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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.

The post Voice search ascending: Three areas that require your attention right now appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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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.

The post Optimizing for position zero: The future of voice search appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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The Definitive Search Campaign QA Checklist

November 21, 2019 No Comments

Make sure your search campaigns are set up properly every time using this definitive search campaign quality assurance checklist.

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How to Pivot Paid Search Data in Excel

November 12, 2019 No Comments

Create Pivot tables to analyze how campaigns are performing across different marketing platforms, campaign type, and client-specific goals.

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Optimizing for voice search: Q&A with Mastercard’s Guillaume Conteville

October 31, 2019 No Comments

One in five searches are now made via voice with digital assistants, which are becoming an increasingly prominent feature in our homes and on mobile devices. How are brands optimizing for voice search?

In fact, there are now more than one billion voice searches per month, and this number will only rise over the coming years.

But just how big an impact is voice having on search in real terms? What are the specific strategies brands need to apply to avail of this trend?

This is another topic we’re excited to learn more about next week at the Transformation of Search Summit here in New York.

One of the experts we’ll be hearing from is Guillaume Conteville, SVP of Global Digital Marketing at Mastercard.

guillaume conteville, SVP global digital marketing at mastercard, speaker at the search summit

Guillaume will be part of the panel titled “Optimizing for position 0: Everything you need to know about Voice Search.”

1. What are your key priorities over the next twelve months?

In my role I’ll be focusing on driving change in the way we do marketing to adapt to new usage, and to leverage technology and data to their maximum potential.

The hot topics for us at the moment are CX, Voice, AR, marketing automation, and data-based customization.

2. What is your biggest challenge in achieving those?

Prioritization and execution.

There are so many potential initiatives you could start, identifying the real game-changing ones is always tricky.

Then, like always with tech-based projects, executing on your vision is always more complex than anticipated.

3. What’s your advice to others who may be facing similar challenges?

You really need to establish a broad climate of trust among all stakeholders, in order to have a real test-and-learn approach.

In adtech, it’s impossible to get it right the first time.

Success always come after a lot of optimizing and fine tuning.

4. What’s an interesting trend you’re seeing in the market right now?

It’s not search-related, but it’s fascinating to see how the changes that web browsers have made in regard to third-party cookies are having a massive impact on the whole adtech ecosystem.

The end of third-party cookie tracking will potentially be more disruptive than regulation.

5. Tell us a bit about your session at the Search Summit?

In this session, I’ll be sharing about the journey we’re going through at Mastercard to future-proof our content and ensure its discoverability in a future where people increasingly interact with machines through voice.

6. What are you looking forward to most at the Summit?

This is a unique opportunity for me to learn more about latest developments around search.

7. What’s something you do every day that helps you be more successful or productive?

It might sound cliché but, in this type of role, keeping a learning mindset is absolutely key. So every day I make sure to put some time toward talking to a lot of people and doing a lot of reading.

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Transformation of Search Summit 2019: Highlight reel

October 29, 2019 No Comments

On Friday we held the Transformation of Search Summit 2019 here in New York City. Huge thank you to all of our speakers, attendees, and sponsors who made the day a success!

In this article we’ve compiled some key quotes, stats, and otherwise tweetable highlights from the event.

Keynote: The transformation of search

First we heard from Carolyn Shelby, SEO Manager, Audience Development at the Walt Disney Company / ESPN.

One of the key quotes from her session was “The trick is to understand the psychology of people. Get in front of the consumer. That’s where search engines are going. What is the least amount of thinking that I can make a consumer do? How can I get them what they want the fastest?”

She also walked us through a brief SERP evolution, from collecting and organizing, to scoring / ranking relevancy, to now delivering immediate gratification.

The future of search is visual

Next up we heard from Michael Akkerman of Pinterest on the growth of visual search and its role in the future.

He talked about the evolution of consumer expectations, from physical stores, to digital convenience, to omnichannel promise, to the inspired shopping of today.

Where it once may have seemed that consumers were only focused on convenience, we’re now seeing the re-emergence of shopping and discovery in the consumer experience.

