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The search dilemma: looking beyond Google’s third-party cookie death

April 17, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • In 2020, majority of the 181.7 billion U.S. dollar revenues came from advertising through Google Sites or its network sites
  • Even though they will be removing the third-party cookie from 2022, the search giant still has a wealth of first-party data from its 270+ products, services, and platforms
  • The Trade Desk’s 20 percent stock price drop is proof of Google’s monopoly and why it shouldn’t enjoy it anymore
  • Google expert, Susan Dolan draws from her rich experience and details the current search scape, insights and predicts future key themes that will arise out of the 3p cookie death

Imagine search as a jungle gym, you automatically imagine Google as the kingpin player on this ground. This has been a reality for decades now and we all know the downside of autonomy which is why the industry now acknowledges a need for regulation. Google announced that it would remove the third-party cookie from 2022. But a lot can happen in a year, 2020 is proof of that! Does this mean that cookies will completely bite the dust? Think again. I dive deep into years of my experience with the web to share some thoughts, observations, and insights on what this really means.

For once, Google is a laggard

Given the monopoly that Google has enjoyed and the list of lawsuits (like the anti-trust one and more) this move is a regulatory step to create a “net-vironment” that feels less like a net and is driven towards transparency and search scape equality.

But Firefox and Safari had already beaten Google to the punch in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Safari had launched the Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) update on March 23, 2020. Firefox had launched its Enhanced Tracking Protection feature in September 2019 to empower and protect users from third-party tracking cookies and crypto miners.

Google’s solution to respect user privacy

Google recently announced that it won’t be using identifiers. Google is developing a ‘Privacy Sandbox’ to ensure that publishers, advertisers, and consumers find a fair middle ground in terms of data control, access, and tracking. The idea is to protect anonymity while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers. The Privacy Sandbox will don the FLoC API that can help with interest-based advertising. Google will not be using fingerprints, PII graphs based on people’s email addresses that other browsers use. Google will move towards a Facebook-like “Lookalike audience” model that will group users for profiling.

Did that raise eyebrows? There’s more.

Don’t be fooled – They still have a lavish spread of first-party data

Google is already rich with clusters of historical, individual unique data that they’ve stored, analyzed, predicted, and mastered over the years and across their platforms and services. These statistics give you a clear sense of the gravity of the situation:

  • Google has 270+ products and services (Source)
  • Among the leading search engines, the worldwide market share of Google in January 2021 was almost 86 percent (Source)
  • In 2020, majority of the 181.7 billion U.S. dollar revenues came from advertising through Google Sites or Google Network Sites (Source)
  • There are 246 million unique Google users in the US (Source)
  • Google Photos has over one billion active users (Source)
  • YouTube has over 1.9 billion active users each month (Source)
  • According to Google statistics, Gmail has more than 1.5 billion active users (Source)
  • A less-known fact, there are more than two million accounts on Google Ads (Source)
  • There are more than 2.9 million companies that use one or more of Google’s marketing services (Source)
  • As of Jan 2021, Google’s branch out into the Android system has won it a whopping 72 percent of the global smartphone operating system market (Source)
  • Google sees 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide (Source)

Google has an almost-never ending spectrum of products, services, and platforms –

Here’s the complete, exhaustive list of Google’s gigantic umbrella.

Google's 270+ products, services, and platforms

Source: Matrics360

Google already has access to your:

  • Location
  • Search history
  • Credit/debit card details shared on Google Pay
  • Data from businesses (more than 2.9 million!) that use Google services
  • Your device microphone
  • Mobile keyboard (G-board)
  • Apps you download from the Google Playstore and grant access to
  • Device camera, and that’s not even the tip of the iceberg

Google’s decision to eliminate the third-party cookie dropped The Trade Desk’s stock by 20 percent

Nobody should have monopoly and this incident serves as noteworthy proof. Google’s decision to drop 3p cookies shocked The Trade Desk’s stock prices causing a 20 percent slump in their stock value. The Trade Desk is the largest demand-side platform (DSP) and Google’s decision kills the demand for The Trade Desk’s proprietary Unified ID 1.0 (UID 1.0) – a unique asset that chopped out the need for cookie-syncing process and delivered match rate accuracy up to 99 percent.

Google’s statement on not using PII also jeopardizes the fate of The Trade Desk’s Unified ID 2.0. which already has more than 50 million users.

Here’s what Dave Pickles, The Trade Desk’s Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer had to say,

“Unified ID 2.0 is a broad industry collaboration that includes publishers, advertisers and all players in the ad tech ecosystem.”

“UID provides an opportunity to have conversations with consumers and provide them with the sort of transparency we as an industry have been trying to provide for a really long time.”

Adweek’s March town hall saw advertisers and publishers haunted by the mystery that surrounds Google as Google denied to participate in the event. The industry is growing precarious that Google will use this as a new way to establish market dominance that feeds its own interests.

We love cookies (only when they’re on a plate)

Cookies are annoying because they leave crumbs everywhere… on the internet! Did you know, this is how people feel about being tracked on the web:

  • 72 percent of people feel that almost everything they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies
  • 81 percent say that the potential risks of data collection outweigh the benefits for them

These stats were originally sourced from Pew Research Center, but the irony, I found these stats on one of Google’s blogs.

On a hunt to escape these cookies or to understand the world’s largest “cookie jar” I checked out YouTube which seemed like a good place to start since it has over 1.9 billion monthly active users. You could visit this link to see how ads are personalized for you – the list is long!

My YouTube curiosity further landed me on this page to see how my cookies are shared (you can opt out of these). Even my least used account had 129 websites on this list, imagine how many sites are accessing your data right now.

Back in 2011 when I was the first to crack the Page rank algorithm, I could already sense the power Google held and where this giant was headed – the playground just wasn’t big enough.

Key themes that will emerge

Bottom line is, the cookie death is opening up conversations for advertising transparency and a web-verse that is user-first, and privacy compliant. Here’s what I foresee happening in search and the digital sphere:

  • Ethical consumer targeting
  • Adtech companies collaborating to find ways that respect their audience’s privacy
  • A more private, personalized web
  • More conversations around how much and what data collection is ethical
  • More user-led choices
  • Rise in the usage of alternative browsers
  • Incentivizing users to voluntarily share their data
  • Better use of technology for good

What do you think about the current climate on the internet? Join the conversation with me on @GoogleExpertUK.

Susan Dolan is a Search Engine Optimization Consultant first to crack the Google PageRank algorithm as confirmed by Eric Schmidt’s office in 2014. Susan is also the CEO of The Peoples Hub which has been built to help people and to love the planet.

The post The search dilemma: looking beyond Google’s third-party cookie death appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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Master Your Bid Strategies In Google Search Ads 360

April 8, 2021 No Comments

SA 360 has features that aren’t available in standard Google Ads accounts or are more sophisticated. Bid strategies are one feature that makes SA 360 so powerful.

Read more at PPCHero.com
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What five news-SEO experts make of Google’s new, “Full Coverage” feature in mobile search results

March 24, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • Google recently rolled out the “Full Coverage” feature for mobile SERPs
  • Will this impact SEO traffic for news sites, SEO best practices, and content strategies?
  • Here’s what in-house SEOs from The LA Times, New York Times, Conde Nast, Wall Street Journal, and prominent agency-side SEOs foresee

Google’s “Full Coverage” update rolled out earlier this month – but what does it really mean for news-SEOs? In-house SEOs from The LA Times, New York Times, Conde Nast, Wall Street Journal, and prominent agency-side SEOs weigh in.

As a news-SEO person myself, I was eager to get my peers’ opinions on: 

  • If this feature will result in greater SEO traffic for news sites?
  • If editorial SEO best practices and content strategies will evolve because of it?
  • If it will result in closer working relationships between SEO and editorial teams?
  • Or, will everything remain “business as usual”?

ICYMI: Google’s new, “Full Coverage” feature in mobile search

Google added the “full coverage”  feature to its mobile search functionality earlier this month – with the aim of making it easier for users to explore content related to developing news stories from a diverse set of publishers, perspectives, and media slants.  

Just below the “Top Stories” carousel, users will now begin seeing the option to tap into “Full Coverage”/“More news on…” for developing news stories. The news stories on this page will be organized in a variety of sub-news topics (versus one running list of stories like we’re used to seeing), such as:

  • Top news
  • Local news
  • Beyond the headlines, and more

Take a look at  in-action, here:

Google's "Full Coverage" feature

Source: Google

While the concept of Google “Full Coverage” was developed back in 2018,  it pertained strictly to the Google News site and app. The technology, temporal co-locality, works by mapping the relationships between entities – and understanding the people, places, and things in a story right as it evolves. And then, organizes it around storylines all in real-time to provide “full coverage” on the topic searched for.

