All posts by Larry Kim

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Fake News & Facebook Ads: It’s Shockingly Cheap to Influence Elections [DATA] by @LarryKim

This data proves that it only takes $50 and an hour of work to promote fake news using Facebook Ads.

The post Fake News & Facebook Ads: It’s Shockingly Cheap to Influence Elections [DATA] by @LarryKim appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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Surprisingly, Brand Advertising Drives More Conversions Than You Think! by @LarryKim

Why are big companies pouring so much money into brand advertising every year? What do they know that we don't? The ultimate conversion hack is making sure people have heard of your brand before. Find out why in this post by Larry Kim.

The post Surprisingly, Brand Advertising Drives More Conversions Than You Think! by @LarryKim appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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Dwell Time: Does It Affect SEO? [DATA] by @LarryKim

What's the real impact of machine learning on SEO? Is RankBrain and other machine learning elements within Google's core algorithm increasingly rewarding pages with high user engagement? Is machine learning essentially Google's Unicorn Detector?
Find out if dwell time really matters for SEO in this post by Larry Kim.

The post Dwell Time: Does It Affect SEO? [DATA] by @LarryKim appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

Has machine learning created a new model for SEO ranking?

When Google introduced RankBrain into its ranking algorithm, many wondered how that might impact SEO. Columnist Larry Kim theorizes that it has placed greater importance on user signals. The post Has machine learning created a new model for SEO ranking? appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.
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Does dwell time really matter for SEO?

What’s the real impact of machine learning on SEO? This has been one of the biggest debates within SEO over the last year.

Please note, this article was originally published on the Wordstream blog; it is reprinted with permission.

I won’t lie: I’ve become a bit obsessed with machine learning. My theory is that RankBrain and/or other machine learning elements within Google’s core algorithm are increasingly rewarding pages with high user engagement.

Basically, Google wants to find unicorns – pages that have extraordinary user engagement metrics like organic search click-through rate (CTR), dwell time, bounce rate, and conversion rate – and reward that content with higher organic search rankings.

Happier, more engaged users means better search results, right?

So, essentially, machine learning is Google’s Unicorn Detector.

Machine Learning & Click-Through Rate

Many SEO experts and influencers have said that it’s totally impossible to find any evidence of Google RankBrain in the wild.

That’s ridiculous. You just need to run SEO experiments and be smarter about how you conduct those experiments.

That’s why, in the past, I ran an experiment that looked at CTR over time. I was hoping to find evidence of machine learning.

What I found: results that have higher organic search CTRs are getting pushed higher up the SERPs and getting more clicks:

Click-through rate is just one way to see the impact of machine learning algorithms. Today, let’s look at another important engagement metric: long clicks, or visits that stay on site for a long time after leaving the SERP.

Time on Site Acts as a Proxy for Long Clicks

Are you not convinced that long clicks impact organic search rankings (whether directly or indirectly)? Well, I’ve come up with a super easy way that you can prove to yourself that the long click matters – while also revealing the impact of machine learning algorithms.

In today’s experiment, we’re going to measure time on page. To be clear: time on page isn’t the same as dwell time or a long click (or, how long people stay on your website before they hit the back button to return to the search results from which they found you).

We can’t measure long clicks or dwell time in Google Analytics. Only Google has access to this data.

Time on page really doesn’t matter to us. We’re only looking at time on page because it is very likely proportional to those metrics.

Time on Site & Organic Traffic (Before RankBrain)

To get started, go into your analytics account. Pick a time frame before the new algorithms were in play (i.e., 2015).

Segment your content report to view only your organic traffic, and then sort by pageviews. Then you want to run a Comparison Analysis that compares your pageviews to average time on page.

You’ll see something like this:

Does dwell time really matter for SEO?

These 32 pages drove our most organic traffic in 2015. Time on site is above average for about two-thirds of these pages, but it’s below average for the remaining third.

See all those red arrows? Those are donkeys – pages that were ranking well in organic search, but in all honestly probably had no business ranking well, at least for the search queries that were driving the most traffic. They were out of their league. Time on page was half or a third of the site average.

