All posts by Jessie Moore

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How to optimize VR content for search

Virtual reality (VR) has been the talk of the town for a little while now and its marketing potential is getting difficult to ignore.

Whether using it to look around a potential new home without leaving your sofa, or to explore a popular scuba diving spot without touching a drop of water, the possibilities are endless and exciting.

There is a proliferation of content on the web, and virtual reality offers a new and exciting way of presenting this content. Now more than ever, there is a need to distinguish yourself from the competition, to provide content that excites, inspires and influences. This is a chance to get creative and be different.

With VR content, storytelling is immersive and messages more impactful. An experiment carried out last year demonstrated that VR drives engagement and empathy significantly more than traditional video. These factors make virtual reality a powerful weapon in a marketer’s arsenal.

However, despite the clear benefits of VR, businesses are still hesitant about diving in. In addition to questions of cost and accessibility, there is a more fundamental question of discoverability: can VR content be found using search engines? Is it even possible to optimize virtual reality content for search?

The good news is, the idea of search-optimizing VR is not as alien or impossible as you might think.

Increasing accessibility of VR

Although many consider the technology to still be in its infancy, virtual reality has already evolved a great deal over the past couple of years. This has been spurred along by a few handy innovations by Google to increase accessibility and ease of use. Notably in 2016, Google introduced VR view to allow users the ability to embed 360 degree VR content into websites on desktop and mobile, as well as native apps.

One of the primary reasons that companies fail to embrace the technology is a misconception over its accessibility. No, you don’t need to own an Oculus Rift to be able to experience VR content. In fact, you don’t need anything. With the ability to embed VR content into websites with the simple addition of an iframe, anyone can access the benefits that it has to offer.

Now on mobile, you need only discover a 360 VR video in your Facebook news feed, wave your phone around in the air and hey presto, you’ve engaged with the world of virtual reality. For a more immersive experience, a simple Google Cardboard headset will suffice, or go a step further with Daydream, a more robust version but without the hefty price tag of an Oculus Rift.

A Google Cardboard headset, one of the most affordable VR headsets available

Optimizing VR for search

All this fancy new technology is all very well, but if it can’t be found in the search engines, then the potential reach of your content is diminished. If you’re having doubts about the visibility of VR content in search, then just remember one important fact. Google itself is heavily invested in VR technology. It therefore follows that the Big G would not only make it as accessible as possible, but also reward those who embrace it.

VR content often takes the same file format as standard video content. Therefore, optimizing VR for search is much like optimizing traditional video. Below we share our tips:

Embed using Google VR View

Google created this tool for a reason and it would be remiss not to take advantage of it. VR View takes care of all the tricky technicalities to ensure maximum compatibility and it also means that there is no need to embed a video via YouTube or other video platform. This is important in terms of SEO and content marketing, as you want to avoid the potential for users to leave your website.

Write relevant metadata

Make it as easy as possible for the search engines to find and index your content by adding the appropriate metadata. Write a short, snappy title and use the description to add more detail. Include any necessary keywords to help indicate what the content is about.

Don’t forget to adjust the file name as a bonus way of providing extra detail to the search engines – avoid a generic media file name like “vrmedia123.mp4”.

Add schema markup

Go a step further than the metadata and add schema markup, as it will help the search engines to better understand the content and therefore improve its appearance in the SERPs. It is also worth submitting a video sitemap, which will make your content more discoverable by Google.

Optimize the page itself

Optimizing the VR content itself is crucial but don’t forget to apply standard SEO best practices to the webpage itself. Even if your video does not display in the SERPs, you may be able to get the page ranking.

SEO 101: valuable, shareable content

It’s obvious but we had to include it. As with any other form of content, the overarching aim should always be to provide value. Create content that is engaging, informative and entertaining. Make it highly shareable and repackage for use across all marketing channels for effective cross-promotion. Provide value for your users and the rest will come naturally.

Final words

Ultimately, optimizing VR for search is not wholly different from optimizing any other type of content for search. Aside from a couple of minor technicalities when it comes to the method of embedding, applying your usual high quality SEO techniques will suffice.

