What is game theory and can it be applied to PPC marketing?


1-800 Contacts is in trouble because it was applying game theory to improve their PPC results.

The contact lens company allegedly struck deals that prevented rivals from bidding on PPC ads on Google and Bing using their trademarked terms and variants.

According to the FTC complaint:

“Beginning in 2004, 1-800 Contacts secured agreements with at least fourteen competing online sellers of contact lenses providing that the parties would not bid against one another in certain search advertising auctions.”

The FTC is concerned because these reciprocal agreements could have resulted in reduced price competition in search auctions, higher prices for consumers, and misleading search ads.

But… these agreements happen all the time

Companies often make deals with each other to avoid bidding on each other’s terms. The result is lower costs and less competition. Such agreements make a ton of sense for all parties involved.

Game theory is ultimately about how individual participants in a marketplace can cooperate to their mutual benefit.

None of this should be shocking. It’s actually commonplace.

As long as I’ve been doing search marketing, there have been agreements between two or more larger competitors in a space, though perhaps not in writing.

While it sounds like 1-800 Contacts struck more formal deals, it’s also easy to forge an informal understanding.

For example, let’s say I notice someone is advertising using WordStream brand terms. I could call up that advertiser and say, “Hey, we’re in the same industry, how about you knock this off? And, as a courtesy, I won’t start poaching your brand terms.”

Usually it’s as simple as that. You come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Think of it like boxing. There are agreed-upon rules, such as no hitting below the belt. But if you go out and start punching your opponent in the crotch, you can bet he’s going to hit you back with low blows!

AdWords & game theory

The branded search term is just another way to say “customers.” Company A agrees it won’t advertise on Company B’s brand terms on AdWords, thus going after its customers. In exchange, Company B won’t bid on Company A’s brand terms and chase after its customers via paid search.

This is simplified game theory as applied to PPC marketing.

Over the last couple years, new ad technologies have made this type of collusion far more effective. I’m talking 10 to 100x more effective!

Three disclaimers:

Before going forward, I need to make three things clear:

  • Consult a lawyer: I am not a lawyer. If, for any reason, you feel the urge to go talk to competitors about any of this stuff, seek professional legal advice.
  • Check the AdWords T&Cs: I’ve checked the AdWords terms and conditions and didn’t find anything I discuss here to be in violation of their policies. However, I’m not 100% sure on this point so, again, proceed at your own risk and consult a lawyer.
  • This is all THEORETICAL: I’ve NEVER actually done any of what is discussed below myself. I just think it’s interesting to think about.
  • With that out of the way, let’s look at two examples of applying game theory to the AdWords auction.

    PPC game theory strategy #1: non-competitive audience targeting

    Customer match and RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads) enable more efficient ways to split up the pool of available search queries that are most interesting to competitors.

    For example, let’s take Verizon and AT&T. These tech rivals spent more than $6 billion on advertising in 2015.

    Let’s say Verizon targets AT&T’s brand terms. Doing this wins them 100,000 AT&T customers. AT&T retaliates, targeting Verizon’s brand terms. They convert 100,000 customers from Verizon.

    This is kind of crazy, right? Neither company is any better off in such a scenario. Both AT&T and Verizon are out millions of dollars in ad spend only to end up back where they started.

    Imagine if these two tech behemoths could come to a deal where AT&T has an unlimited search keyword list and Verizon has an unlimited search keyword list. But AT&T will only go after people in its remarketing audience if Verizon only goes after people in their remarketing audience.

    The power of RLSA lets brands cherry-pick their best people of the total pool of search queries – these are (a) the users that are 2-3x more likely to click:

    And (b) 2-3x more likely to convert to a customer, too:


    Note: The data sources for the graphs above are three large WordStream clients advertising in the US for a 90-day period in Q2 and Q3 of 2016. We targeted the same keywords with and without RSLA, all other campaign elements remaining the same. We didn’t aggregate data across our client base because it’s hard to compared conversion rates across different industries with different offers.

    It’s the most efficient and fair way to split up the pie of available search queries. Sure, there might be some overlap between audiences, but it would be substantially less than 100%.

    And that’s exactly what brands are doing when they run vanilla (non-RLSA) search advertising campaigns. For example, when someone searches Google for “cell phone” that person may have a strong affinity for a certain provider – if that person isn’t already biased toward your brand, then what could you hope to get from that ad impression?

    Previously, I’ve advocated for advertisers in ridiculously competitive niches to dump vanilla search altogether and only do RLSA campaigns, then divert the “savings” towards cheaper, more leveraged remarketing cookie-pool growth strategies like social and display advertising. If you can convince your competitors to do the same, you’ll both be better off.

