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How to optimize your local business for voice search

November 20, 2018 No Comments

Voice search is growing, a statement appearing time and time again throughout the web. It has fundamentally changed the way people search and it’s here to stay.

With a simple command, users can conduct searches for information, products, services and local businesses.

It’s such a hot topic that our Head of Search and Strategy Stuart Shaw spoke at one of the UK’s largest SEO conferences a few weeks ago to talk about the details of voice search and why it’s important for brands.

While voice isn’t likely to surpass traditional search any time soon, it has spurred us to explore how local businesses can optimize, adjust their marketing strategies and understand the potential voice search could have on their bottom lines.

The opportunity for local businesses

To get information about a local service near to us, we pull out our phones and we search for it:

  • ‘Plumbing services near me’
  • ‘Local pizza delivery’
  • ‘What are the opening times for…’
  • ‘Is so and so open today?’ etc.

In fact, a recent study by Brightlocal highlighted that 53% of people owning smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa & Google Home are performing searches like these for local businesses every day in the US:

Putting that in context for the UK

A recent YouGov study showed that people in the UK owning a smart speaker had doubled between Q3 2017 and Q1 2018 to 10% of the total population.

A study by radiocentre predicted that this growth could reach as high as 40% by the end of 2018.

Looking a little deeper, we could say that per household there is more than one occupant. In fact on average there’s actually 2.3 people per household, according to the most recent UK gov statistics:

Source: Office of national statistics

So, if the 40% of UK households prediction is correct, that is potentially 11 million households exposing voice search content to 25 million people in the UK.

Who’s leading the smart speaker market?

Three-quarters of the market share in the UK in Q1 2018 was taken up by Amazon’s Alexa. This, of course, will change but right now this is where the biggest opportunity lies for local businesses optimizing for smart speakers in the UK:

 

Source: Office of national statistics

Although voice search is still in a stage of infancy, and we have only talked about smart speakers, it’s clear to see just how relevant this technology is to brick and mortar businesses.

And, it’s constantly evolving…

Here’s a timeline from Stuart’s presentation, highlighting significant changes in voice search, and it’s becoming increasingly accessible for more and more people to conduct a voice search every day:

3 Biggest steps to optimize your local business for voice search

1. Take ownership of your digital footprint

Although voice assistants seem all-knowing, they rely heavily on information they can find around the web about your business.

A big part of optimizing for local SEO is ‘citations’ which are online references to your business name, address and phone number (NAP).

Voice assistants use these citations from trusted sources to provide information to users that are conducting local search queries.

So, where should I cite my business?

Each voice assistant relies on different and sometimes multiple data aggregators for answers to local search queries:

  • Siri
    • Search: Google
    • Business listings: Apple maps
    • Reviews: Yelp
  • Alexa
    • Search: Bing
    • Business listings: Yelp and more recently Yext
    • Reviews: Yelp
  • Google Assistant
    • Search: Google
    • Business listings: Google my Business
    • Reviews: Google my Business
  • Cortana
    • Search: Bing
    • Business listings: Bing
    • Reviews: Yelp

So, these data sources are the most important places to make sure your business is correctly cited, up-to-date and optimised:

2. Utilize schema markup

Schema is a type of on-page data markup that allows webmasters to provide search engines with data about their business in a more structured way.

The structured format allows search engines to understand the contents and context of web pages much easier (less algorithmic interpretation) and, subsequently, the engines can better understand the relevance of pages to particular search queries and present richer results.

Schema is only going to play a bigger part in ranking for rich results and featured snippets which are heavily used in for voice search content.

What does schema markup do?

Search engines experiment with how they display rich results all the time and by having your site marked up, you have the opportunity to be featured in new rich results.

For example, Google experimented with a ‘prominent knowledge panel card’ shown on mobile devices which displays when users conduct a branded search for the business. In the knowledge card you can see ‘place actions’ such as ‘find a table’ or ‘book an appointment’ which would direct searchers into an appropriate webpage to conduct the action.

These rich results went on to influence the structure of Google My Business which is now heavily used by local businesses. The point here is that the business websites shown in the example image below were ‘future proofed’ and optimal which qualified them for this rich result.

In other words, as Gary Illyes – web trends analyst at Google puts it:

“If you want your sites to appear in search features, implement structured data.”

The biggest benefit and ‘thing it does’ is help Google understand relevance much more fluently. Another few quotes from Gary Illyes helps explain this:

“Add structured data to your pages because, during indexing, we will be able to better understand what your site is about.”

“And don’t just think about the structured data that we documented on developers.google.com. Think about any schema.org schema that you could use on your pages. It will help us understand your pages better, and indirectly… it leads to better ranks.”

Why it’s important for local businesses

Schema is a tool which search engines and subsequently voice assistants are using to paint a clearer picture of a business website’s central topic and the services the site can offer users.

With structured data present, it is much more likely that your business (if relevant) will be identified as a good candidate for answering local voice search queries.

Using local business schema will:

  • Future-proof your website for richer search features (which voice search content is heavily influenced by)
  • Reinforce your online digital footprint
  • Bolster relevancy signals & geographic accuracy
  • Help drive more conversions both online and offline
  • Indirectly help your website rank better (important for voice)

So how do you take control?

There are hundreds of schema types which can be utilised for hundreds of business and content types.

There are also multiple ways of marking up schema in your page source code. By far the easiest is using JSON-LD. Using the example from above the marked up code looks something like this:

The best way to get your code ready is to go to SchemaApp.com, follow the instructions or use this tutorial and locate the schema types that are most relevant to you and your business.

Types of local business data that can be marked up:

  • Business name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Main email address
  • Business opening hours
  • Geo-location information (latitude and longitude)
  • Reviews
  • Company logo
  • Business description
  • Social profile links
  • Site name

Bear in mind there are guidelines for usage summarized below:

  • ‘Data must not deceive or mislead experience for search users’
  • ‘Use only the most specific types and property names defined by schema.org’
  • ‘Marked-up content must be visible on the page where the script is added’

See Google’s policies for structured data for more information.

Once you’ve gone through SchemaApp, copy and paste the output code into relevant pages before your closing </head> tag or, if it’s content specific schema (such as the review rating above), paste the code before the closing </body> tag in the HTML of your page.

Finally, check your mark up with this structured data testing tool which will highlight any errors once implemented.

Note: Avoid using Google Tag Manager for this markup, apply the code natively where possible.

3. Produce content relevant to voice search needs

There are great ways of optimizing specifically for voice search using your on-site content.

The simplest is to explore the realm of user intent and uncover the types of questions people may want answering, when it comes to your business.

That doesn’t mean you need to create 1000s of pages that are optimized specifically for voice search terms. Instead, search engines such as Google pulls answers to voice queries directly from page content, even if it is a snippet that makes up a small section of the content.

Work long tail queries into long-form content

Conduct some long tail keyword research and look for questions people ask about your local business and work them into your content, where it is relevant to do so. I highly recommend Answer the Public to scale your efforts here.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

This is a query I searched recently that could be relevant to any local business:

‘Does tesco take american express?’

