How to create an effective digital marketing strategy

Digital marketing strategy

A digital marketing strategy is important for every business seeking further growth, but how can you create an effective one?

More and more businesses jump onto the digital marketing bandwagon, hoping to achieve bigger goals, but even in 2016, not all of them start by creating a digital marketing strategy.

According to Smart Insights, 47% of businesses don’t have a set plan or strategy for their digital marketing efforts and this may affect their long term goals. Even the smallest business using digital marketing needs to document its strategy, in a way that it will help keep track with the objectives and their results.

What is a digital marketing strategy?

It may sound scary to hear that you need to create a strategy from scratch, but in fact, it’s simpler than it seems. A digital marketing strategy is the plan for your next steps, and it helps you make your efforts more effective.

There’s no need to see it as a big and terrifying process, but rather as a series of activities that will bring you closer to your set goals.

Once a business gets into planning its digital marketing actions, it’s already closer to achieve its objectives, as the strategy serves as the reminder on what still needs to be performed.

For example, even if a business starts with the objective of increasing leads during the year, a simple digital marketing strategy is turning an abstract goal into a measurable plan, highlighting the steps that need to be followed until the strategy is effective.

Five steps to an effective digital marketing strategy

1. Define

The first step is to define the goals for your business in a way that you become aware of the next steps needed to achieve them.

  • What does your business want to improve?
  • How can it turn the plan into action?

A series of questions can lead to the right answers, or even create new questions that you may not have thought at first. This will give you a better understanding of how a digital marketing strategy can help you, providing the motivation to continue working towards your business’ growth.

2. Analyse

Analysis should help you learn more about your:

  • audience
  • business
  • goals
  • existing assets

It may be a good idea to start by creating buyer personas, a sample of the customers you are trying to reach. The analysis of their profiles, their needs, their expectations can help you reach them more effectively, so there’s no need to ignore this step.

You can also start by analysing your existing assets and the digital marketing channels to find what you have already achieved, what works, and what can be improved.

Owned media

This refers to the digital assets that your business owns. It includes your website, your social presence, your blog, your visual content and anything else that belongs to your business.

Your owned channels are a vital part of your digital marketing strategy, as they are the starting point for your existing presence and what can be achieved while growing it.

Earned Media

Earned media refers to what you have gained from others about your business and it may include reviews, mentions, shares, PR coverage, guest posts and anything else that was earned through word-of-mouth.

An analysis of your most successful earned media can offer a great understanding of your next steps regarding your digital marketing strategy and how to reach your goals through the most effective sources.

Paid Media

Paid media refers to what you have acquired through paid promotion and it may include Google AdWords, paid social posts, native advertising and anything else that included an increased visibility through an additional payment for it.

Use each platform to analyse its success and decide on which ones to focus on, depending on the goals, the budget, or the effectiveness of each one.

3. Plan

The documentation of the goals and the existing assets leads to the actual planning of the digital marketing strategy.

  • How can you turn the goals into actions?
  • What are the main priorities once you start with digital marketing?
  • Which channels should you use?
  • How many members will your campaign need?
  • Can you describe both your short and long term goals?

A digital marketing calendar can be useful to help you with the planning of your next steps and it may also help you track the milestones of your efforts and the pending actions for each campaign.

Moreover, there are many types of plans that can facilitate your digital marketing strategy, with each one having a different use:

  • Weekly and daily operational plans
  • Campaign plans
  • Annual plans
  • Long-term vision

Each plan contributes towards your ultimate goals and even if it seems time consuming to create them, the rewards may help your business stand out from its competitors.

According to Smart Insights, only 32% of businesses create an annual plan for digital marketing, and the percentage is even smaller (10%) when counting the ones that think of a long term plan.

This may be justified by the constant changes in digital marketing, but it may still be useful to set a draft plan for the years ahead to help your business have a broader goal in mind.


4. Execute

This is the step where planning becomes action. The more detailed the plan, the higher the chances to to enjoy its execution and avoid any surprises.

When a campaign is ready to launch, the team should be ready to collaborate to complete the tasks and ensure that the goals will be met. Previous planning is always useful, but this doesn’t mean that it should be followed in every detail.

During the execution of your digital marketing strategy, there should always be room for experimentation, creativity, or even reaction if there’s a last minute change.

  • Is there a channel that doesn’t work as you expected?
  • Did you find a new opportunity that could benefit your campaign?
  • Is there any change to your set goals?
  • Do you really know your audience?

If you’re hesitating for any of the above questions, you can still adjust your digital marketing strategy during its execution, provided that all the team is flexible to proceed to the necessary changes.

5. Measure

The measurement of your digital marketing efforts can occur in every stage, from the planning and the definition of the KPIs, to the execution and the analysis of what works and what needs to be improved.

There’s no need to measure the actions that do not bring you closer to your goals, which means that you should focus on the metrics that can help you understand whether your plan is closer to be successful. This may even lead to a confusion, or a misinterpretation of what is considered as successful measurement, leading to wrong conclusions.

For example, if your initial goal is to increase the quality leads, but you eventually realise that your Facebook videos have increased your Page’s engagement, then this may bring the false assumption that you’re closer to your goal. Although this successful measurement can gradually help you increase your leads (through a series of steps), it’s not a metric that you’d initially set when seeking for new leads. Thus, you can either shift your focus on more relevant metrics, or think outside the box on how an unexpected success can bring you closer to your goal.