With VR content becoming increasingly common and accessible, Google has made it easier than ever before to get such content seen in search. Google VR View cemented this accessibility and we only expect the technology to continue evolving. Best start jumping on the VR bandwagon now!

If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to getting started with creating VR content: How to get started with 360-degree content for virtual reality.

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How to optimize featured snippets for voice search

SEO is an exceptionally fast-paced industry, and sometimes keeping on top of the latest updates and imminent changes can be a full-time job in itself.

One factor that is having an unprecedented effect on organic search is voice search. The combination of an increase in mobile searches and the rise in voice assistants has meant that the way in which people are searching for information online is changing dramatically.

Whether it’s Siri, Cortana, Amazon Echo, Google, or another robot friend, there is no questioning the importance of voice search. According to Google, more than half of queries will be voice search by 2020, and this requires a refreshed approach to SEO.

Featured snippets

One of the key aspects of this is featured snippets, as these are the results which are read aloud in response to voice searches. Featured snippets are often referred to as ‘Position Zero’, a phrase coined by Pete Meyers. They are the direct answer results that appear at the top of the SERPs in a box, and they often include a link back to the source of the answer.

Source: Stone Temple

According to Stone Temple Consulting, nearly 30% of 1.4 million Google queries tested now show Featured Snippets. That’s a lot of affected searches. Updating your search strategy to include optimization for featured snippets should therefore be a priority.

The key point to remember with featured snippets is that if a searcher is using voice search and expecting a verbal reply, they will not be presented with a choice of results. Instead, only one result is read out and where there is a featured snippet, this will be the choice of the voice assistant.

You could have the most mind-blowing and enticing meta description and title tags in the world, but if you’re not in that sought after position zero, then your lovingly crafted content will not be read aloud and will therefore remain both unseen and unheard by the searcher.

Long-tail keywords

Of course the key difference between voice search and standard search is the use of more natural, conversational language. This new style of search and query formats must be factored into your strategy. Cue long-tail keywords!

The first step in your journey to the exclusive realm of featured snippets is to identify the informational queries related to your product or services. Use keyword tools, but also ask customers and consider the frequently asked questions you receive on a regular basis.

Answer the Public is a fantastic tool for these more conversational search queries. The tool allows you to dig deeper into user intent by separating the results into question starters, such as ‘who’, ‘why’ and ‘how’. Build on this research by uncovering other similar queries, using the ‘People also asked’ feature on Google.

Test the questions that you generate by typing them into Google and analyzing the results of the featured snippets. Use these as a basis, but work out what you could add or improve on to make the result even better. Perhaps the article source does not provide much further information, or perhaps the current answer displaying isn’t long enough.

Optimizing content

The next step is to write a response to these questions, which is likely to be in the form of a blog post. Sure, Google only shows a small percentage of the text from an article in the featured snippet, but this does not mean that your article should only answer the question directly.

Include a direct response, but expand on this further in the article and provide depth. We all know that Google loves depth of information and given that featured snippets provide the option to click through to the source, you need to be offering additional information that could be of use to the reader.

Adopt the formula of answering the question directly and then follow it up by covering other related search queries. This should help you cover all the bases and achieve that coveted spot. Ultimately, you may need to do a bit of testing and reiterating to see what works best.

It is also worth integrating more Q&A style formats into your content. These do not have to just be limited to an FAQ page and it is worth revisiting how you can optimize some of your content to fit this Q&A style. The easier you can make it for Google to pull the featured snippet from your content, the more likely you are to appear in that prized position zero and therefore benefit from voice search as well.

More than a third of featured snippets and knowledge boxes contain an image, so another tactic to experiment with is to utilize different formats, such as tables or graphs. Try using numbered points to break up the content into simple steps, as this helps to optimize the content for voice search.

Plus, if there are too many steps to display in the featured snippet, then Google will include a read more button that links through to your website, which can be an effective way of converting people from voice search into website traffic.