He also talked about the role of Pinterest in consumer discovery. On Pinterest, he says, they have billions of text-based searches every month. Of those, 90% are non-brand searches. “People don’t know what they want,” he says. For brands looking to focus on the discovery portion of the consumer journey, Pinterest could be a great option.

Michael was joined on stage by Dave Fall, CEO of BrandNetworks. They did a Q&A about what brands can do to get started with visual search.

For many brands, they said, it can feel like there’s a big barrier of entry or that it has to be a huge undertaking. But, they noted, remember that your brand does have visual assets already — think about what you use for your website, display ads, Amazon product listings, etc. Consider how you can re-purpose those to get started.

What DTCs and legacy brands can learn from each other 

Next we heard from Kerry Curran of Catalyst (GroupM). She talked about what brands can do to flip their performance marketing mindsets.

One particularly interesting finding she shared was that in campaigns, when brands communicate like a human, it can improve conversion by 900%.

She also noted that in the US, women over age 50 have $ 15 trillion in buying power. For many marketers, it might seem like younger generations have more appeal — but older generations have deeper pockets.

Embarking on a search transformation project

After this, we had a panel discussion on “embarking on a search transformation project.”

The panel included experts from Conde Nast, Microsoft, Mindshare, Volvo, and McKinsey.

John Shehata from Conde Nast shared some work they did to refresh and consolidate older content in order to boost keyword visibility by up to 1000%.

The challenge, as he pointed out, is that 90% of online content was created in the last two years, and 90% of that content gets no traffic. And, 50% of searches on Google end in no clicks. To face that, his team is working on taking past content, consolidating multiple pieces, and focusing on making each piece amazing.

Noel Reilly of Microsoft also touched on the speed at which new content is created. She encouraged marketers to think more broadly about what people want and are looking to discover. At Microsoft Ads, she said, 18% of queries each month are new queries.

When inputs are continuing to change so much, she recommended marketers really look at their search query reports to build content around those.

John Shehata of Conde Nast also spoke a bit about what they’re doing to prepare for voice search. Overall, he’s adopting a more conservative approach: investing a little, getting the foundation ready, and waiting for more clarity before diving into larger scale investment.

He likened the current discussion of voice search to the conversation about mobile a decade ago: “Remember when we said ‘mobile is here’ for ten years? But then it took ten years.”

And to wrap up from this session, we heard another great point from Noel of Microsoft: “The most successful brands I see are the ones putting people at the center of their advertising. Regardless of what the next big thing is in search, your job as a marketer is to understand your customer.”

Amazon search

Next we heard from John Denny with some interesting statistics and expert tips on Amazon search.

When it comes to how different generations search, he revealed that 52% of Gen Z named Amazon as their favorite site for shopping. The number two spot went to Nike, who claimed just 4% of votes — putting Amazon at 13 times that.

He also discussed three of the main options CPG brands have for driving purchases / traffic: a brand’s own website, a brand’s detail page on Amazon, and in-store traffic.

For the largest 100 CPG brands out there, he said, there was five times more traffic on the Amazon detail page plus in-store than there was on the brand’s own website.

His message: for brands not on Amazon, might be time to consider it.

Optimizing for voice search

Next, we heard another panel, this time specifically on voice search, from Mastercard, Synup, and Advantix Digital.

While earlier in the day we heard a more cautious perspective from Conde Nast, this panel was a bit more bullish on voice search.

Synup CEO Ashwin Ramesh gave one interesting rationale around the rapid adoption of voice search globally in countries like India, Indonesia, and parts of Southeast Asia. In India, he says, 50% of all searches are already done via voice. “They’re leapfrogging markets,” he said. He also gave the personal example that his grandmother — she doesn’t type and has never used a computer, but she sends him voice messages via her iPad.

Paradigm shifts in search

After this we heard from Stephen Kraus, Head of Digital Insights at Jumpshot. He shared many interesting statistics about the current state of the search industry and how it’s shifting.

