All posts by Clark Boyd

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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.

How to get mobile SEO for voice search right

Voice search and mobile usage are both on the rise and look set to shape the SEO industry for some time to come. Nonetheless, 62% of marketers have no specific plans for voice search in 2018.

How can marketers take action today to tap into two of the most important trends in the industry?

As mobile usage continues to grow, more and more users are comfortable with speaking to their devices rather than typing their queries.

Of equal importance are the advances in speech recognition technology that have allowed the likes of Google, Amazon, and Apple to offer a satisfying voice search experience.

There is plentiful context to make marketers aware of these emerging trends, with both mobile and voice search set to shape the future of the industry:

  • Voice-enabled personal assistants are installed by default on all smartphones
  • Google has revealed that more than 20% of searches on an Android device are voice searches
  • The Amazon Alexa app recently topped the app store charts. The Google Home app occupied second position
  • The Amazon Echo was once again the best-selling item on Amazon this holiday season
  • Speech recognition accuracy is now north of 95% for all of the major technology providers
  • Google’s mobile-first index is rolling out and will soon be applied to all sites
  • comScore predicts that 50% of all searches will be by voice in 2020.

Though the two are not perfectly aligned, there is a clear correlation between the growth of voice search and the ongoing rise of mobile.

As the Internet of Things takes off, voice will be one of the most important unifying factors across all hardware. Whether at home, in the car, or at work, there will always be a voice-enabled device close to hand.

And yet, a recent study by BrightEdge reported that 62% of marketers are unlikely to implement a specific strategy for voice search over the next 12 months.

This is not due to a lack of awareness of the trend, but rather a lack of direction when it comes to preparing for its implications.

In a clear indication of how significant the shift to voice-based searches will be, Google recently released a new set of Search Quality Rating Guidelines for the Google Assistant.

Though specific to the Google Assistant, we can safely assume that the same rules and objectives underpin the functioning of other digital assistants too.

As such, this document can prove both illuminating and instructive as we look to move beyond the hype that voice search brings and arrive at some tips to direct our mobile SEO efforts.

The findings in Google’s official guidelines for voice search evaluation, along with the best practices we already have for mobile SEO, can help us create a hybrid set of tips to improve any site’s chances of ranking in this new landscape.

This begins with some technical considerations, then moves on to a more nuanced understanding of how consumers are using voice to interact with their devices. Finally, we must create the right content to fit our target contexts, and find a way to measure our progress.

Technical SEO for mobile devices

As with so many aspects of SEO, crawlability is the foundation upon which a mobile SEO strategy for voice search must be built.

Put simply, if a search engine cannot access and understand your content, your chances of appearing in search results are slim. This has always been important, but it takes on a new level of significance when viewed through the lens of voice search.

Often, voice search removes the traditional search engine results page (SERP) and instead aims to provide one answer in response to a query. This is a search engine’s first port of call; it is only when one answer cannot conclusively answer the query that a more traditional list of results will be displayed.

Fortunately, there are some guidelines we can follow to increase the likelihood of our content ranking via voice search:

  • Schema markup: By adding schema markup, we can help to add structure to our website’s data. For example, we can alert search engines to elements that relate to events, prices, and people – among many others. When a search engine is trying to locate a response to a voice search, this extra information can prove invaluable.
  • XML sitemaps: Having a clearly structure sitemap that can be navigated easily both by people and by search engines will increase the likelihood that your information can be sourced quickly in response to a query.
  • Site structure: The structure of a website should mirror the journeys that users typically take when considering and making a purchase. For example, faceted navigation on an ecommerce site should aim to match common query strings.
  • Carry out a mobile SEO audit: Before embarking on any of the more innovative aspects of voice search, conduct a full mobile SEO site audit to ensure that you are in a solid position.
  • It is also worth reviewing the basics of mobile SEO to keep in mind the distinctions that set it apart from traditional SEO.

Understanding context 

All language is contextual. The exact same query, at surface level, can in fact mean many different things based on how, when, where, and by whom it is said.

This is not a new discovery, but it is only recently that search engines have been able to understand the context of a query.

In part, this has been due to more sophisticated algorithms like Google’s Hummingbird update, which brought the concept of semantic search to life.

However, the biggest source of contextual information is the smartphone. Our phones are constantly sending and receiving data, all of which can be processed to comprehend our past, present, and even our future behaviors.

Now, when a user searches for a term like [canon cameras], a search engine can use smartphone data to understand the implied intent of the query:

cameras

This implicit intent, now known to a search engine, can help to shape and personalize the results that the user sees.

There are other effects of this deeper understanding.

Varied queries can ultimately express the same underlying intent. For example:

sunny

The expression of the response may differ, but all variations are ultimately answering the same question. The user wants to know what the weather will be like tomorrow.

This is helpful, as it allows us to see that we don’t need to answer every single possible query that is out there. Many guides on voice SEO suggest creating FAQ pages as a way to grow traffic, but this seems a stop-gap solution when we can do better. SEO needs to move away from creating “SEO pages” on websites that serve no real purpose other than to attract organic search clicks.

Thus far, our industry has focused mainly on what has been said by searchers. We pull a list of keywords with search volumes, difficulty scores and so on, and we map those to our pages. Where a page does not exist for a group of keywords, we create one.

A further level of nuance can be added by segmenting the keywords by purchase stage: informational, navigational or transactional, for example. These can also be categorized as ‘Know’, ‘Go’, and ‘Do’ moments.

That is useful, but it is overly simplistic. What we often end up with is a comforting illusion; a spreadsheet that smooths over the rough edges to provide a digestible view of what people search for, cell by cell.

Reality does not fit so readily into neat compartments.

