All posts by Clark Boyd

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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.

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10 Tips to Get the Most Out of Google AdWords Express by @clarkboyd

Get up and running with PPC ads in 10 minutes with AdWords Express. Here are 10 tips for success.

The post 10 Tips to Get the Most Out of Google AdWords Express by @clarkboyd appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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Google Shopping: What do marketers need to know about the latest updates?

In the battle with Amazon, Google is betting on its Shopping services to attract merchants and customers alike. A raft of product announcements has arrived just in time for the holiday season, including new ad formats and AdWords reports.

What do marketers need to know, and will these new products be enough to take market share back from Amazon?

Google has announced a variety of upgrades to its Shopping offering with a clear focus on improving the mobile experience, utilizing automation technologies to synchronize product information, and uniting voice search with ecommerce.

The search giant quite correctly pointed to “rising consumer expectations” as a driving force behind these innovations, especially as the Amazon juggernaut continues to gather pace.

Shopping seems the most suitable vehicle to compete with Amazon as an ecommerce business, but recent months have brought both successes and controversies for Google in this area, including:

  • The hefty fine doled out by the EU to Google for antitrust violations.
  • New partnerships with both Walmart and Target, with the aim of monetizing the growing voice search market.
  • Rumors that a direct rival for the Amazon Echo Show is in the works and may even launch this year.

There is a lot for Google to figure out here, but the news that Amazon has become the number one starting point for product searches requires a reaction.

The survey results below provide useful context as we analyze the latest Google Shopping updates. The areas where Amazon excels (choice, seamless payment and shipping, price) are arguably areas of weakness for Google Shopping.

(Source: Power Reviews)

To compete with Amazon means removing some of the friction from Google Shopping payments, providing more choice, and creating a model that promotes value for the consumer over aggressive bidding by advertisers.

The updates outlined below are certainly aimed at achieving these complex goals.

Showcase shopping ads

Showcase ads are targeted at the “exploration phase” of the purchase journey, in an allusion to the land Pinterest has been aiming to grab of late.

Google’s research has found that 40% of search queries exhibit a broad purchase intent, for example in searches such as [men’s shoes]. These queries could imply a range of different intents, from the informational to the transactional.

This new, swipe-able ad format gives brands significantly more space to highlight their products and benefits. It is therefore a fitting update for advertisers that want to capitalize on those broader search intents.

Google Shopping: What do marketers need to know about the latest updates?

Google is encouraging advertisers to display lifestyle images that encourage users to further consider their products. This is a far cry from the pure, direct response model that underpins AdWords, but it is in keeping with the search industry’s attempts to broaden its horizons.

The official announcement from Google provides some clear insight into the functioning of these ads:

A Showcase Shopping ad appears on Google when someone searches with a more general term, such as “backpacks”. Then, Showcase Shopping ads show relevant products together with lifestyle images that you choose to represent your brand or business.

When someone clicks a Showcase Shopping ad, it expands revealing your products that are most relevant to the search terms they’ve used, which you connect to the ad using product groups. You can advertise a few dozen products or a whole category of your inventory with your Showcase Shopping ad.

We recommend that you start with a larger set of products (hundreds) first, and then create smaller groups as you see what works. To see how many products are targeted in a Showcase ad group, use the Products active column on the Product groups page.

Showcase Shopping ads use maximum CPE bidding, which means that you set the highest amount that you’re willing to pay for an engagement. Specifically, you’re charged when someone expands your Showcase Shopping ad, and spends 10 seconds within the ad or clicks a product or link in the expanded ad before then.

This new ad format will also be integrated with DoubleClick Search, Kenshoo and Marin, as well as AdWords.

Local inventory via Google Assistant

Google’s strategy has always been to get the products right and then find ways to make money from them once they know they have a hit with consumers. With regards to anything search-related, it has been pretty successful in this regard.

Voice search brings with is a whole new set of monetization challenges, but Google has kept its focus on getting the experience right before tackling these.

Google Assistant, the AI-driven and voice-enabled digital assistant at the core of so many Google products, can now be synced to the inventory of local stores. A consumer can therefore ask the Assistant where they can purchase a product nearby and Google can fetch the most relevant results, then display the locations via Google Maps. Google Shopping: What do marketers need to know about the latest updates?

These are some important initial steps for Google as it grapples with the slick purchasing experience offered by Amazon’s Alexa assistant. Creating a seamless link between the Google Assistant and store inventory levels will start to bridge this gap and encourage some consumers to start their voice search journey with Google rather than Amazon.

Again, the idea is to encourage greater adoption of the Assistant rather than force mechanisms that could drive a short-term profit.

As long as brands have created a local inventory feed, their results could start showing up in these listings soon.

Automated pricing and product availability

Google has acted to resolve one of the seemingly minor, but persistent, frustrations with Shopping. In the past, it was possible for a consumer to see one price in the Google listing, then see another altogether when they arrived at the merchant’s website. Even worse, sometimes the product would be sold out by the time the consumer clicked through to buy it.

Launched on October 31st, automated pricing and product availability will ensure consistency between the ad and the merchant’s website. Advertisers will no longer need to add Schema.org mark-up to keep this in check.

Combined with a new payment system known as Pay with Google (first announced at Google I/O earlier this year), these innovations should create a much more seamless experience for consumers and a more insightful platform for advertisers. Furthermore, we should expect Pay With Google to integrate with the Google Assistant to make purchases even simpler for consumers.

Google Shopping: What do marketers need to know about the latest updates?

Store visits measurement

Accurate measurement of the impact of online advertising on offline behaviors, and vice versa, has long been an ambition for Google and many other tech companies. We are slowly moving towards making this a reality, however, and Google has announced new measurement options for display advertisers.

The aim of this update is to tie impression-based data with store visits and therefore arrive at a conclusion about the effectiveness of display marketing campaigns.

Users who have opted into Location History measurement will share their data with Google, allowing more accurate reporting within AdWords and DoubleClick.

Three new reports will be available for advertisers:

  • Time lag report — Shows the time between an ad click and a store visit
  • Demographic report — Users can add store visits as a column to existing demographic reports
  • New vs. returning customer report — This will show how many of store visits come from repeat customers.

Key takeaways

There is still a long way to go if Google Shopping is going to provide a better ecommerce experience than Amazon, but Google certainly has the resources and the ambition to do so.

All of these updates go some way to addressing existing issues with Shopping for consumers and advertisers, while also building on Google’s inherent advantages. Consumer behaviors can change quickly, as we have seen in the transition from Google to Amazon as the go-to destination for product searches.

If Google can encourage users to engage with its new hardware and its AI Assistant, that trend could certainly reverse in the near future.

With the holiday season soon upon us, we won’t have long to wait to see whether Google’s new Shopping products have their intended effect.

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Pinterest moves into paid search: What you need to know

Pinterest has announced its long-awaited move into the self-serve paid search space, after a period of trial campaigns with select partners. With innovative visual search technology and an ambition to corner the ‘discovery’ phase of search, this could prove an enticing complement to AdWords for many brands.

