Paid search click-through rates have risen 38%

q3 2016 search spend

According to data collected in Q3 2016, paid search CTRs have risen 38%, mainly in thanks to Google killing off its right-hand-side ads back in February.

More advertisers have also started to use Google’s new extended text ads, accounting for 29% of search spend in September.

These stats are taken from Kenshoo’s latest analysis of more than 750 billion impressions, 13 billion clicks and $6 billion (USD) in advertiser spend.

One of the major advertising trends in the last few months has seen online retail advertisers increasing their use of specialised product-focused ads on Facebook, Instagram and Google.

Video advertising on social media has also increased dramatically and mobile continues to be a key driver of growth.

Here are some more stats from the research:

  • Spend on Dynamic Product Ads on Facebook and Instagram, introduced in 2015 to help online retailers promote multiple products through social, has nearly doubled (up 95%) since Q4 2015. DPA now makes up more than four out of every ten clicks (42%) and 21% of spend on online retailers’ social ads.
  • Search advertising spend on retailers’ Product Listing Ads (PLAs), which include product images and information appearing in the “Shop for” boxes in Google search results, has shot up 87% in a year.
  • PLAs now account for 37% of online retail search clicks and 22% of spend, with 59% of clicks coming from smartphones.
  • Spend on social video ads, available on both Facebook and Instagram, has increased 155% in a year and video now accounts for 22% of social ad spend
  • CTR on social ads is up 21% since last year.
  • Social ad spend directed at mobile has increased by 61% YoY with mobile devices now accounting for 70% of all paid social clicks.
  • In search, mobile spend and clicks are up 39% and 48% respectively since last year. Mobile now accounts for 35% of all search spend and 43% of all clicks.

search stats from q3 2016

For more information, check our Kenshoo’s latest infographic.

Cats, dogs, brands and social media marketing success

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People love their pets, not necessarily their elected officials. And the savviest social media marketers should try to take advantage of this fact.

It was absolutely hilarious, if you ask me.

It was just a few weeks ago, on a Tuesday night (October 4). Two men vying for the second highest office in the land, Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, were debating each other before an audience of millions and frankly, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

I was looking at a Facebook Live video being broadcast on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s Facebook page that was showing the television broadcast of the event.

However, in front of the screen was a large pen full of cute, little kittens divided by two separate carpets, one red and the other blue, with a box of kitty litter in the middle labelled, “Undecided.”

I was literally laughing out loud.

If you’re looking for attention from the masses, you can’t go wrong by hitching your social media wagon to anything to do with this year’s tumultuous election season, of course. All eyes have been on that runaway freight train of a news story. It’s been a perfect newsjacking opportunity if ever there was one.

But the time and circumstances have also been quite rare. At least let’s hope so.

What’s always in vogue are cats and dogs.

After all, pretty much anything to do with politics is a hot-button issue. Cats and dogs? Not so much. People love their pets, not necessarily their elected officials. And the savviest social media marketers will try to take advantage of this fact.

For instance, here are 10 ways businesses and brands – excluding any pet-related brands, per se – include cats and dogs in their social media to attract an even bigger audience…

1. TODAY Show on Instagram

Charlie was very excited for #KingsOfLeon! #TODAYShow #KingsOfLeonTODAY (photo via @photonate)

A photo posted by TODAY (@todayshow) on Oct 14, 2016 at 12:13pm PDT

What a cute picture! What a great idea! Add a puppy to the cast of regulars and you have a win-win all-around.

Charlie follows in the paw prints of his predecessor, Wrangler, who left the Today Show to “work” as service dog for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Charlie is being trained to be one of America’s VetDogs. In the meantime, he’s taking advantage of more than his fair share of photo ops on the set.

2. Boston Red Sox on Twitter

https://twitter.com/redsox/status/747244510397239297

Tomorrow is Dog Day at Fenway presented by NutriSource! You & your best friend can be there: https://t.co/2jIko7tuax pic.twitter.com/AVsJfYtDyF

— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) June 27, 2016

Not that the Red Sox need any help in filling seats, but this sure is a great way to attract a few fans, including those of the four-feet variety, to the ballpark. If every dog has his or her day, what could be better than spending that day at Fenway Park (even if there isn’t a game being played)?

3. Best Western on Instagram

“This is your 38th selfie this morning, John… Ok, one more!” Leave a hilarious caption for this travel dog. #TravelCaptionSaturday

A photo posted by Best Western® Hotels & Resorts (@bestwestern) on Sep 17, 2016 at 10:53am PDT

I love the fact that Best Western made the dog the star of this photo. How can you resist looking at it, never mind wanting to caption it? Man’s best friend is a marketer’s best friend, too.

4. Ralph Lauren on Twitter

https://twitter.com/ralphlauren/status/769164569289850880

Happy #NationalDogDay from Ralph Lauren, with family dog Rugby, rescued near the Double RL Ranch in Colorado pic.twitter.com/LeEBPB1fRM

— Ralph Lauren (@RalphLauren) August 26, 2016

Thanks to the emergence of social media and the ubiquity of pop culture, every day is a holiday. And the savviest brands among us make sure they’ve included themselves in that celebration, newsjacking the conversation about it on social media in some way, shape or form as Ralph Lauren so smoothly does here.

5. Katy Perry on Facebook

She’s a big rock star and a huge brand who, according to Trackalytics, has the 25th most-liked page on Facebook.

She’s Katy Perry, her fans are KatyCats and this is a purr-fect example of how well felines play on social media.

6. Target on Twitter

Pups in costumes. #MakeMeSmileIn3Words https://t.co/2ooeZh4NvK pic.twitter.com/o7yYUrP5bM

— Target (@Target) October 12, 2016

Demonstrating a knack for newsjacking, the team behind Target’s Twitter account does a great job of taking advantage of a trending hashtag not only to be cute, but to drive traffic back to the store’s pet costumes for sale before Halloween.