90% of all search happens on Google, he says, and it skews branded (unlike on Pinterest). Of the top ten most used search terms on Google in the past couple months, seven are brands: Google, Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, Walmart, Craigslist, and BMW.

The other three, interestingly, were “you,” “weather,” and “news.”

While 90% of all search happens on Google, when it comes to product-related search, 54% happens on Amazon.

Stay tuned for part two with highlights from the afternoon sessions, as well as some deep dives into specific insights!

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The 3 Search Campaign Analyses You Need To Run

October 21, 2019 No Comments

Ongoing PPC search campaign analyses are crucial to improve performance and cut wasted spend. In this post, we’ll discuss 3 of the top analyses to run.

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Search transformation projects: Q&A with SAP’s Siddharth Taparia

October 14, 2019 No Comments

At The Transformation of Search Summit next month, we’ll be hearing from a panel on “Embarking on Search Transformation Projects.” One of those panelists will be Siddharth Taparia, SVP and Head of Strategic Transformation and Partner Marketing at SAP.

Siddharth has grown his career in marketing at various companies, including spending the past 11 years at SAP.

siddharth taparia, head of marketing transformation at SAP

For many search marketers, embarking on search transformation projects can seem daunting and unclear. Siddharth’s expertise lies in leading marketing transformation efforts, and he’ll share insights on what’s he’s learned along the way.

Tell us a bit about your role at SAP?

I serve as head of SAP Global Partner Ecosystem and SME Marketing. In this role, I oversee SAP’s entire global partner ecosystem – with nearly 20,000 partners – including companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Deloitte. We also market to the invaluable small and midsize space. My team is responsible for providing excellent support and resources for existing partners and helping to grow the network with new partners.

What are your key priorities over the next twelve months?

My key priorities over the next 12 months will include supporting SAP revenue and growth aspirations through innovative partner marketing, communications, and enablement. We will continue to be laser-focused on creating great partner experiences, extending the company’s reach to more customers, and driving SAP brand value.

What is your biggest challenge in achieving those?

Our biggest challenge is to make sure that we stay focused and look at the big picture. We are a large team within a large, global company. The path to success comprises many components that must come together in a cohesive manner.

What’s your advice to others who may be facing similar challenges?

As with many areas in life, communication and collaboration is key. Everyone on the team needs to be on the same page when it comes to understanding the plan, the strategy, and the goals. More importantly, the communication has to be a two-way street. It is vital to establish a culture in which people feel comfortable asking questions and providing feedback.

What’s an interesting trend you’re seeing in the market right now?

It is interesting to see the growth of AI and how it is becoming more and more sophisticated. AI is providing unprecedented personalization, which makes for memorable customer experiences. When it comes to search specifically, AI is helping to make it easier to find the information you need faster and with more accuracy than ever before.

How do you expect it will change in the next 6-12 months?

The rate at which AI is evolving is truly astronomical. By its very nature, AI gets better with time. With more data and new algorithms over the next several months, accuracy will continue to improve and forecasting and anticipating customer needs will become even more precise.

Tell us a bit about your session at the Search Summit?

I am excited to be a part of the panel discussion, “Embarking on a Search Transformation Project.” It is crucial for companies to not only incorporate search into their overall martech strategy; they must continue to evolve their search strategy to include new search technology. Search needs to be a core part of every marketing strategy and tactics.

What are you looking forward to most at the Summit?

I enjoyed being a part of the Summit as the keynote speaker last year, and I am looking forward to sharing ideas around the fascinating topic of search. Search is such an important topic to all industries, and the Summit will provide an excellent opportunity to learn about the latest developments within this field.

What’s one of your favorite search technologies and why?

I have been following the development of voice search for quite some time now. It is my favorite search technology because it has come so far in such a short amount of time. Additionally, it’s an engaging, convenient, and fun way to obtain information!

What’s something you do every day that helps you be more successful or productive?

I am a voracious reader. Every time I take a break from a meeting or a call I try to read something new or interesting that expands my horizons. I also love to learn new things — so whenever I am in a meeting I often have a lot of questions.