So, how does Pinterest PPC work, how does it differ from other paid search options, and how can advertisers get started?

Pinterest Ads Manager is now open to all businesses who have opened an account and uploaded at least one Pin. In what is a fiercely competitive space, Pinterest is hoping that its offering can both provide something new and still deliver on the core performance metrics marketers have come to expect from Google AdWords.

This announcement comes at the end of a lengthy campaign to get the product right, with early partners including eBay, Target, and bid management platform Kenshoo. The newly released self-serve paid search platform provides the same experience these early partners have enjoyed, without the need to go through Pinterest or a third party to get started. The Ads Manager allows brands to create and optimize their promoted Pins and will also track and report on campaign performance.

Pinterest has been clear in its desire to monetize the discovery phase of search, when a user does not yet have a defined product in mind but is open to suggestions. The uniquely visual nature of this social network makes it ripe for this approach, but it brings with a host of accompanying challenges.

As a result, Pinterest has invested heavily in image recognition and object detection technologies, culminating in the launch of the impressive Pinterest Lens visual search tool.

Feedback on their advertising offering has been positive so far, but this will be put to a much more rigorous test now that advertisers can launch and optimize their own campaigns through the Ads Manager.

Why should advertisers take notice of Pinterest PPC?

Although some will be keen to trial Pinterest paid search in the hope of gaining the early adopter’s advantage, others may require some convincing before they view this social network as a genuine platform for selling their products. Nonetheless, Facebook faced the same resistance and ultimately, the numbers will do the talking.

For now, Pinterest is understandably touting some statistics to try and get advertisers excited. We covered many of these benefits in our visual guide to Pinterest advertising, but some of the key points are:

  • 97% of Pinterest searches are non-branded
  • There are now over 200 million Pinterest users (up from 150 million in 2016)
  • More than 2 billion searches take place on Pinterest each month
  • 75% of all Pins saved by users come from businesses

In an era of ad blockers and decreasing consumer trust in brands, Pinterest aims to offer a native feel to its promoted Pins. Through highly targeted ads that fit both aesthetically and conceptually alongside organic posts, brands can potentially attract much higher engagement rates.

In fact, the official announcement of self-serve Pinterest ads promises more sophisticated targeting than the competition, both in terms of its keyword options and the granularity of its audience data.

Moreover, it is not a significant enough departure from AdWords to require a completely new set of skills to get the most out of Pinterest PPC campaigns. That may entice some advertisers to trial the platform, which will give Pinterest the opportunity to prove its worth.

Some ideas borrowed from AdWords

The tech giants are not shy about borrowing each other’s ideas, and it would be fair to say that Google’s own image search interface has become more Pinterest-esque this year.

It is therefore not surprising that Pinterest’s move into PPC advertising involves some familiar concepts from AdWords. Google has mastered the art and science of delivering a great search experience and making a lot of money from the data, so AdWords is an obvious reference point for a new entry to the PPC market.

For example, the keyword targeting options are broad match, phrase match, and exact match. Advertisers can define their list of negative keywords that they do not want to be shown against, and can download a search query report to see how they have performed on a keyword level. This approach has served Google very well, so perhaps we should not expect a smaller player to waste resources by trying to improve on it.

It is also possible to move a keyword-based account structure from other PPC platforms directly into Pinterest Ads Manager, although the social network does not advise this due to the different nature of user search behavior on the platform.

The new features announced last week include an autotargeting option, which will automatically place ads for relevant keywords, even if they are not within the brand’s keyword target list. Imagine AdWords’ Dynamic Search Ads on Pinterest and you’ve pretty much got the gist of it. Autotargeting is driven by the Taste Graph, which contains over 100 billion Pins and employs machine learning technologies to identify patterns and trends, which in turn help improve the accuracy of search results.

Pinterest will be hoping its proprietary features and the unique nature of its database will suffice to differentiate it from Google’s advertising behemoth.

What will make Pinterest paid search successful?

Pinterest is in an enviable position, in some senses. The paid search market is mature enough now to provide plentiful data on consumers and the competition. By hiring two senior engineers from the Google image search team, as Pinterest did last year, they have also been able to tap into some of the most extensive knowledge the industry has to offer.

In addition, Pinterest can approach the market with a challenger mindset. Google and Facebook can almost be viewed as victims of their own success, with advertisers craving new options for their digital budgets.

Simply mimicking these two giants would reap little reward, so Pinterest is sticking to its inherent USPs. As a social network, it functions rather differently to Facebook and, as a search engine, it is distinct from Google. The combination of a new slant on the saturated social network space and the technology to capitalize on such a vast quantity of search data could be a winning one.

Pinterest moves into paid search: What you need to know

Pinterest Lens sits at the heart of this strategy. The visual search technology turns a user’s smartphone into a discovery tool, identifying objects and serving related search results. In our recent comparison of the best visual search technologies out there right now, Pinterest emerged the clear winner.

Conversely, Pinterest is late to the party, and the onus will be on them to prove that the platform can deliver a positive return on ad spend. Creating a self-serve product with similarities to AdWords may ease the transition for new users, but it also sets their expectations at a high level. AdWords, after all, remains unsurpassed as a means of generating online revenue.

Pinterest ads require a blend of creativity and analytical nous, which will demand collaboration between paid search and social media teams to make the most of the opportunity. People use this platform differently; advertisers need to tailor both their creative assets and their targeting strategies to reflect this.

There is a fine line to be trod here, of course, and there are few guarantees of success.

However, if Pinterest can deliver on the twin promises of creating a new, sophisticated form of PPC advertising and delivering great results against essential metrics like cost-per-acquisition, it could allow advertisers to capitalize on a previously untapped stage of the search purchase journey.

It will be fascinating to see the early results now that the self-serve platform is open to all marketers.

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Google AdWords: The Beginner’s Guide

Google AdWords is a staple platform for the vast majority of digital marketing strategies. However, marketers need to get things right from the outset to avoid costly inefficiencies.

This guide will provide everything you need to know to get an AdWords account up and running, and set for success. 

The digital marketing industry has grown in tandem with Google AdWords, to the extent that the two are linked inextricably.

Of every dollar spent on digital advertising in the US 42 cents goes to Google, and the search giant brought in 96% of its revenues in 2016 from pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

It is easy to see why the format has such enduring appeal. Any business can get started and making money on AdWords in a few simple steps, with Google providing plentiful support along the way.

The business model is beautifully crafted to fulfill a marketer’s needs; you only pay when a user takes out your desired action (normally a click, a call, or a purchase), so the return on investment is clear and controlled.

Moreover, consumers are explicitly stating their intent when they search. If I owned a sleepwear store, for example, (and it’ll always be the dream), I would love to be front and center when my target audience searches for [buy lounging pants online]. AdWords allows us to do just that.

There’s more to AdWords’ lure than that, of course. Google processes well over 1 trillion searches per year, all of which are saleable assets to data-hungry brands and marketers.

Factor in the increasingly granular audience targeting and remarketing options Google can offer and the potency of this offering becomes very clear.