7. 29 Sudbury on Facebook

Happy Hour may be illegal in the state of Massachusetts, but no one said anything about Yappy Hour. What a great idea!

Not only is this a very clever way for 29 Sudbury to attract customers, it’s an excellent example of cause marketing, promoting your business while also raising funds for a good cause.

8. Volkswagen on Twitter

https://twitter.com/Volkswagen/status/762583208290619392?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

It’s the International Cat Day –the fluffiest day of the year! #internationalcatday #volkswagen pic.twitter.com/TYHu66T73c

— Volkswagen (@Volkswagen) August 8, 2016

In this clever video, Volkswagen jumped on the International Cat Day bandwagon and used a handful of fluffy felines to demonstate how its Driver Alert System works, showing them springing to attention whenever the warning bell sounds.

9. American Express on Instagram

The moment when your @barkbox brings all the dawgs to the yard. Get there faster by checking out with #AmexExpressCheckout. Learn more: amexexpresscheckout.com. #dogsoncomputers

A photo posted by American Express (@americanexpress) on Jul 29, 2015 at 7:58am PDT

Blending in nicely with the Instagram environment, American Express includes a clever, colloquial caption along with this picture of a dog and his or her shipment of treats, toys and Tchochkies from BarkBox.

This post has got it all going on – product placement, hashtags, URL, you name it – and nearly 1,000 likes to show for it.

10. Gemmyo on Twitter

Vous avez dit #Gemmiaou ? A consommer sans modération ! #startup #metro #jeuneetjoaillier #bijou #love pic.twitter.com/ZkoAuMXAeC

— Gemmyo (@GemmyoParis) July 8, 2016

I don’t know what a pink cat has to do with precious stones, but apparently this French company’s advertising is as innovative as its phenomenally popular line of personalized, made-to-order jewelry.

Where is Google heading with mobile local search?

dna34_venice_beach_pl_kggmb

In our last column we asked: Has Google killed mobile organic search?

In this column we consider what Google’s plans are for those owned properties that get the prime real estate atop mobile search results, such as Google My Business (GMB) and Knowledge Graph (KG).

There are five areas/initiatives that should be observed closely, as these could be prototypes for the future of mobile local search. These are:

  • Restaurants in [US city] – Google My Business (GMB) results.
  • Hotels in [US city] – GMB results.
  • [US city] –Knowledge Graph (KG) results.
  • Movies in [US city] – KG results.
  • Tradesmen (or similar) in [San Francisco area] – Home Services results. Some or all (unclear) of the tradesmen pay to be included in this scheme. This will be covered in detail in a subsequent column.

While these are likely to come to a Google near you, most are not yet seen, or not seen in their entirety outside the US (or parts of the US). So for the sake of this column we will pretend we are in sunny Venice Beach (Los Angeles).

GMB v KG

The distinction between Google My Business (GMB) and Knowledge Graph (KG) panels is a little fluffy (and the terms are often used interchangeably).

The GMB panel is found in the results of a local business search. So if you search on “Restaurants in Venice Beach”. The results deliver a three-pack (as is called in the trade) of local restaurants, for three local restaurants (at the time of search): James’ Beach, Gjelina and 26 Beach; with the option to expand for more.

KG results from an information search which is not local business specific. An example is “Venice Beach” or “Harry Potter”. This delivers an information panel or card with data from various sources, most commonly, Wikipedia or from Google partners (see below).

With place searches, such as Venice Beach, there is commonly a carousel of restaurants and/or hotels at the end of the panel. These tend to be similar to the GMB listings, but the priority of results differs slightly from GMB results for “Hotels in Venice Beach” or “Restaurants in Venice Beach” (as shown below).

Tapping through on a restaurant or hotel in either GMB three-pack or KG carousel – does not take you to the business’s website. This brings up a new in-search panel, which Google calls a “Knowledge Graph card”, dedicated to your business, which is similar to the Venice Beach KG panel above, but with contact information; tap to call; tap for directions; and a link to website.

Today Google does not charge businesses a fee for calls generated, or people who click on a map to find the location, but it is keeping count of how many clicks it is generating for your business.

Note the presence of the paid listing prioritized at the front of the restaurant and hotel carousel. The example pictured below is from Google.co.uk – the same search in Google.com delivered the same results, but did not mark them as paid. The reason for this is not clear.

The new face of local search

Whether or not we like it, this is the future of Google mobile search, looks like this. Traditional organic website listings are being pushed further and further below the fold on mobile devices, as Google’s owned properties (ads – GMB – KG) take the prime real estate. Businesses have to face it and address it.

David Mihm, local digital marketing consultant:

There is no question that web results are in decline for high-volume local searches like ‘pizza.’

Organic place listings, though, (and hybrid/paid place listings like the HVAC (Heating, ventilation and air conditioning) tests going on in San Francisco at the moment) are here for the long haul as Google shifts more and more results to its Knowledge Graph. Knowledge Graph results will continue to provide significant impressions through the coming voice tsunami.

It’s time to start thinking about your website as an API of structured information about your business, its products, and services that will help Google display Knowledge Panels instead of webpages. Google is increasingly shooting for conversions to happen directly on the SERP, within Knowledge Panels, for example through their OpenTable integration in restaurants.

In many cases, conversion rates may actually be higher from place results, but they won’t show up in your Google Analytics. And of course a huge percentage of local searches result in offline conversions in-store, which (so far) aren’t easily trackable.

See restaurants below for more on the OpenTable integration, the HVAC listing, we will discuss in a subsequent post on Google Home Services.

Hotels in [Venice beach]

First we need somewhere to stay in Venice Beach. Whether you access a hotel via the GMB results in “Hotels in Venice Beach” search or via the carousel in the KG results for “Venice Beach” Google delivers the same GMB/KG card for the hotel.

