Optimization at the intersection of search, content, social, mobile and local in 2017

The digital environment is rapidly shifting. There are over a billion websites online, and customers have countless brands to choose from when seeking solutions to their needs.

Consumer behavior has rapidly matured with the growth of the online world. Customers access the internet through a variety of different platforms and channels. Two thirds of shoppers report using more than one channel when deciding to make a purchase.

At the same time, customers have also begun to abandon a traditional buyer’s journey. They now interact with brands through a series of high-intent touch points across multiple devices. Customers now guide the relationship, and brands need to be there to serve them.

Search engines responded to this shift by evolving the query algorithm to better understand intent and mold their search engine results pages (SERPs) and provide fast, convenient answers for users.

To succeed in this modern digital ecosystem, brands must do the same. They must understand how to develop content that accurately reaches the target audience based upon concrete goals.

Not only is understanding cross-channel trends within marketing key to reaching customers, but it’s also a key ingredient for brands to achieve greater ROI. Nearly 3/4 of marketers employing cross-channel methods report that these interactions result in ‘major’ impacts to the number of site conversions.

More than half also say that cross-channel marketing helps them improve their retention, and increases the likelihood of customers becoming brand advocates. Customers who arrive at your brand through cross-channel research also carry a 30 percent higher lifetime value. So organizations that go through the extra effort to create the cross-channel atmosphere will see value from their decisions.

Opportunities at the intersection of channels

For the modern marketer, the opportunity for brand success lies at the intersection between search, social, content, mobile and local. SEO is the core driver as it helps ensure material is easy to find online.

Social is then your megaphone. It broadcasts a message across the various ‘watercoolers’ of the online world, helping to engage customers in a personal way, while also drawing attention to content. These two work together to build visibility and traffic.

Next, combine efforts from these two channels with content, mobile and local strategies. Effective campaigns in these three areas grasp the devices customers use and their intent behind searches. Creating material that fills these needs builds engagement and drives relationships and conversions.

The key is creating content ready to serve customers across various devices and platforms. Brands need to meet customers where they are in order to provide them information; but without data, this is impossible. Data can let brands know what their customers search for and what they want to see when they make these queries.

It will also inform them of the success of their efforts and where adjustments can be made.

Our research at BrightEdge shows that organic remains the largest driver of traffic, with 51 percent of the people arriving on a site coming from SERPs. When using SEO as a multi-channel asset that can attract visitors across different touch points, it’s easy to understand how these different types of marketing intersect to spur growth.

Making a success of the intersection of search, content, social, mobile and local
Step 1. Analyze your current website

As companies adapt to a mobile-first world, they must create web experiences that are responsive and driven by rich experiences. However, without understanding or adhering to SEO best practices, content creators can inadvertently cause technical errors, duplicate content, or orphan pages.

These issues severely impact organic search performance resulting in decreased traffic, conversions, and revenue.

To best understand how the intersection between these various elements will work for your brand, you need to look at your site currently and gauge how leads arrive. Ensure that you break down traffic, including by device, to better understand the motivations of your existing customers.

This will provide insight into where to focus more of your efforts and safeguard your content and website.

Step 2. Perform keyword research

Looking at statistics behind applicable keywords will reveal traffic rates and competition levels, helping you better understand the terms and topics that most interest your prospects.

You also want to monitor trends as part of this research. Trends will reveal rising topics of interest, allowing you to create and promote content of interest before all of your competitors, establishing your authority and ranking.

Step 3. Look at the user intent behind keywords

Marketing today is about understanding the micro-moments that dominate user activity. Customers reach for their devices when they experience a particular type of need they want fulfilled. The better you understand the intent of these customers – whether they want to go, do, buy, or know something – the better you will be able to tailor your content to meet these needs.

Search engines have been tailored to predict the intent of customers, which explains why some searches have features such as local 3-packs, featured images or videos and Quick Answers. Understanding the intent behind searches allows marketers to create content messages and formats that will most likely appeal to customers.

Step 4. Make sure all content is mobile friendly

Customers today are on mobile for a large part of their digital experience. More searches today take place on mobile. Compared to desktop, mobile devices now account for 65 percent of all digital time spent. All content produced should serve the needs of customers on these devices through responsive web design, fast mobile load times, page navigation and layouts that reflect the needs of mobile users.

Remember that mobile also strongly overlaps with the need for local optimization. Over fifty percent of on-the-go searches have local intent. Local mobile search can be a powerful step in the conversion process. In fact, 80 percent of these searches result in offline purchases.

This means that as brands optimize for mobile, they should also pay close attention to the local and “I want to go” intent for particular keywords. Optimizing for hyperlocal search can be critical for attracting these customers.

Step 5. Optimize all content through SEO best practices

Remember, SEO is the driver of this explosive intersection between channels. As you create content for different user intents and devices, you must optimize it. This means more than just including keywords. You should also pay attention to meta descriptions, title tags, image alt tags, layout and how the content fits in with the rest of the website.

Familiarize your content creators with basic SEO practices and ensure they work closely with the SEO team to create material that will rank as highly as possible from the moment of publication.

Step 6. Broadcast content through social media

As you create optimized content for different channels, ensure your content and web teams partner with the social media team to develop a promotional strategy. Followers on your social media platforms have already revealed some degree of interest in your brand. A strong posting strategy will enhance this relationship and encourage more to enter the sales funnel.

As you publish content, promote it on the social media sites where the target audience most likely resides. For example, highly visual content developed for young adults in their late teens and early twenties might best promoted through platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. The better you understand your audiences, the more highly targeted your content strategy will become to generate returns.

Such promotion will broadcast your content, encourage sharing and increase visibility before it even ranks highly on SERPs. As an added bonus, promotion can also drive traffic and attention to your site, increasing the odds of others linking to your page from their own websites.

This can then help boost your reputation and authority in the Google algorithm, potentially increasing your position on SERPs. As you rise in rankings, your content will naturally attract a wider audience, showing how the different pieces of this strategy work together.

Although the dangers of siloed marketing have been apparent for several years now, the potential implications of relying on these outdated strategies cannot be more apparent than they are today. The customer does not live on one channel or one platform, and brands must meet these needs with a consistent voice.

Understanding how these elements intersect can help brands create an effective strategy. Follow this six stage process and see how using content, SEO, search, social, mobile, and local can spell success for your organization in 2017.