Although Google didn’t invent pay-per-click advertising, they certainly refined it and developed the proposition into a sophisticated, multi-billion dollar industry.

Its slick interface (recently upgraded to make it even more user-friendly) can get brands spending very quickly, but there is a subtle blend of art and science behind a successful PPC campaign.

Getting the basics right from day one can be the difference between an underwhelming PPC account and a very profitable one.

This guide is written with that aim in mind; to get beginners up and running on AdWords through a combination of definitions, tips, and best practices.

Although AdWords offers options for Display, Shopping, App, and Video campaigns, we will narrow our focus to AdWords Search campaigns within this article.

Google AdWords: The Beginner’s Guide

Quick Links:

Stage 1: Keyword and audience research

The first stage of setting up an AdWords campaign is to understand the level of consumer demand for your brand and products. We can approach this by defining which business objectives we wish to deliver on by using paid search marketing to provide some structure to the process.

AdWords can be expensive, so consider where it fits in alongside your other marketing efforts. PPC and SEO are typically included within the same keyword strategy, given the obvious interplay between the two on search results pages. Often, PPC can cover gaps in SEO visibility or help to strengthen good SEO performance by doubling a brand’s presence for high-priority keywords.

This will become a more significant factor at the later stages of AdWords account setup, but it is a good idea to start thinking about how PPC fits alongside other marketing channels as early as possible.

Furthermore, there is a lot of work that can be done outside of the AdWords interface to get your PPC campaign off to a great start.

Google Keyword Planner is a useful tool, no doubt, but it is not the only resource we should look to for audience research. Before delving into the AdWords interface, marketers should:

  • Survey current customers: Find out what customers see as the brand’s unique proposition and what keeps them coming back to purchase.
  • Speak to the customer service team: Customer service teams hold invaluable data on the most frequent areas of strengths and weakness cited by consumers about the business. Use this information either to accentuate positives or counteract negative perceptions.
  • Strategize with other departments: Brainstorm some ideas about the brand, its products, and what exactly the company is hoping to achieve by using AdWords. Every department can score the proposed keyword categories by their level of importance to their business function, which helps to create a wider view on the PPC strategy beyond the digital marketing team.
  • Research the competition: Third party tools can give a really good sense of how your competitors are approaching paid search. This will help you to understand the landscape and also gain some tips on which keywords might be valuable additions to your list.

This will naturally lead to some core product names and concepts, which can be used to generate a keyword list and to shape ad copy tests at a later stage.

From here, we can enter the Google ecosystem and plug in our keywords to see the search volumes and projected costs for our campaigns. The AdWords keyword planner will reveal how frequently a keyword is searched and how much it typically costs when a user clicks on a paid listing.

Google will also automatically suggest a variety of relevant, popular keywords that are semantically linked to your seed list of terms.

Google AdWords: The Beginner’s Guide

It can be easy to get carried away, but stay focused on the essential volume drivers for your business. The account can always be expanded later, so start with a smaller set of keywords to get a sense of the market and familiarize yourself with AdWords.

We are fortunate to have both the technology and the data at our disposal today to go deeper than just bidding on keywords. Another level of segmentation can be added by including audience data on consumer demographics, interests, past website behavior, or location.

These will be explored later; for now, we have our initial list of keywords that we know our brand wants to advertise for.

Stage 2: Keyword match types

Of course, people don’t always search for the same products in exactly the same way. An identical search intent (to get more information or to buy something, for example) can be expressed using myriad terminologies.

Someone hoping to purchase lounging pants from a sleepwear store may search [buy lounging pants online], but they could also type or say [where can i buy lounging pants nearby], or simply [lounging pants].

If my objective is to sell more of this product, I don’t want to restrict my visibility to just a few of these variations. I want to match my brand to this purchase intent in as many relevant situations as possible.

That’s where keyword match types come in. Match types can both restrict visibility and allow Google’s technology to make decisions on our behalf about which keywords are relevant enough to display our ad.

Broad match

This match type, as the name suggests, allows most room for interpretation. I can tell Google that I want to bid on, and have my ads shown for, any search queries related to lounging pants and it will do so for terms as varied as [red mens pants for lounging] and [tartan lounging pants store near me]. My ad could also show for synonyms of my defined terms and for different combinations that include both of the specified words.

Phrase match

Phrase match provides more control for the advertiser. This time if I say I want to bid on “lounging pants” (phrase match keywords are always written within quotation marks), my ad can show up when these two words appear in this order, but they can be accompanied by other modifiers. For example, [lounging pants for women] or [stripy lounging pants] would be valid within this match type.

Exact match

Exact match is something of a misnomer. It lets advertisers specify the exact terms they want to be displayed against, but it is not 100% accurate. Google made some controversial changes earlier this year to the format, meaning that keyword targets set as exact match can show up against close variants of the defined term.

To go back to our imaginary sleepwear store, if I set [lounging pants nyc] (exact match phrases are always written between square brackets) as my target, I could have an ad served against [lounging pants in nyc] or even [nyc lounging pants]. That can be problematic, of course, and there is a script to make exact match, well, exact, here.

To get our account up and running Google’s out-of-the-box solution is fine, but inspect your search query reports to see how exact this match type has been.

For more on the differences between broad match, exact match and phrase match keywords, check out Amanda DiSilvestro’s guide to common PPC keyword mistakes.

Negatives

Negatives are an essential part of keyword setup. Negative matches allow us to specify any queries or modifiers that we categorically do not want to show against. For example, I may not want to display an ad for any lounging pants terms that include “used” or “second hand”, for obvious reasons.

I also may not sell certain brands, colors, or styles, so I can add these to my negatives list and upload them to AdWords. This brings an essential element of control for brands, as most companies have a clear idea both of how they do and do not want to be perceived by customers.

A combination of the above is usually best and the optimal balance between them can be found through testing and optimisation. Exact match is great for targeting, but it restricts reach. Broad match will get impressions, but they won’t always be the ones you want.

Tweaking the negatives list and shifting the focus on a keyword level between exact, phrase, and broad will yield good results to advertisers that pay close attention and are prepared to change tack.

Stage 3: Creating PPC ads

Now that we have defined the keywords we want to target and the match type variations we plan to utilize, we can start to create our ad copy. This is a really crucial element of AdWords setup and the right ad copy can significantly improve the click-through rate (CTR) your ads receive.

Even with the right targeting and the right bid strategy, there is no guarantee of traffic. Always consider why a prospect would stop and choose your brand over everything else calling for their attention on a search results page.

Google introduced a new standard for PPC ads, known as Expanded Text Ads (ETA), last year. As the name implies, these provide more scope for advertisers to communicate with their audience and they are designed with mobile devices in mind.

Google AdWords: The Beginner’s Guide

Expanded Text Ads are comprised of the following elements:

  • Headline: Two 30 character headline fields, which can appear side by side or on separate lines, depending on the size of a user’s screen.
  • Description: One 80 character field, within which you should try to highlight the core reasons prospects should engage with your ad over others.
  • Destination URL: This is the landing page users will be sent through to, so it is worth spending time testing different landing pages to see which perform best for specific queries. The destination URL will be tied directly to your Quality Score, which we will get to in the next section.

