Just 36% of people entering the tech industry are women

women1

The technology industry is lagging behind many other sectors when it comes to the proportion of women taking up entry level positions.

This is according to US research by McKinsey in their new report: Women in the Workplace

The study surveyed 132 companies which collectively employ more than 4.6m people. It shows that while 75% of CEOs in corporate America are saying gender equality is a top ten priority – and in the wake of the high-profile Gamergate controversy – tech is still woefully behind.

Women entering the tech industry are far outnumbered by men and they lose ground on every step of the ladder

The McKinsey report separates out key industries in the US and shows the proportion of women working at each stage of the corporate ladder.

For the tech industry (including electronics, hardware, software and IT) just 36% of entry level positions are accounted for by women. This proportion goes down to 31% at manager level and an even lower 19% at the C-Suite level.

Tech is certainly lagging behind other sectors…

For instance, the asset management and institutional investors industry sees 50:50 parity for men and women at entry level (but just 14% women in the C-Suite). Professional and information services sees a majority of women at entry level (59%) but just 22% at C-Suite.

The report also allows for comparison of the issue with corporate America as a whole. On average, 46% of all people going into corporate jobs in the US are women but this shrinks down to just 19% at the C-Suite level. For women of colour, the percentage is 17% at entry level and 3% at the C-Suite.

Gender inequality research in tech and digital is growing

McKinsey’s research builds on wider research into gender disparities across tech and digital.

In February, Econsultancy released UK-centric career and salary data for those working across the marketing, digital, design and advertising industries. The research highlighted the inequality in average pay between men and women across the digital sector – from specialists to general marketers.

women2

In 2016, the average female digital specialist earns £38,176 – around £8,000 less than her male peers. For women in general digital marketing roles, the average salary is £37,477 – again around £8,000 less than the £45,750 earned by the average man doing the same work.

Gender inequality as contributor to the digital skills gap

The latest McKinsey report and that by Econsultancy earlier in the year will be cause for concern for those in government.

As I wrote in an article last month, a recent report by the Science and Technology Committee highlights that 90% of jobs in the country today require digital skills to some extent and suggests that we need 745,000 workers with these skills to fulfil industry demand by 2017.

The report also looks at methods for overcoming gender inequalities in its chapter headed Role models and diversity in STEM, stating:

“There is continuing concern over the lack of diversity among computer science/IT graduates and in wider Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers. Role models are an effective way of inspiring confidence to pursue a career path, but FDM Group highlighted that children and young people are more likely to identify with Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) as technology role models than Baroness Lane-Fox, Sheryl Sandberg (CEO of Facebook) or Marissa Mayer (president and CEO of Yahoo).”

And:

“Despite long standing campaigns from Government and industry, however, there remains a marked gender imbalance in those studying computing—only 16% of computer science students at school are female (compared with 42% who studied ICT) and this low level of representation persists through higher education and in the workplace. A survey of more than 4,000 girls, young women, parents and teachers in 2015 showed that 60% of 12-year-old girls in the UK and Ireland thought that STEM subjects were too difficult to learn and nearly half thought that they were a better match for boys.”

Gender inequality as contributor to lost GDP

McKinsey back in April also conducted research into the actual monetary gains all US states can make should women attain full gender equality in the labour force.

Their report The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in the United States posits that collectively more than $4 trillion could be added to the US economy by 2025 if gender parity is fully realised.

Referring back to the Women in the Workplace data which sees the worst gender inequality in job roles further up the corporate ladder, it’s notable that The power of parity report singled out inequality in leadership and managerial positions as one of six priority ‘impact zones’ for action to improve business opportunities for women and the economic benefits this will lead to.

So are things improving?

Women in the Workplace does show that CEOs seem increasingly keen to make their workplaces more equal and that things are moving in the right direction. But progress is slow at just one or two percentage points closer towards gender parity from 2015 to 2016.

That said, it is positive to see another report highlighting the issues of inequality in tech, as well as for providing evidence for the social and economic gains from better gender parity in business. But this latest McKinsey data shows there is still a lot of ground to be covered in the industry before the gap is closed and the benefits are realised.

How paid search and personalisation can work together

A mobile screenshot showing a Google search for 'fintech', with two paid ads taking up the whole screen.

We don’t generally think of paid search as a great channel for personalisation, but increasingly, it’s becoming one.

Caroline Reynolds, VP of Paid Search at iProspect, gave a presentation at the Content Marketing Association’s most recent Digital Breakfast explaining exactly how personalisation and paid search can work together.

It’s never been easier to reach people through the myriad marketing channels at our disposal, and yet it’s also never been harder to make a real connection with them. Marketers are discovering that personalisation is key to this: it allows them to build an emotional connection with consumers in a way that was never possible before.

“It’s all about that personal, adaptive and valuable connection,” said Reynolds.

So how can this be done using paid search?

The audience revolution

With paid search, Reynolds explained in her presentation, small and large brands alike are on a level playing field. A paid search spot is a paid search spot – and even though larger brands might be able to ante up more funding for a higher position on the results page, many brands have discovered that the fourth or fifth position can still yield a good rate of click-through while not costing as much.

On top of this, paid search is particularly good on mobile, where a majority of search traffic now originates. Due to mobile’s narrow layout, paid search spots appear front and centre, requiring a lot of scrolling to move past, and they have been shown to deliver strong ROI.

How does personalisation play into things? It’s about understanding the consumer at the moment of searching, adapting and making them care, said Reynolds.

We’ve reached a period that she has dubbed the “audience revolution”, in that we have more capacity than ever before to assemble data about the person behind any given search and work out exactly who they are.

For iProspect, the watershed moment came when Google gave them access to remarketing data which allowed them to see exactly who had interacted, who had bought before, and who had shown ‘affinity’ – the term given to someone who searches for things similar to what you’re selling. Now, the company only has a very small proportion of people who are unknown to them.