Time on Site & Organic Traffic (After RankBrain)

Now let’s do the same analysis. But we’re going to use a more recent time period when we know Google’s machine learning algorithms were in use (e.g., the last three or four months).

Do the same comparison analysis. You’ll see something like this:

Does dwell time really matter for SEO?

Look at what happens now when we analyze the organic traffic. All but two of our top pages have above average time on page.

This is kind of amazing to see. So what’s happening?

Does Longer Dwell Time = Higher Search Rankings?

It seems that Google’s machine learning algorithms have seen through all those pages that used to rank well in 2015, but really didn’t deserve to be ranking well. And, to me, it certainly looks like Google is rewarding higher dwell time with more prominent search positions.

Google detected most of the donkeys (about 80 percent of them!) and now nearly all the pages with the most organic traffic are time-on-site unicorns.

I won’t tell you which pages on the WordStream site those donkeys are, but I will tell you that some of those pages were created simply to bring in traffic (mission: successful), and the alignment with search intent wasn’t great. Probably someone created a page that matched the intent better.

In fact, here’s one example: Our AdWords Grader used to rank on page 1 for the query “google adwords” (which has huge search volume – over 300,000 searches a month!). The intent match there is low – most people who search for that phrase are just using it as a navigational keyword, to get to the AdWords site.

A small percentage of those searchers might just want to know more about Google AdWords and what it is, kind of using Google as a way to find a Wikipedia page. There’s no indication from the query that they might be looking for a tool to help them diagnose AdWords problems. And guess what? In 2015, the Grader page was one of those top 30 pages, but it had below average time on site.

So at some point, Google tested a different result in place of the Grader – our infographic about how Google AdWords works. It’s still ranking on page 1 for that search query, and it matches the informational intent of the keyword much better.

Does dwell time really matter for SEO?

A Few Caveats on the Data

To be clear, I know these analytics reports don’t directly show a loss in rankings. There are other potential explanations for the differences in the reports – maybe we created lots of new, super-awesome content that’s ranking for higher-volume keywords and they simply displaced the time-on-site “donkeys” from 2015. Further, there are certain types of pages that might have low time on site for a perfectly acceptable reason (for example, they might provide the info the user wants very quickly).

But internally, we know for sure that a few of our pages that had below average time on site have fallen in the rankings (again, at least for certain keywords) in the past couple of years.

And regardless, it’s very compelling to see that the pages that are driving the most organic traffic overall (the WordStream site has thousands of pages) have way above average time on site. It strongly suggests that pages with excellent, unicorn-level engagement metrics are going to be the most valuable to your business overall.

Does dwell time really matter for SEO?

This report also revealed something ridiculously important for us: the pages with below average time on site are our most vulnerable pages in terms of SEO. In other words, those two remaining pages in the second chart above that still have below average time on site are the ones that are most likely to lose organic rankings and traffic in the new machine learning world.

What’s so great about this report is you don’t have to do a lot of research or hire an SEO to do an extensive audit. Just open up your analytics and look at the data yourself. You should be able to compare changes from a long time ago to recent history (the last three or four months).

What Does It All Mean?

This report is basically your donkey detector. It will show you the content that could be most vulnerable for future incremental traffic and search rankings losses from Google.

That’s how machine learning works. Machine learning doesn’t eliminate all your traffic overnight (like a Panda or Penguin). It’s gradual.

What should you do if you have a lot of donkey content?

Prioritize the pages that are most at risk – those that are below average or near average. If there’s not a really good reason for those pages to have below average time on site, put these at top of your list for rewriting or fixing up so they align better with user intent.

Now go look at your own data and see if you agree that time-on-site plays a role in your organic search rankings.

Don’t just take my word for it. Go look: run your own reports and let me know what you find.

Attention search marketers: ALL keywords are branded keywords!

Columnist Larry Kim explains how brand affinity impacts both paid and organic search performance -- and how you can use this information to bolster your SEO and PPC campaigns. The post Attention search marketers: ALL keywords are branded keywords! appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.
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9 Weird but Data-Backed SEO Predictions for 2017 by @LarryKim

When it comes to making SEO predictions, a lot of experts take the safe route. I think it's time for a few more bold predictions – nine of them in fact.