These fields will be displayed as follows within the AdWords interface:

Google AdWords: The Beginner’s Guide

A best practice in this area is to create 2 or 3 ad copy variations and test the effectiveness of each in a controlled environment.

Google has also created a helpful walk-through to help users navigate the platform as they create their ads:

Ad extensions

Advertisers have access to a wide variety of extensions, allowing them to highlight offers, benefits, or unique selling points to their intended audience. These also bring the advantage of taking up more space on search results pages, which can have a positive effect on click-through rate.

As we can see in the example below for the query [car insurance], advertisers are making the most of these new formats to take up as much valuable real estate as possible.

Google AdWords: The Beginner’s Guide

We won’t go into detail on ad extensions within this guide, but it is worth knowing that some appear automatically while others require input from advertisers before they show. You can read more here about the list of possible extensions.

Stage 4: Setting up ad groups and campaigns

We are now ready to start categorizing our keywords and ads into ad groups.

This can be achieved by separating out your products and services and creating an ad group for each. If we go back to our sleepwear example, we can illustrate a clear and logical approach for achieving this.

Google AdWords: The Beginner’s GuideEach of these ad groups will have 2-3 ad copy variations, which can be updated on an ongoing basis as performance data arrives in the account. Each keyword, of course, can be set to the match types outlined above.

After I have tested out this product, I may decide to branch out into the pajama market. This is where we need to introduce the concept of campaigns, which sit at a level above both keywords and ad groups.

Google AdWords: The Beginner’s Guide

In a nutshell: keywords make up ad groups, and ad groups make up campaigns.

There is no obvious reward for starting with a huge array of ad groups; in fact, this lessens your level of control over performance. When getting set up, it is best to begin with a smaller sub-set of core products as this will help performance and allow you to learn from the data much faster.

Some marketers even prefer to isolate keywords into their own ad groups, if they are particularly profitable. This strategy brings a lot more control, but it is labor-intensive and restricts the amount of data that can be used for optimization within the ad group.

Stage 5: The fundamentals of AdWords bidding

The AdWords auction dictates how much you pay for each action and in which position your ad will show for the selected keywords.

First of all, it is important to know that AdWords operates as a sealed, second-price auction. This is explained clearly by Cornell University:

“The auction is a sealed-bid auction because advertisers do not know what other advertisers are bidding. The highest bidder wins the auction and gets their advertisement placed on specific pages for specific users, but pays the price of the second highest bidder plus $0.01. The $0.01 is to differentiate the highest bidder from the second highest bidder and to allow the highest advertiser to outbid the next highest bid.  This type of auction awards the advertiser with the highest bid but sells the advertisement slot to the highest advertiser at the price of the second highest bid.”

Therefore, what you bid is not always what you pay. A second consideration is that budgets are set as a daily limit; however, Google has recently decided to allow accounts to spend up to double this amount each day as long as they are still hitting their campaign targets.

This is evened out over the course of a month, and Google will never charge advertisers more than 30.4 (the average number of days in a month) times their daily budget. So if your account spends double the daily limit on a frequent basis early in the month, you could max out the budget rather quickly.

Luckily, there is a very helpful script that will allow you to keep some control over this.

Now, when it comes to bidding, we can split out the two main options as automated or manual.

Automated Bidding

Google uses a range of advanced machine learning technologies and rule-based automation to deliver maximum value to advertisers in its auctions. We can therefore tell Google what our objective is, how much we are willing to pay to achieve it, and let the algorithms do the bidding on our behalf.

Google AdWords: The Beginner’s Guide

That makes automated bidding sound appealing, but there are enough cautionary tales in the industry to suggest it must be approached with some reservation.

Ceding control to Google altogether can lead to very costly campaigns and, while setting a sensible ceiling on maximum bids can help, automated bidding can still lead to inefficient spend. Machine learning systems feed off data and learn from feedback, which means budget can be spent in a wide range of areas to gain this knowledge.

Manual bidding

For a beginner, manual bidding is a great way to start. This option provides control, quick feedback, and the ability to adjust bids quickly based on performance. Although it gets more difficult to stick with manual bidding as an account increases in size and complexity, nascent accounts with a small set of ad groups will benefit from this approach.

Google has also added the option to adjust bids based on a user’s device type. This welcome feature means marketers can increase their bids for specific queries on a mobile device, for example, if they know that this device type typically converts better than desktop. This is reflective of user behavior, as people tend to use their mobile and desktop for different purposes.

Quality score

Quality Score is a fundamental aspect of Google AdWords bidding, as it will dictate how much a brand pays for clicks. The intention behind Quality Score is simple: Google wants to ensure that relevant ads show against its searches and also wants to deter low-quality websites from manipulating the system to gain high ranking positions.

AdWords depends on its high quantity of searches, after all, so Google needs to ensure users have a positive searching experience or they may take their business elsewhere.

The exact formula behind Quality Score is not publicly known, but we can make some safe assumptions. The score is on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being given to irrelevant ads and landing pages, and 10 awarded to brands that match the user’s intent with a relevant ad and a great landing page experience.

Quality Score is calculated at a keyword level, so you could even see different scores within the same ad group. Again, there is plenty of room for experimentation and it is worth the work, as a high Quality Score can make your budget go a lot further.

Wordstream created a helpful image to illustrate how this works:

Google AdWords: The Beginner’s Guide

Ad Rank is explained in more detail here, but suffice to say this metric determines which position your ads will appear in on search results pages.

Google recently added a long-awaited feature that allows advertisers to view historical Quality Score, which now allows us to view any positive or negative trends over time. There is plenty more information on Historical Quality Score in this thorough guide.

Stage 6: Reviewing and optimizing performance

To get the best possible results from Google AdWords, marketers need to keep a close eye on their performance and be prepared to make adjustments. There are four metrics in particular to keep abreast of, which can be segmented by dimensions such as device type, demographic factors, or location.

Click-through rate (CTR): Clicks/Impressions

Conversion rate (CVR): Conversions/Clicks

Cost-per-click (CPC): Spend/Clicks

Cost-per-acquisition (CPA): Spend/Conversions

The steps outlined above will get your AdWords campaign up and running with the right foundations in place. There is a huge amount more to this platform and advertisers are rewarded for investing the time in more advanced features.

However, this all starts with the basics and as long as marketers monitor performance and are open to new strategies, the more complex pieces will naturally fall into place over time.

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Desktop Isn’t Dead: Why Not Everything in SEO Is Mobile-First by @clarkboyd

'Mobile-first' is the defining slogan of this era, and with good reason. But SEOs should investigate further before prioritizing mobile over desktop.

The post Desktop Isn’t Dead: Why Not Everything in SEO Is Mobile-First by @clarkboyd appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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Share17 Chicago: The key themes and trends

Digital marketers gathered in Chicago last week for Share17, an event hosted by SEO and content marketing platform BrightEdge.