Test-driving Pinterest Lens: How does Pinterest’s new visual search tool stack up?

Pinterest has released its visual discovery tool, Lens, to all Android and iPhone users in the US.

As part of Pinterest’s strategy to capture some of the lucrative search market by mastering visual search, this is a significant move and is one that will undoubtedly extend beyond the US soon.

Within the last year, Pinterest has launched a range of new search and e-commerce products, including their paid search partnership with Kenshoo, Shop the Look, and Instant Ideas.

These all fall under the umbrella term ‘visual discovery tools’, and their USP is framed by Pinterest’s recurring phrase, “All without typing a single character.”

No prizes for guessing which search giant they are taking aim at there.

Lens will be central to the fortunes of Pinterest’s decidedly alternative entry to the digital advertising market, so we have taken a hands-on look at what it is, how it works, and just how effective it is.

What is Pinterest Lens?

Lens is a point-and-shoot discovery tool that analyses and interprets smartphone images to find related Pins and ideas, then suggests them to the user. The objective for Pinterest is to turn the world into a set of Pins that can be captured, discovered, and linked to each other, typically via mobile devices.

To get started with Lens (if you are in the US), just download or upgrade the app, then tap the search bar within the app, and select the red camera icon.

How does Pinterest Lens work?

Once Lens is open, Pinterest’s visual discovery technology springs into action.

This will open up a camera frame like the one below, which is surely designed to encourage the user to hone in on one specific object:

This is vital to the successful functioning of Lens. Pinterest’s technology works best when it can isolate a specific item, then cross-reference the identified form with its database of images, using their own search platform.

The object is broken down into segments; by color, shape, or product category, for example. Pinterest has developed confidence metrics to include in this calculation, to account for uncertainties caused by fuzzy images or a combination of objects within the same frame.

This process (outlined below in a handy diagram from TechCrunch), will allow Lens to move from recognizing a shoe, to recognizing that it is a loafer, through to recognizing that the loafer is, in fact, blue.

Image: TechCrunch

So far, so typical image search. Amazon’s FireFly technology aims to provide the same service, in technological terms, and its image recognition abilities are impressive. Google has made significant strides in this area, as has Instagram.

Where Pinterest hopes to add a new and rewarding dimension is by incorporating what are typically the reserve of human perspectives: value judgments.

By knowing the style of the loafer, Pinterest could recommend accompanying accessories, but could also learn something about the user’s taste. This knowledge helps to refine suggestions, so the user experience is constantly improving.

Where Amazon will recognize a product and deliver a selection of very similar products, Pinterest’s creative lead, Albert Pereta, summed up their philosophy nicely: “If I’m in my kitchen and have an avocado in front of me, if we point at that and we return a million photos of avocados, that’s close to as useless as you can get.”

It is in the conceptual leap from the product in view, to related products contained in Pinterest’s database, that Lens could become most useful for consumers and marketers. Where Pinterest has an advantage in the visual search race is in its vast database of images, which are typically product-led, clearly labeled, and posted in relation to similar items.

How effective is Lens?

All of this theory is seductive, for Pinners in search of new ideas and for advertisers in search of a cost-effective alternative to Google search.

But how well does it work in practice?

I used the app as an aid during my search to replace some much-loved but battle-weary sneakers.

First, I took a picture of the sneaker in question using Lens:

Pinterest’s colourful tags on the left and right reveal the identifying factors of the shoe, which are mainly pretty accurate. They have never been used for running, but I understand and accept that they could have been.

Next up, the recommendations for related items. A scrolling list of about 60 images was provided for this example, which were certainly very varied in terms of style, but there was enough aesthetic cohesion to say that they are inter-related items:

These images provide an option to click through and, in many instances, purchase. And this is where the lines are blurred – beautifully so, from Pinterest’s perspective. Not all images will lead to that option; many are just other Pinners proudly sharing their shoes, providing inspiration to others.

This engenders trust, a fact that can benefit advertisers if they manage to blend in with this ethos of inspiring and sharing, rather than just selling.

The demarcation (which is, admittedly, dissolving rapidly) between paid and organic results on Google is at odds with what Pinterest could achieve here, if advertisers pay attention to the platform and its users.

That said, I tried Lens out with a number of items (a chair, a pencil, and a plant pot, to name just three), and there was a pattern across the results. The image recognition is great, and it’s easy to use. Where things become murkier is within the suggested results, which show a lot of potential but are the output of what is still a work in progress.

Pinterest has quite intelligently pre-empted and sidestepped these potential recriminations by admitting up front that this isn’t perfect – yet.

One criticism of advances in consumer-facing AI is that it simply hasn’t delivered on the Utopian visions we were led to believe would be reality by now. The potential of this technology is such that people can’t help but get carried away – a realization that has fed Pinterest’s decision to temper expectations.

Moreover, they have invited their users to get involved and help out. In their blog post announcing the launch, Pinterest stated:

“Lens is still learning, and doesn’t always recognize exactly what you’re looking for.

Lens will stay in beta as it gets even better at recognizing all the things. And that’s where you come in!

If you get results that feel a little meh, tap the new + button to add feedback and help Lens get better at finding ideas inspired by whatever you just Lensed. As more and more people help teach Lens about more and more objects, soon it will earn its way out of the beta zone.”

This attitude of openness and collaboration could safeguard them against some ripostes to unconvincing results in the early stages, but there can be no doubt that haste will be of the utmost concern as Pinterest tries to monetize this technology before the competition gets there.

How would advertisers measure performance on Pinterest?

One of the enduring attractions of Google AdWords has been its measurability, an area where it remains without a serious competitor.

Brands accustomed to this satisfying marketing mechanism may therefore hesitate before investing their AdWords dollars in a platform like Pinterest. No doubt, any such forays will be experimental in nature through this year, with few brands willing to take a serious risk on a nascent search technology when such a dependable, dominant alternative exists.

Of significant note in this regard is the recently-announced integration of Pinterest data into Datorama, a cross-channel reporting platform. This API connector adds a new level of measurement and accountability for the platform, which will be welcomed by anyone investing in Pinterest advertising. We should expect this functionality to be standard for reporting platforms in the near future.

Measurement is not the only hurdle for Pinterest to clear, of course.