The launch of Google’s new “Full Coverage” feature in mobile search, specifically, is exciting because it takes its technology a step further; able to detect long-running news stories that span many days, like the Super Bowl, to many weeks or months like the pandemic to serve to users.  The feature is currently available to English speakers in the U.S. and will be rolled out to additional languages and locations over the next few months. 

What five news-SEO experts think about “Full Coverage” in mobile search

Lily Ray, Senior Director, SEO & Head of Organic Research at Path Interactive on Google's "Full Coverage" feature
Source: Linkedin

1. Lily Ray, Senior Director, SEO & Head of Organic Research at Path Interactive

Lily Ray is a Senior SEO Director at Path Interactive in New York. She’s a prominent voice within the SEO community (with +15K followers on Twitter), and has been nominated for multiple search marketing awards throughout her career. She is well known for her E-A-T expertise.  Here’s what she had to say:

 

“Full Coverage appears to be another new tool in Google’s arsenal for displaying a diversity of perspectives and viewpoints on recent news and events. It’s a good thing for publisher sites because it represents another opportunity to have news content surfaced organically. It may also serve as a way for niche or local publishers to gain more visibility in organic search, since Google is specifically aiming to show a broader range of viewpoints that may not always come across with the major publications.

Hopefully, Google will allow us to be able to monitor the performance of Full Coverage via either Search Console or Google Analytics, so we can segment out how our articles do in this area compared to in other areas of search.”

Louisa Frahm, SEO Editor at The LA Times on Google's "Full Coverage" feature
Source: LinkedIn

2. Louisa Frahm, SEO Editor at The LA Times

Louisa Frahm currently serves as the SEO Editor at the Los Angeles Times and is also pursuing a master’s degree in communication management at the University of Southern California. Prior to the LA Times, Frahm was an SEO strategist at other high-profile digital publications including Entertainment Weekly, People Magazine, TMZ, Yahoo!, and E! Online. Here’s her take:

“I’ve always liked that element of Google News. It taps into readers (like me!) who are consistently hungry for more information. 

Working in the journalism field, I’m always in favor of readers utilizing a diverse array of news sources. I’m glad that this new update will tap into that. I’m interested to see which stories will fall into the “develop over a period of time” criteria. I could see it working well for extended themes like COVID-19, but big breakout themes like Harry and Meghan could also potentially fit that bill. 

A wide variety of story topics have resulted from that Oprah interview, and fresh angles keep flowing in! As we’re in the thick of 2021 awards season, I could also see the Golden Globes, Grammys, and Oscars playing into this with their respective news cycles before, during, and after the events. 

The long-term aspect of this update inspires me to request more updates from writers on recurring themes, so we can connect with the types of topics this particular feature likes. Though pure breaking news stories with short traffic life cycles will always be important for news SEO, this feature reinforces the additional importance of more evergreen long-term content within a publisher’s content strategy. 

I could see this update providing a traffic boost, since it provides one more way for stories to get in front of readers. We always want as many eyeballs as possible on our content. Happy to add one more element to my news SEO tool kit. Google always keeps us on our toes!”

Barry Adams, Founder of Polemic Digital on Google's "Full Coverage" feature
Source: Linkedin

3. Barry Adams, Founder of Polemic Digital

Barry Adams is the founder of SEO consultancy, Polemic Digital. He has earned numerous search marketing awards throughout his career and has also spoken at several industry conferences. His company has helped news and publishing companies such as – The Guardian, The Sun, FOX News, and Tech Radar to name a few. This is his opinion:

“The introduction of Full Coverage directly into search results will theoretically mean there’s one less click for users to make when trying to find the full breadth of reporting on a news topic. 

Whether this actually results in significantly more traffic for publishers is doubtful. The users who are interested in reading a broad range of sources on a news story will already have adopted such click behaviour via the news tab or directly through Google News. 

This removal of one layer of friction between the SERP and a larger number of news stories seems more intended as a way for Google to emphasize its commitment to showing news from all kinds of publishers – the fact remains that the initial Top Stories box is where the vast majority of clicks happen. This Full Coverage option won’t change that.”

John Shehata, Global VP of Audience Development Strategy at Conde Nast on Google's "Full Coverage" feature
Source: Linkedin

4. John Shehata, Global VP of Audience Development Strategy at Conde Nast, Founder of NewzDash News SEO

John Shehata is the Global VP of Audience Development Strategy at Conde Nast, the media company known for brands such as – Architectural Digest, Allure, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. He’s also the founder of NewzDash News SEO – a News & Editorial SEO tool that helps publishers and news sites boost their visibility and traffic in Google Search. This is his opinion:

“Google has been surfacing more news stories on their SERPs over the past few years, first Top Stories were two-three links then it became a 10-link carousel. Google then started grouping related stories together expanding Top Stories carousel from one to three featuring up 30 news stories. They also introduced local news carousels for some local queries, [and now, this new feature]. It is obvious that Google keeps testing with different formats when it comes to news. One of our top news trends and prediction for 2021 is Google will continue to introduce multiple and different formats in the SERPs beyond Top Stories article formats.

As of the impact on traffic back to publishers, it is a bit early to predict but I do not expect much boost in traffic. Do not get more wrong, this feature provides more chances for more publishers to be seen, the question is how many search users will click. And if users click, Google surfaces over 50 news links plus tweets which makes it even more competitive for publishers to get clicks back to their stories.

I did some quick analysis back in July of last year When Google Search Console started providing News tab data. I found that News Impressions are less than five percent of total web impressions. Not quite sure how is the new “Full Coverage” feature CTR will be and how many users will click! The “full coverage” link placement is better than the tabs, so we might see higher CTR.”

Claudio Cabrera, Deputy Audience Director, News SEO at The New York Times on Google's "Full Coverage" feature
Source: LinkedIn

5. Claudio Cabrera, Deputy Audience Director, News SEO at The New York Times

Claudio Cabrera serves as the Deputy Audience Director of News SEO at the New York Times. He is an award-winning audience development expert, journalist, and educator. Prior to working at The New York Times, he was Director of Social and Search strategy at CBS Local. Here are his thoughts:

“It can be looked at in so many ways. Some brands will look at it as an opportunity to gain more visibility while some will feel their strong foothold may be lost. I think it just encourages better journalism and even better SEO because it forces us to think outside of our playbooks and adjust on some level to what we’re seeing Google provide users. 

From a site traffic perspective, I can’t really comment on whether this has affected us or not but I do know there are so many other areas where sites have done serious research and testing into like Discover where audiences can grow and be picked up if you do see a drop-off. I don’t think the best practices of SEO change too much but I think the relationship between search experts and editors deepens and becomes even closer due to the changes in the algo.”

Conclusion

Google’s new “Full Coverage” feature in mobile search rolled out earlier this month and is an extension of the full coverage function developed for Google News back in 2018. The aim of this new feature is to help users gain a holistic understanding of complex news stories as they develop – by organizing editorial content in such a way that it goes beyond the top headlines and media outlets. In essence, giving users the “full coverage” of the event. 

News-SEO experts seem to be in agreement that this new feature will make it simpler for users to explore – and gain a holistic understanding of – trending news stories. As far as what this new feature means for SEO traffic and strategy, experts can only speculate until more developing news stories emerge and we can analyze impact. 

Elizabeth Lefelstein is an SEO consultant based in Los Angeles, California. She’s worked with a variety of high-profile brands throughout her career and is passionate about technical SEO, editorial SEO, and blogging. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter @lefelstein.

The post What five news-SEO experts make of Google’s new, “Full Coverage” feature in mobile search results appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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Is Google moving towards greater search equity?

March 10, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • Search equity allows for your average business owner to compete on the SERP without being impeded by a lack of SEO-knowledge
  • A more equitable SERP is a necessity for Google from a business and overall web-health perspective
  • Google is pushing for equity on the SERP to a far greater extent
  • The democratization of the SERP represents an enormous paradigm shift that brings certain SEO skills to the fore

What would happen if instead of having to jump through hoops to rank your new website, you were given a seat at the SERP straight away? Presumably, that would cause all sorts of havoc for SEO professionals. What if I told you that there’s a strong push at Google to do just that? I call it “search equity”. It’s Google trying to remove optimization barriers so site owners (aka business owners) can focus on creating great content and reap the benefits of it. 

It’s a move that I think Google is pushing hard for and has already taken steps towards. 

What is search equity?

Search equity is the ability for a site to be able to compete at some level of significance on the SERP without being impeded by technical structures. It is the ability for a site to rank its content solely because that content is worthy of being consumed by the searcher. 

