All posts by Clark Boyd

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5 advanced Google AdWords features to enhance your PPC

Google AdWords is a highly effective marketing channel for brands to engage with customers.

The auction-based pay-per-click (PPC) model has revolutionized the advertising industry, but beneath the seductive simplicity of this input-output relationship lies a highly sophisticated technology.

Within this article, we round up five advanced features that can help you gain that vital competitive advantage.

Google AdWords has undergone a host of changes over the past 12 months, some cosmetic and some functional. Google’s prime revenue-driver has a new, intuitive look and feel that makes it even easier for marketers to assess performance and spot new opportunities.Under the hood, AdWords is home to some increasingly sophisticated machine learning technology. Everything from bid adjustments to audience behavior and even search intent is now anlyzed by machine learning algorithms to improve ad targeting and performance.

All of this is changing how we run search campaigns, largely for the better.

Meanwhile, there are broad trends that continue to converge with search. Voice-activated digital assistants, visual search, and the ongoing growth of ecommerce all center around Google’s search engine.

At the intersection of Google and these emerging trends, paid search will evolve and new ways to reach audiences will arise.

Though this future-gazing reveals just how exciting the industry is, marketers also need to keep one eye firmly on the present.

As it stands, AdWords provides a vast array of features, all of which can impact campaign performance. Though automation is taking over more aspects of the day-to-day running of an account, there is arguably more need than ever before for seasoned paid search experts how know how to get the most out of the platform.

Below are five advanced AdWords features that can boost any PPC campaign.

Demographic targeting

For all of AdWords’ virtues, it has not been able to rival Facebook in terms of sheer quantity of demographic targeting options.

As part of Google’s ongoing shift from a keyword focus to a customer-centric approach, demographic targeting has improved very significantly.

This feature now allows advertisers to target customers by income and parental status, along with gender and age. Targeting by income is only available for video advertising and is restricted to the U.S., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand for the moment.

Nonetheless, this is a noteworthy update and provides an advanced feature that many brand will welcome.

The available options now include:

Demographic targeting for Search, Display or Video campaigns:

  • Age: “18-24,” “25-34,” “35-44,” “45-54,” “55-64,” “65 or more,” and “Unknown”
  • Gender: “Female,” “Male,” and “Unknown”

Demographic targeting for Display or Video campaigns can include:

  • Parental status: “Parent,” “Not a parent,” and “Unknown”

Demographic targeting for Video campaigns can include:

  • Household income (currently available in the U.S., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand only): “Top 10%,” “11-20%,” “21-30%,” “31-40%,” “41-50%,” “Lower 50%,” and “Unknown”

Combined with the improved user interface, this can lead to some illuminating reports that highlight more detail about audiences than we have ever seen in this platform.

It’s not perfect yet and has some drawbacks in practice, as creating audiences can be quite labor-intensive when combining different filters. Nonetheless, demographic targeting is improving and will be an area of focus for Google this year.

Our previous article on demographic targeting goes into more detail on how to set this feature up.

Click-to-call

A very natural byproduct of the increase in mobile searches has been an explosion in the number of calls attributed to paid search.

In fact, BIA/Kelsey projects that there will be 162 billion calls to businesses from smartphones by 2019.

5 advanced Google AdWords features to enhance your PPC

Search forms a fundamental part of this brand-consumer relationship, so businesses are understandably keen to ensure they are set up to capitalize on such heightened demand.

Click-to-call can be an overlooked opportunity, as it does require a little bit of setup. If advertisers want to add call extensions, report specifically on this activity, and even schedule when these extensions appear, it is necessary to do this manually within AdWords.

5 advanced Google AdWords features to enhance your PPC

Helpfully, it is now possible to enable call extensions across an account, simplfying what was once a cumbersome undertaking.

This is becoming an automated process in some aspects, whereby Google will identify landing pages that contain a phone number and generate call extensions using this information. However, some manual input will be required to get the most out of this feature.

Our step-by-step guide contains a range of handy tips for marketers who woud like to enable click-to-call campaigns.

Optimized ad rotation

Google made some very notable changes to its ad rotation settings in the second half of 2017.

In essence, ad rotation constantly tests different ad variations to find the optimal version for your audience and campaign KPIs.

Google’s machine learning technology is a natural fit for such a task, so it is no surprise that Google wants to take much of the ad rotation process out of the hands of advertisers and turn it into a slick, automated feature.

Perhaps this focus on the machine learning side of things has led advertisers to beleive that the process now requires no input from them.

A recent study by Marin Software across their very sizeable client base found that many ad groups contain fewer than three creatives:

5 advanced Google AdWords features to enhance your PPC

This is very significant, as Google recommends providing at least three ads in every ad group. Their official stance is, “The more of your ads our system can choose from, the better the expected ad performance.”

Creating a range of ads provides the resources Google needs to run statistically significant tests. No matter how sophisticated the machine learning algorithms are, with only one or two ads in each group there is very little they can do to improve performance.

There is a broader lesson to be taken here, beyond just getting the most out of this AdWords feature.

Even the most advanced technology requires the right quantity and quality of inputs. Although more and more elements of AdWords management can be automated, this doesn’t mean we can leave the machines to their own devices.

There are plentiful best practices that we still need to follow. Optimizing your ad rotation by including at least three ads in each group certainly counts as one of these.

Custom intent audiences

Google is clearly making a play for more of the traditionally ‘top of funnel’ marketing approaches.

The launch of more granular custom intent audiences with the Google Display Network is part of a wider strategy to take on the likes of Facebook by providing greater control over target audiences.

Google’s guidelines provide clear definition over how this recently launched feature works:

For Display campaigns, you can create a custom intent audience using in-market keywords – simply entering keywords and URLs related to products and services your ideal audience is researching across sites and apps.

In-market keywords (Display campaigns)

  • Enter keywords, URLs, apps or YouTube content to reach an online audience that’s actively researching a related product or service.
  • It’s best practice to add keywords and URLs (ideally 15 total) that fit a common theme to help AdWords understand your ideal audience.
  • Avoid entering URLs that require people to sign in, such as social media or email services.
  • Include keywords related to the products and services that this audience is researching; these will be used as the focal point for building the custom intent audience.

Custom intent audiences: Auto-created (Display campaigns)

To make finding the right people easy, Google uses machine learning technology to analyse your existing campaigns and auto-create custom intent audiences. These audiences are based on the most common keywords and URLs found in content that people browse while researching a given product or service.

For example, insights from existing campaigns may show that people who’ve visited a sporting goods website have also actively researched all-weather running shoes. AdWords may then auto-create a new ‘waterproof trail running shoes’ custom intent audience to simplify the process of reaching this niche segment of customers.

Once more, we see the addition of machine learning into a core Google product.

These automated audience lists are generated based on activity across all of your Google marketing channels, including YouTube and Universal App Campaigns, along with Search and the Google Display Network.

Although this does not yet provide the level of targeting that Facebook can offer, custom intent audiences do dramatically improve the product and they move Google closer to a truly customer-centric approach.

Sophisticated advertisers will find thata this advanced feature improves performance for both prospecting and remarketing.

Smart bidding

Smart bidding has some crossover with the other AdWords features on our list. In a nutshell, smart bidding uses machine learning to asses the relationships between a range of variables and improve performance through the AdWords auction.

It is capable of optimizing bids to ensure the best possible return on investment against the advertiser’s target KPIs. Smart bidding does this by looking at the context surrounding bids and isolating the factors that have historically led to specific outcomes. Based on this knowledge, it can automatically bid at the right level to hit the advertiser’s campaign targets.

These targets can be set based on a target CPA (cost per acquisition), ROAS (return on ad spend), or CPC (cost per click).

