Facebook begins thwarting ad blockers

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Although Facebook now generates upwards of 80% of its revenue from mobile ads, the world’s largest social network isn’t waving the white flag on desktop ad blocking.

Yesterday, it announced that it’s changing the way it delivers desktop ads in an effort to thwart ad blocking software.

Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s Ads & Business Platform VP, didn’t mince words, telling the Wall Street Journal, “Facebook is ad-supported. Ads are a part of the Facebook experience; they’re not a tack on.” In a blog post, he explained Facebook’s position in slightly more diplomatic terms:

We’ve designed our ad formats, ad performance and controls to address the underlying reasons people have turned to ad blocking software. When we asked people about why they used ad blocking software, the primary reason we heard was to stop annoying, disruptive ads.

Facebook believes that it’s well on its way to addressing concerns over annoying ads.

“As a result of what we’ve learned, we’ve introduced tools to help people control their experience, improved how we decide which ads to show and created new ad formats that complement, rather than detract from, people’s experience online,” Bosworth stated.

Given this, Facebook says it will begin displaying ads to desktop users even when they’re using ad blocking software.

At the same time, it’s rolling out new ad controls that give users the ability to remove specific interests from their ad preferences and to disable ads from companies that have added them to Custom Audiences.

Good news for marketers?

At first glance, Facebook’s stance vis-à-vis ad blocking looks to be a net positive for marketers active on the social network.

If Facebook can thwart desktop ad blockers, marketers won’t have to worry that their ability to reach users through Facebook ads is being compromised.

At the same time, by allowing users to remove interests, Facebook could ironically help marketers using interest-based targeting improve the efficacy of their campaigns.

After all, if a user is so opposed to being targeted based on a specific interest (i.e. travel) that she removes it using Facebook’s ad controls, a marketer is arguably better off not paying to reach that consumer based on that interest.

But one of Facebook’s new ad controls could prove more problematic for marketers. For many marketers, retargeting through Custom Audiences is highly effective. If users opt out of this en masse, some marketers could find it more difficult to employ Facebook to run successful retargeting campaigns, hampering their Facebook ROI.

The big question is whether users will take advantage of Facebook’s ad controls in sizable numbers.

Given the large number of settings Facebook already provides that aren’t immediately apparent, it’s probably a safe bet that the number of desktop users who are forced to view ads will exceed the number of users who take full advantage of Facebook’s new ad controls.

55% don’t recognise paid ads in Google SERPS: stats

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55% of searchers don’t know which links in the SERPs are PPC ads, according to a new survey.

I covered this topic back in April, using data from an Ofcom report which found that up to 50% of users shown a SERP screenshot could not identify paid ads.

The article also mentioned data from Varn, which found that, of the 1,010 UK internet users who were asked the question below, 50.6% couldn’t identify which links were ads:

The survey above is from February this year, but there have been a few changes to the SERPs since then, so Varn repeated the survey…

The new one found that almost 55% now don’t know which links are paid ads and which are organic.

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 aren’t seeing ads.

Ages (1)

As before, the results can seem surprising when you look at a typical search results page, and the results labelled as ads.

Then again, perhaps I’m not in the best position to judge, as someone who looks at search results all the time, and is well aware of paid search ads.

serps

Since the first survey, 5% more people are unable to recognise ads, so is this just about the margin of error or have Google’s recent changes made ads less ad-like?

The first of the changes was the removal of right hand side ads, meaning that all paid ads appear in a list with organic results.

This is what they used to look like, just in case you need a reminder:

london hotel Google Search with right hand side ads

Then we had the change of labels, from the yellow ad labels you see above, to green ad labels which are, of course, the same colour as the URLs.

The reason for the change to the green colour is unclear, but the ad text now blends in more easily with the green text showing the URL, thus making it look less like an ad.

This seems to be a continuation of Google’s changes to ad labelling. This visual from Ginny Marvin on SEL illustrates the point brilliantly.

history-google-ad-backgrounds-labels

While they used to be shaded to distinguish them from organic results, ads now look less like ads then ever. Of course, the text is a clue, but it does seem that around 50% of users simply aren’t noticing that label.

Varn also asked about people’s attitudes to ads, finding that the majority see them as a nuisance:

How do you feel about paid adverts online. (1)

In summary

None of the surveys asking about ad recognition in SERPs are perfect.

If you show people pictures of SERPs or conduct user tests, then sample sizes are small, but if you ask, the answer is often revealed in the wording of the question.

However, the trend is clear. Whatever the exact figure, it seems that around half of web users simply aren’t distinguishing paid results from organic ones.

Five ways to quantify relevance in content marketing

search queries

Relevancy, relevancy, relevancy; it’s the mantra of digital marketers around the world. But when it comes to content marketing, how do you quantify this? Can you determine just how relevant you are, and how you can improve it?