For example, Sky is one of iProspect’s clients. Every time someone carries out a search for Sky, iProspect will map it to an audience view and then tailor ad copy and personalise the site accordingly. Now, 90% of Sky’s traffic is known to them and personalised.

“You can understand your consumer, and we can do that better than we’ve ever done it before,” said Reynolds.

Connecting online with offline

The way that people search is influenced by external factors. The more of those you can plug in, the more relevant you can make your advertising, advised Reynolds.

One of the things that iProspect does most often is to connect offline channels like television to online. This is easier than you might think – a study by Millward Brown found that on average, people in the UK spend 50 minutes per day using both a TV and a smartphone, with 22% of people using this time to search for more information about what they’re watching on TV.

A breakdown of how people use their smartphones for TV-related activities

A technology known as digital fingerprinting can let brands know exactly when their advert is running on TV, allowing them to up their paid search accordingly.

For example, when British Gas ran their advert “No Place Like Home”, they were able to use paid search placements to send people directly to the relevant page online for a period of 5-10 minutes while the advert was airing.

Another example of how paid search can work with personalisation comes from Eurostar. A user can research ‘holidays to Paris’ and be directed to a PPC ad, through which they reach the Eurostar website and browse fares to Paris. Later on whilst surfing the web, they will be presented with a tailored display ad for Eurostar travel from London to Paris.

Takeaway tip: You can take what you learn on one channel, and adapt your messaging on other channels accordingly.

A slide from Caroline Reynolds' presentation at the CMA Digital Breakfast which illustrates the aforementioned journey from PPC ad, to Eurostar website, to being presented with a tailored display ad.

Some handy tools that Reynolds recommended which can help you gather data to personalise your paid search placements are:

  • Google Correlate: This tool allows you to find search patterns which correspond with real-world trends, such as looking at which search terms are more popular in winter, or which terms correlate with certain geographic locations.
  • Google Keyword Planner: A classic keyword research tool for Google Adwords, which gives access to keywords and ad groups ideas, historical statistics, and search traffic forecasts. (Though be aware that it is prone to inaccuracy in some areas).
  • Answer the Public: This handy tool lets you see the different questions and search terms that people have searched for any given keyword. As well as being a great campaign tool, this is also invaluable when you want to create SEO-friendly content marketing which answers people’s questions about a topic.

Understanding the impact of speech recognition software on search

northstar mobile phone use research

In the movie Her, Joaquin Pheonix plays a lonely and heartbroken man who develops strong romantic feelings for his mobile operating system. “Samantha,” as he calls it, speaks to him, listens to him, and ultimately becomes a major part of his life.

As technology stands right now, we may not be at the point of making real “human” connections with our mobile devices, but we do talk to them. We talk to them a lot.

Mobile technology is progressing quickly, and soon, speech recognition software will become even more advanced and far more prevalent than it is now.

Ultimately, improved speech recognition software will have a significant impact on how the public uses search engines. As search engine queries evolve, the results will naturally follow suit.

Consequently, SEO practices will be affected and businesses will have to develop new techniques (or alter current methods) for optimizing their websites.

Speech recognition software: the road to success

Smartphone speech recognition software has been frustratingly slow, glitchy, and spotty at best. At its worst, the burgeoning technology has produced some embarrassing and problematic communication blunders.

Basically, talking to Siri has been somewhat like trying to converse with your older grandmother after she’s taken out her hearing aids for the night.

It’s a far cry from the convenient hands-free technology creators originally set out to build. A new experiment, though, has suggested that there is a solution on the horizon.

Putting new technology to the test

James Landay, a professor of computer science at Stanford and co-author of this recent study said:

“Speech recognition is something that’s been promised to us for decades, but it has never worked very well. But we were noticing that in the past two to three years, speech recognition was actually improving a lot, benefiting from big data and deep learning to train its neural networks to produce faster, more accurate results. So we decided to formally test it against humans.”

Landay and his research team, which included scientists from Stanford, the University of Washington, and Baidu Inc., took Baidu’s Deep Speech 2 software and challenged 32 texters to a competition of speed and accuracy.

To test Baidu’s reportedly advanced speech recognition software, the researchers recruited a group of 19- to 32-year-olds to type messages on the Apple iPhone’s built-in keyboard in a race against the machine.

“They grew up texting, so we’re putting speech recognition up against people who are really good at this task,” explained Landay.

The participants either typed or verbalized about 100 everyday phrases. Some subjects performed the task in English while the others did so in their native Mandarin. Regardless of the language, the results were clear – Baidu’s Deep Speech 2 software was significantly faster and more accurate.

In English, speech recognition was an astonishing three times faster than typing, and the error rate was 20.4% lower. In Mandarin, the speech recognition software performed with a staggering 63.4% lower error rate.

Stanford computer science PhD student and co-author Sherry Ruan said:

“We knew speech recognition is pretty good, so we expected it to be faster, but we were really actually quite surprised to find that it was almost three times faster than typing on a keyboard.”

The future of speech recognition software

Now that researchers have been able to quantify the success of speech recognition software, they hope it will inspire engineers to design better user interfaces that take advantage of this technology.

“We should put speech in more applications than just typing an email or text message,” expressed Landay. “You could imagine an interface where you use speech to start and then it switches to a graphical interface that you can touch and control with your finger.”

Though software company Baidu does not currently plan to make Deep Speech 2 available to the public, they are integrating it into their own apps in China.

Regardless, it seems that improved speech recognition software is on its way to smartphones and other mobile devices here in the United States. Before we can discuss how this technology will impact user behavior and affect the way we do business, we must first answer the question, ”Who is using speech recognition software and why?

It may not come as a surprise, but the majority of people using mobile personal assistants like Siri fall into the generational category of ‘millennials‘. The breakdown looks like this:

  • Ages 18-29: 71%
  • Ages 30-43: 59%
  • Ages 44-53: 39%
  • Ages 54+: 38%

Now that we’ve established the “who,” it’s time to talk about the “why.” Why are we using speech recognition software? What’s the purpose?