Similar to other business panels, e.g. restaurants (see below), there is a tap to call, directions, web link with a description and reviews. But unique to hotels is the option to book a room through a booking agent e.g. Expedia, Booking.com, Hotels.com and others.

As demonstrated by the Ad badge, all of these brokerages are paying for their listings, presumably on a pay-per-click basis. In turn they will be taking a commission from the hotel for any booking.

Of particular interest, is that within these lists of paid-for results, when expanded, there is sometimes an option to book direct with the hotel, e.g. for Inn at Venice Beach. Which suggests that in order for a hotel to offer bookings direct via its so-called “my business” listing, the hotel has to bid against other advertisers (the travel brokerages) on Google.

Russell Jones, Principal Search Scientist at Moz, was able to shed a little light on how it might work:

I am not sure about this, although it appears that synxis.com, the system which seems to power their booking engine, might be connected. However, from Google’s developer documentation it looks like you don’t need a third party for this – and that pricing uses the standard bid model.

How to get on the three-pack GMB listing

Today the GMB three-pack – see the restaurant and hotels examples in the images above – are not paid-for listings. Though reports suggest that Google is certainly considering replacing one of the three pack with a paid listing.

So, with organic listing being pushed further and further below the fold on mobile devices, and the potential for GMB listings to drive calls, reservations (for restaurants and hotels), it is increasingly important to ensure that your business appears and appears correctly on the GMB three-pack.

But when your “My Business” panel is actually owned by Google, how do you do this? Start by updating the basic details on the listing. Also see these tips from Google.

But there does not appear to be an option to alter reservations or deliveries (for restaurants), so your listing shows your reservation or delivery service, rather than those of a third party. If this is possible, which isn’t entirely clear from Google’s developer pages then this is a job for your web developer.

As with all things Google, there’s a bit of mystery how the local search algorithms work, but it seems that old fashioned SEO rules still apply.

Dan Leibson, VP of Local at LocalSEOGuide.com

As far as general tips for getting in the 3-pack… we did a huge regression study on the rankings of 30,000 businesses and looked at over 100 factors. The biggest takeaway is that links are a dominant ranking factor. Also, citation consistency is incredibly foundational for getting in the pack.

Buying ads in competitors GMB / KG panels

It appears that businesses can buy ads competitors’ GMB/KG card. These appear in the prime spot in the carousel of other restaurants (or hotels) displayed below the reviews in the competitors’ panels.

Interestingly these ads lead to the advertiser’s own KG card, not the advertiser’s own website.

The screenshots below were taken of the Domino’s Pizza and James’ Beach KG card on Google.co.uk (in Google.com the same restaurants were shown without the ad badge).

dna34_ads_in_restaurant_gmb_venice

Restaurants in [Venice Beach]

So next we need to find somewhere to eat.

Whether you tap on the restaurant via the GMB results in “Restaurants in Venice Beach” search, via the carousel in the KG results for “Venice Beach”, or via the carousel in a rival’s KG card, Google delivers the same GMB/KG card for the restaurant.

These are similar to the hotel panels, in respect of details, click to call, directions. In addition there are several options to view menu, find a table and place an order, which may or may not be present.

  • The menu may be provided by the restaurant or via a third party, most commonly, SinglePlatform. This is the provider of the menu for Domino in Venice Beach (though this is not clear from Google’s listing).
  • Find a table appears to be exclusively provided by OpenTable, even where the restaurant takes reservations on its website, either directly or through a preferred third party.
  • Place an order, where available, is only provided via third parties, such as GrubHub/Seamless, Eat24 (Yelp), DoorDash, Delivery.com, BeyondMenu and Slice/MyPizza.com. This is the case even when the restaurant has its own delivery service via its website. As seen below, both neither the GMB listing for Domino’s or James’ Beach offers place an order, but both outlets do offer delivery from their websites.

Unlike hotels these are not marked with an Ad sign, which suggests these third parties are not paying for their privileged Google partnerships. Certainly SinglePlatform does not receive compensation from Google.

Russell Jones, Moz:

Unlike the food delivery space, OpenTable seems to be by far the leader in nation-wide reservations. Given the cost of integration and the stability of partners required by Google, it is not surprising that OpenTable is the only partner at this point. I would suspect this to remain the same for quite some time.

The food delivery space is more crowded, so integrating with only one provider might leave a Google user with fewer options. Google seems to have chosen partners that have large, nationwide coverage. I am doubtful that this relationship is paid at the moment.

Google’s developer pages give details on how web developers can adapt business websites to allow integration with their KG card. But it does not look likely that integration will happen automatically.

For certain, businesses (restaurants, hotels, events etc. along with any third party services) should register their interest in becoming Google partners and hope for the best.

Dan Leibson, LocalSEOGuide:

To your question on if you can remove competitors, you cannot. Lots of the special functionality in the right hand Knowledge Graph panel are through partnerships with Google.

So, to your example, a big brand like Domino’s could likely try to work out some form of partnership with Google where their Knowledge Graph entry would have some kind of special functionality. Though to my understanding Google only does it with services that will function cross brand.

dna34_restaurants_venice

Movies in [Venice Beach]

Next we need something to do, so let’s go to the movies. Ok, this is the last thing we would do in Venice, but let’s pretend.

The KG for movies is a different format with a carousel of movies along the atop the mobile search results. Tapping The Accountant film, reveals blurb, ratings, reviews and the option to select show times at one of the two movie theatres (both AMC).

Tapping on a show time delivers the option to purchase tickets from one of three Google partners Fandango, AMC Theatres and MovieTickets.com.

Unlike hotels these are not marked with an Ad sign, which suggests the booking agents are not paying (currently) for their partnership.