Relevancy is now a critical element in search marketing, but understanding and quantifying that relevancy is no easy task.

It takes a combination of human and algorithmic review to really get to the bottom of what makes content suitable to answer your audience search query, but how do you know that you are looking for the right things?

Content, context, timing, technical proficiency and audience targeting – these are all critical to ensuring that your brand is delivering effective, relevant content.

Understand your audience personas

As more and more branded content is produced, more and more of it becomes ambient, ignored and ineffective. That’s a huge amount of resource and investment that is going to waste.

A lot of this is down to a lack of meaningful insight on the part of brand publishers into how different audiences behave online. Few brands genuinely understand how their target audiences and consumers engage with the web and, without this critical understanding, it becomes increasingly difficult to find the right content, the right medium and the right tone to attract the attention of those target markets.

Many organisations rely on their audience personas to overcome this problem, but these personas are usually discussed in very broad terms. In order to succeed in this digital environment, your audience personas need to be more than just a demographic profile.

As a digital brand, in order to be relevant, you need to understand three key elements of behaviour; what motivates an audience, where are they located digitally, and how they participate in the consumer-brand dialogue.

In terms of motivation, what drives them to engage with a brand? Are they driven by price or by service? Do they need reassurance or convincing? These questions will shape the content you produce.

Location will shape where you put that content. What media do your audiences consume? Where they are digitally active and what devices do they use?

And how do they participate in conversation? Different audience groups will interact with content, and with brands, differently.

Your audience personas have to become much more than just a demographic profile. They have to be a reflection of the evolving and capricious behaviour of your audience.

Follow the customer journey

It is rare that a consumer bases a purchasing decision on one query so your digital presence needs to be able to reflect each and every potential stage of the customer journey.

Most customer journeys are likely to involve multiple queries, and multiple stages, before they actually convert into a sale. It isn’t enough to answer the original query, but subsequent queries that arise as part of this journey.

Functional content, or on-site content if you prefer, is what guides your user through this journey. Not only does it define the experience for your customers, but it is also crucial to search visibility.

These search queries reflect the intent of your audiences, and this intent needs to be reflected in your keyword coverage. A lot of marketers will identify keywords without looking at the context and intent behind those keywords, and this means that there is a greater risk of your content not being relevant to your audiences’ queries.

Rather than focusing on the generic keywords, consider keyword strings that include ‘action’ keywords, such as “book mexico holiday” or “cheap mexico holiday”. Alternatively, your target audiences may be using ‘knowledge’ keyword terms, such as “best time to travel to mexico”, “best family resort in mexico”, “flight time to mexico” or “mexico weather in june”.

In order to be relevant, you need to be able to deliver answers for these queries as well as the core commercial and generic terms.

Find the right page for the right keyword

For those brands with extensive websites, it is likely that you have multiple pages all vying for position for one particular keyword cluster. You may have a number of pages, all of which contain a very similar topic of content or address a very similar user query, and these could be fighting for position in Google search results.

Unfortunately, it can be tough to determine which page is actually most appropriate to serve that particular query.

To address this, Stickyeyes has developed a tool known as SCOT (Stickyeyes Content Optimisation Tool). The tool, which is free to use, is designed to appraise the on-page content of a website in a similar way to how search engines would assess it for quality and relevance. This includes scoring the content on known ranking factors, including technical and engagement metrics.

The benefit of this tool is that it allows marketers to understand which pages are actually most optimised for a particular keyword.

stickyeyes tool

This insight can help you to make some important decisions on your content marketing strategy when it comes to optimising your content. You may find that you have been focusing your efforts on one particular page, when a completely different one is more appropriate. It may also be that you have built up such a large number of individual pages that it is actually diluting your content’s effectiveness.

Of course, any content appraisal and audit needs to have a degree of human intervention, but what this approach does is allow marketers to automatically get an objective score of how relevant their content is for their keywords.

Solve your customer’s problem

Perhaps the key metric of relevance is how well you actually solve the problems that your audience are experiencing. If your content answers a query in an effective manner, then you are delivering precisely the sort of user experience that search engines want to promote.

How you tangibly measure this will sometimes depend on the query that you are serving. A very simple query can be served extremely quickly with a single page, whereas more in depth queries will require much more detailed, long-form content.

Using another of our internal tools, known as Roadmap, we can start to identify correlations between both known and potential ranking factors, with high search ranking positions. The more strongly that high-ranking websites score for particular factors, the stronger the correlation.

The graph below demonstrates how particular factors, in this case those that are indicative of a strong user experience, with higher search engine rankings, correlate with higher search ranking positions.

content signals

What we can see is that there are particularly strong correlations for trust metrics, as one would expect, but also for metrics such as ‘average time spent on site’ and ‘unique page views’. Page speed is also seen as a strong indication of good customer experience, and this has grown to prominence in recent months as a ranking signal.