The latest option available to brands is named ‘maximize conversions’ and this will seek to gain the optial number of conversions (whatver those may be for the brand in question) against their set budge.

As we have noted already, these algorithms require substantial amounts of data, so this is a feature best used by this with an accrual of historical AdWords performance data.

Smart bidding is also not quite a ‘set and forget’ bidding strategy. Some marketers will still prefer the control of manual bidding and it would be fair to say that smart bidding levels the playing field somewhat across all advertisers.

Nonetheless, it is a hugely powerful AdWords feature and can create multiple account performance efficiencies.

Google provides some thorough detail on smart bidding on the Google Support blog.

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ClickZ Buyers Guide | Bid management platform review: Kenshoo

Search Engine Watch sister publication ClickZ recently launched an innovative new series of buyers guides, created with the aim of cutting through the complexity of the martech landscape to help our readers make better decisions about vendors.

The first in the series is dedicated to bid management platforms. With more than $90 billion spent on paid search in 2017, these software packages play a vital role in deriving maximum value from a brand’s digital media budget.

The role of a bid management platform has changed significantly over the past decade, in line with the increasing sophistication of the digital media industry. Although the foundations of a successful paid media management platform remain rooted in the effective spending of AdWords budgets, the modern marketer also requires support for social media advertising, attribution modeling, and cross-channel strategy.

Earlier this week, we profiled Acquisio, one of the leading bid management platforms featured in our buyers guide. In this article, we’re going to look at another leader in the bid management space: Kenshoo.

Kenshoo Company Profile

Kenshoo has been a leader in the bid management space since 2006 and its position as a third-party vendor allows space to innovate and work with clients without the potential for bias to enter the equation. This independence also allows Kenshoo to pursue new, promising channels and functionality that makes it easier for clients to work across channels – scaling, shifting budget, and measuring results across them.

Our survey revealed Kenshoo to be the market leader for enterprise-level digital media campaigns.

Although this is a highly competitive industry with many worthy contenders, Kenshoo shaded the assessment categories that matter most to advanced search marketers. These included cross-channel campaign management, strategic insight, and paid search automation. The overall scores can be seen in the screenshot below, with 5 being the highest possible score:

ClickZ Buyers Guide | Bid management platform review: Kenshoo

Furthermore, Kenshoo’s Creative Manager for search and social adds a further dimension to the platform and places the company in a prominent position as search evolves into a more visual marketing medium.

Overall, Kenshoo’s focus is on developing technologies that make a tangible difference to their customers’ businesses.

The usage levels of its features are monitored constantly and the company’s sizeable team of engineers focuses on delivering the innovations that its customer base craves. It is this approach that leads to developments including highly effective performance forecasts, real-time reporting dashboards, and the ability to load high volumes of campaign data almost instantly.

Kenshoo: The ClickZ and SEW customer survey

Throughout the search industry‘s evolutionary process, Kenshoo has remained at the forefront of innovation. Within our customer surveys, vendor interviews, and expert consultation, Kenshoo was a consistently high scorer and was roundly praised for the features it provides for large, complex accounts.

The three areas in which Kenshoo received its highest scores in our community survey were:

ClickZ Buyers Guide | Bid management platform review: Kenshoo

In fact, Kenshoo was the leading scorer out of all platforms in our survey in the cross-channel and bid management categories.

A particular highlight was Kenshoo’s adoption of audience management for prospecting and
remarketing across Facebook and Google. This helps its clients to nurture their audience lists and gain maximum returns on their data.

Due to the development of the industry from a keyword-led approach to intent-driven audiences, this will be a core consideration for brands assessing the vendor landscape.

Search is about much more than bottom-funnel acquisition nowadays, with the advent of much more varied visual formats and the ongoing shift to video. Kenshoo’s support for emerging media formats and channels was seen as a core strength of the technology, particularly its early adoption of both Pinterest and Amazon advertising.

These campaigns can be synthesized into one strategy alongside Search, Shopping, and Social campaigns to provide strategic insight into overall performance. A natural extension of this category, and an area of increasing focus within the industry, is the availability of attribution models that elucidate campaign spend and returns by channels.

Once more, Kenshoo was among the highest scorers in this category as it is host to a range of attribution models and allows for a degree of customization by marketers, based on their company’s weighting of each channel’s significance.

Kenshoo’s bid management algorithms that deliver improved returns on cross-channel budgets also received very high scores in our survey. Recent architectural changes enable clients to analyze millions of keywords in a matter of seconds with no volume limits, a significant benefit when managing large, complex campaigns.

One highlight from the vendor interviews was the ease of use of their new Budget Manager, which allows clients to visually model a range of future scenarios based on their planned media spend across multiple channels, objectives, audiences, product categories and geographies. This capability allows marketers to plan more frequently and to quickly get answers to questions about the impact of their budget.

It is also worth noting that Kenshoo was among the three highest-scoring platforms for client support in our survey. This was driven by the company’s focus on providing expert support for enterprise accounts, with customers citing both the availability and the knowledge of their representatives as notable strengths. Kenshoo also has a large research team, with whom clients can work to dig deeper into search data and uncover new insights.

ClickZ overview: Kenshoo

Kenshoo is an effective technology that contains a multitude of advanced features that will help marketers extract maximum value from their media budget. Moreover, it provides additional value on top of the core bid management algorithms that marketers have come to expect.

By focusing on where the industry is headed and developing features that provide clients with a competitive advantage, Kenshoo looks poised to maintain its position as a market leader in this field for some time to come.

To learn more about our readers’ evaluation of the different bid management platforms featured, follow this link to download the Buyers Guide to Bid Management Tools on ClickZ.

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What Is Latent Semantic Indexing & Why It Won’t Help Your SEO by @clarkboyd

This article debunks the theory that using LSI keywords will positively impact your SEO and suggest some more effective strategies.

The post What Is Latent Semantic Indexing & Why It Won’t Help Your SEO by @clarkboyd appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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ClickZ Buyers Guide | Bid management platform review: Acquisio

Search Engine Watch sister publication ClickZ recently launched an innovative new series of buyers guides, created with the aim of cutting through the complexity of the martech landscape to help our readers make better decisions about vendors.

The first in the series is dedicated to bid management platforms. With more than $90 billion spent on paid search in 2017, these software packages play a vital role in deriving maximum value from a brand’s digital media budget.

Within this article, we take a look at one of the leading platforms covered in the first ClickZ buyers guide: Acquisio.

The core component of the ClickZ bid management vendor guide is a customer survey, sent out to the readerships of both ClickZ and Search Engine Watch. It received more than 1,600 responses and evaluated technologies across the following six areas:

The role of a bid management platform has changed significantly over the past decade, in line with the increased sophistication of the digital media industry.

Many of these software packages now employ machine learning algorithms to identify patterns in historical data and use this knowledge to predict future trends.

Based on this insight, budget can be shifted automatically to the areas that will deliver the best returns. This can be achieved across devices, across campaigns, and even across different media channels.

Throughout our survey, one platform that was consistently praised for its ability to deliver these improved results while also providing an accessible interface is Acquisio.

Acquisio: Company profile

Acquisio, which was acquired by Web.com in 2017, actually started life as an agency that developed a suite of proprietary tools. The potential of this technology to improve paid search performance was such that the company soon shifted its focus to specialize in bid management software.

The platform has developed rapidly since then and provides access to advanced machine learning technology to businesses of all sizes. This is primarily achieved through the Acquisio Turing (™) product, which powers predictive bid and budget management across search, social media, and display.

ClickZ Buyers Guide | Bid management platform review: Acquisio

Through its acquisition by Web.com last year, the company has maintained its focus on the areas that matter for its customers, such as the speed of the user experience, the performance improvements the platform brings to PPC campaigns, and insightful reporting dashboards.

