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Tag: Search

Images Are Going To Infiltrate Google Search – And Other Hot Takes For 2020 [Video]

January 15, 2020 No Comments

In this video, Hanapin’s Mary Hartman and Dan Rocklin discuss what they’re excited for in 2020, their resolutions, and their hot takes on overrated strategies.

Read more at PPCHero.com
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What impact will voice search have on SEO in 2020?

January 4, 2020 No Comments

With every year seeing new technological developments that shift the boundaries of business, working to take advantage of the new opportunities can be a challenge in digital marketing. One of these transformations in the market has been caused by the widespread adoption of voice search technology and its effects on internet usage.

As a consequence, this has had an impact on search engine optimization, where following SEO best practices is essential for most businesses in the current era. Internet voice search could be set to disrupt SEO conventions, so businesses would be well-advised to stay informed of the changes and plan accordingly.  

The rise of voice technology

The introduction of IBM’s Watson in 2010 paved the way for voice technology devices. Watson is a powerful voice recognition question-answer computer system that stunned the world as a super-intelligent, thinking, and speaking robot that was able to beat Trivia grandmasters on the TV quiz show, ‘Jeopardy’. In the following year, Google launched its Voice Search and Apple released Siri for the iPhone 4S, the first digital personal assistant. 

This was followed in 2014 by Cortana from Microsoft and Amazon Echo, a voice speaker powered by the personal assistant, Alexa. Google Assistant was launched in 2016, as well as the smart speaker Google Home. Initial figures showed Amazon Alexa to be leading the market, though Google Home is forecast to take the lead by 2020. Other prominent digital assistants on the global stage include Alice from Yandex, and AliGenie from Alibaba.  

Voice recognition technology has significantly improved since its inception. Google claims 95 percent accuracy, while the Chinese iFlytek speech recognition system has an accuracy of 98%. 

Voice technology has also spread to devices that fall under the umbrella term, the Internet of Things (IoT), such as a smart TV, a smart thermostat or a home kit. While it may be possible, internet voice search doesn’t have direct applications for most of these devices yet, and by far the greatest share of searches are currently made on either a smartphone or a smart speaker.

Twenty percent of queries on Google’s mobile app and Android devices are made with voice, while 31% of smartphone users use voice at least once a week, according to Statistica. 

Media analytics firm Comscore predicts that half of all online searches will be made through voice by 2020, while Gartner predicts that in the same year, 30% of online searches will be made on devices without a screen. This suggests an enormous rise in voice search, as well as the increased adoption of smart speakers. Earlier this year, Juniper Research predicted that 3.25 billion voice assistants were in use – a figure they forecast to reach eight billion by 2023. 

The effects of voice on SEO

Voice is, therefore, transforming our approaches to technology and the internet, but what impact is it having on search engine optimization?

Natural language

With improved and reliable voice recognition systems, voice technology is well adapted to follow everyday language use, so users can give commands as if they were speaking to a human. For any areas of potential confusion, emerging technologies are seeking to improve the user experience. The 2018 Internet Trends Report by venture capitalist and internet trends specialist, Mary Meeker, found that 70% of English language voice searches were made in natural or conversational language. 

Keyword length

Spoken language usually isn’t as concise as the written word, so queries will be longer than the three or four keyword searches more common to graphical user interfaces (GUI). Voice searches currently average 29 words in length, according to Backlinko. SEO strategists will need to adjust by using more long-tail keywords, with the added benefit that the longer the keyword phrases are, the higher the probability of conversion. 

Graph showing voice search query phrase length

Source: Neilpatel.com

Question words

Voice searches will more frequently include the question words who, which, when, where, and how, that are usually omitted in written searches. Marketers need to ensure content can deliver accurate and relevant answers to voice search queries, and distinguish between simple questions and those that require more comprehensive answers. Queries that can be answered with very short responses typically won’t generate traffic to a website because Google will often provide the required information via featured search snippets. 

According to SeoClarity, 20% of voice searches are triggered by just 25 keywords. These include question words and other commonly used verbs, such as make, do and can, as well as key nouns and adjectives, including a recipe, new, easy, types and home. These can be worked into SEO strategies, and question-form queries can show user intent to a higher degree. Marketers are therefore able to optimize content according to questions of a higher value. 

Search query trends by Bright Local

Source: Brightlocal.com

Semantic search

As opposed to lexical searches that look for literal matches of keywords, semantic searches attempt to find the user’s intended meaning within the context of the terms used. This understanding can be aided by user search history, global search history, the location of the user and keyword spelling variations. 

Google’s RankBrain is an artificial intelligence system designed to recognize words and phrases in order to improve internet search outcomes. This independent thinking quality of RankBrain helps it take query handling to a more sophisticated level. Hummingbird is another Google technology that helps natural language queries. It helps search result pages be more relevant based on context and intent, causing relevant pages to rank higher. 

Local search

Voice technology has brought an increased emphasis on the use of local search. Consumers are three times more likely to search locally when searching by voice. Research carried out over the last year shows that 58% of consumers find local businesses using voice search, and 46 percent use voice technology to find information on local businesses daily. Marketing strategies should account for this change and optimize for “near me” queries. 

SERPs

Around 75% of voice search results will rank in the top three positions in search engine results pages (SERPs). Most voice searches are answered by Rich Answer Boxes shown at the top of results pages. Featured snippets are included in 30 percent of Google queries. These are extracts from any website on the first page of SERPs, and brands are given credit in voice search as well as usual GUI searches. Brands only need to be on the first page to be used in featured snippets, rather than position zero.

Ecommerce

Ecommerce is especially impacted by voice, as consumers are much more likely to use voice to make purchases. Sixty-two percent of voice speaker owners have made purchases through their virtual assistant, and 40 percent of millennials use voice assistants before making online purchases. Digital assistants – and the best ways to optimize for them – should, therefore, be a priority for online retailers. 

Adapting to voice search

With voice technology impacting SEO in various ways, here are a few recommended steps brands can take to adapt accordingly.

  1. Google Voice prioritizes quick-loading websites, so brands should ensure images are optimized, files are compressed, response time is reduced, and the site is fully responsive. 
  2. Content should be optimized with long-tail keywords that reflect popular queries used in voice search. Focus on natural language. 
  3. Featured snippets are summary answers from web pages that may be used in position zero. To optimize content for this, include identifiable extracts to be featured and make content easier for Google to read by using H-tags and bullet points. 
  4. Structured data and schema markup provide more information about a brand and drive traffic. They help pages appear in rich snippets, which will increase the chances of being the first result delivered in voice searches. 
  5. Local information for your brand should be provided to meet the increased search volume for local businesses with voice – using Google My Business will help.  
  6. Increasing domain authority will help with search rankings – this can be improved by including high-quality links.

The impact of voice technology on SEO is certain. Given the huge rise in the adoption and use of voice, the impact on businesses will be considerable. Those brands that can anticipate and stay ahead of the changes before they happen will surely reap the benefits in years to come.

Roy Castleman is founder and managing director of EC-MSP Ltd., a London-based IT support organization focusing on small and medium-sized businesses.

The post What impact will voice search have on SEO in 2020? appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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The beginner’s guide to semantic search: Examples and tools

January 1, 2020 No Comments

Ever since Google’s Hummingbird, the term “semantic search” has been thrown around a lot. Yet, the concept is often misunderstood. What is semantic search and how it helps SEO efforts?

When people speak to each other, they understand more than just words. They understand the context, non-verbal cues  (facial expressions, nuances of the voice, etc.) and so much more.