In a presentation given last year, Tom Anthony of Distilled mapped out what the new ecosystem looks like, based on the huge amount of data a smartphone both sends and receives:

tom_anthony

Even this is a reduction, but it does at least provide insight into the broader picture.

What this means is that when working on a mobile SEO strategy, we should identify the contexts in which our content could rank.

These contexts can be strung together to create a map of the typical user journey.

This can be informed by demographic data, as there are telling differences between the generations. In particular, we should note that younger generations are more comfortable with voice search and use it in very different situations to their older counterparts.

voice_search_today

Stone Temple Consulting produced an excellent, in-depth study that goes further still to segment this data by income. In the chart below, all figures are in US Dollars:

voice search seo incomeSource: Stone Temple Consulting

What we find through this report is that there are notable variations at every level of analysis. By location, gender, device, income level, and age, we find that people use voice search differently.

Marketers would do well to perform research of their own to pinpoint the right contexts for their business to target, through qualitative research and quantitative analysis.

Creating the right content at the right time

Once we have plotted out the potential contexts in which we could communicate with our audience, we need to create the content that will hopefully help us rank via voice search.

Though this is a nascent field, there are already some useful studies that can guide us in this process.

Voice queries tend to be longer, due to their closer relationship to natural speech patterns. This provides a significant amount of data for us to analyze, compared with the shorter queries we have grown accustomed to.

Where once he had to infer a consumer’s intent based on feedback signals (click-through rate, bounce rate, conversion rate), we can now start this process much earlier.

We should also bear in mind the anticipated input-output relationship between the consumer and the device. For example, a spoken query that prompts a spoken response will need to be fed by content that is clear, concise, and conclusive.

Google’s Research Blog offers the following areas for assessment when it comes to this kind of voice search:

  • 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.

This insight should flow directly into the site experience. If we know which task our consumer is trying to complete, we can make this process and seamless and as painless as possible.

There are some points that apply to any site aiming to create content for voice search:

  • Remember that a voice search is only the start of the user journey. If your mobile site experience does not match the user’s intent, they will complete the journey elsewhere. Use a user-agent switcher or a site like http://mobiletest.me/ to see how your mobile experience matches up.
  • Create content that responds to the most common conversational queries. Provide clear information that can easily be picked up by a search engine as it tries to provide one, true answer for each voice query. Tools like Answer the Public are useful for this task, but try to assimilate this information naturally into your content rather than creating a host of FAQ pages.
  • Map this content to a logical site hierarchy that is crawlable for search engines and useful for consumers.

Local SEO

Given that voice searches on a mobile device are frequently completed on the go, it should not be surprising that users often want help with navigation.

Interestingly, the growth in the number of ‘near me’ searches has slowed as people have come to expect Google to understand this implied intent.

Google uses its own Maps product to respond to these queries, so we can optimize our own Maps listings to help search engines and people to navigate better. There are a few tips to keep in mind when working on a voice search strategy for local SEO:

  • Ensure that names, addresses and phone numbers are accurate across all locations.
  • Consider using a specialist platform to manage your local listings and monitor your local search performance. There is a growing range of mobile SEO tools that can help with these tasks.
  • Make it easy for consumers to act on their intentions. This means adding in clear calls to action and directions to further information.

What’s next for search?

It is important to understand Google’s vision for the future of search.

The technology has improved dramatically, but it is still some distance from fulfilling the ambitions of Google and Amazon. When this technology reaches its potential, there may be no need for a query at all, as the digital assistant will be able to pre-empt our actions.

For now, marketers need to assist the assistants in the manner outlined above.

In essence, technology is enabling behaviors that have their basis in pre-existing states of intent. The industry is growing in complexity, but simultaneously it is developing into a more realistic representation of how people want to search.

Through better understanding of both people and technology, marketers can create a voice search strategy that will stand the test of time.

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How to use Google Trends for SEO

Google Trends, first launched in 2006, provides marketers with invaluable insights into how people search on the world’s most popular search engine.

In its earlier guises, Trends (or Insights for Search, as it was previously known) was a rather static resource, updated only on an infrequent basis with fresh data.

Over time, the power of this service has been tapped in new and enlightening ways.

For example, a study undertaken using Trends data by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz and written up in the New York Times in 2014 found, “Parents are two and a half times more likely to ask “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?””

Such newsworthy incidents revealed the richness of Google Trends as a data source to the wider public. People’s underlying attitudes, desires, and beliefs start to come to the fore when they communicate with a search engine.

As the megalomaniac founder of a fictional search engine puts it, while discussing the data at his disposal, in the 2015 science-fiction movie Ex Machina:

You see, my competitors, they were fixated on sucking it up and monetizing via shopping and social media. They thought that search engines were a map of what people were thinking. But actually they were a map of how people were thinking.

Both of these examples – one real, one imagined – highlight exactly why Google Trends is so valuable for search marketers.

It is the closest we have to a synthesis of market research and SEO data. With its ability to segment trends by geography, product category, content topic, and date, it allows us to go much broader in our analysis than traditional SEO tools ever could.

With Trends’ recent expansion into News, Shopping, Images, and YouTube, it seems the perfect time to revisit and refresh the many ways in which this powerful tool can help your SEO efforts.

First, some housekeeping

If you are relatively new to Google Trends, there are a couple of things to bear in mind when you look at the data visualizations.

First of all, Google Trends data is adjusted to make visual comparisons between different data sets easier for users. Google offers the following to explain for its methodology:

“Search results are proportionate to the time and location of a query:

  • Each data point is divided by the total searches of the geography and time range it represents, to compare relative popularity. Otherwise places with the most search volume would always be ranked highest.
  • The resulting numbers are then scaled on a range of 0 to 100 based on a topic’s proportion to all searches on all topics.
  • Different regions that show the same number of searches for a term will not always have the same total search volumes.”