Even body copy word count – the lowest correlation score on the above graph, is actually one of the highest correlating metrics of the ones that we monitor.

These metrics tend to differ for different industries, which can be a reflection of the differing purchasing journey between industries. Take this example, which looks at the five factors that correlate most strongly with high rankings in the financial services sector.

financial services content signals

What we can see here is that there is a strong prevelance of factors related to on-page content and keyword coverage, which is perhaps indicitive of the long-tail search terms that are frequently used in this market.

These metrics, and this insight, gives us a starting point for objectively assessing the relevancy of our content for the industry that we operate in. By benchmarking how a website performs on the metrics that appear to support high rankings in our respective industries or markets, we can start applying some objective assessment of our on-site content.

Strike at the right time

Timing is everything in content marketing, and striking when the opportunities are strongest is ultimately going to give your content the best possible chance of success.

Some topics will impact your brand and your industry completely out of the blue. Consumer trends will emerge, regulations will change and the environment that you operate in will evolve, and these content needs will require flexibility in order for your brand to be first.

Others however will be relatively established and can be planned with a degree of certainty. Every industry has moments which are relatively cyclical, whether it is a peak seasonal purchasing period, or simply a new financial year, and you should plan to have content in place for when search volumes are likely to be at their highest.

When formulating your editorial calendar, look at the search volumes for the keywords that your content is likely to target. Ideally, you want to be publishing around two months in advance of the peak search volume, in order for your content to become established.

Michael Hewitt is Content Marketing Manager, Stickyeyes and a contributor to SEW. You can connect with Michael on LinkedIn or Twitter.

11 SEO myths to forget in 2016

A Wodpress window showcasing the fields that enhance image optimisation

You may be surprised at how common some SEO myths still are in 2016, so it’s definitely time to leave them behind.

Whether you’re an expert or a beginner at SEO, it’s always useful to compile all the myths you read about, so you can work out for yourself the ones you actually need to be worried about.

What would you add to this list of the most common SEO myths?

1. SEO is dead

This is certainly the most popular SEO-related myth and it ended up an urban legend, widely spread among sites and communities. If you happen to believe that SEO is indeed dead, or if you’re just a pessimist, I assume the rest of the myths won’t be much useful to you.

If you want to keep on reading and set things straight once and for all, keep in mind that search engines and algorithms are not disappearing anytime soon, so you may still rely on SEO to maintain visibility and traffic to your site.

2. SEO is about adding the right keywords

There used to be a time when keyword density was (mistakenly) synonymous with a good SEO practice, but as search engines keep changing, so does our SEO strategy. Keywords are still part of your optimisation, but the focus is more on the content and its relevance, rather than the exact keyword.

The arrival of RankBrain made even clearer the focus on relevance, with the page being crawled for its content and emphasising the user experience, rather than the use of the exact keyword.

No more awkward headlines to favour a specific keyword, let’s concentrate on the content’s meaning.

3. SEO is about ranking #1 on SERPs

Many “SEO ninjas” promise to land your business at the #1 ranking spot for just $100, but even if they manage to deliver their promises, SEO is not just about the ranking, especially when focusing on the goal of reaching the top spot.

Your SEO strategy should aim to increase traffic, engagement and eventually conversions and this cannot be achieved by merely focusing on the site’s position in SERPs.

It’s true that being on the first page of SERPs can lead to an increase of traffic to your page, but the goal is not to simply gain the #1 spot.

For example, featured snippets, the summary of an answer to a user’s query that is displayed on top of Google search results, can lead to an increase of traffic of up to 20-30%, but 70% of them do not come from the first organic result. Thus, it’s the optimisation of the content, the usefulness and the relevance that may lead to additional traffic and make your SERP position more effective.

4. The more webpages you have, the better the ranking

Quantity should not be preferred over quality, especially when it’s simply picked as part of your SEO strategy.

You can create as many webpages as you want if you feel that they add value to your site, but there’s no need to create additional pages hoping to increase your crawling from search engines. Not every page gets indexed and quality is a crucial factor for your attempt to increase your site’s visibility, so keep that in mind next time you feel inclined to create new (pointless) pages.

5. Image optimisation is not necessary

As visual content increases, its optimisation becomes more important and although it’s an easy process, we sometimes need to remind ourselves to do it when creating new content.

As search engines cannot actually see your images, you need to provide the right description to make them ‘visible’. Google suggests you use descriptive titles and captions, while the use of a keyword can also be useful.

Make sure you fill in the fields of title, alt text and description, as they all contribute to the increased chances of having your image visible in search engines. Also, keep in mind that a unique image has more chances to be seen, compared to a boring stock photo.

6. Mobile optimisation is overrated

Do you still underestimate mobile optimisation in 2016? “Mobilegeddon” is here to stay, which means that Google officially measures the mobile-friendliness of your site among its ranking factors.

