Guide to Google ranking factors – Part 7: Site-level signals

moz-https-results

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

It concentrated on trust signals, authority and expertise, paying particular attention to Google’s Page Quality Rating.

This week we move away from on-page content, and dive into site-level factors.

1) HTTPS

HTTPS adds an additional layer of security to a standard HTTP protocol by encrypting in SSL and sharing a key with the destination server that’s difficult to hack.

Google wants to keep everyone safe on the Web, so it uses HTTPS as a ranking factor. Here’s Google’s 2014 statement:

“We’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now, it’s only a very lightweight signal, affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals, such as high-quality content.”

According to Moz, as of 2016, HTTPS websites account for 30% of all Google search results.

2) Site speed

Check the size of your page sizes and their load time. You can use Google’s own site speed test to do this. Site speed is a ranking factor, so follow any improvements Google recommends as closely as you can.

3) Mobile friendliness

Ever since the initial ‘Mobilegeddon’ update which debuted on 21st April 2015, mobile-friendliness has been a significant ranking factor in Google search results.

There are many ways that Google recommends in making sure your website is mobile friendly, and these are thoroughly explored in the linked article. However these elements are what you should pay attention to:

  • Don’t use Flash
  • Make sure your viewport is set properly
  • Use large font
  • Space out links and buttons
  • Don’t use full-screen pop-ups

4) Sitemap

Make sure your website has an accurate sitemap in both XML and HTML format. This will help Google index your webpages easily and comprehensively. You can upload your sitemap to Search Console, however most CMSs such as WordPress will automatically build a sitemap for you.

5) Schema markup

You can make your search results appear more attractive by adding Schema markup to the HTML of your pages. This isn’t necessarily a ranking factor per sé, but rich snippets can encourage a higher click-through rate than results without the added information.

captain america civil war review rich snippet

Schema is also the preferred method of markup by most search engines including Google, and it’s fairly straightforward to use. For more information, check out our handy guide to Schema.

6) Accelerated mobile pages (AMP)

AMP is Google’s open source initiative to help speed up the mobile web by providing stripped-down faster loading versions of a site’s existing webpages.

Gary Illyes, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, stated during his SEJ Summit Chicago appearance that, “Currently, AMP is not a mobile ranking factor.”

However as AMP results begin appearing throughout the organic mobile SERPS, time will tell how long it takes for Google to adopt AMP into its core algorithm.

7) Links out to authority sites

Although we’ll discuss the value of authority backlinks to your site in a later chapter of this guide, you should also be aware that linking out to authority sites can be a trust signal.

Low value, untrustworthy websites with thin content will rarely link out to bigger publishers. However sites with well-written content, where sources are properly attributed and linked to, will be trusted.

8) Too many outbound links

Conversely, loading a single webpage with a large of number of outbound (or even internal links) can affect the usability and readability of the page, especially if they lack relevance.

9) The number of pages on your site

A large site with many high quality webpages will have a higher authority than a site with very few pages. That’s not to say that a weekly publishing blog can’t outrank a 10 year-old site publishing 20 articles a day, it’s just the latter will probably have more trust from Google.

10) Site downtime

If your website experiences a lot of downtime due to maintenance or server issues, this can affect your ranking. It’s vital that you use a trustworthy hosting platform and your web developers know what they’re doing.

11 ways to raise your SEO click-through rate (infographic)

organic-seo-ctr-infographic

It’s easy to overlook your organic click-through rates on Google. After all, you’ve probably been lulled into believing over most of your marketing life that they’re not as important as other SEO metrics, such as inbound links.

However, there are a lot of really great reasons you should work on improving your organic CTRs, not the least of which is its impact on your rankings. In fact, we’ve found evidence that if you want to move up a spot in the rankings, improving your organic CTR by 3% will do it.

But even if you don’t believe that organic CTR can affect your SEO rankings, it’s a really good idea to work on increasing your click-through rate.

A high organic CTR in Google or any search engine means you get more traffic from the same ranking (isn’t that the point of rankings in the first place?).

What’s more, higher CTR pages tend to have higher conversion rates, too. Increasing your CTR by 2x will increase your conversion rate by 50%.

In this way, organic CTR is actually a super important building block – a foundational must-have for more successful SEO overall. There’s a ton of evidence out there that points to CTR’s importance, some of it even coming from the almighty Google itself.

It’s not something you can sit back and ignore.

But how can you make real, measurable and lasting improvements in your organic CTRs for SEO?

In my pursuit to answer this question, I joined forces with the exceptionally talented Brian Dean from Backlinko. Together, we’ve developed an awesome new collection of the eleven most effective ways to boost your organic CTR and compiled them into an easy-to-follow infographic.

If you’re like most marketers I know, you don’t have time to dink around with optimizations we already know don’t work.

For example, Microsoft has proven that descriptive URLs perform better than generic ones – 25% better, as a matter of fact. Are you seriously already losing 25% of clicks just because your team got lazy with URLs? There’s an easy win if you can turn that around.