As such, search equity would mean that sites with limited resources can compete on the SERP. It means they would not need to have an overly complex understanding of SEO on a technical level and from a content structure perspective (think things like page structure and other technical SEO aspects). 

Search equity gives a business owner the ability to be visible on the SERP and in many ways helps to preserve the overall health of the web.

It’s a spectrum. It’s not even possible to have total search equity. At any given time, there could be more or less of it within the Google ecosystem. It’s not an all-or-nothing equation. It’s not even possible to have total search equity. What matters is that Google is trying to create as much search equity as it reasonably can. 

Why is search equity necessary?

The idea of search equity being highly desirable to your average site is self-evident but it also makes a lot of sense. What do I mean by that? 

Business owners are content experts. They are experts on the subject matter that is related to their business. They are the ones who should be creating content around the topics associated with their business. Not SEOs, not content marketers, and not some content agency. 

There’s a problem with this, however. That problem is the incentive. Content creation is hard and time-consuming so there has to be a reward for the efforts. Also, there needs to be a way to address the various technicalities that go into SEO, but that’s for later. This is where the current model falls into trouble. 

What happens when a business decides to dedicate the time and resources to create content? What happens when they are now faced with things like optimizing their page structure, internally linking, external linking, title-tags, canonical tags, keyword cannibalization, or whatever else floats your SEO boat? 

Do you see the problem?

SEO, as it’s often thought of, discourages the very people you want to be creating content for from creating content. Business owners don’t know anything about tags and links and structure. They know about running their businesses and creating content around that expertise. 

This is a real problem for Google. It means there is a lot of potential content out there that the current incentive structure doesn’t allow for.

If you think the notion that there’s a gap in the content generation is fantastical, it’s not. For starters, Google has often indicated such a gap exists in non-English speaking markets. Further, Google has an entire “Question Hub” to provide answers for when the “content just isn’t there”.

What I think makes this notion a contradiction and hard pill to swallow as there is an overabundance of content and a lack of it at the same time. This is because a vast amount of content being produced simply lacks substance. I’m not even referring to spam and the 25 billion+ pages of it that Google finds each day. The content bloat we experience is due to the overabundance of low to medium quality content. When was the last time you felt there was just so much really quality content on the web? Exactly. 

There is no gap in the quantitative amount of content on the web but there is in its quality. If Google’s main SEO talking point is any indicator, the gap of quality content out there might well be significant. That’s not to say that such content doesn’t exist, but it may not exist in healthy quantities. 

To fully capitalize on the content creation resources it needs to maintain a healthy web, Google needs, and has moved towards, search equity.

But not all of Google’s drive towards search equity is purely altruistic—there’s also a business interest. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in this case, it’s quite healthy. In any event, understanding how search equity aligns with Google’s business interests is an important part of understanding the impending urgency of a more equitable SERP. 

Why Google My Business demands search equity

The prominence of Google My Business and of the local SERP, in general, has risen in recent years. No longer is local SEO relegated to the loser’s table at SEO conferences. Rather, local SEO has come front and center in many ways. 

Part of this is due to the growing importance of having a GMB profile. Local SEO isn’t getting more attention because of some internal shift in SEO, it’s because it’s becoming more important for businesses to have a GMB listing set up. 

With the plethora of options and abilities that GMB offers (think Reserve with Google or Product Carousels) having a listing has become a way for a business to showcase itself.

Look no further than GMB itself advocates setting up a profile as a way to “stand out”.

Here too, Google runs into the very same problem I mentioned earlier: incentives. If Google My Business isn’t just about “managing your listing” but is also about standing out and marketing yourself, then the environment on the SERP has to be equitable.

In other words, what would happen to GMB adoption if business owners felt that in order for them to compete on all fronts they had to jump through all sorts of hoops and/or spend a ton of money hiring an SEO on a continuing basis?

Clearly, Google is trying to grow the relevancy of GMB not just in terms of the number of businesses adopting it but in how involved the platform is in the everyday functioning of the business. This incentivizes the business to create a listing, add images, and create Google Posts. What’s lacking, however, is content. 

When it comes to the content local sites create, they have to play by the rules of every other site. There is no branded query driving users to their product carousel, Google Posts, or online menu. If Google wants businesses to feel they can thrive with GMB that success has to be across the board. This means sites have to have success within the traditional organic results for a slew of keywords (not just branded local searches).  

You can’t have the truly successful adoption of GMB if it doesn’t incorporate the business’ site itself. If a business feels that Google is making it excessively difficult to perform in one area, it will not fully adopt the other area. Meaning, if Google makes it difficult for a business to rank content, that business will not be willing to fully commit to GMB in the way that Google so desires. Businesses have to feel that Google has their backs, that Google is not an impediment before they’ll consider GMB a place to showcase themselves. It’s just common sense.  

If GMB is to continue to thrive and grow in unprecedented ways, then Google needs to make sure businesses feel that the entire Google ecosystem is a place where they can thrive. 

Search equity is the only way this can happen.

How Google has already been moving towards search equity

Truth be told, Google has been heading towards greater search equity for a while. I would argue that this movement began back in 2015 when RankBrain entered the scene. As time has gone on and as Google has introduced other machine learning properties as well as natural language processing the move towards greater search equity has followed exponentially. 

To put it simply, as Google can better understand content per se, it inherently no longer needs to rely on secondary signals to the extent it used to. This is why the debate about the importance of links and specific ranking factors has grown like a wildfire in a dry forest. 

Take headers or title-tags. Whereas at one point in time you might have had to worry about the specific keyword you put into your titles and headers, that’s not exactly the case today. Aligning your title-tags to user intent and being topically focused is more significant than a specific keyword per se (one could even argue, that while still important, the overall ranking significance of the title-tag has diminished as Google takes a broader look at a page’s content).

This is really the idea of taking a more “topical” approach than a keyword-specific approach to a page’s content (an idea that has come to the forefront of SEO in recent years). That’s search equity right there. What happens when you don’t have to rummage through a tool to find the exact keyword you need? What happens when you don’t need to place that exact keyword here, there, and everywhere in order for Google to understand your page? 

What happens is businesses can write naturally and, by default (so long as the content is good), create something that Google can more or less assimilate.

In other words, the flip side of Google’s often discussed “breakthroughs” in better understanding content is “search equity”. If Google can better understand a page’s main content without having to rely as much on peripheral elements, that inherently translates into a more equitable environment on the SERP.    

You don’t need to look any further than Google’s mantra of “write naturally for users” to see what I’m referring to. Google’s improved ability to comprehend content, via elements such as BERT and the like, allows for site/business owners to write naturally for users, as previous “impediments” that demanded a specific understanding of SEO have to an extent been removed.  

An even stronger push towards increased search equity

Advocating that Google is headed towards increased search equity by pointing to an almost ethereal element, that is, the search engine’s ability to more naturally understand content is a bit abstract. There are clearer and more concrete cases of Google’s ever-increasing push towards search equity. 

Passages ranking and the clear move towards a more equitable SERP

Passage ranking is the absolute perfect example of Google’s desire for a more equitable search environment. In fact, when discussing Passage ranking, Google’s John Muller had this to say

“In general, with a lot of these changes, one thing I would caution from is trying to jump on the train of trying to optimize for these things because a lot of the changes that we make like these are essentially changes that we make because we notice that web pages are kind of messy and unstructured.

And it’s not so much that these messy and unstructured web pages suddenly have an advantage over clean and structured pages.

It’s more, well… we can understand these messy pages more or less the same as we can understand clean pages.”

Does that not sound exactly like the concept of search equity as I have presented it here? Passage ranking further equalizes the playing field. It enables Google to understand content where the page structure is not well optimized. In real terms, it offers an opportunity to content creators who don’t understand the value of strong structure from an SEO perspective, i.e., a business owner. 

Simply, Passage Ranking is a clear and direct move towards creating a more equitable SERP.  

Discover feed could lead to more equity

This is a tricky one. On the one hand, there is a tremendous danger to the average site with auto-generated feeds, such as Google Discover. It’s easy to conceive of a person’s feed being dominated by large news publishers, YouTube, and other high authority websites. That would leave little room for the average business owner and their content. 

However, let’s take a step back here and focus on the nature of the beast and not the specific content possibly being shown. What you have with Google Discover (and personally this sort of custom feed is where things are headed in many ways), is content delivery without the ability to influence placement via direct SEO. In other words, unlike the SERP, there is far less direct influence over what you can do to optimize a specific page for Discover. There is no keyword that a user implements in Discover, so there are far fewer things SEOs can do to tilt a page in a certain and very specific direction. 

Rather, Google Discover relies on the overall relevance of the page to a user’s interests as well as the site’s general authority around the topic at hand. It’s far more a content strategy-focused endeavor that hinges on the production of highly relevant and authoritative content in the context of a site’s overall identity than it is about traditional SEO. 