Share17 provided a welcome opportunity to take stock of where the industry stands, discuss common challenges marketers are facing, and consider the upcoming trends we should all aim to capitalize on.

The agenda for the day reflected this, through a combination of guest speakers, customer panels, and plenty of revelations about search marketing trends. The below is a recap of the key themes and SEO tips we took away from the event.

The convergence of SEO and content marketing

The key theme for the day was the convergence of SEO and content marketing, although there were also discussions on how SEO impacts all areas of modern businesses.

97% of BrightEdge customers state that SEO and content marketing are either merging or have already done so. As a result, the focus shifts to the more pragmatic matters of how this plays out at companies both large and small. At a conceptual level, there is widespread understanding of the interplay between the disciplines, but at a practical level there is still some work to do.

Although content marketing has grown to become a $75 billion industry, each piece of content needs a lot of help if it is to cut through in such a crowded market. In fact, research from BrightEdge revealed:

  • 50% of B2B content draws some engagement from its intended audience. The other 50% receives no visits or shares.
  • The picture is bleaker still for B2C content, with only 20% engaging consumers. The vast majority of B2C content is simply never seen.

SEO can help here, of course, but it is clear that something is amiss at a broader scale. The content marketing industry has not aligned demand with supply if so much of its output fails to resonate with even a small audience.

Scott Mowery from Cleveland Clinic had some tips to help ensure that content is created with conviction. Without that dedication of attention and resources, it is highly likely that the audience will not engage when so many other options are available.

Scott used the acronym C.O.P.E. (Create Once, Promote Everywhere) to distil his team’s philosophy, and it is one that is reaping dividends so far.

The core idea here is to make sure that there is a clear purpose behind every piece of content created and that it is of the highest possible quality. Then it can be repurposed for different media formats and delivered to an audience through a focused amplification plan. With a projected 110 million visits in 2017, this plan seems to be working for Cleveland Clinic.

SEO is very closely aligned to business strategy

Throughout the day, there were nods to the prominent position SEO has assumed within businesses due to its ties with content marketing. This is due to the fact that content sits at the center of marketing plans, while marketing channels are ways of promoting this message and directing traffic towards content.

SEO is a fusion of medium and message, as it is simply impossible to rank in competitive industries without creating something of value that appeals to an audience.

Working in SEO in 2017 therefore requires a broad range of skill sets, from the technical through to the strategic and the interpersonal. Frankly, SEO fails if it exists in a vacuum and it requires input from across departments to reach its full potential.

Guest speaker John Hall had an interesting take on what this means for the career prospects of SEOs. He said that he sees more SEO professionals take up senior leadership positions than ever before, based on their ability to view business problems from a range of angles.

The changing nature of SEO has made it hard to pin down with concrete definitions, but that fluidity also creates marketers that are adept at managing the complexities of the modern business landscape.

SEO professionals need to have influence, both internally and externally, to get this message across.

John Hall shared some fascinating insights into the psychology of influencing people, whether within a company or when communicating with customers. His presentation revealed the importance of making a genuine emotional connection with people to stay top of mind in the long term. That brings with it a certain vulnerability, but it is imperative if we are to gain the trust of our audience.

Share17 Chicago: The key themes and trends

Some of this may feel very intuitive, so it is therefore worth asking why we fail to make these connections more frequently. A narrow focus on gaining short-term ROI restricts the potential for brands to make emotional connections over time, but the most profitable brands achieve exactly this aim.

Such campaigns have typically been the domain of brand marketers but as media spend continues to move online, there should be a seat at the table for SEO too.

Consumers are in control

In the age of cord-cutters and ad blockers, the message for brands is clear: consumers are in control. 28% of US Internet users used ad blockers this year, as the digital advertising industry struggles to balance monetization with user experience.

This dynamic is playing out with particular significance on mobile devices, where consumer expectations continue to heighten. BrightEdge research found that 79% of results for the same query differ across mobile and desktop devices.

Concurrently, the growth in queries containing the phrase ‘near me’ is slowing. This is driven by implicit intent; users are coming to expect that Google knows where they are and will tailor the results accordingly without direction.

From Google’s perspective, the core focus now is on speed. To keep consumers in the Google search ecosystem on mobile, it is essential to provide an app-like experience via search results pages.

We have seen this recently with developments like AMP and app indexation, but there is still a sense that marketers need to place more emphasis on providing a faster digital experience. 82% of smartphone users consult their phones while in a store deciding what to buy, so every second of extra load time can be costly.

In fact, as Eugene Feygin from Quill.com discussed, Amazon has calculated that an extra second of load time across their site would result in $1.6 billion in lost revenue per annum.

Share17 Chicago: The key themes and trends

This creates a multitude of moments of need or want throughout each day, with the average user now spending 2 hours per day on a mobile device. The approach of applying broad demographic groups or personas is no longer fit for purpose if we want to put consumers first.

A more accurate and profitable approach understands the importance of being in the right place when people need information. That consumer journey will differ by brand and by industry; the companies that prosper over the next few years will comprehend this and plan their content marketing accordingly.

Share17 Chicago: The key themes and trendsThis provides a robust structure to an SEO campaign, driven by genuine consumer demand. That structure needs to be populated with content that connects, however, and this is where we should recall the lessons learned from John Hall’s presentation. It is only by investing ourselves in our content that we will provide something of value that stands out in such a competitive landscape.

Throughout the day, there was a sense of this being an exciting moment for the SEO industry, but also one that requires a strategic mindset to comprehend and capitalize on so many diverse areas of activity.

Scott Mowery from Cleveland Clinic shared a helpful mantra that his team goes by to keep efforts focused in what is an increasingly complex market. If an initiative is not digital, mobile and measurable, don’t do it.

This seems an apt summary of the core themes from Share17 in Chicago, and sage advice for all search marketers.

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What is HTTP/2 and how does it benefit SEO?

The HTTP/2 protocol was published in 2015 with the aim of creating a faster, more secure Internet. Adoption has been gradual and is ongoing, but there are clear benefits for marketers who make the upgrade. So what exactly is HTTP/2 and how does it affect SEO?

The variety and quantities of information transferred on the Internet have changed dramatically in the past decade. Content formats are larger and more complex, mobile usage has increased significantly, and there is a growing global population of Internet users on a daily basis.

It is within this ever-changing landscape that a group of developers built SPDY (pronounced ‘speedy’, aptly enough), to build on the syntax of the original Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

As the name suggests, SPDY was developed with the core aim of finding faster ways to transport content on the Internet that would reduce page load speeds. SPDY was primarily developed by a group of Google engineers and it provided the platform for HTTP/2, towards which Google has now shifted its support.

HTTP/2, with the aid of some of those SPDY developers at Google, is an initiative driven by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to build a more robust platform for the Internet that is in keeping with the needs of modern users. It was published in May 2015 with the aim of refreshing the HTTP protocol, which has not seen any real radical overhauls since HTTP 1.1.

Most Internet browsers support HTTP/2, as do a growing number of servers, but according to W3Tech, only 13.7% of the world’s top 10 million sites have moved to this standard, as of May 2017.