According to a Northstar Mobile Voice study, teens and adults use their phones’ speech feature for different reasons.

The majority of teenagers (43%) use speech recognition to make a phone call, while 38% ask for directions and 31% use the search feature to get help with homework. On the other hand, 40% of adults use it to ask for directions, while 39% dictate texts and 31% use it to call someone.

Many people are starting to use speech recognition for search engine queries. It is this application in particular that will impact businesses, digital advertisers, and SEO specialists.

How will voice search affect SEO?

There are bound to be differences between how we type our search queries and how we verbalize them. As user behavior changes, so, too, will search engine results. The question is will you be ready to adapt to these changes in order to keep your website optimized?

Here are the two major ways voice search will affect SEO.

Query length and phrasing

When we type our search queries, we rarely input more than two words. We typically don’t write full sentences, knowing that Google will get the gist.

While right now, voice searches are still relatively short, with most capping at around three words, it is important to note that voice search is still in its infancy.

As mentioned previously, voice recognition software hasn’t historically been all that useful; only now are we starting to see more advanced programs that can actually comprehend and accurately communicate with us.

As the software improves and we become more comfortable using it, it is highly likely that voice search queries will start to resemble natural language.

Stronger intent

Natural language demonstrates intent more strongly. When we speak in full sentences, our meaning becomes clearer to our audience. It’s pretty simple, right?

Here’s an example:

The user types “air conditioner” into the search bar. Google doesn’t know if they want to buy one, repair one, learn their history, or see images of them. Now, if they were to use voice search and say “Where can I buy an air conditioner?” then Google can provide them with more appropriate results.

For online marketers and SEO specialists, knowing users’ intent can be extremely helpful. They can strive to rank on question phrases with a higher likelihood of action.

Modifying your SEO strategy

As Internet user behavior changes, your business will need to respond and adapt.

Here are a few ways you can take action to maintain your website’s search engine optimization.

  • Add relevant question phrases to your keyword list (i.e. How much does it cost to travel to Los Angeles?)
  • Identify your most valuable question phrases and avoid questions that don’t suggest action (i.e. What time is it in Los Angeles?)
  • Include filler words in your keyword questions, like “the”, “to”, “I”, and “for.”

Mobile technology has been progressing not in fluid strides but rather in giant leaps. It’s exciting, it’s impressive, but it’s also exhausting. Businesses need to be on their toes, ready to react and adapt at a moment’s notice.

Speech recognition software may have been around for awhile now, but it has yet to play a significant role in the shaping of our modern society. The time has come. Is your business ready?

13 time-saving Excel shortcuts & tips for marketers

navigate the ribbon

Back in 2013 John Gagnon wrote a very popular post detailing some of his favourite Excel tips and tricks.

We thought we’d update the list of classic shortcuts with a few that reflect some new functionality in Excel 2016.

New Excel tips for 2016:

1. Navigate ‘The Ribbon’ with ALT

In Excel 2016 the ribbon refers to the menu of tabs (File, Home, etc.) at the top of your workbook. Simply hitting ALT will quickly highlight the related keys then used to jump to certain ribbon tabs.

For instance, ALT followed by M will take you to the ‘Formulas’ tab.

You can easily move between tabs by pressing ALT and using the left and right arrow keys, while CTRL + F1 toggles between hiding and showing the ribbon altogether.

2. Tell me what you want to do

Excel 2016 comes with a new helpful feature located in the ribbon, the ‘Tell me what you want to do’ search box.

Click the box, or if you are using Excel without a mouse hit ALT + Q to jump right to it. Whether it’s adding rows or using VLOOKUP, the box is very useful for new and old Excel users alike.

tell me what you want to do

3. New Excel Tip: smart lookup

If you want information from beyond the realms of Excel, another new function for 2016 is the ‘Smart Lookup’ tool which allows you to make a Bing-powered internet search without leaving the Excel pane.

Smart Lookup is located in the ‘Review’ tab and can also be accessed by ALT + R + S.

smart look-up

Classic Excel tips:

Courtesy of John Gagnon. The following tips are accurate and still work as of September 2016.

4. Automatically SUM() with ALT + =

Quickly add an entire column or row by clicking in the first empty cell in the column. Then enter ALT + ‘=’ (equals key) to add up the numbers in every cell above.

Automatically SUM with ALT

5. Logic for number formatting keyboard shortcuts

At times keyboard shortcuts in Excel seem random, but there is logic behind them. Let’s break an example down. To format a number as a currency the shortcut is CRTL + SHIFT + 4.

Both the SHIFT and 4 keys seem random, but they’re intentionally used because SHIFT + 4 is the dollar sign ($). Therefore if we want to format as a currency, it’s simply: CTRL + ‘$’ (where the dollar sign is SHIFT + 4). The same is true for formatting a number as a percent.

Number Formatting Keyboard Shortcuts

Number Formatting

6. Display formulas with CTRL + `

When you’re troubleshooting misbehaving numbers first look at the formulas. Display the formula used in a cell by hitting just two keys: Ctrl + ` (known as the acute accent key) – this key is furthest to the left on the row with the number keys. When shifted it is the tilde (~).

Display Formulas

7. Jump to the start or end of a column keyboard shortcut

You are thousands of rows deep into your data set and need to get to the first or last cell. Scrolling is OK but the quickest way is to use the keyboard shortcut CTRL + ↑ to jump to the top cell, or CTRL + ↓ to drop to the last cell before an empty cell.

Jump to the Start or End of a Column Keyboard Shortcut

When you combine this shortcut with the SHIFT key, you’ll select a continuous block of cells from your original starting point.

8. Repeat a formula to multiple cells

Never type out the same formula over and over in new cells again. This trick populates all of the cells in a column with the same formula, but adjusts to use the data specific to each row.