Here’s what was shown at the top in a featured snippet (the content that will be read out if conducting a voice search with Google Home):

And here’s the content that Google has pulled out from halfway down the page from choose.co.uk:

FAQ pages can be perfect for voice search

Written correctly, an FAQ page can serve voice search queries really effectively and if you struggle to work in your long tail optimisation into relevant pages, an FAQ page is a great way to get around it:

  • People use voice search conversationally, which you can naturally replicate on an FAQ page without the content appearing out of place
  • It appeals to long tail voice & traditional searches which widen your reach
  • Voice search often seeks concise information, under 30 words, which an FAQ page can clearly communicate
  • Creating a dedicated page specifically with this key information in mind could help with higher placement in SERPs for voice searches, which is vital for capturing that first click/interaction

Conclusion

However, you look at SEO, voice is the future and it’s growing exponentially and it’s being integrated into more and more of our everyday tech. Local business marketers should be making specific efforts to capitalize on voice search to maximize their online and offline conversion.

The caveat here is not to let your standard SEO practice fall behind. Having a fully mobile responsive website, fast site speed and good quality local backlinks, among many other optimizations, are still, and will remain, vital for ranking in local search and will greatly impact your voice search efforts.

Get a deeper dive to voice search or get help with your voice search strategy.

The post How to optimize your local business for voice search appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Search Engine Watch


Pinterest on visual search: key takeaways

November 17, 2018 No Comments

We invited Michael Akkerman, Global Head of Partners Program at Pinterest, to our NY office yesterday evening to speak on visual search.

He talked about discovery over search, audience engagement over audience size, less time more well-spent over more total time spent, and social communities over social networks. It was an insightful, instructive, and *obviously* visual-heavy session.

Here were some of the key takeaways / highlights.

Pinterest is a visual discovery engine — discovery over search

When people come to our platform, they’re trying to discover new pieces of information.

Our Pinners are not looking to connect with friends or post at parties. They’re doing home renovations. They’re in the market for something. They want to go and actually discover something.

Google is great for when I know what I want, but it’s really crappy when I don’t know how to articulate it. How do I describe a style I’ve only seen, a city I don’t know, a specific color?

Like this:

Or this:

I know them when I see them.

Pinterest is visual-first. We wanted it to be able to take images instead of words.

Pinterest = possibilities

What do I want to eat? What do I want to wear? How should I decorate my house? What’s my style? We help people understand their taste.

Total numbers of pins: 23 billion food and drink. 18 billion home and garden. 8 billion beauty. 23 billion style. 4 billion travel.

Are you in one of these categories? Your customers are on Pinterest.

“Even if you think your brand’s content isn’t on Pinterest, your customers are probably already bringing it there. Seems like those are people you might want to go and chat with.”

What keeps people from buying? They’re still trying to figure out what they want — they’re still discovering.

For us, the camera is the new keyboard.

Let the image be the SERP.

Shop the look. Discover products inside an image.

Personalization not as a feature, but rather the underpinning of the platform

On Pinterest, we understand that every single person has different interests. We don’t want personalization as just a feature. We want it as the underpinnings of the entire platform.

The way we’re doing it is we’re bringing what’s called the taste graph. The hipster guy from Williamsburg? His garden board doesn’t look like everyone else’s. My travel board? I want to go to Morocco. Not everyone does.

When you interact on Pinterest, it feels like it knows you.

What storytelling was on search versus what storytelling is on Pinterest. Driving people closer to an engaging experience.

Audience engagement over audience size

Content at scale:

  • 250 million monthly active users
  • 170 billion pins — 5x the library of congress every single day
  • 3 billion boards

We have the largest human focus group in the world, curating content into boards.

“We’re 250 million people, not 2 billion. It’s really looking at the intent. You’ll find platforms with much larger audiences, but they’re not there to engage. We’re a smaller audience size, but people are there with intent.”

More time well-spent over total time spent

The visual revolution. 50% of the brain is dedicated to understanding visual information.

People retain 10% of what they hear, 20% of what they read, and 80% of what they see and do.

At Pinterest, that “do” part is very interesting. We’re about time well-spent. We want you off the platform as soon as possible — we want you to solve your problem as quickly as possible.

“When people use Pinterest, they feel positive. It’s about what you can build and achieve. Go make that recipe. Go build that birdhouse. Go nuts. Get off our platform as quickly as possible.”

Purposeful communities over social networks

We’re not a social network — but communities are naturally springing up all the time around given topics, images, ideas, and brands.

Most people call Pinterest “my time.” Not about my social network.

Ads within the context of purpose-based community versus in a social network

1. Annoyance: “People use social media to share things about their lives with each other. And let’s face it, ads are annoying in that context.”

2. Value: “With Google, you know the intent but not the person. With Facebook, you know everything about the person but less about the intent. I was drawn to Pinterest because it combines both.”

Ads often don’t add value, and they feel disruptive, disjointed.

Why not make them additive? If you’re searching for a certain type of shoes, we’ll show you ads for those shoes.

“If the content is valuable, I don’t mind that it comes from a brand. It solves my problem.”

How people shop: convenience and need over loyalty, bundles over individual items

Example of REI: They saw that normal human beings shop in bundles. If they’re going camping, they don’t need ten jackets and ten tents. They need a bundle of assorted things. Thus, they started highlighting and bundling trending Pinterest products on their own site.

Loyalty is elusive in today’s market

Most purchases are driven by shopping, not by loyalty to a brand. People who switch from brand A to brand B do so because brand B was present the second they were looking for a product.

Marketers like Pinterest because you can reach customers so early on in their buying journey

Pinners start the Black Friday hunt in August.

Most people start pinning, searching, saving 12 weeks before an event. That’s great for a marketer. You can drive interest incrementally over time.

When someone is designing their perfect home, looking for the perfect bag, planning their next vacation — you should be there. They’re discovering your product.

Agnostic cross-channel insight

Last-touch vs multi-touch attribution, in pictures:

“Last-touch attribution is like a shopkeeper looking out the door and seeing a bunch of customers lined up outside and saying “oh, if I had two more front doors, I’d have three times as many customers.” It doesn’t work that way.”

You need to do multi-touch attribution. You’re trying to engage customers, build brand, drive sales. But that looks different in every channel.

Kenshoo found that Facebook was undervalued by as much as 30%. We see the exact same thing on Pinterest right now.

The full livestream is available on our @Sewatch twitter here as well as online here.

The post Pinterest on visual search: key takeaways appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Search Engine Watch


Organic reputation management & brand protection

November 10, 2018 No Comments

Driving visitors to your site is about much more than just rankings. Branding is playing a larger and larger role in acquisition. 

In this article we look at the importance of branded searches and provide guidelines to help you understand, keyword by keyword, what you need to do to maximize your branded traffic. All you’ll need is Google Search Console and as many days of data as possible.

Firstly let’s go over why this is important.

It’s your company’s traffic

Branded traffic is very rarely traffic you’d be happy to have leak through to another site. Aside from reviews and similar searches, you’d hope that 100% of branded searches land on your site. Unfortunately we see that this is not always the case. Between the floorboards of SEO and PPC there are cracks that rob you of valuable visits, sometimes deliberately, often by simple chance — regardless, we want to help you reclaim that lost traffic.