The option to book direct with AMC Theatres suggests that Google is not restricting partnerships to third parties, as appears to be the case with restaurants (see above). However this may just be for the largest national chains.

dna34_movies_venice_beach

Where next?

It is easy to see any of these models – restaurants, hotels and/or cinemas being expanded into other areas, which makes it important to keep a close eye on them – particularly in the US, which is where most of the local mobile search innovation tends to start.

Another very interesting and, perhaps, concerning area of innovation are the on-going trials with local handymen, house cleaners, locksmiths, plumbers, and (as mentioned by David Mihm) HVAC engineers – where local tradesmen pay a fee to be listed as “pre-screened” in Google’s Home Services search.

For more detailed insight read our m-commerce reports:

  • DNA of a Great M-Commerce Site Part 1: Planning
  • DNA of a Great M-Commerce Site Part 2: The 12 Pillars of Mobile Design

Bing Ads reveal the most searched Halloween costumes

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Halloween in the digital age involves a significant amount of searching until the right costume is picked. So what can we learn from this year’s searches?

Online search is the most popular way to discover a Halloween costume nowadays, as according to National Retail Federation, 35% of adults rely on searching to find their costumes.

Bing examined the trends on the searches from September to mid-October and it found that adults are actually more interested in performing such searches, compared to teens.

32% of the searches were made from people aged 35-49 and 28% of them were made from people aged 50-64. This is probably the reason why 72% of the searches occurred on PCs, with just 14% of them taking place on both tablet and mobile devices.

Halloween costume trends by age

Different age groups lead to different costume searches and apparently every generation has its own preferences:

  • Teens aged 13 to 17 are 473% more likely to search for Pokémon, compared to young adults aged 18 to 24.
  • Young adults aged 18 to 24 are 8% more likely to search for Little Mermaid than Deadpool.
  • Adults aged 25 to 34 are 10% more likely to search for Deadpool than Little Mermaid.
  • Adults aged 35 to 49 are 242% more likely to search for Harry Potter, at least compared to 25-34-year-olds.
  • Baby Boomers and Gen Xers aged 50 to 64 are 8% more likely to search for Alice in Wonderland than Pokémon.
  • Older Baby Boomers aged over 65 are both likely to search for Five Nights at Freddy’s and Deadpool.

Most popular superhero searches

There’s no surprise that the most popular search among comics and superheroes was “Suicide Squad” as its popularity (and the variety of costumes) reached a wide audience.

Most popular movie and TV costume searches

Star Wars is still the most popular choice in Halloween costumes, leaving behind Harry Potter and Ghostbusters, with Game of Thrones lacking the buzz it had the previous years.

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Most popular Disney costume searches

Disney costumes are more about classic choices, for anyone feeling nostalgic enough to pick Alice in Wonderland, Little Mermaid, or Mickey Mouse.

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Did any of these help you find your Halloween costume?

Deliverables and documentation to make your SEO strategy actionable

audience personas

For companies serving either B2B or B2C audiences, search engine optimization continues to be a priority for driving new traffic.

There are many, many articles suggesting the right tactics to help you deliver that traffic. But within this piece, I want to take a step back and offer a few key components to think through before you even begin the optimization process.

Understand your audience

The first of these preparatory steps is to understand your audience.

If your business has not taken the time to develop personas, get started now. Personas are a set of representative profiles that communicate the important behaviors, goals, wants, needs and frustrations of specific audience segments along their decision-making journey.

Effective personas are driven by primary and secondary data, and used to gain a focused understanding of how a particular persona profile uses a particular “application” within a given context.

SEO audit

The next step, once you have identified your audience, is to perform an SEO audit.

This process helps to triage the site you’re trying to drive traffic toward. Does the site have technical issues that are making it difficult for search engines to crawl? Is the content structured in a way that is confusing, not only to the user but to search engines as well? Is the site mobile friendly?

Presenting a mobile friendly site is becoming even more important in anticipation of the upcoming splitting of the Google indexes, in which mobile will be the priority index and desktop will be refreshed less often.

Another way to help get the most out of this SEO audit is to request Analytics and Google Search Console access for the domain.

Content audit

Up next is the content audit.

Now that you know what is driving your audience, their needs, and what you should work on from an SEO viewpoint, you can fully concentrate on understanding how the content that you currently provide fits the needs of your personas, and where it falls along their decision/purchase funnel.

The key to this analysis isn’t to force content to fit these needs, but instead to recognize content that does fit and to identify any gaps.

Auditor work desk, accounting business research, financial audit, tax report

Your content is what will help expose your site to your target audience at the right moment in their journey, and it’s worth it to get it right. The other step that should be part of your content audit is to review content themes.

Do similar pieces of content truly need to be separate, or are they more powerful as one piece of content? For content and keyword themes, the focus needs to be on the intent behind the query: what the searcher is looking for.

Competitor analysis

Finally, a thorough competitive analysis will help to develop how you should set your expectations.

How hard are your competitors hitting the marketing channels? Are your competitors keeping current with what is important for their customers, or still telling their customers what is important? Are you in a position to put your content in head-to-head competition and be the expert? How do you rank when it comes to authoritative and trustworthy content that your audience needs?

The idea here is not just to “spy” on your competitors, but to understand how you can set yourself up for success, and how to attract the most relevant audience for your specific website.

One other important factor in this process is to look beyond your “standard” competitors and see if other company websites appear for some of your high priority queries. These may be companies that you haven’t considered as competitors before, but that make sense to keep an eye on.

In conclusion

Following these steps to establish a better understanding of your customer, content and competitive landscape will likely pay dividends as you dive into specific SEO tactics.

These areas of understanding may affect each other holistically as well, for example, findings uncovered in the competitor analysis might highlight a need to classify pieces of content differently than before. Performing this research before executing your SEO strategy will set you up for a better chance at success.

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

Google comes under fire for its privacy policy change

Earlier this year, Google made a change to its privacy policy that is now drawing criticism from privacy proponents.