In Google’s own words:

On average, people check their phones more than 150 times a day, and more searches occur on mobile phones than computers. But if a potential customer is on a phone, and a site isn’t easy to use, they’re five times more likely to leave.

To avoid losing out in these crucial moments, you need a site that loads quickly and is easy to use on mobile screens. The first step is seeing how your site is performing. We can help by scoring your site for mobile-friendliness, mobile speed, and desktop speed.

Mobile optimisation is all about the user experience, whether it’s the design of the page, the responsiveness, the number of clicks, the page speed, or even the screen size.

What’s more, we cannot underestimate Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), Google’s latest attempt to improve the performance of mobile web articles in a light, fast version of a page. As it now arrives in organic search results, it’s becoming quite imperative to give it a try and enhance the user experience and hence, the traffic to your post.

We have extensively covered mobile optimisation, but here are three posts I’m encouraging you to read if you want to learn more about the topic:

  • Why and how to comprehensively test the mobile usability of your site
  • When will responsive websites respond to user context?
  • Google’s next mobile-friendly update will include page speed

7. SEO is not working for me

If you feel that SEO is not working for you either need to know more about SEO, or you haven’t hired the right person for this task. SEO is not something that happens once and solves all your problems, bringing your site to the top of the SERPs, but it is rather a continuous process which needs to be re-evaluated and monitored to ensure its efficacy.

As websites and search engines change, so do their optimisation for improved visibility, so if you feel that SEO hasn’t worked for you in the past, then maybe it’s time to start all over again with one step at a time, until you understand enough the process to examine your progress on your site and its “crawlability”.

8. Link building is dead

Link building has been proclaimed dead many times, but it’s still around, keeping up with the changes of our times. Link building is about creating links with the ultimate goal to increase a site’s presence (and traffic).

It may not be efficient anymore to be part of a private blog network or use spammy anchor text, but the fundamental goal of link building is still present, provided that we know how to use it.

A link building strategy may be time consuming, but it may also be rewarding and let’s not forget the fact that links are still important ranking factors.

According to “The State of Link Building Survey”, the most effective method of link building in 2016 is based in content, whether it’s promotion, or guest posting. What’s promising is the fact that the state of link building is still strong in 2016, as good links will always matter.

9. Social media does not affect SEO

It’s easy to assume that social media has nothing to do with SEO, as your social traffic is not a ranking factor for SERPs, but this doesn’t mean that it still cannot influence your online presence.

As social media usage keeps increasing, your authority is gradually building among many different platforms and this may help search engines with discovery and indexation. Moreover, content distribution has moved towards social media quite aggressively, which means that social sharing may contribute to effective link building and of course, increased traffic to your site.

Social media marketing can help you increase your site’s visibility which is also appreciated by search engines. Think of how Google+ can be “spotted” by Google, or how the indexed tweets can increase the brand awareness, and eventually your credibility.

Although there is no guarantee that a successful social presence can boost your SEO, but there is an indication that it can help it. And here are more examples on how social media can actually benefit your SEO efforts.

10. Local SEO is not for everyone

Local SEO is becoming more important year-by-year, but not everyone understands yet how it can be useful even in the least expected case.

You don’t have to own a local business (or even have a physical presence) to benefit from local SEO and here are some of our suggestions on how to take advantage of content gaps and structured data.

What’s more, if you feel that your business is still struggling to benefit from local SEO, then maybe it’s time to start with a few basic steps, in order to help its local visibility.

  • First of all, is your business listed on Google Business?
  • Do you pay enough attention on your reviews? (Yes, reviews affect your local search ranking)
  • How is your customer service?
  • Do you provide the right information on your online presence?
  • Are you focusing on mobile customers? (94% of mobile searches are have a local intent)

According to our own editor, Christopher Ratcliff:

“Accurate and complete Google My Business information + accurate location data + positive customer reviews + traditional SEO tactics = good local ranking (possibly).”

11. Don’t worry about SEO just create good content

I came across a tweet mentioning that quality content can beat any SEO optimisation, and that’s how this myth came up.

It’s true that the quality of your content is important, but if you don’t optimise it (or promote it), how will you reach a wider audience?

SEO is about helping search engines discover your (quality) content, which means that you are increasing the chances of being praised for the work you’re proud of.

Content is king (cliché), but it’s not always enough to provide the necessary traffic and visibility.

As we’re crafting our SEO efforts for 2017 (yes, it’s closer than you think), it’s time to leave all these SEO myths behind. Haven’t we already heard enough of “SEO is dead”?

Is Donald Trump’s earned media hurting his brand?

Trump stats

The 2016 US election features a presidential candidate like no other.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has more than 30 million followers across all of the social channels he’s active on, and on Twitter, his most prolific channel, he has over 10 million, approximately two million more than his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

What’s more: he’s besting Clinton in engagement, generating double the number of retweets and three times the number of likes.