In a recent talk at BrightonSEO, Rand Fishkin of SparkToro (and previously Moz) suggested that the future of SEO is in the SERPs and less “on the site.” While there is a growing trend in enhanced search results, data cards and featured snippets, there will always be an place at the table for digital (organic) brand reputation.

Who cares about your brand’s reputation?

This isn’t just about traffic or revenue. Your reputation can affect a number of crucial potential relationships both with individuals and other companies or institutions. Some of the more important potentially affected parties are listed below:

  • Consumers
  • Business partners
  • Stockholders
  • Marketers
  • Journalists
  • Prospective employers and employees
  • Co-workers
  • Personal contacts

Branded vs non-branded traffic

If I were to offer you 100 new visitors that come via a branded search or 1000 who come via a generic non-branded search term, which would you chose? I suppose the answer will depend on a range of factors, one of which is your conversion rate. Regardless, it’s likely that exposure to the brand will have increased their likelihood to either convert or to investigate — and then convert!

Understanding what percentage of your traffic is branded will help you to understand just how valuable this tool and article could be to your company.

Measuring your brand / non-brand split

In this (optional) section we’ll walk you through how to see your brand vs non-brand split without any need for paid tools or insane extrapolations of GA data. This is an optional step but will be relatively easy even for a “novice nerd” to follow. If you’d like to leapfrog this and don’t want insight into your branded traffic split, then skip ahead.

1. Start by ensuring you are logged in to a Google account with access to your Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools).

2. Following this, visit https://datastudio.google.com in a separate tab and create a fresh blank report.

The phrase: “It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas” comes to mind!

3. Now, click in the bottom right of your screen to create a new data source.

4. Select the Google Search Console connector as shown below.

5. You may need to provide authorization to Google Data Studio.

6. Now find your site in the list and select URL Impression and the ‘Connect’ button in the top right.

7. You should now be presented with a list of fields, however, we want to make a new one! Simply click the ‘add a field’ button.

8. The code you need can be seen below, you’ll need to replace the example brand with your own. The expression we have used will look for any search term containing either “zaz” or “le me” to determine whether the keywords are branded or not, keep this simple and short.

CASE WHEN REGEXP_MATCH(Query, (“.*zaz.*|.*le me.*”)  ) THEN “Branded” ELSE “Non-Branded” END

You can add more between the speech marks with a |.*text here.* expression.

9. Give the field a name (such as ‘Branded Split’), save it, and we’re almost there!

10. You may still need to add the data source to the blank template, select it from the list to the right and click “Add to Report”

11. Your report will change into a grid and you can now make your chart show brand vs non-brand.

12. Select the type of graph you want to use (I favor area graphs personally) and draw an appropriately sized rectangle. When the graph is selected you’ll need to adjust the ‘Data’ menu to show:

Time Dimension: Date

Breakdown Dimension: Branded Split (or whatever you called your field)

Metric: URL Clicks

13. You can adjust how the chart displays in the ‘Style’ menu, below is my example where I have disabled stacking to show separate lines.

14. Changing your metric to ‘Impressions’ can allow you to quickly see the difference between the two, it often helps to highlight where you may rank for a huge keyword that is unrelated such as a celebrity or a similarly named brand.

15. While this information is useful you may find it difficult to understand how the data averages out – as such, a pie chart may provide you with a clearer ratio. Naturally, a high ratio of branded search increases the importance of this article and our associated tool.

16. You can use data studio to list the keywords making up these impressions/clicks etc, but for the purpose of this investigation we’ll just be using Google Search Console directly from now on.

If you’ve enjoyed this dabble into Data Studio, let us know in the comments and we’ll be sure to produce more insightful posts using it.

Keywords to Protect

When looking for the keywords you want to assess, ensure you consider the below aspects of your company.

  • Your Name
  • Company
  • Brand(s)
  • Product(s)
  • High profile employees
  • Handles/usernames
  • Brand and Reviews
  • Brand vs Competitor

Tool and training for brand reputation

1. Zazzle Media offers a free [gated] Google Sheet available here for brand reputation protection.

2. Make a copy of this sheet on your own Google account or the shared business account you have for all things ‘web’.

3. Name the sheet to whatever you like.

4. In the Dashboard tab – Cell B3, pop your root domain such as zazzlemedia.co.uk or wonga.com.

5. The only other input on the Dashboard tab is for you to list your keywords between B6 – B27.

6. You can find these quite easily by nipping into GSC and filtering by your brand. Alternatively you can do this with your Bing WMT account, however the important keywords will likely be the same regardless of search engine.

7. Add both the appropriate brand keywords and the associated impressions to the table. We’ve used Wonga in our example data.

8. Your impressions won’t be weighted but it can help you identify high impression (high importance) keywords that have low scores.

9. Now that you’ve entered your keywords into the Dashboard you can move to the Scoring tab.

10. You’ll notice there are 10 positions for each keyword, to mirror the results page in either Google or Bing – depending on where you are running your investigation. Simply enter the full URL of the pages into the Full URL column.

11. The domain column will fill out automatically. If you’ve accidentally removed the formula just enter the below code into cell E6 and drag down

<wrap the below in code tags>
=IFERROR(REGEXEXTRACT(D6,”^(?:https?:\/\/)?(?:[^@\n]+@)?(?:www\.)?([^:\/\n]+)”),””)

12. Similar to the domain column, the Title column will also fill out automatically. Again if you’ve removed the formula, enter the below code into cell F6 and drag down too (and stop deleting the formulas!)

<wrap the below in code tags>
=ARRAY_CONSTRAIN(IFERROR(importxml(D6, “//title/text()”),”Please Enter Manually”),1,1)

13. The titles should automatically fill out due to the importXML feature, however it’s not always 100% perfect, you may need to manually enter a title. The titles are only used to help you judge the impact any article might have and naturally relies on competitors/sites having appropriate titles.

14. Lastly you’ll need to score the URLs from -10 to 10 the table below suggests how you should score, but always take into account where the page is ranking too, a slightly negative article in position 3 is potentially worse than a competitor in position 9.

Score Notes
-10 Site actively tries to discourage users from using your service. Potentially a very damning review or customer complaint/scandal.
-5 Site loosely attempts to acquire your visitors with no benefit to you. This could be natural crossover with another brand’s service or review aggregator.
0 Neutral site that is unlikely to alter brand perception. Or is a totally unrelated brand. Alternatively the incorrect page on your site.
5 Positive story against your brand such as a news story or great review. Alternatively a useful (but not 100% perfect) page on your own site.
10 The correct page on your site that should be ranking or an acceptable secondary page that is helping you to own the SERPs.

15. We’ve filled the sheet in with the company Wonga.com who recently closed their doors and are no longer offering new loans. This combined with the cannibalistic nature of lenders meant that we were guaranteed a vibrant set of results.

16. Once you have scored every URL you can move back to the Dashboard tab.

17. You’ll find automated lists of both the positive and negative sites, there is a good chance your site will be the only positive but this depends heavily on the media’s representation of your brand.