In practice, this means that we end up with graphs like the below, showing trended data on a scale from 0 to 100:

Furthermore, a note is applied to all graphs that look back to before 2016, as Google made a significant update to the collection of data at this point. This can cause some unexpected jumps in graphs at the beginning of 2016, but the overall trends still provide a good guide to the historical demand for a topic.

Now, onto the tips.

How you can use Google Trends for SEO

Keyword research

Keyword research seems the most obvious SEO-based use for Trends, but it is often overlooked in favor of Keyword Planner and the other industry-standard tools.

In fact, it serves as the perfect complement to these platforms, bringing to light patterns that they cannot reveal.

Trends will suggest new keywords based on different criteria to those employed in Keyword Planner. For example, it highlights related search queries (using the example of “dogs” again) that have very recently risen in popularity, as we can see in the screenshot below:

How to use Google Trends for SEO

Clearly, these will require a sense check before you add them straight to your keyword list. As stated before, we really can learn something about the human condition from Google Trends.

There will also be some outliers (in this case, the Watch Dogs video game), as Google groups together a lot of related sub-topics under the aegis of the main categories.

Nonetheless, these examples do show how frequently this tool can provide unexpected ideas.

It is also reflective of how the readily available nature of fresh data on Trends can add vital, new elements to a keyword list.

This is significant as we move beyond simple keyword matching and into an age of semantic relevance. Building out a keyword list that contains the spectrum of audience demand for your products is no longer a luxury; it is a pre-requisite for performing well.

Moreover, if SEOs can target trending queries before they peak, competition will be lower and potential rewards will be greater.

For those that would like to examine the data outside of the platform, there are numerous R and Python packages that can make calls via the Google Trends API.

This allows users to download queries in order to manipulate and visualize the data. One such package for R, (gtrendsR), is explained in more detail in this handy blog post.

Combined with a versatile plotting package like ggplot2, this approach opens up a new level of functionality to Google Trends data for SEO research.

Compare search trends across Google search engines

The addition of filters for News, Shopping, Images, and YouTube to Google Trends has opened up a wide range of new SEO research opportunities.

These can be accessed from a drop-down menu at the top of the results page.

How to use Google Trends for SEO

Image search data in available from 2008 to the present day and it should prove a very valuable source of inspiration for SEOs.

Not only is image search responsible for a huge amount of queries already, but it is also an area of focus for Google as it aims to fend off threats from the likes of Facebook, Amazon, and Pinterest.

Once more, we can segment the data by sub-region or city and there are suggestions for related image search queries too:

How to use Google Trends for SEO

It is also possible to compare these search trends across two different queries, due to the manner in which Google processes and displays the data. In the example below, I have set the filter to show the trends for “cats” in the US and for “dogs” in the UK:

How to use Google Trends for SEO

We can therefore say that image searches for dogs in the UK are more popular than image searches for cats in the US, in relative terms, even though this would likely not be the case in absolute terms.

On YouTube, the eternal cats versus dogs battle lives up to its fiery reputation, with a much narrower gap between the two search topics:

How to use Google Trends for SEO

Trending queries are highlighted here too, which should give us even more reason to keep visiting Google Trends for our research:

How to use Google Trends for SEO

Assess and predict seasonal peaks

Perhaps the most common use of Google Trends for SEO is the analysis of peaks and troughs in consumer demand.

To cite a simple, but illustrative, example of how this works, we can look at the search query [olympics]:

How to use Google Trends for SEO

We see significant worldwide peaks every four years for the summer Olympics, with the winter equivalent attracting another (if smaller) increase two years later each time.

In this example, history tells us that we are about to see another peak in demand for [olympics] very soon, but that insight alone does not translate into much.

Firstly, we don’t know the size of the opportunity in absolute terms, as Trends provides only relative values.

However, if we cross-reference what we see in Trends with the data we have from Keyword Planner, we can start to understand what a value of 100 on this chart means in real terms.

Admittedly, Keyword Planner data is indicative at best, but we may also have data from AdWords campaigns. This can at least guide us towards a predicted search volume for the upcoming Olympics.

Of course, it seems very intuitive that a major event will lead to more searches for the event’s name. Nonetheless, if we take this same approach and apply it to less predictable industries, such as fashion for example, Trends can help you to identify keywords before the competition does so.

This is supplemented by Trends’ use of real-time data to suggest new topics.

Trending topics for reactive content

One of the most useful aspects of Google Trends is the access it provides to real-time search data. There are plenty of content marketing and SEO technologies out there, but none can provide data as reliable as the information Google serves from its own databases.

These can be accessed directly from the Google Trends homepage:

How to use Google Trends for SEO

Clicking on a story will then lead to a selection of featured articles, plus a detailed breakdown of search interest and published articles over the past 24 hours:

How to use Google Trends for SEO

The analysis goes further still by showing search interest by state, related queries, and related topics:

How to use Google Trends for SEO

This should be a go-to resource for anyone that produces reactive content, whether for their website, social media, or elsewhere.

Another interesting way to work with this data is to take the URLs that are listed as featured articles and use an SEO tool like Ahrefs or SearchMetrics to source the keywords that the page ranks for.

This provides insight into how quickly a page can be indexed and ranked, along with the quantity of semantically related queries one page can rank for in a short period of time. More than anything, this can help us understand how Google processes and prioritizes fresh content.

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Highlights from TechSEO Boost: The key trends in technical SEO

Although most search conferences contain some sessions on technical SEO, until now there has been a general reluctance to dedicate a full schedule to this specialism.

That is an entirely understandable stance to take, given that organic search has evolved to encompass elements of so many other marketing disciplines.