It comes naturally, so we don’t really appreciate how difficult it is to explain what is being communicated without the help of all “beyond-words” signals.

Factors that make the lives of both Google and SEO so difficult

  • Google is trying (and often struggling) to understand what it is that their users want (without actually seeing or hearing them)
  • SEOs are trying to reverse-engineer what it is that Google managed to understand from their users’ queries and how to build pages that meet those mysterious criteria. As Google’s algorithm is getting more mature, it is becoming even more difficult to decode what it is Google needs, or more importantly, what Google found its users need when using any specific search query.

This is where semantic search comes into play.

“Semantics” refers to the concepts or ideas conveyed by words, and semantic analysis is making any topic (or search query) easy for a machine to understand.

Put very simply (and I am not a professional semantic analysis expert, even though I do have a degree in cognitive linguistics), Google (and consequently SEOs) are dealing with two main concepts behind semantic search:

  • Semantic mapping, that is, exploring connections between any word/phrase and a set of related words or concepts.
  • Semantic coding, that is, using coding to better explain Google what types of information can be found on each page.

Because we tend to throw terms left and right in our industry (and often invent our own in the process), there’s lots of confusion when it comes to semantic search and how to go about it.

So this article is my attempt to clear that confusion and help you better understand semantic analysis and its application in SEO.

Semantic mapping

Semantic mapping is about visualizing relationships between concepts and entities (as well as relationships between related concepts and entities).

Here’s an example of a semantic map (or model) taken from a paper by Google’s Ramanathan Guha, the future creator of Schema project:

Semantic search modelImage Source

[Part of a semantic map for [Yo-Yo Ma] search query]

This model helps Google to better understand any of the related queries and provide helpful search cues (like knowledge graph, quick answers, and the others).

Image source: Screenshot created by the author (Dec 2019)

The semantic analysis also helps Google serve voice search users better by providing them with immediate answers based on their generic understanding of a topic.

But how can semantic analysis be used in search engine optimization?

The best way to understand semantics is offered by Text Optimizer, which is a tool that helps understand those relationships.

If someone is searching for [pizza], they may be looking to:

  • Order a pizza
  • Cook a pizza

From years of serving search results to users and analyzing their interactions with those search results, Google seems to know that the majority of people searching for [pizza] are interested in ordering pizza.

Example of understanding semantic searchImage source: Screenshot created by the author (Dec 2019)

Consequently, all we need to do is to decode Google’s understanding of any query which they had years to create and refine.

So Text Optimizer grabs those search results and clusters them in related topics and entities giving you a clear picture of how to optimize for search intent better.

Image Source: Screenshot created by the author (Dec 2019)

The idea is that using several of these terms in your copy helps put it right inside Google’s semantic model. This way Google knows that your document will do a good job matching the searcher’s intent.

Semantic coding

The idea behind using code to express meaning (not just presentation) goes years back, long before Schema.org project was launched.

For years, we’ve been using semantic HTML to communicate the meaning of content:

  • H1-H6 subheadings would map out the main topics of a document
  • Other HTML tags would express more semantics, including:

These tags help all kinds of machines to better understand and convey information they find on a web page.

For example, for accessibility, it is recommended to use the following markup for assistive technology to know where quotation starts (and ends) and who is cited.

Image Source: Screenshot created by the author (Dec 2019)

That’s how HTML tags add to the meaning of a document, and why we refer to them as semantic tags.

When Schema.org was created in 2011, website owners were offered even more ways to convey the meaning of a document (and its different parts) to a machine. From then on, we’ve been able to point a search crawler to the author of the page, type of content (article, FAQ, review, and other such pages) and its purpose (fact-check, contact details, and more).

So why would anyone care about semantic coding?

Semantic markup exists for one reason – The desire to communicate

We want to explain the purpose and the structure of our content to a search engine.

With the help of semantic markup, Google is able to identify and use key information from a page. In exchange, web publishers get “rich snippets“, that is, search listings that are more detailed than those that do not use semantics.

To help you with semantic coding, there are a lot of tools:

  • Schema App helps with just about any structured data markup that exists
  • For WordPress users, there are a variety of plugins created, including review schema, FAQ schema, and more.

Finally, the recent project called inLinks helps you add structured data to your pages based on their own semantic analysis.

Image Source: Screenshot created by the author (Dec 2019)

Conclusion

Put simply, semantic analysis is an attempt to bridge the gap between search algorithm, web pages it returns and the search engine’s users:

  1. A human being wants to find something and a search engine has two tasks to solve – Understand what the user wants and match that intent to web documents that do the best job meeting it
  2. A search engine needs to understand what it is they want to find. The semantic analysis is used to better understand the search query intent
  3. A search engine needs to match that query intent with web pages it has in the index. The semantic coding can be used to explain to a search engine what it is on the page and whether it matches the query intent.

As you can see the semantics is used to make the interactions between the search engine and its users easier, but it also helps the search engine to better understand (and use) the information on any page.

Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. She can be found on twitter @seosmarty

The post The beginner’s guide to semantic search: Examples and tools appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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Voice search optimization: The why and how

December 26, 2019 No Comments

Voice search optimization is a hot topic in the digital marketing industry. A few years ago, voice search seemed like a far fetched idea that was limited to some science fiction movies. But today, its popularity is increasing day by day.  

If you’re a Star Trek fan, you would definitely recall the scenes when actors used to speak to computers for answers. It all looked like something that would never come into existence. Yet here we are.

Today, voice search has become so common that, according to Google, it is the fastest-growing form of online search. 

So what does this new search trend mean to marketers and business owners? Why should business owners focus on building voice-search-optimized websites? Let’s see. 

The rise of voice search in numbers

Voice search basically allows users to say their queries out loud rather than typing them into the search box to get the results. 

The speech-recognition technology precisely understands what users are saying and then delivers the best-matching results orally. 

Reports estimate that about 41% of adults perform at least one voice search every day. According to ComScore, 50% of the total searches will be voice searches by 2020. 

Let’s check out some of the critical voice search statistics:

  • 61% of 25-64 and 57% of 18-24 age groups say they’ll use voice search more actively in future (PwC Research)
  • Almost one-third of 3.5 billion searches performed on Google every day are voice searches (TheeDesign Research)
  • More than 30% of the web browsing will be done without a screen by 2020 (Gartner)
  • 55% of households will own smart speaker devices by 2022 (OC&C Strategy Consultants)
  • More than 53% of smart speaker owners say that it feels natural talking to smart devices (Google

Well, stats don’t lie. It is quite clear that consumers are getting more and more familiar with voice search and using it for day-to-day online searches.

Google Now, Alexa from Amazon, Siri from Apple, and Cortana from Microsoft are some of the major trendsetters in the voice search. Considering the increasing popularity, Google and other tech giants are investing heavily in voice-operated digital assistants. 

How voice search impacts your website’s ranking?

So how does voice search affect your rankings (and ultimately the business bottom line)? 

You see searchers want faster answers to their queries, and Google heavily values user experience. 

Voice search improves user experience by delivering faster and more accurate search results at convenience. This is the main reason why Google has started really emphasizing voice search optimization. 

Although the search engine giant hasn’t officially confirmed it yet, it’s just a matter of time until Google adds voice search to their algorithm, and starts prioritizing websites that incorporate the voice technology.

The role of SEO and voice search optimization 

The primary goal of SEO is to rank a website for specific search terms so that users can get the best information as fast as possible. However, you need to understand that voice search SEO and conventional SEO are quite different. 

Optimizing your website and content for voice search can help you increase your website’s visibility and credibility. This ultimately improves your website’s ranking and traffic through Google. 