Pinterest’s number of daily active users and their propensity to purchase will also be under scrutiny, metrics that will be of significant interest when broken down by industry. Pinterest is unlikely to be the right fit for every company, no matter how effective its visual search becomes, but for some it could be the perfect match.

With the advent of Lens in the US, and Pinterest’s accompanying admission that the technology is “not perfect”, there is plentiful room for experimentation. The search results will continue to improve and, with some senior recruits from Google on board to lead their visual search team, Pinterest means business.

Time will tell whether consumers and advertisers have the patience to get on board for a bumpy, but potentially very fruitful, journey.

Four collaboration tools to bring your marketing efforts to a new level

Digital marketing is finally beyond well-defined cookie-cutter tactics. It’s all about creativity these days. Therefore collaboration has become an integral part of digital marketing.

There are many forms of collaboration that can help marketing strategy: You can collaborate with your team members and employees to empower them to participate in your brand marketing efforts. You can collaborate with your customers enabling them to spread your message. You can collaborate with your peers inviting them to help you make better content.

The internet has given us the ability to work with people around the world, and there are a few powerful tools that offer different types of collaboration to enhance your marketing efforts.

Note: I am not listing any generic project management collaboration tools here. I am a big believer in a productively-managed workplace but I have yet to find a good project management tool that will solve all my problems. This article is not aimed at addressing that, but rather at listing tools that specialize in one particular marketing task.

1. Collaborate on idea brainstorming

Stormz is a new brainstorming tool you may have never heard about. It’s an easy-to-use platform allowing you to make your brainstorming much more effective. Collaboration is the most essential element of brainstorming and the tool handles it perfectly.

Stormz lets you create brainstorming dashboards allowing your team to generate, select and enrich ideas that can solve their business problem or challenge. Participants can contribute and organize ideas as well as vote for those they like most.

The tool uses two effective brainstorming techniques enabling your team to produce and pick the best ideas:

  • NUF (New, Useful, Feasible) evaluation: Is the idea new? Does it solve a problem? Do we have the ability (skill, money, resources) to do it?
  • Virtual budget. Ask people to spend a virtual $100 budget on the options they like most. Using money, even if virtual, gives a very clear way to evaluate ideas

More tools to make brainstorming easier and more effective:

  • MindMeister is an effective brain-mapping tool that allows you to visually break down complex concepts and show how each idea flows into another. MindMeister lets you add contributors to work on a mind map together
  • Scribblar is another useful tool allowing you to brainstorm with others in real time. It’s also a great educational tool if you want to teach and collaborate in a virtual classroom.

2. Collaboratively monitor rankings & competitors

SE Ranking is a powerful keyword position monitoring tool that has an extremely clear interface and top-notch usability. One of the most frequent problems of keyword ranking tools is addressed here perfectly: Setting up projects to monitor keywords is extremely easy. And once set up, it’s even easier to track positions and compare your site to competitors.

The tool supports keyword tracking in Google, Yahoo and Bing as well as all their localized versions. You can also compare rankings in different devices. You can target your position monitoring to any city of the world.

You can also add extra users to your account allowing them access only to the data you wish them to see.

3. Collaborate on social media promotion

DrumUp is a social media management dashboard with a big focus on in-team collaboration. They have launched the brand advocacy program enabling companies to encourage and monitor their employees’ sharing brand-sensitive updates on social media.

You can add your team members to your social management dashboard and post your URLs, reviews and comments encouraging the employees to actively engage with that content.

The built-in leaderboard lets you monitor who of your employees are most active on social media spreading your word and promoting your content.

This is a great way to encourage and reward employees’ sharing, making them part of your company’s public image and turning them into brand advocates.

4. Collaborate on content creation

MyBlogU (Disclaimer: This is the tool I founded) is a free blogging platform allowing you to collaborate on lots of aspects of content marketing, from content brainstorming to promotion.

One of its most recent features is called “Article Collaboration“. It allows you to upload an article draft and invite members of the community to contribute paragraphs to make the article more varied and indepth. Contributors can also leave inline comments with their thoughts and ideas.

Here’s a quick article describing how the feature helped me to turn a pretty boring draft into a great article featuring diverse opinions and various tools.

More tools to collaborate on content:

  • Google Drive is a great free tool allowing to invite collaborators to an article draft. It also enables contributors to add feedback too
  • Medium lets you invite any Medium users to an unpublished article draft. The collaborators can add notes sharing their opinion on your future article.

Pakwired also gives a good roundup of more collaboration tools to try (none of them made it to my roundup above, so it’s worth checking out).

Are there any other marketing collaboration tools you are using? Please share them in the comments!

7 quick ways to use content marketing to boost search ranking

Screencap of the first slide in a presentation entitled: How to get more from Slideshare, super-simple tips for content marketing.

Content marketing can be very effective in increasing traffic, generating leads, enabling sales – and contributing to SEO. So how can businesses use it to improve their search rankings?

When done well, content marketing can contribute to boosting a site’s position in search rankings.

Although this may not seem like the most obvious benefit to a successful content marketing strategy, it’s an effect that no business can ignore.

Here’s how to take advantage of your site’s content to rank higher in the SERPs.

1. Create fresh content

A site can never have enough content. There is always an opportunity to create new pieces of content, and the newness – or ‘freshness’ – of content is also one of Google’s ranking signals.

Content freshness as a ranking factor is not just judged by the publication date of the page, but can also include:

  • updates to the content
  • new pages
  • an increasing number of links towards a page
  • an increased level of traffic reaching the page

These criteria show that older posts can still be valuable, especially if they offer an in-depth analysis on a topic, are evergreen, or have been regularly updated to keep them relevant. Which leads us on to…

2. Repurpose old content

There’s no reason to ignore the older content you’ve published in the past, especially if it still gains a significant amount of traffic.

As content marketing evolves, it is more beneficial to go beyond the written posts to new formats that allow you to broaden your value.

That’s why repurposing content can help you analyse a topic in more detail, by allowing you to create multiple types of content without losing their value or becoming repetitive. This saves you time spent coming up with new content ideas, and also gives you a regular supply of fresh, valuable content to boost your ranking.

Going beyond blog posts, here are other types of content you could create from your older material:

  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • E-books
  • Lists
  • How-to posts
  • Podcasts
  • Guides
  • Presentation

Your target audience might be more receptive for example to infographics rather than a blog post, or you may discover that you can achieve higher conversion rates through a presentation rather than a podcast.

