, including spam email filtering, network threat and intruder detection and optical character recognition (OCR).

While this is a form of artificial intelligence, it’s not a high functioning form.

Association rule learning

ARL (association rule learning) is a method of machine learning for discovering relationships between variables in large databases using predetermined measures of interestingness.

This has previously been used by supermarkets to determine consumer buyer behaviour, and is used to produce loyalty coupons and other educated outreach methods. For instance, through store loyalty/points cards, a store can gather data that when analyzed can predict buying patterns and behaviors.

ARL can also be used to predict associations, for example if a user buys cheese slices and onions, it could be assumed they are also going to buy burger meat. RankBrain uses this principle in providing intelligent search results, especially when a phrase can have multiple meanings.

An example of this is an English slang term “dench”. If a user searches for dench it can have three meanings; the slang term, a line of clothing, or the actress Judi Dench. The term can also be associated with individuals, such as professional athlete Emmanuel Frimpong and rapper Lethal Bizzle.

As the query is ambiguous, Google’s own search quality evaluator guidelines explain that the search engine will show as many variations as deemed possible in order to satisfy the users search intent as best they can.

Concepts of association rule learning

The main concepts and rules of ARL are Support, Confidence, Lift and Conviction, but for the purposes of RankBrain I’m going to focus on Support and Confidence.

Support

Support in ARL is the measure of how frequently the item in question appears in the database. This is not the same as keyword density, or the number of times keyword variants appear.

Confidence

Confidence of ARL is a measure of how often the rule has been found to be true. This is based on associative terms, i.e. if a user searches for “POTUS”, then there is an X% chance that they may also search for, or find, Donald Trump a satisfactory result. They may also find Barack Obama, George Bush or Abraham Lincoln satisfactory results.

Confidence can often be confused with probabilities, as the two principles with regards to organic search are quite similar (if a user searches for X, then Y and Z can also be valid).

RankBrain uses association rules to satisfy user specified minimum support, and user specified minimum confidence at the same time, and both support and confidence are generally split into two individual processes:

Minimum support threshold is established and applied to all frequent items in the database.
Minimum confidence constraints are applied to the frequent items, in order to form rules.

Using these rules, RankBrain helps Google prioritize which ranking signals are most relevant to the user query, and how to weight those signals.

RankBrain and SEO

RankBrain was launched in a dozen or so languages (as confirmed by Gary Illyes on Twitter in June 2017) ranging from English to Hindi, and its sole purpose is to help Google provide more accurate results and an overall better search experience for users, satisfying their queries.

The main difference between the pre and post RankBrain world is that before RB, Google’s team of software engineers would amend and alter the mathematical algorithm(s) that determine search results and rankings, and this algorithm would remain constant until an update was made. However Rank Brain is a part of the core algorithm and is used by Google for all searches (as of 2016), meaning that there is constant change and fluctuation.

This means that search results are now reactive to real world events, as well as a lot more volatile outside of the big algorithm update announcements.

“Optimizing” for RankBrain

Given how RankBrain interacts with the core algorithm and other ranking signals, there may be a need to change strategic focus (especially if the strategy is built on backlinks). But RankBrain is not a “classic algorithm” like Panda and Penguin.

With the classic algorithms, we knew how to avoid Penguin penalties and thanks to guidelines, we know how to satisfy Panda. RankBrain on the other hand is an interpretation model that can’t be optimised for specifically. There are however a number of standard SEO practices that are now more relevant than ever.

Doorway pages are dead

The idea of writing content with a “focus keyword” and producing one page for one keyword are outdated. The Hummingbird updated killed this in 2013, and RankBrain has taken this one step further.

I’ve seen this practice still being used in a number of sectors. When creating content and URL structures, both user experience and keyword matrices should be used, with the focus being on creating high value and resourceful pages.

Different queries = different weighting factors

Because of the way RankBrain has changed how certain variables and ranking factors are weighted for different queries, it’s no longer a practical approach to take a one size fits all approach with queries (and query categories).