    Again, this is all just theoretical. I don’t have an actual case study. But in theory, advertisers could greatly benefit by expanding the scope of non-competitive targeting schemes to include audiences.

    PPC game theory strategy #2: customer exclusionary targeting

    Another way to apply game theory to AdWords is with exclusionary targeting. All of the talk about customer match email targeting has been about how an advertiser can target their existing customers and prospects.

    This same technology could conversely be used by a competitor to exclude their campaigns from going after your existing clients.

    For this one you most certainly would want a third party to facilitate the transaction, such as when you have an escrow account for a transaction between two parties.

    Continuing to use AT&T and Verizon as our theoretical example, AT&T agrees to upload its customer list of emails into Verizon’s AdWords account. Verizon does the same with its customer list.

    Both companies agree to exclude those people when targeting their AdWords campaigns.

    By doing this, both AT&T and Verizon could avoid wasting so much money on these customers, while simultaneously substantially relieving upwards pressure on keyword bids for everyone else in the niche. Again, hitting each other below the belt is just so stupid and wasteful.

    Theoretically, game theory benefits everyone

    These are just two examples of how one might apply game theory to the AdWords auction.

    Basically, this approach benefits everyone in the niche. Not only does it benefit the two (or more) parties that work together, but it also benefits everyone else in that niche because there will be substantially less pressure on auction dynamics.

    Remember, the price you pay per click is directly proportional to what other advertisers were willing to pay for that same keyword.


    Just as one advertiser can screw up a niche with irrational bidding, the reduction in bid pressure by splitting up inventory based on audiences through non-competitive or exclusionary targeting would have the opposite effect.

    In the most competitive industries, if just the top two or three companies in a vertical agreed to such deals, they might all come out way ahead.

    What do you think?

    This article is an abridged version of Larry Kim’s original post on WordStream.

    Five common website redesign and rebranding mistakes to avoid

    searchmetrics compare

    Far too often I see brands migrating over to a new web design or new domain name without considering their current SEO standing, and therefore completely undermining all their previous efforts which helped them become an authority figure in their industry.

    There is a lot of pre-planning and execution needed from an SEO perspective to ensure a website retains the keyword rankings and organic traffic you have built up in the past.

    Using the SearchMetrics compare tool, you can see over time how successful a redesign or rebrand is, an example of a poorly executed domain switch, would look like this:

    (brand name excluded, as I don’t want to name & shame!)

    This is not what you want, this brand launched on a new domain, as part of their re-brand. As you can see they have not maintained all of their keyword rankings.

    Ideally, when re-branding or changing the structure of the website, you want to maintain or even grow your search visibility, a good example of this is:

    searchmetrics compare tool

    To prevent keyword losses & organic drops, see below for common mistakes to avoid when rebranding/redesigning your website.

    Alternatively download our checklist on the Zazzle Media website (registration required) to help you with your redesign/rebrand.

    zazzle media tool

    1) Not benchmarking

    First things first, how are you going to measure the success of your redesign/rebrand if you don’t benchmark your current performance within search? I would recommend getting the following data before launching:

    • Average organic sessions over the past 12 months
    • Average organic users over the past 12 months
    • Average organic bounce rate over the past 12 months
    • Average organic order value over the past 12 months if applicable
    • Average organic revenue over the past 12 months if applicable
    • Current rankings within the top 3, 10 & 20 using SEMRush
    • Current search visibility score using SearchMetrics

    You can then compare these figures over the coming months once launched to track performance accurately.

    Bonus tips:

    • Grab a crawl of the current website using Screaming Frog.
    • If you are moving to a new domain, get a landing page on it and make it crawable for Google.
    • Setup Search Console for all of the domains & different variations, for example: example.com, www.example.com, https://www.example.com, https://example.com.

    2) Removing sections/categories off the website

    It is so important you have a clear structure of the new website early on. This is so you can estimate if you are going to lose any organic traffic based on any landing pages you are going to get rid of, so it is not a surprise when you relaunch.

    If you are planning on removing any sections of your website on the redesign/rebrand, you can view how much traffic you could potentially lose by looking in Google Analytics:

    Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages

    behaviour in analytics

    If you get the average sessions and users over 12 months for the section you are going to remove, then subtract this figure from the previous benchmarking figures, you can then forecast organic traffic figures when launching.

    3) Messing up redirects

    Once you have a clear view of how the new website will look, you need to map out the old website to the new website, a clear way to do this, is to set this out in an excel spreadsheet.

    In our checklist, we have created an apache server redirect file template, which will generate the code needed to put in your htaccess file when launching, all you need to do is input the old URL & where it should redirect to & the code will be generated in the end column.