Increasing visibility via organic search today means incorporating content marketing, UX, CRO, and high-level business strategy. So to concentrate exclusively on the complexities of technical SEO would be to lose some sections of a multi-disciplinary audience.

However, the cornerstone of a successful organic search campaign has always been technical SEO. For all of the industry’s evolutions, it is technical SEO that remains at the vanguard of innovation and at the core of any advanced strategy. With an average of 51% of all online traffic coming from organic search, this is therefore not a specialism that marketers can ignore.

Enter TechSEO Boost: the industry’s first technical SEO conference, organized by Catalyst. Aimed at an audience of technical SEOs, advanced search marketers and programmers, TechSEO Boost set out to be a “technical SEO conference that challenges even developers and code jockeys”.

Though the topics were varied, there were still some narrative threads through the day, all of which tie in to broader marketing themes that affect all businesses. Here are the highlights.

Towards a definition of ‘Technical SEO’

Technical SEO is an often misunderstood discipline that many find difficult to pin down in exact terms. The skills required to excel in technical SEO differ from the traditional marketing skillset, and its aim is traditionally viewed as effective communication with bots rather than with people. And yet, technical SEO can make a significant difference to cross-channel performance, given the footprint its activities have across all aspects of a website.

The reasons for this discipline’s resistance to concrete definition were clear at TechSEO Boost, where the talks covered everything from site speed to automation and log file analysis, with stops along the way to discuss machine learning models and backlinks.

Though it touches on elements of both science and art, technical SEO sits most comfortably on the scientific side of the fence. As such, a precise definition would be fitting.

Russ Jones, search scientist at Moz, stepped forward with the following attempt to provide exactly that:

This is a helpful step towards a shared comprehension of technical SEO, especially as its core purpose is to improve search performance. This sets it aside slightly from the world of developers and engineers, while linking it to the more creative practices like link earning and content marketing.

Using technology to communicate directly with bots impacts every area of site performance, as Jones’ chart demonstrates:

Highlights from TechSEO Boost: The key trends in technical SEO

Some of these areas are the sole preserve of technical SEO, while others require a supporting role from technical SEO. What this visualization leaves in little doubt, however, is the pivotal position of this discipline in creating a solid foundation for other marketing efforts.

Jones concluded that technical SEO is the R&D function of the organic search industry. That serves as an apt categorization of the application of technical SEO skills, which encompass everything from web development to data analysis and competitor research.

Technical SEO thrives on innovation

Many marketers will have seen a technical SEO checklist in their time. Any time a site migration is approaching or a technical audit is scheduled, a checklist tends to appear. This is essential housekeeping and can help keep everyone on track with the basics, but it is also a narrow lens through which to view technical SEO.

Russ Jones presented persuasive evidence that technical SEO rewards the most innovative strategies, while those who simply follow the latest Google announcement tend to stagnate.

Equally, the sites that perform best tend to experiment the most with the latest technologies.

There are not necessarily any direct causal links that we can draw between websites’ use of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), for example, and their presence in the top 1000 traffic-driving sites. However, what we can say is that these high-performing sites are the ones leading the way when new technologies reach the market.

That said, there is still room for more companies to innovate. Google typically has to introduce a rankings boost or even the threat of a punishment to encourage mass adoption of technologies like HTTPS or AMP. These changes can be expensive and, as the presentation from Airbnb showed, fraught with difficulties.

That may go some way to explaining the gap between the availability of new technology and its widespread adoption.

Jones showed that the level of interest in technical SEO has increased significantly over the years, but it has typically followed the technology. We can see from the graph below that interest in “Technical SEO” has been foreshadowed by interest in “JSON-LD.”

Highlights from TechSEO Boost: The key trends in technical SEO

If SEOs want to remain vital to large businesses in an era of increasing automation, they should prove their value by innovating to steal a march on the competition. The performance improvements that accompany this approach will demonstrate the importance of technical SEO.

Everyone has access to Google’s public statements, but only a few have the ability and willingness to experiment with technologies that sit outside of this remit.

Without innovation, companies are left to rely on the same old public statement from Google while their competitors experiment with new solutions.

For more insights into the state of technical SEO and the role it plays in the industry, don’t miss Russ Jones’ full presentation:

Automation creates endless opportunities

The discussion around the role of automation looks set to continue for some time across all industries. Within search marketing, there can be little doubt that rules-based automation and API usage can take over a lot of the menial, manual tasks and extend the capabilities of search strategists.

Paul Shapiro’s session, ‘Working Smarter: SEO automation to increase efficiency and effectiveness’ highlighted just a few of the areas that should be automated, including:

  • Reporting
  • Data collection
  • 301 redirect mapping
  • Technical audits
  • Competitor data pulls
  • Anomaly detection

The above represent the fundamentals that companies should be working through in an efficient, automated way. However, the potential for SEOs to work smarter through automation reaches beyond these basics and starts to pose more challenging questions.

As was stated earlier in the day, “If knowledge scales, it will be automated.”

This brings to light the central tension that arises once automation becomes more advanced. Once we move beyond simple, rules-based systems and into the realm of reliable and complex automation, which roles are left for people to fill?

At TechSEO Boost, the atmosphere was one of opportunity, but SEO professionals need to understand these challenges if they are to position themselves to take advantage. Automation can create a level playing field among different companies if all have access to the same technology, at which point people will become the differentiating factor.

By tackling complex problems with novel solutions, SEOs can retain an essential position in any enterprise. If that knowledge later receives the automation treatment, there will always be new problems to solve.

There is endless room for experimentation in this arena too, once the basics are covered. Shapiro shared some of the analyses he and his team have developed using KNIME, an open source data analysis platform. KNIME contains a variety of built in “nodes”, which can be strung together from a range of data sources to run more meaningful reports.