Another stupid simple trick is to get rid of your keyword-heavy titles. They’re super boring and don’t inspire anyone to click. I mean, look at these – so blah.

You need to get creative with your titles. Speaking of titles, there are all kinds of recommendations out there about them, too:

“Make them long and descriptive!”

“Keep them short and punchy!”

“Try these 94 different ways to make a title!”

Ain’t nobody got time for that. If you want to give your page an instant CTR kickstart, use this PROVEN title format:

The Format – The Emotional Hook – The Content Type – Your Subject

You can see exactly what this looks like, plus all 11 epic tips illustrated, in the infographic below. Keep it handy! You’re going to use this guide for reference as you continually optimize your pages over the coming months with higher organic CTRs in mind:

This article and infographic was orginally published on the Wordstream blog and it’s repeated with permission: Organic SEO CTR Infographic.

Seven ways to avoid content cannibalization

piranha

There’s currently a lot of discussion about how to improve your domain’s SEO.

Many issues are labeled as dramatically influential and people are always sharing tips on how to deal with them. However, one topic is seldom discussed within SEO circles: internal content cannibalization.

Why should we care?

SEO experts and digital marketers have long been contemplating whether or not there’s such a thing as a Google penalty for duplicate content. As it turns out, it’s a myth.

However, we cannot simply sit back and relax. In fact, there’s one thing worse than “duplicate content” – “too similar” content, which can be a stone around your website’s neck.

Pieces of content that are too similar are the real cannibals here, since the duplicates are being filtered. Thus, having this kind of content on your site can ruin its potential, because your own URLs will be competing against your other URLs.

We know that Google doesn’t like to rank multiple pages from the same domain. So, one or the other gets picked eventually: one day Google picks one page from your domain, another day a different one gets displayed, thus, you end up losing your potential traffic.

We call it the “seesaw effect.” When you have different pages that contain too-similar content, basically, you confuse the Google bot as to which page from your site it should rank for key terms.

So, to get some insight into the matter of internal site cannibalization, SEMrush recently hosted an in-depth discussion about the subject with an industry expert – Dawn Anderson, lecturer in digital and search marketing, researcher and international SEO consultant.

Based on our talk, we have outlined seven ways to avoid internal site cannibalization.

1) Internal linking

Cause: “Skewed ‘popularity’ via internal linking, which will cause a particular page to be displayed instead of another regardless of relevancy.”

To clarify this point, let’s say, you have a website for selling shoes online. It also includes a blog. You definitely want your homepage to be as popular as possible in search results pages; however, you end up earning more traffic with your blog.

When reviewing your internal linking, you may find that many internal links point to your blog, which is ranked higher. Why is that? Because the more links you provide to a page, the more important Google considers it be!

Solution: Review your internal link structure, and place what’s most important higher within the hierarchy of your pages. If you use the latter, you can launch a simple site audit, which will automatically check your domain for duplicate links and tags, and even provide some suggestions for improvement.

2) Anchor text inconsistency

Cause: Overuse of keywords with anchors that refer to the wrong page, which creates spam within your own URL

Let’s consider our shoes website example once again. Your anchors should always be concise and get right to the point! If you anchor says “buy shoes,” after clicking “buy shoes,” your visitor should be able to do so right away – do not digress elsewhere.

Don’t, for example, create a transitional page on “shoe sizes” or something else. Preciseness lends clarity, and clarity leads to higher rankings in search engines.

Solution: Make sure your keywords are natural, useful and mapped to the right page – that way, you are sending all the right hints to Google from within your own website to your URLs.

3) Canonicalization (incorrect or missing canonicalization)

A page’s canonicalization is basically a tag at its head claiming that it contains either exactly duplicated or too-similar content.

Cause: When you purposefully use duplicate or too-similar content within your URL, make sure you canonicalize it. However, if you canonicalize too much, it doesn’t do you any good either – Google may consider it to be messy and may ignore the page completely.

Solution: Pay attention to the way you canonicalize:

  • Canonicalization with or without a trailing slash is different
  • Don’t forget to switch your canonicals when migrating content to HTTPS
  • Self-referencing canonicalization can help if your content gets scraped
  • Avoid canonicalization of URLs if the content is too different (if your content actually differs quite substantially, canonicalization will only be detrimental)
  • Use a “rel=canonical element”

green adult female of praying mantis

4) Page title and other meta differentiation

Cause: Different URLs ranking for the same term in your industry’s seasonal periods, or optimizing several pages for the same terms (even unwittingly).

For instance, in our previous example, our primary term is “shoes.” Thus, we optimize our main page to appear in response to a keyword “shoes”. However, in the summer you decide to target an audience looking for “summer shoes,” so you create a separate page with that name.

Eventually, you end up with two pages on which “shoes” appears simultaneously, and your “summer shoes” page is killing the potential of your primary target page.

Solution: Avoid over-optimization for primary terms on non-targeted pages, and under-optimization for secondary target pages

5) Merging content for concentration

Cause: Stealing power from your own target via variants, stemming, synonyms, or associated keywords.