Acquisio core strengths

Within our customer survey, there were some clear strengths highlighted by Acquisio customers. In particular, the platform’s core bid management technology drew praise for its clarity and efficacy. The ability to mirror campaigns across channels and keep this automatically synced over time was frequently noted by clients as a significant positive.

ClickZ Buyers Guide | Bid management platform review: Acquisio

Furthermore, Acquisio customers gave positive feedback on the technology’s reporting dashboards and the support clients are offered. In the case of the latter, Acquisio was among the highest scorers of all platforms reviewed in our survey. During our vendor interviews, the thorough nature of the onboarding and training process was clearly a focus for the company.

As we can see in the chart below (5 is the highest possible score), Acquisio was shown to be a very effective all-rounder in our survey, with the user experience and bid management capabilities both singled out for praise. This diagram shows the average score given to Acquisio across each of our six core assessment criteria:

ClickZ Buyers Guide | Bid management platform review: Acquisio

This compares favorably to the competition, as we can see in the chart below, which shows Acquisio’s score in each of the assessment categories against the average of the other five platforms in the survey.

Bid management, strategic insight, reporting, and user experience all resulted in high performance for Acquisio. Acquisio’s reporting dashboard received particular praise for its intuitive and informative nature, showing performance data from search engines alongside Facebook and Instagram.

ClickZ Buyers Guide | Bid management platform review: Acquisio

Acquisio automatically moves budget around multiple campaigns and/or publishers to maximize traffic and budget attainment, which has contributed to its positive scores within the cross-channel category.

This vendor also offers some specific tools for SMBs within its Promote product, which simplifies the campaign creation and bid management process. Once more, this adds to the accessible nature of the platform for businesses from SMBs up to enterprise-level digital campaigns.

ClickZ overview: Acquisio

Where Acquisio excels is in its ability to offer advanced search management at a comparatively low price point. This is coupled with an intensive, supportive training program that ensures all team members are able to get the most out of the technology.

Although other platforms in our guide provide a broader range of features beyond the core areas of search and social, marketers need to weigh up how important these factors are when considering a bid management vendor partner.

Acquisio has a clear focus on providing the best possible search and social media marketing platform and it competes very well on these fronts. With a 21 day free trial on offer too, it is an excellent option for marketers looking to take their search strategy to the next level.

To find out more information about Acquisio, you can download their Marketer’s Field Guide to Machine Learning on ClickZ. Or follow this link to download the Bid Management Tools Buyers Guide and learn about our readers’ evaluation of the other platforms profiled.

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Event recap: State of Search with Brainlabs

On February 22nd, leading digital media agency Brainlabs hosted the latest in its series of PPC Chat Live events at its London HQ.

With speakers from Google, Verve Search, and of course from Brainlabs too, there were plenty of talking points to consider and digest. In this article, we recap the highlights from an enlightening event.

The theme for this edition of PPC Chat Live was ‘the state of search’, with the focus squarely on the trends set to shape the industry in 2018 and beyond. The speakers delivered a wide variety of presentations that reflected on the industry’s beginnings, not just for nostalgia’s sake but also to illuminate the future too.

Brainlabs has carved out a position as an innovative, data-driven search agency and this tone was carried through the evening, all ably assisted by Pepper the robot receptionist.

Although paid search took up the majority of air time, there was still plentiful room for ruminations on the evolving role of SEO and what the nature of search tells us about the modern consumer.

Digital assistants: empowering or simply enabling?

Peter Giles from Google opened the evening with a thought-provoking talk on the impact of new technologies on the way people find information.

Peter noted that the increased accuracy of voice-enabled digital assistants has led to a range of changes in consumer behavior. Some of these could be seen as empowering, while others perhaps play only to our innate laziness and desire for a friction-free life.

There were three core behavioral trends noted within this session:

Increased curiosity

Because people have access to an unprecedented amount of information, they are more inclined to ask questions. When the answers are always close to hand, this is an understandable development.

Google has seen some interesting trends over the past two years, including an increase of 150% in search volume for [best umbrellas]. What was once a simple purchase is now subject to a more discerning research process.

Event recap: State of Search with Brainlabs

Higher expectations

Although there is initial resistance to some technologies that fundamentally change how we live, once we are accustomed to them we quickly start to expect more. In 2015, Google reported that it had seen a 37x increase in the number of searches including the phrase “near me”.

Consumers now expect their device to know this intent implicitly and Peter revealed that the growth in “near me” phrases has slowed considerably.

Decreased patience

As expectations grow, patience levels decrease. In fact, there has been an increase of over 200% in searches containing the phrase “open now” since 2015 in the US. Meanwhile, consumers are coming to expect same-day delivery as standard in major metropolitan areas.

Event recap: State of Search with Brainlabs

Throughout all of these changes, Peter Giles made clear that brands need to focus on being the most helpful, available option for their target audience. By honing in on these areas, the ways in which consumers access the information are not so important.

The more significant factor is making this information easy to locate and to surface, whether through search engines, social networks, or digital assistants.

The past, present, and future of PPC and SEO

Brainlabs’ exec chair Jim Brigden reflected on the history of the paid search industry, going back to the early 2000’s when most brands were skeptical of the fledgling ad format’s potential.

In fact, only £5 million was spent on paid search in the UK as recently as 2001. The industry’s growth, projected to exceed $100 billion globally this year, should also give us reason to pause and consider what will happen next. The pace of change is increasing, so marketers need to be able to adapt to new realities all the time.

Jim Brigden’s advice to budding search marketers was to absorb as much new knowledge as possible and remain open to new opportunities, rather than trying to position oneself based on speculation around future trends. Many marketers have specialized in search for well over a decade and, while the industry may have changed dramatically in that time, its core elements remain largely intact.

This was a topic touched on by Lisa Myers of Verve Search too, when discussing organic search. For many years, we have discussed the role (and even potential demise) of SEO, as Google moves to foreground paid search to an ever greater degree.

Myers’ presentation showcased just how much the SEO industry has changed, from link buying to infographics, through to the modern approach that has as much in common with a creative agency as it does with a web development team.

Just one highlight from the team at Verve Search, carried out in collaboration with their client Expedia, was the Unknown Tourism campaign. Comprised of a range of digital posters, the campaign commemorates animals that have been lost from some of the world’s most popular tourist spots.

Event recap: State of Search with Brainlabs

Such was the popularity of the campaign, one fan created a package for The Sims video game to make it possible to pin the posters on their computer-generated walls. Verve has received almost endless requests to create and sell the posters, too.

This isn’t what most people think of when they think of SEO, but it is a perfect example of how creative campaigns can drive performance. For Expedia, Verve has achieved an average increase in visibility of 54% across all international markets.

The core lesson we can take away here from both Jim Brigden and Lisa Myers is that the medium of search remains hugely popular and there is therefore a need for brands to try and stand out to get to the top. The means of doing so may change, but the underlying concepts and objectives remain the same.

The predictable nature of people

For the final part of the evening, Jim Brigden was joined by Dan Gilbert, CEO of Brainlabs and the third most influential person in digital, according to Econsultancy.

Dan shared his sophisticated and elucidative perspective on the search industry, which is inextricably linked to the intrinsic nature of people.

A variety of studies have shown that people’s behavioral patterns are almost entirely predictable, with one paper noting that “Spontaneous individuals are largely absent from the population. Despite the significant differences in travel patterns, we found that most people are equally predictable.”

As irrational and unique as we would like to think we are, most of our actions can be reduced to mathematical equations.

That matters for search, when we consider the current state of the industry.

After all, companies like Google excel at creating rational systems, such as the machine learning algorithms that continue to grow in prominence across its product suite.