Thanks Siddharth for the insights, and looking forward to learning more at the event.

Hope to see you all there!

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Moz Local Search Analytics and industry trends: Q&A with Moz’s Sarah Bird and Rob Bucci

October 7, 2019 No Comments

Moz is known and loved by many in the SEO community not only for their tools, but also for the ways they’ve contributed to SEO education via their blog, Whiteboard Fridays, Search Ranking Factors study, and more.

We caught up with Moz’s Sarah Bird and Rob Bucci to learn about what they’ve been working on and trends they’re seeing in SEO. Sarah is CEO of Moz and has been at the company since joining as the eighth employee in 2007. She’s helped grow the company from a few hundred customers to now more than 37,000. Sarah holds a J.D. and previously worked as an attorney before getting into the startup space.

2018 Sarah Bird Moz CEO headshot

Rob is VP of R&D at Moz. He previously was CEO of STAT Search Analytics, which he helped build since 2011 and which was acquired by Moz in October 2018. 

rob bucci VP R&D moz

Their company is headquartered in Seattle, where Sarah is based, and they also have a large office in Vancouver, where Rob is based.

In this conversation, we focus mostly on Moz’s interest in and work on local search, as well as better understanding queries the way that Google understands them.

SEW: Tell us about what you’ve been working on lately around local search?

Sarah: We’re really excited — we think this is the golden age of search. More people are searching than ever before, and they have more devices and opportunities to use when searching. That’s come also with changes at Google of not wanting to just be a portal or a gateway to websites, but to actually allow users to transact and interact right there on Google property. Google is more of a destination now and not just a gateway.

What we’ve noticed is that while we may have more searches than ever before, not all those searches are created equal. Some searches are simply not commercizable anymore for anyone but Google. But we think you still have some great opportunities, particularly in the local space.

Research coming out from Google, others, and our own internal research is really showing that local intent searches lead to a purchase much more quickly.

And it’s hyper-local. You can get a different search result on one street corner, then walk four blocks and get a different search result on that corner. It means that more people can actually play the search game. There’s much more SEO opportunity in local.l

A big theme at Moz right now is focusing on making local search more understood and easier to do for SEOs.

Rob: In today’s Google, there’s really, for the vast majority of queries, no such thing as a national SERP anymore. Everything is local. Google gets a lot of local signals, especially from mobile devices. And the mobile device doesn’t say “I’m searching from the U.S.,” it says “I’m searching from the corner of 5th avenue and Tucker Street.” Google takes that information and uses it to create a SERP that has all sorts of content relevant to that specific local area. 

We’ve been helping our users adapt to that reality by building out a set of functionality that we call Local Market Analytics. It allows users to get actual, on-the-ground reality that a searcher would see in the area where they’re searching.

Part of how we do that is by sampling within a given market. Let’s say a market is Toronto, San Francisco, or Seattle. Local Market Analytics would sample from several different zip codes within that market to pull out an average rank or average appearance on that SERP. So truly, this is the actual appearance in that market.

We have studies that have shown that even for sites that don’t have brick-and-mortar locations, their performance varies dramatically depending on where their searcher or their customer is searching from. 

We hope that this functionality better allows our users to adapt to this new reality and make sure they can have the right data to build the foundation of their strategies.

Moz Local vs Local Market Analytics

Sarah: We at Moz are dedicated to local search because we know it’s so commercializable and because we know there’s so much organic opportunity. Because it’s so hyper-local and focused, there are some really interesting ways of thinking when you view local search.

We’ve relaunched our Moz Local product. The new Moz Local allows you to do even more than the prior version. We’re enabling, even more, review management which is super important for search right now, as well as more Google posts and more subtle GMB management. Moz Local is separate from Local Market Analytics, and there’s a good reason for that.

With the new Moz Local, you really need to have a physical location in order for it to be valuable.

But Local Market Analytics doesn’t require you to have a physical location. It just requires that the kind of queries that you care about will vary by location.