As detailed by ProPublica, Google “quietly erased [the] last privacy line in the sand” by allowing for data it collects on its services to be combined with DoubleClick.

Previously, Google’s privacy policy read:

“We will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent.”

That was replaced with:

“Depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google.”

According to ProPublica’s Julia Angwin, “The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick ads that follow people around on the web may now be customized to them based on your name and other information Google knows about you. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct.”

By default, all users who create a Google account post-privacy policy change are opted in to data sharing and must opt out if they don’t want their data shared. Those who already have accounts must opt in.

A promise that was too difficult to keep?

As Angwin noted, when Google purchased DoubleClick in 2007, the company’s co-founder Sergey Brin stated that privacy would be the “number one priority when we contemplate new kinds of advertising products.” Ostensibly, that would mean the firewall between Google data and DoubleClick would never come down.

But the world has changed considerably since 2007.

Facebook, which was still a startup nearly a decade ago, today owns one of the most powerful advertising businesses on the internet, and is a bonafide threat to Google’s advertising dominance. Facebook’s ad business relies heavily on the vast trove of data the social network collects from its users, and that arguably is its biggest asset.

If Google kept its data separate from DoubleClick, it would increasingly find itself at a disadvantage against Facebook and others.

As Jules Polonetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum noted, “Google is actually quite late to this game. By now, most of the websites you visit are already sharing your activity with a wide network of third parties who share, collaborate, link and de-link personal information in order to target ads.”

Even though the data sharing Polonetsky is referring to has been taking place for some time and is now virtually ubiquitous, the fact that Google can no longer make privacy its “number one priority” is symbolic and demonstrates that the online ad business is now all about data, data, data.

Is Google killing mobile organic search?

dna33_mayfair_screenshots_2

Click-through rates for websites depend a great deal on their position in organic search results.

But to what extent are local businesses further compromised as Google pushes all organic results further and further off the bottom of the mobile screen as it prioritizes paid ads, Google My Business listings, Knowledge Graph and/or Accelerated Mobile Pages?

And when directories, aggregators, articles, reviews and chains dominate the top organic slots, what hope is there that the mobile user will scroll two, three, four or more screens to find the website of the local restaurant or hotel they seek?

This is the first of two columns on the state of mobile search.

  • This column is focused on what’s happening to mobile organic search – i.e. where websites come in the search engine result page (SERPS).
  • The follow-up column will consider the Google-owned properties – particularly Google My Business and Knowledge Graph – that are displacing organic results, including the impact as Google commercializes these businesses.

So burning question is: has Google killed mobile organic search? For these two columns ClickZ consulted five experts.

  • Brian Halligan, CEO HubSpot
  • Andrew Shotland, CEO LocalSEOGuide.com
  • Will Critchlow CEO, Distilled
  • David Mihm, local digital marketing consultant.
  • Kevin Cotch, SEO Analyst at TopRank Marketing

The answer (as you’d expect from inbound and local marketers and SEO specialists) is organic search is not dead, but there is no doubt that the game has changed immeasurably, and continues to change every time Google introduces a new innovation, including on-going changes to paid search, Google My Business listings, Knowledge Graph and its latest baby Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).

Andrew Shotland sums up the responses nicely:

Google hasn’t killed organic search on mobile but it has certainly maimed it. There is still a large amount of traffic going to non-Google properties in local organic SERPs. Despite Google’s continuing takeover of prime SERP real estate with its own properties, its algorithms still need to allow for a wide breadth of results because it still has to account different intents from a single query.

As shown in the Local Search Ranking Factors report (June 2016), Google treats “implicit” geo queries (searches like “pizza” that may have local intent but don’t specify a geography) differently than “explicit” geo queries (e.g. “pizza in Chicago”). And while Google is generally pretty smart about what the most popular intents are, when it’s fuzzy, they will need to provide a variety of results. So smart SEOs still have a lot to play with.

So what has Google done to organic search?

A. More paid search ads.

B. Prioritized Google My Business (GMB).

For a business-related Google mobile search, the priority for results is usually as follows – as demonstrated by results for “Restaurants in Mayfair”, below:

  • Paid search ads (designated by a PL in the screenshots below) – up to four different ads for popular search queries in popular locations. These can be quite sizeable, including up to 10 lines of text or links.
  • Google My Business (GMB) results – three local businesses (listed in Google’s directory) are shown on a local map, then given an individual listing of four lines each. The listings do not correspond with the organic results below.
  • Organic results (OL) – approx. 10 listings. For popular search terms such as “restaurants in X” or “Pizza nearby” the top ranking results are often dominated by aggregators such as directories, delivery services (if restaurants), articles, reviews and national/international chains – this may mean (as in the case below) that there are no restaurants on the first page of search results at all.
  • More ads – often including ads for download native apps.
  • Related searches – approx. eight listings of searches recommended by Google.
  • (Aside: a study of how these recommended searches relate to the keywords favored by advertisers would be a really interesting read).

  • Option to see next page of results.
  • C. Prioritized Knowledge Graph

    For a content-related Google mobile search, the priority for results is usually as follows – as demonstrated by results for “Mayfair”, below:

  • Paid search ads (none present in the example).
  • Knowledge graph (KG) – this is an expandable panel of information and images related to the search query, drawn from various sources e.g. Wikipedia and may include GMB-type listings (as shown below, these may be restaurants or hotels.)
  • Organic results.
  • Related searches.
  • Option to see next page of results.
  • D. Accelerated mobile pages (AMP)

    A further complication to organic search is AMP, which is a Google backed initiative to make mobile pages load faster. Currently these are mostly news stories (it has yet to gain much traction with business), and are usually displayed as a carousel of headlines and images.