For example, a time-consuming task like keyword research can be automated both to increase the quantity of data assessed and to improve the quality of the output. A platform like KNIME, coupled with a visualization tool like Tableau or Data Studio, can create research that is useful for SEO and for other marketing teams too.

Automation’s potential extends into the more creative aspects of SEO, such as content ideation. Shapiro discussed the example of Reddit as an excellent source for content ideas, given the virality that it depends on to keep users engaged. By setting up a recurring crawl of particular subreddits, content marketers can access an ongoing repository of ideas for their campaigns. The Python code Shapiro wrote for this task can be accessed here (password: fighto).

You can view Paul Shapiro’s full presentation below:

Machine learning leads to more sophisticated results

Machine learning can be at the heart of complex decision-making processes, including the decisions Google makes 40,000 times per second when people type queries into its search engine.

It is particularly effective for information retrieval, a field of activity that depends on a nuanced understanding of both content and context. JR Oakes, Technical SEO Director at Adapt, discussed a test run using Wikipedia results that concluded: “Users with machine learning-ranked results were statistically significantly more likely to click on the first search result.”

This matters for search marketers, as advances like Google’s RankBrain have brought machine learning into common use. We are accustomed to tracking ranking positions as a proxy for SEO success, but machine learning helps deliver personalization at scale within search results. It therefore becomes a futile task to try and calculate the true ranking position for any individual keyword.

Moreover, if Google can satisfy the user’s intent within the results page (for example, through answer boxes), then a click would also no longer represent a valid metric of success.

A Google study even found that 42% of people who click through do so only to confirm the information they had already seen on the results page. This renders click-through data even less useful as a barometer for content quality, as a click or an absence of a click could mean either high or low user satisfaction.

Google is developing more nuanced ways of comprehending and ranking content, many of which defy simplistic interpretation.

All is not lost, however. Getting traffic remains vitally important and so is the quality of content, so there are still ways to improve and measure SEO performance. For example, we can optimize for relevant traffic by analyzing our click-through rate, using methods such as the ones devised by Paul Shapiro in this column.

Furthermore, it is safe to surmise that part of Google’s machine learning algorithm uses skip-gram models to measure co-occurrence of phrases within documents. In basic terms, this means we have moved past the era of keyword matching and into an age of semantic relevance.

The machines need some help to figure out the meanings of phrases too, and Oakes shared the example of AT&T to demonstrate query disambiguation in action.

Highlights from TechSEO Boost: The key trends in technical SEO

Machine learning should be welcomed as part of Google’s search algorithms by both users and marketers, as it will continue to force the industry into much more sophisticated strategies that rely less on keyword matching. That said, there are still practical tips that marketers can apply to help the machine learning systems understand the context and purpose of our content.

JR Oakes’ full presentation:

Technical SEO facilitates user experience

A recurring theme throughout TechSEO Boost was the relationship between SEO and other marketing channels.

Technical SEO has now sprouted its own departments within agencies, but that can see the disciplined sidelined from other areas of marketing.

This plays out in a variety of scenarios. For example, the received wisdom is that Google can’t read the content on JavaScript websites, so it is the role of SEO to reduce the quantity of JavaScript code on a site to enhance organic search performance.

In fact, Merkle’s Max Prin posited that this should never be the case. The role of an advanced SEO is to facilitate and enhance whichever site experience will be most beneficial for the end user. Often, that means working with JavaScript to ensure that search engines understand the content of the page.

That begins with an understanding of how search engines work, and at which stages technical SEO can make a difference:

Highlights from TechSEO Boost: The key trends in technical SEO

Prin also discussed some useful technologies to help pinpoint accessibility issues, including Merkle’s fetch and render tool and the Google Chrome Lighthouse tool.

Another significant area in which technical SEO facilitiates the user experience is site speed.

Google’s Pat Meenan showcased data pulled from the Google Chrome User Experience Report, which is open source and stores information within BigQuery.

His research went beyond the reductive site speed tests we usually see, which deliver one number to reflect the average load time for a page. Meenan revealed the extent to which load speeds differ across devices, and the importance of understanding the component stages of loading any web page.

The load times for the CNN homepage showed some surprising variation, even between high-end smartphones such as the iPhone 8 and Samsung Galaxy S7 (times are in milliseconds):

Highlights from TechSEO Boost: The key trends in technical SEO

In fact, Meenan recommends using a low- to mid-range 3G smartphone for any site speed tests, as these will provide a truer reflection of how the majority of people access your site.

Webpagetest offers an easy way to achieve this and also highlights the meaningful points of measurement in a site speed test, including First Paint (FP), First Contentful Paint (FCP), and Time to Interactive (TTI).

This helps to create a standardized process for measuring speed, but the question still remains of how exactly site owners can accelerate load speed. Meenan shared some useful tips on this front, with HTTP/2 being the main recent development, but he also reiterated that many of the existing best practices hold true.

Using a CDN, reducing the number of HTTP requests, and reducing the number of redirects are all still very valid pieces of advice for anyone hoping to reduce load times.

You can see Pat Meenan’s full presentation below:

Key takeaways from TechSEO Boost

  • Technical SEO can be defined as “any sufficiently technical action undertaken with the intent to improve search performance.”
  • Automation should be a central concern for any serious SEO. The more of the basics we can automate, the more we can experiment with new solutions.
  • A more nuanced understanding of Google’s information retrieval technology is required if we are to achieve the full SEO potential of any website.
  • HTTP/2 is the main development for site speed across the web, but most of the best practices from a decade ago still hold true.
  • Improving site speed requires a detailed understanding of how content loads across all devices.

You can view all of the presentations from TechSEO Boost on Slideshare.