Repeat a Formula to Multiple Cells

Create the formula you need in the first cell. Then move your cursor to the lower right corner of that cell and, when it turns into a plus sign, double click to copy that formula into the rest of the cells in that column. Each cell in the column will show the results of the formula using the data in that row.

9. Add or delete columns keyboard shortcut

Managing columns and rows in your spreadsheet is an all-day task. Whether adding or deleting, you can save a little time when you use this keyboard shortcut. CTRL + ‘-‘ (minus key) will delete the column your cursor is in and CTRL + SHIFT + ‘=’ (equal key) will add a new column. From an earlier tip, think about CTRL + ‘+’ (plus sign).

Add or Delete Columns Keyboard Shortcut

10. Adjust width of one or multiple columns

It’s easy to adjust a column to the width of its content and get rid of those useless ##### entries. Click on the column’s header, move your cursor to the right side of the header and double click when it turns into a plus sign.

Adjust Width of One or Multiple Columns

11. Copy a pattern of numbers or even dates

Another amazing feature built into Excel is its ability to recognize a pattern in your data, and allow you to automatically copy it to other cells.

Simply enter information in two rows which establish the pattern, highlight those rows and drag down for as many cells as you want to populate. This works with numbers, days of the week or months!

Copy a Pattern of Numbers or Dates

12. Tab between worksheets

Jumping from worksheet to worksheet doesn’t mean you have to move your hand off the keyboard with this cool shortcut. To change to the next worksheet to the right enter CTRL + PGDN. And conversely change to the worksheet to the left by entering CTRL + PGUP.

Tab Between Worksheets

13. Double click format painter shortcut

Format Painter is a great tool which lets you duplicate a format in other cells with no more effort than a mouse click. Many Excel users (Outlook, Word and PowerPoint too) use this handy feature, but did you know you can double-click Format Painter to copy the format into multiple cells? It’s quite a time-saver.

Double Click Format Painter

Five surprising benefits of high CTR across all marketing channels

how-quality-score-impacts-impression-share

Obviously, CTR is important in PPC marketing. A higher CTR means a higher Quality Score, which reduces your CPC and improves your ad rank.

But it goes much further than that.

A remarkable CTR is not only the most important thing in AdWords, but it is also extremely important for other marketing channels. These include organic search, CRO, social media, and email marketing.

Here are five surprising benefits of having a remarkable, unicorn-worthy CTR across all your marketing channels.

1. Much higher ad impression share

You get big discounts from having a high CTR. Namely, a lower cost per click, which really adds up as clicks accumulate.

This is true not just of vanilla search ads, but all Google properties, whether we’re talking about theGoogle Display Network or Gmail Ads.

But a remarkable CTR doesn’t just impact CPC. It also impacts your impression share – how often your ads show up in the first place.

On the Google Search Network, every increase (or decrease) of 1 point in Quality Score can make a huge positive impact on your impression share:

If you can increase your Quality Score by one point, your impression share on average will increase by about 6% on desktop.

This is even bigger deal on mobile, where impression share is twice as competitive.

impression-share-2x-more-competitive-on-mobile

Increasing your Quality Score by one point would increase your impression share by an average of 12%!

Data sources: Impression share data is based on an analysis of approximately 10,000 small and medium-size accounts (spending between $10,000 and $15,000 per month), based worldwide, advertising on the Search network in Q1 and Q2 of 2015.

2. Your organic search positions will get a boost

We recently conducted research to test whether achieving above-expected user engagement metrics results in better organic rankings. We observed an unmistakable pattern:

ctr-versus-organic-search-rankings-data

  • The more your pages beat the expected organic CTR for a given position, the more likely you are to appear in prominent organic positions. So if you want to move up by one spot (e.g., Position 5 to Position 4) in Google’s SERP, you need to increase your CTR by 3%. If you want to move up again (e.g., Position 4 to Position 3), you’ll need to increase your CTR by another 3%.
  • If your pages fall below the expected organic search CTR, then your pages will appear in lower organic SERP positions. Basically, if your page fails to beat the expected click-through rate for a given position, it’s unlikely your page will appear in positions 1–5.

You want your pages get as many organic search clicks as possible, right? Attracting more clicks means more traffic to your site, which also tells Google that your page is the best answer for users – it is relevant and awesome.

Another thing we discovered was that the weighting of click-through rate is in Google’s organic search ranking algorithms is becoming more important every month this year.

expected-ctr-by-organic-google-position-data

Here I was tracking a group of 1,000 keywords and URLs for the past 5 months. What I found was that the Google algorithm is shifting to increasingly higher CTRs for top-4 organic ranking status.

This is what you would expect to see if Google Search were employing a machine learning-based algorithm that reordered listings based on CTR – people would see more of what they were hoping to see at the top, reducing the need to scroll lower down into the SERPs.

3. Your conversion rates increase

Increasing your click-through rate will also increase your conversion rates. If you can increase your CTR by 2x then your conversion rate should increase by 50%.

That’s why click-through rate is the most important conversion metric (in my opinion).

For example, look at this data from one large client’s account:

high-ctr-correlates-higher-conversion-rate

This is just one example. We see this same conversion curve in many accounts. (It’s just difficult to combine multiple accounts into one graph because conversion rates vary depending on factors like the industry and offer.)

What’s happening here is that if you can get someone excited to click on your website (via email, ads, organic search listings, or whatever), the excitement carries through to sign-up and purchase.

4. Free clicks from social Ads

Facebook and Twitter don’t have a Quality Score. Well, they do, Facebook just calls it Relevance Score and Twitter calls it Quality Adjusted Bid.

Whatever they call their version of Quality Score, having a higher score results in a higher ad impression share for the same budget at a lower cost per engagement. A high engagement rate means your ads will be more visible and more cost effective, as shown here:

high-engagement-rate-benefits

Notice how the cost per engagement on Twitter Ads falls dramatically as the engagement rate of the post you’re promoting rises.