That number is on the rise, however, and marketers should be aware of the implications of this significant upgrade.

What makes HTTP/2 different?

HTTP/2 is built on top of the same syntax as HTTP 1.1, so it serves more as a refresh than a complete overhaul. That is quite a purposeful decision, as the onus is on making this a smooth transition that brings benefits for Internet browsers, servers, and end-users.

The full technical specifications of HTTP/2 are listed here, but the big differences from HTTP 1.1 are summarized on HTTP2.github as follows:

  • HTTP/2 is binary, instead of textual
  • It is fully multiplexed, instead of ordered and blocking
  • It can therefore use one connection for parallelism
  • It uses header compression to reduce overhead
  • It allows servers to “push” responses proactively into client caches.

At a conceptual level, this means that HTTP/2 reduces load times by improving the efficiency of communications between browsers and servers.

Rather than a sequence of exchanges between the server side and the client side, one connection can host multiple exchanges at once and, quite importantly, the server side can proactively make responses without waiting to be called.

Site owners can compress some of these resources to increase load speeds, but we require a fundamental change in browser-server communications to resolve these issues in the long term.

That’s exactly where HTTP/2 comes in.

On a practical level, these interactions between browsers and servers start to look as follows:

Source: Cloudflare

This simplified example serves an illustrative purpose, as we can see clearly how effective the HTTP/2 approach would be at a grander scale.

It does this by both making and receiving multiple calls simultaneously through one connection, rather than making them one at a time.

How effective is HTTP/2?

Given the stated importance of making the Internet faster for users, we can quite readily make comparisons to see how effective HTTP/2 is.

A HTTP Watch study compared different versions of the same page, in particular drawing a comparison between standard HTTPS and HTTP/2.

‘Raw’ HTTPS

What is HTTP/2 and how does it benefit SEO?

HTTP/2

What is HTTP/2 and how does it benefit SEO?

This waterfall chart shows the difference from a technical standpoint, and also the assumed benefits for a user.

The page loads 22% faster, providing a significant improvement to the end-user’s experience.

The comparison was made on quite a simple page, so the benefits can be extrapolated out to a wider data set containing more complex assets.

What does it mean for SEO?

As with so many website improvements nowadays, the SEO impact will be felt indirectly. Google does not factor HTTP/2 readiness into its algorithms, but it does reward sites that provide a slick user experience. That includes page load speed, so it is fair to say that moving to HTTP/2 will have a positive effect on a site’s SEO performance.

Mobile has been the focal point of efforts to increase speed recently and undoubtedly, mobile performance will be improved by the shift to HTTP/2.

Nonetheless, it is worth considering that a move to HTTP/2 has benefits across all devices and all digital channels, whereas new coding languages like AMP HTML have limited applications. The two can work very effectively in tandem, of course, but the benefits of HTTP/2 are particularly widespread and long-term.

What is HTTP/2 and how does it benefit SEO?

As such, we should view HTTP/2 as a platform for faster, more secure digital connections, which can only be a positive for SEO.

What do marketers need to do to upgrade to HTTP/2?

First and foremost, your website will need to be on HTTPS. In fact, this is the most laborious part of moving to HTTP/2, as once your site is secured the process is really rather simple. There are hints at the importance of this move, as HTTP/2 is often referred to as a “faster, more secure” protocol for the modern Internet.

If your website is already secured, you may only have to update your server software to the latest version.

In fact, you may already be on HTTP/2 without necessarily knowing the switch has happened as part of a server update. You can use SPDYCheck to verify this.

There is a list of known HTTP/2 implementations on Github too, which is pretty exhaustive and is updated regularly.

Look at your analytics data to see where your visitors come from, but they most likely come from HTTP/2 friendly sources such as Google Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge. Most browsers already support the new protocol, so the onus is on websites to make the switch.

It is also worth noting that if a site is on HTTP/2 and makes a connection with a resource that is still on HTTP 1.1, they will simply communicate in the latter language.

As such, there are no significant drawbacks to making this upgrade for site owners, but the rewards are long-lasting and will provide a better user experience. The SEO impact may be indirect, but it will still be felt as Google makes on-site engagement signals an increasingly important part of its ranking algorithms.

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The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

Search marketers rely on tools to make sense of what is a very complex, fluid environment. With the increasing importance of mobile, the list of tools grows even longer. Which platforms should search marketers use to devise a mobile-first SEO strategy?

While we await the launch of Google’s mobile-first index, search marketers are aiming to capitalize on the growing quantity of searches made on smartphones.

We spent a long time anticipating the ‘mobile era’, but for many businesses it has been a reality for some time now.

The numbers certainly tell their own story. Mobile searches now outnumber desktop queries, and mobile advertising spend is projected to exceed $100 billion worldwide this year.

(Source: Statista)

Of course, this means that the ranking signals for mobile are different to those used for desktop results. That stands to reason; smartphones are used for different purposes and they provide Google with different data sets to calculate its rankings.

Mobile websites often differ from their desktop counterparts too, so marketers need to be sure that their online presence is prepared for a mobile-first world.

Recently, we wrote that there are three areas that really matter for mobile SEO performance:

  • Context: How many people search for your products online? When and where do they tend to search?
  • Speed/accessibility: How quickly does your mobile site load? Are there differences in the internal linking structures of your mobile and desktop sites?
  • User engagement signals: How well does your site render on a mobile device? Are you tracking the right metrics for mobile performance?

These are complex questions, but there some tools that can help us arrive at quantitative answers. The list below highlights 5 of the best tools to shape and measure your mobile SEO strategy.

SimilarWeb

For on-the-spot digital consumer research, SimilarWeb is a fantastic place to start. SEO does not exist in isolation, so it is very helpful to have an overview of how consumers are discovering a website across all channels and devices before we zoom in.

SimilarWeb uses proprietary, anonymized data from its own customers along with clickstream data to understand how people access sites, how long they stay, and where they go next.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

This ecosystem incorporates apps too, which are of prime importance as we consider a mobile-first strategy. The mobile web is merging with the app world, with Google pushing both progressive web apps and Android Instant Apps.

SimilarWeb is excellent for competitor research too, making it a great all-rounder for any digital marketer as they start plotting a mobile strategy.

How SimilarWeb can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Consumer insights across all channels, devices and territories
  • Helpful for mobile SEO keyword research
  • Includes app analysis alongside mobile web statistics
  • In-depth competitor analysis reveals other sites’ strengths and weaknesses

SEMrush

SEMrush packs in an impressive amount of features for both organic and paid search. Most importantly for the scope of this analysis, it contains a host of mobile-specific SEO charts and graphs that provide insight into any website’s performance.

By identifying the frequency with which a website shows up within their index of search results, SEMrush provides an overview of the mobile rankings and traffic a brand receives. This serves as a useful barometer of current performance, and the competitor analysis features provide further reference points.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

The new Sensor feature (in BETA) monitors search results page fluctuations across devices, in a welcome development that reflects the constant flux of ranking positions in 2017.