Local searches

Voice search is characterized by its prevalence on mobile devices and its focus on local searches. This is of paramount importance to local search strategies, especially given that 50% of mobile visitors who perform a local search will visit a store within one day.

Although these may not bring up featured snippets, they do reveal the Google My Business profiles, which can be read aloud as directions. In fact, directions are one of the most popular queries for voice search, unsurprising given the push towards hands free, particularly when driving.

How to optimize featured snippets for voice search

Source: Google Official Blog

As far as local searches go, you need to make sure that all of your contact information is as accessible as possible on your site. Make Google’s life easy when it comes to crawling your site; you’ll be more likely to feature high up in the featured results and therefore be the winner of the voice search game. Ensure your contact information isn’t simply within an image or this will certainly damage your chances of appearing.

You know what else you can do to make the Google bots even happier? Schema markup – it will significantly increase the chances of obtaining a featured snippet.

It goes without saying that you need to keep your Google My Business up to date. Again, this should be part of your SEO efforts anyway, so no sweat there. Once your contact information is updated and where it should be, help the process along by submitting a sitemap to Google. Also submit any new content that you add to your site, just to speed up the process.

How to optimize featured snippets for voice search

Mobile ready

Don’t forget to focus on mobile. Given that the vast majority of voice searches occur on mobile, it is essential that the mobile version of your site is fully optimized.

I know what you’re thinking: but voice search entails that only the featured snippet will be read aloud, so what’s the point of a fancy pants mobile friendly website? Well, Google likes fancy pants mobile friendly websites, that’s why. Don’t believe me? Riddle me this – why are they moving to a mobile-first index?

Even using voice search, there is always the chance that the user decides to delve into their query further to read more. In which case they’ll head straight to your site, and if it’s not delivering in terms of user experience then you won’t be staying in that top spot for long.

Conclusion: User intent is key

When it comes to trying to get that valuable featured snippet place, there is no special technique that is any different to standard SEO. In short, if you are thinking carefully about user intent then you should be fine.

Given the recent updates like Hummingbird and Rankbrain, user intent should already be a priority in your search strategy. So if you’re doing this then your content should already be optimized for featured snippets and voice search.

Using voice search for commercial intent is only in its infancy at the moment. However, we are only expecting this to evolve and develop over time as people become more and more comfortable with voice search.

So you’d best be ready!

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Switching to HTTPS: Is it really worth it?

Ever since Google made the announcement that HTTPS is a ranking signal, there has been a lot of discussion around whether that extra ‘s’ is really worth the hassle.

There are clear benefits to obtaining that sought-after green padlock, but there is also a lot of nervousness around actually making the switch.

The apprehension is understandable; as with any big change to a website, mistakes have the potential to be extremely costly – both to the user experience and to search visibility. Any risk of a drop in rankings has SEOs quivering in their boots.

However, this is not reason enough to avoid the change. There has been an almighty push towards creating a more secure web. There is a pressure for website owners to take responsibility for the security of their sites; those who do will be duly rewarded by Google.

What does HTTPS actually mean?

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure; not that this will help you understand it any more than you did a few seconds ago.

As Google explains, HTTPS “protects the integrity and confidentiality of data between the user’s computer and site.” This involves three layers of protection: encryption (goodbye eavesdroppers), data integrity (goodbye corrupt data) and authentication (goodbye attacks).

In short, HTTPS is essential for ensuring a safe and secure experience for users of a website. This is of paramount importance in an age where internet security is coming under increasing threats from all angles.

Having said all that, it is worth mentioning that HTTPS does not make your site an impenetrable fortress. Even with the best security in the world, a site can still come under attack.

That’s just an unfortunate reality of our digital age – look at the recent ransomware attacks across the globe. Nevertheless, HTTPS sure does help.

Benefits of HTTPS

First and foremost from an SEO perspective, Google considers site security to be a ranking signal and will favour websites with HTTPS. Although it is currently only a ‘lightweight’ ranking signal and will therefore only affect a very small number of search queries, we expect this to evolve.