For instance, you have four pages that are dedicated to “Shoes Care” in winter/summer/spring/autumn period. Thus, you have created four separate pages that could actually be tied into one big category “How to Look After Shoes”.

Solution: Focus on theme level, section and page level, avoid silos. How? Firstly, you can do a content audit, and afterwards, concentrate rather than dilute – try to make one page instead of two.

6) Intent to content mapping

Cause: Lack of logic within your site structure.

For example, you have a blog within your site, however, if you do not provide some logic and order to the navigation within you blog, Google will also consider it as a source of cannibalization.

Thus, you end up being cannibalized by illogical blog categories (rather than five random topics, make a category and divide it to topics afterwards). Provide no competition with your primary target page (see point 5).

Solution: Surround your content with a sectional environment of contextual relevance.

7) If you can’t improve (for now), noindex (temporarily) and then improve.

Just don’t forget to index later!

If you cannot identify the problem, here are some possible symptoms:

  • Different pages ranking for the same term
  • Hovering on page 2
  • Never quite achieving those top spots
  • Different URLs ranking for the same terms during your industry’s seasonal periods
  • Not getting the CTR (click-through rate) despite ranking reasonably well
  • Shared impressions in Google Search Console for different pages for the same terms

You can always rely on specially designed tools to help you with your website audit; they can point out weaknesses and help you decrease the possibility of internal cannibalization.

Meri Chobanyan is a Content Writer at SEMrush. You can connect to Meri on LinkedIn.

Google Search Index set to go ‘mobile-first’ within months

clickz content marketing on mobile

As if you haven’t experienced enough turbulence in the last few months, what with the release of Penguin 4.0 and the proliferation of AMP through organic SERPs, Google has announced that it will soon be splitting its index between mobile and desktop.

Speaking at Pubcon last week, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes stated that Google will create a separate mobile index within the next few months.

Furthermore, this mobile index will become the primary Google index. The newly separated desktop index will not be kept as up-to-date as the mobile one.

This is completely in line with not only everything Google has been building towards over the past few years, but also with user behaviour. You’re already aware that more than half of all searches happen on mobile, but also if a page takes more than a few seconds to load, a user will abandon and visit somewhere else.

Google has been working to make the user experience for mobile better, by introducing Accelerated Mobile Pages, making site speed a ranking factor and perhaps most infamously of all, unleashing mobilegeddon.

However the introduction of a mobile-only ‘primary’ index raises a heck of a lot of questions, with very few details confirmed as of yet.

Making sure mobile users have the most up-to-date information available is a no-brainer, as they’re more likely to be using ‘near-me’ search queries.

But doesn’t a desktop user also require the latest information? Maybe it’s a question of limited resources, but it feels like Google is encouraging mobile behaviour rather than following user trends.

Of course the delay in updates may only refer to minutes or hours rather than days or weeks.

Also, it’s highly likely the mobile-index will only contain mobile-friendly content. Although Google promised that non-mobile optimised content can still rank highly if it’s the best match for a query, having a mobile-only index may mean certain websites are excised from mobile SERPs all together.

According to Gary Illyes, we may not be waiting long for the answers to these questions. We’ll keep you updated when we learn more.

Five mobile must-haves to impact the customer journey this holiday season

Smartphone chatting SMS Messages speech Bubbles. Vector Illustration

According to Deloitte’s annual retail holiday sales forecast, retailers should expect to see an uptick in both in-store and online sales this coming holiday.

With a stable economy, low unemployment and more disposable income, sales are expected to exceed $1 trillion, or a 3.6%-4% increase in sales over the same period last year (November-January).

That’s good news for many retailers who have been forced to close some stores, streamline SKUs and reduce expenses, but it’s no time to sit back and rest on the innovation front.

While most retailers have finalized their holiday plans by now, use the next few weeks to test, pilot and innovate to yield new learnings, insights and sales moving into the new year.

With that in mind, here are a few of my top recommendations focused on bridging the gap between digital and brick and mortar, improving the customer experience and keeping sales moving in the right direction.

Mobile is the bridge between digital and brick and mortar as the number of devices and time spent with those devices continues to accelerate.

Consequently, mobile is now the top digital marketing priority for marketers, according to Forrester Research. For marketers looking to further accelerate sales and improve customer experiences this holiday season, no program would be complete without a focused effort around mobile innovation spanning SMS, push, mobile advertising and location-driven marketing/intelligence.

Consider the following:

Text for save programs

Millions of consumers armed with smart phones in hand will be in and out of retail locations over the next few months. While many may not have downloaded your app, nearly all have the capability to text.

In fact, SMS remains the workhorse of mobile marketing because it’s easy, real-time and ubiquitous.

Retailers seeking to increase year over year sales for a particular category or product should consider the following: analyze last year’s average spend and margin for that category (i.e. $50), determine the desired increase in average sales/basket size and encourage users to spend more by texting in to receive a bonus or discount (i.e. spend $100, receive double rewards points).

Geo-triggered push notifications

Let’s face it, they say timing is everything. If you’re fortunate enough to have users download your app, you have a unique opportunity to not only learn more about them but to also connect existing data you have about those users via an in app purchase, registration or loyalty sign in.