As Dan Gilbert stated, this gives good cause to believe that the nature of search will be fundamentally different in the future.

Our digital assistants will have little reason to offer us a choice, if they already know what we want next.

That choice is the hallmark of the search industry, but Gilbert sees no reason to create a monetizable tension where no tension needs to exist.

Google’s focus has always been on getting the product right and figuring out the commercial aspect once users are on board and this seems likely to be the approach with voice-enabled assistants.

Event recap: State of Search with Brainlabs

In fact, the technology is already available to preempt these decisions and start serving consumers content and products before they even know they want to receive them. The field of predictive analytics has evolved significantly over the last few years and the capability to model out future behavioral trends is already in use for companies like Netflix and Amazon.

The inflection point for this technology is dependent on people’s readiness to accept such a level of intrusion in their daily lives, rather than any innate technological shortcomings.

History suggests that, while a certain initial resistance is to be expected, ultimately we will grow accustomed to this assimilation of technology into our lives. And, soon after, we will grow impatient with any limitations we encounter.

That will create a seismic shift in how the search industry operates, but it will open up new and more innovative ways to connect consumers with brands.

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Everything you need to know about the Google Chrome ad blocker

Google launches a new version of its Chrome web browser today (February 15), which will include an in-built ad blocker to try and eradicate intrusive ads from the browsing experience.

There are some clear standards and some unanswered questions relating to this new approach, so what exactly do marketers need to know?

Google announced last year that certain ad types would be blocked automatically within Chrome. This seemingly seismic update is due to go live today in the latest upgrade to the world’s most popular web browser.

The integration of an ad blocker within Google Chrome is just a small part of a much bigger movement to improve the quality of online advertising, however.

This has been driven by consumers, who are increasingly frustrated with ads that interrupt and distract them from the content they want to view. As people spend more time on mobile devices and advertisers invest more in video, that tension has only heightened. 

The survey results in the image above tally with the findings from Google’s own research. Axios revealed recently that Google has found two concerning trends when analyzing user behavior on Chrome:

  1. One-in-five Chrome feedback reports mentions annoying/unwanted ads
  2. There were 5+ billion mutes from people using Google’s “mute this ad” feature in 2017

Of course, this has led to huge growth in the adoption of ad blockers over the last few years. Consumers have found these to be an easy and convenient solution, but this is not a permanent stance.

There is a widespread acceptance that if advertisers can provide some value to consumers, the latter will be much more receptive to the messaging.

Everything you need to know about the Google Chrome ad blocker

Worryingly for advertisers and publishers, the growth in mobile ad blocker usage has been very notable and that trend has been particularly marked in the Asia-Pacific region over the past 12 months.

Many publishers have implemented “ad block walls”, which do not allow access to their content for users with an ad blocker installed. That approach is only a stop-gap measure and does not strike at the heart of the issue, however.

It is pretty clear which way the wind is blowing, so Google is aiming to take a modicum of control over the prevailing trend rather than ignore it altogether. Third-party ad blockers, after all, might also end up blocking ads from the Google Display Network.

Moreover, Chrome accounts for 62% of the mobile browser market and 59% of desktop, so it certainly has the clout to make a difference.

And yet, there is a fine balance to strike here between permitting the ads that fuel so much of the digital economy, while precluding those that are overly intrusive. Google, of course, has much to lose if it adopts an overzealous approach, but much to gain if it can become the arbiter of the correct standards for digital advertising.

Which ads will be affected?

The standards by which the Chrome ad blocker will operate are based on the guidelines set by the Coalition for Better Ads. Google is on the board that sets these regulations, but so are many other influential bodies, including the Association of National Advertisers, Unilever, and Facebook.

This collective set out to pinpoint the ad experiences that consumers found to be overly negative when browsing. The research (which can be viewed here) revealed certain types of ad that are most typically tied to negative experiences.

The desktop web experiences that will be affected are:

Everything you need to know about the Google Chrome ad blocker

While the mobile ad types that will be affected are:

Everything you need to know about the Google Chrome ad blocker

Of course, these are broad categories and there are levels of sophistication within each. Google has added the stipulation that publishers have a 7.5% non-compliance threshold before their ads are blocked.

There is also an element of common sense to be applied here. We have all been subjected to the kinds of ads that this initiative targets, whether they are full-screen auto-play videos or pop-up ads that feel impossible to close.

How will Google enforce this?

Significantly, Google estimates that just 1% of publishers will be affected in the short-term by the new ad blocker. It would be fair to say that the approach to cutting out sub-par ads has more in common with a scalpel than an axe. After all, Google knows better than anyone that advertising supports the vast majority of what we see online.

Wes MacLaggan, SVP of Marketing at Marin Software, commented to Search Engine Watch that:

These new standards are meant to create a better user experience for consumers, and ultimately encourage fewer ad blocking installations. In the short term, we’ll see some ad formats and advertisers shut off. These advertisers and publishers will need to invest in more quality ads, while publishers will no longer be able to rely on monetizing with intrusive formats.

Google will also alert sites that are at the “warning” or “failing” level on its scale, to provide an opportunity to clean up their ads. The search giant reports that 37% of sites that were initially in violation of their standards have since made changes to improve the quality of their ads.

Websites that violate the new standards will be given 30 days to remove the offending ads from their sites or Google will block their ads.

Everything you need to know about the Google Chrome ad blocker

How will this affect advertisers and publishers?

It is a sign of how much the industry has changed that this is not quite the doomsday scenario it would have been for many just a few years ago.

The business model that drives so many publishers has been under threat for some time now. The move to a digital-first publishing world could only really be supported by a revenue model based on digital advertising, but unfortunately it has proved highly challenging to square this with the consumer’s best interests.

The ultimate aim for Google, via Chrome, is both ambitious and idealistic: to work with publishers and advertisers to create a customer-centric browsing experience. There are some clear statements on this from the Coalition for Better Ads, including the following:

The Coalition encourages advertisers, publishers, and advertising technology providers to review its research and the initial Better Ads Standards, as part of their efforts in the marketplace to improve the online ad experience.

  • Advertisers can use the initial Better Ads Standards to inform campaign development and execution
  • Publishers can use the initial Better Ads Standards to develop improved experiences for their audiences
  • Ad technology platforms can use the initial Better Ads Standards in the development process for new ad experiences
  • Providers of measurement technologies can use the initial Better Ads Standards to develop new ways to assess marketplace prevalence of the ad experiences preferred by consumers

Wes McLaggan of Marin Software has some further advice for advertisers as they take stock of how this update may affect them:

High quality, relevant ads are always going to perform better than those shouting to get a user’s attention. Marketers should leverage all targeting options to put the right ad in front of the right person. Ads should also reflect the user’s frame of mind when they are on that platform. There isn’t a one-size fits all approach for in-stream video on Facebook, Instagram Stories and display ads on a website. In short, digital advertisers should let user engagement, relevance, and ad quality be their guide.

Although an in-built ad blocker that initially affects 1% of publishers will not drive a fundamental shift in digital consumer-advertiser relationships on its own, it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

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How to check your Domain Authority: 4 tools to use

Domain Authority (DA) is a metric that serves as a handy heuristic in the SEO industry. Put simply, it provides insight into how likely a site is to rank for specific keywords, based on the SEO authority it holds. There are numerous tools that can help us arrive at these useful scores.

Below, we round up some of the most accurate and intuitive ways to see a site’s SEO equity.

In an often opaque industry, with few insights into how Google’s algorithms really work for organic search, the lure of a metric like Domain Authority is self-evident.

It provides a glimpse into the SEO “strength” of a website, in a similar fashion to the now obsolete PageRank toolbar. Google still makes use of some variation of the PR algorithm internally, but its scores are no longer visible to the public and were never particularly helpful.