A clear definition of your KPIs can help you measure your digital marketing strategy and analyse what brings you closer to your goals and what needs to be improved.


Five steps of a digital marketing strategy

A digital marketing strategy can be the first step towards bigger plans for your business, provided that you invest the time and the budget on it.

In fact, by the time you understand that you need to create a digital marketing strategy, you’re already closer to your goals.

Not every business makes the effort to document a digital marketing strategy, as it may be easier to dive into its implementation and see how it goes, but it’s the initial planning that will guide you through the process, reminding you that every stage serves its own purpose.

10 useful tools for writing compelling content for SEO

Search Console Search Analytics

Almost 93% of all online experiences begin with a search engine and 70% of the links that people click are organic.*

Do you need more evidence that SEO is the way to go when it comes to boosting the popularity of your website and your brand? When it comes to inbound marketing, no other technique can deliver the same results.

Writing SEO content is the heart and soul of effective optimization but it’s far from an easy task. Various tools can be used to simplify the process and make it more effective.

If you’re just getting started with SEO content, you’ll find the following 10 tools to be quite useful.

1. Google Search Console

This one is an absolute essential for the execution of your SEO campaign. Google Search Console gives you access to tons of information about the performance of your website, as well as to various tools.

You can learn which pages are delivering the best performance, the keywords that people are using to reach your content and the number of pages that have been indexed already. Based on this information, it will be a whole lot easier to modify the content strategy and make it much more targeted.

2. Google Keyword Planner

Here’s another free option developed by the world’s most prominent search engine.

Google Keyword Planner lets you know which keywords in the respective niche are most popular. You’ll also find out how competitive a particular phrase of interest is. Choosing high volume keywords that aren’t too competitive will form the backbone of a solid SEO strategy.


3. SEMrush

Doing competition analysis is just as important as understanding what optimized texts should feature. Luckily, there are tools you can use for the purpose.


When it comes to competition research, SEMrush is one of your safest bets. You’ll get a detailed domain overview that features the keywords your competitor is ranking well for, whether they’re carrying out a paid search campaign, the number and types of backlinks that they have and the main organic competitors of the respective domain.

4. nTopic

You know what your main topic is and you know what you want to accomplish with your content. Have you managed to complete the task successfully, however? nTopic will let you know.


All that you have to do is enter your domain and a keyword of interest. The tool will run analysis and let you know whether your website’s content is relevant. You’ll get a relevancy score that can be used to do an even better job in terms of focusing your content in the future.


Content curation is imperative for SEO copywriters. Through curation platforms, it becomes easier to go through relevant content, curate ideas and organize all of the data in an effective way.

scoop-it is currently one of the most popular content curation platforms. You can upload your own curated links or organize the relevant content that others are sharing. has both a free version and a paid plan, depending on how serious you are and what features you need.

6. TopAussieWriters

Feeling a bit insecure about your SEO content writing skills? Professional assistance will come in handy. is a service that helps you get in touch with some of the best professionals in the field. You can provide information about the project’s specifics and choose the writer that will do the best job.

In this sense, this tool is the only one that doesn’t offer a completely free version. Still, paying for professional content will be a smart idea. You’ll get a high return on investment in the long run, especially if you choose the right person for the job.

7. SpyFu

SpyFu is a smart little tool that can be used to do both competition and keyword research. All that you have to do is enter a keyword or domain of preference.


If you’re doing competition research, SpyFu will let you know which organic keywords the website is ranking for, the estimated monthly SEO click value, the keywords for which the website has made it to the first page of the search engine results and its most prominent competition.

SpyFu can also be used to rank keywords in terms of popularity and competitiveness.

8. Word2Clean

This is a rather basic tool but many SEO writers find it beneficial.

Word2Clean has one very simple purpose – it converts a text file to clean HTML. Whether you’re writing ebooks or you’re uploading blog posts online, having clean HTML to work with is one of the prerequisites for success.



Creating content for SEO purposes isn’t always about text. The best optimization experts know that multimedia and visual content are both incredibly important for the success of the campaign.


If you’ve never made an infographic or a chart in the past, you may worry that it’s too difficult. This is the main reason why you’ll like The tool makes it easy for people who aren’t graphic designers to put together professional infographics and charts.

10. WooRank

Keeping track of how you’re doing is as important as starting out with a solid plan.

WooRank is one of the best SEO analysis tools out there. Keep in mind, however, that you’re entitled to just one free report per month. If you need to do additional analysis or if you’re writing content for multiple websites, you’ll have to pay for an upgraded plan.


WooRank identifies the strengths and the weaknesses of your SEO campaign. It lets you know whether you’ve managed to rank for keywords of interest, how effective your social media marketing is and if your website has the type of online reputation that you’re hoping for.

Alice Clarke is a content strategist and a passionate writer. She loves hitchhiking and exploring new places for writing catching pieces.


Guide to Google ranking factors – Part 10: backlinks

Abstract network connection background.

Last week we published the ninth instalment of our complete guide to Google ranking factors.

It concentrated on outbound links and how and why these affect your site’s ranking.