Taking queries that trigger Venice results and the map pack out of the equation, some queries may demand high velocities of fresh content, shorter content, longer content, lots of links… The new weighting model that RankBrain presents means that there will need to be deviations from the standard best practice.

Internal linking structures

We know from Google’s search quality evaluation guidelines that Google considers main and supplemental content when ranking a page; this extends to pages within a URL subdirectory and pages linked to from the main content.

It’s standard to optimize internal linking structures so that link equity is passed to key pages on the site (as well as deeper pages), but it’s also important to include a good number of internal links to improve the user experience.

What does the future hold?

When RankBrain was first launched in 2015 it only handled around 15% of queries, but by the same time 2016 Google’s confidence in the algorithm had grown, and it let RankBrain loose on all queries. This will have been a phased rollout and responsible for a number of changes we saw in 2016.

As RankBrain learns on the job, it will only get better at understanding semantic and concepts, and relationships between topics and queries. This will benefit voice search results accuracy as well as traditional search results pages and now cards.

In summary

In conclusion, a number of leading figures in the SEO community (including Gary Illyes and Rand Fishkin) have come out in various ways highlighting that RankBrain isn’t something that can’t be specifically optimized for.

That being said, understanding how the RankBrain algorithm works is important to understanding the ranking volatility in your (or your client’s) verticals.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

Since 1998, Google has used its homepage to host an invariably inventive ‘doodle’.

The Google Doodle actually began its life as a humorous out-of-office message for the company’s co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. To let everyone know they had gone to the Burning Man festival, they placed the festival’s icon behind the second ‘o’ on their own company’s logo.

It is fitting that what has become a forum for sophisticated artistic and technical expression began life as a stick figure. We can trace the Doodle’s development over time from a simple stick man to an interactive multimedia hub that educates and entertains on a variety of subjects.

Google began experimenting with Doodles to mark historical events soon after the original Burning Man example and, such was its popularity, the Doodle became a daily fixture on the Google homepage.

Undoubtedly, Google has taken a few knocks recently. The record fine levied against it by the E.U. made global headlines, the Canadian government ruled that Google must de-index specific domains entirely, and its AI company DeepMind’s deal with the National Health Service in the UK has been ruled “illegal.”

That’s not the kind of damage a doodle can undo. These are important cases that raise probing questions for all of us.

Nonetheless, it is still worth reflecting on the positive side of Google’s contributions to society. That’s where the humble, charming Doodle comes in.

These sketches showcase Google at its best. They are a microcosm of the search giant’s philanthropic side, an insight into a company that (until recently) proudly held the mantra “Don’t be evil” at the core of its code of conduct.

A company with so much power over the public consciousness uses its homepage to highlight overlooked historical figures, educate the populace about important scientific theories, or just give us some really fun games to play.

For that, we should be grateful.

You can take a look through the expansive repository of over 2,000 Doodles here.

Within this article, we have selected just 10 of Google’s most amiable animations from through the years.

1. Claude Monet (Nov 14, 2001)

For the first few years of the Doodle’s existence, it tended to appear sporadically – often to mark national holidays. That all changed in 2001 with the depiction of the Google logo in an Impressionistic style to celebrate 161 years since the French painter Claude Monet’s birth.

The shimmering effect of light in the letters and the presence of waterlilies underneath serve as elegant echoes of Monet’s trademark style. Importantly, this marked a shift in direction – both thematically and aesthetically – for the Doodle.

Other noteworthy homages to artists include Wassily Kandinsky, Carlos Mérida, Gustav Klimt, and Frida Kahlo.

2. Harriet Tubman (Feb 1, 2014)

Harriet Tubman’s extraordinary life was celebrated by Google in February 2014. The Doodle features her image and a lamp, to highlight both her escape from slavery and her daring missions to rescue others from the same fate.

This feature is notable for a few reasons. In 2014, a study revealed the lack of diversity in Google’s Doodles. Although just a simple design on a search engine landing page, this was a clear reflection of the social impact Google can have. In fact, over half of all Doodles to this point were of white men.