    Important: Do not redirect everything to the homepage, make the redirects, as relevant as possible, this will help pass previous page rank & rankings more effectively.

    zazzle redirect tool

    Avoid redirect chains, for example when you crawl the website using screaming frog, download the redirect chain report, for example:

    screaming frog

    This will allow you redirect each URL to the correct place to eliminate Google spending time crawling through all the URLs to find the final one.

    4) Removing keyword optimisation

    Another problem that often occurs is that when a brand launches a new website, all the previous keyword optimisation on the title tags, header tags, content, alt tags and meta descriptions are removed.

    Ensure you have a clear keyword mapping strategy in place when relaunching, you should know which pages you want to rank for which keywords.

    You can use your previous benchmarking export of SEMRush to help you understand your keyword priorities.

    Then you can use your previous Screaming Frog export to see all of the necessary meta data that needed to be transferred to the new page.

    5) Don’t remove or change your Google Analytics code!

    Use the same GA code on your new website, as you need to compare data when launching. Instead of creating a new Google Analytics profile update the address when you launch, by going to admin > property settings:

    property settings

    What to do when launching!

    So you have a redirect & keyword strategy in place for the new website, you have done development testing and everything is good to go, now it is time to launch onto the live website! Here are some tasks to do to ensure nothing falls through the cracks:

    First of all, run the old Screaming Frog crawl make sure all of the redirects are working as expected.

    Then run a crawl on live website, to find any internal 404 errors that might need updating, you can do this by going to: Bulk Export > Response Codes > Client Error (4XX) Inlinks

    screaming frog inlinks

    To ensure Google can crawl the website correctly, I would recommend doing a fetch & render on each type of page on your website, for example homepage, category page, sub category page and product page.

    You do this by going to Search Console > Crawl > Fetch As Google

    fetch as google

    Then click into the result to see how Googlebot & Visitors can see the page, make sure you are not blocking any important javascript of CSS.

    googlebot rendering

    You can check the fetching tab for more information on the rendering, Google will tell you if there are any obvious issues like a noindex tag or x-robots tag blocking your website.


    Once the website is launched, to pick up any errors straight away, you can use Google Real Time to find 404 errors your users are finding, you do this by going on:

    Real Time > Content > Page Views (Last 30 mins)

    live on page GA

    Next, submit the new sitemap within Search Console, by going to:

    Crawl > Sitemaps > Add/Test Sitemap

    add test sitemap

    Once you are happy with the launch and fixed all of the initial bugs which are bound to happen, you should submit a change of Address in Google: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/83106?hl=en

    request address change

    Finally, put an annotation within Google analytics when you launch, so you can easily see when you switched over to a new domain or new design.

    sessions GA


    Taking these steps will give you the best chances to retain all of your rankings and organic traffic when changing your website or domain name. I hope this has given you some tips to include when you are relaunching a website, download our checklist to help further.

    Q&A: ESPforMe’s Scott Rummler on how the future of search may all be in your mind

    ESPforMe logo

    What do you imagine is the future of search?

    Voice… for sure. Machine learning alogrithms… certainly. Super-intelligent personal assistants that know your next move before you make it… probably.

    But what about search powered by your own brainwaves?

    Surprisingly, that may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

    I recently caught up with Scott Rummler the creator of the world’s first web-based brainwave application, ESPforMe. It allows a user with an EEG headset to perform basic search functions remotely over the web, which he claims is a “major milestone, offering a completely unique mode of interaction that uses thoughts alone.”

    Understandably, I had a few questions for Scott around the practical implications of ESPforMe and its place in the future of search…

    Can you please describe what ESPforMe does?

    ESPforMe plugs your brain into the web. It’s a new way of interacting with the web that uses brainwaves instead of typing and clicking. You can use it to explore the web using thoughts alone.

    When you visit the site, and put on an EEG/brainwave headset, you will see search results change and update depending on what you are thinking, your mood, level of focus, and other factors. The product is in an early stage but has basic functionality allowing you to browse web content.


    What was your inspiration?

    I’ve always thought the web was for exploration and discovery. My library science professor used to bring in things to show that search was about surprise- declassified documents, pornography, and banned books. It seemed like search engines were censoring the web by recycling the most popular content. So a new way to do search seemed like a good moonshot challenge for my startup incubator, The Brooklyn Tech Loft.

    Is this just an experiment to see if you can achieve such a thing, or does it solve a genuine problem?

    It is an attempt to do something new – the first Web-based EEG app, the first brainwave search engine. Hopefully that research will lead to more practical things.

    It already has some practical uses:

    • Explore the web in a new, customized way using brainwaves.
    • Brainwave market research [through our sister company cerepath.com].
    • You can browse the web with search results unfettered by advertising.
    • You can easily browse related and also surprising content without entering a new search, by dragging the adjustable widget on the site.
    • Integration of social networking content into search results.