One of the surprising benefits of having high engagement on Facebook and Twitter is that you’ll benefit from free clicks. How?

On Facebook, if someone shares one of your boosted posts, that will show up in another person’s news feed and you won’t get charged for any of the additional engagements that happen there.

On Twitter, if you do a Promoted Tweet, when one of your followers retweets or shares it, you’ll get more totally free organic impressions.

5. People will actually see your emails

Now let’s talk about email marketing. How many emails do you get each day? Dozens? Hundreds?

If you engage with the emails that brands and businesses regularly send to you, you’ll continue to see them. If not, it might get filed away in Outlook’s Clutter folder or it may be relegated to Gmail’s Promotions tab – or even worse, the Spam folder.

Microsoft Outlook’s clutter filter regularly filter emails I’ve opted into receiving – including internal emails from my own company! These emails are being filtered out based on machine learning.

What does this mean for your company?

If your emails have a higher CTR (though for emails the better equivalent is actually higher open rate), then it’s more likely that your emails will actually get seen, opened, and clicked on. If your click-through rates are terrible, your emails will be rounded up and thrown in the dark “clutter dungeon.”

One thing we did was to delete people from our email lists who were unresponsive. If you’re just accumulating emails over many years, why? Do you think someone who has been dormant and never engaged with your emails is going to magically turn into a sale 5 years later?

Deleting half your database is one way to instantly more than double your CTR. Email providers will notice that more people are engaging, making it less likely your emails will end up in the dungeon.

This is an abridged version of an article published on Larry’s WordStream blog: High CTR benefits.

Penguin 4.0: what does it mean for SEO practitioners?

penguin diving

As you’re no doubt aware, Google finally rolled out its Google 4.0 algorithm update at the end of last week.

Penguin is now part of Google’s core algorithm, penalising websites that use various black-hat link schemes to manipulate search rankings.

Other important changes include:

  • Penguin data is refreshed in real time, so any changes will be made as soon as the affected page has been recrawled and reindexed.
  • Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking of the offending page, rather than affecting the whole site.

So how do these changes affect actual SEO practitioners? I asked a panel of experts and SEW contributors their views on Penguin 4.0, including:

  • Gerald Murphy, Client Service Manager at EMEA at BrightEdge
  • Kevin Gibbons, Managing Director at Blue Glass
  • Nikolay Stoyanov, freelance SEO consultant at niksto.com

Do you think the new version of Penguin is fairer? Do you think it’s an adequate deterrent when it comes to spammy link-building?

Kevin Gibbons: Yes, being realtime helps to set expectations as you won’t have to wait weeks or months for the next algorithm refresh to assess your link removals.

Of course Google’s algorithm is always a moving target – but it is becoming harder to be manipulated at scale. In some verticals it can even be a game of whoever doesn’t have the worst backlinks might win. Perhaps having a new domain with no link reputation isn’t a bad starting point any more!

Gerald Murphy: I think the algorithm is fairer. Think about it, you will be awarded for great content, instantly. I also think that, with the rise of AI, Google will soon be able to understand links more. A flower shop on Valentines Day, for example, will get away with more spam-like links but this won’t be the case in September. As links will be linked with behaviours.

Nikolay Stoyanov: Yes, I think that the real-time version of the Penguin algorithm will be fairer and will play a very positive role for the whole SEO community.

Google Penguin is now a part of the core algorithm and every change (either a negative or positive one) will happen very quickly (maybe not instantly but on a daily or weekly basis). After more than 700 days of waiting we can finally rest assured that whatever SEO mistakes we make we will be able to quickly fix afterwards.

This works both ways though. If we use some gray or black hat techniques Google will be able to catch us very quickly and punish us for not following its rules. So this is a double-edged sword.

Another great change with Penguin 4.0 is the fact that it became more “granular”. This means that whatever penalties hit our sites from now on they will impact separate pages on the site and not the whole domain in general.

I believe that this will be a positive thing as it will give us a better chance to fix those penalized pages and to learn from our mistakes without losing a huge amount of our organic traffic (like before).

Ideally, the latest Penguin update will benefit white hat SEO experts like myself and will help us take our SEO to the next level. Same goes with end users who will get better results to answer their search intent properly.

Conversely, black hat techniques (especially PBNs) will slowly become obsolete and will eventually stop working which is the ultimate goal.

Have you experienced any affect from the Penguin update?

Kevin Gibbons: None of our clients have seen any negative shifts in organic traffic.

However, in the past we have noticed trends of referral traffic dropping as a knock-on effect from blogs/forums/publishers that have been penalised and as a result of them having less traffic, there are fewer outbound link clicks.

The data we have so far is too early to highlight a trend, but it’s certainly one to keep a close eye on…

Nikolay Stoyanov: No, I haven’t seen any change on my site or my clients’ sites since Penguin 4.0 was launched. I guess it’s because I’m playing by the rules but also because it’s not been entirely rolled out yet. It’s way too soon to jump to conclusions.

How can webmasters best avoid the risk of being affected by Penguin?

Kevin Gibbons: Focus on building a brand, not links.

If your activity is just for link building, it will leave an SEO footprint. No-one wants that.

Aim to tell your story via content, data-driven analysis and knowledge – and amplify to a targeted audience via multiple channels; social media, paid search, digital PR etc…

Also monitor the links you have and audit these on a frequent basis. If you’re in a competitive industry, you may have to actively disavow negative links that have been built to your site that someone else has built!

penguins marching to war

Gerald Murphy: Data analysis is even more important to SEO. This most effecient way to analyse this update is to breakdown links by category, sub category, and page level, and then compare this with data, such as, visits, average blended rank, and revenue, for example.

Nikolay Stoyanov: Forget about shortcuts in SEO! There aren’t any. The only way to stay on the safe side and secure your brand, visitors and sales is if you do white hat SEO.