Discover, as such, is inherently a far more equitable construct than the SERP itself. Does that mean that it is in actuality a more equitable environment? That all depends on how Google goes about weighing the various considerations that go into showing content in Discover. Still, as a framework, the feed is of a more equitable nature regardless. 

CMSes and their role in search equity

There’s been an interesting development in the role of CMSes for SEO, to which I have a front-row seat (as I work for Wix as their SEO liaison). CMSes, like Wix and Shopify in particular, have put a heavy emphasis on evolving their SEO offering. 

As a result, and I can tell you this first-hand as I’m often a direct participant in these conversations, Google seems to be taking a more outright welcoming approach to the closed-CMSes. The reason is that as the CMSes have evolved for SEO, they offer the ability to create an equitable experience on the SERP. 

Just look at what John Mueller had to say as part of a conversation around businesses using Wix: 

 

The evolution of some of the closed CMSes is in many ways the missing piece to Google’s search equity puzzle. If a platform like Wix or Shopify provides the defaults and out-of-the-box solutions that remove the impediments associated with the more technical side of SEO then the SERP is far closer to search equity than ever. 

This is reflected by John’s statement in the next tweet from the thread I presented just above: 

Having platforms out there that take care of the user from a technical standpoint puts businesses in the position to be able to rank content. This is search equity. 

If you combine what’s happening with the CMSes along with Google’s advances around Passages and the like and you have one massive step forward for search equity. 

This creates an environment where the average person can use a platform that handles many of the SEO issues and then rely on Google’s ability to parse unstructured content. That’s a tremendous amount of equity hitting the SERP at one time. 

What greater search equity means for SEO

When you look back and what we’ve discussed so far here, search equity is a far-reaching construct. It touches on everything from the algorithm to the CMSes supporting the web. More than that, it’s an enormous shift in the paradigm that is Google search. In a way, it’s revolutionary and has the potential to fundamentally change the search marketing landscape. I don’t mean that hyperbolically either and I’m not generally an alarmist. 

No, I’m not saying SEO is dead. No, I’m not saying technical SEO is dead (not by a long shot). What I am saying is a more even playing field for those who can’t invest heavily in traditional SEO is a major change to the SERP and potentially for our industry. 

Bringing SEO strategy into focus

The evolution of search equity might mean that it is (and will be) easier for business owners to create content that ranks. It does not mean that these businesses will have any idea of what to target and how to construct the most advantageous SEO content strategy. 

In fact, I speculate that most businesses will end up trying to target extremely competitive spaces. They will try to target top-level keywords without focusing on the elements that differentiate themselves and without creating an “organic niche” for themselves. 

The point is, search equity only makes understanding SEO at the strategic level more important than ever. Understanding the algorithm and the overall direction and “inertia” that Google is trending towards will be an extremely valuable commodity.  

The business owners who will benefit from search equity will need our help to give their content efforts direction. 

(By the way, this is not to say that ensuring these sites adhere to SEO best practices should or will fall to the wayside. Although, I do think this does widen the gap in what it means to do SEO for different kinds of sites). 

Emphasis on the site as a whole (not the page)

As mentioned, search equity takes the focus off the “page” and the explicit optimization of it and places it onto the content itself. The spotlight being moved onto content per se creates a new operating framework. Namely, the importance of the site from a holistic point of view versus the significance of a per-page outlook on SEO. 

The various pages of content on a site do not exist in isolation of each other. They’re all intricately related. Imagine a site that had pages that talked about buying car insurance and other pages on how to make chicken soup with no clear connection between the two topics. From a per page perspective, each page could offer wonderful content and be intricately optimized and therefore expected to rank. However, if you step back the lack of topical focus brings with it a slew of issues. 

Search equity is synonymous with an explicit focus on the substance of a page’s content. You cannot have search equity without Google being better able to understand and subsequently value the content on a page. Search equity is synonymous with an increased valuation of the page content as page content (as opposed to page structure, for example).  

An increased focus on the content itself, with ancillary factors having, at times, a diminished role. This means that the site itself comes into a larger focus. Once that happens, the overall purpose, identity, focus, and health of that site become more important as well. 

Great content that is out of context relative to the other content on the site is less relevant. Just think about a user who hits the page from the SERP. They finish reading a blog post only to see a carousel of related articles that are entirely irrelevant to them. Who is that good for? Or imagine the internal links in such a piece of content, how relevant would they be? How strong is the content if it intrinsically can’t have any internal links, as internal links can often help support the user’s content acquisition? 

The effectiveness of a webpage’s content does not exist in a vacuum. It gains strength and relevancy from the pages that support it. If Google is taking a more direct look at content, the pages that support a given piece of content must also come into focus. 

The advancements towards greater search equity require us to take a more holistic view of a website. Search equity and the direct content focus that Google has taken mean that the relevancy of the entire site comes into focus.

This means we need to perhaps shift our attention from the role of individual pages to consider the site’s efficacy overall. This might mean a revamping of our SEO strategies and priorities and directly speaks to the importance of having a well-thought-out SEO outlook (as I mentioned earlier).   

It’s a good thing

At the end of the day, a web that removes impediments to the creation of strong content is a good thing. Might it change the SEO landscape as time goes on? Certainly. A more equitable SERP will most likely have a major impact on SEO over time. Does that mean we shouldn’t embrace it? No. Does that mean SEO is dead? Of course not. Does it mean we shouldn’t be concerned with best SEO practices to the same extent? Clearly, doing so would be a terrible idea. 

What it does mean is that we may need to change our outlook on SEO a bit and understand where we have true value to certain types of sites. 

Search equity is a good thing.

Mordy Oberstein is Liaison to the SEO Community at Wix. Mordy can be found on Twitter @MordyOberstein.

The post Is Google moving towards greater search equity? appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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The Panda anniversary and what we desperately must remember about search

March 3, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • This week marks the 10 year anniversary of Google’s landmark web quality algorithm Panda
  • It was a seminal moment for the SEO industry with 12% of US sites being targeted for poor quality and manipulative optimization practices
  • Despite removing much of the worst black-hat tactics SEO is still hasn’t lived up to its experiential potential ten years on
  • Many clients and practitioners still use outdated language and practices to position the value of Search in this vastly more mature marketing landscape
  • To escape this pre-Panda legacy SEO needs to take the best of its constituent parts and shape a new customer-centric Search future once and for all

I was recently notified of a significant work anniversary which transported me back in time to the turbulent start of my SEO career just over 10 years ago. I was prompted to reflect on the industry I love, where it continues to fall short, and ultimately where I see it going. This professional milestone closely corresponded with what was a seminal event for the immature SEO business. On February 24th, 2011 the ‘Death Star’ took aim, and with a typically understated Tweet from the Head of Google’s Web Spam team, Matt Cutts confirmed it. Google had launched its landmark web quality algorithm that would forever be known as Panda. 

Source: Twitter

The day of reckoning had arrived for an industry that tied their client’s lucrative search fortunes to a house of cards built on the spammy and manipulative best practices that had become SEO’s calling card. Thin, duplicate and often stolen content was accompanied by on-site keyword stuffing and obvious over-optimization. This might have gamed the rankings for a time but provided little value to the users who bounced en masse giving Google a solid signal that many sites deserved an algorithmic slapdown. 

What exactly happened in 2011 with Panda?

In what was a relatively short rollout, around 12% of US search queries were affected and the target of the rollout was poor quality sites relying way too heavily on content farms and directories to fabricate their popularity in search. 

Shell-shocked webmasters stared at their Analytics dashboards like Wall Street traders on Black Monday, watching in disbelief as their search share plummeted and asked, “What do we do now?”

At the time, I was simply a fledgling Search Executive with a mere nine months’ industry experience under my belt, with the only thing protecting me from this fallout being the founders of our agency. As a start-up, luckily we were free and clear of this mess as they had seen the writing on the wall long before. 

SEO was dead, or so we thought, and a new age of experience was dawning. We looked on as Rome burned.

But, despite its obituary being cynically written every year since SEO refused to die. At the time, practitioners paid lip service to profound change but were far too invested in their ways of operating, and clients, although badly burned, were addicted to the quick wins the hackers of the algorithm had peddled. And so, the dance went on.

Was Panda a missed opportunity for the industry?

Yes Panda, and its sister link-spam algorithm Penguin, had a profound effect and removed the absolute worst of the worst black-hat practices but a significant proportion of the industry simply did their best to clean up the mess they’d created – often charging clients to take out their own trash so to speak – and so the probing began for what was the new acceptable minimum you needed to meet in order to get your site ranking once again. 