This week, we tackle backlinks.

What is a backlink?

A backlink is link from a third party website, back to your own.

These can also be called ‘inbound’ or ‘incoming’ links.

Why are backlinks important?

As revealed by Andrey Lipattsev, the Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google Ireland, earlier this year, links pointing to your website are one of the top three Google ranking factors.

Backlinks are a vote of confidence that someone outside of your own web property trusts your content and believes it has value. Google weighs up each of these links and assigns the linked-to webpage its own value.

What does Google look for when it comes to backlinks?

1) The number of referring individual domains linking to your website or webpage is a very important factor in Google’s algorithm.

2) The authority of the website or webpage linking to your site is also key. A few high authority links are far more valuable then many from low quality sites.

This from our own guide to authority websites:

An authority website is a site that is trusted. It’s trusted by its users, trusted by industry experts, trusted by other websites and trusted by search engines.

The more good quality links you have the better.

3) An authority website doesn’t necessarily have to be one of the usual big publishers. If you’re a niche website or blog with high quality, relevant content, you can be as highly regarded as any other source.

4) Backlinks from older websites may be worth more than links from newer sites.

5) Backlinks from relevant sites in your niche will be worth significantly more than ones from irrelevant sites or webpages. Some people believe that links from competitors for the same search position as you are worth more than others too.

6) Links from low-quality sites will do very little for your visibility. If the site practices Black Hat SEO (link-schemes, spamming, doorway pages) then can potentially harm your ranking.

7) Links found within the main body text of a webpage is more valuable than links found in separate plugins or widgets found elsewhere on the page.

8) If a site links to you using the ‘nofollow’ meta tag then their website’s authority won’t be passed to you. Some publishers automatically nofollow all external links, which is bad practice. Nofollow links should be reserved for sponsored or paid for links and content you don’t necessarily trust but still want to use as an example.

9) Links from a diverse range of websites is good, many links from a single domain to your site (especially if it’s one of the very sites linking to you) can be seen as spammy.

10) A link from a 301 redirected page may have, on average, 15% less value than one that hasn’t been redirected.

11) Anchor text can affect how Google weighs up links to your site. If linking to your homepage and referring to your brand, anchor text should just say your website or brand name. Links to your homepage that are more descriptive “leading experts in local SEO” can be seen as manipulative, so you want to avoid this.

12) Anchor text to specific webpages on your site should be descriptive (but concise) as possible in order to benefit from the link.

13) Links at the top of a page carry more weight than those further down.

14) Links from longer form, evergreen content (a 1,000+ word article that’s been popular for a long time) will be higher value than short, news-based posts.

15) Although the top-level domain isn’t necessarily considered a factor, some people believe obtaining a link from .edu or .gov domains can carry more weight than others. This may be because these sorts of websites have high authority anyway.

Part 9: outbound links
Part 8: internal links
Part 7: site-level signals
Part 6: trust signals, authority and expertise.
Part 5: duplicate content and syndication.
Part 4: content freshness.
Part 3: quality content.
Part 2: keyword relevancy, frequency and Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI).
Part 1: on-page signals such as title tags, H1 tags and meta descriptions.

Understanding FTC guidelines for influencer marketing

US Federal Trade Commission FTC Washington DC

The FTC is cracking down on brands that aren’t following the rules and regulations for influencer marketing. Where they are and aren’t enforcing these rules, though, has left many confused.

To help with your influencer marketing planning, we’ve outlined what you need to do in order to keep your brand compliant with the FTC Guidelines.

Include disclosures

The important point is for the influencer to get the message across to his/her audience that the brand is compensating him/her for the post. Surprisingly, there is no single correct way to do this.

In the FTC guide, the organization outlines these two options for statements as a way of properly alerting audiences that the brand provided products for the influencer to post about:

“Company XX gave me this product to try . . .”

“Some of the products I’m going to use in this video were sent to me by XX’s manufacturers.”

The FTC’s guidance is to make the audience aware of the nature of the influencer’s relationship with the brand. If you’re providing both product and additional compensation, then the likelihood is increased that the influencer will give a favorable review.

The addition of compensation beyond product trial could bring into question the validity of the review. This makes disclosure especially important.

The only two hashtag versions that seem to fully cover your bases are #ad and #sponsored— these are the briefest ways to declare that an influencer is receiving financial compensation, as well as products, for a post.

Make disclosures clear & conspicuous

The basic question you should ask yourself when evaluating a caption for a sponsored post is, “Could anyone mistake this for a non-sponsored, organic post?” If the answer is “yes,” then the disclosure is not sufficient.

The FTC requires that disclosures be “clear and conspicuous.” Clear, meaning you can’t mistake it for an organic ad. Conspicuous, meaning you can’t miss it.

When you’re giving creative direction to your influencers, make sure that they understand the basic rules and give them some examples of disclosure statements that they can use in their posts.

Thinking that your influencers can bury their disclosure tag in a second comment amongst a bunch of other tags? Think again. The FTC guidelines clearly discourage that: “Preferably, design advertisements so that ‘scrolling’ is not necessary in order to find a disclosure. When scrolling is necessary, use text or visual cues to encourage consumers to scroll to view the disclosure.”