The post 9 Weird but Data-Backed SEO Predictions for 2017 by @LarryKim appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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High CPCs and Low Conversion Rates? 3 RLSA Strategies You Need to Know! by @LarryKim

Are you ready to unlock the full potential of RLSA? Here are three strategies you need to know.

The post High CPCs and Low Conversion Rates? 3 RLSA Strategies You Need to Know! by @LarryKim appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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5 Compelling Reasons to Use Twitter Ads by @LarryKim

Here are five areas where Twitter advertising is superior to other online ad platforms.

The post 5 Compelling Reasons to Use Twitter Ads by @LarryKim appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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Nine crazy predictions for SEO in 2017

It’s January, which means you’ve probably read about 200 expert predictions on the future of SEO in 2017 by now. But if you stick with me, I promise this post won’t be like any of the other SEO predictions posts you’ve seen so far.

When it comes to making SEO predictions, a lot of experts take the safe route. We all know mobile SEO is going to be increasingly important. Talking about the obvious is always safe.

If you’re anything like me, the SEO predictions for 2017 have let you feeling underwhelmed. No one has been sticking their neck out this year.

Mobile will be big?

UX will matter?

Really?! You don’t say!

I think it’s time for a few more bold predictions – nine of them in fact. These SEO predictions will be a bit more out there – maybe you could even call them a little crazy.

Just don’t blame me if/when these predictions become reality. I’m just the prognosticator, basing my predictions on the things I’ve seen lately – and where I believe Google is heading next.

1. We’ll Experience the Biggest Rankings Shift in the History of Google…

Major algorithmic changes are always a big deal – from old school classics like Florida and Caffeine to more modern algorithmic updates like Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, and RankBrain.

So here’s my first SEO prediction for 2017: We’ll see the biggest shift in rankings in the history of Google.

Machine learning and AI was an undeniable force in 2016. And I expect machine learning signals to become a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. In case you’re unfamiliar with RankBrain, here’s a simplified diagram that breaks it down:

RankBrain helps Google select and prioritize the signals it uses for ranking. Engagement is one of the very important signals Google looks at for ranking.

It’s been my theory that RankBrain (and/or other machine-learning elements within Google’s core algorithm) are increasingly rewarding pages that have high user engagement. In other words: Google has built its own ultimate unicorn detector to ensure that the pages people are clicking on and engaging with the most are rewarded with better search positions.

2. …But Nobody Will Notice Anything!

Remember how, for a few months before RankBrain was officially announced in that Bloomberg article, everyone in the SEO industry knew a big algorithm update was brewing? Remember all the discussion on Twitter, Facebook, and the top search industry publications?

Yeah, me neither because it absolutely didn’t happen!

So here’s my second SEO prediction for 2017: Even though we’re about to see the biggest shift in the history of Google rankings, nobody will notice anything.

RankBrain is more subtle than updates like Panda and Penguin, where up to 90 percent of your organic traffic disappeared instantly overnight. It was easy to see such a ridiculously huge traffic drop, that occurred on a specific date, in your analytics.

But with RankBrain, the rankings shift is happening every day, bit by bit, rather than all at once in one big update. Google is shifting traffic away from your donkeys (pages with average or below average engagement) and toward your unicorns (pages that have 5-10x higher engagement metrics than normal).

Whatever SEO rank-checking tools or weather reports you’re looking at aren’t set up to notice these small and gradual types of changes. They just get lost in the noise.

3. Google Will Unite Featured Snippets & Organic Listings

Why is Google’s featured snippet so often different from its top-ranked organic listing? Basically, Google is currently saying to its users: “Our first listing isn’t really the correct answer, so use this other answer instead.”

Huh? Why isn’t the first listing simply “the answer” instead?

My third SEO prediction for 2017: Google’s featured snippets and organic listing will converge.

Here’s my theory. Snippets were just a sandbox/testing environment where they could try out user engagement signals in search and the rest of the rankings didn’t use them. Now that they’ve bought into this idea, they can consolidate the two concepts.