If anything, they encouraged some negative attempts to “game” Google’s rankings through link acquisition.

However, many SEOs make use of Domain Authority to sense-check the quality of their inbound links and to understand how these are affecting their own’s site’s SEO health.

What is Domain Authority?

“Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.

Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating linking root domains, number of total links, MozRankMozTrust, etc. — into a single DA score. This score can then be used when comparing websites or tracking the “ranking strength” of a website over time.” – Moz.

Ultimately, this is a representative model of how Google decides which pages should rank for each query, and in what order they should rank.

As is the case with the term ‘relevance’, authority covers a very broad area of assessment that is open to interpretation. Domain Authority aims to cut through that ambiguity by providing a metric that can compare the SEO strength of different websites based on a consistent methodology.

Although marketers are aware that DA has intrinsic limitations as a metric, it is at least a barometer of whether our SEO efforts are gaining traction or not. As such, it serves an important purpose.

When prospecting for new links, for example, it is helpful to check the DA of external sites before contacting the site about a potential partnership. Combined with a range of other metrics – both qualitative and quantitative – Domain Authority can therefore guide brands towards more effective SEO decisions.

‘Domain Authority’ was devised by Moz and they have naturally taken ownership of this name. Their suite of tools (some of which are discussed in this article) will reveal the authority of particular domains, but dozens of other free tools use Moz’s API to show these scores too.

However, a couple of other SEO software packages provide a slightly different view on a domain’s SEO strength.

Moz’s scores are based on the links contained within its own index, which is undoubtedly smaller than Google’s index of URLs.

Other SEO software companies, such as Majestic and Ahrefs, have their own index of URLs. These indexes will largely overlap with each other, but there are still questions to pose to your chosen provider:

  • Index size: How many URLs are contained within the software’s index?
  • Frequency of index crawling: How often is the index refreshed?
  • Live links: Are there common instances of ‘false positives’, where inactive links are reported with 200 status codes?
  • Correlation with actual rankings: Simply, does a higher domain score equate to better rankings?

The importance of these questions, and the resultant significance of their answers, will depend on a brand’s context. Nonetheless, these are points worth considering when assessing the scores your site receives.

Each of the main players in this space has subtle distinctions within its methodology, which will be important for most SEOs.

We will begin our round-up with the Moz tools (some of them free) that will show the Domain Authority for any site, before looking at a couple of alternatives that provide a valuable reference point.

Moz (MozBar, Open Site Explorer)

It should be clear that Moz is the major contender when it comes to checking a domain’s SEO authority. We included MozBar on our list of the best Google Chrome extensions for SEO and it deserves its place in this list, too.

MozBar will highlight the Domain Authority of any site a user is browsing, along with the Page Authority (PA) of that particular URL. As the name suggest, PA applies a similar methodology to DA, but localized to a particular URL rather than a domain.

This is also available in search results pages, making it possible to see whether a site’s Domain or Page Authority correlates with higher rankings for particular queries.

As such, these two metrics in combination are a great starting point for investigations into the quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to a domain.

Marketers should be aware, however, that these scores do fluctuate.

That should be viewed as a positive, as the scores are an increasingly accurate reflection of how Google is evaluating sites. Moz employs machine learning algorithms to re-calibrate the authority scores based on link activity across its index, but also the impact that certain types of link have.

We can consider this an attempt to peg the Moz index to that of Google, and we know the latter is tweaked thousands of times a year.

Therefore, we should be careful about the causal links we infer from DA scores.

When tracking Domain Authority, always benchmark against similar sites to avoid viewing this as an absolute indication of how well you are performing. By viewing it as a relative metric instead, we can gain a healthier insight into whether our strategy is working.

This is where another Moz-owned tool, Open Site Explorer, proves its worth. Open Site Explorer uses a range of proprietary Moz metrics to highlight the areas in which specific sites under- or over-perform. the side by side comparisons it creates are an intuitive way to spot strengths and weaknesses in a site’s link profile on a broader scale.

How to check your Domain Authority: 4 tools to use

Moz’s Domain Authority is undoubtedly useful – especially when used as an entry point into deeper investigation. MozBar and Open Site Explorer provide access to this metric for all marketers, so they should be viewed as the go-to resources for anyone seeking a check on their site’s SEO ranking potential.

Ahrefs

Ahrefs boasts an index of over 12 trillion links and data on 200 million root domains, making it an invaluable repository for SEOs wanting to understand their site’s SEO performance.

The two metrics that matter within the scope of this article are URL Rating (UR) and Domain Rating (DR).

We can consider these Ahrefs’ equivalents to Page Authority and Domain Authority, respectively, at least in terms of their purpose.

The latter is defined by Ahrefs as “a proprietary metric that shows the strength of a target website’s total backlink profile (in terms of its size and quality).”

It appears frequently within the software interface, in examples like the one in the screenshot below:

How to check your Domain Authority: 4 tools to use

So, why would you use the Ahrefs DR score over Moz’s DA calculation? Their definitions do seem strikingly similar, after all.

As always, the detail is critical. If we refer back to our initial points for consideration, it becomes possible to compare Ahrefs with Moz:

  • Index size
  • Frequency of index crawling
  • Live links
  • Correlation with actual rankings

Both Moz and Ahrefs have invested significantly in improving the size, quality and freshness of their link data. Some SEOs have a preference for one over the other, and their scores do vary significantly on occasion.

Those that prefer Ahrefs typically do so for the freshness of its index and DR’s correlation with actual rankings.

The clarity of the Ahrefs methodology is also very welcome, right down to the number of links typically required to reach a specific DR score.

To put things simply, we calculate the DR of a given website the following way:

  1. Look at how many unique domains have at least 1 dofollow link to the target website;
  2. Take into account the DR values of those linking domains;
  3. Take into account how many unique domains each of those websites link to;
  4. Apply some math and coding magic to calculate “raw” DR scores;
  5. Plot these scores on a 0–100 scale (which is dynamic in nature and will “stretch” over time).
  • DR 0–20: 20 ref.domains
  • DR 20–40: 603 ref.domains
  • DR 40–60: 4,212 ref.domains
  • DR 60–80: 25,638 ref.domains
  • DR 80–100: 335,717 ref.domains

Ahrefs requires a monthly licence to access its data; for those that do sign up, it provides a very useful sanity check for the domain strength scores seen elsewhere.

Majestic

Majestic is marketed as “The planet’s largest link index database” and it remains a trusted component of any SEO toolbox for the thorough nature of its backlink data.

Offering two index options (Fresh and Historic), it also allows marketers to different views of how their domain is performing. As with Moz and Ahrefs, Majestic’s scores for site strength are calculated almost exclusively based on the quality and quantity of inbound links.

Opting for the Historic Index will see Majestic scour the billions of URLs it has crawled within the last 5 years, while the Fresh Index is updated multiple times per day.

This software takes a slightly different tack in relation to the labeling of its domain metrics, which are known as Trust Flow and Citation Flow.

How to check your Domain Authority: 4 tools to use

These are interrelated metrics that combine to form the set of Majestic Flow Metrics. These are very insightful because of the immediate score they provide (ranging from a low of 0 to a high of 100), and also for the opportunities to dig further into the backlink data.

One favorite feature of Majestic is the ability to analyze historical backlink acquisition trends, both in terms of links gained and links lost. As such, Majestic’s domain strength metrics provide actionable insight that can be used to shape strategy immediately. For example, the loss of a lot of links on a particular date may provide an opportunity to reach out to webmasters and try to regain that equity.

Majestic also comes with a handy toolbar that overlays domain metrics on the site a user is browsing. Although an apples to apples comparison between Majestic and Moz or Majestic and Ahrefs, in relation to the efficacy of their domain authority rankings, would be difficult, this would also be to miss the point.