Rob: For local SEOs, the spectrum of things that they care about is varied. On one hand, they’ll care about the appearance of their business’s local listings — the accuracy of that data, review management, and having the right distribution partners for those listings. Moz Local, especially the new version that we’ve launched, handles that side of the equation very well.

Where we believe the market has been traditionally underserved has to do with the performance of a website itself in organic search results. As those organic search results get increasingly hyper-local, we’ve found that local SEOs have been underserved with the quality of data they’ve had in order to build their local strategies.

Local Market Analytics seeks to solve that part of the problem: performance of their websites in hyper-local organic search.

What kind of feedback have you gotten about the tool so far?

Rob: There’s a ton of excitement. We talked about this at MozCon, and it really resonated with people: this idea that “Yes, I search from my phone all the time and see a lot of local results, even when I’m not looking for a local business, and I see my search change.” Or agencies that have customers in three different areas and they’re asking why the rankings they’re sending aren’t the same as what their clients are seeing, because they’re impacted by local.

I think a lot of people intuitively understand that this is where Google is. Google is by nature right now intensely hyper-local. So there’s a great hunger for this kind of data. Historically, people have thought they just couldn’t get it.

A lot of times people get accustomed to the idea that we can’t get what we need from Google — that the data just isn’t available. 

So when we’re able to show them that the data actually is available, and that we’ve built functionality around it, there’s a lot of excitement.

Local Search Volume: New functionality

We also rolled out our new Local Search Volume functionality. It’s a brand-new data point that people traditionally haven’t been able to get. 

Most products on the market can tell you “search volume in the U.S. is X and in Germany it’s Y.” That’s very broad — nationwide. But when we care about tracking the market of Toronto or San Fran or Memphis, we want to know what our search volume is in that city. People have traditionally thought that they couldn’t get that data, but we’ve now made it available, and we’re really excited about that.

Right now, we’re doing it on a city basis, and we’ve rolled it out to states. I don’t want to over-promise. I would love to have it be more specific, and that’s certainly something that we’re thinking about.

What’s going to be really cool is when we can get to a place where we help people understand demand per capita in their markets. 

Let’s take an example. We might think that Brooklyn is the epicenter of pizza. But when we actually look at New Hampshire and the number of searches there versus how many people are in that market, we might find that the demand per capita for pizza is greater in New Hampshire than in Brooklyn.

Being able to show people if there’s a big untapped opportunity — I’m really looking forward to empowering that kind of analysis.

Sarah: This ties into what I alluded to before – we need to understand queries and types of search results like Google does. Search results vary dramatically nowadays, with all kinds of SERP features. All of this impacts whether there’s a click at all, and certainly the clickthrough rate.

We are doing a bunch of R&D right now to make sure that we can help our audience of SEOs understand queries like Google, and also understand what a search result might look like for a kind of query, and what impact that could have on CTR. This stuff is more in the R&D territory. Local Search Volume is part of that interest and investment on our part.

When it comes to the distribution of clicks between organic, paid, and no-click searches, some people see the rise of paid and no-click searches as disheartening. You sound optimistic. What’s your response to those trends?

Sarah: Absolutely for some part of searches happening, if you’re not Google you can’t take advantage of it. The value stays with Google — that is absolutely true. But the overall number of searches continues to rise — that’s also a trend. 

And I believe very strongly that just because there isn’t a click doesn’t mean there isn’t some value created. 

We have these old ways of thinking about whether or not you’re successful in SEO. Those ways are deeply entrenched, but we need to let go of them a bit. Traffic to your website is no longer an accurate measure of the value you’re getting from search. It might be a minimum — that’s at least the value you’re getting. But it’s nowhere near the maximum. 

I think that brand marketers, who come from different disciplines, have always known that visibility — how you show up and how compelling it is — that those things matter, even if you can’t measure it like old-school SEO or PPC.

There’s a danger in equating an increase in no-click searches with a decrease in the value of SEO. 

We should shift our attention to not just “am I showing up” and “am I getting traffic,” but “how am I showing up in search results?” 