How to optimize your website for voice search?

Users who perform voice searches typically want to complete a particular action such as playing a song, finding a restaurant, or finding information on a specific subject.

When people use voice search on mobile, Google will only deliver one top result. This top result is known as “position zero” or “featured snippet” or “answer box”.

Reports estimate that half of the searches will be voice searches. It means that roughly 50% of your potential customers won’t be able to see your website even if you’re ranking in the third or fourth position.

The solution here is to rank for number one and secure position zero. 

How to secure position zero, so your website appears in voice search results? Here’s how. But, before we start, here’s a pro tip for you.

Pro-Tip

In addition to the tips mentioned below, here’s an alternative way you can try to feature in the answer box. 

It’s lately noticed that Google favors websites that provide interactive web tools such as BMI calculators, recipe guides, price estimators, etc to the users. If you’re an enterprise business, you can develop an interactive web app for your corporate website to increase your chances of hitting the answer box. 

1. Implement Structured Data

Structured data or schema markup is one of the ranking factors used by Google search algorithm to determine the relevancy and position of a page in the search results.

It’s a code or metadata that’s added to the website’s source code. This code helps search engines better understand your content and classify it accordingly. 

It also gives you more control over how you provide specific blocks of information to search engines and how machines interpret it.

Implementing structured data doesn’t guarantee top ranking, but it gives you a competitive advantage for sure. It increases your chances of getting into the answer box or featured snippet, and thus in voice search results.

Here’s an example of how a rich snippet looks like. The highlighted sections of the search are automatically picked up by Google with the help of schema and shown in the search results.

How do you implement structured data? If you’re using WordPress, search for “schema” plugins, and you’ll see hundreds of plugins that enable structured data functionality in WordPress. 

You can also implement structured data manually on your website using specific schemas from the schema.org library.

2. Improve the page speed

You might find this tip in almost every SEO guide out there. 

Page speed is one of the most significant ranking factors. It decides whether or not your page will rank in the top search results. 

If you want to rank for position zero and appear into the voice search results, you need to ensure that your website loads quickly. 

People use voice search to get faster results; thus, Google gives high importance to page speed when it comes to voice search. 

Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to check your website’s loading time. The best thing about this tool is that it gives numerous suggestions on how to improve the page speed. 

Make sure you

  • Minify HTML & CSS
  • Prioritize visible content
  • Optimize images
  • Remove unwanted theme elements and plugins
  • Enable data compression
  • Implement browser caching

One way to drastically increase your mobile website speed is by implementing an AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) feature. It helps your mobile pages to load instantly by pulling only a few necessary blocks of content.

3. Understand the user’s search intent

Optimizing your content around user intent is crucial for ranking high in voice search results. 

You need to understand whether people are looking to buy something or want some information when they type in a search query. User intent or search intent helps you understand why the person typed a specific question in the search engine. 

The user intent is often clearly expressed in queries using words such as “price,” “buy,” “download,” “how to,” “what is,” and so on. Other times, the intent is not clearly expressed at all.

But, thanks to the Hummingbird update, Google can now find out the context behind a search query and then deliver the best matching results. 

For example, when a user searches for “Oscar winners,” he/she is most likely interested in the latest award ceremony, not the one that happened ten years back. Google understands this context and ranks the websites that provide information about the most recent award ceremony and news from the latest Oscars.

Therefore it’s crucial to structurize your content around the user intent. It increases the relevancy of your page for specific search queries. 

So how do you write and optimize your content around user intent? Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do you provide the most accurate and immediate answer?
  • Is the answer structured in a proper format? 
  • Is the content on your website easily accessible by Google?
  • Is your website credible enough?

If you work towards the outcome of the above questions, it might help you increase your chances of getting into the answer box for specific search terms.

4. Target long-tail keywords in the content

Long-tail keywords are quite specific in nature. As the name suggests, these are the search terms and phrases that are longer than a typical search query. 

People act like they’re talking to real humans when they perform a voice search. They’ll naturally ask longer questions rather than short keywords. For example, while typing a search query, a person might use highly relevant words and enter something like – “best pizza in NYC”

Whereas to perform the same search using voice, a person might ask – “Hey Siri (or Ok Google), where can I eat the best pizza?” 

Therefore, it’s important to find out and use the conversational search terms that people would use while speaking. You need to treat these terms as the long-tail keywords and incorporate them into your content. 

You can use tools like Answer the Public or KeywordTool.io to find out long-tail search terms and questions. 

Targeting long-tail keywords is one of the effective strategies for voice search optimization. 

The fun fact is that 70% of all search queries are long-tail, yet the majority of the sites tend to overlook these keywords while chasing shorter and more competitive search terms. Long-tail keywords are less competitive, yet they are equally important.

Again, make sure you answer the searcher’s question as accurate and direct as possible. You can create H2 or H3 headings of the questions (long-tail search terms) and provide answers in the body text.

To wrap up

Voice search is slowly becoming mainstream. People have already started using it, and more will join this trend soon. 

The potential of voice search is yet to be fully uncovered. 

There are many ways marketers and business owners can take advantage of voice search, build and optimize a voice-friendly website, and drive traffic and increase sales. Whatever you do, make sure that voice search is included in your SEO and website campaigns going forward.

Michael Georgiou is the CMO and co-founder of Imaginovation, a full service, turn-key digital solutions company serving Raleigh, NC and Charlotte, NC. 

The post Voice search optimization: The why and how appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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Top 10 Search Engine Patents to Know About from 2019

December 24, 2019 No Comments

I was on the podcast Webcology last week, with fellow guest David Harry, talking with hosts Dave Davies and Jim Hedger about search engine patents.

Both David and Dave also write about search engine patents from time to time, so it was a fun discussion.

David and I were discussing patents and the show before it started, and we both began to compare the most memorable patents we had come across in the last year. This post is my top ten list, along with blog posts I wrote about each of these search engine patents.

The majority of my favorites from the past year are knowledge-based patents covering the use of knowledge graphs and entity extraction.

Another favorite was a news-related patent that was updated for the 6th time. One of the previous times that it was updated (in 2013), the magazine/website ComputerWorld reported upon the update, but didn’t bother to look at the updated claims in the continuation patent, but instead reported upon what the description said (copied from the original 2003 version of the patent) missing out on the actual changes to that patent. It has changed a lot since the first version.

Another favorite is actually a hybrid search/knowledge-based patent that tries to understand and anticipate query templates that might be asked.

The last of the bunch is about better information local search by using actual visits to businesses to calculate quality visit scores to potentially boost rankings of local results.

These are my top ten Search Engine Patents posts of 2019 (I only chose ones that I spent enough time with to write about them. Hopefully, David Harry will share his Top 10 search engine patents from this year with us, too.

Knowledge-Based Patents

1. User-Specific Knowledge Graphs to Support Queries and Predictions Structured user graph to support querying and predictions, is a post about the patent Structured user graph to support querying and predictions. This patent was originally filed in 2013. however, it makes a lot of the same points as this very similar 2019 whitepaper from Google on Personal Knowledge Graphs.

User-specific Knowledge graph example
A user-specific Knowledge Graph with knowledge relationships between entities.