Much like the shift towards mobile-friendly websites, which started gaining momentum and then suddenly slapped us in the face with the (albeit underwhelming) #mobilegeddon and mobile-first indexing, it is only a matter of time before secure sites become more of a priority. In addition, we love the theory of marginal gains so every little helps!

The effectiveness of a move to HTTPS will likely be determined by the type of website. For example, ecommerce sites will certainly benefit the most from a switch to HTTPS. Where payment or the exchange of sensitive data is involved, security becomes critical.

Migrating to HTTPS may not yet be as important as high quality content or link-building prowess but it would be foolish to dismiss its importance on these grounds.

There are further benefits, too, in the realm of user experience; visitors will be more trusting of your website and confident in its ability to provide a safe browsing experience for them. Plus, let’s not forget the peace of mind it will bring you knowing that your site is protected with that little ‘s’.

Switching to HTTPS: Is it really worth it?

Concerns with HTTPS

But – and there’s always a but. Just the thought of migrating from HTTP to HTTPS is enough to strike fear into those responsible for the move. What if I accidentally block important URLs in robots.txt? What if it slows the speed of my site? What if my web applications aren’t compatible with HTTPS? What if I mess up the redirects and canonical tags? What if the rankings of my site plummet, never to return? What if my website just DISAPPEARS off the face of the digital ecosystem?

These are (mostly) legitimate concerns but they should not stop you. Here at Yellowball, we recently decided to make the move.

We had similar concerns, especially that we might see an initial drop in rankings and weren’t sure how long this would last. But alas, we made sure that those responsible for the move knew exactly what they were doing and we followed the best practices (getting to these shortly).

So, did anything terrible happen? We have seen a slight drop in rankings but these are already climbing back to normal and we expect to see an overall improvement in the long run. So no, nothing bad happened and now we can all relax in the knowledge that the big move is done.

HTTPS migration checklist

Mistakes can be made during a migration, so it’s important that you do your research and ensure the process is handled correctly. If you follow this step-by-step checklist and enlist the help of someone who knows their stuff, you’ll be just fine.

  1. Obtain a security certificate (usually referred to as an SSL certificate). Ensure you choose a high-level security option: Google recommends a 2018-bit key. You can get these certificates from a certificate authority but we recommend buying one from your hosting company, as they will usually help you install it.
  2. Set up redirects to ensure that all of your old HTTP pages redirect to the new HTTPS pages. There may only be one tiny difference of an ‘s’ but this still makes the URLs completely separate. Create a URL map that lists all of the old URLs with their corresponding new ones. If you have been wanting to make any tweaks to your URL structure for a little while then now is the opportune time to do it. Be sure to use permanent 301 redirects (rather than temporary 302 redirects).
  3. Update internal links so that these all point directly to the new HTTPS pages, rather than having to redirect.
  4. Update all other resources including images, downloads and other scripts, as these will all need to point to the correct HTTPS locations too.
  5. Avoid blocking your HTTPS site from crawling using robots.txt and avoid the ‘noindex’ tag.
  6. Reindex your site via Google Search Console and submit your new sitemap. Note that you will have to create a new property, due to the different URL. You cannot just submit to the old property and expect it to work.
  7. Test all is working correctly using this SSL Server test. If there are any technical issues then get in touch with your host or a developer to resolve problems quickly.

This is not a comprehensive list so it is worth enlisting the help of an expert. Remember that you can check the data in your Google Search Console to find out whether there are any URL or crawl errors.

Conclusion

All in all, it is clear to us that the benefits of migrating to HTTPS outweigh the potential pitfalls. Having a secure site will only become increasingly important and there’s every possibility that we will eventually face the HTTPS equivalent of mobilegeddon (securigeddon?).

Having said that, there are times where making the move may not be necessary. For example, if you run a personal blog, get only a small number of website visitors and don’t expect this to increase dramatically in the new few years.

However, if you are expecting to see a rise in traffic, or if you already see high volumes of traffic then our advice is to make the switch.

In short, Google says so. So do it.