18. The original tab where you entered your keywords will also now have scores for your site. You’ll find an overall average, an external site score and a score specifically for pages that your site has featured in the SERPs. In the example we’ve produced there is (or was!) a clear need for Wonga to own their reviews more and improve their targeting of “wonga login”.

19. Below the automated graphs and keyword table you’ll also find a simple score for Offence, Neutral Game and Defence.

  • Offence: This score shows how well you’ve optimized your site’s pages within the search results. A low score suggests the wrong pages are ranking.
  • Neutral Game: This is an overall score of your brand’s performance within SERPs, taking into account both your site and competitor sites.
  • Defence: This figure shows how negative the other sites are in the search results, it excludes your site entirely from the scoring.

20. Individual keyword scores are certainly more actionable however the overall scoring provides you with a good benchmark for brand protection KPIs.

Hopefully you’ve been able to gain some interesting insight into your brands perception within branded search results and, if needed been able to make use of the training recommendations made within our tool.

Improving Organic Brand Reputation

We’ve provided a ‘Training’ tab that suggests some of the basic but nevertheless critical points around brand protection. Following these is a great starting point, however if you have additional resource beyond managing these factors consider doing a similar exercise with a copy of the sheet for your competitor’s terms – put yourself in their shoes and discover how they are doing certain elements better than you.

To hark back to the example we showed earlier for Wonga, one of their primary competitors was QuickQuid who just have a simple page to target this term:

It’s better than nothing, and is a good step towards trying to outrank the Trustpilot page that might be a darn sight more damaging.

If you need additional support or help with managing your digital reputation – get in touch! And be sure to get the tool to help you with managing your brand reputation in the SERPs.

I hope you’ve found the tool and associated insight to be useful. Please let me know how you get on @StuartShawUK.

Search Engine Watch


Branded search vs direct search: How to optimize for brand-driven queries

November 6, 2018 No Comments

So you have built a brand, large enough for it to be searched on Google? Now, how well are you ranking for all those branded queries?

A few days ago Joy Hawkins posted a very insightful thread distinguishing between two important brand-driven search queries:

  • Branded searches are searches for brands that you sell (even if it’s a part of your business name) that returns a list of results.
  • Direct searches are searches for your specific location that return a Knowledge Panel (also referred to as “Authoritative OneBox”).

For example, [State Farm] search triggers local-three-pack results. That’s a branded search:

Branded search

[State Farm Shannon Barr] returns a knowledge graph: That is a direct search:

Direct search

This classification makes your local search optimization strategy much more clearer and better organized:

  • Create and optimize your third-party brand assets to dominate as many results for your direct search results as you can
  • Collect all your branded search queries and create the optimization strategy to rank high (as well as appear in local-three pack)

Let’s discuss the above two points in more detail:

1. Dominate direct search results

Here’s one important thing that you need to always keep in mind when creating your strategy for these: More often than not, this search is driven by ROPO / ROBO (research online purchase/buy offline/online) behavior.

What this means is that those searchers already know you and are ready to purchase. In fact they are so ready that they take time researching you online.

This is huge.

This also needs to push you to keep a closer eye on those direct search results and what first impression they make when someone looks at them for the first time.

The first impression matters here. A lot.

With that in mind, perform and repeat the following exercises on a regular basis:

  1. Perform that direct search (this may include your full business name, your business name plus your business address, your business name plus your / the owner’s name, etc.)
  2. Evaluate reviews and ratings (rich snippets) searchers see right away. Should you spend some more effort on a particular platform (Yelp, Facebook, etc.) to improve your overall rating there? Should you try and push any of your other listings higher in search, those where you have managed to build a better rep? Should you try and obtain verified presence at new local platforms (probably those that rank high for your competitor’s name). Smaller local directories can give you better, easier controlled rich snippets, e.g. Business.com, DirJournal, BizJournals, etc.
  3. Evaluate third-party assets those trigger (your interviews, standalone reviews, articles about you, etc.). Should there be other – more favorable 0 assets pushed there? (For example, events you spoke on, your other interviews, books, etc.) Should more of those be publicized? (E.g. publish and promote that video where you were speaking!)
  4. Evaluate visual search results those trigger (images and videos). Can those be hurting that important first impression? Should I be publicizing more images, including photosvisualizations, etc.?

Visual reputation

The search results are always evolving, so it’s important to perform those exercises on a regular basis as well come up with and implement a new plan at least yearly.

2. Collect and organize your branded search queries

This is one of those steps that’s unbelievably missed by many, even big, brands.

Remember: Your important branded search is not just your actual business name. There are hundreds and (for bigger brands) even thousands of ways your potential customers are searching for you online.

Branded queries

Here are a few most important ones to keep an eye on:

  • ROPO queries (these are ready to buy) Your brand name + reviews
  • High intent queries (almost there!): Your brand name + your product / feature. Here’s a bit more on this type
  • Navigational queries (your site navigation should be addresses): Your brand name + contact / login
  • Competitive research (these customers are the easiest to lose!) Your brand name vs your competitor’s name. *Wistia is doing a great job optimizing for those: Notice their well-optimized landing pages for these types of queries. Example:

Competitive queries

And here’s another thing to remember: You want to rank #1 (and if possible #1, 2 and 3) for all of those! Otherwise, you may lose a customer to a competitor or a blogger who is suggesting a better alternative or simply advises against your brand.

But not just that! Think about all those “blended” search results that may distract the user’s attention from your brand:

  • Local pack
  • Videos
  • Images
  • Product results
  • People Also Ask, etc.

Whenever these are triggered for your branded search, include a separate strategy for conquering those too, e.g. “[brand name vs your competitor’s name] needs a video”.

Serpstat is a solid platform helping you research and organize all those branded queries in a meaningful way.

  • You can sort branded queries by search volume or keyword difficulty
  • You can see at a glance which blended search element each query triggers (as well as filter by any)
  • You can add all the branded queries to their rank tracking tool under a separate project to keep a close eye on how you rank:

Serpstat keywords

Serpstat’s output gives a very good insight into search results for each keyword without the need to actually search for each one in Google. This allows you to efficiently create a thorough branded search optimization strategy.

You can read more about there keyword selection tool here.

3. Optimize for local-three pack rankings

Local-three pack has changed local search optimization a lot. It is also leaving a lot of local businesses and marketers confused because there’s not much obvious logic behind it, in some cases.

There are no official recommendations helping us understand what can get a businesses into the well-used local three pack, obviously, but here’s what I was able to collect from reputable sources and my own observations:

  • Keep your local listing verified and completed (including those newer sections like Google Local Posts)
  • According to Bright Local, businesses appearing in the Google Local 3-pack have an average of 47 Google Reviews (work on those reviews).
  • There’s a huge on-page factor in play (Make sure those branded search queries are mentioned on your landing page)
  • As basic as it sounds but keywords help everywhere: In your business description on Google local, on your page (again), in your business reviews, etc.
  • Seasonal fluctuations. I’ve seen businesses with “March” in the business name suddenly appear in the three local pack during spring. I am not sure if there’s anything to do here to put this idea into practice but at least we know those rankings are not permanent.

More on ranking in local-three pack: How to Start Ranking in Google 3 Pack ASAP

Are you optimizing for your direct and branded search queries? Let us know in the comments!