Combining that knowledge with existing CRM data (i.e. past purchases) and when available, location will give you the ability to trigger a hyper-relevant message when a particular user crosses a geo-fence (i.e. within X feet of your retail location).

But why stop there? Consider testing a conquesting program by setting up geo-fences around your competitor location(s) and sweetening the deal to increase your share of wallet and loyalty.

Beacon/WiFi intelligence and messaging

There has been a lot of talk about the promise of Beacon and WiFi signals to support better customer knowledge, messaging and experiences in-store.

According to Retail TouchPoints, just 29% of retailers surveyed worldwide have implemented beacon technology thus far and of those who have, other research shows they are satisfied with them.

LED Display - Free wifi signage

The key to beacon success and satisfaction is to move forward with some goals in mind and setting up milestones and measures of success. Whether it is trying to get a better understanding of the customer journey in store, improving store operations via better data for staffing or impacting the experience and sales creating hyper-relevant offers and services in-store.

If you haven’t implemented beacons yet, consider a pilot with those things in mind and be sure to share learnings internally to further fuel innovation.

Ad retargeting

As marketers, we all aspire to better understand and impact the customer journey in a positive way. After all, in the end, creating positive customer experiences is really how one brand can truly differentiate itself from another in today’s competitive market.

So far, we’ve talked about pre-visit messaging with geo-location triggered messages and beacon/WiFi triggered messaging in-store, but what about post visit?

Using the IDFA (Apple Identifier for Advertiser) or Google Advertising ID, marketers have the opportunity to re-target their app users in app and via mobile ads across major ad ad networks.

By using CRM, geo-location data (recent store visit), beacon signals (in-store movements and linger time) and actual purchase data, marketers can now intelligently retarget users with hyper-relevant mobile ads that either reflecting interest or actual purchases (up-sell).

If access to various components of this effort is difficult, consider starting with testing a simple ad retargeting program to encourage another online or instore visit and move up in sophistication from there.

Mobile analytics and attribution

The wealth of data mobile offers is immense. The mobile landscape continues to expand with innovative start-ups focused on helping brands leverage the power of mobile and specifically mobile data.

Look for providers who can help you visualize this data to yield a better understanding of your customers based on their physical movements. One leading hospitality company I know, is using their app users location data off property to better understand and segment their users (i.e. foodie, sport enthusiast, etc.), inform on property services and refine messaging across all channels.

Location data can also be used to determine attribution – did that mobile ad drive an in-store visit and purchase?

We are living in exciting times and there is little doubt that mobile and mobile marketing is increasingly becoming central to not only understanding the customer journey, but impacting and evolving it in new and exciting ways.

While marketers continue to shift dollars towards the mobile channel, testing innovating new ways to impact the customer journey needs to be an essential part of any marketing effort today.

“Can machines think?” What humans need to learn about artificial intelligence

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One of people’s biggest fears about artificial intelligence is that machines will rise up and humanity will be obsolete, that we will give ‘them’ too much power and control, and they will take over through either benevolence or malevolence.

The root of many of these science fiction horror stories is the ability for the machines to think for themselves and come to a reasoned logical conclusion. We have had a test for machine intelligence in the form of the Turing test, which sees if a machine can fool a human interrogator into thinking they are talking to another human.

However, the test is not without its problems and one of my favourite criticisms of Turing’s test came over Twitter:

The Turing test is like saying planes don’t fly unless they can fool birds into thinking they’re birds. (h/t Peter Norvig) #AI

— Pedro Domingos (@pmddomingos) July 19, 2015

Initially I thought “ok, fair point – we are defining that the only true intelligence is described by the properties humans exhibit” and while one of the better responses did point out that cherry picking a single feature was not the same as the Turing Test, it did get me thinking based on my initial interpretation of the Tweet.

In order to answer this big question, we need to simplify it in a way. Turing did this by simplifying ‘Can machines think?’ to ‘can machines fool humans into thinking they are human?’ By human, we also mean ‘able to converse in human language’.

One of the problems with equating thought to communication is that these are two disconnected abilities. I am a thinking being and a have an appreciation of Russian, German and French, but ask me to have a conversation with someone in any of those languages and I’ll struggle, unless I devote a lot of time learning that language.

I would be classed as a machine in a non-English Turing test. So the test falls down because of its reliance on natural language. Is there a better way to define whether something can think?

Commonly, thinking is associated with intelligence – would this be a better fit? The dictionary definition of intelligence is: the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

Computers are very good at acquiring information and making decisions based on that information, traditionally in a very fixed way. With machine learning techniques, the acquiring of knowledge has become more refined, with semi-supervised and unsupervised techniques putting control out of human hands.

So we have a type of artificial intelligence, but this doesn’t answer our original question.

Humans have the capacity to learn and make decisions without preconceived answers, whereas computers need to be programmed. Although we are born ‘pre-programmed’ – we do not need to be taught how to see or hear or to make sounds, but we do need assistance to put those abilities into context; to make sounds that others can understand and to assign relevance to the shapes we see with our stereo vision.