    What do you hope to achieve with ESPforMe? Is there a commercial goal?

    We hope to increase our user base and monetization over time as the product becomes more robust. We can increase the amount of content, and show readable content not just search results.

    CerePath is rolling out as a paid service, using ESPforMe for focus groups. ESPforMe.com gives paid users the ability to embed comments in the search results themselves. We have found a way to show ads in a more engaging way. Currently this is free. When you sign up you can promote any site and it will appear in the ‘related’ section.

    Where would you like to be in one, three and five years’ time?

    In one year, we’d like to make the technology more robust so it can solve more problems. Also we’d like to get into EEG headset/wearables manufacturing.

    In one to three years we’d like to expand into related products. EEG applications for music listening and Internet of Things are already in the concept stage.

    In five years, maybe some new thing will be incorporated. I don’t know what it will be. Biological computing?

    Explain to me how the technology works like I’m a layman…

    Go to espforme.com, download the plugin, plug in the USB ‘Dongle’, and don your EEG/Brainwave headset. Current setup is for Mac only, and you have to contact us for a license, but that is changing.

    There are training buttons on the site that you use to associate thoughts with words and actions. When you press a button, ‘visualize’ the results you want, and save the session, the application will remember the associations and use them as the foundation of your future interactions with the Web.

    You are then able to dynamically update the site based on your thoughts, mood, etc. This is done by a complex series of mappings between the headset, training engine, plugin, dongle, custom coding, user interface, and underlying search engine. And the whole thing learns and improves with more usage. And your ability to focus and impact the EEG output does too!

    What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

    The main challenge is conveying that the ‘hard’ part – adding features to make the product more useful – is eminently doable, easier than what we’ve done so far. We just need an infusion of cash as this is going through my incubator, The Brooklyn Tech Loft. We are the little guy with the audacity to disrupt Google on a shoestring.

    Also, people think I’m kidding or am an ESP nut. I view E4M as a fun, interesting, innovative, useful technology. Not mystical or weird, not as invasive as typing all your personal information into Facebook.

    We are so far ahead of the curve that we are trying to convert a research technology license into a public facing product, which is an issue with the headset manufacturer Emotiv. The headsets are expensive but a cheaper version is in the works.

    What do think the state of search will be like in the near future? Is there a place for ESPforMe?

    Traditional search will trend downward and EEG tools will trend up. Today’s search engines will be like paper telephone books. ESPforMe will present customized mind blowing information without any effort on the user’s part. Whether that happens in one year or 10 will depend on whether there is some major event, a tech crash, or maybe widespread advertising blockers.

    Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences for ecommerce: segment before you build

    lookalike audiences on facebook

    One of the most efficient types of targeting in Facebook (second to retargeting, of course) is lookalike audience targeting.

    Lookalike targeting is basically a targeting type that allows you to use first party data (e.g. customer lists, remarketing lists, etc.) as a seed audience to find new users with very similar characteristics, behaviors, and traits.

    It’s applicable for all business models (B2B, B2C, EDU, etc.), but in this post, we’ll lock in on best practices for ecommerce.

    When using lookalike targeting, the audience you select as your seed audience is extremely important. Essentially, you want to make sure you are developing audience lists from your best-performing audience.

    For example, if you had an option to choose between people who signed up for a free trial of your product or people who actually purchased your product, you should start off with the audience that has actually purchased the product; these are the users driving revenue to your business, and you need to find more users like those.

    Okay so now that we know we want to target our customers, are we ready to get started and build lookalike audiences? Nope! Hang tight, especially if you have a large customer base.

    Step 1: Create smart segments

    If you’ve got a ton of user data to pull from, use it to segment your base into groups with definable characteristics. This helps you tailor creative, messaging, and bidding with far more precision.

    When it comes to ecommerce, there are three fundamentals ways you should look to segment your users:

  • Average Order Value (AOV): Say you sell a variety of different products, from high-end/expensive items to affordable accessories. Segmenting out your 1st-party data by AOV allows you to better understand the audiences who can afford to go after your more expensive product vs. those who are looking for a bargain.
  • Product Category: If you sell multiple different types of products, you’ll want to split out your customers by the product categories they have purchased (e.g. women’s handbags, women’s apparel, etc.). This allows us to better tailor content when running our ads.
  • Lifetime Value (LTV): Segmenting audiences by LTV helps you create audiences of users who will most likely be repeat purchasers/loyal customers vs. those who will tend to just buy a few items for their more immediate Separating the two groups will allow you to bid accordingly as you see performance kick in.
  • Step 2: Build your lookalikes

    So now it’s time to build out your lookalike audiences, which range from 1% – 10%. What this means is that the 1% are audiences closest in similarities, traits, and behaviors as your seed audience, and it contains only those users, which restricts scale. The 10% audience is the least similar – but it’s also the biggest pool.