Too many rankings platforms provide a static position on a weekly basis and, while it would be impossible to measure the true volatility of rankings, this new feature from SEMrush is at least a step in the right direction.

Users can set this up to monitor specific keywords for both mobile and desktop, and it will provide a daily update on the differences noted across the relevant results sets. The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategySEMrush’s focus on both organic and PPC provides a more holistic overview of search results pages, too. This combination of functionalities puts it just ahead of its competitors, which include BrightEdge, SearchMetrics, and SEO Monitor, for mobile SEO research.

How SEMrush can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Identify target keyword groups
  • Track keyword performance over time
  • Analyze competitors
  • Monitor SERP volatility
  • Overview of both paid and organic search performance

Google Mobile Site Tests

Google’s mobile-friendly test tool was launched with the aim of helping site owners get their house in order for the mobile age.

Users can enter a URL into the test, which will then tell them if their site is fit for purpose when rendered on a smartphone:

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

The mobile-friendly test creates a list of the issues found in loading the page, which can be assessed and addressed with the web development team.

Site owners have had plenty of warning and plenty of time to align themselves with Google’s mobile-friendly guidelines, so the next priority is speed. This has been no secret, with initiatives like Accelerated Mobile Pages making it abundantly clear where site owners should be placing their focus.

Google provides another essential resource to support marketers’ efforts with its site speed test, which has improved quite significantly this year. What had previously been quite a rudimentary tool that returned vague platitudes about “Compressing images” is now a much more sophisticated and thorough analytical tool.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

Tests are performed using a simulated 3G connection to mimic the majority of global smartphone traffic today and Google even estimates how much traffic a site is losing due to slow loading times.

The free report can be emailed to a user (it usually arrives within an hour), with plenty of actionable details to help improve performance.

Given the paucity of great mobile-specific web tools out there, it really is an essential guide for search marketers aiming to get their site in line for the mobile-first index.

How Google’s Mobile Site Tests can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Quick snapshot of any mobile site issues
  • The estimate of lost traffic is great for demonstrating to senior leaders how important mobile SEO is
  • Option to download a detailed, free report
  • Clear, actionable tips to improve site speed
  • New competitor analysis shows how you fare against the industry standard

Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is a technical SEO analysis tool that will quickly crawl and analyze a website across a range of important factors. For a snapshot of site-wide adherence to Google best practices, it remains a central part of any SEO’s toolkit.

From a mobile perspective, these technical factors are of great significance. Many sites are rendered slightly differently depending on the user agent, so marketers need to be aware of what these differences are for their URLs. As we move to a mobile-first index, those differences could affect vital ranking positions.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

In particular, elements including internal links, multimedia assets, and structured data may differ when rendered on mobile versus desktop.

Screaming Frog provides some valuable insight into these factors, along with standard SEO considerations like meta descriptions and title tags.

For enterprise-level businesses, Botify and DeepCrawl are great paid solutions for ongoing technical SEO. However, for smaller sites or one-off spot audits, Screaming Frog remains the go-to tool.

How Screaming Frog can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • A quick and effective way to analyze technical SEO performance
  • Can help identify areas that are holding back site performance
  • Some visualizations of issues such as overly long meta descriptions
  • Very useful for a site-wide look at mobile SEO elements

Google Analytics; Google Search Console

I am cheating a little bit here to squeeze these two into the list, but they are complementary and pretty important for any mobile-first SEO strategy.

Google Analytics allows users to filter their data by device and by channel, making it very easy to isolate mobile SEO performance data. This can be compared to desktop and to other channels to see how SEO fares. Given the growing impact of user engagement signals on SEO rankings, marketers should really be focused on ensuring their content is meeting user demand. The metrics in Google Analytics provide the ideal starting point for this assessment.

It is possible that sub-par mobile SEO performance is related to lower rankings on mobile devices, which is where Search Console can start to prove its worth.

Google Search Console provides some good insight into mobile search volumes (found in the Impressions column), along with the ranking positions for each query.

Search Console is far from the full package for SEO, but we should expect Google to add more and more new features as the industry changes. In particular, I would anticipate the release of more mobile- and voice-specific filters to reflect the changing landscape.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

The Page Analytics Chrome extension is the perfect complement to these, allowing users to analyze user interactions at a page level while browsing their own site. As we continue to see the convergence of UX, CRO and SEO, these considerations should be foremost for anyone aiming to create a mobile-first strategy.

And to add one more Google tool in and complete the set, Data Studio is a user-friendly way to create mobile-specific performance dashboards using metrics from a range of analytics platforms. Once a mobile strategy has been devised and implemented, these Google tools will allow SEOs to monitor the impact closely.

How GA and GSC can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Accurate reflection of session-level interactions with a mobile site
  • Insight into mobile search volumes and ranking positions
  • Clear comparison with performance on other channels and devices
  • Great way to track performance for core business metrics.
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Pinterest, Google or Bing: Who has the best visual search engine?

Visual search engines will be at the center of the next phase of evolution for the search industry, with Pinterest, Google, and Bing all announcing major developments recently. 

How do they stack up today, and who looks best placed to offer the best visual search experience?

Historically, the input-output relationship in search has been dominated by text. Even as the outputs have become more varied (video and image results, for example), the inputs have been text-based. This has restricted and shaped the potential of search engines, as they try to extract more contextual meaning from a relatively static data set of keywords.

Visual search engines are redefining the limits of our language, opening up a new avenue of communication between people and computers. If we view language as a fluid system of signs and symbols, rather than fixed set of spoken or written words, we arrive at a much more compelling and profound picture of the future of search.

Our culture is visual, a fact that visual search engines are all too eager to capitalize on.

Already, specific ecommerce visual search technologies abound: Amazon, Walmart, and ASOS are all in on the act. These companies’ apps turn a user’s smartphone camera into a visual discovery tool, searching for similar items based on whatever is in frame. This is just one use case, however, and the potential for visual search is much greater than just direct ecommerce transactions.

After a lot of trial and error, this technology is coming of age. We are on the cusp of accurate, real-time visual search, which will open a raft of new opportunities for marketers.

Below, we review the progress made by three key players in visual search: Pinterest, Google, and Bing.

Pinterest

Pinterest’s visual search technology is aimed at carving out a position as the go-to place for discovery searches. Their stated aim echoes the opening quote from this article: “To help you find things when you don’t have the words to describe them.”

Pinterest, Google or Bing: Who has the best visual search engine?

Rather than tackle Google directly, Pinterest has decided to offer up something subtly different to users – and advertisers. People go to Pinterest to discover new ideas, to create mood boards, to be inspired.  Pinterest therefore urges its 200 million users to “search outside the box”, in what could be deciphered as a gentle jibe at Google’s ever-present search bar.

All of this is driven by Pinterest Lens, a sophisticated visual search tool that uses a smartphone camera to scan the physical world, identify objects, and return related results. It is available via the smartphone app, but Pinterest’s visual search functionality can be used on desktop through the Google Chrome extension too.

Pinterest, Google or Bing: Who has the best visual search engine?