2. Augmented Search Queries Using Knowledge Graph Information – The patent behind this one explains how Google has been including knowledge graph-based results, such as knowledge panels, Related Questions, Related Entities, and more in Search Results for queries, where they have recognized that there is an entity in a query that you may have searched for. The post is about the patent Providing search results using augmented search queries

augmented search queries with entities

3. In Google Knowledge Graph Reconciliation, I wrote about a patent that explains how Google works to better understand knowledge graphs and entities that appear in those in tuples and reverse tuples, and how to expand what those knowledge graphs cover. The patent behind it was Automatic discovery of new entities using graph reconciliation.

entity graph reconciliation planet of the apes

4. In How Might Google Extract Entity Relationship Information from Q&A Pages?, I wrote about the patent Information extraction from question and answer websites, which focuses upon relationships between entities, and how confidence scores might be developed to determine the likelihood that those relationships are true. It also looks at the natural language parsing behind finding answers to questions regarding such relationships.

Entity Relationship Model Example

5. In the post Answering Questions Using Knowledge Graphs, I wrote about Natural Language Processing With An N-Gram Machine, which tells us about how Google may create a knowledge graph to answer a query by performing a search on a question submitted to the search engine, an then use the results (or a percentage of the results) to create a knowledge graph that it can then use to answer the query. This reminded me of the User-Specific knowledge graphs that I wrote about in the first patent I wrote about in this post, and how it pointed out that Google was engaged in creating many more knowledge graphs than just the one that we think about when they told us they were going to index real-world objects back in 2012.

Association scores

6. The post Entity Extractions for Knowledge Graphs at Google is about the patent Computerized systems and methods for extracting and storing information regarding entities about how Google uses natural language processing to extract entities from text on Web Pages, and how it also parses that text to understand relationships between the entities it finds, and facts and attributes and classifications of those entities, and the confidence scores between those entities and facts about them.

Entity Extractions entity Classes

7. In How Google May Interpret An Ambiguous Query Using a Semantic Interpretation, I wrote about how Google may decide to answer a query that may seem ambiguous by trying to decide upon the intent behind the query and comparing the results that Google search returns for the ambiguous query from the searcher with ones that cover different intents to see how similar the SERPs are for each of those. Google tells us that each of the different semantic interpretations that guess at the intent behind a query might be associated with a canonical query that it would test to see the similarity between it and the original query. This approach is described in the patent Evaluating semantic interpretations of a search query.

Ambiguous Query Patent Flowchart

News-Based Patents

8. I compared earlier claims in Evolution of Google’s News Ranking Algorithm to the claims from the 6th update to one of the original Google News patents at Google, which started out by ranking articles based upon features of the sources of that news in the first version and evolved in a number of ways to focus upon originality by how much it references different entities, as described in updated claims in the patent Systems and methods for improving the ranking of news articles (6th version of this patent, updating the claims as a continuation patent)

Search-Based Patents

9. The post Automatic query pattern generation is about a patent that takes a hybrid search/knowledge approach to better understanding queries that searchers may perform, by looking in query logs for questions that searchers may perform as templates and using entities from Google’s Knowledge Graph as part of those questions. An example would be “what are the symptoms for pneumonia?” The patent behind this post is Automatic query pattern generation. That Google is combining the use of query log information with knowledge graph information to learn about what people might search for, and anticipate such questions shows us how they may combine information like they do with augmentation queries, and answering questions using knowledge graphs.

Query Patterns

Local Search-Based Patents

10. In the post Quality Visit Scores to Businesses May Influence Rankings in Google Local Search, I wrote about how Google might combine real-world information about visits to businesses, as captured using navigational devices such as smartphones, as described by the patent Quality visit measure for controlling computer response to query associated with physical location. Google referred to the use of such quality visit scores in one of their support pages about ads and analytics and mentioned that they might be awarding digital and physical badges to the most visited locations as local favorites (which Google is now awarding in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.)


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The beginner’s guide to semantic search: Examples and tools

December 16, 2019 No Comments

Ever since Google’s Hummingbird, the term “semantic search” has been thrown around a lot. Yet, the concept is often misunderstood. What is semantic search and how it helps SEO efforts?

When people speak to each other, they understand more than just words. They understand the context, non-verbal cues  (facial expressions, nuances of the voice, etc.) and so much more.

It comes naturally, so we don’t really appreciate how difficult it is to explain what is being communicated without the help of all “beyond-words” signals.

Factors that make the lives of both Google and SEO so difficult

  • Google is trying (and often struggling) to understand what it is that their users want (without actually seeing or hearing them)
  • SEOs are trying to reverse-engineer what it is that Google managed to understand from their users’ queries and how to build pages that meet those mysterious criteria. As Google’s algorithm is getting more mature, it is becoming even more difficult to decode what it is Google needs, or more importantly, what Google found its users need when using any specific search query.

This is where semantic search comes into play.

“Semantics” refers to the concepts or ideas conveyed by words, and semantic analysis is making any topic (or search query) easy for a machine to understand.

Put very simply (and I am not a professional semantic analysis expert, even though I do have a degree in cognitive linguistics), Google (and consequently SEOs) are dealing with two main concepts behind semantic search:

  • Semantic mapping, that is, exploring connections between any word/phrase and a set of related words or concepts.
  • Semantic coding, that is, using coding to better explain Google what types of information can be found on each page.

Because we tend to throw terms left and right in our industry (and often invent our own in the process), there’s lots of confusion when it comes to semantic search and how to go about it.

So this article is my attempt to clear that confusion and help you better understand semantic analysis and its application in SEO.

Semantic mapping

Semantic mapping is about visualizing relationships between concepts and entities (as well as relationships between related concepts and entities).

Here’s an example of a semantic map (or model) taken from a paper by Google’s Ramanathan Guha, the future creator of Schema project:

Semantic search modelImage Source

[Part of a semantic map for [Yo-Yo Ma] search query]

This model helps Google to better understand any of the related queries and provide helpful search cues (like knowledge graph, quick answers, and the others).

Image source: Screenshot created by the author (Dec 2019)

The semantic analysis also helps Google serve voice search users better by providing them with immediate answers based on their generic understanding of a topic.

But how can semantic analysis be used in search engine optimization?

The best way to understand semantics is offered by Text Optimizer, which is a tool that helps understand those relationships.

If someone is searching for [pizza], they may be looking to:

  • Order a pizza
  • Cook a pizza

From years of serving search results to users and analyzing their interactions with those search results, Google seems to know that the majority of people searching for [pizza] are interested in ordering pizza.

Example of understanding semantic searchImage source: Screenshot created by the author (Dec 2019)

Consequently, all we need to do is to decode Google’s understanding of any query which they had years to create and refine.

So Text Optimizer grabs those search results and clusters them in related topics and entities giving you a clear picture of how to optimize for search intent better.

Image Source: Screenshot created by the author (Dec 2019)

The idea is that using several of these terms in your copy helps put it right inside Google’s semantic model. This way Google knows that your document will do a good job matching the searcher’s intent.

Semantic coding

The idea behind using code to express meaning (not just presentation) goes years back, long before Schema.org project was launched.

For years, we’ve been using semantic HTML to communicate the meaning of content:

  • H1-H6 subheadings would map out the main topics of a document
  • Other HTML tags would express more semantics, including:

These tags help all kinds of machines to better understand and convey information they find on a web page.

For example, for accessibility, it is recommended to use the following markup for assistive technology to know where quotation starts (and ends) and who is cited.

Image Source: Screenshot created by the author (Dec 2019)

That’s how HTML tags add to the meaning of a document, and why we refer to them as semantic tags.

When Schema.org was created in 2011, website owners were offered even more ways to convey the meaning of a document (and its different parts) to a machine. From then on, we’ve been able to point a search crawler to the author of the page, type of content (article, FAQ, review, and other such pages) and its purpose (fact-check, contact details, and more).

So why would anyone care about semantic coding?