    Depending on the search term AMP results will come first, second behind paid ads, third behind ads and GMB or KG results, and sometimes among the organic results. Whichever, the effect is that organic results can be pushed further below the fold.

    The following screenshots show two mobile searches conducted in London (results in different countries may bring different results). The fold line denotes where the visible screen ends (before scrolling) on large smartphones, such as Samsung Galaxy S6.

    • The first is for “Restaurants in Mayfair” – which shows how organic listings are pushed two+ screens down search results by three ads and the three Google My Business restaurant listings (notated by GMB in the image). These GMB listings do not correspond with organic search results. Also note the absence of any restaurants at all in the first page of search results.
    • The second search was for “Mayfair” – which shows how organic listings are pushed off the first page by Google’s Knowledge Graph (KG). Interestingly the restaurants in the KG are different to those in GMB results for “Restaurants in Mayfair”, if expanded (not shown) KG also shows a carousel of hotels, these results are different to the GMB results for hotels in Mayfair.

    Bizarrely, restaurants (RL) and hotels (HL) do better in organic results for “Mayfair” than “Restaurants in Mayfair” or “Hotels in Mayfair”. This may reflect the fact that the context is not what Shotland would call explicit.

    Mobile search is different to desktop search

    Organic search on the desktop has also been hammered by Google, but not as badly in all cases.

    In February 2016 Google shifted paid ads from the right side panel to above organic results.

    For content-related searches Google’s Knowledge Graph (KG) has taken the place of the ads in the panel. This means that in situations where there are fewer paid ads, organic search results may be above the fold on a PC screen.

    GMB would also fit well in the side panel, but instead it sits above the organic results, and below the ads, leaving the side panel blank. This means organic results are pushed down the page, and depending on the dimensions of the PC screen size, below the fold.

    The disparity of PC screen sizes makes it difficult to estimate where the fold would fall on the screenshots.

    Why is Google doing this?

    There are two motivations:

    • First, Google want to make more (even more) money from advertising and partner referrals.
    • Second, it wants to provide better answers to the searchers’ queries – this we assume is partly motivated by expectations for growth of voice search. If it can achieve this without searchers leaving Google’s properties all the better (for Google).

    HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan:

    I think there are two real changes that have happened with Google Search, since we started HubSpot 10 years ago:

  • AdWords: 50% of above the fold v 100% above the fold…
  • 10 years ago, for most searches you got a few ads along the top and bunch of ads along the side of the results page. For that same search today, there are no ads along the side and the ads along the top cover the entire space above the fold on a regular computer and above the fold on a mobile phone. This means that if you want to get found in Google, paid is far more important than it used to.

  • Organic: Research the answer v Give you the answer….
  • When we started HubSpot 10 years ago, for most searches, you just got a list of 10 links on the first page and the name of the SEO game was getting to the first page and as high as possible. Increasingly, Google is just giving you the answer to the question. The percent of queries I do where the answer is provided is going way up and the quality of those answers is very good.

    Organic search isn’t dead, by any means. The long-tail game of getting many keywords on the front page of the SERP still works, but increasingly you’ll need to work to just be “the answer” to the query as opposed to one of the list of answers.

    How are Google’s changes impacting organic results?

    Click-through rates (CTR) for organic search fall as the position increases

    All studies conclude that CTR declines the further down the SERPS the results is, but there is disagreement over the numbers and how this varies by the type of site and the search query.

    The following table shows the results of a study by Authoritas (formally Analytics SEO) in 2015, which illustrates how rapidly the chance of traffic declines with each search position. Note the differences between desktop and mobile CTR per position and between search terms that relate to the brand and search terms that do not.

    dna33_search_ctr_v_position

    But what is the impact of paid ads, Google My Business and Knowledge Graph on organic CTR?

    Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any research on the impact of Google move to monopolize the prime search real estate with its owned properties.

    However a survey by ComScore and Localeze reveals that:

    • 72% of respondents perceived local search results most relevant, compared with 23% for organic results and a meager 5% for paid search results.
    • 67% – slightly fewer – perceived local results the most trustworthy, ahead of 26% for organic and 7% for paid.

    If this sense of relevancy and trust influences click-through rates, as you would expect, then it is inevitable that Google prioritizing GMB results will impact organic search results.

    The big question is: to what extent would that trust in local results be undermined if/when Google starts to introduce paid local listings? The impact of Google commercializing GMB and KG, we will consider in the next column.

    dna33_trustworthy_search

    Anecdotally, it appears that some sites have been hit harder than others by Google’s changes.

    Andrew Shotland:

    The damage has been real. We have seen local organic traffic, particularly on mobile, for large sites trending downwards over the past two years. The big event was Google anchoring the Google My Business three-pack at the top of most local SERPs on both mobile and desktop from late 2015. We’ve definitely seen GMB cannibalize organic traffic to a far greater degree than paid ads.

    When searching a local business name on a phone, there is now enough information on many of the Google My Business panels to reduce the need for a user to scroll to the organic results. This is great for local businesses that have a well-optimized GMB page. Not so great for everyone else trying to show you info about that business.

    For other sites we still see growing organic search traffic and businesses are still getting a lot of conversions from organic mobile listings – particularly those who value phone calls. Even for those sites that have been losing overall organic traffic Google still knows to send you highly relevant traffic – the traffic that converts well – so sometimes conversions go up even as traffic goes down.

    We’re in it for the long tail.

    While Google attempts to condition and steer searchers with recommended search queries – both as the term is typed and through related searches at the end of the results page (assuming anyone makes it that far) – and attempts to distract with paid ads, GMB and KG listings, Google will always try to deliver the best results for the query.

    The more precise, relevant and frequent the terms used by the mobile user visa vie your sites keywords, the more likely the mobile searcher will be to find a listing for your site and the less clutter they will find in the way.