Write well researched and useful content and build quality links to it. That’s it! Nothing’s changed. Hopefully with the real-time Penguin that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Maybe not at once but eventually.

With Hummingbird and RankBrain we’re already seeing lots of positive changes in the SERPs from content perspective. Now’s the time to see the same when it comes to link building.

How, if at all, will this update change the way you work?

Kevin Gibbons: The update doesn’t change our process, the only thing it might do is re-affirm the message we have been on the right track by focusing on quality. We’re just hoping it catches some of our clients competitors out!

Nikolay Stoyanov: I wouldn’t say that Penguin 4.0 will change my work routine in any way. But I am pretty sure that there will be a much higher demand for quality link building services in the upcoming years due to this huge change in the SEO world.

Hopefully, more and more webmasters will start playing by the rules as they should be same for everyone. That’s fair!

Gerald Murphy: It won’t.

What future algorithm changes do you wish to see? Is there anything Google is ignoring?

Kevin Gibbons: There’s always been a gap between what Google says it’s algorithm does and what it actually does. Over recent years they’ve done a much better job at closing these, and most of the tactics that do work are often very short-term, which is enough to keep most brands away from them.

I would expect them to be looking at things such as:

  • Spammy link building at high velocity, which can still rewarded by Google.
  • Ecommerce site cloning can be a pain point, where Google starts to rank the phishing/fake site organically with the clients own content.
  • Redirected domains into sites/pages/new domains – some can be for legitimate reasons (re-brands/acquisitions) – but others are purely for short-term SEO boosts.
  • Mass content production, with many companies pumping out X amount of articles a day/week trying to show ‘freshness’ of content but not putting enough effort/resource into the quality of content. Long-term you’d expect panda to go against them, but short term it can work better than expected.

Gerald Murphy: AI integration with links to get a deeper analysis of behaviour, such as, seasonality and maybe even social media signals. Remember mobile is going to kill links because of our behaviour. Name me a user, sitting in the front room on their tablet or smartphone, reading another great blog who creates a HTML link. This is not in our behaviour.

Nikolay Stoyanov: I want to see all the black hat and grey hat methods dead. Starting with PBNs. I still see multiple sites ranking in top 5 or higher with low quality or PBN links that I can smell from a mile away. It’s high time that Google Penguin starts penalizing these websites like they deserve.

How to take advantage of Facebook Video’s creative opportunities

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We are living in a video-first world, where moving images are at the heart of all apps and services.

Facebook recorded an increase of 800% in video consumption from 2015 to 2016, jumping from 1 billion views to 8 billion views in just a year.

During Social Media Week, Ian Crocombe, Regional Head of Facebook’s Creative Shop presented all the opportunities that video content may offer, both for publishers and advertisers on Facebook.

Moving from TV to social media

Video ads on Facebook are different from the ones we knew on TV, and they also lead to a different behaviour from the audience.

Moreover, users have a shorter attention span when using their mobile devices, which also requires a different perspective when creating a video.

This creates the need for brands to adjust their content when they have to transfer their message from TV and traditional marketing to social media and Facebook in particular.

Adjusting content for Facebook videos

Facebook’s Creative Shop aims to help brands understand what makes an effective Facebook video and how they can make their message heard to an increased audience.

They are responsible for “feed proofing”, which means the process of taking the brands’ ideas and making them work on mobile.

It focuses on four main areas, all aiming to improve the success of the video – Capture, Design, Frame and Play…

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1. Capture attention quickly

Facebook suggests you place the brand and the product at the centre of the video, keeping the message simple and clear from the very first seconds.

This informs the audience what the video is about, and if it’s creative enough to grab their attention quickly, it makes them watch more of it.

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2. Design for sound off

According to Facebook, 80% of videos are currently played without sound, which means that you cannot ignore this when creating a new branded video.

Instead of making customers turn the sound on, how about delivering your message through text?

Subtitles are better than nothing, but text overlays offer the best way to increase comprehension without a sound.

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3. Frame your visual story

Cut extra footage from existing ads to reinforce the key message. Crop the video in square, pick the right frames and experiment with the best format that could be more appealing on Facebook.

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4. Play more

Ian Crocombe’s main tip is to “be really playful” with Facebook videos. Don’t stop experimenting with new content, take a creative idea and play with it.

For example, how about starting your video with a question to spark curiosity?

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Feed proofing is good, but it’s quite defensive. There’s also the need for a new creative approach when starting with mobile-first content.

It’s time to work with new story arcs…

New creative approach

A new creative approach needs its own tips to make sure that the audience is interested in the video content. Here’s what Facebook suggests for an increased engagement.

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1. Heartbeat frequency = attention

There’s no need to have a theatrical narrative, following the traditional sequence of beginning, middle, end.

It may be more effective to deliver loops of the story every few seconds to keep your audience interested. A new vignette may start after a few seconds, creating multiple stories with a consistent message.

The duration of the content is not important, as long as you’re able to keep the audience interested.

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2. Zigs & Zags = hook

It has been observed that 65% people who watch 0.03 secs of Facebook videos can watch up to 0.10 secs and 45% who watch 0.10 secs can watch up to 0.30secs.

Zigs and zags try to move people across by hooking them at the beginning while getting the product visible. Once the hook occurs in the introduction, users can watch more of the video, with short and repeated stories contributing to the promotion of a brand’s message.

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3. Start with the end

This tip is focused on “super logical people” with Facebook suggesting we start a video with the product shown in a visually appealing way, then end with the product’s benefits.

This can be a clever way to capture the audience’s attention by offering the emotional reward and the solution to the problem from the very first seconds while proceeding to the actual description of the problem through the rest of the video.

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Takeaway

Ian Crocombe sums up his presentation by reminding us that “video on mobile is different”, and as we are heading into a more visually-focused world, it’s time to experiment with more creative approaches.