In short, these are the FTC’s criteria for gauging whether your disclosure message meets their standards:

  • Close to the claims to which they relate;
  • In a font that is easy to read;
  • In a shade that stands out against the background;
  • For video ads, on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood;
  • For audio disclosures, read at a cadence that is easy for consumers to follow and in words consumers will understand.

Make the posts honest

Brands cannot make false claims about their products in any kind of advertising. This rule applies to influencer content, as well. If the tea can’t really help you detox, or the strips can’t really whiten your teeth, you’re not allowed to purport that they can.

Furthermore, disclosures do not absolve false claims: “A disclosure can only qualify or limit a claim to avoid a misleading impression. It cannot cure a false claim.”

If you are identifying influencers who are smart lifestyle matches and who believe in your products, you’re off to a good start. Most content creators will not partner with brands whose products they would never actually consume.

If influencers believe in the product they are endorsing, their content will be much more meaningful to both the audiences and the brands. In addition, you can be comfortable that the claims they’re making (if any) are truthful.

The FTC provides these three guidelines for avoiding false claims:

  • You can’t talk about your experience with a product if you haven’t tried it.
  • If you were paid to try a product and you thought it was terrible, you can’t say it’s terrific.
  • You can’t make claims about a product that would require proof the advertiser doesn’t have.

Understand the consequences

So what if an influencer doesn’t disclose their involvement with your brand? What could happen?

The FTC has been cracking down on companies and influencer marketing agencies that do not have disclosures included in the posts made on their behalf.

Two recent examples:

Lord & Taylor’s now-famous blogger campaign that featured 50 women endorsing one dress without disclosure of their sponsored relationship. The campaign was outrageously successful, with the dress quickly selling out.

This success may have caught the attention of the FTC, which led a complaint against the brand. The FTC will be babysitting Lord & Taylor’s marketing efforts from here on out to make sure that they don’t violate the rules again.

Warner Bros paid people to promote a new video game without properly disclosing their affiliation with the brand. The brand directed influencers to “place sponsorship information in the text of the description box – that’s the collapsed box just below a YouTube video – not in the video itself.”


The FTC caught wind of this and the brand was reprimanded. The settlement included steps to ensure that the brand is “educating influencers regarding sponsorship disclosures, monitoring sponsored influencer videos for compliance, and, under certain circumstances, terminating or withholding payment from influencers or ad agencies for non-compliance.”

These brands will have the FTC looking over their shoulder at every turn for future violations. But what could happen to the individual content creator involved with a deceptive program?

In the case of the Warner Bros settlement, it is clear that the FTC could require that a brand or agency withhold your payment. Queen of the internet, Kim Kardashian, was reprimanded by the FTC for a post she made to promote a morning-sickness pill during her pregnancy.

Kardashian stated in her caption that she was “excited and happy to partner” with the brand. The FTC did not deem this a clear enough statement about her financial relationship with the brand.

Advertising Attorney Linda Goldstein, with the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, speculates that the FTC could pursue legal action against Kardashian for misrepresenting the drug in an ad.

As of the writing date, we are not aware of any legal action taken against individual influencers. The FTC has an ad nauseum list of actions it can take in legal response to rule breakers, including adjudication and litigation.

Influencer marketing is still pretty new and some brands are just trying it for the first time. You may find yourself in the position to help your clients understand the FTC guidelines.

This is a great example of taking a partnership role with a brand to a more valuable level. Arm yourself with knowledge to protect yourself and your clients.

Get yourself educated so you can educate your influencers

Educating your influencers comes from having an understanding of these dos and don’ts yourself. The FTC has published a plethora of resources to help you understand the in’s and out’s of their rules and regulations (listed below). But all of this information can be fairly cumbersome to digest.

To simplify the information you need to know, there are some comprehensive guidelines available for brands that outline what you can and can’t do with your influencer marketing.

We recommend these handy guides for your campaign planning:


Influencer marketing is a smart way to create authentic engagement with your community. But only when it’s done right and in accordance with the law. With this information at your disposal, you’ll be able to safely activate influencers for your next marketing program.

Brian Zuercher is the CEO & Founder of SEEN and a contributor to SEW.

Five most important search marketing news stories of the week


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

This week, mobile internet use takes over desktop across the globe, Instagram introduces yet more shopping options and Bing reveals search habits immediately after a presidential debate.

Worldwide mobile internet use surpasses desktop for the first time ever

As we reported this week, mobile and tablet devices accounted for 51.3% of internet usage worldwide in October compared to 48.7% by desktop.

Although don’t get to excited, as there is a huge difference from country to country, with the US and UK still lagging behind other territories.

In the UK, desktop users account 55.6% of the online population, compared to 44.4% on mobile device. In the US the gap is even more pronounced (58% desktop vs 42% mobile).

Despite desktop still clinging on in western countries, it’s the rest of the world that has seen mobile truly dominate. India for example has over 75% internet usage through its mobile devices. In Japan it’s over 76%, and in China mobile accounts over 54% of internet use.

Publishers are struggling with AMP page monetization

As Al Roberts reported this week, many publishers using AMP are seeing their faster mobile pages generate substantially less revenue than their non-AMP mobile pages. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Multiple publishers said an AMP pageview currently generates around half as much revenue as a pageview on their full mobile websites.”

amp pages on serp

One of the reasons for the lower revenue is likely that while AMP supports around 75 different ad providers, including many of the largest, there are fewer types of ad units available.