An artificial thinking machine must be given an equal starting point. We are given education to train us and there is a point at which a human becomes self-aware. The baby in the mirror is suddenly perceived to be a reflection rather than a different child.

There is a fantastic book covering this topic from a scientific perspective called The Baby in the Mirror: A Child’s World from Birth to Three.

Machines can also have some limited sense of self awareness. They can learn to recognise themselves or parts of themselves in mirrors, and recently have demonstrated basic self-awareness by understanding whether they were or were not affected by a ‘pill’ to make them unable to speak.

So machines can demonstrate intelligence and (limited) self-awareness. But this is still far from demonstration of thought. There’s a great quote from the film I, Robot where Sonny, the robot, and the detective are discussing what makes someone ‘human’:

I, Robot (2004)
Detective Del Spooner: Human beings have dreams. Even dogs have dreams, but not you, you are just a machine. An imitation of life. Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a… canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?
Sonny: Can *you*?

While not all humans can possess the artistic creativity we so often use to distinguish humans as a higher intelligence, as Google’s latest deep-dreaming research points out, machines are creating abstract art – original pieces that no human has ever imagined.

Some people might argue these images are more artistic than many humans could produce, but they are simply the result of a finite number of decisions and their knock-on effects as a result of training to see patterns.

Is human imagination any different? Does our subconscious combine fragments of our knowledge and simply spit them out in a form we can understand? Still, this is creativity, not thought.

While we can put electrodes on the outside of human heads and see the electric potentials arising with neurons firing, we can never truly know whether the person in front of us is thinking, just because they can tell us they are – we take it for granted because they are human.

In the same way we take for granted a machine is not truly self-aware. We can only test and verify what we believe are the results of independent thought: self-awareness, intelligence, and the ability to solve problems outside of past experience using the skills gained.

Machines are capable of all of these things individually, although they are yet to be combined. Even when that occurs, I believe many will refute that thought is occurring because ‘it’ is just a simple state machine. At that point I would have to ask: and are humans not?

Maybe if we can define ‘can humans think?’ in a scientific way that we can all agree on, then we will have an irrefutable set of metrics for the inevitable machine intelligences that will be part of our lives.

Dr Janet Bastiman is Chief Science Officer for SmartFocus.

10 marketing metrics to master for first-time startup owners

top-countries-by-session

When you’re just starting out as a business owner it’s easy to become wrapped up in the seemingly endless number of metrics you *need* to pay attention to in order to determine the success of your business.

However, the problem with following a lot of metrics is that it can become very easy to not pay close attention to any of them, and isn’t the whole point of following metrics so that you know exactly what’s going on with your startup?

Metrics have the potential to offer a ton of insight into your successes and failures, but only if you know which ones to track without getting overwhelmed.

That’s why we’ve compiled this list of 10 important marketing metrics that every new start-up owner should master:

1) Web traffic: what kind and where is it coming from?

Image credit and all subsequent image credits: Google Analytics

Web traffic is essentially a blanket category that encompasses the majority of the metrics listed below; making it one of the most important measures that startup owners should be analyzing.

In addition, increased web traffic generally means increased sales and revenue, which is hopefully your goal as a business owner.

But before you can jump for joy at the overwhelming amount of traffic that’s being directed to your site, you need to figure out what types of leads are worth investing in and which ones are paying off so you know how to drive traffic using the most cost effective means available.

Several important aspects of web traffic will be discussed below, but for now think about: how much of your traffic is paid, and what is the return on investment (ROI) on that? How much traffic comes from organic searches? How much traffic comes from social media, and is it due to actions you’re doing (like tweeting) or the actions of others (like shares)? How much traffic is generated through email?

Read below to learn more details about these specific measures, most of which can be analyzed through Google Analytics.

2) Keyword ranking

While the importance of optimized keywords might be old news for seasoned business owners, it’s something that new startups need to grasp, and quickly.

Choosing appropriate keywords is one of the quickest and most valuable ways to get your business ranked high on Google and other top search engines, thus getting the word out that your site contains worthwhile content.

A good way to figure out how well your content is performing is by monitoring the success (or lack thereof) of your keywords. You can do this through Google Analytics by creating a custom search that can tell you how your content responds to different keyword searches.

This article from searchenginewatch.com discuses how to improve your Google ranking signals by focusing on keywords.

3) Social media reach and shares

channels-drving-engagement

Social media is still easily one of the best ways to market your small business, startup or not.

Utilizing sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and more gives you the potential to reach over 1.8 billion people worldwide—a pretty big number of potential customers and revenue.

Thus, social media reach and shares is a great metric to monitor so that you can determine if you’re using the platforms to your benefit.

As I said before, when you’re looking at social media you need to figure out what traffic stems from your actions vs. the actions of others, and then capitalize on whatever method works best for your particular business.

Shares in particular are a good way to gauge how valuable others find your content to be; the more shares you receive, the better your content, and the more people will get to view it.

Obviously you want your social reach to extend as far as possible, so try to determine what action words and images engage your audience the most.