    Will Critchlow, CEO, Distilled:

    However much Google tries to give one-box instant answers, and no matter how much they monetize commercial phrases, so far, total mobile search volume is growing strongly enough that total organic mobile is growing as a channel.

    It’s really easy to forget the huge volume in the long-tail of search. In the long tail advertising is much sparser, one-box answers are less compelling, and the aggregators have much thinner content. It’s even easier to forget this as keyword data recedes into the rear-view mirror in the form of (not provided).

    Thus, in terms of tactics, we recommend moving further up the funnel, and capturing searchers earlier in the lifecycle, as well as beating out the aggregators based on your business’ strengths and USPs – of course you will likely want to complement that with conversion-oriented paid search and appearing on appropriate aggregator / powerful sites as well.

    SEO on its own may not be sufficient.

    While SEO remains very relevant for mobile search, it should be used (as Critchlow also suggests above) as part of a coordinated marketing plan.

    Kevin Cotch, SEO analyst at TopRank Marketing:

    I do not believe that Google has killed organic search for mobile users. Google still shows the information that is the most relevant for the mobile audience including organic listings, but the SERP on a mobile phone is more limited. Google is typically showing more owned results (i.e. paid, local listings, featured snippets, etc.) with the limited space on mobile SERPs.

    I recommend approaching mobile with a unique strategy that targets where your audience is within the marketing funnel. Marketers should implement an integrated mobile strategy to attract, engage, and convert your target audience by incorporating SEO, paid, email, and social campaigns. Part of the mobile strategy related to SEO would utilize development resources to implement AMP, schema markup, and optimizing your website for site speed to enhance user experience.

    At the end of the day, Google will continue to change the SERPs to provide the best results. Search marketers will need to continue optimizing their integrated mobile strategy to get the most out of each campaign, including SEO.

    The follow-up column to this one will consider the Google-owned and controlled properties – particularly Google My Business and Knowledge Graph – that are displacing organic results.

    We will investigate what this means for your search strategy and web design and the impact of Google introducing sponsored results and prioritizing partner businesses

    Read the reports:

    • DNA of a Great M-Commerce Site Part 1: Planning
    • DNA of a Great M-Commerce Site Part 2: The 12 Pillars of Mobile Design

    Guide to Google ranking factors – Part 8: internal links

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

    It concentrated on site-level signals, such as HTTPS, speed, mobile friendliness and structured mark-up.

    This week, we’re looking at internal links (before we tackle the much more unwieldy subjects of outbound links and backlinks).

    Internal linking

    What’s an internal link? Well if you click on that link, you’ve just discovered one for yourself.

    The practice of internal linking has many advantages, that can help your site improve its metrics and the user experience.

    1) Internal links can help navigate people around your site in a more targeted fashion.

    2) Internal links can keep people on your site, particularly if the links are relevant to that particular webpage.

    3) They provides your audience with further reading options, and if they continue to click around your site without leaving, this can help reduce your bounce rate (the percentage of people who left a given page on your website without viewing any other pages.)

    4) Internal links help Google crawl and index your site. The Googlebots that are sent out to fetch new information on your site will have a better idea of how useful and trustworthy your content is, the more they crawl your internal links.

    5) Search engines will see that some of your webpages have more internal links pointing towards them than others, and will therefore judge them as more important.

    6) The higher the authority of a page on your website, the more valuable its internal link becomes.

    7) According to Starcom’s Jason McGovern, internal linking is one of the few methods we can use to tell Google (and visitors) that a particular page of content is important.

    From a strategic perspective, it helps webmasters bridge the ‘authority gap’ between their most linkworthy content and their most profitable content.

    For instance you can use a link from an evergreen post with lots of search visibility and traffic to promote something relevant your business needs to raise awareness of.

    8) Broken links send a bad trust signal to Google, as it makes your site look incompetent or irrelevant at best, poorly maintained or abandoned at worst.

    Anchor text

    9) By using clear anchor text (the clickable highlighted words in any give link) it helps improve your ranking for certain keywords. If we want this article to rank for the term ‘internal link guide’ then we can begin linking to it from other posts using variations of similar anchor text.

    This tells Google that this post is relevant to people searching for ‘internal link guides’.

    10) Some SEOs recommend varying the anchor text pointing a particular page as Google may see multiple identical uses as ‘suspicious’.

    Hub pages

    11) You may find that linking to a single hub page will help your site avoid cannibalising itself for search positions.

    A hub page is a page themed around a certain topic or keyword. It could be a tag page or perhaps a category, like our SEO page.

    This page is constantly updated with fresh content, and is therefore always considered ‘fresh’ and valuable by Google.

    To use a good example from Graham Charlton: news articles are generally brief and will come and go in the search rankings. However, linking them to a hub page helps signal to Google that this is the page that should rank for a particular keyword or term.

    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.

    10 SEOs who rock at personal branding

    randfish

    It’s getting harder and harder to market yourself as an SEO professional. Here are 10 personal SEO brands to learn from.

    SEO is one of the fastest growing industry. If hardly anyone knew it 10 years ago, these days it’s well-known (yet still hardly understood) and every other forum user is ready to announce himself an SEO expert.

    How to stand out? How to become a recognizable SEO brand? Well, there’s obviously no recipe but here are 10 SEO brands to get inspired.

    SEOs who have come up with particular branding elements

    Smart branding makes a huge difference. But it’s not just about a cool website design and recognizable logo. It’s something unique, something that people can easily remember and instantly associate with you. Here are a few coolest examples in our industry:

    1. Rand Fishkin: Whiteboard Fridays

    • Twitter: @randfish
    • Website: Moz.com

    Rand started his Whiteboard Fridays years ago. Many companies tried to replicate the success but the whiteboard videos have become an integral and recognizable part of Moz and Rand’s brands.