  • “Is 300 words enough now?” 
  • “How many keywords can I get away with using without angering Google?”
  • “How much content do I need to change for it to be considered unique, will 60% do it?”

This mentality of chasing the ever-evolving algorithmic goalposts is the continued failure of many in the industry who still largely prefer to please bots ahead of delivering real value for users. 

I’m not meaning to preach, my hands aren’t squeaky clean and these tactics do have a use but it’s a belief gaining momentum that they should not be allowed to ride roughshod over both brand and UX. I was lucky enough to have been scared straight from the start, firmly putting my focus on how to drive real value to the consumer, building great experiences, authority, and trust.

Panda’s pain is still real

This is the Jackal and Hyde reputation the industry has suffered through ever since. The straightest of strait-laced operators – who see search as a powerful and useful customer touchpoint, are tarnished with the same brush as the sketchiest of spammers and scammers who are still alive and well within the industry.

Their presence diminishes the overall value of search and can create a race to the bottom kind of mentality. Clients who are still sore with the industry ten years on sometimes expect “old-school” results without being willing to invest in long-term value – ironically because they’re terrified of being burned again by another update. 

It’s crazy but it’s true, I’m still having these conversations on a basis that is more than is reasonable and it is because the discipline is haunted by the original sins of its birth.

It goes without saying that I want to scream every time I hear the words:

  • “Can you do some quick SEO for me?”
  • “I’d love it if you could build us some cheap links?”
  • “Can you just get rid of this negative article from Google for me?”
  • “Just tell me what keywords I should use!”

All with the retort of, 

“… it will cost what?! I found a guy online who’ll do it for peanuts”.

The damage has been done and this is the cross that SEO has to bear, but is there a way to move out of the long shadow cast by a decade-old catastrophe? 

The answer is resounding, “yes!” but we need to meet the revolutionary promise we made in 2011 and we desperately need to stop talking just about SEO and reposition the value of search.

What does our SEO past mean for our search future?

First let’s start with the term itself, what it means to clients and how it needs to be repositioned. SEO is a collection of data-driven tactics which are often seen as a cure-all by clients, a channel unto itself, this it is not. 

Despite sitting at the critical crossroads of web development, content, and PR, SEO is far too often a siloed activity that does not play nicely with other marketing disciplines, even separated in mind and budget from its closest counterpart SEM. 

Instead, we need to be evaluating search, not SEO, as a valuable driver in a customer’s path to purchase and how it can facilitate discovery, consideration, and purchase, driving an overall brand experience.

Looking at SEO and how it operates on the Panda update anniversary

The reason SEO too often operates in a vacuum is that historically it’s far less complicated to manage and measure in isolation. But the impact and delivery of search should be more dynamic and incorporated across marketing departments as you can see above or agencies with the constituent tactics of SEO being greater as part of the search. 

It’s fair to say that the Panda SEO ripples from 10 years ago have not yet matured nearly as quickly as the dynamic marketing ecosystem that’s grown up around it. 10 years ago, rich media, mobile and social media weren’t yet huge drivers or mediums, also with the arrival of personalized email and marketing automation being relatively new on the scene too.

Google has evolved well beyond its blue link roots providing a valuable blended search experience featuring products, local results, answers, reviews, news, video and is powered by advanced AI which actually understands user intent and voice searches.

Search is no longer the one-dimensional digital bottleneck it once was and consumers hold the power to choose how they interact with brands and follow the path that’s most convenient for them, not one that’s engineered by SEO alone. 

Remember, people will always do what’s right for them.

Three considerations for how search should learn from SEO’s past

1. Put the customer first

A customer-centric approach is a given in most marketing disciplines but a lot of people in the SEO community did not seem to get the memo. 

Instead of talking about search share and obsessing about the ranking opportunities we need to focus on, try to refocus the lens on what the customer feels, wants, and needs as the foundation of an experiential strategy from which, not only search will be the tactic it delivers on. 

Beyond the implied minimum of a technically sound site, we need to put a greater emphasis on analyzing search behavior, not just keywords, to provide the customer with the right information at the moments that matter in their journey. 

Marketing teams need to be asking themselves, “why?” more often and for search the answer needs to be, “because it’s what’s best for the customer”. 

2. Change the tone and vocabulary

These points all have one thing in common in that we need to try and move away from the acronyms, verbiage, and lingo that was coined in a non-customer-centric world and based on optimization rather than value. 

This will be one of the hardest things to move away from as so many veterans wear SEO as a badge of honor and clients will more than struggle to learn a new way of referring to a discipline they still don’t fully understand. 

Obviously, I don’t have all the answers here, so from a quick poll I ran on LinkedIn, I wanted to gauge other industry opinions on this divisive topic.

Poll on the state of SEO

As you can see, even from this small pool of 39 people in my marketing network, there are almost half of them who also sense that there is a problem but either feel that the hill is too high to climb or that the problem is there but can continue to be ignored. The conversation continues.

3. Create don’t build

Just showing up in the right search simply isn’t good enough and we know that we need to move away from the mentality of building SEO-optimized content and links as simply a means to an end. 

Search data should inform what kind of content people are looking for and also what they like to consume but owned branded content should not be the playground of optimization. There aren’t any shortcuts to creating great user experiences or content that is genuinely useful and deserving of press but you can use search data to make valuable decisions. 

Search as a collaborative marketing discipline will win the day.

The final conclusion to all of this is that search holds extreme value but the industry still is not living up to its full potential because of the ghosts of its pre-Panda past. 

The long-term beneficiaries of SEO will be those who can effectively rip it apart and piece it back together in everything marketing teams do, which is no easy feat. 

If we educate the experience makers, everyone from the copywriter to the PR director, the developer to UX designer on the beneficial insights that search teams can provide then a new paradigm can be born. 

Then, and only then, can SEO finally be put out to stud and enjoy the retirement it so desperately deserves.

Kevin Mullaney is MarTech Lead at Nordic Morning’s Malmö office. Kevin has over 12 years’ experience working with large global brands at established digital consultancies. A veteran of the SEO industry Kevin has been a speaker at BrightonSEO and other industry events and now leads the MarTech and Media team at Nordic Morning’s Malmö office in Sweden.

The post The Panda anniversary and what we desperately must remember about search appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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A small business’ step-by-step guide to dominating local search in 2021

February 15, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • Optimizing a small business for local search is a powerful way to boost local traffic and increase sales.
  • With the large majority of web users actively seeking products/services in their vicinity, building local leads is essential.
  • Joseph Dyson offers a step-by-step guide to improving local visibility for small businesses.
  • He focuses on the importance of Google My Business, keyword research and implementation, internal and external links, reviews, and more.

Do you want your business to appear in the top local search results on Google? Do you want to attract high-quality traffic that helps you boost sales and grow your business in the long run? Do you want to achieve and sustain target KPIs?

If you answered these questions in the affirmative, you may want to optimize your business for local search if you haven’t already.

An astounding 80% of all local searches on mobile phones result in a transaction.

While you may have created a winning social media marketing strategy and revamped your brand identity, the work doesn’t end there. In fact, it only begins. With the competition becoming increasingly cut-throat each day, standing out among the crowd has become more important than ever—especially for small businesses that are struggling to navigate the digital marketing learning curve during the ongoing pandemic.

To make things easier without compromising efficacy, you need to start off on the right foot by focusing on local SEO.

We’ll break down the basics and offer a step-by-step guide to dominating local search in 2020 so your business can hit the ground running.

What is local SEO and why does it matter?

Local SEO is the process of optimizing your business to improve its visibility in local search results on Google.

Why does this matter? Because local consumers are actively looking for products/services close to them.

If you run a small business, it’s very likely that you operate within a certain area, i.e. a specific city or state. If you fail to optimize your business for local search, you’ll attract generic leads that aren’t capable of making a transaction because of geographical constraints. You’ll also reduce your chances of appearing in the top local search results each time someone runs a “near me” or “close to me” search.

Instead of appearing in the Google 3-Pack (attached below for reference), your business will show up on the eighth, ninth, or 30th SERP.

And while earning a not-so-favorable spot among Google search results may not sound too bad, the large majority of web users never scroll past the first SERP.

So what do you do? You optimize your business for local search.

We’ve rounded up some of the most effective local SEO strategies for small businesses in 2021 to help you get started.

Claim and optimize your Google My Business listing

Leveraging Google My Business is a surefire way to give your business a much-needed visibility boost. The popular platform allows businesses to drive local traffic by creating and maintaining a strong online presence on Google Search and Google Maps.

As you share relevant information about your business, Google will effectively crawl, index, and rank your business.

The outcome? Improved local rankings.

Claim and optimize your Google My Business listing to maximize your chances of appearing in the Google 3-Pack.