Search Engine Watch


Why a well-crafted SEO strategy is imperative for the holidays

November 3, 2018 No Comments

Whether your business is in the B2B space or consumer goods, the holiday season presents ­­some unique SEO opportunities to capitalize on, and important pitfalls to avoid.

Ecommerce, brick and mortar retail stores, and even B2B businesses can experience unique opportunities by being visible in search at a time when people are actively shopping, researching, and getting caught up on work.  The holidays are a time when there is a huge uptick in SEO activity, including purchasing through ecommerce and in-person at retail stores.

SEO strategy and content planning as we approach 2019

Much has changed in the SEO space over the past years, but the message from search engines like Google has not changed all that much. The name of the game is still to create better content and a better experience on your website for users, based on specific user search intent.

When forming your SEO strategy for the holidays you need to identify the problems your customers will be looking to solve, and how you can present the best solution.  Here are the steps you should take in forming your SEO content strategy for the holidays.

1. Keyword research

Perform an exhaustive analysis of the keywords being used by your customers when they are searching for your products or services. Consider the specific issues your customers might have during the holidays related to your business. Visit competitor sites to identify the keywords they are targeting; Screaming Frog is a great tool to crawl a website and pull meta-data for all accessible pages. Use SEMrush to see current ranking terms for your website as well as competitors.

You can use a variety of SEO tools to perform keyword research including: Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, Moz, Wordstream, and a variety of others.  Identify all variations and organize into broad groups. Once you have created broad keyword groups (and even during research), it’s a good idea to check intent by examining search results for your chosen terms. Make sure the results line up with the subject matter and type of content that makes sense for your business.

2. Competitive SEO research

Once you have identified the keywords you are looking to rank for, take the time to examine the web pages that are dominating the search results. What about them is done well, where are they falling short?  What types and depths of content are being showcased? Is it short informational videos explaining how to diagnose a home-improvement problem (like a broken garbage disposal at a holiday party), an extensive written blog post on fixing the issue, or is it a directory filled with local repair specialists?

You will want to fit in with what is already there as much as possible. You might write the one blog post that outranks all the ecommerce product pages, but this is less likely. The goal is to understand the intent of your audience and present the best solution possible. Google search results pages are your best resource here, the SERPs offer powerful data and insights into the intent and search behavior of your audience.

3. Content planning

If you have completed thorough keyword and competitor research, you should have some ideas on the types of content you want to create in order to outperform the competition. Focus on providing better information, easier and more straightforward solutions, and plenty of details so the user gets everything they need without leaving the page.

Organize content so it is easy to digest visually; use bullet points, simple charts, images, and videos. Keep text short enough to scan, with plenty of headings and sub sections so users can easily find the information they want. Lastly, research questions that your audience is asking related to the keywords you are targeting. Including questions with thorough and accurate explanations within your content is a good way to target voice search and rich snippets.

Ecommerce SEO during the holidays

If you sell products online through ecommerce, the holidays should already be on your radar and you likely have already been forming a strategy to maximize sales. SEO is still one of the biggest drivers of traffic and online sales across the board, so a well-crafted SEO strategy should be central to your overall digital strategy.

It’s still the same SEO

The rules for SEO don’t change with the season, so the same rules you follow the rest of the year still apply. The big difference is the stakes, and during the holidays the stakes are very high for many ecommerce stores. There are some things you can do to research seasonal SEO trends in order to create a strategy that capitalizes on the very best opportunities. If you can get access to monthly search volume for your target keywords (instead of just monthly average searches) you can plan ahead and target terms that you know are big during the holidays. Google Trends is also a great resource for identifying these kinds of seasonal SEO fluctuations across various keywords and topics.

In-person retail sales

While many brick & mortar retail businesses may not think about digital presence and SEO during the holidays, this is a major mistake to avoid.  Lots of businesses don’t sell online and still depend on SEO visibility to drive foot traffic and in-person sales.  If you are a business that gets lots of foot traffic during the holidays, you will want to make sure your local SEO listings are accurate, visible, and provide all credibility factors possible so that you’re the destination of choice for holiday shoppers who need what you’re selling.

Local SEO listing management

Make sure you have claimed your Google My Business page, that it is filled out as much as possible and has updated information and pictures. Make sure your important product/service categories are listed wherever possible, and there is a link to your website (if you have one). Lastly, make sure your name, address, phone number, and hours are accurate!  If you stay open later during the holidays, you better make sure your listing doesn’t say you’re closed. You can use free audits from tools like Yext & Moz Local to check your local listings and get a list of other local directory sites you will want to claim and update your business listings on (most can be done for free with a little extra research). Although, be aware you may receive a sales call after using Yext as your info may be passed to their sales team. Both are solid services for managing local listings, and for the price Bright Local is another great option.

SEO for B2B businesses during the holidays

B2B businesses are the last type you might expect to have big SEO opportunities during the holidays, but you would be wrong!  Although many B2B businesses are pretty dead during the holidays, the key stakeholders, c-suite executives, and other senior management personnel are often using this time to catch up on work initiatives and other high priority tasks they couldn’t fit in before the break.

Businesses opportunities from SEO can definitely materialize around the holidays. While search volume goes down for many B2B business topics, there are also amazing opportunities that can pop up from people filling out online forms or leaving messages during the holiday break.  If you can get ahead with your SEO plan and be visible in the right spots when this time hits, you might find that your competition is out to lunch when the big opportunity you have been waiting for arrives as a result of your SEO strategy.

Tax write-offs

Another big consideration around the holidays is how businesses can lower their tax liability, SEO is a great investment around this time.  The truth is that if you are waiting till the holidays to develop your SEO strategy, you’re unlikely to be successful. The good news is you have a huge opportunity to get ahead for next year!

Many businesses put off SEO investment until the new year because of annual budgets and the previous year’s planning.  End of the year is a great time to get ahead and gives you an advantage over competitors who kickstart new SEO programs after the new year (of which there are always a ton).  There is a great deal of SEO work that requires heavy research and planning in the initial phases and making these big investments at the end of the year can get you a few months ahead of the competition.

The holidays are a great time to take advantage of increased activity and purchase behavior, but it’s critical that you plan ahead and cover your bases. If you dedicate the proper time and resources into developing a well-crafted SEO strategy, you can capitalize on some significant opportunities during the holidays and reap huge rewards.

Chris Rodgers is CEO of Colorado SEO Pros.

Search Engine Watch


10 fun facts (and a typo) from the original Google paper by Larry and Sergey

October 27, 2018 No Comments

Yesterday while I was having a blast reading “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine,” I happened across some fun facts.

We got into some of the more technical goods from the paper yesterday, but figured these would also be an worthwhile — or at least more enjoyable — read. Friday and all.

1. “Wow, you looked at a lot of pages from my web site. How did you like it?” – people encountering a crawler for the first time

They note that they received almost daily emails from people either concerned about copyright issues or asking if they liked the site after looking at it. For many people with web pages, this was one of the first crawlers they had seen.