Every content type serves its own goal and as every audience has different needs, experimentation can be very useful, until you discover which formats work best for your business.

3. Test headlines

A headline is usually the first thing we notice when accessing a search engine, and this reminds us that a headline should be:

  • valuable
  • relevant
  • simple
  • appealing

It may seem as if some of these points contradict each other, but the trick is in striking a balance between informativeness and length, or relevance and complexity.

Keywords can also be used as part of a headline, and this requires further planning on finding the best way to be SEO-friendly without sacrificing the flow of the headline.

Moreover, there’s a thin line between a click-worthy headline and clickbait, which is why it’s important to bear value to the reader in mind when creating a headline.

CoSchedule’s free headline analyzer is a very useful tool that can help you explore all the possible ways to improve your headline. Once you add your suggested headline, you receive a quick analysis, along with a score and tips on how to improve it.

4. Create visual content

Although visual content can be considered part of our earlier point on the importance of testing new content types, it deserves a special mention for its powers of grabbing the user’s attention.

Visual content has become very popular on the internet due to our own ability to process an image faster than any written text. This wins the first impression and it can be very powerful within the context of a page.

Previously used mostly to accompany written content, visual content has reached the stage where it’s now considered a form of content in its own right, standing on its own to increase awareness, engagement and leads.

On top of this, it can be optimized for search, offering a new opportunity for a business to stand out from its competitors via images and videos. The optimization of your visual content can lead to surprisingly positive results, provided that you follow a series of small steps that ensure that they are SEO-friendly.

A screen capture showing how to write image captions, alt text and descriptions. The photo on the left is of a sleeping cat, while the alt text describes it and the description gives more information about what the photo contains.

Keep in mind, search crawlers cannot “read” images, only the text that accompanies them. This means that it’s important to focus on:

  • Image title (don’t upload an image with a filename 4fogowr.jpg, but rather rename it to something more relevant, e.g. contentforseoguide.jpg
  • Alt tags (the tags that describe the image for screen reader users, or if the image fails to load)
  • Image size (large images affect a page’s load time, which can have a negative effect on your search ranking)

5. Choose the right keywords

Keyword research can turn into a useful ally, especially if you bear in mind that you don’t always need to target the most obvious keywords.

Targeting highly sought-after keywords can make it harder for you to rank higher in search, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t become an authority on a topic by using different phrases for the same concept.

How about picking words and phrases that are less competitive but still high in rankings? Find the keywords that best suit your content, and think outside the box when deciding on the focus keywords you want to target.

6. Create link-worthy content

Link building helps your content reach a broader audience, increasing both your site’s visibility and its authority. Moreover, it can grow your search traffic, as the number of unique domains linking to your site helps search engines understand whether your content is informative enough to rank higher in the SERP.

Not all links are equal, as high-authority sites contribute more heavily in this regard. This means you should aim for more reputable mentions – but without snubbing any lesser sites that might link to you, as it all adds up. It’s easier for a source to link to your content if it’s authentic, interesting and well-researched, so always aim for quality over quantity.

It is useful to come up with a link building strategy that will help other sources discover your content and feature it if they find it relevant enough for their target audience – without losing sight of the need to create valuable content, of course.

7. Discover the connection between content and user experience

What’s the connection between content and user experience and how does that affect your rankings? We’ve talked about user experience and SEO in the past, and come to the conclusion that the more usable and readable your content, the more it is likely to boost your search ranking.

The words SEO + UX drawn in white chalk on a blackboard, with a heart encircling them.

A Google-friendly website is valuable, appealing, and functional. Your readers should not struggle with reading or accessing your content, and search engines expect the same from each page they crawl.

The quality of content extends in this case to the page and how it helps the user experience with minimal effort. For example, have you tested the load time? Are your images hurting your site’s speed? Is your content too difficult to understood from your audience? Is your structure helpful both for your readers and for search engines?

Overview

The main aim of your content should still be to provide value and relevance for your target audience, but this doesn’t mean that it can’t be slightly more SEO-focused.

As the ultimate goal is to get more readers to your pages, an improved ranking on SERPs can help you tap into a new audience that will appreciate your content.

There’s no need to obsess over SEO throughout the whole content creation process, but getting into the SEO mindset can offer useful insights into how to make your content more effective from now on.

Chrome Extensions: A vehicle for Amazon and Pinterest to compete with Google?

Search advertising has swelled to become an industry worth over $35 billion annually, yet it is still heavily driven by text-based searches and dominated by Google.

However as Google’s index goes mobile-first, consumers get to grips with voice search, and technology advances to avail of image identification in our predominantly visual culture, new opportunities are opening up for the competition.

One such opportunity lies in the use of Google’s own Chrome web browser, which allows companies (including Google’s rivals) to develop and disseminate extensions to grow their digital footprint.

This may not necessitate or even facilitate a seismic shift in the industry, if Google continues to provide a search product that responds best to a user’s query.

Undoubtedly, Google remains the go-to location when consumers know what they want; but what if other providers could get in on the act earlier, by nudging consumers towards products they hadn’t thought of or never knew existed? What if consumers start to move away from text queries, and image or voice search become the norm?

These are the questions Amazon and Pinterest are pondering as they look to break Google’s hegemonic hold on the market. This has seen both companies launch paid search products, but something significant has to give if consumers are to switch from the well-worn habit of reaching out to Google first.

Intriguingly, recent moves suggest Amazon and Pinterest are prepared to use Google’s own Chrome platform to loosen the search giant’s iron grip on ad revenues, with what are at times aggressive tactics.

Although some commonalities exist across both challengers, there is much to distinguish them too. We’ll begin with Amazon’s Chrome extension before moving on to Pinterest’s recently-upgraded offering.

Amazon Assistant for Chrome

Amazon’s Assistant tracks users as they browse other sites and locates opportunities to alert them of better deals on the same product over at Amazon.com.

This feature looks something like this in action:

No doubt, this is an overbearing approach designed to have the maximum disruptive impact on a consumer’s experience, diverting their path to purchase towards the comfort of Amazon’s one-click purchases and free deliveries. And all at a lower price, too.