4) Cost of leads and lead generation

In addition to social media, another way to determine if your audience finds your website content valuable is by tracking where your leads come from.

Pay attention to where your customers are coming from and what content is engaging them to visit your site, and then determine if the cost you’re spending on leads (assuming you are paying for them) is worth the return on investment.

Furthermore, ROI is directly linked to returning visitors (discussed below). One thing to keep in mind before scrutinizing lead metrics is that you first need to determine one action to analyze at a time, such as email signups or purchases.

Focusing on one desired customer action at a time will prevent your results from becoming skewed.

mobile-conversion-rates

5) Return on investment

The success or failure of a startup could all come down to ROI. Is the money you’re putting into your business generating enough profit to make your efforts worth it, or are you losing money?

Definitely don’t skip out on ROI metrics or you could be throwing money down the drain without even realizing it.

Unfortunately, while ROI is one of the most important metrics to calculate, it’s also one of the most difficult. Louder Online suggests measuring “the cost per piece of content, the website traffic it produces, the leads generated by a piece of content, and how much each visitor to your site is worth in terms of potential sales.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

6) Returning visitors

returning-visitors-google-analytics

Along with leads and ROI, the number of returning visitors to your site is directly linked to profits.

Chances are, if visitors continue to return to your website they are more likely to eventually make a purchase, or multiple purchases. That’s why it’s important to track who these return customers are, as well as where they’re coming from (see number 4).

Furthermore, multiple visitors are what cause a new customer to become a loyal one, and one you should incorporate into (and market to) your target audience. If you’re not seeing a large number of return visitors, think about changing the content on your site.

7) Customer acquisition cost

It’s not just returning customers that should be analyzed. Startup owners should also be looking at what it costs to attract new customers. You can’t have a returning customer that wasn’t at one time a new customer, right?

Make sure you’re thinking about the full cost of acquiring new customers, ie: referral fees, discounts, and anything else you used to try to attract a new audience.

Neil Patel believes that the equation to calculate the cost of new customers is relatively simple. Just “divide the marketing department’s monthly budget with the amount of new customers acquired that month, [and] you’ll understand how much you need to spend to convince a visitor to become a paying customer.”

In addition, Kissmetrics goes into more detail on exactly how to determine CaC and why it’s a valuable metric for your business.

8) Email performance and conversion rate

Email is a great way to market for a target audience, just make sure you’re keeping track of how many emails you’re sending out and who you’re sending them to so you can rate their effectiveness.

It’s not a bad idea to include a call-to-action in your email campaign as well, prompting receivers to visit your website and/or make a conversion. If you choose to do this, make sure you note how many people actually click on the link provided in the email (this will be discussed more in number 9), and furthermore how many go on to make a conversion once they’ve done so.

Once again, the article mentioned above suggests dividing the number of recipients by the number of responders to get a rough estimate on how effective your email campaign is.

In addition, you may want to keep track of the unsubscribe rate as well, and definitely don’t make the mistake of including those who have unsubscribed when you calculate your percentage for new web traffic.

9) Click-through rate (CTR)

Your click-through rate stems from how many people choose to click on a link you post via social media or through online advertisements.

It’s important to track this individual metric because it represents the success of your content’s first impression, according to WordStream.

Click through rates are directly linked to your content headlines, images, titles, and anything else that users see immediately. If your rates are high, chances are this part of your content is successful; if your rates are low, consider changing one or more of these aspects to encourage users to click on your content.

Keep in mind, however, that high click through rates aren’t that great if all they’re doing is bringing disinterested people to your website. Definitely track this metric in conjunction with conversion rates so that you can see how many people who click and visit your site actually end up making a purchase.

This article from SEW gives great understanding into more ways you can gain insights from consumers’ click histories, and this one explains how to improve your CTR using the Google Search Console.

10) Pageviews and landing page conversion rate

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One last thing you definitely want to monitor (and can, via Google Analytics) is your landing page conversion rates.

Most likely you’re going to have pages that outperform others, and it’s important to know which ones are which so that you can make the necessary improvements. Google Analytics allows you to check both your keyword performance (explained further in number 2) as well as your landing page traffic.

Some pages you might want to keep an eye on include your home page, contact page, about page, blog home, and any blog posts, among others. Again, Google Analytics can provide data on which pages see the most amount of traffic, and you can use this info to determine what content is most popular with your target audience.

You can also analyze your bounce rate (aka the number of people who leave your site immediately after visiting it) and the time users spend on each page together to get a good idea of what type of visitor is attracted to your site and what they’re looking for.

Hopefully now you have a good idea of what type of metrics to get started analyzing for your startup, and you know how to use this valuable data in order to understand your consumers and translate web traffic into conversions.

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for HigherVisibility, a full service SEO agency, and a contributor to SEW. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn.

How the rise of user-generated content is changing marketing

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User-generated content is becoming an important part of content marketing, with consumers forming a part of a brand’s strategy. But how does this affect branded content?

I recently talked to Rachel Meranus, Chief Marketing Officer at Olapic about the popularity of user-generated content and the recent trends marketers need to know.