“AMP pages rely heavily on standardized banner ad units, and don’t allow publishers to sell highly-customized ad units, sponsorships or pop-up ads as they might on their own properties.” The Wall Street Journal’s Jack Marshall explained.

Instagram tests new shopping feature

As Tereza Litsa reported in ClickZ this week, Instagram has announced that it’s testing new shopping features with 20 US retail brands, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Kate Spade, JackThreads, and Warby Parker. These brands will have access to:

  • Tap to view: a new detailed view that showcases up to five products with product descriptions, price and all the relevant information for them
  • Shop now: there will be a new link to lead consumers directly to the brand’s website, making the shopping experience easier.

The additions will initially be available to a sample group of people with iOS devices in US. However, Instagram is planning to expand its shopping features globally in the near future, turning the platform into a more powerful tool for ecommerce brands.

Forms now supported in AMP

According to a post on the AMP project blog, support for webforms in AMP HTML has been launched.

“With the “amp-form” extension, the element and its related elements like can be used to build forms within AMP documents. This enables building experiences ranging from a product color picker on an ecommerce detail page to an email field to capture newsletter signups to an interactive poll to engage readers within an article.”

Bing reveals top search enquiries after each presidential debate

Bing has revealed the top queries made on its search engine during the moments and days after each US presidential debate.

The results are illuminating:

The First Presidential Debate: “What is the second continental congress?” Searchers were interested in brushing up on their American history as the 2016 elections began.

The Vice-Presidential Debate: “Who won the Vice Presidential debate in 2012?” Tim Kaine vs. Mike Pence VP triggered memories of Joe Biden facing off against Paul Ryan.

The Second Presidential Debate: “Why is election day always on a Tuesday?” Good question… it’s something to do with a longstanding tradition of farming and religion.

The Final Presidential Debate: “What is the Electoral College?” Voters wanted to learn more about the electoral body.

Rather than say, “Oh god when will this madness finally end?”

Google Home Services ads come to mobile search (then disappear again)


A trial of Google Home Services (GHS) ads on mobile is the clearest sign yet that Google intends to roll the GHS beta program out to the mobile platform and an insight into how it might look when it happens.

Google has been running a trial of Google Home Services (GHS) ads on mobile. GHS results have been spotted – revealed below – in mobile searches for tradesmen in San Francisco and Sacramento, during October.

The subsequent disappearance of the ads come November show this was just a trial. But it is the clearest sign yet that Google intends to roll the GHS beta program out to the mobile platform. Plus, if this format is a good indication of the real thing, the format will look very different on mobile to what we are currently seeing on desktop.

Experts privy to Google’s plans have been sworn to secrecy, so we can only speculate on when (not “if”) Google will finally roll out the GHS beta to mobile search and what format it will take. But this does look like one to put on the watch list for the New Year.

What is Home Services ads?

The GHS beta has been running in desktop search for over a year in parts of California, near Google’s HQ. On first glance these desktop results look similar to the Google My Business (GMB) listings, which have become commonplace in desktop and mobile search in US, UK and other markets.

But there are three distinct differences from GMB:

  • GHS are “sponsored” listings i.e. tradesman pay for referrals (it is powered by Ad Words Express).
  • Each tradesman has been verified by Pinkerton Corporate Risk Management.
  • Some services are also now guaranteed by Google.

The GHS beta has been expanding – suggesting Google is satisfied with the results. GHS started in the San Francisco area with plumbers and locksmiths. It has expanded geography now also covering the cover the Sacramento area.

The number of trades covered has also expanded now also including searches for local handymen, interior painters, house cleaners, garage door pros, electricians and HVAC (Heating, ventilation and air conditioning) engineers.

But Google has been surprisingly slow to expand Home Services to mobile search.

Then during October 2016 that changed

Searching for a handyman in Sacramento or San Francisco during October brought up the following results page headed by the search box to find “pre-screened and insured handymen.”

A subsequent screen invites searchers to describe the job to get personalized quotes, with buttons for drywall, fans, flooring, furniture assembly, gutter cleaning and home theatre.

This mobile version of GHS has a different look and feel to the current version of GHS on the desktop, as showed image below for handyman in San Francisco

The desktop version shows three handymen in Google’s program, with an option to expand for more; whereas the mobile version encourages searches to enter the job type and ZIP code for the most accurate match.


Notably in both cases of desktop and mobile, GHS are at the very top of search results, there are no traditional search ads (though some still appear at the bottom of the page) and there are no GMB listings, commonly known as the “three pack”.

This gives both GHS formats a cleaner, less cluttered feel than is typical of Google’s modern search results pages.

The added advantage of this compact approach is that organic listings tend to appear higher up the page with Google Services. Perhaps, on some devices – gasp – even appearing above the fold. This should appease search marketers who have been frustrated by Google’s new innovations GMB, Knowledge Graph, AMP pushing organic results further and further below the fold.

This demonstrated well when a mobile search for handyman in Sacramento is compared with a mobile search for handymen in Venice Beach. (Venice Beach, and the rest of the Los Angeles area, isn’t covered by Home Services beta, yet).