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This is an edited version of an article originally published in on our sister website ClickZ: New creative opportunites on Facebook for a video first world.

More online product searches start on Amazon than Google

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Search traffic is of course vital for online retailers, but a new survey finds that more people use Amazon as the first port of call when looking for products.

The second annual State of Amazon study by BloomReach found that 55% of consumers start their online product searches on Amazon, compared to 28% who opt for a search engine.

The survey of 2,000 US consumers found that Amazon’s share of the action was up 11% year on year, and the figures down for search engines and other retailers.

The retailer’s reputation for price-competitiveness, (as well as the fact that it sells just about everything) means it’s the go-to destination for comparison shopping.

  • 90% of consumers will check Amazon even if they’ve found their product elsewhere. 78% of these shoppers do this ‘often’ or ‘always’.
  • It works both ways though, with 70% checking products they’ve found on Amazon on other ecommerce sites.

Mobile shopping habits

The study also looked at shopping habits on mobile devices. Amazon still dominates here, but less so than overall.

  • 50% of mobile shoppers try Amazon first, compared to search engines on 34% and other retailers on 16%.
  • 76% of consumers shop on their smartphone, with 90% saying that they’ve made a purchase on a smartphone.
  • Almost 50% shop on a smartphone weekly.
  • 92% say smartphone shopping can influence a purchase decision, while 52% say smartphone shopping often or always supports a purchase.
  • 88% will use a smartphone to assist shopping in stores.
  • 78% have a retailer mobile app, and 82% of those have a retailer app that isn’t Amazon’s.

These figures will of course be a major concern for competitors, as the risk is that many product searches begin and end on Amazon before they even have a chance to appeal to shoppers.

Jason Seeba, BloomReach head of marketing, says search still has a major part to play:

“While online retailers increasingly feel the pinch, search engines still play an integral part of commerce strategy. This study highlights that just because consumers start on Amazon, that doesn’t mean they ultimately buy from Amazon. Instead, they’re often comparing and researching products on search engines and other retailers.”

How PPC brand protection can increase clicks by 34%

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Brand protection is changing. Are you keeping up?

If you have a brand worth protecting, competitors are already bidding on your brand name. Some bid directly on your name, while others will bid on obvious brand-plus derivatives, such as when GEICO bids on phrases like “Progressive insurance” (and vice versa).

As you can see for the keyword “geico insurance,” AIS, FreeQuotes365 and Mercury Insurance are aggressively buying that keyword, too.

If you have a trademark or brand name that drives search volume, it will be one of your more profitable campaigns. Unfortunately, it is one of the important PPC campaigns for your affiliates, resellers and competitors too.

Larry Kim, CTO of WordStream, discussed this topic in his article on how companies often make deals with each other to avoid bidding on each other’s terms. The article shows how a focus on protecting branded campaigns leads to less competition and lower costs.

I’m going to show you a process (with a case study) of how to protect your brand keywords, cut costs, and drive 34% more clicks.

While it’s a simple process to understand, it requires considerable skill to actually catch advertisers bidding on your brand, prove that it’s happening, and then deal with the brand bidders appropriately.

Your response to competitive brand bidding can take several forms, from fighting back with your own brand bidding, to getting the engines to remove the ad (if it breaks their rules), to legal action. More to come on these responses.

The goal of these actions is clear: prevent competing advertisers from bidding on your keywords and/or limit the number of affiliates and resellers who can buy these keywords. With fewer competitors, you’ll quickly see more clicks, lower CPCs, and lower overall campaign costs.

Let’s dive in to the brand protection process.

Identify brand keyword bidding violators using Google Auction Insights

Auction Insights is a great place to start evaluating your brand keywords and campaigns. For example, I can see who is buying these keywords, how often, and if they are showing up above me.

brand-keyword-bidding

If I find a violator, I can contact them directly or show Google my trademark number and ask them to remove this advertiser.

Remember that Google allows other advertisers to bid on your trademarks and use it in their ad’s Display URL. But, they cannot use it in ad copy.

Search keywords without being logged into a Google account

When you are logged into any google property, your search results will be customized to your search history and behavior. It is best practice to evaluate these keywords anonymously, so don’t forget to logout before you check.

In the example below, you can see the manufacturer telling the consumers to buy the original product direct from the manufacturer.

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The ad copy (“Buy the Original Product – From the Actual Manufacturer”) is a very smart approach to differentiate themselves from other people claiming to make this product.

Who has time to constantly monitor brand keywords?

Even if you are logged out and searching from different geo-locations, you will never catch all the violators by hand. I recommend using a 3rd-party tool that will automatically report these violators to the search engines.

There are several companies offering tools that help you monitor trademark and brands in PPC, as you can see when you search Google.

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By adding your trademark, brand and product keywords into these tools, you get the ad intelligence you need to take appropriate action.

Importantly, you receive a screen shot of the search result, along with the location, time and date of the search. This provides the necessary evidence to contact the violators to take down these ads, or to contact the engines themselves.

Yes, the engines have their own process for receiving violations from brand holders, and taking action. Some of these third-party tools also allow you to submit the violations, with all the proof, directly to the right contact at each engine. This has become the most popular way to deal with violations.

If successful in removing ads, your clicks and profitability will increase

It’s basic PPC economics 101 that with less competition, more people will click on your ads, or at least on your authorized reseller’s ads.

A recent case study showed how a brand holder received a 34% lift in clicks after removing violators from their branded campaigns. Yes please, may I have some more of that!

Case Study: Benefits of PPC brand protection

As promised, here is a detailed case study of how this strategy boosted overall campaign performance for Avery Office Supplies. After removing unwanted competitors from their brand terms, this office supply company quickly realized these gains:

  • Brand CPCs decreased by 64%
  • Clicks increased 34%
  • Total campaign costs dropped by 51%

Can you image getting these results just from eliminating brand bidders?