How do you see the future of earned content?

The rise of visual user-generated content (or earned content) has fundamentally changed marketing and the conversation brands are having with their customers. Consumers are becoming more skeptical of advertising and celebrity endorsements and are now demanding a more authentic dialog with the brands they love, and may even turn away if they don’t feel they are getting it.

There is no better way to capture the voice of the customer than using the visual content they create and share on social channels, and integrating it into the marketing mix.

Research shows consumers are five times more dependent on content than they were five years ago, and brands are struggling to keep up with creating enough content to fill this need. The use of earned content can ease the costly burden of producing elaborate campaigns while building customer loyalty and increasing engagement.

What’s so appealing about UGC?

Authenticity resonates. As we have seen with Facebook and Instagram, people are interested in what their friends and family have to say about products they use. It is also because of these platforms that our eyes and brains are being retrained on a daily basis to see more ‘real’ photos from ‘real’ people.

Humans have an innate ability to spot a fake and when products are over stylized or staged, it does not ring true and we are automatically skeptical. By placing products in real settings on average people, we can now see images that we as individuals can relate to.

The use of earned content offers brands a more genuine endorsement than traditional advertising, as it captures everyday consumers’ true feelings about products and brands. Additionally, earned content is more easily available and affordable than content created directly by brands – in most cases, consumers will allow a brand to use their image at no cost.

How can a brand start with UGC?

If a brand is considering an earned content program, it’s essential to develop a set of brand guidelines for identifying the types of content that makes the most sense for their brand. Marketers should also consider the role earned content plays across multiple channels – whether social, digital or offline – and use the mediums their audiences frequent.

Once these considerations are made, marketers should decide on a simple, unique, and branded hashtag. By encouraging shoppers to tag their purchases across all relevant channels, brands can identify compelling images, reach out to users for permission, and begin using these assets in their outreach.

What should they measure as success?

To measure the success of a campaign, marketers must tie each piece of earned content to an analytics platform that can help them understand which content has the highest engagement rates, conversions, and increase in average order value.

Brands can evaluate earned content performance by analyzing click-through rates, the amount of likes, shares and comments a particular post receives, and the engagement that the content creator experiences him or herself.

Ultimately, this enables brands to identify the content that best impact overall sales and yield a better return on investment – while helping marketers build trust and inspire action from consumers at every touchpoint.

What’s the best platform for earned content right now?

While consumers are increasingly serving as brand ambassadors across all social platforms, Instagram is leading the charge for earned content. The platform has successfully developed a community centered around user-generated images and videos, wherein everyday shoppers can turn to other consumers for ideas and inspiration along the path to purchase.

As an inherently visual content network, Instagram generates an average of 95 million consumer posts a day, often focused on people’s favorite brands and products.

Consumers also tend to have a higher standard for sharing quality content on Instagram, given the platform’s roots in photography. This provides brands with a wealth of valuable, genuine, and readily-available content, and marketers should leverage these posts to drive authentic engagement with their audiences.

What role will consumers play in branded marketing in the future?

Consumers have become exceptionally good at telling brand stories visually – often without solicitation. Marketing is fundamentally changing, and the brand-consumer conversation is demanding a new level of authenticity and trust.

Today’s shoppers are not interested in generic experiences; they crave genuine content that demonstrates an accurate depiction of how a product or brand can be used by real people in a real world environment. Social media, specifically, plays a large role in driving more honest, human conversations.

As consumers continue to share content across these platforms daily, brands must embrace the customer voice and recognize the massively important role earned content in the marketing ecosystem – both now and in the future.

Five most important search marketing news stories of the week

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

This week we have news about Google’s latest acquisition, the progress of AMP and some spooky Halloween search data.

Google acquires FameBit to cash in on YouTube branded content

As reported by Al Roberts, Google has announced that it is acquiring FameBit, an influencer marketing platform. The startup, which was founded in 2013, helps brands connect with more than 45,000 content creators for branded content opportunities, including product placements, promotions and sponsorships.

This acquisition signals that Google sees influencer marketing and branded content as an important part of the online marketing ecosystem, particularly on YouTube.

According to Google VP of Product Management, Ariel Bardin:

“We believe that Google’s relationship with brands and YouTube’s partnerships with creators, combined with FameBit’s technology and expertise, will help increase the number of branded content opportunities available, bringing even more revenue into the online video community.”

Google reveals the progress of AMP one year later

As I reported this week, Google released loads of stats around its AMP project, in an attempt to persuade you to implement its faster mobile pages.

The uplifts for major publishers who use AMP include:

  • Washington Post — 23% increase in mobile search users who return within 7 days
  • Slate — 44% increase in monthly unique visitors and a 73% increase in visits per monthly unique visitor
  • Gizmodo — 80% of Gizmodo’s traffic from AMP pages is new traffic, 50% increase in impressions
  • Wired — 25% increase in click through rates from search results, with CTR on ads in AMP stories up by 63%.
  • Relay Media — in the last 30 days alone has converted over 2.5 million AMP pages for publishers like The Daily Dot, Hearst Television and The Miami Herald which says mobile users who start with an AMP article spend 10% more time than those who land on regular mobile pages.