Puff… and then they were gone

Just as quietly as Home Services appeared on mobile, so they were disappeared.

As of November a mobile search on handyman in San Francisco (or Sacramento) delivers up to four PPC search ads – which look increasingly old-fashioned and bloated, compared with GHS (on desktop or mobile) – and then the usual organic results.

There’s no Home Services ads, but nor has the GMB three-pack returned. This is the same for all Home Services verticals, including locksmiths, plumbers, handymen, interior painters, house cleaners, Garage Door Pros, electricians and HVAC.

GMB remains unchanged for mobile search for verticals not yet included in GHS e.g. gardeners, mechanics, accountants, lawyers. As show in the image below.

So why does this matter?

It is evident from various trials and betas in California that Google’s is on a mission to bring more trust to local search results for verticals such as tradesmen. Businesses with the best SEO or who bid the most for search ads, doesn’t necessarily mean best service for the customers.

See this ClickZ column on the future of mobile local search for more detail and analysis.

But verification and guarantees cost money, which is part of the reason that Google can justify charging businesses for referrals. And if GHS does replace PPC ads in these verticals (as indicated by both desktop and mobile results, pictured above), then Google needs to replace that revenue stream.

Mobile is a massive part of local search; plus with mobile-only functions such as tap-to-call; it is not only unfeasible that GHS would not come to mobile, but it may also the results of trials on mobile may also feedback into desktop.

If Google can make GHS work on both mobile and desktop it is inevitable that the program will expand geographically and in to other trades and professions.

If GHS proceeds along the lines pictured above, the likely implications for businesses in these verticals – in mobile and desktop search is fourfold:

  • Verification and guarantees could encourage searchers to place more trust GHS results than organic or GMB results.
  • Traditional search ads could disappear for GHS verticals.
  • GMB could disappear for GHS verticals.
  • Organic results could feature more prominently in search – if GHS replaces both search ads and GMB, with take up considerable more real estate on search results.

But while Google continues to trial and beta test GHS nothing is certain.

Kevin Cotch, SEO Analyst, TopRank Marketing commented:

Google typically tests changes for mobile users and then will roll out the change to desktop over time.

The GHS ads typically cost less than other AdWords ads, which is beneficial for these industries. I would expect to see the GHS ads take visibility away from the current local packs and encourage users to use qualified professionals.

Google requires the home service professionals to pass a background check and proof of insurance to become a part of the GHS ad program to protect users. Then, Google evaluates the professionals based off of the user rating and review, which benefits other users using the ads and offers more control for Google.

It would be smart for home service professionals to use the advertising service when possible, as well as verifying and optimizing their Google My Business pages to help get the most local visibility.


Andy Favell is writer for SEW and ClickZ. He is a London-based freelance mobile/digital consultant, journalist and web editor. Contact him via LinkedIn or Twitter at Andy_Favell.

Instagram interaction rate has decreased by 33% since 2015

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Instagram may be among the most popular social platforms, but this doesn’t mean that the interaction rate cannot be affected by the increasing number of brands joining it.

How can you maintain your own interaction rate?

Instagram has seen an impressive growth in the past years and its recent addition of live stories provided more reasons for a user (and a brand) to try it out. More than 500k advertisers have already joined the platform and users check the app multiple times during the day.

However there has been an alarming decrease in interaction rates by 33% from 2015 to 2016. According to Quintly’s report, the interactions per post from Q1 2015 to Q1 2016 have seen a steep drop, with the most popular profiles seeing an even bigger drop.

Although video posts have increased by 10% from 2015 to 2016, the don’t seem to have an equal engagement with image posts. Despite both seeing a reduced interaction rate, image posts saw a decrease of 27%, while video posts reached a decrease of 39%.

Why is there a decreased interaction rate?

There are many reasons that could cause the drop in the interaction rate:

  • Increase of users
  • Increase of brands
  • Content “clutter”
  • Increased competition
  • Lost interest for interaction

These should not all be alarming, but they may provide a useful analysis on how Instagram evolves. As the users keep increasing, the content “clutter” is inevitable, which means that the chances of seeing a post are reduced.

Moreover, as more brands join Instagram, branded content may alienate users, which also contributes to the drop of interaction rate. This may also lead to a gradual loss of interest for the platform, especially if it reaches a point where the advertising may take over the organic posts. We are not expecting this any time soon, but it’s still an interesting perspective to consider when thinking of the platform’s future.

How can I maintain my brand’s engagement rate?

It’s useful to focus on your own brand’s performance year by year on Instagram, tracking the engagement (likes, comments, reposts, clicks) and whether it recently changed.

Which posts led to the biggest engagement?

What does your audience expect from you?

Will a new idea bring an increase in engagement?

Your presence in every platform should help you track your progress to it every year, and an increased engagement is a big victory. However, even if you manage to create a consistent engagement, this is still a win, as not every brand is able to achieve it.

Moreover, you don’t have to rule out video posts due to the general drop of the engagement they saw in others’ posts. As video content keeps increasing on every platform, it’s up to your brand to appeal to its audience and maintain the much desired engagement.