“It turns out that running a crawler which connects to more than half a million servers, and generates tens of millions of log entries generates a fair amount of email and phone calls. Because of the vast number of people coming on line, there are always those who do not know what a crawler is, because this is the first one they have seen. Almost daily, we receive an email something like, “Wow, you looked at a lot of pages from my web site. How did you like it?” There are also some people who do not know about the robots exclusion protocol, and think their page should be protected from indexing by a statement like, “This page is copyrighted and should not be indexed.”

More innocent times.

2. A billion web documents predicted by 2000

“It is foreseeable that by the year 2000, a comprehensive index of the Web will contain over a billion documents. . . The goal of our system is to address many of the problems, both in quality and scalability, introduced by scaling search engine technology to such extraordinary numbers.”

Now in 2018, there are reportedly 130 trillion documents on the web — an extraordinary number indeed. And sure enough, their search has scaled to meet it.

3. Google took up 55 GB of storage

“The total of all the data used by the search engine requires a comparable amount of storage, about 55 GB.”

Now, Google is 2 billion lines of code. As noted by one of their engineering managers in 2016, the repository contains 86TB of data.

4. “People are still only willing to look at the first few tens of results.”

Please note: “tens.”

They write about the need for more precision in search. Remember the days when people regularly clicked past page 1?

5. Percentage of .com domains: from 1.5 to 60, to now 46.5

They note how “commercialized” the web was already becoming, leaving search engine technology “to be largely a black art and to be advertising oriented.”

“The Web has also become increasingly commercial over time. In 1993, 1.5% of web servers were on .com domains. This number grew to over 60% in 1997.”

According to Statistica, the number of .com domains is down to 46.5% as of May 2018.

“With Google,” they wrote, “we have a strong goal to push more development and understanding into the academic realm.”

6. “There are two types of hits: fancy hits and plain hits”

After going into some technical detail about optimized compact encoding, they reveal that they’ve their complex compact encoding preparations are categorized simply — endearingly — into fancy and plain.

7. Already defending user experience in anticipating search

From the start, it seems Brin and Page fought for users to not need to excessively specify their queries in order to get desired information. They wrote:

“Some argue that on the web, users should specify more accurately what they want and add more words to their query. We disagree vehemently with this position. If a user issues a query like “Bill Clinton” they should get reasonable results since there is a enormous amount of high quality information available on this topic. Given examples like these, we believe that the standard information retrieval work needs to be extended to deal effectively with the web.”

It’s interesting that this was so clearly in their thinking from the beginning. At last week’s Search Summit, Googler Juan Felipe Rincon said, “The future of search is no search, because search implies uncertainty. Instead, it will be about how you populate something before someone knows what they don’t know.”

8. There was a typo

In the second paragraph of section 3.2, they write “Couple this flexibility to publish anything with the enormous influence of search engines to route traffic and companies which deliberately manipulating search engines for profit become a serious problem.”

Did you catch it? The verb should be, “companies which are deliberately manipulating search engines become” or “companies which deliberately manipulate search engines become.” Of the utmost gravity, we know.

Just goes to show that even if an incomplete verb phrase won’t keep you from doing some pretty cool stuff in the world. And of course, that even the best of us need editors.

9. Search Engine Watch shout out

We tweeted this yesterday, but felt the need to share again for extra emphasis. Our very own Search Engine Watch was cited in the paper, stating that top search engines claimed to index 100 million web documents as of November 1997. Been a fun 21 years.

10: They chose these photos

Happy Friday, everyone.

Search Engine Watch


Why search marketing matters in 2018

October 20, 2018 No Comments

First let me ask you: how many unread emails are in the “promotions,” “updates,” and “other” tabs of your inbox? When I got to work on Monday morning, there were 248. How many of those did I read, you ask? Three at best, and only because they were already my favorite news roundups. The others? Didn’t stand a chance. “Marked as read,” “deleted,” and otherwise wholeheartedly, happily ignored.

Long story short, consumers these days are drowning in emails. We have promotions, “we’ve missed you!”s, “rate our product!”s, and 100 other types of unread newsletters pouring from our inboxes and never getting close to our attention.

For a long time, it was businesses seeking out consumers

And while that obviously is still at play, the tides are shifting. It’s just too much content to keep tabs on. More and more, consumers are ignoring the bombardment and seeking out businesses on their own terms — when and where they want to look.

For a long time, SEO was a small group of nerds (*experts) sitting in a corner doing their thing, trying to convince everyone that search mattered and that there were ways to improve rankings.

For a long time, people kind of let them do their thing while not understanding what SEO actually was or fully grasping their value.

But now, the amount of content is suffocating. I don’t want to read 248 “other” emails to find the information I need. I want it know.

Where do I go? The place where 93% of online journeys begin: I search.

Now, businesses need to be found by searching consumers

As often happens when tech goes mainstream, all of a sudden businesses care a lot more about that group of nerds in the corner.

The question now turns to, “how can I make sure my business is found when and where my customers are looking?”

In a world of customer experience, I don’t want to bother consumers — I want them to happen “serendipitously” upon my product or service. I want to be there when they’re ready.

These days, customer journeys start not when a consumer walks into a store, or lands on my web page. Customer journeys start the second a consumer opens a search engine.

Desktop to mobile to voice

And to top it all off, the stakes keep getting higher. When I search on desktop, I probably look at the first ten results. On mobile, maybe I consider five. On voice? One gold spot at the top.

Exciting times for SEO and search marketing.

As such, we’re thrilled to host The Transformation of Search Summit today here in New York City, in partnership with ClickZ and Catalyst.

Topics to consider in search marketing

We’ll be covering all of these and more:

  • The new customer journey
  • Blockchain and the decentralized economy, and what they mean for search
  • Optimizing for voice search
  • Amazon and Amazon Marketing Services
  • Visual search and ecommerce
  • Strategies for search transformation

Needless to say, we’re pretty jazzed about the event. Speakers include some brilliant minds from SAP, Google, Microsoft, Adobe, LEGO, Hertz, Pinterest, Hilton, Conde Nast, and many more.

Mostly, we’re excited to see the continued rise of search marketing and how businesses adapt to better at being found by consumers.

This post also appeared on ClickZ.

Search Engine Watch


7 common SEO mistakes most WordPress bloggers make

October 16, 2018 No Comments

WordPress initially started out as a ‘blog-only’ platform and now that it has extended as a full-fledged Content Management System, it remains a popular blogging platform. WordPress.com blogs have over 409 million monthly viewers who looked at 22.4 billion pages per month this past year.

This standalone fact is enough to justify the popularity of WordPress as people’s favorite blogging platform.  

WordPress does provide a lot of helpful features for blogging enthusiasts who are looking to start their own blogging website. However, inexperienced bloggers do commit some mistakes in spite of all the online help available. In this blog post, we will review the most common SEO WordPress mistakes that bloggers commit out of either ignorance or sheer carelessness. Regardless of the reason, these mistakes affect the search engine ranking of their blogs and even their online reputation. 

So, let’s explore seven of the most common SEO mistakes made by WordPress bloggers. 