Trump’s willingness to speak his mind, online and offline, has arguably been both a blessing and a curse, but one thing is for certain: it has attracted a lot of attention.

How much? By some estimates, Trump has already generated more than $2 billion – yes billion with a b – in earned media.

But according to data gathered by local search and discovery app Foursquare, the attention Trump has garnered isn’t driving increased foot traffic to properties he owns or that bear his name. In fact, it might even be driving people away.

There’s no such thing as bad PR, or is there?

Foursquare, which counts some 50 million users, says that since the Republican presidential nominee launched his campaign in June 2015, Trump-branded hotels, casinos and golf courses in the United States have seen their market share of foot traffic decrease, and that the decrease has intensified since spring:

Before Trump announced his presidential bid, foot traffic to his properties was steady year-over-year — and maybe even saw a small uptick. After he entered the race, his branded properties failed to get their usual summertime traffic gains. In August 2015, the share of people coming to all Trump-branded properties was down 17% from the year before.

These losses stabilized to single digits for a number of months, but as Primary voting season hit full swing in March 2016, share losses grew again. Trump properties did not get their usual springtime bounce of travelers and locals. March share was down 17% once more.

Several properties, the Trump SoHo hotel in New York City, the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago and Trump Taj Mahal casino resort in Atlantic City, appeared to be the hardest hit properties, with market share of foot traffic down between 17 and 24% year-over-year.

It should be noted that the Trump Taj Mahal, which is closing at the end of August, bears his name but is not owned by Donald Trump.

While it’s difficult to conclusively establish cause and effect, Foursquare did observe that the decreases in Blue States “[run] deeper than the national average” and that visits from women to Trump-branded properties are down sharply.

Given the candidate’s high unfavorability ratings with Democrats and women, Foursquare’s segmented data hints at the possibility that at least some of the declines could be a result of the properties’ association with the Trump name.

Either way, Foursquare’s data, which has been normalized against Census data, seems to suggest that all the earned media Trump has gained through his presidential bid has not increased the share of foot traffic to Trump-branded properties.

So even if there’s no such thing as bad PR, bad PR apparently isn’t always good.

Integrating CRM with social: how advocates are built

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If you’re looking to build brand advocates, integrate your CRM and social data to ensure you don’t overlook great customers who may have small followings.

Building beyond social media marketing and marketing engagement? As you build your social media platform, consider how CRM fits into your plans. I’m not talking about “social CRM,” per se, though elements of it are certainly present.

Rather, I’m referring to aligning your social engagement process with all other tracked engagements, in order to create a unified customer experience.

A unified customer experience is, of course, more than saying the same thing or using the same language or tone at every touchpoint. It means engaging your entire organization and taking full advantage of the knowledge it contains with regard to your customers and the products and services you offer.

The goal is to drive toward the creation of customer advocacy at all touchpoints. To do this in the specific context of social media requires that you integrate your business systems with your social platform, that your social customer care and marketing/pre-sales agents have access to customer history whenever and wherever they need it.

At a practical level, it means that when @patsmith contacts you on Twitter, you immediately know whether Pat is a customer or not and what Pat asked about the last time you talked. When you know that, you can relate to Pat as an individual based on past history and as a result, her experience is so much better.

The result? Pat becomes an advocate for your brand.

Consider the impact of customer experience on loyalty. More often than not, great customer experiences, in addition to solid product and service experiences, result in what creates a great story.

Those great stories form an easy device through which to advocate. Customers can relate the positive qualities of interaction with your brand more easily. “Speaking of that, I remember once when…” is much more natural than, “Oh, I see you’re buying ____; I had a great experience with that…”

Stories also help customers fully articulate the joy that leads to (or expresses) advocacy. A recommendation is clearly valuable on its own, but an articulation of joy or other positive emotion helps potential purchasers to see themselves as customers.

When they do this online, and when you are paying attention, you can use this information to refine your own offering. Listening to customer conversations (or looking at them, in the case of video) means you can discover opportunities around purchase, care, product or service design. How do you use these learnings to make actual changes?

How do you tie CRM to social media?

The simplest method for integration between your business systems and CRM is through a link to the conversation as it’s recorded in your social media engagement tools.

Importantly, and given the centrality of your CRM tools as the single source of customer data, your social tools will typically not write customer data into your CRM system.

However you implement it, the link between the social tools and your CRM system lets you see who you’re talking with and then use that information to plan and execute the best course of action. Again, the goal is to create advocates, so any steps taken to better relate to a customer or prospect can make a difference.

What does it look when it actually plays out? Here’s an example. On a recent Singapore Airlines flight, I asked the brand a question on Twitter. Not only did I receive a response back moments later, but an agent actually met me in Singapore to ensure that I had no further questions.