Semantic markup exists for one reason – The desire to communicate

We want to explain the purpose and the structure of our content to a search engine.

With the help of semantic markup, Google is able to identify and use key information from a page. In exchange, web publishers get “rich snippets“, that is, search listings that are more detailed than those that do not use semantics.

To help you with semantic coding, there are a lot of tools:

  • Schema App helps with just about any structured data markup that exists
  • For WordPress users, there are a variety of plugins created, including review schema, FAQ schema, and more.

Finally, the recent project called inLinks helps you add structured data to your pages based on their own semantic analysis.

Image Source: Screenshot created by the author (Dec 2019)

Conclusion

Put simply, semantic analysis is an attempt to bridge the gap between search algorithm, web pages it returns and the search engine’s users:

  1. A human being wants to find something and a search engine has two tasks to solve – Understand what the user wants and match that intent to web documents that do the best job meeting it
  2. A search engine needs to understand what it is they want to find. The semantic analysis is used to better understand the search query intent
  3. A search engine needs to match that query intent with web pages it has in the index. The semantic coding can be used to explain to a search engine what it is on the page and whether it matches the query intent.

As you can see the semantics is used to make the interactions between the search engine and its users easier, but it also helps the search engine to better understand (and use) the information on any page.

Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. She can be found on twitter @seosmarty

The post The beginner’s guide to semantic search: Examples and tools appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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The UK election and SEO games: Search, scandal, and big promises

December 14, 2019 No Comments

The UK goes to the polls this week and the governing Conservatives have already made headlines for their online activities. Luke Richards dives into the political battleground that is the Google SERPs – and provides his analysis of the manifesto promises relevant to the digital business community.

As the UK heads towards its third general election in four years, the two main parties – Conservatives and Labour – both seem to agree that investment in digital technologies is crucial to tackling challenges within the economy, the environment, and the country’s working relationship with the rest of the world after Brexit.

Both parties have also invested a significant amount of their marketing budgets in their digital campaigns.

These past few weeks we’ve seen examples of good and downright poor practice when it comes to search engine marketing. We’ve seen varying success in search visibility, online sentiment, and traffic. And the content of the manifestos themselves – for a digital/tech business audience – makes for fascinating reading in light of the challenges I’ve mentioned above.

Here is my analysis.

Search visibility of the manifestos

We are massively lucky in the UK with the amount of transparency and information at our fingertips as we decide who to vote for in elections.

There are bad actors, as we will discover later, but sites such as They Work For You, Vote For Policies, and The Political Compass all help to separate the quality content from the noise. And with just a couple of clicks, we can have immediate access to any manifesto.

Even before we’ve clicked through to the Conservatives’ manifesto landing page, we already know what the party’s central plan is – should they command a majority in the next parliament: “to get Brexit done.”

UK elections Conservatives manifesto landing page SEO meta content
UK elections Conservatives manifesto landing page SEO meta content

The “get Brexit done” mantra is one that is repeated countless times in the manifesto itself. I’d expected that the Conservative SEO team would be looking to get some visibility for this as a keyphrase. But a quick search for this finds the domain languishing only on page two of Google’s SERPs amid much negative press critical of this populist sloganeering.

Interestingly, the Liberal Democrats’ (a right-wing pro-Europe party) are targeting this key phrase as part of their paid search campaign – with their sponsored ads appear in position zero of the SERPs.

Beyond this, there isn’t much more to the search result save for the “vote conservative” call-to-action in the title and the URL. It’s notable for its brevity, leaving much of the rest of the SERPs open to be filled by positive and negative press, including two articles from The Daily Telegraph (a newspaper which previously employed Conservative leader Boris Johnson) and a well-ranked piece by Prospect magazine describing the party as a “threat to human rights”.

At first glance, the Labour party has adhered much better to onsite SEO best practice.

Their site links are well-served by Google. They command much of the SERP real estate and appear very useful to the user.

UK elections Manifesto Labour party Google SERP rich links
UK elections Manifesto Labour party Google SERP rich links

The choice for site links is a little surprising. The link to the “Accessible Manifesto” is a nice touch – showing consideration to web users who have difficulty reading the text. But the other links don’t really relate directly to the key policy points in the document itself such as their Green Industrial Revolution and National Education Service.

The closest the Labour search result has to a call-to-action is – the “be part of our movement – with your email address…” element, but it isn’t massively compelling.  Another misstep is that the PDF for Labour’s 2015 manifesto is still live and ranking well in position four of SERPs, which could quite easily confuse and frustrate users.

Sentiment elsewhere in the SERPs is more nuanced than what we see for the Conservatives. However, again, right-wing newspaper The Daily Telegraph takes position two and three of the SERPs – and although not immediately negative – one can imagine these articles aren’t massively objective after the user is moved to click through (although this content is behind a paywall).

Search traffic comparison

In the battle for search traffic, the Labour manifesto is vastly outperforming the Conservatives.

UK elections - Search traffic comparison showing the Labour Manifesto outperforming the Conservatives
UK elections search traffic comparison showing the Labour Manifesto outperforming the Conservatives

At its peak – shortly after publication at the end of November – the Labour manifesto got three times as much traffic as the Conservative manifesto did when it performed best on November 24th.

The related queries according to Google Trends are illuminating. “Labour manifesto waspi” is clearly the biggest policy point in search terms online. Another breakout keyphrase is “fake labour manifesto” highlighting some of the underhand tactics employed by the Conservatives (as we’ll discuss below).

For the Conservatives, related queries are dominated by long-tail keyphrases that users are typing in to differentiate the new UK Conservative manifesto – “conservative manifesto 2019 UK” from the Canadian equivalent “conservative manifesto 2019 Canada”. Sadly for Prime Minister Johnson, there’s no appearance of “get Brexit done”. Do Google’s users actually care about this policy? Perhaps not.

Banned Google ads and misleading websites

The appearance of the breakout search term “fake labour manifesto” as highlighted at Google Trends points to some of the more bizarre aspects of this general election. The Conservatives have appeared to dabble in black hat tactics, and outright fakery, to try and confuse voters and diffuse the positive results Labour is clearly getting online.

To coincide with the launch of Labour’s manifesto, the Conservative party set up a fake website at labourmanifesto.co.uk and launched a paid search campaign to capture clicks from the SERPs.

Google banned eight search ads of the Conservatives due to policy breach
Google banned eight search ads of the Conservatives due to policy breach

Google promptly banned eight of the Conservatives’ search ads

Google has promptly banned eight of the Conservatives’ search ads. The fake website is still live, but only really visible, currently, when searching for “fake labour manifesto” – and even then it appears below several news sources highlighting the Conservatives unethical behavior.

Google’s ad policy states:

“We value honesty and fairness, so we don’t allow the promotion of products or services that are designed to enable dishonest behaviour.”

I’d be very surprised if the Conservatives’ digital marketing team don’t know this.

But for the sake of democracy, it’s good to see the search engine stick to their principles here.

Promises to increase connectivity

Of the whole election so far, the digital policy which has perhaps received the most headlines is Labour’s “free full-fiber broadband to all by 2030”.

Back in 2016, Jeremy Corbyn won re-election as leader of the Labour Party on the back of such policy announcements as The Digital Democracy Manifesto. It’s not surprising that there is much reference to the emancipatory power of emerging technology and being properly connected in the current manifesto.

The digital democracy manifesto online flyer
The digital democracy manifesto

As the document states, the intentions behind the free broadband initiative are to – “boost jobs, tackle regional inequality and improve quality of life as part of a mission to connect the country”. It is firmly rooted in a fairly detailed nationalization plan which will see the establishment of British Broadband with two arms, British Digital Infrastructure (BDI) and British Broadband Service (BBS), as well as bringing the broadband-relevant parts of BT into public ownership.