All of these tools are aiming to mimic the functioning of Google as accurately as they can; taken together they form a more rounded picture.

In summary

Given the ongoing significance not only of backlinks, but also the potential of unlinked mentions to boost performance, search marketers are quite rightly looking to Domain Authority to assess their SEO potential.

The core elements of a successful, customer-centric remain the same as they always were; higher scores, from whichever domain metrics one chooses to monitor, should be seen as a natural by-product of a strategy that fulfils the modern consumer’s needs.

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The must-have tools for paid search success

Paid search marketers look to technology to provide them with a competitive advantage.

AdWords is host to a range of increasingly sophisticated features, but there are also numerous third-party tools that add extra insight. Below, we review some of the essential tools to achieve PPC success.

The paid search industry is set to develop significantly through 2018, both in its array of options for advertisers and in its level of sophistication as a marketing channel. The pace of innovation is only accelerating, and technology is freeing search specialists to spend more time on strategy, rather than repetitive tasks.

Google continues to add new machine learning algorithms to AdWords that improve the efficacy of paid search efforts, which is undoubtedly a welcome development. This technology ultimately becomes something of an equalizer, however, given that everyone has access to these same tools.

It is at the intersection of people and technology that brands can thrive in PPC marketing. Better training and more enlightened strategy can help get the most out of Google’s AdWords and AdWords Editor, but there are further tools that can add a competitive edge.

The below are technologies that can save time, uncover insights, add scale to data analysis, or a combination of all three.

Keyword research tools

Identifying the right keywords to add to your paid search account is, of course, a fundamental component of a successful campaign.

Google will suggest a number of relevant queries within the Keyword Planner tool, but it does have some inherent limitations. The list of keywords provided within this tool is far from comprehensive and, given the potential rewards on offer, sophisticated marketers would be well advised to look for a third-party solution.

A recent post by Wil Reynolds at Seer Interactive brought to light just how important it is to build an extensive list of target keywords, as consumers are searching in multifaceted ways, across devices and territories. According to Ahrefs, 85% of all searches contain three or more words and although the shorter keywords tend to have higher search volumes, the long tail contains a huge amount of value too.

Add in growing trends like the adoption of voice search and the picture becomes more complex still. In essence, it is necessary to research beyond Google Keyword Planner to uncover these opportunities.

Keywordtool.io takes an initial keyword suggestion as its stimulus and uses this to come up up to 750 suggested queries to target. This is achieved in part through the use of Google Autocomplete to pull in a range of related terms that customers typically search for. A Pro licence for this tool starts at $48 per month.

Ubersuggest is another long-standing keyword tool that search marketers use to find new, sometimes unexpected, opportunities to communicate with customers via search. It groups together suggested keywords based on their lexical similarity and they can be exported to Excel.

This tool also allows marketers to add in negative keywords to increase the relevance of their results.

The must-have tools for paid search success

We have written about the benefits of Google Trends for SEO, but the same logic applies to PPC. Google Trends can be a fantastic resource for paid search, as it allows marketers to identify peaks in demand. This insight can be used to target terms as their popularity rises, allowing brands to attract clicks for a lower cost.

Google Trends has been updated recently and includes a host of new features, so it is worth revisiting for marketers that may not have found it robust enough in its past iterations.

Answer the Public is another great tool for understanding longer, informational queries that relate to a brand’s products or services. It creates a visual representation of the most common questions related to a head term, such as ‘flights to paris’ in the example below:

The must-have tools for paid search success

As the role of paid search evolves into more of a full-funnel channel that covers informational queries as well as transactional terms, tools like this one will prove invaluable. The insights it reveals can be used to tailor ad copy, and the list of questions can be exported and uploaded to AdWords to see if there is a sizeable opportunity to target these questions directly.

For marketers that want to investigate linguistic trends within their keyword set, it’s a great idea to use an Ngram viewer. There are plenty of options available, but this tool is free and effective.

Competitor analysis tools

AdWords Auction Insights is an essential tool for competitor analysis, as it reveals the impression share for different sites across keyword sets, along with average positions and the rate of overlap between rival sites.

This should be viewed as the starting point for competitor analysis, however. There are other technologies that provide a wider range of metrics for this task, including Spyfu and SEMrush.

Spyfu’s AdWords History provides a very helpful view of competitor strategies over time. This reveals what their ad strategies have been, but also how frequently they are changed. As such, it is a helpful blend of qualitative and quantitative research that shows not just how brands are positioning their offering, but also how much they have been willing to pay to get it in front of their audience.

A basic licence for Spyfu starts at $33 per month.

The must-have tools for paid search success

SEMrush is a great tool for competitor analysis, both for paid search and its organic counterpart. This software shows the keywords that a domain ranks against for paid search and calculates the estimated traffic the site has received as a result.

The Product Listing Ads features are particularly useful, as they provide insight into a competitor’s best-performing ads and their core areas of focus for Google Shopping.

It is also easy to compare desktop data to mobile data through SEMrush, a feature that has become increasingly powerful as the shift towards mobile traffic continues.

A licence for SEMrush starts at $99.95 per month.

The must-have tools for paid search success

Used in tandem with AdWords Auction Insights, these tools create a fuller picture of competitor activities.

Landing page optimization tools

It is essential to optimize the full search experience, from ad copy and keyword targeting, right through to conversion. It is therefore the responsibility of PPC managers to ensure that the on-site experience matches up to the consumer’s expectations.

A variety of tools can help achieve this aim, requiring minimal changes to a page’s source code to run split tests on landing page content and layout. In fact, most of these require no coding skills and allow PPC marketers to make changes that affect only their channel’s customers. The main site experience remains untouched, but paid search visitors will see a tailored landing page based on their intent.

Unbounce has over 100 responsive templates and the dynamic keyword insertion feature is incredibly useful. The latter adapts the content on a page based on the ad a user clicked, helping to tie together the user journey based on user expectations.

The must-have tools for paid search success

Brand monitoring tools

Branded keywords should be a consistent revenue driver for any company. Although there is no room to be complacent, even when people are already searching for your brand’s name, these queries tend to provide a sustainable and cost-effective source of PPC traffic.

Unless, of course, the competition tries to steal some of that traffic. Google does have some legislation to protect brands, but this has proved insufficient to stop companies bidding on their rivals’ brand terms. When this does occur, it also drives up the cost-per-click for branded keywords.

Brandverity provides some further protection for advertisers through automated alerts that are triggered when a competitor encroaches on their branded terms.

This coverage includes Shopping ads, mobile apps, and global search engines.

The must-have tools for paid search success

Custom AdWords scripts

Although not a specific tool, it is worth mentioning the additional benefits that custom scripts can bring to AdWords performance. These scripts provide extra functionality for everything from more flexible bidding schedules, to stock price-based bid adjustments and third-party data integrations.

This fantastic list from Koozai is a comprehensive resource, as is this one from Free Adwords Scripts. PPC agency Brainlabs also provides a useful list of scripts on their website that is typically updated with a new addition every few months.

The must-have tools for paid search success

Using the tools listed above can add an extra dimension to PPC campaigns and lead to the essential competitive edge that drives growth. As the industry continues to evolve at a rapid rate, these tools should prove more valuable than ever.

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10 Google updates you may have missed

Google rarely stands still. In fact, the search giant claims to tweak its search algorithms at least 3 times per day.

Some of these updates are bigger than others, and the past month has brought an unprecedented wave of newsworthy enhancements.

Just yesterday, for example, the industry was abuzz with the news that Google would officially be using page speed as a ranking factor in its mobile search algorithm from July.

Not all of Google’s updates make a huge splash, however, and as a result some of them might have slipped under your radar. To help out, we’ve rounded up the 10 recent Google updates that are most likely to impact search marketers.