Google took this seriously and did strike a 50/50 gender balance in 2014, giving increasing prominence to non-white historical figures too. There is a notable effort to provide a broader spectrum of historical events and figures within Google’s Doodles, beginning with Harriet Tubman.

3. Alexander Calder (July 22, 2011)

The sculptor Alexander Calder is known best as the inventor of the nursery mobile. These structures sway in the wind, changing form depending on the antecedent forces that come into contact with them.

This made Calder the perfect subject for the first Doodle to be constructed entirely using the HTML5 standard. Internet browsers had been incapable of rendering such a complex media format until this point, and this design required the work of a team of engineers, artists, and illustrators.

The Doodle, to mark what would have been Calder’s 113th birthday, lulls satisfyingly when a user clicks or hovers over its component parts.

This is therefore a particularly important piece of Doodle history, ushering in a new age of innovation and experimentation.

4. Charlie Chaplin (Apr 16, 2011)

To celebrate the 122nd anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s birth, one of Google’s resident doodlers donned a moustache and hat to pay tribute to the great comic genius of the silent movie era.

This was the first live action Doodle and it really comes across as a labor of love from the Google team. Replete with heel clicking, cane waving and bottom kicking, this 2 minute black and white film is the perfect tribute to Chaplin.

It also marks the beginning of an era of ambitious Doodles that aren’t afraid to request the audience’s attention for longer than just a few seconds. As such, the Chaplin Doodle is an essential link between the stylized Google logos that were prevalent up to 2011 and the sprawling experiences that would come thereafter.

5. My Afrocentric Life (Mar 21, 2016)

Since 2009, Google has been running its Doodle 4 Google competition. The competition encourages elementary school kids (initially in the US, but this has now expanded internationally) to design a Doodle based on the people and issues that matter most to them.

Akilah Johnson was the US winner in 2016 with her entry, ‘My Afrocentric Life’, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Chosen from over 100,000 student submissions, Johnson created the Doodle over the course of two weeks using pencils, crayons and markers.

This initiative is a great way for Google to communicate with a younger generation, and it also shows the company’s willingness to give voice to political messages.

6. Ludwig van Beethoven (Dec 17, 2015)

The greatest composer of all time was given the fitting honor of Google’s most engrossing, intricate, classical music Doodle.

Created to celebrate the 245th anniversary of Beethoven’s baptism (his exact birthdate is unknown), this interactive game showcases events in the great artist’s life (both highs and lows), and invites us to piece together movements from his most famous works.

This Doodle makes the list for various reasons. It develops a sustained narrative and invites the viewer to interact. It also features some of the greatest art in European history.

But primarily, it takes what is sometimes seen as a difficult or impenetrable form of art and makes it accessible. This is an example of Google at its enlightening, playful best.

An honorable mention should also go to the Debussy Doodle in this category.

7. St Patrick’s Day (Mar 17, 2015)

Google has an illustrious history of producing Doodles to coincide with national holidays. Everywhere from America to Algeria to Australia has been given the Doodle treatment.

However, for sheer fun, the St Patrick’s Day iterations are hard to beat. 2015 was a vintage year, featuring a family of fiddle-playing clovers designed by Irish artist Eamon O’Neill.

What makes these Doodles special is Google’s commitment to celebrating such a wide range of holidays worldwide every year. For their brave use of color, the Holi festival animations are particularly worth a look.

8. International Women’s Day (Mar 8, 2017)

Google has been honoring International Women’s Day on its homepage for many years, but in 2017 it went the extra mile to provide a comprehensive look at 13 pioneers that have shaped our everyday lives.

What makes this most interesting is Google’s desire to go beyond the names we all already know, to give light to some unseen or hidden stories.

The slideshow gives prominence to Egypt’s first female pilot and Korea’s first female lawyer, for example. Moreover, it encourages us to do our own research to learn more about each person, instead of simply spoonfeeding us a few quick facts before we move on.