There are reports of some websites blocking the extension and, in the pettiest of cases, ensuring that low quality images of products are used when a consumer adds them to their Amazon wish list, in the hope of dissuading them from finishing the purchase there.

However, the damage may well be done by that stage. Digital consumers vote with their fingers, and people tend to follow where the best deals are.

Where this gets particularly fascinating for those of us in the search industry is when we apply this Chrome extension to Google search results pages.

With the extension downloaded (I am based in the US), a clearly commercial query like [laptops] returns the following results:

Indeed, those are Amazon results at the very top of the page.

This very assertive approach sees Amazon encroach directly on Google’s owned space, in fact relegating them to a lower position.

Even a much less commercial query returns this option to purchase from Amazon:

It is noteworthy that while no advertisers are bidding on the term [john berger and our faces my heart brief as photos] via Google, Amazon’s search engine has a match for the query and, therefore, it shows an ad above the Google results.

I have seen this occur for about a month now (on other, less obscure queries) and, even if Google moves to shut this down in future, it is a clear and overt statement of intent from Amazon.

A look at the terms and conditions for the Amazon Assistant reveals how this is happening.

The list of information gathered by Amazon is extensive (to the extent of being troubling) and includes the following statement:

“We will collect and store information such as the name and price of the product, the webpage on which the item is sold, your Amazon account, your search query, and other information.”

Nested in there is the operative phrase “your search query”. By capturing a search query, Amazon can cross-reference its own inventory to see whether there is a match and dynamically serve the available options.

The aim, evidently, is to create an ‘all roads lead to Amazon’ approach within e-commerce, and the only way to do that right now is to take market share directly from Google and other retailers.

Strategically, this makes a lot of sense. Each of the main players would love to have a self-enclosed ecosystem that houses billions of users and all of their accompanying data.

Only Facebook can lay even tenuous claim to such a lofty ambition, so for the likes of Pinterest and Amazon there is no other option than to reach beyond their own platforms and observe, ready for the opportune moment to communicate with consumers.

Amazon, therefore, has adopted the assumption that consumers will swallow any level of intrusion into their data and their online experience if they ultimately end up with a better deal on products.

Pinterest has a rather different market position, user base, and approach to search. So how do these take shape within their revamped Chrome extension?

Pinterest save button

We have written about the advances in visual search taking place on Pinterest recently, but use of that technology is of course dependent on people visiting their site initially to conduct a search.

What the browser extension can now become is a vehicle to carry that technology to a much wider arena, to any site Pinterest users (or ‘Pinners’) visit.

In their blog post announcing the launch, Pinterest stated that the latest iteration of their Chrome extension will allow consumers to conduct a visual search using any image or webpage they visit.

The screenshot below is an example of this in action, with a user selecting the sunglasses within the image and Pinterest suggesting a variety of similar products to browse:

This provides access to Pinterest’s vast database of images and its industry-leading image recognition software, without even having to visit the Pinterest site. All of this occurs while the user stays on the original web page, only moving them to Pinterest if they click on one of the suggested images.

Another striking aspect of the blog post comes in this statement:

“Now anything you see on Pinterest, or capture with the camera in your Pinterest app, can kick off a search for great ideas—all without typing a single character.”

The business strategy here is not to tackle Google head on à la Amazon, but rather to engage users before they even know what they want to type. As such, the aim is to offer a different experience altogether, driven uniquely by images.

When we think of search, we think of Google, paid ads, and ten blue links. But by stepping into an area that pre-dates those steps in a consumer’s mind, Pinterest may find a niche that Google has not yet managed to tap into just yet.

The language used in the announcement is notable too, if we compare Amazon and Pinterest; in place of ‘products’, read ‘ideas’, for example. This is a subtle but telling distinction, with Pinterest looking to claim the more aspirational ground within the e-commerce search market.

Pinterest’s new visual search functionality will extend to other browser extensions “soon” and will allow brands to opt out, but Pinterest is of course hoping that the mutual benefits will outweigh the inconveniences for retailers. As is the case with Amazon, the force of consumer demand will ultimately drive (or halt) the extension’s adoption and acceptance.

What should marketers make of this?

Competition breeds innovation and search has been close to a monopoly for too long, in that sense. Google evolves and new products are rolled out constantly, but these are often tantamount to slightly bigger versions of the PPC ads we had yesterday, or an increasingly inconspicuous ‘Ad’ label.

Competition also increases scarcity, of course, and scarcity drives up prices. We have seen this with Google CPC prices and more recently on Facebook, so the diversification of options for advertisers could help to stem that tide.

Pinterest’s global head of partnerships, Jon Kaplan, has even been quoted recently saying, “You might see a pretty steep discount”, when comparing their inventory prices to Facebook or Google.

The possibility of another major player in this arena, be it Amazon, Pinterest, or both, should therefore be welcomed by consumers and advertisers alike. By everyone except Google and Facebook, in fact.

Five most interesting search marketing news stories of the week

Welcome to our weekly round-up of all the latest news and research from the world of search marketing and beyond.

This week, Google’s emoji conquest of the SERP is advancing on AdWords titles, Snapchat influencers may be fleeing the platform for greener pastures, and Facebook is making it easier for advertisers to compare the performance of their Facebook campaigns with their campaigns on other platforms.

Also, Google’s Next Cloud Conference has revealed that Google’s machine learning technology can recognize objects in videos, and an unconfirmed ranking update dubbed “Fred” has been shaking up the SERP over the past few days.

Emoji appear in Google AdWords ad titles

A couple of weeks ago, we reported on the official return of emoji to the Google SERP, after a decision was taken to remove them in 2015. Now, emoji have been spotted in the wild in AdWords ad titles, suggesting that a possible roll-out might be on the cards there too.

Clark Boyd reported on the development for Search Engine Watch this week, looking at where emoji have been identified in ads, and what this could mean for advertisers and marketers if it does become permanent.

As investors bet on Snap, some Snapchat influencers bet on other platforms

Last week, Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, went public to huge investor excitement, closing out the day with a $34 billion valuation, with shares valued at 44% above their offering price.

But as is so often the case with social media, the road for Snapchat hasn’t been completely smooth. Al Roberts reported on our sister site, ClickZ, that some Snapchat influencers are departing for other platforms after experiencing a rocky relationship with Snapchat.