We suggest sharing the following information:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone Number
  • Business Hours
  • High-Quality Photos and Videos
  • Categories
  • Description
  • Website
  • Reviews
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Attributes and Amenities

Google’s algorithm determines the legitimacy of a business by checking for consistency across the board. For instance, if your business hours are inconsistent across multiple platforms, your business will not be perceived as credible or reliable.

Even the slightest deviation can lower your chances of appearing in the Google 3-Pack.

Ensure consistency to dominate local search and increase the visitor-to-lead conversion rate.

In addition, keep your listing updated by sharing fresh content and interacting with customers through Google My Business Messages.

Become a pro at keyword research

Keyword research is undeniably the crème de la crème of local search. If done right, the process can help your content stand out among the massive pool of competition.

Why should you use keywords in the first place?

Let’s break it down.

If you own a small salon in Los Angeles, most people looking for salon services will search for very specific phrases like “salons in Los Angeles” or “best hair stylists in Los Angeles.” These keywords are a set of industry-specific and location-specific phrases that help customers find what they’re looking for.

If you want your products/services to appear in the top local search results, you have to incorporate these phrases into your content to give users exactly what they’re looking for.

Use Google’s Keyword Planner to find local industry-relevant keywords. It’s important to note that keywords are constantly evolving based on current trends, events, and news. So while you may have assiduously compiled a list of the most relevant keywords, it’s unlikely that they’ll dominate search engines within a few months.

Stay at the top of your game by actively researching and re-researching keywords. You can also use third-party tools based on your preference.

If you’re unsure about how to incorporate keywords based on regional trends, use Google Trends to discover what’s trending.

Use actionable on-page SEO techniques

On-page SEO is the process of optimizing web pages to boost rankings and attract high-quality local traffic.

How does this work? As you focus on specific on-page optimization factors, your website will become more visible on the web.

These factors include:

  • Title Tag: The title/topic of each page
  • Meta Description Tags: A short description that summarizes the content
  • Robots Meta Tag: A piece of code that helps web crawlers determine which pages on the site should be indexed
  • URL: The web address of a specific page
  • Header Tags: Headings that add structure to a page, for example, H1, H2, and H3
  • Image Alt Tags/Alt Text: Short and clear description of an image
  • Canonical Tags: An HTML link tag that helps crawlers prioritize the main page instead of indexing duplicate page URLs

Each time you create new content, incorporate high-volume keywords in the aforementioned on-page optimization factors, especially the title tag, meta description, URL, and header. This will help you attract local traffic and make your website more search-friendly.

Leverage internal and external links

Focusing on your website’s link structure is a great way to optimize your business for local search.

Internal links are hyperlinks that take readers to content or products/services on your own website. Here’s an example to help make things a bit clearer. If you’re writing a new blog for your website and hyperlink an old infographic on your own domain, this will qualify as an internal link. Of course, you can link any type of content, including blogs, articles, press releases, infographics, videos, product pages, service pages, etc.

How does this help? As web users interact with your content, they’re more likely to engage with the internal links. This, in turn, helps Google determine the relevance of your internal pages and rank them accordingly.

If you’re already ahead of the game, you can link location-specific keywords, thereby organically improving your website’s visibility for local search. These factors collectively play a big role in ensuring your business climbs local SERPs and maintains a strong online presence.

External links work in a similar manner. If an external (third-party) website links to your content or products/services, this qualifies as an external link, also known as a backlink.

For instance, if an established website like Forbes links to a value-added blog you wrote a few months ago, you’ll earn a high-quality backlink. As a plethora of potential customers is redirected to your website, you’ll reap the benefits of high traffic for your local business.

High-quality backlinks from websites with a high domain authority (great rankings on SERPs) help Google determine the validity and reputability of a business.

If a considerable number of established businesses are hyperlinking to your content, it’s very likely that you’re producing engaging, informative, and impactful content.

Google’s reward system is quick on its toes. Their algorithm will immediately process the information and make sure your business gradually climbs SERPs. If you were stuck on the 15th SERP, you could climb a few pages.

Of course, if you continue to produce winning content and earn quality backlinks, you’ll manage to break into the first search page.

How should you use internal links?

  • Create more content so it’s easier to include internal links in new content
  • Check the domain authority of pre-existing content to use internal links accordingly (for example, link to popular content more frequently)

How should you increase external links?

  • Write high-quality and engaging guest blogs
  • Leverage broken link building
  • Convert unlinked mentions into backlinks
  • Collaborate with non-competitor businesses in your industry to build quality backlinks
  • Repurpose and syndicate content
  • Offer to write authentic testimonials for other businesses in return for a backlink

Optimization isn’t enough, create high-quality local content

Optimization isn’t the be-all and end-all of content marketing. If you haven’t produced high-quality content in the first place, it’s unlikely that optimization will help you get any further.

The best way to dominate local search is to strike the perfect balance between optimization and quality. Losing sight of either one of the two could end up doing more damage than good.

Create impactful content around local events, trends, movements, and news.

For instance, find a way to incorporate popular holidays like the 4th of July into your content plan. If you sell pool accessories, you could create a blog titled “Five Tips for Having a Lockdown-Friendly Fourth of July Party This Weekend.” One of the tips could include having a family pool party and ordering fun pool accessories online.

Building these connections will go a long way in helping your business become a familiar sight in local search results.

Of course, don’t forget to incorporate location-specific keywords to make sure you attract high-quality leads that can easily buy your products/services.

Request and respond to reviews to climb SERPs

Reviews are a gold mine when it comes to improving visibility for local search.

A whopping 53% of Americans carefully read product/service ratings and reviews to guide their shopping experience.  In fact, 15% of the ranking factors for the Google 3-Pack comprise review signals.

If you run a local search, you’ll notice that each business in the Google 3-Pack includes a plethora of positive reviews.

Here’s an example:

Google doesn’t want to take any risks. The entire point of the Google 3-Pack is to display the top businesses for a specific search. The factors used to determine whether a business should appear in the Google 3-Pack include NAP consistency, relevance, reputability, experience, and—you guessed it—reviews.

If your business has a great review rating and flattering reviews, you’re very likely to earn a spot in the Google 3-Pack.

But how should you generate positive reviews? The most obvious way is to offer excellent products/services and ensure great customer service.

But there’s a little more than meets the eye.

Here are some expert strategies to increase positive reviews for your business:

  • Use Google My Business to encourage your customers to share reviews
  • Request reviews from customers who recently invested in your products/services by sending a short, individualized, and engaging email
  • Use social media to encourage customers to share their feedback
  • Create a testimonials page on your website and include a short form that allows customers to share their experience with your products/services

Actively respond to positive reviews to encourage customers to share reviews in the future. In addition, take correctional measures to make it up to your customers who leave negative reviews. If done right, you can end up turning a bad experience into a good one.

If you’ve been struggling to give your business the boost it deserves, implementing these strategies will go a long way in turning things around.

Closely monitor your progress using Google My Business Insights and additional tracking platforms to determine where you stand and realign strategies accordingly. Ensure consistency to view concrete results in local search rankings and traffic.

We also recommend keeping up with your competition to develop an edge as a small business with relatively less experience. Go over their strategies and replicate certain aspects that seem relevant.

As you develop a holistic local SEO strategy, your business will begin to reach milestones and gear up for long-term growth.

Conclusion

Local SEO is undeniably one of the most powerful weapons in the digital marketing arsenal for small businesses. Polishing these skills can help a business actively climb SERPs for local search and build a wide audience that continues to grow organically.

While implementing local SEO strategies may seem challenging at first, it’s less complex than many small businesses think. The right tools, resources, and expertise can make the process much easier.

Incorporate these strategies into your current marketing campaign to get started. If you have any concerns, feel free to connect with an expert. Good luck!

Joseph Dyson is a renowned content marketing manager at Search Berg. He offers expert small business SEO services and has headed various local SEO campaigns over the years.

The post A small business’ step-by-step guide to dominating local search in 2021 appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Search Engine Watch


Case study: Schneider Electric’s digital transformation through centralized search

February 14, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • Digital transformation affords businesses opportunities to make genuine connections with customers through personalized marketing experiences.
  • Digital buyer behavior is changing, with increased consumer expectations for digital-only interactions and reduced tolerance for traditional sales tactics like cold-calling.
  • Paid search is a fast-growing channel that warrants a data-driven approach to strategy and execution.
  • Evan Kent, VP Integrated Marketing at Schneider Electric, and Kimberly Dutcher, SEM Manager at Merkle share their collaborative approach to a paid search strategy redesign that continues to drive positive business results.