9. PAC-MAN (May 21, 2010)

The Pac-Man Doodle was a phenomenal success. It deserves an article of its own, really.

Said to have cost the economy $120 million in lost labor time, it tapped into our nostalgia for one of the most popular video games of all time.

Created for PAC-MAN’s 30th anniversary, the first-ever playable Doodle replicates the experience of the old arcade game.

It was initially launched for a two-day period, as Google expected it to surpass the popularity of your everyday Doodle. The fervent response was a little more than they had anticipated, however.

Luckily, you can still play the game here.

Also worthy of mention are the immensely popular Les Paul Doodle, which now has its own standalone page, and the Doodle Fruit Games, created for the 2016 Olympics.

10. Oskar Fishinger (Jun 22, 2017)

The most recent entry on our list – and perhaps the most expansive in its ambitions – was created to mark the birthday of filmmaker and visual artist Oskar Fishinger. He was fascinated by the links between music and vision, which he saw as inextricable.

Google’s interactive take on this is an immersive experience, opening with a quote from the artist before offering us the opportunity to create our own ‘visual music’ using a range of instruments.

The Fishinger Doodle is arresting, both visually and sonically. The perfect celebration of Fishinger’s work, in other words.

It is an enticing glimpse of the pleasant surprises we can all expect as we log onto Google every morning, as its Doodles grow evermore sophisticated, charming, and instructive.

What we learned from SEO: The Movie

Still from SEO: The Move showing a screen with a HTML paragraph tag, followed by the word 'parenting'.

Have you ever wished for a nostalgic retrospective on the heyday of SEO, featuring some of the biggest names in the world of search, all condensed into a 40-minute video with an admittedly cheesy title?

If so, you’re in luck, because there’s a documentary just for you: it’s called SEO: The Movie.

The trailer for SEO: The Movie

SEO: The Movie is a new documentary, created by digital marketing agency Ignite Visibility, which explores the origin story of search and SEO, as told by several of its pioneers. It’s a 40-minute snapshot of the search industry that is and was, focusing predominantly on its rock-and-roll heyday, with a glimpse into the future and what might become of SEO in the years to come.

The movie is a fun insight into where SEO came from and who we have to thank for it, but some of its most interesting revelations are contained within stories of the at times fraught relationship between Google and SEO consultants, as well as between Google and business owners who depended on it for their traffic. For all that search has evolved since Google was founded nearly two decades ago, this tension hasn’t gone away.

It was also interesting to hear some thoughts about what might become of search and SEO several years down the line from those who’d been around since the beginning – giving them a unique insight into the bigger picture of how search has changed, and is still changing.

So what were the highlights of SEO: The Movie, and what did we learn from watching it?

The stars of SEO

The story of SEO: The Movie is told jointly by an all-star cast of industry veterans from the early days of search and SEO (the mid-90s through to the early 2000s), with overarching narration by John Lincoln, the CEO of Ignite Visibility.

There’s Danny Sullivan, the founder of Search Engine Watch (this very website!) and co-founder of Search Engine Land; Rand Fishkin, the “Wizard of Moz”; Rae Hoffman a.k.a ‘Sugarrae’, CEO of PushFire and one of the original affiliate marketers; Brett Tabke, founder of Pubcon and Webmaster World; Jill Whalen, the former CEO of High Rankings and co-founder of Search Engine Marketing New England; and Barry Schwartz, CEO of RustyBrick and founder of Search Engine Roundtable.

The documentary also features a section on former Google frontman Matt Cutts, although Cutts himself doesn’t appear in the movie in person.

Each of them tells the tale of how they came to the search industry, which is an intriguing insight into how people became involved in such an unknown, emerging field. While search and SEO turned over huge amounts of revenue in the early days – Lincoln talks about “affiliates who were making millions of dollars a year” by figuring out how to boost search rankings – there was still relatively little known about the industry and how it worked.

Danny Sullivan, for instance, was a newspaper journalist who made the leap to the web development in 1995, and began writing about search “just because [he] really wanted to get some decent answers to questions about how search engines work”.