Social noise may be increasing and Instagram is turning into one of the most competitive platforms, but you may still succeed by following these simple tips:

  • Be authentic
  • Be creative
  • Think outside the box
  • Listen to your audience
  • Create a community
  • Experiment with new types of content
  • Be responsive

10 most shared Christmas ads of all time, shockingly not *too* dominated by John Lewis

Look, it’s November. There’s no getting around the fact that for the next 52 days you’re going to be pounded with Christmas stuff. This is your life now. But you’re marketers, YOU CHOSE THIS.

It’s an established fact that Christmas no longer begins when supermarkets start stocking up on Quality Street, it begins when John Lewis releases its Christmas advert. And here’s something that may send a shiver down your cynical spine – it’s happening next week.

Can you bare the anticipation?

There are so many questions to be answered… Which heartstring will John Lewis cruelly manipulate?

Last year it was older people, the year before that, bears. This year I predict some kind of sentient tea towel. Full disclosure: I hear John Lewis accidentally bulk ordered a ton of tea towels and they need to get rid of them.

Also, which terrible 90s Britpop song will be given a bloodless, pallid cover by an unknown Scandinavian artist? This year I predict something by Shed Seven.

Or maybe John Lewis won’t bother this year and merely show a creaking conveyor belt featuring some out of date chocolates from last Christmas – because THAT’S all we should expect from 2016.

Either way next week will be full of tears. So in anticipation of this, may I present the 10 most shared Christmas ads of all time, according to video ad tech company Unruly.

And as I said in the headline, you may be surprised at the results…

1) Edeka: “#Heimkommen” (2015) – 3,984,010 views

Yes, a German advert in which a grandfather fakes his own death to trick his family is the most shared Christmas ad of all time. Take that Monty the Penguin!

2) Universal: Minions movie 2014 – Minions Go Caroling – 3,849,214 shares

More than 3.8 million people found this entertaining enough to share. I’ll let you digest that for a minute or two.

3) WestJet: Real-time Giving 2013 – 2,221,976 shares

Santa Clause uses his special Christmas powers* to delight** airline passengers before they board their flights.

*a network of ‘elves’ rooting through your bins and drawers

**buy the silence of

4) Kmart: Show Your Joe 2013 – 1,857,872 shares

It’s no ‘Ship My Pants’ but so little is these days. Sigh.

5) John Lewis: “Man On The Moon” (2015) – 1,672,666 shares

The first of three John Lewis ads in this list, and also its most recent – last year’s Man on the Moon. I interviewed my mum about this advert last year. She cried.

6) John Lewis: The Bear and the Hare 2013 – 1,226,467 shares

Rabbit selfishly wakes bear up early from its hibernation, upsetting its natural sleep cycle. Bear miraculously doesn’t rip its face off.

7) Sainsbury’s: “Mog’s Christmas Calamity” (2015) – 1,072,251 shares

I hate to ruin your day but Mog the cat is technically an… uh… ex-cat in the children’s picture books. So this advert is non-canonical.

8) John Lewis: Monty the Penguin 2014 – 1,012,605 shares

After two years of writing about this advert, you’d think I’d have run out of jokes by now. And you’re right. So here’s the advert recut to The Babadook trailer.

9) Sainsbury’s: Christmas is for Sharing 2014 – 771,387 shares

2014 saw Sainsbury’s manage to commercialise the horrors of war to sell a limited edition bar of chocolate. Good for them.

10) NBA: Jingle Hoops 2013 – 564,475 shares

“OF COURSE THE CAMERA WAS ON, do you think we’d have spent 25 million dollars on this advert only to NOT TURN THE CAMERA ON LEBRON!!! On a separate note, can we go for a second take? Please?”

How to deal with attribution fraud

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While ad fraud has become part of every marketer’s vocabulary, attribution fraud – the practice of gaming outdated attribution models to justify self-serving means – has been mostly ignored up until now.

As marketers and media owners shift dollars into digital channels, however, serving ads outside of an attribution model’s measurable capabilities in order to achieve financial benefit has quietly been ramping up in response. Attribution fraud is fast becoming the ad industry’s next big quality headache.

Attribution fraud includes everything from retargeting users about to convert to knowingly cookie-bombing users with non-viewable ads. And the costs of attribution fraud are not just the valuable advertising dollars wasted on ineffective media.

Attribution fraud leads marketers down a rabbit hole of fundamentally misunderstanding their customers’ behavior. It leads advertisers to misinterpret how various channels, devices and tactics lead to consumer actions.

But all hope is not lost. With advances in cross-device attribution and experimental design methodologies, marketers are able to create randomized controlled experiments that measure combinations of investments in channels, regions or media types.

These randomized controlled experiments are able to accurately attribute business outcomes to specific marketing activities – and leave scant opportunities for fraudsters in the process.

Don’t leave the door open for fraudsters

The multifaceted, multichannel nature of consumer behavior and advertising programs today has made true attribution difficult to measure—but marketers tend to default to what they can easily measure. And what is easy to measure is often first or last touch.

Fraudulent ad impressions without value frequently clutter attribution methodologies such as last touch/view. Marketers are unwittingly leaving the door wide open for fraudsters by using attribution models which are neither accurate nor effective.

And even sophisticated multi-touch or split-funnel attribution models still rely on impressions that are measurable – leaving these models vulnerable to fraud as well.