One influencer, Mike Platco, was turned away when he attempted to visit Snap’s offices in 2014. Today, he has some 500,000 followers on Snap and reportedly earns as much as $80,000 for campaigns, but his relationship with Snap apparently hasn’t warmed much over the years. As a result, Platco is working to move his followers over to Instagram.

“Every single bad thing I could possibly say about Snapchat, I could say the opposite of how my relationship is going with Instagram,” he told BuzzFeed.

Roberts looked at the possible reasons for Snapchat’s decision not to roll out the red carpet for influencers, as well as whether this tactic may backfire if its user growth and revenue figures come as a disappointment to shareholders further down the line.

Facebook Advanced Measurement will let advertisers compare Facebook ad performance

This week, Facebook announced the launch of a new service known as ‘Advanced Measurement’, which will allow advertisers to compare the performance of their Facebook campaigns with their campaigns on other platforms.

According to Business Insider, Advanced Measurement will allow advertisers to compare their Facebook campaigns to the campaigns they are running through providers like Google AdWords and the Google Display Network.

Specifically, advertisers will be able to determine which campaigns on which platforms “drove the most purchases on their online store, or had the highest reach among their desired target audience.”

As Al Roberts wrote for ClickZ, by making advanced attribution tools like Advanced Measurement accessible to all of its customers, Facebook could help allay some of the growing concerns advertisers have about the accuracy of its metrics – providing that companies are still prepared to trust Facebook’s reporting.

Google’s machine learning technology can recognize objects in videos

Visual search could be the next big frontier in search development, as developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning make it possible to recognize, compare and analyze images with increasing accuracy.

Until now, it has seemed like Google has been lagging behind slightly in the race for visual search dominance, as other contenders like Pinterest and Bing forge ahead with advanced visual discovery tools and technology. But that may no longer be the case.

Image: Google Cloud Platform

The Verge reported Wednesday on a revelation from Google’s Next Cloud Conference, which ends today, that a new “Video Intelligence API” developed by Google has the ability to identify objects in videos, understand the nature of those videos (e.g. a commercial), and can pull up videos with certain types of scenes in them, based on a keyword search.

The Video Intelligence API is currently in private beta, but should it become more widely available to the public, it would further expand the capabilities of visual search and recognition into the realm of video, in the same way that searching “sunset” in Google Photos can bring up your best shots of the early evening sky.

Unconfirmed Google ‘Fred’ update is shaking up search rankings

Another week, and another Google algorithm change has the search community abuzz with speculation about what could be going on.

The first signs that an update might be taking place came early on the morning of Wednesday 8th, and SEO Roundtable’s Barry Schwartz observed that most of the active conversation was centered around the Black Hat World and WebmasterWorld forums. Many users were reporting sharp drops in traffic and keyword rankings taking place late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday, although no-one was able to pin down an exact cause.

Over on Twitter, Google’s John Mueller was typically vague when asked to confirm whether an update was taking place:

@avinash4dvg @methode @semrush Yes, we make changes almost every day.

— John ☆.o(≧▽≦)o.☆ (@JohnMu) March 9, 2017

However, an amusing conversation then spawned around naming the (suspected) update, which culminated in it being dubbed “Fred” after Gary Illyes declared that “From now on every update, unless otherwise stated, shall be called Fred”.

@rustybrick @i_praveensharma @JohnMu sure! From now on every update, unless otherwise stated, shall be called Fred

— Gary Illyes ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ (@methode) March 9, 2017

Have you experienced any ranking turbulence from Hurricane Fred? Do you have any theories as to what kind of sites Google might be targeting with the update? Leave a comment!

How to turn off ad tracking in Google, Bing and Yahoo!

A menu with various icons including My Account, Search, Maps, YouTube, Gmail and more.

We all know that our favorite search engines track and collect a lot of data about us in order to personalize our experience of the results – and the ads – that they serve us.

But that kind of tracking might not always be welcome, especially when it means that you have ads following you around the internet from a site where you bought a gift for a friend once, or for pregnancy products months after you’ve given birth. Or maybe you just don’t like your data being collected and used in this way.

Luckily, there is a way to get rid of them, as long as you know where to look.

Note that these methods won’t stop Google, Bing et al from showing you ads altogether, but they will keep them from using your profile information and online activity to target ads at you.

Google

First, navigate to myaccount.google.com, which can also be accessed from the Google homepage by selecting the little ‘grid’ icon in the corner next to ‘Images’, and selecting My Account.

Under ‘Personal info and privacy’, select ‘Ads settings’, then ‘Manage ads settings’ to get to the main ads dashboard.

To turn interest-based ad targeting off completely, toggle ‘Ads personalization’ from ON to OFF. If you don’t want to turn ad targeting off altogether, but want to fine-tune it, you can uncheck certain options from the ‘Your topics’ checklist lower down, until only the relevant topics are left.

To permanently save your opt-out preference, there is a link right at the bottom of the page which allows you to install the DoubleClick opt-out plugin. This will keep your opt-out status for that browser even if you later clear all cookies.

You can go one further than this and disable ad personalization for the Google ads you see when you’re signed out and across other online ad networks that work with Google. To do this, select ‘Visit AdChoices’ at the bottom of the page. This will take you to a new page that displays a list of different companies and whether they are currently delivering ads based on your interests.

You can then toggle individual companies on or off, or to disable ad tracking for all companies, scroll down and a dialog box will appear with the option to ‘Turn off all companies’. (You will need to have Javascript enabled in order for the page to work properly).

There is one other way that you can disable ad personalization on Google, if you’re a user of Google Chrome. Navigate to your browser settings (accessed by selecting the three vertical dots icon in the top-right corner of your screen) and select ‘Show advanced settings…’

Under ‘Privacy’, select ‘Send a “Do Not Track” request with your browsing traffic’. The effect this has will depend on whether a website responds to the request, and how it is interpreted, but some websites will respond by showing ads which aren’t related to your browsing history.

Bing

In order to turn off personalized ad tracking on Bing, you need to opt out of customized ads on all Microsoft sites and partners (such as AOL). To do this, go to choice.microsoft.com or from the Bing homepage, select ‘Settings’ from the hamburger menu in the corner, then More > Personalization and select the link to the Personalization Settings Page. Under ‘Other privacy settings’, select ‘Advertising Preferences’.