Jill Whalen came to SEO through a parenting website she set up, after she set out to bring more traffic to her website through search engines and figured out how to use keywords to make her site rank higher.

Rae Hoffman started out in the ‘long-distance space’, making modest amounts from ranking for long-distance terms, before she struck gold by creating a website for a friend selling diet pills which ranked in the top 3 search results for several relevant search terms.

“That was probably my biggest ‘holy shit’ moment,” she recalls. “My first commission check for the first month of those rankings was more than my then-husband made in a year.”

Rand Fishkin, the “Wizard of Moz”, relates the heart-rending story of how he and his mother initially struggled with debt in the early 2000s when Moz was still just a blog, before getting his big break at the Search Engine Strategies conference and signing his first major client.

The stories of these industry pioneers give an insight into the huge, growing, world-changing phenomenon that was SEO in the early days, back when Google, Lycos, Yahoo and others were scrambling to gain the biggest index, and Google would “do the dance” every five to eight weeks and update its algorithms, giving those clever or lucky enough to rank high a steady stream of income until the next update.

Google’s algorithm updates have always been important, but as later sections of the documentary show, certain algorithms had a disproportionate impact on businesses which Google perhaps should have done more to mitigate.

Google and webmasters: It’s complicated

“Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] were fairly antagonistic to SEOs,” Brett Tabke recalls. “The way I understood it, Matt [Cutts] went to Larry and said… ‘We need to have an outreach program for webmasters.’ He really reached out to us and laid out the welcome mat.”

Almost everyone in the search industry knows the name of Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s webspam team who was, for many years, the public face of Google. Cutts became the go-to source of information on Google updates and algorithm changes, and could generally be relied upon to give an authoritative explanation of what was affecting websites’ ranking changes and why.

Matt Cutts in an explanatory video for Google Webmasters

However, even between Matt Cutts and the SEO world, things weren’t all sunshine and roses. Rand Fishkin reveals in SEO: The Movie how Cutts would occasionally contact him and request that he remove certain pieces of information, or parts of tools, that he deemed too revealing.

“We at first had a very friendly professional relationship, for several years,” he recollects. “Then I think Matt took the view that some of the transparency that I espoused, and that we were putting out there on Moz, really bothered him, and bothered Google. Occasionally I’d get an email from him saying, ‘I wish you wouldn’t write about this… I wish you wouldn’t invite this person to your conference…’ And sometimes stronger than that, like – ‘You need to remove this thing from your tool, or we will ban you.”

We’ve written previously about the impact of the lack of transparency surrounding Google’s algorithm updates and speculated whether Google owes it to SEOs to be more honest and accountable. The information surrounding Google’s updates has become a lot murkier since Matt Cutts left the company in 2014 (while Cutts didn’t formally resign until December 2016, he was on leave for more than two years prior to that) with the lack of a clear spokesperson.

But evidently, even during Cutts’ tenure with Google, Google had a transparency problem.

In the documentary, Fishkin recalls the general air of mystery that surrounded the workings of search engines in the early days, with each company highly protective of its secrets.

“The search engines themselves – Google, Microsoft, Yahoo – were all incredibly secretive about how their algorithms worked, how their engines worked… I think that they felt it was sort of a proprietary trade secret that helped them maintain a competitive advantage against one another. As a result, as a practitioner, trying to keep up with the search engines … was incredibly challenging.”

This opaqueness surrounding Google’s algorithms persisted, even as Google grew far more dominant in the space and arguably had much less to fear from being overtaken by competitors. And as Google’s dominance grew, the impact of major algorithm changes became more severe.

SEO: The Movie looks back on some of Google’s most significant updates, such as Panda and Penguin, and details how they impacted the industry at the time. One early update, the so-called ‘Florida update’, specifically took aim at tactics that SEOs were using to manipulate search rankings, sending many high-ranking websites “into free-fall”.

Barry Schwartz describes how “many, many retailers” at the time of the Florida update suddenly found themselves with “zero sales” and facing bankruptcy. And to add insult to injury, the update was never officially confirmed by Google.