This article was originally published on our sister site, ClickZ, and has been republished here for the enjoyment of our audience on Search Engine Watch.

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How to hire the right SEO agency

Organic search accounts for 51% of the traffic brands receive on average, and investment in SEO services is projected to rise to $79 billion annually by 2020. To capitalize on so much opportunity, brands often partner with an SEO agency to add firepower to their existing marketing efforts.

However, with so many agencies all promising so much, how can brands ensure they select the right SEO company?

A significant number of brands choose to outsource elements of their SEO program to an agency partner. This can provide access to valuable skills and insights that the company does not possess internally, so it can prove to be a very sound long-term investment.

However, it can also be difficult to get a clear view on which agencies can deliver on the brand’s business objectives through organic search.

SEO is open to a certain amount of interpretation; Google is infamously opaque when it comes to the inner workings of its algorithms, so we often rely on correlative studies to draw our conclusions about what works and what doesn’t.

That room for interpretation can be exploited, making it hard to distinguish between sophisticated SEOs and false prophets.

In a rare and newsworthy move earlier this year, Google acknowledged this challenge and tried to address it in the video below.

The video, from Google’s Webmaster team, provides practical advice to distinguish between what they call “good SEOs and bad SEOs”.

Google suggests giving an SEO expert at least four months to make an impact, so it’s worth making sure you feel confident in your choice.

The tips below, drawn from experience working at agencies and helping brands to find the right agency partner, will help companies to arrive at an informed decision.

It is important to strike the right balance here; an effective client-agency partnership requires input from both sides. Before setting out a formal pitch process, it is important to establish what these requirements will be and that your company is in a position to meet them.

Research

It can be quite daunting to set out on the search for a new SEO company. Often, a company hires an agency to avail of advanced SEO knowledge – exactly the quantity that would help with the agency search.

Brands are often faced with a choice of a lot of very similar-looking agencies, all promising that they have “reinvented” the agency model or that they have the “only approach that works”.

It is an unfortunate reality that some agencies talk a good game without being able to back it up. Hiring the wrong SEO agency can be very costly and it takes time to recognize the shortcomings in their strategies, so it’s worth putting the work in up front to define and assess the candidates.

Before you start looking for an agency, decide on what exactly it is that your company wants to achieve through SEO. This will help you draw up an initial list of companies (many are specialists in just a few fields), and it will also be beneficial when you communicate with the agency teams.

SEO could help you increase brand awareness, improve customer retention, or simply drive more revenue. Defining what these goals are will help you and the prospective partner agencies to work on the right strategy.

Once you have this clear in your mind, the search should begin.

Image via Pixabay

Ironically, perhaps the worst way you can start is by searching [seo agency] on Google.

The agencies that show up in top positions may well be demonstrating their ability to rank for an important keyword, but many of the best agencies apply these efforts to help their clients rank rather than their own business.

As such, anything you find from this search will be inconclusive. The same goes for the paid search results for [seo agency]; ranking via PPC shows that they can use AdWords, but it doesn’t demonstrate anything other than their desire to sell SEO services to you.

We want an opinion we can trust, which can be hard when it seems like everyone has a vested interest in selling something.

You should assess which kind of agency you want to work with based on factors including:

  • Your budget: Agencies can charge from hundreds of dollars a month up to six-figure monthly retainers for complex, international engagements.
  • The services you require: This will typically include technical SEO, SEO strategy, content production, link building, and many other services for larger brands.
  • Agency culture: Does their culture align with your brand’s values?
  • Expertise: This applies both to SEO as a discipline and to your specific business vertical.
  • Agency size: Some brands prefer a smaller agency, while others want to work with large agency brands. Both come with their own lists of pros and cons.
  • Reputation: Ask colleagues and any SEO industry contacts to recommend agencies based on the requirements you have selected above.

In essence, if you can cut through all the self-promotional noise and get an opinion from an industry insider that you respect, that can be a great way to start drawing up your list of agencies to contact.

Having a very targeted view of your SEO goals and an idea of the kind of agency you want to work with will help refine and expedite this process significantly.

The pitch process

It is normally helpful to have a discovery call with each agency on your initial list to learn a bit more about their company and culture. From here, you can decide which companies you would like to invite to pitch for your business.

Take all of your decision criteria and create a scoring sheet that each stakeholder at the business can fill in. This helps to remove some of the biases that cloud judgement and establishes a level playing field. Running a pitch process can feel like herding cats at times, so you should ensure there are concrete reference points and milestones along the way to keep all parties organized.

How to hire the right SEO agency

Image via Pixabay

That applies internally and externally; everyone at your business should be aware of the expectations from the process, but the agency should also know how long the entire process will last and what will be needed from them.

Pitching for new business requires a lot of input from an agency team, so it is best to be transparent about things so they can plan accordingly. This can apply to letting them know how many other agencies are in the running, providing detail on what is required at each stage of the pitch, and the dates on which you will announce your decision.

There are a few important points to keep in mind throughout the pitch as you try and decide which agency would make the best business partner.

Questions to ask:

  • Can you talk me through the first 10 days of a typical engagement with a new client?
  • How would you define a ‘good’ backlink for our business?
  • Do you think Google’s ranking algorithms weight factors differently depending on the nature of the query?
  • How do you ensure that your technical recommendations are implemented, and how do you measure their impact?
  • Can we meet our account team?
  • Do you outsource any of your client work to freelancers?
  • How much time will be spent on the account each month?
  • Have you ever had to push back on a client? How did you go about doing this?
  • What role do you think SEO plays in wider business strategy?
  • If we sign up with you, how long will it be until we see results?
  • What if things don’t work out between our companies? How would you approach that situation?
  • How much resource will be required from our side to make this partnership a success?