Facebook tests ads for Groups

Facebook’s ad business could be expanding to Groups, as reported this week by Al Roberts. Groups is a popular feature that “allow[s] people to come together around a common cause, issue or activity to organize, express objectives, discuss issues, post photos and share related content.”

Groups are used by more than a billion people each month, making them a potentially lucrative source of ad inventory for Facebook.

According to a statement from Facebook:

“We have started to test delivering ads to people in Facebook Groups, and will be evaluating the response before determining how we will move forward.”

Amazon takes on Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play

The big story in streaming this past week is the anticipated arrival of Amazon’s new on-demand music service. As reported by Luke Richards, the initial Amazon streaming service aimed at Echo users certainly looks to add value to the brand’s latest audio device.

The option for users to be able to search a bigger catalogue of music than is currently available to Prime subscribers will be a big asset for the device alongside it’s voice-activated functionality, its ability to search the web and its quick connection to make orders from the Amazon website.

Most popular Hallowen costumes according to paid search

AdGooroo has revealed the top Halloween costumes for 2016. To determine the most popular costumes, they compiled a ranking of the top 20 costumes by text ad and product listing ad spend on 2,959 Halloween costume keywords on US Google desktop search from August 1 through October 4. The findings include:

  • Nine super hero costumes rank in the top 20
  • Batman villainess Poison Ivy tops the list with nearly $159,000 in paid search spend, $58,000 more than the next two most popular costumes
  • New to the top 20 this year is the category ‘steampunk’ ($58,000 in ad spend)

Is this the first mention of steampunk on the website?

Yes.

Visualising geographic data in Excel 2016: move over GeoFlow, 3D maps are now built-in!

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Back in 2013 John Gagnon continued his popular series of posts about powerful spreadsheet use with a handy how-to guide for using the add-in GeoFlow for Excel.

We thought we’d revisit John’s article and update it to reflect the latest geo-data functionality on offer in Excel 2016, as we have with VLOOKUP and other easy Excel shortcuts.

GeoFlow was basically Excel charting plus Bing Maps on steroids. With geographic data from reports, like clicks by geographical location in Bing Ads, it can automatically detect each city on the map and overlay your click data. It was really easy to use.

The Geoflow add-on was so popular, in fact, that Microsoft have decided to incorporate (and build on) its functionality into the latest version of Excel as standard. As you can see, it visually looks pretty much the same as GeoFlow for Excel 2013 and it is still powered by Bing.

1) First, download geographic and time data to analyze

You’ll need data to use 3D Maps. John’s data set was a Bing Ads geographic location report by day for the last seven days – but use data you’re comfortable with (e.g., website analytics visitor reports).

Microsoft offer some fun sample datasets here to help you get started.

2. Accessing 3D Maps

3D maps in Excel 2016 are far quicker to start using for the first time. You don’t need to download any add-ons like back in the GeoFlow days, simple select the ‘Insert’ menu tab and click the ‘3D Maps’ button.

Or alternatively, hit ALT, N (to get to the ‘Insert’ tab) and then ALT + SM selects the map functionality.

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3. Launch 3D Maps, confirm what columns represent geographic data

3D Maps then offers you a new window with your map in the centre, ‘scenes’ to the left and a layer pane to the right where you can verify that the right fields relate to the correct geographic data.

For instance, ensure that 3D Maps knows longitude from your data relates to its own notion of longitude.

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4. Pick your main metric

As with GeoFlow, 3D Maps allows you to really get amongst the data. PPC marketers, you can dig into clicks, conversions, or whatever interests you. For this example, I’m looking at narcotics arrests in Chicago (as per Microsoft’s sample suggestion).

In the layer pane, click on ‘Add Field’ under each metric to choose your selected data. I’ve added ‘Beat’ to the ‘Height’ metric to get an indication of arrest volumes, ‘Description’ in the ‘Category’ colours the columns in relation to the type of drugs people were arrested for and under ‘Time’ we have ‘Date’.

The data starts to populate automatically.

bing maps and excel

You can zoom into regions and hover over columns to get more information about any area of your choice.

5. See changes over time

Like in GeoFlow, 3D Maps allows you to see data changes for areas over time.

Simply ensure that you have your ‘Date’ data added into the ‘Time’ metric of the maps layer pane and press play.

6. And more…

Excel’s new 3D Maps adds more functionality to what was found in GeoFlow. Scenes and tours offer user-friendly playback of time based data changes.

So if you’re working in PPC and want to show click rate changes over different locations for a certain time period, it is very easy to set up a number of scenes into a tour. You can then export that tour as a video to share with whomever you like.

Conclusion

It’s great that Microsoft has included map functionality as standard and built on the GeoFlow tool for Excel 2016.

There’s such an abundance of data and an ever-growing need to make it as accessible as possible that being able to present trends over geographic regions in a dynamic way will no doubt be valuable to marketers – especially those working to improve their campaigns and who want to share findings with colleagues and clients.