    The way you’ll want to set up your campaign is by building ad sets for each segment. So let’s say you chose to segment your first party data by AOV; your setup would look like this:

    • Ad set 1: LAL 1% of AOV>300
    • Ad set 2: LAL 1% of 300>AOV>100
    • Ad set 3: LAL 1% of 100>AOV

    Step 3: Customize the experience for each segment

    So here is why segmenting out your audiences can be so strong – now we can truly tailor the creative messaging and user experience for each audience.

    For example, for the high-AOV audience, we would want to show creative with more expensive products and customize messaging to promote high quality, etc. We would then want to send users to a landing page geared around these more expensive product types.

    For the low-AOV audience, we would want creative showcasing more affordable products and would tailor messaging around discounts and deals.

    Again, we want to ensure we aren’t sending these users to landing pages with expensive products, as they will bounce. So we choose the landing page destinations accordingly.

    Lookalike targeting is a great way to make the most of Facebook’s thousands of data points on its users and get in front of the right core audience.

    However, to truly make it successful for ecommerce, it’s critical to craft the right strategy, segment out your first party data smartly, and tailor your messaging, creative, and user experience accordingly.

    Online-only retailers are growing faster than multichannels

    sales stats

    New research show a disparity in sales growth between pure-play online retailers and their multichannel counterparts.

    IMRG stats show that between January and June this year, while multichannel retailers (those with a high street/store presence) grew sales by 9.5%, the figure was 24.8% for online-only (defined as those with at least 80% of sales coming from online channels).

    The stats

    That said, the stats show that multichannel retailers were initially performing more strongly than the pure-plays from when IMRG starting tracking this in 2010, recording stronger sales growth.

    Since 2012, online-only retailers have experienced greater growth than mutichannels, Since 2015 the disparity in growth rates has been even greater, with the pure-plays now experiencing a 23 point ‘advantage’ over multichannels in terms of growth rates.

    This trend continues into the first half of 2016, with online-only retailers growing sales at three times that of multichannels.

    Why the disparity?

    Well, the obvious answer is the greater operational costs in staff, rents and other resources, of maintaining a network of stores. This is the big advantage that online-only retailers enjoy, and it’s clearly a big factor in these stats.

    The report also suggests mobile as a factor, with online-only retailers tending to have a greater proportion of sales coming from apps and mobile sites.

    • Data from Netmera shows that, for pure-plays, mobile accounts for between 45-61% of revenue, with apps accounting for 30-40% of this figure.
    • For multichannel retailers, mobile accounts for between 20-40% of revenue, with just 6-24% of total online revenue coming through apps.

    Then again, it seems likely that, with the choice of just web or mobile, customers of online-only retailers are likely to use mobile more. Whereas customers of a retailer like John Lewis will often eschew mobile or web in favour of visiting a store.

    It could also be argued that pure plays have a greater amount of time and resources to devote to mobile offerings, something which has clearly been a key growth area for ecommerce.

    The stats also generalise, naturally. What would be interesting to see is which multichannels are bucking this trend and growing faster than the average.

    For example, retailers like Schuh and House of Fraser have excellent mobile sites which match any from pure-plays, and also have the advantage of offering click and collect and other convenient delivery options.

    Our new report, DNA of a Great M-Commerce Site Part 2: The 12 Pillars of Mobile Design, looks at each of this pillars in great detail, containing tips for improvement, and contributions from Home Depot, Somo and more.

    Seven tools to help build relationships and increase your sales


    The sales process is all about nurturing long-term relationships and building trust, and luckily there are some great tools to help!

    There is no magic spell for better sales, no matter how much we wish there were. Likewise there is no special set of words, prospect investigation device, or rated handshake that is going to get someone to buy your products.

    Good old connections are pretty much all you have to go on. That includes relationship building, which is one of the most important factors in gaining long-term customers who will come to you again and again.

    Here are seven tools that can help you build those relationships and increase your sales.

    1. Salesmate

    Salesmate creates and organizes a solid ground for your relationship by collecting all kinds of interactions you have had with your lead. Additionally, it saves you time entering the data by automatically generating and cross-referencing details and interaction history between lists and databases.

    It’s also one of the most affordable sales management tools available, so give it a try!

    2. Rapportive


    Get information on your contacts right in your Gmail through Rapportive. They connect through contact information to LinkedIn profiles, and show the latest info on each prospect. You will get a picture, work information, former work information, and more. All right there in your Gmail account.