1. 16 months of Search Console data(!)

Perhaps the most common request from SEOs to Google over the past few years has been to add more historical data to Search Console. The 3-month limit has always been a hindrance to SEO performance analysis, particularly as we have come to rely on Search Console for query-level data.

After a period of beta testing, Google has now released a new version of Search Console, replete with 16 months of historical data. It will be rolled out slowly over the coming months, but many are already seeing the changes live in their dashboards. The historical data will soon be available via the Search Console API, too.

To say this has been greeted positively in the industry would be an understatement.

There is more to the new Search Console than additional data, however. The new Index Coverage report provides insight into the URLs Google has indexed from your site, along with explanations of any indexation issues. The ability to filter and segment data to a much more granular level than before will be a hugely beneficial addition.

The Issue Tracking feature will also enable users to identify any indexation problems and share action items directly with team members.

10 Google updates you may have missed

Finally, Search Console is bringing all the functionality SEOs need to analyze and impact performance.

2. Real-world data in PageSpeed Insights

Google announced last week that its PageSpeed Insights tool will now use real world data, taken from the Chrome User Experience report. This move addresses perhaps the biggest drawback with PageSpeed Insights. Although the report’s intention (to reveal how quickly a URL loads) is an important one, its execution has been lacking, as its findings do not show how quickly a page loads for actual users.

That has led many in the industry to use other resources for their page speed checks, including the Chrome User Experience report API.

Google has made clear exactly how the new PageSpeed Insights improves on older iterations:

  • The Speed score categorizes a page as being Fast, Average, or Slow. This is determined by looking at the median value of two metrics: First Contentful Paint (FCP) and DOM Content Loaded (DCL). If both metrics are in the top one-third of their category, the page is considered fast.
  • The Optimization score categorizes a page as being Good, Medium, or Low by estimating its performance headroom. The calculation assumes that a developer wants to keep the same appearance and functionality of the page.
  • The Page Load Distributions section presents how this page’s FCP and DCL events are distributed in the data set. These events are categorized as Fast (top third), Average (middle third), and Slow (bottom third) by comparing to all events in the Chrome User Experience Report.
  • The Page Stats section describes the round trips required to load the page’s render-blocking resources, the total bytes used by the page, and how it compares to the median number of round trips and bytes used in the dataset. It can indicate if the page might be faster if the developer modifies the appearance and functionality of the page.
  • Optimization Suggestions is a list of best practices that could be applied to this page. If the page is fast, these suggestions are hidden by default, as the page is already in the top third of all pages in the data set.

Given the importance of page speed for mobile users, particularly in light of Google’s upcoming Speed Update algorithm change, this update will be a very significant one.

It will also provide better awareness of the stages of URL loading, which will help SEOs to communicate their desired changes to other audiences.

This has felt like an area in need of more technical specificity for some time, with many page speed reports spitting out little more than vague platitudes about “reducing JavaScript”. The introduction of metrics like “DOM Content Loaded” to a broader range of marketers can only be a positive development.

3. Meta description character limit increased 

The humble meta description has been given its biggest update for a considerable number of years.

Google confirmed to Search Engine Land in December that the potential snippet length has increased to 320 characters, although this does not mean that all sites will receive this extra space.

Nonetheless, there is evidence that there has been a general increase across the board in snippet length.

Rank Ranger, a tool that can track search results page features, showed a very notable rise in the average meta description length in December:

10 Google updates you may have missed

Of course, this will lead marketers to question whether they should re-write their descriptions, and what the new character limit should be.

One answer comes from Dr. Pete Meyers at Moz, who recommends a limit of 300 characters based on his recent research. That seems a useful rule of thumb, as Google has provided little insight into exactly how it decides where to truncate a snippet.

10 Google updates you may have missed

In essence, Google wants to provide meta descriptions that reflect the changed nature of search results pages, and the devices on which people access them.

The new character limit is not, in and of itself, reason to re-write descriptions across a website. It does, however, open up the possibility of some experimentation to try and gain a competitive advantage.

The fundamentals of crafting meta descriptions remain the same; we just have more space in which to apply these best practices now.

4. New custom intent audiences

Google made a host of AdWords-based announcements in the run-up to the holidays. There is rarely a shortage of new features within the AdWords environment, but the release of new custom intent audiences was of particular interest.

These audience lists allow marketers to add a much greater level of detail to their targeting of new customers via the Google Display Network (GDN), through the creation of audience segments based on topics or keywords.

Even GDN novices will be able to introduce new prospects to their brand, as Google’s machine learning technology will analyze searcher data and automatically generate lists of users that would be open to hearing about a particular brand or product.

Anthony Chavez, director of product management for AdWords, said of the new feature:

“There are two flavors of custom intent audiences. In one variation, advertisers can create their own based on topics and URLs that people who are likely to be interested in their products read about and visit. The second variation is machine-learning based and automated.”

This also chimes with the recent moves to make search advertising a more comprehensive discipline that encompasses upper funnel tactics, as well as the tried and tested lower funnel tactics that have driven its phenomenal success.

Due to the ongoing competition with Facebook (plus the emerging threat from Amazon and Pinterest) for digital ad dollars, Google is investing heavily in new ways to provide value for marketers.

5. Rich results testing tool

Search engine results pages (SERPs) have come a long way from their early, text-only iterations.

This has created opportunities for marketers to engage with their audience through a multitude of media formats in the SERPs, but it has created some confusion too.

Not only are there different ways to mark up data, there are also plentiful different types of information that can be shown in the search results. Google has moved to categorize all of these under the umbrella term ‘rich results’ and the new testing tool (currently in beta) will reveal whether a specific URL is equipped to display rich snippets.

10 Google updates you may have missed

Admittedly, Google does offer the following, comprehensive set of caveats to the tool’s current form:

10 Google updates you may have missed

The limitations are currently listed as:

This test currently supports only the following rich result types:

  • Job posting
  • Recipe
  • Course
  • Movie

Even with all of those points in mind, we should view this a step towards a much more accessible entry to rich results for all marketers.

6. Voice search raters guidelines

The Search Quality Raters Guidelines are one of the most fascinating and transparent resources if we want to understand Google’s methodology for ranking search results.

Published on the Google Research Blog, the updated guidelines now include pointers for evaluating results on what Google terms “eyes-free technology.” The core focus here is the growth in Google Assistant interactions, underpinned by a realization that this new way of searching needs a way way of assessing the relevance of results.

 

10 Google updates you may have missed

The dimensions that are considered to be of particular importance for voice results are:

  • Information satisfaction: The content of the answer should meet the information needs of the user.

  • Length: When a displayed answer is too long, users can quickly scan it visually and locate the relevant information. For voice answers, that is not possible. It is much more important to ensure that we provide a helpful amount of information, hopefully not too much or too little. Some of our previous work is currently in use for identifying the most relevant fragments of answers.

  • Formulation: It is much easier to understand a badly formulated written answer than an ungrammatical spoken answer, so more care has to be placed in ensuring grammatical correctness.

  • Elocution: Spoken answers must have proper pronunciation and prosody. Improvements in text-to-speech generation, such as WaveNet and Tacotron 2, are quickly reducing the gap with human performance.

As we move towards new search interfaces, whether on the go or in the home, directives from Google make for invaluable reading. The full list of guidelines can be found here.

7. New rules for review extensions in AdWords

Google has been trying to find the right balance with its reviews in both paid and organic listings. Although genuine customer reviews are helpful for consumers, some third-party platforms can be filtered by brands to highlight only the positive scores in search results.