Pinterest’s vast data set of over 100 billion Pins provides the perfect training material for machine learning applications. As a result, new connections are forged between the physical and digital worlds, using graphics processing units (GPUs) to accelerate the process.

Pinterest, Google or Bing: Who has the best visual search engine?

In practice, Pinterest Lens works very well and is getting noticeably better with time. The image detection is impressively accurate and the suggestions for related Pins are relevant.

Below, the same object has been selected for a search using Pinterest and also Samsung visual search:

Pinterest, Google or Bing: Who has the best visual search engine?

The differences in the results are telling.

On the left, Pinterest recognizes the object’s shape, its material, its purpose, but also the defining features of the design. This allows for results that go deeper than a direct search for another black mug. Pinterest knows that the less tangible, stylistic details are what really interest its users. As such, we see results for mugs in different colors, but that are of a similar style.

On the right, Samsung’s Bixby assistant recognizes the object, its color, and its purpose. Samsung’s results are powered by Amazon, and they are a lot less inspiring than the options served up by Pinterest. The image is turned into a keyword search for [black coffee mugs], which renders the visual search element a little redundant.

Visual search engines work best when they express something for us that we would struggle to say in words. Pinterest understands and delivers on this promise better than most.

Pinterest visual search: The key facts

  • Over 200 million monthly users
  • Focuses on the ‘discovery’ phase of search
  • Pinterest Lens is the central visual search technology
  • Great platform for retailers, with obvious monetization possibilities
  • Paid search advertising is a core growth area for the company
  • Increasingly effective visual search results, particularly on the deeper level of aesthetics

Google

Google made early waves in visual search with the launch of Google Goggles. This Android app was launched in 2010 and allowed users to search using their smartphone camera. It works well on famous landmarks, for example, but it has not been updated significantly in quite some time.

It seemed unlikely that Google would remain silent on visual search for long, and this year’s I/O development revealed what the search giant has been working on in the background.

Pinterest, Google or Bing: Who has the best visual search engine?

Google Lens, which will be available via the Photos app and Google Assistant, will be a significant overhaul of the earlier Google Goggles initiative.

Any nomenclative similarities to Pinterest’s product may be more than coincidental. Google has stealthily upgraded its image and visual search engines of late, ushering in results that resemble Pinterest’s format:

Pinterest, Google or Bing: Who has the best visual search engine?

Pinterest, Google or Bing: Who has the best visual search engine?

Google’s ‘similar items’ product was another move to cash in on the discovery phase of search, showcasing related results that might further pique a consumer’s curiosity.

Google Lens will provide the object detection technology to link all of this together in a powerful visual search engine. In its BETA format, Lens offers the following categories for visual searches:

  • All
  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Handbags
  • Sunglasses
  • Barcodes
  • Products
  • Places
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Flowers

Some developers have been given the chance to try an early version of Lens, with many reporting mixed results:

Pinterest, Google or Bing: Who has the best visual search engine?

Looks like Google doesn’t recognize its own Home smart hub… (Source: XDA Developers)

These are very early days for Google Lens, so we can expect this technology to improve significantly as it learns from its mistakes and successes.

When it does, Google is uniquely placed to make visual search a powerful tool for users and advertisers alike. The opportunities for online retailers via paid search are self-evident, but there is also huge potential for brick-and-mortar retailers to capitalize on hyper-local searches.

For all its impressive advances, Pinterest does not possess the ecosystem to permeate all aspects of a user’s life in the way Google can. With a new Pixel smartphone in the works, Google can use visual search alongside voice search to unite its software and hardware. For advertisers using DoubleClick to manage their search and display ads, that presents a very appealing prospect.

We should also anticipate that Google will take this visual search technology further in the near future.

Google is set to open its ARCore product up to all developers, which will bring with it endless possibilities for augmented reality. ARCore is a direct rival to Apple’s ARKit and it could provide the key to unlock the full potential of visual search. We should also not rule out another move into the wearables market, potentially through a new version of Google Glass.

Google visual search: The key facts

  • Google Goggles launched in 2010 as an early entrant to the visual search market
  • Goggles still functions well on some landmarks, but struggles to isolate objects in crowded frames
  • Google Lens scheduled to launch later this year (Date TBA) as a complete overhaul of Goggles
  • Lens will link visual search to Google search and Google Maps
  • Object detection is not perfected, but the product is in BETA
  • Google is best placed to create an advertising product around its visual search engine, once the technology increases in accuracy

Bing

Microsoft had been very quiet on this front since sunsetting its Bing visual search product in 2012. It never really took off and perhaps the appetite wasn’t quite there yet among a mass public for a visual search engine.

Recently, Bing made an interesting re-entry to the fray with the announcement of a completely revamped visual search engine:

This change of tack has been directed by advances in artificial intelligence that can automatically scan images and isolate items.

The early versions of this search functionality required input from users to draw boxes around certain areas of an image for further inspection. Bing announced recently that this will no longer be needed, as the technology has developed to automate this process.

The layout of visual search results on Bing is eerily similar to Pinterest. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Pinterest should be overwhelmed with flattery by now.

Bing_Pinterest

The visual search technology can hone in on objects within most images, and then suggests further items that may be of interest to the user. This is only available on Desktop for the moment, but Mobile support will be added soon.

The results are patchy in places, but when an object is detected relevant suggestions are made. In the example below, a search made using an image of a suit leads to topical, shoppable links:

Pinterest, Google or Bing: Who has the best visual search engine?

It does not, however, take into account the shirt or tie – the only searchable aspect is the suit.

Things get patchier still for searches made using crowded images. A search for living room decor ideas made using an image will bring up some relevant results, but will not always hone in on specific items.

As with all machine learning technologies, this product will continue to improve and for now, Bing is a step ahead of Google in this aspect. Nonetheless, Microsoft lacks the user base and the mobile hardware to launch a real assault on the visual search market in the long run.

Visual search thrives on data; in this regard, both Google and Pinterest have stolen a march on Bing.

Bing visual search: The key facts

  • Originally launched in 2009, but removed in 2012 due to lack of uptake
  • Relaunched in July 2017, underpinned by AI to identify and analyze objects
  • Advertisers can use Bing visual search to place shoppable images
  • The technology is in its infancy, but the object recognition is quite accurate
  • Desktop only for now, but mobile will follow soon

So, who has the best visual search engine?

For now, Pinterest. With billions of data points and some seasoned image search professionals driving the technology, it provides the smoothest and most accurate experience. It also does something unique by grasping the stylistic features of objects, rather than just their shape or color. As such, it alters the language at our disposal and extends the limits of what is possible in search marketing.

Bing has made massive strides in this arena of late, but it lacks the killer application that would make it stand out enough to draw searchers from Google. Bing visual search is accurate and functional, but does not create connections to related items in the way that Pinterest can.

The launch of Google Lens will surely shake up this market altogether, too. If Google can nail down automated object recognition (which it undoubtedly will), Google Lens could be the product that links traditional search to augmented reality. The resources and the product suite at Google’s disposal make it the likely winner in the long run.