    It is a super easy way to customize your communications, by drawing out any relevant information that you may want to include in your message. You would be surprised by what a difference those personal touches make.

    3. Charlie App

    Charlie App

    Want even more info? Charlie App is an amazing tool that will do all the contact research on your prospects for you, and then create a report for you to use. I love using this one before meetings, where there are multiple people involved in the process.

    You can get your report, be prepared when you walk in, and impress them with your extensive knowledge on who they are, what they do, and even their latest social media posts. It is a great way to personalize meetings, and be on the right foot the moment you enter the door.

    4. Intercom


    Convert people right from your website using Intercom‘s live chat feature. Communicate in the long term with those customers to keep them happy. Give awesome customer service from the same platform.

    The entire point of this tool is to make your customers feel valued and individually catered to. No automated CRM’s, no bots, just one on one communication between your team and the people who make your business grow.

    5. Calendly


    Wouldn’t it be nice if you could let your prospects pick the best time to meet, while still meeting your busy schedule? Calendly is just that magical tool. It lets you set your availability, then link anyone. They can pick a time that works best for them, and set a meeting when you are able to have one.

    Then it automatically adds that meeting to your calendar so you never have a scheduling faux pas. Your whole team can use this tool and better manage their meetings and appointments, whether they are in person, on the phone, or online.

    6. Click Meeting

    Click Meeting

    Click Meeting lets you set up sales meeting and demo calls easily. It integrates with numerous apps including Youtube, Google Calendar and more. You can get analytics and other important data on your meetings. They also offer free mobile apps which is so important these days.

    While it might cost a bit, it is worth it if you are serious about offering audio and video conference calls. You don’t want to blow a sale because you were trying to connect over Skype and kept dropping the call.

    7. Boomerang


    One of the most annoying things about Gmail is that they still don’t have a feature that allows you to schedule emails to be sent at a later date. If you want to do that, you have to have another tool. Luckily Boomerang is there.

    It is a Chrome extension that lets you schedule those messages, as well as ‘postpone’ messages until a later time that you aren’t ready to have in your inbox. So that message you got after hours that you know will drive you crazy if it is sitting in your inbox, taunting you? Hide it with a click!

    Do you have any tools to add? Anything that helps build relationships for sales teams? Let us know in the comments!

    How content marketers and SEO experts can optimize for RankBrain

    blue rankbrain

    Around October 2015, Google announced it would be using artificial intelligence to help deliver its search results. This machine-learning AI system is called RankBrain.

    Since RankBrain uses machine-learning AI, it learns by itself, consuming web pages and search queries by the second with the intent of delivering the best and most relevant results to users.

    You need to understand that this is an addition to Google’s algorithm and not an algorithm update such as Hummingbird, Penguin, etc. In fact, it is reported that RankBrain is now Google’s third most important signal contributing to search queries and results.

    So, with a very good understanding of RankBrain, how do you optimize your content for the future of SEO?

    #1: Understand machine learning and how RankBrain works

    Artificial Intelligence is taking over, robots are here to stay. Machine learning is where a computer is self-taught over time. Artificial intelligence is where a computer can be as smart as a human being, in the sense of acquiring knowledge from building on what it knows and making new connections which is what RankBrain is doing.

    RankBrain accepts a search query either through text or a voice command then crawls through the billions of pages it has access to and delivers the results calculated to be the most relevant to that particular query.

    #2. Content creation for humans

    SEO is being humanized. You need to have a grasp of creating quality content in a natural language. Once your content has a clear purpose and language, humans can understand and absorb your content then the same goes for search engines.

    Content marketers should visit their buyer’s persona now more than ever and create content for specific audiences. Since RankBrain is helping Google’s search engine deliver more appropriate results then your content should have the following:

    • Answer problems your target audience are having and may search for solutions online.
    • Your content should cover the topics ultimately including references and supporting information
    • Dump keyword focusing and include a natural language to convey your topic.
    • Focus on search term frequency within the content and the importance of those terms to that content

    #3: Develop content with voice search in mind

    Create content that considers how people would search for it using voice commands.

    RankBrain was developed to display the most relevant results for search queries which have limited data to work with which includes vague or uninterpretable requests and this is where voice search comes in.

    By taking into consideration the natural language and ambiguous requests made through voice search, you can include user targeting and voice query matching into your content creation process.

    #4: Links, links, and links!

    To get a competitive advantage with RankBrain and search engine results, links should never be overlooked. Links make one of the top three most important ranking signals in search results according to Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google.

    With hundreds of Google ranking factors related directly to content, including links within your content would build trust with your readers and showcase external relevancy to that piece of content.