Fast-forward to 2012, when Google deployed the initial Penguin update that targeted link spam. Once again, this was an update that hit SEOs who had been employing these tactics in order to rank very hard – and moreover, hit their client businesses. But because of the huge delay between one Penguin update and the next, businesses which changed their ways and went on the metaphorical straight and narrow still weren’t able to recover.

“As a consultant, I had companies calling me that were hit by Penguin, and had since cleaned up all of their backlinks,” says Rae Hoffman.

“They would contact me and say, ‘We’re still not un-penalized, so we need you to look at it to see what we missed.’ And I would tell them, ‘You didn’t miss anything. You have to wait for Google to push the button again.’

“I would get calls from companies that told me that they had two months before they were going to have to close the doors and start firing employees; and they were waiting on a Penguin update. Google launched something that was extremely punitive; that was extremely devastating; that threw a lot of baby out with the bathwater… and then chose not to update it again for almost two years.”

These recollections from veteran SEOs show that Google’s relationship with webmasters has always been fraught with difficulties. Whatever you think about Google’s right to protect its trade secrets and take actions against those manipulating its algorithms, SEOs were the ones who drove the discussion around what Google was doing in its early days, analyzing it and spreading the word, reporting news stories, featuring Google and other search engines at their conferences.

To my mind at least, it seems that it would have been fairer for Google to develop a more open and reciprocal relationship with webmasters and SEOs, which would have prevented situations like the ones above from occurring.

Where is search and SEO headed in the future?

It’s obviously difficult to predict what might be ahead with absolute certainty. But as I mentioned in the introduction, what I like about the ‘future of search’ predictions in SEO: The Movie is that they come from veterans who have been around since the early days, meaning that they know exactly where search has come from, and have a unique perspective on the overarching trends that have been present over the past two decades.

As Rae Hoffman puts it,

“If you had asked me ten years ago, ‘Where are we going to be in ten years?’ Never would I have been able to remotely fathom the development of Twitter, or the development of Facebook, or that YouTube would become one of the largest search engines on the internet.”

I think it’s also important to distinguish between the future of search and the future of SEO, which are two different but complimentary things. One deals with how we will go about finding information in future, and relates to phenomena like voice search, visual search, and the move to mobile. The other relates to how website owners can make sure that their content is found by users within those environments.

Rand Fishkin believes that the future of SEO is secure for at least a few years down the line.

“SEO has a very bright future for at least the next three or four years. I think the future after that is more uncertain, and the biggest risk that I see to this field is that search volume, and the possibility of being in front of searchers, diminishes dramatically because of smart assistants and voice search.”

Brett Tabke adds:

“The future of SEO, to me, is this entire holistic approach: SEO, mobile, the web, social… Every place you can put marketing is going to count. We can’t just do on-the-page stuff anymore; we can’t worry about links 24/7.”

As for the future of search, CEO of Ignite Visibility John Lincoln sums it up well at the very end of the movie when he links search to the general act of researching. Ultimately, people are always going to have a need to research and discover information, and this means that ‘search’ in some form will always be around.

“I will say the future of search is super bright,” he says. “And people are going to evolve with it.

“Searching is always going to be tied to research, and whenever anybody needs a service or a product, they’re going to do research. It might be through Facebook, it might be through Twitter, it might be through LinkedIn, it might be through YouTube. There’s a lot of different search engines out there, and platforms, that are always expanding and contracting based off of the features that they’re putting out there.

“Creating awesome content that’s easy to find, that’s technically set up correctly and that reverberates through the internet… That’s the core of what search is about.”

SEO: The Movie is definitely an enjoyable watch and at 40 minutes in length, it won’t take up too much of your day. If you’re someone who’s been around in search since the beginning, you’ll enjoy the trip down Memory Lane. If, like me, you’re newer to the industry, you’ll enjoy the look back at where it came from – and particularly the realization that there some things which haven’t changed at all.