There’s no more denying that digital transformation is here. It’s on the mind of every business leader, changing how businesses employ digital technologies and organize their business models to create more value for their brand. In the marketing space, digital transformation affords businesses countless opportunities to make a genuine connection with customers through personalized marketing experiences. By designing business organization, strategy, and technology around digital transformation, brands can ultimately deliver customer experiences that are contextually relevant and personally informed.

Schneider Electric and its paid search partner of five years, Merkle, tackled the digital transformation challenge head-on in 2019. They engaged in a more purposeful way than ever before to redesign the brand’s approach to paid search marketing in an effort to align with the business’s overall digital transformation initiatives.

Diving into digital transformation

Schneider Electric’s purpose is to empower everyone to make the most of their energy and resources, bridging progress and sustainability for all. As the global specialist in energy management and automation, it is the business’s mission to be a digital partner for sustainability and efficiency. To support this mission, the Schneider Electric team recognized an immediate need to redesign their search marketing program to improve the quality of traffic driven to the website.

With recent changes in digital buying behavior, the Schneider Electric team quickly recognized that overall search volume was outpacing their investment. The market was growing, yet Schneider Electric’s investment was shrinking. The brand’s soft voice in the market was compounded by a siloed approach to marketing investment. Paid search programs were defined by available investment from business units (BUs) versus starting with the available search volume and then defining an investment need. This resulted in campaigns that were under-funded, chasing search volume that simply did not exist, and a general lack of evergreen brand paid search.

The Schneider Electric team decided it was time for a change. To resolve its in-house challenges, the business created a team of dedicated search specialists to work side-by-side with its digital agency, Merkle. These specialists are the link between deep knowledge of Schneider Electric’s audiences and account optimization. The Schneider Electric paid search team made an intentional shift from creating and running reactive paid search campaigns to proactive market and industry-based planning. Their search mission changed to focus on traffic, landing pages, and the basic need to answer the questions searchers have.

Unifying digital transformation with paid search

Having worked with Schneider Electric for five years on paid search, the Merkle SEM team had valuable historical information on the business and its paid search trends. This data was invaluable to proposing a consolidated, centrally budgeted paid search account structure for the US. The restructure evolved Schneider Electric’s US paid search program from 14 paid search accounts and 22 budgets for seven BUs to one account with one budget. This drove considerable performance improvements and allowed for a robust test-and-learn environment.

The account redesign was also an opportunity for the unified paid search team across Schneider Electric and Merkle to lay the groundwork for future paid search marketing expansion and success. For the first time, the teams were able to take a big-picture, data-driven, strategic approach to the channel that gave all parties the information they needed to drive big results for the business, rather than driving localized results for individual BUs.

Key levers for successful transformation

1. Keywords

In creating a transformed US paid search account aligned to Schneider Electric’s business goals of driving the right search traffic to the right pages on the site, the unified paid search team wasn’t starting from square one. Years of historical data and analysis helped guide the teams on which keywords were historically the best performing. In the case of this paid search digital transformation, a keyword audit was a critical piece to start with, ensuring the team was focused on the right keywords for the brand and its critical products and solutions. Click-through rate (CTR) and cost per click (CPC) were the team’s primary key performance indicators (KPIs), given the strong historical data in the engine and the wide breadth of optimization levers that could help improve those metrics in the early stages of account optimization.

2. URLs

The unified paid search team took a two-pronged initial approach to their paid search final URL selection. First, the team worked to identify whether they had assigned the most relevant URLs for the keywords. Boosting quality score was a critical KPI, as the quality score is a major factor in how often and how high your ads show on the search engine results page (SERP). Second, the Schneider Electric paid search team translated the quality score for the Schneider Electric web team to improve overall page quality and user experience on the site. It is these types of cross-channel collaborations that are necessary to drive continued marketing success; the business’s digital transformation can’t be successful without it.

3. Efficiency metrics and results

Continual monitoring and optimization of the team’s high-level KPIs, CTR, and CPC is what ultimately drove success for the business. Over the course of 2020, the paid search team drove a 137 percent year-over-year increase in CTR through keyword audits, URL audits, ongoing performance optimizations, and flexible allocation of budget to the most efficient keywords. Collaboration with the Schneider Electric site analytics team was critical for measurement as well, with bounce rate and site engagement becoming key user experience measurement metrics.

Schneider Electric US CTR per month

Continually evolving paid search with digital transformation

In 2020, the first year of the transformation, the paid search team was focused on the basics:

  • Who is the target audience?
  • Where on the site would they land?
  • Do we have the answer to the searcher’s question?
  • Are we bidding on the right keywords?
  • Is there an existing search volume? How much investment do we need?
  • How long should a program run? How do we integrate other media functions to optimize the buy?
  • Do we have the best ad copy?

Designing this customer-first approach took time and optimization is an iterative process, but the results have been exponential:

  • Lower cost per click
  • More traffic to the site
  • Searchers go deeper into the site

Now that the paid search team has a solid foundation, the door is open for experimenting with new and more advanced search techniques to further optimize audiences, bidding strategies, and cross-sell opportunities. With the right traffic coming to the site, the team can focus on monetizing that traffic by driving and measuring site engagement, leads, and contribution to revenue. Paid search is no longer a guessing game – data-driven and statistical techniques are used to optimize investment.

With a number of 2021 paid search marketing trends emerging, especially around automation in the industry, the Schneider Electric and Merkle paid search team is excited to dig into what opportunities exist for further expansion of their marketing efforts. B2B advertisers are changing the way they play the search marketing game in 2021, and those who innovate early and often are the ones who rise to the challenge, and, ultimately, capitalize on the opportunity.

Evan Kent is VP Integrated Marketing at Schneider Electric and Kimberly Dutcher is SEM Manager at Merkle.

The post Case study: Schneider Electric’s digital transformation through centralized search appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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Solving the agency search intelligence gap

February 9, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • Agencies are particularly struggling to find ways to gain a broad view of the search market.
  • Many agencies rely too heavily on Google tools which on provide top-level search insights and need better tools.
  • COVID-19 is resulting in surprising search results and agencies are having trouble explaining these outcomes without proper data.

Search advertising is one of the most dynamic and rapidly evolving areas of the advertising ecosystem today. And as search continues to emerge as the barometer by which all other advertising activities are gauged, the need for sophisticated search intelligence has never been higher.

Yet, agencies, in particular, are continuing to have difficulties deriving the search intelligence they need and finding ways to unlock the potential of the insights that they already have on hand. Moreover, as agencies continue to invest in more data-generating tools, they are having to sift through more data than ever, and are struggling to keep up.

With that in mind, below are some key items agencies should keep in mind when it comes to their search intelligence infrastructure and how they can get the best out of it.

Agencies only have a fragmented search view

The search landscape is vast and continues to reshape itself on a daily basis. Therefore, having the most comprehensive view of the search landscape and all its nuances is imperative to driving success and making the most informed decisions possible. And data is the key component in building this holistic view.

Incomplete and inaccurate data can not only depress campaign effectiveness but can also have detrimental impacts on an advertiser’s standing versus competitors. For example, without high-quality data insights, it becomes impossible for advertisers to detect when competitors start to encroach on their brand terms — among other things. However, with the proper data tools in place, agencies can build better strategies for clients so that they can achieve maximum ROI and protect their market position.

Google tools don’t allow for proper performance analysis

While Google does provide a top-level view of search performance it does not nearly do so in the depth that is needed for agencies to be able to properly explain performance to their clients, particularly as it relates to competitor activity. Agencies need to be able to quickly justify why performance has changed and what steps can be taken to address these fluctuations — positive or negative. And Google simply does not allow them to do this. Additionally, without a comprehensive set of insights, it can be very hard for agencies to justify budget needs to their clients as well, and how to counteract the spends that other competitors are dedicating to certain segments. So agencies should be very wary of only relying on Google’s analytics tools.

Explaining the COVID-19 effect

As COVID-19 has disrupted consumer online and search behavior it has also materially impacted the search industry. From differences in the types of searches to a growing prevalence of local search as individuals looking to stay closer to home amid the pandemic, the entire search industry is scrambling to make sense of what may unfold next as a result of the current crisis. In addition, as we continue to move towards the conclusion of the pandemic, search professionals are also being tasked with figuring out which pandemic era trends may stick around and which ones won’t, adding a further layer of complexity to this already hectic period. Questions like, “which industries will emerge first?”, as well as, “which competitors will emerge fastest?” all need to be answered.

Luckily, by embracing a more ‘whole-market’ approach to data, agencies can quickly make sense of the changes that are occurring and deliver data-driven explanations to clients seeking answers for why an unexpected outcome took place. Furthermore, agencies can keep track of which pandemic era trends seem to have “staying power” and game plan accordingly.