In the answers to these questions, it is important that the agency is honest – even if that means telling you something you perhaps didn’t want to hear. Client-agency relationships can involve constructive disagreements at times, which is fine if the agency is acting in your best interests.

Every agency will have had difficult conversations with clients; the good ones will have come out of these with their reputations enhanced in the long term. Bad agencies end things on less than civil terms and blame the client for any failures.

You should also note their ability to think on their feet and approach challenges with an open mind.

Potential red flags:

  • Promises of dramatic short-term results. There are ‘quick wins‘ in SEO, but progress for competitive industries takes time. Take it from Google: a good SEO needs at least 4 months of activity to deliver a sustainable impact.
  • Watch out for agencies that plan to outsource a lot of work to transient freelance networks. If they do plan to do this, be sure to get full transparency on who will be handling your company’s sensitive data.
  • An inflexible approach to disagreements, either in your discussion or in anecdotes from past client engagements.
  • References to ‘buying backlinks’ or any euphemistic representation thereof should be automatic grounds for disqualification.
  • Agencies that claim they can start right away. If you are asking for a lot of services, an agency can only start immediately if they are really struggling for business or if they are planning to under-deliver. It will typically take a few weeks, at least, to get an agency team in place for a medium- or large-scale project.

Agency selection

By the end of a rigorous pitch process, there will hopefully be a unanimous decision on the right agency. There are quite a lot of good SEO agencies out there, which is why it is so essential to begin with a clear idea of what you are looking for. Combined with a standardized approach to agency evaluation, this will create a clear framework for the ultimate selection.

When certain agencies have been ruled out, let them know as soon as you can. Most agencies put a lot of time and effort into their proposals and the wait for feedback can be excruciating. Even if it’s bad news, they’d rather know than wait around longer for an answer.

As for the winning agency, set up an initial kick-off meeting with them to introduce all the key individuals who will make the project a success!

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Black Friday SEO: Last-minute tips for the holiday season

Black Friday kicks off a shopping season that lasts through Christmas each year, with online retailers vying for the profitable attention of consumers. With spending expected to rise by 47% this year, competition will be fierce.

SEO can make a significant ecommerce contribution; some final tweaks can make the difference between rising to the top of results and languishing at the bottom of page one.

The holiday season begins in earnest for ecommerce companies with the Black Friday weekend, bookended by Black Friday (November 24) and Cyber Monday (November 27).

Black Friday (the day retailers traditionally go ‘into the black’ due to the bumper sales) follows Thanksgiving in the US and kicks off a spending spree that typically continues through the Christmas period. The digital revolution has facilitated huge growth in spending worldwide, even spawning the online-focused Cyber Monday counterpart to satiate consumers’ desire to pick up a bargain.

Although dwarfed by China’s equivalent, known as ‘Singles Day’, which recently posted $12 billion in sales on Alibaba alone within just 2 hours, Black Friday holds particular significance for retailers in the US and beyond.

For context, the following statistics should paint a clear picture of the importance of this period for online stores:

  • 2017 spending is predicted to rise by 47% over the same period in 2016
  • Shoppers in the US spent $3.39 billion on Cyber Monday last year and $3.34 billion on Black Friday
  • The Black Friday week brought sales of £6.5 billion in the UK in 2016
  • The average American consumer will spend $745 over the Black Friday weekend
  • Target sold 3,200 TVs per minute during the first hour of Black Friday last year.

Brands have been planning for the holidays for a long time already, so the focus will now turn to any last-minute changes that can help tempt consumers to their site and provide a seamless transaction experience when they get there.

SEO is quite rightly considered a long-term investment and strategies take time to come into effect, but some fine-tuning can still reap dividends in the immediate short term.

The tips below are intended to give ecommerce sites an SEO performance boost – just in time for the holiday period.

Focus on keyword groups with a high ROI

All brands are aiming to maximize revenues over the holidays, which leads to an increase in activity as their marketing strategies kick into action.

Search demand patterns change too, as consumers seek inspiration across a range of digital media.

This opens opens up new opportunities; search results are affected by these forces and they change in response to the surrounding stimuli. Intelligent targeting of the right queries at the right moments can see brands move into top positions and capitalize on demand peaks.

Historical data from Google Trends or Keyword Planner can highlight the types of queries that tend to increase around this time of year. Typically, modifiers including ‘best’, ‘gift’, ‘deals’, or ‘cheap’ will be popular with shoppers on the lookout for the right present.

There’s nothing revolutionary about that, but adding these terms to basic SEO elements like internal links, title tags and meta descriptions can make all the difference.

Our guide to advanced keyword research is a great place to start this process, as it helps marketers to isolate short-term opportunities and strategize accordingly.

Use existing landing pages for high-volume terms

It helps if you are using an authoritative page to target profitable queries at the most competitive time of year. With only a couple of weeks until Black Friday, it would be a pretty tall order to launch a brand new page and rank in positions 1-3 for the most important terms,

And yet, many brands do exactly this every year. Rather than having one static Black Friday page and another for Cyber Monday that can be updated every year, they launch a new page every time the holidays roll round.

After all, the trend is predictable; we know searches for [black friday] are about to take off:

The retailers that make the most of this will have had a Black Friday page in place for years already, which benefits from the backlinks that have been sent to the site every year. Small updates, such as adding the year 2017 into the copy and title tag, will help the page gain relevance for this year’s searches.

Once the holidays pass, update the content to move shoppers to more relevant deals and allow the page to accrue SEO value until next year.

Add new content to cover new SEO opportunities

There are less obvious trends to make use of, too.

Recent analysis of BrightEdge data by Eugene Feygin revealed a very significant increase in the number of rich snippets returned for ecommerce queries over the past year. In fact, the research found that there has been an increase in the number of rich snippets of over 26% within the last five months.