How to evaluate the issues and laws in your industry

Lori Weiman, CEO of The Search Monitor, has written several articles educating the search marketing industry on the brand bidding problem and outlining the legal implications. Her company has a competitive intelligence and brand compliance tool that monitors ads and helps catch brand-bidding violators.

Their data shows the extent of the problem, that 55% of affiliates are brand bidding and 29% are URL hijackers.

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DEFINITIONS:

Brand bidding occurs when an advertiser bids on a brand keyword, or uses your brand in ad copy. Competitors and Affiliates will use your brand plus keywords which include several long tail keywords you might not be monitoring. Some advertisers allow their affiliates to brand bid on their behalf.

URL hijacking occurs when an unauthorized advertiser uses your URL as the Display URL of the ad (and sometimes changes the ad copy too!), and then directs search traffic through links that you did not approve.

Note that URL Hijackers are also guilty of brand bidding, so they are counted in both the Bidders and Hijackers categories.

Enforcement options

What are your legal responses if you detect unwelcome competition or violators? To enforce compliance against competitors and affiliates, Weiman reports that you have three main options: 1) Search engine complaints; 2) Pacts or agreements; and 3) Lawsuits.

Search engine complaints

Filing a complaint with Google or Bing is the recommended option because it’s cheap (free to file) and easy, especially if you use an ad monitoring platform to automatically detect and file the complaints on your behalf. Before you get super-excited, however, there are some limitations:

  • Protected items: Only registered trademarks are protected.
  • Allowed items: Generally, each engine deals with trademark infringement as follows:
    • Brand bidding: Anyone can bid on your name.
    • Ad copy use: Not allowed(with a few exceptions). Fair use rules allow resellers, affiliates, reviewers and news outlets to use your name in ad copy.
    • Destination URL use: Competitors can use your name as a sub-domain or sub-page. While the engines allow this, it does not mean that the law allows it. The more confusingly similar a URL is to the brand holder’s, the stronger the brand holder’s case becomes from a legal standpoint.
  • Pacts and agreements

    Another method to enforce protection is with agreements. Agreements give you stronger and more reliable legal recourse than just complaining to the engines.

  • Competitive pacts:Some industries have gotten together, and competitors have formed written pacts where they have specifically agreed not to brand bid. These written agreements list in detail the allowed and prohibited activity, as well as enforcement proceedings should they be violated, which typically come with a financial price tag.
  • Affiliate agreements:If you have affiliates or partners, your affiliate agreement should detail the allowed and disallowed brand bidding activity, along with notice rules and financial ramifications for any violations. The swiftness and harshness of your action should match the conduct, which includes:
    • Direct linkers.This harmful advertising practice should be dealt with swiftly, since someone is hijacking your brand outright. Actions should include financial withholding and termination of the relationship.
    • Unauthorized affiliates.Affiliates who brand bid without authorization are mucking up your strategies. Actions should include notice with cure periods, financial ramifications and eventual termination if the behavior is repetitive and material.
    • Authorized affiliates.Super-affiliates should be handled more gently, with kinder notices that build upon themselves and provide cure periods. Financial repercussions and termination should only be used as last resorts.
  • Reseller agreements:If you are a manufacturer, you likely have strict rules regarding sensationalized copy, minimum advertised price (MAP) compliance and brand bidding. Your agreements should detail these rules and the ramifications for not following them.
  • Lawsuits

    A lawsuit based on trademark infringement should be your last resort. Trademark lawsuits are expensive and challenging to win (as noted earlier). The caveat is if you have a pact or agreement that prohibits brand bidding, and you have proof of the advertising activity through date/time stamped screen shots, then you have a stronger chance for victory.

    Final thoughts on brand protection

    Your branded campaigns are typically your most profitable PPC campaigns and unfortunately your competitors and unscrupulous affiliates know this. They have a strong financial incentive to use them to steal your high-converting clicks and build their own brand.

    If you’re not vigilant to their actions, aggressively protecting this valuable asset with the process and tools I’ve discussed above, you’re basically giving them the green light to continue. Don’t make it this easy for them.

    If you’re already protecting your brand in paid search, please share your strategy, tools, or examples of how brand protection has helped drive PPC profits for you.

    Jamie Smith is the CEO of Campaign Watch and a contributor to SEW. You can connect with Jamie on LinkedIn or Twitter.

    How to become the intelligence thought leader for your organisation

    For executives, keeping up to date with trends and events in your industry is crucial in order to ensure that your business and its strategy remains relevant.

    It can be a major challenge however, with constraints on time and so many sources of information to choose from. It’s easy to see why many senior executives simply don’t have the time to perform the detailed research tasks necessary to make sense of all this information.

    It’s important to overcome this challenge though, as things can move so quickly and being on top of trends is key for executives.

    It’s also very important to ensure that the whole company is also up to date. For this, executives need to become the thought-leaders within their own organisations, disseminating ideas and providing inspiration for ideas to develop.

    Simply distributing updates isn’t enough though, effective thought-leadership is also about engaging people, adding value, and encouraging people to take new perspectives.

    It’s also important to consider the best channels to distribute information to achieve the greatest effect and to encourage people to share and discuss.

    Nick Gregg, CEO of EditorEye, on the best approaches:

    “Two approaches work in organisations, email and collaboration. Email is still the most effective channel to reach your audience, using mobile-friendly curated briefings but keeping this to just a few key stories, and being careful to avoid overload.

    “Collaboration is also key. At its simplest this means making it easy to share articles or alternatively central applications or apps for posting and commenting on content. Either way, getting to the right insights is vital.”

    Ensuring that the right processes are in place within an organisation matters here. Emails are useful but can also be easily overlooked in busy inboxes. This is why it’s important to ensure that the collaboration happens, and that ideas sent through in emails are digested and discussed.

    This is another important role that the thought leader has to play. It’s not just about disseminating ideas but also about ensuring that real debate takes place around these themes and that, ultimately, information is translated into ideas and actions.