1. Not using the right SEO optimized blogging theme 

If you are new to blogging, you might have missed out on the information that WordPress offers SEO optimized themes for your blogs which are highly helpful when it comes to the quest of online rankings. If you are not using an SEO optimized blogging theme, you are obviously a step behind than the others who are relying on them. There are a lot of SEO optimized blogging themes for WordPress that you could choose from such as DiviMagPlusJevelin etc.  

2. Missing on an SEO optimized contact form 

Even if your WordPress blog is in its initial phase, it needs to provide a point of contact to its followers, even if they are less in the count than expected. A contact form serves the purpose just right. Your contact form is a conversion driver and optimizing it for the right SEO keywords will help your visitors easily find your blog, hence amplifying the traffic. 

3. Not buying a domain 

Are you running your free blog using WordPress with the default blog address you were allotted with? If the answer is ‘Yes’, you might not be pleased with what we are about to tell you. A blog or even a website runs well only when it runs as per the need of its target audience. A proper domain name provides an identity to your blog and prepares a path for the visitors to lay their expectations. Not buying a domain can damage the traffic expectations of your blog and kill its overall Search engine ranking. 

4. Not optimizing blog images 

A great blog comes to being only when its relevant content is paired with original and high-quality images. However, a lot of WordPress blog and website owners forget to tap the optimization of these images. It is very important to optimize the images you use in your WordPress blog. It helps your site load faster and even enhances your Google PageSpeed score. 

To optimize your blog images, you can seek help from WordPress image optimization plugins such as Smush ItEWWW Image Optimizer, and TinyPNG. These plugins will help you compress your images without affecting their resolution and also take care of their SEO optimization. 

5. Choosing the wrong keyword 

Your blog’s reachability depends entirely on the Keyword chosen by you for its Search Engine Optimization. Keyword Research might be a very extensive concept but it can do wonders for your blog’s SEO if done in the right manner. 

You have to work on an SEO Keyword strategy for your blog in a manner that you are using  Keywords that define the subject of your content, are low in competition yet are commonly used by visitors for finding the information they are looking for. Finding Keywords that fit the bill for all these requirements can be quite a task and might overwhelm certain users. As demanding they might be, they require your focus or the attention if you are looking to rank your blog well.  

6. Not focusing on loading speed 

Your online blog’s loading time will highly affect the traffic on it and also the site abandonment ratio that follows if your blog takes a lot of time to load for its visitors. A loading time above 2-3 seconds can lead to a lot of visitors abandoning your blog.

If you really are serious about your blog’s loading speed, you must get a Caching plugin for your blogs such as W3 Total CacheWP Fastest Cache or WP Super Cache. These plugins are easy to use and they make your WordPress blog speedy as well. You must also not refrain from investing in a reliable web hosting service because they tackle your blogging website’s server side issues and have their fair share towards your blog’s overall performance and speed.  

7. Not focusing on content and readability 

Probably one of the most important aspects of your blog is the content that you push through it. It needs to be of a top-notch quality when you are looking to commit no SEO mistakes in and around it. Make sure the following things about your blog’s your content: 

  • Create original content that is relevant as per the audience. 
  • Make sure that this content is readable and provides a ‘takeaway’ for the target audience. 
  • Blogging consistently will help you have a stable traffic on your blog. Use plugins like the Editorial Calendar to blog regularly. 

Conclusion

A lot of experienced blog owners do commit technical and onsite SEO errors and then look for SEO agencies and content marketers to take care of their blog’s SEO. However, the most common mistakes can be easily avoided by creating a checklist of the must-haves. 

Analyze your WordPress blog today and see if you are committing any of the mistakes mentioned above. Hopefully, you’ll be able to tackle them and remove them from your blog at the earliest. Once you have a solid SEO content strategy and a perfect plan of action for your blog’s SEO, you will definitely be able to refine and improve the overall SEO performance of your WordPress blog.

Search Engine Watch


Google data breach + Berners-Lee’s Solid — is the power shifting?

October 13, 2018 No Comments

I don’t usually go for drastic headlines, but it does seem like some tides have been turning of late.

We’ve all followed the stories of data breaches, new regulations, fake news, hacks, ever-rising privacy concerns. Not to mention this week’s discovery that webmaster Google had a breach exposing private data from as many as 500,000 people. As a result of which, they’ll be shutting down Google+ for consumers.

Facebook and Google faced scandals of no small sort within months of each other. GDPR passed, and subsequent regulations are hedging their way into the US market.

But perhaps most interesting of all, on September 29 Tim Berners-Lee surfaced to announce the next “one small step” for the web. I may not speak for the masses, but when Berners-Lee pipes up about something I tend to lend my ear. Besides being best known as the person who invented the World Wide Web (how about adding that to your LinkedIn), he’s been quite on-point in following its evolution.

Curious footnote: the WWW started as a memo

As he tells the story himself from a TED stage, “I wrote a memo suggesting the global hypertext system. Nobody really did anything with it. But 18 months later — this is how innovation happens — 18 months later, my boss said I could do it on the side, as a sort of a play project…So I basically roughed out what HTML should look like: hypertext protocol, HTTP; the idea of URLs, these names for things which started with HTTP. I wrote the code and put it out there.”

And now look at us. Running whole businesses on that one widely explosive memo.

Anyway. Almost 20 years after the original invention, Tim Berners-Lee appeared on the TED stage to thank people for all their work contributing to the web so far and to ask support to push the web into the next phase.

From documents to data

Reflecting on the collaborative effort that had been the web thus far, in 2009 Berners-Lee said, “I asked everybody, more or less,”Could you put your documents on this web thing?” And you did. Thanks. It’s been a blast, hasn’t it?” He likened that first evolution to the next: from documents to data. In that talk in 2009 he asked people, governments, universities, the UN, anyone with large, unused, non-private data sets to open them up on the web.

Through data, we saw the magic of Hans Rosling showing us global development over time. We’ve seen data used to help in hurricane relief, to save a primeval forest, and of course to create entirely new industries, products, customer experiences, and interactions.

From one-way data to read-write data

Happily, we’ve seen open data in troves. But most of it has been one-way, for instance government data that can be viewed but not interacted with.

Which brings us back to: hey Berners-Lee, what have you been up to the last eight years?

Besides teaching computer science at both Oxford and MIT (again, casual), he’s apparently been working on a little side project called Solid, “an open-source project to restore the power and agency of individuals on the web.”

Built using the existing web, Solid is a platform that offers two primary benefits: data empowerment and data interactivity. It gives users the power to decide where data is stored and who can access which parts of it. It lets users link, share, and collaborate on data with whomever they want.

Next: power with digital giants to power with consumers?

All of this of course brings us back to the original question: have we reached the tipping point?

Some proponent the concept of “walled gardens,” where internet, media, advertising, search, and data power are concentrated in the hands of primarily four digital giants: Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook.

Those four companies continue creeping into our lives and homes in never before dreamed ways. But trust is waning. Earlier this year, Edelman found a “37-point aggregate drop in trust across all institutions” — a steeper decline than in any other market.

In the words on Berners-Lee, “For all the good we’ve achieved, the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas. Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible — and necessary.”

What does internet in the hands of consumers look like?

Well, who’s to say? Right now it still looks rather swayed by those powerful forces who use it for their own agendas.