    2. Neil Patel: Most effective landing pages

    • Twitter: @neilpatel
    • Website: quicksprout.com

    neilpatel

    Neil is well-known for his skill to create absolutely unbeatable landing pages and undeniable banner ads, possibly because he own CrazyEgg that gives a lot of insight into user behaviour.

    3. Jim Boykin: Ninjas

    • Twitter: @JimBoykin
    • Website: Internet Marketing Ninjas

    Jim Boykin

    Jim had coined the term “link ninja” way before it became popular. The ninjas have evolved since then; it’s not just about links any more but as of today everyone knows Jim by his army of invisible, yet talented ninjas behind him.

    4. Larry Kim: Unicorns

    • Twitter: @larrykim
    • Website: WordStream

    Larry Kim

    Larry uses a unicorn theme everywhere: in presentations, infographics, articles. He is in constant search for unicorn ads and unicorn marketing tactics and eagerly shares his findings in his Twitter feed.

    SEOs who have become known due to a narrow expertise

    There are many SEOs who try to be good at everything. Even if it’s true, it’s hard to stand out when there’s no particular expertise to be known for. These SEOs are doing a good job at being good at one particular sector.

    5. Marie Haynes: Link Penalties

    • Twitter: @Marie_Haynes
    • Website: MarieHaynes.com

    Marie Haynes

    Marie Haynes has become known due to her expertise in backlink-related penalties. Marie frequently tweets penalty-lifting case studies and recovery screenshots.

    6. Andrew Shotland: Local SEO

    • Twitter: @localseoguide
    • Website: localseoguide.com

    localseoguide

    Andrew has been known for his local SEO expertise for ages. He was one of the first local SEO gurus ever.

    7. Gianluca Fiorelli: International SEO

    • Twitter: @gfiorelli1
    • Website: iloveseo.net

    gfiorelli1

    Gianluca is an international SEO and inbound strategist and founder of @theinbounder, the actionable inbound conference (May 2017).

    More SEOs who rock at self-branding

    8. Matthew Barby

    • Twitter: @matthewbarby
    • Website: matthewbarby.com

    Matthew Barby

    Twitter: @matthewbarby

    Matthew shares case studies as well as advanced guides which are worth a bookmark.

    9. Nadav Dakner

    • Twitter: @NadavDakner
    • Website: InboundJunction

    NadavDakner

    Nadav shares solid growth-hacking tutorials and social media marketing trends. His is one of the highest quality Twitter feeds around.

    10. Scott Stratten

    unmarketing

    • Twitter: @unmarketing
    • Website: UnMarketing.com

    Scott is a keynote speaker and book author who is well-known for his humour and a strong stance on marketing: Stop marketing, start engaging instead.

    Are there any other marketers who belong in this list? Share in the comments!

    Here are 85 more SEO experts you should follow on Twitter.

    How to make longer web forms easier for users

    confused1

    Some web forms have to be longer than normal. While an ecommerce site can limit the user entry to an email, delivery address and payment details, some sites need more information.

    For example, forms on travel and financial websites have to be longer than most by necessity.

    Long forms like this can be off-putting for users as they can give the impression that the process is going to be time-consuming.

    For example, 13% of users abandon bookings on travel websites because the booking process is too long or overcomplicated.

    So how can forms be made more palatable for users?

    The look and feel of the form

    It can be about the customer’s perception of the form. If it looks like hard work, people will assume it is. This is one of the reasons why some websites use one-page or accordion checkouts, as even though they require the same amount of information as other sites, they can seem like less work.

    One way to do this is by breaking up the form into more manageable segments. For example, Confused.com requires a lot of information for a car quote – job details, no-claims details, previous claims etc – but it does help to make it seem less work by breaking it up into sections.

    Remove any unnecessary fields

    One way to reduce form length, as previously mentioned, is to remove any unnecessary fields. Ask whether the information you need is really necessary to complete the process.

    For example, the ‘how did you hear about us?’ fields in some web forms are just extra work for many. I doubt whether many people even take them seriously. Besides, analytics and other customer data sources should help you find the answer to this question.

    Make data entry easier

    There are ways to make things easier for users, simply by designing the forms more effectively.

    Here, Confused.com opts for buttons rather than drop-downs for most fields. Also, on the occupation question, rather than making me choose from a list of job titles, it suggests roles as I type. This saves a lot of time.

    confused2

    Add shortcuts where possible

    Small touches like allowing users to use delivery address details as their billing details help, and are now commonplace. Postcode lookup tools can also save time entering full addresses.

    In-line validation

    Well-implemented form validation assures that customers can correct any errors as they go along.

    This saves time, as well as the frustration that results when customers attempt to move on to the next stage of the form, only to find they have errors to correct.

    Here, HSBC presents a tick to confirm that some fields have been entered correctly, and clearly highlights those that need attention. (Taken from the Mapa Research guide to financial forms).

    hsbc

    Show time estimates for form completion

    Some forms provide an estimate of the time it will take to complete a form.

    It could be argued that this will deter some, but I think it’s good to be upfront and give users an accurate estimate.

    Here, Lloyd’s provides an estimate before customers embark on its forms. (thanks again to Mapa).

    hsbc lloyds-time

    Save user details if they abandon

    Where possible, saving user details already entered can really help. Perhaps they could save it to come back to later, or in case users bail out during the form.

    Here, Confused.com tempts me back to the form I’ve abandoned with an email reminder. It also reassures me that it’ll only take five minutes.

    confused3

    Think about mobile

    Mobiles are increasingly used for travel bookings, so sites need to cater well for mobile users, making forms readable, and adapting to the user’s device of choice.

    Here, Hotels.com ensures that a) the calendar tool is easy to use (a common issue on mobile) and b) adapts for the kind of information required, so it shows the numerical keyboard for card entry (note that it also offers card scan for greater convenience).

    img_3650img_3651

    Our new Marketer’s Guide to Form Optimisation, produced in association with Fospha, is free to download.