Unsurprisingly, Amazon has benefited to a greater degree than most:

Black Friday SEO: Last-minute tips for the holiday season

But the same opportunity exists for all retailers.

Given the prominence that is afforded the these quick answers, in what has come to be known as ‘position zero’, it seems too great a prize to ignore.

The question, then, is how to format content to increase its likelihood of being pulled programmatically as a rich snippet.

There are no black-and-white rules to this, but there are steps we can take to help our chances. For example, using Schema.org mark-up to provide Google with structured data about product features or prices will help greatly, and tools like Moz Keyword Explorer can help identify popular questions.

Repurpose old content to create gift guides

According to Google’s trend report from 2016, more than 70 percent of digital shoppers started their holiday shopping without something particular in mind that they wanted to buy.

The search journey doesn’t end when someone clicks through to a website, of course. With user engagement factors continuing to play a pivotal role in SEO successes, we need to understand the consumer’s intent and match that up to the experience they receive when they land on the site.

Walmart provides a good example of how this can be achieved. They have a range of gift guides, which are categorized by the type of gift the consumer is thinking of, and also for whom they are planning to buy.

Black Friday SEO: Last-minute tips for the holiday season

It is possible to go further still, through segmentation of content by the consumer’s level of certainty about the product they want to buy. The site can ask these questions to use as prompts to personalize the experience, with live chatbots playing an ever greater role in this area.

This must be complemented by an oft-overlooked aspect of ecommerce SEO: optimization of internal search. A report by Visualsoft found that 17% of UK retailers do not pay attention to the effectiveness of their internal search engine, but this should be taken into account by all ecommerce sites. To do so means making use of autocomplete searches, product recommendations based on search history, and personalized results.

These points require the refinement and adaptation of existing assets for most brands, so they can still be considered quick win activities for the holidays.

Optimize for speed

Back in 2012, Amazon calculated that just one second of slowdown in page load speed costs them $1.6 billion in lost sales, a number that can only have grown in the intervening years.

The aforementioned report from Visualsoft made blunt a point of which we are all aware: when providing a great ecommerce experience, speed matters. It also highlighted how far a lot of online retailers are from meeting the benchmarks expected of them by their customers:

Black Friday SEO: Last-minute tips for the holiday season

Source: Visualsoft

In addition, new research from BrightEdge (full report here) has highlighted the peak traffic days across devices:

Black Friday SEO: Last-minute tips for the holiday season

This data shows that while mobile traffic peaks on Thanksgiving, it is desktop that takes the lion’s share of visits on Cyber Monday. Moreover, BrightEdge’s research found that desktop takes 67% of overall conversions in the holiday season, as its traffic converts at a significantly higher rate than mobile visits.

Marketers need to be in prime position to move these consumers through to their intended transaction, as they research on one device and come back to convert on another.

Therefore, if there is only one area of on-site experience that SEOs can contribute towards, it should be page load speed. Improved speed can help rankings directly, but it is also a proven way to improve conversion rates on mobile, desktop, and tablet.

The road to achieving this will depend on the website in question, but some best practices would be:

  • Minimize the number of HTTP requests required to load the page
  • Reduce the number of redirects needed to arrive at the final URL
  • Compress or re-size images.

Optimize mixed media assets

It stands to reason that with so many shoppers seeking inspiration, images and videos are essential components of an SEO strategy for the holidays.

At the last minute, brands are likely to have their media strategies set in stone, but SEO can always help to attract more traffic to these assets.

As such, we should be thinking about optimization for search engines like Pinterest and YouTube, and not just Google and Bing.

That said, Google’s universal results provide an excellent opportunity to draw more traffic if images and videos are optimized for the right queries.

Therefore, SEO research for the holiday season should aim to identify the keyword categories and types for which images and videos are returned in the SERPs. Keyword tools like BrightEdge and SEMrush provide a way to do this at scale, helping marketers to evaluate the best areas to apply their efforts.

Take lessons from other digital marketing channels

With such limited time left to test SEO changes, retailers should look to paid media channels to find quick, substantial lessons to apply to organic search. PPC ad copy can be a goldmine for these insights, as is reveals the triggers most likely to appeal to consumers when they are searching. Take the best-performing ad copy variations from paid search and incorporate these into SEO messaging to draw a higher click-through rate.

Recent research into social media ad performance also found that informal, conversational language works best. People tend to be in a different mindset when on social media compared to search, which is driven by their underlying intent and the different natures of the platforms. However, this tone of voice could still be worth testing within PPC ads to see if it helps brands stand out and connect.

That said, we need to bear in mind that consumers don’t think in terms of SEO, PPC, or social media when they are shopping for gifts. They move between these channels and expect a consistent tone in their interactions with a brand.

SEOs should look to broader consumer surveys to understand the role their channel can play to ensure that this consistency is achieved.

One such study from Astound Commerce asked, “Which of the following will most likely prompt you to visit a retailer online this holiday season?”

Consumers, who were prompted to select all of the responses that applied to them, revealed just how many factors can potentially come into play:

Black Friday SEO: Last-minute tips for the holiday season

This is a complex set of interconnected communications, but there are a few clear takeaways for SEO. For example, promotions are a key driver of traffic, so we should add any relevant deals into on-page copy and meta tags.

Make sure your servers are ready

The SEO team at any retailer has important responsibilities on the technical side of things over the holidays.

If all goes to plan, there should be a significant surge in the number of visitors to the site over a short period of time, which can play havoc with servers. Downtime is particularly disastrous at this time of year, so take steps to prepare.

It is worth visiting the site’s error logs to see if there is anything you can fix in advance of the traffic increase, and make sure you have a dedicated point of contact on stand-by if any issues should arise over the holiday season.