Enabling a holistic view

Given how many different silos exist organizationally at agencies, it isn’t surprising that synthesizing all of the data that exists and reporting on it is hugely labor-intensive. This can be particularly challenging for agencies that are assessing strategies across the full complement of clients’ advertising activity, including traditional channels such as TV and radio along with other digital channels like mobile and paid social in addition to search.

Breaking down the walls that exist between the different branches of agencies is the only way to get the “truth” when it comes to reporting. This means making sure that the data is fully harmonized, comparable, and accessible through an integrated tool that provides the right capabilities for each agency role. AI can also play a critical role in creating fast, highly usable insights that can quickly translate into action. . This integrated and intelligent approach will cut down significantly on time spent generating reports while also making an agency’s performance much more agile, effective, and accurate.

After having to deal with a tremendous amount of upheaval and rethinking over the last decade, the idea of having to adapt is not a new one for agencies. Yet, while agencies have done well to roll with the times thus far, search still represents a bit of a pain point. However, by re-examining the current state of their data operations, agencies can boost their search intelligence exponentially, while making their entire business more intelligent as well.

Ian O’Rourke is CEO at Adthena and Stephen Davis is the Global Product Leader for Media Intelligence at Kantar, a leading British market research company.

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Semantic search drives expanded outreach to potential customers

February 5, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • Semantic search enables retailers to reach a broader audience of potential consumers who are outside their traditional targeted approach.
  • For semantic search to be effective, websites must provide a rich landscape of relevant content for context.
  • Effectively influencing semantic search requires the right tools and technology to achieve results.

Search capability is an obvious, integral aspect of any online marketing. But, more savvy marketers look beyond the traditional lexical search capability where the search engine looks for exact matches to a query or search term and respond with a text tag to a specific keyword set to also explore the viability of semantic search. Taking intent and contextual meaning into account broadens the search and is beneficial to those retailers attempting to reach an audience who might not know exactly what they want but are interested in starting a purchase journey.

Taking search to the next level

Using retargeting and social ads is effective to reach out to a group of potential consumers based on what you think your customer base looks like and your established profiles. You need to be visible in that space for a chance to win that business. However, it’s not enough to reach out to those who likely fit your traditional personas. It’s vital to think both in terms that are broader and more refined by being visible to those who are interested in what you have to offer but might not yet know about your product or brand.

Paid search is a tried and true method for reaching customers who already are raising their hand to say they’re interested in what you have to offer. It’s the digital advertising channel to ensure you show up in the right space to meet customers where they’re already searching. That’s great if you sell lawnmowers or boat lifts and someone is searching for a specific type or brand of lawnmower or boat lift. However, what if a customer has only a vague idea in mind and isn’t searching for a specific product or service? Semantic search takes paid search to a new level by considering both contextual meaning and the intent behind the search. It leverages machine learning to better understand what a customer is looking for and appropriately applies a response.

Making semantic search work

To influence semantic search, you must have current content, with all your alt tags, and image tags that are current and relevant to the specific audiences you want to reach. The algorithms within the search change constantly, so to stay in the game you have to offer enough relevant content to provide surrounding context. Everyone knows about SEO, but you need enough substance around the terms for them to rank. For semantic search to be effective, there has to be enough content material to support the full meaning of the concepts.

That content runs the gamut from localized landing pages and website experiences to specific brand pages on a retailer’s site. It includes key product descriptions, promotional information, and local dealer information. Whether it’s a product catalog page, a promo page, or a basic conversion landing page, all the content feeds into the algorithms to give the site a fair chance to rank in a search.

Moving from search to viable consumer action

If you’re a retailer who sells a range of products, channeling a prospective customer to the right information is critical. A dealer who sells lawn equipment, power tools, and hardware might show up when someone searches for mowers but the key is to direct that inquiry to specific information on the brand and product at your store. The customer might only know he wants to find out about lawn equipment, the context of semantic search can help you to direct him to the section of your site with information about a specific brand of mower you want to sell.

By responding to a potential customer’s search with relevant, contextual information, you’re streamlining the search process and putting them on a more concentrated conversion path to purchase. From the retailer perspective, there’s more actionable information on a viable sales lead. This consumer has let the retailer know of a valid interest, now the retailer can follow up and close a sale.

By taking advantage of semantic search opportunities, a retailer offers a potential customer more tangible, relevant information on a product of interest, and the retailer has a clear path to an already interested buyer for a specific product. The consumer learns about what he wants to find without having specific product knowledge beforehand, and the retailer has direct access to an interested customer.

Nikki Vegenski is Chief Strategy Officer at PowerChord.

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2021 Search marketing: The year of automation

January 21, 2021 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • The search engine results page (SERP) is a battleground for user attention riddled with colorful paid and organic content including shopping ads, Quick Answers, popular products, and videos.
  • Today’s search users would rather see to believe than read.
  • Let’s explore what marketers must master in 2021 to stay ahead of the curve for search marketing.

Pull up your phone and search for any good or service, what do you see? In today’s Google and Microsoft search experiences, you will see loads of images and other visual content staring back at you. The search engine results page (SERP) is a battleground for user attention. It is riddled with colorful paid and organic content including shopping ads, Quick Answers, popular products, and videos. The traditional “blue links” are now just one mere navigational aid. Today’s search users would rather see to believe than read. Let’s explore what marketers must master in 2021 to stay ahead of the curve with search marketing:

1. The customer journey must be known

For years, search, while connected to other media channels, largely felt isolated as a “pull” marketing medium. Its purpose was clear: capture demand and connect products and services to the user’s intent.

Today, however, search excellence requires new connectivity to speak more personally to the customer at different stages of their journey. Doing this well requires leveraging first-party customer data, but also, and equally important, leveraging the platform’s view of the customer, be it Google, Facebook, or Amazon. Modern marketers must leverage first-party data, third-party data, and platform data to create greater experiences and ROI. It is pivotal that marketers get this step of the process right as the third-party cookie deteriorates in 2022, causing a new horizon in marketing. Increased focus and investment must be placed on aligning and connecting data and identities across environments, with a privacy-first mindset. To enable this infrastructure, advertisers must enlist developers to automate datastreams that fuel machine learning algorithms in near real-time. Without this investment, both the knowledge of and intelligence behind the customer’s journey is lost.

2. The machine must run

Automation is a requirement to compete in search, but there has always been a complementary relationship between human and machine. The right approach is “both/and” instead of “either/or”.

Still, modern marketers must stay current and regularly question how much to favor machines over humans and for which elements. Further, within the aspects we may turn over to automation, we have what the advertiser, agency, and platform each uniquely know about the customer on the other end of the query. As such, today’s marketers must capitalize on knowing who is better equipped to inform a particular action we take with our ad program.

For example, the advertiser does not know the three most recent websites the user has visited, but platform A does. Platform A does not know which ads the user has interacted with on platform B, but the agency does. However, the agency is unaware of the offline conversion data for the user in a digital marketing target list. Data assets held by the platforms, the agency and the advertiser need to work together in guiding the machine.

Brands should employ just a handful of the real-world search marketing capabilities that use automation based on information the advertiser wouldn’t have themselves. Here are some tips:

1. Real-time automated bidding

Leverage platform-only signals such as previous queries and device/browser combination such as an iPhone 11 running the Google app for search.

2. Automated customer segmentation

This runs the gamut from basic remarketing tags, to platform “smart” audiences, to advanced cluster models. All levels of customer segmentation should be used and layered into your search programs.

3. Dynamic Search Ads

Augmenting most successful paid search programs, this “keywordless” automation step will find newly productive query volume to complement traditional keyword campaign activity. It cannot replace traditional keyword generation but should be used to augment those efforts.

4. Responsive Search Ads

Particularly important to highly-specialized, dynamic, and nuanced businesses, automating ad copy, with distinct, feed-driven customizers is a no-brainer for advanced paid search marketers. Gone are the days of specifying quantities, price points, or geo-targeted locations in tens of thousands of ad groups. Allowing for dynamic keyword inclusion and rotating ad copy narratives is just the beginning of fully automated contextual success.

Business automation accelerates growth

Modern search is mature and as comfortable as a well-worn tee-shirt. To the consumer, it is familiar, yet with fresh subtleties. To the marketer, it is ever more necessary to understand and balance the efforts of the human and machine.

The modern search marketer must have a complete line of sight to the visual battleground of paid and organic listings, understand the customer journey at a session-based level, and guide platform automation with intelligent business inputs as we move into 2021 and beyond. The quaint days of endless negative keyword list management have given way to projects that include near real-time activation of customer segments, based on modeled first-party data and competitive intelligence.

Do you spot any search marketing trends brewing? Feel free to share your observations in the comments.

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