A lengthy list of restrictions has been published and Google made the following announcement:

Review extensions will no longer show with ads starting January 2018.
In February 2018, review extensions will be deleted along with their performance data. To save this data, download an extensions report by going to Extensions on the Ads & extensions page in AdWords. If you’d like to continue showing more information with your ads, we recommend using sitelinkscallouts and structured snippets extensions.
This is likely to affect the majority of paid search marketers and it follows the search giant’s attempts to clean up reviews in organic listings. The onus is on brands to provide a more transparent reflection of customer feedback if they want reviews to return to their PPC ads.

8. Google My Business allows video uploads

Google My Business now allows both merchants and customers to add videos of up to 30 seconds in length. Importantly, business owners can also flag videos that they deem to be irrelevant or unhelpful.

10 Google updates you may have missed

How it works:

  • Videos will appear in the overview tab of the Google My Business Dashboard
  • Customer uploaded videos can be found in the ‘customer’ tab
  • Merchant uploaded videos can be found in the ‘by owner’ tab
  • All videos can be viewed together in the ‘videos’ tab
  • After upload it could take up to 24 hours for the videos to appear. Once live, they will display where local photos do.

Google has also stated that native mobile support for this feature will follow in the near future.

9. Webmaster videos return

After a lengthy hiatus of about 3 years, Google has brought back its Webmaster Video series – now called ‘SEO Snippets’.

These short videos, hosted on YouTube, will tackle the most common questions from the Webmaster Forums. Within the last month, the series has already tackled topics including the eternal ‘sub-domain or sub-folder’ question, dealing with multiple H1 tags, and the impact of fixed penalties on SEO performance.

10. Google to vet premium YouTube content

Google has been under significant pressure to ensure that YouTube ads appear alongside relevant content over the last year. The controversy that followed the story of major brands’ ads appearing alongside extremist content damaged Google’s revenues and reputation, albeit not irreparably so.

Facebook has faced a similar struggle and it is one with no easy resolution. Monitoring the quantities of content uploaded to these sites every second is an uphill task, but Google is betting on the combination of people and technology to rebuild trust in YouTube ads.

All content that is promoted via the premium ‘Google Preferred’ advertising channel will be reviewed by a team of over 10,000 moderators and AI-driven technology that helps to root out inappropriate content.

There is a significant distance to travel before major brands trust YouTube to the same extent that they trust TV, but Google is taking measures to ensure that its highest-paying customers have some level of reassurance.

10 Google updates you may have missed

Although many of these headlines have made waves in the industry, even the most vigilant search professional would be forgiven for missing a few during such an increased period of activity.

Moving into 2018, the rate of progress in our industry is accelerating and marketers have more tools at their disposal than ever before to improve search performance.

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How the latest Google Analytics updates will benefit marketers

Google has announced a range of significant new updates to its Analytics product, all of which should help marketers to understand their individual customers at a deeper level. Below, we assess the impact each of these four enhancements will have on search marketing analysis. 

The ongoing implementation of machine learning into all Google products has benefited GA, with the addition of Analytics Intelligence a particular highlight from the last 12 months.

Simultaneously, Google wants to provide site owners with insight into the impact of their marketing activities across all channels. This has always been the aim, but it is a challenging one from a tracking perspective. The partnership between GA 360 and Salesforce is a reflection of Google’s willingness to work alongside other companies to achieve this goal and ensure it keeps its dominant position.

The four latest updates to GA all exhibit some elements of these trends, with machine learning and user-level analysis never far from the foreground.

Users in standard reports

The underpinnings of the standard report dashboard have been adapted to include more insight into user-level behavior.

This is a significant shift from the historical focus on sessions, as an individual user could have multiple sessions even within the same day. The implications of this hierarchical system (User>Session>Hit) were discussed in a previous post, where we assessed some common GA misunderstandings.

Marketers will undoubtedly welcome the default option to analyze users alongside sessions and we should expect Google to continue improving the accuracy of user-level data. As it does so, more options for assessment and targeting will follow.

How marketers can use this feature:

  • Go to Admin > Property Settings in your GA account, then select the option for Enable Users in Reporting.
  • Combine with other (relatively new) features like Cohort Analysis to get a clearer picture of how groups of users arrive at – and interact with – your site.

User Explorer: Lifetime metrics and dimensions

User Explorer, which allows marketers to isolate user behavior down to the session level, has huge potential as an analytical tool. It is already available in all GA accounts and draws its data from the lifetime of a user’s cookie.

Google has recently revamped this feature with the addition of lifetime metrics and dimensions for individual users.

As can be seen in the screenshot below, this is displayed in a dashboard that contains a variety of information about past, present, and predicted future behaviors.

Taken in isolation, this level of granularity may appeal to little more than our curiosity. However, the ability to scale this and identify patterns across a large set of Client Id numbers could reap significant rewards for marketers. Once we group together similar users, we can tailor our marketing activities and messaging, both for prospecting and remarketing.

How the latest Google Analytics updates will benefit marketers

How marketers can use this feature:

  • Identify patterns in the channels that lead valuable clients to arrive at your site. This can be of use when prospecting for new customers who share the same attributes.
  • Maximize the value of current customers with a high projected lifetime value, through remarketing and tailored messaging.

Audience reporting

This is a logical and much-needed update to Analytics, making it a particularly welcome addition. Users can now create audiences within GA and then publish them within the platform for analysis.

Up to now, we have been able to create audiences and publish them to other Google properties, such as AdWords. This has been very useful for remarketing, but it was not possible to create a report for these audiences within GA.

This new feature uses ‘Audience’ as its primary dimension and permits users to compare performance across different segments.

For example, we could create an audience for customers that have purchased more than 5 times in the last 6 months, and compare this group with visitors that consume a lot of our content but do not make purchases.

How the latest Google Analytics updates will benefit marketers

How marketers can use this feature:

  • Create audiences based on the behaviors that matter to your business and monitor their interactions over time. These can then be compared to derive insights about the characteristics of our most valuable customers.
  • Given that these same lists can be uploaded to AdWords, we can draw a more direct line from analysis to action. If we notice trends within specific customer groups that we would like to enhance or reverse in our GA reports, we can do this seamlessly by targeting that same audience group through AdWords.
  • Use audience lists as the basis for conversion rate optimization tests.

Conversion probability

This is perhaps the most exciting of the four updates and has the highest potential to have a positive impact on marketers’ ROI.

By analyzing your site’s historical data and automatically identifying the patterns between variables within sets of high-value customers, Google can identify the recent site visitors with the highest probability of a future conversion.

This has been achievable in the past through a variety of means, notably through the use of Google Analytics Premium data, logistic regression analysis, and Google BigQuery. Many paid media management platforms also employ this type of machine learning to help with bid management, as does Google AdWords.

However, by incorporating this technology into the standard Google Analytics platform, a much wider user base will now have access to predictive analytics about their customers.

Combined with the updates listed above, we can see how this fits into the broader picture. Google uses machine learning to identify future customers, which site owners can then use to create audiences for analysis and remarketing.

This feature is rolling out to all accounts in beta over the next few months, so it is worth looking out for.

How marketers can use this feature:

  • Identify the quality of traffic that is driven by your marketing activities. The ‘Average % Conversion Probability’ metric will reveal this within your Conversion reports.
  • For remarketing, Google offers a few pointers of its own:

The advantages are clear: Marketers can create remarketing lists that target users who have a high likelihood to purchase and then reach those users through either advertising campaigns in AdWords and DoubleClick or site experiments in Optimize.

Viewed together as a group of updates, the key takeaway here is self-evident: Google is at pains to use its machine learning capabilities to create a deeper understanding of individual users. The field of predictive analytics can be a particularly profitable one, especially for a company with targeting technology as effective as Google’s.

The latest enhancements to GA should see these capabilities extended to a much wider audience than ever before.