While it is a little more buried in the Conservative manifesto, they have their own broadband plan too.

UK election the Conservative and Unionist party Manifesto 2019
UK election – Conservative and Unionist party Manifesto 2019

As is the case for nearly every policy point in the document, it is presented in reference to the UK’s ongoing relationship with the EU:

“We are Europe’s technology capital, producing start-ups and success stories at a dazzling pace. But not everyone can share the benefits”, it states.

“We intend to bring full fiber and gigabit-capable broadband to every home andbusiness across the UK by 2025.”

The policy is highlighted again in later pages as part of the government’s pledge to support rural life and coastal communities. “£5 billion in funding already promised”, it says. But beyond this, there is no detail on how much this broadband provision will cost to the end-user, nor to what degree it will be delivered by the private or public sector.

Education, skills and new technology

While the Conservative manifesto is presented through the lens of Brexit, the Labour manifesto is largely shaped by the environment and their central proposal to kickstart a ‘green industrial revolution.’

A skilled workforce is integral to this. The proposed National Education Service promises free education to everyone throughout their lives. This is of particular interest to those working in digital where we see re-training and re-skilling as increasingly important strategies to plug the skills gap in a fast-changing sector.

“With automation and the Green Industrial Revolution bringing major changes to industry,’ the manifesto states, ‘it is more important than ever that people have the opportunity to retrain and upskill throughout their lives…England already faces a shortage of people with higher-level technical qualifications, and demand for these skills will only grow as we create new green jobs.”

Skills are also a key feature for the Conservatives, despite the document failing to acknowledge the current gap businesses face.

A proposed £3 billion National Skills Fund is earmarked to upskill the British workforce.

“This fund will provide matching funding for individuals and SMEs for high-quality education and training”, the manifesto states.

“A proportion will be reserved for further strategic investment in skills, and we will consult widely on the overall design.”

The Conservatives also promise a further £2 billion to upgrade the entire further education college estate as well as planning to build 20 Institutes of Technology. Although there is little mention of what ends the skills fund and this education investment is for. Services are given a passing mention – “we should open up trade in services, in which the majority of us work and where most new jobs will be created.” – but there is little detail on what these service jobs are expected to be, how they will be supported by the state, and how they will be opened up.

Digital experience in health and public services

Healthcare is a massive issue in this election. Both parties are looking to emerging technologies as a way to help alleviate strains from underfunding and/or an aging population, as well as to improve diagnosis and patient experience.

Labour is pledging to increase spending across the health sector by an average of 4.3% per year. AI and cyber technology are two things earmarked for some of this investment, as well as state-of-the-art medical equipment. Their manifesto also acknowledges the importance of data rights to citizens within this increasingly digital area of our lives, promising to ensure:

  1. ‘Data protection for NHS and patient information.’
  2. ‘NHS data is not exploited by international technology and pharmaceutical corporations.’

The Conservative manifesto is not short on health tech promises either. They pledge to introduce an annual Health Technology Summit and they have also promised £1 billion extra annual social care funding to go towards – in part – new technology and facilities.

In the arena of citizen protections, the Conservative manifesto also proposes a new approach to cybercrime. “We will embrace new technologies and crackdown on online crimes”, the document states. “We will create a new national cybercrime force and empower the police to safely use new technologies like biometrics and artificial intelligence, along with the use of DNA, within a strict legal framework.”

The Labour party manifesto also devotes considerable wordcount to cybersecurity:

“Cybercrime and cyberwarfare are growing, all around the world. Every aspect of our lives, from the NHS to our nuclear facilities”, it states.

In response, the party plans to review two existing bodies – the National Cyber Security Centre and the National Crime Agency – to increase powers, capacity, and skills where necessary.

Labour also wants to extend more rights to citizens online with their proposed Charter of Digital Rights, as well as planning to introduce imprints for digital political adverts in an effort to combat fake news. Additionally, as part of their welfare plans, the party wants to give users multichannel access (online, telephone, face-to-face, and outreach support) to make help and assistance easier to access for all.

Costings

Both parties want big digital corporations to pay more tax. For Labour, this is a costed part of their plan to help fund their free broadband rollout and other projects (£23.7 billion from reversing cuts to corporation tax, £6.3 billion from unitary tax on multinationals, and £6.2 billion from their Fair Tax Programme).

UK elections costings of the Labour party
UK election – Costings of the Labour party

The Conservatives have also promised to implement a digital services tax although there is no mention in the manifesto or the accompanying costings document as to what this tax rate will be, what it will bring in to the government, and which digital services this is aimed at.

On this front, my guess is Google, Facebook, Amazon et al. will be more concerned if a Labour government gets in than if a Conservative one is re-elected.

Much reference is made to British Broadband in Labour’s costings document and it is easy to make the link between their tax and spend plans. When looking at broadband in the Conservative costings document, however, its cost as part of their infrastructure strategy is reiterated, but it’s hard to see how it will actually be funded.

Further analysis of both party’s costings documents highlights the divide between them

When it comes to skills, the link between the money that’s needed for Labour to roll out their Lifelong Learning is easy to see across two tables. Yet the Conservative manifesto and costings document are harder to process. There are numerous tables, as well as proposed investments such as the ‘National Skills Fund worth £3 billion’ (as it is described in the manifesto) looking like it won’t receive any more than ~£600 million per year from 2021 until the end of the parliament (adding up to just £1.8 billion in total).

Analysis of Labour and Conservative party's costing documents
Analysis of Labour and Conservative party’s costing documents

 

This trend continues in the context of health and public services technology.

£1 billion for social care per year is certainly a welcome promise by the Conservatives – with an aging population, staff shortages, and the availability of emerging technologies that help with remote care and increased independence for citizens. But when turning to the costings document again, this is nearly a third of the total income from the first year of their Sources of Revenue table and it doesn’t fill me with confidence that a party operating in the wake of their own austerity measures can actually deliver these PR-quotable lumps of cash.

Analysis of Labour and Conservative party's costing documents table 4

Takeaways for the parties

The search campaigns by both parties in the lead up to this election have positive and negative points.

The simplistic and memorable SEO approach from the Conservatives may well be all they need to convince voters. But through the lens of the Google SERPs, the “get Brexit done” slogan has brought about some negative sentiment and doesn’t seem to be driving the traffic as we might expect.

Closing note regarding the Labour Party

Labour, on the other hand, has seemingly tried to capture attention via a number of issues. This is reflected in the manifesto itself, the site structure and onsite SEO, and the traffic success the domain is having with niche key phrases such as “labour manifesto waspi”.

Closing note regarding the Conservative Party

Yet, to look at the above and assume that the Conservatives have been lazy with their online campaign is wrong. Their paid search activity appears to have been synchronized and calculated. And rather than put forward their own policies in an attempt to influence clicks to their manifesto content, they’ve turned their efforts to misleading users and firing cheap shots at Labour policies which are seeing a positive response online.

Of course, these underhand tactics within the SERPs weren’t an isolated incident.

The Conservatives were also criticized (by The New York Times and others) when their press office passed off partisan opinion as objective ‘fact-checking’ on Twitter. The party’s activists have also been found to be posing as the Green Party in Facebook ads (in an attempt to split the left-leaning vote).

In the world of digital marketing, all these channels carry weight, but I would argue that it is the party’s search activities that are the most worrying from a democratic point of view. There’s no shifting the blame to frivolous press office employees or activists here – fake microsites and time-sensitive paid search campaigns are far more strategic, and those in the upper echelons of the party should bear at least some responsibility.