What does it look like when someone lands on your search result? Are they getting a phone number? Are they getting what they want, the answer they need? Is your search result compelling? 

That’s part of what’s driving our interest in thinking more holistically about what a search result looks like and feels like, and how users interact with it. We want to know more about how you’re showing up and how Google thinks about queries.

Those two concepts: How does Google understand queries, and what does a search result look like, feel like, and how does the searcher experience it — those are related.

Rob: There’s still a ton of value out there, especially just for building a sense of credibility and brand authority. 

We live in a world, right now at least, where we’ll continue to see Google chipping away at these opportunities. They’re a business and they’re trying to maximize shareholder value. They have a natural inclination to grab as much as they can. 

We shouldn’t get despondent because of that. There’s still a lot of value there. Even with no-click SEO, you can still deliver a lot of brand authority. 

What are other trends that SEOs should be paying attention to?

Rob: One of the other areas we’re thinking about is how do we better help our customers think about queries in the same way Google thinks about queries? 

Google goes a lot deeper than just understanding which words mean what. They look at the intent of the searcher — what are they trying to solve? We’re really interested in helping people think about queries in that way.

We have some really interesting R&D work right now around intent and understanding what Google thinks an intent is. How can our users use that information to adapt their content strategies? That’s an area that’s really ripe and that people in the industry should be paying attention to. It’s not going anywhere. I’m really excited about that.

How do you go about understanding how Google understands intent?

Rob: Without getting too deep into it, there’s a number of ways that one could do it. One might be inclined to look at the NLP (natural language processing) approach — what might these words mean when used together and what might they say about the state of mind of the searcher? That’s a viable approach rooted in NLP and ML (machine learning).

Another approach might be to look at the SERP itself. Google has already decided what it is. I can look at what Google’s decided the signals are to what the intent is. Both of these are approaches one might use.

SEO is an ever-changing industry. What skills should people be focused on developing or learning about in the next few months?

Sarah: From a skills perspective, this is what I’ve always loved about SEO and what makes it challenging to be great at, but something that’s critical nonetheless — it’s a great blend of art and science. 

You have to be technical, but you also have to be able to put your mind into the user. Or rather, you have to be able to think about what Google will think about what the user thinks. 

What could the ultimate user be trying to accomplish, and how will Google follow that? 

You also have to have a strong technical foundation, so you know how to go out and execute. But those aren’t necessarily new skills.

Rob: I think people always look for what’s new, but sometimes we overlook the basic fundamentals which never go out of style. It’s about reaffirming what’s really important. 

There are two basic skills I think all SEOs need:

  1. You need to be able to interpret data. You need to be able to look at a bunch of disparate data points and weave them together into a narrative. What is it telling you? In doing that, people need to get really good at overcoming their own self-serving biases about interpreting data in a way that’s convenient or how they think the world should line up. The ability to interpret data is critical to an SEO who’s going to succeed at finding new opportunities that no one else has spotted.
  2. Understanding how to talk to people in a way that will get them to do what you want them to do. That really comes down to understanding how your content should be optimized and what you should be saying on your pages. What problem are you trying to solve for them and how are you trying to solve it?

Those are good fundamental skills I think people should continue to focus on, rather than thinking about, “I need to learn Python.” That’s a lot of distraction and it’s very specialized. 

Learning Python or R might seem sexy because technical SEO is having a renaissance right now. But at the end of the day, it’s not a basic skill you need to succeed in SEO.

SEO is a broad career and discipline. If you find yourself in a role that requires you to know that stuff, great. But I wouldn’t make that sweeping advice to the entire SEO industry because I think it’s a bit of a distraction.

Thanks so much to Sarah and Rob for talking with us!

Ps — They’re running a pilot program for their Local Market Analytics tool. It’s invite-only but anyone can register interest to be selected. They’re quite excited about it and would love feedback from the industry.

The post Moz Local Search Analytics and industry trends: Q&A with Moz’s Sarah Bird and Rob Bucci appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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