Take a look at advertising investments relative to desired outcomes

Marketers should consider taking a more holistic view of campaigns across all channels to better protect themselves from fraud.

One way to do this is by activating a scientific experimentation framework through a cross-channel technology measurement partner. Here’s what such a framework looks like:

1. Run many small, isolated experiments to understand the impact of each investment on desired business outcomes.

Marketers can run many parallel experiments to achieve a holistic understanding of their advertising investments and returns. This “design-of-experiments” methodology is superior to traditional media-mix models for three reasons:

  • Runs in real-time. Media-mix models measure the relationship between historical investments and outcomes over multi-year periods. But multi-year models are often outdated by the time they are complete. Design-of-experiments methodology, in contrast, allows advertisers to run many short-duration, randomized controlled experiments in order to pulse different levels of media investments across regions, devices and channels.
  • Normalizes reporting. Existing attribution models suffer from the lack of apples-to-apples comparisons of outcomes from digital channels. The design-of-experiment model uses true outcomes data (i.e., offline or online sales), however – which remains comparable no matter the channel – to calculate the optimal investment level and saturation level of each channel. This method can include purely offline channels such as print and traditional TV in addition to digital channels
  • Demonstrates causation instead of correlation. Traditional models are only able to show correlation—not causation. The learnings from the sum of experiments, however, can be used to establish a causal link between marketing outcomes and media investments.

2. Consumers use multiple devices, so all measurements should, too.

Consumers use multiple devices to research, plan, compare, consider and complete their purchases. When looking at attribution models, it is important to consider both the cross-device nature of today’s modern consumer and the role of each device within the conversion path.

Graph technologies identify unique users across multiple touchpoints, including touchpoints outside of paid media, and are crucial to identify and curb impression-level attribution fraud. Transparent multi-touch attribution models built on this foundation can help advertisers recognize fraudulent impressions and discredit them, thereby assigning credit to the rightful touchpoint in the consumer journey.

3.Work with partners you trust.

As more money flows into an industry, the incentive for fraudsters to find new ways of gaming the system increases. The advertising industry is no exception to this trend. So just like in any other financial relationship, it is very important for advertisers to know and trust the partners and vendors with whom they are working.


Given the vast amounts of money spent on digital by global advertisers, there has never been a better time to transition to more complete attribution models that represent the reality as a minimum standard.

Last-touch modeling is outdated, impression-only models are incomplete, and walled gardens (intentionally) make it difficult for advertisers to uniformly measure advertising performance.

As digital marketing becomes more complex and fragmented, it is critical for marketers to modernize their attribution modelling to ensure they fully understand the ROI of their media investments.

The good news is that more than 50% of marketers in US companies already plan to use multichannel attribution models in 2017, according to eMarketer. These marketers have the right idea.

Only a holistic look at advertising investments across all devices, channels and media types will lead to a true understanding of attribution. And only then will attribution fraud become a thing of the past.

Guide to Google ranking factors – Part 9: outbound links


Last week we published the eighth instalment of our complete guide to Google ranking factors.

It concentrated on internal links, as well as the best way to use anchor text and hub page or category optimisation.

This week, outbound links!

1) An outbound link is a ‘vote of confidence’ to the site you’re linking to, and you will be passing along some of your own site’s ranking power. However try to avoid using anchor text such as ‘here’ as this is worthless to you and the site you’re linking to.

2) Sticking to the website name is a safe bet when choosing anchor text, especially if it’s ‘example company conducted a study’. That way usability and transparency is improved or maintained because visitors will know exactly what to expect when they click through.

3) When linking to other sites, try to avoid terms that describe what they do, especially if it’s something they’re trying to rank for. As an example, if you link to a particular SEO agency with the phrase ‘leading SEO experts’. This can be considered manipulative and may incur a penalty for either party.

4) Linking to authority sites: Reboot carried out a study to prove whether or not the strength of a site’s outgoing links has an effect on ranking.

The good news is that yes it does.

Reboot created 10 new websites each targeting the same keyword, only half of which included links to high authority sites. After five months it was concluded that, “Outgoing relevant links to authoritative sites are considered in the algorithms and do have a positive impact on rankings.”

5) Outbound links do not dilute your site if they’re towards high quality websites. And that doesn’t necessarily mean the ‘big publishers’ any smaller blog can have authority if its key resource in its field of interest.

6) According to the same research above, Pagerank retention is a myth. You may have heard the term link juice before, particularly in terms of having more internal links than external links for fear of leaking precious ‘link juice’ (or Pagerank) – but this seems to be untrue.

7) Any link building scheme is considered black hat SEO and will likely incur a penalty. So if you’re regularly linking to a website that has little to do with your own niche and/or those links have been bought or traded, you may get into trouble.

8) Outbound links can be a trust signal. If you’re linking to references in order to back up data or research, then obviously you’re doing your job properly. People will trust you, search engines will trust you. Well done.

9) Broken links whether internal or external can be a sign of a poorly maintained site, so make sure you double-check your links before publishing.

10) Affiliate links are fine, but make sure you use the nofollow meta tag in accordance with Google best practice.

11) You should also use the nofollow meta tag when linking out from sponsored content, native advertising or if you’re a blogger reviewing a product.