Takeaways for digital businesses

The Conservatives have been punished by Google for some of their activities, but whether they are punished at the ballot box remains to be seen. In the world of search, it is never worth trying to deceive users or impersonate competitors for clicks.

Those of us working in the digital industries are very aware of both the challenges and the opportunities in a technologically transformed world. The skills gap is a very immediate issue for all businesses adopting digital tools and emerging technologies. It is important that there are state-supported programs to try and close this gap.

In the UK, we also need a government committed to connecting those in society who are left behind when it comes to broadband provision. This is significant for those wanting to start up digital businesses away from urban centers, as well as for those whose digital audiences will grow with the rollout of dependable internet in rural areas.

In the business context

Consumers expect data protections and commitment to security – as well as experiences that are seamless across channels and customer-led. As more and more parts of our lives become entwined with digital technology – be it in healthcare or other public services – we need to be able to trust that attitudes towards rights and data are citizen-led. Members of the public must be educated, empowered, and safe.

There is much pessimism about what is around the corner for the UK – a country faced with Brexit, the environmental crisis, and more besides. In a superficial sense, it’s possible to read these manifestos as a business owner and be daunted by the detail of corporation tax rises in the Labour document while feeling that the Conservatives would be a profit-friendly prospect. But it is the lack of detail in the Conservative manifesto which should be a major worry to corporations: the ‘digital services tax,’ the commitment to seemingly arbitrary investment lumps, and even ‘get Brexit done’ rings hollow after three years of failed negotiations – how can any corporation trust this?

A government that is committed to ethical, reasonable, transparent, and long term ideas about how we can work and live together is one that I feel we should be supporting at this election and those forthcoming in the US and elsewhere. After all, these are the virtues I would expect of a modern business faced with the challenges and opportunities of a future of digital transformation and emerging technology. It seems justified to expect this in politics too.

The post The UK election and SEO games: Search, scandal, and big promises appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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Voice search ascending: Three areas that require your attention right now

December 3, 2019 No Comments

By next year, comScore expects that 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches. And of course, it won’t stop there. A decade from now, it’s not unreasonable to think that nine out of 10 searches will be via voice, and at that point, a lot about what we know about best practices in digital marketing will have shifted.

After all, in the world of voice search, simply getting onto the search engine results page becomes insufficient. What brands need is to find their way into what’s become known as the “zero position”—that singular best response generated by a voice assistant in regards to a natural language query.

Most marketers are watching the ascent of voice search with obvious interest, but few are sure exactly what they should be doing as this brave new world unfolds before their eyes. The good news is that there are very concrete steps that can be taken right now to better position brands for the voice-dominated future. If you focus on the following three fundamentals today, you’re going to be in strong shape tomorrow.

Optimize according to Schema

Schema represents a foundational means of ensuring your online content can be found and understood by web crawlers and properly ingested by the major search engines’ algorithms. This is true today, and it will be true tomorrow. Unfortunately, given the ever-increasing complexity of the marketing technology landscape these days, too many marketers have lost site of this important priority. To succeed—or even survive—in the world of voice search, the schema need to be a top digital marketing priority.

In the most basic sense, schema is an agreed-upon structure for how online content should be organized in order to best be understood by search engines. The major search players of the world have codified the best practices of engagement via Schema.org, a joint effort focused on creating and maintaining schemas for structuring online data. These days, optimizing web pages with schema is a critical first step to succeeding in organic search.

The beauty of Schema.org is that it’s supported by all of the major search engines, and these are precisely the companies that are currently writing the future of voice search. We can expect to see similar structures dictating voice search results as we do in the currently established schema. Thus, best practices for site optimization today will remain the best practices for the future. However, neglecting these best practices in a world where the zero position can make or break a brand will become all the more vital.

Focus on featured snippets

Google’s Featured Snippets aren’t new, but they’re far more important in the world of voice search than in traditional web SEO. Featured snippets are designed to help people answer questions quickly in a way that naturally aligns with how people search with their voices. In other words, it rewards content that presents information in an obvious Q&A format versus being optimized for keyword searches.

To improve your chances of reaching the zero position for a given query, structure your content for featured snippets. In a blog post, for example, this might mean asking a question in the opening paragraph and ensuring it is answered in that same paragraph in 50 words or fewer.

Sure, the blog post can go on to discuss the subject in much more detail. But what a voice search engine will care about is being able to answer a user’s question in a succinct, straightforward way. Give them the questions and answers they crave.

Get your profiles under control

In preparing your brand and its digital assets for a voice-driven world, don’t forget about your third-party digital profiles. Again, this is a best practice in the search world today, but it’s going to become even more necessary for survival in a future dominated by voice search. After all, when people search for information relevant to your business, there’s a good chance the first place the search engine turns won’t be your website.

It will be a third-party profile that succinctly describes your business and, in particular, the details of nearby locations. After all, voice assistants powered by companies like Google also have their own business listings for your locations—and they’re highly likely to turn to those first when providing information back to users.

If your business information is inaccurate or outdated in your third-party profiles, reaching the zero position in a voice search with that information could be more harmful to your brand than not being found at all. So as you think through your digital strategy for a voice-driven world, be sure to get back to basics. Structure your content correctly. Give vs the answers they want. And above all, make sure your information is updated and accurate anywhere the algorithms might find it.

Bart Bartolozzi is Director of Product Marketing at Synup, a location intelligence tool that helps businesses with their local marketing, discovery, and engagement.

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Search and the ecommerce holiday season: Capturing key moments that matter

December 3, 2019 No Comments

Search is not static – people don’t consume media in silos – and those consumers demand answers and content in an instant. Customers want information how they want it, wherever they are, in formats that delight — and they want it immediately.

This is especially true during the holiday season where SEO powers insights on consumer intent, behavior and trends across all digital channels.

If the analysts are right, the 2019 holiday shopping season will be one of the biggest in recent memory: 13% YoY growth for U.S. digital revenue ($ 136B sales) and 15% YoY growth for global digital revenue ($ 768B sales). And, while the season extends through the end of the year, a full 50% of all sales will be completed by December 6th – the last day of Cyber Week.

With so much shopping concentrated around the start of the holiday selling season – Black Friday through Cyber Week – there’s a lot of pressure on marketers to get the product, promotion and channel mix right ahead of time.

Most guidance on optimizing the search and digital marketing mix revolves – correctly – around the analysis and preparation you should be doing in advance of the shopping season, especially where SEO is concerned.

BrightEdge’s research found that SEO practitioners are using an average of six tools cobbled together and four-hours a day on research, reporting, and analysis. With half the day of an SEO practitioner spent on research, reporting, and analysis, it can be hard to find the time to actually make SEO changes and drive strategy over reactionary holiday periods.

Today, preparation and real-time marketing go hand-in-hand – especially when we think about voice, visual and vertical aspects of enterprise SEO.

Holiday seasons and real-time insights

Searchers are looking for the things you offer in any given moment, including throughout the holiday shopping season. If you know what people are looking for in the moment, you can capitalize on those trends in search and other marketing channels including on your website or in your dedicated ecommerce app, or in your digital advertising, email and social media campaigns.

Holidays are a period where things moving so fast (real-time demand for products) prices move, competition is higher than normal with new seasonal entrants, changes happen in real-time consumer habits (a trended new toy or gift, an influencer, a TV ad commercial driving online searches.