    In your content creation process, include references and links to high authority sources, adding links and excerpts from industry experts would help search engines translate the purpose of your content and make your content useful and credible to your target audience.

    When including links to content the following should be taken into consideration:

    • Domain Authority (DA) plays a major role
    • Place quality before quantity
    • Would the audience be interested in the link?
    • Relevance to topic

    #5: Think beyond keyword optimization and stuffing

    With the addition of RankBrain and recent trends of SEO being humanized, content marketers and SEO experts should forget about keyword optimization and focus on search term frequency and relevance.

    According to Steve Baldwin, RankBrain uses co-occurrence to help deliver the most relevant results to users. And according to Wikipedia, co-occurrence is the frequency in which terms or related groups of words appear in a given material.

    So to effectively optimize your content for RankBrain, certain terms or related groups of terms should appear more often. Use semantically related terms, co-occurrence and RankBrain will give your content higher priority.

    A perfect example can be found in the images below:

    rankbrain search example

    Analyzing the first result to determine why it ranked shows that priority was given to the content because semantically related terms and co-occurrence was used in the article by QuickSprout as shown below.

    rankbrain keywords

    In the image above, synonyms for boosting sales was sprinkled in the article. Semantically related terms and co-occurrence together with other ranking signals allows RankBrain to give this content priority and determine its relevance to the search query.


    #6: Revisit old content

    Armed with the information above, visit, optimize and improve your old content for the future of SEO, which is artificial intelligence and machine learning.

    Edit your content for clarity, natural language, link placement and buyer persona search terms. Remember, pay little attention to keywords.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on RankBrain and your tactics in optimizing so far.

    Nikolay Stoyanov is one of Bulgaria’s top SEO experts with more than eight years of practicing SEO and a contributor to SEW.

    Five most important search marketing news stories of the week


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

    This week we have possible bad news for AMP users and good news for AdWords customers who are tired of its UI.

    Facebook begins thwarting ad blockers

    As Al Roberts reported this week, Facebook has announced that it’s changing its desktop ads to thwart ad blocking software.

    For those who wish to complain about the amount of ads on Facebook, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s Ads & Business Platform VP, had this to say, “Facebook is ad-supported. Ads are a part of the Facebook experience; they’re not a tack on.”

    So, nyah.

    However Bosworth makes clear that Facebook has worked hard to introduce tools to help people control their experience, improve how they decide which ads to show and Facebook has created new ad formats that “complement, rather than detract from, people’s experience online.”

    Are you using Facebook’s many ad controls? Do you even know they exist? Did you know that you can choose not to see those ads for hoodies that AMAZINGLY have your family name written on them!?

    55% of searchers don’t recognise paid ads in Google SERPS

    New research from Varn, that comes off the back of a fresh round of Google SERP changes, suggests that more than half of all searchers still can’t distinguish between paid and organic results.

    As reported by Graham Charlton this week, the results are also split by age, with the general trend being that the younger you are, the more likely it is that you’ll spot the ads. Though almost 50% of 25 to 34s still can’t distinguish between paid and organic, despite the paid results being labelled as such.

    Google AMP may be leading to lower CTR

    Google is rolling out its ‘accelerated mobile pages’ beyond the Top Stories in mobile SERPs, and this has lead some people to see lower click-through rates on results.

    Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Roundtable has seen a lower CTR from AMP pages and Glenn Gabe of G-Squared Interactive speculates that this could be due to the fact that users don’t understand what AMP means…

    “Looking back the demo and seeing both AMP icons + mobile-friendly tags, I couldn’t help but think that the average user might understand mobile-friendly way more than AMP with a lightning bolt. And if that’s the case, wouldn’t that yield mediocre results for amplified pages in the search results (at least in the short-term)? And couldn’t that possibly lead to even more click through to mobile-friendly pages versus amplified pages?”

    As Al Roberts reports, Gabe created a quick poll that asked respondents if they knew what AMP referred to. Here are the results:


    Perhaps Google should’ve spent more time educating its users, rather than panicking webmasters.

    Google Now to deliver more ‘personalised’ results

    As reported by Matt Southern from Search Engine Journal, Google’s personal virtual assistant Google NOW is experimenting with a new feature to bring you more content you care about…

    “Explore Interests” lets users identify their interests from six different categories: Sports, TV, Movies, Musicians, People, and Stocks. Then you can get more detailed by selecting your favourite sports teams, favorite musicians, etc.

    Google will then deliver new content from those interests directly to you in the form of a Google Now card. As Matt says, “Theoretically you can have all the content you’re interested in delivered to you without you having to search for it.”