While this is the kind of service Singapore Airlines is known for, a colleague traveling with me remarked that it happened because of the number of Twitter followers I have. Not believing this, I suggested a test. My colleague posted a short comment and sure enough, he had not heard back after three weeks.

Why is this notable? My colleague is one of Singapore Airlines‘ top revenue customers globally. We had just come from the uber-first class lounge, where everyone knew him by name. By comparison, prior to this trip, I had flown on Singapore Airlines exactly once. Yet I was getting all the attention on the social channels. So what?

To be sure, there is business benefit in encouraging connected individuals to share stories about great service. What’s not OK is to appear to ignore – on any channel – your best customers.

Connecting CRM to the airline’s social engagement tools would have alerted the agent who received and evidently passed over my colleague’s thank you note that this particular request should be handled in the same manner as his visit to the lounge.

Without such linkage, the only information the agent had to go on was my colleague’s Twitter profile, something that’s typically limited and rarely contains brand passion or loyalty. So Singapore Airlines missed out on the thing that it’s amazing at: delivering excellent service.

SingaporeAirlines-Twitter

However you do it, as you develop your engagement strategy, be sure to think about how you will identify and respond to requests received via social channels.

Thinking about actual business-value status, rather than social channel status, will ensure that you create a uniformly great experience, thereby encouraging your customers to share their own stories about you with others.

Five absolutely vital elements for mobile SEO success

dynamic website example

Is your website mobile-friendly? 2016 marks the first year that mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic, yet many businesses have still neglected to take mobile devices into account.

Their websites aren’t optimized for mobile search, and simply don’t look good on phones and tablets. Not only does this cause frustrated users to leave the site, it’s a big problem for your SEO as well.

As of April 21, 2015, Google unleashed “mobilegeddon” which punishes websites that aren’t mobile-friendly, and announced that mobile-friendliness is now one of their most important ranking signals.

How do you know if your site is mobile friendly? The first step is to check Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Enter your website’s URL, and Google will let you know if your site is mobile-friendly.

Here are five areas you must look at, if you want to succeed at mobile SEO

#1: Mobile site types

There are three types of mobile sites: responsive, dynamic serving, and parallel mobile site. Choosing the right model from the get-go is the most important decision you can make regarding your mobile site.

Responsive site: Responsive Web Design is a technique that allows you to show the exact same website, with the same website code, but the site conforms (or morphs), depending on the size of the screen. Sites like Starbucks, The Next Web, Mashable, Boston Globe, Drive Me Safely, and Hot Jobs Myanmar use responsive design.

Many businesses choose responsive website for its convenience, lower cost, quick turnaround, and the ease of maintenance. This approach is recommended by Google. The cons are the less differentiation for mobile UX, and it is harder to apply on big-scale web platforms.

Parallel mobile site: a parallel mobile site is a separate version of your website created specifically for mobile users. A few sites using parallel mobile site are Home Depot, eBay, and The New York Times.

Creating a separate mobile site (e.g. m.yourwebsite.com) will allow you to offer the best customized mobile experience for users without affecting your desktop website. This is most appropriate for large-scale websites.

However, it may double the cost for implementation and maintenance. And it takes advanced SEO expertise to handle the complexity of backlinks and content between web and mobile versions with proper redirects.

Dynamic serving site: In a dynamic serving site, the web server detects and serves custom page that match the visitor’s device in the same URL. A few sites that use this method are CNN, Zillow, and Mico Equipment.

This approach provides a great custom mobile experience and uses the same web URL for web and mobile. However it requires advanced technical expertise and high costs to structure, implement properly, and maintain. It can also confuse users who notice different content on the same page (with different devices).

Dynamic serving website – Mico Equipment

#2: Mobile content

User engagement has a big influence on search rankings, so optimizing content for mobile experience is very important. This includes headlines, copy, images/videos, forms, and call-to-actions.

This is critical if you are using responsive websites. In responsive design, the same page content is used on both web and mobile screens. So you should create your web copy with both web and mobile experience in mind, to make sure the content can communicate effectively with users on across multiple screens.

  • Write short headlines that convey your core message
  • Summarize your key points on top of each article
  • Break up content into small paragraphs for easy consumption
  • Use mobile-friendly images: Don’t let mobile users download large images that are meant for bigger screens.

responsive web site

Responsive web design for Drive Me Safely

#3: Mobile Speed

Regardless of the type of your mobile site, it is critical to optimize for mobile loading speed. Today, Google considers loading speed as an important ranking factor. Slow speeds will impact user experience greatly.