Consumers begin researching their holiday purchases well ahead of Black Friday, but on the day itself, searches ratchet up and stay elevated through Cyber Week. And shoppers are not done shopping when Cyber Weekends. This influx of new search data can expose opportunities that were not visible in the run-up to Black Friday.

During a compressed, high-volume shopping period like Black Friday or Cyber Monday, there will be predictable searches for the high-profile products and doorbuster deals where competition is high and margins are low, but there will also be demand for lower-profile, higher margin surprises.

To make the most of in-the-moment search insights, it’s important that you use a real-time information source to mirror the non-linear way consumers search that also enables you to follow fully the explicit and implicit paths indicated by those searches. Competition for these opportunities will generally be lower, but taken in aggregate, they can generate meaningful revenue.

Voice

With growing frequency, consumers are searching with their voices. At the end of 2018 there were 2.5 billion digital voice assistants in use by consumers. That figure is expected to grow to 8 billion devices by 2023. (source)

Consumers are using voice search more and more to shop with nearly 50% of people researching products by voice and 33% of people expected to use voice search to purchase a product at some point in 2019. (source)

But not all voice searches happen on one type of device and there are multiple avenues to consider.

(Source PWC)

In many ways the nature of voice search aligns closely with the practical application of real-time SEO. Voice searches tend to reflect in-the-moment queries. During the holidays, consumers will ask their voice assistants for help with product and shopping questions, like:

  • What is a good gift for a 10-year-old boy?
  • When is the last day for holiday shipping on Nike.com?
  • Which restaurants are open on Christmas?

Conversational queries change so fast, that voice search becomes instantaneous. When strategizing for voice, it’s important to understand the conversational journey. What questions most frequently initiate a search? What are the three or four follow up questions someone is most likely going to ask? Because voice search advances so rapidly, real-time data is a necessity.

To do it, start with identifying all the top-of-funnel, awareness-generating question keywords and their search volume. Then, analyze the keyword landscape for which portion of your keywords contain questions, and finally, assess which portion of those searches you are winning, and which portion represent opportunity.

Visual – YouTube

Visual search in itself is whole topic and article so for ecommerce I will just focus on YouTube today.

Traditional search engines and YouTube are complementary when it comes to product research with 80% of consumers saying they “typically switch between online search and video when researching products to buy.”

YouTube also plays a role for more than half of consumers directly in the purchase stream: “More than 55% of shoppers say they used online video while actually shopping in a store.”

All of that search behavior harbors insight you cannot get from Google search data alone. For one, YouTube product research indicates an increased level of purchase readiness with 70% of people expressing a feeling of motivation after viewing a YouTube video.

Take advantage of YouTube search behavior data to expose in real-time the performance of your videos and your competitors’ videos for any search and identify which product, category, and brand video are receiving outsize interest as well as what searches are leading consumers to them.

Armed with these insights, you can react in the moment across your marketing channels to capture share of sales. Add to that shopping ads in YouTube and SEO and PPC synergy become a must.

(Source – Google)

Vertical – Amazon

Nearly half of U.S. internet users start product searches on Amazon (eMarketer). As a marketers it is essential to know what are they searching for? What keywords are they using to search for it? Amazon may very well be the best source for insight into consumer purchase intent, so you cannot afford to ignore it.

For the products you sell on Amazon, especially if you sell hundreds or thousands of SKUs, it’s essential to track en masse the ranking of those products against your competition so that you can adapt in-platform while the selling opportunity is at its peak.

(Source – eMarketer)

Simultaneously, if there are products or product categories you don’t list on Amazon, you can still benefit from insights about searches within those categories.

Knowing this will help you understand where your biggest competitive threats lie so you can defend against them in your selling channels. It will also alert you to opportunities to meet heightened category demand via other channels.

Conclusion

Even with well-researched forecasts, there’s no way to know for sure how well a product category will perform for any sales period, but if you wait to measure that outcome and maximize sales, then real-time insights can take you all the way through to the January sales and more.

Jim Yu is the founder and CEO of leading enterprise SEO and content performance platform BrightEdge. He can be found on Twitter @jimyu.

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Optimizing for position zero: The future of voice search

November 23, 2019 No Comments

It’s still early days in the world of voice search, and yet already this new type of device and search engine use is – according to comScore – expected to account for up to 50 percent of the global search market next year. That’s a major shift in consumer behavior in only a few short years.

Digital assistants are becoming increasingly prominent in our homes and on mobile devices, and their ubiquity will only increase.

But where exactly is the brand play in voice search? How developed is the opportunity, and what specific strategies do brands need to apply to benefit from this trend? Let’s take a look at the current state of affairs and, more importantly, where things will go in the next few years.

The current focus on position zero

When you hear marketers talk about voice search today, you probably hear a lot of talk about Position Zero, also known as the featured snippet. This is the content that Google offers in the top search results position in hopes of directly answering a search query. In the desktop and mobile screen worlds, the top content is followed by a host of other search results. In the world of voice search, position zero is everything – the only information that will be relayed to the user. As such, especially for businesses, getting to position zero has become the new imperative. Exactly how to do that, however, is still an open question.

As with all things in the search space, best practices for optimizing for position zero are going to evolve over time. But businesses looking to be a step ahead when screenless search becomes the new norm are focusing on a few key areas:

  • Relevance through data: Being the most relevant for a given voice search is all about giving the search engine what it needs to tailor response for the user – a user whom the voice assistant knows intimately. The more context offered, the higher the likelihood that a digital assistant will pair your business with a potential customer. For example, if you’re a restaurant, this means ensuring the engine can find accurate information on digital profiles regarding not just location and hours, but also customer ratings and reviews as well as details like whether you’re pet-friendly, offer patio dining, feature gluten-free options, and more.
  • Feed the featured snippet: If you want to be the featured snippet to a given query, make sure your website and profiles provide complete, succinct answers to the questions most likely to lead people to your business. This could be within the first paragraph of a blog post, in an FAQ on your site, or in various other areas of content.
  • Prioritize schema: This is SEO 101, but it’s even more important for voice search. Make sure your site is following an agreed-upon structure for how search engines read content, as organized via Schema.org.

While these basics can help businesses increase their relevance for voice search today, we’ve only seen the beginning of what voice search will mean for digital marketing efforts in the future. How will this transformative shift play out over the next few years?

The beginning of the curve

Despite the rise in voice search behavior, the business models that will evolve around this opportunity are still emerging. Right now, the biggest tech players in the world – Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook—are investing deeply in voice search for three reasons:

  • Voice search represents a core technology that can extend across business lines.
  • It represents a transformative user experience that reduces friction and moves people away from screens.
  • Voice search represents a major new way of tapping into emerging markets like India and Southeast Asia, where mobile devices and behaviors are overwhelmingly dominant.

Big tech is investing in voice search for the above reasons, but they’re not really monetizing it yet. That’s going to change in the next couple of years, and when it does, an industry and vendor community will spring up around their monetization models quickly, just as we saw with SEO and SEM in the past.

When the realm of voice search and voice advertising takes shape, it will be the brands that are experimenting now that are poised to win. Now is the time to test and learn, regardless of whether businesses are able to reliably demonstrate the ROI of their efforts today. Every minute invested in better understanding emerging voice search behaviors and opportunities, particularly as it relates to how a brand’s target audience is using voice search, will pay dividends in the voice-dominated future.

There’s no question that voice will rule the future of device interactions. The only question is whether your business will emerge as an early leader in this space in the coming 24 months – or whether you will be forever playing catch up.

Ashwin Ramesh is the founder and CEO of Synup, the NYC-based Intent Marketing Cloud that helps consumers find the right information about them on the web, mobile, and voice search.

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