    New look Google AdWords is rolling out to users right now

    Google has confirmed to Search Engine Land that the new look AdWords is gradually being rolled out to users from this week.


    The changes are purely aesthetic, rather than a complete overhaul, but it does bring AdWords – which was beginning to look quite dated – in line with its other, newer products.

    Peer content: when marketing meets care


    Marketing and customer care intersect at peer content, which results in more interaction on social. Something that too many marketers treat and measure like TV.

    As I listened to various presenters at a recent conference in New York, one striking observation jumped out at me: the unanswered demand for scalable engagement built on peer versus brand content.

    As further evidence of the developing connection between marketing and care, a sweet spot for the Useful Social Media events, the use of peer content in a marketing campaign is what’s next.

    Marketers have established tools for digital publishing; successful campaigns across both social and email were referenced during the conference. Missing was the integration of those campaigns deep into the organization.

    Customer care has made great advances in connecting peer knowledge gained in support communities with customers in broad-reach social channels like Twitter and Facebook. Customer care has also made companion advances in connecting social care agents with subject matter experts elsewhere inside their organizations.

    By comparison, the social media marketing cases studies presented were largely run by Marketing, within Marketing, and for the benefit of Marketing.

    The result was a series of push campaigns – each successful in its own right as measured by current accepted metrics like reach, open rate, and cost per impression – but with generally little customer interaction beyond sharing, entering a contest, or playing an associated game.

    Even moreso, the tendency to run the campaigns as marketing efforts led to thin (if any) engagement of peers beyond sharing the run-up of “likes” rather than more valuable engagement with subject matter experts.

    Simply put, the case studies looked and were measured like TV campaigns, rather than the opportunities for organic, sustained engagement.

    Conference attendees, to their credit, asked about each of the following:

    • Social lead generation, the purposeful discovery of and engagement within conversations in which subject matter experts connected with customers (to prevent defections) and prospects (to facilitate conversion) for the purpose of measurably enhancing sales
    • Pre-sales agents engaging with digital prospects to directly drive conversion following a campaign for a new product or service
    • The use of peer-generated and -curated content in outbound marketing campaigns as both a source of valuable content that customers readily engage with, and as a way to further encourage the generation of new content by customers.

    Those are all examples of the next evolution of marketing on the social web: the direct use of resources outside of marketing to increase social media’s effectiveness by spreading the engagement base and content pool.

    It will include resources outside of the marketing organization, and its providers and long-standing content partners.

    A great start. But what about the next steps? What about the opportunity for sustained engagement to improve sales or satisfaction objectives, or increase the visibility of peer content and thereby improving the important connection between marketing and customer care?

    Consider the following as campaign starters, each of which can be built on what you are already doing:

    • Aim for sustained engagement. Making the step from repeated campaigns that pique interest to sustained engagement built around durable, long-running topics of interest to customers requires the combined use of demand generation and peer conversations. By investing in the use of peer content, which by definition is of interest to customers, you can transform interest into bonds through sustained engagement in peer conversations.
    • Increase the visibility of peer content. As a straightforward value enhancement, use curated content harvested from your existing customer-driven support forums or knowledge base. The value created when peer content forms the basis for marketing campaigns is a proven plus for ROI.
    • Improve the important connection between marketing and customer care. The general relationship between customer satisfaction – impacted largely by customer care – and top-line growth (along with renewals) makes clear the importance of cooperation between marketing and customer care teams in ensuring that excellent care experiences translate into reduced churn and/or improved conversions.

    Building your social media marketing campaigns requires adoption and mastery of digital tools, as well as ensuring coordination between organizational units. By connecting marketing and customer care, you can further muscle to your marketing efforts.

    Quiz: Can you decipher these 25 marketing and business buzzwords?

    The major problem with marketing and business jargon is that the majority of the people who use it, aren’t necessarily using it correctly…

    “Watch me pivot this burrito right into my wheelhouse.”

    “Sir, you have a call on line one.”

    “Put them on hold, this is mission-critical synergy right here.”

    “Oh god, I work for a monster.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “I said, I’ll fetch you a napkin.”

    Buzzwords and jargon can merely add to the confusion and alienation of everyday working life, and certainly increase the chances you’ll end up locking yourself in the stationery cupboard for a hand-over-the-mouth scream on a daily basis.

    To help you out, I’ve devised a quiz listing 25 of the most common buzzwords and phrases. Can you decipher them all?

    But just remember, if you say any of the following non-ironically or at home to your friends and family, then you should go to prison…

    Share your scores and Twitter and you might get a prize from us*

    *The prize will be in emoji form. Emojis cannot be traded in for a cash alternative. If emoji isn’t suitable for recipient, then a Gif of angry Kanye will be substituted.