From there, you can toggle ‘Personalized ads in this browser’ to OFF, and if you’re signed into your Microsoft account, you can also turn off ‘Personalized ads wherever I use my Microsoft account’.

You can also opt out of personalized ads from other companies served by Microsoft, by selecting ‘Do you want personalized ads from other companies?’ under ‘More choices’.

On this page, as with Google, you can opt out of ad tracking for individual companies listed, or select ‘Choose all companies’ at the bottom to opt out of personalized ads for all participating companies.

A large button labelled 'Choose all companies'. Next it are the words: Opt out from all participating companies. Submitting your choices for all currently participating companies stores your opt out preferences in your browser. Learn More.

Yahoo!

To opt out of ad tracking on Yahoo!, go to the Yahoo! Ad Interest Manager or on the Yahoo! homepage, select ‘About our ads’ (in very small light grey text in between ‘Privacy’ and ‘Help’) and then under ‘What choices do I have?’ select ‘Manage interest-based advertising categories, or opt-out of all categories, from Yahoo.’

On the Yahoo! Ad Interest Manager, under ‘Your advertising choices’ there are two tabs, one for across the web and one for Yahoo! sites, widgets and apps. Select ‘Opt out’ for either tab to opt out of ads.

Three reasons for companies to consider using .brand TLDs

Webinar poll results - .brand domains with Neustar and ClickZ

On February 28, 2017, ClickZ Intelligence presented the webinar ‘Still using .com? Here’s why 50% of all Fortune 500 companies are about to use .brand’ in association with Neustar.

This article has been adapted from a post originally published on our sister website ClickZ.

When asked why they were investigating the possibilities of .brand domains, more than 60% of attendees of the webinar answered that they wished to improve search engine marketing. Forty-three percent reported they wished to improve the customer experience.

So how can the adoption of .brand domains achieve these goals as well as alleviate other issues facing digital today?

Tony Kirsch from Neustar, Matt Dorville from Major League Baseball, and Katie Hankinson of VaynerMedia explored the use of .brand domains and their potential to improve the customer experience, advertising effectiveness, and overall long-term brand health.

.brand domains are being adopted by many of the top brands in the world

Currently there are approximately 550 “.brand” extensions across all sectors of business. Roughly 50 global brands have already adapted to the new industry standard of naming, and have created a ‘home.brand’ domain name.

Neustar’s Tony Kirsch has identified four major issues facing digital today:

  • Websites are becoming too large and complex to navigate – consumers want to find deeper content quickly and easily.
  • Inefficient calls to action – the large variety of techniques within advertising is not inspiring consumers to act how advertisers want them to.
  • Exponential growth in paid search – paid search is costly.
  • Inability to measure leakage – brands run the risk of customers getting distracted and going elsewhere while searching for content.
  • The use of .brand domains can counteract these issues by giving a company’s digital content its own identity. Consumers will have access to deeper content in a more direct and intuitive manner by merely typing in any number of URLs which end in .brand (i.e. surface.microsoft).

    .brand domains make it simple for users to find content

    Matt Dorville of Major League Baseball finds that the use of .brand domains is useful in building campaigns. Because the .brand URLs are easy to remember, consumers find it less complicated to find the content they are being driven to by campaigns. They also work well in a social spaces such as Twitter or blogging because of their ease and simplicity to share.

    Another added benefit is the elimination of domain squatting. Because .brands are owned exclusively by the company, this opens up a whole range of URLs that can be used without the need to purchase the URL from a third party.

    The use of .brand domains allows for a clarity of message in your call to action

    From an advertising perspective, Katie Hankinson of VaynerMedia believes that .brand domains have the potential to create an ‘elegant and intuitive way’ to direct people to content on your site. She also finds that many brands are interested in what is new in digital and how they can capitalize on the changes.

    Want to hear more?

    Interested in learning more about why many of the world’s largest and most innovative organizations are adopting this new evolution in digital? Then watch the Still using .com? Here’s why 50% of all Fortune 500 companies are about to use .brand’ webinar on demand to hear more.

    For more information on how you can get involved with the ClickZ Webinar Series please contact sam.lawson@clickz.com.

    This webinar was produced in association with Neustar. Click here to read our collaborative content guidelines. Views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Search Engine Watch.

    How influencer marketing can benefit your SEO strategy

    Influencer marketing is a powerful tactic to add to your SEO toolbox.

    With links continuing to reign supreme in SEO, but the difficulty of acquiring them increasing, influencer marketing can help you to generate authoritative links which have the additional benefit of an increase in your user engagement signals, traffic, and visibility.

    In this article, we’ll explore a few ways influencer marketing can make your SEO campaigns into digital powerhouses.

    Influencer marketing builds inbound links

    The issue with using influencers for inbound links is that many will disclose the links as sponsored. One way to get around this is to create content-driven influencer campaigns. Traditionally, brands use influencers to create “commercials” for their brands. They are very sales-driven and are focused on pushing a product or brand directly.

    When working with influencers, why not create campaigns that are related to specific issues in your industry? Instead of making them an extension of your sales team, get them to create video or text content based on their thoughts on a specific topic, citing your site as a resource. This may be a way to bypass the need for disclosure.

    Depending on your budget, you may need to start with micro-influencers (influencers with smaller, but highly engaged audiences) to begin earning those inbound links.

    Influencer marketing boosts brand visibility and engagement

    The biggest challenge many brands and marketers face is getting heard over the buzz. The competition in today’s digital marketplace is fierce. In fact, engagement and traffic ranked number five among most important ranking factors, according to Moz.

    Simply put, the more your engage your target audience, the more traffic you will drive to your site, products, and services. This makes influencer marketing an essential asset in every industry.

    According to an advertising survey by Nielsen, 92 percent of people trust recommendations from other people over brand advertisements. And whom do consumers know? The influencers they follow on social media. In fact, a study by Annalect and Twitter found that users have as much trust in influencers as they do their friends.

    Influencers amass followers who hang on their every product review or recommendation. You can take advantage of their community to enhance your brand’s visibility via social media, blogs, and vlogs.

    The traffic your influencers drive to your site will boost your SEO rankings in ways paid ads simply cannot. But don’t forget about content engagement. An influencer with one million followers may not be as powerful as a micro-influencer in your niche with 20,000 followers.

    “Posts from people with small followings get strong engagement, and bring an air of authenticity and trust,” according to Business Insider.