There are a lot of techniques available to improve mobile speeds, here list a few:

  • Enable compression: Use Gzip, a software application for file compression, to reduce the size of your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript files that are larger than 150 bytes (Moz)
  • Minimize all your CSS and JavaScript files. If you have multiple CSS or JavaScript files, consider combining them into one before compressing them. You can use CCTidy to minify your CSS code, and JSMin to minify your JavaScript.
  • Reduce HTTP requests. Use Google Chrome’s Network Panel to check how many HTTP requests your site currently makes, and get rid of as many of those requests as you can. Remember to load visible content first, and defer everything else.
  • Avoid loading blocking external JavaScript and CSS before the initial render. This causes a delay in rendering your page. Inline just the JavaScript/CSS needed for the initial render and delay or async load any unnecessary JavaScript/CSS file.
  • Avoid bad requests from broken links.
  • Use CDN to cache static content to enhance loading speed

#4: Mobile SERP display

In mobile, the SERP real estate is precious and the competition for clicks is fierce. Due to the portrait landscape of mobile devices, only the top two Google results will be above the fold in SERPs. Furthermore, Google often shows maps, algorithmic answers to queries, or related apps directly below (or even above) the first result.

Optimizing your SERP listings using relevant rich snippets and rich cards can help you gain a competitive edge and capture more user attention and clicks.

Meta content

You should write the meta title and meta description tags for web pages that can also fit nicely in mobile SERPs, to improve mobile click-through rate.

Rich snippets

Using rating, review and breadcrumb snippets for keyword “adult art party nyc”

rich snippets

Using Event snippet (keyword “kids art classes nyc”)

Rich cards:

Beside snippets, the rich card is an interesting markup to make your website more outstanding on search results. With rich cards, results are presented in carousels that are easy to browse by scrolling left and right.

Pages that are marked with rich cards are displayed at the top of SERPs, which increases the chances that the website will be clicked.

According to Google, currently rich cards are available for 3 content types:

  • Article (AMP)
  • Movie
  • Recipe

rich cards

#5: Mobile local search

If you have a brick and mortar business with a physical location, you want to be found by people searching for your services in your area. Local SEO is the practice of optimizing your content to get more of these users who are close to you.

Using local SEO, it’s possible to get found for keywords that you thought were too competitive to rank for. Your site might not be ranked within the top ten results for a certain keyword, but still rank #1 in the Google maps results.

Since the maps results are listed above organic results, and have contact information readily available, this is actually better than being #1.

If your business has a physical location, go verify your Google My Business listing, and make sure your name, address, and phone number are correct. This is your main business listing on the web, but you should still submit your site to as many online business directories as possible.

Then, make sure your name, address, and phone number are correct and consistent across the web, on all business listings and all your social media accounts. Make sure your city and state are displayed in many areas on your website, create a rich contact page with an embedded Google Map, and ask your customers to write as many reviews of your business as possible.

If your business has multiple locations, create separate sections on your site for each location. Include Geo tags, apply business-related rich snippets, and optimize meta tags and page content for local keywords.

local seo example

Example: Local SEO listing, check with keyword “kids art classes nyc”

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

As Google AMP appears in organic mobile results, some see lower CTRs

amp ctr

Last week, Google announced that Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are making their way into the organic mobile SERPs.

While AMP is not a ranking signal, at least not yet, this announcement is a milestone for the initiative that Google launched earlier this year in an effort to speed up the mobile web.

The search giant’s desire to make mobile web pages load faster is obvious: slow, clunky pages that don’t provide a good user experience threaten Google’s mobile ad business. AMP, which is an open standard that consists of slimmed-down HTML and JavaScript, aims to make it possible for publishers to more easily create performant mobile experiences.

But for all of AMP’s virtues, websites that have adopted AMP may not be benefiting from the introduction of their AMP pages into Google’s organic mobile search results. In fact, they could be seeing less traffic.

As Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable detailed, he’s seen a lower CTR from AMP pages. Glenn Gabe of G-Squared Interactive speculates that lower CTRs for AMP results could be due to the fact that users don’t know what AMP is, making the AMP icon and text that appears alongside AMP results a CTR killer:

“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?”

In an effort to test this hypothesis, Gabe created a quick poll that asked respondents if they knew what AMP referred to, and whether they’re be more likely to click on an “AMP” or “mobile-friendly” search result.

Not so surprisingly, only three of the 44 people who responded to the poll knew what AMP was, and only two indicated they’d be more likely to click on an “AMP” result compared to 29 who preferred “mobile-friendly.”

While a poll of 44 people is far from scientific, Gabe’s logic – that average consumers who aren’t involved with web development and SEO aren’t likely to know what AMP is – seems sound and raises questions about how Google will educate the public about what AMP is and what benefits it offers.

The good news is that Google is almost certainly collecting data about its new AMP results and is likely to take action if it notices lower CTRs across the board for these results.

In the meantime, early AMP adopters experiencing lower CTRs have a not so pleasant reminder that being an early adopter can sometimes be a double-edged sword.