A platform like Solid, though, would usurp that. It’s at odds with the current value exchange. Instead of demanding users hand over personal data to digital giants in order to essentially use the web, Solid seeks to take one small step toward restoring the balance of the web as it was actually intended to be. We would each have control over data.

Just as we all “put our documents on this web thing” and “it was a blast,” a platform like Solid seeks data empowerment and data interactivity. Two things many of us struggle to imagine.

But then again, as Berners-Lee ended his post, “The future is still so much bigger than the past.”

Ps in case I haven’t already made this clear, it’s a pretty worthwhile read.

This post also appeared on ClickZ.

Search Engine Watch


On-site SEO for international brands, do’s and don’ts

October 9, 2018 No Comments

International brands have their work cut out for them. Building a consistent brand experience across multiple continents and to audiences that speak different languages is no easy task, and the process of translating individual pages from one language to another is time consuming and resource intensive.

Unfortunately, much of this work can go to waste if the right steps aren’t taken to help search engines understand how your site has been internationalized.

To help you prevent this, we’ve collected a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” to help guide your internationalization efforts and ensure that your pages get properly indexed by search engines.

Do conduct language specific keyword research

The direct translation of a keyword will not necessarily be what users are searching for in that language. Rather than simply taking the translation at face value, you will have more success if you take a look at your options in the Google Keyword Planner to see if there are other phrasings or synonyms that are a better fit.

Remember to update your location and language settings within the planner, listed just above the “keyword ideas” field:

Don’t index automatic translation

Automatic translation can be better than nothing as far as user experience goes in some circumstances, but users should be warned that the translation may not be reliable, and pages that have been automatically translated should be blocked from search engines in robots.txt. Automatic translations will typically look like spam to algorithms like Panda and could hurt the overall authority of your site.

Do use different URLs for different languages

In order to ensure that Google indexes alternate language versions of each page, you need to ensure that these pages are located at different URLs.

Avoid using browser settings and cookies to change the content listed at the URL to a different language. Doing so creates confusion about what content is located at that URL.

Since Google’s crawlers are typically located in the United States, they will typically only be able to access the US version of the content, meaning that the alternate language content will not get indexed.

Again, Google needs a specific web address to identify a specific piece of content. While different language versions of a page may convey the same information, they do so for different audiences, meaning they serve different purposes, and Google needs to see them as separate entities in order to properly connect each audience to the proper page.

We highly recommend using a pre-built e-commerce platform like Shopify Plus or Polylang for WordPress in order to ensure that your method for generating international URLs is consistent and systematic.

Don’t canonicalize from one language to another

The canonical tag is meant to tell search engines that two or more different URLs represent the same page. This doesn’t always mean the content is identical, since it could represent page alternates where the content has been sorted differently, where the thematic visuals are different, and other minor changes.

Alternate language versions of a page, however, are not the same page. A user searching for the Dutch version of a page would be very disappointed if they landed on the English version of the page. For this reason, you should never canonicalize one language alternate to another, even though the content on each page conveys the same information.

Do use “hreflang” for internationalization

You may be wondering how to tell search engines that two pages represent alternate language versions of the same content if you can’t use canonicalization to do so. This is what “hreflang” is for which explicitly tells the search engines that two or more pages are alternates of one another.

There are three ways to implement “hreflang,” with HTML tags, with HTTP headers, and in your Sitemap.

1. HTML Tags

Implementing “hreflang” with HTML tags is done in the <head> section, with code similar to this:

<head>

<title>Title tag of the page</title>

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en”

href=”https://example.com/page1/english-url” />

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es”

href=”https://example.com/page1/spanish-url” />

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”it”

href=”https://example.com/page1/italian-url” />

</head>

Where hreflang=”en” tells search engines that the associated URL https://example.com/page1/english-url is the English alternate version of the page. URLs must be entirely complete, including http or https and the domain name, not just the path. The two letter string “en” is an ISO 639-1 code, which you can find a list of here. You can also set hreflang=”x-default” for a page where the language is unspecified.

Each alternate should list all of the other alternates, including itself, and the set of links should be the same on every page. Any two pages that don’t both use hreflang to reference each other will not be considered alternates. This is because it’s okay for alternates to be located on different domains, and sites you do not have ownership of shouldn’t be able to claim themselves an alternate of one of your pages.

In addition to a language code, you can add an ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code. For example, for the UK English version of a page, you would use “en-GB” in place of “en.” Google does advise having at least one version of the page without a country code. You can apply multiple country codes and a country-agnostic hreflang to the same URL.

2. HTTP header

As an alternative to HTML implementation, your server can send an HTTP Link Header. The syntax looks like this:

Link: <https://example.com/page1/english-url>; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”en”,

<https://example.com/page1/spanish-url>; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”es”,

<https://example.com/page1/italian-url>; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”it”

The rules regarding how to use them are otherwise the same.

3. Sitemap

Finally, you can use your XML sitemap to set alternatives for each URL. The syntax for that is as follows:

<url>

<loc>https://example.com/page1/english-url</loc>

<xhtml:link

rel=”alternate”

hreflang=”es”

href=”https://example.com/page1/spanish-url”/>

<xhtml:link

rel=”alternate”

hreflang=”it”

href=”https://example.com/page1/italian-url”/>

<xhtml:link

rel=”alternate”

hreflang=”en”

href=”https://example.com/page1/english-url”/>

</url>

Note that the English version of the page is listed both within the <loc> tag and as an alternate.

Keep in mind that this is not complete. For it to be complete you will also need separate <url> sections for the Spanish and Italian pages, each of them listing all of the other alternates as well.

Don’t rely on the “lang” attribute or URL

Google explicitly does not use the lang attribute, the URL, or anything else in the code to determine the language of the page. The language is determined only by the language of the content itself.

Needless to say, this means that your page content should be in the correct language. But it also means:

  • The main content, navigation, and supplementary content should all be in the same language
  • Side by side translations should be avoided. Don’t display translations on the page, just make it easy for users to switch languages.
  • If your site offers any kind of automatic translation, make sure that this content is not indexable
  • Avoid mixing language use if at all possible, and if it is necessary, make sure that the primary language of the page dominates any others in substance

Do allow users to switch languages

For any international business, it’s a good idea to allow the users to switch languages, usually from the main navigation. For example, Amazon allows users to switch languages from the top right corner of the site:

Do not force the user to a specific language version of the page based on their location. Automatic redirection prevents both users and search engines from accessing the version of the site that they need to access. Google’s bots will never be able to crawl alternate language versions of a page if they are always redirected to the US version of the site based on their location.

Turning to Amazon for our example once again, we are not prevented from accessing amazon.co.jp, but we do have the option of switching to English:

Don’t create duplicate content across multiple languages

While you should not canonicalize alternate language versions of one page to another, if you use alternate URLs for pages meant for different locations but the language and content are identical, you should use the canonical tag. For example, if the American and British versions of a page are identical, one should consistently canonicalize to the other. Use hreflang as discussed above to list them as alternates with the same language but for different locations.

Conclusion

Use these guidelines to make sure users from all of your target audiences will be able to find your pages in the search results, no matter where they are located or what language they speak.

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