    A great example of reach versus engagement is the different between the audiences of celebrity Jimmy Fallon and YouTuber Connor Franta. Falon may have a bigger reach, but Franta has a much higher engagement.

    Improve your social visibility with influencer marketing, and also keep your engagement high. This is an influencer marketing tip many marketers and brands will overlook.

    Influencer marketing keeps your content fresh

    Creating fresh content can be challenging for marketers and brands, thus emphasizing the need for influencer marketing. The sole job of influencers is to develop unique and compelling content that your target audience can’t resist.

    Influencers can also leverage their followers to produce content for you. They can maximize a social campaign by encouraging their community to share unique images or thoughts associated with your brand or campaign.

    One excellent influencer marketing case study is when the brand Gloria Ferrer used influencer marketing to boost their brand awareness by launching the #GloriousBites campaign. Influencers used the hashtag to create buzz around the campaign, netting 44 million social impressions.

    Generating millions of social impressions via influencer marketing will surely increase your social visibility and brand engagement.

    Influencer marketing leads to collaborative content and publishing

    Cultivating meaningful relationships with influencers is a powerful way to maximize your SEO efforts. A quality partnership with your influencers ensures exceptional content with collaborative opportunities down the road.

    This is a long-term goal, but once you and your influencer have a mutually beneficial thing going, collaborative content like an interview series or industry report could be in the mix.

    You and your influencer can benefit greatly from borrowing one another’s authority, proving to add more visibility for both sides. As partners you can earn more links to add to your robust link profile for a boost in SEO.

    The relationships you develop via influencer marketing could also provide you and your brand with an in to otherwise off-limit high-authoritative publishers. You influencer networking can open doors, and those doors could lead to social visibility on a global scale.

    Finding relevant authoritative influencers

    Finding relevant authoritative influencers is the most important aspect of influencer marketing. You want your influencer content to reach your target audience with engagement. This will make your influencers SEO assets to your brand.

    Key influencer metrics include…

    • Check the influencer’s domain authority
    • How many unique visitors does the influencer get per day, week, and month?
    • What does the influencer’s engagement per post look like?
    • What are the audience demographics, such as age, location, and gender?

    Despite influencer marketing’s trending nature, many marketers, SEOs, and brands are still coming up short. Don’t fail to utilize the true power of a well-cultivated influencer campaign.

    Use the above examples to maximize your SEO strategy, and get a first page Google ranking for your brand.

    Emoji appear in Google AdWords ads titles

    Emoji have been spotted in the wild in Google AdWords ads titles, giving rise to speculation that this option may be rolled out globally for all advertisers soon.

    We have seen this before, although prior instances of emoji in AdWords seemed to be caused by a loophole that allowed certain character combinations to pass through Google checks. As such, any gains to be made from using emoji were very short-term.

    However, there is cause to believe that this time round, they could be here to stay.

    The prime instance of emoji showing up recently in AdWords was last week, when the following ad title was spotted on Google.de for the query “autohaus mainz”:

    Only a small number of ad titles including emoji have been observed so far, so this may just be a small test and could even be another loophole set to be closed soon by Google – although the latter seems unlikely.

    It seems more probable that this is an indication of an upcoming change that could have significant implications for many industries.

    We wrote a couple of weeks ago about Google’s decision to allow emoji in organic search listings again, hinting at a noteworthy change in stance on the use of this universal, visual language.

    It is expected that there will be restrictions on their appearance for organic search queries and only truly relevant searches will return these characters in their results.

    We tried this out with our article and, in line with what we have seen elsewhere, emoji are present within the title tag in search results:

    Viewed in light of what we have seen over the last few years, with the ever growing presence of paid listings in search results to the cost of their organic counterparts, it is difficult to conceive that this new functionality will extend only as far as SEO. It seems only a matter of time before this applies equally to paid search, if it has a positive effect on CTR.

    What impact could this have?

    The aspect that will enthuse or discourage advertisers will, of course, be the impact on campaign performance. In theory, apt usage of emoji could increase CTR and, ultimately, Quality Score too, so this could be seen as very welcome news.

    Should this be rolled out even to a small percentage of queries, it could provide a new avenue for attention-grabbing creative in an area that has lacked for invention when compared to, for example, Facebook.

    Moreover, bearing in mind the new, less conspicuous ‘Ad’ label, launched with the rationale that Google wants to “streamline” the number of colours in search results, it would be contradictory to launch emoji across a large swathe of results so soon.

    Although, a cynic may counter, perhaps that rationale is a rather convenient aegis under which to increase paid search CTR and, in turn, Google revenues. In that sense, the launch of emoji in ad titles would be entirely in keeping with Google’s business strategy.

    How can advertisers use emoji in their AdWords titles?

    Assuming that this will be rolled out beyond small, ring-fenced tests, advertisers will be able to copy and paste emoji into the ad text creation field within AdWords.

    As such, this would only be a small change compared to launching any other campaign, and the more telling aspect of the upgrade will be within the targeting options deployed and the analysis of campaign performance.

    How far could this trend go?

    Google announced last year the ability to perform searches using emoji, we have seen their appearance within a small pool of shopping results within the last year, and there is even an option to view query-level performance for emoji in Search Console.

    In the case of the latter, this capability of course depends on consumers having used emoji initially, so its applicability to search marketers so far is limited. Nonetheless, it is a direct reflection of Google’s aim to increase search query volume through new means in the face of a rapidly maturing competitive landscape.

    Additionally, going back to our article on emoji in organic results, we did find some difficulties with social sharing buttons, which were clearly unable to process the characters as intended. So it is safe to surmise that the widespread adoption of emoji across all digital platforms is not solely dependent on Google’s position.

    That said, with their AI-powered Assistant set to roll out on all Android phones, emoji usage will likely increase on Google devices, as will the search giant’s ownership of the data.

    That sequence of events would no doubt strong-arm other tech platforms into upgrading their capabilities to keep up.

    What does this mean today?

    It would be prudent to wait for further confirmation that Google is allowing emoji in AdWords before experimenting with this; until that point, we can still assume that this is in violation of Google’s guidelines.

    However, with the confirmed release of emoji in SEO listings, it seems entirely plausible that paid search will follow suit sometime soon. In the interim, it would be worth considering how best to make use of this across industries if and when the anticipated announcement does arrive.