Google Trends Explore tool gets a facelift

custom time range

Google Trends Explore tool launches a new interface this week, but is it much better?

Unlike other Google changes, the only people that would notice this update are marketers, researchers and the periodic journalist from time to time.

I’ve examined the new look and feel, as well as features and functionality to see how impactful this change can be. Below is a quick breakdown of what’s changed, and what hasn’t:

New features (mostly look and feel, some functionality)

  • Updated interface: The look and feel has been refined to allow for easier navigation and simpler, single screen viewing of data.
  • Historical data by day: Archived trend data can now be viewed down to the day (upgraded from a month only view). This is perhaps the most important feature update, as we can now customize the range for specific dates when we know events are happening, such as news, sales, and product launches.
  • Geographic comparison: Comparing two or more search terms will now show you which terms are stronger by sub region on a single map.

geographic comparison

  • Search term filtering: When comparing two or more search terms, you can individually filter by geography and time.
  • Export to Excel: All of the data components in the trend interface can now be exported to an Excel CSV file.
  • Mobile embed update: Mobile versions of charts for imbedding purposes is now available.

Features that have been removed (and likely won’t be missed)

  • News & Forecast buttons: Users can no longer view “notable” news stories on your trend line nor can you forecast future search interest. We’ve found that this feature has typically been unavailable over the last few months.
  • Trending over time (MAP): The feature, which would allow you to view the geographic search interest changes over time, has also been removed. This feature was interesting for some very high volume searches, but also seemed to be pretty inconsistent.

Consistent features (under the surface, still the same)

  • Trend results: Results (the actual data) appear to have remained unchanged. It looks like you still get different results for pretty similar terms, plurals and misspellings.

trend results

  • Individual search term details: The ability to look at geographic search term performance as well as rising/top related queries remains intact.
  • Share & embed: Users can still share the results on social media as well as embed the charts on HTML pages.

Overall the new Google Trends tool just looks better, rather than being a total overhaul. But it does feature some improved functionality and everything useless has been removed.

Despite all the changes, it’s still the same basic tool inside.

Michael Gauld is the VP/Director of Search Marketing at DigitasLBi.

Live-streaming presents opportunities, challenges for advertisers

trey

As video becomes an integral part of the social web, live-streaming has fast become one of the hottest trends.

Spurred by the early success of Meerkat and Periscope, in April, Facebook launched Live, its own live-streaming feature.

Reportedly, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is “obsessed” with live-streaming and believes Live is critical to his company’s future.

With that in mind, it’s probably not a coincidence that he personally announced Live’s launch, writing, “Live is like having a TV camera in your pocket. Anyone with a phone now has the power to broadcast to anyone in the world. When you interact live, you feel connected in a more personal way. This is a big shift in how we communicate, and it’s going to create new opportunities for people to come together.”

While Facebook’s billion-user plus audience gives any new product it launches a good shot at success, Facebook didn’t want to leave anything to chance, and has reportedly. invested tens of millions of dollars luring publishers and celebrities to Live.

Now that it has some traction, it’s no surprise that Facebook has started testing mid-roll ads in Live streams. Per AdAge:

The ads are eligible to appear five minutes into a broadcast, and they last up to 15 seconds or shorter, according to one agency executive, who has discussed the ads with Facebook.

Facebook told advertisers that the video ads would be drawn from among promoted video campaigns already running on the platform, but some brands could opt out of having their ads appear during live broadcasts, the source said. “We wanted to opt out immediately, because there was no reporting on how well it does and you don’t have control over where the commercial shows up,” the agency executive said.

Facebook isn’t alone in trying to capitalize on live-streaming. Its rival, Twitter, is taking a slightly different approach by purchasing the rights to live stream professional sporting events. Its deal with the NFL to stream Thursday night football games is said to have the potential to generate more than $50 million in ad revenue.

Real-time challenges

Live-streaming in all of its forms offers advertisers new ways to reach consumers through engaging, impactful video content that many consumers seem to be enamored by.

But there are numerous challenges to building a robust live-streaming ad ecosystem.

The nature of live-streaming means that advertisers won’t necessarily have as much control over the type of content their brands are being associated with. Recently, Facebook Live made headlines when it was used to broadcast high-profile police shootings.

To prevent advertisers from finding their ads on live-streams like this, Facebook can limit Live ads to specific streams created by specific publishers and individuals, but there’s still an element of unpredictability that will always exist with live-streaming and it will be difficult for advertisers to scale their use of Live for marketing purposes if Facebook severely restricts where ads are displayed.

Furthermore, as Twitter’s NFL ad packages demonstrate, advertisers are probably going to be asked to pay a premium for live-streaming ads, particularly those that are associated with professional sporting events and the like.

So advertisers will have to determine if live-streaming’s television-like ad prices deliver, at a minimum, television-like reach and results.