4. Google Will Kill Organic Positions 6-10

As a result of new user-engagement signals being used in search rankings, fewer and fewer people are clicking on results in lower positions, while clicks on the top positions are trending higher. Check out this surprising click curve WordStream put together:

Nine crazy predictions for SEO in 2017

(Note: This data was obtained from the Google Search Console, tracking the same set of keywords in the Internet marketing niche for three separate 30-day periods)

This chart really illustrates the idea of a subtle change, as discussed in my second prediction.

What’s it all mean? That it’s time for my next SEO prediction: Google will eliminate the bottom half of search results in 2017. (Bonus prediction: SEOs will freak out BIG TIME!)

As a result of machine learning, I believe Google will decide that it no longer needs to show positions 6-10. The decluttered SERP will be populated with more ads (which will generate higher CTRs than the organic listings they replaced).

Think it can’t happen? Let me remind you of that time waaaay back in early 2016 when Google killed right-side text ads on the desktop. But when you looked at the data, it made sense why Google did it: only 14.6 percent of desktop clicks came from the right ads.

What happened after Google eliminated right-side ads? CTRs increased and traffic remained steady.

I imagine the same will be true when Google eliminates the bottom half of search results. The actual impact for most websites should be minimal because most people aren’t clicking on those organic listings now anyway.

5. We’ll Say Goodbye to Local SEO

Google Shopping (a.k.a. Product Search) used to be great. Then Google changed the game and Google Shopping became a 100 percent pay-to-play system.

The local SEO train has gone on for way too long. These are 100 percent commercial queries and Google’s next big land grab.

There’s no easy way to cushion the blow for my fifth SEO prediction for 2017, so I’ll just say it: local SEO as we’ve known it will die.

Google plans to make $5 billion from local search. So that means one thing: goodbye local organic packs.

6. Black Hat SEOs Will Create Fake Engagement

Google already has a pretty lengthy list of tactics that are against its Webmaster Guidelines. Well, expect that list to expand in (or after) 2017.

One thing we’ve been talking a lot about so far in this post is the importance of engagement metrics and how this can impact your SEO success. This includes metrics from click-through rates, to dwell time, to task completion rates (a.k.a. conversion rates).

Well, you know how it goes. Anytime somebody sees some success with an SEO tactic, then everyone starts doing it. But a select few who can’t make that tactic work legitimately will figure out a way to fake it.

This is exactly how the whole link buying problem got started 10 years ago. People knew links increased rankings, so people went crazy buying links, not worrying about quality, only quantity.

Which brings us to SEO prediction number six: CTR and engagement hacks will become the new black hat SEO.

Look for huge spammer innovation once more SEOs finally start realizing that improving CTR and dwell time also can help improve rankings in today’s machine-learning world. The black hat revolution won’t be televised, but people in the know will know all about it.

7. Google Will Declare War on Tool Providers

Why does Google have a TOS (terms of service) and not enforce it?

Companies like Raven Tools have been bullied to not include rank checking. But Google allows it on some tools but not others?

So, my seventh SEO prediction is that Google will declare war on tool providers that violate their TOS.

Why should Google care more about this now? Probably because rank checkers screw up CTR and bounce calculations.

A few Google people have tweeted about this actually.

If Google wanted to be really mean about it, they could devise a kind of penalty where if they found that you were doing excessive rank checking of your domain, they could infer you were violating the TOS.

8. An SEO Company Will Die

Following on the previous prediction, and other factors, here’s my next SEO prediction for 2017: one or more major SEO vendors or service companies will be sold off.

Google sometimes “makes an example” of a small company they believe is behaving badly by publicly punishing them so badly that they close.

9. SEO Will Be More Valuable Than Ever

Though much of this post may seem like doom and gloom, one thing’s for sure: SEO won’t die. (Though it’s an extremely safe bet the entire practice of SEO will be declared dead and/or dying at least a few times this year!)

Despite all of its challenges (and the many more on the horizon), SEO will be an even more valuable marketing channel to the lucky winners in 2017 and beyond.

My final SEO prediction: Fewer and fewer winners will win bigger and bigger SEO jackpots.